Books, Christianity, Life

Sensible Shoes… A Sensational Read!

A sensational story that will profoundly touch your life!

A spoiler-free book review:

Sensible Shoes … A story about the Spiritual Journey

by Sharon Garlough Brown

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

. . . we all have quite an adventure ahead of us.”

Meg p341


Sensible Shoes is the story of the spiritual journey of four unrelated women whose lives become interwoven as they walk through a three month retreat. Although the sessions are held every other week, the four become friends. They find much growth and healing as they share their dreams, desires, fears, and failures with one another.

Learn to linger with what provokes you.”

Dr. Nathan Allen, Charissa’s professor P 80

Four Pairs of Shoes

  • Meg Crane
    • Age 46
    • Widow
    • Mother died about 3 months ago
    • Recent empty nester
  • Hannah Shepley
    • Age 39
    • Associate Pastor
    • Has a compulsive desire to be needed: a “codependent pastor.” (P 81)
    • On a forced 9 month, fully paid, sabbatical.
  • Mara Garrison
    • Age 50
    • Eats to self-soothe
    • Has a sordid past
    • Unappreciated by husband and their two sons
  • Charissa Goodman Sinclair
    • Age 26
    • A married PhD student
    • A perfectionist
    • A professor wants his students to wrestle with God and have a personal experience with Him; This retreat should check that block.

. . . Restlessness is movement.”

Dawn, Mara’s therapist. P33

Mara knew the script by heart. Dawn would remind her that peace wasn’t the absence of conflict, but presence of God in the midst of the storm.”

P 33
http://www.labyrinthlife.com/free-stuff.html

Trying on New Shoes:


Retreat facilitator, Katherine Rhodes, introduces the retreatants to a passel of approaches to connect differently/better with God. Like trying on a new pair of shoes, sometimes a new way of encounter takes a little time for it to fit well. The list that follows and the descriptions are just a piece of what is fleshed out in the book.

  • Walking a Labyrinth
    • This concept totally intrigued me. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth is a single path that winds about, arrives at a center point, then leads back to the original entry point. It doesn’t have any obstructions or dead ends.
    • The journey is one of prayerful walking.
    • There is no specified amount of time for walking a labyrinth.
    • Although there is no right way to pray the labyrinth, many people divide the prayer into three parts:
      • inward journey: the time to notice what is distracting/hindering/competing for one’s time with Jesus. It is this part when one takes the time to confess wrongs, let go of burdens, and look at what fears are binding one.
      • center: a time to pause, to be, to rest in God, a time to receive what scripture/insights/revelation/peace/presence God is choosing to reveal.
      • outward journey: a time to allow the Holy Spirit to strengthen and empower, a time to ponder the insights received in the center.
  • Lectio Divina
    • Lectio Divina means sacred reading. From as far back as the middle ages, Lectio Divina is a slow, prayerful way of taking God’s Word into oneself.
    • By lingering over the Word, one is able to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in order to encounter the living God.
      • Read aloud, or have another person read aloud, a passage of scripture. Listen for a word or phrase that seems to choose you. Don’t analyze it or think about it. Just listen.
      • Read the same passage aloud a second time, or have the same person as before read it aloud again. While listening this time, ponder that word or phrase. Ask why it speaks to you at this time. What is God saying to you? What does it have to do with your life right now?
        Do not be afraid to feel and think!
      • After pondering/wrestling with the word or phrase, begin to converse with God about it. Listen for the Holy Spirit’s prodding and reassurance as you talk with God.
      • Finally, just rest in Him. Don’t worry about using words, just be in His love.
  • Reading the Bible devotionally as prayer
    • Allow God’s personal Word be precisely for you! For example: change the name of the person being addressed to your name!
    • Focus on God’s graciousness and power instead of your personal fears and worries.
    • Remember this type of reading is not reading the text historically, but instead, focusing on God’s promise of love. Allow God to draw you into intimacy with Jesus.
  • Praying the Examen
    • This form of prayer was developed in the 16th century by Ignatius of Loyola. It is a way of talking through the details of one’s day with Jesus. The examen helps one quiet oneself in order to recognize the work of the Spirit and God’s presence throughout the day. It allows one to pay attention to details of the day.
    • It is a prayerful replay of the details of the day, both the life-building and the life-draining moments.
      • As one ponders the day, there are moments that seem to invite lingering/pondering. That is the Spirit’s invitation to notice those moments.
      • Some possible questions to help get into focus: (from p 178)
        • “When were you aware of God’s presence today? When were you aware of God’s absence?”
        • When did you respond with love, faith, obedience …. resistance, avoidance?
        • When did you feel most alive, energized, drained, troubled, agitated?
      • Once the day has been reviewed, confess the things that need confessing and allow the Spirit to bring forgiveness and grace.
      • Consider how you can choose better and live more attentive to God’s call to love tomorrow.
      • “Ask for the grace to recognize the ways God makes His love known to you.”
  • Palms up/Palms down prayer
    • This form of prayer is simple … but not easy! It uses physical movements to help focus the praying person on letting go and receiving.
    • The person begins by thinking of all the worries, troubles, concerns, anxieties, distractions etc and faces the palms of the hands downwards releasing those things to God.
    • When ready, the person turns the palms upwards to receive what gifts God has to give.
    • Release and receive as many times as needed.
      • note: sometimes it is hard not to pick one’s troubles back up, so it may take many times of releasing to let go … and vice versa, sometimes it is difficult to accept God’s blessings and it may take receiving them over and over before one truly takes ownership of the gifts.
  • Wilderness Prayer
    • Read prayerfully and slowly Genesis 16:7-10 – the story of Hagar in the wilderness.
    • At this is a major decision-making moment in Hagar’s life, a crossroads, the Angel of the Lord asked Hagar 2 questions:
      • Where have you come from?
      • Where are you going?
    • Ponder these same questions. Journal your responses after asking the Spirit to bring to mind those people, places, things, and events which brought you to this crossroads.
  • Self Examination
    • Self Examination is not about perfecting oneself. It is about listening and responding to the Holy Spirit.
    • It is a time to allow God to nudge so that one can recognize where there is resistance to Him.
    • It is cooperating with the Holy Spirit by saying YES to God’s movement in one’s life.
    • Several texts and suggested sets of questions are listed in the book to accompany this
  • Rule of Life
    • This is an intentional structure – likened to a trellis – designed to free one to respond to the Holy Spirit’s nudges. It helps a person orient and grow towards Christ along that structure.
    • The focus is to deepen intimacy with God. It is not a resolution. It is not a focus on fixing or controlling a behavior. It is not a list of dos and don’ts or obligations.
    • A Rule of Life is prayed about and developed after prayerful listening.
      • A Rule of Life is meant to reflect who a person is becoming in Christ.
  • Praying with Imagination
    • By putting oneself in the scene of a Bible passage, using the senses to create the scene in one’s mind, and being a person in that passage the scene becomes alive and exposes things God may want to reveal.
    • There is no worry about being historically accurate: ie no need to know how the people dressed or what the accent sounded like … it’s about being in the moment as part of the story.

The Spirit of God is always speaking to us, but we need to slow down, stop, and give more than lip service to what God is saying. We need to get off autopilot and take time to look and listen with the eyes and ears of the heart.”

Katherine Rhodes: Retreat Facilitator. P 51

Pros & Cons

I loved this book and have recommended it to a number of people already. It is one that caused me to think differently about how I relate to God. It gave me examples of where to begin and how to progress. I truly found it to be life altering! The cons are essentially non-existent, and the pros are so strong that I give the book a 10 out of 10.

  • Pros
    • Great characterization. I fell into each of their stories and felt their joys and pains. The struggles were real.
    • Easy for multiple age groups to connect to the story.
    • Rated PG-13 . . . clean language, no steamy details.
    • The spiritual exercises are described through the journeys the characters take, AND are many are described in one page like a handout the retreatants received so anyone interested could try the exercises at home.
    • some of the topics introduced through the lives of the characters make for great conversation openers with a teen audience.
    • This book is Christian, not denominational. I could not tell, by reading the story, what sect the author is.
    • It ends satisfactorily. Although it is the first of a series, the story stands alone. And I want to read more, for sure!
  • Cons
    • I don’t have any cons for this book, but I do have a caveat: Although these spiritual exercises could be shared with a younger audience, the stories are sometimes explicit and would need to be edited out for younger kids.

While it is essential to read God’s Word, we must allow God’s Word to read us.”

P 102

Final thoughts

Read this book with an open heart! Enjoy it. Enjoy the journey with the protagonists! It will stay with you for a long time.

Perhaps God wants to reveal something to you . . .”

Dr. Nathan Allen, Charissa’s Professor. P 81

Movies

From the Stone Age to a New Age

Spoiler-Free Movie Review

The Croods: A New Age

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Intro

I didn’t expect this movie to be very good, but it was actually fun. The first Croods movie was a bit better, but unlike with many sequels, the sequel wasn’t eclipsed by the original.

Background

The Croods: A New Age was released in 2020 and is the sequel to the popular 2013 film The Croods. It fits into the genres of adventure and comedy.

This movie stars Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, and Clark Duke.

Summary

The old-fashioned Croods meet the Bettermans, a family who perceive their way of life as superior to that of cave people.

Pros

  • Introduces new and complex characters
  • Did not take the expected route with Eep and Dawn
  • A hilarious teenage relationship with believable conflicts
  • A humorous take on modernity vs. traditionalism
  • Fun music

Cons

  • Stretched belief beyond reason at one point
  • Not as good as the original

Review

Characters

The Betterman adults are hospitable and passive aggressive at the same time. We probably all know someone like the Bettermans, who act kind but perform small acts that scream “I don’t really like you.” Their sense of superiority to the Croods is obnoxious to someone who is aware of all the Croods have been through and their intimate family dynamic.

Dawn is less skeptical and closeminded than her parents. She accessorizes with a sloth named Sash, and immediately can relate to Guy and his pet sloth Belt. She has a sense of adventure that has been held back by her parents, who fear the dangers beyond the wall.

Relationships

Eep and Guy deal with all the ups and downs of a teenage relationship throughout the movie. Meeting the Bettermans puts a wrench in the relationship, but part of it is the fault of the adults. The gushy way they are in love at the beginning of the movie is hilarious even for me–even though I am not a big fan of romance.

I love that Eep and Dawn are thrilled to meet each other. Even though they could have seen each other as potential rivals for Guy’s attention, they are not sucked into that trope and over-simplified. They genuinely like and admire each other.

Themes

The theme of modernity vs. traditionalism was the strongest and most apparent theme. The Bettermans shower, use toilets–and they even have a compost bin. But the Croods have scars–and stories. They have kill circles and sleep piles.

I love how the Bettermans are not depicted as being simply…better. More modern, sure, but they have their own set of flaws. The movie shows that parts of older-fashioned life and parts of modern life can be successfully integrated into something that truly is better.

Music

The best song from this movie is “I Think I Love You” by Tenacious D. It’s fun and quirky, fitting the theme of the movie well.

Believability

The most unbelievable part of the movie has to do with a part involving Eep’s peanut toe and is critical to the plot. It just felt like it was odder and less believable than the entire rest of the movie.

Conclusion

Even though it was a weird movie and definitely not the kind of movie to take seriously, it was overall an enjoyable movie. If you want a movie to laugh at with friends and family, I would recommend it.

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate movies, check out my rating system.

Links

Movies

A Comedic Birding Film Starring Jack Black

Spoiler-Free Movie Review:

The Big Year (2011)

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Intro

When I heard this was a comedy about birding, I was reluctant to watch it. I figured it was mostly a movie for birders or at least those vaguely interested in birds. Since I lack interest in most animals, and would rather do almost anything than watch them for hours, I thought this would be perhaps educational, but not relatable or funny to me in the least.

I was wrong.

It was funny…it was heartwarming…it was adventurous. The theme was creative. The trailer really doesn’t tell you much, so don’t rely on that. Overall, it was much better than expected.

Background

The movie is based on a nonfiction book called The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik.

It stars Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson.

It can be watched on Disney+ at this time.

Summary

Three birders, Brad Harris (Jack Black), Stu Preissler (Steve Martin), and Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson), attempt a Big Year. For those who do not know, a big year is when a whole calendar year is spent seeing and identifying as many bird species as possible. It is based on an honor system, because birders do not have to show proof.

Pros

  • Phenomenal actors
  • Complicated characters
  • The theme and premise are creative
  • Not only about birds–it’s about people pursuing their passion wherever it may lead them
  • It’s just plain funny
  • Credits actually fun to watch

Cons

  • It just merits an 8 out of 10. There are better movies, but if you want a good laugh, this one is one to pick up. This movie takes itself very seriously at times, making it less of a comedy (at least in the sense of the modern definition that people use), but then deals with things with a lot of humor at other times, preventing it from being completely serious.

Review

Acting

The acting of the three main actors–Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson–is spot-on. No complaints in that department at all. The rivalry and grudging respect between the characters is audible in the way they speak to and about each other. I do not know as much about Steve Martin and Owen Wilson, but Jack Black is a familiar name around my home.

Characters

Brad Harris (Jack Black) comes off as more of an amateur than the other two, kind of like a superfan without as much experience. He is trusting, likeable, and easy to root for. He lives with his parents after a failed marriage. His father is not very supportive, thinking that the Big Year is a waste of time and money. The movie develops a potential romantic interest for him–to see how it turns out, you’ll have to actually watch it.

Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) is an older man who is considering retirement again. He is encouraged by his wife to do the big year, and has many years of birding experience. Not as trusting as Brad, he is still willing to remember what really matters even when pursuing his passion. Stu built a company and is the CEO, and his employees continually distract him from his big year to try to get him to negotiate business deals.

Kenny Bostick is a man obsessed with birding to an unhealthy degree. Even though this is supposed to be the year he tries to conceive a child with his wife, he goes on a Big Year because he is afraid someone will break his record. During the movie, he is fiercely competitive and not afraid to turn to subtle acts of sabotage, especially by turning people against each other.

Theme

The theme of the movie is creative. Making a birding movie watchable for a wide audience is not easy, but it makes the topic more interesting. If I were to pinpoint a theme or deeper message it would be that you should follow your dreams, but in doing so you should not leave your loved ones behind.

Comedy

The movie is hilarious at times. Watching Jack Black jam to bird song, only to have a coworker listen in and say “rock on” in confusion, was great.

Plus the movie started with a warning–“This is a true story. Only the facts have been changed.” That was some humorous self-awareness there.

Credits

The credits show the various pictures of birds that were purportedly taken by a character during the movie. The song playing during the credits is “This Could All Be Yours” by Guster.

Conclusion

I would recommend this movie for anyone who enjoys comedies. Give it a chance–you won’t regret it!

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate movies, check out my rating system.

Links

Shows

Gravity Falls Gets Even Weirder

Spoiler-Free Show Review:

Gravity Falls Season 2

Rating: 9.8 out of 10 stars

Intro

When my sister wanted me to watch Gravity Falls, I was skeptical about whether I would like it. It looked like an uninteresting kids show or like it would have a style of humor I wouldn’t be a fan of. However, it has become one of my favorite shows.

Background

Gravity Falls Season 2 was released in 2014-2016. It stars the voice talent of Jason Ritter, Alex Hirsch, Kristen Schaal, and Linda Cardellini.

It can currently be watched on Disney Plus.

Summary

Season 2 focuses on the search for the author of the journals, Gruncle Stan’s past, and the struggle against Bill Cipher.

Pros

  • Loveable characters
  • Unique villains
  • Interesting supernatural beings
  • Touching character dynamics between the twins
  • Entertaining setting
  • Clever and amusing dialogue
  • Fun animation
  • References to other shows and pop culture
  • Continuity between episodes unlike in some cartoons
  • Enjoyable for adults and children alike
  • Original catchy music

Cons

  • Gets darker in a way that is a bit much (though this is a minor con)

Observations

  • The whispers at the end of the intro song of each episode are hints to solve the cryptogram at the end of each episode
  • Alex Hirsch is the voice actor for Gruncle Stan, Soos, Old Man McGucket, and Bill Cipher.
  • Dipper’s hat was originally supposed to be red, but the creators feared that he would look too much like Ash Ketchum

Review

Characters

My Favorite Pic of the Whole Gang

Mabel Pines, the girl in the pink sweater and braces, is a quirky and boy-crazy girl. She wears a different sweater almost every episode and is very spontaneous.

Dipper Pines, the boy in the blue hat, is adventurous, practical, and cautious. He is eager to find out what supernatural forces are at work in Gravity Falls.

The twins do a lot of growing in their understanding of themselves and the world around them during Season 2. They have to realize what is most important and worth protecting.

Wendy Corduroy is the redheaded teenager. She is tomboyish, strong, assertive, clever, and funny. Wendy is my favorite character.

Gruncle Stan, the old man, is the main characters’ Great Uncle. Get it? Gruncle? He is miserly, bossy, and occasionally engages in criminal activities. Nonetheless, he is one of the most loveable characters.

Soos is the handyman in the green shirt. He is laidback, has a big heart, and is very close to the Pines family. He acts kind of like a big brother to Dipper and Mabel.

I can’t imagine the show without any one of these characters. They are all essential and add so much to the story.

There is only one character of note who debuted in the second season, but his existence is so integral to the plot that I cannot reveal who it is without major spoilers.

Bill Cipher is the iconic villain of Gravity Falls, and the main threat of Season 2. He’s just so weird….some of his scenes from Season 1 involve deer teeth and possession. It’s all quite odd, and that’s what makes him so unique. He is sadistic and thoughtless and enjoys making deals. Season 2 gets even weirder with his greater involvement.

Relationships

The relationship between the twins is so sweet and authentic. It is clear that they genuinely do care for each other and enjoy each other’s company. Gravity Falls avoids common tropes used in shows for twins–such as twins that are identical or very similar in personality, or the twin that is always right vs. the one that is always wrong, single-minded twins, etc.

Season 2 delves into this relationship more by revealing more of the twins’ pasts and creating conflict between them.

Setting

The show is set in Gravity Falls, Oregon. A lot of time is spent at the Mystery Shack in particular, which is a tourist trap filled with gimmicks and odd artifacts.

Dialogue

Pain is hilarious! And two eyes? This thing is deluxe!”

Bill Cipher, referring to humans

Romance is like gum. When it loses its flavor, you just shove another one in.”

Mabel Pines

A TV show that has big mystery elements and jokes that go over kid’s head’s”

Gruncle Stan, referring to Ducktective in a metajoke also referring to Gravity Falls itself

Animation

The goofy and sometimes postcard-worthy animation of Gravity Falls is attractive and fits the theme of the show.

Allusions

  • When Soos says “Shining, shimmering, splendid,” he is referencing the song “A Whole New World”
  • Smez is a spoof of the brand Pez
  • “We Built This Township on Rock and Roll” is a reference to “We Built This City” by Starship
  • “The Golf War” title of an episode alludes to the actual Gulf War
  • One episode has several allusions to the Muppets
  • At one time the Eye of Sauron can be seen in the Mystery Shack
  • There are so many more!

Continuity

The show is dependent on the episodes that come before for a lot of the development and for most of it to make sense. That makes it different from many TV shows where the episodes can be watched in any order.

Audience

The audience for this show is varied. When I was looking at who had left ratings on IMDb, there was a large age range from teens to people in their mid-20s or mid-30s–even people older than that such as in their 50s. In addition, it was made for children, so it fits all of these audiences well. There are a lot of jokes that adults will appreciate that kids may barely notice. The darker themes at times in the show makes it appealing to adults as well.

Music

The theme song is so catchy my sister and dad both made it their ringtone. I love it. It’s one of those iconic songs that will always bring back good memories for me.

Conclusion

I recommend this show for all ages except for very young children due to dark elements. Admittedly this season is darker, so parental guidance may be best. Things such as a person turning into cockroaches and a couch made of petrified humans might be uncomfortable for very young audiences, as well as the darker overall atmosphere.

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate shows, check out my rating system.