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Relational Children's Ministry: Turning Kid-Influencers Into Lifelong Disciple Makers
Relational Children's Ministry: Turning Kid-Influencers Into Lifelong Disciple Makers
by Dan Lovaglia
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.52
60 used & new from $8.46

5.0 out of 5 stars Caring for the faith of our children in a loving, relational way, June 21, 2016
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To be involved in ministry to children in one's congregation can be an overwhelming task. Helping to impart the faith in a way that will cause them to want to accept it as their own is challenging, especially at a time when the rest of the culture may not be very supportive of one's efforts. Relational Children's Ministry has a lot of support and guidance for those struggling with their efforts in this regard..

The book has three primary sections, starting with a discussion of why we need to "rise about the status quo in children's ministry." The author discusses possible problems that may be weakening "status quo" ministries but then, without pointing fingers, gently and surely guides the reader into ways to help build disciples by relating "intentionally to kids and families."

To kids and families. That is one of the strongest parts of this book. The author does not pull children into their own little bubble of "ministry," with no concern for helping parents be involved with the faith development of their children. On the contrary, the relational part of the title is solidly focused on parents, children, and all those working with children in the church.

The third primary section then discusses ways to realign and recalibrate those children's ministries that may have gotten sidetracked away from building a strong, lifelong faith base for our children. The practical nature of the advice and the irenic and loving attitude the author exhibits throughout makes this a resource I strongly recommend to anyone guiding children in the faith, in or outside their congregation.

One small note: I have never been in a congregation with an Awana program but have heard and seen good things from this ministry. The book does close with some Awana resources to build out further what the author has begun in this guide. However, it is not at all necessary to be part of an Awana program to gain much from Lovaglia's work.

Sticky Faith Service Guide, Student Journal: How Serving Others Changes You
Sticky Faith Service Guide, Student Journal: How Serving Others Changes You
by Kara Eckmann Powell
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.35
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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent resource, but best used by the whole team, June 21, 2016
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In an ideal world, every short-term mission trip involving teenagers and young adults would be planned so thoroughly that all the participants would be able to use this journal adequately. Unfortunately, too often planning, pre-trip preparation and post-trip reflection are not included in the overall experience.

The Student Journal has wonderful material that can help anyone going on this kind of mission trip gain the most benefit from the experience. Used in conjunction with well-planned guidance from the leaders, this journal could be a great place for students to record their experiences and reflections and begin to see what changes they can make as a result of going on the trip. A strongly motivated youth might also be able to gain from the book's study helps, questions for reflections, etc., but it probably is not going to be easy for an individual to try to use it fully on their own.

One other concern that might occur for some groups: every participant should have his or her own copy of the journal, something that could be cost-prohibitive for some (although the wise trip planners will include this cost in the overall funding that needs to be raised for their venture).

Anything that can deepen the long-term meaning of these trips for the participants as well as help them be more effective in truly serving those they go to partner with is definitely worth using. This Student Journal fills the bill.

Sticky Faith Service Guide: Moving Students from Mission Trips to Missional Living
Sticky Faith Service Guide: Moving Students from Mission Trips to Missional Living
by Kara Eckmann Powell
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.51
69 used & new from $8.93

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent resource for any short term mission planning and execution., June 21, 2016
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Every year, hundreds of churches, across the spectrum from fundamentalist to the most main line of main line congregations, embark on “short term mission trips.” All are well-intentioned, whether their main thrust is evangelism or mercy or both, but all too many of these groups are not fully prepared for the experience.

There are so many ways these activities can go wrong, from failure to understand the culture of the area visited to inattention to safety to lack of planning for how both participants and those with whom they partner in the “target” area will ultimately benefit.

Enter the Sticky Faith Service Guide. As the title indicates, this is a guide that will work best for those trips focused on service and mercy rather than one that is designed to be overtly and completely evangelistic. However, the “sticky faith” part of the title is also an important part of the book’s focus. The authors are concerned with helping those who go on these trip to move “from mission trips to missional living,” pointing out with examples and exercises how seeking justice and mercy are part of an intentional Christian faith.

(In fact, while other reviewers have seemed to indicate that the guide could be used for secular groups, I doubt that most such groups would find this to be very relevant.)

Even if you are well into the planning of a short-term mission trip, the guide is something all the leadership will benefit from. The beginning section gives some overall hints for all stages of the process, while later chapters focus on specific activities to use with the group before, during, and after being on location.

All too often, short-term missions trips are little more than a “check off the boxes” opportunities for students to add to their college applications, to “see what poverty is like,” or even “to experience another culture”—as if a few days in a place where is little real interaction with a broad range of people could give such instant understanding. While this Guide cannot resolve all these problems, it can help leaders as they work with all the trip participants to make the most of their experience, both for themselves and for those with whom they will be partnering and serving during their short time of interaction.

If Eve Only Knew: Freeing Yourself from Biblical Womanhood and Becoming All God Means for You to Be
If Eve Only Knew: Freeing Yourself from Biblical Womanhood and Becoming All God Means for You to Be
by Kendra Weddle Irons
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.50
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars If the readers only knew, this isn't a fair picture of those the authors oppose, June 15, 2016
Oh my. I am sure to be hit with Amazon's own version of trolling by posting the first non-5 star rating here--and only 1 star at that.

Sorry to be the debbie downer at this party, but this book is too mean-spirited in its blanket denunciation of anyone--male or female--who somehow differs even a little from their own views as not Christian. The authors pose a stereotyped definition of all "evangelical" women as repressed barefoot and pregnant kinds of happy happy homemakers, scared of "feminism" and just totally, totally out of the real world.

Yes, there definitely are people out there who fit their narrow definition, and I agree that they are detrimental to the message of the Gospel. However, their broad-brushed slander of the many "evangelical" women I know is unfair and demeaning. While they may have anecdotal evidence of Sunday school lessons teaching Eve as the source of sin and evil, I can give you just as many instances (and some pretty solid curricula from conservative publishing houses) where there is no evidence of this fractured picture at all.

While the authors speak disparagingly of the kind of negativity seen in the "fundamentalists" they oppose, their own holier than thou approach and attitude certainly seems far from the biblical message of love, forgiveness, and grace as well. The extremism of these critical and unkind characterizations makes this definitely a book I cannot recommend. That is too bad, as there is a need for fair and balanced discussion of what is sometimes characterized as the egalitarian-complementarian divide. This just isn't that text.

We Are Not Such Things: The Murder of a Young American, a South African Township, and the Search for Truth and Reconciliation
We Are Not Such Things: The Murder of a Young American, a South African Township, and the Search for Truth and Reconciliation
by Justine van der Leun
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.93
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truth and Reconciliation and a search for more, June 8, 2016
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First, a warning: This book has 544 pages. While this can sometimes be daunting, We Are Not Such Things is well worth the page count.

Justine Van der Leun has provided both a fascinating detective story and a kind of survey course on the history of South Africa over the past several decades. Her persistent investigation brought her into growing relationships with many of the people of South Africa few of us ever hear about. We may be familiar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) panels that were so much in the news after the tragic post-apartheid years, but this book gives a much more nuanced and necessary narrative of both some of the incidents that were addressed there, but also of at least one case that never became a part of these hearings.

Amy Biehl was an idealistic, bright 26 year old American killed in an incident of mob violence that immediately made headlines both in South Africa and the US. After her wealthy Californian parents set up an organization to work toward reconciliation with the men who had been convicted of Amy's murder, van der Leun began delving into how and why this family had the strength to provide so much forgiveness and concern for those who had brought them so much pain.

As she researched, however, the author began finding threads and clues to other aspects of the events on that August 1993 day, and the story builds as we begin to see some of the limitations of the much-vaunted TRC process. She does not, however, ever really lose her compassion for all those involved in the complex events. Reading We Are Not Such Things is important for anyone wanting to learn more about this process and perhaps be cautious when considering it as a panacea for all manner of other civil injustices.

Who Really Feeds the World?: The Failures of Agribusiness and the Promise of Agroecology
Who Really Feeds the World?: The Failures of Agribusiness and the Promise of Agroecology
by Vandana Shiva
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.94
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1.0 out of 5 stars A Worthy Concern Weakened by a Shrill and Poorly Supported Presentation, June 2, 2016
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I had great expectations for a book with the subtitle, The Failures of Agribusiness and the Promise of Agroecology, and Vandana Shiva's bio includes many impressive awards.

However, it quickly became apparent that this book is not one I can recommend to anyone. Shiva's historical comments are provably false (no starvation in India in 1965, as she states on page xvi of the introduction? Check out sites like

Her scientific views are questionable as well--DNA is just part of the "dogma" of molecular biology, a "belief system" that has provided the basis for genetic engineering. This, she says, is the "scientific paradigm that gave rise to [GMOs.] GMOs have displaced indigenous knowledge, and in particular, women's knowledge." (page 5) Or this, from the same page: "Epigenetics teaches us that the idea that there are atoms of life called 'genes'--which determine the traits of all living organisms--is not true."

Still, perhaps some of her early statements would be buffered in later chapters, so I continued reading. As usual, I also dug into the end notes, trying to see what sources were being cited. Here, I found another concern: many of the statistics and data cited were coming from other writings by Shiva herself. In other places, she also made claims that should have had references to study further but there were none to be found. (An example: a paragraph full of numbers that ends by saying, "by the time industrial agriculture can provide even 40 percent of our food supply, it will have destroyed 100 percent of our ecological life0support base." (p 126) A sweeping statement like this surely has to have some reference to pursue.

The chapter titles here were encouraging, using a (fill in the blank) feeds the world format. Yes, living soil, bees and butterflies, biodiversity, and the many others she cites really do feed the world. And no, poisons and pesticides, toxic monocultures and "seed dictatorship" are worthy enemies in the battles to improve global food supplies. But presenting often unsupportably extreme statements will only work to alienate those most needing to hear about the problems massive agribusiness conglomerates really do pose for the world. By overstating and under-supporting her position, Shiva has only served to weaken the case, and this book should be passed over for something more substantial.

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between
The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between
by Hisham Matar
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.72

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Son in Search of His Disappeared Father, June 2, 2016
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Once again, Libya is in turmoil. Reading The Return even as I listen to the current news reports makes this story even more heart-wrenching. What must it be like to have your father imprisoned in a notoriously cruel prison, hear from him only sporadically, and then have all communication cease for years? What is it like to have the entire family have to always be looking over their backs no matter where in the world where they are?

Matar's first-person account is mostly gripping, as he makes the difficult decision to return to Libya during an interlude in the chaos that the country continues to endure. Dealing with world leaders like Tony Blair who seem oblivious to the fate of men like his father, hearing stories from other prisoners of his father's calming presence and also the torture that he endured, continuing to hold out hope for his father's life even as it seems clearer and clearer that he probably was executed almost twenty years ago--these are the struggles that the author chronicles in his return.

His return to Libya mixed familial love and loyalty with some guilt and perhaps even shame, as so many of those who had remained in the country had also suffered horrendously over the years, while he, Hisham Matar, had lived a free life abroad.

"These encounters with my relatives who had spent decades in prison, whose names have been on my tongue and between my fingers repeatedly over the many years I campaigned and wrote letters about them to various governments and human-rights organizations, exposed the riptides between us. They wanted to tell me about what life was like during the two decades in prison, and I was keen to let them know how much I thought of them." (p 224 in my pre-publication draft)

Unfortunately, the first several chapters of the book were weakened when Matar returned and began meeting a vast array of family members. His narrative was confusing and often veered off into descriptions of art and architecture that was almost stream of consciousness in the telling. Then he would return to stories involving cousins and uncles and others in a way that became very confusing and sometimes seemed to trail off to nothing. In fact, there was a point about a third of the way through the book that I was ready to just quit.

But I did not, and I am very glad I stayed the course. The last half of the book is the strongest, and this is a memoir that definitely needs to be read. We can become so inured to the ongoing headlines of conflict, torture, treachery, that we forget there are real people sitting in very real prisons, dealing with very real tyranny even as we sit here drinking our coffee and enjoying a good book. So get The Return and read it, all the way through.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 23, 2016 1:49 AM PDT

Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Abuse
Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Abuse
by Ruth A. Tucker
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.24
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3.0 out of 5 stars Domestic Abuse Where It May Be Least Expected, June 2, 2016
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Ruth Tucker wrote a classic of Christian mission history, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions, even as she herself was dealing with serious and chronic domestic abuse. In her current book, she opens up this private history, providing a narrative of the struggles of an abused wife. Making her situation even more difficult was the fact that her husband had the sociopathic ability to present himself to the public as a charismatic, charming pastor.

This wrenching story of the way that domestic abuse can and does affect even highly qualified, professional, intelligent women is an important one. Unfortunately, Tucker has chosen to make her narrative an indictment of the "complementarian" view of women's role in the church.

If you are not familiar with the debate going on within many evangelical circles between "complementarian" and "egalitarian" roles for women in the church, you will most certainly find her inclusion of the topic less than interesting. In fact, the rest of this review might not be all that interesting. (And if you do want to immerse yourself in some pretty heated discussions, just do an internet search using those two terms.)

If you are on the "egalitarian" side, you might cheer her narrative, and "complementarians" will definitely find much to criticize.

But here is the problem: Yes, Tucker's first husband held to an authoritarian, the husband rules the home approach to their marriage, and, yes, no doubt there are more authoritarian, patriarchal men among the complementarian group than egalitarians. However, complementarian does not necessarily equal authoritarian/patriarchal, and there are many abusers among egalitarian promoters too. (I say this from as much anecdotal evidence as Tucker provides from the other side.)

Domestic abuse is domestic abuse, no matter what the philosophical position of the individual abuser. I wish that the author would have stayed with her own courageous path out of her terrifically difficult situation. There are some heroes here, those who helped her at the depth of her struggles, and far too many people who chose to avert their eyes from what was happening. By so heavily laying the blame on her husband's so-called complementarian view--that is really much more authoritarian than the bulk of "complementarians," she may be giving a pass to men who abuse while giving lip-service to a we're all equal here approach to marriage. Because of that, I cannot recommend this book nearly as much as I would like.

In Memory of Bread: A Memoir
In Memory of Bread: A Memoir
by Paul Graham
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.79
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little too much whining, even with a truly difficult diagnosis, June 2, 2016
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Many of us in the US are given the luxury of being able to pursue hobbies and interests unavailable to much of the rest of the world, and Paul Graham was living "the good life" as a small college professor in a beautiful part of the country rich with local sources for his love of baking, cooking, and brewing. Then, even before he had turned 40, a diagnosis of celiac disease turned his world upside down. In Memory of Bread chronicles his efforts to replace the wheat and related grains that had been so central to both his diet and his lifestyle.

Graham (is there some irony here in a last name so tied to a kind of wheat flour?) writes well, and he provides much detail in his quest for a way to replace the breads and beers that had been so much of his life before the diagnosis.

Perhaps too much detail.

If you are a real fan of craft beers, you may well appreciate his extensive discussions of the many beers he tried and the trips he took to find a gluten-free beer that would suit his discerning tastes. His similar searches for palatable gluten-free breads seemed not quite so excruciatingly detailed, but it is clear that this is a man who will go to great lengths and spare little expense in search of the "just right" items that will please his palate.

And that, in the end, is what made this only a three star book. I understand the sadness of having to avoid so many food and hospitality opportunities, of having to deal with very real pain and potentially catastrophic long term health issues that come with celiac. I have several friends dealing with this very diagnosis, including two who have been diagnosed as children and most of whom are dealing with related sensitivities to soy and/or dairy. Think of a teenager who can't go to pizza parties, the child who can't share in a friend's birthday cake. The reality is that living with this diagnosis is tough.

I get that. However, Graham lives in an area where he can, if he wants, find lots of gluten-free foods: fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses, and wines. He can afford to spend the heavy premiums for gluten-free breads, pasta, etc., if he chooses to continue including these as a major part of his diet. Some of my friends are not so fortunate. Faced with an already tight budget, a family with a gluten-free child often has far fewer choices.

Though the author notes in a couple of places that he knows he is privileged to be able to be so discerning in his search for the best gluten-free foods, there is a sniveling tone here that made it hard to empathize with his challenges. The day that I finished this book, I was also preparing a gluten-free meal for a disabled friend with a ten year old dealing with celiac. Seeing how much the cost of this food must be taking out of her limited budget, it became clear that In Memory of Bread may be a nice read for some, but I could never recommend it to people who are having to deal both with the limited diet this diagnosis brings but also with the unaffordability of much of what Graham seems to take as a given.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 6, 2016 12:48 AM PDT

Falling: A Daughter, a Father, and a Journey Back
Falling: A Daughter, a Father, and a Journey Back
by Elisha Cooper
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.13
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3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing narrative from an established writer, June 1, 2016
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Receiving news that one's young child has been diagnosed with a potentially fatal cancer is devestating. Dealing with all of the treatments and ups and downs of the course of the disease is a long and difficult process for everyone in the family, so Elisha Cooper has shared some of his experiences in Falling.

The book may have been cathartic for the author--though I am not sure, from its overall tone, that even that was accomplished. Unfortunately for the reader, the overall story is not well told, and, even though Mr. Cooper is a renowned children's author, his narrative here is too often lifeless and most often failed to engage at least this reader. Perhaps it is a story still too close to him to really be able to share effectively.

The book is short and may provide some insight into his life for those who are followers of Cooper's other writings. For the rest of us, however, this is probably not going to be one from which we will gain any insights or find at all rewarding.

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