Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Write-Up: The Cherished Quilt, by Amy Clipston

Amy Clipston.  The Cherished Quilt.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

The Cherished Quilt is the third book of Amy Clipson’s “Amish Heirloom” series.  Book 1, The Forgotten Recipe, focused on Veronica and her relationship with Jason.  Book 2, The Courtship Basket, focused on Veronica’s sister Rachel and her relationship with Mike.  Book 3, The Cherished Quilt, is about Emily, the third sister.

One can understand most of The Cherished Quilt without having read the previous books of the series.  Readers should keep in mind, however, that the character of John is a little kid.  Readers of The Cherished Quilt could probably detect that from what he says, but it is not explicitly stated in that book.  Those who have read the previous book of the series already know that he is a little kid, since he was a major character in The Courtship Basket.

In The Cherished Quilt, Emily meets Chris, who has recently moved to the area to work with his uncle.  Chris is self-doubting and aloof, and Emily wants to reach out to him.  Chris is dealing with a lot of guilt because his little brother Gabriel fell off a horse while Chris was around.  Chris is estranged from his father, who blames Chris for the accident.  While Chris is attracted to Emily, Chris is reluctant to be baptized and to join the church, which is a requirement for marriage.

The Cherished Quilt is probably the best novel by Amy Clipston that I have read thus far.  Many of her novels (that I have thus far read) are repetitive and cover the same territory over and over.  The Cherished Quilt, by contrast, covered the same territory the right amount of times (in my opinion), diversified its presentation of the territory, and covered a variety of topics.

The character of Chris was particularly well-developed.  Chris was insecure, even towards people who had been nothing but friendly towards him.  There was more to Chris’ relationship with his father than the accident involving Gabriel: Chris’ father showed favoritism towards Chris’ brother Paul because Paul was better at training horses.  Chris’ struggle with joining the church is also explained in some detail.

The scene in which Chris and his father talk things out is remarkable, as Chris’ father acknowledges his foibles, while also explaining his perspective.  Chris’ religious struggle was resolved too hastily, and yet Amy Clipston may genuinely feel that the answer to Chris’ perplexity had a simple answer.  The book also briefly discussed the question of whether Chris’ crafts are a graven image and violate the second commandment, but more detail and wrestling with this question should have been provided.

Emily often thinks of others besides herself, yet she struggles with her own loneliness.  The intersection between these characteristics perhaps could have been developed more, and yet Emily is still a lovable character.

Like the previous two books of the series, the third book ends on a mystery.  This mystery intersects with the mysteries in the previous two books.  The mysteries remain unresolved, and yet Emily’s mother at the end of the book is finally willing to explain what happened.  We may have to wait for the fourth book before we, the readers, can find out!

In terms of stars, this book is too good to get four stars, yet not quite five-star material.  I would give it a 4.5, while giving it five stars on Amazon.  The book is officially released in November, though, so I will have to wait before posting my Amazon review.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Final Ramblings on the Republican National Convention

The 2016 Republican National Convention is over!  This year, I adapted to watching it on the west coast, where the convention is on from 5-8 p.m. rather than 8-11 p.m.  I caught a lot of the speeches on YouTube.

Here are some thoughts:

A.  Bernie Sanders was mentioned a handful of times, and never negatively.  Donald Trump, Jr. referred to Bernie Sanders’ criticism of immigration over two decades ago, as Bernie feared that immigrants could drive down wages and compete with Americans for jobs.  Mike Pence said that Hillary Clinton runs a powerful political machine, then said, “Just ask Bernie Sanders!”  And the nominee, Donald Trump himself, said that Bernie tried to challenge a system that was rigged, and that Bernie supporters have a home in the Trump campaign because Trump opposes unfair trade deals, which cost America jobs.

Trump is obviously trying to appeal to Bernie Sanders supporters.  There are a lot of them, and many of them will not vote for Hillary.  I hope, though, that the Republicans’ references to Bernie Sanders at the convention are also sincere, on some level: that those Republicans respect what Sanders tried to accomplish, even if they disagree with Sanders’ policy proposals.

B.  Trump’s kids were impressive.  That is not surprising to me, since they did give the Trump campaign whatever professional face it had.  Trump was crass and shot from the hip throughout his campaign, and there were indications that his campaign was in disarray.  But his kids were genteel, well-spoken, and articulate.  I think of when Ivanka was greeting various states, and she came to Hawaii: “Aloha, Hawaii, this is Ivanka Trump!”  I also respected Donald Trump, Jr. when he was being interviewed by David Muir, the day after the Melania Trump plagiarism scandal.  Donald, Jr. candidly admitted that he did not write all of his own speech, since he is not a professional in politics, but he did contribute to it.  Now, after he has delivered that speech, many want him to become a professional in politics!

Trump must have been a decent father, for his kids to be as supportive as they are.  A good businessman?  A good employer?  Well, I have read plenty of stories to the contrary on that!  But he may very well be a decent father, even if he is closer to some of his kids than others.

C.  As I heard speech after speech praising cops, I wondered if I would hear any acknowledgment of the existence of racism.  Occasionally, I did.  Lynne Patton, the Vice-President of the Eric Trump Foundation, is an African-American, and she lamented that black lives often have not mattered to people.  Mark Burns, an African-American pastor, discussed how many African-Americans lacked hope, and he talked about economic renewal of their poor communities.  I wish I had seen more of that.

D.  That said, the convention was trying, on some level, to be diverse, or to show that the Republican Party can be diverse.  There was a Muslim who spoke in favor of Trump.  A Sikh gave the opening prayer on one of the nights.  There were many African-Americans who spoke.  A Hispanic gentleman (apart from Marco Rubio) spoke.  A Korean spoke.  Eileen Collins, the first female to command a space shuttle, also spoke, though her speech was rather non-political.  Peter Thiel, a gay billionaire, said in his speech that he was proud to be gay, and the Republican crowd applauded.

Ivanka Trump portrayed her father as one who is sensitive to women in the workplace and wants to change the rules so there could be equality.  Donald Trump in his acceptance speech expressed concern about minority unemployment rates.  He stressed the need to protect the LGBT community from terrorism, and commended his audience for applauding him on that.  And yet, Trump also reached out to evangelicals, saying that he does not deserve their support, and yet that he would protect their civil liberties.

Part of this may be Trump’s outreach to Bernie Sanders supporters, or even mainstream Americans, who view Trump as a misogynist and a bigot.  Trump is also trying to balance different interests.  He wants to appear open to LGBT concerns, and he himself may have progressive leanings on that issue, as a New Yorker.  Still, the religious right is influential.

The presence of minority speakers for Trump itself is interesting, since they hold positions that many think people in their group would not hold.  Many may dismiss them as tokens or as traitors to their group, but they have their own story and reasons for arriving at their positions.

E.  I have a hard time hating anyone politically, since I see many of the politicians as characters in a drama, with their virtues and vices.  I admit that I sometimes have had a visceral and negative reaction to Hillary, maybe because she comes across as arrogant, and yet I respect her mind and her ability to come up with solutions to the nation’s problems.  In terms of last week’s convention, I respected Ted Cruz for refusing to endorse Donald Trump, for Ted is still upset about what Trump said about Ted’s wife Heidi and Ted’s father.  Ted does well to stand by his family!  That said, I also like how Trump knew that Cruz would not endorse him, yet let Cruz speak anyway.  That may not relate to integrity on Trump’s part, so much, as it does to Trump’s desire for drama: he knows how to get coverage in the news, and to keep the coverage going!

F.  I have difficulty with the Republican stance and tone on immigration.  That was the case even when I was a Republican.  I voted for Pat Buchanan in 1996 and 2000, and he made opposition to illegal immigration one of the centerpieces of his campaigns.  But I supported Pat on certain other issues.

My problem with what I heard at the Republican Convention is that it carried an implied message of “We have ours, so who cares about anyone else!”  We should build a wall to keep illegal immigrants out, and who cares if they are impoverished in their own country!  That’s not our problem!  It’s theirs!  We should put America first!  That’s the sub-text that came across to me.  Even the speeches that were critical of American interventionism abroad did not express concern for people in other countries and the impact of our interventionism on them, but rather for Americans.

I hope, though, that we could create enough prosperity in this country to go around—-so that we do not have to choose between immigrants benefiting, and Americans benefiting.  How, and whether, we can arrive at that point is a good question.

Next week, the Democratic National Convention!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Book Write-Up: Eschatology

D. Jeffrey Bingham and Glenn R. Kreider, ed.  Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches.  Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.
Eschatology is a collection of scholarly essays about eschatology, the last days, which include the second coming of Christ.  They are in honor of Craig Alan Blaising, a scholar who wrote about the topic.  Timothy George writes the Foreword, which speaks briefly about eschatology then provides the reader with information about Blaising's approach to it.  Steven L. James contributes a biography of Blaising, which includes a bibliography of Blaising's academic works.

In this review, I will comment on each essay.

"The Doctrine of the Future and Canonical Unity: Connecting the Future to the Past," by D. Jeffrey Bingham.

If you want to learn about the life and thought of Marcion of Sinope and the reception to him during the second century C.E., then this is a good essay to read.  Marcion posited that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament were different gods, with the latter being more beneficent than the former.  Church fathers argued, by contrast, the the same God was God of the Old and New Testaments, but that the Old Testament had an earthy, material system that would foreshadow the spiritual system of the New Testament.  Bingham effectively laid this out for the readers.  Unfortunately, he failed really to address how Old Testament prophecies should be understood, from a Christian perspective.  Old Testament prophecies discuss the eschatological restoration of Israel to her land, and some even depict the restoration of the Levitical or Zadokite priesthood and a Temple reconstruction.  That sounds like a future restoration of the Old Testament earthy, material system, which many Christians believe has been supplanted.  Why would God go back to that, from a Christian perspective?  Bingham should have included something on that issue.

"The Doctrine of the Future and the Concept of Hope," by Stanley D. Toussaint.

This essay taught me something that I had not previously considered, yet which is pretty obvious.  In Matthew 23:31-32; Mark 12:26; and Luke 20:37, Jesus argues for the resurrection from the dead against the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection.  Jesus appeals to Exodus 3:6, in which God says to Moses that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Jesus says that God is not God of the dead but of the living.  Many Christian interpreters make a big deal about Jesus in Matthew 22:32 quoting the passage to say "I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob," as if the "I am" part of the passage is what Jesus thinks establishes the resurrection.  But there are problems with that. First, the Hebrew in Exodus 3 lacks an explicit "I am" ("I am that I am" is actually "I will be what I will be"), and that may be troubling to people who think that Jesus never erred.  (Note: This is my observation, not Toussaint's.)    Second, "I am" would fit more with the patriarchs being alive now rather than in the future resurrection, whereas Jesus is arguing for their future resurrection.  Third, as Toussaint notes, the Markan and Lukan parallels lack "I am."  According to Toussaint, what establishes Jesus' argument for the resurrection is not the "I am" part of Exodus 3:6, but rather God being the God of the patriarchs.  Because God is God of the patriarchs, and God is not God of the dead but of the living, that must mean that the patriarchs will live in the future, at the resurrection.

A critique that can be made of this chapter is that it is a bit incongruent in one detail.  In discussing Jesus' parables and teachings, Toussaint seems to maintain that Jesus envisioned a long time passing before his second coming.  In discussing Acts, however, Toussaint states that the apostles thought Christ's coming was imminent.  Did they somehow misunderstand and fail to grasp Jesus' teaching, according to Toussaint?

"The Doctrine of the Future and the Weakening of Prophecy," by Charles C. Ryrie.

Ryrie assumes that Old Testament prophecies predict events in the life of Christ, and he asks what the chances are of that.  That, for him, demonstrates that the prophecies are from God.  The problem is that there are alternative ways to interpret those prophecies.  Ryrie should have interacted with some of those.

"The Doctrine of the Future, the Doctrine of God, and Predictive Prophecy," by John D. Laing and Stefana Dan Laing.

An asset to this chapter is that it presents scholarly arguments for the Book of Daniel being written in the sixth century B.C.E., rather than the second century B.C.E., during and after the events that it "foretells."  The chapter was trying to defend the reality of predictive prophecy, against skeptics.  Unfortunately, it did not address the prophecies that Ezekiel made that, according to many scholars, failed to come to pass as predicted.

"The Doctrine of the Future and Moses: 'All Israel Shall Be Saved,'" by Daniel I. Block.

Block tries to argue that the Book of Deuteronomy has eschatological elements, although he wrestles with the possibility that some of those elements can be interpreted non-eschatologically.

"The Doctrine of the Future in the Historical Books," by Gregory Smith.

Smith makes a fairly decent case that I-II Chronicles has an eschatology.  It is not overbearing in the books, but, according to Smith, one can discern from certain passages that the Chronicler expected a future restoration of the Davidic monarchy.

"The Doctrine of the Future in the Psalms: Reflections on the Struggle of Waiting," by George L. Klein.

Klein focused largely on God's deliverance of individuals.  Unfortunately, he did not talk much about scholarly views that some of the Psalms are eschatological, or that the Book of Psalms is organized in its final form in reference to a coming Messiah.  These topics should not be ignored in a book about eschatology!

"The Doctrine of the Future in the Prophets," by Mark F. Rooker.

Rooker argues that the Old Testament prophets do not just discuss their own time but the far-off future.  Yet, in making eschatological predictions, the prophecies discuss what will happen to nations that existed in their own day.  How would Rooker account for that?  Do those nations symbolize nations in the far-off future?  Can resurrection account for it?  Rooker should have wrestled with this.

"The Doctrine of the Future in the Synoptic Gospels," by Darrell L. Bock.

Unlike scholars who believe that Jesus envisioned an imminent end, Bock points to passages in the synoptics in which Jesus envisioned a time of waiting until the Son of Man comes.  To his credit, Bock does attempt to address passages in the synoptic Gospels that appear to suggest that Jesus would return in the first century C.E.  Bock does not want Jesus to be wrong, and that is understandable.  But, when one takes away the apologetic motivation and thinks of other ways to see the text, is a time of waiting really inconsistent with believing that Jesus would return soon after 70 C.E.?  Forty years is still a long time to wait for Jesus' return!  Plus, are those passages about waiting authentic to the historical Jesus?  One could argue that early Christians put those words in Jesus' mouth after they had waited for the second coming, and it had not yet materialized.  There are a lot of passages to consider, and one can inquire about the extent to which they pass the criteria of authenticity (which are somewhat marginalized these days, but they may still be useful).

"The Doctrine of the Future in John's Writings," by David L. Turner.

Many scholars argue that the Gospel of John has a realized eschatology rather than a futuristic one.  Turner, quite sensibly, argues that it has both.

W. Edward Glenny's "The Doctrine of the Future in Paul's Writings" and David L. Allen's "The Doctrine of the Future in Hebrews and the General Epistles" will be considered together, in this review.

In Psalm 110:1, the LORD tells "my lord" to sit at his right hand, until he makes his enemies his footstool.  This passage is applied to Jesus in many places in the New Testament.  Glenny interprets I Corinthians 15's interpretation of that passage in light of the millennium of Revelation 20: Jesus will come back and rule the earth, and during that millennial rule God will be in the process of subjecting all of Jesus' enemies to his feet.  This view is not surprising in this publication because many of its contributors expressed agreement with dispensationalism, which believes in a millennium.  Interestingly, though, David L. Allen expressed a different view on Psalm 110, in considering the interpretation of the passage in the Book of Hebrews.  Allen states that "God has 'not yet' subjected all things under his feet", for "That will occur in the end times with the second coming of Jesus" (page 249).  Does Allen believe that Jesus is sitting on God's right hand now, not just in the millennium, and that God is in the process of subjecting things to Jesus' feet (albeit not everything)?

That said, while there were many believers in classic dispensationalism in this book, there were also many contributors who believed that the Kingdom of God is already and not yet, which differs from the futurist focus that a number of classic dispensationalists have held.  There are also progressive dispensationalist contributors to this book.

"The Doctrine of the Future in the Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyons," by Stephen O. Presley.

A question that occurred to me in reading this book concerned the extent to which the church fathers believed in a heavenly hope for believers, and the extent to which they believed in an earthly hope.  Did they think believers after their resurrection would go to heaven and see God, or that they would inhabit a renewed earth?  Presley could have tackled this question more directly, especially since so many Christian thinkers today criticize the emphasis on going to heaven in Christendom and stress that God loves the physical.  Still, Presley does offer patristic quotations that are relevant to this issue.  According to Presley, Irenaeus presents resurrected believers dwelling in different places, based on their level of spiritual maturity (which, for Irenaeus, is not stagnant, even after the resurrection).

"The Doctrine of the Future in Origen and Athanasius," by Bryan M. Litfin.

This chapter is helpful for those interested in Origen's belief in universal salvation because it provides primary references that relate to whether Origen did or did not believe in the ultimate salvation of the devil.  Litfin also discusses the relevance of Plato to patristic eschatology, but he could have explained Platonic eschatology a lot better than he did.

"The Doctrine of the Future in Augustine," by Jonathan P. Yates.

Christians often talk about the torment of souls in hell.  According to Augustine, however, resurrected bodies, not just souls, will be in heaven and hell.  I am finding more Christians who talk about that, who say that God will give the damned bodies that will be able to survive eternally in hell, notwithstanding the torment.

"The Doctrine of the Future in John Calvin," by Nathan D. Holsteen.

This chapter depicts Calvin was rather amillennial.  Calvin did not emphasize eschatology but preferred to stress Christ's current spiritual reign and triumphs.  Holsteen maintains that Calvin was similar to the Catholic church in this regard, even though Calvin took that thought in his own direction.

"The Doctrine of the Future in Anabaptist Thought," by Paige Patterson.

This chapter is largely about how Anabaptists were against the radicals of their day who tried to establish the Kingdom by force or by violence.  Many Anabaptists taught that Christians should wait for Jesus to return to set things right.

"The Doctrine of the Future in Jonathan Edwards," by Glenn R. Kreider.

This chapter was an effective explanation of Edwards' views, but there were a few unclarities.  First, did Edwards believe that heresy would be destroyed on earth before or during the millennium?  Second, did Edwards believe that the earth would be destroyed and that believers would be in heaven, or did he posit a renewal of the earth in the eschaton?

"The Doctrine of the Future in Baptist Theology," by Kevin D. Kennedy.

Kennedy is fair in his explanation of amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism.  Kennedy also refers to prominent Baptists who adhered to these positions.

"The Doctrine of the Future and Dispensationalism," by Mark L. Bailey.

Bailey defends the pretribulational rapture and premillennialism.  On page 397, he states that Paul understands the wrath from which believers are delivered as the eschatological Day of the Lord, not the great white throne judgment.  For Bailey, that supports the pretribulational rapture: believers will be taken to heaven before God pours out God's wrath on the earth.  But how does Bailey know that Paul understands God's wrath as the Day of the Lord rather than the last judgment?

Bailey does offer an extensive defense of the millennium being a literal one-thousand year reign on earth after Christ's return.  He presents fifteen arguments!  They were all decent, but his third argument particularly stands out to me as good: "...since Isaiah 65:17-25 describes the blessings of the kingdom to come with the presence of sin and death, this argues for an earthly fulfillment prior to eternity in which according to both Isaiah 25:8 and Revelation 21:4, death will be no more."  For Bailey, these tensions in Scripture can be reconciled by positing a millennial reign, during which sin and death will still exist, followed by a new heavens and a new earth, which will lack sin and death.

"The Doctrine of the Future in Jurgen Moltmann," by Lanier Burns.

According to Burns, Moltmann was a panentheist, one who believed that God was closely connected with nature.

"The Doctrine of the Future in Contemporary European Theology," by Friedhelm Jung and Edward Friesen.
This chapter is informative about modern Catholic eschatology.  It also discusses Karl Barth's belief that God may save everyone, and yet is free not to do so, as well as Wilfried Harle's universalism.  For Harle, many Christians emphasize faith for salvation, rather than Christ.  I had not heard of Harle before reading this book, and now I am intrigued.  Friesen, not surprisingly, disagrees with Harle, but his presentation of Harle's thought is quite detailed, and probably fair.

"The Doctrine of the Future: Millennialism in Contemporary Evangelical Theology," by David S. Dockery.

This is another chapter that explains amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism.  Surprisingly, although that territory was covered more than once in this book, it never got old.  I loved reading about postmillennialism's optimistic views about God's activity on earth, even if the authors disagreed with that perspective!

"The Doctrine of the Future and Pastoral Care," by J. Denny Audrey.

Audrey refers to the argument that many Christians look to eschatology for personal comfort rather than "direction for the contemporary church" (page 460).  Audrey never seems to flesh out how Christians can do the latter.  He does provide an interesting history, however, of how Christians in the past have conceptualized pastoral care.

"The Doctrine of the Future and Contemporary Challenges," by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Augustine in The City of God was addressing the fall of the Roman empire.  Mohler says this was devastating to Christians, since the Roman empire protected them.

"The Doctrine of the Future and the Marketplace," by Stephen N. Blaising.

How this chapter relates to eschatology is unclear.  It is mostly about being a good steward, in the economic realm.

My critiques notwithstanding, I still give this book five stars, since it is thorough and informative.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ramblings on Trials

At church last week, the youth pastor was preaching the sermon.  The main topic of the sermon was sanctification, but a sub-topic was trials.  The preacher was saying that trials are a way that God refines us.  Suffering is not always God’s punishment for any sin on our part, but it can be a means that God refines us.  And the preacher said that everyone needs refining, whether they are religious or non-religious.

These points intersected with what was going on this last week.  We had a few days of trials.  I will not share what exactly they were, but we were scared.  For their own reasons, not everyone where I live would necessarily consider himself or herself a Christian believer.  Still, they are good people, people of integrity.
The trials lasted only for a few days, and they were resolved.

Trying to account for the trials theologically is difficult.  Refinement?  The trials only lasted a few days.  Not much time for refining, is there?  But people were better prepared for these trials this time around because they had gone through them before, and, as one person said, they knew more now than they did then.  I suppose that I have more gratitude now.  But I also have more fear.

What if people in the household are not turning to God for help?  Will God provide?  I cannot make anyone like God, especially when there are times when I wonder if I like him that much myself.  Something I pray every day is, “Lord, help me not to hate you or others as much as I do, if at all, but to have more love in my heart, or at least respect for you and others as beings of value, in their own right.”  People like what they like and believe what they believe for their own reasons.  My preaching was not something that people needed to hear, in this time.

It got to the point where I figured that I could do nothing more than I already was doing.  I prayed.  I did not have a prayer-a-thon, since there is no point making the same request over and over, as if God did not hear me the first time, or as if I did not make the request the first time.  But I prayed, sometimes formally, and sometimes informally.  But I pray every day anyway.  It was not as if my devotional routine was dramatically changed as a result of this trial.

During the trial, I did think about issues other than the petty issues I ordinarily think about.  But I was honest with God: if this trial passes, and things become normal again, then my mind will probably return to its usual pettiness.  I don’t like that.  I struggle with that.  But going through a trial does not necessarily change the way that I am, at least not entirely.

We got through this.  During the trial, I had to take a good hard look at how I viewed God.  And, even afterwards, I was perplexed, as relieved as I was, and as relieved as we all were.  Things are becoming normal again, but an experience like this is somewhat like what happened to Jacob after he wrestled with God: he still had a limp.

The preacher’s sermon was relevant to the questions I was asking, even if I did not find it to be a slam-dunk answer.  I have found that the sermons these last few weeks have been relevant to my situation, to questions I was asking or struggles I was having.  Maybe that has to do with God’s concern, or it may just be because a lot of people have these struggles.  A lot of people struggle with intimacy with God after botching things up, which was my struggle a couple weeks ago.  A lot of people have trials.

I hope my frequent use of “I” in this post does not come across as self-centered.  I was, of course, praying for others during this difficult time.  We were in this together, but we were also coping with it and handling it, in our own way.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ramblings on the Republican National Convention, Night 1

I watched some of the Republican National Convention last night.

At first, it was rather sleepy.  As far as I can see, Willie Robertson and Scott Baio got scattered, tepid applause.

Then Marcus Luttrell, a former Navy Seal, spoke, and he brought down the house.  At first, he fumbled through his speech, but then he said that he would forget about his prepared remarks and speak from the heart.  The audience responded with thunderous applause.  A lot of what he said consisted of patriotic platitudes.  He made good points, though, about thinking about others besides ourselves.  Why did the audience respond so well to him?  Maybe they liked his heroism, or his books, or just someone being real, for a change.

Then there was Pat Smith’s speech.  Pat Smith’s son, Sean, died in the Benghazi attack, and Pat is holding Hillary Clinton personally responsible.  Pat said that her son called the day before the attack and said that security was being withdrawn, and he couldn’t find out why.  Pat also said that, at her son’s funeral, Hillary Clinton blamed the attack on a video.  Implicitly, Pat was criticizing the contradictory statements that the Obama Administration made soon after the attack.  Pat contrasted Hillary Clinton with Donald Trump, who speaks his mind and his heart.  The speech was very emotional, and many in the audience had tears.

Pat Smith’s speech was similar to other speeches last night, in that many of the speeches were from people who lost family, and they were blaming the loss on the Obama Administration.  One lady blamed her son’s death in Afghanistan on the military’s restrictive policies, which she said hindered the troops from getting the job done.  There were people whose family members were killed by illegal immigrants.

There were also African-American speakers who were saying that blue lives matter.  And, while the audience was mostly white, there were some African-Americans in the audience, cheering.  In contrast to the 2012 GOP convention, however, I did not see too many Hispanics.

Melania Trump was trying to portray her husband as an inclusive, compassionate sort of person.  She said that he would represent people of all religious faiths, including Islam.  She noted that, as a businessman, he worked with people of different faiths.  She also promoted new programs to help the poor.  These were surprising things to hear at a Republican convention, especially when the candidate became popular after criticizing illegal immigration and proposing a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

Interestingly, even Giuliani’s speech tried, on some level, to distant the party from Islamophobia.  He made the point of criticizing radical Islam.  But, for the benefit of the media (and that’s what he said, not me), he said that does not include all of Islam, or even most Muslims.

A commentator said that the Republicans in the prime-time part of the convention try to speak to the mainstream of America.  Maybe that was what was going on with the speeches by Melania and Giuliani.  At the same time, I would not be surprised if there is some inclusivist side to Donald Trump, since he has had to work with different people in the past, and he probably respects talent wherever he can find it, whatever that person’s background.

I read different things last night, in an attempt to fact-check what was said.  What exactly happened at Benghazi?  What are the crime statistics regarding illegal immigrants?  What restrictive policies was that one mother criticizing?

On Benghazi, would Hillary Clinton deliberately withdraw security from Benghazi, so people would die?  I have my doubts, since that wouldn’t make her look good, but I have not read up on the conspiracy theories.  But, at most, the speakers at the convention (at least Giuliani) seemed to be accusing her of negligence.  I have read a variety of things: the security was not ordered to stand down but to wait for provisions; that security was withdrawn before the attack because it was deemed unnecessary; that the government wanted to keep the Benghazi site a secret (Andrea Mitchell said something like that, as I recall); and that Republican cut-backs resulted in the lack of security at Benghazi.

On crime statistics and illegal immigrants, I read both sides.  I heard someone say a while back that many illegal immigrants try to keep the law, since, if they are arrested, they may face a greater chance of deportation.  They want to keep under the radar, as much as possible, and that is an incentive to keep the law.  That makes some sense to me.

On the military restrictions, I read on a right-wing site that they relate to protecting allies and civilians.  Some may say that President Obama here is putting American lives at risk in seeking to appease other countries.  But we are in Afghanistan, other people’s land, so shouldn’t we try to avoid killing civilians there?
These are just thoughts, and I’m sure they can be nitpicked.

At least there is a convention to watch!  The Donald got speakers!  People were wondering if that would happen.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Book Write-Up: The Courtship Basket, by Amy Clipston

Amy Clipston.  The Courtship Basket.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

The Courtship Basket is the second book of Amy Clipson's "Amish Heirloom" series.  Book 1, The Forgotten Recipe, focused on Veronica and her relationship with Jason, after the death of Seth, who was Veronica's fiancee and Jason's friend and co-worker.  (See my review here.)  Book 2 focuses on Rachel, Veronica's sister.

Rachel is upset after her boyfriend David breaks up with her to be with her best friend.  Rachel teaches school, and there she meets Mike.  Mike is the older half-brother of John, who is in Rachel's class.  Mike has assumed a lot of responsibility over his household, for there is no mother in the home, his father is sick, and Mike is reluctant to ask people for help.  When John acts up in class, Rachel meets with Mike, and the two of them get off to a rocky start in their relationship.  Over time, Rachel makes meals for Mike's family, and Rachel and Mike become friends.  As their friendship develops into something more, a misunderstanding will threaten their relationship.

There were a variety of noteworthy details in this book.  For one, the idea of parents and teachers communicating with each other through a journal was somewhat new to me, though I suppose it is not too different from teachers leaving notes on report cards.  Second, the contrast an observer made between how Mike acted around Rachel and how David acted around Rachel was a sweet scene.  Mike was clearly more interested in Rachel than David had been.  Third, the book was about how difficult it is to move on from baggage from the past.  Because Rachel had been hurt by David, that would influence how she would view and respond in another relationship.  Fourth, there is Mike's father, who wants for Mike to enjoy life and is saddened that Mike's taking care of him may be taking Mike away from happiness.  Fifth, there are scenes in which Mike's father wants to enjoy life himself and yet has to think about his poor health.  He wants a slice of pizza, for example!

Sixth, the Amish in this book use telephones and refrigerators.  Some Amish communities are more open to certain forms of technology.

Seventh, the book ends on a mystery, like the first book of the series.  And, by the way, the mystery in the first book was not resolved in this second book.  In this second book, the mystery concerns why Rachel's mother and father lived apart shortly after getting married.  A lot of mysteries are going on!  Will they be resolved in a future book?  Maybe the mysteries intersect with each other.

The book was okay.  It had good things, but it was not particularly eventful.  It could also be repetitive.  And the high-schoolish themes of "Does he or she like like me" (my paraphrase) could get rather old. 
The prose is dignified, as Amy Clipston's prose usually is.  Perhaps the book would have been better had more gone on in the plot, or had the characters reflected on more things or different facets of what they liked to reflect on, as opposed to the same things over and over.  That would have rounded the characters out more.  Maybe some psychological analysis would have been helpful for the reader: for instance, why was Rachel so hesitant to communicate with Mike about the misunderstanding? 

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Book Write-Up: Courageous, by Dina L. Sleiman

Dina L. Sleiman.  Courageous.  Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2016.  See here to buy the book. 

Courageous is the third book of Dina L. Sleiman's Valiant Hearts series.  The Valiant Hearts series is Christian historical fiction that is set in the thirteenth century.  Courageous includes two characters who were in the second book, Chivalrous.  One character is Rosalind, a servant, who is dealing with guilt because she had an abortion.  Another character is Randel.  In Courageous, Randel wants to become a knight, whereas his parents want him to become a clergyperson.  They threaten to disown him if he goes against their wishes.

Courageous focuses on the Crusades.  A group of people from England are going to Tripoli to free some prisoners.  Among them is a young prophetess, Sapphira, who sees visions and wrestles with her commitment to God, and her desire to live a normal life.  They are also guided by Sufi Muslims, who are alienated from the broader Muslim community.  Occasionally in the book, the narration shifts from third person to first person, and the first person narration is from the perspective of someone who is a spy for the other side.  This person is seeking revenge.

In terms of positives, the book thoughtfully engages political and religious questions.  There are characters who defend the morality of the Crusades, as a way to take back land that Muslims had conquered from Christians, and to take the holy city of Jerusalem for the Christians.  Dina Sleiman is not unsympathetic, and yet the book acknowledges that there were many Crusaders who committed gross atrocities, and it does not demonize Muslims.  In the book, there are descriptions of Muslim beliefs and practices.

A salient religious discussion in the book occurs after the death of a Sufi Muslim, Wassim, who was guiding the Crusaders.  Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam.  Sapphira and the man's sister, Rabia, are discussing the man's eternal destiny, since Christians believe that one needs to be a Christian to go to heaven.  Rabia is asking Sapphira if she believes that Wassim is in hell, and Sapphira is unsure if that is a good time to preach the Gospel.  Sapphira responds: "Is it fair to say that I hope there is something I am not accounting for?  That your brother perhaps found Christ somehow during those divine experiences, or even at the moment of his death?  I do believe that Jesus is the only way, but I hope from the bottom of my heart that your brother is happy in heaven right now" (page 227).  It is interesting to see how evangelical fiction wrestles with questions of exclusivism and inclusivism, on the issue of salvation.

There were times in reading the book when I wondered if it was being a bit anachronistic.  Some characters in the book believe in justification by grace through faith alone, whereas Catholicism and Islam are said in the book to add penance or works as a requirement for salvation.  Was a belief in justification by grace through faith alone truly on the table for people three centuries before the time of Martin Luther?  Perhaps some could read the Bible and arrive at that conclusion.  One may inquire, however, about the extent to which people would question their cultural assumptions, and whether Sleiman depicts evangelical beliefs as an option back then because she wishes to convey an evangelical message.  That said, the experiences of various characters in finding peace with God were moving parts of the book.  

In the book, Rosalind is called a murderer because she had an abortion.  Yet, in the appendix, Sleiman acknowledges that "while at this time in history abortion was considered a sin, it did not carry the punishment of excommunication as it did in later times" (pages 357).  Would Rosalind being considered a murderer for having an abortion be realistic, in light of that?  There has long been discussion within Judaism and Christianity about whether abortion is murder and when exactly an unborn baby becomes a person.  Sleiman did well to note the historical nuance that abortion was not a sin that carried the punishment of excommunication in the time that she depicts, but perhaps she should have also included a brief paragraph in her appendix about whether abortion was considered murder at this time.

The plot could be plodding, in areas, and there were a lot of characters of whom to keep track.  Still, the book deserves four stars because it wrestled well with historical, theological, and political issues.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. 

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