Reader's Reviews

Zindzi and the Mystery of the Attic Fairy, by Sharri Bockheim Steen

Reviewed by Megan Misiewicz

What is the difference between prayer and making a wish?  This question is at the heart of Zindzi and the Mystery of the Attic Fairy (Amazon Kindle, June 2018), an utterly delightful Christian fantasy book for children, ages 6 and up, written and published as an e-book by Sharri Bockheim Steen, a member of Stone Hill’s congregation.

While some of us may be tempted to believe that the difference is self-evident, the majority of American Christian youth would not agree, according to the National Study of Youth and Religion. Over half of our young people equate prayer with definitions such as “making me happy,” and “feeling good.”

Zindzi, the precocious and charming 10-year-old narrator of this book, discovers the answer through a series of encounters with her family and the people in her new neighborhood.  The mystery begins when a young girl named Flowerbell, claiming to be a fairy, inexplicably appears in Zindzi’s attic.  While she may look like just another 10-year-old girl, albeit dressed in a fancier outfit, as soon as Flowerbell enters the scene, the secret desires of Zindzi’s family begin to materialize.  Could she possibly be a real fairy?

Themes of family conflict, navigating loss as a child, and broader theological questions are thoughtfully discussed throughout, making this book ideal for reading aloud with the family.  Steen's style is reminiscent of Jostein Gaarder in Sophie's World, in the way she seamlessly blends Christian theology with mystery.  Parents will love the devotional aspects and broader teaching moments offered by this book, while children will love the engaging narrative and lighthearted suspense. 

In my opinion, it is difficult to find books in the Christian fantasy genre written for children or young adults that are not one dimensional, rife with clichés, or a tamer imitation of secular young adult fiction. Zindzi and the Mystery of the Attic Fairy defies all three of those stereotypes, while also appealing to a broad audience and being wholly accessible to young readers. Steen speaks in an authentic and unique voice that ushered me back to the anticipation and enthusiasm of my childhood. At times, I forgot that this book was intended for children and cried while reading more poignant chapters.

The author lives in Rocky Hill with her husband Bob and children Sam and Anneka, trained as a molecular biologist and teaches biology at The Wilberforce School. She has published a number of spiritual reflections and humorous short stories, but Zindzi and the Mystery of the Attic Fairy is her first full-length book, reflecting her passion for finding evidence of God's goodness and love all around us. I recommend this book to any Stone Hill reader looking for a fun, family-friendly book in the Christian fantasy genre. 

Learn more about the book and Christian fantasy literature:

Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church,* by Kenda Creasy Dean (Oxford University Press, 2010).

A website from a Millennial who loves Christian fantasy literature.

“Questions About Christian Fantasy Literature,” Focus on the Family.

Zindzi is available exclusively on Amazon Kindle

 

March Trilogy Series by John Lewis

Reviewed by Tracy Troxel

Even as a kid, I never found comic books or graphic novels to be particularly appealing. But when my daughter gave me the March Trilogy Series by John Lewis for my birthday this year, I couldn’t stop reading.

March, a black-and white, graphic novel described by book reviewers as a “memoir trilogy,” is the riveting account told in three books about the Civil Rights activist and U.S. Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga), and his work to fight injustice using non-violent methods of protest. Here are just four of several good reasons to read this series, written with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions 2013, 2017):

  1. The graphic novel format of March enables the story of John Lewis’s life to be told in a compelling way, which makes it accessible for anyone over the age of 12. March has won four prestigious book awards, became the first graphic novel to win the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. 
  2. It is vitally important for all of us to own our shared history as Americans.  That history is not pretty, but sharing our history is a crucial step in becoming real communities of people who can understand and relate to one another in healthy ways.
  3. March encapsulates the history of the Civil Rights Movement through the retelling of one man’s story, John Lewis.  This personalizes history so that it comes alive.  John Lewis, the son of Alabama sharecroppers who has served in the U.S. Congress since 1987, was present at many of the key events of the Civil Rights Movement:  Selma, the March on Washington, the desegregation efforts in Nashville, etc.
  4. The commitment to non-violent protest to see injustices exposed and righted will remind the Christian reader of the Gospel.  John Lewis suffered unjustly, but took the suffering without retaliating against his oppressors.  He was so badly beaten during the protest march on Selma that he thought he saw death. Lewis’s firsthand experiences force the reader to think about our response to injustice in the world around us and how we should respond. 

Lewis’s life will push you to think soberly and engage in profound personal reflection. I strongly recommend this book a “must-read” for you and your family before the end of the summer. Since I have been working on the Koinonia Team at Stone Hill, my daughter, who’s 29 and works for “Little Lights,” a non-profit in Washington, D.C. that focus on literacy and racial reconciliation, have shared books, YouTube clips, papers, etc. It has been a wonderful sharpening of one another over the past three years.  I think she’s about my growth in these areas—it’s always fun to surprise your kids!

To learn more about the book:

The source of John Lewis’s inspiration for March.

A November 2017 interview on YouTube with John Lewis, his co-author and illustrator.

U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-Ga).

Public Library/Barnes & Noble/ Amazon/ IndieBound

 

Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith

Reviewed by Debbie Boyce

This summer, Reader's Reviews is partnering with the Koinonia Team at Stone Hill to highlight books related to racial reconciliation and social justice. This review is the fourth in our series.

For the past four years, the Koinonia Team at Stone Hill Church in Princeton has been discussing ways to make our church more welcoming to newcomers and a better home for diverse worshippers. Incorporating new and diverse members challenges all of us to grow.

Stone Hill Church is increasingly blessed with wonderful diversity in our congregation, but the question is sometimes asked, “Why we should make the effort to become welcoming to a multi-ethnic population, when this will possibly alienate some of our present attenders?” Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (Oxford University Press, 2000) gives important answers to why it is worth taking this risk.

Our impact as Christians on racial injustice requires a corporate effort, say the authors.  Emerson and Smith argue persuasively from extensive survey data and statistics that evangelical churches matter in American race relations. While individual Christians may do herculean deeds of service, if our churches remain largely mono-ethnic, the impact of individual effort is cancelled out.

We have all often heard the criticism that 11:00 on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. As long as evangelical churches remain racially homogenous, the effect of the church on our culture is to increase racial division and injustice in American culture. Conversely, when evangelical churches are multi-ethnic, they can have a profound effect against racial injustice and poverty, because the eyes of white evangelicals who hold considerable power and wealth will be opened to the problems and needs we otherwise would not see.

I have always believed that God intended his family to be multi-ethnic. In Revelation 4, the people of God are shown as coming from every tribe, nation, people and tongue. The power of a multi-ethnic church, say Emerson and Smith, is significant, both for advancing the Gospel and for the relief of suffering caused by racial division.

At Stone Hill, I am deeply encouraged to see diversity in our body, and I believe our Gospel witness is strengthened by unity across racial and socio-economic lines. As a diverse body of believers, we can mobilize in unity and greater wisdom to meet needs, challenge systems, and effect change in our communities.

Learn more about the book:

The evangelical church plays a role in preserving the racial chasm, says co-author Michael Emerson.

“Why 11 o’clock Sunday morning is still a mostly segregated hour,” Christianity Today, October 2, 2002.

Two podcasts addressing key questions for the church, from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention:

“Evangelicals and the future of religious unity,” July 10, 2018.

Should we give up on multi-ethnic churches,?” June 26, 2018.  

Public Library/Barnes&Noble/Amazon/IndieBound

 

 

 

Black Panther by Marvel Studios

Reviewed by James Martin

Recently a group gathered to view and discuss the movie Black Panther, the third in the Koinonia Team's summer series related to racial reconciliation and social justice. 

The movie Black Panther (Marvel Studios. 2018), based on the Marvel Comics superhero, tells the fictional story of Prince T’Challa, who, after the tragic loss of his father, is made king of Wakanda and also becomes the Black Panther, the legendary protector of Wakanda.

The special effects, the soundtrack, and the music initially distract you from the serious story that begins to unfold, which revolves around the unique challenges T’Challa faces.

T-Challa’s first challenge is Wakanda’s isolationism. Wakanda is the most technologically advanced country in the world, because of its vast stores of vibranium, used to develop advanced technology. Fearing discovery and exploitation, Wakanda has kept its identity hidden from the international community and instead poses as a poor, Third World country in Africa. Nakia, one of the many strong female leads in this film, is disappointed in the apathy of Wakanda to the plight of the other African countries surrounding them and argues that Wakanda could open its borders and care for refugees.

That’s T’Challa’s second challenge. “If you let the refugees in, they bring their problems with them,” a general warns. HeThgeneral is worried about Wakanda losing its way of life, but he has no qualms with conquering other nations and imposing Wakandan ideals on them.

T’Challa faces his third challenge with the arrival of his cousin Killmonger, and at this point in the movie, the narrative takes a dark turn.

Killmonger’s father was a spy in Oakland, CA, who was murdered by T’Challa’s father for betraying Wakanda. Rather than caring for his orphaned nephew, T’Challa’s father abandoned Killmonger in America, which bred resentment in Killmonger. Having grown up seeing the discrimination and oppression of black and brown individuals in America, Killmonger believes that Wakanda’s technological power should be used to overthrow those who had oppressed his people for centuries. He almost kills T’Challa when he arrives in Wakanda and assumes the throne.

As this is a superhero movie, the good guy always wins in the end. Killmonger is defeated and T’Challa reinstated as both the king and protector of Wakanda. The conflict ends when Killmonger receives a fatal blow from T’Challa. T’Challa offers his cousin a chance to be saved, bu Killmonger responds, “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the [slave] ships, because they knew death was better than bondage." That’s when the movie became personal for me.

As a black man whose great-grandmother was born a slave, I related more to the villain of this story than to the hero when I heard him say those words. Like Killmonger, I desire a heritage I can be proud of. I desire to belong, but being African-American very often means that I am neither accepted as either African or American. And I desire to be treated fairly. I have been abused and oppressed by authorities and systems in place here in America, and have often thought, “What should I do in response?” But I decided that Killmonger’s path is not the path I want to take, even though I understand it all too well.

I am the son of African natives who were taken from their homes and families, and were forced to serve under white oppressors. These individuals tried to strip away their identity and culture, and also used the Bible that I love today, and the God I serve, to justify their beliefs and actions. But my ancestors never gave up hope; if they had, I wouldn’t be here writing to you today. I am a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University majoring in Molecular Biology.

Some of you may not know who I am, but you may have seen me leading praise and worship at Stone Hill Church on Sunday morning. I believe that my ancestors endured, prayed, and died believing that one day God would vindicate them. I believe that my ancestors took the Lord at His Word when He said He is the God who judges justly. In light of that hope, they could look into the eyes of their oppressors and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual:

“Precious Lord, take my hand,

Lead me on, let me stand

I'm tired, I'm weak, I'm alone

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the light

Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.”

I am a product of the faith of my ancestors. Unlike the tragic Killmonger, I have a hope in Jesus that overpowers any structure of racism, sexism, or classism present in our society today.

 

The movie Black Panther, based on the Marvel Comics superhero (Marvel Studios, 2018), tells the fictional story of Prince T’Challa, who, after the tragic loss of his father, is made king of Wakanda and also becomes the Black Panther, the legendary protector of Wakanda.

The special effects, the soundtrack, and the music initially distract you from the serious story that begins to unfold, which revolves around the unique challenges T’Challa faces.

T-Challa’s first challenge is Wakanda’s isolationism. Wakanda is the most technologically advanced country in the world, because of its vast stores of vibranium, used to develop advanced technology. Fearing discovery and exploitation, Wakanda has kept its identity hidden from the international community and instead poses as a poor, Third World country in Africa. Nakia, one of the many strong female leads in this film, is disappointed in the apathy of Wakanda to the plight of the other African countries surrounding them and argues that Wakanda could open its borders and care for refugees.

That’s T’Challa’s second challenge. “If you let the refugees in, they bring their problems with them,” a general warns. The general is worried about Wakanda losing its way of life, but he has no qualms with conquering other nations and imposing Wakandan ideals on them.

T’Challa faces his third challenge with the arrival of his cousin Killmonger, and at this point in the movie, the narrative takes a dark turn.

Killmonger’s father was a spy in Oakland, CA, who was murdered by T’Challa’s father for betraying Wakanda. Rather than caring for his orphaned nephew, T’Challa’s father abandoned Killmonger in America, which bred resentment in Killmonger. Having grown up seeing the discrimination and oppression of black and brown individuals in America, Killmonger believes that Wakanda’s technological power should be used to overthrow those who had oppressed his people for centuries. He almost kills T’Challa when he arrives in Wakanda and assumes the throne.

As this is a superhero movie, the good guy always wins in the end. Killmonger is defeated and T’Challa reinstated as both the king and protector of Wakanda. The conflict ends when Killmonger receives a fatal blow from T’Challa. T’Challa offers his cousin a chance to be saved, but Killmonger responds, “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the [slave] ships, because they knew death was better than bondage." That’s when the movie became personal for me.

As a black man whose great-grandmother was born a slave, I related more to the villain of this story than to the hero when I heard him say those words. Like Killmonger, I desire a heritage I can be proud of. I desire to belong, but being African-American very often means that I am neither accepted as either African or American. And I desire to be treated fairly. I have been abused and oppressed by authorities and systems in place here in America, and have often thought, “What should I do in response?” But I decided that Killmonger’s path is not the path I want to take, even though I understand it all too well.

I am the son of African natives who were taken from their homes and families, and were forced to serve under white oppressors. These individuals tried to strip away their identity and culture, and also used the Bible that I love today, and the God I serve, to justify their beliefs and actions. But my ancestors never gave up hope; if they had, I wouldn’t be here writing to you today. I am a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University majoring in Molecular Biology.

Some of you may not know who I am, but you may have seen me leading praise and worship at Stone Hill Church on Sunday morning. I believe that my ancestors endured, prayed, and died believing that one day God would vindicate them. I believe that my ancestors took the Lord at His Word when He said He is the God who judges justly. In light of that hope, they could look into the eyes of their oppressors and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual:

“Precious Lord, take my hand,

Lead me on, let me stand

I'm tired, I'm weak, I'm alone

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the light

Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.”

I am a product of the faith of my ancestors. Unlike the tragic Killmonger, I have a hope in Jesus that overpowers any structure of racism, sexism, or classism present in our society today.

 

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Reviewed by Tracy Troxel

This summer, Reader's Reviews is partnering with the Koinonia team to highlight books related to racial reconciliation and social justice. This review is the second in our series. Interested in a conversation about the legacy of Henrietta Lacks? Join the Koinonia team’s summer book discussion on Saturday July 21st at 10:00 a.m. in the Stone Hill Library. 

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman, visited the “colored ward” at Johns Hopkins Hospital, because she was too poor to see a doctor. Without her permission—or even knowledge—her cells were removed during cancer treatment. Because of their robustness, the cells named after her (“HeLa” cells) became the foundation for the development of vaccines, gene mapping and other critically important scientific research that continues to this day.

Immortal Life (Crown Publishing, 2010) provides real-life insight into medical ethics, racial prejudice, and important scientific developments. The story is real and raw: The family of Henrietta Lacks, who still live in East Baltimore, and often lacked access to the health care advances their mother’s cells made possible, is left completely in the dark. They received no compensation for their mother’s life-changing donation to science, while earning billions for the companies that bought her cells.

Serious questions of race, bias, medical ethics and science are intertwined in this amazing story. Immortal Life is a story of scientific development, but also one of the human heart, where hurt and anger can yield to grace and forgiveness. The author, Rebecca Skloot, takes time to develop the narrative by surveying in detail the key players in this multi-faceted drama. It’s worth the wait to see how the characters react to the ever-changing landscape where racial prejudice and the ethics of scientific research collide. Immortal Life isn’t the first time that research studies have been conducted on individuals, particularly those from minority communities (the Tuskegee Syphilis Studies and the Human Radiation Experiments come to mind).

When we do not acknowledge our shared history—even if we are not hurt—we hurt ourselves.  While we may not have personally done evil—we are part of a country where evil was done and not to acknowledge that and to admit the effects of that injustice is not loving or empathetic. After the book published, the author set up the Henrietta Lacks Foundation, to provide financial assistance to those who can’t afford health care, especially those in minority communities. We need to have that kind of response after reading this book. Immortal Life pushes us share our resources (time, finances, friendship) to help heal the injustice of racism that continues to this day.    

Note: This review originally appeared in Readers’ Reviews on January 25, 2017.

Learn more about the book:

We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Reviewed by Sylvia Kocses

This summer, Reader's Reviews is partnering with the Koinonia team to highlight books related to racial reconciliation and social justice. This review is the first in our series. 

In 1967 during my freshman year in college, I had to read Walden by Henry Thoreau. As I studied, outlined, re-read and memorized passages of this book, Thoreau challenged me to examine my priorities, my values, and my cultural assumptions. I realized I didn't want to live a life of quiet desperation as a slave and prisoner of others’ expectations, nor find my purpose in the pursuit of material possessions. I was motivated to change by Thoreau’s thoughtful essays: Few books are that profound.

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World Publishing Co., 2017) rises to that level. The book contains eight essays he wrote from 2008 to 2016 for Atlantic magazine on issues of race, historical injustice, white supremacy, and Barack Obama's presidency. Each original essay is introduced with a blog-like commentary about the election of Donald Trump.               

All 16 essays focus on the myriad of difficult issues facing our country today. "Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?" addresses the National Football League’s controversy over singing the national anthem. The fourth essay "How We Lost to the White Man") explains Black America’s historic intellectual divide between the "Twice as Good" mantra espoused by the African-American educator Booker T. Washington and the protest movement of Black Lives Matter today. The final essay (“Fear of a Black President”) is a critical analysis of the effectiveness and legacy of Barack Obama.

The author’s prose is lyrical, scholarly, poetic—and brutal. He is "the arsonist who burns with his pen, regardless," sing sings the rapper Whiteface Killah in “Daytona 500." You can't escape the heat this book generates. We will not all agree with the author’s views on reparations, immigration or the political policies of President Trump, but these topics need to be discussed.

Coates, an atheist, expresses a bleak picture of race relations today. "For most African Americans, white people exist either as a direct or an indirect force for bad in their lives. Biraciality is no shield against this; it often intensifies the problem."

As a believer in Jesus Christ and in the power of God to change hearts, I will remain hopeful. James 1:19 commands believers to "be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger." Civility, mutual respect and healthy debate can guide us in the hopes of finding compromise and solutions to our deep problems.

Learn more about the book:

The author’s website

A review of Eight Years on the black culture website The Root

An interview with the author on YouTube

Review of The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency by Randall Kennedy

Public Library/B&N/IndieBound/Amazon

                                  

 


 

Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne

Reviewed by Emily Lo Gibson

What if you were a healer whose hands now delivered death instead of life? Or a warrior suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), haunted by the shadows of war? These scenarios are at the heart of Livia Blackburne’s Rosemarked (Disney Hyperion, 2017), a fantasy adventure that touches on purpose, self-worth, and the value of scars—issues that every Christian grapples with on the journey of faith.

Rosemarked is set in the Amparan Empire, which shares similarities with ancient Rome in its brutal conquest of kingdoms and peoples. The story is told from two perspectives: that of Zivah, a healer infected by the deadly rose plague, and Dineas, a warrior who survives the plague yet remains scarred both by the disease and his time as a prisoner. A mission to save their mutual homeland brings them together on a high-stakes journey, with their own principles and the safety of their peoples on the line.

I found this book to be refreshingly complex for a teen novel. While the mission they faced is risky, with occasionally predictable twists, I was struck by the emotional depth of these characters and the moral choices they face. Zivah and Dineas both struggle with remaining loyal to their clans and vocations and loyal to themselves, in the midst of danger. Their characters are wounded physically and emotionally, which makes them very human. I particularly resonated with Zivah’s suffering, which forces her to grapple with her faith in her tribe’s goddess and her own identity as a healer. Both characters eventually manage a tenuous truce with their pain—and with each other—but the question remains: Can broken people become whole again?

Despite the positives of Rosemarked, some Christians, particularly parents, may still hesitate to read, or allow their children to read, fantasy literature. This is a complicated issue that requires more discussion. Not all books in the genre are edifying, but, as the J.R.R. Tolkien has argued in his essay, “On Fairy-Stories,” these works of the imagination can be worthwhile ways of “seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them”  

There is real value in paying more careful attention to fantasy literature, which asks us to step outside the realm of what we are familiar with and look at aspects of life in different ways. This book prompted me to reconsider my own scars and to better empathize with the pain and scars of others.

In Rosemarked, Blackburne, a fellow believer (and a personal friend), has crafted a quick read that is worth picking up and considering. The sequel, Umbertouched, will be published in November 2018.

Learn more about the book:

 

 

Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God David McCasland

Reviewed by Karen Ristuccia.

David McCasland’s biography of Eric Liddell (Pure Gold), the runner who won Olympic gold before becoming a missionary, inspired me to reread and review his earlier work on the evangelist, missionary and beloved Christian writer Oswald Chambers (Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God).

Liddell and Chambers share several striking parallels: Both were Scots, both served in camps during World Wars (Liddell in a Chinese prison camp in WWII and Chambers in an Egyptian-based military camp in WWI), both died young while imprisoned, and both remain beloved Christian heroes today. 

Chambers’s life was brief (1874-1917), but significant. He grew up as the youngest child in a large family, where his father was a Baptist pastor. The youngest Chambers began art studies at the University of Edinburgh, but soon chose the life of an evangelist and teacher. His talents as a speaker and a mentor led to his teaching in Bible schools and preaching in both the United States and Japan. After his marriage in 1910 to Biddy (for “BD” or “Beloved Disciple,” her husband’s nickname for her), Chambers led the Bible Training College in London. The college was forced to close after World War I, and the couple, along with daughter Kathleen, traveled to Egypt and worked with the Young Men’s Christian Association ministering to soldiers. In 1917, Chambers died suddenly of complications from appendicitis.

But his story doesn’t end there. Chambers would be unknown today without his wife, who had worked as a secretary and was the fastest stenographer in all of Great Britain before her marriage­­­­­­ – a feat of no small skill in the days before typewriters and computers! She took handwritten notes of all of her husband’s speeches, sermons, and messages, and then spent the rest of her life transcribing and editing his notes, and publishing over 40 books.

Chambers’s most famous book is the devotional My Utmost for His Highest, which is still in print. He is known for his balanced Christianity, his turn of phrase, and his emphasis on the power of the Holy Spirit. In Abandoned to God, David McCasland tells his story in great detail, and with compassion and simplicity, which is how the life of this evangelist deserves to be both remembered and emulated.

Published by Discovery House, 1993.

For more works by the author, see Karen’s review of Eric Liddell: Pure Gold (10/6/16), available at this link and in the Reader’s Reviews section of the Stone Hill app.

Learn more about the book:

Life in a Jar by Jack Mayer

What makes Life in a Jar truly an amazing story is how the lives of the Kansas students who researched Holocaust heroine Irena Sendler’s becomes part of the larger story of love and redemption that’s told here. The book was produced as a play and won National History Day in 2000, a competition among middle- and high-school students based on original research.

The first “strand” is the story of Sendler, a Polish Catholic health worker who uses her access to the infamous Warsaw Ghetto to develop a network of rescuers that smuggled out 2,500 Jewish children. Her story reminds us that the image of God is still part of the human experience and that selflessness and heroism are not simply characteristics of good books, but take place in real life.

The second “strand” are the personal stories of the students who realize they can face their own adverse circumstances with bravery and endurance, like Sendler. Liz, one of the student researchers, struggles with the fact that her mother had abandoned her.

The third “strand” is perhaps the most gut-wrenching and awe-inspiring story, as you read about the courage of the Jewish mothers and fathers who handed their children over to Sendler to save them. Sendler wrote down the details of where she sent the children in jars and hid them, hoping that, one day, the children would be reunited with their families.

The fourth “strand” is where the story becomes a stunning, and life-altering, narrative. The teenagers travel to Poland, find Sendler, and perform their play for her and her team of rescuers and survivors. “You have rescued the rescuers, girls,” she tells them.

Sendler, and particularly Liz, faced bigger struggles than I ever have, but somehow they faced the tragedies in their lives and gained great depth. I read, I wept, and I thought deeply about life, sacrifice, love, and the power of forgiveness. I also spent a lot of time thinking about the amazing sacrifice God the Father made for me in sending His only Son on my behalf. If you want to be captivated by stunning self-sacrifice–and swept away by the human spirit that endures under incomprehensible pressure–this is the summer read for you.

Published by Long Trail Press, 2011

Learn more about the book:

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

There are three things you should never talk about at dinner: money, politics, and religion. In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt shares his recent research findings on human morality and applies them to two of these three forbidden topics: religion and politics.

The Righteous Mind explains America’s growing partisanship divide and the benefit of religion to society using Haidt’s three principles of moral psychology:

  1. Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.
  2. There’s more to morality than harm and fairness.
  3. Morality binds and blinds.

Consider the author’s second principle – there’s more to morality than harm and fairness – which has clear implications for evangelism and for understanding the current culture wars. Many here in Princeton – WEIRD people (from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic countries) – ground their moral reasoning on principles of harm and fairness. However, Haidt’s research identifies a total of six moral foundations: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, and liberty/oppression. Christian morality includes all of these foundations, but emphasizes authority/subversion (the authority of God’s word) and sanctity/degradation (holy living). So to successfully share the Gospel with WEIRD people, it’s important to understand where they are coming from and to widen their moral matrix. Otherwise, saying “the Bible is the Word of God” will mean very little, when they just want to know if Christians do harm and are fair. 

In applying his second and third principles to politics, Haidt finds that each political ideology rests on different moral foundations. Liberals rest on three foundations (care/harm, fairness/cheating or equality/inequality, and liberty/oppression) while conservatives rest about equally on all six moral foundations. Due to their reliance on different foundations, though, both sides are blind to the value of the other’s policies and thoughts.

Unfortunately, the book itself falls victim to this third principle: morality binds and blinds. We cannot think clearly about an issue once we’ve joined a moral team. The secular Haidt demonstrates this, as he cannot think clearly about religion. He upholds the benefits of religion for human flourishing. Yet, he sees very little difference between gathering on Sunday for worship and attending a UVA football match. Haidt may give religion a fairer treatment than Richard Dawkins, but he is blind to the truth of the Gospel.

The Rightous Mind has changed how I think about those dreaded dinner discussions about politics. The problem is not a lack of data. Sharing more information is not going to change anyone’s minds. The same applies to evangelism. Understanding my own moral matrix and those of others enhances how I share and defend my faith. For these reasons, I recommend reading The Righteous Mind.

Reader be warned: the book includes some morally outrageous stories that you may want to skip.

Published by Pantheon, 2012.

Learn more about the book:

 

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