Friday, August 2, 2013

Review: Open by Craig Gross

My first exposure of Craig Gross came from the ill-titled documentary, Missionary Positions, which followed Craig and Mike Foster on their quest to establish, the net's number one resource for those who struggle with issues of lust and pornography. While I will not provide further thoughts on the documentary itself, I will say that Craig left quite an impression on me during its running time, and I became interested in his ministry as a result (I currently use x3watch on my computer and named Craig as an influential figure in the acknowledgements of my first novel, Stronghold). Of course, as the needs of XXXchurch patrons became more broad, so too did the ministry's reach and scope--to the point of gaining national attention and coverage on Dateline, among other programs. As far as I know, some level of interpersonal accountability has always been stressed by the staff of XXXchurch, and from what I can see, they have adopted a variety of models to help their attendees achieve some level of it. 

Given this history, the arrival of Craig's latest book, Open, should come as no surprise.  The book explore's accountability's usefulness in a variety of areas while also acknowledging possible shortcomings and promoting tools in order to make one's process and journey more affective. As one who has required accountability for years in my own life, I know it's value, and Open covers the topic well. I have two minor qualms that I will get out of the way, then I will get to some of the book's particular strengths. 

First, Open feels like a book written for a church-kind-of-crowd, but Craig attempts to keep it general enough for everyone. This works both for and against him. While I would've liked to see Christ's name and Scripture on every page, I often found myself missing it and wondering when the Christian plugs were going to drop (and a few did here and there). I feel that this is Craig's writing within a self-designated construct: his organization XXXchurch has many members and visitors who do not directly espouse the Christian faith, and the author's desire to avoid ostracizing them by writing a book full of "Christianese" is admirable. Of course, those of us who feel the book is speaking to our tribe may feel something is missing. This may be as much of a criticism of me as a reader as it is of him as an author. We Christians are a strange breed. Sometimes we expect those within our camp to constantly give us exactly what we want, and when they do not we decry them for it; of course, at the same time we expect to be salt in the world and a light in the darkness, but when we placate each other we can nullify our ability to reach anyone. Ergo while my criticisms feel valid to me, Craig's attempts to straddle the line truly is understandable and, arguably, necessary.

Second, Craig touches on the subject of accountability on women in his book, but he focuses heavily on male shortcomings and needs, as many of his anecdotes and examples revolve around men. In hinting at the female reader but not spending more direct effort on their plight, I think he does female readers a disservice. Frankly, I would have loved for a female counterpart (rather than another man) to have co-written the book with him. Considering the work that XXXchurch does with women in the porn industry as well as with females who struggle with sexuality in the lust-saturated culture, the gender imbalance of the book is poignant and regrettable. This being put to the side however, I cannot deny that the book can be immensely valuable in the hands of women who are willing to take the extra step and extrapolate the principles therein for their own needs. While women in America, particularly in ministry, have been forced to do this for a very long time (frankly, too long), female readers will find much in the book to process and apply in their walks together.

Those two critiques withstanding, Open covers the topic of accountability with excellence. The text touches on both ideas regarding the virtues of getting honest as well as some of the possible vices that doing so might lead one to inadvertently embrace — gossip, judgment, excusable behavior because "we're all there", etc. The best of Craig's observations and exhortations comes in the form of his rallying against these things before they start. One thing is certain from reading this book: Craig Gross knows how accountability can go terribly wrong, and he's realistic about recognizing ways to avoid such results. Befitting his nature as something of an upstart, he is very quick to note inherent human tendencies towards sin even as persons attempt to do good; therefore, he not only stresses how accountability can be healthy, but how it can be dangerous if left unchecked. These are aspects of honest fellowship that too few of us consider. These observations "from the trenches" give the book an added measure of quality and validity.

In order to create an ebb and flow to the writing, Gross also gives a variety of stories about those who failed, in a variety of areas, in part due to the absence of accountability. I am finding that exhortative books of this type need these stories; inasmuch as they feel unseemly, they put a face and a consequence on issues and also break up the admonitions--as valuable as they are--into more digestible pieces (a critical concern when writing for modern audiences). These tales of frailty show the reader how something as simple as a weekly phone call can aid one's focus on the finish line rather than the pain of the race, which is the point of it all anyway. We human beings know we are weak and frail, and overcoming our sinful proclivities is a taxing experience; Open encourages us to accept help along the path of better living, while also serving as an aid to others in their journey alongside us. 

And what's not to like about that? Interested in reading Open for yourself? Here's your chance to get a free copy!

Here's how it works: Tweet/Facebook with a link to the site Get Open site or the Open's Amazon page and the message "Accountability = Being Open" before Saturday, August 3rdYou do not need to link to my site, just the book's site, and then hit me back at with a notice of your linking/post. Though you are encouraged to post about the book as much as you like, only one entry per person/twitter account will be accepted. 

That's it. You will be entered into the running for a free copy, mailed to you, and two participants will be selected on Sunday, August 4 and notified by e-mail!

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