Review: Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker

If you’re a Christian woman in her late-twenties to early-forties, you most likely have heard of Jen Hatmaker. Funny, thoughtful, and to the point, she has a diverse following. This year, she’s used her platform to talk about things we often don’t like to talk about – race, privilege, politics. I’m always amazed at those who continue to follow her and am grateful that she is able to push the boundaries and world-views of many women.

_140_245_Book.2334.coverHatmaker’s newest book, Of Mess and Moxie just released and I was looking forward to seeing her shifting voice. In the introduction, she talks about how her theology and outlook have shifted over the years, and how this is a healthy thing. It’s true – if my views on life and faith were exactly the same as they were ten years ago, it would indicate more stagnation than steadiness.

This new collection of essays dives into some of her growth. But it also is cut off by other essays about things like How to do math homework with a middle schooler and How to find a family pet. These are funny essays but they took away from the overall depth and power of her more serious essays. I feel like Hatmaker has a great influence and a powerful way of writing. Maybe she knows the art of taking baby steps with her audience but I wish she (or her publisher?) would allow her readers to go on a deeper dive without having to resurface just as things are getting interesting.

Here’s the thing, if you’re a fan of Jen Hatmaker’s, you’re going to love Of Mess and Moxie. It’s her signature style and she feels like a buddy talking on the front porch about life and friendship and motherhood. I like Hatmaker’s message but her style at this stage just isn’t for me. It’s a reminder that not every book is for every person, and that’s ok.

How do you like your essays – deep and thought-provoking or witty and fun?

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion.

Interview: Sabeeha Rehman, Author of Threading My Prayer Rug

Last week, I had the honor of talking with Sabeeha Rehman, author of Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim. We read her book as part of the Red Couch Book Club (check out my discussion post) and it was a delight to ask her more questions and to dive deeper into her story.

Sabeeha’s story about finding her way as a Muslim in America is powerful. Topics we cover include the shifting views on feminism in Islam, American’s relationship and interaction with Islam over the years, and the way Sabeeha’s journey has brought her to advocacy and bridging divides between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. I hope you’ll watch our video and check out her book!

Click here to watch our conversation.

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Review: Adopted by Kelley Nikondeha

I was hanging out with a friend the other day, our kids playing in the basement as we snatched bits of conversation. Her almost-one-year-old crawled over to me with the biggest smile. What a smile! I exclaimed before making a huge faux-pas, She looks just like her mom. Without missing a beat, my friend replied, She does look like her birth mom!

My friend is this little girl’s mom. She has been since before this child was born – chosen for her. And yet, through the connection of Facebook and open adoptions, we also know her birth mom and what she looks like. We see biologic resemblances even though all of this sweet girl’s nurturing is through her adoptive parents.

My friends have learned to handle these comments with grace. They are open about this road to adoption and the challenges and sweetness of the journey. They embody a family knit together by the restoration of adoption.

DGPSZ9bXcAAwJQ1In Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World, Kelley Nikondeha speaks about the theology of adoption as an adoptee herself and as an adoptive mother. She weaves together stories of her own adoption, of her journey of adopting her children, and the Bible’s underlying theme of adoptive family. From Moses to Ruth to Jesus, we see adoption stories as the basis of Christian faith. Paul calls us adopted children of God. Without adoption, there is no foundation for the radical inclusiveness and love of the message of Jesus.

Kelley brings this theology of adoption out of the ancient text and into our lives, here and now. How do we reconcile the adopted land of Israel? To some, this state is a restoration of a displaced people; to others it is the oppression of an original people group. How do we reconcile centuries of oppression and slavery in America with acknowledgement that returning to literal African roots isn’t the solution? How do we restore the stolen land of our Indigenous People while recognizing it isn’t about the physical plot of land. Or maybe it is? Kelley brings these questions and their theology to the forefront while recognizing the complexities of living out a Jubilee-faith, a faith that restores the land and forgives debts; a faith that welcomes the refugee home; a faith that reconciles adopted land with homeland.

Kelley’s rich storytelling and smart theology blend perfectly create a book that deals with current issues of social justice with the power and grace of biblical redemption. She reminds us that redemption doesn’t mean a neat bow and easy answer, that this kingdom is slow in coming. But, she says, that doesn’t mean we lose hope. Through her own story of adoption, she says,

Adoptive parents aren’t superheroes or saints. The legitimate words of caution and real complications that are part of adoption give me pause. And yet redemption, whenever it happens, must be named (94).

Extending this metaphor of adoption, she reminds us that the road to redemption is paved with disappointment, failure, and suffering. It is the restorative work of God that brings those heartaches light and brings the slow restoration of this world.

She ends this book with the reminder that all of humanity is adopted into this family of God. And that by claiming the title of family, of brothers and sisters, we are interwoven and bound. We are together on this road to reconciliation and redemption. This faithful hope gives me pause when I get discouraged and reminds me that, though there are so many divisions, there is so much repair that is happening, as well.

Adopted is for sale now, and I’d highly recommend this hopeful book! As part of Kelley’s launch team, I received an advanced copy from the publisher but all views are my own.

How have you experienced the theology of adoption? Where do you long to see restoration through adoption?

Threading My Prayer Rug Discussion

I’m honored to be over at SheLoves Magazine, discussing one of my favorite books from the summer. Threading My Prayer Rug has made me think about my own faith through a new lens. I hope you’ll go over and join the discussion! And, check out the end of the post – there’s a fun announcement! Here’s an excerpt:

Red-Couch-Threading-My-Prayer-Rug-DiscussionAfter graduating from college, I traveled to Kathmandu, Nepal to experience a new culture while seeing if teaching was a good fit for my future. I spent my mornings teaching English to Nepali middle school students and my afternoons and evenings exploring the city with my team, which consisted of mostly non-religious folks. In fact, I was the only seriously practicing Christian.

Partway into my three months, I started really missing church and Christian community, so I ventured into the suburbs, through unmarked winding streets, until I finally found a Catholic church. The service was in Nepali, there were no pews, just cushions on the floor, and the iconography was distinctly Nepali. I went with my Catholic roommate who could interpret the liturgy and rhythm of the service. I only went once or twice but it was a much-needed reminder that worship is both culturally unique and spiritually common. While I didn’t know the language, I did know the intention and it was enough to sustain me during that time without church.

In Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim, Sabeeha Rehman grapples with a similar realization. Raised in Muslim-majority Pakistan, faith and culture were seamlessly intertwined. Calls to prayer rang through the city; Ramadan fasts were supported and expected; interpretations of Qur’anic laws and guidelines were seen through a Pakistani lens.

After moving to New York City in the early-1970’s as a new bride, Rehman is hit with the realization that much of her faith was experienced culturally, rather than personally. Once immersed in a non-Muslim society, she began making choices—what would her faith really look like? How would she practice Islam and embrace her new country? It’s a process that became more imperative after she had children and realized they will be raised without the cultural support she experienced in Pakistan. Becoming what she phrases, a “born-again Muslim,” Rehman and her husband gather community, build the first Mosque on Staten Island, create a vibrant Muslim community, and grapple with the reality of living out their faith as minorities. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the discussion!

Have you ever lived in a minority culture to your faith? How has that impacted your spiritual practice?

Review: The Light is Winning by Zach Hoag + Giveaway

It’s not news that church attendance is in decline. There are a myriad of reasons for this – from being abused and hurt to simply being done with the business of spirituality. As an early millennial, I completely connect with the experience of growing up Evangelical, burning out, and re-finding my faith in a liturgical setting. It seems to be a common theme with Christians in my age-bracket.

_140_245_Book.2316.coverWhich is why The Light is Winning by Zach Hoag is a worthwhile read. Growing up fundamentalist and finding a faith-shift in his discovery of the teachings of John Calvin, Hoag walks the reader through his spiritual journey. From Calvin to John Wesley and more progressive Christianity to settling in the Methodist church, Hoag wrestled with the mix of reconciling the faith he’d experienced in his childhood with the faith he found as an adult.

Hoag is clearly working through his faith journey still. Toward the end of the book, he acknowledges that the very act of writing this memoir has helped him sort through a lot of his experiences – and you can tell. The emotions and hurt are still very much real and at the front of this writing.

But there is a lot of hope woven in, as well. Hoag’s experience is one that likely represents a lot of church-questioners – those who are disillusioned but not quite ready to join the ranks of the dones.

For this reason, I’d recommend The Light is Winning, especially if you’re officially connected with a church. You may not agree with every single reason Hoag struggled with the church but this is his story and his journey and it is worth paying attention to. If you’re wondering why people under 40 are leaving the church, this book would be a good place to start.

How has attending a different denomination revitalized your faith journey? Have you ever felt done with institutional religion?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of The Light is Winning. Leave a comment about your experience finding a church home and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, July 14, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: The Turquoise Table by Kristin Schell + Giveaway

When we moved to this cul-de-sac, a friend posted an Instagram picture with the hashtag #frontyardpeople. I was intrigued. Our neighborhood is one where front yard living is alive and well. Judi often sits on her porch and if we can’t find our girls, there’s a 90% chance they’re sitting with Judi. Another neighbor’s grandkids and our girls have formed a little bike gang, speeding through the street and down the spillways. Because of this front yard mentality, we have gotten to know our amazing neighbors.

_140_245_Book.2295.coverSo when I heard that Kristin Schell, founder of #frontyardpeople had written a book about her turquoise table and the start of this movement, I knew I had to read it. The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard is a timely and important book. In an age where we are constantly connected but not necessarily face-to-face, meeting people takes a lot of intention.

I’ve read other books about the importance of hospitality but this one grabbed my attention fully. Perhaps is that Schell offers such grace in the journey. She shares her own stories – both relatable successes and failures – as she found her rhythm living in her front yard. She also shares the stories of others living life with their neighbors and through this mix she gives permission to find your own path. For some, an actual turquoise picnic table in the front yard is a perfect tool to start conversations. For others, creating an intentional time to be outside may be how they connect. Schell reminds us that we are all different and our neighborhoods are different, so to try and recreate something exactly most likely won’t work.

Not only is this beautiful book filled with stories, but it’s also formatted as a guide to living an intentional life. Schell has prompts and questions to help the reader get started on a journey of living life communally. She also includes favorite recipes with each chapter to help inspire gathering around the table.

The book is filled with bright pictures and offers plenty of space for reflection. I think because it’s published as a “gift edition,” the idea of living out hospitality is acknowledged in the actual pages and style of this publication. If it hadn’t been printed as a gift book, I’m not sure I would have connected as deeply – the act of reading this book captures the idea of simple hospitality.

With summertime starting, it’s a natural time to move some of our regular activities to our front yard. Perhaps we’ll start small, with sitting on the front porch once or twice a week after bedtime. Perhaps we’ll grow bigger, with front yard barbecues and gatherings. However this plays out, I’m thankful that we live in a front yard neighborhood, and I know The Turquoise Table will infuse new ideas into our community.

What’s your neighborhood like? Do you think it would be easy to start a front yard community?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of The Turquoise Table. Leave a comment about your experience connecting with neighbors and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, June 9, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

What Are You Reading This Summer?

Even though we still have a month until the summer equinox, we are in summertime mode around here. School is out, the pool is open, Memorial Day barbecues have IMG_4503happened. I have a stack of library books I’m working through (and have put all my holds on suspension until I get through these!) I was reviewing my recently read books and noticed I had a streak of three 5-star books in a row!

I thought I’d commemorate that with a post about my favorite 5-star books of 2017 (so far). Maybe they’ll inspire your summer reading list.

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
This novel about the first expedition to Alaska’s interior captured my imagination. Ivey uses a variety of styles, between letters, emails, journals, and museum documentation. She creates a world around Alan and Sophie’s separation in the late-1800’s and then jumps to the present. Sometimes this format can feel cumbersome or forced, but Ivey seamlessly weaves the plot lines together, creating a rich idea of what could have happened on those early expeditions.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This stunning debut novel and winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award deserves all of the accolades! The story follows two sisters and seven generations. One one branch, we follow Effia who marries an Englishman and stays in Ghana. The other branch follows Esi, who is captured and sold into slavery in America. Each chapter is the next generation’s tale. The writing is captivating and this is a powerful book about the deep roots of racism. It’s an important read and can bring to light systemic issues in ways that can only be done in powerful fiction.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
I love short stories and I love Neil Gaiman’s writing, so I had a feeling this would be a winner. If you like magical realism or slightly disturbing fiction, this is a fantastic collection. There are some familiar characters – one story is a tale of Sherlock & Mycroft Holmes; one is a Doctor Who episode; one follows Shadow from American Gods. Others where previously published and a couple are written for this collection. They all caught my imagination and drew me in to fantastic landscapes, which I love.

Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein 
This is the only nonfiction book to make my list (which is unusual for me!) and one that I am recommending to EVERYONE. If you’re a parent of girls, this is a definite must-read. But if you’re a teacher or a youth leader or you want to raise responsible boys, this is an important book. Orenstein’s dissemination of research is relatable and well gathered. This book has made me completely rethink how we’ll have these conversations with our girls and has reset my expectations for what life as a teenager looks like. It’s a lot to take in and I’m glad I read this before we enter this stage.

Currently Reading: On my nightstand right now are The Turquoise TableA Man Called Ove, Jayber Crow, and The Novel of the Century. I’m liking them all so far – maybe my streak will exceed three in a row?

What are some five-star books that you’ve read recently? What are your summer reads?