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: 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.

Book Review: Raising White Kids

Book Review and Give-Away! (see below)

Jennifer Harvey,  Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017), hardcover, 306 pages.

raisingwhitekidsThis is a must-read book for white parents, educators and adults — and even if you are not a parent! The dominance and ignorance of white America has contributed to the racial tensions and injustice today. This book will help you unpack where you can and should change.

As a pastor and former educator, I know first hand that there IS a difference in how children are treated in the classroom. Non-white children frequently receive accelerated classroom disciplinary action, are less likely to be offered classes of academic challenge, and not given a “pass” for bad behavior choices.

As a white, suburban-dwelling wife and mother of two white children, I also know that despite our efforts to expose our children to a variety of experiences and people, we were far from perfect (and frequently made many of the parenting errors mentioned in this book!)

Since the election of our 45th President, I have become acutely aware of the disparity and prejudice faced by persons of color, particularly immigrants, undocumented workers and Blacks. Add to that a lack of intentional intersectionality in the public arena, from Congress to Cub Scouts, and the reasons for racial tension between us are clear. From criticisms of The Women’s March to the #MeToo movement1, the disengaged and unaware actions of white Americans have not helped the situation.

And I am one of them.

This book is written to help white parents in the challenges of parenting in an increasingly diverse, increasingly divided America. Racial tension is here. Chanting slogans and wishing  divisions would go away will not help. There is a lot left to do to dismantle racist thinking, and proactively work against racist laws and their enforcement.

Several of the vignettes shared by the author, Jennifer Harvey, parallel some of my own parenting experiences. She recounts innocent questions from her child in a public space about a person of color, and not always rising above her own anxiety to help them learn from their questions and their experience. She also brought to mind instances where, in encouraging my children to be respectful of others, I did not engage or teach them about systemic racism.

Harvey’s book is laid out with “Takeaways” at the end of every chapter. These would make great discussion points for a book club or honest conversation between white and Black parents. I wish I had her wisdom in hand when my children, now in their 20s, were in public school!  The “Takeaways” also help clarify the main points of every chapter (for those of us who need a review on a regular basis.)

There were two main areas that I found most helpful. First, Harvey is careful to explain why this is not about “equality” but about injustice. She identifies the main problems with “color-blind” parental approaches, which do not combat racist practices and biases. Instead, she emphasizes race-conscious parenting, suggesting that white parents notice and name issues of race “early and often,” and use age and developmentally-appropriate words and methods. As Harvey explains, the “color-blind” mindset allows a child “to just keep breathing in ‘society’s smog’ without benefit of a face mask.” (p. 35) Raising race-conscious children helps them see how and why our words and actions are perceived as racist.

The real and most truthful questions, I think, are what our children are going to teach us if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to make it possible for them to do so. And what might they teach us if we then slow down and listen to them when they try?
from: Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey. (p. 256)

I hesitate to highlight one chapter over the others (because I gained some significant knowledge from all of them), but I especially appreciated Chapter 4: Do we have to call it Racism? In this chapter, Dr. Harvey helps shape the conversation about racism by encouraging parents to explore kids’ experiences through naming, acknowledging and examining them, and remembering that we are on a journey of self-discovering and change. She suggests not just teaching about racism, but being explicit about “white peoples participation in racism.” (p. 160).

The book includes several pages of resources, some of which I have personally used, and others that I have added to my links. There are also books, organizations, curricula, and organizations which will help you in the ongoing work of raising color-conscious, caring children and impacting your own engagement with our world. (Care to read the Forward? Check it out here!)

As a pastor in a predominantly white congregation, finding ways to have this conversation is now increasingly important. We cannot ignore the ways our society has crafted a schism between white America and persons of color. Living out The Gospel demands we hold one another accountable for the ways in which we treat one another, and in particular, the ways in which we do not honor the Imago Dei (image of God) in one another. Racism, at its core, is refusing to honor a human being created in God’s image, even though they may go through life and look/cook/dress/worship/speak differently than we do.

God help me. Change starts with me. And you.

Now, about that GIVE-AWAY! Would you like to read this book? I have a copy to share and I’ll pay the postage if you live in the continental US. Comment below or on my Facebook page or Twitter (if we are connected that way) and I’ll draw a name on March 10th!

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1 The #MeToo movement was created by Tarana Burke in 2006 and she deserves the credit for organizing and empowering girls and women of color to fight back against sexual harassment. It was co-opted by white women, who have since credited her with beginning this work.


Raising White Kids: Bringing up Children in a Racially Unjust America. Jennifer Harvey. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017. Hardcover: 306 pages. ISBN-13: 9781501856426

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: Healing Spiritual Wounds

Book Review

Carol Howard Merritt, Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God after Experiencing a Hurtful Church
(New York: Harper One, 2017), hardcover, 232 pages.

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Carol Howard Merritt, known for her insightful writing in the Christian Century and her previous books* offers a gentle work for those who have endured mistreatment by the Church. This book is not intended has an apologetic for “why” one should be in a church, or even be a Christian. Rather, it is intended to help those who are struggling to redefine faith’s role and want help finding the path back to belief and wholeness.

I began this book in the throes of the flu, and thanks to “flu brain” was not able to finish it as quickly as I wanted. But a few weeks, ago, as I read and reflected over her words, I was encouraged that, once again, she has brought clarity and a much-needed re-teaching of one of Christianity’s main tenets: Love God, love yourself, love others.

The book is grounded in her own spiritual journey and invites the reader to begin their own path of healing and discovery. Can one find a place peace and wholeness away from an internal conflict about a “God of love” and the way religious people act? Carol suggests there is a way, and it is in a place of peace and being “in God.” She shares her own realization that her “inner skeptic” (p. 5) was searching for God, even in the midst of disappointment and pain. And she invites the reader along to ponder their own places of raw hurt, discouragement and doubt.

This is not a “how-to” book. Merritt doesn’t give you simple formulas and Bible memory verses to “fix” yourself. Instead, she models a way of meditating on the Sacred text, on seeking God in the unspoken words of the suffering, and then she provides creative exercises for reflection in the journey back to wholeness. The author is clear in her own realization that “religion heals… but also brings suffering” (p. 8) and names the knife-in-the-gut wounding from the Church’s teachings that are sexist, racist, homophobic and politicized.

Carol groups the “spiritual wounds” we may experience around seven distinct areas, each with their own path for healing: healing our image of God, recovering our emotions, redeeming our broken selves, reclaiming our bodies, regaining our hope, reassessing our finances, and being born again. Each area of spiritual wounding offers vignettes from her own life, stories from the struggles of others, and exercises for reflection. The process begins with understanding our own experiences of religious wounding, not just what we experience, but where we have wounded others. I have started a collage recommended in the chapter “Finding Shalom” and it has been very thought-provoking, one that I will be working on for a while!

As a trained chaplain, several of the chapters reminded me of my own work in my spiritual identity and pastoral identity. In particular, the chapter on “Healing Our Image of God” took me back through the process of experiencing the “life-giving God” through a process Merritt calls “communal and personal” (p. 55). I remembered how I learned to experience God outside of a list of do’s and don’t’s. How photography, poetry, writing and music changed the “replay” of God’s work in my life. It was soul-stirring.

Other chapters had equally thought-provoking moments and I know I will want to return to this book for a more lengthy reflection, perhaps with others in community and accountability. It is not a quick read! You might want to make it your summer reading project, or schedule it for Lent 2018 (as this year’s Lenten season is underway).

For those who have struggled against a “father” image of God that conjures up the worst memories of the Church’s patriarchal abuse and misuse of scripture, I encourage you to get this book and dig deep. Merritt writes: “We don’t always realize that we’re working under patriarchal conditions because we’re so used to them; it’s like not knowing when we’re breathing polluted air” (p. 202).

Rediscover that God is not a white male, nor an authoritarian killjoy, and is completely and utterly bent on the loving work of restoration and reconciliation – with you. And me.

*(Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation and Reframing Hope: Vital ministry in a New Generation)

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Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God after Experiencing a Hurtful Church. Carol Howard Merritt. New York: Harper One, 2017. Hardcover: 232 pages. ISBN-10: 0062392271

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: The CEB Women’s Bible

cebwomensbibleWhen the package with my review copy arrived in the mail, my first thought was, “Please, don’t let it be pink!” 

Thankfully, it was not! (And lest you think I am exaggerating, do a Google search for images of “women + Bible” and see what you find!)

As I skimmed my review copy, it was easy to see the intent of this edition of the Common English Bible: “to focus on stories of women, named and unnamed…”1 inviting the female reader to encounter the Scriptures with new insights and responsiveness to the written Word. For women in particular, it has been difficult to see ourselves in texts which appear to ignore women entirely, or relegate them to subservient roles in society. This invisibility was the cultural norm in ancient times, but causes many women today to question why the Christian faith is relevant in the modern world. Are our voices meaningful? Do our experiences and perspectives matter? Are women in general valued by God?

I was already acquainted with this version of the Bible. The Common English Bible was published with the intent was to bring the sacred text into “common” verbiage, without becoming a paraphrase. The translation guidelines were rigorous, and included men and women scholars. I use the CEB in my personal devotions and enjoy the approachable and clear rendering of the sacred text.

For this edition, the editors and commentary were all written by women. The individual books each have an introduction which provides background on the text, including a historical and cultural context. The introduction also highlights specific issues which will interest most women readers as they study the Bible.

I personally appreciated the indices which included: Named Women, Unnamed Women, Articles (indexed canonically and alphabetically), a list of discussion questions based on the Revised Common Lectionary, and (unusual in my experience) an index for the maps. These will be helpful resources for the novice or experienced Bible student.

For a recent sermon on John 9-10, I read and reflected on the passages using the CEB Women’s Bible. The reflection included in John 9 by Mandy Sayers on “Beggars” coincided with my previous personal study on the place of beggar in ancient society, and the radical, life-changing experience of encountering Christ — for the beggar, and for any of use who experiences the change that comes with following Christ.

My only quibble with this translation is that the gender of the Divine is consistently rendered as male. It remains an ongoing frustration for me, and many other women, who struggle at times to identify with The Holy when the pronouns for God are always a “he”… While I have cultivated the practice to “read over” the gendered pronouns, it remains a translation issue that has not been solved to my satisfaction.

Familiar faces and names are among the editors and contributors. I am delighted to see the variety of denominations, traditions and settings which they represent. The breadth of voices in this edition will inspire many women in their study of Scripture. I recommend it highly for your study and spiritual growth.

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The CEB Women’s Bible.  (c) 2016. Abingdon Press.

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.”

1 from the Preface