Thursday, October 28, 2010

Things You Never Knew About Dickens...

Today is Thursday.

Which means we are MORE than ready for the weekend at this point and almost there, but maybe need a laugh, a shot of caffeine, or a pick-me-up to make it through the next work day.  Which is why I bring you the following video featuring Nick Hornby, the English author of Fever Pitch and other award-winning books, who will enlighten you to a few quirky facts about the publishing world to the music of Ben Folds in partnership with the band Pomplamoose (which means "grapefruit" in French, of course).

You will learn how long it would take to read just the titles of every book ever written, the surprising literary feats of Dickens, and some other random facts, with a little tambourine and xylophone music thrown in for free. Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Ministry of Words

Editor's Note: Today I am pleased to welcome Debbie, who blogs at, as she writes about her ministry of literature with prison inmates.  Thanks Debbie!

It all started when a woman came up to me in church and said, “I heard that you write to military personal in Iraq. Would you write to my nephew? He’s in prison.” I knew little about prisons and inmates, but I didn’t see why not. Before long, I was co-leading a new jail and prison ministry at my church and had become pen pals with Christian inmates from all over the state.

The inmates told me, “All I have is time. Even the jobs they give us don’t take long, so we’re sitting around bored out of our minds.” I love to read, so I asked if they’d like my church’s ministry to send them the books I was done reading. “Yes! Please!” was the eager response.  Some inmates, especially those new in their faith, wanted Bible studies and Christian living books that would strengthen their faith. Others wanted fiction to pass the time.

One inmate was sent some books on how we know the Bible is true from the very first verse. He wrote back expressing his appreciation. About a month later, he wrote again to say that he’d been falsely accused of something and sent to solitary confinement as punishment. He said that because of the books I had sent, he knew the Bible was true. He hadn’t lost his faith. But he’d thought that once he became a Christian, things like this wouldn’t happen. We discussed the reasons why Christians still face conflict and crises, and I pointed out several people in the Bible (like Joseph in Genesis) that were falsely accused and suffered for a while. This inmate is steadily growing stronger in his faith.

Another inmate primarily requests Christian novels. He told me that he doesn’t read the Bible much because it’s "too convicting". However, several times he’s said that through reading literature he realizes that his view of God is sometimes wrong. Reading also fills his time in a positive way, so that he has less time to meditate on resentful or depressed thoughts that often lead to getting in trouble.

I was already thinking about starting a book blog when it occurred to me that becoming a book reviewer would enable me to provide more books to the inmates. I donate the review copies I receive to my church’s ministry, and they’re sent to the prisoners. 

Novels like Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar are popular with the inmates because the characters have realistic problems, difficult pasts, and come to understand and accept God’s forgiveness. I believe that every time we read a story where a character is transformed by truth, a part of us can be transformed right along side them. I can’t wait to see how God will use this novel and others in the inmate’s lives.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A New Way of Storytelling

By: Stephanie S. Smith, Blog Editor

It is no secret that our American culture is visually-oriented; we gravitate towards graphics, the silver screen, special effects and web design.  Our image-driven culture parades clever comics, print ads, and elaborate scenes before our eyes, sometimes moving us to inspiration and sometimes moving us to consumerism. 

But visual art, which marks our postmodern age, is nothing new.  The Church has been a patron of visual art for centuries, as gloriously displayed in the vaulted ceilings of cathedrals, the precision of a gold-tipped pen in illuminated manuscripts, and the story of Scripture as told through colored glass.

Christianity's rich visual tradition is being carried on today in many ways, one of which I recently discovered is The Saint John's Bible, a beautiful, visual rendition of the Scriptures that takes the ancient illuminated manuscript tradition and applies it in a new way. The Smithsonian Magazine calls it, “One of the extraordinary undertakings of our time.”

An Ancient Scribe at Work
To give you an idea of the depth of this artistic work...

The book is actually seven volumes, completely hand-written with world-class calligraphy and illustration, and took over fifteen years in the making.  The seven volumes all together weigh a total of 165 pounds!

Fellow artists Hilary Brand and Adrienne Chaplin say, "If ever art was made to point beyond itself it is the icon." (Art and Soul: Signposts for Christians in the Arts; p. 85).  And perhaps this is the beauty of a visual retelling of the Divine Story as well, as its images guide our hearts to see beyond what it represented on the page, ushering us into the presence of God.

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