Wednesday, December 24, 2014

My Review of "The Burn"

Haylie Pomroy's The Burn:  Why Your Scale is Stuck and What to Eat about It is another of those 2014 diet and nutrition books that I put on my reading list.

One of the most asked questions in the diet world:  "I'm keeping my diet, but I'm not losing weight.  Why?"  Haylie Pomroy's Burn answers that question.

A weight loss plateau is normal.  No matter how diligent you are in following your diet, from time to time you'll fall off the wagon.  Burn is meant to help.

In it Pomroy offers three nutrition programs strategically engineered to achieve highly specific results.  The 3-day Burn for Inflammation (I-Burn), 5-day Burn for Digestive Dysfunction (D-Burn), and 10-day Burn for Hormone Imbalances (H-Burn).  Each has particular advice on how to handle the diet, as well as nutritious recipes for each particular program.

There are also some great insights into what to buy at the grocery store.

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, December 19, 2014

My Review of "Skinnytaste Cookbook"

Skinnytaste Cookbook is written by a great cook, Gina Homolka, who is the genius behind  The premise of the website -- and now the premise of her new cookbook -- is simple enough:  Gina started playing around with her favorite family recipes when she joined Weight Watchers, looking for ways to cut calories and use healthier ingredients without sacrificing taste.  What she discovered became, and now this cookbook.

Skinnytaste Cookbook is filled with beautiful photos, along with lots and lots of helpful hints.  I particularly enjoyed the introduction with advice about keeping a "good for you kitchen and lifestyle".  Fad diets never work.  Eating real food keeps you satisfied longer.  And, small changes come first, because big changes leave you disheartened.  My experience bears all this out.

Each recipe also contains helpful icons that indicate if its Vegetarian, Gluten-Free, Quick (30 mins or less), Freezer-Friendly, or a Slow Cooker meal.  Each meal also gives you the serving size, calories, carbs, sodium, protein, etc.

I only wish every recipe included a "grocery list" of ingredients and the recipes you would make with it.   For example, if I buy "chipotle chile in adobo sauce," I'd love a quick reference to what recipes include that ingredient, for help with meal planning.

In the end, Skinnytaste Cookbook is a book for every kitchen.  And a great idea for a gift.

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My Review of "hand in Hand"

Randy Alcorn's newest book, hand in Hand:  The Beauty of God's Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice, goes after answers for some weighty and sometimes-vexing theological questions, with a true pastor's heart.  If God is sovereign, how am I free?  If God is not sovereign, how can God be God?  And is it possible to reconcile God's sovereignty with human freedom?

Alcorn is right to point out that the traditional answers to those questions only present more difficult questions.  So instead of constructing an argument from a few carefully-chosen biblical texts, he looks at the full panoply of Scripture.  Everyone will find their side's arguments explored, with affirmations where there are biblical affirmations to make. 

And he also helps you listen to others' arguments in meaningful ways. 

In the end, this is a book every thoughtful Christian should read.  And probably re-read. 

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

My Review of "Catholic Bible Dictionary"

Scott Hahn's Catholic Bible Dictionary is a welcome addition to anyone's bookshelves who care about reading and understanding the Bible.  This is a readable dictionary filled with articles on various topics ranging from Biblical Criticism to Family to Jubilee to Liturgy to Mary to Priesthood to Typology.  And that is just the start. 

This is a Bible dictionary that's accessible, regardless one's background.  Each book of the Catholic Bible (including the seven deuterocanonical books) has its own entry.  And so this dictionary provides a very comprehensible overview.  

Hahn is one of the most reliable biblical scholars of the contemporary Catholic Church.  And this book is a corrective to growing biblical illiteracy throughout the Church catholic. 

This really is a superb tool for study that belongs on every Bible reader's shelves. 

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Review of "Churched"

Fundamentalist churches have such an impact on faith in America these days that it's hard to ignore them.  They've impacted me over the years.  I didn't know it was fundamentalist as a child.  I thought everybody looked at the Bible through the dispensational viewpoint of the notes in a King James Scofield Bible. I thought every child was introduced to Rapture-readiness through Left Behind.  I thought everybody had a list of rules -- verbalized and silent, written and assumed -- by which daily life was shaped and measured. 

So Matthew Paul Turner's memoir Churched was like returning to a world I know well.  His story has helped me to claim mine, with one clear and real exception:  Mine wasn't as funny.  There are laugh-out-loud moments here.  And it really is "one kid's journey toward God despite a holy mess".  

Fear becomes the name of faith in fundamentalism.  And Turner finds that out soon enough.  That fear is controlled through rules, which he also discovers quickly. 

In the end, though, Churched tells the story of where that fundamentalism led him (and me and so many others like us):  To looking for a new church.  Because, as Turner rightly tells it, "fundamentalism has little to do with Jesus".  So, over the years, when he visits churches and talks with the pastors, he is simply looking for Jesus.  He has run the gamut of contemporary expressions of church in the United States -- big and small, slick and simple. 

And that's the real story of Churched.  It's one man's story of faith -- compelling, poignant, funny, pointed, sad, scary, and yet hopeful.  But Churched is not just a memoir; it's a cautionary tale of what can happen when Jesus is named and yet safely shrink-wrapped in our lives and churches.  It's a plea to name and live Jesus -- real, raw, outside the lines and full of resurrection life. 

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My Review of A Letter to My Cat

At times funny and at other times emotional, A Letter to My Cat is a real treat for those of us who love cats.  

My brother and his wife have given me two nieces and one nephew -- all of the feline kind.  Before them, I was a "dog man".  Now, though, I can honestly say these cats have found a way into my heart.  These "children" bring such fun and joy to their lives that there's not a moment goes by that they gush about these cats. 

I'm sure all the folks who contributed letter to A Letter to My Cat would agree. 

Love always has lots to say, and the love of and for these cats shines on every glossy picture and in every written word here.  Some letters talk about how they met their cats.  Others talk about how their cats changed their lives.  For some of the owners, their cats were there for them during incredibly difficult times in their lives.  For others, they stepped in and met their furry friends during a rough time in their cat's life only to have that furry ball of determination change the way they look at the world. 

From famous people to everyday people, their lives and loves have been enriched by cats.  And my life and understanding of love has been enriched by this book. 

Particularly the stories of Scooter and Toast.  (But I won't spoil the fun for you by recounting those stories here!)

I won't lie.  I cried. 

Especially when I read the letter to Bella.  

You deserve to read this book.  

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My Review of "Joy to the World"

Scott Hahn's Joy to the World:  How Christ's Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does) turns his deep spirituality and biblical exposition to the event nearly everyone knows:  The Nativity.  

And we all know The Nativity, right?  The shepherds.  The stable.  The three magi.  

But what is this Nativity?  Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth becoming a small baby born in adverse circumstances.  In theological language, Incarnation.

God became human in order that we humans might enter into that very divine life. 

That's the biggest part of Joy to the World.  It explores the stunning and amazing claim at the very heart of the Christian faith.   And Hahn is just the person for that survey. 

But this book is hardly meant just for Christmas.  It is full of spiritual wisdom to nurture Christians throughout the year. 

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Review of Kathy Escobar, "Faith Shift"

So many of my friends have expressed a disillusionment with church, with most forms of "institutional religion".  But more than that, so many of them have told me about their crises of faith, particularly in the way evangelical Christians look so unlike Jesus. 

And, if I'm honest, I've traveled that road, too. 

That's what made me initially excited to read Kathy Escobar's new book, Faith Shift:  Finding Your Way Forward when Everything You Believe is Coming Apart.  Escobar, both a pastor and a spiritual director, gives voice in this book to the seismic spiritual shifts we've experienced, as well as offers a way through that experience with wise, compassionate words. 

Finally, this book is validation that I, and so many of my friends aren't nuts ... or alone.  Because this book is filled with personal examples, her own and others'.  

I know first-hand the emotional and spiritual angst that accompanies these shifts.  The confusion, the doubts, the questions.  And Escobar takes each of them seriously, and helps readers chart a way through that broken spiritual landscape with the genuine grace of a spiritual guide and a pastor's heart. 

"The Shifter's Prayer" at the end, and all the diagrams throughout, make this a book you can't miss.  And the questions at the end of each chapter are great for pausing and processing what you've just read. 

If you're aching for hope, and are willing to experiment with faith, this is the book for you. 

It was such an exhilarating read that I couldn't put it down and read it in one night!

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

My Review of "The Kitchn Cookbook"

I love cooking!  Though I've never taken a cooking class in my life, I've struggled to keep up with world-class chefs on tv.  And I've wished for a resource that brings together how to stock and lay-out a kitchen, how to prepare excellent meals, and throw great dinner parties. 

And then there is The Kitchn Cookbook:  Recipies, Kitchens & Tips to Inspire Your Cooking.

It's written by Sara Kate Gillingham and Faith Durand, food writers who run The Kitchn, a website all about cooking.  

The first part is all about the basics of the kitchen.  From set up to layout.  For all kitchen sizes.  There are plenty of stunning photos that spark the reader's imagination and open up kitchen creativity.  

And I loved the second section -- "How to Cook Well" -- that includes not only the recipies (oh the mouth-watering recipies!) but also sage wisdom about stocking a kitchen and some cooking basics. 

The third section, on "Gathering" of all varieties, is a valuable addition. 

This cookbook would be a great gift for a graduating college student of a newly-married couple.  But it's really meant for food lovers of all varieties.  

If you buy only one cookbook for your kitchen, make it this one. 

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

"Would You Baptize an Extraterrestial?"

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestial? ... and Other Questions from the Astronomers' In-box at the Vatican Observitory is the book of 2014 for those interested in the dialogue between Christian faith and modern science.  It deals with a half-dozen questions that scientists of faith are asked.  Rather than presupposing some conflict between science and faith, this book offers reasons why that conflict is a contrived one. 

Instead Would You Baptize an Extraterrestial? is filled with a rich dialogue.  It's a series of structured conversations between two astronomers at the Vatican -- one an astrophysicist and the other a Jesuit.  And they deal with complicated questions like "Big Bang or Biblical Genesis?"  (Spoiler:  It's both; they're complimentary descriptions of the same subject.)

My favorite chapter, though, is the second one, "Whatever Happened to Poor Pluto?".  It deals with how science adapts to changes and how those changes impact faith. 

Each chapter is a rich survey of history, science and faith -- and as a whole is a rich introduction to Christians thinking theologically about the world and our ways of knowing in it. 

This really is the perfect book for all those interested in science and faith.  

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

My Review of "The Perfect Score Project"

As a college professor, I care deeply about the preparation students make for college.  So I am often asked to provide advice to upcoming high school students about what they should do to prepare for college.  One of the big concerns, nearly without exception, is how to score big on the college entrance exams like the SAT. 

Here's a book for parents and students that offer that advice.  

Debbie Stier had two teenagers heading to college.  So she did all she could to help them prepare.  Including taking the SAT herself, seven times in one year!

In this upbeat, amusing and highly informative book, we learn from the author's mistakes and applaud her triumphs.  She discovered that nothing beats the daily grind -- forget the cramming and flash studying.  Instead, begin and the foundational levels in math and grammar and vocabulary, and work at it regularly.  Also, she offers particular advice for how to learn to write quality essays for the SAT writing section. 

What I most enjoyed was Stier's advice on honing the ability to tackle issues related to test taking anxieties in various forms.  

All the study dos and don'ts are clustered in shaded text boxes throughout the book, making the reader's study plan that much simpler.  What Stier discovered in her test year about preparing for the SAT can be of great benefit to any teen, or parent of a teen, heading to college.  

This is a great book that belongs on every parent, every teacher, every guidance counselor's shelves. 

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

My Review of "Doctor Who: The Crawling Terror"

Doctor Who:  The Crawling Terror 
by Mike Turner reminds me of the classic days of Doctor Who adventures.  In ways quite like the Third Doctor, this novel is a homage to classic sci-fi stories in which the town is besieged by a horrific threat. 

The story is set in the peaceful town of Ringstone somewhere in Wiltshire and he uses the sleepy location well.  The Doctor and Clara materialize in the town for vague reasons involving ley lines and instantly they discover trouble is afoot.  Humungous insects stalk the tranquil meadows and plague the residents of Ringstone but there's much more to it than first meets the eye.

The characterization has been the key in the novels about the Twelfth Doctor.  While Tucker does a masterful job in capturing the Doctor's voice -- I couldn't read lines from the Doctor without hearing his Glaswegian accent and cadence -- I fear he made the Doctor too nice in Crawling Terror.  We've seen the Doctor enough now to know his brisqueness; none of that here. 

Tucker nails Clara's character here, though.  I particularly loved the added lines about Danny Pink and Coal Hill School.  This novel clearly understands Clara. 

In all, I think this is an excellent Doctor Who story, with enough twists and turns to keep you turning pages.  In fact, it was so exciting I read The Crawling Terror in one sitting.  

For Whovians, this one is a masterpiece. 

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

My Review of "Worthy of Her Trust"

Worthy of Her Trust:  What You Need to Do to Rebuild Sexual Integrity and Win Her Back is a book for every man in our culture who struggles with sexual sin in the middle of his marriage. Whether it's porn or adultery, Stephen Arterburn and Jason Martinkus rightly diagnose not only the problem, but offer real-world, faithfully-grounded advice for how to develop integrity, responsibility, accountability and other holy habits. 

Both of which -- the diagnosis and the prognosis -- becomes words of grace and hope.  

I can't count the number of men I personally know who would benefit from their "Amends Matrix."  That alone makes this the most important book I know for men and for their Christian sexual integrity. 

The way they name and deconstruct the "myths" (Chapters 1-6) helps wives and husbands become honest in their broken marriages.  And the "nonnegotiables for trust building" (Chapters 7-15) pave the way for the solid pastoral advice that concludes this book. 

I love this book, and plan on sharing it widely and recommending it often. 

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

My Review of Living the Quaker Way

Living the Quaker Way:  Timeless Wisdom for a Better Life Today is a modern classic, with lots of spiritual depth, by Quaker pastor Philip Gulley.  I've read his What If Grace is True and What If God Is Love before, and both have been a genuine inspiration in my life.  Now, with Living the Quaker Way, Gulley takes us on a spiritual journey through the essential Quaker testimonies which are easily remembered by the acronym of SPICE -- simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality.

The central focus, as Gulley points out, for Quaker life isn't growth in numbers; there are few, if any, outreach programs in Quaker fellowships across the country.  Instead, the focus is on the inner life.  That inner life, according to Living the Quaker Way, is "an antidote to the complexities and challenges of modern life".

And he's right!

I found the first chapter to be an refreshing foray into the very heart of what it means to be a Quaker.  While certain features of Quaker life have always been unsettling to me -- like "unprogrammed" services -- Gulley cuts through those features to give a very succinct description of what this book aims to do:  "My interest is not in growing the Quaker denomination. My passion is in growing a world in which peace, love, and justice reign. In the end, I am not inviting you to a church, but to a life".

That is, this book is for seekers.

The chapter on simplicity was perhaps the most impressive.  It provides a description of an alternative to the American emphasis on success and the idea that a winner is someone who has accumulated possessions and wealth.  This chapter alone is perhaps one of the best criticisms of that modern American spiritual phenomenon that is spiritually destructive -- the "prosperity gospel" preaching of Joel Oseteen.  In this chapter, Gulley discusses the hallmarks of the simple life:  Awareness, generosity, patience, persistence, and focus.  The best line of it?  True wealth comes not only from "learning to live with less but also learning to want less".

His chapter on peace, though, was the most personally challenging.  Gulley suggests that we view violence and war as diseases which we must develop cures for as soon as possible.  And I find that idea a challenge, but it poses some interesting possibilities, I think, for America, particularly in light of the recent violence that we've seen in places like Ferguson, Missouri.

He also suggests -- quite rightly, I think -- that the continued manufacture of weapons of mass destruction be considered as crimes against humanity. 

But it's the thirty-day challenge at the end of the book that make this a classic.  As I read through those questions, and answered them honestly, I found myself looking in a spiritual mirror, devoid of all the pretense.  That challenge alone makes this book a must-have.

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My Review of "Angels and Saints"

Angels and Saints. 

Most of us focus so closely on "church" as the body we attend regularly for worship and spiritual fellowship. We hardly notice that we are part of a chorus of worship that extends time and space, and includes those friends we call "angels and saints".

In this popular little book, Scott Hahn -- a well-known Catholic biblical scholar -- sets out the importance and everyday relevance of the angels and saints for our everyday lives. He offers the biblical and theological foundations, and then offers meditations upon the lives of particular saints. 

The book itself "shows us the saints in heaven, they're engaged constantly in worship ... note that they are pleading with God for those who remain on earth" in Scripture, particularly the Book of Revelation" (pp. 59-60). Those are the very prayers we ask from the living faithful and from those whose lives are "hidden with Christ":  "In response to the prayers of the saints, God calls upon the heavenly priests to blow their seven trumpets, evoking the Old Testament Battle of Jericho" (p. 61).

It's the second half of the book I found most intriguing. His meditations include portions that allow these holy friends to speak for themselves. And their message about our life with Christ in God is genuinely inspirational!

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review of "Recovering Redemption"

Recovering Redemption is a book with pastoral heart written to reorient and guide the church back to its central mission: The redemption of the world by God in Christ. It isn't that the message of that redemption has changed; instead, the church has floundered for lack of a vision of that redemption as its very soul. 

In that way, this book would be better titled "Reclaiming Redemption." 

But that's hardly a surprise.  Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church and president of Acts 29, knows first-hand how easily churches need this recovering, reclaimed message.  Michael Snetzer, as Groups Pastor at The Village Church, also knows the need for this message in a church's life. Together, they bring a unified voice with a strong message. 

This book hardly contains new information. Its retelling of the biblical story in the first three chapters is so beautifully clear. "Bad news is the backdrop against which good news really shines. So let there be darkness. And let there be light" (p. 12).

But they hardly leave that simple message at the level of just information. No, this book means to achieve formation, "a gospel-saturated perspective on how to change". So it's filled with personal stories; the best biblical theology is biography. "The beauty of Christ's gospel is the great 'unless' of life ... we've seen it play out in our lives" (p. 45).

This book is an ideal introduction to the Christian faith for newcomers and inquirers. 

B&H Books provided a free copy of this book for this honest review. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Review of "Truth Matters"

Truth Matters:  Confident Faith in a Confusing World is written for high school and college students, and serves as a clarion call for a "reasoned faith" that has more to offer skeptics than Sunday School platitudes.  It's an informed and informing book that looks at intelligent and biblical responses to common objections to Christian faith. 

Its unifying thrust is to look at one scholar, in this case Bart Ehrman, and offer reasonable analyses of his arguments -- as an example of the way to handle these sceptics a critics with a reasonable, biblical and loving response. 

Choosing Ehrman's work is the best choice of these renowned New Testament professors.  Because Ehrman's work is found in nearly every college classroom in one form or another.  It also pervades the popular culture on Discovery and History Channel specials.  Ehrman is a prolific scholar, whose intellect and charm can be appealing and overwhelming unless you think through his arguments closely. 

Truth Matters helps the reader do just that. 

Apologetics books these days are a dime a dozen.  So initially, I wasn't very excited about this book.  "Why another one?" I thought.  But after reading the first chapter, I realized that the wisdom here blends a rigorous learning with a pastoral sensitivity.  That's rare in apologetic books these days.  But it makes the material here that much more significant and rewarding. 

With Richard Bauckman and NT Wright as some of their conversation partners, this book brings a rich flavor for students who will find it useful.  In fact, it'll be required reading the next time I teach a New Testament introuctory class in college. 

Churches should see that every graduating high school student gets a copy of Truth Matters this year.  It also makes great material for senior high and college-age Church School classes, particularly given the discussion questions at the end of each chapter.  

I was provided a free copy of this book by B&H Academic Books for my honest review. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Girl at the End of the World

I read this book for two reasons.  First, a friend recommended the book to me.  Second, I was intrigued.  I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian background, and have struggled to find my own religious voice. 

There was a comfort here, in finding that my own path hasn't been walked alone.  Elizabeth Ester has written a book that is at once bewildering, scary and amusing. 

Girl at the End of the World is a first-hand account of a woman raised in The Assembly, a Christian "cult" (by her own admission) that lasted from the early 1970s until its implosion under scandal in the early 2000s.  The group was founded by her grandfather, George Geftakys, and so there was a lot of pressure on Elizabeth's family to be the perfect Assembly family.  The "perfect" Assembly family had Rapture readiness plans.  The "perfect" Assembly family punished its children with daily spankings to drive out rebellion.  The "perfect" Assembly family avoided becoming contaminated by "The World" and its evil ways.  The "perfect" Assembly family was a terrifying place to call home.  In the one environment where a child should find peace and love and comfort, Elizabeth found fear, anxiety, guilt and punishment.  It was nothing short of religious terrorism and torture.

I'm still haunted by the image of a young girl, squatting over a hand-dug trench, being forced to defecate, out of obedience to her elders.  Or the image of a young mother, huddled in a bathroom, trying to be obedient and spank her young baby girl because the young child wanted chocolate, after being told no.

This book was hard to read. 

But more importantly, this book was hard to put down.  I read it in one afternoon, because I found its writing that compelling, its story that relate-able. 

Girl at the End of the World also tells the story of what the life of faith looks like after fundamentalism.  She's still groping for God, but has found a haven in the Catholic Church.  It's a safe place where hearing God, hearing the Bible, has brought peace and growth. 

This is a book I'm glad I read.  It's very worth reading.  More, it's worth buying.  Because this book is worth sharing with others who have been damaged by religious extremism.

I can't recommend it too highly.

I received this book free, from the Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

5 theologians

My brother asked for the five most influential Christian books.  Here goes:

1.  Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline
2.  Dallas Willard, Spirit of the Disciplines
3.  Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship
4.  Lesslie Weatherhead, The Will of God
5.  Will Campbell, Brother to a Dragonfly

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

God's will or God's work?

"Everything happens for a reason." "It just wasn't God's will." 

Pithy little sayings I've heard all my life. While they're reductionist now, I never questioned them as a kid. 

Now, though, I think if we see God's will in everything, we miss genuine despair.  We lose sight of hope.  We lose sight of God's will. 

God isn't some puppet master. If he controlled the world this way, there would be no lying, killing, or pain. Things happen to us that are contrary to God's will. Drunk drivers. Cancer. Child abuse. God never wills those. 

Instead, what we really should say: "This will be redeemed in time." Eventually, God will make it right. 

What that says is not that God is in control, but that God is with us, working, saving, transforming. 

A View from Somewhere

You gotta stand somewhere.  This is one part of the world from where I'm standing.

This blogging thing is going to be new.  It's an experiment.  So you'll find a lot of stuff here.

Mostly, you'll read about struggles.  Because I know those best.