Thursday, April 25, 2013

Book Review: Altar Ego


Craig Groeschel has recently released Altar Ego. It’s a phenomenal step by step guide on stepping out of our fallen sinful identities and stepping into a life guided by the Holy Spirit and subject to the will of God. It’s well written, biblically sound, and highly relevant for both new and established Christians.

“You are not yet who you are supposed to be.”, explains Groeschel. To further us along the path of Christian discipleship, Groeschel breaks down his transformation plan into three parts:

  • Accepting the persona of a disciple
  • Adopting the behaviors of a disciple
  • Embracing the power of a disciple

To accept the persona of a disciple is to accept the truths regarding who we are as God’s people. It is the act of overcoming the labels and self-identified traits of old personas. Groeschel explains that every follower of Christ will have their own unique unexplored identities under a new life in Christ. Just as God transformed Abram into Abraham and Saul into Paul bringing out qualities they never knew they had, he will transform us also. Additionally, we can hold strong in the shared truth common to all disciples: we are masterpieces loved by God who can overcome tremendous obstacles and who have been designated as ambassador’s of Christ.

“Stop focusing on the things you can’t do. Turn your attention to the things you can do. You are the masterpiece of God, created for the Master’s purpose. Don’t flip through the catalog of things you aren’t, wishing you could order a few nice things for yourself.”

“Hupernikao, which means to vanquish beyond recognition, to gain a decisive victory, to conquer exceedingly. With Christ, you are HUPERNIKAO! You are not just going to eke out some tiny, insignificant victory.”

“As Christ’s ambassador you never represent yourself; you always represent God…I’m not there to promote my own agenda, my own values or my own ideas… You represent the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.”

According to Groeschel, adopting the behaviors of the disciple include a dedicated focus on patience, integrity, honor, and gratitude. Groeschel’s guidance is sound and biblically grounded, especially in his insistence that we cannot simply flip a switch and easily turn ourselves into patient, honest, honorable, grateful sorts of persons. The *only* way to bear this fruit is to get to know Jesus better, and allow the Holy Spirit to transform our heart.

“Get rid of the masks. Be the real you. Allow God’s Holy Spirit to transform you.”

Embracing the power of a disciple is to approach everything we do – our prayers, our words, our actions-  with the boldness of our power in Christ. As it is written in scripture, who can stand against us when God is behind us? Being bold and confident is not an end unto itself, nor an action we take in order to be better disciples. Rather, it’s the natural outcome of following in step with Christ.

“When you live a life of faith, when you’re directed by the Spirit, you’re going to see opportunity after opportunity to be bold…As your faith grows, so does your boldness.”

Groeschel concludes his book with a blessing (and call to action):

“I’m praying that God will use the words from this book to help you to sacrifice any old, unhealthy, untrue, and unbiblical thoughts about yourself. And that God will introduce you to your altar ego- who you are in Christ. Because when you know who you are, you’ll know what to do. Empowered by Christ in you, you can now live a life full of integrity…And as your confidence in your new Christ-esteem grows, so will your boldness. Because you know Christ, you’ll pray bold prayer, speak bold words, and obey God boldly. You’ll never be timid again because bold actions are born of bold beliefs.”

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Twilight Zone

Suddenly life just got strange. Really strange. Twilight zone strange.

Every Friday that we are both in town, hubby and I go out for a date. Tonight we entertained ourselves with movie and a dinner to follow. We saw Jurassic Park in 3D and it was just as gripping as the first time we saw it all those years ago while dating. I loved it! I enjoyed the edge of my seat roller coaster ride feeling for almost two hours.

As an homage to the old days I chose Little Caesar’s for dinner. Pizza Pizza! We arrived at the restaurant and I asked Jonathan if we should order a large pizza. I was concerned because most of the pricing on the menu seems to imply a large pizza is the default size now and since the restaurant always gives you two pizzas (Pizza Pizza!) that would mean taking home two large pizzas, which would be too much food. Jon whispered that he isn’t sure they are still offering two pizzas and I rolled my eyes and laugh. OF COURSE they still give you two pizzas (Pizza Pizza!), THAT’S THEIR ENTIRE MARKETING GIMMICK. I turned to the young lady behind the counter and prompted her to confirm for dear hubby that yes, they serve 2 pizzas.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about Ma’am. We don’t serve two pizzas unless you pay for two.”

“You know, Pizza Pizza!”, I say enthusiastically while I continue to grin.

“Uh, two pizzas?”

I frown. My eyebrows furrow. I begin to explain to the girl the “Pizza Pizza” ad campaign that was the essence of Little Caesars the last time I visited one of their restaurants. “You know, in 1989”, I giggle as I continue jokingly, “Maybe you weren’t born yet” (which is ridiculous of course because she’s clearly an adult and anyone born after the 80s would be a kid).

“I was born in 1995. But two pizzas makes a lot of sense.”

Now my concentration was torn between two complex brain teasers. First, how on earth could Little Caesar’s drop the entire concept that makes it famous? Second, how could a living breathing adult standing before me be born in 1995? I mean in 1995 I was only 19. I was graduating from college. Jon and I were engaged. I was barely out of childhood myself. Everyone I know who was born in the 90s is still a kid (take my lovely niece Alli for example). I mean, I suppose in theory, given the math, it is possible for someone to be born in the 90s and have reached adulthood but I hadn’t met any of these mythical creatures of possibility. That would mean that an entire conception-birthing-rearing-raising cycle of a generation had passed SINCE I was 19. Which isn’t really something I can wrap my mind around since that was like, what, yesterday – and raising a generation takes a long long time. Like 18 years long! Which is, did I mention a very long time conceptually.

Yet this girl kept standing there behind the counter breathing and ..and..BEING…as if it was no big deal. I didn’t even feel old in that moment. I felt other-worldly. Twilight zone tingly. Like we all felt when the closing credits began to roll after “The Matrix”.

Is this my new reality? There are ADULTS roaming the world who weren’t alive before I myself was a grown up?

Normally I like to wrap up my little notes here with something clever or wistful to leave you with a thought for you to ponder until you read my writing again. But tonight I got nothing; nothing I can add to bring closure to this of out-of-body feeling. There is a clear cognitive dissonance I suffer from in reconciling what 20 years seems conceptually (seems a very long time) and what 20 years looks like in practice when reflecting on them passed (seems like yesterday).

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Book Review: The Turk Who Loved Apples (by Matt Gross)

Recently I had the chance to read The Turk who Loved Apples as I was provided an advance copy (book hits on April 23rd, 2013)to review. Many of you know I am an avid traveler. Often with my husband at my side, frequently with my friends along for the journey as well, and occasionally all on my own I set out for weekend adventures near and far across the globe. I generally log at least 120,000 miles on Delta Airlines each year flying to and from various destinations. With a love of travel and a love of reading I'm naturally drawn to the travel writing genre. And there are some stars (I'm looking at you Anthony Bourdain, Peter Mayle and Bill Bryson)and some fantastic articles, stories, collections, and novels that come out of this genre. Sadly, Matt's latest book is not one of them. Overall, Matt Gross is a credible travel author and guide. He presents an experienced voice in his work for the New York Times and is highly respected in the genre. In The Turk who Loved Apples, Mr. Gross explains that much of his travel writing has been on spec and conforms to his buyers' formatting, structure, and content requirements yet there is a whole world of experiences and observations he's collected on his travels that have value for others and thus he has in mind to share them. I've not read many of Matt's short form pieces but his long form as presented in this book suffers from a style that doesn't deliver suspense, a sense of intrigue, or strong characters to draw in the readers' emotions. When I read travel writing, I want adventure or deep emotional outpourings that I can identify with and Matt's text falls short. In the beginning of the book he details his start in travel writing and recounts his time in Asia & I found myself waiting for the story to pull me in. Disappointment set in as with each page my hopes were dashed a bit further that the material would ever become truly engaging. Finally (finally!), I reached a chapter within which Mr. Gross wrote eloquently about his relationship with his roommates, reflecting on the emotional connections between them and pulling me in to root for him (for him to succeed, for him to love and be loved, for him to enjoy his travels)for the first time. I perked up, satisfied that my patience in grinding through the earlier lackluster sections was now producing rewards. And then Matt detailed his experience with a hooker and his feelings about the situation- both in the moment and afterward and here he lost me again and forever. Do you know how many travel books I've read in the past year where white, educated men from America have seen fit to detail their sex encounters with prostitutes overseas? Three. It's disgusting and shameful. I don't want to read about your post sex-trade enlightenment! I don't want to know about your crisis of consciousness (or lack thereof) and the good and the bad of what you did when confronted with the offer of cheap sex from a woman who thinks so little of herself or has so little to lose that she is selling her body. And I hate the idea that someone who writes about this is going to make revenue from selling his story. You buy a woman's dignity cheap and wholesale, then turn around and repackage it in a voyeuristic story for your audience, selling it to them for profit. If you've paid for sex, confess your sin to God, not your book audience. I never did read about this Turk - the one who loved apples - because I couldn't make it past the wistful story of "that time I caved and bought sex".

Monday, April 1, 2013

Book Review: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg


In her new book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg has a little something to say about feminism, women, and power.

She doesn’t devote much time to detailing or discussing the external, institutional barriers that we women face in gaining power and becoming leaders in our workplaces, the political arena, and the world. She doesn’t devote much time to these barriers because she feels that’s been well covered by others - we’ve already been there, covered that, beat that dead horse a la the Feminine Mystique. Sandberg wants to focus on our individual circles of influence. This isn’t about sociology and the group, this is about psychology and the individual. This is about what we can do, in spite of those external barriers, to rise to power.

Sandberg’s main premise is that there are barriers inside of us, holding us back, and fencing off success. If we simply overcome these barriers we can rise to power and change the world through the power we wield.

Sandberg on what women are designed to do…

The foremost of these barriers is the internalized ideology that we aren’t designed to be aggressive; aren’t meant to hold power over men. Sandberg seemingly considers this assertion so repugnant that she doesn’t bother to argue against it. She simply recounts the ideology and steamrolls over it as if it were irrelevant. 

Sandberg is a smart and well educated woman. She owes a more detailed rebuttal of the classic religious and evolutionary biology arguments on a woman’s purpose then she’s presented. As noted in fact, she’s presented no rebuttal to these arguments.

Sandberg on what women want to do…

Anticipating the potential criticism, Sandberg acknowledges that even if we could let go of these constraining ideals of what we “should” do, not every woman actually wants to be ambitious in her career; not every woman wants to hold power and serve as a leader over others. She pays lip service to freedom, to choice, but only briefly and only after she reminds us how high the stakes on equality are: the world would be SUCH a better place if men and women in equal numbers provided leadership in companies, in politics, in the world. In her chapter entitled “The Leadership Ambition Gap” Sandberg quietly notes that there may be biological differences between the sexes that contribute to the gap in ambition between the sexes, but quickly moves on to expound on all of the external forces that researchers have identified as influential in this area, leaving the biology argument largely unanswered as a footnote.

Reducing woman’s desires and instincts to cultural brainwashing is derogatory and arrogant. And implying that if women wielded equal share in world leadership, things would be improved is both naïve and gender biased. On the whole, history teaches us that more voices, i.e. a stronger democracy, does not necessarily bring about gains in justice. Tyranny of the mob and all that. And there is nothing “special” about women over men that indicates our leadership will be a more ethical one. 

Sandberg on emotion…

Authentic emotion is appropriate in the workplace. Sandberg argues that it’s misguided to attempt to leave our personal selves at home when we come to the workplace. Don’t be afraid to cry at work when you’re really upset, or share other genuine emotions with your colleagues.

I don’t know what to do with this. Sandberg cautions women into dropping many other qualities traditionally associated with femininity (being gentle, being overly cooperative, being likeable, etc) but encourages us to hold onto this one. Why? Oddly, this might be one of the feminine qualities I think can sink us in the business world if we don’t harness it carefully (just like a man’s aggression can tempt him to steamroll over others and must be harnessed with good character).

Sandberg on stewardship of our time…

Don’t pull back from putting in above and beyond effort at work in light of any long term plans you have to leave the workforce to pursue other goals (such as rearing children). If you’re going to work, then work hard and work ambitiously to the best of your ability. You can pull back when it’s time to leave. Until then, put your whole heart into it, Sandberg argues.

On the subject of choosing working outside the home or childrearing you don’t have to choose. You can opt for daycare and consider it an investment in your future earning potential (because women who leave the workforce to raise children rarely ever reach high salary levels even after/if they return).

I can get behind doing a good job of whatever it is you are set about doing. I cannot get behind outsourcing the raising of one’s children to other people.

Sandberg on parenting and division of labor…

Men need to lean in at home and take on a more equitable share of childrearing and home keeping labor. Women should not marry a man who isn’t willing to do so.

Economics teaches us that division of labor benefits all. This doesn’t mean 50/50 splits. If a couple is comfortable with the male handling all or part of the housework while the woman handles some or none of it, fine. And vice versa. While Sandberg is free to choose her husband as per the qualities that matter most to her, suggesting that all women, at the outset define a good man as one that is willing to divide up the labor in just the way Sandberg advocates is ridiculous.

Sandberg on doing it all..

The conservatives who argue you can’t do it all (a la supermom) are right. Something has to bend. Sandberg recommends women with children bend their work habits some (be willing to work less hours, maybe only 45 or 50 or so a week) and bend their mommy habits (be content to have less time with your children; research shows they will still grow up ok if you stick them in daycare) and give up the idea of reaching ideal or perfect standards in any area. We can’t do all the things well; we can do all the things fairly ok, or do a few things really well.

This might be the worst advice in the entire book.

Sandberg on broaching the topic gender bias in our workplaces…

It’s important to be talk about gender differences, gender bias, and other gender issues in the workplace. But not too much! We don’t want to minimize, but we don’t want to obsess.


Sandberg on personal choice…

In the concluding chapters of Lean In, Sandberg reiterates that she unequivocally supports every woman making the choice that is right for them. However, she advocates hard for a societal push to encourage women at every junction to pursue leadership and power with gusto.

Translation: you can do whatever you want but Sandberg would like society to readjust so that the default message is to push you toward leadership and power instead of away from it. As is probably clear from the tone of my summary, I don’t at all agree with Sheryl Sandberg and her prescription for world improvement. I don’t think it’s the plan of God for more women to dominate and lead in the public sphere and I don’t think most women want to do so and I don’t think most men are comfortable in a society structured toward that end.  I think that occasionally God calls out exceptional women to be in such a role and that it is just that- an exception and not the standard. I think that women are here to be the gentle, tender, nurturing and feminizing image of God, in partnership with the masculine images of God that men give glory to.