I was invited to take part in a blog “book tour” to review the book, “Why God Matters: How to recognize Him in Daily Life” by Karina Lumbert Fabian and Deacon Steven Lumbert, a father-daughter duo. The book is published by Tribute Books and was released in May 2010. In accepting the invitation, I was given a copy of the book to read. (I chose to receive it in print-out form instead of electronic form) Nicole Langen, owner of Tribute Books, did not request or require anything from me apart from an obligation to do the review today. *This is my honest, unbiased review of this new book.* I have mixed thoughts and feelings about this book, so please bear with me while I try to flesh it out fairly for you.
In case you either can’t or don’t want to read all of this review just now, let me give you the bottom line up front:
- I like the authors (as people) from what I’ve learned of them
- Like any book based on very short, personal stories, this book takes a risk of not connecting with readers
- I don’t feel that the title really gave a good picture of what was in the book or what it meant to accomplish. (this is a very important point for me as a reader!)
- This book was not life-altering for me, but it was worth reading once.
Now, let me elaborate.
First a bit about the actual book. While I “only” had a printout, I was able to get a good idea of what the (physical) book looks like and I had the full content of the book (including the jacket.) It is a very short book, just 114 pages, with very large print (I had no trouble reading it and my vision isn’t all that great.) The $15.95 list price for a hardcover edition is reasonable (amazon sells it for $12.76.) Amazon lists the hardcover dimensions as 8.6 x 5.7 x. 0.6, so it’s a small book. If you like ebooks, the Kindl edition is only $2.99! Nicole told me that it is also available in Nook and iPad formats.
Because of the personal nature of the writing, I felt I got a bit of a glimpse of this father-daughter pair. I like them. I prayed for them. I wondered how and when God would reach Karina’s son. I wondered if the Deacon ever knew my uncle who lived in Pueblo, was a retired law enforcement officer, and died of a heart attack in his vehicle in 2004 (yes, I know, the Diocese and city of Pueblo are not small, but this question shows, I think, that I did feel that I was able to “connect” personally with the authors as people.) I particularly enjoyed Karina’s writing style and I’m thinking about looking into some of her fiction (though I might pass on the zombies! 😀 )
Others have written about the book saying it tells about how it is to “come to the faith” on two different paths, one being by birth and the other by adult conversion. I don’t think that there really is a clear picture of that. There are too many missing pieces to really see those two separate paths leading to the same place. I learned enough to know that each of the authors took a different path, but not enough to really appreciate the two paths.
Even with references to the Catechism and mentions of their own Catholic faith, I don’t find it to be an overtly Catholic book. I think this book could be equally appealing to nonCatholics as well as to Catholics. In order to get anything out of this book, one must have some faith, however.
The authors “took turns” writing each chapter and it was full of personal stories and examples from their daily lives. Each chapter contains “Life Lessons” ~small meditations or suggestions that relate to the chapter topic, a scripture quotation, a quote from the catechism and beneath the chapter title there are quotes from a variety of others, from saints to bishops to presidents of Catholic organizations. Most of the stories of each chapter take less than 2 pages, a couple of them take a full two pages (meaning the actual writing, not the title or the quote.) This is very easy and quick reading. You can read the whole thing in an hour or two, but I think this book would be better digested in smaller bites. Reading a chapter and meditating on the lesson and thinking about it and how it might apply to your own life would be much more beneficial than reading straight through. Having said that, I think most of the chapters are simply too short, no matter how you approach the book.
The thing about personal stories and examples as an approach to writing a book is that it is reliant on the reader “connecting” with the stories in a personal, meaningful way. Accomplishing this in any book that relies on personal stories will always be kind of tricky, I think, but especially so for books that are so short. Tricky, but not impossible. There are other books out there that have taken the same personal story approach and were successful. Those books were successful for a few reasons, I believe, but I’ll only touch on that here. One reason is that each contributor was allowed to really tell their story or make their point fully and give a good amount of detail. One example might be Surprised by Truth. There were 11 contributors and they wrote fairly extensively and I found that I related to all of them on some level and many of them on many levels. The purposes of the two books are different, of course, but the approach ~personal witness~ is the same.
In my case, I did connect with some of the things presented in Why God Matters. For example, Karina shares that her son doesn’t believe and having a son of my own whose faith is MIA for now, I can relate to that. I also related to (and was challenged by!) the idea of giving up being a martyr to the trivial! I think my favorite chapter was on having a “Non-Personal Relationship” with God. That was great thinking. (curious, aren’t you?) These last two were, in themselves, worth the time I spent reading the book.
On the other hand, there were many that didn’t hit home with with me. Perhaps it is because the chapters are too short and do not flesh out those ideas and inspirations enough for me. Perhaps I would never relate to them, no matter how much ink was devoted to them. At times, I finished the chapter feeling that I’d missed the point ~ even after rereading it. For example, I did not see how in the world seeing someone barefoot at Mass would ever inspire me to discern whether or not I should leave my children and travel from home to attend to another family member. I understand that the barefoot woman somehow showed love and warmth and openness to the author, but the title of the chapter is “Bare Feet”. While the barefoot woman communicated these things to the author, I still don’t know how her bare feet are essential or triggered all of that. Naturally, this was the author’s experience and it was real. I can’t “argue” with that and I wouldn’t want to, but the fact remains that I didn’t “get” it. A longer chapter might have fleshed that out better and I might have connected more to it. It follows that if I connected to it better, I may have recognized the “barefoot” people in my own life.
One thing I kept thinking was, “this isn’t answering the question about WHY God matters.” I think the title had me expecting to find reasons to believe in God and His love and His absolute concern for me in the everyday nitty-gritty and how to let that matter. Since the subtitle of the book is “How to Recognize Him in Daily Life” I did expect personal, individual reasons, and not necessarily theology or philosophy (though I might have been looking for those, too, in “lite” versions) . I came to the book looking for an answer to the why and what I read didn’t satisfy that. In most cases, I didn’t connect the dots from their witness of recognizing Him in every day life and my being able to recognize Him in my own. (I don’t mean I don’t recognize Him at all, though I am sure that I don’t see all the ways He is there, I mean that the book didn’t lead me to that.)
The book seems, rather, to address HOW God matters to the authors and therefore how He might, maybe, could matter to you if you want Him to and are seeking Him, or even what it’s like WHEN we make sure God matters (for we have the freedom to not let Him matter.) These are very good things! But I really struggled with the expectations I had based on the title and what was actually in the book. Since I received and read the book (the first time) about four weeks before I published this review, I decided to collect some opinions to see if my expectations were way out there. Without tipping my hand, I asked some dear friends, wise men and women in the faith, to answer the question of “Why God matters.” I asked them because I wanted to know, by their answers, what they would expect that question to address. It seems that they had thoughts similar to mine. (I also learned a lot about my friends! Good stuff!) Here are some of the answers I received. Many that follow are only portions of the answers. Some of them were quite long and very well written and all were thoughtful:
“God matters because we have all tried living a life apart from Him, apart from His standards, and apart from His wants for us. We have come up empty, disheveled, lonely, angry, depressed, etc… He IS the only antidote. He created us, He knows what we really need. God matters because Love is all there is and we all need that. He is completely and utterly LOVE. Love NEVER FAILS, ALWAYS HEALS, MATTERS THE MOST.” ~M
“God matters because He made me in His likeness and image. He is the Creator.
God matters because my soul can only rest when I am with and in Him.
God matters because He died to open the gates of heaven for all mankind.
God matters because I love Him.
God matters because He is the ultimate authority.
God matters because He just does.” ~K
“Now as a concept, God may be helpful in the ordering of a person’s life or in the system or rules adopted by civilizations. Certainly the concept of God has spawned lots of things both good and bad but nothing that lasts. The actual person of God however, cannot help but matter though we may try very hard to imagine He does not. I have noticed that there is no getting rid of God and that He has a habit of butting in all the time where He is not wanted at all and we being His creations can’t stop Him from turning our lives upside down. So even if we don’t believe in Him, He matters because He believes in us and makes it His business to involve Himself in our lives.” ~M
“Humans are unable to establish universally accepted morality or moral code to govern their behavior. Also, humans find in God a reason to act morally.” ~F
“God matters for so many reasons.
– It helps us to understand how we got here
– It helps us to understand what to do now that we are here
– It helps us to understand what to do to get to where we are (hopefully) going” ~J
“Obviously, God matters because nothing would be in existence without Him. The knowledge of God matters because He has allowed us to have a glimpse at who He is and what He is up to so we are humbled by this gift and in reverence we accept what He has given and cherish the small amount that we are able to understand as we seek to know Him better and love Him and serve Him.
In other words, if God has allowed us to know of His existence, then we are obligated to treasure this knowledge because He deigned to give it to us and He MUST have a reason.” ~D
“Why does God matter?
A.: Whether or not one believes in God–or a plethora of gods–or no God, at all, the concept, itself matters greatly. The belief in a God, or gods, or no god at all has been the source of conflict, wars, arguments, and divisions throughout the centuries. It has also inspired great works of art, beautiful musical compositions, charitable organizations, relief efforts, orphanages, and virtuous–even heroic–conduct. From the ancient Aztecs of Mexico, who sacrificed victims to their gods in horrific ways, to the less grotesque sacrifice of fruits, grains, vegetables upon the altar in other religious communities, the belief in a supernatural realm that has power over our natural world has been a major motivation of human behavior. Even the belief that there “is no god” and the resulting efforts to squash all expressions of religion has an effect on mankind–this kind of thinking/effort creates a despotic, tyrannical “state” (government/culture etc.) […] But, here is an even more important question–Who came first? Man or God? Those who ascribe to an evolutionary theory of the earth/mankind, often apply this mode of thinking to social/cultural/religious development. To an evolutionary thinker, man has “made up” the concept of God, and has ever refined the concept ( these people expect mankind to evolve in its thinking to the point of realizing its own godhood, thus abandoning the idea of a supernatural”God” at some enlightened point in evolution).” ~K
“[…] the thoughtful question is: if the universe is indeed a deliberate Creation, why did the mastermind behind it bother to create it at all? Why indeed! God: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was complete and perfect in and of Himself, without any part of Creation at all. God had no need whatsoever for anything to complete Himself. The reason HeHe authored all Creation, then, is simply yet profoundly because He wanted to. He desired it. In other words, He loved it. “God loved the world so much.” we read in John 3:16. God loves His creation because it was only from His infinite love that He made it. God made the world to return love to Himself.
So, “why are we here?” “What is the purpose of my life?” Out of love alone, God made you and everyone and everything around you. God made you because He loves you, and He wants you to love Him. That is why God matters. “~C
God matters for so many reasons.
– It helps us to understand how we got here
– It helps us to understand what to do now that we are here
– It helps us to understand what to do to get to where we are (hopefully) going
And me? What is my answer? God matters because He IS. (yeah. I’m no Aquinas.)
These answers that I received speak of authority and salvation and LOVE. These are the things that the title (and the question it implies it answers) bring to mind for me and for those I asked for input from, but the book doesn’t address the things I and my friends thought of when we considered the question “why God matters.” Of course the authors didn’t intend to write a book like that, which is fine. And still, from my perspective, title brings to mind one thing while the book addresses another and that was a bit of a disappointment to me.
While I related to some of their stories, this book was not life-altering for me and it is not one that I will turn to again and again. Perhaps this book was not written for me. I think this book would have a lot more value to someone who is just beginning their journey (their real journey, even if they were “born and raised” in faith) to a [non-personal]relationship with God. I think it may have impacted me more 25 years ago than it did today.
I don’t see this book book ever reaching my top 100 must-read book recommendations. I think this book was worth my reading once, but I would caution other readers to not expect more from the book than it gives. This book really won’t tell you, tell us, why God matters (in Himself) so much as it will show us ways that God has guided and shown Himself to this pair of authors (has mattered to them) and from that, we may ~some of us~ see God “mattering” in our own everyday lives.