Monday, September 27, 2010

Becoming a Woman of Faith by Cynthia Heald

Becoming a Woman of Faith, is the newest volume in Cynthia Heald's series of bible studies from Navpress publishers. To make the most of this book, "all you need is a bible, writing tool and an expectant heart", according to the book.  Appropriate for individual or group study, this volume is marketed to be an 11 week bible study course- in which one chapter is covered each week until completeion. Each of the 11 chapters covers one aspect or theme concerning the issue of strengthening one's faith.  For individual study taking 11 weeks to complete this book may be  too long; one chapter each day would be a sufficent amount of  time to dedicate and to digest the material of each chapter topic. It is not intended that this book be read cover to cover in its entirety in one sitting.  It is important that the reader interact/ react to the passages, and questions in order to get the most out of this study. There is room to write down one's thoughts - albeit, not enough room.  Perhaps having a journal with extra space would be more appropriate to dedicate enough room to write down thoughtful responses and personal reflections.
Faith is often criticised by skeptics who lack faith.  This book offers a concrete definition of faith, solidifying the reality of faith from the realm of fantasy to objectivity.  This book assumes the reader already has some degree of faith, and that she has already placed her faith in God.  This study guides the reader to her own understanding by providing applicable biblical verses and thoughts for which the reader can reflect upon.  As a blogger for Navpress publishers I recieved a free copy of this book for the purpose of writing a review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Philosophy Simplified- The Quest for Answers

Christian Philosophy Made Simple

Crime and Punishment: Is man responsible for his actions?


I. Humanitarian Attitude Towards Crime:

i. Humanitarian Definition of Crime: Crime is an illness, a state of impared functioning. Crime is an illness which must be treated; and the people who commit crime must be cured.

ii. Method of Treating Crime: The Theraputic Paradigm A person who commits crime must not be punished. We must adopt a theraputic attitude towards crime. People who commit crime must be cared for so that their willingness and behavior be treated.

II. C.S. Lewis: The Injustice of Humanitarianism

i. Justice: The Justification for Punishment

1. Equitable punishment can only be achieved if the concepts of deserving and justice are realised.

2. There can not be mercy and forgiveness without the idea of deserving. Deserving, mercy and forgiveness can not be given without the idea of wrong. With the idea of wrong, there must be an idea of punishment.

3. Therefore punishment is justified and also neccessary, because it is the recognition of a wrong doing and deserving, which ultimately enables the individual to recieve mercy and forgiveness.

ii. Humanitarianism: Devoid of Justice and Rights

1. If crime is considered an illness, and not a wrong doing, there is no justice, but only a so called cure.

2. If the wrong doing is not punished, but treated as if one would treat an illness, there is no justice. To cure someone of an illness that he "could not help" leaves us without justice. First of all the individual is no longer held responsible for his actions, as a result of this belief the individual is not punished.

3. The individual has no rights with the humanitarian view because the "ill" person is no longer a man, but merely a patient to be treated. He is not considered to be a man of free will, he becomes no differnt from an animal. As a result his treatment is not voluntary, therefore he has no rights. But, his rights are not lost merley in the regards of his choice to accept treatment, but also in the regards of the human quality of exersising free will. Not only this; he has also lost his right to freely repent. Just as an animal is not deemed worthy of forgiveness, the man who commited the crime can no longer be forgiven.

iii. The Abuse and Tyranny of Humanitarianism

1. Once an individual commits a crime; his rights are lost. He is no longer a human being, but a sick person who needs a cure.

2. Morality, the concepts of right, wrong and punishment are replaced by narrow minded anamalistic views of human beings. The treatment for a person who commits a crime is no longer any different from the treatment given to an individual who truly has a mental sickness or a wild animal. This is a grave injustice to the dignity of the human person.

The problem of Evil Category:

The Problem Of Evil

I) The Epicurian Paradox

i)Many have come to the conclusion that the existence of evil is incompatible with the existence of God, hence the creation of the Epicurian paradox, created by Epicurus.

ii.)Epicurian Paradox:

1)God is all-powerful.

2)God is perfectly good.

3)Evil exists.

4)If God exists, then there would be no evil.

5)There is evil.

6)Therefore God does not exist.

II)Saint Augustine's Free- Will Defense

God created man with free will having the ability to do good or evil. As a result there is no assurance that man will not choose to do evil. There is no contradiction with the existence of both God and evil. It is logically impossible for God to create free creatures and guarantee that they will never do evil. Among the infinite number of possibilities in an infinite number of possible worlds, God could have chosen a less evil, (or less free) world, yet if man is truly free, God can not stop evil. It would be impossible or illogical for God, who is an all- powerful, omnipotent being, to have created a world in which he controlled the evilness or freeness, for this would remove the gift of free will that he had given to man. The existence of free will without evil is an illogical impossibility. Even though man has the capacity to commit great evil, he also has the capacity to perform great acts of goodness. According to Mackie, God does not eliminate first order evil such as pain because it is a logically necessary component for goods such as sympathy. God could have eliminated second order evils such as cruelty, but to do so would remove freedom of will. If God intervened in every evil, it would erode human responsibility, and the laws of nature.

III)Mackie's Critisism of Saint Augustine's Free- Will Defense According to Mackie, the choice between robots who always do good or free men who can do good or evil is a false dilemma. There was an "obvious better possibility" in which God could have created beings who always act freely, yet nevertheless, always chooses to do good.

IV)Why God Permits Evil To Exist In the World

i)Hick's "Soul- Making" Explanation For Evil's Existence: The world is a soul- making place. Man who is made in the image of god, but not in the likeness of God, is an incomplete being who must strive towards the perfect likeness and love of God. Qualities such as love, and courage would not make sense in a world without evil, because the world would be nothing more than a "play pen paradise." The existence of Evil is necessary in order to build character development of man into the likeness of God.

ii)Swinburne Explains The Advantages Of The Existence Of Evil: according to Swinburne, there are advantages of a world in which free men face challenges, and have the capacity to affect others. The existence of evil, give men the opportunity to perform act which show men at their best. Many evils spur men into action. A world without evils, would be a world without which men could not show sympathy, forgiveness, compassion and self sacrifice. In conclusion, there is no easy proof to show the incompatibility between the existence of evil and God. It is the price of free actions that evil will exist The existence of evil is compatible with the existence of God and God's choice to create creatures with free will.

Free Will: Does it Exist Category: Life Does Free Will Exist?

Free Will Versus Determinism

I. Universal Determinism: According to the theory of universal determinism, every thing is governed by causal laws. Therefore if you knew all the properties of the universe(the world), you would be able to infallibly predict all future events. Any present event, including human behavior, is caused by an antecedent cause!

i. The Determinist Argument:

1. Every event must have a cause.

2. Human Actions are events.

3. Therefore, every human action is caused...

4. So, determinism must be true. ii. Evidence For Determinism

1. Science seems to eventually find a cause for everything.

2. We assume in everyday life that everything has a cause; we can not help but believe that every event has a cause. This belief is called the Issue of Universal Causality.

iii. Evidence Against Determinism Common sense tells us that we can change, we feel we are not compelled, we could have acted differently.

iv. Soft Determinism: An Alternative? An action may result from having a reason that one could not change, but the reasons themselves are not considered actions. Therefore, as long as we are not coerced, we can have a free action. An act may be entirely determined, yet be free in the sense that it was voluntary and not coerced. Whether we are morally responsible or not, is determined depending on if the behavior is voluntary or involuntary. Refute: This theory is illogical; one can not have moral responsibility if reasons are determined. The libertarian, determinist and free will arguments differ, yet all uphold the paradigm that involuntary actions negate moral responsibility.

II. Free Will i. The Free Will Argument:

1. The Argument of Moral Responsibility states that if determinism were true, no person would be able to change his actions, therefore no one could ever be held morally responsible for his own actions. Common sense tells us that we can change our actions by our own choice.

2. We can and have overcome our desires and inclinations. Both common sense and fact show that we can actively change our behavior. Determinist reply: We only perceive that we can change our actions and behavior.

3. We do not feel compelled to act. At the time of a decision, we feel we have had other choices. Determinist reply: Such feelings of control are illusions; we are just ignorant of all the irresistible forces acting upon us.

4. At a certain time we feel that we could have chosen to act differently. Determinist reply: Our behavior is already determined by previous events. Therefore you can not change your behavior.

ii. The Implications of Determinism: Man becomes nothing more than a puppet.

III. Libertarianism: A compromise

i Libertarian Points:

1. We have free will in the sense that given the same previous conditions, one could have acted otherwise.

2. Agent Causality explains that the individual or agent is responsible for all actions even though the self itself, does not change.

3. Actions can be free and uncaused. If actions are caused, they are caused by inner states (the self). These inner states themselves are uncaused and unchanging.

ii. Argument:

1. Behavior and actions seem to be the outcome of personal deliberation.

2. It appears as if actions in fact are the result of such deliberation.

3. While determinists claim that actions are not the result of a person's deliberation, they have been unable to prove that pre-determined conditions actually cause all human behavior.

iii. Implications of Libertarianism While libertarianism avoids the puppet like man of the determinist, man is replaced with an even less human like image; an erratic, jerking phantom who behaves without without rhyme or reason.

St. Thomas Aquinas' Five Ways

Background: St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) was a Dominican priest, theologian, and philosopher. Called the Doctor Angelicus (the Angelic Doctor,) Aquinas is considered one the greatest Christian philosophers to have ever lived. Two of his most famous works, the Summa Theologiae and the Summa Contra Gentiles, are the finest examples of his work on Christian philosophy.

"The truth of the Christian faith...surpasses the capacity of reason, nevertheless that truth that the human reason is naturally endowed to know can not be opposed to the truth of the Christian faith."

First Way: The Argument From Motion St. Thomas Aquinas, studying the works of the Greek philsopher Aristotle, concluded from common observation that an object that is in motion (e.g. the planets, a rolling stone) is put in motion by some other object or force. From this, Aquinas believes that ultimately there must have been an UNMOVED MOVER (GOD) who first put things in motion.

Follow the agrument this way:

1) Nothing can move itself.

2) If every object in motion had a mover, then the first object in motion needed a mover.

3) This first mover is the Unmoved Mover, called God.

Second Way: Causation Of Existence This Way deals with the issue of existence. Aquinas concluded that common sense observation tells us that no object creates itself. In other words, some previous object had to create it. Aquinas believed that ultimately there must have been an UNCAUSED FIRST CAUSE (GOD) who began the chain of existence for all things.

Follow the agrument this way:

1) There exists things that are caused (created) by other things.

2) Nothing can be the cause of itself (nothing can create itself.)

3) There can not be an endless string of objects causing other objects to exist.

4) Therefore, ther must be an uncaused first cause called God.

Third Way: Contingent and Neccessary Objects

This Way defines two types of objects in the universe: contingent beings and necessary beings. A contingent being is an object that can not exist without a necessary being causing its existence. Aquinas believed that the existence of contingent beings would ultimately neccesitate a being which must exist for all of the contingent beings to exist. This being, called a necessary being, is what we call God.

Follow the argument this way:

1) Contingent beings are caused.

2) Not every being can be contingent.

3) There must exist a being which is necessary to cause contingent beings.

4) This necessary being is God.

Fourth Way: The Agrument From Degrees And Perfection St. Thomas formulated this Way from a very interesting observation about the qualities of things. For example one may say that of two marble scultures one is more beautiful than the other. So for these two objects, one has a greater degree of beauty than the next. This is referred to as degrees or gradation of a quality. From this fact Aquinas concluded that for any given quality (e.g. goodness, beauty, knowledge) there must be an perfect standard by which all such qualities are measured. These perfections are contained in God.

Fifth Way: The Agrument From Intelligent Design The final Way that St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of has to do with the observable universe and the order of nature. Aquinas states that common sense tells us that the universe works in such a way, that one can conclude that is was designed by an intelligent designer, God. In other words, all physical laws and the order of nature and life were designed and ordered by God, the intellgent designer.

Dracula Genre as a Reflection of Evolving Society

 Dracula Genre as a Reflection of Evolving Society

Dracula in Film: Reflections of an Evolving Society

Since the creation of Bram Stoker’s most famous fictional character Dracula with the publication of his most famous novel in 1897, both Dracula and the societal culture in which he is placed have represented a duality that movies have since tried to reconcile. The figure of Dracula, and the concept of evil of which he represents, have undergone a spectrum of changes over time. The metamorphosis of Dracula himself, as he is portrayed in films, is a direct reflection of the time and culture of which the film was produced. The vampire and Dracula films, which have been made through the years, present a unique historical perspective of the evolution of changes of both women and sexuality in society. Furthermore, the vampire character, and the heroines as portrayed in a particular film reflect the sexual ideas of the culture of the audience for whom the work is intended.

The original Dracula, as portrayed by Bram Stoker’s novel, is a product of the late Victorian age in which the story was written. In the novel, the distinction between good and evil is clear. Christianity held a place of high importance in the late 1800s. There is no doubt that Stoker’s intent was to represent vampirism as an evil that had to be eradicated. In fact, the evil of Dracula’s curse is equated with Satan, the adversary of the Christian God.

Nevertheless, it is clear that Dracula’s complex character represented many contradictions that have been difficult for society to accept and reconcile. While a gentleman of perfect English manners and intellect that has the capacity to mesmerize and swoon his female victims, he was also a putrid manifestation of corruption and evil. While discrete, sexuality between Dracula and his female victims plays a sublime role in Stoker’s novel. With these characteristics of Dracula in mind, it is not difficult to imagine the difficulty a movie producer might encounter in producing a readily accepted character that supposedly has the ability the mesmerize and charm its victims despite the fact that he is deficient in all the contemporary characteristics of a physically attractive man. Additionally, it is hard to mold together into one character proper manners, personality and intelligence with an uncouth bestial instinct for survival

Since the dawn of the age of film, beginning with the earlier half of the nineteenth century, Stoker’s novel has been altered and adapted into numerous films. Dracula, the novel, presented so many challenges that film makers had to reconcile in order to satisfactorily produce both a character and a story into a movie that would be deemed acceptable to the audience for whom it was aimed. The vampire films: 1931 “Dracula”, the 1970s film, Werner Herzog’s, “Nosferatu the Vampire”, the contemporary 1990s film based Ann Rice’s novel, “Interview With the Vampire”, and the modern cinematic remake of Stoker’s novel “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, clearly illustrate the ways that Dracula’s changing image reflects that ever changing cultural ideas of good and evil, and of women and sexuality. Each film is unique in the means by which the vampire and women are portrayed, the meaning of evil, and in the expression of sexuality.

In Stoker’s novel, Dracula, the distinction between goodness and evil are very clear. Dracula is the embodiment of evil and evil is equated with Satan. During the time period of which the book was written, the religion of Christianity was an important aspect of Western society. Therefore evil was associated with Satan, as the case with the myth of the vampire. There is no doubt whatsoever that it was Stoker’s intent to portray Dracula as evil with Satanic roots. Upon entering Dracula’s lair in Carfax Abbey, Jonathan Harker noted that “corruption had itself become corrupt” with even the odor described as “stagnant and foul… composed of all the ills of mortality…[with] the pungent, acrid smell of blood…[and] dry miasma” (Stoker, 276) According to the Professor Van Helsing, vampires were “Un-Dead” creatures whose souls were cursed, “growing more debased” (Stoker, 236) in wickedness and evil as their unholy existence continued.

Vampires began when the first vampire, centuries ago, made a pact with the Devil, otherwise referred to by the Professor as the “Evil One” (Stoker 265). To live, the vampire must consume human blood. “He can fatten on the blood of the living” (Stoker, 263) As the case with Lucy when she became infected by Dracula, (and as the case with any other vampire), the only way to free her soul so that it might go to heaven was to kill her Un-Dead vampiric body. After her infection from Count Dracula, she became a hideous, foul “Thing” that had to be destroyed. Yet, just like evil and Satan, the vampire can only be destroyed with the aid of the power of God. “There are things which so afflict him that he has no power… as for things sacred, [the] crucifix… he is nothing”(Stoker, 264) according to Professor Van Helsing. The vampire feared the crucifix, and could only be repelled by the Host, the Christian representation of Jesus’ body. In fact, Van Helsing, Harker and the other men used the Sacred Christian symbols such as the Host and Crucifix to protect themselves upon entering Dracula’s lair.

It is clear that the Victorian stereotypes of women persist throughout Stoker’s novel. Nevertheless women are presented in a respectful light, yet they are within the norm for English Victorian society. Mina and Lucy are both young women who are preoccupied with the concerns of their impending marriages and their fiancés in the beginning of Stoker’s novel. While they are basically represented in the story as victims of Dracula and his curse, they possess respectable personality character traits that are acceptable for women of the Victorian era. Although women were respected their husbands and fathers often believed them that they were in need of protection. Both Mina and Lucy were concerned about scandal and maintaining a respectable reputation. This is evident when Mina takes great effort to cover her bare feet with mud, and Lucy with a cloak during one of Lucy’s sleep walking episodes, lest anyone should see them indecently dressed. Additionally, Mina considered the shock that other woman would feel in reaction to their large and unfeminine appetites. Neither had a desire to challenge the role of women in their society.

Lucy is portrayed as sweet, pure, and lovable innocent girl. Quincey Morris even referred to her as a “little girl” in an endearing manner. Mina is described as sympathetic and motherly, such as the case according to Arthur Holmwood when he looked to Mina for support after Lucy’s death. Despite the fact that Stoker’s novel holds onto the persistent attitudes of the feminine woman, he does not hesitate to attach masculine attributes to the female characters. In fact, the Professor praised Mina’s mental strength in his statement, “Wonderful madam Mina! She has a man’s brain… were he much gifted- and a woman’s heart.” (Stoker, 258). Nevertheless, the Professor at times had a protective attitude toward women, when he insisted that Mina must be protected and could no longer be part of their dangerous quest. Additionally, in his confidential discussions with Lucy when attempting to discover what was making her ill, his attitude was condescending as he questioned her and spoke to her as if she were a child.

It is certainly difficult to correlate sexuality with Count Dracula who was described by Stoker as man with pale skin, “hair growing scantily round the temples, but profusely elsewhere”, massive eyebrows, bushy hair, a mouth that was “fixed and cruel-looking… sharp white teeth” (Stoker, 19), pointed ears, hairy palms and long, yellowed fingernails. Nevertheless, there are some aspects of vampirism that appear to be sexual in nature. The act of biting the victim, and the exchange of blood that must occur suggests an intimate relationship between the vampire and his victim. During Harker’s imprisonment in Dracula’s castle, he described the beautiful, female vampires as both “thrilling and repulsive”, and possessing voluptuousness. Prior to her corruption by Dracula, Lucy was innocent and sweet. After succumbing to the curse of the vampire, as she transformed from her innocent nature and had acquired a “carnal and unspiritual appearance” she became a “devilish mockery” (Stoker, 235) of her former purity with her “pointed teeth, the bloodstained, voluptuous mouth” according Dr. Seward who had loved her greatly. Later in the novel, when Mina falls victim to Dracula, the blood exchange ritual she underwent with Count Dracula in her bedroom during the night appeared to be a perverse mockery of the genuine, pure love shared with her new husband Jonathan Harker. In the cases with Lucy and Mina, the transformation into a vampire transformed purity and innocence into debased wickedness and love into an unwholesome ,sexualized, carnal act of blood exchange.

The 1931 film, “Dracula”, directed by Todd Browning, which featured the actor Bela Lugosi,, represented a simplification of Stoker’s novel in many aspects. Rather than trying to produce a film integrating the complexities of Stoker’s complex character of Dracula, Browning discarded many of the count’s original characteristics and replaced them. Browning’s goal was to make a vampire that was visually and sexually attractive rather than grotesque. The physical attributes of Dracula therefore would be a means by which Dracula could hypnotize and swoon his female victims. In the early days of filmmaking, an audience most likely would not easily accept that a filthy, corpse- like beast could charm and swoon its victims without screaming in terror at his sight. Nor would the audience readily accept such a character. So, for the first time, with Browning’s 1931 film, Dracula, with his well groomed hair, tuxedo and cape, was portrayed as a sophisticated being that could blend well into proper English society. In fact, at their first meeting, long before she became his victim, Lucy was immediately attracted to the handsome, and exotic Count Dracula. In fact she referred to the Count as “fascinating”. Such could never have been the case if Stoker’s Dracula had been physically replicated on film. Additionally, In accordance with Stoker’s Novel, Browning’s Dracula was a man of proper manners. As a host, he welcomed Reinfield (who took the role as solicitor in the movie), into his castle with the well-known statement, “I bid you welcome”. Additionally, he provided a comfortable bed, cheery fire and attended to Reinfield’s needs. The clue that separated the count from ordinary man in the film was his glowing, piercing eyes that were evident in his hypnotic stare.

With the introduction of an attractive Count Dracula, sexuality was introduced into the film. While sexual scenes are entirely omitted from the story, it is alluded to in the fact that during the night, Dracula stealthily goes into the bedroom of his female victims as they sleep and bites them on the neck. The concept of Dracula biting his female victims on the neck seem analogous to an intimate kiss. In fact the actual movie omits the actual biting scene since obvious sexuality in film was not accepted in the early 1930s. Later in the film, Mina is swooned into Dracula’s hypnotic intimate embrace. While sexuality is not blatant in Browning’s film, it is present with Dracula’s handsome appearance, the attractiveness of Lucy and Mina, and the hypnotic embraces and biting of the neck in the bedroom.

The distinction between good and evil is not as clear cut in the film as in Stoker’s book. The evil represented by Dracula in Browning’s film seems analogous to a vague idea of horror that one might feel after reading a spooky story. Evil is not equated with the devil, and there are minimal references either to God or Christianity as being the means by which evil is combated. It is evident; by the way Professor Van Helsing and Dr. Seward methodically plan the means to kill Dracula, that the professor and the doctor basically see scientific and rational reasoning as the salvation to combat the evil of Dracula. This reflects the increasing secularization of 1930s culture as science and the scientific method are embraced instead of religion.

Produced in a society in which women’s rights and liberation were still in their infancy, this 1931 film reflects that fact that woman were not treated as equals to men. In fact women in society were equated with children, because it was believed that they needed men for direction, and protection in life. Consequently, in the film, women play a small role in the film other than as submissive victims. The females portrayed were either the naïve, overprotected young women Mina and Lucy, or the servile weak minded ignorant maids. In fact, after Mina falls ill after succumbing to Dracula’s bite, the men in her life are very condescending in the ways that they repeatedly question her as if she were a small child and not an adult woman. She is not taken seriously, and in response her fiancé tells her to “forget all these bad dreams and think of something cheerful”. Furthermore, it is Dracula who tells the men in Mina’s life not to worry because it was only her overactive imagination in response to the “grim tales” he told of his far off country in order to “amuse” her. Women are also portrayed as subservient to the men in their lives that cannot take responsibility for their own decisions, safety or welfare. On a number of occasions, Mina was ordered to bed or to get back indoors for her own good. Additionally, rather than speak up herself, Mina implores her father to speak to her fiancé on her behalf when Harker tries to convince the others to let him run off to London with Mina to keep her safe. It is clear that this film is a reflection of the cultural attitudes that women were the physically, and intellectually weaker sex. In the absence of religion, in a society that values physical strength and rational thought, where mostly men held position of power in higher education and medicine, women play little role and were treated in a condescending, child like manner.

Clearly, Werner Herzog’s film, “Nosferatu the Vampire”, is a product of the new culture of women’s liberation in of the 1970s in which it was produced. This film contrasts greatly in its portrayal of women from Browning’s film. While upholding the traditional ideas of good vs. evil, and that Dracula and the curse of vampirism is the embodiment of evil, the film deviates from the historically accepted roles of men and women. The character of Lucy challenges the Victorian notion that women are physically weak, submissive and helpless from evil. Furthermore, the film rejects the concept of the male figure as the savior against evil. In contrast, rather than a man, it is a woman who defeats evil and saves the town from the vampire curse.

As with Stoker’s novel, the curse of the vampire and the evil it represents is reinforced and expanded upon by the opening images of the dead, skeletal, decayed corpses, forever entombed in their horrific mask-like faces of death. The numbers of human remains of the victims entombed in the cave-like catacombs are analogous to the thousands of tortured, dead bodies of the victims of the Holocaust. Vampirism is an evil that is equated with a plague; something that is to be feared, rejected and overcome. In contrast to the original novel, to reflect the newly arising feminist movement appearing in modern culture, Jonathan Harker and Lucy switch roles. Harker assumes the role of the helpless victim who succumbs to the vampirism, while Lucy remains strong and seeks to destroy the vampire.

As with the Victorian novel, sexuality in Herzog’s film is very understated. In stark contrast to the debased horrible images in the opening scenes, Lucy is depicted as a beautiful, pure and proper woman, with long hair and dressed in flowing white gowns. In alignment with the sexual repression of the Victorian era, Lucy’s demeanor is stiff and unemotional, yet she is supportive of her husband. Lucy and her husband sleep in separate beds in night clothing that fully covers their bodies.

The inhuman, repulsive physical appearance of Count Dracula, with his sickly white skin, thin, bony fingers, long yellow nails, pointed ears, bald head and rat- like teeth, is a visible reflection of the evil that vampirism represents. Dracula’s lethargic and tired, appearance, and torn, tattered, dusty cape seem analogous to the symptoms experienced by one as he approaches death. Herzog’s conception of the vampire, Count Dracula is entirely different from both Stoker’s and Browning’s idea of Dracula. Unlike Stoker’s lively, vigorous and animated Dracula who began as perfect gentleman host to his guest, with the self-control to suppress the bestial aspects of his vampire nature, such was not the case with Herzog’s Dracula. While Dracula makes some feeble attempts towards acting like a proper host, he is subject to the vampiric disease, which enslaves him to his bestial and evil ways. As Harker takes his place at the dinner table to eat after a long journey to the castle, Dracula hawks over him, staring intently, just as a predator watches his prey. Dracula is unable to control is vampire nature as he impulsively reaches over to Harker when he accidentally cuts his finger, and in an uncouth fashion, sucks the blood. Upon his arrival to Harker’s homeland, the towns’ people succumb to rats, plague and death.

Traditional Christian ideas of God and faith are upheld, as evident in the fact that Dracula fears the crucifix which represent the power of good against evil, Lucy’s prayer to God for forgiveness and finally, the power of the Host, (which represents the body of Christ), to purify the coffins and restrain Harker in his corner after he is infected by the Count. Nevertheless, not all the ideas represented by the Christian religion are embraced. The idea of the male Christ figure that is the savior is rejected. According to the Christian religion, only a man, Jesus Christ, has the capacity to save the world from evil. In contrast, according to Herzog’s film, only “a woman pure of heart”, could save the town from the evil of Nosferatu’s curse. After attending a symbolic “Last Supper” (analogous to Jesus Christ’s Last Supper), with some townspeople who had realized they had fallen victim to the plague, Lucy assumes her special role as she sets off on her quest to seek out and destroy Dracula. Just as Jesus Christ, in accordance with Christianity, sacrificed his life to save the world, Lucy knowingly sacrifices her life to save the town from the vampiric plague. She sacrifices her life to Dracula’s fatal embrace, knowing it is the only way by which she might capture him in the daylight, thereby destroying him. In destroying Dracula, purity and strength of a woman defeats evil. The sunlight, which represented the power of goodness, destroyed the evil Dracula and his vampiric curse, shined upon Lucy illuminating her as she drew her final breath. Ironically at the end of the film, Harker, infected with the vampirism tricks escapes.

In the modern vampire movies of the 1990s, such as the 1990s remake of Stoker’s novel, “Bram Stocker’s Dracula” and “Interview With the Vampire”, there are several deviations from the trends of Stoker’s novel and the two filmmakers Browning, and Herzog. First of all, the notion that vampirism is evil and Satanic is rejected. Consequently, when the vampire is no longer associated with evil or Satan, he becomes humanized and seen as someone with whom to sympathize with. In a secular culture such as our modern American society, religion and Christianity play very little role. Therefore to appeal to modern audiences, less focus is devoted to religious explanations for vampirism in contrast to the earlier films and Stoker’s novel. Therefore it becomes necessary to find an alternative explanation for vampirism other than satanic evil. Furthermore, in a conversation with Armond, an ancient vampire, Louis learns that there is no such thing as God or the Devil, and that vampires are not doomed to Hell.

With the elimination of the idea that the vampire is evil or satanic, the character of the vampire becomes a being that can feel human emotion such as pain, regret and even love. In both of these modern films, it is established from the start that the condition of vampirism is not a result of evil, or choice but circumstance. Through the opening scenes, the audience can learn the sad circumstances, which led these emotional, caring men into the curse of vampirism. In fact the vampires of these film are depicted as loving devoted husbands during their mortal lives, who became victims after they had suffered greatly from the loss of their greatest loves, their wives.

In the case of Louis, the vampire from “Interview With the Vampire”, the loss of his wife and child led him into an unbearable depression, which led him to neglect himself, and left him vulnerable. In fact, according to Louis, “ I was attacked. It might have been anyone- and my invitation was open to sailors, thieves, maniacs, anyone. But it was a vampire.” Count Dracula from “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” became cursed after he renounced God and the Orthodox Church when he learned of the news of his wife’s suicide. The Orthodox priests proclaimed that since Elizabeth committed suicide she was ineligible to enter heaven. As a result, in sadness and anger he announced that he would forever seek vengeance for her death. In fact, in the film Religious Orthodoxy is portrayed as being evil for its responsibility for the vampire curse.

Additionally, as the concept of being a vampire is no longer treated with horror or disgust, vampirism becomes glorified like as exclusive club that must be guarded and protected against any outsiders. In both films, vampires are portrayed as physically attractive and beautiful, possessing great gifts such as strength, everlasting life, intelligence, wisdom and wealth. These vampires spend the movie protecting themselves from outside harm.

With physical attractiveness as one of the striking features of vampirism, along comes the onset of sexuality. In both films, there is heavy emphasis on the sexual aspect of vampirism. Both heterosexuality and homosexuality play a role in both films. When his youth was restored, after feasting on blood, Count Dracula became an attractive man who easily lured Mina to willingly become his lover. There are several intimate scenes between Dracula and Mina in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, with images of close contact, and bare skin. Additionally, Mina is depicted wearing suggestive, translucent night clothing as she rushes out during the night to find Lucy during one of her sleep walking episodes. Both Mina and Lucy join in a physical, intimate embrace in the night rain-, which subtly suggests homosexuality. In contrast to the traditional vampire films in which Dracula seeks out a female companion, the heterosexuality is secondary in the “Interview With the Vampire”. The subtle sexuality between the male vampire, Lestat with his male victims is evident during the film when Lestat seduces a young, naïve, and attractive, feminine man. In fact Lestat, with his flowing, curly blond hair, and delicate features is himself is feminized. Women are depicted as threatening and not to be trusted. The young cold and calculating female vampire Claudia murders Lestat. The other female vampires from the theater in Paris are aloof and emotionless. The relationships between the male vampires are stronger physically and emotionally than those between men and women. Woman are no longer portrayed as submissive victims, but rather as active participants in the sexual relationship.

When comparing Stoker’s original novel with the vampire films throughout the years we can see a clear evolution and transformation in the concepts of good and evil and of sexuality. We can see the historical change and growth of the cultural attitudes towards religions, sex and women that has occurred with the last 100 years. Films have ranged from depicting Dracula and the vampire as a grotesque, inhuman, animal-like, undead beast exhibiting no sexual appeal to an attractive, sophisticated being with the capacity to hypnotize and swoon its victims. The role of women in the vampire film originated as the helpless, naïve, and submissive victim to the strong, willful, determined heroine of the modern era. The degradation of the role of Christianity and religion in favor of humanism is also exhibited in the transformation of the condition of vampirism as being associated with Satanic evil which must be combated by God, to the rejection of the idea of evil in favor of the explanation that vampirism is a condition of circumstance.

Society and its ideas of women, sexuality and the role of religion have undergone a spectrum of changes over time which the novel and films about vampires have captured. The films’ portrayal of Dracula, the vampire, and the supporting male and female characters are a direct reflection of the time and culture of which the film was produced. The image of the original creature created by Stoker has been altered by the directors’ imaginations in reaction to the changing cultural concerns of its audience in the areas of sexuality, women and the concept of evil. The plethora of vampire and Dracula films available to today’s modern audiences, which have been made through the years, offer a unique historical perspective of the changes in cultural concerns undergone by our society.

The Challenge of the Book of James

 The Challenge of the Book of James

The letter from James is often an overlooked book. Small in size, it can be read in a mere twenty minutes. Nevertheless, it is packed with a wealth of relevant information. It is a challenging book. Not challanging as in being difficult to understand- on the contrary! I believe the book of James is so simple to understand. While it is clear, and simple, it is difficult to actually obey nevertheless. That is where the challange rests- actually obeying and following the words of the Lord. That is what fascinates me. If James were to have a title, I believe that title would have something to do with the condemnation of hypocracy. If I had to give it a title- a suitable one would be would be: "A Lesson in Integrity- Freedom from the world and hypocracy". Although on the surface God's word seems to be restrictive, it is liberating. Being friends with the world may seem to be easy but in the end, it leads to death.God knows what is best for us, in His wisdom. In contrast, our humanly wisdom is very dim or clouded. Therefore we must put our trust in the Lord. For example, there are specifics in James that are so contrary to the ways of this sinful godless world we live in. For example the sensless accumulation of wealt is condemned. Double mindendedness (which mean dishonesty), pride, competativeness, anger, revenge, slander (untrue accustations/ gosspip), quarrels/ fights and coveting (which means jealousy) are also condmened as well as many other "human" traits that are accepted in this this world and society. Think about the specific examples that I listed and consider how common they are in today. Everyone is guilty of at least one of hese things if not many more! I like this verse: James 5:1-5 Now listen you rich people weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.....You have lived on earth in luxery and self indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter! Think about the emphasis placed on prosperity and wealth by sociey and the media: on TV, in movies and magazines and just in general!!! Think about how many chase after wealth and material possessions like expensive homes, cars, money and other things. Well God condemns this single minded pursuit of wealth!! Conside how wealth is portrayed in a glamerous and appealing way in movies and TV. In today's society, the poor and underclass are treated as if they are second class citisens. Well that is the way of this world, and God wants us to have no part of it.

Discovery of Design by Donald DeYoung and Derrik Hobbs

As a blogger for the New Leaf Publishing Group I recently had the opportunity to read Discovery of Design- Searching Out the Creator's Secrets, by Donald DeYoung and Derrik Hobbs, published by Master Books.  This 233 page, trade paperback is full of trivia syle scientific facts as well as black and white photographs on each page.  Marketed as an applied science text/ religious education book, this easy to read fact filled book can either be read cover to cover or by individual topic.  There are eight main sections dedicated to microorganisms, insectsflight, vegitation, underwater life and land animals- to name a few.  Within each section, something from the natural world is compared to a man-made invention.  For example, the complexity of the dragonfly is the inspriation behind modern man made surveillance technologies.  The inherent complexities of spider silk is analogous to the man made technology of fiber optics.  There are several examples of the natural ingenuity of God's creation and how this is used to inspire complex man made invention; hence the subtitle, "Searching Out the Creator's Secrets".  Chapter questions as well as a gloassary are included in the back of the book.  While not intended as a stand alone science text, this book perhaps would make a good supplimental text perhaps.  This book isnt extremely technical and is reminscent of a book of scientific trivia facts that may be appreciated by a young reader who has an interest in scientific facts. As a blogger I recieved this book for the purposes of writing a review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Adventures in Booga Booga Land - Volume 1 (DVD) By Richard Milner

In a society and culture- where morally devoid cartoons monopolize the market, whereas kids sit tranfixed for hours in front of the TV set, watching the same re-runs of brainless Nickelodeon and Disney sitcom shows- shaping the values- or lack therof- of so many kids today, I eagerly awaited the new DVD- Adventures in Booga Booga Land Volume 1.  Making use of the cartoon format to deliver a moral message, this entertaining DVD is sure to grab the attention of today's young cartoon watching children. This DVD is a series of stories- actually cartoons, depicting the stories from the bible.  The animals play the roles of the characters in Jesus' parables of the new testament of the bible.   Even if a child is not familiar with the bible or the stories of the bible- any child will be sure to enjoy this DVD.  Basically this is cartoon entertainment for children with moral stories. This is a clever outreach idea to deliver the bible messages to young children.  Nevertheless even if  a child does understand the biblical message, one can be assured at minimum, the child viewed a morally upstanding cartoon rather than a debased, tasteless, suggestively innapropriate propaganda piece that the secular, corporate television stations have choosen.  As a blooger for Thomas Nelson's blogger program, I had the opportunity to request this DVD for free for the purposes of writing a review.  I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions expressed in this review are my own. 

City On Our Knees

As a blogger for Bethany House publishers I had the opportunity to read Toby Mac's book of motivational inspirational stories, City On Our Knees.  Featured in the short stories of this book are true feel- good tales of assorted good citizens and good doers; both secular and spiritual, who went beyond the call of duty to make the world a better place.  While some of the real life characters featured are Christian, the other heroes and heroines are simply spiritual  or secular who made it a personal  mission to help the sick, the poor or some other downtrodden sector of society.  A common theme is that those who are in someway blessed with greater financial or social resources, should aid those who are less fortunate.  When faced with personal illness or crisis- one's energy and financial resources regardless of how great or limted, can be used and should be used for the greater good for others also suffering.

While not explicitly stated, apparently the author, Toby Mac is partial to the Roman Catholic Church as evident from the references to notable Roman Catholic figures and saints. Credability is given to the personal visions of Constantine, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Augustine.  The actual title of the book is a play on words in the tradition of Augustine's City Of God.  This is not a problem, obviously, as the message of this book is more about the impact of good works and peronal self sacrifice for the good of modern society rather than a being book about theology and the way to salvation.  There is no discrimenation when it comes to  differing religions, or beliefs from humanistic, non religious goodness as long as the end result is helping others in society. All religions and denominations, regardless of their spiritual beliefs are treated as equal as long as it motivates one to do good to help others in need.  The focus on this book is a person's good works and its impact rather than on a person's individual religious beliefs.  The actual spiritual message of this book is vague.

The various stories are sure to appeal to many readers whether religious or non religious.  Topics range from well known examples from popular culture to the historical stories of the 1800s circuit riders in American history.  As a professional musician, Toby Mac makes an analogy with preachers and rock stars.   Obviously this book is an expression of his identification with a modern day preacher.  Nevertheless, one can not help but think, with Toby Mac's economic and social advantages that he is able to enjoy, that it is easier for him to make sacrifices from his excess than for those middle and lower class readers who are struggling to just make ends meet.  I imagine that the audience he speaks to through his book, most likely are those who are socio- economically advantaged with the luxury of spare time to dedicate to mssionary work and making monetary donations.  Many underclass readers from the lower end of the socio- economic spectrum may simply be unable to relate to the philanthropy efforts of many of the main characters contained in these stories.

  Page 63 offers a brief yet incomplete synopsis of the gospel message. Not exactly enough to lead a non saved reader to the  salvation message of the bible, yet it does acknowledge the sacrifice of Jesus.  Jesus is depicted as basically an avatar, the "highest example" of sacrifce that we should try and follow.   Furthermore, the  pages called the "Toby Mac Blog" and the "Remix" summaries offer effective and morally useful advice. In a society where so many stars and famous entertainers in the media exploit and abuse their positions, providing poor role models, Toby Mac is to be commeded for using his fame and position to further the cause of helping others through good works.  The book re-packages morality in an appealing, modern way that is sure to draw in today's society both young and old. 

In Every Heartbeat By Kim Vogel Sawyer

As a blogger for Bethany House publishers I had the opportunity to read Kim Vogel Sawyer's historical fiction novel, In Every Heartbeat. Set in the historical period of WWI, this book tells the story of three young adults, who are friends- and their individual paths in life.   While the story is well written, with authentic historical details, it would most likely appeal to those readers who enjoy love stories and romance novels rather than history fans.  One all too common underlying assumption, of  many romance novels and fairy tales, as well, is also perpetuated in this book: this story encourages the common antiquated, yet strongly held theme in society that a woman's self worth and value is based on a man rather than her own self worth. A woman's happiness is usually linked to a man and if she happens to be single, it is always her choice, (at least temporarily- until she comes to her "senses"). There is always a suitor around the corner as a fall-back option to provide the heroine with a life of security, whose own life is on hold, as he patiently waits for her approval and acceptance in marriage. The entire story line is wrapped up in the tension or interaction between the heroine, and her future husband.  The last lines sum up the basic theme of the story: a woman's dependancy on a man for happiness and fullfillment: "Libbey closed her eyes and allowed her other senses to soak up....the warmth of Petey's embrace....It was enough to rest blissfully in Petey's arms." (page 346)  Obviously this final line speaks for itself. For those who appreciate historical love stories, the authentic details of culture and society will be enjoyable setting for this story. This book would be a good choice for any reader who enjoys idealistic, happy romance stories. I recieved a free copy of this book from Bethany House publishers and the opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

ICB Holy Bible - Contemporary 3-D Art by Thomas Nelson Publishers

As a blogger for it is with eager anticipation that I awaited for a copy of the International Children's Version ICB, translation of the bible with Contemporary 3-D Art by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Though the ICB translation is specifically marketed for children , as an easy to understand modern version, it is a good resource for parents and other adults as well as children. I believe that many adult readers could benefit from a bible in simple easy to understand language.  Obviously, as this particular ICB is heavily illustrated to appeal to a younger audience,  many adults may not prefer to carry arround this boldy illustrated bible to church or bible study. Therefore you may prefer to read it in the privacy of your own bedroom, unless, of course, you covered the bible with a stretchy, stately, mature, navy blue book sox- but even then, the full color graphics would jump out as you turned the pages and betray the fact that you were using a children's bible.  Thankfully for us mature folk: parents,  grandparents, business professionals and college students, etc., there are many good easy to understand, modern versions that we as adults can choose from. 
Even though older translations such as the King James Version may be traditional, beautiful and poetically written, if the reader can not understand the antiquated language, then reading it will be of little benefit for the reader. In fact, strict reliance on older versions by some religious institutions is at a great disservice to the membership of the church.   A sample of this translation style- the ICB version-  is illustrated by the verse in 2Corninthians10:13 - “But we will not brag about things outside the work that was given us to do. We will limit our bragging to the work that God gave us. And this work includes our work with you.”  Clearly this is a good translation for children as well as adults to understand.  In contrast, this is the KJV:  “But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you.” It is more likely a child would be more receptive, and many adults for that matter, to the ICB version than the KJV.
This bible is not like a bedtime story book of selected bible stories, it is the actual complete bible text.  So, if you are looking for a simple quick bedtime story book, this isn't for you.  But, on the other hand if you wish to find an easy to understand complete version of the bible that will bring the words of the bible to life for your child...and even yourself, then this is a great choice. As a blogger for booksneeze, I wrote this review and the opinions exp[ressed are my own.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Chasing Francis By Ian Morgan Cron

A more accurate  title for Ian Morgan Cron's book, Chasing Francis- A pilgrim's Tale, would  have been: "My Coversion to Roman Catholicism from Evangalism".  Cron's work is a fictional novel which tells the story of a dissapointed, dissolusioned, young evangelical pastor, who has a spiritual break-down following the unexpected death of a child in his parish.  Unable to find solace within God's word, the hero, a young pastor named Chase, seeks to find "another Jesus", whereas on page 37 he states: "I'm sure there's another Jesus I haven't met yet.  How on earth do I find him?".  Yet, this is in direct opposition to Paul's warnings in his letters of the new testament of the bible, when he explains that some followers will abandon their faith and the truth that they learned for a false gospel or a false depiction of Christ.  Also Jesus tells the parable of the seed, how it fails to grow when it becomes entangled with thorns- a metaphor for those whose weak faith is broken in the face of hardship.  The response of this Pastor to tragedy is disheartening and discouraging for anyone who has faced personal tradgedy yet sought to find solace in God.  The best answer to Chase's statement should be obvious- Would not one's journey to find Jesus begin with the word of God in the bible? Is it required that one just leave his home and go on an expensive, nostalgic siteseeing trip to get away from the pain of life?  Regrettably, this is not an option for most people.  The erroneous assumption is that the bible would not be a good place to start to find Jesus or solace.  

Chase openly declares on page 43: "I want to find a new church and a new way to follow Jesus".  The books is subtle and cleverly written that it could turn any unsuspecting  reader into a Roman Catholic- endearing almost anyone into believing in the legitimacy of the intercession of the Saints, the priesthood, the mystical visions/ appirations of Mary, the authority of the pope and transubstantiation. Key Catholic terms (on page 33), such as the Eucharist and the intercession of the Saints are repackaged and redefined in order to make the concepts more palatible to those with bible based faith. Rituals, Catholic traditions such as the mass, infant baptism, and mystisism are systematically justified without explanation of what these concepts really mean.  Perhaps this book is an attempt at the ecumenical movement, in which theological and doctrinal differences are overlooked and undermined.  The conflicts  of Roman Catholic tradition with the bible are not addressed and are  ignored. In direct opposition to gospel message of the bible, the reader is left with the confused feeling that all paths of worship are acceptable and that there is not one single truth.  (Page 55).

The main character addresses his journal entries to Francis of Assisi- not to God!  This seems to imply that this book is advocating the Roman Catholic concept of the  intercession  of  Saints, such as Francis of Assisi. Yet, this is not biblical.  The author presents a cynical view of having a personal relationship to Jesus, implying that it is inferior to the Catholic tradition of having a communial relationship with Jesus.  In general, the pilgrimage, which basically is a spiritual term to descrive Chase's siteseeing trip to Italy, is something that many people do not have the financial means or time to do.  The emphasis on sacred space, man made art/ icons, idol worship, architechture and the visual aspect of religion is in direct opposition to the bible's teachings of faith.

This thought provoking book is a challanging and very well written story.  It is a very persuasive piece of propaganda and is probably the most effective and subtle outreach program of the Roman Catholic church yet- to gain converts from protestant, non denominational, evangelical and fundalmentalist churches.   In fact as Paul warned, even Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light, in order to fool even the elite.  I am quite suprised that the Navigators would publish this work from their publishing company, Navpress.  I would expect to see a piece of work like this from a Catholic publishing company.  In the end, I would have to give this book a five star rating as it is extremely well written and a very persuasive piece of propaganda literature. Many unsuspecting readers are sure to be converted!  As a blogger for Navpress I recieved a free copy of this book for the purpose of writing this review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Masquerde By Nancy Moser

As a blogger for Bethany House publishers I had the opportunity to read Nancy Moser's historical fiction novel, Masquerade.  Set in the late 1880s in England, this book tells the story of two young women- a wealthy girl and her servant, who trade places.  The storyline is actually similar to Barbie's Princess and the Pauper.  In this story, two young women trade places so that the rich, yet rebellious beautiful heroine can live life as an independant free spirit and the impoverished, indentured servant girl has a chance to marry a rich suitor and  live life as a wealthy heiress.  While the story is well written, with authentic historical details, it would most likely appeal to those readers who enjoy Disney movies and fairy tales with beautiful princesses and happy endings.  Basically, this novel is like a grown up version of a fairy tale, where truth and honesty prevail and the ending is always a happy one.

One all too common underlying belief, that is found in many romance novels and fairy tales, as well,  is also perpetuated in this book: this story encourages the common antiquated, yet strongly held theme in society that a woman's self worth and value is based on a man rather than her own self worth.  A woman's happiness is usually linked to a man and if she happens to be single, it is always her choice, (at least temporarily- until she comes to her "senses").  There is always a suitor around the corner as a fall-back option to provide the heroine with a life of security, whose own life is on hold,  as he patiently waits for her approval and acceptance in marriage.

For those who appreciate history, the authentic details of culture and even clothing will be appreciated.  In fact there are some factual background details presented in the back of the book as well as detailed information and illustrations of some of the fashion of the time period. This book would be a good choice for any reader who enjoys idealistic, happy romance stories.  I recieved a free copy of this book from Bethany House publishers and the opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Good Morning Lord by Sheila Walsh

As a blogger for Thomas Nelson's I had the opporunity to review the full- color devotional gift book Good Morning Lord by Sheila Walsh. This devotional isn't too indepth, in regards to theology and it isn't deeply spiritual.  Therefore it is appropriate for anyone wishing to dedicate just a little bit of time each day to personal reflection. The passages are encouraging for anyone, especially those whose religious background is limited.  It is a good introductory book for anyone just beginning to explore the deeper meaning of life. There are a few lines scattered throughout the book to encourage the reader to record a few thoughts. This space, by no means is sufficient to contain all of one's thoughts.  Some of the thought provoking ideas would be a good starting point by which the reader could start his or own journal, because a few lines is not nearly sufficient space to record ones thoughts in any serious or indepth manner.  By no means is this journal/ gift book intended for a theologen or the serious bible student who wishes to study the word of the bible in great detail.  Nevertheless it makes a good starting point for those who wish to explore the pleasure of journaling by providing some good topics and biblical verses by which to reflect upon.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Refractions by Makoto Fujimura

In his work, Refractions- A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture, a compendium of essays and art, Makoro Fujimura, correlates art with a spiritual experience.  More specifically, Fujimura's art is a reflection of his own personal faith and spiritual observations- a reflection of the beauty of God.  Furthermore, the author elevates art into a form of religion.  He states that the desire for beauty is an inate, natural desire of all mankind, and that regardless of culture or religion, humankind has a shared appreciation for anything beauty- whether it is through art, poetry, or music. In fact, this appreciation of beauty has the possibility of creating a common bond or a common ground which in of itself can be a succeful outreach program by which to introduce people to the beauty of God, our creator.

For example, the use of gold and silver pigmentation and color in traditional Japanese art represents a significant Eastern culture, both socially and spiritually.  Its use in Japanese art had more than asthetic purpose.  When Fujimura uses gold and silver in his art, it is a conscious decision, not only for asthetic reasons but spiritual reasons.  In contrast to classic Eastern religious idealology, the author feels that the beauty and transluscent properties of gold and silver reflect the beauty and glory of God, depicted in the New Jerusalem of the bible's book of Revelation.  When he sees the brilliant pigments of gold and silver, he immediatly thinks of the glory, pwer and beauty of God reflected in a color. 

At first glance, to the causal observer, Fujimura's art appears abstract. Nothing recognisable can be distinguished in the mix of colors and shapes. It may even appear random and haphazard.   The special meaning behind his paintings and art is in his choice of colors, pigments and art mediums.  The choice of colors have a greater symbolic meaning.  In of itself, each piece of work represents a story or a journey in the author's own spiritual path. This book was very unique and was a pleasure to read.  The idea of using artwork as a springboard for outreach to share one's spiritual beliefs is an effective idea. I believe this indepth book would make a perfect selection for any college philosophy, art or literature program.  In conclusion, whether or not you are an artist is not what is significant.  Rather, the author presents that there is a need in each and everyone of us for creative expression.  In today's busy world, creativity is often overlooked.  The author believes we should make a deliberate choice to set aside time everyday to get in touch with our creative inner beings whether through art, writing, music or any other hobby for that matter.  God has given mankind a common appreciation for beauty, and if we have anything in common in our diverse cultures and beliefs it is the appreciation of anything beautiful.  As a blogger of Navpress publishers I recieved a copy of this book.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller

As a blogger for Navpress publishers I had the recent opportunity to review Paul E. Miller's book, A Praying Life.  The best way to desribe this book would be to say it is a cross between a prayer intruction manual/ textbook, psychology book,  inspirational guide and self help book rolled into one volume.  For anyone who wants a jump start to get motivated to pray and to learn about the power of prayer, this is the perfect book.  This book will succeed in getting even the most skeptic of readers, thinking more about the importance of prayer in his/ her own life. 

One shortcoming of this book, is that the author makes use of personal anecdotes based on his own life and  experiences as a father and spiritual leader/ pastor.  Many readers may find it difficult to relate to the intense spiritual life of the author, Paul E. Miller, and one may argue that this author is predisposed to having an intense prayer life.  How many readers can relate to teenagers who genuinely pray and are honest enough to voice their concerns about prayers that go unanswered?  How many of us are pastors, or come from a pastor's family or are married to a pasto? While Miller's personal stories are an attempt at making a personal connection with the reader, I believe they will serve to alienate many  reader.  For most of us, we do not have the spiritual backing or support from our families or church  that the author enjoys inorder to pursue spiritual endeavors.

Nevertheless, the use of personal anecdotes, does not detract from the overall purpose of the book.  I believe this is a valuable resource as an inspriational book to motivate the reader to prayer as well as an instructional guide to ease the transition into a deeper relationship with God through prayer. The idea of prayer cards, introduced in the book,  is a pretty unique concept, and is a concrete and real way by which anyone can get started into prayer.  As a blogger for Navpress publishers, I recieved a copy of this book for the purpose of writing a review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, September 10, 2010

About You by Dick Staub

Dick Staub’s book, About You: Fully Human Fully Alive, speaks to the modern generation as a whole- regardless of whether the audience is secular, religious, or well educated in philosophical thought. His book is a meld between a self-help style book and philosophy, rolled into one unique volume. This book is a clever and unique outreach method by which the gap between secular theology, and the skeptic secular audience and Christian theology is bridged. It is a good spring board to introduce those who are not familiar with the bible to the greatness of Jesus and to empowerment. Perhaps this is an attempt at ecumenicalism whereas differences in theology and religious ideas are overlooked in the quest to find a common bond. Nevertheless, for those seeking the message of the gospel as taught by Jesus and the writers of the bible, then this is not necessarily the most appropriate book as some critical aspects of the gospel message are underemphasized or left out entirely.

In general, the biggest “sin”, for Straub (even though the biblical concept of sin is overlooked in the book), is not in denying the sacrifice of Jesus, but rather in not living up to one’s full potential. This book appeals to the secular, yet universally common quest to reach our full human potential. An underachiever is described as one who fails to reach his “fully human” potential. Being spiritually alive is not sufficient, we must also be “winsomely alive and human” as well. Straub makes the two goals of spiritual life and human life as two distinct concepts. To achieve the concept of “restoration” we must know theology- defined as God’s purpose for us- as well as integrating anthropology- in which we follow our human nature and human destiny.

According to Straub, Jesus came to make us fully human. This is not necessarily completely true, if one were to use the bible as a guideline. As far as the bible is concerned, Jesus came so that we may have eternal life. Straub focuses on peripheral ideas which makes for a good, empowering self help book to help motivate the reader to develop and pursue his/her talents and gifts- but it is not a book that presents the gospel message of Jesus.

Dick Straub is to be commended for reaching out to the secular and skeptical reader, and providing a thought provoking spring-board which may lead the reader to investigate the message of Jesus further. But if you consider the brief synopsis of the views presented on page 188, salvation consists of realizing our human potential rather than placing our faith in Jesus Christ who died in our place for our sins. Jesus is relegated to a model or avatar by which we should emulate and follow, but the issue of salvation in the biblical sense as presented in the bible is not fully addressed. Jesus is depicted in a non offensive, palatable way, that even the most skeptical, hardened of atheists will not reject. Nevertheless, Jesus was more blunt and never compromised in order to win over his listeners. In fact, even in the bible, many of his listeners were offended by his teachings. Overall, while these are important issues that I have raised- as a stand-alone, self help book, this book succeeds in empowering the reader to reach his/ her full potential. I recieved a copy of this book as a blogger for TheOOZE Viral Publishers.

Seeds of Turmoil by Bryant Wright

For the most complete and comprehensive background on the current Middle East conflict, there is no need to pick up the newspaper which will only deliver bits and pieces of the story, when you can read Bryant Wrights's new book, :Seeds of Turmoil: The Biblical Roots of the Inevitable Crisis in the Middle East. This book rovides another perspective to this current events issue that anyone who seeks more information is sure to appreciate. The information Wright provides can not be found in any current or past copy of the New York Times, USA Today or even a world history textbook.  This book provides interesting and suprising insight to the Middle East crisis that plagues the world today.  This crisis is not new but rooted in a battle that is over 4000 years old! The dissentions of the political parties involved predate the age when Christ walked this earth by over 2000 years. The reasons behind the conflict are  not random nor arbitrary, and the reasons and answers why can be found in the in a common book that simply sits collecting dust on so many bookshelves- the bible. Pehaps not too many people are aware that the Middle East turmoil began with a complicated love triangle involving Abraham, Sarah and Hagar over 4000 years ago.  This and more interesting, historical based facts are brought to life and easily digested in Wrights's book. You need not be a biblical scholar to appreciate this book. The information in this book is timely and may be appreciated by any reader interested in current events involving the Middle East. As a blogger for Thomas Neslson's web site, I recieved this book for the purpose of writing a review.  I was not required to write a review and the opinions expressed are my own.

Out Live Your Life by Max Lucado

NYT best- selling author, Max Lucado's newest book, Out Live Your Life, is a book that will reach and inspire even the most secularlized, discouraged or hardened audience.  In his usual fashion, Lucado elevates even the most common, ordinary, humble and mundane people and circumstances into the the most extraordinary, significant and noble of possibilities.  No matter what station in life that you hold, no matter how discouraged, sick or ill that you feel, this book empowers the reader with purpose and motivation.  Lucado appeals to the human need for purpose and he delivers satisfactory answers and solutions. This book is sure to appeal to the the secular reader as well as the bible believer.

Lucado brings to life, the stories and heroes of the bible and relates them to common, ordinary human circumstances.  He shows vividly in animated language, the human side of the apostles- highlighting their weaknesses and shortcomings.  Just as Paul said in his letters, in his weakness he is made strong through the power of God, and as Jesus taught that God uses the weak, sick and humble for his glory- Max Lucado, uses this theme to show how we too can be used as instruments for God's glory. Just as a biblical hero, we too can do are part to help the wolrd be a better place or to help those in need.  There are not too many personal anecdotes to interfere with the text of the book, rather, Lucado makes use of biblical stories.

One issue to explore is Lucado's choice of examples of modern day heroes.  Perhaps this is an attempt to facilitate the ecumenical movement, whereby one focuses on commonalities rather than theological differences to unify different religious/ Christian denominations.  Lucado chose two unique personalities to illustrate the power of a single individual- one is a fictitious character named Father Benjamin and the other is a real life hero of faith, Father Damien, a  Roman Catholic priest from Belgium and member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.  I commend as well as question his choice of examples.  First of all, no one could doubt that Father Damien's sacrifice of his life for the lepers of Molokai was an heroic sacrifice of faith to the glory of God.  Nevertheless, as a Catholic Priest, in the order of the Sacred Hearts, a religious order based on the vision of Henriette Aymer de Chevalerie in the late 1700s, whose mission is to mission to spread the message of God's unconditional love as manifested through the Hearts of Jesus and Mary  as well as finding God's mercy through the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Although the order has been responsible for the improvement and edification of countless lives, here on earth, the issue here is that Father Damien was part of a religious order that promoted the adoration of the "Blessed Sacrament" as well as Mary- who is often referred to as the "Blessed Mother/ Queen of Heaven" in the Catholic Church.  Father Damien's works were heroic, but what about the theology and teaching he represented? Should that be considered as well? He helped countless lives, but what about their souls? I have no doubt that there are genuine Catholics written in the Book Of Life, who have recieved salvation  through faith in Jesus Christ- of which Father Damien I am sure is one of them.  But the full scope of the teaching represented by Catholic Priests must also considered as well.  Otherwise, what is the distinction between these choices and any other historical or secular Martyr.
Nevertheless, I have presented this issue just as something to explore. It in no way detracted from this book's message in any way whatsoever. Perhaps a Catholic hero was chosen in order to include more denominations rather than alienate them. Yet we must remember that the teaching of Jesus is not always easy, and Jesus said himself there is only one path and that we can not comprimse or water down or add to the message of the gospel for the sake of pleasing others. After all, Jesus himself often offended many of his listeners with his teachings- yet he never once comprimised. As a member for I receieved this book for the purposes of writing a review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Out Live Your Life by Max Lucado

NYT best selling author, Max Lucado's newest inspirational book, Out Live Your Life, has the power to reach even the most hardened and downtrodden of lives.  As with his other works, in true Lucado-fashion, he elevates the most common, the most ordinary, and the most hopeless of situations and people into extraordinary and noble possibilities.  In other words, he illustrates the power within each and everyone of us, to have an impact in our world and for the betterment of others to the glory of God.  This book appeals to the human need for purpose and delivers answers.

Lucado brings to life, examples from the bible to powerfully illustrate the words of Jesus and the writers of the new testament- that God uses weakness and the common, to the glory of God. He does not use too many personal anecdotes whoc so many self help writers tend to do.  The text of the book comes to life as it is vividly illustrated with indepth personality studies of the apostles and other characters from the bible in order to show that God can you any one of us for greatness and glory to change lives and the world for the better. The human and imperfect side of the apostles as well as within oursleves is elevated and is used to illustrate how we too can be used as toold for God's glory.

One issue I wish to explore in this review is Lucado's choice of examples for modern heroes of faith.  In his book two examples are depicted: one is a fictional character named Father Benjamin and the other is a real life, historical hero of faith, Father Damien, a man who sacrificed his life for countless people inflicted with leprosy on the island of Molaki.  It is important to keep in mind that  Father Damien was a  Roman Catholic priest and member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a  religious order that is based on the private vision of Henriette Aymer de Chevalerie in the late 1700s. The mission of the Sacred Hearts  is to spread the message of God's  love as manifested through the Hearts of Jesus and Mary and help others in finding God's mercy through the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Is this mission theologically inline with the gospel message?  We can not ignore this.  There is no doubt that Father Damien exhibited extraordinary herosim and sacrifice for others. But he was part of an religious organization whose missionary work was also to promote the adoration of the "Blessed Sacrament" as well as Mary, otherwise known by the Catholic church as "The Blessed Mother/ Queen of Heaven".   It is true, that there are many faithful Catholics, whose names are written in heaven's Book of Life, who have salvation based  on their faith in the sacrifice of Jesus, whose meritorius works are the fruits of the Holy Spirit such as with the case of Father Damien. There is no doubt Father Damien, as well as other Catholic heroes, empowered and helped countless numbers of people here on earth,  but we can not neglect to consider the importance of saving souls as wel-l which after all, is the most important puspose of the the gospel message.   If we base heroes on works alone, then why not consider secular or historical heroes who sacrificed their lives for others? Perhaps this hero was chosen by Lucado as an attempt at the ecumenical movement, wherby bridging the gap between denominations by focusing on similarites rather than theological differences.  But if we are considering the message of God, then we must consider the message of any hero that we choose as an illustration, as well.

Nevertheless, I have presented this issue just as something to explore.  It in no way detracted from this book's message in any way whatsoever.  Perhaps a Catholic hero was chosen in order to include more denominations rather than alienate them. Yet we must remember that the teaching of Jesus is not always easy, and Jesus said himself there is only one path and that we can not comprimse or water down or add to the message of the gospel for the sake of pleasing others.  After all, Jesus himself often offended many of his listeners with his teachings- yet he never once comprimised.  As a member for I receieved this book for the purposes of writing a review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The God who Smokes by Timothy J. Stoner

The God Who Smokes by Timothy J. Stoner reflects the irony of God's powerful traits which are often overlooked, dismissed and watered down by many of today's modern and emerging a.k.a "Emergent"/ "Emerging", Christian churches. Nevertheless just as God, is the God of peace and love, He is also the God of justice, as well as a warring God against injustice, lies and evil. Hence, the unique title chosen for the book.   Many modernists within so many Christian churches don't like to see this side of God, and thereby simply dismiss it as old fashioned, and intolerant.

Stoner fluently uses biblical passages to illustrate the many facets of God's personality and the message of salvation. Modern society and culture erroneously portrays God as a kind, sweet, dismissive, quaint, old grandmother who excuses away the misdoings and so-called mistakes of mankind.  There is no such thing as sin in today's society and many churches as well, for that matter.  The author points out the deadly error of relativism and ambiguity.  Essentially, man made ideas as well as half-truths are conisdered to be deadly lies that disregard or conceal the words of Jesus- the truth of salvation.

The modern push towards relatavisnm, prevelant in many churches can not be denied! Even essentials to faith and salvation are up for debate or second guessed.  The prevelant question in modern churches is whether one can reject Jesus, follow other paths and still be saved.  For many Emergent modern, relativisitc churches, that claim to be Christian,  the answer is a resounding- yes! This put countless sincere, yet misguided people in grave danger.   Timothy Stoner responds that the answer is "No", that there are not multiple paths to salvation! How is he so sure? It is because the bible- as well as the words of Jesus- tell us so.  The author makes the distinction between essential truths and the message of salvation from secondary issues of theology.  For example, the length of time it took for God to complete the creation of the world, charasmatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, or the specific timeline of events that will occur in the Tribulation or end-times are secondary issues.  But Jesus as being the truth and the way to salvation is not up for debate- it is an essential fact of Salvation.  Just as Jesus himself was blunt, not caring about political correctness when it came to matters of Salvation, the Church as well, needs to be firm and blunt just as Jesus and just as the bible message. Jesus never watered down the truth even when it offended or upset his listeners. "Not every religious disagreement is a matter of life or death.  But- and here is the big but- some are." P. 45

This book is written in a way to appeal to today's generation of post modern parishiners and readers.  It does not comprimise on truth of the bible to gain the acceptance or approval of the reader.   Nevertheless, it is written with humor and sensitivity as well- speaking out powerfully to today's generation. It brings to life the words of Jesus using modern day analogies. This book points out the dangerous error of many post modern as well as Emergent churches. As a blogger of Navpress I recieved a copy of this book for the purpose of writing a review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Secret "Law of Attraction": New Age Idea Repackaged

"The secret", as mysterious and tempting as it sounds, refers to a book by the author, Rhonda Byrne. This self help book has become a best seller; after all who can resist the lure of finding the secret to making more money, losing weight, finding the love of your life, and achieving job success- just to name a few.

The author, Byrne claims that this secret, as described in her book, was the key to explaining the success of many successful and respected individuals throughout history. The Secret, otherwise known by the quasi scientific name-  "the law of attraction", states that thoughts have power, and therefore manifest themselves to create the circumstances in our lives. In other words, the “Universe”, is basically a substitute for God. With the power of words and beliefs, one can obtain or achieve anything he or she desires. Basically, God, a.k.a the Universe, is relegated to the position of a magical genie, whereas the universe itself is compared to a catalog. All you need to do is ask for something and believe, and the Universe and/or God will materialize your desire into reality. The overused cliche that you attract what you think about- your thoughts determine your destiny, are deemed to be as reliable as any scientific law. In fact the law of attraction is put on the same level as the law of gravity!Tthe book itself makes this claim: that it is “The Secret to everything—the secret to unlimited joy, health, money, relationships, love, youth: everything you have ever wanted."  Furthermore, Byrne states that "there isn't a single thing that you cannot do with this knowledge. . . . The Secret can give you whatever you want" (p. xi). By it "you will come to know how you can have, be, or do anything you want" (p. xii).

The Secret is basically a secular version of the “Name It-Claim It, Positive-Confession, Prosperity Theology”.  New age ideas of glorifying and deifying mankind take the place of dependence on God, the creator. The basic idea that if you will sustain the right thoughts, words, and feelings, you will receive whatever you want, is nothing new. But The Secret goes even further by implying that your thoughts can bring anything into your life because you are a god, as expressed in the following quote: “You are God in a physical body. You are Spirit in the flesh. You are Eternal Life expressing itself as You. You are a cosmic being. You are all power. You are all wisdom. You are all intelligence. You are perfection. You are magnificence. You are the creator, and you are creating the creation of You on this planet” (p. 164). In addition, the following quote appears in the book as well: “The earth turns on its orbit for You. The oceans ebb and flow for You. The birds sing for You. The sun rises and it sets for You. The stars come out for You. Every beautiful thing you see, every wondrous thing you experience, is all there for You. Take a look around. None of it can exist, without You. No matter who you thought you were, now you know the Truth of Who You Really Are. You are the master of the Universe. You are the heir to the kingdom. You are the perfection of Life. And now you know The Secret” (p. 183). These powerful words would be appropriate if it were addressed to God, the creator of Heaven and earth. But according to Byrne this is an appropriate way we should refer to ourselves. Essentially, "The Secret" is nothing less than Satan's original lie in the Garden of Eden, accepted by so many new agers, that "You will be like God" (Genesis 3:5).

Another issue to consider is that Byrne also explains that all religions and their scriptures are equally valid in their authority and basically teach the same thing. There is no such thing as one truth in direct contradiction to Jesus’ own words in the bible stating that he is the one truth and the one way to salvation and eternal life.
As a matter of fact, the bible and Jesus, make a token appearance in the book, thereby drawing in and misleading many into thinking it is compatible with biblical teaching and Christianity. In the few times she mentions Jesus, she simply quotes a self serving passage out of context in order to justify her ideas-  claiming that the teaching to ask, believe, and receive in prayer is the way to "create what you want in three simple steps" (p. 47). Yet, unlike Jesus  who taught that we must ask God, according to Byrne it is not God we're to ask, but "the Universe." Secondly she mentions Jesus in the context of being extremely wealthy, in order to present the desire for wealth as being in alignment with Jesus’ teaching. Nevertheless, it is easy for anyone to over look these inconsistencies,  and attempt to apply Byrne's teachings to that of Jesus.

The biggest selling point of the book,The Secret, is the idea that the information it contains is a rare treasure that " has been passed down through the ages, highly-coveted, hidden, lost, stolen, and bought for vast sums of money. . . . Now The Secret is being revealed to the world". The implication is that the word of God through the bible is incomplete or insufficient and that we should look elsewhere for important knowledge. Basically Byrne is telling us that God is holding out on us and that we can not trust God.  In  other words look at it is this way: does the bible, which is the word of God, mention or refer to a secret source of knowledge that it does not contain? If not, then is it biblical to believe that Byrne has this secret source of knowledge which can not be obtained or even gleened from the pages of the bible? If you believe Byrne, then you are calling God a liar, in which you reject that the  word of God, the bible, states that it contains all the knowledge and teachings we need to know.

There's no mention of sin in The Secret. The cause of all the problems in the world and in our individual lives is simply nothing more than negative thinking, and the inability to recognize and appropriately use the law of attraction. Therefore, according to Byrne, the solution to mankind, and everything for that matter- is within each and everyone of us. Obviously the implication is that there is no need for a Savior, other than ourselves. The cross and resurrection of Jesus become irrelevant as "no one will stand in judgment of [your life], now or ever" (p. 177) "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?" (Matthew 16:26). The Secret ignores or fails to mention the fact that God has a law and we have broken it (James 2:10). What Byrne fails to realize about the law of attraction is that our sinful hearts deceive us (Jeremiah 17:9 and can not be trusted.

God sent His Son to save us, and it is only through Jesus, and not through Rhonda Byrne's book, that we may be saved. "The Secret to everything" is not to be found in Byrne’s book, but rather through God’s word alone  which can be found in a the bible, a book that is available to all but largely ignored by so many. It is through God "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3). God has freely told us in the Bible everything we need to know about discovering the unlimited "treasures of wisdom and knowledge". It is no secret except to those who have hardened their hearts and willingly deny the truth. As the bible warned us, there will come many false teachers who will deceive and distort the truth, even fooling and deceiving the elect.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Psalms: The Life Change Series

As a blogger for NavPress publishers I had the opportunity to review the newest edition to the Life Change Series of bible study books, A Life Changing Encounter with God's Word from the book of Psalms.  For any one who wishes to have a personal in-depth study of some selections from Psalms of the Old Testament, then this is the perfect book for you.  Although this book is just one from the Life Change series of bible studies, it stands on its own as a complete and independant bible study.  This one hundred page booklet style paperback, has brief as well as simple to understand instructions on how to make the most from the book.  Ten types of Psalms are identified such as worship type psalms, thanksgiving type psalms and forgiveness related psalms-just to name a few.  A chapter is dedicated to ten different categories of psalm.  Select representative psalms from each category are reprinted.  The questions which follow help the reader to understand the meaning and space is available to write down personal thoughts. Optional application and discussion sidebars allow the reader to apply the ideas expressed within the psalms.  The strength of this book is in its flexibility: it can be used for personal devotion or group study.  It also allows the reader to think about the meaning or meanings behind the particular psalms discussed rather than offering one single opinion based commentary.  I recieved a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review and the opinions expressed are my own.

Living With Confidence in a Chaotic World By Dr. Jeremiah

As a member of the Thomas Nelson Review Blogger program , I had the opportunity to review the book: Living with Confidence in a Chaotic World (trade paper back edition). Dr. Jeremiah offers practical and spiritually enriching strategies for coping in this difficult world that we live in. When faced with today’s traumatic events such as sickness, death, divorce, natural and political disasters, crime, loss of financial security, foreclosure, and unemployment- a word of comfort as well as practical biblical coping mechanisms are offered to help ease the pain.

This timely topics of this book are simplistic and well organized. The reading level is very simple, and there are MANY anecdotes throughout the text. Basic biblical principals are transformed into self help strategies that can turn feelings of anxiety and depression into positive times of productivity. Common sense strategies are organized into chapters: 1. Stay Calm, 2. Stay Compassionate, 3. Stay Constructive, 4. Stay Challenged 5. Stay Connected, 6. Stay Centered, 7. Stay Confident, 8. Stay Consistent, 9. Stay Committed, 10. Stay Convinced. Basically, the theme of this book is that despite the circumstances around you, as an individual, you do have control over how you respond.

Although biblical examples and teachings are applied throughout the book, this book is general enough, nonetheless to be used as a self help guide for the secular audience as well. This book shows that not only can sound biblical principals be applied in the apostolic age, but in these difficult modern days as well. I would recommend this book for anyone who is seeking some common sense guidance and comfort for their lives.