The Sword – Review

Most of the world has been destroyed by a deadly virus, followed by a nuclear war. Technology is useless without the utilities and infrastructure to support it. Survivors are so widely dispersed that nearly all “modern” knowledge and convenience has disappeared. 400 years later, groups of people have organized into medieval style villages and countries, producing food on small farms and manufacturing all their clothing, tools, and weapons by hand.  If you’re a prepper, a survivalist, or just a fan of the fantasy genre like myself, you will truly enjoy “The Sword”, by Bryan M Litfin.

To these future humans, we are “the ancients”.  Worship of idols and corruption are not only rampant, but taught as the state religion.  While trying to escape from “outsiders”, Teo, a royal guardsman for the king of Chiveis, and Ana, a farm girl who saves his life, stumble upon an ancient book that turns out to be the Holy Bible.  As it is translated into their language, they come to know a new God, the Creator, whom they come to understand as the One True God.  Meanwhile, the High Priestess of the common religion takes steps to eliminate the new religion.  The ending is a compelling set up for Book 2 in this trilogy, The Gift.

The deep, resonant voice of narrator Ray Porter captures and holds the attention, while his softer, higher pitched female renditions are a bit humorous, while the listener adjusts to them.  Author Litfin succeeds in creating a future world that stands on its own in a genre which includes some tough competition.  His characters play convincingly, with all their flaws, admirable qualities, and inner struggles.  Ana eagerly embraces the new God, but Teo, accustomed to relying on his own strength and cunning, takes more than simple persuasion.  His road to conversion is fraught with disaster, and when he does come to believe, it may be too late for the fledgling community.

This book does have some mature scenes (without being explicit), so I would not recommend it for the family bookshelf, but I think it is appropriate for a mature 16 year old, and older, use your discretion.  It is entertaining, suspenseful, and illustrates what Christians must sometimes endure, especially in areas where the Word of God has never been heard.

The Sword, The Gift, and the third book in the trilogy, The Kingdom, are all available from www.christianaudio.com for $14.98 each.

Thanks to www.christianaudio.com  for providing me with a free review copy of “The Sword”.  No other compensation was received for this review.

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Judgement Calls

This morning’s sermon was about making judgements.  The gospel passage today was from Matthew 7:1-5. “Do not judge and you will not be judged…”  The pastor of my dad’s church talked about the judgments he had experienced and had made on his recent holiday.  I could totally relate.

Afterwards, another early mass goer was telling Fr. T about one of the masses this past Sunday, which had lacked a priest, so a deacon in attendance had stepped forward to lead a communion service.  I quipped about how that was commonplace where I live, that we were lucky to have a priest.  Fr. T was surprised, as he thought I lived nearby.  So much for my ego, in assuming he knew that I was the “daughter visiting from Arizona”.  So, after explaining that I was just staying with dad for a few months, I went on with a brief synopsis of our mission situation in Northern Arizona.

At breakfast, I lamented the situation again.  Didn’t the pastor recognize whom he saw regularly and whom he didn’t?  Of course, I thought, how busy Fr. T must be, with the responsibilities of a parish of nearly 1,000 people.  How could he possibly keep track of one visitor?  Another judgement.

So, Miss Important, here, next realized how little I know about some of those in my own parish.  I want to be known to a certain extent, yet do I take the time to really know and care about others?  Am I so busy, running here and there, that I don’t have time to chat now and then, for a few minutes after Mass, or when I see someone in town?  Surely, that’s one of the reasons to live in a small town.

I’m also learning to translate it into some of my experiences during my soujourn here in the Big City.  After hockey practice the other day, my son and I walked through a street fair that was taking place next to the ice rink.  All kinds of wonderful antiques were on display,  but I thought that some were a bit pricey.  I took the opportunity to ask one vendor about a piece that I didn’t recognize.  He went on the tell me about the wall-mount coffee grinder, with a large glass jar for the beans, “they used to buy them in big bulk bags, because they didn’t have ’em all ground up in cans like we do now”.  (Yes, I knew that, it’s how I buy mine, but I held my tongue, wanting to hear more of his story.)  “Then they used to put up their extra produce in jars and so they’d have an empty jar that would fit right here”, pointing to a bracket under the grinder, “to catch the grindings”.  He went on to explain how they boiled their coffee and poured it through a cheesecloth, etc.  Really a wonderful story.  It also made me realize something else.  I asked his wife if they had gotten most of their inventory from the midwest and she confirmed that they did buy from sales on the other side of the country.  Suddenly the price seemed more reasonable, and I noticed that most of their items were also very clean and in good condition, which was also rare in my experience with antiques here in the west.

So by curbing my initial judgement to bypass their table as just another overpriced junk pile, I not only acquired valuable new information to add to my homesteading knowledge, I also had a pleasant conversation with a couple whom I would never otherwise have known to be interesting and wonderful.

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Glory to God in the Highest and…um…The Feast of the Annunciation

One of the few things I enjoy when I’m in the Big City is being able to attend daily Mass.  I usually go early, and the nuns and postulants are among the regulars, as well as several working, retired and possibly 1 or 2 homeless persons.  Today, the Feast of the Annunciation was celebrated, which means we said the Gloria and the Creed.  Now, on Sundays, many of us hold onto the missal so we have the new wording in front of us and our “autopilot” memorization of the old prayers is less likely to kick in.  Today, however, just as on the Feast of St. Joseph last Monday, I found myself scrambling for the right page in the missal.  I was not alone.  It was a bit humorous, really, to hear everyone start out strong at the beginning of the Gloria, then stumble, fumble with their missals, and join back in.  Perhaps another 10 years and we will have all the new wording programmed into our memories.
Today’s readings struck me in regards to the interfaith debate about the “Virgin” birth.  I could not help but wonder why there should be any doubt, after careful study of the verses in Isaiah and Luke.
Isaiah 7:14 – “…the virgin shall be with child and bear a son…”
Luke 1:26-38 – read the whole passage of the angel Gabriel’s conversation with Mary.  In particular, verses 34-35:  “But Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?’ And the angel said to her in reply, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.'”  That does not sound to me like she is going to get pregnant in the usual way.  And why not?  Cannot the all powerful God, who can do all things, cause a virgin to conceive and bear His son?  If He can create the world out of nothing, create a man out of dust, He can surely do that.
I thought maybe it might have to do with our different translations.  I looked in the King James version.  It says fairly the same thing as I have quoted here, from my New American Bible, St. Joseph Edition.  King James also uses the word “virgin” in the verse from Isaiah.  The Revised Standard Version uses the words “young woman” instead, but the passage from Luke reads much the same as the Catholic translation, including calling Mary a virgin.
In light of this, I find it hard to believe that anyone could think otherwise, when the Bible clearly states that the “virgin” Mary was “overshadowed by the power of the Most High” in order to conceive Jesus.  Perhaps one day we will reconcile more of our differences and become more truly “one body in Christ”.  I hope so.
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The Heavenly Man

China is a Communist country.  Christianity is illegal and those who preach it are cruelly treated.  If a family has one child already and is found to be expecting another, the mother is detained and the developing baby aborted.  If the mother manages to escape and have her baby, enormous fines and other punishments are imposed.  Bibles are confiscated and those who possess them are beaten.

When Brother Yun got his first Bible, he read it hungrily, memorizing everything he could, even sleeping with it.  He immediately began proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in small villages across China.  From that moment on, he experienced persecution, torture and imprisonment by the Chinese government.  Brother Yun recounts his imprisonments, tortures and escapes in graphic detail.  Although there are those who question the extent of his reported tortures, his message is clear:  Jesus is love.  Jesus is everything.  Jesus’ love is worth dying for.  The way he handles his tormenters, never losing faith, is truly inspiring and heartrending.

In a country such as ours, where so many of us who call ourselves “Christian” are lukewarm at best, the mere thought of suffering torture, blood, pain and death for the sake of Jesus Christ gives pause.  Would I?  Could I?  Or would I deny Him and hide, gradually losing what little faith I had?  Not a dilemma I want to be faced with.  However, Brother Yun’s story causes me to question whether I am witnessing to Jesus Christ in my everyday life.  Do I hunger for the Eucharist and the Word?  When presented with the opportunity to attend Mass or read the Bible do I respond with enthusiasm?  Out of duty?  Turn my back?  Is my faith and hope contagious?  Do I radiate peace and love?  Good questions to keep in the front of my mind on a daily basis.  In the end, don’t we all want to be greeted with those precious words, “well done, good and faithful servant.  Now enter in and claim your reward.”?  Brother Yun concludes by challenging the Western Church to return to basics.  As the theme of this blog suggests, I think that’s a wonderful idea.
Christopher Jean gives a compelling reading as Brother Yun, with Jeannie Park as Yun’s faithful wife Deling.  The readers lend warmth and truth to their characters and the audiobook (copyright 2008 by Hovel Audio) is a joy to listen to.  The Heavenly Man, by Brother Yun, with Paul Hattaway, (c) 2002, was originally published by Monarch Books.
I would like to thank Christian Audio, for providing me with a free review copy of this audiobook.  No other compensation was received for this review.
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Love Amid The Ashes

I found this book in our public library’s NEW section.  Looking at the title I thought ‘ick, another Harlequin or Avon romance type’.  But the cover illustration drew me in, and I picked it up and read the back, then glanced inside.  Hooked, and intrigued by our librarian’s seemingly sudden propensity for Christian fiction, I checked it out at the desk.

Set in Uz, (actual location lost, but several possibilities in Middle East) Love Amid the Ashes interlaces the Biblical stories of Job, Jacob and Esau, Joseph (of the many colored coat), the migration of the Hebrews to Egypt, and Dinah (sister of Joseph), in a very compelling way.  By the end, I was ready to reread the book of Job, and start my own investigation to see if I could pick up on the threads Mesu Andrews so skillfully weaves together from the Bible as well as other ancient texts and rabbinical tradition.

As Dinah nurses and cares for Job during his long suffering, the story of her ill fated love, betrayal by her vindictive brothers (the same ones who sold Joseph into slavery) and her subsequent rejection by her clan as “ruined” is presented.  The distinctive stories finally combine in Egypt, when it is discovered that the great vizier and “Father of the Pharoah” is none other than Joseph himself.  Job and Dinah’s tale comes to a gratifying conclusion and the reader is left hungry for more.

A little research on the internet and a look into Biblical, as well as ancient Egyptian timelines, convinced me that Ms. Andrews did, in fact, do her homework.  That yes, it is just possible that these stories which we normally take separately in the Bible and in history, could maybe have intersected with each other in this or some other way.  Which makes it all the more fascinating for me.

Love Amid the Ashes, by Mesu Andrews, (c) 2011, is available from http://www.revellbooks.com/ and other booksellers.

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