on my bookshelf: a faith of our own

faith-of-our-own I just finished reading A Faith of Our Own by Jonathan Merritt based on a recommendation from my dad.  The book is focused on shifting away from “the culture wars” and searching for a more effective approach to living out the gospel.  He shares some history of how Christianity has evolved over time and encourages Christians to focus on serving others in their daily lives rather than relying solely on politics and voting to transform culture, as they sometimes have in the past.  I really loved his desire to end the “us-versus-them” mentality and focus instead on loving and serving the way Jesus did.

This statement really captures the heart of the book –

“‘Christians…forget that it is not what you think or how much power you have or how you vote that changes the world.  It’s your hands that do the changing'” (page 142).

Here are a few of my other favorite quotes…

“‘Twenty years ago when I was looking at evangelical Christianity from the inside, it seemed like a movement bursting with energy to spread good news to people,’ he [Brandon, a 32-year-old who has left the church] says.  ‘Looking at it from the outside today, the message seems to have been lost in exchange for an aggressive political agenda'” (page 80).

“The contrast between twenty-first century Christianity and the Jesus of the Bible is stark.  This Jesus–the compassionate loving friends of sinners–is difficult to reconcile with an often disconnected, insular ‘us-versus-them’ Christianity.  Jesus said His disciples would be known by their love, but in America today they are known in part for their anger toward homosexuals” (page 114).

“Rather than get offended at our world’s brokenness, Christians see these as opportunities.  When they perceive a problem, they are less likely to mobilize an angry protest and more likely to begin working with others to create and implement solutions.  Rather than focusing on what’s wrong in culture and warring against it, they are cultivating goodness” (page 126).

“…every story has a climax, and today’s Christians are convinced that the climax of the Bible’s narrative is Jesus.  Everything in the Scriptures point to Christ and everything speaks of Christ.  He stands with God at the Creation, is surprisingly sewn throughout the Old Testament, is the subject of the Gospels, and Paul begins almost every letter by invoking His name.  For a growing number of rising Christians, He is also the paradigm through which they are reading the Bible anew.  If Christians are shifting, a reacquainting with the person and work of Jesus is almost certainly behind it” (page 130).

I respect the fact that although Merritt spends much of the book highlighting the faults of Christian movements in the past, his closing chapter begins with this quote from George Orwell…

“‘Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it'”  (page 170).

As important as it is to improve the way that we live to better serve God, I think it’s also very important to recognize the value in past generations’ efforts (regardless of their downfalls) and to look critically at our own mistakes rather than just everybody else’s.

Read about more books on my bookshelf here:
Faith Unraveled
My Lucky Life
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus


commandments of men

red-letter I recently shared some of my thoughts about Faith Unraveled here.  In this book, Rachel Held Evans shares an experience that I, as well as many of my friends and family, have experienced and are experiencing.  She explains how at some point in her life, she had to strip away what she had learned about God and Christianity from the world and from her community, and focus instead on the teachings of the Bible,  specifically the teachings of Jesus.

Evans says that when we teach our own interpretations of the Bible as infallible truth, “…We inadvertently imply that embracing the Bible as truth requires embracing the one interpretation of it.  This results in false fundamentals, which result in an inability to change, which results in a failure to adapt and evolve.” (page 193).

As I was reading in Matthew 15 the other day, I came across a story where the Pharisees ask Jesus why His disciples fail to obey the law by not washing their hands before the eat bread.  As He so often did, Jesus responded with a question…

“‘Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?…
Hypocrites!  Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:

‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me,
And in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.””

It is so easy to unintentionally serve men, rather than God, without realizing it if we simply follow what we have been taught, rather than seek out the truth for ourselves.  Unfortunately, the consequences are not only that we “worship in vain” and suffer ourselves, but that we misrepresent Jesus and His beautiful gospel to others.  I have been constantly reminded in the last few months to be very careful to distinguish between the commandments of men and the commandments of God.  I pray for the grace and wisdom to do so for the rest of my life.

on my bookshelf: faith unraveled

Over the past several years, I have read several phenomenal books that have really changed my perspective on specific issues, or helped mold my perception of the world and of God. I have decided to share some of these books with you, because I’m an English teacher, and I love to talk about books!

faith-unraveled via dual identity

The first book I’ve decided to share about is one of my most recent finds – Faith Unraveled* by Rachel Held Evans.  In this book, Evans shares her story, from growing up in a small, conservative Christian community, to questioning her faith during college, and then redefining her beliefs and values in God.  I read this book along with some friends and family members, and it is a wonderful book to spark powerful conversations.  Evans’ witty humor and bold commentary also makes the book an entertaining and insightful read.

Here are some of the topics I found most interesting in the book, along with some quotes relating to each one:

Questioning the “Christian worldview” and the impact it has on our interactions with others:

 “…I’ve grown increasingly skeptical that there is such a thing as a biblical worldview.  When we refer to ‘the biblical approach to economics’ or ‘the biblical response to politics’ or ‘biblical womanhood,’ we’re using the Bible as a weapon disguised as an adjective.  We inadvertently imply that embracing the Bible as truth requires embracing the one interpretation of it.  This results in false fundamentals, which result in an inability to change, which results in a failure to adapt and evolve.  Imagine if geocentrism were still ‘the biblical view of cosmology’!” (page 193).

Analyzing what Jesus taught about salvation:

“…Jesus said that his kingdom is more accessible to the poor than to the rich. ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,’ he said, ‘than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’  When his disciples protested, asking, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus responded by saying, ‘What is impossible with men is possible with God’ (Luke 18:25-27).  (You can get that last part printed on a canvas tote bag for twenty-one bucks online)” (page 151).

Discussing varying interpretations of the Bible:

“I imagine an alternate universe in which Christians have chosen a different biblical condemnation [other than homosexuality] upon which to fixate, such as women uncovering their heads or people getting tattoos.  I imagine TV preachers claiming that 9/11 happened as a result of God’s wrath on the gossipers and the greedy, and churches raising funds to support an amendment to the constitution making remarriage illegal for people who are divorced.  I imagine people carrying signs that say, ‘God Hates Gluttons’ or ‘Stone Disobedient Children,’ and I think to myself, Boy I’m glad we didn’t pick ‘lifestyle sins’ like materialism or judgmentalism to obsess about, because if we’d had, I’d totally be screwed” (page 179).

 Providing a new perspective on doubt:

“…In short, we never learned to doubt.  Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God.  The former has the potential to destroy faith; the latter has the power to enrich and refine it.  The former is a vice; the latter a virtue” (page 219).

Whether you feel like you have questions about Christianity and would like to hear someone else’s thoughts about them, or whether you feel like you already have all the answers, I strongly recommend reading this book.  I have also really enjoyed following Rachel Held Evan’s blog – I admire her willingness to share her thoughts on controversial issues and her devotion to seeking out the perspective of others who are often criticized or pushed out of the Christian community. I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these quotes, or your thoughts on the book if you have read it!

*Faith Unraveled was originally published as Evolving in Monkey Town .

Read about more books on my bookshelf here:
A Faith of Our Own
My Lucky Life
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus



travel As an introduction to Mark Twain last week in class, I posted a handful of his quotes around my classroom.  I asked my students to walk around the room, choose a favorite (or least favorite) quote, and write about it.  After we discussed them, I asked if anyone knew or could guess the author of the quotes, and then we made predictions about his personality and writing style.  However, throughout the reflecting process, one of my students asked me which quote was my favorite.  And I think it has to be this one:

Travel is fatal to prejudice.

Mark Twain is the master of taking a complex idea and whittling it down to only a few words.  (Ironically, he is also the master of taking a few words and stretching them into an entire short story, but that’s besides the point.)

I love how he captures in this quote the idea that staying isolated in our own world closes our eyes, and consequently, our hearts, to the world beyond.  Yes, Jesus talked about loving our neighbor, but especially in this global village created by technology, the entire world is our neighbor.  There is no excuse for not engaging with people around the entire globe.

And as we challenge ourselves to learn about them, we begin to learn from them, and we realize how small we really are.  And we begin to realize all that God planned for the human race, and how we inhibit that design each time we speak or act based on prejudices.

I’m currently reading Evolving in Monkey Town, and I came across this passage this morning:

…It was within this social context [of always being ready for a fight] that I and an entire generation of young evangelicals constructed our Christian worldviews…We knew what atheists and humanists and Buddhists believed before we actually met any atheists or humanists or Buddhists, and we knew how to effectively discredit their worldviews before ever encountering them on our own…

May we push ourselves to look beyond ourselves, and engage with others through love, empathy, and service rather than preconstructed stereotypes and prejudices.


dimensions I love this quote.  It totally captures my heart for education, and especially my love for teaching literature.  I am so inspired by the idea that something that someone wrote centuries ago can impact people today, even teenagers.

A few months ago, we were studying Transcendentalism in my classes, and I was so excited to see my students really moved by the ideas of Thoreau and Emerson.  It is an entirely unique experience to read a text through the lens of a high schooler.

“Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”
// Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

What a beautiful message for my students, who are struggling to find themselves and trying to figure out their place in the world.  I can only hope that this idea, along with many others so far this year, has stretched their minds to new dimensions.

the song of the lark


“With heigh! the sweet birds, O, how they sing!…
The lark, that tirra-lirra chants,
With heigh! with heigh! the thrush and the jay…”

(Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale, IV, iii)

Tirra lirra is the song of the lark and an expression of joy that sometimes amounts to nothing but pure gibberish. This blog is a place for me to share my own tirra lirra, whether it be art and beauty or simply my thoughts and musings.