Friday, November 19, 2010

Unpopular Review

I just wrote what I think will be a very unpopular review on Amazon for a book called Stephanie's Ponytail by Robert Munsch.  Here's the gist of my review...

When I was in my 20s, I had a conversation with my dad once and he said something that has always stuck in my head. He said that if someone is mean to him, he's going to be mean right back--but even worse. I said, "really?" He asked me if I wouldn't do the same. I replied, "No! Because if someone is hurting me then that means that they feel even worse." Bullying is a big problem right now in schools, but I don't believe that teaching kids to trick bullies (and essentially bully them right back) is the answer. 

None of the negative reviews of this book on Amazon have actually talked about the plot of this book. Stephanie goes to school and kids make fun of her ponytail. The kids say to her "ugly! ugly! ugly!" She calls them "brainless copycats". Being a school teacher, I can just imagine both phrases spreading like wildfire across a K-2 classroom when the teachers aren't present. The successive days she wears her hair in different styles until at the end she says she's going to shave her head and everyone else does it the next day--to make fun of her, but she comes to school with her hair in a ponytail. She laughs and then they all chase after her angrily. 

There is a brand of humor spreading in schools that really concerns me as a parent. How is this book funny? Is it funny to make fun of a child? Is it funny to imitate the Ugly! Ugly! chant? Is it wise to laugh when she tricks them--out of spite--at the end of the book? My girls did not get at all that this book was unkind until I discussed it with them and then it left our house. 

There is a book called Nurture Shock that I highly recommend. In it is a chapter about educational television. Do you think educational television would make children more or less aggressive? The research says... more! What kids really remember is not the conclusion and the resolution, but all the focus on conflict in the middle. I think this book falls into the same category. What are kids really going to remember more about this book? That when someone hits you you should hit back harder? Or that you shouldn't be sassy and make fun of other kids?

If you have a minute and are willing, would you look up this review on Amazon if you agree with me (I am am listed as Anne from Baltimore, MD, a vine voice, and Top 1000 reviewer) and click to say that my review is helpful.  Thank you!  I did just post it so it might not be up yet.  Hopefully, it will be by tomorrow or Sunday.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Christmas at Harrington's

One of the fun parts of Christmas to me has always been Christmas movies and Christmas stories.  What I love about them is the sense of hope that is present in each one of them.  I love what Gladys Hunt says in Honey For a Woman's Heart when she talks about why women read.  We often read to learn new things and see outside of our worlds, but we also read simply for enjoyment.  Christmas stories are simply enjoyment to me.

I've noticed that Melody Carlson has published a new Christmas fiction novel for the past few years.  Last year, she published The Christmas Dog.  I reviewed it and enjoyed it.  It was one of the rare books that was simply a good story but wasn't about romance the way many Christian fiction stories are.  This year, the Christmas novel she has published is titled Christmas at Harrington's

This story is of Lena.  She is released from prison and is starting over.  She finds herself seated next to Moira on the bus as she heads to New Haven, MinnesotaLena had served seven years and completed her sentence.  Christmas at Harringtons is her story of starting over.  Her past is ever present though and this story is one of grace and healing. 

The writing and plot are good and easy to read.  I lost myself in the book for two or three hours and emerged with a joyful sense of hope.  Wrongs can be righted sometimes. 

Amidst struggle and hardship, it is the hope of the Lord that gives me strength.  It is stories--even fictional ones that often remind me of the hope the Lord has for me.  I enjoy fun stories and the light of the Lord that often shines through them.  

One of my favorite verses is from I John 4:12  "No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." NIV 

Though the stories are fictional, there is a seed of truth in them and the reminder of things like those in the story that have happened.

Christmas at Harrington's is a fun Christmas story to curl up with on a cold winter night.  At the end, you'll probably close the book and smile.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Revell Publishing.

Facebook Alert

I got quite the surprise this morning when I tried to go on Facebook.  I was kicked off of it!  They disabled my account.  I think what happened is that I did not attach my primary email, but rather my secondary email, to facebook--for obvious reasons I'm sure y'all understand.  So a few months back, I opened an account with my maiden name to check on who had gone searching for my name on facebook.  I believe this was a violation--which I had no idea of until this morning when they disable the account I use.  Obviously, I wasn't trying to do anything wrong, but my what a surprise.  Somehow, they figured out that I had done that.  When I think about how they did that, it makes me anxious.

Here's the kicker--in order to get my account back or rather--to apply to have my account reactivated, I have to upload and send them a copy of my federal id.  Obviously, I am NOT going to do this.  So, NO more facebook for me.  I'm sure God has a plan for this for me, which probably includes more time in my day that I was spending on Facebook.

What scares me is how much information they were able to take away from me because of a violation they thought I had made--I had no notice or warning!  I posted yesterday a picture of my daughter on her fifth birthday.  They took all of my pictures and information away from me.  I almost feel as if my identity was stolen by Facebook.  So, please be careful my friends about Facebook--you truly never, ever know what they are going to do to your account!  Please pass this message along to any friends you'd like to.  

This feels really yucky.  I have been very antsy about Facebook these past few months and I guess now I have a clue as to why.  Please pass this alert on to warn your friends about what Facebook can do!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Raising Our Children To Be Proud of Where They Live

Recently, I was considering what book to review next and as I looked through the list of several books I came across The American Patriot's Almanac.  It wasn't usually the kind of book that I review, but I wondered if it might be a great resource to supplement our learning of American History when it comes time.  It was published by Thomas Nelson, which is very interesting to me.  Thomas Nelson publishes a surprisingly wide variety of books.

So, the book has sat on my desk for a week and a half.  I gazed at it and the heftiness of it.  Today I finally picked it up.  The reason I chose to preview this book was what I read from the first few pages online.  What I read made me realize how much I need to teach my children that they live in a country that is worth being proud of.  Often people praise our country and then detractors say that they're blind and ignorant.  So, I was curious if this book would prove to be blind or ignorant as people often accuse patriots of being.

I found a pleasant surprise in this book!  It's simply great!  The beginning explains why we need to be proud to be patriots.  It isn't an antiquated thing.  There are several stories that let the reader know that the authors acknowledge that our country is not perfect!  Yet, our country is a great country to live in!  I was also very curious about what they would say about our country being a God centered country.  I disagreed with what they said far, far less than I expected to.

The book essentially has one entry for each day of the year and then at the end of each month there is a special addition.  For one month, the Declaration of Independence is included and the story of its beginning.  For another, there is a list of 50 great American quotes--and then also quotes by people outside America about America (some of these were awesome!).  But, my favorite monthly addition was actually the list of 50 All American films.  I was quite surprised, and honestly pleased by the films they chose.  The Disney film chosen will completely surprise you!  With all of this great information in this book, I can foresee us using this a couple of ways in our homeschooling.  In middle school, I will read the entries with my kids and discuss the information.  The additional information will find many uses.  Late in middle school and into high school, I would love to watch each of these films with our kids and talk about them.  I have great hopes for good discussions about them!

One interesting thing to note about this book is that although it is published by a Christian publisher and is a "Christian" book, it is not purely an evangelical Christian book.  One entry in January is about Elizabeth Ann Seton--the first American-born Catholic saint.  People in the book who are written about are identified for their heroism, patriotism, and loyalty--and sometimes but not always for their faith.  This book is about our country and why it is a great country!  I was good to be reminded of why I need to discard all the negatives in our media that constantly lambast our own country.  It's a very dire and horrible picture that they paint--because after all that's what sells!  But, there are reasons why soldiers enlist and fight for our country.

I love these two quotes that really reminded me that I need to think more highly of where I live.  For all of the U.S.'s faults, there are great strengths too...

"Without the U.S., this day would not have been possible.  Tell your people that." West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to President George H.W. Bush (discussing the fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989) quoted on p.156


"The United States has long shown itself to be the most magnanimous, the most generous country in the world.  Wherever there is a flood, an earthquake, a fire, a natural disaster, an epidemic, who is the first to help?  The United States.  Who helps the most and unselfishly?  The United States."  Aleksanr Solzenitsyn June 30, 1975 quoted on  p.156

I think those two quotes say a lot.  If you are looking for a supplemental resource for your U.S. History curriciulum for middle school or high school students, I think this would be a great choice!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Thomas Nelson Publishing

Secular Fiction and Christian Fiction

When I read a Christian fiction, I hope for a couple of things.  One of them is appropriate language used in how the characters think about each other and relate to one another.  Another is a sense of hope--it is the hope of Christ that I long for as I read the story in someone's life, whether at the beginning or at the end of the story, but I look for it somewhere in there.  We are called to be in the world, but not of it.

The scripture says in Philippians 4:8 "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  We are to be wise about what we think about and so that is why I am very careful about what secular fiction I read.  

I have very different expectations of secular fiction.  I read two of Jodi Piccoult's novels a few years ago and my stomach was left in knots at the end of them.  I was faced by the strong reality of pain in life and left nowhere to turn with it at the end of the story.  I do not expect a filter on the minds and tongues of the characters in secular fiction.  I do not expect to have a sense of hope and peace when I read such a book.

One of the weaknesses of Christian fiction is often that it seems too neatly tied up at the end.  All the ts are crossed and i's dotted.  Much of Christian fiction is very good fodder for made for tv movies (which I have to say I do enjoy).  But, I know that there is an element that isn't realistic to many Christian fiction novels as well.  In life, everything doesn't always end up "happily ever after" the way we hope it will.

My very favorite book, ever, is Leota's Garden by Francine Rivers.  I love the humanness of the characters and that the book is realistic.  I also like that the end isn't entirely neatly tied up in a bow.  It is just like life.  But, I will contrast that with the book that I just read yesterday, Amy Inspired.  When I finished Leota's Garden, my heart felt a sense of hope and joy.  When I finished Amy Inspired, I felt like I did when I watched the movie Coraline.  I was faced with the yuckiness of life and couldn't dispel the sadness it filled my heart with.

On Sunday, I opened up Amy Inspired.  I read the prologue and genuinely enjoyed Bethany Pierce's writing.  She is obviously a very good writer.  I was hopeful for the novel and really looking forward to reading more of it on Monday.  When I picked it up on Monday morning, I began to read and a sickening feeling started to grow in my stomach.  The story of the lives of the characters in this book just made me feel horrible.  Amy Gallagher is about 30 and is the main character.  She lives with her roommate Zoe in an apartment above a garage.  She works as an adjuct faculty member at the college where she earned her master's degree.  She is disparaging of herself and others.  She often mentions growing up in a fundamentalist church, but her faith isn't personal.  Not in the sense that she has any filters on her eyes or thoughts.  I do not sense hope in her character at all.  She is resigned and gloomy.  Then a man moves into their apartment, Eli.  That brings a whole other dimension to the writing of this book--and to the descriptions.  I didn't even want to read the graphic physical descriptions of Zoe and Amy that Ms. Pierce wrote.  And then there was the description of Eli.  I don't know what Emo exactly means, but it seems to describe tween angst.  I think this novel is a grown up version of tween "Emo" angst.

There is one particular thing that I do expect of novels published by Christian publishers and that is "no sex".  And if there is, then I expect that there will be consequences of it and a realization that it isn't what God desires for us.  This novel pushed so, so very close to the line that you would have thought two of the characters did in fact have sex.  I read a book last year in which all of the characters were living together outside of marriage and were having sex.  I wrote a negative review of the book because none of the characters felt that it was wrong either in the middle or end of the book.  I was concerned about the message the book sent to readers about what is "normal".  I have a similar concern for this book.  The writing was visually stimulating and not in a good way.  That's the only way I can think to put it.

Amy Inspired would be much better thought of as a secular fiction novel.  Do not consider this a Christian fiction novel.  The characters do go to church, but they aren't seeking God and His will for their lives.  I do believe there are grey Christians--life is not all black and white.  Grey Christians are Christians that go to church out of habit, but don't seem to have really surrendered.  They say the Bible is a good moral guide and choose to live by the parts that they want to.  That is what the characters in this book are like.

This novel is categorized as "Contemporary Fiction".  It is just that.  It is not inspirational fiction and it is not Christian fiction.  Though the writing of this book is very good, I do not recommend it because I don't think it is edifying to read it.

Note to the author:  I'm very sorry Ms. Pierce.  I would love to read a book of yours in the future if the men and women respected one another and were not lustful towards one another in thought and deed and also if the characters come to grasp the hope of Christ at some point in the story.  You are a very good writer.

Please note that I was given a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House Publishing.

Mr. Jesus

During the sermon, I usually draw pictures for Sami, my 5 year old daughter, which she colors in.  I decided to have her trace words on Sunday, so I wrote at the top of her paper, "Jesus loves me."

She took the paper and the first thing she did was write "Mr." in front of Jesus.  Well, she was right--he is a man and Mr. is a sign of respect, still it made me laugh! =)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Women and the Calling to be a Pastor

Growing up in a Quaker church was very interesting.  I learned far more about Quaker history than I did about Jesus.  I learned a lot about God, but not as much about Jesus.  In our church, we had a male head pastor and a female assistant pastor.  The Quaker way is that all people in the church are considered ministers.  It's very easy to see that I grew up with a very egalitarian view of women and men. 

I mentioned in my last blog entry that I had only heard the word "submission" once before I married.  I had no understanding of what it meant.  But, shortly after I got married, God put me on a journey to help me understand His desires for me in my marriage. 

Along that journey, I began to consider what submission meant for women in regard to church leadership.  There are two scriptures that specifically state that elders in the church are to be men and that women are not to teach or exercise authority over men.  These scriptures are

Titus 1:6  " An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient."

I Timothy 2:12  "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet."

It was these two scriptures that caused me to pause and consider what I thought of women being pastors and elders.  I was raised that it was okay.   During college, I had several friends who joined the staffs of Evangelical Quaker churches in California.  I had another friend who went to seminary in the Northeast United States to become a pastor.  I didn't know what to think.  Many people say that the passage from I Timothy needs to be put in its cultural context.  Years ago, I didn't know how to respond to that argument.  So, I began to think about it logically.  If a woman became pastor of a church, she became the spiritual leader over her husband.  It put him under her authority.  Ephesians 5:22 ("Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.") made it clear to me that God desires us as wives to submit to our husbands.

In the very last chapter of her book Dancing With The One You Love, Cindy Easley answers several FAQs and the last question is in regard to how the husband/wife relationship plays out in church.  I contacted her for more explanation than what she wrote and I wanted to share a little of what she wrote in her reply.

In Her book, Ms. Easley writes "Women do not seem constrained to teach anything but scripture to men.  That would allow women to teach in all other areas, as well as read Scripture, lead worship or serve in any other capacity as long as she is not exercising authority over men in the congregation..."

In her email to me, she wrote "What I meant by this statement was that a woman is free to teach children or other women.  She is free to give her testimony or tell what God is doing in her life, long as she is not teaching scripture.  i also don't see a prohibition towards reading scripture with men in the congregation, as long as she is not teaching.  Simply reading scripture is not exercising authority over a man.  Consider the idea of having a woman read the part of the Samaritan woman in John 4 while a man read the part of Jesus.  This simple reading could be profound in a listeners understanding of the conversation, but is not teaching.  

I have seen women cause great distress in a congregation fighting over the title of elder or pastor.  These were women who didn't necessarily want the title themselves, but felt the elders were chauvinists for not allowing women in these areas of leadership.  But women can lead in multiple areas, save 2 roles:  elder and pastor."  Quoted with Cindy Easley's permission

Last year, I asked the pastor of a local church over for coffee.  I wanted to explain to her why we had never visited her church and had not accepted her invtations, though we knew several families who attend there.  I also wanted to ask her why she believes it is okay for women to be pastors.  Basically, her heart had been very burned by a relationship she was in during college and consequently feels very aversive to submission.  That relationship convinced her that submission today is really a matter of mutual submission, not one of wife to the husband.  She did not believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible.  Rather, she believed in living according to the passages from the Word that apply to her life today.  She felt that she could equally well fill the role of pastor that a man can, if not better in some ways.  Perhaps, that is the pride that Ms. Easley was speaking of.  She was quite surprised that I wanted to sit down and talk to her about this and did not seem at ease discussing it. 

I have had other friends who have also become pastors and they have been very humble women, who I have not sensed pride or fear in as their motivation.  I have come to the conclusion that I can pray for the women I know who are pastors and elders, but that I cannot expect them to live by my convictions.  Whenever this issue comes up, my heart begins to hurt.

I heard recently from a friend about a big mega church that recently changed its beliefs about marriage roles from being complimentarian to egalitarian.  I am concerned for the church and the women attending it.  But, I'm not really sure what to do or think beyond praying for the church and the people involved in that church.  I am concerned out of love and sympathy because that's the perspective I used to have and I see in myself that the roots of my egalitarian beliefs were not from a place of submission to God and His Word, but rather from pride and a sense of justice.  I was raised that I was just as good as a man and in truth I am not less of a person than a man, but I am different than a man.  God has equipped me differently to handle a different load than my husband.

I know this is not an issue of salvation, but it is an issue that I believe affects our marriages and how we raise our children.  Sara Groves song "Generations" speaks to me of the importance of such things.

One last thought--several years ago, in his book The Mind has Mountains, Paul McHugh described a medical procedure that is now very common.  His observation (my paraphrase) was basically that just because something can be done doesn't mean that it should be done.

Perhaps that applies to women in church leadership as well-- just because women are capable of being pastors and elders doesn't mean that we are supposed to be pastors and elders.

A New Book about Submission

Over the course of my marriage, which is now almost 10 years, I have been challenged by the Lord from the beginning about submission.  When I married my husband, I might have been called an Evangelical feminist.  I was raised in a Quaker Church and had only heard the word "submission" once when I was a senior in high school at a Baptist church.  The gal who spoke of it was someone that I did not look up to, but rather always felt judged by.  After that first time, I didn't hear the word again until I got married nine years later. 

My husband and I met and married in six months, so you can imagine how much we had to work out and navigate in that first year.  It was a rough year.  A few months into our marriage, I came upon a book titled Feminism: Mystique or Mistake by Diane Passno.  Ms. Passno talked straight and didn't dance around the issues.  Her book opened my eyes about the lies I'd been fed by feminism over the years.  That began my journey to understanding what submission really looks like in marriage.  I had been surrounded by women who were in egalitarian marriages for most of my life and didn't know what it meant to compliment my husband and be his helpmate.

Along my journey, I've come across several books, but sadly they've been very black and white--lacking grace.  My husband made me throw one of them away because he felt so disrespected by it.  The problem with the book was that it addressed submission from a behavioral perspective, but not as a matter of the heart.  I've longed for a book that I could recommend to friends about submission, one that I've felt is biblical and filled with grace.

Two months ago, I noticed that Moody Publishing had published a new book about submission titled Dancing with the One You Love:  Living Out Submission in the Real World by Cindy Easley.  It was the subtitle that caught my attention.  I needed to work my way through a few of the books I was reading before I had time to request it, but as always God was in control of the timing for me to read this book.

This past weekend I was struggling with some matters in my heart and then I picked this book up.  I felt as if the author was writing my story in her preface.  I had come to the same conclusions she had.  In the first two chapter, she outlines the biblical support for what submission is and why it is hard.  Then she shares the stories of several women over the course of the next 7 chapters.  She tackles the issues of what submission looks like if... you are married to an unbeliever, your husband is an alcoholic, your husband is absent often (like in the military for deployments), you are a strong woman, your husband has a chronic and serious illness, you grew up in a matriarchal culture, or you are the primary wage earner.  The stories of the women in her book were good examples to me and encouraging to me.  I am encouraged to know that I am not alone in this journey.

Ms. Easley writes about submission as a matter of the heart.  I have been reticent to recommend other popular books for women on this subject because the tone of the author's concerned me.  I have no concerns like that in regard to this book.

Here is a quote I especially liked from her chapter about why submission is so hard:
"I think we are all like Eve.  Every day, whether we fully grasp it or not, we face a choice whether or not to follow God's will.  But we can't base our decision on our own limited understanding.  We must base it on the truth of who God is.  Sometimes God requires things that don't make sense to our finite minds.  We may attempt to mold God's instructions to fit our comfort zone.  But God can see what we cannot, and knows far more than we can ever appreciate.  Just like Eve in the garden, we may not agree with some directions God gives.  But God realizes the implications of our obedience or disobedience even when we don't.  And His plans are always for our ultimate best." p. 30-31

On Sunday evening, I spoke with a friend about the book.  I think she was a bit puzzled as to when someone might read this book.  It made me think about when I would recommend this book and who might read it.  Sadly, I think there are many issues that we struggle with privately that we don't feel comfortable talking about with women in our churches.  Especially if we are in tough situations.  Many churches are so large today, that there isn't pastoral counseling available on a personal level to many people who need it.  Often good books, based on biblical truth, fill in that gap and need for Godly counsel. 

This is one of the few books I've come across that I do not have any concerns about.  It is very easy to read and encouraging.  If you have questions about submission or have felt convicted about it, I think this book really helps explain what submission means and what it looks like in a gracious and loving way.  If you desire encouragement in your journey of marriage, I hope it will also encourage you--as it did me.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Moody Publishing.