Book Review of BONHOEFFER by Eric Metaxas

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson: 2010), 544 pages plus Foreward by Timothy Keller, 20 pages of Notes, 3 pages of Bibliography, 12 pages of Index, 15 pages of Reading Group Guide which altogether puts the number of pages of this book at 608.

It took me two years to read this book.  Mostly because I started it one summer, then became involved in a volunteer position with adults and small children which takes a lot of my time and energy during the school year.  If you enjoy reading and are less encumbered, then you can probably read this book much faster.

Bonhoeffer is a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who lived in Germany from 2/4/1906 – 7/27/1945.  Hitler, personally, ordered his execution one week before taking his own life and ending WWII.  Hitler wanted Dietrich Bonhoeffer executed because Bonhoeffer was from a wealthy, prominent German family –what Hitler considered the super race—and yet Bonhoeffer and many of his family and friends had worked together for years to remove Hitler from office and restore Germany to a free and democratic state not a socialist, Nazi regime.  Bonhoeffer personified Hitler’s ubermensch, his superman.  Dietrich was blonde-haired, blue-eyed, young, strong, healthy, wealthy, intelligent and well-connected.  The problem for Hitler is that Bonhoeffer rejected Hitler.  Bonhoeffer, his family and friends rejected Hitler from the beginning.  Dietrich and his family went so far in their rejection to plot to assassinate Hitler.  Bonhoeffer also talked to Heads of State in England and Switzerland about Germany’s place in the world if it was not ruled by Hitler and no longer a Nazi regime.  Hitler wanted to create a master race.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a poster boy for that master race, but he could not submit to Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Bonhoeffer’s Sermon the Day Hitler Took Office:

“He began by explaining why Germany was looking for a Fuhrer.  The First War and the subsequent depression and turmoil had brought about a crisis in which the younger generation, especially, had lost all confidence in the traditional authority of the Kaiser and the church.  The German notion of the Fuhrer arose out of this generation and its search for meaning and guidance out of its troubles.  The difference between real leadership and the false leadership of the Leader was this: real leadership derived its authority from God, the source of all goodness. Thus parents have legitimate authority because they are submitted to the legitimate authority of a good God. But the authority of the Fuhrer was submitted to nothing. It was self-derived and autocratic and therefore had a messianic aspect.

“The good leader serves others and leads others to maturity.  He puts them above himself, as a good parent does a child, wishing to lead that child to someday be a good parent.  Another word for this is discipleship.  He continued:

‘Only when a man sees that office is a penultimate authority in the face of an ultimate, indescribable authority, in the face of the authority of God, has the real situation been reached.  And before this Authority the individual knows himself to be completely alone. The individual is responsible before God.  And this solitude of man’s position before God, this subjection to an ultimate authority, is destroyed when the authority of the Leader or of the office is seen as ultimate authority.…Alone before God, man become what he is, free and committed in responsibility at the same time.

“Forty-eight hours had passed since Hitler’s election, but with Bonhoeffer’s speech the battle lines were drawn.  According to Bonhoeffer, the God of the Bible stood behind true authority and benevolent leadership, but opposed the Fuhrer Principle and its advocate Adolf Hitler.  Of course Hitler never publicly denounced God.  He knew well that there were many churchgoers in Germany who had some vague idea that real authority should come from their God, but unlike Bonhoeffer, they had no idea what this actually meant.  To embody the kind of leadership that rejected this idea of submission to God’s authority, one must at least give lip service to that God, else one would not last very long.  Hitler was ultimately a practical man, and as all truly practical men, he was a cynical man.

Hitler’s Speech the Day He Took Office:

“So Hitler gave a speech that day too.  He was just forty-three and had already toiled in the political wilderness half his life.  Ten years had passed since the Bierhall Putsch that landed him in prison.  Now he was the chancellor of Germany.  The original come-back kid had triumphed over his enemies.  But to convince his followers that his authority was legitimate, he must say the necessary things.  Thus the opening words of his speech that day were: ‘We are determined, as leaders of the nation, to fulfill as a national government the task which has been given to us, swearing fidelity only to God, our conscience, and our Volk.’  If his conscience was not already a corpse, it might have felt a twinge as he spoke.  Hitler then declared that his government, which was a lie, instantly annulled itself.  He ended with another appeal to the God he did not believe in, but whose Jewish and Christian followers he would thenceforward persecute and kill: ‘May God Almighty take our work into his grace, give true form to our will, bless our insight, and endow us with the trust of our Volk!’

Karl Bonhoeffer’s [Dietrich’s Father] Thoughts on Hitler:

“‘From the start, we regarded the victory of National Socialism in 1933 and Hitler’s appointment as Reichkanzler as a misfortune—the entire family agreed on this.  In my own case, I disliked and mistrusted Hitler because of his demagogic propagandistic speeches…his habit of driving about the country carrying a riding crop, his choice of colleagues—with whose qualities, incidentally, we in Berlin were better acquainted than people elsewhere—and finally because of what I heard from professional colleagues about his psychopathic symptoms.’

“The Bonhoeffer’s saw through Hitler from the beginning, but no one believed his reign would last as long as it did.  Surely the Nazis would have their moment, perhaps even a long moment, but then it would be gone.  It was all a terrible nightmare that, come morning, would disappear.  But morning never seemed to come.”  (pp. 140-144)

From the start, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his father Karl Bonhoeffer and many of their family and friends saw Hitler for the problem that he was.  This book explores an aspect to Nazi Germany that I had not considered before—religion.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor.  He was born into a noteworthy German family.  He recognized Hitler and the Nazis as bad for Germany, so what would he do?  How would he reconcile being a Christian pastor under a government that hated Christians?

“Bonhoeffer went on to say that to ‘confess Christ’ meant to do so to Jews as well as to Gentiles.  He declared it vital for the church to attempt to bring the Messiah of the Jews to the Jewish people who did not yet know him.  If Hitler’s laws were adopted this would be impossible.  His dramatic and somewhat shocking conclusion was that not only should the church allow Jews to be a part of the church, but that this was precisely what the church was: it was the place where Jews and Germans stand together.  ‘What is at stake,’ he said, ‘is by no means the question whether our German members of congregations can still tolerate church fellowship with the Jews.  It is rather the task of Christian preaching to say; here is the church, where Jew and German stand together under the Word of God; here is the proof whether a church is still the church or not’.”  (pp. 153-155)

It was one matter to theoretically understand the situation Germany was facing under Hitler.  It was another matter to act on those principles while still remaining alive and not being killed by Nazis.  While Bonhoeffer was thinking deeply about the church’s role in Germany, the Nazis were busy inventing their own new religion.

“Hitler seems to have believed that Nietzsche had prophesied his coming and rise to power.  In The Will to Power, Nietzsche prophesied the coming of a race of rulers, ‘a particularly strong kind of man, most highly gifted in intellect and will.’  Hitler believed the Aryan race was this ‘race of rulers.’  Nietzsche referred to these men as ‘lords of the earth.’ William Shirer said that Nietzsche’s rantings along these lines met with Hitler’s approval: ‘[They] must have struck a responsive chord in Hitler’s littered mind.  At any rate he appropriated them for his own—not only the thoughts but…often his very words.  ‘Lords of the Earth’ is a familiar expression in Mein Kampf.  That in the end Hitler considered himself the superman of Nietzsche’s prophecy can not be doubted.’  (Page 168)

“Since Hitler had no religion other than himself, his opposition to Christianity and the church was less ideological than practical.  That was not the case for many leaders of the Third Reich.  Alfred Rosenberg, Martin Bormann, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, and others were bitterly anti-Christian and were ideologically opposed to Christianity, and wanted to replace it with a religion of their own devising.  Under their leadership, said Shirer, ‘the Nazi regime intended eventually to destroy Christianity in Germany, if it could, and substitute the old paganism of the early tribal Germanic gods and the new paganism of the Nazi extremists.’

“Hitler wouldn’t let them do this at first, hence his constant battle to rein them in.  But he was not opposed to their doing it when the time was right.  He couldn’t take it very seriously, but he thought that  the neopagan stew that Himmler was cooking up would probably be far more useful than Christianity because it would advocate such ‘virtues’ as would be useful to the Third Reich.” (pp. 168-171)

The new Nazi religion wanted to replace the cross with the swastika, replace the Bible with Mein Kampf, and replace Jesus Christ with Adolph Hitler.  Nazi Germany was an unfriendly place for Christian pastors.

The draft was calling many young German men to fight for the Fatherland—Nazi Germany—and that included Christian pastors.  Bonhoeffer first considered being a conscientious objector and not fighting at all.  Eventually he decided that was unfair to other young Christian pastors who were fighting and that he would be turning his back on the greater problems Germans were facing.  So, he decided to join the Abwehr to be a spy.  As a German spy he was involved in several plots to assassinate Hitler.

Abwehr:

“On February 24, the Abwehr sent Bonhoeffer to Geneva.  His main purpose was to make contact with Protestant leaders outside Germany, let them know about the conspiracy, and put out feelers about peace terms with the government that would take over.  Muller was having similar conversations at the Vatican with Catholic leaders.  But at first, Bonhoeffer couldn’t even get into Switzerland.  The Swiss border police insisted that someone inside Switzerland vouch for him as his guarantor.  Bonhoeffer named Karl Barth, who was called, and assented, but not without some misgivings.

“Like others at the time, Barth was perplexed about Bonhoeffer’s mission.  How could a Confessing Church pastor come to Switzerland in the midst of war?  It seemed to him that Bonhoeffer must have somehow made peace with the Nazis.  This was one of the casualties of the war, that trust itself seemed to die a thousand deaths.

“Such doubts and questions from others would plague Bonhoeffer, but he certainly wasn’t free to explain what he was doing to those outside his inner circle.  This represented another ‘death’ to self for him because he had to surrender his reputation in the church.  People wondered how he escaped the fate of the rest of his generation.  He was writing and traveling, meeting with this one and that one, going to movies and restaurants, and living a life of relative privilege and freedom while others were suffering and dying and being put in excruciating positions of moral compromise.

“Even if Bonhoeffer could have explained that he was in fact working against Hitler, many in the Confessing Church would still have been confused, and others would have been outraged.  For a pastor to be involved in a plot whose linchpin was the assassination of the head of state during a time of war, when brothers and sons and fathers were giving their lives for the country, was unthinkable.  Bonhoeffer had come to a place where he was in many ways very much alone.  God had driven him to this place, though, and he was not about to look for a way out any more than Jeremiah had done.  It was the fate he had embraced, and it was obedience to God, and he could rejoice in it, and did.”  (pp. 376-377)

Bonhoeffer was very much alone as a spy.  The aloneness caused him to surrender his life even more fully to God.

Spy:

“In light of the events in Germany at that time, everyone was trapped in a situation of ethical impossibilities.  In light of the monstrous evils being committed all around, what could one do and what should one do?  In letters from his ordinands, we read of how tortured they were in knowing when to protest and when to accede when to go to war, even if they knew it was unjust, and when to take a stand.  One of them wrote to Bonhoeffer about having to kill prisoners and was obviously torn up about it, knowing that if he didn’t comply, he would himself be killed.  This sort of thing had become commonplace.  Who could fathom the horrors of the concentration camps where Jews, hoping to preserve their own lives, were forced to do unspeakable things to other Jews?  The utter evilness of evil now showed itself clearly, and it showed up the bankruptcy of man’s so-called ethical attempts to deal with it.  The problem of evil is too much for us.  We are all tainted by it and cannot escape being tainted by it.

“The solution is to do the will of God, to do it radically and courageously and joyfully.  To try to explain ‘right’ and ‘wrong’—to talk about ethics—outside of God and obedience to his will is impossible: ‘Principles are only tools in the hands of God; they will soon be thrown away when they are no longer useful.’  We must look only at God, and in him we are reconciled to our situation in the world.  If we look only to principles and rules, we are in a fallen realm where our reality is divided from God:”  (pp. 468-471)

Bonhoeffer was an intelligent, educated, cultured, connected and privileged man with family and friends scattered throughout the world who decided to surrender his life to Jesus Christ.  Dietrich’s father was a prominent atheist.  Dietrich’s mother was a Christian.  Dietrich felt God called him to himself at a young age.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer attempted to lead a life of excellence, surrendered to Christ Jesus.  During the course of his life, Adolf Hitler came to power and created Nazi Germany.  Largely this fact forced Bonhoeffer to think deeply about God, the Bible and Jesus Christ and what it all meant to be a Christian pastor at that time and in that place.  The more deeply he thought, the more bold and surrendered his claims became. This biography follows that journey for Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote Life Together, The Cost of Discipleship and Ethics.

This book review originally appeared on jaynechaseloseke.com on June 27, 2017.  You can find out more about Eric Metaxas at his website at http://ericmetaxas.com/.  His books include:

Book Review of THE PRODIGAL GOD by Rev. Timothy Keller, Ph.D.

The Prodigal God (Riverhead 2011, Dutton 2008), 149 pages with 4 pages of notes.

This book took me less than five hours to read.  The parable is familiar, but the author’s ultimate conclusion–that Jesus is a prodigal God–is new.  This book discusses the parable of the prodigal son.  (Luke 15:11-32)  Here is the parable:

The Parable of the Lost Son

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”  (BibleGateway.com, NIV)

Jesus shows us a solution to the human dilemma of being experientially-driven humans who feel, need and desire, yet want to live a life that is in harmony with God.  We want to live at peace with God and people, while still enjoying our sensual nature.  How do we do that?  The prodigal son parable shows the two extremes to the dilemma through the older and younger brothers.  Most of us are neither as self-involved as the younger brother—wishing our parents were dead so we could have our inheritance.  Nor are we as dutifully moralistic as the older brother—serving his father because it is the right thing to do, but feeling no love for his father or his younger brother.  Most of us fall somewhere between these two extremes.  We all grapple with the dilemma of reconciling our two basic selves: sensory and moral.  How can we successfully satisfy both sides of our human nature?  Dr. Keller suggests the same thing Jesus suggests, that we repent in order to know God better and to be fully renewed as God’s people.

“What must we do, then, to be saved?  To find God we must repent of the things we have done wrong, but if that is all you do, you may remain just an elder brother.  To truly become Christians we must also repent of the reasons we ever did anything right.  Pharisees only repent of their sins, but Christians repent for the very roots of their righteousness, too.  We must learn how to repent of the sin under all our other sins and under all our righteousness—the sin of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord.  We must admit that we’ve put our ultimate hope and trust in things other than God, and that in both our wrongdoing and right doing we have been seeking to get around God or get control of God in order to get hold of those things.  It is only when you see the desire to be your own Savior and Lord—lying beneath both your sins and your moral goodness—that you are on the verge of understanding the gospel and becoming a Christian indeed.  When you realize that the antidote to being bad is not just being good, you are on the brink.  If you follow through, it will change everything:  how you relate to God, self, others, the world, your work, your sins, your virtue.  It’s called the new birth because it’s so radical.”  (pp. 87-88)

Dr. Keller is saying that in order to be made right with God through Jesus Christ, we need to surrender our hurts, our vanities, and our desire to control our world.  We have to surrender today and tomorrow and repent of everything in our past that did not begin and end with God.

Timothy Keller titled the book The Prodigal God.  The implication is that Jesus Christ laid down his majesty in heaven.  He left his Father’s house and went to live among sinful men to find his way in the world.  Sinful men took everything from him.  In fact, they beat and crucified him.  They killed him.  Why would Lord God Almighty, who has the power, resources and time to do anything choose to send his only begotten son to earth to live and die among sinners?

“Christianity, therefore, is perhaps the most materialistic of the world’s faiths.  Jesus’ miracles were not so much violations of the natural order, but a restoration of the natural order.  God did not create a world with blindness, leprosy, hunger, and death in it.  Jesus’ miracles were a sign that someday all these corruptions of his creation would be abolished.  Christians, therefore, can talk of saving the soul and of building social systems that deliver safe streets and warm homes in the same sentence.  With integrity.  Jesus hates suffering, injustice, evil, and death so much, he came and experienced it to defeat it and, someday, to wipe the world clean of it.  Knowing all this, Christians cannot be passive about hunger, sickness, and injustice.  Karl Marx and others have charged that religion is ‘the opiate of the masses.’ That is, it is a sedative that makes people passive toward injustice, because there will be ‘pie in the sky bye and bye.’  That may be true of some religions that teach people that this material world is unimportant or illusory.  Christianity, however, teaches that God hates the suffering and oppression of this material world so much, he was willing to get involved in it and to fight against it.  Properly understood, Christianity is by no means the opiate of the people.  It’s more like the smelling salts.”  (pp. 126-127)

Dr. Keller is saying that God created the earth and all its fullness as an act of love.  God created a good and beautiful world, but man wrecked it.  So God sent Jesus, His Son, to earth to restore to God what man had wrecked.

Our prodigal God is Jesus Christ.  Jesus is unique among all other gods in that he became one of us, in order to save us all.  If my God loves me so much he was willing to leave paradise to come to earth to pull me out of the muck and mire of this world, to set my feet on solid ground and to restore this fallen world to its original God-given glory, then surely there is hope.  Jesus truly is the light of the world, because he became a prodigal just like me. Isn’t that an amazing story of love?

I liked this book.  I recommend it.  It gave me plenty of things to think about.  This book review originally appeared on jaynechaseloseke.com on September 16, 2016.  You can find out more about Rev. Timothy Keller, Ph.D. at his website at http://www.timothykeller.com/.  You can listen to his sermons at Redeemer Presbyterian Church on iTunes.  His books include:

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

Every Good Endeavor

Center Church

Jesus the King

The Meaning of Marriage

Generous Justice

Counterfeit Gods

The Reason for God

Preaching:  Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism

Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions

The Prodigal God

Romans 1-7 For You

Romans 8-16 For You

Galatians for You

Judges For You

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness

Ministries of Mercy

King’s Cross

The Songs of Jesus

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical

Hidden Christmas:  The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ

Book Review: I AM MALALA by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

I am Malala (Little, Brown & Co. Pub.: 2013), 327 pages text plus 16 pages of photographs.

I am Malala: The Girl who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban is a worthy read. I mostly read this book in the backseat of our Kia on a recent cross country road trip between Oregon and Nebraska. I learned so much about Pakistan and the Muslim people that I never knew I didn’t know. When I finished the book I had a lot of compassion for the people caught in the political and religious wars in the Middle East. Malala claims in the book a few times that she believes the Islamist extremists who are murdering people in the name of Allah are not true Muslims because nowhere does her holy book, the Quran, instruct Muslims to murder people to bring Allah glory. She believes her people were misled because so many are illiterate and cannot read the Quran for themselves. Many Pakistanis memorize the Quran in Arabic, but the people don’t speak Arabic and don’t know what the words mean. So when the Pakistani Taliban starts a radio program telling people how to wear their clothes, trim their beards and be better Muslims, they believed it, because they truly wanted to be better Muslims. But the Pakistani Taliban turned out to be using and abusing the Pakistani people living in the rural area of northern Pakistan. Malala speaks compassionately about her people in Pakistan. She probably has a future career in politics in Pakistan. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book.

  1. Pakistan became a sovereign, independent Muslim nation on August 14, 1947. Mohammad Ali Jinnah is the founder of Pakistan. Swat became part of Pakistan in 1969. In 1977 General Zia ul-Haq seized control of Pakistan, executed the elected Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. General Zia then launched a campaign of Islamization in Pakistan. General Zia set up prayer committees in every district and appointed 100,000 prayer inspectors. [Pakistan numbered 84.2 million people in 1981.] Then General Zia called the mullahs to Islamabad to teach them how to give sermons. General Zia greatly restricted women’s rights in Pakistan. He opened madrasas or religious schools and replaced the school curriculum with Islamyat, or Islamic studies. He also started a military intelligence service which Malala calls ISI. [“ISI – the Pakistan intelligence agency; a powerful and almost autonomous political and military force; has procured nuclear technology and delivery capabilities; has had strong ties with the Taliban and other militant Islamic groups.” According to The Free Dictionary by Farlex, http://www.thefreedictionary.com.] The ISI trained Afghan refugees to become mujahedeen, or resistance fighters. It was during this time that a Saudi millionaire, named Osama bin Laden, went to Pakistan to train to be a resistance fighter. (pp. 30-32).
  2. “Just in front of the school on Khushal Street, where I was born, was the house of a tall handsome mullah and his family. His name was Ghulamullah, and he called himself a mufti, which means he is an Islamic scholar and authority on Islamic law, though my father complains that anyone with a turban can call himself a maulana or mufti. The school was doing well, and my father was building an impressive reception area with an arched entrance in the boys’ high school. For the first time my mother could buy nice clothes and even send out for food as she had dreamed of doing back in the village. But all this time the mufti was watching. He watched the girls going in and out of our school every day and became angry, particularly as some of the girls were teenagers. “That maulana has a bad eye on us,” said my father one day. He was right.  Shortly afterward the mufti went to the woman who owned the school premises and said, “Ziauddin is running a haram school in your building and bringing shame on the mohalla [neighborhood]. These girls should be in purdah.” He told her, “Take this building back from him and I will rent it for my madrasa. She refused and her son came to my father in secret. “This maulana is starting a campaign against you,” he warned. “We won’t give him the building but be careful.” My father was angry. “Just as we say, ‘Nim hakim khatrai jan’—‘Half a doctor is a danger to one’s life,’ so ‘Nim mullah khatrai iman’—‘A mullah who is not fully learned is a danger to faith,’” he said. I am proud that our country was created as the world’s first Muslim homeland, but we still don’t agree on what this means. The Quran teaches us sabar—patience—but often it feels that we have forgotten the word and think Islam means women sitting at home in purdah or wearing burqas while men do jihad. We have many strands of Islam in Pakistan. Our founder Jinnah wanted the rights of Muslims in India to be recognized, but the majority of people in India were Hindu. It was as if there were a feud between two brothers and they agreed to live in different houses. So British India was divided in August 1947, and an independent Muslim state was born…. We Muslims are split between Sunnis and Shias—we share the same fundamental beliefs and the same Holy Quran, but we disagree over who was the right person to lead our religion when the Prophet died in the seventh century. The man chosen to be the leader or caliph was Abu Bakr, a close friend and adviser of the Prophet and the man he chose to lead prayers as he lay on his deathbed. “Sunni” comes from the Arabic for “one who follows the traditions of the Prophet.” But a smaller group believed that leadership should have stayed within the Prophet’s own family and that Ali, his son-in-law and cousin, should have taken over. They became known as Shias, shortened from Shia-t-Ali, the Party of Ali.” (pp. 90-92.)
  3. “I sat on the rocks and thought about the fact that across the water were lands where women were free. In Pakistan we had had a woman prime minister and in Islamabad I had met those impressive working women, yet the fact was that we were a country where almost all the women depend entirely on men. My headmistress Maryam was a strong educated woman, but in our society she could not live on her own and come to work. She had to be living with a husband, brother or parents. In Pakistan when women say they want independence, people think this means we don’t want to obey our fathers, brothers or husbands. But it does not mean that. It means we want to make decisions for ourselves. We want to be free to go to school or to go to work. Nowhere is it written in the Quran that a woman should be dependent on a man. The word has not come down from the heavens to tell us that every woman should listen to a man.” (pp. 218-219.)

Malala is probably best known as the young Muslim girl who was shot in the face, at close range, by the Pakistan Taliban as she sat on a school bus, surrounded by her classmates, coming home from school. Against all odds, this remarkable young lady survived. In this book she says her family is living in England. She is still going to school and still thriving.

Since I read I am Malala she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, “The Nobel Peace Prize 2014 was awarded jointly to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”  (http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2014/). She seems to be a strong, sincere Muslim teenager whose heart longs to champion women’s rights in Pakistan. I look forward to see where life takes this impressive young lady.

I bought this book on Amazon.com. No one paid me for my book review. This review originally appeared in https://jaynechaseloseke.com/ on January 3, 2015. I am disclosing this information in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review of PARENTING FOR THE LAUNCH by Dennis Trittin & Arlyn Lawrence

Parenting for the Launch (LifeSmart Pub. 2013), 190 pages text plus 11 pages of appendices and 1 page of endnotes.

Parenting for the Launch: Raising teens to succeed in the real world is written for parents and guardians of teens to prepare children to successfully leave home and launch out into the real world. The authors explain that “25% of U.S. high school students don’t graduate high school, the U.S. ranks last in industrialized nations for graduating our college students, and the current level of unemployment for teens is 23.7%.” (p. 12) Thus there is room for improvement in preparing our children to successfully transition to adult life outside the home. And once our children have launched we want them to be successful, diligent, respectful and good stewards of their resources, whether they go to college, the military or straight into the work force. The authors use a multi-pronged approach for these preparations. The aspects they look at include: 1) family environment, 2) fostering leadership, 3) self discovery, 4) understanding finances, and 5) jobs.

  1. Family. The authors provide a sample mission statement on pages 30-31 and suggest that we try to come up with one for our own families. “MISSION: To inspire, equip, and empower our future adults who are admired for their character, respected for their gifts and talents, and remembered for the love and service they give to others.”
  2. Leadership. The authors discuss nurturing leadership skills in our children. “Helping teens develop a leadership foundation for life is one of our most important parenting responsibilities. It has a huge bearing on whether they will reach their full potential and make wise life decisions.” (p. 39)
  3. Self Discovery. “The DISC ® Personality Profile is based on the work of renowned psychologist Dr. William Marston, a contemporary of Carl Jung. Marston developed the DISC Personality Profile in the 1920’s, after studying the personality traits, behavioral patterns, and instinctual reactions of thousands of individuals. As a result of his work, Marston developed the DISC assessment tool for measuring four primary behavioral traits: Dominance (D), Influence (I), Steadiness (S), and Conscientiousness (C)….Using the DISC model, we can group people according to their pace (fast or slow) and priority (tasks or people). There is no right or wrong (we all have a style!), and everyone falls somewhere on both of these continuums.” (p. 80)
    1. D—Dominant—Decisive, confident, self-directed, independent, direct, a change-agent.
    2. I—Influencing—Relational, interactive, expressive, visionary, emotional, fun-loving, optimistic.
    3. S—Steady/Stable—Dependable, loyal, committed, supportive, cooperative.
    4. C—Conscientious—Self-disciplined, cautious, detailed, analytical, intuitive.
    5. Where you land in the spectrum will indicate what your personality, motivations, priorities, and comfortable pace looks like in real life, as you relate to the world around you, including and especially your kids.” (pp. 82-83.)“It’s helpful to share this information with your teen. Teens are in an important time of self-discovery. They don’t know that everyone is not wired like they are and they don’t know exactly how their parents are wired, either. They may feel that different is “bad” when it comes to personality differences, relational needs, and behavioral styles. Help them identify their own strengths and weaknesses—and be honest about your own. This is a helpful item for their life skills tool box that will serve them well in their relationships with you and others.” (p. 95). The authors also discuss helping the teen discern all the voices in their lives: friends, parents, teachers, media voices and even make the point that our homes convey messages to our children about who they are. Helping our children discover who they are is critically helpful during the years before the transition. It helps our children make wise choices after they leave home.
  4. Finances. They also recommend we teach our children how to be financially responsible and financially conversant in investments, debt and daily expenditures. “Do they understand that the three best ways to avoid poverty are to graduate from high school, not marry before 20, and only have children after they marry?” (p. 201, appendix)
  5. Jobs. In regard to jobs the authors discuss performance reviews. They suggest we coach our teens to ask their job supervisor what constitutes an “excellent” performance rating and then for the teen to work hard to achieve that excellent rating. The authors also ask “Have you shared the key transition risks with them: social impatience, lack of study disciplines, damaging recreational habits, lack of a support network and spiritual life, excessive personal performance stress, and financial irresponsibility?” (p. 202, appendix).

Finally, the authors recommend making a blessing packet for our teens and give it to them right before they leave home. “One of the greatest gifts parents can give their children is the loving perspectives of their uniqueness and value. A great example is to put together a “blessing packet.” You don’t need to call it that; you can name it anything you like, such as “Words to Live By,” “Chicken Soup for ___’s Soul,” or, “A Hundred Things We Love about ______.” The point is that you’re collecting and delivering messages of encouragement and affirmation for your son or daughter that will strengthen his or her self-worth, identity, and sense of significance and calling. You’ll need to consider the people who have had the greatest impact on the life of your teen. They can be family members (parents are a must), friends, teachers, mentors, faith leaders, or others who offer a blessing in the form of a letter. As you recruit these VIPs, suggest they share special qualities, memories, inspirational thoughts, pictures, and the like. The purpose is to collect a wide array of well wishes that honor your teen. Then, at an appropriate time, give them an envelope containing these private letters. Some schools in our area arrange for this at a junior or senior class retreat. It is incredibly powerful. And, it offers you, the parent, an opportunity to say the things you wish you had said or said more. It’s especially meaningful for the parents who are less expressive (often fathers). Be forewarned, it can be an incredibly emotional experience for the parent. (Having done two myself, I can personally attest to that!) But, it’s a gift we not only give to our children, but also to ourselves. This keepsake is a profound blessing to your children. You don’t have to wait until launch time, but it’s a great parting gift that honors your teen at this critical time of life.” (pp. 183-184).

After the teen moves away to college or to the military or enters the workforce the parent then needs to move from the driver seat to the passenger seat. Some of this book deals with helping the parent prepare for the next stage of parenthood—coaching and encouraging. It has good advice and a few things I may consider trying myself, such as the blessing packet and taking the on-line DISC assessment with my teenage daughter.

“Frank A. Clark says, ‘The most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.’” (p. 155). The authors believe the first three months after a young adult leaves the home is vitally important. (p. 185). You can find out more about Dennis Trittin at his website at http://www.dennistrittin.com/. Trittin also wrote What I Wish I Knew at 18.

I received a free copy of this book from Icon Media Group. No one paid me for this book review. My review originally appeared in https://jaynechaseloseke.com/ on August 6, 2014. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review of SOUL KEEPING by Dr. John Ortberg

Soul Keeping (Zondervan 2014), 193 pages with 8 pages of source notes.

Soul Keeping is a book that offers hope.  Dr. Ortberg takes a look at the state of our souls.  He intelligently discusses some common problems in our society:  addiction, materialism, self-absorption and busyness.  He offers a new way to look at these problems.  Ortberg suggests we have lost our way because we have lost touch with our souls.  He offers hope by suggesting we consider the state of our souls, with God’s help, to improve our lives and our society.  He accomplishes this provision through an homage to Dallas Willard.

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from Soul Keeping.

  1. “I recall Jesus’ memorable words about the soul: ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?’ I have always thought this verse meant that in the long run it won’t do you any good to acquire a lot of money and have a lot of sex and other sensual pleasures if you end up going to hell. When I mentioned that to Dallas, he gently corrected me.   ‘That is not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is not talking here about people going to hell.’ He explained that Jesus is talking about a diagnosis, not a destination. If we think of hell as a torture chamber and heaven as a pleasure factory, we will never understand Jesus’ points. For the ruined soul—that is, where the will and the mind and the body are disintegrated, disconnected from God, and living at odds with the way God made life in the universe to run—acquiring the whole world could not even produce satisfaction, let alone meaning and goodness. To lose my soul means I no longer have a healthy center that organizes and guides my life—I am a car without a steering wheel. It doesn’t matter how fast I can go, because I am a crash waiting to happen.” Pp. 40-41.
  2. “Our world has replaced the word soul with the word self and they are not the same thing. The more that we focus on our selves, the more we neglect our souls….because we have replaced church, faith, and community with a tiny little unit that cannot bear the weight of meaning. That’s the self. We’re all about the self. We revolve our lives around ourselves. Ironically, the more obsessed we are with ourselves, the more we neglect our souls.” P. 42.
  3. [I condensed this excerpt for brevity and clarity.] “How does the world we live in keep us from attending to our souls? Jesus told a story about this…It’s a story about seeds, a sower and some soil. In a story like this one, it helps to notice what are the constants and what are the variables in order to understand Jesus’ point. The seed is a constant. This is not a good story about good seeds and bad seeds. The seed will take root given half a chance. The seed is a little picture of God’s desire and action to redeem souls. The sower is a constant. This isn’t a story about good sowers and bad sowers. The first thing we notice about him is how generous he is with the seed. He scatters it everywhere. It is the soil that gets interesting. The soil is the variable. And for ‘soil,’ we might replace it with the word ‘soul.’ The closed soul is death. The receptive soul is life. Some seeds fall on the path, Jesus said. In the Middle East, conditions are already dry. The path is the place where farmers walk, where sheep make their way to water and grass. The path is hard and dry, and the seeds don’t have a chance. Souls get that way. Often these seeds are people who have been hurt or disappointed. They form a protective shell. They become cynical or bitter or suspicious. The world diverts my soul-attention when it encourages me to think of myself more as a victim than as a human. I am so wrapped up in the hurt I have received that I do not notice the hurt I inflict.  Some of the seed fell on rocky soil. The idea here is not that there was a bunch of rocks, but that there was only a thin layer of topsoil with solid rock underneath. The seed had life until the sun came out. But the life withers quickly, Jesus says, because the soil is too shallow for roots….’Superficiality,’ says Richard Foster, ‘is the curse of our age.’ The desperate need of the soul is not for intelligence, nor talent, nor yet excitement; just depth….There is depth to your soul that is beyond words. For much of our lives, we live in the shallows. Then something happens—a crisis, a birth, a death—and we get this glimpse of tremendous depth. A soul becomes shallow when my interests and thoughts go no further than myself. A person should be deep because life itself is deep. A deep soul has the capacity to understand and empathize deeply with other people—not just himself. A deep soul notices and questions and doesn’t just go through the motions.  Some seeds fall among thorns, which grow up and choke the plants. Jesus said that is the condition where the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for other things come and choke the soul. We mistake our clutter for life. If we cease to be busy, do we matter? A person preoccupied with externals—success, reputation, ceaseless activity, lifestyle, office gossip—may be dead internally and not even recognize it. And our world has lots of ‘other things.’” Pp. 50-56.

I liked this book.  I recommend it.  It gave me plenty of things to think about.  It took me a few weeks to read because I kept stopping to think about the ideas Ortberg presents.  Soul Keeping made me want to spend some time contemplating the condition of my soul.  And this book has inspired me to read books written by Dallas Willard.  John Ortberg is on Twitter and Facebook.  You can find out more about him at www.johnortberg.com. His books include:

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a free advance copy of Soul Keeping from Icon Media Group.  However, neither Icon Media Group nor any other entity paid me for my book review.  This book review of Soul Keeping originally appeared in jaynechaseloseke.com on June 17, 2014.

Book Review of THE GOD FIRST LIFE by Stovall Weems

The God First Life (Zondervan 2014), 172 pages with 8 pages of endnotes.

 

This book looks deeply at Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Stovall Weems explores the depths of this advice from Jesus by considering the concepts of first, which implies order; kingdom of God, which Weems believes is community with other believers; righteousness, which Weems interprets as the decisions we make to pursue and obey God: read the bible, help others, and live a life that honors God. And the result and all these things will be given to you implies freedom, joy and fulfillment. We find our greatest fulfillment when we partner with God and follow Jesus’ wise advice.

 

Here are four of my favorite excerpts from The God First Life.

  1. “My walk with God began solely and completely by his grace, and yet somehow I thought that everything after ‘the prayer’ was based on the sheer force of my own willpower and self-discipline. Every time I felt spiritually empty, lacking in zeal and power, I prayed to ‘get more’ of God, more of his nature, grace, love and power. The problem was that I didn’t need to ‘get more’ of God. I just needed to understand the treasure he’d already given me.  It wasn’t until nearly a decade after I was saved that I truly understood the power-of-God treasure that was within me. Paul tells us that we ‘have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.’ [2 Cor. 4:7] I was all too familiar with the earthen vessel. I knew every chip, crack, and leak in mine. I thought that the best way to ‘carry’ the power of God was to patch up that old clay pot and make it as strong and efficient as humanly possible. I wanted my vessel to be worthy of the treasure it was carrying. Even with all my good intentions, the point of Paul’s statement was totally lost on me. The jar will never be worthy to carry the treasure within it. In fact, the opposite is true—it’s the treasure that gives value to the vessel.” pp. 70-71.
  2. “John 13 tells us that Jesus left the table where the disciples were sitting. He took off his robe, grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his waist, filled a basin with water, and then proceeded to wash the feet of his disciples. In Jesus’ day the outer robe signified a person’s position in society. Jesus wore the robe of a rabbi, signifying his role as a teacher. It was an honored position in Israel. When Jesus took off his robe, he was laying aside the symbol of his earthly rank. He was sending a message: Status does not define my disciples; servanthood does.  Next, Jesus put on the servant’s towel and washed his disciples’ feet. In doing so, he redefined greatness just like he redefined happiness. In his kingdom, we climb down the corporate ladder to success by taking on the identity of a servant above whatever other role and position we may have in life.  One of the most unexpected things about this account of the Last Supper is the statement that leads into the foot-washing moment. ‘Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.’ [John 13:3] Jesus knew. He knew the extent of his authority: over everything. He knew where he came from and where he was going: from God and back to God.  Jesus was secure. He was not having an identity crisis at this moment. He was not pandering to his disciples for affirmation. He was doing what he had always done, teaching them how to love one another. Serving like Christ means serving from a place of strength, not of insecurity, compulsion, or the need for approval. We never have to prove ourselves when our identity is rooted in Christ. Our worth is not in question; only the condition of our heart.” p. 121.
  3. “From the time we are born, our soul (mind, will, and emotions) is programmed and shaped by our experiences. Everything we see, observe, learn, hear, and experience through our five senses is mapped out in the soul. Some of that learning is good, necessary, and intentional (like formal schooling). But a great deal of that programming is just plain toxic.  Everything from traumatic experiences (accidents, death, war, abuse), generational patterns (behaviors adopted intentionally or unintentionally from family), cultural patterns (prevailing ideas in our society)—all of these shape our conscience and program our mind and emotions in destructive ways. Sexual abuse in childhood, for example, warps the normal development of the soul. It fundamentally changes the way that a developing child will think, feel, and behave. A soldier returning from the horrors of war will have seen and experienced things that reshape the soul, and that soldier will look at the world through a new (and possibly distorted) mental and emotional lens.  When experiences like these are imprinted on an individual, the inevitable result is unhealthiness and injury to the mind, emotions, and will. See the problem? This vital part of the soul, which is responsible for making choices, is led to make those choices based on corrupted information. In most cases, this hurt soul goes on making those same unhealthy choices, establishing a pattern of sin and shame that continually repeats like a broken record. That pattern might lead to a coping pattern, such as drug or alcohol abuse, further fracturing the soul.  These tendencies toward wrong thinking, wrong behaving, and wrong choosing can run deep. We must be filled with the Holy Spirit so that those old patterns are erased and new, healthy, Spirit-led patterns are created. The Bible tells us to ‘throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.’ [Hebrews 12:1] The power word in that reference is “entangles.” Some translations read, “ensnares.” To ensnare means to set a trap. When we fall into the trap of sin, we are bound to its consequences and pain. Thank God that Jesus can truly set us free and make us whole again.” p. 139.
  4. “When you choose to live the God-first life, you are making the choice to restore order. Not things first, stuff first, or me first, but God first. When order is restored, blessing is released.  You will find that a world where you are not at the center is a world where happiness and blessing can be experienced—God’s way. The truth is that ‘first’ is not a place you can fill; it never was and it never will be. As long as you rule your world, the weight of it will fall on your shoulders, but when you step aside and let God step into his rightful place, the weight of your world falls on his shoulders. In the end, he is the only one who is truly able to hold it in place.  Everything around us and within us tells us that the secret to happiness is a world where it’s all about me. But Jesus consistently says the opposite. True success is not a world where I am at the center but a world where God is at the center and my life is in proper order. First place belongs to God alone.  Why do so few people in the body of Christ experience true blessing and freedom? They may no longer be bound in sin, but they are trussed up by the cares of this life—the baggage of their past, the worries of the present, and anxiety about the future. They are repeating old patterns, behaviors, and habits that shaped them in their old life, not realizing (or having forgotten) that God has given them everything they need to walk away from those things.  The God-first life comes down to decisions. Adam and Eve decided not to put God first. Faced with a choice that looked tasty and attractive and would put them in the know, they bit. And we do too if we forget that we’re not in the choosing game. We’ve decided, and now we need to simply maintain, what we’ve already committed to…” pp. 154-155.

In The God First Life, Stovall Weems is giving us biblical keys to victorious living: put God first, remember that it doesn’t depend on me and my power, it depends on God’s power in me. Serve others from the strength of knowing who you are in Christ and what gifts and assignments God has given you. Reconcile yourself with your past. Forgive those who harmed you and receive forgiveness from God and others who want to be reconciled to you. And honor the choices you have made soberly. Weems believes we can accomplish these things by contemplating deeply on Matthew 6:33 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

You can find out more about Stovall Weems at www.stovallweems.com and www.celebration.org.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a free advance copy of The God First Life from Icon Media Group.  However, neither Icon Media Group nor any other entity paid me for my book review.  This book review of The God First Life originally appeared in jaynechaseloseke.com on April 17, 2014.

Book Review of NAZARETH NEIGHBORS by Sheila Deeth

Nazareth Neighbors by Sheila Deeth (Cape Arago Press: 2014), 181 pages.

I just finished reading an advance copy of Nazareth Neighbors by my friend and author, Sheila Deeth. I was charmed. Sheila has taken Jesus’ parables from the four gospels and retold them using the narrative of Jesus’ childhood. She imagines Jesus as a small child, a school age boy and a teenager, growing up in Nazareth in Mary and Joseph’s home. By reimagining the parable of the good shepherd, the prodigal son, the lost coin and the pearl of great worth, and many others through the lens of a child, she is able to make the underlying lessons accessible and easy to understand.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Nazareth Neighbors.

“Do you suppose that sweet little boy, Jesus, growing up in the nice normal town of Nazareth, on its hill above the vineyards of the Jezreel Valley, knew what was going to happen at the end of his story? He obeyed his parents for all those years, growing ‘in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.’ Then he obeyed God, and gave his life for us.” (p. 3)

 

This is the frame of reference from which the narrator tells these stories about young Jesus Christ. In this next excerpt Sheila Deeth examines the parable of pouring new wine into new wineskins, but again from the vantage point of a young boy growing up in his parents’ home.

 

“Mary finally found a piece of cloth that was nearly right for Joseph’s robe. Then she asked Jesus to get a bowl of water from the river for her. He hurried away down sandy streets, feeling the wind on his legs. Then he scooped up water in his bowl and ran back with cold wet trickles dibbling onto his knees.

“Mary soaked the new piece of cloth in the water, rubbing it with stones and tugging and stretching at it, until she was ready to sew it onto Joseph’s robe.

‘Why do you do that?’ Jesus asked. ‘Why are you making the cloth all messy?’

‘I have to make it match,’ said Mary.

‘But the colors don’t match,’ said Jesus, and he was right. The robe was brown, and the cloth was grayish white.

‘I know,’ said his mother. ‘But I have to make the material match. If I sew something too new or too old into the hole it will just tear away. Then we’ll have a bigger hole to mend.’

 “When Jesus grew up, he remembered Mary’s cloth, and he remembered how to mend holes. When some important church leaders asked why he’d chosen such poor, uneducated people to be his most important disciples, Jesus explained, ‘I’m teaching something new. I’m filling in the holes in what you’ve learned. But I can’t teach people who think they’ve already learned it all. That would be like sewing new cloth onto an old garment. It would tear away and everything everyone knew would fall out through the hole.’” (p. 8)

 

This sweet vignette helped me better understand the new wineskin parable. Since I’ve never seen a wineskin I always had trouble visualizing what the difference was between old and new wineskins. Sheila points out that the parable isn’t really about the wineskins, it is about the old and new covenants. This final excerpt illuminates the parable of sowing seeds. Some seeds fall in rocky soil, some fall on the path, some fall amongst the weeds, and some seeds fall in rich soil.

 

One rainy morning, Mary gave Jesus an extra thick slice of bread for his breakfast and some goat’s milk to drink. Then Joseph took Jesus by the hand and said, ‘You’re a big boy today, young man. Today’s the day you start helping me in the fields.’

‘I want to help in the workshop,’ Jesus replied, but Joseph said he’d have to be even bigger to do that.

“Jesus and Joseph set off with their donkey through the streets of Nazareth. Jesus’ friends were kicking a rather soggy ball around. But Jesus splashed proudly in puddles, thinking how nice it was to be doing something new. Soon he’d even be old enough to go to the synagogue school. And after that he’d grow up to be a carpenter, just like his cousins.

The red roof of the synagogue shone in the falling rain. Jesus dawdled, staring at the older children who’d gathered on its walls. He even began to climb the hill toward them, but Joseph pulled him back. ‘Not yet, young man. You don’t start school today.’

‘But I want to study the scriptures,’ Jesus said. ‘I want to learn about God.’

‘Today you’re going to study God’s creation,’ Joseph replied, ‘and learn about seeds.’ So Jesus shook the rain out of his eyes and followed Joseph and the donkey to the field. A heavy sack rattled on the donkey’s back, and Jesus asked what was inside. ‘My tools,’ Joseph replied.

‘Oh good,’ said Jesus. ‘Can we do some woodworking in the fields? Are we going to make a gate?’

‘No,’ said Joseph. ‘These are my tools for plowing. I’ve got my blade and handle and grain, and the donkey’s harness too.’

“When they reached the field, Joseph rested the wooden yoke on the donkey’s neck and attached the plow. The dusty ground had turned into thick soggy mud. But the mud crumbled like cake as Joseph guided the donkey and plow over it.

“Jesus rolled the earth between his fingers. ‘It feels like bread dough,’ he said, but Joseph said, ‘Don’t eat it.’

“Jesus pointed to some stones tossed up by the plow. ‘They look like raisins, Dad!’ But Joseph said don’t eat them either. Instead he asked Jesus to pick up the stones and move them out the way. Soon the field was full of churned up earth, black and shining in the rain, with rows of stones like fences at the edge. ‘What do we do now?’ Jesus asked.

‘We plant the seed,’ said Joseph. He pulled a bag out from the bottom of his sack and hung it around Jesus’ neck. The cloth was scratchy and heavy, and seeds flowed like a river in its folds.

“Joseph tucked a bigger sack under his arm. Then he showed Jesus how to scoop the seeds and scatter them on the ground, like waterfalls of grain. ‘Don’t let too much seed land on the road though,’ said Joseph, pointing to flocks of birds which swooped down hungrily to eat whatever they could. ‘And not on the rocks; there’s not enough soil there for them to grow in.’

“Jesus scattered his seeds very slowly and carefully, shouting at the birds when they got too close. ‘It’s not your seed, birds. This is to make people’s food.’ Then he tripped over some thorns, and Joseph pulled him out.

‘Don’t let too much seed land in the thorns either,’ said Joseph.

‘Don’t let me land in the thorns!’ Jesus replied, rubbing mud over his scratches and cuts, while Joseph smiled at him.

“When all the seed had been scattered, Joseph pulled one of Mary’s old long brushes out of the sack on the donkey’s back.

‘What do we do with that?’ Jesus asked.

‘We spread the earth on top of the seeds so birds can’t eat them all.’ Then Jesus swept the brush gently back and forth until all the seeds were hidden. The brush was ruined afterward, of course, but Joseph said he’d make a new one soon.

“In spring, Jesus started going to school, but he checked on Joseph’s field every day before walking up the hill. Tiny seedlings appeared from the seeds in the ground. Some plants grew tall really fast, but then they withered in the sun. Others poked their heads above thorns, then shrank away and died. But the seeds sown on well-tilled soil grew thick and strong until harvest. Joseph’s two bags of grain turned into more than a hundred bags. Then Jesus smiled, pleased at what his work, and God’s sunshine had done.

“One day, Jesus told his friends to make their lives like a farmer’s well-tilled field, so the seed of God’s word wouldn’t land on dry stones or be choked by weeds, but would grow a hundred-fold in their lives too.” (pp. 52-54)

Nazareth Neighbors is 57 chapters long. Each chapter is two to four pages long and covers one parable. Each chapter ends with a simple prayer. Reading one chapter to a child at bedtime could be a lovely bedtime story. Nazareth Neighbors is now available in an e-version at amazon.com. A hard copy version will be available from Cape Arago Press in April, 2014.

 

Other books by Sheila Deeth include:

The book review of Nazareth Neighbors originally appeared on jaynechaseloseke.com on April 2, 2014.