Category: books

on Out of Sorts (a book review)

outofsortsOut of Sorts

Author: Sarah Bessey

Synopsis

In Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey…helps us grapple with core Christian issues using a mixture of beautiful storytelling and biblical teaching, a style well described as “narrative theology.”

As she candidly shares her wrestlings with core issues—such as who Jesus is, what place the Church has in our lives, how to disagree yet remain within a community, and how to love the Bible for what it is rather than what we want it to be—she teaches us how to walk courageously through our own tough questions.

In the process of gently helping us sort things out, Bessey teaches us how to be as comfortable with uncertainty as we are with solid answers. And as we learn to hold questions in one hand and answers in the other, we discover new depths of faith that will remain secure even through the storms of life.

My thoughts

Sometimes when I read a book I feel simultaneously enamored and frustrated. I read the words on the page and have this immense feeling of relief—someone finally said what I had been thinking. They have put words to things and ideas that were rolling around in my head. And then also that sting of frustration because they said it. They said the words that I wanted to say and now I won’t.

Maturity brings a deeper ability to rest in that tension. Maybe. I do know that now I can add my own voice to the ones who have gone before me.

Sarah Bessey’s Out of Sorts was that experience for me. It was a book I needed three years ago when I was entering the dark night of faith. And on the other side she shines a light and brings clarity to things for which I couldn’t quiet find the words. Sarah Bessey writes about wrestling with her faith, her journey through it and the conclusions she reached on the other side. She paints a picture of a faith that is melded together from all these different pieces. She reminded me that God is not boxable; she taught me that I am not boxable either. She describes herself as an “Anglican-influenced charismatic, postevangelical with a strong pull towards Anabaptist theology” (151). She taught me that I don’t have to conform to one thing. If religion is about movement towards God, I get to keep the practices that empower that movement. I can set that ones that don’t encourage that movement aside.

There were definitely places she challenged me. These were areas where I had chosen comfort over continuing to wrestle with the questions. And there are places where I’m scared to wrestle because I’m afraid of the outcome.

Some Favorite Quotes

“The asking isn’t wrong. The wondering isn’t wrong. The doubt isn’t wrong. It’s humbling to admit you don’t know; it takes guts to ask and wrestle. The childlike quality isn’t unthinking acquiescence: it’s curiosity.”

“Sometimes I think community is just a churchy word for the old-fashioned goodness of being a friend.”

“Real life is the undignified life, and it is the classroom for holiness. If you can’t find God while you’re changing diapers or serving food or hanging out with your friends, you won’t find God at the worship service or the spiritual retreat or the regimented daily quiet time or the mission field.”

“…sovereignty is the promise that all will be healed in the end. Sovereignty means that all will be held. That God is at work to bring redemption and reconciliation, that somehow at the end of all things, that we don’t escape from the goodness that pursues us, the life we are promised, the love that redeems.”

“Small acts of faith and justice are still acts of faith and justice.”

Have you read it? What did you think?

on Americanah (a book review)

americanahAmericanah

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Synopsis

Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.

My thoughts

Speechless. This is storytelling at it’s best. She challenges the reader, but is such a beautiful weaver of words that I was swept into her story before I even knew what was happening. She weaves and moves so eloquently this felt like reading a dance—every move perfectly executed. This story is part commentary on race(ism) in America, part coming of age and part love story. It’s woven together so beautifully it catches one with surprise—and delight.

I love how imperfect her characters are. She didn’t spare her protagonists. Adichie created complex human beings who live in this real world. They were sometimes successful, sometimes failing. Their ideals were challenged and they were forced to respond, change, and adapt. Some places broke my heart.

As for the commentary on racism part, Adichie points out the obvious, but always with an almost question-mark, that leaves the book, as a whole, easily digestible for people who don’t want to see racism. This is done so well. Because Ifemelu is an outsider, she’s able to observe from a distance, which gives the reader the space to observe through her eyes. For example, she explains the simplest things—Ifemelu can’t buy a mainstream magazine for beauty tips because none of the models look like her—even though the magazine boasts it coveres all skin types. Because she’s an outsider, Ifemelu is “allowed” to notice and comment on these things.

Have you read it? What were your thoughts? Love it? Hate it? Ambivalent?

on reading

IMG_0457I don’t need assistance in reading more.

I need help reading intentionally.

It’s easy for me to read to escape—when things start coming up I have to remind myself to stay present and to feel the feelings, to embrace what’s happening in my body instead of fighting it. I LOVE books. More than movies. More than television. And with every good thing given, it’s balanced on a razor’s edge. It’s so easy for me to take something good and abuse it, using it to escape instead of to grow. And the more I am using books to escape, the quality of what I’m reading plummets. I’m looking for my next escape and I end up reading all sorts of random things that aren’t beneficial for me.

This year I felt an invitation to be more intentional about what I was reading. I hope this will combine my love of reading and remind me to stay present in my life.

So I’m using the process created by Anne over at http://modernmrsdarcy.com/

Her process is simple: 12 books in 12 categories. Here’s what I picked for this year

Series: A book published this year

The High Mountain of Portugal

Author: Yann Martel

I adored The Life of Pi. I had never ready a story that surprised and delighted me as much. I haven’t read anything else by Yann Martel, so I’m looking forward to meeting up again with this story-teller.

 

Series: A book you can finish in a day

glassmagicianThe Glass Magician

Author: Charlie M. Holberg

The first book in this series, The Paper Magician, kept popping up as a recommended read every time I turned around. And even though I enjoyed the first book, it took me a lot longer to read than it should have because I kept getting distracted. I am notorious for not finishing series so I decided to a) make progress in this series and b) not have it hanging over my head.

Series: A book you’ve been meaning to read

lifechangingThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Author: Marie Kondo

I first bumped into this one at Barnes and Noble. I was intrigued and glanced through the first chapter. I didn’t buy it that day but I kept noticing it. I finally bought it after hearing Anne rave about it, but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

Series: A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller

TBD

Series: A book you should have read in school

taleoftwoA Tale of Two Cities

Author: Charles Dickens

I never read this book in high school like most of my peers. I know the opening lines and am familiar with the plot, thanks to Wishbone (anyone else remember that show about the dog re-enacting stories?). It’s time to check it off the list.

 

Series: A book chosen by a spouse, child, BFF, etc.

waterWater From a Deep Well

Author: Gerald L. Sittser

I have been geeking out of over Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water for over a month. (There’s a blog series in the works.) The same friend that gave me that book said this was next up. I’m looking forward to learning more about the rich heritage of my faith.

 

Series: A book published before you were born

thomasmertonContemplative Prayer

Author: Thomas Merton

I have been reading several things lately whose authors have quoted Thomas Merton. I have also recently had the opportunity to practice contemplative prayer in a group setting. I am interested in learning more about this practice

 

Series: A book that was banned at some point

colorpurpleThe Color Purple

Author: Alice Walker

I googled banned books and was drawn to this one. Like most, I had heard of it and have a vague idea what the plot is.

 

 

Series: A book you previously abandoned

magicianslandThe Magician’s Land

Author: Lev Grossman

This is the third in a series. It made the cut because I just want to finish the series. I enjoyed the other two books, but didn’t love them. They are darker than most magic/fairy-tale books I read. I do appreciate the difference, but it’s not something I’m drawn to.

 

Series: A book you own but have never read

usesofenchantmentThe Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales

Author: Bruno Bettelheim

I love fairy tales and magic so I bought this because of the title and never read it. I’m looking forward to carving out space for this one this year.

 

 

Series: A book that intimidates you

warandpeaceWar and Peace

Author: Leo Tolstoy

I started this book years ago…and got bogged down. It’s been sitting on my bookcase waiting for me to come back to it. I loved Anna Karenina and desperately want to add this to my repertoire (it’s a pride thing, for sure…how many people have read this one?) but I’m also sacred of it. It’s a thick, involved story set in a culture and time from which I am far removed.

Series: A book you’ve read at least once

poisonwoodThe Poisonwood Bible

Author: Barbara Kingsolver

I might be most excited to revisit this one. I read this when I was still in high school. I didn’t like it. I was too young and immature in my faith to appreciate how true these types of stories are…how often in our pride and arrogance we hurt the ones we claim to love. Slightly older (and maybe wiser), I’m looking forward to reading her words and letting this story unravel and sitting in the tension. Even though I didn’t “like” it fifteen years ago, this is I story I haven’t been able to forget.

What’s on your TBR list for 2016? Have any other recommendations for me? And hop over to Anne’s blog to get her printable and to sign up for the challenge.

book review: wild in the hollows

wildinthehollowsHave you ever held a book in your hand and seen yourself reflected in it’s pages? Have you ever been moved because you see yourself as the girl broken and weeping on the floor? Not because you changed places, putting yourself in her shoes, but because the shoes are yours, too?

That’s what reading Wild in the Hollows felt like. These were all the words that had been me and all the words I hope to become. My story is the same-but-not-same as hers. Amber Haines told her story with broad brushstrokes, letting the colors bleed and blend so you’re left with an impression of the experience. It was sensory and colors and tastes and sounds. What actually happened was less important than the metaphor—and the metaphor was less important than God.

This book was written for me, for this moment.

“We’re searching for home—a place of acceptance, a place of fulfillment, and a place of identity. At the basest level, we suspect that home is the place where we’ll find our fit, where we’ll finally be free.”

“There was no rest. There never is for the one who desires to fit but doesn’t believe she is loved.”

“We knew we all happened to be journeying along at the same time, phase, and place. We were in a rare phase of learning how to be both common and uncommon.”

“He walked a life of contentment on the tension between already but not yet. He looked like Jesus.”

“The earth was made to quake.”

“The wanting was an endless echo, and I was the canyon.”

“…when one of us seeks the kingdom, our home is a domino effect of healing.”

“The culmination of all desire is not in marriage, motherhood, this yard, or the church building yonder. The Spirit of the Lord whispers it in quiet, empty places. We are loved. Yes, where the Spirit of the Lord is, the kingdom comes. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom…”

I leave this book feeling full, like I just ate a rich and nourishing meal. I feel satiated and content.

Maybe its because I’ve been reading the Outlander series and lots of YA and this feels so much more…but I think it’s because these words brought comfort when I needed them. They reminded me to live in the in-between, to seek adventure and contentment in my every day life. I am reminded to go small, to see the gifts and beauty and adventure that is just life, the act of living–of breathing in an out. It’s a reminder of my God who made the galaxies and the stars, and carved mountains and filled oceans. And who also gave me clothes that need to be cleaned, mouths to feed, floors to mop and relationships to navigate.

“We share in the suffering of his labor, yes, but we share in his joy too.”

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