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Review: Trunk of Scrolls by Darlene Bocek

While there are many novels about Reformation times, and many church history biographies throughout the ages, we have come across very little fiction about early church history and even less about the creeds.  However, Darlene Bocek’s novel Trunk of Scrolls  covers the time after 526 AD, after the council of Chalcedon and during the continuing debates about who Jesus actually is—only God or both God and man.  If you wonder whether this is important, yes, it absolutely is.   As Marcellus’s Aunt Sophia told him, knowing who Jesus is identifies the very God you worship.

Despite all this, Trunk of Scrolls is not a dusty description of doctrine but a gripping and suspense-filled novel of Byzantine times.

One terrible day in 526, Marcellus and his cousins saw their city of Antioch writhe and crumble as an earthquake devastated their lives. Not that Marcellus hadn’t already been devastated that terrible day when his cousin Byziana was betrothed to Captain Belisarius, the up and coming young soldier.  But this was horror unending, as the young people dragged survivors from the rubble, saving only a few.

Why had God send such trouble?  Was it because of the raging debate about the nature of Christ?  Were they abandoned by God?  Why did he allow such horror and so much evil?  Was there even an answer to these questions?  Aunt Sophia, and Marcellus, too, found help in the secret trunk of scrolls, those precious letters and gospels.  Often they read them—the letter to the Colossians, Aunt Sophia’s favorite, and also the rest of the twenty-one sacred scrolls—but they did not talk much about them because scrolls were being confiscated to be put into monastaries.

Soon afterward Aunt Sophia died from earthquake wounds, Uncle Gaius Justus was gone, intrigue and sadness were everywhere, and cousin Byziana decided they needed to travel to Constantinople where her father and Belisarius lived.  They would take the precious trunk of scrolls, of course.  And of course Marcellus could not let her and her siblings travel alone.  Needless to say, tragedy struck and it hounded Marcellus from Gothland to Antioch, and from Antioch to Constantinople.  But the scrolls were always in his mind and so was sweet Byziana, the betrothed of another man….

This fast-paced story is set against the backdrop of the two great Antiochan earthquakes and the dreadful revolt in Constantinople.  We see the beginnings of relic worship and of the removal of Scriptures from ordinary believers, and we witness the personal impact of the conflict about Jesus’ identity.  Bocek’s characters make us care about all of these things, and more, as they struggle with truth and with life, learning to find inspiration in the scrolls.

I found this to be an inspiring novel, full of substance and emotion.  Yet it is also very intense, with graphic descriptions of suffering (a movie would be rated R) and deep spiritual struggles.   We know that such intense suffering exists wherever there are natural disasters, revolts, and evil, and Jesus has come to this world to die for us, destroy the devil’s work, and, eventually, wipe all tears from our eyes.  Even so, I am not certain I will give this book to my teen daughters; is it right to put tears into eyes that are barely free of them?  However, my teens are sensitive; many other young people will be able to manage the distressing material quite well especially since some of it is presented in such a subtle way that not everyone will even notice.

Thus, if your teens are not too empathetic, Trunk of Scrolls could be an excellent book to accompany history, church history, and Bible studies.  It would go well with Veritas’s Omnibus 2 and Omnibus 5, and I am sure it would supplement other literature-based programs such as Truth Quest, Tapestry of Grace, and Sonlight as well.  If I decide to use it with my girls, we would begin after our autumn studies of Reformation times, supplementing Brandy’s outline for reading two church fathers, Eusebius and Athanasius.   Darlene Bocek has prepared a thorough free study guide as well as a list of links to background information, and the book includes a helpful timeline.

Trunk of Scrolls is not only for homeschoolers; it is also wonderful novel for any adult who wishes to understand history, theology, and the Bible.  The tragedies of these times lead naturally to a valuable exploration of suffering, God’s sovereignty, and the incarnation, as well as a renewed appreciation for the Word of God.

I find it incredible that this is a first novel.  The characters are well-drawn and easy to identify with, the plot is complicated and gripping, and the settings evocative.  Even the themes, though heavy, fit into the story well.  Also, an amazing amount of research went into this book.  Unfortunately, there is some awkwardness in language and structure, and a good editor could make a significant improvement.

Be that as it may, I recommend Trunk of Scrolls for adults and some older teens as a gripping novel, an introduction to early church history, and a devotional dealing with suffering and the incarnation.

Earlier I reviewed Athanisius by Simonetta Carr, about ancient attempts to understand who Jesus Christ really is, which discusses the struggle mentioned in Trunk of Scrolls.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

Disclosure:  I received a review copy of Trunk of Scrolls from Darlene Bocek.  As always, I am not compensated for sharing my honest opinions.

This article may be linked to 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Finishing Strong , Raising Homemakers, Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook

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33 Reminders for Homeschoolers

Bees, busy making sweetness.

Because homeschooling is a marathon, not a sprint, we must emphasize the right things and minimize many others in order to be able to continue year after year in love, joy, and peace.  I’ve been homeschooling for over two decades and still forget so much so often!  So here’s a simple list of reminders for our busy lives. There are 33 reminders here, but the important thing is to adopt only one or two fresh ideas at a time to avoid getting overwhelmed.

Things to Always Remember:

o   Pray and read your Bible every single day.  No matter how busy we are, we need to spend time with our Lord.   When we feel we are too busy to pray because we have too many people’s needs to meet, remember that Jesus often withdrew to pray even though the crowds were waiting to hear him and to be healed (Luke 5: 16).  On the other hand, we serve God by serving others, so we need to pray for wisdom about this.

o   Know your goals and priorities and think carefully about the best ways of achieving them.  Remember that  80% of your results will typically come from 20% of your effort, so try to determine what is most beneficial and be prepared to say ‘no’ to the rest.

o   Make it a personal rule that if any activity will stress you enough to make you unkind or unloving to your family, you will turn it down (Titus 2:3-5 ).

o   Be grateful, happy, and at peace in the Lord and think about good things (Philippians 4: 4-8). Trust and obey him (Prov. 3:5,6).  Remember to build up your family, not destroy it (Prov. 14:1).

Things to Emphasize in Learning:

o   Read aloud daily, even to older kids.

o   Have an hour or more of personal reading each day for each child and for mom

o   Memorize or review something daily—Bible texts, hymns, psalms, lists of prime ministers or royalty, foreign languages, periodic table of elements, poetry, judo moves….

o   Use narration (i.e. let your kids tell you what they have learned) whenever possible, for learning, testing, encouragement, and relationship building.   Learn more about narration.

o   Set up a system, such as Friday quizzes, to review important learning and information regularly.

o   Remember your learning goals; don’t get stuck in a method or curriculum if it is not helpful.

o   Make sure you have lots of the basics—pencils, pens, pencil sharpeners, erasers, and paper—so that you won’t waste precious time and energy looking for them.  Have a place to put them but accept that the kids will not always use it.

o   Take time for professional development to learn about learning, homeschooling, and subject matter, and to be inspired so that you can do a better job of teaching your kids.

o   Take time for physical activity, whether leisure or work.  Both physical activity and being outside improve learning and creativity.

o   Keep simple records for elementary years but thorough ones for high school.

Things to Emphasize in Life (because the more smoothly the rest of life goes, the more smoothly homeschooling will go)

o   Guard your family’s health by encouraging good food, adequate sleep, devotions, outside time, physical activity, relaxation, laughter, and togetherness.

o   Accept God’s good gift of sleep; lack of sleep leads to poor attitudes and poorly done work.

o   Learn to say ‘no’.  If you are too stressed to be kind you need to take something off your plate.

o   Invest in your marriage.

o   Manage your time and energy.

o   Take productive breaks. Often when you or your kids need a break from one activity, a different kind of useful activity will rest you while getting something necessary done.

o   Homeschooling is important but it is not your whole life; try to stay balanced most of the time.

o   Laugh; don’t take yourself too seriously; trust God.

Streamline:

o   Say ‘no’ if necessary, as mentioned several times already.

o   Set up good habits and routines, because they will simplify life.  Some helpful habits:

o   Set up a regular Bible reading and prayer time that works for your current situation.

o   Have a place for everything and put everything in its place.

o   Have predictable bedtimes, mealtimes, chore times, and formal school time.

o   Set up daily and weekly chore systems for yourself and the kids to keep your home reasonably tidy.

o   Use meal planning or the pantry principle to take the stress out of meal preparation.

o   Always have an extra of non-perishable essentials such as toilet paper, pasta, toothpaste, etc.  When you open the second-last one, write the item on your shopping list.

Things to minimize:

o   Limit screen time both for kids and for mom, and turn off screens at least an hour before bed.

o   Avoid comparisons which make us either proud or depressed.  Just don’t go there.  Be content with your gifts and your family; God gave them to you for a reason, and he has it all under control.

o   Avoid unnecessary tasks.

Note:  This list has been shared with conference attendees in the past.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

This article may be linked to Finishing Strong ,Raising Homemakers.

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Review: Martin Luther by Simonetta Carr

Very few people have had as great an influence on western civilization as Martin Luther.  Yet, it wasn’t Luther himself, and those who think only about the man miss so much.  Nor was Luther aiming to change civilization or even the church—no, Luther was a person gripped by the search for God’s forgiveness, whose eventual joy and relief spilled out into the whole world as he sought to glorify God.

Now, five hundred years after the beginning of the Reformation, much is being written about Luther and some of it misses the point, but Simonetta Carr’s excellent Martin Luther balances history, theology, and faith.

Beginning with young Luther’s home life and extensive schooling, Carr emphasizes Luther’s struggles to find peace with God.  Whether studying, confessing his sins, exceeding the monastery’s rules, teaching, or caring for the people in his charge, Luther was always concerned about God’s anger with sin.  When Pope Leo X tried to raise money by selling forgiveness, Luther objected, first in sermons and then in writing.  Unexpectedly, his scholarly protests were translated into German and his Ninety-Five Theses spread through Europe like wildfire, beginning the Reformation.

Carr’s beautifully illustrated book takes us from this event  500 years ago, through Luther’s struggles with the pope and the emperor, his kidnapping, Bible translation work, family life, and death.  She sums up her biography with these words, “While many others attacked the abuse and corruption of the church and of the pope, Luther went to the root of the problem, which is in man’s sinful heart, a problem that only God can solve.”

As always in the Christian Biographies for Young People series, Carr includes a timeline, various historical tidbits, and some of Luther’s writings.  And, as expected, this well-researched, carefully written, and carefully explained story melds theology and biography into one of the best introductions to Luther’s life and times.

Written for ages 7-12 but full enough of information, ideas, and illustrations to captivate teens and adults as well, Simonetta Carr’s Martin Luther is essential for your homeschool church history and history classes.  Because of Luther’s incredible impact on both civilization and religion, this excellent introduction to his life, beliefs, and legacy should be in all home, church, school, and public libraries, and I urge you to ensure that happens in your community.

2017 is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, so a plethora of books is being published about him, and I am blessed to be able to review several of them.  This one is probably the best introduction to his life, times, theology, and influence.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

Disclosure:  I received a review copy from Reformation Heritage Books.

This article may be linked to Finishing Strong ,Raising Homemakers, Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays.

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First Frost and Autumn Thoughts

For a few days now we’ve been busily squirreling away garden goodies.  Although the various weather forecasts disagreed, the predicted temperatures were cool enough that we, in a valley, expected frost last night.  And, yes, we got it.

The garden was mostly covered with tarps and sheets, and it will be a few hours before we can assess the damage.  I expect that Miss 14’s lovely morning glories will be gone, and the few pumpkins that we could not protect will not ripen properly. First frosts can be spotty things, but judging by the even crunchiness of grass blades and uncovered squash leaves throughout our garden and yard, this one seems fairly consistent. 

With the enormous amount of rain we had this summer, our garden has produced well, on the whole, and we are thankful for the delicious, healthy food God has given us—cucumbers, beets, tomatoes, herbs, melons, garlic, onions, beans, squash, pumpkins, radishes, peppers, broccoli, and so much more. 

And now it is time to start thinking about fall, to harvest the rest of the garden, to treasure the golden days before the snow comes.  My husband has been chopping wood, the chimney cleaners are coming soon, and we have straw for the chickens in the winter.

Next week school begins.

I am not ready for any of this.  I do not see how it will be possible to manage all of this. 

So today, during rest breaks between all the other necessary work, I need to take some time to plan what to do, what to say no to, how to prioritize, and how to adjust our routine.  I need to ask God what it means, practically and right now, to love God with my whole being and to love those around me—family, friends, church, and various communities—as myself.  And then I need to organize my life so that those things will happen.

May God bless us all with wisdom as we prepare for the next season.  May he give us what we need to live for him in our everyday lives.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I  (eventually) share what I read. 

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Review: The Unreformed Martin Luther by Andreas Malessa

2017 is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, so a plethora of books is being published about him, and I am blessed to be able to review several of them.  This one is the most surprising and original.

In The Unreformed Martin Luther, German journalist and theologian Andreas Malessa took an unusual approach.  He collected popular stories and sayings about Luther and evaluated each of them using Luther’s own copious writings as well as contemporary records and later discussions, some scholarly.

This book contains a few startling revelations.  For example, Luther sent out three copies of the Ninety-Five Theses but most likely did not actually nail them to the cathedral door.  Besides that surprising suggestion, Malessa also clarifies Luther’s doctrine and defends his lifestyle—and, no, Luther was not a drunk.

Malessa excels in putting Luther’s life into its historical context, and as such The Unreformed Martin Luther contains several illuminating accounts of customs, practices, and assumptions of the day that help us understand both Luther and the Reformation better. How marriages were legalized in those days, for example, was a revelation to me.

Filled with humorous tidbits, careful explanations of theology, and much historical context, The Unreformed Martin Luther strips away myths surrounding this great man and presents him, respectfully and, hopefully honestly, as a good man.  This book is centered completely on Luther, the man, and his impact on the world, and does not discuss at all how God worked through him.  As such it is almost a secular book, even though it is about one of the main events of Christianity and presents Luther’s theology accurately.

The Unreformed Martin Luther ends most abruptly with a chapter on Luther’s anti-Semitism which is, obviously, a very important factor to a modern German author but certainly not adequate as a conclusion.  Without a conclusion or any reference to God’s work in and through Luther, the book seems little more than a compendium of articles about a great man, interesting but not very satisfying.

If you only have time to read one book about Luther, I would not recommend this one, either for your homeschool or for pleasure.  (Simonetta Carr’s Martin Luther, to be reviewed next week is probably the best introduction for young people and adults, and Luther The Leader by Virgil Robinson is an excellent read aloud. )  However, if you already know about this great man, The Unreformed Martin Luther will provide a completely different approach and will give you some new ideas to consider.

Much of our homeschool church history learning (link to my reviews) is based on biographies, historical fiction, and primary source documents.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I  (eventually) share what I read. 

Disclosure:  I received a review copy of this book from Kregel Books and have given our honest opinions.  I am not compensated for them.

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