Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Best Reads With My Kids in 2011


As 2011 comes to a close I thought I’d list the best books I've read with my kids this year (my list of best reads in 2011 for myself can be found here). This list includes only full-length books which I read with my older children, not brief booklets read with my younger ones. In no particular order the top 5 are:
  1. Kingdom's Hope & Kingdom's Edge (The Kingdom Series, Book 2 & 3), Chuck Black- We listened to the audio of these and really enjoyed them. You can read my comments on Book 2 here. Book 3 was also quite good. They survey the story of the Bible in the setting of knights.
  2. Chosen Ones (The Aedyn Chronicles), Alister McGrath- This is a Narnia-like story which is well done with good truths. We eagerly read the second volume when it appeared, but it was not up to the quality of the first.
  3. Through My Eyes, Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker- This was a really good read with the boys- strong on perseverance, hard work, family, trusting God, living for his glory and sharing the gospel.You can see my review here.
  4. This Was John Calvin, Thea van Halsema- This was a really good biography of the prominent reformer (see review here)
  5. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever- Tammie read it aloud to us again, a Christmas tradition for us. Really good at puncturing religious pomposity and pointing to earthiness and mission (my review from a previous year is here).
We hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and blessings to you in the New Year.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Story in Biblical Texts and Art

The Nativity: From the Gospels of Matthew and Mark , Ruth Sanderson
(Eerdmans, 2011), hb., 28 pp.
Ages 5+

Part of our Christmas tradition is reading together the biblical account on Christmas morning while our younger children act out what is read with the nativity set. This year we used this book for that reading.

The text of the book comes directly from Matthew and Luke. There is no further elaboration. The books strength comes from placing together the accounts of both gospels and in nice illustrations by Ruth Sanderson which are done in such a way as to recall medieval art. This “old” feel of the art contributes to a sense of reading these texts along with the church through the ages.

We really appreciated the art work, sense of history, and he gathering of the texts. This will become a fixture in  our Christmas celebration.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Power of Symbols, Christmas

One of the best books I read this year was The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith by Peter Hitchens (who writes incredibly well, like his recently deceased brother). As we approach Christmas I was reminded of his discussion of the Communist attempt to suppress any vestige of Christmas in Russia. Drawing from written sources and his own experience living in Russia, Hitchens described the Communist concern especially to turn children away from religious interest. Then he provided the following quote from a pamphlet titled, “Against the Christmas Tree” which has been published in a series called “The Library of the Young Atheist”:
“ ‘Millions of little children are brought up by very religious grandmothers. For such children the Christmas tree represents a very great danger.... Not one Young Pioneer detachment, not one school and not one group of young and Atheists should leave children of pre-school age unattended during the Christmas holidays. The struggle against the Christmas tree is the struggle against religion and against our class enemies.’” (181)
My point here is not trees but the value of symbols and traditions. When an atheistic regime sought to stamp out Christianity they were deeply concerned about the power of symbols to keep alive religious memory. Too often today Christians breezily dismiss “mere symbols” claiming to be concerned only with the “real idea.” This is short-sighted and ignorant of history and human nature- not to mention ignorant of the Bible since God saw fit to give us symbols.

The potential application of this point is broad, but, to speak of Christmas, we do much of our best teaching and discipling when we use good symbols, investing them with biblical meaning and incorporating them into meaningful, appropriate traditions. These things will stick with our children and our churches for years to come providing pegs for biblical truths and armor against cynicism. So as you prepare for and celebrate Christmas make the most of your traditions and symbols, enjoying and celebrating the appearing of God’s saving grace (Titus 2:11).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Guest Post: Simonetta Carr on her New Book


Today we have a guest post from Simonetta Carr, whose books I have commended here previously.  She has just recently published a new biography of a woman who lived in Reformation Italy. I am thankful to Simonetta for providing us with an explanation of her new book.


When P&R asked me if I wanted to contribute to their Chosen Daughters series I had mixed feelings about it. I liked the challenge of writing fiction, especially since English is not my first language, but after focusing very carefully on historical accuracy in my children’s biographies, the idea of imagining scenes and settings seemed frightening. How could I know, for example, the personality of Olympia’s mother? What if my description was very different from reality?
On the other hand, I had the perfect subject for this story. The P&R series is about young Christian women of our past, and Olympia Morata had led a very adventurous life from the time she was twelve. Besides, she was from Italy, my native country, and everyone knows that it’s easier to write about familiar things. I was also excited at the opportunity I would have to familiarize my readers with some events of the Italian Reformation, a period which is still unknown to many.
In some ways, we can say that the Reformation had its roots in Italy, where it was both an expression of dissatisfaction with the obvious excesses of the Roman Catholic Church, and a return to the sources, including a rediscovery of the original Scriptures and the doctrines of the church fathers.
In Naples, a circle of spirituali, mostly inspired by Juan de Valdes, was already spreading pre-reformation teachings in the 15th century. By the time Luther posted his theses in 1517, some like-minded groups had formed in various Italian cities. Slowly, Lutheranism and Calvinism spread throughout the country, silently, as the Church of Rome became increasingly alarmed.
It was in 1542, after a failed attempt to reconcile Protestants and Catholics at the Diet of Regensburg, that Pope Paul III re-established a form of inquisition in the country. At that point, Italian Protestants were left with three choices: keep their faith private, leave the country, or declare their faith and face imprisonment and death.

It was around that time that Olympia Morata shone as a child prodigy, giving signs of her future as the most prolific woman writer of the Reformation. Her life was short and intense, shaken not only by the tumultuous events of the time, but also by personal disappointments, rejection, poverty, illness, and exile.
It was a story I could not pass by, one of those stories which, as we often say, “begged to be told.” Overcoming my hesitations about writing fiction, I began reading and re-reading Olympia’s letters and poems in an attempt to understand and to convey who she really was.
There are many themes in Olympia’s life which will certainly resonate with young people today. Some may identify with her apprehensions leaving home, with her desire to please her father and teachers, or with her nervousness before giving a public speech. Some may recognize themselves in her admission of being normally afraid “of dangers worse than reality” or in her passion to see favorite books translated into her native language. And which of us can’t remember times when a fascination or concern occupied our minds, leaving little room for God?
Someone said that writing a book should change the author. I think Olympia did this for me, as I shared her excitement, passion, and concerns. Through her letters, I watched her growing from an over-achieving and worrisome young girl, obsessed with her goals and hungry for praise, to a mature and heavenly-minded Christian, fully conscious of the deep reservoirs of God’s strength which are available to his children in this pilgrim life.

On my blog (www.simonettacarr.com), I am planning to explain, chapter by chapter, what details were imagined and what are pure facts. All the letters and poems quoted have been carefully translated from the originals. I encourage my readers to pay attention to Olympia’s voice. Maybe, when you finally close the book, you will miss her as much as I do.

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