Twelve Apostolic Women by Joanne Turpin

Twelve Apostolic Women by Joanne Turpin

This review was originally published in Spiritual Uprising Magazine's May 2014 issue and is reprinted with permission. I encourage you to check out Spiritual Uprising at

I started reading Twelve Apostolic Women by Joanne Turpin as part of my Providence Circle. The goal was that we would read the book chapter by chapter and then get together to discuss. While we haven’t been able to meet as often as we would like, I have read the book on my own.

I think that this book has great insight. For those Christians who are bothered by the seemingly male-dominated quality of Christian history, reading a book about twelve women in the New Testament and learning about their role in the Apostolic era is eye-opening.

Turpin’s writing is good. You can tell in reading her work how much she has studied the Apostolic era—the research she has done into ancient Christian tradition (most of which have been forgotten by all but the academics in the Church) is phenomenal. Most Christians know little about Salome, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, or Tabitha. Most of us have never even heard of Prisca or Lydia. Turpin tells the stories of these women with devotion and full belief.

My primary critique of this book comes from her lack of citations. She will say something and cite it in tradition, but usually never mentions which text to find the story in. She puts complete faith in obscure texts that the Church has never claimed to be true or infallible. Like many Catholics, she tries to get rid of the discomfort of mystery by giving credence to unsubstantiated traditions. Yet, her work allows the reader to connect with scripture in a whole new way. In addition, while some of the traditions she cites might be suspect or have been completely cast off by most Christians (the stories of Mary’s childhood, for example), she also uses finds from modern archaeology to help her tell the story—and that works beautifully.

Turpin’s book is not only educational, but spiritual. She includes great discussion questions that are useful both for a group reading and a personal reading. Each chapter ends with a prayer, making it a great choice for spiritual reading.

In the end, while I would caution readers new to the study of Biblical History to not take everything Turpin says as fact, I would definitely recommend this book as a great read for a group or personal spiritual reading.

When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman

When We Were on Fire

by Addie Zierman

I received this book for free from 

Blogging for Books

 for this review.

In her memoir about life as an evangelical teen in the WWJD-ridden church of the ‘90s, Addie Zierman reminds us all that sometimes you don’t have to be in a cult to experience a brain-washing, manipulative, and abusive cult-like atmosphere.


When We Were on Fire

, Zierman is open and honest about her past. Her writing goes back and forth between telling her story in first person and setting up the scene in the second person, making the reader feel like they are Addie in the story. An unusual but well employed writing style, Zierman helps the reader to relate and identify with both the painful and wonderful experiences about which Zierman writes.

While it’s hard to write a review about someone’s memoirs, I can say that I think this book is brilliantly written. Zierman puts her soul into it, openly sharing the pain and joy of her life with the reader.

I relate to a lot of what she writes. While the Evangelical Church of the 1990’s is well known for brain-washing, no faith tradition is completely free of that experience. What stuns me about her story is how deeply Zierman’s wounds impact her later life. Her memoir is like a combination story and warning: “Find a way to deal with this before you find yourself in my shoes. Work it out. See a counselor before you’re drunk and tempted to cheat on your husband because Church People are coming between the two of you.”

The one thing that really gets me about Zierman’s writing is that she holds nothing back. She is blatantly honest about driving drunk—no apologies, no self-defense. She just states it, the same way she states that as a child sanctity was measured by how many WWJD bracelets you wore. It is a brutal honesty, an honesty that, in my humble opinion, should be forgiven and loved rather than judged. This book is her confession in a sense—and it ends as all Christian stories should end, in hope and resurrection.

For more information about this author, see her website at


To read the first chapter of this book for free, visit

I give

When We Were on Fire

a solid 4/5.

Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther

Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther

I received this book for free to review through the Blogging for Books program.

Last night, I read the book Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther in its entirety. The only bad thing I have to say about this book is the day on which I chose to read it. It was the night before a busy day and I meant only to read a chapter or two, but I became so immersed in her story that I realized I was only a few chapters from the end and it was 2am. I literally could not put it down.

I think that my reaction to this book, from a spiritual perspective, is at first a little odd. Reading EE’s (as she calls herself on her blog) words, it was as if I related to some of the brainwashing experience— but of course, I didn’t actually grow up in a cult and I don’t consider myself brainwashed (every time someone told her that asking questions is a sin, I wanted to call my youth minister and thank him for encouraging questions—faith is so much more real when its your own and not imposed). It’s like she is able to capture so much in her writing that she makes the experience tangible, makes it real. Yet, looking back at the reading experience, I feel like there were many experiences she had that remind me of problems in my own faith tradition, albeit significantly worse. The Assembly seems to me like an extreme version of the already extreme right wing of the Church (the ones who considered themselves more Catholic than the pope when Benedict XVI was still on the throne—many of whom have found their groups being censored by Rome). I find the parallels slightly terrifying, but that’s for another blog.

EE not only grew up in The Assembly, a homegrown, fundamentalist Christian group; the founder of the group, George Geftakys, is her grandfather, giving her at a unique perspective and insight into The Assembly from an early time until its demise. A small Christian sect that easily fits into the “cult” category, The Assembly used brain-washing and mind control tactics (essentially making all members terrified to disagree with anyone in the hierarchy) in addition to abusive corporal punishment on their children in the same line as the Pearls’ (in the book, EE even indicates that she thinks her grandfather’s church was worse than what the Pearls were known for). The Assembly was, along with many similar cults, guilty of misinterpreting scripture to make women submissive in the extreme, blaming every sin of the man on the weakness of the woman.

The interesting thing about memoirs of young people escaping from cults is that you already know the end when you pick it up: they get out. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be writing the story to begin with. With Elizabeth Esther, it’s a little different. Even though I certainly baulked at the things that she was taught in The Assembly, you can tell from her storytelling how intensely she believed the flawed theology that her parents and grandparents passed on to her, how much it hurt her to leave the community that she had been with since birth. You cry with her and agonize over the decision that she must eventually make: to leave The Assembly. It is easy to understand, and empathize with, her reasons for doing so. Yet, it is heartbreaking.

Elizabeth Esther is a phenomenal writer, especially given her past. The opportunity to walk with her on her journey is an opportunity to share sacred moments in her life. Her courage in writing this book and doing the work she does with survivors shines through in her willingness to share intimate and personal details about her life: spiritual, family, everything. She holds little back and it makes the story that much more touching.

If you want to read this book, you can check out the first chapter here. You can find more information on the publisher’s website and on Elizabeth Esther’s page.

I give Girl at the End of the World a 5/5—a rare honor, but deserved.

Note: This book, while wonderful and touching, is an emotional roller coaster. At some points, I sobbed reading it. At other points, my hand was clenched into a fist. I don’t recommend reading this book when you’re already feeling emotionally drained or depressed. It’s a great book, but the same writing that makes it so great also allows you to experience some small piece of the agony with the author, making it dangerous if you’re in an already emotionally unhealthy state.

Pray for Me: The Life and Spiritual Vision of Pope Francis, First Pope of the Americas by Robert Moynihan

Pray for Me: The Life and Spiritual Vision of Pope Francis, First Pope of the Americas by Robert Moynihan

This book was provided to me free of charge as part of the Blogging for Books program.

When I started this book back in November, I was eager to learn more about our new pope. Unfortunately, the book (through no fault of its own!) somehow ended up at the bottom of my reading pile. Now, a year after Pope Francis’ historic election, I have picked it up again.

Pray for Me has three distinct parts. The first part delves deeply into the first few days of Francis’ papacy, from his election to his Palm Sunday Mass. The second reveals some of the elements that have had a deep impact on him and have formed him into the man he is. The third is a collection of his own writings, revealing even more about the man who has succeeded Peter.

The first part goes deeply into those first few days, all the more important to me because during the first five days of Francis’ papacy, I was on mission without access to technology or information about what was going on in Rome. Even now, one year later, these events feel new and eye-opening to a traditional Roman Catholic. In reading this book, have been reminded again and again of the novelty of Francis and of the gift that the Holy Spirit has given our Church.

In the first part, Moynihan’s writing is clear and authentic. He gives us his own take on those first few days and lets us experience with him all that we, on the other side of the world, missed out on. Hearing his experiences talking with other reporters and journalists is also intriguing, it gives us an honest and unique vision of what was going on in Rome at that time.

Part two goes into his family background and his spiritual background, explaining events of his childhood, his calling, and listing five of his “spiritual guides,” (Jonah, Mary, Ignatius of Loyola, Don Luigi Guissani, and, of course, Francis of Assisi). I think that the range of these guides can tell us a lot about the dynamic spiritual life that Francis lives and encourages us to be less narrow-minded in our vision of Heaven. The Catholic Church is supposed to be “universal,” after all.

Part three is illuminating in the writings of Pope Francis, helping us to know him better and understand more fully the remarks he has made since those early days of his papacy.

While I am sure that there are many books out now about Pope Francis, I think that Pray for Me can give a unique perspective on the beginning of this papacy, important now and possibly, more important in the future. I give this book a solid 4/5.

Saints Preserved tells about exactly what the title indicates

When I chose to read Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics by Thomas J. Craughwell, I did so mostly because I tend to think that relics are a little on the weird side. And, since I am a Roman Catholic and I work in ministry, I thought that reading up on this unique tradition in the Catholic Church, perhaps I would be able to relate to it better.

This book, while it doesn’t talk that much about relics in general, did help me to understand this unappreciated tradition a little better. The author reminds us to think about how we relate to our own familial “relics.” For example, is it really so strange to treasure things belonging to a saint when we treasure in our own families the things that belonged to our ancestors: grandma’s china, grandpa’s pipe? And then there are the first class relics—but is it strange to treasure the bodies of saints (or body parts) when there are plenty of families that have their ancestors’ cremated remains in their homes? Or, when we visit graves of deceased friends? Craughwell makes it seem that relics are really a natural part of the human experience. Catholics just seem to talk about them a little more than most.

In addition to giving me a greater appreciation for relics, I think that the real strength of this book is that it gives you an opportunity to learn more about saints. Craughwell writes a little blurb on each saint discussed, tells you why they were thought important enough to honor their remains. Then, he tells the (sometimes humorous) tale of how their remains ended up where they are, or how claims about the remains were made. When talking about one of the many saints that apparently have multiple sets of remains, he gives both accounts, never taking a side.

This book is interesting and is a great opportunity to learn more about both Saints and relics. It is exactly what the title makes it sound like: an encyclopedia of relics. If you’re looking for a more clear theology or better information on why we honor relics, this is not the book for you. However, if you want a little information on relics, a little information about saints, and a few laughs, I highly recommend Thomas J. Craughwell’s Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics.

(This book was provided free of charge by Waterbrook Multnomah for reviewing purposes.)

Another Book Recommendation: Into the Depths

            I have just finished reading Into the Depths by a Benedictine sister, Sister Mary Margaret Funk. I was given this book by a friend to read and review-- it was written by a good friend of hers. Little did I know that this book would speak to me so much with where I am in my life now.
            The book is the story of the author's soul journey-- and it is a journey that should humble the best of us. The story is divided into three parts. The first, the story of her calling to a religious vocation, is entertaining yet serious. She shares the trials of adjusting to the monastic life even as the monastic life is adjusting to a new world. Her honest words, sharing both the joys of finding her call and the pain of dealing with depression, are filled with wisdom and I think her thoughts could be helpful to anyone discerning-- whether in their vocation or simply in life. The second part, the story of a tragedy that she experienced in Bolivia and the peace she found in the midst of terror, are a great reminder to the ways in which God can work even when the whole world seems to be upside down. The crux of her story, the third part, synthesizes the first two parts and gives an honest understanding of how we  can be tempted to ignore God even when he is so visible and real and how to resist that temptation.

            It seems somehow cheap to say that I enjoyed reading Funk's story because I think that this is a story that will, over time, sink into the soul and call you to conversion. But at the same time her likable writing style and almost off-putting honesty make it enjoyable too. A  quick read, I recommend this book to anyone and everyone. I think that there is a lot of wisdom to be found in Sr. Mary Margaret's little book. Now I think I need to read her other works as well.

You can find a copy of this book here:

Quiet makes a good resource, but poor reading

As you might recall, I'm doing a program called Blogging for Books. I was given the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a world that Just Can't Stop Talking to review. Here are my thoughts:

I’ll start with the good and then go into the bad.

The book Quiet was an interesting read for me as an introvert. I think it helped me to understand myself better and to see how my own talents can make me a better leader, even in an extroverted world.

As a leader, I found the reading even more interesting as it explored the ways in which groups accomplish, or don’t accomplish, their tasks. An interesting reflection on the nature of human interactions, this book is a good read for anyone interested in learning more about those interactions.

The book, however, is not a “fun” read and I found it difficult to motivate myself to finish it in the midst of graduate exams. It’s certainly not what I would choose to read in the evening when my time is limited—there are so many more interesting books to read.

So, in the end, while I would recommend it as a great resource for introverts, extroverts wanting to understand introverts, and leaders wanting insight on leading large groups, I would not recommend this book as one to curl up with. Perhaps it would be better as a resource than as a book to read cover to cover.

My Sisters the Saints

My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir

by Colleen Carroll Campbell

I’ve finished book number 78 for 2012, My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir by Colleen Carroll Campbell.

This book is Campbell’s memoir of her spiritual journey and about the six women saints who have become her patronesses and closest friends. She intertwines the stories of these women saints with her own story, telling the reader how they have given her hope, guidance, and strength on her own spiritual journey.

To begin, I have to say that I think this book hit me personally very strongly, as some of her own struggles are struggles that I share—particularly a father with Alzheimers. Because of this connection, I found myself reading Campbell’s memoirs with a box of tissues sitting next to me, taking short breaks when my eyes were so filled with tears that I couldn’t see the page. For me, hearing how she found comfort in Therese of Lisieux’s similar experiences of a father with dmensia were personally helpful and I will take her thoughts and shared experiences to prayer.

I also related to much of what Campbell writes in a professional way. Her memories of college life correspond well with my experiences as a college campus minister. She writes that for her it seemed “better to be labeled shallow, stuck-up, drunk, or debauched—anything but devout” (page 22). If you have encountered this and struggled with it or been mystified by it, then I think this book is for you.

At the very beginning of the text, Campbell sets the stage by telling about an experience she had in college where she looked around her and asked the same question I see many of my students asking themselves, “Is this it? Is this all there is?” She walked away in hopes of finding a satisfactory answer. I think that this book is an answer and it is one that can help readers move forward in their own spiritual lives. I think that readers who have had similar experiences to her, whether it is an exact experience, such as a father who struggles with Alzheimer’s, or simply the wider experience of trying to determine what it means to be free in a world bound by the chains of sin or to be feminine in a society that seems to stand against femininity (both themes continued throughout the book), will find in Campbell’s memoirs a story of hope and also an idea for how to move forward in their own lives.

As a spiritual memoir, Campbell’s writing is insightful and prayerful, a good book to read when you are in your own moment of questioning. As a book, Campbell’s writing is clear and alive. She truly captures the reader, inviting them to walk with her as she tells her story and also those of the women saints—Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Faustina, Edith Stein, Mother Teresa, and Mary, Mother of God. The parallels that she draws between her own life and those of the saints are insightful. The lessons she learns are encouraging. And throughout she brings to life for the reader the many characters of her tale—her mother and father, husband, and friends—in such a way that the reader is bound to love them as she does.

I highly recommend this book.

For more information on Colleen and her writing, visit her website:

The first chapter of the book can be found at

WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group provided this book to me for free in exchange for this honest review as part of their Blogging for Books program.

100 Book Challenge—Books #19-26

I’ve fallen behind in my blogging, so I thought I’d give a quick update on my reading challenge.

100 Book Challenge—Book #19 The Dairy and Gluten Free Kitchen  by Denise Jardine

Aunt Marie bought me this cookbook for my birthday this year and I loved it! It helped me find a lot more ways to cook gluten free. I’ve marked several recipes and hope to make them soon.

Book #20—Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

How can anyone not love Little Women? I’ve never read it before, but I had seen the movie as a child. The book far outstrips anything a movie could give. I love the moral lessons and the religious nature of the novel, I hadn’t expected quite so much of it. I now see why it’s a classic book for little girls to read.

Book #21—Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Again, I hadn’t read the book before, but I’d seen the movie. It was my favorite movie as a kid (introduced to me by my Hannah) and that movie was my first introduction to Austen. I love Austen and am in a quick way of being a most devout fan. I’m now reading Pride and Prejudice.

Book #22—The Suicide Club by Robert Louis Stevenson

I had read this in high school, but the content had become fuzzy. A short novel, it’s a compilation of three short stories. It’s quite good and a fun read. A little confusing because of so many characters having code names, but I was reading it in the hospital while Dad was sick, so that might contribute to the confusion.

Book #23—One: How Many People does it take to make a difference? by Dan Zadra

Someone bought this for me for graduation and I finally got to sit down and read it through. This is a fantastic book, a good book to read when you’re down or questioning your importance in the world. It helped remind me that God made us all for a reason. I loved the book so much that I bought another book by the same author. See below.

Book #24—The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu

This was a book that has been sitting on my shelf for some time and I finally got around to reading it. It’s like a precursor to Percy Jackson (really, I have to wonder if Reardon got some ideas from Ursu). It features a set of cousins who must venture into the underworld to save the world. Great book, highly recommended.

Book #25—The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I have been wanting to read this book for sometime. I started it as a kid and never finished it. Finally got around to it and LOVED it! It’s a great mystery story. I had a lot of fun figuring out the ending. Lots of twists and turns, great characters, and a good story of redemption and giving back. Well written children’s book! Recommend.

Book #26—Five: Where will you be five years from today? by Dan Zadra

I loved this one just as much as One. I recommend it for those who are currently trying to discern their future. It helps focus. Also, great inspiration for making your bucket list. 

100 Book Challenge—Book #15 The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis

100 Book Challenge—Book #15 The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis

I had meant to read The Great Divorce for some time, and after prodding from our professor, Dr. Cavadini, this summer, I thought I might as well. My dad bought it for me for Christmas a couple years ago and I just hadn’t taken the time to read it yet.

The book is about Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory and, like Lewis’ ideas about the afterlife portrayed in The Chronicles of Narnia, the image of death and of God is unlike traditional theology, yet so fitting and so good. I love it.

If you haven’t read it yet and would like a nice, short read, go for it! It’s lovely language, as always for Lewis. 

100 Book Challenge—Book #14 The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

100 Book Challenge—Book #14 The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I’ve already written about the impact that reading this book has been having on me. I can’t say this enough: it is a FANTASTIC BOOK! I’ve been meaning to read it ever since I saw an article on it in Whole Living back in January 2011.  Then, last week, I saw it on the shelf at Meijer and bought it. I feel like God must have really wanted me to read it, because I’ve been trying not to buy new books (I have too many to read as it is). But this one was a blessing.

The author spent a year trying to be happier. This isn’t the story of someone who went out trying to change the rest of the world. Instead, she is trying to change herself to make herself a better friend, wife, and mother, similar to the movie If a Man Answers. And I have to say, her work is admirable.

Each month, she focuses on a different aspect of her life to work on and comes up with resolutions that she checks in a very Franklinesque manner. She does research on happiness and on each area, which I admire. She’s a true bibliophile and seems to love reading, writing, and just books in general as much as I do. I think I’ve found my literary soul mate.

Also, even though she’s agnostic, she has a deep love for St. Therese of Lisieux. So, I have to give her credit for that.

She loves quotations and lists. I have to admit, part of the reason I love this book so much is because I feel like it makes me feel more normal.

She makes a list of her “12 Commandments” (a practice I think I need to take up) and a list of “Secrets of Adulthood” that she has learned in her life.

I highly recommend this book. Please, please read it.

100 Book Challenge—Book #13 Living Your Strengths by Albert L. Wiseman

100 Book Challenge—Book #13 Living Your Strengths by Albert L. Wiseman

I’ve already written about how fascinating I find the Strengths Finder test. The book, which I had to buy in order to take the test, is very helpful as well. In addition to showing how knowing your strengths can help in ministry, it also gave stories of different people and learning to use their strengths as well as providing Bible verses for each strength to pray over.

It also gave me a deep desire to learn more about the strengths finder and look into strengths coaching to go along with spiritual direction. It might be a good idea for our retreat center.