Sunday, December 13, 2009

What Kind of Conversationalist Are You?

I just finished reading, “The Five Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman. Basically everyone has a way that they feel loved. Chapman breaks down these methods of showing and feeling loved into what he calls five “love languages”. They are quality time, gift giving, acts of service, words of affirmation, and physical contact. My primary love language is quality time. Personally, I resent someone who performs acts of service or brings me gifts but can't give me five minutes of their time because, “I need to understand, they're so busy.”
Inside the love languages, Chapman says there are “dialects”. In other words, two people may have the same love language but express it differently. For me quality time is having long substantial conversations with each other. Someone else may want you to spend time with them but not in conversation. For them quality time is doing things, like yard work, together.
This got me to thinking about conversational styles. Even people who like to spend time together talking still have their own “dialects”. There are people who don't actually want to have conversations. They want to have monologues. Now I don't mean that as negative as it sounds. I've had friends who do most of the talking and I really don't mind because they are so interesting to listen to. I enjoy sitting back and just hearing what they have to say. This past May I drove up from Austin with one of the band directors back to Longview. He's a young guy, maybe twenty-four. He did ninety percent of the talking but he was so much fun to listen to that I was happy to sit back and enjoy the ride accompanied by his stories and experiences.
Then I have friends who don't want to do any of the talking. I find myself forced into a position of monologuing because they won't contribute anything to the conversation. My closest friend in New Jersey was like this. When I told her it made me feel uncomfortable doing all the talking, she responded that she didn't mind, she liked to just quietly sit and listen to what others had to say. I think that the above two types of conversationalists are made hand-in-glove for each other.
I am neither type of talker. While I can enjoy doing most of the listening with an interesting person, that cannot be the only friend I have because to me it's pretty one-sided. I know a lot about them but they know practically nothing about me. How can I be friends with someone who doesn't really even know who I am?
I am the sort of conversationalist who has a lot of ideas and opinions about things and need to express them, but I need the other person's feedback. It's kind of like two people adding wood chips to a fire to keep it going. I need the other person to help feed the conversation. I give a viewpoint then they give their viewpoint. I share a personal experience, then they share a personal experience etc...
If I'm with someone who simply wants to listen without contributing anything to the conversation I feel as though I'm clapping with one hand. I bring up a topic, give an opinion, share an experience and it falls flat. I am then forced into the position of picking the conversation back up off the ground and starting again. It's tiresome and I don't enjoy it. It's no different then thinking to myself. It's as if the other person is there simply for decoration.
I could further explore the topic of why some people like to monologue and others need to have a “tennis match” conversation (like me). (Most monologuers primarily talk about themselves, their life, family, friends, personal experiences while my give-and-take conversation style is mostly more impersonal, dealing with philosophy, ideals, politics,etc.) but I think I've said enough on the subject for now. I guess I will close with the question, what kind of conversationalist are you?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Eyes of the Tailless Animals by Soon Ok Lee

This is probably one of the most gruesome books I've ever read. All the more so because it is true.
Soon Ok Lee was a dedicated member of the Communist Party in North Korea. She lived well, had status, and a loving family. All that changed when she refused to give a fellow worker more than the legal limit of a shirt fabric that she had brought back from China.

Because of her adherence to the law she was taken suddenly from her home and family and thrown into prison. Inside prison, she was subjected to tortures so horrible that I believe the only reason she survived was so she could tell people outside North Korea of the horrors that are going on there.

It seems that basically, North Korea provides goods for outside nations by ensuring a large prison class who work for free. They are also mostly worked to death. They are given hardly anything to eat and only allowed to sleep a couple of hours a day in order to make the required quotas. Many people who were in prison are there because they tried to work to feed their starving children but it was work that they had not been given permission to do.

The North Korean government controls every one of their citizens' lives so stringently that no one may leave their town without permission, or do any kind of work that they do not have explicit permission to do.
If someone is thrown in prison their family loses all status as well. They lose their homes, jobs, everything.
Lee noticed that as cruelly as the prisoners are treated, there is one group that's treated even worse, if that's possible. These are the Christians. Because they believe in heaven they are never allowed to look at the sky but must go about always looking at the ground. If they, or any of the prisoners for that matter, break one iota of the rules they are tortured so viley that they often do not survive.

This book is an account of one North Korean's journey from wholly believing in the ideals of the Communist Party and North Korea's then dictator, Kim Il Song, to realizing the brutal oppression of North Korea's citizens. It is also an account of her spiritual journey from atheism and belief in the state as God to accepting Jesus Christ as her savior.

At the end of the book, she describes her final exit from the prison to liberty.

As she leaves the prison she looks back and suddenly, at the same time, the Christian prisoners who are never allowed to look up, all raised their eyes to meet hers. In them she saw a pleading to expose what is going on in North Korea. In her forward, Lee explains that this is ultimately her motive for writing the book.
Some things the rest of us need to consider: Why are countries like Japan and France trading with North Korea? Lee mentions these countries because of the cost of life it took to meet the demands for products by these two countries.

Also, if something doesn't happen to stop this dreadful regime, will there be any North Koreans alive in fifty years? Will North Korea be the first country to completely annihilate its own people?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Got a Piano Teacher?

The following is a letter to a friend who was inquiring about how to interview a prospective piano teacher. I thought the information might be useful to others out there in search of a teacher.

Hi I-!
Sorry it's taken so long to get back to you.  I'm a hypocrite because I really, really hate it when people put me on hold like that.  I have no excuse except I kept putting it off until I forgot about it.  Shawna reminded me today so here I am.  One reason I was putting off writing you about it is because it's not an easy question.

  First, you need to decide what exactly you want your daughter to get out of the lessons.  The ability to read and play music?  'To what level of difficulty?  Do you want her to learn to play by ear?  Transpose (take a song written in one key and play it in another key)?  Sight read?  Learn church music? Classical?  Jazz? Do you want her to learn for personal enjoyment or be equipped possibly to work professionally? (Yes there are plenty of jobs out there for muscians with the right skills.)

Then I will tell you that most teachers ONLY teach students how to read and play music from method books and the vast majority of kids will quit (or want to) once it starts to get hard and it will take a commitment of practising as a part of life's daily routine.  Are you going to let her take until she gets tired of it or make her take until she leaves home?
  If you're willing to go into Memphis, you'll probably find a really good teacher who will teach her more than just method books but also keyboard (above mentioned) skills as well.  Lest you think all those skills are for advanced students or geniuses, I teach ALL my students those skills from the get go, regardless of age.  There's more to the piano than just reading notes.  In fact I teach them to play by ear before I teach them to read music.
When interviewing a prospective teacher get their credentials.  Where did they go to school, do they have a Master's or just a Bachelor's (Yes, there is a HUGE difference between the two.) What was their degree in? Performance or also a pedagogy degree?  Have they ever worked (or are they) working professionally as a musician?
  Finally, you need to decide how determined you are.  Are you willing to enforce practise times?  Are you willing to make her keep taking even after it starts to get hard (which it will sooner or later). My advice is to find a teacher who will make the experience as positive as possible and don't let your daughter quit-even if it means changing teachers.  I've never met someone who regretted knowing how to play the piano as an adult and I've met countless people who have regretted quitting as a child. 
   Shawna tells me that Alyssa is a brilliant little girl.  Studies have shown that children who learn how to play the piano develop their intellect to a higher degree than those that don't.  There are many cognitive skills that are exercized and developed from learning how to play.  From a purely academic perspective you are helping your child succeed by having her take piano lessons. 

If you have any more questions, I'll try to answer them in a more timely manner.  Good luck!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Shallow grace and a truncated religion

The following letters were sent to a couple of writers of a Christian magazine I subscribe to. I left out names because I'm not sure what is legal to print without someones permission.

Dear Mr. O
Thanks so much for your article, "Class Without Rooms." I well remember taking an Old Testament class in college, thinking that we were going to study the Old Testament from a literary perspective (it was a literature credit). It turned out to be simply a running monologue of one derogatory comment after another from the professor who was determined to persuade us that the Bible was all nonsense. Of course we were all young, inexperienced, plastic-thinking students whose primary concern was to get a good grade. How I wish I could go back to that class with my present knowledge and maturity and challenge the inept arguments and unsupported assertions of that professor!
My son is 14 and I am already thinking how to best serve his post high school academic needs without wasting his time and my money by enrolling him in a college whose objectives are to indoctrinate rather than educate. I'm glad to hear about on line education and I will certainly be considering its possibilities.
I found your article to be relevant and timely. I thank your for it and I thank you and all the people who make - magazine possible. It is a refreshing oasis in the midst of the amoral, nihilist, and secular beliefs that produce most magazines. God bless you all.

Sharon Henning


Thanks. For your son in several years, consider online education but also look into the few colleges that(are) not propaganda mills. The King's College, New York City, where I'm now provost, is one.
(I looked up King's College on the web. Although my sons interests lean toward technology, it looks like an excellent liberal arts school that will equip young people to confront secular worldviews with intelligent arguments as well as deepen their own knowledge and faith. I recommend looking into this school for any believer seeking degrees in politics, philosophy or economics:

Ms. S,
I wanted to drop you a brief note to tell you how much I appreciate and agree with what you said in your article, "Control that Tongue". I get frustrated with professing Christians that believe the Christian experience is all about God loving us but don't understand that it is also about us loving God.
If we love the Lord with all our hearts, minds and souls, we gladly and ardently wish to live a life of obedience to Him. I believe the fallacious thinking that causes people to interpret grace as a license to sin without consequence is due to an ignorance concerning what the Bible says. (My people die for lack of knowledge Hosea 4:6).
I also believe that many professing Christians have filled their minds with ungodly thinking due to what they are reading and viewing on TV and other media, it seems their consciences have been seared. As long as I'm preaching, let me frankly say that our society has heretofore made it comfortable for many to claim to be Christians without risk or sacrifice to themselves which might explain why many worldly people enjoy calling themselves Christians. I've always thought that if great persecution comes to American Christians the only good thing to come of it will be that unsaved people will stop calling themselves Christians because the price will be too high.
Well, so much for brief and I hope I did not come across as overly negative. Your article really struck a chord with me. Thanks for writing your article and God bless you and your family.

Sharon Henning

Dear Ms. Henning,

Thank you for that "preaching." It hit the spot. Sounds like a page from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's books.
Quite an insight you have there about what would happen if persecution ever hit the country.

It is encouraging to know (of) people who have an uncompromising faith. Today at lunch I got into a "discussion" with a colleague about the inerrancy of the Bible. She started explaining the meaning of "666" based on what she heard on a TV show. I began to tell her that the Bible said something different. She interrupted me to say that the Bible was subject to each person's interpretation. I maintained that the Bible is not vague or unclear and is not any one's guess as to its meaning. She insisted it was and she wasn't going to argue with me because it would be like arguing with the pumpkin that was the centerpiece for our table.
This lady is attending a large Southern Baptist church and has been going to a weekly Bible study there. I happen to know many people who go to that church and I know that it is a conservative denomination and that the official position is that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. I would like to ask that woman to go ask her pastor's opinion about interpreting scripture. Maybe I will, but I'll have to wait until I can do it out of love because right now I'm too angry.

Last night at BSF we were learning about the history of the Samaritans. It seemed that they liked to pick and choose which part of the Bible they believed in as well. (They only accepted the first four books.)The study observed that they (the Samaritans) had a "truncated religion because they had a truncated Bible."
That's what many people have today. This isn't court of law so I'll presume motives. If what the Bible says is any one's guess than we don't have to do what it says. We can live however we feel like and still feel spiritual about ourselves.
Pretty shallow grace if you ask me. In fact it's not grace at all, it's deception and it's going to lead people down the same road to judgment and condemnation as an unbeliever.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What is man?

My friend, Lisa and I were in our tent reading. We had taken our sons camping out in Glen Rose and had spent the day walking around the park, going to the river to see the dinosaur tracks and visiting the Creation Museum. All in all it had been a good day. It started to drizzle in the afternoon and began raining hard enough that we had to retreat to our tent where we spent the rest of the afternoon reading the books that we had purchased from the Creation Museum. These books were wonderful and brought out the beauty of God's creation, filling me with a deep sense of how awesome God is.
Eventually it became too dark to read so we just lay down on our pads. Derek and Ethan had already fallen asleep. Around 11:00pm that night a couple in the next tent started talking. They had actually been talking in the background the whole time we were in the tent but because we had been reading we hadn't been paying much attention. Now that we were ready to go to sleep, we couldn't help but hear them. That and the fact that they were getting loud.
It was obvious from their slurred speech and the content of their conversation that they had been on the razzle for awhile and now it was taking effect.
The couple was a man and a woman, maybe married or not, and they began to have an argument. It went something like this:
“You know you paid me a hundred dollars to -”
“I did not pay you a hundred dollars to-”
“Yesh you did! You wanen a pay me hunerd dollars to-”
“I di' no'. I ne'er ash you for hunner' dollarsh....!
This went on for what seemed like hours. As I lay there, a captive audience, listening to this drivel I began to think of God as the Author of creation.

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars,which You have ordained,
What is man that you are mindful of him?

I began to reflect how God, our Creator, has made our brains with such infinite complexity and man (some men) have chosen to drink themselves so incoherent that they can hardly string two or three words together to form a semi-cohesive sentence.

And the son of man that you visit him?

Then I got to thinking about others who don't kill off their brain cells with alcohol but never develop the potential of their minds out of intellectual laziness. They'd rather feed it with what I call “media baby pap” by what they read, watch on TV and listen to on the radio.

For You have made him a little lower than the angels
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.

And the busyness. So much running around there's no time to stop and reflect. No time for philosophy. How does the poem on my mother's refrigerator go?

No time, no time to study
to meditate or pray
yet much time for doing
in a fleshly, worldly way
No time for things eternal
But much for things of earth
Things important set aside
For things of little worth.
Some things, it's true are needful
But first things must come first
and what replaces God's own word
Of God it shall be cursed.

Being a childen's leader in BSF is exhausting. There's the 6:30am Leadership meetings on SATURDAY MORNINGS! (5:00am on Fridays once a month, like this week). And, of course, the Bible study itself on Monday evenings. Wow. What a commitment! God should be so grateful (tongue in cheek).
But then there are the rewards. The rich, ever deepening intimacy with the Creator of the heavens and the earth. And the development of my intellect. People don't talk about that, as though that shouldn't be an objective in our Christian living. Well, it may not be an objective but it certainly is a consequence of spending time sacrificially studying God's word, praying and fellowshipping with fellow Christians. God made our minds. He took delight in doing so. What He makes is good. Is it not both a privilege and a duty to glorify God through using all He's given us, including developing our ability to think on higher planes?

Dear God, I thank you for your generous gifts, including my mind. May I use it to the best of my ability according to Your will and purpose. In Jesus' name, Amen.
(Scripture: Psalms 8:3-5)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Grace, grace and more grace

I've reprinted a letter I sent to my sister.

Hi Shawna,
Phyllis just sent me the photos of Derek and me. I now know that you were being nice in saying I "looked different" on the horse and horses "make people looked squished down".
What you were doing is trying to find a polite way of saying, "What's up with Sharon's big ol' pot belly?"
Good night! How much weight have I gained?!
I don't think I look like that in the mirror. And don't try reasoning that photos distort someone's body because there's nothing to compare it to. I was on a horse, for goodness sake! I have got to lose more weight.
So I guess the last laugh is on me. There I was making fun of the chubby women rodeo riders when all along you were on the line listening to me thinking, "hmm...maybe she without cellulite should throw the first stone."
Well, I've been ill these last two weeks so I'm not working out for a little while.

On a more worthy subject: BSF is going really well although I think we have not been without Satan's attack. First, Iris, one of my co-children's leader, left all her notes at home so she had to adapt her discovery lesson.
Then there was me. I had to do the closing activity which is basically to get the kids to memorize next week's scripture. I took the scripture to school and, with the aid of the deaf ed interpreters, learned how to put the scripture into sign language as a memory aid to make the lesson more interactive and interesting. For the record the scripture was:

"No one has seen God, but God, the one and only
who is at the Father's side, has made Him known." (John 1:18)

I had it so beautifully prepared. So simple yet just a lovely visual representation of God's word. I get to the Bible study that night, rarin' to go only to find out I had the wrong Bible lesson. The scripture I was supposed to teach the children was actually:

"Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name." (John 20:30, 31)

Well, well, well. Did I teach the kids and adults how to use American Sign Language to recite scripture? Nope.
Did I throw a bunch of English words together and sign John 20:30-31? Yep. Did God enable me to use sign language to enable every one to learn and memorize the scripture? Yes, He did. As I was going through the activity, God kept reminding me that the object was not to teach these children sign language but help them to memorize the assigned Bible verses and I can say with satisfaction that we all had the scripture memorized in fifteen minutes. Not only that but we could sign the verses without speaking, which actually looked pretty cool.
Do we serve a great God who's love everlasting assists us in the minutest details of our lives? Yes! Yes! and Yes!

One thing our teaching leader at bible study said was that Jesus' death on the cross was not only to cover our sins but to pour grace in our lives every day and every moment. Grace, grace and more grace. Grace covered me Monday night at Bible study. That is my wish to each reader out there.
May you have God's grace. Grace, grace and more grace.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Secret Holocaust Diaries

The Secret Holocaust Diaries are the memoirs of Nonna Bannister. Nonna grew up in a wealthy Russian family with ties to the Tzar at an unfortunate time. The Bolshevik Revolution took place some time earlier and Stalin had come into power while Nonna was still a young girl. As living conditions worsened, her father, Yevgeny, sought an escape for their family. So when the Germans invaded Russia in 1941 he kept his family in their residence even though Stalin had ordered all Russians to move farther east. While this decision would mean being labeled as traitors by the Russian government, Yevgeny hoped that the Germans would provide an escape from a regime that was destroying its own people. (Nonna describes going to church with her grandmother and walking past hundreds of people lined up outside the building begging for food- part of Stalin's Holodomor, genocide by starvation that took up to 8 million lives.)
As it turns out the Germans did provide a way out of Russia but in a horrible way. Yevgeny was brutally murdered by German soldiers and Nonna and her mother, Anna, were taken away in cattle cars to German slave labor camps. (She also had a brother but he was taken away to join the Russian army earlier and she never learned of his fate.) Sadly, Nonna was the only one to survive; she and her mother were separated when Anna was taken to a concentration camp for attempting to rescue a Jewish baby from German guards. Her death there is too grievous for me to write here.
After the war, Nonna eventually made it to the United States and settled in Tennessee, marrying a nice southern man and leading a “normal life”. All her nightmarish experiences are kept hidden away in a trunk in the attic. In her old age, Nonna showed her husband her diaries, written in several languages and with the help of him and Christian publishing editors her story was translated into English and put in book form. Her request that it not be published until after her death was honored.
As terrible as her experiences are, Nonna does not fail to infuse her story with the love and joy she knew while with her family in Russia and she clings to those cherished memories of her beloved parents and brother throughout the horror that she endured at the hands of two despots. What also never falters is her Christian faith. It is interesting to see a stout Orthodox Russian eventually join a Southern Baptist church and if she were alive, I would love to ask her about her opinions of the two drastically different denominations.
Nonna Bannister's story is as heart rending as it is gruesome; nevertheless, hers is a story that must be told and preserved.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

More bookmarks

I am feeling little under the weather. Friday started at 5am with a Bible study, I'm now in Children's leadership for Bible Study Fellowship-an international Bible study that is the best study of God's word that I've ever been in; then straight to school. After school, I had to drop Derek off at swimming while I raced to work out, then back to get him and friends to take them to Team Impact at 7pm.
Saturday I had to clean my dirty house. I woke up Sunday morning with a pounding headache and have spent most of the day in bed. Hopefully, after consuming huge amounts of Vitamin C and Airbourne I will make it through tomorrow-especially since it is the first night of BSF and I'm giving the Bible lesson. For those of you who pray, we need more teaching leaders, we have children on a waiting list.
So I'm just listing a few more of my bookmarks without explanation. I am currently reading, "The Holocaust Diaries". This book is about a young Russian girl who belonged to a wealthy Tsarian family, how their life changed under Stalin's regime and how they eventually ended up in a German slave labor camp. I've only read half so I will review it next week.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Book reviews: Two different perspectives on life under the Nazis: In My Hands; On Hitler's Mountain

I have seasons of interest. Lately I have developed an interest in things pertaining to the first half of this century and the world events that took place.
The books I have been reading are nonfiction accounts of different people's lives during World War II. I have also bought, but not yet read, a book on the rise of Communism in Russia. I don't know why I have developed an interest in such events except that I am striving to gain an insight in how people come to be in countries where all their freedoms and rights are taken from them and they find themselves living under the regime of a totalitarian government.

My questions are: Do people freely hand their freedoms over to despots? Are they deceived into doing so? Do they find themselves pulled under by a current that's too strong to swim against? Is it apathy? Desperation? Can we recognize the symptoms if it happens in our own country? Do the writers of these memoirs now possess insight as to how things came to be in their country and how it can be avoided in the country they've immigrated to (all the writers I've read so far have immigrated to the US)?

Finally, as those of you who know me, I am Christian and have an unashamedly Christian viewpoint. That will be obvious from my reviews. On the chance that there are people reading my blog that do not share my faith, please do not jump to the conclusion that my personal angle must be biased. Any viewpoint is from the angle of that individual's personal beliefs. Therefore, my opinion of secular viewpoints are that they are no less biased, but simply from a stance that God doesn't play a key role in our lives while I know Him to be the Entity that gives meaning and purpose to all things.

Into My Hands by Irene Opdyke

The first book I've read was a wonderful, riveting account of a young Polish girl's experience of the Germans invading her country. I read this book in two days because I could not put it down.
Irene Opdyke vividly recounts the innocence of her childhood, the happiness of her family as she grows up and trains to be a nurse. While at the hospital one day, the Nazis invade her town and life as she knows it is over. She doesn't get to go back home. Instead, she and the other hospital staff find themselves running for their lives and hiding in a forest for the night. The next morning one of the Polish generals comes to them and, rather than giving them the comfort and solace they were hoping for, announces that Poland no longer exists as a country and that they are now a part of Germany.
Can you just imagine that? You go to work in the morning little knowing that you're not coming home again? Not because you died but because there is no home to go to. You no longer even have a country.

Irene doesn't see her family for three years. In her efforts to escape the Germans she is apprehended by the Russians where she is forced to work as a nurse in one of their hospitals. Eventually she makes it back to her hometown and because she is lucky enough to look and speak German, she is given a job as housekeeper of an SS officer.

Now here's the really good part. While she keeps house for this feared Nazi officer, she is simultaneously taking care of eleven Jews in the basement of his house.

What I particularly like about Opdyke's narration is that she has no one-dimensional good and bad guys. Yes, she meets with and suffers at the hands of some monstrous, Russians and Germans; but she also meets Russians and Germans who are capable of compassion and kindness. Such as the German cook in the hotel occupied by the Nazis who, with a knowing eye, gives Irene several coats when she asks for just a couple for "her sister and herself".

Opdyke recounts her horrific experiences in a way that causes you to vicariously partake of them. Not a bad thing for most of us sheltered Americans.

On Hitler's Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood by Irmgard A. Hunt

This book is also very interesting for what it reveals. Several things stuck out for me. One, Irmgard Hunt tells of how Hitler attempts to replace the Christian religion with Nordic and Celt beliefs because the latter are more "authentically German". For instance, during the Christmas and Easter holidays, the German people are encouraged to practice the ancient pagan customs that Christian missionaries had imposed "Christian meaning" to such as winter solstice and fertility rites in the spring rather than celebrating Christ's birth and crucifixion/resurrection.

According to Hart, what she and the Germans around her were most aware of was their own hardship and deprivation. She claims they were ignorant of the holocaust and the concentration camps. Given that she was very young during much of it and also that she lived near Hitler's compound it is possible that she and the people of Berchesgaden were more sheltered from the nightmarish realities that other German citizens must have known about.

What I value about this book is the insight it reveals in how a people could allow someone like Hitler to rise to power in the first place. We can understand some of the reasons through the lens of time. For one, the first World War had left the German nation utterly destitute and desperate. Initially, Hitler seemed to improve the economy and for a time things got better. Then, however, as Nazi Germany started invading its neighbors, Germany was soon sunk back into poverty as WW II took its toll. Hart never explains how the average German reasoned the need for war in the first place. Were they led to believe that they were the ones being invaded? How did they become persuaded to fight in a war when no one was attacking them? This is never made clear nor does Hart ponder it herself- at least in this book.

She does make clear how the blind devotion to Hitler and the almost brainless unquestioning obedience to anyone in authority affected the German citizens. I would like to read something that explains how they came to think like that.

Overall, this book does not draw me into the sufferings of the people as does Opdyke's book, except at the beginning when Hart describes the harsh conditions her grandparents and mother have to endure in the aftermath of WWI.

Interestingly enough, in reading the question and answer section at the end of the book, Hart believes the same thing could happen in the US if "fundamental religionists" are allowed into power. My question to her is, how do you define fundamental religionists, and what do you fear they can do?"
She also expresses a fear that these "fundamentalists" are trying to make "targets of hatred" out of terrorists and Moslems in the same way that Hitler made targets of the Jews. Now what the heck does she mean by that? For one, the Jews were not a threat to Germany. Terrorists are a threat to the security of our country. Has she already forgotten 9/11?

All of this calls to mind that someone can live through something as profound as a totalitarian regime but possess no insight as to how it can be prevented again when their own secular ideologies shape their thinking. If you read her biography at the end of the book, you'll know what I mean.
Overall, it was an interesting read and I still recommend it although I think there must be better sources of information of life under Hitler out there.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Never Enough Bookmarks

I guess I'm being lazy. School is back in session and once again I'm coming home exhausted with just enough energy to make myself a cup of tea and read a book on my back porch. I'm currently reading a fascinating book entitled, "On Hitler's Mountain". It is a first person narrative of a women who grew up in Berchtesgaden near Hitler's Obersalzberg while he was in power. It gives a unique perspective from an average German citizen's point of view during Hitler's rule and how they were deceived, or allowed themselves to be deceived by him, until they could no longer deny the monstrosity they unleashed upon themselves and the world. I haven't finished so I'll have to tell more later, so far it's a worthy read.
What I have here are my different bookmarks. I never have enough bookmarks.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Review On Some Books For Teens

I am finally making good on my promise to my young friend Ashley and reviewing some stories for young teens. While mostly positive, I did review a couple of books that I think have some definite negative attributes to them and give my reasons for disapproving of them. The reader, of course, can then make their own decision whether to read them or not. I also did my best to review without actually giving any of the storyline away so I hope my reviews don't come across as vague.

Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle

Written in the late 19th century, Pyle describes life in the middle ages. It centers around a robber Baron and his son, Otto. By Pyle's account, life was ruthless and those with the biggest army had their way, for good or for bad and killing for revenge was common and barbaric. Nevertheless, there is light throughout the whole story. It manifests itself in the monastery that raises young Otto until his father comes for him, and in Otto himself. No matter what happens to him he never loses his innocence, his faith in God, or a forgiving attitude towards those who mistreat him. The storyline and the characters are interesting and one feels as though he has gone back and visited medieval times. It ends with another story about to unfold, a love story (hope I'm not giving anything away) which makes one wish there was a sequel.

Kings Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard

King Solomon's Mines was written on a bet that Haggard could write a better adventure story than Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. You have to decide for yourself whether he should have won that bet. I personally am a big fan of Stevenson. Still, I recommend reading KSM because, while filled with quite a bit of detail, the story is suspenseful and exciting, if not horrifying at times. The story takes place in South Africa where an elephant hunter by the name of Quatermain, meets two men, a Sir Henry and a Captain Good. Sir Henry has a brother who, after a bitter argument, left him and England to go in search of Kings Solomon's diamond mines in South Africa. After not hearing from his brother for a long time, Sir Henry asks Quatermain to take him to the mines in the hope that they will find his brother. Quatermain, who happens to have an old map that perhaps may lead to the mines, agrees to take Sir Henry and Captain Good along with a mysterious Zulu named Umbopa, to the legendary mines, if in fact they exist and if it's possible to survive the journey there. Along the way, they have many close encounters with death, trying to survive a desert and a mysterious African tribe that they discover lives high up in the mountains where the map leads them. Having spent a summer in South Africa, Derek and I looked up the places described in the book and we believe that we actually took the same route across desert land into the Drakensburg mountains. We, of course, drove but it is still exciting to think that we actually took the same journey as in the book. For those that like suspense and adventure with some horror added in, this is the book for you.

David Livingstone Chronicles of Faith Series

The Chronicles of Faith series include biographies of men and women who exhibited a life of great faith in God. We also read their biography of Abraham Lincoln which not only was interesting and informative, but revealed a faith in God that you won't get in any public school or secular account of his life. I had heard of Livingston for years but had never read a biography that gave the details of his life. This book chronicles his sojourn into some of the remotest parts of Africa, where he earned the trust and respect of the tribal people there. He did great evangelical work, bringing many to Christ and defeating the fear and power of the tribal witch doctors. He also did a great deal to impede the slave trade at great personal risk. He lost contact with his friends, family and even Church supporters in Europe and for a time was considered dead. Nevertheless, an American, Henry Morton Stanley, goes on an expedition to find the whereabouts of Dr. Livingstone to see if he is alive or dead.
Even though it seems I have practically retold the story, I have left all the detail, adventure and the ending out. These books are written for a younger audience which makes them quick and easy reads. They are still well written and very interesting. You can buy them cheaply at your local Bible book store.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

I think many boys would enjoy this book or any young person who dreams about living off the land all by themselves with animals for friends. The book is well written with good, colorful detail of the mountainous environment the boy lives in. For myself I have a hard time suspending disbelief. I know a young boy could not accomplish all the things this boy did: hollow out a tree to live in; hunt deer and make clothes out of the skin; become a great cook of nuts and mushrooms, not to mention tame a baby falcon for a friend. On top of all that, I would go crazy with loneliness. Having said all that, I think that is my problem. My son enjoyed this book and I believe most children, who have no trouble suspending disbelief, would as well.

Joan of Arc by Kathleen Kidlinski
This biography is put out by DK publishers. They have many good biographies of famous people. We also have read their biographies of Houdini and Helen Keller. They are easy and quick to read with lots of photographs. I'm glad to finally read about the life of Joan of Arc because she is one of those famous people I've heard about without ever knowing the details of the events that made her famous. Kidlinski writes about this young French martyr in a respectful, sensitive way and ,in our post modern era, that cannot be taken for granted when secular sources write about Christians, I highly recommend these biographies. The scholastic book fairs in school is where we got our copies.

Blood and River: Jamestown 1607 by Elise Carbone, Elephant Run by Roland Smith, The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John

The following three books are, simply put, not my cup of tea. While the writing is filled with vivid detail and the story-lines are interesting, I have some major objections to them. Basically, the authors superimpose modern ideologies on time periods that were during a conservative Christian era. They depict parents getting divorced (Elephant Run) during a time when that was almost unheard of, and Christianity, if it's mentioned at all, is presented as weak and ineffectual.

The first book, "Blood and River", is from a young boy's perspective traveling from England to Jamestown with Captain John Smith. The English are basically caricatured as greedy, self-serving clods and the Indians are presented as superior and noble. What else is new? There is a minister on the ship but he isn't able to put the fear of God in anyone. I also think that writing the story in present tense was a mistake because it almost exclusively limits Carbone's sentences to simple subject-verb construction, which makes for pretty monotonous reading.

Elephant Run is about a young boy, Nick Freestone, who is sent to Burma to be with his father whom he doesn't know (ever read that plot before?) to wait out World War Two. While there, the Japanese invade and capture his dad and his dad's house-hold. Nick barely escapes, thanks to a secret passageway in his father's house. With the help of a Buddhist monk, he is able to rescue his father and others from Japanese POW camps. As is common in many modern stories, Buddhism is presented in a glamorous, alluring and mystical package. Needless to say, the author makes the Buddhist monk out to be the real hero of the story and is depicted as having supernatural powers over animals, especially elephants-or maybe he becomes “at one with them”, I don't know.

In "The White Giraffe", the characters are nihilistic and uncaring about others and the protagonist has “the gift” which is some new agey ability to contact a mysterious white giraffe.

Most disturbing of all is that these books are typical of what is being offered at Scholastic book fairs in our public schools. (Which is where I bought all three.) Nevertheless, I also purchased the following book at the same bookfair:

Iron Thunder by Avi

I want to end on a positive note. This is a well written book that is historically accurate, and faithfully represents the time period, which is the Civil War. Avi uses historical figures such as John Ericsson, the inventor of the first submersible ship called "Iron Thunder" - a kind of precursor to the submarine and he also recounts actual battles of the Civil War. All is seen through the eyes of a young boy, Tom, who gets a job on the Iron Thunder. Avi makes his protagonist an actual person who rode the Iron Thunder and even though he gives him a fictitious background, (all Avi had was the boy's name on a roster of those who served on Iron Thunder) he makes sure that Tom has a historically correct legend. Avi depicts Tom as an Irish immigrant growing up in New York city. He sympathetically portrays the hardships of life new immigrants experienced then: his mother and sickly sister do laundry to eke out a living since his father has already become a casualty of the war. Avi shows them to be Irish Catholics with respect for the religion and resists any temptation to defame its character as is too common in contemporary literature.
Along with being historically faithful and informative, Avi makes a good story filled with suspense. Some rebel spies try to get information about the submersible from Tom. In an effort to escape them, he joins the crew of Iron Thunder which is why he is on the ship in the famous battle with the South's ironclad ship, the Monitor.
All in all, this is one of those books that make you feel as though you are actually experiencing life during the Civil War and Avi makes it an enriching trip.

Is there a Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Well, I am earnestly praying and asking others to pray for me. The CPS worker says everything is looking good but wants to know what my contingency plan is. When asked to explain she said it means that if something should happen to me and I am unable to take care of the children I've adopted, who would take care of them for me. This is a problem. I know of no one I can go to and say, "You know that foster/adopt program I've been training for? Well, uh, by the way, if something should happen to me, would you adopt kids that you have never met?"
I am concerned that this is going to be an obstacle in my adopting. I'll keep everyone posted.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Couple of My Favorite Quotes

I told myself that I was going to post something new every week and this week has slipped by. Therefore I am going to simply post the thoughts of some of my favorite thinkers.

"Man walks apart though not alone
He walks among his peers unread
The best of thoughts that he hath known
For lack of listeners remain unsaid."
-Washington Irving

This quote pierces my heart because even though Irving wrote this over a hundred years ago, the truth of his statement hasn't faded. How many of us suffer from a sense of isolation from our fellow humans because there is no one to take the time to hear what's inside of us? I have to remind myself that the other person is not merely a sound board for myself but is a living breathing soul with thoughts and opinions and experiences of their own who has the same need to reach out to others with what is indwelling their own soul.

"It used to be we had an egalitarianism of people and an elitism of ideas.
Now we have an egalitarianism of ideas and an elitism of people.
In the process they have lost both truth and personal value.

Post modern thought has debunked the notion of truth and not only has it lost truth but personal value as well."
-Ravi Zacharias

I see this in our modern culture which says that no one has a monopoly on the truth. The attitude is that everything is truth. Therefore it is impossible to know anything because all thoughts are the same. What has this produced? People creating a heirarchy on the value of life. I have been debating several people on the site, about when life begins. Their arguements are all the same. I cannot dictate my Juedeo/Christian morals to anyone therefore everyone can choose for themself when life begins. They (my debaters) conclude that since all ideas are equal and no idea has more value than another the most helpless have less of a right to live than those who have already been born. The only reason I can give them that this is wrong and murder is because God says it is so from the Bible. The Bible is truth therefore unborn children have an equal right to live. To others there is no truth, therefore the unborn do not have a right to live.
This is only one example that comes to mind from the concept when all ideas are equal, people develop an elitist attitude towards their fellow humans but when we have an elitist attitude towards ideas (some are true others are false) we then see equal value being placed on human life.

That is all for now. I promise to review "King Solomine's Mines" by Haggard tomorrow.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Book Nooks Around My Home

Three of my favorite books: Scottish Ballades, Horse breeds and the last book contains all sorts of historical documents, such as the Declaration of Independance, Lincoln's Gettyburg Address, Washington's Inaugural Speech, and the Mayflower Compact.

This post is going to be a photographic tour of where I keep all my books.
As you will see, they are strategically placed around the house to provide minimal reaching or searching for a good read where ever I happen to plant myself. First stop the dining room.

It's probably considered rude by some, but my son and I like to read while we eat. Most of our meaningful conversations are in the car as we drive to and fro from places so I don't feel too guilty that we silently munch our food while reading our favorite books, conveniently located within arm's reach on an end table in the dining room.

This is my normal fare every morning. I start the day off with Bible study. I'm currently using a commentary by John MacArthur

The Rooster is a cozy that keeps my tea warm for those of you who were wondering.

My stack in my front living room, which is my summer reading room because it's much cooler in this room due to the shade outside. I've just finished reading the anthology of 50 Great Short Stories. Maybe I'll dive into the "Tales of a Chinese Grandmother."

Bookshelf in my front living room, also my music room. The bottom shelf contains my music books.

Next to the piano.

This was originally a gun closet. Not anymore.

This is my back living room where I read in the winter because it's a much warmer room. I love art books and when I'm not up to deciphering words, I like to relax by just looking at aeshetically pleasing images.

Derek and I always read at night before going to bed. First we read the Bible- we're currently working our way through Numbers- then we follow with a little humour by reading a short story by Pat McManus-if you've never read him, you need to go to the humor section in your local bookstore and buy a copy. He's hilarious, I consider him a modern Mark Twain. We are also finishing up Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, which I'll review (at the request of my young friend Ashley who faithfully reads my blog) in a later post.

Back living room library

The stash behind the back room's sofa

I love the art book on the right. Its theme is artistic renditions of the last supper by different artists from medieval times to present.

The nook next to my bed. I can't go to sleep unless I read a little something. I always read the Bible before going to bed. I am currently reading the Book of Mark in Spanish. After that I have begun a wonderful collection of stories about American heroes compiled by Teddy Roosevelt.

Bedroom library

Derek's library corner in his bedroom

Within easy reach of the top bunk

Last but not least, my "office".