Friday, March 30, 2012

Feminine Threads

Feminine Threads, Diana Lynn Severance

Have you noticed, that sometimes as modern 21st century westerners we can be a little arrogant about the past? We think they weren’t as educated or informed as we are, they didn’t really understand how the world worked, they lived such simple lives, and so on.

It’s even more dangerous when we start to think that way as Christians. When we think that Christians of the early centuries or the middle ages or Victorian England – perhaps we think they weren’t educated, or intelligent, or wise, or learned. They didn’t really know their bibles that well. They didn’t really know how to think theologically.

And then you read a history book like Feminine Threads which puts you in your place. It shows you that Christians have lived godly, intelligent, wise, learned lives since Christ walked the earth. What you are pushed to actually realise is that godly women over the ages have studied the scriptures, learnt them, meditated upon them and memorised them. In essence, some were more learned, more studious and more devout than many of us will ever be.

Over two centuries, Christian women have influenced their homes, their husbands, their workplaces, their bishops, their popes, their kings, their governments, their countries and their jailers. They have housed churches in their homes, pushed for reform, changed nations and died as martyrs. Feminine Threads will open your eyes to the place of women in Christian history, introducing you to many women you would otherwise never hear of.

I first got this book when it was recommended so highly by Meredith.  A few weeks later I read Tamie’s review which was much less complementary.  I had both their words ringing in my ears when I read it.   Interestingly I found myself agreeing with both of them.  Yes, it is an amazingly encouraging read about godly women throughout time. And yes, Severance clearly has an anti-feminist, anti-women’s ordination agenda which comes out strongly throughout and she attaches that to a number of her interpretations.

She includes women across the band of denominations and parts of the church quite broadly – Catholicism, mysticism, Congregationalist, Salvation Army, Puritan, Quaker, reformed, etc. It is centred in the West, especially England and America, and I would have loved to have had godly women in Africa, Asia and South America included.

When you read it, you could end up feeling a little useless (eg. I am not raising 8 children, I cannot translate Latin and Greek, I have not established a school or a missionary board). But that would be to miss the point.   These are the exemplary women of 2000 years of history, on whom information exists.   There are millions of other faithful women who minister to their families, teach the bible to those in their care, long to grow in godliness and strive to serve Jesus, yet whose lives are unrecorded.  I'll leave Severance with the last word:
Millions of women in following Christ have followed the New Testament pattern of Christian women – lifting up the needs of others in prayer, mentoring other Christians, supporting church leaders, showing hospitality, fellow-labouring as missionaries, supporting their husbands in Christian work, instructing other women, evangelizing and sharing the Word with others, teaching children, and helping those in need and distress. These Christian women were from the poor and rich, from every class of society, and from every continent on the globs. They were not perfect, but that have obtained a good testimony through faith in the One who have His life a ransom to redeem them for God. They are the feminine threads in the rich tapestry of Christian history. (p312)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I had the chance to see this at the movies the other night. It was a lovely, gentle film.

Seven senior residents of the UK, all having realised that their money will not stretch into retirement in the way they would like, respond to an ad to live in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (for the Aged and Beautiful) in India.  One is bereaved, one is chasing an old lost love, some are escaping financial loss and some are seeking companionship.   As their lives intertwine and they learn to live in a very foreign world, some find they cannot cope and others find a wonderful new lease on life.

With a stellar cast including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson, this is a treat of a movie. It is definitely geared towards an older generation, those heading towards or in retirement, and it is also being plugged as a ‘chick flick’.

I really enjoyed it – it was funny, insightful, vulnerable and never crude. Perhaps you could take your mum to see it?!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Jasper Jones

Jasper Jones, Craig Silvey

The briefest, yet most informative description of this book is that it's an Australian To Kill a Mockingbird.  I studied To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) at high-school, as I suspect did many others.  I loved it at the time and when I returned to read it as a adult, I found that it still captured my imagination in the same way it did as a teenager.  The portrayal of racism in the southern USA in the 1930s, the idea of justice and how people treat one another is illustrative and confronting.  If imitation is the highest form of flattery, it is clear that Silvey is a big fan of both Harper Lee and Mark Twain, referring to both throughout.   

Jasper Jones is the story of 13 year old Charlie Bucktin in a small country town of WA in 1965.  Over one summer Charlie makes an awful discovery with the local problem boy of mixed-race, Jasper Jones, which forges a friendship between them.  At the same time, Charlie is falling in love for the first time, and is a steadfast friend to Jeffrey, a Vietnamese migrant, who is either ignored or harassed by all in the town.  Silvey has done an excellent job of portraying the mind & conversations of youth, and as such I suspect some older teenage boys would enjoy it.  

This is a great book, which addresses teenage angst, family issues and racial tensions in a very white Australia.  

Monday, March 19, 2012

Easter readings

At Easter our family does 2 weeks of readings leading up to Easter, which concentrate on Jesus' last week from Matthew's gospel.  It's very similar to the Advent readings we do at Christmas time.  We open an egg each day and stick a picture or item on the wall to remind us of the story as it unfolds.  I have blogged about it over recent years.  If you would like copy of the material we use, please go to the resources tab.  If you want to use it for your family, it starts next Monday (March 26th).

Friday, March 16, 2012

Run ... Run

Run Fat B!tch Run, Ruth Field

It is with some trepidation that I review this book for you. Most of you are such nice polite readers out there that you won’t like the title of the book. But, stick in there - it might just be worth it...

Long term readers will know that I have taken up running in the past 2 years. It has slowly developed from the need to do regular exercise to ensure my back and neck function in a relatively normal way, with less pain and less referred pain in other parts of my body. What started out as a regular walk of about 3-4kms, very slowly developed into a run (because I was bored with walking), and then the distance slowly increased over time. Now I am trying to run a regular 10km per week and a few shorter runs of about 6km.

Now I give you these stats not because I am trying to brag (although I am rather proud of myself over the last few years). But rather to say – if I can do it, you can do it. I previously could not run 200m. Now I can and quite a bit more.

Lots of people think they could not possibly run, there is no way.

This book I found recently will help you change your mind. Ruth Field used to run regularly, then found herself pregnant with twins, not allowed to run and so she vented her frustration into writing a book helping people to get running. Basically she helps you do to exactly what I did – start walking, slowly progress to running and then keep running.

Her method is to find your inner grit – the voice in your head – and channel her energy into getting you out the door and doing something about it. You might not use her method specifically (take off your clothes, stand in front of the mirror and tell yourself you are a fat b…).   But it still might work to get you motivated!

Obviously, if you have self-esteem issues or eating disorder tendencies – do not go near this book. However, if you want to have a bit of a laugh at yourself and get some motivation along the way – this is a good one to start with. Have a look at her blog if you want a taste.

She gives some eating tips along the way, but still maintains that the only thing you need to do to get healthy is run.  I liked the amusement factor of this book, it was fun to read & it simplified everything. I especially liked her 2 golden rules of eating: 

If you are looking for some other inspiration and you aren’t sure this book will work for you – buy the newest magazine out: Women’s Running Australia – first issue out this month. I liked it – simple, not too technical, but enough to interest beginners through to more consistent runners.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Heavenly Man

The Heavenly Man, Brother Yun with Paul Hattaway

I have seen this book around for years, so when Christian Audio made it their free book of the month a while ago I eagerly downloaded it. I listened to it on and off over a few months, so any inaccuracies are all mine in the remembering!

It is the story of Brother Yun, a Christian pastor from China. It tells of his conversion as a teenager, a strong sense of God’s calling him to preach, beginning a preaching ministry and continuing to serve God in China and later overseas.

It is a fascinating story – his life is full of stories of powerful conversions, visions and dreams from God, dramatic arrests, awful imprisonments, brutal beatings, miraculous healings and a continual conviction to preach the Word in every and all circumstances.

On one level it left me amazed. This one man has suffered and endured so much for the gospel. Yet he has also continually experienced God’s grace in many ways. After years of hardship in China, he has now left China and is in Germany and working for the Back to Jerusalem movement which seeks to reach many unbelievers with the gospel.

On another level it left me uncomfortable. The ongoing stories of prison torture verged on masochistic (sometimes I would listen to 40 mins non-stop of prison and torture tales). The miraculous signs and wonders which God performed in his life – he fasted for 74 days, he escaped prison miraculously, was healed miraculously, received many specific dreams and visions as warnings and instructions from God - are incredible to read about. Yet, I wondered: how helpful it is for some to read of them? Could someone read this book and think: “Why doesn’t God work in my life that way?” “Why am I not healed?” “Why doesn’t God tell me of his plans and what I am to do?” If you are likely to question God more over how he acts in your life, rather than praise God for his work in another’s, I suspect you shouldn’t read it. Although it also made me think: perhaps if we want God to act in our lives in such dramatic ways, we should also be willing to suffer much more for him.

Towards the end, Yun spends some time thinking about the Chinese house churches vs. the churches in the west. It is not a flattering comparison for those of us in the west, and rightly so, I suspect. He thinks we are soft, worried about our own comforts and less concerned with serving Jesus and giving him our whole lives. In the mission organisation he is part of it is clear that it’s members may well lose their lives for Christ. I’m not sure I’ve read that in any mission statements I have come across here.

Because I have no knowledge about the church in China, I asked a friend who has worked there. Here are some of her comments:
Indeed, he went through much suffering, miracles and preservation by the Lord, that it almost seems unbelievable. But having met many Chinese Christians, especially in the rural areas of China (including Henan Province where Brother Yun was born), how many of them came to know the Lord through miraculous healing (when they can't afford to go to the doctors), I'm humbled by the work of the Holy Spirit.

In her work, she worked with the registered churches (of whom Brother Yun is quite scathing):
“I can't comment much about the house churches as I work mainly with the registered church, to provide bible resources legally and openly. But having been to registered churches especially in the rural areas, where you see their love for Jesus, I beg to differ from Brother Yun about the total condemnation of the registered churches. The persecution he went through was mainly in the 70-80s, where undeniably, religion freedom was limited. But the China today is a far cry from what it was during Cultural Revolution (CR) and slightly post-CR.

I found her comments helpful. Perhaps you will too.

It is a challenging read. If others out there have read it, I would love to know your thoughts.

(This morning, Jean's blog helpfully pointed me to this arcticle by The Gospel Coalition, which helps explain why the situation in China is by no means straightforward - 8 Myths About China Today)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Shoot Me First

Shoot Me First, Grant Lock

I eagerly picked up this book at our CMS Summer Encounter Conference.  Grant and Janna Lock worked in Pakistan and Afghanistan for 24 years, serving the people of those nations in varied ways, including overseeing eye care programs and empowerment schemes for widows. 

Over two decades in that part of the world has given them incredible insights into Islam, Hinduism, the wars and the West's involvement; and the political and social problems facing that region.  

Following a general chronology from 1984-2008, Lock shares many stories of their time there, their relationships with locals and other foreign workers, and some insights into their own family life through the years.  While it is essentially a book of stories, Lock has intertwined them with considered thought as to political, social and religious consequences.  While their faith is evident throughout, it gently suffuses the book, making it accessible for anyone - believer and unbeliever alike.   You could loan this your neighbour, read it in a reading group and share it with your bible study members.

With his unique view and experience he does not shy away from commenting on the Taliban, the West's response to Islam or the treatment of women in Islamic cultures.   I found his outlook helpful, as I knew it is based on long firsthand experience.  This is a couple who have lived thoroughly in a culture, love its people and who strived to serve them for many years.
I can't help but be proud.  Our organisation has been doing the hearts-and-mind work in Afghanistan for forty-three years.  Through all the regime changes, they have kept on serving the Afghan people.  Every eye that regains its vision, every small business loan, every micro-hydroelectric lightbulb in remote villages, every Afghan trained.  It's only happening one person, one family, at a time, but it's happening, and it has been done on low budgets with every dollar accounted for.  It's extremely rewarding to be a small part of all that. 
A very encouraging and educational read.