Jesus and John Wayne, by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

If that title doesn’t grab you, the subtitle, How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, surely will.  Dr. Du Mez is a historian at Calvin University, so writing a book with this theme took a great deal of courage. Although she does not hesitate to take on the recent political scene, particularly at the very beginning and end of the book, most of the volume develops the history of evangelicalism in the United States, starting in the early twentieth century.

kristin-kobes-du-mez-4Those of us who were late to the evangelical scene may not be aware that the evangelical movement has changed over the past century. During the second world war, fundamentalists and evangelicals came together to found the National Association of Evangelicals, which now encompasses 45,000 local churches in 40 denominations. Du Mez points out that denominational distinctives, which were important in the beginning, began to blur in favor of a more united and powerful coalition. Fundamentalism grew stronger, and then the reformed churches came to the fore in the past 30 years or so. She shows how the movement has consistently moved in a more misogynistic and politically right-wing direction, often forsaking doctrine for an increase in power, until, at this point in American history, the evangelical church is inextricably tangled with the Republican party, leaving it open to manipulation by right-wing politicians who presume that evangelicals will support their candidacy and policies.

One aspect of this history that surprised me was the rise of evangelical consumerism. It didn’t surprise me because I didn’t know it existed; rather, it surprised me to find that I was in the midst of it without noticing, like a fish in water. Everywhere we look, we can find t-shirts, mugs, wall signs, bumper stickers, and truckloads of trinkets with Bible verses or cute Christian sayings on them. This is not even including the books of varying quality, vacation packages, and media that call themselves “Christian.” Winning the white, middle-class, Christian market is a coup for any business, and the hedonism of our spending is purely American.

Du Mez also tracks the rise of parachurch organizations later in the twentieth century, particularly those concerning families and men. Almost all of the family ministries demanded male headship in the home, and many of the men’s ministries were based on military activities and physical training. Du Mez questions the relationship between Jesus’s teachings and guns. She points out that evangelicals, as a group, are reliably pro-war, and during George W. Bush’s presidency, 41% of evangelicals were in favor of torture, more than any other group in America. Furthermore, two-thirds of evangelicals do not believe that the United States should accept refugees, also more than any other group in the country. Both of these statistics are shocking for people who claim to read and believe the Bible, where Jesus preached love and nonviolence. There are also countless verses about caring for refugees. As she notes on page 321, “Despite evangelicals’ frequent claims that the Bible is the source of their social and political commitments, evangelicalism must be seen as a cultural and political movement rather than as a community defined chiefly by its theology.”*

john-wayne-2Somewhere along the way, evangelicals replaced Jesus with a John Wayne-like image of the perfect Christian man: rugged, arrogant, and domineering. While this could have been a reaction to the meek and mild Jesus with silky blond hair portrayed in popular paintings, there is a lot of daylight between those two images, and neither one is true. Du Mez shows that as the patriarchy grew stronger and stronger, the churches and parachurch organizations that adopted complementarianism most heartily began to leak reports of sexual abuse. Furthermore, the leaders across the entire movement were so close that they covered up for one another. Here, as in her entire history, the author is careful to present evidence. Throughout the book, from the 1980s onward, I knew all of the players, and she is not hesitant to name them. It was a shock. For decades, no one was forced to take responsibility, and in extreme cases, the victims were made to apologize. Finally, the #MeToo movement reached the church, and pastors and “Christian” leaders were called to account.

One of the most heartbreaking aspects of the evangelical movement today is how it has become unmoored from Jesus’s teaching and has taken on a separate identity that blends religious rules with politics and power. As the author notes on page 325, “For conservative white evangelicals steeped in the ideology, it can be difficult to extricate their faith, and their identity, from this larger cultural movement. As one man who grew up awash in evangelical masculinity and 1990s purity culture later reflected, ‘I lived and breathed these teachings, and they still shape me in ways I don’t understand even 20 years after rejecting them intellectually.’”*

There is so much more in these pages than I can relate here, and this is just one account of the cultural movement that has so many people running away from evangelicalism. Let us hope that they are not running away from Jesus.

Disclaimer: I read a library ebook of this title. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

*Since pagination is flexible in ebooks, the quotes may be found on different pages in print editions.

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The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig

Nora Seed can’t take it anymore. Her parents are dead, her brother doesn’t talk to her, and she’s just lost her job. When a rejected suitor knocks on her door to tell her that her beloved cat is dead in the street, she decides that she is beyond depressed, and so she takes all of her anti-depressants at once.

The afterlife is not what she had anticipated. It’s a library, and her former school librarian is there to help her find just the right book among the infinite number of books of alternate lives. First, she has to read The Book of Regrets, which gets heavier and heavier as she reads, and then she can choose which regret she would like to reverse in order to live a better life. There are infinite choices, but if she gives up altogether, the library will be destroyed, and she will be truly dead.

Combining wishful thinking with quantum mechanics, Haig whips Nora and the reader along a painful path to wisdom. Nora’s changes do not just affect her own life, but also the people who are part of her existence, whether she knows them intimately or they are mere acquaintances. Haig explores the interconnectedness of communities and families and questions the limits of individuals’ responsibility for those around them. As Nora tries on different lives, the same character who was charming in one iteration may be loathsome in another, raising the nature/nurture debate about how much we are victims of our circumstances. Will Nora ever be happy?

I listened to this book on audio, read by Carey Mulligan, and found it to be delightful. Some reviewers complained that it was predictable, and to an extent, that is true. The theory of quantum physics has spawned a thousand works of fiction exploring alternate lives, but Nora is a believable, very ordinary character, and the reader will find herself cheering for some of her choices and backpedaling from others. Truthfully, I did not predict the ending, and I was really hoping for another. However, Haig’s conclusion was much more satisfying than mine would have been.

Fun stories with a side of thoughtfulness. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I listened to a library audiobook of this title. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Teaching Kids to Love Art

Children’s minds are wide open, and introducing a new painting is on the same level as introducing a new toy: let’s try this out and see what we think. While adults may be intimidated by modern art, kids can be merely curious. A little nudge and some basic information may be all they need to develop a life of art appreciation. Here are a couple of new books to help create little art lovers.

Modern Art Explorer, by Alice Harman. Illustrated by Serge Bloch

In just under 100 pages, the author presents thirty of the greatest works of many of the movers and shakers of modern art. After a quick introduction, she allots two- or four-page spreads to each artist, with images of recognizable masterpieces tied together with Serge Bloch’s childlike drawings of the artist and creative kids. “Modern” art, explains Harman, is not actually everything after the late 1800s, but is rather a finite movement within art history— starting in the late nineteenth century and continuing until the 1960s— that seeks to express emotion or meaning, rather than representational images.

The artwork for this volume by Thames & Hudson, a British publishing company, is chosen from the Centre Pompidou, a modern art museum in Paris. Harman’s comments on the artists and their lives, with explanations of their craft and creativity, are aimed at upper elementary, middle, and early high school students. Occasionally, her attempts at coolness are cringeworthy. However, children will learn a great deal about this movement and will be able to appreciate and discuss Mondrian and Modigliano and to compare Basquiat to Picasso with comfort and confidence.

Harman includes copious backmatter, including a timeline, glossary, list of artworks, and an index. In the timeline, she fits the artists’ works into the larger global events of each year, which is very helpful for understanding thought movements, as well.

Modern Art Explorer is an excellent resource for teaching children about art. It can be read or taught from front to back or in chronological order, or it can be dipped into and browsed as interest dictates. Perfect for preparing for a trip to the art museum.

Just Being Dali, by Amy Guglielmo. Illustrated by Brett Helquist.

Salvador Dali was a fanciful and curious boy. He was interested in everything, but not for long. He wove flowers into his hair—and later, into his long mustache—and wore costumes to school. His classmates made fun of him, and his father didn’t know what to do with him. His life changed when he became ill and was sent to live with the artist, Ramon Pichot. Once Pichot taught him to paint, Salvador realized that an artist can be whatever he wishes.

Dali went on to attend art school, wearing long hair and elegant clothes. His fellow students began to admire him when they saw the excellence of his work. Still, his professors tired of him, and he was expelled. He joined a new art movement called the Surrealists, who wanted people to think about the art that they were viewing, but Dali went further than they were willing, and he was expelled. Eventually, he met his future wife, Gala, who supported his art unreservedly and never grew tired of him at all.

Brett Helquist, an accomplished artist himself, illustrates this picture book biography with whimsical, swooping drawings, featuring elongated limbs and big, shining eyes. He recreates Dali’s masterpieces as part of the scenery, and kids will be able to use the list in the back of the book to turn again to the pages and seek them out by name.

One reason that the art world rejected Dali is that he frequently staged what we would call “media events,” rather than sticking to formal works of art. One shudders to think of what his artwork would have been if he had had Instagram and TikTok at his disposal, although whether he would have stood out as a genius or been considered just another drop in an ocean of exhibitionists is up for debate. We were glad for his public art when we were in Paris in 2019 and saw this clock that he created outside of his favorite drinking establishment.

I have always been a fan of Salvador Dali’s work, but much of his life is, shall we say, more complex than this story relates, and is not at all suitable for children. However, one of the themes of this picture book is the importance of being true to oneself and having the courage to use your gifts, even if it means departing from the herd. All children need to hear that message. Furthermore, many of Dali’s works of art are fun and lighthearted, and kids will enjoy laughing at melting clocks and lobster telephones.

A thoroughly charming introduction to an original thinker.

Disclaimer: I read library copies of both of these books. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson

For thousands of years, India has maintained a caste system, and even though it has been abolished legally, still it lives on, deeply ingrained in the psyche of the nation. The Brahmin caste, it is believed, had sprung directly from the gods, and so it was irrefutable that they were to be honored. The lower castes had surnames that described their occupations and their place in society, and the very lowest caste, the Dalit, were “untouchable.” Nothing they could ever do would change their fate or that of their children.

Isabel Wilkerson believes that all of humanity will organize itself into some sort of caste system in order to maintain structure in society. She has met Dalit Indian immigrants in the United States who cannot look other Indian Americans in the eye if they would have occupied a higher caste in India. She also traveled to Germany, where the mid-twentieth century produced a caste system based on religion and other factors that allowed those in power to blame everything on a scapegoat, a necessary feature of every caste system.

In the United States, caste is largely based on race. For a century and a half before the Declaration of Independence, the economy of at least the southern portion of the country was dependent on slavery. Wilkerson does not hold back on the descriptions of the cruelty of slaveholders and the ruthless ways that the white people in power kept hold of the reins of hierarchy. Furthermore, she shows— through scholarly research, news stories, and personal accounts— that it is easier to change laws than to change human hearts.

Wilkerson is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her previous book, The Warmth of Other Suns. This new work, subtitled The Origins of Our Discontent, is certainly the most scholarly and well-researched of the many anti-racist titles I’ve read in the past year. The author goes beyond the current headlines to delve into the human condition and discover the causes of such evil. Her research and presentation are thorough, yet readable, and her conclusions are convincing. Even in the smallest human groups—your office, your church, and your homeowner’s association, for example—we see people sorting into hierarchies. Some are helpful, while others are toxic. Those at the top will ruthlessly use their power to keep themselves on top. Those in the middle have a vested interest in maintaining the lowest caste, congratulating themselves that at least they are better than those beneath them on the ladder, while those on the very bottom, like crabs in a bucket, keep pulling each other back down so that they won’t be alone in despair.

Other titles that I have reviewed may have been more practical about steps that readers can take to heal past hurts, but this book will help many people to understand the concept of “systemic” racism. Wilkerson does have a pointedly partisan take on current politics, and some readers may be offended. However, it is important that we explore the origins of our unrest in a serious and unflinching manner. It’s not about the laws we pass or even the century or country we live in. Caste is a compulsion we all have as one of the darker sides of our human nature.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Calling Invisible Women, by Jeanne Ray

Clover stepped out of the shower one morning and started brushing her teeth. When she looked in the mirror, her toothbrush was suspended in midair. Otherwise, all she could see was the wall behind her. She was invisible. And not metaphorically.

Her husband was a busy pediatrician, and their son lived in his old bedroom after finishing a graduate degree in women’s studies, and neither one of them seemed to notice. She wore her usual bathrobe or outdoor clothes, and they didn’t skip a beat at her lack of a head or hands. Her best friend across the street, of course, noticed immediately and flew into a panic. Okay, so maybe a little metaphorical, after all.

One day, Clover was reading the newspaper’s classified section when she spotted an ad: “Calling Invisible Women.” There were others! They had meetings, and they knew what was causing it. They just didn’t know what to do about it. Good thing Clover hadn’t lost her investigative reporter instincts.

Jeanne Ray is the queen of the rom-com for older women. I read her Step-Ball-Change, Eat Cake, and Julie and Romeo years ago, and this novel came to my attention in connection with Women’s History Month. Her writing is light and humorous, but she jabs that stiletto point home about the real experience of most middle-aged and older women’s lives. Her perspective widens as the novel continues, and she deals with individual women’s private lives, the importance of community and friendship for women, age discrimination, and even Big Pharma. Quite a lot for a novel, and she does it all with panache and a giggle.

So travel along with Clover and her friends as they take on the world! Oh, but to be completely invisible for slipping onto planes and into corporate buildings, you’ll have to be completely naked. You’ll get used to it.

So fun and so fierce.

Disclaimer: I listened to a library downloadable audio of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Women’s History for Little Feminists

In celebration of the centennial anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, 2019 and 2020 saw the publication of a treasure trove of children’s titles. March is Women’s History Month, so this is a great time to gather up all of those books, as well as a few more. Here are two great feminist reads for kids, one that is a few years old and madly beloved, and one that is brand new and much-needed.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

One-stop shopping for women’s bios. This first volume of the series contains 100 one-page biographies of women who made a difference in the world, arranged alphabetically by first name. The book came into being through a Kickstarter program, and it has now been translated into 47 languages! The left side of each double-page spread has a quick summary of each woman’s life, while the right side has a full-page, colorful portrait with a quotation from the subject. All of the pictures are done by different artists, which gives the book exuberant variety. Some of the portraits are serious and classic, while others are almost caricatures. I had to laugh when I turned the page to the Brontë sisters. It is certainly a good likeness, but the artist put something a little spooky into their wide eyes that hinted at the eeriness of their writing.

The short biographies are not meant to be comprehensive, but rather to point out general facts and the reasons that the reader should care about this person. Hopefully, children will be especially interested in a few of these heroines and will seek out full biographies and other information about them.

Inspirational reading for little rebels. Princesses need not apply.

An Equal Shot, by Helaine Becker

Title IX went into effect when I was in high school. Yes, I am that old. Although it was passed in 1972, it was not explained in detail and implemented until 1975, and even after that, some organizations were slow to get on board. When we were buying a house in a small town in Georgia in the 1990s, I called the mortgage banker to get an update. He told me that he was communicating with David about it, and if I had any questions, I could ask my husband. These days, he could be fired for that, and I would throw a party on his front lawn.

But I digress.

This nonfiction picture book tells about the need for the law and how it has changed our country since its passage. The text is very simple, and it is accompanied by illustrations in pleasing colors by Dow Phumiruk. The artist portrays diverse groups of girls in the beginning as disappointed and dismayed that they cannot play on sports teams, but even in the protest march, there is no hint of violent anger. The history of our country’s discrimination against women is explained clearly and persuasively. I found it particularly telling when the girls are searching giant editions of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and realizing that women’s rights are not found in these great documents.

It seems that the battle for freedom never ends. We abolish slavery and end up with Jim Crow. We pass the 19th amendment, but women can still be fired from their jobs for getting married or becoming pregnant. Liberty takes constant vigilance. Becker frequently points out that Title IX has only 37 words; that’s all it took. The text of the law is written out on one of the last pages.

We often think of Title IX as the law that allowed girls to have sports teams, and it is, but its application is so much broader than that, even for men, who are now able to work in what were traditionally considered women’s jobs, such as nursing or flight attendants. The backmatter has a more detailed account of the bill’s passage, including important individuals who worked to make equality a reality for girls and women. The author also points out areas where there is still “More Work to Do,” such as pay discrimination, and she includes a list of resources for further information.

Essential reading for girls and boys.

Disclaimer: I read library copies of both of these books. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Think Again, by Adam Grant

Black and white, red and blue, and scores of other binary choices; our world has drawn into camps. The sudden slowdown caused by the pandemic may be the best time in our lives to re-examine those opinions to which we cling with the greatest fervor, especially those we hold just because “it’s always been that way.”

Adam Grant is a professor at Wharton and a frequent TED talk presenter. In Think Again, Grant details the results of research that were surprising even to him. He has discovered that people who are willing to listen to opposing opinions and be flexible in their thinking are often the most successful. The book is divided into three sections: individual rethinking, business flexibility, and building organizations of lifelong learning. The very best academics are eager to listen to opposing opinions and are willing to admit that they were wrong. They are thrilled to find new insights. The most successful managers will readily unlearn and re-learn processes and strategies in order to keep their teams producing at the top level. Any group of people who remain curious and open-minded will grow and flourish, rather than becoming stale and rigid.

When I first heard of this new book, I was intrigued, since I am beginning what will be a few years of transition in my life. The book turned out to be somewhat more business-focused than I had anticipated, but it is an enjoyable read with many universal applications. Grant is a young father of three, and his illustrations include relatable stories of family life.

The ability to change his mind is why you know who Steve Jobs was, but you probably don’t know who Mike Lazaridis is, even though he was a smashing success before Apple made it big. Lazaridis and his colleague, Douglas Fredin, invented the Blackberry, the very first hand-held data device. When the iPhone came along, Lazaridis thought it was ridiculous to think that people would want to tap on glass instead of using a real keyboard, as on the Blackberry. Besides, no one would want to use a hand-held device for personal things; it was only meant for business emails– and that was the end of the Blackberry. On the other hand, Steve Jobs was happy with the success of the iPod for music and the iPhone for talk and text. However, when his team was enthusiastic about putting music on the iPhone, he agreed, even though it would mean the slow death of the iPod. The company he was building continued to expand as they stayed open to even more creative ideas, evolving and thriving.

Grant gives many other stories of success through flexibility. He devotes a section to persuading others to think as you do, and the key ingredient is listening more than we talk. That’s a tough one for those of us who love to talk! One of his discoveries concerning lifelong learning is that we do not necessarily learn best the way we enjoy the most. Study participants who were most comfortable and content listening to lectures did not always retain the information as well as they did when asked to perform experiments or conduct research and compile reports. In other words, venture outside of your comfort zone to learn new skills or fields of research.

It is encouraging to see books like Think Again being published at this critical time. Our culture has become reactionary to the point of violence, as we have seen over the past year, and it is time to take a step back, cool down, and listen. Our sources of information seem to lack any attempt at neutrality, so even our input is already tainted. It is so important to read beyond the headlines and to have real conversations with people with opposing viewpoints in order to understand one another’s thinking and to work toward peace and cooperation. On an individual level, we need to live a larger life, keep learning new things, and remain open to creativity and discovery. We can do so much better than this.

Disclaimer: I listened to a library audiobook of this title, read by the author. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet’s twin sister, Judith, was not feeling well. She was lying on a pallet on the floor, slick with feverish sweat, and eleven-year-old Hamnet was the only one home. He ran all over the house, then all over the village, looking for his family, finally calling for the village doctor, but he couldn’t find anyone to help. His father, Will, was in London working with his theater troupe, and he only visited them a couple of times a year. Eventually, Hamnet gave up hope and went home to check on Judith. She was no better, so he curled up next to her on the pallet and went to sleep.

Agnes was working with her bees. Her brother had sent word that the hive was swarming, and no one controlled the bees quite like his married sister. Their mother, too, had had a way with the natural world. They say she walked out of the woods one day and charmed their father, gave him children over the years, and then went back to the wilderness. Now, Agnes was a healer. She grew herbs and put together cures for all the people who stopped by their window. She had never expected to live in the town, along with her playwright husband’s family, and then, over the years, their own children, all in one house with a glove-making shop attached. She missed Will. He had been gone for a long time now, but she knew he was happy writing and performing for the London crowds.

The shock and dread that greet the family members as they all return home takes the length of this beautiful novel to tell. O’Farrell alternates between the tragic fate of Hamnet and the story of Will and Agnes Shakespeare’s courtship and marriage, leading up to this crisis and then beyond. Agnes is a mysterious, yet sympathetic, main character. She remains unmoved by social norms, and is motivated only by her love for her family and the guidance of her heart.

The storytelling in this novel is breathtaking. The reader will be lost in the 16th century, living in historic plague years during a very present pandemic. O’Farrell’s anatomy of a romantic relationship is generous and realistic, allowing space for these two very different people to grow into themselves without losing each other. She takes many pages to tell the critical scene, during which I cried so hard that my dog climbed into my lap to comfort me and my husband patted my arm with a worried expression. The writing was just that intense. So, yes, bring your tissues, but also your sense of wonder.

Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library ebook of this novel. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Black History for Children

Here are two new, exceptional nonfiction works for kids that are great reads anytime, but particularly in February.

Jump at the Sun, by Alicia D. Williams

Zora loved to listen to the grownups telling stories down at the general store. Mama would send her on a ten-minute errand, and after an hour of waiting, she’d have to call the girl back home. After a while, Zora became well-known for her storytelling, or, as her Daddy called it, lying. But Mama approved of her stories, and she always told Zora to “jump at the sun!”

After her Mama died and her preacher father went on the road, he put her in boarding school where Zora spent her time reading everything she could. Soon, though, her father remarried and the money dried up, so Zora Neale Hurston spent a decade or more trying to get an education anywhere she could. She went through Howard University and, finally, Barnard College. She was friends with many of the greatest figures of the Harlem Renaissance, especially her best friend, Langston Hughes. For her last project in college, she travelled the South, collecting African American folklore. When she assembled and published those stories, she truly landed on the sun.

Jacqueline Alcántara illustrates this exuberant children’s biography with paintings that dance and jump across each page. She uses colors that convey the humid heat of the South, the excitement of New York, and the hopeful glow of the sun itself.

Zora Neale Hurston went on to become one of America’s greatest writers, probably best known for her classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God. The fact that she was able to produce such enduring works is all the more amazing for a black woman in the early twentieth century. Everything was stacked against her, but she remembered what her mother told her: “Jump at the sun!”

Unspeakable, by Carole Boston Weatherford

In 1921, Greenwood was a thriving community in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The nearby oil wells had created prosperity for all, and Greenwood had hotels and hospitals, great schools and restaurants. The residents had two newspapers to read and libraries to read more. The citizens of Greenwood were well educated and thriving, but not everyone was happy about that, because Greenwood was a completely black community.

Not that the people had a choice. Segregation forced a line down the center of Tulsa, and all of the black residents had to live on one side of the line. Of course, they sometimes had jobs that took them into the white section of town, and on one unforgettable day, a white teenaged girl accused a seventeen-year-old black shoeshine boy of assault. That one spark ignited the tinder of resentment in the white community and exploded into one of the worst race riots the United States has ever seen.

When I first learned of this chapter of our country’s history in Latasha Morrison’s book, Be the Bridge (reviewed here), last summer, I was stunned that I had never known that an entire section of a city was burned to the ground. The violence lasted for sixteen hours and left 300 people dead and 8,000 homeless. Most people left for good. Weatherford leaves out a part that Morrison relates: This is the first and only time that the federal government dropped bombs on its own citizens.

Shortly after writing the review of Be the Bridge, I read that there would soon be a children’s book about this shameful incident in our history. Carole Weatherford Boston is an award-winning North Carolina author who spends the first half of the book describing the good and peaceful life that the residents of Greenwood enjoyed. The brilliant artist Floyd Cooper fills this picture book with his signature oil paintings, depicting first a prosperous neighborhood, and then a tragic massacre. Cooper grew up in Tulsa, and one night his Grandpa Williams told him and his family about a terrible thing that had happened in his past. Now it is time to share that story.

Although descriptions of race riots and massacres make for uncomfortable conversations with our children, it is essential for them to learn about all of our shared history. Ms. Weatherford limits the description to a child’s level in the easy text of the book, and only gives more detail in smaller font in the back matter.

Highly recommended for parents to read with their school-age children.

Disclaimer: I read library copies of these books. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard

Somewhere in my study of the Sermon on the Mount last year, which lasted for months and kept on evolving, I came to the conclusion that I had to read Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. If one does a lot of reading in a specific field, eventually the same names will pop up over and over, and you begin to get the uncomfortable feeling that everyone else is in on something you’ve missed.

In the first chapter, Willard launches into research studies demonstrating the decline of the church and religion in general, and although the book was written in 1997, we would only see an increase of “nones” and “dones” if the study were conducted today. After setting up his reasons for the book, however, Willard’s writing becomes much more winsome, and he moves into the main points of his thinking.

First, when Jesus spoke of the kingdom, he spoke in the present tense. “The kingdom is among you,” “the kingdom is within you,” and so on. Willard believes that the church will not make disciples if the kingdom is a pie-in-the-sky heaven that is in the future but does not affect our daily life. We must learn to live in the kingdom now.

Secondly, Willard delves more deeply into kingdom living in several chapters on the Sermon on the Mount. There are so many wise insights here, only one of which is that the Beatitudes are not a list of aspirations. Nor do they espouse Salvation by Situation. “Blessed are those who mourn” does not mean that we should seek to be mourners, and Willard deplores centuries of Christian sanctimony that caused people to avoid happiness and laughter by misunderstanding this verse. His teaching on anger and malice—and the chilling difference between the two– is worth the price of the book by itself.

Thirdly, Jesus told us to go and make disciples, but the church seems merely to want to make converts. Willard spends some time exploring discipleship, and in the last chapter, he lays out a practical curriculum on how to become a disciple of Jesus.

This hefty volume of fine print took me almost three months to read, not least because it is so chock-full of startling insights that one can only read a small amount without pausing to consider this latest bit of wisdom. Although it is complex and theologically rich, the entire book is so hopeful and positive that the reader comes away not only knowing God better, but, more importantly, loving God more.

For those who wish to deepen their spiritual journey, this classic book is highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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