CSFF Blog Tour – The First Principle, Day 2


united-states-constitution-we-the-peopleThe First Principle by Marissa Shrock, this month’s CSFF feature, is a young adult novel, but its themes are quite adult.

In some ways, this is a warning, and in others it’s a recommendation. Warning: parents would be wise to discuss this book with younger teens. I taught 7th and 8th graders for years, and I know that as a group they are not naive. They’re aware of what’s happening in the world—movies and television almost insure that this is so.

But at the same time, they may not have thought through how their own life or the lives of those they care about might be affected by their choices. They might not have thought about what a loss of freedom of religion and freedom of speech would mean for their own lives. They might not have come to grips with what living under an autocratic government might mean.

In other words, this novel can serve as a wake up call, if parents choose to use it in this way by discussing some of the big issues the book raises. Younger readers would certainly benefit from the help of their parents as they process these themes.

Because the book does deal candidly with things like disobeying governmental laws that are wrong, adults can also benefit by reading this book and applying it to the circumstances in which we live today.

We saw so recently the flood of protest aimed at the Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis for allowing her religious beliefs to affect her compliance to a court order in regard to doing her job. Some Christians lined up with the general public to throw verbal stones at her, saying that the only way she could exercise her freedom of religion was to quit her job.

But The First Principle raises the question about complying with a law mandating abortion. Do people of faith have the freedom of their beliefs to resist such a law? And if those rights are trampled upon by the government, should Christians fight the government or comply?

In the novel, the underground movement, largely involving Christians, determines to lead a revolution. Is this where our religious beliefs should take us?

These are questions adults should think about, not just teens. Here’s a Prager University video entitled “Why We’re Losing Liberty” which gives more food for thought.

Of course, the ultimate arbiter of our actions should be God’s word and His Holy Spirit. In the case of Kim Davis and the court mandate to issue marriage licenses, including to homosexual applicants, Christians on both sides quoted Scripture which seemed to conflict, such as render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, on one hand, and we ought to obey God rather than man, on the other. How is a Christian to resolve what the Bible says when it seems to offer contradictory principles?

Then too, how do we reconcile our religious beliefs with government mandates that contradict those beliefs? In The First Principle, the word of God itself came under attack by the government and the belief that Jesus is the way, the truth, the life became branded as exclusivist and therefore hate speech.

Is this where America is headed? And how are Christians to respond?

Indeed, The First Principle raised issues that adults need to think about.

See what other members of the tour have to say about this book and the ideas it raises. You’ll find the list of participants and links to the articles I’ve read at the end of the Day 1 post.

Advertisements

Rebels by Jill Williamson – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2


SafeLandsTrilogy

[The following post includes allusions to various events in the Safe Lands trilogy which may be spoilers to those who have not yet read the books.]

Rebels by Jill Williamson, the final installment of the Safe Lands trilogy, includes characters and events that today’s teen can relate to, despite the fact that the story is set in a post-apocalyptic world.

Perhaps the setting and the differences between that futuristic world and ours prevent this series from coming across as an “issues” book. If it took place today, the problems the characters face—teen pregnancy, illicit sex, drug addiction—might seem too pointed, to directed at solving today’s teens’ problems. Instead, the other-worldliness of the story creates some distance that allows an exploration of some teen issues.

In some ways, you could sum up the three books as a story about how a young person raised to be moral and upright can navigate the temptations of a godless, hedonistic society.

The three brothers—Levi, Mason, and Omar—who are the main point of view characters, show three very different approaches. Levi wraps himself in laws and contempt or, at best, indifference, toward the greater society in which the people of Eagle Rock have been thrust.

Omar embraces the new culture and for a time disdains all he knew as a child.

Mason complies with the greater culture, though keeping himself apart, all the while holding in tension the goal to escape and the goal to make a difference in the Safe Lands society.

It’s an interesting study. In the end the three brothers, having taken very different paths, end up with similar outlooks, though different missions and goals.

Omar, I believe, takes the hardest path, and author Jill Williamson has done an outstanding job portraying what he went through. First is his core desire to belong, to fit in, to matter. In Captives he comes to the erroneous conclusion that the Safe Lands aren’t harmful as he’d been taught and that his people, if they just saw the place for themselves would realize all the amazing advantages they’d been missing.

When Omar awoke to the fact that his people would pay a severe price for his choice, he drowned his guilt over leading them into the mess they were in and his sadness over a greater alienation from them than he’d previously known, by turning to the same things people today turn to: sex and drugs.

Before Omar knew it was possible, he was addicted. While he had easy access to drugs, sex ruled his thoughts, but when, in Rebels, his drug supply was all but cut off, his cravings for . . . not a high, but relief from the pain created by his unmet need, dominated his thinking and ultimately his choices.

I know there are some people who come to Christ and receive a near-miraculous release from their drug addiction, but I think many more people continue to struggle—their mind saying one thing and their body, another.

It is this latter situation that Jill Williamson portrays so convincingly. Omar had made changes and he wanted to be different. He tried to be different, but his addiction was stronger than he was.

In many ways, it is frightening to realize what Omar was willing to do to get his next fix and equally frightening to realize how despondent he became when he understood how incapable he was to break free from the hold his addiction had on him.

What a remarkable, believable warning without preaching a word. Rather, Omar shows readers the plight of the addicted. He was willing to betray the one person he had grown to care for most. He would do whatever demeaning thing was required of him while giving up on the hope he once had to make things better.

The other side of this accurate portrayal of addiction is God’s endless mercy. When Omar was weak and hopeless, God did not turn His back on him but used his despondency for His own purposes.

Honestly, I couldn’t help but think of apologist Ravi Zacharias who, in real life, came to Christ as he lay on a bed of suicide. In contrast, Omar’s heart transformation had come much earlier, but even as a changed man, he struggled with the ravages of addiction that held him captive and kept him from living the life he knew he was called to live.

This story is the kind that can help teens today make choices in their lives. They don’t have to experiment with drugs to see how alluring they are. Omar did that and they can know through him that the draw is powerful and the high, bedazzling.

But they can also see from Omar’s experience where addiction leads. There’s no greater warning.

– – – – –

Others on the CSFF Blog Tour are also talking about Rebels and the Safe Lands series and Jill Williamson, so be sure to check out the list of tour participants at the bottom of the Day 1 post.

Published in: on September 30, 2014 at 6:04 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Fantasy Friday – Project Gemini by Jill Williamson


Project-Gemini cover

A Review

Project Gemini, a young adult novel in the Mission League series by Jill Williamson, is a mildly speculative story most suited for young teens.

The Story. Spencer Garmond, AKA Jonas Wright, is a promising basketball player. He’s also been recruited into the development program of the Mission League, a secret branch of INTERPOL, which aims to collect and analyze intelligence regarding “rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” As part of his training, he went on a practice mission to Moscow after his freshman year in high school. He’s now preparing for his second trip–this time to Okinawa, Japan.

The problem is, Spencer, who learns his real name is Jonas Wright and that he’s been in a type of witness protection program because his father betrayed the Mission League and killed his mother, has made some enemies–or so it would seem from the prophecies he’s received.

He himself is gifted with dreams and glimpses that show him snatches of the future, but so has the daughter of his instructor, Mary Stopplecamp. Because of what this thirteen-year-old middle schooler has dreamed, she warns Spencer not to go to Japan. He’s not convinced, however, that he can’t intervene to change these events, as if the prophecies are merely forewarnings, not actual predictors of what is to come.

Based on her dreams, Mary then tells Spencer to beware of foreign women. He himself has a dream of a beautiful Japanese girl, one who is sometimes in trouble.

Upon arriving in Okinawa, Spencer does in fact meet the girl of his dreams–or rather two of them since she has an identical twin sister. In addition, one of the assignments he receives is to keep track of and monitor the activity of his dream girl. Or her sister.

He’s drawn to her, and she to him. When her former boyfriend forces her to go with him, Spencer springs into action to protect her. The fact that he took a scooter without permission and left the group on his own, instead of calling for help, gets him into considerable trouble, however. And Mary’s continual warnings make him begin to question who he can trust.

Mission-League-web-logoAfter all, there are some pretty bad players hanging around, some suspected of involvement with a notorious Japanese gang. And now Spencer has reason to suspect there may be a connection to his Moscow enemy, Anya.

Excerpt. Read a sample chapter of Project Gemini (Mission 2: Okinawa).

Strengths. One of Jill Williamson’s many talents as a writer is voice. She manages to capture the voice of a young teenage boy to the point that her character comes alive.

I’ve read a number of Jill’s books now, spanning three series and a stand-alone novel, and none of the characters has the same voice. Each is distinct, unique, individual.

Achan, the slave boy turned king in the Blood of Kings high fantasy novels, is a very different person from Mason, Levi, or Omar in the Safe Lands books. In turn, they are all very different from Jason, the cloned boy living in a laboratory in Replication. And none of them is like Spencer, the hero of the Mission League adventures.

Not only does Jill capture the voice of a teenage boy, she taps into his heart and soul–what motivates him, what he hopes to accomplish, how he processes the various things that pull him in one direction or another.

In other words, Jill has created a believable character who also happens to be a likeable kid. He’s trying to turn his life around, but he’s got enemies that seem determined to keep him from doing so.

The plot is action packed, with tension on every page. Who can Spencer trust? How can he complete his assignment and heed the warnings of the prophecies, too? And why does this new Mission Leaguer, Grace, have it out for him from the moment he met her?

Because Jill writes Christian fiction, she does not back off from dealing with the concerns that confront teenage guys: lust, girls, sex, sports, drugs, parties, and lying to get what they want. Interestingly she also shows the divergent paths adults can take in raising teens. (Or maybe that comes mostly in the novella due to release in a month or so). At any rate, Jill shows. She doesn’t preach. But Spencer eventually comes to understand where he goes wrong and what he has to change, and the reader follows right along with him.

Weaknesses. I know reviews are more credible if the person writing them exposes faults. The problem for me is that I get so caught up in Spencer’s story, I tend to gloss over any small inconsistency or plot problem. It’s a stretch for me to identify weaknesses.

I think the characters are all rock solid and believable, but on retrospect, I do think there is a segment of the plot toward the end that happened so fast, I wasn’t sure how all the developments came about.

There’s also some description that could bog down a reader (I sort of glazed over at places)–notably a section about ropes (anyone who has read the book will probably know what I’m referring to).

Recommendation. The Mission League books are terrific stories perfectly suited to younger teens–thirteen to sixteen, boys or girls. More mature pre-teens may also like the stories, but there is some frank discussion about attitudes toward and behavior with the opposite sex, so it would be good for parents to be aware of this.

Project Gemini (available on Kindle for only $2.99), and the previous books in the series, The New Recruit and Chokepoint, would make perfect gifts for anyone in the target age group and their parents. And if you’re like me, you’ll buy the book for yourself, because it’s just that enjoyable a story.

CSFF Blog Tour – Outcasts by Jill Williamson, Day 1


Outcasts cover

Addressing Frank Topics

This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Outcasts by Jill Williamson, book 2 of the young adult dystopian fantasy series The Safe Lands. Because of Jill’s experience working along side her husband with youth in churches, she understands the pressures and temptations, hopes and desires, teenagers deal with. Rather than side-stepping frank topics, Jill faces them head-on, and I think this series is the richer for it.

I can’t think of the last time I read a book in which one of the point of view characters was struggling with lust and addiction. If only those twin demons were not part of the inner life of today’s youth. Unfortunately, I think the truth is the opposite. Our culture has held up sex as the Great Desire and the Inescapable Conduct. Consequently kids from homes and churches that teach abstinence automatically are faced with a struggle.

Their own desires are fanned into flames by the music aimed at their demographic, TV and movies, their peers, and sometimes even their parents (some wishing to live vicariously through their teens). When the culture tells them sex is natural (it is), and all that matters is that they do it safely (it is not), but the church, and more importantly, the Bible tell them sex is to be reserved for a monogamous marriage relationship between a man and woman, teens are bound to struggle. Their own passions align with the culture. Their head says one thing, their desires another.

Who helps teens navigate across this divide? Too often this is a period of their lives when they are distancing themselves from their parents as part of their growing-up-and-becoming-independent stage. Do youth leaders talk frankly with teens about how to handle the urges they’re experiencing? I suspect so. But I also suspect these kinds of talks simply give teens more information.

Stories are different. They show. Outcasts shows. Here’s a teen, two teens, three teens dealing with the same stuff, the same sexual desires, the same craving induced by mood-enhancing substances. The characters take different paths and the outcome of their choices is a natural part of the story. No preaching. No lecture. No one drawing conclusions for the reader.

Instead, the story itself gives models for teen readers. They can draw their own conclusions, understand, perhaps, their own feelings a little better in light of the struggle they see the characters experience.

The subject matter is frank, not graphic or indulgent, but not pretending that things are better or easy, even when a character wishes to change. Outcasts is an honest treatment of sensitive material, without making it The Focal Point of the story.

I think this is a huge triumph for both Jill Williamson and the editors at Blink for bringing this book, this series to readers.

Other CSFF members participating in the tour are listed below. A check mark links to a CSFF post about Outcasts.

Teens And Retirees In The Same Body



Western society has created two periods of uselessness in a person’s life — adolescence and retirement. Both are artificial.

Once upon a time, children moved gradually from the “can’t do” stage of life to the “can do” stage, and then to the “do it on your own” stage.

Today’s youth, however, largely as a result of child labor laws (instituted to curb the abuses of the Industrial Revolution), have little purpose in their lives. They do school and … party, play, gang-bang, hang. Little wonder that youth sports have grown — the team is the one place that a teen can find purpose, even if it is ephemeral.

Retirement is a mirror image of adolescence. Western culture doesn’t respect age, so the best we can do is retire young in order to get back to playing hard. Except, Mankind was made to fulfill a purpose, and travel, golf, gardening, travel, eventually gets old, especially for someone getting old. Sleeping in a strange bed isn’t so easy any more. And creaky joints don’t make hikes around tourist spots as fun as the pictures would suggest.

For the Christian there’s the same implication that what’s true out there in the world is also true in the Church.

So youth are given their own church or groups where they do a lot of silly games, sing a lot of contemporary songs, and hear a speaker who tells more jokes than he does exposition of God’s word. OK, I’m exaggerating for effect, but even in churches with good youth programs, we tend to talk about preparing the next generation for leadership rather than what those teens can and should be doing here and now.

Retired Christians aren’t so different — once retirement comes, it’s someone else’s turn to shoulder the load. That seems off to me. Christians who reach retirement should have the most wisdom and now the most time to spend in ministry. It seems to me, retired Christians should be the most fruitful because I don’t see anywhere in Scripture a place for retired body parts or retired branches. No, the Bible calls us members of one body whose head is Christ, fruitful branches of one Vine who is Christ. Are we to retire from the body? from the vine? And if not, then we have purpose.

Granted, the purposes of an adolescent and of a retirement-age Christian aren’t the same as those of the young or middle-age adult. All the better, though, because if we all were doing exactly the same jobs all of our lives, there would be a lot of stuff left undone.

Let me be specific. Teens have a lot of energy. Why not use them in some places that require a lot of energy — the nursery or toddler classes come to mind. Many are also very tech savvy. Why not put them in roles that let them use that ability — not alone with thousands of dollars of expensive sound equipment, but with an adult who can partner with them to do the job as a team.

Retirement-age adults, on the other hand, are slowing down, perhaps not driving at night any more, doing less, going less frequently. So what can they do? With the Communication Revolution, much, much more can be done from home. What about email to missionaries? Or maintaining a church blog? For the less tech oriented person, there are phone contacts that can be maintained. And what about prayer?

No matter who we are, what stage of life we’re in, we can all pray. No exception. God doesn’t honor the prayer of a forty-year-old more than that of a teen or a retiree.

Daniel was a youth when he went into service of the Babylonian king, and he developed the regular routine of praying. In only his second year of service, he was faced with the task of telling Nebuchadnezzar his dream and then interpreting it. His response?

Then Daniel went to his house and informed his friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, about the matter, so that they might request compassion from the God of heaven concerning this mystery. (Dan 2:17-18a)

They prayed!

On the other side of the spectrum, the aging Apostle Paul wrote letters to Timothy and Titus, young pastors he was mentoring. But that wasn’t all. He also prayed.

I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day (2 Tim 1:3 — emphasis mine).

Personally, I think it’s time teens and retirees take back the purpose God intends for them. The world can say those who fall within certain age groups are good only for a beer keg or a rocking chair, but God has a different perspective. Children can come to Him. Teens can serve Him. Retirees can produce a bumper crop of fruit through prayer alone. Isn’t it time the Church looks to all ages of life to fill up the Body with useful members?

Published in: on February 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,