The Nov. 24 issue of Anabaptist World includes several mini reviews of recent books. Some of them are nonfiction books.
Authors Steve Thomas and Don Neufeld set the following goals for Living That Matters: Honest Conversations for Men of Faith (Herald): “to nurture life-giving expressions of healthy masculinity; address influences that undermine human well-being; call men to follow Jesus, who lived as God’s model human; enable men to connect together at deep levels; and invite men to serve God’s shalom in the world.” Although I read the book straight through, which has its own rewards, it is designed to be used by groups of Christian men. It is written from a clear Anabaptist perspective, emphasizing nonviolence and wholeness, including care for the Earth. Immensely practical, the book is organized in seven sections, covering these topics: male formation, human needs, personal challenges, sexual wholeness, social practices, conflict tools, life roles. Each section includes an introduction and two-page summaries of various aspects of the topic. For example, “life roles” addresses sons, brothers, friends, lovers, partners, fathers, mentors, workers, leaders, stewards, activists and elders. The authors, who trade off writing the subsections, include questions for conversation. At the end of the book is a section on various resources on related topics. The footnotes in the back also point to helpful resources. Ideally, the book will be used by men’s groups, and while it’s a lot to tackle at once, a group could take up one section at a time and find great reward. — Gordon Houser
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Peter Dunn wrote a memoir, Unlikely Entrepreneur: From China to Amish Country, which told of his company’s improbable rise to become one of the nation’s top suppliers of U.S.-made wall decor. Written with LeAnna Gerber, the book won appreciative readers. Now, in Amish Economics: An Inside Look into Thirty Amish and Mennonite Entrepreneurs in Northeastern Ohio (P. Graham Dunn), this Kidron, Ohio, Mennonite turns the spotlight on his entrepreneurial neighbors, writing fascinating and inspiring stories on business, family and church. At first glance, the book might appear to be little more than Chamber of Commerce promotion but, as one reads, one is intrigued by the recognition of failings as well as successes, making these lives believable and compelling. Dunn mainly allows the narrators to tell their own stories, evoking spiritual, cultural and churchly reflections. Only three of the 30 appear to have Mennonite Church USA affiliations. One of the most fascinating to me was the story of the Amish Pioneer Corp. family of Wayne and Mary Wengerd, who trace their spiritual, economic and churchly grounding from the European Palatinate to postmodern America. For anyone interested in why this Anabaptist community sometimes fails but mainly thrives (Holmes County was recently named Ohio’s No. 1 county for small business owners), here is a good introduction. — Levi Miller
“Poverty in America persists,” writes Matthew Desmond in Poverty, By America (Crown), “because some wish and will it to.” That “some” includes me and most of you reading this. In the past 50 years, despite increased government expenditures, there has been no reduction of poverty. The costs of many basic services have increased in that time, most notably health care. Desmond writes, “Somehow, the United States has the unique distinction of lacking universal health care while having the most expensive health-care system in the world.” Desmond uses a plethora of statistics to dispel myths about poverty and to show that middle-income and especially wealthier Americans receive many more benefits from the government than people in poverty. For example, “the United States spent $1.8 trillion on tax breaks in 2021,” and these have largely supported the top 1% of income earners. “Every year, the richest American families receive almost 40% more in government subsidies than the poorest American families.” How to solve poverty? Here’s one way: “The United States could effectively end poverty tomorrow without increasing the deficit if it cracked down on corporations and families who cheat on their taxes, reallocating the newfound revenue to those most in need of it.” Read this important book, and you’ll be changed. — Gordon Houser
After a career as an elementary schoolteacher in Evansville, Ind., Dorothy Phinezy Word addressed social justice issues from an African American perspective as a guest columnist in the Kokomo Tribune from 1996 to 2004. Jacob W. Elias, Word’s pastor at Parkview Mennonite Church in Kokomo, gathered 41 of her columns in The Dream Lives On (Wipf and Stock) to share her wisdom on cultivating intercultural competence and her dream for equity and justice for all. Word lifts up the achievements of African Americans across diverse fields, from Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s racial barrier to scientists like Otis Boykin, who invented the pacemaker. Personal experiences are also present, such as her reflection on returning to campus in 1997 after attending Goshen College for a year in the 1950s. “Word is truly one among a historical litany of Black women who, even in their relative anonymity, were towering activists for Black freedom, courage and celebratory joy,” says James Logan, professor and director of African and African American studies at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. “While clearly understanding the risks and challenges of bringing forth a Black woman’s voice not his own, Elias strives with diligence to have Word speak for herself.” Elias is professor emeritus of New Testament at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and author of 1 & 2 Thessalonians in the Believers Church Bible Commentary series, as well as Remember the Future: The Pastoral Theology of Paul the Apostle (Herald). — Tim Huber
The world could use a little more grace. The Apostle Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia about finding salvation in God’s grace rather than earthly works, and Mark Baker has written similarly to the churches of today. Freedom from Religiosity and Judgmentalism: Studies in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (Kindred) is a commentary for laypeople and theologians alike focused on the central issue of who belongs in community. Baker is J.B. Toews Professor of Mission and Theology at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and has taught extensively on Galatians throughout Central America with SEMILLA, the Anabaptist seminary in Guatemala. Other aspects of international Anabaptist connections come through in Baker’s focus on the “Centered-Set Church,” a concept of group church dynamics developed by Paul Hiebert, a Mennonite Brethren missionary in India. (Baker is also the author of last year’s Centered-Set Church: Discipleship and Community Without Judgmentalism.) By revealing a deeper context of what the church in Galatia was going through as followers of Christ struggled to define themselves, Freedom from Religiosity and Judgmentalism shows how the radical gospel of Jesus supersedes legalism and division. This volume joins a commentary Baker wrote in Spanish about Galatians, which has a more scholarly tone. — Tim Huber
What does it mean to sing about God being a “buckler”? A buckler is a shield, as Carla Klassen points out in These Songs We Sing: Reflections on Hymns We Have Loved (Pandora). Her book is much more than random obscure facts, like this one about the third verse of “Be Thou My Vision.” It’s a lively exploration of the impact and meaning of sacred music. A Mennonite pianist and professional chorister from Ontario, Klassen presents 52 concise reflections that deepen our appreciation for traditional hymns. She’s picked an eclectic list, including some of the greatest hits (“O Power of Love”), ones that some readers may count as favorites but that others might not know (“And Can It Be That I Should Gain?”), and the relatively obscure (“The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Has Ended”). She describes “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” as a “rock star” because so many famous musicians, from Ella Fitzgerald to Bob Dylan, have recorded it. Klassen has arranged more than 150 sacred songs for piano, and this book emerged from that pursuit as she resolved to arrange a hymn a week for a year. She asked for suggestions and was surprised to find that many people responded with more than song titles, offering stories and comments to support their choices. She heard from faithful churchgoers but also “several who were disillusioned” and “a couple of atheists.” Their input enriched the book as she discovered the value of looking at sacred music from different points of view. Klassen writes not as a scholar but as someone who simply loves hymns. — Paul Schrag