Category Archives: Religion

Book Review: A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

house-in-the-sky-9781451645613_lgA House in the Sky

by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
ISBN 978-1-4516-5148-5
Scribner, 2013

This one will stay with me for a while. 

Since I finished reading, my mind returns again and again to memorable scenes, pivotal moments, and mystical insights.

For most of us, international travel is an occasional money-depleting endeavour undertaken between long stretches of home, but for Amanda Lindhout, home was an occasional money-replenishing pastime undertaken between long stretches of international travel. Lindhout backpacked around the world, ticking off countries on an invisible list, comparing and contrasting the reality of them to National Geographic pages she thumbed through as a child. The National Geographic photos were one of the stable factors in an often turbulent childhood.

The book begins with the stories of this childhood, which, if examined deeply enough, might merit a book of their own. Her memories of this time are both not really relevant and entirely relevant to the core of what this memoir is about: a kidnapping Somalia. For readers to understand how Lindhout ends up in Somalia at one of its most dangerous times in history, she needs to tell us the childhood and teenage events that shaped her, and she needs to delineate her evolution from “carefree young backpacker” to “aspiring war correspondent.” And she needs to let us know how Nigel Brennan ended up along with her on such a horrific journey.

This book takes reader on an up-and-down emotional ride: a downer of violence and alcohol abuse, an exciting ascending stretch of international travel to exotic locations, a gut-clenching plateau of apprehension because we know what lies ahead, a long, slow descent into horror, and finally an upward coast to healing, forgiveness and plans for the future.

Lindhout gives an honest account of her missteps and her self-blame and guilt, especially when it comes to the complicated relationship with Nigel. She shares how she used the power of imagination and gratitude to persevere through months of boredom, and physical hardship.

Lindhout and Corbett write a compelling story that, at the end of it all, is a tribute to the power of compassion and spirit. It stays with you for a while.



Book Review: Zealot by Reza Aslan

9780679603535Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

by Reza Aslan
ISBN 9780679603535
Random House, 2013

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword.” —Matthew 10:34

Reza Aslan begins Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth with the above quote above as the epigraph. It made this peace-loving Christian squirm. I sat up and prepared to have my assumptions challenged.

Aslan described himself as a man “raised in a motley family of lukewarm Muslims and exuberant atheists . . .” At age 15 he “found Jesus,” and then still later unchained himself from the belief that Bible stories were literally true. The author with Muslim/atheist/Christian background studied and sought more meaningful truth in our ancient texts. Out of his studies grew an interpretation of what the Jesus before Christianity would have been like.

“Jesus of Nazareth—Jesus the man—is every bit as compelling, charismatic, and praiseworthy as Jesus the Christ. He is, in short, someone worth believing in.”

Aslan builds a mind-world for us. He re-creates in vivid detail the “obscure hamlet” of Nazareth and first century Palestine. Within the Nazarene peasant homes  of “whitewashed mud and stone” he sets the kind of man who would arise out of such a place. He shows what he believes Jesus of Nazareth, a man shaped by the people, the geography, and the politics of that impoverished village would be like.

Aslan’s insights into Paul and the unforeseen affect his actions would have on the shape of the church were particularly interesting. When Paul called Jesus “Jesus Christ” instead of “Jesus the Christ,” for example, his slant rippled down through the centuries to the Christians of today. Jesus the man dealt with the earthy bodily concerns of his people. He fought against poverty and oppression, he resisted Roman authorities, and he struggled for justice. Paul and others minimized Jesus’ nationalistic human concerns and transformed him into a universal spiritual leader. Out of that grew a new religion, something Jesus wouldn’t have imagined.

“. . . practically every word ever written about Jesus of Nazareth, including every gospel story in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, was written by people who, like Stephen and Paul, never actually knew Jesus when he was alive . . .”

Every reader will come to this book with different amounts of knowledge of the Bible and other historical writings, and with different interpretations of what they know. Some of the historical facts Aslan shares will surprise some readers; some of his assertions will upset others.

This book will kindle conversations about Jesus, Paul and Christianity, and it is a worthy read for that reason alone.









Book Review: God Wore Glasses by Thomas G. Papps

God Wore Glassegod-wore-glasses-tom-papps-300pxs: An Inspirational Account of One Man’s Brush with God

by Thomas G. Papps
ISBN: 978-0-9848162-3-1
Kallisti Publishing, 2013

“Is there a God? Is there an afterlife? Are there miracles?” “This is a book that will answer those three questions. More than that, it will answer them in the positive. Even more than that, it will offer proof that there is an afterlife, there is a God, and miracles do indeed happen.”

That’s a lofty claim. Proof of God, an afterlife and miracles? Wow. 

What do you think of that? Do you eagerly look forward to reading yet another story of God’s glorious existence? Do you expect to read a touching story that you will be able to explain away as coincidence? Or do you think it’s a bunch of hokum?

Thomas G. Papps expects you to have one of those three reactions to his story of a brush with God, for that is how readers of his early drafts responded. He found that a large majority (90%) believed something religious happened, a smaller number of people (5%) believed the story to be a true account of a series of coincidences that create the illusion of a religious experience, and an equal number (5%) believed the book to be the work of a charlatan.

In his youth, Papps was an atheist and a critic of organized religion. When he experienced a series of uncanny events that could be described as mystical, he responded in the way an atheistic religious critic would: slowly and analytically.

Papps is a retired trial attorney, and he lays out the story of meeting a God who wore glasses and his subsequent analysis of the event as if he were presenting his case to a jury pool. His approach robs the story of some of its charm. In fact, it’s almost difficult to locate the specifics of the actual experience with God from within the nest of preamble, research and argument.

Papps’ experience of the divine took him from “an atheist to an agnostic to a probable believer.”  (He reserves some room for doubt because he is still “not prepared to believe in most tenets of any religion.”)

In his examination of the event, Papps discusses evolution, sociology and religion.  How you respond to his story will depend on how you respond to the arguments he puts forth. Personally, I didn’t agree with some of his interpretations of Jewish religious history, and while I enjoyed reading his insights into the evolution of angler fish and bombardier beetles, I don’t believe he can quite claim to have proof of the existence of God, the promise of an afterlife or the possibility of miracles—at least not proof that the skeptical 10% would buy into.

If you’re one of the 90% who don’t need proof anyway, you will enjoy a lovely story of a God who wore glasses, and you will find the analysis of the event enlightening. If you are an agnostic or atheist who has had a mystical experience that you can’t explain but can’t forget either, you will find Papps journey from skeptic to believer reassuring. If you think it’s a bunch of hokum, carry on and come back to this someday if you discover a chink in that armour.


I was not financially compensated for this post. I received the book from Kallista Publishing for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

Book Review: Beyond Belief by Josh Hamilton

5f454fee7d985d67b1b6fc87d3d40cf6Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back

by Josh Hamilton with Tim Keown
ISBN: 9781599951607
FaithWords, 2010

Every once in a while it’s good to re-live “The Dream.” Every once while it’s good to read a story that raises goosebumps. Every once in a while it’s good to reflect on Josh Hamilton’s life to learn something about how to live ours.

It’s Beyond Belief that at the age of 6 Josh Hamilton already showed such outstanding baseball skills that he played with his eleven-year-old brother’s Little League team. It’s Beyond Belief that the first player chosen in the first round of the 1999 baseball draft would end up selling his wife’s wedding ring to buy crack cocaine. It’s Beyond Belief what happened at the 2008 Major League Baseball All-Star Game:

Josh Hamilton stepped up to the Yankee Stadium home plate. He took a few practice swings, settled into the relaxed bounce of his batting stance and waited for his pitches. An awestruck crowd watched his mesmerizing performance as he blasted 28 home runs in the first round. No one took eyes off his performance. If they had to pee, they held it. If they wanted a snack, they waited. Swing after swing, he launched balls into the stands, many of them 500 feet or farther. Only one other player in all-star history even came close to this number of home runs in one round. (Bobby Abreu, with 24.) His fellow players looked on and asked, “How do you follow that?”

Not bad for a reformed drug addict and alcoholic who was suspended from baseball for three years for drug use.

In the winter of 2005-2006 Josh Hamilton found faith, pulled himself out of a haze of drugs and alcohol and got clean. That same winter he had a dream. He dreamed that he would take part in a home run derby in Yankee Stadium and he foresaw himself being interviewed by a female television reporter. At the time, he was still under suspension. At the time the All-Star game had still not been awarded to Yankee Stadium. It made no sense.

In July 2008 he lived the dream—and how. In interviews with ESPN following his performance his voice cracked as he thanked God for getting him to that point. An ESPN commentator summarized the spectacle:

“It’s a lousy night to be an atheist.”

Josh Hamilton’s life is noteworthy for its extremes.

As a baseball player he was (and is) so very good, so exceptionally good, so head-turningly good. As a drug addict he was so very destructive, so body-ravagingly destructive, so head-shakingly destructive. As a comeback player he was so very miraculous, so odds-defyingly miraculous, so head-tiltingly miraculous.

With such a roller-coaster life, no wonder Josh Hamilton wants Jesus beside him for the ride.

Hamilton speaks openly about the role of his Christian faith in his life, but he doesn’t impose his views on his audience. He can’t tell his story without sharing his faith, though, for without it his story would have a different, sadder end. In the bedroom of his grandmother’s house, with the smell of crack cocaine still lingering in the air, he read James 4:7: “Humble yourself before God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” The Bible words became the foundation for his new life. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, Josh Hamilton repeated the mantra and rebuilt his body, his marriage, his family relationships and his career. The power of those words proved more powerful than the craving for drugs. The power of those words led to “The Dream” fulfilled and gave baseball fans the gift of watching Josh Hamilton play.

Josh Hamilton was born to play baseball, but that’s not all. “This is about so much more than baseball,” he says. Faith, addiction and outreach loom large in the arc of his life story. That’s why, every once in a while it’s good to re-live “The Dream” of Josh Hamilton’s baseball life. Every once in a while it’s good to feel those goosebumps when reading about faith winning out over the ravages of addiction. Every once in a while it’s good to reflect on Josh Hamilton’s life to learn something about how to take life’s hard lessons learned and use them to help others.

“. . . I believe if it could happen to me it could happen to anybody. I believe I am a good person who made bad choices. I believe I am living testimony to the power of addiction. I’m the cautionary tale. I accept that.” —Josh Hamilton


Read about the Josh and Katie Hamilton FourTwelve Foundation here:

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