Monday, October 31, 2016

October 2016 Bookshelf

Kindle Edition - 176 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Westminster John Knox Press for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

It took me over a month to read the book once through. Then I decided I couldn't say I had read it until I read it again, that time it took me one day. Yes, just one day. I determined to get through it, having a first read as a basis for the second read.  
The first read through I just read the book. The second time I read the book as the author intended - using the Bible also. Since it's my review I get to make it as short - or as long - as I want. You can read the review - or not. That's your choice! *wink*
In Bird's introduction and chapter 1 she explains why this book has come into existence. She uses her own background as the reason why she first started wondering if everything she was reading in the Bible was exactly as she was reading it or if perhaps context of cultural etc really might matter. In the introduction she gives the reader two points that I really appreciate, they are perhaps the first of her many "permission granted" points.
1. God gave you your brain, so it has to be okay to use it.
2. If they are worth your devotion, God and the Bible can handle your intellectual pursuits. (My take on this particular point would be - God is not the one threatened by any questions etc we have, it's everyone else who is threatened. He's bigger than that.)
Chapter 1 finds Bird discussing what the Bible is, and what the Bible isn't. She challenges the claims of inerrancy and infallibility - which is going to raise the hackles of some immediately. It may or may not have raised mine a bit. *grin* Her challenges to those claims are based off of motivations, genres, and perspective of author of the book within the Bible. And she goes on, in chapter 1, to unpack those reasonings. Her conclusion on knowing and understanding the true writings can be summed up, in my opinion, with this statement she makes, "Most often when people begin to read with context and writing type in mind, they find the writings more meaningful, not less." I read that sentence as a challenge of sorts for myself. If I read the passages she will be discussing in this book with the context and writing type in mind as she lays them out will I indeed find the Bible more meaningful and not less?
Chapter 2 Bird starts at the beginning, which is the topic of much debate in American culture today (I can't speak for other cultures since I don't live there). She starts with the creation story found in Genesis 1-2. Bird is insistent on honoring the writings of the Bible and her idea of honoring it is explained in this way, "Reading the Bible 'literally' is not necessarily the best way to honor it." That particular statement is sure to raise some hackles. It may or may not have raised mine a bit. *grin* But instead of taking my raised hackles and marching off the other direction I am choosing to push through for the sake of being uncomfortable and having an open mind.
In chapter 2 she has a lot to say about a lot. (I don't want to be a spoiler. Okay fine, hints are: women, men, equality, creation of the earth, creation of humans, myths versus truth.) The one thing that I cannot get around being uncomfortable with is her assertion that biology is more accurate than God. But if God created the biology then can't he do whatever he wants? Perhaps it is our understanding of biology that is flawed, not the other way around?
Chapter 3 is all about the garden but here's what Bird has to say about it, "If you have thought of this story [the garden] as only being about 'original sin' or 'the fall of Man,' you are in for quite a ride. So, hold on to your hat and buckle your seatbelt." Bird's belief is that the story found in Genesis 3 is a myth, meant to give an explanation for the pains of childbirth and why it is so hard to produce food from the ground. I can't help but think, however, that if ancient peoples were looking for a story to explain these things that they might have come up with ones that didn't seem so harsh? But perhaps I misunderstand good storytelling. She also addresses the idea and purpose of Satan. These are interesting thoughts that I can lean toward - no hackles raised at that point. *grin* She closes out chapter 3 talking about the influence of the early church fathers and their opinions about the scriptures becoming the scriptures we actually read and follow today instead of what the original language etc means.
Chapter 4 tackles the topic of sex and sexuality in the Bible. Hackles will be raised in this chapter. Mine may or may not have been. *grin* She addresses the topic of "biblical marriage" and any of my hackles that may have been raised lowered the more I considered her arguments for what a "biblical marriage" actually means according to the Bible. Then she dives into sex - heterosexual and homosexual.
In the Old Testament, specifically, there is a lot of violence. Was it really violence directed by God or was it violence men attributed to God or was it something in between? Bird takes chapter 5 to discuss. She addresses both punishment/discipline and the sacrificial system. It is in discussing the sacrificial system - which leads to the crucifixion of Jesus - that hackles will probably go up again. Mine may or may not have. *grin* She also continues with the controversial topics by talking about the death penalty. She includes in the chapter about violence about the abuse and violent treatment of women throughout the scriptures. This did not raise my hackles but it will raise the hackles of many - and not all of them men, which astounds me. She does have a profound portion within the chapter about enemies and who we should consider, if anyone at all, enemies and why/why not.
Those stories we were told in Sunday School? In chapter 6 the author talks about the real story of those cleaned up stories. She also addresses the famed verse, John 3:16. Yes, hackles will be raised. Mine may or may not have been. *grin*
In the chapters leading up to chapter 7 Bird has been advocating for women and in this chapter she quits 'hinting' around and just devotes the entire chapter to the idea of women and God. She spends quite a bit of time discussing the differences found in the 'genuine Pauline' letters from what is said, about women specifically, in the 'disputed Pauline letters.' Her exegesis makes a lot of sense and provides explanation for the divided mind Paul was thought to have regarding women.
And then in chapter 8 Bird really goes for it. She discusses the conception and birth of Jesus. She discusses the virgin Mary and wonders if she really was a virgin. Yes, hackles will go up in defense of this doctrinal issue. Mine may or may not have. *grin*
Chapter 9 is titled, "Will the real Jesus please stand up?" and Bird starts off the chapter by saying that it may be "startling for people to discover that there is more that one 'version' of Jesus in the Bible and more than one way of understanding salvation." What she means is that the first four books - Matthew, Mark, Luke, John - give different perspectives on Jesus. They each cast him in a different light, so to speak. So which one is he? Could he not be all of them and the books are still pointing to different facets of who he is? This chapter, in particular, really felt like Bird was building a case for the commonality of Jesus rather than the Jesus that came to be a savior. It felt very pointed toward Jesus was just a dude who happened to say and do a lot of good things and some people decided to write about him and oh yeah, they leaned on Old Testament scriptures to make it sound like he was something special and unique. My hackles may or may not have gone up. *grin*
Second in popularity, and controversy, to Jesus is the Apostle Paul. So the author spends chapter 10 on Paul. While she similarly talks about Paul the way she does Jesus, in a diminishing way, she also makes some interesting points about his mission and its differences from the mission of the disciples.
Ah, it's the end of the world as we know it - and we've come the the end of the world countless times yet we are all still here. Bird takes chapter 11 to go through Revelation - the apocalypse, the final days of this world as we know it. This is another chapter in which the potential for raised hackles is pretty high. Mine were not raised but so much of evangelical America has built their faith on the book of Revelation that I know this chapter would raise the hackles of many.
And then where do we go from here? Where do we go with the questioning of the word of God? Does the questioning of the word of God make the writings more meaningful not less? For me? For you? In the final paragraphs of this book the author says this, "My ultimate intention has been to have you look at where you have placed your faith. Is it on the words in the Bible or on the God the Bible points to?" But I take issue with that end goal. She just took the reader through 11 chapters of questioning the Bible that points to God. The Holy Bible is the resource we have been given to get to know the God we say we believe in. If we call it into question then ultimately we are also calling into question the reality of God.
One final comment on the title. In an effort, I presume, to be chatty and down to earth about this questioning of the Bible the author employs the use of "hmmmm" quite a bit. And by quite a bit I mean it appears in frequency the further into the book we get. It really got on my nerves after a while. One or two instances of it are fine, I use it myself from time to time. But it's frequency in the pages detracted not attracted.




Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
Audio Book - read by Mindy Kaling

I have a crush on Mindy Kaling.
And the more I watch her (over and over) on The Office and her show The Mindy Project the more obsessed I become with her. She is real, relateable, and funny as all get out. She flies under the radar because she is not just funny she is freaking smart. She has a strong work ethic and has worked super hard to get to the place she is in.
I opted to read this book of Mindy's by listening to it because Mindy reads it herself and I knew hearing her say the things she wrote would be a great way to pass my time in the car during my commute.
I was 100% right, hearing Mindy read her book was awesome - I laughed and was able to hear her inflection exactly as she intended. And it was a great stress reliever before and after work days - which I really need these days.




Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
Audio Book - read by Mindy Kaling

In case you hadn't caught it before, I have a crush on Mindy Kaling. A huge crush.
I listened to Why Not Me? first and before I had even finished it got this one checked out so I could immediately begin it once the other ended.
Written before the book I listeread (I'm trying that out as a new word, a mash up of listened and read. Yes? No?) first this title talks a bit more about Mindy's time on The Office.
I'm pretty sure other drivers saw me laughing all by myself in the car and thought I was going crazy. Well if enjoying Mindy Kaling's stories and humor is crazy then call me crazy!





The Witches of Cambridge by Menna van Praag 
Kindle Edition - 320 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

In Cambridge there's a group of witches, they know they are but the rest of the community doesn't and that's the way they like it to be. Otherwise it just causes too many problems. But, it turns out, it causes problems for them also. Sometimes they get ahead of themselves due to their special powers. This is story about a "year in the life" of  Amandine, Noa, Kat, Cosima, George, and Heloise and each of them trying to live with their special powers in a world where they would be considered freaks by most.
I enjoyed this book but I don't know how much because I took a really long time (in my world) to read it and I kept putting it down in favor of other things - although I don't think that was the book's fault. It was an easy to read story although not terribly moving or memorable.




Ahab's Wife, or The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund
704 pages

How I found out about this title...
Mom: I just finished reading one of Paul's [my brother] favorite books, Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund. Loved it and wonder if you would like to read it?
Me: Yes!

"Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last." And so begins the story of Una. Born in the deep Kentucky woods, transplanted to a remote lighthouse on the east coast, gained sea legs on a ship or two, and landing in Nantucket Una's life is one of adventure, insight, loss, and gain. Una is a fascinating woman for her refusal to follow the whims of a crowd - be in thought or action, for her independent spirit, for her fortitude through some of life's tough moments, and for her deep love for Ahab. To say too much about Una would, I'm afraid, be a spoiler of the story Naslund has created about this woman she has imagined into existence as Captain Ahab's wife. Yes, that Ahab - the one of Moby Dick. While a wife was never mentioned in great detail in Herman Melville's Moby Dick there is a passage or two where one is ever so briefly mentioned. Naslund took those brief mentions and brought to life a woman who could equal, maybe even surpass, Captain Ahab.
Reviews of this title mention the word 'lyrical' and yes, this book is very lyrical - but not annoyingly so. The voice of Una is pleasant and compelling, keeping the reader engaged. Una is not one to shy away from adventure and so we are taken on many with her. During reading the book and now that I have finished I feel richer somehow for having been able to read Una's story. It is filling, not lacking in any part, and was just right in length - not too short and not too long. It's one of those books that will sit revered on a shelf in my mind as some of the best storytelling/writing I've read.



Bossypants by Tina Fey
Audio book - read by Tina Fey

I have decided that with books like this one, funny essays about life in general, the author needs to be the narrator for the audio version. Hearing the author put inflection in where it was meant when written, adding little sidenotes, etc makes all the difference. I am fairly certain that as I drove around my town laughing all by myself in my car people passing by probably thought I had lost my mind. I hadn't. I was just listening to Tina Fey and her hilarious take on a variety of topics. Here's where *you* might think I really am crazy - I don't watch SNL, I've not seen 30 Rock, and I'm not sure I have even seen any movie Fey has been in (I think there's at least one?). But her reputation precedes her and I had heard how good Bossypants was and I need laughs to get me to work these days and then to follow me home from work. So after my Mindy Kaling binge Tina Fey was next up on my audio book queue. And I'm so glad I finally got a dose of Tina Fey. She's hysterical, in part because she is so unassuming that she can be self-deprecating and all of us regular folk can 100% relate. What I love about books like this is in the midst of all the hilarity and the entertainment there are some real nuggets of life truths to be held on to. So thank you Tina Fey for accompanying me to and from work - for easing me into my work days and getting me to laugh afterward. And yes, I've now added 30 Rock to my Netflix queue - I've got to see what all the fuss is about.






Jesus, Pope Francis, and a Protestant Walk into a Bar by Paul Rock and Bill Tammeus
Kindle Edition - 96 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Westminster John Knox Press for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Okay I confess, the title captured my attention first. I mean c'mon it sounds like the beginning of a very funny joke...or something. I was right. It is something. Something fantastic.
A presbyterian pastor hosts a discussion, in a series of seven sermons written by a variety of other pastors, about the convergence of Christianity and Catholicism. The impetus for this conversation was the radical spirit Pope Francis has brought to the papacy since becoming head pope in 2013. He has ruffled some Catholic feathers, stirred some protestant pots, and confounded a whole bunch of people. He has also won over hardened hearts - the hearts wounded by the Church at large, the skeptical hearts, the hearts who swore they would never darken the doorsteps of any kind of 'religious' gathering.
This book is designed to get Protestants and Catholics thinking about how alike they are rather than how different. And once you start looking at it you see so many more similarities than anything else. Beyond that it is also meant to reintroduce, if I may be so bold as to use that word, the mission of Jesus to us. To remind us of what Jesus was actually doing as he traveled the dusty roads of Judea. I can't, and truthfully don't want to, say anymore since I think this book is worth reading. It's easy to read but deep in content. I'll end this review with a quote from the authors, "We hope this small book will help to guide you toward that theological depth and width so that you are free to be who you are and free to let others be who they are, all the while doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God."




Honorable Mention:
About three years ago I read the Harry Potter series for the first time (it won't be my last) and have been hearing how good the audio book versions are - a good narrator/reader makes ALL the difference people. So this month I started listening to the series on audio during my commutes. In addition to mentioned audio books above (which I had not read/listeread before) I squeezed in book 1 on audio. It was fantastic! The wait list at the library is very long for the audio series so I've got books 2 and 3 on hold but am quite a ways down on the list so who knows if I'll even get to them before the calendar turns to 2017!

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