Review: The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb by Jamin Goggin & Kyle Strobel + Giveaway

One of the things that I love about our church and, that I forget makes it unique, is that we have three equal copastors. There is no lead pastor and each of the copastors depend heavily on the help of our community to make our church work. It’s an interesting set-up and one that seems to be a best practices way of running any organization. When you get rid of the sole “sage on stage,” you make room for many voices, talents, and gifts.

_140_245_Book.2132.coverIn The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb, Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel look at ways in which we allow power to corrupt our churches and communities. Often the power comes from having a lone pastor as the brand of a church. But often, it comes from the church community expecting one person to meet the needs of so many.

The authors interview seven leaders in the evangelical church and ask how they reframed their idea of power. From Jean Vanier to John Perkins to Eugene Peterson, we gain glimpses into what it looks like to give up prestige and follow a different path.

The interviews are interesting but they seem a bit disjointed. There is very little background or lead-in as to the reason these particular men (and one woman) were chosen as examples of leading without power.

This book was definitely written for pastors or people who are in places of power. Goggins and Strobel try to make their message more universal – at one point they mention that even stay-at-home moms struggle with power. But, all their experiences and examples are for people who are in a place of leadership.

Overall, I think this book is good for the target audience of pastors, professors, and people who are given a lot of power over others. For me, it fell a bit flat. But as I read, the disconnect was definitely from my own place in life and not because the general topics aren’t important.

How do you view power? If you’re not in a traditional leadership role, how do you balance your expectations of those in charge?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb. Leave a comment about your experience in leadership and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, March 17, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

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

Abandoning Books

In January, I quickly put the book Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship of Muhammed Ali and Malcolm X on hold at the library. It’s one that I’m writing the discussion post for with the Red Couch Book Club and I was eager to get started. When the book came in, I dove in but quickly found myself floundering. I was having such trouble connecting the lives of Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali to the book club audience of primarily women who are social justice-minded.

IMG_3693I emailed the woman who was writing the introduction post, saying I was about 100 pages into the book and just not connecting with the direction. She wrote back saying she was at about the same place and would focus on her views of Palestine.

Wait. Palestine?!

I quickly went back to the archives of when we assigned the books and realized in my haste, I had reserved the incorrect copy of Blood Brothers. What I actually wanted was Elias Chacour’s memoir of being a Palestinian Christian. Completely different story.

The Muhammed Ali-Malcolm X book is still sitting on my desk. I’ve renewed it twice and only have 3 more weeks before I need to return it. I know that I’m not going to finish it, but I’m unable to abandon the idea that I could still read it and learn something new.

I’ve always had trouble leaving books, whether they’re just not my style or too dense or the completely wrong book. I like the idea of being able to find something anywhere to learn and expand my worldview.

But sometimes, it’s ok to stop, to return the book, and to recognize that I’m just not in a place to finish every single thing I start. And that’s ok.

Are you able to abandon books or projects? When do you realize it’s time to let something go?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “abandon.”

Books to See the Other

I was reflecting on books that have helped me to understand those we have labeled as The Other. Whether from a different socioeconomic background, a different culture, or a different political viewpoint, I think it’s important to read books that challenge our own worldview.

img_3774I’ve referenced many of these books already, but in case you’re looking for something new to read during this season, these are five nonfiction books that have helped me understand a different point of view a little better.

Prophetic Lament by Soong-Chan Rah
Working through the Old Testament book of Lamentations, Dr. Rah reminds prosperous countries that, without the recognition and practice of lament, we cannot truly experience joy. Without going into a doomsday prophecy, Rah links similarities between prosperous Jerusalem and prosperous America. How can we practice a destruction of ideology and how we read the Bible? (Another good essay about this is by Tanya Marlow for SheLoves Magazine: Blessed are the Overdramatic.)

Assimilate or Go Home by D.L. Mayfield
I read this memoir at the end of last year and appreciated Mayfield’s commitment to learning from rather than about refugees. She and her family have chosen to live side-by-side these families and her compassion and empathy have helped me see this “Immigration Issue” as far more complex and meaningful.

Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour
This is a memoir of a Palestinian Melkite Christian. What I appreciate about this books is that Chacour shifted my view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from one of Jews-Muslims to one of deeper, wider spreading origins. I gained new insights into this conflict that took it far from the black and white point of view I had been raised with. (Also, this is our Red Couch book club discussion for March. I hope you’ll join in if interested!)

Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn
This is my winner for Books that Have Changed My Life. These stories are hard but necessary. It’s so important for us in comfortable homes with some sort of access to healthcare and assistance to remember what most of the rest of the world is experiencing. It’s also a reminder of why women’s issues here in America are so important to address.

Subversive Jesus by Craig Greenfield
This is a timely book for anyone looking to go beyond helping the poor institutionally. How do we actually  live out the idea of opening our homes and learning to love our neighbors? Greenfield describes the highs and lows of living out this messy theology.

These are just a small handful of powerful books. I’d also suggest reading an author who looks different from you or who comes from a different background. A friend and I were talking about the need to read and know more about Native Americans. I’d recommend starting with Richard Twiss for a Christian perspective or Louise Erdrich for powerful novels.

What are some books that have helped you shift your worldview? 

Review: What Falls from the Sky by Esther Emery + Giveaway

In less than a month, we’ll be entering one of the most popular seasons of the church calendar, when Jesus asked his disciples to give up Facebook for 40 days. (Excluding Sunday check-ins, as part of breaking the fast, of course.) I can’t condemn this practice at all – I have given up or put extreme limits on social media during Lent and it’s always been a needed breath of air.

_140_245_book-2130-coverGiving up social media for a month or a short season is one thing. All internet (and internet related conveniences) for a year? That’s an entirely different sort of fast. This is exactly what Esther Emery does – no internet, no cell phones, no debit cards for an entire year.

When I first read the synopsis for What Falls from the Sky, I wondered what kind of “year long experiment memoir” this would be. I should have known better. Emery’s honest writing and keen observations on life made this much less an experiment in living without internet and much more the type of memoir that makes all other memoirs pale in comparison.

Emery’s story of moving from Southern California to the Boston suburbs while simultaneously making ties to community – both old and new – much more difficult in this technology age is not at all what my current life looks like. And yet, the lessons she learns and the powerful storytelling she uses drew me in. I felt like I was walking alongside this year of challenges and struggles. I found myself assessing our own life choices in new ways and through a different perspective.

Emery gracefully blends her own story into a greater picture. She draws the reader into her own details without ever making it seem like her choices should be anyone’s but hers alone. There is no pressure to live life by her choices – this is a tale of what happens to Emery and her family because of those.

I haven’t enjoyed a memoir like this in quite some time and Emery restored my love of this genre. If you’re looking for a thought-provoking, beautifully written story, I’d highly recommend What Falls from the Sky.

What is your relationship with the internet? Do you need to take intentional fasts from social media or have you found a natural balance?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of What Falls from the Sky. Leave a comment about giving up the internet and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, February 10, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

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

Review: Reclaiming Hope by Michael Wear + Giveaway

As a child of the eighties, I have never known a time without the Religious Right. Politics and religion have always been intertwined. If you believe certain things then people assume you most likely vote a certain way. This is starting to change, as people in my generation are redefining faith and redefining political allegiance. And, like many in my demographic, I find myself wondering more and more often, How did we get here? What made this divide between ideologies so wide?

fb4In Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America, Michael Wear sets out to provide insights to those questions. A self-described conservative Democrat, Wear worked on President Obama’s initial campaign in 2008 before working within the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. His inside view into our most recent President’s faith, values, and attempts at partnering faith and politics is eye-opening.

Not only are there plenty of stories about working in the White House and the challenges of defining the nearly-impossible topic of an individual’s faith to a public policy, but Wear gives insights into the millennial view of faith and politics. We live in an era where politics is part of our everyday life. There is no separation of church and state; there is no way of separating our political values from our spiritual life.

Wear accepts this new way of interacting with politics and offers guidance and optimism to a weary population. People are tired of the divide, no matter which side of the aisle they fall on, and Wear gives hope. Not to battle each other but to recognize the significant importance of our differences and how they can honor God and offer hope to our nation.

Wear doesn’t provide the magical answer to solve all of our political problems, but he does shed light on ways we can shift our own perspectives. He introduces a new way of doing politics – not one of either/or, church/government but of a both/and approach of partnerships with the church and government. This new way forward is a big shift in thinking but one that, if we’re willing to take the journey, may be more world changing than we realize.

How does your faith reflect your politics? Are you able to separate to two? How do you support your values and your voting habits?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away a copy of Reclaiming Hope. Leave a comment about your journey in faith and politics and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, January 20, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

As part of the Reclaiming Hope launch team, I received a complimentary copy of the book. All opinions are my own.

Favorite Books of 2016

My original reading goal for 2016 was to read only 2 books: The Bible and War and Peace. I’m in “October” of my Bible in a Year plan (which I actually started in 2015…) and have made some progress in War and Peace but still have a ways to go. It’s just too hard to say no to so many other books! So, I’ll keep going with those two, but this year was filled with others.

screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-12-35-24-pmI didn’t meet my goal of 52 (just 4 shy!) but looking at our very active phase with the girls, I can see why it didn’t happen. Maybe next year.

Another goal was to read more fiction, and I did accomplish this, especially when I look at my list of 5-star books. Five out of the twelve books were fiction, so I’m pleased with that. It’s hard to narrow the 12 books down to just 5, but some I’ve already mentioned on the blog so I may repeat here. You can check out all of my books over at Goodreads.

Assimilate or Go Home by D.L. Mayfield
While D.L. Mayfield’s experience as a missionary is far from my own “calling,” I appreciated her vulnerability and honesty as she shared her journey. I had read Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution when it came out and this book is a wonderful real-life follow up to what living in an Upside Down Kingdom really looks like.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
I think Neil Gaiman may be my new favorite author. His writing draws me in and his use of magical realism is superb. I read Stardust while on my retreat and I’m glad I had two whole days to do nothing else – it drew me in, sparked my imagination, and was hard to put down.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
While we are still eating animals, this is one of the best books I’ve read on factory farming, its environmental impact, and our duty as global citizens to reflect on how much meat we are consuming. Foer is brutally honest and writes this book as a longtime vegetarian. He doesn’t seem to be trying to convert carnivores, but is writing to those on the fence, who need a nudge to get started on the vegetarian path.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
This collection of letters to Dear Sugar is one of the most empathetic books I’ve ever read. Not only are Sugar’s answers beautiful, but she reminded me how to connect my own story to others; that even the most unlikely experiences can be seen as a connection.

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
This fictional tale of slavery and plantation owners in the Saint-Domingue and New Orleans was eye-opening for me. I haven’t read many books about slavery in the Caribbean and this was certainly thought-provoking. I’m on the (very long) holds list for Homegoing and The Underground Railroad at the library and I’m glad I read this one to get me thinking about other aspects of the slave trade.

What were your favorite books this year? Do you wait in long hold lines at the library or do you buy your books?

Review: Eggs With Ham by Corbin Hillam + Giveaway

Bea has a tenuous relationship (at best!) with our dog, Daisy. She “plays” chase with Daisy and antagonizes her in various ways throughout the day. Elle, on the other hand, adores Daisy and is always demanding pets and sweet snuggles. At seven years old and barring any unexpected crisis, Daisy will be the dog the girls grow up with – the companion they always remember and who will see them through the tween and early teen years.

unnamedEggs With Ham, Corbin Hillam’s newest children’s book, is the story of a boy and his dog. Hamlet and Eggs are inseparable – from summertime adventures and snuggled sick days to sneaking into school and daily breakfast, this book follows the two friends through the seasons in a sweet and relatable story.

Brightly illustrated in vivid watercolors, it’s filled with small vignettes about making new friends, going to school, and daily activities of a young child. While the book isn’t short, the pacing kept our daughter’s attention easily.

When we first received our copy, we read and reread it nonstop. Within a matter of days, our four-year-old had whole pages memorized. Even now, a couple months later, it’s still in our regular rotation of favorite books.

If you’re looking for a fresh author, along the same vein as the Berenstains or Mercer Mayer, I’d recommend Eggs With Ham!

Did you grow up with a dog? What’s your favorite childhood dog story?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away a signed copy of Ham With Eggs. Leave a comment about your favorite dog and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, December 23, 2016. (United States addresses only.)

Note: I received a copy of this book from the author but all opinions are my own.