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Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Teen fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Brave Ollie Possum

by Ethan Nicolle 373 pages / 2019 If you were ever a scaredy-cat, or if you might have one in your family, this could be a fun story to read together... though you might have to do so during the daytime, with all the lights on. It's about nine-year-old Ollie Mackerelli, who is so afraid of things that go bump in the night that he's taken up permanent residence in his parents' bed. This is about how he learned to be brave. But his transformation doesn't happen quickly. Things start off with cowardly Ollie running to his parents' bedroom yet again to crawl under the sheets with them. That's a safe place to be, but it does come with a cost: three people in a double bed leave his dad with bags under his eyes and a scowl on his face. He wants to know when Ollie is going to grow up and stop being afraid of imaginary monsters. Then, mysteriously. Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle, a very strange, very large lady shows up at the Mackerellis' door. She offers to take their son to a "special go-away fun place where children like Ollie can be taken and all his fears will be gobbled up." Who is this lady? Her card says she specializes in "professional anti-scary therapy and comfortology." Desperate, the sleep-deprived parents hand off their son to the expert, hoping she'll be able to help. But here's the twist: Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle isn't actually an expert in anti-scary therapy. She's actually an ogre. And all those bumps in the night? It's her pet monster making them. Ollie was right all along! But being right won't get him out of the clutches of this ogre. And to make matters worse, she wants to eat him. It turns out scared children are an ogre delicacy. But despite being scared, Ollie gathers enough courage to spray the ogre with one of her own magic potions. Sadly, ogres aren't susceptible to magic potions. People are, though, so when the ogre spits the potion right back at him, Ollie is transformed into a creature that passes out in the face of danger: Ollie becomes a possum. The rest of this rollicking tale is about Ollie, with the help of some animal friends, learning what true courage is: that it's not about being unafraid, but about facing our fears and going on anyway. The author of Brave Ollie Possum is one of the folks behind the Christian satire site Babylonbee.com so the book is every bit as funny as you might expect. Another highlight is the artwork. This is a full-size novel, but it could almost be called a picture book, with fantastic, fun illustrations every three pages or so. CAUTION The only caution I'll note is that this book about being brave is, at times, scary. I think it might be the book I am most looking forward to reading to my children, but there is no way I could read this as their bed-time story, or even in the middle of the day. I'm going to have to wait a bit, probably until they are all at least nine. CONCLUSION But for kids over ten and over, particularly boys, this will be so much fun. And for certain 9-year-old kids who are scared of what goes bump in the night, this could be a good day-time read with mom and dad to help a little one learn what being brave is all about.

Documentary, Movie Reviews

CitizenFour

Documentary 113 minutes / 2014 RATING 7/10

In 2013 Edward Snowden let the world know that their emails, phone calls, text messages, and everything they were doing online, was being tracked by the US government and, oftentimes, with the help of their local government. This was the surveillance of private citizens who had committed no crime, and for whom no search warrant had been granted. And even as this surveillance was being done, the leadership of the National Security Agency (NSA) told the US Congress that no, they were not spying on Americans. Were they lying? Well, it all depends on what they meant by "not spying." As the documentary recounts, in May of 2013, Snowden fled to Hong Kong with a computer full of classified NSA documents that proved this surveillance was going on. He showed some of them to journalist Glenn Greenwald and to the director of this documentary, Laura Poitras. It was only after they helped the story go public that the NSA then admitted they were recording and collecting all sorts of data on US citizens. But they insisted that while they had it, they weren't actually looking through it. The NSA said they were collecting and storing citizens' information so that it would be available should they ever want to take a peek at it, which, they assured the public, would only happen after they got permission from a judge. In other words, collecting everyone's data wasn't spying on them because, according to the NSA, they weren't looking at it...yet. Snowden was celebrated by many as a whistleblower – that's how he thinks of himself – but condemned by others as a traitor. This film has some amazing strengths, the biggest being that Poitras was right there in his Hong Kong hotel room to capture Snowden's determination and anxiety as he became front-page news the world over. But it has a notable weakness: you have to be a detective to figure out, from what's shown, why anyone would think Snowden a traitor. One key scene that gives a hint as to why occurs in a newspaper office where an editor and reporters are debating what of the information Snowden gave them is safe to release to the public. In other words, Snowden gave out classified materials that were dangerous to US interests, and he left it up to a bunch of journalists to decide what was and wasn't safe to release to the public. That's crazy! But whatever we think of Snowden, it's clear we should be upset with the US government. Now, it is hard to find a clear biblical basis for a right to privacy, so on that front it may be hard to condemn what they have been doing. But it takes no effort at all to find a warning about government intrusion (1 Samuel 8:10-19). We also know men are not angels, and so it is best not to entrust them with tools that can only be used properly by angels. It's naive to think the very same government group that lied in the first place about collecting our information can be trusted not to look through this information without a warrant. Even if they do go the legal route, Snowden noted that whenever the NSA goes to a judge to ask to look through someone's data the judge always grants approval. So that is no check on abuse at all. One of the more common Christian responses to the government surveillance states is to wonder why, if we've done nothing wrong, we should make a fuss about the government watching everything we say and do? That's a question best answered with another: have you ever done anything that might, if seen in the wrong light, seem wrong? Harvey Silverglate makes the case that the average ordinary American citizen arguably commits Three Felonies A Day inadvertently, due simply to the sheer tonnage of laws on the books. So we're already in a situation in which the government can, if it wishes, convict any one of us. Do we really want to entrust them with a permanent record of all our activities? And if they insist that this is no big thing, then Douglas Wilson has a proposal predicated on the biblical notion that the government should only subject others to what they would gladly subject themselves (Matt. 7:12):

"I have a proposal. We need a law that says that there will be no surveillance of the American people that has not first been test-driven for five years at the Capitol building and its environs. You tell us the drink is not poisoned, so you drink it. Sweeps of phone records, busting into emails, targeted review of IRS records, tracking of movements through security gates, and surveillance drones overhead. All such records gathered will be open to Freedom of Information Requests, and will be provided to primary challengers free of charge, and with no names redacted. Why do I want to do such a thing? National security, ma’am."

CAUTIONS CitizenFour is rated R for language, and that is primarily for the use of the f-word which pops up a dozen or so times. But there are two instances of God's name being used in vain. Reformed Perspective doesn't normally recommend films that take God's name in vain. In fact, we earnestly avoid doing so. When it comes to violence and sexual content in a film, we know that there can be depictions that fall "in bounds" – we aren't concerned with couples hugging or with heroes punching out villains. But there is seldom any excuse for taking God's name in vain. You want viewers to know your character stubbed his toe? Have him say "Ouch!" Does the protagonist need to express frustration? Then have him say his dialogue with some volume. But there is no need to use God's name as an expletive. So why the exception in this case? Because this is not entertainment. While this documentary would be better if it didn't include these two instances, the information found here is information we need to know. For mere entertainment's sake there is no need to tolerate blasphemy. But when we are watching something for education's sake, then we may have good reasons to sit through some sinful depictions, including those of blasphemy and violence. We shouldn't watch footage of violent protests and war carnage to be entertained, but it can be important to do so to be informed. And to understand what our government is up to in the area of surveillance, there is really nothing comparable to CitizenFour. So, for education's sake, this is still worth watching. One last caution: a brief kiss is shown between reporter Glenn Greenwald and his homosexual partner. CONCLUSION At movie's end, Snowden and Glenn Greenwald are in the same room, sitting side by side, but making use of a pad of paper to carry on parts of their discussion.  Why? Because it's the only way they can be sure the government isn't listening. This is a film everyone should see to learn about our governments' surveillance capabilities – as citizens the only way we can rein in government abuses is if we understand what they are. This is also a move to be shared and discussed. To help you carry on that discussion I've included a couple of links to helpful articles that look at Snowden and the NSA from a Christian perspective. Can Whistle-Blowing be Biblically Justified? To a Chair in the Basement You can watch the trailer below, buy it on DVD anywhere, and stream it on Amazon.com (Americans with Prime can do so for free here).

Soup and Buns

Should Introverts be expected to act like Extroverts?

“You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush.” This quotation from a tongue-in-cheek article by Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic Monthly summed up his premise that Extroverts do not understand or fully appreciate Introverts. Although I knew that I was an Extrovert, I found the actual definitions a bit surprising. Tiring… or energizing? Introverts are people who “find other people tiring,” who need to re-charge after a certain amount of socializing. They mull things over inside their brains and then talk about them. Being alone with their thoughts is as “restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.” One suggested motto for them is, “I’m okay, you’re okay – in small doses.” Rauch’s own formula is that he needs “two hours alone for every hour of socializing.” A Google search estimates that about 25% of people are truly Introverts, but in the “gifted” community they are a majority. Extroverts are “energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone.” They figure things out by discussing them with other people, and think by talking. They tend to dominate social settings with their “endless appetite for talk and attention.” Understanding is a one-way street Society in general views Extrovert behavior as more desirable, and this can sometimes be taken to a fault when Introvert behavior is criticized or not appreciated for its strengths. For instance, an Extrovert might be described as outgoing, happy, bighearted, vibrant, warm, and as a confident leader who is “a real people person.” Introverts are often described as loners, reserved, guarded, and taciturn (inclined to silence; reserved in speech; reluctant to join in conversation). It is as though an individual’s worth is determined only by their observable interactions in a group. Rauch suggests that Introverts more often understand Extroverts because the latter put all of their thoughts and feelings out on the table. His concern as an Introvert, is that:

Extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through…. Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion.”

I wonder if any other Extroverts find themselves cringing and remembering times when they too felt offended because someone didn’t want their company. Other differences Extroverts tend to think that a lull in conversation is a bad thing, and they can feed off of small talk or deep conversation and enjoy large groups. Introverts need more time to think through what they will say and tend to dislike small talk while enjoying more meaningful discussion, especially in a more private setting. Extroverts feel a need to “draw out” the Introverts and get them to participate, because to them participation is essential. Since they cannot imagine that a person might enjoy sitting quietly off to the side, they take on the role of encourager. Unfortunately, it often comes across to the Introvert as controller instead. Smiley face :) Expectations exist regarding facial expressions too. Smiles are expected as part of good manners, so we give them whether we feel like it or not. Often if a person’s face goes to its default serious expression, people jump to the conclusion that he is upset or depressed, whereas he might just be pondering a weighty subject or listening to conversations around him. Rauch suggests that Introverts may be less smiley, but not necessarily less joyful. The differences are something to be considered in regards to church and family activities. As one Introvert explained to me, “At Ladies’ Bible Study, I often start formulating an answer to a question, but by the time I figure out what I want to say they have all gone on to a new subject or maybe even several subjects, so I rarely get to say anything.” Perhaps this is why some people feel more at home studying the Bible and praying with only a few friends. I wonder if our quick-sound-bite culture has lured us away from valuing long pauses with time to reflect? I’ve read that in some Japanese company meetings, they present the information and then sit in silence for a long time while everyone just thinks. What an Introverted thing to do! My friend went on to say, “The same thing happens when our entire family is together.” Some family members would prefer more two-on-two social activities and fewer or less lengthy whole group situations. It is possible to consider both the Extrovert’s and the Introvert’s preferences. Conclusion God tells us to love one another, and the more we understand one another, the more we will know how to keep this commandment. We may have lived our entire life thus far “not knowing what we didn’t know.” But now, we know.

This article first appeared in the May 2012 issue. Sharon L. Bratcher’s “Soup and Buns” book includes 45 of her RP articles. For information contact sharoncopy@gmail.com.

Adult non-fiction

How does a Christian live in the midst of suffering?

A book summary of Kelly Kapic's Embodied Hope

****

Pain and suffering require good theology because often, during intense pain of any kind, the whole question of how God’s sovereignty and goodness relate becomes intensely personal. Often Psalm 92:15 – The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him – becomes a very difficult confession. Is God really good? Sometimes it’s an arrogant question, but when there’s suffering it is often something entirely different. In Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering, Reformed theologian Kelly Kapic considers physical pain and discusses “how a Christian might live in the midst of suffering.” That is, ultimately, what those in pain need, far more than abstract theories of the problem of suffering. THE NEED TO KNOW GOD AND KNOW THE SUFFERER Kapic, a professor with a wife who suffers severe chronic pain, insists that to help others with pain we need both pastoral sensitivity and theological insight. Without careful study of who God is – without theology – we often head into psychology and moralism. Conversely, without loving and knowing the sufferer, we may end up with harsh principles. Kapic’s deep understanding of the gospel, and of pain, and of the writings of godly men like Augustine, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, and Bonhoeffer, enable him to explores how hope and lament are intertwined. He discusses how we can deal with the fact that God’s good creation has been compromised, how we experience that as we suffer, how to lament that biblically, and how God’s faithfulness ultimately shapes biblical lament. Vigorously rejecting the ancient and still common idea that the body and its pain are not important, Kapic points out that God created our bodies as well as our souls. Our bodies are essential to our identity as individuals, they are essential to our relationships, and essential to our worship. And all of that is tied to Jesus Christ, who is hope embodied, hope made physical. Jesus is the answer to the sufferer’s questions and he is God’s solution to the brokenness of the universe. Because of him our sufferings are not the final word, nor are pain, aging, forgotten memories, or death. [caption id="attachment_5333" align="alignright" width="200"] 2017 / 192 pages[/caption] GOD GIVES US EACH OTHER However, it is not only our individual relationship to Jesus Christ that counts; our relationships in the body of Christ are also vital. In fact, suffering shows how essential the body of Christ is to each member. Kapic states that we are in essence “members of a larger body, and thus also inherently unstable when isolated.” If this is true in general, it is even more important when someone is suffering. Being is pain is not a safe place to be alone. Lonely pain opens up temptations to despair, to dwelling on already-forgiven sins, and to questioning God’s care. A Christian who suffers chronic pain alone is vulnerable to Satan’s attacks, but a Christian who suffers in the body of Christ is, ideally, carried and encouraged by the faith, hope, and love of other believers. For example, when Luther was ill, he begged prayers from his friends that he would be saved “from blasphemy, doubt and distrust of his loving God.” Even so, sufferers must not ultimately look to other believers but to God’s revelation in Christ, since all faith, hope, and love “must ultimately point to and come from the triune God, and not merely from the communion of saints.” BEING THERE Of course, believers need to learn how to come along side those in pain. We often just want to help and, while this can be very important, our goal should not be to “fix” the other person. Rather we must learn to accept that pain is real and that the suffering person often just needs someone to be there. It can be very hard to watch someone suffer, and many people feel helpless and want to run away. Instead, we need to learn to share God’s love, perhaps with a glass of cold water, or a card, or a smile, or perhaps with endless hours of simply being there, suffering faithfully together, listening, honestly accepting the pain, and pointing to Christ, together. Just as the suffering person needs other believers, so other believers need sufferers. In loving and being loved by sufferers, those who are well are reminded that they, too, are poor and in need of God's grace. Otherwise it can become easy to imagine that they are self-sufficient and deserve their wellness because of how faithful they have been. Furthermore, those who suffer are uniquely able to witness that, though troubles are real, “God is unflinchingly faithful.” And, as Kapic points out, sufferers, too, have a responsibility. They can encourage and serve those who are well by loving them and being grateful and compassionate. They “need to beware of abusing others.”

“Those dealing with a great deal of pain often have to work hard to avoid self-absorption and cultivate neighbor love. It takes intentionality. It takes a missional focus. But it can be life-giving.”

CONCLUSION In Embodied Hope Kapic, as the husband of a wife with chronic pain, shares many practical insights. Yet he always comes around to this:

“Beloved, amid the trials and tribulations of life, let us have confidence not in ourselves, not in our own efforts, but in God. This God has come in Christ, and he has overcome sin, death, and the devil. While we may currently be walking through the shadow of death, may our God’s love, grace, and compassion become ever more real to us. And may we, as the church, participate in the ongoing divine motions and movements of grace as God meets people in their need."

This book has helped me come to terms with the fact that chronic suffering exists and has given me insight for supporting my daughter. I think it will be a blessing to every Christian who suffers physical pain or who loves someone who does, and I strongly recommend it. Embodied Hope would be a great addition to a church library, as well.

Annie Kate Aarnoutse reviews books at Tea Time With Annie Kate where this first appeared.

AA
News
Tagged: featured, news

The leading cause of death in the world

The leading cause of death in 2018 was not heart disease or stroke or AIDS or cancer or traffic accidents. In a Dec. 31starticle, Brietbart.com’s Thomas D. Williams, reported that:

There were more deaths from abortion in 2018 than all deaths from cancer, malaria, HIV/AIDS, smoking, alcohol, and traffic accidents combined.

Williams, using numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO) and from Worldometers, reported that while 8 million people died from cancer, and 5 million from smoking, 41.9 million died from abortions.

The fact-checking, and left-leaning website Snopes.com questioned Williams’ abortion numbers, but not in the way you might have expected. They noted his figure was probably much too low – in the most recent data they could find WHO reported an average of 56 million abortions annually.

While there are government initiatives to reduce deaths by traffic accidents, and there are celebrity-led campaigns to fight AIDS and cancer, there is nothing comparable for abortion. In fact, instead of trying to lower the number of deaths via abortion, the world is now encouraging the celebration of those deaths. And yet when we look at WHO’s 2016 list of the top ten causes of death, abortion kills more than all ten combined. So if fighting abortion deaths isn’t a priority in the world it must be among Christians.

Reformed blogger Samuel Sey made a similar point about Canada. In his November 9 post on his blog SlowToWrite.com he noted:

370, 000 Canadians die a year – 100,000 of them die from abortion….Every year, 100,000 babies in Canada are ripped apart, limb-by-limb, from their mother’s womb. Abortion is the most grotesque and widespread human rights violation of our time. Its the leading cause of death in Canada and America. And that won’t change unless Christians like you and me become the leading cause for its abolition.


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