Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Last Word and the Word After That & Abiding Darkness

I am by no means a political activist (although recent postings may imply otherwise), but this is a story that needs to get out. Chen Guangchen is a blind attorney in China who has been fighting forced sterilizations and abortions in that country. Due to China's one child policy, hundreds of thousands of baby girls have been abandoned so that families don't have the stigma of a daughter and can try for a son. While the central government has pulled back its support of forced sterilizations and abortions, local governments are continuing the policy. Chen has been fighting to stop these horrific abuses for years. He has now been arrested for "deliberate destruction of property" and "gathering a crowd to obstruct traffic" and sentenced to 4 years in prison. He has a wife and three-year-old son at home. Go here to find out how to contact your senator or representative and tell them that China is still perpetuating human rights abuses, and you want them to stop. It's election season, so they'll be more likely to listen now than at other times.

The Last Word and the Word After That by Brian McLaren is the third and last book in his New Kind of Christian trilogy. In this entry, Pastor Dan Poole is put on administrative leave by his church after some controversial changes in his preaching. This book focuses more on Dan and his family than previous books, but most of the book is focused on Dan’s main question: What is the nature of hell? There is a great deal of theology and eschatology from great religious minds, past and present in this book, and Dan makes a study of the Gospels and all references to hell or judgment in them. McLaren is less in-your-face with his ideas in this book, but they are no less divisive. Is hell a real place of fire and judgment? Would a loving Father truly condemn his children infinitely for finite crimes? Is hell just a state of mind? There are lots of questions that McLaren brings up, and while I can admire him for not giving a definitive answer, I’m also frustrated that he refuses to tell what he believes. Both the character Neo and McLaren dance around the tough topics without stating flat out their beliefs. The good news is that Scripture is referenced again and again throughout the book, so the reader can do their own Bible study and try to find some answers. The bad news is that in a world of crumbling foundations, McLaren is ready to sweep yet one more away from Christianity without providing an alternative. He also slaps Tim LaHaye and other conservative Christians in the face with his criticism of the thinly veiled “Left Behind” series of books as well as in his description of their views on colonialism and the environment. For someone who writes about getting rid of stereotypes, he certainly isn’t afraid to give them to those who don’t believe like he does, and that’s a flaw I’ve noticed in all of his books: if you don’t agree with him, you’re ignorant and not worthy of the tolerance he lavishes on others. I don’t know if I’m glad that I read this book or not; it raised some questions in my mind that I want to discuss with others, but at the same time, it frustrated me with McLaren’s refusal to be pinned down on his own beliefs.

Abiding Darkness by John Aubrey Anderson is the first book in the Black or White trilogy. In 1945 Mississippi, 7-year-old Missy Parker is in charge, and everyone knows it. Especially her best friend Junior Washington, an 11-year-old black boy. You wouldn’t expect a little girl to be a target for the forces of darkness, but there are lots of unexpected things happening at Cat Lake when Missy’s around. Anderson does a terrific job of writing dialogue, especially capturing dialect without making it difficult to read. Conversations just flow across the page. He also has a way with a turn of phrase that brings charm and color to the story and makes Cat Lake feel just like home. It’s filled with characters you would want to know and spend time with. I’m glad that this is just the first book, because I look forward to spending more time with them. Anderson’s descriptions of the demons that haunt Missy and her family are chilling as are the scenes in which they attack. While many Christian books on the market are afraid to show God directly acting in characters’ lives, this book shows the Lord taking a direct hand in their lives and letting them know it.

And if you're looking for yet more things to inflame your sense of injustice today, check out Laurie R. King's blog.


Russet Shadows said...

I haven't read much lately except for blogs, but I find that your mini-reviews compel me to go seek out these uncommon bindings of words. They are just enough to whet the appetite, which I suspect was the purpose, no?