Review: Let There Be Light by Desmond Tutu

One of my favorite books that I read last year was God Has a Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It was a beautifully written, challenging book and I loved his honest and grace-filled style of writing. When I saw that he had written a book for children, I was intrigued. I had read mixed reviews about its age-level appropriateness, but I thought we’d give it a try.

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Taken from the first chapter of the book of Genesis, Tutu tells the creation story in a poetic yet kid-friendly language. Bea loved snuggling in and listening to the words of the earth being formed. Nancy Tillman is the illustrator and did an amazing job of bringing the poetry to life. Bea especially loves spotting the animals on various pages.

I read some criticism of the last pages, when God creates people. Tutu paraphrases,

Then God said, “I will make people, and I’ll make them like me so they can enjoy the earth and take care of it.”

The accompanying illustration is of a group of children standing with animals, holding fruits and vegetables. The criticism is that it should be “man and woman,” not “people.” However, Bea loves this page most of all. It reminds her that God created all humans and that children can care for this world, as well. She also loves picking out the colors of their robes and talking about each individual child. I’m not sure she would have connected as much with a page showing a man and a woman.

We’ve read this book every day since receiving it and Bea, at 2.5 years old, easily sits through it and interacts with the story. I highly recommend Let There Be Light for any young child’s library.

What are some of your favorite Bible story books?

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Review: Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay + Giveaway

I love Jane Austen novels – I’ve read several and have reread Pride and Prejudice multiple times. (It even made the list for our Reading Challenge last year.) But, I wouldn’t call myself a fangirl. I haven’t read all of her novels, and I’ve never ventured into the world of books based on her characters. I had read a couple reviews about Lizzy & Jane and was intrigued. It sounded like a good balance of stand-alone story peppered with Austen references.

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Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay was the perfect post-Christmas book to read. It was light, entertaining and well-written. Reay quickly engaged me and it was a fast, fun read. The premise is typical fast-paced, career-minded New Yorker Elizabeth is stressed at work, and it’s beginning to show in the quality of the food she prepares at her restaurant, Feast. She refuses to learn about new marketing and social media strategies so her investor-friend brings in a popular chef to help. In the meantime, Elizabeth’s sister, Jane is in the midst of cancer treatments back in laid-back, family-friendly Seattle. Elizabeth takes a break from her restaurant to rediscover herself by cooking meals for Jane.

While the plot is somewhat cliche, the story is sweet and the Austen references are clever, if somewhat unrealistic. Perhaps it’s because I am not a creative foodie – I follow the recipes and enjoy the outcome of cooking more than the process itself. Elizabeth’s worldview and sensory experiences as a chef may be quite realistic but I didn’t connect with them. I enjoyed reading her process for creating recipes and finding the exact flavors needed for certain dishes, but more for the literary experience than because I could see myself thinking about that food in the same way.

All in all, I enjoyed Lizzy & Jane and it was a nice break from my usual fare of nonfiction books.

How do you cook? Are you a recipe-follower or do you enjoy kitchen creativity?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Lizzy & Jane. To enter, leave a comment about your favorite food to cook. I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, January 9, 2014. (United States addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey + Giveaway

In fifth grade, I was sitting on the bus to school next to a friend from church. We were talking about sixth grade and she told me she had decided to transfer to our local Christian school. Without mincing words, she told me that anyone who stayed in the public school system was opening themselves to corruption from The World and would have to work much harder at being a good Christian. I was enough of a skeptic, even at 10, to give an internal eye-roll and we parted ways. She graduated from the Christian school and I graduated from the public school, my faith still more or less intact.

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In his new book, Vanishing Grace, Philip Yancey challenges this mentality amongst the Christian majority. By so insulating themselves from others, but focusing on the wrong movies and wrong habits rather than on issues like poverty and racism, the politics of Christianity is showing up more as a moralistic ideology rather than a radical inclusion of grace (227). He gives statistics that those who don’t identify as Christian view Christians as judgmental and hateful. This is far from the message of grace, acceptance, and love that Jesus shared.

Throughout the book, Yancey reminds others that the Kingdom largely exists for outsiders (159) and that by building walls and creating legalism, the American church is reflecting more of a political view than the gospel of love. He gives many examples of how the church operated best when it was the minority – having to look past differences, work toward social justice, and fill the gaps of government, the church thrived in those counterculture situations. He gives consideration for how we can view our faith as a corporate body now that Christians are the majority religion in America. How can the church create a new culture rather than mimic pop culture? (p 105) How can the church continue to serve its community in a loving, grace filled way, even as it has gotten involved in politics and mainstream ideals?

Yancey is not all negativity. He tells stories of churches and communities who are doing things well, who are trying to embody the idea that Jesus was about forgiveness but also about social justice and hospitality. He ends on a note of hope for the future church and its place in modern society.

He challenges Christians to stop the name calling, focus on matters of significance, and really review what the incredibly radical message of Jesus was: To spread love and grace to those who need love, to those who are hurting, to those who are othered in society. I feel that this is a timely book, given current American events and Yancey writes it in his usual approachable style that has engaged many over the decades.

What is your experience with the church? Do you find it inclusive or judgmental? Do you think it’s changing?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Vanishing Grace. To enter, leave a comment about your church experience, positive or negative. I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, December 12, 2014. (United States addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma

Sometimes, when injustice in the world feels overwhelming, I think, At least I’m not actively part of the problem. I don’t support modern slavery or racism. I try to read labels and buy sustainably. Is that enough, though? Just because I’m not actually hurting someone, does that mean I’m helping to bring justice to the powerless?

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In Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things, Ken Wytsma calls this thinking the silver rule: “Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you” (184). He argues that we have twisted the Golden Rule to something less – that as long as we are not actively harming anyone, it’s fine. In reality, justice calls us to love, sacrifice, initiate, speak up, and create change (192).

Throughout the book, Wytsma questions Christian apathy toward loving our neighbors and doing justice. He cites many verses in the Bible that call believers to act out their faith – that without clothing the least of these, we are not bringing about Kingdom changes. The main theme of this book is that without living out justice and reconciliation for the most vulnerable, Christians are completely missing the point of Jesus’ message.

Pursuing Justice is a good balance of life stories and practical advice. Wytsma cites examples in the Bible of how justice is commanded and gives actual stories of people living out these commands.

I had only two criticisms: In Chapter 11, Wystma talks about a life-changing book that got him on the path of justice, yet he never shares the title of that book. I looked in the notes, but could find nothing. My other pet peeve was the constant translation of Greek and Hebrew words. Sometimes the translation was helpful, but mostly it was distracting from the message.

I feel like this would be a good book for a wide spectrum of readers. For those who are interested in justice, but don’t know where to begin, Wytsma gives encouragement, resources, and help in getting started. For those who are immersed in justice work, this book would be a good source of what others are doing. Wytsma has years of experience and resources that those in that world would find relatable.

Especially in light of the past few months, when justice seems unattainable, this book gave hope for a world redeemed by justice.

Gardening, Teaching, Protesting, Financial Giving… There are many ways to support justice. How do you actively seek justice? Or, where would you like to begin?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Pursuing Justice. To enter, leave a comment about how you are pursuing justice in your world. I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, October 17, 2014. (United States addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Let’s All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs

Sometimes it seems that making big, life-changing decisions feels easier and more natural than deciding what to make for dinner. When I decided to attend college in Paris, it seemed the only place I could consider – who wouldn’t want to study art history in the center of Paris? It never occurred to me to be nervous or afraid in the decision-making process. Only until after I moved and settled in did I realize the courage it takes to live abroad at 18 years old. Similarly, when I decided to spend three months teaching in Kathmandu, it seemed the be a very natural transition. I had never been to Asia; I missed the mountains; I wanted to see if I enjoyed teaching – where else would I try it out but in Nepal? Looking back, these decisions were brave. At the time, they seemed the next logical step in my journey.

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In her book, Let’s All Be Brave, Annie F. Downs explores the idea that bravery is born in small moments and decisions. She opens the book by saying how she is not a naturally brave person. She grew up on the same piece of land her grandparents had owned for 50 years; she went to college where all her church friends went; she traveled and did missions trips, but never for more than a couple weeks. She was content living her life in familiar comfort.

In her mid-twenties, Downs felt she should move to Nashville. Even though it’s only three hours from her home, this move starts a series of brave moments. From quitting her steady job to pursue writing to taking a job in Scotland for a season, she learns to say “yes” to those small moments that turn into brave decisions.

Following the trend of telling short stories, Downs uses this format in a cohesive manner. She gives depth in a short space and her stories fit her theme. I also appreciated her vulnerability in talking about loneliness, being single, and the importance of community. The writing style is very informal and it feels as though I’m chatting with Downs rather than reading about her journey. She is able to write conversationally without making me lose the depth of her message.

I’d recommend this book especially to women in college and early twenties. Even though Downs is my age, I didn’t feel a sense that she was writing for my peer group. As I read this book, I kept thinking of twenty-something women I know who I wanted to share this with. I know it’s meant for a larger audience, but Downs’ style and subject seems best suited for young women starting out in life.

What are some brave moments in your life that seemed small or even normal at the time?

Normally I’d put this book up for a giveaway, but as mentioned above, I kept thinking of women I know who would enjoy it. So, I’ll be sending this to one of them. If you know a young woman who could use encouragement to be brave, I’d recommend buying Let’s All Be Brave for her!

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Speak by Nish Weiseth

Growing up, I wished for a better story. One of overcoming obstacles, rebellion, and redemption. Of course, I’d have to actually live all those uncomfortable moments, which is definitely not my follow-the-rules personality. Instead, I shied away from sharing my own story and tended to add just as a qualifier: I’m just a student; Just a teacher; Just a mom… I’ve already shared about the road trip that gave me courage to share my own story with more intention and thought. Being more courageous, even in the vulnerability of blogging, has made me think more about my story and its significance in the lives of others.

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Nish Weiseth is a champion of stories and storytelling. She believes that stories can move us from finger pointing to problem solving (p 40). In her first book, Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World, Weiseth gives many examples of how storytelling has changed her opinions about a person, a culture, or a preconceived notion.

Weiseth has strong ideals in the power of story. She has started a popular community of storytellers over at the collaborative blog, Deeper Story. She also links in the storytelling nature of Jesus, citing his interest in the stories of the marginalized (p 58).

Weiseth encourages her readers to be faithful to their stories, no matter how mundane.  She says,

“But I’m here to remind you of a fundamental truth: no matter how mundane, you’re already living a great story tha the world around you needs to hear.” (p 184)

She goes on to say that not everyone is called to build orphanages, cure disease, or save the world. But, everyone is called to be faithful to their own story. These are powerful words, and ones I think many of us need to hear. How are we living out our stories right now, in this moment?

My one criticism of Weiseth’s book is that, while she tells small stories of her own experiences, she doesn’t model overarching storytelling. I feel this book would have been much more powerful had she taken the plunge to be a bit more vulnerable with her own story. She gives us hints and tastes, but no resolutions. She also relies heavily on blog posts from a Deeper Story, citing them as example of how to tell good stories. Sometimes they support her chapters, other times they seem to be a stretch.

Overall, I’d recommend this book. I agree that when we are able to sit with others and are given room to tell our own stories and listen to those of others, divisions become smaller and the world becomes a bit more comprehensible.

Have you shared your story recently? If so, how has it empowered you? If not, what is holding you back?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Speak. To enter, leave a comment about how storytelling has changed your perception – of yourself or others. I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, August 8, 2014. (United States addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Framing Faith by Matt Knisely

One of my favorite classes in college was titled “The Power of Images in Western Civilization.” Over the course of the semester, we looked at images from early cave paintings to religious icons to fascist propaganda. We talked about how our culture and history have been shaped by the stories that have been told through the images created during different periods. As an art history major, I fully believe in the power of a single photograph or painting to shape the way we see history. And, as someone who is trying to embrace my own stories, I believe that as we live intentionally, we create a lasting story.

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In his first book, Framing Faith, Matt Knisely empowers the reader to tell their story. Knisely explores the busyness and connectedness we live in today. As positive as social media can be, are we stopping to focus on the story God is writing in our lives? Using the framework of photographic terminology, Knisely illustrates the importance of slowing down, of developing important “scenes” in our lives, and of noticing what God is creating in each experience.

Knisely’s approachable style made this book easy to read. He quickly engages with stories of his own as well as images from his career. As I try to notice my own story with more intention, I connected with his ideas that God created us to learn from and tell our stories.

I especially enjoyed his chapter on Darkness. He encourages the reader to find the truth in imperfection, that

“The moment we skip to the end of our stories, we fall captive to the stories of this world, we lose the uniqueness of our story, and in turn we lose the power of the gospel to be light in real darkness” (143).

He continues to remind the reader that imperfections, conflict, and failures are what make great, engaging stories. He encourages the reader to embrace those dark points in the story, knowing that lessons learned will create a deeper, more meaningful story.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. There were a few points when I felt that the analogy of photography was forced into what Knisely was trying to say, but overall I appreciated the framework. It’s a timely book, as more and more people are questioning the amount of time spent on social media and the depth of connections made without connecting in real life.

As storytelling is regaining importance in our society, how are you embracing and telling your story?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Framing Faith. To enter, leave a comment about an experience telling your own story. I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, July 11, 2014. (US & Canadian addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: “Smart Money Smart Kids” by Dave Ramsey & Rachel Cruze

Frank and I were raised completely differently when it came to money and spending. I learned from an early age to save 5%, tithe 10%, and frugally spend the rest. I opened my first savings account in kindergarten and proudly squirreled away money for the end goal of a new toy. In high school, I had saved enough to visit friends in Estonia, which began a love of independent travel. Even on my meager teacher’s salary, I always managed to save enough for an international trip each summer.

Frank was raised to “spend it like you got it… and if you don’t got it, spend it like you got it anyway.” By the time he was in his early twenties, working at a well paying job, living at home, he was buying rounds of drinks for friends and racking up credit card debt. Fortunately, before we met, he had been converted to the Dave Ramsey school of thought: Live within your means, Save, Pay cash. When we were engaged, Frank had me read The Total Money Makeover, a book that changed his life.

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In Smart Money Smart Kids, Dave Ramsey’s daughter, Rachel Cruze gives insights and practical advice to raising money-smart kids. Especially as we talk about how we want to instill financial values in our kids, I appreciated the step-by-step guides to gradually releasing money responsibility to kids as they get older. In the beginning, learning to earn to spend is all you need to focus on. As they get older, learning to spend thoughtfully and save responsibly becomes the focus. As teenagers, allowing more freedom and budgeting choices teach lessons that carry into adulthood.

Throughout the book, Cruze and Ramsey emphasize grace. There are no cut-and-dry scenarios – sometimes parents need to bail out their kids. Sometimes kids make bad choices and have to learn from the consequences. They repeatedly remind the reader to not be legalistic. I appreciated this underlying theme, as it can be easy to just want to follow the rules or formulas for success.

There were a few pieces of advice that I didn’t agree with. I don’t believe every teenager needs to save for a car. I chose to share my dad’s car in high school and it taught me how to be flexible with my schedule. It was also the first time I tangibly prioritized my love of travel and desire to save my money for that. Ramsey also devalues out-of-state colleges, saying that you learn the exact same material in-state. While my time at a private university in Paris probably didn’t teach me anything academically that I couldn’t learn at a college in Colorado, the life experiences I had and the worldview I gained were invaluable.

I would recommend this book for its financial advice. I do think it is so important to instill a groundwork of financial responsibility and understanding in children. Theologically, I feel uncomfortable with Ramsey claiming that wealth is biblical. He cites many verses supporting this idea, and even cites Luke 9:59, when Jesus talks about the Cost of Discipleship. Ramsey stops with the young man who needs to bury his father, and talks about how that’s an example of raising money-smart kids. Looking at the entire set of verses, they end with Jesus telling him to leave his father and follow him. That doesn’t seem financially sound…

All in all, I found the financial advice helpful in considering how we raise Bea, but wish Ramsey and Cruze had focused more on that and less on the theology of wealth.

What’s your favorite financial advice book?

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”