Friday, April 27, 2012

The Year 1000

The Year 1000, Robert Lacey and Danny Danzinger

I have spent a bit of time in history books of late – Christian women, history of the home.  Here is another offering – The Year 1000.   Subtitled helpfully with a full explanation of it's purpose: What Life was like at the Turn of the First Millennium: An Englishman’s World, it obviously gives an introduction to life in England in the Year 1000.

Based on the Julian Work Calendar, a 12 month illustrated calendar which has survived from those times, the authors take you on a tour of England. You are given an insight into kings, Vikings and Normans, the agrarian life, how the average person lived, what they ate and what they believed.

It’s a lovely little book and at 200 pages, very readable for those who want a taste of history without lots of detail.
Life was simple. People wore the simple, sack-like tunics with leggings that we laugh at in the Monty-Python movies, though in colours that were rather less muddy…

Life was short. Boys of twelve was considered old enough to declare allegiance to the king, while girls got married in their early teens, often to men who were significantly older than they were. (p10)

The whole book has a great tone to it – full of respect for the times and the people who lived in them:
These were not people we should patronise. They were practical, self-contained folk, not given to excessive agonising or self-analysis, to judge from the few who committed their thoughts to paper – the ideal type to choose as companions on a desert island, since they were skilful with their hands, and they could turn their hands to anything. (p26)

We have more wealth, both personal and national, better technology, and infinitely more skilful ways of preserving and extending our lives. But whether we today display more wisdom or common humanity is an open question, and as we look back to discover how people coped with the daily difficulties of existence a thousand years ago, we might also consider whether, in all our sophistication, we could meet the challenges of their world with the same fortitude, good humour, and philosophy. (p201)

An enjoyable and informative little book.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Reading - what and when?

A reader has asked me a question:
How do you decide what books to read? And how do you find the time to read them?
I thought I might take a little time to answer because other people have asked the same question over the last few years.

What to read?

It’s probably as basic as I choose to read what interests me. I have always been a reader, from childhood my nose was buried in a book. Usually fiction in the teenage years, but when I became a Christian it was a natural progression to read books that had a little more depth.

This blog started after an email book club disintegrated. When we left theological college almost 10 years ago, a group of the wives decided to have an email book club. We were scattering to 4 corners of the world, so email was the only way to do it. We decided on one book per month, often based on the list of all the books you know you want to read while at college but never have the time! We read quite a lot over a few years, all Christian books and ones we wanted to read.  Early on we decided we did not want to read rubbish, but good stuff.   If we were going to spend time reading, we wanted the time to be well spent.   At the end of the month, we would email around answering the following questions:
- What did you like?
- What did you learn/what challenged you?
- What did you disagree with/dislike, etc?
- Who would you recommend this to?

As time progressed, fewer and fewer of us had time to contribute. So, I decided to read the books on my personal list and review them on a blog.

When I read a review or hear about a book that interests me, I write it down straightaway. When a Christian bookstore has a sale, I go and buy up (or order online these days!)

For a while I was reading lots of blogs which highlighted books to read.  However, towards the end of last year, I found it overwhelming and I couldn’t keep up, so I cut right back on all the blogs I read.  My main blog sources for book ideas over the years have been:  Jean, Nicole and Meredith and Tim Challies.  There are many more out there, so if you are a fellow blogger, don’t be offended!  But these four have been my main source of reading ideas online.

Also, I follow through ideas relevant to our life:

I read marriage & relationship books – both because we think it’s important to continue to work on our own marriage, and because we do a lot of marriage preparation and enrichment with couples.

I read parenting books – because as a parent you are always looking for new ideas, and now friends ask for book recommendations.  I seem to have a revolving lending library of parenting books!

I read books about ministry and mission work – biographies and ‘how to’, both for interest but also because that is a key part of our lives and many people whom we love and support.

I read books about God, theology and the Christian life. I would love to read more in this category. Most of my sources here come from my husband, also a keen reader. He seems to always have some good theology books on the go.

I read non-Christian books – both fiction and non-fiction. Whatever takes my interest, what friends and family suggest, and authors that I like.

And I always am open to suggestions.  Now that people seem to know that I read, more and more people are suggesting books for me to read.  I love it, it's how I find our about many more books.  I don't guarantee that I'll review it, but I will probably try to read it.

When to read?

I read for about an hour every day.  We have had scheduled ‘rest time’ in our family since the children started dropping their day sleep.  After lunch ABC2 or a DVD goes on for about an hour.  It happens less now, as 2 kids are at school and our youngest is at pre-school.  But the understanding is that if you are home, rest time happens and it is also for Mummy who gets some quiet time then.  If we have plans that night, I also try to include my bible reading and prayer in that time, but more usually, I leave that for early evening, and put my feet up with a pot of tea, some dark chocolate and I read. These days I read about 30 mins of fiction and 30 mins of a Christian book. It’s not specified, I just find I relax with the tea, chocolate and fiction, and then am ready to turn my mind to weightier things after!

What about youHow do you choose what to read?  When do you read?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Going Public

Going Public, David & Kelli Pritchard

This book is by David and Kelli Pritchard, a couple in the US who have 8 children, all of whom have been or are being educated through the public school system. As you read it, you get the feeling you know what they are talking about. They have lived it.

While it is billed as a resource to help and encourage you to use the public school system for your children’s education, it is much more than that.

It is a book about parenting your children through the school years. Most of it is relevant no matter what education system you decide on - public, private, Christian and (to a lesser extent) homeschool.

I am so glad I read it now.  At the end of the year all our children will be at school.  We are starting to think about high schools for our son.  It helped me to recalibrate our framework again and think about the goals we have for our children’s education, which are so much more than just good marks and a potential entry to tertiary study.   Not only that, as I am thinking through what my weeks will look like with all 3 at school, I found it helpful to again be reminded that I want to be involved in my children’s education, that I want to be an supportive, caring and involved parent for the staff and students, and that our kids’ school is the largest mission field I have.

Their overarching message is that God is in control. As Christian parents, we know in our heads that this is true, but sometimes we don’t act that way do we? We worry about our schools ranking on the MySchool website, we are concerned about our children’s performance in the NAPLAN tests and we worry about the influence of non-Christian teachers and friends. Sometime we forget that God is sovereign even over our children’s education.

Their second main point is that as parents we are in control. Wherever our children are educated, we are still their main educators. We are the ones who spend the most time with them and who have the most influence over their lives.  No matter what schooling option we choose, we should never assume that ‘school will teach them that’. No, we stay involved and interested and aware of what they are learning, how they are progressing and how to help in any areas needed. The Pritchards claim that our job as parents includes: to teach them to love God with all their hearts, to teach them obedience and to teach self-control. These three traits will assist any child in growing up with an active faith, and also with a respect for authority and an ability to make wise decisions.

A couple of other points that were helpful were:
  • The charge to us as parents to always be polite, encouraging and helpful with all school staff, most of whom spend their lives dealing with complaining parents. In this we can really stand out. I have already found this at school, being deliberate about getting to know the classroom teacher makes a huge difference for the whole year. Being on first name basis with the office staff means all interactions are based around a relationship, rather than only about an issue.
  • Making sure we listen when our kids tell us about what happened at school, and find the teachable moments when they are there. Don’t overreact to information about teachers and other students, but listen and help your kids figure out how to think about the things that happen at school from a Christian perspective.
  • The Pritchards put a strong emphasis on dads being involved in education: going on excursions, making sure they get to parent teacher night, getting to know friends. This is a task that usually falls to mothers, but they encourage dads to get more involved.
  • They encourage families to consider having one parent as a stay-at-home parent. There is a lot to do to support children at school well and they believe, where possible, a parent at home makes this easiest and best. Each family makes their own decisions on this point, but I have to say from personal experience, I loved knowing that every day my mum would be home when we got home from school.

One of the things that I found most helpful were things to ask in a parent-teacher interview. Yes, find out how they are going academically, which especially with younger ones you probably already know anyway. But then change the direction of the interview and ask if your child is respectful to their teacher and if he listens to them. Is it the same with authority figures in the school, including other teachers and substitute teachers? Then ask about their relationship with other students - is he kind? helpful? does he speak sarcastically to other kids? do you ever see a streak of meanness?, etc. Think about the qualities and characteristics you are raising your child to have and ask whether they are demonstrating those at school.

Finally, they talk about evangelism in the school context. Some people view their children as evangelists on the school mission field. What the Pritchards say is “The main job for a Christian child or teenager in public school is simply to be a good student, a good citizen and a servant-leader – to model what Christianity actually is.” (p192) As parents we also have an opportunity to live a clear Christian witness as parents, to be hospitable and have an open home, to treat all with respect and to continue to teach our children how to do these things, and of course, be prepared to give an answer when anyone asks us for the reason for the hope that we have with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

I found this book incredibly helpful. It made me think afresh about parenting during the school years and how to think about my time and my involvement in my children’s education. I’ll leave the Pritchards with the last words:
What matters… is the fact that you serve an incredibly mighty God, and He will prevail. Trust Him on this journey. Walk from school year to school year in confidence that He is on your side. (p209)

Monday, April 16, 2012


This week’s DVD was Invictus.

It’s 1995 and Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is the newly elected President of South Africa after 27 years of imprisonment. His desire is to unite his nation after years of separation - he decides that rugby may well be the way. As their country hosts the Rugby World Cup, he issues a challenge to the captain of the Springboks (Matt Damon) and his team of underdogs and poor performers to win the Cup for their nation.

On paper possibly not that appealing, especially for non-rugby fans (which is most of my SA readers!). However, you don’t have to understand anything about rugby to appreciate it (like Moneyball and baseball which we saw recently – also recommended viewing).

Directed by Clint Eastwood, this is a great movie that gives an insight into post-apartheid South Africa and how sport can unite a nation. And for light-hearted fun you can hear how badly American actors do South African accents, at times sounded like a room full of Australian, Kiwis, English and South Africans.

My husband remembers this World Cup and he knew from the beginning what was going to happen. Even with that, he enjoyed it and the re-telling of the story. I could not remember the details (but ask me about the 2003 World Cup Final – that one I remember!), so I was engrossed in the final game.

Give the man in your life a break from chick-flicks and try this sometime – you’ll probably find you like it too!

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Slap

The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas
Sometimes when everyone is talking about a book or TV series, you feel you should try to figure out what all the fuss is about.

So, I tried The Slap. I started the book months ago, left it for a while and finally finished it, purely because I felt I should.

My husband read a review of the TV series when it aired last year (not realising it was based on a book) and suggested we watch it. We didn’t even get to the actual slap in the first episode, before he turned it off disgusted.

For those who haven’t heard of it The Slap is a recent Australian novel, set in current-day Melbourne. A group of family and friends are at a BBQ, when a man slaps a misbehaving child that is not his. The novel charts the stories of 8 people at the BBQ in the coming months and how their relationships change as a result.

I know this book got rave reviews, as did the TV series. But truly I thought it was awful.

The story and the people were dreadful, I didn’t want to know these people, I couldn’t care about them, they were so appalling. It is full of swearing, drug use, adultery, bad marriages, alcoholism and misery.  It didn’t seem to me that any one of them had any redeeming features.  None learnt anything. None tried to be a better person.

Two things struck me upon reading it:
  • I know no one like this. If this is an accurate portrayal of the average Australian life, I do not know many average Australians. And boy, does our society need the penetrating truth of the gospel.
  • Modern, edgy writing has absolutely no appeal to me. Give me some old-fashioned manners and respect any day.
It’s one of the few books I have reviewed here that I do not recommend!

Friday, April 6, 2012

The sufferings of Christ

Was he flogged?
     It was done so that "by his wounds we are healed" (Isa 63:5).

Was he condemnded, though innocent?
     It was done so that we might be aquitted, though guilty.

Did he wear a crown of thorns?
     It was done so that we might wear the crown of glory.

Was he stripped of his clothes?
     It was done so that we might be clothed in everlasting righteousness.

Was he mocked and reviled?
     It was done so that we might be honoued and blessed.

Was he reckoned a criminal, and counted amoung those who have done wrong?
     It was done so that we might be reckoned innocent, and declared free from all sin.

Was he declared unabbe to save himself?
     It was so that night be able to save others to the uttermost.

Did he die at last, and that the most painful and disgraceful death?
     It was done so that we might live forevermore, and be exalted to the highest glory. 

Let us ponder these things well: they are worth remembering. 

From J.C.Ryle, quoted in Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross, edited by Nancy Guthrie (p58-9)