"Perseverance is not the result of our determination, it is the result of God's faithfulness."

- Eugene Peterson
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From internetmonk.com
Completing the King’s Afflictions

Martyrdom of st-stephen

The Martyrdom of Stephen, Lotto

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

• Colossians 1:24, NRSV

• • •

1. This week, we are focusing on what I guess might be called, “the quandary of the church age.” On Monday, I suggested that one of the most vexing questions for those who read the New Testament has to do with the expectations one might develop when reading the NT, about how history would work out once Jesus launched “the last days.”

The NT presents Christ’s death and resurrection as historically and soteriologically decisive, his ascension as the event by which he took his throne, putting his enemies under his feet, and the descent of the Spirit as the long-awaited gift forming a community of transformed people whose powerful witness would announce the rule of Jesus as Lord over the entire world. Furthermore, it is promised that Jesus would return, the dead would be raised, and all creation renewed — and it appears that the early Christians expected this to happen sooner rather than later.

And here we are two thousand years later, looking back on a tumultuous history and wondering why sin still abounds and the church so often appears at best incompetent at being a sign of Jesus’ reign and a new creation.

• • •

2. Yesterday, we took some instruction from Alan E. Lewis’s book, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday. Lewis suggests that the central narrative of Christian faith, which is reflected in the high point of the liturgical year, should form our perspective on the way we view our lives and history itself, as well as the mission of the church.

Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday form the triduan pattern of this narrative and show how God in Jesus loved the world “to the uttermost” (John 13:1) and defeated the powers of sin, death, and evil in the world. The three-fold pattern describes how God’s victory only came as Jesus and his disciples first walked through two days through death, defeat, and despair.

This helps us define the nature of the Christian “hope.” It is truly hope, and not mere optimism. Optimism sees things getting better and better, moving from victory to victory, a more or less consistent upward trajectory of progress. Hope, on the other hand, acknowledges the roller coaster and clings to the fact that love will ultimately triumph in the long term even when it appears too weak in the short and medium term to stand up to the power of evil.

Whatever we expect, then, from the fact that Jesus is Lord, has won the decisive victory, and has promised that the world will be put to rights in the end, we shouldn’t expect that the journey there will be one of quick and unambiguous progress. For God has shown us that the way he wins is not by winning, and that love must risk being rejected or worse in order to transform life.

• • •

3. Today we look at an intriguing statement by the Apostle Paul that gives us further insight into how he saw his own life and mission in the context of the turning of the ages. In Colossians 1:24, he tells the believers in Colossae that his afflictions as an apostle are part of a much bigger picture. This involves the story of Messiah’s sufferings (the triduan pattern) and how that story continues in the church as it participates in the Missio Dei.

Here is N.T. Wright’s translation of the verse and his commentary on it:

Right now I’m having a celebration — a celebration of my sufferings, which are for your benefit! And I’m steadily completing, in my own flesh, what remains of the king’s afflictions on behalf of his body, which is the church.

First, in verses 24 and 25, Paul sees his own sufferings as part of what he calls “the king’s afflictions.” He is drawing on an ancient Jewish belief according to which a time of great suffering would form the dark valley through which Israel and the world must pass to reach the age to come. This suffering would be the prelude to the age of the Messiah, the age of the king. For Paul, the Messiah himself had already passed through the suffering, and had brought the age to come into being. But because this new age is still struggling in tension with the “present age,” there is still suffering to be undergone. This is not to be seen as an addition to the king’s own suffering; rather it is to be seen as an extension of it. Paul is thus content to take his share of suffering, in prison for the sake of the gospel. It will help to complete the afflictions through which the new age will emerge in its full and final form.

Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters

Here we have confirmation of one way the church should look at its life and mission in these “last days” and why it might not always appear to be as “triumphant” as one might expect from a cursory reading of the N.T. The church (exemplified by Paul) exists to “fill up the afflictions of Christ,” that is, to “complete the afflictions through which the new age will emerge in its full and final form.”

Some folks in the comments yesterday expressed concern that such an emphasis might promote exalting victimization and a kind of religious masochism. The church has not been immune to this, as in early centuries when it seems some actually courted martyrdom as the path to glory.

However, let it be said that Paul is speaking after the fact. He is reflecting on his sufferings, which he did not seek. What he sought was to follow Jesus and love people, forming them into communities of faith, hope, and love. Paul was about trusting Christ and living a risky life of love for others. This led to him having to endure suffering from those who misunderstood, misrepresented, feared and resented the love he gave. But out of that love and out of those trials, new life was born.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

• 2 Corinthians 4:8-12

Of course, none of this actually explains why it is taking so long to “complete what remains of the king’s afflictions” or why it often appears that such little progress has been made.

Perhaps too few of us have embraced the risky path of love.

From Semicolon
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana

I thought Zane and the Hurricane, fiction set in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, was kind of intense for middle grade, but Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere takes intense and tragic to another level. It’s not gruesome or gratuitous, but people do die. Some middle grade readers might find the book quite upsetting.

That said, this book does do a good job of showing how an ordinary day can turn into horror and tragedy in very little time. Along with the characters in the book —ten year old Armani, her little sister Sealy, Memaw, the twins, and the rest of the extended family— I continued to shake my head in disbelief as the family lived through the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the bursting of the levee in the “Lower Nines” (Ninth Ward) of New Orleans –not to mention the aftermath of flood, crime, and disease in NOLA as the hurricane subsided.

Armani “realizes that being ten means being brave, watching loved ones die, and mustering all her strength to help her family survive this storm.” I liked Armani and her family and had no trouble believing their story was true to life. It was also sad, and –WARNING!—the ending is very sad. I won’t say the story is without that “sense of hope” that some of us look for in children’s literature in particular, but it maybe difficult for some readers to stomach.

The author, Julie Lamana, lives in Grenwell Springs, Louisiana and was working in the schools in LA as a Literacy Specialist in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit. She heard lots of survivors’ stories firsthand, and I assume that some of those stories were incorporated into her novel in some form. Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere is Ms. Lamana’s debut novel, although she does have a picture book, published by Outskirts Press and also set in Louisiana, called Three Little Bayou Fishermen.

“Apparently it is very difficult to talk about Hurricane Katrina in a book if you don’t include a dog.” ~Betsy Bird

Or any hurricane. Examples:
Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick.
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Juie T. Lamana.
Rain Reign by Ann Martin. Publication date: October 7, 2014. My review will appear here at Semicolon on that date, but I will say now that I highly recommend Ms. Martin’s story of a girl and her dog.
Buddy by M.H. Herlong.
Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods.
I Survived: Hurricane Katrina, 2005 by Lauren Tarshis

I don’t think I’m up for yet another dog/hurricane story (especially since I just read—and loved– an ARC of Ann Martin’s new middle grade novel, Rain Reign, about a beloved dog who gets lost in a hurricane/storm, not Katrina), so you’ll have to get more comparisons somewhere else.

Hurricane fiction and nonfiction, sans dog.

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Then vs. Now

I have heard it said (correctly) that the early Christians faced a moral world that in either the same depravity, or worse than what we see now.

Well, farther back than that.

If the Hebrew people had not lived surrounded by idolators and other evils, they would not have fallen in WITH them. So the evidence is that their world saw evil, as ours does.

The Jews just before Christ had forcibly dispersed, and some had returned; and the evil that they saw was as evil as today.

I think (purely subjective) that today seems more difficult for us because it appears so new to us. And (objectively) we do see things that we have NEVER seen before.

Was immorality rampant in 1st Century Rome? Absolutely. Was it worse than today? I don’t know. Some say yes, others say no.

I think that we feel it more because Western Christians have long enjoyed “majority rule,” thus staying safely wrapped in the insulation of tunnel vision.

The phrase “total depravity” best describes the world, and always has. We expect it.

We grieve – yes, for that depravity, but we grieve having to stand by, seemingly helpless, watching the DECLINE of our country and culture, at a breakneck speed.

Homosexuality is the best example.

Only a couple of decades ago, we (collectively) viewed same-sex-sex as abnormal. We knew gay people, we loved them as friends and family, but we loved them, not their chosen lifestyle.

Gay people sometimes (perhaps often) faced bullies and that should never have happened. People should never see bullying as acceptable.

In (culturally speaking) a very short amount of time, we see a decline.

- Traditional family unit (dad, mom, kids) and the gay community as outliers.

- A move away from the traditional family unit with the introduction of “consequence free sex” and “no-fault-divorce” (note: we do find good and Biblical reasons for divorce, and I don’t find “nobody’s fault” on the list.)

- With the traditional family unit undermined, open acceptance of the homosexual becomes tolerated by the culture

- As single motherhood becomes more acceptable, homosexuality becomes not only tolerated, but acceptable as a viable option.

- Demand of recognition of gay relationships becomes more popular, as does public spending for single motherhood.

- Demand of recognition of gay relationships becomes the demand that the culture view those relationships as identical to heterosexual relationships.

- The demand to see homosexual relationships as identical becomes the demand for culture (via “we the people”) to sanction these relationships.

- the demand for sanction becomes the demand for approval

- the demand for approval becomes the demand for celebration by all people.

- the demand for celebration becomes the demand for participation, regardless of sincerely held religious convictions.

As Christians today look around and see our spiritual siblings SUED and FORCED to provide services to ceremonies found morally offensive, I find myself able to identify with Christians in other times and places, who steep in total depravity through no fault of their own.

We, who enjoyed cultural insulation for centuries, may find this a difficult transition. No, we WILL find this a difficult transition. From power to weakness, from majority to minority, from peace to persecution.

Is the “remnant” ready? I want to be part of the remnant – and I know I’m not ready. If the “steps of grieving” can be applied to this – I’m still in the “denial stage” but we need to get ready.

We need to be in the world, but not of the word. Persecution awaits, Jesus promised. Whether we will be found worthy of the persecution that HE endured, is yet to be seen.

From The Wilsonian Institute
Deacon: 7 Month Update

I would guess around 18.5 - 19 lbs. He definitely hit a growth spurt this last month, but he still isn't as chunky as I would prefer/he could be.

Around 28-29 inches.

Clothing Size:
Homeboy is filling out his 9 month clothes! There are a couple of 6 month things I can still squeeze him into, but it is becoming increasingly difficult...

Buster, Bubba, Booger and occasionally Wittle Baby Deacon. I'm trying to call him by his actual name more often so he doesn't end up telling his kindergarten teacher his name is Booger :wink:

We've been dealing with a little bit of sleep regression these past few weeks since we got back from vacay. Being in a new place with no real schedule really threw him off, so we're having to work on sleeping through the night again. He's still sleeping 11 hours (or more!) throughout the course of the night, but he has started waking up anywhere between 4 and 6 AM wanting to eat again... We're almost back to normal though. I see the light at the end of the sleepless tunnel!

As of right now we've done sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, yellow squash, butternut squash, green beans, pears, peaches, bananas, mangoes and apples. In the next month I'm hoping to start introducing finger foods (exciting stuff, people!).

Army crawling EVERYWHERE, getting tickled, playing with Junebug, hanging out outside, jumping in his jumperoo, being in water, "talking" and sitting up like a big boy :-)

Being put down for a nap when he's not done playing and (most recently) the church nursery.

Shortly after he hit the 6 month marker he started sitting up by himself and army crawling! He is basically impossible to contain these days and he is loving his new-found independence. He is still jabbering a ton, and we are anxiously awaiting that first tooth...

Best Moment:
Taking Deacon to Wimberley for the first time will definitely be a sweet memory for us. He got to float the river in his little boat and take in all the Wimberley sights/restaurants/experiences that we know and love. I really hope we're able to keep going back in future years so that he's able to have fond memories of our favorite little central Texas town :-)

Worst Moment:
Sleep regression courtesy of our Wimberley vacation. While he seemed to really enjoy most of the activities, our little trip wore this bubba out!

Other Tidbits:
- I've started to incorporate some sign language into our feeding times. So far he just stares at me like I'm a lunatic, but I'm hoping he starts to catch on soon.
- This last week Deacon has started to cuddle a little! It has definitely been filling my Mama love-tank to get some of those sweet snuggles, even if they're short-lived.
- We think he may be allergic to bananas! It's truly tragic. The last two times I've fed him bananas he has ended up projectile vomiting (like, a LOT of projectile vomit) shortly after. I'm hoping this is something he grows out of since bananas have historically been the one fruit Jeremy and I always have on hand! Ha.
- His favorite toy is a spare remote that my Poppy gave him on the 4th of July. It's the one thing that he always seems to play with/chew on when we hand it to him.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
The Cockalorum Boasts of His Importance

Top 10 insulting words you need in your vocabulary.

From Transforming Sermons
Seeing connections

The book of James has been described as a "string of pearls" for containing so many disjointed little gems of biblical wisdom. But Craig Keener writes about how the book of James fits together. And in case you missed it, Dr. Keener's post on the unifying theme of Romans is even better.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
The Ghostwriter Speaks

"There's an old saying that you should never judge a book by its cover. Today, perhaps, that conventional wisdom has rarely had more meaning. To a degree that might astonish the reading public, a significant percentage of any current bestseller list will not have been written by the authors whose names appear on the jackets."

Andrew Crofts, "one of Britain's most invisible and yet successful writers," has written out his experiences as a ghostwriter for 40 years. Bestselling ghosted works include a lot of "misery memoirs." (via Prufrock)

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Shea, never heard of him, or it. Let us know what you think, though. Sooner or later I’ll get through my book pile and be able to buy some more.

A Twitterer who shall not be named linked a post this morning with an Orthodox perspective on the recent Gospel Coalition brouhaha over sanctification.

Looking at the Gospel Coalition debate from an Orthodox perspective, what’s missing is not whether a life of obedience is required once we are baptized or converted, but rather what that obedience looks like. And for Orthodox Christians, that life of obedience is a life of true repentance. One where even the holiest saints end their lives with sorrow: the apostle Paul as the “chief” of sinners, and St. Sisoes the Great who desired yet another day to repent.

These two men were not lacking in true sanctification, but were in truth exhibiting sanctification in its purest form: an awareness of sin.

Whaddaya think? I’m not so sure that it’s fair to characterize Paul as ending his life with sorrow – he at least balances it out with joy quite a bit – but a focus on repentance combined with a realization of grace seems like a quite practical path for believers.

From internetmonk.com
The Triduan Shape of History

Entombment of Christ, Raphael (detail)

Entombment of Christ, Raphael (detail)

Today, we follow up yesterday’s post on The Most Vexing Question. To me, the fundamental quandaries raised in the piece were:

Who would have thought that the life of Jesus’ church in “the last days” would span a history as long as Israel’s before Christ? And that our history would be as checkered under the risen and reigning Christ? Is there any indication of this in the New Testament?

Perhaps one way of coming to grips with this conundrum is to reimagine the shape of history and the mission of the church and to distinguish “hope” from “optimism.”

That is what Alan E. Lewis has done in his monumental study, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday. In brief, Lewis suggests that our perspective on history and the future should be shaped by the church’s experience of the Great Three Days: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. This is our core narrative and it lays down the pattern by which we live and view life. It is a cruciform perspective in which resurrection follows death and despair and recognizes the place of all three as essential movements in the way God (and therefore, history) works.

However, the church has not always recognized this. Lewis writes, “Much has happened since the first Easter Saturday to dull the keenness of the questions facing Christian faith and life concerning history and its future” (p. 262).

He notes that the early Christians, living as they did in the midst of trials, persecution, and social exile, had a vision of the end and their own resurrection that would be attained only through sharing in Christ’s sufferings (see, for example Philippians 3:10-11). However, Lewis continues, once the Empire was Christianized and the church became more comfortable and optimistic about its own future, apocalypticism with its dark shadows was largely jettisoned, replaced by sunnier, more linear theologies of progressive victory until the glorious end. Lament was transformed into complacency; the cross into a symbol of triumphalism.

Nevertheless, not even the best-informed, most responsible reading of Revelation, or the most Christocentric and trinitarian discussion of the “end days” can evade the haunting implications of the church’s identifying three-day narrative, centered upon Easter Saturday. For that insists — and nothing in our contemporary experience contradicts its awful truthfulness — that the God of Jesus Christ does not intervene to prevent catastrophe and rupture. As grace abounds only beyond sin’s great magnitude and increase, so resurrection and consummation do not cancel or impede but strictly follow after termination and annihilation, for God and humanity alike. The very promise of the eschaton confirms rather than refutes God’s freedom to be death’s victim, the defenseless quarry of predatory evil; and the only hope and power for a divine redeeming of humanity and history rest in a Lamb who has pathetically been slaughtered: the embodiment of hopelessness and helplessness. (p. 282)

In Revelation, remember, the Lamb on the throne is bloody.

In other words, Lewis says, we must conceive God’s creative and re-creative power “from the standpoint of the grave, as dynamic surrender to suffering and restriction” (p. 297). If God exposed himself to destruction by abandoning his beloved Son to death, the One in whom all creation holds together, in order to save that creation, it gives us a much different view of how the people who follow the Son shall attain to perfection. We take up our cross, and follow him.

To see God self-exposed thus to destruction between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, for the sake of history’s deliverance from destruction, is to recognize that the creative and redemptive omnipotence of God, far from invulnerable and impervious to opposition is in fact an exquisitely perilous power which does not protect itself against the catastrophe and boundless sorrow which would be creation’s devastation and time’s annihilation. (p. 298)

In other words, God only exercises his rule in a context where evil triumphs (if only for a season).

Here is an extended quote, summarizing Alan Lewis’s perceptive thoughts.

41DWSpywoPL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Not the least sobering implication of the triduan story we have now both heard and thought is that the Christian gospel requires of those who live by it unflinching discrimination between hope and optimism. For if our narrative encouragingly promises that at work within us and around us are energies greater than the powers of death and evil which menace and destroy life and empty it of meaning, purpose, and justice, still the story gravely identifies those energies with the wispy, intangible defenselessness of love. And love’s power is actually powerless to impede huge triumphs of egregious evil and unrighteousness in the world. Only through vulnerable victimization at the hands of sin and death, and not by blocking, crushing, or annihilating those agents of destruction, does the triune God of righteous love flourish yet more abundantly than the luxurious barrenness of hate and wickedness.

To hope, therefore, in love as tomorrow’s guarantor, as even more creative and enduring than the great destructiveness of lovelessness, is itself to banish shallow optimism for the future of the world. Hope itself embraces the proposition that evil may increase, death have its day of triumph, and history be terminated. Certainly any sunny supposition that the world cannot be lost, nor death be finally victorious, that evil at worst is inept and its success provisional and passing, is cancelled by a darker hope, grounded in Easter Saturday, which confesses that the only victory in life is won by going beyond, not by thwarting or reducing, the expansive magnitude of death and the surd reality of its ascendancy. Faith’s assurance of the final consummation of the cosmos does not preclude but makes space of fearsome amplitude for the future loss of history, just as the Son of God’s third-day resurrection did not forestall ahead of time, nor cancel retroactively, the end of himself and of the world on the second day.

Between Cross and Resurrection, p. 261f

In other words, God did not and does not win by winning. Neither will the church. We attain to Easter only through Good Friday and Holy Saturday. There will be no resurrection, no consummation, without intervening death and despair. “. . . if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:17).

The cry “How long?” will continue to the very last day.

From Transforming Sermons
Expository example

David Allen offers a short but detailed study on how to outline and preach 1 John 2:15-17 in two blog posts: Part 1& Part 2.

From Transforming Sermons
Understanding Mormonism

This looks useful: 9 Things You Should Know About Mormanism (HT: Mike Leake).

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Viewing report: 'Deadwood'

Just now I'm traversing what somebody (I think it was Bunyan) termed "a plain called Ease." I have a few weeks off from graduate school, so I'm doing a little more reading for pleasure, and also watching quite a lot of TV, both the broadcast kind and the kind you get from Netflix and Amazon Prime.

A couple weeks ago I got to thinking, as I sometimes do, about Wild Bill Hickok, to me one of the more interesting characters of the wild west. I decided, with some reluctance, to watch the series "Deadwood," which is getting to be fairly old as cable series go, but I'd avoided it.

It proved to be what I'd heard - lively, gritty, and profane. I watched the first season, mainly to see how they treated Wild Bill. Taken in that regard, I was mostly pleased. I've waited a long time for a really good portrayal of Wild Bill, and Keith Carradine's character here is pretty close to the reality, as I see it.

Nevertheless, I finished that first season with the same resolve I reached when I finished the first season of "Mad Men." I couldn't think of a reason to spend more time with these extremely unpleasant people. Wild Bill is dead. Seth Bullock and his partner are pretty good, but most everybody else is either a fool or a knave.

And the language. It is to be expected that a grizzled moralist like me will object to it. It's oppressive. It repels me. And, from what I've read, it's not even authentic. Not that the real westerners didn't cuss all the time, but they didn't use the kind of sexual profanity favored in the 21st Century. The vulgarity has been "updated" for viewer comprehension.

The formal language in which the characters speak, I believe, is also inauthentic (I'm pretty sure I read this somewhere too, so I don't claim it as my own observation). The fashion in westerns for the last few decades has been to put dialogue into people's mouths that matches the literary style of those times. I believe it began with Charles Portis' True Grit - and not so much with the book itself as the movie dialogue, which transcribed Mattie's written observations into spoken words. It established her character, and it was interesting and effective. But it would be as wrong to think that all 19th Century people spoke like Trollope characters as to think that all 20th Century people spoke like Hemingway characters.

It was nice to see the attempts at authenticity. I've visited the real Deadwood, and viewed photographs of the original mining camp. The setting of the series captures that look very well. But I got the impression that the writers' intention was to establish authenticity early on, and then fantasize freely. I'm pretty sure that Rev. Smith did not die as portrayed in the show, but was killed by Indians (nobody is ever killed by Indians on modern westerns). And whose idea was it to cast Peter Coyote as Gen. George H. Crook? He doesn't look a bit like Crook, and they didn't even give him the right kind of whiskers.

From what I read in online research, the theme of the series is the corrupting encroachment of corporate interests. Apparently, Al Swearingen may be a murderer, a pimp, and a drug dealer, but at least he's not a corporate officer.

I came to "Deadwood" for authenticity, and I have dropped it for the same reason. Plus the cussing.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Reader-friendly Bibles

"Traditionally, reference Bibles look like dictionaries that you look things up in," [Mark] Bertrand said. "Reader-friendly Bibles are more like novels. I think what is happening is that we're lamenting that people don't read their Bibles enough, and now we've realized the design of Bibles has an influence on that."

The acceptance of this new format for Bible reading may come out of our distracted habits of Internet reading, notes Dane Ortlund of Crossway.

From Gospel Driven Church
Luther’s Prayer Written on the Eve of the Diet of Worms

In The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul calls this “Luther’s own private Gethsemane.”

O God, Almighty God everlasting! how dreadful is the world! behold how its mouth opens to swallow me up, and how small is my faith in Thee! . . . Oh! the weakness of the flesh, and the power of Satan! If I am to depend upon any strength of this world – all is over . . . The knell is struck . . . Sentence is gone forth . . . O God! O God! O thou, my God! help me against the wisdom of this world. Do this, I beseech thee; thou shouldst do this . . . by thy own mighty power . . . The work is not mine, but Thine. I have no business here . . . I have nothing to contend for with these great men of the world! I would gladly pass my days in happiness and peace. But the cause is Thine . . . And it is righteous and everlasting! O Lord! help me! O faithful and unchangeable God! I lean not upon man. It were vain! Whatever is of man is tottering, whatever proceeds from him must fail. My God! my God! dost thou not hear? My God! art thou no longer living? Nay, thou canst not die. Thou dost but hide Thyself. Thou hast chosen me for this work. I know it! . . . Therefore, O God, accomplish thine own will! Forsake me not, for the sake of thy well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ, my defence, my buckler, and my stronghold.

Lord – where art thou? . . . My God, where art thou? . . . Come! I pray thee, I am ready . . . Behold me prepared to lay down my life for thy truth . . . suffering like a lamb. For the cause is holy. It is thine own! . . . I will not let thee go! no, nor yet for all eternity! And though the world should be thronged with devils – and this body, which is the work of thine hands, should be cast forth, trodden under foot, cut in pieces, . . . consumed to ashes, my soul is thine. Yes, I have thine own word to assure me of it. My soul belongs to thee, and will abide with thee forever! Amen! O God send help! . . . Amen!

From internetmonk.com
The Most Vexing Question

Sea of Faces, Evelyn Williams (info below)

Sea of Faces, Evelyn Williams (info below)

We do not see our signs;
There is no longer any prophet,
Nor is there any among us who knows how long.
How long, O God . . .

• Psalm 74:9-10

• • •

What is (or should be) the most troublesome matter in theology for Christian people?

It is the fact that we are still here as we’ve always been, and that the world has not been transformed under the rule of Christ.

We read words in the New Testament like this:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

• Romans 8:18-25

Yes, the text speaks of “waiting with patience” for the hope promised to Jesus’ followers. However, remember, those words were written to believers nearly 2,000 years ago! At that time, the apostle says, creation was waiting “with eager longing” for its final redemption. Haven’t creation’s “labor pains” continued past the point that anyone would expect? Didn’t Paul go on to say, “the night is far gone, the day is near”? (13:12).

“Quite clearly, whatever Paul expected, he expected it to happen soon, and no doubt within his own lifetime” (Stephen S. Smalley).

Doesn’t the New Testament lead us to believe that Jesus ushered in “the last days,” the days when God’s kingdom would come, and God’s will be done on earth as in heaven?

The book of Hebrews says:

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. (1:1-2)

It also gives perspective on the relationship of Jesus’ followers to the saints that came before:

Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect. (11:39-40)

The author’s point is that, before Jesus came, people were waiting, looking, longing for the fulfillment of God’s promises. They were people of faith and hope, trusting in God’s word that one day he would act, that the “city” he was “preparing” would become their home. Throughout their lives and throughout the long history of Israel, they wandered and struggled and hoped toward that future pledge.

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. (11:13-16)

But now, the author of Hebrews proclaims, we have received it!

Of course, that didn’t imply an immediate consummation, for the author then goes on to talk about a race that his readers must run with perseverance (12:1-13). But a 2,000 year race is one whale of a marathon, and there appears to be no finish line in sight.

Who would have thought that the life of Jesus’ church in “the last days” would span a history as long as Israel’s before Christ? And that our history would be as checkered under the risen and reigning Christ? Is there any indication of this in the New Testament?

It was common in 20th century N.T. studies to talk about how the “delay of the parousia” became a problem in the early church and is reflected in the development of teaching in the N.T. itself. Some scholars tried to show how the authors transitioned to a “realized eschatology,” redefining what it means to say that “Jesus will return.” Others tried to more carefully define the tension between “already” and “not yet” in the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Still others deny a “development” in the N.T. texts, but rather see different emphases based on the needs of the communities which were being addressed.

The focus of all these studies had to do with the nature of future hope in the early days of the Jesus movement and how that is reflected in the writings of that period. But I don’t think “the delay of the parousia” posed as much of a problem for the believers in N.T. times as it does for us at this stage in church history.

I’ve been reading more of Andrew Perriman’s “narrative-historical” views on his blog P.OST and in his book, The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans Before and After Western Christendom.

Perriman interprets the vast majority of New Testament teachings about “the end” to refer to historical judgments that were in close proximity to the days of Jesus and the apostles and intimately related to the world in which they lived. In the Gospels, Jesus’ teachings about “the end” pointed to the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and apostolic warnings about “the wrath to come” and “Jesus’ return” pointed to the triumph of Christ over the pagan Greco-Roman empire, which eventually came to pass through the establishment of Christendom. Perriman also holds that there is a “final” eschatology that looks beyond these to the new creation.

But that still leaves a large, unexplained (unforeseen?) gap in history. Various eschatological systems have tried to explain how the “end times” will work and what will happen when Jesus returns. But to my knowledge, this problem of an extended interval that lasts thousands of years has been and remains largely ignored, even though I think it raises profound and perplexing questions for our faith.

The cry, “How long?” is starting to wear thin.

• • •

Header Art: Sea of Faces by Evelyn Williams.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Reading this book by Steven Paulson. I like it. Anybody in here familiar with him?

From internetmonk.com
A Jesus-Shaped Response to Israel and Gaza


I’m sure many of us as individuals and churches will be praying for the situation in Israel and Gaza this weekend.

It is one thing to express my opinions, “Christian” or otherwise, as I sit in my living room safely, thousands of miles away from a crisis situation in another part of the world. I don’t deny that people in my circumstances might have something worthwhile to say, but my ability to contribute to the conversation with the kind of insight that comes from being intimately involved in the situation will be limited.

On the other hand, the following statement from Bethlehem Bible College in Israel contains an clear sense of credibility. You may or may not agree with its precise wording, but it would be hard to argue that you or I have a better view of the circumstances upon which the statement comments.

First, a little information about Bethlehem Bible College. This is from their website:

Bethlehem Bible College is a Christian college located in Bethlehem, the very site where Jesus was born. Located within the territory of the West Bank, the local community is highly impacted by today’s political unrest and conflict.

It is from the very epicenter of Christianity, that the Christian community is slowly decreasing. Before 1948 the Christian community was roughly 8% of the community in the Holy Land.  Today, the Christian population is a less than 1.5% of the Palestinian community, as many Christians are emigrating from the difficult political situation to better opportunities for education, work, and their families abroad.

Bethlehem Bible College was founded in 1979 by local Arabs, to offer high-quality theological education and train Christian leaders for service in the local church and the local community.  It aims to strengthen and revive the Christian church and support the local Christians in the Holy land, in order to combat this growing Christian exodus.

And now here is their perspective on the current situation in Israel and Gaza, entitled, “A statement by Bethlehem Bible College regarding the current crisis in Gaza,” issued July 25, 2014.

gaza-articleLarge-v2Today God weeps over the situation in Palestine and Israel. Today God weeps over Gaza.  With God, our hearts are broken when we see the carnage in Gaza and in Israel.

We at Bethlehem Bible College consistently called for a just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. We always sought a nonviolent resolution to the conflict. “All forms of violence must be refuted unequivocally”, stated the Christ at the Checkpoint manifesto. We also believe that as long as the occupation of Palestinian territory and the siege of Gaza remain, the conflict will continue to escalate. To quote the manifesto again, “for Palestinian Christians, the occupation is the core issue of the conflict”.

As Christians committed to nonviolence, we do not and cannot endorse Hamas’ ideology. However, we believe that the people of Gaza have the right to live in freedom and dignity. This means that the siege over Gaza should be lifted and the borders should be open. The people of Gaza need a chance to live.

We oppose Hamas launching rockets at Israeli town and cities. At the same time, we are shocked by the unproportional and inhuman response by the Israeli military and the disregard of civilian life and specially innocent women and children.

We are grieved by the mounting hate, bigotry and racism in our communities today, and the consequent violence. We are specially grieved when Christians are contributing to the culture of hatred and division, rather than allowing Christ to use them as instruments of peace and reconciliation.

In the face of this, we affirm – using the words of our own Dr. Yohanna Katanacho:

We are against killing children and innocent people. We support love not hatred, justice not oppression, equality not bigotry, peaceful solutions not military solutions. Violence will only beget wars, it will bring more pain and destruction for all the nations of the region. Peacemaking rooted in justice is the best path forward. Therefore, we commit ourselves to spread a culture of love, peace, and justice in the face of violence, hatred, and oppression.

We call on all the friends of Bethlehem Bible College to pray for an immediate ceasefire, followed by serious efforts to address the root of the problem not the symptoms. We pray comfort for the bereaved families. We specially pray for the Christians of Gaza, who although are currently under bombardment, yet they are offering shelter and support for the displaced and wounded. We finally call for you to pray for all those – Palestinians, Israelis and internationals – who are committed to spreading a culture of love, peace, and justice in the face of violence, hatred, and oppression.

• • •

Note: Pray for the Shepherd Society – a ministry of Bethlehem Bible College – as we contemplate practical ways to minister and walk along the destitute and displaced in Gaza. We will soon share with you how you can help us respond to the huge needs.

A statement by Bethlehem Bible College’s board of directors, president, deans, faculty, staff and students – and the local committee of Christ at the Checkpoint.

The statement is co-authored by members of a local committee in partnership with BBC, called Christ at the Checkpoint. This is a biennial conference held in the Holy Land that brings together Christians from around the world “to pray, worship, learn and discuss together the responsibility and role of the church in helping resolve the conflict and bringing peace, justice and equality to the Holy Land through following the teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God.” The most recent conference was held in March.

gaza-israel_2406235bHere is their ten-point Manifesto:

  1. The Kingdom of God has come. Evangelicals must reclaim the prophetic role in bringing peace, justice and reconciliation in Palestine and Israel.
  2. Reconciliation recognizes God’s image in one another.
  3. Racial ethnicity alone does not guarantee the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant.
  4. The Church in the land of the Holy One, has born witness to Christ since the days of Pentecost. It must be empowered to continue to be light and salt in the region, if there is to be hope in the midst of conflict.
  5. Any exclusive claim to land of the Bible in the name of God is not in line with the teaching of Scripture.
  6. All forms of violence must be refuted unequivocally.
  7. Palestinian Christians must not lose the capacity to self-criticism if they wish to remain prophetic.
  8. There are real injustices taking place in the Palestinian territories and the suffering of the Palestinian people can no longer be ignored. Any solution must respect the equity and rights of Israel and Palestinian communities.
  9. For Palestinian Christians, the occupation is the core issue of the conflict.
  10. Any challenge of the injustices taking place in the Holy Land must be done in Christian love. Criticism of Israel and the occupation cannot be confused with anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of the State of Israel.
  11. Respectful dialogue between Palestinian and Messianic believers must continue. Though we may disagree on secondary matters of theology, the Gospel of Jesus and his ethical teaching take precedence.
  12. Christians must understand the global context for the rise of extremist Islam. We challenge stereotyping of all faith forms that betray God’s commandment to love our neighbors and enemies.

This is obviously a complex and controversial situation. In my own personal political views, I stand with Israel in this battle and think Hamas has acted provocatively and shamefully, as the terrorist organization it is. Both the people of Gaza and Israel have suffered greatly as a result. However, I detest violence and take my stand ultimately as a follower of Jesus in refuting violent means as a long term solution. I find the statement and manifesto above to be clear in stating a Jesus-shaped way. If they could be combined with sustained, creative, and imaginative leadership and action in working for peace and justice, perhaps we could find hope.

As I write this, I read that Israel agreed to extend the truce another 24 hours, but Hamas is not agreeing. Kyrie eleison.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Restaurant Complains of Your Bad Review. Pay $2,000.

Phare du Cap FerretA French woman blogs her bad experience at an Italian restaurant in an up-scale French tourist town on the Atlantic, and her review eventually ranks fourth in all Google searches for that restaurant. That was too high and hurt the establishment's reputation, lawyers argued, so a French court has ordered her to change the post's title (she retracted it entirely) and pay $2,000 in damages.

French lawyers say this won't become a precedent at all. Sure.

I won't name the restaurant, in case it adds to the blogger's grief, but the CS Monitor says that while the bad review is offline (though archived by Internet gnomes), many comments are being posted about how this restaurant can't take criticism.

Also in this report: "German politicians are considering a return to using manual typewriters for sensitive documents in the wake of the US surveillance scandal." This is probably a smart move.

From internetmonk.com
Saturday Ramblings — July 26, 2014


Pastor Dan is taking a little break from Sat. Ramblings to focus on some other responsibilities for awhile, so at least for today, you’re stuck with me.

We did plenty of rambling the past couple of weeks, through Vermont and New Hampshire and down the coast of Maine, plus all the driving from the Midwest and back home again. You might think this old wanderer would want to sit a spell and put his feet up for awhile. However, as we all know, Saturday comes around every week, and here at Internet Monk we are contractually bound to take a weekly ramble, so here we go . . .

A ChairLet me get this out of the way first. I’m sorry to use such unkind language, but Ken Ham is an idiot. End of story.

In a related article, Salon lists what they think are the Christian right’s 5 worst scientific claims.

A ChairIt won’t be released until next Valentine’s Day, but a trailer for the 50 Shades of Grey movie has been released. I haven’t read the book (and have no interest in the movie either), but Dave Barry has, and he says it contains an exciting and encouraging message from women to men everywhere: “We are interested in sex! We’re just not interested in sex with you unless you’re a superhot billionaire. . . . OK, so this is not a totally positive message for us men.”

A ChairIrreverence, of course, is stock-in-trade for a humorist like Dave Barry, but Cindy Brandt thinks the church is missing out on this powerful way of speaking the truth to the world. In her piece, “Irreverence Is the New Reverence,” she says:

emperorIt is this fear of irreverence that I believe deprives the Christian community from learning what it really means to be faithful. Irreverence shows the world how to be real, prophetic and passionate.

Irreverence says it like it is. It’s the child who calls out the emperor has no clothes. It’s the uncouth teenager who wears his boredom on the outside. It’s the hippie activist who won’t shower until world peace reigns. Irreverence gives the Church permission to engage in full-blown lament amidst the hardships of life. As I have written elsewhere, learning from the popular and unabashedly irreverent comedian, Louis C.K., we cannot shut down feelings of true sadness with reverent calls to thanksgiving and praise. In order to enter true covenantal relationship with God, we must have the freedom to use the wide range of emotion given to us in our humanity to express what is real to our human experience. Instead of flinching from irreverent curses directed at God, let’s listen closely to the deeper pain of struggle, because that which is real, even when delivered in coarse language, is human, and therefore deserves to be heard.

Frankly, I’ve grown kind of tired of the constant barrage of sacrcasm, irony, irreverence, crude language, and innuendo that fills all forms of media these days. While I accept that these are acceptable tools of language, discourse, and even prophetic proclamation, it seems to me that they are better used like salt, sprinkled to enhance the flavor of our debates, presentations, and conversations rather than overwhelming them.

What do you think?

A ChairOn the social media awareness front, RNS reports that:

BtZp2ynCMAAwJRZ#WeAreN is sweeping the Christian Twittersphere as churches, organizations and individuals change their avatars to the Arabic letter “Nun.”

‘It’s the symbol for “Nazarene,” or Christian, used by Islamic State militants in Iraq to brand Christian properties in Iraq as part of their effort to drive out an ancient Christian community with threats to convert or die.

‘. . . Switching to the Nun avatar is a gesture reminiscent of the long-standing (although factually debunked) legend that Danish Christians adopted Jewish star armbands during World War II in solidarity with Danish Jews.’

As noble as this sounds, Jeremy Courtney, who originated the #WeAreN awareness campaign, was not persuaded it would have any actual impact, saying, “I don’t know that it has done anything except make people feel like they are doing something when they are doing nothing at all.”

Do you think such gestures have any real significance?

A ChairAs of yesterday, the Chicago Cubs have the second worst record in Major League Baseball (42-59). On my bedroom dresser sits a figurine of Charlie Brown in baseball gear. It belonged to my friend Michael Spencer, and Denise thought I would like to have it after he passed. Michael and I were both devoted baseball fans. He loved the Reds, while I have always followed the Cubs. He had several experiences of triumph as the Reds celebrated championships. I have had a few close calls with happiness in a wilderness of heartbreak.

Though Michael loved Charlie Brown as much or more than I, it seems to me that I have more in common with the Peanuts character than he did. Take yesterday’s daily strip for example:

Peanuts - pe_c140725.tif


A ChairWikipedia has blocked a certain IP address at the U.S. House of Representatives from editing for 10 days because of “persistent disruptive editing.” The ban comes after anonymous changes were made to entries on politicians and businesses, as well as events like the Kennedy assassination. The BBC piece on the matter reports:

rumsfeld.040504-fc53730b4db7394b4ca6994add697a18675178d7-s6-c30One of the acts highlighted was an alteration to the page on the assassination of John F Kennedy, which was changed to say that Lee Harvey Oswald was acting “on behalf of the regime of Fidel Castro”.

An entry on the moon landing conspiracy theories was changed to say they were “promoted by the Cuban government”.

Another entry, on the Ukrainian politician Nataliya Vitrenko, was edited to claim that she was a “Russian puppet”.

The biography of former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld was revised, describing him as an “alien lizard who eats Mexican babies”.

I guess they were upset by the implicit racism in the Rumsfeld edit. He actually eats all kinds of babies, not just Mexican ones. (My contribution to irreverence today.)

A ChairFinally, a movie I will recommend. I’ve been waiting for a long time now for Paul Thomas Anderson’s film, The Master, to come to streaming, and Netflix premiered it this past week. A.O. Scott of the NY Times called it an “imposing, confounding and altogether amazing new film” when it came out. The Master is dominated by the remarkable performances of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the L. Ron Hubbard-esque cult leader, Lancaster Dodd, and his “protégé and guinea pig,” Freddie Quell, played with manic intensity by Joaquin Phoenix.

Scott’s review catches the power of this film when he puts it in the context of Anderson’s other movies, such as There Will Be Blood:

In all of those places, and at every point in history, Mr. Anderson discovers the perpetual promise of new beginnings and a poisonous backwash of anomie, violence and greed. In his world fortunes are constantly being made and squandered. New religions are springing to life. Gamblers, pornographers, hustlers and drunks are plumbing the mysteries of existence. Fathers are at war with their biological and symbolic sons. Husbands are at war with wives. Men are at war with the universe, perversely convinced that they have a chance of winning.

To whet your appetite, here is the final theatrical trailer:

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: July 26, 2014

“The aura of a book I have yet to read, with its promise of rapture, surprise and edification, might be even more powerful than the aura of a book I have read, enjoyed and duly forgotten.” ~Jeff Salamanacters

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.

Scroll down to the next post to help with my 50 states nonfiction booklist project. What nonfiction book will inform the reader about your state?

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Kreeft Talks About 'Till We Have Faces'

Some members of my local C.S. Lewis Society shared this video from the Anglican Way Institute Summer Conference 2014, held earlier this month. Dr. Peter Kreeft spend a session talking about "one of the greatest novel ever written," C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces. Kreeft says one of the reasons it is such a good book is Lewis' wife helped him write it.

From Semicolon
50+ Nonfiction Books for 50 States

I found this list of 51 adult nonfiction selections, one for each state in the union and D.C.,, interesting but rather slanted toward the liberal (Obama’s book for Hawaii and Biden’s memoir for Delaware?) and the trendy and lurid (lots of drug memoirs and true crime). Maybe “Flavorwire has dug up some of the best nonfiction about specific American locations — in this case, our 50 states — and found 50 books that will shed light on every corner of the country,” but maybe there are better nonfiction books for at least some of the states.

So I thought, why not come up with our own list? I wrote in the ones that I liked or agreed with from the Flavorwire list and added in a few of my own suggestions.

Alabama: Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake-Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington. This exploration of Alabama/Appalachia sounds fascinating. Suggested by Nancy Pearl in Book Lust To Go.
Alaska: Tisha: The Wonderful True Love Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaska Wilderness by Robert Specht and Anne Purdy. I’ve seen this one recommended by more than one person. Anyone here read it?
Or maybe A Land Gone Lonesome by Dan O’Neill, recommended in this article at Salon.
Arizona: Going Back to Bisbee by Richard Shelton. Memoir.
Arkansas: Cash by Johnny Cash with Patrick Carr. From Flavorwire. I haven’t actually read this one, but it sounds good. Any other suggestions from Arkansans?
California: Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner. I’m adding this book because it looks interesting and informative. Has anyone else read it?
Colorado: Men to Match My Mountains: The Opening of the Far West, 1840-1900 by Irving Stone. I could make this one the definitive book for California, Utah, Nevada, and Colorado, but I put it here, arbitrarily. No matter which state you focus on, this book is fantastic, readable, well researched, educational, and entertaining.
Florida: Dream State: Eight Generations of Swamp Lawyers, Conquistadors, Confederate Daughters, Banana Republicans, and Other Florida Wildlife by Diane Roberts.
Georgia: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. From Flavorwire. I haven’t read this one either, but I’ve intended to read it. Comments anyone?
Idaho: The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan.
Illinois: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson. Another book been intending to read, recommended by my sister.
Kentucky: The Thread That Runs So True by Jesse Stuart.
Louisiana: Huey Long by T. Harry Williams. I read this doorstop of a biography about thirty years ago, and I still remember it. For better or for worse, my conception of Louisiana politics is highly formed and colored by this book.
The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life by Rod Dreher. I can’t resist providing an antidote to Mr. Long’s out-sized loudmouth life with this tribute to a small life well-lived, also in Louisiana. If you only read one of the two, read Dreher.
Maryland: Charm City: A Walk Through Baltimore by Madison Smartt Bell.
Massachusetts: Paul Revere and the World He Lived In by Esther Forbes.
Michigan: The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death, and America’s Dilemma by Alex Kotlowitz. Crime and racial division in southern Michigan.
Missouri: Truman by David McCullough. Truman was probably about the best thing that ever came out of Missouri.
Nebraska: My Nebraska: The Good, the Bad, and the Husker by Roger Welsch.
New Hampshire:
New Jersey:
New Mexico: The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. From Flavorwire. Engineer Husband recommends this Pulitzer prize winning classic.
New York: The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson. An unromantic contrast to West Side Story, this book tells how God was still working among gang members in New York City in the 1950′s and 60′s.
North Carolina:
North Dakota:
Oklahoma: The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan. This book could be classified under “North Texas” or even Kansas, but Oklahoma seems like the center of the Dust Bowl.
Rhode Island:
South Carolina: Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard. Adam Shepard went to Charleston, South Carolina with $25, a sleeping bag, and the clothes on his back. His goal was, by the end of a year, to have a car, a furnished apartment, and $2500 in the bank.
South Dakota:
Tennessee: Maybe The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan?
Texas: Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger. Texas is a big state, practically five states, but this book at least illuminates one aspect of Texas culture.
Virginia: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. From Flavorwire. OK, I’ll go along with this recommendation, even though I’ve tried it and not been able to get in the mood for this nature observation journal of a modern-day pilgrim. I’m still willing to grant that it’s probably very good, and I’ll probably enjoy it very much someday.
Or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
Washington: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.
Washington D.C.:
West Virginia:

What do you think? Do any of my readers live in one of the states for which I do not yet have a book listed? I’m even willing to reconsider one I’ve already listed if you have a better choice. Help me fill out this list with books to give us a sense of each state in the union.

From internetmonk.com
Thoughts on Hitchhiking

hitchhikeWe rented a cottage this week, and for the first time in quite a while were able to get our whole family together for a holiday. We have no Wifi and as a result monitoring of comments will be spotty, so play nice! We have been staying at Sauble Beach, a beautiful sandy beach, seven miles long, on the Canadian side of Lake Huron. My son Josh was only able to join us for three days, and so I offered to take the five hour return trip to drive him back to the town where he was working. The plan was that I would arrive back at the cottage at about midnight. Traffic was very light, and I was making good time. It was just after 11:00 p.m., and in the middle of nowhere, when my headlights illuminated a couple at the side of the road, their arms out stretched, and thumbs out. I had to make a split decision, and I decided to stop.

It might help to know a bit of back ground that went into my decision.

I can remember the first time I hitchhiked. I was fourteen years old and living in Africa. My parents had sent me away to camp for a week in the neighboring country. Now, who knows what goes on in teenage brains, but for some inexplicable reason a few of us decided to use our free time to swim the half mile across the lake. Once across, and having garnered wisdom from actually swimming half a mile, none of us wanted to swim back. The problem was that it was seven mile back to the camp, and so we decided to hitchhike. We walked and put out our thumbs, walked some more and put out our thumbs some more. It was almost two hours after we started, before a vehicle pulled over to give us a lift.

“You do know it is is illegal to hitchhike here, don’t you?”

We didn’t. But that did explain the long wait to get a ride.

When I was fifteen, our family moved back to Canada. At High School I became involved in a lot of clubs, and would often miss the last school bus home. We lived outside of the city, about three miles from the school, and so, on a very frequent basis I would stick out my thumb and catch a ride home. Often it would be neighbor, driving home from work, but just as often it would be a stranger who would give me a lift. It was the late seventies, and it was still quite common to see hitchhikers on a regular basis.

A couple of years later and I was off to University. It was a four hour trip from my home to the university I attended. Bus fair was expensive, and we didn’t have a lot of money. Plus, if going by car took four hours, the bus took over five, and I found I could hitchhike the distance in about six hours. My dad would drop me at the south end of the city, and usually within fifteen minutes I would have my first ride. I don’t think my parents worried to much about me, I had trained in the Armed Forces Reserves, and they thought I could take care of myself.

My parents moved half way through university and my six hour hike became a nine hour adventure. I didn’t do the trip as often, as the train became a viable, albeit costly, alternative.

I did however have hitchhiking down to a science. I dressed in a suit and a tie, and carried a sign with my destination in large letters. I knew which highway on ramps worked and which didn’t. I learned from experience that if you got stuck on the highway half way through Toronto that your best bet was to find public transit to the other end of town. I also learned that once darkness hit, you could forget it. No one would pick you up.

Most of my experiences were good. Some were a little comical. A little old lady once stopped and rolled down her window. “You aren’t going to beat me up are you?” she asked. “No, Ma’am”, I replied. “Okay, you can get it then.”

I did have three bad experiences. One pervert, one drunk, and one person who kept driving past my stop. In all three cases I asked them in no uncertain terms to stop the car and let me out, and in all three cases they did.

A brother of a family friend was not so lucky. Twelve year old Robbie Brown was walking home from the beach as he had a newspaper route to deliver. It is believed someone offered him a ride. He was never seen again. You can read about his story at couragetocope.org.

Now that I have a vehicle, I feel quite compassionate towards hitchhikers, and tend to pick up most hitchhikers. Most have no other transportation options. If they did, they wouldn’t be sticking out there thumbs. I don’t think I have ever felt unsafe when picking up a hitchhiker, though I am sure that there are stories out there. Probably my strangest experience was being propositioned by a pair of drag queens!

So, getting back to my story of the couple at the side of the road. I honked to let them know I was stopping, and then pulled off to the side of the road. They couple introduced themselves as Craig and Cindy. They had been hitchhiking for seven hours and had only made it about fifteen miles. They had another thirty miles to go. Craig was going to help his brother-in-law fix his car, and then together they were going to go on to visit his mother in another town. Where they were headed was only ten minutes out of my way, so I was happy to drop them at their destination.

People, including my wife, look askance at me when I say I pick up hitchhikers. To them it is like a game of Russian Roulette. You never know who you might pick up. I would agree, but to the hitchhiker it is a game of Russian Roulette as well, and by picking them up I am ensuring that at least one ride is safe.

I think however, that a lot of my motivation comes from the story of the Good Samaritan. In the story, the Good Samaritan is taking a real risk in stopping to help. It is known that there are bandits in the area. But stop he does. Like the Good Samaritan, I will also sometimes give money to help the hitchhiker along their way. Loving your neighbor means going beyond what is easy, or comfortable, or even safe. For me, among other things, it means picking up hitchhikers. What does it mean for you?

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
'A New Dawn Rising,' by Michael Joseph

The scenario is an old standard, and still works just fine. Sam Carlisle used to be a cop in the English Midlands, but after a traumatic loss he climbed into a bottle, quit the job, and moved north. Now he's out of money and looking for work. A local real estate big shot observes him stopping a purse snatcher and offers him a job as his driver and bodyguard. When Sam asks him why he doesn't hire one of the established security firms, his answer is evasive.

Still, Sam needs the job and he takes it. And that's the beginning of A New Dawn Rising by Michael Joseph. Things go all right for Sam until his employer is killed in a fire, and it looks like arson, and the police target Sam as the perpetrator.

I liked A New Dawn Rising, mostly, except for one very large plot problem. There's supposed to be a big surprise near the end, but it's one that's been used a thousand times before. It was obvious even to me, and I'm pretty easy to fool. I felt badly for the author, because all in all the book was a creditable attempt, with interesting, well-drawn characters and good dialogue.

You might enjoy it too, if you're tolerant of plot chestnuts.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
The Worst 50 + 10

The Intercollegiate Review presents "The Fifty Worst Books of the 20th Century."

Add to this D.G. Myers' list of 10 worst prize-winning American novels of all time.

From internetmonk.com
Fr. Ernesto: Biting My Lip Hard


Biting My Lip Hard
by Father Ernesto Obregon

The cartoon above makes me bite my lip real hard. The cartoonist caught just what some people think about the trend in some churches to turn the worship service into a coffee shop atmosphere with some talking. While the term “seeker sensitive” is not as much of a buzz-word as it used to be, the concept is still around.

But, there is a root that goes all the way back to the Jesus People of the 1970’s. The Jesus People were the parallel cultural reaction to the “hippies.” In both cases, there was a legitimate and merited rejection of the cookie cutter mentality of the 1950’s. They were not the only groups that pointed out the nominalism and cookie cutter attitude of the 1950’s. For instance, in 1956 the book “Peyton Place,” a book which tore into small town hypocrisy in the North, was released. In 1968, the country song “Harper Valley PTA” was released, pointing out hypocrisy in the South. George Orwell’s book 1984 points to a post-nuclear world in which the prevalent security and Cold War culture of the 1950’s is severely criticized.

Both the hippies and the Jesus People challenged the prevalent culture by dressing in ways that challenged the culture and behaving in ways that shocked prevalent culture. In the case of the hippies, events such as those chronicled in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, was one example. Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were chronicled as they made their way around the country in their brightly painted bus, using LSD and generally shocking people. The Beatles write the song “Magical Mystery Tour” about that type of trip:

Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour
Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour
Roll up (And that’s an invitation), roll up for the mystery tour
Roll up (To make a reservation), roll up for the mystery tour
The magical mystery tour is waiting to take you away
Waiting to take you away.

The Jesus People were something different, however. I am fully convinced that this was a true movement of the Holy Spirit. To this day, I still believe that God could not get into the churches of that time. After all, as chronicled by Martin Luther King in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, many of the churches either openly supported both the segregation and miscegenation laws, or were cowed into total silence. Their stand was so antithetical to Christianity that God decided to raise praised to himself from even among the stones. Many youth with a “stone” heart, many a youth who was rejecting the culture and acting out by taking drugs and joining other religions, had their heart touched by the Holy Spirit and a revival broke out.

As with many a move of the Holy Spirit, people with free will took that move one way or the other. To the good, many churches were renewed, many people were touched for God, many people became life-long Christians. Twenty years after the beginning of the Jesus People movement, a group of those people entered the Antiochian Archdiocese, changing the face of Orthodoxy in America. That very move of the Holy Spirit in the 1960’s has today resulted in an openness to converts that was simply not present in American Orthodoxy of the early 1960’s.

On the other hand, it is also true that some have slowly taken the Jesus People movement in a different direction. For them, the message of what they experienced was misheard. Over the decades since then, the message that they took from it is that the Church must be a counter-cultural entity, meaning that it must always be doing things that are on the “cutting-edge” of culture. Any “rules” about what should happen in a worship service were slowly relaxed, and then dismissed. Nowadays, one can indeed find churches like those mocked in the comic above, where one comes in with their coffee, sits on a couch, has a sermon/discussion, etc. When multiple tattoos were still cutting-edge, many in these churches jumped into tattoos, piercings, etc. [Note: my purpose is not to criticize tattoos and piercings.] What I am trying to point out is that Christian slowly became defined as one who is always adopting the latest cutting-edge cultural trend and bringing it into the Church.

I look back with both nostalgia and horror. I was part of the events back then. I have a deep nostalgia for singers such as Keith Green, who truly called us to live out what it means to follow Jesus. I have a deep nostalgia for a faith tinged with wonder and discovery, and strong church growth. At the same time, I look back with horror over some of the other events from back then and how they led us into some of the craziness we see today in the cutting-edge congregations. And, yet, I would welcome another move of the Holy Spirit, a move so strong that Orthodoxy is again touched with the wonder that Metropolitan Philip of blessed memory expressed when he welcomed home the Evangelicals who flocked in back in the late 1980’s and continuing on for many years after that.

• • •

Thanks to Fr. Ernesto for permission to re-post this piece. I resonate with much that he says.

He blogs regularly at OrthoCuban.

From Semicolon
Ollie and the Science of Treasure Hunting by Erin Dionne

This 2014 middle grade adventure is a companion novel to the author’s Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking, a book I read and enjoyed last year when it came out. In this “14 Day Mystery” Moxie’s friend Ollie steps up and becomes the featured character and detective and lead treasure hunter as he searches for pirate treasure at his Wilderness Scout camp.

There’s danger, boy pranks, camping stuff, and island adventure. Ollie goes to Wilderness Scout camp to get himself out of the media spotlight after his and Moxie’s solving of the (in)famous Gardner art heist. I wanted to adopt Ollie in the first book, and in this one he just gets better and more adorable. He’s a little bit tired of being seen as the sidekick, so when one of the adults at camp asks him to help find a pirate treasure, he can’t really turn down the opportunity—’cause after all, it’s pirate treasure!

The book includes some boys-will-be-boys sneaking and pranking that didn’t offend me, but might be too much for some adult readers. And the whole finding of the long lost pirate treasure rather easily and accidentally is a little bit unbelievable. But hey, go with it and enjoy the ride. How many books have you read lately about kids and pirate’s treasure?

You can go back into the out of print archives:
Mystery in the Pirate Oak by Helen Fuller Orton. I used to read Ms. Orton’s mysteries when I was a kid of a girl. Good children’s mystery books.
Ghost in the Noonday Sun by Sid Fleischman. Oliver FInch, because he was born exactly at midnight, has the ability to see ghosts. And the pirates who kidnap him need his help to to get to a treasure guarded by ghosts, of course. Fleischman wrote lots of funny adventure stories just right for a rollicking good time.
Captain Kidd’s Cat. The True Chronicle of Wm. Kidd, Gent. and Merchant of New York as narrated by His Ship’s Cat, McDermott, Who ought to know by Robert Lawson. Not as well known as Lawson’s other animal-narrated historical chronicles, Ben and Me and Mr. Revere and I, but this story of Captain Kidd is written in the same style and just as fun and informative. By the way, I think I may be related to Captain Kidd. At least I have some Kidds in my family tree.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Classic story of the boy, Jim Hawkins, and the pirate, Long John Silver.

But for contemporary piratical adventures, I’m drawing a blank. (I did find my review of Deadweather and Sunrise by Geoff Rodkey, but it’s not exactly set in the twenty-first century, more Dickensian.)

Do you like to read treasure hunt adventures? Do you know of any good pirate treasure books I didn’t mention?

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
'The City,' by Dean Koontz

After you have suffered great losses and known much pain, it is not cowardice to wish to live henceforth with a minimum of suffering. And one form of heroism, about which few if any films will be made, is having the courage to live without bitterness when bitterness is justified, having the strength to persevere even when perseverance seems unlikely to be rewarded, having the resolution to find profound meaning in life when it seems the most meaningless.

One of the many things I love about Dean Koontz is the breadth of his artistic pallet. Your average bestselling writer (and I do the same though I'm not a bestseller) will keep doing the thing that made him famous, over and over. And the public likes it most of the time.

Koontz improvises. He tries stuff. He can write horror or fantasy or mystery. He can be funny, or heartbreaking, or profound, or terrifying. The City, his latest, is mostly a fusion of the lyrical and the tragic.

Jonah Kirk, his narrator and hero, tells us of his childhood in the 1960s, first of all in an apartment house in a poor black neighborhood, his father mostly absent. That's the downside. The upside is that he's part of a big, loving, extended family. His grandfather is a legendary jazz pianist, his mother a gifted vocalist. And Jonah himself soon finds he has the makings of a great piano man. He also finds a friend in a neighbor, Mr. Yoshioka, a survivor of the Manzanar internment camp.

Moving with his mother out of the apartment and to his grandparents' house, he soon meets two neighbor kids - Malcolm Pomerantz, an archetypal geek who is nevertheless a talented saxophonist, and his beautiful sister Alathea. They're all gifted dreamers, and their dreams are large...

But there's a destiny hanging over Jonah. He once had a dream of a beautiful woman strangled to death, and the next day he met that woman on the apartment building stairway. That touch of premonition in his life kicks off a series of visions and revelations.

And visions and revelations, the author makes it clear, come at a price.

I loved The City. It was a beautiful story, beautifully written. It broke my heart. I read it with fascination, but could only take it in small chunks, because of the sadness.

Highly recommended. But keep a hanky handy.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Impressive Presentation Showing Sen. John Walsh's Plagiarism

It's remarkable when someone does the research to demonstrate extensive plagiarism from a public official or someone of high profile, but the NY Times' presentation of how Senator John Walsh (Democrat-Montana) is elegant. Highlighted sections of this master's thesis pull up comparison copies of their sources, so you can see how closely worded they are. A bit of explanation, like the following, is one thing: "Though a footnote indicates that this information came from a report on a State Department website, the language appeared in a post by Dean Esmay on his Dean's World blog nearly verbatim." Showing comparisons is step up. (via Hunter Baker)

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Who Created Batman?

Today is Batman Day. The Bat-Man, as he was once called, is 75 years old today, and DC Comics wants everyone to celebrate. Ignoring rumors that one-year-old prince George is being groomed to take on the Dark Knight's mantle (don't call him Robin), Jim Lee talks about the future of the character with Entertainment Weekly. He mentions strong fan-boy love for Batman '66 on Blu-ray. I guess the cheese is never too far from Gotham City.

Apparently there's one part of Batman's history the publishers have never quite settled: who actually created him? Today they are giving out special edition reprints Detective Comics #27 (1939), in which The Bat-Man first appears. The cover of this issue states it was "illustrated by creator Bob Kane and written by Bill Finger." The official word from DC Entertainment is that Bill Finger was a great guy who helped write many things, but Bob Kane was the first to imagine the hero.

[Steve] Korté, a 20-year DC Comics veteran, explains the sequence of events that lead to the creation and development of Batman. "After Superman debuted in 1938 and became an instant hit, DC editor Vince Sullivan asked Bob Kane to come up with a superhero, which he did with Batman," he adds. "During that process, he went to a friend, Bill Finger, who gave him some tips on costume adjustments. For example, Bob initially drew bat wings on Batman. Bill suggested a scalloped cape. After Batman became a hit in May, 1939, Bob brought in more people throughout the year."
Both men are dead now, but Finger's granddaughter is rally fans to give Bill the credit she believes he deserves.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
R.I.P. The Rockford Files (James Garner)

The death of James Garner this weekend has affected me more than is reasonable. I certainly didn't know the man, and we very likely wouldn't have gotten along if we'd met. He was a lifelong lefty, and by all accounts a pacifist. His favorite movie of his own was "The Americanization of Emily," an anti-war film whose message (as I recall it) was that anybody who fought in World War II was a chump.

I read Andrew Klavan's laudatory post today, along with our friend S. T. Karnick's more equivocal one. Klavan sees Garner's Maverick and Rockford characters as laudable examples of American individualism, lost today in a flood of cop shows. Karnick finds the anti-heroism of those same characters a sign of cultural decline.

For me, although I like Maverick, The Rockford Files is a personal touchstone. I consider it the best network detective show ever produced in America. Over a six year run the characters remained lively (often very funny), the acting excellent, and the scripts only slipped a little at the end.

I read a critique once that described the Jim Rockford character as "pusillanimous." I don't agree. What he was, in my view, was a believable good guy. Unlike the standard American TV hero, he had no illusions of invincibility (you could sometimes detect the limp that came from Garner's real life bad knees). Like any sensible man in the real world, he didn't fight if he could talk his way out, and he'd run away if he had a chance. Because fights with other guys are rarely a good idea. But when he had no choice, or when a principle, or a friend or client, was threatened, Jim stood up and gave as good as he got.

The relationships made the show work. Jim's father (the great Noah Beery, Jr.) loved him dearly and worried about him, and Jim clearly reciprocated. Nevertheless they nagged and teased each other all the time, and did not hesitate to trick each other out of a free meal or a tank of gas. Jim's old prison buddy Angel (Stuart Margolin) was a brilliant addition - a man with no redeeming qualities whatever, but Jim remained loyal to him. We never knew why, but we loved him for his grace. His lawyer, the lovely Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett) admitted she was in love with him, but had accepted the fact that the guy couldn't be domesticated. And Sgt. Dennis Becker of the LAPD (Joe Santos) put up with a lot of flack from the department in order to maintain a sometimes stormy friendship with the low-rent PI. It was an ensemble effort, and a thing of beauty (by the way, I pulled all those actors' names out of my memory without consulting Wikipedia, which will give you an idea how many times I've watched the credits).

The rusty trailer on the beach at Malibu. The copper-brown Pontiac Firebird. The wide-lapelled 1970s sport coats. The gun in the cookie jar. The answering machine. It all felt, if not like home, like a friend's home to which we were welcome once a week. It meant a lot to me. Still does. I watch it every Sunday on the MeTV broadcast channel.

Jim Rockford made me want to be a better man. And it didn't seem impossible to do it his way.

I'm not sure I want to live in an America without James Garner in it. We take ourselves too seriously already.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Alton Brown, Media Mogul

At least twice on my current list of regrets is that I have not learn enough from Alton Brown. The man is the mad scientist of culinary delight. Grade school kids should have classes based on Good Eats. Here's a recent morning interview he did that briefly mentions his many media products.

From Semicolon
Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett

The fourth book in Dorothy Dunnett’s historical series Renaissance man, Francis Crawford of Lymond, aka Comte of Sevigny, takes the characters, especially Lymond himself, to a new level of complexity and human triumph over adversity and suffering. And at one point in the story, we are informed or perhaps reminded that Lymond is only twenty-six years old. He’s already survived more than most men three times his age, even in the adventurous Renaissance times in which he lives.

In this book, Lymond manages to escape a couple of assassins disguised as nuns, imprisonment in a North African harem, poisoning, an underwater struggle with his murderous arch enemy, and a rather deadly chess game featuring human chess pieces who forfeit their lives if taken by the opposing player. The chess game in the seraglio in Istamboul is unforgettable, by the way. And that’s just a sample of the perils and predicaments that face Mr. Crawford in this highly entertaining adventure.

Entertaining, yes, but the denouement of the novel is heart-rending. Lymond must choose whether or not to forfeit the life of one innocent in order to save the lives of many more. It’s a no-win situation, and of course, since Lymond is the sensitive soul that he’s always been in all of the other books in the series, he blames himself for the outcome and carries a heavy burden of guilt into the next book in the series, The Ringed Castle.

Has anyone else read this series, and if so, what did you think? The vocabulary and writing style are challenging for me, in a good way, and I don’t usually find that to be so with novels written after 1900. Lymond is also a complex, conflicted, and challenging character. I do have a prediction to make at this point in the series, a prediction I came up with halfway through this volume: I predict that Lymond and Philippa will end up truly married by the end of the sixth book. Don’t ask me how (I don’t know) and don’t tell me if I’m right or wrong. I’ll see how my prediction pans out as I read books five and six.

If you want to read a little more about this engaging novel, here are some other blog reviews of Pawn in Frankincense:

She Reads Novels: Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett.
Shelf Love: Pawn in Frankincense (some spoilers)
Semicolon review of The Disorderly Knights, book three in the series.
Semicolon thoughts on Game of Kings, the first book in the series.

From Transforming Sermons
Burdens in discipleship

Jeff Weddle shares a few biblical thoughts on burdens.

From Transforming Sermons
The need to preach on body image

Darryl Dash shares a link at Christianity Today on the importance of preaching about body image.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
The Changing World of Publishing

Philip Yancey writes about this many years of experience in publishing.

I had an enlightening experience with e-books in 2013. In April I finished the book The Question That Never Goes Away, based on my visits to three places of great tragedy. My traditional publisher wanted at least nine months lead time to publish it, the typical schedule for a new book, yet new tragedies such as the Boston Marathon bombings, tornadoes, and school shootings were occurring almost weekly, the very situations my book addressed. So I signed on for an Amazon-exclusive program to publish an e-book for 90 days before the hard copy book came out. Leaning on my friends for email lists, I managed to sell about 3,000 copies. On September 11 and Thanksgiving weekend I offered free downloads and 40,000 people downloaded the book! The moral of the story, as many have learned: things can quickly go viral on the Internet but it's a tough place to generate income.

From Transforming Sermons
A taste for the Word

Preacher, do you approach Bible study like a starving chef?

From Transforming Sermons
Wisdom in discipleship

Jonathan Leeman offers some sound advice on when you should not submit to a church.

From Semicolon
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

“Varian Johnson lists his inspirations for this book as Ocean’s 11, The Westing Game, Sneakers, The Thomas Crowne Affair, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” I would, guessing, add the movies Star Wars and The Sting, not to mention a few pick-up basketball games along the way, but I could be mistaken about those particular influences.

Jackson Greene has reformed, changed his ways, and sworn off all scheming, finagling, conning, and pranking. When the girl you like (Gaby) sees you brush lips with another cutie and totally misinterprets the situation, and when the principal catches you breaking into his office, you had better call it quits as far as con games are concerned. Even if it’s for a good cause. Then again, maybe if Keith Sinclair, Jackson’s arch enemy and nemesis of all good clubs and organizations at Maplewood Middle School, plans to run for Student Council against that same girl, Gaby, the one Jackson kinda sorta likes—then, maybe, a small benevolent interference, just to keep Keith from stealing the election, is in order. What could it hurt?

Mr. Johnson’s middle grade (upper middle grade since it has lots of tame boy/girl stuff) heist novel got a boost on Twitter earlier this spring and summer with people using the hash tags #weneeddiversebooks and #greatgreenechallenge, the latter tag referring to a friendly competition between independent bookstores to handsell Mr. Johnson’s book. The book does feature “diverse” characters, Asian American, African American, and Hispanic, and it is a a good solid summer read. As far as kid caper books are concerned, I preferred I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora, but Acampora’s Mockingbird doesn’t have quite the same “diversity factor”. (Catholic characters and bookish characters don’t count as “diversity” the same way people of color do. Who makes up these rules, anyway?) Still, reading The Great Greene Heist was an enjoyable way to spend a summer evening, and I recommend it to fans of Paul Acampora’s book or of Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls and Heist Society books.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

I agree that some of the “aha” moments seem kind of weak. I even found myself reasoning through some potential explanations that didn’t fall back on some kind of inerrancy argument. Still, the series is good if for no other reason than to show others that one doesn’t need to hold to some kind of Fundamentalist thinking or dogmatic adherence to the Chicago Statement in order to maintain a strong faith in God/Christ in the face of problems caused by certain methods of interpretation.

As an aside, I’m finding it more and more useful to think of Fundamentalism as a level of emotional and intellectual maturity that fears openness to thinking outside one’s understanding, as opposed to the legalisatic Christianity that still lives in the US. It also makes it easier to see how that kind of thinking finds its way into both conservative and liberal theologies, as well as other religions.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
'There Are No Jobs in Academia.'

Ryan Anderson is a grad student in anthropology (not the clothing store). "I realized how bad things were when I was about half way through my PhD program-and it didn't help that the global economy was literally crashing right when I started. You know, the whole 'Great Recession' thing. After one year, I nearly dropped out. Looking back, maybe that would have been the better decision. But, for some reason, I kept going...in part because of a vague hope that things would somehow 'work out.' I too pinned my hopes on that imagined employer."

The bottom line, he says, is this isn't the 1960s and there are no jobs in academia. He points to data showing about 36,000 new PhDs for every 3,000 new positions created. Is this education making 33,000 better people or just dragging them and their families down? (via Anthony Bradley)

From Semicolon
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer, besides authoring several Golden Age of detective fiction mysteries, also wrote romance novels and according to Wikipedia “essentially established the genre of Regency romance.” During her career,she published over thirty Regency novels, for a period of her life publishing one mystery/thriller and one romance per year.

The Grand Sophy, one of those Regency novels, was published in 1950. It’s the story of a rather indolent and somewhat impecunious family, Lord and Lady Ombersley and their several children, including the eldest, Charles, who has become something of a family tyrant in his quest to save the family from bankruptcy. When Lady Ombersley’s niece, Sophy, comes to stay for a while while her diplomat father goes on an ambassadorial trip to Brazil, the entire household is turned topsy-turvy by Sophy’s free and easy ways and her lack of female propriety, not to mention her monkey, Jacko.

Sophy is a grand character. She’s independent, intelligent, and spirited without being obnoxious. Sophy’s cousin Charles is less well-developed as a character. At first, he seems like a petty family dictator, ruling over his parents and his younger brothers and sisters in a rather arbitrary way while planning to marry an heiress to re-coup the family fortunes. As the story continues, Charles becomes more sympathetic as a character, but I was never sure why he was so high-handed and unbending at the beginning.

Jane Austen fans and Regency romance readers should definitely check out The Grand Sophy. Ms. Heyer’s novels, including this one, are not as subtle and deep as Jane Austen’s, but as far as straight light romance novels go Georgette’s Heyer’s books rise near to the top of the list.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
The Cole Sage novels, by Micheal Maxwell

A few days back I reviewed Micheal Maxwell's novel Diamonds and Cole, which I liked very much. I liked it so much that I went on to purchase the next three books in the series, Cellar Full of Cole, Helix of Cole, and Cole Dust, and read them all at speed. Though I have quibbles, I recommend the series highly.

First, the quibbles. The titles, as you can see from the previous paragraph, are a little silly.

Secondly, there are weaknesses in plotting. Occasionally our hero Cole Sage makes an improbable deductive leaap (always correctly, of course). And the stories tend to be episodic, a sin to which I too am prone in my own books.

And there are word problems. Author Maxwell is prone to homophone confusions, like "waste" for "waist." At one point he describes Cole's granddaughter's hair, well established as dark and curly, as "flaxen." Maybe he doesn't know what flaxen means. Who sees flax these days?

But I easily forgive these minor sins, and I think you will too. Cole Sage is a fresh kind of mystery hero. He's essentially optimistic, and he enjoys making life better for the people he meets. No cynical, hard-boiled attitude here. Cole likes life, and he likes people.

In the second book, Cellar Full of Cole, we find our newspaper reporter hero, newly relocated from Chicago to San Francisco, facing off against a serial killer who targets little girls. His investigation is motivated in part by his fears for his own granddaughter, who he never knew existed until the previous year.

In Helix of Cole he is singled out by an old '60s radical, on the basis of a news story he wrote decades ago. This radical has a nuclear device, and a god delusion, and he won't let anybody but Cole near him.

Finally, Cole Dust is an entire narrative departure. Cole learns a relative he barely knew has died, leaving him a house in Oklahoma. In that house he finds the journal of his grandfather, a man he barely remembers. Spending a month in residence, he gets the chance to get to know a remarkable, courageous, deeply flawed man with a dramatic, tragic story. He also gets acquainted with the inhabitants of a nice little town, portrayed more sympathetically than such people would be portrayed in most mysteries.

Another book by Maxwell, a flawed but interesting non -Cole novella called Three Nails, provides some insight into the author. It would appear he's a Christian of some sort. Probably more liberal than I am, but emphatically Christian, even evangelical. Which means he's doing what so many of us talk about but rarely do - writing novels that aren't evangelistic tracts, but straight stories in which Christianity is implicit rather than preached. For which I laud him.

There must have been some rough language, but I don't recall much. There are a couple homosexual recurring characters, one of whom is what you'd call "flamboyant." But there's no preaching on the subject, pro or con.

All in all, I endorse the Cole Sage novels highly, though your mileage may vary. E-book only, and not expensive.

From Transforming Sermons
Knowing when to let your hair down

Craig Keener's blog insights on biblical texts are always insightful. His latest is on Proverbs 23:7.

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: July 19, 2014

“I read books in all the obvious places—in my house and office, on trains and buses and planes—but I’ve also read them at plays and concerts and prizefights, and not just during the intermissions. I’ve read books while waiting for friends to get sprung from the drunk tank, while waiting for people to emerge from comas, while waiting for the Iceman to cometh.” ~Joe Queenan


Welcome 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 Transforming Sermons
On spiritual experiences

Doug Floyd shares some of his personal struggles in the ongoing transformation into the image of Jesus Christ. Doug also offers a few thoughts on spiritual direction.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

I’ve never been a fan of the word “inerrant”. It just never seemed like the right descriptor for the bible, even if one doesn’t think it contains errors. Inerrant poetry?

I’ve started to read Enn’s series. It’s good, and I agree that a traditional, literalistic approach to the whole bible isn’t quite right.

But some of the “aha” moments seem a bit weak, like Jesus story about David in the showbread in Mark.

From Transforming Sermons
Conceived in sin

Here's one of the most fascinating, short articles I've read in a while: Jeff Weddle's interpretation of Ps. 51:5.

From Transforming Sermons
Christ or me?

Thanks to Darryl Dash for passing along this link: The Great Commission Means Sharing Christ’s Story, Not Yours.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Jason, yeah, I’ve been following Enns’ series. With my background (and somewhat my present) in churches that pretty much worship the Bible, having stories from folks who don’t is really helpful.

That sort of historical literary study really helps reinforce for me that the Bible is an inspired means by which God has made Himself known to us, but that it doesn’t belong in that fundie trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Bible.

I think that bibliolatric literalism is pretty much an attempt to control the Good Lion by those who fear the fact that He isn’t tame.