Review: Nice by Sharon Hodde Miller

I had an experience recently where I tried to politely decline a request. I thought I had been clear, firm, and still nice the first time I said, “No, not right now.” The person asking kept asking… and asking… and asking. And each time I said no in a new and still polite way, it became harder. Finally after months, I found myself in a volunteer role I didn’t want and feeling quite resentful toward the whole experience.

In her book, Nice: Why We Love to Be Liked and How God Calls Us to More, Sharon Hodde Miller describes my experience. She says that niceness for the sake of placating and being polite can often lead to disillusionment and cynicism. Miller isn’t calling for people to be rude or inconsiderate but she does take the stance that we need to be firm, honest, and unwavering.

This starts with responses to requests but is rooted in our faith. In the context of White Churches who stayed quiet during the Civil Rights Movement, Miller reminds us of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s words from Birmingham Jail,

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter from Birmingham Jail

Miller expands on King’s statement by saying that in pursuit of niceness, good Christians were, “…committed to the status quo than they were to justice. They were more committed to comfort than they were to courage. They had good intentions – great intentions! – but they weren’t willing to count the cost of them” (pg 77).

Throughout the book, Miller reminds her readers that the fruits of niceness can often be unhealthy and rotten. God calls us to a faith that steps out into the world of justice and pushing against the status quo. It is a faith that is uncomfortable and deep. This can make those around us feel uneasy but by sugarcoating injustices with the excuse of keeping the peace or being polite, we are failing the call of the message of good news.

I appreciate that Miller doesn’t call for unkind confrontation but rather thoughtful subversion and intentional pushback. She warns that niceness can lean to bigger divides than we realize while sacrificing the very character of Jesus.

This book came at the right time for me. It was a reminder to stand firm, not only in my boundaries with others but also in what I’ve learned about my faith itself. How do I engage in thoughtful conversation without ignoring my own convictions?

If you’ve ever been caught in an uncomfortable place because you tried to be too nice, this book is an encouraging reminder that we can be in community while also standing true to our beliefs.

Has being too nice ever gotten you in trouble? How do you balance politeness with conviction?

I received this book free from the publisher via Baker Books Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Review: Aloof by Tony Kriz + Giveaway

Silence is an interesting part of relationships. It can be incredible awkward; it can be soothing; it can be a sign of intimacy. I’ve definitely experienced my share of halting conversations, filled with horrible gaps because the person I’m trying to talk with and I just haven’t clicked or haven’t mined through enough experiences to hit a connection. I have close friends with whom I can chat for hours but I can also share companionable silence. We don’t need to always fill the space. When I was teaching, I would get home a couple hours before Frank. I used that time to walk Daisy quietly around the park, and then sit in silence – no music, no TV – after a day filled with chatty 8-year-olds. Even now, nap time is sacred quiet time.

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In his book Aloof: Figuring Out Life With a God Who Hides, Tony Kriz equates silence with hiddenness. His experience with God is that if God is not a booming voice from the Heavens or communicating through a fiery bush, he is simply not present. He longs for a tangible experience with God and, in Kriz’s mind, tangible means God is audibly speaking to him.

Based on a series of memories that build a case for God’s silence, Kriz takes us through his experiences of looking for a hidden God. As a young man, he feels that the more he does to prove to God that he is faithful, the louder God will communicate. As he grows older and has more life experience, Kriz realizes that perhaps God doesn’t communicate loudly. Perhaps it is up to us to stop and listen to how God is showing up already in our lives.

This book was filled with quippy stories about growing up evangelical and solving a crisis of faith through missions trips and seminary. While I can think of quite a few of my friends and acquaintances who would enjoy this book, I just never connected. Perhaps it was the constant references to our faith in terms of superheroes; or perhaps it was Kriz’s romanticization of God showing up through buccaneer maps and mercenary images. (I believe more in a God of restoration rather than a God who conquers.) I struggled too much to connect with these images.

I also wished for more reconciliation. More than three-fourths of the book was dedicated to stories of how God and the church failed Kriz’s expectations. He would end each chapter with a one-sentence epiphany and the last few chapters were devoted to how he has now realized that God’s silence does not equal abandonment. However, I wished the book focused more on that hopeful side of his relationship with God and less on the ways in which he had been hurt. I left me feeling a bit depressed and hoping that Kriz continues to have these epiphanies of how God is actually showing up in his life.

Again, while I didn’t personally connect with this book, I can think of many people who would read it with a completely different lens. For those who have struggled with God’s silence, or who have felt that the church has “sold” them something other than love and hope, I can see them resonating with Kriz’s journey.

How do you interact with God? Do you look for a burning bush experience or do you enjoy the silence?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Aloof. To enter, leave a comment about how you relate – are you a talker or do you enjoy silence? I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, March 6, 2015. (United States addresses only.)

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

BookLook Blogger

I have a pretty long to-read list. Book recommendations are such an interesting way to get to know new (and old!) friends. Whenever I read a book recommended by a friend – even if I didn’t particularly like it – I feel like I’ve gotten to know them a bit more. I’m always in a bit of a quandary when rating books from friends on Goodreads if I don’t like them…. I feel a bit guilty giving something less than 3 stars.

I find book reviews helpful, both from friends and strangers. If I’m struggling through a book, others’ opinions sometimes help me power through and sometimes give me permission to abandon the book. If I love a book, I like reading the lower reviews, just to see a more critical view of a story I loved. (It rarely changes my opinion, but I feel a bit more balanced after reading some 1-star reviews.)

So, I just signed up to review books through BookLook Bloggers, through HarperCollins Christian Publishing, which includes Zondervan and Thomas Nelson. It was pretty easy – after being accepted, I checked various areas of interest. Based on those, a list of books was created and I chose a book to review.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Once the book comes in the mail, I’ll have 90 days to read it and write a short review. I’m pretty excited about this. It’ll be a great way to read some new titles and pass them along to you all. Anyway, I wanted to give a heads up that more book reviews (and possibly some giveaways…) will be in the future.

Do you find book reviews helpful? What is your favorite genre?