Wednesday, June 30, 2021

June Reflections

June 2021 Bible Reading
  • In June I read Matthew 13-16 thirty times
  • In June I read Psalm 73-89 thirty times
  • In June I continued using the ESV Bible app to read the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan
  • In June I finished the NRSV using the Bible in 90 Days plan
  • In June I began reading the NASB 2020 (Large Print Thinline) for the (greatly modified) Horner plan
  • In June I began reading the BSB (Berean Study Bible). 

Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

33. Chasing Shadows. Lynn Austin. 2021. [June] 432 pages. [Source: Review copy]
34. The Heart's Charge (Hanger's Horsemen #2). Karen Witemeyer. 2021. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]
35. Where the Light Fell. Philip Yancey. 2021. [October] 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
36. Glory in the Margins. Nikki Grimes. 2021. [September] 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

5. Simple Faith Bible (NRSV)Edited by Jimmy Carter. God. 1989/2020. Zondervan. 1568 pages. [Source: Gift from friend] 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, June 24, 2021

36. Glory in the Margins

Glory in the Margins. Nikki Grimes. 2021. [September] 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: When was the last time you heard the words poem and pulpit in the same sentence?

Nikki Grimes newest poetry book is a collection of one hundred poems inspired by the Word. She writes, "As a person of faith with a reverence for the Holy Word of God, I also understand that God welcomes, and even invites, the honest questions of his children, and so I come to the Word with an open heart, bringing my questions with me. As I climb into the skins of the men and women I encounter in Scripture, I try to look at the world through their eyes, asking the hard questions of God that they must have asked, seeking the same solace, wisdom, inspiration, and guidance they must have sought..."

The poems are arranged by month--thirteen months in all. January through another January. There are a handful of poems per month. Enough to cover all the Sundays within a given month for sure. 

I would say most poems are tied directly to a Scripture. (Not all poems do. That doesn't mean the ones without are less biblical, less inspired by the Word of God, they are just more general.) 

The poems often encourage readers to slow down and process--perhaps meditate is the better word for the religious context. Scriptures can be rushed through--passing in and right back out again. But reading these poems can help you slow down, unpack, really tune in. It isn't so much that the poems are absolutely necessary for this practice of reading the Bible. But it's a practice, a discipline, that perhaps many don't make time for in their busy lives. 

The poems point readers straight to Scripture. The poems aren't trying to take the place of Scripture. 

I read through the book in one sitting. I would probably advise readers to savor the book more slowly. Definitely make time to look up the Scriptures. The book definitely has a devotional vibe.

I have a handful of favorites from this collection. I will not share any poem in its entirety. Just a brief stanza or possibly two from each that I called FAVORITE. 

From The Bright Side of Repentance:

Webster has got it wrong this time,
Repentance is not
feeling regret
although we may.
Repentance is action. It's that dirty
little six letter word
we have all heard
and wish we hadn't:

From One Cookie Leads To Another

Intense hunger
is a scream in the belly
piercing you from the inside out
demanding attention
the sorry state
forty days of fasting
will leave you in.
It is good to remember that hunger
carries no shame
but how we fill ourselves
may well be up for review.
If we knew 
God was watching 
how often would our hands
disappear inside those
cookie jars labeled
Do Not Touch?

From Safe Deposit

Stress is a word
life teaches us to spell.
We are all well-acquainted
with worry
that wicked worm
that eats us
from the inside out.

From Worth

We owe him skin and bone
heart and breath
for deleting eternal death
from our stories.
Our talents, our tithes
our bodies
as living sacrifices--
is anything too much
to surrender?
Ask Judas
whose cold coins failed to satisfy
his soul.

From Petition

To intercede is to plead with God
on behalf of another
slipping on another's skin
standing beneath the canopy
of another's sin
and asking the inventor of mercy
to forgive us both.
To go before him
we must first agree.
Then it is on us to recall
the very nature of this Holy Father,
his splendor, his might,
his glorious grace
proven through the ages.
Only then are we prepared
to pray for another
groaning with as much passion
as we would summon for ourselves.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

35. Where the Light Fell

Where the Light Fell. Philip Yancey. 2021. [October] 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Not until college do I discover the secret of my father’s death. My girlfriend, who will later become my wife, is making her first visit to my home city of Atlanta, in early 1968. The two of us stop by my grandparents’ house with my mother, have a snack, and retire to the living room.

Where The Light Fell is Philip Yancey's memoir. After reading it, it clarifies why his books are almost always touching on two subjects: PAIN and GRACE. For the record, I don't think I've read any of his solo books. Yes, I know he's been around forever and ever--five decades. (His books include: What's So Amazing About Grace?, The Jesus I Never Knew, Where Is God When It Hurts?, Disappointment with God, Soul Survivor, Prayer: Does It Make a Difference?, What Good is God?, The Bible Jesus Read, etc.)

What should you know? 

It is a memoir. That sounds obvious. Yet, in skimming the reviews of it so far, I've stumbled across some comments like all this guy talks about is his life. Yes, it's a memoir. He's going to talk about his life. 

Yancey is a Christian. But. His faith didn't come easy. He may have been raised in a Christian home, but that complicated matters whether than eased them. That's not me making assumptions. That is his reflection. The book doesn't sugarcoat his long, difficult, uncomfortable, uneasy journey from Christian-in-name-only to actual-Christian. He knew how to put on a show, put on a Christian face, talk Christian-ese, pass as a believer, etc. But he felt it was fake, knew it to be fake. This book spends a great deal of time in his squirming struggles to come to terms with who he is and who God is.

Yancey is human. Again obvious, I know. But his memoir is in many ways ABOUT dysfunctional families. As Tolstoy says, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." The book is about the strained relationships certainly. Readers learn a lot about his mother and his brother.
I'll also add this one shines a light on issues like MENTAL HEALTH and RACISM. 

Some might accuse Yancey of being "woke" or going "woke." But if he is, he made that journey decades ago. He was raised racist--and some of that racism was explicitly taught in his Independent Fundamental Baptist church. But also most of his schooling occurred BEFORE integration. He was coming of age during the Civil Rights Movement. And there was tension and conflict. He had to wrestle with ideas and beliefs. He determined for himself that it was wrong, wrong, super-wrong. And that he had to break away from what he'd been taught. 

He was raised in an extreme. He grew up Independent Fundamental Baptist. And again he had to wrestle with himself--with ideas, beliefs, etc--to determine what he actually believed. Sometimes that meant departing from the super-strict sometimes arbitrary nature of the IFB. He did attend a Bible college. Rejecting the toxic elements of his past did not--for him--mean tossing God too. But it was a process of separating out what does the Bible actually say AND what do they say the Bible says. 

This one might need a couple of trigger warnings. Especially in regards to verbal, mental, emotional, spiritual abuse. It is a heavy read in some places. And it clearly shows the long-term dangers of childhood trauma. Another additional trigger warning about suicidal thoughts and attempts. 

It is blurring the lines--a bit--when it comes to comfort zones. At least for me. This book really GOES all the way when it comes to his troubled brother. These are real-life issues. I don't doubt it for a minute. But it's a LOT to take in. And I'm not sure I need to know all the sexual transgressions of his brother in the free love years. 

  • My father isn’t even a memory, only a scar.
  • Certainly, no one could accuse our mother of “unspiritual” behavior. Unlike some women in our church, she has never worn a pair of slacks, nor does she wear nail polish or makeup, not even lipstick. She never fails to have lengthy personal devotions every morning, and she teaches the Bible for a living. What chance do two adolescent kids stand against such an authority? Mother claims she hasn’t sinned in twelve years—longer than I’ve been alive. She follows a branch of the holiness tradition that suggests Christians can reach a higher spiritual plane, a state of moral perfection. The pastor of her Philadelphia church uses a glove to illustrate the point. “The Holy Spirit lives inside you like my fingers in this glove,” he says. “It’s not you living now; it’s the Spirit of God in you.”
  • Our three-person family isn’t working anymore. I have no way to put into words the changes going on, but something is tearing me inside. I want to run up to someone I recognize in church and say: “Please, please can you help us. I need someone to know what’s happening at home.” Then I remember my mother’s reputation and realize that no one will believe me. She’s a saint, the holiest woman in Atlanta.
  • The church has clearly lied to me about race. And about what else? Jesus? The Bible?
  • Slowly it sinks in that nothing that Marshall or I do will please Mother, that our lives are a stabbing reminder of her own failed dreams and especially the dream—the vow—she had for us. It dawns on me, that’s why she’s so insistent about the Bible college. She can feel us slipping away.
  • Perhaps, the thought crosses my mind, I am resisting not God but people who speak for God. I’ve already learned to distrust my childhood churches’ views on race and politics. What else should I reject? A much harder question: What should I keep?
  • Lenin once said that he refused to listen to Beethoven because the music made him want to pat children on the head. There are no small children on the college campus, but now I understand what he means.
  • Those who appear the least lovable usually need the most love.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, June 21, 2021

34. The Heart's Charge

The Heart's Charge (Hanger's Horsemen #2). Karen Witemeyer. 2021. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: When Mark Wallace left Gringolet two days ago to deliver a prize gelding to a wealthy rancher west of Llano, he never dreamed he’d be called upon to deliver a baby too. Or that the mother of said baby would be waving a pistol back and forth between him and Jonah as if trying to decide which fellow to shoot first.

This book had me at hello. I'm not just saying that to say that. I mean this book had me HOOKED from the first page. Readers first met Mark Wallace and Jonah Brooks in the first book of the series, At Love's Command. 

In this one, Mark and Jonah are out on their own as they come across a woman in labor. A suicidal woman in labor. A woman determined to join her husband on the other side without any care or thought about the baby. Fortunately Mark and Jonah are there to intervene. They take the newborn to Harmony House, a home for foundlings. 

SURPRISE, SURPRISE. As Mark is delivering the newborn baby to Harmony House, he sees an old love, a lost love. Katherine Palmer is the last person he thought he'd see...and the first person he'd love to reconnect with. She was always his one that got away. She's made a new life for herself, devoted herself to a wonderful cause or mission. And she's working side by side with another woman, Eliza Southerland, to do it. The home takes in unwanted children of all ages and gives them a good, loving home and some education. 

Eliza Southerland doesn't know what to think of Jonah Brooks...but she can't help thinking about him! 

These two decide to stick around a little bit first to help fix Harmony House up a bit--it's a bit of a fixer-upper. But soon they are on a case of their own....and it involves KIDNAPPED CHILDREN. 

It will take a lot of WORK--much team work--to save lives and see justice done. Will these couples find reasons to stay together after all is said and done???

I loved this one. I did. I absolutely LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it. I loved that we essentially have FOUR narrators. I loved getting to know Mark, Jonah, Eliza, and Kate better. I loved how well we got to know each character. I loved seeing these relationships develop. It didn't feel insta-love either. The journeys these couples takes was just swoon-worthy.

At times I can be harsh when it comes to life-and-death danger in romance novels, but, in this case I think it was seamless. It didn't feel overly dramatic and forced. Perhaps the villain(s) weren't as well-developed as the main characters, but, I don't know that I would have wanted to spend more time with them. It almost would have ruined the suspense if more groundwork had been laid for the reveal. Part of the suspense is NOT KNOWING who is behind the kidnappings. (Okay, all of the suspense). 

One thing that I especially loved, loved, loved about this one--something that makes it stand out--are the children. I loved getting to know the children. Especially Abner. But also others like Rawley, Wart, and Al. The children are an integral part of this one. Abner's scenes were show-stealers in my opinion. And one of the scenes with Abner just made my heart grow three sizes. 

This is a wonderful novel. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, June 13, 2021

5. NRSV Simple Faith Bible

Simple Faith Bible (NRSV) Edited by Jimmy Carter. God. 1989/2020. Zondervan. 1568 pages. [Source: Gift from friend]

First sentence: In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

Though the NRSV has been around since 1989, I am only now getting around to reading it cover to cover. 

This one does have some devotional-like side-bars. I did not read any of them. I treated this bible like a text-only Bible. So if you're looking for details about the quality of Jimmy Carter's contribution, well, you'll have to look elsewhere. The truth is that I almost exclusively read text-only Bibles and just don't seek out any extras most of the time.

This Bible is BLACK LETTER. I love that. That was definitely a plus for me.

The font-size is 9.5. I found it a comfortable size to read. It wasn't a strain on the eyes. Perhaps Zondervan's Comfort Print had a little something to do with how easy it was on the eyes? I've not read another NRSV to compare it to. 

My method for reading through the Simple Faith Bible was the Bible in 90 Days reading plan. I really do love this plan overall. I love knowing EXACTLY what to read and how much to read to stay on track.

I wouldn't say the NRSV is my new favorite translation. Some books I liked more than others. 

Psalm 1:3 NRSV

They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

Psalm 1:3 NASB 95

He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

33. Chasing Shadows

Chasing Shadows. Lynn Austin. 2021. [June] 432 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Every sound in the coal-black night seemed magnified as Lena lay awake in bed, waiting. She heard the quiet rustlings of the shadow people as they crept through the darkness downstairs in her farmhouse.

Chasing Shadows is historical fiction set in the Netherlands during the Second World War. It features multiple narrators whose stories alternate throughout. Lena de Vries is a wife and mother (and daughter). Ans de Vries is a young woman who CANNOT wait to leave the rural farm life far, far, far behind. She's off to the 'big' city. But will it hold all the thrills that she feels she's been missing out?

Both narrators are tested by the experiences of the war--not only the initial Nazi invasion but the continued occupation of their country. Each faces a choice--as all residents did--do I comply with the Nazis? Do I play it safe and just wait and hope that it will all work itself out OR do I risk it all to follow my conscience? Does doing nothing mean that you support the Nazis and what they are doing? Can you oppose the Nazis AND sit idle? 

There IS a third narrator--a Jewish one--that also enters into the story, a young woman named Miriam. 

Chasing Shadows is an engaging, character-driven historical novel with substance. It is beautiful and haunting. There are a few scenes that stand out as being truly wonderful. I do think it would make a good film.

“Jesus said the most important commandments are to love the Lord your God and love your neighbor. And so, whenever we face a dilemma, we can ask, What is the best way to show our love for God and for our neighbor?”

Then, unbidden, the words Ans had been made to memorize in catechism class swirled softly through her mind: “I am not my own, but I belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. . . .”

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thirteen Years of Operation Actually Read Bible

Today my baby, my blog baby, is turning thirteen! My first post was called THE MISSION.

My goal--obvious as it may be--is to actually read the Bible. You might think that I've not read it. But that wouldn't be the case. I've read it a dozen or so times over the past twenty years. However, I've not been in the habit of reading it lately. For the past three or four years, my reading of the Bible has been pitiful to nil. I know--rationally speaking--that I NEED to read the Bible...that I NEED to study and read and pray. But it's not a part of my daily routine. Hence why I'm challenging myself to ACTUALLY read the Bible instead of just talking about how I need to start one day soon.

Each year I celebrate by sharing my favorite posts from the past year. 

Here are my favorite posts from June 9, 2020 to June 8, 2021.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible