Wednesday, July 30, 2008

GGG Blog Tour

I am pleased today to be hosting the Gum, Geckos & God blog tour here and at Oversight of Souls. I previously listed all the stops Jim Spiegel, the author, would be making on his blog tour.

This is an excellent book that I commend to all my readers, particularly those with children or grandchildren. It is essentially a collection of conversations the author and his wife have had with their children about the faith. Typically then Jim reflects a bit on the topic that was discussed for the reader. I was particularly encouraged by the model of living out Deuteronomy 6, particularly verses 6 & 7:

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.

This book shows good examples of parents simply paying attention to their children and making the most of opportunities to talk about God. You don’t have to have a theology degree to do this. You simply have to be intentional and engage your kids.

Another key thing I noticed in the book is how often the children themselves raise questions about the faith. When your children ask questions you have the greatest opportunity to teach them because their interest is already piqued. So I asked Jim:

What have you and your wife done to create a setting in your home such that your kids naturally ask about and speak of things concerning God? Of course kids ask questions, but what leads to them so naturally asking about God? God seems to be a natural part of life, and while any Christian parent would hope for this I find many who wonder how this can be accomplished.

Jim answered:

Our kids' readiness to ask questions about God traces back to a number of factors. Some of these are not extraordinary, such as our consistent involvement with our church and our teaching them the Bible. But we are also intentional about pointing out biblical lessons which play out in our daily lives as a family. We constantly come back to the Golden Rule, particularly when the kids are fighting or behaving selfishly with one another. I can't count how many times we've said to them, "Now how would you feel if s/he did that to you?" This is such a powerful question because it forces them to apply the Golden Rule. Although sometimes it feels like this doesn't get through to them, over time the impact is evident.

Also, as is clear in Gum, Geckos, and God, my wife and I constantly draw biblical lessons from nature, whether its observations about insects, gardening, or family pets. We also weave theology into our conversations about popular culture, from Star Wars to baseball. The more we do this, the more naturally kids will do this themselves. Our hope and prayer is that this will develop in them a fully integrated faith, where they consciously apply their Christian worldview to literally everything they experience.

These are all positive things that we do to theologically fertilize our kids' minds. But one significant choice we have made is a particular kind of abstinence: the elimination of TV programs from our home. We do have a television, but it doesn't pick up any channels. So our kids can only watch DVDs and videos which we have screened beforehand, and their time doing this is quite limited. TV is not a default entertainment in our home, nor does it function as an electronic babysitter. Consequently, our children spend more time than most kids reading, doing crafts, and playing outside, so they become more active thinkers. This has the added benefit of preventing them from being exposed to thousands of commercials which are so powerful in conditioning young minds to have a consumer mentality. So for our family, the elimination of TV has been the ultimate case of addition by subtraction. I highly recommend that parents give it a try. Yes, it's difficult (at first), but the benefits are amazing. And not just for the children. Your marriage will benefit as well!

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pastor Daddy

Pastor Daddy, by Lindsey Blair and Bobby Giles
Illustrated by Tessa Janes
(Sojourn Community Church, 2008), pb., 15 pp.

This is an excellent book and I have already begun looking for a way to get a copy into the hands of every family at our church. From the title one might think it is about a family in which the father is a pastor at a church. That is not the case, however. This is story about fathers leading their families at home as the pastor leads the church.

At the close of my college days I stumbled across the idea in the Puritans of every father being the pastor of his family. I would later discover that this idea goes back beyond the Puritans (this book opens with a good quote from Martin Luther, for example). Since that time, this has been a key issue for me, convinced that one key step for renewal in our churches would be for men to realize and recapture their responsibility of leading their families in the reading of Scripture and worship of God. So many other good results flow from this one realization (e.g. the awareness by men that they need to know the Bible better).

This little book is an excellent way to hold before families this important truth. The left hand pages comment on what the pastor does at church. The right hand pages then comment on how the dad does a similar thing in leading his family at home. Reading this then will urge fathers forward and give them some built-in accountability as children will look to see that the things read bout are actually done!

The book is simply written in a nice rhyme with nice illustrations. This little book has the potential to accomplish much good. I encourage you to get a copy for yourself and then get copies for families you could give it to.

You can purchase the book at the church’s website, here.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

For the Heart of Holland

For the Heart of Holland, Piet Prins
Struggle for Freedom Series, vol. 4
(Inheritance Publications, 2008; English translation), pb., 162 pp.
Ages 8+

I have commented on the previous three volumes of this series here, here and here. Our favorite one is still the first volume.

When we heard that the fourth volume was out we were eager to hear the continuation of the story and to know what happened to Martin and Boudewyn who have become central characters in our world. This book is more difficult than some others due to geography and some vocabulary which is less familiar to us (and I expect to most American readers). However, it is well worth the effort to know the historical story of the struggle of Dutch Christians for the freedom of worship. It is so easy to be ignorant of what has gone on in the rest of the world. It is encouraging to hear stories of divine intervention in the struggles for freedom in other countries (lest we think we are the only ones whom God has blessed!). In reading books from Inheritance Publications I have become fascinated with this whole struggle in the Netherlands.

As in the other books the characters provide good examples of faithfulness, courage, perseverance, sacrifice and devotion to the gospel. The account of the privation of the citizens of Leiden is also a useful thing for our children to hear and to help us be mindful of how blessed we are.

On a humorous note, my boys did dub this book, “the grossest book ever.” This designation was earned by the fact that Martin developed a love interest in a young lady within Leiden. When she and the others were finally rescued by the heroic efforts of Martin and the Sea Beggars, Martin kissed her. The “kissy stuff” earned this special title, even though we enjoyed the book.

So we commend this book to you. We need to know the story of the Sea Beggars, William of Orange, and this brave struggle for freedom.

NOTE: Amazon does not currently have this book. You can order it directly from Inheritance Publications. It is difficult to find things on the site, but you can even email them from the site. I was unable to find a page with a photo and description of the book.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

C. S. Lewis on the Importance of Imagination

Just yesterday I came across this quote from a letter by C. S. Lewis. It captures a truth important to me about reading to children, and the sorts of things they need exposure to. Of course Lewis also argues elsewhere that stories themselves have a keen power in pointing us to Christ. So awakening the imagination is also part of pointing one to Christ.

“Minto reads him the Peter Rabbit books every evening, and it is a lovely sight. She read very slowly and he gazes up into her eyes which look enormous through her spectacles – what a pity she has no grandchildren. Would you believe it, the child has never been read to nor told a story in his life? Not that he is neglected. He has a whole time Nurse (an insufferable semi-lady scientific woman with a diploma from some Tom-fool nursing college), a hundred patent foods, is spoiled, and far too expensively dressed: but his poor imagination has been left without any natural food al all. I often wonder what the present generation of children will grow up like. . . . They have been treated with so much indulgence yet so little affection, with so much science and so little mother-wit. Not a fairy tale nor a nursery rhyme.”

- Quoted in Alan Jacobs, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis, 217). (New York: HaperCollins, 2005), 234-35.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Gum, Geckos, and God

I am happy to be participating in a blog tour by Jim Spiegel promoting his new book Gum, Geckos, and God. Jim teaches philosophy at Taylor University and is the father of four children. This book is a record of various conversations that have come up between him and his children as they have talked about God and the Christian life in informal settings. You can see more about the tour at Zondervan’s site.
This is the tour schedule:

July 21- Spunky Homeschool
July 22- Beauty from the Heart
July 23- At a Hen’s Pace
July 24- A Holy Experience
July 25- Family Voice
July 28- Ted Wins
July 29- In a Mirror Dimly
July 30- Oversight of Souls & The Children’s Hour
July 31- Christians in Context
August 1- The A-Team Blog
August 4- Embarking
August 5-

On its day, each blog will post a question about the book and Jim’s answer. Readers can then ask further questions in the comments section. As you can see I will host the tour on my pastoral ministry blog as well.

I am excited about this book and have really enjoyed reading it. I hope you will stop by for the tour and check out the stops at the other blogs as well.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Family Guide to Caspian

A Family Guide to Prince Caspian, Christin Ditchfield
(Crossway, 2008), pb., 123 pp.

I am late commenting on this book since it was released to coincide with the movie. However, the movie was a real disappointment so we can simply carry on talking about the book. :)

This little book gives a brief introduction to C. S. Lewis, a description of the key characters, overview of the plot and concludes with some recipes and activities that connect with Prince Caspian. The bulk of the book is a discussion of spiritual themes (with suggested Bible readings) in Prince Caspian walking chapter by chapter through the original book.

I see where this could be helpful to families, especially if they have not read Lewis before or are not very familiar with Lewis or Narnia. A danger could be turning the reading of Prince Caspian into a bible study chapter by chapter and failing to appreciate the story as it is (though I am sure this is not intended by the author of this guide). Lewis was big on enjoying a story in its own right and allowing lessons to emerge naturally. In our reading of the Narnia books, theological discussion arose readily. This Guide can help to get the ball rolling if necessary, but should not tie down the reading.

In closing- and for what it is worth- I was disappointed with the movie. It simply reinforces my conviction that with good literature, the movie is never as good as the book. As a genre, literature is superior to film for telling a story. In this specific case this was made even worse by so much tinkering with the original story. In spite of the comments in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, that women are not intended to be combatants, Susan is shown as a warrior (note further conversation about this here). Most bothersome to me, was the peevishness of the Pevensies, just as in the previous movie. In the books the children are fallen and yet have some nobility. In the movies- as par for our times- nobility is lost. There is little inspiring in High King Peter. The children, except for Lucy, are petulant pouters. They are unbearably ‘small’ in comparison to the characters in the books. So whatever you do with the movie, make sure you read the book!

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Osprey Graphic History

A few months ago I discovered the Osprey Graphic History seriesas five volumes were available online at a significant discount. They are essentially comic-book accounts of key battles and looked like they might be a fun addition to our other books so I purchased them. The five volumes are:

Surprise Attack: Battle of Shiloh
The Bloodiest Day: Battle of Antietam
Gamble for Victory: Battle of Gettysburg
Day of Infamy: Attack on Pearl Harbor
The Empire Falls: Battle of Midway

Each volume is about 50 pp. long, including an opening section which introduces the background, key characters and overview of the event. Then the comic begins and is well illustrated. There is also an index, a glossary, and recommended sources (books and internet) for more information. My boys were instantly drawn to them and were begging to read them.

However, the style of the drawings alerted me that they might be intended for a slightly older audience- not that there was anything particularly graphic on the covers, but simply the style looked like what you see in comics pitched at a higher age range. When I looked them over before giving them to my boys I was disappointed to find profanity at various places in the volumes. In the end this was enough to make me decide these were not right for my boys at this time.

It is sad that such language is included in books intended for kids. The history is fairly well done. Since I am currently reading Shelby Foote’s mammoth classic on the Civil War, I noticed that the comic on Shiloh seemed to have been drawn almost directly from Foote. There are other volumes in this series, but I assume they are the same as these.

If there are any publishers reading, I think there is a market for books like these that are actually age appropriate.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Pecos Bill

Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time, James Cloyd Bowman
(The New York Review Children’s Collection, 2007; prev. published 1937)
Ages 5-11

This is a Newberry Honor book, and I remember enjoying the tall tales about Pecos Bill as a young boy. However, this book did not especially grab us. It was fair, but it was not quite as exciting as other things we read. There were some good laugh points. Some things were so outlandish that they just ‘missed’ us. Others were quite funny. I think we had to get adjusted to this sort of story for a while. The stories were quite similar so that they seemed repetitive eventually. We did not finish this book, but after about 100 pages have set it aside to come back to later possibly.