Monday, July 17, 2017

Birds and Bees by the Book

Birds and Bees by the Book, Patricia Weerakoon

How do you answer your children’s questions about sex, gender and why various families are different? Do you struggle to come up with a succinct, age-appropriate answer and find yourself going “uhhh, uuuum…”.

What about when your primary-schooler says: “My friend has two mummies” or “There was a boy at school, but now he has a girl’s name and uses the girls’ toilets”?

What about the more straightforward question: “How did the baby get there?” Or when your daughter asks, “Why does my brother have a penis, when do I grow one?”

Thankfully, there is a new resource available to help parents: Patricia Weerakoon’s series “Birds and Bees by the Book”. I’ve spent the last week with Miss 9 and Miss 12 reading these six, small, readable books aimed at 7-10 year olds, and have also gathered the opinions of a few friends. Here are some of our thoughts:

Me and my family. A lovely book describing families in all their variations. It starts with God’s design for marriage beginning with Adam and Eve, and while many families have a mum, dad and kids; many don’t, including step-families, adoption, fostering, extended and gay families. Each is simply explained with the overarching point that God loves your family and God loves you; and that if you love Jesus – you’re also part of God’s family.

Me and my body. About our unique bodies, how they all different and all made by God. Kids are encouraged to protect and care for their bodies because they’re special. This one jumps around a bit and the logic doesn’t seem as obvious, including comments about cyberbullying, being careful about wanting to look older than you are, and knowing the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad touch’. It’s got a slightly more negative, warning feel to it than the others, but the topics covered are helpful and needed.

Me and my brain. A helpful perspective and one often missing in sex education. By describing how a brain can be healthy or unhealthy because of what we feed it, she paves the way for children to desire healthy brains that grow strong. With an instructive explanation of how the brain works, including both thinking and feeling; and how they are still growing, my girls laughed in understanding that yes, their brains just want to have fun and not think about consequences!

Learning about sex. The message is that sex is good, for marriage and for when you’re older. Using the term ‘sexual activity’ draws the helpful distinction that sex is more than intercourse. Weerakoon highlights that only adults are ready for sexual love; but as a kid, you love lots of people with friendship or family love. I loved the explanation of how you need to change to be ready to be married: your body needs to develop, you brain needs to grow, and you need to be able to care for and look after another person. There are also instructive comments on what to do if someone touches you in a way that makes you feel bad, if you see pictures online, and if you like touching yourself.

On a minor note, I was surprised by the statement that that all children come out through their mother’s vagina. These days with so many born by caesarean, it seems odd not to include it as an option.

Learning about gender. Carefully and appropriately addresses the issues of gender for children, with a clear explanation of how boys and girls are different; and that they don’t have to act in stereotypical ways to be boys and girls. Introducing both intersex and transgender concepts, overall there is a clear encouragement to be kind and love others, no matter who they are or how they feel about themselves.

Learning about pornography. Explains pornography as ‘pictures and videos that are bad for you and unhealthy for your brain’, expanding that to include people without clothes, hurting each other or having sexual activity. This is a slightly oversimplified description, but it probably works within the context and for the age group. Again, using the idea of the thinking brain and the feeling brain, kids are encouraged to use both when deciding what is healthy for them and what isn’t, and how to respond when they see pornography.

One of the great strengths of this series is that each book speaks of how good God is in making us, that we can be part of his family by trusting Jesus and that we can have the best life by knowing him. There’s a strong message of following Jesus’ example and loving each other, never bullying or teasing and always caring for others, even if they are different. These probably are the key messages for this age group (and all of us!)

I did have a few hesitations.

  1. Each book finished with a page saying “Feeling confused? Why not talk with the adult reading this book with you”. Sure, it’s a helpful way to flag the need to check with your child, but it’s a bit patronising. It also reduces the power of the book’s message to finish with that note – almost assuming kids will still be confused at the end. And what about for the child who is reading it on their own? It might have been preferable to suggest speaking to an adult if you have any questions without assuming someone was reading the book aloud.
  2. There seemed to be a slight disconnect between the language and illustrations, and the material presented. The sentence structure and drawings are more set at the 7-8 age group, but the concepts are closer to age 9-10 (and even a bit older), especially the gender and pornography books, which I can imagine parents waiting for a while to read. The illustrations are lovely, very well done, and appropriately cover a range of ethnic groups, but I did wonder if they would appeal more to younger readers.

Of course, this is not the only resource out there on the topic and hopefully by age 7, conversations have already begun about bodies and sex. If they haven’t, I highly recommend starting with God Made Your Body (age 2-4) and How God Makes Babies (age 6-9). After that, this series is a great option to fill in more details for the 7-10 age group. Note this series does not address the changes of puberty at all – for that you need to go to Growing Up by the Book or other material (eg. What’s the Big Deal?).

As with all Weerakoon’s books (eg. The Best Sex for Life, Growing Up By the Book, she doesn’t shy away from tricky topics, and provides up to date, and age-appropriate information, while still bringing us back to the truths of God’s love and salvation in Christ. With her wealth of experience, you can be confident a lot of thought has gone into what to say and how to say it. Overall, this is a series I would happily recommend to anyone with kids in this age group (and even a bit older, if it’s taken you a while to broach these topics!).

(Copies of books provided by Growing Faith)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Anne of Green Gables

I’m not sure why I didn’t review these books when I read them to Miss 8 & Miss 11. They loved them. We read the first two aloud Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea. Miss 9* went on to read Anne of Windy Poplars herself.

As they are old-fashioned and take some explaining at points, for the girls’ age they were better read aloud and slowly. I was delighted with them, having never read them in detail myself. (I found Anne rather annoying and long-winded when I tried to read them as a child!) I had seen the mini-series but never realised the depth of the books. L.M Montgomery’s writing is beautiful to read aloud, it ebbs and flows with wonderful expression and description. She is also very humorous, with irony and dry wit scattered throughout. I often found myself chuckling as I read them, and if the girls didn’t get it, it was fun to try to explain. There is also a depth to their faith and belief that is hardly alluded to in the mini-series, as well as many biblical references, such as having a ‘Job’ day (a very bad day).

Personally, considering our own life choices, I loved this quote:
“I’m very glad they’ve called Mr Allan. I liked him because his sermon was interesting and he prayed as if he meant it and not just as if he did it because he was in the habit of it. Mrs Lynde says he isn’t perfect, but she says we shouldn’t expect a perfect minister for seven hundred and fifty dollars a year, and anyhow his theology is sound because she questioned him thoroughly on all the points of doctrine. And she knows his wife’s people and they are most respectable and the women are all good housekeepers. Mrs Lynde says that sound doctrine in a man and good housekeeping in a woman make an ideal combination for a minister’s family.” The new minister and his wife were a young, pleasant-faced couple, still in their honeymoon, and full of all good and beautiful enthusiasm for their chosen life’s work.  (Anne of Green Gables)

We then watched the mini-series (by Sullivan Productions), the one I knew as a child, produced in 1985. As recalled, it was lovely, and a pretty good adaption of the books. We moved onto Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel (1987), which extended the story beyond what we had read in the books, and according to various websites, adds extra material different from the books, but it’s still enjoyable to watch, and has the same endearing aspects of Anne in it.

We should have stopped there, but unknowingly pushed on to Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story (1999) where Anne and Gil live in New York for a time, are then married, and details her search for him on the WWI battlefields. It was for a more mature audience, it was rated M, showed a fair amount of battle gore and tension, and Miss 9.5 found it too much. Upon reflection it was clear it wasn’t based on the books, the feel of it was just too different, and my research since shows it was an original production, changing much of the timing and events of the books. I can see why the production house did it, the earlier series were so popular and they managed to have both Megan Follows (Anne) and Jonathan Crombie (Gilbert) return in their roles. The girls may well return to the first two to re-watch them, no-one is interested in seeing the third again.

Miss 9 is much more interested in continuing with the books so we’ll do that instead!

* I realise all these numbers change throughout this post, it reflects the age when they did it, not the age they are now!

Monday, June 19, 2017

More Philippa Gregory

I went on to read Philippa Gregory’s novels of the 16th C covering Tudor & Elizabethan England. One striking observation is that the version of King Henry VIII that I was taught in high school was quite sanitised. If Gregory’s version is even half true – he really was a manic, murdering despot.  

In The King’s Curse, Margaret Pole, Plantagenet heir, is the daughter of George of Clarence, the third son of York who never gained the throne.  As she and any relatives have legitimate claims to the throne, the Tudors always have them under control.  This great book maps Henry’s VIII rise to power, and descent into tyranny. Margaret serves as a faithful companion to Katherine of Aragon (Henry’s first wife) and is charged with raising the heirs to the throne (including Princess Mary). She is persistently faithful to the reign of the monarch, however his rule plays out, ensuring she never says anything against him.

Yet the king is constantly on the lookout for challengers, and is trying to redefine the laws of the church and marriage to suit his needs. With cronies like Thomas Cromwell alongside him, anyone who supports the Roman church is under threat. In fact, the Reformers of the English church come off very badly in this account.  As such, it’s an interesting counter to Wolf Hall

It’s best to read these books after all the Cousins’ War series to fully understand what is going on, even the title is explained more fully in previous books. 

What has struck me most that we can fall into the trap of thinking that this is the first time our world has considered itself ‘post-truth’. Gregory’s novels go a long way to suggesting that Henry VIII was a spoilt child who became a king whom no-one could counsel or control, and who changed laws and facts to suit his agenda without redress. Thousands of people died for suggesting anything he did was wrong, and his wives were abandoned or beheaded, and marriages declared invalid to suit his own purposes.  She goes so far as to suggest that his indulgent childhood, where no-one checked him or allowed him to suffer led to the awful leader he became. 

Something to think about for both parents and society at large there!


There are many books in this series, so in brief:
Three Sisters, Three Queens charts the interconnected lives of Katherine of Aragon, Queen of England and her two sisters in law – Mary, briefly Queen of France and Margaret, Queen of Scotland.  Told from Margaret’s perspective, as she is sent as a teenage bride to Scotland to marry King James. Widowed with two young heirs to the throne, she proceeds into two later marriages, both for love but causing huge problems for Scotland. Gregory has set this up as three women who are united as family and by position, yet constantly at the mercy of the men who rule the world, and their own ambition.

The Constant Princess is Katherine of Aragon, mainly in the younger days of her life, first married to Arthur (Prince of Wales) and then in the early years to his brother Henry VIII.

The Other Boleyn Girl -  Mary, sister to Anne, was the first Boleyn to fall under the spell of Henry VIII.  Producing two bastard children by him, she must later watch as her sister ascends the throne.

The Boleyn Inheritance charts the lives of three women – Jane Boleyn (Anne’s sister in law), Anne of Cleves (wife #4) and Katherine (wife #5).   Truly the lives of these women were miserable – each a pawn in the game of trying to please Henry VIII.

One of my favourite’s was The Taming of the Queen, about Kateryn Parr, Henry’s 6th wife.   She seems to have been truly converted to the Christian faith and instrumental in the development of the translation of parts of the bible, and the prayer book. She was the first women in England to have her work published under her own name. Yet she still lived under the rule of a truly murderous, controlling and self-absorbed man.  The only reason I could read it with some semblance of peace was I knew the rhyme regarding the fate of Henry’s wives: “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived”.

Then to The Queen’s Fool, with the interesting character of Hannah Green, Queen Mary’s Fool, who is a secret Jew yet lives as a faithful Catholic or Protestant, whichever way the law of England currently requires. Through her eyes you see the life of Queen Mary, with all its ups and downs in love, ruling and the murderous way she tried to force the Catholic faith back on the people of England.

The Virgin’s Lover is the story of Elizabeth I and her lover Sir Robert Dudley. In the early years of Elizabeth’s reign, she falls madly and hopelessly in love with the married Dudley. He is willing to risk everything for her, including considering putting his wife aside; or is he really just pursuing his own ambition to be on the throne?

And finishing with The Other Queen, about Mary Queen of Scots and her long ‘imprisonment’ by the English at the ongoing order of her cousin Elizabeth I; and the couple who had to ‘host’ her.  

Throughout I have been impressed by Gregory’s ability to write from many different perspectives.  In one book, she can rigidly portray the Catholic point of view, and yet in another champion the Protestant. You can also read a fair amount of ‘tongue-in-cheek’ comments in both, noting both sides were often in clear error and sin.  While it’s clearly fiction, the basis in solid history leaves the impression that monarchs often acted on a whim, were very persuaded by influential counsel, and that there were far-reaching effects of their decisions on the common people and their own practice of faith. I am certainly even more thankful now to be in a democracy, whatever its faults!  I have enjoyed my time in these books.   

Monday, June 12, 2017

Getting Jesus Wrong

Getting Jesus Wrong, Matt Johnson

When grace is missing from the Christian message, we are so quickly led to false views of Jesus. Matt Johnson admits his struggles over 20 years of following false Jesus’s, some who set an impossibly high standard and some who were just there to help him fulfil his own dreams.

This book reads as though for the first time in long life of faith, he has truly grasped the gospel of grace. It is almost a recovery story. It’s personal and records a process still in progress.

Johnson identifies four false views of Jesus:

  • Life Coach Jesus – it’s all about you, Jesus helps you achieve your goals. Society’s view of “moral therapeutic deism” was more clearly explained in Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood and the same ideas were here. When this is our tendency, we must remember is that Christianity is about Jesus, not us and our live dreams. As Johnson says “You’ve got you own problems, and you need a bigger story too. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need a life coach; I need a Savior.” (p30).
  • Checklist Jesus – where we are always looking for the one thing that will fix our lives and make us truly right with God. It could be mastering ‘the quiet time’, or having a spiritual experience. But what we need to realise is there is nothing we lack when we are in Christ, we are already loved unconditionally.
  • Movement Leader Jesus – here Johnson shares some of his experiences in a mega-church. The cool place where thousands flocked and people all looked to the pastor and his family as their role model. People keep looking for the perfect church, yet there is no perfect church. He concludes that all we need is faithful preaching (and he also adds communion and baptism). No fancy lightshows, no rock band. We need Jesus to be present in his word and that is enough.
  • Visionary Jesus – again through the mega-church experience, Johnson highlights the problems with following the visionary leader. A leader must be a shepherd, not a narcissist who expects everyone to meet their desire for church growth. God loves us as we are and where we are. Our ministries are a gift and service to him, not a way of proving our worth in his kingdom.

Not surprisingly, these false views of Jesus don’t need lead us to a saviour – instead they lead in two directions – pride and despair. We hold ourselves up thinking we are worthy and we did it on our own, or we despair that we never meet the standard that we think Jesus wants.

Johnson then leads us through the despair of a life lived under the law compared to the saving, refreshing, redeeming truth of God’s grace. Finishing with some vulnerable, personal observations about his life, Johnson leads the reader to see that when we turn to grace alone, fleeing the false views of Jesus that are all about performance, we are brought both to humility and to hope.

He writes in a very casual, conversational style, with numerous stories and illustrations. His language and phrasing is (dare I say it?) ‘young’. I suspect people who are older than me or a bit more traditional in their reading might find the style a bit grating.

I found myself wanting one more chapter at the end. What now? So, you have thrown down all these false views, but what does that mean for how I live today? When I read Titus 2:11-14, I see:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
How do I do that, while I still grasp firmly to grace and not to performance? I felt he left the reader wanting more guidance at the end.

Yet this is a book that has made me think. Many of his false views of Jesus are not obviously apparent in circles I move in, but I know they exist. Anyone who is in the megachurch movement might be challenged to analyse the message of Jesus they are given. Yet we all tend to a legalistic view of the Christian life. Am I doing enough? Is God pleased with me? Can I affect my salvation at all? This is a refreshing balm to the soul in the reminder that God is all we need; he does not need us at all, but he calls us to come to him, broken and despairing, knowing he alone can save.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Interview with TGCA

The Gospel Coalition Australia website currently has a series on the ups and downs of studying theology. I was privileged to be able to contribute to it.
TGCA: What were the high-points and low-points of studying theology? 
The main highpoint was studying together. Being able to study in the same areas at the same time meant we grew together significantly in our understanding of God, His word and His world, and it was formative for our first five years of marriage. Aligned with that was that we both invested in friendships in our year group, especially as we lived on campus for the whole four years. The fellowship opportunities through bible study groups and women’s fellowships, and the connection with lecturers and their wives, were also foundational as we thought through what being a ‘ministry’ wife’ might look like for me.

Overall we loved it and there were very few low-points. It was learning curve to realise my husband didn’t want to sit next to me every day in lectures (why not?!), and we had to negotiate space for both of us to study effectively in a small house. It did knock my competitive spirit a bit, realising just how much more academically skilled my husband was than me, but that wasn’t a surprise!
You can read the rest here.

Monday, June 5, 2017

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, Tony Reinke

I was excited to spot this book in the week I was giving a seminar on digital technology. It’s a helpful addition to a growing number of books on the topic (such as Challies, Alter, Heitner and the Boswells). I loved Reinke’s last book, Lit! and so quickly devoured this offering.

Reinke asks the question “Why is the best use of my smartphone in the flourishing of my life?”, asserting he is not looking to guilt people, and that the book succeeds if you love Christ more, and fails if you hate yourself more.

He rightly asserts that our phones divulge what our hearts really want:
“The glowing screen on my phone projects into my eyes the desires and loves that live in the most abstract corners of my heart and soul, finding visible expression in pixels of images, video, and text for me to see and consume and type and share. This means that whatever happens on my smartphone, especially under the guise of anonymity, is the true expose of my heart, reflected in full colour pixels back into my eyes.” (p27)
He then moves into his 12 ways phones are changing us which include: addiction to distraction, ignoring people around us, craving approval, lost literacy, loneliness of people, becoming comfortable with secret vices, and fearing missing out. Each of these was a valid helpful point. I did struggle to see the logic of the order that he chose, and some seemed quite similar. In the conclusion, the order was explained further as a chiastic structure, which seemed an odd choice and one which would have been worth explaining up front (and would have met some of his own suggestions in Lit!, enabling the reader to see a clear structure as they dived in).

Some of his insightful comments included the reality that our technology is actually weeding out diversity:
“Our phones buffer us from diversity… [from] not only our elders, but also the impoverished, the cognitively disabled, children, the less educated, the less literate, the less cosmopolitan, and non-Westerners. In effect, our online communities render invisible the majority of the human race.” (p71)
Our desire to be affirmed:
“The sad truth is that many of us are addicted to our phones because we crave immediate approval and affirmation. The fear we feel in our hearts when we are engaged online is the impulse that drives our “highly selective self-representation.” We want to be loved and accepted by others, so we wash away our scars and defects.” (p75)
Our misled view of time and the waste of it:
“Am I entitled to feed on the fragmented trivialities online? In other words, am I entitled to spend hours every month simply browsing odd curiosities? I get the distinct impression in Scripture that the answer is no. I am not my own. I am owned by the Lord. I have been bought with a price, which means I must glorify Christ with my thumbs, my ears, my eyes and my time. And that leads me to my point: I do not have “time to kill” – I have time to redeem.” (p179-80)
I appreciated his warning about putting good works online for others to see, noting that “you have already received your reward in full” (“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1). It’s an interesting question to consider – do we show our good works online for others to approve (eg. changing our profile picture, posting a photo of the good deed); or do we just get on and do the actual service or give actual money to the cause?

Reinke has done a lot of research in this area and quotes other authors quite extensively. As such, I was surprised to find no references to Challies’ book, as many of their points are similar. I think I prefer Challies’ treatment, it is broader and his order appeals to me more. Yet, Reinke has many valuable observations and it’s a book worth reading for anyone in possession of a smartphone. He finishes with some helpful suggestions for wise smartphone usage, and the encouragement to keep thinking about the issues critically.

Which is something we should all be doing - thinking clearly, honestly and biblically about our smartphone usage, what it is doing to us and what it is doing to society at large.

Monday, May 29, 2017


Irresistible: Why we can’t stop checking, scrolling, clicking and watching, Adam Alter

While on the lookout for resources for a seminar on digital technology, I stumbled across this new release. Adam Alter has investigated the alarming rise of behavioural addiction and how it’s been enabled by technology:
“Half the developed world is addicted to something, and for most people that something is a behaviour. We’re hooked on our phone and email and video games and TV and work and shopping and exercise and a long list of other experiences that exist on the back of rapid technological growth and sophisticated product design.” (p317)
Alter first analyses what a behavioural addiction is, showing how easy it is to become addicted to something and the biology behind it.

The second section outlines the ingredients of behavioural addiction and therefore how you would engineer an addictive experience. These include having attainable goals, giving positive feedback (eg. flashing lights and happy faces), a sense of progress, an escalation in difficulty (eg. need to complete more ‘steps’ today) and cliff-hangers (mainly in television shows, or that next level you just ‘have’ to get to). This section illustrates clearly how easy it is to be addicted to numerous behaviours that are assisted by technology – such as binge TV watching, calorie counting, ever increasing fitness goals, gambling, shopping, and games.

He finishes with some comments on the future of behavioural addiction, suggesting that we are only on the brink of seeing how technology could enable addiction, especially considering how virtual reality is being designed. He proposes some solution, such as how to suppress habits, using distraction and removing temptation, as well as challenging designers to accept the responsibility to design technology to be more socially responsible.

He, like Devorah Heitner (Screenwise), has identified many of the current issues with technology and how we need to navigate these paths with wisdom, using caution and consideration before we dive into any and all technology. Of course, I appreciate the extra consideration that Tim Challies (The Next Story) and James & Simon Boswell (Cyber Parenting) bring with their Christian perspective. But it’s good to see secular writers tackling these topics, and raising the flags of caution from other perspectives.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Cousins’ War

The Cousins’ War, Philippa Gregory

Having enjoyed my introduction to the Wars of the Roses through Iggulden’s writing, and feeling like I understood what was going on and who the key characters were, I turned to Philippa Gregory’s novels of the same times (the Cousins’ War series), written from the perspective of the women of the times:

  • The Lady of the Rivers – Jacquetta is married young to the Duke of Bedford, yet kept a maid as he tried to use her for alchemy and needs her ‘pure’. Upon his death, she and his squire Richard Woodville fall in love, marry despite their difference in station, and go on to produce 14 children together. A favourite of Queen Margaret of Anjou, King Henry VI’s wife, she and Richard spend their lives at their court. Her daughter later becomes Queen Elizabeth, married to Edward IV, showing that anyone could change sides in those turbulent times!
  • The Red Queen – about the intriguing Margaret Beaufort. Married at 13, she gives birth to Henry Tudor, the last clear heir to the Lancaster line of the throne. While she would prefer a life of religious contemplation, she goes on to be married twice more and lives at court, serving whichever Queen happens to be there. Margaret is convinced that God’s will is done through her, particularly in putting her son on the throne. Gregory has made her a self-righteous, unpleasant character who will stop at nothing to fulfil her ambition to be Queen Mother.
  • The White Queen – about Elizabeth Woodville (later Queen Elizabeth to Edward IV). This is a love story between Edward and Elizabeth, yet also clear that she with her mother Jacquetta carefully place their family members into the positions and families of power. She is convinced of plots against her, especially by Edward’s York brothers (George and Richard). There is a strong element of witchcraft and magic in this book, as she and her mother do whatever is necessary to look after their own.
  • The Kingmaker’s Daughter is Anne Neville, married to first the Prince of Wales (Henry VI’s son) and then Richard III, who takes the throne after Edward IV from Edward’s young sons (these are the famous ‘boys in the tower’). This is the other point of view, directly against Elizabeth Woodville. The ‘true’ house of York cannot bear the influence Elizabeth has over Edward and are convinced she is a witch, cursing them all and acting to poison several members of the Plantagenet (York) family. It’s an interesting counter to the White Queen with a very different take on the same events.
  • The White Princess covers Elizabeth Princess of York (Elizabeth Woodville’s daughter), married to Henry VII. As the Tudor pretender to the throne under the controlling power of his mother (Margaret Beaufort), he spends his life in fear of a York prince returning to take back the throne. But who is Elizabeth really loyal to?

It’s always interesting to read different authors versions of history.  It clarifies that you are reading fiction – for although it is based in fact, there are limits to what is really known. Gregory has shown two very different perspectives well with Anne Neville and Elizabeth Woodville. Iggulden and Gregory also portrayed King Henry VI very differently – I wonder which is closer to the truth? If I had not read Iggulden’s first and used the family trees extensively at the front, I suspect I would have been much more lost in this series!

I enjoyed my time in the 15th century. Now I have moved on to the rest of Gregory’s books – covering the Tudors, into the 16th C. As all the characters in these books overlap, it’s really worth reading them in their chronological order, helpfully displayed on Gregory’s website.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Princess Bitchface Syndrome 2.0

The Princess Bitchface Syndrome 2.0, Michael Carr-Gregg and Elly Robinson

This fully revised version of Carr-Gregg’s book caught my eye - its bright pink cover and arresting title tends to do that.   Which also meant I kept it hidden from the prying eyes of my own children.

He outlines the main issues with teenage girls, particularly the ones he defines as ‘Princess B’s’ – the somewhat more extreme version of the teen female.  He charts stages of adolescence and the current pressures at home, school and in cyberspace.

Then he helps parents to think through how to help their teen grow and mature.  He outlines various styles of parenting, concluding that authoritative (rather than permissive or authoritarian) is the way to go.   He has common sense tips and strategies to help with all the main issues, and then some detailed chapters on sex, bullying, alcohol, illegal drugs and mental health.

In the end, it’s a helpful, all-encompassing guide to the main issues girls face and gives practical wisdom and tips for parents.

A couple of things that were helpful:
  • When considering the online life, present choices in terms of four ‘P’s’ – people that your daughter should be OK with people seeing about them online – that is - parents, police, school principal or a paedophile.  If you wouldn’t want those 4 groups to see what you are doing or saying online, don’t do or say it.
  • There were many references to other resources, such as how to talk with your children about pornography ( and helpful tools for mental health (eg. MoodGym, Brave Program, etc)

One of the things I find with secular parenting books is the lack of an overall reason for the parenting strategies, or an overall goal to where you are headed.   It was highlighted most clearly with the questions that girls ask themselves at different ages:
Ages 10-14 – Am I normal?
Ages 14-17 – Who am I?  Where do I belong?
Ages 17-20 – Where am I going?
We need to acknowledge these are questions young people ask, but parents are left a little stranded if they have no worldview that helps them to enable their daughter to answer them.

As Christians, much of what we teach our kids speaks to these issues.  “Who am I?”  Well, I may be a teenage girl, but I am also a beloved child of God.    “Where do I belong?”   In a community that loves and cares for you.  

In the end, the authority of these books lies with the author, and parents need to decide whether they agree with the principles and strategies proposed.  No higher or wiser authority is cited.  As believers, of course we appreciate the wisdom of parenting experts, but also want to seek the complete wisdom of the author of the universe.

So, this is a great resource for non-Christians who are parenting teenage girls.  Christian parents could find it helpful and practical, but perhaps want to supplement it with other resources as well.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Time for Everything

Time for Everything, Matt Fuller

“Wouldn’t it be lovely to wake each day with the thought: God has given me time to enjoy and serve him with today and I’m looking forward to that?”

From the first chapter Fuller has us thinking about the time we have, how we use it and the relentless feel of weariness and burden in our lives. Whether it’s because we try to follow religious rules, we feel the need to prove ourselves, we try to meet other’s expectations and needs, or we are trying to be secure; most of us feel the burden of a lack of time and a busyness that pervades life.

Then he takes us through some ideas about time – how we are made to rest and how we must take time to trust God. He points out the two easiest ways to waste time – in idleness or distraction, and in focussing on the wrong things.

He then develops his framework – essentially that we can operate in freedom so long as we stay within two boundaries. The low boundary (the floor to obedience), which we don’t want to drop below – leads to neglect – not doing what we should be doing. The high boundary (the celling to obedience) leads to idolatry, when we start valuing the thing itself rather than the gift that God has given. Before he gets to the specifics of work, family, church and leisure and how all might operate within his framework, he gives some guiding points:

  1. We are to serve the Lord in every area of life
  2. The ‘ideal diary’ doesn’t exist – life exists in different ages and stages where different commitments are required
  3. Christians have more commitments that their peers. This is really helpful to acknowledge and accept.
  4. We need to choose our role models carefully. You might be better not choosing to follow the person who seems to be able to do it all.
  5. You can’t do everything you want.
  6. We need to pray for wisdom.

Some comments that I found helpful throughout:

  • Busyness has (wrongly) become a mark of success both in secular and church circles.
  • All our work must be neither ‘eye-pleasing’ (obedience only when being watched) or ‘people-pleasing’ but ‘Lord-pleasing’.
  • Work idolatry can sometimes be seen in the desire to find meaning in our work. But, this is something only a very small, privileged part of society can even consider. Most people just have to work a job, whatever job they have. It could be a warning to those who really love their jobs (especially those in the caring and serving professions that consider their jobs ‘noble’) that it could become an idol if you find your meaning in your work.
  • When we consider ‘leisure’ time there are numerous categories that are different for different people. For many households, housework and home management has to come out of ‘leisure time’. But that is different to reading for pleasure or going to a sports game. Similarly, the person who cooks for enjoyment will see that as leisure time, much more so that the person who regularly caters for large groups, but does not find it refreshing. He concludes there is a lot of freedom in how we should view leisure time, as long as we are being neither negligent or idolatrous.

This book contains many of the same ideas that were in Tim Chester’s The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness, which was much more detailed, and the shorter Crazy Busy, by Kevin DeYoung. If you read either of those, there is not much new here, but the regular reminder of these truths every few years is well worth it. For me, the most helpful part was his framework of freedom lying between neglect and idolatry and how we can think about applying that to our lives.

So, all in all, a helpful, wise book with sound principles and some good examples of how it could look in real life. We know many people who have made major changes to their lives as a result of reading this book.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Journey to the Cross

Journey to the Cross, Will Walker and Kendal Haug

I have read numerous Easter devotionals over the years.   Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross by Nancy Guthrie has been a favourite, with her 25 readings from different thinkers.  Similarly, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper makes you stop and ponder the vast depths of the sacrifice that Jesus made.

Journey to the Cross is now added to my collection as a great choice of reading in the lead up to Easter. Walker and Haug has designed a set of readings to cover the Lenten period, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday – 6.5 weeks. Each week focusses on a different theme: repentance, humility, suffering, lament, sacrifice and death.

Each day has a reading that calls to worship, a confessional prayer, a section from Mark’s gospel (starting with Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, to the end) and a prayer of thanksgiving.   Then there is a devotional based on a Scripture passage relevant to the theme.  This ends with some reflection questions and a closing prayer.  Each Sunday is a shorter reading, of a hymn or profession of faith, as a way of celebrating the truths of the gospel.

I have benefitted so greatly from this resource. My heart was turned more towards Christ in the lead up to Easter.  The sobering themes enabled me to reflect on each for the whole week, enabling more sustained thoughts on things like lament, which I would rarely take the time to do normally.

I found the challenge of how to observe Lent helpful.  Lent is a way of giving up something so that we focus on God.  Not something that draws attention to itself, but something that draws us into fuller dependence on Jesus. Perhaps it is an acknowledgement of that take us away from Jesus.  So, having never having given up anything for Lent before, I did this year.  I gave up Facebook, and it was both remarkably freeing and enabled me to see again how it does not help me in my walk with God.

The prayers throughout were very encouraging, and since I love written prayers I may choose to incorporate some into my own private prayers.  Many were sourced from The Worship Sourcebook.

Here are just a few of the observations I found encouraging along the way:
“Ultimately, suffering is about learning to receive whatever God has placed in our hands as his goodness for us today.” (p95)  
“Lament is not about getting things off your chest. It’s about casting your anxieties upon God, and trusting him with them.  Mere complaining indicates a lack of intimacy with God.  Because lament is a form of prayer, it transforms our complaints into worship.  Anyone can complain, Christians can lament.”  (p101)  
“The norm in our culture is to sacrifice whatever we have to get what we want.  The way of true sanctification is to sacrifice everything we want because of what we already have in Christ.  This is the heart of Lent.  We are decluttering our lives, inside and out, testing the vales and habits and desires that have become our acceptable norm. We are considering what Jesus gave up for us, and it is changing us” (p146-7)  
“Repentance, humility, suffering, lament, and sacrifice do not come naturally.  Indulgence and self-righteousness do.” (p157)
It is a sobering way to spend six weeks.  Yet it’s also filled with praise and worship and wonder at what Christ has done.  In the busyness of first term and the complications of life, this had me dwelling in Jesus and God and their marvellous plan of sacrifice for the whole world.  Time very well spent.