Friday, August 29, 2008

CFBA Tour-A Passion Redeemed by Julie Lessman

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

A Passion Redeemed

Revell (September 1, 2008)


Julie Lessman


Julie Lessman is a debut author who has already garnered writing acclaim, including ten Romance Writers of America awards. She is a commercial writer for Maritz Travel, a published poet and a Golden Heart Finalist. Julie has a heart to write “Mainstream Inspirational,” reaching the 21st-century woman with compelling love stories laced with God’s precepts. She resides in Missouri with her husband and their golden retriever, and has two grown children and a daughter-in-law. A Passion Most Pure was her first novel.


No man can resist her charms. Or so she thought. Charity O'Connor is a woman who gets what she wants. Her stunning beauty and flirtatious ways have always succeeded with men. Until Mitch Dennehy, that is.

Brilliant and dangerously handsome, Mitch is a no-nonsense newspaperman who wants nothing to do with her. Charity burned him once, destroying his engagement to the only woman he ever truly loved. He won't play with matches again. But Charity has a plan to turn up the heat, hoping to ignite the heart of the man she loves. And she always gets what she wants--one way or another.

Or does she? Will her best-laid schemes win his love? Or will her seductive ways drive him away forever? Book 2 in the Daughters of Boston series, A Passion Redeemed will captivate your heart and stir your soul with a story of faith and redemption rising from the ashes of temptation, desire, and shame.

Praise for the first book in the series:

"Full of romance, humor, rivalry, and betrayal, A Passion Most Pure will captivate readers from the first page." --Historical Novels Review "Superb! Incredible!

"I loved Julie Lessman's A Passion Most Pure from the second I picked it up until the very last moment I stopped reading." --Armchair Interviews

"I devoured this book and loved every single page. . . . This is a thick, juicy read, and one I would pick up again in a heartbeat."

If you would like to read an excerpt from A Passion Redeemed, go HERE.

Friday, August 15, 2008

CFBA Tour-That's (Not Exactly) Amore by Tracey Bateman

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

That's (Not Exactly) Amore

FaithWords (August 14, 2008)


Tracey Bateman

Tracey Bateman published her first novel in 2000 and has been busy ever since. There are two other books in the Drama Queen Series, Catch A Rising Star (#1) and You Had Me At Goodbye (#2)

She learned to write by writing, and improved by listening to critique partners and editors. She has sold over 30 books in six years.
She became a member of American Christian Fiction Writers in the early months of its inception in 2000 and served as president for a year.

Tracey loves Sci-fi, Lifetime movies, and Days of Our Lives (this is out of a 21 year habit of watching, rather than enjoyment of current storylines.

She has been married to her husband Rusty for 18 years, has four kids, and lives in Lebanon, Missouri.


When Laini Sullivan lands a job designing Nick Pantalone's coffee shop, there are two problems: one, Nick's nephew Joe hates all of her ideas and two, Laini has to admit he's right--she's a disaster at design. Still, she can't risk losing the job. To compromise, Joe brings in help on the project, while Laini continues to bake the goodies that keep his customers lining up.
Their relationship is moving along, so when new guy Officer Mark Hall implies that Joe's family is tied to the mob, Laini doesn't want to believe it. But things spin out of control when she meets the family, including "the uncles," who seem to confirm Mark's suspicions. To make things worse, Nana Pantalone makes it clear Laini isn't the kind of girl she has in mind for her grandson. Laini's not sure if she should give Joe the benefit of the doubt or just set her sites on Mark and fuhgetaboutit.

"Tracey draws us into the world of family and friendship with a few surprising twists along the way Bravo!"
~RACHEL HAUCK, author of Diva NashVegas and Sweet Caroline

If you would like to read the first chapter of That's (Not Exactly) Amore, go HERE

Monday, August 11, 2008

FIRST Wild Card Tour-Lessons from the Road by Nigel James

My review appears at the end of this article.

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and his book:

Lessons from the Road

Authentic (April 1, 2008)


Since 2000, Nigel James has travelled extensively as the road pastor for the iconic Christian rock band Third Day. A self-described “20-year-old kid trapped in a 47-year-old man’s body,” Nigel’s relationship with the band exists on several levels: pastor/mentor, father figure (or “grandfather figure,” as the guys joke), and fan.

A Christian since his teenage years, Nigel holds a degree in sociology and a post-graduate qualification in practical theology. He has spent most of his adult life in youth ministry, evangelism, and discipleship. He is the founder, along with Gary Smith, of the IGNITE discipleship initiative. IGNITE is part of the UK-based ministry called Big Ideas (not to be confused with Big Idea productions in the USA) which Nigel and Gary founded in 1995 after they both worked as part of the national leadership team for a Christian youth organization.

Through his association with Third Day, Nigel has befriended some of the most beloved personalities in Christian music and ministry. In 2002-2003, he travelled with Third Day, Michael W. Smith, and Max Lucado on the highly acclaimed “Come Together and Worship” tour. In January of 2008, Nigel accompanied Third Day on a tour to minister to U.S. troops in Kuwait and Iraq. He is also a regular speaker at colleges in the U.S., and his humanitarian work has taken him to various locations around the world. Because of IGNITE’s partnership with Compassion International, Nigel has travelled to Haiti to see firsthand the organization’s child sponsorship work there. He is also a frequent visitor to India, where the IGNITE ministry has opened a number of IGNITE India Churches and is in the final stages of constructing a school set to open this fall.

Nigel lives in Cardiff, Wales with Gill, his wife of 19 years, and their daughter Bethan. Two adult children, Rachel and James, live away from home. Nigel also serves as a pastor at the City Temple Elim Pentecostal Church in Cardiff. Though his greatest passion in life is “encouraging people to follow Jesus,” he is also a cricket enthusiast—both as a spectator and a participant. Thanks to his downtime on the road with Third Day, he is also an improving golfer.

Other books by Nigel James:

Ignite: God's Purpose for This Generation

Seven Ways to Ignite Your Life: Life Lessons from 1 Samuel

Seven Myths of Youth Ministry: How to Re-Ignite Your Passion

Seven Ways to Ignite Outrageous Prayer

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99

Paperback: 186 pages

Publisher: Authentic (April 1, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1934068489

ISBN-13: 978-1934068489


Chapter One

Set This Place on Fire

“From the beginning of Third Day we realized that we needed to have someone to speak into our lives as individuals and as a band. Through the years we have had many people, pastors, and friends travel with us. But of all those people, Nigel James has been the most important. He has allowed us and reminded us to be men of God first, and as a result, our music and ministry have reflected that. Nigel has kept us accountable to each other, to the church, and, of course, to our Lord. He has helped us to grow in our faith and has reminded us to stay focused on our calling and on what Third Day is really all about.” ~ Mac Powell, November 2006

Whenever people find out that I travel with Third Day as their road pastor, they always ask me the same two questions. The second question is, “Do you need someone to carry your bags?” I laugh politely and mention that I’m strong enough to carry my own bags. However, the first question needs a more serious answer. Everyone always asks me, “How did you get the job of Third Day’s road pastor?” Depending on how much time I have and how interested the person looks, I’ve got two possible replies. My short reply is that it is a “God thing”; and the longer reply, which explains the set of circumstances in which I’ve ended up working with the band, adds up to basically the same answer—it’s a God thing.

If you think about the situation, it does seem to stretch the bounds of credibility that a man from Cardiff, Wales, in the UK would find himself in the privileged and responsible position of being spiritual adviser and friend to one of the most successful and influential bands in the history of Christian music. Equally unlikely is that their production manager would up root from his home in Australia to join the band’s crew, or that their merchandise manager is a missionary from Brazil. Yet that’s the way God often works: “For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9 nlt). So let me explain how God orchestrated my relationship with Brad, David, Mac, Mark, and Tai.

It all started in the summer of 1995. My best friend, Gary Smith, and I had just left the employment of a national Christian youth organization in the UK to begin ministry together in a charity called Big Ideas (nothing to do with Veggie Tales!). For some years before this, we had been running a Christian music festival and had begun a friendship with the main guys in a Christian record company. Ian Hamilton, Dave Withers, and Dave Bruce, major players in the UK scene, started a new company called Alliance and needed some help developing live concerts and touring. They promised to send some opportunities our way when Gary and I set out together.

Our plan for the summer of 1995 was to leave our employment in June, spend July and early August on an evangelistic trip around youth camp sites, have a couple of weeks holiday late in August, and then officially begin ministry together in the first week of September.

Then two things happened that shaped my destiny: first, Gary got ill with a kidney stone and had to return home early from the evangelistic trip. In fact, he ended up in the hospital. Second, Alliance Music called us to ask if we could look after an American band that was coming over to the UK and Europe for a week. Basically they needed a minibus driver to take a band called Newsboys around the UK, Holland, and Germany. I have to admit I’d never heard of them but had it on good authority that they were good and were gaining a great reputation. Already Gary and I had decided that he would do more of the management, events, and organizing and that I would do more speaking and evangelism. Had Gary been well, he would have driven Newsboys around, but because we couldn’t turn down such a great opportunity, I found myself escorting them around when I thought I’d be having a few quiet days before starting a new ministry.

A week on the road with Newsboys was a blast and my first introduction to the nuts and bolts of the Christian music world. I’d been a fan of contemporary Christian music since I was a student in the late ’70s and early ’80s, but now I was experiencing it from the inside. Peter Furler and the rest of the guys of Newsboys really welcomed me, and we shared many plates of “pie and chips” during that week. Newsboys’ management, Wes and Steve Campbell, became very good friends of mine, and Gary recovered enough to run a showcase concert for Alliance with Newsboys as top of the bill.

Over the next few years, Alliance Music flew Gary and me to the Gospel Music Association conference in Nashville, Tennessee, to find bands and performers who would relish the opportunity of playing in the UK. Each time we went to Nashville, we would stay with either Wes Campbell or Duncan Phillips, and we got to know Newsboys better and better. Peter Furler would often suggest that they bring me over to the US to work as the road manager, and I kept replying that I was a pastoral/speaker-type person, not a management dude! I must admit that my appetite for life on the road in the US was whetted on one occasion when I flew up from Nashville to Chicago to see Newsboys perform at a Luis Palau youth rally and then traveled back to Nashville on their tour bus. I slept on the couch in the front lounge of the bus and gazed wide eyed out of the window at the nighttime Chicago skyline and the early morning scene on the outskirts of Nashville.

Then, incredibly, in the summer of 1998, Steve Campbell called and asked me, on Peter Furler’s behalf, if I’d consider coming on the Step Up to the Microphone tour to do some speaking on behalf of Teen Mania and to act as a tour pastor. After a phone conversation with Ron Luce of Teen Mania, a visit to their headquarters in Texas, and a trip to Romania to see one of their mission teams in action, the plan was confirmed.

So in September 1998, I headed out for the first of two one-month-long stays on the road with Newsboys. At the age of nearly thirty-eight, when most sane people in Christian music were deciding to come off the road, I was embarking on a journey that now eight years later I still have not finished!

Life on the road with Newsboys was perhaps the most intense experience I have ever had. I learned so much about myself, about being away from my family, about life on the road, about Christian music, about relying on the Lord, and I saw so much of America—places like Memphis, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New Orleans, which I had often seen on TV but never in real life.

I’m immensely grateful to the guys at Alliance, to Gary Smith, and to Newsboys (especially Steve Campbell, who along with his wife, Simone, looked after me so well) for the opportunities that came my way at this time. But how does all this connect with Third Day? I hear you ask. Good question! The support act for Newsboys on the first part of the Step Up to the Microphone tour was none other than—you’ve guessed it—Third Day!

The first mention of Third Day in my journal, dated Saturday, October 3, 1998, reads: “At another Paramount theme park. Third Day talked me into going on the Top Gun ride with

them—a frightening experience.” I have to confess that my fear came not from being with the guys of Third Day but from a deep aversion to theme-park rides.

I spoke on the weekend shows of the tour and would be waiting in the wings of the stage while Third Day performed their set. I hadn’t listened to their music before the tour but found that songs like “My Hope Is You,” “Consuming Fire,” and “Peace” really helped me worship the Lord and receive His strength before I went on to speak.

I met John Poitevent at this time, who became a great friend. On my first night of speaking, John was walking offstage with a guitar (he doubled as a guitar tech), and just before I was going on stage, he prayed an awesome prayer for me. I was amazed and remember thinking, “Wow! These Third Day guys must be incredible; even their guitar tech is a mighty man of God.” He was actually Third Day’s full-time road pastor, and it was he who encouraged me to get to know the band and to spend some time with them on our days off.

My friendship with Third Day came to fruition in October 1998. Newsboys were big into motorbikes and were going to spend some time biking in California and Nevada, so Third

Day invited me onto their bus. We bonded on a golf course in Pasadena and in a Thai restaurant in Hollywood! Our friendship nearly came to a premature end a few days later when I tried to impress the crowd at a concert with my newly learned American slang, courtesy of Third Day. Great embarrassment for me and for them!

As far as my journal entries go, I joined in a Sunday devotional with Third Day for the first time the day after the Top Gun ride and led my first Bible study with the guys on Tuesday, October 13, 1998, at the invitation of John Poitevent: “Leading a Bible study with Third Day today—supposedly. Didn’t think Newsboys bus would arrive at the venue in time. Got here with twenty minutes to spare, washed and ate, only to find all the guys in Third Day still asleep.”

The first study I ever shared with Tai, Mac, Mark, David, and Brad was on this verse: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (1 Corinthians 4:20 niv). As if to enforce that theme, the daily reading in my own quiet time from a book my wife, Gill, had given me was from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7 niv).

I was homesick, missing my wife and family, aware of the grace she showed in allowing me to travel to the USA, yet I was also conscious that God was beginning to open up a new chapter

of my life and that His power would be all that I needed.

I spent another two months in the spring of 1999 on the Step Up to the Microphone tour, although Third Day wasn’t in those shows. I also traveled with Newsboys on their Love

Liberty Disco tour, which took place inside a giant blow-up air dome in parking lots or state fairgrounds during the spring of 2000. I kept in contact with Third Day and even found time to

pop into the studio in Nashville when the band was mixing the Time album. I can vividly remember listening to the finishing touches to “Your Love, Oh Lord” and then going out for a good ol’ barbecue meal together. The guys first invited me to join them for a few days out on tour towards the end of 2000. By then, John Poitevent had gone back to Atlanta to work with his church, and Third Day was touring the Time album. From then on, I joined them regularly on each of their tours.

The contemporary Christian music scene often receives criticism for being a business or for merely mimicking the mainstream music scene or for attempting to create a parallel and “safe” Christian culture away from the real world. And to a certain extent, all of these observations carry some truth. Yet my experience also tells me that Christian music does transform lives, does communicate with people, does help seekers find faith, and does build up the body of believers. It’s for these reasons that I do what I do with Third Day.

I often reflect on what I have done to deserve the privilege of pastoring Third Day. In reality, it’s down to the grace of God because there are thousands of faithful, inspirational, even famous pastors in the US who in human terms should be doing what I do. However, as I reflect, I do believe that part of the reason has been my willingness, ever since God called me to serve Him, to be faithful in the small things. I am reminded of the words of the master in the parable of the talents: “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’” (Matthew 25:21 nlt).

From my late teens, when I knew God’s call in my life was to share Jesus with others, I have always been excited about the opportunity to preach and teach the Word of God, whether to five hundred people or to five people. In fact, the denomination in which I grew up sent me around London to preach in many of its dwindling churches. Sometimes I would take other young people with me, and we would outnumber the small congregation we were visiting. Once I preached in a church that had space for eight hundred people, but only a handful were present. Rather than get resentful or despairing, I was always thrilled to give a message I believed the Lord had given me. Over the years I have attempted to keep that same desire to prove faithful in the small things, and I believed that opportunities such as those with Third Day would not have come my way if I hadn’t treated “smaller” responsibilities faithfully. Sometimes people ask me how to become a road pastor, or they tell me that they want to be a famous preacher or a successful singer or worship leader. My advice to them is to start serving the Lord right where they are and learn from being faithful in the small opportunities that will come their way.

Through the song “Consuming Fire” God gave me much of the vision and direction for a project called Ignite, which over the last six years or so has grown to dominate the ministry I help direct in the UK. Very rarely is there a Third Day concert without the song being sung. Here Mac opens up about “Consuming Fire”:

I honestly don’t remember exactly how this song started out—I just remember it always being one of our songs. I have always felt this is a great representation of what Third Day is. It’s a rock song, yet the lyrics are worship. It’s a 6/8 song, so there is a “sing-along” feeling to it as well.

I got the idea from the verse in Hebrews. I didn’t totally know what it meant when I was writing the song. I took it to mean that God purifies us in the same sense that extreme heat purifies precious metal. But we have to allow God to do that daily so it’s not just a one-time shot. The song has lasted the test of time because there is an intensity in the song musically and lyrically asking God to change us and to help us. It starts from a place of brokenness and desperation. We need God to be our Purifier, our Redeemer.

“Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be destroyed, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28–29 nlt). ~ Mac Powell, November 2006

Readers who want to learn more about the history of Third Day will enjoy this book. The author incorporates comments by the group to give you the background. Alternating with those sections are Nigel James's lessons. The reader gets to read actual devotions that he shared with Third Day. Whether you are looking for information about Third Day or a devotional this is the book for you.

Highly recommended.

Friday, August 08, 2008

New Birth or Rebirth by Ravi Zacharias

I was disappointed by this book. When I first read about this story, I thought that it would be similar to David Gregory’s books (Dinner with a Stranger, A Day with a Perfect Stranger). I have listened to Ravi Zacharius’ sermons. He is very good. I think he would have been more successful by bringing in a fiction writer to help him craft a story to go with this message. I do not see the story grabbing the attention of a non-believer. Gregory’s books were written to pull the non-believing reader into the story. While they are reading the story, they get the message. This book does not have the storyline to keep your interest while you are hearing the message. I was going to look up the other books in this series, but now I do not think so. Based on what I have read, the author would have been better off writing a non-fiction book.

If you are looking for information as to the differences between Jesus and Krishna, this book will inform you. If you want a well-written story in addition to the information, avoid this book.

CFBA Tour-All Through the Night by Davis Bunn

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

All Through The Night

(Bethany House - July 1, 2008)


Davis Bunn


Davis Bunn is an internationally acclaimed author who has sold more than six million books in fifteen languages. His audiences span reading genres from high drama and action thrillers to heartwarming relationship stories, in both contemporary and historical settings.

Honored with three Christy Awards for excellence in historical and suspense fiction, his bestsellers include My Soul To Keep, and Full Circle . A sought-after lecturer in the art of writing, Bunn was named Novelist in Residence at Regent's Park College, Oxford University.

He and his wife, Isabella, make their home in Florida for some of each year, and spend the rest near Oxford, England, where they each teach and write.


A loner, trying to forget. A community--and a woman--who need for him to remember...
Broken relationships and unfulfilled promises scatter themselves across Wayne's past like burned-out craters. His background in military special-ops is something he's trying to forget. But when he gets himself sweet-talked into helping a quirky group of seniors who've been scammed, he discovers it will take a lot more than muscle and nerve. Breach a conman's high-security estate to recover stolen money? No problem. Become part of the community? Love again? Not on your life.

A lawyer with her own painful past is intrigued by Wayne and asks him to take on another unusual case--Tatanya's wealthy employer believes he's been visited angel? Did a messenger from God in a pinstripe suit truly bring a divine warning, or is this merely another cruel hoax? Tatanya is willing to trust Wayne with her boss's life, but she's not sure she's ready to trust him with her own wounded heart.

With a financial analyst's skills and a warrior's tenacity, Wayne races to unmask dangerous forces hiding behind a corporate veil. But he will need all his resources--and then some--against an unseen enemy bent on destroying his fragile bid for a second chance at life...and love.

All he wanted was to put his past behind him. But now it's the only thing that will save them...

If you would like to read the first chapter of All Through The Night, go HERE

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

FIRST Wild Card Tour-New Birth or Rebirth? by Ravi Zacharias

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and his/her book:

New Birth or Rebirth?: Jesus Talks with Krishna

Multnomah Books (June 17, 2008)


Born in India, Ravi Zacharias earned a master of divinity degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School before he began an international speaking ministry as a recognized authority on comparative religions, cults, and philosophy. Zacharias holds three doctoral degrees and is the author of numerous award-winning books, including Can Man Live without God? He also hosts a weekly international radio program called Let My People Think. Zacharias lives with his wife, Margaret, in Atlanta. They have three grown children.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $11.99

Hardcover: 96 pages

Publisher: Multnomah Books (June 17, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1590527259

ISBN-13: 978-1590527252


Chapter One

Excerpt used with permission of Multnomah Books © 2008


Richard: Subra—look out! That car is coming straight at us!

Subramaniam: Relax, my friend. This is how people here drive all the time.

Richard: Ooooh! Here comes another one—watch out! Is that guy drunk or something?

Subra: Just hang on. We will be there shortly.

Richard: I thought this was a divided highway… Where did all these cars come from all of a sudden? There are more coming!

Subra: It is a divided highway. I’m sure that guy is just dropping off workers who live on this side of the village. To drive another several kilometers to turn around is a waste of money and time. You see, in England they drive on the left, in America on the right. But here in India we drive in the shade…or wherever else is convenient.

Richard: I don’t believe it! I simply don’t believe it! This could kill a fellow…

Subra: [Laughing] Now you know why we don’t need a Disneyland in India. Driving provides all the scary rides we could ever want. What were we talking about a few minutes ago anyway?

Richard: Uh…let me unclench my fists first. You were telling me about your background. It’s hard to pray and listen at the same time, but I’ll try. Please carry on with what you were saying…

Subra: Ah yes, now I remember. It was the hardest thing I ever did, Richard—to question what was so deeply ingrained in my family’s faith. Everything in my family was built around our faith. On the most important day of my childhood, it was hard to see my mother absent from the ceremony.

Richard: The most important day of your childhood? I think in such Western terms that I hesitate to even ask what you mean. What day are you talking about? You certainly don’t mean the day you were


Subra: Well almost, but not quite. Let me explain…

As you know, society in India is built on the caste system. There are four main castes: Brahmans (priests); Kshatriyas (warriors); Vaisyas (merchants); and Sudras (servants). Beyond these four castes is actually a fifth, the Panchamas, the outcasts.

I was born in the south of India into the highest caste, the Brahmans. But until the defining day I am referring to, I was considered the lowest caste, a Sudra. On this day—a day that is as auspicious as auspicious can be—an initiation ceremony called the Upanayana was performed with the investiture of the sacred thread. It was only at this point that I formally became a Brahman.

Richard: Sacred thread? Why would a piece of string be considered sacred?

Subra: Hmm. This might be tougher than I thought. Let me back up for a moment. How much do you really want to know?

Richard: Well, everything, Subra. How am I ever going to understand Hinduism unless we go deeper?

Subra: Ah, wisely spoken.

You see, Richard, it’s like this: every Brahman longs for a son. We believe that unless there is a son to perform the annual ceremonies in honor of our ancestors, all six previous generations will fall into infernal misery, or hell. That’s what I had always been taught anyway.

So when I was born, my father was very happy. But my mother, like every Hindu woman who gives birth, was considered defiled.

On the eleventh day after my birth, a time of purification began for my mother. She was allowed to bathe for the first time since I was born, and at a formal ceremony I was given a name.

It is a very important ceremony. In it, an object is brought to the ceremony that symbolizes the boy’s future. In my case, it was a silver plate holding some palm leaves. This was to suggest that my life was to be devoted to sacred studies. My mother couldn’t even attend the ceremony because she was considered unclean for another thirty days.

I had been considered impure also until this eleventh day. And it was not until this ceremony that my father could hold or touch me for the first time.

Richard: You know, I’m fascinated by custom and ceremony. Sometimes I think that we in the West have lost out by having so little ceremony and custom in our culture. At the same time, these customs create a lot of questions. But that’s an aside.

You didn’t have a name until you were eleven days old? What did they call you until then? And your mother wasn’t even present at your naming? That seems quite chauvinistic…

Subra: Please, Richard. Let me finish before you jump to conclusions. Few things are ever as straightforward as they first appear.

According to tradition, my name was actually chosen by my aunt, my father’s eldest sister. It had to include the name of a god, and the first letter needed to belong to the constellation under which I was born. The ceremony itself was performed by a priest who had the power to change my name if he felt the astrological charts indicated that he should do so.

Richard: Wow! That’s quite a process.

Subra: Indeed—it’s quite a ceremony. Relatives brought me gifts and sweets, and we had a big celebration.

Richard: Does every family follow that?

Subra: The devout do. Anyway, the ceremony was to commemorate my first birth. Then I had my second birth. Or actually…let me correct that. Really it was considered my first and second birth in this incarnation…

Richard: First and second birth in this incarnation? This conversation is beginning to sound a bit like a Hindu version of the American “Who’s on First?” comedy routine. Hey, there’s a shop up ahead. Let’s stop and have a cup of coffee, Subra.

Subra: Sounds good. [Slowing car down] Would you like American coffee, Richard, South Indian coffee, or masala tea?

Richard: Mmm, it’s hard to decide. You’ve spoiled me here on my visit to your country, Subra. Coffee and tea back home lack imagination unless you’re willing to pay three dollars for something foreign sounding. You know what sounds good is some chai tea—would they have that here?

Subra: Funny you should ask, Richard.

Chai tea is really only a term marketers have chosen to make tea sound fancy. Chai is actually the Hindi word for “tea.” So saying chai tea is like saying tea tea.

Richard: Oh. Well, maybe we should have some masala chai then…I love the spicy taste. And, oh… Let’s have some of that…what do you call that dessert we had awhile back? Pukey?

Subra: [Laughing] Not pukey, Richard! But close. It’s called barfi ! Remember? I can’t tell you exactly why it is named as it is, but it’s delicious—delicately made with milk, sugar, saffron, pistachios, and silver paper.

Richard: Sorry, I tried to remember it by making a word association. Barfi it is, but why don’t they change the name? Barfi just doesn’t sound appetizing.

Subra: You’re right. But think about it, my friend. I could list all the American food that does not sound appetizing to an Indian—hot dogs, chicken fingers, hush puppies.

Richard: Okay, I get your point. Let’s just keep this conversation to names and customs. So back to the second birth of your first incarnation…

Subra: Yes, the second birth of the… You know, Richard, this really is very good pukey… Ah, now you’ve got me saying it! Honestly! So we come to my second birth, called Upanayana, which is really the thread investiture ceremony. It is a very sacred ritual, even more so

than the naming ceremony. Indeed, no Brahman can get married without this installation.

Richard: Upanayana, is it? An American would have a hard time even pronouncing that word.

Subra: It’s not easy for a twelve-year-old Indian boy either.

You see, the night before the ceremony, total silence is in effect. The young boy has to be absolutely, totally silent. Have you ever tried to be completely silent for any length of time?

Richard: Not really. But come to think of it, total silence sounds like a good thing for some of the kids I know…

Subra: It was very hard for me. I could not utter a sound.

In the morning my parents took me to a special booth prepared for the occasion. A sacrificial fire was burning on an altar. I was completely clean-shaven—totally bald—which is never fun for a young boy. Then I was bathed. Then they gave me some sweet food to eat—I liked that part just fine—rice, clarified butter (we call it ghee), sugar, milk, and fruit.

Richard: Hmm, butter, sugar, milk—a real cholesterol booster shot.

Subra: It is considered food in its very purest form. My mother ate with me, which is an important point to note because this was the last time I would ever eat with her.

Richard: You mean she died shortly after?

Subra: No, no, no—nothing like that. In my strict orthodox upbringing, I was considered a man from this point on. As such, I would only eat with the men of the family, separate from all women, even my mother.

After we ate, the formal ceremony commenced. A teacher who conducted the ceremony called on the nine planets to be witnesses then questioned me as to my desire to become an initiate.

Once the teacher was satisfied with my answers, he entrusted me to the gods of water, herbs, sky, and earth. Then he prayed to all the gods and demons to protect me from every kind of evil. He then commanded me to walk as a Brahman from then on. That was now my new identity.

Richard: That ceremony sounds amazing! It’s almost like an Indian version of a bar mitzvah, when a Jewish boy officially becomes a “son of the commandment.”

Subra: Yes, it is, isn’t it?

The climax of my ceremony involved a liturgical spell, or prayer, that was whispered by the priest to my father, who whispered it into my right ear. This prayer was so sacred that my right ear, into which it was breathed, was now considered sacred. And whenever I repeated that prayer, I was cleansed from sin. No woman and no low-caste person were ever to hear it. I repeated this mantra to myself every day. I was instructed to do so for the rest of my life.

Richard: So do you still?

Subra: Do I what?

Richard: Do you repeat your mantra every day?

Subra: Oh, Richard… It’s a long story. Yes, I did. For quite some time anyway. But I don’t anymore. But I am ahead of myself in the story. Look, we are finished with our tea. Let’s get back in the car and keep driving. We are almost at Mathura, the holy city. Sometimes I think all of this is too complicated to understand…

Richard: I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how emotional a subject this is to you.

Subra: It is. It has always been, Richard. Hinduism used to be my life. The memories and emotional attachments of Indian family life are very strong. It’s what keeps us together. It’s part of our rich heritage…

[The two fall silent for some time as the car hurtles down the road.]

Subra: Ah…here we are at last in Mathura, Richard. Let me just pay a few rupees to this fellow to keep an eye on the car while we are gone. If we don’t, I fear the hubcaps will be gone by the time we return.

Richard: Stolen hubcaps here? Even in a sacred city—the birthplace of Krishna?

Subra: Yes, and then down the road they will be sold back to us by the fellow’s father. Indians are born capitalists!

Richard: Sounds to me like exploitation. That seems to happen quite a bit in any religious city. Have you ever seen all the haggling that goes on in Rome or Jerusalem?

Subra: Never been there myself. Mathura was always held out to me as the place to be. “Mathura, Mathura, fair Mathura.” Mathura, the birthplace of Krishna, so it is believed.

Before Mathura was regarded as Krishna’s birthplace, it was sacred to the Buddhists also. It was actually a Buddhist monastic center at one time, comprised of twenty Buddhist monasteries and about three thousand monks who resided here. But as Buddhism declined in India, Mathura became a sacred spot to the Hindus.

Richard: You don’t see many traces of Buddhism here today?

Subra: Funny you should ask. Courtesy of an Afghan warlord, most all of the Buddhist and Hindu shrines were leveled sometime around AD 1018. Within the next few centuries, the city was determined to be Krishna’s birthplace, and then the Muslim Mughal Aurangzeb flattened the Hindu temple that had been built here and put up a mosque in its place.

So over the actual birthplace, there is now a mosque. A parcel of ground protruding from the barrier of the mosque is now revered as the spot of Krishna’s birth. It is a situation a little similar to the mosque that exists on the site of the temple in Jerusalem—the only place the Jews have to worship is at the Western Wall of the temple.

And like Jerusalem, this has not been a place of peace. Even now, we will be searched as we enter the main temple. And by the way, there are over five thousand temples in this small city.

Richard: Human nature is the same everywhere, isn’t it? Who are these women here chanting?

Subra: This is a worship center for widows. There are about two thousand widows who come here every day to chant “Hare Ram, Hare Krishna” for four hours each morning and four hours each evening. In exchange, they are given a cup of rice at noon with some lentils and two rupees, which is about five cents, and a cup of rice and lentils at dinner. If they also chant in the evening, they are paid five rupees. Four times a year they are given a change of clothes.

Richard: Sounds like quite a life. Where do these widows live?

Subra: They have a threadbare existence, Richard. But that’s considered their karmic debt being paid. You know about karma, yes? It’s the belief that all of one’s actions in life, both good and bad, determine one’s next rebirth after death. It’s too much to go into in depth right now.

Richard: Yes, I’ve heard of karma before. Hey…what the…? Stop that!

Subra: Watch out, Richard! I warned you not to pull out your sunglasses!

Richard: Holy cow! That monkey just snatched the sunglasses right off my face. Oh, I’m sorry…maybe I shouldn’t have said “holy cow.”

Subra: Well, I suppose this is the right place to say those words. Here’s my handkerchief—the monkey scratched you.

Richard: Any chance of getting my sunglasses back?

Subra: I doubt it. Your glasses are probably on the roof of the temple now. The monkey is looking at his reflection in the lenses. You just have to be careful here. There are monkeys by the hundreds, cows by the thousands, and, as you see, donkeys as well. They all wander freely.

Richard: Monkeys, cows, donkeys—without religion, there would be no businesses here.

Subra: [Laughing] You might be right about that. By the way, the tastiest barfis in the country are also made here. They are called pedas. It is the same basic recipe but just a little bit sweeter and richer. You can’t eat too many—it’s a sure mouthful on the road to diabetes. But I could think of worse ways to go!

Richard: Hmm, sounds inviting, but I think I’ll pass this time.

Back to what we were talking about. How was your religious thinking shaped, Subra? You seem to know so much about Hinduism from an insider’s point of view.

Subra: Richard, it’s hard to tell the whole story. It cost me so much. As you know, my family does not talk to me anymore, and it has been so painful.

When I was in college, I started to question what I had always believed. I asked simple questions at first: Why? Who said so? Where is it written?

But simple questions have a way of leading to much greater things. Religion is so important in our cultural experience—India is the most religious country in the world. And you don’t easily question what everybody around you believes.

Richard: Religion just seems to be everywhere here.

Subra: Yes. In more ways than you might think. We commonly use many words and expressions that come from our religion, seldom asking where they originated.

For example, the word avatar, which means a divine manifestation, is not even used in the Gita, one of the scriptures of Hinduism. Yet the idea of avatar is fondly believed throughout India because of its implications.

An avatar is a bodily manifestation of a higher being, even the supreme being, on planet Earth. The term is primarily used for incarnations of Vishnu, the preserver god, but it’s also used of highly influential teachers in other religions, including Jesus and Mohammed. Oh! I can say so much.

Richard: The Gita? I know I’ve heard of that before. What is it exactly, and how does it differ from the Vedas?

Subra: The Bhagavad Gita, or “Song of God,” is the most sacred book of the Hindus. It’s a long narrative poem, about seven hundred verses, that tells the story of a discussion between Krishna and the warrior Arjuna, who is about to fight his cousins. The flow of the Gita revolves around man’s duty, which if carried out will bring nothing but sorrow. But the poem also offers hope through the way of devotion.

The Vedas, or wisdom books, are the oldest scriptures we possess—they contain everything from teachings to ceremonial instructions in detail. The Vedas are actually a collection of four books. Each book has three parts: mantras, hymns of praise to the gods; Brahmanas, a guide for practicing rituals; and the Upanishads, the most important part, which deals with teaching on religious truth and doctrines.

In a different category to them are the Epics—two major tales of India. The principal one is the Mahabharata, which contains the famed Ramayana, and the Gita. Technically, these are not considered to be on the same philosophical plane as the Vedas, but practically, they are the books most loved by Hindus. It all sounds confusing at first. The Hindu scriptures are voluminous indeed.

Here, let’s sit down awhile in the shade and look at the temple.

Richard: Sounds complicated. I don’t know how you ever keep all the scriptures straight. Hey, did you see that?

Subra: What?

Richard: When that cow wandered into the temple, the pilgrim over there touched it and then touched his own forehead and his heart.

Subra: That practice comes right out of the Gita. From early times, the Hindus have revered cows because of their alleged great power. There’s also a verse in the Atharva Veda that identifies the cow with the entire visible universe:

Worship, O Cow, to thy tail-hair, and to thy hooves, and to thy form!… The Cow is Heaven, the Cow is Earth, the Cow is Vishnu, Lord of Life.

Anyhow, let me continue with my story. When I started to question what I had been taught, I decided to leave home. I had no money and no place to go, so I wandered for days and weeks, finally ending up in front of a cave.

I couldn’t see anything inside the cave—it was all dark and shadowy—but as I began to walk into the cave I could feel a presence there. I walked farther and farther. Some time later I was shocked to stumble upon an emaciated swami, a mystic clad in a saffron robe,

sitting in silence.

The swami had taken a vow of silence and had been there a long time. There was just enough light to see that his eyes were shut. He was reflecting. Seeing him there turned my heart toward the ultimate questions as nothing else had.

Richard: How did the swami survive inside the cave?

Subra: Barely. Every now and then the villagers who lived nearby brought him meager rations.

I stayed with the swami for several weeks, and we developed a close relationship. I kept his living quarters clean and spent many hours with him just sitting and meditating.

Finally, for my sake, he wrote a few brief words, telling me that I must leave him and that I would find the answers I was seeking elsewhere. I was devastated, but he was leaving to go on a trip himself, so I couldn’t stay with him.

Weeks later I returned to the cave, still seeking spiritual illumination, and I heard a voice in the night—but it wasn’t the swami’s voice this time.

The voice was clear and calm, breathtaking and true. It said simply, “Follow me.” I heard it, Richard. I really heard it.

I didn’t know exactly where to go after that, but somehow I knew that the same voice that spoke to me there in the cave would guide me along my way.

I left the cave and met a man walking down the road who shared with me the strange and beautiful story of a babe born in a straw manger. The babe was the incarnation of the true God and had come to connect us to the true Supreme Being.

It was the first time I had ever heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had always been taught that there is no such thing as sin against a holy God. I always thought that acts of wrongdoing were mainly a result of ignorance and that these evils could be overcome by following the guidelines of one’s caste and way of salvation.

But there on the road I saw my sin as a real act of rebellion against a perfect and holy God. And, surprisingly, I discovered who it was I was searching for—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. My life…has never been the same.

Richard: And your family?

Subra: They would have nothing to do with me after that. Neither would my community.

Richard: I’m so sorry for you.

Subra: Converting to another belief system is never easy—even when you convert to the truth. With my new faith, I had a deep and lasting joy I had never known before, but I was also troubled for my family and country—so many who had grown up believing exactly as I had believed.

I sometimes imagined what it would be like for Jesus to simply sit down with Krishna so they could hash it all out between them. Others would hear of the conversation and decide for themselves where truth lay.

It wouldn’t be that far-fetched, you know. What I heard in the cave was a real voice. If Jesus has a voice, perhaps the historic Krishna has a voice also.

Perhaps if I leaned hard enough—you know, leaned into the curtain behind time—I could hear what Jesus and Krishna would say to each other.

Can you imagine that, Richard—Jesus and Krishna talking? What would each say to the other?

The image of these two great figures deep in conversation stayed with me for some time. I could not shake the picture no matter how hard I tried.

So one day I gave in. I sat down in a cow pasture and leaned in.

Richard: You “leaned in”?

Subra: As I sat in the pasture and closed my eyes, it was like a new world became visible to me. Suddenly I could see things I had never seen before.

In the distance I saw a few saffron robes hanging from a tree and two figures standing in shadows talking. It was noon, already very hot and humid for the day—one of those steamy days you encounter only in India.

As I strained to glimpse the men’s faces, their identities became apparent. It was Jesus, clothed in a white robe, with sandaled feet and scars on his hands; and Krishna, the youthful prince with his ever-present flute. Can you see them, Richard, in your own mind’s eye?

Let me tell you in detail about the conversation. Listen! I strained to hear what was being said…

Monday, August 04, 2008

Fallen by Matthew Raley

Jim was finishing th day's work when his eyes drifted over to the coffee shop visible from his office window. An attractive woman driving an expesive car pulled up to the curb...and out stepped Dave, Jim's married pastor.

"For a while I tried to convince myself that a pastor sometimes rides in a Mercedes with a woman who's not his wife. But the more I tried to imagine the scenarios, the less I could believe it."

Matthew Raley has crafted an all too realistic tale. No one wants to believe that their pastor would do something wrong and then lie about it. I knew a pastor who was involved in something they should not have been doing. Like Jim in the story, my first reaction was doubt. I did not believe that my pastor was doing anything wrong. The author has done an excellent job of creating the feelings and thoughts that go with this situation.

I thought the characters were represented the type of people found in most churches. After reading about them, I could match the characters to people that I know. Sometimes, first time authors struggle with realistically portraying the supporting characters. Not so with Raley. His first novel features many great characters.

If you are looking for a book that makes you feel warm and fuzzy, look somewhere else. Raley has created a lesson for the church community. This is a lesson that Christians need. We need to help our pastors stay accountable. With some pastors, this is easy to do. But when you run into a situation like the one described in this book, you need all the help you can get. The Christian fiction market needs more books like this.

Highly recommended.

Friday, August 01, 2008

A New Beginning for The Bedford Review

Monday (Aug 4, 2008) will be the first day of my new blogging schedule. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday will be the review days. If M/W/F occurs and I am behind on my reading, I will be posting special commentary articles. These will be focus pieces on specific authors, reviews and comments on other sites, maybe even some TV/movie reviews. The three books for the first week are read. I plan on writing the reviews over the weekend to get a head start on the new schedule.

Tuesday and Thursday will be the blog tour days. Of course, there will be exceptions if the tour dates do not fall into the regular days I have scheduled. I plan on a return to commenting on the tours. In recent months, I have not been commenting like I should.

I hope you will join me in the next phase of my reviewing experience.