Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Book Review: Risen

In two days the latest Christian movie Risen comes out. Well, I just finished reading the novelization by Angela Hunt! According to her, she based the novel on the Bible, history, and the film/screenplay. At the bottom I have a long summary of the first 11 chapters (at first I was going to do a chapter-by-chapter summary of all 42 chapters, since that's what I'm having my students do for their books this month, but seriously? 42 chapters plus a prologue and epilogue? Wasn't going to happen!). But first, here's my take on the book:

1) What I most appreciate about Angela Hunt is how she researches the historical times, stays true to the Biblical account, and delivers insights you either hadn't thought of or wouldn't expect to find so seamlessly integrated in a novel. She does all of this so well in Risen. I really enjoyed the contrast she made between Roman thought and Jewish thought, and then how each of those ways of thinking interacted with the reality of Yeshua--Jesus. I personally value this book because I felt like it brought the post-resurrection part of the Gospels uniquely to life for me. In fact, I'd almost like to re-read that section of the book to imagine and absorb more of the real-life reality we read about in the Bible. That's the great thing about novels--you start seeing historical events through the characters' eyes, which in this case not only included the main fictional characters, but also the disciples.

2) Unfortunately, this is the last Angela Hunt book I'll be requesting to review. The sensual/sexual content, while understandable in novels based on Esther and Bathsheba, was uncalled for here. Backing up, the story alternates perspectives between Clavius, a Roman tribune, and Rachel, a Jewish widow, who are secretly sleeping together. Granted, their conversational interaction adds to our understanding of Jewish vs. Roman thought, but why does there have to be fornication in a book on the resurrection? When I was reading, I assumed this subplot was part of the film and that that was why it was included in the novelization. But the author's note at the end says that Rachel appears in the screenplay, but did not make it into the movie (which gives me a better opinion of how the movie might be than I would have thought otherwise!).

So Risen is a mixed bag for me. Part of it is so good--the insight, connection, and feeling what it would have been like to see Jesus while He was on earth! And yet, you've got a compelling and sinful affair, which although is not particularly condoned, the characters never get the opportunity to actively repent of at the end. In conclusion, I probably would recommend this book to select people, with caveats.
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Here's my super-long summary of the first quarter of the book:

Prologue: Clavius trudges towards an inn. Inside he meets the owner, who recognizes Clavius as a Roman tribune (tribune is confusingly close to tribute) despite looking every mile of his 40 days of wandering across Judea, of his process of transformation. Bored innkeepers like to hear tales--perhaps it's time to share his.

Chapter 1: Prefect Pilate is on his way to Jerusalem. Passover is approaching. Clavius reports to his commander and finds a robber of the high priest and some members of the Sanhedrin has upped the ante and taken control of a tower. From there Yeshua Barabbas and a band of mocking zealots have been successfully pummeling back a Roman centurion and his legion (because a mean rock throw can  apparently do much damage in this pre-firearm age). Clavius shows up and, with a little tactical maneuvering, mops up the zealots and hobbles Barabbas, ready to take him back for Pilate as proof of Pax Romana. His commander is among the fallen.

Chapter 2: Skip across Jerusalem and we meet Rachel, bread baker, dealing with an unhappy Roman wife because Rachel has no challah to sell--it is Passover, a sabbath, and tomorrow begins the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Rachel feels like a hypocrite as she seeks to uphold God's laws. Why? Because she has rejected the levirite marriage and thus has been rejected (presumably?) by her husband's family. After her husband died, she refused to marry his teenage brother in order to give him an heir. She wished to stay alone, in Jerusalem, baking bread, and not wed to a young man who held firm to his mother's apron strings. And so she spent Passover alone, an unthinkable thing, because she did not want others to know her secret shame. (There is a hint of feminism here when the mother-in-law asks, "How could Adonai be pleased with a young woman living alone and unmarried?" "A woman's purpose is to bring new life into the world. How can you be happy just baking bread?" The context makes it feel patriarchichal in a negative sense, but maybe I'm wrong. As if it's a comment we are supposed to roll our eyes at and hurrah the independent Rachel).  <--this theme is not continued in the rest of the novel

Chapter 3: Clavius learns his commander has died, due to recklessness in battle but earning glory for the family name nevertheless. Clavius' servant brings in a letter (a rolled scroll!) from Clavius' twin sister. She is with child. Clavius' other sister is a Vestal virgin and glad to not be under her father's control (continued theme from chapter 2 <--which is not continued in the rest of the novel). Pilate summons Clavius.

Chapter 4: Rachel sees a procession of criminals. One man in particular draws her notice. He wears a crown of thorns and the flesh of his back has been stripped by whips. Patches of baldness show where his beard has been cruelly ripped off. He falls, and before he rises, he says something about blessed are the childless. What does that mean? And how can the woman near her think to call this man the hope of the world?

Chapter 5: Clavius reports to Pilate who assigns him a "beneficiarii," an intern, who is more academic than soldier, not even familiar with horse riding. Pilate also gives Clavius the assignment of hurrying up the execution at Golgotha. On the way to the scene, Clavius explains to Lucius, his new companion, that battalions are rotated during the gruesome crucifixion detail lest they "[forget] they are men." When they arrive, Clavius observes that the third criminal, a "king," according to the sign, has surrendered to death quickly. Before the legionnaires throw the bodies over the side of the mount, Joseph of Arimathea and a man named Nicodemus come and claim the body of Jesus. Clavius follows them to see that this job is finished.

Chapter 6: Rachel probes a neighbor for information about the Nazarene. She had followed him to the place of the skull and then had helped lead the mother, Mary, away. The neighbor can offer no answers, except that all think he was crazy, and what does anyone ever do to Rome to deserve death?

Chapter 7: Clavius admits he wants power and prestige . . . so he can have a home in the country and enjoy peaceful days without death.

Chapter 8: Rachel's husband, a quiet, dutiful, but unaffectionate man, had been killed by a Roman stallion, his death announced by a Roman officer. Rachel the widow had then filled her nights and life with baking. Then the Roman officer began buying bread from her stand. And then he found his way to her home. She had no illusions he would ever marry her, but in Clavius' arms, she at last felt loved. *gag me now*

Chapter 9: Clavius steps out on the rampart while the sun sets and the Sabbath begins. Rachel has asked him to join her in the Sabbath prayer, but he hasn't. Yet he feels the yearning, not to honor the demanding Yahweh, but the pull of Rachel's goodness. He goes inside and writes his sister a letter, telling her he looks forward to leaving his uncivilized Judean post, but also sharing about the woman he's met, a woman that reminds him of his sister.

Chapter 10: Pilate assigns Clavius the tiresome task of sealing the Nazarene's tomb to appease the flock of black crows (the members of the Sanhedrin).

Chapter 11: Rachel prepares her matzah, remembers Passover as a child, and begins to wonder at the connections between Passover and the Nazarene's!

...the story continues when Pilate tasks Clavius with finding the missing body of the Nazarene!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

165: Vday and faith

"For the Lord is,
He is able
He is faithful
Higher than the mountains that I face
Every season, I will press on
For God alone, is on the throne" (Kari Jobe)
Surviving singleness is a lot about faith.

I'm sure every season is about faith, but I'm not walking other seasons, I'm walking the path of singleness, so this is what I know.

I'm surviving (and thriving) this Valentines Day because of faith.

Because I have lived 30 years with my Lord and have grown (at least for this moment) in my trust in Him.

Psalm 135:6 - "Whatever the LORD pleases He does".

He is able, He is faithful. Whatever He purposes, He does. I plant my feet here and declare that what God purposes, He can do. He can do the impossible (ie. getting me married). And I pray for the impossible. I hope for the impossible. I believe in Him and His ability to do the impossible.

This Valentines Day I am not embracing resignation. I am embracing hope. But, more satisfying, I am embracing my Lord, declaring that knowing Him is primary and believing in Him is my peace.

Singleness is about faith. Faith that following Him is more fulfilling and more peaceful than longing after something else ad infinitum to my heart's misery. Believing that if He takes something way it is only because He has something better. He is something better.

Believing that even though I cannot predict the future, control the future, or manipulate the future, I can be excited about what God might do (even if unrelated to my relationship status), because my God does the unthinkable!

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen." (Heb. 11:1)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

164: Vday and rambling

This year I'm struggling just a bit with the upcoming Valentines Day. In years past I've been able to console myself with thoughts of a girls party, complete with chick flicks, staying up late, and way too much chocolate and other yummy treats. Maybe it's because I've done that too many times since last Vday, but I would rather the holiday pass me by without party or focusing on love-is-in-the-air.

The last couple months have found me focusing on self-improvement. Thanks to an accountability group set up by a friend in December, and thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit opening my eyes, I came to realize that I could make goals and change what I wanted about myself. I have a strong will and little discipline, so lately I had been resigning mself to who I am, which was appropriate for a season, but now, at long last, and through God's grace, I feel like I can be who I want to be, who God wants me to be. So I've set little goals for myself and am enjoying being more intentional.

I like my life for the most part. My job is fulfilling and time-consuming. It gives me an unending outlet for creativity. Outside of work I have a solid group of girls to have fun with.

But still, Valentines...sometimes I see FB posts by married friends and all of a sudden feel like my life doesn't matter. It does though. But it's different. Their life is different from mine and mine is different from theirs and that is what God has planned, but sometimes different doesn't feel equal in value. Sometimes it feels like they are moving ahead and I am still in the same stage of life I've always been in.

So much of life has nothing to do with a mate. I live. I live life. I hear from God and I move forward and backward and forward again. I make decisions and I depend on God for my sanctification and I interact with kids daily and am thankful that I have the opportunity to impact the next generation even if they are not biologically mine.

But still. Valentines. I don't want to see all of it on my FB feed.

I look at pics from my alma mater and it saddens me to think how little I took advantage of the unique situation of being in a massive coed single community. Do you know how rarely I interact with single male peers? Or even married male peers? It's so rare that that's probably why I'm single--I don't even know how to interact with guys my age! (slight exaggeration)

But then I've also realized lately how rare true fellowship is for me. I've tasted it a couple times in the last couple months and it tasted so...deep. I think I have become shallow the last year or so and I think I did so on purpose. I think I realized I was analyzing guys too much, and so in order to make myself more relaxed, I relaxed everything. Once out of the habit, I avoided meaningful conversation because usually it's over an over-hashed topic anyway, is more academic than practical, and involves disagreement. But oh what have I lost of myself by losing my depth? And so I am re-seeking that.

This is what we call a rambling post :)

Meanwhile, this week is spirit week at school. Today my class all dressed in yellow. Then I had to go out in public in my yellow polka dotted dress, yellow zip-up jacket, and yellow headband. I felt...very bright. But besides sticking out, I think I actually liked looking cheerful today. Not sure if I'll ever do it again though. :)

This ramble was written on my phone. I think that should serve as a bonafide, cover-all excuse.
Goodnight :)