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Human Dignity in a Broken World, Two Book Reviews

Shalom Sistas, by Osheta Moore

I read this book on Saturday evening (if you want to read a lot, have surgery and have friends who bring you books, that really helps). Loved it.

I don’t know that Osheta would use the words human dignity, but that’s what shalom is about – peacemaking, peace building, relationships of healing and hope. And the only way to do that is to offer one another dignity. Her book is an honest and brave siren call to live in our neighborhoods and schools and workplaces with courage. I heard Osheta speak recently and loved her combination of passion for the hard work of pursuing justice with the freedom to enjoy simplicity, like an afternoon at the dog park. She offers 12 ways for women to actively and intentionally be peacemakers in our communities.

I love this quote, especially because I have experienced the truth of it. Peace is not passive and it is not an end goal, it is a way of life. “Peace is fierce—it has to be, because violence and discord won’t go down without a fight. Those who wield peace in the face of the world’s violence do it fiercely.”

 

Perfectly Human, nine months with Cerian, by Sarah C. Williams, PhD in philosophy and a professor at Regent College.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Plough Publishing.

I read this book in one weepy afternoon post-surgery. (Books make great post-surgery gifts, in case you have someone heading in for a procedure). My publisher gave me this one while I was at their offices last week. It is heartbreaking and beautiful, a mother’s love story and ringing testimony to the value of every single human life.

After a devastating diagnosis declared her unborn baby would not survive, Sarah and her husband choose to carry the pregnancy to term anyway. This has a terrifying and painful impact on her body and their family, but it also profoundly changes them for good as they declare with her body and with their baby, the worth of a life. What makes up a human life? How is worth determined?

Not everyone will agree with their choice, but that doesn’t matter. Few of us agree with each other about almost anything (American political situation, anyway?). What matters, is this is one family’s story and testament to beauty and life, and it is stunning.

Here is another review in Christianity Today.

And Sarah also wrote in the Huffington Post about her experience.

Rethinking, Rebuilding. Love in International Service, a book excerpt

Today I bring you an excerpt from Ryan Kuja’s new book: From the Inside Out. I resonated strongly with his words on wholeness. The world is broken and we are broken. I don’t even have to look outside my own mind and heart to recognize the need for healing and restoration and that reality is amplified as soon as I lift my eyes up to the broader world. What can promote and facilitate healing? Love. Unity. Integration belief and action. Peace.

If you enjoy this excerpt and would like to read more, you can find Ryan’s book here and his website with links to more of his published work here.

Book Excerpt- Chapter 5

Making All Things Whole through Love

“Those who follow Jesus,” wrote Franciscan sister and professor Ilia Delio, “are to become wholemakers, uniting what is scattered, creating a deeper unity in love.” The deepest call of Jesus followers is to be wholemakers— acting in ways that bring about the wholeness that underlies the fabric of the cosmos. We seem separate but in our roots we are part of an indivisible whole. There is an integral connectivity that links us. If this is how reality is construed—through a substrate of love, a fabric of connection and deep unity—than participating in mission as if this were true means looking at our task differently, through the lens of the hidden wholeness that exists in Christ prior to and beneath all things. Jesus followers are tasked with intentionally participating in completing the world; mission is nothing less than action toward the fulfillment of the cosmos itself.

The reconciliation of all things is not only a possibility, human flourishing is not only an idea, shalom not a mere word to be adopted, but realities ingrained in the fabric of creation itself.

Placing ourselves in alignment with the shape of God and thus the shape of the universe itself so that we may be conduits of shalom means bringing together the inner and the outer. It means reintegrating contemplation and action. Our logical Western-trained minds say prayer and work, spirituality and ministry are distinct, autonomous aspects of life, but that is a fairly new invention based on Western philosophy and Greek metaphysics, based on the thought of Descartes and Plato more than Paul and Jesus.

What would happen if we began to reimagine mission as relationship in which we recreate each other through a deep mutuality? Participating in the ongoing creation of the world through mending and being mended, healing and being healed, becoming wholemakers as we are being made whole?

This missional spirituality is radically grounded in materiality while simultaneously oriented toward a cosmological horizon that is coming to us from the future, a future in which “Christ is all, and is in all” (Col 3:11). We experience a foretaste of that eschatological future in the present. From the very heart of reality itself, from within the messes, the brokenness, and the tragedy, Christ redeems, restores, reanimates, and resurrects. The world is being reconstituted, day by day, moment by moment, breath by breath, to reflect the new reality which Jesus referred to as the kingdom of God. It is all heading into renewal.

Every act of peace, each move toward courage, every act of selfless love is an act of new creation, small and often unnoticed perhaps, but powerful nonetheless as it is a participation in God’s being. In this way we don’t merely believe in God, worship God, or work for God, but we participate in God’s life.

(I confess that I have not read the entire book yet, but after I read the excerpt Ryan sent me, the book jumped to the top of my list. If you have read it, share your thoughts in the comments or over on Facebook.)

A global citizen with a background in international mission, relief, and development, Ryan Kuja has lived in fifteen cities and rural villages on five continents. He holds an M.A. in Theology and Culture from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology as well a Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. A spiritual director and writer, he has written for Sojourners, Missio Alliance and several theological journals. His first book, From the Inside Out: Reimagning Mission, Recreating the World, released in June 2018. Ryan is currently serving as the Field Director of Word Made Flesh in Medellin, Colombia. You can find him online at ryankuja.com and on twitter as @ryankuja.

*post contains affiliate links

Worlds Apart, a Book Review

Worlds Apart, by Marilyn Gardner

This is the revised version of Passages Through Pakistan and I had the incredible honor of writing the forward. Marilyn has been an online shepherd for me for over five years now. Though we haven’t met (yet) in person, she knows and holds, with gentle wisdom, the deep waters of my heart. When I’ve agonized over boarding school woes or needed someone to pull me together after writerly rejections, Marilyn always has a word of hope and perspective.

Just because I love her, doesn’t mean you will. But. I’m sure you will, after you read her words. Don’t take my word for it, delve into her wisdom on your own. If you haven’t found her website yet, check out Communicating Across Boundaries. If you wonder about her thoughts on being a Third Culture Kid, read Between Worlds. And if you want to know what made her into the generous, creative, thoughtful, joyful person she is today, here is Worlds Apart.

Through trauma and laughter, boarding school in Pakistan to transitioning to the United States, Marilyn opens up her experiences so we can benefit from her perspective and example.

One scene, among many, that pricked my heart is of Marilyn’s mother attempting to plant a garden in Pakistan. She longs for the vibrant colors of the place she left behind but the earth is unrelenting and nothing will grow. Finally, she gives up and plants fake flowers, for the splash of brightness. From a distance, at least, it is beautiful. And then, it is stolen. Marilyn remembers thinking, as a child, “I thought we were loved.” Why would someone steal flowers from someone they loved?

The story captures the hard work, creativity, delight, devastation, and recovery inherent in so many experiences of living abroad.

The last chapter is especially pertinent to me personally, as I’m about to launch my twins back to the US for university. She offers practical tips and deeper, heart-level suggestions on how Third Culture Kids can process and grow in their unique lives.

If you are a Third Culture Kids, or know or love one, if haven’t lived abroad but you’d like to glimpse the realities of someone who has, if want to see beauty in crossing cultures, you will love this book.

Endure, How Spiritual Assets Build Resilience

Dan Maurer, my Minnesota writing friend (we met way back when we were both writing fiction), wrote his fourth book. Four. Books. And this one is my favorite yet. Dan has a gift for taking hard stories and highlighting the hopeful aspects of them, something we all so desperately need. From a graphic novel on addiction recovery to a nonfiction book of a young boy who was trafficked in the US, his work is always about transformation.

Endure, Dan’s latest book, explores how spiritual assets contribute to resiliency. He tells the stories of several people who endured intense trauma (domestic abuse, war, refugee life) and weaves his own story of recovery into the book. The people he highlights are incredibly vulnerable and brave in sharing their stories, I am amazed at how much empathy Dan showed in listening to, probing into, and sharing them.

The book has moments of horror, surprise, grief, and tenderness. And while I appreciated the stories people shared, as a wanna-be psychologist who loves learning about what makes human beings behave certain ways, my favorite parts of the book were when Dan examined specific spiritual assets and how they helped people overcome their personal traumas.

Hope, love, forgiveness, honesty, these are some of the assets the book highlights. Dan describes spiritual assets like this:

…spiritual assets become the transforming spark that undergirds a resilient response in many life situations, even yours.

Heavy on anecdote, but with research and Dan’s theological training as a Lutheran pastor sprinkled throughout, Endure is a book that is a pleasure read and that offers practical tools for a resilient response to trauma.

Endure would be a great book club pick or community read. Read a chapter and then discuss as a group how you have experienced the highlighted spiritual asset in your own life or how you could develop it in the future.

I don’t believe our world is any more broken now than it was in the past, but I do think we hear about pain and suffering much more. What we also need to hear about is hope, strength, character, and beauty. This is a book full of these kinds of stories. And, it is a book that can help readers live those kinds of stories.

Find Endure on Dan’s blog and on Amazon.

Dan has written several times for Djibouti Jones:

Strong in the Broken: Living While Recovering

On Writing, 7 Steps to Finding Your Niche

A Little Piece of Fiction (bonus: a photo of Dan playing the bagpipes in my Minneapolis backyard when we lived there in 2012!)

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Pondering Privilege, a Book Review

Jody Fernando has written a beautiful, practical, and challenging book: Pondering Privilege: Toward a deeper understanding of whiteness, race, and faith.

Jody blogs at Between Worlds and if any Djibouti Jones readers have read When Rich Westerners Don’t Know They’re Being Rich Westerners, know that that blog post was inspired by Jody’s superb post When White People Don’t Know They’re Being White. That’s how I first met Jody, three years ago now and I continue to be challenged and inspired by her writing.

Pondering Privilege takes what Jody started with that viral post and deepens it. As a white woman in a brown family, her perspective is uniquely helpful to someone like me – a white woman in a white family, living in a brown country.

The book could be a quick read but Jody raises such important issues and asks such challenging questions that it is a book one could sit with for weeks. It will make readers uncomfortable and this is a good thing – anyone who wants to grow in their ability to communicate about race, to understand, to seek forgiveness, and to deepen community and move toward healing, should read this book.

Jody takes concepts like ‘cultural competency’ and replaces them with ‘cultural humility,’ examines privilege, and calls out white people for our ignorant ways of thinking and acting as well as addressing the issue of entire systems of privilege. She will not let us sit in complacency.

Each chapter ends with questions to ponder, which makes this an excellent book club choice for people who are ready and willing to wrestle, to be brutally honest with themselves and others, and who want to grow.

For me, the best part of Jody’s book is the utterly practical but radically transformative 21-Day Race Challenge. This alone makes buying the book well worth it because, if you take her up on the challenge, you will be changed. This isn’t a book to read and put away on the shelf, it is a book that can, if you let it, seep into your life and actually change things for the better.

*I received an ARC (advanced reader copy) of this book for review.

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