Friday, November 16, 2012

Not Surprised by N.T. Wright

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the ChurchSurprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I expect anything from N.T. Wright to be deep, passionate, and thoroughly Biblical.  I was not disappointed in this book.  I used his DVD lessons in a class I taught at church.  He has a wonderful accent and the lessons were delivered in wonderful English settings of cathedrals and countryside. I found he content very informative and edifying but the book was definitely a neck-stretcher for my students.  I commend them for wading through it.  It deserves to be abridged for "ordinary" readers who need to be exposed to the core points he makes without having to run down all the side bars he follows answering arguments that regular church folk do not face.  Keep writing Professor Wright and I'll keep reading!

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One of Three Ways to Change America for Good

The FairTax Book: Saying Goodbye to the Income Tax and the IRSThe FairTax Book: Saying Goodbye to the Income Tax and the IRS by Neal Boortz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Way to go Neal Boortz!  Your book depicts one third of my dream to change (i.e. breakup) the political-economic power game that has evolved over the last 100 years in America.  Such power is dangerous if held by the same person too long.  We need this and two other firewalls against the human tendency to evil.

1. The Fair Tax (as so wonderfully described in this book) would place economic power back into the hands of working individuals.

2. The Balanced Budget Amendment to the US Constitution (another barrier to uncontrolled government spending.)

3. Term Limits on US Senators and Representatives would keep politicians focused on the task at hand, not worrying about getting re-elected again and again.  I'd also apply this limitation to Federally appointed judges who too often become legislators from the bench.

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hope Springs

Nadine and I did it just in time.  Today was the last showing of Hope Springs the new romantic non-comedy staring Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep.  The film makers portray an older married couple renewing their desire for a more intimate and enjoyable life together after falling into a deadening routine.

I believe that any couple that has been married 30 years or more (like us) can identify somewhere with Jones and Streep's portrayals.  I found myself appreciating the counseling skills of the Steve Carrell character who asks insightful and timely questions that gets them talking and listening to each other again.  The story feels even handed in dealing with the typical male and female issues/concerns within a marriage.  Neither partner is the "bad" guy.  While both have contributed to the decline of the relationship, mostly through fear and distraction, Meryl Streep's character is the first to become desperate enough to arrange for a intensive marriage retreat at $4000.

This was more than a movie to me.  I came away inspired to make the next years with Nadine better than ever.  After the initial foundational years, the season in pastoral ministry, and the raising of four kids to adulthood, I am ready to build the next good thing together whatever that appears to be.

Be aware that the film straightforwardly addresses very intimate aspects of marriage, though I don't believe that it crossed the line into the crude.  I felt connected to the other fifty people watching it around us but there were moments when we glanced around to make sure no one we knew was in the theater with us!

If you haven't already seen it, you'll have to wait for the DVD or its last go round in the .99 theaters.
KethaniKethani by Eric Brown

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The premise and the opening chapter engaged me. The focus on ordinary people of rural Britain would be good. I like books where the protagonist(s) is someone like me (except I'm not British). I appreciated how the concept of being resurrected as often as necessary affected species-long assumptions and supposed limitations. However, I feel about this book like I did after viewing the last episodes of the ABC series "Lost". I felt that I had been provoked to think differently about some things, but the story feels unfinished. There are also hints dropped that are not resolved. Who really are the Kethani? (Who were the good and bad entities on the Lost island?) It doesn't seem to matter to the author but it matters to me. The book works on the level of provoking philosophical/religious speculation, but it fails badly in inspiring human readers toward a better future on earth. Maybe the author is tricking us like the Kethani character tricks the main characters into killing themselves in the last chapter so they can become cosmic evangelists. Maybe he wants to turn us from the hope that physical immortality would be good for human souls.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Terry Brooks Comes to Town!

Yesterday was a great day for several reasons, one of which being that Nadine and I attended an event at the Carmel Barnes and Noble bookstore featuring NY Times Best Selling author Terry Brooks.  Terry Brooks put epic fantasy on the literary map with his 1977 publication of The Sword of Shanarra.  It stayed on the list for five months.  He has written twenty-two additional novels.

Terry spent the first hour talking to us about the writing process (see video) and then read from an upcoming novel.  He also took questions from the crowd of nearly 100 people.  We stood in line for another hour for him to sign six of his books from my library.  As he did so, we talked about writing.  I told him that I had been writing fantasy and science fiction since 1984 and that his style of bringing different plot lines together with cliffhanger chapter endings helped me in structuring both novels I have self-published.  He nodded and said, "You need to write what you like to read.  That's why you won't find any Tom Bombadils [e.g.J.R.R. Tolkien] in my stories."  Then we stood together for a picture.

Terry has created two fantasy universes: Shanarra and Landover.  He said that he is giving ten more years to finish what he wants to say.  With plans for two movies in the works (Magic Kingdom of Landover and Elfstones of Shanarra) the next ten years might be the best yet!

Check out his website:

 Terry having fun with his audience
 Making a point
 Making another point
 Getting ready to read from Bloodline Quest (out March 2013)
 Signing my copy of Ilse Witch
 I ask an interesting (or stupid) question!
I amaze Terry Brooks with an insightful comment
 Terry's glad to be finished signing books for me


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Book of LiesThe Book of Lies by Brad Meltzer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first read of a Meltzer book.  Not a long book and fast paced.  Read 100 pages before I had to turn in.  Finished it the next day.

Book of Lies is a well-researched novel that touches on so many inter-related human themes: religion, father and sons, grief, justice, pop culture, history, politics, war.  The moment I felt loaded up in one area, Meltzer shifted to a different focus while moving the plot along well.  The violence, while shocking because I came to care for just about every character in the story, was not gruesome.

It worked for me on a lot of levels, such as helping me understand and even empathize (a little) with the bad guy(s).  Now I have a deeper take on Cain (see Genesis), of how God responds to sin, and one aspect of the immortal life that God wants for us all.

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River of HeavenRiver of Heaven by Lee  Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I heard Lee Martin at the Midwest Writers' Workshop in Muncie, IN this July and knew I wanted to get into his writing.  This is not the kind of book that I normally read, but after reading it I wonder why I wouldn't.  I quickly cared about the characters and the small town setting he created.  I also came to care about my own life in a deeper and more hopeful way.  I saw it as a great treatment of how one's spirituality develops and deforms in relationship with other people.

Martin's writing style is so moving and colorful.  Here are some examples:

"I wondered what it would be like to be so in love with your life that you could reach out to strangers that way." (108)

"This is the home of a man who has lost faith and has decided that the world can go on without him." (113)

"One we know the hidden life, the secrets someone carries, how can it not be ours?  How can it not be something we live? . . .My life used to be so simple . . .Now here are all these people.  Now I have all their stories." (133)

"It's enough to make me glad for all the days and months and years that have added up to this." (147)

"It takes just the nearness of people to make you feel there may be a good reason for all we suffer." (198)

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mystery Writing and the Christian Hope

One the workshops I attended today at the Midwest Writers Conference was about the mystery novel.  The presenter's name was Terrance Faherty, a mystery writer from Indianapolis.  I learned a lot about a genre I seldom read.  But it was what he said about the kind of ending that makes for an excellent reading experience.  The ending of a well-written mystery novel "sends a shockwave that runs back through all you have read and changes the way you see everything.  All the pieces come together in a satisfying way."

As a Christian I immediately thought of one aspect of my eternal hope.  I Corinthians 13:12 says that when a believer sees Jesus in the next life one of the experiences will be "knowing fully, even as we are fully known."  Can we see God has the writer of the mystery we are living and that faith means that we live every day in quiet certainty that we will have the joy of seeing in a moment how everything contributes to our happy ending/new beginning?

"Behold, I am making all things new!"

And our story continues.

Friday, July 27, 2012

First Timer @ Midwest Writer's Conference

The Olympic Games of 2012 open tonight in London and I feel like I'm in the running for a medal in writing.  I am taking my writing game to the next level by attending my first REAL writing conference.  I'm feeling the burn!  I hadn't planned to pitch my novel Wavelength but when the agents opened up more two minute slots, I said "Why shouldn't I?  If not now, when?"

It seems like I had to go against my tendency to devalue what I do.  No.  It's not that.  It's fear.  Fear of someone else not liking or approving what I've done.  Fear of my creation being snubbed or discarded.  I chose to not live in fear of "what if".  I've decided to live in expectation of "what could be."

I had worked last night creating a pitch on my computer.  I was planning to make the pitch on Saturday, but the agent suddenly announced he would see the extra signups today.  One big problem -- my laptop's battery was going dead.  I fired it up praying that it would last.

It didn't.  I sat in front of the agent [a handsome 20 something man from New York] and condensed my plot line and main characters into no more than ten sentences.  I think I did it in less than six.  I answered the one question he asked.  Then he reached into his jacket pocket and handed me a card.  "I'd like to see how you set this up.  Send me a query and three chapters."  I took the card, said thank you, and tried not to dance as I left the library of the Alumni Center at Ball State University.

Go for the gold!  Even if the world doesn't give you a medal, you'll never regret believing you belong on the track.

Here's a link to the conference.

Look for me.  I know they took my picture!
The Moscow Option: An Alternative Second World WarThe Moscow Option: An Alternative Second World War by David Downing

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author presents an alternate scenario to WWII.  The main differences are the German decision to attack Moscow directly and the Japanese discovery that the United States had broken their military code.  The German aspect seems more believable than the Japanese account.  I felt that the book sometimes got bogged down as too many pages were given to minute moves of army units.  I was more interested in seeing the bigger picture and understanding the political, economic and industrial reasons why certain campaigns succeeded while others did not. Contrary to the advertising script, this is not about a world where Hitler reigned supreme.  I wish the author had expanded his epilogue to describe the circumstances of the retreat of Nazi Germany and Japan.  It would be interesting to see his speculation as to how the alternate post-war world would have looked.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Brennan Manning has been someone whose books God has used to form my life.  Here is a quote from his book Abba's Child (p. 110). May it bless you too.

"Without deliberate awareness of the present risenness of Jesus, life is nonsense, all activity useless.  Apart from the risen Christ we live in a world of impenetrable mystery and utter obscurity -- a world without meaning . . . a world of inexplicable futility.

"Living in the awareness of the risen Jesus is not a trivial pursuit for the bored and lonely or a defense mechanism enabling us to cope with the stress and sorrow of life.  It is the key that unlocks the door to grasping the meaning of existence.

"All day and every day we are being reshaped into the image of Christ.  Everything that happens to us is designed to this end.  Nothing that exists can exist beyond the pale of His presence, nothing is irrelevant to it, nothing is without significance in it . . .Through union with Him nothing is wasted, nothing is missing.  There is never a moment that does not carry eternal significance -- no action that is sterile, no love that lacks fruition, and no prayer that is unheard.  "We know that by turning everything to their good God cooperates with all those who love him." (Romans 8:28).  The apparent frustrations of circumstances, seen or unforseen, of illness, of misunderstandings, even of our own sins, do not thwart the final fulfillment of our lives hidden with Christ in God."

Yours for the journey.

Monday, July 9, 2012

This is my house during my second grade year (1963-64). We (2 parents, three kids) lived in the upstairs apartment.  This is where life began to settle down for us.

153 Avenue A, Rochester, NY

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I am now a Pinterester.


I'm using the site to share images that I find that portray places, characters and events from the literary worlds I am creating.

Check it out and enjoy.  Join up, follow me and I'll follow you!

Follow Me on Pinterest

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Growing Seasons: An American Boyhood Before the WarThe Growing Seasons: An American Boyhood Before the War by Samuel Hynes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this book up because my Dad was born in 1927.  He died in 1995 and I never learned much about his everyday life or the the people he knew.  This is a midwestern book and Dad grew up in Michigan so I see a lot of cultural similarities.  Compared to my own boyhood years (I'm 55 this year), life and times hadn't changed too much, except that I had a lot more stuff than he probably did.

The author knows how to take the reader down the streets of Minneapolis and the lanes of the country.  His treatment of his awakening to the world of women is tasteful, humorous, and so real that I will likely read (parts of) it to my wife.

The books ends with his enlistment as a Marine aviator as WWII broke out.  My own father tried once to enlist in the Marines, but was underage.  The second time he was successful.

Now I'll have to read his Flights of Passage.

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A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the FutureA Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book that I will share with family and select friends at work. A good overview of contemporary changes in business and culture.  It promotes a hopeful future for those who can make the shift to more right-brained thinking as well as for artists (think the Eneagram) like me who have felt forced into chasing exclusively left-brained goals for too long.

I listened to the audiobook read by the author.  Try it.  You will feel his passion for opening a whole new world to his readers.

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Evolution's Captain: The Dark Fate of the Man Who Sailed Charles Darwin Around the WorldEvolution's Captain: The Dark Fate of the Man Who Sailed Charles Darwin Around the World by Peter Nichols

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An innovative approach to a controversial issue through examining the life of the captain of the HMS Beagle.  Part one covers the career of Captain FitzRoy and provides a detailed understanding of his character and personality.  Also included is the early life of Charles Darwin.  It helps the reader view the humanity of one who has become larger than life.

The second half is weaker.  The content shifts to Darwin and his change from devout Christian to founder of atheistic evolution.  This could have been portrayed more thoroughly considering that this is the major focus of the rest of the book.  I saw Captain FitzRoy becoming a figure representing those who will become extinct because they hold onto a supposedly inadequate and inconsistent belief system.  While his kind die out, the more fit (atheistic evolutionists?) survive.

The author describes the seas of the southern latitudes in a way that I could feel the spray and the gales, but his attempt to address the evolution-creation controversy left me in the doldrums.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

God's Knowledge

Near the end of the film Kate and Leopold, Kate (played by Meg Ryan) says to her coworkers at an advertising agency, "It's a great thing get what you want.  Unless what you thought you wanted wasn't really what you wanted because what you really wanted you couldn't imagine, or you didn't think it was possible.  But what if someone came along who knew exactly what you wanted without asking?  They just knew.  Like they could hear your heart beating or listen to your thoughts.  And what if they were sure of themselves and they didn't have to take a poll and they loved you?"

She's saying this about Leopold (played by Hugh Jackman).  She decides to leave this world and travel across time to be with him.  (You'll have to see the movie to see how it all works together.  It's really well done.)

My point is that this is a fine example of the ever-increasing presence of ancient spiritual themes in contemporary films.

Some argue that religions are attempts to control other human beings by presumably knowing what God wants of us.  Comply with the system or risk divine wrath.  While I think that there is more to religion than this, I'd like to turn the equation around.  What if Christian faith is about God knowing what we really want and providing it?  The New Testament reveals God as love.  It is of love's nature to give.  My wife knows that I love her best when I am actively serving her best interests and want her to be happy beyond measure.  I don't claim to be doing this as well as I could, but I do propose that this is how God interacts with every one of us.

It was said of Jesus "He knew what was in man." (John 2:25)  A little later a woman told her neighbors, "Come see a man who told me everything I ever did." (John 4:29)  I am imagining Jesus able to see into every person's heart and knowing their deepest desires and strongest yearnings -- the things we can hardly name to ourselves much less make known to others, even after years of marriage.  He is the one we are looking for in a best friend or soul mate.  He is the one who, on the day after our death, will look into our eyes and we will feel wonderful dream come true reality of the scripture's promise, "Then I will know fully, even as I am fully known."  (I Corinthians 13:12)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Whatever you think of The Shack . . .

. . .its portrayal of the Christian Trinitarian concept of God was gripping, thought provoking, and (for me) revealing. The book very smartly did not try to explain how the three are one and one are three. More importantly and effectively it portrayed the relationship among them and how each is important to us who exist as individuals in relationship.

The eighth chapter of Romans has been a key verse for Christian understanding and living since it was penned 20 and 1/2 centuries ago. Each Person of the Triune God gets time on the stage. Here's what I can affirm:

The Holy Spirit

  • Controls our minds increasingly (8:6)

  • Lives in us (8:9-10)

  • Will give life to our mortal bodies (i.e. resurrection) (8:11)

  • Is the way for us to put the misdeeds of the body (i.e. sins) to death (8:13)

  • Testifies with our spirit that we are God's children (8:16)

  • Is a first fruit of a fuller harvest God will produce in us (8:23)

  • Helps us in prayer by interceeding for us (8:26-27)

Jesus Christ

  • Is the reason we are free from the law of sin and death (8:2)

  • Was a (one-time) offering for sin (8:3-4)

  • Was the human expression of the Spirit (8:9)

  • Is risen from the dead (8:11)

  • Is a co-heir with us of all things (8:17)

  • Is the One all Christians are destined to become like (8:29)

  • Intercedes for His own at God's right hand (8:34)

  • Loves us (8:35, 39)

God the Father

  • Sent the Son to be a sin offering (8:3)

  • Receives hostility from the sinful mind (8:7)

  • Raised Jesus from the dead (8:11)

  • The One the Spirit expresses (8:14)

  • Has children (8:16-17)

  • Subjected creation to frustration (8:20)

  • Has a will (i.e. plan) for all (8:27)

  • Works actively for good in all things for those who have commited to Him (8:28)

  • Foreknew, calls, justifies, and glorifies His own (8:30)

  • Is for us (8:31)

  • Will give us all things (that are necessary) (8:32)

  • Justifies sinners (8:33)

  • Will not allow anything to seperate his people from his love (8:39)

I hope that you find fulfillment in knowing this One God who exists forever in triune relationship and who wants to share His life with as many of us as will have it.

Biblically Upset

My new class at Anderson School of Theology is focusing on the Hebrew prophets. You don't read too far through the prophets to learn that for every hint into the future they give, they deliver twenty challenges to the present order of their day. For instance, the prophets often spoke out against those who used their power unjustly. They often defended the poor and oppressed. When it came to hypocrisy by those who should have known and done better, they call a spade and spade.

With the way things are in America these days, a lot of people are upset and expressing it through blogs, letters to media, and protests in the streets. The latest thing to hit the fan is the row over how to respond to the ongoing crime of piracy of intelectual property. We don't need to turn up the level of venting over this and other issues and catastrophizing is always unhelpful. However, I am interested in becoming Biblically upset enough to bring about change about something.

I believe that becoming Biblically upset means to love what God loves and hate what God hates enough to get involved for good. A thourough knowledge of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Scripture can inform us about what matters to God. It can convince us that some need removing and other things need preserving or re-establishing. I wonder what is making you, my reader, Biblically upset these days? Could it be that the Spirit of God is raising up another prophet?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Just hours before he would be arrested and then crucified, Jesus celebrates the greatest Jewish feast holiday with his disciples. They enjoy a Passover meal together and then Jesus speaks to them as is recorded on John 13-16. At the end of chapter 16 Jesus says that he has told them all of this so that they "might have peace." Really! Let's review what he said to them that night.

1. One of you will betray me to my enemies (13:21)
2. Peter will deny that he knows me three times (13:38)
3. I am leaving you (13:36b)
4. Even after all this time, you still don't know who I am (14:9)
5. The Prince of this world is coming (14:30)
6. You are at risk of being cut off from the vine of God (15:6)
7. The world will hate you (15:18-16:2)
8. You are not able to hear all that I wish I could say (16:12)
9. Expect to weep and mourn while the world rejoices (16:20)

This doesn't sound very peace-inducing to me! I'd be scared and wondering what I had gotten myself into. If we have lived long enough, we grasp tht fact that inspite of all the money we spend, the votes we cast, and the miles we jog, we cannot guarantee that our circumstances will be those that promote happiness. When we look inside, the best we can do is hope that we will be "up for the challenge."

What did Jesus mean?
A. It might be that he was pracicing "full disclosure" with his followers. "Were it not so, I would have told you." (14:1b) "I have called you friends fo everything I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." (15:15) If bad times are coming, being forewarned can enable me to prepare and get my courage up. Yet this is far from being at peace.

B. Jesus qualifies his promise of peace with a prepositional phrase: "in me." Christ's followers inhabit two worlds at the same time. One is this world of physical, emotional, political, financial, and military threat and uncertainty. It is there that we have "trouble." (John 16:33) The other realm is "in Christ." All lasting peace is found in the latter.

Peace is experienced when
1. We are in a fellowship where we know we are loved (13:34-35)
2. We believe that our eternal place is secure (14:1-4)
3. We see our best days as lying ahead (14:12-14)
4. We feel the love of God for us (14:18-23)
5. We sense spiritual life of God flowing through us (15:7-9)
6. We see the honor in suffering as Christ did (15:20f)
7. We experience "all truth." (i.e. about everything) (16:2)
8. We understand suffering as birth pangs and not as the end (i.e. terminal) (16:20-22)
9. We accept that our best efforts fall short, but understand that our performance never was the deciding factor anyway. (16:31-33)

May peace be yours and mine this year!

Christmas Past

Today is the Christian holiday Epiphany. It commemorates the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi. It is the "twelvth day of Christmas" and many people have waited until today to take down their Christmas decorations.

I wonder way some Santa movies move me so. I think it is not about being rewarded for being good. It's more about grace and being remembered and not being forgotten. In the New Testament Book of Revelation there is a church where the faithful ones receive a white stone with a name on it that no one knows except the one gives it and the who receives it. It is a moment that says everything to a believer who has held to Jesus through life. He or she will not miss being on God's list. The gift is fitting and unique, crafted just for that person.

For me, Santa is not a source for selfish dreams to come true. Rather, Santa is a symbol of the covenantal God who sees me when I'm sleeping and remembers me. To be remembered says, "You have belonged all along." I know my flaw and sins well (i.e. my naughtiness). The best Santa movies show him not only as a rewarder, but also as Redeemer.

(If you'd enjoy another reflection on Santa, check out my latest posting on my blog "Story Matters." It ran in the Greenfield Daily Reporter on December 17th.)