Book Review: Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower by Tom Krattenmaker

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Tom Krattenmaker is part of a growing conversation centered at Yale University that acknowledges—and seeks to address—the abiding need for meaning and inspiration in post-religious America. What, they ask, gives a life meaning? What constitutes a life well led?

In Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower, Krattenmaker shares his surprising conclusion about where input and inspiration might best be found: in the figure of Jesus. And Jesus, not only as a good example and teacher, but Jesus as the primary guide for one’s life.

Drawing on sociological research, personal experience, and insights from fifteen years studying and writing on religion in American public life, Krattenmaker shows that in Jesus, nonreligious people like himself can find unique and compelling wisdom on how to honor the humanity in ourselves and others, how to build more peaceful lives, how generosity can help people and communities create more abundance, how to break free from self-defeating behaviors, and how to tip the scales toward justice.

In a time when more people than ever are identifying as atheist or agnostic, Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower is a groundbreaking and compelling work that rediscovers Jesus–and our own best selves–for the world of today.

Before I mention anything else: if you are a professing, practicing Christian, this is probably not the book for you.  Krattenmaker is not a Christian himself, and is open about this.  He evens explicitly mentions that since he is not a Christian, he is fine with taking parts of a whole from the Jesus story and learning from those parts alone (ie, not in context with the entirety of the Bible).  He tries to take more of a historical, sociological perspective than an internal one.  But if it is against your beliefs to study the Jesus story this way, this book will likely make you more angry than anything.

That said, I enjoyed this.  Krattenmaker takes Jesus out of the Christian context and studies what has been written about him in order to gain some perspective for his own life.  The book is separated into topics such as sexuality, religious tolerance, and politics, and Krattenmaker uses specific anecdotes from the Gospels to illustrate how Jesus reacted to different situations.  The overall message is that Jesus acted differently than most humans tend to.  While we separate the world into “us” versus “them,” Jesus didn’t see it that way, and treated everyone individually.  In his eyes, every single person had value, and he interacted with them as such.  That, Krattenmaker says, is what all humans should strive for.

So if I liked it, why did I just give it 3 stars?  For starters, Krattenmaker tends to repeat himself.  Some things do bear repeating, but it felt to me like he kept restating the same few ideas over and over.  Perhaps this is because he used only 4 books from the Bible — the Gospels — but then, this makes sense because those are the only primary accounts of Jesus’ actual life.  The rest of the Bible deals with events before and after.  So even though I liked what Krattenmaker had to say, I found myself skimming the book after the first few pages of each chapter.

As for the final verdict, I would recommend this to anyone struggling with religion or lack of it.  This book can be used as a jumping-off point for those who are floundering.  It highlights the fact that Jesus really is a great example for everyone, even if the Christian church isn’t always.  If taken to heart, the principles detailed allow for the better understanding of others, and that’s never a bad thing.  This is something I would even give to a Christian who is disheartened or dissatisfied with their faith.  Taking Jesus out of the religious context, while definitely not orthodox, can be a good reminder of why Christianity began in the first place.

This book was provided to me for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review.  Image from Goodreads.

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Finishing Well

It’s been somewhat of a pattern in my life to tire of projects before they’re finished.  This was first evidenced by the mountain of unfinished stories I have in notebooks under my childhood bed.  I would get a great idea, start writing, and then run out of ideas and peter off, until my next great idea.  This bell curve of interest bleeds over into other areas of my life, too.  When I’m at the beginning or middle of a project, I’m ready to do hard work.  I know what it will take to get to the end, and I’m prepared for that.  I am able to focus on work and get things done.  But when I get close to end, I start to get antsy.  I just want the thing to be over already.  I start rushing, or even half-assing work, sometimes at the expense of quality.  I get so close to being done that I lose interest.  I do this with papers, group projects, and even job interviews.

I attribute this tendency to my impatience.  I don’t know why I’m an impatient person.  I think part of it is that I like to be productive.  When I’m in the middle of a project, I can see things taking shape.  I can spend a few hours working and have something to show for it.  The bulk of the work is done in the middle of projects, and I like that.  I like seeing the results of my actions.  I even like editing — the big editing that comes after the word-vomit stage.  But when projects start to come to an end, a lot of the work to be done is just tweaking, perfecting.  And I know this is important, sometimes more important than the production of the project.  But to me, it feels less productive than sheer content creation because there is less to show when I’m done.  The words or results are already there; I’m just changing them to look or sound better.  It feels like busy work.

My mom noticed this about me early on.  At the end of a school year, or at the final level of a competition, I would lose interest in my work and start complaining about how I just wanted to be done.  And she would remind me to finish well.  “I know you’re tired of this,” she’d acknowledge, “but you need to finish well.  You’re almost done, and you need to keep doing your best until the end.”

Those words came to mind this week as I was going from class to class.  At this point in my life, I’ve been in school for 17 years.  I enjoy learning, but I am so tired of sitting in class.  I cannot describe how pointless it feels at this stage.  I am now what most people would call an adult, and I’m ready to live the adult life.  I’m ready to officially have my own home that is not a college apartment.  I’m ready to spend my days working for pay (and learning on the job!) rather than paying to learn.  I’m ready to be financially independent; I’m ready to make decisions; I’m ready to contribute to society in a way I haven’t been able to yet.

But like it or not, I still have 5 weeks till graduation.  I know it’ll go by fast, but it’s felt slow.  I still have two group projects and a capstone paper to finish, not to mention finals in my other two classes.  I still have meetings to go to.  I still have events to work.  As ready as I am to just be done, it’s not going to go any faster because I’m sitting here wishing it will.

That’s why I’m going to try to take “finish well” as my motto for the rest of the semester.  If I can remember that, I’ll be able to enjoy these last 5 weeks instead of wishing them away.

How I Own My Shared Apartment

I honestly don’t know if you can tell from my blog, but I am not the biggest fan of being around people.  As you can see from these (actually quite accurate) results from a Facebook personality test, I’m not the friendliest person you will ever meet in real life.  I’m not warm, I’m not gregarious, and I’m only friendly when I make a conscious effort.

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That said, it makes sense that having roommates is not my favorite thing.  I will admit that I have been blessed in the roommate department — I’ve had a total of 5 throughout the years, and none of them have been crazy partiers, or always had tons of people over, or were so absolutely loud that it woke me up at night.  I know roommates can be SO MUCH worse than that, and I’m really thankful to actually be friends with 2 of mine.  However, I’m the type of person that even if I have the greatest roommates ever, I still cannot wait until I make enough money to have an apartment that’s all my own.  I just really like having an entire apartment to myself.

Because of that, moving into an apartment was an adjustment.  When my freshman roommate and I moved into an on-campus apartment our sophomore year, I was excited.  It was the first time I had my own room, and it was great to have a kitchen.  But unlike my roommate, I wasn’t that excited about decorating or anything like that.  For one, decorating is expensive.  But mostly, I knew the apartment would be temporary, and I didn’t see the point in investing in it.  I put up a few photos in my bedroom, and that was all the decorating I did.

That first apartment was also the first time I had to take care of spaces other than my room.  At home, I shared a room with my sister growing up.  Our parents made us clean it every now and then, and we were required to clean our shared hall bathroom every week.  But those were always chores I hated, and didn’t want to do.  Moving into an apartment changed that.  Suddenly, the rooms were mine, and it reflected on me when they weren’t nice and clean.  It was me and my roommate who had to deal with messes, so we were more careful not to make them in the first place.

I moved out of the on-campus apartment halfway through junior year, because I finally realized how much more expensive it was compared to off-campus ones.  I moved in with two girls, one of whom I knew fairly well.  Moving in there was a bit of a different dynamic.  While my previous roommate and I had decided together to move out of the dorms, and had planned together which furniture each of us would get, when I moved again it was into an already-established apartment.  Of course, I did feel welcome, but I mostly stuck to my room because it was the only space that was all mine.  My roommates were much more gregarious than I (not hard to be, given the graph above), and had friends over to hang in the living room frequently.  That was fine, of course; it was their apartment as well, and their friends were nice.  But being the way I am, I didn’t hang out in the living room because there might be people I didn’t know coming in at any time.

Another thing about me: I am a bit of neat freak.  Since I’ve had a room of my own, I love it most when everything is clean and organized.  I work and relax best with a clean desk and clean floors, and love to see my laundry basket empty.  I also hate a messy kitchen.  I’m not above leaving dishes in the sink, but I am above not wiping down the counter after preparing food on it.  Also, cleaning is one of the things that makes me happy — honestly.  Dusting is the only cleaning chore I don’t like, and that’s because I don’t like having to move all the stuff that sits on surfaces.  But when I vacuum, or mop, or wipe counters, it makes me feel like I’m being productive and like I can accomplish anything.  (Also, cleaning is seriously a great workout.)

I used to get annoyed when my roommates didn’t clean.  It felt like they didn’t care about their spaces, and almost like they didn’t care how I felt when I came into the apartment to see a huge mess in the kitchen or hair all over the bathroom sink.  But I’ve gotten over that.  For one, I’ve realized that not everyone notices grossness.  Take my boyfriend, for example — it’s not that he doesn’t care than his bathroom is kind of yucky, it’s that he legitimately does not notice until I point it out.  (I’ve accepted that when we move in together, I’ll be the one cleaning.)  And for two, I’ve realized that cleaning makes me feel more at home.  I definitely feel simultaneously relaxed and energized in a clean apartment.  But more than that, cleaning an apartment allows me to claim it as my own.  I take responsibility for it, and in doing so claim it as my space that I’m proud to be in — and have others in.

I admit I am counting down the days to graduation, not only because I’m excited, but also because I’m ready to move into my own apartment.  But for now, I’m content to live where I do, and I’m thankful that I’ve figured out a way to make places my own wherever I am.

 

How I Come Up With Post Ideas

I finally decided on a regular blog schedule back in September or October. This was a biggish step, because it means I have to work harder to stay on top of writing blog posts. It also means I’m writing a lot more. Writing more is proven to get your juices flowing — every single writer I follow touts writing every day as the best way to stay focused and get new ideas. Sometimes this is true for me. A lot of times I find myself with two or three ideas I really want to write about, which is good since I try to write and schedule several posts at once. But then there are those days (cough…like today) where I don’t have a ton of ideas and end up putting a post together the day of. (Not recommended.) So here’s what I do when that happens. 

  1. Keep a running list of topics. I think of random blog topics all the time. Sometimes it’s just a shadow of an idea, and sometimes it’s fully formed with two or three points I know I want to make. I keep them all on a list on my phone, and usually scroll through it for inspiration every time I sit down to write.  This post idea has been on my list for awhile, and today’s situation is definitely a perfect day to use it. 
  2. I scroll through Twitter. I don’t write about current events a whole lot, but when I do there’s a good chance my thoughts stem from a news article I saw on Twitter. I also follow several authors, bloggers, and celebrities there too, so sometimes their tweets will give me an idea for a related post. (I’ve found that, for me, other social media is not so good for post ideas.)
  3. WordPress’s post prompts and blogging courses. The employees at WordPress know that we all struggle with post ideas, and that’s why we have the Daily Post. I’m not a huge fan of the daily one word prompts, but there are also weekly challenges and other prompts specifically for bloggers to look through when they have writer’s block. WordPress also hosts free blogging courses a few times a year, several of which I’ve participated in before. A couple times, I signed up knowing I wouldn’t be able to actively participate, but I can still go back through the lessons and challenges for even more inspiration now. 
  4. Take a break and talk with friends. A lot of my post ideas come from conversations I’ve had with friends over coffee, or with my family while I’ve been home over the holidays. While online content is great for inspiration, I tend to subconsciously curate stuff I know I agree with. You can’t do that with actual people. Many of my more thoughtful discussion posts have stemmed from real-life conversations. 
  5. I don’t post if I don’t have a pretty good idea. I know technically this isn’t a way to come up with ideas. But there have been a couple times where I’ve wanted something on my site so bad that I’ve posted something completely worthless. While I will try to push myself and get good posts up on time, I’d rather skip a day than post something subpar. Quality over quantity, people!

If you have a different way of coming up with ideas, feel free to share!

Thanksgiving 2016

So I was planning on doing a photo gallery of things I’m thankful for in my life, because today is Thanksgiving and I didn’t want to write a whole post.  But turns out, I don’t take that many photos — and also, I had a different idea.

  1. I’m thankful that I live in a country where we get to elect our own president and representatives, even if the results aren’t always what I wanted.  It hasn’t even been 100 years since women got the right to vote in the US, and here I am, never having lived in a world where I couldn’t.  Unlike many, many women all over the world, I got to voice my say in my own government on November 8.
  2. I’m thankful I live in an area that has clean water.  As of this week, Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean water.
  3. I’m thankful that I have the money to mostly pay my own way for my living situation and college education, and I’m thankful that my parents have the means and willingness to make up for the little I don’t have.
  4. I’m thankful that I have a good chance of soon having enough disposable income to support the causes I feel strongly about, because I am tired of feeling and not doing.  I’m thankful that I’m privileged enough to have this be one of the things I’m thankful for.
  5. Finally, I’m thankful for the ability to blog and the community I’ve gained from it.  Blogging and reading other blogs forces me to think through hard issues and exposes me to viewpoints very different from mine.

All these, of course, are in addition to the things you all know I love — my boyfriend, my parental units, friends that still love me even when I suck at texting back, books, coffee, and the fact that cats exist — just to name a few.  I could go on and on, and I probably should because thinking through all these things forces me to have a better attitude.  (Maybe that should go on my goals for the new year.)  But I’ll go ahead and sign off now, because I know there is Southern-style dressing and turkey waiting for me.

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Oh — and don’t forget to #ShopSmallSaturday!

Introducing Forpy

Forpy n. the new weekly post on Mission:Incomplete (origin: the four p’s: peaks, pits, praises, prayers)

Pinterest is very inspirational to me.  Seriously.  I don’t just sit there and pin cool ideas and activities that I never accomplish.  Okay, I do sometimes, but on more than one occasion Pinterest has given me a really great idea.

the inspiration
the inspiration

I have been looking for something I can post here weekly, and this pin (to the left) came to my mind.  It’s pretty self-explanatory — in this journal you’re supposed to record your highs and lows.  Simple, right?  That’s exactly what I’ll do here every Saturday — I’ll think back over my week and record the good and the bad.  Looking at it this way will help me look on the bright side, and hopefully it will inspire others to do the same.  However, I am changing the order of the four p’s — I like to end on the high side rather than the low.

Pits

  • I was out of town on Saturday and my computer wouldn’t pick up the wifi, so the first Forpy post is late.
  • I heard back from Target saying I didn’t get the job I applied for.
  • Due to braces, I couldn’t eat all the delish leftovers that are in the fridge right now.  Do you know how seldom we have yummy leftovers?
  • Speaking of braces, they ache and look dumb.
  • I am a slacker – I didn’t do as much schoolwork as I should have this week.
  • My piano lesson was canceled.

Peaks

  • I discovered some awesome smoothie recipes!
  • I am beginning to enjoy economics again – we’ve been doing AP questions in class and I’m getting the hang of them.
  • My sister and I ran for 30 minutes straight this week, and the 5K is in two weeks.  We are so ready!
  • My flute teacher called saying she referred me to someone who needed an affordable teacher for their beginner flute student.  I may be getting called soon!
  • The unofficial end of high school is in sight – out of my three subjects this semester, two are one chapter away from being finished.
  • I got a Chick-Fil-A application.  Maybe it will go somewhere.
  • I discovered Blogging for Books!
  • Next week is spring break!

Prayers

  • I need a summer job.
  • A friend was in and out of the hospital this week and has been feeling bad because of the prescription.
  • Strength and perseverance to Saeed, an American pastor imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith, and to Naghmeh, his wife, who is doing everything she can to get his story heard.

Praises

  • The weather was really pretty this week!  (Until it got cold again…but before that it was gorgeous.)
  • Braces, though unfun, are definitely a very good thing.
  • My future is bright and I’m enjoying school again after an all-semester slump.
  • My peaks list is way longer than my pits list.
  • God is always faithful!
  • A friend got over the flu.