Saturday, March 26, 2016

What the World Needs Now...

From an old sixties song:

"What the world needs now, is love, sweet love,
It's the only thing that there's just too little of..."

It is the Eve of Easter Sunday. Over two thousand years ago, people wept over the loss of the Lord Of All. His body wrapped in the tomb, His messages of love and hope, quieted. The promise of the King that would rescue them gone.

He could have rescued Himself as they arrested Him, tormented Him, humiliated Him, tortured Him, and yet, He didn't bring forth the powers that allowed him to raise Lazarus from the dead, give sight to the blind men, heal the sick, and bring hope to a downtrodden people weary of the poverty and the violent world they lived in.

He was born to a young girl unmarried and a virgin at the time of conception but betrothed to a loving man who willingly took Him as his own.

We know little of His childhood, but we can assume that Mary taught Him love, scolded Him when He needed it, and showered Him with hugs and kisses often. She would have showed Him compassion as she helped her neighbors and those with less, and took care of her other children. He learned at her knee, while doing the household chores, while taking care of younger brothers and sisters, while listening to her words and watching her actions. She could not have done this if she thought of Him as her God, for she needed to raise a man. Raising a God would be too overwhelming.

Joseph too, would have taught Him love for he was a loving man. He would have taught Jesus acceptance and gentleness, and He would have taught Him the hard work of being a carpenter. The painstaking and artistic beauty of carving something from the materials that God had given. The need of creating something serviceable and beautiful. The fairness of trade. The value of money. The spirit of generosity.

His spiritual leaders would have taught Him how to read and write, the words of God, the rituals of the Jewish faith, and the needs of the people.

His friends and neighbors would have shown Him the lives of shepherds and fisherman, rabbis and teachers.  He would have seen the examples of the poor and of kings, all names that he adopted as His own.

And His Father in Heaven would have taught him the rest.

He took all that He was taught and showered it upon the people, giving them three great commandments:

Love God.
Love your neighbor.
Love yourself.

Those three commandments take care of everything.

But there were those who saw Him as a threat and before long He was nailed to a cross leaving His followers wondering why He didn't rescue Himself. If He could perform miracles, which they had all witnessed, why didn't He perform a miracle for Himself? They needed Him. He was their rescuer, their superhero. Why didn't He break the nails and climb down from the cross?

Even worse, He cried out to His Father asking why He had been abandoned.

But there was no rescue for Jesus. He did not step down from the cross. No angels came to save him. And now He lay alone in the tomb.

It wasn't until the next day, Sunday, the day after the Sabbath, that the answer came. Not only had He risen from the tomb, He had risen fully intact except for the marks of the nails and spear to prove who He was. It was another Mary who saw Him first and ran to tell the others who didn't believe her.

We still grapple with the implications of this. The gift He gave us which we do not fully understand. The ability to finally cheat death. That death has no meaning but is just a doorway to eternal life. The grace of forgiveness. We do not understand it. We have theories. We have those who can't grasp it and therefore reject it. We overlook the pain he suffered in Gesthemane, paying for our sins because it doesn't make sense. We focus on the suffering on the cross even in some religious communities reenacting it in efforts to understand what He went through. But we can never understand what He went through. He did it so we wouldn't have to.

He stepped down from the cross, intact, whole, greater than He was before, reclaiming His rightful place, changing the crown of thorns for a crown of eternal glory, one that He shares with us all, if we choose to accept it.  We don't even have to understand it. We are just asked to embrace it.

And yet, we still ignore His three great commandments. We live in a world where we blow people up, and blow people out. We call each other degrading names, and forget to love people as ourselves. We follow leaders who preach hate and revenge. We stomp people down to raise ourselves up forgetting that it is by raising others up that we raise ourselves. We put money ahead of people claiming that it is all ours. We say "I did it all by myself" without recognizing the people who helped us along the way and hold us up. We complain about the poor even though Jesus loved the poor. We are suspicious of the "other" even though Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan - the other. We look down on those who rely on the help of people even though Jesus relied on the help of people for food and lodging. We look at people who serve as menial servants while Jesus taught the nobility of washing His followers feet. He taught us Love.

We have been given the key of happiness, and instead of using it we throw it away, looking for a different key and trying the same ones over and over again, never finding success and blaming God for our failures when we have been told and shown what to do.

And although we can each do our part in embracing His commandments we can't do it all alone. We need each other. We can't do it "all by ourselves".

What the world needs now is love...

Book Review: The Penny Whistle - B.J. Hoff

Okay, I admit it.

This stupid little book made me cry.

It didn't just make me cry a nice little tear gently sliding down my face. It made me sob.

I'm blaming menopause.

Because this little story (and it is a very small book, readable in a sitting), about a teacher and one of his young students in the depressing little coal mining town of Skingle Creek can't possibly be that touching.

Young Jonathon Stuart is loved by all his students but the combination of someone stealing his much loved flute and his ongoing heart problems has taken away his music and his desire to go on. He can feel death right around the corner. Music and his gift for playing it, especially his flute had brought joy to him and allowed him to share it with others. It gave him strength when he was tired. Now it was gone.

Young Maggie is smart and perceptive and frightened by what she is seeing. So she gathers the other students around to devise a plan to give Mister Stuart his music back. But more pressing needs arise and the plan goes awry.

Interspersed with this is the gnawing poverty that this town suffers from. Before the time of safety standards and social assistance, the men descend into the coal mines before dawn and come up after sunset, never seeing the light, being paid meagerly, and having no place to shop but the coal owners store. It's back breaking, spirit stealing, health depriving, dangerous, poverty living and there is little room for anything else.

But the spirit of Maggie and her best friend Summer, manage to overcome this and are able to find meaning in such a mean existence, even when tragedy strikes, stealing from Maggie much of her joy. Yet in spite of her grief, she is still able to find a way to give to Mister Stuart something he had lost, and he in turn was again able to inspire his students.

This is really a lovely inspirational book. Some might call it sappy and sentimental, but if it is, it's done well.

B.J. Hoff is a well known Christian writer and has many books to her credit.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book Review: Patchwork Mysteries #1: Family Patterns - Kristen Eckhardt

In this first book of the series Patchwork Mysteries, we meet Sarah Hart, a widow who makes her living taking in borders and restoring antique quilts. And she likes to solve mysteries too.

The first mystery revolves around her grandmother Molly, who disappeared in 1920, when she was a young married woman, leaving behind a husband and six year old boy.

Molly was never found and her husband lived with the towns suspicion for the rest of his life, many convinced that he had murdered her.

When Sarah's twelve year old twin granddaughters discover a hidden passage in the family home, it leads them to the quilt that belonged to the six year old boy - her father.

While Sarah restores the quilt for her father who now resides in a nursing home and is suffering with bouts of Alzheimers she discovers clues to the mystery of Molly.

This mystery honestly had me stumped. I can often solve them before the protagonist, but this one I couldn't. However I would add that the author cheated a little. Sarah had information that wasn't given to the reader. Still even with that, there were clues that could have left the reader to jump.

My other complaint and I have this complaint with any author that does this, is characters who have names that begin with the same letter. In this case there's two sets and they will all be part of the regular series. Sarah's twin granddaughters are Amy and Audrey - yes I know people often name twins like this, or they give them rhyming names, but not all the time. It would have been better to give them completely different names. I had to keep checking to see which one was which.

The other problematic set is her best friend and neighbor Martha, and her daughter-in-law Maggie. Both names are similar and have been around for a long time and don't give clues to age.

So authors, if you are reading this, please watch what you name your characters.

This is also a book put out by Guideposts, a Christian publication, so there is references to Christianity, however I did not find it heavy handed. Sarah utters a few prayers, there's one unlikely coincidence that can be chalked up to the hand of God, and a few mentions of a church, but it was all well done and not over done. Still this might be a problem for some people. In which case they shouldn't read inspirational fiction. 

Fortunately I like inspirational fiction and although the mystery is tied up, the problems of the characters aren't, which makes it real. 

Sarah herself is a likable character. And I also enjoyed the attention given to the restoration. I never knew before how it was done and it was very interesting and meticulous. I would never want to restore an old quilt - I prefer creating a new one - but I can appreciate the artistry that's involved. It can be very painstaking. It's not too often that I learn something new from a cozy, and I found this fascinating.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.