Friday, December 19, 2014

Movie Review: Unbroken

Universal Pictures
Releasing Christmas Day

What Is It All About?

From the studio:
"Unbroken" is an epic drama that follows the incredible life of Olympian and war hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) who, along with two other crewmen, survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in WWII – only to be caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.

Adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s (“Seabiscuit: An American Legend”) enormously popular book, "Unbroken" brings to the big screen Zamperini’s unbelievable and inspiring true story about the resilient power of the human spirit.

Starring alongside O’Connell are Domhnall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock as Phil and Mac – the airmen with whom Zamperini endured perilous weeks adrift in the open Pacific – Garrett Hedlund and John Magaro as fellow POWs who find an unexpected camaraderie during their internment, Alex Russell as Zamperini’s brother, Pete, and in his English-language feature debut, Japanese actor Miyavi as the brutal camp guard known only to the men as “The Bird.”

The film is produced and directed by Angelina Jolie, as well as Clayton Townsend (“This is 40″), Matthew Baer (“City by the Sea”) and Erwin Stoff (“The Day the Earth Stood Still”). Leading the accomplished behind-the-scenes crew in 11-time Oscar®-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins (“Skyfall”).

Academy Award® winners Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”) rewrote the screenplay from earlier drafts by William Nicholson (“Les Miserables”) and Richard Lagravenese (“Freedom Writers”).

What Are the Highlights?
The book is the best autobiography I ever have read. Zamperini was an amazing man of courage and determination. He also became a follower of Jesus. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend you do.
This movie is a faithful retelling of Zamperini's life, the events of which could have made a number of books or movies: 
  • His troubled youth, when he was bullied and resorted to drinking and stealing. His brother gave him purpose by encouraging him to focus on athletics, specifically running.
  • Zamperini represented the United States in the Olympics, and was witness to Jesse Owens triumphing in the shadow of Hitler's Berlin. Zamperini himself was poised to be the firt runner to break the 4-minute mile prior to entering military service in World War II.
  • Shot down in enemy waters, Zamperini  and a crewmate form the plane where he was a bombadier survived for 47 days in a life raft (a world record in itself) before being taken prisoner of war by the Japanese.
  • In prison camp Zamperini survived subhuman conditions and cruel, harshly violent treatment by the camp's commander.
  • Following his release and return to the United States, Zamperini fought post traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism and became a Christian. He eventually returned to Japan to run the torch in the Olympic games and met with his captors (except for the Bird, who refused to meet with him) and forgave his captors.
All of that, to varying degrees is included in the film, which is no small feat. Some of the incidents are depicted as flashbacks. The last part about his dedicating his life to the Lord and forgiving his enemies is added as a postscript as the film closes.

Overall, it's a watchable, if not fully engaging movie. For me, there was a matter-of-fact feeling to the storytelling and to O'Connell's portrayal. They portrayed what happened, but I'm not sure Zamperini's motivations ever were clear. He's depicted almost as a Christ figure himself, taking punishment for his fellow prisoners and being forced to bear a plank strongly resembling the cross. He shows amazing resilience and integrity (he chooses to return to the harsh environment of the prisoner of war camp rather than betray the United States), but we're never sure
from where he receives his strength and character. In the book, we have  a sense of God's watching out for Louie and that Louie finally makes serving God top priority in his life.

In addition, the violence and torture in the camps is depicted, but The Bird is portrayed as creepy and almost feminine -- not as the psychotic evil creature I got from the book.

The film offers a nice chance to introduce folks to an amazing hero and a wonderful man of God -- someone who spoke his faith through his actions. The film's violence is hard to watch, but necessary if you want to have some idea of what it was Louis was able to forgive (even if we don't really know why when that's mentioned in the postscript that he chose forgiveness over revenge.) Another plus is that this is a regular Hollywood movie with respected creatives -- not a "Christian" movie, so it will have far reaching capability.
-- Lauren Yarger

A few words form Louis Zamperini who died this year:
  • “The Bible speaks of the Word of God as a seed. Sometimes it's planted by the wayside, and nothing grows there. Sometimes it's sown among the thorns and represents the person who makes the decision an then goes back to his old life of bars and chasing women or whatever. A third seed is sown among the rocks. There's sand and dirt between the rocks, and when it rains you'll see a stalk of green coming up. But on the first day with sunshine it wilts because there is no room for roots. The fourth seed is planted on fertile soil, and finally it takes hold and has a chance to grow and live. That's what happened to me.”

  • “The one who forgives never brings up the past to that person's face. When you forgive, it's like it never happened. True forgiveness is complete and total.”

  • “It was all in His hands now - as it had always has been.”

You can share your own "unbroken" story here: More information about the film here: Information about the book here:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Kathie Lee Gifford on Faith, Generosity

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Kathie Lee Gifford supported the Salvation Army last week in Harlem.
Photo courtesy of the Salvation Army.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Book Review: Look Inside: The Time of Jesus

Look Inside: The Time of Jesus: A Lift-the-Flap Discovery Book 
(Look Inside: a Lift-the-Flap Discovery Book)
By Lois Rock (Author), Lorenzo Orlandi (Illustrator)
Lion Children’s Books, October 2014

This large (8.5 x 10.2 inch), hard-cover, board book is illustrated with complex pictures highlighting various places Jesus traveled, beginning with his birth in Bethlehem. Snippets of text tell the story and label items found in the drawings depicting, among other things, "A Rich  Man's Feast" -- including a menu of what might have been served, which I particularly liked --,  "By the Shore of Lake Galilee," "The Temple in Jerusalem" and "A Roman Trial."  Additional pictures and information can be found behind numerous pull flaps children can open on the eight double-spread pages. Pictures and text offer opportunities for exploration as well as discussion. The detailed pictures and information combine to keep youngsters (aged 5-7) entertained and engaged while they get an idea of what life looked like in Jesus' times.

For more information or to purchase, click here.
-- Lauren Yarger

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Book Review: Guess Who Noah's Boat

Guess Who Noah's Boat
By Matt Mitter
Illustrated by Ela Jarzabek
Kregel Publications

This board book for the very young offers what could be first exposure to the story of Noah and the ark.

Offering four lines of simple text (with the last words on the second and fourth lines rhyming) on each double spread in the 10-page format, author Matt Mitter provides snippets of the voyage on the ark with clues as to which animals are hiding under fold-out portions of the pages. Children can flip them open to reveal the answer after the reading of "Guess who, Noah!"

Illustrator Ela Jarzabek uses soft colors to depict Noah and his helpers and the animals (all Caucasian in appearance) as the ark is built, sailing and landing. The interactive part of the book will entertain youngsters.
-- Lauren Yarger

An advanced reader's copy was provided by the publisher.

Monday, August 11, 2014

2014 Christy Awards

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Christy Awards Finalists Announced


"Harvest of Gold" by Tessa Afshar has been named a finalist in the Historical Romance category for the Christy Awards. Her next book, "In the Field of Grace" will launch July 10 at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT. To attend, register here.

Visit Afshar and follow her bog about life in biblical times at

For a listing of the Christy Award finalists, click here. The awards will be presented June 23 in Atlanta.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Book Notes: Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick

From the publisher:
The Voice You Listen to Will Determine the Future You Experience

Inside your head and heart is a chatterbox. Its lies are keeping you from realizing your God-given potential. But what can you do about them?

In "Crash the Chatterbox," best-selling author Pastor Steven Furtick focuses on four key areas in which negative thoughts are most debilitating: insecurity, fear, condemnation, anddiscouragement. He asks, “What great deeds are in danger of remaining undone in your life because of lies that were planted in your past or fears that are looming in your future?”

With personal stories, inspiring examples, and practical strategies, Pastor Furtick will show you how to silence the lies and embrace the freeing affirmation of God.

Learn how to live out God’s truth no matter what is going on in your life or thoughts.
Learn how to crash the chatterbox...and hear God’s voice above all others.

Read a smaple from the book here This book goes on sale Feb. 11

National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference Joins Christian and Conservative Leaders in Support of Common Core State Standard

Governor Jeb Bush, Governor Mike Huckabee, Dr. Nicole Baker Fulgham, Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, Catholic Educators, encouraged by NHCLC support
SACRAMENTO, Calif., February 5, 2014 – The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), regarded as the leading voice for the 16-million-strong Hispanic American Evangelical Christian community, today joins Christian and conservatives in their support of  the Common Core State Standards. The NHCLC, called “America’s Largest Hispanic Christian Organization” by TIME magazine, is rallying its 40,000 member churches and Hispanic Evangelicals behind Common Core as a matter of biblical justice and equity. The organization is launching a national education initiative to educate members about the benefits of the Common Core State Standards for Hispanics and low-income students and to mobilize church leaders to support implementation of the standards in local schools.
The Common Core State Standards are a prioritized, clearly stated list of skills a student must master in each grade level in order to be on track to succeed at college level work. The standards, adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, are the logical next step in the nation’s efforts to improve public education for all students. The Common Core standards were found to be higher than existing standards in 37 states in English and 39 in math, as well as on par with the standards of top scoring international countries. With higher, more focused standards across states, expectations for math and literacy skills are equally high for all students regardless of zip code. (
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the NHCLC, notes that although the Hispanic population in the U.S. is expanding more quickly than any other ethnic group, children born to Hispanic mothers are the most likely to be raised in poverty. “For years many states have set expectations too low for all our students, but particularly those from low-income schools, where many Hispanic children are educated. Rigorous standards must be available to all children, especially those in poverty who need clear signals of what skills they need to succeed in college or a career,” Rodriguez explains. “Offering high educational standards to all students is an issue of biblical justice, because all children are made in the image of God as described in Genesis 1:27. Common Core offers schools the opportunity to positively impact the future of Hispanic children and all children who live in poverty.”
Hispanic high school students are graduating at a rate over 10 percent lower than their white peers.[i] Those who do graduate high school find their diploma an empty promise. As far too many students were told they were on track, only to fail in college level work. Fifty-eight percent of Hispanics who make it to college do not graduate.[ii] So, it should not be surprising that 72 percent of Hispanics are placed in remedial classes at community colleges, where over half of Hispanics access higher education.[iii]
“Hispanic adults are less educated than any other ethnic group and the numbers of jobs that need a college degree are only increasing. Without question, our children, especially minority and immigrant students, must participate in an educational system that equips them with the necessary acumen and skills to compete. In order to honor the image of God shared by all children, we are committed to empowering all students with the foundational tools for success by holding all children to high educational standards. This is why I wholeheartedly endorse and support the Common Core State Standards,” Rev. Rodriguez attests.
Numerous conservative and Christian leaders welcome the support of the NHCLC as they work together to achieve educational equality for all American students, including:
–Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush:“The key to reigniting social mobility and maintaining American competitiveness lies in giving every child access to the best education on the planet. Unfortunately, right now, just 25 percent of American high school graduates are prepared to succeed in college or the workforce. One of the greatest mistakes we make in education is underestimating the capacity of our children to learn. Raising expectations in our schools is critical for ensuring every child has the opportunity to realize his or her full God-given potential. Thankfully, states across the nation are heeding this call to action and raising academic standards. I applaud Reverend Rodriguez and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference for their leadership in championing the state-driven Common Core initiative and their commitment to achieving a high quality education for all students.”
–Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee:“The Common Core State Standards were initiated as Governors and state leaders were talking about what we could do together to raise standards–not a Washington solution, but a voluntary effort on the part of the leaders of the states . . . .the original intent was to empower states and local school board to make all decisions as to curriculum.  Many states are now taking back ownership of the standards. No one wants federal control, federal curriculum content, or data collection of individual students, but having consistent standards is not something to be afraid of; indeed it is something to embrace.”
–Lorraine A. Ozar, Ph.D., Director, Center for Catholic School Effectiveness, School of Education, Loyola University Chicago, Member of Executive Committee for Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative:“Christians care about rigorous educational standards within both public and private schools. As a matter of social justice, we owe every one of our students an education based on rigorous standards that equip them with college and career- ready skills for the 21st century.  We agree with the NHCLC’s support for CCSS as a strong vehicle to achieving increased rigor, and we invite other people of faith to join us in creating schools that are both academically excellent and integrated with faith-based values.”
–Dr. Nicole Baker Fulgham, former teacher and founder of The Expectations Project:“As a parent and a person of faith, I welcome the voice of the NHCLC as we work together to support high educational expectations for every public school, including those in low-income communities. The Common Core Standards are an important step in this direction, particularly when they are coupled with meaningful steps to ensure that all students who are significantly far behind have the support systems required to meet them and teachers are trained to effectively implement them.”
–Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, Professor of English, Liberty University, Author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:“From the carving of God’s commandments on stone tablets to the narratives and letters circulated within the early church, from the painstaking preservation of the scriptures at the hands of medieval scribes to the Protestant Reformation’s birthing of the printing press and the invention of the modern university, ours has been a faith centered on the Word—and words. The kind of careful readers the Common Core literacy standards seek to develop are exactly the kind of readers that people of a Word-based faith seek to cultivate, too: readers encouraged to develop command of textual knowledge, to ask reverent questions of the text, to rely on textual evidence making judgments and drawing conclusions, and to demonstrate these skills by producing their own skillful texts. In short, the Common Core standards of reading promise to revitalize the fading art of reading well. For Christians, this is indeed good news.”
–Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, Ph.D. Executive Director of the Barbara and Patrick Roche Center for Catholic Education, Boston College, Member of Board of Directors for Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative:“The Common Core State Standards are a valuable tool for all who work to prepare students for life in the 21st century, especially within Christian education systems. The Common Core affords faith-based schools the opportunity to clearly articulate our own missions while integrating faith traditions and values across standards-based curriculum of our own choosing. We should welcome the opportunity to align our goals with a common set of rigorous academic standards, since administrators and educators remain free to determine the content of the curriculum and coursework of our schools.”
The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the nation’s largest Christian Hispanic organization, serves millions of Hispanics and represents more than 40,000 churches, emphasizing “seven directives” of Life, Family, Compassionate Evangelism, Stewardship, Justice, Education and Youth.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Book Review: Life Without Limits by Nick Vujicic

Guest Review
By Sarah Yarger
"Life Without Limits: Inspiration for a Ridiculously Good Life" (WaterBrook Press, 2012) by Nick Vujicic is an inspirational read that is both memoir and self help book. 

Born without arms or legs, Nick reflects on his own life lessons to encourage readers to embrace challenges faced in life and to view them as opportunities rather than limits. While Nick repeatedly references his faith in Christ as a backbone for his outlook on life, his advice references not only the Bible (note: no actual verse references used) but many other well known secular figures as well. 

The book is very conversational, and at times it feels like Nick is actually sitting next to you. I was surprised by his ability to find humor in his circumstances, and to use it as an effective teaching tool. I laughed out loud as he explained the value in learning that is OK to ask for help while detailing a series of unfortunate (but hilarious) events that occurred while relying on a caretaker during a speaking tour in Transylvania. 

Life lessons are carefully interwoven with these humorous, and at times, brutally honest anecdotes. Nick details his own struggle with self acceptance, including a suicide attempt as a teenager. What's truly dynamic about this book is that while its purpose is to encourage and uplift, Nick doesn't shy away about touching on the pain and anguish he's endured. He's real about his emotions and experiences in a universally relatable way, making his message of hope to rise beyond one's circumstances much more powerful because it is being told by someone who has done it.

Other books from the author (also published by WaterBrook Press) are:
  • Unstoppable: The Incredible Power of Faith in Action (2012)
  • Limitless: Devotions for a Ridiculously Good Life (2013)
  • Your Life Without Limits: Living Above Your Circumstances (2011)
Visit the author's page at Purchase the book here:

Sarah Yarger lives in Washington, DC and is active in The District church. 

A free copy of the book was provided by the publisher.

Book Review: The Bible Savvy Series by James L. Nicodem

The Bible Savvy Series:
Epic -- The Storyline of the Bible
Foundation -- The Reliability of the Bible
Content -- How to Understand the Bible
Walk -- How to Apply the Bible

By Lauren Yarger
This set of four, small books (Moody Publishers, 2013) packs a big punch for those who want to understand the bible a little better. The bible is one of the most influential books, but many people haven't read it in its entirety, or feel intimidated while reading it. This four-volume set is a guided tour.

The easy-to-read text in each book (about 130+ pages in an approximate 5 x 7 x 1.5 package) is broken by subheadings and pull-out quotes. They are a handy reference for anyone exploring the claims of the bible, wanting a better understanding of it or for small group leaders. Each chapter offers a study guide at the end.

Epic -- The Storyline of the Bible focuses on redemption.
Foundation -- The Reliability of the Bible explores doctrine
Content -- How to Understand the Bible fits the pieces together by looking at various settings
Walk -- How to Apply the Bible offers practical application

Most appealing is that each little book isn't overwhelming. They don't intimidate with volumes of heady information that only biblical scholars have time to sift through. The compact (and in my case paperback) booklets seem an easy read over a cup of tea or during a couple of daily quiet times. The information contained, however, is pretty meaty. This isn't the USA Today version of the bible, but a detailed breakdown and road map. It's also written in a style that is appropriate for either beginner or experienced bible study leader.

A free copy of these books was provided by the publisher at my request. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Daily Inspiration

The Blind Side

Read about the real life mom from "The Blind Side."



Read Matt Mungle's review of the movie at

Lauren Yarger, Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

In 2008 she was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater with a Christian perspective for Reflections in the Light ( and is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection. She also is a contributing editor for

She also reviews books for Publisher's Weekly and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. She formerly was Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp, a national theater web site bsed in New York and a reviewer for American Theater Web.

She also served as Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. and worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

She is a freelance writer and member of the Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and The CT Critics Circle.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger lives with her husband in West Granby, CT and has two adult children.

Copyright Notice

All contents copyright © Lauren Yarger 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact

Scripture from THE MESSAGE Copyright 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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