Archive for the ‘Nonfiction Review’ Category

Review of Real Love, by Sharon Salzberg

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Real Love

The Art of Mindful Connection

by Sharon Salzberg

Flatiron Books, 2017. 305 pages.
Starred Review

I’ll confess right up front that I don’t really feel like I used this book as it was intended – and yet I still got wonderful things out of it.

The book includes meditation exercises at the end of each chapter. They sound like great exercises. I didn’t take up meditation and didn’t do the exercises.

But the book also gave me profound things to think about and things to notice and encouraged me to be more mindful in my everyday life. I’ve got a big list of pages with quotations I’m going to post on my Sonderquotes blog – There’s so much wisdom here!

I hesitate to pick up a book with love in the title, since I live alone and am not in a relationship. This book isn’t just about romantic love, though. It’s about real love, the kind of love that touches your life every single day. Even lovingkindness for people you walk past on the street.

Here’s what the author says in the Introduction:

This book is an exploration of real love – the innate capacity we each have to love – in everyday life. I see real love as the most fundamental of our innate capacities, never destroyed no matter what we might have gone through or might yet go through. It may be buried, obscured from view, hard to find, and hard to trust . . . but it is there. Faintly pulsing, like a heartbeat, beneath the words we use to greet one another, as we ponder how to critique others’ work without hurting them, as we gather the courage to stand up for ourselves or realize we have to let go of a relationship – real love seeks to find authentic life, to uncurl and blossom.

I believe that there is only one kind of love — real love — trying to come alive in us despite our limiting assumptions, the distortions of our culture, and the habits of fear, self-condemnation, and isolation that we tend to acquire just by living a life. All of us have the capacity to experience real love. When we see love from this expanded perspective, we can find it in the smallest moments of connection: with a clerk in the grocery store, a child, a pet, a walk in the woods. We can find it within ourselves.

Real love comes with a powerful recognition that we are fully alive and whole, despite our wounds or our fears or our loneliness. It is a state where we allow ourselves to be seen clearly by ourselves and by others, and in turn, we offer clear seeing to the world around us. It is a love that heals.

And here’s the progression the book follows:

Our exploration begins with that often-forgotten recipient who is missing real love: ourselves. We expand the exploration to include working with lovers, parents, spouses, children, best friends, and work friends, divorce, dying, forgiveness – the challenges and opportunities of daily life. And we move on to exploring the possibility of abiding in a sense of profound connection to all beings, even those around whom we draw strong boundaries or have tried in the past to block. We may not at all like them, but we can wish them to be free (and us to be free of their actions defining us). This vast sense of interconnection, within and without, leads us to love life itself.

I am writing this book for all who find that yearning within to be happier, who dare to imagine they might be capable of much, much more in the matter of love. And I am writing for those who at times suffer in feeling, as I once did, unloved and incapable of changing their fate. My hope is that through this book I can help you cultivate real love, that beautiful space of caring where you come into harmony with all of your life.

Reading a little bit from this book each day left me inspired and energized. Check out the quotes I chose on Sonderquotes, and if those speak to you, there’s a lot more where they came from. This book is about becoming a more loving person.

sharonsalzberg.com
flatironbooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/real_love.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Art of Storytelling, by Professor Hannah B. Harvey

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

The Art of Storytelling

From Parents to Professionals

(The Great Courses)

by Professor Hannah B. Harvey

The Teaching Company, 2013. 24 lectures on 12 CDs.
Starred Review

This is another one a friend recommended to me, but I didn’t actually put on hold until I heard him recommend it to someone else. I’d long thought I’d like to listen to one of the Library’s “Great Courses,” but wasn’t sure where to start. So when I heard this one highly recommended, I decided to start there.

One of the best things about listening to these lectures was that I began noticing, more than ever, how many stories fill my days. Shortly after I began listening to the course, a friend told me and a few other people the story of her daughter’s difficult pregnancy. She had us on the edge of our seats and rejoicing with her in the outcome – and I realized she’d done everything right in connecting with her audience and making us feel the emotions along with her. But I wouldn’t have even noticed it was storytelling if I hadn’t been listening to this course.

Now, this material is pretty obviously applicable to my job. After all, I conduct storytimes regularly! Though I do feel strongly about reading books in those storytimes, so I’m not going to switch over to the same form of storytelling she’s talking about – but so many of the ideas and techniques are applicable.

And it’s also applicable to something I’m doing lately – going to classrooms and talking about the Newbery Medal and what it’s like to be on the committee. Listening to that is helping me to focus on connecting with the audience and telling it as a story – not just as a list of facts about the medal. I was even on a county podcast, and the interviewer asked me *why* I would want to do this, and I floundered for a bit – and then thought of a story to tell that explains it – about that moment of thinking a book is so good, I wish I could tell the whole world about it. Being on the Newbery committee, I really get to do that!

But back to this lecture series, the subtitle says “From Parents to Professionals” – the lecturer very much believes this is applicable in board rooms and living rooms both – and I have to agree with her. What’s more, the more I think about it, now that I’m aware of storytelling principles, the more opportunities I am going to find to use storytelling to communicate more effectively.

thegreatcourses.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/art_of_storytelling.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

Pastrix

The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Jericho Books, 2013. 206 pages.
Starred Review

A big thank-you to my friends Charles and Laura who gave me this book for Christmas after convincing me to read Nadia Bolz-Weber’s next book, Accidental Saints, which was a 2017 Sonderbooks Stand-out. I already had this book checked out from the library, but it was nice to have my own copy to keep and to mark the good parts.

The book is autobiographical, telling how the author went from being an alcoholic on the road to self-destruction to become a Lutheran pastor, or pastrix, as some call her to try to insult her. She has adopted and redefined the term to mean a female ecclesiastical superhero.

She first felt called to be a pastor when she was asked to give the eulogy when a friend hung himself. She looked around and realized this:

These were my people. Giving PJ’s eulogy, I realized that perhaps I was supposed to be their pastor.

It’s not that I felt pious and nurturing. It’s that there, in that underground room filled with the smell of stale beer and bad jokes, I looked around and saw more pain and questions and loss than anyone, including myself, knew what to do with. And I saw God. God, right there with the comics standing along the wall with crossed arms, as if their snarky remarks to each other would keep those embarrassing emotions away. God, right there with the woman climbing down the stage stairs after sharing a little too much about PJ being a “hot date.” God, among the cynics and alcoholics and queers.

I am not the only one who sees the underside and God at the same time. There are lots of us, and we are at home in the biblical stories of antiheroes and people who don’t get it; beloved prostitutes and rough fishermen. How different from that cast of characters could a manic-depressive alcoholic comic be? It was here in the midst of my own community of underside dwellers that I couldn’t help but begin to see the Gospel, the life-changing reality that God is not far off, but here among the brokenness of our lives. And having seen it, I couldn’t help but point it out. For reasons I’ll never quite understand, I realized that I had been called to proclaim the Gospel from the place where I am, and proclaim where I am from the Gospel.

What had started in early sobriety as a reluctant willingness to start praying again had led to my returning to Christianity, and now had led to something even more preposterous: I was called to be a pastor to my people.

This book is about that journey, and is filled with many stories along the way of people touched by God’s grace – including herself (not in a prideful way – when she really needed it).

There’s lovely stuff here, as well as convicting stuff. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a gracious person because she doesn’t claim to have it all together, to be doing everything right, or to have the only right way to God. Her writing helps me see God’s amazing grace manifested in and displayed toward all of God’s children in all their messy glory.

sarcasticlutheran.com
jerichobooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/pastrix.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve, by Ben Blatt

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve

What the Numbers Reveal about the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing

by Ben Blatt

Simon & Schuster, 2017. 271 pages.

In the final paragraph of this book, Ben Blatt tells us:

The written word and the world of numbers should not be kept apart. It’s possible to be a lover of both. Through the union of writing and math there is so much to learn about the books we love and the writers we admire. And by looking at the patterns, we can appreciate that beautiful moment where the pattern breaks, and where a brilliant new idea bursts into the world.

Anyone who reads that paragraph and knows anything about me will understand that I loved this book. It’s a big data approach to literature, a statistical look at good books.

Seriously, what the author did here was take a huge amount of digitized texts from the classics (award-winning books or books on “best” lists) and from bestsellers and (for comparison) from fan fiction. Then he ran the numbers, asking a wide variety of questions. And discovered some fascinating things.

Do great writers actually use fewer -ly adverbs? Can you tell the difference between books written by women and books written by men simply by the words used? Can you figure out who really wrote a book, the big-name author or the coauthor? Do people follow their own advice (such as leaving out exclamation points and getting rid of “very”)? Are bestsellers getting dumber? Do Americans write “louder” fiction than British writers? Who uses the most cliches? And the one hinted at in the title: What are a writer’s favorite words?

You can probably learn something about what makes good writing from these insights, but mostly they’re just a lot of fun to think about. Who knew, for example, that Danielle Steel has begun 46% of her books with a sentence that refers to the weather? Or that Neil Gaiman’s favorite word is “unimpressed”? But that wouldn’wwwt have made as good a title.

SimonandSchuster.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/nabokovs_favorite_word_is_mauve.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of A Message of Hope from the Angels, by Lorna Byrne

Saturday, March 17th, 2018

A Message of Hope from the Angels

by Lorna Byrne

Atria, 2012. 183 pages.
Starred Review

After I read Lorna Byrne’s biography, Angels in My Hair, about how she has been able to see angels all her life, I liked it so much, I ordered two more of her books from Amazon.

This one isn’t autobiographical, but it passes on to the reader things angels have told her. And yes, this book is especially about Hope.

Here’s a section from the first chapter:

Hope brings a community together to make things better, and when it does, I see people get brighter, shine more, and then they can go on to achieve greater things. People who believe things can be changed for the better are beacons of light for us – and need to be supported.

Hope can be given to others. It gives strength and courage, and then hope grows. We all have a part to play in growing hope. In the past, people looked to leaders of churches, communities, businesses, countries to provide a vision of hope for the future, but now many of our leaders are struggling. They are failing to see all the ways in which we can make our world a better place to live.

The angels have told me so much about hope and how much we have to be hopeful about, and have showed me so many different ways in which they help to give us hope.

When I reread that section, I thought, “No wonder this book uplifted me so much!” She covers many different things in this book, but the overall message is that we are loved unconditionally, and there are angels all around us, ready to help.

I’ll quote from a few sections that especially struck me.

One section I liked was where she talked about teacher angels.

Sometimes, on a sunny day, walking through the grounds of the university near where I live, I see students sitting on stone seats opposite the library or sitting on the grass studying, and I see teacher angels with some of them.

Teacher angels always seem to be holding something – a symbol of learning that is relevant to whatever they are teaching. Sometimes they are holding a book or a pointer or a board with writing on it with the words constantly changing. I once saw a bricklayer’s apprentice with a teacher angel who had a trowel in his hand. Teacher angels exhibit the mannerisms we associate with teachers.

I have often seen a teacher angel standing in front of a student, book in hand. The book would look similar to the one the student was working with and seem to be open at the same page. Occasionally I see the teacher angel turn to another page and I smile, knowing that the teacher angel is having difficulty with his student, who is finding it hard to make progress. I have seen teacher angels gently stretch out their hands and touch a student gently on the head with one finger, trying to get the student’s attention. Most of the time this seems to work, but sometimes not. Teacher angels never give up, though, and never lose their patience. I have seen teacher angels blowing on a student’s book and making the page turn, or causing a strong breeze, which blows some of the student’s books and pens onto the ground. That is the teacher angel trying to bring the student’s attention to a particular page or subject, or to simply stop them daydreaming. Teacher angels work very hard to get their students’ attention.

I am always amazed at how few people have teacher angels. After all, all they have to do is ask their guardian angel for help with whatever they are learning and their guardian angel will invite a teacher angel in. In the college I know best, only about one student in ten has a teacher angel with them.

This bit encouraged me in thinking about my many Empty Nester friends:

You can also ask for a teacher angel to help someone else. Just ask your guardian angel for a teacher angel to help the person. Many parents have told me that they have asked for a teacher angel to help their children with their studying – this is so much better than fretting and worrying.

Another special angel she talks about is the Angel of Strength:

When you are exhausted or feeling physically challenged by a task, you can call on the Angel of Strength and ask for his help. He is one angel, but he seems to be able to help many people at the same time. He won’t stay with you, but will come and help you for that particular task where strength is needed.

She concludes the chapter about the various types of help she’s seen angels give with this reflection:

Angels are such a sign of hope. There is always an angel that can help us, regardless of what is going on in our lives. All we have to do is ask. You don’t need to know what angel to ask for; just ask, and your guardian angel will call in the help you need. Isn’t it wonderful to know that there is such an abundance of help there? To me it seems so strange, and sad, that so many people don’t make use of this gift.

I loved the chapter about prayer angels. Here are some sections from it:

I talk and ask the angels to help; I ask the angels to intercede, but I don’t pray to them. I pray only to God. Prayer is direct communication with God.

No one ever prays alone. When you pray to God, there is a multitude of angels of prayer there, praying with you, regardless of your religious faith or how you are behaving. They are there enhancing your prayer, interceding on your behalf and imploring God to grant your prayer. Every time you pray, even if it is only one word, the angels of prayer are like a never-ending stream flowing at tremendous speed to Heaven with your prayers….

I know it’s hard to believe that I see hundreds of thousands of angels of prayer flowing like a river toward Heaven, bringing a person’s prayers and presenting them at the throne of God. But that is what I am shown; it’s as if angels of prayer bring every bit of the prayer – every syllable that is prayed for – up to Heaven. When the person stops praying, the flow stops, but as soon as the person starts to pray again, the stream of angels of prayer resumes.

I loved this part, too:

Every time I go into a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple – or any other holy place – I see hundreds of angels praying, quite aside and separate from any angel of prayer. It doesn’t matter what religion the place belongs to – if any. Whether it’s a building or a space outside, even if the place is no longer being used for prayer, it is still a holy place, and there will be angels there, praying to God.

She talks about a lot of things I’d certainly never thought about this way, but that actually make sense put this way, and encourage me to have confirmation that such things exist and someone has seen them. The grace of healing is one of these.

Each and every one of us has the grace of healing within us – and it is a wonderful gift God has given us. I see it at work every day. It’s beautiful when I see a mother or father holding a child in their arms and comforting them. The child might have a physical hurt, like a scratched knee, or an emotional hurt like sadness, but the parent, usually unbeknown to himself or herself, is pouring out the grace of healing. It is wonderful to see the grace of healing flow from the parent to the child and to see the child stop crying and go back to playing happily.

There was a whole chapter about angels encouraging us to enjoy life.

I’ve said elsewhere that I hate the question, “What is my destiny?” It seems to imply that life is about one or a few big tasks or goals. My understanding from God and the angels is that each and every one of our destinies is to live life to the fullest. This means living every minute of every day to the fullest and trying to be aware and conscious of every moment and, where possible, to enjoy them all. Your life is today. It’s not yesterday or tomorrow. It’s now. This moment….

In seeing beauty around you, you will appreciate life more, and recognize more the beauty that is within yourself. Appreciating beauty helps you to slow down, and the more beauty you notice, the more beauty you will see. Much of the time we just don’t notice what is around us. We are lost in our thoughts or fail to give any importance or value to the idea of seeing beauty.

Yet another beautiful chapter is called “No one dies alone.” She’s had experiences with seeing people die – and she sees those souls gently being held by their guardian angel and surrounded by other angels, and surrounded by love.

I can go on, and it’s tempting to talk about every single chapter. But this gives you the idea. Lorna Byrne’s words are inspiring and uplifting.

The American edition (which I read) has an appendix at the back with a particular message of hope for America. However, it made me a little sad. This edition was published in 2012, long before the election of our current president. It tells how she sees special gathering angels, gathering people from all over the world, sending them to America. She says that she’s been told that America has a special purpose.

We need to start to pray together. I have been told that praying together is the cornerstone of creating a peaceful world. For far too long religious differences have been a cause of discord and war. Ordinary Americans praying together will allow people of different religions to get to know and understand each other. It will help them to lose their fear of one another, to see just how much they have in common, and to become friends.

I have been told that the first place that big numbers of people of different religions will start praying together regularly is America. This is one of the reasons that the American gathering angels have been bringing people of all religions to this country. It is a part of America’s destiny to help bring all religions together. America will serve as a role model: a beacon of hope for the world. From America this form of praying together will spread across the world, helping to unify peoples and to build world peace.

You can see why this discouraged me in our current climate. However, the chapter does continue with stories of seeing the Angel of Hope working extra diligently in America. I’m going to choose hope and choose to believe that in the big picture, people will listen to God through His angels and forces of good will win out.

And I can’t think of a better way to bolster hope than to read this book.

lornabyrne.com
SimonandSchuster.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/message_of_hope.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Empowered Love, by Steven Stosny, Ph.D.

Friday, March 9th, 2018

Empowered Love

Use Your Brain to Be Your Best Self & Create Your Ideal Relationship

by Steven Stosny, Ph.D.

Ixia Press, 2018. 226 pages.
Starred Review

Steven Stosny is my favorite author on relationships. If you have a relationship with a lot of anger between partners, I highly recommend Love Without Hurt (also known as You Don’t Have to Take It Anymore). I know from experience, this book really can help you transform your anger into compassion, and reinforce your own core value.

If you’re dealing with betrayal, I also recommend from personal experience the book Living and Loving After Betrayal. It will help you heal and help you move on.

This book, Empowered Love, I think will help relationships that are good get better and relationships that are sinking come up for air. This time, I can’t speak from personal experience, but I hope someday to try the ideas out!

As in his other books, he reminds the reader that we feel lovable when we are more loving, and we feel valuable when we treat others as valuable.

This book is an expansion of his work in the book Soar Above, bringing the ideas presented there into the realm of love relationships. Both books help you rise above your conditioned responses – the ways you learned to respond as a toddler, which he calls your Toddler Brain.

I realized fairly early in writing Soar Above that I had to write a separate book to accommodate the special challenges of committed love relationships. These occur on an altogether different playing field from those of work and social life. As we’ll see, many of the problems of love relationships stem from partners who behave at home in ways that might serve them well in work and social gatherings but fail miserably in love relationships. No important human endeavor makes it harder to stay consistently in the profoundest part of the brain than interactions with loved ones. The simple explanation of why this is so is that living with someone invokes a wide array of routine behaviors, running on autopilot, without forethought or conscious intention. Routine ways of behaving are likely to stimulate old emotional habits when stressors are added to the mix, such as quarreling children, urgent text messages from work, or overdue bills. The Toddler brain by habit looks for someone to blame, denies responsibility, or avoids the issue altogether.

The more subtle reason that we’re apt to invoke Toddler-brain habits in committed relationships lies at the very heart of love. The same quality that makes love wonderful – giving fully of the deepest parts of ourselves – also makes it a little scary. Most lovers have not felt so emotionally dependent and powerless over their deepest vulnerable feelings since they learned to walk. Similarities in vulnerability can fool the brain under stress and increase the likelihood of invoking Toddler-brain ways of coping in love relationships. Most of the hundreds of couples I’ve treated were fine at work and with friends, smart, resourceful, and creative. But at home they were like playground kids pointing out each other’s faults: “It takes one to know one!” Most were compassionate and kind to other people, but to each other they were opposing attorneys in a bitter lawsuit.

Like his other books, this book is rooted in value. Here’s where he talks about value in the beginning of the section on Adults in Love:

To grasp the psychological function of values, it’s useful to think in terms of the verb to value rather than the noun values. To value someone or something goes beyond regarding that person or object as important; you also appreciate certain qualities, while investing the time, energy, effort, and sacrifice necessary for successful maintenance. If you value a da Vinci painting, you focus on its beauty and design more than the cracks in the paint, and, above all, you treat it well, making sure that it is maintained in ideal conditions of temperature and humidity, with no harsh or direct lighting. Valuing loved ones requires appreciation of their better qualities and showing care for their physical and psychological health, growth, and development.

The experience of value gives a heightened sense of vitality – you feel more alive looking at a beautiful sunset, connecting to a loved one, knowing genuine compassion for another person, having a spiritual experience, appreciating something creative, committing to a cause, or identifying with a community. Valuing gives a greater sense of authenticity and often a greater sense of connection. High value investment gives meaning and purpose to life, with a stronger motivation to improve, create, build, appreciate, connect, or protect.

This isn’t a book about improving communication.

Couples whose interactions are dominated by the Toddler brain often fool themselves into thinking their high emotional reactivity – if not all their problems – is rooted in poor communication. Sadly, they find lots of reinforcement for this pervasive myth in pop psychology, where catchy notions that lack empirical support or theoretical validity reign supreme. The great cliché about intimate relationships is that they are all about communication and that communication is all about talking….

In intimate relationships, verbal communication is a function of connection, rather than the other way around. When people feel connected, they’re able to talk and listen with ease. When they feel disconnected, they tend to attack and counterattack, however cleverly hidden in verbal skills, as they blame each other for the pain of disconnection. Both partners seem to imply:

“I cannot love you until you agree with me or see things my way or express them the way I think you should.”

If partners are motivated to attack or avoid, employing even the most sophisticated communication skills will make them appear phony and manipulative. In my quarter-century of clinical practice, I have never seen skillful communication form a connection without a sincere desire to connect, nor have I seen poor communications skills or choice of words interfere with a sincere desire to connect.

Adults in love don’t try to communicate in order to connect. They connect in order to communicate.

There’s a small chapter on Metaphors, which toddlers don’t understand. If you think of your marriage with a positive metaphor, it will help you love like an adult. Several strong metaphors were given as examples, and I especially liked this one:

Love is like a musical duet. In a duet, both musicians are able to make beautiful music on their own. But together they make something greater than either can do alone: harmony.

Harmony is an appealing combination of elements in a whole. In music, it’s an arrangement of sounds pleasing to the ear. Harmony in intimate relationships is more about emotional tone and atmosphere than expressions of love or specific behaviors. It’s about both partners thriving and growing into the best musicians they can be. You stop making harmony when the Toddler brain dominates the relationship, simply because it cannot balance the drives for autonomy and connection. In the Toddler brain, all you can do is try to criticize or stonewall the violin into becoming the cello, and vice versa.

Harmony rises from partners attuned to their deepest values, which will necessarily include compassion and kindness for each other. The foundation of relationship harmony is frequent notes of compassion and kindness, focused on the long-term best interests of both partners. Focusing on compassion and kindness, rather than on being right or wrong, creates the sort of relationship harmony that keeps the drives for autonomy and connection in balance, and creates Power love.

There’s lots more here, but that gives you the idea. This is about building a relationship on compassion and valuing each other. It has many ideas for getting back on track if your relationship is going astray from that, but trying these things is going to make you feel better about yourself even if your spouse never does get on board.

If they do join you in this kind of a relationship? I do think you will soar. I hope I get to try it sometime!

compassionpower.com
Psychology Today blog: Anger in the Age of Entitlement

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/empowered_love.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, ordered via Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, by Brian Zahnd

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God

The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News

by Brian Zahnd

Waterbrook, 2017. 209 pages.
Starred Review

Before I’d even finished this book, I was recommending it to people as a lovely and wonderful explanation of theology of the cross that I can get behind. It’s a compassionate outlook about a loving God, not a God who’s going to blast people.

Then I read the author’s interpretation of Revelation, and I’m not sure I’m still as enthusiastic. Basically, he says that everything in Revelation is symbolic – and believes a lot of it was for that time and has already happened. I’m not sure if I agree with this take – but I’m going to have to do some reading and thinking about Revelation.

Now, I’d thought the book was about universalism when I ordered it from Amazon. It’s not, though these teachings are very compatible with universalism. The author mentions universalism but says he just doesn’t know.

However, all that said – this explanation of the theology of the cross is indeed Very Good News.

Here’s an example from the first chapter:

What I want you to know is that God’s attitude, God’s spirit, toward you is one of unwavering fatherly-motherly love. You have nothing to fear from God. God is not mad at you. God has never been mad at you. God is never going to be mad at you. And what about the fear of God? The fear of God is the wisdom of not acting against love. We fear God in the same way that as a child I feared my father. I had the good fortune to have a wise and loving father, and I had deep respect, reverence, admiration, and, perhaps, a kind of fear for my father, but I never for one moment thought that my dad hated me or would harm me. God does not hate you, and God will never harm you. But your own sin, if you do not turn away from it, will bring you great harm. The wisdom that acknowledges this fact is what we call the fear of God. Sin is deadly, but God is love.

I know some will be quick to remind me that the writer of Hebrews tells us, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” And no doubt it is. In the hands of God, there is no place to hide. We have to be honest with ourselves about ourselves. In the hands of God, we can no longer live in the disguise of our lies. In the hands of God, we have to face ourselves. And that can be terrifying. When the prodigal son returned home and fell into the arms of his father, I’m sure the boy felt afraid. We can tell by how he immediately speaks of his unworthiness: “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” This wayward son has fallen into the hands of his father; his fate is in his father’s hands . . . and he is afraid. But there is no better place to be! This gracious father in Jesus’s parable is given to us as a picture of our heavenly Father! When the prodigal son fell fearfully into the hands of his father, forgiveness, healing, and restoration began. Just because the prodigal son felt fear as he fell into his father’s hands doesn’t mean he had anything to fear from his father. In his father’s hands was the only safe place to be. It was in the far country that the prodigal son was in danger, not in his father’s hands. When we fall into the hands of the living God, we are sinners in the hands of a loving God.

He does get his theology from the Bible, but has this word of caution:

We need to understand that the Bible is not an end in itself. The Bible is a means to an end but not the end itself. Jesus said it this way: “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” If we see the Bible as an end in itself instead of an inspired witness pointing us to Jesus, it will become an idol. Idols are gods we can manage according to our own interests. If we want to make the Bible our final authority, which is an act of idolatry, we are conveniently ignoring the problem that we can make the Bible say just about whatever we want. In doing this we bestow a supposed divine endorsement upon our already established opinion. The historical examples of this are nearly endless; crusaders, slaveholders, and Nazis have all proved themselves adept at bolstering their ideologies with images drawn from the Bible.

About the cross itself, here is an example of his teaching:

The cross is not a picture of payment; the cross is a picture of forgiveness. Good Friday is not about divine wrath; Good Friday is about divine love. Calvary is not where we see how violent God is; Calvary is where we see how violent our civilization is. The justice of God is not retributive; the justice of God is restorative. Justice that is purely retributive changes nothing. The cross is not where God finds a whipping boy to vent his rage upon; the cross is where God saves the world through self-sacrificing love. The only thing God will call justice is setting the world right, not punishing an innocent substitute for the petty sake of appeasement.

So was the death of Jesus a sacrifice? Yes, the death of Jesus was indeed a sacrifice. But it was a sacrifice to end sacrificing, not a sacrifice to appease an angry and retributive god. Jesus sacrificed himself to the love of God manifest in forgiveness, not to the wrath of God for the satisfaction of vengeance.

There’s more here. As I said, I’m not sure yet what I think about his interpretation of the book of Revelation. But so much of this book is thoroughly encouraging and uplifting, I do heartily recommend taking a look.

waterbrookmultnomah.com

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Review of The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

The Willpower Instinct

How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It

by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.

Avery (Penguin), 2012. 275 pages.
Starred Review

A big thank you to my friend Kevin, who recommended this book to me more than once. When Kevin out-librarianed me and recommended it to someone else as among three books that help build leadership skills, I finally took note enough to put it on hold.

This book is similar to The Four Tendencies, by Gretchen Rubin, in that both talk about motivation and getting done the things you want to do, but The Willpower Instinct is more helpful and more comprehensive. Although The Four Tendencies has the fun side of trying to tell you something about yourself, The Willpower Instinct is more science-based, and everyone will find insights about willpower that they can use among this wealth of material.

The Four Tendencies made me think, “I’m an Upholder! I will do what I want to do!” The Willpower Instinct showed me exactly how I fool myself. For example, I learned about moral licensing and why thinking about getting up in the morning makes me feel like I can reward myself by falling back asleep.

Kelly McGonigal teaches a popular class on the science of willpower at Stanford. She offers actual science about the various self-control challenges we face.

Here’s a section from the first chapter where she explains the three parts of willpower and where she’ll go in talking about it:

“I will” and “I won’t” power are the two sides of self-control, but they alone don’t constitute willpower. To say no when you need to say no, and yes when you need to say yes, you need a third power: the ability to remember what you really want. I know, you think that what you really want is the brownie, the third martini, or the day off. But when you’re facing temptation, or flirting with procrastination, you need to remember that what you really want is to fit into your skinny jeans, get the promotion, get out of credit card debt, stay in your marriage, or stay out of jail. Otherwise, what’s going to stop you from following your immediate desires? To exert self-control, you need to find your motivation when it matters. This is “I want” power.

Willpower is about harnessing the three powers of I will, I won’t, and I want to help you achieve your goals (and stay out of trouble). As we’ll see, we human beings are the fortunate recipients of brains that support all of these capacities. In fact, the development of these three powers – I will, I won’t, and I want – may define what it means to be human. Before we get down to the dirty business of analyzing why we fail to use these powers, let’s begin by appreciating how lucky we are to have them. We’ll take a quick peek into the brain to see where the magic happens, and discover how we can train the brain to have more willpower. We’ll also take our first look at why willpower can be hard to find, and how to use another uniquely human trait – self-awareness – to avoid willpower failure.

Since self-awareness does help avoid willpower failure, reading this book, and learning the ways we trick ourselves, is a great way to build that self-awareness.

Here are some of the things that struck me as I read this book:

In the section on the physiology of self-control, we learn that in today’s world, we need a pause-and-plan response more than a fight-or-flight response.

The pause-and-plan response puts your body into a calmer state, but not too sedate. The goal is not to paralyze you in the face of internal conflict, but to give you freedom. By keeping you from immediately following your impulses, the pause-and-plan response gives you the time for more flexible, thoughtful action. From this state of mind and body, you can choose to walk away from the cheesecake, with both your pride and your diet intact.

We also learn that willpower is a muscle. It can be strengthened with exercise, but can also grow tired. When our body has energy, it will do better. There’s even a physical test – heart rate variability – which you can use to predict who will resist temptation and who will give in. The author has plenty of ideas for how you can build up your physical willpower reserve.

Then there is the chapter on moral licensing.

When you do something good, you feel good about yourself. This means you’re more likely to trust your impulses – which often means giving yourself permission to do something bad….

Moral licensing doesn’t just give us permission to do something bad; it also lets us off the hook when we’re asked to do something good. For example, people who first remember a time when they acted generously give 60 percent less money to a charitable request than people who have not just recalled a past good deed. In a business simulation, managers of a manufacturing plant are less likely to take costly measures to reduce the plant’s pollution if they have recently recalled a time when they acted ethically. . . .

Another study found that merely considering donating money to a charity – without actually handing over any cash – increased people’s desire to treat themselves at the mall. Most generously, we even give ourselves credit for what we could have done, but didn’t. We could have eaten the whole pizza, but we only ate three slices. We could have bought a new wardrobe, but we made do with just a new jacket. Following this ridiculous line of logic, we can turn any act of indulgence into something to be proud of. (Feeling guilty about your credit card debt? Hey, at least you haven’t robbed a bank to pay it off!)

I liked this insight:

To avoid the moral licensing trap, it’s important to separate the true moral dilemmas from the merely difficult. Cheating on your taxes or your spouse may be morally flawed, but cheating on your diet is not a mortal sin. And yet, most people think of all forms of self-control as a moral test. Giving in to dessert, sleeping late, carrying a credit card balance – we use them to determine whether we are being good or bad. None of these things carry the true weight of sin or virtue. When we think about our willpower challenges in moral terms, we get lost in self-judgments and lose sight of how those challenges will help us get what we want.

Another chapter talks about how attracted we are to the promise of reward – even if the reward itself doesn’t turn out to be all that wonderful. And she discusses how retailers use this to manipulate us. Make us think we’re “saving,” and we’ll spend more! But she also suggests using this on yourself – come up with a reward for your “I will” challenge, and “dopamize” the task. Suddenly, it will be much more attractive.

But another thing that leads to giving in is feeling bad.

Why does stress lead to cravings? It’s part of the brain’s rescue mission. Previously, we saw how stress prompts a fight-or-flight response, a coordinated set of changes in the body that allows you to defend yourself against danger. But your brain isn’t just motivated to protect your life – it wants to protect your mood, too. So whenever you are under stress, your brain is going to point you toward whatever it thinks will make you happy. Neuroscientists have shown that stress – including negative emotions like anger, sadness, self-doubt, and anxiety – shifts the brain into a reward-seeking state. You end up craving whatever substance or activity your brain associates with the promise of reward, and you become convinced that the “reward” is the only way to feel better.

This same chapter explains why guilt is not a good motivation to change, and why berating yourself for past failures doesn’t help.

Whatever the willpower challenge, the pattern is the same. Giving in makes you feel bad about yourself, which motivates you to do something to feel better. And what’s the cheapest, fastest strategy for feeling better? Often the very thing you feel bad about.

What’s more, when experimenters gave subjects the message not to be too hard on themselves, that everyone indulges sometimes – encouraging them to forgive themselves – subjects were far less likely to overindulge in the next part of the test.

If you think that the key to greater willpower is being harder on yourself, you are not alone. But you are wrong. Study after study shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control. It is also one of the single biggest predictors of depression, which drains both “I will” power and “I want” power. In contrast, self-compassion – being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and failure – is associated with more motivation and better self-control. Consider, for example, a study at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, that tracked the procrastination of students over an entire semester. Lots of students put off studying for the first exam, but not every student made it a habit. Students who were harder on themselves for procrastinating on their first exam were more likely to procrastinate on later exams than students who forgave themselves. The harder they were on themselves about procrastinating the first time, the longer they procrastinated for the next exam! Forgiveness – not guilt – helped them get back on track.

These findings fly in the face of our instincts. How can this be, when so many of us have a strong intuition that self-criticism is the cornerstone of self-control, and self-compassion is a slippery slope to self-indulgence? What would motivate these students if not feeling bad for procrastinating the last time? And what would keep us in check if we didn’t feel guilty for giving in?

Surprisingly, it’s forgiveness, not guilt, that increases accountability. Researchers have found that taking a self-compassionate point of view on a personal failure makes people more likely to take personal responsibility for the failure than when they take a self-critical point of view. They also are more willing to receive feedback and advice from others, and more likely to learn from the experience.

Another chapter looks at our tendency to believe Future Me will take care of whatever challenges come their way. It gives us some strategies for delaying gratification for a bigger reward.

Another chapter looks at how Willpower is contagious, and ways you can use this to your advantage. (Okay, maybe the people that Gretchen Rubin calls “Obligers” will benefit most from this chapter.) But yes, telling someone about your goals – or being around other people who meet goals – will help you meet those goals.

And the final chapter, “Don’t Read This Chapter,” looks at the specific challenges of willpower in “I won’t” situations. I thought this chapter was especially good for trying to eliminate thoughts you don’t want to bother you. I have a friend who had a tendency to scold me when I spent too much time thinking about my ex-husband, for example. (Thankfully, this problem is long past, but there are still times I want to change where my thoughts are going.)

This chapter confirms that self-scolding simply makes you think all the more about the forbidden thoughts.

Trying not to think about something guarantees that it is never far from your mind. This leads to a second problem: When you try to push a thought away, and it keeps coming back to your mind, you are more likely to assume that it must be true. Why else would the thought keep resurfacing? We trust that our thoughts are important sources of information. When a thought becomes more frequent and harder to pull yourself away from, you will naturally assume that it is an urgent message that you should pay attention to.

The solution is elegant and practical:

How can you find your way out of this confounding dilemma? Wegner suggests an antidote to ironic rebound that is, itself, ironic: Give up. When you stop trying to control unwanted thoughts and emotions, they stop controlling you. Studies of brain activation confirm that as soon as you give participants permission to express a thought they were trying to suppress, that thought becomes less primed and less likely to intrude into conscious awareness. Paradoxically, permission to think a thought reduces the likelihood of thinking it.

This solution turns out to be useful for a surprisingly wide range of unwanted inner experiences. The willingness to think what you think and feel what you feel – without necessarily believing that it is true, and without feeling compelled to act on it – is an effective strategy for treating anxiety, depression, food cravings, and addiction. As we consider the evidence for each, we’ll see that giving up control of our inner experiences gives us greater control over our outer actions.

So those are some of the points that stood out for me in reading this book. (I hope by writing out lots of quotations, I’ll be more likely to remember them.) Here’s a summarizing paragraph from the last chapter:

If there is a secret for greater self-control, the science points to one thing: the power of paying attention. It’s training the mind to recognize when you’re making a choice, rather than running on autopilot. It’s noticing how you give yourself permission to procrastinate, or how you use good behavior to justify self-indulgence. It’s realizing that the promise of reward doesn’t always deliver, and that your future self is not a superhero or a stranger. It’s seeing what in your world – from sales gimmicks to social proof – is shaping your behavior. It’s staying put and sensing a craving when you’d rather distract yourself or give in. It’s remembering what you really want, and knowing what really makes you feel better. Self-awareness is the one “self” you can always count on to help you do what is difficult, and what matters most. And that is the best definition of willpower I can think of.

I highly recommend this book, if you have willpower challenges, or even if you think you don’t. There are many more ideas and many more descriptions of fascinating studies all about doing what we really want to do.

kellymcgonigal.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Face of Water, by Sarah Ruden

Saturday, February 3rd, 2018

The Face of Water

A Translator on Beauty and Meaning in the Bible

Sarah Ruden

Pantheon Books, 2017. 229 pages.
Starred Review

The Face of Water looks at the Bible as ancient literature – beautiful ancient literature. The author has translated other works of Hebrew and Greek. Now she comes at the Bible text, not as a theologian, but as a translator and as someone who has worked with these ancient languages in other contexts.

What the author is trying to do here is fairly simple:

I would read in the original languages some of the best-known passages of the Bible and describe what I saw and heard there.

So here I am now, trying to make the book less a thing of paper and glue and ink and petrochemicals, and more a living thing.

The Introduction talks about how beautiful the Bible is as literature in its original languages.

The Bible’s beauty helps explain the astonishing amount of influence this set of texts gained in itself, in defiance of hard and even disastrous circumstances. It had to be something people were genuinely attached to – not distasteful or stern or dull writing they resignedly learned and obeyed; and not decrees they regarded as trivially or oppressively superstitious but went along with for pragmatic reasons. It had to be their book; it had to win their assent by every means available.

Then she gives history of how the Bible came together. She concedes the need for translators, but then says this:

Still, to me as a reader of ancient literature, most of what I see in English Bibles is loss: the loss of sound, the loss of literary imagery, the loss of emotion, and – inevitably, because these texts were performances deeply integrated into the lives of the authors and early readers and listeners – the loss of thought and experience. A deep irony is that reverence – fear of God, deference to the religious community, reluctance to impose personal judgment on a sacred text – has the effect, over time, of flattening out the inspiring expressiveness of the original; not only the physical beauty but the actual meanings, as – I have to insist – the two aren’t separate.

In the book that follows, I will use description, analogy, speculation, and experiment in attempts to convey something of what’s lost. I may provoke a great deal of disagreement, but that’s fine. If I merely bring a fuller and more nuanced discussion of the Bible into the public sphere, where it belongs, I will have made a bigger contribution than, a few years ago, I imagined possible.

The main part of the book has an odd format. In Part One, she takes seven Old Testament passages and seven New Testament passages, one of each in each chapter, and talks about the challenges of translating those passages, talks about what special cases come up in those passages.

In Part Two, she offers (in most cases) her own translation of the fourteen passages she considered in Part One. In Part Three, she gives a more direct transliteration of the original languages for the same passages – and a literal translation in parallel.

I would have liked to have the three parts interwoven, so that after reading about John 1 in Part One, then I’d see her translation and the transliteration right away. After all, I read the book slowly, only reading a section per day, so I’d almost forgotten what was said in the first chapter of Part One before I got to Part Two. (I’m tempted to read the whole thing again and do it that way with skipping around. Perhaps someday, I will. It’s worth looking at again.)

However, despite that quibble, this book is lovely. She does manage to convey what was found in the original language in terms of sound, literary imagery, emotion, thought and expression. Her words gave me a whole new level of insight into these passages, and a different way of thinking about them.

I have to say that she chose interesting passages: The story of David and Bathsheba paired with the Lord’s Prayer; The beginning of Genesis paired with the beginning of the gospel of John; Ezekiel’s dry bones paired with martyrs before the throne in Revelation; Ecclesiastes paired with Paul’s song of God’s great love in Romans 8; the Ten Commandments paired with the parable of the Good Samaritan; and finally a chapter on “comedy”: Jonah’s preaching to the Ninevites paired with Paul’s talk in Galatians about what those who demanded Christians be circumcised could do to themselves.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s studied Greek or Hebrew. But I have studied neither of those, so I also recommend it to anyone who loves the Bible – you’ll gain new appreciation of its beauty and look at it in a new light.

sarahruden.com
pantheonbooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Heaven’s Doors, by George W. Sarris

Saturday, January 27th, 2018

Heaven’s Doors

Wider Than You Ever Believed!

by George W. Sarris

Grace Will Succeed Publishing, 2017. 256 pages.
Starred Review

It’s true – I’ve started collecting books on universalism. I originally came to believe God will eventually save everyone by reading the writings of George MacDonald and then searching the Scriptures to see if it could be true. But George MacDonald doesn’t give a direct, organized defense of universalism.

Then I started finding more and more books that actually do defend universalism. My nagging doubts and questions all got cleared up. One of the most significant moments was when I learned that for the first 500 years of the church, while the leaders were native speakers of Greek, the most prominent teaching was that hell will not last forever, but is for the purpose of restoring and refining those who do not come to Christ while they are alive on earth.

This book, Heaven’s Doors, didn’t contain anything I hadn’t heard before, but I think it may be my new first choice for explaining universalist views to others. The author takes the Bible seriously – He would not have come to this view if he didn’t believe it’s what the Bible teaches. He also researched the teachings of the early church fathers.

But even though there is rigorous research behind his positions, he writes with a light and readable style. He even includes anecdotes at the start of each chapter.

In fact, he was an evangelical pastor before he came around to these views, and had to leave the church where he was ministering because he no longer agreed with their Statement of Faith. This makes me very, very glad that the church I’m attending right now doesn’t require members to sign a Statement of Faith – they just ask you to affirm that you’ve accepted Jesus as the Lord of your life and desire to follow him.

The author has had close friends confront him as following heresy and label him a heretic. He comes to these views and beliefs at great personal cost. (It reminds me to go easy on folks who are ministering with evangelical organizations. Although I firmly believe God will save everyone and this glorious belief gives me joy – it’s going to affect their lives and ministries more than it does mine.)

I did like his section on answers to common questions – some of the answers there were well said and helpfully articulate why certain passages don’t rule out universalism.

He uses endnotes – more than 400 of them – and while that does help make the text readable, I would have preferred footnotes, because as it was reading the endnotes when I was all done with the book, I didn’t always remember what it referred to. But that’s a minor quibble.

Here’s a lovely summary at the end of the book:

Throughout this book I’ve tried to look honestly and carefully at the major historical and Biblical issues that relate directly to the concepts of heaven and hell. I personally have concluded that all the people God created will ultimately be in heaven.

Why? Because of who God is.

He’s not partial – favoring some over others. He doesn’t change – acting graciously toward sinners while they’re alive on earth, but then withdrawing His hand of mercy at death. He’s not cruel – able to save all, but choosing rather to consign most of the human race to endless, conscious suffering. And He’s not weak – desiring to save all, but ultimately powerless to do so.

God is good! God is powerful! And God is loving!

Hell is real, but not forever. Jesus Christ succeeded in His mission to seek and save what was lost.

Amen!

For an articulate, well-organized and well-researched explanation of universalism and the Very Good News, this book is a good place to start.

heavensdoors.net

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