Monday, September 26, 2016

The Ology

The Ology, Marty Machowski

Marty Machowski is definitely on a roll at the moment with his production of quality material for children and families.  The author of The Gospel Story Bible and devotionals Long Story Short and Old Story New, has now written a theology book for children, essentially a doctrine book for 6-12 year olds.   We all enjoyed this one – it was simple enough for Miss 8 to grasp and understand, yet not so simplistic that Mr 13 was bored.   Each reading only took a few minutes, but often kick-started further discussion, so it can be simplified or extended as appropriate.   As an extra treat, the illustrations are beautiful.  I was sent this by New Growth Press as a pdf file, but liked the look of it so much we bought a hard copy.

There are some excellent family devotional materials available these days.   However, the limitation for us is that many are too long.  We are unlikely to stay with one resource for longer than a few months, so anything designed to last a year or more, we're unlikely to finish.  We like variety but also have other material for certain times of the year (Easter, Christmas) that we prioritise.   The Ology has 71 readings, so if done daily it would take under three months.  In truth, it took us close to a year, so we didn’t feel like we got into a rhythm with it, and the way it’s written that certainly would have been a benefit.  

We want to look at the big themes of the bible.  In our children’s own bible reading, as well as any input at church, almost everything is bible passages.  This is essential for growth and understanding, but we like to sometimes cover the larger concepts and themes, essentially doctrine.  This fills a gap that might not otherwise be taught.

Therefore, The Ology therefore is excellent as both a shorter resource and for teaching doctrine.  It is divided into sections including God, people, sin, promise and the law, Christ, the Holy Spirit, adoption into God’s family, the church, the end times and God’s word.

As with anything like this, there are some areas an author will emphasise that we might not, eg. quite as much on the end times, or some vague references to angels at points.   Overall it’s very good, both clear and biblically sound, and written with explanations and illustrations that children understand (and non-American parents can quickly adapt on the spot to make even more relevant!).   Machowski continues to help families teach their children the truths of God, something parents like us are very thankful for.

Monday, September 19, 2016

An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir

This young adult fiction is a great read. It’s action and drama are based in the fictional world of The Empire. The Martials rule this land, with the elite-trained Masks carrying out all their commands. The Scholars live in fear and slavery, subjugated but with a small band of Resistance fighters trying to change the balance of power. There are echoes of ancient Rome throughout with similar levels of violence, absolute obedience to the Empire and even quite Latin based names.

Laia, child of Scholars, left on her own is desperate to try to rescue her brother from the clutches of the Empire. Elias, trained as a Mask and in the direct line of power is trying to escape the brutality of the solder’s life, knowing in his heart that what they are called to do is wrong.

As their lives slowly become interwoven, both come to see that they are part of a larger picture and sacrificing their own desires may be the way forward. There’s an oblique reference in the acknowledgements suggesting Tahir may be Christian. Whatever her belief system, this book raises the issue of when you choose to stand up for what is wrong, even though it may you cost you your freedom and perhaps even your life.  

I would recommend it for anyone who likes young adult fiction, and these days that is definitely me!   They are quicker, more direct and as well written as adult fiction. I might wait a few years before recommending it to Mr 13. It is reasonably violent with a lot of implied potential sexual violence, which has a menacing feel over the whole book. Also, we love a series and it’s clear this will be a series, and possibly a long one.  The second A Torch against the Night has just been released, and Tahir is planning books 3 & 4 as well. May as well wait a bit longer and read them all in one go! 

(NB. From 2018 - now with Mr 15 I am still hesitant to recommend them to him yet, the threat of violence to women is very strong throughout.)

Monday, September 12, 2016

The 100-year old man...

The 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared, Jonas Jonasson

This lovely light-hearted book was a delight to read.  Allan Karlsson is not looking forward to his 100th birthday party in the Old Folks’ Home in his  Swedish town.   In a quick moment of action to avoid the festivities, he walks out of his window, across the grounds and boards a bus.  Unleashing a somewhat ridiculous train of events by stealing a suitcase at the bus station, he finds himself having to deal with criminals, a large pile of money, and various characters who come along for the ride.   

Woven in among the present-day adventures are flashbacks over Allan’s life.  From an early age, he developed skills in making and setting explosives, which have seen him placed in the major events of the last century, including the Spanish Civil War, the development of the Atomic Bomb and the Vietnam War.   These stories, while obviously fiction based in history, are a delightful diversion along the way.   For a man with no real convictions of his own, and an absolute aversion to any political position, he finds himself meeting and helping key people including President Truman, Chairman Mao, Stalin, and Einstein’s lesser known (fictional) brother – the very stupid Herbert.

Back in the present day, Allan gathers various companions of questionable virtue along the way, who help him to avoid both the criminals and the police who are on their trail, all of whom are wondering how this centenarian has managed to avoid them at every turn.

This is a fun romp of a book, with a very dry sense of humour throughout.  You’d have to be in the mood for it (that is, in the mood for something a bit ridiculous and farfetched), but I liked it.

Two further thoughts:

- On a more practical note, reading a book like this with google maps alongside is marvellous – I could track where they were going in Sweden to get a real feel for the distance.  I even found photos of the where the bus stop was!)
- I recognise my differing opinions with the treatment of history between this and The Secret Chord.   Here I enjoyed it, seeing it was clearly fiction and not really pretending to be anything more.  Perhaps The Secret Chord was meant to be read the same, I just felt the tension more with a biblical text.  I can’t figure out whether I should be more relaxed about it, or not.  Things to consider.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Side by Side

Side by Side, Edward T. Welch

I meet with two other ministry wives and we recently read Side by Side together.  It was time very well spent.

It is a brief, eminently helpful and practical book that helps you think about how to love other people well.  Rooted in the principle that people are needy and are also needed, Welch has created a great manual for those who want to be proactive in both sharing burdens by acknowledging we need others and also for bearing the burdens of others in our community.  

One of his overarching ideas is that normal people help normal people.  We don’t always realise it, but it is friends, family, colleagues, church family who help us through hard times much more than professionals (eg counsellors, etc)
We were meant to walk side by side, an interdependent body of weak people.  God is pleased to grow and change us through the help of people who have been re-created in Christ and empowered by the Spirit.  That’s how life in church works(p12)
 As such, he breaks the book into two parts.  Part 1: We Are Needy acknowledges that life is hard and our hearts are busy.  Sin weighs a lot and sins are often shown up in suffering.    Life can be hard and we need to ask both God and those around us for help.   One of the challenges he raised was finding ways to ask for help that links the eternal to the temporal.  So, for example, not just asking for wisdom with parenting challenges, but asking that God will remind us of his patience with us as we seek to be patient and also model patience to our children.

Part 2: We are Needed gives an almost chapter by chapter guide on how to be helpful to others.   The first of these are applicable to all situations, but seemed most appropriate to gatherings of God’s people.   So there are reminders to actually move towards people and greet them, to have thoughtful conversations, to see the good in each other, to find out people’s stories, to have compassion during hard times, and to pray.   All of these are helpful practical ideas.  Nothing new really, but a helpful reminder to many of us of the power of our words and giving people our attention.   In many ways, these chapters reminded me of “The ministry of the pew” which went round our church in the 1990s. (which I found a reference to in a 1994 Briefing Article).

Then it got a little deeper, encouraging conversations about sin.  Our reading group felt this was accurate and needed, but it signified that each chapter really represented a continuing deeper relationship with someone.  These were no longer topics generally covered over morning tea after church.  These were conversations requiring careful thought and wisdom.

He finishes with the reminder to keep the gospel story in view – knowing it is our past, our present and our future.   We have been predestined and saved, our sins are forgiven by amazing grace and we live with hope.  

This is a book well worth reading, and its value will be greatly increased if you read it and discuss it with others.   Highly recommended.