Shawna Atteberry

Baker, Writer, Teacher

Book Review: Sex Difference in Christian Theology

Last year I wrote a review of Megan Defranza‘s Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God, sent it to the editor of the Englewood Review of Books then promptly forgot about it. When I was hunting through my bookshelves over the weekend, I came across the book and wondered if the review had been published. It had: in January. I’m a little behind the curve on this one, but here it is.

Sex Difference in Christain Theology is a much needed theological reflection on what it means to be made in the image of God, and that male and female do not have to be the binary straightjacket of what it means to be fully human. There are gray areas of sex, gender, and sexuality in our world, and our theology needs to reflect those areas to be faithful to how all of us are created in the image of God and image God in this world. DeFranza has provided a good biblical and theological foundation for this work.

Click here to read the rest of the review.

Book Review: The Gospel of Mary by Mark M. Mattison

The Gospel of Mary: A Fresh Translation and Holistic Approach
By Mark M. Mattison
Self-published 2013
$5.42 Paperback
$3.99 Kindle

With the discovery of both the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library, several early gospels not included in the canon of the New Testament have come to light. In recent years many books have been written on the Gospels of Thomas, Judas, Mary, and Peter with The Gospel of Judas probably being the most well known with all the controversy it caused. Books written on these extra-canonical gospels fall into two camps: scholarly and sensational, which makes it difficult for the normal layperson to find a well researched book that you don’t need a specialized theological vocabulary to understand. That is no longer a problem with The Gospel of Mary: A Fresh Translation and Holistic Approach.

Independent scholar and general editor of the New Testament: Divine Feminine Version, Mark M. Mattison has written a translation and commentary on The Gospel of Mary that is aimed at the typical layperson who is curious to know more about the only gospel that carries a woman’s name. Mattison offers two translations in his book: first a more dynamic equivalent version, then a more literal public domain version. Mattison has also provided a formatted version of each translation which groups the verses into paragraphs along with an unformatted version where each verse is on a separate line as it is in the original Greek and Coptic texts (Coptic is the result of the Egyptian language being written in the Greek alphabet).

Mattison begins by giving us an overview of who Mary Magdalene was as portrayed in both the canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) as well as the gospels that did not make it into the New Testament. After the translation of the The Gospel of Mary, he provides a commentary that explains the theology and spirituality of Mary’s gospel along with its place among the earliest writings of the young Christian movement. Normally the section of the gospel called the Ascent of the Soul is interpreted to mean the various trials and tormentors the soul must get past on its way to heaven after death. At this point most Christians write this gospel off because we believe that Christ is all we need for entrance into heaven. But Mattison offers another way to translate Mary’s teaching on the ascent of the soul:

It’s difficult to read about these seven evil powers and not think about the seven demons which were said to have “gone out” of Mary in Luke 8:2. Just as Mary was released from the grip of the seven demons that terrorized her and kept her bound, so Mary’s vision in 15:1–17:7 describes the soul’s victory over seven oppressive powers whose ravages we’ve all experienced to some degree–powers with names like “darkness,” “ignorance,” “wrath, “and so on. These powers are thus described in terms that invite us to confront our own “personal demons,” so to speak–demons like addiction, anxiety, and anger (p. 43).

Scholar Karen King and Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault have also advocated this way of interpreting the teachings in the Gospel of Mary. This gospel provides instructions on living an authentic spiritual life based on the teachings and life of Jesus. After the resurrection it gave early believers a guideline on dealing with their own demons and living a Christlike life.

Here is where the genius of Mattison’s book really shines: it doesn’t stop with explaining theology. Following Bourgeault’s example from The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, he shows his readers how to live this theology. He offers a chapter on the contemplative practices of lectio divina and contemplative prayer, so his readers can start putting into practice the teachings they learn from The Gospel of Mary. Readers of this book will be equipped to start or deepen their own soul’s ascent to a more self-aware and Christlike life. Mattison also provides resources for those who would like to delve into contemplative spiritual practices. The bibliography provides plenty of resources for those who want to continue their study of Mary’s gospel.

The Gospel of Mary: A Fresh Translation and Holistic Approach will give the reader a sound grasp and understanding to The Gospel of Mary. I recommend it for both personal and group study.

Mark M. Mattison is an independent scholar who was the founder and is still a contributor at The Paul Page, which keeps up with all the scholarship coming out on the Apostle Paul (no small task). Mark is also one of the founding members of The Christian Godde Project and the general editor of the New Testament: Divine Feminine Version.

Disclaimers: I received a copy of this book agreeing to review it, and I saw and gave feedback on early drafts of this book. I also work with Mark on the New Testament: A Divine Feminine Version as an associate editor. In other words, I am a biased reviewer.

Book Review: Touching God

Touching God: Experiencing Metaphors for the Divine
Ellyn Sanna
© 2002
Paperback, $12.95

Touching God is like sitting down with a really good friend who makes you look over the last few days or weeks of your life and see them in a different way. The two of you are talking about your mundane lives then she says something that makes you see a daily occurrence in a whole new light. Sanna makes you look at the things that make up your daily, routine life such has food, light, housekeeping, children, and friends and helps you see Godde. Taking everyday objects and activities and making them metaphors to describe Godde is nothing new–Jesus did the same thing in parables. Throughout the Bible daily activities are turned into metaphors to describe this invisible Godde we are in a relationship with. Things and activities we are familiar with give Godde the human skin we need to touch her and know she is with us. Metaphors like:

  • Godde is light.
  • Godde is a rock.
  • Godde is bread.
  • Godde is a housekeeper.
  • Godde is a spouse.
  • Godde is a friend.

Keeping each metaphor firmly rooted in her daily life and relationships, Sanna unpacks how we experience Godde through these symbols in the 21st century. She is good at taking the things of everyday life and giving Godde the flesh we all crave.

Being the descendent of Italian Americans who love to cook and eat, my favorite chapter was the one on food. The chapter begins with one of the most creative and imaginative retellings of the Feeding of the 5,000 I have read. Beyond the obvious connection with the sacrament of communion, Sanna reminds us that at the heart of seeing Godde as food is remembering the connection between food and our physical well-being. Food has become everything from an addiction to a reward in American society, and our obsession with food revolves around what we can’t have and shouldn’t have. We have forgotten that we need to food to live, just as we need Godde to live. Yes, human beings shall not live by bread alone, but we will not live at all without bread. Sanna believes we need to remember and think of our meals as blessings of abundance and generosity instead of calorie counting to help us remember the same abundance and generosity we receive from Godde.

After recently posting about the importance of homemakers in the Early Church, I was very pleased to see a chapter comparing Godde to a housewife in Touching God. Sanna begins with the parable in Luke 15 that normally gets looked over when we talk about Godde looking for lost things and lost people:

Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:8-10, NRSV).

Remembering lessons from Sunday School Sanna says:

I don’t remember a time I didn’t know that God was the Good Shepherd searching for the lost sheep, and my Sunday school teachers made quite clear that just as the father ran out to greet his prodigal son, God welcomes us when we come back to him. God is a shepherd, God is a father; I was familiar with these metaphors. But no Sunday school teacher ever spelled out the parallel metaphor that is clearly there in Christ’s story: God is a housewife.

I don’t remember hearing anything about Godde being a housewife in my years of Sunday school and church either. Though I have heard many sermons and Sunday School lessons about Godde the Shepherd, and Godde the Loving Father. Those three verses between these two parables are conveniently skipped over, so we don’t have to demean Godde by showing Godde doing something as menial as “woman’s work.” Although, as Sanna points out, in the biblical time being a homemaker/housekeeper was not considered demeaning labor. Women were responsible for the processing of and allotment of all the food the family needed. Women’s work also fueled the ancient economy with their continuous spinning and weaving of cloth for clothing, shelter, and housewares. And as I pointed out in my post about Martha, Sanna also explains that rich homemakers ran small businesses.

One of the things that I adore about this book and Sanna is her penchant for picking up the dictonary and looking up what words really mean. This is how I found out that menial did not always mean inferior or demeaning. Menial “comes from the Latin roots meaning ‘to remain, to dwell.’ This sense of stability and permanence surely means that our household chores reflect aspects of the divine nature, ‘with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning’ (Jas 1:17, KJV).”

The next time I am cleaning the bathroom or mopping the kitchen floor my mantra is going to be: “Godde is a housekeeper too. Godde is a housekeeper too.”

The most challenging chapter, and the one I resisted the most will probably be the one other readers will have trouble with as well: Seeing Godde in the poor. Sanna herself notes:

We are attracted to most symbols for God. Metaphors from nature may be intimidating at times, but they are still beautiful; in most human metaphors for God we catch a glimpse of something loveable and sympathetic, some human quality we recognize and appreciate. But the poor make us uneasy. People who lack food, proper hygiene, and education are seldom pretty; how can we see God’s image in such ugliness and despair?

Even though Jesus was born in poverty and was a poor man all his earthly life, we have problems with seeing Godde as poor, seeing Godde in poverty.

When we catch a glimpse of God in those who are poor, we are not meant to sit back and simply admire it. Other divine metaphors may speak to us through their essential beauty; we can meditate on these symbols’ attributes and learn more about the nature of God–but there is nothing divine at all about human suffering and need. The poor are not blessed because they possess some wonderful spiritual quality; instead, they are blessed because God hears their cry….They are a challenge to our smug self-sufficiency, a voice that demands our response.

The question is will see Godde in the poor and act? Or will we turn away to the more pleasant symbols for Godde and ignore that this was the life our own Savior chose while walking the earth?

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to recognize Godde’s presence in their ordinary, mundane lives. Godde is there, but we so often don’t take the time to look, search, and meditate on the many different ways Godde shows up in our day. Touching God will help you to slow down and start looking for the many metaphors and symbols in your own life that will help you see Godde all around you everyday.

I have also reviewed Ellyn Sanna’s new translation of Julian of Norwich’s Showings: All Shall Be Well: Divine Revelations of Love by Julian of Norwich.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Anamchara Press agreeing to post a review of it on my blog.

One Year Ago on A book every woman needs on her shelves

Women at the Time of the Bible by Miriam Feinberg Vamosh

Women at the Time of the Bible
Miriam Feinberg Vamosh

Women at the Time of the Bible is an indispensable guide of the ordinary lives that ordinary women lived in the Bible. Author Miriam Feinberg Vamosh has lived in Israel for 40 years, and she is a tour educator who specializes in pilgrimages in the Holy Land. In addition to writing, she also lectures. This is a well researched book that is perfect for the regular person who wants to know more about the daily lives of their spiritual foremothers.

Feinberg Vamosh literally puts us in the shoes of Biblical women as she shows us their lives in beautiful prose and amazing full-color pictures. The chapters include:

  • The Household: Home, Hearth and Beyond
  • It’s Never Done: Women’s Work
  • Under Caring Wings: Motherhood
  • Ladies who Lament: Professional Mourners
  • A Teacher for Life: Women and Learning
  • Standing out, Speaking Out: Women’s Leadership

She also covers betrothal and marriage, how women worshiped, and the final chapter is on women who lived at the margins of society: prostitutes, mediums, seductresses, and loners. Each chapter ends with a portrait of a woman who personifies the chapter. The portraits are well written narratives of women like Martha, Sarah, Rahab, and Abigail showing us new insights into their lives.

The full color pictures on each page of the book help the reader to see how these women lived, and pictures of present day nomads show, that in some places, life has not changed much from biblical times. Feinberg Vamosh has firmly anchored this book in archeological finds, history, sociological studies, and the biblical accounts to help us step into the ancient world of our foremothers.

My only quibble with the book was the price. I ordered if off, and I was expecting a bigger book for the price of $19.99, but the quibbling was soon silenced as I began reading the book and marveling at the pictures. Take it from me: the book is worth the price.

What are some of your favorite books about the women of the Bible? Any book open your eyes to see these women more clearly and show you something new on their part in sacred history?

Book Review: Earth Afire with God

Earth Afire with God: Celtic Prayers for Ordinary Life
Anamchara Books
(c) 2011
Paperback $12.95

I love Celtic prayers. I love their simplicity, their humility, and their earthiness. I love how they take the mundane tasks of life seriously. Nothing is too humble or ordinary to be prayed over in the Celtic tradition. There are prayers for rising, kindling the fire, washing the clothes, and gathering food. All of life is sacred and lived in Godde’s presence.

In Earth Afire with God, Anamchara Books has collected Celtic prayers from the past and updated them to reflect modern life. The staff of Anamchara Books also wrote their own Celtic prayers to add to the collection. The vast majority of the prayers come from Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica, the largest source of Celtic prayers we have reflecting over 1000 years of oral prayers and traditions from Celtic Christianity. The prayers are divided by sections like “Morning Prayers,” “Journeying,” “Enfolding Your Life in God,” and “Celebrating the Seasons,” making it easy to find a prayer for a specific situation. The arrangement of prayers within each section have a nice flow from ancient life to modern life as shown by these two prayers from the “Working” Section.

“Prayer for Starting the Work Day”

Lord Jesus, who worked at lathe and plane, with hammer and with nails,
Bless and sanctify the tools I use this day.

Lord Jesus, who worked beside His earthly father, Joseph,
Bless and watch over me and those with whom I work this day.

Lord Jesus, who knew the cares and frustrations of toil,
Bless my work.

Lord Jesus, who knew the rewards and satisfaction of toil,
Bless my work.

Lord Jesus, whose gifts of talent and ability sustain my working life,
Bless my work.

In strength and with confidence I begin my work today.
In strength and with confidence may I accomplish all I must do.
To the Glory of God my Creator, I dedicate this day.


“Workplace Prayer”

The job I do today, Christ does it too.
May my workplace be bright with His joy.
May the Trinity be pleased with each task I do,
Creator, Child, and Spirit
And may the bright angels hover ’round my desk–
Dear presence–each hour of the day.
Let every e-mail I send go forth in truth and blessing.
May I speak only words of truth and blessing
On the phone and to my colleagues.
May no dealing of this day
Give shame to the bright people of Heaven,
The holy cloud that watches all.
May I not forget them, nor the stout Earth that gives me strength,
Nor You, fair Lord.

Earth Afire with God is a good book for those beginning their journey into Celtic prayers. It’s a good beginning point to see what Celtic prayer is like. It is also a good book for those of us who have prayed Celtic prayers for years because of its modern language, and the new prayers should inspire all who read to try their own hand at writing prayers, of any style, to the Godde who makes every facet of our lives possible. This is an excellent book of prayer that should bring any pray-er closer to Godde.

Book Review: All Shall Be Well: Divine Revelations of Love by Julian of Norwich

All Shall Be Well: Revelations of Divine Love
Julian of Norwich
Written in modern language by Ellyn Sanna
(c) 2011
Anamachara Books
Paperback $19.95

Julian of Norwich is one of my favorite writers and saints. Julian was an English anchoress who lived from 1342–1412. An anchoress was a person who chose to be imprisoned for Godde. Anchoresses were nuns, already devoted to a life of prayer and contemplation, who decided to go a step further in their spiritual discipline. They chose to be a living burial, radically living dying to the world in a very visceral and practical way. Anchoresses lived in rooms attached to the church, which they never left; in fact, their rooms had no doors. An anchoress’ room had three windows: one looking into the church where she could hear services and receive communion. The second window opened to her servant’s room where she received her meals. The servant would also run errands and clean for the anchoress, who devoted herself exclusively to prayer and spiritual counsel. The third window opened out to the world, and to this window people would come to ask questions and receive wisdom from the anchoress. People of walks of life–rich and poor, peasants and royalty–would come to anchoresses for guidance and spiritual counsel. This was how Julian lived.

Julian lived in a very tumultous time in England during the Middle Ages. Bubonic plague (The Plague) swept through England three times during her life. It is estimated that Norwich lost half of its population to The Plague. England was also embroiled in the 100 Years War with France, which lasted through all of Julian’s life. It was a time of religious upheaval in England. In 1384 Wyclif translated the first Bible from Latin into the vernacular English, so that the laity could read the Bible themselves. The pope condemned him as a heretic, and the local clergy did not believe people could know Godde and have a relationship with her without the mediation of the church. One group of Wyclif’s followers were burned in a pit within a mile of Julian’s cell. The Church zealously believed the only way to Godde was through the clergy, and that there could be no way for the people to relate directily to Godde. In the midst of all this upheaval and violence, Julian received a vision from Godde where she was told: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” These words Julian held onto for the rest of her life and lived.

In 1373 Julian fell ill and was so close to death a priest came to administer last rites. As she thought she was dying, Julian had a series of mystical revelations she called showings. She spent most of her life meditating on and writing about these showings. She wrote them in the English of her time instead of Latin because she believed her showings should be passed on directly to people. Julian’s Showings (or Revelations) were the first book written by a woman in English. After her death, nuns found her writings and kept them hidden because of the charges of heresy they could bring along with death to those who held such inflammatory writings. Julian’s book was finally printed in 1670, well after the Protestant and English Reformations had taken hold, and common people having direct access to Godde was no longer a heretical belief.

This new edition pays tribute to Julian’s belief that her writings be in a language people can read and understand. Ellyn Sanna’s new translation in modern English is a gift to those of us who love Julian’s Showings, but did not like slogging through the previous translations that kept in tact most of the Middle English the book was originally written in. You can see a huge difference in the opening two paragraphs:

THIS is a Revelation of Love that Jesus Christ, our endless bliss, made in Sixteen Shewings,or Revelations particular.

Of the which the First is of His precious crowning with thorns; and therewith was comprehended and specified the Trinity, with the Incarnation, and unity betwixt God and man’s soul; with many fair shewings of endless wisdom and teachings of love: in which all the Shewings that follow be grounded and oned.

Here is Sanna’s updated language:

This is a revelation of love that Jesus Christ, our endless joy, made in sixteen showings (sixteen particular and unique revelations).

The first of these showed me that His crown of thorns was precious and valuable, and along with this image came a unique understanding of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the unity that exists between God and human beings. This showing and all the others that followed contained many lovely perspectives and lessons on God’s wisdom and love; all sixteen showings are grounded and unified by this same viewpoint.

Sanna also takes words that no longer have the meaning they carried in Julian’s time and replaces them with the equivalent in today’s English. The big word she replaces is passion. The Passion of Christ refers to the suffering, torture and death of Christ on Good Friday. Today passion no longer means long-suffering and enduring through trial. Sanna replaces suffering with endurance, which carries for us the same meaning passion carried with Julian. The thing I like the most about this updated translation is when Julian speaks of Godde or Jesus as Mother, Sanna uses the pronoun “she.” In the original text Julian speaks of Godde’s and Jesus’ motherhood using “he,” but I think “she” adds consistency and gives the modern reader the same shock that Godde and Mother gave Julian’s original readers.

I am a great lover of Julian because she first showed me it was OK to call Godde Mother. I resisted calling Godde Mother even when I experienced her as that. When I discovered Julian’s writing and discovered both Godde and Jesus referred to as Mother since the 14th Century, my resistance melted. I later discovered medieval writers often referred to both Godde and Jesus as Mother, and this terminology was nothing new. Here are two of Julian’s Mother passages from Divine Revelations. The first describes the Trinity using both Father and Mother language, and the second describes Christ as Mother.

Our High Father, God All-Strong who is Being, knew and loved us before time existed. This Divine knowledge, alongside a deep and amazing love, chose with the foreknowledge of the Trinity the Second person to become Mother. This was our Father’s intention; our Mother brought it about; and our Protector the Holy Spirit made it firm and real. For this reason we love our God in whom we have our being. We thank and praise our Father for our creation; we pray with our entire intellects to our Mother for mercy and understanding; and we ask our Protector the Holy Spirit for help and grace.

*                                                    *                                                  *

Our Mother by nature, our Mother by grace, wanted to become our Mother in all things, and so Christ planted the seeds of Divine action in the humble and gentle soil of the Maiden’s womb. (Christ showed me this in the first showing, where I saw how humble this girl Mary was when she conceived the Divine.) In other words, the High God, Sovereign Wisdom, put on flesh and mothered us in all things.

…The word “mother” is so sweet and intimate that it cannot truly be used to describe anyone except Christ. Motherhood is the essence of natural love, wisdom, knowledge–and motherhood is God. God is as much in the physical process of labor and delivery as God is in the process of our spiritual birth.

This new translation of Julian’s Revelations is both a wonderful resource and devotional reading to have on your shelves. Now there is a translation for modern people which follows Julian’s true intent: that anybody be able to read her words and experience Godde’s love and grace for themselves. I love this new edition, and it will be sitting on my shelves for years to come.


Remember, if you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll be able to get discounts on my upcoming E-book, Women Who Didn’t Shut Up and Sit Down. The first issue will go May 2. This newsletter will only be letting you know about new products and discounts.

Book Review: If Darwin Prayed

If Darwin Prayed: Prayers for Evolutionary Mystics
Bruce Sanguin
(c) 2010
Paperback: $22.95
Digital: $12.95

This Planet of Pain
Matthew 23:32–56, Mark 15:21–41, Luke 33:26–49

Now we open
to the story of the Crucified and Risen One,
arms stretched out
across the chasms of fear,
pulling factions into his own broken body,
closer to his pierced heart,
so that this planet of pain
may one day claim as its own
the love flowing out from that
sacred, broken heart.
Yes, pull us in, Spirit of the Living God,
into the Heart of our hearts,
that we might once and for all
lay down our arsenals of fear
and take up our tools
to build the kin-dom of God
for the sake of all creation.

This prayer is one of the prayers for Good Friday in Bruce Sanguine’s latest book, If Darwin Prayed: Prayers for Evolutionary Mystics. Sanguine, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and pastor of Vancouver’s Canadian Memorial United Church, wanted “prayers for worship and spiritual practice that are written from the perspective of the great evolutionary story of the universe.” But evolutionary thought is still in infant stages in both theology and liturgy. Sanguine wondered:

What was born of necessity soon became a weekly discipline of joyful creative expression. I wondered what prayers in support of the new cosmology and evolutionary spirituality would look and feel like: How would we pray together if we took the science of evolution and the new cosmology seriously—if we saw the presence we call God intimately involved with the modern scientific realities of the universe, the planet, and human beings? How do we translate Paul’s intuition of a Christ who is cosmic in scope and sovereignty into prayer form? How do we pray into the mission that emerges when we bring this lens to bear on the text? What fresh insights might emerge from the ancient biblical texts if we brought an evolutionary lens to the task?

Sanguine decided to start writing his own prayers to fill this void in liturgy. The result is an incredible prayer book that challenges us to expand our understanding of who Godde is, who we are as individuals and the church, and how we are connected to, not only everything on earth, but everything in the universe. I have always been fascinated and awed that the human body is made of the same building blocks as stars. Reading and praying prayers that acknowledge and praise Godde for making us of stardust resonated deeply in me, such as these lines from “Everywhere Light”:

Forgive us
that even as we carry around
the entire universe in our bodies,
and in our luminous minds,
we look elsewhere for sacred revelation.

Forgive us:
despite knowing that each carbon atom in our blood
and firing neuron in our brain
came from ancient stars,
somehow we can ignore our own radiance.

I also loved all the different ways Sanguine describes Godde as both male and female, as family and cosmic, personified and the Ground of All Being. Sanguine challenges us to think about the little boxes and small definitions we limit Godde with and encourages us to explore new ways of describing Godde and knowing her. “The Happy Communion” is a perfect example of helping us see the Trinity in a relationship with each other and us instead of a hierarchy:

Holiest Mystery,
Community of Love,
Creator, Christ, Spirit,
Three in One,
you in Christ,
Christ in us,
and everywhere, Spirit,
connecting, caressing, cajoling
us into the image of wholeness
tattooed on the heart and the soul
of every living thing.

If Darwin Prayed is a much needed prayer book exploring how Christian faith and science, can not only get along, but together show us new ways of seeing Godde, humanity, the world, and the universe. I hope to see more theological and liturgical sources come out in this strain. I want more prayers and songs that show the modern view of the world and universe as opposed to the ancient model of the domed universe: hell beneath, earth in the middle, and the heavens above with Godde outside of it all. I want to see more liturgy and prayer that shows the universe as vast, expansive, all of us connected with everything, and Godde in the midst of it all with us and creation.


Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from SpeakEasy agreeing to post a review on my blog.

Book Review: Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans

Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held EvansIf one grew up Evangelical and/or Fundamentalist in the 1980s and 90s then one knew about why Dayton, TN was so important. It was there in a court of law that creationists who believed that Godde created the earth in six literal days beat the atheist evolutionists in a court of law. In her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions* Rachel Held Evans recounts growing up as a fundamental evangelical in Dayton, the home of the Scopes Monkey Trial, which is how Dayton got its nickname: Monkey Town. As Held Evans explains in her book this was the start of Evangelicals coming into the modern era determined to be able to give a scientific and rational answer to any question atheists could raise against the Bible because of William Jennings Bryan’s weak answers on why he believed everything in the Bible was absolute truth. Evangelicals determined that in the future they would have the answers.

Like many Evangelicals and Fundamentalists (myself included) Held Evans grew up learning how to answer any question an atheist could pose that would question Godde’s existence and the veracity of the Bible. They also learned how to turn the questions on atheists and agnostics that basically backed them into a semantic corner. Since the atheists couldn’t empirically prove there was not a God that left room Godde’s existence. All the questions were answered except the questions young Americans were asking, and for that matter questions young Evangelical and Fundamentalists were asking about their faith. Questions such as “Why would a loving Godde send his or her own creation to hell when they never had a chance to hear the Gospel?” Questions like “If Godde has predestined who will go to heaven and who will go to hell why evangelize at all?” Which leads to the question: “Do I really want to serve a Godde who predestines most of her own creation (made in Godde’s own image) to hell?” Like Held Evans I never bought the “We all should go to hell because we’re such awful sinners” line. If humanity were so depraved and so far gone why would Jesus even want to die for us?

Evoloving in Monkey Town is the book that several Evangelicals (including me) could have written about questioning the Christian faith and Godde, and the painful process it is to be broken down to nothing and starting the slow and tedious process of rebuilding faith in this Godde. It is not easy to hold one’s life-long beliefs to the light then start walking down the rocky path in deciding which beliefs are biblical and godly and which beliefs are  something that have been added on. Held Evans is brutally honest in how hard the process is, and how hard it will continue to be. There are no easy answers in this book.

It is refreshing to see more books coming from Evangelicals and evangelical publishing houses that deal with questioning faith, and that faith has its roots in doubt. It is also nice to see Evangelicals picking up N. T. Wright’s points that works are a vital part of faith. Not because works save, but because obedience to Godde is formed and shaped by works of love, compassion, and service. All Christians need to remember James’ words to the churches he wrote to in the first century: “Faith without works is dead.” Christians can harp about faith all they want, but it is only through works that faith is clearly seen.

I would recommend this book to Evangelicals and other Christians who doubt what they were taught about Godde and faith. I would also recommend it to non-Christians who don’t understand why Evangelicals and Fundamentalists get so upset about pluralism, creationism, abortion, and homosexuality. Held Evans gives an excellent history of Evangelical/Fundamentalist thought and how it’s gotten to where it is today. This book is a good read for anyone questioning their faith or wondering why some Christians cling so tightly to their beliefs.

I received a copy of this book Zondervan Publishing Company agreeing to review it on my blog.

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Book Revew: Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos

Imaginary Jesus by Matt MikalatosRadical feminist theologian Mary Daly famously said that “If man is God then God is man.” What Daly said in her terse statement Matt Mikalatos illustrates in his first book, Imaginary Jesus*, except Mikalatos isn’t limiting his statement to the male sex. His point is that all of us make Jesus in our image. We see the Jesus we want to see: the one that challenges us some, but not too much. The Jesus who doesn’t ask too much of us, and is always there being whatever we need at that time. He writes about the Jesuses we imagine up to replace the radical figure in the New Testament, that makes all of us more than a bit uncomfortable.

The book begins with Matt hanging out with his Jesus in a vegan place in Portland when the Apostle Peter walks in and gets into a fight with Jesus, and Jesus runs away. Peter informs Matt that he’s been hanging out with an imaginary Jesus and not the real one. This begins Matt’s wild journey through modern day Portland and first century Palestine for find the real Jesus. In the course of hunting down the real Jesus, Matt finds out there is a whole slew of Imaginary Jesuses including Testosterone Jesus, King James Jesus, Portland Jesus, Magic 8 Ball Jesus and Political Power Jesus. They are all members of The Secret Society of Imaginary Jesuses. From the SSIJ to an atheist Bible study at Portland State to Powells, the largest bookstore in the world, Matt searches for the real Jesus but keeps finding more and more Imaginary Jesuses. Along the way Matt finds the strangest friends: Daisy the talking donkey, Sandy–a reformed prostitute, two Mormon elders: Elder Laurel and Elder Hardy, and Shane the leader of the atheist Bible study. Matt also has to face his own grief and personal issues that he keeps inventing the Imaginary Jesuses to fill, only to find out they can’t take the place of the real thing. It is only in hunting down the Imaginary Jesuses and seeing through their lies can he finally find the real Jesus.

Mikalatos does a great job of making readers take a look at the Jesuses they believe in and how those imaginary Jesuses stack up to the real Jesus. This is a book that could have been campy or just schlock, but Mikalatos’ storytelling ability along with his wit and sarcasm keep this lively “not-quite true story” moving along. To be honest, I never thought I’d live to see a good, well written, Christian urban fantasy published. I agree with Aldenswan, my fellow reviewer’s assessment of Mikalatos: “what Terry Pratchett would be like if Pratchett were a Christian.” (I did have a few flashes of Good Omens* while reading this book.) I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to be honest about how most American Christians make Jesus in their own image, but don’t want to be preached at. Mikalatos uses the story and characters to make his points, but this book is not a thinly veiled sermon. He leaves us to examine our own lives and see how our imaginary Jesuses match up to the real thing. I wouldn’t recommend this book to readers who are easily offended. Mikalatos has a healthy dose of irreverent sarcasm running through the book that some more conservative readers might consider over the line.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from The Ooze Viral Bloggers agreeing to post a review on my site.

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Book Review: As Is by Krista Finch

As Is: Unearthing Commonplace Glory is Krista Finch’s first book published through the publishing press she owns with her husband, Swerve Press. As Is is a memoir of finding places of glory in the everyday messiness of life. Finch sets out to see heaven on earth:

Life is noisy, dirty, dangerous–and that is with its best foot forward. But there is more than only chaos, commotion, and calamity. We catch glimpses of the glory when we look in the impossible and preposterous places.

I really wanted to like this book, but the alliteration and lists that have a nice lilt to them in the beginning get old quick. There are several chapters, or sketches (the Table of Contents is called Sketches in this book), that get overwhelmed with her lists. It’s almost like Finch wants to write poetry throughout the book, but then changes to prose. Each section of the book begins with a poem then is followed by short vignettes on different topics. Most of the sketches are just over a page long and skim the surface of the topic she’s talking about. The book is loosely structured, which makes it hard to follow as it’s not in chronological order and doesn’t have a strong narrative structure. Finch jumps around her life without giving a lot of surrounding detail or connecting narrative to help us transition from one sketch to the other. Although we see glimpses into Finch’s life, the reader doesn’t feel like you get to know her. For example in “This Lounge Chair Thing” she mentions three miscarriages and a cancer scare in another long list, and that’s it. She never elaborates on either the rest of the book. We don’t know what happened. It’s mentioned and then she goes on.

There are nice sections in the book where Finch gets away from lists and adjectives and gives a little more narrative and detail that make that story shine like this paragraph where she describes why we are “hesitant hopers”:

Because hope is an odd cat. That’s probably why we don’t entertain her very often. Everything around us tells us not to invite her in. Hospitals can’t heal, wars don’t end, bonds won’t mend. We’ve asked hope to come, and she has left us high and dry. Why would we summon that kind of company…? …Hope just doesn’t look like we think she will look. She changes her hair color and gets a new wardrobe just when we start to recognize her (p. 116).

I look forward to seeing how her writing develops, but I don’t recommend this book. It would be best for those who like to read in short spells. It might be an easier book to read slowly, taking your time. It’s not a good book to read straight through. If you’re interested in short blog-style chapters that are easy to read in five minutes here and there, you  might enjoy this book. If you expect a memoir to have more narrative where you feel like you get to know the author, then this book isn’t for you.

I received a copy of this book from The Ooze Viral Bloggers agreeing to post a copy of the review on my website.