Monday, September 17, 2012

How People are Rescued in Literature

One of the elders at our church made an interesting comment in his closing remarks at church yesterday.

He explained that there is an interesting contrast between the heroes of today's literature and movies.  The idea is that everyone has the strength within themselves to save themselves.  Heroes like the ones Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis play in the movies.  In these stories, people only need themselves--they have all they need (like the main character in Eight Keys which I review here) I remember being struck by this several times as I sat and watched recent contemporary films.  Independence and self sufficiency are values our society places a huge value upon.

Many stories from days gone past present a different savior.  That savior comes from outside of themselves. Think of The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia or The Door in the Wall.  Reinforcements come to help save the day when the main characters are in trouble.  They can't survive on their own.

Our pastor's sermon was on Psalm 46.  It is the Psalm that inspired Martin Luther's hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is our God"

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
Public Domain.  Words and music:  Martin Luther.

1. A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing;
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

2. Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabbaoth, His name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

3. And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

4. That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him Who with us sideth;
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill:  God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.

Then, I read these verses in my Bible study this morning:

Psalm 143:7-10

English Standard Version (ESV)
Answer me quickly, O Lord!
    My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
    lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
    for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
    for to you I lift up my soul.
Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord!
    I have fled to you for refuge.[a]
10 Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
    on level ground!

It is interesting for me to think about these texts and the literature my children are reading.  Are the books they read telling them that they are enough on their own--that they don't need anyone else, even God? Or are the stories they are reading telling them that the road is easier when not walked alone?

Made for TV Biography

Technically, the book I'm about to review is a made for movie biography.  It is the book undaunted by Josh McDowell with Cristobal Krusen.

I remember when I married my husband eleven years ago, he had a book by Josh McDowell--Evidence that Demands a Verdict.  Undaunted is the story of Josh McDowell's childhood through his journey to seminary.  The story itself was interesting.  It was interesting to see the root of his books--why he wrote about the evidence and how he approached the defense of our faith as Christians.  He might be considered a Saul turned Paul person.  He began as a persecutor of the church and became a follower of Christ.  I was encouraged by how God changed lives of several people in McDowell's family.  

The writing of this book reads like a movie script.  It is not a literary novel.  It is not a gripping biography.  I suspect, based on McDowell's own preface, it was told by McDowell and written by Krusen.  It was a simply told story.  McDowell had a hard childhood and there's no easy or gentle way to tell that story.  Nor should it be.  

If you're curious about McDowell's life, you'll probably find this book interesting.  For me, I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped.  The writing detracted from his story for me.  But, I did learn about McDowell and how God worked in his life.  I particularly enjoyed the story of his entrance to seminary and what happened to him during his early days there because my husband just started seminary a month ago.  I retold that story to my husband to encourage him during a discussion we had.  

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lots to catch up on... but first a good book

We just back last weekend from a week's vacation in Maine.  We had a great time!  My husband and I are learning how to take vacations as a family--coping with expectations, stress, planning, the unexpected, and still relaxing.  It was a long drive for us, which gave me plenty of time to read several books.

The first one I picked up was Son by Lois Lowry.  I had picked it up for a moment while we were packing and read a few pages before we left.  It was hard to put it down, but I had to.  Packing had to be done first. So, I was glad to get into the car and start riding.

Son is the conclusion to Lois Lowry's The Giver.  There are two other books that are a part of this series The Messenger and Gathering Blue.  The Giver was first published in 1993 and the other two were published in 2000 and 2004.  It was a fun surprise to find out that she'd written a conclusion.

The book is divided into three shorter stories which link together. The first story begins with the character of Claire, a young 14 year old girl who was chosen to be a birthmother in the dystopic world of the giver.    It tells her story and what happens to her.  The world of the giver comes quickly back to life.  I don't want to explain a lot of the plot, because that was what made The Giver and the other two books special for me--the surprising twists and turns of the stories.

What I'd rather discuss is the writing and the world view of the author.  I've read a lot of books over the last few years.  When I read The Birthday Ball a few years ago, I was reminded of what a good writer Ms. Lowry is.  She is adept at including needed details, but not unnecessary ones that distract from the story.  I have noticed that this is a particularly difficult part of writing fiction for children and teens.  Her details paint a picture that helps the reader easily imagine what is happening.  The story does move a little slow in the middle of the book, but it picks back up in the third story.  I found myself skipping short sections through the slow part and coming back to read them later.  The ending doesn't feel contrived to me in light of the bigger picture of the giver's world.  Several reviews I read on Amazon criticized Ms. Lowry's ending.  It does seem to come to a quick ending and this is the one part of the story where I would have liked a few more details in this section, but that weakness is easy for me to forgive in light of the creativity of the whole story.  I could fill in the details in my own mind.

The second part of this book is the one that I want to make Christian homeschooling parents aware of.  In Honey for a Teen's Heart, Gladys Hunt explains the different world views that many authors write from.  She identifies Lowry as one of the authors that writes from an existentialist world view in which reality "is subjective and objective.  The world merely is.  There is no God.  Human beings define themselves and are totally free and determine their own destiny." (pg. 83)  In the Giver series, this view comes through.  But, I don't think we should steer entirely clear of it.  Here's why.  Recently, I was talking with a friend.  Her son just graduated from college.  She asked him what he wished she had taught him.  He replied that he wished she had taught him about evolution.  The survival of the fittest is blatantly explained in the first story of this book.  Read this and discuss it--discuss why it is false.  Explain to your children the Truth.  One of my friends uses a Christian science curriculum and then subscribes to National Geographic.  Her family discusses National Geograhic's articles, evolution, and creation.  We need to help our children understand and equip them so that they will be able to understand discussions in their classes when they move beyond our classrooms at home.

Does such a world view make this book a "bad" choice to read?  No.  Actually, I think this is a particularly good one to read and good fodder for discussion.  Discuss who is in charge of the world in this book?  What does man believe about his own nature?  Where does he look to for strength?  What do you think of the trademaster and the ending?  Have you ever felt in your own heart a sick pleasure at the "come uppance" of another or have you ever met someone that you knew felt this way?  Can you think of a movie where you've seen any of the characters feel this way?  What does God tell us about the nature of man?  What do you believe about man's nature?  Where does our strength come from?  Like Claire who didn't realize what she had, what do you possess that you might not have considered before?  This book is full of moral questions that are worthy of consideration.  This book is well written and interesting to read.  Sonlight's philosophy about what books they choose goes along these lines.  If you're interested in reading it, you can find it here.

The other reason I would encourage homeschoolers to read this book is that God's beauty is reflected in all of creation.  We just have to look for it.  I see it in this author's gifted ability to write.  She has a gift.  She may not attribute it to God, but I do.

So those are my thoughts.  They may surprise some.  But, my husband and I are realizing more and more that avoiding the world won't equip our children to live in it.  I enjoyed reading Son and if you get a chance to sit down with it, I hope you will too.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  It is set to be released in October.