Archive for the ‘Christian’ Category

Review of Transforming, by Austen Hartke

Thursday, October 11th, 2018

Transforming

The Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians

by Austen Hartke

Westminster John Knox Press, 2018. 198 pages.
Starred Review

I picked this book up from the library, and the very next day was glad I did, having a reason to defend transgender people to some well-meaning Christian friends. My own oldest child is a transgender woman. I’ve seen for myself this isn’t some kind of delusional temporary whim. I’m also in a Facebook group for mothers of transgender children. I’ve heard many sad stories of what happens when a church family rejects a transgender person and the harm it causes their entire families. At the same time, I’ve read happy stories of what happens when people transition with love and acceptance from their faith communities.

This book is written by a transgender pastor. He brings in the voices of many other transgender people. He talks about the good it does transgender people when their churches accept them – but also the good it brings to churches when they embrace their transgender members.

There’s background at the front. There are personal stories. I’m not going to repeat every argument why it is not biblical to reject transgender people or to require that gender dysphoria is the one medical condition that should not receive medical treatment of any kind.

I knew that the Bible does not speak against being transgender. But I hadn’t realized how much there is specifically for those who don’t fit gender norms.

I was especially touched by the author’s description of how he found life in the passage Isaiah 56:3-8. I’ll copy a little bit of that here:

“Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and do not let the eunuch say,
“I am just a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast to my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off….
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.”

I was floored. I could swear I had never heard these verses before in my life, despite having read through the book of Isaiah for a class only the year before. I felt an immediate connection to the eunuch and the foreigner. Their fear of separation, fear of being forgotten, fear of being kept out of God’s family – all based on identities as unchosen as the place of their birth and as intrinsic as the shape of their body. Their fears were my fears too. Yet here was God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, quieting those fears and promising an unequivocal welcome.

He goes on to explain why eunuchs, especially after the Babylonian exile, were in a place similar to transgender people today. And yet God gives them in this passage a name, legacy, family, acceptance, and blessing.

And of course there is more about eunuchs in the Bible. Jesus talked about them, and the evangelist Philip was sent by the Holy Spirit specifically to the Ethiopian eunuch. I like this paragraph:

Whether you believe Jesus was advocating for castration, for celibacy, or for something else entirely in Matthew 19, the fact that he uses eunuchs as a positive example is huge. It means that Jesus knew about people who fell outside the boundaries of sex and gender, and that he did not see them as broken or as morally corrupt. He saw them as people with a variety of experiences and as people with something important to teach the world about God’s kingdom.

There’s lots more “apologetics” – defending that transgender people belong in the church and should not be excluded. But he moves on to explain why this is important:

This is when trans Christians experience life in abundance – when they are welcomed into community; when they are loved for all of who they are; when their differences are respected; when they know they can count on their community to help with their daily human needs; and when they feel safe enough to drop their defenses in order to take on Jesus’ gentle yoke of discipleship. That may sound like a lot to ask of a church, but in reality these are commitments we try to make to the cisgender members of our communities. So why not include trans folks? After all, if the life Jesus promises is abundant, surely there’s enough to go around!

In the concluding chapter, he looks at the parable of the lost sheep.

But what if we imagined this story a different way? What if the lost sheep didn’t wander away from the safety and goodness of the shepherd? What if it was just trying to escape the cruelty of the flock? Sheep will occasionally pick out a flock member who doesn’t fit in – maybe because of an injury or a strange marking – and they’ll chase that individual away. There are times when I think Christians need to see ourselves more in the ninety-nine sheep who stayed put, and ask ourselves if we may have been part of the reason that the lost sheep got lost in the first place.

And his appeal reminds us that we as a church have much to gain by being more welcoming:

But what’s at stake for Jesus in this situation isn’t just that one single lost sheep, and it’s not just the ninety-nine back home. It’s the integrity of the flock as a whole. Saving just the main group or just the individual wouldn’t do any good, because the flock is more than just the sum of its parts. When Jesus goes after that lost sheep, what he’s telling the flock – what he’s telling us – is that we’re not complete without each other.

In this book, transgender Christians have shared their stories and the ways that Scripture, faith, and gender identity interact in their lives. I hope you’ve been able to read these stories and come to the same conclusion the shepherd did: that our faith communities and churches aren’t complete without trans folks and their experiences.

At the messy, lovable, chaotic potluck that is life in the church, transgender Christians have a lot to bring to the table. We can help the church see Scripture through different lenses; we can help other Christians understand their own gender identities; we can help to break down barriers created by sexism and misogyny; we can remind people of the diversity of God’s creation, and of God’s unlimited nature; we can stand in the gaps and bridge middle spaces where others may be uncomfortable or uninformed; we can help make connections between the sacred and the secular, making the church more relevant for the world, and we can provoke people into asking questions about themselves and about God that they may never have thought to ask before. And that’s all while most churches still don’t affirm our existence as Christians! Imagine what we could do if we worked together!

There’s a lot more in this book. I hope that reading it will open many hearts. Let’s follow the teaching of Scripture and welcome all into our churches, including those who were once outcasts.

wjkbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Barking to the Choir, by Gregory Boyle

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

Barking to the Choir

The Power of Radical Kinship

by Gregory Boyle

Simon & Schuster, 2017. 210 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a second book by Fr. Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who works with gang members in Los Angeles and founded Homeboy Industries, which gives jobs to former gang members.

This book continues the inspiring stories from his first book, Tattoos on the Heart. What’s so amazing about these books is that Father Boyle honestly sees the gang members he works with as wonderful people – people he can learn from himself. And with his stories, he enables the reader, also, to see them as valuable people, loved by God – even delighted in by God.

Father Boyle genuinely learns from the homies he lives among. I liked this quote:

We always seem to be faced with this choice: to save the world or savor it. I want to propose that savoring is better, and that when we seek to “save” and “contribute” and “give back” and “rescue” folks and EVEN “make a difference,” then it is all about you . . . and the world stays stuck. The homies are not waiting to be saved. They already are. The same is true for service providers and those in any ministry. The good news, of course, is that when we choose to “savor” the world, it gets saved. Don’t set out to change the world. Set out to wonder how people are doing.

He’s here divulged something of the secret of his ministry. He’s not trying to save gang members – he’s savoring them, genuinely feeling privileged that he gets to know them.

And that kind of love changes lives.

This book is about kinship. About community. About enemies becoming friends. And the astonishing love of Jesus that enables that.

Human beings are settlers, but not in the pioneer sense. It is our human occupational hazard to settle for little. We settle for purity and piety when we are being invited to an exquisite holiness. We settle for the fear-driven when love longs to be our engine. We settle for a puny, vindictive God when we are being nudged always closer to this wildly inclusive, larger-than-any-life God. We allow our sense of God to atrophy. We settle for the illusion of separation when we are endlessly asked to enter into kinship with all.

There are a whole lot more inspiring quotes in this book, and they’ll gradually show up on Sonderquotes.

Read this book! You will be challenged. And you will be blessed.

HomeboyIndustries.org
SimonandSchuster.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Called to Create, by Jordan Raynor

Wednesday, August 29th, 2018

Called to Create

A Biblical Invitation to Create, Innovate, and Risk

by Jordan Raynor

Baker Books, 2017. 234 pages.

I ordered this book after seeing an ad on Facebook, which said it looked at the life of C. S. Lewis and offered a Christian perspective on creating. Being a fan of C. S. Lewis and a writer at heart, I put a copy of the book in my Amazon shopping cart and bought it on my next order.

I was a little disappointed. Although the book is tangentially about creative arts like writing, the true subject of the book is entrepreneurship from a Christian perspective. Mind you, I do like thinking about entrepreneurship from a Christian perspective – and many of the insights about how our work should be our calling do apply. It’s just that I personally am not at all called to be an entrepreneur. (My calling is a librarian – and like Paul boasts in I Corinthians 9, I take pride in offering my services free of charge.)

The book is peppered with stories, though some of them I’d heard before as sermon illustrations. I certainly didn’t learn anything new about C. S. Lewis, either. But there were many stories of entrepreneurs I’d known nothing about.

And I do love the foundational insight behind this book: That our work can be a calling from God even if it is not full-time ministry. Like the author, I grew up in evangelical churches and absorbed the message (probably unintentional) that if you were really a follower of Jesus, you’d go into full-time ministry.

Given that I’m not in the intended audience, this book does talk about important topics for Christian entrepreneurs: The purpose behind creating, deciding what to create, and how to run a business with Christian values throughout. He also looks at questions like the balance between hustling, trusting, and rest, and the challenges of dealing with both failure and large profits.

Following Jesus should affect our entire lives. This book takes a look at how it should affect your business if you are among those called to create.

calledtocreate.org
JordanRaynor.com
bakerbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved, by Kate Bowler

Friday, August 17th, 2018

Everything Happens for a Reason

And Other Lies I’ve Loved

by Kate Bowler

Random House, 2018. 178 pages.

I approached this book with some trepidation. Although I do not, in fact, believe that “everything happens for a reason” – I do believe that “All things work for the good of those who love God.” I believe tthat God can and will bring good out of even terrible things. So would my faith be shaken by reading this book?

No, my faith was not shaken. But I got a lesson in what not to say to someone going through a terrible trial.

Kate Bowler wrote this book while undergoing treatments for stage IV colon cancer at thirty-five years old. She was supposed to die very soon after diagnosis – but ended up in the 3% who have a type that was being studied for a new treatment. (I checked – She is still alive in August 2018. Though she does say that the doctors were not expecting to cure her.)

Kate is a historian who studies the prosperity gospel in America. So she has a lot to say about getting cancer in that setting.

She takes the reader with her on her journey of trying to live with this. I liked the part where she explained that she took up swearing for Lent. She tells what various people say to her – most of it unhelpful but also about friends who come alongside.

I also liked the part where she explained that at the worst time, she felt God’s presence.

It seemed too odd and too simplistic to say what I knew to be true – that when I was sure I was going to die, I didn’t feel angry. I felt loved.

Reading this, I was struck that we each have our own story. Yes, we can find meaning in our story – but we’re being presumptuous to try to explain to someone else the meaning in their story.

Her two appendices in the back are especially helpful. The first is things not to say to people experiencing terrible times. The second is things you might try saying (such as, May I bring you a meal?). Here’s how she feels about being told, “Everything happens for a reason”:

The only thing worse than saying this is pretending that you know the reason. I’ve had hundreds of people tell me the reason for my cancer. Because of my sin. Because of my unfaithfulness. Because God is fair. Because God is unfair. Because of my aversion to Brussel sprouts. I mean, no one is short of reasons. So if people tell you this, make sure you are there when they go through the cruelest moments of their lives, and start offering your own. When someone is drowning, the only thing worse than failing to throw them a life preserver is handing them a reason.

katebowler.com
randomhousebooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Stairways to Heaven, by Lorna Byrne

Saturday, August 4th, 2018

Stairways to Heaven

by Lorna Byrne

Coronet, 2011. First published in the United Kingdom in 2010. 293 pages.
Starred Review

Stairways to Heaven continues the life story of Lorna Byrne begun in Angels in My Hair, including telling about the process of becoming an author and people finally knowing that she can see angels.

Lorna Byrne has been able to see angels all her life. This book begins after her husband’s death and tells how the angels helped her move with her youngest daughter to a new home. Along the way, she reveals many things that angels have told her about life and about spiritual things.

Some of the things in this book seem a little out there. I’m thinking that it’s possible that even with all the study of the Bible I’ve done, I don’t know everything there is to know about spiritual things! Lorna Byrne doesn’t claim to know it all either, and she has a simple, humble style. She just tells what the angels have told her.

Since this book covers publishing her book, she’s also starting to answer many of the questions that people ask her now that the world knows she can see angels.

For the most part, these things are extremely inspirational and uplifting. Some points I especially like are that each one of us has a guardian angel who loves us and is with us always. And that there are many other angels all around us that we can call on to help.

This paragraph sums up nicely an important thrust of her teaching:

Many of us don’t understand how important the relationship between mankind and angels is. We have free will, but we have angels to prompt us to do the right things, to prompt us to do what God would want us to do in each and every circumstance. This is the task God has given angels and, because it is God’s task, angels will never ever give up. Every time you pray you are talking directly to God. Regardless of your belief in angels, angels are praying with you at the same time, adding power and strength to your prayer. This is one of the tasks God has given the angels. We never pray alone.

This is an inspiring and eye-opening book, though, like me, you may have to set aside some of your previous assumptions to fully appreciate it.

lornabyrne.com
hodder.co.uk

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Inspired, by Rachel Held Evans

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

Inspired

Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

by Rachel Held Evans

Nelson Books (Thomas Nelson), 2018. 236 pages.
Starred Review

In this book, Rachel Held Evans takes a look at the Bible with love, affection, imagination, and scholarship.

In the Introduction, she talks about her history with the Bible, actually very similar to my own – beginning by seeing it as an almost magical book. But as she got older, she started finding out about problematic passages, and different people’s interpretations, all claiming to be “Biblical.”

I loved the way the Introduction ended:

Inspiration is better than magic, for as any artist will tell you, true inspiration comes not to the lucky or the charmed but to the faithful — to the writer who shows up at her keyboard each morning, even when she’s far too tired, to the guitarist whose fingers bleed after hours of practice, to the dancer who must first learn the traditional steps before she can freestyle with integrity. Inspiration is not about some disembodied ethereal voice dictating words or notes to a catatonic host. It’s a collaborative process, a holy give-and-take, a partnership between Creator and creator.

While Christians believe the Bible to be uniquely revelatory and authoritative to the faith, we have no reason to think its many authors were exempt from the mistakes, edits, rewrites, and dry spells of everyday creative work. Nor should we, as readers, expect every encounter with the text to leave us happily awestruck and enlightened. Inspiration, on both the giving and receiving end, takes practice and patience. It means showing up even when you don’t feel like it, even when it seems as if no one else is there. It means waiting for wind to stir.

God is still breathing. The Bible is both inspired and inspiring. Our job is to ready the sails and gather the embers, to discuss and debate, and like the biblical character Jacob, to wrestle with the mystery until God gives us a blessing.

If you’re curious, you will never leave the text without learning something new. If you’re persistent, you just might leave inspired.

In this book she includes some Midrash-inspired fiction leading into chapters about different types of literature found in the Bible. I like the playfulness of those parts, but I especially liked the things she had to say about the different stories found in the Bible.

She’s coming to the Bible with deep love and reverence – but acknowledging that this book was written by humans and we don’t have the original manuscripts, and our individual interpretations may or may not be correct.

And that’s what it’s all about. Christians believe the Bible is inspired by God. But what does that mean? This book is central to our faith, and I do believe it has power. I was blessed by this closer look at its pages, at the stories found there.

If I’ve learned anything from thirty-five years of doubt and belief, it’s that faith is not passive intellectual assent to a set of propositions. It’s a rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred, all-night-long struggle, and sometimes you have to demand your blessing rather than wait around for it.

The same is true for Scripture. With Scripture, we’ve not been invited to an academic fraternity; we’ve been invited to a wrestling match. We’ve been invited to a dynamic, centuries-long conversation with God and God’s people that has been unfolding since creation, one story at a time. If we’re lucky, it will leave us with a limp.

Or, as she ends the book:

We may wish for answers, but God rarely gives us answers. Instead, God gathers us up into soft, familiar arms and says, “Let me tell you a story.”

thomasnelson.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, ordered via Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Tattoos on the Heart, by Gregory Boyle

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

Tattoos on the Heart

The Power of Boundless Compassion

by Gregory Boyle
read by the author

HighBridge Audio, 2010. 7 ½ hours on 6 CDs.
Starred Review

I put this audiobook on hold after my sister Becky told me that her daughter’s college graduation had the best graduation speaker she’d ever heard – he even got a standing ovation. That was enough of a recommendation for me. I was not at all disappointed when I started listening.

I got the audiobook because while I’m on the Newbery committee, that’s the best way for me to get books read that are written for adults. And with all the Spanish words used in this book, it was nice to hear the author read it. He doesn’t use a lot of variety in voices, but that’s okay – it works with this book. But I ended up checking out the print version in order to pull out quotes for Sonderquotes – I kept getting blown away by his words and I wanted to remember them.

Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest, is the founder of Homeboy Industries, an organization that gives jobs to gang members and helps them get out of gangs and removes their tattoos. He lives in downtown Los Angeles, and has since the 1980s (when I lived in downtown Los Angeles for a few years) – and knows and loves gang members. He learns their names and knows them as people – and that makes a powerful difference.

The book is mostly stories, and they touch your heart. Something about seeing, through Father Boyle, that God sees and cares about gang members – helps me understand with my heart that God sees and cares about me. And not only does God care about me, He delights in me. Gregory Boyle shows that it’s possible to not only tolerate kids who are gang members – but even to see that they are delightful. Wow.

Here’s what Gregory Boyle says at the end of the Introduction:

In finding a home for these stories in this modest effort, I hope, likewise, to tattoo those mentioned here on our collective heart. Though this book does not concern itself with solving the gang problem, it does aspire to broaden the parameters of our kinship. It hopes not only to put a human face on the gang member, but to recognize our own wounds in the broken lives and daunting struggles of the men and women in these parables.

Our common human hospitality longs to find room for those who are left out. It’s just who we are if allowed to foster something different, something more greatly resembling what God had in mind. Perhaps, together, we can teach each other how to bear the beams of love, persons becoming persons, right before our eyes. Returned to ourselves.

He achieves these goals in this book. He does such a good job of putting a human face on the gang member for me – that it was unfortunate timing that I was listening to this audiobook at the same time the president called members of MS-13 “animals.” The contrast was huge. (Gregory Boyle, by the way, doesn’t name any of the gangs he works with, so as to not give the gangs that dignity. The people, however, he lavishes with dignity.)

The beauty of this book is watching Father Boyle treat gang members as delightful human beings. It’s obviously not easy, and comes with a lot of pain. At the time of writing the book, he had buried more than 170 people he cared about because of gang violence. Many of the stories he tells end with the tragic too-soon death of the subject of the story.

And the things he pulls out touch your heart. He talks about the “no matter whatness” of God’s love and God knowing us by name. You’ll see lives changed because someone showed compassion on an outcast – and maybe that will change your life, too.

Look for more quotes on Sonderquotes. I highly recommend this book.

highbridgeaudio.com
homeboyindustries.org

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Paul Among the People, by Sarah Ruden

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Paul Among the People

The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time

by Sarah Ruden

Pantheon Books, 2010. 214 pages.

I checked out this book because I’d read and loved the author’s book The Face of Water (written later) where she takes a fresh look at the translation of several biblical passages.

In this book, the author uses her knowledge of Graeco-Roman literature and culture to take a fresh look at Paul and give us the cultural context of his writings.

Now, I didn’t find this book nearly as pleasant as The Face of Water. The fact is that the context of Paul’s writings was rather horrible. Slaves were not really considered people. Homosexuality was commonplace – but the only one despised was the passive partner. Paul spoke against those who preyed on others, the people his culture thought were real “man’s men.” He was speaking against oppression, and not really from anything like the same context from which we look at those things.

But my summary doesn’t do this work justice. It opened my eyes – though not always in ways I wanted them opened. She examines Paul and pleasure, Paul and homosexuality, Paul and women, Paul and the state, and Paul and slavery. In the context of his own culture, Paul’s words take on a whole new aspect. He’s much less harsh – in fact, he’s speaking up against a harsh culture.

But I think my favorite chapter was the final one, “Love Just Is: Paul on the Foundation of the New Community,” where she looks at I Corinthians 13, “the Love Chapter.” There were plenty of insights I’d had no idea about (how the “clanging cymbal” relates to the cult of Cybele for example). I especially liked finding out that the list of qualities of love that begins in verse 4 (“Love is patient; love is kind….”) are all verbs.

It’s more or less a necessity of our language that the standard translations here contain a lot of adjectives. The Greek does not contain a single one. Instead we have a mass of verbs, things love does and doesn’t do. This is the ultimate authority for the saying “Love is a verb.” . . .

So manically verb-centered is the passage that Paul takes two adjectives and creates a one-word verb from each (neither verb being attested previously in Greek); and he creates yet another verb, in Greek a one-word metaphor….

If we take the meaning from the form, we could say that he is preaching, “You know the right ways to feel? Turn those feelings into acts and perform those acts, ceaselessly. You know the wrong ways to feel? Don’t, ever, perform the acts that spring from them.”

Pick up this book if you’d like a fresh look at the backdrop the Apostle Paul wrote from.

sarahruden.com
pantheonbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

Pastrix

The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Jericho Books, 2013. 206 pages.
Starred Review

A big thank-you to my friends Charles and Laura who gave me this book for Christmas after convincing me to read Nadia Bolz-Weber’s next book, Accidental Saints, which was a 2017 Sonderbooks Stand-out. I already had this book checked out from the library, but it was nice to have my own copy to keep and to mark the good parts.

The book is autobiographical, telling how the author went from being an alcoholic on the road to self-destruction to become a Lutheran pastor, or pastrix, as some call her to try to insult her. She has adopted and redefined the term to mean a female ecclesiastical superhero.

She first felt called to be a pastor when she was asked to give the eulogy when a friend hung himself. She looked around and realized this:

These were my people. Giving PJ’s eulogy, I realized that perhaps I was supposed to be their pastor.

It’s not that I felt pious and nurturing. It’s that there, in that underground room filled with the smell of stale beer and bad jokes, I looked around and saw more pain and questions and loss than anyone, including myself, knew what to do with. And I saw God. God, right there with the comics standing along the wall with crossed arms, as if their snarky remarks to each other would keep those embarrassing emotions away. God, right there with the woman climbing down the stage stairs after sharing a little too much about PJ being a “hot date.” God, among the cynics and alcoholics and queers.

I am not the only one who sees the underside and God at the same time. There are lots of us, and we are at home in the biblical stories of antiheroes and people who don’t get it; beloved prostitutes and rough fishermen. How different from that cast of characters could a manic-depressive alcoholic comic be? It was here in the midst of my own community of underside dwellers that I couldn’t help but begin to see the Gospel, the life-changing reality that God is not far off, but here among the brokenness of our lives. And having seen it, I couldn’t help but point it out. For reasons I’ll never quite understand, I realized that I had been called to proclaim the Gospel from the place where I am, and proclaim where I am from the Gospel.

What had started in early sobriety as a reluctant willingness to start praying again had led to my returning to Christianity, and now had led to something even more preposterous: I was called to be a pastor to my people.

This book is about that journey, and is filled with many stories along the way of people touched by God’s grace – including herself (not in a prideful way – when she really needed it).

There’s lovely stuff here, as well as convicting stuff. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a gracious person because she doesn’t claim to have it all together, to be doing everything right, or to have the only right way to God. Her writing helps me see God’s amazing grace manifested in and displayed toward all of God’s children in all their messy glory.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of A Message of Hope from the Angels, by Lorna Byrne

Saturday, March 17th, 2018

A Message of Hope from the Angels

by Lorna Byrne

Atria, 2012. 183 pages.
Starred Review

After I read Lorna Byrne’s biography, Angels in My Hair, about how she has been able to see angels all her life, I liked it so much, I ordered two more of her books from Amazon.

This one isn’t autobiographical, but it passes on to the reader things angels have told her. And yes, this book is especially about Hope.

Here’s a section from the first chapter:

Hope brings a community together to make things better, and when it does, I see people get brighter, shine more, and then they can go on to achieve greater things. People who believe things can be changed for the better are beacons of light for us – and need to be supported.

Hope can be given to others. It gives strength and courage, and then hope grows. We all have a part to play in growing hope. In the past, people looked to leaders of churches, communities, businesses, countries to provide a vision of hope for the future, but now many of our leaders are struggling. They are failing to see all the ways in which we can make our world a better place to live.

The angels have told me so much about hope and how much we have to be hopeful about, and have showed me so many different ways in which they help to give us hope.

When I reread that section, I thought, “No wonder this book uplifted me so much!” She covers many different things in this book, but the overall message is that we are loved unconditionally, and there are angels all around us, ready to help.

I’ll quote from a few sections that especially struck me.

One section I liked was where she talked about teacher angels.

Sometimes, on a sunny day, walking through the grounds of the university near where I live, I see students sitting on stone seats opposite the library or sitting on the grass studying, and I see teacher angels with some of them.

Teacher angels always seem to be holding something – a symbol of learning that is relevant to whatever they are teaching. Sometimes they are holding a book or a pointer or a board with writing on it with the words constantly changing. I once saw a bricklayer’s apprentice with a teacher angel who had a trowel in his hand. Teacher angels exhibit the mannerisms we associate with teachers.

I have often seen a teacher angel standing in front of a student, book in hand. The book would look similar to the one the student was working with and seem to be open at the same page. Occasionally I see the teacher angel turn to another page and I smile, knowing that the teacher angel is having difficulty with his student, who is finding it hard to make progress. I have seen teacher angels gently stretch out their hands and touch a student gently on the head with one finger, trying to get the student’s attention. Most of the time this seems to work, but sometimes not. Teacher angels never give up, though, and never lose their patience. I have seen teacher angels blowing on a student’s book and making the page turn, or causing a strong breeze, which blows some of the student’s books and pens onto the ground. That is the teacher angel trying to bring the student’s attention to a particular page or subject, or to simply stop them daydreaming. Teacher angels work very hard to get their students’ attention.

I am always amazed at how few people have teacher angels. After all, all they have to do is ask their guardian angel for help with whatever they are learning and their guardian angel will invite a teacher angel in. In the college I know best, only about one student in ten has a teacher angel with them.

This bit encouraged me in thinking about my many Empty Nester friends:

You can also ask for a teacher angel to help someone else. Just ask your guardian angel for a teacher angel to help the person. Many parents have told me that they have asked for a teacher angel to help their children with their studying – this is so much better than fretting and worrying.

Another special angel she talks about is the Angel of Strength:

When you are exhausted or feeling physically challenged by a task, you can call on the Angel of Strength and ask for his help. He is one angel, but he seems to be able to help many people at the same time. He won’t stay with you, but will come and help you for that particular task where strength is needed.

She concludes the chapter about the various types of help she’s seen angels give with this reflection:

Angels are such a sign of hope. There is always an angel that can help us, regardless of what is going on in our lives. All we have to do is ask. You don’t need to know what angel to ask for; just ask, and your guardian angel will call in the help you need. Isn’t it wonderful to know that there is such an abundance of help there? To me it seems so strange, and sad, that so many people don’t make use of this gift.

I loved the chapter about prayer angels. Here are some sections from it:

I talk and ask the angels to help; I ask the angels to intercede, but I don’t pray to them. I pray only to God. Prayer is direct communication with God.

No one ever prays alone. When you pray to God, there is a multitude of angels of prayer there, praying with you, regardless of your religious faith or how you are behaving. They are there enhancing your prayer, interceding on your behalf and imploring God to grant your prayer. Every time you pray, even if it is only one word, the angels of prayer are like a never-ending stream flowing at tremendous speed to Heaven with your prayers….

I know it’s hard to believe that I see hundreds of thousands of angels of prayer flowing like a river toward Heaven, bringing a person’s prayers and presenting them at the throne of God. But that is what I am shown; it’s as if angels of prayer bring every bit of the prayer – every syllable that is prayed for – up to Heaven. When the person stops praying, the flow stops, but as soon as the person starts to pray again, the stream of angels of prayer resumes.

I loved this part, too:

Every time I go into a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple – or any other holy place – I see hundreds of angels praying, quite aside and separate from any angel of prayer. It doesn’t matter what religion the place belongs to – if any. Whether it’s a building or a space outside, even if the place is no longer being used for prayer, it is still a holy place, and there will be angels there, praying to God.

She talks about a lot of things I’d certainly never thought about this way, but that actually make sense put this way, and encourage me to have confirmation that such things exist and someone has seen them. The grace of healing is one of these.

Each and every one of us has the grace of healing within us – and it is a wonderful gift God has given us. I see it at work every day. It’s beautiful when I see a mother or father holding a child in their arms and comforting them. The child might have a physical hurt, like a scratched knee, or an emotional hurt like sadness, but the parent, usually unbeknown to himself or herself, is pouring out the grace of healing. It is wonderful to see the grace of healing flow from the parent to the child and to see the child stop crying and go back to playing happily.

There was a whole chapter about angels encouraging us to enjoy life.

I’ve said elsewhere that I hate the question, “What is my destiny?” It seems to imply that life is about one or a few big tasks or goals. My understanding from God and the angels is that each and every one of our destinies is to live life to the fullest. This means living every minute of every day to the fullest and trying to be aware and conscious of every moment and, where possible, to enjoy them all. Your life is today. It’s not yesterday or tomorrow. It’s now. This moment….

In seeing beauty around you, you will appreciate life more, and recognize more the beauty that is within yourself. Appreciating beauty helps you to slow down, and the more beauty you notice, the more beauty you will see. Much of the time we just don’t notice what is around us. We are lost in our thoughts or fail to give any importance or value to the idea of seeing beauty.

Yet another beautiful chapter is called “No one dies alone.” She’s had experiences with seeing people die – and she sees those souls gently being held by their guardian angel and surrounded by other angels, and surrounded by love.

I can go on, and it’s tempting to talk about every single chapter. But this gives you the idea. Lorna Byrne’s words are inspiring and uplifting.

The American edition (which I read) has an appendix at the back with a particular message of hope for America. However, it made me a little sad. This edition was published in 2012, long before the election of our current president. It tells how she sees special gathering angels, gathering people from all over the world, sending them to America. She says that she’s been told that America has a special purpose.

We need to start to pray together. I have been told that praying together is the cornerstone of creating a peaceful world. For far too long religious differences have been a cause of discord and war. Ordinary Americans praying together will allow people of different religions to get to know and understand each other. It will help them to lose their fear of one another, to see just how much they have in common, and to become friends.

I have been told that the first place that big numbers of people of different religions will start praying together regularly is America. This is one of the reasons that the American gathering angels have been bringing people of all religions to this country. It is a part of America’s destiny to help bring all religions together. America will serve as a role model: a beacon of hope for the world. From America this form of praying together will spread across the world, helping to unify peoples and to build world peace.

You can see why this discouraged me in our current climate. However, the chapter does continue with stories of seeing the Angel of Hope working extra diligently in America. I’m going to choose hope and choose to believe that in the big picture, people will listen to God through His angels and forces of good will win out.

And I can’t think of a better way to bolster hope than to read this book.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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