Naked and Unashamed–“Idiot Lights”

Naked and Unashamed CoverIf you didn’t know, a few months back I published (along with Jerry and Claudia Root) a book on marriage, called Naked and Unashamed: A Guide to the Necessary Work of Christian Marriage (Paraclete Press). I’m immensely glad the book is in print, and immensely honored to have worked on it with Jerry and Claudia, who married Liesel and I almost fifteen years ago now. I honestly can’t wait for people to read it and (I trust!) be blessed by what’s in it.

Jerry and Claudia have performed premarital counseling for over 1500 couples over the past 40 years, and the outline of their material was chock-full of wisdom that we felt more couples needed in hand. In the years that I was a pastor, I had used the same material when counseling couples for marriage, as well as in encouraging the marriages in my churches. Wonderfully, our experience comes together in the book and forms something fresh. While originally the material in hand was targeted specifically for couples in preparation for marriage, in Naked and Unashamed we’ve expanded it so that it can be an encouragement for marriages of all stripes—a refresher course, if you will.

Over the next few months I’ll be sharing a few extracts from the book on this blog. Read! Be encouraged! Be a little challenged! And if you feel like you want more, you can find copies in bookstores, on Amazon.com, and on the Paraclete Press website. (Also, if you are interested in a review copy, send me a note with your email address and I’ll pass your information on to the publisher!)

“Idiot Lights”
Excerpted from, Naked and Unashamed: A Guide to the Necessary Work of Christian Marriage (Chapter 1)

In the Proverbs it states that “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (27:17). This is not a description of one smooth object gently sliding across another, but a process of one rough edge grating against another. The pressure of persons in close contact is the sharpening process by which we are made keen for use—by which our innermost persons are refined and made beautiful.

Conflict, then, does not mean you are a failure. When you own and operate a car, changing the oil every 3000 miles will make your car last for a long time. On many models, if the oil is not changed after a certain period of time, a light will go off on the dashboard—we call this an idiot light. When the light goes off, it doesn’t mean that the car’s owner is an idiot, merely that he or she is on the threshold of becoming one. Ignore the light, and in time you will become an idiot. Similarly, conflict in marriage simply identifies areas that require maintenance. Conflict doesn’t mean you are an idiot—but ignore the conflict, or refuse to attend to the work it asks of you, and in time you will become one.

Good marriages, you see, are never problem-free marriages; instead, a good marriage is one where the partners watch for the warning signals and grow by attending to them. A good marriage is not one where each partner has it all together, perfectly sorted, but one where they are secure enough in God’s love for them, and their growing love for one another, that they are not afraid to admit the limits of their capacities. Good marriages create space to be novices, to be awkward, to admit that none of us has very much life skill, that no one is ever ready for marriage, or children, or grows up without regrets. When a couple can operate through their conflicts from the perspective of that kind of security, then the result is always a high and steady growth curve.

We see this again in the words of Robert Browning’s poem, Rabbi ben Ezra, the opening line of which romantically invites the listener to “Grow old along with me!/The best is yet to be.” Lines 31-32 have the following phrase, “Then welcome each rebuff/that turns earth’s smoothness rough.” It is easy to make judgments of simplicity—things often appear smooth. But further insight, greater perception, often challenge our initial perceptions. A cue ball to the eye and hand is perfectly smooth. Under a microscope, however, it appears pitted and mountainous. The couple that would take advantage of the opportunity offered by conflict in marriage will permit the new information brought by their spouse to alter their initial perception. Things which on one view appeared smooth on a further view become textured. Additionally, a field before being tilled is hard and smooth, but the rebuff of the spade turns its smoothness rough, preparing the soil for fresh fruitfulness. In the same way, the idiot lights of conflict, viewed properly, become opportunities for a harvest of good.

The good news, of course, is that you are never expected to resolve all of these difficulties on your own. When the idiot light signals in your marriage, seek help as soon as the need arises. Wiser people than you have covered this ground before you; call them to your aid. Consult books. Visit counselors, church groups, pastors, seminars, and conferences. Each of these is a resource—like tools and equipment in your gardening shed—that are available to help you grow, as well as heal, your marriage. Do this quickly because unchecked difficulties will compound over time. To humbly seek help is itself the process of developing life skill, and the best thing the unskilled can do is to surround themselves with wise counselors until they themselves have grown and matured in wisdom. The practice of regularly investing time and energy into this work is precisely the necessary work of your marriage.

Announcing a New Book! People of a Certain Character

Dear Reader,

In my eight years of pastoral ministry the most frequently recurring request, from laypersons and leadership alike, has been to implement some form of “Leadership Training.” From the top, church leaders see a crisis in volunteers; from the pews, members feel ill-equipped to take on Christian service. “Training” is often the language we use for the process of bridging this gap.

I have come to believe that there is something troubling, even deeply broken, about this process. Especially from the leadership level, I am uncomfortable viewing my people as resources to be harnessed for our projects. From the lay level, I’m troubled by both the tacit appeal to secular leadership models and the role that “technique” seems to play in training curricula. Both processes seemed far removed from the business of making disciples into Christ’s image.

People of a Certain Character Cover_ThumbnailThat’s why I’ve written People of a Certain Character—it is an attempt to bridge this gap in our ecclesial discipleship. The central argument of the book is that it is in the formation of our Christian character, not the adoption of techniques, that we become most fit for service in the Kingdom of God. To do this I ask a series of questions directed at the heart of the reader. For example, one of the first questions is “Do you know you are loved by God?” This seems to me the single most essential characteristic for an individual in Christian service. After all, if you don’t know that you are loved by God, you will strive to be loved by people. And a heart that desires to be loved by the people it serves is most likely to go astray. There are twelve such questions in the book, and each is an attempt to get to the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in service.

There is an additional problem in the business of discipleship and the training of leaders—namely, that there is both a shortage of capable leaders to teach the material, and a shortage of time for those leaders who are capable. It seemed to me, then, that there was a clear need for a resource which could be used in a group. Chapters would need to be short so that nobody would fall behind in the reading. Lessons would need to be anchored in Scripture so that we don’t fall into the trap of secularizing our leadership practices. Each lesson would need to be deep enough to sustain discussion, and each lesson would require questions to facilitate such reflection and discussion. A well-crafted book, I hoped, would enable groups of disciples to gather together and do the business of discipleship in a small group. With a minimal commitment of time in preparation, it might free both leaders and laypersons alike to walk on a journey towards more Christlikeness. This is, indeed, the kind of ambitious book that I hope People of a Certain Character can be, and, by the grace of God, I pray that you might read it and find that I’ve succeeded to some degree.

If this sounds like the kind of book you’ve been waiting for, then you can purchase a copy from either Amazon.com or from my createspace store. If you would like a review copy, send me your name, address, a brief bio, and your blog address to contact@jeremyrios.com and I’ll see if I can mail you a copy for review as soon as I’m able.

Every Blessing,

Jeremy Rios
St Andrews

So, I Wrote a Book…

I took the picture, but Liesel put it all together.

I took the picture, but Liesel put it all together.

Dear Friends, the time has come for me to tell you something: I have written a book.

Truth be told, I’ve been working on it for the past two years, and quite intentionally I have not talked about it. Why? Because I didn’t want to be one of those people who talks about writing a book. I actually wanted to write a book. And I didn’t want to mention I’d done it until it was really done, as in really published, as in actually a book in my hand. That time has come, and now I feel that I can finally say, “I’ve written a book.” Whew.

Now, the fact that I have a book in hand is an occasion for some self-reflection, and I find myself asking the following question—does this book make me an ‘author’? I’m not sure. Snobby critics conclude that only someone published by a publishing house is an ‘author’ and that everyone else is playing at kiddie stuff. Certainly the ease of self-publishing makes this a somewhat legitimate critique. Any bozo can throw words on a page and publish it and call him/herself an author. Publishing a book yourself gives you about the same level of credibility which you get from one of those $25 online certificates you can send away for—which is to say, none. All that said, I’m not sure I’m comfortable applying a title to myself, so maybe I’m only an ‘aspiring author.’ You’ll have to read my book and decide for yourself if I qualify.

Let me take the next couple of moments to tell you about the project. If you don’t care about any of that and just want to find out where to buy one, scroll on down to the section labeled, “How Do I Get a Copy.”

Why Write A Book?

Believe it or not, almost two years ago I was in a prayer meeting talking to God about my future. During that meeting He spoke to me, clear as day, and said the word “Write.” So, in obedience, I started writing. I began blogging (which is a discipline all its own) and then while I was blogging I began working on a book. But what should I write about? The most obvious subject was the work I was doing for my church at that moment. Since I had been teaching the members of my church how to pray, I had scribbled some basic teachings on a half-sheet of paper which I pulled out at our weekly prayer meetings and talked through. Those notes, which developed into mini-lessons in prayer, became the skeleton structure for what would be the content of the whole book.

But that doesn’t really answer the question. Yes, I wrote because I felt it was an act of obedience, but I also wrote because, well, I wanted to write a book. I felt there was a genuine need to help Christians gain a better grasp on the basics of a prayer life. I felt that while there are abundant books on prayer available, many of them are inaccessible or focus on some unhelpful elements and/or excesses. But even more particularly, I wanted to write a book that would help my church.

Why Self-Publish?

The publishing world, and perhaps especially the Christian publishing world, is a fairly competitive environment. It is also an environment hostile to new and unknown authors (*ahem, like me). You don’t have to search the website of any publisher for very long until you come right up against the hard rebuttal that “We accept no unsolicited manuscripts.” In some ways this makes good sense—every Pastor under the sun and a good many Christians in general fancy themselves as the next great Christian author. The refusal of unsolicited manuscripts must be, as much as anything else, an act of self-defense.

But more even than this, I recognize that I am, by and large, precisely nobody. Now, if I was pastor of a church of 500 or 1000, a publishing company might look at me and think, “Regardless of content, if he publishes a book we’ll sell several hundred copies.” But I have been pastor of a church of around 35 people, and I host a blog whose readership is equally unremarkable (no offense if you’re reading this). In the eyes of a publishing establishment, I am not a particularly great investment.

Furthermore, it is my understanding that with modern publishing, authors are largely responsible for their own marketing. In other words, even if I were to successfully get a publishing company to look at my book, it would still fall to me to do the work of getting the word “out there.” Marketing was the only major service for which I would desire a publisher—I felt confident to do the work of editing, copy editing, and proofing myself. I also felt capable to typeset, format, and design both the interior and exterior of the book. (For the record, I had my wife’s help for the cover.) All those things being the case, I concluded that I might as well do the publishing work myself, and harvest a greater portion of whatever revenue might come my way. Do I have my sights set on fame and fortune? Not really. But hopefully I’ve been able to produce a quality product.

What’s the Book About?

Well, obviously, it’s about prayer. More specifically, it’s about petitionary prayer. As I explain early on in the book itself, I began working on a prayer course while I was in Seminary. I looked at all different kinds of prayer—the Lord’s Prayer, the Dark Night of the Soul, the Book of Common Prayer. I had set aside one lesson for petitionary prayer—prayers where you ask God for things—but didn’t really have anything to say in that lesson. Later, when I began the prayer group for my church, we got together and—guess what?—we began asking God for things. So that lesson about petitions which had nothing in it became a really important lesson. Then, the more I considered petitionary prayer, the more my sense of its importance grew as well.

I’d always felt a little uneasy with petitionary prayer, and I figured that most people were in the same boat as me. So the book, essentially, is written to help people pray in petitions. There’s a chapter explaining why we pray in petitions, a chapter on how to pray, a chapter on preparing ourselves to receive God’s answers, a chapter on the kinds of answers God gives us, a chapter on divine providence, and a chapter on praying with a group. There are also discussion questions so that you can read this book as a small group.

How Do I Get a Copy?

Getting a copy is super easy. Advances in print technology have made it easy for book printers to print books one at a time, rather than in large print runs. Since I’ve published this book through Createspace (which is the Amazon.com self-publishing division), there are two ways to purchase Ordinary Prayer. Unfortunately, at this time it will not be available in any retail stores.

First, you can go to my Createspace store by clicking on this link. There, you can order a copy and plug in your address. They’ll print and ship it to you right away.

Alternatively, you can go to Amazon.com by clicking on this link, and there you’ll find Ordinary Prayer looking all nice and official in the Amazon.com store. Order it there, and Createspace will print it and ship it to you just the same. (Bonus: For friends in the UK, it’s also available through Amazon.co.uk. Just click here!)

However, there is one key difference between the two stores—although the price is the same at each store ($12.99), I get significantly more royalties from the Createspace store than I do through Amazon.com. Part of the reason for this is Amazon’s free shipping—in other words, the cost of shipping gets passed on to me (which makes you think about all the other authors on Amazon.com as well…). And another reason is Amazon.com’s recognizeability (if people search for a random prayer book, they’re more likely to search on Amazon.com than Createspace!). Now, let me be clear: I’m not really here to make a lot of money, or really any money for that matter. That’s not the point. But if you were thinking to yourself, “Hey, I really want to support Jeremy in what he’s doing!” then you might want to purchase through Createspace. But if you’re thinking, “I like Jeremy, but I’m poor and/or cheap and I hate paying more than I have to” then go ahead and purchase through Amazon.com. I’ll never know what you did, and I’ll never judge you (at least not openly).

Will there be an E-book Edition?

Yes, there is, although you should know that I believe the very soul of a book has been removed from it when it is reduced to mere digitality. (You can read more of my thoughts on ebooks here, if you dare!) For the Kindle edition of Ordinary Prayer, please click here. Yes, the book is slightly cheaper there, and for the price of immediacy, you can have it for $9.99.

What Next?

Ordinary Prayer is going to be an entirely grass-roots project. I have no advertizing budget, so it’s up to you, O Great Reader, to tell other people if you liked my book or found it helpful. You can do this in a variety of ways. If you like it, you can give a copy to your pastor, or small group leader. You can buy a copy for a friend, or give one away as a Christmas present. You could also write a review on Amazon.com to help other readers decide if Ordinary Prayer is the book they need to read. (But please, don’t write a review that says, “Pastor Jeremy’s awesome and you should read his book!” Write an actual review where you talk about the book, and not me!) Maybe, in addition to these, you have other ideas of your own—and if you do, please let me know! I need all the help I can get—after all, I’m only an aspiring author!!