Monthly Archives: August 2020

What If Jesus Was Serious?, by Skye Jethani

If Jesus was serious, then God is both tender and terrifying.

If Jesus was serious, then we will not contribute to our outrage culture.

These are just two of Skye Jethani’s chapter headings in this unusual little study of the Sermon on the Mount. Recently, I was reading through the book of Matthew, and as I read the beautiful and familiar words of the Sermon on the Mount twice, I thought, “There is so much here, and I know that I’m just scratching the surface.” I researched commentaries on this important passage in Jesus’ teachings, and the best one was about 400 pages long. I knew that if I bought it, it would sit on the To Be Read pile.  Then, when I was looking at something entirely different, I glanced through Amazon’s “Recommended for You” list, and here was this 190-ish page, cartoon-adorned paperback about this very passage, boasting glowing reviews from people I knew. Add to cart.

Jethani arranges his 72 devotional conversations on two-page spreads, headed by a drawing of some kind—cartoons, graphs, flowcharts, Venn diagrams. Then comes the chapter heading and a short discussion, followed by references to two additional scripture passages. The daily readings are punctuated by orange two-page spreads containing the Biblical text from Matthew that sets up the theme of the next group of studies.

David and I read two selections aloud each evening on the porch, taking turns with the additional scripture readings. We really looked forward to devotional time! Somehow, Jethani manages to pack an incredible punch into very few words. Some of his lessons are timeless theology, some relate to ordinary life, and others, such as those about social media, are thoroughly up to date. We were able to have rich discussions based on these revelatory essays.

Although he uses drawings, this guide is meant for adults, not children. However, it would be fantastic for teens or for families with teens to use as a family devotional. So far— with no economic advantage to myself— I have successfully gushed to two other families enough for them to buy it, and they are both enthusiastic in their praise. Skye Jethani also contributes to the Holy Post podcast with Phil Vischer of Veggie Tales fame.

One of the most fun and effective Bible studies I have used. Very 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.  

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Christian Life

Stories of the Saints, by Carey Wallace

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us….” Hebrews 12:1

Rarely do we see religious books for children being published through secular publishing houses these days, and rarer still are inspirational books of such high caliber. Not only are the size and materials of this book beautiful, but the storytelling, the artwork, and the layout are top notch.

The subtitle, Bold and Inspiring Tales of Adventure, Grace, and Courage, assures the reader that the author is presenting positive stories meant to build children’s character. There is no careful disclaimer “as the legend goes…” or the winking “some people believe…” before each miraculous event. Rather, Wallace writes of Thomas Aquinas with the full-throated, “Another monk saw him in the chapel, floating in the air before an image of Jesus on the cross, with tears running down his face. He was having a vision.” (p. 140) He was floating, Joan of Arc did hear God’s voice, and Bridget’s cloaked stretched far enough to cover two Irish monasteries. Wallace is not here to argue; she’s here to tell the story according to the saints and the believers after them.

Each of the 70 stories begins with a gold-edged box with the saint’s name, birth and death dates, location and emblem, “patron of,” and feast day. This brief summary is followed by a two- or three-page story embellished by striking artwork. Nick Thornborrow’s illustrations use bold lines and deep colors to create images that are sometimes symbolic, sometimes fantastical, and often resemble woodcuts. The saints march through history in chronological order from Polycarp, who was born in 69 A.D., up to Theresa of Calcutta, who just died in 1997.

This handsome volume would fit well into a social studies curriculum, as world history details are woven throughout the tales, particularly names of rulers, wars, and religious persecution. There is a brief introduction, an afterward, a map of the Mediterranean area, and a list for further reading. Richly inspirational reading for every Christian child.

Very highly recommended.

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

2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Christian Life

So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo

Ijeoma Oluo has lived it. Daughter of a white American mother and a Nigerian father, she has a wide perspective on the racial issues our country is dealing with today. A writer and blogger, Oluo says that she would much rather be writing mystery novels than this, but she gets so many questions about race that she thought she would just put all of her answers into book form and be done with it.

If there were ever an antidote to White Fragility (reviewed here), this is it. While the former work is all about problems with no answers, Oluo presents this book with one question per chapter, and then sets out to answer it in both anecdotal and practical terms. She pulls no punches, is often profane, and is frank and honest. Reading this book is like listening to a particularly sassy girlfriend who has just gotten to her last nerve.

Oluo sets out with the basics, such as the definition of racism and whether or not police brutality actually exists, and then moves on to a very helpful chapter on intersectionality, followed by microaggressions, use of the “n” word, and why you cannot touch her hair, as well as many other relevant topics. She keeps the issues very discrete, and the chapter title tells you what you’re getting into, such as, “What Is Cultural Appropriation?” Her stories are fascinating and often horrifying, and her prescriptions are well laid out and achievable. Don’t misunderstand; she will not comfort you or pat your hand. She believes that racism is very real, and that white people who remain silent are complicit. So be sure to put on your Big Girl Panties before you start.

Of the anti-racist books that I have read so far for a general audience, this is the book I would recommend the most. It is conversational in tone, but with plenty of supporting data, and the layout is genius. If you want to be able to discuss race in the workplace, at the Thanksgiving table, or at the school board meeting, So You Want to Talk About Race will arm you with facts and also clue you in to the underlying cultural assumptions held by People of Color. If you’re reading the book, you obviously don’t want to offend on purpose, and the information here will help you not to offend accidentally. Since misunderstandings are inevitable, though, she also teaches you how to apologize.

Get it; read it.

_____

Next up in anti-racist reads: Be the Bridge, by Latasha Morrison, one for Christians and churches.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book, which is a good thing, since I spilled coffee all over it. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews

The Lost and Found Bookshop, by Susan Wiggs

Lost and Found BookshopNatalie had just received a big promotion in her tech career, working for a winemaker in Napa Valley. She had it all, a great job in an idyllic location, plus a wonderful man who loved her. Her life was just what she had planned: stable and secure. She was determined that she would not live like her mother, the owner of a bookstore who had never married and was often uncertain that she could pay the bills each month. Why, then, did her mother seem so happy, while Natalie knew that something was missing?

In an instant, Natalie’s life changed when her mother died and left her the bookshop in a coveted antique building in San Francisco. Before Natalie could put it on the market, she found out that the building still belonged to her beloved grandfather, who was struggling with dementia and declining health. Grandy was sure that the family legend was true: that there was treasure hidden somewhere in the building—the building that, unfortunately, was falling apart and needed repairs that they could not afford. Natalie had had no idea that her mother was so deeply in debt.

Some emergency repairs must be done, of course, and Natalie’s mother had already engaged the services of Peach Gallagher, who showed up with his tool belt on the morning that Natalie’s car was towed away. She was standing on the sidewalk, fresh out of bed and crying. He thought she was a homeless woman, she thought he was married, and you know where this is going.

My colleague, Emily, had mentioned this book, and since I had been doing so much serious reading and the Coronavirus isolation was dragging me down, I thought a sweet, light read would do me good. The book starts with a funeral, then goes on to so many disasters and unsolvable problems that I thought I had misunderstood. What are all those lovely, colorful books doing on the front cover? Is this false advertising?

No one can stay down for long when your handyman is named Peach, especially when the “hammer for hire” is also gorgeous and surprisingly erudite. Heroes in romances for bookish women must be well-read, and Peach fills the bill. Add in his charming daughter, the two dedicated bookstore employees, her darling grandfather, and a swoonworthy, famous children’s author, and you have a book-loving reader’s dream. Lots of authors and titles thrown around, quotes from famous works, and the bookstore culture of espresso and cats. I also enjoyed reminiscing about San Francisco and thinking “I’ve been there!” when place names and landmarks were mentioned.

The Lost and Found Bookshop is the place to go for bookish readers who need a lift. Delightful Up Lit, all the feels.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews

The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin

 

God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water, but fire next time
Pharoah’s army got drownded
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep*

Fire Next TimeMany of the anti-racist reads on the bestseller lists these days are actually written by white people, but I think it is important to listen to black voices and to add perspective by reading works written in the past, such as during the civil rights era of the 1960s. One such voice is that of James Baldwin. The Fire Next Time is composed of two essays, one a letter to his nephew and the other a memoir of his early years.

Baldwin’s mother left his drug-addicted father before her baby was born in Harlem in 1924.  She married a preacher who was a great influence on young James, even though they had a troubled relationship. By the time he was 14 years old, little Jimmy was preaching up a storm, leading entire congregations in ecstatic experiences. He was a hustler, making tons of money from the poor. In his late teens, he turned his back on Christianity, saying that he knew too much about how faithful people are manipulated by powerful men.

He gained a reputation as a writer and a person of influence, so he was invited to the home of the famous Elijah Muhammed, a leader in the Nation of Islam. Black Muslims were rising in power at the time, thanks to Elijah, Malcolm X, and others. Although he was almost terrifyingly aware of the honor bestowed on him by this visit, surrounded by the men in Elijah Muhammed’s inner circle, as well as “the women,” Baldwin had to tell him that he was not interested in Islam. When asked what he was, then, if he was not a Christian or a Muslim, Baldwin replied that he was a writer.

And what a writer he was. Although he was openly critical of white people and candid about the oppression he had seen and experienced, he continually espoused love, not violence. After receiving abuse for both his race and his homosexuality, Baldwin emigrated to France and lived there for most of his adult life. Perhaps, like so many ex-pats in Paris, the distance allowed him to consider his own culture more accurately. He traveled extensively, speaking and writing continuously about the American struggle for civil rights. His words flowed in almost poetic prose as he labored to bring peace to so many warring factions, revealing sin and healing wounds with his powerful, emotional messages birthed from suffering.

The Fire Next Time is only one short work of many that Baldwin wrote during his lifetime, in addition to the collected works that other people, including Toni Morrison, gathered after his death. We’ve come a long way from the segregated nation of The Fire Next Time, so prophetic although written just two years before the end of Jim Crow laws, but Baldwin’s considerations dig deeper than current events, down to the darkness in the heart of all mankind, the greed and lust for power that allow us to treat other people as objects and tools for our selfish ambition. In this time of unrest, it is good to listen to lessons learned in the past. Our circumstances may have changed, but the human heart has not.

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

*Quote from “Mary Don’t You Weep,” a traditional hymn from which this book takes its name.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews