Review: “Good Christian Sex” by Bromleigh McCleneghan


good-christian-sex-coverRebecca and I have participated in several TLC Book Tours, and when I was offered a free review copy of Bromleigh McCleneghan’s Good Christian Sex, I debated whether to accept it. It’s not exactly my usual topic, but arguably it’s one with as much merit as other books I’ve reviewed, and, honestly, I was a bit intrigued by the title.

The title, perhaps the most-clever part of the book, could go multiple ways. Is it sex for “good Christians”? Is it good sex for Christians? And is that a virtuous or meritorious “good,” as in “I aspire to be a good person” or “I aspire to be a good guitar player”? The answer, as it turns out, is that it’s morally good sex, so those expecting how-to will be disappointed. It’s also probably more morally good sex for Christians, moreso than morally good Christian sex.

McCleneghan tells a story in the introduction that provides context for the whole book. She’s in college, and a friend calls to ask her if she (the friend) should have sex with her (the friend’s) boyfriend. The friend, it turns out, was asking McCleneghan because she (McCleneghan) was a pastor’s kid. Raised in a church environment that taught nothing wrong about premarital sex, McCleneghan responded, do you want to?

This book, then, is McCleneghan’s longer response to that and similar questions — reasoned and sourced and organized and written authoritatively — now that she is herself a pastor. It’s a question that deserves such an answer; McCleneghan’s will likely only cause people to take away from the book the things they bring to it. For those wanting spiritual peace of mind about a less rigid view of Christian sex, McCleneghan offers a discourse, signed by a pastor, granting it. Those with a more conservative view on such topics, however, are unlikely to change their mind because of anything McCleneghan writes here.

Personally, I think there is a case to be made that some churches today do skew overly conservative in their interpretation of sex-related scripture, and I believe that there is plenty of room for a open-minded discussion of what the Bible says about sex. This book, however, is not that.

God is a supporting cast member who comes and goes throughout Good Christian Sex depending on how much he’s needed at the moment. Scriptures that deal with sex make rare and brief cameos. Other scripture appears more often, cited as inspiration when it supports a point McCleneghan wants to make, and eyed suspiciously when it doesn’t align adequately with her modern cultural norms. (‘The Book of Genesis is not great for a lot of things,” opines Pastor McCleneghan.) Better inspiration for today’s Christians can be found here in The LEGO Movie and Ani DiFranco.

In debating whether to receive the review copy, I’d rationalized to myself that if it was going to require a discussion of sex too cringeworthy for my blog, I’d cop out and talk instead about what Christian sex tells us about God. This book provides little fodder for that conversation as well.

It’s not impossible to imagine that the friend who called McCleneghan with the question that informed this book so many years ago wasn’t really looking so much for theological discourse as license. This book allows those today with the same or similar desires to come to McCleneghan, and receive the same dispensation.


Good Christian Sex coverAbout Good Christian Sex

  • Paperback: 256 pages

  • Publisher: HarperOne (July 5, 2016)

    Many Christians in this country hear a singular ethic from their faith communities – absolute abstinence outside of marriage, and no exceptions – regarding abortion, birth control, and being gay. As a result of this inflexible approach, many simply disengage, disconnecting their sex lives from their lives of faith.

    In Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option – And Other Things the Bible Says About Sex, Pastor Bromleigh McCleneghan grapples with the enduring conflict of Christianity and sex. She combines personal anecdotes with theological research, and uses a measured, non-judgmental, and sometimes humorous†tone to make her case. She lays out theological and ethical questions that arise in the average, everyday†experience of adult sexuality, and informs readers through these discussions in a clear and engaging way. In this much needed book, she:

    • Addresses the theological sense of pleasure.
    • Encourages people to think about virginity and sexual initiation as complex things.
    • Discusses modesty, nudity, and what it means to be vulnerable with other people.
    • Reflects on whether or not single Christians have to be celibate.
    • Considers how to recognize whether itís time to end a relationship, or make a go of it.

    Pastor McCleneghan concludes that it is possible to bridge the gap between sin and human nature, providing†hope where confusion, conflict or frustration had been, and lifting the veil of shame felt by many religious†people. Good Christian Sex†provides a much needed perspective that will liberate Christians to finally†express their sexuality in realistic ways that are aligned with their faith.

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    HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

    Bromleigh McCleneghan APAbout Bromleigh McCleneghan

    Bromleigh McCleneghan is Associate Pastor at Union Church of Hinsdale in suburban Chicago. She is the co-author of Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People, and her essays and articles have been published in The Christian Century, Ministry Matters, Fideliaís Sisters, Circuit Rider, Criterion, and the website of The United Methodist Church. More at www.bromleighm.com. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

  • Sort-Of Review: “Finn’s Story” by Jesse J. Holland


    photo-on-9-14-16-at-8-04-amSo yesterday after work I left the office and immediately headed for Barnes & Noble to pick up the newest Star Wars book, just released that day.

    To be sure, I like Star Wars and all, but generally speaking I haven’t been a “read the books” fan for many many years.
    This book, Finn’s Story, though, is written by my friend and former editor Jesse J. Holland, so I made an exception.

    Jesse’s the second person I know to have released an official Star Wars book in the last year, and it’s kind of surreal that he’s getting to contribute to the Star Wars canon. Jesse’s already an accomplished author and well deserved this opportunity, but for some reason the success of his first two books, The Invisibles: African American Slavery Inside the White House and Black Men Built the Capitol, falls into a mental category of “stuff of course Jesse could do” (alongside having an office in the White House, Capitol and Supreme Court building at various points), while telling an official Star Wars story is a different beast altogether. (Not because it’s better or more impressive, but because it seems more … untouchable, somehow.)

    The book is a young-reader companion piece to last year’s Force Awakens movie, told, obviously, from the perspective of Finn, and the highest praise I can give the book is that, while reading it, I would forget why I was reading it; my mind alternating between this “Oh, OK, so that’s what was going on there” I’m-just-reading-a-Star-Wars-book-here mentality to occasional flashes of “Hey, wait, JESSE wrote this!”

    Not bad, sir. Not bad at all.

    Book Review: “Lessons From the East” by Bob Roberts Jr


    I was recently offered an advance copy of “Lessons from the East: Finding the Future of Western Christianity in the Global Church” by Bob Roberts Jr to review for this blog. Since she enjoyed the last review she did and wanted this one as well, today’s entry is a guest post by Rebecca Hitt.

    You know, I like to think I know things. Well, I feel like I know a few things at least and am reasonably confident that I know how some things should work. I know Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 by heart (or used to…). I know how to scramble an egg (with bacon grease, of course, being a good, civilized Southern lady). I know how to play Pachelbel’s Canon on piano. I know how to beat a large foam ball until it looks exactly like a heavily cratered moon. And like a lot of American Christians, I’m fairly certain I know church. And “how to” church, so to speak. You bow your head when you pray, you sit in your designated pew at your local church, you put some money in the collection plate when it passes by, you sing a few hymns slightly off-key (but not too loudly, let’s not get carried away now). Maybe you invite someone from work to come to Sunday School with you or you pitch in for some community service. It’s a well-oiled machine of a system and you know it well. And a good many American Christians are comfortable with the routine. It’s not too hard. It doesn’t really require much out of you except on Sundays and maybe Wednesday night. But what if… what if that view of proper churching was incomplete? Or even spiritually inadequate? Bob Roberts book, “Lessons from the East” sets out to shake up the Western view of the church’s purpose and how the church functions.

    The book is written as a challenge and a call to arms for American ministers, pastors, and church leaders. Basically, it says, if you think you know how to successfully grow or plant a church, you probably are wrong. Roberts uses examples of his extensive world travels and visits with world religious and secular leaders to convince the reader to rethink concepts that may have seemed a given, like what a successful church looks like. Well, clearly it’s one with an extremely large worship sanctuary and thousands of people attending any one of the multiple services, with just the right amount of projectors and screens, a nice sound system, and reasonably talented praise band. Everyone reads just the right books and speaks just the right words. Even better if the church is supporting multiple missions in a handful of countries. And if your church doesn’t look like that despite your best recruiting and fundraising effort, despite having followed THE tried and true formula for structuring church… sorry, Pastor… guess it’s just not in the cards for you to be one of the “good” preachers. Or maybe it’s the Enemy who is keeping the masses from busting down the doors to hear your sermon. Or maybe if you had had a hipper youth program, families would have flocked to join. But certainly not your methods, right?

    Roberts proposes that you are looking at it all wrong. According to him, mistake number one that you made is that you failed to actually serve your community. Not communities in Africa or Asia or Central America but the one you are living in. You failed to meet the needs of people around you. Before you build a church, address the needs of the locals. In other parts of the world, that might look like provide access to clean water or creating gardens to produce food. Here it might look like providing childcare to single working parents. Serving others shows you truly care and wins their trust and respect. Roberts stresses respect as a vital tool in creating a successful church. Respect for customs and religions of other cultures and strong sense of kindness has gained Roberts access to areas in the Middle East and Asia that are usually more difficult for Christian missionaries to visit.

    Second mistake you made was wanting to build a mega church when instead you should be forming cell churches focused on discipleship. He explains cell churches are similar to the small group movements in a lot of American churches but not nearly as categorized. Instead of youth groups and women’s groups and singles’ groups, they need to be diverse with people of various ages, social statuses, and interests so they can help each other grow spiritually.

    And lastly, you had a picture of what YOU thought good proper church should look like. You never asked God what it needed to look like. Maybe He needs it to look like a couple of families gathered together in someone’s home. Maybe it looks like a group of coworkers that gather in breakroom during lunch.

    I’m not a church leader. I’m not a preacher. I don’t even teach a Sunday School class. So what did I get out of the book? A question that kept popping up in my mind was “What do you want to be when you are a grown Christian?” I want to be kind. I want to be compassionate, to others and serve with a glad heart at every chance. I want to live my life in such a way that to mention I believe in God is redundant. To love others in such a way as to remind them of the much greater and infinite love that God has for them. I don’t want to be good at churching; I want to be good at following Christ. I never want to get so lost in the ritual that I forget the reason. I want to break down my expectations and allow His will to work through me.

    I don’t want to know church; I want to know God.

    Review: Ten Prayers That Changed the World


    I was recently provided with an advance copy of “Ten Prayers that Changed the World”
    by Jean-Pierre Isbouts to review for this blog. Because my wife absconded with the book immediately upon arrival, today’s entry is a guest post by Rebecca Hitt.

     

    When was the last time you prayed a prayer so beautifully worded, so breathtakingly, artistically crafted that as a result of your prayer, the world would be forever changed? Take a moment to think about it. This can’t be just any prayer, now. No simple prayer for sunshine during vacation or for the gas in your car to last a few more days until pay day. Not even one that rendered a profound effect on your life. This has to be one that radically and dramatically changed the lives of countless others both in the world around you and in the world to come, for generations… people you would never meet, people seemingly unrelated to you save that one thing… that one change, that one difference that came about a result of that intimate moment between you and the divine. People would listen to or read the words of your prayer and find themselves inspired, humbled, touched, revolutionized. Changed.

    Do you have that memory? Do you have the number of how many times you have prayed like that in your life?

    I do.

    Zero.

    True to its title, “Ten Prayers that Changed the World” by Jean-Pierre Isbouts explores ten prayers, stretching over time from Abraham to Mother Teresa, that somehow altered not only the world of the supplicant but the world for all time. Each chapter consists of a different prayer and most importantly, starts off with the story behind the prayer. Isbouts places the reader right there in the thick of the action. Historical background is seamlessly provided so that the reader understands what is going on and the exact nature of the situation without any feeling of obtrusion to the narrative. If you are a history lover like me, you will appreciate the blend of spirituality and history. (Although my one slight annoyance Isbouts’ historical summations was that I felt he very much glossed over the circumstances and events leading up to and during the Hundred Years’ War between the English and the French in the 14th and 15th centuries. Though I totally understand that he had to condense a very complex situation into a few paragraphs so that a broad audience could understand. And that Joan of Arc, and therefore the French, had to without a shadow of a doubt appear to be in the “right.” That just happens to be one of the time periods that I have researched a good bit about so it’s easy for me to be nitpicky.) I became engrossed each person’s story. I worried with them. I hoped with them. And when it came time for the person to articulate to God their pleas, their hopes, their needs, their thanksgivings—I was right there with them, saying “YES! AMEN! THAT’S PERFECT! GOOD JOB! THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED TO SAY!”

    And their prayers are good. I mean, really good. Beautifully worded. Not a word too much or a word too little.

    I can’t pray like that. A good many of my prayers don’t even have words.

    For me, the book pushed me to examine my own prayers. When I was little, I thought that when I prayed, I had to use my absolute best grammar, with the most flowery language possible. Maybe with a few thee-s and thou-s thrown in there for good measure. Because isn’t that what God desires? Isn’t that what He deserves? And aren’t the well-worded prayers the ones that God answers? As if I could just craft a prayer good enough, maybe He would hear. Maybe He would answer. As I grew older, I realized that prayer wasn’t about me presenting God with a pretty turn of phrase. It’s not about me and what I can do. I could never plead my case good enough to get anything or change anything. That prayer is about a moment of connection with my God. When I cry out to Him without words, silently pleading with Him to work through me whatever it is that needs to be done because I don’t have the faintest clue, He hears me. When I beg Him to give me whatever it is in my life that He decides I need because I don’t even know what it is I should ask for, He answers me.

    The ten people in this book didn’t set out to write a good prayer. Not even a half-decent one. They opened their hearts and their mouths to God and just spoke. Sincere, honest, heartfelt words. Their prayers are not profound because they are exceptional writers. They are profound because the authors, in a vulnerable and exposed time reflected in their words, remind us of ourselves.

    So if you are looking for a few of the prayers and stories that altered the course of human history, this is the book to place at the top of your to-read list.


     

    Ten Prayers That Changed the World coverAbout Ten Prayers That Changed the World

    ï Hardcover: 272 pages
    ï Publisher: National Geographic (March 1, 2016)

    From time immemorial, prayer has provided comfort in our darkest hours, stirred us to action beyond what we thought possible, and shown us the way through seemingly insurmountable challenges. In this engaging tour of world history, author and historian Jean-Pierre Isbouts takes us on an inspiring tour of ten prayers that played a pivotal role in world eventsófrom the divine inspiration of Joan of Arc to Martin Lutherís powerful hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God”; from†Abraham’s poignant†plea to save his son; from George Washington’s prayerful words to the newly formed American states to the horrors of Auschwitz; from Constantine the Great’s prayer before battle to Gandhi’s deeply moving “prayer of peace.” Ten Prayers That Changed the World delves into the moments in history where faith and prayer intersected with the course of mankind.

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    National Geographic |†Amazon†| Barnes & Noble

    Jean Pierre Isbouts APAbout†Jean-Pierre Isbouts

    Jean-Pierre Isbouts is a bestselling author, historian, and award-winning director of documentary and feature films. A humanities scholar and professor at Fielding Graduate University of Santa Barbara, California, he has published widely on subjects in art, history and archaeology, and directed films for Disney, ABC, Hallmark, History Channel and other studios and networks. He has also produced a broad repertoire of classical music with ensembles in New York, Los Angeles and Amsterdam.

    Find out more about Jean-Pierre at his website.

    Interviewing The Man Who Taught Me To Interview


    Joe Atkins at his Lafayette County, Mississippi home.

    Joe Atkins at his Lafayette County, Mississippi home. Photo by Lauren Wood, Mud & Magnolias

    Twenty years later, there aren’t a whole lot of my former professors I still keep up with. And there’s a case to be made that Joe Atkins​ might have been an unlikely candidate to be one of the few, since I failed one or two of his classes, depending on how you count.

    But Joe, as much as anyone, is the person who taught me to be a reporter. Not just the technical aspects of how to be a reporter, but what it means to be one. He was tough but fair, and played a huge role in the foundation of the arc my career would follow.

    So it was very interesting to get to write an article about Joe for the most recent issue of Mud & Magnolias about his first published novel, Casey’s Last Chance.

    Most of my stories for Mud & Magnolias​ are assigned to me, but this is one I asked to be allowed to write. I thought it would be an interesting subject, which is was, and I wanted to be able to help promote his book, which you should read. What surprised me, however, was how interesting the interview prep was. I’ve known the man for over 20 years now, but I’d never actually researched him before. He’s even more fascinating than I realized.

    The experience of the interview itself was also interesting. I was a pretty decent reporter back in my day, and even if I’m not in the newspaper business anymore, I do get opportunities to keep those skills from becoming too rusty. It’s been a long time since I’ve been nervous about conducting an interview. But I’ve also never before interviewed the person who taught me to interview someone. Going into it, I almost expected to be corrected on my technique. In reality, we had a really great conversation about the differences between journalism and fiction, the creative process, the future of the newspaper industry, and a lot more. The hardest part of the process was how much I had to leave out of the article.

    Ole Miss historically has a great journalism department and produces great student journalists (I read Tuesday that The Daily Mississippian​ just won another regional best daily student paper award), and professors like Joe Atkins are a bit part of why. I was blessed to be one of his students 20 years ago, and am honored to call him a friend today.

    And, in conclusion, buy his book.

    Review: “This Beautiful Mess” by Rick McKinley


    this beautiful mess rick mckinley reprint cover

    I went through three phases reading This Beautiful Mess: Practicing the Presence of the Kingdom of God by Rick McKinley. From the concept, I really wanted to read it and like it, and coasted on that like a pretty fair ways into reading it. But at some point during the reading, I shifted to really wanting to not like the book. This has much more to do with me than the book, but we’ll get to that in a second. Ultimately, however, despite my best efforts, I never fully made it to dislike, and finished the book out liking it so much that I immediately ordered a copy to give as a gift.

    Much of the focus of the book is something that I believe firmly — that Christians tend to focus way too much on the next life to the point of mission the importance of this one. We have a habit of picturing “the kingdom of God” as this place we go when we die with streets paved with gold, rather than a real and immediate kingdom that is truly at hand. And this part of the book, I wanted to and did like. For those unfamiliar with the concept of a real and present kingdom of God, the book may well be eye-opening. For those doing their best to live it, the book is a refreshing reminder that other people are doing the same.

    And that’s the trick — it’s one thing to go around and blissfully know that you’re living in the immediate kingdom of God, it’s another to roll up your sleeves and get in the trenches of an alien kingdom in this material land. And thus the part where I wanted to dislike it — it turns out, the book argues, it’s not enough to just go around saying, “yep, Kingdom of God.” You have to love. You have to care. You have to work. You have to GIVE. I wanted to disagree. I wanted to find a loophole. I wanted to find a way not to shoulder that obligation. But ultimately, I couldn’t. And when I made peace with that, I was able to like the book again. I’m not saying that I’ve fully changed my life based on this book, but I’d like to think I’m at least more aware of what practicing the presence of the kingdom of God really means.

    (I received a review copy of this book from Blogging for Books.)

    Review: “Unglued Devotional” by Lysa TerKeurst


    I read this book somewhat by accident. I was looking at the books that were available for review on Booksneeze, and of the options they had, this one stood out the most, sounding like an interesting devotional on keeping cool through the stresses of life. What I didn’t pick up from the description was that it’s written from the perspective of a mom and wife, and very much for an audience of people like her. Which I’m kind of not.

    Accidental as it may have been, I was glad I chose the book and read it. Moment of transparency: I’m reading the earlier devotionals about dealing with stress and still staying calm and about treating others better and the like, and I thought to myself, “I know exactly who needs to read this book, someone who desperately needs to learn all these lessons.” And then I read a bit further to the devotionals about empathy and not judging others, and I realize that the person who really needed to be reading the book was me. With that bit of humility firmly emplaced, I started getting a lot more out of it.