Book Review: Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower by Tom Krattenmaker

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Tom Krattenmaker is part of a growing conversation centered at Yale University that acknowledges—and seeks to address—the abiding need for meaning and inspiration in post-religious America. What, they ask, gives a life meaning? What constitutes a life well led?

In Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower, Krattenmaker shares his surprising conclusion about where input and inspiration might best be found: in the figure of Jesus. And Jesus, not only as a good example and teacher, but Jesus as the primary guide for one’s life.

Drawing on sociological research, personal experience, and insights from fifteen years studying and writing on religion in American public life, Krattenmaker shows that in Jesus, nonreligious people like himself can find unique and compelling wisdom on how to honor the humanity in ourselves and others, how to build more peaceful lives, how generosity can help people and communities create more abundance, how to break free from self-defeating behaviors, and how to tip the scales toward justice.

In a time when more people than ever are identifying as atheist or agnostic, Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower is a groundbreaking and compelling work that rediscovers Jesus–and our own best selves–for the world of today.

Before I mention anything else: if you are a professing, practicing Christian, this is probably not the book for you.  Krattenmaker is not a Christian himself, and is open about this.  He evens explicitly mentions that since he is not a Christian, he is fine with taking parts of a whole from the Jesus story and learning from those parts alone (ie, not in context with the entirety of the Bible).  He tries to take more of a historical, sociological perspective than an internal one.  But if it is against your beliefs to study the Jesus story this way, this book will likely make you more angry than anything.

That said, I enjoyed this.  Krattenmaker takes Jesus out of the Christian context and studies what has been written about him in order to gain some perspective for his own life.  The book is separated into topics such as sexuality, religious tolerance, and politics, and Krattenmaker uses specific anecdotes from the Gospels to illustrate how Jesus reacted to different situations.  The overall message is that Jesus acted differently than most humans tend to.  While we separate the world into “us” versus “them,” Jesus didn’t see it that way, and treated everyone individually.  In his eyes, every single person had value, and he interacted with them as such.  That, Krattenmaker says, is what all humans should strive for.

So if I liked it, why did I just give it 3 stars?  For starters, Krattenmaker tends to repeat himself.  Some things do bear repeating, but it felt to me like he kept restating the same few ideas over and over.  Perhaps this is because he used only 4 books from the Bible — the Gospels — but then, this makes sense because those are the only primary accounts of Jesus’ actual life.  The rest of the Bible deals with events before and after.  So even though I liked what Krattenmaker had to say, I found myself skimming the book after the first few pages of each chapter.

As for the final verdict, I would recommend this to anyone struggling with religion or lack of it.  This book can be used as a jumping-off point for those who are floundering.  It highlights the fact that Jesus really is a great example for everyone, even if the Christian church isn’t always.  If taken to heart, the principles detailed allow for the better understanding of others, and that’s never a bad thing.  This is something I would even give to a Christian who is disheartened or dissatisfied with their faith.  Taking Jesus out of the religious context, while definitely not orthodox, can be a good reminder of why Christianity began in the first place.

This book was provided to me for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review.  Image from Goodreads.

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Book Review: Liar by Rob Roberge

4.5

Amazon Synopsis:

When Rob Roberge learns that he’s likely to have developed a progressive memory-eroding disease from years of hard living and frequent concussions, he is terrified by the prospect of becoming a walking shadow. In a desperate attempt to preserve his identity, he sets out to (somewhat faithfully) record the most formative moments of his life—ranging from the brutal murder of his childhood girlfriend, to a diagnosis of rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, to opening for famed indie band Yo La Tengo at The Fillmore in San Francisco. But the process of trying to remember his past only exposes just how fragile the stories that lay at the heart of our self-conception really are.
 
As Liar twists and turns through Roberge’s life, it turns the familiar story of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll on its head. Darkly funny and brutally frank, it offers a remarkable portrait of a down and out existence cobbled together across the country, from musicians’ crashpads around Boston, to seedy bars popular with sideshow freaks in Florida, to a painful moment of reckoning in the scorched Wonder Valley desert of California.  As Roberge struggles to keep addiction and mental illness from destroying the good life he has built in his better moments, he is forced to acknowledge the increasingly blurred line between the lies we tell others and the lies we tell ourselves.

Rob Roberge is naturally good at storytelling, and man, does he have a story to tell.  As the title suggests, he’s always told stories in one form or another, and often had to make up stories for himself or rely on other people’s just to make sense of his life.  This memoir, however, is a collection of truth — a desperate attempt to clarify and preserve what he hopes are the truest recollections of his most pivotal moments.

Reading this book almost feels like an invasion of Roberge’s mind.  He is completely open about his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, which screw up his already severely bipolar brain.  Reading the book, I felt, was the closest thing to taking a peek inside his head, and it’s not pretty.  His constant struggle for control over his own brain colors every moment of his life — how he feels emotion, how he perceives other people, and how he makes decisions.  His words pulled me down into his head, but even with his excellent writing, I’ll never know exactly what it’s like to have to work as hard as he does just to function.

As sad as his story is, I am thankful that Roberge spent the time and energy needed to write and publish this memoir.  In addition to being a fascinating read, I believe that it’s an extremely good example of how mental illness works, and can definitely be used to show that mental illness isn’t a choice; that it’s something that Roberge had to learn to live with.  Readers can take away an inkling of what it’s like to live with mental illness, and hopefully come away from the book with a better understanding of how to support those with illnesses like Roberge’s.

In short, it’s a somewhat depressing read, because many pivotal moments in Roberge’s life weren’t happy ones.  But it’s extremely well-written, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in knowing how other people think.

I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

4starsA Girl is a Half Formed Thing

Amazon Synopsis:

In scathing, furious, unforgettable prose, Eimear McBride tells the story of a young girl’s devastating adolescence as she and her brother, who suffers from a brain tumor, struggle for a semblance of normalcy in the shadow of sexual abuse, denial, and chaos at home. Plunging readers inside the psyche of a girl isolated by her own dangerously confusing sexuality, pervading guilt, and unrelenting trauma, McBride’s writing carries echoes of Joyce, O’Brien, and Woolf.  A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is a revelatory work of fiction, a novel that instantly takes its place in the canon.

Sometimes, we look at people and we see how they live and we wonder what, exactly, is going on in their minds.  But if given the chance, would we really want to know?

McBride’s raw, edgy novel is an extremely inside look at the life of a girl from her childhood to her young adult years, as she deals with relationships  and family and the struggle to live a normal life.  Written in a stream of consciousness, it gives the reader a completely unobscured look at her mind.  The reader sees events only through her thoughts and emotions as she thinks and feels them.  It’s an incredibly unique style, a story told in fragments and pieces that the reader must put together.

It took me a few tries to get into the novel, because it was written so differently than anything I’ve ever read.  But once I was into it, I was hooked.  The story is shocking from the beginning and only gets more so as it goes on.  Choices she makes and choices that are made for her escalate and turn her into the young woman she becomes, and eventually threaten to destroy her.  I was both saddened and frustrated for the character, whose name we never find out, as she makes mistakes and tries to change but inevitably returns again and again to the vices she knows are killing her.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing did not give me warm fuzzies when I put it down.  Because of the dark nature and utter hopelessness of the prose, I don’t know if it’s one I will ever return to.  What I do know is that if a fictionalized mind can be that dark and hopeless, how much more can a living human mind feel that way too?

With this astounding work of literary fiction, McBride reminds us that people are not always what they seem on the outside.

I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Mission Statement

With a name like Mission:Incomplete, you’d think I would have a mission statement of sorts to go along with my blog.  But I began blogging in 2012, and have yet to really narrow my focus.  Now is the time to fix that!

Why am I blogging?

  • I love to write.  Blogging is a great way to keep up my skills when I’m tired of writing school papers and don’t have the time or patience for fiction.
  • I love to read.  You can’t blog without reading other blogs.  Through my WordPress reader, I’ve found blogs that deal with things I never thought I’d be interested in, and they’re easy to drink up in the space of fifteen minutes — great when life is busy.
  • I love to talk.  Blogging is a community, and blogging has opened me up to people who actually want to listen to my thoughts and ideas.  I also love discovering and reading about people who live very differently than I do, or are at a different stage of life.

What do I blog about?

Since I started, I’ve written about a huge variety of things.  Mission:Incomplete began as a sewing blog primarily, and morphed into a smorgasbord of my thoughts.  Reviewing books has been one of my absolute favorite things to do, and I plan to continue that.  The plan is to blog about books primarily, but I’ll also post about an upcoming trip this summer (which I’m very excited about!), and will most likely continue to post occasional sewing tutorials and mini-essays when I find myself pondering something.

Goals for the Upcoming Year

  1. Review at least three books from Waterbrook Multnomah
  2. Review at least three books I’ve already read or am reading for pleasure
  3. Post once a week for my upcoming trip

This post is the first task in WordPress’ Blogging 101!  I’ll be balancing these daily tasks with exams all week, and I’m excited to begin!

Forpy: Smooth Road

Pits

  • Whoa. . .high school is almost over.  I’m not bummed about finishing, because believe me, I’m ready to get out.  But this is one chapter of my life that can never be lived again.
  • Certain people were really getting on my nerves this week, and then I complain, and then I know I shouldn’t and then I feel guilty for complaining.

Peaks

  • I finished my second-to-last subject last Thursday.  :D
  • My new job has been going great!  I’m learning quickly and it’s a lot of fun so far.  
  • Finally received my book from Waterbrook Multnomah — look for the review in a few weeks!
  • Got to spend some time with a friend who I haven’t really talked to in ages.  ♥
  • I will have some time this summer to work on one of my goals — getting published before I graduate college.  Time to sift through all my old, forgotten, unfinished stories.

Prayers

  • Of course, prayers go up for all the people in Boston and in Texas.  
  • The boy in my Sunday school class whose father died after a long illness.
  • I hope my economics studying pays off in May.

Praises

  • God found me a job I will enjoy.
  • Have I mentioned high school is almost over?

Life’s pretty good (see title).  Of course, as I write these, I think of all these things I wish I had done better this week, like studying more (ahem) and exercising and eating better.  But that’s what this post is for, right?  I look back and see what I can do better.  

Self Challenge:  This week, I will study more than I will slack off.  I will practice my flute, because I CAN overcome this tone issue that my braces have caused.  I will exercise to keep myself healthy and I will try to cut down on the junk food.

Discoveries and Nominations

I follow lots of blogs on WordPress, but one of my favorite blogs I receive by email.  Emily Rachelle Writes is a blog by Emily, and this girl is a hard-core blogger.  For real.  She posts two or three times a week, with really interesting stuff like Pinterest projects and photo posts.  I really admire her and love that she blends her lifestyle posts with things are interesting to anyone and everyone.

Recently she posted on book blogging, and with this post she changed my life.  But really, I had been looking for something to post regularly on my blog.  I love writing blog posts, but a lot of times I hesitate to post about my personal life.  However, I love to read and give out my opinion, so what better thing to post than book reviews?  Thank you, Emily!

I’ve signed up with Waterbrook Multnomah’s Blogging for Books program, and my first book is in transit as I type.  I am thrilled.

So, be on the lookout for regular posts — starting this week I’m going to begin posting once a week.  As for what those will be about, your guess is as good as mine.  :)  And in a few weeks, my first book review will be up.

To show my appreciation for Emily Rachelle’s genius, I would like to nominate her for the Versatile Blogger Award.  (I’m not sure if this is done between different blogging sites — she uses Google Blogger; I use WordPress — but if it wasn’t done before, it is now.  She definitely deserves it!)

See the rules for this award here.