Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Unique Calling

Last week I read a book that I enjoyed.  I began reading the book cautiously, but with curiosity.  The author's unique life experience intrigued me and I wanted to hear what God had taught her and what conclusions she arrived at along the way.

The book is a surprisingly popular book.  It has unexpectedly gained national recognition because of three interviews with the author on Family Life Today in September and there are over three hundred reviews of the book on Amazon with only five reviews giving the book under 3 stars (and one of them isn't a real review because the review doesn't agree with the rating).  That says something about the book.

The book is The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey Into Christian Faith by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield.  The book has been talked about by John Piper, Family Life Today, World Magazine, and many other Christian media sources.  I'm sure it's all over the blog rolls, actually.

I have to be honest, I didn't know that there was so much attention being given to this book before I read it.  But, after I finished, I went looking around.  I started with Amazon and the reviews posted for the book.  There were over 340 reviews with only 5 under 3 stars. That's actually far better than I expected it to be.  There is a particular issue that the Ms. Butterfield touches on that I knew could really incite people to comment negatively on her book--whether they'd read it or not.  One of the reviews was actually misrated, so I considered there only to be 4 real, negative reviews.  The negative reviews, though, didn't surprise me.

Ms. Butterfield's book is the story of how she came to believe in Christ and the story of her reformed faith.  Her story begins when she was a tenured English professor at Syracuse University in New York.  She was a lesbian women's studies professor.  This book is her story--her testimony.  I began reading the book knowing these basic facts about her.  I was curious to see how she would address homosexuality and Christianity.

In her interview with Family Life Today, she explains that she doesn't see her homosexuality as the crux of her conversion.  But, I understand why many people are reading it simply because she addresses this issue.  She addresses many more issues of faith than homosexuality, though.  She tells the story of how it was the relationships she had with people that God used to bring her to Him.  She shares her thoughts about faith, life, and church.  I don't want to share too many details about what she writes, because it was how her book unfolded for me that drew me in.  

She tells her story well.  She was an English professor.  Her book is very well organized, thought out, and clearly conveyed.  There are lots of big, descriptive words--in all the right places.  What I mean is that the reading level of this book is appropriate for a high school or college student, rather than a middle school student.  In reading so many books over the past few years, I've noticed that many authors use simple sentence structures and common descriptive words to convey their ideas.  Ms. Butterfield stays true to her literature professor roots and writes as one would expect of her.  

Before I finish this review, I want to address the four negative reviews on Amazon.  They were all written by individuals that had been given this book by well meaning Christians.  The intention and hope behind these gifts (I presume) was that this book would open the eyes of the receivers to Christ's love for them.  But, the giving of this book to someone who is homosexual is the opposite of the example that this author's story is for believers.  Ms. Butterfield's testimony is about the relationships in her life and how they shaped her and her faith.  It is about how God used people in her life--not to preach at her, but to first listen to her with respect, and then discuss faith with her when she was ready.  No one handed her a gospel tract or the four spiritual laws.  A local pastor asked her a question and invited her over to dinner at his home.  He built relationships with her and the people in her life.

One of the questions that students consider when analyzing literature is who the intended audience of a book is and what is the author's purpose.  I believe the author's intended audience is other Christians and that her purpose is to inform.  I don't believe the author's purpose is to persuade.  She is very strong in her opinions and states clearly why she believes what she does.  But, these are her convictions.  For example, I can imagine that some readers may feel put off by her exposition about why she feels only psalms should be sung in church.  This is a worship practice specific to the RPCNA, the denomination of which she is a member.  I see this book as Rosaria Butterfield's memoir, testimony, and philosophy about life all rolled into one.  We each could give one.  We all have our own convictions, too.  We are not identical to one another.  It's even scriptural.  I am okay knowing that she feels strong convictions about foster care and adoption.  I am okay that she feels strongly about psalm singing.  I am okay that she has certain convictions about the way the world works that I don't share with her.  When I read this book, I felt like I was getting to know someone--learning who she is, what has shaped her, and how God is working in her life.  This book isn't meant to be a Christian "How to" about anything.  It's a testimony, a collection of thoughts, written with the desire to give the reader something to chew on.

Would I recommend this book?  Yes.  Unequivocally yes.  I hope you will enjoy it.  I'd love to discuss it with you if you read it!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher Crown and Covenant Publications.

Weird feeling

Sometimes I watch a movie that leaves me feeling...  well, I don't really...  just weird!  Someone asked me this weekend about the movie Silver Linings Playbook.  The person thought I might have seen it.  I hadn't.  I knew the basic plot of the movie and I felt like it could go either way--I could either really like it or really hate it.  There were some details of the story that you know going into it that made me a little uncomfortable about the characters.

So, I watched it today.  Granted, I did fast forward some clips.  But, I watched most of it.  At the end, I didn't feel better than I did before I watched it.  I felt puzzled.  I am still trying to figure out the message in the movie and what the author and director believe.

Here's my thought.  The movie seems to say that we just have to take people as they are.  Our world tells us this constantly.  I am who I am.  Love me the way I want to be loved.  

Tonight I was talking to one of my brother in laws who had seen the movie.  I have wanted to talk to someone all week who has seen it and hear what they thought of it.  It was interesting to hear his view of it.

He said that there's a lot of movies today that want to be "true to life".  And this film falls in that category.  Most of these films, though, end up with the main characters just slightly (if at all) better off than at the beginning of the film.  He felt this film did have a happy ending because it was a contrast to the other films he's seen of this type.  I can definitely understand why he'd say this.

One of the parts of the film that unsettled me was how the characters talk to each other.  I just don't talk to people the way the characters do in the film.  And I wouldn't.  The film is set in Philadelphia, an east coast city.  My brother in law explained that that's just how east coasters talk--which I knew from a friend who grew up in Jersey.  I grew up on the West Coast.  He said people on the west coast are passive aggressive.  I wasn't sure what to say--I think I might have disagreed.  But, later my husband explained to me how folks in LA are passive aggressive.  I have to be honest--I had never thought of this way.  So, let me explain.

He explained that the entire social culture of LA, in which you'll be nice to someone to their face and then talk behind their back is passive aggressive.  I could see his point.  He's right that a lot of emphasis is put on appearances.  I just hadn't thought of it as passive aggressive.  He went on to explain that in New York, your friends will be direct and tell you like it is--they won't be gentle or say one thing to you and another to someone else.  

Hmmm...  Something to think about.  This one little piece of the puzzle helped me make a little more sense of Silver Linings Playbook.  The weird feeling in my stomach settled down a little.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The saga continues...

I've known many women who read all of the books in a series.  Karen Kingsbury is known for writing book series with five to eight books in them.  Series typically drive me crazy because they leave me hanging at the end of the book and I have to wait for the next one.  That happened to me with the Cedar Keys novels.  The books were released so far apart that I couldn't remember what had happened in the other books and who was who.  It was quite frustrating for me.  

When Jen Turano began her series of books that began with A Change of Fortune, I wondered how the series would go.  The first one was a funny melodrama and I had high hopes that this would be a fun, lighthearted series to read.  The first book turned out, in my opinion to be the best one of the series.  The others seemed to all follow the same kind of formula revolving around the same families (which I did like), which seemed to be entirely (entirely!) predictable.  I missed the humor from the first novel in the other books.  

I just finished reading the most recent edition to this series, A Talent for Trouble.  This story centers on Miss Felicia Murdock.  This young woman is crushed when the minister she had been pining for marries another woman.  She's actually quite a spunky lady who has suppressed her own outgoing personality for four years in hopes of being the demure woman the minister might choose to court.  Alas, she was not and the beginning of the novel finds her quite crushed in spirit.  From there, she sets out to remake herself into who she really is--a talkative, bubbly, energetic twenty-something young woman.  Her wardrobe and behavior lose the demureness that had shrouded them for the past four years.  Along the way, Grayson Sumner comes into the picture.  He consistently ends up in her path day after day.  Several times he rescues her from her own naive behavior.  And so the story goes on...

This is a historical Christian romance novel like all the Lori Wick novels and others that are out there.  The focus of this novel definitely more on the romantic element than the historical one.  A Talent for Trouble, like its predecessor A Most Peculiar Circumstance, did not live up to the enjoyment I had in reading A Change of Fortune.  These are stand alone novels and do not need to all be read in order to be understood, but the same characters are linked through the stories.  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House Publishing.