Saturday, April 23, 2016

Permission Granted: Take the Bible into Your Own Hands by Jennifer Bird

The publisher has provided a copy for review.
I agree with Bird that we are constantly exploring the biblical text. We don't know enough about the original cultures of biblical writers to understand all the meanings and truths contained in the Bible.

But I would argue that arbitrarily tagging difficult parts of scripture as myth is stepping away from the text, its intentions, and its history as sacred truth. Bird's approach puts biblical scholars and theologians on the slippery slope of deciding for themselves what is true and what is "a lesson."

On many interpretations of biblical data, I disagree with Bird's conclusions. Two examples follow.

First, she claims that the creation accounts are two separate myths, fairytales to explain how we came to be. However, the scriptures claim to agree on the accounts of creation. One version is poetic, the other more linear. (Can differences be due to genre and intention, two ways to tell the same events? = a simpler and more direct explanation.)

Second, Bird's claim that it is necessary to view God (not the serpent) as deceiver - if one takes Eden's story literally - is startling. Her constant twisting of the text to a modern feminist reading is breathtaking in its daring.

"I'm glad Eve at the fruit," she says, considering it a privilege to know good and evil. She says the story of the Tree of Good and Evil is merely an ancient myth explaining our difference (morality) from animals. (Yet in line with biblical claims, could God's warning not to eat of the fruit be protective because humans were not yet ready for the wisdom God intended to provide them in the future?) Bird calls God sadistic if he actually meant a woman should bear children in pain.

Bird constantly and consistently reads current permissive culture back into the text, judging its accounts as offensive or permissible according to today's societal judgments. She views the honesty of scripture regarding sin and its consequences (for example, accounts of rape) as aberrations of justice or a callous overlooking of its trauma to victims. That is a very modern re-reading: we live in a culture where victims are held up as heroes-for-enduring-pain, who should be protected, rewarded, or avenged. However, historically, victims seldom gained full justice or wrote history. Bird is outraged when scripture notes offenses against God and humans without going into details from the victim's POV.

Bird reads current permissiveness and cultural issues back into the biblical text, judging its accounts as offensive or morally sound according to today's societal permissiveness. Her suggestion of possible same-gender sexual relationships between David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and perhaps Paul and Philemon is downright offensive. She champions redefining "what healthy sex is and looks like today" based on texts outside of scripture.

Indeed, Bird has taken the Bible into her own hands. I do not - and cannot - applaud her for it.

Insecurity Detox: A Breakout Plan to Rejuvenate Your Body, Mind, and Spirit by Trish Blackwell

★★★☐☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
The book makes big promises. Four well-known pillars for wellness provide the book's structure: 1. sleep more; 2. stress less; 3. eat more; and 4. move more. They're basic tenets of health, but how few of us follow them.

Blackwell syncretizes Christian beliefs with yoga, scientific research, affirmations, and exercise. Using personal examples and stories, the author encourages us to take the best of positive thinking and living for personal health.

Interesting. Recommended for consideration (with the above reservations about the dangers integrating positive thinking, Eastern religion, and Xtiansy) when detoxing negative and unhealthy patterns of living.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
What an adventure! What happens when you provoke a scholarly librarian? When you threaten irreplaceable and historical treasures? You'll enjoy this book of saving the written word and priceless artwork (between gasps and held breaths).

The descriptions of the countryside, the people, and the old manuscripts vie with the heart-pounding tale of saving cultural objects for future generations.

In this age, when we hear about IS and other extremist groups destroying the heritage of their people, it is refreshing to know that some treasures have been preserved. History is not entirely wiped clean.

The book is compelling: it tells a good story in an interesting way. As a bonus, you'll gain insights into Africa, terrorism, and the communities that resist and fall along the way. Highly recommended.

Contagious Culture: Show Up, Set the Tone, and Intentionally Create an Organization that Thrives by Anese Cavanaugh

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Who am I? How am I perceived as a leader or employee? What do I contribute and transfer to others who work with me? We've all seen a good leader rescue a failing organization, and a negative or unskilled leader dismantle the best company.

The contagion of being a unique leader permeates the direction and values of my organization. So how do I  "show up" with all my might? Whether you're running a non-profit or a business, you'll find plenty of ideas on setting up youself and others for success.

An inspiring read.

A Stubborn Sweetness and Other Stories for the Christmas Season by Katherine Paterson

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
What does Christmas mean to you, your family, and your neighbors? Not everyone is having a good time when the season rolls around. Life, with its complications and problems, intrudes even on the best intentioned of holidays.

This delightful collection of short stories made me laugh and sigh, and made me think. We often forget why we celebrate - and the kindness of God in bringing his peace and joy to us. Patterson reminds us that God loves us. Christ surrounds us.

When you need to take another look at the opportunities in the challenges we face, pick up this book and read one story or more. Even if it's between Christmas celebrations! Recommended.

Every Valley: Advent with the Scriptures of Handel's Messiah by Handel

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
This comes a bit late (or early) for the Christmas season, but I loved it: music and scripture are timeless and feed us year-round. The scriptures used in Handel's Messiah come alive in these 40 devotional meditations.

It was interesting to read the backgrounds and the theology surrounding the verses we sing or hear each year. Musicians and Handel fans will love it! I found rich nuggets to think about and will pick it up between seasons.

The reflections offer us hope and promise, that we are designed to live and delight in God's presence and provision. Worth putting on the book list for next Advent, for sure.

Walking Backwards to Christmas by Stephen Cottrell

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
We generally read a tale from front to back. Cottrell reverses the order, speculating on the feelings and activities of the characters of Christmas. The wise men, Anna and Simeon, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, Elizabeth ... they're all here.

It's a novel, a delightful narrative, the story of possibilities. If you've every wondered how the people surrounding the birth of Jesus responded to God and others, here's a lovely retelling of the scriptures.

It made me smile and wince - how like the characters we are. The beauty of a life of worship and awareness of God our Father and Christ his Son leaps out of the pages, along with observations on Israel's landscape, culture, and people.

I'd recommend it and will read it again during Advent next year.

Synchronicity: Empower Your Life with the Gift of Coincidence by Chris Mackey

The publisher has provided a copy for review.
This book examines "chance" and "coincidence" from the viewpoint of psychology slanted toward New Age and psychic religions (though the author would claim to be open to all religions.) Mackey would lean toward myth and an impersonal force that guides and aligns experience and being. The mention of impersonal demons and angels as guides is scary enough.

In contrast, Christians believe a personal God is in control of the universe, directing its systems and inhabitants. Life happens not by chance and coincidence but in purposeful and meaningful ways.

Advocating openness to whatever spirits inhabit our surroundings goes against my faith so I cannot recommend it. Disappointed, because it was not clear that this was a manual for New Age exploration of circumstance (folk religion.)

What Did Jesus Ask? Today's Christian Leaders Illuminate the Words of Christ by Elizabeth Dias (ed.)

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Ever wondered about the many questions Jesus asked? This unusual book brings together musicians, scholars, and storytellers to examine and understand the rich teachings of Jesus ... through his questions.

If you took the questions of Jesus and gave them to scholars, musicians, and Christian leaders, how would they be examined - and answered?

This book offers reflection, theology, and story. The Christian faith is applicable to families, communities, churches, and the broader world. It's well worth your time to think and meditate your way through the breadth of Christian belief and the possibilities sheltered under the questions of Jesus. Recommended.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Part-Time Vegetarian Flexible Recipes to Go (Nearly) Meat-Free by Nicola Graimes

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Are you considering being a vegetarian for health, religious, or earth-care reasons? Here's a new cookbook with built-in flexibility for those committed or experimenting with a vegetarian diet.

What I liked:

  • The book starts with an ingredients list. Some of us may not be familiar with items commonly used to flavor vegan or plant-based diets and meat-free substitutes.
  • The recipes are grouped several ways - by meal, by full- and part-time variations, and week, weekend, special events, and planning ahead.
  • The pictures made me drool in anticipation.
  • The index references ingredient as well as recipe
Why I'd buy (and recommend) it:
  • With a British author, there are a lot of new things for North Americans to combine and try
  • The flexibility of cooking for vegetarians and non-vegetarians makes the recipes appeal to a wider group

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Covered Bridge Charm by Dianne Christner

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
A truly enjoyable novel, filled with likable and complicated characters set in a good story.

This my late-at-night read, perfect for when I had trouble getting to sleep and wanted to visit with a good community, without too much angst or drama. I liked Carly, who is conflicted between others' expectations and her natural gifts and personality. I enjoyed meeting her friends, coworkers, and romantic interest/s.

I'd read another story by this author any time. I recommend it for those who enjoy a clean romance and visit to small-town America.

Amy Snow by Tracy Rees

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
I couldn't put it down.

Well, when I had other things pressing me, I couldn't wait to get back to Amy's story of challenges, hope, and exploration. Amy, an orphan befriended by an older girl of privilege, sets out on a journey of surprise and discovery. Lots of surprises in this one! I couldn't anticipate where she would go next or what the outcome would be.

The adventure, Rees' eye for detail without getting us lost or distracted, and the humanity of the characters had me on the edge of my seat. If you like a good story, enjoy meeting people, and want to understand their motives and aspirations, this book is well worth purchasing. Hope you like it as much as I did. (I can't wait for the next book from Rees.)

On Pastoring: a short guide to living, leading, and ministering as a pastor by H. B. Charles

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
The title was simple and to the point. I thought I knew what Charles would say. 

But this book was richer. I began to make notes on the basic - but profound - insights from the author's years as a church pastor. The chapters on character, calling, placement, and stewardship (of the congregation, the board, and self) make it a book for young or mature church leaders. 

Beyond the title of "pastor," there are many leadership roles in the church and in religious non-profits. Most leaders would profit from the suggestions on keeping spiritual vibrancy, mentoring, preparation for sermons and meetings, and conflict resolution.

The pastor's heart comes through, as does the wisdom wrought from failures and successes. I especially appreciated the transparency of Charles in how he came to the methods and approaches he uses. Not all are shared by all male leaders. For example, he has counseled women (limited, but not completely restricted) and he considers the lead pastor responsible for the entire service, including the music (though various activities may be delegated). 

I'd recommend this as a refresher for anyone in ministry, whether your role is leadership or support.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Of Water and the Spirit : Mission and the Baptismal Liturgy by Phillip Tovey

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
The book provides a look at the historical significance and evolution of water baptism in the Christian church. Tovey begins with a comprehensive look at New Testament practices and expectations. This examination of baptism (the application of water, in the name) is interwoven with its historical significance in relationship to the training of converts (the catechisms of historical Christianity) and their assimilation into the Church. Baptism, which began as the sign of faith in the New Testament, has evolved to its current role in Anglicanism as an initiation into the faith or – depending on the local churches – as one stage of outreach and welcome.

The influence of culture and tradition in local churches and in new fields surely has had a great effect. I appreciated the thorough research on baptismal practice from the Early Church onward. The various aspects of current-day baptism are studied in depth in relation to Anglican traditions, changes in the prayer books, reforms, and conferences.

I was surprised by some of the observations, reading them outside of the context of my own denomination. I recommend this book as a valuable addition for scholars of historical theology.

Little Black Sheep by Ashley Cleveland

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
The book is an unlikely tale of redemption. It details the crazy drama that is the daily life of a middle-class American addict. It also explains the joy and drive of being an artist, pulled into music above every other calling.

From the honest heart of the writer, we begin to understand the lack of responsibility and character damage that substance abuse inflicts on us. And we hear the longing of the soul to be whole, drawing us back toward healing.

And we hear the tender call of God to each of us, “Come to me and I will give you rest.” Regardless of our own view of ourselves – whether we think we are worth redeeming or not – this story offers encouragement that God remains the same: loving, forgiving, and welcoming.

In Cleveland’s honest voice, we hear our own brokenness. My heart groaned at the destruction and lost years but rejoiced at the possibilities for each of us. I was grateful for the Church that extends God’s hope when we feel most hopeless.

I admit that when I attend church, greeting the pastor and those around me, I sigh with relief. Internally, the refrain that loops in my head in all its variations, is this: “We welcome you, O God, who knows and still loves us. Welcome to us all! For we are broken. Broken. Broken. Broken. Yet forgiven and beloved in Christ. What a wonder to gather together!”

Cleveland tells that story in her memoir.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Disaster Ministry Handbook by Jamie D. Aten and David M. Boan

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
As the title intimates, this is a handbook for the whys and hows of compassion care as a response to community and individual disasters. Prepares the church to respond as the heart of concern, with God's love and practical help. Will keep this for future development for our congregation and recommend it to pastors.

Alten and Boan's books is worth studying as a how-to manual to prepare for disasters. It will also help - and perhaps inspire - church leaders who are looking for ways to serve their community but may not have considered disaster engagement as a valid service to the community.

Highly recommended.

After 50 Years of Ministry 7 Things I'd Do Differently and 7 Things I'd Do the Same by Bob Russell

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
What a great book. It's a look back at the best and worst career ministry has to offer. Russell gives a glimpse into the confidence and self-doubt that accompanies a successful pastoral career. Surprisingly readable, this is touching look at a life marked by a passion for God and care for people.

This text should be required reading for every seminarian or undergraduate who intends to pastor. An inspiring and thoughtful review of the best and worst of ministry.

I caught myself constantly evaluating where my own decision-making could be bolstered by this kind and gracious writer. His honesty moved me: pastors are people susceptible to the same gifts and flaws as others - and his transparency gives permission for us to transcend expectations of perfection to be real in ministry.

Highly recommended.

How Women Decide by Therese Huston

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
Ok. This one knocked me over. It explained so many interactions in the workplace, both positive and negative. I'm going to buy a copy - that's how important it is to my leadership future.

Huston explores the way women make decisions when relaxed, stressed, in situations with other women present (or not), etc. Each chapter contains a review that is helpful for evaluating the information and applying it.

She also explains how men react to women's decisions. The book is based on many studies of leadership, gender, and cognition. I highly recommend it for any woman in the workplace, whether trying to be heard, to initiate / support change, or seeking a promotion. "GO GIRL!" (Nah, she didn't say that. I did.)

Switch on your Brain: the key to peak happiness, thinking, and health by Caroline Leaf

★★★★ I actually bought this one.
The book's promise is great. You can change your whole life, your physical brain structure, and your way of thinking.

Based on her conclusions from therapeutic practice and a wide range of research studies, Leaf offers a new point of view to those willing to undertake at least 3 sessions of her 21-day Brain Detox Plan (outlined in the book.) I'm going to try at least one session to rework a cannot-do attitude in an important area of my life. So I should report back in a month or two and say how I'm doing, right?

I didn't give this full stars because of her selective and surprising use of scripture. In context, not all of the passages are intended as quoted. This is a serious flaw, which my theologian husband often remarks upon in pop theology. I'm not recommending the book to him because he'd be so offended by the plethora of out-of-context quotes. Oh well. 

In the end, I think Leaf offers real potential for moving from negative and limited thinking to positive and constructive thoughts. Expecting great things moves us forward into new possibilities.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Think and Eat Yourself Smart by Caroline Leaf

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Dr Leaf considers the way the mind works to help us control our bodies. Healthy food and health habits are explored from the standpoint of sound thinking. The book is divided into 3 parts (where food comes from; using the mind to control eating and assume a healthy lifestyle; practical how-tos).

If you've dieted without success, this may introduce a new facet, a way of thinking about health and food that lets you pause, consider, and make better choices. Recommended.

Planted with Hope by Tricia Goyer and Sherry Gore

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Interested in Amish attitudes and values? Love gardening? This one's for you.

Once again, Goyer excells in her specialty. She and Gore present an interesting backdrop for a good story. Hope Miller is in transition. A gardener by gifting and interest, she comes alive with her fingers in the soil. Though the characters are interesting, the tale is gentle and well-told.

A satisfied sigh left my lips as I closed the last page.

A nice book sure to find a wide audience.

The Growth Gears: Using A Market-Based Framework To Drive Business Success by Art Saxby and Pete Hayes

★★★☐☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
A technical how-to, detailing the process of company growth from two vantage points: operationally focused vs. market focused. The authors explain how market focus can be learned and will drive companies into the future.  The book is designed for major corporations with a significant number of employees.

The authors identify "medium" companies as having revenue streams of $5 million -$300 million ... I suppose most business owners in the USA would identify that category as large companies. The book is a text for the methodology (and perhaps the best marketing tool for their company for those who have not met the Chief Outsiders Advantage Media Group.

Very interesting to consider how the principles could benefit non-profits or small companies. einteresting to consider how the principles would benefit a non-profit or a smaller company.

My Last Continent by Midge Raymond

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Full of surprises. Full of information on environmental issues in the Antarctic. This compelling story held my attention through the final pages. Well-researched, I felt I could rely on the research and concentrate on the story, so I sat on the edge of my seat and bit my nails through much of it.

The book's excellent descriptions made me shiver with cold and squint my eyes against the harsh Antarctic light. I wanted to wear boots to keep my feet dry.

Best of all, the novel provided insights into the passion for places that drives the lives of researchers. All in all, well worth a second read for me! Recommended for those who like travel adventures, are interested in environmental issues, and those who just want a good novel on a cold night by the fire.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Rare Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits For Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead by Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder

★★★★★  The publisher provided a copy for review.
There are many "leadership" how-to books, aren't there? I can't keep up with them all, but sometimes one will stand out. When I got my hands on this one, I started in ... and kept reading. The book begins with a current hot trend: the influence of brain science on how we perceive and improve skills and relationships.

Warner and Wilder use research into the mind to explore ways that healthy leaders function. The authors focus on four aspects of sound leadership:

R: Be relational: life is not just about completing tasks
A: Act like the person God created you to be
R: Respond from a place of joy rather than fear
E: Endurance through good and bad times models leadership

I especially appreciated the practicality of the information and the insistence that leadership develops in community. Each chapter ends with reflections, questions, and actions. I intend to study this book with a cohort of leaders.

Highly recommended as a new facet of leadership understanding and development.

The Flower Workshop by Ariella Chezar

★★★★ ☐ The publisher has provided a copy for review.
Sooo, you found some branches and flowers growing along the path. And you remembered that fabulous arrangement in the florist window (thinking, "Can't be that hard. It's only branches and flowers...") And now you're lost, wondering what to do.

Go grab The Flower Workshop and let your creativity flow. The clear instructions and beautiful photos are arranged by color, type, and seasons. It's like having a master florist looking over your shoulder as you work.

The nice thing about this book is that it assumes you love flowers. The pictures are so pretty and the 50 arrangements so varied that you won't just pick it up once. There's something to learn on nearly every page. Once you master a few of the arrangements, you'll be on your way to new skills that you can transfer to many other settings and bouquets, garlands, sprays, and ...?

There's a lot here. I would have given it 4.5 stars if I had that icon. Well done: a text, a reference manual, and a coffee table book in one.