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The Gift of One Day: How to Find Hope When Life Gets Hard

Kerry Shook and Chris Shook. WaterBrook, $22.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-60142-726-7

Married coauthors Kerry and Chris Shook (One Month to Live), founders of Woodlands Church in Houston, Tex., tackle grief and loss with this poignant recollection of their grandson Jude’s single day alive, and how the experience transformed their perspective for the better. Made up of stories first recorded in their “Miracle Book” during the fight for Jude’s life after he was born with kidney malfunction, their affecting anecdotes show how God provided lessons learned through strife. Despite their unanswered prayers, the Shooks know their loss was not for nothing: “We don’t understand why Jude’s story was written this way, and we don’t expect to in this lifetime. But if these chains serve to advance the gospel, what does it matter?” Their stories, which include getting hugs from strangers and sharing the gospel with a stranger on an airplane, are used as anecdotal evidence of God’s presence and evidence that simple acts of kindness can lighten burdens. The Shooks heart-wrenchingly delve into the ways they’ve explored their pain, surrendering to God’s will for the greater good. Asking readers to see pain as an opportunity for personal growth, the Shooks provide a gripping portrait of the strength of faith in overcoming trauma. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Broken Faith: Inside the Word of Faith Fellowship, One of America’s Most Dangerous Cults

Mitch Weiss and Holbrook Mohr. Hanover Square, $28.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-335-14523-9

Journalists Weiss and Mohr provide a fast-paced, harrowing exposé of the Word of Faith Fellowship, an evangelical Christian ministry. Weiss and Mohr explore the appeal of the North Carolina church and its charismatic leader Jane Whaley by following the experiences of Rick and Suzanne Cooper, who joined the church with their six children in 1993. The Coopers grew increasingly devoted, even as Whaley exerted ever more control over the family, including forcing their children to live away from the family in Word of Faith housing and dictating when the couple could have more children. Whaley preaches a strict vision of spiritual warfare in which she singles out individuals at each service for “blasting”: long session of being violently berated and sometimes hit by other congregants in order to force the demons out, particularly accusing members of not sufficiently suppressing sexual desires. Defectors, including Suzanne’s sister, face orchestrated efforts to lure them back and discredit them. In 2014, after over two decades as congregants of Word of Faith, the Coopers left the church. The ballooning number of characters and some unresolved trajectories can make the narrative feel jumbled, but the stories of prolonged abuse and powerful control tactics are transfixing. This is catnip for readers who enjoy investigative reporting on shadowy organizations. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Giving Thanks and Letting Go: Reflections on the Gift of Motherhood

Danielle Bean. Ave Maria, $15.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-59471-945-5

Bean (My Cup of Tea) describes the challenges associated with Christian parents transitioning into life as an empty nester in this tender work. “In earlier years, we might have struggled to keep up with the fullness of our nests,” she writes, “and yet now we find ourselves grappling with a startling new sense of emptiness.” With humor and openness about her sadness watching her children leave her home, she addresses topics such as saying goodbye when one’s children move out, letting go, embracing the present, and giving up control. Bean discusses the weariness that can accompany the responsibilities of parenthood and emphasizes the importance of establishing a core identity with God to prevent resentment and burnout, which becomes crucial once one can no longer direct their attentions to the needs of children. To this end, she also explains the need for flexibility and a willingness to adapt when “God interrupts plans.” Regarding the challenges of family life she writes, “I find that even the ugly, messy, hard parts of life can be beautiful if we examine them through the lens of grace.” While Bean’s comforting advice can apply to any parent, Christian mothers will particularly enjoy this encouraging guide. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Stewards of Eden: What Scripture Says about the Environment and Why It Matters

Sandra Richter. IVP Academic, $22 trade paper (220p) ISBN 978-0-8308-4926-0

Environmentalist and biblical studies scholar Richter (The Epic of Eden) unpacks the Bible’s messages on care for the environment in this powerful analysis. Richter begins her exegesis theologically, by arguing that Christians have a special obligation to understand how original human rebellion against God affects humans’ relationship with nature. In each chapter, she examines the historical context (including Earth’s environmental state at the time) of different sections of the Bible, and in “What does the Bible say?” sections she explains environmental conditions and farming practices throughout biblical Israel. She then juxtaposes those guidelines for the natural, scripturally informed cultivation and preparation of food from biblical history with present-day case studies of farming and other land use practices, to argue for more careful stewardship of natural resources. The sections criticizing herbicides and coal mining are carefully argued and particularly enlightening. Richter’s well-grounded argument will be of interest to evangelical Christians, especially those less familiar with green theology. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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This Ain’t My Life: One Man’s Journey to Finding His Destiny

Bilal Alaji. Bookstand Publishing, $29.95 (326p) ISBN SBN 978-1-63498-838-4

Rapper and entrepreneur Alaji recounts his experiences as a black Muslim man living in America in this candid debut that exposes his doubts, demoralizing obstacles in his life, and his efforts to be a better person. Born to a conservative Muslim family in Upstate New York in 1974, Alaji relates his estranged relationship with his weak-willed and distant father and the courage he gained from his indomitable mother. Alaji dropped out of high school, got married at age 18, and struggled within a toxic marriage (which included Alaji’s attempts to institute Islamic discipline on the household, and accusations of abuse on both sides) for six years before getting divorced. After what he felt was a racially biased custody battle for his daughters and wrongful termination of his job, his plea “This ain’t my life” spurred his belief that he had a greater destiny. Alaji became more interested in music and adopted the rap name Logic the Official; attended business school; and developed faith that God will protect his family along the way. Many of his observations are rationalized with Alaji attributing his past decisions to the naiveté of youth, and are delivered with palpable regret. Alaji also includes splashes of his own rap lyrics, as well as a heartfelt letter to his daughters. Readers will be informed and affected by Alaji’s difficulties as this impactful memoir depicts his determination, tenacity, and ability to change. (Self-published.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Book of Waking Up: Experiencing the Divine Love That Reorders a Life

Seth Haines. Zondervan, $17.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-310-35396-6

Poet Haines, who wrote about his alcoholism and recovery in Coming Clean, addresses the importance of waking up from a life of addiction to a life of delighting in God in this thoughtful memoir. Haines casts his net broadly and rails against the “technological heroin” of social media, bingeing on Netflix, and workaholic tendencies that he thinks have become pervasive. Even being addicted to the “right theology” for prestige in a Christian community can be a slavish attachment, he writes. In very short chapters, Haines tosses out questions and then provides answers, but always in an open-ended, inviting way. For instance, he asks: pleasure is a gift from God, but don’t our motives for seeking pleasure need to be examined? Can pain be a gift? He recommends three main steps: waking up to the pain of addiction, understanding coping mechanisms, and accepting divine love. Haines also examines addiction from different angles—including the etymology of the word and the physiology of the brain—and shares personal stories to show the prevalence of the many addictions that afflict contemporary society. These fruitful ruminations will appeal to readers who enjoy the works of Jim Wallis. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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How Not to Be a Hot Mess: A Survival Guide for Modern Life

Craig Hase and Devon Hase. Shambhala, $18.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-61-180798-1

In this animated debut, the Hases, a married couple and cofounders of a company that offers mindfulness classes and retreats, pinpoint six core principles inspired by Buddhism that will serve readers who feel “blinded by the blizzard of information, the typhoon of opinion and judgment.” Though framed by Buddhist precepts, the authors’ advice is tailored for general readers, regardless of spiritual inclinations: meditate, don’t be a jerk, give a little, say what’s true, have good sex, and avoid excessive use of alcohol or drugs. They begin with their own stories of meditation training over two decades before introducing the basics of short meditations, the underlying health benefits of meditation practice, and supporting research. Particularly convincing chapters cover arguments against lying (it is stressful and destroys one’s reputation) and how to reclaim “good sex” from the “trinity of bad sex (“objectifying patriarchal consumerism”). The back-and-forth format (the authors write alternating chapters) provides a natural outlet for one to tell a story about the other, creating an inmate feel. Studding each of their steps with mindfulness exercises, the authors stress that present, clear thought and action remain their guiding principles. Aiming to help readers “live an ethical and energized life,” this should appeal to those interested in the potential benefits of mindfulness. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Foundations in Spiritual Direction: Sharing the Sacred Across Traditions

Beverly Lanzetta. Blue Sapphire, $39.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-7323438-1-8

Theologian and spiritual teacher Lanzetta (The Monk Within) considers the concept of spiritual direction and guidance in this series of meditations and journaling exercises. Lanzetta focuses mostly on mystical religious traditions—such as Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, and Sufi mysticism—and explains that “the primary focus of spiritual direction is on religious experience, not ideas, and how this experience touches the most profound level of the person.” Various prayers and meditation practices are offered alongside Lanzetta’s ruminations on how these exercises are conduits to the divine. Lanzetta’s own artworks, reminiscent of ancient Byzantine art, are intermingled and used to highlight the mystical ideas she covers. The section on Christianity is notably slim—however, Sufism plays a prominent role throughout. Readers with general interest in world religions will appreciate the extensive explanations of the various spiritual leaders of religions and steps to spiritual enlightenment from a number of religious perspectives, while those seeking to further their own spiritual evolution will find Lanzetta’s end-of-chapter journal questions and meditations most useful. Readers wanting to think broadly about mysticism will enjoy this eclectic mix of history and practices. (Self-published.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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We Were Spiritual Refugees: A Story to Help You Believe in Church

Katie Hays. Eerdmans, $24.99 trade paper (360p) ISBN 978-0-80-287778-9

Pastor Hays recounts the roller-coaster ride of her first four years starting the Galileo Church in Fort Worth, Tex., in her illuminating and animated debut. Hays designed the church as a shelter for spiritual refugees (particularly those who feel alienated by mainline Christianity), and considers it an experiment in the “next church” model—strongly relational and transparent, welcoming to all, and including such modern innovations as tithing through Venmo. As a result, she writes, the church, which opened its doors in 2013, has built a congregation larger and more connected than she ever anticipated. Hays reveals many pastoral failures (and some shining successes) along with the intense spiritual hunger and loneliness of the “spiritual, not religious” people she encounters daily. Believing that “infrastructure follows ethos,” she includes samples of Galileo’s mission statements, grant proposals, job descriptions, and snippets from blog posts, all of which can make this part-memoir, part–DIY church manual feel unwieldy. But those who can look past the clutter will appreciate this endearing introduction to a “church for people who hate church.” (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Beyond Awkward Side Hugs: Living as Christian Brothers and Sisters in a Sex-crazed World

Bronwyn Lea. Thomas Nelson, $18.99 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-40-021501-0

Lea, leader of a women’s ministry in Northern California, offers a refreshing take on the dynamics of relationships between men and women. How can Christian men and women enjoy true friendships without sex getting in the way? Can singles be friends with married people? How do faithful people find purpose outside of their marital status? To answer these questions, Lea argues that Jesus established a family within the church, and men and women can enjoy healthy, nonromantic relationships if they simply learn to respect one another as Christian siblings. While little practical advice is offered, Lea maintains that society has become oversexualized and that Christians should, first and foremost, approach all relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ. Occasionally, she delves into translations from Ancient Greek to explain terms and concepts (including an illuminating section on the translation of adelphoi, or “brethren”) to offer clarity. Her humor and common sense lighten the sometimes charged subject matter throughout. Christians will find this a helpful resource for approaching relationships with the opposite sex. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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