Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith

I'm reviewing the enhanced Kindle edition of this latest story in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series so I can post about the video interview that is included.

The Big Tent Wedding Party is an entertaining and delightful addition to the ongoing series by Alexander McCall Smith.

At the end of the Kindle addition are a series of brief--two minutes or less-video clips from an interview with the author on a variety of subjects. Each clip is labeled with its topic so you can jump around and view the ones you like the best. I read my Kindle books on an IPad most of the time so I watched it in color.

McCall Smith discusses future plans for development of the characters in the series, reminisces about growing up in Africa, describes Mma Romotswe's little white van and Grace's shoes as ongoing characters in the stories, and invites you to join him in a cuppa tea. 

It's a fun little addition to the Kindle version. I expect to see more use of digital technology like videos, music and links to outside references becoming incorporated in e-books as publishers embrace this new technology.

Oh, and you wondered about the story in The Big Tent Wedding Party? Could it be that wedding bells will ring at last for Grace and Phuti Radhiphuti? Can Precious derail the campaign of that minx Violet Sepotho for Parliament? And was that really the little white van or its ghost that Precious saw on the road?

I'm not going to play the spoiler, but if you're a fan you will enjoy this one, too!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Heaven by Lisa Miller

Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife by Lisa Miller is an intellectual history of the concept of heaven in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, with an emphasis on its development and importance in Christianity.

Miller's style reminds me of authors Lee Strobel and Bruce Feiler, journalists who write about religion and faith by combining literary research and interesting interviews with experts from a variety of fields whose viewpoints expand and deepen the reader's understanding of the subject. 

Lisa Miller states her own bias in the Introduction. She was raised in an non-observant Jewish family and is married to a former Catholic now "turned nonbeliever". She says " like so many Americans, I approach religion from an uneasy, untraditional place, and like so many I have struggled with what I believe about heaven." Many readers will identify with her struggle. Miller has devoted her career as a journalist to reporting about religion and is an editor at Newsweek where she writes regularly on the subject.

Heaven is thoroughly researched and well-written. It begins with the origins of the concept of heaven in the pre-Biblical Middle East and follows the development of the concept throughout history by Jewish, Christian and Muslim believers. It is fascinating to trace the changes in the idea of heaven through the ages and cultures. The heaven of the early Christians differs from the heaven of the medieval period and the heaven of the Reformers and the Puritans.

Miller skillfully weaves personal anecdotes and interviews with religious and scientific experts throughout the book which makes the text lively and relevant, although backed by sound scholarly research (just check out the tables of footnotes in the back of the book!). I thought her chapters on the development of the concept of resurrection and the debate over salvation were particularly enlightening. She does delve into the subject of near death experiences with those who claim to have seen heaven as a result and with scientists who proffer their explanations for this phenomenon.

I'm one of those Miller identifies as not giving a lot of thought to heaven, probably because my religious tradition (Presbyterian) does not emphasize it nor encourage speculation about what it will be like, although we believe in it. This book did not change my viewpoint, but reinforced it. I join with Maimonides (quoted in Heaven) who echoes St. Paul in saying "As to the blissful state of the soul in the World to Come, there is no way on earth in which we can comprehend or know it."

I highly recommend Heaven to my Gentle Readers! This is one you will want to keep on your bookshelf and would make a great study for an adult class or book club.

(I was given a copy of this book by TLC Book Tours. for  Harper Collins. I did not promise a favorable review and did not receive any other compensation for writing this review.)

Other reviews by blogging friends:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James

Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women by Carolyn Custis James was inspired by the author's reading of the classic book Half the Sky by Amy Carmichael. 

Amy Carmichael was an Irish Presbyterian missionary who served for 55 years in India, where she founded an orphanage and mission that rescued young Indian girls dedicated to the Hindu temple and forced into prostitution to earn money for the priests. She spent her life defending and protecting Indian women from a culture and tradition that exploited and suppressed them and was a prolific author.

Sadly, women in parts of the world today are not yet freed from oppression. Honor killings, female infanticide, and sexual exploitation of very young girls, as well as barriers to the education and inclusion of women in society continue to keep many women from using their God-given talents.

Carolyn Custis James offers a thorough exegesis of scripture to show that God intended women to be a full partner with men using both Old and New Testament examples. She calls this the "Blessed Alliance". She embraces the term "ezer" (image-bearer) for women in order to highlight the theological point that women as well as men are God's "ezers" in this world.  I found both terms a bit contrived and over-used throughout the book.

For those of us who are already persuaded, she is preaching to the choir. But this book is not really meant for us, it is meant for that part of the evangelical church that does not fully embrace the equality of women and men in society or the church. This is a concept called "complementarianism" which means that God intended women and men to have not equal, but complimentary roles. Egalitarians and Complementarians are currently at odds in a number of these denominations as they debate the extent to which women should submit to the leadership of men in a culture where women are increasingly empowered in every area of life.

James does point out that women ministers and priests still struggle with a "stained glass ceiling" but she is more focused on advocating an egalitarian viewpoint to those who have not yet accepted it.

One of the strongest points she makes in the book is that too often Christian teaching to women focuses to that particular phase of life when women are wives and mothers.  This  applies to most women for less than half of their lives and does not take into consideration the 60% of women at any given time are single and do not have dependent children. Another strength of the book is her vision for the church's advocacy of the empowerment of women everywhere in the world.

Half the Church is written for small group  or individual study. Each chapter has suggested questions for discussion included afterwards. It would be an interesting choice for classes or book groups in the more conservative churches, but probably not as compelling for liberals and progressives.

The publisher, Zondervan, sent me a copy of this book for review. I did not promise to write a favorable review in exchange and did not receive any compensation other than the book.

Zondervan generously sent me an additional copy of Half the Church to give away. I will also give away my review copy, which I was careful NOT to mark up and highlight. Please leave me a comment with your email address if you would like one of these copies. I'll hold a random drawing if more than 2 of you are interested!

Here's another review from my friend Robin at Metanoia. Also, check out Dorcas' review of the book from the perspective of a woman pastor in a conservative evangelical tradition.