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Founding God’s Nation: Reading Exodus

Leon R. Kass. Yale Univ., $40 (752p) ISBN 978-0-300-25303-0

Kass, professor emeritus of Social Thought at the University of Chicago, follows up his book on Genesis, The Beginning of Wisdom, with this exploration of Exodus’s “teachings regarding a worthy life for an individual and a community.” Kass argues Exodus is “the foundational political text” of Western civilization, and of the three stories he examines—divine revelation, Moses’s life, and the “process of people formation”—it is the last that produces what Kass sees as the three pillars of the Jewish people: slavery and exodus, covenanting and law, and ritual enactment. Taking a line-by-line approach, the analysis will be accessible even to those unfamiliar with Exodus, as Kass argues this pivotal book of the Hebrew Bible allowed for original ways to conceptualize the building of a nation that still resonant today. However, having been invited to explore universal questions, many readers may struggle with Kass’s answers, both in the conclusions and lessons he sees reflected in Exodus: that “the condition of slavery generally produces ‘slavish people’ who have no taste for freedom,” that atheism dehumanizes and endangers humanity, or that shared history and identity is vital for a nation to flourish. Despite this, general readers interested in the Hebrew Bible will get much from Kass’s trenchant work. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Dear God: Honest Prayers to a God Who Listens

Bunmi Laditan. Zondervan, $24.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-310-35916-6

Laditan (Confessions of a Domestic Failure), a contributor at Huffington Post, shares an insightful collection of poems, prayers, and letters to God. With an irreverent writing style and a whimsical sense of humor, Laditan ponders a vast array of questions, such as why God doesn’t perform more “flashy” miracles and why he created spiders: “I respect you, but I don’t think spiders were your best work.” She also touches on more serious issues, including forgiveness (“Forgiving someone who isn’t sorry feels like washing a car that isn’t mine”), grace, anger, acceptance, and loneliness (“Dear God, I feel so alone. This must be getting old for you. Please come get me. Please come get all of us”). While many readers will appreciate Laditan’s forthright approach, some may have difficulty parsing her more cryptic musings: “Dear God, I didn’t love because I confused you for your children on their worst days and equated you with buildings. You are so much more.” Even so, her heartfelt prayers of gratitude, sincere supplications, and transparent confessions will strike a chord with any Christian: “Thank you for healing me. As you continue to stitch my heart together, please use forgiveness as the thread so that I stay soft.” Readers who enjoy the work of Ann Voskamp should give this a try. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Wise Tales from the East

Uri Kaplan. Prapanca, $14.99 trade paper (114p) ISBN 978-965-599-296-0

In this illuminating anthology, Kaplan (Buddhist Apologetics in East Asia), lecturer at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, brings together 49 parables from East Asia and India. Though many of these stories, like “A Piggyback Ride” (a lesson in letting go of the past), will be familiar to readers interested in Buddhism, Kaplan’s articulations of them flow well and move briskly to key points. Some readers may find that Kaplan’s lack of additional commentary on the individual stories—including very little explanation of background on the monastic and philosophical traditions they come from—leaves his rehashings devoid of necessary context. Kaplan’s indulgence in a short coda or question at the end of some of the stories generally weakens them—such as his addendum to “Beautiful Flaws,” which adds that the woman who was unknowingly watering flowers on her way to a water well eventually picks them to beautify her home. While the stories find a fuller rendition in other American Zen overviews, Kaplan brings a good ear and quick pacing to these classic tales. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Good Apple: Tales of a Southern Evangelical in New York

Elizabeth Passarella. Nelson, $25.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4002-1857-8

Passarella, contributing editor at Southern Living, debuts with an amusing but uneven fish-out-of-water memoir. Raised in an evangelical Christian home in Memphis, Tenn., Passarella moved to New York City in 1999 to pursue her journalism career, and here she strings together reflections from her more than two decades in the city, examining the difficulties of being both an evangelical Christian and a Big Apple Democrat. Passarella shines in whimsical autobiography: the opening essay, about her relationship with sex as an evangelical proponent of abstinence, hilariously explains her routine of telling men she would meet at bars that she wasn’t going to have sex with them and reads like a stand-up act. While Passarella’s wry tone works for essays about her chaotic domestic life (including a clever q&a about how to fit five people into a three-bedroom apartment) and destination weddings, readers may find some of the stories, such as Passarella’s strangely self-satisfied explanation of shouting fights with her children, less amusing. Despite this, many readers will identify with Passarella’s bright take on what it means to straddle multiple worlds. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Splendour in the Dark: C.S. Lewis’s Dymer in His Life and Work

Jerry Root. IVP Academic, $20 trade paper (220p) ISBN 978-0-8308-5375-5

Root (The Quotable C.S. Lewis), professor of evangelism at Wheaton College in Illinois, argues in this exacting analysis that C.S. Lewis’s 1925 poem Dymer showcases the author’s rhetorical gifts and concern with the power of myth that flowered in his later work. Dymer describes the experiences of a young man who leaves a totalitarian city and wanders in the wilderness, encountering sensual and spiritual pleasures but also torment, culminating in his death in a battle with his own monstrous offspring. Root spends the first half of the book on an annotated text of Dymer, highlighting connections between imagery in the poem and in Lewis’s fiction—but many entries are simple dictionary definitions of archaic terminology. The rest consists of three of Root’s lectures on Dymer analyzing the poem as “an important literary artifact” and responses to each by his fellow faculty members. English professor Jeffrey C. Davis humorously gives thanks for the chilly critical reception the poem received, which cleared the way for Lewis’s later work in Christian apologetics; actor Mark Lewis notes how the actions in Dymer seem “demonstrated rather than lived through”; and poet Miho Nonaka sympathizes with Lewis’s drive to excel in a genre—epic poetry—already out of vogue in his youth. Lewis completists will enjoy this focused, stimulating analysis. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/30/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Bible Recap: A One-Year Guide to Reading and Understanding the Entire Bible

Tara-Leigh Cobble. Bethany House, $29.99 (752p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3703-4

The Bible Recap podcaster Cobble (Kiss the Wave) uses the premise of her show for this useful survey for Christians wishing to better understand the Bible. Cobble began the podcast to help people dealing with common mistakes in biblical interpretation, among them seeing the book as a to-do list, cherry-picking verses while ignoring others, and jumping to conclusions about what had been cherry-picked. Instead, she encourages readers to see scripture as “a story about God” that reveals God’s attributes, to read the Bible chronologically rather than in canonical order, and to keep questions open until one has read the Bible fully. Cobble sets out daily biblical reading assignments and for each supplies a plain-language summary with commentary drawing connections between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, as well as a sidebar highlighting what the passage says about God’s character. While Cobble’s approach is conservative, it is not fundamentalist: she invariably uses male pronouns for God, glosses over Leviticus 18:22 as God prohibiting homosexuality, and describes the Bible as “100% true but not always 100% literal.” For readers with similar attitudes, this will provide a useful support for a daily Bible-reading practice. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/30/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists

Chenxing Han. North Atlantic, $17.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-62317-523-8

In this impressive debut, Buddhist chaplain Han offers an illuminating analysis of the intersection of race and privilege within American Buddhist communities. Along with Han’s accounts of her marginalization as a young Asian American Buddhist, she profiles 89 fellow Buddhists, providing a nuanced portrait of how those interviewed have practiced Buddhism in a way they feel is “in-between” older non-Buddhist Asian Americans, non–Asian American Buddhists, and Asian Americans of other faiths. Though Asian Americans make up most of the American Buddhist community, they are often dismissed as “superstitious” or exotic by white converts, according to Han. Han also explores the lingering mistrust many Asian Americans feel within the U.S. as a result of the many Japanese American Buddhists who were confined in WWII-era internment camps. Many subjcts express their frustrations about not seeing themselves represented on the covers of popular Buddhist magazines like Tricycle, at fashionable conferences such as “Buddhist Geeks,” or in celebrated books written by white converts and Asian monastics. By presenting an intricate and intimate mosaic of experiences, Han thoughtfully and successfully confronts stereotypes of Buddhism in the U.S. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/30/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Sensing God: Experiencing the Divine in Nature, Food, Music, and Beauty

Joel Clarkson. NavPress, $15.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-64158-208-7

In this eloquent testament, musician Clarkson (A Different Kind of Hero) encourages Christians to slow down and more fully engage in sensory experiences. “We are created to experience God through our senses,” he writes, “and in that encounter, to come to know Him better and grow in love.” Clarkson encourages readers to routinely linger in “points of sensory contact embedded in” daily life, such as a “bite of something nourishing to eat... some favorite music” or the “cool air of a walk.” He emphasizes that the book is meant to be a starting place rather than a definitive guide, and provides examples from the Bible, his own life, and a variety of artists, writers, and poets who have become aware of God through the natural world. For instance, Clarkson’s sharing of Thanksgiving with new friends in a small fishing village in Scotland instantly evoked memories of “community, and communion and the joy of the feast.” In another example, Clarkson discusses his initial concern about attending a writer’s retreat without Wi-Fi, and the clarity that resulted from having no interruptions from sensing God’s goodness. He also recommends spiritual disciplines, such as fasting, and compares the soul to a window that needs washing from the grime left by sin and negative habits. Max Lucado fans will want to take a look. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Radical Intuition: A Revolutionary Guide to Using Your Inner Power

Kim Chestney. New World Library, $15.95 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-60868-714-5

In this empowering guide, Chestney (The Psychic Workshop) , founder of IntuitionLab, which facilitates decision-making workshops for corporations and individuals, charts ways to cultivate one’s underutilized sense of intuition to facilitate success in business, life, and community. Chestney declares that “intuitive ability is part of your intrinsic design; it takes you to your truth” and provides a quiz to help readers determine which of four paths they should take to access their intuition—healer, sage, visionary, mystic. Once readers determine their path or combination of paths, they can complete exercises intended to retrain the mind to think intuitively and gain higher insight into the “guiding force within us.” Chestney recommends readers delve into “the first thing that enters your mind” when one when wakes up, and allow one’s mind to “open up” while problem-solving. For Chestney, only when people realize their true potential can they develop creativity and contribute to making the world a better place. While this wide-ranging book will appeal to readers experienced with transcendental meditation, any reader will find Chestney’s suggestions helpful. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Mixed Blessing: Embracing the Fullness of Your Multiethnic Identity

Chandra Crane. IVP, $17 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-8308-4805-8

Crane explores multiethnic identity from a Christian perspective in her uneven debut. The author roots her inquiry in her own mixed Thai, European American, and African American heritage and uses her own experiences and those of other mixed-race people to investigate what it means to live between demographic categories: “For ethnic minorities in a majority-culture world, a life spent on the outside looking in can be exhausting.” Crane writes that being mixed-race brings with it a burden of not belonging, of answering what-are-you questions, and of being excluded or stigmatized—though she notes the number of people of mixed heritage is growing: “generations of mixed folks are having children and even grandchildren who identify as multiethnic,” leading to more fluid, accepting family units. Crane’s understanding of multiethnicity is strongest and most concrete in her concept of “prototypes,” (such as Southern Americans being “hospitable, indirect communicators,” or Greek culture as loud and making one’s “family paramount”), which allows for useful ways of talking about group characteristics without the negative judgments that stereotyping brings. However, Crane, who is a devout Christian, provides little statistical data, and her only description of the “blessing” of mixed heritage amounts to being “part of God’s people that he loves from the center of his being.” Evangelical Christians will get the most from this diffuse work. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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