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Non-Fiction Books I’m Liking (Winter 2016-17)

Life is full of secrets and adventures…  Read all about them this winter in these two fascinating books!

17623735101 Secrets for Your Twenties, by Paul Angone~ I first heard of this book when I heard the author interviewed on Moody Radio by Melinda Schmidt. I was about to turn 27 and was convinced I was having a quarter life crisis.  And so I came across this interview that I had saved on ‘Programs to Listen to Sometime Before They Expire’ list and decided it was a good time to hit the play button.  I liked Paul Agone (see his website here) and his message.  He could empathize on the struggles of Twenty-somethings, having just graduated to his Thirties and being a Millennial himself.  The topics they discussed resonated withme, and I knew I wanted to read his book.  Problem was, none of the libraries among all of my state’s vast interlibrary loan systems had it.  My solution was to order a copy for my church library.  I knew if I could benefit from it, so could others.  (:) But I got first dibs! Ha ha!)  I wish that I had had this book much earlier, but better late than never.  Angone has a humorous writing style and had me Laughing Out Loud (I refuse to abbreviate) throughout.  But more importantly, there are many spots I want to copy out into my quotebook before I turn this over to the church.  It makes life much more bearable when you know that others are going through similar hurdles as they live out their adulthood.  It gives one hope that these same hurdles have purpose.  The author is a Christian and writes from that worldview, but is not preachy.  I suggest this for anyone anywhere in their twenties, and would make a good gift for highschool/college grads.

1441778The Lost Shipwreck of Paul, by Robert Cornuke~ It’s hard to remember when or where I learned of bible explorer Robert Cornuke. Somehow I just ran into his adventures while surfing the internet many years ago and became intrigued by him.  As a former police investigator (and now president of the BASE Institute), Cornuke has made it his mission to explore mysteries from the Bible, such as… The Lost Ark of the Covenant, the location of the real Mt. Sinai, and Noah’s Ark.  Even though many, many people have tried their best to hunt for the same things and made great claims, Cornuke is no sensationalist.  He treats the people he meets and interviews with respect, often gaining their trust and having access to places many other outsiders are not able to obtain.  He also has some unique theories that appear to come closer to the truth than many others.  I’ve been wanting to read one of his books for a long time, and have finally got my hands on one of the least talked about.  I’m still in the middle of reading it, but it is fascinating.  I love how he tells of his adventure from a storyteller’s point of view,– building suspense and making it a fun read.  I don’t think anyone will be disappointed.  If you want to watch some of his videos, Youtube has several of them, including the Temple of YHWH.  I highly recommend them!  You can visit his website here.

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Posted by on January 8, 2017 in Non-Fiction Books I'm Liking

 

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Movie Review: My “BEN-HUR” Experience

b64a44c9e00fd891e11b829d49fa28fbBased on the book by Lew Wallace.

Version: 2016

Genre: drama, Christian, bible era

Plot Summary: Judah Ben-Hur is the son of a Jewish nobleman.  Mesala is a Roman who grew up orphaned.  The two share a bond as (adopted) brothers but a misunderstanding takes place turning their affection to hatred.  As Judah is sent to the prison galley slave ships and Messala rises in military rank, all looks as though there is no place for God, peace, or love in this world.  But Judah is given a second chance, to either choose faith in a Carpenter from Galilee, or seeking revenge in the Roman circus.

My Review: I have awaited this day for so long.  The day when Ben-Hur would be brought to it’s full glory and excitement on the big screen with a full-blown budget!  I remember staying up late into the night the summer I was fifteen years old when I was staying at my grandparents’.  The cause of my insomnia was the novel, “Ben-Hur,” by Gen. Lew Wallace.  The book has remained among my top favorites, though I’ve read hundreds over the years.

I’ve seen the old 1959 Charlton Heston version. And contrary to most people’s opinions, I’ve never cared for it.  I’m sure it was a huge deal when it came out back then, breaking records with being the  biggest budget film and using the most paid actors’ of its time.  But watching it after the era of The Lord of the Rings… it just failed to get my heart racing.  And Charlton Heston fails (IMO) to look the part of Judah Ben-Hur; too old and he’s just not how I imagined him.  So many things needed improved upon.  I didn’t even bother with the 2010 tv movie, having heard how certain themes I don’t agree with were inserted into it.  And I’ve seen a couple of scenes on TCM from the ancient 1907 one, but even though I’m sure it was a big deal 109 years ago… I mean, come on.

That was when I began to wish and pray for the epic remake. And I was thrilled earlier on this year to find out that was the case (see my post here).  It was a rainy day today and made perfect for having an adventure at the movie theatre!  And so I got my wish.

I went into this having read a review preparing me for the fact that this version leaves a lot of the Christian gospel out. I was disappointed to hear that, but I still wanted to go see it.  I’m sorry to report that despite my excitement over it, I came away rating it only 3 out of 5 stars.  I will write my pros and cons of it below.  Be aware there it is riddled with spoilers:

serveimagePROS: Oh, boy! Was it ever exciting! Movie-makers really outdid themselves when it came to recreating a gigantic Roman circus arena, a nail biting Roman sea battle, and a heart pounding chariot race.  If that is what attracts you about the book, then by all means you’re going to love this!  Drums, hoofbeats, fire, drama, peril, battles, horses, crashes, crowds, roars!  This movie is not lacking in adventure!

Costumes and props are so beautiful to look at. Loved the women’s hairstyles, and Tirzah’s pink evening toga.  Bright colors and gorgeous jewelry.  I’d watch it again just for that!

I felt the characters were well-cast. Although Mesala (Toby Kebbell) wasn’t quite how I pictured him in the book, I thought he was the best actor out of the whole movie.  I would be interested in seeing him in future movies.  Judah looked right for his role.  Esther was how I’d always pictured her, and Tirzah and Mrs. Ben-Hur also were gorgeous actors.  It was also enjoyable getting to see Morgan Freeman as the sheik  Ilderim and loved how they featured him as narrator in the opening scene.

I am happy to say that there are no sex scenes to worry about! The trailer is actually more suggestive than the film.  Anyone watching based on this hope will be mightily disappointed.

serveimageCons: This is where the 3 stars come in. It all boils down to how a story is told, and this film version got a lot of things wrong in this area.

Let’s start with how it holds up to the book. I am not one of those who believes movie versions should be exactly like the original book.  However.  A lot of liberties were taken with this story and it doesn’t do it any justice.  It just makes things confusing and unbelievable.  I ended up not caring too much for the characters like I’d wanted to.  I didn’t feel emotionally involved with them.  I was just there for the chariot race.

Some of my favorite characters were left entirely out. There’s no Quintus Arrius.  There’s Amrah.  There’s no Iras.  QA is one of my favorites because he provides the story with heart.  He is the kind Roman captain of the slave ship Judah is sent to, who Judah ends up saving during the battle, and who adopts Judah and leaves his inheritance to when he dies.  Judah comes back to Jerusalem like a bible era Count of Monte Cristo. I can see why the movie scriptwriters decided QA was expendable, but I genuinely missed him.  Amrah is Judah’s old nurse, who also provides heart in the book.  The character that is NOT expendable is Iras, the wily daughter of Egypt who tempts Judah from his goals and what is good.  She is in cahoots with Messala and creates a rivalry against Esther for Judah’s affections.  Why does every film version leave this character out?  Not that I’m wishing for it, but if Hollywood wanted steam, they could find a way with this ‘Cleopatra.’

Which leads me to the romance between Judah and Esther. I must say it was a lot better than the old Heston version in which man sees woman, man kisses woman.  The end.  But whoever rewrote Ben-Hur this time around completely killed any suspense they could have made with plot element as well.  They marry them off too quickly… in the beginning!  Now, we loyal Ben-Hur fans know that Esther doesn’t come into the novel until somewheres in the middle.  I get why Hollywood would introduce her earlier in the movie, but where’s the tension?  There’s tension in a story where Esther waits and hopes for 5 long years and then finds Judah again when he comes back, but he’s not the same anymore being filled with hatred for Messala, and meanwhile Iras is fighting for his attention. What will happen next?  Will love conquer all?  But no, they completely ruined the tale by rewriting it.

Where they snipped the romantic tension in one area, they tried to add it in another. Tirzah and Messala are now lovers.  This wouldn’t have been a big deal to me, except that it makes for a completely unbelievable situation when Messala all of a sudden orders Judah’s sister crucified.  Why, when he had genuinely seemed to love her?  And at the end when everyone is hugging and cuddling and crying, and Messala hobbles up on his one existent leg, Tirzah doesn’t seem to mind a bit and it’s assumed the two get together in the end anyway.  Yeah, I’d totally if a hot man ordered me to death by crucifixion!

Other motives didn’t seem to make much sense. Like Druses’ saving Judah’s family’s lives after Judah threatens to kill him.  Huh?  And then there were certain other smaller parts of the film that came across as being hokey, like Judah’s sister and mother suddenly being healed of leprosy… by being rained upon.  No, no, no!  In the book it was Jesus who touched them and had compassion on them!

I went into this having read a review that prepared me to not expect to see a gospel presentation here. OK, I don’t have to have preaching.  But I do need a reason why Judah’s heart and life was changed.  I was glad to see parts of the story of Jesus portrayed, and Judah’s encounters with him, especially when he is a witness to Jesus’ death at the cross.  But without the resurrection, there is no meaning to it all and there is no purpose to us forgiving and loving one another.  And that is one of the biggest ways in which this movie fails big time: the lack of the Resurrection.  It’s not even hinted at.  There can be no inspiration for a changed life by seeing a man hanging on a cross, simply because there is no life at all.  But by faith in the living Jesus and with His life at work in us, we know that this life is not all there is and can therefore have peace and joy, and his victory and power enable us to forgive and love our enemies.  None of that came across in the film, and I’m afraid anyone who knows little about this spiritual aspect of things would fail to make the connection.

The worse, from a storyteller’s point of view, was the ending. This may come across as sounding pretty terrible, but I felt it was ruined because Messala lived and forgave Judah and all became one big happy family again.  That is cleaned-up Hollywood.  In the original book, Messala becomes paralyzed/crippled for life and ends up killing himself.  Judah does gain the ability to forgive him, but Messala’s life is not changed.  To see the ‘two brothers’ flip their attitudes toward each other on a dime, after they each tried to murder each other by various cruel and unusual punishments, is totally unbelievable.

Lew Wallace was a storyteller, you know? There’s a reason why his book has been well-loved for a hundred and fifty years.  Why must Hollywood think there’s a need to rewrite it?  And then they’re a surprised when it’s a ‘big box office flop.’  I’m sorry for that, but they asked for it!  You can’t just bank on a big budget to make an excellent film.  You have to tell a good story.  A believable one, where viewers identify with the characters and can empathize with them.  But this was not that story.

Would I recommend it? It depends on how much of a stickler you are for the original.  If you’ve never read the book and just want a clean, exciting flick, I think you could enjoy it.  (Be aware there are some gruesome battle images, and scenes that include crucifixion.)  But if you’re too much of a loyalist like I am, you might want to wait another 55+ years for them to do the tale justice.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2016 in Movie Reviews

 

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New in the Audio World

204dbdf2d2c944349ce242b41a54d77cI’ve listened to a fair number of audio dramas in my time.  One of my favorite memories from my growing up years was laying on the living room floor in the evenings after supper, with my mom and my sister, with a pillow under my head and a blanket over me, eyes closed and listening to audio dramas.  We listened to the Focus on the Family radio theatre adventures, old time radio programs, Adventures in Odyssey, and anything else good we could get our hands on.

A friend of mine sent me a link to some relatively new dramas in the world of audio adventures, which she was considering purchasing for our church library.  Heirloom Audio.  Hmm, I’d never heard of it before.  (Probably because I’ve been out of the homeschool arena for some time now.)  But as soon as I watched the trailer to the first drama based on G. A. Henty’s historical novel, “In Freedom’s Cause”, I knew I was completely hooked!  No, I am not a paid spokesperson for Family Audio Adventures.  But I know good quality when I hear it.  The acting, the diction, the energy, enthusiasm, excitement, passion, and talent really shine and I can’t wait to get my ears hooked up to one of their complete adventures and escape.

This isn’t podunk acting as far I can tell.  Trust me, I’ve heard a few in the Christian audio world where I just wanted to stick a finger down my throat rather than swallow the lemon and honey.  Well-known actors are brought in for these productions who know what they’re doing in creating a good story.  Here are a few that caught my eye: Skandar Keynes, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, Joanne Froggatt, John Rhys-Davies, Kirk Cameron, and Audie Award winner Katherine Kellgren.

I am unsure at this point whether Heirloom Audio Productions plan on only dramatizing the Henty adventure novels, or if they will branch out, but they have already won numerous awards, including being nominated for an Audio Award for “With Lee in Virginia.”  I was also thrilled to find out that John Campbell composed the original soundtracks for each production.

You can watch all four trailers to their first few productions below.  Apparently, a fifth adventure (Beric the Briton) is expected out in the near future, along with a few others.

 

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2016 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

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The New Ben-Hur Movie! (2016)

1de28b514ebabcff0c68016d911a1e05It’s been a very great wish of mine that some talented filmmakers would take it upon themselves to remake the story of Ben-Hur (based on the novel by Lew Wallace) into an epic blockbuster.  I’ve seen the old 1959 version but to be honest I’ve never enjoyed it.  It just feels too hokey to me, and Charlton Heston never looked convincing as Judah.  Ben-Hur was recently remade into a tv mini series within the last couple of years.  I’ve never felt tempted to watch it since I’ve read that it doesn’t do the book justice in its content.

So I was pretty excited to learn that the epic story would be refilmed yet again! I’ve been following the process throughout the last year or so and the other day I was super pumped to see the first release of its trailer!  (View below)

A couple of comments after having watching the clip:

-The quality and excitement warrants more of my interest!  Especially the scenes of the Roman ships of war.  Wow!!

-Great.  A sex scene.  [rolls eyes]  I sure hope it isn’t as bad as it looks.  Maybe it’s the evil Messala and not Judah & Esther.  I hope.

Why, oh why do these film versions never include Iras?  Her character adds a whole ‘nother dimension of interest to the story.  I mean, they could have tons of fun with her seductive quality.  Would the movie really suffer from another love interest?  But they always seem to erase her entirely, and this time is no exception.  Pooh.  I’m also seeing a missing Quintus Arrius.  Judah’s and his relationship are one of my favorite aspects of the book.

What are your thoughts on this upcoming movie?

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Past is Prologue: “And So-&-So Begat So-&-So…”

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How I imagine “Eve,” the mother of all the living.

Recently I’ve been working on a project in my spare time in which I scour Pinterest for photographs of people that I would “cast” in my fantasy film of the Bible. Doing so causes me to really sit down and study bible characters in a whole new way. I’ve come to admire people in the Bible that I hadn’t liked before, or dislike people that I’d thought I did. As I’ve been going along through Genesis and beyond, I’ve also become more consciously aware of which character is descended from whom. This helps me put them in perspective, see where each person is coming from. What people named their children in the Bible is very telling as to their spiritual walk at the time, and it’s interesting to see if they “lived up” to their name.

We see genealogical records over and over throughout the Scriptures. Many of us might be familiar with the recorded lineage of Jesus Christ (see Matt. 1) in which we see one of the fulfilled prophecies that Jesus was of the correct family descent to be the Messiah. But many other individuals’ genealogy is recorded as well. We often see people introduced to us multiple times as being the son of so-and-so. Joshua son of Nun. Joab son of Zeruiah. Abijah daughter of Zechariah. Other genealogies are more complex, such as the lineage of the Koathites in 1 Chronicles 33-47 or the sons of Esau in Genesis 36:10-29. Maybe these histories would bore some, but I find them fascinating. Their exotic sounding names are not just titles—they were real people who raised future generations, for good or ill.

It’s obvious the Bible holds genealogy as important, and not just to prove the lineage of the Messiah. I believe knowing one’s genealogy is important for us as well. When we look out over our family tree, we begin to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around us. We’re just a leaf on the oak or a needle on the pine. Trunks and tree boughs had to grow before us. We start out as twigs and can produce so much more in this life if we so choose and are willing to be used by God. Our story is just a part of the entire story going on since the world began. It’s humbling.

It also can create a feeling of belonging. In our tree analogy, we’re not just an acorn that came from nowhere. Some people don’t have the opportunity to find out where they came from, and when I imagine what that must be like I get a cold sense of loneliness. One can still be their own person regardless, but I think there’s still an emptiness present when one doesn’t know their heritage.

How I imagine "Levi."

How I imagine “Levi.”

Heritage can be both a blessing and a curse. Some would rather not know their background. But it’s important to realize that knowing family history, even if it is not very positive, does not doom an individual’s future because we are free to make our own choices. It’s the old adage about history being learned lest it be repeated. Is there a certain negative pattern that seems to be a characteristic theme going on generation after generation in your family? Knowing is key to understanding how these actions affect you today. Knowing is also key to breaking the pattern of negativity. In Genesis 34, we read of the account of Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi. In a mad fit of rage, they massacred a whole city while the inhabitants were incapacitated. Their father was so mad at them that he disinherited them from being the next of his sons in line to receive the blessing of family leadership (Gen. 49:5-7). Their actions had consequences that did affect future generations for all time. However, their descendants didn’t have to let that affect their choices. It seems Simeon’s line didn’t make much of a particular positive name for themselves throughout the rest of the Bible, but Levi’s tribe did. The two most prominent of this family are Moses, whom the Lord spoke to as a friend would, and Aaron, from whom Israel’s priests were descended. In fact, when Moses discovered that many Israelites had worshipped a golden calf in his absence, he put forth an order than anyone for the Lord should come to him. All the Levites rallied to him.

It’s also important to note that having a good family reputation doesn’t guarantee us the same fate. Aaron, the first high priest of Israel, was chosen and blessed by God. But some of his sons apparently thought they had a corner on the spiritual market because of their descent. In Leviticus 10, Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu grew careless and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord. Things didn’t end too well for them. Scripture informs us they had no offspring to carry on their name.

No one is perfect, but not all genealogy is depressing. There are also heroes in the family that have come before us that we can look at their legacy and claim for our own heritage. I may not agree with everything my ancestors believed spiritually, but I admire their faith in the midst of fiery persecution. I admire the perseverance an ancestor of mine must have had to suffer through the misery of Valley Forge. They might have been only farmers, pioneers, or even wigmakers, but the story of their character has been related through the ages.

The important thing is what did our ancestors make of themselves, and what can we learn from them?

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2015 in Past is Prologue Series

 

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BBC Radio Drama: Ben Hur

43ef859338933ea30bff199403fcd0e7Hey all!  The complete BBC radio drama version of Ben-Hur (based on the novel by Lew Wallace) is currently playable for a limited time on Radio 4!  You can listen by clicking here.  This seemed to be a very good adaptation, from the bits I listened to.  Jamie Glover plays Judah Ben-Hur (Glover also played the voice of Prince Rilian in Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre The Silver Chair).  Enjoy!  *For clarification, this is not the same as Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre version, which I highly recommend!!

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2015 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

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Librivox: Old Testament Bible Stories for Children

9c75e948bd3c5042d46bfc5f98fcd606This project has been catalogued for a couple of weeks already; I just kept forgetting to post about it!  So here is my latest Librivox project catalogued into the system: The Bible for Young People, Vol. 1 includes many well-known Bible stories adapted for children.  I had a blast dramatizing such stories as Rahab Conceals the Spies (61); Deborah and Barak Deliver Israel (71); The Widow’s Oil & The Shunammite (115); Naaman Healed & The Iron Swims (116).  Of course, there were many, many others who took part volunteer-reading as well.  Sidenote: I will mention that the language of these stories is very much King Jamesian, which may be a tad difficult for young listeners to understand.  I did my best to try to infuse the words with as much emotion as possible in order for the intent to be understood.  Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2014 in LibriVox

 

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