Monday, April 24, 2017

Book Review: Jamie Blaine's Midnight Jesus

Jamie Blaine has many points he could make but doesn't. The book falls short just as it's on the cusp of having a moment of awareness. Instead, Blaine tries to play it safe to appease all sides of the denomination coin. He goes as far to tell us about how many denominations he has even experienced. Blaine doesn't seem to have quite learned though you can't please everyone, and in an attempt to try to he might have let down the people who really need a book like this. Blaine focuses mostly on stories of addicts, but when he does talk about other people you'll meet when working in psychiatric care his accounts come off as caricatures of people with mental illnesses. Often times Blaine seems to be looking more for a good story than helping people. So forget Blaine wanting to counsel married couples because that just doesn't make for a "cool" story.

Summary: The heart of God can be found in the unlikeliest places, in the unlikeliest people. Jamie Blaine is an unconventional, and actually quite accidental, psychiatric crisis interventionist whose work takes him to "the least of these." A gifted storyteller, Blaine shares heart-wrenching and sometimes hilarious stories of everyday people who need to know God is there in their darkest hours-people dealing with secret shame, doubt, desperation, even suicide. Humans looking for wholeness, looking for Jesus. Painting beauty where it seems none exists, Midnight Jesus helps readers transcend their own struggles, showing how truth can come from the strangest places. They will meet people like * Skeeter and Wookie, two homeless guys who show that community happens wherever there is shared need and a willingness to give * Pastor Ponder who holds an altar call after his sermon at the psych ward and says it's the best church service he's ever had * Kat, the tattooed hairdresser who dreams about Jesus and longs for spiritual connection, who shows that you can't judge a book by its cover * Jesus, who makes an invisible cameo in every story. As Blaine writes, "I am one wrecked and dirty treasure, but God still decides I am worth the effort to save." Jamie Blaine is the kind of writer whose view of the commonplace transforms life into the transcendent.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Book Review: Faith Sommers' Prayers for a Simpler Life

It's difficult to have an honest discussion about books like this because the author depicts herself in such a sweet and innocent way even when talking about her shortcomings of sin. The way verses were strung together, and the book didn't fully address what the summary says left it underwhelming.   Most importantly does the devotional draw the reader closer to God with the simpler Mennonite life?

The Summary: "Do your quiet times with God feel disconnected from the rest of your overflowing days? Shouldn't our devotions affect how we live our lives? In this 90-day devotional for women, plain Mennonite mother and wife Faith Sommers helps connect your moments with the Lord to the rest of your life. Steeped in the faith of Amish and Mennonites, who maintain that how we live is as important as what we say, Sommers' words hold gentle warmth and wise nudging for readers tired of disjointed living. Offering daily devotions, prayers, journal prompts, and ideas for how to simplify your life and strengthen your faith, Prayers for a Simpler Life guides readers toward a deeper commitment to the way of Jesus."

In the summary, it reads, "Steeped in the faith of Amish and Mennonites, who maintain that how we live is as important as what we say..." In the introduction titled "A Day in the Life", Sommers breaks down their routine as Mennonites. This is where we get most our insight on how Mennonites lead simpler lives. They drive their kids to a private Church school, they bake, sew, write, attend Church on Wednesday, clean, and even maintain a garden. The way the author depicts their routine in the book sounds not too unlike what someone who is not Mennonite might do. Maybe I only have this perception because I grew up on a farm in rural Georgia. The author says at the end of the introduction,"The quote that I put at the heading of this "day in the life" reminds me of a young lady who spent a weekend with us. She needed to study a religion for a college course and chose to interview the Mennonites. After she had been with us for a day, she said, "I had planned to ask you what your religion means to you, but now I realize it's not just a religion - it's your way of life." Praise God. That's what Christianity should be and do!" So what can we learn from Mennonites about leading simpler lives? That particular question never seems to be answered in depth. She describes in detail the things many of us already know about Mennonites, such as their dress or routine or that their children don't attend public schools. She told stories of Paul and Moses as other denominations do. Her devotional seemed to relate those same people to everyday life, but she never showed us how they were to make our lives simple, as the title suggested.

The book also claims the devotional is for women. Does this book provide new, insightful ways to be a woman of God? I can't say the information was new to me despite the author implying it should be newish information since the biblical command of submission is ignored nowadays. I can't remember the last time I read a non-fiction Christian book for women that didn't mention submission, so even if the assumption is Christian women are commonly ignoring it the writers aren't. Sommers writes in week 1 of the devotion, "Our children are born into a world that grows increasingly wicked" (P.20). Sommers writes later on submitting, "Submission does not mean following a husband into sin" (P.75). Perhaps there are fewer men seeking holiness to submit to, which is why it appears women are ignoring submission? Onward, though. There are weeks in the devotional that focus on various women from the Bible and their strengths provided by God, such as Phebe and Priscilla. She also devotes a week on what we can learn from focusing on serving. There wasn't anything that particularly tied to women Mennonites though outside of how they dress. The author talks about herself and her friends' relationships with children, parents, and neighbors that portray women annoyed with intrusions, misbehavior, envy, and beauty. Through these examples, women sound petty and rarely does it challenge the reader with depth to question those negative traits about themselves. Sommers writes, "God helps me to act lovingly even when I don't feel like it" (P. 74). We hear "God give me strength," when instead "God, what's wrong with me?" seems more adequate.

When reading the Bible passages for the devotions it should be recommended to read the whole chapter the verse lies in. For week 3 on day Acts 9: 1-9 is the devotion reading, but the devotion also includes verses from Isaiah 59 verse 12 and 13. The verses Sommers includes read as is, "Our sins testify against us:.. In transgressing and lying against the Lord, and departing away from our God. And in verse 16: "There was no man... no intercessor." (P.50) I wanted to share the verses as is, but there is so much edited out it becomes a shadow of what the context reads as. Here is a link if you want to read Isaiah 59 in its entirety. The gist is the people of Israel had challenged God after not returning from exile to their home. The prophet accuses them of what they have done that made God "turn a blind eye to them" (Isaiah 2-8). The people begin expressing guilt in Isaiah 9, but Sommers picks up half a sentence in verse 12 to merge with some of verse 13 to provide her own thought without mention of the particular story. Sommers picks up again in Isaiah verse 16, which begins the passages of God's disappointment yet his mercy for his people. Sommers tells us the verses provide a glimpse without God, but the story of Moses is just as adequate for that and you don't have to mesh partial sentences of verses together. This occurs many more times in the devotional. Why paste together so many verses if another example would suffice? 

Most of all this book leads one to believe you can discover a simpler life from the summary.  The strongest devotional week in this book is Growing toward God, and that is mostly a bias toward plant analogies.  The simpler life seems less about Mennonite women's lifestyles regarding their faith and more about a woman's frustration with her guard over her time, possessions, beauty, and doubt. God is asked a lot for guidance and strength, but never posing the question "why are those things important to me?" 

This book was provided by Herald Press in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Book Review: Jim Henderson and Matt Casper's Saving Casper

This book is intended for Christians, and mostly Christians who are baffled by how to act and talk around those who are nonbelievers. The niche is small for the book, but I'm also sure that Jim and Matt hope that others will become curious enough to pick up the book just to see where the conversation leads between the two. If you're familiar with Jim and Matt then you also known they have done another book together where they traveled across the U.S. and visited churches together to see how Matt as an atheist would perceive the churches they went to. Now with this book they follow up with his own thoughts of how he perceives Christians in general.

Summary: Matt Casper is an atheist, or currently an atheist he says. He has became friends with Jim Henderson who is currently a Christian as he calls it. Jim hopes that by getting Matt acquainted with the Christian community that maybe the perceptions about atheist and how we approach them can be changed to be more open and learn to treat people as people because if there is something missing from the approach of Christians witnessing to nonbelievers it's that they seem to treat them more like projects than people.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Book Review: Christin Ditchfield's What Women Should Know About Facing Fear

Many women struggle with anxiety, myself included. There are days it can be quite crippling, and others it isn't as bad. It's always there though even when I'm not thinking about it it's as if I can feel the anxiety just sitting there. Christin Ditchfield gives a faith based approach in trying to get your anxiety more in control. I like how Ditchfield acknowledges though that if you have a more severe form of anxiety though that you need to probably seeking counseling as it's probably beyond just being a nagging voice.

Summary: Women are more often than not the ones to struggle with anxiety. We have fears of change or worries about our health that cause us to sometimes to remain crippled in one spot with the inability to move forward. Even the ability to say no to turn down someone's invitation brings us anxiety and you say yes to something you wouldn't want to attend. Christin Ditchfield empowers women to calm their anxiety by studying other strong women of the Bible, and providing words from Jesus that can provide comfort. With a question and answer at the end of each chapter her book doubles a guide and journal to walking you away from anxiety.


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