Archive for February, 2008

Auralia’s Colors – Jeffrey Overstreet (2007)

February 25, 2008

The people of House Abascar are in perpetual winter — not only are the citizens are under constant threat from marauding beastmen, but the kingdom was stripped of color years before by the since-vanished queen. Now, only the royalty can enjoy color while the rest of the people are draped in grays and murky brown. Morale is low. Fear and paranoia are a given. All await a spring — a grand return of color and joy — that may never come.

At the center of Jeffrey Overstreet’s debut novel is Auralia, a young girl living with the outcasts and criminals camped outside of Abascar’s walls. She spends her time exploring, often collecting materials for the richly-colored weavings she makes. Her joy and compassion are a blessing for the downtrodden outside the city gates, as are the magnificent — and illegal — gifts she makes for everyone.

But while Auralia is the heart of the book and the catalyst for much of what happens, she isn’t the focus; Overstreet populates the Expanse with a great cast. There’s King Cal-marcus, broken by his wife’s disappearance and the ghosts of the past; Prince Cal-raven haunts the woods outside of the kingdom’s walls, drawn more to the outcasts than the aristocrats; and a humble, un-named ale boy who is quickly swept into the adventure. There are also numerous minor characters that richly populate the story.

Overstreet sidesteps some of the standard fantasy tropes and delivers something different, something wonderful. None of the characters fit into the standard fantasy archetypes — Auralia isn’t a harmless waif or tough princess, but a complex, tattered young girl that has a deep love and faith in things she doesn’t entirely understand. And instead of a novel based around swords-and-sorcery action or medieval political intrigue, Auralia’s Colors gives the cast room to breathe and move about and take their own path.

Sometimes the prose is a little too lush, but Overstreet writes beautifully. He’s not writing the story of Abascar — he’s painting it. I also wish the book could’ve fleshed out a few things that seemed glossed over. But that almost seems like a minor afterthought; Overstreet gets everything else right.

The allegorical aspects and themes are also woven into the story well enough that they don’t fall out on to your lap. It’s all pretty powerful stuff, from the children’s whispers and trust in the Keeper that haunts their dreams, to the power of imagination and beauty, no matter how rugged or worn it may seem. The attention to detail and nuance that he’s gained as a film critic (for Christianity Today, among others) pays off. Auralia’s Colors is an accomplished and satisfying debut, minor blemishes and all.

-Jason Panella

Looking Closer Blog
Auralia’s Colors on Amazon


I Drink Your Milkshake! I Drink It Up!

February 25, 2008

One frosty Monday night, my compadre Jake and I ventured into the heart of Beaver Falls to obtain that nectar of the gods, more commonly known as ice cream.

The Corner Drug, purveyor of this sweet sugary goodness, is located across the main drag from the Rite Aid. We were immediately impressed by the ambiance of the soda bar, having everything that a classic soda bar should. We were disappointed to find that they did not make malted milkshakes, but we ordered one regular chocolate shake and a Golden Tornado sundae.

Yes, that’s right. At only $2.69, it consists of three scoops of vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate, caramel, and topped with whipped cream. The milkshake was decent, but we agreed that the Golden Tornado was the real treat. We encourage you to round up some friends, head downtown and experience some classic Beaver Falls culture.

-Andrew Wright & Jake Kauffman

February 25, 2008

I feel exhilarated by a website. This certainly isn’t the first time I’ve experienced a dramatic feeling from a website, but it’s the first time I felt the need or desire to phrase it that way. is a work of art by Jonathan Harris (creator of several different forms of web-based art). Harris is creating a log of feeling. At the 2006 TED Conference, Harris reported on as well as a couple of his other creations.

Harris sees his project as far more than simply logging the feelings of the world… although that certainly is an intended byproduct. The key for Harris is the passive observation. People who relate feelings in their blogs or websites don’t know that Harris is pulling that clip from their website, and those who visit the site don’t know exactly who is feeling what, but, while certainly abstracted, the feelings are as personal as it gets while remaining extremely anonymous.

It’s fascinating, for me, to experience feelings from reading the feelings of others. This certainly is a work of art. It is relating so much emotion and story in such a unique manner that it can be seen as little else. Reading, and at times seeing, the deepest feeling of everything from joy and anger to depression and blasé is a very affecting experience. Say what you will about the state of the human condition and experience, but one certainly cannot neglect to mention the fact that no matter what that experience is it is deeply tied to feelings. And this artistic expression of feelings reminds us of our own humanity.

-Chris Carson

TED Talk

What Ever Happened to Handel?

February 25, 2008

Something happened to me over Christmas break. It happened shortly after I returned from a performance of selections from Handel’s “Messiah.” As I reflected on the performance at home, a question crystallized in the murky depths of my thought: “What ever happened to Handel?”

Or more accurately, what happened to the Christ-centered artist? The development of modern music owes much to the church. Most of the great composers were Christians, and found their primary outlet for artistic expression through their religion. Even when we look at theater, we see that its Greek origin, though not Christian, was overtly religious. Early plays during the middle ages were often passion plays sponsored by the church. Great artists were often commissioned by the church, which resulted in some of the most awe-inspiring masterpieces of our time.

So, where am I going with all of this? I point this out simply to show how different things are now. For better or worse, the church was once the center of culture. The expression of artists’ most essential and passionate emotions were distinctly religious. Now artists seem to avoid religion like the plague. It is almost impossible to find works with complex and compelling Christian heroes. Even when a work does have a Christian hero, it’s as if the hero must also be one of three things to maintain the integrity of the work: naive, exceptionally “open-minded,” or be against the establishment of the church at large. On the other hand, so-called “Christian works” seem largely incapable of addressing relevant issues, and a far stretch from being considered high art.

So what happened to Handel’s “Messiah,” Michelangelo’s Statue of David, the soaring poetry of Milton, Herbert and Donne? I believe that the modern Christian artist focuses too much on the unbeliever instead of Christ. They are so focused on bringing in the unbeliever that they dumb down their art. Instead, they should be focused on Christ. Art should raise people up, stretch them beyond what they were able to understand, and through that give them a glimpse of our creator. Art, as an expression of our most essential emotions, is a religious experience.

It is time for the Christ-centered artist to find new life. It is time for them to learn how to be direct and honest without being preachy, to be passionate without being schmaltzy, to be uncompromising without being ignorant. We must learn to not let any message take precedence over aesthetics, or to let the art be more important that what we are using it to express. We must allow them to come together as an expression of who we are: creatures made in the image of God, creative and religious.

-Andrew Wright

My Favorite Things by Bethany Wall

February 25, 2008

Sometimes all I need is music I can think to. Often, a single song is my weekly, incessantly repeated thought process. This song is not what helps me get through the week, nor do I think music should; but it is a way to think my own thoughts along with someone else’s words and music. In fact, it is mostly the music of this week’s song, “the World at Large” by Modest Mouse, that encourage my thoughts — but the words evoke their own response as well.Even when I’m not listening to this song, it still floats in my head, starting with a simple guitar pattern and a soft drum beat, adding a xylophone and then a flute; it’s simple, yet it causes an emotional, melancholy sense of yearning. Every time I listened to this song this week, I slowed down and thought with the music. After awhile, I started listening to the words. It could completely depress a person, interpreting lyrics like “I like songs about drifters … why does it always feel like I’m caught in an undertow?” as being misunderstood and struggling against the world. But to me, the lines “If the world’s at large, why should I remain?” and “Walked away to another plan. Gonna find another place, maybe one I can stand” are about seeking change — wanting more out of life, yearning to see the world and fighting against the undertow to do so. The beat of the song, along with the words “float on,” give it a consistency, like moving forward, moving away from normality. I often want to do more with my life, and as much as I tell people that I’m just fine, the mantra of this song spins in my head: “My thoughts were so loud I couldn’t hear my mouth.”

-Bethany Wall

Got a favorite-song-obsession-type-thing? Let us know about it.

On the Move (2007)

February 4, 2008

In 2006, Bono humbly comes before a National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC, to address politicians and faith leaders. He passionately delivers a speech about the AIDS crisis in Africa. This speech was published in the short book On the Move, which is accompanied by compelling photos from Ethiopia. He draws upon Scripture, and the fact that it is no coincidence that poverty is mentioned over 2,100 times in the Bible. This evidence is a call to action to end this tragedy, and break our hearts.

Bono is pleading with all people, from all ways of life, to take action on behalf of justice, equality, love, and mercy. During his speech Bono requests an increase of support from the federal budget by ONE percent. This is known as the ONE campaign. ONE percent more means proper education, medicine and clean water for the poorest of poor countries.

“I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did — or did not do — to put the fire out in Africa. History, like God, is watching what we do.” — Bono, lead singer of U2.

-Kerri Landes

Check out online or the book on Amazon.

Not For Sale (2007)

February 4, 2008

“There are times to read history, and there are times to make history. We live right now at one of those epic moments in the fight for human freedom. We no longer have to wonder how we might respond to our moment of truth. It is we who are on the stage, and we can change the winds of history with our actions. Future generations will look back and judge our choices and be inspired or disappointed”. -David Batstone

When we speak of slavery, many think of it as a problem of our past. But in reality it has only taken on a new face — many faces, in fact. According to David Batstone, human trafficking (modern-day slavery) “generates $31 billion a year and enslaves 27 million people around the globe, half of them under the age of eighteen.”

Does this shock you? My guess would be yes. The invisibility of both the victim and the trade is a key to the survival of this booming business. If you knew that “girls and boys, men and women of all ages are forced to toil in the rug loom sheds of Nepal, sell their bodies in the brothels of Rome, break rocks in the quarries of Pakistan, and fight wars in the jungles of Africa,” wouldn’t you want to do something about it?

Most people might say that knowing about such things isn’t enough — well, I am here to tell you that it is. If invisibility is our enemy, then we need to bring light into this dark world of corruption and abuse. Not for Sale is a tool for the average person to find out what is going on and what they can do about human trafficking. Start talking. Talk to you friend, your neighbor, your best-friend’s ex-boyfriend’s twice removed uncle … but just start talking. Let those around you know that this is happening in the world.

-Bonnie Rapp

Check out Not for Sale’s website or the book on Amazon.

Justice in Culture

February 4, 2008

In the last few years justice issues have come to the front of popular opinion and culture. Whether it was Bono and his work on AIDS in Africa or a news article, more and more people are looking for practical way to improve the situation of everyone all over the globe and especially fighting injustices. Popular culture has used the power of story to fan the flames of these issues on the popular level. While you have probably already seen films like Amazing Grace, Hotel Rwanda, Crash and Blood Diamond, there are many less well-known films that also engage the audience on issues of justice and tell stories of what that can and may look like. Here is are a few that I think are worth watching and discussing.

  • When it comes to issue of justice the “must-see” film is the classic Gandhi – the story of his remarkable non-violent fight against injustice.
  • Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts tells of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, both personally and politically.
  • Sophie Scholl: The Final Days – A small group of college students stand up to Nazi Germany.
  • Girl in the Cafe and Michael Clayton ask the question: in our giant bureaucratic/corporate system is justice still possible?
  • North Country – one woman’s struggle to find acceptance working in a mine
  • Catch a Fire – tells of the fight against apartheid in South Africa.
  • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room – One of the biggest corporate injustices ever.
  • The Constant Gardener – shows the integral connection between the developed world and the developing world.

Also, Ben Harper’s Both Sides of the Gun is a great album that deals with issues of justice intelligently.

Greg Veltman

What is Truly Unjust?

February 4, 2008

So here’s something we should all consider: the Gaza strip borders Israel and Egypt, yet it is not recognized as a part of either country. There have been and continue to be wars over the ownership of this land. It is presently being controlled — dare I say ruled — by Hamas, a group that has been described as “a murderous terror organization.” Israel, an ally of the United States, has decided to cut off power to the Gaza Strip as a form of “economic warfare.”

Pause here to think about everything we use electricity for. There will be no electricity in homes, schools, hospitals and public places. The Gaza strip has 1.5 million residents that include innocent civilians — men, women and children; sick, healthy and dying. They all need electricity to purify their water, incubate their babies and run their dialysis machines, among other things. What is truly unjust? Yes, we can take a stance even in such a long-standing problem. Find out more about the war, make petitions, talk about it, raise awareness — but most importantly, PRAY!

-Ibukunoluwa Akinboyo

Links to Justice

February 4, 2008

During Justice Week we are engaging people that are on different levels of knowledge about injustices around the world. After learning and dealing with these issues during Justice Week, we hope that people will be motivated to respond to their calling. Below is a list of just a few organizations in which you can get involved in to help further the cause for justice:

Campus Coalition Against Trafficking (CCAT)
This is a university campus movement that seeks to build the anti-trafficking movement by training emerging leaders, fostering youth empowerment, raising awareness about human trafficking and encouraging linkages among social injustices. (

He Intends Victory
This organization has been active since 1990 and has worked to promote the hope of Jesus Christ to those affected and infected by HIV/AIDS. He Intends Victory is committed to sharing the hope of Christ as a cure for the hopelessness that comes with HIV/AIDS. (

ONE:: The Campaign to make Poverty History
ONE is Americans of all beliefs and every walk of life united to help make poverty history. As ONE, we are raising public awareness about the issues of global poverty, hunger, disease and efforts to fight such problems in the world’s poorest countries. As ONE, we are asking our leaders to do more to fight global AIDS and extreme poverty. Everyone can join the fight. (

The Micah Challenge
Micah Challenge is a global Christian-run campaign. Our aims are to deepen our engagement with impoverished and marginalized communities; and to challenge international leaders, and leaders of rich and poor countries, to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, which could halve global poverty by 2015. (

There is a long list of Justice Organizations with which you can get involved. A few more to add to this list are: Not for Sale, The Simple Way, Trade as One, Compassion, International Justice Mission, Free the Slaves, World Vision, World Relief, Acting on AIDS, The Salvation Army, Tearfund and Bread for the World.

-Katie Martin