Book review: Door to Freedom

Back in 2015, I was given the opportunity to review the book Side by Side by Jana Kelley. It was a realistic and an enjoyable read, which I was excited to hear is turning into a trilogy. The second book in the series was published this year, and is called Door to Freedom. I was very happy to be offered the chance to review it as well!

These days there seems to be some sort of hype-driven fear that all Muslims are evil and just waiting for their chance to kill someone. This book helps to drive that unrealistic fear away and shows that Muslims are people just like us, with friends,  with family tensions, with hopes and dreams, but mostly with a deep need for the peace that comes only from the Gospel.

As with Side by Side, it was wonderful to feel as if I was back in Sudan through all the descriptions in the book. I could feel the grit of the dust, hear the honking of rickshaws and taxis, taste the food, and feel the heat. In Side by Side,  we meet Halimah who is a convert to Christianity and has to flee and leave her family and all she knows behind to save her life. We also meet an American couple, Mia and Michael, who are working in Sudan with an aid organization.

Door to Freedom is set about a year later. Rania, Halimah’s sister, misses her sister dreadfully and expresses her feelings through art. She keeps thinking about her sister’s courage and eventually she builds up enough courage to read the book of John that Halimah had left behind and she becomes a Christian. Soon she faces the prospect of marriage to a much older cousin, but her mother steps in and convinces her father it would be a good idea to send her to live with family in Dubai where she can also study art. We are left at the end of the book with the hope that Rania’s mother might also be on the road towards putting her trust in Jesus.

Mia and Michael have matured more in their faith and have become more bold in their witness, and experience various trials as a result of that. In fact, Door to Freedom deals with some more of the difficulties of living in a country like Sudan in more detail, including a fairly tense few chapters where Michael is under investigation by the police.

I loved seeing how the characters have developed and matured, and how Michael and Mia have increased in their boldness in sharing the Gospel. There was, however, one thing that didn’t sit right with me: the ‘lone ranger’ type of work Michael and Mia were doing. From my experience (which was, I admit, pretty limited) in Sudan, Christians stuck together and supported each other, even when they were not working with the same organization. In the book, Michael and Mia lead a couple to Christ and even baptize them, but without other Christian witnesses and with seemingly little long-term Christian support and discipleship. There might well be an explanation for this, but it struck me as odd. It’s also odd to me how little other Christians feature as a support network for Michael and Mia — we do hear about them going to church, but it doesn’t seem to be a large part of their lives. Maybe we’ll see more  Christian support for them in the next book?

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Door to Freedom, and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next book. I should mention that while this is a series, each book stands on its own pretty well. Get yourself a copy, or enter the giveaway to win!

Giveaway: I’m giving away one free copy of Door to Freedom! Reply in the comments section with a sentence about why you’d like this book and I’ll enter you in the draw. I’ll announce the winner next Friday, the 10th of March. (This giveaway is sponsored by me.)

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I received a complimentary copy of Door to Freedom but have not been compensated in any other way for this review. 

The Greatest Gift

A couple of years ago, I really enjoyed reading through The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp for Advent. This year I’m trying to be organized enough to remind you that if this is something you’d like to buy, now’s a good time, with Advent being just two weeks away and all! This is not a sponsored post or anything, I just really loved to book and wanted to share it with you guys!

I don’t have the ornaments that go with the devotional, nor will I have time in the foreseeable future to make any, but that doesn’t detract from the book at all, in case any of you were wondering!

Books we’ve read recently

For your interest, here’s a list of some of the books we’ve read in the last year or so, with a tiny summary of each. Most of them are really good. I’ve put B after the author’s name if only I’ve read it, F if just Franci’s read it, or BF if we’ve both read it. Feel free to ask further about specific books if you’d like!

So here goes, in more or less our reading order:

The Reason for God by Tim Keller (B). Great book by the well-known New York City pastor answering doubts about and defending the Christian faith from a thinking point of view.

Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey (B). A lengthy but very readable look at how Christianity is not just a private matter, but should affect the public sphere as well. Some overlap with Keller’s book.

The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien (B). I read this to Marica almost a year ago now.

The Good of Affluence: Seeking God in a Culture of Wealth by John Schneider (B). A thought-provoking discussion about how wealth can be compatible with Christianity. Schneider critiques left-leaning folks such as Ronald Sider.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (BF). Really engaging novel written from the perspective of a girl from a very poor family in Brooklyn, set around 1912.

The Dragon’s Tooth by N. D. Wilson (BF). Doug Wilson’s son has a serious imagination. A strange and full-on but compelling story, definitely American rather than British. Complete with its own book trailer video.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (F). A book that transformed Franci’s outlook on life to becoming more thankful to God for everything — from the simple to the profound.

My Name is Asher Lev and The Chosen (BF) and The Gift of Asher Lev and The Promise, all by Chaim Potok (F). Very readable and interesting novels, all about orthodox Jewish boys and their interaction with the “outside world”.

When People are Big and God is Small by Ed Welch (F). An interesting look at keeping things in perspective, and overcoming the fear of man.

Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic (BF). A very encouraging look at how to pursue motherhood joyfully. One of Franci’s favourite books about mothering kids.

A Book of Bees: And How to Keep Them by Sue Hubbell (F). A creative look at bee farming — Franci said it’s a great read whether or not you’ll ever keep bees.

C. S. Lewis: A Biography by A. N. Wilson (B). Very interesting, though too Freudian for my taste, and somewhat factually incorrect. Here’s a thoughtful, critical review of this biography.

The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis (B). Discusses four kinds of love: affection, friendship, romance, and charity. Very perceptive in places, though overall not one of my favourite Lewis books.

Sleeping Murder and The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie (F). The first and last of the Mrs Marple detective stories. A light and easy read.

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo (F). The account of a father whose young son had a near-death experience and described things he saw in heaven, despite never having been taught about those things. Franci said it was a fascinating read, even if she didn’t agree with it all. She was expecting much worse after reading this very negative review.

Lord Peter (a collection of Lord Peter Whimsey stories) by Dorothy Sayers (F). Sayers is a fantastic mystery writer, and Franci marvels at how she comes up with such different scenarios for each of her stories.

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White (F). Franci read this classic to Marica recently.

The Gift of the Magi and Other Short Stories by O. Henry (BF). Punchy, twist-at-the-end short stories.

Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life by Douglas Wilson (BF). Short and fun book with things writers should think about. Not the usual list of grammatical advice.

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis (B). I just finished reading the last of these to Marica (for the second time). Brilliant, and they get better every time.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Some time ago Franci picked up a little, falling-apart paperback version of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. As well as having a pretty respectable first name, Franklin was a fascinating character in many respects. Was he a printer, a writer, a politician, or an inventor?

The autobiography is definitely worth a read. Franklin is direct, less than humble (and admits it) but not full of himself, and funny. You’d think something almost 250 years old would be a little tough going, but his writing’s very easy to read. I didn’t realise it till the very end, but he died before finishing it, and it stops almost in the middle of a sentence with an editorial note, “Unfinished”. Which translated, means, “Shortly after writing this paragraph, Benjamin Franklin died”.

Because it’s olde literature, and no longer under copyright, you can read the whole thing online at Gutenberg.org and various other places. Or you can buy it from Amazon for a mere US$2.50.

In the meantime, in lieu of an actual review, I’m simply going to post a bunch of interesting quotes and notes. (Lead-in phrases for each section are in bold, like that.)

On writing with a touch of pride, from his introduction:

And, lastly (I may as well confess it, since my denial of it will be believed by nobody), perhaps I shall a good deal gratify my own vanity. Indeed, I scarce ever heard or saw in introductory words, “Without vanity I may say,” etc., but some vain thing immediately followed. Most people dislike vanity in others, whatever share they have of it themselves; but I give it fair quarter wherever I meet with it, being persuaded that it is often productive of good to the possessor, and to others that are within his sphere of action; and therefore, in many cases, it would not be altogether absurd if a man were to thank God for his vanity among the other comforts of life. (p6)

We know they had big families in those days, but we forget just how big. I remember J. S. Bach (more or less Franklin’s contemporary) had twenty children: seven with his first wife, who died, and 13 more with his next. But of Bach’s 20 children, only 10 survived into adulthood. Franklin was one of 17 children but, interestingly enough, they “all grew up to be men and women”. Was it the American air? Franklin also notes they “all married; I was the youngest son, and the youngest child but two” (p10).

I’m not sure whether Franklin was being tongue-in-cheek or not, but his father’s approach to tithing was interesting — it’s not just about mint and dill and cumin:

My elder brothers were all put apprentices to different trades. I was put to the grammar-school at eight years of age, my father intending to devote me, as the tithe of his sons, to the service of the Church. (p11)

His father was into dinner-time conversation in a very deliberate way. Though I hope (for her sake) his mother was as pragmatic about the food as he was.

At his table [my father] liked to have, as often as he could, some sensible friend or neighbor to converse with, and always took care to start some ingenious or useful topic for discourse, which might tend to improve the minds of his children. By this means he turned our attention to what was good, just, and prudent in the conduct of life; and little or no notice was ever taken of what related to the victuals on the table, whether it was well or ill dressed, in or out of season, of good or bad flavor, preferable or inferior to this or that other thing of the kind, so that I was bro’t up in such a perfect inattention to those matters as to be quite indifferent what kind of food was set before me, and so unobservant of it, that to this day if I am asked I can scarce tell a few hours after dinner what I dined upon. This has been a convenience to me in travelling, where my companions have been sometimes very unhappy for want of a suitable gratification of their more delicate, because better instructed, tastes and appetites. (p14)

Pages 14 to 78 — for which I didn’t make any notes — contained some interesting anecdotes about his early experience working as printer with his brother (they didn’t get along very well early on), how he taught himself to write well (which got him far later on in his life), and his first ventures in public affairs.

He notes how when he started his own printing business he focussed on skillful workmanship as well as “spirited” writing:

Our first papers made a quite different appearance from any before in the province; a better type, and better printed; but some spirited remarks of my writing, on the dispute then going on between Governor Burnet and the Massachusetts Assembly, struck the principal people, occasioned the paper and the manager of it to be much talk’d of. (p78)

Government business proved to be quite a good source of income for him, and he relates how he started getting more work by others noticing his good workmanship. Here’s a good, mildly artful way to get business. A competitor, Bradford

had printed an address of the House to the governor, in a coarse, blundering manner, we reprinted it elegantly and correctly, and sent one to every member. They were sensible of the difference: it strengthened the hands of our friends in the House, and they voted us their printers for the year ensuing. (p79)

He prided himself a little on his industriousness, obviously also trying to convey the importance of frugality and hard work to readers:

In order to secure my credit and character as a tradesman, I took care not only to be in reality industrious and frugal, but to avoid all appearances to the contrary. I drest plainly; I was seen at no places of idle diversion. I never went out a fishing or shooting; a book, indeed, sometimes debauch’d me from my work, but that was seldom, snug, and gave no scandal; and, to show that I was not above my business, I sometimes brought home the paper I purchas’d at the stores thro’ the streets on a wheelbarrow. Thus being esteem’d an industrious, thriving young man, and paying duly for what I bought, the merchants who imported stationery solicited my custom; others proposed supplying me with books, and I went on swimmingly. (p83)

His trait of bending the rules comes out again when he talks about how he used to raise money or awareness of certain projects. At first he presented himself as the initiator of projects he had, but

The objections and reluctances I met with in soliciting the subscriptions, made me soon feel the impropriety of presenting one’s self as the proposer of any useful project, that might be suppos’d to raise one’s reputation in the smallest degree above that of one’s neighbors, when one has need of their assistance to accomplish that project. I therefore put myself as much as I could out of sight, and stated it as a scheme of a number of friends, who had requested me to go about and propose it to such as they thought lovers of reading. In this way my affair went on more smoothly, and I ever after practis’d it on such occasions; and, from my frequent successes, can heartily recommend it. (p98)

He doesn’t talk about his wife at length in the book, but from the few times he does mention her, it’s likely they had a fairly good relationship. She also helped him in the printing business:

We have an English proverb that says, “He that would thrive, must ask his wife.” It was lucky for me that I had one as much dispos’d to industry and frugality as myself. She assisted me cheerfully in my business, folding and stitching pamphlets, tending shop, purchasing old linen rags for the papermakers, etc., etc. (p99)

Religiously, Franklin was more or less a deist. He believed in God the Creator, but not so much in Jesus the Saviour. In his own words:

I had been religiously educated as a Presbyterian; and tho’ some of the dogmas of that persuasion, such as the eternal decrees of God, election, reprobation, etc., appeared to me unintelligible, others doubtful, and I early absented myself from the public assemblies of the sect, Sunday being my studying day, I never was without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world, and govern’d it by his Providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter. These I esteem’d the essentials of every religion; and, being to be found in all the religions we had in our country, I respected them all, tho’ with different degrees of respect… (p100)

(That last line is a good one to remember for sticky situations. “I very much respect all of you guys … though with different degrees of respect.”)

He had some comments about sermons, a lot of which I sympathize with. He does seem fairly moralistic (possibly due to his deism); but he’s right that there’s no need for preaching to be “dry, uninteresting, and unedifying”. Again, in his own words — replace Presbyterian with your own denomination as required. :-)

Tho’ I seldom attended any public worship, I had still an opinion of its propriety, and of its utility when rightly conducted, and I regularly paid my annual subscription for the support of the only Presbyterian minister or meeting we had in Philadelphia. He us’d to visit me sometimes as a friend, and admonish me to attend his administrations, and I was now and then prevail’d on to do so, once for five Sundays successively. Had he been in my opinion a good preacher, perhaps I might have continued, notwithstanding the occasion I had for the Sunday’s leisure in my course of study; but his discourses were chiefly either polemic arguments, or explications of the peculiar doctrines of our sect, and were all to me very dry, uninteresting, and unedifying, since not a single moral principle was inculcated or enforc’d, their aim seeming to be rather to make us Presbyterians than good citizens.

At length he took for his text that verse of the fourth chapter of Philippians, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, or of good report, if there be any virtue, or any praise, think on these things.” And I imagin’d, in a sermon on such a text, we could not miss of having some morality. But he confin’d himself to five points only, as meant by the apostle, viz.: 1. Keeping holy the Sabbath day. 2. Being diligent in reading the holy Scriptures. 3. Attending duly the publick worship. 4. Partaking of the Sacrament. 5. Paying a due respect to God’s ministers. These might be all good things; but, as they were not the kind of good things that I expected from that text, I despaired of ever meeting with them from any other, was disgusted, and attended his preaching no more. (p101)

Strangely, Franklin says, “about this time I conceiv’d the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.” But for some strange reason “I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined.” Really? Never would have guessed.

He relates his programme for teaching himself how to be more virtuous. He wrote down 13 virtues, practised each one for a week or until he was “master of that”, and then started over again. His list of virtues was as follows:

  1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  11. Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates. (p103)

Mostly worthwhile. But extremely pragmatic — no time for art, creativity, beauty, or enjoyment. “Always be employ’d in something useful.” Was it useful to anoint Jesus with thousands of dollars worth of perfume? And I didn’t know what venery meant, but point 12 in modern English means “hardly ever make love to your wife except for health reasons or to procreate”. How does the Song of Solomon fit into that?

Apparently his “list of virtues contain’d at first but twelve; but a Quaker friend having kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride show’d itself frequently in conversation … so I added Humility to my list” (p113).

Despite his general dislike of sermons, he became friends with George Whitefield. He obviously enjoyed Whitefield’s oratory, though not necessarily his Christianity. He talked positively about how Whitefield’s sermons were turning Americans into psalm singers:

It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seem’d as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street. (p129)

Whitefield apparently sometimes used “to pray for my conversion, but never had the satisfaction of believing that his prayers were heard. Ours was a mere civil friendship, sincere on both sides, and lasted to his death.” (p132)

He writes about a building that was constructed for “the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something to the people at Philadelphia”. Interesting to me was his slightly tongue-in-cheek take on American-Islamic relations, centuries before Sept 11: “the design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general; so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.” (p130)

He had a fair bit to do with Quakers, who were by and large pacifists, but often turned a blind eye when it came to others fighting to protect the colonies. Franklin recounts an incident where a governor is given money to the tune of 3000 pounds “for the purchasing of bread, flour, wheat, or other grain“, adding that

Some of the council, desirous of giving the House still further embarrassment, advis’d the governor not to accept provision, as not being the thing he had demanded; but be reply’d, “I shall take the money, for I understand very well their meaning; other grain is gunpowder,” which he accordingly bought, and [the Quakers] never objected to it. (p142)

And a similar wit-laced incident when they were having trouble raising money for some kind of artillery, Franklin said, “If we fail, let us move the purchase of a fire-engine with the money; the Quakers can have no objection to that; and then, if you nominate me and I you as a committee for that purpose, we will buy a great gun, which is certainly a fire-engine.” (p142)

Then there were the Dunkers, or German Baptist Brethren. One of the sect’s founders, Michael Welfare, told Franklin that their group was being defamed, and Franklin said it might help to write down and publish their beliefs. Welfare said they’d thought about that, but decided not to, because God had from time to time

been pleased to afford us farther light, and our principles have been improving, and our errors diminishing. Now we are not sure that we are arrived at the end of this progression, and at the perfection of spiritual or theological knowledge; and we fear that, if we should once print our confession of faith, we should feel ourselves as if bound and confin’d by it, and perhaps be unwilling to receive farther improvement, and our successors still more so, as conceiving what we their elders and founders had done, to be something sacred, never to be departed from. (p143)

Very interesting. It’s easy for us Protestants to preach “always reforming” but not practise it — our creeds are written down, and have been for hundreds of years, never to be touched. I’m not at all advocating creedlessness (that is, chaos), but I do think the old Dunkers have a point here: things that have been written down a long time often seem “sacred”, when that should only be true of Holy Writ.

He discusses his invention of a certain type of more efficient fireplace, which I noted primarily because of the length of the title of the pamphlet he published about it. To
“promote the demand” for this efficient wood burner, he “wrote and published a pamphlet, entitled”:

An Account of the new-invented Pennsylvania Fireplaces; wherein their Construction and Manner of Operation is particularly explained; their Advantages above every other Method of warming Rooms demonstrated; and all Objections that have been raised against the Use of them answered and obviated. (p144)

Phew! And today we’d just call it “The Better Burner Book” or “A Fireplace that Saves the Planet”.

Also very interesting is his take on patents, which is of special interest to me in my field — most programmers consider software patents a really bad idea. But Franklin is of course talking about hardware, and he states a patent principle that I definitely dig:

Gov’r. Thomas was so pleas’d with the construction of this stove, as described in it, that he offered to give me a patent for the sole vending of them for a term of years; but I declin’d it from a principle which has ever weighed with me on such occasions, viz., That, as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously. (p144)

Around 1750 Franklin founded the University of Pennsylvania, now considered one of the top research universities in the United States. He served as one of its trustees for at least forty years, and had “the very great pleasure of seeing a number of the youth who have receiv’d their education in it, distinguish’d by their improv’d abilities, serviceable in public stations and ornaments to their country.” (p148)

On rum and religion — one time he was helping at a military camp, and they were allowed “a gill of rum a day … half in the morning, and the other half in the evening”. Franklin had ultra-pragmatic advice for the “zealous Presbyterian chaplain”, who couldn’t seem to get people to come to prayer times:

“It is, perhaps, below the dignity of your profession to act as steward of the rum, but if you were to deal it out and only just after prayers, you would have them all about you.” He liked the tho’t, undertook the office, and, with the help of a few hands to measure out the liquor, executed it to satisfaction, and never were prayers more generally and more punctually attended; so that I thought this method preferable to the punishment inflicted by some military laws for non-attendance on divine service. (p185)

In the rest of the book he talks a little bit more about his inventions (a better type of street lamp, for example), but a lot more about his political and quasi-military involvement. So for me it got less interesting toward the end.

One last quote to leave you with:

Human felicity is produc’d not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day. (p159)

All in all, it was a very interesting read, providing insight into both the mind of quite a character as well as into some aspects of life in early America.

For more info about Benjamin Franklin’s life, the Wikipedia article on him looks quite good.

Caring for Creation

My friend Matthew Bartlett recently started his own publishing company, and his first book is The Biblical Mandate for Caring for Creation by retired New Zealand minister Dick Tripp. The 158-page book, which can be yours for a mere $24.99, is definitely worth a read. Actually, “worth a read” is not a great compliment — what this book and this topic deserve is thought and action.

This post is partly a book review, and partly a discussion of the subject more generally. In terms of the book, there are several things I didn’t love about it, but there are many things I did, so I’m going to start with those.

Things I loved

His biblical take on the subject. Chapter 6 through to the end of the book is a thorough look at what Genesis through to Revelation has to say about creation, how God sees it, and how we should treat it. In the introduction, Tripp notes that

It is the revelation of Scripture, what God himself thinks about his creation, that should provide the most compelling reason of all for Christians to be concerned about it.

As well as quoting a lot of Scripture, Tripp shows how some of the big themes of the Bible tie in directly to caring for creation. Some examples: God’s love of fruitfulness, the goodness of creation, humans being made in God’s image, the Fall, an emphasis on “land” with Israel, and the new heavens and the new earth.

It’s pretty simple, really. As Christians, we believe God made the world and everything in it, and he made it very good. The universe is the greatest work of art by the greatest Artist. So we should do what we do with other good art: enjoy, respect, and preserve. And by preserve, I don’t mean keeping it under a glass case, like old art in a museum. The world is living art. It’s the most amazing display of interactive art there is — and it’s not merely interactive, it’s to be cared for and ruled. (In chapter 7 Tripp goes into detail about what “ruling it” means, and what it doesn’t.)

On a related note, although I don’t usually go for bold text in books, the author and publisher have done something I really liked in this one: all Scripture quotations are in a semi-bold font. It makes them stand out, and shows how much Tripp digs into the Word in chapters 6 through 14.

I also appreciate the timeliness of the book, in the sense that this topic — caring for creation, the environment, etc — isn’t something evangelical Christians have been saying much about. We say we’re conservative, but we’re more worried about conserving thees and thous than trees and boughs!

There’s Francis Schaeffer’s Pollution and the Death of Man, a really thought-provoking little book, but published in 1970. Then there are a few concerned individuals who’ve said something since then, but other than that, we’ve left the topic to the liberals and greenies! Okay, I’m being somewhat tongue-in-cheek here. In fact, Tripp’s book shows just how much has been written and done about it since then — and a lot of that by orthodox Christians.

Tripp doesn’t compromise core Christian truth (in fact, he also authors a Christian apologetics website). He’s big on the message of the gospel: our brokenness, and our need to submit our lives to the Creator and Saviour. He’s clear that if we don’t care for our souls, our care for creation is going to mean little. In his conclusion, he notes that “perhaps the greatest reason for caring for the earth is, simply, gratitude.”

Oh, and I enjoyed his five references to C. S. Lewis. How can you go wrong with that? Seriously, though, Lewis thought a lot about this topic: not so much environmentalism, but God’s care for creation and creatures. In fact, you could see the entire Chronicles of Narnia as a story against cruelty to animals. In the chapter on humans being made in God’s image, Tripp says:

C S Lewis, who wrestled in many essays with the senselessness of animal suffering, argued that is was precisely because humans are higher than animals in creation’s hierarchy that they should oppose animal cruelty. Our superiority to animals ought to motivate us ‘to prove ourselves better than the beasts precisely by the fact of acknowledging duties to them which they do not acknowledge to us.’

Near the end of the book, he also notes Lewis’s rejoicing in the final renewal of creation:

C S Lewis painted a great picture of this in the conclusion of The Chronicles of Narnia. Aslan takes the children into a new world. Following a great conflagration of fire and wind they see a world strangely familiar and yet one in which every blade of grass and every leaf on every tree seems to mean more. Everything is deeper.

Thinking of Narnia and animals reminds me of a discussion I had a few years back with some folks in our youth group. Someone said how sad it was that there are only about 5000 tigers left in the world today, when just 100 years ago there were probably more than 100,000. A dissenting voice said something like, “Saving animals is for greenies … who cares if a few big cats die out. They’re just another animal!” That’s not only callous, it’s theologically screwed up, forgetting God made all things good. The tiger is my favourite big cat, and one of the most wild and beautiful animals designed by God — but for every 20, we’ve killed 19.

Things I didn’t love

There were a few things about Tripp’s book that I didn’t go for. First, I’m not a fan of how the book begins. I’ll admit my bias up-front: I’m skeptical of much in the modern environmental movement — if you want, put me in the “fairly typical right-leaning Christian” basket. In the first few chapters, he quotes a huge number of statistics from all sorts of people, some of them very sad, some of them hard to believe, and a few of them almost laughable. Apart from the fact that you can prove anything with statistics, I thought this was an unconvincing start for a book with Biblical Mandate in the title.

Tripp is no doubt trying to use these facts to build an emotive case for the need to care for creation. But for many, beginning with a truckload of scary facts may work against his argument. And a few of the statistics simply need removal. For example, he quotes the WWF saying that “the only nation living sustainably is Cuba.” Huh? Cuba has one of the worst human rights records around. The WWF might as well have said, “Adolf Hitler was a non-smoking vegetarian who loved animals,” which is factually correct, but completely misses the more important issue.

However, plenty of the facts sound reasonable enough, and many are incredibly sad. Just one example: “4 billion cases of diarrhoea each year are associated with lack of access to safe water. 1.7 million people, mainly children under five, will die as a result.” There is a lot to think about in these first few chapters, and the statistics-laden beginning doesn’t spoil the book. As I mentioned above, the rest of the book is filled with Biblical and philosophical arguments for why all this matters.

Second, I didn’t love his general acceptance of leftist evaluations of the problem. This is related to the above: particularly near the beginning of the book, he quotes a whole spectrum of different environmentalists. While I appreciate his non-partisan spirit, the problem with this is that they have very different ideas on how to solve said problem. So much of the time, proposed “solutions” to environmental problems involve stricter and stricter laws. But if the main problem is greed, the solution is not bigger government; it’s getting rid of greed. That’s a much harder problem to solve, of course, but it’s one that the Bible has some pretty good answers to.

Finally, Tripp’s stance on evolution didn’t sit right. He’s dismissive of Christians who “are more concerned with how God created the earth, and in particular in arguing against evolutionary scientists, than they are with our responsibility to revel in, nurture and sustain God’s creation today”. He also says it’s “significant that Genesis does not state the process by which God made the earth”. Hmmm … my version of Genesis 1 states the process quite clearly: God spoke, and it was so.

Sure, I disagree with him on how God created the earth, and that’s fine as far as it goes. However, there are two problems here. First, I think his dismissals are rather simplistic, and he may end up turning away more conservative Christian readers than he intends. Second, it strikes me that the creationist position is actually stronger when it comes to caring for creation. If all of of life (including humans) evolved by random mutations, what is there to make each species so worth preserving, like a unique piece of art? But if God designed and created each type of plant and animal as a work of living art, then we have every reason to care for them all.

That said, I appreciate the fact he doesn’t dwell on this, or make a big deal about it throughout the book. Instead, he simply points people to his earlier booklet on the subject, The Complementary Nature of Science and Christianity (which I haven’t yet read).

Where to from here

Tripp ends with (and I say this respectfully) a good, old-fashioned call to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives and Saviour of the world. One of the results of acknowledging Christ, he says, will be a new appreciation of the world in which we live. He notes that while there are many “generic reasons” to care for the earth, Christians have even more reasons — God-centred ones at that:

The earth is of value because it is God’s creation; he has declared it good and he delights in it; he has appointed us his vice-regents to care for it as well as for one another … and, in view of the resurrection, we have assurance that any good we do will not be in vain.

So practically, where can conserve-ative Christians start? Tripp’s book is about the biblical mandate to care for creation, not so much how to care for it, but he does provide some helpful pointers and further reading.

For one thing, reading his book makes me want to re-read Schaeffer’s Pollution and the Death of Man. Tripp mentions this book positively in his chapter on Christians and the environment, and it was Schaeffer’s book that started me thinking about the topic several years ago.

But there’s more than just things to read. Tripp mentions A Rocha a few times — they’re a Christian organization already doing creation-care in various places throughout the world. John Stott, theologian and bird-watcher, had a fair bit to do with A Rocha. Incidentally, the publisher’s sister and her husband, Anna and Lynton Baird, recently returned from a trip helping A Rocha in Canada and Kenya. In short, A Rocha seems like a really good place to start for those keen to help “in the field”.

One concern of mine is that while people are willing to talk about “saving the planet”, they are often unwilling to think about things like frugality. I really think part of the reason we use and abuse so many natural resources is because we want as many nice things as the next guy. Call it greed, covetousness, or whatever you want, but Christians especially need to be content with what they have, if not less. Many of our mothers and grandmothers exemplified this, as well as the now-forgotten attitude of “waste not, want not.”

As an American-born New Zealander, this seems to be even more of a problem here in the United States. Everything comes wrapped in a few layers of petroleum-derived product and then double-bagged. “Organic” vegetables that cost three times as much as normal produce are carefully sealed in fancy plastic containers. Every other person on the subway is carrying their coffee in a throw-away cup. Convenient, efficient, and ugly — right down to the litter scattered on the footpaths. P. J. O’Rourke’s quip is very true: “Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.”

So go help mum with the dishes. Then check out A Rocha, order Dick Tripp’s book, start thinking about how you can care for creation, and post your thoughts in a comment!

Why I stopped reading a classic

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is a classic, or so I’ve heard. It’s one of those books so great and so worth reading that no one you talk to has actually read it.

A 700-page novel is something of a commitment, but I approached this one with an open mind and a daily subway commute. I’ve heard writers are supposed to paint with words, but if so, Dostoyevsky sure uses a lot of paint: five-page dialogues, chapter-length digressions, extensive and unhelpful discussions about religion, the narrator going back and forth in “by the way, I need to tell you about this” blurbs … and the list could go on.

All this in the midst of what could otherwise be a good story: a drunken, absentee father has three sons who aren’t exactly evil, but one of them ends up hating him so much that when the father is murdered, the son is accused of patricide. Sorry for the spoiler — I didn’t actually read that far — at page 200 out of 700 I was annoyed by the digressions, sick of being dragged again and again through the mud of human nature, and just plain tired of the verbosity.

Dare I say this about a classic? Yes. It was boring. Long and boring. Maybe if Dostoyevsky’s editor had studied fractions, he would have cut the length to 1/3 of the original. I really think a 200-page Brothers Karamazov would have been worth reading. After all, Lord of the Flies makes much the same point about human nature — but in a way that’s actually engaging — in a mere 180 pages. (Sorry, English majors, for the fits about my naivety that you’re having right now.)

It’s not that I mind long books. At over 1000 pages, The Lord of the Rings is a good read (mild understatement). And for something I’ve read more recently, My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok clocks in at 400 pages, but is a very engaging tale.

So yes, I stopped reading a classic a third of the way through. Actually, the final nail in the coffin for me was when I found out (thanks Wikipedia) that The Brothers Karamazov was a great influence for Sigmund Freud. This was Freud’s favourite book? Ugh. No wonder I wasn’t enjoying it.

So, Dostoyevsky, I don’t know how you’d say this in Russian, but in English we say that “brevity is the soul of wit”. Witty, Brothers Karamazov is not. But then again … maybe it’s shorter in the original Russian?

Loving the Little Years

I have recently been reading through Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic. It is GOOD. Every single chapter encourages me and exhorts me and redirects my focus off myself and onto Christ. Off what other people think and onto Christ. Off my children’s faults and onto Christ.

Loving the Little Years

It is funny. It’s real. She doesn’t beat around the bush when she talks about the nitty gritty of raising small children. She doesn’t mince words when she talks about dealing with sin. Not only our children’s sin, but our sin.

If you have small children, please read this book. If you have older children, please read this book — you’ll still benefit from it. If you have grandchildren, please read this book. If you know someone with small children, read this so you can encourage them too.

This book is not a how-to manual, but I have found it to be almost more helpful. It’s thin (and that’s good considering the mental capacity of mothers who are sleep deprived and tending to little people all day!), but rich. It will be the best $12 you’ve spent in a long time!

Rachel, along with her sister and very wise mother, also blogs at Femina. She didn’t pay me to write this. :-)