BOOK REVIEW: The NIV Hope in the Mourning Bible

This edition of the NIV Bible has selected readings and Bible studies designed to support and encourage individuals who are dealing with grief. It is clearly meant to be a resource to anyone on the journey to healing after enduring a loss.

It took some doing to find the various readings which are not indexed or listed in the table of contents. It seems that the editor assumes that someone in mourning would be reading the Bible through in a year, as the readings are designed to be read, one for each weekday, and one for the weekends. However, there is no place to find these readings listed by topic, or even by book of the Bible. This is a serious oversight. These readings are wonderful, but they are hard to find when you need them most!

The writers who were chosen in the daily readings are all individuals who have struggled to come to grips with their own personal grief and loss. Their writing, as a result, comes from a place of resolution, not despair. Though they recognize the pain of loss and grief, at times because they are coming out of the other side of the grieving process, they may come off as trite or with all of the answers. That is not their intent.

There are additional resources listed in the back of the edition that are probably the most accessible and helpful content. They are a bit dated (for example, they give a link to Kubler-Ross’ “5 stages of grief” which is now somewhat debatable in grief counseling circles .)  There are also suggested music resources which are from the Drink Deep project by musicforthesoul.org These are not to everyone’s taste, but they are a starting place if the reader needs some kind of music inspiration.

Overall, this is an adequate special edition NIV Bible. Not having a quick access to the readings and studies by topic is unfortunate. Just that one simple inclusion in a future addition would increase this book’s value, in my opinion, and also my willingness to purchase copies for future clients.

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NIV Hope in the Mourning Bible
Timothy Beals, devotional editor
Published by Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI (c) 2013
ISBN-13: 9780310422914
Hardcover Edition.

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: God for Us – Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter

god-for-usI went searching for a new Lenten reading guide that was more than just “here’s-a-verse-and-a-nice-thought.” I wanted something that caught my eye, that brought a sense of the Holy into its reflections, and that caused me to consider more thoughtfully the Passion Story.

I was delighted when I found this book! This is the companion volume to the devotional guide of the same name for Advent and Christmas. Like its companion, it brings new depth of meaning to this period in the church calendar. Writes Greg Pennoyer in the Preface:

If Advent/Christmas is a revelation of God’s presence with us, then  Lent/Easter is a revelation of God’s desire to use all of life for our wholeness and our healing — the revelation that he will pull life from death. (p. x)

I don’t know about you, but that pretty much captures a spiritual need that is frequently ignored by the world, and glossed over by the Church. After all, if we are living in a struggle and a world of pain, what difference does our faith make? When we sing “Victory in Jesus” and we feel like a defeated mess, where’s the joy and peace that everyone talks about at Christmas?

The book is designed to provide a guided reading of Scripture with stories, art, poetry and prayers. The book contains beautiful imagery and personal stories. It invites you to wander slowly, LENTE, through its pages. Just sitting and gazing that the various artists was a feast in itself! They represented centuries of the faithful, giving their creative touch to the biblical story.

In addition to the daily reflections, the book gives the history of the various Feasts and Fasts of Lent. As someone who only paid a cursory attention to these liturgical details, and who has ministered mainly in a non-liturgical environment, I particularly appreciated this background information. (Let’s face it, chaplains don’t get to do a lot of preaching — sadly — and many times it is not appropriate to offer religious services to the patients and families in our charge. That does not mean, however, that I do not need and want to ponder the depths and riches of my faith tradition!)

The Scripture quotations were from a variety of translations, which sometimes was a bit disjointed in terms of language style from week to week. However, I can appreciate the various translations  and the spectrum of faith traditions and practices that they represent (NIV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, NJB, KJV and The Message).

Each week has its own author, representing a broad spectrum within Christendom: Richard Rohr,  Laren Winner, Scott Cairns, James Schapp, Luci Shaw, and Kathleen Norris. The background on Feasts and Fasts was written by Beth Bevis. I am grateful for their faith, their giftedness, and for the beauty of this volume. And I can’t wait to read it in more detail in the coming weeks!

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God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter, Edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe. Published by Paraclete Press, Brewster, Massachusetts. (c) 2014.

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Paraclete Press
  • ISBN-13: 978-1612613796

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book. 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 NIV Ragamuffin Bible

NIVRagamuffinBrennan Manning is one of my go-to authors when I need to be reminded of the unfailing, unchanging love of God. Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel helped me understand that, despite my many failings, I am completed loved by God. When you feel like a failure, that’s a very important concept to hold close!

The NIV Ragamuffin Bible is a standard NIV Bible with footnotes, but interspersed throughout with quotes from Manning’s books. The quotes selected for inclusion in this Bible reflect Manning’s sheer joy of being loved by God. As he says in the Introduction:

What you have in your hands is God’s personal memoirs. There are some of my thoughts sprinkled throughout as well, but they serve only to highlight God’s extravagant love. Because as the French Easter liturgy says, “L’amour de Dieu est jolie,” the love of God is foolishness, and it demands a joyful response from us.

If you have made Bible study into a cold, dry science, one that misses the heart and breadth of God’s love, then this Bible will be revolutionary for you. If you have been struggling to remember how to accept God’s love, you will find the encouragement you need to abandon yourself to the waves of God’s love crashing over you. Manning writes to remind us that we don’t bend God to our needs or whims, but are instead called to pour out everything we are, dream and want to God. The pretentiousness of posturing Christianity has to go! As Manning says,

Substituting theoretical concepts for acts of love keeps life at a safe distance. This is the dark side of putting being over doing. Is this not the abstraction that Jesus leveled against the religious elite of his day.

The Christian commitment is not an abstraction. it is a concrete, visible, courageous and formidable way for being in the world, forged by daily choices consistent with inner truth. A commitment that is not visible in humble, service, suffering discipleship and creative love is an illusion. Jesus Christ is impatient with illusions, and the world has no interest in abstractions.
-from Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging (Colorado Springs; NavPress, 1994), 142-143.

My only reservation about this book is that the version chosen (NIV) uses male-gendered language where it is not necessary. (“Man” for human, etc.) However if you can overlook that and let it wash, then the quotes and insights from Manning’s books do their work. It will make a good devotional Bible.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the publishing agent, TBBMedia. I was not required to write 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 Carried the Mat

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write 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.”

We Carried The Mat: My faith journey as a primary care giver… and how a community made all the difference by Katie Jordan chronicles the journey with her husband Jay through his two-and-a-half year battle with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis ), also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” Moved to begin journaling in January of 2004, before Jay was diagnosed, Katie offers a first-hand account of living with this disease. Her fears, struggles, triumphs and honest reflections bring you into their lives.

Katie, trained as a physical therapist, was used to writing the clear, concise words of medical documentation. Her natural bend for creative writing, first expressed as a teenager took a back seat to her clinical writing.Through her journaling, Katie wrote again from the heart. Providentially, as her husband was diagnosed with ALS, Katie took to writing more frequently about her life lessons. She shares them without trying to cover her doubts, her sincere faith in God, and her struggle to find meaning in Jay’s illness and death.

The book is full of vignettes that bare the difficult realities of being a spouse and a caregiver. Katie notes that her role as primary caregiver encompassed many roles, from bedpan to patient advocate. Daily challenges, ones she never imagined would be lived out in her marriage vows ‘in sickness and in health,’ left her drained and weary. Her story is not unusual for families who have lost someone to ALS. Her transparency is.

Katie gives us a picture of why it is so hard to ask for help when one is the primary caregiver. She recognized that her personal struggle began to impact the well-being of her husband. But she could not (or would not) ask for help from family and friends. Several weeks went by before she and Jay told their young adult children about his diagnosis.

It was a sermon on Mark 2:1-8, that changed Katie’s understanding of how God would help them through this crisis. The passage tells the story of a man who was let down through the roof of a home where Jesus was preaching. The preacher suggested that the “mat carriers” were fulfilling a vital role in the Church – to support those who were facing life-ending illnesses. Katie challenged the Church to also see this passage as one that also those who are faithfully serving as primary caregivers. After an honest exchange with her church’s leadership, consistent and appropriate help rallied around them.

The book offers excellent insights for those who want to help, but don’t know how. Katie intersperses her narrative with caregiver tips and insights. She also includes three helpful appendices:

  1. Caregiving Online Resources
  2. Forever and Ever Cards (her attempt to design supportive greeting cards for the chronically/terminally ill)
  3. Helpful Hints on Home Modification

Readers will find these appendices a great resource.

The major shortcoming to this book is that it needed better editing. Sometimes the details in the story (for instance, a list of names of people who helped) seemed more like a thank you note than a detail which contributed to the story. It became tedious reading these names as the reader has no knowledge of them and the “laundry list” of them appeared to serve no literary purpose. In the Kindle(tm) version of the book, the “caregiver tips” were not typeset in such as way that they were clearly identifiable as a sidebar to the storyline. It made things a bit confusing until the reader is used to the formatting.

Overall, this is a difficult-to-read but essential book for those who find themselves in the undesirable club of primary caregiver. Whether your beloved is dying from cancer, ALS or a chronic disease, the Christian message of hope, perseverance and peace permeates the pages. It is worth having on hand as a resource.

The Voice Bible: Step into the Story of Scripture… or is it “Bible Lite”?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write 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.”

This is touted as a fresh and new translation, combining the literal (word for word) and dynamic (thought for thought) methods of translation. It is an admirable effort. But for anyone who has spent any time at all in the Scriptures, the first readings feel like you’ve had ice water dumped on your face at 4 a.m.

“What IS this? The Bible?” It will be a bit of a shock.

The Voice reads more like a novel. The sentence structure and vocabulary are not in the cadence nor with the vocabulary that one expects to hear in Bible readings. There are no “Thees and Thous” to trip over. The words are contemporary in their language without sounding dated or forced. The text includes a lot of commentary that is embedded in the text. I found it a bit disconcerting and wonder if the reader will remember that not ALL of what is included in this translation is actually from the original languages, but have been inserted into the text.

The translators made an attempt to consider the meaning of the text when using pronouns and non-gendered wordings. Humanity is not always referred to as “man” but specific passages that appear to be to just for men or women are left engendered.

Lest you think they are heretics, 😉 God is still called a “He.” There is no feminine representation of the Divine at all, which should appease the publisher’s conservative base. There is no reason to ignore the theological fact that God is neither male nor female. There is just the common practice that describes God in masculine terms. I found it disquieting. (And if I missed a place where God was referred to as a “She” please feel free to correct me!)

I used my Kindle to read The Voice. The pages scroll fairly well and there were only a few places where there were strange gaps or hyphenations. This appears to be a well-known glitch in the Kindle app, though, not in the efile for this translation. The overall usage on the Kindle works well enough.

Of particular interest was the inclusion of some easy links to daily devotional readings. I tried a few of the Advent ones in December, and then skipped around to sample some in Lent. It is a plus to have these studies easily accessible on an e-reader, as sometimes the navigation around a Kindle version of a book can be clumsy.

After a few weeks of using The Voice, I found that I was ready to go back to a more “literal” translation. I think that this translation was an attempt to make the Scripture more accessible through common syntax and vocabulary. That is commendable. But to me it felt like more of a “screenplay Bible” than a translation of the biblical languages, particularly with all of the “back story” included in the text. For some specific applications, such as a Reader’s Theatre or dramatic readings of the Bible, The Voice has its uses. Whether it will be more than just a fad remains to be seen.