The Bible or the Axe

I realize I don’t have anything very quippy to add to the title of the book I’m reviewing, but there we are.

I met William Levi at the Father-Son camp in downstate Illinois when he was a featured speaker. I was attracted to him, as I am attracted to all African ex-pats, but his story was surprisingly moving. The Bible or the Axe is his memoir of an interesting childhood and a gripping escape from Sudan.

William’s education is as an engineer, and it shows in the writing. It can be dry and pedantic, and of course he’s dealing with multiple variables of racism and culture as he’s writing cross-culturally. Nevertheless, the further I got into the book, the tighter the prose became, and I was hooked into the narrative as things got personally interesting for him — particularly during his escape from Sudan.

This book is a great reminder for Christians that our citizenship is in heaven, and that every decision we take here will affect our witness for that Kingdom, whose King is the Prince of Peace. Levi had an opportunity to live that struggle in a very personal way, but not just under the jihadi rulers of Sudan. It played out differently among secularized Christians in Egypt, and with American college students who unwittingly mocked his “easy” life.

It’s also a good book for people who want to see the reality of life under jihad, especially for someone whose experience of it greatly precedes 9/11. I found it encouraging, considering some of the anti-theism and anti-Christianity that seems to be growing in parts of our society. While it seems far-fetched right now, the days may not be so far off before we are called upon to make some similar choices to those faced by William Levi.

In all, I think it’s a worthwhile read, although the early chapters dragged a bit, and he can be “preachy” at times. For this last element, it’s usually when he’s decided to tell, instead of show, his point. In other words, the point is valid, but it would be better for him to trust the reader to get it from his narrative.

A Christmas to Remember

Lately my spam folder has been filling up with emails telling me that I have an opportunity to give my children a Christmas they will always remember. I haven’t read the messages to see what will accomplish this feat — I’m a little lazy that way. However, it got me to think about one Christmas, when my daughter was young, that I tried to give her a memorable Christmas.

This was back in the 90s, and we were all much more naïve about the Internet, etc. There was a website that offered the ability to “send an email to Santa” on behalf of your kids. I thought it was a cute idea, so I called my daughter in to my office to compose her note to Santa. She wasn’t sure, at first, what she wanted to ask Santa to bring her, but finally settled on a pair of ballet shoes.

We hit send, and I realized that ballet shoes hadn’t been on the radar for either my wife or me. It was Christmas eve, and I went out in the snow to look for ballet shoes in my daughter’s size that wouldn’t break the bank. I finally found them in a little shop that was ready to close for the evening. I bought the slippers, rushed home, and packed them under the tree for Christmas morning.

At the time, my daughter was delighted with her gift, and she went on to ballet lessons for a few years until she moved on to something else. However, the important lesson for me was this: she doesn’t remember. She knows it happened, because we talk about parenting, and cute things that happened, and tricks we played, and times the tricks backfired on us. However, she has no recollection of that particular Christmas. What she does remember is growing up knowing that Santa was a game we played with one another, and that presents really came from our friends and family.

So, make it a Christmas they’ll never forget? Maybe not. Just as the many gifts that get less play than the boxes they came in, most of our efforts to make this Christmas inoubliable end with the child surprising us with an astonishing lack of concern with the things of this world, and the current trends. Perhaps that’s one reason the “child” of Christmas, many years after His celebrated birth, admonished us to remember that, unless one comes like a little child, one will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Merry Christmas!