Posts Tagged With: book recommendations

RevGalBookPals: Healing Spiritual Wounds

Lately, I have been paying attention to negative space. Not just space where the energy is 515o5ugeajl-_sx329_bo1204203200_less than positive, but negative space with regard to art-
making, language, and emotional processing. Negative space focuses on what isn’t. What wasn’t. What didn’t. Wha wouldn’t. Negative space can drive us to the other extreme in all kinds of ways, sprinting away from pain into a overzealous commitment to do the opposite of the thing that scarred us deeply.

The negative space created by a wounding church or hurtful church people leaves space that aches in its emptiness. The echoing lies in the negative space speak untruths about God and about our own goodness. That echo reverberates in our lives- affecting our health, our choices, our habits, our relationships, and our faith. In order to live with this hollowness, we set up a system that feeds on the negative space. But negative space has nothing to give.

3a Carol Howard Merritt writes that people who are inclined toward faith will find themselves at the edge of this negative space, again and again. They long to be filled and yet the echoes of the negative spce seem too broad, too deep, and too loud to be overcome. Overcoming this pain with healing, positive truth is a real and tangible possibility. This is the premise, the structure, and the achievement of Merritt’s book Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church.

Within the book, Merritt shares some of her own story as well as that of others she knows. The pain of church lies, leader deceptions,  and the religious idolatry of the appearance of perfection and prosperity are not the telos (end) of God’s desire for the church or for any part of creation. Resurrection and renewal as a spiritual person, in communion with God and others,  is entirely possible, achievable, and worth desiring. This book teaches those lessons gently, like learning how to swim.

You don’t need to conjure God; you simply need to find ways to awake to God’s presence and deepen your connection. (61)

Beyond her gentle prose, Merritt offers clearly structured exercises for contemplation and action. Her metaphors and examples help the reader sit with pain and roll it over like a stone in the mind. As the hurtful thoughts are rolled, their sharpness slowly smoothes. Their ability to inflict pain dulls.

Merritt’s own story- with the religion of her college years, with her father, with her spiritual journey- allow the reader to see that trauma can cause physical pain, grief, illness, and long-term internal and external work. The act of helping someone else in healing can bring healing to one’s own heart, as she often demonstrates.

Toward the end of the book, Merritt writes a litany of the power of biblical women. She reclaims their stories into her own and sees their strengths as a witness to God’s love and work through women. Merritt’s awakening in this section feels very open-ended, as though she wants the reader to know that she is still healing, still discovering, still being loved by the Divine into a new fullness. And because it is happening to and for and through her, the same is true for you.

I highly recommend this book. It would, in particular, make a good Lenten reading for individuals or small groups. Take a positive step to fill negative space in your life with healing and hope. Reading this book can be that step.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at and She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. 

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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RevGalBookPals: Threading My Prayer Rug

Problem: You would like to help people in your congregation or community learn more about Islam. Ideally, this would happen with a visiting Muslim speaker or a visit to a mosque. Maybe your community does not have a mosque or there are not any speakers that you know or both of those steps are still a bridge too far for people who are nervous without even knowing what they supposedly fear. Perhaps you have a group of armchair researchers and travelers who like spirited discussion and new points of view. Could it be that you are preparing for what changes might come by helping your congregation understand what it means to love their neighbor?61pqzyqavsl

Solution: The answer to the question you may not even have fully formed is Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim. Trust your friend Julia (me) when she says, “Go ahead. Buy this book. And then block off the time post- Christmas Day service nap and read it. You will be glad you did. And you’ll know what your
congregation will be reading in January.”

Sabeeha Rehman’s memoir is part- Pakistani memoir, part immigrant story, part Muslim education, and part interfaith dialogue. Her tone is very light and she is self-deprecating first, before she is ever critical of anyone else. We are introduced to her (and her family) through the journey of her arranged marriage and then the new couple’s move to early 1970’s America. Rahman always keeps her narrative going, even as she reflects on what she didn’t know then or didn’t expect or on how things have changed.

She begins to tease out her cultural realities from her religious experience and understanding. As her family grows, she and her husband (and their community) realize that they will have to create the space to raise their children in the faith. It will not be transmitted by osmosis or even within the family because the competing culture is so strong. The determination of Sabeeha, and her husband Khalid, along with the Muslim community members of their area, to raise money for a mosque, to share space with one another, to work to keep the faith is beyond inspiring. In fact, inspiration is too flat a word. It is powerful and moving because it reveals truths about how Muslims in America become American Muslims and, in so doing, shape neighborhoods and communities for the good of all who live there.

Threading My Prayer Rug also allows the reader to begin to see the shadows of Islamophobia and Islamic hatred take shape in America. Rahman describes her own grief and frustration at changing attitudes and her worries about acceptance and safety. She writes truthfully about her own efforts to study the Qur’an and to wrestle with what is said and what is not said (and yet taken to be gospel because it is tradition). Any Christian who has had similar experiences with the Bible will certainly relate to this passage. (Any Christian who has NOT had similar experiences with the Bible should… well, that sentence can’t end well.)

If you are trying to figure out a way to help your community learn more about Islam, but a comparative religion guide or course is just too big a stretch for a first step, I highly recommend Threading. Rehman gives enough of an overview that you will have people asking to confirm what Muslims think about Jesus or Moses or Abraham or is this true about Khadija or Aisha? The difference between some sects of Islam are explained here too, with Rehman’s opinionated flair. The book will give your group plenty of fodder for discussion and give you time to find a practitioner of Islam or a Muslim scholar who can engage the group (post-book).

RevGalBlogPals is an international organization and I realize this is a very American-centric book. It may be American-centric enough to be off-putting to non- American audiences, but it may also give some distance for conversation in places where immigration or changes in religious climate are a very intense issue. You can use the American setting or the “historical” setting as a backdrop for the discussion. What role did the borough president play in helping the community feel welcomed? How did the Boy Scouts make a difference? What role could/does your community play in recognizing the gifts of immigrants (or religious minorities) while including them in local life?

I can summarize my recommendation to you in one sentence: this is my 137th new book that I have completed this year and it is definitely in my top 10, maybe top 5. I am already planning to schedule it for church book club for February 2017. The only reason I’m waiting that long is because we’ve already got a book for January. This is not a heavy or hard-hitting book, but that’s where its beauty lies. Like a prayer rug, it is only threads and backing- but the pattern keeps you staring and thinking and contemplating and that’s how the transformation happens.


The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at and She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. 

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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RevGalBookPals: I’m Judging You

In the past week, I’ve struggled to finish a book, any book. I have half-read books all over the place, but they have too much plot or not enough, or I need more attention to learn from them, or I just can’t bring myself to care about the people or characters in the book. This is not my usual style. In fact, it is a sign of depression that I have learned to recognize.

However, I did manage to RE-READ something this week. Actually, I listened to the audiobook of I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi. I already read this book. (In fact, I was so hyper in my pre-ordering that I bought it twice. Whoops.) Listening to the book as I flew across the country, crocheting my feelings like I do, brought home all the things that I like about this book. Which I had already read two times since it came out in September.

I am terrible at beginning a sermon with a joke. I don’t like to do it and I don’t often enjoy it when other people do it. However, that is Luvvie’s forte. The book begins with hilarious 51leduid2bal-_sx332_bo1204203200_judgments about friendship, social media, and how the world works. It is observational humor- tightened up and with an edge that leaves you recognizing yourself and laughing at the same time. Yet, as you laugh, Luvvie pulls you into deeper and deeper subjects. You are reflecting on ridiculous places that you have seen the Comic Sans (the font) used and then you are in the middle of her well-paced and trenchant commentary on racism, privilege, or feminism.

Frankly, the chapter on feminism is a MUST read for all white women. It is embarrassing to consider the ways  in which white women have seized feminism as their own cause, defined on their terms- without ever acknowledging how black women and other women of color have contributed to the realities of this country and the women’s movement. This book describes this reality (and its aftereffects) in one of most concise ways you will ever read. If you don’t think you can bear hearing Luvvie’s voice convict you with the audio, read the book (especially that chapter) yourself, but prepare for self-examination. If you didn’t or don’t think this divide is a real thing, please break here and read Luvvie’s post on how women of different races voted in the presidential election. Then come back.

The whole book is like being in a confessional with a witty and charming priestess. She already knows your sins and she will tell them to you. You will realize where you have erred and will long to do better. And she believes that you can.

In the epilogue, Luvvie writes:

Sometimes, we feel the pressure and self-imposed expectation that when we do something, it needs to be big and perfect. That can render us useless and ensure that we do nothing because we’re so afraid of not doing enough. That’s tapping out before we begin. Damb [sic] that. I am here to tell us all to drop that. Small acts can go far, so you thinking you cannot do enough is not okay. You can, and I am asking you to at least try.

In the wake of recent world events (wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, etc.), it can be overwhelming to try to figure out what to teach, where to start, and how to tackle the painful realities of our present situation. The thing is, racism is real. Sexism is real. Body shaming is real. Online bullying is real. Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigrant words and actions are real.

Our stands against these things cannot be metaphorical. They must be solidly anchored not only in our intentions, but from our cores where we seek bind and heal, not wound and warp. I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual is a book for such a time as this. You can laugh until you weep and then weep until you laugh. Then you wipe your nose, straighten your shirt, and figure out which part of your act needs cleaning up.

And, trust me, as Luvvie will assure you, some part of it surely does.

The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. 

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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RevGalBookPals: A Life Everlasting

Sarah and Ross Gray found out that they were expecting twins. And then they found out


that one would live and one probably would not. Learning about the life of their oldest son, Thomas, was almost immediately paired with learning about his death due to anencephaly. Throughout the rest of her pregnancy, Ross and Sarah walk a road of hope and grief.

They ultimately decide to have Thomas’s organs donated either for transplant or research. This is not a common decision, for many obvious and not so obvious reasons. The ups and downs of the birth and what transpired after are gripping and as moving as one might expect. However, the real triumph of the book happens in what Thomas “achieves” in death. His corneas, liver, and  blood, among other things, are part of extensive life-saving and life-transforming work in research labs and universities up and down the eastern seaboard.

Gray includes other stories of parents who chose to donate the bodies or organs of their deceased infants. In many instances, these parents had to really push to find a way for their children to be accepted. Research can only advance so far without the ability to be put in context. The donation of bodies- organs, tissue, bones, and whole bodies- for research allows for the fighting of disease at a different level than one life at a time.

Religion does not play any kind of significant role in this book, though there are two kind souls- a priest and a chaplain- who do show up and show up well. Yet, Sarah Gray goes on a holy quest to see her son in the afterlife of his body. She goes to the research facilities that received his organs. As she begins to see the work that Thomas is helping, the researchers are moved to see the family of a donor who has made furthering their work possible. The meeting of hearts and minds- sharing grief, joy, and purpose- is a blessing to those present and to those reading about it.

The story itself moves very quickly. While the various organizational acronyms make a little bit of an alphabet soup, it is not impossible for the reader to follow. Gray’s own curiosity and energy in pursuing the channels of donation to research pull the reader along with her. This book is ideal for people who already loved learning about Henrietta Lacks or who wanted to but found that book overwhelming. This is an easier read.

What boosted the rating for this book in my mind was the material. Gray’s grief pushed her into creative thinking about how her son’s donations were being used. There wasn’t actually anything to stop her, but- at any point- people who were worried about lawsuits or misinterpretation or just encountering a grieving mother could have stymied her search. Instead, the book reveals a web of people who were interconnected by a short life that was actually more full of meaning and possibility that most people would think and most parents would dare to dream.

This is probably not the book to hand to a freshly grieving parent, although, within the book, parents who learn about anencephaly support each other. This IS a book for anyone who is interested in science, health or medical research, organ donation, or grief/process memoirs. One of the preschool teachers at the congregation I serve has already called dibs on my copy and I think I am going to buy a copy for at least one of the hospital chaplains in the congregation as well.


I asked for and received an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. 


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.




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RevGalBlogPals: Two Alternative Histories

The adult education group at the church I serve is studying Daniel. It is very interesting to talk about how the Bible is put together and used differently by different groups of people. Daniel is counted with the “major” prophets in Christian scriptures. The book is part of the writings in Jewish bibles. In talking what the same book reveals and teaches in its varied receptions, we are beginning to play with the idea that history isn’t only what is written by the winners. History is also what gathers uncollected in attics or is left behind in basements. History is the stories that passed down and down again until they became a whisper of what they were, but that whisper still lives on the wind. History is the imagination of something different and that sliver of a thought evolves until it becomes a living breathing movement.

There are two alternative histories on bookshelves and being discussed everywhere right now. Both books discuss worlds in which black people are not people, not even close. They are barely bodies to be used, abused, worked, experimented upon, and disregarded upon discarding. As I re-read that sentence, I feel compelled to remind you, the blog reader, that these are alternative histories- imagined stories around real events.


Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

This book imagines a modern-day America where the Civil War never happened. In
compromises between states, the Constitution was amended such that slavery could never 41buhofz1el-_sx320_bo1204203200_be outlawed by the federal government. In the present day, slavery remains in the “Hard Four”- a unified Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The effort to help enslaved persons escape is worked through Underground Airlines, a similar set-up to the Underground Railroad, but using airline terms (baggage handler, pilot, flight attendant) instead. Since persons escaping enslavement would have to cross state lines, the federal marshals are involved in recapturing the lost or stolen “property”. The book’s narrator is a man who escaped enslavement, working with the marshals to capture other escapees.

The book’s pacing is like the foxtrot- slow, slow, quick, quick. At times I was worried about how much I had left and then at other times, I couldn’t read quickly enough. Due to the first-person nature of the narrative, the other characters are not fully fleshed out in motivation or description, but they cling to the imagination. There are cell phones and pay phones, internet and intranet, Michael Jackson is real in this book and was the second World War. It is interesting to dive in and out of real history and historical people.

What is painful is knowing that we do live in a world where the America Civil War (the War Between the States) was fought and yet the lives of many black Americans has not been significantly improved. What would an alternative history that included reparations look like? I recommend this book for you personally if you like this genre or for your church book group if you’ve read Between the World and Me or book about present racial dynamics in America. This is a good book to take a conversation to the next level. If you live outside the States and don’t know of a book similar to this about your own country or region’s history, it may be worth reading this book and then discussing what might have happened without some of the history-altering events of your past.


The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I am not sure if RGBP has ever echoed an Oprah endorsement before, but here we are. Since I usually find myself with books up to my armpits (and stacked higher than my head), I don’t usually know about such accolades until I go to write about the book myself. Nevertheless, The Underground Railroad is an interesting mix of imagination and horrific reality.

Cora is a third-generation enslaved woman on a plantation in Georgia. Her escape from that setting does not exactly lead directly to an easier life. With the Underground Railroad re-imagined as an actual railroad, Cora and others are still at the mercy of those who can help them move further north. Within the story, there are discussions of how to sterilize black women at the same time there are scientific experiments on black men. Some of the white characters scheme to entice immigrants to work on cotton plantations, imagining that the issues with that labor will be less tiresome than the issues of enslaved labor. (Sigh)

In criticisms of this book, I see people saying it is “too violent” or that the characters are not fully developed. Frankly, the book is probably not violent enough in its descriptions of enslaved life. Furthermore, I think the flat affect of the characters in the novel depicts the numbness that comes with living in fear and constant worry. Cora can never really allow herself high highs in part because the threat of such low lows is always a shadow out of the corner of her eye. The alternative historical parts of this book are written well enough that the reader will look up and think, “Wait, is that true?”. A little side reading may be warranted.

This is a good book for a group that has not yet read a more difficult story about modern racism or historical race issues in America. It will be challenging, but it allows the reader to ease into the conversation. Readers who push back, arguing that “things were better than this” should be told to “sit down” and listen, perhaps followed by some time in silent prayer.

All told, I think either of these books make an excellent conversation starter and I recommend them both.


The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. 


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.


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RevGalBookPals: Not A Mistake

I found out that I was pregnant with my first child in a Walmart bathroom, three days before presiding at my first Christmas. I still remembering standing in the stall, having driven the four miles to the store (the closest to my house) and not having peed yet. I did not know what to do next. So, when Jordan Sykes goes to POAS (pee on a stick) right before presiding at a church service, I thought, “Don’t do it! Wait two more hours!”

amber2014Yes, reader, I did judge her for her timing, but I did not judge her for her sexuality. And I don’t judge our sister in Christ, Amber Belldene, who wrote Not a Mistake– the story of Jordan, her unexpected pregnancy, and the navigation of deciding how her life will proceed in love and work and parenthood from that (poorly timed) moment in the sacristy when she finds out that she’s expecting.

Amber Belldene wrote an excellent essay  in There’s a Woman in the Pulpit about the intersection of being a priest and writing romance:

Sexual pleasure is a divine gift. It’s a radical message, especially to people who expect the church to be either silent or damning on the subject. Mature romantic love is not saccharine or simple, but a discipline that leads us to transcendence. (“Saint Paul versus Danielle Steele”) 

I can wholeheartedly commend Belldene’s novels to you as well-written, neatly plotted, wholly charactered, and steamy! The editorial trope of looking down on romance novels as unworthy of being read by “real” readers is so cliched, it makes the fight over whether Revelation is literal or metaphorical fresh, interesting, and dynamic. However, I have noticed another trend in a variety of areas of life in which readers express disdain for fiction in general. It usually goes, “I don’t have time for fiction. There’s too much real stuff to learn. How hard can it be to make something up?” (*Sigh of support for all authors*)

I asked Amber to answer this question: “Why does fiction matter, especially for people in helping professions?”

What an interesting question, and I don’t think it has a single or simple answer. It’s easier for me to say why I think fiction matters for people of faith. When I was in seminary, I found I really needed to make time to read for pleasure, especially fanciful, out-there literature. I was a better preacher when I did: more creative and imaginative. And this makes theological sense–if God is ultimately mystery, beyond our vision or our complete comprehension, then our imagination is crucial for knowing God. It makes relationship and intimacy possible; it opens our mind to possibilities beyond our small habits of mind. Prayer, listening for God’s still, small voice and seeing God in others’ being and actions all require imagination.

This is even true for relationship with other people. Inside everyone is mystery, that part of ourselves we don’t reveal to others. What else is empathy but an act of imagination–the mental exercise of putting ourselves in the situation of another? Consequently, I’m pretty sure reading fiction nourishes compassion, and that gets me back to your original question. Fiction helps sustain us and our ability to care for others.

But personally, I don’t read angsty literature or gruesome thrillers. I see plenty of suffering, unnecessary drama, and violence in my life. I read and write romance, because it’s full of passion, emotion, and heroic characters striving toward a happy ending. I embrace the fundamentally optimistic nature of the genre, that doesn’t deny suffering and honors the emotional lives of women, but always demands the author and reader imagine the happy ending that is possible.

To me, this is profoundly faithful and hopeful–to celebrate how love (romantic, erotic, divine) helps human beings heal and overcome our flaws so that we can become our best selves (heroine-material!). We can train our imagination to grow in our compassion for others, and also to find the possibility for transformation and joy in even our darkest moments. This is a useful skill, one that helps us participate in how God is redeeming the world. 

Yes! Exactly!

What I loved about Not a Mistake was the intertwining of the faith life of the characters with their sexuality and their history and their mixed emotions. The absence of real faith practice in non-“inspirational” romance is very frustrating to me. In all these small 41wsaexicpl-_sx331_bo1204203200_towns, no one goes to church other than on Christmas Eve (sometimes)? No pastor expects premarital counseling. No one has discussions of their own understandings about God?

I’m not expecting second date throwdowns about The Institutes of the Christian Religion. However, in Not a Mistake, Belldene provided nuanced conversation about mixed opinions on birth control, Christian Ethics, premarital counseling tools, human sexuality, and life in the Christian community.


I’d love to see us discuss in the comments romance, general fiction, and the way the church and church leaders can be real about life and all its messiness, and if you already read Not a Mistake and loved it too!




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RevGalBookPals: Just Mercy

You’re tired.

I’m tired.

Do you really need something else to read or to throw into your To-Be-Read list (TBR)? No,just-mercy no you do not.

Do you need a surefire recommendation for your church bookclub, social group, or adult book study? Something that will spark conversation and deep thoughts and push people to reflect on who Christ is in their neighbor- yes, yes you do.

Trust me on Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. This is a story about deeply seeded racism (that still is present today), the “justice” system, prejudice, and forgiveness.

Amazon describes the book, thusly:

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Normally, I put quotes that I liked from the book here, but I highlighted so much that it is too hard to choose. It is a book that needs reading with discussion partners and, preferably, with Easter still fresh in people’s minds. How do we grieve and reject an empire’s quick and unsympathetic of execution of an innocent brown man on trumped up charges when it happens all around us all the time?

Stevenson’s writing flows really well. Even late at night in the past week, even with all that’s happening, I had a hard time putting the book down. It’s frustrating to read and realize how little has change. It is simultaneously uplifting and encouraging to see how hard some people work(ed) for the truth to prevail.

Best of all, when you tell your council that this is the book that you’re all going to read between Easter and Pentecost, Stevenson’s website has a discussion guide to help you: I can’t make it any easier for you. Just put this title on the list next to whatever it was that you need to choose a book for: plane trip, cruise, book club, wine club, throw-down with the next-door neighbor. Everyone can learn something from this book and it’s best for us all to learn these lessons sooner rather than later.



RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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RevGalBookPals: Kate Braestrup Roundup

I recently mentioned on Facebook that I desperately needed to discuss Kate Braestrup‘s new book, Anchors and Flares: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hope, and Service, and it came to my attention that many people love her first book, Here If You Need Me and an almost equal number of people were unfamiliar with her or her work.

Ah, it’s so fun to say, “Here, you’ll like this!”

Here If You Need Me is not just a crash course in Braestrup’s life. It is also a primer in ministry- in what it means to sort out being present to yourself, your family, your life, and your vocation. It’s a pretty quick read and it is likely to get you right in the “feels”. I hate that phrase, but I’m not sure how to describe this book. You’re likely to laugh, cry, and nod in recognition of what she writes, all on the same page.


Marriage and Other Acts of Charity: A Memoir is more reflective, not only on her first marriage, but also on the act of loving another person in general. While I like this book, it would not be my recommended first book of hers to read. The discerning reader will benefit from knowing our author and her story better before engaging this book. Braestrup’s signature marvelous vocabulary and powers of description are at work here. This book is likely to be a lovely sorbet of a book for the working counselor or clergywoman/man.


Beginner’s Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life is the book the older people in your congregation might enjoy discussing. Here’s a book that the chaplain to the Maine Game Warden Service wrote about the nature and efficacy of prayer- enjoy! This is not a book of prayers or a book even about how to pray. It is more about what prayer is, how it shows up, and how we’re shaped by prayer.


Lastly, Anchors and Flares: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hope, and Service… So far, everyone who has read this at my recommendation really liked it, but believed they preferred her first book to this one. To me, they’re not the same book. This latter memoir has more of an essay feel than her previous books… as though the author was rambling through tales, the through-thread of which only she knew. I listened to Braestrup read the audiobook in my first encounter with Anchors and Flares and I did note the somewhat disjointed nature of the narrative. However, as the end of the book approaches, one begins to realize that this is not a straight forward memoir. This is a reflection rooted in a particular life event and colored completely by the event in question. The rambling nature of searching for meaning is what people often do in the wake of this type of event. The finding of it is up to them and it is up to those who will listen to allow it to be. Seeing her fourth book in this lens makes it my favorite. Despite owning the audiobook (highly recommended, she’s a great reader), I have also bought the hardback. (It’s not hoarding, it’s a library.)

I do heartily commend any and all of these books to you.

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RevGalBlogPals: An Improbable Friendship

Let’s be honest. My Goodreads list says I’ve read (completed) 129 new books this year. (I don’t count re-reads). I just read an article by a woman who read 164 books. I’m envious. Here’s the honest part, though: I can’t do that. I still like to sleep, crochet, eat, exercise, see my kids, work, visit friends, talk to my spouse, and play with the dog. She might be able to do all those things AND read 164 books. More power to her. I’m me.

And you’re you! It’s tempting at the start of the year to set a lofty reading goal. (This may be the sermon only I need to hear. I beg your indulgence.) If it brings you joy to think of stretching your reading beyond work or genres or race/gender/nationality/sexual orientation/etc of authors or to read books with only yellow covers, then set that goal!

If you’re a slow reader, but you want to read something outside of work related things once a month and that one item is an Archie Double Digest, then get your comic on.

If you like the idea of reading more, but you can’t figure out how to do it- maybe this is the year that you embrace audiobooks or short stories or poetry or essays. There are books out there for every kind of reader. Be gentle with yourself and your goals. Strive for habits (more reading) and not outcomes (all the Russian classics in Lent).

As for a recommendation to start 2016, An Improbable Friendship: The Remarkable Lives of Israeli Ruth Dayan and Palestinian Raymonda Tawil and Their Forty-Year Peace MissionIt can be an alphabet soup of acronyms and a mind-swirl of names and places. Yet, we’re talking about two women, one married to a high-profile Israeli military officer and the other the mother-in-law of Yasser Arafat. These two women have lived history.

The narrative is heart-breaking, frustrating, and inspiring at once. If you have a church book group that likes a challenging read, this would be an excellent book for them. It covers the modern history of the region, densely but readably. The women, Ruth and Raymonda, are forces of nature and forces for peace. Even when they are at odds with each other, they still want to see peace in that region.

I recommend this book because almost all of us can use more information, more background, more nuance in our understanding of the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians. This book gives that, along with two indomitable forces that go by the names Ruth and Raymonda.

As we close the book on 2015, I wish you peace, joy, and satisfying page turning in 2016.

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RevGalBookPals: Christmas Collection

Here is my confession: in the midst of having sermons to write, liturgies to craft, visits to do, choirs with which to practice, and naps to snatch… I somehow managed to have everything (ALL. THE. THINGS.) for which I have been on hold at the library come in all at once. Yes, less than 10 days before Christmas, I have 20 books checked out of the library.

Because I am crazy.

And I know that you know that I will not read 5 books between now and Christmas Day. It can’t happen. The laws of time and space won’t allow it.

Thus, I must be judicious in my reading. Now is the time for the pleasure read, the escape moment, the little sliver of a chapter before you pass out cold (I hope) or stare at the ceiling and pray for sleep (I hope not).

The following are a few holiday themed books I’d recommend- to give your brain a break and your typing fingers a chance to do something else. Not all of these books are for everyone, so be circumspect. If it doesn’t sound like your thing, let it go.

There’ll be a second book review this month (12/31) and I’ll give you more serious material for your spiritual and religious needs in 2016.


Unholy Night (Grahame-Smith) This book follows Balthazar. This isn’t your child’s bathrobe-clad Wise Man. Not sparing on the “realistic” details, Balthazar is a Robin Hood-type who gets caught up with the Holy Family. This story has light moments, but it’s not necessarily funny. It is, however, very thought-provoking, as the Balthazar can’t stop thinking about that baby.

The Stupidest Angel (Moore) So you like the concept of above, but you really need it to be lighter… look no further than this book by the author of Lamb. (What’s that? You haven’t read Lamb. Well, finish that Christmas sermon because you’ve got reading to do!) Moore’s typical hilarious writing of characters and situations keeps this story rolling right along. Perfect for an afternoon of mind-clearing fun.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Robinson) You like the idea of an afternoon, but you don’t have that much time? Okay, this will not take you anymore than 90 minutes. If you haven’t read it before, it’s heart-warming. If you have, it’s nice to revisit. It’s worth considering, as well, how the Herdmans would be received in the congregations we serve. So, maybe this isn’t quite as relaxing as one might hope… No, it’s as good once as it ever was.

Lighting the Flames: A Hanukkah Story (Wendell) Some people like a little “happily ever after” in their light reading. This is a story of what it means to love someone and to know them well. Yes, this is a romance, but it’s not erotic. It’s sweet and kind and warm. It encompasses the mix of emotions people can feel at the holidays and in relationships.


What’s your escape in this season? What do you take a few moments to enjoy? Please start a conversation in the comments below. Remember, though, my library dance card is FULL!




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