Monday, June 29, 2015

I am Number Four

I am Number Four, Pittacus Lore

Mr 12 recently discovered this exciting and engaging series.

The premise is that as the Planet Lorien was destroyed by Mogadorian invaders, a few select children were sent to Earth to live undercover until they gained their special powers (legacies) which would enable them to overpower the Mogadorians and return to Lorien.  Each child, numbered One to Nine, has a guardian, who is responsible for their care and training as they mature and gain their legacies.  So far, Numbers One, Two and Three have been found and killed, so now the focus turns to finding Number Four.

John Smith (Four) has spent his life moving throughout country towns in the US, with Henri (his guardian), trying to remain undetected. For the first time he starts making friends and begins to wonder if his life can be like everyone else’s.  Clearly, though when you are an alien hunted by other super-powered aliens, your teenage life is far from normal!

It’s action packed and interesting. There are some very similar allusions to the Percy Jackson series, which is about Greek gods still active on earth and their semi-god children.

So far 5 books in the series have been written, I have read I am Number Four, The Power of Six and The Rise of Nine.  At that point I decided to stop, as Mr 12 made it clear both The Fall of Five and The Revenge of Seven finish on cliff-hangers, and the next ones have not yet been released.  He is keen to read the final books, of which we suspect there will need to be at least two.    It’s also fair to say that each book gets more complex as more of the teenagers are found and drawn into the story line.  I could keep up with 3 different fonts for different characters, much more than that and I might begin to struggle! Mr 12 also gives a clear warning: do not read the back cover of any of the subsequent books until you have finished the previous ones, or key storylines are given away!

It is pretty clear in the later books that the author Pittacus Lore (a pseudonym revealed online to be James Frey) is anti-religion, but that can be an interesting talking point.  Also, I kept wondering what is going to happen with all these teenagers who appear to be falling in love with each other.  At the moment, it’s all pretty chaste, and I hope it remains that way.

I am enjoying my regular exposure to youth fiction these days.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Marriage Matters

Marriage Matters: Extraordinary Change through Ordinary Moments, Winston T. Smith

I am reading or re-reading a number of marriage books at the moment. We are designing a marriage enrichment course and I am gathering information from many sources.

While many books on marriage focus only on that earthly relationship, Smith has focused strongly and continuously on God, his word and Christ and how a relationship with Jesus will define, strengthen and challenge us in marriage. This book is not only rooted in Scripture, it is overflowing with it.

Smith’s overarching premise is that change is really found in the ordinary moments of marriage, and that God is in all of these moments, showing us the problems in our relationship with Him, our idols, our lack of worship; and pointing us again and again to His way of love, worship and grace.

There are very good chapters on communication, conflict & forgiveness, and these topics take up the bulk of the book. He deals with how honesty, done properly (ie. speaking the truth in love) is essential and provides some biblical strategies for conflict. I also liked the chapter on gender and roles in marriage. For people like me who like structure, each section and chapter starts with an outline of what will be covered.

New Growth Press generously sent me this book along with a course manual developed to go alongside it. This has ten very detailed biblical studies, designed to analyse various aspects of our relationship with God and then apply it to marriage. Personally I wouldn’t use the course in it’s entirety, for a start it is too long for what we are able to do. However the ideas and principles are excellent.

There is a lot to recommend this book, especially for those who want to think biblically about their marriage relationship from a whole number of angles.

Our current advice for couples to strengthen & grow their marriage is to read a book on marriage each year and take time to talk about it. This would be an excellent one for Christian couples to add to the list.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Station Eleven

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

Another great story.

Arthur Leander, famous actor, drops dead in the middle of a performance of King Lear. What would normally make international news headlines is in fact completely ignored for that same night the Georgia Flu epidemic sweeps the world. Within 2 weeks more than 99% of the planet’s population is dead.

Twenty years later, a travelling troupe of actors and musicians tour through their local area performing symphonies and Shakespeare, driven by the belief that ‘survival is insufficient’.

As the story moves back and forth, describing various events pre and post ‘Year Zero’, it slowly reveals the links between the lives of 5 people all somehow connected to Arthur.

I seem to be reading a fair amount of post-apocalyptic books at the moment. They have all been interesting and thought-provoking in various ways. This one I devoured in a few days. Very enjoyable.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce

I have learnt over the years that when Meredith recommends a book, it is worth reading, and I was delighted to again discover how similar our tastes are when I read a book she recently praised.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is just marvellous. One day Harold, a recent retiree, receives a letter from an old work colleague, Queenie Hennessey. She is dying of cancer and gets in touch to say she remembers him as a good friend. Writing what he knows is an inadequate response, he heads out to post a reply letter. Finding himself unable to actually put it in the box, he walks on to the next box, yet passes it again and continues on. By the end of the day, he has decided to walk to see her, 600+ miles from the south-east of England to the north-west.

As he keeps walking, he slowly becomes aware of the vastness of the country around him and the variety of people he meets. At the same time, he begins to remember the varying details of his life, his wife Maureen, his son David, his job and his friendship with Queenie.

Having left his wife Maureen behind, and seeing how she deals with this sudden change of events, we then read of things from her perspective – what she thinks of what he has done and her view on the state of their marriage.

The wonderful part of this book is what happens to the characters along the way, and their interactions with each other. But if I revealed anymore, it would spoil it for you. However, if you also have liked some of my or Meredith’s book recommendations over the years, definitely try this one!

I will also follow her advice and read the companion volume after a few months gap rather than straight away!

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Book of Strange New Things

The Book of Strange New Things, Michael Faber

This book grabbed my attention from the very beginning and would not let it drop until the final page.

Peter Leigh was converted in adulthood from a life of addiction and crime, by the influence of the woman he grows to love and marry, Beatrice.  He has since become a committed Christian and church pastor, and is chosen by USIC, a multi-national corporation to travel to another universe to preach the gospel to the native inhabitants of the planet Oasis.

Peter sets off, full of excitement and hope about what he is called to do by God for these people. He expects hardship, language learning, cultural difficulties and problems to affect him, yet goes in the full excitement of serving the Lord in the way he has been called. Meanwhile Bea is left behind fully supportive, but not chosen to go with him.

The book details what Peter experiences on Oasis both with the other humans who are there in the settlement and with the native Oasans, which confound him yet also bring him joy and excitement. Meanwhile, his communication with Bea gives the reader an insight into what continues to happen on earth while Peter is gone and how his departure affects their relationship.

I hesitate to give any more details than that because it really would spoil the power of the story. Suffice it to say, for those that are Christians some of it will resonate with you, and some of it will cause to you to imagine how you would react in similar circumstances. Faber has managed to write about religion and mission in a balanced way and while you will not agree with all Peter says or does, it is a portrayal that has depth and insight.

I really enjoyed it and it has stuck in my mind for some time after.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Age of Opportunity

Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, Paul David Tripp

I have come to appreciate much of Paul David Tripp’s writing in recent years, having learnt a lot from What Did you Expect? (on marriage), Dangerous Calling (on ministry) and How People Change (written with Timothy Lane) on general Christian living.

As a result I was excited to get my hands on his book about parenting teens.

Tripp comes back again to the issues all his books address – what is going on in our hearts. At every stage of parenting, but definitely with teenagers, parents must stop and think, where is my heart in this? What idols am I trying to hang on to: perhaps comfort, respect, appreciation, control or success? Or am I truly trying to lead my children closer to God and his sustaining grace?
“It is vital for us to confess that that the struggle of the teen years is not only about teen biology and teen rebellion. These years are hard for us because they expose the wrong thoughts and desires of our own hearts… the teen years expose our self-righteousness, our impatience, our unforgiving spirit, our lack of servant love, the weakness of our faith, and our craving for comfort and ease.” (p17)
In Part 1 Tripp points out the issues, and goes on to describe the family and how it is designed to function. He encourages parents to remember what it was like to be a teenager, and identifies the key characteristics of the teen years that we need to be aware of, such as having no hunger for correction or wisdom, a tendency to legalism and unwise companions, and a lack of heart awareness.

In Part 2 he outlines 5 foundational goals we should have:

  1. To focus on the spiritual struggle – teach and show our kids that an eternal perspective is what matters.
  2. To develop a heart of conviction and wisdom. Here we try to teach them to develop a biblical mind and to be able to determine the difference between a conviction (where there is an absolute right and wrong) and wisdom (how to analyse and assess a situation and the potential ways to respond)
  3. To teach them to understand and interact redemptively with culture. We neither hide from the world we live in, nor accept all of it, rather we teach them how to think about the culture we are surrounded by: wisely, alertly and redemptively.
  4. To develop a heart for God. In the end this is the ultimate goal of our parenting, to help our kids develop their own relationship with God, and a desire to live for him.
  5. To prepare them to leave home. We want to help them develop the signs of maturity they will need as Christian adults.

Part 3 was essentially a summary of all of the above, just reworded. His three overall strategies for making this happen were: planning, constant conversation and helping teens come to repentance.

His final chapter was 20 (!) small steps to work towards making these goals happen. This is a great summary chapter of how to behave as a parent, while working towards these larger foundational goals. Things like: always talks lovingly and constructively (sound obvious, but hard in reality), stay calm, be honest about your own struggles, be willing to overlook the minor things and humbly admit your limits.

In addition there is a study guide at the back which had some really helpful analysis and application questions and ideas.

I came away with two main thoughts:
  1. He calls us to an incredibly high standard of parenting, but one that is absolutely worth it. I have no problem being called to such a high standard for it is also surrounded with honesty, grace and forgiveness. Tripp makes the astute point that most families plan their holidays in much more detail than their parenting. We should be planning, we should be preparing and we should be praying for our parenting and our children.
  2. I have recently come to realise that the next 12 years of parenting will be more intense than the first 12. I need to keep assessing how busy I am and the priorities on my time. It is very easy to think ‘they are older now, I can back off a little’. In order to be spiritually, emotionally and physically present in parenting older children, I still need to make sure I am careful how much else I commit to. It’s a helpful reminder to me as we enter this new stage. I now think of my life in decades: my 30s were with little kids, my 40s will be the teenage years, my 50s will be probably the empty nest stage. That helps me set my own expectations of what I can and want to do for the time being!
It is a great book and it really got me thinking theologically and practically about this next stage.