Friday, August 31, 2012

Real Church in a Social Network World

It's 3:00 p.m. on a Monday afternoon.

The house is dead quiet. Exhausted family members are finding places of repose here and there around the house. Lady Bibliophile is taking the time to borrow the oh-so-in-demand laptop. All of a sudden she begins gesticulating wildly at the computer screen, and mouthing a Bible-thumping, laptop pounding sermon. At whom--or what?

An e-book. (Yes, friends and fellow bibliophiles, that's really me.)


Today's review: a 100 page e-book, Leonard Sweet's Real Church in a Social Network World, from Waterbrook Multnomah. This book was compiled from his three books What Matters Most, The Three Hardest Words, and The Gospel According to Starbucks, to advertise his new book Viral coming soon. The e-book also includes the first chapter of Viral.

The culture is changing. We live in a world obsessed with relationships and the virtual community, and a world in which people are slowly letting go of the Christian faith. While one is not the cause of the other, many are endeavoring to find ways of attracting the social networking generation back to Sunday morning services. Methods stemming from a need for "updated" worship styles to watering down the Word of God have all been tried. Leonard Sweet steps up with another answer in Real Church in a Social Network World, which at first sounds pretty appealing, but in reality is rather questionable.

Sweet starts by placing faith and belief at odds: Belief, he says, is "intellectual, defensible, and typically irrelevant." Faith is "a quest for discovery...It is the life of relating to God, to others, and to God's creation." He says that our generation is one that recognises the value of relationship over "irrelevant" theological rules, and we should take a few pointers from that.

In other words: "Belief is Plato; faith is Jesus."

Sweet is right in that belief and faith are different. I agree completely. But he says that faith is right and  belief is wrong; "to admit (believe) falls far short of to commit (faith)."

God himself called us to believe (John 14:11, Acts 6:31) and if you dig deeper into the Greek, these words' meanings tie in both intellectual assent and faith. God himself in Isaiah 1:18 says "come let us reason together"when he's talking about forgiving our sin. That means "argue, dispute, rebuke". Belief and faith are inseparable, because we must have a reasonable belief in the God we place our faith in. One necessitates the other. While intellectual assent is not enough without faith, it is still a valuable step to having a grounded faith--a faith that will remain unshaken.

Sweet does have a couple of interesting and sound sections in his book: page 33, on his discussion of the cleansing rituals in the Old Testament, was both interesting and informative. And his section on God's love, on page 34, was very sound--God is Love, not just loving. His love has no "on season", and no "off season". And you cannot love and be in control at the same time. "Love is the
hardest thing in the world to get right, because when you give up control, you consent to uncertainty and unpredictable outcomes."

In the end, Sweet places the emphasis on relationship rather than belief, saying that a "faith" in Jesus Christ is more important than a "belief" in Him.

Then he goes on to claim that if we want a really good relationship with God, we should prize the "chaos" of a growing relationship. "Only chaos brings forth new ideas, new experiences, and new energies, because only chaos is open and receiving, ready for change." Chaos brings forth nothing but chaos. It takes order to create, to bring forth new ideas and new energies, because only order makes it possible. When God created the universe, He did not use a nebulous evolutionary action, but an orderly creation week, complete with orderly creation, and orderly times and seasons. And so it is in the spiritual world as well. We grow in Christ in an orderly way, not on a chaotic, random conglomeration of spiritual maturity.

Along with all of this, Sweet puts forth questions that continually divorce one half of God's character from the other: "Rules or relationship, which will you choose?" and the mistaken idea that Jesus came to get rid of the law and implement relationships instead. (Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.--Matthew 5:17)

All in all, Sweet's book is such a mixture of error and truth that it's hard to discern one from the other. It's one e-book that I wouldn't recommend that you purchase, or spend your time reading. Sweet is right that relationships are important, as well as faith. But this work of his won't help you correctly understand real church in a social network world.

This e-book was given to me by Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for my honest opinion. I have given it in this review.

Requesting Your Rating
If you rate my review here I will gain points with the Waterbrook Multnomah Blogging for Books program. It requires you to enter your email address, and you will get an email afterwards. You do have to click the verification link in the email for me to get the ranking. It may sign you up for advertisements, but you can easily unsubscribe if you wish. Thanks! :)

Just as a fun little thing to round out the post, I had to include:

10 Reasons Why Printed Books Will Never Go Obsolete.

1. I never have to recharge them.
2. They never freeze up.
2. They will never crash and lose all their data.
4. I never have to wait ten minutes for them to turn on.
5. They never need updates
6. They last for decades when treated properly.
7. I can buy them for just a quarter at a time.
8. They never slow down because of poor bandwidth.
9. I never have to get a beta version first.
10. They've existed since the beginning of time.

I'm still looking for a good book on the church and modern technology, because I think technology is a very useful tool. If you have any good suggestions, I would love to hear about them! :)

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Magic, Fantasy, and Allegory (Part Four)

Today I hope to conclude our discussion of magic and fantasy. That's an ambitious thought, but we shall see if it is carried out. Four final issues today:

1. Beasties and Yugglies and Turnover Uglies and Things That Go Bump in the Night
(Credit goes to Lee Hammond for the title.) I hope that all of us who read Tolkien and Lewis have wondered from time to time how to handle talking animals and elves, and goblins, and such creatures. To be honest, I don't know about elves at this point and time. Goblins, etymologically, are of evil origin, and should be on the side of evil if they must be included at all. No converted goblins, please. So today we're only going to discuss talking animals. Note that by talking animal I am not referring to fauns, naiads, or centaurs, only animals in their original animal form that talk. The others will have to come later (perhaps when we get around to dissecting Narnia).

Talking animals--to be honest, I've come to the conclusion that they're not an entire deal-breaker for me. After all, animals do talk. Every form of wildlife has some audible means of communication with others of it's kind--whether chirps, barks, mewing (for the cat-loving bibliophiles) and various noises. They express many of the same things that we do--love, pain, pleasure, etc. In such books as The Wind in the Willows and Winnie-the-Pooh, the fantasy of talking animals merely portrays communication between the different kinds, which does actually happen, though not to that extent. It's not talking that makes us different from the animal kinds. For instance, our talking enables us to understand other humans clearly. Then, we learn the general meaning of the sounds that dogs, birds, and cats make. True we don't know exactly what they mean by it, but we can make an educated guess. Animals also learn our general meaning when we speak to them. They can register tones of praise and rebuke, even sometimes of sadness. So it's not communication in itself that makes us different from the animal kind, (though granted, our forms of communication are different according to the biblical kind) but the fact that we have immortal souls made in the image of God.
In the case of the talking animals of Narnia, the only point that makes them different from regular animals is that they use the human form of communication. Now while I probably wouldn't write using this technique myself, and I don't totally endorse it, it's not completely evil to think about--at least, to my understanding at this point and time. However, the general rule of thumb to sift through such books should be that any form of animal in the fantasy/allegory genre must be in subjection to man. Talking or no, man is  the higher creation, and in Genesis 1 God gave Adam dominion over the animals.  While I wouldn't recommend a intense diet of talking animals, the animals are only put on our level when they portrayed as having immortal souls, or put on the same authority level with humans, not necessarily when they have human speech.

[Side Note: This section is not meant to address the issue of whether or not animals go to Heaven. That's another topic for another day.]

#2. Concerning Witches
So where do we draw the line on witches? Well, firstly we shouldn't read too much about them. Witches are under demonic influence, and it's just not healthy to make that a normal part of your reading diet. "Whatever is good, pure, lovely, etc." Witches are none of those things. But, in the case where evil is fought against so that the world may be returned to what is good, pure, and beautiful, it may have some merit as illustrating triumph over evil. After all,
 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
--Ephesians 6:12

We do wrestle against demons, against spiritual wickedness, against the devil himself. Not against flesh and blood. And in some cases, books may properly illustrate this. But not in every case. I don't know enough to give you a three step test judge this out. But I would imagine that every one of you possesses at least one copy of God's Word. It's there to be used, the God will give you wisdom in applying it. My only suggestion at this point is that if witches are used in the book, you probably shouldn't be able to "see" from the their perspective. Just as we can't see what Satan and his minions are thinking, so in books of this nature we should only be able to see from the perspective of good working to overcome evil. Because that is what we do, and therefore, that's what our literary friends should do.

#3 White Magic and Black Magic

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! -Isaiah 5:20

When an author calls evil "good or white", then you have a problem. We've already discussed this in the terms of "good" witch and "bad" witch. For that reason I'm not a fan of several old classics. Misused term or not, it sends the wrong message. But how about white magic and black magic? It really depends. Here's a few thoughts that may be helpful: Good and evil must be different--in other words, the good guys must be using a different kind of power than the bad guys. Not merely a different name; it must be different entirely, and it must derive from the highest source of power in the story. The "God" figure of the fantasy or allegory. The human characters cannot be a power unto themselves, and they cannot change the fate of the nation through their own strength. I'm not talking about a group of men turning the tide of the battle, here. I'm saying that the human figures in the story must acknowledge that, whatever the outcome of the crisis they're facing, they themselves cannot choose what it will be. That means that Frodo can't control the outcome at Mount Doom, and Tirian has no power to eliminate Tash from his foes. If the story properly represents human/God relationships, then the characters must be vulnerable-- their "magic" can't control the outcome. Also, human "magic" should not have power over human life. If someone dies, it should be from a clean bullet or sword slice--a tangible means. Otherwise, the God-figure of the story must be clearly shown as taking his people Home. Third, (and finally) I am much more comfortable with the winter-that-never-ends and violent thunderstorms that I am with drowsy eyes and feelings of horror. While I don't particularly like either reaction, I would rather the black magic be evidenced in the natural world, and not in physical bodies.
Generally, if magic is being used, the evil side should be the one relying on magical powers, and the good side should be relying on their God-figure. That, I think, is a more biblical presentation of good and evil.

There may be such a thing black magic, but if the other side is "white" then I strongly doubt you can use magic in the same breath.

#4 Why would I accept one book containing magic and not another?
You may be wondering why I read and enjoy Tolkien, but not a book containing magic like Michael Phillips' Angel Harp. Good question. Part of it is the fact that if magic is going to be used, I would rather see it in the realm of hobbits and elves than read of it's being used in the 21st century with human beings. It's called protection, partly. It's called conviction, partly. But in the end, books like these come down to gut feeling. (That's really the best way I can find to express it.) If they give me the wrong kind of "creep" factor, or make me feel uncomfortable, or my mind is sending up giant red flags, then I know that something's wrong. I realize that our hearts are deceitful, but the Holy Spirit's conviction is not, and God uses feelings of discomfort to drive us away from dangerous things. After I set the book down, He always gives me concrete direction on why I shouldn't read it, or why I should save it until later. I'm not recommending a mystical feel-the-book-and-see-if-its-good evaluation. God's Word has clear-cut principles that do not bend to different circumstances. But the application of those principles call for individual prayer and insight, and that's where we come to different conclusions. Some people may get the same warning signals reading Tolkien, etc. that I get reading Angel Harp. In that case, you shouldn't read it. In a genre like this, we can't lump all the books together and make a mass evaluation. They have to be taken and judged individually.

Well, friends and fellow bibliophiles, that's all for today on Magic, Allegory, and Fantasy. Next time we'll conclude with a post on allegory and final wrap-up. While some of the points I've mentioned today may be negotiable, or not fully threshed out yet, I am merely telling you where I stand right now. I am sure that my perspective on this will grow and expand as the Lord teaches me more. I would love to hear your thoughts and questions on this topic as well. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, August 24, 2012

Birthday Wishes--Amazing Grace

Today I wish to commemorate the birthday of a cultural reformer in history. This man affected your daily life, whether you know it or not, by his lifelong fight to abolish evil. Because of his efforts, you stand in a cleaner world--a purer world--a world in which this evil, though it still exists in dark corners of the world, is not culturally acceptable--the man who fought to abolish the slave trade.

William Wilberforce.

He would have turned 253 today. Fortunately his memory is immortal, as is his dedicated Christian soul, and we can celebrate a life that over two centuries later is still bearing fruit. Though slavery is not erased from the world, yet through his work, it is no longer acceptable to Christians and the majority of society--but only those whose evil hearts remain unswayed.

I learned much from Wilberforce. He is one of my historical heroes, and his fight to end the slave trade inspires me weekly in my fight for the reform of family and society. If you have met him, you can never learn too much, and if you never have, it is my pleasure and honor to introduce you to a man that I greatly esteem. I have three items of interest to offer you today: a book, a radio drama, and a movie. And they are all entitled Amazing Grace.

The Book

I first knew of Eric Metaxas through his stellar work Bonhoeffer, which released a couple of years ago. But less than a year ago I heard of his work on Wilberforce, and was immediately intrigued to learn more. Just this last week I finished it for the first time, and I would like to review it all for you today. Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce, and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery.
To state the conclusion first, I was not disappointed with my second foray into Metaxas' work. He did an excellent job portraying Wilberforce's life and times in an engaging style. From Wilberforce's early leanings towards Christianity, through the influence of his Methodist aunt, to his riotous years in Cambridge that may have affected his mental capacity, to his entrance into Parliament and his growing faith, Metaxas captures it all with laid-back style and deep interest. You can tell that he was profoundly interested by his research into Wilberforce's life.
You'll find out many things about Wilberforce that you never would have believed were true--his harum-scarum lifestyle, complete with myriads of pets--his abstractedness and childlike love for nature and little people--his kind philanthropy and inability to refuse the slightest request offered him. Elements that I thought were a modern gag in the movie proved to be actual events and attitudes that Wilberforce took part in. Surprise, surprise.
But most breathtaking and inspiring of all was his fight to better society in his wars with Parliament. When he first stood up to present his bill to abolish the slave trade, he had less supporters in the House than the fingers of one hand, and hundreds against him. From fighting the debauchery of the Prince of Wales to dealing with double-faced supporters, he persevered time and time again when the odds were against him. The most heartbreaking moment was in 1796, when his bill failed 70-74 because his loyal supporters chose to attend the opera rather than stay to vote--he would have had more than plenty to succeed, had they done their duty. But above all, he cared for others--the slaves enduring the monstrous Middle Passage, and dying by torture in the West Indian plantations. And because he cared for others above himself, he persevered first for twenty years to abolish the slave trade itself, and then another thirty to achieve ultimate emancipation.

My Thoughts--

I would critique Metaxas on a couple of points in his literary style. For one thing, he persisted in comparing people of that day to imagined modern-day counterparts. Had I had any idea who the modern comparisons were, it might not have been lost upon me. But it was a bit annoying to wade through the comparisons--mainly because I didn't know who they were, but also because the reformers in Wilberforces' day were giants in their own right--they don't need a comparison to our day to make them greater or more understandable. So that, I thought, could have been left out. The only other thing which I think he did poorly as a Christian author was one of the primary quotes he included using the name of the Lord in vain--twice. Metaxas was on a rabbit trail at that point anyway, and the whole paragraph was dispensable. It illustrated nothing that needed to be said, and I thought that his choice to include an unnecessary quote that was dishonoring to the Lord was a poor one. But these points aside, I think his overall work was well-done.

A couple of points that were not Metaxas' fault but rather the fault of history, I would also like to warn new  readers about: Chapter 8 and the first section of Chapter 9 were detailed accounts of the slave trade and the horrors involved in the Middle Passage. Personally, I recommend skipping them. Some of the details are quite heartbreaking, as well as explicit, and may be more emotionally traumatic than everyone can handle. If you do decide to skip them, you won't lose any part of Wilberforce's life, or important links in his Parliamentary struggle, and I think you would enjoy the book better without them. The last half of Chapter 22 is quite sordid, discussing the trial of Queen Caroline and her numerous adulteries, along with those of her husband, the Prince of Wales. While nothing totally inappropriate is said, I would urge caution depending on your individual standards and where you draw the limit. It is a section more for older readers.
But however long it takes to detail all these points, they are really rather small in the grand scheme of things. For the majority of the book it's an engaging and informative look into William Wilberforce's life. Most of the facts in the book I was already acquainted with--due to the movie and the radio drama--but I did learn a few new things, as well as getting events put into their proper chronological context. I enjoyed it immensely, would recommend it as a read to anyone, and would read it again, multiple times.

The Radio Drama

Focus on the Family Radio Theatre did a stellar production of the lives of John Newton, Olaudah Equiano, and William Wilberforce in their Amazing Grace drama. The dramas of the separate men are entitled Grace Abounding, Grace Unshackled, and Grace Victorious, respectively. I recommend these audios for age 16 and up, though it varies from person to person. Again, due to the details of the slave trade and the horrors involved, as well as the more mature themes of John Newton's life, you may wish to edit his and Equiano's stories according to your sensitivity level. Grace Victorious we were able to listen to as an entire family, ages 12 and up. It has one man's account of illness on a slave ship, but the account is spoken, not dramatized, and therefore is not as emotionally involved to listen to.
I highly recommend this drama for the older listener, as it gives a clear and Christian picture of the lives of these three men.

The Movie
Directed by Michael Apted and produced by Walden Media, the Amazing Grace movie portrayal of William Wilberforce's fight to end the slave trade include period drama celebrities such as Ioan Griffudd, Ramola Garai, Ciaran Hinds, and Michael Gambon. Provocative and compelling, it drew me to tears at it's conclusion (something that doesn't happen often.) Though I do recommend this movie, I recommend it with caution, and urge you to get a review of it before you look it up. If you like, I would be happy to give you a review by email using the address on the sidebar.

Today is a very special day to celebrate around the globe, for it is the day to celebrate one man whom God used to fight for the abolition of the slave trade and the emancipation of Africans.
God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.
-William Wilberforce

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Magic, Fantasy, and Allegory (Part Three)

Photo Credit
Welcome, welcome, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to part three of our series on magic, fantasy, and allegory. (Notice that I haven't gotten to fantasy and allegory yet. Don't despair. :)

Today's discussion is on two points that are both important to the whole magic debate. Personally, I've learned much in thinking through this, and am much more comfortable now than I was at the beginning. I hope that you are finding some things to take away, too.

1. Be Concerned if Witchcraft is on the Side of Good
If witchcraft is on the side of evil, it's a biblical representation of sin. Now, to clarify this point, I'm not saying that all books containing witches on the side of evil should be read. Far from it, and we'll get to that issue later. But I am saying that evil should be clear-cut. Sin is sin. Black is black. White is white. Truth is not relative, it is absolute. Make sure that what God says is sin is portrayed as sin. As a Christian, that's what you should read. Sin has consequences, so make sure the witches don't get off scot-free.

But what does one do when witchcraft is on the side of good? Do we look the other way?

1. Remember our definition of witchcraft
Miraculous events do not necessarily equal witchcraft. After all, Moses threw down the rod, and it became a snake--all the other Egyptian magicians did that, too. Both the servants of God and the magicians of pagan deities turned water into blood and produced frogs. Obviously, Moses wasn't participating in witchcraft, or the secret arts of the Egyptian magicians. But they were both able to do the same thing, one with witchcraft, and the other without. What sets witchcraft apart from biblical miracles is that it's done in defiance of God. Witchcraft is supernatural events that are produced in defiance of God. But we all know that there are plenty of miracles that are done in the worship of God, and so again, not all miracles are witchcraft.

[Side Note: To clarify for some of my readers: God is sovereign. No witchcraft can produce an effect or a result that He is not in control of and allowing. The effect is in His hands--but the heart attitude is wrong. Witches think they are doing this against God, and that is the problem]

2. Is there a greater power?
So what was the real difference between Moses and the Egyptian magicians? Both have a greater power involved. Witchcraft cannot be perpetrated without demonic influence or God's power. If the character is producing unnatural effects by their own powers, and not with a power that has been given them by good or evil, then this also falls under the category of witchcraft. Because if there is no greater power, then there is no accountability to a greater power, and that is a very dangerous thing. Notice also that the good power must be greater than the evil power. In Exodus, the power of the Egyptian magicians was limited--they were not able to do some things that Moses was.

3. How do you know if the "good" side is committing witchcraft?
If the characters are saving themselves by producing unnatural effects, this should give rise for concern. Not saying it's a deal breaker--because if it's a power that God has given them, then that's fine. But if they are saving themselves by their own power, then that's not biblical. Also, if the good side is calling supernatural things good that are really evil--i.e. werewolves and vampires being viable marriage partners--then that's evil, and it's witchcraft. 

4. Realize that you can't read everything.
This is hard for one bibliophile to say to another. But there are some books that we just have to say no to. There are some books that we simply cannot read--even with all evaluation and Christian worldview glasses, and all the rest of our safety nets. Some books are off limits. And the sooner we accept that fact, and realize that we need to respect our frailty, the better it will be for us. You won't be able to read every fantasy book out there, because some have a worldview system in defiance of God--blasphemous to His authority--and such books we cannot participate in.

So three key points:
1. The characters must be receiving their power from a greater power (in the case of good, it would be God, and in the case of evil, it would be Satan.)
2. Evil must be evil, and good must be good. The two cannot be mixed.
3. Miracles are supernatural works done at the hand of God; witchcraft is supernatural works done in defiance of God.

2. Know the Difference Between Witchcraft and Symbolism

This can be tricky, especially in interpreting magic/fantasy books. Some events that the author portrays in the "physical" world of the characters is meant to be taken symbolically. Not all events are  to be taken literally, especially in a world that is totally fictional. But too often we try to, and that's where many people are disturbed by things that aren't meant to be used as wrong. When your reading a book, ask yourself what the author is trying to say in using the events and techniques he uses. To do that, you'll have to do a little digging between the lines, but it's well worth it. For instance, there are plenty of weird things in Biblical prophecy--spinning wheels in Ezekiel, creatures with four wings and faces of lions and eagles--some of that is symbolic, not to be taken literally. And fantasy authors have similar characteristics.

Well, that's all for today, friends and fellow bibliophiles--we have a little more to cover in future posts--white magic and black magic, a little more concerning witches, what about talking animals, goblins, elves, etc., and a post discussing allegory. But for now, I leave you to think over the above thoughts.

And on Friday, we'll be celebrating a very special birthday. ;)

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, August 17, 2012

Prester John

Prester John,Believe it or not, my favorite John Buchan protagonist isn't Richard Hannay.

Forgive me.

I have not had the pleasure of Edward Liethen's acquaintance, and Dickson McCunn is a dear old fellow. But my favorite Buchan hero is Davie Crawford, and my favorite Buchan book is Prester John.

Now if you've never read Buchan's fantastic novels, then I would suggest that you start with The 39 Steps, and the rest of the Hannay series. You won't want to miss it, and my thoughts about this book should give you an idea of other things to watch out for in that book as well. If you would like more information regarding The 39 Steps, I would be happy to give you a review by email.
But for the rest of you, who have inhaled Buchan's works without restraint, it is my deepest pleasure and honor to introduce you to Prester John.

It's a book meant to be read in the heat of summer, and August is the perfect time for that. :) (Er, Americans, that is.)

The Story
Davie Crawford and his schoolboy friends skipped kirk on Sabbath day to play on the Kirkcaple shore in Scotland. But instead of finding a deserted beach, they see the curling smoke of a bonfire. On the shore is an African man, who is known in the town as a minister--and whatever he's doing looks more like native idol worship then their respectable kirk-going kind of Christianity. When he catches sight of them, and races after them to kill them, they know that something's going on out of the common run.
Years pass and Davie forgets about the incident. He's fond of Rugby, and not a very bookish student, but when his high school years come to a conclusion, he determines to go into the ministry as his father did before him. Then his father dies, leaving Davie's mother in reduced circumstances. Davie's uncle finds a prospect for him in Africa, as an assistant store-keeper in Blaauwildebeestefontein (you herewith win Lady B's highest respect if you can pronounce that without the use of online assistance.) As such he would receive 300 pounds a year, and have the prospect of keeping his own store someday--possibly even finding gold and diamonds.

So he goes to Africa. But strange events from his past begin to pull together. A little Scottish detective tells him that the area he's going to is full of IDB (illicit diamond broking) swindling. The native minister, Laputa, he had seen on the shore so many years ago is travelling on the same boat. And when he arrives, he suspects the storekeeper Jap of dirty dealings with the native Africans. Legends send Davie exploring to the Rooirand, a range of mountains, where he finds the source of a mighty river disappearing into the ground. Unfortunately, he neglects to explore it further.

Days go by, and the drums begin to beat, sending messages of war. Davie finds that Jap is involved in IDB swindling, and makes him resign his position at the store in Umvelos. Then a Captain Arcoll arrives at Umvelos with a strange story of years past--and the news that the minister Laputa is at the head of a native uprising that will sweep over the whole of Africa, murdering the Dutch and English settled there--all in the name of a twisted, heathenism that Laputa calls Christianity.

With a bit of Providence, Davie manages to spy on on of Laputa's conversations in a neighboring town, and receives enough information to get to the heart of the native uprising. He has no time to spare, and sets out to join in the initiation night at the Rooirand, the place he had explored only weeks before. And he knows that once there, he will have to endure captivity until he can escape, for there is no way he can hide from detection. Hidden in a group of Kaffir natives, he listens, mesmerized, to a plan of savage cruelty that will shake England's stronghold in Africa. When his turn comes to swear allegiance to Laputa, his detection sets in train a three day adventure of cruel captivity. He has to escape to get the news of what he has seen to Arcoll. But Laputa isn't about to let him go.

PRESTER JOHN. The Story of a Great Adventure.Due to some of the scenes in this book, you will want to be cautious in getting an edition with illustrations to it. Some of them can be inappropriate when picturing the native ceremonies--i.e. a lack of decent clothing. Howard Pitz did a great job, and there was nothing objectionable from him as far as I know of. So I think you would be safe with him, but be cautious; otherwise, I recommend one without illustrations.

The Curse of Ham
A comment from one of Davie's friends in the first chapter deserves clarification. He says that the African minister shouldn't be preaching because "Africans are under the curse of Ham". While this statement is made by an immature scamp, it expresses a source of error that many fall under regarding racism. The fact is, Africans, Europeans, Asians, etc. are all one race--the human race. The evolutionary idea that there are different races, some more evolved than others, is cruel and unbiblical. Secondly, Africans are not under the curse of Ham--because there is no curse of Ham. For more information about these issues, which I do not have space to address in this post, please click here.

My Thoughts
An excellent adventure story in Buchan's terse and classic style. A map is very helpful, and you will want to edit out language here and there. I find it interesting that this book has hardly any female presence in it, and that fact actually doesn't detract from the story. David's adventures are absolutely spine-tingling. They get me every time. It's the kind of book that I finish and then turn back to chapter one to start all over again.
The story of the native rising illustrates quite clearly how great atrocities can be committed in the name of cultish Christianity. But I think that Buchan's book clearly illustrates what the good Christianity is, and what is the twisted cult. While some might say that Buchan is a little too heavily pro-British, I think Prester John illustrates the difference between a culture that has Christ and a culture that does not. Buchan's book is not racist to include the depravity and darkness of the native Africans in that place and at that time. It's a legitimate part of history, and illustrates the need they had for Jesus Christ--not the twisted heathendom they practiced in his name, but real, biblical Christianity.

Plus, it's just a great adventure story. Which is what I read it for. :)

Take a little break in August to read Prester John. Thoroughly British, and absolutely fantastic.

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Magic, Fantasy, and Allegory (Part Two)

What everybody really wants to know, when they pick up a fantasy/allegory book, is if they're condoning witchcraft by reading about magical animals and spells and wands and other such items of uncomfortable repute. While this post is not a comprehensive conclusion (more coming!) we'll be discussing today what the Bible says about witchcraft, in my present understanding of it. Again, I would remind my readers that their grace is appreciated, as I've never formulated articles on this issue before, and while this is my present opinions, it will mature and grow as I grow in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So here are some points to consider:

1. Witchcraft is a sin--

Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God.
-Deuteronomy 18:10-12

Without going into detail, it's safe to say that the Lord is warning his people against harboring  a person who endeavors to practice occult powers in rebellion to His sovereignty. In other words, they are trying to control events supernaturally, through their own powers, or what's worse, through demonic influence. For example, the White Witch of Narnia is exactly that--a witch. Her practices are detestable and thus go against everything Christianity stands for.

2. We can't excuse sin--
No matter how much sin is painted to look white, it's still just that--sin. God does not paint right and wrong in shades of gray. Black is black and white is white, and they should be called as such.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
-Galatians 5:19-21

3. So obviously, we toss witches out the window--
Um, not quite. Otherwise we'd  have to toss out the account of Saul and the Witch of Endor in the Bible. And Baalam's sorcery, and all the demonic accounts in the Gospels, and anything else that hints at witchcraft. And since it's the inspired Word of God, of course we can't go cutting out pieces of it. The Best of all Books includes accounts of sorcery. But the question remains, since all writing is in imitation of God's Word, and He himself includes the sin of witchcraft, is it right for us as human authors to do so?

Good question.

What to do With Witchcraft

1. Is it portrayed as sin?
Everyone knows the White Witch and the winter-that-never-ends is evil. We're fighting against her; her acts raise the hair on our necks, and make us shake in our seats. We're cheering when Aslan jumps down and--well, never mind. The sad and scary fact is that witches do exist, and they who live like that will not inherit the kingdom of God. Therefore, sometimes it can be a biblical and effective part of literature, to show the sin of such acts--especially in America's culture, where undue fascination with such topics is all too rife. God included accounts of witchcraft to warn his people against it. Therefore, including witchcraft as a sin is not in itself the issue.

Read on.

2. Does the author go into unnecessary detail?
Notice that in the account of Saul and the Witch of Endor, God doesn't include how the witch called Samuel out of the ground. And in the account of Balaam, he doesn't give us a step-by-step manual on using the insides of animals for divination. The Never Inflammatory Version gives us more detail  in its text notes than the actual account. (Sorry. I love my NIV version, really.) The fact is, if we're learning more about witchcraft by the reading of the story than we otherwise would, then something's wrong.

3. Again, I ask "Is it portrayed as sin?"
I know I keep harping on this point, but I cannot stress too highly it's importance. With situational ethics abounding and morals being relative to the state of our emotions, we too often say "I'm not sure if it's okay or not." The "Good Witch of the North" and the "Wicked Witch of the West" are completely unbiblical. If the lady's good, she can't be a witch. Now I realize that authors may sometimes use a poorly chosen term, but it still doesn't excuse their responsibility. When you couple "good" and "witch" together, then it's like saying "innocent sin" or "clean wickedness". It's a moral impossibility, and goes against the law of God.

To summarize: including witchcraft itself in a book does not necessarily make the book bad. But witchcraft must be portrayed as sinful, and the book should not include unnecessary detail. We know that demonic powers exist. That's fine. But we don't need to know all their ins and outs.

Sorry folks, I know there's a lot more to this issue, and we'll be coming back to it. However, today's post, due to unforeseen circumstances, has to be cut a little shorter. Therefore, I leave you for now with this abbreviated second installment of "Magic, Fantasy, and Allegory". More thoughts coming next Tuesday, Lord willing, and I am interested to see your insights in the comment section. :)

And on Friday, I've got another book review which I think you'll all enjoy. ;)

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, August 10, 2012

Seize The Day!

 Hailey and Emma both loved to read--a predicament not uncommon in girls their age. Two sisters, both in high school, they devoured every tale of epic bravery they could find for love or money. Well,  maybe not for money, but at least for love. After school and weekends found them comfortably ensconced in an easy chair, or curled up on their beds with a book in their hands. 
Their rooms were full of books piled on chairs and under beds, and double-stacked on shelves. Most of the editions were of the quarter and dollar variety, and a few were brand new around the time of Christmas or birthdays. Neither Emma nor Hailey spent much more than a dollar at a time. Dollars, after all, were not a thing to be wasted, and if one couldn't find a book cheaply, then one must wait until a better opportunity offered. But occasionally exceptions are worth making, and in the case of Emma's Austen set, she was saving up every penny to buy a collector's edition. Until she had it, the books often came home  from the library just a half a mile away from their house. After all, the time would come soon when she could claim them for her very own, so the waiting wasn't too hard.
There was also the matter of time, come to think of it. They had quartered and dimed their way through so many book sales that they bought a good few more a year than they ever had time to read. And when it came down to the special ones that they saved up for--like Hailey's Little Dorrit--well, she had it carefully stored it under her bed for the last two years, savoring the thought of reading it "one of these days". The teasing feeling that she was running out of time to get to it was starting to creep in, but it made her uncomfortable, so she didn't like to dwell on it.

Time and money. After all, high school girls the world over are short on these commodities.

Weeks passed, the weeds were pulled, the babysitting was done, and eventually Emma saved enough money to buy her Austen set. The feel of the limp bills in her palm sent a shiver of delight through her frame. Now, she could buy what she had been saving so long for. The very next time they went to the bookstore, she would buy those Austen novels to be her very own.

But by the time Emma reached the store, she wasn't so sure any more. There were a lot of other books she wanted to buy, and maybe she could wait a little longer. After all, the library still had them. And it wasn't as if she wouldn't be getting them, next time she saved enough money. So she bought Gaskell's Wives and Daughters instead. The Austen's would just have to hold off until next time, because she needed the rest of  the money she had earned for birthday gifts.

Hailey pulled out Little Dorrit around this time, and again read the back and looked at the front cover. She really should read this soon. Perhaps in a month or so, when their family took a vacation, she would bring that as her book to read. Splendid. She smiled with excitement as she tucked it reverently back into the paper bag it came in.  In a month, she would be reading Little Dorrit on the beach, and finally--finally, she would know the story she had waited so long for.

But when the time came for Hailey to pack her bags, she wasn't so sure any more. Dickens took some effort to get through--after all, it was vacation now, and she wanted some easy gratification. If only she had room to take all her books with her--but that would never do. L.M. Montgomery sounded appealing lately. So she packed several Anne books in her bag, and left Little Dorrit sitting quietly at home.

Time passed, school began, and free moments to read slipped to few and far between. Leaf raking in the fall brought in some money to Emma's savings, but that went towards Christmas gifts. Then the snow fell, and weeds and leaves were covered by a thick sheet of white. The girls she babysat moved away,  and the funds for the Austen set didn't grow very speedily.

Hailey's book list expanded, and what with all her library finds, she didn't have much time to read books she already owned. Books with due dates required her first attention, and reading programs at the library forced her to pick shorter books, especially with school going on too. So the fall faded to winter, and winter faded to spring, and spring faded to summer, with things not much different than the year before. Books sales and trips to thrift stores provided a steady stream of opportunities to spend savings, and books lists of titles to read grew and grew for both sisters.

But now, something else started to happen. Whenever Hailey picked up a book, she remembered  Little Dorrit, and wondered, with a sore heart, if she would ever find time for it--after all, it had been three years sitting in that brown paper bag, waiting to be read. The time of anticipation had expired long ago to a sense of failure for having waited this long. And Emma, when she pulled out a quarter for another good find, thought of that Austen set, and wondered if her opportunity for buying it would ever come again. Did she want it as much as she had during all those months? Perhaps she shouldn't buy it after all.

One day, as the summer green was turning to the russet-colored leaves of fall, Hailey's mother surprised her by asking how she had enjoyed Little Dorrit.

Hailey sighed. "I haven't read it yet, Mum. I bought it three years ago, and I haven't found an opportunity yet."

"I see," her mother said quietly. "But I thought you were eager to read it when you bought it?"

"I was." Hailey nodded. "But I had to finish my library books first, and I wanted to finish all the books I had started, so I wouldn't have those hanging over my head. And then I decided to save it for that one weekend trip we took, but Emma turned on the music and I couldn't concentrate in the car. By the time we got home, the other library books I had ordered came in, so I had to finish those, and then the winter reading contest started up, and then school and everything. I don't know, I just was waiting for a good time, I guess."

"Sounds to me like you were waiting for a perfect time," her mother commented. "Those don't come, Hailey dear. You have to seize the day. Time is something to be redeemed, not found. And sometimes you have to return some books unread so that you can read the ones you've been looking forward to so long. God gives good gifts, and when He provides them for us, we shouldn't wait three years to open them."

"I see what you mean, Mum." A slow smile spread across Hailey's face. "But you'd better talk to Emma about her Austen set then," she teased; "after all, if we shouldn't wait three years to open a gift, then we shouldn't wait two years to accept one."

Her mother laughed. "You leave Emma's shortcomings to me, and go correct your own." 

"Yes ma'am." Hailey flashed another smile, then went to her room and pulled her brand-new book from it's carefully kept bag. The crisp pages smelled clean and fresh, like the shelves of a bookstore. The cover laid flat, not a bend or wrinkle in it. And eagerly, she began to read.

"Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day. . . ."

It took her two weeks to read what she had waited three years to find time for.

Emma's Austen set took a little more waiting, but at the end of the fall season she had saved enough money to purchase it. When she reached the bookstore, she didn't give it a second thought.

In my long ramblings in the fiction realm over the years, I've enjoyed a good bit of Eleanor Porter. Her timeless tales--albeit with a few too many stuttering characters ("Spit out what you want to say, Miss Billy.") -- ring joyfully of happily-ever-after endings. Some of her short stories are more poignant, however, and one quote in particular reminded me of an issue that too many of us fall prey to--delaying gratification too long: "There are folks like that, you know--that never enjoy a thing for what it is, lest sometime they might want it different. Miss Priscilla and Miss Amelia never took the good that was goin'; they've always saved it for sometime later."  I have re-told the story, in bibliophile terms, and with my own little plots and characters, but I wish to credit her original inspiration in "The Black Silk Gowns". If you wish to read her story, then by all means check it out here.

Life is short. Don't wait too long. Seize the day!

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Magic, Fantasy, and Allegory (Part One)

Photo Credit

Unless a really major breakthrough happens in the next few hours, the ayes have it on My Lady Bibliophile for "Magic, Fantasy, and Allegory". Thank-you all for weighing in your opinion. :)

Don't worry. The good news is, the other series will be coming as well, in the order of their popularity. And since one last vote squeaked in this morning (one vote on Advertising Discernment was a tester from Yours Truly to make sure the poll worked) "How to Deal With Dirty Words" wins silver, and "The Ins and Outs of Advertising Discernment" wins bronze.
But the gold medal definitely goes to Magic. And to be honest I had no idea what to write until yesterday morning.

I think many people struggle on how to handle this issue. After all, how does one handle wands and called-up thunderstorms and winter that never ends? Part of the problem can come from extreme literalism--taking things to be literal that are only meant to be symbolic. Many of the issues really are legitimate. So let's dig a little deeper.

To be quite honest, I've been putting off dealing with this issue for years. I couldn't reconcile some things in my ever-favorite Chronicles of Narnia, and I was scared to find out more about the rights and wrongs, simply because I loved them too much. But the issues that we refuse to deal with never go away. They'll come slinking back around in our lifetime, or worse still, in our children's. So it's best to reconcile them as they come.

Now granted, this won't be exhaustive, nor even as comprehensive as I would like. I'm dealing with it in my present understanding of Scripture. That changes, and refines, and expands. I'll probably be returning to this issue somewhere along the line. But I can offer a little of what the Lord has shown me so far. And I realize full well that you may differ with me. That's certainly just fine, and I wish you all grace and wisdom as you search out this issue for yourself.

Second of all, we're not going to rush through this. I have no idea how many parts it will be, but I'll deal with magic on Tuesdays until further notice. Fridays will be something else.

Thirdly, it is not my goal to teach my readers, or to learn more myself, about the abomination of witchcraft. I shall be endeavor to be discreet in the terms that I use and the depth to which I go. We're not here to learn about witchcraft. We're here to learn a biblical way to handle books that contain "magic".

And finally, I'm not going to be dealing with Tolkien or Lewis, but with magic in general. Because while these are the two most classic examples, a trend is on the rise in modern literature to include everything bizarre and fantastic. And I want to include some tips on how to deal with it anywhere, not just with those two authors.

So here we go. And I covet your prayers as I seek wisdom on this myself.

A Few Starting Points

1. Supernatural  Powers Exist--
Anyone who reads the Bible understands that God works phenomena in ways that we cannot explain. Creating everything out of nothing was his very first evidence of supernatural power--then creating man out of dust, woman out of man, wine out of water. Holding the sun in its course, sending illogical terror on entire armies, walking on water, and raising men from the dead--some of whom had been dead for extended periods of time. And since He is an eternal God (1 Timothy 1:17) none of his attributes (including miracles) can ever pass away. The word "supernatural" implies something "being beyond or exceeding the powers or laws of nature; miraculous." (Webster's 1828 Dictionary). Therefore, supernatural implies something that men cannot achieve on their own. God can do supernatural acts through men, and he can do them without men, but men cannot on their own. Only spiritual forces have that power. Angels and demons have that power, but they cannot receive that power apart from God. For this post, we will use the term "Supernatural" to mean "miraculous events that occur by God's power, in subjection to His authority."

2. Demonic Powers Exist--
Another issue out of whack in our society is the issue of demonic power. Without going into detail, we'll be using the term "Sorcery" to refer to "events exceeding the laws of nature, executed through God's power, but in rebellion to His authority."
Because of the Fall, everything on earth has Good and Evil. Every natural thing has a right way and a wrong way to be used. And supernatural powers have both a Good side and an Evil side.
This makes many uncomfortable, and C.S. Lewis put it well when he said that humankind either has an unhealthy interest in, or ignores demonic power altogether. But I don't want to dwell on this heavy subject for long. Needless to say, they do exist, but the Christian can be assured that all evil is subject to the supremacy of Jesus Christ. The devil is vanquished by the cross, and though he is still allowed to rule the earth for a little while, Jesus will one day make a final end of him. We need not fear, but we do need to be aware.

3. Magic is Not a Neutral Issue--
A subject is either taken dominion to the glory of Christ, or it is given over to the workings of the devil. Therefore, we need to be informed about magic in the books that we read. And the purpose of these posts are to give a few pointers for evaluation.

4. Oftentimes We Misunderstand Our Terms--
Many people are confused between the meaning of "magic" and the meaning of "supernatural". Or more specifically, the difference between black sorcery and miracles of God. What about wizards, witches, and magicians? 'the "good" witch of the North" and 'the "bad" witch of wherever-it-was'?Sometimes we call something evil because we misunderstand the meaning of the term. We've already looked at sorcery and supernatural, but let's look at a few more:

witch: a female sorcerer, no doubts at all. They are wicked, and should be portrayed as such.

wizard: originally meant "philosopher or sage" in the middle of the fifteenth century. Therefore, you may want to check the author's intended meaning before you throw the book out altogether. Granted many probably draw little difference between "wizard" and "magician" but some still do. While it has negative connotations because of the changes in English language, it may not always be intended to refer to sorcery.

magician: a male sorcerer. No bones about it. They are wicked, and should be portrayed as such.

5.Oftentimes We Misunderstand Our Times--
The English language changes. Profanity alone is evidence of that. Sometimes words that have negative meanings today did not have those same meanings at the time of the author's original writing. Therefore, if it was written in a time when the words/meanings were good, then I take it at the time when it was written, and consider it good. But if it was written at a time when the meaning was bad, and the author knew better, then I give no room for excuses. In other words, I apply 19th century meanings to 19th century books, but I don't apply 19th century meanings to 21st century books.

That's all for today, fellow bibliophiles. I'm dipping my toes in the pool, so to speak, and next time I will cover further questions and issues. If you have thoughts or comments, I would love to receive them by email, or in the comment box. Please be respectful of differing viewpoints, and grant grace to each other. Right is not relative, but we are all at different stages in our spiritual growth.

And on Friday, I will have a stand-alone article on an important issue for the bibliophile. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, August 3, 2012

North and South

When Margaret Hale leaves her childhood home in London upon the marriage of her cousin Edith, she is glad to return to the country parsonage her parents have lived in most of their married days. Eighteen years old and enamored with life, she is surprised to find that her mother hopes for a preferment for her husband "to escape from the damp Helstone air".

Only a few weeks after Margaret comes home, her father turns the family upside-down when he leaves his life-long career in a crisis of conscience. He can no longer promise to uphold all the articles of the Church of England, and therefore he is determined to give up his parish, and become an outcast in respectable English society. They move to the north of England where he takes a position as a tutor with the help of an old friend: and their destination is Milton, a manufacturing town.

Margaret looks down upon tradespeople and factory workers as low class. When she gradually meets them in her roamings through Milton streets, she begins to realize that they, too, have value in their own right. But however Margaret Hale comes to value Higgins and his daughters (workers in the mill), she has no respect for 30-year-old John Thornton, one of the mills owners. He is a hard man, and he finds her a proud woman, and though they do not  clash openly, their disagreement on issues of manufacturing puts up a barrier between them.

Margaret is the staff and stay of her parents throughout the difficulty of their new life. Soon after they move to Milton, she realizes that her mother is concealing ill health, and after a visit from the doctor Margaret realizes that her mother is about to die. Mrs. Hale's last wish is that she might see her son, Frederick, who cannot safely return to England for fear of his life, as he joined in a mutiny years earlier. But at Mrs. Hale's earnest request, Margaret writes to him in spite of the danger, and asks him to come.

The streets of Milton escalate in a factory strike for higher wages. When John Thornton brings in factory hands from Ireland in a refusal to raise their pay, the strike escalates to a riot. Margaret Hale finds herself trapped in his house during friendly visit to his mother while the rioters close in around it. And the climax of the strike forces the greatest struggle yet between Margaret and Thornton--North and South.

My Thoughts
North and South is not a feminist propagandist novel, as the Marxists tried to tout it. It's a story of strong and fearless womanhood, honorable and brave manhood, coming together and clashing--not in a bad way, but in the natural conflict that comes when two people have studied out an issue and come to opposite conclusions. Margaret is very ladylike and civil, but she also politely challenges Mr Thornton when she disagrees with him.
Gaskell portrays the mill strike with great effectiveness, and does an excellent job capturing it from both perspectives--the mill owners and the workers. North and South is unique in that it isn't good fighting against evil, but two right perspectives learning to value their opposites.

Little bit of language here and there.
Probably my only point to pick is that it reads like a magazine serial--not surprising, because that's what it was, but the ending was a bit abrupt and not as well developed as I could have wished. I find it interesting that she published it in Dickens' magazine, and though I hear he didn't like it, the edition I read had an endorsement of his on the back.
Gaskell never reveals what Mr Hale disagreed with in the articles of the Church of England, nor do I think it fair to speculate. The point of the story is not what he disagreed with, but the fact that he had the courage to walk away from his life's work for conscience sake. I read on Wikipedia that Gaskell was a Unitarian, which means she did not believe in the Trinity or the divinity of Christ. If this is the case it is certainly a serious error in the Christian faith, but North and South does not portray that belief in the lives of the characters, or in Mr Hale's decision. Each character in the book has a various way of worshipping God, but all are good and acceptable as far as I could see, with the exception of Mr Hale himself and his doubts. After all, the Church of England was not the way to salvation; Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved regardless of whether you're a Catholic or a Pentecostal or a CRC.
Well written plot-wise, and Gaskell developed Margaret's character excellently. She is a ladylike woman, full of poise and grace, and a good example of how young ladies can be knowledgeable and educated in discussion with young men without rudeness or feminism.
I also applaud Mrs. Gaskell for refusing to use situational ethics. This is one of the few books I've read where a lie is a sin, and is treated as such. Well done.

North & South PosterThe Movie
I have not seen the 2004 adaptation of North and South yet, but I will alert my readers to the possibility of an email  review when it is available. :)

Today's review is shorter, but I do have one more thing, if my friends and fellow bibliophiles would be so kind: I have several choices for my next "reading theory" series, and would be interested in your opinions as to what you would like to see next. The poll is in the sidebar, right at the top of the page. Only one vote per person, please! :)

Happy reading!

Lady Bibliophile

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