Thursday, July 29, 2010

Devotional Book

This summer I participated in a book study on Facebook.  It was an interesting experience.  I kept forgetting to check the group because it was rarely listed on my "Home" page.  In general, I have opted not to join many groups on Facebook because every time I have my browser locks up.  I also read about how Facebook tracks everywhere you go and accumulates that information.  That makes me very cautious and skittish about how much I associate myself with on Facebook.  And the fact that Facebook keeps changing things on users without warning makes me even more skittish.  Yet, I keep using it!  My decision sounds crazy--to continue being a user of Facebook.  But, I've seen a lot of good things come out of facebook--connections to friends and family as well as spreading information amongst folks that matters.

One of those good things was this book study.  It seemed like several women were very encouraged by the discussion.  It was difficult for me to engage in because I am a very people oriented person.  There is something about seeing a person face to face and discussing a topic with them that is very different than doing it online.  You can't ask them any questions or affirm that you agree with them by your facial expression online.  You don't necessarily learn what anyone else thinks of what you've shared as well.  One time I shared something and it was deemed a tangent--which it was.  I'm notorious, according to my husband, for taking rabbit trails during Bible Study.  I think I thought it would fill a hole that I longed to fill.  This summer I longed for fellowship and discussion about the Word and walking with the Lord.  It didn't work for me.  But, I think it may have for several women--or at least encouraged them.

Reading the book Distracted a few weeks ago has really made me consider more and more how my interactions on the computer affect me.  And I actually need to make this entry short so that I can get off of this computer and detach myself.  I need to be attached to my children and the people who are face to face with me and not distracted by the computer.   When Maggie Jackson talked in her book about "the room where the lights are always on", she was right on target!  It is possible to avoid what is right in front of you by turning to the internet where you control your interactions with other people.  It is much messier and harder in person than it is online.

But, back to the devotional that the book study was about.  It was called Purity by Lyndia Brownback.  At the church we used to attend, several of her books had been on the book table.  Though I had never read one, I had wondered about them.  So, I was glad to read it and participate in the group.

The book is a collection of short devotional entries, about 2 to 3 pages each.  The book is small in size, so the pages are not big ones.  It is typical of devotional books, I think.  With most devotional books, you can pick up the book and turn anywhere in the book and read an entry out of order.  It should make sense as a stand alone entry.  Usually, I've found that there is a theme among the book--whether chronological or topic.  This book is about a theme, but the entries can be read out of order.

The group discussion picked and chose from among the entries.  I discovered several things about myself and books by reading parts of this devotional.  But, they aren't what you might expect.  Two months ago, I read Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild by Mary Kassian.  It was also about purity.  It was very good, surprisingly so and it caught me by surprise.  Though the author shared some things from her life, she shared more personal stories about other women and women who had written or spoken with her.  In this book, the author is not very personal about her own life in the entries I read.  She does the same thing that the author of another book I'm reading does.

It was explained to me by a friend who writes in this way:  Authors are now being told by publishers and editors that they are to be the experts and that if they share the personal stuff then that undermines their credibility.  When my friend shared this with me, it grieved me.  It is the books like The Silent Seduction of Self Talk by Shelly Beach, Cynthia Heald's studies and Jerry Bridges books, which have impacted my life the most.  Each of these authors shares a lot of hard things from their own lives and their own hearts in their books.  It helps me know that they really do understand what they are talking about.  It also tells me that they are human and gives me hope that I can grow and work through the things I'm struggling with.  At first, I wondered if it was just pride that was the source of my desire to know the author's stories.  But, I think it actually comes from the fact that I almost view the authors of the books I read as mentors and friends in a way.  A friend doesn't just say "I understand" and placate you.  A friend says "I understand because..."  It is the because that tells you that they really understand and that you're not alone.  I long for the "because" part in the books I read.  But, if you are more logical than emotional, you may not want that "because" part.  I'm coming to realize that.

As I participated in the study, I watched a few of the videos and read several of the entries.  Then I started reading them out of order.  I read one in the car with my husband and he was really concerned because he felt it was twisting what the Bible says about suffering.  That gave me a read flag.  It also prompted us to have a good discussion about suffering.  The entry actually sounded right on and it resonated with what I thought about suffering, but after talking to him, I could see his point and his concern.  That discussion though made me cautious about reading more of the book.  I flipped through another day and read another entry.  I thought it was great!  I was encouraged and hopeful again about this book.  But, then I turned back two pages and read another entry and was disheartened.  Ms. Brownback inferred a great amount of details into the story of Dinah in the Bible.  It is not sacrilegious or explicitly unbiblical to infer.  But, I have deep concerns about this practice that is common among many authors today.  If we read books that pose hypotheticals about the details in the Bible or that ask us to infer how the people in the Bible felt or acted, it is a very slippery slope to the point of believing those inferences and thinking that those details we have inferred are actually in the Bible--unless we know the Bible really well.

Several years ago, I loved Warren Wiersbe's commentary books about the Bible.  I still do.  He looks at the details that are in the Bible and the ones that aren't.  But, he looks very purposely at the Word with the understanding that God put what He wanted in there.  What's important are the details that are in the Word, not what we infer.  Often inferring details in the Word and focusing on the people of the Bible puts the focus on the people and not on God.  It reminds me of the Hebraic Roots Movement that a friend told me about.  There is a movement among believers which believes that we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the Israelites and lived by the rules that they did in order to really understand God.  That is not biblical--that is living by the law which we are no longer under because of Christ's death.

Ah, this entry has been full of rabbit trails--goodness!  So, back to the devotional...

I opened up the devotional on another day and again was encouraged by the entry.  It was written as a pastor would speak to his flock, not as a mentor or friend, but it was appropriate for the topic of that entry.  In the end, I was encouraged by some entries and then was concerned by others.  I found this book to be a mixed bag.

If purity is a topic that you would like to read more about, I would first recommend Mary Kassian's book.  This devotional is a good supplement, but you just have to read it wisely and discuss any points that concern you with someone you trust.  It is a good book for thinkers looking for a good womens devotional to read. 

Here is a link to a sample devotional entry you can read to see what you think:

Please note that I was given a complimentary copy of this book for review by Crossway Books.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Important Things to Remember...

A lot of people I know, me included, often feel skeptical about the 700 club and Pat Robertson.  I think this is mostly due to how outspoken he has been about many world events and people and his opinions.  This morning, my mom mentioned that she had been watching it and that there was a singer on the show named Regie something talking about his new book and album.  I was curious who it was.  So, I looked it up.  After a little searching, I came upon his website:  His new book is the story about him and his wife and their little girl that they adopted from China.  She has a rare genetic disorder called Angelman's Syndrome.  He wrote a very touching and powerful entry in his blog at this link:  .  It reminded me of what love really is.  Please share this link with friends and family if it touches your heart.  One of the greatest blessings of Facebook and blogs, I think, is that we get the chance to share things that we learn about that we might not otherwise have the chance to pass along.

Last month, I reviewed a fiction book that I had a few concerns about.  One of my concerns was that the ending to the story could be construed that it would be better if your child did not have a disability than if they did.  I was concerned about how this might make a parent who has a child with special needs feel.  This blog entry by Regie Hamm reminded me of why I was concerned.  It also gave me a peek into how children with special needs are such a blessing to everyone who knows them and has the chance to love them.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


My husband said from the couch where he was trying to sleep, "What on earth is going on down there?"

All three kids were in their rooms and there was a loud "Grrrr..." emanating from one of them.

My reply was, "Oh, that's just Eli, he does that every day."

Yep, he does.  Boys and girls are just plain different.  I don't think anyone will ever convince me otherwise! =)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Thankful for Homeschooling Curriculum

It's such a good feeling when I find I've ordered something for homeschooling that is just what I was looking for!

I've pretty much done my planning for the year, but there are a few minor things I keep pondering.  One has been writing.  Last year, I had thought about getting EPS set of books Write about Me and Write about My World.  Then last week when I was ordering the last of our Explode The Code books from CBD, I looked at the set again and at their Just Write series.  I used Well Trained Mind's Writing With Ease series last year.  I liked it, but I always felt that Autumn would love the chance to do some constructive creative writing.  We did a little, but not as much as I would like.

So, I read the reviews for Write about Me and it sounded just right for Autumn to give her a chance to be creative in her writing this year.  Writing With Ease is a 4 day a week curriculum, so we'll use this on the fifth day.  The first book lets her begin by filling in sentences about herself and then pages to draw a picture on and then write about (with a given question).  I think it will actually work better for her this year than last because the lines to write on aren't that big.

But, just before the package arrived today, I had another thought about curriculum.  It was this--there are so many great choices and fun things to add to curriculum.  I need to stop looking when I have what I need.  If I discover a hole, then I think it's okay to look for filling for that hole, but otherwise, I think it's good to try and not browse too much =)

Anyways, these are just my random thoughts for the moment.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Film Editing

I know that a lot of kids think that making movies would be fun.  My brother in law, Mark just finished his film degree at RIT.  He has had a natural gift and inclination to pursue film for as long as I can remember.  He has posted  his compositing reel on his website.  He has a good head on his shoulders and is looking for a job.  He explained to me when we saw him two weeks ago that a resume in film is not just a piece of paper.  It also includes a reel like this one.

Here's the reel:  
Mark Sniffen Compositing Reel 2010 from Mark Sniffen on Vimeo.

I thought it was a lot of fun to watch.  It shows how individual shots are made with computer graphics.  It was pretty amazing really.  If you have any teenagers that enjoy film, I thought they might enjoy this.  It may also make you look at wonder at the next movie you watch in the theater or the next commercial or show you watch on television.  And if you happen to know anyone in the film industry, would you please pass this link along?

I review books, not film, but I would definitely give it 5 stars if I could rate it the way I rate books.  It was easy to follow, informative, well done, and interesting to watch.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More Reason to Be Careful What We Watch...

I opened up the Baltimore Sun this morning and read about how a court struck down the Bush era regulations about obscenity on television.  I wanted to post a link about this article from the New York Times just to spread the word.  The hardest part that I see with this is that I will feel even less comfortable letting my children watch anything on live television--if there aren't any limits.  It saddens me that in our society, we are so me focused that we have pursued this freedom to spew obscenities on public television.

I am reminded about God and his authority in our lives.  I think a lot of people don't want to believe in God because they don't want to have to submit to his authority.  They don't want anyone to tell them what to do.  The thing is--God knows what's best for that.  Perhaps it's pride that makes us as humans think we can figure everything out.  The reality is that we can't.  And we don't know what's always best for us--in the same way that our children think they know what is best (though we all know they don't).  Our children have a lot to learn and so do we as we grow up.  I am thankful for God's boundaries in my life and for his authority.  I am thankful I'm not caught in the trap thinking that I should have the right to say whatever I want to whenever I want to.  It's really a harmful lie.

I grieve for our children and what they will hear on the television--and for what we will hear as well if we turn it on.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A New Bible For Families

Yesterday, I received a new Bible written for families.  It is called the Hands-On Bible (NLT).  My feelings about this Bible are a little complicated.  I love the Bible extras, activities, and comments that are added in.  But, the NLT is not the translation of the Bible I usually choose to read.

I think that often we can choose a Bible by one of two ways:
#1 First, choose the translation, and then #2 choose which publication of that Bible (ie. study bible, large print, children's, etc.)
#1 Choose the Bible you like the most based on the comments and features of that edition, without putting primary importance on which translation it is.

If I were simply choosing a Bible to read as a family, without concern about which translation it is, then I would definitely choose this one.  I really liked the activities and ideas of how to convey different ideas to your kids.  I would say that this Bible is good for families with children ages 5-12.  This is a very contemporary take on how to connect kids to the Bible and more importantly God yet also understand the time in which the people in the Bible lived.

Quick, or maybe not so quick tangent...
Contemporary and modern are two interesting words.  In my last post, I used the phrase "culturally relevant".  Many people want and believe the Bible should be "culturally relevant".  My opinion is that it's okay for the extras to be "modern" or "culturally relevant", but that the Word is the Word.  It is God who does the saving, not us!  Changing a few words in a translation to make it more comfortable for someone to read (like gender neutral language) isn't going to save them.  Eventually, they will get to the hard parts about sin--which you just can't sugar coat.  I realized after I'd written that phrase that I needed to clarify where I stand on on the "cultural relevancy" of some Bible translations.  I get very concerned that we are catering to people and what they want to hear--essentially we are tickling people's ears because we think that then they will make a decision for Christ.  BUT, that is a dangerous line of thinking because it is so easy to get caught thinking it is our efforts and what we do that saves people.  It's not.  It's just not.  It's God's deal and not ours.

Which leads into my thoughts about contemporary language...
I read a review of a book on manners this weekend by someone who gave a book 0 stars because the person said that we're not in the 1950s anymore.  No, it's not the 1950s, but I do want my kids to speak properly and have good manners.  This is one of the little ways that homeschooling affects us as a family. 
Our language at home that we use and read is more like what people consider "proper English".  We don't use a lot of sarcasm or slang at home.  I remember when I was teaching middle school how different the way the kids and teachers spoke was from how I speak at home now with my kids.  

The language in many of the comments and side notes in this Bible that I'm reviewing is very "modern".  Here's an example from one of the things to think about:  "Adam and Eve messed up big time by disobeying.  Then they tried to hide from God.  Duh!"  but later in the same note... "God didn't need fingerprints to bust Adam and Eve.  God sees everything.  But God wants to forgive us--that's why he sent Jesus.  When we believe in jesus and tell God we're sorry, he'll wash away our sins!"  from p. 7 Hands-On Bible (NLT).

On one hand, I like the simplicity of the explanation--it's great for kids!  But, on the other hand, we just don't talk like that.  We don't say "Duh!" and I suppose that in our family we just aren't as casual about how we talk about the Bible.

But, that same note had a great, quick activity in which kids put their fingerprints on a white piece of paper.  There's a great comment about how our fingerprints are on everything.  Eventhough they can't be seen, they are there.  (paraphrase from pg. 7) and then it leads into the second part of the comment I quoted above.  I think it's an awesome connection for kids!  It's an easy way to do an activity with them and make an impression on them to help them understand about Adam and Eve.  There are so many simple activities in this Bible like this one and that's why I do like it a lot!

This Bible is one of those books that I think would be wonderful for a lot of families.  I think you'd really enjoy it and get a lot out of the extras--they would help build memories and start discussions.  If you're looking for a Bible to give a family with new believers or with young children as an outreach, I think this is a great Bible to give!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this Bible from Tyndale Publishing for review.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bibles for Kids

Revisiting An Old Subject...

This morning I made a blunder at church.  I made an off the cuff remark about the NLT translation.  It wasn't the way I meant it.  Sometimes my mouth opens too wide at times!  It has been very interesting all the things I've had to dig into about how I feel and think about books over the last 2 years.  I realized this week that I've been in Amazon's Vine program for 2 years and that program is what started me on this adventure of reviewing books for the other publishers I review books for as well.  Often I find that my negative review is the only negative one. Other times my positive review runs in contradiction to others' positive reviews!  Oh, please forgive me--back to my comment...

One of the things I've thought about over the past 2 years is Bible Translation.  I do think it is wise to read more literal translations than paraphrases as a primary Bible simply because it leaves more interpretation to the reader than the translator.  In the past, I've been concerned about the NLT because I read once that it was originally intended for children but it became a translation that is read by many adults as their primary Bible.  My concerns about the NLT, CEV, and the Message have been because of some words that are translated differently.  One of them being "submission".  In one of the paraphrases above, the word "respect" is used in place of submission. But, submission is more than just respect.  Another used the word "yield"  and that doesn't paint the whole picture of submission either.

Another issue that is of concerns to me is the use of "gender" neutral language.  I was told by someone I trusted that both the TNIV and the NLT began using gender neutral language, though the TNIV was the only one publicly criticized for it.

An example of this is Revelation 3:20
NLT:  Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.

ESV:  Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

It is very different in the two translations!  I don't think I'm comfortable with the idea that the Bible has to be politically correct in order to be culturally relevant.

All that being said until yesterday, I didn't personally have a copy of the NLT (I did of the CEV and the Message).  It surprised me.  In many ways, it read much like the NIV aside from the issue of gender neutral language, but there were other times when it sounded differently.  For example,
Psalm 23
"The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.  He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.  He renews my strength.  He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.  Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me  Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me..."

But, the in the next few verses it sounds much more similar...
"You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.  You honor me by anointing my head with oil.  My cup overflows with blessings.  Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever."

I read several other passages.  It was very interesting.  I am not a Bible scholar so perhaps it is not fair for me to try and decide even what I think of it.

So, this is the conclusion I've come to.  I do like the NLT overall.  It is a translation of the Bible.  I know many people who enjoy reading it and it has blessed them.

But, would I recommend it if I were purchasing a Bible for someone?  Probably not.  If the person was a new believer or struggles with reading, I would probably get a Message Bible paraphrase or an NIV.  Would I choose the NLT for children?  Probably not.  I would choose the NIrV which is the NIV with shorter sentences with a simplified sentence structure.  Personally, after reading the NIrV, the CEV (which is the ICB--International Children's Bible for adults), and the NLT, I like the NIrV best.  It is easy for my daughter, who is going into 2nd grade, to understand and read.  The print is larger in the Discoverer's Bible for Young Readers.

All that being said, though--in the end, I think the Bible translation that we each choose to read is a very personal matter--we each find Bibles that we are comfortable reading.  What is most important is that we are reading God's Word, isn't it?

Hopefully, the next time before I make an off the cuff remark about a Bible translation, I will close my mouth!!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Billy Graham

A few weeks ago, I was discouraged about the books I'd been reading, so I decided to read and review Billy Graham: His Life and Influence by David Aikman.  I knew David Aikman was a very good writer so it seemed to be a solid choice for reading material.  Reading this book has really challenged me again to think about the books we read and whether they are edifying or whether certain information should be in a book.  I want to explain, but it's a little complicated.

The introduction of the book made it clear to me that this book is indeed well written.  It was very interesting.  It was informative, but not dry.  The first five chapters explain the history of Graham's life up to the crusades in England in the 50s.  In this section, it is as if Aikman is putting Graham up on a pedestal.  But, from that point on he begins to throw stones at him as he begins to examine Graham's interaction with communist leaders, racism, and with the presidents of our country, the US.  It's interesting because he's sly about the stones that he throws.  He doesn't throw them directly, but he implies conclusions and chooses certain details to include that can feed a feeling of cynicism towards Billy Graham and how he lived his life.  Our culture is one that thrives on cynicism right now--the belief that one can see through others to what the truth really is--and this book feeds that feeling by how it is written and the information that is presented.  

Let me begin by sharing one example that really struck me:

1) He mentions that all three of Billy Graham's daughters married at age 18.  One of them he describes this way "Anne married, apparently successfully, a college basketball star from North Carolina, Danny Lotz.  But her son, Jonathan, walked out on his marriage to wife Alicia and showed no willingness for reconciliation even though his wife expressed hopes that this might take place...In short, it is hard to avoid drawing the conclusion that there is a connection between Billy's long periods away from home and the broken marriages of three children, the unorthodox beginning of Franklin's marriage, and the troubled domestic circumstances of some of his grandchildren.  Certainly, none of the children strayed as far from the gospel as the children of Billy and Ma Sunday.  But just as certainly, Billy's family paid a high price for his single-minded commitment to crusade evangelism."  
                                           quoted from Billy Graham: His Life and Influences by David Aikman, pg. 290

In the example above he used the phrase "apparently successfully" to describe Anne's marriage.  And then he draws conclusions about their marriages in a critical way with language that is leading.  

I personally do not know David Aikman so I don't know if he realizes and is aware of how deeply cynicism has pervaded this book.  Dick Keyes' points this out in his book Seeing Through Cynicism-- "One reason that cynicism receives little attention is that many people do not even realize that it exists in their own thinking and conversation.  Cynical insights, perspectives and critiques are so much a part of modern vocabulary that we get used to them; they are nothing special, unusual or needing particular recognition, let alone justification." p. 13.

Yesterday, I discussed this book with one of my good friends Kim, and she gave me a lot of great food for thought.  Biographies are supposed to present both the good and bad, the strengths and weaknesses of a person.  I agreed with her.  If this book were published directly by a secular publisher (and not a Christian publisher owned by a secular publisher), I would understand how and why this book was written this way.  But, it has been published by Thomas Nelson.  I do hope and expect Christian publishers to publish books that will edify the body of Christ and not tear it down.  

Although this book is very well written, I do not consider it to be a book that is edifying to the body of Christ.  It includes details that feed a desire for gossip rather than truth.  The way that Ruth Bell Graham is spoken of and the things that are mentioned did not make me feel glad for her or encouraged by her life--rather, I felt deep sadness.  Yet, I know from her writings that she loved the Lord.  I know there were huge challenges in her life and marriage to Billy Graham, but this book seems to be written from a secular perspective--a perspective acknowledging her faith in God, but not looking at life through her perspective and her desire to glorify God in her life.

As I read this book, the desire grew in me to read his autobiography.  Aikman focused more on Graham's actions as proof of who he was and what he believed than Graham's own words.  Truly, his take on Graham was a cynical one often inferring that because of his actions Graham must have believed differently than he outwardly stated if his actions didn't always align with what he said.  As a reader, my cynicism was encouraged by how it was written and that's the reason I wouldn't recommend this book to any believers.  

I think it's clear from this review that I don't recommend this book.  I would recommend the book Seeing Through Cynicism by Dick Keyes if you or someone you love is a cynical person.  It is a challenging book that I think will encourage you and help you begin to heal from that cynicism.  I believe that cynicism is damaging because it is based upon pride and it can steal one's joy and contentment.  I think that rather than giving an unbiased view of Billy Graham's life, this book by David Aikman instead encourages a feeling of cynicism and mistrust towards this man, who he was, and who he is.

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

A book I came Across

Yesterday, I blogged about Church History ABCs and I wished for more--more context so that I could put the stories in that book into the big picture of history.  I was reading the blog from Hearts and Minds Books in Dallastown, PA, and Byron Borger mentioned this book:

Pages From Church History: A Guided Tour of Christian Classics, also by the same author.  I read a few pages of it on Amazon and it seemed to be just what I was talking about.  I can't fully recommend it since I haven't read it (and I've definitely learned my lesson on that one), but I'm glad to know that there is a book like what I was thinking of out there!

Friday, July 9, 2010


Lately, I've felt myself to be out of whack.  My schedule has been off and I've slid into a bad habit of watching too many videos on Netflix during the kids naptime.  It's one of those times when I know what the best thing is to do, but I'm just not making myself do it.  What I need to do is turn off the computer, go outside, sit on the porch, and read a book or work in my garden.  I need to seek peace and calm instead of avoiding the silence by losing myself in the television shows I watch.

Recently, my husband suggested a book for me to read.  It was Distracted by Maggie Jackson.  I began reading it.  This book is very different than the books I usually review.  It is a sociological and at times psychological analysis of our attention span and some of our cultural habits as a people.  

The premise of this book is (in my words) that the rise of technology in our world is contributiong to a decline in our ability to focus and pay attention.  Our relationships and learning are suffering because of it.  So, is all of the technology in our world really progress?  Is this the progress we want?

From the beginning, this book really made me think.  My husband and I have chosen not to text and instead we have prepaid cell phones.  We aren't gamers and we don't go into chat rooms.  We are very low tech in many ways.  Even so, I've realized how often I check my email and facebook and how much time has gotten sucked away by me watching shows online.  I've even started to have eerie and surreal thoughts about what is real and what is virtual.  I've caught myself at times thinking about how I would describe something on Facebook.  This really concerned me when I saw this in myself.  Essentially, my attention span is being split and is declining.  I am distracted from what I really need to do and what is most worth investing my time in.

Reading this book reinforced some of the things I have seen in myself on a micro level and have been concerned for our society about on a macro level.  Texting is really only the tip of the iceberg and this book opened my eyes to a lot of things that are going on that I didn't even realize.  For example, Maggie Jackson quoted a study that found that 20% of the players on EverQuest "say that they consider themselves denizens of the game who are just visiting Earth." Distracted, p. 56.  Wow!  Truly, the virtual world has taken hold.  It is seeming more real to many people than the life they are really living in person.

Here are a few quotes that hit me the most from this book:

"Freud had an experience when he was outside with a crowd watching a slide show and he wrote this about it 'Until 9 p.m., I remain spellbound, then I begin to feel too lonely in the crowd, so I return to my room to write to you all.'"

On the next page, she writes "Now we slip easily in and out of virtual worlds and multitask each other, wondering if our seemingly miraculous power to be in many places at once brings us closer or keeps us apart...Increasingly, we sense that crucial aspects of our humanity, our ability to focus, be aware, and reason well--may be eroding, even as we surrender to the dreamlike joyride that this way of life offers.  Now it's time to confront the challenges of our day.  Does intimacy survive a seemingly limitless realm of infinite prospects?  Can we bolster the quality of our life by split-screen living?  How do lives of perpetual movement shape our attachments to each other and change our experience of place?  Facing these challenges leads us first into the "new room" in the house, the virtual space where the lights are always on." from pg. 42-43 of Distracted

A few months ago, I read Nurture Shock on the recommendation of a friend and was very challenged and encouraged by it.  Both that book and this one are written from a secular perspective (which I would define as one not concerned with God).  In a similar way to Nurture Shock, Distracted has challenged my thinking and how I see the world we live in.  It is also challenging to me to consider the role that I desire technology to have in my children's lives.  

I live intentionally in a way hoping to glorify God in how I live my life.  So, although this book is not concerned with God, it does encourage me in how I seek to glorify God by not "needing" technology or becoming entrapped by it.

I highly recommend this book.  The writing is good (as you can see from the quotes), though at times very intellectual.  But, it is worth pressing on and taking your time to get through.  The parts I learned the most from were in the first half.  There is a large section in the second half that is about a study involving Buddhism and attention.  Buddhism is written about as a behavior/lifestyle rather than as a religion.  

One last quote I think is worth pondering:
"If we want to shape our own future, we must consider how we want to live and how we want to define progress, and as we do so, prepare to welcome to our ranks the thinking person's most prickly yet necessary companion-doubt."  from Distracted by Maggie Jackson, pg. 215

Please note that I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book for review by Prometheus Books.

Learning About Church History

I was excited to learn that a book about some heroes of the Faith of Church History has been published.  When I was growing up, I learned a lot about Quaker History--all about George Fox and William Penn as well as many others.  But, I didn't learn a lot about church history beyond Quaker History.  I want my children to have a more well rounded understanding of church history and more knowledge about it than I have.

Stephen J. Nichols and Ned Bustard have published a new book called The Church History ABCs:  Augustine and twenty-five other heroes of the Faith.   Here is their website for the book:  The book begins with a short introduction and then a brief page on each of twenty-five people who lived as early as 110 A.D. and died as late as 1940.  (There is a gap between St. Patrick, who died in 461 and Martin Luther who was born in 1483.)  Each letter identifies a person important to church history such as Spurgeon, Martin Luther, or Anne Bradstreet.  I was glad that several women were included.  At the end of the book, there is a long paragraph about each person that gives more description about who each person was and why they are significant--how they glorified God in their lives.  There is also a timeline list of the 25 people.  I wish there was also a visual timeline with a few historical events identified to help place these people in history (I'm going to email them and ask if they might think about posting one on their website =)).  On the website, there are several coloring pages and activity pages to go with the book.  I like the illustrations and the writing.

One question I asked myself was how could I help my kids relate to this book?  How could this book be useful to me and my kids?  I homeschool and my girls will be in 2nd grade and kindergarten.  This year I have decided to start reading through A Child's History of the World by Virgil Hillyer.  This book was recommended to me by several people.  They read the book withe their children and then had them draw pictures about what they have listened to.  One downside to using this book is that it doesn't address history from a Christian perspective or include much of the history of the Christian church.  My plan is to read each of the ABCs in chronological order as we get to that period in history in the book.  It will help bring in the history of the church for my kids as we learn about the past.  One reason I've chosen to teach history this way is that I realized I have been trying to cover too much in our homeschooling and I am trying to simplify.  I also have the ValueTales books and I am also going to integrate them into our reading in the same way I'm going to use this church history book.

If I weren't homeschooling, how would I use this book?  When would I read it?  It would be a good reference book if my kids asked me questions about who these people were.  It might spur on discussions about history and the things that happened in the early Christian church.

Honestly, I don't know of any other books on church history, so this is a unique book for children in grades K-5.  I would love more--more content, more description.  I'd love more of a timeline about history and the part that these people played in it.  In short, I'd love a great history book of church history for children.  But, this is a good place to start.

You can view a sample and excerpt of the book at this website:

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Crossway Books for review.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Plot Problems

Once in a while I come across a book that really, really doesn't sit with me.  That's the best way I can put it.  A few months ago, I likened it to eating a meal that tasted good while you were eating it, but then afterwards, the pit in your stomach feels heavier and heavier.  Sometimes even as you're eating the meal, you feel a pit topsy turvy about it.

That's how I felt as I read Shades of Morning, a new book published by Marlo Schalesky.

I struggle when I need to be honest and give a negative review as is the case with this book.  The reasons I agreed to read this book are very odd.  The main character's name is the same my hometown.  The author's husband's name is the same as my brother's.  She lives in CA and the book was being published on my birthday.  Honestly, when I got the notice to review this book, I thought it was a joke!  Too many funny coincidences!  Due to the number of coincidences, I decided to read this book.

I think this review will be easier if I break it down:

Storyline:  The storyline is that a 15 year old boy with Down's Syndrome has just lost his mother and is being sent to live with his aunt.  The aunt left town 15 years ago and left her sister and boyfriend (who had left town and she didn't know if he was coming back).  The boy arrives and throws the sister's life into chaos, but she adjusts and learns a lot about life and herself in the process.

Writing:  The writing is good and easy to read.  Pretty descriptive on some things.  You can tell that the main character has a hard shell and some parts are very sad and heartbreaking to read.

Plot:  The plot is where my concerns about this book lie.  There is a twist at the end that doesn't work.  It's crucial to the plot, too.  I looked back and reread the beginning to see if I had misread something into the story, but I hadn't.  There are some details at the end that are implausible and very unrealistic as well.  The twist at the end made me feel deceived and manipulated.  That's the best way I can put it.  You know when someone convinces you of something only to tell you that it's not true?  That's how it felt.  I don't like that feeling.  It makes me feel manipulated.  The twist at the end could also be very disheartening to a reader if you or someone you know has Down's Sydrome. The message could be that life is easier or more valuable or better if one does not have Down's Sydrome or that your child does not. 

It is very difficult for me to know how to write about this book because at the end, the author writes a thank you to her editor for helping "make this book more of what God envisioned it to be." (from the Acknowledgements).  I even like the Reader's Guide at the end. 

So, am I writing negatively about something that God inspired?  Is this a great book and I'm missing it?  Should a Christian Inspirational Fiction book be held to the same standards as any other book?  Should all elements of the plot work together and be believable? 

I do know that God encouraged me through this book, yet I still wouldn't recommend it.  I do think that the plot of a Christian book should be plausible.  For a book to be great, I think you need both wonderful writing and a wonderful, well executed plot where the pieces all fit together--not where your trying to cram a piece into a space that it wasn't made for.  That is what it felt like at the end.  Several pieces were trying to be put into a space in the puzzle that they weren't made for.

And I want to add one last caution, because of how the ending could be construed, I wouldn't encourage someone with a child with Downs Syndrome to read this book. 

Please note that I was given a complimentary copy of this book for review by Waterbrook/Multnomah.

If you are interested in reading other reviews on Amazon, this is the link for the book: