Overzealous Faith?


smokestack-1402448-mA number of years ago I read a book that had me a bit steamed. There are lots of reasons, but not the least is the subtitle: “Avoiding . . . dangers of overzealous faith.”

Certainly we are to avoid the things listed where I typed an ellipsis—pride and exclusivity—but why would those be associated with “overzealous faith”? Why would any “danger” be linked to overzealous faith? For that matter, is it possible to be overzealous in our faith?

If you think about it, God’s word tells us the first command, the one that’s most important, is to love God “WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH” (Mark 12:30; the all caps indicate a quotation from the Old Testament). If this is what God commands of His followers, I don’t see much room for over-the-top zeal. Already what God asks is . . . well, everything.

He wants us to take up our cross, to die to ourselves, to lay down our lives, to be living sacrifices. I don’t see how this clear teaching of Scripture, that we as believers in Christ are to be all in, lends itself to zeal that goes beyond those requirements.

Rather, I expect this “plea for balance,” as many of the positive reviews of the book labeled it, is looking for wiggle room for comfortable American Christians who want to stay comfortable and still be “good Christians.”

Thankfully there is a counter thrust among evangelical pastors to the health-and-wealth message which distorts Scripture. But a look at the values which the Bible teaches in the areas of physical health and finances calls into question a lot of what Americans do and even preach as “best practices” or “good stewardship.”

Along comes this book, Accidental Pharisees, and most probably others like it, and we have an intentional reining in of concepts calling for a radical or crazy or counter-cultural approach to doing church.

The message I got from this book is, let’s be content with the status quo. After all, Paul said we should learn to live quiet lives, and that’s good, because then I can have my big house and my fancy cars and not feel like I’m a lesser Christian than brothers who have moved to the inner city or are giving away 90% of their income.

Honestly, the premise of this book makes me a little crazy. The idea is that Christians who “get out in front of the following-Jesus line” start to look around and compare where they’re at with where other Christians are at and then they start looking down on believers who aren’t up with them at the head of the line. So their “overzealous faith” has led them into pride.

I submit that anyone who is looking around and comparing his spiritual progress with others has already succumbed to pride.

I submit that someone afraid of crazy love or radical faith or sold-out evangelism or whatever else is the latest call for Christian devotion, is really afraid of the Bible. It’s more comfortable to be content with the status quo—the American Christianity that doesn’t demand too much, that lets us alone to do what we want, except for an hour or so on Sunday.

Scripture does call Christians to be content and to live quiet lives, but it’s in the context of sometimes going hungry or serving someone by going the extra mile or by thinking more highly of a fellow Christian than of myself.

The thing is, I understand it is possible to be overly zealous about all kinds of things, some dangerous, some merely silly. But faith? Genuine faith in Jesus Christ? I don’t think so.

Genuine faith in Jesus Christ is built on the Word of God. Consequently, a zealous Christian will know what Jesus thinks about looking down on others or about holding people to high standards for salvation (as if we set standards for salvation in the first place!) or any of the other “dangers” supposedly inherent in “overzealous faith.”

I suppose the best conclusion about this book is this: since Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites (7 or 8 times in Matt. 23), any “faith” of “Pharisees” isn’t real faith at all, so being overzealous for a hypocritical “see how spiritual I am” substitute for faith is definitely something to avoid.

OK, in that light, it’s a good book. 😉

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in September, 2014.

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Saving Truth Blog Tour


I have the privilege of being part of the blog tour for the apologetics book Saving Truth by Abdu Murray which has been available for purchase now for one whole week. I’ve already written a number of posts based on what I was learning from the book. It’s a deep well. Hence, I’m happy to tell others about the book, to recommend it unequivocally.

Abdu Murray establishes his premise—that western culture has passed into a post-true era that essentially dismisses the question, “What is truth” in favor of the question, “What’s your opinion, based on your perceptions and feelings?”

In the opening chapters Murray does a masterful job explaining how this post-truth mindset brings on chaos and confusion. As a result, any number of “truth claims” clash. There’s no rational, logical, consistent way of looking at the world, at society. At one university campus, for example, an atheist received such a negative reaction, he was dis-invited to a particular event because he took a stand against Muslims. But at the same campus, violent protests prevented a conservative speaker from taking the podium.

I especially appreciated this perspective because I have repeatedly decried the inconsistencies that have taken hold of society. So on one hand the powers that be claim science and only science can be taught in school when addressing the origin of the universe. But on the other hand, those same powers say a person can determine his, her, its, gender identity, not based on the observable science at all but on what the individual feels like inside.

Abdu Murray sensitively addresses the issue of gender confusion in one of the chapters in Saving Truth entitled “Clarity about Sexuality, Gender, and Identity.” Interestingly, Murray expresses deep understanding for those in the throes of confusion, in part because of the identity upheaval he himself experienced as a Muslim who converted to Christianity.

Many of his remarks brought to mind Rosaria Butterfield who was an English professor steeped in feminism and the LGBT community, until she found Christ. As Murray expressed, Butterfield found the radical change from leaving one group and embracing a vastly different one, to be somewhat unsettling. I can well see why Abdu Murray’s remarks on this subject are full of compassion, while providing the clarity promised in the chapter title.

Clarity is precisely what this muddled post-truth society needs, and Murray includes other particular topics: science and faith, religious pluralism, human dignity, and freedom.

I found Murray’s remarks on the subject of freedom to be particularly enlightening. He explained that what the society based on personal perceptions and feelings is looking for is autonomy, not actual freedom. (See this post for a more complete discussion on the subject.) Autonomy, or self-rule, wants to throw off external authority in order to “have things my way.”

As I read the opening chapters of Saving Truth , I not only found clarity, but I began to wonder just what solution Murray could offer readers as we do our part to “save truth,” to reverse the trend, to restore the absolute in place of the chaos and confusion.

I’ll be honest, I should not have been looking for some human magic bullet that would sway our society away from the way of the world. I know better, but when I came to the end of the book, I felt humbled before the infinite Creator actually does know the end from the beginning and has not been caught off guard by the trends of our time.

It was a powerful ending. Clarifying, just as the chapter titles promised.

Who should read this book? I wish people who are think all religions are basically the same would read it. I wish those confused about sexual identity—their own or someone else’s—would read it. I wish those uncertain about the origins of the universe or the place humans play in the scheme of things or ones struggling against authority would read this book.

I don’t know if any of those people who desperately need the book will pick it up. Are they looking to find the answer to Saving Truth?

Perhaps just as important, and perhaps more realistic would be for Christians who want to understand these issues better, who want to know what to say to the people in their world who struggle with these ideas, to read the book, even to study it with like-minded people. I’d go so far as to say, Christians who are engaged in our culture, who take our faith seriously, well benefit in innumerable ways from reading Saving Truth.

Published in: on May 16, 2018 at 6:09 pm  Comments (1)  
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Paul, Apostle Of Christ — A Movie Review


I generally don’t like Biblical fiction, either in novel form or on the screen. In regard to movies, non-Christians are most often behind the production and frankly, when you don’t believe in the supernatural, it’s hard to do a good job of portraying events in the Bible.

But Paul, Apostle Of Christ is quite different. While I wouldn’t say the movie ranks in the top ten all time, I also don’t feel as if I wasted my time. It really was worthwhile.

The Story. I was mildly surprised that the story centered on Paul’s last days—his imprisonment in Rome. Those, of course, are not detailed in Scripture, so in reality, it’s safest to fictionalize that part of his life than any other part. With flashbacks, the gist of Paul’s conversion story is incorporated, but his missionary journeys are pretty much brushed over.

What made up a good part of the story was the condition of Rome and the persecution of Christians during the time of Nero. In this movie Luke was spending time with Paul, interviewing him for his record we know as Acts.

Strengths. I thought the acting was believable, the setting was incredible, the feel of the movie was realistic. I had a much better idea of the persecution and the fear and the unfairness that surrounded those early Christians.

There were also some lines straight from Scripture that brought home the central point of forgiveness and love, even for the enemy.

At a couple points I thought the movie might bog down in rhetoric, but the pace immediately picked back up, and it was appropriately tense and intriguing.

One thing that the movie made particularly real to me was why Paul was so strong on the subject of grace. His own past, persecuting and imprisoning Christians and participating in Stephen’s martyrdom, would have been so hard to face if the grace and forgiveness of God weren’t so very real to him.

Weaknesses. My biggest concern was that some of the lines the Paul character told the Luke character to write down were actually from the book of Philippians and other parts of the epistles, like Romans. The impression, then, is that Luke wrote those letters too. In the movie he summed up the end of Acts, changing some of the “facts” we had just witnessed, particularly that Paul was in a dungeon, when Acts says he was in a house. And the movie character did it on purpose, as if the truth somehow needed to be hidden. In other words, the strong implication was that Luke played fast and loose with the truth in order to give the suffering Christians what he thought they’d be inspired by.

In addition, while the point of love and forgiveness were strong (at one point Paul defined love for Luke, in a very I Corinthians 13 way, though not word for word as recorded in Scripture. But close), I thought it was sort of light on the areas of faith and belief in Jesus Christ and the hope of the gospel.

While it was interesting to see the conflict of doubt and fear, when the Paul character experienced what might be close to PTSD for his earlier persecution of Christians, I didn’t think that was believable, given his clear statements of grace and faith and hope, stated in Scripture. Not to mention the times he himself almost died, how he’d traveled so much to spread the gospel. I just doubt he’d be caught up in remorse at this stage of his life. But, as I said, this is the part of his life that the Bible leaves open, so I can’t say speculation here was inappropriate. I just think the script writers missed it.

Funny thing I have to share. When I got home I checked Rotten Tomatoes because I was curious what other people thought. One person gave the movie something like 2 stars, saying . . . well, here it is; I’ll let you read it for yourselves:

We learn no more about Paul than we know from reading the Bible. It’s CRIMINAL to make what should literally be the greatest story ever told into a cheesy mostly made-up bunch of tripe.

I find that quite astounding! Does this person think the Romans were wearing body cams and the movie makers just suppressed them or something? What would the story have been if they told something about Paul that wasn’t in the Bible, if not “made-up”? I also take issue with the idea that anything was cheesy. Well, one scene could have been played more realistically—when Dr. Luke treated a certain patient, the ill person wasn’t particularly believable at one point.

One other mild “beef,” and this has to come with a SPOILER ALERT. Throughout the movie there was an ongoing discussion between some in the Christian community (they never called it the Church) there in Rome whether to stay or to flee. Ah, I thought, someone is going to come up with the idea to hide in the catacombs. But no. That never happened. And since we have all kinds of factual evidence that Christians actually did hide there, I wonder why the movie makers decided to go a different way. [End SPOILER ALERT]

But that’s why I don’t like Biblical fiction. I expect the historical facts to be immovable, and they seldom are. This movie did better than most. Much better than most, and would likely cause anyone who is not a Christian to look at those early Christians a little differently than they otherwise would have.

Recommendation. I’m very glad I saw this movie. The reality of first century persecution is sobering, and I think it’s a good kind of sobering. The movie makers handled it without any gratuitous violence, but the point couldn’t be avoided. The belief in love and forgiveness was just as obvious, and I thought we Christians (who probably were the greatest part of the audience) could benefit from hearing it out of the mouths of those suffering for Christ. Plus the realistic worldbuilding aspects made the first century come alive, I thought. I would say it’s a good one to see. Must see? I wouldn’t go that far, but I’d be poorer if I hadn’t seen it.

Published in: on April 10, 2018 at 5:48 pm  Comments (5)  
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Movie Review – I Can Only Imagine


I’ve mentioned this movie before, but here’s my more complete analysis of it. Of course, I’m not a script writer or an expert on movies, so this review is more from the fan side of things than my book reviews might be.

The Story. One reason I like this movie is that it’s a true story. In short it’s really the story about the song “I Can Only Imagine,” written by Bart Millard, lead singer for the band MercyMe. But in the opening, the Bart character says he spent only ten minutes or so writing the lyrics. The Amy Grant character says, No, it actually took you a life time.

From that point the story centers on the elements in Bart’s life that brought him to the place that he wrote the song and eventually how the song came to a place of widespread recognition.

I’ve heard interviews with the real Bart Millard and he said more than once that he felt the movie fairly and accurately portrayed the events, and the actors got him right.

Strengths. I thought the acting was first rate in this movie. Each of the characters seemed truly believable. I understood their motives, felt for them, pulled for them. It was easy to forget that this was not a documentary or that the main character wasn’t playing himself. In fact, the friend I saw the movie with, asked that very question. The role of Bart Millard was J. Michael Finley’s movie debut, and I think he was outstanding.

The only character that threw me was the one played by Trace Adkins, the country singer. He has such a distinct look and persona that I had a hard time remembering he wasn’t playing himself. He was good, don’t get me wrong. Very believable. But he looked so much like Trace Adkins! And sounded so much like Trace Adkins! Sometimes I would forget.

The others in the cast were good, but the other winner was Dennis Quaid who played Bart’s father. He was exactly right at every turn. Such a good performance.

The other great strength of the movie was how the script writers, director, and actors played the elements of change. When an actor has portrayed someone who is angry and mean-spirited and violent, it’s no easy thing to show them as something else in the last act of the film and maintain the aura of believability.

These professionals did an admirable job, I thought, in showing the change in the characters who changed. They didn’t just snap their fingers and all things became new. As much as possible within the scope of the movie, I thought they showed the characters’ struggle to the place where they ended up.

Of course the theme of the film was a major strength. No one can miss what the movie has to say to all of us, and yet it does not preach the message. It unfolds before our eyes through the lives of the characters.

What to be aware of. First, this story involves abuse. It’s not always easy, and it may hit some nerves. Young children aren’t the intended audience.

Second, the band MercyMe plays in a number of Christian venues, and their songs are largely worship songs. Someone unfamiliar with praise music and the audience response to such might be a little uncomfortable. I don’t know.

Third, this story took place in Oklahoma for the most part and as a result the audiences were . . . not particularly racially diverse. Here in SoCal where streets and grocery stores and movie theaters and classrooms and church and workplaces are diverse, such a uniformity of race seemed a little startling. But maybe no one else will think that.

Recommendation. I hardly need to say it, I think. I suspect it’s pretty clear from the above that I think this is a great movie, one I highly recommend to anyone 14 and older. I’ve tried not to give any spoilers, because I think a movie is most powerful when you don’t know everything about it before you see it.

But actually, I did know quite a bit about Bart Millard’s life from the interviews I heard, and I still loved the movie. I’ve read some reviews that say this is one of the best faith-based movies ever. Well, I think it holds its own against other movies, whether faith-based or not.

I understand it had a much smaller budget than some of the other movies that came out that same weekend, and it didn’t have nearly as many theaters where it debuted, but it still came in third two weeks in a row, and then only fell one place, to fourth. People have reported packed theaters, but better is the report that some have come to Christ because of this story.

Now that makes the movie worth seeing, for sure.

The Button Girl—A Review


One thing is true about having the kind of stroke I had: my recovery has allowed me to do more reading again. Here’s one of the best books that I enjoyed recently. (This review is a repost of one I published at Spec Faith last week).

The Button Girl by Sally Apokedak is a digital, soon-to-be-in-print-also young adult fantasy intended for the general audience. See excerpt here.

The Story

Young Repentance Attwater has reached the age of “buttoning,” or marriage, but she lives in a breeder village under the control of the overlords. She decided years ago when she witnessed her brother taken away from his family into slavery that she would never bear children only to lose them to the overlords. Even if she had to go into slavery herself. Even if she’d be separated from her family, from her sister who she wanted so desperately to protect.

When the day of the buttoning ceremony, Repentance must decide if she will follow through on her commitment or if she’ll become like her mother—contented, and powerless, in the face of the overlords’autocratic rule.

The Setting

The Button Girl is set in a fanciful place, in an indeterminable time, where overlords rule lowborns, where some people live in the hot, swampy fog created by the hot springs and others live in the sun on the top of the mountain in the ice castle, where some have gifts of moon cloth and others have skimmers and still others have dragonsticks or sun cloth, but the overlords have taken control of it all.

The land is appropriately “other” for a fantasy, and feels very real and vivid.

The Characters

The cast of characters in The Button Girl is not overwhelmingly large and each individual has clear, discernible motives. Repentance is the point of view character, and like many teens, she thinks she knows better than her parents. She may not be able to change the world, but she wants at least to gain some measure of control over her own circumstances. But she underestimated the effects of her choices. She didn’t know or understand all the factors, and in the end she must make a heart-wrenching choice that she never anticipated.

She’s a likeable character, and all along I found myself cheering for her and hoping that she’d found the path to safety and happiness.

The other characters remain true to form and each acts in understandable ways. Sober is a compelling character. The king is sympathetic and powerless, Comfort is vulnerable, the prince is selfish and greedy. They all act in ways that are true to their character. Together they create a story that is intriguing, to say the least.

The Plot

Repentance doesn’t want to have kids because she doesn’t want to give them up to the overlords. She doesn’t want to stand by idly as her own parents did when the overlords took their sons. She wants to protect her younger sister Comfort, but realizes she really can’t do anything to keep her safe. Against the helplessness of her life, Repentance decides to control the one thing within her power—she can refuse to button.

But to make that decision, she is dooming herself and her would-be button mate, to lives of slavery.

Only after her choice is irrevocable does she realize the ramifications of what she’s done—and the evil far outweighs the good.

Throughout her journey, Repentance struggles with why Providence has allowed the overlords to have control over the lowborn. Is Providence unfair? Or does He even exist? Why do her prayers seem to fall on deaf ears?

Repentance continues to act rashly, and one poor decision seems invariably to lead to another.

In the end, she knows what she should do, but does she have the strength of character to do it?

Recommendation

The Button Girl may be a YA fantasy, but readers of all ages will be delighted with this story. It’s filled with gripping tension, engaging characters, a fantasy setting that comes to life, and above all a problem that is so relevant to our times.

Apokedak gives no easy answers, but she does put her character into a situation that forces her to choose, and in so doing she allows us to see more clearly what our responsibilities are today. It’s a brilliant way to address what our culture faces.

I give this book my highest recommendation. Readers of all stripes, but especially fantasy readers, will be thoroughly engaged throughout. This is a book you won’t want to miss.

 

Published in: on June 17, 2017 at 12:25 pm  Comments Off on The Button Girl—A Review  
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I’m Not Ashamed – The Story Of Rachel Joy Scott


imnotashamed

Today I went to see I’m Not Ashamed, the motion picture made of Rachel Joy Scott’s short life and tragic death when she was the first person killed during Columbine over sixteen years ago. Well, it’s not really about her whole life. It’s more of a look at her spiritual life during her last year.

[Below: an interview with Masey McLain and Ben Davies, the two actors who starred in the movie.]

Of course, many critics find fault with Christian movies because they aren’t well made or because they are preachy, and there are critics of this film too. One review I read said it exploited a tragedy to get its faith based message across:

To use the senseless death of a school shooting victim to promote one’s warped political agenda is, to use a trendy term, deplorable. One should expect nothing less from the odious low-budget film company Pure Flix . . . Their latest, I’m Not Ashamed, bends the horrible tragedy of the Columbine massacre into a false narrative of Christian martyrdom. (The Guardian)

This and another review read into the film a number of things that simply aren’t there. Here’s one issue:

The movie begins almost immediately with news footage of the shooting (including from the security cameras), with a broadcaster noting: ”What everyone is looking for now is a reason.” Anyone familiar with PureFlix films won’t be surprised that the answer is unambiguously evolution. God’s Not Dead took a whole segment to lecture against its evils; here, Dylan and Eric’s eyes light up when a teacher waves a copy of Mein Kampf in the classroom while lecturing on social Darwinism. Even if it’s true that Harris wore a shirt saying “Natural Selection” the day of the shooting, it’s still a very slippery moral slope to imply that teaching evolution rather than creationism will lead to school shootings. (“The faith-based biopic I’m Not Ashamed blames Columbine on Darwin”)

Since the movie never once mentions evolution, this criticism is an unbelievable stretch that shows the criticism isn’t about this movie at all but about PureFlix and possibly Christianity or at least about perceived Christian beliefs.

At any rate, the negative comments dealt more with what the reviewer thought the movie was saying than with the actual movie. Was it exploiting Columbine to deliver a message? Was it preaching against evolution? Did it have an implied political agenda?

I didn’t see any of that.

Admittedly, at the beginning I was aware of every possible scene or word that could be construed as awkwardly overt or preachy. I also felt a little disappointed because the trailer I’d seen had revealed so much of the opening of the movie.

But somewhere in that first half hour I forgot about critiquing. I forgot I was watching a “Christian” movie. It was the story of one girl’s inner struggle and seemed so familiar, I thought high schoolers today could understand what this girl had felt. That she was struggling to live publicly what she claimed to believe privately, is the story of identity. That she grappled with being genuine, not fake or plastic, while at the same time longing to be accepted and to fit in, is so realistic and identifiable.

Did the movie exploit the school shooting? Not at all. You could take out the few scenes that showed the shooters. You could take out the end, and you’d still have the core of the movie. But Columbine gave context to this girl’s life. The things she struggled with, the decisions she made were magnified because her life ended tragically at such a young age.

Finally, the technical aspects of the film were on a par with your average movies. The acting is spot on—believable, realistic, natural. I particularly liked the two lead actors, Masey McLain and Ben Davies.

I don’t know anything about cinematography, so I can’t comment on that, but one review criticized the sudden jump cuts from one group of students to another. Those were in the movie. But jump cuts are common in today’s film making. Maybe there are rules to make them seem smoother, or something. I don’t know. I honestly wouldn’t have given them a second thought if I hadn’t seem the comment in the review.

What amazed me was how the movie has lingered in my mind. This is one I won’t quickly forget—maybe because it was true, maybe because of Rachel Joy Scott herself, maybe because the story involves spiritual matters. All I can say—I hope it lingers in the minds of the reviewers, too.

[Below: an interview with Rachel Joy Scott’s mother who made this film possible by making her daughters letters and journals available.]

Published in: on November 2, 2016 at 6:33 pm  Comments (1)  
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Review: Space Drifters By Paul Regnier


cover_SpaceDriftersI’ve been away from blogging for a week, but not actually by choice. I had a health issue that kept me doing little more than eating and sleeping. And reading.

Reading really is a wonderful pastime, but without realizing it, I’ve gotten away from doing as much as I usually do. So it felt great to get back into books again.

I read some good titles—mostly fiction, but I gobbled down one autobiography and am working on a couple more at a slower pace (now that I’m back to writing). Today I want to give my review of a very fun science fiction, Space Drifters by Paul Regnier (Enclave Publishing).

The Story

Glint Starcrost, the captain of an older spaceship, has a bounty on his head. He’s broke, his ship is falling apart, and his computer is going a bit haywire. Add to that, a time traveler from the past has landed on his bridge, and a fleet of Zormian star pirates has surrounded his craft. Oh, and then there’s Jasette, the beguiling beauty who masquerades as a bounty hunter but who is actually a princess with a secret agenda of her own.

All Glint wants is to reverse his ill-fated luck, which he believes he can do if he can find the Emerald Enigma, a treasure he’s only heard about and which some believe to be a myth. Of course, he isn’t the only one searching for it. Hamilton Von Drone, his old nemesis from the Space Academy who stole his rightful place atop the class of space pilots, is also plotting to track down the priceless object.

Fortunately Glint has his faithful friend and right hand . . . well, lizard, Blix, at his side through all these adventures. Technically Blix isn’t a lizard. He’s a Vythian, a lizard-man with shiny copper scales, a brown bandoleer filled with daggers criss-crossing his torso, and charcoal pants over “his muscular reptilian legs.”

Quite the motley cast of characters and quite the story! Can Glint evade the bounty hunters, find the Emerald Enigma, best Hamilton in their latest confrontation, and survive the crash of his computer, Iris, who has a warped view of her relationship with him?

I’ll let you read the story for yourself to discover the twists and turns that develop along the way.

Strengths

As you may have surmised by my story intro, this space opera is a bit tongue-in-cheek. There is lots of humor and a healthy dose of parody. The characters are likeable, to be sure, and the interplay between them is delightful.

Blix reminds me of a character in Donita Paul’s DragonKeeper Chronicles—Rigador, a meech dragon. He’s also a bit like a lizard-ish version of Spock, the Vulcan in Star Trek. He verbally spars with his captain and is right most of the time, and as it happens, is the character who is most intrigued by the Bible. Of course, he’s intrigued by anything he can read. It’s the time traveler, Nelvan, who brought the Bible aboard.

The presence of a Bible, and I suspect, of a Christian, fits in naturally to the story. Without giving anything away, the Bible turns out to play a significant part in the story, but not in the way most people would think. It’s set up perfectly without any suggestion of heavy-handed preaching. In fact, it’s treated with no more regard than any other book, though there’s every opportunity for that to change in volume two of the series.

Each of the characters comes across as an individual, and they each have their own set of problems and goals. Their voices are strong and unique, which makes the story particularly feel like a movie, or at least, a book I can visualize. [As an aside, I think it’s interesting how voice can make a book feel more visual!]

Weaknesses

This first point is related to the parody aspect of the story. I think: there’s a plethora of hard-to-pronounce names of strange places and races. And things. It’s one of the dangers of writing speculative fiction, I think—a danger I may fall into in my own writing. Certainly the strange names can give a story the feel of otherness, which is necessary for worldbuilding, but it can also be a deterrent to some readers who don’t want to wade through so many strange pronunciations.

Secondly, there were a few times when I wanted our fearless captain to treat people differently—with less anger and hostility. Fortunately, this story is related in the first person so we readers are privy to Glint’s thoughts. We know he says a lot because he’s trying to create a certain persona which he thinks starship captains are supposed to portray. His inner musings let us know what he’s really like, and it’s that person I enjoy the most. So I found myself wishing for more “nice Glint” sections, though honestly, I don’t know if “nice Glint” would work as well.

Recommendation

Space Drifters is a fun story with characters that seem like real people. Anyone who enjoys space opera and humor will love this book. It’s a fast read, one I happily recommend.

The Shock Of Night – A Review


cover_ByDivineRightSo if this is a review of The Shock Of Night, why is there a picture of the cover of a different book? Preceding the latest CSFF feature is the FREE e-novella entitled By Divine Right. It’s well worth the time, and did I mention, it’s free? It’s a great introduction to the fantasy world of The Darkwater Saga and it’s protagonist, Willet Dura.

The fantasy novel we’re featuring, The Shock Of Night by Patrick Carr, is in many respects familiar. The story takes place in an imagined world that shares many similarities with medieval times, and there is an element of “magic,” depicted as gifts bestowed by Aer, the God of the world. But another thread of familiarity is the crime-solving component of a good murder mystery. Indeed, The Shock Of Night is somewhat of a genre mashup, which makes it unique, interesting, fresh, compelling.

It is definitely an adult book, not because there’s bad language or sex, but because it’s complex and layered. The book is the first in a series—The Darkwater Saga—so there are many unanswered questions and threads that aren’t brought to completion. Still, the end is satisfying in the sense that a beginning is confirmed.

The Story

I’m going with the ridiculously short version.

Willet Dura, the king’s reeve, stumbles into a mysterious gift—the ability to delve into the thoughts of people he touches—in the process of investigating a murder. He soon finds himself in the hands of a secret society calling themselves the Vigil who also have this gift. Their job is to deal with people who have entered the Darkwater Forest because 99.0 percent of them go mad. Willet Dura is the lone exception.

While trying to solve the original murder, which the Vigil suspect him of committing, Dura uncovers a much greater plot—one that threatens the king and country.

Strengths

This novel is situated in a well-developed world. The place feels real, with a history (and a map!!), an economy, religious orders, class struggles, political intrigue, and more.

The story is filled with intrigue and is layered with subplots that point to greater purpose. There is murder, betrayal, warfare, secrecy. And yet it’s a very personal story, dealing with doubt and inner darkness.

The main character, Willet Dura, is a flawed person, with a darkness in his heart, but a darkness that doesn’t control him. Nevertheless, he is a bit reckless, brash, stubborn, but also compassionate and loyal and sacrificial. He’s someone a reader can care about.

The themes of the story are largely left open because there are more books to come. There’s the obvious struggle between light and dark—murders and later, attacks, come only at night and have some connection to the Darkwater. Then there is the thread that points to the inner scars of men who have gone to war. Today we refer to this effect of war as PTSD, and this story taps into the reality of such.

Another theme deals with the church, its obligations to society, the four orders and the Clast which defies the theology of them all. More prominent is the socio-economic theme, exhibited by a city divided along economic lines and ruled by the wealthy elite who also hoard the gifts given by Aer for the betterment of the world.

In other words, there’s much that this book delves into.

Weaknesses

My biggest concern was something different from most mysteries I’ve read. I found that the characters knew things the readers didn’t know. At times there was a suggestion, a hint, a conclusion that the characters came to, and there seemed to be the expectation that readers would reach that same understanding, but I didn’t always think there was enough information to go by.

In addition, there were events that took place that the main character didn’t know about. So as he was surprised, so were readers. The problem in this not knowing is that readers can’t anticipate or fear for the main character. Or hope for success. Because we didn’t know all the plans or all the dangers. In short, I think the story could have used a bit more foreshadowing.

Oddly enough, though the protagonist’s portions of the story are told in the first person, and though Willet Dura has flaws and strengths to make him believable, I didn’t find him someone I cared for deeply.

I tried to figure out why, and what came to me was that I didn’t know what Willet Dura wanted. Oh, sure, I knew he wanted to solve the murder and that he wanted to marry Lady Gael, but I didn’t see him wanting to deal with his flaw—the darkness that resided in his heart. He seemed willing to live with it. So the things he wanted were primarily external and kept me from cheering him on for his own sake, not just for the things he was fighting for.

But maybe that’s just me.

Recommendation

I’m so glad I read The Shock Of Night. It’s exciting to find another fantasy series with such a well-developed world. Plus I love mysteries, so this is the best of both worlds from my perspective.

The novella—a free ebook, in case you missed that—entitled By Divine Right introduces readers to the character. It’s interesting and well written and lets readers see Willet Dura in his role as reeve, solving mysteries and hiding his own darkness. I’d recommend reading By Divine Right first, then moving to The Shock Of Night.

I highly recommend both to readers who enjoy being challenged by though-provoking stories with many layers. You’ll be entertained, but there’s no fluff here. You’ll have lots to chew on for days and days.

BTW, I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it during the CSFF Blog Tour.

CSFF Blog Tour – The First Principle, Day 3


Marissa Shrock with First Principle.image The CSFF Blog Tour wraps up the September jaunt from one participating site to another, all focused on the debut novel by author Marissa Shrock entitled The First Principle. The story is a dystopian fantasy aimed at young adult (twelve to eighteen) readers.

It takes place in a future world after the Great Collapse and the Second Civil War. Because of the unrest in North America, the Council of World Peacekeepers stepped in and created the United Regions of North America, consisting of seven regions which incorporated what had been Canada, the US, and Mexico.

The protagonist is sixteen-year-old Vivica Wilkins, daughter of the governor of the Great Lakes Region.

And now, a closer look at this novel.

A Review

The Story. Vivica is part of the elite class, the ruling class, and as such enjoys privilege. In addition she’s bright, has mad hacking skills which she uses to create a little side business changing student grades, and just recently broke up with her boyfriend, Ben. Not her choice.

She wants to be over him, thinks she is, but can’t help noticing that he’s been hanging with Meredith Alderton—the very girl Officer Martina Ward from Population Management wants to talk to. Meredith refuses to go with her, so Officer Ward publicly accuses her of being pregnant, a crime which mandates termination under the Posterity Protection and Self-Determination Act.

When Meredith tries to run from the room, Officer Ward shoots her with a tranquilizer gun. The incident creates a stir among the students, and they press their history teacher to discuss the termination law, why it came into being, and why it still exists.

Days later, one of the students who protested the law the loudest has disappeared and the teacher has been fired.

Vivica’s mother is in line to be named the next President because the current President is about to retire. Shortly before the Governor’s Ball, Vivica discovers she’s pregnant. She doesn’t immediately tell her mother, and in fact covers up the fact by using her hacker skills when she’s called in for the mandatory pregnancy test.

Vivica, her mother, and their entourage travel to the Capitol where the announcement will be made that Governor Wilkins has been selected to succeed President Hernandez, but as she’s introduced to the crowd, an assassin opens fire. The President is killed and Vivica’s mother, wounded. Vivica herself is not hurt.

The Vice President assumes control of the government and declares the assassination to be the work of rebels—those throughout the United Regions who chafe against laws such as the one which mandates pregnancy vaccines, enforced pregnancy termination, and others which oppress people and keep the poor in their place.

Vivica is convinced that her old boyfriend, Ben, who gave her a copy of the illegal Bible, is a member of the rebels. She wants to warn him, but ends up telling him she is pregnant—and he is the father. He wants her to keep the baby. Vivica struggles to decide what to do. If she leaves and goes into hiding so she can have the baby, she will most likely destroy her mother’s chances of becoming President. And does she want to give up her life just when she might have a chance to influence more young people?

The decision seems to be made for her, however, when her mother calls her into her study and asks her if she’s pregnant. She tries to cover up the truth, but her mother knows somehow. And now Vivica is certain she wants to protect her unborn child.

Can she? That and many other intriguing twists and turns make up the bulk of the story. Telling you any more would certainly be to spoil it.

What Did I Think. The First Principle has much more action and intrigue than I expected. I wasn’t expecting people to die. It is a dystopian story, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Certainly the level of violence increased the stakes.

The world was believably futuristic, though I thought there were some places that could have used a bit more inventiveness. I thought in light of the retina scans, self-propelled vehicles and such, there would be further advances in things like music and make-up and air travel. There was appropriate slang terminology, and nothing distracting. In short, for the most part the world felt as if it was the kind of place our world could become, given the current trends.

Vivica and her friends acted remarkably like sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds. The author, Marissa Shrock, is a language arts middle school teacher, and her familiarity with teens shows. At times I would have liked to see the protagonist act out her emotions more. Generally we’re told how she feels. For example, her body guard is killed protecting her mother, but Viv shows very little grief despite the fact that this man was someone she clearly liked and was with every day.

The story was unpredictable and action packed. I didn’t know from one moment to the other what would happen. There was intrigue, romance, danger, betrayal, kindness, faith, courage—all on display through the twists and turns the plot took.

The themes about liberty and protecting new life and faith in Jesus Christ were naturally woven into the fabric of the story. These are powerful and thought-provoking especially in light of the SCOTUS ruling on same sex-marriage and the undercover Planned Parenthood videos.

All in all, The First Principle is a quality book. I’m so glad CSFF featured it this month. It was through their partnership with Kregel Publications that I received a review copy. I’m happy to say, unreservedly and without any agreement to write a review promoting it, I highly recommend this novel to teens and to parents of teens and to any readers who love dystopian stories.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out what the other participants in the tour have said.

Insurgent – Not A Review


InsurgentAs you might expect if you read my post on Cinderella, I am choosing not to do a formal review of the movie Insurgent, based on the novel of the same name by Veronica Roth, because it’s been out so long, undoubtedly all the review-ish things that could be said have already been said. No point for me to repeat them.

Rather, I’ll give my rambling, disorganized thoughts as they come to me.

First, I was surprised. I liked the movie a lot more than I expected to. I was glad I saw the first in the series, Divergent, but I didn’t think it was particularly well done. I thought there were plot holes and unexplained world issues. This second installment didn’t have the same problems, I didn’t think.

I still didn’t find myself particularly attached to Tris. She’s lost her mother, her father, any number of friends, is being hunted down, turned away by other factions, abandoned by her brother, made out to be a liar and a criminal, but the person she hates is herself. I didn’t connect with her feelings, I don’t think.

Her self-hatred is an internal struggle that’s played out consistently throughout the movie, but I missed knowing what her external goals were. Mostly Four made the decisions and Tris went along, until she decided to turn herself in and until she decided to stay and open the box. Those were actually spur of the moment decisions instead of goals which she struggled to achieve. In fact, once she made up her mind to act, there really was no struggle preventing her from achieving what she had determined she needed to do.

So there really wasn’t a lot for me to cheer her toward. I wanted her to survive, but I didn’t feel as if I was in her corner, pulling for her to succeed—mostly because I didn’t have a clear idea what “succeed” would look like.

The theme of the story was crystal clear—forgive yourself. It’s a nice sentiment, but the thing is, our offenses aren’t only against ourselves. Tris had killed one of her friends—not out of anger but as a matter of survival. He was acting as a hypnotic drone and didn’t realize what he was doing when he followed orders to kill her. She defended herself and killed him instead.

Was she guilty of murder? No.

The thing was, many other people died, too, and yet it was this one death that haunted her because she knew this guy and called him a friend. His death, and all the others, had far reaching effects. Other people loved and needed him and the others. But the most important thing, according to the movie, was that Tris forgive herself.

So on one hand the deaths of all the others were devalued, and on the other, Tris’s sense of guilt was elevated to a position of primary importance. There was no confession, no repentance—only regret—and yet you know she would do the same thing again if put in the same set of circumstances.

In the end, “forgive yourself” is a false message, which we Christians know, because if forgiving ourselves was all we needed, then Christ didn’t have to die.

But He did die because the only way our actual sins can be forgiven is with the unblemished, spotless blood of the sinless Christ Jesus who became our sacrifice, once for all, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.

At the end of the movie, the big reveal informs the characters and the audience alike that the entire life lived in the city, divided into factions, was a grand, social-engineering experiment to see if they could achieve peace. Supposedly the existence of one individual, a divergent with all the traits of all the factions, was proof that the experiment worked.

I’m not sure how the social engineers figured that one out. It simply wasn’t true. The woman in charge planned to squelch the explanation of their existence in the city and kill the divergents who were supposedly the mark of success. The city, quite frankly, was a shambles. It was a ruins from one end to the other except where the faction headquarters were. I think they forgot “construction workers”—those social engineers—because everything was falling apart.

But I did like the movie. I did. It’s given me some interesting things to think about. 😉

Published in: on June 18, 2015 at 7:40 pm  Comments Off on Insurgent – Not A Review  
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