Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

by L. Frank Baum
adapted by Eric Shanower
illustrated by Skottie Young
216 pages / 2010

Some classics, even with specifically unChristian elements, are still worth reading for the sake of cultural literacy. Examples would include the Greek myths, George Orwell's 1984, and Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz is another of this sort, a book so famous that is has spawned multiple plays, many films, near countless books, and now a series of graphic novels.

Marvel Comic's adaptation is faithfully done, and large enough to include all of the key plot points. Here's how it begins: Dorothy, a girl from Kansas, gets picked up, while inside her house, by a tornado and dropped, house and all, in a very strange land and on top of a very wicked witch. Then she is off to see an oh-so-wonderful wizard to find out if he can help her get back to Kansas.

As she sets off towards the interior of this strange land – the land of Oz – she picks up three strange companions on her way: a talking scarecrow in want of a brain, a tin woodsman wishing for a heart, and a enormous lion who desires courage. When she finally gets to meet the Wizard of Oz, he says he will only help her and her friends if Dorothy kills Oz's only other wicked witch (Dorothy did in the first when her house landed on the evil creature).

That's the gist of the story. The fun of it is that her three companions – brainless scarecrow, heartless tin woodsman, and cowardly lion – all want the wizard to help them get what they lack.  But along the way we learn that, despite what the three think themselves, they really aren't lacking in those departments at all.


The problems with the story, from a Christian perspective are:
  1. Not all the witches in it are bad. The land has two wicked witches, but also two good witches, one of which plays a major role. That conflicts quite directly with God's condemnation of witchcraft.
  2. Second, the heroes all find what they need is inside themselves already. This, on the one hand, is no big deal. It is a good lesson for all of us to learn that courage is not "not being afraid" but rather being afraid and acting anyway, and while the cowardly lion never learns this, we do, by watching just how brave this coward can be.

    Similarly we also learn from the woodsman that it is not the having of a heart that gives us compassion, but acting compassionately that shows compassion. It is the act, and not even the feeling (which the woodsman also has) that is key, and certainly not the having of a heart.

    The Scarecrow gets his brains via the insertion of some sharp tacks where he previous had only hay but he has shown his ability to think long before. (Here the movie version does things better. The Scarecrow is told brains are overrated, and that many a graduate finishes school without one, but that they have one thing that he doesn't: a diploma, which the Wizard then gives him.)

    But the fact that these three companions, turn out to already have the very thing they've most been seeking, and it's already inside themselves, is also an example of humanistic "all I need is me" self-worship. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Hiding Place

by Corrie ten Boom
with John and Elizabeth Sherrill
272 pages / 1971 (2006 reissue)

This was such an encouraging story!

If you know only the barest details of Corrie ten Boom's life story you might mistake her for a superwoman. After all, this is a lady who lost her father and sister to the Nazis, and who had to endure depravation and cruelty of a German concentration camp and yet she still managed to forgive the very people who did her so much harm. That certainly doesn't sound like any ordinary person!

However, while Corrie was most certainly a special woman, her biography is all about God's greatness and not her own.

In the first third of the book she sets the scene, telling of her early life, and sharing the sage wisdom of her father. Once, when she was a little girl she overheard someone talk of "sex sin" so she went to her father and asked him, "Father what is sexsin?"
He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At least he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it up on the floor. "Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?" he said. 
I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning. "It's too heavy," I said.  
"Yes," he said. "And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a heavy load. It's the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you."  
And I was satisfied. More than satisfied– wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions – for now I was content to lave them in my father's keeping. 
Later she, still as a child, she has her first encounter with death – a small baby in an apartment on her same block has passed away - and she can't stop worrying about what she would do if her father and mother died. She can't eat, and can't stop crying. In response her father points his little girl to her Heavenly Father.
Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. "Corrie," he began gently, "when you and I go to Amsterdam – when do I give you your ticket?" 
I sniffed a few times, considering this. "Why, just before we get on the train." 
"Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we're going to need things, too. Don't run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will looking into your heart and find the strength you need – just in time."
And that is just what Corrie finds, when years later this ordinary woman, who led such a quiet life for her first 48 years, finds herself as the leader of a Resistance cell, hiding Jews and members of the underground, stealing ration cards from the Nazis, and providing whatever help she could to whoever came asking. And that is what she found still in the midst of the Nazi concentration camp, surrounded by cruel guards and biting fleas. God gave her just what she needed, just when she needed it.

This is a wonderful story that will be encouraging to anyone contending with discouragement, sickness, death. Miss ten Boom wants us to know that God never stops being good, even when we ourselves are wavering as things around us go so very badly. We can trust Him. We can count on Him. He loves his children!

I'd recommend it to anyone 16 and up and suggest it as a very good offering for any reading group - it would foster some wonderful discussions.

There is also a "young reader's edition" which has been abridged to about half the length. But they accomplished this feat by taking out all the charm. The original reads just as you might expect an older Dutch lady to talk, but the abridged version has only a flat, generic narration to it - Corrie's unique voice is gone. So give it a skip, and go with the original, even for "young readers." You can buy it at by clicking here.

I just noticed my brother Jeff also reviewed Hiding Place and you can read his review here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Called to Serve: Essays for Elders and Deacons

edited by Michael Brown
2010 / 274 pages

There are times when my quest for really good reads seems doomed by the fact that people keep making me read their idea of a really good read... and then there are the times when people are right, and the book I have to read is well worth the time. This is one of those times.

Our (Canadian) Reformed council is studying the book Called to Serve, which includes essays by such notable (United) Reformed writers/pastors as Daniel R. Hyde and Michael S. Horton. Of course, those 'big names' are not the point, but they do highlight the fact that the book is a reliable look at what it means to organize a church by Reformed standards.

The sixteen chapters of Called to Serve are divided up in an appendix to allow officebearers, or prospective officebearers, to study, over ten 'lessons,' the topics of
  • the nature of and qualifications for officebearers - that they are both rulers and servants;
  • the duties and spiritual life of officebearers - that a good officebearer is first of all a good congregation member;
  • our Reformed heritage - from the Reformation to the origin of the United Reformed Churches;
  • the importance of the Reformed confessions - one lesson on the need for officebearers to love and defend Reformed doctrine and the second on the specifically Reformed doctrines defended in the Canons of Dort;
  • the defense of infant baptism and how to deal with prospective members who do not accept it;
  • the beauty of the Lord's Supper and who should be admitted to it;
  • a lesson on liturgy based on a brilliant chapter on Reformed liturgy, including some aspects dating back to Calvin, that not all Reformed churches currently use to structure their worship;
  • the basics of church government and discipline, including such seemingly trivial matters as how to get through a council meeting, as well as the more important matter of the necessity of church discipline; and
  • the rationale for, and proper use of, home visits, for both elders and deacons.
While the book is written specifically from a United Reformed perspective, many of the matters dealt with either pertain equally to other Reformed federations or offer insights or ideas that other federations could benefit from. If you agree, you can purchase the book here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Why the Chinese, and Dutch, give their children short names....

Tikki Tikki Tembo
retold by Arlene Mosel
1968 / 48 pages

My first name is Jonathan, but long ago I learned there were benefits to using a shorter form. In basketball, for example, if a teammate was streaking up the sidelines and yelled for a pass, by the time he got out all three syllables of Jon--a--than he wasn't open any more. But "Jon!" would get my attention, and him the ball, much quicker.

Tikki Tikki Tembo is about this same lesson but in a very different setting. We are told that long ago Chinese families would honor their first born sons with long names, and give their other sons very short names. Our story takes place in a small mountain village where a mother had two sons. The second was simply called Chang, while the first was named Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo. Now if these two played sports we can be sure who would be making all the great passes and who wouldn't even make the team (try fitting that name on a jersey!).

Of course, they didn't have basketball in ancient China, so their names come into play a different way. This is a charming book so I don't want to give away the ending. Let it suffice to say that as in basketball, so too in aquatic events it is better, and less hazardous, to have a shorter name.

The story is wonderful, the illustrations fun, but more than anything else this is such a joy to read out loud: Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo is not only a long name, but a lyrical one, and each time it gets repeated in the story it gets funnier. This is a classic for a reason!

You can buy a copy at by clicking here.

Larry Bendeco Johannes Von Sloop

by Larry V. and Mark Kumer
2014 / 32 pages

In some respects this is Tikki Tikki Tembo in a modern setting with the two brothers being Dutch instead of Chinese. One is named Bob and the other Larry Bendeco Johannes Von Sloop.

The two brothers are both bakers, but Bob specializes in plain and delicious, while Larry Bendeco Johannes Von Sloop is more concerned with fancy appearances - his cakes looks great, even if they don't taste that way.

As in the original, a long name eventually proves hazardous, but there's more to this story. When his long name causes the destruction of his bakery Larry Bendeco Johannes Von Sloop is blessed with a brother who is more than happy to help him out.

While this is an imitation of the original, the author has given it a creative twist that makes it the equal of its inspiration. It's read-out-loud fun, and will be a sure hit with the kids.

You can buy a copy at by clicking here.