Book Review: The Truth about Us

The Truth about Us
by Brant Hansen

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living

The truth about us is that we are not all “basically good, deep down inside.” We are flawed, sinful humans. Yet we tend to believe at some level that we are better than average. We are biased towards ourselves, whether we consciously recognize it or not. Starting with this and going on to other cognitive biases, radio show host Brant Hansen challenges us to examine the way we view ourselves and the world around us and to maybe, just possibly, admit that we’re not “good” and that we need help from the only One who is.

This book intrigued me, entertained me, and challenged me. He has a way of getting to the heart of the matter, and he infuses insight and humor into the points he makes along the way. Early in the book Brant describes various studies that show how our brains work. I was fascinated, and at times astounded, by these studies. It’s surprising, really, to learn how little we actually observe and retain, and how we can fool ourselves. And yet, when someone who isn’t me forgets something important, how often do I give them grace?

Though I have more of an inferiority complex in some of the areas he talked about, there were some that were right on point for me. One easy example is about driving speed. I am one who tends to think that if I come up on you on the road, you’re driving too slowly (and sometimes you’re also ruining my day). But if you come up behind me, or pass me on the road, you’re driving entirely too fast. Clearly my chosen speed is the perfect speed (and no, it’s not usually exactly the speed limit), and while I don’t usually think about it more than in the moment (and no, I don’t get road rage), I can easily recognize this bias in myself. This book changed my viewpoint in a lot of areas, hopefully for the better.

One of the biggest take-aways from this book is the need for humility. We’re truly not as amazing or good as we think we are, but that’s okay! It’s good news, and understanding how it’s good news can be very freeing. I think everyone can benefit from this book, even those who hear about it and think they don’t need it, or think about others they know who need it. In fact, maybe the ones who are thinking those things are the people who need to read it the most. No matter who you are or what you’re thinking about this book, though, I suggest you check out The Brant & Sherri Oddcast.

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Book Review: Eye of the Storm

Eye of the Storm
by Ryan Stevenson

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Memoir, Christianity

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Singer and songwriter Ryan Stevenson shares the story behind his hit song “Eye of the Storm.” Years of struggling in his personal life and his musical life led to doubt and depression. Stevenson had to learn to fully rely on God, to allow Him to be in charge of his dreams and ambitions, but it wasn’t a quick realization, a “flash of inspiration” that fixed everything at once. It took time and some very dark moments, which Ryan lays bare for us in this book.

It’s never easy to read about the difficulties of someone else’s life, and Stevenson had a lot of them. From watching his mom die of cancer, to his wife having a miscarriage of twins, and to Stevenson’s own bad choices that nearly ruined his life. Through all of this, Stevenson had a love for Jesus, though I’m not clear on where his faith really stood. Still, there’s inspiration to be found in the pages of this book.

I appreciate the humble and vulnerable way that Stevenson wrote about his history. He found some success throughout his life, but suffered many setbacks. And he never holds back from taking the blame for his own mistakes. His wrong choices, mingled with things that were out of his control, caused some of the problems he had. Yet, along with the understanding that he should, and could, trust God in everything, he also came to learn that his mistakes did not have to define him. That, as long as he allowed it to happen, God could wipe them away and he could move on from who he used to be.

Though I have not had nearly the hardships in my life that he had, I gleaned plenty of insight from Stevenson’s story. In particular, it was a reminder when I really needed it to continue to do plug away at my writing, which feels stalled at the time of my writing this review. But rather than waiting for a big, obvious lit-up path (which I didn’t even consciously realize I was doing until now), I should be faithful to the work as I know to do it. God may or may not open doors for me, but waiting around for something to happen feels more like giving up than trusting God to use my abilities as he sees fit.

One thing I want to mention for anyone who may read this book–I think it’s important to be clear that not everyone hears that “still small voice” quite so clearly as Stevenson did so many times in his life. If we assume that God will lead us in this way, and we never feel an obvious nudging of the spirit, we may feel like God has abandoned us in the way Stevenson felt at times during his life. Even if we never experience a monologue from God, a whisper in the wind, we can still follow God faithfully, and he can use us in ways we’d never expect. I don’t want to discount Stevenson’s account of how God spoke to him, but it is not the only way, and for those of us who do not have those experiences, we should not feel less important to the kingdom.

With that in mind, I do recommend this book for Christians who could use some inspiration in trusting God in the storms, or for those who enjoy Ryan Stevenson’s music.

Thank you to Netgalley and Harvest House Publishers for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: Unoffendable

Unoffendable
by Brant Hansen

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living

Unoffendable

Radio show host Brant Hansen counters the common opinion that Christians are entitled to “righteous anger,” while also making a case about how learning to let go of our “right” to be offended can change our lives. He uses scripture as well as examples from both Christian and secular writers and thinkers to back up his claims.

This is the kind of book that you can get a lot out of, or you can dismiss as not for you, or even dismiss as flat-out wrong. One of the biggest arguments people seem to have for anger being all right (even a good thing) is that Jesus himself got angry. But I think one of the most important things to remember is that Jesus is God. He was perfect and sinless when he threw out the money changers. We need to remember that when we get angry about the sin of others…we’re just as bad, even when we find a way to feel like we aren’t.

It’s also important to note that Brant is not necessarily claiming that we should be able to find it easy to never get angry. We’re human; we get angry. The issue is feeling justified in holding onto that anger. In letting it drive us, and especially, in letting it drive us to sin.

More than just anger, Brant also addresses self-righteousness and hypocrisy. I think some of these areas convicted me more than the issue about anger. Not that I don’t get angry, but I definitely am guilty of letting myself believe I’m “not as bad as that other person.” I’m not going to pretend I’m all better now, but I’m noticing these things more in myself and I think that’s the first step to letting God get rid of them in me.

When I first started reading this, I really wondered how Brant could write an entire book about anger. But there were a lot more facets to it than I realized. He speaks simply and honestly, makes some really good points, and I can see from my personal life that there is a lot of truth in the claim that learning to be unoffendable can make your life better. I recommend this book for all Christians; even if you don’t feel like you need it, I’ll bet you can find some understanding here. I also believe, and see from reviews of others, that non-Christians can find some truth in this book as well. And no matter who you are, I suggest you check out The Brant & Sherri Oddcast.

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Book Review: Adorning the Dark

Adorning the Dark
by Andrew Peterson

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Memoir, Christian living

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Singer, songwriter, and author Andrew Peterson shares his insight on creating in this book. He uses personal experience as well as wisdom from other songwriters and authors to discuss the process of writing songs, the ups and downs of the business, and using one’s creative abilities to tell a story.

I’ll start my review by saying that I was not the main target audience for this book. While Peterson does do his best to expand beyond songwriting into fiction-writing and other kinds of art, the heavy focus is on the musical realm (and poetry to a lesser degree). I’m a fiction writer, but have no experience with or even much of an understanding of writing songs. Plus, he referred to songs and books by various songwriters and authors a lot and talked about them as if the reader should know them as well as he did. I’m not nearly as well read as him, and I am definitely not as immersed in music culture, nor do I listen to as wide a range of music as he. As such, I do think that quite a bit of the book was lost on me.

Another way this book did not resonate with me is that I came to realize by maybe halfway through the book that my personality, and the way I see the world around me, is vastly different from his. He sees beauty in everything, but I’ve never been all that sentimental. So that was another chunk of the book that fell flat for me.

However, that does not mean that I did not find plenty of gems in the book, things that work for any kind of creating. For example: “If you wait until the conditions are perfect, you’ll never write a thing.” Or: “The songs won’t write themselves, and neither will the books, the recipes, the blueprints, or the gardens.” Even with the difference that Peterson describes between songwriting (which can also apply to poetry to a degree) and writing fiction, the clear point is that you have to get through the bad to find the good.

He also addresses the different between “Christian art” and art from a Christian perspective, which I really appreciated. As an author, I’ve struggled in the past with thinking that I should only be using the gift God gave me to write specifically Christian fiction. However, I no longer think that’s true. Instead, I can write stories with a Christian worldview, which will most likely be acceptable to most Christians, and will even be acceptable to many non-Christians who just want something good to read. And in approaching the art that way, perhaps it would allow the artist to actually reach more for Christ.

There were a few things about which I disagreed with the author, but even in those I think it mostly comes down to a difference in mindset or preference. I did agree with the idea that calling some people “creatives” excludes many people who really are more creative than they think. Just because “art” isn’t the end result, pretty much everyone creates in their own way–that can come out as critical thinking or problem solving, or so many other things that don’t seem as creative. In the end, I’m very glad I read this book, as it gave me some interesting insight into a singer whose music goes back as far as my marriage, and plenty of solid advice on writing, some of which I needed to hear even today. I recommend this book for Christians who are interesting in creating, no matter the form it takes.

Thank you to Netgalley and B&H Publishing Group for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: The Wounded Spirit

Finished Reading: The Wounded Spirit
by Frank Peretti

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian non-fiction

Wounded Spirit

I bought the book used without a dust jacket, so this was the best I could do for a picture.

Peretti shares with us the difficulty he went through growing up with a medical condition that caused a deformity requiring many surgeries over his first handful of years. Fighting against infections and dealing with the condition left his body unable to develop as it should, and he went through school years smaller than the rest of his classmates. This led to years of persecution by his peers, and Peretti who was left feeling like those in authority had failed him, forcing him into the situation where he was bullied regularly, unable to do much of anything about it.

I read this entire book in one afternoon, and I won’t pretend that it left me feeling happy. I went through a range of emotions while reading, which was mostly pity and sadness, but included elation when Peretti described a turning point for him, which simply took a teacher caring enough to ask if things were okay.

More than just an autobiography about this part of Peretti’s life, he discusses the failure of teachers and other authority figures to keep kids from going through the same type of thing. The mindset that “we all went through it, you can too” or “it’s just part of life” is a big part of what he addresses, saying that it’s not nearly enough reason to turn a blind eye. That kids (and even adults) who are bullied suffer long-term effects that can cause problems in future relationships, and can lead to the bullied later becoming the bully. There have been a lot more anti-bullying programs started in the 20 years since this was written, but it does still happen.

He even puts out a challenge for those who see themselves as the victims to examine their lives for times when they might have been the bully. Even just laughing along when friends or peers are making fun of someone makes us guilty. It’s a hard thing to think about, but it really made a difference for me.

This book gave me a whole new insight into and appreciation for my favorite author and his lovable nature, joviality, brilliance, insight, and heart for God. It also puts my own life into perspective. I recommend this book for…everyone, really.

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Book Review: Blessed Are the Misfits

Finished Reading: Blessed Are the Misfits
by Brant Hansen

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living

Blessed

Maybe you’re an extrovert. Maybe you go to church and totally fit in, never wonder if you don’t belong, never feel like others must be closer to God than you are. Radio show host Brant Hansen wrote this book for the rest of us. If you don’t understand modern church culture, feel like you must be missing something because you don’t feel the emotions others feel, maybe you’re not a good enough Christian, this book might just help. For the introverts, the outcasts, the spiritually numb, the misfits–this book might just change your life.

I knew from Brant’s radio show & podcast that he knows exactly what its like to feel out of touch with Christian church culture. In the book, he shows even more that he has every reason to feel disenfranchised and skeptical about even the existence of God. And yet, that is exactly what has led him to believe and trust in God. He shares some stories from his life, some of which had me laughing so much! (Seriously, the flute & folding chair incident never gets old, even though I’m sure it must have been terrible for him in the moment.)

One of my favorite things that he talks about in the book is the concept of “together, yet apart” in regards to our relationship with God. There’s so much about the Bible that we don’t really get because we don’t understand the culture back then, the people it was initially addressed to, or even the geography. Brant explains the betrothal period for Jewish couples, and equates that to us and God, and it can put your entire life into a whole new perspective!

More than just making me feel better knowing that I’m not alone in feeling like a misfit in church culture (and even in non-church culture), some of what Brant has to say really opened my eyes to my responsibility. For example, as an Aspie (someone who has Asperger’s syndrome), Brant has much more cause to stay away from people than I do–more reason to not fit in, not understand. And yet, he explains how he has to make a conscious effort to interact. To love people. I’ve never really bothered to do that. There’s also a whole section about bumping up against someone and seeing what kind of “fruit” falls off them, which can show you who they really are, not who they claim to be. I know that the responses I produce in moments like that are not always positive. I want my fruit to be loving, generous, and kind.

There’s so much more than I can go into in my review, but trust me, if any of this makes any kind of sense to you, make sure you read this book. He speaks simply and honestly, makes some really good points, and uses the Bible to back it all up. I recommend this book for all Christians, because even if you don’t feel like a misfit, it might help you to understand those around you who do. And even if you’re not a Christian or just don’t think the book will be for you, I suggest you check out The Brant & Sherri Oddcast.

Side note: My paperback is actually signed by Brant. My family went to a book event with both him and Producer Sherri. I asked him to sign as Tostare (Latin for toast).

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Book Review: I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus

Finished Reading: I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus
by Sherri Lynn

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Humor, Christian

I want to punch you.png

Radio show producer Sherri Lynn breaks the cultural taboo to not only discuss PMS, but to help women understand that they are not alone. Rather than pretend it doesn’t happen, or act like it’s not that big of a deal, or even accept that we women just need to handle it on our own, Sherri assures us that what is happening is real, it is a physical strain on our bodies, and it’s okay to acknowledge that.

I have been looking forward to reading this ever since I first heard about it, and it did not disappoint. Sherri Lynn is so funny even when she’s not talking about something that I relate so well to. The book is also filled with plenty of interesting insight as Sherri covers the basic topics associated with PMS like anger, tears, and cravings.

She speculates about PMS-influenced actions in the Bible, which I would love to know the truth about some day, because she makes some very good points. And there’s even a chapter about the men in our lives and how they don’t get it (but it’s not their fault) and often just want to help.

I really loved this book and while I didn’t relate to everything (I don’t lose control quite as badly as she does, for example), it was still on point. I have a feeling I will re-read it many times, and I will definitely pass it on to my female family members and friends. I recommend this to every woman, and honestly would suggest it be read by any man who wishes he could understand just a bit more and wants to know how he can help the woman in his life.

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