I’d already planned to review these books today, but they seem especially helpful and poignant after yesterday’s loss. I’m grateful for writers who share their faith struggles and challenges–questions asked and answers found–so the rest of us might be less alone with ours.
Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels by Jennifer Grant & Cathleen Falsani.
This is a strong, thought-provoking collection of essays. My favorite part is how the writers deliver on the promise in the introduction, “not requiring and enemy in order to establish their identity as persons of faith as they read and meditate on the Scriptures.” This is rare stuff in faith-based writing, and it makes this book an absolute delight–one can read these essays and simply ponder the questions therein, without feeling drawn into an argument. One of my favorite essays was about the place of icons in worship. I’ve not thought much about icons, and I appreciated the opportunity. If you’re looking for a book to entertain you and encourage your faith in unexpected ways, “Disquiet Time” is a great choice.
The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery by Henri Nouwen
This is the journal Nouwen kept during a seven month stay with an order of monks in upstate New York. It’s one of those books where I folded over corners and highlighted something in almost every paragraph. I am astounded by Nouwen’s honesty–he doesn’t sugar coat his faults or struggles at all, and his determined search for God in moments that range from routine frustration to deep loss and fear allows him to be simultaneously a role model and a friend, right there on the page. Watching Nouwen withdraw from his public life to consider the state of his heart, mind and soul is an inspiration. This book is like a retreat you can bring with you in the midst of your everyday life.
The first half of this book reads like an argument: it insists on a particular world view and pummels you with citations, as if daring you to disagree. I was not convinced of some of the author’s claims on the role of saints in our spiritual life today, however I enjoyed the charming opening story of the author’s personal encounter with the saints on a visit to Assisi. Things improved markedly in the second half, which is a series of well-written, compelling chapters describing an array of saints. The author mentions in his introduction his desire that this book would spur readers to further study, and indeed, this has. My favorite was the portrayal of Saint Monica–she was the patron saint of one of my childhood churches, but I never knew she was the beleaguered, long-praying mother of the troublemaker-turned-saint Augustine. This and several other stories made me glad for the chance to read this book and think about aspects of faith I might not otherwise consider.
Our Great Big American God: A Short History of our Ever-Growing Deity by Matthew Paul Turner
Our Great Big American God is a fabulous resource — the most readable, informative summary of key moments in the development of American Christianity I’ve seen. I liked the author’s sometimes snarky take on how each of these contributions to our faith landscape plays out today–from Calvinism to self-help evangelism to Holy Rollerism, Matthew Paul Turner has good insights. My one frustration was that these two strands–the serious academic and the snarky observational – aren’t interwoven. It was a bit like reading two books at the same time, with each chapter starting with pithy (often funny) observations..and then diving back into the history timeline without much transition. I am grateful Turner wrote the academic portion…and I hope he further develops his thoughts on what this all means for us today.
Disclosures: I received Disquiet Time, Angels & Saints, and Our Great Big American God from their publishers in exchange for honest reviews. I found The Genessee Diary on a bookshelf at church and borrowed it in exchange for…well, nothing. But now that I’ve marked it all up, I plan to buy the church a new copy.