Asher Witmer

rediscovering Jesus

Anything But Simple a book review (and giveaway) of Lucinda Miller’s life as a Mennonite

Many of you know I am Anabaptist. All these different names for Christians simply reveal the way we read the Bible, more than anything. And while Anabaptist aren’t perfect, I genuinely appreciate the values I have been taught through my conservative upbringing.

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Amish couple riding in their buggy. I am NOT Amish, by the way. 🙂

One thing Anabaptists are known for is being “plain.” We don’t chase after the latest fashions of the world, and we don’t try being the biggest splash in society. There is great flux in the definition of “plain” among Anabaptists, but one thing for sure is that even if you’re plain, life is anything but simple.

A Writing Anabaptist

I love to write, and I love reading other writers. A growing vision of mine is to see more Anabaptist writers develop. Not because I believe Anabaptists have all the answers—we don’t. But I believe the world is better served by hearing the perspectives of various groups of people who fear God, believe the Bible, and exalt Christ.

There are many Anabaptist writers, but few conservative Anabaptist writers who take it seriously enough to not only teach what the Bible says, but enter creatively into reconciling the human experience with Gospel truth as well. And since I come from and appreciate much of this branch of Christianity, I love seeing (and being) new, evolving authors.

Most conservative Anabaptist authors, that I am aware of, excel in telling stories. Few delve into theology, and even fewer expose the realities of human struggle within conservative circles. That’s why when I read Lucinda Miller’s newest book, Anything But Simple, I was immediately intrigued. She does just that.

I first got to know Luci when she reached out to me a few years ago about reviewing another book she was working on. I began loosely following her blog and soon realized she has a unique blend of creative flow, substance, and honesty. She’s the kind of author the world needs to read. And while that first book is still finding a publisher, I was more than happy to oblige when she contacted me again about reviewing her second book, which came out as a part of the Plainspoken series published by Herald Press.

Giving “Plain People” a Voice, a Book Review, and Giveaway

In short, Plainspoken is a project focused on giving “plain people” (Amish, Hutterite, Mennonite) their own voice. Many novels have been written about “plain people”—Amish love tales, to be specific. But few of them actually depict the reality of life for those who come from “plain” backgrounds. Luci’s book is a personal memoir of her life as a Mennonite. So, upon her request, following is my review of Anything But Simple.

Oh, and stick around because I’ll be giving a free copy of Luci’s book to one random commenter. So be sure to leave a comment, even if it’s just “I want that book!” *(This giveaway has since been closed)

Cosmetics

Before delving into the content, I’ll say a few words about the cosmetics of the book. I hate saying this so publicly, but I compulsively critique the cosmetics of any book I see. Perhaps it’s because I used to work for a book company and learned there is a significant difference between good design and printing and quality design and printing. And, along with the values of being “plain,” most Anabaptist authors accept only good design and good printing because it’s cheaper.

But as much as we may resist it, the quality of the design and printing is the second most important aspect that goes in to whether or not someone will pick up the book. Second to the title.

And if you care about the message you are writing, you will want the book picked up. If you don’t care, you should ask yourself why you’re writing.

I am not overly familiar with Herald Press, but thought the paper quality and formatting of the book was very well done. The book is easily readable and comfortable to the eyes. Furthermore, it has a catchy cover design and title perfectly fitting a book about the life of someone who’s “plain.”

Content

Luci wanted the world to understand her life as she sees it, so the book is written openly and vulnerably with a chronological, memoir-style narrative. To begin the book, naturally, she rehearses the foundations of her upbringing and life as a child in a conservative Mennonite family.

She grew up in rural Wisconsin around dairy cows and hay pastures. Her church was small already, but went through some rough waters which dwindled the numbers even more. Still, she has fond memories of her church and family as a child.

In middle of the book, Luci tells of her experiences outside her home territory, and even outside of the Mennonite world. First, she taught school down south and discovered a plusher, more refined way of living. It was still a Mennonite world, and she found herself in many ways drawn to it. But as time went, she felt she didn’t fit in.

In fact, Luci didn’t feel anything like the typical Mennonite girl.

Compound that with college classes, Ojibwe friends, and suburban aristocrats—experiences that piqued inner dreams, ruffled neatly prescribed ideas, and aroused hidden doubts—and Luci began wondering who she really was.

She spends the rest of the book relating her attempts at reconciling what she had always been taught with what she had now experienced.

What is she to do with dreams unconventional to that of a “plain person”?

How does she know what her parents believe is better than what her atheist friend believes?

And why does it seem God always says “no” to things she really wants?

I’ll let you read for yourself how Luci resolves her struggles; but I will say, if you are also one from conservative Mennonite background, you will connect with Luci’s journey. Perhaps the prime benefit the book offers you is a clear sense that you are not the only one, and profound questions to help you sort through the struggles you face.

And even if you’re not from her kind of background, you will be challenged to pursue a life deeply at peace with God’s plan and fully engaged with His calling.

A Personal Perspective

I really enjoyed reading Anything But Simple. Especially, because my Dad grew up in Luci’s neck of the woods and I am familiar with much of what she describes in her early years. I also liked Luci’s style of writing. She writes memoir exceptionally well. Easy read, for sure!

And that’s saying something coming from a guy who struggles to read.

But Luci didn’t ask me to give a glossed-over advertisement of the book. She asked me for an honest review. So, in honor of that, and in honor to you as the reader, and because I believe anyone who dares to write anything at all has the capacity of writing even better, here’s one (minor) critique I had as I read the book.

It seems extremely difficult for conservative people to write vulnerably. I mean the kind of vulnerability that leaves the reader convinced the author faces the same struggles as him. No question.

I don’t know why it is so difficult for conservative people to write this way. Perhaps we fear the onslaught of opinions and criticisms that follow?

Anabaptists, while having tremendous values, have mistaken simplicity for holiness. Right living for righteousness. Therefore, being honest and open about the internal struggles we have (because we are human) scares us. It goes against the grain of what has been modelled to us to be open about the sins committed privately or the selfish motives that often drive what we do.

Luci does a tremendous job of putting her heart out there and exposing those deep inner struggles and that is something I really appreciated about the book. However, there were still times she referred to certain struggles, but I, the reader, was left wondering what she was talking about. “Were they at all as ugly as those I have?”

In my experience, when a reader has this question, and the author fails to answer it affirmatively, the reader never fully catches the final message of the book. When the author does answer it, and answers it well, the message changes the reader’s life.

With ruthless vulnerability comes explosive resonance. But it also brings excruciating criticism. I wish the latter were less true.

Having said that, I applaud Luci on a job well done! I’m excited to see her publish a book. And am more than happy to recommend it to my readers because I know many of you will able to identify with her journey and benefit from her discoveries.

If you want a good, honest look at the life of someone who grew up in a “plain” home, Anything But Simple is a fantastic and easily digestible read. And if you are one of those “plain people,” and wonder if you’re the only one with struggles that seem odd in your circles, you will also want to check this book out.

Get your own copy of Anything But Simple here.

Hidden in me there is a curiosity, a drive and a hunger to know, a need to think much larger than the four small walls of Mennonite. Sometimes I look at my people as though they are foreign people. And yet I am always a part of them. I want what I see in them, the simplicity, the cleanness. I do not like the dirtiness, the foul without-hope of the outside world. But the more I explore, the more I delve into things with my mind, the more I am afraid the cleanness and simplicity are gone. Can a person tarnish themselves so with questions and explorations that they never again regain what is simple and good and pure? -Luci, Anything But Simple, page 145

Have you read Anything But Simple? If not, leave a comment and you will have a chance to win a free copy. If you HAVE read the book, still leave a comment and tell me what you thought of it.

*photo credit: likeaduck 2017 Spring Drive via photopin (license)

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About Asher Witmer

I am a son of God, husband, father, and difference maker. I love helping people sort through hard questions they face and rediscover Jesus. I have written three eBooks dealing with church frustrations, and send out daily posts addressing faith, church and relationships.

  • This is not to enter the giveaway (I know that’s finished) but a comment on what you said about vulnerability. Writing honestly is a fine line to dance–I know that when writing something makes me cry, I am being brutally honest. Yet there are times when I don’t say everything about a situation, not because I want to protect myself, but because I want to protect others who would be deeply hurt by my narration of events.

  • Well folks, it sure has been fun running a giveaway! I decided from now on, that’s all I’m blogging about. I got more comments than I ever have before. 😮

    So, maybe I’m just messing with you. BUT, there is one special person who won’t have to fork out $10.15 to read Luci Miller’s Anything But Simple this fall. And that person is….. *drum roll please*……

    (Read the post here to find out: http://www.asherwitmer.com/and-the-winner-of-the-giveaway-is/ )

  • Steven Nice

    I’ve never seen a review that mentioned book cosmetics. What a great image that projects.

  • sewnitter@yahoo.com

    I would love to read Luci’s book! Thank you for your review and for the opportunity to win a copy. Much appreciated.

  • Kim Glenn Martin

    I loved the book and also love Luci. I don’t have my own book but read my daughter’s, who happens to be Kaitlyn….Luci’s student. 🙂

  • Judy Glick

    I would love to read that book! Thanks for the review!
    I enjoy your articles very much! May God help you to be the kind of Anabaptist writer that you described. We need more Mennonites that are willing to make themselves vulnerable. I’d also would like to be one of those who are willing. ~Judith

  • Lou Ann Wenger

    Thanks for the review. I have been hearing so much good about this book

  • Shawn Martin

    Thanks for your encouragement to Anabaptist writers. It was good for me just now, as I am picking up my own blog again.

  • Debra Burkholder

    Looking forward to reading the book. Thanks for the critique.

  • Melanie King

    I’d like to read this book!

  • Christopher Bowman

    Added this to my list of things to read. I share your passion here!

  • Wanda

    Would love to read this book sometime! 😉

  • Beverly G

    This book is one I am really looking forward to reading!

  • Sharon Titus Troyer

    I’d love to read this book

  • Lorita Yoder

    Thanks for the review! I’ve been wanting this book!

  • Sylvia

    Would love to read this book! Thanks for the review.

  • Regina Martin

    I’d like to read this. As an Anabaptist writer criticism is a very real obstacle for me. Since I’ve been recently praying for direction in writing for God’s glory, I read this post with great interest. R. Martin

  • Jimdor S.

    Thanks for the review, Asher. As you mentioned, there are so many inaccurate representations of Anabaptist life, it’s nice to know when a book is realistic and worthwhile. Will put this on my to-read list, as we live among plain Mennonites & try to reach out to them. We have been surprised to find their experiences to be very different from my upbringing in a CMC “conservative” Mennonite home!
    We enjoy your fresh, vulnerable writing, and have a lot of respect for your dad, as well!

  • Becki Sensenig

    I don’t need a copy because interestingly enough there is already a copy being passed around here in tibet. (ok western china but close enough). It.is.worth.reading! I think I connected most with her realness and her willingness to write about her doubts and struggles transparently. I think we all long for authenticity, realness, not just someone who says I was born into this and I will therefore stay, so help me God! Good to read your review.

  • Julia Peachey Brubaker

    This book is on my “must read” list!

  • Rosy Shenk

    I’d like the book!

  • Treva Eicher

    I’ve been wanting to read this book! Thanks for reviewing it. I’d love to own a copy!

  • Kristin & Andrea Hershberger

    I enjoyed reading your review! This book has intrigued me, although I was hesitant to actually read it, for many of the reasons you mentioned in “normal” Anabaptist authors. Thanks for your comments! Also- we miss your family over here! Hope settling in is going well for you all! – Andrea

  • Carita Witmer

    Sounds like an interesting read. 🙂

  • Stephanie Hostetler

    I would love to read this book

  • Lori N Kevin Weaver

    Sounds quite interesting!

  • Joelle Graber

    After seeing this book show up on social media numerous times, I enjoyed reading your review. I’d love to read it some day!

  • Lori Hershberger

    I want this, and have wanted it for a long time!

  • itallbeganwithpaint

    I would love to read the book

  • Linda Stoltzfus

    I really do want the book! 🙂

  • sherri shaum

    I’d love a copy!

  • Bertha Nisly

    I’ve read Luci’s blog, but not her book. I’m looking forward to reading it sometime, whether or not I win it. 🙂

  • Lillie Sommers

    I have not read this book but sounds interesting.

    I agree 100% with your statement above:
    “It seems extremely difficult for conservative people to write vulnerably. I mean the kind of vulnerability that leaves the reader convinced the author faces the same struggles as him. No question.”

    Thank you for the opportunity to win a free copy!