American Phoenix

americanphoenix

Posted by Shelbi

American Phoenix, by Jane Hampton Cook, is—in a nutshell—a biography of John Quincy Adams (pre-presidency) and his wife Louisa, a history of the War of 1812, and a good look into an early-1800’s Europe being terrorized by Napoleon Bonaparte. The book is rather long (512 pages), very well written, and both enjoyable and educating. I didn’t know much about the War of 1812, so I was surprised to learn that it really can be seen as America’s second war for independence from England.

The thing I liked most about the book, though, was its study into the life of Louisa Adams. Her strong patriotism and love for her country, coupled with devotion to her husband, led her to leave her home and two children for six years (1809-1815) in order to accompany her husband to Russia, where they together represented the Republican United States in a monarch/dictator-run Europe. As America struggled to be recognized as an independent nation by the rest of the world, the Adamses worked tirelessly on the other side of the world to promote that end. Their fascinating encounters with European royalty and interesting brushes with Napoleon often took place in the midst of personal tragedy (Louisa Adams gave birth to a daughter in Russia, who died 13 months later) and extreme anxiety about their children and family in America, who lived in some of the very cities attacked by the British. Their quest to see their beloved country achieve honor, dignity, respect, and recognition from the other nations of the world was ultimately successful. Speaking of America, Louisa Adams wrote in her diary, “I trust in God that the day of retribution is not far off and that glory which yet awaits us will far, far outweigh the disgrace which has hitherto attended us.” A godly Christian woman, she penned these words a few years before her death:

“And when it is His will that I lay me down to sleep; that sleep, from which we wake no more in this world; may I die in my Savior Jesus Christ; in the fullest hope of those divine promises, which lead the purified soul to heaven forevermore.”

The book runs a little lengthy, and I did think that the same amount of information could have been condensed into a smaller space. That issue aside, American Phoenix is a wonderful re-telling of important American history that should not be forgotten.

 

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Amusing Ourselves to Death

amusingourselvestodeath

Posted by Shelbi

“Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist a prison when the gates begin to close around us. We take arms against such a sea of troubles, buttressed by the spirit of Milton, Voltaire, Jefferson…But what if there are no cries of anguish to be heard? Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements? To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious culture dissolves into giggles? What is the antidote to a culture’s being drained by laughter?”

Amusing Ourselves to Death was written in 1985, but reading it is like reading something published yesterday. Before the internet or cell phones, Neil Postman (who died in 2003) wrote this powerful book as a warning against…television.

“The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter, but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining.” -Chap. 6

When George Orwell wrote the book 1984 in the 1940’s, he prophesied oppressive government that would conceal truth and hide information. When Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931, he predicted the opposite: “There would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.” Instead of being deceived about the real state of things, which Orwell feared, people would be given so much trivial information so quickly that important things would drown in a sea of irrelevance. Instead of being held captive kicking and screaming, they would love their oppression and adore what undoes their ability to think.

As the author states in the preface to Amusing Ourselves to Death, “This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”

Exploring and analyzing not only television but also the “Age of Show Business” in general, this book shows how completely our culture has been taken in by the lies “entertainment is the highest good” and “we exist solely to be amused”.

I especially liked chapter 9, called “Reach Out and Elect Someone”, which is about how politicians put themselves forward as sources of amusement to better their chances of being elected; and also chapter 7, which is titled “Now…This”.

There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no political blunder so costly–for that matter, no ball score so tantalizing or weather report so threatening–that it cannot be erased from our minds by a newscaster saying, “Now…this.” The newscaster means that you have thought long enough on the previous matter (approximately 45 seconds), that you must not be morbidly preoccupied with it (let us say, for 90 seconds), and that you must now give your attention to another fragment of news or a commercial. -Chap. 7

Amusing Ourselves to Death alerts us to the real danger of this state of affairs, and offers helpful suggestions as to how not only resist the current “media onslaught”, but also recognize the ways we’re unconsciously letting media shape our lives.

Seven Men

7 men

Posted by Shelbi

I think it’s a little strange that this is the second book I’ve reviewed on this blog that contains the words “Seven Men” in the title (read about Seven Men who Rule the World from the Grave here), but I was so excited to hear that Eric Metaxas had written another book that I couldn’t resist the chance to receive a free copy from Booksneeze, in exchange for a review on our blog.

Eric Metaxas is the author of the New York Times bestsellers, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and Amazing Grace. I don’t think that Seven Men really lived up to the other two books, but it was still an enjoyable read.

The seven men written about in this book are George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Charles W. Colson. The introduction on manhood, while being a little watered down, was also good. Since the book is copyright 2013, it’s recent enough that the author was able to use the July 2012 Aurora, CO, movie theater shooting and the behavior of some of the men involved as an example.

Here are a few excerpts from the book:

George Washington (my favorite chapter):

“More than 200 years after Washington’s death, his willingness to relinquish power–twice–is the most remarkable thing that we remember about him. These refusals to seize power for himself were the greatest acts of one of history’s greatest men…There was a consensus at the time, since confirmed for all time, that no one else could have performed these elemental tasks as well, and perhaps that no one could have performed them at all.” (pg. 28)

Eric Liddell:

“Why does the world still remember and love Eric Liddell today, when other athletes from his era have been long forgotten? Lord Sands, an Edinburgh civil leader, put his finger on the answer during a dinner honoring Eric after the 1924 Olympic Games. It was not because Eric was the fastest runner in the world that the guests were gathered there that evening, he said. Instead, “it is because this young man put his whole career as a runner in the balance, and deemed it as small dust, compared to remaining true to his principles.” (pg. 86)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Bonhoeffer shared the fate of innumerable Jews who had recently been killed as he had been…But it seems clear that for Bonhoeffer, giving his life for the Jews was an honor. The God of the Jews had called him to give his life for the Jews. Bonhoeffer really believed that obeying God–even unto death–was the only way to live…In his famous book The Cost of Discipleship, he wrote: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” ” (pg. 112)

Although each of the men in the book are presented as committed Christians (I’m still not sure about the chapter on the pope), vague phrases like “remaining true to his principles” and “surrendering himself to a Higher Purpose” are used more often than not. The chapter on Pope John Paul II extolls mostly his attempts at moral reform, rather than any preaching of the gospel he might have done. Disappointingly, he praises Charles Colson highly for his Evangelicals and Catholics Together program (ECT), the purpose of which was the “reconciliation of theological differences between the two groups”.

However, even though Seven Men was not as good as (and more politically correct than) Bonhoeffer or Amazing Grace (both of which were very theologically sound), I would still recommend it for anyone who is interested in any or all of these godly men of the past.

Twelve Extraordinary Women

twelvewomenPosted by Savannah

John MacArthur’s Twelve Extraordinary Women is a sequel to his book Twelve Ordinary Men. In his first book, he studied the lives of Jesus’ twelve disciples, dedicating a chapter to each. In Twelve Extraordinary Women, he chose twelve women who were critical in the story of redemption.  Some of the women he chose you would expect to find in such a book, such as Eve, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Sarah the wife of Abraham.  Others, like Rahab the harlot, Anna the prophetess, or Lydia, the woman who opened her home to Paul, are surprisingly present.  Even though some of these women seem insignificant, many of them risked their lives, or at least their reputations for the sake of the gospel.  I’ve decided to share what I learned about my favorite woman in this book, Anna. She was one  of the more “insignificant” ones, so I found her more interesting, and learned a lot.

Anna is mentioned once in the whole Bible, and then there are only three verses that talk about her. The passage from Luke 2 reads:

Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher.  She was of great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity, and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.  And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

The fact that Anna was a prophetess does not mean that she could predict the future.  It doesn’t even mean that she received special revelation from God.   Prophetess simply means that Anna was a woman who faithfully proclaimed the Word of God to everyone; all the time. Any preacher, or any person at all could be called a prophet if they continually spoke the Word of God like Anna did.  The text also mentions that Anna “did not depart from the temple”.  Perhaps the temple officials had given Anna one of the small chambers in the temple, that were used occasionally by priests when they saw her faithfulness and devotion.   Whatever the case might have been,  the text seems to literally mean that Anna lived in the temple grounds. She also had been a widow for many, many years.  Apparently she had been living in the temple for a long time fasting and praying.  What could Anna have been praying about?  She no doubt prayed about many things, but perhaps one of her main subjects of her prayer was for the soon coming of the Messiah. In verse 38 of Luke 2 Anna comes along just as Simeon is pronouncing a blessing on Christ and His parents.  She “gave thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem”.  Anna’s prayers immediately turned to thanksgiving to God for answering her, and she spoke of Christ to everyone.  Anna’s passion for the Lord and her love for Him is something we all should aspire to.

I really enjoyed reading this book and I would definitely recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about the extraordinary women of the Bible.

 

Luther {Movie Review}

luthermovie

“My conscience is captive to the Word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I cannot, and I will not, recant.”

Posted by Shelbi

This past weekend some of us re-watched the 2003 movie Luther for the first time in several years.  Since I just finished reading Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, the Reformation period was fresh on my mind, and it was so neat to see the 16th-century world of Catholicism, popery, the Reformation, and in particular, the life of the movie’s hero, Martin Luther, come alive in this fantastic film.

Beginning with an unconverted Luther’s rash vow to become a monk, the movie follows his life until his Augsburg Confession of Faith is presented to the German Emperor, and ends with the following words:

What happened at Augsburg pushed open the door of religious freedom. Martin Luther lived for another 16 years, preaching and teaching the Word. He and Katharina von Bora enjoyed a happy marriage and six children. Luther’s influence extended into economics, politics, education and music, and his translation of the Bible became a foundation stone of the German language. Today over 540 million people worship in churches inspired by his Reformation.

The history is surprisingly accurate and not many liberties are taken with the facts. Although it is not very family-friendly (we watched it while the 8-and-under crowd were napping), us “big people” really enjoyed it.  ; )

Note: This movie is rated PG-13 for images of violence and would not be appropriate for most young children. Also, there are several instances of profanity.

World War I & World War II {The Rest of the Story}

WWIbook

Posted by Shelbi

I first picked up a Richard Maybury book four months ago, when I finally got around to reading Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?, which has been on our shelf for years. (Read my review of that one here.) I have now read 6 of his books, and think I can officially say that he is one of my all-time favorite authors.

After reading Whatever Happened to Penny Candy, I went on to read the two sequels, The Money Mystery and The Clipper Ship Strategy. All three of these principally deal with economics. (The Clipper Ship Strategy, which deals with practical ways for anyone (but especially businesses) to survive and thrive in a government-controlled economy, was my favorite of the economics trilogy. Though I’m not a businessman (obviously), it was one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read.) The fourth book I read was Whatever Happened to Justice?, a look at different governments and legal systems.

Last week I finished World War I: The Rest of the Story and How It Affects You Today. This week I finished World War II: The Rest of the Story and How It Affects You Today.

My perspective on the Spanish-American War (1898), the U.S. conquest of the Philippines, the Great White Fleet, Theodore Roosevelt, WWI, WWII, America, Britain, Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, the Truman Doctrine, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, September 11, 2001, and the present-day War on Terror–in short, my entire perspective on American history and American government (and alot of other things)– has been completely changed.

“The U.S. Government and Hollywood tend to see things in terms of good guys versus bad guys.

The Hollywood view of the World Wars…is not truth. It is not even a half-truth. It is a deception.

Neither World War was a straightforward battle between good and evil. Both were much more complicated, and good vs. evil had little to do with either of them.”             – World War I: The Rest of the Story

Written from a non-statist viewpoint, these books challenge the common ideas that the two World Wars were battles between good and evil, that America had to intervene in both to “save the world” from depraved dictators who wanted to conquer the earth, and that World War II is the ultimate justification for American intervention in every corner of the globe today. The author shows how every war America has been involved in since the beginning of the 20th century can be traced back to the Spanish-American war of 1898, when the U.S. Government first meddled in a quarrel not their own.

The Axis’ side of the story is honestly and fairly portrayed in both books, and really gets you thinking. For example, the official version of World War II history says that the Japanese woke up one morning in December 1941 and decided to attack the United States, just for the sheer fun of it, and because they were more inherently evil than most other nations. (Incidentally, this is also the official explanation for the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.) Japan in 1941 was a primitive nation of fishermen, very unlike the highly developed Japan of today. In 1941 no one stopped to ask why this extremely underdeveloped country would attempt to take on the world’s biggest superpower, just like in Sept. 2001 no one thought to ask, “Why do these people hate us?” This book provides answers to both questions.

WWIIbook

Though primarily focused on the World Wars, these books go alot deeper and alot farther than most. The reasons, the economics, and the global politics of both wars are examined in-depth, as are the decades that both preceded and followed them. I recommend these highly to anyone who doesn’t wish to swallow the government’s explanation of its own actions without first taking a look at what the facts suggest. Remember, history is written by the victors.

Elizabeth Prentiss: More Love to Thee

more love to thee

Posted by Bambi

After reading Stepping Heavenward several weeks ago, I have now officially become obsessed with Elizabeth Prentiss, adding all of her books to my 2013 booklist.  (My list continues to grow at a faster pace than what I am reading at.  So many books, so little time.) But I had to get more insight into this fascinating woman of God before I dove into the rest of her works, so I borrowed from our local library Sharon James’ biography of Elizabeth Prentiss.

Biographies are not typically my first choice of genre, but Sharon James is a terrific biographer.  She also wrote the biography My Heart in His Hands about the life of Ann Judson, which I have also read and loved.   I was a little familiar with James’ style already.

Understandably, the book begins with the birth of Elizabeth.  The type of parents she had, as well as siblings and homelife, are described and lend understanding to the early circumstances that shaped such a woman.

Elizabeth’s father was a pastor.  He had a great influence on her life, even though he died after suffering a long illness of tuberculosis when Elizabeth was only nine.  Her father wrote, “O what a blessed thing it is to lose one’s will.”  Undoubtedly this submission to God and the devoted heart of her father, made its mark on Elizabeth, and therefore into “Katy” of Stepping Heavenward…and therefore into me.  I was struck by what an amazing influence and generational legacy a father can leave to his child, even in such a short time.  The nine years of fatherhood that Edward Payson faithfully devoted to his daughter has inadvertently effected millions of people!

In a letter written to his sister Eliza just weeks before his death, his words here give us a glimpse of such a man as fathered Elizabeth Prentiss:

Were I to adopt the figurative language of Bunyan, I might date this letter from the land of Beulah, of which I have been for some weeks a happy inhabitant. The celestial city is full in my view. Its glories beam upon me, its breezes fan me, its odors are wafted to me, its sounds strike upon my ear, and its spirit is breathed into my heart. Nothing separates me from it but the river of death, which now appears but as an insignificant rill, that may be crossed at a single step, whenever God shall give permission. The Sun of Righteousness has been gradually drawing nearer and nearer, appearing larger and brighter as He approached, and now He fills the whole hemisphere, pouring forth a flood of glory, in which I seem to float like an insect in the beams of the sun, exulting yet almost trembling while I gaze on this excessive brightness, and wondering, with unutterable wonder, why God should deign thus to shine upon a sinful worm. A single heart and a single tongue seem altogether inadequate to my wants; I want a whole heart for every separate emotion, and a whole tongue to express that emotion. But why do I speak thus of myself and my feelings? why not speak only of our God and Redeemer? It is because I know not what to say—when I would speak of them my words are all swallowed up.

Can any of us even imagine being born into such a home as this? 

Once Mr. Payson died, the family scraped to make ends meets.  Louisa, the older sister, moved away to teach school and support the family.  A few letters exist that Elizabeth wrote to her sister:

May 18, 1828.

My dear sister:—I thank you for writing to such a little girl as I am, when you have so little time. I was going to study a little catechism which Miss Martin has got, but she said I could not learn it. I want to learn it. I do not like to stay so long at school. We have to write composition by dictation, as Miss Martin calls it. She reads to us out of a book a sentence at a time. We write it and then we write it again on our slates, because we do not always get the whole; then we write it on a piece of paper.

(Incidentally, because the homeschool mom in me is always present, when I read things such as this it reaffirms to me that the best way to teach a child to write is this method of copy and dictation.  What a marvelous writer this method made of Elizabeth Prentiss!)

As a young woman, Elizabeth was already known as having pious character and a public devotion to Christ.  She had already been contributing stories and poems to The Youth’s Companion, a New England periodical, for several years.  In 1838 she opened her own girl’s school.

Although the details of Prentiss’s life were fascinating, more so to me was her spiritual journey.  Her profession of faith, her time of spiritual depression, her lessons learned through the suffering after losing two children within one month (one infant, one four-year-old)…all of these made the soul of Elizabeth Prentiss, and James does an outstanding job of giving readers a full picture of her.

These words were found written on a scrap piece of paper, indicating the grief Elizabeth felt, yet her trust in God:

MY NURSERY. 1852.

 I thought that prattling boys and girls

Would fill this empty room;  

That my rich heart would gather flowers  

From childhood’s opening bloom.

One child and two green graves are mine,

 This is God’s gift to me;  

A bleeding, fainting, broken heart—   This is my gift to Thee

To a friend, just a few months later, who was also recently bereft of two children she wrote:

Is it possible, is it possible that you are made childless? I feel distressed for you, my dear friend; I long to fly to you and weep with you; it seems as if I must say or do something to comfort you. But God only can help you now, and how thankful I am for a throne of grace and power where I can commend you, again and again, to Him who doeth all things well.

I never realise my own affliction in the loss of my children as I do when death enters the house of a friend. Then I feel that I can’t have it so. But why should I think I know better than my Divine Master what is good for me, or good for those I love! Dear Carrie! trust that in this hour of sorrow you have with you that Presence, before which alone sorrow and sighing flee away. God is left; Christ is left; sickness, accident, death can not touch you here. Is not this a blissful thought?… As I sit at my desk my eye is attracted by the row of books before me, and what a comment on life are their very titles: “Songs in the Night,” “Light on Little Graves,” “The Night of Weeping,” “The Death of Little Children,” “The Folded Lamb,” “The Broken Bud,” these have strayed one by one into my small enclosure, to speak peradventure a word in season unto my weariness. And yet, dear Carrie, this is not all of life. You and I have tasted some of its highest joys, as well as its deepest sorrows, and it has in reserve for us only just what is best for us. May sorrow bring us both nearer to Christ! I can almost fancy my little Eddy has taken your little Maymee by the hand and led her to the bosom of Jesus. How strange our children, our own little infants, have seen Him in His glory, whom we are only yet longing for and struggling towards!

Reading Elizabeth’s own words during her loss of her two children, gives much insight into the beautiful scenes of Stepping Heavenward as Katy loses her child.  No wonder Prentiss could compose such a soul-stirring scene…she had lived it herself.

As the book encompasses the life of Elizabeth, there are details and beautiful accounts of her reaction and service during the Civil War, as well as political observations she made.  Throughout Elizabeth Prentiss: More Love to Thee, details are also given each time one of her books were written, published, the public’s reaction to it, how Prentiss balanced her writing with caring for her family, and also unique–the input her husband had on characters of her stories.  She recounts once to a friend that the character she loved most in one story, George did not, and so she changed it.

I now feel that I know Elizabeth Prentiss a bit better. Her love and devotion to God, her habits of selflessness and humble service to others, and her lifelong pursuit of holiness have made her one that I look forward to meeting in Heaven one day.  Her story as a Christian, a pastor’s wife, a mother and a writer is a beautiful testimony of the work of God in the life of a woman who, while still sinful, was fully submitted to him.  Sharon James’ biography gets five stars from me.