Saturday, December 25, 2010

My home during the Christmas season

 Today's photo shoot, in keeping with the season is a little tour around my house to give you a glimpse of how we celebrate and decorate for Christmas.

 Christmas Eve was as beautiful experience as ever.  At 3pm I played organ for a little country church.  (Karl came with me).  6pm Karl, Derek and I attended our own church for their Christmas Eve service.  Then, because Karl likes going to a midnight Christmas Eve service we attended a beautiful church in downtown Kilgore that played wonderful traditional carols with pipe organ music and a re telling of the Christmas story from the gospels of Luke and Matthew.  This church had huge banners painted in Medieval fasthion of the Christmas story lining either side of the church, eight banners in all.
     After driving around my nieghborhood to see all the light displays, we came in for hot chocolate and reading of our favorite Christmas stories.  Derek has outgrown these stories but we love to read them every year.

   The first is The Christmas Miracle of Johnathon Toomey by Susan Ojciechowski. It's a poignent story of a carpenter who hasn't stopped grieving for the loss of his wife and child but whose faith is renewed when shown the unconditional love of a widow and her son when they request  him to build a creche for Christmas.

    The second is called The Candle in the Window by Grace Johnson and it's a retelling of an old folk tale.  Leo Tolstoy wrote the same story called, Where Love is God is, only his protagonist is a monk. A shoesmith doesn't want to celebrate Christmas since he lost his wife and son ( you see a pattern here?) On Christmas Eve he is visited by some mysterious guests who tell him he is going to be visited by Jesus that night.  While he excitedly waits, he is visited by a frail, old woman, a poor, jobless man and an orphan.  You'll have to read the book to know how it all pans out.


The following photo story shows how I decorate my house.  Some people collect Santas, some collect Snowmen.  Call me crazy, but I collect nativity scenes:

This one is from Ecuador.

The one below is also from Ecuador

This glass nativity scene is the very first one I ever bought, about twenty years ago.

We like to celebrate Christmas morning with an abundance of chocolate.

We always make a gingerbread house.  This year, with Karl and his daughter Grace's help we made a gingerbread village.

For some reason I have an inordinate amount of angel ornaments, mostly gifts from students from when I taught school.

An ornament to commemorate where I live.

And the piece de resistance.
May you and yours have a very blessed Christmas and New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book review of Gray Matter by David Levy, MD

I received an advance reader, unedited copy of Gray Matter by David Levy from Tyndale House Publishers.  The rest of you will have to wait until March when it actually goes on sale. I feel sorry for you. That you have to wait so long, that is.

This book is a fascinating and well-written account of a neurosurgeon's spiritual journey from believing that he had to present himself as “god” to his patients to choosing to risk looking less than perfect or even weak to his patients and colleagues by asking each patient if he can pray for them before operating.

Levy honestly recounts the egotism involved in being a highly specialized surgeon.  Unlike most other surgesons, Levy reaches a point in his Christian walk where he admits the need to acknowledge God's personal involvement and power in every aspect of his life. His first challenge was breaking down his barriers of fear. The fear of exposing himself to others. He mentally lists all the reasons why he shouldn't or doesn't need to pray with patients. When he finally convicts himself (or God convicts him, I should say) that, in fact, he does need to pray for them he has to overcome the fear of asking them.

Through all my questions and doubts I felt an inner voice saying to me, 'If you are worried about being misunderstood, I can promise you that you will be. Jesus was. But you still need to do the right thing.'

Wow. Something we all need to remember. When he finally comes over the fear of asking his patients if he can pray for them, he finds that he doesn't want to pray in front of his colleagues. Eventually he knocks down these barriers to where he prays in front of nurses, technicians, and finally fellow doctors. It's not easy. The first response of others range from quizzical to shocked, uncomfortable silence.  Then, after the initial jolt, Levy is surprised at how many people react positively. Nurses request that he not pray without them. Technicians pray along while holding hands with each other, the patient, family members etc.. The doctors, well, the doctors for the most part tolerate it.

The biggest response is from the patients. Scared, angry, belligerent people who claimed not to believe in God lose their anxiety and receive peace. Many turn or return to God.

The next step Levy takes is when he realizes that some medical conditions are brought on by a person's inability to forgive others who have hurt them. So not only does Dr. Levy pray with these patients before surgery but walks them through steps of forgiveness afterward. Forgiveness for their own sins and the sins committed against them. The results are astounding and not just spiritual. He sees amazing physical transformations in many patients as they let go of the bitterness and anger against neglectful parents, abusive spouses and so on.

Levy allows the reader to connect with his world by recounting  many personal stories, including his own. His own testimony of starting out as an irreligious Jew to cultural Jew to Christian Jew is inspiring, not to mention his journey from anti-education mechanic to medical student to Neurosurgeon. His description of his patients and their personal trials and backgrounds shows a deep compassion and interest in each person he treats. Their stories draw you into their experience. Be sure to have tissues handy.

Some people may find his detailed description of aneurysms and his surgical procedures a little involved but I found them enthralling.

In conclusion, this book simply had everything for me. Medical science told on a layman's level, personal stories, the triumph of a godly man standing up for what he believes in, a step by step process of forgiving others (something that I needed and have already put into practice) and a powerful testimony of the power of God that is manifested through prayer.

Do I recommend this book? Absolutely.

Book Review for Voices of the Faithful Book 2

Voices of the Faithful - Book 2: Inspiring Stories of Courage from Christians Serving Around the World

The latest book I received from Booksneeze in exchange for a review is Voices of the Faithful book 2. The reason I requested a copy of this book is because I had already read the first book and believed that this book would be more of the same encouraging, informative stories submitted by missionaries around the world.

I was not disappointed. This book is in a daily devotional format. Each month starts with a theme. For instance January's theme is Prayer, the Priority. February's is God, Our Loving Father. March- Divine Appointments and so on. Before the devotionals is a short introduction by the compiler Kim P. Davis. These introductions include her personal experiences as a missionary as well as thoughts on each months theme.

Each day starts with a scripture verse followed by a short essay by a missionary, concluding with a prayer by Beth Moore who is the series creator.

What I like about the testimonies of the missionaries is that you are drawn in, for a brief moment, into their world. Each story gives a you glimpse of the country they are living in, the people they are working with and the challenges they face.

Some of these stories are powerful, like the one from a Tamara, missionary in central Asia who, by several promptings of the Holy Spirit, reluctantly turned around to help an old, limping woman transport her groceries home. When the elderly lady got into the car Tamara noticed that the woman was not holding groceries but rotten food she had picked out from the local dump. The woman's hands were black and slimy.

Upon arrival at her stop, I asked if I could pray for her. She said, “No, I will pray for you!” Placing her sticky hands on my head, she prayed a powerful prayer that God would fill me with peace and hope, and bless my family. She then gathered her bags and exited the car.


These missionaries honestly describe their homesickness and discouragement when, at times, they feel they just aren't making any difference. Then there are the triumphs, as when missionaries at a hospital tell an African woman dying of Aids that even though the blood transfusion she just received would only last a few days, there was One called Jesus who has offered His blood to her so she may live forever. This woman received His blood on her death bed.

There are many such inspiring stories in this book that records how God uses his people to bring His gospel to Middle Eastern Muslims, African and Latin American spiritists, or European skeptics. This book makes the reader cognizant of who they need to add to their daily prayers and be a part of the warriors who intercede on behalf of the anointed people whom God has sent out to “Preach His Gospel to every people.”

I highly recommend this book.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Yearly Christmas letter

December 2010
Longview, TX

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light....

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace

Isaiah 9:2, 6

To all my dear friends and family,

Merry Christmas!! We have been studying the book of Isaiah in Bible Study Fellowship this year and I have had Handel's Messiah singing in my mind ever since. I cannot even read the passages of scripture the he used for his oratorio anymore, I can only sing them. Derek and I have been listening to this wonderful work as we drive around town in our car.

This will probably be a brief Christmas letter- not because I'm concerned with boring you, of course not. It's just that Derek and I have to go shopping after this so he can buy me my Christmas prezzie, hee, hee.

Let's see, how do I sum up the past year? Let's start with Derek. As usual, my son is the best blessing to me from God. He is a sophomore at New Life Christian School where he's been attending since the 6th grade. We've had our ups and downs, learning how to apply ourselves to our studies etc.. but overall things have gone well. He is still swimming with the USA swim team. He did very well at his first national swim meet in Little Rock, AR a couple of weeks ago. The other parents presented him with a swim bag in celebration of this special occasion. I must admit that choked me up.

Derek also went on his first mission trip to Colorado this past summer with the youth of our church. This was a great experience for Derek in a number of ways. Number one he had to earn through volunteering some of the funds to pay for the trip. Also, he learned invaluable leadership skills as he helped organize and lead “backyard” Bible studies and sports in a unchurched neighborhood for a week. Over a hundred kids attended.

He also volunteered at a local Missionary compound with a Missionary friend of ours. Derek helped him landscape the grounds.

We're both still volunteering at Windridge (a hippo therapeutic center). They've begun giving classes for the volunteers which I have found very interesting and informative about the upkeep of horses.

Derek has just been accepted into the People to People Ambassadorship program. He'll be joining a delegation of students from East Texas and traveling to the United Kingdom to represent America. Prior to that time he will be studying the culture and history of these countries as well as his own so he will be able to carry on informed conversations with the people he will meet in the UK.

Another exciting and wonderful event has happened for Derek. A wonderful caring man has entered into his life and has been spending almost every afternoon with him engaging him in projects around his house. So far they've built a chicken coop, a radio antennae, a dog run and a camera.

This is the father that Derek has missed for so many years in his life. This man has also commented that Derek is the son he has yearned for, for many years.

Oh yeah, can I let you in on a secret? He is the man I've yearned for, for many years as well. Karl and I backed into each other last February through a series of e mails that had nothing to do with dating or romance (they were about Derek joining Civil Air Patrol). One thing led to another and Karl ended up asking me out to lunch. One thing led to another and in March he wrote my parents asking permission to court me. Over the summer we visited my family in Florida and Mississippi and his family in Austin, Alabama and Philadelphia. One thing has still led to another and we have just had our last premarital counseling session with our pastor. That's where things stand,so far. I'll keep everybody posted as one thing leads to yet another.

All I can say is God is amazing, great, good and cares about us. If we wait on the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart. I have waited a long time for Karl. He's been worth the wait.

Other than that, I've quit teaching public school and am now working as a musician at East Texas Baptist University. I play with the students and professors there. When I'm not rehearsing or practicing on the piano I'm writing. Many of you read my blog. I'm using it as a medium to practicing my writing skills as I also write a book about my experience teaching music in elementary school.

For those of you at Johnston McQueen, I think of you often. Feel free to call and we can get together and do lunch some time.

And for all of you, have a wonderful, joy filled Christmas and many, many blessings for the following year!


Sharon and Derek

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Review on "The Liturgical Year" by Joan Chittister

The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life - The Ancient Practices Series

I made a decision when I started this blog that I would not write any negative reviews. However, since I am writing reviews in exchange for complimentary copies of books from BookSneeze I find myself in a position of making an exception.

I requested the “The Liturgical Year” by Joan Chittester because I have a great interest in Church history and traditions and thought that this book would be an informative and enjoyable way to learn more about all the Holy Days, feasts and festivals that form “higher church” worship.

While Chittister does inform, I must confess there is much more fat than meat. By that I mean that there is bits and pieces of information regarding the origins of the church year, but it is inundated with flowery rhetoric of how all this beautiful mystery should increase our intimacy with Christ over and over again.

Now that in itself is a good thing. Anything that increases my intimacy with my Savior is something worth exploring. It's just that she never specifies how exactly it happens.  She never really describes each part of the church year or how it increases my intimacy with Christ. Furthermore, my intimacy with Jesus Christ is developed through the study of Scripture as well as worshipping with Christ's Bride, His church, something that is never brought up in the book, which leads me to my second complaint.

My second complaint is much more serious and why I won't recommend this book to anyone. According to the author, the purpose of so much focus, meditation and worship of the death and resurrection of Christ is so we can follow His example and be better people.

On page 7 Chittister states:
This an excursion into life from the Christian perspective, from the viewpoint of those who set out not only to follow Jesus but to live as Jesus lived, to think as Jesus thought, to become what Jesus had become by the end of His life.  (Emphasis mine)

Is she implying that Jesus wasn't complete when He came to earth?

On page 47:

To know our place in the universe is to recognize that God is God. We are not masters of the world. We can make no demands on it. All we can do is to try to live our place in it well.”

I'm not interested in knowing my place in the universe. I'm interested in knowing my place with God. This smacks of universalism.

And frankly, that is exactly what is asserted and reasserted throughout the book. According to Chittester, the point of observing the liturgical year is not to celebrate our salvation but to try to be better people. That sounds good but it's a very subtle heresy that says, "I can produce my own salvation."   That philosophy is no different from any other religion.  Buddhists try to be better people as do Hindus and Muslims.  As Christians we don't try to be better people.  We throw ourselves at the mercy of God and with the publican say, "Have mercy on me, Oh Lord, a sinner!" (Luke 18:13)

Then through Christ's transforming grace we are refined as he completes a good work in us.  (Phillipians 1:6)

In chapter 9, about Advent, page 62, Chittister declares, It is while waiting for the coming of the reign of God, Advent after Advent that we come to realize that its coming depends on us. More self-salvation.

In the very first chapter of the book:
The seasons and feasts, the fasts and solemnities...lead us deeper and deeper in to the self, beyond the pull of the present, higher and higher into the One who beckons us on through time to that moment when we will dissolve into God, set free from time to become one with the universe.

What? Are we talking about Christianity or some quasi Christian/Buddhism?

One thing that the book is void of is any mention of the Holy Spirit. In Chapter 10 page 65 Chittister claims three Advents: The Lord's birth, the coming of the presence of God recognized among us now in the Scripture, in the Eucharist, in the community itself. This coming makes Jesus present in our own lives, eternally enlivening, eternally with us.

She states the third coming as the second coming of Christ but she completely skips over the coming of the Holy Spirit. The closest she comes to is referring to the time of Pentecost as an “outpouring of the Advocate, and call to mind again the Second Coming at the end of time.”

In scripture Jesus is called our advocate and the Holy Spirit is the intercessor so here she's misnaming the Trinity. (12John 2:1-6; Romans 8:26)

In her chapter on joy (chapter 11), her emphasis is once again on self-based salvation. Page 71 states:

Joy, the deep-down awareness of what it means to live well, to live productively, to live righteously, is made out of self-giving, simplicity, and other-centeredness

No, joy comes from knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ, not works, “lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9) My joy transcends my sinful, selfish human nature that I'm helpless to overcome. It comes from my salvation through Jesus Christ. When I accepted His punishment for my sin, the Holy Spirit came to indwell in me and transformed me into the likeness of Christ. Yes, now I can follow Christ and do His will, but only through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Only after we have become new creatures through Christ can we  claim with James  that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:17)

In other words, salvation produces works; works do not produce salvation.

Frankly, salvation doesn't even seem to be a goal of Chittister, just some vague notion of being 'a good person here on earth'.
Sin separates us from God, our goal is to be rid of sin and be reconciled with God.

 Chittister never once credits God, Holy Spirit or otherwise, for enabling her to forsake her own selfish nature and to do the work of Christ. This is the main issue I have with this book and I cannot, consequently, recommend it.

For more information on Joan Chittister and liberal Catholicism there is an excellent 2 part series at:

Monday, December 6, 2010

Books Every American Should Read.

John Hancock, portrait (January 23, 1737 October 8, 1793): merchant, statesman, and prominent Patriot of the American Revolution - 16"x20" Photographic Print from the Library of Congress CollectionOn facebook someone had posted on my live feed a you tube blurb of Porky Pig citing the pledge of allegiance without saying, "One Nation Under God." The cartoon was made in the 1930's.  The point of the commentator was that no one was pledging to a nation under God until 1954 when, according to the blurb, radical right wingers, Christians and paranoid anti communists insisted it be added. I suppose their message was that we really weren't a nation founded by people who believed in God. As you may have guessed, I didn't take that one lying down (even if a relative whom I love did post it). My reply: Why is “In God we trust” on the dollar bill? Why does the Treaty of Paris, written in 1783 start, “In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity?”

I then did a little research and found out that President Eisenhower added “One nation under God” because of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address that concludes with:

That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth.

Or how about the Emancipation Proclamation?

 Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord.....all persons held as slaves within any State ….shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free...

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God....

The Declaration of Independence:

  When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them....

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.....

Then there's the reason that some of our oldest European ancestors came to this land:

The Mayflower Compact:

In the name of God, Amen, We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Kind, Defender of the Faith, c.

Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith....

I believe there is a renewed interest in what our founding fathers actually intended when beginning this country because there are an ever increasing amount of books being published that contain the historical documents that these great men wrote. One book that I suggest is called,  The Patriot's Library. This book contains our most important historical documents. In addition to the ones already mentioned, it includes The Articles of Confederation, The Constitution, and The Louisiana Purchase. It gives the meanings and origins of our Symbols of Independence such as our national anthem, the bald eagle, great seal flag as well as many others. It includes Thomas Paine's, Common Sense, Paul Reveres' Ride, as well as famous speeches from Patrick Henry, George Washington, Woodrow Wilson's War message and many of our presidents' inaugural addresses.

Now is a critical time in our country to be informed of what the purpose of our country is really about, what the vision of our founding fathers  was and what our rights as citizens are. We Americans are on the edge of a precipice. I for one don't want to live under a government state.

The Patriot's Library   

And speaking of Presidents...    

Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge wrote a wonderful little book entitled, Hero Tales. This book includes stories of some of our most famous Americans but also those who acted in heroic ways that are lessor known. For instance did you know about Francis Parkman who was one of the early explorers who went out west, and despite severe illness joined a tribe of Ogallalla Indians and learned about their culture?  He recorded his travels through the prairies, and mountains and life with the Indians in his journal, The Oregon Trail.   

Then there's Governor Morris, the American ambassador in France during their bloody revolution in 1792 who refused to leave Paris after all other foreign officials had and who, furthermore, refused to relinquish French dignitaries who took refuge in his house.

There's also the well known accounts of Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, the Alamo, plus some not as well-known as they should be events such as the death of Stonewall Jackson and the charge of Gettysburg.

One particular favorite story of mine is  The Battle of New Orleans.  The children in my music class sang the old Johnny Horton song and we all enjoyed learning the history behind it.
       I've just been reading a book about the Chinese cultural revolution which I'll review later.  The primary thing Mao Tse Tung did-as many despots have done- was to attempt to erase the past.  Anything that was traditional was condemned.  The Chinese were made to feel ashamed of their culture and history.    We musn't voluntarily erase our past by refusing to read up on it.  I encourage every reader out there to read America's historical documents for themself.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Meet Guest Photographer Paul Daniel

Today's blog is a photo sequence of a good friend of my son, Paul Daniel.  The Daniels are very good friends of mine.  In fact I consider Joyce my closest friend outside my family.  They are missionaries with Missionary Tech Team here in Longview.  Paul is fourteen years old and homeschooled by Joyce.  He took these photos while visiting Central Arkansas.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Review for Jungle Warfare: A Basic Field Manual for Christians in Sales

Jungle Warfare: A Basic Field Manual for Christians in Sales

I received the book Jungle Warfare: A Basic Field Manual for Christians in Sales by Christopher A. Cunningham, compliments of BookSneeze. At first I wasn't much interested in the book because I don't work in sales. The more I thought about its premise, however, the more intrigued I became so I requested a copy. I'm glad I did because its principals can be applied in any work situation. I would have found this book helpful when working as a teacher.

First, its appearance. The hardcover has a brown, rough textured covering, presumably to look like a “how-to” manual handed out to soldiers in the war. There's a good reason for that.

Cunningham was inspired by a warfare manual given to his grandfather when he was a soldier in World War II. He saw a correlation with the hazards and challenges the soldiers had to face during war time and the challenges and, yes, hazards one faces in our daily jobs.
The book is arranged like a daily devotional. The set up is well-organized and clear. Each chapter begins with an excerpt from his grandfather's original manual.

In chapter two, for example, it states:

Sleep off the ground to avoid dampness, reptiles, and especially insects.
If possible, travel with one or more companions.
Do not fear the jungle, for you should remember that if you keep relaxed and use your head you can live and travel alone for weeks in uninhabited country.

After that, Cunningham gives a daily scripture reading. What I like about his scripture selections is that they are not “verse blurb's”. They usually include several verses, even up to twenty-six verses at a time.

The next section is the “Battle Plan," where Cunningham applies the manual excerpt and Bible verses to an everyday situation at the office. This is followed by a section where you write down your personal thoughts in the book.

For instance, Chapter ten's Battle Plan deals with temptation and compromising situations in the office and what steps a professional Christian should take. (The scripture was John 4:1-26, the woman at the well seeking to slake her thirst.)

Day Ten: My Thoughts

In John 4:1-26, I learned that the Samaritan woman tired to satisfy her thirst with: (write in blank space provided)

I have tried satisfying my thirst with: (fill in personal answer)

Each chapter ends with blank spaces to write in personal prayer requests.
The book also includes Cunningham's definition of a follower of Jesus Christ (presumably so the reader will know where his position is) and a salesman's creed, which, as I've already mentioned, doesn't need to be limited to salespeople.

My only complaint about the book is that it is an 22-day devotional. I'd like to see a book like this as a yearly devotional.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Singing With Skillet

When I was young, I enjoyed listening to hard rock music. Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, you name it. As I grew older and matured in my Christian walk I became aware of the lyrics these musicians were actually singing. The Holy Spirit tugged on my heart and I could no longer enjoy listening to that kind of music. It was too bad in one sense because I have always like modal melodies, searing voices and strong driving beats. Nowadays, however, the nihilistic message gets in the way of the sound.

In the past ten years I've primarily listened to Christian and Classical music. Compared to songs that praise God, secular music strikes me as particularly dark and empty. I used to love listening to Jimi Hendrix, then I started listening to what he was saying.

“Hey Joe, where you goin' with that gun in your hand?”

“I'm going to shoot my old lady, 'cause I caught her with another man.”

Or how about:

“I've got you under my thumb.'” by the Rolling Stones?

Not particularly uplifting, is it?

A few years back, when my son, Derek was on the brink of adolescence I attended a revival at my church. One night the guest preacher addressed the youth of the church. He said something that struck me. He told the young people, that there is no style of music they could like in the secular world that doesn't have a Christian music equivalent.

Since that time Derek has developed a taste in music that fairly parallels my own but instead of listening to Jethro Tull, ACDC and Ozzy Osbourne, Derek enjoys TobyMac, Lecrea, Canton Jones and Skillet.

It was the harsh, throaty cries of Skillet that was emanating from our CD player as we drove our car around Loop 281. I enjoy Skillet probably as much as Derek does. The only difference is that I sing along while he just quietly listens, bobbing his head to the beat. It was a great day, zooming down the highway, Derek telling me about his day at school, Skillet blaring away from the speakers, me singing along. As I sang, I thought how nice it was that Derek, in addition to all his other wonderful qualities as a son, never minded the fact that I like the same music as him or sang along with the songs.

Then another thought occurred to me. My son is a nice guy. A very nice guy. A sweet, nice, non-confrontational kind of a guy. So I asked a question:



“Does it bother you when I sing along with your music?”

“Uh, why?”

“Well, I just remember my sister telling me how much it annoyed her when I sang along with songs she liked. Do you feel that way?”

“Well, uh, it's not that I mind, but you sing louder than the guys on the CD and well, you know, I'd really kind of like to hear them.”

“Oh. I didn't realize I was singing louder than the CD.”

“You're not even singing the same melody they are.”

“Actually, I was singing in harmony to their melody.”

“Oh. Well, I don't think the harmony should be louder than the melody.”

At this point I started laughing. I had a mental picture of Derek and I driving down the highway with “thought” bubbles over our heads, like in the comics. My bubble says, “Wow! Isn't it great that Derek doesn't mind me singing along with his music!” And Derek's bubble says, “Man! I wish she'd shut up!”

Still laughing I told Derek about my thought. He laughed too, then said, “Shut up's kind of a harsh word.”

I love my son.

   There's some great books out there that can help you through those turbulent years of childhood. For myself, I read Bringing Up Boys by James Dobson. This books starts with the early years and continues for the rest of the time you have a relationship with your son (hopefully until you die of old age). Different chapters include, the wonderful difference between boys and girls; fathers and sons; mothers and sons, single parents and grandparents.  There's an excellent chapter called, "the Essential Father" that discusses that crucial role men play in raising their sons and how our boys are in crisis today because so many fathers have dropped the ball.  There's also a great section for the single parent, how to be both a mom and a dad, whether to date and remarry or not. Another chapter deals with the origins of homosexuality that I found particulary informative and, unfortunately, relative in today's culture.
   I gave the female equivalent, Bringing Up Girls to a friend of mine who's a single dad with a thirteen year old daughter.

Since it looks like his thirteen year old daughter may become my thirteen year old stepdaughter, I should probably read that one too.
  Another really good book by Dobson is called, Hide or Seek.  This book discusses the insane pressure our youth have to base their self- worth on how others view them.  Dobson goes into detail how this differs for both girls and boys (girls must look pretty; boys must be smart and successful) and he gives tools based on Biblical precepts on how to counter these cultural attacks on our children.


          Another good book is called, Preparing Your Son for Every Man's Battle by Stephan Arterburn. This book's purpose is to bring parents to an awareness of all the challenges our sons are going to face when they discover the opposite sex. It is supposed to be a tool that will help you and your son learn how to arm against the relentless onslaught-the sexual assault I call it- of a sex-saturated society. Be advised that some of the material is graphic. I started this book when Derek was around eleven but stopped because it started delving into some things that my son, at least, wasn't ready for. Stopping wasn't my decision it was Derek's.    I'm sure there are boys that age who are ready to hear about the more disturbing aspects of teen dating, going too far, etc.. you'll need to use your own discernment. Don't push anything on your son that he's not ready for. The book itself states that “doing book” is supposed to be an enjoyable time where the two of you become close through reading together.

This book also has a female version, Preparing Your Daughter for Every Woman's Battle.

       A good book to read together during book time (as suggested by the previous author) is, I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. I think your average teenager will oppose the idea of not dating but this book will plant some powerful ideas into their head. Derek, for instance, has already decided the first woman he's going to kiss is his wife (yeah, I know, very radical) and he's already informed more than one eager young lady out there who would have liked to have been that first kiss of this (have I mentioned that I love my son?).

Joshua has twin brothers who wrote another great book that has nothing to do with dating but everything to do with rising above the mediocrity that is considered normal teenage behavior. Do Hard Things byAlex and Brett Harris is a battle cry to every teenager that their age is no excuse against accomplishing huge things. Their examples of real life super acheivers tend to lean towards accomplishing things in the political arena, probably because that's where their field of interests lie but they do have some good example of teenagers that have gone beyond the norm in fund raising for good causes or needy people as well as other accomplishments. The Harris boys keep your interest by writing about actual kids from all over the world and what they've done that makes them other than the average teenager suffering from angst.

In fact, the thing that struck me the most about this book is how they boldly state there shouldn't even be such a thing as adolescence. That it is a relatively new concept. Young men and women not a hundred years ago were using their teen years to prepare for adulthood not sitting around, glued to the computer playing games. They give many real life examples of young men and women who went out on a limb and showed that their age was in no way a hindrance in accomplishing things normally expected of much older people.

Finally, a book for fun: The Dangerous Book for Boys is a book that has everything that the authors Conn and Hal Iggulden think a boy should know about. From how to's to famous historical battles to how to deal with girls (humorous!) to every book in existence that a boy should read. How to make batteries, a treehouse, timers and tripwires, not to mention the world's greatest airplane. Then there's famous battles, like Waterloo, Caesar's Invasions of Britain, the Spartan Battle of Three Hundred. Lot's of how to's on first aid, marbling paper, Navajo code talkers' dictionary, survival skills.. heck, it's just a great book!!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Review of The American Patriot's Almanac

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America

I discovered a web site, where I can request a book of my choice and receive a complimentary copy on the condition that I write a review of it. They state that they want an honest review and it can be positive or negative.

I chose The American Patriot's Almanac by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb, and I can only say positive things about this book. It is simply a wonderful book. Judging from the rise in books about American History, the Constitution and Patriotism, I must conclude that Americans are waking up and searching for their roots. They want to know how a country like America happened, how it came to be great and what actually were the original intentions of its founding fathers.

If you are one such person then The American Patriot's Almanac is for you.

     I'll start with the most superficial reason for buying it: it is beautifully bound, combining both cloth and hardcover. The pages are made to look and feel like thick parchment with rough edges.

But the real reason you should buy it is for what the pages contain. This book is made up of daily readings of historical figures, events and documents of American history. What makes this book more appealing than many others of its ilk is that you don't have to find time to sit down and read it in bulk. You can browse a page a day over coffee in the morning. You'll read about well known events and figures but also learn of lesser-known historical happenings and people whose contributions also shaped the course of our country.

    For instance, January 1 states that on that day Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Underneath is a brief description of what occurred on that famous day, including some little known but interesting trivia.  January 2, however, talks about Haym Salomon: a financial hero of the Revolution. The paragraph underneath informs us that if it were not for this Polish immigrant, there would not have been a United States. (You'll have to read the book to find out why).

Other dates describe the discovery of the cure of polio (March 26) , the Burr-Hamilton Duel (July 11) and The Louisiana Purchase (October 20)

At the bottom of each page is a listing of several other events that also happened on the same day. For example, December 13 describes the history of the National Guard but underneath includes a certain Civil War battle that also took place on that date, that Woodrow Wilson became president and the U.S. Forces captured former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

In addition to the daily readings, each month includes an essay of various topics. The January section includes  facts with illustrations of Flags of the Revolutionary War.  February gives a history of the Stars and Stripes. May informs us of flag etiquette.  June-how the Declaration of Independence was written and signed et al.

Finally, if for no other reason, you should buy the book because it includes The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, The Bill of Rights, The Gettysburg Address and something I didn't even know existed, The American's Creed. Every Amercian citizen should have these documents in their possession.

 It seems fashionable for  media figures and people on certain sides of the political spectrum to mock patriotism.  I'll close with a quote that is included in the front of the book:
Actor James Cagney, playing Broadway legend George M. Cohan, summed it up in the 1942 movie, Yankee Doodle Dandy:  "It seems it always happens.  Whenever we get too high-hat and too sophisticated for flag-waving, some thug nation decides we're a pushover all ready to be blackjacked.  And it isn't long before we're looking up, mighty anxiously, to be sure the flag's still waving over us."

I recommend that all shameless patriot's buy this book.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Prospero's Books

210 N. Washington Marshall, TX
Open Monday-Saturday 8am-5pm


One day while cruising through downtown Marshall, Texas, a sign caught my eye. It said, "Prospero's Books." I can never resist a bookstore, especially a small, privately owned one. As I walked in, I was immediately greeted by Damon Falke, the son of the proprietor. He talked amiably to me about himself ( he has a Master's degree in English literature. I found out later from his father that he's also a published author and playwright), his wife (she got her Ph.D at York University. Her dissertation on autodidacts-self taught readers and writers of the last century- is getting published), and the different books they were selling- all the while bottle feeding his baby son. While he talked, I browsed. This was not your typical best seller book store. The books here were in great condition, both used and new and reasonably priced. It also held the sort of books that I am mainly interested in: good, substantial literature that have endured the test of time, well written and enjoyable.

 The bookstore contains both fiction and non fiction, contemporary and classic. A couple of weeks later I returned to take photos of the store. I was disappointed that Damon was absent, but not for long. This time I met the actual owner of the store, Don Falke, Damon's father. I found Don in the back room sitting at a table with some ladies sharing coffee and visiting. I got the impression that this was a regular practice with him. After the ladies left, he moved to a sofa and comfortably stretched out across it, with his arms crossed behind his head and proceeded to tell me a little about himself and how he came to be owner of a bookstore.

“I was raised in Port Arthur. When I graduated from high school, I could barely read and write. When I became a Christian, God called me to preach but in order to do that, I had to learn to read. So I did. In the process I fell in love with books.”

This started another kind of calling for Don. “I love to put a good book in people's lives.”
When asked why he came to Marshall,  Don told me that he attended East Texas Baptist University and saw that the town of Marshall was trying to save their downtown. Don wholeheartedly agreed with that. He believes that towns need the centers to be alive and active in order to keep the community alive. So, two years ago he began Prospero's Books.

Don hopes that he can influence people in a positive way by attracting them to books that are worth reading. Books that are rich in vocabulary, strong sentence structure, and, I personally add, imagination as well as information. He hopes to steer both young and old to many of the classics that have endured for so long.

He also thought that with three colleges Marshall would have a good number of kids who  love to read, but that hasn't turned out to be the case. We discussed at length the different reasons why young people today don't read- largely because of the media and technology.  Then what little they do read isn't worth reading. Don had a lot to say about the lack of literary taste in the majority of people. He believes it's because publishers care only about selling books and they give people very poor selections to choose from.

Then the preacher surfaced and Don said something provocative. He asserted that filling your mind with mediocre reading is just as ungodly as any other sin. I believe he was saying that it is our Christian obligation to use and exercise our minds. Stop giving the rest of the world the impression that Christians are anti-intellectual. God gave us a brain, we need to use it. One of the ways to do that is by filling it with quality reading and not pop-culture -saturated, flash in the pan, best sellers (my words, not his, but I believe that's what he meant.)

Prospero's books is one of the most inviting bookstores I've ever been in. The rooms are basically how my dream house would be structured, comfortable chairs, tables and sofas, the walls lined with book cases simply packed with books. He also provides delicious coffee, tea and friendly conversation. If you ever get to Marshall, Texas be sure to stop by and browse (and buy!)