Saturday, November 24, 2007

Back to the Well: Women's Encounters with Jesus In the Gospels

Author: Francis Taylor Gench
Type: Biblical Scholarship/Theology
Shepnerd Rating: 4 Stars

The person who loaned me this book told me about the author and described her as a feminist theologian - so I expected feminist theology. However, this book has so much more. Each of the texts has an overview of perspectives ranging from ancient, to traditional to modern and progressive. Each text also involves her view, and the best part - questions to think about for you to understand your own view. I love books that let you think!

One of my main complaints about Christian books is that the first half to 3/4 is usually good but the last half seems to contain filler to make the book longer. By focusing on only 6 vignettes and keeping her prose sharp and well referenced - there is no fluff -- just a lean mean theological machine.
Of course, the massive perspective can have a small minus (life is a double edged sword, afterall) -- sometimes there are so many quotes from so many sources its hard to untwine what the author thinks or where she is taking you - from all the perspective. Overall, though - an excellent study of scripture, time, women and thought.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Almost Moon

Author: Alice Sebold
Type: Fiction
Shepnerd Rating: 2 stars

In her memoir, “Lucky”, Alice Sebold recounts the true story of how she was raped during college (and the tragedy of the campus police offer who told her she was “lucky” because another woman had been killed) and how she recovered. It’s a shocking and healing book as she muses about her violation and her alcoholic family of origin. In “The Lovely Bones” she tells the story from the point of view of a raped and murdered girl who watches her family from Heaven. It seemed she was speaking about the way rape affects everyone around the incident. I liked her previous books tremendously. So I bought “The Almost Moon” expecting further brilliance – what I found was nonsense, and I hated it.

“The Almost Moon” is not about rape – but it is messed up about sexuality. It’s about growing up in an abusive home, and the way it can leave claws in your heart that keep pulling you back into the insanity if you don’t let go. Specifically, it’s about matricide. Helen Knightly, the main character, is care-taking for her ill and abusive elderly mother when she “snaps” and kills her. The rest of the book alternates between the crazy path she takes after the murder (involving casual sexual encounters, going to work, and seemingly framing someone for the killing) and flashbacks of her childhood dominated by her crazy, critical abusive mother. The mother’s insanity is realistic, but the rest of the situations – the neighborhood men who storm the house trying to throw the mother out – the father who has another house he goes to – the gay aging neighbor who gives her alcohol and is her only ally – are so far-fetched it’s ridiculous. The only reason I read this book til the end was to find out if she will get caught and punished.

Why 2 stars then? Why not 0 or 1? Because some of it is absolutely right, and it’s written beautifully. Cathy suggested I hated this book because it was “a little too close to home”. As the child of an abusive family, who escaped to college much like Helen did, I saw a lot of her feelings grounded in my reality: The fear and dread of going home when the school day ended, tip-toeing around every corner so you wouldn’t draw attention and violence your direction, and the way hurt, fear, and love all mix together inside you. In the book Helen calls the days she senses an outburst of abuse from her parents “hard days” as in “It’s a hard day”. I used to call them “bad days” – as is “that was a bad day.” But the meaning, and the ways those days felt - were the same. She’s right about the setting inside that house and describes it perfectly. I’m very thankful I chose therapy and a relationship with God as opposed to Helen’s remedies (sex and murder) – but Cathy was right – some of this book is all too raw and real – those are the good parts – worth 2 stars.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Dharma of Star Wars

Author: Matthew Bortolin
Type: Wisdom/Buddhism
Shepnerd Rating: 4 Stars
Shepnerd Note: This past summer I heard a pastor criticizing Tiger Woods for saying he was both Buddhist and Christian. The pastor said “Buddhism and Christianity are completely incompatible and opposite”. I didn’t voice my objection at the time, but I do disagree with the statement. Believing “only Christianity has truth” is to shut off so many ways God could teach you and talk to you. I don’t think you can be any two world religions at the same time, but I do believe you can learn a lot from the beliefs of others. While no one can serve two masters – you can serve one master in many different ways. For me as a Christian, I believe God put wisdom all over the world for me to use in walking Christ’s Way.

The Bible says, “Test everything; hold onto what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5). I am not Buddhist, but I practice meditation and the Eightfold Path because they help me on my Christian walk. As a young Christian, leaders kept saying I needed spiritual discipline – but never taught me how to develop it. Christianity kept promising me peace, but didn’t offer any advice on how to structure my life to have it. I was told not to act in anger, but no Christian book taught me what to do with anger when I felt it. I found some of those answers studying Buddhism as a world religion. I meditate (with my goal being “an intimate time with God” – not “Nirvana”), and follow what is wise and helps me. God has blessed me through this ancient wisdom and allowed me to know I can learn a few things from Buddhism, while still loving Jesus Christ as my savior and Lord of my life.

This book is a fun and witty text on basic Buddhism. Its perfect for people trying to understand what Buddhism believes and stands for – and its entertaining for anyone who loves Star Wars (Episodes 1-6 are covered in the book – yes, he even found redeeming features in “The Phantom Menace”). It’s a good beginner book though – people who have been practicing or studying for years won’t learn anything new. But it is fun to see the ancient principles illustrated by using Star Wars characters and dialogue.

His best work is on the Eightfold Path: Right speech, right action, right livelihood (work), right mindfulness, right concentration, right view (perspective), right thought, and right effort. He also does well with “the Padawan Handbook” – with Buddhist perspectives about war, violence, prayer, compassion and time.

It’s clear the author understand both Buddhism and Star Wars. He makes fun of Jar Jar (who doesn’t?), points out the humor, and shows the frustrations of joys of being Luke Skywalker. This book won’t make you a Buddhist or a Star Wars Geek – but if you are already one or both – you’ll like it.

Monday, November 5, 2007


Author: David Kinnamon
Type: Research Study
Shepnerd Rating: 4 Stars

David Kinnamon is the president of the Barna Group – a nationally recognized church research organization – who embarked on the 3 year task of discovering what Mosaics and Gen X-ers (16 – 30 year olds) think about Christianity – what he discovered was horrifying. 60% of those interviewed were churched individuals, and 40% were not. The statistics?

Only 16% of the total number said they had a “good impression” of Christianity. The vast majority said they were “Skeptical and frustrated” with the Church and Christians.

Of the unchurched interviewees, only 3% said they have a favorable view of Christians.

91% of churched individuals said ministry was hard because people are increasingly “hostile and negative about Christianity”.

The number one comment that was heard was "Christianity doesn't look like Jesus anymore, its "UnChristian". The vast majority said adjectives that described Christians were ones like: judgmental, hypocritical, too political, scientifically ignorant, homophobic, and sheltered.

What’s striking about the study is that it was commissioned by conservative right-wing Christians, and it reveals a scathing truth about their message to which they have countered “But Jesus said the world would hate us, so we are doing good!” – However, being hated was not the goal of Christianity. Jesus said the world would hate the disciples for shining the light of truth and mercy into a cruel and oppressive Pharisaic church structure. Kinnamon’s book shows clearly - Evangelicals are hated, but not for the right reasons. They are not being hated because they are teaching grace and truth, they are being hated because they are opposing science, common sense (can they truly believe that climate change is not occurring and the world is only 10,000 years old? Haven’t they heard of dinosaurs?), acting badly, rudely and without grace.

Each chapter ends with some thoughts about the issue at hand from some of the most well known evangelicals of the day. It lacks a call to change the church from being an entertainment palace/bully pulpit into a missional fellowship dedicated to Jesus Christ. Realizing evangelicals are the hands that feed him, he spends much time healing their hurt feelings, and neglecting to lay out a map for the healing of these wounded generations and furtherance of the real message of the Kingdom of God. Still it offers a hope that with our understanding of the effects - we can hear the Spirit to change the cause.

A Baptist minister wrote a review of the book in which he concluded: “This is a book all church leaders should read on their knees”. I heartily agree.