Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Review: Unshaken

In early 2010, Dan Woolley found himself trapped beneath the rubble of Haiti's Hotel Montana, following the 7.0 earthquake that devastated that country. In Haiti as part of a media production team for Compassion International, Woolley had just entered the hotel when the earthquake hit, bringing it down on him and all those inside. For 65 hours he struggled to survive, cobbling together a strategy that included iPhone apps, memories of Man vs. Wild episodes, prayer, worship, and a digital camera. Encouraged by the hope of friendly voices, thrust to the depths of despair as hunger and thirst set in, his body broken and yet unable to do anything but wait, Woolley experienced the full range of emotion and physical trauma. And now, having been rescued from that place, he is telling his personal piece of that immense national tragedy.

Note #1: I went to college with Dan and his wife. We were all at Azusa Pacific University at the same time. Not that we were friends, but I do remember them from back in the day.

Unshaken is certainly a gripping story, and a deeply personal one as well. It goes beyond the struggles Woolley faced underneath all that rubble to explore the struggles faced in his life and marriage, struggles compounded by a wife stricken with clinical depression. It asks difficult questions about the nature of faith and how we live it out in our lives. And it speaks of hope, hope for redemption and hope for change. None of us has to stay where we are; we are all given opportunities to move toward health and fulness in our lives.

There was one area, though, where the book left me frustrated. It stems from that common Evangelical tendency to elevate personal experience over most anything else. Woolley does mention multiple times that the purpose of this book is to tell his story, and not to explore the larger question of what it means that 200,000 people died (and many more still suffer even today). But I wonder if we can actually do that: isn't it a bit insensitive to say "here's my story of survival which shows God's grace" even while ignoring the epic tragedy endured by so many?

I don't really fault the author for this; as I mentioned, he does at least recognize the issue even if he chooses to sidestep it. I just wish we in the church could be more sensitive about praising Jesus for the wonderful things he's done in our lives, when so many more are still, like Job, sitting in the dust mourning their losses.

Then again, it should probably be pointed out that Woolley is doing his part to help out in the ongoing recovery efforts in Haiti. His website points toward recovery work which people can support, and a portion of the sales of Unshaken go to support Compassion International's work in Haiti. That is to be commended.

Perhaps even more so now, following floods in Australia, earthquakes in New Zealand, and the tsunami in Japan, people need reason for hope, and assurance that even in the darkest places God is still present. Unshaken is a good reminder that even in the valley of the shadow of death, God never forsakes his children.

Note #2: Thanks to Zondervan for sending me a free copy of Unshaken for the purposes of this review.

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