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Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look

Emily T. Wierenga. Baker, $14.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-8010-1656-1

Canadian blogger and journalist Wierenga addresses eating disorders and parental illness in this meandering, uneven memoir. Maddeningly, the book is not organized chronologically—darts from 2007, to 1998, to the early 1980s and back again. The patient reader who is willing to piece things together will learn that Wierenga grew up in a Christian family and developed an eating disorder at age 9; that her maternal grandmother committed suicide and her mother developed brain cancer; and that after marrying her late-adolescent love, Trenton, Wierenga eventually moved home to care for her mother. There are some well-written scenes: descriptions of her sexually awkward wedding night, as well as tending to her sick mother. But Wierenga has an unfortunate taste for slightly off-key imagery coupled with breathless sentence structure: "it all caught in the back of my throat, all the love songs and all the loneliness, it caught like a big wad of gum." At the end of the book, the reader will have traveled to a lot of places, but will not really know what the journey has added up to. (July)

Reviewed on 08/08/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Real Good Church: How Our Church Came Back From The Dead, and Yours Can, Too

Molly Phinney Baskette. Pilgrim, $20 trade paper (228p) ISBN 978-0-8298-2002-7

With down-to-earth wisdom and humor, Baskette tells the story of how First Church Somerville, UCC transformed from a community of 35 worshippers on a financially dismal trajectory into a thriving, fiscally stable congregation four times that size in one decade. In twelve chapters with multiple subheadings Baskette, the congregation's pastor, addresses what worked and what didn't (the last chapter is entitled "Epic Failures"), covering how she and her church leadership addressed such issues as property, pastoral care, outreach, stewardship, conflict, and more. Whether the challenge relates to worship, finances, or Sunday School teachers, she advises church leaders to play the role of "Doomsday Pollyanna": communicating both urgent need for action and confidence in positive outcomes. Key themes get repeated mention: celebrate, bless everything, communicate an open and affirming welcome to people of all sexual orientations, spend money to grow. Sound, practical advice on everything from coffee hour to electronic giving, along with an appendix including recommended reading, sample job descriptions, liturgies, guest cards, and sermons makes this an invaluable, accessible resource for clergy and laity passionate about church revitalization. (July)

Reviewed on 08/08/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus

Benjamin L. Corey. Destiny Image, $15.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-7684-8890-6

Formerly Fundie blogger Corey spits out a lukewarm, "watered-down" American Christianity for something spicier and unadulterated. When challenged by his wife to take his truisms to seminary, Corey made his way to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary near Boston, where his encounter with an "undiluted Jesus" placed him in danger of becoming "a little too ‘liberal'," he writes, "since living like Jesus caused me to move in a right-to-left trajectory." In a breezy style, Corey aims his conversion story toward a younger conservative Christian audience "hungry for a Jesus that's a little more applicable and a little more radical than what they're being served up by the American church." Using Bible study and personal stories, he examines 12 Christian themes, including community, change, justice, forgiveness, loyalty, and identity. One anecdote about an adoption gone wrong demonstrates the sincerity of Corey's memoir and the depth of his faith, which leads him as far as a Peruvian orphanage. While exhibiting some weaknesses common to a first book, this nonetheless establishes Corey's voice within the emergent church movement. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/08/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Changing Lives, Making History: Congregation Beit Simchat Torah The First Forty Years

Ayelet S. Cohen. Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (www.cbst.org), $50 (320p) ISBN 978-0-9794009-1-9

This history of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, a thriving synagogue for gays and lesbians in New York City that is the most influential of its kind, begins with an ad in The Village Voice offering Friday night services in a church basement, takes readers through the AIDS crisis and the loss of many of the congregation's key members, and CBST's search for a rabbi and a home, among many other hurdles. The accounting ends at the 40th anniversary of its founding, by which time CBST has become one of the most intellectually serious, spiritually vibrant, and socially involved synagogues in the country by all counts, appealing to many different types of people, at all ages and stages of life. It includes an accounting of CBST's impact on gay rights, and on the acceptance of GLBT people in the general and Jewish communities. Narrated clearly, and creatively laid out, this retrospective's enormous detail is an asset rather than a burden to the reader, allowing a full appreciation of the impact of this remarkable synagogue. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/08/2014 | Details & Permalink

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