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Beguiled by the Wild: The Art of Charley Harper

Charley Harper. Pomegranate, $50 (134p) ISBN 978-0-7649-7229-4

Celebrated artist and children’s book author Harper (1922–2010) has an instantly recognizable style: geometric images of all manner of wildlife, rendered two-dimensionally with crisp lines, provide viewers with a unique, often whimsical, perspective on his subjects. This chipper book, a reprinting of his 1994 release of the same name with additional commentary from his son and collaborator, Brett Harper, collects all 110 of the serigraphs that the elder Harper produced from 1968 to 2007. Readers are sure to be stunned by the images and Harper’s ability to make flat images come to life. Simple scenes from nature—Jesus bugs (aka water skaters) skittering across a pond, a school of minnows mid-swim, a fiery red cardinal enjoying a midwinter bath, a black bear seen through a screen of birch trees—are enthusiastically rendered. Wildlife lovers in general, and fans of cardinals, owls, and raccoons in particular, will find this book a joy to behold. It’s a terrific summation of Harper’s work, and one that fans will return to again and again. Color illus. (Sept.)

This review has been corrected; a previous version showed an incorrect price.

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life

Ann Voskamp. Zondervan, $22.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-310-31858-3

Bestselling author and speaker Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts) encourages readers to find love in their suffering and brokenness. She begins her memoir in the raw emotion of remembering a time in her teens when she cut herself on a broken jar to relieve an intractable pain she felt welling up inside her from an unidentifiable source. She compares this moment to the turmoil her own teenage daughter has been experiencing—feelings of disconnect, loneliness, and unworthiness. In 18 superbly developed chapters, she goes on to detail real life stories that will leave readers alternately weeping freely and celebrating ecstatically. One of the most poignant anecdotes tells of Voskamp’s 40th birthday: she spent the day with her family, visiting a nursing home, a coffee shop, and other places in their neighborhood to deliver gifts and pay for strangers’ coffee. Readers will find inspiration in Voskamp’s wonderful goal of attaining peace and closure after such tragic occurrences as losing a good friend to cancer. Tracking back and forth across the same broken ground, Voskamp’s work is no light reading. Those who summon up the courage to engage her weighty subject matter will discover a road map for charting the “brokenness that makes a canvas for God’s light.” (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Karma Can Be a Real Pain: Past Life Clues to Current Life Maladies

Joanne DiMaggio. Rainbow Ridge, $16.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-937907-45-7

Therapist and past-life researcher DiMaggio (Your Soul Remembers) offers a collection of brief case studies intending to prove that ailments in this life such as arthritis, diabetes, and depression are the result of “physical karma” from a previous life, and that spontaneous healings can occur if patients discover the source of their present-life maladies through past-life regression therapy. The collection includes some harrowing past-life accounts—opium addiction, sex work, and even death by crucifixion—but is weakened by some unexplained holes. DiMaggio states that her work is set apart by the inclusion of “soul writing,” a kind of automatic writing believed to come directly from one’s higher self, to provide extra insight on the past-life regression. Yet even though DiMaggio and all her volunteers did soul writing in each case, some studies only include DiMaggio’s soul writing or only the volunteer’s, while others have both. Seemingly analytical statements are often symbolic, such as the assessment that arthritic clients’ stiff joints result from “the tightness they hold in their attitude toward life.” Structural issues aside, the book offers possible karmic explanations and some hope for those with chronic health issues, and presents an interesting catalogue of approaches to life. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Speaking of Homosexuality

Joe Dallas. Baker, $15.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-8010-1915-9

Dallas (When Homosexuality Hits Home) offers conservative Christians a clear guide for defending their belief that homosexuality and Christianity are in opposition. The first three chapters urge wise consideration of context and conversation partners. These uniquely empathetic chapters encourage readers to admit past Christian errors and recognize the suffering of LGBTQ individuals. The bulk of the work marches through key pro-gay arguments in rapid but careful coverage. Dallas addresses the genetic theory of homosexuality, conversion therapy, same-sex marriage, accusations of Christian homophobia, and the biblical verses that condemn homosexuality. In each chapter, he states the anti-gay position concisely, provides brief responses to revisionist counter-arguments, and offers short summaries of key points. This approach provides direct, obvious talking points but removes any sense of nuance or complication to the arguments. In particular, it is not evident why Dallas trusts Christian scholars who support reparative therapy, which has been widely discredited by psychotherapists, but distrusts other scholars who question the accuracy of biblical translations, a topic that’s considerably closer to the heart of their work. Despite this bias, Dallas’s work helpfully moves the argument away from heated emotions and is an excellent guide for traditionalists just starting to engage in the debate. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Find Your Miracle: How the Miracles of Jesus Can Change Your Life Today

Kerry and Chris Shook. Waterbrook, $21.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-60142-723-6

The Shooks (One Month to Live), founders of Woodlands Church in the Woodlands, Tex., open their primer on the topic of miracles with a surprising statistic: 79% of Americans, including 78% of millennials, believe that miracles happen today. The authors believe there are five main principles of miracles: God starts with the miracle you need most; the miracle leads you to a deeper relationship with God; God works the miracle out in his own time; God’s miracles always glorify him and point people to Christ; and folks have to position themselves to receive the miracle. Readers will study the miracles that Jesus performed as the Shooks detail what those miracles should mean to modern-day believers. The Shooks specifically look at Jesus in the roles of healer, provider, storm chaser, and life giver. Each chapter is replete with personal anecdotes plucked from the authors’ lives, and readers will find pertinent Bible passages at the close of each chapter as well discussion questions at the end of the full text. The subject of miracles is a subjective one, but the Shooks throw caution to the wind in creating their own rubric for miracles, and believers will surely contemplate it long after finishing the book. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan

Anthony T. Kronman. Yale Univ., $50 (1,176p) ISBN 978-0-300-20853-5

Situating his book between the spiritual polarities of atheist and true believer, Kronman (Education’s End) focuses on a third way of thinking about the afterlife: born-again paganism. Critiquing the loss of love and gratitude that comes with what he calls the self-defeating doctrine of Christian salvation and the disenchanted “loveless world of rights” it has created (“the poisonous fruit of the Christian religion”), Kronman recommends a religion that “reconciles the longing to be close to God with the [individualistic] ideals of our secular age.” Part intellectual history and part doctrinal statement, this massive confessional work is concerned with humans making their way in the modern world with joy and gratitude. In order to make his case, Kronman seeks to dissolve what he sees as Aristotle’s errors and to deconstruct the disenchanting philosophy of Christian salvation. Furthermore, he explores the practical implications of born-again pagan theology, specifically through the writings of Baruch Spinoza (the book’s hero), Walt Whitman, and Friedrich Nietzsche. The book is daunting in length (over 1,000 pages), and its unapologetic emphasis on Western philosophy (to the neglect of philosophies stemming from other worldviews) limits it from being truly universal in scope. However, what the book diligently provides is an intellectual history of neo-paganism and a commendable attempt at navigating the practical ethics of what a post-Christian society would look like. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Caring for Our Aging Parents: Lessons in Love, Loss and Letting Go

Michele Howe. Hendrickson, $14.95 trade paper (236p) ISBN 978-1-61970-835-8

When Howe (a reviewer for PW) and her husband were “thrust into caring for our elder neighbor/relative,” they learned how unprepared they were. In this concise book, they take what they learned from that and subsequent experiences, and condense it into a guide meant to offer advice and solace to caregivers of all kinds. Chapters such as “Tough Love” and “Love and Respect for Others” take on specific challenges many caregivers encounter, such as the strain caregiving places on other relationships and the effects of caregiving on the caregiver. Each chapter contains a “Take-Away Action Thought,” which is meant to inspire further contemplation outside the text, as well as a brief prayer section titled “My Heart’s Cry to You, O Lord,” providing prayers that focus on the contents of that chapter. The book emphasizes the emotional aspects of caregiving; any practical advice it contains stems from anecdotes from the author’s life, but the focus is on the caregiver. Readers may feel misled by a chapter such as “When Finances Become Deal Breakers,” which lays out the challenges and expenses of caretaking for a patient who needs to ask her parents to contribute gas money because of the “financial toll on her pocketbook” but offers no other specific challenges or practical advice. Christians struggling with negative emotions while providing care to someone in need will find helpful comfort here. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Let Your Spirit Guides Speak

Debra Landwehr Engle. Hampton Roads, $14.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-57174-740-2

In this short and sweet instructional manual, Engle demystifies the idea of a spiritual helper. Exploring the sense of the spirit world that she has felt since a young age, she likens spiritual helpers to ground control operators for aircraft who, although not physically present, are always watching and offering advice. Engle challenges her readers to consider what is possible if they learn to work with their spiritual helpers by seeking creative solutions and new ways of approaching life’s dilemmas. She concentrates mostly on the language of the spirit world, such as urges to take certain actions for no apparent reason, and words, pictures, sounds, colors, and numbers that continue to show up, almost as if instructing one to pay close attention. Some of Engle’s impressions come off as wistful or ungrounded, but her advice to sit still with paper and pen and ask any question that comes to mind, simply recording any and all impressions, is a fine jumping-off point for further daily spiritual reflection. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Invisible Bestseller: Searching for the Bible in America

Kenneth A. Briggs. Eerdmans, $25 (255p) ISBN 978-0802869135

According to religion journalist Briggs, yearly sales of the Bible in the U.S. are “generally agreed to be around twenty-five million copies.” So why isn’t the Bible read more, especially by religious readers who view it as central to their faith? In this sometimes plodding but mostly fascinating book, Briggs interviews a cross-section of audiences in an effort to find some answers. Some people, like Episcopalian Philip Turner of the American Bible Society, claim that traditional worship resources—such as the Book of Common Prayer—weave Scripture throughout them, educating worshippers about biblical references and stories. Many people say that they don’t read the Bible—even though they might own one—because they can’t understand it. In addition, Briggs points to the displacement of biblical values by secular values, the tension between critical and spiritual readings of the Bible, and the ongoing struggle between science and religion as possible reasons for the decline in Bible reading in America today. Briggs’s alternately fascinating and prosaic book rehashes the old news that the Bible is America’s bestselling (but least read) book and finds hope that many readers will continue to think of the Bible as a living entity, not just a collection of facts. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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