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From internetmonk.com
Creation Is a Many-Splendored Thing (5): Delighting in Creation’s Goodness

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O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

• Psalm 104: 24, NRSV

• • •

It has been awhile since we’ve returned to our series from William P. Brown’s fascinating book on the many ways the Bible teaches about creation: The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder. But Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. seems like a perfect day to look at the most extensive creation psalm in Scripture, Psalm 104, for as Brown says, in this psalm “creation is seen not from the creator’s perspective but from the creature’s, specifically from the standpoint of Homo laudans, ‘the praising human.'”

As with many psalms, Psalm 104 does not readily divulge its historical context. It is pure poetry, setting its focus on the world of nature, not on Israel’s history, and in a strikingly novel way. It offers an unabashedly positive view of the natural world that includes the wilderness, traditionally considered dangerous and chaotic. Instead of “Lions and tigers and bears, O my!” we have “Lions and tigers and bears, Amen!” (along with the coneys, onagers, and mountain goats). The psalmist celebrates the world of the wild and the God who sustains it all. (p. 144).

This psalm is an extended meditation about God’s repeated pronouncements in Genesis 1: “And God saw that it was good.” The psalmist agrees.

  • Verses 1-4 — the transcendent glory of the heavens: good
  • Verse 5 — the eternal stability of the earth: good
  • Verses 6-9 — the seas that fill the places God appointed for them: good
  • Verses 10-13 — the fresh waters that satisfy the thirst of God’s wild creatures: good
  • Verses 14-15 — the abundant food that God brings from the earth to feed his creatures: good
  • Verses 16-23 — the many and varied earthscapes in which God’s creatures find a home: good

The world so conceived by the psalmist is not so much a free range as a spacious home, and its inhabitants all share the earth as their common habitat. Psalm 104, in short, is a fanfare for the common creature. (p. 147).

. . . Place and provision, according to Psalm 104, are the fundamental features of creation that ensure the continuance of life. (p. 151).

Blue-WhaleAs the psalmist praises God and relishes the vastness, complexity, and beneficence of God’s creation and the astonishing creatures who find a home there, he even mentions Leviathan. Leviathan was the mythic sea creature who represented the forces of chaos. But rather than portraying this sea monster in terms of cosmic warfare and opposition to God, he says, There [in the sea] go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it (v. 26). So good is God’s creation deemed to be in Psalm 104 that even its most feared creature is described as frolicking amid the waves by God’s design!

Furthermore, and most significantly for our understanding of the world, even the death of God’s creatures is depicted, not as a curse, but as part of the natural life cycle of rebirth and renewal in the earth (vv. 27-30):

These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.

p00rwzp9This reinforces the perspective I shared last week: that creation did not change in its nature, properties, or “laws” as a result of a “fall” or “curse” in Genesis 3. It was deemed “very good” by God in the beginning, and in this poem, the psalmist affirms that it remains “very good.” This does not change the fact that God acts in both judgment and salvation in the world. But God does that because of what we read at the very end of Psalm 104, not because creation itself has been placed under a curse that transformed it from “good” to “not good.”

So let’s look at the way this psalm ends. The one decidedly minor note in this symphony of praise proclaims that a single part of God’s creation threatens its goodness. Verse 35, an imprecation on the wicked, at first glance seems profoundly out of place: “Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more.” To this point, there has been barely any mention of human beings, much less talk of sin and wickedness. Why does the psalmist include this appeal for judgment at the end of Psalm 104?

Brown comments:

For many readers, this imprecation is a “damned spot” on an otherwise perfect poem. But for the ancient listener, calling God to exterminate the wicked made sense in a less than perfect world. By cursing the wicked, the psalmist transfers the evil chaos traditionally assigned to mythically monstrous figures such as Leviathan and places it squarely on human shoulders. Conflict in creation, the psalmist acknowledges, is most savage among the distinctly human beasts. (p. 144f)

The danger this good world faces continually is that human beings will corrupt it by “corrupting their way upon the earth” (Genesis 6:12). Humankind, given stewardship over the world, is called to represent the God of Psalm 104 in all the earth. This is the God who sustains creation by his wisdom (v. 24) and by the joy he takes in it (v. 31). Likewise, through humanity’s wise care and use of this amazing planet, and by taking delight in its wonders and never forgetting from Whom they came, we take our rightful place here among the manifold splendors of the cosmos and fulfilling God’s will on earth as in heaven.

So . . .

peaceablekingdomLet us give thanks to God for the divine wisdom and joy displayed in his good creation. Thank him for giving us and all creatures a home and a source of abundant provision.

As we give thanks today, let us confess our sin of bringing corruption into this good world, posing an ongoing threat to its marvelous ecosystems, ourselves, and other creatures by our predatory behaviors.

Let us thank the Creator that though the corruption we bring is profound, God continues to rejoice in the work of his hands and the goodness of creation still shines through, prompting meditation and praise every day.

Let us pray that, like our Creator, we will be wise in tending to the creation, delighting in its wonders and being good stewards of its resources.

And let us anticipate that day when sin and wickedness shall be banished from the earth, and all things will be gathered together and made new in Christ (Ephesians 1:10).

Happy Thanksgiving.

From internetmonk.com
Randy Thompson: Alone with Good Luck?

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Alone with Good Luck? (A Thanksgiving Meditation)
by Randy Thompson

It’s a simple point, really, but one that needs to be made often, and that is, there’s a huge difference between giving thanks and having a good lucky feeling about life.

Having a good lucky feeling about our achievements and about our possessions, which define our achievements, is to be aware that life has gone well, that we are comfortable, and that life is pleasant.  It is to be aware, in a vague sort of way, of all the good things in life. Since the question of why these things were there in the first place hasn’t been raised, they are chalked up to “good luck.”  There are other ways of describing this attitude, of course. There’s “Life’s a bowl of cherries.” Or, “I’m blessed.”  Or, “I’m fortunate.” This attitude can be deeply felt, but it is an attitude where we are left alone in our own, private universes.

The problem is, feeling lucky is not the same thing as giving thanks.  Feeling lucky or fortunate doesn’t relate us to anyone outside ourselves.  Giving thanks joins us to others; it recognizes we live our lives in a web of relationships, that we live giving thanks and receiving thanks.  At the center of this vast web of relationship is the One who created us, God. We are not alone in our own personal universe of well-being.  Gratitude connects us with others, and especially so with God.

This feeling of being lucky is the attitude of a character in one of Jesus’ parables, one whom Jesus called a fool. In fact, the parable is commonly referred to as “The Parable of the Rich Fool” (You’ll find it in Luke 12:13-23).  In it, a rich farmer has had a very good year–a very good year indeed. His harvest has been successful beyond his wildest dreams. So, he decides that what he needs is bigger barns to store his harvest–or, to give it a contemporary spin–to store all his “stuff.”  He feels very lucky indeed; maybe even, somehow, “blessed.”  He says, pointedly, to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.”

Raising-a-glass-with-friends-and-family-to-welcome-2010This rich farmer is enjoying his good fortune to the hilt. He is lucky indeed. “Blessed” even! Yet, if you know the story, it all goes south quickly. He is not alone in his universe of good luck. Unfortunately for him, he lives in God’s universe, and he’s oblivious to God, and to the many wonderful gifts that God gives, gifts such as good harvests.  The story ends with God getting the last word, and it turns out this rich farmer wasn’t as lucky as he thought he was: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

The point of the parable, of course, is that God intends for harvests–possessions–to be shared.  Ultimately, you will lose all your earthly blessings when you die; why not share them with others before them? Instead of hoarding them in your own private universe, live in God’s universe instead, and expand your heart by transforming your earthly blessings into gifts and blessings for others? Why not invest your heart in loving God by thanking him, and loving your neighbors by sharing with them?

However, for our purposes, the point of the parable isn’t the point that Jesus made here. Rather, we’re looking not at God’s judgment, but at the Rich Fool’s attitude that provoked God’s judgment.

The rich man here sees his goods, his success, and his wealth in relation to himself and not in relation to God. We don’t know whether he was literally fat or not – the Lord doesn’t provide that detail – but poetically, we can think of him as “fat and happy.”  All is well in his little universe of good luck, at least temporarily. But, “luck” is as stable as a Hollywood marriage; it doesn’t last. And if you don’t see your life in relation to God, that’s all you’re left with

Late November, of course, is when we celebrate Thanksgiving. (Corporate sponsors:  Butterball, Ocean Spray, and the NFL). Sadly, for many, it will not be a time of giving thanks, but a time of merely feeling lucky or fortunate—and luck doesn’t owe thanks to anyone; it just “happens,” or so it is thought.

The word we use to describe our autumnal foray into gluttony is “Thanksgiving.” But, it is a nonsense word unless there is Someone to thank. We thank people when they give us gifts at Christmas or on our birthday. (At least, we’re supposed to.) We thank people for their help and encouragement. We thank people who have taught us needed skills or given us helpful wisdom. (Again, at least we’re supposed to!)   We’re supposed to thank our Creator, too, for the universe we live in was created by Him, and us along with it. And, if we’re at all honest, His creation is quite a piece of work, despite what we’ve done with it. For that matter, each of our lives is quite a piece of work too, as the Psalmist suggests. We, each of us, are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Each one of us gifted by God with skills, aptitudes, and interests.

It is no great mystery and no new spiritual wisdom to note that the One to whom we owe thanks most of all is God.  It is God who gave us the skills and abilities to create wealth. It is God who put other people in our lives at just the right time so that we could begin a new, better chapter in life.  It is God who turned our painful dead ends into super highways of promise. And, of course, supremely, it is God who came to earth and gave us an eternal feast of bread and wine that bears the body and blood of His Son, where thanks-giving is fulfilled in communion that is eternal in nature.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Glimmerglass

"Some years ago," writes John Wilson, "I described the novelist and poet Marly Youmans as "the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers." That's still true today (so I think), and if you haven't tried Youmans yet, her new novel, Glimmerglass, is a very good place to start." (via Prufrock)

From Out of the Bloo
Matthew 25

From today’s reading of Matthew 25

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” – Matthew 25:1 (ESV)

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.” – Matthew 25:14 (ESV)

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” Matthew 25:31-32 (ESV)

Throughout the gospels Jesus seems keenly interested in giving his followers a picture of the coming Kingdom. He does this through parables that each give a glimpse of the many sided jewel that is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 present both the beauty of being let in and the horror of being cast out. A unifying thread in these stories is the idea of value. What do we do with the riches Jesus has bestowed upon us?

In the parable of the ten virgins there is the treasure of oil. Oil in scripture usually represents anointing, selection, or the Spirit of God. Five of the virgins had the oil burning in their lamps and were let in. Five did not and were cast out.

In the parable of the master of the servants, there is the treasure of talents; weighed-out money. Two of the servants used the treasures the master had given them to expand the master’s kingdom. One of them had an incorrect/distorted view of the master, the wrong kind of fear of him, and buried the treasure to be safe. He was cast out and even what he had was taken from him.

The final discourse is not a parable, it is a description of what will happen when King Jesus comes in the final judgement, dividing all of humanity like a shepherd would divide sheep and goats. What is the treasure here that the “sheep” valued and the “goats” did not? The treasure is Jesus himself, a King in disguise, as he identifies himself with the hungry and thirsty poor, the unclothed poor, the sick, the ones in prison. He is a King who has humbled himself beyond our comprehension, having left his throne to come to us, we hungry and thirsty poor, we naked paupers, a sin-sick people imprisoned by our trespasses. The citizens of his kingdom follow and emulate their King in his humility and, in small and near ways, reflect the deep dive of humility that Jesus has already undergone as they serve those who are like they were before he rescued them; poor, thirsty, hungry, naked, imprisoned. They may not realize it, but in doing so they are serving the King himself.

Those who do not and have not were never citizens, having devoted their lives to serving other kingdoms that are not of Jesus. They find themselves in the end cast out.

From internetmonk.com
Biblical Marriage: BEYOND Traditional

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Song of Songs (1974), Chagall

In last Saturday’s Ramblings we had a story about Rick Warren turning the Vatican into a revival meeting in support of Biblical, traditional marriage. He did so with a scintillating 8-point sermon that followed the alphabet . . . . Well, he followed the alphabet until he got to the last point, and then it seems that Warren just couldn’t remember what follows “G”. (That’s ok, heat of the moment and all, believe me I understand.)

Anyway, Bishop Warren gave an eminently Power-Pointable list of action steps for Christian leaders and churches wanting to promote “Biblical marriage.” This is necessary, he said, because we live in a world in which “marriage is ridiculed, resented, rejected and redefined” (nailed the alliteration, didn’t he?). One of his action steps to solve this problem was that Christians should:

Develop small group courses to support marriage

Now I know Rick Warren is a busy man, so in the spirit of Christian love and cooperation, I thought I’d help him out by writing an explicitly Biblical small group course for him. I call it, “Biblical Marriage: BEYOND Traditional,” because as you’ll see, traditional marriage as many of us see it ain’t got nothin’ on what the Bible actually portrays.

Here are some sample lessons. I’m sure you’ll see how practical and helpful they will be in advancing the cause of Biblical marriage that goes BEYOND merely traditional:

iBooks logoLesson One: Garden delights (Genesis 2-3)

Let’s start where the Bible does: with husband and wife frolicking about naked in a garden. If you want your marriage to be Biblical, outdoors nudity is essential. This lesson will give practical suggestions for creating your own private, outdoor retreat where the neighbors can’t spy on you, where you can play au natural to your hearts’ delight. Nothing will free you to express love, devotion, and commitment like walking, talking, eating fruit and gardening with each other in the altogether. Don’t be ashamed. Forsake those fig leaves that have kept your marriage from being all that it can be, and go BEYOND!

iBooks logoLesson Two: But what if I married a Nephilim? (Genesis 6)

No marriage is perfect, but sometimes you wake up and wonder if the person lying next to you is actually some fallen angel with demonic intentions. The Bible affirms that this is indeed possible. Perhaps you think you missed God’s will. You never found your “Noah” even though you dreamed of a righteous and blameless life partner with whom you could weather the storms of life. So you settled for someone who called himself “a son of God,” but now you realize he was really an alien giant with a heart as dark as the depths of the sea. This lesson explores how you can manage those pesky human/alien incompatibility issues. It will also reveal how God wants to flood your life with blessings in spite of the bad match you made.

Boaz wakes and sees Ruth at his feet, Chagall

Boaz wakes and sees Ruth at his feet, Chagall

iBooks logoLesson Three: Creative ways to pass on your heritage (Genesis, Ruth)

God designed marriage to be his chosen method of producing a godly line of descendents. This can challenge a marriage, and sometimes, we have to work extra hard to make that happen. We want to encourage you to get creative, and go BEYOND!

We’ll study Lot, for example, and discuss the daughter-father connection. And then we will look at Tamar, who illustrates the more complex but explicitly commended Biblical principle of “my husband’s dead and my brother-in-law won’t sleep with me and I don’t have kids so I guess I’ll become a prostitute and seduce my father-in-law so I can become a mother.” As a bonus, we’ll discover how we as parents can be like Naomi, and encourage our daughters to go lay naked at the feet of drunk wealthy landowners until they wake up, fear the worst, and agree to marry them. The possibilities are endless!

iBooks logoLesson Four: Developing a way with words (Song of Solomon)

Ladies, ever wish your husband would speak more lovingly to you? That, for example, he would tell you your hair is like a flock of goats, your breasts like towers, your belly like a heap of wheat? Or at least that your feet look great in sandals? And men, wouldn’t you love to hear your wife compliment you for those ivory abs, those alabaster pillar legs you have? Wouldn’t you just love her to praise you as a gay gazelle, leaping over the mountains? Then you won’t want to miss this lesson. We’ll divide up into couples and challenge you to find creative ways of describing your partner’s body parts. Then we’ll come back together and share what we’ve come up with! It’s loads of fun and not embarrassing in the least. Then we’ll send you home to practice naked in your garden.

iBooks logoLesson Five: Marriage as Evangelism (Hosea, Esther)

God may sometimes call you to marry someone you would never naturally consider, just so that you can win them to the Lord and be an example to others. This was Hosea’s calling, and in this lesson we’ll help you men learn how to identify which broken, fallen women are just right for you. We’ll discuss strategies for the ladies too, taking our cues from Queen Esther. You’ll learn how to work up the perfect erotic dance moves so that you can capture the heart of the evil monster you’re eager to reach. Who knows whether some of us will be called to this kind of marriage in “such a time as this”? This is the time to go BEYOND!

• • •

Our crack staff will be hard at work developing other Biblical lessons too. We’ll suggest survival tips for concubines and demonstrate the best use of mandrakes to foil your sister-wife from sleeping with your husband tonight. We’ll show you how to keep a Levitical calendar and checklist to make sure your sex life doesn’t break God’s rules. For those of you forced to live with contentious spouses, we’ll show you how to make a corner of your attic into a proper place where you can hide, as Proverbs instructs. We’ll also study the prophets to see when it is appropriate to talk dirty and examine why Paul would rather stay single than go through all this hassle.

In every way possible, we want to encourage you to go BEYOND in your marriage! So watch for this ground-breaking study at Saddleback Resources in early 2015.

Take a stand for marriages that are BEYOND traditional — Be thoroughly BIBLICAL!

From The Wilsonian Institute
Cough Drop Christianity

I was recently under the weather (like many others) and in frequent use of cough drops. I noticed the particular brand that I was using offered "a pep talk in every drop." The cough drop wrappers have inspirational phrases printed on them to, I guess, lift your spirits.
Phrases actually found on these wrappers include (but are not limited to): "Keep your chin up," "Conquer today," "Elicit a few 'wows,' and "Don't give up on yourself."

I've always struggled with the idea of pep talks that aren't grounded in any sort of truth. Blame it on the cynic in me or my lack of emotion, but if there's no reasoning behind "keep your chin up," I have a really hard time being convinced to keep my chin up.


I've heard motivational speakers tell crowds of high school students that the only thing keeping them from having a great day is the decision to just "be awesome." That's such a cotton candy approach. It might get you out the door, but sooner or later reality of a broken, fallen world will set in. A pep talk might lift your spirits when you realize someone at the last donut. But if your mind is overcome by the real tragedies and disasters that affect this world, let alone the discouragement we can muster in our own minds, positive thinking won't cut it.

Sadly, most people outside of Christianity never hear about victory that is grounded in the eternal hope of Christ. It's also important to recognize that many Christians don't either. A lot of Christians are settling for motivational speaking rather than the transforming truth of God's word. It's concerning that some sermon points could double as cough drop wrapper pep talks. The ideas that "all that you need is found in yourself" or that fulfillment is found in "eliciting wows" are contrary to the gospel message of Jesus.

We can't handle everything that comes our way on our own. We don't have everything we need within ourselves to conquer the world or even the day. These deficiencies and weaknesses highlight our need for a Savior. We may want to believe that we can do anything if we just believe in ourselves, but we are saved by faith in Christ, not faith in ourselves.

Self-sufficiency is a really dangerous mindset to adopt. Self-sufficient people don't know their need for a savior, so they won't surrender to a savior. They also won't point others to the Savior. That's the ugly flipside of "cough drop Christianity."

I'm not condoning self-loathing, either. Please don't get me wrong. I believe we should all walk in confidence, freedom and victory. And I believe we all have worth. I just believe that confidence, freedom, victory, and worth are all found in Christ.

I often find that the music of modern hymn writers, Keith and Kristyn Getty really ministers to me. Their song, "My Worth Is Not In What I Own" really reiterates the truer, better pep talk that comes in claiming and celebrating the gospel of Christ and the worth that we find in Him alone. May it minister to you, as well, and serve as a reminder of the antidote to Cough Drop Christianity that we have in the gospel of Christ!

From Gospel Driven Church
OFI Conference, January 15-17

Join Daniel Montgomery, Dave Harvey, and myself in Tallahassee, Florida January 15-17 for the Of First Importance Conference.

(OFI) Conference exists to help pastors and ministry leaders consider what it really looks like to prioritize the good news of Jesus in life and ministry.

More info and registration at link above.

static.squarespace.com

From Semicolon
The Last Wild by Piers Torday

Wild” is a noun, not an adjective in this novel, and it means a group of animals who live together in a sort of ecosystem. Kester Jaynes is a boy, the son of a former veterinarian, who lives in a home for troubled children in a society that has become somewhat troubled, perhaps insane, itself.

The animals have all been destroyed because of the the “disease worse than a nuclear bomb” called red-eye. The animals were carriers, and now most of them are gone, except for insects and a few species of birds. However, one night Kester discovers that even though he is unable to speak even a word to humans, he can communicate with animals. A flock of pigeons and a cockroach rescue Kester from lockdown in the children’s home and take him to where the Last Wild is meeting in a desperate attempt to save themselves from becoming the last victims of red-eye.

Kester, through a series of odd events, becomes the leader of this Last Wild, and they set out together to find Kester’s father, who may hold the clue to a cure for the disease. Or Mr. Jaynes may be working with the evil Selwyn Stone Enterprise, makers of “formal-A”, the only food source for human beings now that the animals (and most all of the farms) are all gone. Kester is not sure what’s going on with his dad, but he journeys in faith that somehow his father will help the animals of the Last Wild.

So, this book is a post-apocolyptic father-quest with an evil corporation as antagonist, and the plot involves a weak but honorable boy traveling across country in the company of his animal friends and protectors. It sounds like a lot of other stories of its kind, and the formal-A and the cockroach friendship didn’t help my enjoyment of the novel. However, the sequel to this book, The Dark Wild, just won the Guardian Prize for for Children’s Fiction in Great Britain, a place where they may like their children’s books a little darker than I do and where they may not be as familiar with actual, Houston-size cockroaches. I can imagine those Britishers thinking that a cockroach would make a nice little pet, but they are wrong. Mice, yes, maybe, cockroaches, no way.

Anyway, if your toleration for roaches and pink slime (which is how I imagined the formal-A) is better than mine, and if the premise sounds interesting, you might want to check out The Last Wild. The roach friend and the nasty food are about the worst of the details of the novel. Oh, there are the dying stag and the crazy white pigeon.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

From internetmonk.com
To Be Well-Spoken

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 Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?

• Jeremiah 23:29, NRSV

• • •

One of my personal goals in life is to be well-spoken.

I am tired of “lingo.”

I reject group-imposed boundaries around how to express what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling, what I’m considering. I want to find a way to say it so that it grabs, sticks, bites, hurts, heals. First, in my own heart. Then, if anyone should listen, in theirs.

Hell is being trapped in a world of clichés. Nothing is real. Nothing has weight or substance. Nothing penetrates. Nothing wounds or nourishes. I want words that bring the dead to life.

Bounded, insider language is a Christian problem.

Words create worlds. We live in those worlds and they define us. Someone using different words doesn’t fit in our world. We can’t listen to them. We find it hard to take in their foreign phrases, to translate them into something we can grasp. We summon the auto-immune response and reject them out of concern for safety. We watch, we listen to, we read those whose language fits the preconceived notion. We deem them “safe.” They will not disturb our world.

In this world, we get together day after day, week after week, year after year, and say the same damn things to each other! Imaginations atrophy as we sit there safe, sipping our iced tea.

These gated worlds!

I want words that shatter worlds! And speak new ones into being! Let there be light!

A coworker recently gave me information about a new patient and his family. Baptists, of the independent, fundamental variety. King James Only. White shirt, dark tie. Nothing but the blood Baptists. Straight as an arrow. Locked in a narrow world.

“I can speak that language, ” I said.

I made the visit. I asked the standard introductory questions, using their terms. I inquired. I listened. I showed respect. They allowed me to enter their world because I could verify the passcode. I knew the secret handshake.

bleeding-heartBut once inside, the conversation shifted. I sat in silence where one might have expected a platitude. Then I spoke a single turn of phrase that caught them off guard. Tears welled up. For a brief moment, a slice of raw humanity appeared through a crack in the gate. Their pain bled out a little. I’d like to think a bit of healing took place.

In that moment, no shibboleth was spoken. No Christianese. No lingo. Just a human heart bleeding and a wordless moan.

Many of us are not ready for that. I wasn’t, not for years. Even today, there are times when the reality is too sharp, too uncomfortable, and I blurt out some cliché. And my mouth tastes like dust.

The authors and speakers and friends I love rarely if ever fall into this trap. I never know what they’re going to say or how they’re going to say it. They speak epiphanies. They build metaphorical worlds that carry me away and I am along for the ride: rising and falling on an open sea inhaling sharp salt air one moment, feet sinking into a spongy forest floor the next. It’s fairies and rabbit holes, wardrobes and windswept plains, ball yards and small town backyards, hobbits and desert saints and boarding school wizards, slums and palaces and log cabins and creaky old Victorian mansions.

But it’s not just the pictures they paint, the metaphorical worlds they create, it’s the medicine they give: words fitly spoken. Words that turn my head, that cause my jaw to drop. Words that make me stop and turn around. That make me shiver. That wrap me in a warm sherpa throw. That make my heart bleed ’til it’s whole again.

Not the same old lingo. Not tired trade language. If ever they use such words, they do so only as a foil for that which is clearly genuine.

Don’t let me settle for it, Lord. Put fire and hammers and balm and blankets in my mouth. Heal the sick, raise the dead, comfort the brokenhearted. Make the story real and build a new world.

What a gift is language!

Oh, to be well-spoken!

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Faber's Book of Loss and Strange New Things

Michel Faber has a fascinating story behind his novel, The Book of Strange New Things, as well as a curious story in the novel itself. The novel tells the story of an intergalactic missionary to works to translate the Bible to aliens who are not just a little different. They aren't beautiful Martian queens. They are completely foreign to human beings, and they want to know about Jesus and "the book of strange new things."

Steve Paulson of TTBOOK interviews Faber here as part of a show on science fiction.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
'Joy Cometh with the Mourning,' by Dave Freer



Dave Freer is best known as a science fiction writer. I don't know him personally, but we have several mutual friends. One of those friends sent me a free copy of Joy Cometh with the Mourning for review.

Reviewing this book is problematical for me, because of fundamental presuppositions. The main character is a female pastor, and most of you know I consider that unscriptural. Still, I read the book and found it appealing on its own terms.

Rev. Joy Norton, the protagonist, is a young pastor newly installed in a remote parish in Australia. She's insecure about the call, as she's never served in a rural church before, or on her own. The situation is complicated by the fact that her much-loved predecessor's cause of death is unknown. What makes it worse is that she begins to suspect that there were improprieties in his conduct, which might have given one of her parishioners a motive to murder him.

Unlike the mysteries I usually review, Joy Cometh with the Mourning is a "cozy" mystery. Instead of turning over spiritual rocks and discovering evil, Rev. Joy looks into human hearts and finds goodness there. Even that particularly maligned species of humanity, the Church Lady, is treated with respect and affection in this story.

I enjoyed reading Joy Cometh with the Mourning. If you're more tolerant than I am of egalitarianism in the church, you'll probably enjoy it very much.

From internetmonk.com
Preparing for the New Church Year (4)

austin-lighting-advent-6

For our final post on preparing for the new Church Year, we will talk about some suggestions for further reading and practice. I’ve divided them into three categories. Some are my own suggestions, others have come from IM readers.

  1. Books that give an overview of the Church Year to help individuals, families, and churches grasp its basic concepts and begin participating in Church Year spirituality.
  2. Books that can aid believers in conforming their daily prayer and devotional lives to the framework of the seasons of the Church Year.
  3. Books and resources that focus specifically on the upcoming Advent season, so that we can get a good start this year.

What criteria did I use in selecting these resources? First, I am recommending books that I myself have found useful. Second, others are on my own “Wish List” because I have seen them and they look intriguing to me. Third, I am suggesting links to other resources because I have used some related materials (but not all) and have found them helpful. These may enable those in different seasons of life (for example, with young children) to find additional resources to meet specific needs.

Each of us is unique, so you will have your favorites and some of mine may not resonate as deeply with you. If any in our iMonk community would like to make additional suggestions, please feel free to do so.

My best recommendation for you would be to join a faith community that practices Church Year spirituality. As I will argue in my next post, this pattern is designed to enable Christians to experience his life, death, and resurrection not only as individuals, but also together with one another in God’s family. If you are part of such a community now, you should take your first counsel from the ministers and mentors in your own tradition, for each stream of the Christian faith has its own emphases and detailed practices. Your local church or denominational publishing house may be able to guide you more specifically than I can here.

Short of that, I recommend starting with incorporating a few simple Advent practices in your personal devotional life and/or with your family. Using an Advent calendar or lighting Advent candles along with prayers for the season has helped many believers enter into the practices of the Church Year.

THE CHURCH YEAR (Overview)

Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year, by Robert Webber

The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life – The Ancient Practices Series, by Joan Chittister

The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year, by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

The New Handbook of the Christian Year: Based on the Revised Common Lectionary, by Hoyt Hickman, et al

The Services of the Christian Year (Complete Library of Christian Worship, Vol 5), Robert Webber, editor
Copies available through Amazon links to other vendors

Children’s Activities for the Christian Year, by Delia Halverson

Anglican/Episcopal resources:

Book of Common Prayer online

Find other resources at Anglicans Online

Roman Catholic resources from Liturgical Training Publications:

Orthodox resources:

DAILY PRAYER/DEVOTIONS (arranged according to the Church Year)

Treasury of Daily Prayer, by Scot A. Kinnaman

The Divine Hours, by Phyllis Tickle
Various editions available for seasons of the year and occasions.

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, by Shane Claiborne

Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God, by Bobby Gross

Eternal Seasons: A Spiritual Journey Through the Church’s Year, by Henri Nouwen

Celtic daily prayer (online)

ADVENT

The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas, by Madeline L’Engle

We Light the Candles: Devotions Related to Family Use of the Advent Wreath, by Catharine Brandt

The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas, by Dean Lambert Smith

Preparing for Jesus: Meditations on the Coming of Christ, Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom, by Walter Wangerin

Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World?, by Rick McKinley
Various resources for churches wanting to follow this approach to keeping Advent/Christmas are available at the Advent Conspiracy website.

The Winter Pascha, by Fr. Thomas Hopko.

From Holidays to Holy Days: A Benedictine Walk Through Advent – Albert Holtz

Living With Hope: A Scientist Looks at Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany – John Polkinghorne

Watch For The Light: Readings For Advent And Christmas

Sermons to the People: Advent, Christmas, New Year’s, Epiphany – St. Augustine

A Coming Christ in Advent: Essays on the Gospel Narratives Preparing for the Birth of Jesus : Matthew 1 and Luke 1 – Raymond Brown

No Trace of Christmas ? : Discovering Advent in the Old Testament – Christoph Domen

• • •

I hope these resources will give us all a good start at going deeper into understanding and practicing Church Year spirituality.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
The Reason Lecrae Changed His Tune

Musician Lacrae has taken some heat for switching from writing explicitly Christian songs to writing songs on themes with broader appeal. He has appeared with artists and on shows that have drawn criticism from those who think the right thing to do is stick with people who claim to follow Christ.

But Lacrae says another believer, Andy Crouch, changed his mind a few years ago. Jemar Tisby explains, "Crouch says in his book, Culture Making, 'If culture is to change, it will be because of some new tangible (or audible or visible or olfactory) thing is presented to a wide enough public that it begins to reshape their world.' He proposes that instead of condemning, critiquing, copying, or uncritically consuming culture, something new has to displace the old. It appears Lecrae has been making new music in an attempt to do just that."

The tension point for this idea will be at the place where those who want to change people apply their cultural creations. I'm sure many will continue to create things that won't get anywhere near the people they want to influence, and they will say they are making new culture, but it isn't changing anyone. They're making Halloween candy in hopes of changing Christmas.

From Semicolon
If You’re Reading This by Trent Reedy

Mike gets a letter a few weeks before his sixteenth birthday: “If you’re reading this, I’m very sorry, but I was killed in the war in Afghanistan.” Thus begins a series of letters to Mike from the dad he didn’t really know who died in Afghanistan when Mike was eight years old. Can Mike get to know his dad and maybe get some wisdom and advice, even though his dad is gone?

This YA contemporary fiction book has several things going for it:

It has a male protagonist, written by a male author. Mike really feels like a typical sixteen year old guy, kind of a straight arrow geek, but those really do exist. Mike reminds of some sixteen year olds I know.

The plot hinges on and features football, a very popular sport that hasn’t received its due in YA fiction. At least not in a good way. The stereotypical football player inmost YA fiction is a popular brain-dead jock who’s dating or dumping the also popular, brainless cheerleader. Mike finds friendship and community and the enjoyment of being part of a team in playing football, even if he does have to deceive his mother in order to make the team.

Mike’s dad is an everyman soldier who died in Afghanistan, and we get to know him as Mike does through his letters. Mike’s mom is over-protective and also distracted by trying to provide for Mike and his sister. These are real parents, not cardboard, and they both play an important part in Mike’s life and in the story. Not many YA novels really delve into the parent/teen relationship of imperfect parents who nevertheless love and try to relate to their also imperfect sons or daughters. Usually the parents are absent, stupid, or evil. Mike’s parents are none of the above.

I wouldn’t hesitate to give this book to any teen who’s trying to make sense of the war in Afghanistan or Iraq or any of the future wars we manage to get ourselves into. It’s not the final word on war or the meaning of life or heroism or honor, but it is a perspective. It’s an honorable and real perspective. I am quite impressed with Mr. Reedy as an author and as a commentator on the effects of war on families and especially young men. I like his other book that I read, Words in the Dust, and I liked this one, too.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

From internetmonk.com
Saturday Ramblings — Nov. 22, 2014

ChristMarketSaturday Ramblings, Nov. 22, 2014

Greetings from Cincinnati, where Gail and I have rambled this weekend to visit the Germania Society’s Christkindlmarkt, a traditional German outdoor Christmas market featuring German foods, beer and mulled wine, crafts, music, and traditional events such as a lantern parade and a visit from St. Nicholas.

These markets are common in northern Europe, and here’s a site, for example, that explains the history of those that developed in Austria.

Street Christmas markets have been held since the Late Middle Ages throughout Austria, Germany, northern Italy, certain regions in France, and Switzerland. They are well established in historic German-speaking communities in many U.S. cities and regions and are increasing in popularity each year.

While we enjoy a German pastry with our coffee this morning, have fun rambling wherever you are!

meatyard6_merton_2

Thomas Merton is our patron saint here at Internet Monk. IM friend Chris Smith has just taken up reading through his works, and is posting insightful quotes from them on a Twitter feed that you can follow @TMertonQuotes. Here are a couple of good ones so far:

“Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to Him, being attentive to Him, requires a lot of courage and know-how.”

“How necessary it is for monks to work in the fields,in the rain,in the sun,in the mud . . . these are our spiritual directors & novice-masters.”

One great resource for all things Merton is The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University, which is the official repository of Merton’s artistic estate. It includes over 1,300 photographs and 900 drawings in addition to his writings. The Center’s archives house more than 50,000 Merton-related materials. December 10 will mark the 46th anniversary of Merton’s death.

nf95i1-warrenpope

Pastor Rick Warren on Tuesday urged religious leaders to show their followers ways Christians can maintain their faith in a world with changing views about marriage.

“Today marriage is ridiculed, resented, rejected and redefined,” Warren said. “We cannot not do something.”

Warren was the 28th speaker in a three-day conference at the Vatican focusing on marriage and family. It started on Monday with Pope Francis saying that marriage between a man and woman is a “fundamental pillar” of society and that children have the right to grow up with a mother and father.

Conference participants were selected by the Vatican and included leaders from 23 countries and 14 religions. Topics included traditional marriage, cohabitation and same-sex marriage.

Warren affirmed his position on traditional Christian views of marriage between a man and a woman.

• Erika I. Ritchie, Orange County Register

Maybe it was the jet lag, but Warren came one point short of a perfect 8 for 8 when he alphabetized his “action plan” for Christians with regard to this issue:

Affirm the authority of God’s word
Believe what Jesus taught about marriage
Celebrate healthy marriages
Develop small group courses to support marriage
Engage every media to promote marriage
Face attackers with joy and winsomeness
Give people confidence
T(?)each the purposes of marriage

Ah, nothing like evangelical preaching. One reporter remarked that Warren turned the Vatican into “a revivalist meeting.”

immigration_news

While Republican leaders blast President Obama for taking executive action on immigration reform, some prominent evangelical leaders are welcoming the president’s plans to keep about 5 million undocumented immigrants from being deported.

Evangelicals are a key voting bloc for the GOP, but on immigration some are taking a pragmatic step away from the party. They include Hispanic leaders such as the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez who say the time has come to manage what has become a “de facto humanitarian crisis” for millions of immigrants.

“This merciful action takes place because for years our government, under the leadership of both parties, failed miserably as it pertains to immigration,” said Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

. . . Other Christian groups, such as Church World Service, welcomed the president’s move Thursday but questioned whether it goes far enough.

“However impressive 5 million people sounds,” said the Rev. John L. McCullough, CWS’ president and CEO, “the fact of the matter is that there still are 11 million … who wait with anticipation and have a deep concern about what will unfold over the course of this day.”

• Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

shutterstock_154291232

And now, a public service announcement from your friends at Internet Monk . . .

Your mom or dad probably told you to bundle up against frigid temperatures like the ones hitting much of the United States right now. That’s good advice if you want to stay warm and avoid frostbite or hypothermia — but they were wrong if they thought they were protecting you against colds and the flu.

“Grandma was being good-hearted to tell us to put on mittens,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine — but a person is not more likely to catch a cold or flu because they’re freezing, according to health experts.

. . . That’s because getting sick has much more to do with how people are exposed to cold and flu viruses. In fact, there are two main theories for why cold and flu season peaks in winter — and neither of them revolves around people being cold.

When a person with a respiratory virus coughs or sneezes, the virus escapes the host via a small droplet. In colder months, the virus can more easily remain in the air to infect another person, Schaffner said. “When that moisture evaporates, that virus in its little core can be in the air for longer … and then inhaled by party [two], which causes the infection,” he said.

It’s also likely that the more people stay indoors or in school, in close contact, the more chances viruses get to spread, Schaffner said.

. . . Schaffner said the best advice for people wanting to avoid getting sick this year is wash their hands often and be sure to get a flu shot.

• Gillian Mohney, ABC News

838322   LOCAL Carport c#53

All those urban planners who envision “walkable neighborhoods” in the nation’s great cities might hardly contain their delight Thursday on Seneca Street in South Buffalo.

Hundreds of people from the South Buffalo neighborhood were afoot in force even before Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo arrived to tour the area late in the morning. Then again, with some snow piles cresting at 25 or 30 feet above the pavement along vast stretches, there was just no room for a car.

Melissa Mune was among those out gathering supplies for elderly neighbors, even if she had her own concerns.

“My balcony is about to collapse and I’m going to have to replace about six windows,” she said, “but what the heck?”

And as dozens of city, county, Cattaraugus County and National Guard pieces of heavy equipment began attacking the area’s main drag, neighborhood kids took every opportunity to complicate the process – sledding down the massive piles into Seneca Street.

• Robert McCarthy, The Buffalo News

Over the River and Through the Wood, Matt Tavares

Over the River and Through the Wood, Matt Tavares

[A]n improving economy, more disposable income, consumer optimism and low gas prices are combining to create the biggest Thanksgiving travel rush in years.

Auto club AAA projects that 46.3 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home during the Thanksgiving weekend, a 4.2% increase over last year and the highest volume since 2007.

. . . More than 89% of holiday travelers – 41.3 million – will travel by automobile, a 4.3% increase over last year. Thanksgiving air travel is also expected to be at the highest level since 2007, with 3.55 million people flying to their destinations, AAA says. That’s 3% more than in 2013.

. . . Thanksgiving travelers are expected to spend an average of $573 over the course of their holiday travel, AAA says. “Lower prices are increasing disposable income and enabling families to carve out more money from household budgets for travel this Thanksgiving,” Doney says.

• Larry Copeland, USA Today

Heard while rambling around this week . . .

cslewis_photo_smNovember 22. Fifty-one years ago today. 1963. The world lost three prominent men.

  • U.S. President John F. Kennedy, age 46
  • C.S. Lewis, age 64
  • Aldous Huxley, age 69

“There’s no evidence that Huxley read Lewis, or that Kennedy read either—though his wife Jackie would certainly have read some of their books—but Lewis knew enough of Huxley to mention him in a letter of 1952 as an author of a future dystopia alongside H.G. Wells and George Orwell. The mental worlds inhabited by Kennedy, Lewis and Huxley—an Englishman translated permanently to West Coast America from 1938—were as mutually remote as their social worlds. Yet each devoted his energies to matters of universal concern, and together they form a curious triptych on the mortal condition.” (John Garth, The Daily Beast 11/3/13)

The week that was and is . . .

lake effect storm GEE14Watching the New England Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts Sunday night was like watching the major leagues vs. the minors. Total domination. I’ve had an increasing dislike for the NFL for many reasons, one of which has to do with the fact that there seems to be no definition of “good” anymore. When virtually anyone can beat everyone else at any time, well, some call that “parity,” but I call it “mediocrity.” The Patriots, on the other hand, may really be good. We’ll see. I haven’t been thinking much about Thanksgiving. I will be on call all week and so we’re keeping it low key. On the other hand, we’re gearing up to see most of the family over Christmas, which will include some travel, and I’m ready. I went to an open house for a friend’s new travel business the other evening and felt the old wanderlust rise within. If it were possible, I’d be on a train, boat, or plane tomorrow heading for some far horizon. A couple of days in Cincinnati is fine, but it takes me two or three days at least to shake off the stress before I can really start enjoying a trip, so this won’t give much real refreshment. People think I’m crazy, but I would love living in Buffalo. What an adventure! And what an opportunity to love your neighbors! One of my best days as a pastor was when we lived in Chicago and I spent a day going around the neighborhood with the church’s snowblower cleaning folks’ driveways after a big storm. Amazing what can happen when the sky falls, we’re all forced to slow down, and we have to get back to basics. It brings a certain clarity I like. Hats off to the good people in western New York.

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: November 22, 2014


“The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination.” ~Elizabeth Hardwick

SatReviewbuttonWelcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

From The Boar's Head Tavern
The TL;DR Bible

OK, it’s probably a first quoting something from Reddit on the BHT, but this was pretty funny:

GENESIS
God: All right, you two, don’t do the one thing. Other than that, have fun.
Adam & Eve: Okay.
Satan: You should do the thing.
Adam & Eve: Okay.
God: What happened!?
Adam & Eve: We did the thing.
God: Guys

THE REST OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
God: You are my people, and you should not do the things.
People: We won’t do the things.
God: Good.
People: We did the things.
God: Guys

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Creationism – How Old is the World?

from Aish.com by Dr. Gerald Schroeder

How did I get to this site?  My thought process was something like

  1. How old is the world?
  2. How old is the world according to Scripture?
  3. How can we best understand what Scripture means (answer: find out what the people who wrote it and originally read it thought it meant.)
  4. Who would know better what the ancient Jews thought…than ancient Jews?
  5. What is the closest we can get to that?

A lot of this made my head hurt.

Dr. Gerald Schroeder earned his BSc, MSc and double-Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics and Earth and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology…

So…he’s a smart guy  ;-)

Now…add to that, the Bible commentary he uses is all pre-1300 (so, no modern science has affected the reading of Scripture.)

In 1959, a survey was taken of leading American scientists. (…)Two-thirds of the scientists gave the same answer: “Beginning? There was no beginning. Aristotle and Plato taught us 2400 years ago that the universe is eternal. Oh, we know the Bible says ‘In the beginning.’ That’s a nice story, but we sophisticates know better. There was no beginning.”

That was 1959. In 1965, Penzias and Wilson discovered the echo of the Big Bang in the black of the sky at night, and the world paradigm changed from a universe that was eternal to a universe that had a beginning. After 3000 years of arguing, science has come to agree with the Torah.

Okay – when do the Jews say the universe began?  They start with Rosh Hoshana – the Jewish New Year.

Hayom Harat Olam ― today is the birthday of the world.”

Does it mean that (about)5,700 years ago, the universe came into existence?  According to this article, the “birthday of the world” celebrates, not the cosmos, but rather the creation of the human soul.

So (to use the article’s wording) the Bible has two clocks.  The first “clock” is the time leading up to Adam, the second clock begins with the soul of Adam.

One of the reasons for seeing this concept is the language.  Is there anywhere else in the Bible where a “day” is described as “morning and evening?”  This bizarre word usage is used until Adam; after Adam “normal” human time is always used.

Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations;(Deut 32:7 ESV)

Nachmanides (died 1270 AD) saw this verse as “split time” – “days of old” = pre-Adam; “many generations” = post Adam.

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
The Marriage Pledge

Phil and I have been discussing this exact topic – how Christian should respond to the state’s newly revised definition of “marriage” and what to do when pastors can no longer, with good conscience, act as state administrators

In many jurisdictions, including many of the United States, civil authorities have adopted a definition of marriage that explicitly rejects the age-old requirement of male-female pairing. In a few short years or even months, it is very likely that this new definition will become the law of the land, and in all jurisdictions the rights, privileges, and duties of marriage will be granted to men in partnership with men, and women with women.

As Christian ministers we must bear clear witness. This is a perilous time. Divorce and co-­habitation have weakened marriage. We have been too complacent in our responses to these trends. Now marriage is being fundamentally redefined, and we are ­being tested yet again. If we fail to take clear action, we risk falsifying God’s Word.

The new definition of marriage no longer coincides with the Christian understanding of marriage between a man and woman. Our biblical faith is committed to upholding, celebrating, and furthering this understanding, which is stated many times within the Scriptures and has been repeatedly restated in our wedding ceremonies, church laws, and doctrinal standards for centuries. To continue with church practices that intertwine government marriage with Christian marriage will implicate the Church in a false definition of marriage.

Therefore, in our roles as Christian ministers, we, the undersigned, commit ourselves to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties. We will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage. We will no longer sign government-provided marriage certificates. We will ask couples to seek civil marriage separately from their church-related vows and blessings. We will preside only at those weddings that seek to establish a Christian marriage in accord with the principles ­articulated and lived out from the beginning of the Church’s life.

Please join us in this pledge to separate civil marriage from Christian marriage by adding your name.

Drafted by:

The Reverend Ephraim Radner

The Reverend Christopher Seitz

Link here

From Semicolon
My Zombie Hamster by Havelock McCreely

When Matt gets a hamster for Christmas instead of the Runesword that he asked for, he’s not a happy camper. Then when Snuffles the Hamster dies, Matt really feels “horrible about the poor thing.” But when Matt realizes that Snuffles has turned into a Zombie Hamster (Anti-Snuffles), things start to get complicated, maybe even dangerous. Anti-Snuffles escapes and begins infecting the pets in the entire neighborhood with zombie-ness. Meanwhile, Matt’s friend Charlie (girl) is acting kind of strange. And the Zombie Police are on the watch for any new zombies, dead or undead.

This 200 page zombie apocalypse novel is pretty silly, but I can see that it might appeal to younger elementary readers, second, third, and fourth graders, who want to get in on the zombie craze. I did manage to get through the book myself, and it provoked a smile in places. Give it to your favorite zombie fanatic.

Another book that belongs in this category of elementary and undead is The Zero Degree Zombie Zone by Patrik Henry Bass. This similarly short (131 pages) and easy to read story has the distinguishing feature of a cast of characters who are all African American, including the protagonist, Bakari Katari Johnson. I’ll admit to skimming this one (I’m not a big zombie fan), but again for zombie readers who want something short and sweet, The Zero Degree Zombie Zone might just hit the spot. Read more about Zero Degree at Charlotte’s Library.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Le Guin: 'Resistance and Change Often Begin in the Art of Words'

Author Ursula Le Guin received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at this week's National Book Awards and inspired the crowd by holding up freedom as an author's best prize. "We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries-the realists of a larger reality."

She said many things needed to change, and that change often begins in art, specifically the art of words. Writing books according to marketing formulas for corporate profit is a rotten idea, she said. We need artists.

Her speech was short, so you can easily watch the whole thing here.

In an interview, Le Guin said, "If you're going to create a world out of whole cloth, that is to say, out of words, then you better get the words right." You can read about her and her many books in The Guardian.

From Semicolon
Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins

I didn’t care for Lynne Rae Perkins’ Newbery Award winning book, Criss Cross. As I remember it, the book was partly written in verse, and I don’t care for verse novels. It also was confusing, about teenagers, and I just didn’t “get it.”

Nuts to You is not Criss Cross. It’s not even similar to Criss Cross. If you liked last year’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt or even last year’s Newbery Award winner, Flora and Ulysses: the Illuminated Adventures by Kate di Camillo, then Nuts to You should be just up your alley.

It’s a squirrel story. The squirrels talk to each other–in squirrel. One of them speaks English and tells the story to the author who writes it down for us. The moral of the story is, “Save the trees,” for the sake of the squirrels and for humans, too. All of that–the talking squirrels, the environmental message, the author inside the story—should be enough to annoy me, but instead I found the entire story a delight.

First the talking squirrels. I did wonder how the narrator squirrel managed to learn and speak English. But I was willing to suspend disbelief because the squirrels are well, squirrelly, and funny and fun to be with. They have a whole squirrel culture complete with a love for storytelling and for games, a tendency toward conservatism and staying put in one place, and a capacity for bravery and perseverance that is inspiring.

The environmental message is not so heavy-handed that it made me cringe or even disagree. Humans are not the villains of the story. In fact, the squirrels seem to understand that for some reason some of the trees must be cut down, and they just do their best to roll with the punches and get on with their lives when bad things happen to their habitat. THere’s a message of “let’s just all try to live together and share the planet” that was refreshing and welcome in contrast to other books that preach about how human beings are despoiling the planet. I always feel as if I ought to find a hole and curl up and hibernate forever after I read those other sorts of environmental sermon stories.

The author is not too intrusive either. I liked her interaction with the elderly, storytelling squirrel at the beginning and end of the book. And I loved the story in the middle. Nuts to You is a keeper, for sure.

“Nuts to you, my friend. Nuts to us all.”

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Behind the Scenes of "The Princess Bride"

Cary Elwes, whom you may know as Pierre Despereaux from Psyche, has written a book on his experiences making the film The Princess Bride. The book, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, is a delightful book for fans and possibly movie buffs, and we have some of the revelations in this article in L.A. Weekly. Here are some of them.

Fox bought the movie rights to the book as soon as it was published in 1973, but it was 1987 when it finally played in theaters. In the meantime, many directors wanted to do it, including Robert Redford. Can you imagine Redford as The Dread Pirate Roberts (if he cast himself in his own film)?

Author William Goldman had seen many of his screenplays produced before The Princess Bride, but he was unprepared for the filming of this one. He freaked out on the first day when they were filming the scene in the fire swamp. "As soon as the gas geyser lit up her dress, Goldman burst out screaming, 'OH, MY GOD! HER DRESS IS ON FIRE! SHE'S ON FIRE!!!' Later, he scolded Reiner: 'You're setting fire to Robin on the first day?! What are you, nuts? It's not like we can replace her!'"

There's a word for that reaction, if I could only think of it.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

What is your dissertation about?

From Semicolon
Wit and Wisdom from (Mostly) Cybils Nominees 2014

I am a collector of aphorisms, a gatherer of proverbs, and a dispenser of words of wisdom.

If we could all remember and act upon these kidlit maxims, the world would be a better place, or at least a more innocent and childlike place.

1. “Just because doing the right thing can be prickly, that doesn’t make it any less right.” ~Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner.

2. “Our goal was never to live; our goal is to love. It is the goal of all truly noble men and women. Give all that can be given. Give even your life itself.” ~Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson.

3. “Cowards live for the sake of living, but for heroes, life is a weapon, a thing to be spent, a gift to be given to the weak and the lost and the weary, even to the foolish and the cowardly.” ~Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson.

4. “[O]nly a coward would rather defenestrate a helpless old man than face me in a fair fight.” ~The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy.

5. “Maybe normal’s not so bad.” ~Minion by John David Anderson.

6. “Never sit down at the negotiating table with cannibals, lest you find yourself on the menu.” ~Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly.

7. “[L]ife is neither fair nor kind.” ~Always Emily by Michaela MacColl.

8. “In this game of life
your family is the court
and the ball is your heart.
No matter how good you are,
no matter how down you get,
always leave
your heart
on the court.” ~The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

9. “If I tell you, you’ll just forget at some critical point. If you figure it out for yourself, you’ll always remember.” ~The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell.

10. “The only cage that a grudge creates is around the holder of that grudge.” ~The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell.

11. “Bravery isn’t measured by size. It’s measured by heart.” ~Mouseheart by Lisa Fielder.

12. “A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens ‘em. And a lie does the opposite. It helps you hide.” ~The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier.

13. “Don’t confuse what you do with who you are. . . [T]here’s no shame in humble work.” ~The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier.

14. “Stay right with your brothers. Stay right with the Lord. Hit like thunder, and run like the devil’s nightmare.” ~Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson.

15. “It’s never too late to make a better decision.” ~The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage.

16. “Everything takes as long as you’ve got.” ~The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage.

17. “[M]ost situations don’t require my input.” ~The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage.

18. “You can’t buy a friend, that’s for sure. You have to be one.” ~Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, The Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions by Lenore Look.

19. “No lamb for the lazy wolf.” ~Frostborn by Lou Anders.

20. “If there’s one thing more stressful than being attacked by ravenous ghost-rats, it’s finding that you’re going to a fancy party and you haven’t got a thing to wear.” ~Lockwood & Co.: The Whispering Skull.

21. “Angry and grumpy.
Jealous and grumpy.
Selfish and grumpy.
Worried and grumpy.
Sad and grumpy.
Grumpy is like ketchup—it goes with a lot of things.”
~Wisher Dreamer Liar by Charise Mericle Harper.

22. “Just because something is true, it doesn’t mean you want to know about it.” ~Wisher Dreamer Liar by Charise Mericle Harper.

23. “[T]ragedy is not glamorous. . . . Tragedy is ugly and tangled, stupid and confusing.” ~We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.

24. “Be a little kinder than you have to.” ~We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.

25. “In searching for the truth, be ready for the unexpected. Change alone is unchanging.” ~Heraklietos of Ephesos in The Ninja Librarians: Accidental Keyhand by Jen Swann Downey.

26. “Do not, however tempting it might be, poke sticks at sleeping grifters.” Cabinet of Curiosities, Emma Trevayne.

27. “Bring your brain to the party.” ~The Twistrose Key by Tone Almhjell.

28. “Do it like you mean it!” ~Little Green Men at the the Mercury Inn by Greg Leitich Smith.

29. “Failure is just as valuable as success, if you figure out what caused the failure.” ~Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka.

30. “Together, we’re strong. Strong enough to fight, and strong enough to win.” ~Horizon by Jenn Reese.

31. “Iron resolve. Ferocious courage. And a healthy dose of insanity. That’s what makes a superhero. Not some amazing power.” ~Almost Super by Marion Jensen.

32. “It’s not your power that makes you super. It’s what you do with that power.” ~Almost Super by Marion Jensen.

33. “An empty food dish means chaos.” ~Fat & Bones and Other Stories by Larissa Theule.

34. Q: “Is there really a cure?”
A: “For every very blessed ill there is being a cure.”
~Thursdays with the Crown by Jessica Day George.

35. “You must be putting on your shoes like a very man, and going forth!” ~Thursdays with the Crown by Jessica Day George.

36. “If you’re going to do it, don’t do it stupid.” ~Loot by Jude Watson.

37. “If you think nothing can go wrong, you’d better think again.” ~Loot by Jude Watson.

38. “Never cheat, but be able to spot a cheater.” ~Loot by Jude Watson.

39. “Life isn’t fair. It never has been and it never will be. You can sit back and moan about its unfairness while the witches roll across the countryside, or you can pick yourself up and get on with it.” ~Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson.

40. “You get to decide who you want to be. No one else.” ~Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson.

41. “Let love heal you.” ~The Time of the Fireflies by Kimberley Griffiths Little.

42. “One’s nature is largely a product of habit.” ~The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler.

43. “It is always better to ask a question than to answer one.” ~Shouldn’t You Be In School? by Lemony Snicket.

44. “You should only snap your fingers if you do it well. It’s the same for surgery, or driving a forklift.” ~Shouldn’t You Be In School? by Lemony Snicket.

45. “If you’ve never had buttermilk and you’re curious what it tastes like, good for you and don’t be.” ~Shouldn’t You Be In School? by Lemony Snicket.

46. “The treachery of the world will continue no matter how much you worry about it.” ~Shouldn’t You Be In School? by Lemony Snicket.

47. “Everyone needs a moment on the diving board, before jumping into the depths below.” ~Shouldn’t You Be In School? by Lemony Snicket.

48. “Don’t be dazzled. Pay attention. Use your knowledge of the enemy.” ~Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins.

49. “Sometimes the thing to do is invite your adversary for cake and lemonade, and see if they can become your friend.” ~Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins.

50. “But when you are Team Squirrel, and the other team is Team Hawk, this is not a good idea. Because as far as the hawk is concerned, you are the cake. And also the lemonade.” ~Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins. (See also #6.)

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
Some of these books are also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

From The Boar's Head Tavern
Time flies

Well, I’m dropping the ball over here. I probably won’t be able to match that initial burst back in October with my dissertation looming over my head and us looking for a new youth pastor. Hate to hear about Jolly Blogger. I hate cancer. 

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Celebrity Coffee Labels

Would you buy coffee from Joey Kramer of Aerosmith? How about Grace Hightower's Coffee of Rwanda, sold at Bed, Bath, and Beyond? Maybe Laughing Man coffee from Hugh Jackman, which gives all of its proceeds to charity? Apparently, they aren't bad.

Also from our coffee connoisseur desk, confessions from baristas.

From Semicolon
Semicolon Book Recommendations

I just found this site, called Anne Knows Books, which offers personalized book recommendations for a reasonable price ($3.00 a month) based on a book profile that you fill out and update regularly. I also noted this post, Why I’m Not Making a Holiday Gift Guide by Alyssa at Everead, in which Alyssa offers to give you personalized book recommendations for yourself or for those who are on your Christmas shopping list.

Well, I generally give book recommendations at the end of the year to those who add a link to their “best of” reading lists at the Saturday Review of Books on the Saturday just before or after New Year’s Day. (The Saturday Review of Books, Special Edition for Book Lists will be January 3rd this time.) But I’d love to get a head start. If you have some Christmas shopping to do, and you’d like to buy a book for someone special, or if you’d like to have suggestion or two about what you might want to read next, leave me the following information, and I will suggest three or more books for you to choose from for your gift-giving. I need to know the gift recipient’s:

Age and gender
A few interests and hobbies
Two or three favorite books or genres, if you know

You could try Alyssa, too, or Anne Knows Books, and see if we come up with the same ideas. Have fun giving a book or two or three for Christmas. I’ll leave my suggestions in the comments section here, and I might compile them into a post at some time later in the season.

From Semicolon
Shouldn’t You Be In School? (All the Wrong Questions) by Lemony Snicket

Reading Lemony Snicket aka Daniel Handler, isn’t about the characters or the plot. The characters are quirky and memorable. The plots are convoluted and confusing. But really the experience of reading a Lemony Snicket book is all about the language. Snicket plays with words like a cat plays with a hummingbird. Dangerously. (You can tell I’m under the influence, but I’m not nearly as skillful as Mr. Handler.)

Anyway, this third book in the All the Wrong Questions series is full of linguistic gymnastics and examples of literary celebration. Here are a few:

“The sun was having a tantrum so fierce that all the shade had been scared away, and the sidewalks of Stain’d-by-the-Sea, the town in which I had been spending my time, were no place for a decent person to walk.”

“I took a bite of the bread and something in the jam made me feel sparks on my tongue. It was a lunch of adventure. I felt my mouth grinning around the spoon.”

“Solving a mystery is like naming a dog. If enough people call it one thing, that’s the name that tends to stick.”

“I put it in my shirt for safe-keeping, and passed the rest of the time trying to remember everything that happens to a little bunny who appeared in books I didn’t like. He disobeys his mother and eats vegetables out of some man’s garden. He loses his jacket and shoes. He drinks chamomile tea. He gets his clothes cleaned by a hedgehog. He gathers onions. He helps his sister Flopsy. Before I knew it, it was dark.”

“It’s like the difference between what happens in a book and what happens in the world. The world is swirling with so many mysteries and secrets that nobody will ever track down all of them. But with a book you can stay up very late, reading and rereading until all the secrets are clear to you. The questions of the world are hidden forever, but the answers in a book are hiding in plain sight.”

“A skeleton key is like a skeleton. It doesn’t do much good if you don’t know how to use it.”

“I limped into Hungry’s like a broken parade.”

“In a way it was the statue that had started the fuss, as I’d learned while investigating my last big case. But the fuss had long ago grown bigger than the statue had ever been, the way an answer to a simple, clear question can turn out to be complicated and mysterious.”

I really enjoy Mr. Snicket’s metaphors and similes and bunny rabbit trails and philosophical musings, but if you don’t or if you don’t have a high tolerance for confusing and unresolved, you’ll want to skip these books. Lots of things are introduced in this book and in the two previous books that are still unexplained by the end of this third book. In this book alone there’s a honeydew melon robbery (why?), a furious, hungry, raging, disappearing dream-monster (how?), and a mysterious basement full of fish tanks (huh?). I didn’t understand any of those parts of this story at all but I just kept reading, lost in the journey.

Lemony Snicket, who is the narrator as well as the author of these stories, says in his introduction that there were “four wrong questions, more or less” that he asked and was wrong to ask. So, the fourth book should have all the right questions or the wrong answers or something. But I’m not holding my breath, a phrase which here means that I’m just going along for the ride.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
The Jack Stratton novels, by Christopher Greyson



It's a rare treat to discover an author and a series of books I enjoy very much, and which I can recommend to our readers almost without reservation. But that's the case with Christopher Greyson and his Jack Stratton novels.

Jack Stratton, the hero of the series, is a cop in a South Carolina town. He's a good man, but wound tight. As a boy he was abandoned by his prostitute mother, but found refuge in a loving mixed race foster home before being adopted by a good family. As a young man he served in Iraq beside one of his foster brothers, Chandler. He saw Chandler die, and because of survivor's guilt he hasn't contacted his foster family since.

That's until Replacement invades his life. "Replacement" is the nickname of a young woman who grew up in his old foster home, though after his time there. She shows up in his apartment and tells him Michelle, a foster sister to whom he was always close, has disappeared. She'd been studying in a local college, but supposedly transferred to a California school. Only she hasn't gotten in touch with her family, and she wouldn't do that.

With Replacement as his uninvited assistant, he starts looking into Michelle's life, and discovers troubling things.

That's the premise of Girl Jacked. After that story comes Jack Knifed, in which Jack and Replacement look for his birth mother and investigate the long-ago murder of his father. In Jacks Are Wild he looks for a former lover who has disappeared, and in Jack and the Giant Killer he and Replacement try to find the owner of a stray dog, only to turn up the trail of a serial killer.

Jack Stratton is a perfectly good action/detective hero, but it's Replacement who makes the books special. She's Jack's perfect foil - bubbly and girlish where he's grim and single-minded, optimistic where he's pessimistic, and a moderating force when he gets obsessive. Their developing romance is one of the best things about the stories. The sexual tension between them is extremely high, and for a wonderful reason - they're chaste with one another. Christians will question their living arrangements (they live in the same apartment, and often share the same bed, but do not have sex), but there's genuine innocence here, which is refreshing in a modern story.

As an added bonus, they both pray. Always before meals, and often when they're making decisions. It's not a preachy thing - it's just treated as a normal part of life.

There are plot flaws - I thought the villains in Girl Jacked were kind of James Bond-ish and improbable. But the writing is good, the characters are excellent, the language is mild, and I enjoyed the stories from beginning to end. Another book is in the pipeline, I understand, and I'm awaiting it eagerly.

From Out of the Bloo
“To give them their food at the proper time”

From today’s reading of Matthew 24

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. – Matthew 24:45-51 (ESV)

Have you ever noticed how much the New Testament references food? It is full of talk of fruit, bread, wine, water, fish, feasts, multiplication of food, hunger satiated and thirst quenched.

In the metaphor of the vine and branches we are to bear fruit as we abide in him. Jesus tells us that we will have springing out of us rivers of living water. He calls himself the bread that came down from heaven. His repeated promise is that in him we will never hunger and thirst again. He calls his disciples “fishers of men” and even gives them advice on where to place their nets. He multiplies bread and fish for his hungry followers, turns water into wine, and even compares the gospel to new wine in new wineskins. Jesus declares that his food is to do the work of his Father. In a resurrection appearance to the disciples he eats broiled fish, and at the home of the Emmaus walkers he breaks bread. The New Testament culminates in the wedding feast of Christ and his church.

It can be argued that the sole duty of a follower of Jesus is to be a feeder of others, to invite others to the smorgasbord of Jesus’ grace and to serve up heaping helpings of same.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?”

Following his resurrection, in John 21 Jesus meets his followers on the beach, having prepared for them a meal of fish and bread (also, his helpful fishing tips have just provided them with the biggest haul of fish they’d ever seen). In his restorative conversation with Peter he commands him three times to “feed my sheep”. Not organize a church. Not get a degree. Not develop creative strategies. The prime focus of what Peter is to do involves feeding. Those other things: the degree, organization, creativity, strategic thinking, are not bad in themselves and are actually quite helpful and wise, provided they serve the mission of serving the bread of Heaven to those who are Christ’s sheep.

We’re to be feeders. And for one who might think that’s just a suggestion, an option, one way among many to go as a follower of Jesus, the final two sentences of the quoted passage above are a good corrective, and emphasize and illustrate the passion (it wouldn’t be off-base to use the word “ferocity” here) that our Father has for the feeding of his people.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Points on Interstellar

Jeffrey Overstreet reviews Interstellar, whose trailer really draws me but I gather the movie may not get me singing. I haven't seen it read, nor have I read all of Jeff's review. Still, I'm sure it's good, so I wanted to link to it.

Our friend Hunter Baker says I enjoyed the film, but could not swallow a major plot rationale. Have you seen it? What do you think?

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
The Autobiography of a Pioneer Girl

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her autobiography before her Little House Series and could not find a publisher for it. This month, over eighty years later, an annotated edition will be published. Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography has been edited by Pamela Smith Hill, who wrote her own biography of Wilder a few years ago. She blogs about her subject here. In a recent post, a Wilder co-researcher explains a bit of research on a story from a terrible winter.

Wilder places the story of the schoolteacher and his improvised igloo in the winter of 1884-1885, but the setup is strongly reminiscent of the "children's blizzard," a storm that struck without warning on a warm day in January 1888 and killed more than a hundred schoolchildren as they struggled to get home. Wilder did not always remember events in their true chronological order, and it seemed likely that she misplaced this one. But she does not give the teacher's name, and the Kingsbury County newspapers that could complete the story have been lost, so there, it appeared, the matter would rest.

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: November 15, 2014


“These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves. From each of them goes out its own voice…and just as the touch of a button on our set will fill the room with music, so by taking down one of these volumes and opening it, one can call into range the voice of a man far distant in time and space, and hear him speaking to us, mind to mind, heart to heart.” ~Gilbert Highet

SatReviewbuttonWelcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

I was just musing over the idea that I would gladly trade much of the leadership coursework I had in seminary for more history and hermeneutics. Shea’s answers are, of course, the correct ones.

I read something sad today. I followed the Jolly Blogger back in the days when we used to read those. David Wayne always seemed to be a decent guy. His daughter posted on his Facebook that brain cancer is giving him seizures, and he’s come home to be in hospice care. Another one of the old guard is about to enter into Jesus’ rest.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

It looks like The Leadership Cult Mark Galli wrote about 6 years ago is still going strong. I admit I’m still cynical about this, but unless the leadership/authority stuff leads to a deep desire for humility and discipleship in Christ we’re in for more of the same. Dr****ll will be just the start.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. *drops mic*

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Do Some Protestants Believe in Purgatory?

Gene Edward Veith points out a news story about Professor Jerry L. Walls, who teaches the idea of purgatory and has written about it in Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation. Walls apparently buys into the Catholic understanding of the purification of believers. As this article explains, followers of Christ must be purified even if they are forgiven of all their sins. Their sanctification is not fully accomplished by Christ's work on the cross, but by some spiritual process between death and paradise. David Gibson of RNS states, "In recent years, the emphasis [for purgatory's purpose] has swung from 'satisfying' the justice of God through painful reparations to one of sanctification, or becoming holy.

"'To suggest instead that Christians will enjoy a kind of express executive elevator at the time of death is to suggest that those who work hard on holiness in this life are wasting their efforts,' John G. Stackhouse, Jr., a popular evangelical author at Canada's Regent College wrote in an essay on Walls' ideas in The Christian Century."

This Catholic writer explains, "Catholic theology takes seriously the notion that 'nothing unclean shall enter heaven.' From this it is inferred that a less than cleansed soul, even if 'covered,' remains a dirty soul and isn't fit for heaven." But I guess Christ's atonement does not accomplish this, so though we are fully saved by his grace, we must be fully purified by purgatory's refining fire, which has been a big problem historically (not to mention the fact that the Protestant Bible doesn't allow for even prayers on behalf of the dead).

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Jerry Jenkins' Christian Writers Guild Shuts Down

Popular Christian novelist Jerry Jenkins has closed the doors on the Christian Writers Guild. The Guild was founded in the 1960s. Jenkins has owned it since 2001. Christianity Today has some details on why it is shutting down, perhaps due to diverging interests for Jenkins and Dave Sheets, the recently resigned guild president. Sheets is now heading up BeliversMedia, which will offer many and more of the things found in the Christian Writers Guild.

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Mark Driscoll Derangement Syndrome

1) Remember “Palin Derangement Syndrome?” It happens with other people also.

When you are so determined to see bad in all things that even tangentially touch a person, you’ve got DS (Derangement Syndrome)

2) I am in NO WAY supporting or agreeing with the sins that Mark Driscoll as committed in his time at Mars Hill. I hope that he, his family, his church, and all those who have been injured by Driscoll’s leadership find healing, repentance and forgiveness.

~~~

Warren Throckmorton has been making much hay over Mark Driscoll.

Some of the posts have been right on target. Others miss the mark.

Still others are full on “MDDS” (Mark Driscoll Derangement Syndrome)

When you go on the attack, aimed at John Piper, because he didn’t say everything that you think he should have said in an ELEVEN MINUTE podcast, you’ve got MDDS

When you question the integrity of other authors, based on the fact that they use the same publicist as Driscoll, you’ve got MDDS.

When (this was a commenter) you suggest that Christian authors should not sell their work, but give it away as a PDF and wait for folks to “donate” what they think the work is worth—forgetting that the HOST of the blog you’re commenting on is an author who (wait for it…) SELLS HIS WORK, you’ve got MDDS.

I’ve been following Throckmorton for a while, and his encouragement of the haters is disturbing and disheartening.

The information he puts out there is (perhaps) necessary, for those who have sat under Mark Driscoll, and want to keep tabs on the information in one place.

BUT…in order to keep the true haters (and MDDS) under a little more control, I’d suggest closing comments on all new posts concerning Mark Driscoll. If readership continues, Throckmorton will know that his information is still getting through to the right places.

If readership falls if commenters cannot continue ranting – that’s a clue that Throckmorton’s most common function has been to provide a venue for MDDS.

that should be worth thinking about.

From The Boar's Head Tavern
5 areas to address to revitalize the church

Brian Croft writes on 5 areas that must be addressed to revitalize the local church.

1) Authority: Who is in Charge?

2) Leadership: Who do I Follow?

3) Membership: To Whom am I Accountable?

4) Unity: Who is my Brother?

5) Worship: Why do we Gather?

Is it just me, or is (at a minimum) the ordering of these kinda scary? Is “who is in charge?” really the #1 question we need to answer to revitalize the church?

From Semicolon
Spell Robbers by Matthew J. Kirby

Book One of The Quantum League is a spies and robbers story encapsulated in magical abilities to manipulate matter and pseudo-physics and topped with double-crosses and triple agents and lots of anguished decisions about whom to trust and whom to betray.

When Ben goes to science camp at the college where his mother is a newly hired professor, he soon realizes that this camp is unlike any other he has ever attended. The camp director, Dr. Hughes, gives lectures in quantum physics, and then there’s a demonstration that makes Ben doubt his senses. The kids at this camp are learning to actuate, to actually manipulate matter and energy with their minds.

As if that’s not enough to take in, it turns out that there are “bad guys” out there who want to use the ability to actuate for evil, and “good guys” who are wiring to protect the world from the bad guys. However, when the so-called good guys kidnap Ben and cut him off from his family, Ben is not so sure who’s good and who’s bad.

Spell Robbers is a pretty good beginning to a series that will appeal to kids who are interested in science and adventure mixed with magic. Just remember that it’s only the first book in a series. According to his website, Mr. Kirby doesn’t know when the second book in the series will be finished and published. It sounds like it might be a long wait.

The book would be good to recommend to fans of John David Anderson (Minion and Sidekicked), Jeramey Kraatz’s Cloak Society, or Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities by Mike Jung.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Is a Content Creator Required to Interact with Readers?

Matthew Ingram argues that media companies, particularly content creators like Reuters, should allow their readers to comment on articles. If they don't, they are shutting out potential fan support.

Reuters recently removed its comment section, saying self-policing social networks were already handling lively discussion well so they didn't need to duplicate the effort. Ingram says by doing this, Reuters is handing a large slice of market value to Facebook and Twitter (among other networks) as well as move any arguments over an article onto other venues where Reuters' writers will have to decide how to respond on their own. He explains:

Is moderation a pain, and an expensive proposition? Sure it is. Lots of things that matter to your business are expensive. And if you have an engaged community, they can become your moderators, as successful online communities like Slashdot and Metafilter have shown - which in turn helps strengthen your community. Ending comments means removing any chance that this will ever happen.
A news service probably needs all the love it can get. Does Reuters really want their writers to tweet their defense of contentious reports or take the debate to Medium?

From Gospel Driven Church
Love When’s

When is God love?

When you are in tribulation, Love will bring you back to himself (Deut. 4:30).

When you are surrounded by the enemy, Love will keep you from evil (Deut. 23:9).

When you are invited to honor, Love will keep you humble (Matt. 14:8).

When you are judged, Love will justify you (Rom. 3:4).

When you are slandered, Love will vindicate you (1 Pet. 3:16).

When you die, Love will deliver you (Prov. 11:7-8).

When you are raised, Love will transform you (1 Cor. 15:50-51).

God is Love at all times.

From Out of the Bloo
“They will see the Son of Man coming in clouds”

From today’s reading of Mark 13

“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. – Mark 13:24-27 (ESV)

I don’t generally have a strong confidence in my ability to interpret eschatological texts.

But let’s set aside interpretation for a moment. As Augustine said, “Let others wrangle, I will wonder.”

Our dear Lord Jesus; you are going to come back to earth some day, making your royal entrance in clouds, power, and glory. What a privilege it will be to see that! I may already be dead by then and if so that will be my moment of resurrection. If I am still living, I will be caught up to meet you in the air.

“. . . and so we will always be with the Lord.” – 1 Thessalonians 4.

Always with you! Lord when you return to make all things new, dear Savior, we will be forever in your presence as you forever reign.

Wonderful Counselor! Mighty God! Everlasting Father! Prince of Peace! You who bring us wisdom in our darkness, you who battle passionately and victoriously on behalf of your people, you who have always been and always will be! You, dear Jesus, author and finisher of faith, bringer of the peace that passes understanding.

You.

You!

You, creator of the universe, sustainer of all, rescuing hero, sacrificing Savior, King of kings and Lord of lords. You will reign forever judging all things rightly. making all things new.

You who chose the lowly over the mighty, who chose the last over the first, who honored widows and prostitutes and tax collectors and spoke in righteous anger against the powers of this world who were eating up your people. You who toiled and suffered and prayed and strove and fed and healed and taught and loved. You who were delivered up for my many sins and the sins of all the earth, to be tortured and killed. You who were raised up on the third day and appeared to your astonished followers, the Risen Lord. You who sent the promised Holy Spirit to your people and gave them the power to turn the world upside down in your name.

You! We can’t wait to see you!

Come quickly Lord Jesus!

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Will Bill Watterson Return to Comics?

Is Bill Watterson returning to comics? Gracy Olmstead suggests, "Now, after all this time, Watterson is free to create again-to create something new." (via Prufrock)

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Pixar Is Reviving Disney Animation Studios

Caitlin Roper tells the story. "Once upon a time, around the turn of the century, in the sunny town of Burbank, there was a great old animation company that was no longer great. Its films were various kinds of bad, but they all had some things in common: They didn't resonate with audiences, they didn't introduce unforgettable characters, and they didn't sell tickets or DVDs."

Disney Animation wasn't being run by artists anymore, perhaps not even by people who loved movies, Roper says. They had unremarkable business people picking stories and making movies happen.

"Disney's movies just seemed to lack ... heart," Roper says. "Take Home on the Range. From its predictable opening song to its by-the-numbers plot about a cow that's lost her home and her friends, the movie was a dusty ride through stock archetypes and one-note sidekicks. In contrast, Pixar's The Incredibles, which came out the same year, immediately introduced audiences to a unique and relatable protagonist as he struggles to attach a microphone to his spandex supersuit.... Mr. Incredible may be a superhero, but he's just like us. That epitomizes Pixar's approach to storytelling. 'The connection you make with your audience is an emotional connection,' Lasseter says. 'The audience can't be told to feel a certain way. They have to discover it themselves.'"

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
'One Bright Star to Guide Them,' by John C. Wright



"Innocence and faith are the weapons children bring to bear against open evils; wisdom is required to deal with evils better disguised."

You might be tempted, on the basis of its description, to think John C. Wright's novella, One Bright Star to Guide Them, is simple Narnia fanfic. A story of four adults, who were once children who entered a magical land peopled by magicians and talking animals.

But it's more than that. This story is a transposition of Narnia. Author Wright moves the whole concept onto a different level. It's a meditation on the most terrible line in all the Narnia books - "Susan is no longer a friend of Narnia." Thomas, the protagonist, is summoned to take up a new fight against a revived evil. But when he contacts his childhood companions, he finds that - for one reason or another - they are not willing to join him. So he has to test his faith alone, except for the help of their old guide, a mystical kitten called Tybalt.

One Bright Star to Guide Them is a quick read, but entirely worthy of the material that inspired it. Beautiful in places. Highly recommended.

From Out of the Bloo
“They do all their deeds to be seen by others”

From today’s reading of Matthew 23, Luke 20-21

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long . . . – Matthew 23:1-5 (ESV)

It’s easy when reading the gospels to just assume the scribes and Pharisees were wrong through and through. But Jesus here affirms that their teaching was not wrong. They were sitting on Moses’ seat, teaching the law given by God. The law is good.

And yet, in a very crucial way, their teaching was wrong. They showed by their own lives that keeping God’s law is impossible in our own power, and yet still taught that salvation comes through keeping the whole law. This kind of teaching will do a number on the teacher, and it had developed in the Pharisees an exquisite blindness to their own hypocrisy.

Jesus is, of course, the great Light who gives sight to the blind. He decides to shed some light on the situation and so in Matthew 23 he lays into the scribes and Pharisees with brutal precision.

The Pharisees in their teaching had made it a habit to tie up their people with the heavy burden of keeping a law that in our fallen state we are incapable of keeping. Out of the cognitive dissonance that followed, within the heart of each scribe and Pharisee it seems that the mission changed for them. Deep in their hearts this statement took hold.

“I can’t keep this law I am teaching. The second best thing will be to at least look like I’m keeping it.”

I’ve engaged in that deadly logic myself, many times. The law of God is good. But in a cage match against my flesh, obedience to the law is going to get trounced. Paul writes the following in Romans 8:

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4 (ESV)

The Pharisees weren’t completely wrong. The righteous requirement of the law can be fulfilled in us. But the only hope of that happening is to throw ourselves upon Jesus, the Gift of God. In a completely unfair trade, we give him our weakness, our hypocrisy, our show-morality, our flesh, our sin, and we get his righteousness, his Spirit, and most of all, we get all of him!

Freedom!

From The Living Room
fields

I am a city girl by temperament,
So I have no idea what it’s like
To get in a tractor and plow a field
For several hours on end.
I don’t know what it’s like
To drive those same fields and
Gather in all of your soybeans or corn
Or wheat or whatever.

Maybe it’s good thinking time,
Out in the air that’s mostly fresh
Except for the exhaust fumes from your
Large machinery, staring but not really
Looking at all your crops.

Maybe it’s the same way I feel while
Driving through the middle of nowhere,
That hollowed-out place where your brain
Has no room for thoughts because it’s so busy
Trying to keep you from crashing into a tree.

Or maybe it’s the way I feel now,
The waiting, the work, and the unsettled feeling
That there’s still more to do tomorrow.