Friday, October 4, 2013

Beauty & the Bitch--Book Review

"True beauty comes and finds us and laughs that we were looking the other way. We as women have brilliant strategies for looking the other way. Fear and Control. Pride and Contempt. Addiction and Deadness. These giants rise in our hearts perpetually, surfacing in sophisticated ways when we are able to hide them and in humiliating ways when we can't. And, as we will explore each one in the sections of this book, these strategies are often the natural result of our very hard stories." –Jan Meyers Proett

As a counselor, I am always on the lookout for books that I hope will be helpful to my clients. Having often recommended The Allure of Hope to clients I was delighted when I read a blog by Jan Meyers Proett last December and learned she had written another book that would be released in a few months. (Read the blog post here: As I expected, Beauty & the Bitch: Grace for the Worst in Me is a very good book and one I will recommend often. It's an excellent resource for people who want to be free and for people who don't realize they're imprisoned who might read the book simply out of curiosity about the book's title. Notice, I said it's an excellent resource for people, even though the book is written primarily for a female audience. However, it would be a mistake to look at this book, decide it's just for women, and pass over it. But more on that later.

First, there is the matter of the title. It is a little startling at first, but it is exactly the right title. Some won't like it and dismiss it as a book that couldn't possibly be "Christian" because of "that word." "Good" Christians don't talk that way, after all. (One wonders what those same folks do with the Apostle Paul's use of cuss words, provided they have a pastor honest enough and brave enough to tell the truth about some of the terms Paul and other biblical authors use. For example, Paul uses a word in Philippians 3:8 that is translated "garbage" in some translations and "rubbish" in others. The NET Bible translates it as "dung," and includes this translation note: "The word here translated 'dung' was often used in Greek as a vulgar term for fecal matter. As such it would most likely have had a certain shock value for the readers"). I recall showing an article to a writing instructor at a conference, one I hoped to publish about finally waking up and engaging God in my wife's and my struggle with infertility. Early in the article I described my anger upon leaving an infertility clinic and included the words I'd said as I slammed my fist on the steering wheel. The instructor pointed out that although it was the correct word I would have to change it if I wanted to publish the article in a Christian magazine. In other words, it would be better to be dishonest about what I'd actually said than to use the word "hell" in any way other than to indicate "that place where people who aren't like us are going." And Jan's book was indeed passed over by Christian publishers who would have been happy to publish it if she would just change the title. Fortunately, Bondfire Books came along and recognized a very good book that needed to retain this title or be stripped of some of its impact. I'm glad Jan fought for the title and waited for a publisher with the vision and courage to go against the grain. What's important is that Jan doesn't use the word to shock or startle people, but to point out ways of relating that cover one's beauty. (If you want to read a couple of thoughtful blog posts about the title go here and here

So why do I like this book so much? Why am I so eager to recommend it to clients? For one, it is a thoroughly biblical book. You cannot read this book without seeing Jan is a faithful and diligent student of the Scriptures, and not as a distant scholar, but as one who has soaked in Scripture and conversation with God. I love her use of Hebrew terms. She uses them to help us understand important terms that tell us more about God and more about what we really need in our relationship with him. They're not used in a "look at me, I know some Hebrew terms" way. I did find myself at times wishing there were a Glossary of Important Terms included in the book. If you're reading this on an e-reader be sure to bookmark the terms to refer back to, as they're vitally important to Jan's message.

Another thing I like about this book is Jan's vulnerability. She shares parts of her story and shows how it connects to her own reactivity in relationships, primarily with her husband. It's one thing to share parts of one's personal story and the hurts and harm suffered in childhood or dished out in adolescence or young adulthood. That is plenty courageous. It's entirely another matter, though, to share present-tense failings as Jan does in Beauty and the Bitch. It's the difference between feeling "less than" while reading one of the many Christian superstar books--I've made it and I'll show you how--and feeling "joined"--"you're a mess, I'm a mess, and here are some things I've learned along the way. Things like, "It's okay to admit that you are a bitch, but it's also crucial to see that there is beauty in you that wants to come out--will come out. That's the wonderful surprise: the life of God will always rise. There is a quality to a woman's beauty that is simply unmanageable. We can't produce it ourselves, but we can make our hearts a welcome, responsive place for beauty to live."

And that is one of the beautiful things about Jan's book. The whole tone of the book, even as she is delving into things the "bitch" does, is that the badness that shows up can never outweigh the hope that there is a beauty that "wants to come out--will come out." She builds a solid, biblical case for why "beauty always wins."

As a man the temptation might be to read this book just to understand my wife better and to read it with a recognition of, "oh yeah, that's her." "Yes, she does that, as well." "Oh, so that explains why she acts that way." But if you're a man and you read it this way you'll miss a blessing. Sure, there might be something good about reading to gain some understanding of the battles women, your wife, are fighting. But there's another invitation here to read the examples Jan gives and see our own particular bent and acknowledge, "oh yeah, that's me." "Yes, I do that, too." "Oh, so that explains why I act this way." Jan has a deep understanding of what goes on in the human soul; she's counseled both women and men toward greater freedom, and this understanding can easily be applied to men. The wise statement that "whatever is not transformed is transmitted" is true of us, too, so we can certainly, and without a lot of effort, fill in our own examples of the bad stuff we do when we feel cornered or powerless.

I'm grateful for Jan's book. It's one I will reread, to inform my work with clients, to be a better man, a better husband. I've recommended this book to clients for a couple of months now and it's touching the hearts of my clients. I know it will deeply touch your heart, too.

Beauty & the Bitch: Grace for the Worst in Me is available in both e-reader and paperback formats. You can find it here:

Sunday, January 6, 2013

My Favorite Books of 2012

My Books of the Year: These are some of the books that stood out to me in 2012 . . . which I'm posting mostly for my own amusement, I suppose.

The Fire of the Word by Chris Webb: Formerly of Renovare, this book is an excellent way to get an understanding of how to read Scripture with fresh, new eyes. If your Bible reading has grown stale this is a good book to inject new life into your reading.

Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron: This memoir is one of the best I have read. Cron is a fascinating storyteller. He has you laughing hard one minute and wondering how he ever survived the next.
[Sidenote: another great memoir that wasn’t a bestseller but should have been is Earthly Fathers by Scott Sawyer:]

Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron—A novel that in some ways describes the journey I feel I’ve been on in recent years.

Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson, M.D.—This is a fascinating look at brain science and attachment theory from a psychiatrist who’s thought deeply about Scripture.

Do the Work by Stephen Pressfield-This book is primarily addressed to writers but really it’s great read for anyone taking on a project, starting a diet, or any kind of endeavor where you’re bound to meet inner Resistance.

The Summer of 43 by Joseph Bottum—This is a short book written this past summer during pitcher R.A. Dickey’s amazing season with the Mets. The author brought in a lot of baseball history, which I really enjoyed.

Wherever I Wind Up by R.A. Dickey—Oddly enough, Dickey’s autobiography was released during this past baseball season right in the midst of his greatest season as a major leaguer. It was a good season for any pitcher, not to mention a knuckleballer. I enjoyed it for several reasons, including the fact that I love hearing and reading other people’s stories. R.A. Dickey has a very interesting story. It was also fascinating to me because his book started out as an assignment from his counselor to write his life story. As a counselor, I also regularly ask clients to write their life story. I can’t help but wonder what effect it might have on my clients if they took the assignment as far as Dickey took his.

In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham—I don’t know why I didn’t read this one when it first came out several years ago. Susanne read it this summer and said it was great. I had some time to kill one day in early July and thought, “I’ll just read a few pages.” Let’s just say that for the next several days I didn’t get much work done. Such an amazing story of Martin and Gracia Burnham,their captivity in the Philipines, their struggle to trust God and persevere through many months of captivity and near starvation and separation from their families. It tells of Martin’s eventual death, which is so truly sad to read about.

Genesis for Normal People by Peter Enns and Jared Byas—It’s an interesting look at the Book of Genesis by Old Testament scholars who have a different view of Genesis than the one I’ve held all my life. It’s an easy read and has some great humor sprinkled throughout. They addressed some explanations I heard growing up and in Bible college that never made sense to me and offered some explanations that do make sense. While I cannot say I’ve changed my entire view of Genesis I can say I’ve enjoyed reconsidering some of my views.

Sanctuary of the Soul by Richard Foster—I’ve read, and love to read, books on lectio divina and contemplative prayer. I have several excellent ones. Reading Foster’s book, though, you understand why he’s the guru to many of the authors on spiritual formation. While reading Foster’s book I felt like I really wanted to be like Foster, not because he was tooting his own horn, but because he’s taken his relationship with God so seriously, tended it so well, and really has the life of Jesus formed in him. Of course, I really mean that I want to be like Jesus, but I say this of Foster meaning the same thing I think the Apostle Paul meant when he told some of his followers to be like him, to follow his example. Foster’s is an example I want to follow.

Surfing for God by Michael Cusick—There are better-known books on sexual addiction but there are none better than this one (see my earlier review here: Most of the Christian books on sexual addiction are frustrating because they take the try harder, do better, white-knuckling approach that has nothing at all to do with the Gospel of Jesus. Read Cusick’s book and you’ll come away with a comprehensive understanding of addiction, any kind of addiction, and the path to freedom. By the way, after Thanksgiving I was privileged to serve as a counselor at a retreat for men struggling with sexual addiction. More are planned, including one scheduled for early May. Find out more about it here:

Junia is Not Alone by Scot McKnight—I like anything Scot McKnight writes, and this one is no different. It takes a historical look at women in the Bible and church history and makes the case for women to play the role they were always intended for, preaching and teaching right alongside the men.

When a Daughter Dies by Ben Witherington III—His daughter suddenly died a year ago around Christmas. This short ebook talks about his and his wife’s process of grief. As a New Testament scholar, he has much to say about what the Bible does and does not say about dealing with grief.