The Evangelicals You Don’t Know: A Book Review

I have long struggled with the evangelical label–especially having grown up in an evangelical context. Thankfully, my foundational church experience was more moderate, and I never really considered myself one of “those” evangelicals. Even so, any time my religious background comes up in conversation, I feel the need to quickly explain that I am different than the preconceived idea about being Baptist in the South and everything with which THAT is loaded.

Thankfully, Tom Krattenmaker presents us with, for lack of a better term, the “new” evangelicals. He identifies as a person of faith, although more theologically liberal, and writes for the religion section of USA Today. In The Evangelicals You Don’t Know, Krattenmaker provides one example after another of how today’s evangelicals are more than meets the eye–and should be approached less with suspicion and more with the possibility of partnership. These evangelicals have become more progressive in their desire to address complex social issues such as the environment, abortion, sexuality, politics, human slavery and trafficking, and the broader contributors to poverty at home and abroad. These are the things that are making these evangelicals pro-life and prompting a desire to make the world a better place–indeed more like the Kingdom–for everyone. And so it means working alongside of people with different beliefs, or none at all, in partnerships that work to make communities stronger…without the requirement of a conversation about where you would go if you died tonight. These evangelicals are committed to partnerships for the greater good, honest conversations with those who want to have them, and their own theological positions–even if they differ from someone else’s. What Krattenmaker reminds us of in the end, is that both sides of the religious spectrum–as well as those with and without religion–should be more gracious with the other side, more willing to have honest conversations and meet in the middle, and more willing to work for the greater good, putting our theological differences aside. Because in the end, it’s more about what we do for our brothers and sisters than how solid our theological presuppositions might be.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

 

Answering the Contemplative Call: A Book Review

Being an introvert, I’m often drawn to quiet and solitude. When I was in divinity school, it’s a large part of the reason I was drawn to mysticism and contemplative spirituality–and there I found somewhat of a home. Sadly, it’s not a home I have tended for much of the past decade. My faith has become more cerebral and, in many ways, more active than contemplative. So when the opportunity came along to read and review Carl McColman’s Answering the Contemplative Call: First Steps on the Mystical Path, I was happy to do so.

This book provides an excellent introduction to a contemplative life in a way that is accessible and practical. McColman pulls from an interfaith, but largely ecumenical base, citing well known mystics of old–and not so old. He provides an invitation to join the contemplative journey, and uses journey as the extended metaphor for the book as a whole. McColman provides a road map with suggested resources (travel agents, if you will), practical steps, and advice from those who have walked before. He boils it down to two core practices: meditation and contemplative (i.e., silent) prayer.

Embedded among the suggestions for cultivating the space, silence, and simplicity for a contemplative life, what I appreciated most about this book was the reminder that there is a rhythm to the contemplative life just as there is a rhythm to the everyday life, and we should be patient–and gracious–with ourselves as the process, or journey, unfolds. Although much of this book was a review for me, it truly is a beautiful and well done introduction of the contemplative life for those who are unfamiliar with such practices.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Mending Broken: A Book Review

One of my longstanding professional interests is trauma and working with those who have experienced trauma. So, when SpeakEasy offered up Mending Broken by Teresa Pasquale, I was quick to request a copy.

Pasquale is a therapist who is trained in working with people who have experienced trauma. As is often the case, therapy (from the point of view of the therapist) is often self-discovery, and it is clear that Pasquale’s own work as a therapist–as well as a survivor of trauma herself–has informed her own healing as well as how she works with others to find the same. This book seems to come out of that work as well.

Pasquale’s writing is easy and accessible–especially the technical parts regarding trauma and how traumatic experiences affect our brains. She makes it less technical and more metaphorical in a way that is incredibly understandable. She then weaves in her own experiences of trauma in a way that the reader understands where she’s coming from but not in a way that is over the top or turns off the reader. Pasquale presented a self-developed (based on her experiences and the shared experiences of others) stage model for recovering and healing from trauma–based primarily on her own experience as opposed to tying the model to research. It is clear that the ways in which Pasquale integrated her experience of trauma with a variety of contemplative and faith-based practices was instrumental in her ability to move forward.

Beyond the primary subject of the book, the thing I appreciated most were Pasquale’s statements about being a wounded healer and the reminder that “we cannot repair in others what hasn’t been repaired in ourselves.” However, when those broken places are mended, we have a gift that can be made available to others–the gift of understanding what it’s like to sit in that lonely, dark place and being able to articulate the experience for others in a way that makes sense…and often assures them that they are not crazy.

Although I have not experienced trauma to a level that leaves me experiencing the disorder that is associated with it, the parts of this book that resonated with me included the ways in which a person integrates faith into the healing process and the ways in which we can take the lessons we’ve learned in our own healing processes and give those away to others.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

A Twist of Faith: Book Review

Talk to anyone who identifies as a Christian and you’ll likely hear stories of travels to other places to help those in need (i.e., mission trips) and/or a desire to help others–particularly children who have no families to call their own. It’s the reason many people travel to other countries and spend time in orphanages–or send money to other countries to build an orphanage or a school or some other likely much needed outpost for a marginalized part of the population.

Those same people will have wonderful stories to tell and will describe how those experiences impacted them individually as well as the hope that they made some type of difference wherever they were. Although there’s a lot of good in all of that, perhaps it’s not all it really could be.

In A Twist of Faith: An American Christian’s Quest to Help Orphans in Africa, John Donnelly explores what it means to offer aid (regardless of your motivation) in places which we perceive need it most. Mixed in with Donnelly’s own research into foreign aid–specifically to Africa–is the story of David Nixon, a well-meaning carpenter from North Carolina who raises money to go to Malawi and build an orphanage. As the project stalls, Nixon learns what it means to listen to the Malawians describe what they need and how to make it happen. Nixon comes to understand that listening to and understanding those from this new (and very different) culture means putting aside his preconceived ideas and plans, taking a different approach, and bringing change and hope to another part of the world–and himself.

Donnelly intersperses his own research (to include interviews with Nixon and others in aid organizations working in Africa as well as his own travels to Africa) with Nixon’s story throughout this book. Clearly written and engaging, this book points out the frustrations Americans can experience in trying to accomplish something big in another country (e.g., fundraising, clearing government hurdles, working with local people in country) as well as how our aid is perceived by those who receive it. It brings to light that we make mistakes along the way–chief among them being the short-term nature of the work we do which is usually attached to our own agenda. Instead, Donnelly’s book implies that best practice includes consulting with and working alongside those who live where we want to work, including them in every step of the process, and staying in it for the long haul–however long that may be.

At times, I lost interest as Donnelly shifted to discussing data and numbers regarding foreign aid–although that information is important given the context of this book. Incorporating Nixon’s story, though one example of this process, illustrated both what not to do as well as what to do in ways those numbers could not. This book was thought-provoking and challenging–especially for someone who has fond memories of those short-term mission trips as an adolescent and young adult.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Hometown Prophet: A Book Review

Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but a modern day prophet who shares/interprets dreams doesn’t seem very realistic. However, when you set that modern day prophet against the backdrop of fictionalized real events and give him a different voice, you can’t help but appreciate this story. Jeff Fulmer’s Hometown Prophet is the story of Peter Quill, a 31 year old man who has moved home to live with his mother after several fits and starts at life. Peter starts as a timid man, carrying layers of shame and hurt who unexpectedly receives a “gift” of vivid dreams that are unlike any other dreams he’s had. He begins to record these dreams, trying to find meaning in each one as they come along. Not sure what to do with these experiences, Peter consults with his mother’s pastor at the church at which he grew up–the same man who is at the center of Peter’s initial dreams. The two realize that Peter’s dreams truly are different–prophetic, even–coming true just as Peter envisioned. With each subsequent dream, the stakes become higher–and Peter receives more varied and intense reactions from others–particularly once Peter’s dreams begin to challenge the worldviews of people in his hometown.

This books includes an interesting and varied cast of characters that are similar to people we might encounter in our own hometowns. The difference is, Peter has a voice that can be heard, prophesying in a somewhat stereotypical way of an Evangelical with the content of a revolutionary for social justice and love. The question is whether anyone will listen.

In spite of my cynicism regarding a modern day dreaming prophet, this story was captivating and the book moved along quickly. What I appreciated most about Peter was that he was a very real, down to earth, ordinary man who was cautious in his attributions and quick to admit his own imperfections. He was not at all pretentious and had many of the characteristics you might expect a “true prophet” to hold. What I appreciated most about the book was the way in which Peter was given a voice–and ultimately how he used that voice–to challenge beliefs and thoughts of those around him. Who doesn’t want to be able to do that at some point?

There were a handful of typos, grammatical mistakes, and the occasional word missing from a sentence that is distracting for someone like me. However, it was not enough to frustrate.

Fulmer admits that this book was born out of his own frustrations with how Christianity has been misused and misrepresented for personal and political gain. I share those same frustrations and was happy to read a book that challenged those values in somewhat of a lighthearted way. It’s not a book I would have ordinarily picked up, but I’m glad I did.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

White Flour…Or The Day Clowns Overpowered Racism

I just finished reading White Flour, a children’s book written by peacemaker David LaMotte and illustrated by Jenn Hales.

White Flour is the story of what happened in Knoxville, TN in May, 2007, when a group of KKK members came to town for a rally in a public park there. As is often the case, a group of people opposed to white supremacy outnumbered the white supremacists. As the story goes, however, the counter-protesters came armed not with weapons, speeches or anger, but with props, costumes and humor. The Coup Clutz Clowns were ready. As the KKK members shouted “white power,” the CCC members “misunderstood” the phrase and turned it around in various humorous and positive ways. The clowns demonstrated a third path to peace, inviting all who would join them.

This story is written in rhyme, a poem that tells the story and the various ways the Clowns fought back with nonviolence and even humor. The book is elegantly illustrated, and the colors are masterfully blended to evoke the happiness the Clowns must have that day in May–as well as a glimpse into the darkness that still exists on the other side.

Well written and beautifully illustrated, this book reminds us that racism, hatred and power over another still exists–and that there are better, and probably more effective ways, of responding.

This book is recommended for middle school aged children and older–though some younger children may appreciate it with parental participation.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

The Jesus Life: A Book Review

I continue to be struck with the number of books that are on the market that focus on living The Way. Clearly there is a desire to live in the Way of Jesus in a new way, in a way that returns to what it really means to follow Jesus beyond the daily “quiet time.”

Stephen W. Smith offers “eight ways to recover authentic Christianity” in his book The Jesus Life. Not only does he offer, by way of introduction, a prompt to recover your own life, he also describes living according to rhythm (just as Jesus did) so that we might sustain this new way of life. From there, Smith provides eight ways of living according to the Way: dailiness, hiddenness, family, companionship, the table, doing good, ritual, and suffering. With each chapter, Smith offers practical and profound suggestions for going further with each theme.

One of the things I really appreciate about this book is that Smith explores and describes themes many people may not have previously considered to be part of the Way. These themes, however, are themes with which we are all familiar and themes which shape us as travelers along the Way–and are perfect for finding a new way to interact with and walk with Jesus.

Although I was reading this book quickly to adhere to a deadline for reviewing it, know that this book is NOT to be devoured. It should be read at a slow pace, one theme at a time…perhaps with another person or a small group of trusted friends with whom you can engage in dialogue that arises with material such as this. Indeed, Smith provides discussion questions related to each chapter at the end of the book.

This book is a fantastic starting point for many reasons, including a means with which one can begin to find the courage to live according to the Way. It may also pair nicely with (or be a good foundation before reading) Mark Scandrette’s Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.