Saturday, May 23, 2015

Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Book Review

I first heard about John Thompson's book Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World on Phil Vischer's podcast.  Thomson talked about his love of good music and of good artisanal foods.  He spoke about something he called "twang" and how it's missing from so many mass-marketed products (music in particular) and even from some church communities.  I was so interested in what he had to say, that I immediately requested this book for review.  And I was not disappointed.

Thompson's book is one part memoir of his difficult childhood; one part exploration of different handcrafted products (bread, chocolate, beer, coffee, and music); and one part call to the church to become less mass-market driven and more Christ-filled community.  Far too often the church aligns itself with the values of the Industrial Revolution more than the life of the early church.

I found the chapters on artisanal food fascinating.  Thompson admits to being a food-snob and it would be easy to dismiss him as just another hipster Christian.  But he displays a humility of spirit and vulnerability that kept me reading and made me think.  I was particularly interested in how the manufacture of bread has changed over time.  We process all the nutrients out of dough, then inject them back in creating bread that contains nutrition but does not satisfy.  Likewise, in an effort to please the masses, we sometimes remove the grain of the gospel in order to make it easier to digest.  Then we inject a feel-good message that only fills us temporarily.  We seek a relationship with Jesus, but we settle for less that His best.

This would make a great book study and would definitely start some discussions.  Some might not like the chapter on beer, but no matter your opinion on alcohol, there are applicable lessons there too.

I received a free copy of this book from Booklook Bloggers in return for an honest review.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

All You Want to Know About the Bible in Pop Culture (Book Review)

The book blurb sounded interesting: "readers may be surprised to find redeeming values and gospel messages in today's movies, music, popular TV shows..."  With its attention-demanding cover and an interesting premise, I thought this might be a good read.

Author Kevin Harvey points out how ingrained Biblical references are in our pop culture, even as mass media seems to be turning against Christians.  We have dubious and inconsistent Christian characters (Mindy's boyfriend in The Mindy Project,  Sheldon's mother in The Big Bang Theory). There are spiritual aspects to the once-popular TV show Lost and Biblical themes in movies such as Man of Steel and Bruce Almighty.  Harvey even includes a chapter on Biblical words, verses, and themes that are found in contemporary culture:  David and Goliath,  "double-edged sword," "go the extra mile,",and "fight the good fight".

This is a quirky book and one that won't appeal to everyone.  Readers certainly won't be encouraged by the fact that most Biblical references are wildly mishandled.  Writers, directors, actors, and musicians probably don't even realize they're referencing the Bible in their work.  However, this is a useful book for anyone who works with youth or coworkers who are steeped in popular culture.  It provides some hooks for conversation about what the Gospel really is.  Harvey doesn't praise all these pop culture references, he merely examines them and shows how popular culture is still searching for hope and salvation, despite the hipster attitude.

As he explains in the Afterword, pop culture only gives half the Bible.  It's up to us to provide the second half.

The strangest part of this book is the collection of puzzles, mazes, and games at the end of the book.  I'm still not sure why that's there, except to be fun.

I received this book from BookLook Bloggers in return for an honest review.

The Bible in Pop Culture
Kevin Harvey
Thomas Nelson, 2015

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Book Review: Motivate Your Child

It's taken me awhile to get through this latest book in order to give it a review.  It's not a tough read, it just gives readers so much to think about that it's not the sort of book that you can skim in a weekend. Highlighter alert!

Motivate Your Child is subtitled "A Christian Parent's Guide to Raising Kids Who Do What They Need to Do Without Being Told."  It's not just about getting kids to do what needs to be done in the short term.  It's about building character and teaching kids to listen to their conscience.  It's about building a strong faith and guiding children to stay true to their convictions in spite of pressures to give in and take the easy way out. On a more practical note, it's about getting children to take more responsibility for their actions. And what parent doesn't want that?

It's a total family program which starts with parents developing their own faith and convictions. Chapters examine how to live with integrity, how to develop compassion, how to teach kids to take initiative, and how to handle correction.  Later chapters teach parents how to plan a "Family Time" where families talk about their faith and convictions and what it means to live out these qualities.

The authors' tone is positive throughout and they provide encouragement for all sorts of families, even those who don't have 2 parents as spiritual guides. It doesn't matter whether you're still planning a family, have young children, elementary-aged, or teenagers. All parents (and teachers) will find value in this volume.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior (Book Review)

Hannah More might possibly be the most famous woman I'd never heard of.  She was a poet, a playwright, an ardent abolitionist and educational reformer and a contemporary of William Wilberforce, John Newton, David Garrick, and Dr. Johnson.  Her writing had a profound effect on British culture and influenced the "modern" thinking that produced the Victorian Era with all its reforms on manners and family life. 

Karen Swallow Prior's book is at once academic and approachable.  Each chapter highlights a different aspect of More's remarkable life. We learn about More's extraordinary talent at writing, about her successes in London society and her involvement with the Bluestocking Circle (a group of women writers and intellectuals).  Though Wilberforce is more well known for his tireless work toward abolition of slavery,  Prior contends that More's connections in London society and her wit and talents were just as influential.

Then there's More's involvement in the Clapham Sect, her championing of educational reform for women, her interest in animal welfare,  her contributions to the Sunday School movement, her work in missions. The list of her accomplishments is long and deep.  If she hadn't been maligned by one biographer and swept away in the post-Victorian backlash, her legacy could not have been buried.

This is simply one of the best books I read all year.  Prior's doctoral dissertation provided the research base, but her writing style propels the reader through the story. Each chapter turns up another aspect of More's life and Prior includes the unflattering aspects along with the good ones.  In doing so she presents More as wholly human, but with a fierce spirit that makes her one of my new heroes.

Note: Fierce Convictions is on Christianity Today's list of the best books of 2014. Well deserved.

I received a copy of this book from Book Look Bloggers in return for an honest review.

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist
Karen Swallow Prior
Nelson Books, 2014