Books I’m Reading–August 2020

My book reviews have been sporadic at best. Okay, all my posts have been sporadic. Anyway, I wanted to highlight a few books I’ve read recently in no particular order.

Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson, a songwriter and storyteller, is part memoir and part encouragment for all who desire to imitate our Creator with their art for His glory. Peterson uses his personal story of how he persevered to establish himself as a songwriter and more specifically how he came to write the album “Behold the Lamb” to illustrate how we can use our talents and gifts for worship and to encourage the church.

“Since we were made to glorify God, worship happens when someone is doing exactly what he or she was made to do.

 

In Introverts in the Church Adam S. McHugh discusses how introverts can feel out of place in not only our extroverted world, but specifically in the extroverted church. If you’ve ever come late to church to avoid the meet and greet, you know what I’m talking about. Of course, the current pandemic has put a stop to such intrusions but there are other ways introverts can be uncomfortable or never have a chance to speak and share.

Understanding the differences in people–the way they serve and the way they worship–is important for everyone in the church. We should be careful not to think our ways are best and be dismissive of others.

The chapter on “Introverted Evangelism” highlighted several problems I’ve always had with most of the standard ways I’ve been taught on how to evangelize. “My understanding of evangelism shifted dramatically when I began to view my role not as initiating spiritual conversations but rather as responding to the ways that God is already at work in people around me.”

In many evangelical churches, entering the sanctuary is not a time of reflection and awe but more a time of greeting your friends and catching up on the past week’s events. For most introverts, a time of quiet is needed to enter into the heart of worship. “When introverts enter into worship, we are apt to come trembling before a God whose mysterious otherness often reduces us to silent awe. We want to hear God’s voice which comes to us more often in whispers than in triumphant shouts.”

Also recommend Susan Cain’s Quiet:The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is a work of historical fiction that takes place in Korea and Japan in the early part of the twentieth century. I first read this a year or so ago, and am rereading on audio for my library book club this month. “Sprawling family dramas” that cover several generations as well as history I’m unfamiliar with make this a book I’m glad to be able to reread. Sunja is a young girl in Korea who falls for a wealthy businessman from Japan. When she refuses to become his mistress, the consequences for herself and her son follow her throughout her life. The history of Korea being occupied by Japan and how difficult it was for the Koreans both before and after the war (WWII) is a part of history I was unfamiliar with and Lee is excellent in painting the atmosphere of the time. Pachinko received several literary awards and was National Book Award Finalist for Fiction in 2017.

 

 

National Poetry Month 2020

Today is the last day of National Poetry Month, and I hope you’ve spent some time reading poetry during this unusually stressful month. I have been dipping into several authors including: Malcolm Guite, Jeanne Murray Walker, Edward Clarke, George Herbert, and Luci Shaw. I have also been reading the book of Isaiah, taking more notice of the poetry in that book and comparing several translations.

From Isaiah 26–The path of the righteous is level; you make level the way of the righteous. In the path of your judgments, O LORD, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul. My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you.

In my reading, I came across a tradition of English poetry known as “the metrical psalms.” Starting during the Renaissance, many English poets began to put certain psalms of the Old Testament in the form of English poetry. These poems usually rhyme and have a way of making the reader see something familiar with a fresh eye. The first one I read was George Herbert’s The Twenty-Third Psalm. Herbert never published in his lifetime, keeping his work “private” because he wrote for God. Fortunately, The Temple (a book which contains most of his more well-known poetry) was published in 1633, the year of his death.

Though our language has changed since 1633, I hope you will enjoy Herbert’s “spin” (as one commentator put it) on psalm 23 and recognize how he, just as David did in the original some thousands of years ago, wrote this as worship and adoration to God.

The Twenty-Third Psalm

The God of Love my shepherd is, And he that doth me feed; While he is mine, and I am his, What can I want or need?

He leads me to the tender grass, Where I both feed and rest; Then to the streams that gently pass; In both I have the best.

Of if I stray, he doth convert And bring my mind in frame; And all this not for my desert, But for his holy name.

Yea, in death’s shady black abode Well may I walk, not fear; For thou art with me, and thy rod To guide, thy staff to bear.

Nay, thou dost make me sit and dine, Even in my enemies’ sight; My head with oil, my cup with wine Runs over day and night.

Surely thy sweet and wondrous love Shall measure all my days; And as it never shall remove, So neither shall my praise.

 

 

Your Story Matters–Leslie Leyland Fields

 

I have often considered writing “my story,” my testimony, something to leave to my children. Several weeks ago, my pastor encouraged us as a congregation to do that very thing. Write down your story. Why? Because it is your testimony of God’s power in your life. No one can argue with your story, discount it, discredit it. It is yours and it is God’s gift to you. Why do we hestitate to share it?

In Your Story Matters, Fields leads you chapter by chapter in how to seek out, put together, and tell your story. Why? “And since the One Who is Running All Things, including galaxies, takes care to notice lost sheep, dying sparrows, and falling hair, we should notice as well. Writing helps us notice what God notices. So write your story because God attends to every moment of your life and you should too.”

Writing your story doesn’t mean writing about your life from birth until the present. It’s not about telling every childhood memory (whether good or bad); it’s not about spilling the beans on your personal or family secrets; and it’s definitely not about a chance for revenge. It should be about a significant moment of your life, a turning point, and–if you’re a Christian–a refining moment between you and God.

“The inner story is not the record of everything that has happened to you; rather, it focuses on a key theme and transformative event in your life.”

You may not believe yourself to be a writer and may have no interest in writing anything else, but this book is for everyone because everyone has a story. At the end of each chapter are writing prompts and assignments with practical steps for discovering and writing your story. I read through the book first, but I now plan to go back and do the assignments and write my own story. I can’t wait to see where God will take me in this adventure.

If you’ve been wanting to share your story, but not sure where to start, I highly recommend reading this book and following the writing exercises.

This book is now available for preorder wherever you buy your books.

*A pdf copy of this book was provided to me for an honest review.

On a previous post, I reviewed Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus Through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas. https://pmgilmer.com/2017/07/01/crossing-the-waters-by-leslie-leyland-fields/ 

Leap Over A Wall by Eugene H. Peterson–Book Review

Eugene Peterson is best known for his translation of the Bible published in 2002 when Peterson was seventy years old. He spent many years before then as a college professor (teaching Hebrew and Greek), then a small-town pastor but became known all over the world with the publication of “The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language.”

Though long familiar with “The Message,” Leap Over a Wall (1996) was new to me. A picture on instagram of a book labeled “reflections on the life of David” and subtitled: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians quickly caught my interest, and it was well worth my search.

 

Peterson’s mother’s possessed fantastic storytelling abilities, so Peterson grew up being fascinated with the characters of the Bible–not because of their spiritual depth or insights–but because of their stories. “Story is the primary way in which the revelation of God is given to us. The Holy Spirit’s literary genre of choice is story.”

Of all the people in the Bible, David is one with an overwhelming presence and gives us some of the Bible’s greatest stories. Who doesn’t know the story of David and Goliath? David and Bathsheba? God uses his life–in all its sordid details–to teach us about Himself and how we should respond to our Creator. Though we often think of the Bible as being full of doctrine, laws, and theology (and it is), God uses the stories of His people to teach us.

“God reveals himself to us not in a metaphysical formulation or a cosmic fireworks display but in the kind of stories that we use to tell our children who they are and how to grow up as human beings, tell our friends who we are and what it’s like to be human.”

In each chapter, Peterson goes through different areas, specifically relationships, of David’s life and how he responds to God in each one. How did these various relationships in David’s life (Saul, Jonathan, Abigail, Doeg, etc.) help him to see God? To turn to God? To trust in God? Peterson’s own imagination combined with his scholarly knowledge of theology creates a book full of wisdom and insight told in his own “earthy” way. If you’re familar with “The Message,” you won’t be surprised to see a chapter titled “Boneheads–David and the Sons of Zeruiah.”

Peterson explains how in much of David’s story, it’s not how he lives or the decisions he makes that put his story in the Bible. They are there to teach us about God and how He continually works in our lives and in those around us. “God’s salvation, not David’s shoddy morals or clever genius, is the subtext here.”

Though David seems to spend much of his life going from one disaster to another, he ultimately ends up praising and trusting in God as expressed in the title taken from one of David’s more lengthy psalms of praise. “For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.” Psalm 18:29

“The primary concern of the spiritual life isn’t what we do for God, but what God does for us.”

The Confessions of X–Book Review

Winner of Christianity Today’s fiction award in 2017, The Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe is historical fiction based on the life of an unknown woman loved by Augustine of Hippo, an early church father. Wolfe first heard of this woman when she was only twelve, and when she asked for the woman’s name was told, “No one knows. She is lost to history.” This stayed with Wolfe through the years and with research and beautiful writing, she has brought the unnamed woman to life along with Augustine and their son.

Being of a lower social status than Augustine, he took “X” as his concubine but could not marry her. Lest you think that made her lesser in his eyes, Augustine wrote of her in Confessions: “the woman with whom I had been living was torn from my side as an obstacle to my marriage and this blow crushed my heart to bleeding because I loved her dearly.” As Wolfe explains in her author’s note, “To be labeled a concubine was not a derogatory term in the ancient world and was often inscribed on tombstones as a title to denote the status of the deceased.”

Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a touch of romance.

How Firm a Foundation

April is National Poetry Month and though I don’t read as much poetry as I would like–between studying the Psalms and some hymns, I have been reading more poetry than usual.

We don’t often think of hymns as poetry, but when we take the time to read  and hear the words, we often find beautiful phrases with some deep theology woven in. Leland Ryken, a literary editor of the ESV Bible and a professor of English at Wheaton College for almost fifty years, writes in 40 Favorite Hymns on the Christian Life: “Much of the beauty that we experience when we sing hymns is the beauty of the music. Experiencing hymns as poems puts the focus on the verbal beauty of the words and phrases. The great hymns of Christian tradition are an untapped source of devotional poetry, just waiting to be made available for the pleasure and edification of Christians.”

In my familarity with hymns, I have too often sung through the words, not appreciating their depth of feeling and theology. I would like to challenge you to read through some of your favorite hymns and consider the words and what the writer may have been going through or trying to convey.

For today, I want to look at the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.” The opening stanza contains words of comfort and assurance. A reminder that since God has given us His Word to live our lives by, how could we have a more firm foundation?

“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in his excellent Word! What more can he say than to you he hath said, To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?”

What more can He say? Nothing–though, of course, we need to read His Word to know what He has said. The next four stanzas are written as if God were speaking, reminding us of the promises from His Word.

In the second stanza: “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed. . . . I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Third stanza: “When through the deep waters I call thee to go,” I will be with thee. (Isaiah 43:2)

Fourth stanza: “When through fiery trials they pathway shall lie”–His grace is sufficient. (2 Co 12:9; 1 Peter 4:12-13)

Fifth stanza: “The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose”–He will never forsake. No, Never! (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Though written in 1787, the words are no less true or relevant for our lives. Enjoy and worship this hymn written with the ancient truths of God’s Word.

 

Favorite Reads of ’18

One of my first reads of 2018, The Snow Child is a lovely retelling of a Russian fairy tale taking place in Alaska.

The Beautiful Mystery is Louise Penny’s eighth Inspector Gamache mystery. The whole book takes place at a secluded monastery in the wilderness of Quebec.

 

 

Rabbit Cake has a ten-year old protagonist whose mother drowned while sleepwalking. Sounds depressing, I know, but this is a delightful book. Favorite quote:

“That was what her rabbit cakes were about, celebrating every small good thing in your life. I know most families don’t celebrate every new moon or every solstice and equinox, but maybe they should. You never know when someone you love will shoot themselves in the middle of their own birthday party, or be found dead in another state, caught in a river dam, so everyone might as well have their cake right now.”

Beartown: About hockey, love, hope, tragedy, friendship, and loyalty in a small town where everyone knows everybody and everyone is affected by another’s hurt. “Everyone has a thousand wishes before a tragedy, but just one afterward.

 

 

 

The Queen of Hearts: Two women who became best friends in medical school are now practicing medicine and raising their families in Charlotte, NC. A doctor from their past comes to Charlotte and secrets better left buried come to surface.

Magpie Murders: A mystery within a mystery by a writer who not only writes spy novels and mysteries but also television dramas such as “Foyle’s War” and “Midsomer Murders.”

Dissolution: First of the Matthew Shardlake historical mysteries. Henry VIII has ordered the dissolution of monasteries. Informers abound and a murder soon takes place. Well-written historical fiction as well as a mystery. Looking forward to continuing this series.

Assassin’s Quest: Third in what was originally called The Farseer Trilogy. Has since grown to several more books but start with the first: Assassin’s Apprentice. Nobody builds fantasy worlds and develops characters better than Hobb.

Sorcerer to the Crown: First in a new fantasy series. Takes place in Victorian England. Zacharias Wythe, a freed slave and the new Sorcerer Royal, must find out why England’s magic is drying up. Bonus: there’s a dragon. Second book coming out in March.

A good year for reading! Looking forward to many more in 2019. How about you? What were your favorites in ’18? Which books are you excited about in 2019?

Happy New Year!

 

Before I Saw You by Amy K. Sorrells: A book review

Drug abuse, opioid epidemic, ash trees dying, abuse in relationships, wildlife rescue, prison, unplanned pregnancy, and adoption. These are the themes covered in Sorrells’s latest book. If you’re one of those who believes Christian fiction shies away from tough topics or sugarcoats their endings, reading fiction by Amy Sorrells should change your mind.

What makes this “Christian fiction”? The grace of God is woven throughout–expressed in relationships, in dealing with forgiveness and trust, and learning to see God’s hand even in the toughest times.

When I first began this book, I had to put it down a couple of times because of the hard life of the teen-age Jaycee and the impossible situation she found herself in. I would rather those bad and hard times come upon a character more gradually, but sometimes life isn’t like that.  Sorrells writes of such a life with appealing characters who are given a glimmer of hope in their darkest hours. Highly recommend.

This was not my first book by Sorrells. I reviewed Then Sings My Soul last year: https://pmgilmer.com/2017/06/

Disclosure: I received the kindle edition of this book from goodreads but am under no obligation to leave a review. Thoughts and comments are all my own.

Quick Book Review: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Time for a random book review! I’ve read several good books already in 2018, so I’ll start my reviews with the latest from Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell is well known for his Sharpe series as well as Uthred in the Saxon Stories. Though still historical fiction, Fools and Mortals is a bit of a departure from his normal writing. Here, Cornwell gives us a behind the scenes look at Shakespeare and his company as they attempt to make a living putting on plays during the time of Queen Elizabeth I. 

Richard Shakespeare is a struggling actor, overshadowed by his older brother William. Richard is approached about stealing a manuscript from his brother (original plays are quite valuable). Since William refuses to give Richard any manly parts in his plays (Richard is quite good at playing the parts of women), this is tempting for him on several levels.

Having just learned about the page 69 test (https://killzoneblog.com/2018/03/have-you-ever-tried-the-page-69-test.html), let me read to you from page 69 and you can decide if this book is for you.

“I thought he would say more, but he went back to his writing. A red kite sailed past the window and settled on the ridge of a nearby tiled roof. I watched the bird, but it did not move. My brother’s quill scratched. ‘What are you writing?’ I asked.

‘A letter.’

‘So the new play is finished?’ I asked.

‘You heard as much from Lord Hunsdon.’ Scratch scratch.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream?’

‘Your memory works. Good.’

‘In which I’ll play a man?’ I asked suspiciously.

His answer was to sigh again, then look through a heap of paper to find one sheet, which he wordlessly passed to me. Then he started writing again.”

Does this excerpt from page 69 intrigue you? Since this book started a little slow for me, maybe this would have been a better place to start–but, no, I believe the beginning was necessary.

You can listen (or read) an interview from Cornwell done by the Folger Shakespeare Library on the writing of this book.

https://www.folger.edu/shakespeare-unlimited/bernard-cornwell-fools-and-mortals

Cornwell does not seem to have any plans to turn this into a series, but I, for one, would be glad to read more of Richard Shakespeare if he should changest his mind.

 

Christianity Today’s 2018 Book Awards

I subscribed to the magazine Christianity Today and one of the features I look forward to every year is their list of book awards. (No real surprise there). I invariably find, not only books I’ve never heard of, but also authors.  Not just the authors of the books, but also the reviewers who usually have their own books and/or blogs. Last year my favorite find was: Crossing the Waters by Leslie Leyland Fields. https://pmgilmer.com/2017/07/01/crossing-the-waters-by-leslie-leyland-fields/

CT awards books in several different categories. I will not try to cover all the categories or all the books, but will point out the ones I’m most interested in and hope you will read the whole article for yourself. The categories include: Apologetics Evangelism, Christian Living/Discipleship, CT Women, Fiction, and Spiritual Formation.

I have read a book from the category of CT Women the last few years. This year the winner of that category is You Carried Me by Melissa Ohden. Ohden was adopted into a loving family, but eventually wants to learn more about her biological family. When she learns that she was the victim of an unsuccessful abortion, she becomes more determined to find out what happened and why. Ohden uses her testimony to reach out to others who may be victims of abortion or other types of violence.

This year’s fiction winner is by Katherine James, Can You See Anything Now?  which is a debut novel for James. The award of merit goes to Daniel Taylor for Do We Not Bleed? A Jon Mote Mystery. Taylor’s first Mote mystery, Death Comes for the Deconstructionist, won the fiction award last year. If you’re interested in a rather lengthy review by John Piper: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/who-killed-postmodernism

Among the many books that came out about Martin Luther this year, the winner for the History/Biography category was Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography by Herman Selderhus. Using Luther’s own words, Selderhus follows Luther on his spiritual journey as a monk, a husband and father, a preacher and writer.

The overall Book of the Year winner comes under the category of Beautiful Orthodoxy. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren. Warren takes the common incidents of our day and reminds us of their spiritual significance. From one reviewer: “Warren takes you through a single ordinary day, from waking up in the morning to going to sleep at night, and manages to make connections to just about every important aspect of the Christian life. She is a gifted writer whose stories, rife with humor, teach you deeper things without ever making you feel like you’re being instructed.” (Stan Jantz) An article taken from the book is included in CT and this alone has made me anxious to read this book.

If you like to read about the other winners: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/january-february/christianity-todays-2018-book-awards.html

Have you already read any of these books? Ready to add them to your TBR?