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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Misfits Welcome: Find Yourself in Jesus and Bring the World Along for the Ride by Matthew Barnett is the story of how God can use the "misfits" of society in huge ways if one will just surrender to Him. Barnett draws on twenty years as pastor of the Dream Center in Los Angeles to prove this premise.

Barnett shares of his own feelings of inadequacy and being a misfit when he started in the ministry as a twenty year old. He grew up the son of a megachurch pastor, which gave him no context with which to deal with the reality of life on the streets of Los Angeles. Using examples from his own life, as well as those of some of his staff (the majority of whom are former pimps, drug dealers, prostitutes, addicts, or from some other group society has deemed unreachable) Barnett shares stories of miraculous life changes that have occurred when people have given their lives, especially the parts that seem to not fit in and cause the most problems, to Christ.

Misfits Welcome is an easy read. The chapters are relatively short and since the content is more illustrative than instructive, it can be quickly read. I was impressed with Barnett's enthusiasm and complete faith in the concept he put forth. It's obvious this is an idea that has taken root in him, with some mind blowing results. The stories of change are very inspiring, and make even an occasional cynic like myself excited about what can happen if I can surrender the "misfit" parts of myself.

I recommend Misfits Welcome to anyone interested in seeing what God can do with a submitted life. Anyone already on that journey will be encouraged; anyone not sure if that's for them will be challenged. Either way, there is something for almost everyone.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook book
review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255
Monday, November 17, 2014
Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence by Karen Armstrong is a scholarly look at the correlation, or lack thereof, of religion and violence from the formation of the first primitive communities through today. Armstrong examines all religions, with a particular focus on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The first part of the book focuses on the formation of organized communities as well as the corresponding religion in various regions of the Eurasian continent. In every community, violence is first seen not when religion comes on the scene, but when people are organized into communities and resources become scarce, or a ruling group raises to the top and wants to keep their power. It was the forming of agricultural communities that allowed for a surplus of food, which allowed a small group from the community to control the surplus and in effect rule everyone else. It was only through violence that a surplus was maintained. Armstrong seems to find no direct correlation between religion and violence. Instead, in each community, both existed and fused and some later point.

Another key point is that religion as we see it now is not how it was viewed through most of history. There was no distinction between the sacred and the secular. All aspects of life were intertwined and therefore, while it may seem to us that there was a causal relationship between religion and violence, the ancient peoples who lived the events would never have seen things that way. The sacred was secular, and the secular sacred; to split the two and say strictly religious motivations, or strictly the competition for resources is what drove violence, would be as foreign a concept to them as the smart phone.

Fields of Blood is a thoroughly researched and well written examination of the topic of religion and violence. It is a scholarly work, and therefore may be a tad difficult to understand for the average man on the street. However, anyone willing to wade through it will undoubtedly learn something. Also, each religion is treated the same, without any of the reverence or acceptance of beliefs as truth that someone who practices that religion may have. This can be somewhat disconcerting for the devout reader. At the same time, being willing to think critically about one's own religion as well as others is a skill that can be useful in discourse and understanding. Armstrong shows no bias for or against any particular religion, so anyone willing to think outside his/her own box will benefit from her examination.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255