Book Review: Perfect and Forgiven

Perfect and Forgiven, Zach Maldonado. Self-published, paperback, 166 pages. (c) 2019. Available on Amazon.


Zach Maldonado from Church Without Religion created a study guide to reflect his personal faith journey and his identity in Christ. He developed a series of topics such as “Complete,” “Delighted In,” “Masterpiece,” and “Blessed.” Each topic begins with a phrase or verse of Scripture as jumping off point. So far, so good.

On first glance, this study guide looks like a good, down-to-earth Bible study. And in most places, it is. For anyone who has struggled with self-esteem and self-worth, particularly when comparing oneself to a holy and righteous God, I have no doubt it will be helpful. The language is down-to-earth with very few theological terms (which is refreshing!) There are a few well-used tropes (the blind men touching an elephant, for instance) but much of the content is from his personal experience.

This study guide could be used with students as young as middle school. The topics are not complex and there is not nuanced discussion of questions that come up in high school. For use as a daily reflection, the chapters are short, and the daily affirmations are good for any age. At the end of each chapter, there is a paragraph titled “Hearing God’s Opinion.” This is a paragraph written as though God is speaking it to the reader. For the most part, I found those to be encouraging, as is their intent.

My quibble with this study guide is that it has a very narrow theological focus. It is from a conservative, evangelical viewpoint. It espouses the “penal substitution” view of atonement. It uses snippets of scripture from a variety of Bible translations, apparently to make the language work for the main point of the chapter. (For instance, Zach drew from NASB, NIV, NCV, ESB, NET, CSB, NLT, BSB… but there were no selections from NRSV, a standard in theological study.) God is always referenced as a gendered male. I understand his evangelical perspective, but it is easy enough to re-write and not use “he” in every instance.

Maldonado also uses a male-centric focus in writing about women which I find troubling. For instance, he mentions ‘the woman caught in adultery’ – and no mention of the man. (Logically, a woman can’t be “caught in adultery” without a sex partner…) In an era of “Me Too” and “Church Too” I would like to see a better handling of this topic. He also refers to marriage as heterosexual only, and sex as something not done “outside marriage.” As a result, I do not recommend this book for churches which are welcoming and affirming, nor for any LGBTQ+ Christian organizations.

There is a positive Spirit within the pages, and some of the content would be helpful for anyone. Zach writes for his church and his audience, and I respect that. For the broader Church community, I would not suggest using this study guide.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Book Review: Love, God

Love, God by Deborah J. Simmons-Roslak and Linda J. Orber. Resource Publications; Wipf and Stock Publishers. Paperback. 179 pages. (c) 2018. ISBN: 978-1-5326-1750-8


Love, God is a devotional book. The format is simple and should work well, in theory. First, it uses quotes from various writers and philosophers to begin each entry. Next is a short reflection on the topic of the day, followed by a scripture verse. Following the reflection, each day’s devotional has a “word from God” in the form of an affirmation to the reader, followed by a guided meditation. Finally, there is space at the end of each day to write a personal reflection.

In theory, this is an excellent format. I had high hopes for this book because it is hard to find a daily devotional book that is not insipid or shallow in its content. In its design, there are many aspects that I endorse wholeheartedly. But I found that what it was missing took away from the content and the work of the editors/authors.

The book has several drawbacks. First, there is no table of contents, and no  index of authors, scriptures or topics. In addition, the quoted authors’ work is not cited nor footnoted, so the reader can’t look up the quote in context. And, it is considered good scholarship to always cite one’s sources. I can also imagine wanting to go back and find a particular quote or meditation, and have to scan every page until I did. 

I was also stunned at the “Bibliography” and its lack of published works. It lists only websites such as azquotes, brainyquotes, goodreads and… Pinterest. PINTEREST? Yes. Pinterest. If I had a college student submit something to me with this level of scholarship, I’d flunk them. And if I were presenting this material for a group devotional time, I would want to be able to share where the content is published.

The authors and philosophers who are quoted represent a cross-section of Christianity from the more traditional school of thought. Thomas Merton (6 entries), Meister Eckhart (4 entries), and Anthony de Mello (3 entries) are among the more familiar. Inspirational selections are also included from writers outside of Christendom such as Rumi, Gantama Buddha and Swami Vivekananda. 

Scripture passages were taken from the NIV and New American Bibles. As a result the phrasing is a little stilted, and God is always gendered as male. (I have years of practice overlooking this shortfall, but as a reviewer, I feel I need to mention this.) 

If one can overlook these shortcomings (which I do not consider trivial), the overriding theme of the book is one of Divine acceptance and welcome. In a world where God is used to judge, incarcerate and divide us, I welcome the opportunity to hear words of affirmation and comfort.

I recommend this book with the caveat that the lack of citations and indexing can hamper the fullest application of its intended use. Perhaps in future editions, the publisher will require an update. 


Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Book Review: I Know What Heaven Looks Like

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I Know What Heaven Looks Like: A Modern Day Coming of Age Story
Lawrence Tanner Richardson.

“Why would God make you something that would make your family hate you? Why would God want me to hate my own blood? …God made you this way. God didn’t tell me to hate you, my church did. Please forgive me.” (p152)

These words by the author’s grandmother summarize the journey of self-examination and repentance that many allies wander, particularly those of us who are cisgender and hetero. But this is not a story about allies. This about Lawrence’s story. There are many moments of self-realization that change his living situation from ease to peril, his relationships from solid to disintegrating, and his faith from questioning to rejuvenating. And, sadly, his family members made his journey unnecessarily harder. (A theme that is all too familiar…)

One thing is certain: Lawrence Richardson is a strong man. Strong in his identity. Strong in his faith. Strong in his desire to share his story of empowerment and discovery.

I was in awe as I read, learning of his survival of many challenges: abuse, poverty, homelessness, rejection, and recovery. Lawrence was betrayed and abused by the adults who should have protected and nurtured him (his parents and their partners). There were heartbreaking moments in dating relationships. There was prejudice and constant battles as he pursued and completed his education. Lawrence kept searching, kept seeking, kept wondering. When he finally came to understand he was a transgender man, everything clicked into place.

In addition to transitioning, Lawrence struggled with the questions of Calling to the ministry. After the death of a close family member, Lawrence was beset with doubts, asking himself, “is any of this worth it?” In the quiet, and yes, the in his moments of doubt, God’s voice was clear and Lawrence continued to pursue and believe God’s direction.

This book is self-published, and cries out for a publisher and (at times) an editor. As a wannabe writer, I recognize the flaws in my own writing, and would wish for Lawrence’s book to be fine-tuned and republished. It needs a wider audience. Richardson’s message is that good.

The book is available from the author  and from Amazon.


I Know What Heaven Looks Like: A Modern Day Coming of Age Story, by Lawrence Tanner Richardson. 2018. Self-published. Paperback, 294 pages. ISBN 9-781981-512881

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Book Review: Call and Response

Call and Response: Litanies for Congregational Prayer Fran Pratt. Outpost Press. (c) 2018. ISBN:978-0-578-21386-6

Call and Response

This small paperback fills a need for busy pastors who want to provide meaningful litanies for use in congregational worship. Written in modern English, the litanies cover a wide variety of uses within the congregation, from confession to prayer, to coping with mass tragedies and suffering. There are 6 main sections to make it easier to find the most fitting prose.

One section, Litanies for Church Rituals, covers the regular events of Church life such as baptism, welcoming new members, and ordination. If one is already in a congregation which uses a fixed liturgy, these will still be useful to augment the practice and worship of a congregation.

Of all of the litanies, my favorite one is a litany titled “Litany for Song.” Perhaps it is due to my background in music education and worship leading, but it spoke to my heart of hearts. The reminder that God Sang Creation into Being resonated deeply for me.

The appendices are among my favorite portions of this book. Appendix B provides weekly litanies for Advent, and Appendix C is written for Lent. Appendix A provides two tender, compassionate litanies: one for Racism in the United States, and the other for Victims of Sexual Violence. Both use language which does not excuse the perpetrator, nor does it allow for a judgmental spirit.

For those not familiar with Fran’s work, an archive of her work is found here. New liturgies are now only accessed through her Patreon website for a small subscription fee. If you are planning worship services on a regular basis, it is worth paying to support her work. I highly recommend her work.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Book Review: Naming the Unnameable

Naming the Unnameable
89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God
…Including the Unnameable God
by Matthew Fox

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I was intrigued by this book because of its stated post-modern approach to reflection on the Divine. As someone who works in an interfaith setting, there are few resources with scholarship and attention to the faith traditions beyond Christianity. This small volume is packed with images and spirituality to enrich your meditation and reflection times.

Matthew Fox is a historian, scholar, and founder of the University of Creation Spirituality in Oakland, California. His past works are numerous and much-loved. This book draws from mystics that will be familiar to many, including Meister Eckhart and Hildegard of Bingen. But it also engages the wisdom of Rumi, and the classics such as Thomas Aquinas, plus a wide spectrum of wisdom literature across many religious traditions.

Fox includes 89 Names of God, but goes beyond the Hebrew and Christian texts for reference. There are theologians, scientists, artists, and mystics included in the Naming. The entries invite new visions, new impressions, new challenges to close-held images of the Divine. After each section, there are blank pages, for, as the author notes, there are infinite ways to name God, and perhaps one would want to pen one’s own addendum!

The book is divided into three parts:
Part 1: Cataphatic Divinity: 80 Names for God
Part 2: Apophatic Divinity: God without a Name
Part 3: Practices to deepen meditation.

I found each entry having something to draw in my mind to reflection. But in particular, I was intrigued by entry #29: “God is Greening Power.” The images and referenced words of Dylan Thomas and Hildegard of Bingen spoke powerfully to me of the Divine creativity and inspiration. I will likely return to this page (and others!) for deeper reflection.

In Part 3, there are suggestions for reflecting further on the 89 Names. They invite creative, deep, personal meditation. My intention is to engage further with these during Lent.

This is a small volume, but one worth adding to your personal library. I commend it to you.


Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful names for God …Including the Unnameable God. By Matthew Fox. Pawcatuck, CT: Homebound Publications, 2018. Paperback: 197 pages. ISBN-13: 9781947003941.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Book Review: A Gracious Heresy

A Gracious Heresy: The Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, by Connie L Tuttle.

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Any of us who have ever argued with the Divine over a persistent, unyielding Call to ministry will see ourselves in Connie Tuttle’s story. She honestly shares the journey from discovery to living out her Call. Only one problem: as a lesbian, every time she reached a milestone, she had to fight the same battles for understanding and full inclusion.

A lesser person would have quit, or turned her back on God. Connie took on the full frontal assault of her identity and her love for God. She dealt with the society-imposed shaming of her sexual identity. From the co-ed who wouldn’t ride in an elevator with her, to the fellow seminarian who informed her she was going to hell for being a lesbian, Connie walked the road with faithfulness and determination.

Tuttle’s writing is honest, thoughtful, provocative and real. Her words are from her heart, one that fully trusts, hopes and believes in the Call of God. On more than one occasion, as she faced opposition, she had to decide: was her faith one that followed rules and sought to be pious? Or was she someone who had a call to justice, and sought to be righteous? Over and over, she chose: “I want to be righteous!” Integrity and authenticity shaped her responses.

Her journey encompasses many of the hurdles familiar to seminarians and clergy: getting through seminary, facing ordination boards and faculty committees, finding a summer internship, and coping with the self-learning (and tears) in CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education.) She grappled with how her identity would be and could be a part of her pastoral formation. Oh, and yes, as a single mom, balanced, home, classes, and parenting.

While Presbyterians (PCUSA) now affirm and ordain women and individuals of all gender identities, at the time when she graduated, it was not even a remote possibility. Even so, as Tuttle continues to love and care for the people God has called her to as a pastor, she reminds us all to tell our stories.

And Connie’s story, full of love and grace, is one you should read. One day, I look forward meeting her, because I suspect we will enjoy many laughs and share the heartaches of our ongoing journeys, compelled to serve the Divine.


A Gracious Heresy: The Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, by Connie L. Tuttle. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2018. Paperback: 195 pages. ISBN-13: 9781532655722.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Book Review: We Pray With Her

9781501869709_CVR_FinalLayout.inddI sat down with this book of prayers on a sleeting and windy afternoon. I had a lot on my mind, and turned to the Table of Contents. There was exactly the prayer I needed: Prayer for the Courage to Speak Out Against Misconduct. I was stunned and moved to tears. Who could have known??

As I paged through this small volume, I found several other prayers that touched a chord, either in remembering challenges in ministry or parenting, or in moments of celebration and joy. I was encouraged. I felt bolstered in facing a difficult “dragon” ahead of me that day.

In the Foreword, Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli captured my sentiments:

“…for anyone who has been in a place of pain, grief, stress, or challenge and had a community truly holding you in prayer, you know that the prayers and loving thoughts of others have a mysterious way of buoying your life through the storm.” (p. ix)

This book celebrates the journeys of women: leaders, CEOs, day laborers, moms, politicians, reach and poor. It celebrates her significance and her worth in the eyes of the Divine. There are devotions and heart-felt prayers on each topic, clustered under Call, Struggles, Courage, Resistance and Persistence.

I picked up this volume several times over the last month, and each time there seemed to be a gentle word from the Spirit just for my situation. The compassion and wisdom in these pages were real, down-to-earth and honest. This was not a theological exercise. This is a book for tending your heart and relationship with the Almighty.

I believe there is a word for every woman, regardless of her situation. Words that will affirm, and bless. I am grateful that the editors brought these writers together — for our growth and for God’s kin-dom. They are pastors, chaplains, professors, elders, deacons and some still in-process. I recommend this book to you!

GIVEAWAY!!! If you would like a copy of this book – please make a comment below with your address and why you would like the book. (NOTE: I will not publish the comments! But if you want the book, you’ll need to give me your address!) I’ll have a drawing and some lucky woman (or man who wants to encourage a woman in his life) will win it.


We Pray With Her: Encouragement for All Women Who Lead. Edited by Emily Peck-McClain, Danyelle Trexler, Jen Tyler, J. Paige Boyer and Shannon Sullivan. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018. Paperback: 242 pages. ISBN-13: 9781501869709.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.