Friday, November 30, 2012

A dip into some Christian fiction

In the past I have tended to avoid Christian fiction.  It always sat uncomfortably with me for some reason.  I liked to keep my Christian and my fiction reading very separate, thank you very much. I struggled to see how it could be done well and since many covers look like a discreet version of Mills and Boon, I was unconvinced.  

Yet over the years there have been some wonderful exceptions to this rule, such as Gilead and The Hammer of God.  (Surely these must actually be classed as Christian literature, but perhaps that is another discussion.)

So my mind has gradually opened up to the possibilities of good Christian fiction.  

Then a whole lot of factors combined: spotting a series on a friend's shelf that interested me (yes, I often judge a book by its cover); reading Lit! (a great book about reading about which a series will come soon, I am sure); and a sale at Koorong.  It turns out that in the last few months I have read five Francine Rivers novels. 


The best was Redeeming Love, a retelling of the story of Hosea.  Set in California in 1950, Michael Hosea answers a call from God to marry Angel, a high class prostitute who has only known betrayal and loss.  His call from God is to love her with an unconditional, persistent love.  It draws you in from the beginning and carries you along as you wonder whether Angel can ever truly respond to Michael's love. 

I really enjoyed the Mark of the Lion Trilogy too.  It follows the life of Hadassah, a Jewish slave girl and Atretes, a German warrior made to be a gladiator.  Thus quenching my thirst for novels about Ancient Rome as well as a fascinating story line with realistic characters, I devoured these three large books in a few weeks.  As I read them I was increasingly impressed with Rivers' ability to show the challenges of being a Christian or a Jew in a land of open, sensual pagan worship.  My understanding of the tone of Paul's letters to the churches of Rome and Ephesus was enhanced by the portrayal she gave of those cities.  Yet at the same time, the character Hadassah who truly believed yet was too frightened to speak of her faith also spoke to me directly of my own situation at many times.  They were interesting and challenging books.

Finally, I read The Atonement Child.   This is the story of Dynah, a bible college student, engaged to a would-be minister, whose life is broken apart by rape, from which results pregnancy.   Dynah is crippled with uncertainty and indecision about what to do, when all around her are suggesting that termination is surely possible and the right thing in such a circumstance.   Rivers has taken on a hard topic here and she has done it with sensitivity and awareness.

But this book pointed out some of my hesitation with Christian fiction.  It is predictable.  You know what the ending of each book has to be.  You wait to see how it unfolds, but you know where it is going.  I will keep reading Christian fiction and welcome any recommendations, but will also definitely keep reading other fiction, for it keeps me guessing just a little more.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Advent

Christmas is rolling around again (in case you hadn't noticed!)

If you would like celebrate Advent with your family and would like some material to do so, please feel free to use the ones we use, via the resources tab.
  • The Birth of Jesus - a set of 25 readings mainly from Luke and Matthew's gospels, so you can spend time thinking about when Jesus was born and what it means for us today.
  • Genesis to Jesus - a set of 25 readings covering the unfolding story of the bible and it's fulfilment in Christ 

Each day there is a bible reading, some questions to think about, a prayer, a special verse and some optional extras - something to draw, a song to listen to, a craft to do, etc.

This year our family will be doing Genesis to Jesus again.  We are looking forward to it already.  After 6 years, Advent is definitely one of those 'unbreakable' family traditions!   If you would like more details as to how we do Advent and what goes in the little boxes, see previous posts on Advent.

Our tree went up yesterday too (a few days earlier than usual).  Good times!


(update from 2017: these readings have now changed and are only 24 days of readings)

Friday, November 23, 2012

You Owe Me Dinner

I discovered this book via Jean's link to the macarisms blog.  I'm very glad I did.  It is a great book, easy to read yet challenging and heart-wrenching at the same time.

Jim Stallard worked with people with disability for years, but conceded he never really grasped the reality of a life of disability, even being an insulin dependent diabetic and blind in one eye himself.  Then an accident left him a quadriplegic and his daily life and health changed completely.

The book is the story of the 13 years since the accident.  You are allowed in to see the close family relationship of the Stallards and the many and various health issues raised by Jim's quadriplegia.  It is a gripping and emotional story.  Throughout it Jim weaves thoughts about society's inability to deal with disability, and challenges the church to be much more inclusive and understanding of the needs of people living daily with disability. 
I learnt very quickly that unless disability was personal, it could easily be ignored. (p94)  
It wasn't until I went to the CBM website to order the book that I discovered that Jim died last year.  He is already seated at the great banquet in heaven.  His challenge is to ask whether we are inviting those with disability to join our lives now.
I sometimes get asked if I want to be healed.  This question is not only dumb, it is demeaning, demoralising, and dehumanising.  Nobody with a disability I know has said, 'Gee, that's a good idea.  I wish I'd thought of it sooner!'  Nobody with a chronic illess thinks it is fun.  My disability is a circumstance I have to deal with, and I cannot afford to let my circumstances dictate my faith.  Rather, my faith helps me dictate how I handle my circumstances.  And my faith helps me wait for healing.

However, while I wait for healing, I need access, acceptance and affirmation...

...my disability is not my biggest problem.  My biggest problem arises when able-bodied people only see my disability and not the rest of me.  (p96)
It will challenge you to consider your response to disability, both as an individual and as part of the church.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Say it again in a nice voice

Say it again in a nice voice, Meg Mason

I have just recently dipped a toe back into the genre that is mummy-writing.   You know - those stories about motherhood that can make you laugh and cry with recognition in equal measure.  The ones that make you realise that other people's lives are like yours and some parts of it all really are very funny.

Say it again in a nice voice, by journalist Meg Mason is one of those.  What I liked about it was that she had kids young (at 25) almost ten years ago.  Her recollections of having babies in the early-mid 2000s are very similar to some of mine.  So I laughed out loud with recognition and understanding of this gem:
If you were any kind of earthy parent in 2004, you were deeply disdainful of jar food.  The banana custard laced with dextrose, the lamb casserole in squishy form.  This was before those squishy-sided packets of only-vegetable purees had been invented, instantly destigmatising factory-made baby food and creating an entire generation of toddlers who stumble around in the park self-administering pumpkin and sweet corn at ten in the morning.  (p85)
And this one, about the ever constant steam of Australians who move to London:
Moving to London in your twenties is so much like having a baby later on.  You're pretty sure you're the first person to ever think of it or experience all its glory and hardship.  Others will follow you there, but you'll always retain a quiet belief that were it not for your pioneering venture they'd never have done it.  (p7)
While very funny throughout, Meg Mason has done a good job of summarising some of the struggles of motherhood.  She has tried both staying at home with her kids and working, and so has insights into each.  Their family struggled with low to almost no income for a while and she has lived the strain that entailed. 

As she says about those early day of mothering:
the fact is every woman has to discover how to be at home with children for herself.  Whether she spends six weeks or the rest of her life as a stay at home mother, the early days are a solo voyage into the new world. (p26)
It is mildly crass at times, but it is also laugh out loud funny (as I discovered to my embarrassment on a plane recently!).  If you had kids in the last decade and want some light, entertaining reading, try this one.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Argo

Feel like a movie this week?

Go and see Argo.

Set between 1979 and 1981 when the Iran Hostage Crisis of the American Embassy captured the newsreels of the world, Argo tells the since declassified true story of how US intelligence agencies worked to get 6 escaped hostages out of the country. 

Realising that options for getting Americans out of Iran unnoticed in those days were extremely limited, they devised a fake movie and pretended to be the movie crew scouting for filming locations in Iran.  

I went having no idea of the outcome and I was kept in complete suspense until the final scenes.   It is tense, riveting, and yet very funny at times.

It is a bit violent at points, the opening scenes are the most confronting, showing the angry crowd gathering at the American Embassy and then breaking into the grounds.  It does have excessive swearing throughout, which was probably unnecessary.  However the story is so well told and the insight into an episode of history is so good, that it didn't matter.  

Throughout the movie and in the final credits, when they show real footage of the time, it suddenly became clear to me why the whole setting (the hostage crisis) seemed strangely familiar.  Then it clicked, we lived in the US at that time.  Yes, I was only a pre-schooler but it stirred vague memories  of news reports and that something major was going on.  I think I even remember some of the footage, having never seen it since.   Goes to show how some things can remain in your memory without you even realising it.

If you want to see an intelligent, adult movie - go to this one, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Heart of the Matter

Heart of the Matter, CCEF Faculty

I have a lot of respect for the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF).  Through biblical counselling they teach people how to “explore the wisdom and depth of the Bible and apply its grace-centered message to the problems of daily living” (from CCEF website).  I live in hope that one day they will come to Adelaide and I can attend a course!

The faculty are made up of some well-known and respected Christian authors: Paul David Tripp, Ed Welch and David Powlinson to name a few. The faculty have combined forces and made a one-year daily devotion, Heart of the Matter.  In 366 daily readings they bring the truths of scripture, God and Jesus Christ home to the reader. The readings keep your eyes focussed on God and his life-saving work through Christ and then encourage you to consider how this affects your own life.

I must admit I was hesitant at first. It looked like bite-sized chunks of counselling, with a few bible verses thrown in.  But the more I read it (I read through the first 3 months of material), I was encouraged how it pointed the reader to God in every case and how the gospel should shape our lives. Each reflection they have provided has a bible passage to match it, to further encourage thought and reflection.

I will say from the outset I would consider this a resource to be used in addition to daily ordered bible reading.  I think the benefit of systematic bible reading is so rich I would hesitate to suggest not doing it almost continuously.  However, this devotion has real benefit.  It will ground you each day in the word of God and challenge you to think about your response to it.  If you are willing to stop and think about each day’s reflection, I suspect you would grow greatly throughout the year, in both your understanding of God and his work in the world, but also how to live your own life in response to the gospel.

Again, as this is a New Growth Press publication, I have 2 copies to give away (paper in USA/Canada, ebook for the rest of the world).  Email me if you would like to win a copy. To buy a copy or read some sample pages, go via this linkUpdate: both copies given away!

Monday, November 5, 2012

A lifted vision

I have just returned from a wonderful weekend away. I went to the AFES wives conference – the group of wives who are married to university student workers around the country (or who themselves are student workers). Over 50 women gathered from every state and territory to share life together, encourage one another, confess struggles and pain, and learn from God’s word.

Each time I attend this conference it lifts my vision. I forget much of the mundane of life.  I am reminded of the great privilege of student work, and the many people who serve God by doing so.

We heard talks on Philippians and were challenged to serve in gospel partnership with joy and to continue knowing Christ through all of our lives.

I went to two of possibly the best seminars I have ever attended (high praise indeed – can you see this conference brings out my superlatives?!)  One on evangelism and one on enriching your relationship with God. Both encouraging, challenging, highly practical and neither were remotely guilt-inducing.

And yet again, prayer group was a time of great fellowship, encouragement and prayer.

I thank God for these women, they are a great source of encouragement and joy to me. 

 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

More resources?

I realise there are many more books about family, sex, babies and puberty written for children.  Do you have any you recommend?

I am keen to read Patricia Weerakoon’s new one – although we are a quite a few years off reading it to our kids yet, so I can wait on that for a bit.

Any other books your family has found helpful?

Friday, November 2, 2012

What's the big deal?

What’s the Big Deal? Why God cares about sex, Stan and Brenna Jones

This is a more detailed book you can turn to when you want to discuss puberty, sex, marriage and some of the consequences of each with a Christian mind-set with your older child.

Aimed at children aged 8-11, we decided to read this with our son when he turned 9. My husband sat down with him a few nights a week over a few weeks and they would read a chapter together. It is written like a play – so the child reads out a question/comment and the parent/s read out the answers.

It addresses topics like:
- Why do people have sex?
- Sex outside of marriage
- What does God say about sex?
- Puberty
- Why can’t I do that? (includes pornography)
- Homosexuality
- AIDS/sexually transmitted diseases
- Sexual abuse

The nights when they read together became quite a special time between father and son and they both looked forward to it. Considering the topics covered it also gave us the opportunity to see if there was anything he wanted to tell us or talk about, and the freedom to ask questions he might not otherwise have done.

Having read through it myself, it is a good resource.  My husband also thought it was good as he read it with our son. There were only a few things he wouldn’t have said the way they did.  I felt some of it was a little outdated (it’s 15 years old)and I suspect the information on AIDS/STDs might need to be updated, and considering the world today it probably needs to include a bit more detail on internet risks.   It also didn’t have much detail on how boys change through puberty.

However what we discovered and we were thrilled about is that our son kept saying (of the more detailed parts): “I have never heard about any of this”.

What we explained to him was that most of it he didn’t need to know in detail yet, but there will be times where people he knows will talk about and we wanted him to know the truth from us first and that he could always talk to us about it whenever he wanted.

So, we have decided that age 9 is a good time to address these things in depth and I will do so with our daughters at the same age.

We will also come back to it all again with him every year or so, perhaps with another book aimed at the same age group.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Who made me?

Who made me?, Malcolm and Meryl Doney

This book was the first one we got and it has been a good one. It is suitable for the 5-9 year bracket, but could easily be simplified and read to younger children (who can’t read the bits you are skipping!). Illustrated by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen, it has fun, simple illustrations, which even parents will like (especially the one of the parents sleeping in bed looking rather sated after making the baby!).

It is rather detailed in some parts about the act of intercourse, so you can adapt it to suit your reading audience, if you prefer.