Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Religious’ Category

For a long time, I have been looking for a book that talks about how God views animals in light of the Bible. God’s Creatures by Susan Bulanda is it. In her quick-to-read book of just over 100 pages, Bulanda covers a broad range of issues such as why did God create animals, can they think, do they communicate, should we eat them, and will there be animals in heaven. For each of these topics, Bulanda doesn’t provide mere wishful thinking, but instead provides scriptures to back up her views.

Sometimes I wonder if I should focus more on helping people and whether God directs people into the animal field. Bulanda addresses this concern in her chapter on “God Cares for Animals”. She points out many ways that God shows his love such as the fact he created them, purposefully saved ones from the flood, gave them skills to survive, and teaches people how they should animals. She also directly answers the question: “Has God put the desire to care for animals into the hearts of many people?”

Another reason I’ve been looking for such a book is because of the debate over whether animals are sentient beings or able to perceive and think. While I have my opinions as a pet owner, I want as a Christian to know what the Bible specifically says. Bulanda dedicates many chapters to this issue. I appreciate her balanced view; she includes both accounts of scientific research and references to scripture. She also addresses the controversial topics of whether there are animal communicators or psychics who can talk to animals and whether we should be vegetarian. With regards to the latter, I thank Bulanda for limiting her coverage to one chapter. There are many issues related to Christians and animal welfare, but most books that I encounter focus exclusively on vegetarianism.

Anyone who has been a pet owner has no doubt experienced the heartache of loss. When my Lucy cat died in 2013, I found myself needing to know whether animals would go to heaven. Given that there are several books on the topic, I’m guessing that others have a similar need. But I don’t want an author to simply say, “Of course pets will be in heaven,” just to make me and everyone else feel good. Bulanda’s concluding chapter deals with this sensitive question in a forthright manner. She presents a wealth of scriptures that hint at answers, while admitting that the Bible doesn’t directly talk about tell us.

In God’s Creatures, Bulanda draws on her lifelong passion in Biblical scholarship with her certification as an animal behavior consultant to write an informative guide to a Biblical view of animals. For anyone who wants to do their own research beyond her short book, she also provides a notes page and a list of resources.

According to The Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions (and many of these people are Christians). Also, according to the United States Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ.—Open Doors

Persecution of Christians is a topic I don’t often hear about, but the above quote shows that it happens more than most of us probably realize. For that reason, I decided to read Hearts of Fire, which tells the story of “eight women in the underground church and their stories of costly faith”. The book is a publication of Voice of Martyrs, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting the persecuted church worldwide.

There are many aspects I appreciate about this riveting collection. The eight women featured come from different countries: Indonesia, Bhutan, Russia, Romania., Pakistan, China, India, and Vietnam. Each of them also comes from various religious backgrounds, with some starting out as atheists, others Christian, and a few converting from such faiths as Islam or Buddhism. The form of persecution takes many forms too: abuse, kidnapping, and/or imprisonment. Because Voice of Martyrs included a diversity of stories, its collection never felt as if any one country or group of people were being targeted. Instead the collection made clear that persecution of Christians is a worldwide issue that needs attention.

In contrast to some biographical collections, instead of providing snippets from several role models, each chapter in Hearts of Fire instead consists of a full-fledged story of about 40 pages. Some stories start by recounting the events in the childhood of a featured heroine that led to her decision to take a stand for Christ and how that decision put her life in constant jeopardy. Other stories began with a featured heroine already in her adulthood and daily having to choose whether to risk being arrested for sharing her faith. By the end of each chapter, I felt as if I knew the entire testimony of every featured heroine.

There are some aspects of this gritty collection that I disliked. The first is the book feels outdated. Although it’s been reprinted about ten years after an original publication date of 2003, there were no updates made to the original stories–some of which happened decades before. Consequently, the stories aren’t all that current. The second is how violent some stories were. I almost didn’t make it through the first story. It told of Christina being lifted in the air by her hair, tobacco leaves being set on fire and put in her mouth, her son being beaten with a machete, and other tortures. I understand that if change is to happen, there’s a need to depict the depth of atrocities that can happen. At the same time, the human mind will only accept hearing about so much horror before it becomes numb. In addition, the other natural response is to feel hatred for the persecutors, which lessens the impact of the heroism of the Christian women.

I found of special interest the story of the wife who became the founder of Voice of Martyrs. Sabina’s story began in Romania, 1945. The Russians had driven the Nazis out of Romania, but they were now themselves attempting to control how the state ran. The couple however refused to silent about their faith. February 1948, Sabina’s husband went missing, and was believed at times to have been arrested and other times to have been killed. Eventually, Sabina herself was also taken by authorities to jail. There, she was forced into slave labor, and risked being shot. Even when injured and sick, she was forced to work outside and in extreme weather. In 1965, the couple were reunited and eventually escaped to the United States. In this country, they began The Voice of Martyrs newsletter, a monthly publication that to this day is distributed across the world in many languages.

Years ago, I watched a true story of a missionary who died for her faith. In college, the missionary had searched for a reason to live, and found it in God. Hearts of Fire is filled with stories of women who similarly found their purpose. I’ll be looking for more books in the future that both challenge how I live and inspire my faith. If you have recommendations, please post in the comments.

Reyna Grande is the author of The Distance Between Us, a novel about family. Born in Mexico, Reyna was two years old when her father left for the United States to find work.  Her mother followed her father two years later, leaving Reyna and her siblings behind in Mexico. When Reyna was ten, she and her siblings entered the U.S. with their father as undocumented immigrants. Reyna become the first person in her family to graduate from college and today she is well-known speaker and author. To find out more, check out my interview.

ALLISON: Tell readers something about yourself that they won’t learn from reading The Distance Between Us.

REYNA: I love gardening. I especially like creating butterfly gardens. My daughter and I raised monarch butterflies for a while and it was the most amazing experience. I think every child should have a chance to witness the transformation of a butterfly with their own eyes. It’s powerful. One of my favorite quotes, that I actually have framed and hanging on my wall, is: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” It inspires me.

ALLISON: You were born in Mexico. What is a favorite memory from Mexico?

REYNA: One of my favorite memories that I didn’t write about in the book is the time when I went on a pilgrimage with my grandmother, Abuelita Chinta. We went with the group from our local church. The procession walked to the churches in nine different towns. It was long and tiring to walk there, especially since I was only eight years old, but the people at every town would welcome us with a delicious meal cooked over an open fire. I can still taste those meals–pork in green chile sauce, rice, beans, and hot oatmeal drinks we call atole served with a piece of sweet bread. The pilgrimage was one of those times when we ate very well! I went there to pray for my mother’s return. I don’t think my prayers were answered, but at least I still have the memory of the food I ate.

ALLISON: When you returned to Mexico, you found yourself almost a stranger. Have you taken your children to Mexico? What has been their experience?

REYNA: I take my children almost every year because I want them to know the place where I came from, so that they can have at least a small connection to the place and the family I have there. I hope that by seeing the poverty I came from will help them appreciate what I’ve been able to give them in the U.S. They enjoy going to my hometown but they also complain about the lack of luxuries that they are used to here–like running water!  Over there, they have to boil their bath water on the stove, then put it in a bucket and throw the water on themselves with a small container. On the other hand, they very much love the food that my aunt cooks for them and they like the freedom that children have over there–such as being able to walk around the neighborhood, to go to the store by themselves, to play in the street with other children, things that here in the U.S. children don’t get to do because parents tend to be over-protective and their isn’t as much a sense of community as there is in Mexico.

ALLISON: You concluded in your memoir that despite the strain immigration put on your family, the hardship was worth it. What would you tell young people about overcoming challenges?

REYNA: I would tell them to do everything they can to overcome those challenges because otherwise, their lives would get worse instead of better. If you find yourself in a hole, try to climb out of it–you do that by making the right choices. Focus on school, on your dreams, on your future. If you make bad choices out of desperation, you only dig yourself deeper.  Remember, things don’t always have to be that way–they can get better, they can change. You just have to keep focused, stay strong, and above all, don’t lose hope.

ALLISON: You gave a special tribute to a teacher who changed your life. Have there been other mentors in your life? If so, what has been their influence?

REYNA: I had another teacher at UC, Santa Cruz who was very important to me. Her name is Marta Navarro, a Spanish and Chicano Literature teacher, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She–like my former teacher that I write about in the book–also encouraged me to keep writing. She introduced me to more Latino authors, and she was always available to talk whenever I needed someone to listen. I’m still in touch with her too, and she even came to my wedding!

ALLISON: The Distance Between Us is based on your adult memoir. What process was involved in rewriting it for young people?

REYNA: I didn’t want to water down the story for young readers so I did my best to stay true to the original. Mostly what I did was to put the book on a diet–meaning–I trimmed off all the extra stuff, details, backstory, inner thoughts, and only left what was essential. I cut out about 100 pages. I took out my  crazy uncle, and also some details about my love life that was inappropriate for young readers.

But by cutting 100 pages, it gave me some room to expand on things that young readers would find interesting, such as the border crossing. In the original, my border crossing is only one chapter long. In the young reader’s version, it is three chapters. I added more details so that young readers could really have a chance to experience that moment in my life that was very traumatic but also life-changing.

ALLISON: You’re open in your memoir about both the highs and lows of your family’s life. What has been the reaction of your family to your memoir?

REYNA: My siblings have been very supportive of my writing and they really loved the book. My mother didn’t read much of it because she said it was too painful. My father passed away before the book was published. My aunts from the Grande side got mad at me for writing about how mean my evil grandmother had been. But, that is how she was, and I wrote the truth of my experience living under her roof. I don’t feel guilty about what I wrote, and I understand that since she’s dead, my aunts would rather I had honored her memory by writing more positive things–but unfortunately, I had nothing positive to write about because all my memories of her are unpleasant and painful. Writing memoir is very tricky because you are writing about your family and they might never speak to you again if they don’t like what you wrote! Ultimately, if you write memoir, you have write your truth and no one else’s. You aren’t writing to please anyone. You are writing so that you can heal from the wounds of your experience.

ALLISON: You wrote The Distance Between Us to provide an awareness. What would like people who are not immigrants to understand? What books would you recommend a person starting out in their awareness of diversity to read?

REYNA: I would like for non-immigrants to remember where they came from. Everyone here–except for native Americans–came from somewhere. Perhaps it was a great-grandparent or grandparent who immigrated, who went through the trauma and heartbreak that new immigrants go through. If people honor the memories of those who came before them–their ancestors–I think it will make them more compassionate and understanding towards new immigrants. The U.S. has a history of discrimination against specific immigrant groups. Even those who managed to assimilate very well into American culture (like the Irish) at one point or another were heavily discriminated. I think it’s time that we accept that we are a multi-cultural society. We have people from all over the world who live here, and that is a beautiful thing!

Recommended Reading:

1) Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami

2) The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

3) Broken Paradise by Cecilia Samartin

4) Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

5) A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernandez

6) Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli

Some books introduce a new approach to old ideas and as such challenge one to grow. Other books reinforce ideas that one already adheres to and in doing so reassure one in their beliefs. The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright successfully did both for me.

What did Jesus mean when he said the kingdom of God is at hand? Or to put it another way, what did the average Galilean villager hear when a young prophet strode into town and announced that Israel’s God was now at last becoming king?–N.T. Wright

A scholar investigating the life of Jesus, N.T. Wright contends that Christians have much to learn from a historical study of Jesus. He encourages readers to imagine themselves back into the world of the Old Testament as perceived by Jews or into the world that Jesus lived in and spoke to. The Jews had been living under foreign rule and were waiting for salvation from God. They had three options: One, they could separate themselves from the world and bide their time until they received direction from God; Two, they could align themselves with political leaders, build fancy buildings, and hope that God would approve; Three, they could pray, sharpen swords, and then fight a holy war. Into this world came Jesus, who suggested a fourth model: the kingdom of God at hand. Wright argues that the parables of Jesus weren’t just a commentary on heaven as Christians take them today, but also intended for his Jewish audience. For example, the parable of the sower isn’t simply about how many people hear the gospel but then don’t listen. It’s instead about what God simultaneously judging Israel for idolatry while also calling Israel to renew itself in God.

So what? How do we move from a detailed, historical reconstruction of this Jesus, living in the world of the first century, to our own world with its very different contours and agendas?–N.T. Wright

The more I read of Challenge of Jesus, the more I wondered how Wright would apply the historical Jesus to the modern-day Christian. Wright explains that although the Crucifixion would have devastated the hopes of the Old Testament Jew for a king, the real story of God was never about Israel beating up everyone and taking control. Instead it was always the story of God redeeming Israel and the world. In Genesis, Adam and Eve are beginning the task of being God-image bearers in a new creation. When they ate of the forbidden fruit, everything changed. But Jesus reversed the story. Jesus brought a new order, one in which those who accept Him are ambassadors and witnesses.

The Challenge of Jesus was heavy-going and dense. I had to reread sections and I know that there are still parts I’m trying to grasp. Yet I’m reviewing Wright’s book, because it inspired me to want to learn more about the historical context of the Bible and the gospel.

Among other things, my dad raised me love books and to love the Christian faith. For that reason, whenever I add religious books to my wish list, I let him know about them. Sooner or later, most of those books show up as gifts. The most recent books my dad gave me are: Case for Faith, Allure of Gentleness, and Man Myth Messiah.

Case for Faith by Lee Strobel interested me for two main reasons. My first reason was that Strobel is a journalist well-known in Christian circles for his four nonfiction books that explore evidence for the faith and refute challenges. I have three of them. The second reason for my interest was that In Case for Grace, Strobel writes about the transforming power of God’s grace on several men and women–including Strobel himself. During his teens, Strobel left his home, determined to prove himself to the world. My one disappointment is that I expected Case for Grace to focus more exclusively on Strobel. The first and last chapters do cover the broken relationship between Strobel and his dad. Moreover, there are occasional references throughout the other chapters. Beyond that, the format of Case for Grace is reminiscent of What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey, a favorite Christian author of mine, in that it about a diversity of real people. There’s the ones whom we might typically associate with needing redemption such as the drop-outs, addicts, and gang members. But there are also the ones who are less cliche such as the intellectual. Craig Hazen had always been a good guy, sciene geek, and teacher’s favorite. He started out as an agnostic, but eventually took a journey that led him to belief in the validity of the faith. One of the most touching is of Stephanie, who grew up biracial in Korean, when there wasn’t a place for biracial children. She faced both abandonment and abuse and grew up believing herself to be garbage.

alluregentlenessAllure of Gentleness by Dallas Willard caught my attention when I browsed my hometown’s Christian bookstore this past summer. Number one reason was that I felt challenged by an earlier book of his, Spirit of the Disciplines. That book helped me better understand the place of solitude, prayer, meditation, sacrifice, and service in the Christian life. Another reason for my interest was that, according to the subtitle, about defending the faith in the manner of Jesus. I’ve been going through a season of reading about apologetics and Willard’s approach intrigued me. There’s much I appreciate Allure of Gentleness, including the simplicity or casualness of its tone. With each new chapter, I felt almost as if Willard were having a conversation with his readers. I also found of interest his contention that apologetics isn’t for those outside of the faith; but for the doubters and questioners within the faith. While I did initially seek out books on apologetics as a way to answer questions by the skeptics, I’ve also come to find them to reassure me when I walk through valleys. Because reading material in defense of the Christian faith isn’t new to me, I found myself already acquainted with much of what Willard wrote. Yet I still enjoyed Allure of Gentleness and believe it a worthy addition to my shelves.

Man Myth and Messiah by Rice Broocks ended up on my wish list after my husband and I saw the God’s Not Dead movies. The book was released concurrent to the God’s Not Dead movie sequel, which covered the same theme. In the first chapter, Brocks refers to the famous trilemma posed by C.S. Lewis in an earlier generation. Lewis said that based on the claims of Jesus in the Gospels about being the Son of God, Jesus was either a lunatic (because Jesus thought He was God), a liar (because He knew his claim wasn’t true), or He was indeed the Messiah. Broocks goes onto explain how the legend or myth got added to the list. The question has apparently been raised: “What if Jesus didn’t claim to be the Son of God?” That would mean all our stories about Him are simply legends. The rest of Man Myth and Messiah presents evidence to validate the existence of the historical Jesus and concludes with a call for everyone to make a choice about whom they will believe. The section dedicated to exploring whether Jesus is simply a product of mythology presented material I haven’t read in other books and feels solid. Too often evidence in other sections felt too flimsy or subjective to stand up to scrutiny by those who are seriously searching for the truth. Over all, Man Myth and Messiah is a nice introduction to apologetics, but true doubters will want to read other books too.

All three of the books I’ve mentioned fall under the category of apologetics. There’s a part of faith that needs to come from the heart and emotion. I’m ready now to check out some of those titles, including a biography that my husband gave me about a missionary. At the same time, part of faith should also come from the mind and reason. Even the scriptures admonish believers to always be ready to give a defense of their faith. For these purposes, I encourage you to check out my three recent summer reads.


Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

Categories

Archives

Cat Writers’ Association
Artists Helping Animals

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 306 other followers