Letters to the Beloved fun facts

Letters to the Beloved is getting closer to its release date. Just for fun, I thought I would put together some fun facts about the book. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test later.

  • Years I have been working on it: Six.
  • Pages (7×10): 672
  • Words: 266,801
  • Paragraphs: 4147
  • Footnotes: 408
  • HTML color code for the cover: #ffed74
  • Most frequently referenced author: C.S. Lewis, who has 7 bibliographic entries, followed by Martin Luther (5).
  • Most seemingly out of place reference: Fredrich Nietzsche
  • Old Testament Books referenced: 26
  • Most frequently referenced Old Testament book: Isaiah, (38); followed closely by Psalms (34).
  • Times I have read through it: five
  • Hours spent writing and editing: thousands
  • Copies I will likely sell: not thousands.

Let love define you

Love defines my essence, and I want it to represent you too. My followers often do well loving people who look, think, and live as they do; however, they ignore, criticize, and attack those who are different. Conservatives attack liberals, Christians dishonor Muslims, and pro-choice advocates smear pro-life groups. Every single day, my image bearers treat one another with contempt. Listen, hatred is evil. Love those who live differently than you do. Even if others continue to lie about you, attack you, or seek to tear you down, pray for them. You know that I am love, and if you are indeed my child, love defines you too. Do you not know that I made the sunshine and rain for everyone and not just for those who think like you?

Matthew 5:43-45, Letters to the Beloved

Romans twelve

In Letters to the Beloved, a project I have been working on for several years, Romans 12 might be my favorite passage. I have not shared an entire chapter before. I hope this is an encouragement.

(1–2) In light of the good news, how then should you live? Let your whole life bear the imprint of my mercy and grace. I desire that you would become whole and holy—body and soul, an offering of worship to me. To live that way, you must radically reorient yourself away from self–centeredness and toward God–centered adoration and other–centered love. Living this way involves daily renewal, continually refocusing upon good, true, and beautiful things. Wholeness and integration are the center of my will for you.

(3) Here are some ways to grow in godliness. Do not make too much of yourself, exaggerating your righteousness and leading others to believe that you are better than you are. I have invited you into faith, and I want your faith to bloom right where I have planted you. If I made you a daisy, be the best daisy you can. Do not pretend you are a sunflower.

(4–8) Consider the human body. Though it is one unit, it has many different organs and functions, each contributing uniquely to the greater whole. So it is with my church, which includes multitudes who possess distinct gifts, personalities, and abilities, all of which are important. I have called some to speak prophetically, some to exceptional service, some to teaching my word, some to speaking convicting words, some to generosity, some to leadership, and some to exuberant mercy. Whatever your gift, offer it back to me by loving well.

(9) When it comes to love, which is the heart of who I am, do not fake it. Fake love is no love at all. Instead, be authentic and genuine. Train yourself to discriminate between good and evil. With the help of my Holy Spirit, seek integration and reject what fractures your spirit and relationships.

(10) Make the effort to love others well, not with indifference, but with the caring, other–centered love that exists in healthy families. Go the extra mile to encourage, so they have no doubt that they are loved, valued, and accepted. Godly love is never about demanding your rights to the exclusion of others but instead recognizing that everyone is interconnected. No one is more or less valuable than another.

(11) Pursue love intentionally; do not just sit back and expect love to happen. Love is active and zealous for the good of another. When you love others in both word and action, you serve my kingdom.

(12) When you experience pain and suffering, which you will in a world that is not yet fully reconciled, do not feel hopeless. Instead, remember that I have promised complete restoration. Be patient with yourself and others, remembering what I am doing in you and the world. As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “I want to beg of you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient with all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.”[1] Allow these unresolved bits of you, the nagging questions and self–doubt, to be kindling for prayer. Bring everything to me. It is our relationship that matters.

(13) Be generous toward others with your time, ability, and financial resources. If you cling too tightly to these things, they will shackle your soul. Instead, use them for love.

(14) Some people would like nothing better than to see you fail. They will speak negatively about you and may even seek your harm. Your carnal nature will urge you to retaliate; instead, respond with a blessing. Seek the good of others, even when they want to hurt you because that is the way of the cross.

(15) Be eager to join people right where they are. If they are celebrating, do not warn them about excessive happiness. Rejoice with them. When they are mourning, suffer with them. I never intended people to be emotionless but heartful.

(16) Live in harmony with one another. Harmony is not monotony, nor is it cacophony. It is not just one melodic line but many notes that mix uniquely to produce a wondrous tune. Heaven itself is a Trinitarian symphony.

Do not consider yourself to be better than others. Pride kills. Go out of your way to spend time with those who are lower in status and spirit. Encourage everyone you encounter.

Do not be especially fond of your own wisdom and insight. I have given you the ability to think, reason, and feel, but if you act as though you are some sort of sage, you have left me behind and are traveling a dangerous path.

(17) Do not practice retributive justice. There is an old saying that references Exodus 21:24— “If in this present age we were to go back to the old–time of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ there would be very few…who would not, metaphorically speaking, be blind and toothless.”[2] Retribution is not the way of the cross. Following my Son means not only avoiding retribution but seeking to honor the humanity of others. I created every person in my image. Honor their dignity.

(18–19) If possible, live at peace with everyone. Some will continually reject your offers of peace; that is on them, not you. You cannot control others’ actions or reactions, but only your own, so seek peace. Do not try to avenge yourself by setting things right according to your own sense of justice. Instead, leave it up to me, trusting that I am perfectly just. When all is said and done, and you see my justice clearly, you will not doubt that I handled it correctly.

(20–21) In the meantime, do the opposite of what your sinful, self–protective nature tells you. If your enemy is hungry, share your food. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. Paul wrote that acting contrary to your sinful nature would “heap burning coals” upon your enemy’s head. Mercifully treating others can lead them to feel discomfort. Compassion is countercultural, and people who cling to evil do not expect mercy.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”[3] You cannot destroy evil by greater evil, but only by good; never by deception, but only by the truth; never through self–seeking, but only through the cross.

[1] Rilke, Letters to a young poet, 35.

[2] Graham, Official Report.

[3] King, Loving Your Enemies.

What does wholeheartedness look like?

Yesterday, my friend Mark asked me, “What does it look like, feel like, to be wholehearted? How can you tell if you are or if you’re at least moving in that direction?” I spent the day thinking about it. Here were my initial thoughts.

Wholehearted people are present to the moment. They are not overwhelmed with feelings of shame about things they have done or not done, nor are they consumed with anxiety about what has not yet come. They realize that all they have is the present moment and they stay settled in it.

Wholehearted people have ballast. They don’t get easily blown off course when life gets tumultuous. Some call this equanimity. I think in terms of what they “feel” I would say a sense of peace. They are not overwhelmed by emotional shifts, nor are they numb to them.

Wholehearted people are aware of a deep sense of interconnectedness—to God, others, themselves, and to their place in creation.

Wholehearted people are able to consistently live from their true self and not as people pleasers whose identities depend on circumstance. They are free to do things that others may look askance at because they have a profound sense of who they are.

Wholehearted people show up as lights in the world, bearers of truth, goodness, and beauty. They are free from the burden of judgment—of themselves and others. They recognize the humanity and value in others and themselves.

How do we know? I think experience an increasing sense of peace, of shalom, of radiance, of solidity.

What do you think constitutes wholeheartedness?

It’s getting so close. Only two tabs missing—Acts and 2 Timothy, which will probably take a couple of months. And then editing. #amwriting #bible #relationaltheology

Conference Talk-Gary Moon

Last year, I had the privilege of co-hosting the Living in the Larger Story conference at Houston Baptist University with my friend Eric Johnson, director of the Gideon Institute for Christian Psychology and Counseling, celebrating the career of another friend, Larry Crabb.

The opening speaker was author, psychologist, and spiritual director, Gary Moon.

“And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.”

– “Late Fragment” by Raymond Carver

2018–Top Ten Books

Every December, I put out a list of what I consider to be the best books I have read during the previous year. I generally read over 100 books each year, and not surprisingly, the quality varies. As an aside, I would comment that I no longer feel guilty for setting a book aside that isn’t stirring me at the moment. Often, I will come back later and it will settle on me more strongly. For example, yesterday I finished reading Robert Bly’s Iron John, a book I had previously attempted on 3 occasions. People often will ask me for recommendations on what to read and these top ten lists are often a good place to start.
10) Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump by John Fea (2018)
Believe Me was written by John Fea, an evangelical and historian who writes on his blog about the “intersection of American history, religion, politics, and academic life.” Believe Me deals with Trump-era conservativism including several important issues to consider, such as evangelical politics of fear and what President Trump means by “great again.”  Fea calls evangelicals to hope, humility, and history. Fea captures several reasons why I am in the 19 percent.
9) My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok (1972)
Written in 1972, Potok told the story of Asher Lev, a Hasidic Jewish boy living in New York City. His family is deeply immersed in the Jewish culture, not only locally, but nationally and internationally. His father works for the “Rebbe,” who is essentially the head of their order. Asher, however, appears to be an artistic genius from an early age. He is compelled to paint, even when discouraged from doing so. What makes this story so compelling is the way that Potok wrote of the tension between Father and Son, between their fundamentalism and Asher’s gifting. Though 46 years old, the book has lost none of its beauty. 
8) Becoming Dallas Willard: The Formation of a Philosopher, Teacher, and Christ Follower by Gary Moon (2018)
I do not read a lot of biographies, but I was excited for this one. Dallas Willard, who died in 2013, is one of my spiritual heroes. Willard also had a deep impact upon the author, Gary Moon. Moon clearly did his research, introducing us to Willard as a young man and tracing his history up through his death. Willard came from meager roots, instilled with a strong work ethic; however, he was also gifted with a remarkable intellect. Moon commented that there are few geniuses, but he believes Willard was one. Willard became a Southern Baptist pastor, but ultimately became a tenured philosophy professor at USC. He stated that he had clearly heard God say that if he became a pastor, the universities would be closed to him, but if he entered the university, both the university and the church would be open. Some of my favorite books have been written by Willard, and Moon’s biography is a welcome addition. 
7) Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God’s Rich Vision for Humanity by Daniel Darling (2018)
I have been discouraged with how frequently we humans do not treat one another with dignity. It seems that in our social media culture, conversations are increasingly charged with sarcasm, name calling, and devaluing of others. I have frequently said that we have a tendency to treat people from other groups as less valuable. Darling wrote about these issues I have been thinking about with clarity, dignity, and courage. He tackles not just one, but many, pet issues that we hold dearly.  
6) Stumbling Toward Wholeness: How the Love of God Changes Us by Andrew Bauman (2018)
I read a lot of books about wholeness. I believe that our sanctification is deeply, if not principally, a journey toward becoming whole. This year I read two other wonderful volumes about wholeness including Whole by Steve Wiens and Wholeheartedness by Chuck DeGroat, whose book was on my top 10 list in 2016. I also tried to read Wholeness and that Implicate Order by David Bohm, which was a challenge. Regardless, Bauman writes with honesty about what wholeness looks like. I laughed, I cried, I cheered…literally.  
5)  Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (2017)
This is a stunning anthology of poems written by the incomparable Mary Oliver. A Pulitzer-prize winning poet, her works spans several decades and this might be the finest collection of her work. If you are reluctant to try poetry, this may be a wonderful place to start.
4) The Hidden Life: Awakened by Kitty Crenshaw and Catherine Snapp (2016)
The Hidden Life is another biography of sorts. It tells the story of Betty Skinner’s spiritual journey from dark night to wisdom. A woman now in her 90s, Betty was hospitalized for several months for depression when she was in her 40s. Her doctor had told her that she “had a hole in her soul.” Slowly, she began to explore her own soul and her own needs, ultimately becoming a mentor to others. I actually read this book twice this year. I read an earlier version first in March. I contacted one of the authors and asked if the newer version, which was retitled, was the same book. She told me that a few sections—specifically about neuroscience—were added, but it was otherwise very similar. She then graciously sent me the new version, which I read two months later and liked just as well.  
3)  Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People  by Bob Goff (2018) 
In 2015, Love Does by Bob Goff was my favorite book. I told my friend Mark that if I ever wrote a book, Love Doeswas the kind of book I would hope to write. Everybody, Always is no different. Goff is a captivating, humorous writer. He lives life on the edge, taking risks, and doing great big things under the heading of “love.” I come away from his essays with renewed energy and a desire to love better. 
2) Courage, Dear Heart: Letters to a Weary World by Rebecca Reynolds (2018)
One of my favorite places on the Interwebs is “the Rabbit Room Chinwag,” a community of nearly 2000 creatives who discuss things like beauty, goodness, and Gargan rockroaches. My first exposure to Reynolds was through the Rabbit Room, where she is a frequent fixture. She had written an essay for one volume of the Molehill, which is an anthology of poetry, stories, art, and recipes from a variety of Rabbit Room folks. I remember telling my wife how blown away I was by that essay and read section of it to her. When I heard she was writing a book, I couldn’t wait for its release. I don’t think I was alone. Shortly after it was published, many online sources—including Amazon—ran out of copies. 
On Goodreads, I had this to say about Courage, Dear Heart: “I cannot speak highly enough about this book. Reynolds writes with intelligence, humility, and heart. She writes about the human condition not as an intellectual treatise, but as one who has seen it, who has lived it. She is a storyteller, through and through. I do not know which of the letters is my favorite, but I resonated deeply with several of them, perhaps a letter to the fearful, a letter to those living in chaos, or a letter to the disillusioned. I hope she doesn’t stop here; the world needs more storytellers like her.” 
1) Schema of a Soul: What Kind of Love is Stronger than Death? by Kimberlye Berg (2013)
This book blew me away. I described it on my blog as one of the most beautiful books I had ever read. In it, Berg tells the story of the loss of her son, Michael, and the subsequent journey through the pain. In my review, I wrote, “It is a memoir. A eulogy. A love letter to her husband. A confession. A prayer. Poetic. Raw. Honest. Tragic. And beautiful all the same. She treasures words.” I cried half a dozen times. Schema is one of the best books I have read. 
Honorable Mention
The Power of Vulnerability: Authenticity, Connection, and Courage by Brene Brown (2013)
Brene Brown is one of my favorite authors. If you are unfamiliar with Brown, she is a college social work professor who blew up the Internet with her 2010 TEDxHouston talk “The Power of Vulnerability,” which according to the TED website is the 4th most popular TED talk ever given, now standing at more than 37 million views. She has written several great books, but listening to her is an even greater treat. The 6 hour, 30 minute audio brings together her work on shame, authenticity, courage, and connection. I’ve listened to it several times, and I have no doubt I will listen again.

Previous top 10 lists