The book I told you about in the last H&M newsletter, Ruth Everhart’s Ruined, was (as Kirkus Review put it) “everything a reader would want in a memoir.” It works especially well for those of us who are intrigued by stories of those struggling to figure out what they believe and why; call it a “faith journey” or a “spiritual coming of age” narrative, such books about forging a coherent faith amidst personal struggle are almost always inspiring. Ruined is about more than the rape and its aftermath in the life of a Christian college woman, much more. But her life in those years was obviously shaped by this horrific event, so we follow her journey, cheering for her as she is called into ministry and into a life-giving marriage.
Those who work with others in ministry – pastors, campus workers, youth ministers, parents, guidance counselors and the like – should read these kinds of stories often, to become more attuned to how people narrate their lives, how they make meaning in their search for a story that makes sense.
I recall Frederick Buechner writing somewhere that the best theology, in fact, comes in the genre of autobiography.
Here are 10 more books that came to mind last week as I was reviewing Ruined: A Memoir. I didn’t want to clutter up that column but was itching to name some other titles. Hope these short descriptions inspire you to think about these good ones.
Maybe you’ll be inspired to share this post, perhaps. These are books that deserve to be known. I am sure they could be life-giving and helpful to many. And we love the idea of our recommendations getting to those who need them. We love getting new subscribers to BookNotes, too, so thanks for passing this on.
Healing the Wounded Heart: The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and the Hope of Transformation Dan B. Allender (Baker) $16.99; Workbook; $14.99 Our biggest selling book on helping survivors come to terms with sexual abuse in the past has been Dan Allender’s 1989 book Wounded Heart. We have long respected Dan and have devoured many of his other books – The Healing Path is about the recovery of faith, hope, and love, for those who have experienced trauma and deep hurt; To Be Told has the subtitle “God Invites You to Coauthor Your Future” and it is brilliant; Leading with a Limp is counter-intuitive and right.) I am not alone in appreciating his self-help stuff like Wounded Heart; it is considered nearly a classic in some circles.
Listen to what Shauna Niequist says:
Through Dan’s skillful and tender writing, I’ve been given a vision for how to love and walk well with the members of my community whose stories have been marked by sexual abuse. I’m so very thankful for his gentle, prophetic voice, and for the many ways his words have been healing and life giving for generations.
The new one, Healing the Wounded Heart, is nearly a sequel to Wounded Heart although the publisher assures us it stands alone. It does seem like it could be read without having read the first one. Here is what the publisher says: “Now, more than twenty-five years later, Allender has written a brand-new book on the subject that takes into account recent discoveries about the lasting physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual ramifications of sexual abuse.”
“With great compassion Allender offers hope for victims of rape, date rape, incest, molestation, sexting, sexual bullying, unwanted advances, pornography, and more, exposing the raw wounds that are left behind and clearing the path toward wholeness and healing. Never minimizing victims’ pain or offering pat spiritual answers that don’t truly address the problem, he instead calls evil evil and lights the way to renewed joy.”
If you do ministry at all, befriend others, work with young adults, or do any sort of counseling, I hope you have one of these one hand for that moment when you will need it. Tragic as it may be, it is true; if you are open to the pain of others, you will need to share this (or something like it.) I’m not always a fan of workbooks, but it looks very, very useful as well. Both are highly recommended!
Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Abuse Ruth A. Tucker (Zondervan) $16.99 This compelling and anguishing book deserves a more lengthy review than I can do here, but you should know at least a bit about it. Firstly, Dr. Tucker is an important Christian writer, having penned books on women in leadership, on famous women of church history, and a magisterial, award-winning history of global missions (From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya.)
As she was writing on world-class publishing houses and teaching seminary courses at solid evangelical divinity schools and speaking in debates with her friend John Piper (who holds an exceptionally conservative view of the roles of women in the church and world) she was literally being beat black and blue and bloody by a man who comes across as a psychopath. She attempts to be generous and discreet in the telling of the tale but she explains forthrightly her husband’s obsession with male headship and his brutal ways which seemed connected to his harsh reading of the Bible. Her “submission” to him was harsh and bizarre — he would withhold her book manuscripts until she changed certain lines, she would be pummeled if she disagreed with his particular interpretation of an obscure Bible doctrine, she would be forced to have demeaning sex before heading out to lecture on women in the mission field.
This book is more than a memoir, though. Much of it is Tucker’s good Biblical teaching about mutuality in marriage, about the theological issues surrounding discussions about the roles of men and women in the church and world. And it is reminder that domestic violence occurs even within the most seemingly devout religious homes, sometimes even minimized by those who have narrow Biblical interpretations and weird attitudes.
She bravely talks about her efforts to work things out, her faith in reconciliation and Christian counseling, and how none of that worked. The allusions to complicity among pastors and dangerously unprofessional pastoral counseling are staggering. This is a hard book to read, but includes dispassionate counsel and Bible teaching. I very highly recommend it.
Perhaps you know someone who needs hope for overcoming the devastation of domestic violence, or maybe you know someone who would benefit from Ruth’s story, another example of good theology coming from autobiography. The story is harrowing, the expose of the theological abuse of Scripture important to reflect upon, and her lovely testimony of a new marriage and a truly decent marriage is inspiring. Kudos to the publisher and to Ruth Tucker for daring to share this shocking story. We hope many order it and are helped.
Notice the damage on the wall in this handsome, important book cover. Well done.
Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women Elaine Storkey (Cascade Books) $16.00 I announced this when it first came out in England, and then again when the US edition came out earlier this year. Elaine is a well-known Christian thought-leader and social activist in the UK (as is her husband, Alan Storkey.) Elaine has written excellent books on the roots of feminism, on our understandings of worldviews and gender, and why Christian faith ought not be used to oppress women. Her connection with Toronto’s Institute for Christian Studies and the US policy think tank the Center for Public Justice illustrates her thoughtfulness and rigorous scholarship weaving together lively faith and public life. (She spoke at the CCO’s Jubilee conference years ago and we are glad to be long-distant friends.) In this new book (years in the making) Elaine documents the global impact of various sorts of oppression faced by women throughout the globe. From forced marriages, sexual slavery, “honor killings” and religiously-inspired domestic violence, there is much about which we should lament and much we can do. Through compelling research and great personal stories, she not only investigates the problems but points us towards renewal and hope.
As is Dr. Storkey style, she not only offers an overview of the problem, but surveys how different worldviews might respond to this crisis and discerns the value of the answers most commonly offered. She looks at those who approach the problem from the point of view of evolutionary psychology and those who offer a critique of patriarchal power structures. As it says on the back, “she also considers the role that religion can play -for good or ill – in the struggle against this universal evil.”
Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores Diane Langberg (New Growth Press) $24.99 Dr. Langberg is globally recognized for her with trauma victims. We have heard her lecture and stock her previous books (both serious textbooks on counseling and more popular level resources such as On the Threshold of Hope a book for those who have been sexually assaulted.) Again, this “master-class in counseling and pastoral care” (Richard Winter) deserves a much more thorough review – allow me simply to note that it is very nicely written, very thorough, and – as it should be – passionate. She has, as one reviewer notes, “looked into the eyes of those4 wounded by evil and been a powerful voice for healing, justice, and truth.” The wounded heart, damaged by abuse and betrayal and unspeakable evil, can be healed through the power of the gospel. This is Christ-centered, grace-filled, deeply Christian stuff and her insight is profound. The body of Christ, if we are to express his love for the hurting, simply must pay more attention to those who are silently suffering. We can say that trauma and abuse – painful as it is, never to be minimized or treated with glib clichés – do not have the last word.
This is an excellent book for anyone and feels a bit like a resource one can dip into on and off as the needs arise. The first six chapters of Suffering and the Heart of God are about suffering, God’s solidarity, and the spiritual impact abuse, are brilliant and moving. The next seven chapters are about doing ministry with the hurting in the context of Christian community; these pieces include wise insight about trauma memories, living with grief, and the pathologies of bad leadership and the abuse of power within churches and Christian organizations. There are then several chapters for clinicians on understanding complex trauma and sexual violence. The book ends with three great chapters under the heading “care for the counselor.” There are two appendices “A Survivor’s Expression of Faith” and a lament.
Oh if only Ruth Everhart had this kind of uniquely Christian counselor during her years documented in Ruined. And oh, if Ruth Tucker had these kinds of allies in her years of harrowing abuse. Storkey’s book is a bit broader but Langberg is certainly a resource for her work, as well.
Unashamed: Drop the Baggage, Pick Up Your Freedom, Fulfill Your Destiny Christine Caine (Zondervan) $19.99 By now, I hope you know the name Christine Caine. She is a tireless speaker, an upbeat, Spirit-empowered communicator who lives to help others find a big hope and a destiny of world-changing influence. Her own story is thrilling, having been trusted and empowered by the Hillsong Community in Australia to work with at-risk youth (see her fun book Undaunted) which soon led her to the A21 Campaign, a global movement to fight sexual trafficking. In 2015 they also founded Propel Women, an organization designed to “honor the calling of every woman, empower her to lead, equip her for success, and develop a sense of God-given purpose.” Unstoppable tells the story of her becoming a leader and how we can “pass the baton” on to others.
I’m very excited about this very new book, even though it is about a topic that seems so trendy – shame. There may be more clinically-informed books, and you know we love The Soul of Shame by the neurologist and psychiatrist Curt Thompson. And if you haven’t read Daring Greatly and Growing Strong yet, well, you ought to get on that right away! Caine’s Unashamed seems to combine the best of several of these books, written with her fast-paced, story-telling and motivational style, inviting us to allow God to set us free from the limits of shame and take up new freedom. I like!
Listen to what Lisa Harper writes, as she recommends that you pass these out widely and wildly:
I memorized the verse from Romans about there being no shame or condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus when I was a little girl; unfortunately, I was still crippled by shame as a grown woman decades later. From my experience, shame is one of the most effective tools the enemy uses to oppress believers and emasculate the church. Which makes this book a must read.
We also have the brand new DVD presentations of this content as well — it would make a great resource for a small group, an adult ed class, or home or dorm group.
We have a pack with the DVD and one participants guide for $38.99 before our discounted price. Five sessions. Fantastic!
How to Survive a Shipwreck: Help Is on the Way and Love is Already Here Jonathan Martin (Zondervan) $16.99 I am three-quarters through this passionately written, eloquent book and I’m already wishing my experience of reading it wasn’t almost over. I have read portions out loud to Beth (including his long excerpt of one of my favorite, moving parts of Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church.) Martin is a crazy dude – a young, hip, Dylan-quoting church planter, a son of a Pentecostal preacher, himself Pentecostal, with a degree from Duke Divinity School where he studied under Stanley Hauerwas. His book Prototype: What Happens When You Discover Your More Like Jesus Than You Think makes a couple of big points, mostly around the humanity of Jesus and how salvation and union with Him causes us to flourish as real humans, incarnated in the messy, beautiful, broken world which we are to relish. I was really, really struck by it, surprised that such a feisty, profound book was being written by a Southern mega-church guy. So much for my prejudices.
Well. This super smart and driven guy apparently hit the rails and although I don’t know exactly the shape of his existential crisis and marriage problems, he came to realize he wasn’t the person he once was, wasn’t able to continue on pastoring the church he found, and had to admit he was a ghost of his former self. What does one do when one can’t do the only thing one knows to do? (Believe, there are times I relate!) Was he becoming more human, less willing to fit into the constraints of and expectations for a charismatic church leader, finding himself, truly? Or, what he just becoming burned out from legitimate callings, and making stupid choices, standard fare dumb stuff, drifting from his true self and real faith? I’m not done with the book yet, but I can say his metaphor of being ship-wrecked – in his case, he seemed to run his ship aground himself– was very compelling. Shauna Niequist’s beautifully written and wise foreword notes how she and her family are sailors, and sailors take shipwreck very seriously; nobody jokes about the dangers of the water. So she appreciated his heavy tale and was glad for the lessons learned.
There is a bit good of storytelling here, although it is mostly not a memoir of his wreckage. There is pathos and lament and new hope and new birth emerging from the scummy, dark waters. His practical guidance and his bigger picture stuff rings true to me and will be valued by those going through very hard times who like a creatively written, raw, poetic approach, that is, helpful pastoral wisdom offered with visionary artistry. Although there is much good Bible study here he brings in other colorful authors – from James Joyce to Parker Palmer, David Bentley Hart to Thomas Merton, Rene Girard to Elisabeth Lesser. I like an author who uses good citations, and love one who can shift from Gustavo Gutierrez to Margaret Wise Brown. If you are in the midst of failure or loss and want to discover the love at the very bottom of things, How to Survive a Shipwreck could be life saving.
Soul Bare: Stories of Redemption edited by Cara Sexton (IVP Crescendo) $16.00 I suppose given that this wonderful anthology is published by the “Crescendo” imprint at IVP we should assume it was written for women. There are men authors here and I found some of these chapters (mostly by women) gorgeously crafted and helpfully wise. From provocative to painful, these testimonials by some published authors (Emily Freeman, Sarah Bessey, Trillian Newbell, award-winning Seth Haines) and many who are known as bloggers and speakers, show in artful, creative ways just how God works to bring healing and hope to the befuddled, hurting, wounded or lost. Idelette McVicker (founder of SheLoves Magazine) captures the experience of reading through these pieces when she says “I held my breath…I whispered prayers…Most of all I fell more deeply in love with Jesus through these words and stories.”
One of our staff (herself a youngish woman who has seen her share of hardships) loved it; another friend assured me it was “just what she needed” after only having read a few chapters. These authors are brave baring their stories, taking the risks of exposing their sins and foibles and fears – “real life laid bare” – but believe there is beauty and redemption in these short writings honed in the deepest places of the heart.
In a helpful move, the editor has arranged these soul-baring stories in three units. Firstly, “Letting Go” and next there are those under the rubric of “Leaning In.” Lastly, the tales are about “Hope and Healing.”
I like how these mostly youngish authentic writers talk about it all: “To tell our truth is to link arms across the divides that keep us out, to close the gaping lie that says our wounds do not matter.” Their advice through it all? “Even if your edges are chipped, your story is beautiful. Tell it.”
The Gift of Hard Things: Finding Grace in Unexpected Places Mark Yaconelli ((IVP formatio) $16.00 We stock everything in the IVP formatio line and I have read almost every one. I cannot wait to dive into this, but am waiting: it will be a sacred experience, I am sure, and I’m wanting to create the right space and time to consider it well. It is what I am positive is a very well-told set of stories, with spiritual practices and actionable steps that emerge from them. I want to work with this, and I suspect many will benefit from its artistry and poignant storytelling and spiritual guidance.
Yaconelli, you may know, is an impressive author of serious youth ministry books whose contribution has been largely around a call to center youth ministry in contemplative practices. Fun, funny, but also weighty, Yak 2 as I call him (his famous father, Mike Yaconelli, was called Yak) may be as edgy and creative as his dad, but he is deeply rooted in ancient, serious stuff. He is also a moving, raw, honest poet whose reflections and prayers (Wonder, Fear, and Longing is truly extraordinary.) Mark has been written up in mainstream media outlets (from the Wall Street Journal to ABC News Tonight) which I mention only to indicate that he’s an important voice and to help convince you to take him seriously. Perhaps his most legendary (or notorious) bit of fame was as a Presbyterian youth pastor who befriended Sam Lamott, Anne’s famous son.
In fact, Anne has a beautiful blurb on the back of The Gift of Hard Things which is worth hearing in full:
To my thinking, Mark Yaconelli is one of this country’s most important and articulate spiritual teachers. Anyone seeking knowledge and union with God will be informed, edified, nourished and utterly charmed by The Gift of Hard Things. I savored every story and was nurtured by the expression and depth. It is a book absolutely after my own heart.
As it says on the back cover, “using extraordinary stories from his own life and the lives of others, Yaconelli offers a narrative journey through ways in which disappointments have turned into gifts. In these pages are a wealth of spiritual practices that will carry us deeper into the grace we find in unexpected places.
Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark Addie Zierman (Convergent) $14.99 I have mentioned this at least twice before, and I’m going to alert you to it again – I think it is a heck of a good read, a fun and moving story, by a woman who can write circles around many current memoirists. Her first book, about leaving a strict and nearly toxic sort of fundamentalism was called When We Were On Fire and was named by Publishers Weekly as one of the top five religious books of 2013. I loved most of it; it drew me into the story as a really good memoir does. This new one showcases her storytelling once again as she takes an emotionally-charged spiritual road trip, literally, searching for God as she takes her little ones on a trip to her roots, her homeland, down South. Do you have to “run away to find home?” What does one do when one doesn’t feel God’s presence? (Lauren Winner’s Still, anyone?)
At book workshops I did this spring I so enjoyed reading some of this memoir out loud — it’s funny, curious, poignant, and mostly hopeful in a desperate kind of way as she “stumbles towards a faith that makes room for doubt, disappointment, and darkness.” I’m creating this list, you know, as somewhat of a follow up to Ruined, the memoir of Ruth Everhart and her own coming of age at Calvin College after a searing rape and the lack of a supportive network to help her think through the theological implication of her story. Addie’s story is not Ruth’s, but it is a glimpse into a woman turning 30, no longer able to claim as her own the sort of faith she once had. A memoir about a woman’s road trip, searching for a coherent faith, living out a story that is haunted by God even if no longer shaped with certitude and the simple joy of her youth? Yep, Night Driving is a fine slice of life road trip tale and I think you (or somebody you know) would enjoy it — it’s quite a trip and quite a journey of the heart. Although less didactic, it would fit well for those who like the popular writing of Sarah Bessey (Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith) or Rachel Held Evans (Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding Church.)
After College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships and Faith by Erica Young Reitz (IVP) $16.00 It was a truly great joy a few weeks ago to be with Erica and her colleagues from the campus ministry organization the CCO to celebrate the release of this brand new book. Erica is one of the most gifted and insightful and caring campus workers we know, and we’ve watched her over the years as she developed a program at Penn State University to help college seniors prepare to exit well, to transition out of their academic experience and into the so-called “real world.” Her program has been immensely valuable for many, and in this new book she offers insight learned in those years with seniors preparing for the post-college years. She offers stories, insight, guidance and the clear voice of a stable, trusted friend as from a wise older sister, inviting young adults to take their faith seriously in their 20-something years.
You may know that I asked Erica to write in my own collection of essays — graduation speeches, really — called Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life; I was confident her short piece would stand up alongside Nicholas Wolterstorff, Amy Sherman, Steve Garber, John Perkins. I trust her immensely and love her clear, reliable writing style that has just a bit of zest.
Perhaps the above memoirs or studies of abuse or stories of seeking an allusive faith after struggles are a bit much. Maybe you have need of something a little less intense, but still a very good guide to help young adults navigate the transitions and inevitable rocky roads facing life after college. I can’t say enough good things about Erica’s book, and I thought I’d list it here since Ruined itself is, in many ways, a story of late college life and life after college. Erica’s book will help those who are hurting, but it is designed really for anyone who is seeking a lasting faith, meaningful vocations, and a renewed passion for honoring God in the way their young adult years unfold.
Please read my comments about it here, back when I was inviting folks to pre-order it. I tried to explain how excited we were. Now that it has indeed been released, we are eager to continue to promote it, letting folks know it makes a great, great gift for any young adult transitioning out of college life. https://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/booknotes/pre-order_after_college/
Congratulations, Erica, and thank you for sharing your wisdom and good, good writing.
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