Lance & Megan's Blog

The Bark of the Bog Owl by Jonathan Rogers

June12

Book #1 of The Wilderking Trilogy

Formational Book Review by Megan

4/5 stars

“Courage is the will to lay aside fear because your desire to do right outweighs your desire to avoid getting hurt. You said you were frightened of the panther.”

“Terrified.”

“Then why didn’t you run away?”

Frightened though he had been, Aidan never even considered that possibility. “I couldn’t leave Dobro to be eaten by a panther. I couldn’t leave my sheep either.”

Bayard smiled. “You felt fear. But you didn’t act out of fear; you acted out of courage. Dobro was fearless. You were courageous, which is a much better thing to be.”

The Bark of the Bog Owl (TBOTBO) is a retelling of the story of David with a southern flair. The story follows Aidan Errolson, the youngest of 5 boys, who is relegated to watching the sheep in far off pastures. He longs for a courageous and adventurous life but the most adventure he gets is fighting off a panther with his sling. That is until the Pyrthen Empire lands on their shores. If you know the story of young David (I Samuel 16 & 17) than you will know the gist of this story. There are some twists and creative license is taken as should be expected.

Reading as a Disciple

“But I don’t feel like the Wilderking.”

“How is a Wilderking supposed to feel?” asked the prophet.

“I don’t know. I don’t suppose anybody knows. There’s never been a Wilderking before.”

“Precisely. None but you can say how a Wilderking feels. You are the only one.” He poked a finger into Aidan’s chest for emphasis. “And you don’t have to feel anything in particular.”

Bayard leaned toward Aidan. “Let me tell you a secret, Aidan.” He looked over his shoulder as if making sure no one was listening, then whispered, “I don’t usually feel like a prophet.”

We are often driven by how or what we feel in the moment. It is easy to do; sometimes we give in to our feelings (I make an extra batch of cookies because I feel like it,) sometimes we don’t have a choice (I’m still a mom whether I feel like being one) and other times we just don’t (I decline an extra helping of dessert even though I do want more.) Feelings are used to make decisions big and small. This exchange in The Bark of the Bog Owl, is a beautiful lesson in not making decisions based solely on how we feel. We don’t need to feel something special to do something great or small, we need to be obedient with what is in front of us. This same conversation continues later,

“What if I am destined to be the Wilderking? How should I live?”

“The same way you should live if you weren’t the Wilderking. Live the life that unfolds before you. Love goodness more than you fear evil.”

The same can be said of believers, to live the life that God has put before you. Love goodness in your workplace, in your school, in your home. In this era, where we can be pushed to pick a side, it is easy to forget it is more important to love goodness more than what we fear. By loving goodness around us, we can point others to a good God who loves us. But… loving goodness is a choice and we often won’t feel like it.

Reading Communally

“The doubt, actually was easier than belief.”

Just as loving goodness is a choice, so also is belief in the face of doubt. Doubt can be easier because it leaves room to settle for failure; it leaves room to save face if your belief turns out to be false. Hesitation, uncertainty, confusion, indecision are all synonyms for doubt, none are ones we want to be used to describe us. Doubt comes more easily when faced with discouragement and questions from those that are older and more experienced than us. Rogers does a great job of showing the brothers’ doubt and anger at their insolent brother desiring to do what is right. Our doubt and unbelief can have a huge ripple effect for others around us. The Bible gives many examples of doubt changing a community, look at the Israelites, doubt led to a golden calf being built! By Aidan choosing belief, he was able to rally the Corenwalders from their stupor.

The longing to belong can give way to peer pressure. Not only can it be difficult to stand alone when everyone around you doubts, it is hard to stand out and be confident. In TBOTBO, the Corenwalders want to impress the Pyrthens and be accepted by them; but instead “the Corenwalders’ attempts at imitation seem all the more clownish.” How easy it is to lose our sense of belonging and identity. The story continues to address the identity of the Corenwalders as a nation and their struggle to keep it.

Final Thoughts

Overall I enjoyed the book despite already knowing the general storyline. It was mostly predictable but there were a few surprises thrown in. It will be interesting to see in the other books, how Rogers tells the story of David and at what point the trilogy ends. The Bark of the Bog Owl is a great read aloud for families and provides plenty of conversation starters.

Other Jonathan Rogers books:

The Wilderking Trilogy

The World According to Narnia

The Charlatan’s Boy

The Terrible Speed of Mercy

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Practicing The Way: Be with Jesus. Become like him. Do as he did. By John Mark Comer

May31

Formational Book Review by Lance

5/5 stars

“To follow Jesus is to become his apprentice. It’s to organize your entire life around three driving goals:

  1. Be with Jesus.
  2. Become like him.
  3. Do as he did.

Apprenticeship to Jesus—that is, following Jesus—is a whole-life process of being with Jesus for the purpose of becoming like him and carrying on his work in the world. It’s a lifelong journey in which we gradually learn to say and do the kinds of things Jesus said and did as we apprentice under him in every facet of our lives.”

“Practicing The Way” is less of a book and more of an introduction to John Mark Comer’s new program called, you guessed it, “Practicing The Way”. Though, I do have to say, it is also a really good book.  In general, I am a pretty big fan of Comer’s books and framework around the Christian life. I am drawn to the contemplative nature of the way he encourages us to practice our apprenticeship to Jesus.  In the world today, we have so many people, things and causes drawing our affection and dedication. There are so many distractions it is hard to know how to move forward with a sincere Christlike lifestyle. In this book John Mark introduces us to a way or “rule of life” for this day and age to be a disciple of Christ by being with Jesus, becoming like him and doing as He did.

Reading as a Disciple:

“The question is not, Am I becoming a person? It’s, Who or what am I becoming?”

“Christlikeness is possible, but it’s not natural. In fact, the gravity and inertia of life will likely take you in the opposite direction. “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it,” as Jesus said.  Put another way, there are no accidental saints.”

I know I am a child of God.  But sometimes I do not look or act like a Christian. I often think that just reading the Bible, going to church or being a missionary somehow forms me into a person that exudes Jesus in any situation… Sadly, this just not the case. I love that Comer frames this all with a question. Am I a Christian, or an apprentice of Christ?  To be a Christian is to do what Christians do. To be an apprentice, however, is to abide with the Master, emulate what I observe Him do and obey what the He asks me to do. 

Comer argues that we all “make our home (abide) somewhere, the question is ‘where?’” I have seen myself “rooted in the infinite scroll of social media” and from it have been “angry, anxious, arrogant, simplistic, and distracted.” My willpower seems to have no power to actually do much against this very real force of “abiding” in things other than Christ. So, if I cannot, from my own willpower, combat this current barrage of other things that ask for my undivided loyalty and sacrifice, how do I live a life of a disciple in this current age? How do I stay an apprentice while getting woken up in the middle of the night by a crying baby, or reading another devastating article about more people dying in Ukraine or navigate yet another difficult relationship in the body of Christ?

I think Comer may be on to something… Just do the things Jesus did, while being content in a relationship with God where “I look at Him, He looks at me, and we are happy.” I so want that kind of acceptance and response to God. Most of my Christian life has been doing the right things for God because I have to.  But I am hoping my perspective is shifting to wanting to be like Jesus simply because it is the most loving and fulfilling way to live. Right now though, I am taking tiny steps toward this. Discipleship is a whole lot slower than we all want.

Reading Pastorally:

“For those of us who desire to follow Jesus, here is the reality we must turn and face: If we’re not being intentionally formed by Jesus himself, then it’s highly likely we are being unintentionally formed by someone or something else.”

“If “they” (whether multinational corporations, politicians, anti-democratic government agents, marketing departments, influencers who just want more followers, etc., etc.) can make us believe that each person is a blank slate, just following the inner compass of our “authentic self” in an upward march to happiness, then they can keep us blind to all the ways we’ve been “discipled”—formed and manipulated—by their desires.”

It is hard to keep a pure heart.  It is harder to shift ourselves away from things that we “like” and “want” that are actually doing us harm. It is actually even harder to identify what is even causing us harm. I have found, just telling someone who is constantly on their phone (which I have been known to do sometimes) to put their phone down does very little to bring an “aha” moment of their dependance. However, when I have seen people take a fast from social media, or actually rest one whole 24 hour period, tensions in their mind, emotions and body emerge. This tension emphasizes our living outside of God’s design for our human life and work. That is something way more than just knowledge will accomplish. That is a practice (or discipline), in apprenticeship to Jesus, working against our unhealthy coping strategies that “deform” us.

“The life of the Christian faith is the practice of many practices.”

I think there is something to, in the light of being loved by God and learning to love him back, a framework of consistent practices. The difficulty is that it is not easy (it may be impossible) to do on our own. So the challenge, I think, is to actually do this in community. And I love Comer says that, “love is the metric of spiritual maturity, not discipline.”  This is an important part of having a “rule of life.” It is not for perfection, but for love.

Other thoughts:

Why do I love Christian formation?  This style and emphasis in Christian living has been a solid rock for me these past 6 years. I remember the first time I was challenged to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry” (another book by Comer) from my life. It was then I started a very simple practice, driving the speed limit.  I was shocked to see my anxiety start to lift, my attitude to other drivers become more gracious and in general I became more peaceful… until I came back to the states and drove in the Seattle area… I increased my speed by 4 above the speed limit for my family’s safety… It was also the same time I started to have to initiate “The practice of being misunderstood.”  It is amazing how many people assumed I was just was trying to be a jerk by controlling the speed of others. I promise, I was not…  But I found that as I initiated a regular practice into my life, I was exposed to my inner life like I was not aware of before. And, in turn, I was able to love others better.

More about Practicing the Way at:

 www.practicingtheway.org

Other John Mark Comer Books:

  • Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies that Sabotage Your Peace
  • The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

Other Spiritual Formation Books:

  • Dwell: Life with God for the World- Barry D. Jones
  • The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People- John Ortberg
  • Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christhian Faith- Patrick Foster
  • The Other Half of Church: Christian Community, Brain Science, and Overcoming Spiritual Stagnation- Wilder and Hendricks
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Why Art Matters by Alastair Gordon

March29

A Call for Christians to Create

Formational book review by Megan

4/5 stars

“… art matters because people matter. Art gives a voice to people who can’t be heard. Art shapes the way we see the world and one another. Art matters because a beautiful painting or sculpture can transform us in a way nothing else can. It’s not just that art can brighten our spirits (which it can.) A good work of art can excite or incite, provoke or soothe, inspire or settle.”

Alastair Gordon is a Christian artist based in the UK. He teaches at the Leith School of Art and has been the artist in residence for the City and Guilds of London Art School.  Why Art Matters starts out with a simple, yet profound declaration that art matters because people matter and people are made in God’s image.

Reading as a Disciple

“Times have changed and most people today think differently from our ancestors, who regarded beauty as inseparable from its parallel qualities of goodness, justice and truth.”

Gordon makes the distinction that only God is able to make something from nothing; we create from what He has already created. The first thing we read in the Bible is God being creative. It’s easy to sort of bypass the creation story without realizing how it shows that God was creative. There was a process to His creating.

“When we read about how God created the universe there is a sense of rhythm, order and intuition, with God making the sky and seas on the second day and then returning to them on day five to enhance them with birds and fish. The same could be said of the night and day he makes on day one, as he returns on day four to make the sun and moon to enrich his earlier creation.”

Gordon references the creation of Middle-earth in the Silmarillion to talk about how art can be redeemed. Tolkien writes that Iluvatar, the creator, sings His world into being and invites his creation to join in the song and create with him. Instead of joining in the harmony, Melkor sings a discordant song and brings disharmony into creation. “We might expect Iluvatar to cancel out Melkor’s disruptive music, to press rewind and start again. Yet he allows the discordant melody to play out and into creation. Even more, he interweaves the discordant melody with the music of creation to allow a tension between harmony and corruption.” The same can be said of art today as it is made by broken-image bearers. As believers we might be tempted to wonder why God allows evil to continue but we miss God’s big picture and the redemption of His image. Art helps us see His beauty and the redemption of that beauty with its parallel qualities.

Reading Communally

“To me, this is one of the greatest mysteries of creation: how God continues to create all things and how he might use us to do so.”

It is such a beautiful thought that we continue to work with God as part of His creation. The creation story is important to show the partnership of God with His creation, Adam. Adam was part of the creation process as he was tasked with naming. Think of an artist creating a beautiful sculpture and then asks you to come up with the title, it’s quite the honor.  The creative partnership with God in the Bible continued in the making of the temple as well. “Simply to make something well is to reflect the character of God.” Since we are each created in the image of God, we reflect some aspect of His character in what we do or say, or in the context, create. It is important to be in community to better catch glimpses of God’s character in His creation. “We are an accumulation of the stories we read and the stories we tell…” and our story, or testimony, matters to the community of believers.

Final Thoughts

Why Art Matters was a simple and well laid out book for all readers. As a linear thinker, I found it incredibly easy to follow and comprehend. Gordon gave great examples and stories that enhanced his points. While he is a painter, he did a good job of not ignoring the other arts, he did reference many painters or his experience painting but it did not downplay other arts. I would recommend this book to anyone but especially to those that are in the arts already.

Other good books on art and faith:

Rembrandt Is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art through the Eyes of Faith by Russ Ramsey (highly recommend)

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henry Nouwen (Love this book)

Art and Faith: A Theology of Making by Makoto Fujimura (on my To Be Read pile)

Discovering God Through the Arts: How We Can Grow Closer to God by Appreciating Beauty and Creativity by Terry Glaspey (on my TBR pile)

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On Getting Out of Bed by Alan Noble

January3

The Burden and Gift of Living

Formational Book Review by Megan

4/5 Stars

“… your life is a good gift from a loving God,”

This is the whole premise of the book. Our lives are a gift. Many people suffer from anxiety, depression, grief, or mental illness at some point in their lives or perhaps daily. But despite all the “fixes” the world has to offer, the choice is still ours to get out of bed in the morning. Living out our days by getting out of bed is actually a powerful testimony to our neighbors and friends to the goodness of God. 

Reading as a Disciple

“Suffering… is a normal part of human life.” 

There is a lie in the Christian world that when we become Christians, our lives should become beautiful and easy and that we shouldn’t suffer. 

There is nothing in the Bible to support that thought. Noble goes on to say, “tremendous suffering is the normal experience of being in this world. Beauty and love and joy are normal, too, but so is suffering.” Becoming a Christian does not give you immunity to the normal hardships of life. While this can be disappointing to some, it is also a gift. Noble argues that we give testimony to the goodness of God by simply getting out of bed and continuing with our lives no matter how difficult our circumstances may be. 

“When we act on that goodness by rising out of bed… we honor God and His creation, and we testify to our family, to our neighbors, and to our friends of His goodness. This act is worship.” 

We often look to the glorified testimony but we already have a testimony by continuing in God’s faithfulness. I should not seek out something special to “add” to my testimony but to simply live out my days as a disciple, faithfully honoring God. 

“Your task is not to feel right but to act right.”

In this day and age, there is an emphasis on feelings and validating people’s emotions but sometimes we have to continue on without the feelings. Noble says, “Sometimes that’s what peace is: an action based on faith and not an emotional state.” 

Reading Pastorally 

“You are not your own, and neither is your suffering.”

“This is hard teaching, but we are responsible for one another, even when we are in the midst of great suffering and sorrow.”

One of my favorite things of the book is the emphasis on community and being with others. We need the body of Christ, we are not little islands that make up a body, we are united in Christ and therefore to each other. The world tells us we can overcome our problems with XYZ and all we have to do is decide what is best for us but again, the problem here is that it falls back on us. Our desire to “fix ourselves” falls to us and therefore if we are not changed by whatever we decide to do, it’s our fault. This is island thinking.  

This book challenged me to not only be more open with my own sufferings but also to not shy away from others who are suffering. For many people, it feels awkward and uncomfortable to walk with someone in their pain. We don’t know what to do. “Let me know if you need anything” is the best we can muster. After reading this book, I am looking for ways to not shy away from negative emotions in others but to be that hand or person that will simply make sure you are not alone. 

“Enduring requires you to share your suffering with others.” 

“By knowing together as the body of Christ, we can both exhort and comfort one another when we feel irrational guilt and shame.” 

Final thoughts

“Usefulness is the sole criterion for the World, the Flesh, or the Devil. But you have no use value to God. You can’t. There is nothing He needs. You can’t cease being useful to God because you were never useful to begin with. That’s not why He created you, and its not why He continues to sustain your existence in the world. His creation of you was gratuitous, prodigal. He made you just because He loves you and for his own good pleasure.” 

We were created for God’s own pleasure.  There is nothing we can do to change his love for us, to diminish it or increase it, His love just is. And with that, we can continue to testify to His unconditional, never-ending love for everyone by simply getting out of bed and living out our days, especially when we don’t feel like it. 

Other Alan Noble books:

You Are Not Your Own

Disruptive Witness

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The Making of the Mary Card

December5

We take our Christmas cards seriously. We thought you would like a little glimpse into how and why we put so much effort into these hand-carved and stamped cards that only come once a year.

Hand Carved by Megan

A few years back, I (Lance) got Megan a stamp making kit. I am always looking at ways to let her creativity shine. Sometimes I fail (ie. modeling clay, custom embosser…), but sometimes I get it absolutely right. Stamp making was one of those right things. As I am typing, I just asked Megan why she likes stamp making. This is her answer verbatim, “I don’t know, it is kind of fun. It is a forgiving kind of craft that you don’t have to get perfect. It really fights my perfectionism. Though after being in Ukraine, I can’t call myself a perfectionist anymore.” There you go!

Cards over the years

Her stamp making took a new turn a few years ago with the introduction of stamping our own Christmas cards. Megan and I both had a time where we desired a deeper understanding of Church history, what it means to be human and God’s story in it all coupled with a desire to live out a more intentional faith. One of those outlets took the form of the Christmas card. For us, this process has been a rewarding reflection on the different aspects of the world changing event of Jesus’ birth. From the design and carving, to the mailing, we try to keep it all in the spirit of reflection, joy, and generosity.

Christmas Card 2023, Mary

Megan started researching our Mary card soon after last Christmas (Joseph). But the real production started in September. She actually had the design in mind way earlier, however, life and Solomiya’s introduction to our family put a pause on the process. Previous years, Megan took inspiration for the covers of the cards based on pictures she found on the internet. This year, she could not find a suitable picture of Mary and so necessity became the mother of invention or rather the mother of Jesus stamp. Here at Discovery Bay, they have a lot of props for plays and production. With this in mind she said to me, “Lance, I want to get a robe and you take a picture of me. I will make a carving from that.” I thought she was a bit crazy at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I had to do some research on how to create something for Megan to use as a template, but eventually we found a suitable solution. I did all the digital work and Megan was able to transfer that to paper then on to the stamp.

The Little Ditty Inside

What is a Christmas card without a little ditty of a message? Last year for our Joseph card we added lyrics from a Porters Gate song called “Wood and Nails.” It is a beautiful song that has deep significance for both of us. I figured this year we would do something similar, but Megan thought because she was doing the stamp… I had to write a poem. I would not call myself a poet and my poems sometime seem more like a Dr. Seuss book than reflective poetry. But, I agreed, it would be an interesting challenge. I find, my ability to deeply think about something is assisted and honed by the constraint of cadence and rhyme. Thus “Questions to Mary” was the result. I wouldn’t call it amazing, but it was an interesting project. The full poem is in another blog post.

We so enjoyed this years card making. Megan has already been cooking up ideas for the next one actually. We hope that this little glimpse into our process and pondering has been a blessing for you. Blessings on your Christmas season!

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