Earthen Vessels: A Recommendation

Posted by on Apr 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

Despite the fact that we attended the same small university for four years, I have very few memories of Matthew Lee Anderson. The only one that is vivid occurred during our student orientation, in which Matthew stood up in a room of several hundred of his peers and asked staff if the rumors were true about the proportions of one on campus group’s population to another. Seeing as Biola had a 3:1 female-to-male ratio at that time, the entire auditorium assumed that his question was in said regard and laughed accordingly. Matthew then said, “Guys, I was talking about teachers to students.” This too received a laugh. Matthew’s cleverness and self-assurance were evident to me then (and, if I am honest, a source of envy), and his writings at MereOrthodoxy.comand Earthen Vessels, affirm his intelligence further.
Make no mistake however, Earthen Vessels is not light and humorous (though asides of such nature are present). On the contrary, the work is a serious, forthright admonition from Matthew to his Christian siblings to grow in their relationship in the Lord through a better understanding of their bodies.  This synopsis may sound like another emergent or evangelical attempt to subvert tradition by connecting with God through some new practice skewed toward materialism or new age sensibilities, but Matthew’s work could not be further from such an assumption.
This book is grounded in not only tradition but scholarship and theology. Matthew is well-versed in the thinkers of the past as well as the present, and he draws from them all when developing his approach. His humility in this process is front-and-center, for he is earnest in acknowledging and examining his own shortcomings, particularly when deconstructing ideas with which he disagrees.
I would divide the book into three sections: The Body and Personhood, The Body and Culture, and The Body and Family (or, Church). Each section is interesting in its own right and towards its own ends, with overlap throughout (making the work cohesive) and particular rhetorical flare being shown in portions on tattoos, sexuality, and corporate worship. Matthew engages his subjects with a thoroughness that I found personally humbling, as he raised ideas I had not previously considered on a variety of topics.  Having gone through a personal journey of weight loss and increased focus on health and wellness, I have considered matters of the body and its importance often and deeply. To find a work that addresses so many gaping holes in my own outlook was of great benefit to me.
Conversely, in some ways Earthen Vessels feels incomplete, but in a fair way: One sign of a good text is the reader’s desire that the author had continued and addressed more. I ended the book with further questions: What about obesity, both from sloth and health related issues? What about disease and frailty? What about the body as a tool of communication (body language), for praise or affirmation or sensuality? What about Christ’s admonitions to remove those parts of the body that lead to sin? Frankly, Matthew may have answered these questions, and I simply failed to recognize them, but my point is that Earthen Vessels, full as it is, could use a sequel—one that I would be glad to read (after all, the body has over 2000 parts–according to that soap commercial, anyway).
As I said, however, this is not a shortcoming. Rather, Earthen Vessels conforms to the old adage,  “always, leave ‘em wanting more”—a testament to its usefulness not only in bringing subjects to the front of the reader’s mind but also presenting those subjects in way that welcomes further elucidation.
Dear readers, I recommend to you Matthew Lee Anderson’s Earthen Vessels, an engaging and scholarly work that will deepen one’s value of the body by raising new questions and ideas about its purpose, value, and relationship to its creator.
Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith can be purchased on Amazon.com in paperback or Kindle formats.
As always, thanks for reading,
Please Note: I recognize I have provided neither quotes nor direct commentary on specific matters in the text, but that is by design. I do not want to spoil the best lines or remove anything from the specific context and careful orientation in which Matthew presents it.

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Countdown to Stronghold Part 2: What is Stronghold?

Posted by on Apr 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

This post has been far more difficult to write than I expected. After several false starts, I am beginning anew with this simple question in my mind:
“What is Stronghold?”
I could write a lengthy essay answering that, but I thought perhaps a list might be better. So, here it goes:
  • Stronghold is my story but also could be anyone’s story.
  • Stronghold is a novel but also an embellishment of a real experience.
  • Stronghold is a book driven by concepts and reflection but also an adventure propelled by action and suspense.
  • Stronghold is a book about pornography but not really.
Maybe I should have gone with the essay write-up instead.
I feel like I’ve written much but told you nothing—other than “it’s complicated. I could just provide the “elevator pitch”, the one that I give folks who ask,  “what is your novel about?”
A man in the midst of temptation processes his motivations in hopes of overcoming his desire to sin, but he does this by picturing his soul as a world of fantasy full of angels, demons, and battles. It’s a big adventure story framed by an intimate experience. 

Sounds like I am hitting a bunch of quadrants, right? But then comes the follow-up question: “What’s tempting him?”

Now things get complicated.  Do I just say “stuff”? Do I say “pornography” out loud? Do I use the word “addiction”? Do I indict myself and say that it’s my issue as much as it is a fictional character’s? These are tough choices, ones that I have really had to engage on the fly in numerous conversations—some have embarrassed me more than others.
But the strangest thing has been happening, especially in the last month or so. Persons of various walks and beliefs have mentioned an interest in the book, perhaps not for themselves but for their nephew or son or brother. And what’s fascinating is that they’ve responded with an interest matched to my level of vulnerability.
To those who have received the vague and nebulous answer, “it’s a fictional story about a character”–which in some audiences is a wholly appropriate answer—their response has been a generic, “oh that’s neat.” But for those with whom my relationship is more personal, to whom I can say “and the story is kind of based on my own experience”, the reception is often, “you know, my friend or relative might find that useful” or “that sounds like it could be really great.” Maybe they see the mortified look on my face and are just being nice, or maybe it’s something else. Something more.
I come back to this a lot, but I think it’s true. I think they see love. They see a person willing to really put himself out there in hopes that his story may inform and encourage those who read it. That’s not an easy thing to do. I think that in many ways, their seeing my heart allows them to look past my sin. Funny how people do that, huh?
So what is Stronghold, really?  Stronghold is another self-published book out of millions to be released this year, and inasmuch as it’s a work of fantasy, it’s a window into my soul.
That’s kind of a terrifying thought…but maybe that’s why it’ll work (whatever that means).

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Memorization: Ezekiel 18:20-32

Posted by on Apr 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins that he has committed and keeps my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations as the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteousness deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die. 
Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just’. Hear Now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just’. O House of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 
Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of the anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”
The reason this passage resounds with me so deeply in our present culture is the Lord’s rhetorical questions, “Is not my way just? Is it not your way that is not just?”
I love these dual questions because they not only reaffirm the Lord’s ultimate authority but also ask Israel to recalibrate her own. This is also a two-fold reminder to the believer to take heart in the face of the world’s questioning the Lord’s moral law while also challenging the believer to constantly assess his or her own outlook and ways in light of the Lord’s (and adjust accordingly as needed).
I am a proponent of course correction. I see immense value in identifying one’s fault, repenting before the Lord (and others if needed), and undertaking new habits or disciplines in order to reshape one’s behavior to better model Christ’s. This passage, I believe, will be of great value to the believer in this area, particularly when one is convicted about a practice that they should begin or, on the flip side, cease. I have had a great many of these convictions in the last several years, and looking back, I see the immense wisdom in the Lord’s ways rather than my own. His ways have been just. They have proven themselves just—far more just than the cultural standards that I adopted as normative.
Like all passages, this one is full, but as I continue to muse on it, I cannot help but focus on the Lord’s heart for his people’s adherence to his just ways in order to avoid ruin. I just become overwhelmed by his goodness, for he has “no pleasure in the death of anyone”. What a good God, he is.
Thanks for reading,

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On Encouragement…Again.

Posted by on Apr 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

A few weeks ago I had a series of interviews for a possible job, and I was fairly exhausted when I arrived home. So I had two cups of coffee and realized I would not sleep until 2 AM, which meant saying goodnight to my wife and spending the late hours writing alone on the couch in another part of the house, as a sort of self-imposed exile so the glow of the Mac wouldn’t keep her awake.
As I said goodnight to her, I kissed her, and I moved to leave the bedroom, but she held my hand a moment. I turned back, and she smiled and said, “You did good today.”
To say that I was encouraged is a gross understatement, akin to saying that the earth has water on it sometimes. I was not merely uplifted but overwhelmed by the words and the assurance they carried. I know that may sound very strange, as though I should always know she feels that way and the vocalization shouldn’t have any real impact. But it does.
Words of support are a funny thing. Oftentimes when we receive them, we know the other person’s feelings toward us beforehand, and we do not doubt them in the least, but hearing their affirmation when unsolicited, well, it is a rush of emotional adrenaline. I feel this effect is compounded based on the depth of the relationship to the person from whom said encouragement is given.
I wonder if spouses (or parents and siblings for that matter) on average know the power of their words to uplift or, contrastingly, destroy. Inasmuch as they may recognize and avoid the reality of the latter, I would wager that they often forget the value of the former. We become complacent too often in regards to uplifting others, particularly those we see day in and day out, whose virtues and goodness we get used to and take for granted.
That being said, I would encourage you all to voice to your spouse (or those closest to you) more than your love but your pride in who they are, in what they accomplish, or in how hard they work. Do it when its not solicited or expected. Do it with your voice, not with a card; let them hear it with your sincerity and unique inflections. And do this often. You never know, you may just make their week without doing much at all.
Thanks for reading!

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Countdown to Stronghold Part 1: The Wave of Insecurity

Posted by on Apr 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

Two weeks ago, I announced the coming release of Stronghold on May 28, 2013

I have since been shocked. Shocked, I tell you. I would have thought that the announcement would put me into a tailspin of anxiety, neurosis, and terror at the thought of people reading my work. I really expected it.

Truth is, those emotions came like a wave that crested and broke over me…but it was a small wave. Low tide. The kind of wave that comes to your knees and crashes into white suds that cover no higher than your calves. Have you ever experienced this sort of thing? You walk along the shoreline, and you see the rolling blue, and you think to yourself, “Oh my, that’s going to be a big one,” only to have it gently head to shore, crest low, and break gently, not even stopping your step? That is the best picture of how I feel. Nothing too serious.

I was bracing for my insecurities to well to maddening levels once the reality of my endeavor hit. But no such onslaught came. Rather, I made the announcement and went about working, understanding that I had appropriate time to refine and prepare for the release.

This is an encouraging sign. I have great peace regarding this project. In fact, I have not only peace but excitement. As I have said many times, I felt led to write a novel. And this novel, specifically, from inception to completion, has been the result of Christ-exalting, God-pursing action. I thank him for it often. I thank him for the fact that I had it to draw my attention and keep me encouraged while being out of work. I thank him for the source of value it has been for readers up to now, and I thank him in advance for the manner in which he will use it to touch more readers in the future.

Hard to feel uneasy about releasing my book when I have that level of excitement over its creation. Let’s just see how I do come May…maybe that’s when the high tide will arrive. We’ll see together, won’t we?

Thanks for reading,

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Longing for Home

Posted by on Apr 15, 2013 in Uncategorized

Christians struggle. They sin. All the time. Some of them, though eternally loosed from the bonds of sin find themselves in shackles anew, not for lack of faith but because the flesh is weak. I have seen so many Christians wrestle with depression, sin, and deep-rooted pain. I have seen them. I have been one of them. Some days I am still one of them. I used to become so discouraged by this. I used to question my salvation and consider how I could possibly be a Christian if I wrestled with these things…

…But Christ is so good. The Holy Spirit is true, and he whispers into our souls with persistant love and grace toward us, that while we are yet still sinners, Christ is for us. Though the regenerate heart can still buckle beneath earthly pressures and feel the weight of burdens in the present days, God does not abandon us, he unchangingly loves. His love is full at the beginning of salvation, at the lowest valleys, the highest peaks, and it will remain so, until the end.

So, why do Christians struggle, and why do they hurt so often? If we are real believers in Christ Jesus, who he is and what he has done, how can we hurt and fail as we do? The truth of the answer lay in the text of the question. For Christians whose heart is truly drawn to Christ, who desperately crave heaven like the runner craves the marathon’s finish, this world is not home. This present world is not where we want to be. We long for a righteous throne at which to bow our heads. We wish for a glorious appearing that will blind our eyes and melt our hearts. We desire the presence of one so good, so true, so terribly awesome in his grandeur and power that our knees buckle beneath us and send us to the ground in praise. We want to see our Father’s face.

This is a real longing for the Christian. This is a desire–a desire that seems to trump all other desires less one: to love God by staying here, by serving him as we can, while we can on this side. But that is hard, being here can be hard, for it’s not home. Not yet.

All that to say, I try not to judge Christians for having emotional problems. If anything, I know how they feel. I feel that way too some days, and at times that hurt and longing send me toward fulfillment with the wrong things. But it always comes back to love. Love for God, and love for others. Love is hard, but it is the narrow path, and it is the path to which Christ calls us.

Nor sure from where in my heart this post came, but I felt it worth sharing. Thanks for reading,

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