Jennifer's books

Goodbye, Vitamin
American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land
Mrs. Hemingway
Poetry Will Save Your Life: A Memoir
The Princess Diarist
Watch Me Disappear
Hello, Sunshine
Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success
A Man Called Ove
The Heirs
Our Souls at Night
White Fur
Confessions of a Domestic Failure
The Map That Leads to You
The Little French Bistro
Love the Wine You're With
Always and Forever, Lara Jean
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
The Party
New Boy

Jennifer Curry's favorite books »

Sunday, October 28, 2018

I Went to the Evolving Faith Conference. Here's Why.

I spent Friday and Saturday at the Evolving Faith conference. And, now that I've had time to process it, I'm ready to explain why I went to what my family jokingly referred to as a hippie liberal conference and what I learned.

I met Jesus as a middle schooler through reading the Christy Miller series by Robin Jones Gunn and watching Charles Stanley on TV. Within a matter of months, I was literally running to the mercy seat at a Pentecostal Assembly of God revival. Jesus has had a hold of me ever since.

Church, however, has not. My pastor recently preached a fantastic series called “Disappointed with God.” While the series was great, I kept wanting to ask him if he would ever talk to those of us who were not disappointed in God but have been disappointed by church. 

You see, I have been honest about having spiritual baggage. But, I'm learning that I need to examine some of the “truths” I learned and give them up. For instance, I learned:

  • My bare shoulders in spaghetti strap tank tops or my curves in yoga pants cause men to sin.
  • Those in my denomination were more spiritual because we were spirit-filled. Likewise, my husband was told to make sure I was “really saved” since I was Assembly of God and not Baptist. Along those same lines, Catholics were not Christians, and other Christians from other denominations may not truly be Christians (heard this from both the AG and the Baptists).
  • Christians vote Republican. Period.
  • In other words, our Christianity is defined by how we dress, where and how we worship, and how we vote.

Additionally, I have church leadership issues probably because:

  • Someone has told on me to a pastor when I suggested something in the Bible seemed contradictory to something else in the Bible. 
  • As a senior in high school, I was pulled into a pastor's office and got in trouble with my other innocent girlfriends for skipping youth group and going on a date night for dinner and to see Christmas lights. We were expected to be at every service and we had hurt the youth leader’s feelings.
  • Been prayed over because I watched PG-13 movies. 
  • Heard church leaders encourage women to stay with abusive husbands. 
  • Went to a church where the youth leader murdered his wife.
  • Was told by church leaders to not talk about that scandal when I spoke publically
  • Been told churches we were visiting in a new city were too Calvinist/not Calvinistic enough (I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS)
  • Then, after deciding on a new church in a new city, abruptly cut off for making the wrong choice.
(NOTE - These things did not all happen at one church. These experiences occurred at the churches I attended throughout my life.)

So, it should not come as a surprise that I hid my true thoughts for many years or why I ended up at a conference for people who struggle with church or with God. However, I also recognize that some of you may find that unsettling as I have always been involved in church - even serving as a women’s ministry leader and writing for Christian organizations. Therefore, I felt like it was important to explain myself. 

I needed a chance to be around others who felt similarly. And, I was. The vast majority of those at the conference (about 1500 people in attendance) were not there because they no longer believed in Jesus but because they have been hurt by the church. The conference had a diverse group of speakers and we had the opportunity to hear each person speak/preach.

Here is what I discovered in at a conference that was VERY different from my usual Beth Moore/Women of Faith/youth camp events:

  • No one denomination can claim Jesus alone. Denominations are different, but I do not get to claim Jesus more than someone who worships differently than I do. 
  • Same goes with politics. The Republicans do not get to hold claim to Jesus. Neither do the Democrats. As I have now witnessed, this is a problem on both sides. Be careful how you use Jesus with your politics because I have news for you - just like many evangelical Christians will claim to vote Republican is the Christian thing to do, the Democrats use the same exact argument.
  • Additionally, do not pick and choose Bible verses to boost your agenda. Be aware that the Bible has been used on either side forever. The abolitionists and the slave owners both used the Bible to advance their agendas. Choose to make decisions based on the Bible as a whole rather than a simple cut and paste document to meet your needs.
  • There were several people attending the conference who were scared to tell people where they were because their church, friends, or family would not approve of the speakers. I used to be that person. Thankfully, I am now secure enough in my faith to not only go but to tell you about it.
  • However, we should be careful about who we listen to. We must think critically about what we read and who we listen to. Thankfully, I have parents who enforced this my whole life with my mom constantly reminding me to never just take a preacher at his word but to look it up in The Word. 
  • With that being said, while most of the speakers had something I could glean knowledge from, there were others who said things that I am not on board with. We should never listen to anyone hook, line, and sinker. Plus, no one says the right thing all the time. We miss the mark.
  • It is okay to have doubts and ask big questions. God is big enough to handle it. Your church friends may squirm (it’s happened to me), but questions do not make you a bad person or a bad Christian.
  • As Sarah Bessey said, “Grief, doubt, anger, and cynicism do not make you a liability to Jesus.”

So, there you have it. I am not running away from church.

Yes, churches are faulty. Yes, there are some church leaders who abuse their power. Like there are no perfect people - there are no perfect churches.

With all of its problems, church is good, and it is necessary. We need community, and we are privileged to have places to worship without fear in the US. Churches do more for our neighbors and our cities than we give them credit for. 

And, I am especially not running away from Jesus. I am not the same middle schooler running to the altar, but my faith is still of utmost importance. 

For those of you who find themselves surrounded by people who look, worship, and vote the same way as you, I encourage you to make friends with some people outside your circle. I have learned more about my faith and myself from doing this very thing.  

Monday, October 22, 2018

Book Review: The Library Book

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

I love narrative nonfiction, and Susan Orlean's The Library Book is nonfiction at its best!

I realize that I am super biased because this book is about books and libraries - two of my ultimate favorite things. I am smart enough to realize that while I will be raving about this book, there will be some that just don't get it. But, if you are someone who loves libraries, then you absolutely need to read this book.

The Library Book is Orlean's retelling of the tragic Los Angeles Public Library burning in 1986. Reading as part true crime and part historical nonfiction, she unfolds the story of the possible arson that destroyed a library and countless books and artifacts by providing readers with the full history of the public library system in California, the librarians who worked there through the years, as well as providing an expose of the arsonist.

Some people may hear this and immediately dismiss it as boring nonfiction - and these people would be wrong. It was entertaining from start to finish. I thoroughly enjoyed reading every single page, and I found myself constantly highlighted passages.

The combination of the crime, plus the gossipy details about who was fired and hired at the library through the ages made for a very interesting read - especially for fans of libraries. There were lines that made me gasp. Lines that made me cheer. And lines that made me feel known as a library lover. I highlighted tons of lines in the book, but here are a few of my favorites:

"In times of trouble, libraries are sanctuaries. They become town squares and community centers - even blood-draw locations."

"Burning books is an inefficient way to conduct a war, since books and libraries have no military value, but it is a devastating act. Destroying a library is a kind of terrorism. People think of libraries as the safest and most open places in society. Setting them on fire is like announcing that nothing, and nowhere, is safe. The deepest effect of burning books is emotional. When libraries burn, the books are sometimes described as being 'wounded' or as 'casualties,' just as human beings would be."

The book is far more than an arson investigation - Orlean discusses how libraries have evolved over time. She describes how famous writers have found their words in libraries - such a Ray Bradbury who wrote his most famous novel on a library typewriter. The book is filled with stories that will make any book lover's heart happy.

This is the first book I have read by the famed author, Susan Orlean, but it certainly will not be my last. If you have someone in your life who adores libraries and books, then this is the gift they need this Christmas.

Thank you, Netgalley, for providing me with a copy of this book to read and review! This book was recently published, so hurry out and get it today!