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“Don’t tell me the moon is shining,” playwright Anton Chekhov once counseled; “show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Show, don’t just tell, is a maxim to which every good writer tries to adhere. In her new book, Calvin University professor Jennifer L. Holberg provides a master class in the art of getting her points across by using good stories—what she calls “nourishing narratives.” What could have been an academic treatise reflecting on the importance of stories is elevated here by Holberg’s own life stories as well as those told in great literature, poetry, and, of course, the Bible. Scripture flows through this book as Holberg connects the stories that shape our lives with the greatest story ever told.

“We are all profoundly story-shaped people,” Holberg writes.

What are “nourishing narratives” as opposed to stories stuffed with empty calories, so to speak? The narrative of God’s abundance feeds us with faith and hope, while the scarcity mindset that plagues many people produces fear and angst.

That scarcity narrative that humans buy into has been around for a long time, Holberg says. “When the Israelites are in the desert,” she writes, “the story they tell themselves becomes one of lack, one in which God is failing them.” Both we and the Israelites must flip that skewed script and start believing the manna God sends each day is enough—more than enough. “How then,” Holberg continues, “do we shift our mindset away from ‘going back to Egypt’ and being self-sufficient, and instead, find narrative models that are grounded in the conviction of God’s plenitude?”

Another strengthening story is that of being a good friend in a Christian culture that elevates the family unit above all else. “We still lack a robust way to talk about friendship,” Holberg says. One example is how obituaries tell the tale of “what relationships are included as essential.” Most obituaries list only family members and their spouses (a fact brought home to me when an aunt wouldn’t speak to me for a time after I went rogue when writing my dad’s obituary, mentioning his life rich in friendships and books and excluding the usual list of relatives).

“When was the last time you heard a sermon exhorting you to be a better friend?” Holberg asks. It’s a good question, and I can’t remember. Yet we were created for friendship by the friend who “sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24).

Bookish souls will love the glorious array of literature woven into the book, as befits a book written by an English professor passionate about teaching books, poetry, and stories. Holberg references poets and works as diverse in time and place as nineteenth-century English poet Christina Rossetti; Holberg’s colleague Jane Zwart, who in a poem describes the wind as being an “argon sarong”; the fourteenth-century Italian poet Dante Alighieri and his Inferno; and 2017’s Pachinko by Korean American author Min Jin Lee.

As readers close the book, they will begin to spot stories everywhere and be equipped to discern which ones are beneficial and nurturing and which ones are unhealthy. They will embrace the underlying idea of Holberg’s book: that a nourishing narrative is one that tells “all the desolation of the broken world but also the deep assurance of the God who redeems it all.” (IVP Academic)


You Are More Than You’ve Been Told: Unlock a Fresh Way to Live Through the Rhythms of Jesus

By Hosanna Wong
Reviewed by Mary Li Ma

Hosanna Wong guides readers on a journey of reflection, self-discovery, and communion with God with “a new rhythm that leads to a lighter, fuller, and more satisfying life.” Wong begins by exposing some of the lies we hear in life: you are not enough, you don’t do enough, and your past defines you. These lies often shape our perceptions of reality in a broken world. But God’s will for God’s followers is to embrace a new name and a new identity as a child of God.

This book has 13 short chapters, each ending with guided questions for reflection. Its format makes it perfect for study in a small group, especially among a diverse group of young professionals who can relate to the author’s life trajectory. (W Publishing Group)


Tasting History with Max Miller

Reviewed by Trevor Denning
Every recipe has a story.

Tasting History with Max Miller is a YouTube channel featuring recipes and the stories behind them. Each week Miller offers a video of around 20 minutes showcasing two of his great loves: food and history. First he introduces a drink or dish and tells us a little about its origins. Then he demonstrates its preparation in his 1950s-style kitchen.

While we imagine it baking, cooking, or fermenting, Miller shares the history of the food.

What did the soldiers of the Ottoman army eat? How did they cook it? Even if you don’t want to eat like a Roman gladiator (trust me, you don’t), or you get sick at the idea of Civil War sweet potato “coffee,” Miller makes learning about food history interesting and entertaining. (YouTube)



Reviewed by Daniel Jung

Reality, starring Sydney Sweeney as Reality Winner (her real name) is a reenactment of real life that makes you feel like you’re watching a one-act play.

The movie’s dialogue is taken directly from the FBI transcripts of its interrogation of Reality Winner, a United States government intelligence worker whom the FBI suspected of stealing National Security Agency (NSA) documents regarding Russia’s interference with the 2016 presidential election.

As a preacher who tells stories about Jesus Christ from four different accounts of his life, this movie heightens my appreciation for the “screenplay” choices that were made by each of the four gospel writers. Reality is proof that tales of espionage and treason can be told with muted subversion and still contain as much intrigue as high-octane depictions. (Max; rated TV-MA for infrequent profanity)


Chasing God’s Glory

By Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young; illustrated by Alyssa De Asis
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

While Mama makes breakfast, she sings, “Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory!” Zayla asks, “Mama, we talk and sing about glory at church, but what exactly is glory?”

Mama invites Zayla to join her on a bike ride to hunt for glory. Zayla and Mama discover God’s glory in bright murals painted on alley walls, delicious aromas and tasty food sold at a farmers’ market, the love of an elderly couple sitting on a park bench, ducklings and their mama duck on a pond in a city park, and the unexpected assistance of a stranger.

Artist Alyssa De Asis’s bright, lively illustrations capture the glory of God’s amazing world through the eyes of an inquisitive girl and her insightful mother. (WaterBrook)


The Lowdown

Reckoning with Power: David Fitch unpacks the difference between worldly power, or power over others, and God’s power, which engages not with coercion but with love, reconciliation, grace, forgiveness, and healing. (Brazos)

Following the Events in Hawkeye: In Echo, Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) returns to her hometown, where she must come to terms with her past, reconnect with her Native American roots, and embrace her family and community. (Jan. 10, Disney+)

From Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks: In Masters of the Air, airmen of the 100th Bombardment Group risk their lives and forge a brotherhood during World War II. (Jan. 26, Apple TV+)

Wild and Distant Seas: In this multigenerational saga by Tara Karr Roberts, Evangeline Hussey, an outsider on Nantucket, uses her unique ability to find her place in the declining whaling community after her husband’s disappearance at sea. Inspired by Moby Dick. (Norton)

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