Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Book Review: Why God Matters

A deacon and daughter duo — Dcn. Steve Lumbert (a convert) and Karina Lumbert Fabian (a cradle Catholic) — have written a pleasant and spiritually uplifting book on recognizing God in everyday life, Why God Matters.  It's a quick read, and because of that, I think it's likely to catch you off-guard.

Through fourteen chapters, the authors bring you through "the long religious slog of the everyday" (Walt Staples (President of the Catholic Writers Guild), dust jacket) and relate how they found God operating in the seemingly unremarkable events of their lives.  Instead of taking the approach of systematic theology, they share steps of their journey of faith that brought them closer to God — or rather, that reminded them of just how close God is to them.

From Deacon Steve, I was reminded that the faith is not something to merely be "observed" (like President's Day); instead, "God must be an active part of our lives." (Chapter 1)  During his teenage years he and his brothers were known as trouble-makers, a reputation which landed them in a jail cell for a day... for a crime they didn't commit.  The experience inspired him later in life to teach his children "about honesty, integrity, truth, and resisting temptation" (Chapter 3), something I think we can all relate to.

His sensible words about balancing his life as a deacon (between marriage, work, and the diaconate) is especially timely for me:  "It's not easy to keep balance. ... The temptation to overextend myself by saying yes to everything is strong."  When we find ourselves biting off more than we can chew, we should ask ourselves, "What has God given [me] as [my] first vocation?" (Chapter 11)  Finally, the patience of a friend in an airport reminded him of God's unmatchable patience with us:  "Like a good friend, God waits patiently for us at journey's end." (Chapter 13)

His daughter challenges us to stop being martyrs over trivialities and lay our cares and worries upon the Lord.  When she senses herself making mountains out of molehills, she says this simple prayer:  "Lord, let this end in me now." (Chapter 4)  By learning how to pace herself throughout the day, she finds peace throughout her week, and Sundays become a day of rejoicing rather than refueling.  Her advice to pacing yourself spiritually includes committing yourself to Confession at least once a quarter, and then once a month; and in order to help your family follow your example, "Gently lead them from the front rather than push them from behind." (Chapter 10)  When it comes to dealing with a family member who does not believe in God (another situation I can relate to), she candidly admits, "it scares me as nothing has ever scared me before."  What's her response?  "I pray for him ... and I make small sacrifices on his behalf."  Instead of despairing, she loves and gives an example of hope. (Chapter 14)

But her most stunning advice comes in Chapter 12.  For her, a "personal relationship" with Jesus Christ doesn't quite cut it.  "It smacks to me of name-dropping," she says.  She identifies the ways that a "personal relationship" for humans falls short of the sort of relationship we're called to have with God.  Even the closest friends keep things private from one another in their relationships:  "Do I want limits on my relationship with God?"  Personal relationships include trivial banter, but "I am not a peer with God."  And then there's the inevitable give-and-take of our human relationships — "once in a while, the other person will be weak" — but that's not the case with God.

Karina challenges us to have a relationship with God that is "more than personal," a relationship that lets God be God and reminds us that we're not!  The "life lesson" of the chapter asks, "Does [your relationship] encompass all of God, or is it the 'personal' relationship of 'my buddy Jesus,' or the aloof spiritual relationship of an untouchable deity?"

I'll be honest:  I usually read books with "closely reasoned theology" and "appeal[s] to ancient writers of the Church" (Walt Staples), which sometimes leave other readers feeling cold.  This book came out of left field and reminds me to breathe with both lungs, to think with head and heart.  It has reminded me to look for God in the everyday.  It has pointed out to me that God is not just a matter to discuss:  God matters.


Karina Fabian said...

Thanks for the review--and for tweeting about it!


Tribute Books said...

Jeff - you hit the nail on the head when you said, "[this book] reminds me to breathe with both lungs, to think with head and heart."

Don't we all need that reminder now and then?

Thanks for sharing 'Why God Matters' with your blog readers and I'm glad that you got so much out it.

Best wishes,
Tribute Books