Book Review: The Self-Evolved Leader by Dave McKeown

Book Review: The Self-Evolved Leader by Dave McKeown

Brené Brown. Stephen Covey. Jim Loehr. Cal Newport. Carol Dweck. Simon Sinek. Michael Hyatt. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Henry Cloud. Whether they have opened your eyes to view vulnerability as courage, motivated you to find your why, or advocated for you to set clear boundaries with others, each of these best-selling authors and speakers has shifted the way leaders think about and approach leadership.

Imagine if there were ONE book where themes of vulnerability, authenticity, mindset, purpose, clarity, communication, and boundaries all came together to paint a complete portrait of an effective and influential twenty-first century leader. Would you be interested?

Enter The Self-Evolved Leader: Elevate Your Focus and Develop Your People in a World That Refuses to Slow Down by Dave McKeown. In this single volume, the principles taught by each of the aforementioned authors has been distilled and synthesized into a coherent and comprehensive model for personal leadership development and team management.

The Self-Evolved Leader is a “How to Lead” manual for managers and directors in charge of teams (size doesn’t matter).

It is a GPS for people on a mission to develop their own leadership abilities whether they are leading a team or aspire to do so. Maybe they are lifelong learners like me and can’t get enough of leadership theory, or maybe they are suddenly thrust into a leadership position and feel unequal to the task ahead of them, or maybe they were never taught healthy leadership principles from their senior staff.

McKeown takes readers through a step-by-step process to discover “their authentic leadership calling, create a vision for a better world, and build the framework and structure needed to chart the course (p. 2).” And the framework and structure are legit.

The Self-Evolved Leader includes an actual  90-day plan to begin implementing what you’ve learned. He literally tells you what to do each day so that by the time you’re done with the 90-days, you will have set in place a roadmap for yourself and your team that you repeat each quarter.

McKeown rejects the industrial era model of teamwork (“a cog in a well-oiled machine”) and instead posits that teams in the twenty-first century function more like cells in organisms.

“The interactions are more amorphous, the nature of work is more prone to change, and the individuals are connected by more than the mere interlinking teeth of a cog or spoke. There’s a stronger degree of interdependence of connection and of symbiosis. Each person is uniquely individual and at the same time part of the whole. Each person is connected by more than the pursuit of a common goal; they are connected by a sense of shared humanity.”  

(p. 37)

The author’s description of a “self-evolved” leader really resonates with me because it’s exactly who I strive to be. This type of person is someone who accepts responsibility for their own growth. They demonstrate vulnerability and regularly practice empathy which strengthens their connection with the team. This leader is clear on boundaries and daily chooses to stay in their own lane. 

Smiling personal health coach sitting in an office and talking to a woman

According to McKeown, when a person adopts the self-evolved leadership approach, they will focus their activities, decisions, and interactions on helping team members achieve their goals and become the best version of themselves.

He lays out three essential elements which increase the self-evolved leader’s impact on the team: (1) creating a shared vision; (2) establishing a “pulse” and a variety of vantage points from which to assess progress; and (3) key disciplines to adopt in order to have long-lasting impact. He does this by not only suggesting what the elements are, but also by detailing HOW to implement each one. It’s like a road map for how to lead your team over the course of the next year. Literally. 

McKeown has identified eleven“key disciplines” (six micro disciplines and five core disciplines) essential for every self-evolved leader. He lays out a 90-day plan to help the reader practice what they are learning and hone their leadership skills. 

The author takes a methodological approach to explaining the five core disciplines. He describes the importance of the discipline, shares the benefits of it, and then answers the question “why is it so hard?” He then offers a proven “how to” strategy to spur you towards growth in that area. 

The Self-Evolved Leader is packed with helpful tips, strategies, and methodologies for implementation based on the latest research and best practices in leadership accepted across sectors. I highly recommend it for anyone currently leading a team and anyone interested in moving into leadership at their organization. 

If you are interested in purchasing this book based on my review, I’d appreciate it if you use my Amazon link:

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Images properly licensed through Envato.

Review: Teen to Teen Academic Planner 2019/2020

Teen-to-Teen Academic Planner

Finally! The opportunity to review something practical for my son! ? Scroll down for the full review. TL; DR? I love it!

Quick Preview of the Planner

The brand new Teen to Teen 2019-2020 Academic Planner from B&H Publishing Group is ideal for high school students (or any motivated, independent students) who prefer to do things their own way.

Physically, the dated planner is hardcover with thick, matte, cream-colored pages ideal for ink pens, pencils, and colored pencils (markers will bleed through, but fine-point, felt-tip markers will probably be okay). The binding is tight, but the pages are Smyth-sewn, so in time and with regular use, it will lay open flat.

This tough and durable planner is designed to last through entire academic year.

Although it includes a number of features common to all planners (e.g. personal information, weekly class schedule, and semester planner), it’s also got a number of distinguishing characteristics that set it apart from other planners.

Minimalist Planner Design

Months are laid out across two pages, and because of the minimalist design, the daily blocks are quite large with plenty of room to record appointments and due dates, draw illustrations, or decorate with stickers. There’s also a column for notes so nothing is forgotten.

Teen-to-Teen Academic Planner - Monthly View
Monthly Layout

The weekly layout shows the entire week (Monday – Sunday) with weekdays having twice as much space as weekends (which makes sense since this is an academic planner). Below each date, are seven check boxes and seven lines that span the width of the page. These can be used for anything: project due dates, appointments, chores, homework assignments, personal reminders. I love this, because it really allows the student to track what’s important to them to track.

Track What You Want How You Want!

Teen-to-Teen Academic Planner - Weekly view
Weekly Layout

Each week includes a quote from the bestselling Teen to Teen devotionals available from the same publisher. The featured devotional quotes echo the teachings of the Southern Baptist Convention (i.e., traditional values, purity culture, Biblical inerrancy, etc.).

The planner has two features that remind me a lot of my favorite Day Designer™ planner from Blue Sky®. First, there’s a place to record the top three priorities for the week—again, the type of task is not pre-defined so it can be whatever the student thinks is the most important.

Teen-to-Teen Academic Planner - Gratitude
Top Three Weekly Priorities & Quote from Teen to Teen Devotional

Practice Gratitude

Second, there’s a place to record three things you’re grateful for. This weekly gratitude list is an excellent tool to create or reinforce a regular practice of gratitude. Additionally, it provides material for meaningful conversations with your teenager throughout the year. All you have to do is ask, “What are you grateful for this week?”

Teen-to-Teen Academic Planner - Gratitude
Weekly Notes and Gratitude Practice

This is a great planner for any student who is independent, motivated, and busy! I definitely recommend it, and I can’t wait for my son to start using his. You can purchase one wherever books are sold, and if you love Amazon as much as I do, here’s a direct link for your convenience: Teen to Teen 2019-2020 Academic Planner.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 

Rachel Held Evans: More than Inspired

Book Review: Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

When I learned of Rachel Held Evans’ untimely passing this afternoon, my heart broke. It broke for her husband. It broke for her toddler and baby. And it broke for the world.

Our world is hurting, and an increasing number of Christians are awaking to the fact that their most sacred compilation of documents (a.k.a. the Bible) has been misappropriated for centuries to justify antisemitism, slavery, genocide, abuse, and more.

Rachel Held Evans

Unwilling to abandon the faith, many search for answers from those who have gone before them. Those who have not only deconstructed their faith, but also re-constructed it on a more firm foundation than bibliolatry.

Rachel Held Evans was a woman on a mission. She decided to share her faith journey publicly via her blog, then books, then speaking engagements. Her wish for any discussion that would ensue was simple:

“May it be lively. May it be civil.  And may it honor the One who prayed that our unity would reflect the sweet harmony of the Trinity…because the world indeed is watching.”  

Rachel Held Evans

As Rachel re-evaluated her conservative religious beliefs in light of modern biblical scholarship, she was transparent with her doubts and courageous in finding ways to follow Jesus wholeheartedly amidst criticism from all sides.

Rachel's voice still matters, and the impact of her words will inform faith discussions for generations. Click To Tweet
Click to buy Inspired by Rachel Held Evans
Click to purchase

Rachel Held Evans was a gifted writer whose faith journey mirrored my own, though she was more brave than I. She skillfully, articulately, and publicly detailed her struggles with the fundamentalist approach to Scripture on her blog, in her books, and everywhere she was invited to speak.

Being a woman Bible scholar in such a divisive world, she endured incredible cyber-bullying from hyper-evangelicals who—even while she was laying in the hospital in a medically induced coma—arrogantly tweeted their condemnation of her views and “prayers” for her salvation. Unreal.

If you’re struggling to hold on to your faith or curious about why people rely on ancient writings to inform their 21st century decisions, I’d like to recommend that you read Rachel’s most recent NYT Best Seller, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. It’s well-written, easy to understand, and filled with insights that will inform your understanding of the Bible.

You might disagree with her perspective; however, I challenge you to read it anyway. If you only read books written by authors who affirm what you already believe, you could be missing out on important conversations which can deepen and inform your faith. I highly recommend it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The above Rachel Held Evans quote was excerpted from Heaven, Hell, and Rob Bell on her blog.

Book Review: “Simple Joys” by Candace Payne

Simple Joys by Candace PayneI knew Simple Joys was going to be a good read when I laughed out loud while reading the INTRODUCTION! ? The stories are genuinely hilarious and thought-provoking.

In her first book Laugh It Up! Candace Payne offered us a peek at the woman behind the mask: the Chewbacca mask. The woman who belly laughed for three minutes straight on a now-viral Facebook Live video with such contagious joy that the world laughed with her not at her. She shared the story behind her viral video and how she grew into a woman who was not only comfortable in her own skin but also undeterred by what others thought about her.

In her new book, Simple Joys: Discovering Wonder in the Everyday , the author shares even more events from her life to demonstrate how each of us can mine for joy in our own everyday experiences. From “taco sweats” and taffeta to an icy driveway and hot coffee, this gifted author will have you laughing out loud one moment and deeply reflecting on complex situations in your own life the next.

Oh, the Places She Went!

Candace is a masterful storyteller who recounts her experiences with such vivid detail, it makes you feel like you were right there with her at the roadside café in Zambia squirting ketchup onto her fries or sitting next to her in the back seat of the car as her father walked out of the house with his hot cup of coffee on a freezing cold morning.

Don’t be fooled. Simple Joys is not a book that you read, put down, and forget about. It’s one that makes you chuckle, wince, roll your eyes, examine your own life, and mine for nuggets of joy even in difficult times.

The most underrated tool we have at our disposal to shift an atmosphere of anxiety to one of joy is to speak out the good times.” page 63.

Simple Joys will help you discover wonder in the ordinary events your everyday life through fun stories, poignant reflection, and questions to spur introspection.

Chapter titles:

  • Prologue: There’s Joy in Them Hills!
  • The Year I Spent with My Head in the Clouds
  • Trash-bag Choir Dresses and the College Crush
  • The Waterbed Where I Said, “Amen”
  • The House on the Hill, the Coffee that Would Spill, and the Stories Shared Around the Table
  • The Day Inadequacy Tried to Squash My Joy
  • Run for Cover
  • Selfies with the Last White Rhinos in Zambia
  • Take the Good, Toss the Bad
  • Epilogue: Prospecting for a Heart of Gold

At the conclusion of each chapter, Candace poses one related, thought-provoking question to the reader and provides ample space for the reader to jot down their own thoughts. There are also a few blank pages at the end of the book for additional notes.

Book Review: Simple Joys by Candace Payne
Pictured above: End of chapter with question and space to journal.

Simple Joys Is Small, but Mighty!

This small, but mighty 176-page book measures only 5-1/2″ x 6-1/2″ x 0.9″ and is the perfect little gift book—but I’d totally buy this for myself, too! (Actually, I did.)

Book Review: Simple Joys by Candace Payne

Each chapter features at least one inspirational quote digitally illustrated by the author (see photo above). I’m hoping they make them into a calendar or coloring book, because they are totally cute!

Book Review: Simple Joys by Candace Payne
Simple Joys is small and mighty!

The cover is a smooth hardback with smyth-sewn and perfect-bound pages. The inside pages are printed in full-color on a heavy, matte paper stock which is perfect for highlighting, note-making, drawing, and journaling.

Over Too Soon!

MacaroonsThe book ended too soon for me. It left me wanting more. So, I sincerely hope that Candace is already working on her next book. While I wait, I will read Simple Joys again. And probably again. 

I highly recommend it. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

By the way, I had the opportunity to participate in a live video chat with the author immediately prior to release, and when she revealed the book cover she said, “Well, it’s supposed to be watercolor dots, but they remind me of macaroons…and I love macaroons! So, that’s a simple joy!”

Yes. Exactly. 

Simple. Joys. All you have to do is search for them, and you will find them.

Photo credit:  of macaroons by @holly_anewlookat on Unsplash.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. I also decided to purchase the book because I really enjoyed it. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Reconstructing the Gospel by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Book Review: Reconstructing the Gospel

As part of my ongoing effort to educate myself about the problem of systemic racism in the U.S., I followed a number of activists on Twitter who share my faith*.

North Carolina author, activist, minister, and nonprofit founder Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is relatively new on my radar thanks to retweets from author, speaker, and activist Lisa Sharon Harper. Both of them, in conjunction with a handful of other theologians, have contributed to a book published by IVP entitled “Still Evangelical?: Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning.” When I saw this book cover flutter across my Twitter feed, I knew it was a book I’d want to read and review on my blog. [Review coming soon!]

When I reached out to the generous folks at IVP, they not only agreed to send a review copy of “Still Evangelical?” but offered to send a copy of Wilson-Hargrove’s new book Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion as well. Each of these books is helping me to better understand the problem of systemic racism and the moral responsibility I have as a follower of Jesus Christ advocate for essential change in our country.

Reconstructing the Gospel

Slave Bible at The Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C.I ended up reading Wilson-Hartgrove’s book first thanks to an online book club opportunity, and the book rocked my world. Reconstructing the Gospel is divided in two parts: Part One details the relatively brief history of what the author describes as “slaveholder religion”; Part Two reminds the reader what the Scripture says is good news and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

“The gospel that was twisted to accommodate America’s original sin must also be reconstructed if we are to experience the healing that Jesus wants to bring. Otherwise, evangelism is violence and those of us who spend our time in church meetings are perpetuating a death-dealing culture without even realizing it” (p. 17).

Photo (left): Slave Bible on display atThe Museum of the Bible

It is the author’s conviction that we Americans inherited—and ignorantly perpetuated—a “divided gospel.” Wilson-Hartgrove is convinced that if you were to dig down to the root of our political divisions and class disparities, you would find a sick gospel that was twisted and manipulated to justify owning, using, and abusing fellow human beings created in the image of God.

Do not doubt his conviction. It is based on FACT.

When my family and I visited the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. last November, we saw first-hand a copy of a “Slave Bible.” I had never even heard of such a thing, but there it was right before my very eyes!

Around 3 minutes into this video (left) which I was live-streaming from the Museum of the Bible, you can see the display for yourself. I’m reading the description card.This was the first time I ever knew there was such a thing as an edited version of the Bible solely intended for slaves! ? 

What made the slave Bible so different from that of the slave holder? Passages that talked about freedom for the captives had been cut out.

The book of Exodus? Not there.


The slave holders did not want slaves getting any ideas about freedom from the Bible.

I can’t even imagine how someone justified this bastardization of the Holy Word of God, but they did. This was a printed and bound copy. There are more. Somewhere.

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass Portrait

In time, many men and women who had been brought to this country against their will, sold as chattel, and treated like animals regained a sense of human dignity. They learned to read and write the American language. They learned about God. And eventually, they learned the stories that had been cut out of the slave Bibles—including the story of the Hebrews being delivered out of bondage in Egypt by Moses. And these stories gave them hope and a vision for the future. 

Frederick Douglass, though born into slavery, escaped his bondage and became an accomplished orator, a gifted writer, and a political activist. He became the leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York1. He embraced the true gospel of freedom and equality and grace.

He wrote, “I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land” (quoted on page 35 of Wilson-Hartrove’s book).

Slave-Holder Religion is Alive and Well

What’s crazy to me is that, although Douglass penned his observations in the mid-1800s, slave-holder religion is still alive and well in the 21st century. In fact, it has gained a second wind thanks in part to the overtly racist comments and dehumanizing tweets about people of color from the current President of the United States who not only claims to be a Christian but also garnered 80% of the white evangelical vote in the 2016 presidential election (see one tweet below; many others can be found on his Twitter feed here).

Dehumanization is often used to groom unsuspecting people to tolerate what would otherwise be unacceptable treatment of another human being. In her May 2017 article “Dehumanizing Always Starts With Language” Dr. Brené Brown warns:

We must never tolerate dehumanization—the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history. When we engage in dehumanizing rhetoric or promote dehumanizing images, we diminish our own humanity in the process.” (emphasis mine)

Wilson-Hartgrove would agree. His personal journey out of racial blindness happened over a period of time through a number of enlightening encounters with people of color.  As he recounts the time he was talking to a group of teens at a youth camp about the virtues of biblical love and faithfulness only to be called out for his ignorance:

I not only assumed that the good life I imagined as a white man in America was what God wants for everyone, but I also naively suggested that these young people had the freedom to choose biblical faithfulness in all the same ways I did. Truth was, I didn’t have a clue” (p. 43).

When the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II courageously agreed to speak at his church in Klan country, Wilson-Hartgrove was no longer examining his faith alone. He had a mentor, and this man would help lead him from racial blindness to sight, from ignorance to knowledge, and from white independence to multi-racial interdependence in the “beloved community” of Christ followers. 

Ignorant No More

Proximity, humility, and an open heart—each of these is necessary for a life free from the shackles of slave-holder religion and the bad theology of white supremacy which has wormed its way into the church.

As the author builds his case against slave-holder religion, he argues that when we accept without question the religious traditions handed down to us, we often through ignorance make things worse. In other words, there is a white American “Christian” culture that blinds us to what is happening in the world around us. When we are blinded by racism, we limit the gospel to changing individual hearts or the culture of families. Jesus came to change more than that. He came to change the world (p. 132).

Racial inequality is rampant, complex, and systemic. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been called to engage politically: To change our country. To change the world. #slaveholderreligion #wilson-hartgrove Click To Tweet

Racial inequality is rampant, complex, and systemic. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been called to engage politically: To change our country. To change the world.

For those not blinded by racism, Jesus came to change more than individuals’ hearts or the culture of families. Jesus came to change the world. He did it by gathering together a fusion coalition of the poor and the sick, tax collectors and zealots, religious defectors like Nicodemus, and lepers who had been written off as unclean. Preaching the good news that God’s politics made room for all of them together in a new social order…the political threat of this popular movement got Jesus arrested and killed” (pp. 132-133, emphasis mine).

To say that Reconstructing the Gospel opened my eyes would be an understatement, for that implies that only my eyes and brain were affected. The truth is that my entire body was affected by this book, because for the first time in my life, I have begun to viscerally understand what it means to live in skin. “White” skin. I get it.

Living in White Skin

Now, when I am out, I try to stay mindful of the privilege automatically afforded me and the responsibility I have as a follower of Jesus Christ to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God (cf. Micah 6:8). Not to solve problems, but to observe and listen. To “see” people for who they are and affirm the imago dei in each person.

Wilson-Hartgrove calls us back to the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, touching the untouchable, embracing the marginalized, and setting the oppressed free. It’s a social gospel, for sure. “By endeavoring to live as Christ lived in the world, the church helps everyday people see and remember that another way is possible” (p. 143). This gospel message does not neglect the soul; it touches the whole person: body, mind, and spirit.

And here’s where we must slow down and take a good, hard look inside. Before we rush out to fix the problems of the world, we must first face the facts that—as much as we try to interpret and apply the Scriptures faithfully and accurately—most of us have inherited a broken gospel. Each of us needs to take a hard look at what we’ve been taught as right and good, and humbly hold the doctrines, attitudes, and practices of our faith up to the entirety of Scripture. Wilson-Hartgrove continues,

Reconstructing the gospel can never only be about the individual. This is why so many noble efforts at reconciliation fail. They pretend that broken people with the best of motives can simply opt out of hundreds of years of history through individual choices and relationships…But if we stop short of the personal work…then we carry the germ of white supremacy with us into our most noble efforts to rid this world’s systems of racism. Nothing is uglier than the inevitable explosion when white people try to participate in anti-racist work without addressing their own hidden wound. Each of us has to do our own soul work” (p. 156).

This is where I am right now: I’m doing my own soul work. It’s hard, and it’s taking way longer than I had hoped it would. The fact is, it might take the rest of my life to fully comprehend how hidden biases have affected my attitudes and actions, and how much damage I’ve unconsciously done thanks to ignorance and the slave-holder religion I inherited from my parents who inherited it from their parents who inherited it from theirs and so on.

Deconstruction is a Messy, but Necessary Process

Even though no one in my family tree ever owned a slave, we were still impacted by the false teachings and immoral compass of slave-holding theologians and leaders in our country. Thank God for grace, mercy, and enlightenment!!!

A dilapidated room in an abandoned house

Before the reconstruction of one’s faith comes deconstruction. Teachings based on poor hermeneutics steeped in white supremacy must be torn down. Slave-holder theology enmeshed in traditions, hymns, and “Christian” books must be must be ripped out. Ignorance and arrogance must be taken to the dumpster. Deconstruction is a time-consuming, messy process, but it is absolutely necessary for anyone who hopes to become more like Christ. 

Deconstruction is a time-consuming, messy process, but it is absolutely necessary for anyone who hopes to become more like Christ. #slaveholderreligion #reconstructingthegospel Click To Tweet

This “soul work” involves more than proximity to people who are different than me. It requires humility and compassion and a willingness to listen and learn from people who I’ve never. “For healing to begin, we must learn to listen with our hearts” (p. 166). When we listen in humility and with our hearts, we are open to hearing the message as it is given, not as we think it should be.

I highly recommend Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s 2018 book: Reconstructing the Gospel. It is eye-opening, convicting, and, most of all, extremely helpful in promoting a type of racial reconciliation that could turn this nation, and the world, toward the God who sees, hears, and loves everyone.

* BTW, I rarely use the word “Christian” to describe myself any longer because it no longer means what it used to mean. When the adjectival label “Christian” is routinely applied to people who so blatantly speak and act in a manner completely opposite of the gospel of Jesus Christ,  the term can no longer be used to describe me or my faith.

For many years now, I have preferred the term “Christ follower” or “follower of Jesus Christ” to the term “Christian.” That’s the truth. I believe what the Scriptures say about Him, and I try to follow His teachings. More than anything, I want to live like He lived: Advocating for the oppressed. Embracing the marginalized. Confronting the hypocrites. When I say someone “shares my faith,” that’s what I mean. They follow the same Jesus I do, and you can tell it by what they say and what they do. You know the tree by its fruit.

1 Wikipedia contributors. “Frederick Douglass.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Aug. 2018. Web. 22 Aug. 2018.

Photo credits:
“Frederick Douglass Portrait” is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923. See this page for further explanation.

“Cracked Cream Walls” photo by Nolan Issac (@nolanissac) on Unsplash

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: “Braving the Wilderness” by Brené Brown

Book Review: Braving the Wilderness

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone is arguably one of the most important books I have read in years. The book is timely, relevant, inspirational, challenging, and practical.

In her 2010 book The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brené Brown presented ten guideposts for wholehearted living based on the results of her research on shame and vulnerability. Over the past decade, her work has turned conventional wisdom on its head, and her conclusions have resonated as true for people all over the world.

According to Brown, vulnerability has more in common with courage than weakness, and authenticity with bravery than weakness. Her 2010 TED talk on vulnerability has been viewed over 35 million times, translated into 52 languages, and remains one of TED’s most-watched videos ever. As a result of her own vulnerability in sharing her personal journey toward authenticity, she has been catapulted into the spotlight and is impacting lives all over the world. 

10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living
Poster by Leonie Dawson (
Click image for a variety of free downloads from the artist.

Brown’s work is based in grounded theory research which means she approaches the data with curiosity, not pre-conceived conclusions or theories she’d like to prove. Her conclusions are based on hard data and her insights can be life-impacting. For example, the data shows that every human being is wired for connection and craves belonging; but Brown takes the conclusion a step further clarifying that authentic connection and true belonging will occur only in an environment where trust has been cultivated. 

Braving by Brené Brown

This poster was created by Brené Brown as a free download from COURAGEworks (now defunct). Click image to download a full-size image.

In her 2015 book Rising Strong, she introduced the acronym B.R.A.V.I.N.G.—a mnemonic device to help us remember the seven elements required for trust (see poster on the right).

In her new book Braving the Wilderness, Brown emphasizes the critical role self-trust plays in establishing true belonging. She utilizes the same B.R.A.V.I.N.G. acronym to help us assess our level of self-trust. She transforms the original statements into the following questions:

  • B – Did I respect my own boundaries? Was I clear about what’s okay and what’s not okay?
  • R – Was I reliable? Did I do what I said I was going to do?
  • A – Did I hold myself accountable?
  • V – Did I respect the vault (confidentiality) and share appropriately?
  • I – Did I act from my integrity?
  • N – Did I ask for what I needed? Was I nonjudgmental about needing help?
  • G – Was I generous toward myself? (p. 39)

Brown’s theories are founded upon the conviction that every human is innately valuable and should be treated with dignity—not necessarily because of who they are, but because of who we are and the One whose image we all bear:

If our faith asks us to find the face of God in everyone we meet, that should include the politicians, media, and strangers on Twitter with whom we most violently disagree…Challenging ourselves to live by higher standards requires constant diligence and awareness. (p. 76)

If we’re surrounded by people who look like us, talk like us, believe like us, eat like us, sing like us, and dress like us, belonging is a given—but is it conditional? Is it fake? Is our belonging constantly up for negotiation?

True belonging must begin with self-acceptance in the midst of diversity and imperfection.

Braving the Wilderness beckons readers back to their shared humanity with guideposts for establishing self-trust, leaning into vulnerability, and embracing curiosity.

The author challenges us to “reclaim human connection and true belonging in the midst of sorting and withdrawal…to choose courage over comfort…how to become the wilderness” (p. 59). Cultivating true belonging will require us to break out of our “ideological bunkers” and intentionally spend time with people who are different than us.

We’re going to have to listen hard, become curious, experience discomfort, and empathize—all without sacrificing who we are.

Foundational to Brown’s analysis is her conviction that “we are all inextricably connected with each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion” (p. 34). The author proposes that our connection to each other has been recently broken, explains why and how that happened, and suggests four paradoxical behaviors which will help us find our way back to one another.

  1. People are hard to hate close-up. Move in.
  2. Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil.
  3. Hold hands. With strangers.
  4. Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.

Each of these paradoxes is elaborated upon in its own chapter. The book is packed with stories of real people advocating for the dignity of human life and wholehearted living. 

Braving Is Advocating for Human Dignity

Braving the Wilderness was written during one of the most divisive and provocative presidential campaigns in the history of the United States. The author objectively examines how social media, news reporting, and political rhetoric exposed the underbelly of our personal dysfunctional relationships built on misperceptions, false assumptions, and manipulative control. The result? Disconnection and loneliness.

In a world as connected as ours, it’s hard to fathom how loneliness could possibly be on the rise. But it is. And the biggest culprit contributing to our social disconnect is fear. 

In the case of the United States, our three greatest fault lines—cracks that have grown and deepened due to willful neglect and a collective lack of courage—are race, gender, and class. The fear and uncertainty flowing from collective trauma of all kinds have exposed those gaping wounds in a way that’s been both profoundly polarizing and necessary. These are conversations that need to happen; this is discomfort that must be felt. (page 58)

She asserts that those who strive to sort us into one camp or another are often motivated by selfish interests, money, and/or power. Our division fuels their agenda, and their favorite tool to cause division is dehumanization. The dehumanization of any person or people group begins with language and is closely  followed by propaganda-like images. 

Dehumanization Diminishes Our Wild Heart

According to Brown, “once we see people on ‘the other side’ of a conflict as morally inferior and even dangerous, the conflict starts being framed as good versus evil” (p. 72), and we always see ourselves on the side of good. 

The problem is that most issues are not that dichotomous. Using recent social movements as an example (e.g., Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter), Brown challenges the reader to be willing to take a nuanced stance on issues when our humanity demands it. It’s not as clean-cut as choosing one side to the exclusion of all others, but it is essential to our personal integrity. Nuance is a good thing. It’s humane. And there’s no shame in having a nuanced opinion on any topic!

The author has a gift for weaving together compelling narrative with factual data in such a way as to motivate and equip the reader to trust themselves and stand strong in courageous vulnerability and empathetic compassion with no need for approval or permission. Her values are life-giving and line-up very nicely with what is taught in the Scriptures. Belief in the imago dei requires us to value human dignity. Full stop.

I highly recommend Braving the Wilderness (and, seriously, ANY of Brené Brown’s books) to anyone who is serious about being true to self and making a positive difference in this world. If you read it, I would love to hear what your favorite section(s) were and your favorite quotes!

Photo Credits:
Women’s March in California by Alex Radelich@alexradelich on Unsplash
Black Lives Matter in Northwest Washington by Vlad Tchompalov@tchompalov on Unsplash

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”