Guest Book Review: Just Mercy

One thing I love just as much as telling people about the books I love, is hearing from people about the books they love. As the Gracepoint Church Librarian, I have the delightful experience of receiving emails and texts, or having that quick hallway conversation about about this or that book someone just finished and loved.

But be forewarned: when you tell me about a book you love, I might hound you to write up a little review! But it’s in the service of fostering the love of reading across all of our Gracepoint Ministries and beyond, so it’s all good, right? I hope to feature these guest reviews on a semi-regular basis.

The following is a review by Michael Kim, for one of his favorite books:

At times I meet people — young people especially — that express difficulty in reading regularly. Reading is obviously less sensually dynamic than media, and it undoubtedly requires greater mental discipline than many other activities. I find it particularly challenging to read while tired. That being said, God relates to us through the Bible — this alone should be enough for all of us to strive for becoming better readers.

As a wise man once said when asked of his grandest wishes for his newborn daughter, “I just want her to follow Jesus and read well.”

just mercy

All this to say, Just Mercy is a phenomenal book. It is a book that I often give to friends — including those that don’t read much or well. The memoir documents the experiences of lawyer and civil rights activist Bryan Stevenson. Many of you have probably heard of him: Tony Campolo speaks of him in his GP-beloved Carpe DiemJust Mercy chronicles the vast injustice that plagues America’s criminal justice system, weaving Stevenson’s various legal battles with the main story of Walter McMillian, an African America man convicted of and put on death row for murdering a white woman. Many of his cases involve those facing the death penalty, and Stevenson goes on to challenge capital punishment and the prison-industrial complex of this nation.

But the memoir goes deeper than merely depicting Stevenson’s cases over the years. Stevenson, in the midst of such injustice and brokenness, examines the need for mercy and redemption for all — to both the black and white man; regardless if you are a lifelong Alamedan or born and raised in DeLisle, Mississippi; no matter whether empowered or oppressed; felon or saint. Stevenson reflects on the possible-truth that we are all in dire need of grace.

I read this book in high school and found it particularly formative in the way I perceived worth in this world. It is nothing short of gripping, inspirational and profound. Going back to the young folk thing: I’ve never had a friend that started this book and didn’t finish! Justin Yi and I liked this book, thus chances are you’ll appreciate it too. Holla — your boy got all the good reads.

Confession: I don’t quite know if I was supposed to include that last sentence in the review, but I *think* it’s like a book review mic-drop. Correct me if I’m wrong. 🙂

Anyway, I can attest to Michael’s love for the book. For a while, every time I saw him, he’d ask me if I’d read it yet! And like he said, he got his friends to read it, and then Philip also proceeded to recommend it to me highly. So I did end up reading it and loving it as well. So that’s three people recommending this read. (Never mind that Oprah also recommends it!) [insert cry-laughing emoji]

Have you read Just Mercy? What did you think? If you have a book you’d like to review, contact me and we’ll get you in the queue!

2019: Reading Resolutions & Turning Over a New Blog

henrietta's 21st

I’m only 23 days late with a Happy New Year to you all in Gracepoint churches in Berkeley and beyond! I cringe to notice that my last post was from June 1 of 2018, though I don’t cringe at the fact that I recommended reading I Can Only Imagine. I stand by my recommendation and will be recommending many more in the weeks to come. As usual, I am backlogged with books I have been telling people they just *have to* read.

For now though, I wanted to write a short post to assure everyone this blog is alive and kicking. I am going to build in some time to write here each day so that I can roll out a post every few days or so.  While Victor Hugo’s daily writing routine was admirable, I’m going to start with a modest 15 minutes a day.  Some of you know that last year, I experienced building a new habit of scripture memory (shout out to ScriptureTyper), and I started with just a few minutes a day, and now I’m up to quite a few verses. So hopefully, I can build up some momentum here, as there are so many great books out there that I want to share with you all!

One more thing — it’s not too late to make a 2019 Reading Goal or Reading Resolution. My goal is to read 168 books:

  • 42 non-fiction
  • 42 children’s/young adult fiction
  • 42 new picture books
  • 42 poetry/fiction (especially the books I’ve been meaning to read since forever…Brothers Karamazov, I’m coming for you! It wins for being on my TBR list the longest — since 1994, before many of you were born!)

What are your 2019 reading goals? Share them in the comments below, and let’s encourage one another to read more books this year!

Recommended Read: I Can Only Imagine

If you’re like most of us at Gracepoint Berkeley church, you saw the movie I Can Only Imagine this past spring, and either cried a lot or cried a lot “inside.” I think I sat next to the person who wins the “Most Tears Shed” prize — you know who you are! 🙂

i can only imagineBUT did you know there’s a book? It came out a month before the movie, and I confess at first I was like…nah, even though I’m a sucker for memoirs. But I both read the book and listened to the audiobook (read by the author himself, which I always love) and recommend it for youth and adults alike! It is a quick read, written in a down-to-earth voice, but like the movie, it is a tear-jerker.

It is Millard’s fuller memoir and includes a lot more than what the movie could portray in 2 hours. It includes significant relationships in his life — for example, with his older brother (were you one of the people confused by the other guy in the family picture at the end of the movie?), as well as Kent, the friend from Glorietta Camp, who played a much more prominent role in his life than the movie was able to show.

And as can be expected, it goes into more depth of each person’s back story. Most notably, you get a fuller picture of Millard’s dad and how and why it is that he became the way he had been towards Bart and his brother. This book is excellent for developing empathy as you get a glimpse into each person’s story.

The movie played with the timeline of events, perhaps to create a more cohesive storyline, but Millard’s father fell ill while he was still in high school, so it was actually in his senior year that he was his father’s primary caretaker, and that they reconciled their relationship only to lose him so soon after.

I was reminded of this coming off of the Youth Ministry Training Retreat, where one of the big lessons we came away with was the power of listening and just being there and being with our youth, each of whom has a story, a world of struggles and realities beneath the surface. And actually, Millard’s youth group was instrumental in providing safety, stability, acceptance, and love amidst his tumultuous life. His youth group became a stable family for him, when he felt so unwanted, unloved, and unworthy. And they were there with him as he dealt with the loss of his father.

After reading the book, I felt like Millard was my friend. He was so vulnerable and real in sharing his struggles with self-worth and how he continues to build up his self-worth as a redeemed child of God. As I found out about his life story, I understood why MercyMe’s songs are often about these themes, and I could appreciate how his songs are born from the lessons and seasons of his own faith journey.

Anyway, wanted to add yet another book to your “to be read” list. This is a perfect one for bedtime reading, but be warned, you might stay up all night in order to finish!