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Our Great Big American God: A Short History of Our Ever-Growing Deity
Our Great Big American God: A Short History of Our Ever-Growing Deity
by Matthew Paul Turner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.14
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars God's journey through American history, August 19, 2014
Instead of the Christian, biographical stories of his own past (as he did in "Churched" and "Hear No Evil") in his newest book Matthew Paul Turner refocuses his attention to the biography of God since the time he crossed the Atlantic to establish Himself in His new Promised Land. America was the land of opportunity and God needed a fresh start from His messy history in Europe.

We often hear broad, sweeping generalities from pontificating politicians and preachers pounding pulpits that the United States needs to return to the God of our forefathers and/or we need to return our nation back to God as it had been originally established. But upon honest reflection, do we really know what that means? The question Turner asks in his book is, "Who is the God of American Christianity?"

Turner has done his due diligence to research the journey of the American God starting from the Puritan perspective and the Calvinist influence of the early colonists. His chapter on Jonathan Edwards, who Turner believes is `one of the most misunderstood individuals in American history,' is worth the purchase price of the book alone.

Turner then covers George Whitefield and the Great Awakening and some of the perceptions of our country's Founding Fathers. While he doesn't attempt to answer the question of whether or not the birth of America was divinely inspired, he does a good job of painting the historic worldview of that time and how it has affected us ever since.

Preachers, theologians and the laity don't interpret God in a box, nor do they use just scripture. Their views of economics, poverty, social justice, war, slavery, civil rights, feminism, sexuality and politics color the way they see God, affects the way they approach economics, poverty, social justice, war, slavery, civil rights, feminism, sexuality and politics. Turners addresses these factors as his chapters take us through America's movement away from a Calvinistic God, mostly because of the influence of Methodist ministers. Already the American religious culture redefined God to be something significantly significantly different than their one forefathers.

Is this the God we should return to? Turner reminds us (again with thought provoking research) that at this time of American history we were still a country that supported slavery, which was backed up by some of our most revered, Christian-American heroes. From their perspective they had the Bible on their side. Turner explains, "How a Christian views and understands that Bible will dictate not only his or her worldview but, more importantly, how they interact with the worldviews of other people." And this really does become a crux in the matter of knowing who God is, as our history with Him has been to subject to our interpretation of scripture. Again, Turner - "Much of America's big God isn't about God at all; it's about the Bible. For many Christians, the Bible is God - the Word in Flesh, translated into English, and printed on pretty paper." And yet, as we read our own history we have to face how many times our interpretation of Scripture (and thus our interaction with God) has changed over, and over, and over again.

And from there Turner takes us to the birth of evangelicalism, fundamentalism, and the marriage of religion with marketing and presentation. We get to see D.L Moody and Billy Sunday at their best, and at their worst.

He also addresses the impact that dispensationalism view of scripture made on our culture by Darby and Scofield. Even though this theology is so relatively new, the concept and resulting focus on the End Times, and the creation of the Rapture is in some American circles presented as having been as old as Noah himself. A good portion of my friends still view God, the world, the nightly news, and the happenings in the mid-east through the Scofield footnotes found in an authorized King James Bible.

America's God didn't stop on our shores, instead once He established Himself here He decided He wanted to take the American version of Himself to other countries. Our missionaries have often taken more than just Jesus to foreign fields. Often our clothing, culture and politics have been almost as widely preached. Turner takes us back to observe this history and these decisions.

And before closing the book the author addresses the history and practices of the Moral Majority, the role of organized religion and a God who is consumed with American politics. He also gives an overview of the journey of Billy Graham (some of which was very new to me), including his split from some of his fundamentalist friends. He also includes the significance of the Pentecostal influence, which I found particularly interesting because of my own church history, and how it led to `health and wealth' interpretations of the Gospel, and of God.

For those who enjoy Turner's writing style they will be happy to know that Turner is still Turner. He hasn't got over his personal frustration with Calvinism (but if you were chosen to survive it, how can you blame him?). His writing is fresh and makes this book about an interesting topic a very easy and enjoyable read. He also provides plenty of footnotes so those who would like to jump into the research themselves have a good place to start.

Turner leaves us with a couple of important questions, "Dear God, who are you in the context of America? Are we a Christian nation, and if so, what kind/brand of Christian nation is it?" And though we may have thought these answers were obvious with our rendering of a Great Big American God, the reading of the book may leave us as better and more honest Americans than before - even if God isn't wearing our great grandfather's Uncle Sam outfit.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 21, 2014 11:33 AM PDT

Cross Roads
Cross Roads
by WM. Paul Young
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.69
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do you Dare Experience Your Cross Roads?, December 9, 2012
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This review is from: Cross Roads (Hardcover)
Reading The Shack was like finding an adult version of The Chronicles of Narnia and delving into a whole new and yet very familiar world. "Always winter and never Christmas" was a line that even as a child I understood was a description of the power of evil and the hopelessness it nourished. I also felt the hair on the back of my spiritual neck stand straight up when the Christlike Aslan was described to the young, Pevensie children, "Of course He's good. But He's not safe. He's not a tame lion!"

It is amazing how the landscapes of fiction (and parables) can do a better job of detailing what is real and true than theological treatises. The Shack did this for many readers; people who wouldn't delve into a book of systematic theology would pick up this little paperback because it transported them into a real world of pain, forgiveness and identity. For some the journey to real was too hard to experience and they wrote the book off as a fairy tale or theologically defunct. And some of us rejoiced at this description knowing that God enthusiastically enjoys revealing some truths to children while at the same time keeping them from the religiously experienced fuddy-duddies.

Speculating about Paul Young's next story the past few years excited me. Of course I hoped that it didn't fizzle, like many sophomore books do (Even Prince Caspian didn't capture the magic of Lewis' first chronicle for me, though it was certainly back again in Dawntreader). Young didn't slump, his writing has more elements of creativity, humor and humanity than even his first book. He is continuing to develop as a writer and storyteller.

Cross Roads examines the last few hours of Anthony (Tony) Spencer's alert life. He suffers a major brain hemorrhage and his body is being kept alive in a Portland, Oregon hospital. What happens when he is in the coma though is his own Narnia. Tony finds himself in a world that is desolate and mysterious, yet strangely one that he is intimately familiar with. He meets with people in this world that help him understand his life as it has been. His Irish friend Jack explains the following to him:

"There has to be a tearing down for the real and right and good and true to be built. There has to be a judgment and a dismantling. It is not only important, it is essential. However, the kindness of God will not do the tearing down without your participation. Much of the time, God has to do very little. We are masters at building up facades, only to tear them down ourselves. In our independence we are very destructive creatures, first creating houses of cards and then knocking them down with our own hands. Addiction of every imagined sort, the will to power, the security of lies, the need for notoriety, the grasping of reputation, the trading in human souls... all houses of cards that we try and keep together by holding our breath. But, thanks to the grace of God, we must someday breathe, and when we do, the breath of God joins ours and everything collapses."

And as a book or Narnia would fail without Aslan, so would a Paul Young book without the presence of the Trinity in characters that you might not recognize at first. While Jesus is still in his incarnate form, both The Father and The Holy Spirit get a new, imaginative outfits that help Tony connect with them.

But Tony isn't stuck in this other world; instead he is given the gift to see and experience life through other people's eyes. The fun starts when Tony realizes that he gets to interact with these real-world hosts as his spirit inhabits their own. Tony's cross roads takes place in both worlds as his heart-choices take him where his brokenness never could have. Will he wake up? Will you?

Sharing anymore of the story would rob the reader of the experience of reading it through their adult eyes and interpreting it with child-like hearts.

Cross Roads is one of those books that is worth reading over and over as the story and discussions are redemptive. Enjoy it several times!

The Cross in the Closet
The Cross in the Closet
by Timothy Kurek
Edition: Paperback
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Timothy dealt with his inner pharisee, October 16, 2012
Tim Kurek came out of the closet for a year. He told his family, friends and church congregation that he was gay. Reality is, he wasn't.

I've read a lot of feedback from haters that have judged both Tim's motives and his message. Some say he did this to write a book and get rich. Others say his project couldn't have been good (or blessed by God) because it was based on deception. They just want to label Tim a liar.

I'd like to set the record straight if a voice from the inside can offer any clarity.

I walked through this project with Tim from the fourth month of his year-long experience. I was one of the few that he processed with during this experiment. But i really don't like calling it that, because it was more about a personal stretch than it was seeing if he could trick people into believing he was gay and have an expose to write when he was finished.

This is not a book about what life looks like as a gay man - Tim isn't gay so he never could write from that perspective.

This is not an attempt to get rich - there were opportunities to get this book published by mainstream publishers that would have gone all out to promote the book, but they wanted Tim to change it and write it in a way to make it more marketable. Tim wouldn't do it, even though he would be giving up a huge advance and ended up having to fund raise to get this book published they way it needed to be, with a publisher that he could trust to leave his story unadulterated.

The Cross in the Closet is a book about Tim dealing with his inner pharisee. Tim was a bigot, just like you and me. He treated people differently because of their labels. His heart was drawn to go after this bigotry in his own life with a vicious strategy - put the label he despised on his own back.

Could I do that? Would I be willing to set aside my own identity and incarnate myself into something I wasn't just so I could relate to that people group? Probably not. I probably protect my inner pharisee too much to crucify him that way. Timothy though was done being guided by his pharisee so he drug him outside of the temple to touch the same precious people Jesus did.

Has it worked? I've had Tim as a guest in my home. I've been a guest in his apartment. I've spent a weekend with him at a Christian festival and traveled with him to Seattle in hopes of viewing a gay pride parade. I've watched how he treated my wife, my children, his friends, his neighbors and total strangers. He has introduced me to some of the friends in his book and I now count them as mine as well.

I guess what I am saying is that Tim's life, his story, his very personal stretch has affected my life. I am not in the same place to walk in someone else's shoes the same way that Tim has, but I have found great value in his journey. His story is worth reading.

The only people who have a right to judge Tim are those he purposely misled for a year. He doesn't dodge that issue, in fact it plays very prominently in what he writes. I unashamedly cried as I read the stories of reconciliation in the last chapter.

Next time you look at someone and the first thing that comes to mind is a label, consider what living with that label for a year would do to you. And if you can't begin to imagine, then pick up The Cross in the Closet because it may just give you an idea.

Confessions of a Bible Thumper: My Homebrewed Quest for a Reasoned Faith
Confessions of a Bible Thumper: My Homebrewed Quest for a Reasoned Faith
by Michael Camp
Edition: Perfect Paperback
Price: $13.83
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I must confess I liked this book!, July 12, 2012
So I just finished the book, Confessions of a Bible Thumper by Michael Camp. In it he highlights some of the more problematic passages of the Bible that didn't line up for him. He doesn't base his beliefs on feelings, but on some old fashioned hard work of inductive Bible Study and historical research.

Michael was drawn into the Jesus Movement in the `70s in his teens, joined church movements, became a pro-life activist, and moved to Africa as a missionary to serve the poor. But through his years of conservatism he found that he was carrying a lot of religion that wasn't truly building his faith. In his words:

"My faith was full of religious baggage - the stuff of religion. Items the evangelical church told me I had to carry. Practices and beliefs I hadn't bargained for. Heavy luggage, like those old-fashioned bags you have to lift because there are no wheels or extendable handles. They were packed with myths, half-truths, and a dogmatic approach to life - stuff having to do with worshipping the Bible, idolizing church, canonizing doctrine, controlling behavior, and other paraphernalia, such as imposed religious disciples, spiritual manipulation, resisting reason, and judging outsiders.

Gradually, my inquisitive mind caused me to unpack this baggage. That's when I uncovered a variety of startling revelations that turned my conservative Christian theology on its head. And when I eventually concluded we evangelicals - although correct about many things, like the importance of Divine connection, the wisdom of Christ, and charitable service and giving - are largely wrong on a host of other issues. You will learn what these are in nine of my confessions."

If you are conservative you will probably be shocked at some of his research.

If you are a learner then this book will make you want to study more yourself.

If you are easily offended this book will piss you off.

If you have never questioned your pastor's interpretation of scripture from the pulpit after reading this book you might find yourself doing so.

If you are tired of moral dogmatism that doesn't appear to be anything like Jesus, you will find this a refreshing read.

If you have found no value in the Bible because of the way it has been presented to you, this book may give you another reason to pick it up and study it yourself.

If you wonder how or why someone would buy into conservative evangelicalism, this story will give you a good understanding.

If you are concerned about why some Christians have left evangelicalism this book will help you understand some of their issues and thinking.

If you have left evangelicalism and feel alone, this book (and more important the author) may just become a new friend.

If you like reading controversial books, you will order this one at the end of this article.

If you fear asking questions don't read this book. (p.s. God isn't afraid of your questions.)

Michael presents his material via a conversation between friends in a local brewery/restaurant. He reflects back on his own spiritual journey, making the book semi-autobiographical, while at the same time presenting his confessions to his friends at the bar and at their booth. The conversational tone allows Michael to present the material along with his friends' questions and concerns. The book is very easy to follow and his story telling convention works well.

Will you agree with all of Michael's conclusions? Maybe not, (not all his friends do) but that really isn't the point. The question is `Are you willing to challenge your own presuppositions if truth leads in a different direction than you once thought?'

I hope you will read this book and discover whether or not you have a confession about the Bible to share.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 19, 2013 7:50 AM PST

Battle for the Promised Land!
Battle for the Promised Land!
DVD ~ Buck Denver
Offered by Treatspree
Price: $19.09
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What's in the Bible, and Phil Vischer's Head, besides VeggieTales?, October 11, 2010
Tyndale gave me the opportunity to review a new kid's DVD as long as I could coax some children to watch it with me. I tried convincing my 10-year old son to watch it with me, but he wasn't very excited when he heard it was from the same creator of Veggie Tales. It isn't that he doesn't like Bob and Larry, but I don't think he appreciates that I've memorized many of Larry's Silly Songs and like to perform them on occasion in our family van.

Thankfully I have some friendly, animated kids in my neighborhood who are a little younger and a little less jaded about my singing. They agreed to watch the video and help me with my "homework." After a meal of toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup we sat down with their mom to watch what Phil Vischer has been creating other than animated vegetables.

The What's in the Bible series is a set of 13, hour long DVD's using children friendly storytelling to teach young audiences about the content of the Bible. We watched #4, Battle for the Promised Land that covers the books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. Unlike the VeggieTales animated series, What's In the Bible's characters are based on puppetry- some of it as simple as static characters fastened on popsicle sticks. What makes the viewer's imagination come alive is the creative writing and songs. Vischer uses a vast array of characters (besides himself) to walk through the Bible: a newsroom host, a cowboy, a southern black preacher, a Scottish pirate, two British explorers, a piano playing priest, a Swedish scientist, a Sunday school teacher, and two uptight church ladies who give commentary like the Muppets' Statler and Waldorf. The story is shared almost too rapidly by bouncing between multiple characters, scenes, and songs. I'm sure that watching the video more than once, along with the others in the series, would help the viewer get used to the characters and the rapid fire exchanges. Vischer uses pop culture references that the kids will recognize (In this DVD he mentions the cartoons, Blues Clues, Sponge Bob, and Donald Trump.) and he isn't afraid to use bathroom humor to get a few laughs (underwear references and pirates that have to potty).

Did the kids like it? You bet. Their toes tapped, their lips synched with the songs, and they were able to mirror back the summaries of each of the books of the Bible covered in the DVD. My 6 and 9 year old friends even learned big words like "historical" (which they remembered because it was "hysterical") and "apostasy" (even though James remembered it as "apostrophe"). Arabella liked one of the colorful church ladies and the Sunday school teacher. She enjoyed the songs, but would have liked to have seen more "action." James thought the Scottish pirate in the hot air balloon was the best and he "loved" the opening song. Both wanted to see more of the videos and hoped that Tyndale might send me some more.

Did the parents like it? Yes and no. If you are interested in going through the scripture with your young kids, the What's In the Bible? series is a fun way to get the conversation going--and there are some really good conversations to have. Vischer doesn't dodge some interesting and tough questions in the book of Joshua. He provides a scientific reason of how the Israelites crossed the Jordan River on dry ground (which will garner various reactions, I'm sure), and he even gets into the theology of why it was okay for the Israelites to claim the land and kick out the current inhabitants. Truthfully I didn't agree with all of the theology points on this video, or even the summary points of the books; but then I don't depend upon kids videos to teach my children; however they can be a fun way to open up the conversation for age and heart-appropriate conversations.

Final score? I'll give this video, and this concept of this series a 4 out of 5. It feels a bit more grown up in content and purpose than VeggieTales, but it's missing some of the magic and childhood innocence as well.
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Lost + Found: Finding Myself by Getting Lost in an Affair
Lost + Found: Finding Myself by Getting Lost in an Affair
by David Trotter
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.32
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars David Trotter cheated on his wife, September 14, 2010
This wasn't your normal, run of the mill affair. This was a leave your pastorate, leave your family, take up with your wife's best friend, and build the passion filled life you've always wanted and deserved.

And the way David tells it, from the brokenness on the home front, the stirrings of forgotten, romantic feelings, the collapse of many relationships for the sake of the one, is riveting. Reading Lost + Found: Finding Myself by Getting Lost in an Affair is a lot like watching a reality TV show. Instead of just watching the scripted sitcom scenes where a director is choosing what story you will see, David turns the camera on in the middle of a church mission trip to India, where he starts falling for Samantha, and leaves it running throughout a very tumultuous year.

If there is a fault to this voyeuristic read, it is that it only has the one camera. There is a short afterward by David's wife, Laura (which sort of gives away that there is a happy ending for some characters in this story), but other than that you are only viewing this affair through David's lens. That being said, his camera doesn't miss much. You hear his naked thoughts and plans, even when it makes him out to be a total ass. If David's intentions were to regain his old friends, or impress new ones, this book fails horribly. If instead, he decided to take the lid off the confidentiality clause from his counseling sessions for the purpose of coming along side other people in the same kind of pain, well, then this the book is a success. This is the kind of honesty that you hope to have with one or two people in your lifetime. David decided to befriend anyone who cares to listen.

It's hard not to relate to this story in one way or another. If you've been in fulltime ministry, David's honesty about how he got to this point in his life probably won't be too shocking, that is if you are honest yourself. If you've had an affair, thought of having an affair, or been the victim of an unfaithful spouse, you will find yourself on these pages as well. The book doesn't suggest a plan for an affair proof life, nor does it promise the steps of healing for a broken marriage. What it does is tell one family's story that presents both the pain of broken promises and hurtful actions, as well as the hope that something better is possible.

The story also says a great deal about friendships. As grievous and selfish as David's actions were, I was just as mortified by the responses of most of his friends. I don't think we (Christians) have learned how to love people through the brokenness of life-- we tend to treat people like garbage when they fail our expectations. At least this was one of the book's huge mirrors in which I saw my own face staring back at me and was appalled at how callous I've treated some of my friends who have disappointed me.

David Trotter cheated on his wife, but if we listen as he shares his story we may come in touch with the infidelity that can easily manifest itself in any of us. Maybe this book doesn't end up being a reality show about others, but more of a magnifying glass on ourselves.

U is for Undertow (Kinsey Millhone Mystery)
U is for Undertow (Kinsey Millhone Mystery)
by Sue Grafton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.68
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4.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes The Past Rises Up, August 25, 2010
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"She got caught in the undertow. She must have used up all her strength trying to fight her way back." It is from this description of a minor character's demise that author Sue Grafton titles her twenty-first book in the Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mysteries. This quote also describes the power of the underlying fear and guilt that unexpectedly surfaces for the story's villains from a crime they had expertly covered up as teenagers over twenty years before.

Truth has a way of finding you out, especially if it has partnered with a gutsy, independent Private Investigator named Kinsey Millhone. In her twenty-first adventure since A is for Alibi, Kinsey finds herself with a story that has many threads and not enough material to quickly recognize a pattern. U is for Undertow switches back and forth from the days of the kidnapping of little Mary Clair Fitzhugh in 1967 to Kinsey's current day setting in 1988 when a man walks into her office believing he can lead her to where the little girl's body was buried. (Though Grafton has taken nearly three decades to write these twenty-one mystery novels, her character has only aged six years and is still living in the '80s. It is intriguing to watch Kinsey do research without the modern conveniences of Google and cell phones.)

The chapters from Kinsey's perspective are written in the first person, giving the reader access to the P.I.'s thought processes, judgments and feelings. The chapters written about other characters, or in the earlier setting, are written in third person, giving the reader a chance to see the big picture of what Kinsey is trying to piece together. As such, while Kinsey is wrestling with the "who" question, the reader, already knowing the perpetrators, is bent on figuring out the "why." It is a very clever way to write the book and Grafton pulls it off with flair.

Central to every story line is the issue of family brokenness. Kinsey wants to dodge hers, but circumstances continually draw her back to her pain. When dealing with her client's estranged family she is forced to come to terms with the duplicity of her feelings toward her own relatives. She has important choices to make along the way that will either help bring reconciliation, or harden her heart further. Other characters in the story use their family brokenness as an excuse for reckless and selfish behavior. And as the story shows, once swimming in those tumultuous waters it is very hard to make it back to shore.

Sensitive readers should note that although there are no descriptions of graphic violence there are a couple of raw sections and sentences which include adult themes and situations. Also, in the closure of this mystery while all the loose ends are accounted for, and justice is served, redemption is a value that is noticeably lacking.

Although there are some subplots about Kinsey and her family that will carry more meaning for those who have followed along since the beginning of the series, U is for Undertow easily stands alone for readers who love a good mystery and want to jump right into the middle of the alphabet.


This article first appeared on TheFish(dot)com, on January 5, 2010

The Red Letters Project
The Red Letters Project
by Symbionic Entertainment
Edition: Audio CD
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Jesus is Just Alright... as a songwriter, August 19, 2010
This review is from: The Red Letters Project (Audio CD)
"What's so funny?" Jesus asks when he comes into my study finding me laughing.
"This new, music album of yours!" I respond.
"Ya, this `Red Letters Project' from the Book of Matthew."
"I have no idea what you are talking about."
"Well, Matthew was one of the original 12 ragamuffins that followed you around Judea. I think he was a tax collector or something."
"I know who Matthew is. Don't be insolent."
"Sorry, Jesus."
"You're forgiven. Again."
"I'm curious. Why don't you make the sign of the cross when you say that?"
"It would be redundant. Now get back to this music thing."
"Oh ya, `The Red Letters Project.'--well, you know that Matthew wrote down a lot of your speeches and popular sayings...
"And that the publishers decided to color your words in red to distinguish them from the rest of the description and dialog."
"Go on."
"Well now those red words have been set to rock music."
"Um... I'm not sure. To make them more relevant, I'd guess."
"Are you saying my words aren't relevant?"
"Forgive me if you took it that way. No, I mean that they could be more accessible to others."
"I could live with that." He pauses then asks, "Then why were you laughing?"
"Sorry, but you are a horrible song writer."
"Well, they took your words straight from the New Living Translation - word for word - they didn't even try to rhyme them or add background to what you had to say."
"And it sounds, what, silly?"
"Sometimes it sounded like one of those `Bud Light Salutes Real Men of Genius' commercials, you know, where they try to put too many words into a line of song, and it doesn't really sound like a song..."
"Oh myself. This isn't good."
"It's not all a disaster. The choruses are catchy and some of the music is great!"
"So it's just my part that isn't good..."
"Well, that's why I was laughing."
Jesus wept.
"Don't feel bad, Lord. All things work together for good!"
He looks up at me, "Don't go throwing around Paul's words at me. You are using them out of context, anyways."
"Sorry, Jesus."
"You're forgiven. Again."
"Thanks. At least you know your words won't return void."
"What do you even think that means?"
"Honestly, I'm not really sure."
He stands up, ready to leave the room. "Well there is only one thing for me to do."
"What's that?"
"Sue them for song writing royalties."

The Sweet By and By
The Sweet By and By
by Rachel Hauck
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.99
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3.0 out of 5 stars Sweet like Sucking on a Saccharine Tablet, August 11, 2010
This review is from: The Sweet By and By (Hardcover)
I enjoy Sara Evans as a country music recording artist.

She recently co-wrote a novel with Christian romance veteran Rachel Hauk. I was offered the opportunity by her publisher to read it and although it doesn't fit the genre I normally review on my blog I thought I'd give it a try.

The Sweet By and By has a deceptively innocent cover but the story is so high on feminine drama that the cover should have displayed more estrogen angst. There is a reason none of the male characters made this illustration; they were written so flat you couldn't remember them when you turned the book sideways.

I tried empathizing with the women in the story, all dealing with secrets in their pasts, but I simply didn't like them. The main character, Jade Freedom Fitzgerald, was on her way to the altar but was dealing with commitment issues rooted in guilt. Unfortunately I didn't want her to work through them because I felt so bad for her fiancé (I can't remember his name) and didn't want to see the wedding take place. Jade's hippie mother Beryl is the kind of woman that many angry, country songs have been written about. Her sister Willow too, but for other reasons.

The book attempts to be a story about getting over the pain of rejection, the guilt of past sins, and a journey of family forgiveness. The Christian themes in the story, which attempt to bring healing to those issues, come across a bit formulaic and bunched up at the end of the book.

Though this story deals with real life issues it does so without going into graphic detail. It is a safe read without graphic sex or foul language. Yet when my teenage daughter asked if she could read it when I finished, knowing that she likes Sara Evans as a country music recording artist, I flatly told her no.

The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters
The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters
by Andy Andrews
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.96
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Can Butterflies Cause Hurricanes?, August 11, 2010
Andy Andrews has a new book about cause and effect in the world. His purpose is to let his readers know that their lives matter; that they are significant; that their actions are important.

To launch his message Andy uses a bit of science theory, sharing Edward Lorenz `s idea that even a butterfly's wings could set off a movements of molecules with the potential for starting a hurricane on the other side of the globe. Andy then uses one of his great talents, storytelling, to share an example of a man's action in the Civil War, that when studied through the lens of cause and effect, appears to have helped set the stage for our countries military dominance over the past 150 years.

"Everything You Do Matters!" Andy exclaims, and then launches into another story, this one starting at a hurricane-sized impact of a man's life and showing the interconnected relationships that provided him the opportunity to change the world. The story works like a set of Russian nesting dolls, each one a little smaller the last, but all of them needed to complete the whole.

The point? Our lives, our decisions, and our actions count. The problem, in terms of The Butterfly Effect's motivational message is that our actions don't always count like we want them to. It is one thing to encourage people that their life is unique and of value, it is quite another to promise it will make world changing impact. Truth is, there are lots of people out there giving all their energy to change the world that aren't really blowing the winds of change like they'd like. Maybe butterflies have the potential to cause hurricanes, but I don't know that many of them really do. Or even try. They simply are great at being what they were created to be--butterflies.

I hope that Andy writes his next motivational book about that - stories about people learning to live loved just for who they are. That would make a difference.

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