Book Review-Oh God (x3)! Young Adults Speak out about Sexuality and Christian Spirituality

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Oh God, Oh God, Oh God!: Young Adults Speak Out about Sexuality and Christian Spirituality. Heather Godsey and Lara Blackwood Pickrel, editors.

St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press, 2010.



I wanted to like this book. I wanted to use this book as a conversation starter at my former church. Sadly, it took me three tries to finish it. I’m sharing this review because I’d love for someone to write a book about what I had hoped this book would be.

In the introduction the editors said, “These voices are primarily from white heterosexual individuals” (2). This was my first problem with the book. I knew too many stories similar to the ones shared. I wanted my eyes to be opened people whose stories I have not heard.

While no book can include all topics, I was hoping to find stories about unplanned pregnancies (adoption, abortion, and keeping a child), couples who do not feel called to have children, dating (and even meeting potential dates) post-college, and how having a child changes things in relationships. The diversity of God’s children could have been highlighted in this book by sharing a variety of stories from a wider spectrum of people instead of just a select few.

This book would not work well as a conversation starter or small group book at my last church. That makes me sad. I’d love to hear suggestions for other books that talk honestly about sexuality and Christian spirituality.

Book Review- Waiting for Christmas by Kathleen Long Bostrom

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For the season of Advent, one of the book reviews each week will be for a children’s book. I think Advent and Christmas have inspired some of the most lovely children’s books. I suggest you go to your local library and check your bookshelves and find a children’s book to read this time of year. If you have a child to read with, please do. If not, it is perfectly okay for adults to read children’s books!

Waiting for Christmas: A Story about the Advent Calendar Kathleen Long Bostrom

Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zonderkidz, 2006.

This book tells us that the season of Advent is our time to prepare and wait for the season of Christmas. As Christmas seems to begin earlier and earlier each year, this book may be good way to remind us of the important of waiting. Having an Advent calendar is a great way to visualize how long we must wait for Christmas.

The book includes many options for counting down to Christmas. The only problem I have with this book is that Advent is not always 24 days. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas. People like to start counting down to Christmas on December 1. This year Advent begins on November 30, so there are 25 days in Advent in 2014. Nevertheless, this is a good read for all ages about the season of Advent as we all wait for the birth of Jesus.

Book Review-Some Assembly Required

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Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son Anne Lamott with Sam Lamott

New York: Riverhead Books, 2012

Emotional Response-3

Scholarly Response-2

I enjoy reading Anne Lamott’s books. I enjoyed this one even though it wasn’t my favorite. She chronicles her grandson’s first year in great detail. It is readable and relatable. It is an amazing gift to her whole family. I prefer Traveling Mercies, Plan B, and Grace Eventually. I recommend this book if  you enjoy Anne Lamott’s writing. If you have never read Anne Lamott before, I’d encourage you to start with one of the three books I mentioned earlier.

One thing that keeps me returning to Anne Lamott is her honesty. In the midst of ordinary situations, she reminds us to look for God not because she always remembers but because she tries. She encourages us to keep trying as she keeps trying. She has surrounded herself with people who remind her to look for God. Are you surrounded by people who place you back on the right path if you fall off? Am I? Do others help me look for the good and God in those I meet? Anne Lamott’s books don’t make her look like a saint. They share her story as she strives to follow Jesus and her humanity is why I find her inspirational and fun to read.

“Finally I thought to pray–it had completely escaped me that I believe in divine mind and comfort. I’d forgotten that if I said the Great Prayer–Help–I would experience that God was with me” (20).

“Maybe what we say to each other is not so important after all, but just that we are alive together, and present for each other as best we can be” (62-63).

“It would be great if God were up there shoving ever-resistant people like me through the maze, toward presence and serenity. But noooooo. It’s Free Will 101” (64).

“My pastor Veronica says that peace is joy at rest, and joy is peace on its feet” (212).

“Despite our great love and art, we are a violent species. Cain is still killing Abel, and that was meaningful for people like me, who can write to bear witness, remind others of this in the hopes of preventing such madness in the future” (265).

Book Review-Worship Come to Its Senses

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Worship Come to Its Senses Don E. Saliers

Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.



Although this book about worship is nearing 20 years old, its ideas are still relevant today. Instead of arguing over the style of worship, we are encouraged to bring awe, delight, truth, and hope to worship. Like all good things we do, worship requires preparation-not just from those leading worship but from all participating. How can you prepare? Come to worship ready for the experience, ready to encounter the other and the Other, and open to the ways God will speak to us. When we are prepared to meet God, we might just find that God is here already.

One theme that flowed through all these aspects of worship is that this happens best in a community where people are known. You might have moments of awe or delight on a retreat by yourself or with stranger. In order to keep these four aspects of worship alive and well, we need to situate ourselves within a community where we plan to listen for God and listen with each other. It is not a short-term process. Crafting worship requires much time and energy and many people sharing their gifts. Likewise, participating in worship requires our openness to what God is saying to us and those around us speaking truth and hope.

What I found so refreshing in this book is that problems with worship were described and solutions were offered. Too often books about worship say that each church is so unique that a solution cannot be offered. This book does the opposite. It shares concrete examples of what can be done to bring awe, delight, truth, and hope back to our worship. Now, don’t be overwhelmed thinking each worship service must inspire each of these things in every worshiper. That is not the point. Our worship planning and our worship preparation must include these ideas so over the course of our time together people have the opportunity to experience these things and know that they are all part of our faith journey.

I recommend this book to pastors, church people with worship responsibilities, and anyone who deeply love worship and wants to think more about it. [Read more…]

Book Review-Night Visions

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Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas Jan L. Richardson

Cleveland, Ohio: United Church Press, 1998.

Emotional Response-4

Scholarly Response-2

Sometimes I wonder if I like the idea of the season of Advent more than I like the season of Advent. A time to prepare sounds good. I’d love a time to prepare. A time to wait sounds important. I’d love to be able to be a person who waits patiently. I don’t do well with the waiting or preparing. What I do hold on to each year is the candle lighting. I love the light shining in the darkness of this time of year and this Advent season. Each Monday in Advent, I’ll share with you some Scripture to read and a prayer for your candle lighting. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating Advent in this way.

Advent is almost here again. And I will admit that I struggle to keep up daily practices. Weekly practices have more flexibility and forgiveness built in, and so I find myself drawn to the weekly practice of candle lighting. I recognize that what works for me may be very different than what works for you, and so I recommend for those who love daily readings, Jan Richardson’s Night Visions. The art and words are beautiful, heart-breaking, and inspiring. This book will take you through Advent, Christmas, and into Epiphany. If a daily reading works for you, I invite you to be challenged and supported by this book. And, if a daily reading isn’t for you, I still encourage you to get this book and read it at a pace that works for you.

“This season beckons me to ask, what am I preparing for? What is the way that is being prepared within the wilderness of my life? What does it mean for my own life to become a path, a way of welcome for the Holy One? How do I give myself time to notice the ways that the path unfolds before me and within me? What are the acts of preparation that bring delight to my daily life? Whom do I ask or allow to help me prepare?” (39).

“As I cross the threshold into a new season and a new year, the bag prompts questions. What do I need for the journey ahead? What would I put in the bag to take with me? What objects, words, blessings, hopes, charms would I keep within its colors against my chest as I meet the coming days? How will my actions in the year ahead stretch my own thresholds, my own boundaries, and bring me closer to others–to the ones such as those who fashioned this very bag? Or do I need to leave it empty, to wait and see what will fill it this year?” (120).

Book Review-In the Beginning

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In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis Karen Armstrong

New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.

Emotional Response-4

Scholarly Response-4

I enjoy anything that helps me see Scripture with new eyes. As I was agreeing and disagreeing with Armstrong’s interpretation of Genesis, I was engaging the text. The stories were coming alive for me in new ways. I appreciate that she ends her book with book of Genesis. It was so helpful to reread the Scriptures again after reading her interpretation.

Overall, I enjoyed this book because it pushed me back into the world of Genesis. I would recommend this book for anyone wanting a fresh look at the first book of the Bible.

“Sin is thus shown to dissolve community; it is presented as the opposite of wholeness and integrity” (30).

Instead of sharing quotes as I have for other books, here are some ways that she interprets the stories and people of Genesis. They made me think and ponder.

Noah’s sin is scapegoating. He blames others for his behavior after he gets drunk because he cannot live with himself after the flood (48-50).

God puts Abraham on probation to see if he is worthy of a blessing (50).

Why are there no chapters on Hagar or Sarah? Their part in the stories are mentioned. I think an interpretation of Genesis should include their story a bit more prominently.

Her thought is that Joseph saying God put me here (in Egypt) does not allow the brothers to take responsibility for their actions (113). I think that there is room for both. The brothers sinned by selling their brother and lying about what they had done. God worked in Joseph’s life to redeem the situation and find a way for Joseph’s gifts to be used in Egypt.

Book Review-Letters to a Youth Worker

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Letters to a Youth Worker  Mark DeVries, General Editor

Brentwood, Tennessee: CYMT Press, 2012.

Emotional Response-4

Scholarly Response-3

When I started reading it, my initial reaction was that this seemed like a book aimed at a person new to youth ministry. As I kept reading, I realized while not full of new insights for someone who has done this for more than 10 years, it did have many great reminders in a easy to read format. And so, I recommend this for everyone who loves youth-for parents who want to know more about what it is like to be a youth worker, for church staff who do not work with youth but want to support those who do, for congregation members who want to be more in touch with youth, and for all those who have committed to working with youth for money or simply because you love youth.

This book is filled with letters addressing various situations a youth worker might encounter. It is written by a variety of people who have worked with youth in different capacities over the years. It uses many mistakes made by the authors to remind us that we are not the first ones to do this and we are not the first ones to make mistakes.

This book spent much time reminding us that ministry is something we are not called to do alone. I think that is essential to remember because ministry can be so lonely, and yet there are many ways to involve and engage others in this journey along with us.

Even those of us who know better get so busy doing ministry that we forget St. Anselm’s call to “faith seeking understanding” (66). We must continue to learn and grow in our own faith while nurturing the spiritual lives of others. This book is a good resource for making that happen.

On page 40, a covenant for the church and the youth worker is presented. What a great way to begin a ministry, with promises like “We will pray and spiritually support (promises for the church) and I will pray for our church, its leaders, and members and our community (responses of the youth worker.”

“What I’m hoping to emphasize to you is that the real heart of ministry is the amazing privilege of seeking God, of seeking to place yourself inside God’s very action in the world. The heart of youth ministry is to try to articulate how and where this God acts and move, and then constructing practices and activities that honor and seek for that place where God moves” (61).

“Who is your theologian?” (67). Who is it that you’d pick to journey alongside you as you study and grow in your faith?

“One of the occupational hazards of ministry is professional holiness: doing the right things with the wrong heart” (72).

“Youth ministry IS about investing. One thing I do know to be true is that good investments yield good dividends. And your investment in young people–your faithful actions, your positive spirit, your persistent conversations, your healthy decisions, your own love for God–will yield a return, though we may never get to see the full investment report this side of heaven” (84).


Book Review- Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber

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Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint Nadia Bolz-Weber

New York: Jericho Books, 2014.

Emotional Response-5

Scholarly Response-5 

This books gets high marks on both emotional response and scholarly response because I enjoyed reading it and this book made me think. Deep theological conceptions like grace, forgiveness, loving our enemies, and resurrections, are explored through the lives of people who “good Christians” might not want to see on Sunday mornings.

Each chapter begins with a Scripture reading that grounds and focuses the story or stories presented in that chapter. It like reading stories and reading a sermon at the same time. In this book, we are free to question with Bolz-Weber and wonder how to make sense of it all. We are free to admit that we don’t have all the answers, and we mess up often. We are free to see ourselves in these stories. And we are encouraged to keep seeking God, to keep looking for the good in others, and to keep reminding ourselves that we are God’s beloved children.

I know that some people will not be able to read this book because of the language used. Instead of being offended by her language, I’m wondering if you might be able to see it as a dialect or her chosen way of speaking. So who should read this book-anyone who has questions about faith, anyone who wonders where God is acting in the world today, anyone who has ever wondered if he or she is a beloved child of God…if any of those questions have ever run through your mind, you need to read this book to be reminded that many of God’s best stories start with nothing and God can transform the nothing that you are able to bring into something wonderful.

“It’s (the Christian faith) about how God continues to reach into the graves we dig for ourselves and pull us out, giving us new life, in ways both dramatic and small” (XVIII).

“I need a God who is bigger and more nimble and mysterious than what I could understand and contrive. Otherwise it can feel like I am worshiping nothing more than my own ability to understand the divine”(15-16).

[Read more…]

Book Review-Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist

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Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life around Tables with Recipes Shauna Niequist

Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013.

Emotional Response-4

Scholarly Response-3

For those who don’t know me, it is probably good for you to know that I don’t cook. I was blessed to marry an amazing cook who loves experimenting in the kitchen. I am happy to be the sous chef (sometimes), stay out of the way (most of the time), eat the food that is lovingly prepared, and do the dishes. Knowing this, it might be funny to know that I love reading about food-how to prepare it, how to have a dinner party, where food is grown. I don’t want to prepare the food, but I am fascinated by food. And I love to gather around the table as much as Shauna Niequist does. I love sharing a meal with others. I appreciate how she makes the connections because other tables and the communion tables. They are all opportunities for us to gather together, share today, learn together, be together.

This book is a collection of her stories and recipes. At the end, she shares the idea of a book group reading a section of the book (there are four) and gathering together to discuss it over dinner using the foods mentioned in that section. I think that is a perfect way to read this book. Or, you can read it like I did-by myself hoping someone would make these foods, so we could share them together. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys stories, anyone who needs reminders of how God is present with us, and anyone who believes there is a connection between what we do on Sunday mornings and what we do the rest of the week.

“What’s becoming clearer and clearer to me is that the most sacred moments, the ones in which I feel God’s presence most profoundly, when I feel the goodness of the world most arrestingly, take place at the table” (13).

“When you eat, I want you to think of God, of the holiness of the hands that feed us, of the provision we are given every time we eat. When you eat bread and you drink wine, I want you to think about the body and the blood every time, not just when the bread and wine show up in church, but when they show up anywhere–on a picnic table or a hardwood floor or a beach” (17).

“My friend Shane says the genius of Communion, of bread and wine, is that bread is the food of the poor and wine the drink of the privileged, and that every time we see  those two together, we are reminded of what we share instead of what divides us” (251).

“The table is where time stops. It’s where we look people in the eye, where we tell the truth about how hard it is, where we make space to listen to the whole story, not the textable sound bite” (257).

Book Review-With Burning Hearts by Henri Nouwen

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With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life  Henri J. M. Nouwen

Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2003 (illustrated version).

Emotional Response-5

Scholarly Response-4

My response-

Using the story of the walk to Emmaus (Luke 24) as his guide, Nouwen invites us to sit with the sacrament of communion and find ways to bring the awe and wonder back to this sacrament.

We are reminded that we can bring our broken hearts to Christ’s table and there we will be joined with others who have broken hearts too. We are called to respond to our losses not with resentment but with gratitude (34). Nouwen urges us to take responsibility for our part in human brokenness. Only after accepting responsibility can we respond in gratitude.

I first read this book while in the midst of deep grief and wondered how do you hold in your heart all nature speaking of her and the new beginning when you still miss her so much? After much reflection, the answer is to come to the table as I am and be willing to be transformed. Eating at Christ’s table and being part of a faith community doesn’t immediately remove your pain. It does give you a place to share with others who have had pain in their lives. It gives you a place to be a giver and a receiver and a call to go out into the world with what you have learned. The word transforms us and transforms our worldview.

“That’s the Eucharistic life, the life in which everything becomes a way of saying “Thank you” to him who joined us on the road” (126). I recommend this book to anyone who wants to think more about living a life filled with thanksgiving. While the book is not challenging to read, it may challenge the way you think about others, the sacrament of communion, and yourself. [Read more…]