August 2013 Bookshelf

The Case for Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Finally.  Finally I understand some of what Lewis writes about!  I only had to re-read sentences or paragraphs a couple of times throughout the book.  Whew.  I bet I understood 2/3 of this book.  Relief. :)
In this extremely short but jam packed book Lewis lays out the case for Christianity. As a former atheist he is able to speak from both sides and does so rather well. He addresses rather simply and quickly the most common of arguments for not believing in God or that there even is one. There were chunks of this book that I connected with and was glad someone had been able to put into words for me.  What is compelling about Lewis is his before and after life.  Before when he was an atheist and after when he came to believe, and trust, in God.  He gives credibility where and when some of us can't. 

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

What?  I gave it to chapter 3 and then decided to abandon.  What a dull and tedious book. I'm not sure why this book gained such notoriety outside of the unusual story line - of a grown man in a "smurf" world. When I gave up in chapter 3 I skimmed ahead and quickly saw that the whole of the book was just as dull as what I was reading.  Oh my.
Swift gives the reader details that one could care less about.  And he is so wordy, and they aren't very interesting words so that makes it even more tedious to get through.  Wow. So boring.  I'm moving on to more interesting reads.

Becoming a Woman of Discretion: Cultivating a Pure Heart in a Sensual World by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

So pretty much Nancy Leigh DeMoss nails it for me every time.  And she does it again in this booklet.  I didn't read the "fine print" on this title and thought it was a book so imagine my surprise when I picked it up from the library and it was 35 pages long! It's like a long essay but it packs powerful truth.  DeMoss has, once again, allowed God to share insight through her.
Based on Proverbs 7 DeMoss addresses women and their role in the downward spiral of the morals and virtues prevalent in today's culture.  Certainly men have a part to own as well but DeMoss is concerned with the woman in this particular insight.  She even pulls from America's second President, John Adams, with this quote, "From all that I have read of history and government and human life and manners, I have drawn this conclusion: that the manners of women were the most infallible barometer to ascertain the degree of morality and virtue of a nation.  The Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, the Swiss, the Dutch, all lost their public spirit and their republican forms of government when they lost the modesty and domestic virtues of their woman."  Women, whether we like it or not, are powerful influences in our society - our homes, our workplaces, our governments, our places of worship, etc.  This is not a feminist movement or a women's lib issue, it is fact from long ago.  We have the power to influence for good or for bad because we are the relational piece of the puzzle.  What are we doing with that power?  DeMoss uses Proverbs 7 to exhort us to use that power for life and not death.  I was personally pierced on a couple of her points and will be chewing on them a bit more in the days,weeks, months to come.
This was a profound 35 pages, so much so that I bought a bunch to hand out to women I think would appreciate the message!  Message me if you'd like one!

Dear Mom: Everything Your Teenage Daughter Wants You to Know But Will Never Tell You by Melody Carlson

Melody Carlson raised two boys but feels a special connection with girls.  And it's totally legit to feel a special connection with girls and to be able to counsel and advise them but (could you feel that coming?) to be a mom to them is a wee bit different than mothering teen boys and living with the teen girls.  :)
Dear Mom is a good book, it's clever in its style and tone. Carlson adopts the teen girl as her POV and book is written as a letter to the Mom from the teen girl.  Very engaging and clever.  And Carlson does have some good counsel for parents from teen girls, however (could you feel that coming?), as a Mom of teen girls - I live with them and they live with me - I feel like perhaps a companion book could be written.  Perhaps titled "Dear Daughter: Everything Your Mom Wants You to Know". A few months ago my husband and I sat our teen girls down and expressed to them that we had never been parents of teen girls so we are all learning together.  And how we extend grace to them we will probably need a little grace ourselves.  They got it.  And so all four of us together are finding our way in these teenage years.
Some of what Carlson's POV teen expressed is legit on the teen girl part but not entirely informed.  Certain things that the teen girl tells her Mom she needs her Mom to do or not do are good in theory but when you are living it out in real life it isn't so cut and dried.  And yes, God has a big BIG part to play in this.  Yes, as parents we need to trust God with our daughters - and sons.  But we also have given our lives to these children and we know some things about them, and life, that they don't even know.  So just as a teen girl might have some things to say to her Mom, or parents, so we have some things to say as well. Carlson misses that in her book.  She does have the POV teen express thanks and honesty about the Mother/Daughter relationship but she misses what Mom's of teen girls go through.  Very different than mothering teen boys.  Very different.  (How do I know since I have teen girls and not boys?  Because I have friends who are Mom's of teen boys and we talk.  *grin*)  Carlson also assumes that Mom's speak in cliches and dole out disrespect to their daughters under the guise of "Because I'm the Mom, that's why."  In my circle, fairly large btw, none of the Mom's I know including me speak in cliches or dole out disrespect.  I respect my daughters and I am not above apologizing and seeking forgiveness when I have done wrong. I understand not all Mother/Daughter relationships work this way but I think more do than don't.  I think that if we expect our daughters to be a certain way - moody, etc - then they will be but we can, and should, expect more from them.  They rise to it and we rise to better behavior (responses, etc) as well.
Carlson's book certainly gave me some things to think about and some discussion points for my daughters and I but it also gave me the itch to write the companion book I mentioned above.  :)

Girl Unmoored by Jennifer Gooch Hummer

This coming of age YA book is set in the early/mid 80's when AIDS was popping up "everywhere" and the misconceptions on how you got it were prevalent.  (You know - don't shake hands with someone who has AIDS, don't drink from the same glass, etc etc. Ridiculous.)
Apron (that's right Apron because some person at the birth records place when she was born misspelled April so she got stuck with the name Apron) is a 7th grader on the cusp of life. In the past 6 months she has lost her Mom to cancer, her Dad knocked up a nurse that now lives with them and hates Apron, and her best friend has jumped ship for the popular girl.  Fortunately for Apron she meets Jesus, er Mike, and gets saved by an unlikely friendship with Mike and his partner Chad who is dying of AIDS. As she navigates her strained relationship with her Dad and his girlfriend Apron is also trying to figure out friendships, new and old.  Because she isn't fully developed yet we sense what she cannot - she feels unwanted, unloved, and cast aside.  Mike and Chad become her temporary family.  Everything about Apron's life makes her feel unmoored - drifting out to sea with no safety net in sight.
Hummer wrote a good book.  I have no idea, actually, what made me initially put this on my "to read" list but I'm glad to have read it. She developed her characters well, the story line was coming of age but with a refreshing twist off the normal angst coming of age stories.  Hummer has Apron, and therefore the reader, tackle some pretty serious and difficult issues and helps Apron, and perhaps the reader, come out on the other side more insightful.

Golden Lies by Barbara Freethy

I read books like this when my brain is tired from thinking and just needs a break, or when I am not sure what book I really want to read and just need something to get me through until I decide. I consider books like this one filler books.  Not horrible but not terribly great either, rather predictable. This isn't the first Freethy title I have read, and it won't be the last because I always need filler books. :) But also Freethy doesn't write badly and in this particular book she even includes a bit of a mystery to break up the predictable lust story.
Paige Hathaway and Riley McAllister are introduced through his Grandmother's find of an ancient Chinese dragon in her attic.  What it is doing there, how it got there, is anyone's guess.  Paige's father acts oddly upon seeing it and it disappears from his possession upon a visit to Chinatown.  Thus begins the search for the dragon and why it's so important.  In the process of trying to solve the mystery of the dragon Paige, Riley, and Paige's newly discovered half sister Alyssa learn things about their parents and grandparents that explain much of their lives.  I probably don't have to spell out what is also discovered between Riley and Paige.  That's the lust part of this story.  When all is said and done the dragon ends up revealing important parts of each families histories and their ties to one another.
It was a decent enough filler book, truthfully the intrigue part around the dragon saved it from being 100% predictable.

World-Changers:  Live to Serve by Bob Beltz and Walt Kallestad

Based off of the movie, Amazing Grace, about the passion and mission of William Wilberforce Beltz and Kallestad have written a book that talks to believers of God about being a world-changer.  No doubt about it, Wilberforce is/was a great role model for change and perseverance.  His pursuance of the abolition of slavery is esteemable.
Beltz and Kallestad's admiration of Wilberforce is fine and their book makes some good observations, overall, however, the book is very simple.  Which is fine, it made for a quick read.  But as I read it I felt like something was missing, although I'm still trying to figure out what.  This, I realize, is of no help to anyone but it is what it is.  Something is lacking from the book, some sort of depth or inspiration.  Perhaps because, as it mentions in the preface or foreward they wrote this book quickly after the movie was released so it could be a companion.  And perhaps, because I am not a fan so much of books written off of movies, the lack is felt in trying to make it compliment the movie (which I loved btw, we own it - fantastic movie!).  It also could be a lack I feel because a lot of what the authors say isn't new or revelational to me.  I've been around the Christian block a time or two and so not much is new under the sun, to quote Solomon.
All in all it was a decent book that I wouldn't not recommend.  And side note:  I have no idea, ZERO ideas, how this book landed in my possession!  I own it but I have no recollection of how it came to live on my bookshelf.

House by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker

It's official.  I do not like this genre.  It reinforces what I said last month in my review of Dekker's Skin, it's why I don't read Stephen King either.  I have several people in my life who love this genre, good for them! I am not one of them.  Even Peretti joining in on this novel didn't warm me up to it much.  It disturbed me on lower levels like Dekker's Skin did.  More on that in a second.
The gist of the horror story (No seriously it is a horror story and they were crazy enough to make this book into a movie which I will NOT be seeing thankyouverymuch and it is rated R so I'm guessing it means that the movie IS like the book, perhaps a little more graphic) is four people end up through mysterious circumstances at a backwoods inn, cut off from society.  Upon entering the house it is clear something is not right but the people don't leave, they seem to be strangely held to the house.  As the evening progresses things start getting creepy and the "game" begins when a truck is driven through the front door and a tin can rolls into the room they are all huddled in.  On the tin can the "game" rules are given and the deadline of sunrise is given. To get out of the house a dead body must be produced.  Ready? Set. Go. What ensues is a crazy, chaotic scramble to get out of the house without playing the "game".  But this is no ordinary house and it won't let people leave once they have entered.  The book covers the night of the "game".  372 pages of terror and horror and confusion.
Dekker released Skin after this book released. I find this interesting because I wasn't very far into this book and already I felt like I was reading a less disturbing version of Skin.  There are a lot of similarities in the two books.  Now I'm not saying Dekker didn't rip off the idea and take it to the next level but it felt like that at times.  No doubt about it, the book is written well.  Peretti is an amazingly descriptive writer, I have read several of his books in the past (I mean c'mon if you a "good" Christian you have read the spiritual warfare books This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, they became almost like textbooks for the Church. Just sayin'.  And not that I agree with that, just sayin'.) and he can craft a story like nobody's business.  And if you've been following me then you know Dekker is a new-to-me author that I agreed to give a go.  So the book was well-written, that is not in dispute.  And even for those who like this genre I bet this book was great.  Several people told me after I put Skin down last month that I would like House better. They were right.  I liked it better because it didn't disturb me nearly as much and it wasn't as graphic in its violence.  But I did feel like I was reading a warm-up for Skin.  The story lines at their core are too similar for me not to feel that way.
I don't know about this whole Dekker phase.  As I look over his bibliography I do see that his books fall into a couple of genres, Thr3e being one of the different genres and I did like that book so I'll press on, but maybe not with his horror genre books.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband "Master" by Rachel Held Evans

Last month I read A.J. Jacobs adventure of living biblically and this month I wanted to follow up with a woman's adventure through the scripture and what it has to say about, as Held Evans says, true biblical womanhood.
Yes, Held Evans knows, or knew, that Jacobs had already done his experiment. She wasn't necessarily trying to one-up him, she was just doing her own experiment.  Unlike Jacobs, who grew up with no faith, Held Evans grew up in an evangelical church and spent her growing up years being told what biblical womanhood was.  Held Evans had her faith "what?!" moment in college and by the time she was approaching 30 she had figured out a few things about her faith and while avoiding the idea of motherhood (of which she is terrified) she decided she would spend a year living out true biblical womanhood.  So she did her research on what that was, composed a list she called "Biblical Woman's Ten Commandments", and dove in.  She decided to devote one month for a year to different virtues: gentleness, domesticity, obedience, valor, beauty, modesty, purity, fertility, submission, justice, silence, and grace.
Unfortunately 14 pages in and I'm a little let down so far.  Yes, she did her research, however, it was within the confines of traditional evangelical takes on scripture.  It lacked a true study of the meanings of the scripture and instead she relied mostly on the already popular theories about the scriptures. I felt like it also lacked a true experiment of biblical womanhood. She spent a bunch of time cooking up Martha Stewart recipes and trying to clean like Martha Stewart.  Her point was to keep the house but the point got lost in translation I think.  Her other month long experiments felt the same way, honest in their intentions but really kind of missing the point and the application.  Upon finishing Held Evans book I felt hat Jacobs execution of the experiment garnered better "results", or observations, because he committed to the practices for an entire year not just monthly "bites".  In reality anyone can do anything for a month, but for a whole year?  That's dedication.  So that is where her adventure in a year of "biblical" living fell flat for me.  Additionally, I wonder if the foundation of faith she already had in her life played into the lackluster experiments.  (I say lackluster based on what she chose to publish from her experiments, maybe they weren't as lackluster as they come across in the book.)
I do thank Held Evans for the many books she had the gumption to read on behalf of the experiment and because of quotes she included to explain a "biblical" point from noted authors and Pastors I have now expanded my "authors I will never ever ever read" list a little more to include: Mark Driscoll, Debi Pearl, Dorothy Patterson, Martha Peace (whose book The Excellent Wife I was told I "had" to read once upon a time, I didn't and boy am I glad.  She, along with the other women mentioned in this "I'm never going to read this author" list perpetuate the shame and guilt Christian women feel and live in when they can't be "perfect" according to some man-made standard, not a biblical one.)

Here's some tidbits I did like from my read:

  • In response to a woman's job is within the house and nowhere else I loved the conclusion Rachel came to, "But in our efforts to celebrate and affirm God's presence in the home, we should be wary of elevating the vocation of homemaking above all others by insinuating that for women, God's presence is somehow restricted to that sphere.  If God is the God of all pots and pans, the He is also the God of all shovels and computers and paints and assembly lines and executive offices and classrooms. Peace and joy belong not to the woman who finds the right vocation, but to the woman who finds God in any vocation, who looks for the divine around every corner."  (page 30)
  • In lessons learned from the famous Martha - Mary story and Jesus' words to Martha this was an important observation Held Evans had, "The gentle Rabbi reminds us that few things really matter and only one thing is necessary.  Mary found it outside the bounds of her expected duties as a woman, and no amount of criticism or questioning could take it away from her.  Martha found it in the gentle reminder to slow down, let go, and be careful of challenging another woman's choices, for you never know when she may be sitting at the feet of God." (page 36-37: bolded emphasis mine)
  • On the Proverbs 31 woman: " Jewish culture it is not the women who memorize Proverbs 31, but the men.  Husbands commit each line of the poem to memory, so they can recite it to their wives at the Sabbath meal, usually in a song. [side note: it is referred to as Eshet chayil which means "woman of valor"]....Eshet chayil is at its core a blessing - one that was never meant to be earned, but to be given, unconditionally." (page 88: side note mine)  WHEW.  I already had heard that Proverbs 31 has been taken way, way, WAY out of context but Held Evans discovers this as well.  God never included it in his instructions so that women could be burdened and shamed by it.  He included it in there to be a blessing to them as their husbands recognize what they do for their families.  
  • A final thought on the real point of Proverbs 31: "The Proverbs 31 woman is a star not because of what she does but how she does it - with valor.  [Eshet chayil!]  So do your thing.  If it's refurbishing old furniture - do it with valor.  If it's keeping up with your two-year-old - do it with valor.  If it's fighting against human trafficking...leading a company...or getting other people to do your work for you - do it with valor. Take risks.  Work hard.  Make mistakes.  Get up the next morning.  And surround yourself with people who will cheer you on." (page 95: bolded emphasis mine)
  • About parenting/raising families: "Sometimes our actions shape our beliefs (side note: this particular observation is true in all areas of life, not just this one!), rather than the other way around, and I think this is especially true when it comes to raising families.  We end to take whatever's worked in our particular set of circumstances (big family, small family, AP, Ezzo, home school, public school) and project that upon everyone else in the world as the ideal.  We do this, I think, to protect ourselves, to quiet those pesky insecurities that follow us through life, nipping at our heels.  To declare that your way is the only way effectively eliminates any fear that you might be wrong, or at least pushes it below the surface for a time." (page 177-178: side note mine and bolded emphasis mine)
  • About motherhood and the Church's push for all women to be mothers or else they aren't "good enough" (that's my own, Beth's, personal observation): "I understand that many pastors elevate motherhood in order to counter the ways contemporary culture often dismisses the value of moms. This is a noble goal indeed, and the Church should be a place where moms are affirmed, celebrated, honored, and revered.  But the teaching that motherhood is a woman's highest calling (which btw is not biblical) can be painful and isolating for women who remain unmarried or childless." (page 179: parenthetical note mine)  "As a Christian, my highest calling is not motherhood; my highest calling is to follow Christ.  And following Christ is something a woman can do whether she is married, or single, rich or poor, sick or healthy, childless or Michelle Duggar." (page 180: bolded emphasis mine)
  • About the Bible and its instructions: "When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded word (like manhood, womanhood, politics, economics, marriage, and even equality), we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the Bible that don't fit our tastes.  In an attempt to simplify, we try to force the Bible's cacophony of voices into a single tone, to turn a complicated and at times troubling holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto or creed.  More often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says." (page 294: bolded emphasis mine)
  • And finally, about "biblical womanhood": "Among the women praised in Scripture are warriors, widows, slaves, sister wives, apostles, teachers, concubines, queens, foreigners, prostitutes, prophets, mothers, and martyrs.  What makes these women's stories leap from the page is not the fact that they all conform to some kind of universal ideal, but that, regardless of the culture or context in which they found themselves, they lived their lives with valor [Eshet chayil!].  They lived their lives with faith. As much as we may long for the simplicity of a single definition of "biblical womanhood," there is no one right way to be a woman, no mold into which we must each cram ourselves - not if Deborah, Ruth, Rachel, Tamar, Vashti, Esther, Priscilla, Mary Magdalene, and Tabitha have anything to say about it. Far too many church leaders have glossed over these stories and attempted to define womanhood by a list of rigid roles.  But roles are not fixed.  They are not static.  Roles come and go; they shift and they change. They are relative to our culture and subject to changing circumstances.  It's not our roles that define us, but our character.  A calling, on the other hand, when rooted deep in the soil of one's soul, transcends roles.  And I believe that my calling, as a Christian, is the same as that of any other follower of Jesus.  My calling is to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself.  Jesus himself said that the rest of Scripture can be rendered down into these two commands.  If love was was Jesus' definition of "biblical," then perhaps it should be mine." (page 295: bolded emphasis' mine)
All in all, Held Evans does a decent job but it fell flat for me in light of Jacobs own experiment.  I really didn't want to set out to compare and contrast the two but it is what it is when *you* decide to do something almost identical to what someone else already did.  The comparisons are going to happen.  
Held Evans rose to her fame through a blog first and then a novel about evolution and her grappling with those beliefs in the the Christian circles of life.  This is the first novel of hers I have read, I think I would like to give her first one a go, and rumor is (okay not rumor but fact as she's been writing and blogging about it) she's working on a third book.  While she writes well I wonder if her writing well is limited to a blog format rather than a book format.  This criticism I would apply to myself as well.  I think I am a much better "blogger" than "book author".  It is what it is, embrace it!  But I follow Held Evans on Facebook so when a blog of hers pops up that seems interesting I can go link up.  While we may disagree on some points of the Christian life and faith she still has those gems that pop through the rest of her writing and I appreciate gems. :)  The phrase, "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" is more applicable to life than I ever thought and that would be the case with Held Evans.  

Erasing Hell: What God said about Eternity, and the Things We've Made Up by Francis Chan & Preston Sprinkle

A couple of years back there were two books released, one on top of another, about hell and the realities, or not, of it.  This was the second book released, in a response of sorts to the other one, Rob Bell's Love Wins.  I will forever remember Rob Bell's book, not because I read it but because I told people they should read it before slamming it.  I got called a heretic and a bunch of other nasty names for suggesting that people know what they are tearing to shreds.  You can read about that here if you'd like. Let me state I have NOT read Rob Bell's book. I'm not sure I will. I did, however, want to read this one. Mostly because I really dig Fran Chan's teachings, I think he is solid and I wanted to see what he had to say about hell.
I grew up with the traditional teachings on hell.  I don't accept Jesus into my life then hell is my final destination. But is that accurate?  Is that biblical?  (Quit gasping for air as if I've suggested the worst thing possible. We are allowed to ask for heaven's sake.  Calm down.)  Rob Bell caused a stir because, in a nutshell, he presented a view different than the traditional.  He presented a very Universalist view, one in which he says that hell is now - the genocide, the disease, etc are all versions of hell and that in the end every single person is saved by God's hand from eternal separation. You're right, I didn't read Bell's book but I read enough articles and interviews with him to know that is the nutshell of his book.  Moving on.
In the past couple of years, since being called a heretic and all, I've been sifting through the teachings I was brought in regarding and the life of a believer. I've been holding up what I was taught against what the Bible, and God, actually say and if they don't match I am discarding the teaching and going with the Bible and God. Seems the best choice. Interestingly enough Chan seems to have been doing the same thing in the past few years.  That's another reason I was interested to read his take on hell.
Chan, along with Preston Sprinkle whom he says deserves most of the credit for the research parts of the book, takes the reader back.  Way back to the times of Jesus. They lay out popular beliefs and ideas about hell that were circulating back in the days when Jesus walked the earth.  In conjunction with that they dig into the instances in scripture where hell is referred to.  They do a very thorough job in my opinion, especially considering that the average reader of the book is going to be more like me, not so academic but searching and/or curious.
So the big question is: does Chan come to a conclusion?  Does he offer a different view than the one that I grew up being taught?  Here's my answer: read the book.  It's not a hard book to read, it's easy in it's information and style. Read the book and see if you land up where Chan does or if you are somewhere else. Here's what thought kept running through my mind while reading it, because of the scriptures Chan pointed to that were Jesus' very words: Since Jesus is God in the flesh wouldn't it stand to reason that what he said about hell is what it is?  If the ideas and beliefs circulating at the time of his life on earth were wrong I believe he would have corrected them because he has the actual DL of what's up with hell and other things. Right? He had no problems correcting other wrong beliefs and ideas so I'm thinking he wouldn't shrink back from the topic of hell either.  I'm just sayin'.

Me Again by Keith Cronin

This book was a great surprise!  I got it as a free download at some point and it's been sitting on my Kindle for who knows how long waiting for me to discover it.  I didn't anticipate that I would like it so much and finish it so quickly.
Jonathan has just woken up...from a 6 year coma.  A stroke at age 28 put him into a coma that has eaten away the last 6 years of his life.  He wakes up to find that he has to learn how to do everything all over again and try to remember who people are. That's the other thing he lost - he has no memory of anyone, not his parents, his brother, nobody.  He's starting clean.  The problem with Jonathan starting clean is that everyone else isn't.  They expect him to be who he was before and don't understand that he is no longer that person.  As Jonathan relearns everything from talking to walking to what feelings are he also meets another young stroke patient who is on her own path of relearning.  Together they forge a friendship that helps them learn new things and figure out why they wouldn't want to go back to who they used to be.  Unfortunately that is hard on those friends and family who can't fathom a personality change as a result of a stroke.  Jonathan and his friend, Rebecca, help each other come to terms with their new personalities and help each other help their families to see that they truly aren't who they used to be.
I've never heard of Keith Cronin, much less read anything he has ever written and I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I loved his style and how he developed characters and story line.  He crafted a story that makes the reader value the changes they themselves or others have gone through, because of an injury or not.  I know I am not who I was 10 years ago, in some ways I'm not who I was 2 years ago!  We all shift and change and grow and he chose to tackle those shifts through something that really can and does happen. I really enjoyed this book.  It was a great way to end the month of reading.  


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