Book Review: Luther and Katharina

When pivotal figures of history are relegated only to the pages of factual school books, pass or fail exams and dusty encyclopedias, often everything but that single hinge—that pivot point—of their lives is lost.

We are left to wonder (or simply don’t): What ordinary days shaped them into that world-changing person?

We mistakenly assume, unconsciously, that their entire life was spent in those years we’ve recorded.

I think we do ourselves (and our subjects of interest) a great disservice if we fail to ponder the little things: What were their relationships like with their parents, spouses, children? Did they struggle with boredom, depression or loneliness? Did they have a chronic illness, a short temper a bad habit? What were their favorite foods, hobbies or interests? Certainly they had many, many more hours than are accounted for in our alphabetized encyclopedic notations.

In elegant response to these proper questions rises the well-researched, historical-fiction novel, and one of the best is Luther and Katharina: A Novel of Love and Rebellion, by Jody Hedlund.

As a reformed Christian whose most fundamental tenants of faith are based in the reformation, I am humbled to admit that I knew so little about the man, Martin Luther. In the pages of this well-written, engaging book I have met him, come to know him, loved him and loved with him. I have found who he was, what he might have been, considered his thoughts, his pains, his failures and triumphs. Exquisitely done.

Luther and Katharina actually begins with her. Luther’s teachings were the linchpin that sparked her daring escape from the cloistered life of a nun. The reader follows this fiery lass through her first encounter with Luther and the long, God-ordained process that refined them both and brought them together.

In between the narrative of these remarkable lives, Hedlund weaves the gritty details of history. I had never really considered the thousands of lives lost in the reformation—nor how Luther must have felt as the catalyst to the entire series of events. I had never known about the degree of corruption in the Roman Catholic Church; never really considered the impact of such lies as indulgences and celibacy.

Luther and Katharina: A Novel of Love and Rebellion is one book you will not want to put down and you will be better for every minute devoted to reading it. Don’t miss this excellent, heart-warming, heart-rending book.

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Whose Story Is It Anyway?

It’s easy to read the Bible as strictly past tense. After all, it happened thousands of years ago–right? We don’t often think about Abraham’s past, but eternity stretches on either side of Abraham’s personal dot on the timeline of history.

David Ramos’ book, Climbing With Abraham, opens with this unusual observation. Abraham’s future, his influence, is still potent today. And all of history prior to his birth was in some way preparing the earth for his mission–his time and place. Go figure!

… there was a before Abraham and there was an after Abraham, and the same is true for you. Countless stories have taken place to allow you to live at this precise moment in time. Countless more will be written after you are gone …

Your story is part of something much larger. (Day 1, “A Bigger Story,” Climbing With Abraham)

How does that make you feel? Is it a relief to know that nothing you do is actually the “end of the world”? Or, does it bother you to wonder if God simply sees you as a tiny cog in the monstrous “circle of life”?

I just opened David’s book this morning and I’m already cogitating on this little nugget. What does this finite moment of my forever future (praise God who has given eternal life through His Son, Jesus Christ–John 3:16) mean for everyone who comes after me? Will it mean anything?

The only way my speck-story on the timeline of history will mean anything at all is if I understand everything that led up to me. In all that God has done to this day, He kept in mind His intention of creating me–Abby Kelly.

To glance briefly at this truth echoed in the life of another Old Testament character, see Esther and the wisdom one of her one predecessors spoke into her life:

“And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

What will you do with your past?

Your Broken Body, A Freewill Offering

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1

God has had me in Leviticus lately; a place Beth Moore affectionately calls “the graveyard of anyone who commits to read the Bible in a year.” However, I’m powering through it, not for the first time, but discovering all kinds of ponderable things this time through.

This time, I’m mesmerized by the specificity with which God describes each type of sacrifice and offering.

The sacrifices and offerings described in Leviticus never truly did away with sin. The animals were merely a portrayal of the ultimate sacrifice to come—Jesus Christ. That is why the offerings for sin, guilt and purity always required an animal without spot or blemish.

Have you ever wondered about Paul’s meaning in Romans 12:1 of, “ … present your bodies a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God … “ .

Those who believe in Christ as savior understand that Christ paid our debt. He was the final sacrifice. There is no more blood to be shed, work to be done or sacrifice to be offered. And even if there were, we are painfully aware that our imperfections would exclude us from being an acceptable sacrifice. What kind of offering could we possibly be, that Paul would urge us to … oh …

Present. That’s an important word. It implies to bring something to someone or surrender it to them for their purposes. In other words, it’s a willingly given offering. It is not an offering demanded for payment. It is not required by law, but Paul urges us—“by the mercy of God” to do this. It’s only reasonable he says.

The freewill offering is the only offering in the Old Testament in which God said the Israelites could present a blemished animal. That’s you and me. It is only in this capacity, freely presented, that our blemished, broken bodies are of any use or value to a holy God. (Leviticus 22:21-23)

You see, Christ did pay the ultimate sacrifice. His sacrifice for sin was required. Without it, all of humanity is damned. But now, we are overflowing with gratitude. We are stunned speechless by undeserved mercy. Now, it is that mercy, the mercy of God, that compels us to bring forward our damaged bodies and present them to our Father. And the beauty of it is, because of Jesus, they are acceptable.

Pulling Back the Shades, A Book Review

I started this book review purely altruistically—to write a review that might help others who really need to read the book. I mean, after all, I have my own set of temptations and struggles, but erotica isn’t one of them. And my marriage of 11 years isn’t perfect by any means, but I’ve also read most of the relationship books recommended by Focus on the Family. What new, life changing information could this book have to offer?

Through the second chapter, my expectations were confirmed. But by the time I got to chapter 7, “The Spiritually Satisfied Woman”, I was convicted, challenged, inspired and refreshed.

Dr. Juli Slattery and Dannah Gresh collaborate seamlessly in their new book, Pulling Back the Shades. Instead Unknownof blending their voices, they alternate, often switching authors in the middle of a chapter. Different fonts designate who is speaking. Neither woman dominates the book; both write from their expertise. Even though they admit they differ on a few issues and come from vastly different backgrounds, Dr. Slattery and Gresh present a powerful, united front on a sensitive subject that provokes many disagreements among believers, if we even have the courage to discuss it.

The first half of the book is devoted to explaining erotica. This includes the chemical effect that it has on the brain, the addictive nature, the conflicts about it within the church, a discussion of the “grey” areas and a staunch stance against it based on the Word of God. Dr. Slattery and Gresh write graphically, borrowing short segments from the book, Fifty Shades of Grey, to make their points.

The authors’ opinion is uncompromising. To sum it up in a simple statement, without re-writing the book: God’s ideal for sex is unabashed, exciting, varied, exquisite intimacy within the bonds of marriage.

I mentioned that my heart began to resonate with the book beginning in chapter 7. This is where Dr. Slattery and Gresh delve into the incredible and unique intimacy that God wants to have with each of us.

Here, they debunk the myth that God promises every woman a “happily ever after”, fulfilling, intimate relationship with a man—even after marriage.

“I bet you’ve never heard a sermon on what God does not promise. This is unfortunate because it is quite dangerous to place your trust in things you falsely assume God has promised. Jesus said that He came that you may have life and have it abundantly. His promises are great and He is trustworthy in fulfilling each one. But His ways are not our ways, and He has not promised some of the things you may have assumed or hoped He has.”

The authors mention a quote by Dr. Larry Crabb, “God is all I need, but I don’t know Him well enough for Him to be all I have.”

This brought a twinge of conviction and a huge sigh of relief. I do not need to fret over whether my husband ever becomes more like Prince Charming. I must know God well enough that He is not only all I need, but all I have.

The book closes with numerous Scripture references and gentle guidance to help readers begin deepening their intimate relationship with Jesus. It even includes discussion questions, practical resources (other books and websites) as well as enumerated suggestions for practical application.

This book is applicable to all women in all relationships—even those who are single—and those who don’t think they have a problem with erotica. The book covers all aspects of a woman’s relational needs and explains where fulfillment is found.

An Interview with Kate McCord, Author of “Farewell Four Waters”

On Wednesday, I reviewed a wonderful book, Farewell Four Waters. Today, I offer you one better–an interview with the author! Friends, meet Kate McCord!

In your book, Farewell Four Waters, you explain that the story is not exactly and exclusively your own, but rather a composite of true stories that together create a very entertaining, yet truthful novel. That said, your own love for the Afghan people comes through clearly in the character of Marie. Where did that passion come from? Why Afghanistan as opposed to another country, another people, a different culture?

I was first introduced to Afghanistan on the Risk board. That’s an old board game. Later, I read Kipling and developed a whole set up perceptions and mis-perceptions about the country. In ’79, the Russians invaded and I paid a little attention. But it wasn’t until 2000 that I really started to get to know Afghanistan and the people who call that country home. In November, 2000 I picked up a book about Afghanistan at an airport in Europe. By the time I landed in the States, I was fascinated. Over the winter of 2000-2001, I read everything I could find about the country. The Taliban were in control and the stories were heartbreaking. I began praying for the people. Still, Afghans were just stories and pictures, but in 2004, I met Afghans face to face, drank their tea and shared their laughter and tears. That’s when everything changed for me. Now, I know so many precious Afghans. I’ve celebrated their births, engagements and weddings. I’ve sat beside the dying and in houses of mourning. I’ve shared life and along the way, fell in love.

Marie has many opportunities to share her Christian faith in the story. I love how she does it, unashamedly saying, “I belong to the Honorable Jesus Messiah”. Her declaration of faith always seemed to be well received. Did you ever have difficulty being honest about your faith? How did you learn to be a witness for Christ in such a hostile culture?

At first, I didn’t know what to say or how. I really struggled with that. I asked others what they said, I prayed and I tried out approaches with my Afghan friends. I looked for what made sense and was welcome. Along the way, I stumbled a lot, but Afghans are gracious and a gentle, “I’m sorry, forgive me if I offended” helped us all. Often, Afghans said those very words to me when they thought they’d spoken too harshly. I found that most Afghans believe in God and respect Jesus. Almost everyone already assumed I was a Christian, so it was really a matter of explaining that I’m not just a cultural Christian, but a Christ-follower. Afghans loved it that I knew my Book, prayed and tried to live a holy life. Many still wanted me to convert to Islam, but they respected my faith and practice. Mostly, people who were hostile to me hated my foreignness and my independence as a woman, not my faith. If anything, my faith helped me.

How did you go about learning the language? Did you study Dari before you went to Afghanistan or did you learn it in country?

I studied some Farsi before I want to Afghanistan. That’s the language of Iran. I also had some recordings in Dari that I practiced with, but mostly I learned the language from my Afghan neighbors and coworkers. I also had language tutors, made recordings and reviewed them in my room. I tried to commit a couple of hours a day, just to language learning and used every aspect of my life as the context. It was exhausting, but it paid off. I not only learned language, but I developed some wonderful friendships and I learned how to live there. I still miss speaking in Dari. It’s a such a beautiful, rich, poetic language.

I understand that you live in the United States currently. Do you want to return to Afghanistan ever—either as an aid worker or in any other capacity? Do you stay in touch with friends there?

I would love to return to Afghanistan! I miss my friends terribly. Email and the phone just aren’t enough. Still, I doubt I’ll go. I don’t want to do anything to put my Afghan and foreign friends in danger.

What do you think is the best way Christians who read your book can pray for or personally minister to the Muslims they know?

I think the first is in our own hearts. We need to see Muslims as God sees them; with His love and compassion. From that understanding, we can pray for God to reveal His love and truth to those we know personally and those we see or hear about. It’s God’s love that really changes people. When we’re able to see Muslims as precious individuals, we can to look for ways to express God’s love to them through our own lives. That could be as simple as a smile and a friendly hello or something deeper like a conversation and an invitation to tea. If we’re already in relationship with people, we can deepen our understanding of who they are. That comes through asking open-ending questions and genuinely listening as they share their lives with us. Along the way, we can be real about our own faith; who is God to us? How have we experienced Him? Why is He significant to us? When we invite others to be real with us and are real ourselves, heart-level conversations happen.

Oh friends, I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. Will you join me in praying for Afghanistan, for the people there to know the height and depth of the love of Christ? Let’s also pray for Kate McCord. Father, fill her with joy and peace, passion and purpose as she serves you exactly where she is right now. 

Book Review, Farewell Four Waters

My husband grew up in a missionary family. His father was a medical doctor in Guatemala for 10 years of Patrick’s early life. When he was 15, they returned to the states.

Ever since we began dating, I’ve treasured the stories of his family’s experiences outside my little world. From their living conditions to the simple, satisfying food; from the rare but frightening stories of hostility to the warm recollections of friendships forged through the bond of mutual service, compassion and faith. Over the years, I began to detect a different tone when his mother relates the stories. Her voice holds longing, a hint of lost or distant identity.

Screenshot 2015-01-15 18.52.06Longing…that is the tenor of Kate McCord’s, Farewell Four Waters. In this sequel to, In the Land of Blue Burqas, McCord unwinds the painful process of saying goodbye to her Afghan life—in truth, leaving her Afghan self. Deftly, she details the circumstances that led to her final decision to return to America.

In 2008, Marie, the author’s representation of herself, was working to develop a literacy program for women during a uniquely tumultuous time. Afghanistan conflict, she explains in the book, is almost always regional, and for years her beloved city of Shektan was calm and safe. But suddenly, at first with no explanation, violence erupted. Three people were killed within a span of a few days, one a female aid worker—gunned down right out in the open, two others by police.

A quiet tension, a sort of underlying panic ensued. That’s difficult to understand from the North American cultural perspective of non-violent demonstrations that only occasionally devolve into street riots. Aid workers began a slow, steady exodus. Even Marie’s dear friend, roommate and architect of the literacy project, Carolyn, abandoned her post. Marie was left virtually alone.

But that’s what sets Marie’s story apart. Shored by her faith and willingly but warily dependent on the Afghan friends she’d come to love and trust, Marie refused to leave. She would stay until she had no other option.

Farewell Four Waters is a delicious story. The narrative moves slowly, mirroring the progress of Marie’s choices, her endurance, longing and letting go. While the first half of the book is not laden with excitement, it does take an inexplicable grip on the reader, causing them to feel that if they don’t finish the story something in their own lives will remain unfinished.

I highly recommend this book. In addition to the pure joy of exploring a distant world, the reader will walk away with greater knowledge of the Afghan culture, a splinter of understanding of what it’s like to bear the mark of Jesus in a hostile environment and will fertilize the spiritual fruit of long-suffering in their own life.

Book Review: The Daughter of Highland Hall

The Daughter of Highland Hall, is a winsome story of love prevailing against all odds. Author, Carrie Turansky, does an excellent job of detailing her characters from the inside out. Every reader will find themselves somewhere within the intricacies of an individual personality. Turansky seamlessly carries the plot from the prequel, The Governess of Highland Hall, into the love story of the next generation.

The formality and exclusivity of London’s high society threaten to keep John and Katherine apart. John is compelled to serve God with his life, but torn between whether continue his father’s missionary work in India or work among the poverty stricken in London. Katherine is pressured by her aunt Louisa to pursue a wealthy husband and elevate her family’s status.

Carrie Turansky highlights the qualities of morality, faithfulness, humility, forgiveness and service in this story.

While fairly predictable, The Daughter of Highland Hall, is still a compelling story. Every night, I looked forward a quiet hour entering the lives of this endearing family.