Featured New Release Of The Week: Make The Call by Mark Richt

This week we’re looking at a particularly well timed book by a legendary college football coach, FSU / UGA / Miami’s Mark Richt. This week we’re looking at Make The Call by Mark Richt.

God And Football. This is Mark Richt, and this book is being published by a publisher that is a division of Lifeway Christian Resources, which originated in the Southern Baptist Convention. (I am unsure at this time of Lifeway’s connection to the SBC. I know there has been news of it in the years since I left the SBC, I just haven’t followed it.) Which is to say, you gotta know up front that you’re getting a lot of talk of both football *and* God. In the 20 years I’ve been following the man, since his first games as Head Coach of the University of Georgia’s football team – when I was 18 and fresh out of high school, but attending another school just outside of Atlanta -, the man has never shied away from either topic, virtually any time you hear him speak away from the sidelines of a game.

Within that context, and particularly with the timing of this book’s release – the week of the traditional opening of the College Football season -, this book is almost a sure fired hit. *Particularly* within Georgia and UGA fans, but even with FSU fans,(since an equally large part of the book, maybe even slightly more, is dedicated to his time as an assistant at FSU under the legendary Bobby Bowden), Floridians, and even in Miami, where he ended his coaching career as the Head Coach of the University of Miami Hurricanes – the very team he had played on in college.

But really, even if you don’t *overly* like Football or God, this book has a lot of strong life lessons, lessons Richt learned along the way either from meetings or, sometimes, the hard way. Lessons that are strong enough that as long as your disdain for those two topics is only mild ish, you should read this book to see anyway. Granted, if you have an utter revulsion to either topic… eh, you’re not going to like this book. Pretty well literally every single page has both topics, and at *minimum* one or the other.

Fans of FSU in the 90s, you’re going to get to relive some of the best highlights of that era of FSU football with a man who was on the sidelines and even calling some of the very plays.

Fans of UGA from 2001 – 2015 – arguably its best 15 year run in the history of the program – you’re going to get to see a lot of the highlights – and some of the lowest of lows – here as well. From Hobnail Boot – and man, I still miss hearing Larry Munson’s voice on that play – to Blackout I (against Auburn, a W) and Blackout II (against Bama, a L where the “can’t win the big games” narrative that would ultimately get him fired from UGA really began) all the way through the meeting that made his departure from UGA at the end of the 2015 season official. (For the record, I *still* say UGA was insane for this move, though CMR himself, as expressed in this book, is at peace with it.)

Fans of Miami will get to see both his view of the program as a player in the late 70s and early 80s and as Head Coach in the late 2010s and how much had changed.

And along the way, Christians will get to see the growth and maturity of a Christian man many – many more than he will ever know himself – have respected and looked up to for many years.

Ultimately this book will play and sell better in certain circles and areas than others, but I suspect that it will do at least as good as similar books by other Christian football legends such as Tony Dungy and Tim Tebow. Which seems to be decently well indeed, given that both of those men are almost constantly on Christian bookstore shelves and often even on chain and sometimes independent bookstore shelves, period.

Very much recommended.

PS: The reason for only 4 stars after praising this book so heavily? Prooftexting. Unfortunately all too common in Christian books, including this one. And an automatic one star deduction every time I see it, no matter how strong the book may otherwise be, in my own war on the practice.

#BookReview: When Did Sin Begin by Loren Haarsma

Intriguing Academic Examination. Let’s make this very clear up front: This is a book for academic types. This is FAR from casual reading. And yet, its premise is interesting enough that many may want to slog through it anyway – as I did. 😀 Just know up front that this *is* a very dense, very logically-detailed examination of its subject. That noted, this text does a phenomenal job of showing what the historical and current academic thinking is on its dual subjects of human evolution and Original Sin, and it does a similarly superb job of explaining in detail, in many cases point by point, exactly how the two might be reconciled. Indeed, particularly for the casual reader that Just. Wants. An. Answer!!!!!… this book probably won’t be what you’re looking for. It never really proffers one, instead acknowledging that there is still more research and thinking to do in both arenas before a definitive conclusion can truly be reached. Still, for what it actually is and for how it is actually written, this is truly a strong work of scholarship and contemplation, and within the space it is meant to occupy it could indeed be quite a standout. Very much recommended.

This review of When Did Sin Begin by Loren Haarsma was originally written on July 23, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: What’s Done In Darkness by Laura McHugh

This week we’re looking at a book whose greatest strength is just how eerily plausible its story really is. This week we’re looking at What’s Done In Darkness by Laura McHugh.

As always, the Goodreads review:

All Too Real. This is one of those books that apparently I can speak to in a way no other reviewer on Goodreads has so far – from the conservative evangelical American Christian side. Growing up on the exurbs of Atlanta, I knew lands not dissimilar from what McHugh describes in this text in the Ozarks. Very rural lands where even by car the nearest single stop sign town can be an hour away. Farmlands with houses tucked into the trees or far out in the fields. And while I never exactly imagined these kinds of events taking place in them, I’m also familiar enough with the very strains of extremely conservative evangelical Christian culture that McHugh plays off of here. And yes, a lot of the attitudes McHugh describes are all too real – and fairly common, within those circles. Even the ultimate actions here are close enough to things I’ve personally seen as to be plausible, including the actual endgame and reasoning – which would be a spoiler to even discuss glancingly. An excellent creepy thrill ride, this is one of those books that could damn near be a news article. Which would make it a perfect candidate for a screen near you. 😉 Very much recommended.

#BookReview: On The Spectrum by Daniel Bowman Jr

I made it a point to get this one in during #AutismAcceptanceMonth, even though it doesn’t actually release until August.

This is apparently officially a “collection of essays”, but the organization works such that it never feels disjointed, as other efforts of this vein I’ve read tend to do. But that could just be my own #ActuallyAutistic mind working similarly to Bowman’s.

If you’ve ever heard of the late great Rachel Held Evans, and particularly if you like her style, you’re going to enjoy this particular book. Bowman has a roughly similar background to Evans (and thus even rougher similar to myself) in that he has experience in the Baptist church and now finds himself in a more progressive mainline church, and in both of their cases are more academic-oriented to boot. Thus, even while explaining his own version of the intersection of faith and Autism – and on being Autistic more generally, but through that lens – his words really do evoke the same kinds of tones Evans’ work did.

This was enjoyable for me due to the *lack* of constant “Autistics need government intervention” diatribes that so many books make their central point of Autism – even from among fellow Autistics (such as Eric Garcia’s We’re Not Broken, which publishes a week earlier and which, IIRC, I posted about here roughly a month ago). Instead, Bowman’s life and thoughts flow more closely to my own, with key community members becoming mentors over the eras and helping him naturally become all that he now is.

Indeed, if I have a criticism of the book – and I do, though it isn’t large enough for a star deduction – it is the emphasis on an “official” Autism diagnosis. I trust docs as much as I trust politicians these days – which is to say, I don’t trust them to accurately tell me the color of the noontime cloudless sky, and verify it myself. And one does not need someone else to dictate a word based on their own understanding of it, particularly when that person isn’t even living with the thing in question. And this ignores the very real, sometimes very negative, real world repercussions of having such an “official” label.

Still, for anyone interested in knowing more about what life is really like as an Autistic, this truly is one of the better books I’ve come across in my own readings. Very much recommended.

This review of On The Spectrum by Daniel Bowman Jr was originally written on April 26, 2021.

#BookReview: Identity In Action by Perry L Glanzer

Not So Excellent, But Enhances The Discussion Anyway. Up front, this book had its cool moments in that it quoted from a decently wide range of pop culture for its opening chapter quotes and even at times inside the discussion itself – you don’t usually see that in a book clearly designed for the Christian Living market. But it also lost its first star because of rampant prooftexting, a practice wherein Christian authors cite seemingly random Bible verses out of context in “proof” of their claims – and a practice which I have declared absolute war on, with my automatic star deduction being my primary review-based weapon.

The other star was lost here because this book had a potentially profound premise… that it absolutely squandered in gearing its discussion only to conservative Evangelical American Christian interests and language. Within that particular subculture, this book will likely be absolutely beloved and possibly one of those destined to be handed to new high school graduates heading to college as graduation presents every year – which can be a sales bonanza, as you’re easily talking hundreds of thousands, maybe even lowish millions, of copies every year.

But this book, with its premise of looking at Identity Politics from a new and seemingly enlightening angle, could have been *so much more*. It had the potential to be one of those books that I can take into *any* political space and urge people to read it and consider its points and make a truly persuasive case no matter the reader’s own individual politics or religious beliefs, but instead Glanzer chose to focus on what he knows and lives. Which again, isn’t an *overly* bad thing.

I can still take this into many realms and use it to talk to the moderates within them, the ones who can see past the conservative American Evangelical Christian culture this book was designed for to see the larger points Glanzer is making. And this is exactly why the book doesn’t lose any *more* stars – because once you get beyond the trappings of that particular culture, the overall points here are strong enough to deserve consideration in a much wider arena.

And ultimately, that is the saddest part of this text for this reader, that so many other readers who *could* be enlightened by it *won’t* be, specifically because of the approach entailed to discussing its overall thesis. Still, this book is recommended.

This review of Identity In Action by Perry L Glanzer was originally written on February 2, 2021.

#BookReview: Solemn Reverence by Randall Balmer

Solid If Brief History Marred By No True Scotsmen. This is a seemingly comprehensive – more comprehensive than any other I’ve ever read, and I’ve read many – yet brief (around 100 pages, including all non-narrative book material such as table of contents and bibliography) look at the issue. It even manages to include several historical facts of which I was hitherto unaware. Which is not overly easy to do, given that I’ve been speaking on this exact issue, from both sides at varying times, in depth off and on for over 20 years now. HOWEVER, particularly in its later chapters when it begins to get into more modern times – the last 40-50 years or so -, Balmer allows a tinge of “No True Scotsman” to invade his narrative. Even though I largely concur with these particular points, that the Baptists of the modern era – particularly the Southern Baptist Convention post “Conservative Resurgence” – have lost much of what it historically meant to be a Baptist (*even in the SBC itself!*), it taints what is otherwise a largely strictly fact based discussion of the history of the separation of Church and State in the land now known as the United States of America. Still, I don’t find it quite significant enough to downgrade the overall rating a full 20% that the loss of one of five stars would denote (though if I were grading on a typical A-F scale, I would probably drop this into B+ territory over the issue). Very much recommended.

This review of Solemn Reverence by Randall Balmer was originally written on December 21, 2020.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Reviving The Hawthorn Sisters by Emily Carpenter

This week we’re looking at a book marketed as gothic literature but which actually tells a strong dual timeline tale of survival in the Great Depression South. This week, we’re looking at Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters by Emily Carpenter.

Upfront, I want to note that this was a strong dual-timeline family mystery. It was very well written and particularly with having spent most of my life in the region, utterly believable in every facet of this story. Carpenter has truly done some outstanding work here.

Indeed, my only issue here isn’t the actual book itself, but the marketing of it, which features the word “gothic” prominently and heavily.

“Gothic literature”, per this first result on the term when doing a Google search, is:

In the most general terms, ​Gothic literature can be defined as writing that employs dark and picturesque scenery, startling and melodramatic narrative devices, and an overall atmosphere of exoticism, mystery, fear, and dread. Often, a Gothic novel or story will revolve around a large, ancient house that conceals a terrible secret or serves as the refuge of an especially frightening and threatening character.

Despite the fairly common use of this bleak motif, Gothic writers have also used supernatural elements, touches of romance, well-known historical characters, and travel and adventure narratives to entertain their readers. The type is a subgenre of Romantic literature—that’s Romantic the period, not romance novels with breathless lovers with wind-swept hair on their paperback covers—and much fiction today stems from it.

When I personally think of Gothic literature, I tend to think more in terms of Edgar Allan Poe or Kim Taylor Blakemore’s The Companion, as I mention in the Goodreads review below. Those definitely fit that first paragraph above.

Hawthorn, however, more meets the second paragraph above. There are touches of the supernatural and of romance, Billy Sunday in particular appears, and there is a fair amount of travel and adventure as it relates to the church revival circuit in particular.

So perhaps my views on “gothic” are a bit outdated? Maybe I’m weird? (Well, I know I am. :D) What do y’all think?

As always, the Goodreads review:
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#BookReview: American Messiah by M. Andrew Holowchak

Will The Real TJ Please Stand Up? Growing up as I did inside the Southern Baptist Church of the Moral Majority/ “Conservative Resurgence” era, Jefferson was one of those Founding Fathers frequently cited in defense of… well, somehow both sides of the issue of religion in the public sphere. Here, Holowchak does a deep dive into the evolving religious beliefs of the infamous Founding Father and third President of the United States of America. And y’all… Holowchak makes it crystal clear that if good ol’ TJ were alive today, he would recognize very little – if anything – of what constitutes the American Church today. Utterly fascinating read, but in a very academic way. If you’re looking for a more conversational approach to this topic… this aint it. But if you’re looking for a well documented critical examination of exactly what this infamously aloof former President actually believed based on his writings and correspondences… this is exactly what you’re looking for. Very much recommended.

This review of American Messiah by M. Andrew Holowchak was originally written on October 3, 2020.

#BookReview: Scripture First by Daniel B Oden and J David Stark

Interesting Discussion. This is a collection of six academic essays, mostly seemingly from the same basic starting viewpoint of a particular line of academic thought in a particular realm of a particular Christian denomination. So a reader not necessarily steeped in that exact line of thinking may find this a bit more dense than others, but I actually fit exactly that mold (of not being particularly knowledgeable of the intricacies of this viewpoint), and I found the discussions to be interesting if not particularly illuminating in the ways I had hoped. (For reference, I was approaching this more from being a fan of Frank Viola’s Pagan Christianity and as someone who has thought and discussed much within Southern and Independent Baptist circles on the issue at hand – whether Scripture truly is the basis of Christian thought or whether the various traditions have any import whatsoever.) Ultimately this really was an interesting and informative read particularly well suited for anyone with any form of academic interest in Christian theology and practice. Very much recommended.

This review of Scripture First by Daniel B Oden and J David Stark was originally written on September 27, 2020.

Featured New Release of the Week: Modesty by Hafsa Lodi

This week we’re looking at a seemingly comprehensive look at modern Muslim fashion. This week we’re looking at Modesty by Hafsa Lodi.

I grew up in a fairly conservative Christian tradition, the Southern Baptist Church. While my church was a *bit* more moderate in dress – women were allowed to wear pants, though it was frowned upon by the senior citizen crowd, for example – I was in a region (exurban Atlanta) where knowing people who attended more conservative churches with more stringent dress codes wasn’t uncommon. On church beach trips or pool parties, for example, one piece swimsuits for females were a common requirement. Even in that era, men and boys were expected to at minimum wear pants and close toed shoes along with some appropriate top (could be just a tshirt, as long as the torso was covered, though men generally wore at minimum polo shirts to services, and often dress shirts and ties). Hell, for much of my life my dad has been a deacon (church elder, basically) in the church my parents and brothers (and their families) still attend to this day. I actually remember one infamous example where our preacher was preaching at a church in a neighboring County in August. This being Georgia, let’s just say you don’t exactly want to wear pants in Georgia, and this was a Revival service to boot – a week long (ish) event of nightly church services, seen as a way to be extra pious and encourage more people to come to church. So it wasn’t exactly like this was a Sunday morning service (the “most holy” services in at least that brand of Christianity, where standards and protocols tend to be the most stringent). My parents were insisting I wear pants. I was insisting I wear shorts because it was so hot. At this point I was in my early teens or so, young enough that I couldn’t yet drive, old enough that I could make my desires known and fight for them. I actually don’t remember how that situation turned out – I don’t remember if we made the service that night or what I wore, though there is a faint thought that I did in fact wear pants and we did in fact make it to service.

The point being, while I’ve never actively considered how hard it may be to find trendy clothes that fit the modest standards of such groups, I have been a part of a culture that at least expects it, if not outright demands it/ forces it. So I get a version of where Lodi is coming from here, even while never experiencing her exact situation.

Which ultimately leads to the one criticism I have of this book.

Lodi does an *amazing* job of documenting Generation M, the Muslim Millenial Female, and its desires for trendy yet traditional (ish) fashion. She truly does a remarkable job of showing the history of both uncovering a century ago or so and recovering over the last 50 years or so, including the various debates and schools of thought on each. For a treatise specifically on these issues, this book is seemingly damn near perfect and for that alone it was utterly fascinating – as despite having watched a few episodes of America’s Next Top Model or Project Runway, I’m not exactly knowledgeable of that world at all really.

But the most glaring weakness of the book, the one that leaves it at just “amazing” rather than elevating it closer to “transcendental”, turns out to be that very laser focus on Muslim issues specifically. Sure, she starts and ends with an example of her childhood Mormon friend, and Christians and Jews (and specifically Mormons, whose Christianity is doubted in at least some circles) are mentioned sporadically and even no-faith reasons are mentioned even less, but are in fact mentioned. But they are almost always more as an aside and are never considered in any real kind of depth. What this book really needed was maybe just a single chapter each where Lodi stepped away from the Muslim angle and actually – if briefly – explored the same histories. thought processes, and modern issues of those specific groups. Particularly from the non-faith, skin care/ sun avoidance angle, it could have been a truly remarkable addition to the text here.

But again, even with that omission, this is truly an excellent book and particularly for those remotely interested in fashion generally or modest fashion in particular – and especially if you’re an Instagram addict with those proclivities – you’ll want to pick up this book immediately. Very much recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
Continue reading “Featured New Release of the Week: Modesty by Hafsa Lodi”