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Review: Anna’s Crossing by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Anna's Crossing by Suzanne Woods Fisher

It was 1737 and life in Germany was becoming too dangerous for the Amish.  They were going to travel to the new world; surely that would solve their problems.

Anna Konig, however, did not think so.  She saw no reason to leave her grandparents, her sheep, and the village she loved so much.  Yet she had to go, the minister insisted, because no one else spoke English.

And so, the morning after a terrible tragedy, the families started their journey, first down the Rhine, then to England and then, through storm and thirst and danger, across the Atlantic to America.

Anna and her beloved rose bush lived in the stench below deck, but as translator—and later as healer—she was welcome on deck too, with the sailors and the kind yet disturbing Bairn.  Young Felix, her charge and a mischievous handful whose mother was suffering from grief too great to be borne, also loved to be on deck, helping Bairn….

As usual, Suzanne Woods Fisher has woven a tangled and very satisfying plot, this one based on the first Amish ocean crossing.  Anna is a splendid character and both Bairn and young Felix are true to life as well.  Although Anna is the main character, the story of Dorothea, Felix’s mother, drives the plot.  I did not realize this at first, and it is so satisfying to read a Christian novel that is well-written and complex.

The author presented God’s love in a completely natural way, and at one point Anna suddenly understood Psalm 91, that even in the midst of great gales they could know peace. Many in this novel faced gales of tragedy and despair, and in the end they did find God’s peace.

If you are looking for an encouraging and absorbing novel and enjoy historical fiction, you will love Anna’s Crossing.

This is yet another book in the in the 2015 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook

DisclosureThis book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and is available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Rescued Birds, Learning, Books, and God’s Goodness

 

Fancy Pigeon

Have you ever noticed that in the best children’s books most of the action happens outside school?  That’s one of the advantages of homeschooling, and we experienced it again this month.

Miss 12 spent hours caring for an injured wild turkey that she found on one of her walks.  It did die, but she had given it warmth and food and a good few last hours.

One cold day a few weeks later she saw this beautiful pigeon huddled in our window, tempted it with chicken food, and managed to pick it up.  She took it inside to warm it up.  It stayed overnight, and filled our home with miracles.  There is very little to match the feeling of a wild bird drifting off to sleep while sitting calmly on your palm.  And when, incredibly, it reached down to stroke Miss 12’s finger with its beak, we were beside ourselves with awe.

Official Learning

We also, of course, did official schoolwork, from math (MathScore, ALEKS, Life of Fred Calculus) to finishing our read aloud about Michael Faraday and learning advanced physics.  Letters, paragraphs, and essays have been written.  Miss 17 has been working hard on her AP English online course. Although she has decided not to take the AP exams—here in Ontario it is difficult for homeschoolers to write them—she is learning a huge amount about writing and reading.

Miss 17 has officially applied to university.  Now the hardest work is done and we just have to be patient on the phone several times to get all the bugs straightened out.    Being on hold for 45 minutes is a wonderfully guilt-free time to read, so I’m not complaining much.

Exercise Project

We have a treadmill as well as my husband’s weights and exercise mats and a punching bag, so there is no excuse for not exercising.  Even so we have not done very well this month, except for Miss 12 who has decided to run a 6 minute mile.  Every few days, she sets the treadmill a wee bit faster and runs, runs, runs.  She met that first goal!  Now, inspired by a running friend of ours, she plots her times.  She may not quite reach her updated goal, to beat the world record for 11 year-olds running a mile (she was unable to find data for 12 year olds) but she can certainly run fast now, and she’s learning a lot from this project.

What’s more, she is inspiring the rest of us, and we’re all more conscious of being active.  It’s so true that we all influence each other, and I love it when the influence is so positive.  Exercise enhances creativity, mood, and self-confidence as well as increasing strength, endurance, and flexibility, so it is a blessing all around.

Games, Reading, and Reviews

We also played a lot of games:  euchre, cribbage, Rummikub, memory, Yahtzee, and even dominoes, and we finished a 1000 piece puzzle of the Periodic Table.

I’m reading (all links are to my reviews on this blog or on GoodReads)… Deuteronomy.  Currently I’m also reading two other books: More than just The Talk, and How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare.

In the past month I’ve finished Science and Religion, Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those Who Suffer from Depression, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Fringe Hours, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Take My Hand Again, Seduced by Logic, The Two Mrs. Abbotts, and Against the Flow.

I’ve posted an  Introduction to the New Genevan Psalter (with free sheet music). This post has almost a hundred Facebook likes!  I’m so thankful for that, because it is a beautiful songbook that could benefit all English-speaking Christians.  I urge you to check out that review and resource list. There are also new reviews of Too Many to Jail, Better than Before, and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.   Jessica of Life as Mom liked my discussion of the spiritual aspects of the Tidying Up book.

Read earlier and still waiting to be reviewed—which is how I absorb what I read—are Geons, Black Holes and Quantum Foam, A Mathematician’s Lament, What the Most Successful People Do before Breakfast, You Shall be Free Indeed, God’s Undertaker, Einstein’s Heroes,  and The Ten Best-Ever Depression Management Techniques.

Reading aloud…We are reading Psalms at mealtimes and have just begun Every Living Thing by James Herriot for our lunchtime read aloud.

When my husband is home for meals, we are reading James.

Thoughts about God’s Goodness

In many ways this has been a difficult month, but God has been close to us even when we felt overwhelmed.  He showed me that Birds Still do Sing…and after I wrote that piece, my friends reminded me of it when I needed the encouragement.  I hope it blesses you as much as it has blessed me.

My goal for this year was to connect with God and with others and, in amazingly roundabout ways, God is making sure that happens.  Such growth is not very comfortable, but it is worthwhile and in the future we will undoubtedly be thankful for it.  I do not dare pray for each of you that God will work deeply in your lives, because it can be so very painful.  But I pray that you may pray that for yourselves.

As you think back over March, how was your month?  I hope you will remember moments of joy and will be able to see how God cared for you every day.

This post is linked to Finishing Strong.

Review: Too Many to Jail by Mark Bradley

 

too many to jail

Despite intense opposition and persecution, more and more Iranian Muslims are turning to Christ all the time.  Some say Iran has the fastest growing church in the world.  In fact, one pastor’s wife was told during interrogation, “If we arrested people for religious reasons, there would be no room in the prisons.”

Mark Bradley’s book, Too Many to Jail:  The Story of Iran’s New Christians, analyses this phenomenon by explaining why many Iranians are disillusioned by Islam; why, in an earthly sense, they are turning to Jesus Christ; how representative house congregations function; and the effect of persecution.  Bradley, a researcher, references his facts meticulously with over 400 footnotes; he goes out of his way to show that this book is not merely Christian hype but represents reality.

On the other hand, this book is not a dry list of facts but a moving story of a nation that has been so disillusioned by its evil leaders that many are, by God’s grace, turning to the Good Shepherd.  Bradley points out that analysing political and cultural events to explain this phenomenon does not deny God’s divine work, but shows how he has been working.

Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, political leaders have identified their rule with Islam itself.  Then, when disaster, corruption, and violence became obvious, the stage was set for people to question Islam as well as their political leaders.

Because of Iran’s long and noble history, Iranians see themselves as a great nation of many backgrounds, not merely as a Muslim nation.  Also, via the Koran and the very popular poets of centuries ago, they honor Jesus as a gentle, compassionate, and humble prophet.  This is, in today’s Iran, a stark contrast with the corrupt and violent political leaders who identify themselves directly with Islam. This and other factors may have some bearing on the fact that many of the people approached by evangelists are interested in learning more about Jesus.

Carefully, with great sensitivity to security, Bradley tells the stories of five different house congregation networks and discusses their similarities and differences.  He explains the nature of ‘house churches’ in relation to ‘building churches’ and explains the many significant reasons why the former are so well suited to the Iranian situation and how government policy fuels their growth.

He also discusses persecution in detail and shows how it has increased the growth of Christianity in Iran.  This was a difficult chapter to read.

How should we see all this?  Mark Bradley writes:

“Iran’s suffering but growing church.” 

“The beauty of God’s sovereignty is in the “but”.  Just as Joseph turned to his brothers and said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good  to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives”  (Gen 50:20), so too Iranian Christians turn to their tormentors and know in their hearts that what they intend for evil, God is working out for good.”

So, what support is there for the Iranian church?  International help in the form of TV, websites, chat rooms, and even skype help equip both leaders and ordinary Christians.  Bibles and Christian books are smuggled in.  And people pray.

Let us all be among those praying for our new Iranian brothers and sisters who live in such dangerous circumstances.  Reading this book will help inform your prayers.

Note:  Because this book details some of the persecutions of Iranian Christians and the brutality of government opposition, it is only suitable for older teens and adults.  I had had enough by the time I finished the main text of the book and did not go on to read the 43 page appendix, ‘List of Aggressive Acts Towards Christians in Iran.’

Too many to jail ad

This is yet another book in the in the 2015 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook.  For more encouragement, visit Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 Tuesday, Works for Me Wednesday, Mom to Mom Monday, Monday’s Musings, Missional WeekendR&R Wednesdays, From House to Home, Homemaking Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Make Your Home Sing Mondays, Faith Filled Fridays

DisclosureI received a copy of this book from Kregel publications for the purpose of this review.  All my opinions are my own, and I am not compensated for sharing them.

Birds Still Do Sing

snowy winter

It has been a long, hard winter.  Lots of snow, lots of ice, lots of cold, and lots of distressing life-stuff.

The other day I stood outside, trying to get into my locked house.  I didn’t want to be outside, and there was no objective reason why my house key shouldn’t work, but it didn’t.  As I stood on the icy snow, trying to solve the problem, I wondered why.

Why does God want me to be outside right now?  It’s cold and slippery and I don’t want to fall on the ice.  Besides, I have things to do inside, useful and important things.  So why do I have to be outside right now?

And then, as I was pondering, a bird sang.  Then another one, high in a bare tree.  A few notes of pure joy floated on the cold air.

Although it did penetrate my foggy-headed weariness at the time, I only later realized how kind God had been to me.

Just knowing that there are birds and that they still do sing was a gift of hope.

God used a house key that temporarily did not work to make me realize this again:

Birds still do sing.  They praise God…and so can I.

It is my prayer that you will be strengthened through winters and difficult times and reminded that you, too, can still praise God, just like the birds that sing in the cold.

Introducing the New Genevan Psalter

New Genevan Psalter

For over 450 years, churches, families, and individuals throughout the world have used some or other version of the Genevan Psalter to pray and praise using the Psalms.  In fact, this is the only psalter from Reformation times that is still being published in its entirety, and currently its popularity is increasing in various languages throughout the world.  Now, with the New Genevan Psalter, English-speaking Christians have a beautiful and accurate version to use and to teach their children.

Its History

During the upheaval of the Reformation, some congregations developed a fresh approach to church music.  No longer did the worshipers merely listen to a choir singing in Latin.  Rather, the whole congregation sang Psalms to God in their own language. This new and profoundly moving experience was described by a young visitor to Calvin’s Strasbourg congregation:

The psalm or prayer is sung by everyone together, men as well as women, with a beautiful unanimity…. You must understand that each one has a music book in his hand; that is why they cannot lose touch with one another. Never did I think that it could be as pleasing and delightful it is.  For five or six days at first, as I looked upon this little company, exiled from countries everywhere for having upheld the honor of God and his Gospel, I would begin to weep, not at all from sadness, but from joy at hearing them sing so heartily and, as they sang, giving thanks to the Lord that he had led them to a place where his name is honored and glorified. No one could believe the joy which one experiences when one is singing praises and wonders of the Lord in the mother tongue as one sings them here. (as quoted by Emily R. Brink in Psalter Hymnal Handbook)

In Geneva, too, such congregational singing developed and new melodies were composed specifically for the different Psalms.  The children were taught these songs first and they led the entire congregation in singing.  Genevan melodies spread rapidly throughout Europe, finding a solid home in the Netherlands and thence trickling into North America.  However, the English words were never quite right, often retaining some immigrant awkwardness and occasionally adding to or subtracting from the Biblical text.

In the past decade and a half, great pains have been taken to pair beautiful, Biblically-accurate words with the old Genevan melodies.  The New Genevan Psalter is the result.  This songbook contains all 150 Psalms as well as the four canticles included in the first Genevan Psalter: the Ten Commandments and the Songs of Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon.

Getting to Know the Music

Despite the fact that the Genevan tunes spread like wildfire throughout Reformation Europe, they are not well-known in today’s English speaking world.  This is partly due to the fact that other melodies were used to sing Psalms in English.  However, since the Genevan tunes were composed to suit the words and emotions of each Psalm, it is worth some effort to get to know them. (See also the extensive resource list below.)

So here are the beginning verses of three of the Psalms from this songbook, with links to the performance of Bach Collegium Japan (singing in Japanese).  I encourage you to listen while reading, or better yet, singing along.

Here is the joyful and majestic praise of Psalm 150:

Psalm 150 New Genevan Psalter

And here is David’s—and our—confession of sin from Psalm 51:

ps 51

Finally, here are the trusting and comforting words of Psalm 121:

ps 121

As you have just experienced, the New Genevan Psalter is indeed a splendid contribution to worship music, both for church and personal use. With a bit of effort that will be amply repaid, all English speaking Christians can now use it to sing and learn the Psalms and teach them to their children.  Christians of all denominations will find that the New Genevan Psalter encourages prayer, praise, and memorization; in fact, in Reformation times even Roman Catholics used the original versions.

From a homeschooling point of view, these songs are also a moving way to experience some of the awe of the Reformation and can be used to that end in both history and music classes.  Although the New Genevan Psalter will be a blessing to all Christian homeschools, it will appeal especially to Charlotte Mason and Classical Education homeschoolers.

May the New Genevan Psalter enhance the praise of our God whether we use it individually, as families, as homeschools, or as churches.

For more information and to purchase, please visit the website.

Annotated Resource List for the New Genevan Psalter

To help you get to know the Genevan melodies and to introduce you to the background of the Genevan Psalter, I have listed some audio, accompanist, and general resources below.

Audio:

The Genevan Psalms from the Bach Collegium Japan, in the public domain, are available online.  This brilliant collection highlights the different emotions of the Psalms well as the sublime beauty of the music.

The comprehensive Dutch site Psalmboek.nl presents all the Psalms in various languages (click on ‘Engels’), with the Genevan melodies (click on the notes at the upper right corner of the box or on the word ‘Psalmen’ to toggle between the music and the list of psalms), and with organ accompaniment at the bottom right (I recommend the M60 Ritmisch option). The English words available here are almost all from the New Genevan Psalter, except for a few changes discussed here.

At the Dinteloord website (also in Dutch) you can find an organ version of each of the melodies of the New Genevan Psalter, including its four canticles.  The canticles are listed under ‘Enige Gezangen’ just below the list of 150 Psalms.  ‘The Ten Commandments’ is ‘De Tien Geboden Des Heren’, and the Songs of Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon follow immediately after.

Finally, a wide variety of downloads is available for each of the Psalms at The Genevan Psalter Resource Center.  The Hungarian guitar version, available for some of the Psalms, is a highlight here.

Free Sheet Music for Accompanists:

From J. Slagt, all 150 Psalms (click on ‘Download Psalmen’ on the left sidebar).

From Dennis Teitsma, all 150 Psalms (with a helpful introduction) as well as music for the four canticles.  The Ten Commandments is Hymn 11, The Song of Mary is Hymn 17, The Song of Zechariah is Hymn 18, and the Song of Simeon is Hymn 22.

From Gerrit Veldman, all 150 Psalms (under ‘Zettingen en korte voorspelen’) and much more.

Harmonizations available for purchase are listed on the New Genevan Psalter website,  and more are listed on the Book of Praise website.   Note that the Book of Praise includes all 150 Psalms of the New Genevan Psalter as well as its 4 canticles which form part of the hymn section, as explained in the above paragraph about Dennis Teitsma’s sheet music.

General Links:

For more information about the unique and subtly complex Genevan tunes, do read the Preface to the New Genevan Psalter.  One interesting point is that the music was sung in unison, and following that tradition the New Genevan Psalter shows only the melody line as shown above.  Further resources are also mentioned.

As is probably obvious by now, the New Genevan Psalter is based on a larger work, the Book of Praise:  Anglo Genevan Psalter of the Canadian Reformed Churches.  Denomination-specific materials have been removed so that the New Genevan Psalter is suitable for all English speaking Christians and churches.   The Book of Praise site includes many helpful links.

The excellent Genevan Psalter Resource Center is the one of the most comprehensive online resources about the Genevan Psalter throughout the ages and across the world, although not all of its links work.

The other comprehensive website is The Genevan Psalter  which has many links to the music as well as to Genevan psalters throughout the world; this site, too, is worth exploring.

This review by Dr. R. Scott Clark links to many other articles about psalmody.

Dr. Emily Brink discusses ‘The Legacy of the Genevan Psalter’ in an accessible and informative paper.

Those interested in how congregational singing was meant to function in Reformed worship services will enjoy Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff’s article about liturgy.

Finally, Wikipedia’s discussion of the Genevan Psalter covers a lot of ground and has some interesting external links including a ten hour YouTube playlist.

This review and resource list is linked to 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook as well as  Finishing Strong Trivium Tuesdays, Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 Tuesday, Works for Me Wednesday, Mom to Mom Monday, Monday’s Musings, Missional WeekendR&R Wednesdays, From House to Home, Homemaking Mondays, Make Your Home Sing Mondays, Faith Filled Fridays.

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book and have expressed my own opinions.

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