“Socrates in the City” A Review

Socrates in the City by Eric Metaxas; copyright 2011; Blackstone Audiobooks; approx. 15 hours

“Socrates in the City” is a compendium of talks given in the forum of the same name that takes in place in New York City. This periodic event’s premise is based on Socrates’ words, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I’m as pleased as I can be that I read this as an audio book because it meant I could hear the speakers and the questions in their own voices. I would have missed the nuances of each speaker’s voice and those of the audience members in the Q & A sessions.

Each guest speaker does, indeed, talk about the topics listed in the subtitle. These topics are what I call gritty. You may not agree or even understand the stance each speaker takes on his subject, but you’ll have to admit that they are people who challenge your thinking. They know the subjects and are astute to the fact that we might not be.

It was refreshing–their delivery of facts about their given topic, observations which form and affect culture, and their expressions of their individual opinions on the topic. They speak in civil discourse, something that’s lacking in our age of “power through social media.” The audience members asking questions following each speech prove that they are no slouches either.

Socrates in the City is a platform I respect because of the content and the method in which the content is delivered. Metaxas’ introductions often make me cringe with his attempts at humor, but his keen wit in these efforts outweigh the groaners, so I forgive him. In fact, a few of the speakers found his introductions of them clever.

Metaxas ends this audio book with a talk on his most recently (at that time) published book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Having read “Bonhoeffer,” it was a pleasure to hear the author explain a little about his writing and research process and some high points in the biography to look out for. Truly, “Bonhoeffer,” though a monster of a book, has been listed as one of two of my favorite biographies to date. The book Socrates in the City: Conversations on “Life, God, and Other Small Topics” is fairly high up there on the current list of favorite non-fiction too.

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“Avengers: Endgame” A Review

“Avengers: Endgame” 2019; Marvel Studios; Directors Anthony Russo, Joe Russo; starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson

I was excited, looking forward to sitting in one of our local theaters for three hours to watch “Avengers: Endgame.”

I woke up yesterday feeling under the weather, and even though my symptoms calmed down an hour or so before show time, I hoped I’d be able to sit three hours watching the endgame unfold and experiencing again the Avengers team’s responses to crisis.

I made it. I couldn’t eat popcorn (I know, how did I resist theater popcorn?) nor did I purchase a drink from the concession stand. My reward for going the length of the entire movie without leaving my seat was a free trip to the ladies room afterward.

One piece of advice. In my opinion, having watched all the films and most of the associated Marvel television series, it would be to your advantage to watch “Avenger: Infinity War” before seeing this one. It will help keep in mind all the action that preceded the “endgame” Doctor Strange referred to at the end of “Infinity War” and some of the motivations of the characters.

This probably is, in fact, not a review at all. I will have to let you know how I liked the movie when I’m done weeping. Not really. But there are some sad parts in this story along with all the anticipated action and the typical Marvel humor.

Because He Lives: A Book Review

Because He Lives by Jennifer Flanders; 205 pp; Prescott Publishing; copyright 2018

While the subtitle of the book is “a devotional journal for Easter,” this uniquely formatted book serves a Christian for any occasion, any time of year.

Flanders compiled each chapter to reflect various aspects of God’s nature, his miracles, and his love. The author says Because He Lives is a “celebration of His life, death, burial, and resurrection.” The meditations are meant to get the reader thinking about the life and work of Jesus, especially his Passion week.

Different from any devotional I’ve seen, this one presents a coloring book style. I believe that Flanders creates her journals this way to make the act of meditating on scripture more engaging. As with her other works, the daily readings are mostly dependent on scripture, basing the message on Christian creeds.

While engaging in the scriptures offered for reflection, readers may want to write prayers, poetry, experiences related to the reading, prompts from the Holy Spirit, or anything God brings to the mind and heart. There seems to be a completely gentle way of helping Christians speak on paper the influences of God’s grace in their lives. I found it refreshing in its simplicity.

I enjoyed Flanders’ inclusion of prophesies fulfilled, the various episodes of God’s goodness in Jesus’ ministry, scriptures related to living a life dedicated to Christ, and remembering the eternal perspective that we should always keep in mind.

The journal is certainly slanted toward the Easter season, but even though the title suggests that, I’d recommend it for any time of year. The artwork is borrowed from paintings and graphics we’re familiar with and, as I said, are suitable for the person who enjoys using markers and colored pencils as personal expressions. The book would make a nice gift for any occasion, reminding us that we are who we are ‘because he lives.’

BookCrash provided a complimentary copy of Because He Lives in exchange for this review.

 

 

“Don’t Close Your Eyes”: A Review

“Don’t Close Your Eyes” by Bob Hostetler, Illustrated by Mark Chambers; copyright 2019; publisher Tommy Nelson; 20 pages; $9.99 US/$12.50 Canada

Bob Hostetler writes a “silly bedtime story” that is charming and sweet featuring baby animals with their moms and dads. Mark Chambers’ illustrations create the right atmosphere for a lovely bedtime story.

In a simple rhyming scheme, the story tells little ones that it’s time to go to bed. But the 20-page poem invites sleepy children to not close their eyes. Rabbits and foxes, owls and deer, and birds and bears have flown, buzzed around, and played all day. They’re ready for bed after a day of romping just like the child in Mommy’s lap.

If I had small children, I would hope they’d want me to read “this one” “again, Mom.” While the message repeated throughout is “Don’t close your eyes,” it’s meant to quiet a child until they can’t keep those little peepers open. Sounds to me like the perfect book to prepare a child for sleep after the bath and bedtime prayers.

The story’s short and easy to read. The binding is solid. The pages are constructed from cardboard and polyester foam so those chubby fingers can handle the book easily. Also a smart move as far as helping the book to last.

Parents might want to make the story interesting and give that little sleepy head something to do. There are mice on a few of the pages and bugs all over the place. An age-appropriate game might be to ask them to look for the bugs or the mice and count them as they “read along,” making sure of course that they “don’t close” their eyes.

So be sure they don’t pay too much attention to the droopy eyelids on those critters. You might just get a sleeping child who only needs a kiss and the light turned out.

Bob Hostetler is an award-winning author, pastor, speaker, and blogger. His 50 books include “The Red Letter Life,” “The Bone Box,” and a devotional, “The Bard and the Bible.” He lives in Ohio with his wife, the lovely Robin.

Mark Chambers is an award-winning illustrator of children’s picture books and youth fiction. His work includes “My Hamster is a Genius,” “Pirate Pete and His Smelly Feet,” and “Spider!” He currently lives in the U.K.

 

Reasons Good King Wenceslas Stays Relevant: Media Monday

During this year’s Christmas season, social media seems to be crowded with the hashtag #NotAChristmasSong. People, come on…

I remember singing, as a tradition, so many of the songs they’re talking about. Singing them makes me happy and nostalgic. No matter what people think, I’ll continue to sing them. Perhaps for most people, it’s just a joke and they’re not really slamming these songs. They may be trying to make fun of the social media hashtal using their own hashtags. But, in my opinion, some of those folks are a little too serious about what is and isn’t a Christmas song.

A song I remember singing is “Good King Wenceslas.” In reality, it’s not a Christmas song, but a song mentioning the Feast of Stephen. That particular feast is to honor the first Christian martyr, the apostle Stephen. Celebrating that feast is also a way to remember that Christ offers eternal life. Stephen, after all, saw Christ standing at God’s right hand. That gives a whole new meaning to “it’s a wonderful life.”

The song is also a nice story about how a king looked after a poor and probably oppressed man. Now how much more can that be about Jesus?

In the lyrics to the song, the good king welcomes his page to follow in the footsteps he makes in the deep snow.

“Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread thou in them boldly”

How much more could that be about Jesus’ offer to us, “Follow me”?

The page obeys, knowing his King will guide him in safety and security. Even in hardships.

“In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted”

The word dinted means “with force or power.” How much more could that be about Jesus’ character?

Eventually, the story sends a message to everyone, no matter their worldly status, that blessing the poor brings a blessing. How much more could that be about God’s favor?

I invite you to click to see the musical score for Good King Wenceslas, which has all the verses of the song’s music and lyrics. Put yourself in the poor man’s place, receiving gifts from a King. Put yourself in the page’s place, following your Master. (If I was a betting sort of person, I’d wager you can’t read it without singing along.)

Oh, my King and Master, thank you for the position you give me as I follow you. I am lowly as a page, and not deserving of your grace, yet you’ve chosen me to stand with you. May I follow, every day, in your powerful steps and remember to provide justice to the poor and oppressed. Help me to remember how much you love us all. Amen

“The Bard and the Bible” A Review

Perhaps you’ve read some of William Shakespeare’s plays and thought “Hey, that line sounds like it could have come from the Bible.” I know someone who has thought it. And he took his love for all things Shakespeare to write a devotional based on the Bard’s plays and God’s Word.

Each of the 365 devotions begins with a line from a Shakespeare play, noting which one it’s taken from and the act, scene, etc. Following that is a scripture that coincides with it. For instance:

“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” The Merchant of Venice, V.i.90

“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16″

Hostetler provides a narrative explaining how the words of each player relate to truth expressed in the Bible. This portion of each devotion includes encouragement and application ideas for the reader. Then the author presents a challenge to act out that truth in daily events.

One of the best things about these devotions, in my opinion anyway, is the final section of each one. Hostetler shines here with his knowledge of the Bard and his works. He obviously enjoys sharing little tidbits with us.

His book “The Red Letter Life,” is also worth a read. Hostetler is an award-winning author and, so far, I have all kinds of reasons to see why.

Gathering Courage: A Book Review

By T.A. McMullin, copyright 2015, Gathering Courage Media, 200 pages

This is the story of Terry, born Kaysia, who overcame blindness, dyslexia, and the pain of abandonment. McMullin hopes, through her memoir, to support people who share some of her experiences. Anyone who struggles in life, Terry believes, can acquire a can-do attitude.

Terry, who goes by T.A., begins the story with her birth and ultimate adoption. She talks a lot about one of her passions: animals, especially dogs and horses. When T.A. felt the most disheartened, it was God and her loving pets to whom she turned.

The family dynamics she met in each foster care home seem to be the same. Rejected from the first adoptive family, her self-esteem plummeted. She struggled in school and early in life. She wore a brace because of back problems. Ultimately, she became legally blind.

But her story isn’t all sadness. Because of her faith and her tenacity, she had success and experienced love from people who, she says, never gave up on her. She attended a major university, achieving two degrees.

Gathering Courage most certainly tells the story of a woman who triumphed over adversities. Her story is interesting and inspiring as she hoped it would be. T.A. tells her story in chronological order of events, which makes sense in this case. She includes photos of some of the pets and locations she is most fond of. Gathering Courage attempts to humbly show the courage of its author. The story will also inspire us to be the best we can be despite the problems we may encounter.

However, I think the handling of the content suffers. The book could have been shorter and it needed professional editing or the hand of a skilled ghost writer. While these considerations don’t detract from the story, they’re noticeable enough to have made the story go slowly for me.

A mentor and teacher, the author is committed to helping others like her “To Make Life Better.” It’s her vision and heartfelt desire.

T.A.’s memoir may be found at Gathering Courage Media or on Amazon.

The reviewer received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher through the Bookcrash program in exchange for an honest review.

“I Think I Am Happier Than I Think I Am”- A Book Review

By Reverend James O’Leary, copyright 2002, Battle Creek Area Catholic Schools, 180 pages

Here is a book with a title that, if you cannot relate to it, you only need read a few of the short essays and you soon will. These “pastor’s thoughts” wake you up to just how good life is even if a few bad moments come in an otherwise pretty good day.

When Father Jim O’Leary first released the book, I was so happy to see it. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing first-hand his words of wisdom, humor and kindness. Reading the book again after many years, I hear his voice and see that twinkle in his eye.

Father Jim shares insights into Catholic traditions, travels in Europe associated with his calling, missions trips, parenting, growing up in Michigan, and eventually serving there. He tells stories about simple living and what he learns from everyone he meets. While he may have rubbed elbows with some pretty important people, it’s obvious he’s energized by conversations with folks like you and me.

Each essay is a reflection of Jim’s heart. Like this:

“Our world is so full of people who are planning to change the world. They are simply waiting for the right time. I do believe that I must include myself in this group. We wait and wait and the right moment never comes, and we never make our contribution to the improvement of our world. Opportunities to serve people surround us. The right time is now. Always, the time is now.”

I haven’t met many people as humble as Jim O’Leary. Of course, he’d get a sour look on his face, glance at his feet, and shake his head if he heard me say that. And that’s because, as I knew him, he really was a self-effacing man.

One day, during one of our brief meetings, I wanted to get a rise out of him. “Jim,” I said, “since I’m not Catholic, instead of calling you ‘Father,’ can I just call you ‘Dad?’”

He did laugh. “Just don’t call me what my parishioners call me,” he said.

“What’s that?”

In a matter-of-fact style and with a straight face, he said…No, I better not. It wasn’t a nice name. But I’m sure he was joking with me as well. That twinkle in his eye, you see.

“I Think I Am Happier Than I Think I Am” is filled with stuff like this. No, not bad words. But his way of seeing things. His constant love for God and for people. His explanations about Jesus and His earthly ministry. Metaphors for life derived from everyday observations. Father Jim doesn’t try in his book to convert anyone, but it’s plain he hopes you’ll believe in the One who was born, preached the Good News, and died to save us from ourselves. Jim always admitted that he needed saving from himself and his stories reveal his gratitude for God’s mercy.

The essays are gleaned from his columns originally published in the weekly St. Joseph Parish bulletin. Jim was a priest in the Battle Creek parish where I live. He was not my priest; as I mentioned, I’m not Catholic. But he was a good friend. The last time I saw him, we were both at a local American Cancer Society Relay for Life. Both cancer survivors, we met on the track and shared our news, chatting like old friends do.

I’m so glad I read the book again. It feels like we’re having another of those chats. Gosh, I miss him.

It’s a Jungle in Here: Book Review

It’s a Jungle in Here by Kristie Wilde; 22 pages; copyright 2018

Kristie Wilde, the author and illustrator of this title, has a real winner with another in the Joyful Creation Series. 

When I saw the cover of the book in my selection email from Bookcrash, I wondered if all the illustrations in this picture book would be as beautiful as the cover. (It doesn’t hurt that I really like elephants.) I wasn’t disappointed. Since children are drawn to the pictures in a book as much as the story, these watercolors do the job and then some.

The book is short, but I think that just means it’s a book kids request by asking, “Read it again,” and Mom or Dad won’t mind because it doesn’t take long to repeat. And I mean it, the paintings Kristie supplies are also fun. Check out the page with the frogs. Those little guys are so cute and it took me a bit to count them all. There are brightly colored butterflies and birds; big cats; and funny monkeys. She even includes chameleons, which tickled me, the owner of a crested gecko.

In the back, the author includes simple, but pretty cool, information about each animal group she presents. Her degree in forestry is probably one of the reasons she finds it a joy to educate kids while encouraging them and entertaining them with a good story.

All that and the message that God made each of the animals in the jungle unique and that he’s pleased with them. “It’s a Jungle in Here” reminds children that God is pleased with them too, no matter who they are.

If you want a copy of this beautifully illustrated book with a special message for your kids or grand kids, look for it at Barnes & Noble or Wilde Art Press, the publisher.

Bookcrash supplied me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for the review. (I’m going to gift it to a friend who has youngsters.)

 

“Three Simple Rules” A Review

“Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living; Rueben P. Job; copyright 2007; 77 pp.

The book is based on Wesley’s three simple rules: Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love With God. The editor, Reuben P. Job, says in his preface that these three rules “have the power to change the world.”

I’m a Wesleyan and am familiar with the Discipline. Epigraphs for each of the chapters are taken from Psalms and the New Testament.

The book can be read in one sitting, but I believe it needs to be read more slowly so the reader can chew on the wisdom of Wesley. For instance:

“When I am determined to do no harm to you, I lose my fear of you; and I am able to see you and hear you more clearly.”

This tiny little book includes a Daily Guide to Prayer and believe it or not, the musical rendition of “Stay in Love With God,” which is adapted from words by John Wesley.