What we’re reading this month: September 2023

The books U.S. Catholic writers have enjoyed this month, including “Dear Mama God” and “Testimony.”
Arts & Culture

Dear Mama God

By Daneen Akers (Watchfire Media, Inc., 2023)

Children’s books that include feminine images of God are hard to find. This is one of the many reasons why there is a freshness to the new book Dear Mama God, written by Daneen Akers and illustrated by Gillian Gamble.

Drawing on images that evoke nature and nurturing, Akers offers a prayer that helps children connect the beauty of life and the things they love to the God who enfolds them in a mother’s comforting embrace. While similar petitions could easily be addressed in the traditionally male-gendered language used most commonly in Christian discourse, the feminine language used in this book allows both children and adults to expand their appreciation of the mystery of an ungendered God who has created humans of all genders in the divine image.

Akers’ words are enhanced by arresting double page illustrations by Gillian Gamble, whose color choices are expertly suited to the subject matter of each prayer. Gamble finds the fine line between whimsical pictures that appeal to children and refined techniques that invite adults to contemplate the depths of God’s beauty and love for us as well.

Dear Mama God speaks to the young children who are its primary audience with accessible language that helps them conceive of new images for God. The images evoke the familiar, everyday moments of joy and love in a child’s life and help center them as experiences of the divine. All in all, Dear Mama God is an excellent and much needed addition to any collection of religious books for children.

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—Shannon Wimp Schmidt


Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Failed a Generation

By Jon Ward (Brazos Press, 2023)

Jon Ward, a journalist at Yahoo! News, grew up as a pastor’s kid. His childhood revolved around church to the extent that anyone not in that same bubble was in “the world… pretty obviously to us, a bad place.” College provided a gateway to that world and journalism exposed him to alternative viewpoints that challenged his worldview.

Ward looks back at his formative years in his memoir, Testimony, and digs into how his personal experience was a fragment of a larger movement headed inexorably to where it merged with Donald Trump during the 2016 election cycle. His education and career gave him a unique opportunity to tell a “story of a life between worlds.”

Along his career path, Ward spent time rubbing shoulders with conservative luminaries such as Tucker Carlson (working to launch The Daily Caller) and Glenn Beck (reporting on Beck’s 2010 rally in Washington, D.C.). He saw the “energy among right-wing voters was increasingly fanatical and anti­establishment,” but he comforted himself. “I knew these people. They couldn’t be that bad.”

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The pivot point for Ward seems to have been the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting by police of Michael Brown. He didn’t understand, he writes, why “people of color reacted differently to Brown’s death” and started asking questions to find out why. His search for answers would lead to a reexamination of everything he’d been raised to believe.

Ward’s journey came with cost. Some of his extended family objected to his work to counter misinformation about the results of the 2020 election. Christ’s cross was central to his faith formation; now, it seems, Ward is learning what it means “to take up my cross and actually follow Christ.”

—Michelle Arnold


Briefly noted:

The Gospel According to James Baldwin: What America’s Great Prophet Can Teach Us about Life, Love, and Identity

By Greg Garrett (Orbis, 2023)

Garrett presents the life and work of Baldwin across his writing genres, focusing on themes of equity, justice, and reconciliation.

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Fevered Planet: How Diseases Emerge When We Harm Nature

By John Vidal (Bloomsbury Press, 2023)

Environmental reporter John Vidal takes readers into disappearing forests, wildfire-scorched valleys, and dense cities to call for a transformation in our relationship with the natural world.


In Spite of the Consequences: Prison Letters on Exoneration, Abolition, and Freedom

By Lacino Hamilton (Broadleaf, 2023)

During his incarceration, Lacino Hamilton wrote thousands of letters advocating for his innocence, making him a leading voice on abolition and reimagining justice.


This article also appears in the September 2023 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 88, No. 9, page 39). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

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About the author

Michelle Arnold

Michelle Arnold is a freelance writer and editor, who blogs for Patheos.com. She lives near San Diego, California.

About the author

Shannon Wimp Schmidt

Shannon Wimp Schmidt is the content director for TENx10 Youth Ministry Collaboration, cohost of Plaid Skirts and Basic Black Podcast, and author of the book Fat Luther, Slim Pickin’s (Ave Maria Press). She lives in Chicagoland with her husband, Eric, and their four children. Follow her on Instagram, TikTok and Threads: @teamquarterblack.

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