Here's the latest installment in my book and movie reviews.
Christmas in Harmony by Philip Gulley
This is a delightful little book about a Christmas in a small town from the perspective of the Quaker minister. We get to see the joys and trials of the pastor and his wife when one of the parishioners comes up with the idea of doing a "Progressive Live Nativity" where the observers go from one house to another to see the whole Nativity scene. It is a funny story with sweet moments as well. I think we're going to have to do this as a read-aloud starting next year.
Christianity's Dangerous Idea by Alister McGrath
Alister McGrath has done a masterful job in describing the history of Protestantism and discussing the future of the movement. McGrath tells us that Protestantism is based on individual Christians being able to interpret Scripture for themselves and that this is the basis of the Reformation. But, this one idea did not just lead to a denomination competing with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches - it has lead to many, many denominations. The first third of the book shows the history of the movement from Luther, Zwingli, Hus, and Calvin to the present.
The second third of the book is a discussion of the manifestation of Protestantism: what are some of the variations of belief within Protestantism? what are some of the variations of practice within Protestantism? how does Protestantism relate to culture, both cause and effect? The last third of the book discusses the future of Protestantism, with an emphasis on Pentecostalism and the Global South.
This is a lengthy book - over 500 pages - but I strongly recommend it for anyone who has an interest in church history. It was helpful in understanding where many of our "Protestant" traditions started. The discussion of the Church in the Global South was also quite strong. McGrath discusses the history of missions and how that has affected the shape of the church in the developing world. He also shows how and why Pentecostalism is making such strong inroads into the developing world. I came away from this with a strong feeling that I know far less about Christianity around the world than I thought I did. So, read this book and be prepared to learn a lot!
Charmed Knits by Alison Hansel
Ms. Hansel has compiled a wonderful set of knitting patterns based on the Harry Potter books and movies. I actually checked this book out from the library several months ago after I saw it on the new books shelf. I then strongly hinted to Mr. Math Teacher how much I would like it for Christmas. Lo and behold, I got it for Christmas! I am currently working on making some Dobby socks. Ms. Hansel has patterns that include "Weasley Sweaters" based on the sweaters that Molly Weasley makes for her kids every Christmas, wizard robes (lots of yarn for that!), an Invisibility Shawl, Quidditch sweaters and socks, House scarves and hats, and elf hats. I'm going to have fun working my way through this book.
Hadassah: One Night With the King by Tommy Tenney
I saw the DVD several months ago and reviewed it favorably. The book and movie are really quite different, but I love the book at least as much as the movie. I think it's best to look at them as completely unrelated entities. The book is the story of Queen Esther from the Bible. Tenney makes the character of Esther (Hadassah) accessible and likable. The plot is believable and keeps moving. I had a hard time putting the book down. Tenney also helps to understand some of the things in the story of Esther that always confused me. For example, why did Esther invite the King and Haman to dinner one night and then again for a second night? Why didn't she just tell the King the first time? Read the book and you'll see why - at least this author's explanation. I very highly recommend this for older teens and above. There is a little bit of sexual content (albeit not explicit) that makes it problematic for the younger set.
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
You may have heard of "The Secret" - the book and DVD. Apparently, Oprah has talked about it on her show. It's supposed to be quite the rage in some circles. What is "The Secret"? It is a Secret that will lead you to wealth, happiness, and fulfillment. What is it? It is the Law of Attraction. According to this author, you attract to yourself what you think about. As you think, your thoughts are transmitted to the Universe, and the Universe sends to you the things that you think about. So, according to this, like attracts like. If you want to be rich, you need to have thoughts about getting money. Same thing about health, happiness, success, etc.
Are you thinking that this sounds too good to be true? Well, it is. And, it's based on a completely faulty worldview. This is your basic pantheism - there is no personal God, just "god" in everything. The Universe is just waiting to give you whatever you want. There's no explanation in this for evil or suffering. The Secret isn't there for you when you are sick or bad things happen to you because anything bad that happens is something you brought on yourself. There is some good in thinking positive thoughts, but the basis of this belief system are just wrong.
The truth: there is a real, personal God who loves us. There is real sin and evil in this world. God has defeated evil through Jesus. There is no "Secret" about this - just truth.
"Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End"
I really liked the first Pirates movie. I thought the second was rather silly. The third one is downright confusing. There are some good lines. Johnny Depp is wonderful as Captain Jack Sparrow. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are also very good in their roles. But, I had trouble sticking with the movie through the entire two plus hours. So, watch it for the great scenes with Johnny Depp, but don't expect much.