How to Frame Your Faith: One Moment at a Time

FramingFaith.cover

Framing Faith = Perspectives on Faith

Sounds catchy doesn’t it? Framing Faith. It is the title of the next book I chose to read and review. For me, it elicits vibrant images of a golden crucifix, stained glass Orthodox icons, or even prayer circles around a campus flagpole of the red, white, and blue. When coupled with the photographic technology we enjoy in the 21st Century I anticipated something quite touching out of a book designed to pictorially capture the Christian faith. Think about it, place some burning incense behind the lens of a high-resolution camera and you can practically smell the fragrance better than you would a scratch-n-sniff. So again, not only did I hope this would be worth by time, but a spiritual boon to boot.

Now that I’ve elevated your expectations on par to mine, let us delve into the actualities of this book. Written by Matt Knisely, an experienced photojournalist, Framing Faith is described by its subhead: ‘From Camera to Pen. An Award-Winning Photojournalist Captures God in a Hurried World.’ Okay, so this isn’t entirely about the pictures. The premise is more to foster spiritual perspective analogous to effective photography and storytelling. Not what I was initially hoping for, but I’ll evaluate the book for what it is, not by the cover I anticipated.

In all honesty, I enjoyed the book tremendously. Sure, I am a content writer by trade, so anything pertaining to effectively communicating an authentic story to elicit a desired response rings true to my ears. His success to that affect, I will tell you, is well communicated. Full of honesty, stories, and teachable moments, the book was a narrative in its own right, which added to the credibility of his experience.

I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll summarize the book. In the first section, the author wants his readers to FOCUS on stories that matter, stories that hold our attention because they are authentic and connect us to others. In the second section, he wants us to CAPTURE those moments, enjoy them, and let them influence our perspective. In the third section, he instructs us to use these moments to help us DEVELOP who we are and where we are going, to find beauty and hope in the darkness and seek God in the light. In summary, he is using terminology from his trade to give his readers different perspectives about faith.

I’ll be honest. Since I initially had alternate expectations for the book, I almost discarded it as an amateur attempt at spiritualizing photography. It didn’t help that the book contains random black and white images which look like stock photos for a 1990’s advertising firm. Perhaps I fail to grasp their significance, but really, what are they for? They don’t add to the book in any way. I would venture to say they actually subtract from the book. If these images paralleled what I described at the beginning, pictorially capturing the Christian faith in a modernly stylistic way, I would understand, and even consider it a nice touch to a book about photojournalism and storytelling.

I’m giving this book 4/5 stars because I jived with his writing style and enjoyed the unique, intentional content; not the typical shallow ‘feel good spirituality’ book. If the pictures had more relevance I’d have probably bumped it up to five.

 

I review for BookLook Bloggers

 

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLookbloggers.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

NIV Integrated Study Bible Review

A new way to look at the text of Scripture.

Like Moses viewing the Promised Land from a distance atop Mt. Nebo, so Christians today stumble through the Scriptures from a kind of distance caused by time. We get stuck in the minutia of genealogies and Levitical regulations, and fail to see the connection of one story to the other. Why is the Bible so confusing in that regard?

As the NIV Integraged Study Bible  (NIVISB) points out, our English Bibles arrange the books of the Bible according to content rather than chronology. Historical books are grouped together; philosophical and poetic books have their grouping; prophetical books are side by side; even the epistles find themselves bunched together. The NIV Intgrated Study Bible offers a unique point-of-view to put the books of the Bible in perspective. It achieves this primarily through the placement of parallel passages next to each other on the same page.

Even as a literate society, we have difficulty grasping the chronological progression of the biblical story, both Old and New Testament, and so many have turned to this studious option to better understand the history of our faith. When events are placed in context with each other, the lightbulb will flash, and even passages that were otherwise dreary suddenly come into focus.

This is especially common, and especially useful, when it comes to genealogies, the Mosaic law, the time of the Kings, the Psalms, comparing the Gospels, and pinpointing the epistles in the New Testament timeline. This just so happens to include some of the most interesting stories of the entire Bible as well as some of the driest reading you can imagine. Yet repetition denotes importance when it comes to ancient literature, and it will hopefully come alive to you as to their importance if given in this format.

Are there downsides? I did find navigation to specific passages a bit more difficult since there were so many parallel passages to compete with and many books are not in their ‘traditional’ location, so this doesn’t fit well as a main ‘study Bible’ that you’d bring to church or a Bible study. Some might want to argue the finer points about the placement of certain Psalms, the book of Job, or even fail to see the point in all those darn chronologies, but those are not issues worth complaining about in a finished product such as this, and merely require some insight into those genres of literature. How would I rate this against other chronological Bibles? I’ve seen several other Chronological devotional Bibles or study Bibles, and they do have their perks depending on their focus.

Devotional Bibles will have extra thoughts about the passages that will help you to relate it to your own walk with God; Study Bibles will give you extra tidbits of history, archaeology, theology, and such; the benefit and unique factor of the NIV Integrated Study Bible is that parallel passages are physically laid out next to each other on a page for direct comparison (and to take a mental note that the two books being compared are recounting the same events). Say you’ve heard both sides of the story about the continuity or dis-continuity of the Gospels and wanted to examine the direct evidence for yourself. Say the Mosaic law tends to befuddle you and you’d really like to get a better grasp on what the tabernacle or the Temple really looked like, or what the priests’ daily duties really looked like. Then this is a Bible for you. Just understand that some of the timeline is up for interpretation. But when you are basing your entire premise around chronology, you have to put your foot down somewhere or it won’t do you any good.

Now, if you are the type who wants an all-in-one Bible, then the NLT Chronological Life Application Study Bible is all three of the above examples wrapped into one. An alternative is also the NIV Daily Bible, which is a 365 chronological devotional Bible with some helpful study notes. But if you’d like the Bible without all the extras, pure and simple, and in a historical layout, the NIVISB is a better choice.

What could be better than when you discover everything you read in the Scriptures is part of a carefully planned continuum in God’s redemptive story for mankind? That is why I give this positive review of the new NIV Integrated Study Bible: A New Chronological Approach for Exploring Scripture.

 

I review for BookLook Bloggers

 

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLookbloggers.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Raised? by Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson

Most books like these are from powerhouse authors who once disbelieved, and actually set out to disprove the gospel, and in so doing, discovered the supreme veracity of Scripture. The author of this book does admit to certain doubts, as all people do, but claims no such journey of discovery. Maybe I’m spoiled when it comes to apologetics because of such names as Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, and J. Warner Wallace, who all have compelling testimonies to back-up their desire to seek objective evidence.

I don’t want to say that an author must have a Pauline-style conversion to write a winning book regarding the evidence of the resurrection, however, because everyone’s testimony about life-change is valid and helpful for building God’s kingdom.

Besides, every capable Christian must be asking and answering these essential questions about their faith. The Resurrection is the pinnacle of history, the reason for our faith, the reason why Jesus was exactly who he said he was. Every author who can correctly put this into perspective is doing the world a service. These sorts of books are not just a fad, but finally a focus on the most convincing truth for being a Christ-follower: the resurrection!

The author has not limited his audience to the secular skeptic alone, however, and makes his appeal to the doubting Thomas. He paints a new light on this disciple, and those like him, and applauds their desire for evidence. This is not a secret club of blind believers, after all, but a confident knowledge in what was publicly acknowledged, seen, and heard. This is exactly the allure of the book’s subtitle: Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection. There is nothing wrong with wanting evidence, a reason to believe. And that is why Christianity, and only Christianity, is true.

So I do recommend this book to read and to have available among your other apologetic novelettes like More Than A Carpenter, Cold-Case Christianity, and The Case For Christ. The authors also made this a short read, short enough that you’d be comfortable giving it to your doubting friends as an encouraging gift, and it is conversational enough for anyone to pick it up and understand its precepts.

 

I review for BookLook Bloggers

 

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLookbloggers.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

The Greater Purpose of Literacy

[My own work regarding the role of high school English teachers in literacy development.]

The conceptual basis for literacy is no longer static. For multiple reasons, it is an increasingly difficult task for students and teachers to comprehend and master; yet, as teachers engage the broader spectrum of communicating meaning through different mediums, via traditional means or technological advances, students will engage all the more naturally and find relevance all the easier to grasp. This is to say “conceptions of literacy continue to expand in multiple directions, moving far beyond former emphases on reading comprehension and writing ability” (Shoffner, De Oliveira, & Angus, 75).

The role of the secondary English teacher is not that of mere literacy. Literacy is a means to the greater end of socialization and positive integration with society. It also helps teachers when developing their lesson objectives. The goal is not just to understand what happens in a book or to learn some grammar, but how to use and apply the learning experience toward something greater. How can literacy be applied to a greater purpose?

LiteracyisTo read a book simply for the purpose of reciting the plot and naming the main characters on a test is a severe disservice to the book and its author. The traditional realm of literacy does include comprehension of informational text and literature, but to stop there would neglect speaking, listening, writing, and language (as outlined in Arizona’s Common Core Standards). One could boil it down to the classic trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, each building off the other as students are given the opportunity to practice proper language conventions, argumentation skills, and the art of persuasion.

And this, here, introduces the rub, the element of discomfiture for the uninitiated teacher. Proper practice means students are called to express themselves through language, and expression introduces opinions, and opinions can differ from student to student. Conversations regarding the issues of diversity and current issues are generated, and the skills required for facilitating these discussions (Ruiz, Many, Aoulou, 26). This free expression extricates the classroom from the static, and delivers it into the bounteous, albeit unpredictable, realm of the dynamic. Bieler is optimistic that the purpose of the secondary English classroom, with its focus on the expression of language (i.e.: rhetoric), is likely to sow the seeds of compassion (Bieler, 10).

Inexperienced teachers might not see how free expression might lead toward compassion, as the freedom of expression inevitably results in a strong form of differing opinions. These uncomfortable moments, disagreements, or even conflicts are actually a desired aspect of literacy development, because it provides opportunities for students to talk, read, listen, and write with patience and rigor to a point where students are forced to resolve the dissention in a just and compassionate manor. Not that everyone is right or that there is no right answer, but that we still have to be able to work together as a society even as those differing opinions exist.

To put it another way, not all conflicts can be resolved in one sitting, and some opinions run parallel to each other, never able to intersect; even so, we still have to be able to work together, to care, to help, and to love. As an English teacher “we are often talking about the drama around the choices that human beings make – and the consequences of those choices” (Bieler, 10). The faults of characters in literature encourage us to discover real-life examples in which tragedy could be avoided and violence is prevented in order to not re-create those mistakes. Essentially, the secondary English classroom is the perfect environment to practice decision-making and conflict management. Literature, in all its intrigue, plot, drama, conflict, foil and character flaw is driven by human nature, and the sooner students learn to recognize human nature at work, the more knowledgeable they will be about handling it in their own lives. We are talking about how to foster a classroom full of mutual respect and self-control.

This will affect lesson objectives and the angles to take in dialogue. This will buck at the perfectly sanitized, politically correct, walking-on-eggshells, carefully-worded classroom of today’s publicly funded schools. Not that conflict and argument is encouraged, but that students are allowed to open up and hash out the expressions of their heart now, in the learning environment of a classroom, when they can practice how to communicate well and how to implement conflict management. It may involve stress, but it is far better now than in the so-called ‘real world.’ Therefore, teachers should grade the quality of student work on social interactivity and relational understanding as much as on the quality of student thinking and performance.

With this in mind, Beiler encourages teachers to ask the question, “Does our current choices in literature unwittingly shape a worldview that expects and perpetuates violent behavior?” Not that we exclude such books, but that we should be aware of the patterns of behavior that our choices represent. Our choices need to include instances of compassion, companionship, philanthropy, and the like.

However, another justification hindering the re-emergence of this understanding of literacy is the difficulty presented in assessing such things as empathy and community building in an era of high-stakes testing (Beiler, 14). Some believe the answer is as simple as the very fact of participation and interpretation, regardless of what, exactly, students interpret from the input provided. A teacher interviewed by Shoffner, De Oliveira, & Angus would define literacy as referring “to the idea of being able to look at that text, whatever it is, and extract some sort of meaning from it…some sort of meaning, to me, is literacy” (81). This logic encourages teachers to give extra points for freestyle meaning-making, inventive thinking, and accepting multiple interpretations of a text; just so long as students contrive some sort of meaning to personally apply to the text.

abolitionUnfortunately, this instills in the impressionable mind of our average student that statements about meaning are nothing more than feelings. C.S. Lewis addresses this danger directly, warning that this proposition will teach schoolchildren to believe “that all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker” (15). It becomes meaningless to use literature toward an instructive end when students are doing nothing more than arguing opinions. Remember, the goal, as discussed above, is to promote inherently desirable values, traits which are universally acceptable and merit our approval.

Therefore, as teachers prepare their lesson objectives, and consider that which is beyond the nuts and bolts of traditional literacy, we can clarify that they also need to move beyond that which is simply empty conversation about subjective meaning in a text. Literacy encourages specific values in society and challenges students to evaluate their emotional reactions to a text, a value, an opinion, or a fact, and consider whether such a reaction is meritorious or not, and whether the object of our reaction merits our approval or disapproval, reverence or contempt (Lewis, 25).

This is a mighty caveat for free expression; without this clarification classroom discussions become the same fluff as any other form of busywork. Students are certainly learning to express themselves, but toward a logical, reasonable end of fitting into the framework of society. “Education is that vast undertaking of passing on the wisdom and knowledge of one generation to another. It involves discovery, but also instruction; it is cultural transmission” (Perrin, 4).

literacyThe goal for an educator never ends with the pure, raw facts. Rote learning is only a very small component of an effective classroom. For the secondary English teacher, literacy is likewise not so limited as to end with reading comprehension and writing skills. Literacy itself refers to so much more, so much, in fact, that it is being superseded by the goal of presenting and encouraging multiliteracies, whether in reference to reading mediums, traditional skills, or cultural, language, and social literacy.

And even so, literacy is never the end in itself, but rather a means to an even greater end—that of compassion, discourse, respect, dialogue, mature relationships, and higher order thinking. That said, this promotion of certain values as a crucial aspect of literacy is making a claim toward that which exists beyond mere opinion and feeling or meaning-making. Of course, this includes the ability to pass state standards, advance to college (if desired), and pursue a career, but these are only the results, the byproducts of a greater whole.

 

References

Bieler, D. (2006). Changing the Subject: Building Critical and Compassionate Communities in English and English Education Classrooms. Penn GSE Perspectives on Urban Education, 4(1).

Lewis, C.S. (1974). The Abolition of Man.

Perrin, C. (2004). An Introduction to Classical Education: A Guide for Parents. Classical Academic Press, v.2.5.

Ruiz, A., Many, J., Aoulou, E. (2011). The Prevalence or Absence of Attention to Adolescent Literature in the Initial Preparation of Secondary Content Teachers. SRATE Journal, 20(2), 23-30.

Shoffner, M., De Oliveira, L., & Angus, R. (2010). Multiliteracies in the secondary English classroom: Becoming literate in the 21st century. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 9(3), 75-89.

Christian Faith in the Old Testament by Gareth Cockerill

Ask me about the Christian faith, and I am just as likely to draw from the Old Testament as I am from the New Testament. Christ may be the cornerstone of the church, but the mortar between every brick is the Old Testament, filling in-between every word of the New. True Christ-followers are from a Judeo-Christian heritage. Just as English literacy is a prerequisite to be successful in an American society, so Old Testament literacy is required for believers to understand what they believe. So I could not pass up a book titled Christian Faith in the Old Testament, written by Gareth Lee Cockerill.

Cockerill is certainly not new to this subject matter. I could tell by the way he flowed through the information, page after page, chapter after chapter, like a well-rehearsed teacher. Of course, when you’re too well rehearsed in a presentation you tend to fly through the facts a bit arbitrarily, as was sometimes the case. Not that his points were ever irrelevant, but he wouldn’t always guide you through his thought process with introductions or transitions between his thoughts until you arrived at a critical juncture later on.

This is especially evident in the first chapter, which quickly felt like a straight up expository lesson on the Genesis narrative. Again, not that it was irrelevant, as it begins his explanation of the overarching story-line that extends through the entire Old Testament and into the New. This story line is an essential component of relating the relevance of the Pentateuch. But I am afraid the purpose of this abbreviated exposition deserved a grander anticipatory set for the benefit of its readers. But I would say this is the type of book that builds up as you read further, gaining momentum as you gather the essential facts, and culminates as it bridges the gap between the OT and NT. Because of this, it would be the kind of book you wouldn’t mind reading again, like a good movie with so many twists and turns you could watch it ten times before you catch everything. It will help to connect the dots that might not have been clear the first time around.

One item is of lasting importance, and, quite possibly, the most important question addressed for many critics and seekers, is that of God’s seemingly prevalent tendency toward judgment in the Old Testament. Too often the perception is of a God with dual natures; that of capriciousness in the OT and that of benevolence in the NT. But let us be clear: both testaments recount the same God in all his fullness. There is no duality. Cockerill first helps us to see this continuity when he quips that “judgment is also a mercy that restrains sin” (29). In the context of Genesis he is referring to the preventative measures God implemented to save mankind from utterly alienating themselves from God. But in the broader perspective of the OT, as the book continues to extrapolate later on, all the actions which God performed that involved punishment and death was, in effect and in purpose, His means of restraining the utterly pervasive and deleterious infection of sin.

Why else would the Psalmist refer to such things as the overtly strict Law of Moses or to the slaughters of holy war in the context of God’s praise? Not because the Hebrews inherently enjoyed rigid restrictions or relished in spilling blood, I assure you. They were overflowing with gratitude for the blessings their nation enjoyed by being removed from the evils of sin. The law explains, in very practical terms, how to avoid the effect of sin, whether it be sin from human depravity or sin’s curse in nature. Herem, or holy war, removed the effect of sin that encroached in the form of utterly depraved and base nations of men who worshiped idols and relished in the suffering of others. God’s judgment is always just, and believe it or not, it actually makes the world a better place because it mercifully, albeit temporarily, cuts back the weeds of sin.

In a way, God removed this mercy somewhat during the NT by not restraining sin, so that His Son would be crucified. I don’t say this to dampen the mostly positive tone of the NT, but merely to balance our perspective between the Testaments.

I will end my commentary of this book at that, as I do not wish to rehash too much of what is already covered in Cockerill’s careful work. I will even omit the rest of the unspoken praises and criticisms, for the details are yours to judge. In affect, I hope this has whetted your appetite enough to read it, as I am thoroughly convinced this is the type of book, and this type of holistic understanding of the biblical story, that every Christian needs (and every seeker seeks).

I review for BookLook Bloggers

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLookbloggers.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Newspaper Job Listing Sample

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock

[This was a fun assignment (for my certification program, not an actual client) which asked for a 1/2 page newspaper job listing for a content area teacher, listing the most desirable attributes. This is the result.]

Are YOU the High School English Teacher We’ve Been Waiting For?

Keep reading if you are eager to promote social and English literacy for teenagers in a way that will prepare them to be meaningful members of society.

At [School] Academy, we don’t think it’s too much to ask of a teacher to have passion about the subject matter, nor is it unrealistic to have teachers who are just as enthusiastic about seeing their students succeed. When you think about how much time children spend at school, the role of every teacher becomes significant as educators and role models.

The following traits are expected of any effective teacher, even in the face of difficulties: Positive; Supporting; Respectful; Responsive; Encouraging; Dedicated. In addition, specialized training in teaching English to adolescents is highly desired.

The goal of a successful teacher is more than just teaching the material and keeping students under control. Their goal is to help students under their care to engage in the learning process through a variety of means, whether through technology, discussion, visual aids, role playing, giving specific feedback, encouragement, or creative group projects. A successful teacher is authentic, truly desiring that his or her students grasp the material and enjoy the process. That is why a successful teacher manages the classroom well, sets high expectations and standards, and encourages participation, because all students have the ability to learn; students just need someone who believes in them.

This type of positive and respectful climate will serve as a preventative for misbehavior, and instead, students will have the capacity to engage in higher-order thinking.

At [School] Academy, we value training and experience in our teachers, but we also seek the right attitude—a teacher’s heart. If this describes what you wish to accomplish as a teacher, please send us your resume today!