Sunday, October 13, 2019

Skoolie!, by Will Sutherland

Have you ever thought about living in a converted school bus or converting a bus to use as an RV?  Neither have I.  But after perusing Will Sutherland's Skoolie! How to Convert a School Bus or Van into a Tiny Home or Recreational Vehicle it doesn't sound too far-fetched and even seems pretty attractive.  Sutherland takes readers step by step through the process of buying a used school bus, stripping the interior, and fitting it out for living space. 
This sort of project is for the dedicated DIYer who is comfortable with a plumbing, carpentry, metal work, electricity, and more.  Sutherland goes into a lot of detail that provides a good starting point for anyone taking on such a project.  The greatest thing about this is cost.  He pulled off this conversion for under $12,000.  I haven't shopped for RVs lately, but I know this is a tiny fraction of what you might pay for a new or even a used RV of similar size and amenities.  And as he points out, school buses are build more solidly than typical RVs.
I don't know that the Skoolie lifestyle is for me, but Sutherland tempts me to think about making it work.  No property tax, mortgage, lawn care, utility bills, same old neighbors and same old view, the list goes on.  Why not make it happen?  By chronicling his own project and showing many examples of other Skoolies, Sutherland will show you the way.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, October 11, 2019

How to Be a Perfect Christian, by The Babylon Bee

I picked up The Babylon Bee's How to Be a Perfect Christian thinking it might be little more than a compilation of articles from their their hilarious, satirical web site.  That's not what it is, but I was far from disappointed.  They manage to be profound by being absurd.  The basic pattern is to take the opposite position of what a perfect Christian would be, and get you to laugh at ways in which you might tend toward that opposite position.

Their main audience is American evangelicals, and their main target is cultural conformity.  They write, "to become perfect, you need to baptized in the glorious waters of Christian culture."  You have to listen on to Christian music, watch only Christian movies, attend the most popular, trendy megachurch, and speak in fluent Christianese.

There are plenty of shades and allusions to Babylon Bee articles.  If you've read the Bee for a while, you know what to expect in terms of tone and topics.  I love the way they have taken that site and created this topical book.  People who will likely enjoy this book the most are those who are in the midst of, or close to, popular modern evangelicalism.  How to Be a Perfect Christian is like a funhouse mirror for us, distorting our images in a hilarious way while forcing us to reflect on what real flaws may be hiding under the surface.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

After You Believe, by N.T. Wright

Have you ever finished a book and wanted to go right back to the beginning and reading it again?  That's how I feel about N.T. Wright's After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters.  In response to those who might say, or at least imply, that one's actions don't matter once someone is saved, since salvation in Christ is a free gift, never to be taken away, Wright writes this book as a "Yes, but. . . ." to that position.

Scriptural, densely argued, and deeply challenging, Wright explores the formation of Christian character and the fruit of following Jesus.  Unfortunately, many, including some Christians, get caught up in morality without focusing on character.  I love what Wright says about fruit.  Fruit comes from within a plant; it's not stuck on.  So it's a natural consequence of a plant's identity.  However, he points out that a plant must be carefully tended, watered, pruned, and fed to produce good fruit.  The implication is obvious and profound: building Christian character doesn't just happen.

I also appreciated his discussion of the classical virtues versus the Christian virtues.  There is certainly some crossover and historical connection, but the Christian virtues of humility, chastity, and self-sacrifice set the Christian virtues apart.  At no point does Wright veer into salvation by works, and he remains solidly within the parameters of grace.  But neither does he leave the door open for hedonism and flagrant sin in the life of the Christian.

You will want to get a copy of this book, read it with pencil in hand, stop and meditate on what you have read from time to time, and apply what you are reading to your Christian walk.  Then you will want to read it again.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Bullies, by Ben Shapiro

Ben Shapiro has built a reputation for being a lighting rod, drawing the thunderbolts of the left, who tend to riot when he comes to town.  In Bullies: How the Left's Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences Americans, he describes this cultural phenomenon.  It's not just Shapiro who gets targeted.  All over the country, we see example after example of people who are or are perceived to be conservatives and/or Trump supporters being bullied, shouted down, and sometimes assaulted. 

Shapiro actually wrote Bullies at the height of the Obama administration, and, sad to say, things have only gotten worse.  He looks at race, class, and sex as trigger areas that bring out the bullies among us.  It's not enough for someone on the left to disagree with a conservative position; they feel the need to shut it down.  If a Christian baker doesn't want to bake a cake for a gay wedding, the couple can't just go to another bakery--they have to bully the baker, forcing him to shut down his business and argue his case before the supreme court.

The left wants more than tolerance.  They want full acceptance, and they will bully their way to get it.  For all the talk of Trump coarsening public discourse, Shapiro's account, all of which was written well before Trump entered the presidential race, has example after example of leftist bullies reducing public discourse to intimidation. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Stronger Than Death, by Rachel Pieh Jones

Maybe you've never heard of Annalena Tonelli.  I know I hadn't before I picked up Rachel Pieh Jones's Stronger Than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa.  But that's exactly how Annalena would want it.  She served humbly yet heroically among poor Africans for decades, and never sought or desired any recognition she received.

Annalena was not a doctor or a nurse, but she functioned the way these roles would function.  She was drawn to poor, nomadic people who are prone to get tuberculosis but whose nomadic lifestyles precluded treatment.  She developed and promoted DOTS (directly observed therapy short-course) and set up a means by which people could erect their own huts on the clinic grounds so that they could stay close and get the medication and treatment they needed while maintaining a semblance of the lifestyle to which they are accustomed.  She wasn't a medical professional, but her love for these poor, nomadic people led her to find means to serve and treat them and had an outsized impact on the treatment of TB among the poor.

Annalena was not a nun or a missionary, but her Italian Catholic upbringing informed and inspired her work among the poor.  Although her roots were Christian, and she remained an observant Catholic throughout her life, her theological statements and lifestyle had plenty of ambiguity.  For her, "God and the poor became one thing.  For her to help people meant to help God, in the flesh of the poor."  But working among Muslims in a Muslim nation, she kept her faith to herself.  "She didn't want to convert anyone. . . . She said, "What's the difference?"  She established Muslim schools for kids undergoing treatment so they could be trained in their faith.  She explicitly avoided trying to teach Christianity or displace Muslim faith and traditions, even going so far as to enable and promote female genital mutilation.  (She later advocated for its elimination.)

So her motives were and activities were not exactly evangelistic in the traditional sense of the word, but there is little question that she lived her faith and exemplified service in and to Christ.  "Her motivation flowed out of the conviction that in the actual act of service she . . . revealed God and his love to a broken world.  Through living in poverty, she would enter authentic and mutual relationship with the poor and through those relationships, she would experience Jesus."  Would that more Christians lived with this perspective and commitment.

Rachel Pieh Jones is an American writer and expatriate who lived near Annalena in Somaliland.  She didn't get to know Annalena well; she was assassinated not long after they met.  But with access to Annalena's personal records and effects, she puts together a complete, moving account of Annalena's admirable, sacrificial life.  Hagiography?  To be sure; she's obviously a huge admirer.  Will the Catholic church agree and make her a saint?  As admirable as her life and works were, I don't know that she would meet the Church's level of orthodoxy.  Nevertheless, her life, her commitment to serve and identify with the poor, and her willingness to sacrifice everything for those she's serving, make her an example all Christians--for that matter, all people--can seek to emulate.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, October 7, 2019

Call Sign Chaos, by Jim Mattis

Jim Mattis may not have been a household name before President Trump nominated him as Secretary of Defense, but he's been a prominent, dedicated Marine officer for decades.  In Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, Mattis talks about his formative years, his military career, and, briefly, his time with Trump.

To the disappointment of many, Mattis makes clear that "I'm old-fashioned: I don't write about sitting presidents."  So if you're looking for dirt on the Trump administration, or criticism from one who served under Trump, you'll have to wait until Trump is no longer president to hear from Mattis.  That said, I'm not sure Mattis would be one to write a "tell-all" or critical book about Trump.  He does say that he is pleased to have served under presidents of both parties, and that he has never made public his voting preferences.

So this book is not about politics, but about Mattis's experiences in the Marines and the lessons he's learned along the way.  He earned his reputation for being outspoken, hard-edged, and effective at leadership and strategy.  He fits any stereotypes I may have about Marine officers.  He's not someone I would enjoy hanging out with, I don't think, but he is exactly the kind of person who I am glad to know is leading our military.

Military historians will be interested in Mattis's insider view of some the United States's conflicts in the Middle East.  Their publishers will be pleased with Mattis's repeated insistence on the importance of the voracious consumption of military histories.  Don't expect any great revelations, but you can certainly expect interesting insights and background on military conflicts of the last couple of decades.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Chosen People, by Robert Whitlow

With Chosen People, Robert Whitlow takes his legal fiction game to the international level.  Hana is an Arab Christian who grew up in Israel.  She has mixed feelings about helping out with a case her firm has asked her to assist with.  A mother was killed in Jerusalem while attempting to protect her daughter, and Hana's firm is building a case against the terrorists who killer her.  Hana's reluctance is chipped away by the little girl, who wins Hana's heart.  Speaking of winning hearts, when Hana travels to Israel to investigate the case, the local private investigator who assists her wins her heart as well. 

Compared to Whitlow's other novels, Chosen People has less "legal" in the fiction, although it still deals with lawyers and legal themes.  It also seems more romance-y than Whitlow's other books.  These are not criticisms; I'm just noting some differences I see.

The background of the story is as interesting as the actual plot.  Through Hana's character, Whitlow gives the perspective of a Christian living in Israel.  She's no fan of the BDS movement.  Having served in the military, and having graduated from Hebrew University law school, she has an appreciation for the structure and policies of Israel.  Assuming her fictional character reflects the experiences of typical Arab Christians in Israel, this is a perspective not often heard.

I enjoyed Chosen People.  It's a bit different from Whitlow's previous fiction.  And here's some good news: Hana returns in Promised Land, to be released in January!