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The Place We Make: Breaking the Legacy of Legalized Hate

Sarah L. Sanderson. Waterbrook, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-593-44473-3

In this thought-provoking debut, journalist Sanderson unpacks the legacy of Oregon’s 1844–1926 racial exclusion laws, which “banned Black people from... being within [the state’s] borders.” Sanderson became curious when she stumbled on an unfamiliar name while researching another topic—James Vanderpool, who was legally removed from Oregon for being Black in 1851. With few records available, she turned her search toward the four men responsible for Vanderpool’s arrest: John McLoughlin, Theophilus Magruder, Thomas Nelson, and Ezra Fisher, all of them pioneers who are memorialized in the Oregon State Capitol Senate chambers. Aware that Fisher was a relative (she later learned she shared an ancestor with Magruder), Sanderson set out to understand how “racism [had] warped the minds, imaginations, and behaviors of those who took it upon themselves to master Oregon.” Along the way, she reflects on her own relationship as a white woman to the state’s racial present and past. While Sanderson’s narrative makes for occasionally uncomfortable reading, as when she discovered her ingrained racism on a mission trip (“I first realized White supremacy lived in me on my first morning in Malawi.... I wanted to spend myself on behalf of the needy, but I was about the discover the depths of my own neediness”), she offers an admirably candid self-examination and an insightful look at an underdocumented episode of racism in American history. It’s worth checking out. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/09/2023 | Details & Permalink

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Miscarried Hope: Journeying with Jesus Through Pregnancy and Infant Loss

Rachel Lohman. Revell, $16.99 (160p) ISBN 978-0-800-74300-0

Pastor Lohman debuts with a deeply felt, faith-based guide to help readers navigate the emotional tolls of losing a child during pregnancy or infancy. After the author miscarried during her first trimester, it took months to realize that, along with losing “my blissful expectations of motherhood... my relatively uncomplicated relationship with God, and my trust in my body,” she’d lost something else: hope. Using the Christian Holy Week as a blueprint, Lohman leads readers through the “Five Stages of Hope” related to miscarriage or infant death: expectation (Palm Sunday), shock (the last supper), despair (Good Friday), grief (Silent Saturday) and active hope (resurrection Sunday). Just as the disciples were shocked “as Jesus told them he would soon be gone” during the last supper, for example, so do grieving moms undergo emotional whiplash when their parenthood dreams evaporate. Meanwhile, the renewal of resurrection Sunday mirrors how readers can “open [themselves] up to the possibility for God’s future redemption.” Lohman doesn’t aim to expedite the grieving process, but offers support to readers, who will find the most solace in her perceptive renderings of loss’s emotional nuances: “Hope just began to appear again, unexpectedly yet slowly, not erasing grief but growing alongside it.” This will be a balm to grieving Christian moms. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/09/2023 | Details & Permalink

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Women, Work, & Calling: Step into Your Place in God’s World

Joanna Meyer. IVP, $15 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-5140-0793-8

Meyer, director of public engagement at the Denver Institute for Faith & Work, debuts with an encouraging guide for “career-minded Christian women” who often “feel most lonely... in their faith communities.” While “our roles in public life have grown, the church’s vision for women’s work... has not,” writes Meyer, asserting that “women are vital players in God’s redemptive purposes,” and “reflect the glory of our Creator by being like him—creators who work.” Among other issues women encounter in the workplace, Meyer takes note of the “subtle but powerful dynamic that suggests [they] can be regarded as competent or likable, but not both.” She advises women to ensure their accomplishments are “measurable and visible,” and to reflect on how Christ was “able to hold... seemingly conflicting characteristics in tension,” like “tenderness” and “moral outrage.” She also highlights the importance of mentoring and networking with other women, and offers suggestions for “stay[ing] true to yourself in spite of pressures at work.” While some strategies may prove less actionable than others, Meyer successfully delivers the inspiring message that Christian working women should “lean hard on the Lord and allow his love to guide and sustain you.” This is perfect for those who feel caught between religious and professional identities. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 06/09/2023 | Details & Permalink

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The Spiritual Art of Business: Connecting the Daily with the Divine

Barry L. Rowan. IVP, $18 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-514-00762-4

In this cogent debut, Rowan, CFO of the in-flight internet provider Gogo, proposes a Christian approach to business that prizes faith and humility. Arguing that professionals should “engage in the world for God rather than for our selfish gratification,” Rowan outlines how readers might “more fully connect the daily with the divine,” first by surrendering to Jesus, then by learning to think and live in more Christly ways (for example, attending to “God’s priorities in the present” rather than overplanning), followed by bringing faith priorities into the workplace, and finally by using business to shape a better society (fostering inclusive work environments or supporting worthy charities, for instance). Rowan weaves in anecdotes from his own corporate experience, recalling how his faith helped him keep his cool during high-stakes board meetings, as he strove to do “what I believe is right in the sight of God and leave the judgment to him.” While he sometimes fails to translate his solid insights into concrete action items (he asks readers to consider a personal challenge and then “give it to God”), his message of working in service of a higher purpose is well argued and grounded in a wealth of valuable, real-world experience. Christian professionals will be inspired. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/09/2023 | Details & Permalink

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Hidden Light: Judaism and Mystical Experience in Israeli Cinema

Dan Chyutin. Wayne State Univ, $39.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-814350-67-6

Film scholar Chyutin (coeditor, Casting a Giant Shadow) explores “Judaism’s ascent in Israeli society through its reflection in cinema” in this ambitious yet frequently opaque outing. Among other subjects, Chyutin spotlights 1960s filmmakers who “harnessed the powers of nostalgia in order to make Judaism more palatable to the nation’s dominant Ashkenazi-Zionist tastes”; two religious Zionist filmmaking schools that emerged in the 1990s, each “creating Judaic filmic texts for the general audience (including gentiles)”; and movies from the 2000s and 2010s that tackle such hot-button topics as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the role of women and queer people in the Orthodox world. Later, Chyutin examines how Israeli films negotiate themes of “New Age–inflected Jewish mysticism,” focusing especially on Kabbalistic concepts and rituals. Despite some revealing moments—and intriguing links drawn between mysticism and cinema’s unique capacity to suspend disbelief—much of Chyutin’s in-depth analysis is dense and jargon-filled (“Though such unitive experiences are grounded in certain phenomenological-ontological realities, for Merleau-Ponty their realization is nevertheless contingent on a proper use of aesthetics”). Film scholars will find merit, though they’ll have to wade through the weeds to do so. (Sept.))

Reviewed on 06/02/2023 | Details & Permalink

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The Witching Year: A Memoir of Earnest Fumbling Through Modern Witchcraft

Diana Helmuth. Simon Element, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-66800-298-8

In this animated offering, Helmuth (How to Suffer Outside) chronicles her yearlong exploration of contemporary witchcraft. Drawn to the practice for its promise of “agency in a world that... buzzes with a thousand things I have no control over,” Helmuth struggled through spellbooks with highly specific ritual instructions and requirements (one altar ritual calls for a cauldron, a pentacle, a candle snuffer, two kinds of ceremonial daggers, and “an unconscionable number of candles”); attended group practices that ranged from a well-crafted Gardnerian Wicca ceremony to 15 minutes spent eating marshmallows with strangers in a parking lot; and interviewed witches and scholars of paganism. She recalls frustrating instances when spellwork failed to aid such real-life issues as her chronic back pain, as well as moments of true revelation, like when she felt “plugged into the flow of the world” after communing with divine spirits. Though Helmut sometimes sidetracks her interviews with pagan luminaries by soliciting their encouragement, her wry tone will charm readers, and those who have taken on similar spiritual quests will relate to the author’s desire to know if she’s “doing it right.” Aspiring witches and readers itching to learn more about the occult will find inspiration and amusement. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 06/02/2023 | Details & Permalink

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Shadow Magic: Unlocking the Whole Witch Within

Nikki Van De Car, illus. by Khoa Le. Running Press, $22 (184p) ISBN 978-0-762-48149-1

In this affirming guide, Van De Car (Practical Magic) encourages readers to explore their shadow side, the “aspect of the self that contains what we’re afraid to express.” Defined by Carl Jung as existing outside the “light of consciousness,” the shadow self can manifest in dreams or unbidden waking moments of anger or anxiety, according to the author. When properly celebrated, however, the shadow self allows for “creativity, imagination, intuition, and wonder.” Van De Car outlines ways to connect with one’s shadow self, among them dream interpretation to uncover hidden fears; astrology to tap into intuition; spells to guard against negative energy; and tarot reading to reveal inner truths. Scattered throughout are spells for creativity, intuition, and self-love, along with brief profiles of historical and mythical figures who embraced their shadow selves to powerful effect—such as Baba Yaga, a sometimes-good, sometimes-menacing character from Slavic folklore, and 19th-century New Orleans healer and “Voodoo Queen” Marie Laveau, who “mixed Catholic and African spiritual traditions in ways that people continue to practice.” While readers might already be familiar with the practices Van De Car discusses, they’ll appreciate her message that “we cannot be the fullest expression of ourselves” unless “we embrace... all that we are.” Enriched by Le’s gorgeous, deep-hued illustrations, this is a necessary addition to any collection on magic and witchcraft. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/02/2023 | Details & Permalink

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Raising Kids Beyond the Binary: Celebrating God’s Transgender and Gender-Diverse Children

Jamie Bruesehoff. Broadleaf, $19.99 trade paper (220p) ISBN 978-1-5064-8864-6

LGBTQ+ advocate Bruesehoff’s thoughtful debut guide offers Christian parents and leaders tools to support nonbinary children. Contending that such kids are “who God created them to be,” Bruesehoff recalls how her transgender daughter, Rebekah, expressed an early love of “all things pink, purple, and sparkly,” played pretend salon at age three, and at age eight wore a dress to their church in a rural, conservative part of New Jersey—a particularly fraught moment given the general church culture’s “contentious relationship” with the nonbinary community. Elsewhere, Bruesehoff outlines the medical, legal, and social aspects of transitioning; the importance of placing gender-diverse children in supportive school and community environments; and the need for adequate mental health resources. She also calls on church leaders to revise gendered language in prayers (“brothers and sisters in Christ,” for example, might become “siblings”) and educate community members on the issue by screening documentaries or scheduling gender-inclusive speakers. Aided by practical advice and an eye-opening afterword from Rebekah, Bruesehoff sends a powerful message that “conflating Jesus’s teachings with the standards... of the dominant culture of our time” is “not only inaccurate; it’s dangerous. It puts God into a box of our own making.” This is a wise and necessary resource. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/02/2023 | Details & Permalink

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Hard Is Not the Same Thing as Bad: The Perspective Shift That Could Completely Change the Way You Mother

Abbie Halberstadt. Harvest House, $19.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-736-98675-5

“All suffering is hard. But not all hard things are suffering,” writes Halberstadt (M Is for Mama) in this heartfelt call for Christian moms to reframe their attitude toward parenting. The author, a mother of 10, recalls feeling emotionally wrung out after yet another toddler meltdown eight years ago, when she began to wonder if the “seemingly meaningless melodramas were not a punishment but a mercy from the Lord”—a way God was growing her empathy and patience. In brief, upbeat sections, Halbert outlines this philosophy, encouraging readers to “look for God’s goodness when we feel stuck” and be grateful that God has “filled our mother hearts with an aching love that threatens to burst”; to “be the adult when we want to throw tantrums” by owning the “maturity... [that] the Lord has entrusted to us”; and to “reflect God’s integrity” by modeling moral behavior for one’s children. Halberstadt’s advice is animated by genuine religious passion, and readers will trust her warts-and-all parenting wisdom, which is leavened by flashes of humor that keep things from getting preachy (“You mean, we’re not victims of our children’s tendency to upchuck an entire lunch of undigested chicken quesadillas an hour into a road trip?”). Moms in need of a faith-based, can-do parenting approach will find it here. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 05/26/2023 | Details & Permalink

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Surprised by Doubt: How Disillusionment Can Invite Us into a Deeper Faith

Joshua D. Chatraw and Jack Carson. Brazos, $21.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-587-43559-1

In this vigorous outing, Beeson Divinity School professor Chatraw (Apologetics at the Cross) and Carson, director for the Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement at Liberty University, urge Christians struggling with doubt to ask questions of their faith instead of suffering in silence. Drawing on C.S. Lewis’s analogy of faith as a house, the authors warn against “attic Christianity,” a “narrow” notion of faith whose adherents are convinced that their “room... is the entire house,” and which was “built in fear to protect [believers] from the dangers of the world outside.” Instead of abandoning Christianity, those who have become disillusioned with such limited notions of faith should venture to the main floor—a richer, more expansive form of Christianity, which is built on “sturdy foundations” and allows space for productive questions. There, they can tackle sources of doubt, including the question of “salvation for people outside of Israel before Christ came” (the authors point to Augustine’s view that “final judgment is our Creator’s prerogative, not ours”) and the relationship between science and religion, which the authors argue is not antithetical. Drawing on the work of such thinkers as Blaise Pascal and René Descartes, the authors set out a methodical approach to a thorny topic and deliver it with a down-to-earth approachability readers will find refreshing. Those at a faith crossroads will want to pick this up. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/26/2023 | Details & Permalink

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