Book Reviews

The Woman in Me Britney Spears

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Britney’s memoir is absolutely shocking. I haven’t followed Britney’s journey much, despite being born only one year later. Of course I heard her songs: “Oops, I did it again,” “Hit me baby one more time,” and “Toxic.” I’m not familiar with most of her other songs. I grew up in Australia and heard less of the Britney Spears news and gossip, especially since my parents didn’t encourage listening to the radio or watching music videos (honestly, I’ve basically never watched them). I had no idea she was depicted as some virginal Christian-ese princess as a teenager, though she’d already had sex and people were simply projecting this ideal onto her, wanting to mold her into a role model she never expected or aimed to be. I also haven’t followed the more recent story of her conservatorship—her dad’s ownership of her brand, her schedule and basically her entire life for thirteen years. It is appalling to think that a father could treat his adult daughter the way she was treated. Of course, I could understand a father wanting to protect a truly mentally ill, drug-addicted daughter; but to simply paint this picture of Britney as though she is unstable, when, in fact, she has as many faculties as I do; to take control of her finances to make himself and his family rich; to force her to work and not negotiate that work—the whole story is mind-boggling! I’m taking Britney’s story at face value as mostly true. That is how I treat most memoir. We all misconstrue some of the facts or misremember some things. But I believe most of us are trying to tell the truth about our life experiences. I am deeply sorry that Britney has suffered the way she has at the hands of her own biological parents! They must have some serious issues to use and abuse their daughter this way! Not to mention all the people who worked for “Britney Spears” who couldn’t seem to see what her dad was doing to her. The way they treated her, as a slave, as a job, as less valuable, less honest and less worthy than her father… I hope those people learn and adapt after making such horrendous mistakes! My one criticism is that this book needed better editing. It seems to me as though Britney has done most of the writing. It flowed from her and it sounds very down to earth. I like the style and voice. There were just some points that were a little repetitious and some other points where I couldn’t understand which order things happened in, that could have used some more dates, or some more chronology and less of a jump from thirteen years ago, to thirteen years later. Maybe this is because I’m less familiar with her story and the details. A mega-fan would understand what she was talking about because they followed her journey. I came to Britney’s book less in-the-know, and just thought it could have been better edited to make a little more chronological sense to outsiders like myself. As a spiritual person I especially appreciated the spiritual aspects of Britney’s journey. Her references to God, or a higher power. The way she prayed. Her connection with the spirit at different times and in different places. I like seeing the progression of spiritual maturation. Personally, I would hate to be famous. I couldn’t do Britney’s life, her routine, the paparazzi, and crazy level of attention and intrusion from so many people, not to mention the objectification of her body. I admire her creativity, her skill and talent. I suppose I’m a tad envious of her success, but I can admit I am not willing to pay the price of fame, scrutiny, media slander etc. My heart goes out to you Britney. I hope your journey in this life continues to brighten, that you experience increasing freedom and connection with spirit, creation and people. Even, if possible, some level of reconciliation with your parents, just as you experienced some reconciliation with your grandfather, June.

Worthy Jada Pinkett Smith

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I found Jada’s memoir to be emotionally and spiritually deep. I did not know much of Jada’s story whatsoever and was surprised time and again as I read. The dangerous environment she grew up in was quite foreign to me, having grown up in Australia. I had no idea her parents were both drug addicts, and she became a drug dealer in her teen years. Her relationship with Tupac was interesting and the many deaths she experienced, including Tupac’s, must have been very painful. She delves into how she suppressed grief, she suppressed her own depression and issues with her self-worth for many years. More than once she experienced suicidal ideation. I wouldn’t have guessed, had I not read about it here. Jada shares blogposts at the end of each chapter that help the reader to identify areas of trauma, pain, issues with their parents and other relationships, nudging the reader toward awareness and greater-wholeness—even greater worthiness as the book is titled. She shares some of her experiences with different religious belief systems, therapists and medicines. She talks about books that have impacted her, spiritual teachers, some of whom she has met, causes like human trafficking, how the red table talk developed, her experiences as an actress and as a musician, and ultimately how she has progressed in her search for meaning and significance. Jada also shares about her marriage with Will. How they have never “cheated” because they always discussed their sexual engagements and had something similar to an “open” marriage. They are none-the-less “ride-or-die” companions. They have lived separately at times but never divorced and as I far as I can tell, have no intention of ever divorcing. They work together and share family for life. Jada even goes into the details around what happened between Will Smith and Chris Rock. That was super interesting—especially Jada’s response to be even more dedicated to her relationship with Will. They are still husband and wife and I hope they will find themselves coming closer together as they both explore their worth, their spirituality, their personalities, their dreams and hopes for the future. I thoroughly enjoyed Jada’s memoir!

Immaculate by Anna McGahan

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This was a gripping story about a mother whose four-year-old daughter is dying. Her ex-husband is a pastor who is believing for healing, but the mother is struggling with her faith and is trying to be realistic about her daughter’s treatment and prognosis. There is a lot of tension between the two parents, a lot of suffering and heartache. In fact, this book explores how we all go through various forms of suffering and has some deeply beautiful things to say about suffering, for instance,

“I had to learn how to hold someone in their suffering, without denying its existence. I saw the pain in her, pain that no performative prayer could cure but which the loving arms of a mother could actually soothe. I saw how I needed to advocate, how I needed to protect, how I needed to find the right treatment… She needed the comfort of reality.”

Suffering is also contrasted with the miraculous in this book. The miracle of God’s love and embrace. The miracle of feeling a sense that one’s future self will say the journey of suffering was worth it, though one may not feel that way while they are going through it. The characters in this book had something like a vision of their future selves. They had some level of comfort and peace around their own heartache and pain.

The interwoven story of the homeless pregnant teenager who claims an immaculate conception, is truly beautiful because it gives the value of Jesus and Mary to people often ignored, neglected, abused and rejected by others in society.

I loved the religious-deconstruction aspect within the narrative as well—the questions about what faith and religion should be like and how it often fails. All people are invited and included at God’s table. Criminals, drug addicts, homeless pregnant teenagers, police people, parents who have lost children, queer, transgender, and non-binary people. The church has become too exclusive, but God is inclusive and we are on a journey as human beings to learn to include everyone and everything in this love-story of life.

This book reaches into the depths of our pain, deconstructs and reconstructs religious systems and brings hope to the reader.

Water Walker by Ted Dekker

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I give it 10 out of 10.

Ted has challenged Western Christianity to its very core.

*spoiler alert*

The main character, Alice, is kidnapped by her birth mother and step-father. She goes to live with them and their son Bobby on a property surrounded by swamps, under the control of a man called Zeke. Alice then suffers 5 years of religious abuse. She is given an exorbitant list of rules and rituals to follow and is expected to be the perfect, spotless lamb. She is baptised every Sunday to cleanse the whole family of sin. If she suffers from any temptation to be rebellious she is expected to confess and repent for hours in her prayer closet, not to mention suffer other consequences to keep herself pure.

But she is growing into an adult and she is attracted to Zeke’s son Paul. It seems she is forbidden to ever marry, and yet she wants to know what it would be like to be married to Paul. She feels guilty for even imagining these things until Paul tells her that he loves her. They see each other in secret, but Zeke mysteriously (or supernaturally) finds out. Zeke’s response is to take his wrath out on Paul and beat his own son in the face!

This is a poignant description of how most of Western Christendom views God-the-Father. God is so angry at our sin, our lust, our imperfection; that he beats his son to teach us a lesson. Zeke, who represents God-the-Father, sets all the rules. He wants people to be perfect. And when they fail, someone must be punished.

Next, Alice tries to run away, but she is caught by Zeke. Then Zeke tells Alice’s mother, Kathryn, to break Alice’s leg. From my perspective, Kathryn represents the church. She is the enforcer God-the-Father’s rules and punishments. She is convinced that if she doesn’t break her daughter’s leg, their fate will be even worse and their punishment eternal. She wants to be like Abraham who didn’t hesitate to offer up his son Isaac on an altar. But she feels torn because she loves her daughter. So she twists her daughter’s ankle instead.

When Alice tries to escape again, Zeke comes and breaks her leg himself. If the church won’t punish the disciple, then God-the-Father will do it himself. What a sick and twisted view of God we have! But Ted Dekker doesn’t stop there.

Alice has visions of a man named Stephen who represents Jesus. Stephen is coaxing Alice to walk on the water of her troubles. The only way to overcome trouble is take no offence to the trouble and stop perceiving it as trouble. Trouble only exists in the mind. The true power of a Christian is in forgiveness. The true representation of Father-God is that he is always forgiving, never offended by our sin, and does not require punishment or appeasement for sin!

Ted has contrasted the widely accepted gospel, with a higher truth that Christianity has so often overlooked! God is unconditionally loving and forgiving. As soon as Alice embraced this truth, it changed her relationship with her mother by spilling love over into Kathryn’s life. Then Kathryn was able to free her daughter and they both truly repented (changed their minds) about who God is.

Ted Dekker I cannot thank you enough for writing this book! I am so proud of you for contrasting these two gospels that are in complete opposition to each other. The first is truly a satanic version of the gospel, for only Satan requires that we be abused for our sins–he is the accuser who comes to steal, kill and destroy! The real Jesus is our forgiveness, love and peace. You are very brave. Traditional Christians will hate this story if they can see it for what it truly is.

In writing water walker, you have become a water walker. You have been my favourite author for many years, but now you have become my hero and an even greater inspiration. I want to write books like this. I admire you. I praise God for you. I hope that I will meet you some day–if not in this life, then in the next.

Teach Only Love by Gerald Jampolsky

The overall message and essence of this book is phenomenal. I cried through the introduction and first few chapters as well as many of the stories to follow, because Jerry put words to something I have been contemplating and needing to hear: that love really is the answer.

“Love is total acceptance and total giving – with no boundaries and no exceptions. Love, being the only reality, cannot be transformed. It can only extend and expand. It unfolds endlessly and beautifully upon itself. Love sees everyone as blameless, for it recognizes the light within each one of us. Love is the complete absence of fear and the basis for all Attitudinal Healing.”

Jerry encourages us to listen to the inner voice of love and follow it, rather than succumbing to our fears. Being a Universalist-Christian myself, I understand this as listening to the voice of God who is love and who teaches us to walk in love because this brings peace to us and to others.

I am still contemplating the 12 principles of Attitudinal Healing. Below are some of the things I have gleaned from them:

We can release negative emotions by forgiving others and interpreting any “attack” as a cry for help from the person we perceive as attacking.

We judge others according to our sense of “right” and “wrong” which is based on our experience and is not based in the reality of love. It is healthier to let our judgments fade and to stop trying to change people. Then we can accept them exactly where they are at.

By giving love we also receive love and healing within ourselves. Loving ourselves and others seems intimately entwined, just as giving and receiving seem to operate at one and the same time. This is the law of karma or sowing and reaping.

Death is not the end: we live on in a state of eternal love. There is no separation between myself and God, or any other creature in existence. Every minute action of mine causes ripple effects around the world, so the more we focus on giving love, and being in a state of peace and non-judgmental forgiveness, the more the world will come into alignment with love, peace and forgiveness.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to give and receive more unconditional love and therefore minister healing to his or herself and others.

Proof of Heaven

by Eben Alexander

I love the way God chose Eben Alexander for this near death experience! Eben is a scientist and brain surgeon who was skeptical about the existence of God and the possibility of an afterlife. He experienced a disease similar to E. coli which shut down his consciousness. As a scientist he knew it was impossible for him to have a near death experience in this state of brain-death … unless it was completely real!

Not only a scientist, but also an adopted child, Eben tells a unique story of rejection issues from his biological parents, bouts of depression and confusion. This experience radically altered his life forever as he learned that in REALITY he is not rejected at all but loved completely, unconditionally and limitlessly by God.

This is a beautiful reminder that we are all interconnected through the God of love!

I give it 7 out of 10.

Eyes Wide Open by Ted Dekker

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I think I’m giving Ted 2.5-3 stars for this one. I’m somewhat confused by the ending. On the one hand, I loved what the Outlaw character said to Austin:

“There are no longer any problems to solve. If there are no longer any problems to solve there’s no longer any need for correction. If there’s no need for correction, then there’s no need for law. Live in the grace of that which is perfect already, as it is. Be perfect, don’t try to become perfect. You already are, you just don’t know it yet. Be still and know.”

This is something I think God has me contemplating in my own life.

But I struggled to see the story as a whole or how it flowed into the ending. I felt like I was missing some of the bigger picture, even though I’ve read about the Outlaw character before, or Stephen, and the monastery and the monks. Perhaps the next books will clear things up for me a little more, and I will look back and appreciate these four instalments more.

It was still certainly a page turner full of adventure and questions about reality. And I am left questioning reality myself after reading it 🙂

My Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

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This book addresses the fact that taking the Bible literally at face value without considering the contexts and cultures in which it was written, can be quite debilitating for women. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a church that endorsed female Pastors and have not suffered much in regard to sexism, although I’ve always been aware of the possibility and have known it to happen to others. However, this book was no less illuminating, challenging and encouraging for me personally. I discovered that Proverbs 31 is a poem for men to sing in praise of their wives; not a list of expectations for all women. I was given a sense of permission to be an attractive and sexual being without having to have my sexuality all figured out, and without having to be married or a mother to be considered a “woman.” I learned so much about the sufferings of women in other nations and how even the food that I buy could endorse child slavery and poverty in the third world. I am grateful to Rachel for exploring so thoroughly and for, what I feel, are very healthy conclusions.

Freak Factor by David Rendall

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This book came to me at a time that I was still grieving my mother’s death. A combination of factors brought me to the conclusion that life is too short to be someone I’m not. It is impossible to please everyone and as this book teaches, when you choose who to please you also choose who you will offend.
It is okay to be different and to go against the grain of life. I have been much more forthcoming since my mother died and I have lost many so-called friends as well as gaining deeper relationships through my authenticity. I have received criticism and encouragement from facebook friends for my controversial posts (not to mention being deleted and blocked by several as well). But I feel, as Rendall says, that this is more likely to help me stand out as a unique writer and become successful, than not.
The ideas presented in this book are “outside the box” and I take my hat off to Rendall even if I don’t agree with every statement. It is positive, uplifting and funny!

Raising Hell by Julie Ferwerda

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This book is researched and uses theological language and concepts, yet is easy to read. It deals with most of the major hurdles regarding Western Christianity’s traditional doctrine/s of hell, especially the Greek word “eonian” which has been mistranslated “eternal” and words such as “hades” “sheol” and “gehenna” that have been mistranslated hell. Western Christianity need to become aware of these things … and they will, with time.

Some of the ideas about “Harvest” were very new to me and I do not know what I believe about those things. I also struggled with chapter 18 and disagree that God “created” evil. I believe that God allowed it, but it did not originate with him. I do, however, agree that God uses evil, redeems evil, can be in the very presence of evil and permits evil.

I am going to recommend this book to many of my friends because I love the overall message that hellfire is not the last word of God for anyone. He has saved, is saving and will save ALL.

Plowshares and Pruning Hooks

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One of the best books I ever read in Bible College was Plowshares and Pruning Hooks by D. Brent Sandy. He challenges Bible readers, like myself, to rethink their approach to Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic literature by increasing our recognition and understanding of metaphors and other rhetorical devices. Here is my book review:

In Chapter one Sandy explains that God’s desire to communicate with human beings restricts him to human forms of communication, i.e. particularly language. Biblical authors are called upon to describe things that readers may have no frame of reference for as physical human beings limited to the earthly realm. For example, presumably most of us have not seen heaven, (or do not remember it), so it can only be described in terms of the things that we have seen and experienced. Heaven is often depicted in rainbow colours with golden streets and mansions in the Bible (see Revelation 4:2-4 & 21:21) The pearly gates and streets of gold represent the limitlessness of beauty in heaven and are not literal descriptions of heaven.

Chapter two talks about the nature of prophetic language being filled with poetry. Poetry is quite emotive and figurative rather than literal. For example, “circumcise your hearts” in Jeremiah 4:4 is clearly not to be interpreted literally, but carries the important meaning of consecrating ourselves to God (page 38). Of particular interest to me, was Sandy’s point about the word “forever,” (page 42) Even in English, it is not uncommon to use emotionally exaggerative phrases like “this is taking forever.” The word “forever” was, at times, used similarly in Biblical literature, and does not–nor can it–always mean endless in duration. Jonah was not literally in the belly of the whale “forever,” (Jonah 2:6) In fact, Jonah 1:17 tells us he was in the belly of the fish for three days and nights. I further learned that descriptions of judgment can be conditional. In the same book of Jonah, God relented from judging the people of Ninevah because they repented, yet they were never told that the judgement was conditional or that God might act according to their behaviour.

Chapter three hones in on Biblical metaphors in greater detail. We do not always recognise Biblical metaphors because they were employed by an ancient culture thousands of years ago and some of them no longer apply in our cultural contexts today. With a touch of levity, Sandy provided an appendix of French metaphors and their equivalents in English. Here are a couple:

I can’t smell him = he gets on my nerves

She gave him a rabbit = she stood him up

He has a cockroach = he is depressed

He gave her some soap = he told her off

These serve to prove his point that metaphors evoke feelings, memories and responses in people. Metaphors often have a greater impact than more literal language would have achieved, and are therefore “indispensable” to the prophets.

Chapter four delved into the language of destruction and blessing. Sandy explained illocution which is when individual words do not always comply with their dictionary definition. He gave the interesting example that it is not a lie when someone says, “I’m fine,” in the context of customer service, even if they are not, by definition, “fine.” It is simply a known and accepted form of greeting and therefore an example of illocution. This further illustrates that, “the function of statements in the Bible can be as important for understanding their meaning as the content of the statements,” (page 82). The function of God’s judgement and wrath are that it can be painfully devastating in grandiose and drastic ways. The function of the language of blessing in the Bible is to reveal that God’s blessings are tremendous, wonderful and all-encompassing.

Chapters five and six are predominantly about the fulfilment of prophecy. Apocalyptic literature is just one form of prophecy which is filled with symbolic language that should not be taken literally. Details are often added for effect rather than containing specific meaning. Sandy went through multiple Biblical prophecies in chapter six and compared them to the Biblical descriptions of their actual fulfilment. More often than not, specific details were overlooked or altered. The overall point of the prophecy generally remains true; that the person will be punished and die, or be spared and live. But how it plays out historically may not be exactly the same as how it was described by the prophet. Therefore there is a measure of uncertainty in prophecy and room for adaptation. Prophecies can be somewhat incomplete and may also contain typical judgement language with repeated themes. For example being “eaten by dogs” is often used in biblical prophecy. Today we would more likely use the phrase “attacked by wolves” than “eaten by dogs.” A hearer might take the former phrase to mean that they could come under attack spiritually, physically, financially or emotionally. The concept of being eaten by dogs in the Bible, implied that God’s judgement was coming and they were likely to die. Only on the rare occasion was the person actually eaten by dogs (pages 135-136).

Chapter seven explores the future fulfilment of prophecy. There are seven key features in future-speak: poetry, metaphor, hyperbole, orality, urgency, immediacy and intentionality. Sandy further addressed future fulfilment of prophecy with special reference to Jesus’ second coming and the apocalyptic book of Revelation. “It is probably vain to attempt a preconstruction of the precise details that will accompany the second coming. The point of the imagery is that the Lord’s return will be the most dramatic divine visitation of earth ever to occur. Something that has never happened to this extent–a meeting of heaven and earth–is beyond human ability to conceptualize,” (page 171). He gave a broad overview of the end times as having certain themes like turmoil; horrors in the sky, on the earth and involving animals; rewards, judgement and the backlash of evil.

In my opinion, this broad approach is excellent and should deter readers from more literal interpretations. It certainly offers a healthy new approach for the postmodern church that has often preached, “the end is nigh!” Sandy’s point about references to nearness of time not being literal but rather highlighting the blessings and curses to come, is a caution many churches today need to hear. However, Sandy’s concept of God’s judgement became quite literal when he wrote “God’s punishment of the unrighteous will be merciless and eternal,” (page 175). Has he forgotten his own discussion of the exaggerative and emotive language used in prophecy? Has he forgotten that “forever,” is not always literally endless time?
This raises a most critical point. Sandy brought up the metaphoric definition of “forever” in the Old Testament but did not follow this through and talk about the definition of “forever” in the context of New Testament prophecy. The book of Revelation uses phrases like: “the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever,” (Rev 14:11). But what does “forever” mean in this context? Sandy made a clear point that God’s judgements are fearsome, but he did not address the possibility that God’s end-time judgements may not mean “endless time” in reference to the punishment of the wicked. More than once he emphasised, “God’s wrath against the godless will be merciless,” (page 188) and yet he is drawing this conclusion from metaphoric, emotive and symbolic language that is coupled with the language of blessing and salvation in nearby passages. What if we are not meant to remove judgement prophecies from the broader context of salvation? What if forever is not forever and judgement comes to a conclusion in universal restoration? For instance, how does Sandy interpret universalistic verses from the Apocalyptic book of Revelation i.e. Rev 5:13, 15:4, 21:5, 21:25-26 & 22:17?

Sandy’s book also raises questions for the post-modern church like: what is the role of prophecy and prophets within churches today? Are we placing too much emphasis on future prediction? Not knowing when the end will come is yet another challenge the church must face! Have we lost the forest for the trees, becoming so focussed on the end that we forget to live in the here and now and forget to make this world a better place?

In conclusion, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks holds great value for the global church in illuminating metaphoric language, encouraging a less literal interpretation of Prophetic and Apocalyptic literature, and giving an overview of how prophecy can, does and will apply. It presents a challenge to the church’s over-emphasis on the end times, raises questions about the role of prophecy today and is a wake-up call to Christians who want to take every last sentence of our English Bibles literally. Because so much of the language is not literal, I have been encouraged to hold more lightly to my interpretation and to be more open to other interpretations. I think the church would benefit from doing likewise.

Bibliography: Sandy, D. Brent, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic, IVP Academic, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2002

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