Category Archives: Reviews



Renee Splichal Larson, A Witness: The Haiti Earthquake, A Song, Death, and Resurrection (Eugene. OR: Resource Publications, 2016), 264 pp.

This book could have been titled so many different ways: A Love Story; Tragedy in Haiti; Loss and Grief. But I think A Witness is just right. Renee Splichal Larson is a participant witness to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed her husband, Ben, and left her a widow at age 27. A Witness is a very personal and also a very global book. In telling her painful yet hopeful story, Renee invites us to enter, from wherever we are; to see, to feel, to question, and to understand more deeply the power, grace, and love of God. This is a communal story. It is about accompaniment and relationship, about Ben, Renee, and Jon, all Wartburg Seminary seniors, who went to Haiti to be with the people there, and who became part of the shaking of the earth with them.

This book is about a few minutes in history and about the years that surround them. It is not a short book, but you won’t want to put it down. The book is intimate, deep, and profound, but not heavy.  We laugh as well as cry. We see people who go to amazing lengths to care for each other. Care across boundaries!

As the book begins, we meet these three young people and enjoy setting out on life’s journey with each of them. Ben and Jon are cousins who are closer than brothers. We hear Renee’s own story about her early years. I have witnessed in Renee an incredible woman. You will discover this, too, as you come to know her and see how she views life and the people whom she comes to cherish. We see Christ in people, because Renee is a witness to Christ in their lives and to Christ at work in the midst of tragedy, care, connection, and the renewal of resurrection.

The story’s focus is on one very gifted young man who died too soon. But the story is also about two people, and three, and about the families of Renee, Ben, and Jon. This is a book about family. Yet we also meet strangers, and we learn from them, and learn what it means to be served by them as much as serving among them. We see, really see, the people of Haiti: Bellinda, Livenson, Kez, Louis, Mytch, and more. Soon we are a witness to hundreds and yes, thousands. This story is about the global church. It is about faith and what it means to be church together in life and death, and in new life.

We see the Haitian people, who have suffered so much and continue to care for the outsider. We hear their faith and song in the midst of despair. We see their resilience, but dare not romanticize the complex issues. In our own ignorance and arrogance, we who live in affluent countries benefit from countries that remain poor and dependent. These are the causes and ramifications of poverty. The call of A Witness is to community and justice.

Poetry from fellow witnesses (friends and classmates) comforts us as well as the author as we walk and weep with each step from earthquake to resting place. This is a book for all who have suffered trauma, sudden tragedy, or the sadness of long suffering.

Renee is a theologian—of the best sort—who lives life fully, and is forever asking questions. (So the title could also have been A Theology.) Her reflections are existential and challenging, and she invites her readers to reflect theologically with her. She also knows that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, and that new life in Christ is real. But this new life comes only after lamentation and loneliness and deep grief.

Together with Renee, we become witnesses to the importance of pastoral care and of a worshipping and caring community. Friends carry a body out of Haiti, and all are carried by the body of Christ. This is a theology of grace, of the cross and resurrection, of Christ with people in their dying as much as with the living. This power of God, God’s own commitment to us, empowers us for commitments to all of God’s global family.

There are more ministry opportunities for this now-ordained pastor and for us all. Renee goes where God leads, including to the people of Heart River, North Dakota. I believe this work is and will be a blessing to all who read it, to all for whom she is a witness to Christ and to his cross and resurrection.



is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Born and raised in North Dakota, Renee is a graduate of Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, and Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa. She is married to Jonathan Splichal Larson, who is also a pastor in the ELCA, and their son is named Gabriel. Renee and Jon are both survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. A Witness is Renee’s first book.

NOTED! Book Review by Wendy Daiker, Final-Year MDiv Spouse


Jacobson, Kathy J. Noted! First edition. (Mineral Point, WI: Little Creek Press. A Division of Kristin Mitchell Design, Inc., 2015), 220pp.

NOTED!  By Kathy J. Jacobson is a Christian fiction novel that brings out real life events in her characters in an intriguing way that makes it hard to set the book down. Jillian, the main character is a Christian woman who wants a personal new start, with a job, in a new location across the country. She has her strong faith in God to help her through it. The job she takes pulls her into a world where she has to trust God and be patient. The job makes her evaluate her own failed relationships and how she will let go and move forward.

I love how Jacobson made me think about famous people and how their lives are hard in ways we may not think about and how they have the same hurts we have. They are not immune to the pain we have. They turn to the same God we turn to.

This book came at a perfect time in my life as I am beginning a new adventure into a new land and will be making new friends. I learned so much from Jillian in this novel about putting yourself out there and getting involved, and about taking a leap of faith to start new friendships.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys an easy read Christian novel. It is beautifully written and hits many topics with God at the center of life.


Kathy J. Jacobson

is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa. She has worked counseling troubled youth, has been an at-home Mom, a church youth worker and Christian education coordinator, worked in campus ministry, and for the last twelve years, has served in rural parish ministry. In addition to her work in the church, she volunteers as a hospice chaplain. Kathy resides with her husband in the beautiful “Driftless Area” of southwestern Wisconsin. They are parents of three children, all “twenty-something.” Kathy is an avid traveler, having visited forty-nine states and five continents, with most memorable trips to Papua New Guinea, the Holy Land, and Tanzania, East Africa. She enjoys music, theater, reading, biking, walking and hiking, but writing is her passion. NOTED! is her debut novel.

HOPING FOR MORE Book Review By Barbara Daiker, WTS Alum Spouse


Thompson, Deanna A. Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace. (Eugene, Or: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2012), 166 pp.

Deanna Thompson called her life a “near perfect life” at age 42, as she had a caring and loving husband, two beautiful daughters, and a career teaching religion at a Minnesota university. She also had opportunities to travel and observe the beauty of God’s creation, plus the blessing of family and friends who lived in close proximity and served as a great support group for her.  Along with all of this, she enjoyed the blessing of excellent health, so excellent that she rarely needed a doctor.  In fact, at age 42 she did not have a primary-care doctor of her own.

In the summer of 2008, however, this excellent health record took a major turn-about when Deanna began suffering major lower back pain accompanied by a burning sensation in her back.  This led her to appointments with chiropractors, doctors, and specialists. Finally, with the help of an MRI, Deanna was diagnosed as having a fractured spine and needing the expertise of a spine specialist.

The MRI revealed a mysterious fluid surrounding two fractured vertebrae – a fluid which was biopsied and revealed that she had breast cancer, a cancer that had spread to her spine.  The diagnosis was Stage IV breast cancer.  Thus began months of doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations, tests, medications, and total emotional drain.

This is a powerful book which connects the fearful and painful recognition of our own mortality with the grace of God and the comforting assertion of the Apostle Paul that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.”

Deanna Thompson is now living in remission, knowing that each day is a gift of grace.  She is awed by the way her family and her community have rallied around her.  She looks upon her cancer as a gift because, “the experiences of grace  that I’ve been privileged to have would not have happened had I not had cancer.”



Deanna A. Thompson

is a Professor of Religion at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota,
and the author of Crossing the Divide: Luther, Feminism, and the Cross. She lives with her husband and two daughters in St. Paul.




Steward of Stories: Reflecting on Tensions in Daily Discipleship by JoAnn A. Post

JoAnn Post has been a Lutheran pastor and writer for three decades. She attended Wartburg College and Wartburg Theological Seminary before serving diverse congregations and settings. Her ministry has been committed to strong preaching and worship leadership, pastoral care, and community outreach. (See more about JoAnn and Steward of Stories at

As shared in her introduction JoAnn was dubbed “Steward of Stories” by her husband in recognition of how both strangers and friends entrusted her with their stories. The stories, many written while JoAnn underwent cancer treatments, presents meaningful reflection and insights into the rich and paradoxical world of a pastor. The thoughtful discussion questions at the end of each chapter encourage dialogue on the important topics brought to life in the stories shared in the book.



 Cover-_LauraNotes on the Journey: Living with Sarcoma & Hope by Laura A. Koppenhoefer

This book is a compellation of Laura’s “posts” from the journaling               she has done through the first years of her illness, a rare cancer diagnosis – “sarcoma”– changed   a lot in her life. Originally thinking that she was writing to inform the congregation she co-pastored of her treatment,          she found that she learned through writing as well. Insights are found in everyday things – gardens and baking and re-discovering knitting and quilting –        and the extreme circumstances of her medical care, the challenges of facing disability, and severe pain starting at age 49. However, all are instances for discovering the Spirit at work in her life whether in times of lament or joy. The proceeds of this book are all going to fund sarcoma  research at the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center. For more about Laura and the Living in Hope foundation, see

A reflection from Tammy Barthels, Final Year M.Div. Student:

As I finish reading Laura’s book, two entries stick with me. 1) “Be strong and of good courage, be neither afraid or dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (p 332). And 2) “With thanks to …God – For your presence. Though I may feel lonely from time to time, I am never alone. For the gift of incredible people in my life – They are your hands and feet in the world” (p 333). Laura assures me, God assures me that God’s presence is always with us. God allows us to be lonely at times, but God never leaves as alone. God provides wonderful people in our lives to walk this journey with us.



Faraway: A Suburban Boy’s Story as a Victim of Sex Trafficking by R.K. Kline and Daniel D. Maurer

Daniel D. Maurer was an ELCA pastor for 11 years, serving parishes in western North Dakota. He is now a freelance writer and writes under the “Dan the Story Man,” his non-fiction brand.  R.Kevin Kline is an ELCA pastor who has served in Kansas and Hawaii. Having recently moved back to the mainland and received approval as a mission developer, he plans to foster relationships with other organizations to raise awareness about the ongoing issues of justice in the LGBTQ community. Maurer and Kline collaborated on the book after realizing that Kevin’s story had the power to help others.

Faraway: A Suburban Boy’s Story as a Victim of Sex Trafficking breaks new ground in the problem of sex trafficking in that it also affects boys. Set in 1975, Kevin’s true story shows how a young boy can find himself in a difficult and unsustainable life. Yet even in darkness, there is a light of grace —Kevin found two friends during that summer of ’75. With them, he would come to see a loving God in ways that the world would only begin to see in more recent years. For more, see

A reflection from Tami Groth, Final Year Diaconal Ministry Student:

I first heard Rev. Kevin Kline speak in the Spring of 2013 when he spoke to students at Wartburg Seminary, and shared his story with us. I encourage others to both read the book, and if possible hear Kevin speak. His story is powerful and an important one for us to hear. I am thankful for Kevin’s courage and the authentic telling of his story.



Sobriety A graphic novel by Daniel D Maurer. Illustrated by Spencer Amundson

Through rich illustration and narrative, Sobriety: A Graphic Novel offers an inside look into recovery from the perspectives of five Twelve Step group members, each with a unique set of additions, philosophies, struggles, and successes while working the Steps. Readers gain an intimate look at the challenges faced by those in recovery–and at the boundless power of working the Steps in helping people find strength in one another as they reach for a clean-and-sober life. For more, see

A CONGREGATION BETRAYED: BOOK RESPONSE by Jennifer Dahle, Final Year M.Div. Student

As I read When a Congregation is Betrayed: Responding to Clergy Misconduct (Alban, 2006), a series of essays edited by Beth Ann Gaeide, I was struck by the extensive work that needs to be done in churches before any kind of misconduct possibly occurs. It really forced me to think about how I could help a church to prepare for an eventuality like misconduct, but it pushed me even more to think about my theology surrounding misconduct and the office of pastor. On page 26, the essay author, Patricia Liberty, suggests thinking about the far-reaching extent of damage that accompanies sexual misconduct in particular by envisioning the following exercise. “Think of your favorite hymn, your favorite Bible verse, your favorite sacred space. Are they written down? Now, look at the hymn you chose. Your pastor hummed that tune while he/she had sex with you; cross it off your list. The favorite verse you wrote down? You pastor quoted that verse to you when he/she was justifying your actions together; cross it off your list. That sacred space was entered by the pastor while you were there and you had sex; cross it off your list.” The extent of damage is astounding when framed by this exercise.

The essays I read invited me to think about sexual misconduct not as an “affair” but as an abuse of power within the pastoral office. “Clergy sexual abuse is often referred to as ‘sexual sin’ or ‘adultery’…these terms are too narrow to name the damage done to the entire congregation…Further, they encourage a privatization of the behavior that keeps the focus on the sexual activity of two individuals rather than on the betrayal of the sacred trust of the office and the pain caused an entire congregation.” (Patricia Liberty, 16-17)  Trying to heal from a misconduct case needs to involve re-examining how we define sin and evil.

Theologically, clergy misconduct violates trust and poses a potential stumbling block to faith for those involved. It is vital to have clear, open communication around the event and to support the victims and the rest of the congregation. No church that finds itself in the midst of a case of clergy misconduct is going to have an easy time of it, but the more the procedures are in place for such an event, the more potentially effective the healing.

I have much thinking left to do around this topic. Having met someone who is still feeling the effects of clergy misconduct 20 years later has made me feel particularly drawn to trying to actually being prepared should something like this occur near or where I am serving. My thoughts are still racing, but this is a starting point at least.

CHANGE THE WORLD BY EDUCATING GIRLS: THE FILM GIRL RISING By Carina Schiltz & Mytch Dorvilier, 2nd year M.Div. Students

Reviewed by Carina Schiltz and Mytch Dorvilier 2nd year M.Div. Students

 Girl Rising is a film and a global movement to educate girls as a means of breaking cycles of global poverty. The movie was released in March 2013, and Wartburg Seminary recently held a screening, sponsored by the Global Advocacy Committee. Girl Rising, directed by Richard E. Robins, and Academy Award nominated, is a global action campaign for girls’ education as well as a moving and inspiring film to raise awareness about the importance of girls’ education to global prosperity and peace. After the film, the audience engaged in meaningful discussion, lessons, and were encouraged to think about important political, cultural, historical, economic, and geographic issues tied to educating girls — and about their responsibilities to their own communities and their role as global citizens.

The documentary, created in partnership of girls and writers follows the stories of nine girls from Peru, Haiti, Egypt, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, India, Nepal, and Cambodia. It highlights the lives of nine young girls striving beyond circumstance and overcoming nearly insurmountable odds to achieve their dreams:  Sukha the Phoenix, Ruksana the Dreamer, Suma the Emancipated, Yasmin the Superhero, Senna the Warrior, Azmera the Courageous, Amina the Hopeful, Wadley the Undaunted,  and Mariama the Catalyst. The film shows challenges they have faced in their daily lives that bar the way to education, safety, and integrity. Some stories end in hope, but not all.

Educating girls is crucial because this results in safety, health, and independence. The  entire world is positively affected: their own children are more likely to be educated and communities thrive. Education helps provide a way to stay out of forced marriage, domestic slavery, human trafficking, and childbirth, which is the number one cause of death for girls ages 15-19.

Access to education is a basic right, however, around the world, 66 million girls are out of school. What are they doing instead? Many do not have a choice. They are working and earning money for their families. Often sons get priority to attend school rather than daughters. The girls may be married very young, already have children to care for, or they have been sold into domestic slavery. Thirteen girls under the age of 18 have been married in the last 30 seconds. In the time it took to read this paragraph, another thirteen girls around the world were married rather than being in school.

Educating girls raises national GDP which will continue to increase because educated people are more likely to send their own children to school, creating a cycle of prosperity and innovation. But the benefits of educating girls are not just in the future: some benefits happen right away. When girls and boys are educated together, studies show that conflict in those countries is reduced.

The film features voice over from Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchet, Selena Gomez, Liam Neeson, Priyanka Chopra, Chloe Moretz, Freida Pinto, Salma Hayek, Meryl Streep, Alicia Keyes and Kerry Washington. The film could be used for Sunday school, confirmation class, and other groups to introduce students to the issues surrounding girls’ education in the developing world, and it’s transformational power.

Want to change the world? Advocate for girls’ education. Reduce poverty, sexual violence, and increase health and prosperity for girls, their communities, and the world.


BOOK REVIEW By Donna Runge, Final Year MDiv

Book Review of When God Was a Little Girl by David R.Weiss, WTS 1986 and illustrated by Joan Lindeman:

This is a children’s book published by Beaver’s Pond Press     7108 Ohms Lane     Edina, MN  55439-2129

What a delightful book!  As I started reading, I was immediately drawn into the conversation between the father and the daughter.  So much so, that I found myself reading it aloud.  The story of how God, who is a little girl, creates the world progresses as the father begins the story and builds on the questions and comments of his daughter.

It is an old story with a new twist!  The book engages the reader’s own imagination in anticipation as the questions are answered.  And as I read it I could also imagine myself reading the book to my own grandchildren and answering their questions.  It is a book that engages young and old.  Its message is simple yet profound in its creativity.