Archive of ‘Reviews–Books’ category

Rare Bird by Anna Whitson-Donaldson | Book Review

rare bird

“In her beautiful, cure clear-eyed prose Anna brings to life complex miracles: that the anchor of being strong is tied to feelings of unbearable weakness; that the ache of grief is often accompanied by glittering beauty; and that all we do not understand is more important to making sense of life than what we know. Her story, internist as well as Jack’s story, is gorgeous, bold and true, and no one will be unchanged in reading it.”
— Stacy Morrison, Editor in Chief, BlogHer; author of Falling Apart in One Piece

I was given the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Rare Bird by Anna Whitson-Donaldson and let me tell you, it was a hard read. I’ve read a lot of really sad memoirs but there this one was particularly devastating–I actually kept checking to make sure that this was a memoir and not a work of fiction, hoping that I had somehow made a mistake.

Unfortunately, this book is indeed a memoir and tells the story of the tragic death of Anna Whitson-Donaldson’s young son, Jack. I found myself absolutely sobbing throughout most of this book–Anna’s beautiful writing made it easy to enter in to her pain and her family’s experience of losing their son/brother. But this book was not written to simply make readers sad, but rather to testify to God’s absolute goodness and bigness in times of unimaginable sorrow. And I will say that Anna absolutely succeeded in this aspect. She writes about how her picture of God was forced out of the box she had kept Him in and that God became much larger and much more tangible through Jack’s death. I was amazed by the ways God not only comforted Anna through her pain but also used her to be a comfort to her entire community. One of the scenes from the book that stuck out to me most is when Anna and her husband get the news that Jack is dead. In that moment, Anna is completely guided by the Holy Spirit to testify of God’s goodness to the men who just delivered her the news of her 12-year-old son’s death. It absolutely blew me away.

Rare Bird is a powerful story of resilience and demonstrates the Lord’s ability to redeem even the darkest of situations. My understanding of the Holy Spirit as comforter was definitely expanded as I read Anna’s story. Another thing that was really wonderful about this book is that it taught me how to better support people through grief. Anna talked about how wonderful it was when her community remembered and memorialized Jack and his life, hanging ribbons around town. She also talked about the people in her life that consistently showed up and didn’t leave her alone. I think in times of loss and sorrow I fear being a nuisance to people who are suffering. This book taught me that physically being with someone who is suffering is not a burden but rather a gift.

Pros: This book is a wonderful testament of God’s love for us in the midst of tragedy. It is beautifully written and utterly raw and authentic.

Cons: Anna doesn’t talk about theology much in her book and just briefly addresses the question of “Why would a good God allow my son to die.” She essentially says that she doesn’t have an answer and her theology of how she explains Jack’s death even changes day-by-day. But she does say that she tends to hold to the theology that God controls everything that happens and therefore caused Jack to die. First of all, I have a hard time criticizing Anna’s theology because this book is her story, not a theology book. However, I would most likely not recommend this book to someone who has suffered a tragedy like Anna’s because I believe that at it’s core, the theology that God causes both all good and all evil is a horribly distorted view of the Lord and ultimately causes a huge amount of damage.

While I was reading Rare Bird, I sensed so much spiritual warfare surrounding Jack’s death. If my heart was breaking over the loss of a boy I’ve never met, how much more was God’s heart breaking over the death of the son he so intimately created? (To read more about my theology about good/evil in our world, click here).

Do I Recommend It? Obviously I’ve listed some of my concerns in recommending Rare Bird because I don’t agree with Anna’s theology and am concerned that it could hurt someone who is going through a tragedy like hers. However, I personally am glad I read Rare Bird and fully expect the Lord to use this powerful book to positively impact the lives of others.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World by Nish Weiseth | Book Review

Speak by Nish Weiseth | Book Review | He is Making Everything NewI first heard of Nish Weiseth when I read her posts about the whole World Vision disaster. I appreciated her heart and her ability to share her story about her trip to a Bolivian World Vision community. Her love and passion for sharing stories as a way to connect with people is the core of her new book Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World.

Reading this book made it pretty clear to me that Nish and I have a lot in common! We are both determined women who love Jesus and hold firmly to our beliefs. And while these traits are generally good things, Nish and I, as well as many other believers, can tend to get a little over-passionate when it comes to defending our understanding of Jesus or our theological convictions. I know it’s easy for me to see theological opinions as clear-cut and black and white–this is correct, this is wrong, and that’s all there is to it. But what that often leads to is further divisions in an already fractured Bride as well as a lot of resentment and hurt feelings. So what’s the solution? Nish shows us that one of the best ways to bridge disagreements and start authentic and Jesus-honoring conversations is to share our stories.

The truth is almost always way more complicated than we allow.

In this book, Nish shares some of her stories and also shares stories written by other bloggers that were originally posted on her website A Deeper Story. This book really challenged me to listen more deeply to other’s stories, even when it’s really hard. It also encouraged me to share my story more–it’s almost impossible for people to understand where you’re coming from when it comes to how you live and what you believe if they don’t know your story.

Cons: While I really enjoyed reading this book, I found that a few days after reading it I had forgotten a lot of it.

Do I Recommend It? Yes! Speak is easy to read and the stories are poignant. It left me to deeply consider how my life would be different if I shared my story more often than my opinions.

Speak will be released tomorrow so be sure to pick it up!

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Book Look Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

How to Pick Up a Stripper by Todd and Erin Stevens | Book Review

How to Pick up a Stripper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I recently joined Book Look Bloggers, web which gives bloggers free books in exchange for an honest review. For my first book I chose How to Pick Up a Stripper because of its provocative title and because it’s written by a Nashville pastor.

I’m really glad I read this book! It’s written by Todd Stevens who pastors Friendship Community Church in Nashville and his wife, therapist Erin Stevens, cheap who is the founder of Nashville Strip Church, which reaches out to Nashville strip club workers.

A short summary:

The starting and ending points for all outreach have to be love. The most effective way to reach people for Jesus is through kindness outreach—showing God’s love in practical ways. This type of outreach is what Jesus modeled, is culturally relevant, and values people. The goal should be to invite people to take the next step from where they are.

I’ve done quite a bit of evangelism where I go out, typically with a small group, and pray for people and share the Gospel. A lot of these outreach times have been very powerful and God has done amazing things! I’ve seen people healed and set free and hearts completely changed through conversation and prayer. But this book revealed a different way to do outreach called servant evangelism. It’s exactly what it sounds like–meeting people’s needs and doing acts of kindness for your neighbors, strangers, friends, and enemies–in order to show them the magnificent and extravagant love of Christ.

I think one of the most amazing things about servant evangelism is that people can’t argue with acts of kindness. They can argue with theology, they can debate Scripture, they can disagree with the reality of God and Jesus, but they can’t argue with extravagant no-strings-attached love. As Todd shared testimonies from his church of how whole families have come to their church and given their lives to Christ simply because a church member did something kind to them or met a need they had with no strings attached, I felt the truth of what he was saying. We need more servant evangelism in our churches!

The different chapters addressed topics like serving sacrificially, growing in generosity, praying, and meeting people where they are (which often means physically going to where they are, including locations like strip clubs). This book included a lot of practical ideas for acts of kindness you can incorporate into your daily life and that you can take on as a church community.

CONS:

This book could have used some editing. I found the writing to be pretty bad–a lot of times it seemed that Todd was writing down his train of thought and didn’t go back to edit what he had written. I think the thing that bothered me the most was Todd’s tone. Sometimes it came off as a little arrogant–I think he was trying to be funny but it didn’t quite translate. I’m sure Todd is a really nice guy and he really does have a ton to share about how to show God’s love but I think this book would have benefited from some serious editing! Another thing was that there were cheesy pictures and large pull quotes on many pages which made it seem like a book for middle schoolers. The pro of that is that middle schoolers could read this book easily and would probably enjoy it!

Do I Recommend It? Ultimately, the cons of this book did not detract from the overall book. I’m glad I read it and would definitely recommend it. It has definitely made me think about how I can better reach my friends, family, and community and show them the powerful love of Jesus Christ.

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell | Book Review

gladwell_david-and-goliathI love the library because I get to pick books that I don’t know anything about and just read them! That’s what happened with David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell and I’m so glad I read.

Here is a quick summary from Amazon:

In David and Goliath, abortion Malcolm Gladwell challenges how we think about obstacles and disadvantages, healthful offering a new interpretation of what it means to be discriminated against, information pills or cope with a disability, or lose a parent, or attend a mediocre school, or suffer from any number of other apparent setbacks.

Gladwell begins with the real story of what happened between the giant and the shepherd boy those many years ago. From there, David and Goliath examines Northern Ireland’s Troubles, the minds of cancer researchers and civil rights leaders, murder and the high costs of revenge, and the dynamics of successful and unsuccessful classrooms—all to demonstrate how much of what is beautiful and important in the world arises from what looks like suffering and adversity. 

The premise of the book is pretty fascinating–the things we consider to be disadvantages are often advantages and vice versa. Gladwell starts with discussing the Bible story David and Goliath and shares how we should expect David to win–what we think of as David’s disadvantages are actually transformed into advantages. Each chapter discusses a different topic ranging from Civil Rights, choosing a college, a girl’s basketball team, and the justice system. I found the discussion of Civil Rights incredibly interesting–there was so much strategy that went into the fight for Civil Rights and it was based around the understanding that non-violence highlights the foolishness and powerlessness of violence. Each chapters gave me tons to talk about at the dinner table!

The one thing I wasn’t expecting when reading this book is to find the beauty of the Gospel tucked between its pages. Over and over again the stories showed how love and forgiveness and non-violence wins over power and violence. This isn’t what we expect or what the world teaches us, but it is the message of the Gospel–love and the journey to the Cross win over the powers of darkness every single time. This book also reveals how facing terrible hardships can result in beautifully redeemed lives. I was so surprised by how much the stories in this book revealed Jesus that I looked up Malcolm Gladwell’s faith background and it turns out that he had turned away from his Christian faith as an adult but started to re-discover his faith through the writing of this book, which I thought was pretty amazing!

Do I Recommend It? Yes! David and Goliath was a fascinating book that will give you tons to think about and discuss with anyone who will listen. It’s an easy read–while it discusses psychology and scientific studies, it’s written to very accessible to non-academic audiences. I encourage you to read it ready to encounter the Gospel in beautifully unexpected places.

Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke | Book Review

Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke | Book Review | He is Making Everything New

I am giving away a copy of Spoken for by Robin Jones Gunn and Alyssa Joy Bethke (Jeff’s wife)! Click here to enter!

I first heard about Jefferson Bethke a couple years ago when I watched his spoken word “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus.” If you haven’t seen it yet, tuberculosis it’s definitely a must-watch.

I so appreciated what Jeff was saying about the heart of Christianity and what it means to love and follow Christ. I love when he asks, order “If Jesus came to your church, approved would they actually let him in?” Doesn’t that make you think? In all honesty, how would your church respond if Jesus showed up on Sunday morning?

Over the years I’ve enjoyed watching Jeff’s other spoken word videos and I’ve followed him on facebook. His book Jesus > Religion was released last year and has gotten a lot of attention, becoming a New York Times bestseller. I was interested in reading it both for myself and also because so many people are reading it and being influenced by it and I like to be aware of what’s out there as far as popular Christian books go.

So what did I think?

This book covers some basic, foundational Christian principles including grace, the character of God, and what it means to love and follow Jesus in community. Jeff is upfront with the fact that he’s not a theologian, has not gone to seminary, and is largely unqualified to write this book. I think that is both the beauty of and the fault of this book.

Jeff relies heavily on the theology of others and it’s pretty clear while reading his book to see who he’s influenced by (C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller, Bonhoeffer). I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing! I have read and love most of the books Jeff recommends in the back of his book. I do think that at times there are some slightly contradicting ideas in the book because he’s pulling his theology from several different theologians, but generally it’s not a problem. In a few cases, I strongly disagree with his reading of some verses and his conclusions on some theological issues. However, for the most part, I thought Jeff had really good things to say about Jesus and what it means to follow Him.

I think the biggest strength of this book is Jeff’s vulnerability and willingness to share deeply personal things about his life and Christian journey. I really admire his transparency and think that his is a story that many people relate to, which is why this book has been so popular. I also really liked his discussion on art, creativity, and the beauty of Creation.

Throughout this book I continually appreciated Jeff’s heart and love of Christ. What I sensed when I watched Jeff’s spoken word years ago was confirmed while reading this book–Jeff understands the core of what it means to follow Christ. And I think this is exactly why it’s beautiful that Jeff, a non-theologian, non-seminary graduate, wrote this book. The core principles of the gospel are not complicated. You don’t need to be a biblical scholar to love and follow Jesus, and that is good news!

Do I recommend it? This is a great book for anyone who is a new believer or someone who has questions about Christianity and what it means to follow Jesus. I don’t know that this is the top book I would recommend as far as basics of the faith (The Reason for God by Timothy Keller is my go-to). However, I am really happy to know that there are people who are reading this book and learning from Jeff. I’m looking forward to seeing what he writes next!

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