Originally published in Transitions magazine, May 2010-
The Karma of Jesus by Mark Herringshaw, Bethany House
I asked to review this book based on another review I read in Youth Worker Journal. The intersection of Zen and Christianity is a subject that I have studied for many years for my own personal gratification. One day a book may come out of it, but for now I enjoy the research and meditation time. Herringshaw’s book jumped out at me because the notion of karma is a core tenet of both belief systems. As a Christian I know it as the principle of sowing and reaping, which occurs throughout the Bible.
The notion of karma is a universal concept and seems to be more a law of nature than a purely religious belief. It’s interesting to note how many rules that Buddhism and other religions attach to karma. There’s even a belief that one can purchase good karma to downplay negative forces. Sounds like the indulgences that medieval Catholicism used as a cash cow.
Karma in the Buddhism sense is very different from what I believe in as a Christian. The book does a great job explaining it and both the similarities and differences between regular karma and Christian sowing and reaping.
If you have any interest in Zen, karma, or eastern religions that involve either, I would highly suggest this book. It reads mainly as a conversational debate between Herringshaw and an amalgam of other people, but he does an excellent job of weaving stories, anecdotes, and factual information into the conversations.
No More Christian Nice Guy by Paul Coughlin, Bethany House
When I asked for a review copy of Karma, my contact at Bethany House suggested this book as well. I said OK. The title intrigued me, although I hoped it wouldn’t end up being another one of those cheesy “it’s time for the men of the world to rise up” books. This book far exceeded my expectations.
I review so many books for this column and others that I can’t keep them all. I often pass the books on the other readers who I feel might be interested. I kept this one for my personal library. Because I give many away I don’t mark up the books that I’m reviewing. If I want to remember things, I’ll just copy quotes in my journal. A couple of paragraphs into the Introduction by Dr. Laura Schlessinger I started underlining passages. Then a few pages into the main body of the book I realized that I was underlining entire pages.
I can’t sum up my feelings for the book any better than David Murrow’s recommendation on the back cover which states, “John Eldredge gave men permission to be ‘wild at heart.’ Paul Coughlin shows us how to do it. This book is a road map to a larger life.”
If you’ve read Eldredge then you know exactly what the quote means. I placed this book on my man-shelf along with worn copies of Wild at Heart, Fight Club, and The Barbarian Way. I could do no less for a book with the audacity to title a chapter as “Jesus the Bearded Woman.” After reading the book, I’d really like to meet Coughlin. I’d like to get him in the ring at The Christian Fight Club here in Myrtle Beach and toss or take a few punches with him. It’s a great way to get to know a guy.
Men, buy this book and take it to heart. Women, buy this book for your man and change his life. Give it to your sons, brothers, and dads. And quit being so nice!
Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles, Bloomsbury USA
The author of this book contacted me by e-mail and asked me to review her debut novel. I get a lot of requests to review books. Some of them I take, some I don’t. Many requests are for self-published books, which can be quite scary. Sometimes people have more money than sense with self-published tomes. Other times, people suggest books that aren’t self-published but just aren’t my cup of joe. I was afraid this book would fall into the latter category. To be honest, it sounded like a chick book.
I am very pleased to say that I was happy to review this book. It was great. I never in my life thought I would care a bit about life in Odessa, Ukraine in the former Soviet Union. In the movies, that area of the world is always a bleak colorless gray world of block buildings, large-boned women, and vodka. Charles actually worked as a Soros Fellow for two years in Odessa. Her experiences there gave her the insight to show us an inside glimpse into Odessa.
As only happens with well-written characterizations and believable stories I became attached to the main character Daria. I found myself interested in her life and kept wondering what would happen to her next, although I did cringe when she had her teeth fixed. A mechanical engineer by training who can only find work as a secretary and interpreter, Daria manages to make the best of her life with a tyrannical boss, a gangster who fancies her, and dreams of a better life in America.
I would love to eventually see this book as a movie. As I read I constantly tried to picture who would play certain parts. My vote is for Scarlett Johansson in the title role. I think she could pull it off with a mousy look and cheap clothes. As a hint to the author, if this review helps the movie adaptation become a reality, I’d be more than happy to play a small part. I think this book would also make an awesome adaptation to a graphic novel.
Moonlight in Odessa was an impressive debut novel. I’ll be looking forward to a second book from Charles.