Friday, November 29, 2013

When a Character Chooses Evil

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When I was younger, I held to the idea that the only books worth reading were the ones in which the main character made the right choice. The ones where he was made of shining heroics, glowing with virtue and rewarded accordingly. A bad book, in my mind, meant the character who was faced with two decisions, and walked down the wrong path. True, a character could sometimes make the wrong decision for the sake of the story, and go through all sorts of hardships, and see the error of their ways. But I was quite sure that the main character couldn't be left in their wrong decision. In other words, the only way a book could be properly and biblically resolved was for the character to see the error of their ways and forsake the wrong choice for the right one.

But then I started thinking about a book I'm reading currently, and looking at Scripture, and now I'm starting to re-define that a little. Not much, for I still think main characters should be morally upright people. But there are a few valuable exceptions that I've discovered lately, where a character chooses wrong instead of right.

This subject requires much careful thought to draw the correct conclusion, so bear with me all the way to the end, and we'll explore this issue as biblically as possible, looking at the various facets that come to mind. Truth is truth, absolutely. Books must hold to truth, and books must always point to righteousness and virtue. Sometimes, however, they can point to virtue by a warning of what not to do rather than an example to follow.

Look for instance, at the story of Saul in Scripture. He never repented. Nor did King Ahab--that was one sordid mess from beginning to end. Samson died committing suicide after losing his strength at the hands of a prostitute. Judas Iscariot never asked forgiveness for betraying his Lord. The tribe of Judah deliberately continued sinning, and God sent them off into captivity to Babylon.

I'm reading a story right now where every character in the book can see the main character's problems but the main character herself. While I normally don't endorse stories like that, this author seems to be handling it biblically thus far. And as I thought about it, and looked at Scripture, I came to see that sometimes, sadly, people do not repent. And if real people do not always repent, then fictional characters do not always as well.

I used to ignore the bad guys in books--they were just props, someone there to be a foil to the hero, and who cared that they received judgment in the end, so long as the main character made it through victoriously? And then I realized what a grievous thing it was, whether the character was a side character or a main character, that they should choose to sin and reject God's grace. Main characters do choose to reject God's grace, in certain books. And though I do not endorse books where the villain is the main character, sometimes the main character, without being the villain, still chooses sin. We see that in Scripture. We see that in real life. Should we see that, then, in the books we read?

I don't think it's wise or healthy to read books with majorly flawed main characters too often. But on occasion, an author can write a book like that that is wise and fruitful for the reader to pick up. That being said, there are two guiding principles that should be in place when a main or side character rejects right for wrong, and we're going to look at those today.

1. The character must be given every opportunity to repent.

The character must be shown to be making deliberately sinful choices--not 'forced' to make the wrong decision. Characters around the person making the wrong choice must warn them of the consequences, and show them the right path to go in. We see this in Scripture, and we should also see it in the stories we read. The Lord warned the nation of Israel again and again and again through his prophets. Saul had Samuel to point out the way he should go. Samson's parents warned him against marrying a Philistine girl. King Ahab had the prophet Elijah. Yet they chose to ignore the warnings, and they received punishments accordingly.

2. The character must receive blessings or curses in equal measure to their actions.
In Deuteronomy 28, we see the Lord set before the nation of Israel blessings for their obedience, and curses for their disobedience. Again and again in Scripture we see this format, originally used in Genesis, when the Lord offered a curse if man would eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In Revelation, we see the ultimate blessing/curse format, when those who come to a saving knowledge of Jesus are taken to Heaven, and those who do not are taken to Hell.
This blessing and curse flip format is the key to seeing if an author handled the story resolution well--is the character struggling through disobedience, or blessed for their obedience?
All good characters suffer, so suffering shouldn't always be the tip-off of disobedience, but the character choosing the wrong choice should have warning signs, internal discomfort, and counsel from others that they're going down the wrong path. Such things correctly portray the grace and warnings God gives his children when we choose the wrong thing. If the character chooses to ignore those warnings, then we must see hardships start to come. God doesn't look lightly on disobedience, and nor should we as readers.
On the flip side of suffering, we do see in the Bible that some wicked people do prosper. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. Look at Job, who suffered though he had done no sin, and the wicked man Job describes, who has children and riches and family. We do see this in real life, and some books may choose to portray that side of evil. But even in Job we see that the prosperous wicked man is suddenly destroyed, and that should be the fate the characters we read who make the wrong choices. "Yet God prolongs the life of the mighty by his power; they rise up when they despair of life. He gives them security, and they are supported, and his eyes are upon their ways. They are exalted a little while, and then are gone; they are brought low and gathered up like all others; they are cut off like the heads of grain" Job 24:22-24.

In the end, the main character must be blessed or cursed according to his deeds. It is vital that his actions receive due justice by the end of the book, because this book is all the picture we'll have of his life, and therefore, we must read stories in which the sin receives proper resolution.

A passage in Psalm 34 beautifully expresses this point that I'm writing about today: that the characters we read about can be good and blessed, or sinful and cursed. Affliction comes to the righteous, and prosperity comes to the wicked, but in the end, every book should be based on the principles in the following verses:
 
The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. Affliction will slay the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned. Psalm 34:15:22

I used to think that only books with repentant righteous characters were biblical. Now I realize that some stories, just like Scripture, can portray the heartbreak of wrong choices, and the judgement it leads to. As long as that justice is clearly shown, then a main character not worthy to be emulated can still, with great discernment on the part of the reader, make a book worth reading. The only caution I would give is that if the main character is going to make the wrong choice, than the author must take even greater care to make sure the reader clearly sees the consequences of that. The danger of the main character choosing the wrong choice is that we as readers might make that choice with them, and fail to see how wrong it is, unless it's properly written.

Also, we should never read a book simply because the character made a wrong choice and was punished for it. Such books must clearly point us to our Lord, not merely justified for reading material because they 'didn't get away with it'. Reading a book with a character not worthy of emulation isn't worth our time only because the story was resolved correctly. This measure, this choice on the part of the author to deliberately make the main character choose the wrong thing, must be read with huge care, for the very specific reason of learning a lesson that couldn't be taught better in another way.

I tell you what, though. Reading books where the character makes the wrong choices all the way through, even when they are punished for it, is really depressing. There can be profit in such books, but it's tough profit, and emotionally draining. It's sad when people don't respond to God's love and mercy, and seek to follow him. I'm reading a book like that right now to review on the blog, and it drains you after a while to be so constantly vigilant. It's a book that the author seems to be handling correctly thus far, and one that I'm learning a lot from. But after it's over I won't be reading another one like that for a long time to come, I hope.

While a book where the main character chooses the wrong path all the way to the end may legitimately show biblical truth, there is one thing that it will probably lack. That is redemption. A character who deliberately rejects God's law will also be deliberately rejecting God's grace, for you cannot have one without the other. And I would rather have the majority of my reading diet focused on the themes of redemption, and thus, on Christ's work, rather than focusing on a character's wrong choices, and therefore, on man's sin.

Ultimately, I would rather have a bad character be a sub-plot than the main plot. But I now understand more clearly that sometimes people never make the right choice. We see that in Scripture again and again. And since fictional stories are supposed to be realistic portrayals of God's truth, there can be occasional stories (though we as the reader must use great care and caution in reading them) where we see the path of judgment instead of the path of redemption.

The points in this article today refers specifically to Christian stories and Christian authors. While non-Christian authors can also choose the blessing/curse format, they do not have an understanding of the Lord or his Word, and therefore are extremely unlikely to handle a main character's wrong choices with biblical consequences. I would rather read stories by non-Christian authors in which the hero actually is a hero, as a safeguard to my discernment and emotional involvement in the story, and that's what I would personally recommend to someone thinking about reading a book with a faulty main character.

This is only a very small introduction to this topic. I would say that this should be a subject of thought for mature readers. If you're new to reading with discernment, then don't tackle this aspect right away. Choose books with heroes worthy of imitating to build a strong foundation. Even strong Christian readers should approach the idea of a seriously flawed main character with caution. I bring it up today because it's a subject worth mulling over. I don't have it all hammered out yet, but this is what I've been mulling over this week, so I'd be more than happy to discuss it further in the comments. :)

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Books I'm Most Thankful For

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Lest I be a shameless plaguerist, I'll admit that this topic is not of my making. I got it from an email advertisement, one referring specifically to books. In fact, you can check out the company yourself; I've only found one good book to review from it, and I give a word of caution that there aren't many good books on it, but you never know what you'll find.  When the advertisement came through, entitled "Books I'm Most Thankful For", I was looking for a blog topic, and as soon as I saw the title, I grabbed at it immediately and ran with it.

Certainly taking the time to be thankful is not only a biblical command, but also an attitude that cheers the spirits. And in these dark days of November, being cheerful over our favorite books is the perfect occupation to put a smile on the face of any bibliophile. :)

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. ~1 Thessalonians 5:18

So, since 7 is the perfect number, I'm going to give 7 fiction and 7 nonfiction books I'm most thankful for, many of which I've reviewed here on the blog.

Top 7 Nonfiction
-Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
Why: It's hard for introverts to talk about themselves. Though Cain doesn't come at the introvert/extrovert issue from a biblical perspective, a careful reading can equip introverted readers to express themselves just as confidently as extroverts. We have just as much to say; we just need a little more time to prepare beforehand. The scientific experiments detailed in this book are very interesting, and as an introvert looking for words to describe myself, I enjoyed it heartily. Nor am I the only one; several introverts of my acquaintance like this hands-down. If you're an introvert looking for a book written expressly for you, or an extrovert looking to understand introverts, Susan Cain's Quiet is the perfect choice.

-Don't Wrestle, Just Nestle, by Corrie Ten Boom
Why: I read this book several times a year to learn to embrace Jesus' finished work on the cross, and get rid of the chains of worry that took over my life. Now I don't read it as often--whether that's lack of wisdom, or merely because I've learned the lesson, I'm not quite sure. I think it's time for another go-round--but during several hard years, Corrie Ten Boom's hard-hitting yet comforting teachings on worry helped me cope one day at a time.

-It's (Not That) Complicated, by Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin
Why: Don't look at boys, don't talk to them, and maybe you'll be able to keep your perfect cellophane heart wrapped up for your future husband. That was my motto, until I read the Botkin sisters' It's (Not That) Complicated, and learned not only that boys are real people too, and like talking to girls, but also, it is possible to carry on pure and enjoyable discussions with our brothers in Christ. I've never viewed young men the same way since, and I'm no longer afraid of them (too often) but enjoy rousing discussions whenever I'm in their company.

-Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas
Why: I count Dietrich Bonhoeffer as one of my spiritual mentors, a man who fundamentally shaped my theology. I had the privilege of reading this book fairly close to its release, and I had to read 600 pages in 3 weeks, as there were 11 other people waiting for me to finish with it. In spite of the cramming it took to read it, I eagerly drank up the details of the man who nearly took the life of Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer is a spiritual mentor, and a Christian hero that I highly esteem and honor. As a side note, I'm glad Metaxas wrote such a long biography. It took every page to do the concepts justice that Bonhoeffer's life illustrates.

-The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Why: Bonhoeffer wrote this book as if he were speaking to today's Christians. In a world where the church universal preaches a gospel of cheap grace, Bonhoeffer calls us to a costly dedication to our Lord. A life that lays down and sacrifices, and follows in Jesus' footsteps. This was a concept I always believed and held strongly to, but was never able to put into words until Bonhoeffer did it for me.

-Damsels in Distress, by Martha Peace
Why: This book, written specifically for women, addresses how to take captive our own emotions, and how to navigate the emotions of others. Let's face it: some days are tough days, and Peace teaches through nouthetic counseling how to control our emotions to the glory of God. This book taught me how to deal with manipulation, hit me pretty hard on some feministic ideas that were still hanging on, and also introduced me to the concept of nouthetic counseling, the idea that we give solutions from Scripture instead of focusing on emotions.

-Dream Big...But Beware of Dream killers, by Todd Wilson
Why: I was always a terrified little dreamer before I read this book. But the summer my mother bought it for me at a homeschool conference, it gave me the courage to keep going on my novel, Which is still going today, and might not have been written otherwise. Todd's book helps me not only to forgive dream killers, but also to keep on dreaming during the dark days. Of all the books here, this one has probably had the most practical day-to-day impact on my life, and I'm mightily grateful for it.

Top 7 Fiction
-Jane of Lantern Hill, by L.M. Montgomery
Why: One of my childhood griefs was slowly growing older than Jane. It hurt to be older than her. I wanted to stay her age forever, and be the best of friends, and follow her adventures every summer as she went to visit her father on Prince Edward Island. I don't know that I learned any startling, life-changing lessons from this book. But it's always been close to me, and it hits a soft spot whenever I see it on my shelf.

-Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
Why: I picked this book off our library's used book shelf at 12 years of age. It's a ghastly edition; it has a blurb (thankfully no pictures) advertising the infamous Gwyneth Paltrow movie spin-off, with, um, inappropriate stuff to say the least. Don't look it up, bibliophiles. But in spite of the advertisement, this book started me on the very first story by the man who would later become my favorite fiction author. That's a pretty momentous moment, and I'll always set store by the book that first introduced me to the complicated characters and dramatic plots of Charles Dickens. :)

-The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Why: I liked Tolkien very much before I read Sil. Who wouldn't like Lord of the Rings? But Sil gave me a firmer grasp on Tolkien's worldview, and turned me into a die-hard fan. This man has the soundest fantasy I've ever read in my life, and his world and cultures are staggering to read about. If you want to read biblically-based fantasy, read Tolkien. He's worth a life-time of study, and the Sil explains a lot of questions and reservations that people have about LOTR.

-Guns of Thunder, by Douglas Bond
Why: I don't read this book often. It always sends a little shiver through me when I pick it up. It's a fantastic story, but the first time I read it I was going through a pretty tough stage of life. In spite of that, I will always thank God for it, for during the time I read this book I jumped out of the baby Christian stage, into a full understanding that Christianity required out and out surrender and commitment. God's grace is completely grace, and completely undeserved, and though I came to a full realization of my sin during this book, I also came to a full confidence in Jesus' righteousness imputed to me. And since then, I've never looked back.

-Freckles, by Gene Stratton-Porter
Why: Who wouldn't love Freckles? I love him at any rate, and though he's rather like Jane and I haven't learned any huge spiritual lessons from him, I'm still thankful for this book, just for the sheer joy of it. I need to read it again. I've walked the old Limberlost trail many times with this warm-hearted young Irishman, and fought with him, and loved with him, and seen him fail and triumph many times. He's a definite favorite, and I wouldn't trade his acquaintance for a room full of bookshelves.

-The Fisherman's Lady/The Marquis' Secret, by George MacDonald
Why: Malcolm is a hero worthy of all lauds and accolades. A straight speaker, a sincere Christian, a brawny fisherman, and a man who loves his womenfolk with all purity and honor. Very few men could lay claim to a better character that that. Besides some corking great plot twists, and none of them too tragic, (just a little for the spice of it), the characters that populate his adventures make lovely acquaintances. Dark villains war against chivalrous heroes, and throughout all of it, Malcolm's simple, great-heartedness keeps people relying on him in all their troubles. I've read these books many times, and this summer, I was blessed to secure my own copies at no cost.

-Pollyanna, by Eleanor Porter
Why: If you asked me who my best friends were around the age of 11, I probably would have said Jane (see above) and Pollyanna. I loved them to bits. These two girls--one who loved her father so much, and one who was so joyful all the time--were yearly must-reads throughout my early teens. Pollyanna's choice to be glad in all circumstances is one still near and dear to my heart today. I held strong by her, and defended her, and wanted to be as joyful as she was, and she definitely had a major impact on my childhood.

These books, each in their different way, shaped my childhood and young adulthood, and therefore have shaped a great deal of who I am today. I love them all, and have read them cover to cover many times.

It's good to remember our foundations. Good to remember where we've come from, and why it means so much to us. This is what these books mean to me, and why I chose to review most of them here on My Lady Bibliophile. I praise God for them, and take delight in them, and hope to read them many more times in the years to come.  And I hope that you all find them to be the same good reads that I have.
 
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. ~Colossians 3:15


Which books are you most thankful for? You certainly don't have to list this many (or you can list more!) but I would love to know, if you care to share. :)

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bible Week (Part Two)

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Hello, friends and fellow bibliophiles! Welcome to part two of Bible Week, here on My Lady Bibliophile, where we're looking at reviews of two Bible versions. If you're new to this series, be sure to check out Part One, where I explain why I no longer read the 2011 NIV version.

Today I'd like to review another Bible version, the one our family switched over to after using the NIV for many years. We switched to ESV, and the majority of us have the MacArthur ESV Study Bible, so that's the version I'll be reviewing today.

The ESV is a joy to read, a true and honest translation of the Word of God; and MacArthur has rich study notes that enhance our understanding of the Word. With much delight, I introduce you to this version today, with the same Pros and Cons format we had before.

ESV Study Bible
This is what my Bible looks like. :)
Pros:
The biggest pro of this version is the Scripture itself.  This version is reverent, and rich in its choice of words. The ESV uses the 'essentially literal' approach to interpreting Scripture, meaning it takes every word from the Greek and Hebrew and translates them faithfully according to the meaning. In this version I don't have to constantly sift and challenge as I did with the 2011 NIV, but I can rest in the fact that presented here is a careful and trustworthy translation of the word of God. This is a weighty thing to say of any Scripture, but as far as I have read, I can truly say this of the ESV.
Personally, I think it's not only more faithful to the Greek, but better to build up vocabulary and elocution as well. While I don't claim that big words are better, there is a certain level of intellectualism that upholds the authority of Scripture, and this certainly seems to have it, though I have not read through the ESV in its entirety yet, but only about half of it.

Some people have concerns that the 'essentially literal' approach is choppier than versions which use the 'general meaning' translation format for a smoother read. But I have not found the ESV to be unreadable; it flows smoothly, though its syntax and wording are on a slightly higher grade level, and I think even young children would be able to get most of the meaning. Certainly as much, or even more, than KJV.

As well as the reliability and accuracy of the text, the study notes are also a joy to read, and give much insight into the meaning of the text. Though I do warn my readers, MacArthur is strongly premillennial and credobaptist, and these theological views do come into play with his notes.  However, I think even people of differing viewpoints would find some common ground in his careful exegesis of Scripture, his complementarian viewpoint of men and women's roles, and his unapologetic stance on young earth creation. Finally, I can say after 12 years of Bible reading, I now have study notes that are not generally bland. These are rich with insight, and trustworthy according to my study of Scripture. Though I must make the disclaimer that I have not read most of these notes yet; I'm only beginning, and I fully acknowledge that MacArthur is human, and therefore subject to errors and misunderstandings like the rest of us. The notes should not replace Scripture itself, but they are helpful in illuminating Scripture, and in the case of MacArthur, such illumination seems to be trustworthy as far as I have read.

Cons:
The only serious con I could think of, believe it or not, had to do with the notes. They are extensive, a condensed form of MacArthur's commentaries, and in many instances take up more of the page than the Scripture itself. This can make chapters stretch out indefinitely, and would bog down some readers. Thought MacArthur certainly isn't trying to upstage Scripture, I wouldn't mind seeing a little more of an even spread. But his notes are such good teaching, and the scripture itself is so true, that I'm willing to bend a point. However, some purchasers looking at different versions of the ESV study Bible might want to take this into consideration. My brother has both a MacArthur Bible and a thin-line Bible, and I'm thinking that I'll do the same as well.

There are very few bells and whistles in MacArthur's version. The charts are few and far between, and I haven't come across a single picture thus far. I always find charts of themes, commands, kings and sacrifices very helpful, and I do wish this one had a few more, but I have other Bibles I can refer to, so I'm willing to work with it.

Also, this version does not put the words of Jesus in red-letter. I prefer red-letter versions; it's easier to locate specific passages in my opinion, and if I were able to customize my version I would definitely add this feature.

Ultimately, the ESV has both spiritually nourished and challenged me in daily Bible reading, and I look forward to discovering more about this version. It does not compromise, and stays faithful to the true spirit and wording of the Holy Bible. And I look forward to wearing out my copy with many years of good use.

Though I still keep it in the box it came in, and pull it out every morning. :) I'll have to bend someday, so it can look well-read.

But not yet. I love the gold on the pages.


MacArthur's 2011 NIV
John MacArthur saw the faults in the newest translation of the NIV, and though he was initially reluctant, he did release a version with his study notes so that readers could receive the correct meanings of the Scripture passages, in spite of the modern updates. In his own words:

"No matter what version of the Bible people are reading, I want to be able to help them understand the meaning fully and accurately. The NIV is the most widely used translation in the world, with millions of users. Some prefer it because they find it easier to read than other translations. All English versions of Scripture have translation problems and ambiguities. That's one of the major benefits of a good study Bible. The notes and other tools built into the volume can highlight and clarify the proper meaning—or at least give a more precise understanding of what the original text actually says. My prayer is that these insights and explanations, together with the acclaimed readability of the translation, will help illuminate the true meaning and unleash the divine power of Scripture for NIV readers." --The MacArthur Study Bible, by Phil Johnson

While I think mature Christians would do well to seek out a better version, MacArthur is wise to see an opportunity to take dominion here, and point people to the true meaning of Scripture. I'd like to see one of these copies someday, and check out how he handles the passages. Certainly, if people are going to continue reading the NIV (and they will), wise study notes are a must to help counterbalance the faults of the translation.
This concludes Bible Week here on My Lady Bibliophile. :) We've looked at a couple of versions of Scripture, and two different translation philosophies. Have you read the ESV Bible? How about the 2011 NIV? What did you think of them?

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bible Week (Part One)

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I never really planned on reviewing Bibles here. After all, our family stayed with the same version for years (NIV) and what was there to say about it ? All-around serviceable, very readable, and the church we went to used it, so that's why we did too.

But when I wore out my Bibles so badly that complete books were pulling out (as spiritual as this sounds, I think it had more to do with the binding than lengthy study days) we went shopping for a new Bible, and our perception of the NIV took a huge swing in the opposite direction.

We found, to our surprise, that the 2011 version made some pretty significant changes from our trusty old 1984, and by the time we made the discovery, it was too late and I had used the Bible for a while. So for during the next months I made do with it while we looked about for a new version, and we finally settled on something that is not only much better--and I might add, more biblical--but also better than the NIV altogether, I think.

Not that I dislike the NIV. I'm still fond of the 1980s version, and I'll be keeping around my old copies. But you just can't buy that one, anymore, and I think it's also been taken off online Bible websites as well. It's time to find a good, solid alternate.

Thus, I now have a couple of versions of Scripture that I think it would be fruitful to write a review on, and that's what we'll be doing here. But I have two particular reasons for choosing this week to review them.

First of all, yesterday I finished my 12th consecutive year reading through the whole Bible in a year. 12 times through the entire Bible. Praise the Lord, and I'm grateful to have established this habit. It's so familiar now that it's like brushing teeth or getting dressed in the morning. I don't give it a second thought, or debate whether or not I can get away with not reading my Bible, or whether I'm too busy for it. It just happens. Now that doesn't mean I'm perfect, by any means. I can't say I'm always excited to read it, or that I always listen very well. But the fact its, it's a discipline, and with the Lord's blessing, it's a discipline He has granted me the grace to keep steady on. And I look to Him for the grace to continue to do so. You can find the article I wrote last year about daily Bible reading here.

That's one reason that this is Bible Week.

The second reason, and just as exciting, is that Junior B is in the Bible Bee Nationals this year (this is her first year doing it!) and to celebrate that, we're going to talk about Scripture. She's memorized 600 Bible verses since the end of August, and many other folks have as well. We're gathering in Tennessee for the competition, and I'm sure she and the other competitors would appreciate prayers sent their way Thursday-Saturday. :)

Due to these two exciting milestones, it seems fitting to discuss which Bible versions are the closest to the original Greek and Hebrew, and which versions properly show the God-inspired wording of Scripture.

A Word About Interpretations
There are two methods of interpreting Scripture, and creating a translation. Before we review the Bibles, it's important to explain these two methods. And since my brother already did it so nicely, I'll quote him below.

The first method of creating a Scripture translation from the Greek and Hebrew is the 'dynamic equivalence method':

The dynamic equivalence method believes that faithful translation captures the intended meaning of the original manuscripts, using appropriate equivalents in other languages. Bible translations such as the NIV, Today’s NIV, New American Bible, New English Translation, and Modern Language Bible use moderate dynamic equivalence for their translation philosophy. ~Why I Read the ESV Bible, by Collin M.

The second method of Scripture translation is the 'essentially literal method':
In contrast, the “word-for-word” method (also known as the “essentially literal” method) states that God inspired the very words of Scripture, as well as the intended messages of those words. Therefore, we must be as accurate as possible to translating the words from the original manuscripts and the best copies of Scripture from antiquity...The King James Version employed the essentially literal method....Translations such as the New American Standard Bible, English Standard Version, Revised Standard Version, New King James Version, and New American Bible all use the same translation philosophy of the King James Version.
~Why I Read the ESV Bible, by Collin M.
In other words, some versions just go for the general meaning of the Greek and Hebrew, while some advocate translating the very words themselves.

The NIV holds to the 'dynamic equivalence' method.

2011 NIV Bible
Though I did not have a favorable experience with the 2011 NIV version, I would like to start with the disclaimer that it is not my intent to rant, nor to bash a version of Scripture that, for many years, has been a source of trustworthy spiritual nourishment for many believers. I do love the 1984 NIV, but at the same time, my love for a version must not transcend my commitment to seeking out the most trustworthy version possible, unsullied by political correctness and the backsliding of our present culture. The 2011 NIV updates present some honest concerns, and it is merely an objective critique that I seek to give today, without undue criticism. It deserves some praise as well, and praise will be given where it is due.

Since I would be concerned if I had to give a plot synopsis to the Bible here, I think I'll bypass that part, and go straight to my thoughts, giving them in the form of Pros and Cons.

Pros:
To start out on a positive note, the layouts of study Bibles now pack in a lot more than they used to. Along with the notes at the bottom of the page, the 2011 NIV study Bible has extensive charts of themes, kings, historical events, and other important Bible trivia, expanded and updated since it's 1980s counterpart. They enhance the reading greatly, and add understanding and instruction to the text. Along with the charts and notes, it has a beautiful binding and an excellent layout. Easy to read, with a good print size, this carefully crafted study Bible makes the reading of Scripture easy and pleasurable.

Also, to further enhance the reading of Scripture, there are extensive pictures every few pages: plants, biblical locations, pictures of Egyptian drawings, pictures of coins and artifacts (including a crucified heel bone); all these things help to show how archaeology only goes to prove Scripture true. Though Scripture needs no man-made proof, the Lord has blessed us with archaeological confirmations, and the 2011 NIV Bible shows us many pictures of these proofs, without our having to go to a museum to actually see them.

Altogether, this 2011 study Bible is certainly a good aid for Scripture study; it might be useful to have on your shelf to enhance and act as an aid. The only disappointing thing in the NIV Bible is the Scripture itself, and the liberties the translators took to make it more politically correct.

Cons:
Here are the cons that ultimately made me switch Bible translations, mostly due to the effect it had on me while I was reading it:

1. The 2011 NIV Bible removes most of the male-specific references and makes many passages neutral gender.

I understand that in Paul's epistles the Greek work "Brothers" can be interpreted "Brothers and Sisters", and were this the only thing that the 2011 translation changes, I could get used to it. But calling a woman a 'deacon' in the church--giving the impression that it is perfectly acceptable for women to be on the church leadership--should cause an eyebrow raising. The impression the scholars want you to get by their word choices matters, folks. They have an agenda, and it's all right to acknowledge that. This is by far the only instance. All references to fathers are taken out and replaced with 'ancestors' or 'parents'. This change takes out the message of male headship and patriarchy that are unapologetically present in unsullied Scripture, and an inescapable doctrine of the Christian faith.

The 2011 NIV Bible is not committed in this instance to purity, but to cultural acceptability, and shifts the message to make the Bible acceptable to the worldviews that have come to us from atheists and Marxists and feminists. These are hard-hitting words, I know. I fully intend them to be. When the purity of Scripture is at stake, then Christians must not excuse the scholars who dealt so lightly with the infallible and God-breathed wording that we must guard. I do not say these things in rebuke of the people who read this version, certainly. Many people read this version in ignorance of the worldview shift it supports, and it is our part to have compassion, and gently point out error to those who didn't notice, or know no better. But I do believe the Lord will hold those people accountable who tamper with His Word deliberately, and that is why I take this point so seriously.

Thus, this version compromises God-give authority, first of all.

2. The 2011 NIV Bible seriously deteriorated my vocabulary, and in some cases, polluted my mind rather than cleansing it.
The Bible is what I read the most of at this point in my life, and within a few months it had seriously deteriorated my vocabulary. It's not dumbed-down as far as some other Bible versions, but all the rich word choices that you see in more intellectual versions are carefully made more common in this version. It's not a version that pulls you up; it's a version that meets you right where you are. This may sound like a snooty reason for disliking a Bible translation, but I think especially with Scripture that is spiritually feeding us, we should be mentally challenged while reading it, not swallowing down concepts that have been pureed for easy digestion. I don't mean that the Bible should not be on the level of common man. It definitely should. But at the same time, the Bible should not be on our level at all; we seek to strive to its level, not the other way around. This 2011 version deteriorated my vocabulary--or at least, didn't maintain the level of vocabulary I had--so much that I don't think I've quite built my word selection back up to what it was before.

But that's not the only thing it did. Some of the pictures included as study aids are of nude Egyptians, and also the vile goddess Asherah, a nude woman. These things are not necessary or appropriate to be included in common study Bibles, and only pull down and defile the purity that we as Christians should be able to rely on when we seek out God's Word. 

3. The 2011 NIV Bible temporarily damaged my view of the credibility of Scripture, due solely to the fault of the translation itself.

I didn't turn into an agnostic, certainly, during the time I read the 2011 NIV. But time and again, especially in the New Testament and Paul's epistles, I would read passages multiple times, trying to fit them in with what I knew to be true. One should not have to read the Bible and take captive false worldviews while doing it. The Bible should be a place of trust, a haven where we can come to receive ultimate direction, and rely on its truth. But while I read the 2011 NIV, I had neither that trust, nor was this version worthy of it. I wish I had written down the specific verses that caused me to question the logic and truth of what I was reading. I don't remember them. But I do remember morning after morning comparing these verses to different versions such as KJV, ESV, and the old NIV, and finding that it was neither the fault of my mind, nor the fault of Scripture itself, but the fault of the shoddy word choices that the 2011 NIV used.

Lest I withhold credit where credit is due, let me say that there were a few instances where the wording was actually improved, and completely acceptable and accurate. But those few instances did not balance out the majority of times where the credibility of Scripture was compromised.

I find it hard to have words to explain this; but the truth remains that while I read the 2011 NIV, I struggled with the logic of Christianity, the logic of the wording in Scripture, and why God would choose such a sloppy way to word His truth. As a writer, I'm keen to when writing rules are broken, and though I know they are man-made, and God's Word trumps in all man-made rules, the 2011 NIV is neither beautifully worded, nor an example that you can point to and say 'imitate this'. It has poor grammar, and poor structure, and it grieves me to see Scripture so sullied.

This version damaged my view of the perfection of Scripture in just a few months. It's that potent, and I had read the Bible for 10 years before that. During that time, I held on to what I knew rather than what I was reading with my eyes. I kept thinking "I know the Christian faith makes more sense than this. Why am I doubting so much now? But this just makes no logical or ethical sense to me."
And then, when I stopped reading the 2011 NIV, and switched over to a different and better version, the doubts disappeared, and the critiquing, and the inner struggles. To be honest, I forgot that I even struggled in the first place, and that confirmed in my mind that it was not the fault of my mind, or a hard heart to the Word of God, but due to very faulty wording of the version I was reading before.

The version of Scripture we read is so vital, my friends. It is the center of our understanding of God, for we cannot know God without knowing His Word. And that is why we must be so very, very careful to choose a trustworthy interpretation. I did not find this trustworthiness in the 2011 NIV Bible, and to be quite honest, I do not think this version is wise for any Christian to make part of their daily reading. It may be a resource on occasion, but certainly not for steady spiritual nourishment. Again, today's comments are meant for the 2011 version only, and not the 1980s version, which we were quite happy with, and would use today if it were still available.

The above reasons are why our family chose a different version. And that version I'll be reviewing on Friday.

It seems fitting that my 200th blog post should be centered around the Word of God. I didn't plan that, just like I didn't plan that I would finish my reading plan the same week as I hit my 200th post. It's called a grace moment; one of those numerous little occasions that show us just how much our Lord loves to tie things together in the lives of His children, and glorify Himself in the very center of all our special occasions.

If any of my readers are at Bible Bee this week, I would be delighted to meet up with you! You can find Junior B's bio on the website here, and if you find her, I'm pretty sure to be close by. :)

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

Monday, November 18, 2013

Guest Post at Fullness of Joy

Hello All! I guest posted over at Fullness of Joy today, and I've posted the introduction here, with a link at the end to the rest of the article. Enjoy, and I'll be back tomorrow!

Overachievers don't have it easy in today's culture. Not only do we have internet available twenty-four seven, so that we're constantly connected to an inflow of new information, but in that specific sweet spot between highschool and marriage there's simply so much to do. Education (whether through college or independently), caring for family needs, pursuing money-making ventures, and taking time to grow in the Lord turn our days into a hectic spin of running from one deadline to another.

When we're at all equipped for ministry in the Church, the problem compounds exponentially. Truly 'the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few', and those of us who are able to teach and disciple others are sadly outnumbered by baby Christians who clamoring for spiritual food. Ministry leaders, on top of living their everyday lives, often feel so pressed to provide for needs in the Church that our mental refreshment is for the purpose of pouring it into someone else the minute we've swallowed it.

I'm an overachiever, and have been for years. I try to say yes to every need, meet every deadline, and go as deep as I possibly can with every assignment. Many of you are too; and in the thousand varied tasks that fill our days, we try to solve our problem of too much to do and too little time by making our first and biggest mistake. We stop taking time to feed our own souls.

There are no margins. There are no five minute breaks. There are no times to sit and rest. Bedtimes creep later and rising times get earlier to compensate for the fact that we are needed, and we only have twenty-four hours in which to fill those needs. Oh, granted, we take the obligatory food to keep our souls alive. Many of us still catch some Bible reading every day. Occasionally we'll scarf down a few pages in an inspirational book, chat with a friend, or watch a movie when we're tired. But I think if we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that a lot of us have been living on spiritual and mental protein shakes for a very long time. Fun is a hazy concept, and relaxation must have been in with the Victorian age for the rich folks who could afford it. The projects never stop. The emails never end. The needs always press.

And some days, if we could really see ourselves, a lot of us overachievers would be a bunch of weak, anorexic souls who are crying inside over the things we can't let go, too hungry ourselves to feed others much longer, and desperate for someone to tell us that they'll understand if we don't get everything done.

So what can we do to escape this trap that we've created for ourselves?
 
Find the rest here.

Friday, November 15, 2013

7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness

What do an African-American baseball player, a Catholic pope, a British MP, and a United States general have in common?

Not much, perhaps, on first glance. But they all share one book, for starts, and read the book and you'll find that they all share a similar faith, and a common commitment to manly behavior.

Put the Catholic priest on hold, and I'll get back to him. I know some of you are wondering.

7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness
When I saw this release in the catalogues, it piqued my interest on first sight. Due to a very lovely birthday gift and a couple of nice long Sunday afternoons, I was able to finish it up in fairly short order. I loved every moment. Metaxas never disappoints, and if you're overwhelmed by sight of his larger tomes, this is a much more manageable read. Metaxas tells the biographies and spiritual lessons of seven great men who shaped the Church, the nation, the world, and the athletic field. These men are George Washington, first president of the United States; William Wilberforce, the man who ended the slave trade; Eric Liddell, the man who wouldn't run in the Olympics on Sunday; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the man who considered it his Christian duty to attempt an assassination on Hitler; Jackie Robinson, who broke the color divide in professional baseball; Pope John Paul II, who brought reform to the Catholic Church; and Chuck Colson, the man who gave himself to Christ after being embroiled in the Watergate scandal. Each of these men were different. Some, like Robinson, had strong physical prowess. Others, like Wilberforce, had the gift of eloquence rather than physical power. Not all made the right choices the first time around. But all of them were dedicated to the Lord, and made huge changes that impact the society we live in today.

Metaxas had one purpose in writing this book, and chronicling the lives of these men: to call this generation back to a real standard of manhood.

To quote his introduction:
In a world where all authority is questioned and in which our appreciation of real leadership--and especially fatherhood--has been badly damaged, we end up with very little in the way of the heroic in general. As we've said, the idea of manhood itself has become profoundly confused. And as a result of this, instead of God's idea of authentic manhood, we've ended up with two very distorted ideas about manhood. 

Metaxas says that men today are taught that manhood is either macho--domineering strength and bullying--or emasculated--there is no difference between men and women. But God designs men differently from women, and he gave them strength in order that they may 'protect and bless those who are weaker'.

So, Metaxas decided to write a book about manhood. But not just any abstract theories. On the contrary:
So this is a book that doesn't talk about manhood but that shows it in the actual lives of great men. You can talk about right and wrong and good and bad all day long, but ultimately people need to see it. Seeing and studying the actual lives of people is simply the best way to communicate ideas about how to behave and how not to behave. We need heroes and role models. 
Sound like a good book? It is. It definitely is.

My Thoughts
There is an eighth man's biography in this story, one that you won't see divided into a chapter or given much fanfare. It just appears, and weaves through them all, and brings personal meaning to each of these historical men. The eighth man, of course, is Eric Metaxas himself. After reading his work on Wilberforce (Amazing Grace) and his work on Bonhoeffer, I wondered who exactly this man was. Was he liberal? Was he conservative? I couldn't quite tell. He's unique like few men can be, that's certain. Very few people could pull off with dignity a biography sentence such as "Metaxas has written for Chuck Colson, Veggie Tales, and The New York Times." Yeah, he's that type of man, and proves something I've suspected for a long time: that the greatest intellectuals are often just slightly quirky. How can the same person work for Veggie Tales and then pull out a 600 page biography on Bonhoeffer? I have no idea--or rather, I think I might.

It's called being a writer. They can, on occasion, express that artistry in very odd ways.

Eric Metaxas' personal story weaves it's way through the book as he tells how each of these men impacted him. For instance, his mother was German, and his maternal grandfather enlisted and fought under Hitler in WWII, dying in the conflict. When Eric heard about Bonhoeffer, a dedicated German Christian, it answered many questions he had over Hitler's regime and how we should respond to such evil. Metaxas also introduced Chuck Colson in Colson's last speech before his death, and laid a hand on his shoulder so he could feel a human touch as he waited to be put in the ambulance. Metaxas was a young highschool student when the Roman Catholic church went through the startling death of Pope John Paul I, scarcely over a month after he was chosen for the position, and watched with the rest of the world as they chose a little-known Italian stranger to lead as the Pope's successor. Each man this book showed Metaxas, newly converted after being a agnostic college student, what the Christian life was really like.

After reading this book, I have a high respect for each man Metaxas chose. They are manly men, leaders in the world and the Church, and we owe heavy debts to their sacrifice. But I also have a great respect for Metaxas himself. He is no longer a shadowy biography writer in my mind, but a man I know much better, and a man I think is great in himself. I should like to meet him someday.

On the copyright page of this book, the publisher gives a warning notice that concerned me at first: "Highly offensive racial slurs occur in Chapter 5. As this language is an integral part of Jackie Robinson's story, the publisher has decided to let the language stand, contrary to our general policy. If the reader finds the language uncomfortable, that is as it should be." At first I wondered what in the world it could possibly be. I read the chapter, and there are insults there, though they aren't too obscene to my knowledge, from a language standpoint. Racial slurs are sadly still in use today, and highly degrading to a fellow human being created in God's image. But I think Metaxas handled this appropriately. The publisher was wise to give a warning, but there's no need for it to drive readers away.

The man who gives rise to the most question in this book, is of course, Pope John Paul II. For lack of space here I'm going to have to direct you to the chapter itself to do justice to it. Metaxas explains himself pretty well. Also, I wrote an article not too long ago on the portrayal of Roman Catholicism in literature, which would give some bearing on this point. Pope John Paul II led the church in a highly influential time in history; his scholarly achievements alone are astounding coming from the poor family that he did, and his example of gentle leadership and love for his flock are well worth reading about. John Paul II fought hard for the life of the unborn, and continually urged George Bush the younger against continuing in stem cell research projects. He's a man worth knowing, even though his beliefs weren't perfect, and I think he is justly included in this book.

It's hard to choose a favorite role model from all the men here. I love William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer very dearly, but after reading this book, I think I highly esteem every single one of the men Metaxas chose. They all fought for a cleaner and a better world, and looked to the Lord for strength in their weakness, turning down money, fame, power, and comfort for the sake of their faith. They are truly great, worthy of the time it took to learn about them, and then some.

Both men and women will benefit greatly from reading this book. Women should read this book to learn how to affirm and build up the men in their life, rather than to control them. The wives of these men are worth observing as well; every one of these men had a woman upbuilding and affirming them, and though an unspoken part of the story, they had a huge impact on their husbands. (Except, of course, the Pope.) And though not a man myself, I think men will be encouraged by Metaxas' call to courage and dominion in a culture that often manipulates and discourages leadership.

We need men. We need to value the men we have. And 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness seeks to show America that if these men throughout the centuries can overcome great obstacles for their Lord, then today's men can as well.

A must-read. I highly recommend it.

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Strait of Hormuz

I finished one of my current reads on Sunday, and most of another one. It felt so good.

There is nothing to a bibliophile like having time to read, and reading two hundred pages on a Sunday is the most refreshing kind of rest there is. Not just two hundred pages, but two hundred enjoyable and relaxing ones. There are some that aren't, let me assure you, but these were, and fueled me up to start in on a 900 page trilogy I'm supposed to review soon.

One book was a brand new non-fiction biography release, and one was a brand-new suspense fiction.
Since I like guilty pleasures, let's start with the suspense fiction today. I liked the other one very well, but putting the suspense fiction after Eric Metaxas' 7 Men is like serving homemade cake and then trying to pass around the store-bought version. Doesn't taste quite as good. So we'll talk about the guilty pleasure first and then ease into the really deep stuff.

Today's book review is about Strait of Hormuz by Davis Bunn, the third in the Marc Royce Adventures series. Though you could read these books as stand-alone novels, they are meant to go in consecutive order, and you would probably enjoy them, as well as Marc's character development, in the order in which they are written. The first in the series (and I think the best) is Lion of Babylon. The second, Rare Earth, I have reviewed here.

The Book
Marc Royce finds himself walking up to a famous art gallery in Geneva, Switzerland, with no backup and no prepping. He's a freelance agent for an American ambassador, and on this mission he's breaking into the gallery owner's computer files on a search for suspicious communications that may have international import. To frame his visit, he's commissioned to purchase a very valuable painting, and track where the money goes, as the owner is suspected of using his wealth to finance international terrorism. Marc isn't entirely sure where this slim theory on the part of his superiors will lead.

When he enters the art gallery, he finds someone has been there before him. The owner, Sylvan Gollet, lies dead on the floor, and Marc just has a moment to get out before he falls to the same fate.

The fact that a friend of his--a very good,  former friend--shows up at the last minute to join him in his mission only complicates everything.

Before the story opens, Marc tells Kitra Korban that though he has a very great affection for her, his life mission is not to run an Israeli kibbutz community, and no matter how much she wants him to, he can't do it. Kitra, who thinks that to be happy she must have both the kibbutz and Marc, is very upset. And now they have to work together, without 'official' government sanction, on a very confusing case. And while they're working together, they decide to determine the future of their relationship at the same time.

Don't worry. This plot is quite good, and Bunn wrote it well.

Marc's able to piece a little more of the case together following the murder, and it all begins to take shape. The money isn't being used by the gallery owner at all. There's someone much bigger behind this, selling art for high prices and squeezing financial help out of his minions. After Gollet is removed, the mastermind turns to Rhana Mandana to sell more art for him. And what this man is financing is missile production in Iran and North Korea. They've already produced the parts for the missiles, the parts are en route to the place where they will be set off, and Iran is readying to create an international incident. Not only with the United States, but also the nation of Israel.

All this much is obvious after a little research, and when Marc traces down the vessel bearing the factory parts for the missiles, he realizes just how great a threat they're facing. But some of the American government is not in agreement with Marc's supervisors. They think he's on the wrong track, and he has seven days before the US boards and searches an Iran vessel entering the Strait of Hormuz. Marc knows the vessel is a decoy, not only to provoke war, but also to keep US attention off the real target.

So he teams up with an Israeli nurse, a Swiss police officer, a Swiss intel agent, and a Iranian art gallery owner, to expose the truth.


My Thoughts
Being a bibliophile and lover of classic literature, I must save my threatened reputation by saying that it is not my habit to read suspense fiction. But I like a good book too much to turn up my nose when I see it, and this series was hand-picked for several different reasons. I don't like all of Davis Bunn's works, but I think his career switch into suspense fiction was a very wise choice after he tried a run of the romance novels. He was made to write suspense fiction, and he does a much better job at that, and it feels more natural to his writing style. It's always neat to see when an author finds their niche, and he certainly found his. This is not lit fiction, folks, but it's a very good example of worthwhile pop fiction.
When you have suspense fiction with an Israel/Iran focus, chemical weapons, and international espionage, it has all the proper ingredients to grab people's attention. Strait of Hormuz is definitely an attention-grabber, and I found it quite enjoyable for a day's read. The plot was fairly original, and the romance was something fresh and new. There were only two paragraphs that were rather over-emotional, one from Marc's perspective and one from Kitra's, and they really weren't necessary to the plot. Understatement works better with these two characters, and felt the most natural. At first I really was dead-set against Marc and Kitra, though I knew it was inevitable, but Bunn persuaded me around to his viewpoint, and I was pleasantly surprised.
For the most part, though there are plenty of female government workers in this story, Bunn does not promote a feminist agenda with them. But in spite of that, there are generally a couple of times where I don't like the female attitudes, and in this book I didn't like first conversation that Marc had with some Washington high-ups. There were two men and a woman, and the woman overruled one of the men every single time he opened his mouth. This is not how ladies should behave, even in the workforce, and I do hope that most readers would recognize that this example is not one to be imitated.
I loved the names in this book. Some books stand out specifically for their good names, and this is one of them. Rhana, the Iranian art gallery owner, changed her name to one of Persian origin because of her life mission. Kitra, Marc, and Amin--each adds a spark of life to the characters' personalities. Names are almost as vital as personalities, and I like ones that are easy to pronounce, and yet different from the normal selection.
I would have liked to see Rhana's past get just a little more forefront in her plot. I read most of the book in one day, and I still missed the connection between her father's death and her thirst for revenge. I'm known for missing the obvious in my quest for the deeply hidden, but I think the explanation was only given to the reader once, and it would have been easier to remember along with everything else that was happening if it had been reiterated again. Rhana's motives and inner struggles are a huge part of the information that Marc finds, so it's important the reader is able to stay connected.
I think my favorite part of this book, besides a good adventure, was the faith of the main character. Bunn always had it in this series, and I applaud him for the way he incorporated it so openly. He didn't hide Marc's faith, but often created whole scenes around his inner character growth. Quietly folded in amongst shattering bullets and assassins, there are times where the characters have genuine moments of surrendering to the Lord. Not the cheesy kind, but facing their Creator in a real and authentic way, (especially on Marc and Kitra's part), and finding new depths to Him, through Scripture and prayer. Letting go of their own desires, their own attempted manipulations, and praying that the Lord would show them the path which they should follow. Hard to believe, I know, with suspense fiction. But it's there all the same.

If you're ever in need of a quick and light read, Davis Bunn's Strait of Hormuz should fit the bill. It will give you the flash of adventure you're craving, and a main character worth making the acquaintance of.

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

*This book was given to me for free by the Bethany House Blogging for Books program. I was not obligated to give a favorable review, and have expressed my honest opinion.*

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Living Forest Series

Thank-you, friends and fellow bibliophiles, for waiting patiently for me to come back! I missed you all, I do assure you, and that was the first time an unplanned break has happened here. But I did enjoy myself on Tuesday with the election working, and finished got some very important work done that I had to sacrifice the blog post for. And now I'm back, with a couple of books today that our family has very much enjoyed. :)

Most bibliophiles enjoy a good animal story, but opinions definitely vary as to what sorts of animal stories are acceptable. Some people like talking animals, and some are made very uncomfortable by that. Many authors treat animals with a love almost bordering on worship, and write from the idea that we should love our ancestors that didn't evolve as far as we did.

Well, today's animal stories have none of these things, and they incorporate the best of everything. Young and old alike are fascinated by them, and they don't have talking animals, but every animal has a unique personality. Even better, they skip some of the more objectionable content found in the James Herriot books. Not that I dislike talking animals or James Herriot. But today's series is good, clean, educational fun, without questionable content, and I always like when I can say that in a review.

The books are the Living Forest Series by Sam Campbell.

They're written just like fiction, but they're absolutely true. The author started jotting down his stories during WWII, to cheer up the population at large, and they continue to provide laughter and the warm, fuzzy satisfaction that animal lovers are most delighted by.

A friend loaned the first book in the series to us, and we were enchanted by it. Junior B went on to read many of them, but I have only read two thus far, so I'll be reviewing those two today, along with a little bit about the author so the story-lines make more sense.

About the Author
Sam Campbell, born in 1895, lived in Illinois, and his fascination with animals quickly expanded as he explored the family farm he grew up on. He loved all living creatures, and had a strong bond with them that would last the rest of his life. Though he went to college and tried teaching music, along with several other jobs, the nature won out in the end. He took up residence in a little cabin on Four Mile Lake in Wisconsin, later marrying and bringing his wife Giny to live with him. He was so attached to his cabin that he took up writing to earn a living so he wouldn't have to leave, and it was a wise choice, for he certainly has the knack of making animals come alive on the page.

Campbell started out small, writing a book called The Conquest of Grief, which explored the topic of death, and giving nature lectures on the radio. His radio lectures, instilling the joy of nature into others, quickly grew in popularity, and he often drew on his experiences caring for wild animals near his cabin. Campbell's passion was to see people get out of their hurried city lives and quietly explore the lessons that nature had to offer. After his first book he turned to nature stories, and there found the niche that he would continue in for the rest of his life.

When an official from the Chicago and Northwestern Railway heard one of Campbell's lectures in the 1930s, he liked what he heard and offered to sponsor lecture tours. Over the next 30 years, Campbell toured all over the United States, lecturing throughout the winter and returning to care for his wildlife every summer at his little island cabin. He delivered over 9,000 lectures throughout that era of his life, truly a stunning number.

When he died of a heart attack, shortly before he planned to return to his cabin after a winter in Illinois, his ashes were scattered over the island. And his memory and love for nature are still alive, though sadly almost unknown, today.

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo and Still-Mo
This was our first experience with Sam Campbell, and though it isn't the first book in the Living Forest series, it's a great one to begin with. Sam and his wife Giny are given five baby squirrels that have lost their mother, and name them each according to the above title.

When they first take in the squirrels, they are also hosting a young man about to go off to the war-front. His name is Duke, and he's a joyful soul, always ready to laugh, very gentle, and completely innocent. When he leaves, Sam and Giny send him regular reports of the squirrels he loves so much, and the scrapes they get themselves in. They soon find out that Duke is reading their letters to the other soldiers in his division, and many boys in khaki are hanging on simply because of the thought that somewhere far away, there are five red squirrels enjoying a life untouched by combat.

Over the course of time, Sam and Giny notice a difference in Duke's letters. The laughter gradually disappears from them, and they are no longer the cheery epistles they used to be. War sometimes changes a man, and they worry that what he had to do did more damage to Duke than just physically. But there is great healing in nature, and they hope the five red squirrels will be just as good medicine after heartache as they were before it.

Still-Mo was our favorite. I think he was Sam's favorite too. (Though you never really do know if Still-Mo is a boy or a girl, as Sam refers to it as either throughout other books.)

The Seven Secrets of Somewhere Lake
Sam Campbell told his wife Giny one spring that, since they were going to be taking a trip to the Grand Canyon later that summer, they were absolutely not going to accept the care of baby animals that year. Campbell and his wife had a well-known wildlife haven, and often folks would bring them abandoned or hurt babies for them to nurse back to health.


Giny, of course, is very disappointed and doesn't believe a word of it.

And true to form, the fates were against them, and they had a baby fox, a baby deer, a baby skunk, and a puppy before much time had passed. Not only that, but Sam has the only safe location to keep seven young beavers in a lake near his cabin. If he doesn't, then they may very well be illegally trapped for their pelts. Sam can't refuse, of course, and takes in every one of them. Their antics are absolutely delightful, and make you feel as if you are really there observing the animals make unique friendships with each other.

When the time comes for Sam and Giny to go to the Grand Canyon to collect some photographs of the wildlife, they call on a young friend of theirs fresh out of highschool to care for the babies they've adopted, and to keep a strict eye on the beavers. But they wonder if the beavers will still be there when they get back, or if a neighbor of theirs will discover the Seven Secrets, and trap them for their valuable pelts.

My Thoughts
What I love about Sam Campbell is that, though his books are a collection of nature observations and they aren't fiction, they all have a plot. By the time you get to the end it has the same build-up and climax as a regular story book. Each person grows in some way throughout the story, whether finding renewed peace at the cabin, or taking time away to wrestle with issues that they are dealing with at the time. Sam and Giny are always there, offering good advice, though sometimes making mistakes themselves as well. They are a truly amazing couple, working together, and their marriage is a beautiful example of what a man and his helpmeet can do when they are of one mind and purpose.

Sam draws many parallels between the animals and the Christian life, not in the devotional format, but in a simple outpouring of what they have taught him about their Creator. While he does acknowledge the Lord, and often mentions Him, we're not sure if he had a true understanding of the gospel or not. It's hard to say. Whether or not he did, his books are realistic, living portraits of creation that will point young and old alike to the Creator.

We live in a busy culture. But reading Sam Campbell's nature books is like taking a retreat to a little cabin in the woods, and finding rest ourselves.

Some libraries have film available that was collected by Sam Campbell himself, and narrated by him as well. www.samcampbell.com has more information on them and his other works.

You can find more about the author here.

I highly recommend that if you haven't discovered this series for yourself, you give it a try. They are guaranteed to be a good read, and whether or not you consider yourself an animal lover, a wide variety of interests and ages will find enjoyment in them.

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile


Monday, November 4, 2013

In Which My Lady Bibliophile Is Absent

My dear friends and fellow bibliophiles~

Tomorrow (Tuesday) I shall be gone as an election worker, and since I was not able to get a post finished ahead of time, I will have to beg your indulgence while I take a break from blogging. I'll be back Friday! Have a wonderful week, and be sure to take a little time to relax with a good book! :)

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

Friday, November 1, 2013

Dr. Oma

I asked Junior B if she had any suggestions for a Reformation-themed book, and for once she trotted off and came back bringing me one. A red-letter day, and with many grateful thanks I dedicated this post to Junior Bibliophile and present to you Dr. Oma by Ethel Herr.

Junior B. read this book aloud earlier this year, and it was a very good story, set in the 16th century Germany, and following the life of the Countess Juliana von Stolberg through the eyes of her granddaughter, young Maria. This book, with its beautiful cover illustration and inside layout, is divided into four parts, and covers four major sections of Juliana's story.

About the Book
Part One (1567-1568) begins with a very young Maria, as her father calls her away from her comfortable position in attendance upon Duchess Margaretha of Parma. The whole family is in danger from Willem of Oranje's political and religious views, and Maria learns that they are all going to the castle of Dillenburg to live with her Oma, Juliana. Maria is afraid of the reports she has heard that her grandmother is not a true Catholic. But when she arrives at the Dillenburg, her grandmother soon eases her fears and teaches her not only the art of herbal healing, but also the truth of the Holy Scriptures that the Catholics had hidden with their false doctrines so long.

Part Two (1568-1571) is by far the darkest part of this book, as it deals with Willem of Oranje's mad wife, Anna. Though Ethel Herr touches fairly gently and discreetly on the adultery, she still includes it as a part of history, and Anna's madness and abuse cause Maria to cling even closer to the calm stability of her Oma as her own family fractures. Not only do we see Anna's story from the picture of a concerned step-daughter, but we also get a hint at what Oma might have felt like, watching her son struggle with his marital difficulties.

Part Three (1572-1574) and Part Four (1577-1580) touch on Juliana's life running the castle as her son Willem takes a more active part in the war, and she watches her children and grandchildren take sides in the political alliances. Empty helmets from perished sons are sent back to the Dillenburg, and Oma, in the midst of her own struggles, takes the opportunity to show Maria how a godly matriarch handles misfortunes and stands fast in the midst of difficulties. As Maria watches her beloved Oma near the end of her life, the time she has spent in the Dillenburg prepares her to take her own part in the upcoming political struggles of her day.

My Thoughts
When Junior B first brought this book out, I did have to stifle a slight cough when I heard who the author was. (Apologies, sister dear...) Though I didn't doubt her choice, as Junior chooses very good books to read aloud, I had read a couple of books by Ethel Herr before, and they left a little to be desired as far as plotting went. But though my arch-enemy Pieter the painter did show up, (I detested him in another book for his over-abundant tears and constant questioning of God's goodness every time he was thrown in prison) fortunately Junior managed to keep me well under control whenever he was mentioned, and we got along swimmingly.

All right, I'm only joking. I really did enjoy this story; it portrayed a famous figure through the eyes of a child, which is always an interesting premise for historical fiction. While Maria is fairly young at the beginning, she is a young woman by the time the story concludes. I think with her growth and maturity, we see a growing and expanding portrait of Juliana as well, and that adds a nice touch to the story. Also, the whole theme of passing the torch from grandmother to granddaughter was a sweet and inspiring one; strong grandparent figures aren't always easy to come by in literature, but this is definitely one of them. Juliana not only instilled her love of the Lord in Maria; she also gave her a practical knowledge of natural healing and medicines, a subject that always piques my interest, though I have not yet been able to study it in depth.

As far as cons, the only thing I can think of is the adultery/madness incident, which might not be good for very young girls, but other than that it's fairly all-ages friendly, and even those themes are handled discreetly and appropriately. There was a slight overabundance of emotion (specifically crying) on occasion, but nothing that couldn't be got over, and certainly not on a level with many Victorian heroines.

Maybe I should just appreciate characters crying more. I seem to have a real grievance about that today. But I prefer crying over them rather than them crying over each other, as a general rule, unless they are under great provocation.

Dr. Oma is part of the Chosen Daughters series, which Junior B. highly recommends, and this series has other books set in the Reformation as well. The idea of the series is to take great historical women of the faith and turn them into historical fiction, and from what I've heard, they do a very good job of it!

We all enjoyed reading Dr. Oma together, and it gives a specifically female portrait during the Reformation. A lot of the men are featured in books, and certainly the men carried the brunt of the movement, but it's always inspiring to learn of a few women-folk who were helpmeets to their husbands.

About the Historical Figure

Juliana von Stolberg, born the 15th of February 1506, was raised in a traditional Catholic family. She didn't stay Catholic all her life, though; later on she converted to Lutheranism, and then again she made the ultimate switch to Calvinism, and this conversion would stay with her the rest of her life.

One of the things Juliana is famous for is, of course, her children. Willem of Oranje, is one of her sons, and the man who freed the Dutch from Catholic tyrannies. (This conflict is deeply portrayed in H. Rider Haggard's Lysbeth.) His mother certainly deserves remembrance from that score. But Willem wasn't her only child; in fact, he wasn't even her first. In the six years she was married to her first husband, Phillip II of Hanau-Munzenberg, Juliana had five children. She was appointed joint guardian along with William, Count of Nassau, on her husband's death, and later she married William. Throughout the 28 years of their marriage, Juliana had 12 children, making for a total of 17 children in all. Through those children she had 123 grandchildren, one of which was Maria.

Famous both for her family and for her healing skills in the herbarium, Juliana dispensed much physical and spiritual healing to the community under her care during her lifetime. She and her husband both zealously taught their children the Protestant faith, and their devotion to God was reflected by the devotion of many of their children and grandchildren.

Truly, hers is a legacy worth preserving, as one of the women that opened the blind eyes of the Catholic Church and gave us the sola scriptura and Protestant doctrines that many of us hold to today. Dr. Oma, by Ethel Herr, describes a portion of that legacy and is well worth reading.

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

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