Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Beijing Olympics, the Torch, and Tibet

The Olympics are going to be in China this year?


I want to reassure people that I haven't been living under a rock lately. Yes, I knew that the Olympics will be in Beijing in August. It has been hard not to notice with the amount of attention it has drawn in the media recently.

It seems that China's plan of a tour de force of public relations, showcasing modern China to the world, has hit some serious snags. The torch relay around the world is the longest in Olympic history, yet it has been marred by protesters in numerous countries, notably in the U.K. and France.

The timing didn't help, as there was a crackdown in Tibet just prior to the start of the tour. This led to a lot of groups who have grievances against China protesting along the torch relay route, even to the point of trying to douse the flame.

I am not an expert in the Tibet issue, but it sure seems to me that China is continuing with long-standing behavior of suppressing the full cultural expression and freedom of the Tibetan people. A persecuted people like this reminds us that we do not live in a world where all enjoy the freedoms we have in America. I pray for true freedom for Tibet and that their culture will be allowed to flourish, and I support the protesters using the torch relay to highlight their cause.

Yet, I don't want people to forget that the Tibetans are only one group that suffers persecution and discrimination in China. Another group that the regular media likes to showcase that suffers religious persecution is the Fulan Gong movement. Again, I don't like to see people forbidden to practice what they believe, but there is a much larger group that feels the pressure and is mostly ignored by the media.

By many accounts, there are well over 100 million Christians in China. When the Maoist movement took over the country, there were only up to 1 million Christians. Obviously there has been a remarkable increase in the number of believers in a country that is still officially atheist. The majority of these Christians are subject to persecution for their beliefs, and live with the potential for harassment and harm all the time.

There is an officially government sanctioned Christian church, but it is also controlled by the government. Therefore there is a large underground church, groups that meet informally and have to take care in publicizing themselves so they do not become a target for the authorities. There are so many stories of leaders and believers being imprisoned and punished for walking out their faith, and these are likely just the tip of the iceberg.

As the Olympics approach, I am sure that more attention will be paid not only to China's impressive history and culture, but to controversy on how the regime treats minorities, Tibet, and religious groups. Remember that even if Christians are left off of the official media reports, they probably account for the largest group to suffer under the Maoist leaders in Beijing. Keep them in prayer, and keep this story in mind for the propaganda that will be fed to the public come August. The brothers and sisters in Christ upholding the faith there deserve no less.

For more information, check out the impressive report from Operation World.

Friday, April 25, 2008

CFBA Tour - Winter Haven

Athol Dickson won a lot of acclaim and awards for his last book, River Rising. I didn't read that one, so when his latest work, Winter Haven, was available for review, I didn't want to miss out.

Winter Haven is the name of an island off the coast of Maine. Vera Gambles, a 24 year old accountant, travels there because the body of her long-lost brother, Sigmund or "Siggy", had washed up on the north shore of the island. In the midst of the opening of old wounds, the question of how an autistic savant made it from Texas to the Atlantic is her main concern.

When she sees his body and finds he hasn't aged from thirteen years ago, new questions arise.

What is the connection between this appearance, the strange fog over the north part of the island, the legend of a lost Puritan colony, a figure clothed in black, and Siggy's body? Vera struggles with the strangeness of the island, her own demons, and the mysterious Captain Evan Frost in her journey to discover the secret of Winter Haven.

The characterization is probably the strength of the book. Vera is mousy and flawed - she's not the gorgeous and confident heroine we see in so many other books, and to me, the change is welcome. She has a lot to overcome, and you're not sure if she can rise to it. Evan Frost is very hard to pin down, and even the cranky widow has her moments of sympathy.

The book is an easy read, and it is fairly engaging. The book is written in first person, from Vera's perspective. This allows the author to introduce a lot of suspense that she has problems figuring out, but some sections where she is wrestling with her past were confusing. I got bogged down a couple of times in these spots. The suspense is gripping at times, and overall I enjoyed the book, but it wasn't my favorite in this genre.

I recommend the book, but honestly I would wait for paperback if I were to buy it for someone.

The Begotten - Final Questions

Okay, so the CSFF tour has moved on, but I want to post quickly on two questions that may arise from the book The Begotten.

First of all, what made this book "speculative"?

The book is set in a historical time (1300's Italy), so it is clearly not science fiction. It is not really a fanatsy. Why did it end up in a book tour for speculative fiction? Well, it might be a little of a reach for the core audience for a focus of Christian sci-fi and fantasy. However, it focuses on alternative history with a mix of supernatural power and "speculation" on what would happen if certain letters of Paul, containing prophecies, was found at some time that led to the plot of the book. In my opinion, that premise is enough to support highlighting it during the CSFF tour. Plus, it was a very well written and enjoyable book, so what is the harm in promoting such a product when it is pretty close to the intention of the tour?

The other question is, isn't the idea of a "lost" book of Scripture dangerous territory?

Yes, this premise is dangerous territory. If it was done by someone without respect for the Bible and Christian tradition, it would most likely be a book that I could not support and recommend. Again, a comparison to DaVinci Code comes to mind. Lisa Bergren clearly holds to ideas that show her deep love for Jesus and the gospel message. The book has a rich spiritual message (that doesn't come across preachy), and it overall is a vehicle that combines truth and entertainment in a good way.

Now, there was some liberty with how her characters responded to the lost Corinthian level, and they probably acted a little too out of character for the time frame. They sounded like modern day Pentecostals a lot of the time, not like Roman Catholics confronted with strange new teaching that would be heretical. I think the answer to this will come in the conclusion of the series, but this could be a critique of the first book.

Fiction in general is only a "what if" that happens in the author's mind. Intertwining fiction and the Bible can be a tricky issue. Randy Ingermanson has two novels about time travel that deal with the apostles. Anne Rice is writing a series based off of Jesus' childhood, in areas of history that we have no record for, at least Biblically. One commenter suggested that it made the premise of the book a little harder to handle since Bergren used Paul. However, it also gives the premise more legitimacy since Paul did actually make extra correspondence to Corinth that we don't have in the Bible.

Ultimately, I think Lisa did well in her book, and it must come down to that this is fiction, and not Bible study or teaching. We have to use discernment in ANY book we read, even if it is from a respected scholar, and whether it is fiction or non-fiction. Fiction is meant to be false, yet it can be an avenue for us to examine issues in the hypothetical. Fiction is above all creative, art, and entertainment, so we have to hold to that as a baseline regarding any book.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

CSFF Tour - The Begotten

I finally have a contender for favorite book of 2008.

Monday I posted about the Corinthian letters from Paul in the New Testament due to the featured book in the CSFF blog tour this month: The Begotten. Written by Lisa T. Bergren, it is the first of the Gifted trilogy, with the second book The Betrayed already available, and The Blessed being released in fall 2008.

The Gifted trilogy is centered around a fictional "lost" letter of Paul, that speaks of a group called the Gifted who will arise to fight evil and proclaim God's love with magnificent gifts. Father Piero is a Dominican priest in 1300's Italy who is the chosen carrier of one section of this lost book, with other sections scattered by time due to factions trying to destroy the work. He meets Daria D'Angelo, a wealthy aristocrat in the city of Siena who is single because she was unable to conceive during a handfasting. The beautiful Daria has the gift of healing, and the two join together to complete their mission of bringing together the rest of the Gifted and following through with their prophesied destiny.

Sir Gianni is an Italian knight for the Vatican who is chasing a child-sacrificing Sorcerer through the Roman catacombs. After a harrowing chase, the Sorcerer escapes, and begins plotting to find the Gifted and twist their holy purpose to serve his vile plans. Also, Cardinal Boeri watches for both the Gifted and Sorcerer to further his agenda as well.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I read the back cover. It has a bit of a Da Vinci Code feel from the cover. If only Dan Brown had respect for his subject matter and wrote more than cardboard characters, he might raise to the level of The Begotten. The book is not quite like Code, as it is fully set in a historical setting, but it is a very entertaining book.

Bergren manages to combine great historical research and detail with multi-dimensional characters who grow and have flaws and a moving, suspenseful plot. She keeps the reader guessing with who the "Judas" character might be, wondering if a character will be good or bad, and putting the Gifted in deeper peril through the book. I felt that I was living in the time, and the way I was drawn in to the story was very enjoyable. Sometimes the plot slowed as the characters seemed to wander around a little bit to set up a scene or plot twist in the middle, but overall the whole came together in a delightful package.

I ordered the next book, The Betrayed, before I finished the first one. I have a feeling I will be waiting impatiently for the fall when the series concludes. So if you are a fan of suspense, historical fiction, or speculative fiction, this book meets many tastes and ought to entertain and challenge with the powerful theme woven through the pages.

I want to post a little more about two questions:
What makes this book "speculative"?
Isn't the idea of a "lost" book of Scripture dangerous territory?

Make sure to check back on this. In the meantime, see the author's website and on Monday's post visit some of my fellow tourmates' sites. There's good stuff always in the CSFF tour.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Corinthian Correspondence (CSFF Tour)

Some of the best loved passages in the whole Bible come from the correspondence of the apostle Paul to the Corinthian church. The letters of 1 and 2 Corinthians teach on a number of issues and give insight that no other books in the New Testament have.

Interestingly, Paul had a greater conversation with the Corinthian church than what many people realize on the surface.

He first came to Corinth on his second missionary journey, after being chased out of other Grecian centers such as Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. He met up with Priscilla and Aquila, fellow Jewish Christians and tentmakers. He stayed and worked with them, proclaiming the gospel in the famously immoral city. The record in Acts states he stayed there for "some time", and then left to hit Ephesus on the way back to Antioch in Syria.

Paul hit the road almost immediately after his return, encouraging churches in Galatia before coming back to Ephesus, where he stayed for three years. It was during this time that scholars believe he wrote his letters to the Corinthian church. We have two letters included in the Bible, 1 and 2 Corinthians.

There are...more.

In 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 it refers to a prior letter that Paul wrote to the church, before 1 Corinthians. Apparantly he had written to them about issues regarding sexual immorality and he clarifies his position in the current letter. He gives much teaching in what we know as 1 Corinthians, and it seems to have been received poorly. When we move into 2 Corinthians, Paul references a "painful visit" in chapter 2 verse 1. It is thought that the letter of 1 Corinthians was not well received, and Paul made a visit to bring correction. After he left, he wrote yet another letter to the Corinthians, which seems to finally have the effect that he wanted, causing "sorrow that led...to repentence" (2 Cor 7:8-9, see also 10:9-11). Thus, the relationship between the teacher and the church is restored, and Paul can write a more joyful letter that becomes our 2 Corinthians.

This begs the question: what happened to the "other" Corinthian letters. By this count, there were at least four letters of Paul to the Corinthians. The two other letters I have mentioned have no other reference in Scripture, and no known copy or fragment exists. In early lists of approved New Testament books, there is no mention of other Corinthian letters. We have no idea, other than the two quick references listed above, what the other books contained.

I have heard people who criticize the Bible's accuracy claim that the lack of 4 Corinthian letters shows the Bible wasn't accurately preserved. To this I say hogwash. Just because it is mentioned in the Bible doesn't mean that it was meant to be in the Bible. Paul quotes a pagan philosopher, should the pagan's works be in the Bible? I believe that what we needed was preserved, and these other Corinthian letters were of such a personal nature that they weren't pertinent to be kept in a global/general teaching manual like the Bible.

But...what if one of the "lost" letters to the Corinthians was found? What if it held explosive teaching and prophecy, threatening the status quo and becoming the centerpiece of a battle between good and evil?

What if?

Check back tomorrow for more...

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Jackie Castle
Karri Compton
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Beth Goddard
Marcus Goodyear
Todd Michael Greene
Michael Heald
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Terri Main
Melissa Meeks
Pamela Morrisson
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Ashley Rutherford
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachelle Sperling
Stuart Stockton
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Robert Treskillard
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Final Thoughts on Sovereignty

Oh hi. Remember me? I'm the guy that used to blog here regularly...

The last few weeks (and few months in general), have really played havoc with my posting. I haven't given this up, like so many blogs that fade away. Unfortunately, Real Life Interferes (TM) has reared its ugly head in my world recently. I may have found a way to get back to a better schedule, but we'll see when I prove it, eh?

Oh, also I found out I didn't crack my wrist after all, just aggravated a cyst in it. Much better now, thanks.

I wanted to say a few words about God's sovereignty in Christian fiction. I had been talking about it over a few posts (see here for the 4 days of posts) and I didn't want to leave it hanging with nothing else said.

Overall, I briefly described a few ways that authors could deal with the idea of sovereignty on day 4. The books The Shadow and Light and Legend of the Firefish tackled the idea more straightforward in the plot and the worldview of the characters. Ultimately, it is like a lot of things when writing about God: He is transcendent, and it is hard to bring His glory, power, and sovereignty down to the level of human understanding or experience.

Is saying this a cop out? Admittedly, yes. I lost my train of thought with my disruptions. However, I think that God's greatness should challenge Christian writers to take great risks and become the most transcendent authors because of the wonder of Who they write about. And literature does show this: Les Miserable, The Brothers Karamazov, Robinson Crusoe are books with great themes of faith.

Sovereignty is a specifically tricky issue since it means God is in control, but in fiction it can clash with the the author supposedly in control. It will take a great honing of skill to see this issue mastered.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

CFBA Tour - Amber Morn

I have a special place in my heart for Brandilyn Collins' Kanner Lake Series. First of all, I started following her blog in early 2005, and heard about the conception of the series and various tales from its development throughout reading her blog. Then in 2006 I had the great opportunity of being chosen as one of the "Scenes and Beans" bloggers. We would blog as the characters from Kanner Lake, telling humorous stories from their perspectives. I was one of the writers for Pastor Hank, which was good fun as well as a writing challenge. It is hard to keep up with one of CBA's top suspense writers!

This being said, I am saddened in a way to be participating in the blog tour for Amber Morn, the 4th book in the Kanner Lake series. Since I had a tiny part in helping it along, I'm bummed that the ride is almost over. The good news, for fans of suspense in general and Brandilyn in particular, is that the end of the ride is a catch yer breath, hold on to your seat, not gonna stop fer nuthin' thrill that will keep your heart pumping until the end. Her trademark is is "Seatbelt Suspense," as in you better fasten yours. And she's not kidding in this one.

Amber Morn again features Kanner Lake, but instead of focusing on one person, it is an ensemble piece. The Scenes and Beans bloggers are gathering at the local coffee shop Java Joint for a special celebration. However, three desperate men have other plans, and soon a hostage crisis unfolds. The men want the truth told, and the only way Police Chief Vince Edwards can communicate with them is through the comments on the blog itself.

Brandilyn is a great teacher. She has poured herself out on her blog Forensics and Faith, spending a lot of time helping aspiring writers with their craft. The proof is in the pudding though, and she proves herself as such a strong suspense writer through this series and in particular this book. Her last book, Crimson Eve, was very well received, but it was a little more character driven. Amber Morn, with its multiple viewpoints, can't quite match that intimacy. It makes up for it with white knucle action. There were several times when I had to put the book down very reluctantly to do things like go to work. Just when you think there's a little hope, she turns a different screw to put pressure on her characters, and when you think it can't get worse...oh ho ho! You have to read it for yourself.

All of the books of the series (#1 was Violet Dawn, #2 Coral Moon) were very good reads and fascinating suspense. Brandilyn Collins closes the series with a real bang in Amber Morn. This book does rely on the past books more than any of the others, although you can still pick it up and read it alone. However, I would simply suggest buying the whole series! Just be careful that you don't forget to b r e a t h e...

Oh, and check out the very special dedication at the front of the book. Thank you Brandilyn. You are truly a gracious and special woman, and such a gift to the world of Christian fiction.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Walking to Emmaus

I had to follow up with Tuesday's post to say that yes, as Nicole deduced, we are expecting another baby! Very cool.

I'm just on my way to the spiritual retreat known as "Walk to Emmaus", based off of Luke 24. I'm excited, and will report on it when I return. Please pray for my family during this weekend.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Question of the Day

My question for the day:

Will we continue to specialize in blue, or will we discover the pink spectrum this year?