Tag Archives: Christian life

Author Feature: Lauren Winner

Lauren Winner is an American historian, author and lecturer. Her interests are in Christian practice and Jewish-Christian relations. She was born and raised Jewish and then later converted and became an Episcopal priest. She is presently Assistant Professor at Duke Divinity School.

Winner’s writing, which I have encountered in various books and publications, is academic and approachable at the same time. She is honest about difficult issues in her own life while she speaks of relationship with God. Life and faith are messy, and our journeys are not perfect. Spirituality can suffer slumps and desolation and Winner offers unique insights into how to reconnect with God in ordinary everyday ways.

Here are the books, most of which I have read:

Girl Meets God is about Winner’s journey from Judaism to Christianity. The child of a Jewish father and a lapsed Southern Baptist mother, Winner chose to become an Orthodox Jew. But even as she was observing Sabbath rituals and studying Jewish law, Lauren was drawn to Christianity.  The twists and turns of Winner’s journey make her the perfect guide to exploring faith in today’s complicated world.

Still: Notes on a Mid-faith Crisis is a second memoir where she talks about the period following the breakup of her marriage and her mother’s death, during which she experienced doubt and despair. Elegantly written and profound, Still offers reflections on how murky and gray the spiritual life can be while, at the same time, shows us how to see the light we do encounter more clearly.

Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity will be especially valuable to unmarried Christians struggling with the sexual mania of today’s culture. In a culture of  “everybody’s doing it,” Winner speaks candidly, with honesty and wit, about the difficulty and importance of sexual chastity outside of a committed relationship. She confronts cultural lies about sex and challenges how we talk (or don’t talk) about sex in church.

Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God is about little known (or used) metaphors for God. Is God more like a cardigan sweater or a fire that burns but does not consume? Going through overlooked images of God, she offers a unique sensory exploration of relationship with God that is new and refreshing.

Mudhouse Sabbath is an invitation to spiritual discipline. In this slim volume she highlights how Jewish practices can inform Christian discipline and outlines eleven spiritual lessons that Judaism taught her. Winner feels that Christian practices would be enriched, would be thicker and more vibrant, if some lessons were taken from Judaism. Spiritual disciplines do not save us, but they are as important as piano etudes are to a concert pianist or muscle strengthening to the athlete.

‘Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life around the Table with Recipes’ by Shauna Niequist

“The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It’s about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.”

You don’t have to be a great cook of fancy food in order to have people over for a meal…trust me, I’ve been doing it for years! Even though I don’t love cooking like some people do, I have always been committed to the family dinner because it works like glue in our lives. There’s something about breaking bread and sipping wine and enjoying conversation with family, friends, or colleagues that is more than the sum total of its various parts. Whatever age your children are, whatever your home looks like, whatever you can or can’t cook (Uber eats?), being committed to at least one meal together everyday as a household and having guests often, will bring tremendous blessing to your life. Hospitality in my mind has always been about being welcoming and real and being ‘present over perfect’ which also happens to be the title of Niequist’s next book (Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living). I think I will read it but the title is almost enough already.

Shauna Niequist brings a down-to-earth perspective in her book Bread and Wine. She makes herself vulnerable with the funny and honest stories she tells about her own life with themes of hospitality, spirituality, community, food, friends, family, infertility, love, and shame, AND there is a recipe included at the end of every chapter! I loved this book and read it slowly, trying out her comforting and easy recipes along the way, many of which have already become favourites and are simple enough to memorize and/or tweak to your own tastes.

Pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass of wine, and enjoy the conversation at Niequist’s table!

‘Learning to Walk in the Dark’ by Barbara Brown Taylor

Learning to Walk in the Darkstarstarstarstar“I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”

This is the latest book by Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest and author of An Altar in the World, her best book by far and not one to miss. Click on the title to see my post on it.

This is such a good one too. It is a study of darkness, both the physical kind (with all the lights out) and the psychological and spiritual kind (living with loss and losing hope). This is not a how-to book, but if it was it would simply advise us to do what the author did–be curious about the dark and our own experience of it–have the courage to explore something that we have resisted and avoided for most of our lives because of a fear built up by our culture. We think faith is all about walking in the light, but there can be plenty of blessings that come when we, in our broken world, inevitably find ourselves stumbling in the dark. Darkness is actually something essential to our health because we need sleep. It is a natural part of our circadian rhythm–walking in the light and resting in the dark. How have we come to fear it so?

In this book the author looks to the phases of the moon to understand our relationship with God, which also naturally waxes and wanes. “…sometimes bright, sometimes faint, sometimes full on, and sometimes just a mere sliver peaking from behind a cloud…” With the darkness when there is no moon, it is important to realize that the light is coming. And when it is bright, enjoy it…because the darkness will return. Embrace these rhythms and learn from them. The invention of the light bulb has given us the false security that we can always be in the light, always in control, never having doubts or fears or times when we do not know the way.

Barbara Brown Taylor is honest and wise. Her writing is marked by humble elegant insights into life, love, and faith which are rooted and earthy but also divine. For her it is more about asking the right questions than having all of the answers. Her books are full of small personal moments that speak volumes.

‘For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards’ by Jen Hatmaker

For the Lovestarstarstar“If you can make a pot of chili and use a cell phone, then you can create community. If you want to wait until your house is perfect and you aren’t nervous, then just forget it.”

Jen Hatmaker is a Christian inspirational writer mostly for women who are 30 or 40 something. She has five children, her husband is a pastor in a busy church, and somehow she finds time to write books. But she’s very self-deprecating and honest about how hard life can be and how much pressure we put on ourselves. Jen has a gift for writing in an uplifting way that helps you to laugh at yourself and carry on.

Her earlier book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess remains a bestseller as it chronicles her family’s 30-day fasts from seven different things, to combat excessive consumption. I loved this book. Hatmaker has a great sense of humour and her description of the journey through this experiment of living without stuff for periods of time, brought out the best in her.

Hatmaker QuoteFor the Love was just ok for me. I found her humour a bit on the edge this time and her use of the word (Bless) as in “aw bless” about someone or something sweet but slightly misguided that has a patronizing sound to it, was irritating. (Sorry Jen, I hear that a lot in England and it bothers me there too ).  She did have some good things to say about grace and wholehearted living. I especially liked some of her reflections on parenting in this day and age. She talks about allowing children to build up their own resilience. Don’t step in to cushion every blow. Hold children responsible for their own failures, don’t demand exceptions and don’t blame the teacher. And what she says to parents is, don’t think you have to be Pinterest parents…it’s exhausting. Of course children need to be loved and shielded from harm and encouraged regularly, but I think she is on to something here. These days some parents just seem too scared and over-involved to let their kids venture out and learn some valuable lessons on their own.

‘Joy in the Journey: Finding Abundance in the Shadow of Death’, by Steve and Sharol Hayner

Joy in the JourneystarstarstarstarstarSteve Hayner, formerly President of Columbia Theological Seminary and InterVarsity, and World Vision Board Member, was diagnosed with a terminal cancer. He and his wife (and daughter) wrote posts in a beautiful meditative diary of trust and faith as Steve went through some treatment but ultimately went from life to Life (what a great way of saying ‘death’). Do not avoid this book because you think it will be sad or awkward to read. This is a brave and honest look at the different stages and decisions of living with cancer that clearly will help others on a similar journey. There are so many beautiful nuggets to collect in it–perspectives, quotes, thoughts, and stories. I know I will be referring to it again in the future.

Death hurts because we were meant for life but we are not without hope. The Hayners capture a powerful message about joy in this book–joy cannot be reliant on our circumstances. Circumstances are too variable to be the foundation of our daily feelings about life. Too often we equate ‘blessings’ with circumstances instead of with God’s loving embrace. We don’t need much help to find joy in the good times, but in the bad times, we need all the help we can get. After all, aren’t we all just “walking each other home” and isn’t dying the only thing we can all be sure of?

This weekend one of our daughters asked me to help her complete a knitting project. Together we looked at the pattern and the yarn and figured out what was what. She was able to proceed and she successfully finished the project, but when she thanked me I replied, “Well, I really didn’t do that much…” She came back with a beautiful line that will stick with me, because it so aptly demonstrates the importance of doing life together. She said, “Yes you did. You helped me to brave the unknown.”

‘Waterbugs and Dragonflies: Explaining Death to Young Children’ by Doris Stickney

Waterbugs and DragonfliesstarstarstarEarlier this year I met a woman who had tragically lost her daughter. We were talking about the impact of death on her family. When I remarked about how hard that must have been, she said a little children’s book had helped a lot with her young grandchildren. ‘Waterbugs and Dragonflies’ is a beautiful little picture book that relies on the story of a waterbug changing into a dragonfly. The gift edition is graced with lovely watercolour illustrations by Gloria Ortiz Hernandez. There is also a colouring book version by another illustrator which I have not seen, but noticed while browsing on Amazon.

Here is a link to the story, so that you can preview it.
Waterbugs & Dragonflies Text Only

There is an afterword in which the author says, “No one can predict the reaction of children to a story. The world of imagination is more real to them than the visible one. They surprise us with their clear grasp of that which we would make complex. And with unerring honesty they see through our flimsy pretenses. ‘I don’t know’ is an honest admission. But ‘I believe’ gives our children confidence in a future to be anticipated and in a Creator whose plan can be trusted.

‘An Altar in the World: Finding the Sacred Beneath our Feet’ by Barbara Brown Taylor

An Altar in the WorldstarstarstarstarstarBarbara Brown Taylor is an episcopal priest, author, teacher, and theologian. Despite making Time’s 100 most influential people in the world list, she is one of the most honest, humble, and down-to-earth preachers ever. The American subtitle for the book is ‘A Geography of Faith’ but I’ve included the UK subtitle because it best describes the book and underscores her main message: God can be found as we walk, rest, play and work in the world, not just in church on Sunday. In fact, as important as community and communion with other Christians is, church and religion may even get in the way of the spiritual for some. Faith is a way of life and it can be recovered in the grit, grind and glory of God’s presence in the world.  If you like Anne Lamott and Annie Dillard, you’ll love Barbara Brown Taylor.

Taylor says this, “In a world of too much information about almost everything, bodily practices can provide great relief. To make bread or love, to dig in the earth, to feed an animal or cook for a stranger–these activities require no extensive commentary, no lucid theology. All they require is someone willing to bend, reach, chop, stir. Most of these tasks are so full of pleasure that there is no need to complicate things by calling them holy. And yet these are the same activities that change lives.”

With chapter headings that choose everyday practices rather than doctrine (“waking up to God,” “paying attention,” “wearing skin,” “walking on the earth,” “getting lost,” “encountering others,” “living with purpose,” “saying No,” “carrying water,” “feeling pain,” “pronouncing blessing”), Brown articulates a perspective that I found refreshing and wise.  Matter matters to God and finding Him in the physical world is designed to help us experience the spiritual one. “God has no hands but ours, no bread but the bread we bake, no prayers but the ones we make.”

There are not many books on my re-read list, but this one will take its place  alongside What’s So Amazing About Grace and Man’s Search for Meaning. Taylor has a new book out this year (Learning to Walk in the Dark) which has some surprising things to say about darkness. The short excerpt I read of that one has me hooked already.

Here’s a short sermon from earlier this year entitled Sacred Downtime (25 min) which is worth listening to, perhaps while ironing or doing the dishes! 🙂