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Unexpected Journeys: My Search for Adventure, Love & Redemption on the Other Side of the World

Paul Perkins. Whitaker House, $15.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-62911-699-0

Perkins, a former White House staffer for President George W. Bush, gives a messy, jumbled account of his emotions while traveling to Indonesia, Thailand, and India in an attempt to reconcile his evangelical past with his spiritual present. He frames the journey within the context of his own beliefs, but many of his observations and takeaways come off as degrading and ad hominem despite his "to each their own" rationalizations. Perkins feels "dirty, soiled" for looking at a sex worker's naked body, but tries to assuage his guilt by claiming, "If anything, she took advantage of me." After being propositioned by a different sex worker, Perkins feels sympathy for her but narrates turning her down as a heroic act of chastity and adulthood. At time he attempts humility, but his sense of heroism punctuates the story as he quotes a driver who calls him "adventurous," "amazing," and "brave," and, without a trace of irony, likens himself to a "ruthless hunter" and a "hawk" as he kills mosquitos in a beach hut. Perkins attempts a typical evangelical redemption narrative, but as he wanders Southeast Asia reflecting on God, forgiveness, sex, his family, and life's meaning, among other things, his self-serious attitude can be off-putting, and the overly brief hints he drops about turmoil in his past are more frustrating than intriguing. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Overload

Joyce Meyer. FaithWords, $22 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4555-5983-1

Bible teacher, speaker, and bestselling author Meyer (The Mind Connection) uses personal anecdotes, observations, research, and scripture to guide readers through deconstructing the causes of stress and learning how to release oneself from external and internal stressors. The book's 15 chapters cover such topics as "Choice Overload," "Laugh, Laugh, and Laugh Some More," "The Stress of Comparison," and "All Is Well with My Soul." Each chapter includes bullet points and checklists with helpful tips on dealing with various types of stress. Meyer also ends each chapter with an interesting factoid about stress and a summary of major points from the chapter. She approaches dealing with stress in an understanding, empathetic manner, sharing her experiences and encouraging readers to give themselves some grace when life becomes too overwhelming. Written in a calming, sympathetic tone, the book will help readers who feel overburdened, overwhelmed, or overloaded and will undoubtedly resonate with a broad demographic. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Make a Break for It: Unleashing the Power of Personal and Spiritual Growth

Bill Purvis. Zondervan, $21.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-310-34353-0

Purvis, who started his international television ministry as the pastor of Cascade Hills Church in Columbus, Ga., has grown a 32-person congregation to more than 8,000 regular members. In this inspiring text, Purvis begins by recounting being stabbed several times during an altercation when he was only 17, leaving him so badly injured that doctors didn't expect him to survive. Lying in agony on the verge of death, Purvis cried out to Jesus to save him and in that moment found a transcendence that set his life on a new course. Purvis shares numerous real-life accounts of individuals who have endured desperate times and found that God became their personal redeemer as well as the redeemer of their past mistakes. He shares inspirational stories organized by topic, including breaking free from a deadly past, learning to envision a powerful future, finding strength from within, carefully choosing the right mentors, and effectively handling critics. Purvis's story is amazing not simply because of what he has endured but how he has chosen to overcome obstacles with faith, courage, and a sense of purpose that drives him even through the darkest hours. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting

Danya Ruttenberg. Flatiron, $24.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-06494-3

Ruttenberg (Surprised by God) takes up the ancient quandary of how to situate spiritual practice alongside effective parenting and considers the question: "What if parenting were considered a spiritual practice in its own right?" The book searches the depths of Judaism and other religious traditions for what each can teach parents, but also reverses the question to ask what parents can bring to religious and spiritual traditions. Eschewing easy answers and prescriptive diagnosis, Ruttenberg encourages homing in on the wonder of the universe, the creator, and the "wow" that parents and children can engage in together. A standout chapter exploring the depths of parental fears and issues of control will have readers contemplating ways to embrace the unknown in their spiritual and personal lives: "As much power as we have over our children's lives, as much as we are able to control who they are and how they will be in the world in some respects, there are certain important things that we can't control. Ever." Ruttenberg's personal struggle makes the book relatable to practitioners of all faiths. This is great gift for parents-to-be or new parents who are wrestling with how to stay grounded and maintain their spirituality in the hectic early years of raising a family. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

James K.A. Smith. Brazos, $19.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-58743-380-1

Smith (Desiring the Kingdom), philosophy professor at Calvin College, offers a thought-provoking analysis of present-day American culture's secular liturgies, which he defines as "rituals that are loaded with an ultimate Story about who we are and what we're for," and argues persuasively for the need "to intentionally recalibrate the unconscious" in order to worship faithfully. Making an intriguing exploration of the shopping mall as a modern-day temple with a "consumer gospel," Smith invites readers to take a "liturgical audit" of other secular temples that provide formative, not innocuous, experiences. Unpacking the dramatic narrative of worship, including confession, sacraments, and weddings, Smith lifts up the power of story and "the historic practices of the faith," maintaining that faithful worship is "embodied, tangible, and visceral." He asserts that repetitive spiritual practices, at home and in church, have the power to shape moral character: "We become what we worship because what we worship is what we love." Examples from Smith's personal life as well as references to literature, philosophy, film, and art make this compelling and inspiring contribution to the study of spiritual disciplines both accessible and engaging. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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