Sunday, May 19, 2013
Recently, I was very excited to receive a complimentary copy of Her Restless Heart: A Woman’s Longing for Love and Acceptance by Barbara Cameron the second study in A Faith and Fiction Bible Study series from Abingdon Press. This six week Bible study revolves around characters in Barbara Cameron's novel of the same name. Although reading the novel is not required to complete the study, I promptly read the novel which I enjoyed immensely. This novel is the first in Barbara Cameron’s Stitches in Time series. I had previously read Cameron’s Quilts of Lancaster County series and was pleasantly surprised to find some overlap in the characters and setting.
Her Restless Heart Bible study intertwines excerpts from the novel, scripture, and discussion questions to address the study contents. The excerpts from the novel set the stage for the concepts covered. This construct allows the topics to be addressed first in the character's life and then to apply the topic to the individual as well. For example, questions frequently follow the pattern of “Why did Mary Katherine (the main character) feel?” followed by “Have you ever felt this way?” This format allows the study to delve deeper into the participant’s emotional life although individual participants may or may not choose to be forthright in answering the questions. Scripture from throughout the Bible is utilized throughout the study. Scriptures have been chosen by topic as opposed to a straight through a biblical book study. Some scriptures are printed in the book while others must be looked up by the participant.
As mentioned previously, the Her Restless Heart study can be completed with or without reading the novel. As previously mentioned, I chose to read the novel and found it greatly enhanced my use of the study. Some questions in the study would have been difficult to answer without having read the novel as they referred to items not included in the excerpts. I read the novel straight through (I couldn’t put it down!), but I would recommend reading it chapter by chapter in conjunction with the study as well.
This study is appropriate for both new Christians and those who are a bit more seasoned. The issues of self-doubt, self-worth, and feeling loved and accepted, which nearly everyone struggles with at some time, feature prominently in the study. Counselors may find this to be an excellent study to use with an individual or group of women. As Amish fiction is quite popular with many readers, many individuals will be drawn to participate. As a six-week study, the study is short enough that it does not tie up a group for an entire semester, but is long enough to bond as a group and to really delve into the content. The study format includes a small portion to complete every day which helps group members to build good devotional habits. However, having only five portions per week allows some flexibility if participants miss a day. In addition the entire lesson is short enough that it could be completed in one or two long sessions if needed. An accompanying leader’s guide and DVD containing interviews with the author are available as well and provide an added dimension to the study.
I enjoyed using Her Restless Heart in my own study and look forward to sharing this study with other ladies in a group format. If you are looking for Bible studies for your fall programming or for something for the summer months, Her Restless Heart is perfect. I eagerly anticipate using other Bible studies which correlate to Barbara Cameron's Stitches in Time series. If you haven't read this series yet, you need to run to your local bookstore or library and get it.
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Does your prayer life need a boost? Does the ACTS prayer acrostic just not seem like enough? Do you feel like you are a prayer neophyte instead of a prayer giant? Gary Neal Hansen’s book Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers published by InterVarsity Press introduces readers to ten prayer practices as taught by several prayer giants.
Kneeling with Giants is divided into four sections each focusing on a particular type of prayer including written prayers, using the Bible in prayer, communing with God, and asking God for help. Within each section, several different prayer types are described. Hansen succinctly introduces the spiritual giant associated with each prayer type and then describes how to practice that prayer model. I found it interesting that several of the prayer models mentioned are ones I had been exposed to previously but I was not familiar with the prayer giant associated with the practice. Hansen frequently references various primary sources related to each prayer type and encourages readers to investigate for themselves. In fact, the e-copy of Kneeling with the Giants includes a companion volume titled Kneeling with the Giants Reader which contains primary sources related to each of the prayer giants discussed. Although I had the printed copy, the primary sources contained in the companion reader enticed me to purchase the e-copy as well. I truly wish the companion reader was available in a printed option as well and hope InterVarsity Press and the author will reconsider this decision.
Hansen emphasizes that each type of prayer or prayer style is not for everyone. Some people will resonate with one type of prayer rather than another. Some seasons of life may lend to a particular giant’s prayer practices. Hansen’s approach was quite encouraging as some prayer books tend to emphasize one prayer model to the exclusion of others or insinuate that truly spiritual people follow a particular prayer practice. However, Hansen does encourage readers to spend a few weeks practicing each type of prayer rather than dismissing it out of hand. As prayer must be practiced rather than simply read about, readers will wish to dip in and out of this book rather than read it straight through. Hansen provides an appendix describing possible ways to use this book in classes or small group studies. Due to the emphasis that prayer must be practiced, he suggests selecting a few of the prayer giants to study and practice at a time rather than tackling the entire book in 12 weeks. To assist with this, a second appendix provides suggestions for how to begin each prayer practice.Kneeling with Giants is recommended for multiple venues. Hansen’s book would make a marvelous addition to a college or seminary course on prayer or the spiritual disciplines. However, even in such a class it would be difficult to adequately explore all ten practices in a sixteen week course. A small group may find this a wonderful resource to dip into from time to time. For example, a group could select one prayer practice to read and discuss as a group and then to practice individually for a determined amount of time such as a month. An individual would find Kneeling with Giants a useful resource for jump starting a prayer life that has become stale or to focus on a particular prayer practice for a period of time such as during Lent. If you enjoy Kneeling with Giants, you may enjoy following Gary Neal Hansen's blog as well and watch for future books by this author. Disclaimer: I received a complementary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review and feedback. Quite honestly, my library had already purchased a copy and I had this on my "to-read stack" prior to receiving a review copy.
Sometimes, even though high school and the associated cliques are long ago memories, you feel like you are fighting the same battles about what is the right thing to do or wear based on others in your sphere of influence. In her insightful book Mean Girls Grown Up, Dr. Cheryl Dellasega describes how these same relational agression (RA) issue still confound adult women. Using the imagery of queen bees, middle bees, and afraid-to-bees, Dellasega share real life stories from women across the country who have dealt with these situations as adults. The scenarios depict a variety of situations ranging from the office, the playground or play group, and even religious institutions. For example, the bees depicted range from bullying bosses, the office mate who tells stories about everyone but always edited to present herself in the best light, and the mean moms who exclude moms who don't fit their social club. There is some discussion on how mean moms may use the children as pawns to hurt other mothers as well.
In addition to the wealth of stories which will have you nodding in agreement and identifying various bees in your own life, Dellasega utilizes a variety of quizzes to help you decide if you are a bee and what kind. But she does not stop there. Over half of the book focuses on helping readers build the necessary skills to deal with the queen bees and middle bees in their own lives in a relationally healthy manner. She also encourages women to take the higher road and not fit into any of the bee roles but focus on mentoring and encouraging other women. Many readers will find they resonate with many of the stories shared and that some hit awfully close to home.
Although published in 2005, Mean Girls Grown Up is highly recommended to all women. Readers will find the real-life examples included allow you to read the book quickly. This book would be an excellent choice for book clubs and for young women to read. This book is not from a religious publisher and the stories included have not been sanitized for a specific audience. However, I can not recall any objectionable content. Someone who is wishing for a Christian perspective on this issue may wish to consider Hayley DiMarco's http://www.worldcat.org/title/mean-girls-all-grown-up-surviving-catty-and-conniving-women/oclc/60341395&referer=brief_results published in 2005 by Revell/Fleming. I am unable to comment specifically on this book as I have not read it. Regardless, I wish Mean Girls Grown Up had been available to me about 20 years ago when first entering the work force.
Disclaimer: I am writing a review on this book because I happened across it and thought it sounded interesting. After reading it, I felt others might enjoy and benefit from this book as well.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
I came across a reference to the book Mean Moms Rule by Denise Schipani in a book or another blog within the last month or two. As an oft heard phrase at our house is "You're the meanest mom/dad/parents ever," I decided I really ought to read this book. It did not disappoint and while I may not be the "meanest ever," it is reassuring to know that we seem to be doing OK.
The premise of Schipani's book is that parents today are too soft and not mean enough. Along the way she lambasts helicopter parents and parents who desire to be their child's friend rather than parent. Schipani outlines 10 Mean Mom Manifesto's. Several of these are geared more towards new parents or at least those whose children are still fairly young. As my children are both in elementary school, I'm a bit past her target audience but was still able to enjoy her book. As I read the book, I found myself nodding along that yes, these were statements I could agree with and my husband and I are doing alright. There were a few times where I found myself thinking we need to shore up that particular area and be meaner. Not all of these manifesto's will be popular with everyone, yet not everyone's cut out to be a mean mom either.
My children were not excited to see this particular book on the top of my stack from the library. They frequently exclaimed "Oh no, she's going to be meaner!" and threatened to dispose of the book. All in all they probably aren't going to see a huge change in our parenting style but it was fun to tease them. I would recommend this book to anyone who is beginning their parenting journey or still has little ones in the pre-K set. Young mothers (and fathers) may find this book useful to read and discuss together.
Saturday, February 2, 2013
I Shall Not Hate by Izzeldin Abuelaish is one of those rare books that grabs you from the very beginning, will not let you put it down, and stays with you after you are finished. This heart-rending memoir shares the story of a Palestinian doctor from Gaza. Sadly to many Americans, Gaza is little more than a strip of land that the Israelis and Palestinians fight over which is mentioned on the nightly news regularly. After reading I Shall Not Hate, the people of Gaza and their issues are real.
Abuelaish's story depicts his childhood growing up in incredible poverty and the necessity of working even as a young child to simply eat. As he matures, readers follow his growing interest in the field of medicine and his journey to college and then medical school. His ambitions and desire to succeed provide the opportunity for Abuelaish to partner with Israeli doctors in an Israeli hospital. This partnership is very rare due to his background as a Muslim Palestinian from Gaza. Throughout his story Abuelaish emphasizes that medicine does not see race or creed but only a human being who needs medical care.
As his medical practice and reputation grows, so does Abuelaish's family. His family eventually numbers 8 children. On several occasions in order to seek out further education or work opportunities, he endures lengthy separations from his family. Yet, his love and commitment to them shows clearly throughout the book. A family tragedy requires Abuelaish return to Gaza and his partnership with the Israeli hospital. However, politics soon keeps him from practicing the medicine he loves and he endures another family tragedy. Rather than wallowing in grief as most individuals would be prone to do, Abuelaish instead utilizes his Israeli contacts to share his heart-wrenching story with others. Even as the book draws to an end, Abuelaish is seeking to use his tragedy for good.
I Shall Not Hate is highly recommended for a variety of readers. Individuals who are interested in current world affairs and politics will find it very interesting. Students of modern religion will also find this work very readable. While Abuelaish does not dwell on his religious faith, his faith and ethnic heritage are crucial to his story. Book clubs and reading groups would have a great deal to discuss after reading this memoir. I Shall Not Hate will simultaneously cause you to marvel at the tenacity of this particular individual and wonder how there can be such cruelty in the world. This book also serves to remind readers that every story, particularly news stories, have multiple viewpoints and all views must be considered. Readers in high school up will appreciate this work. Motivated junior high students may also benefit from reading this with guidance.
Disclaimer: I reviewed this book because I found it to be an engaging and totally engrossing story that others will enjoy and benefit from reading. I did not receive an advance copy. I'm pretty sure this title was a free or very low cost Kindle download.
Monday, January 28, 2013
Pam Hillman's most recent novel Claiming Mariah did not disappoint. From page one, the story pulls readers in to discover what is going to happen to Mariah, her grandmother,and their beloved ranch. In addition, Slade, one of the antagonists and the leading man in this novel, makes readers wonder what is causing him to be so demanding. As the story progresses, Slade's background is disclosed bit by bit which allows a deeper understanding of why he makes the choices he does.
Throughout the story, a definite tension exists between Slade and Mariah. Beyond the expected and growing romantic tension, the larger tension exists over their differing approaches to faith. Mariah and her grandmother are devout Christians and prayer warriors who draw strength from prayer in every situation. Slade does not share their religious viewpoints and is portrayed as hostile to Christianity for a large part of the book. As expected in a novel from a Christian publishing house, Slade and another character both choose to become Christ-followers by the end of the book.
While reading Claiming Mariah, information on Mariah's sister Amanda is witheld until much later in the story. In the beginning, Amanda is mentioned only as the sister who is away at school. A great deal of assumptions are made concerning Amanda's purpose and motives for being away and the time is never right for Mariah to explain the true situation. However, not being able to inform Slade of the truth also keeps this important piece of information a secret from the reader although a few hints are provided.
While the story primarily focuses on Mariah and Slade, another aspect is some shady business that has been going on with the ranch. This mysterious undercurrent involves a variety of individuals close to Mariah who are not quite as they seem. This mystery ends up in a dangerous situation which forces the hand of the main characters.
Being a western themed novel, there is some gun violence, but it is not glorified or grotesque. I would not have issues with my middle school daughter reading Claiming Mariah, although it certainly holds the interest of adult readers. As expected everything is wrapped up neatly by the end of the novel. I would enjoy reading more of Mariah's story as I feel her story has been completely told.
Keep in mind Claiming Mariah, available via Tyndale House, is only available as an e-book via Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, and Barnes and Noble. As such it will unfortunately not be available to borrow at your local library anytime soon as a print book or as a downloadable ebook via a platform available to libraries. I would encourage authors and publishers to keep in mind that not everyone has access to or is choosing to use e-readers at this point in time. I have several individuals to whom I would give this book as a gift, but since they do not use e-readers of any type I am unable to do so.
Disclaimer: Tyndale House provided me with a free copy of this ebook via NetGalleys. I was not required to give a positive review.
Monday, January 21, 2013
Last evening, I finished reading Dr. James Emery White's most recent book The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity published by BakerBooks. The 25 realities White addresses are organized under the topics of faith, mindset, marriage and family, media and technology, and mission. Having read several of Dr. White's books previously, I expected the book to be well-referenced with information plucked right out of the news and a variety of stories illustrating the points made and was not disappointed. I could find myself relating to many of the realities discussed. Frequent readers of White's Church and Culture blog will find many of the chapters have a familiarity.
As indicated the quality of The Church in an Age of Crisis and the information presented completely lived up to my expectations. However, I was not prepared for how overwhelmed I felt while reading about these 25 realities, and the heightened concern I felt for the world in which my children are growing up. Due to these feelings, I found I needed to read this book in short doses rather than reading it straight through. In fact, I would recommend the book be read in short doses so that individuals can thoroughly process the content that White presents. As I reached the end of the book, I would have liked a bit more content focused on what the church should do to counter these realities, particularly as the last sentence states "And there is so much we can do." However, I think that content was intentionally left out as the "what" may vary significantly from church to church and locale to locale.
I recommend The Church in an Age of Crisis for a variety of audiences. Undergraduate or beginning seminary students who are studying worldviews or reaching contemporary minds would find this book very engaging as a textbook or recommended reading. Every minister, church leader, elder needs to read this book. This book needs to not only be read but also should be the impetus for an action plan laying out what the church needs to do in the face of these realities. While it was somewhat depressing to have these stark realities laid out in succession, as believers we know that the Lord is in control of all things and these realities are not insurmountable. Read The Church in an Age of Crisis and then resolve to do something to help your church engage our culture concerning these realities.
Disclaimer I received a complimentary copy of The Church in an Age of Crisis in exchange for a fair and honest review.