Book Review: I Know What Heaven Looks Like


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: A Gracious Heresy

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


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: 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!


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.

Still Alice: Lessons from Literature, and Life

stillaliceI finished reading Still Alice by  Lisa Genova. Though it is a work of fiction, it nevertheless reflects the lives and heartaches of countless families around the world.

The book affected me profoundly. For those of us who work with individuals with dementia, it brought to mind patients and their caregivers, coworkers and long-term care facilities. I’ve walked with countless families as they grieve the gradual unraveling of memory and relationship, of control, of function and purpose.

It also reminded me of the power of love, dedication and compassionate care that I see poured into the lives of Alzheimer’s patients. Families and friends shift work hours to be with those they love. They try to make sense of the confusion and frustration. They preserve the memories and joys. They pay for extra caregivers. They cry, bargain and try to reason with God.

In the novel, the main character, Dr. Alice Howland, is a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard. She realizes because of her training and self-awareness that something is wrong, and initiates the first call to a neurologist (not the norm, by the way). As events unfold, her husband and children find their own ways to accept and process her diagnosis, and to make decisions about her care.

Early in her diagnosis, Alice went to speak at a conference and share the perspective of an Alzheimer’s patient. This speech was, for me, among the most profound writing in the book. She challenged the audience to help individuals with dementia “live better with dementia.”

My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment. Some tomorrow soon, I’ll forget that I stood before you and gave this speech. But just because I’ll forget it some tomorrow doesn’t mean that I didn’t live every second of it today. I will forget today, but that doesn’t mean that today didn’t matter.

Such true, clear words to caregivers and their support system.

As a chaplain, I see patients every day who have dementia. I hug their family members. I offer prayers for their comfort and to ease their worries. I celebrate the bits of personality and humor that pop through the tangles in their brain. I show them pictures of family and friends. I look for those bright spots of Hope.

When I forget things, like where I left my cell phone (yeah that did just happen!) or can’t find my car keys, I am brought up short. Am I getting dementia? I give myself a quick MMSE (Mini-Mental State Exam) and relax.

What Still Alice provided me, most of all, was a reminder that the patient’s perspective must not be ignored or glossed over. I can’t assume “they don’t know what’s going on” because, on some level, they still do. I am more devoted than ever to honoring that perspective, and try to actively bring it into the conversation of the interdisciplinary team.

Beyond condescension, individuals with Alzheimer’s need to know they are “still” who they were before their memory faded. Still parents. Still friends. Still professionals. Still funny. Still… LOVED.

That’s the most important task of all.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Published by Gallery Books, 2009. ISBN-10: 1501106422

P.S. Since you are taking the time to read my blog, I want to make a special request of you. I will be walking in the DC area fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in October. I have a fundraising page and would love your support! As I write this, I’m already 25% of the way to my goal! Click on this link to support my fundraising efforts. Thanks!

Book Review: All That Bright Light — A story of love, murder and healing

Courtesy of Michelle Basch, WTOP Radio

The cover shows a blurred image of balloons rising over a football field at sunset. It was a sight that must have been viewed through eyes blurred by tears at the Rockville High School stadium that night.

The friends, family and teachers of Michelle Miller gathered to offer words of hope, grief and joy, even as they struggled to understand why a 31 year old Army recruiter, Adam Arndt, shot first Miller and then himself in a murder-suicide. They lofted helium balloons with messages of love, hope and courage.

“Release the balloons,” a clear, young voice booms through the sound system.

We have been waiting for this moment. It is truly awesome as hundreds of brightly colored balloons seem to light up the sky as they float through the last rays of fading sunlight.

For a few moments the stadium is silent as we all watch our balloons, which like Michelle’s bright spirit, are now heading for the heavens. (All That Bright Light, page 28).

Coming to grips with a loss this devastating seems impossible. How does one find a way to make sense of it? Why did a young woman, full of joy, vibrancy and promise, have her life ended in such a brutal way? How do you embrace your faith, your family and your sense of fairness? What do you do when you feel that justice has not been served? Can you forgive? How do you forgive?

These and other questions flow thoughtfully and with reflective  realism from the author, Alice Miller. A psychotherapist, she has  been the consoler and counselor to others who were in deep grief. Now, just weeks before her beloved granddaughter, nicknamed Lulu, was to graduate from high school, she was killed by the 31-year-old Army sergeant who recruited her for an Army ROTC program.

This is a story that breaks the heart. And it is a story of conflict between the Army and a heartbroken family.

Alice shares her personal journals from this tragedy, from the moments they found out that Michelle was dead, to the grim details of her death. She talks about the outpouring of love, meals and care that surrounded the family. She writes of her own grieving process, one that she fully understands is not over.

Grief, I have learned, is like a cocoon, which from the beginning has encased me in its pain. Now, gradually I need to learn to emerge from that sorrow if I am every again to fully embrace life. The hole in my heart may never go away, But time, I believe will smooth the rough edges. The hole, however, remains. (All That Bright Light, page 128)

The title is taken from the words spoken by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis when she responded to the outpouring of love and condolences upon the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. All his bright light has gone from the world. All of you who have written to me know how much we all loved him and that he returned that love in full measure.”

When someone is murdered, the spark of their love and life is no more. At least, not on this planet. As Miller writes,

“Your bright light may be gone from this world but I know that it will shine through into the next.”

For those who have experienced this kind of traumatic loss, you will find a companion in the grief and anger that the author knows so well. For those who wonder at the ways that injustice, especially when accompanied by crimes of rape and physical assault, you will hear the passionate plea for accountability. For those of us who are parents, there is the practical reminder to go home and hug our children and those we love.

I recommend this book. Though Alice finds peace through her Christian faith, she does not insist that you follow her path. She offers perspective through her own pain and grieving. She admits where she is struggling and invites you to carry your own losses with realism and honesty.

All That Bright Light  underscores the simple reminder that we need one another. We also need to stand up for those who have been rendered voiceless by other’s criminal acts. And most of all, we need to give one another space, time, and comfort to grieve and grow through these difficult losses.

The lessons from this book reminded me of this quote from Mother Teresa:

“Spread love everywhere you go: First of all in your own house…let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”

So may it be.

All That Bright Light: A Story of Love, Murder and Healing, by Alice G. Miller. Self-published. November, 2013. Available on Amazon.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author. 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: 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!


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.”