The Bookshelf: Mi Casa Uptown by Rich Perez

I have to be honest. This book has been in a partially-read state for quite some time, which may say something about the book itself in that there were parts that simply didn’t compel me forward.

I can’t argue with the premise. The tag line on the back cover reads, “What if, instead of contempt, familiarity bred love?” The idea is that the more we know people, the more we are disappointed. In this memoir, Perez sets off to cast a different vision in which we pursue love with our eyes wide open to the realities and frailties of our world.

I found the earlier chapters – the ones in which he discussed planting roots and building families – to be the strongest. These chapters brought personal stories, cultural observation, theology and Scripture into a seamless mix that explored what it means to invest in a community with humility in a spirit of partnership.

Those chapters comprise most of the book. This leaves the final two chapters on loving neighbors and trusting Jesus to be explored in much less depth than the first two chapters. This prompted the thought that what Perez really has in this memoir is two books – one on culture and community and another on hospitality and the way it intertwines with the concept of living and dying well.

That’s not to say that this isn’t a good read. Perez is an excellent storyteller, and that alone may well be worth reading the book.

Disclaimer: Thank you to B&H Publishing for providing me with a copy of Mi Casa Uptown in exchange for my unbiased review.

The Bookshelf: The Dream of You

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Totally took this lovely image from a Facebook page since all my product shots looked rather lame.

Who were you before you started to listen to everyone else?

What dreams did you have before the world talked you out of them?

Who did you become to negotiate your way through the world?

These are the piercing questions trainer, speaker and author Jo Saxton explores in The Dream of You: Let Go of Broken Identities and Live the Life You Were Made For.

Jo weaves her own story with those of biblical figures who were confronted with challenges to their God-given identity. Each chapter brings depth to the biblical accounts, and pointed questions designed to push the reader to examine how she has changed her life to adapt to the world around her rather than pursue her true God-given identity.

Fortunately, Jo doesn’t leave us in this state of self-examination. Rather, she offers a way forward in community that ultimately, with a lot of work and prayer, brings us back to the women we once were.

I appreciated not only Jo’s vulnerability in sharing her story, but also the depth with which she presented the stories of the men and women of the Bible. Too often in Christian publishing these days, the stories are given surface-level treatment to back up previously drawn conclusions. I had the distinct impression throughout her book that Jo allowed the Scriptures to guide her.

Some passages will resonate with some people. Others will not.

But you will not walk away from this book without thinking about who you once were, what you once dreamed and how you went off course.

And you can’t walk away from this book without knowing that God sees you and is ready to set you back on the path to reclaim those dreams.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of The Dream of You in exchange for my unbiased review.

The Bookshelf: Christ Chronological

I’ve always wanted to read the gospels in chronological order. There are reading plans available all over the Internet and in apps that guide you in doing just that, but these never clicked for me.

Christ Chronological changes that.

Where the reading guides and apps have the reader scrolling from screen to screen or flipping through the pages of the Bible, this volume puts the passages in chronological order for you. Where only one gospel records the scene from the life of Christ, the passage stretches across the page. Where two or more depict the scene, the passages are presented in side-by-side columns.

Throughout the beautifully-designed book, there are headings to delineate between scenes as well as brief commentaries that explore the differences in the accounts and the motivation of the author in their choice of which details to include and which ones to omit from their gospel. The passages are also color coded to allow the reader to know instantly which gospel they are reading.

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Another added bonus is the blank, lined pages are included at the back to allow you to write in your own notes.

Christ Chronological is an excellent resource for group study or individual reading. It would be fascinating to use it in a small group or Sunday school setting to further and more deeply explore the life of Christ.

Personally, I am planning to break the book down into daily readings for Lent which should put the pages on the last week of the life of Christ into the final week before Easter. What better way to prepare to celebrate the Resurrection!

Disclaimer: Thank you to B&H Publishing for providing me with a copy of Christ Chronological in exchange for my unbiased review.

Revisiting the land of Prydain …

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Back in fifth grade, Mrs. Campbell introduced our class to a series of books that I quickly came to love as a kid in that in-between age. I must have read them through twice in middle school, and I remember a soundtrack of my own making that went with the books. “Wayfaring Stranger” from Emmylou Harris’ 1980 album, Roses in the Snow, will always be connected to the fourth book of the series in my mind.

So this series was a natural place to start in my weird quest to read all the books on my favorite reading teacher’s book list. It’s fascinating how different the books are now. I see them from an adult’s perspective and can clearly see them as the coming of age story they are. It’s easier to see how brilliantly Lloyd Alexander crafted the series, leaving tiny hints and clues throughout the books to lead to its epic conclusion.

What I didn’t expect was that as I was listening to them as audiobooks, I would remember certain key lines word for word after more than 30 years. It was wonderful to visit Prydain again, and I suspect I won’t wait another 30 years to visit again. #MissGrovesBookList

The Bookshelf: I Want to Live These Days with You

I Want to Live These Days with You: A Year of Daily DevotionsI Want to Live These Days with You: A Year of Daily Devotions by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good Introduction

The daily readings in this year-long devotional form a good introduction to the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The writings are classic and well-suited to the different seasons of the year, but the book would have been improved greatly by identifying the source of the material in each daily reading and by putting dates or day numbers on each entry.

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The Bookshelf: The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon

Unlike perhaps many of the people who will flock to this book, I am a relative novice in the world of famed 19th century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I know of his revered Morning and Evening devotion book, but little of the prolific writer and speaker behind it.

Yet, even to a such a novice, The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon there was much to appreciate about the volume.

As beautiful as it is with full color reproductions of Spurgeon’s actual notebooks, it is not conducive to reading through from cover to cover. It is precisely as it states, “outlines and sermons.” Some of these outlines are more complete than others, but there are many that contain incomplete thoughts that would have been filled in during the actual delivery of the message.

Edited by Christian T. George, the volume contains plenty of footnotes to help guide the reader to other materials – such as Spurgeon’s autobiography and collections of his lectures and sermons – that help fill in the blanks left by the outline format. The notes also help to guide readers through the potential thought process of the great preacher as it notes places where words were added to the outline or where words and phrases were stricken.

The introduction to the book is truly an asset in establishing the setting into which Spurgeon was writing and delivering the sermons he outlined. It also contains colorful charts, graphs and even a word cloud to illustrate the content on which Spurgeon concentrated during this season of his ministry.

While beautifully presented, this book is best considered as a reference work for scholars, pastors and students looking for more insight into the world of Spurgeon. Casual readers or newcomers to Spurgeon’s writing may be better served by starting with one of his more accessible volumes.

Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary copy of The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon: His Earliest Outlines and Sermons Between 1851 and 1854 in exchange for my unbiased review.

The Bookshelf: Sing! How Worship Transforms the Church

Put aside for a moment the arguments over the style of music in churches. Why do we sing in the first place?

Hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty guide the reader in an exploration of this question in Sing! How Worship Transforms the Church, a short book that incorporates Scripture with personal experience and the words of classic hymns.

As international worship leaders and conference speakers, the Gettys have written songs in a variety of genres which all teach sound doctrine. They bring to the book their experience not only as members of a local church but also as musicians who have led worship in congregations around the world.

The first three chapters build the Scriptural case for congregational singing. In these chapters we are reminded that we are created to sing, commanded to sing and compelled to sing. The next three chapters offer suggestions on incorporating singing into your personal devotions, into your family time and into the life of the church.

A powerful chapter near the end of the book speaks of our singing as witness to an unbelieving world. It is here that the Gettys powerfully drive home their point by sharing how their most familiar song, “In Christ Alone,” has been means of proclaiming the gospel of Christ through its clear message. The chapter reminds us, “As you stand and sing in your church this Sunday, you do not know who is listening, and you can never imagine what the Lord might be doing.”

The book concludes with a short section of practical suggestions for pastors, musicians, worship leaders and song writers.

Singing has, for some in the church, become a tradition that has lost its meaning. We sing the words by rote without contemplating their deeper meaning or even the reason why the Church has always been a singing Church.

In their clear, simple way, the Gettys remind us that singing should incorporate mind, heart and soul – as should all of our worship. Their suggestions for different members of the church body are valuable for focusing the attention of the congregation where it rightfully belongs with the God who created us to sing.

Sing! would be an excellent resource to use within the local church to not only encourage its members to sing, but also to approach our worship in song joyfully no matter how skilled our voices.
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Disclaimer: Thank you to B&H Publishing for providing me with a copy of Sing! in exchange for my unbiased review.

The Bookshelf: Love Lives Here by Maria Goff

When B&H Publishing offered the chance to read an advance copy of Maria Goff’s first book, I jumped.

That was back in March.

Looking back, I can’t say exactly what got in the way of reading the book as I had promised. Family. Work. Going through a running program. Whatever it was, it was bringing me closer to my family and co-workers as I made new friends with my running buddies.

Now that I’ve read the book, I’m pretty sure Maria would approve.

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The book features a series of vignettes ranging from the early days of Maria’s relationship with Bob, extending through raising their children and all of the adventures they had in between as Maria provided the anchor to a home in which love was the primary language. Each story is told with simplicity and vulnerability, and is ultimately connected to the teachings of Jesus or to other stories and letters of the Bible.

And that is the note on which I very nearly stumbled hard not three pages into the introduction. Maria writes, “Paul said in one of his letters to a friend named James that sometimes life is like looking in a mirror and then forgetting our appearance.”

The verse to which I believe she is referring is James 1:23-24:

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.

That letter wasn’t written by Paul. It was written by James. And I can’t think of a different reference – nor could I find another reference – that came close to what Maria wrote.

Certainly some may call that nitpicking over a single sentence, but I was worried for a bit about how accurately Scripture would be used, and – to be honest – I wondered about the editing. It seemed odd that I would have caught something like that immediately when editors did not.

Those worries and concerns dissipated somewhat as I quickly read through the first chapters of Maria’s story, and finding myself in agreement that life – and love – isn’t always about the big moments and the extraordinary experiences. It’s found in the small encounters we have daily.

The more I read, though, the slower it went. To some extent, it seemed like the stories were covering the same ground.

Would I recommend it? I know others absolutely raved about it, but I just never got there. Don’t get me wrong. It is a good read, and I think many people would enjoy it. So, yes, do read it if it sounds like your cup of tea!

The Book List Project: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Date read: June 2014

Take the words from the character, Faber, below that I featured on Instagram as I was reading.

The Book List Project count: 1

Introducing The Book List Project

I read a lot when I was a kid.

By a lot, I mean I read in the car even when it was getting dark. I can’t remember how many times Mom told me I’d ruin my eyes – never mind the fact that I already wore glasses and was begging her for contacts.

When we’d go shopping, she’d tell me that if I behaved while she shopped then I would be allowed to buy a book for a treat. I was a model of politeness and decorum most every time.

I tried to get a library card on my own one day. My grammy only lived half a block away and back then kids walked anywhere without a second thought. So I walked up one day and asked for a library card. They told me to come back with my Mom.

My love for reading didn’t change in middle school. I had the same reading teacher for grades 6-8 – Miss Grove. Miss Grove required book reports, and the books had to be selected from her painstakingly curated book list. It contained classics and award winners along side popular – but well written – novels for teens.

Miss Grove never would have considered adding Twilight to the list. Of this, I am certain.

Over the course of three years in her reading class, I had to write a total of 12 book reports, if memory serves. Part of me remembers that it was one per marking period, but I almost think it might have been two. If the latter is the case, then I wrote 24.

And I still didn’t scratch the surface of the massive list.

For some reason, I decided at some point in my adulthood that it would be fun to go back and see how many of the books I could read. It definitely would provide a diversion to all the heavy reading I’m doing for my seminary classes.

About a year and a half ago, I received an email from my former high school librarian who had seen my writing in the local newspaper. I asked her if she had a copy of the old book list. She promised to dig around for it, and a few weeks later I received the list – now weighing in at 17 pages, front and back.

And so The Book List Project was born.

No time frame. Just me and a list of hundreds of books. As I read, I post.

Feel free to join in with your thoughts, memories and comments on the books as I post short thoughts on each one.