Wineskins Archive

February 11, 2014

Book Review: “Common Sense, Nonsense, or Church Sense” (Nov-Dec 2002)

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By Dawn Hagerman
November-December 2002

At first, Ron Carlson’s book gives the impression that you could wrap it up and call it a cheeseball for the holidays. However, about halfway through the book, Carlson uses up the majority of his obnoxious word play and bad puns and delivers many hard-hitting stories focusing on the value of Christian living.

Common Sense, Nonsense, or Church Sense (Covenant Publishing, $12.99 paperback, 212 pages) ministers to readers through 61 rather insightful short stories. The stories focus mainly on foibles from the author’s personal experiences.

Being true to the humble spirit of Christ, Carlson willingly teaches through his own experiences without holding back the lessons he has learned. For example, in the chapter Well, I’ll Be Go to Hell, Carlson divulges his disgust and fear of spending time with his misfit friend Bob in an AIDS colony in the Seattle area.

“I gave Bob a look that said, ‘Get me out of here, now!’ He ignored me. I spent a week in that room the next hour. I was in worse shape than the dying man. All I wanted was back to the safety of my rental car and hotel room. But Bob wouldn’t let me off that easy. He felt obligated to teach the professional minister something about authentic ministry.”

And later, “Bob taught me a lot the day we visited hell. He showed me a form of ministry that I did not realize existed. The experience reminded me that anybody, anywhere, any time can leaven life with kindness. He cautioned me about judging the way ministry is practiced. It can be genuine without being textbook.”

This paragraph really captures the essence of Carlson’s writing. Each chapter tells a story, sometimes funny or rowdy, sometimes trite, sometimes heartbreaking, but always filled with the love of God and a message for Christian living.

Some of Carlson’s most hilarious and well-written stories are born from the relationship that strips us bare, holy matrimony. It is during marriage that most of us have the opportunity to display the love and forgiveness of Christ most often. And thankfully for Carlson, his wife Sandra overflows with God’s goodness, dishing out compassion and forgiveness by the truckload.

Take, for example, the chapter Destroying a Good Thing where Carlson manages to ruin the beautiful new kitchen floor his wife adores. This is not a story of your typical accident. It is a story of an accident pre-destined to happen through the foolishness of the author’s need to display his golfing prowess to his pals. Woe to the husband who brings a golf club and wedge into the newly remodeled kitchen. And blessed be the wife who forgives.

“Sandra and I have been married for twenty-five years, and we’ve prospered through good times and bad times, not because I’m a good person always doing good things, but because she is willing to forgive. I’m a klutz. I’m a dipstick. I’m a jerk at times. So is Sandra. So are you. So is your spouse. None of us is perfect. And if there is one thing we all desperately need – it’s forgiveness.”

“Common Sense, Nonsense, or Church Sense” stories aren’t all funny. Carlson also uses this book to admonition us Kingdomites to relinquish our legalistic, condemning ways and focus on God’s purpose for our lives and the church. Too many people are getting “church bites” rather than the unconditional love we should be displaying. Check out these short stories: Numbskulls on the Loose, The Problem with Dancing, Reflections from the Rust Ranch, Coloring Outside the Lines, Cold War Nonsense, Church Them, and Church Matters. All of these are wonderful examples of the attitude we should be embracing as God’s children.

This book offers quite a look into the author’s personal life. But more importantly, it offers insight into Christian living and the man who died to save us. It offers a free peek into our own shortcomings and gently points us toward the path of righteousness.

It does a soul good. Give it a try.

Dawn Hagerman currently works as a copy editor/designer at a newspaper in southwest Washington. She enjoys reading and writing, and spending time with her husband and son. She can be reached at

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