Last year, part of my research for writing children's Bible stories based on Acts was to undertake a study of Acts with a group of friends. Of course, Acts took place in ancient history - dark ages, dark times perhaps, and surely a world much different from ours.
We looked at history, geography, social issues, non-Biblical resources and, of course, various books of the Bible. It seemed those were indeed dark times - days of wars, riots, political unrest and intrigue, refugee crises, death and destruction...
Then I listened to this week's news from Europe, of refugees sailing from Turkey to Greece, storms at sea, shipwreck, and more... And I realized they are sailing the same dark seas as Peter and Paul must have crossed when Christianity was born. Hence my question in the title - do we live in dark times? And is the world really so changed? We have our new technologies, new countries and new laws. But the seas and shipwreck are the same. Politics plays the same games with refugees. And people are ever the same.
My first book review this week is of a tale from Europe in a different dark time, between then and now. Luther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund describes the world of political, religious and social upheaval at the time of Luther. Encouraged by Luther to flee the convents, women enter the secular world only to find the promised freedoms belong only to men. Meanwhile men are fighting oppression, churches are fighting change, and it's hard to find that balance between duty and love. Read this one with an elegant, rich and complex four-star cup of coffee.
Luther's call to freedom isn't the only one that can lead to greater pain. Modern America's siren lure can bring refugees crossing arid borders to find no solace here, as in Journey Through An Arid Land by G. Davies Jandrey. Arizona's desert isn't the only arid land in this novel though, as very human characters face the aridity of their own souls, a lonely man investigates murder, an abused child tries to make sense of her life, a rejected woman confesses her true nature, and a woman losing her senses perhaps finds herself. It's a lovely novel, best read with another rich, elegant, complex four-star coffee.
G. Davies Jandry's A Garden of Aloes takes a journey through one long summer - a dark summer for the mother who has fled an abusive husband, but unexpectedly darker for her child. The aloe garden of the title provides a wonderful metaphor for a tale filled with unexpected gentleness, quiet healing of violent hurt, and a multitude of wonderful characters. Enjoy some more rich elegant and complex four-star coffee with this one!
Then there's Weapons of Mass Destruction by Margaret Vandenburg, a tale of moral certainty invaded by the slippery slope of human nature as soldiers march into Fallujah and mass destruction isn't just a threat or a weapon anymore. It's a tale for all time, quickly read, rushing forward into battle while sneaking its peeks at the past, and revealing the humanity behind all those moral pronouncements and certainties. Drink a bold, dark, intense five-star coffee with this one.
Finally, perhaps to counterbalance the dark worlds of these tales, here's a short volume for kids called Teaching Christ’s Children about Feeling Angry by Corine Hyman. It's illustrated with well-chosen Bible verses, and it offers lessons based on very real and natural childhood events. My only complaint is that in the version I read some of the pictures in this illustrated book felt stretched or shrunk, though I was very impressed with how easy it was to recognize characters and expressions - more so than in similar books I've read. Enjoy with a bright, lively, easy-drinking two-star coffee.
So now summer's bright lights are giving way to fall. Do we live in Dark Times? Or do we define our own darkness. I loved how these books made me question that.