Open Hands Willing Heart | Book Review

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2019-07-09

Vivian Mabuni‘s latest book Open Hands, Willing Heart: Discover the Joy of Saying Yes to God comes out today! A while back, I jumped at the chance to join her book launch team so I could get an advanced copy.

Get lots more book quotes and thoughts on my Instagram account and the hashtag #OpenHandsWillingHeart

I first learned about Vivian Mabuni when I stumbled across a video of her speaking at an international conference. I’d attended a local event telecasting that conference but they hadn’t shown her message. What a shame I almost missed hearing her speak. Not only did she challenge and encourage me spiritually, but it was memorable for me because it was the first time I’d ever seen an east asian woman breaking down God’s word and speaking in front of an audience of any size, let alone a worldwide audience. I got a bit emotional, folks. #representationmatters

ANYWAY, I immediately started following her online and that is how I learned about her upcoming book. Which is crazy timely for me. Because there are a lot of things God is asking me to say YES to and I know I am dragging my flat feet all about the hills and valleys.

So here we are. I’ve read the book and saved my favorite quotes. I’ve considered how I can convince the women’s group at my church to use this for our fall study. And there are some things I’ve learned I want to share with you all. Here goes.

Am I really willing?

The first section of the book introduces us to the story of Esther in the Old Testament. Christian ladies, you know it well. Although what you probably know is a very sanitized version that’s been presented as “a Biblical beauty pageant queen uses her position to convince the king to save her people”.

Vivian uses the story of Esther all throughout her book. A young girl, thrown into the extravagance of the Persian empire ruled by a dangerously volatile king , forsaking her Jewish heritage and breaking several commandments from Mosaic law just to survive.

But, as we know, she risked execution for the chance to change the fate of her people who were scheduled for genocide. In fasting and prayer, she turned from self-preservation, back toward the God of the Jews, and let God use her.

As the author, Vivian, re-introduces us to Esther in this book it struck me how differently I understand this story now as an adult. And what new things I learn about God here.

Am I willing to give-up my tendency toward self-preservation? Because, like Esther, a lot of my struggles to raise my voice against injustice or to “lay down my life” have to do with self-preservation. It is so much easier to go along with the culture around me. Sometimes I feel like it’s all I can do to just survive. Is my heart really willing to say YES to what God asks me to do, fighting my survival instinct and loosening my grip on all my plans, preferences and priorities?

What gets in the way?

The second section of the book tackles our common roadblocks head on; apathy & entitlement, self-reliance, busyness and bitterness. There was a lot of good prompts for self-evaluation in these 4 chapters and it’s hard to pick one thing to zero in on.

I’ll zero in a bit on the chapter on apathy and entitlement. Having a willing heart to do God’s work means we cannot have a calloused heart towards the PEOPLE God wants us to show His love too. We western Christians, myself included, tend to view ourselves as super charitable, truly loving all of God’s people, and yet if we’re honest, most of us function daily in very insular communities and spaces.

It’s easy for us think our hearts are willing for God to use us wherever, but then believe He just “hasn’t given us a heart for those people.” When really, that’s not the full picture. Really, we tend to have a “I’m a good enough person” kind of spiritual apathy and a Christian cultural that tends to focus more on what we know about or get from God than an actual, life-altering relationship with Him.

The grip of apathy and entitlement gets loosened by challenging our perceptions through proximity, humility, and generosity.”

Vivian Mabuni, Open Hands Willing Heart

Opening our hearts and hands to God means making the resources He has given us available for Him to use for others.

Living It Out

The last 6 chapters dive deeper into various aspects of living an open-handed life. This is section of the book is, for me, the most important and valuable. It would lend itself to some amazing conversation for group study.

Vivian touches on difficult topics like removing idols, forgiveness, dying to self. She shares examples from the lives of people she knows to illustrate her points. I won’t say more about it, though. I will let you get the book and read it for yourself.

“There is no greater love than this; to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” – John 15:13
I sold these tee’s to help fundraise for my cousin’s living liver transplant.

Grab A Copy!

I would recommend this book for all Christ followers, men and women. While you may find some of the themes in this book familiar to ones you’ve read in other Christian living titles, Vivian Mabuni brings a fresh and valuable perspective that, to me, makes these matters of faith so much more applicable today.

I highly encourage purchasing books if you can afford it as it is the best way to support authors. Start by asking your local bookstore to carry the book. That way you can support a local business and the Vivian at the same time.

However, if buying isn’t an option for you right now, there are other supportive things you can do like request that your local library get a copy.

Where to buy online:

5 Day Reading Plan

I just found out there is also a free 5 day reading plan with excerpts from the book and additional scripture and reflection questions. This is a great way for readers to sample content of the book.

Read other book reviews I’ve written!

Glorious Weakness | Book Review

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2019-04-06

In a not too distant life I had a crumb of success blogging about fitness and portraying an image of myself as strong, optimistic, and going after inspiring goals. When I wrote about failures they were safe ones, small ones, and I put a positive spin on it. The unresolved, unredeemable stories of weakness and woe were never told. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve seen or heard an example of anyone telling those stories. That is, not until I read this book by Alia Joy, Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack.

I got a free, advanced copy as a member of the launch team for this awesome book!

Alia’s book is lesson after lesson in how to boast in your weaknesses, not to solicit pity or “make an exhibition” of our failures, as she puts it, but to highlight God’s grace. I was amazed when I finished the book. I’ve not read anything like this. Her poetic and even beautiful way with words balances out the severe subject matter as she invites you into uneasy vulnerability.

In no uncertain terms, Alia recounts the things that caused her pain and shame; from sexual assault to poverty, miscarriage and mental illness. She describes being someone people do not want to see; the isolation of living with the kind of struggles people do not want to hear about. I had a difficult time reading some parts; sometimes because of tears and sometimes because of feeling convicted and called out on my weaknesses and failures.

Alia shows us how God meets her, sustains her and refines her in her weakness. The circumstances may not change, the struggles may not cease, which is hard to sit with, yet God is good. Walking through this heart process with Alia over and over again encouraged me apply this to my own weakness and sorrows.

Inspecting My Weaknesses

So first I had to ask myself, what ARE my biggest sorrows? When have I struggled with unanswered prayers or un-healing wounds? Was I or am I able to see God’s grace and goodness through those seasons?

Let me tell you what, I’m not saying I can or we should ever compare struggles or sufferings in life, but the first thing I thought was,

“My life has predominantly been one of human strength and successes.”

Which is to say there are much fewer times and spaces in my life where I’ve been desperate for God, learned to lean into Him no matter what, and clung to a sliver of hope that God still loved me.

My response to my reality contrasting with what I read in
Glorious Weakness was twofold; courage and conviction.

Courage in knowing that whatever weakness and sorrow is ahead of me, God does not change. The God that Alia clings too is the same God that will be with me through whatever is to come.

Conviction in realizing how much I rely on myself and how little I’ve learned about being poor in spirit. Conviction in acknowledging how many hurtful reactions I’ve had toward those who have walked a different path. I have to confess I have dismissed other’s suffering because I believed “they brought it on themselves”. I have assumed they could improve their situation if they just tried harder or believed God more. My privileged experience and perspective has not taught me a loving or learning posture.

True Vulnerability

Still, I do have places of deep shame and weakness. They are there. But, like I said in the beginning, I have minimized them. I’m in the habit of putting a positive spin on things. I’ve often protected myself from embracing my human weakness. Which means I’ve prevented myself from truly admitting my complete need and utter dependence on Christ.

“True vulnerability,” Alia writes, “is a confession of the places where we doubt, the places where we’re not sure God is going to heal or touch or show up – the places we worry will always remain a little too broken, a little too human, a little too frail for polite company and pristine Sunday mornings.”

That being said, God has begun to graciously bring me to his feet these past couple years. When the trauma of my adoption surfaced an enduring ache broke through my anesthesia of denial. When the racial fog lifted and I began to see how my faith had been used to obscure part of who God made me to be, a kind of anger and grief ignited that I still wrestle with.

These are a few of the areas where I can see God stripping away my pride and self-assurance. Where I can answer the call to let Him use my weakness for His purposes. And thanks to Alia’s example, I better understand the importance of this; the glorious way that embracing our human weakness amplifies and accentuates God’s faithfulness to us and connects us more deeply with one another.

Read It For Yourself

I HIGHLY recommend you request Glorious Weakness by Alia Joy through your local book store or library. However, you can also purchase Alia’s book on these sites:

The Color of Compromise | Book Review

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2019-01-19
The Color of Compromise book & highlighter

This was the 2nd book I got an advanced copy of in 2018. Makes me feel like a I’m in the book world’s cool-kid group. Seriously, though, it was an honor to get to put eyes on these books before they hit the shelves and engage with the authors online. The Color of Compromise is already making an impact. I’m excited to share more about that and how I hope to see this book used in Christian community.

Click here to listen to the first chapter free on iTunes!

Nailing Down The Fish

When I talk to (usually white) people about racism, the idea of “complicity” is often a struggle; like holding onto a slippery wet fish. Especially when we start talking about complicity among Christians and the church in general.

The failure to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression.

Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise

Jemar Tisby helps us nail down that fish. Surveying over 350 years of American styles of racism and inequality, readers can see how the church has (as he put it) “chosen comfort over constructive conflict”, often creating but always maintaining a status quo of injustice.

Connecting The Dots

So how does The Color of Compromise use a historical survey to present us with this information?

As I read, I saw three interwoven timelines, spanning from the colonial era of America to the present day:

  1. Economic/political developments and major events/shifts
  2. Ecclesiastical/theological developments and main groups/influencers
  3. Escalating racism and it’s development as it adapts with the former

Going chronologically, this book connects the dots between the 3 timelines to reveal the patterns of the church’s response (or lack thereof) to various forms of racism, focusing on the black-white binary.

Christian Slave = Chattel Slave

For example, Chapter 2 starts with explaining a dilemma in the Virginia colonies over baptizing African slaves who converted to Christianity. The old-world custom was that spiritual brothers in Christ could not enslave one another. Therefore, if a slave converted, there was religious pressure to set him free. Therefore, many slave owners refused to let slaves hear the gospel. However, that didn’t sit well with the church. What to do?!

Tisby explains how the economic priority of free labor influenced the Virginia General Assembly (the governing body at the time) to dictate that baptism would not change someone’s status as free or slave. The church and the slaveholders no longer needed to be at odds over the spiritual salvation of slaves. Missionaries began to focus on the spiritual, not physical, liberation of Christian slaves, and obedience to their masters as a biblical concept. In other words, the church not only went along with chattel slavery but twisted truth to support it.

This clash of economics, politics, racism and the church over the status of slaves is how chattel slavery became law on American soil; 109 years before the Declaration of Independence.

Bringing It Home

Well, it’s one thing to read that “ancient” history and say…“Yeah, they were so wrong back then.” We are far enough removed from the colonial era that the truth of complicity back then isn’t as threatening to us today. So it’s quite another thing to follow the timeline of racism to our front door and realize how little has really changed in the church.

Yet that is what this book does. It keeps connecting the dots through the Great Awakening, Antebellum, Civil War, Jim Crow, Civil Rights era, turn of the century and on to today with a look at the varied responses to Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump as President of the United States.

Here is one example of how The Color of Compromise brings historical complicity home to the present day.

The Spirituality of the Church

The idea that the church’s realm is confined to spiritual and ecclesiastical things (like individual salvation or church organization) as opposed to physical or societal things (like slavery or social justice) might be rooted in the early church’s struggle with heretical gnosticism. At any rate, the tendency to think this way was demonstrated in the above example of the Virginia General Assembly.

So it’s no surprise, then, that leading up to the Civil War, an influential southern theologian, James Henley Thornwell, would crystalize this sentiment into a doctrine of the “Spirituality of the Church”.

Tisby explains how this doctrine allowed pro-slavery Christians to sleep at night and kept others silent on the issue. Tisby doesn’t stop there, though. He connects the dots to how this doctrine is still selectively applied today for ignoring racism (e.g. “That’s not a gospel issue”), but is conveniently forgotten for other social, ethical and political issues (e.g. legalized abortion) where the church suddenly springs to action quite visibly.

Breaking the Pattern

By chapter 10, the historical survey is complete. The footnotes throughout are more than sufficient for us to do our own further research. Tisby could’ve stopped there, but he doesn’t.

He dedicates the final chapter to presenting solutions and suggestions for the church to break the pattern of complicity. These selective ideas are not exhaustive, but enough to encourage readers to action; to move against the current of racism, instead of continuing to go with the flow of racism by remaining still.

That is why this book makes such a huge impact. The Color of Compromise isn’t about shaming and blaming white Christians. Jemar Tisby presents the church’s racist history and present reality from a place of deep love for the church and desire to fight for true biblical unity and racial solidarity.

If the twenty-first century is to be different from the previous four centuries, then the American church must exercise even more creativity and effort in breaking down racial barriers than it took to erect them in the first place.”

Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise

Using This Resource

I believe The Color of Compromise will help us move beyond asking “Is there a problem?” and get on with the business of “Let’s fix this problem.” Any church community, whether or not it is currently racially diverse, can benefit by learning from our collective history.

The church can learn to be a credible witness in the midst of injustice and oppression. The church can learn to lead the way in love and unity, showing the world the power of the gospel to reconcile us to one another as well as to God.

I believe The Color of Compromise is an essential resource to that end.

There can be no reconciliation without repentance. There can be no repentance without confession. And there can be no confession without truth.

Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise

It’s time to listen to and tell and retell the truth.

BUY THE BOOK:

You can find The Color of Compromise on Amazon, Christianbook.com, or listen to it on Audible. I’ve purchased extra copies to lend out and gift.

LISTEN TO THE FIRST CHAPTER FREE:

Click here to open iTunes and listen to Jemar Tisby narrate the first chapter of The Color of Compromise. You will appreciate the gracious and loving way he introduces his book without diminishing the urgency of the church’s current situation.

MORE REVIEWS:

2018 Reading List

by , on
2019-01-18
book spines on shelf

Friends, we need more mental exercise. I’m not talking brain teasers or word puzzles. I’m talking about challenging our assumptions, exploring other cultural perspectives, unlearning false history, etc.

It’s 2019 and our world is as “Us Vs Them” as ever. We all suffer for it. Most of us put more effort into seeing what’s flawed in others than taking stock of our own shortcomings and changing. So, it’s time to learn up, lovie.

Now…I’ve always loved reading and learning! So it’s easy for me to claim mental exercise should be a priority. However, books aren’t the only way! There are really well-done documentaries and podcasts, historical art exhibits and historical sites to visit, plus cultural events to experience.

Books of 2018

I started 2018 wanting to learn more about racial identity development, and broader Christian perspectives on justice and activism. I ended the year seeking out more author’s of color and women. I bought more books than I was able to complete, so 2019 is gonna be a real page turner.


The Color of Compromise

Book Cover
5 Stars!

Available on 1/22/19! I got a free advanced copy of this historical survey of the American church to review and help promote. This has a lot of historical facts and quotes, but it doesn’t read like a bland history book.

It is easy to understand, but the subject matter can be hard to confront and digest. It connects the dots, throughout American history that show how the American Christian church has, with few exceptions, silently gone along with the racism of the culture at the time.

This is an important read. I wrote a more detailed review here..

Get your pre-order bonus here: www.thecolorofcompromise.com


Raise Your Voice

Book Cover
5 Stars!

I got an advanced copy of this before it was released as well. 2018 was a great year for social media book launch teams. Kathy Khang does an excellent job explaining our biggest fears and obstacles to speaking up while making a compelling argument for why we need to learn to use our God-given voices. She is encouraging and provides great practical wisdom on discernment, handling backlash, and even tackles how best to use social media.

I will share a more comprehensive review soon.


Crazy Rich Asians (Trilogy)

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5 Stars!

A just-for-fun novel! This is part mental exercise though, with a heap of guilty pleasure reading. Kevin Kwan is a wildly successful Chinese-Singaporean-American author and that deserves to be celebrated. This trilogy provides comedy and romance, Chinese & Singaporean culture clashing with western values, #richpeopleproblems and sinful descriptions of tasty foods I will probably never get the pleasure of trying in my lifetime.

Thank you, cousin, for sending me these books!


White Awake

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5 Stars!

The first book I read in 2018. Daniel Hill, a white pastor, shares his racial awareness journey and the common struggles in faith and identity for white Christians.

I started the year with this book because I grew up in white culture and hoped this would help me decode and deconstruct some things. I think it helped. I would recommend this to all my white Christian friends.


Beyond Colorblind

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5 Stars!

Such a loving and gracious book. I found this enormously helpful in learning to differentiate what is praiseworthy and redeemable in my God-given ethnicity vs seeing myself through the harmful/sinful lens of the man-made concept of race. Sarah Shin does a great job of giving us positive language to use when speaking of ethnic and cultural differences.

I would recommend to anyone struggling to see past the brokenness in their racial or ethnic identity.


The Grace of Kings

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5 Stars!

Fiction & Fantasy!
Ken Liu created a wonderful world and great characters and put them in an epic story that folds in elements of east asian culture and folklore. This is a beast of a novel, though, so not for the reluctant reader. It is refreshing and thrilling to read a novel of this scope and magnitude that features asian customs and traditions.

Can’t wait to read the next book and continue the story.


Disunity in Christ

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5 Stars!

Oh my. This was the sweat fest my brain never saw coming. Took me months to work through this. Why? Well, for one, Christena Cleveland packs a lot of education into this book. It is part autobiography, part sociology and part social psychology.

And then, she made my spirit do some hard work. This book focuses on our life in the church with fellow believers and how we are called to a costly and deep level of unity with one another across racial, political, and cultural, lines. This is something I wish we would all read but I’d probably save the recommendation for the truly committed spiritual leader.


A Woman’s Wisdom

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2 Stars?

Finally a “Meh” rating. This was read as a group study. I wouldn’t have read it otherwise. Let’s see, this book was supposed to present how Proverbs speaks to everything. To me, it read more like how a white woman of a certain age interprets Proverbs. There were a few helpful insights, though.

I wasn’t the only one in the group study who raised an eyebrow. Can’t say I’d recommend it. Maybe to my mom. She’d probably find it encouraging.


Jesus Feminist

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4 Stars

The antidote to the last book! Haha. If you bristle at the title, calm down. This is actually way less controversial of a book than you’d think. Sarah Bessey kind of whimsically rambles a bit I think, but she shares some great insights into just how subversive Jesus’ care and attentiveness for women was in the Bible.

See, Christians have a reputation for being kind of anti-woman, but the Bible’s view of women shows crazy love for the ladies…IF you understand the cultural contexts of the stories. So I liked it. My mom probably would too if she could get past the word “feminist” on the cover. Haha. Love ya, mom. Actually, she isn’t reading any of this. Don’t panic.


Kindred

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5 Stars!

Oh holy, historical (science fiction) horror!

Kindred was a very engaging and well written novel. Amazing character development, tackling two different time periods, interracial marriage, and a strong female protagonist. HOWEVER, it was hard to read sometimes as it presents some intense themes and devastating imagery (read: chattel slavery, violence, rape, misogyny). Death comes to life in this one.

That ending, though! I’m both excited and scared to read more from Octavia Butler.


Binti (Trilogy)

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5 Stars

Binti was a super fast and wild Young Adult Fiction read. The setting is a futuristic sci-fi space fantasy featuring a young mathematical prodigy. Binti has deep roots in her ethnic culture and has to learn how to keep her identity while breaking traditions and forging a new, controversial path. You can literally finish a book in a morning, but the story stays with you. Surprising and enjoyable storyline, even if you’re not all that into aliens and space travel and whatnot.


Other Mental Workouts:

Race: The Power of an Illusion

This 3 part documentary may be 16 years old, but the information is STILL SO NECESSARY! I’m talking debunking the idea that race has a biological reality, explaining how it functions as social construct, showing the systemic oppression of non-white people generation after generation. These are still things people do.not.understand.

So watching this as the foundational learning experience of a small group I started last year was perfect. I bought the DVD with a Home License but you can also rent it on Vimeo for less than $5 I think.


Seeing White Podcast

So this was the first podcast that I really got sucked into. It’s only a 14 episode series from Scene On Radio, but it’s so well done. John Biewen, a white journalist, tackles the questions of where did the notion of “whiteness” come from? What does it mean? What is whiteness for? He interviews all kinds of scholars and dives into some really interesting stories and histories. And it’s FREE!