Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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3 Powerful Books for Such a Time as This

Many have been looking for something to “do” during this time in which many of our black brothers and sisters are hurting and protesting about racial injustice. One thing that you can do to start with is to read good books, as well as watch good videos. Below are a few recommendations:

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My Review of JUST MERCY

Just Mercy, rated PG-13
****

Just Mercy is a powerful and emotional film about the work of Bryan Stevenson, based on his book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption”.  (I would highly recommend the book. Here is my review).
The film is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, The Glass Castle), who also wrote the film with Andrew Lanham (The Glass Castle, The Shack), based on Stevenson’s book.
Emmy nominee Michael B. Jordan (Fahrenheit 451, Black Panther, Fruitvale Station), portrays Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who has just graduated from Harvard Law School. Rather than taking a position with a large law firm, which is what his mother would have wanted, he has a desire to help the poor. He moves to Alabama in 1988 to start the Equal Justice Initiative, where he works with local advocate Eva Ansley, played by Oscar winner Brie Larson (Room, Captain Marvel, The Glass Castle, Short Term 12) in a relatively small role. Stevenson visits the Holman State Prison in Monroeville, Alabama, the home of Harper Lee, author of the book “To Kill a Mockingbird”. He meets six men on death row, one of whom is Walter “Johnny D” McMillian, played by Oscar winner Jamie Foxx (Ray, Collateral).  He was convicted of murdering a young white woman, even though there were two dozen witnesses who indicate that they were with him, or saw him, during the time of the murder, and thus he could not have been the killer. But Walter was found guilty by a jury of 11 white men and one black man, based on the testimony of convicted criminal Ralph Myers, played by Tim Blake Nelson (O, Brother, Where Art Thou?). Stevenson is interested in helping McMillian, but Walter is suspicious of lawyers who take the money his family pays them and are never seen again. Stevenson will have to first of all, win over Walter as well as his family. Then, he will have to work through the systemic racism and corruption he encounters in law enforcement and the justice system in Monroe County.
In the prison cells on either side of Walter on Death Row are Anthony Ray Hinton, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton) and Herbert Richardson, played by Rob Morgan (Mudbound). Note: Hinton has written an excellent book “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row”. Here is my review).
The film includes a significant amount of Christian content (prayer, a church scene, hymns). Themes in the film include injustice, racism, faith and faithfulness, corruption and mercy. Content concerns include some adult language, including language of a racist nature. The music in the film by Joel P. West (Short Term 12), is effective. The film features strong performances by Foxx and Jordan. The film moves along relatively slowly and is dialogue based, but that is not a criticism.
Just Mercy is a powerful film based on the true-life story of Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who specializes in defending people on Death Row. The film is emotional and at times heart breaking. This is an important film that you need to see.


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MY FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2017

Here’s my favorite books that I’ve read this year, not all of which were actually published in 2017. I read and/or listened to more than 65 books this year in a variety of genres, from faith and work, biography, theology and sports. These are my favorite books of 2017. How about you? What were some of your favorites?

Top pick – Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. This book was suggested to me by Lecrae to help me understand his decision to “divorce white evangelicalism”. My wife Tammy and I read and discussed this powerful and well-written book.

Here are the rest of my favorite books (in no particular order):

  • The Legacy of Luther, edited by R.C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols
  • From Weakness to Strength: 8 Vulnerabilities That Can Bring Out the Best in Your Leadership – Scott Sauls
  • The Mythical Leader: The 7 Myths of Leadership – Ron Edmondson
  • The Gospel According to Paul: Embracing the Good News at the Heart of Paul’s Teachings – John MacArthur
  • Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work in the Home Matters to God – Courtney Reisigg
  • Learning to Love the Psalms – Robert Godfrey
  • Calling to Christ: Where’s My Place? – Robert Smart
  • Discipleship with Monday in Mind: How Churches Across the Country Are Helping Their People Connect Faith and Work – Skye Jethani and Luke Bobo
  • Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story – Steven Curtis Chapman
  • Leaders Made Here: Building a Leadership Culture – Mark Miller
  • Workplace Grace: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work – Bill Peel and Walt Larimore
  • Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear – Scott Sauls
  • Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture – David Murray
  • Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen

See what I’m reading now.

Author of the Year – Scott Sauls. Scott is my author of the year for his two books   Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear and From Weakness to Strength: 8 Vulnerabilities That Can Bring Out the Best in Your Leadership. I also enjoy reading his blog, which you can read here.


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Spiegel & Grau. 354 pages. 2014.  
****

Lecrae is one of my favorite music artists. His new album All Things Work Together is brilliant, and one of the top releases of the year. Recently, he announced that he is “divorcing ‘white evangelicalism’”. Read John Piper’s response here. I was saddened when I read this, and reached out to Lecrae. He suggested a number of books I could read to help with understanding where he was coming from. From those books, my wife Tammy and I chose to start with Just Mercy:  A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.
Bryan Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. This well-written and powerful book weaves in some stunning statistics about the problem of mass incarceration in the U.S., while telling the heart-breaking story of Walter McMillian (and many others) from thirty years of his work.  It’s the best book I’ve read this year.
Bryan’s story began in 1983 as a 23-year old student at Harvard Law School working with the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC). SPDC’s mission was to assist condemned people on death row in Georgia. When he finished his internship he was committed to helping the death row prisoners he had met. He returned to law school with an intense desire to understand the laws and doctrines that sanctioned the death penalty and extreme punishments.
His time on death row revealed that there was something missing in the way we treat people in our judicial system. This is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger, and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us.
He writes that there are more than two million incarcerated people in the United States, with an additional six million people on probation or parole and an estimated sixty-eight million Americans with criminal records. Other statistics about the U.S. prison system that I highlighted from the book were:
• We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
• One in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.
• By the mid-1980s, nearly 20 percent of the people in jails and prisons had served in the military.
• Convincing empirical evidence that the race of the victim is the greatest predictor of who gets the death penalty.
• By 2010, Florida had sentenced more than a hundred children to life imprisonment without parole for non-homicide offenses, several of whom were thirteen years old at the time of the crime. All of the youngest condemned children—thirteen or fourteen years of age—were black or Latino.
• Over 50 percent of prison and jail inmates have a diagnosed mental illness, a rate nearly five times greater than that of the general adult population. Nearly one in five prison and jail inmates has a serious mental illness. Continue reading


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World by Eric Metaxas. Viking. 296 pages. 2017
****

The author is one of our best current biographers having written major works on Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer, as well as shorter biographical works. In this book he aims to separate the facts from the myths about the great Reformer’s story, as he looks at Luther “warts and all”. Assuming that most are familiar with the main points of Luther’s life, I’ll focus on unique aspects of Luther’s story that this book offers.
The first myth he addresses is that Luther’s family were humble peasants. In reality, he writes, Luther’s father was a miner. Another myth that the author dispels is that Luther’s father was harsh, strict and severe.
The author writes that others (Wycliffe and Huss, for example), sought to reform the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church before Luther, though few remember much about those early Reformers, compared to what we know about Luther.
The author as is his custom, fully embraces his subject giving us a detailed life of Luther. However, much of what he dispels as myth, I’ve learned from Luther scholars such as R.C. Sproul, Stephen Nichols, Michael Reeves and Roland Bainton.
As a monk, Luther dealt with the issue of how are we to be forgiven of our sins. A 1,600-mile round-trip to Rome was key for Luther. There he wondered “Who knows if it is true?” There he saw the immorality of the priests, with them doing masses in as little as 9 minutes.
Metaxas gives us a different take on Luther’s famous breakthrough about justification by faith in Romans 1:17. Basing his speculation on Luther’s own words, the author speculates he may have had this breakthrough while sitting on the toilet.
The author also speculates that perhaps Luther actually didn’t nail his famous “95 Theses” to the Wittenberg Church door after all, but that this was posted by a custodian.
At the Diet of Worms Luther was asked to recant his writings. After asking for time to consider the request he delivered his response the following day in both German and Latin. His response included his famous “Here I stand” and appealed to his conscience. The author tells us that conscience in Luther’s time did not mean what it means today (appeal to our own truth). Instead, it meant appealing to God’s truth.
Another myth that the author dispels is Luther’s famous throwing of an inkwell at the Devil. The author indicates that event never happened.
Luther, a former priest and monk, would marry Katie, a former nun. The story of the escaped nuns being smuggled in fish barrels is a myth, according to the author. Luther grew to deeply love Katie, and would sadly lose two daughters to death. The author states that he valued women more than most men at that time.
The author highlights conscience, dissent and freedom as he discusses Luther’s legacy. The book includes some adult language; most, if not all, from Luther’s writings. The audiobook version is well-read by the author, who brings his characteristic wit to the task. Continue reading