The following are a continuation of the first Summer Reads section. These are the relevant books (related to peace, social justice, and Anabaptism) that I read and posted reviews for in 2011 for the Tyndale Bookworm Challenge.
1) Identity and Faith By: Maurice Martin (97 pages)
Review: I have been told that this book used to be our catechetical book used for preparing Mennonite young adults to undergo baptism. Even though it was a hard core read (as all of our discipleship material seems to be), I actually found it to be accessible and easy to read Maybe that is just because I am a Mennonite though. It really helped me to further understand some of our views on how we perceive youth, how we value membership, and what we believe on conversion though. The conversion chapter was really good as it answered a lot of the questions I previously had. We don’t use this book any more (in fact, they haven’t used it in about 10 years), but I still think it’s a valuable read for any young adult wanting to join the Mennonite denomination.
2) Brides of Lancaster County Book 1: A Merry Heart By: Wanda E. Brunstetter (287 pages)
Review: Miriam is a great teacher of an Amish one room school house, who is not married and has a very bitter outlook on life because she was hurt once by a man who she thought loved her. When Amos (a fellow Amish) tries to court her after the death of his own wife, Miriam constantly refuses and thinks he is only wanting to get married so he can have a live in housekeeper and someone to care for his only daughter, Mary Ellen. Miriam loves Mary Ellen, but does not have feelings of love towards Amos. On top of that, there is a strange Englishman who flirts with her to add to the mix. Miriam eventually does marry Amos, but it takes her a long time before she can find healing and realize that not all men act like her ex did. This book was an interesting read. It was captivating, and even though it was a love story, it wasn’t overly mushy. In fact, it had a very great Biblical point to be made in terms of how Christ heals us even when we face something really traumatic. Complete with a recipe for Miriam’s Chunky Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies at the back.
3) Brides of Lancaster County Book 2: Looking for a Miracle By: Wanda E. Brunstetter (288 Pages)
Review: This book is a continuation of the last one, but focuses on Miriam’s niece, Rebekah who was injured in a terrible accident and became crippled as a result. Rebekah longs to be able to do things that other young women her age do, most of all being able to court and possibly to get married and have children some day. But is that possible with her disability? Join Rebekah in her journey of discovering how to get through life in a wheelchair and whether love is indeed still possible. One thing that I found interesting between Brunstetter’s books and Lewis’s books is that Lewis stresses that the Amish do not have a personal relationship with Christ and do not read the Bible for themselves, whereas Brunstetter asserts the Amish as having a personal relationship with Christ and knowing the Bible verses very well – even committing them to memory. As A Mennonite, I know that Lewis’s take is more accurate to the Amish way, unless of course Brunstetter is writing of the more liberal branch of Amish such as “The New Order” or the “Beachys”. Either way, it is interesting to compare both author’s writings.
4) Brides of Lancaster County Book 3: Plain and Fancy By: Wanda E. Brunstetter (288 pages)
Review: To be honest, I never thought I would be one to read romance novels, but this series seems to be holding my fascination and interest. I’m not sure if that’s just because of my connection with the Mennonite church or what. But I find that these novels aren’t your typical sappy love affair type book, instead they hold an honest and sincere outlook on life that refreshingly moves way beyond the physical and instead focuses on how we can only truly be happy in a relationship when we have Christ. Wow, that was just a huge run-on sentence. Book three is about an English woman going to school for interior design who find a handsome young Amish man attractive. The only problem is, one of them has to be willing to give up their lifestyle, and it sure isn’t going to be the Amish one. Is Laura (the English woman) willing to give up everything she’s ever known and her spoiled lifestyle in order to be with the man of her dreams? Read this book and find out what her final decision is and how it will forever impact her life.
5) Brides of Lancaster Country By: Wanda E. Brunstetter (286 pages)
Review: When young Anna decides to leave the faith in order to marry another Amish man who has chosen to become English, it tears the entire family apart…. and it takes a tragedy to bring the family back together. A tale of what it means to forgive someone and how it pains the Amish when they have to shun their own flesh and blood. This book was good, just like the other books I have read by Brunstetter, but I have to say that I enjoyed this book less than the other three I have read by her. For one, it seemed really sappy and also predictable. I didn’t find that the lessons of character were as prominent in this one.
6) The Forbidden By: Beverly Lewis (350 pages)
Review: This is a book about an Amish girl and an Amish boy who fall in love with each other much to the boy’s father’s disapproval. The girl’s family has joined the “New Order” which is considered worldly by the Amish people, but will she stay true to her roots and to her love or will she become just like her folk? This book was interesting to me mostly because of my background with the Mennonite church and knowing about our roots and how the Amish are our first cousins. It was interesting to hear again things that I’ve heard before about their faith but in a novel setting particularly when it comes to how they view personal salvation. It did take me a while to fully engage in the story, though, and I don’t think Lewis’s style of writing is one that really appeals to me. It might also have been because this book was by and large a romance novel and I’ve never really been one for sappy love tales, but the end held a very unexpected twist which was part of what made it interesting. Also, this was the second book in this particular series, so perhaps if I read the first book first it might have been more interesting. There were good parts of the book, it just wasn’t entirely my thing.
7) The following is a very controversial Mennonite book. I do not want to paint a bad picture of the Anabaptists. Many of them are actually fairly open to ideas and concepts which are different than their own. Several Anabaptists are even interested in exploring charismatic expressions. This book simply tells one man’s experience at a certain time period (many years ago).
Following the Fire By: Gerald Derstine (As Told By: Joanne Derstine Layman) (277 pages)
Review: Rev. Gerald Derstine, is your typical Mennonite. He does not wear flashy suits and thinks ties are worldly. His wife wears the traditional head covering and a simple long dress. They are both instructed heavily in Mennonite history, follow a long list of rules that the church determines, and do what they can to stay in “God’s good graces”. But when Gerald accepts a pastorate (as chosen by lot) to be a pastor at Strawberry Lakes Mennonite Church in a small Mennonite village in Minnesota things change for him and his family. He prays for revival, and that’s exactly what happens… just not the way Gerald wanted it. Instead, the Holy Spirit manifests itself through speaking prophesies, speaking in tongues, and doing other miraculous things through the Holy Spirit. Gerald is at a loss and thinks it is of the Devil, until those same prophecies come true and end up benefiting the church. The bishop comes for a visit, a strongly cautions him that this is “not the Mennonite way”. Should he simply acknowledge that these events never happened or that if they did they were a work of the devil, he can keep his job as pastor, if not, he will be shunned from the Mennonite community. One by one, those who experienced these events renounce them, being a Mennonite and part of the church is more important to them than what the Holy Spirit is doing. Gerald and his wife stand firm in their convictions, get shunned, and then end up having to move away from the community with one promise that God gives them “they do not understand now, but they will later.” Gerald has an incredible burden for his people, but it is not God’s timing yet. But in the end, they are reconciled with the church when the church finally sees the Lord’s Hand in all this. I found this book fascinating since I’ve been wondering a lot about speaking in tongues and the Holy Spirit since coming to Tyndale. The book is also incredibly honest about what it means to be a Mennonite including how they generally feel about these kinds of things.
PEACE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
The Devil in Pew Number Seven By: Rebecca Nichols Alonzo (263 pages)
Review: If you have ever wondered if you could forgive someone who wronged you or persecuted you, you should read this book. Rebecca is a woman who saw more religious persecution in her childhood than most other people have. When she moves into a new town, a man from the church gets very violent towards her family and tries to make them leave in any way he can (including by inflicting personal danger to them). When Rebecca is a little bit older, she receives a phone call from this man who is out of jail now and he asks for her forgiveness and says he is now saved. But now Rebecca is faced with a hard choice – should she forgive this man who had a reign of terror on her and her family or should she tell him how much damage he caused to all of them? A tragic story that is beautifully written. I know of few authors who are as good with crafting words as she is (except maybe for Margaret Roberts :P). The crazy thing about this story is that it is ALL true. As scary, shocking, or down right weird as some details are, every single thing mentioned happened. I can’t believe any man who goes to church could be so cruel. If this isn’t a testimony to the saving grace of Jesus, I don’t know what is.
GENERAL CHRISTIAN READS
1) Shades of Blue By: Karen Kingsbury (317 pages)
Review: This book was suggested to me by a woman I worked with at the Pregnancy Centre last year because it deals with a very relevant topic: post-abortive syndrome. In this novel I could really feel that characters’ pain and my heart went out to them. Kingsbury also shares a bit of her testimony at the end of the book – about how when she was 17 years old she drove her friend to an abortion clinic instead of being there for her. At times the book seemed to keep repeating itself, but it was largely well written and took into account how serious abortion is. The best part about it, though, was that in the end all the characters received healing from God and experienced true forgiveness. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the topic, but it is hard to read because of the emotional impact.
2) The Ragamuffin Gospel: Visual Edition (57 pages) By: Brennan Manning
Review: Margaret said my books could count as long as they are 50 pages or more :p. Excellent book! It really recounts the Gospel of grace and explains that Jesus is not just for perfect people, but for people who are shattered, broken, and in need of a healer. It was a really encouraging book and I would recommend it.
3) Sorting It Out (Discerning God’s Call to Ministry) (117 pages) By: Alice Cullinan
Review: For anyone wanting to explore whether God is leading them into full time or bivocational church ministry, this book helps answers some of your questions. It explains the different jobs that are available and requirements for each and how to know what a call is and when you are experiencing one. I got this book as a gift from a professor back in grade 11 when I went to a “theological summer camp”. It’s a good book for that kind of thing. Though I appreciate more now that I’m in university and facing graduation next year.