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BOOK REVIEW A Name for Herself: A Dutch Immigrant’s Story by K.A. Van Til

A Name for Herself: A Dutch Immigrant’s Story by K.A. Van Til. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2020. 220 pages. $24.

This book tells the story of Dutch immigration to the USA as told by the author’s grandmother, Minnie Zwier, who came to the US as an infant in 1899. The book includes samplings of broader Dutch history, Dutch culture, the Christian Reformed faith and the Bible, and even a recipe or two. This real-life, early twentieth century Dutch immigrant version of the move West (and back East again) resonates with the  pioneer family life fictionalized in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. While Van Til’s mild-mannered book provides less of an overarching, chronological story line than the Little House on the Prairie series, the fare provided is less idealized and more varied. Minnie recounts the experiences of her immediate family, and vignettes from the experiences of their larger family as well as their Christian Reformed Church friends and neighbors. Minnie shares the features and foibles of this family’s life, including some family antics, and of the faith that gets them through. She wonders about difficulties and losses, finds comfort in the Bible and the church, and weighs in on some of the political and cultural struggles that occurred over her lifetime. The book also follows the family’s move outward from living largely in a Christian Reformed Dutch enclave out into the larger American society, which occurs as the generations march forward. This book would be of special interest to those who share in Minnie’s Dutch and/or Christian Reformed heritage and to others interested in a first-person account of immigrant life, especially as experienced in relation with the westward frontier.

Book Review: Come Eat with Me by Rob Douglas

COME EAT WITH ME by Rob Douglas. Eugene, OR: RESOURCE Publications, 2018. Ix + 137 pages.

In this easy-to-read book, Rev. Rob Douglas focuses on God’s invitation to “Come eat with me” to explore hospitality and the roles of consummate host and ultimate guest. Douglas notes that God and Jesus take on the roles of guest and of host at the meals described in Scripture. For the followers of Jesus, participating in God’s table means entering deliberately into a relationship with God as guest but also taking on a commitment to serve as host: providing hospitality, welcoming strangers and providing spaces for people to grow and develop. In taking up these themes, Douglas provides content from authors addressing hospitality while providing his own insights and conclusions.

 

Douglas alternates between chapters that imaginatively re-tell biblical “meal” stories and chapters providing illustrations and broader messages drawn from those re-tellings. For example, the first chapter is titled “Invitation to a Garden,” with the subheading “How God the Maker, the consummate host, prepared the table immaculately for his first guests.” This chapter provides a fictive re-telling of the story of Adam and Eve, closing with the chapter and verse references for those who want to read the biblical version. The second chapter, “Finding Annie,” tells the story of Annie McDonald’s experiences of institutionalization as a child with a disability and her journey to attaining a college education and becoming a speaker and author. Douglas draws on Annie’s story to illustrate his concern for God’s invitation as being an invitation to a relational community, not an institutionalized meal. He further illustrates this concept with his interpretation of the story of Cain and Abel’s offerings.

 

Later chapters address flexibility between being host and being guest (Abraham and Sarah and their three guests); empowering people to host (Elijah and the widow); a meal of emancipation (Passover); a unique meal with boundaries (quail and manna in the wilderness); hosting God (building the portable ark of the covenant); invitation to a new land (Joshua’s entry into the Promised Land); Jesus as host and guest (the wedding at Canaa); Jesus as the guest of an unworthy host (Zacchaeus); principles of guesting and hosting (the story of the great banquet); God the host shows grace and creativity (feeding of the 5,000); Jesus invites a traitor and his friends to dine (Last Supper); Jesus as host and guest (the Road to Emmaus); a meal invites greater commitment (Breakfast on the Beach); eating together across boundaries (Peter and Cornelius); and God’s ultimate bridal feast (the Final Banquet).

 

Douglas wrote his book to help those considering the Christian faith and to provide new perspectives to those who are already Christians. For the former, reading the actual Bible passages themselves would be an important counterbalance to the more fanciful re-tellings of the book. For the latter, familiar stories may yield new fruit. In particular, the flexibility of the roles of host and guest as taken up by God and Jesus and their followers may provide some needed food for thought. Pastors may also find the re-tellings, illustrations and thematic expositions helpful for sermon-writing.

 

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