Archives For *Brief Reviews*

 

A Reality Experienced

 

A Review of

In the Middle of Things: Essays
Meghan Florian 

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

 

Reviewed by Mark Jenkins

 

I sometimes wonder if one of the greatest accomplishments in life is to arrive at the age of 60 a less grumpy person than one was at the age of 30. If so, I have failed. Because grumpy is probably the best word to describe myself when I first laid hands on Meghan Florian’s collection of essays, The Middle of Things.

I hasten to add that my ill-temper had nothing to do with the content of this book. It was more the promise made by the publisher on its back cover: “In the tradition of classic essayists from Virginia Woolf to Annie Dillard…” It is, of course, the standard overpromise intended to sell books.

Not unsurprisingly, The Middle of Things doesn’t (quite) live up to that promise. Nonetheless, the further I read in Florian’s essays, the greater I came to enjoy her company. This young author may not – yet – be a new Dillard or Woolf, but her voice is clear, strong, and often compelling.

Continue Reading…

 

A Glimpse into
the Pope’s Mind and Heart
 
A Review of

With the Smell of the Sheep:
The Pope Speaks to Priests, Bishops and Other Shepherds
Giuseppe Merola, ed., 

Paperback: Orbis Books, 2017
Buy Now:  [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]
 
Reviewed by James Dekker

 

Considering that the Roman Catholic Pope is commonly called “the Holy Father,” it might come as a surprise that Pope Francis has been the target of pretty unholy criticism from certain church leaders, lay and ordained. First Things, the journal founded by the late Richard John Neuhaus—once progressive Lutheran pastor turned conservative Catholic priest—regularly publishes articles sharply opposed to Francis’ speeches, writings, theology and activities.

  Continue Reading…

 

That Attracting and Sustaining
Divine Love

 
A Review of 

Evolving Humanity
and Biblical Wisdom

Marie Noonan Sabin

Paperback: Liturgical Press, 2018.
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

 

Reviewed by Jeanne Torrence Finley  

 

Teilhard de Chardin, paleontologist and Jesuit priest (1881-1955), wrote about evolutionary science, spirituality, and the expansion of human consciousness.  Although the Vatican suppressed his writings during his lifetime, today his vision continues to be appreciated by scientists, religious scholars, and spiritual seekers.  In Evolving Humanity and Biblical Wisdom Marie Noonan Sabin brings Teilhard’s vision into conversation with scripture texts related to wisdom. With an interdisciplinary background in literature and theology, Sabin uses her interpretative skills in intellectually challenging ways that will fascinate some readers with knowledge of academic biblical studies but may mystify those without such a background. Though prior knowledge of Teilhard’s complicated thought would increase appreciation of Sabin’s work, her clarity and conversational style could well inspire Teilhard beginners to delve deeper into his thought.

Continue Reading…

 

Slowly and Solemnly Imbibing
in the Mystical Language of Love

 
A Review of 
 

Radical Love: Teachings from the Islamic Mystical Tradition
Translated and Edited by Omid Safi

Hardback: Yale UP, 2018
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]

 
Reviewed by Gwen Gustafson-Zook

 

It is said that an inscription of “Bani Adam” (Children of Adam), written sometime before the 13th the century by the Persian poet, Sa’di,  is inscribed somewhere in the UN Building in New York City. A translation of this beloved poem is found in the final section of Radical Love: Teachings from the Islamic Mystical Tradition. In this collection, the poem is titled “Humanity and Suffering” and reads,

 

Humanity are members of one body
Created out of the same essence

when one member of the body
feels pain
others remain distraught

You,
unfeeling to the suffering of others
are unworthy
of the name human

SA’DI (d. 1291 CE)

 

Continue Reading…

 

A Guide for Learning Compassion
for Self and for Others
 
A Review of
 

Living Compassion:
Loving Like Jesus
Andrew Dreitcer

Paperback: Upper Room Books, 2018
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]
 
Reviewed by Alisa Williams
 

In Living Compassion, author Andrew Dreitcer offers the reader a course curriculum on compassion — what it is, how it’s practiced by various faith traditions, and how it can be formed and taught today so Christians can truly live it in their daily lives the way Jesus intended. Dreitcer is associate professor of spirituality, director of spiritual formation, and co-director of the Center for Engaged Compassion at Claremont School of Theology. This book is an introduction to a compassion practice he created called simply, the Compassion Practice. He developed this because “there are no classical or traditional Christian practices that have been specifically identified or named as compassion-formation practices” (15).

Continue Reading…

 

Dancing with Death

 
A review of

Here Lies: Poems
Tom Hunley

Paperback: Stephen F. Austin State UPress, 2018
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]

 

Reviewed by Aarik Danielsen

 

We encounter two sure things in life. Once Tax Day comes and goes each April, we’re left with plenty of time to think about the other one.

There are nearly as many ways of dealing with death as there are living people. My soon-to-be 5-year-old, facing the death of a family member for the first time, asked scores of questions. Some were quite innocent, others surprising: “Do you want me to die?” he asked on an occasion I met with immediate reassurance.

Continue Reading…

 

Finding God in All Matters

A Review of 

The Wonder Years: 40 Women Over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty, and Strength
Leslie Leyland Fields, editor

Paperback: Kregel Publications, 2018
Buy Now:
Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Cynthia Beach

 

Voices of friends, I thought, as I read essay after essay in The Wonder Years on topics as diverse as horses to letting go, body image to domestic violence.  And those doing the speaking are some of my favorite friends, too: Lauren Winner, Elisabeth Elliot, Brené Brown, Ann Voskamp, Madeleine L’Engle. These names are among the thirty-five other “over 40” women writers who contributed essays to the latest anthology from the deep-thinking author Leslie Leyland Fields.

Continue Reading…

 

Courageous Honesty

A Review of 

Even in Our Darkness: A Story of Beauty in a Broken Life
Jack Deere

Hardback: Zondervan, 2018
Buy Now:
Amazon ] [ Kindle ] [ Audible ]

Reviewed by Matthew R. Bardowell

 

There is a moment in Jack Deere’s memoir that illustrates what is perhaps the book’s main theme. A 10-year-old Jack sits in his living room amidst the family’s Christmas presents. Young Jack unwraps “a sturdy, vinyl blue and yellow model airplane with a small engine” (p. 26), but what he really wanted for Christmas was a larger balsa wood biplane with a big engine. The model plane he received was for beginners, and Jack, with the outsized confidence of the very young, did not consider himself a beginner. Naturally, he is disappointed, and his disappointment soon curdles to resentment. He is sent to his room. Later in the day, as he flew his vinyl plane, young Jack “crashed it after every takeoff” (27). Recollecting this scene, Deere remarks: “I was surrounded by [. . .] gifts, unable to feel anything but anger at what wasn’t there—an object of desire that I would have destroyed” (27). In these moments, Deere’s memoir is nearly Augustinian in its insight into the fallen human condition. The vinyl airplane is his pear tree.

Continue Reading…

 

Spreading like Wildfire
 
A Review of

From Jerusalem to Timbuktu:
A World Tour of the Spread of Christianity
Brian Stiller

Paperback: IVP Books, 2018.
Buy Now: [ Amazon ] [  Kindle ]
 
Reviewed by Leroy Seat

 

Timbuktu, now one of the eight administrative regions of the Republic of Mali in West Africa, has long been used, as author Brian Stiller points out, “as a metaphor for a far-away and unreachable place.” But Timbuktu has literally become the geographical center for worldwide Christianity, which is a major emphasis of Stiller’s book. Especially in the last six or seven decades, Christianity has grown and spread in such a manner that now its “center” is farther south than it has ever been.

Stiller, a Canadian born in 1942, is well qualified to write a book on the growth of Christianity outside the North Atlantic countries over the past century. Since 2011 he has served as Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance. In that position he has traveled extensively and has had contact with numerous Christian leaders, churches, and movements outside of North America.

Continue Reading…

 

Nearer to the Heart of God
 
A Review of 
 

God in Disguise
Trudy Taylor Smith

Paperback: CreateSpace, 2018
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]  [  Kindle ]

 

Reviewed by Kelly Treleaven
 
 
As a teacher in the American South living in an upper middle class neighborhood and wrestling with my own religious identity, I didn’t expect to feel as personally moved as I did by an account from a Christian missionary seeking solidarity with the poor in India. But that’s exactly what good memoirs do, they connect: across continents, through spaces and experiences and beliefs. With admirable narrative dexterity and piercing vulnerability, Trudy Smith relates her spiritual and physical journey in a way that will reach those longing to hear God’s voice, especially those who may suspect they are unworthy of hearing it, incapable of interpreting it, or deaf to it altogether.

Continue Reading…