Friday, November 9, 2018

Operation Columba by Gordon Corera






Did you know that homing pigeons were used in world war II? I didn't. I thought they were only used in the first world war. But they were used, and quite creatively. At the time, using humans to get messages and vital information gathered about the enemy and the placement of weapons, locations of bases..etc. to England was taking about 1/3 of a year from the time it was collected to the time it ended up in British hands. Using pigeons, one could get the message in a matter of days after it was written instead of weeks or months. This way the intelligence was fresh, not outdated.

Operation Columba: The Secret Pigeon Service by Gordon Corera is the story of how these pigeons were used, the organization who controlled their usage, and those in occupied territory who risked their lives in sending Britain information via the pigeons.

An idea was implemented, to drop British homing pigeons into occupied territory by means of baskets (with parachutes attached), included in the basket was a little pigeon food, instructions, a question sheet, a pencil, and very thing paper to fold up into a tube to attach to the pigeons leg. The goal was that some of the townspeople would find them and would answer the questions and send them back, and any other information they could give.

It was a method that was more likely to work for Britain than for Nazi Germany. As the author notes about the Germans: "If they had dropped pigeons into England, it is hard to believe many people would have chosen to fill out questionnaires." But the British could drop them into France, Belgium and other German occupied territories as there would be a high chance that a lot of the people were discontent with the Nazi takeover. Though whether or not the people would be willing to risk their lives to get information to the allies was another question.

One family in particular helped out. They found one of the pigeons and, instead of merely telling what they knew offhand, they decided to be very proactive actively gather information to send. A friend of the family, a priest, helped as well. He had been a mapmaker during the previous war, and an artist too. He used his skills to transcribe all of the information they gathered onto the thin sheets of rice paper sent with the bird. He even drew tiny maps. He wrote the notes so tiny that he suggested those who received them via the bird use a magnifying glass to read them. He initially named their group the "Leopold Vindictive", signing their papers with their initials so that Britain could address them via radio broadcasts, tell them when and where more pigeons would be dropped, and so that Britain would know when information came from their group again. But Getting more pigeons to them was quite the task, made much more difficult by the chaotic conflict within the organizations in Britain as to who should have control over the pigeon operations. Sadly, the account of this family's brave attempts to help doesn't end very well.

All in all, it's an interesting account. It's filled with suspense and drama. It's quite frustrating and sad at times. But still an interesting account of this operation in history.



Thanks to the folks at William Morrow for sending me a free advanced review copy of this book (My quotation [above] from the book may not be exactly the same as the final product). My review did not have to be favorable.

This book may be purchased at Amazon.com

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Tales of the Kingdom by David and Karen Mains




Tales of the Kingdom by David & Karen Mains is an allegorical story about characters who live in a magical world with bad guys and good guys.  I have vague memories of hearing this book as a child, and I  I recall thinking it was rather interesting, though I didn't remember a lot about it.

As a story it is an interesting tale of girls and boys who find refuge in the forest with the exiled King.  Different lessons are learned by various unique characters, who all find a place in the Kingdom. There are creepy bad guys, like the Enchanter and the Burners and Naysayers.  The book tells stories   about individual people in the various chapters, switching back and forth between some, and introducing new characters in others.  They ultimately fit together very well as an overall story. There is the girl named Dirty, who loved being dirty and lived with the pigs, but comes to realize her horrible situation and wants to be clean.  There is the boy named Scarboy (later Hero) who has a hard time coming to grips with his usefulness while thinking that the scar on his face is an impediment.  There is a princess named Amanda, one of whose skills is spitting with great accuracy. Kind of a strange thing…. There are even stranger characters as well.  Perhaps the weirdest of all is the Ranger  Commander who is also the "Caretaker" who makes flowers and things grow. Think of a hippy who is not opposed to war. 

I need to offer a bit of critique of this book. First, some of the things that happened make me a bit uncomfortable.  For instance, in one place, while the girl Amanda's burn wounds are being cared for (think dragon), the boy, almost a man, Hero is watching. I didn't feel comfortable with that as it mentioned that her clothes had been taken off to care for the wounds.  I don't think that it was meant to be erotic at all but just the concept itself was not decent.

And another thing, If it weren’t meant to be a Christian allegory, I would probably have liked the book more overall, but it is supposed to be Christian allegory.  There are some odd symbolisms that I don't quite understand but My main problem is the portrayal of the King (who seems to represent Christ).  At times he seems serious, but then at others he seems like some sort of happy-go-lucky guy.  Let me quote an example, The King is talking to one of the main children of this story, and he says, "'Can you do this?' He sprang onto his hands and balanced his feet in the air as he moved across the grass.  Hero hadn't spent all afternoon on the practice field for nothing.  He lifted his hands above his head, then went down to the ground with his feet in the air.  He walked around awkwardly until he faced the peasant.  They looked at each other upside down."  That is not the way Jesus is portrayed in the New Testament.  Also, toward the end, a girl who had been rebellious is now coming back but is afraid of how the king will receive her.  "The King folded the weeping child into his arms.  "Don't leave me, Amanda,' he whispered, 'We've all been so lonely without you.'  That is not accurate either, God is not lonely for humans, and not lonely in general (The Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not need company). He does not need us, and does not lack anything that we can give Him (otherwise, He wouldn't be God).  The loneliest moment, and probably the only lonely moment Jesus has ever had was, not when His disciples forsook Him, but when the Father did so.

But if you just look on it as a story, not an allegory, then it's okay and just an adventure (though it's kind of hard to do that when the king says as a battle cry, speaking of his father, "To the Emperor of All! To the One Who Always Is!". But one could change that while reading it out loud.

The pictures are interesting, I would have enjoyed studying them as a kid, though some are pretty weird.  My little brother loved the picture of Amanda and the Dragon, because he really likes dragons and this one is illustrated well.  He kept asking if he could look at the book, just to examine the dragon picture some more. 

  It would work well as a bedtime story, if you can get your kids to only listen to one or two stories. It is adventurous and well written.  If a little odd. 

Many thanks to the folks at BookCrash for working with the publisher to provide me with a complimentary review copy of this book! (My review did not have to be favorable)

My Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars ***

This book may be purchased at Amazon.com and at kingdomtales.com

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church: And the Causes Which Hinder It - by Roland Allen



The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church by Roland Allen is a rather short but very thought provoking book.  In it, he somewhat implicitly asks the question, Who builds the Church? Leading to that thought, he critiques our method of Evangelization, are we doing it right? Do we need to organize the expansion of the church?  Do we need to establish mission stations, do we need missionaries who depend upon appeals for money for their support.  Will the Gospel spread if we don't purposefully come up with a plan to spread it?

Allen warns that what we are trying to do in our methods is to organize the work of God, to dictate where people will get saved and a time period in which their salvation must happen.  But as Allen points out, "For spiritual work spiritual organization is necessary; but can we create a spiritual organization of spiritual forces?  Only a divine intelligence can do that.  But we attempt to do the work of that divine intelligence; by fixing our stations and immobilizing our men….But to be God's agents in spiritual movements we must follow, not lead.  We want to lead, and, in trying to lead, we are simply left behind.  We say:  'Here we will have our buildings,' but the spiritual movements may be growing unseen by us in another place and by other means….The organization is always too late.  For we can organize the external results of a spiritual movement, but we cannot organize a spiritual movement. "

 One of the main points of the book  is that we don't need professional missionaries or Christian organizations dedicated to evangelism in order to spread the Gospel. The Church is the only Christian organization promoted by the Bible and therefore we should assume that the Gospel will be spread by means of its members working within that organization rather than in a parachurch organization.  How will the Gospel be spread in other countries? Well, Allen points out that God can use any way He wants. He can use a member of a local church in Lansing, Michigan going on a business trip to Ethiopia to spread the Gospel to an Ethiopian he meets in the process of doing whatever work he does there.  Let's say he talks to Ethiopian about the Gospel, the Ethiopian believes, and the American Christian gives him a Bible and goes back to America, as his business is done. But even though that American Christian leaves, the Ethiopian studies the Bible given to him, and spreads the Gospel to his fellow Ethiopians and thus a church can springs up, without there being any money having ever been particularly dedicated to spreading the Gospel in that area of Ethiopia.  Christ will build His church.

Interestingly, Allen points out that the "great commission" is not repeated in the epistles, and the Apostles did not make evangelistic appeals to the churches, they didn't give out calls for people volunteer to go into far away countries to spread the Gospel.  They apparently assumed that the Holy Spirit would bring individual church members to the right people and to the right places without their needing to organize the work or plan it out.  This may sound absurd today, but we don't need "Professional Missionaries", all Christians are missionaries.  He points out that people "have been obsessed with the idea that a man to express his missionary zeal properly must be a member of some other body within the Church and that church membership is not sufficient." 

 Oh, and by the way, this guy was writing in the 1920s! It is still so applicable to today, perhaps more so than even in his day.

Another thing that Allen critiques that really seems to be prominent in our day is the "Social Gospel"; warning that feeding the poor and helping the sick is not the Gospel itself. You really can't preach the Gospel without "using words".  "'Seek ye first,' said Christ, 'the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.' Putting intellectual enlightenment and social reform first in time, we have, by deeds which speak louder than words, taught men to seek 'all these things' first, and some today justify their action by identifying intellectual enlightenment and social and political reform with the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.  To identify the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness with social and political doctrines always has led, and always must lead, to disaster.  The Kingdom of God and His Righteousness are founded in Christ, but these doctrines and reforms can easily be divorced from Christ, and are pursued by many who won no allegiance to Christ." To apply this today, ending world slavery, creating democracies and republics, is not the Gospel of Christ.  Somewhere in the book Allen says something along the lines of: A person can become a vibrant Christian and remain a slave, a person can be a dedicated, enthusiastic Christian and live in a country ruled by a dictator, a Christian can be a joyful Christian and be malnourished.  A change of outward circumstances is not the Gospel.  Christ is All-Sufficient, no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in.  Point to Him first, and anything else that He thinks is needed for the convert will come after their acceptance of Him.

Lastly, Allen greatly laments Christian organizations reliance upon money.  He notices that anytime missionaries see an opportunity for the further spread of the Gospel they make it seem as though it cannot take place without money. Christian organizations unconsciously teach their converts that money is the power of God unto salvation. "They continually bemoan the fact that their greatest difficulty, their most serious anxiety, their most bitter disappointment, arises from the lack of support from home.", lacking the support either of money or of more paid recruits, they assume that the work of God won't get done, not considering that perhaps God doesn't want it to happen their way, perhaps God wants that particular organization to close. That's one of the questions he asks, would a Christian organization be willing to close in order to further its cause if that's what it would take?

There are other things Allen addresses that are quite interesting and intriguing thoughts.  But, to sum up Allen's book:
He warns us that we are trying to make people into New Creations ourselves, essentially taking the job of the Holy Spirit into our own hands.  We don't need to make people moral before they can come to Christ, that will come afterward, we don't need to change people's surrounding  circumstances before they can be a vibrant Christian.  We don't need money to spread the Gospel. We don't need professional missionaries and Christian organizations to spread the Gospel. We don't need money to create a church.  Christ will build His church. 

 I highly recommend this book.

Many thanks to Wipf and Stock Publishers for sending me a free review copy of this book! (My review did not have to be favorable)

This book may be purchased at Amazon.com

My Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
*****

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Kingdom Files (book series) - Who was Esther? and Who was David? by Matt Koceich


These books are intended to teach kids about various biblical characters.  I read the ones on David and Esther.  The books are made up of various "files" for kids to investigate the particular characters in any of the given books. Starting out with a "Fact file", which gives a few facts about the person you are looking into, including a tiny timeline with about three events selected.  Next comes the "Action File", giving a summary of the person's life, along with various illustrations.  Lastly comes the "Power File" which gives you some ideas of what you can learn from the life of the person you are studying, and also provides you with memory verses from various books of the Bible.

I'm sorry to say that I was disappointed with these books. First of all, they seem more like books for kids younger than 8, not 8-12. The biographies skip too much, it doesn't mention that Jonathan's father tried to kill Jonathan when Jonathan defended David, it doesn't mention that David's wives were taken when the city he was living in was raided, it just said that they recovered everything that was plundered.  There is no mention of David's sin with Bathsheba, or his having her husband killed, it just says later on that David made mistakes in his life.  When David's son Absalom is chasing David, it has a "Clue" on the side: "David was being chased by someone close to him.  He was being hunted even though he hadn't done anything wrong." But, don't we know from the Bible that this was a part of the consequence of his sin with Bathsheba (See 2 Samuel 12:11)? That was certainly something that was very wrong.

Also, the "Clues" scattered throughout their book don't make much sense to me.  The introduction to the books says that the "Clue Boxes will offer applications to help you keep track of your thoughts as you make your way through the files." Okay, fine.  But look at one of the "Clues" "Crags of the Wild Goats is located in the Judean wilderness. It's made up of rocky cliffs.  The ibex mountain goat is found in this area".  What kind of application is that?   How does that help me keep track of my thoughts? It helps me keep track of the story, but doesn't keep me an application to anything.  They should have just been called "Fact Boxes" or "Investigating Further".  Their purpose as "Clues" just didn't make sense.

Speaking of facts, in the "Fact File" there is information that is not so factual.  For instance in the fact file in the Kingdom File on David, after talking about the temple and that it was mainly used for sacrifices to God, it says, "Once a year, the high priest would go into the holy of holies, pray to God and ask God to forgive the people of Israel's sins."  And so God just forgave their sins on the merit of the prayers of the high priest? I'm not sure that the High Priest prayed at all. The High Priest had to go in to the holy of holies with the blood of an animal, he couldn't just pray for the sins of the people to be forgiven, there had to be a sacrifice of an animal on their behalf.  "but into the second the high priest alone, once in the year, not without blood, which he offereth for himself, and for the errors of the people"(Heb 9:7)ASV

In the "Kingdom File" on Esther, "On the surface, Esther's story is very similar to our spiritual life stories because she was taken from a faraway place into the presence of a king, just as Jesus saves us from our sins and brings us into His Father's house."  Ummm… Esther probably wasn't the most excited when she was taken away from her home to be one of a bunch of other candidates to have a chance to be the King's replacement Queen…failing that, she would definitely become one of his concubines.  She would probably rather have stayed with Mordecai, where her life surroundings were more likely to be moral. This part of Esther's story is hardly an accurate comparison to Jesus saving us from our sins.

And now for the illustrations…the cover images are pretty neat, ones I would have liked examining as a kid, but the ones on the inside would have disappointed me.  Especially the ones in the David book, where, unlike on the cover, he looks very blond; so much so that when they depict him as a young man and give him a beard he actually looks old.  And at least one of the pictures is biblically inaccurate.  The book tells about where Saul goes into a cave and, unknown to him, David's men are there hiding and David cuts off the corner of Saul's robe.  It doesn't tell WHY Saul went into the cave…but I can live with that.  My problem is that this part is illustrated and has Saul wrapped up in his robe sleeping in the cave and David cutting off the corner of his robe.  That's false.  Not that I think that part should be illustrated in the first place, but don't illustrate it wrong!

All in all, these books just weren't accurate enough for me to like them.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

These books may be found at Amazon.com 
Who Was Esther?

My Rating: 1 out of 5 Stars
*

Monday, August 20, 2018

Old Hickory: The 30th Division - The top rated American Infantry Division in Europe in World War II - by Robert W. Baumer




Originally I was looking for a biography that would tell about General William K. Harrison, as I had learned some things about him and wanted to know more.  There is no biography that I could find that was in print about him, but I came across this recently published book about the division he was assistant commander of, "Old Hickory: the 30th Division by Robert W. Baumer

This account of the 30th division was interesting in and of itself.  These guys were quite tough, and determined.  Made up of National Guards, they remained vigilant with their duties even when, in preparation for them to be trained to join the fight, higher ups demanded that their national guard commanders be replaced with regular army commanders.

They were not a part of the first wave of D-Day, they were in a following wave some days later, but they were a big part of Operation Cobra, which was to break through further into France. Before I read this book, I had never really considered the problems that military air force bombers would have in hitting their targets accurately. In Operation Cobra, the 30th division is set to push further into France, but there would be an air bombing of the enemy first to soften things up for the men on the ground, to make their advance easier. There was some concern beforehand that the bombers would have difficulty in telling where to drop the bombs, but those concerns were brushed over.   It was a disaster.  The bombers hit their own men, killing many. Their losses were more than the Germans.  The attack wasn't followed through with that day and postponed until the next.  The Germans didn't know that the Americans had hit their own men, and they thought that what had happened was some sort of trick.  And then the same thing happened on the following day.  I almost laughed with amazement at the message that was sent to one of the Generals: "They've done it again".  It was horrific and quite demoralizing. But the attack by the men still had to happen, and so they set out, even traveling through the carnage of their own side caused by friendly fire.  You feel so bad, not just for the guys who were traumatized by it on the ground, but also for the pilots who were the cause of such demoralization to their own side.  They had a really tough job.

Also, although Harrison is talked about quite a bit in the volume, I thought it interesting that it doesn't mention that he's a Christian until he acts uncharacteristically and uses some inappropriate language, and then it makes sure to note that he was a "deeply religious man".  It goes to show that the world knows that Christians are supposed to be different and will notice inconsistency their faults more than in those who are not believers. One of the things Baumer emphasizes is that Harrison was very brave, and wanted to lead from the front. "He would become one of the most frequently seen general officers of WWII in the front lines with his men, and widely admired for his courage."  At one point, He ends up getting wounded while at the front and the general he served under saw him and Harrison felt the need to defend his actions, saying something along the lines of, "How else was I supposed to lead my men?" He apparently took the responsibilities that God had given him very seriously, and wanted to them well.

Before I wrap up, I do want to mention that there is a bit of foul language in the book, mainly in the quotations of various people. Also, the description of the guys having gone through "hell" in their multiple difficulties was WAY overused (not that it's accurate in the first place), I don't know that I've ever read a military book that used that description as much as is used in this volume. 

That said, the book was pretty well written, and really 'pulled' me in places.  I found it intense, and parts are quite intriguing, I also liked that it included maps that give an idea of what was going on and where what the objectives were, I also found some things quite funny.  To give an example, during one of the 'war games' that the 30th division participated in, they were up against Patton, and he quit just before he was about to lose to them! 

Many thanks to the folks at Stackpole Books for sending me a free review copy of this book  (My review did not have to be favorable)

This book may be purchased at Amazon.com and at stackpolebooks.com

Monday, July 16, 2018

Literary gift ideas for lovers of classical fiction

I read a lot of religious books and history, but I also like to read classic fiction as well.  Several of my sisters also like to read and I enjoy hunting for gift ideas for my sisters for Christmas and birthdays, looking gifts inspired by Austen, Alcott, Beatrix Potter and other writers of classics.

Here are some sources I've come across:



https://literarybookgifts.com/
This is a website that was brought to my attention recently, it has shirts, backpacks and tote bags, all with simple designs inspired by various classic books, including, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women and Pride and Prejudice. To get 20% off anything in the store, use the promo code SNICKERDOODLES20  The code can be used an unlimited number of times.  

Here are some pictures of things that caught my eye:

A little Women Tote bag
It looks pretty and simple, and comes in small, medium and large sizes (All sizes are the same price):










































An Anne of Green Gables back pack
Comes in small, medium and large sizes (each the same price) and has a padded laptop sleeve (check the size of your laptop first, to make sure it would fit):





And a Jane Austen back pack inspired by lady writers. Again, comes with a padded laptop sleeve. And you can order the back pack in large, medium and small sizes, again all sizes are the same price:





And here are a few other sites:


This site has t-shirts, scarves, totes and posters with various classic literary themes. There are various images you can choose from, and if you look closely you will find that all of these images are actually made of up all, or part of the book, in very, very tiny font.  My cousin bought my sisters and I a Jane Austen's Emma poster for Christmas one year, and you really can look closely at any part of it and start reading the book!

This lady sells elegant, pretty, literary Jewelry.  It looks as though the shop is temporarily closed, but it should be back up again sometime soon.


Hobby Lobby has storage boxes that look like books.  I love the antique looking ones. You don't need to by them online of course, they should have some in your local store in the section with storage boxes/trunks.