Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Review: Pieces of Me by Amber Kizer

Pieces of Me
Amber Kizer
Delacorte Press
US $16.99/$18.99CAN
ISBN 978-0-385-74116-3
291 pages
Amber Kizer’s story is about organ donation and the lives of teens who are affected by it. As such it is not primarily a fantasy; it’s more like an illustrative story with some philosophical and theological existential discussions thrown in.

Jessica, a teenaged loner with an overbearing mother, would rather be left to herself. Except that she dies. And pieces of her are sent to various recipients. She spends the rest of the book hovering near them, attempting to converse with them, trying to comfort them with sage advice, and being something of a dead guardian angel.

After Jessica's accident, the book leaps six months and this is troublesome. Jessica's reaction to her death is not explored at all. That is problematical because Jessica's behavior as an all-knowing super-helpful dead person is so at odds with her formerly living self that the reader wonders how such a change occurred.

Some books are difficult to review, especially if the book is from the heart of an author who has health issues. At least, I find those books hard to review because the book is obviously a heart-child. The book seems written primarily to show the importance of organ donation and it does that. The characters are the typical teenagers one finds in young adult novels; they find life especially difficult

I had expected this to be more of a fantasy. But, aside from the fact that Jessica is invisible, not much else is fantastical. When alive Jessica felt there was no purpose to her life. Now that she is dead, she strives to become part of the world. . .even if vicariously.

The living characters are all in emotional or physical ruts. They include Samuel, a religious boy who tries to see small miracles in life; Vivian, a girl who has cystic fibrosis and who is loved by; Leif, the gorgeous school athlete who begins examining himself when he get an injury; and Misty who feels very guilty because someone died in order that she might get a liver.

The lives of all the characters are caught in snapshot like moments. It gives the story a cinematic after-school special episodic feel but it also made this reviewer wish the story had been only about one or two characters. Connecting to the characters becomes difficult because they almost feel like symbols. And although I felt some of the insights given by the characters to be simplistic or maybe theologically light psychobabble, they may prove helpful for some children who need to accept or verbalize the emotions caused by their health issues.

Recommended for children who are going through a hard time because of health issues.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Review: NIV First-Century Study Bible

This is a review of the kindle version which I freely received without for a fair and honest review.

The NIV First-Century Study Bible is arranged like most study Bibles. There are the usual sections with charts, maps, word indexes, etc. The differences with this study Bible is a long list of ancient texts used to shed light on the verses, Middle Eastern history, literary tropes, ancient laws, poetry and writing stule.

I love archaeology, anthropology, history, linguistics, and cultural studies so I really liked this Bible. The Bible is thorough and most of the verses are annotated. The hyperlinked annotations shed light on the cultural and religious meanings behind the Bible verses we know or think we know. Historical documents such as the writings of ancient historians --Josephus, for instance-- and documents by Jewish and Christian scribes are included.  Some of these might bother some people who don't want to see how (for instance) the story of Job is similar to another story in that region.

There are many definitions and explanations of the significance of words and objects. The editors also show how full of humor some of the Bible texts are. There are some notes which show a more direct less prudish (honest?) reading of certain texts. The Bible is full of slangs and sometimes translations prefer to translate certain words in a way puritanical minds would appreciaate. This version shows in the footnotes what was really going on in some verses. For instance, Genesis 43:34 is translated "drank freely" whereas the literal meaning of the words are "they got drunk together."  

Moving about and through the kindle version is intuitive. Or maybe I'm just getting better at moving around the kindle version. (I don't have a kindle. I used a kindle app on my chromebook.)

The reader who may enjoy this book best of all are Messianic Jews and readers who want to understand Jewish history. The reader should also be someone who doesn't get too bent over shape about opinions, surmises, and varying opinions. The fun of this Bible is looking at the history of what other rabbis have said about certain passages. If you're prickly about knowing exactly what certain passages mean, you'll lose out on the fun of this book.

The blessing and the curse of this version is that it brings the reader face to face with the assumptions we have about certain passages. For instance, many Christians are taught that The Lord's Prayer was created by Jesus. But the footnotes show that Jesus used parts of different rabbinical traditions to put the prayer together. The idea of God being called "Abba" ("Daddy") is another example of Christians thinking that Jesus had changed many aspects of religion. There are paragraphs taht show how similar certain aspects of Egyptian law are to the laws in the Bible.

This kind of challenge to a certain kind of argumentative Christian who likes to believe that the word of God is being tested. Yet the editors are profoundly committed to the uniqueness of the Christian Bible and it is evident that for all their archaeological commentary, they believe the word of God to be God-breathed. I would not give this book to the kind of person who is argumentative or who is not skillful in reading comprehension. I know that's a harsh thing to say but I can see some people feeling the book is challenging Scripture when it isn't.

I highly recommend this book. It might turn the reader into a history nut but some people might think it shakes their faith.

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