Books Category


Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray

Ruta Sepetys

In the latter years of my career, I taught sixth grade Social Studies. One of the approaches I took was to integrate novels that coordinated with each particular historical era.

For example, After the Dancing Days by Margaret Rostkowski is a narrative set in the mid-west after WWI and prior to the Roaring Twenties in which the main characters deal with the misfortunes of returning wounded soldiers–it is an excellent read!

To examine varying viewpoints of WWII, two novels I used were Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr (an outstanding book) and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. The first examines the life of a young girl “diagnosed with leukemia from radiation caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.” The second exposes Joseph Stalin’s “cleansing of the Baltic region” when he killed “more than twenty million people” from the Baltics states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

I was lucky that I taught when I did, because I am certain that the choice of these novels—especially the second–would have put me in the hot seat considering our current political and social climate towards teaching and exploring ideas that could possibly make our children ‘feel bad.’ When my students and I read these stories, we discussed what was happening and why and had great conversations from differing points of view, and you know what happened?  My students showed great compassion, empathy and respect towards each other throughout the process.

And maybe, just maybe, a seed was planted to carry those attitudes forward into adulthood.

To be honest, I am surprised that Between Shades of Gray has not shown up on a banned book list. Since many in our culture do not want our children to learn about the holocaust where six million Jews and five million others were killed, why would they want them to learn about the 20 million plus folks annihilated by Joseph Stalin?

Additionally, there are several sensitive incidents regarding how the evacuees were treated by their captors. We—my students and I–considered those parts with tact and care.

Between Shades of Gray is extremely well researched and well written. It is a moving page turner; one that will touch your heart.

Pandemic Reading

Psalms for Praying

Nan C Merrill

I once met a minister who would not allow his school age children to eat Lucky Charms cereal or read the Harry Potter series of books because the cereal was “magically delicious” and Harry Potter and friends were wizards and witches.

My own teenagers were reading J.K. Rowling’s fantasy fiction in the 90’s to early 2000’s, so I did as well. I have never been a fan of the fantasy genre, but these books were different. Set in England, they have a historical fiction quality that I found appealing.

Because my granddaughter is now reading Harry Potter and because I felt the need to have my imagination whisk me away, I re-read the series about “the boy who lived.”

J.K. Rowling has woven a tale about more than just witches and wizards; there are the straightforward themes of love and friendship, good versus evil, kindness, compassion, and overcoming obstacles, among others. Yet, the second time through I encountered more complex concepts such as racism, patriarchy, spirituality, and redemption. To dismiss these novels simply because the characters use magic seems foolish. I am glad I read the set again.

During this time of pandemic reading, I also read two more books by Anne Lamott: Dusk, Night, Dawn: on Revival and Courage and Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. Because she is so real and genuine in expressing herself, I feel as though we are friends when I finish one of her books. This is further enhanced for me with her use of well-placed expletives. In fact, she says the fourth essential prayer is, “Help me not be such an ass.” Both books helped me see more clearly the extraordinary in the ordinary and the spiritual gifts hidden in difficulties.

I enjoyed the latest book in the Tea Shop Mysteries by Laura Childs, Twisted Tea Christmas. Cicely Tyson’s autobiography, Just As I Am, was a good read as well.

One of my favorite pandemic reads was The Love Letters of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi: The Journey of Two Great Saints, Soaked in Love, That Changed the World, compiled by Bruce Davis. This is a truly beautiful exposition on unconditional Love—the ‘God is love’ Love.

Speaking of Love, John Pavlovitz’s book, If God is Love, Don’t Be a Jerk: Finding a Faith that Makes us Better Humans, is excellent. Those of you, however, from a conservative Christian belief system will find it heretical. I guess that is one of the reasons I liked it so much—it challenged me to find a way to love you and not be a jerk.

One last recommendation for now is Nan C. Merrill’s, Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness. Each Psalm is a prayer of contemplative devotion to God, Awareness, Spirit. It is not a book to rush through.  The following verses come from Psalm 101.

May I be a mirror of your Love
to all that I meet;
May I reflect the freedom of your
Truth, and live
as a beneficial presence in
the world.

Happy reading!

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

W. Phillip Keller

“What have you been doing during the pandemic?” seems to be an oft ask question this last year. I have been reading … a lot. With a book shelf full of books to be read as well as e-books in my Kindle library, I am currently in the middle of about four or five.

The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher and Black and Buddhist by Pamela Ayo Yetunde are two I just finished. I am in the midst of A Promised Land by Barack Obama and Galaxy Girls by Libby Jackson as well as Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky. Both of the latter may take me awhile. Pride and Prejudice because the language style is exquisite, like fine art, it must be savored; and Manufacturing Consent because its contents is so alarming.

Why read it then? Because I relish in the processes of exploration and self-reflection.

Sometimes I read to escape too.

Every once and a while I find a book that allows me to do all three which is what happened with A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller. A truly lovely book about The Shepherd’s love.

A Bigger Table

A Bigger Table

John Pavlovitz

I was by my mother’s side when she breathed her last breath four and a half years ago and at that time, I experienced God’s love as never before. Known in Judaism as the shekinah glory, I experienced the divine presence of God. I felt Light and Love pouring in and flowing out of every cell of my physical form and being. The clarity I sensed in my spirit and soul was like seeing through and being immersed in bright, crystal clear, shining, sparkling water; absolutely clean and perfectly pure. The juxtaposition between the two extremes of brilliant luminosity and deep grief for my mother was incredibly intense. While my grieving continued the acute glow gradually faded over time.

I share the above experience in my recommendation of John Pavlovitz’s book, A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, because reading his book validates the “spiritual deconstruction” I underwent in the wake of my mother’s death. Consequently, I dug a very deep well to find answers about issues for which I had previously accepted the status quo. My focus changed from judging that which I thought was sin to a desire to meet “the needs that prevent people from knowing their belovedness.” What could be more important?

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus

Ann Spangler

Lois Tverberg

In the last couple of years, I have developed a deep hunger for the ‘meat’ of what the Bible is really saying and teaching. My desire seems to be met through understanding the ‘Jewishness of Jesus’ and the Hebrew culture of both the Old and New Testament scriptures. One such book that has been immensely helpful is Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg.

Chapter three “Stringing Pearls” truly awakened me to the mastery of Jesus’s teachings especially with regards to the Old Testament or Tanakh. “To increase the impact of a statement, rabbis would quote part of a Scripture and then let their audience fill in the rest.” Armed with this new understanding, the Old Testament has taken on new life for this gentile follower of Christ.

Does The Bible Really Say That?

Does The Bible Really Say That?

Chaim Bentorah

Chaim Bentorah’s book Does the Bible Really Say That? examines “20 Seeming Biblical Contradictions.” Contradictions such as the following:

• “If God is filled with wrath and rage, then that is contradictory to His perfect love.”
• “If Jesus is God incarnate, that is God in human form, then how can He forsake Himself?”
• Does the phrase ‘Render Unto Caesar’ really mean to pay your taxes?
• “In Genesis God ‘repented’ that he made man and then in Numbers God does not ‘repent.’ Does God repent?”
• “If Jesus Christ makes no distinction between men and women (Galatians 3:28),” then why does it seem the Apostle Paul forbids “women to speak in churches and teach men?”

Because of his extensive study of Semitic languages, Chaim Bentorah’s Biblical word studies have opened the Bible for me in deeper and more meaningful ways enhancing my walk with God. I am truly thankful for his Spirit-filled insights which often reach past patriarchal and ideological conditioning.