Posts Tagged ‘Books’

My Review of Mediating Faith by Clint Schnekloth

Jen&Clint

I got to see Clint Schnekloth, author of Mediating Faith, in person for the first time in Houston last Thursday when he came to talk about his book. He even let me interview him for the Life & Liberty podcast! Click the photo to go to Life & Liberty for our audio interview which is about 30 minutes.

Let it be stated for the record that I am friends with Clint Schnekloth, the author of Mediating Faith: Faith Formation in a Trans-Media Era, but I did buy my own copy of the book. I originally met Schnekloth on Facebook when I joined the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Clergy Facebook group upon the recommendation of my local bishop, Michael Rinehart. Schnekloth has been a big help to me in my writing in several ways and it is my honor to help get the word out about his new book.

MediatingFaith

Click the book cover for ordering information.

The first thing I need to let you know about Mediating Faith is that if you think this is just a book about how particular types of media can be tools for ministry, you’re thinking too small. This book is way more than that. In fact, Schnekloth suggests that “all of life is mediated, and much more is media than we are often aware.”

To be frank, that suggestion both frightens and intrigues me all at once. I mean, I want so much to be “real” with people, to be honest in my writing, to have an authentic voice. To consider that everything I do is “mediated” made me squirm a little. But Schnekloth points out in a footnote that even the Bible itself is media–we are just so used to it that we forget to think of it as such.

It is just this kind of revelation about how media is integrated into our lives such that we forget it is even there to which Schnekloth invites us. Furthermore, if media is so integral to who we are, how best can we as people of faith be stewards of the wide range of media available to us to help pass on the faith?

And speaking of the wide range of media available to us, Schnekloth truly covers the spectrum from faith-formation practices based on historic texts to the mysterious world of massively multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs).

Once again, I admit I felt frightened at the mention of MMORPGs because this is a world that I don’t understand and have been reluctant to enter. So, imagine my surprise then when the part of the book that most delighted me came in insights derived from gaming!

After reading Mediating Faith, I am able to recognize my discomfort with MMORPGs is rather similar to the way I once was and many people I know still are reticent about joining Facebook. Whereas now, my Facebook, my own Facebook, my own most precious Facebook has become very much an extension of who I am. I mean, after all I met Schnekloth on Facebook!

The final thing I want to let you know about Mediating Faith is that you will want to have your dictionary.com handy while you’re reading, and maybe even Wikipedia. Schnekloth is not ascared of big words, but I promise you that every one he uses is worth looking up to get his full meaning.

I do recommend this book to those interested in stewarding the range of media available for the purposes of faith-formation. It is dense, but rich and worth your time. And I look forward to future works from Schnekloth and however else he finds to frighten me because just when his writing gets scary is when it gets really good.

P.S. Don’t forget to click the photo above to listen to our interview at Life & Liberty!

In the Thick of It: A review of The Blackberry Bush novel by David Housholder

David Housholder takes some real risks with The Blackberry Bush–risks that yield sweet results.

20130809-204303.jpgNOTE: I received a signed copy of The Blackberry Bush novel as a gift from the author, David Housholder. We are friends and we work together at Life & Liberty, which is Housholder’s online magazine. His gift of this (and his other book) was with no strings attached. I am under no obligation to give a positive review of the book. 


The Blackberry Bush
is the coming of age story of Kati and Josh, two young people whose destinies are intertwined. The characters were born on the same day and are distantly related. But they live on separate continents and have no concrete knowledge of one another until a brief and life-changing encounter in their early twenties.

The book repeatedly mentions blackberry bushes: characters walk among the bushes, get scraped by the thorns, etc. Housholder uses the blackberry bush symbolism to represent that which ensnares us in life. The challenges we face, the demands made of us, and the choices we make often grow out of control and it is hard to emerge from the bracken unscathed.

As Housholder leads us through the thicket with Kati and Josh’s stories, he personally risks some scrapes in the choices he has made as a storyteller. These risks prove to be fruitful for the reader.

Risk #1

The first major risk that Housholder takes with the novel is that of introducing a cast of characters that span generations and live on separate continents. The stories of numerous characters are woven in with the telling of Kati and Josh’s stories as we learn about their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents and find out how Kati and Josh are related.

While telling so many stories in the space of one novel may be risky, I found each of the characters to be very interesting. I loved hearing the backstories of the choices of Kati and Josh’s elders that led to where they each wind up. If anything, I would enjoy learning even more about Kati and Josh’s parents. And I was especially intrigued by Josh’s grandmother, Adri.

To hear all of these stories, the reader is taken back and forth–through time and across continents. Housholder pulls this off beautifully. It helps that he provides a family tree that the reader can refer back to as the characters are introduced, and he makes effective use of the omniscient “Angelo” who narrates just enough to seamlessly weave the stories together.

Risk #2

A second big risk that Housholder makes is that he does not shy away from difficult realities of life. While the book’s central theme is deeply grounded in biblical truth and the main characters are Christians, Housholder does not try to sell the Christian life as all sunshine and puppies. Characters go to church faithfully while also wrestling with substance problems, thorny relationships, and troubling self-image.

This is risky on Housholder’s part because many Christians see struggles in life as a sign of weakness or lack of faith. Furthermore, a frequent criticism of Christians from those outside the faith is that they are just a bunch of hypocrites who say they believe in Jesus but fail to live up to his name.

Promotions of the novel promise that readers will find their stories in this book. Despite my friendship with the author, I was skeptical of this promise. I mean, how could my life possibly be reflected in a novel written three years ago by someone I just met last summer? Pluswhich, since the main characters are just kids, I didn’t think that I, as late-thirty-something, would have much to relate to. As much as I admire Housholder’s work and value his writing, I just could not imagine I would see myself in the book.

I was so wrong.

First of all, I found bits and pieces of both Kati and Josh’s stories with which I could personally relate. But I was especially taken aback by elements of other characters’ stories that felt intensely personal to me. The truth is, this book hit me in ways that I will not be writing about publicly–ever.

By exposing so many very real and very raw realities of our human experience, the book does keep the promise of readers each finding their own stories in it. The truth is we all have struggles–no matter how strongly we try to keep the faith. And as so much of my own life still seems so very much a work in progress, I feel very much that I personally am still in the thick of the blackberry bushes.

But Housholder does not leave Kati, Josh, and the others, or you and me, lost in the bracken. He gives us the hope of a God who seeks to free us from the entanglements of life.

Risk #3

The third big risk that Housholder takes is that of choosing to talk about God and faith in very ordinary language rather than distinctively Christian vocabulary. His language about God and faith is approachable even for those with minimal experience with the Christian faith. While church attendance is mentioned, and the name of Jesus is invoked in prayer, this book is not a sermon or a doctrinal statement about the Christian faith.

Consistent with my experience in working with Housholder, he seems, in the novel, to be more interested in the character’s spiritual experiences than with their theology. What Housholder or his characters believe about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is not given much detail.

Readers looking for a Christian novel to use as a glorified Gospel tract will be disappointed with The Blackberry Bush. On the other hand, readers looking for conversation about what it means to live fully for God will find this to be a brilliant discussion-starter.

The Fruit

Through the risks that Housholder takes with generations and geographies, acknowledging the entanglements of life, and fresh vocabulary for God and faith, he yields a thought-provoking and heart-warming novel. And while it stands on its own as a meaningful work of fiction, it can bear even more fruit for readers who do allow the stories in it to interact with their stories. This would work well as a springboard for personal journaling or for book discussion groups. Questions in the back of the book can help readers work through the major themes presented in the novel. I recommend reading and sharing The Blackberry Bush.

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For more information about The Blackberry Bush, you can visit the novel’s website: http://blackberrynovel.com

To read my reaction to Housholder’s other book, Light Your Church On Fire Without Burning It Down, click the title.

To order Housholder’s books, please visit his online store at Life & Liberty: http://astore.amazon.com/davidhoush-20

My Interview with Sarah Bessey about Jesus Feminist

In my last post I mentioned my friend Sarah Bessey and her new book, called Jesus Feminist. I recently had the opportunity to interview Sarah about the book for Life & Liberty!

>>>Click here to listen to the interview.<<<

Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist

Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist

I’ve known Sarah Bessey for more than a decade, since before either of us had kids, before she had her blog and waaaay before she signed a two-book deal with Howard Books. But a decade is a long time and now here we are with her having just released Jesus
Feminist
, her first book.

As an old friend I am super excited for Sarah getting a book published. And as a woman of God, I resonate with the particulars of this book. I read an e-version of the book from Net Galley and was moved deeply by the beautiful vision that Sarah casts for the mutuality that is possible among God’s people.

Sarah coined the term “Jesus Feminist” and it boils down to the idea that being a follower of Jesus has led to an understanding that women are people too. My own study of scripture affirms this conviction as Jesus and the gospels routinely lift up women.

I credit Sarah with helping me see feminism in a positive light. You can read more about why I identify as a “Jesus feminist” in my previous post titled, I’m a Jesus Feminist Because I Don’t Have to Be One.

Jesus-Feminist-CoverSarah lives in Canada (her homeland) with her husband Brian and their three “tinies.” She’s a non-denominational charismatic and just overflows with the love of Jesus in every aspect of her life.

Sarah calls herself “a liberal to the conservative and a conservative to the liberal” and she often takes what she refers to as “the third way” on difficult issues. Her writing–on her blog (sarahbessey.com) and in the book–is both poetic and prophetic.

It’s an excellent book and I highly recommend it for anyone who cares about the church and the movement of God in our world. This book would also be ideal for a group study or a retreat. Click the book cover to learn more about the book and to order yours from the Life & Liberty Amazon store.

Disclaimer: Links in this post will take you to the Amazon store at Life & Liberty, an online magazine where I am a contributor. Any purchase you make there will help support our work at Life & Liberty.

I’m a Jesus Feminist Because I Don’t Have to Be One

I'm a Jesus Feminist

My friend Sarah Bessey coined the term “Jesus Feminist” and recently published a book by that name. She has invited others to reflect on the ways they identify with this term. Here’s my take: I’m a Jesus Feminist because I don’t have to be one.

I grew up in a time and place and in a home where, as a young woman, I had every opportunity. This was so completely true that I took feminism for granted.

I even bought into many of the negative stereotypes of feminists. I could disparage feminism in my youth because of the rights and opportunities that past feminist movements afforded me.

I didn’t have to be a feminist because of all the hard work for women’s rights that had already been done.

While I never knew a woman pastor growing up, I was in a denomination where women were permitted to serve in every capacity in the church. But I became acquainted with other denominations where this was not the case.

My own first experience in which I felt I was treated differently because of being a woman wasn’t until college. A guest-lecturer utterly dismissed an insightful comment I made after class only to go right back to chatting away with the male student that was still in the room.

But this was only the beginning. Over time I began to learn more about the plight of women around the world and I realized that I was very fortunate to have the rights and opportunities that I have.

When it came time for me to have my son, I made the seemingly “backward” decision to be a stay-at-home mom–not because I had to but because I wanted to. By this time I recognized that making this decision was a privilege afforded me by the work of feminists ahead of me.

When my friend Sarah Bessey announced that she was writing Jesus Feminist and she talked about her interest in feminism being motivated by following Jesus, it resonated deeply with me. I didn’t want to be an angry, man-hating feminist, but I do care about women being treated as people! And my own personal study of scripture led me to believe that God highly values daughters and sons alike.

I think I took the long route to come to terms with my own feminist streak. But the long and the short of it is, I am a Jesus Feminist because I don’t have to be one.

This post is part of Sarah Bessey’s “In which we are Jesus feminists synchroblog.” >>>Click here to read other stories of how and why folks became Jesus feminists.<<<

I also had the opportunity to interview Sarah about the book for Life & Liberty! >>>Click here to listen to the interview.<<<

Order Jesus Feminist from my section at the Amazon store at Life & Liberty.

Disclaimer: Your purchase via this link will help support Life & Liberty, an online magazine where I am a Spirituality Editor.

Letting Love In: A Book Review of “The Wall Around Your Heart”

wall-around-your-heart

>>>Click here for access to my in-person, audio interview with Mary DeMuth, author of The Wall Around Your Heart<<<

I have had the privilege of serving on the launch team for Mary DeMuth’s new book, The Wall Around Your Heart. As a member of the team I received an advanced copy of the book to read.

I am a big fan of Mary’s blog and anticipated that the book would be excellent, of course. But it was even better than I expected.

The Wall Around Your Heart is based on the idea that when people hurt us, it is natural to want to put up defenses to protect ourselves. But Mary says that when we wall ourselves off from painful relationships, we also keep ourselves from healthy relationships that can help us heal.

Using The Lord’s Prayer as a road map, Mary walks the reader through the journey of healing from relational pain. Mary goes phrase by phrase, and sometimes even word by word, through The Lord’s Prayer gleaning insights about God’s love and the blessing of community along the way.

Immediately when I learned of this book, some old hurts came to mind. I had a feeling that God was going to use this book to help me deal with some of those old hurts.

I know that I had been harboring bitterness in my heart–even unforgiveness at points.

What really blessed me about The Wall Around Your Heart is that Mary acknowledges the yuckiness of relational pain. She acknowledges how very, very hard it can be.

Mary doesn’t sugar-coat pain. She has personally experienced more pain in her lifetime than I can even imagine. She goes into more detail about that in the book, but suffice it to say she understands pain.

What Mary does that is so different than a lot of Christian authors is that she points out the love that God has even for people who have hurt us. She notes, “we cannot love our enemies until we see the twin truths: God loves me. God loves them.”

This approach to the question of forgiveness helped me see my old hurts in new ways. It gave me more compassion and grace for those who have hurt me.

But the book is about more than just forgiveness. In a chapter titled, “May Your Kingdom Come,” Mary names five different types of kingdoms that we create for ourselves that keep us from allowing God to reign in our lives and hearts. I was really challenged by some of those!

The only aspect of the book that was a little tricky for me was a fine point about theology that I didn’t quite understand. In one or two places Mary talked about God being “sovereign” and that is a concept that I haven’t really learned much about in Lutheran theology classes I’ve had. But even at that Mary does not try to propose pat answers to the questions of why bad things happen to us.

Mary DeMuth, author of The Wall Around Your Heart

I strongly recommend The Wall Around Your Heart for anyone looking for God’s hope and healing from relational pain. It is well-written, it deepens how we think of The Lord’s Prayer, and it is full of grace.

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You can order the book from my Jennifer Tinker’s Fave Titles section of the online book store at Life & Liberty or ask for it at your local bookstore. You can also listen to my in-person interview with Mary DeMuth and you can read about my two meetings with Mary and what it is like spending time with this woman of God that I admire.