Sunday, January 25, 2015

Review: Miracle on Voodoo Mountain by Megan Boudreaux

Miracle on Voodoo Mountain
A Young Woman's Remarkable Story of Pushing Back the Darkness for the Children of Haiti
By Megan Boudreaux
Thomas Nelson Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-5291-1094-7

Whenever I read Christian non-fiction, especially testimonies and memoirs, I always approach them with extreme cynicism. This is because as a Christian I've been burned by Christian platitudes and self-righteousness, and as a writer I've honed an ability to sense the ring of truth. Thus, my spiritual "BS" meter is pretty highly-developed. Therefore, if I read a book and say it's good and believable, I am to be trusted. This is a really really good book and it does what good Christian testimonies should do. It highlights the power of Jesus Christ in the world as He works through His people. And it shows us how needy, evil, and lost the world is.

It's the first-person memoir written by Megan Boudreaux about how she began working with and for poor, abused, orphaned, and/or enslaved children in Haiti. Throughout her narrative, Boudreaux is real, strong and good without being pretentiously pious, and also very informative about how dangerous uninformed American Christian charity can be.

After having repeated dreams of a tamarind tree in a suburb in Haiti, Megan decides to give up her perfect job and to follow what she feels is a call from God. In Haiti, she's a bit at a loss where to begin or what exactly she has been called to do. But one small encounter with a restovak -- an enslaved child-- starts her journey. One thing leads to another and soon she is feeding starving children, building schoolrooms, and being threatened by voodoo priests. She encounters corruption in various forms and discovers how poor children and well-intentioned Christian churches are used by false orphanages and child traffickers.

All the while, Boudreaux writes honestly, humbly, and in a conversational engaging style.

I'll admit, though, that the title turned me off initially. I avoid anything that seems hyperbolic. But the book really is about a great work done by a young Christian woman. I highly recommend this.

This wbok was sent to me free by Booklookbloggers in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Review: Chewed Confessions by Cheryl Kirwan

  • Chewed Confessions 
  • by Cheryl Kirwan

  • File Size: 337 KB
  • Print Length: 178 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (April 22, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00CHCQO68

I love omnibus novels, a collection of short stories composed of characters who are connected with each other by chance, location, or situation. In omnibus novels, a secondary character in one story will become a main character in another. Sometimes the omnibus is complicated as in Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa, where characters are unnamed, inter-connected to the extreme (yet often strangers to each other), and who affect each other's lives for the worst.

In Chewed Confession, characters are connected in a straight-forward linear manner. In this case, the characters in these stories are often friends, family, colleagues, or acquaintances. Thus the main character of one story might casually call a friend or family member and this friend becomes the main character in the following story. This is generally the pattern throughout.

The narrators in each character study are different flavors of gum. So the reader encounters two new characters with each story: a character and a gum with a flavor name. Hence we have narratives from Cherry ubilee, Minty Chocolate, Peppermint, Clove, Cinnamon, Mega Mint Delight, Summer Mint, Triple Bubble, and Fruity Explosion. They relate the lives of Jason, Peter, Abby, Piper, Rita, Matthew, Artie, Rudy, and Lester -- people of different ages, and sexes.

Despite the difference in flavors, the wads of gum generally have the same speaking voice and personality. They also have the same destinies: they are removed from a wrapper, chewed in distinctive styles depending on the personality and stress of the chewer, then discarded...either on the ground or in a bin. The human characters are either stressed -- because of divorce proceedings, civil lawsuits, dating and love and relationship issues-- or are going through life causing stress to others. The wads of gum describe the lives of the human chewers as they describe their own lives as they are chewed, tongue-throttled, etc.

This is a good collection of short stories. They work together as an omnibus novel although the overall feel is of a series of scattered events in the lives of disparate characters. In this way, they are like character studies and the wad of gum's summation at the end of each story gives a moral of the life event the reader has witnessed.  This can be a bit much but I suppose that gums chew on what they have witnessed or seen in the lives of their human chewers and moralizing become part of their personality as they share with other gum acquaintances what they have digested in their short lives.

It's a fun book. 

Friday, January 02, 2015

Review: A Plague of Unicorns

A Plague of Unicorns
Jane Yolen
ISBN: 978-0-310-74648-5

Even as a child, I’ve loved stories about the trials, journeys, and quests that boys endure. I’m not sure why. I’d like to think I focus so much on stories with boy teen protagonists for some wonderfully sane and enlightened reason. But I don’t think that’s wholly true. I suspect some part of it is my personality but the other part might simply be that I grew up on the stuff: Shakespearean characters, Grimm fairytales, cultural folklore, and all those tragic Bible princes tend to be pretty boy-focused.

The golden apples in Cranford Abbey haven't been particularly useful and so the monks and abbots have allowed the unicorns to nibble them. However, when Abbot Aelian arrives, he brings with him his greagrandmother's recipe for Gold Apple Cider. The unicorns and their nibbling will have to go.

But unicorns are not easily gotten rid of. Even though heroes come from many nations to battle them.

James is not a hero. He is a very energetic very curious future duke who continually pummels everyone for miles around with questions, especially unanswerable ones. He is the one who figures out how to get rid of the unicorns.

This is a fun humorous, little book. The vocabulary is easy enough for middle readers, although it takes place in a Roman Catholic world, and there are Roman Catholic words scattered throughout. Theis might be problematic for some children who have never heard words like abbeys, abbots, and turrets thrown around. But one does not have to be Roman Catholic to enjoy it and a child who reads about knights and dungeons will enter the worldbuilding of this story easily.

There is nothing offensive to Christians to it, no wizards or ogres. So Christian readers who are against certain fantastical elements should like it. It's not religious but people with extreme atheists or extreme Islamic beliefs might be upset about mentions of the Bible.  

The illustrations are black and white and nicely-done. Recommended.


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Review: Authority in Prayer: Praying with Power and Purpose

Authority in Prayer: Praying with Power and Purpose
by Dutch Sheets
Bethany House
ISBN: 978-0-7642-1173-7
US $15.99

Over the ages, there has been much confusion about “authority” in the Christian church. For many denominations like Roman Catholicism, it implies human hierarchy. For some churches, the word  “authority” conjures up ideas of Apostolic Succession. The author of this book is writing about the word for a charismatic, full-gospel, and pentecostal readership. Here the meaning described the Christian believer’s authority over a particular sphere God has given him.

But there is still not a general consensus about how much authority the believer has. Generally speaking, these spheres of authority include authority over certain kinds of physical and mental states such as disease and the power of sin; authority over demons, and authority over certain groups such as family, church, geographic regions.

Dutch Sheets has written a book which shows the Biblical reasons for his belief about authority in prayer. He describes the purpose of God in creating Man, and what was lost when the First Adam fell. There are doctrinal definitions of authority versus power, and Satan’s loss of Authority over certain spheres because of Jesus’ perfect life, death, shed blood, and resurrection. Then he describes how Jesus Christ --the Second Adam-- returned that authority to us. There are also many examples, testimonies, and anecdotes about how authority has helped in the lives of Christians. Some of these examples show Dutch Sheets himself and/or some of his friends working behind the scenes to affect the outcome of the nation. These examples might sound a bit arrogant, far-fetched, wild-eyed, or innocent to readers who don’t believe that God works through people.

But the author appears so humble -- and never states that he alone can use his authority in Christ-- that one can easily believe these testimonies. Those Christians who do not know anything about the authority of Christ might be put off by the fact that someone believes in supernatural answers to prayer. They will also have to put aside some of their Calvinist fatalism or change some of their definition of God’s sovereignty. (The book doesn’t go overboard into dominionism.) Certainly, people raised to believe that suffering is ordained of God and must be patiently endured will have to truly ponder the choice and power inherent in this doctrine of authority.

There is much humor in this book, and it feels like a conversational memoir. There are also Bible verses that explain this doctrine. This is definitely a good book to read if one wants to understand a balanced presentation of the Christian doctrine of authority. Recommended.

I received this book for free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review: Discipleship: Living for Christ in the Daily Grind by J Heinrich Arnold

Review: Discipleship: Living for Christ in the Daily Grind
 by J Heinrich Arnold

  • Print Length: 311 pages
  • Publisher: Plough Publishing House; New Expanded Edition edition (January 2, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English

Okay, first things first: I never knew who  J Heinrich Arnold was before receiving this book to review. As anyone who reads my blogs knows, I avoid reading much modern theology because I find the more popular ones -- by famous televangelists and theologians-- to be a tad empty. Not that I'm that full or that deep, but I've read enough to know that other theologians --of old-- wrote about certain topics with more knowledge, maturity, subtlety etc.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered the author of this book (or collection of writings) was born in 1913 and died in 1982. Yes, my kind of theologian! He also served as an elder in a Christian communal movement called Broderhuf. I don't know much about the Broderhuf except for being in their neck of the woods one day in our family travels. But I do have a soft spot in my heart for Christians who turn their backs on the world and try to live holy simple communal lives. Unless it gets all cultish and oppressive.

The book is divided into three large sections (The Disciple, the Church, the kingdom of God), which are further divided into subsections such as (under the Disciple) The Inner Life, Repentance, Conversion, Faith, Dogmatism, Commitment, Reverence, Surrender, Sincerity); (under The Church) Community, Gifts, Forgiveness, Unity, Baptism, Lord's Supper, Family Life, Illness and Death, Evil and Darkness, World Suffering; and (under The Kingdom of God) Jesus, The Living Word, The Cross, Salvation, The Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God.

This edition has the Discipleship book, with expanded sections such as taken from different works and from letters. As such, there is a flow to the paragraphs in the sections but sometimes....not. Because the excerpted letter paragraphs are placed in the chapter without introduction.  Still, its good to see these excerpts from the letters which show a very kind pastoral heart...which can be firm if need be.  

One would think that a spiritual leader of people committed to living apart from the ruin hypocrisy of Christendom would be very hard and dogmatic. On the contrary. In the section on dogma we see a person who respects Christian dogma but who seeks primarily that those in his fellowship find the relationship with Christ.

This book is really good. I love what he says --in his firm way-- about love, marriage and sex.

A couple of examples:

"Sex is man's secret, something that he feels touches on his inmost being. Every disclosure in this sphere reveals something intimate and personal and lets another person into his secret. This is why the area of sex is also the area of shame: we are ashamed to unveil our secret before others."

Or this (from a letter):

"Your question, 'Why do I feel attracted toward this boy if he is not meant for me but for someone else?' is a bit of a rebellious one, It accuses someone higher than yourself. Ultimately, it accuses God. Human nature being what it is, we often feel attractions that we have no choice to reject. That is simply part of our human weakness. Who is destined for you, or whether or not someone is destined for you, is not for me to say. The important thing for you is to give your life to Jesus."

Can you imagine getting a rebuke like that from your spiritual leader? And keeping the letter?

He must have been a very great man.

I highly recommend this book. A copy was sent to me by Plough publishing for a fair and honest review.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Review: Gift of Truth by Robert Fleming

Gift of Truth 
by Robert Fleming
Urban Christian

  • File Size: 1110 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Urban Christian (February 1, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00HG21C4S

  • Robert Fleming is one passionate writer. He understands the history of African-Americans and the history of the Black church and his knowledge abounds in this novel about a minister who tackles racial religious compromise in the South.

    We've met this minister before in Fleming's first novel Gift of Faith. In that novel, we were more involved with the main character's/narrator's life as he recovered from his wife's suicide and her murder of his children.

    In this novel, he is more of a spectator. He is healed of the wound caused by his wife's betrayal and suicide but now he has to encounter betrayal on an even larger scale. Trouble is, discernment and truth is needed.

    His friend Reverend Peck, another minister, has called him down to Alabama; a self-styled prophet has arrived on the scene and has sheep-napped the minister's flock. The prophet, Wilks, comes from a long line of shysters and con men and he performs flamboyant healings in front of frenzied audiences.

    I'm trying to review this book without giving away spoilers because there are twists galore!

    Complicating the problem of flock-nabbing are the racial and socio-economic tensions between the poor Black farmers, the rich white agribusinessmen, the KKK, and white lawmen. For the religious Black men, there are great obstacles and temptations. Social compromises to protect one's reputation or one's life, sexual temptations, monetary temptations, and the compromising of truth.

    This is a very good novel. The challenge of being a prophet --especially one who is called to battle social ills-- echoes both the lives of prophets in the Bible and the lives of African-American activists such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and others. Of course the prophets in the Bible are totally holy, but the prophetic activists and great ministers of Black history have been flawed.  

    I had a few nits of course. The main one is that the author is so knowledgeable about African-American culture and history that sometimes there feels like way too much teaching going on for a novel. It's not bad, of course, and one does get the feeling the book is written to honor great Black heroes and musicians. But Mr. Fleming is a cultural historian and that kind of writing is to be expected.

    A few writers might feel the author is picking on certain types of Christians i.e. pentecostal types. But I don't think that Mr Fleming was doing that. But I do think he is saying that Christians can sometimes be like sheep if they don't discern the truth and stand up for it.  Some Christians might be offended by events in the story but I encourage them to read through the book and finish it. As I said, there are some good twists. 

    Wednesday, November 26, 2014

    Review: Evening Prayers For Every Day of the Year by Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt

    Evening Prayers For Every Day of the Year by Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt

    Growing up with the Book of Common Prayers, I have nothing against written prayers per se. Some of them are lovely and the best written-in-stone (so to speak) prayers are usually like perfectly distilled, perfectly chistled heartfelt communication from the depths of our spirit. As a penteocostal, charismatic, Christian, I also love a good spontaneous prayer. Who knew there was a book of written prayers that was perfect for folks like me!

    I've never heard of Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt but apparently (at least from the cover) he was quite influential with folks like Karl Barth and Boenhoeffer. And I can see why.  

    First, the prayers are addressed to a living God who wants to do wonders in the world. They are prayers which seem to be born from someone keenly acquainted with the work, love, and power of the Holy Spirit. This is amazing to me. One cannot read these daily prayers and the Bible verses connected with them without developing a spirit of expectancy.  Blumhardt repeatedly asks God to show His power, His love, His healing, His Wisdom.

    Secondly, the prayers in this book are not necessarily evening prayers. There are very few prayers which actually should only be said at night.

    Thirdly, the prayers are very very very insightful and although they don't read like treatises, they very well could be. The prayers are heartfelt and one often feels as if one is overhearing an intimate private conversation between a holy saint and God. But the prayers pack so much wonderful theology that they enlighten the heart and mind as one reads them.  

    Fourthly, the prayers are accessible. The language they are written in are modern and conversational. A child of ten or eleven can understand them as well as an adult. The super-theologically-educated will like it as well as those who know little about God.

    Fifthly, the theology is presented in a way that will not offend anyone. Okay, unless one is extremely legalistic and picky about some pet theology, one will not find anything to argue about.

    Lastly, this book is a classic. I didn't know the author until I got this book. And now I know why this is a classic.

    I highly highly highly recommend this book. I have the book in hardcover and I guess my only nit is that the kindle is so expensive. ($8.49) Especially for a Christian book.  But that's my nit, I guess.

    I received this book freely in exchange for a free and honest review.

    Review: Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner

    • Paperback: 336 pages
    • Publisher: Harmony (August 5, 2014)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0385348118
    • ISBN-13: 978-0385348119

    When I first saw the description (and promise) of Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It by Gabriel Wyner I thought this book would be perfect for travelers, missionaries, ex-patriats, and public servants in federal/regional/local government offices. Now I think it would be perfect for COMMITTED travelers, missionaries, etc.

    The book promises to teach us the natural way of learning a language. But natural doesn't necessarily mean easy. After all, as Wyner relates, children learn language naturally. Adults do not. Primarily because children are surrounded by a language they have to learn. So they pick it up. But adults either have other things to attend to (and thus cannot concentrate on learning a foreign language) or they are trained wrongly when they do try to learn.

    As is common in all self-help books, there is a lot of research to ponder. Research helps us understand why we have to do what the author is telling us we have to do. So yeah, there is some stuff to wade through. Most of it is fun wading if one likes learning and understanding new linguistics stuff. But if you just want instructions, you might be put off by the scientific/psychological reasoning behind the game plan.

    Wyner describes three kinds of fluency: hearing the language, speaking the language, and writing the language. All these are interconnected, but they are connected in a way that we need to understand. Specifically the mind needs to be engaged in order to learn and preserve language -- and most language techniques don't engage the speaker's heart well enough to create permanent language learning. Thus Wyner gives techniques to help his readers learn how to train their minds.    

    And the techniques are many. As are the resources. This book is jam-packed full of techniques. Techniques having to do with Google Images. Techniques with flash-cards. Techniques with ear-training. Techniques with tongue-training. I really love the sections on how to pronounce certain vowels. There are a lot of lists as well. I tried a few of these and downloaded some software. I think this book will help a lot of people, even if they don't use all the techniques. As I said, it's all about committment. I suspect, though, that a lot of people will find the book confusing in parts. Those IPA charts are still muddling around in my brain.   Recommended...if you're committed.

    I got this book free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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