Monday, August 17, 2015

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards - Book Review

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards

By: Jen Hatmaker

Expected Publication: August 18, 2015 by Nelson Books

224 pages

Genre: Religious, Spiritual, Christian, Inspirational

Source: Publisher via NetGalley (Thank you!!)

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NetGalley description--The popular writer, blogger, and television personality reveals with humor and style how Jesus' extravagant grace is the key to dealing with life's biggest challenge: people.

The majority of our joys, struggles, thrills, and heartbreaks relate to people, beginning first with ourselves and then the people we came from, married, birthed, live by, live for, go to church with, don't like, don't understand, fear, struggle with, compare ourselves to, and judge. People are the best and worst thing about the human life.

Jen Hatmaker knows this all too well, and so she reveals how to practice kindness, grace, truthfulness, vision, and love to ourselves and those around us. By doing this, For the Love leads our generation to reimagine Jesus' grace as a way of life, and it does it in a funny yet profound manner that Christian readers will love. Along the way, Hatmaker shows readers how to reclaim their prophetic voices and become Good News again to a hurting, polarized world.

You guys, I’m not even sure what to say about For the Love. I read listened to 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess several months ago and loved it. Everything from the message to the voice to the audio narrator was inviting. When I saw that Jen Hatmaker had a new book coming out, I jumped on it. I hesitate when requesting religious books for review because while I do read these type of books regularly, I don’t read them frequently enough or fast enough to really feel good about being able to review them by the release date. However, For the Love’s release date was so far in advance from when I requested it and the book so short (only right at 200 pages) that I thought I could make it work. Little did I know that I would read this one just as quickly as a fiction book. That just doesn’t happen to me very often. After reading several books recently that either felt irreverent as a whole or at least partially irreverent I felt like I needed a good dose of some reaffirming religious content. Jen Hatmaker seemed like a good bet.

The first twenty to thirty percent of For the Love had me highlighting large sections of text a time, emailing them to my friend Kay (the one who suggested I read 7 to begin with), and generally laughing out loud. This lady is hilarious. And on point. Only Jen Hatmaker could write an entire chapter dedicated to “Leggings are not pants” and “Tights are not leggings.” But there were serious subjects too, about the pressure we put on ourselves to be not a jack of all trades but a master of all trades—especially in the mom category. Even being an expected mother, I can totally see myself already placing these burdensome standards on myself that she discusses. Plus the first section of “thank you notes” in the style of Jimmy Fallon were also hilarious. I found myself nodding my head and “amening” throughout almost all of the first half of this book.

And then we get to the second half of the book. I won’t say the book took on a more serious tone as there were some rather serious topics discussed in the first half of the book, but I guess the humor was dialed back a notch with this second half. Perhaps that’s because this section was about how to deal with yourself. The remaining sections of the book were about dealing with people who live in your house, friends, neighbors, strangers, enemies, church, church people, not-church people, and God. It’s easy to laugh at ourselves I guess, but throw other people into the mix and waters can get muddy. For the Love still had plenty toward the second half of the book that had me nodding my head and amening. It gave me some good ideas on things I’d like to try when dealing with others and some things to think about. But I also found myself annoyed and confused about a few things.

There were a few references to the gay community which is a huge topic in our culture today, but mostly I came away from that subject unsure about Jen Hatmaker’s thoughts or convictions on the subject. I feel like she addressed this in the way that she did on purpose. It wasn’t the purpose of this book to discuss this subject in detail, but I wasn’t sure what the message was that she was trying to relay about this either. I was also unclear about her thoughts/definition of the church. This feels like semantics because there’s the biblical definition of the word “church”, what it means, and what all is entailed in it, and then there’s the 21st century American definition of the word. Why the difference matters isn’t always clear to everyone, but it does. And in the end, I wasn’t sure whether Jen Hatmaker was using the word in the biblical way or in the American 21st century way. Sometimes I felt one way and then others times I felt the opposite. One last complaint is that while it’s apparent that Jen Hatmaker is familiar with the Bible and what it says, For the Love was a little full of shoulds and shouldn’ts with very little actual Scripture used. Let me clarify, I don’t think this book was meant to be some big instructional manual (which I actually liked). It ended up feeling like a bunch of thoughts and realizations that Jen Hatmaker has had throughout her life. Conclusions that she’s come to. Etc.

At times, the overall message of For the Love felt like it was missing and some of the chapters felt disconnected. When I got finished I had to stop and really think back over the book to see if I could even recognize a common theme. It wasn’t really until I went back to the table of contents while writing this review that some of it made sense. I don’t know if that’s one of those “pregnancy brain” things that I’ve struggled with or if the lack of cohesion was an actual issue in execution.

Favorite quotes:

-Folks who thrive in God’s grace give grace easily, but the self-critical person becomes others-critical.

-We need to quit trying to be awesome and instead be wise.

-There’s a difference between humility and insecurity, and self-effacement does no one any favors.

-How many trot out that tired cliché—“I’m waiting for God to open a door”—and He’s all, “I love you, but get going, Pumpkin,” because usually chasing the dream in your heart looks surprisingly like work.

-A good parent prepares the child for the path, not the path for the child.

-I worry we consider “success” to be a product of the parent’s diligence more than the child’s.

-Lean honestly into every hard place, each tender spot, because truthfulness hurts for a minute, but silence is the kill shot.

-Married tongues should be shredded with the amount of ugly words bitten back.

-Loneliness can be a prison, but we have keys. You needn’t wait for someone to open the bars.

-You can’t pour antidote into poison forever and expect it to transform into something safe, something healthy.

In the end, For the Love is definitely a book that I enjoyed and got something out of. I enjoyed the first section the most. And while I find myself wanting to recommend this book to others, I also want to advise caution. I always direct readers to the Bible itself for any “how tos” or “should/shouldn’ts”. If there’s anything you read in For the Love that you just aren’t sure about, the best thing is to bounce what it says against what the Bible says. The Bible always win. The parts that had me laughing out loud made me want to give this book 4 Stars, but the parts that left me confused or concerned knocked that rating down to 3.5 Stars. Have you read For the Love? What did you think? Let me know!

This review was first published at Somewhere Only We Know.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess - Book Review

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

By: Jen Hatmaker

Published: January 1st 2012 by B&H Books (first published December 19th 2011)

228 pages

Genre: Nonfiction, Spiritual, Christian, Religious

Source: Borrowed from the library

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*Note: The above links to Amazon and Book Depository are affiliate links. Affiliate links support giveaways for Somewhere Only We Know readers.

Goodreads description--American life can be excessive, to say the least. That’s what Jen Hatmaker had to admit after taking in hurricane victims who commented on the extravagance of her family’s upper middle class home. She once considered herself unmotivated by the lure of prosperity, but upon being called “rich” by an undeniably poor child, evidence to the contrary mounted, and a social experiment turned spiritual was born.

7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence.

Food. Clothes. Spending. Media. Possessions. Waste. Stress. They would spend thirty days on each topic, boiling it down to the number seven. Only eat seven foods, wear seven articles of clothing, and spend money in seven places. Eliminate use of seven media types, give away seven things each day for one month, adopt seven green habits, and observe “seven sacred pauses.” So, what’s the payoff from living a deeply reduced life? It’s the discovery of a greatly increased God—a call toward Christ-like simplicity and generosity that transcends social experiment to become a radically better existence.

My friend, Kay, recommended 7 to me a while back. Her Bible class group went through it and she really enjoyed it. I’ve had it on my TBR list for at least a year if not more. I finally saw that the e-library had it available on audiobook and so I jumped on it.

Some background information though might be important. My husband and I live in a 1800ish square foot house built in the 1960s. Even before we married, 6 years ago, we’ve been working to renovate the house. It’s a slow process—even slower because we actually live in the house. We’ve painted. We’ve replaced. We’ve pulled out. We’ve thrown away. Oh and we’ve painted some more. One thing that was not a priority in the 1960s apparently was storage. Our closets are tiny. The kitchen is small (though not tiny), but the kitchen cabinets are tiny. A regular size box of cereal or bag of chips will not fit in one of our cabinets. We can stack one regular sized canned product on top of another. That’s about as tall as most of our cabinets are. The shelves are not adjustable. But it’s just the two of us, right? (For now.) And all things are relative. While I sit here and complain about the storage space available in our house, the real problem is that we have too much stuff with nowhere to put it. After my dad visited the Philippines on a mission trip where most people he encountered live in bamboo houses, and we heard through the grapevine about a family in Africa who was trying to get enough money together to build a mud house I started re-evaluating how blessed I am over the lack of storage space I have. All of this has had me thinking about my own personal excess in life. Enter 7.

The title and description pretty much sum this book up perfectly. The author, Jen Hatmaker, had a poor child temporarily staying in her house comment on how rich she and her family was. This really stuck with her. With some direction/motivation from something a friend of hers was doing, the idea of 7 was born. As the description says, she identified 7 areas of excess in her life: food, clothes, spending, media, possessions, waste, and stress. Each area was designated a month—30 days—of focus on reducing the excess. Again…repeating the description above, but 1) Food – Only eat 7 foods; 2) Clothing – Only wear 7 articles of clothing; 3) Possessions – Give away 7 things each day; 4) Media – Eliminate the use of 7 media sources; 5) Waste – Adopt 7 green-living habits; 6) Spending – Only spend money in 7 places; 7) Rest – Observe “7 sacred pauses” each day.

One thing that I like about 7 is that Jen Hatmaker isn’t trying to project this experiment on any and every one. She simply saw 7 areas in her life that she could cut back on and set out on her own personal experiment that she just so happened to write a book about, documenting her experiences. Sure she learned some very valuable lessons each month, and sure she would recommend those lessons to anyone, but she’s not saying throughout this book “you need to try this”. Of course, friends and family and strangers who have heard about her experiment have decided to try it for themselves, but this isn’t something that she’s projecting onto other people.

I loved the lessons that Jen Hatmaker learned, and I really do want to implement some of these ideas into my own life. There are so many things lying around my house that aren’t being used by me that someone else might be able to benefit from. I have clothes upon clothes upon clothes that I don’t wear. Let’s face it, a large portion of those clothes currently don’t even fit. I’m thankful that my life isn’t as busy as some. But yet I often find myself feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and exhausted mentally if not physically. Implementing practices that will lead to a more “rest”-filled life sounds like heaven. Point being…there are definitely areas I want to make some changes in my life to cut back on excess as well.

During the time she was writing this book, Jen Hatmaker (I keep wanting to call her “Jen” like we’re friends) and her husband, Brandon, were in the process of adopting two Ethiopian children. All of the sections in this book related to her adoption were particularly moving to me. When she discusses being completely disgusted with her natural born children throwing out almost a pound of chicken fingers simply because they did not have ketchup to go with them when her soon to be adoptive children likely went to bed with hungry bellies was particularly emotional. And even more than that, during the last month—the Rest month—when Jen (I’m rolling with it) and Brandon were both struck with a strong desire and need to pray for their adoptive children (not even knowing who these children would be exactly), and then she finds out that the exact day they were pressed with this need is the exact day the 5 year old little girl they ended up adopting was being abandoned at the orphanage. Now that…that got me for sure. Moments like this were sprinkled throughout the book, and I’m thankful for getting to experience this book and see God work in the lives of people I don’t know and have never met. It warms my heart and builds my faith.

Ultimately I think of all the blessings that I’ve been given stewardship over in my own life, and I have to ask myself whether I’m being a good steward or not. And that’s one thing that 7 helped me to do—to realize how much work I have left to do. I highly recommend 7 to anyone who is feeling overwhelmed in their lives. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Cut back. Give away. Donate. Repurpose. 7 gets 4.5 Stars from me. Have you read 7? What did you think? Let me know!

Also, side note...the narrator, Rebecca Gallagher, of the audiobook did such a good job that I just KNEW it had to be Jen Hatmaker reading the book herself. Yet when I went to double check that fact, I realized it was someone else entirely which means I was highly impressed.