Category Archives: spirituality

spirituality, religion, God, and the like

“Found” review

Found coverFound:
A Story of Questions,
Grace & Everyday Prayer

By Micha Boyett
Worthy Publishing
01 April 2014

Found is split into eight basic parts, plus a forward by Ann Voskamp, a preface, and an afterward. The eight parts are separated into different prayers. For example: Part 1 Vigils, Midnight; Part 4 Terce, Midmorning prayer; Part 7 Vespers Evening prayers; etc. Micha (pronounced “MY-cah”) Boyett’s inspiration is Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk, and it shows in her writing. Boyett begins her story—written in present tense, which is something I always advise against—in “Late November, Friday before Advent” in San Francisco and ends it two or three years later in late June in Austin, Texas.

I started this book and wanted to like this author, and I think that if we knew each other in real life, we might be friends or at least friendly. At its most basic, Found is about a woman who, after having a child, loses the contemplative prayer time she set aside for herself. I am interested in how people incorporate prayer into their daily lives (or how they don’t), but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of sheer “my life now revolves around my kid”-ness. I don’t like kids; I certainly don’t want any; and I didn’t realize how parent/child-focused this book would be when I first picked it up. Now, after rereading the book’s back cover and the book description, I don’t know why I didn’t expect said parent/child focus, but for some reason I didn’t. With that in mind, I’m mentioning it here so that people who want/like kids can find something useful or inspiring in this book, and so that people who don’t want/like kids can successfully avoid it.

Something I did like about Boyett’s journey was that she tried every day to bring the god of Abraham into her life, with varying degrees of success. She grappled with her faith, consciously choosing to believe. That’s the kind of faith I can support. Good on her. As Esther de Waal said, “There must be time to work, time to study, and time to pray.”

DISCLAIMER: I received Found free from Worthy Publishing for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Water Walker

Water Walker coverWater Walker
By Ted Dekker
Worthy Publishing
18 March 2014

I liked Water Walker MUCH better than its predecessor, Eyes Wide Open. It follows one of the minor characters from the previous novel, Alice Ringwald, and gives her her own story. Like Eyes Wide Open, the novel Water Walker is split into four parts, each of which was serialized for e-readers before being published as a complete novel in paperback.

The story begins, the main character says, “the night I discovered that I wasn’t me.” At thirteen years old, Alice has no memory of anything before six months ago, and when she’s taken into the care of two loving foster parents, she begins to settle into a peaceful life. Unfortunately, that all changes one evening when she’s kidnapped by her birth mother’s husband, Wyatt, and taken to live on a compound in the Louisiana bayou. Her birth mother Kathryn and younger half-brother Bobby meet her there, all of them under the tutelage of Zeke, a self-styled prophet of God on Earth.

The first nine chapters surround Alice’s abduction and the FBI’s fruitless search for her after she seems to fall off the map. Alice is immediately renamed “Eden” upon arriving in Louisiana, and chapter 10 and thereafter skips forward five years and follow’s the events surrounding her eighteenth birthday. Dekker writes another page-turner, but at least in this case I kept reading because I was interested in the story instead of because I was hoping for my expectations to be defied. (In Eyes Wide Open, my expectations were definitely NOT defied, unfortunately.)

This novel didn’t really surprise me, either: the “bad guy” was bad all the way through, the main character’s naiveté was never cured, and the Outlaw character still acted as deus ex machina, and I’ve never seen THAT work out well in contemporary literature. This novel was no exception in that respect.

The primary theme is forgiveness, and though the author had ample time to flesh out the characters and create a spellbinding, believable (in the story’s context) ending that included forgiveness, he didn’t. Alice/Eden just simply has an epiphany about “letting go of the boat in the storm” and “walking on water” and then just forgives her mother for all the abuse she inflicted upon her daughter for more than five years. That’s a romantic notion but hardly plausible given the way the novel is set up. Jesus is meant to be Alice/Eden’s role model—modeled to her in her dreams by the Outlaw—but even he got angry and yelled at people. Turning the other cheek is one thing; getting trampled is completely another.

Turning the other cheek and forgiving one’s aggressors is something that Jesus teaches, but it’s also one of the Biblical reasons that white plantation owners in the antebellum South gave for keeping black slaves. Just because Alice/Eden forgave her mother and Zeke (the evil bad guy who’s mostly off in the distance pulling people’s strings) at the end of the novel, there was a large chance that that would’ve changed nothing about her situation. Luckily for her, it worked out, but not everyone is granted with a happy ending. Where does a person, water walker or not, drawn the line? Would you “turn the other cheek” even unto death? Even unto the death of the person you care most about in the world?

DISCLAIMER: I received Water Walker free from Worthy Publishing for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Revive! The Oracles of God

Revive! coverRevive! The Oracles of God:
The Three Constants of the Christian Faith

By Ozakieoniso Charlie
WestBow Press
26 November 2013

oracle: noun a priest or priestess acting as a medium through whom advice or prophecy was sought from the gods in classical antiquity. (special usage) a person or thing regarded as an infallible authority or guide on something.

Revive! The Oracles of God is split into a preface, an introduction, and five chapters. For those who don’t know, a preface is usually about the book as a book that is separate from the rest of the material: methodology, how it was written, etc. An introduction, however, is about the book’s content. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Ozakieoniso Charlie understood the difference in this case because they bleed together and overlap.

The first chapter attempts to explain what an “oracle” is, but it isn’t very clear, evidenced by the fact that I had to look up the word’s contextual definition. The second, third, and fourth chapters cover the oracles themselves, which Charlie calls “the three constants of the Christian faith”: the Word of God (the Bible), prayer, and selfless service. Finally, the last section is where the author brings it all together with his 21-day prayer project.

The three oracles—the Word, prayer, and selfless service—are first introduced and then elaborated upon in their own chapters. Charlie’s writing is verbose and hard to follow, and his explaining “the three constants of the Christian faith” is no exception. My first reservation had to do with the apparent lack of focus (except in the very last section) on the most prominent figure in Christianity: Jesus. Talking about Jesus could get old really fast, especially for someone like me, who is not a Christian and hasn’t read anything “new” about Jesus since she was 15 years old, and so there’s potential for the lack of Jesus in a narrative about the Bible and Christianity to be complex, intriguing, and profound. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here.

The last section focuses on the reader’s application in their own life. It’s basically a prayer schedule: read a Bible verse or chapter (mostly from the Books of Isaiah and Revelation), “sing songs of praise for at least twenty minutes”, and then prayer for an hour or more at a time. The prayer is split into multiple prayer points, sometimes as many as 40, with many as in-understandable as “Every star destroyer from my hometown caging my star and my destiny, destroy yourselves, in the name of Jesus.” No one with decent reading ability should have to ask the author what something means because it’s the author’s job to write in a way that the reader will understand.

I have never seen the word “oracle” used in the way that the author uses it here, so wrapping my head around the special usage (see above) every time I read it was really distracting and removed me from what the author was trying to accomplish. The quotations from the King James Version Bible are excessive, sometimes pages long. Likewise, I read pages of non-Bible-verse material without a single paragraph break, and that’s not a good thing.

DISCLAIMER: I received Revive! The Oracles of God free from WestBow Press for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Psalms of Sonorous

Psalms of Sonorous coverPsalms of Sonorous
By Nancy G. Wright
WestBow Press
26 November 2013

sonorous: adj. (of a person’s voice or other sound) imposingly deep and full. also: capable of producing a deep or ringing sound; using imposing language (in text or speech); having a pleasing sound

Psalms of Sonorous is comprised of almost 120 poorly written poems that all glorify the god of Abraham. Many of the poems have promise, but promise alone does not a good poem necessarily make. Most are written in the narrative style with an ABAB-, ABCB-, or AABB-type rhyme scheme. It’s clear from the sheer quantity of poems in this collection that Nancy G. Wright, the poet, loves God, and it seems as though she took a cue from the Book of Psalms or Song of Songs.

A difference between this collection and Psalms, however, is that all of these poems are praising God for his goodness and righteousness; while Psalms has plenty of poems similar in theme, there are also those that call out to him in despair or anger. Likewise, a difference between Song of Songs and Wright’s poetry is that Psalms of Sonorous fails to include anything titillating; none of the poems left me with a sense of awe, identification with the poet, or so much as any desire to continue reading.

Poetry is already difficult for the average reader to access; I wouldn’t recommend wasting time on bad poetry. For Christian poetry with zing, I’d (re)read Mary Karr’s Sinners Welcome.

DISCLAIMER: I received Psalms of Sonorous free from WestBow Press for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

The Last King of the Jews

The Last King of the Jews coverThe Last King of the Jews
By Jean-Claude Lattès
Translated by William Rodarmor
Éditions Robert Laffont
14 January 2014

I know very little about Jewish history, so reading an entire book about Agrippa kind of out of the blue was certainly an experience. Most of what I do know centers around Jesus (because I was raised Christian) and World War II (in a “let’s never do that again” kind of way). I was worried that The Last King of the Jews would be reminiscent of Last King of Scotland, but thankfully, Agrippa was a “peace-loving, thoughtful, tolerant ruler” and therefore nothing at all like Idi Amin.

At the beginning of this biography, after a brief section which details the cast of characters (which I admit blurred together a bit for me), the author makes a number of notations. First, the story presented is a staged novel, complete with points of view, judgments, and the prejudices of the era. Second, and more importantly for me, there’s an appendix at the end that gives a very brief history of the Jews and Judea up to 43 BCE, definitely recommended reading for someone who knows as little Jewish history as I do.

In a case where I need to flip back and forth for end notes and appendices, as I did with The Last King of the Jews, I really prefer to have a hardcopy rather than the ebook version I was provided, if only for ease of use on my part, but that’s not a point against the biography itself, just the format. I don’t think that it’s being sold in print form (only as an ebook, as far as I’m aware), however, so take that into consideration when purchasing. To the publisher’s credit, the virtual copy I received was well-formatted, and I was able to move back and forth between sections with only basic difficulty.

After reading the survey of Jewish history, I still think that The Last King is at least an intermediary text rather than an introductory one. On every page, names I probably should’ve recognized (at least recognized in context) just flew by without sticking. I was able to get the feel for recurring characters, of course, but not in the sense that I could connect them to any actual historical personage outside the context of the story. (The one exception to this was that I was able to place Herod, the king who sent the three wise men to visit Jesus.)

It was like reading a historical novel, honestly, and if I hadn’t known it was actually a biography, I might’ve just taken the story as fiction. (See how much I don’t know about Jewish history? Sad, I know.) The Last King has so much information in it, however, that trying to absorb it all makes it a slow, albeit entertaining, read. I’ll have to return to Agrippa again in the future in order to take in more of the history, which was at times overwhelming the first read through.

DISCLAIMER: I received The Last King of the Jews free from Open Road Integrated Media for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Perfect Ending

Perfect Ending cover Perfect Ending:
Why Your Eternal Future Matters Today

By Robert Jeffress
Worthy Publishing
21 January 2014

“When will Jesus Christ return? When is the Second Coming?” Those are the big questions for many Christians. As someone who does not identify as Christian (or Christ-follower, or any variation thereof), Bible prophecy isn’t on me list of important things to keep track of. I have a hard enough time believing that Jesus lived, enacted miracles, and was who he said he was when he was alive. Most days, I don’t even bother thinking about something many preachers and (arguably false) prophets have failed to correctly predict. Not that prediction is a science or necessarily anything more than wishful thinking, but there are many things we can do today (heart transplants, using the internet, plastic cards taken as currency) that would’ve been witchcraft in the past, so who am I to say that predictions of the future will never be correct? It’s just that they haven’t been so far.

Honestly, I think people think too much about Bible prophecy, the Book of Revelation, and “why your eternal future matters today”—which is exactly the opposite of what the author of Perfect Ending argues in his easy-to-read, 236-page book, complete with Bible verses on every page and study questions for each chapter. Jeffress goes from explaining the similarities and differences between “the Tribulation” and “the Rapture” and “Premillenialism” and so on to mentioning what’s temporary (God turning his back on Israel, for one thing) to talking about what’s permanent (heaven and hell are final destinations and there’s no backing out after death). I’m making it sound much more complicated than he does, but it trying to absorb and retain all the information in Perfect Ending, I just kept thinking to myself, “I see now why so many Mormons could think such ridiculous things about heaven, heaven on Earth, and the afterlife.”

The Book of Revelation, where the most prophecy regarding the “end times” is in the Bible, was written by a traumatized exile hiding on an island who somehow thought that writing down his delusions and hallucinations would be a good thing. Seriously, step back for a minute and think about it. It’s just… the whole thing’s incredible.

To whom would I recommend this book? It was actually well-thought out and covers a lot of the strangeness that many people don’t understand about Christian fanatics who get stuck in an “You’re going to hell if you don’t repent right now!” end times loop in their lives. I wasn’t expecting much from Perfect Ending, but it actually helped me better understand the Second Coming idea and all that surrounds it. I was going to donate this book after reading it, but it’s seems pretty useful as a reference, so I’ll probably keep it around. I didn’t agree with the theology, but I live with and deal with people who do agree with it, and I think understanding their beliefs about the future and the end of the world will help me work with them more compassionately.

DISCLAIMER: I received Perfect Ending free from Worthy Publishing for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Big Daddy Weave’s ~Redeemed~

Redeemed cover Redeemed
By Mike Weaver of the band Big Daddy Weave
Freeman-Smith LLC
27 August 2013

partial Redeemed lyrics
I am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, ’cause I’m not who I used to be

All my life I have been called unworthy
Named by the voice of my shame and regret
But when I hear You whisper, “Child lift up your head”
I remember, oh God, You’re not done with me yet

I’m coming at this song and devotional from a completely different perspective than I suspect most readers of Redeemed are. Before reading through the book, I’d never heard—or even heard of—the song of the same name, which inspired the thirty included devotions. I read through the entire book before ever listening to the song that prompted it; I hoped that in doing so, I would appreciate the song itself more than I would’ve the other way around.

Each chapter makes up one devotion, which is split into the following smaller sections: title, Bible verse, 3-4 paragraphs of related writing, “more promises from God’s word” (3-4 further verses), “more great ideas” (4+ related quotations from prominent Christians), “a prayer for today”, and a one-page section for the reader to write their own thoughts about the devotion’s material/topic, etc.

The chapter titles all begin with “Redeemed…” and continue with topics like “from the Shame”, “and Courageous”, and “for All Time”. As you may imagine, the Bible verses and the rest of each devotion center around its title. As a reader and a skeptic, I think that reading different versions of the Bible is absolutely a great thing to do, but when another book (especially a devotional) is just taking verses here and there, the verses should all be from the same version. Just pick a version and stick with it. This devotional uses nine—nine—different versions: King James Version, New King James Version, The Message, New International Version, New Living Translation, New Century Version, English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, and Holman Christian Standard Bible. That’s like reading something written semi-randomly in nine different dialects, and it doesn’t inspire confidence. Even though all the versions mentioned here are in English, anyone who’s read the King James Version will tell you it’s markedly different from The Message, which is much different from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, and so on.

The further ideas from prominent Christians section isn’t that much better, but for a different reason. First, the quotations “are not, in all cases, exact quotations, as some have been edited for clarity and brevity”. Some were retrieved from secondary sources, and their “accuracy cannot be guaranteed”. I understand that brevity is the soul of wit and all that, but it strikes me as dishonest for an author to mold another person’s words to fit his own purposes, whatever his good intentions may be. The reader is forced to trust the author’s interpretation of another person’s words. It’s like reading a translation of a translation, which is problematic in and of itself, but could be acceptable if it was so presented. But in this case, I can’t tell how accurate these “quotations” actually are, and there’s no obvious warning about the author’s paraphrasing.

Second, this section is taken up far more by men’s words than by women’s, at a clip of more than 2 to 1 (which is a far better ratio than I was expecting, to the author’s credit… sort of). Since I can safely assume that most, if not all, of the Bible was written by men—and most, if not all, of the Bible was translated by men—having men’s words outpace women’s words so completely in the section following multiple Bible verses just adds insult to injury.

I ended up so disheartened by the devotional that I didn’t even bother listening to the song that prompted it. “Redeemed” (the song) may have inspired millions, but I cannot in good faith recommend this book. When I read a devotional, I want to be lost in the wonder of God, but when the devotions themselves are so problematic, it’s impossible for me to find much worth in them.

DISCLAIMER: I received Redeemed free from Worthy Publishing for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.