Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the Van Nestes
May the peace of Christ be with you.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dickens, The Life of Our Lord

The Life of Our Lord, Written for His Children, Charles Dickens
(Simon and Schuster, 1934), hb., 128 pp.
Ages 5+

A few years ago I stumbled across a first edition copy of this book which Dickens wrote from 1846 to 1849 for his own children and was only allowed to be published after his last child died. I respect Dickens’ writings and had often heard of his faith in Christ and this book so I was interested to read it. Finally this year I decided to read at least the first part (the birth of Christ) to my boys as we approached Christmas. However, it was really a disappointment.

In fairness Dickens never intended this for public consumption. He is writing for children in another setting, so we might look for different emphases or clarifications. It would be easy to nit pick. However, my concern is deeper. The gospel is conspicuously missing and the portrait of Christ is too small.

In the announcement of the angel to the shepherds, Luke records the angel as saying:
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 1:11)
Dickens paraphrases it this way:
“There is a child born to-day in the city of Bethlehem near here, who will grow up so good that God will love Him as His own Son; and He will teach men to love one another, and not to quarrel and hurt one another” (13)
The wise men show up and tell Herod they are searching for a child who “will live to be a man whom all people will love” (14). Why Herod would want to kill such a child, makes little sense since any reference to Jesus as a King is missing. The skipping of references to Jesus as God and Savior were clear enough that my older boys began to ask if the author believed in the biblical Jesus. In the rest of the book Dickens affirmed Christ’s deity, but I don’t know why this section was written so poorly.

In the rest of the book, the gospel seems to be reduced to being nice and earning God’s favor. In the summarizing the Christian hope, Dickens says early Christians endured much “for they knew that if they did their duty, they would go to heaven” (123-24). He summarizes Christianity as “TO GOOD, always”, to love our neighbors, to be merciful, gentle, etc. Then, if we remember the life and lessons of Jesus and “try to act up to them, we may confidently hope that God will forgive us our sins and mistakes” (124). Faith is not mentioned and grace is hard to find here.

The book closes with two prayers for his children. One excerpt from the evening prayer is particularly alarming.
“Make me kind to my nurses …and never let me be cruel to any dumb creatures, for if I am cruel to anything, even to a poor little fly, God who is so good, will never love me” (128).
I am all for being clear on our inability to live up to God’s standard, but that must be followed by the “good news” that God has made a way for our sins to be forgiven or there is no gospel.

In the end, I sincerely hope Dickens believed better than he wrote here. But, you can safely skip this book. It will not be any help in explaining the Scriptures to your children.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

The Guardians of Ga’Hoole

The Guardians of Ga'hoole:The Capture , Kathryn Lasky
(Scholastic, 2003), pb., 222 pp.
Ages 8-16

We had heard good things about the movie “Legend of the Guardians”, but we had not yet seen it. Then this week in our local bookstore one of my boys found this book and we realized the movie came from these books. This piqued our interest so we bought the book and read it this week.

In keeping with what we had heard about the movie, the book has good adventure along with themes of nobility, courage, sacrifice, family, honor and freedom. It is not up to Douglas Bond or even Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, but it is a good story with these great themes. It was a lot like some of the stories from the 70’s and 80’s where the bad guys are trying to take over by brainwashing and removing individual thought and freedom.

What I liked most about the story was the place of “the old stories” in it. The main character was taught the legends of old as a “child” and they captured his imagination, even though his brother scoffed at them. Then, it was these stories which gave him hope in his captivity and even enabled him to resist the brainwashing. These stories inspired hope leading to his escape. If you have read much of this blog, you will know that this theme resonates deeply with me! The main character even mentioned learning the Psalms in connection with these old stories (the author is Jewish).

However, I can’t recommend the book without reservation due to its use of language. There were a number of places where there was harsh language between siblings, and a common phrase which was a play off using the Lord’s name in vain. Then, in a good battle scene one of the “good guys”, in his war cry includes these comments: “Then I’m gonna punch you in the gut! Then you’re gonna wind up on your butt! …[and] I’m gonna send you straight to hell.”

The previous parts were primarily immature and below what I want to encourage. However, the comment on sending the enemy to hell trivializes a terrible, serious reality.

So, this is a story with some strengths. In a day when so many stories have very little of value, I really appreciate one with a sense of honor and appreciation of the place of “the deeds of old.” This story does not entirely rise above the current milieu due to its language, however. So, parents be aware. You can choose to use it with your children and edit these portions.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Value of Tales

My boys have just finished reading Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and we have had a great time of it! It is a great story open to the discussion of many valuable points. I plan to comment more on this later, but here I simply reproduce s section of Pyle’s opening which is a nice defense of the value of tales like this. This is a fun call to enjoy a simple tale:

You who so plod amid serious things that you feel it shame to give yourself up even for a few short moments to mirth and joyousness in the land of Fancy; you who think that life hath nought to do with innocent laughter that can harm no one; these pages are not for you. Clap to the leaves and go no farther than this, for I tell you plainly that if you go farther you will be scandalized by seeing good, sober folks of real history so frisk and caper in gay colors and motley that you would not know them but for the names tagged to them. ....

Here you will find a hundred dull, sober, jogging places, all tricked out with flowers and what not, till no one would know them in their fanciful dress. And here is a country bearing a well-known name, wherein no chill mists press upon our spirits, and no rain falls but what rolls off our backs like April showers off the backs of sleek drakes; where flowers bloom forever and birds are always singing; where every fellow hath a merry catch as he travels the roads, and ale and beer and wine (such as muddle no wits) flow like water in a brook.

This country is not Fairyland. What is it? 'Tis the land of Fancy, and is of that pleasant kind that, when you tire of it—whisk!—you clap the leaves of this book together and 'tis gone, and you are ready for everyday life, with no harm done.

And now I lift the curtain that hangs between here and No-man's-land. Will you come with me, sweet Reader? I thank you. Give me your hand.


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever¸ Barbara Robinson
(Tyndale House, 1972), pb., 80pp.
Ages 5+

It has become a bit of a tradition in our house for Tammie to read this book to the kids at Christmas- and she reads it well! Even after several readings she laughs almost uncontrollably at several points and cries at the conclusion.

It really is a well-written, fun, touching little story about looking afresh at the reality of the Christmas story. The “worst kids in town,” the Herdmans, get into the church’s Christmas pageant and discover the power of this story while some of the regular church members can’t see past their preconceived notions.

The Herdmans do use the Lord's name in vain in a couple of places.  We just edit these on the go.
This is a nice one to enjoy and benefit from.