Quilt of Souls by Phyllis Biffle Elmore — Book Review

When Phyllis Biffle was 4 years old, she was sent to live with her grandmother, Lula Horn, in rural Alabama. It was a difficult transition for her, a life completely different from the one she had known in Detroit. There was no electricity, no friends to play with, no indoor plumbing. However, her grandmother had one thing in abundance — love. Gradually Phyllis came to treasure the time spent with Lula, especially the time spent creating “soul quilts.” Each quilt Lula created contained pieces of fabric from the clothing of special people. She was often asked to make a quilt when somebody died, using scraps that their relatives remembered and associated with the deceased. As Lula quilted, she told Phyllis stories about the people who were represented in the quilt. She makes a special quilt for Phyllis, a quilt that contained not just fabric but precious memories of family members and friends.

Phyllis learned many things from her grandmother, and the most important lesson was to forgive. In Lula’s words:

“… Grandma never wants you to look at the bad in folks and go backward. I wants you to look at the good in them and go forward. If you just look at the bad, you gone find ‘xactly what you lookin’ for. Even the worst folks got a speck of good; you jus’ got to find it.”

The stories Lula told about her family included difficult times — slavery, forced separations, early deaths, and mistreatment of many kinds. Through it all, her Christian faith inspired her to hope for the best, and to love and serve her family and neighbors.

VERDICT: 4 STARS. An inspirational read.

For more memoirs see these posts:

What is a Girl Worth by Rachael Denhollander–Book Review

No Cure for Being Human by Kate Bowler–Book Review

The Redemption of Bobby Love by Bobby and Cheryl Love–Book Review

How to Overcome Evil with Good

These suggestions are taken from a book I reviewed yesterday, Forgive by Tim Keller. He states we can only overcome evil with good by refraining from hurting the person who has harmed you. Here are some specific instructions for doing that:

  • Pray for them. It is hard to stay angry at someone if you are praying for them.
  • Forgive them. You may confront or even go to the law if necessary, but never in revenge.
  • Don’t avoid them. Act as kindly, as helpfully, as respectfully as you can, always seeking a relationship
  • Give them what they need, to whatever degree they allow. This means if there is an opportunity to do something for a wrongdoer, do it, but never in a way that enables them to abuse you.
  • Do it humbly. Forgiveness is a gift given by one sinner to another.

Forgiveness is never easy, but it is necessary. Without it no relationship, no society can continue.

“See to it that …. no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” Hebrews 12:15

For more about forgiveness see these posts:

Forgiveness Restores

A Definition of Forgiveness

A World Without Forgiveness

Forgive by Timothy Keller–Book Review

Timothy Keller’s latest book, like many others he has written, is thorough, spot-on, and completely biblical. In this one he dissects the thorny problem of forgiveness.

Beginning with the history of forgiveness, we learn that this concept was virtually unknown in the ancient world. Most cultures were based on honor and shame. To maintain honor, it was necessary to punish or extract retribution from enemies — to forgive would be to admit weakness. As our society loses the foundation provided by Christian morality, we seem to be reverting to this model, with a twist — now the focus is on victimization. Victims must be avenged at all costs, and everybody seems to be a victim or someone.

Keller does not shy away from the issue of justice — he explains how forgiveness does not mean allowing serious transgressions to go unpunished. He does point out that such punishment should be exacted to protect others and to lead the perpetrators to repentance. Forgiveness and justice can exist together.

He also describes the transactional aspect of forgiveness. When someone sins against us, it creates a debt, and when we forgive we pay that debt ourselves. It may not be a financial debt, but it costs us something. Isn’t that what Christ did for all of us? He provided justice, by paying the debt that we owed to God for our many failures. This should encourage us to extend the same forgiveness and mercy to others.

Finally, there are detailed and biblical instructions about how we are to forgive and if possible, reconcile with others. Different circumstances may require different approaches. At the end of the book, there are a number of very helpful appendices outlining practices to promote forgiveness and reconciliation, and listing biblical texts relating to forgiveness.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. I would love to study this book with a small group.

For more books by Tim Keller see these posts:

The Reason for God by Timothy Keller–Book Review

Ministries of Mercy by Timothy Keller — Book Review

Wisdom = Peace

I don’t seem to be done with the theme for September yet — wisdom. A book that I’m currently reading (Loving People Who are Hard to Love by Joyce Meyer) links wisdom with peace. She says:

“Humility and peace work together, and both are attributes of wisdom.”

If we are wise, we will strive to be peacemakers. As Peter puts it, we must “pursue peace.” How do we do this? Turn to the book of James for this advice:

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not wisdom that comes from above …. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” James 3:13-15; 17

This doesn’t mean we need to be door mats. It does mean that we should listen respectfully to those with whom we disagree, try to understand their point of view, admit our own prejudices, and be willing to forgive when necessary. If you can do this, you will reap the reward of “a harvest of righteousness “James 3:18.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9

For more about peace see these posts:

Acceptance = Peace

Peace Is a Practice by Morgan Harper Nichols–Book Review

Peacemaker or Peacekeeper?

What the Fireflies Knew by Kai Harris–Book Review

Kenyatta (KB) is an eleven-year-old girl on the cusp of becoming a young adult. She loves to read, and she loves her family. When her drug-addicted father dies of an overdose, life begins to fall apart. The family home is lost, her mother is suffering from clinical depression, and KB and her sister are sent to live with her maternal grandfather, who has been estranged from their mother for years.

This is a story of learning to understand others, to forgive and to move forward when tragedies strike. From her grandfather, KB learns about another book she comes to love (the Bible) and how Bible study can help us to navigate difficult times. Her grandfather tells her:

“The Bible is filled with stories, just like them books you always reading. But the stories are bout God, and they teach us how we should live our lives.”

At the end of a difficult summer, KB’s small family comes back together with renewed hope and faith in their future together.

VERDICT: 4 STARS. Not deep, but an easy and inspiring read with excellent characterization. A good book to take on vacation with you this year!

For more book reviews see:

The Seven Whispers by Christina Baldwin–Book Review

The Great Good Thing by Andrew Klavan — Book Review

Deeper by Dane C. Orland — Book Review

A Definition of Forgiveness

I came across this description of forgiveness in a book I’ve been reading, and I found it very helpful. Maybe you will, too Since the book isn’t specifically Christian, I’ve added my own words in bold to include my theological perspective..

Forgiveness is the act of admitting we are like other people.(we’re sinners). We are prone to make mistakes (sin) that cause confusion, inflict pain, and miscommunicate our intentions. We are the recipients of those human errors (sin) and the perpetrators (sinners). There is no way we can avoid hurting others or being hurt by others (sinning), because that is the nature of our imperfection (original sin). The only choice we have is to reconcile ourselves to our own flaws (sin) and the flaws (sin) of other people, or withdraw from the community (the church). If we choose to withdraw, we withdraw both from our humanness and from our connection to the sacred (God). Adapted from Life’s Companion by Christina Baldwin

This leads me to another thought, why do we go to such lengths to avoid the word, sin? It seems to be the one unacceptable word in our culture today. I guess that’s a topic for another post.

For more on forgiveness see:

A World Without Forgiveness

The Opportunity of Forgiveness

Forgiveness: It Does a Body Good

When to Doubt Your Religion

Hugh Black (March 26, 1868 – April 6, 1953) was a Scottish-American theologian and author. He was quoted in my daily devotional reading.

“We have cause to suspect our religion if it does not make us gentle, and forbearing and forgiving; if the love of our Lord does not so flood our hearts as to cleanse them of all bitterness, and spite, and wrath. If a man is nursing anger, if he is letting his mind become a nest of foul passions, malice, and hatred, and evil wishing, how dwelleth the love of God in him?

For more about forgiveness see:

The Opportunity of Forgiveness

A World Without Forgiveness

Forgiveness: It Does a Body Good

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger–Book Review

This is a book about loss and healing; forgiveness and acceptance; faith and pain. It’s the story of one summer in the life of a young teenage boy named Frank– a summer when several people die violent deaths, one of them his older sister, Ariel. This death shatters the family and the community in which they live. The mystery of who is responsible slowly unravels until Frank and his younger brother Jake discover the truth. Secrets are revealed and painful growth results.

Ordinary Grace: A Novel

Central to the story is Frank’s father, a Methodist minister, whose calm faith holds his family together as they navigate the process of grief. Even in the worst moments of despair, Frank and his family encounter small, “ordinary” miracles that lead them to God’s grace. Through the love of family and friends, God’s truth expressed in a sermon, the simple act of giving thanks, they begin to release their hurt and anger and continue living.

Well written and realistic, this book will likely become a favorite. It’s an easy read, but one that will make you grapple with important issues of the faith.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. I recommend it.

For more book reviews of fiction see:

Beyond the Storm by Carolyn Zane–Book Review

white picket fences by Susan Meissner–Book Review

The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton–Book Review

Christmas Every Morning by Lisa Tawn Bergren–Book Review

Christmas Every Morning by Lisa Tawn Bergren (2008-05-03)

If you are looking for an easy, escapist beach read this may be the book for you. Otherwise, pick something else.

++SPOILER ALERT++The plot is completely predictable. Ever since she can remember, Krista Mueller felt unloved by her mother (her father was not in the picture at all). For years, her mother has been cared for in a facility for Alzheimer patients, and Krista has not visited with her. Now, notified that her mother is dying, Krista returns to her home town of Taos, New Mexico, to make peace. She also reunites with her teenage flame, Dane, who is (surprise!) the director of the Alzheimer facility. Old wounds are quickly exposed and healed, the lovers find one another again and the relationship between mother and daughter is restored.

The characters are not well developed and the Christianity portrayed is superficial. Conflicts are resolved too quickly to create much tension. I read it in one day.

The most edifying part of the book was the description of the Alzheimer facility. Here the author had done her research and suggested some interesting alternative therapies, such as the “Christmas room” where residents could hear carols and see Christmas decorations every day and garden paths that led back to the rooms to satisfy their desire to roam without the risk of getting lost.

VERDICT: 2 STARS. Even if you’re looking for an easy read, there are better choices.

For other Christian novels see:

Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron–Book Review

white picket fences by Susan Meissner–Book Review

Beyond the Storm by Carolyn Zane–Book Review

Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me by Ian Morgan Cron–Book Review

Ian Cron is an Episcopal priest, speaker and author. I previously reviewed his book Chasing Francis (Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron–Book Review). I liked that book so much, I searched to see what else he had written. He calls this book, “a memoir of sorts.” It’s not just a book about faith, but about God and faith in the midst of all of our life and our suffering. In it, he recounts the story of his life with an alcoholic father, his painful adolescence, and his own experiences as a dad.

Ian’s dad was an enigma. He was often absent, and sometimes abusive. His alcoholism led to instability in the life of the family. Later Ian discovered that his father had worked for years for the CIA under the “cover” of other professions. Although Ian prayed for his father to change, that never happened. The rejection he experienced led to bitter feelings toward his father, and toward God. Still amidst the suffering were moments of grace, and eventually they led him home to the church. He was able to forgive his father, although they were never completely reconciled.

Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir. . . of Sorts

This book will make you laugh and cry. He tells his story with honesty and humor. It will make you think about your own story with gratitude as you remember those experiences of God’s grace and presence that have marked your journey.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. An easy and enjoyable read.

For other memoirs see:

Phosphorescence by Julia Baird–Book Review

In My Grandmother’s House by Yolanda Pierce–Book Review

The Night Lake by Liz Tichenor–Book Review