Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Viral, by Leonard Sweet

Leonard Sweet may not have been born a digital native, but he has fully embraced the digital life.  In Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival, Sweet details the differences between the Gutenbergers and the Googlers.  The differences are, in part, generational, but as Sweet himself demonstrates, reach across generational lines.  Sweet doesn't go so far as to say the printed word and the long-form written work are dead, but he calls on the church to embrace Googlers: "the primary challenge of the church will be to incarnate the gospel in a Google world."

Googlers are characterized by TGIF culture: Twitter, Google, iPhones, and Facebook.  Those who resist should just stop resisting.  Sweet writes, "It is time for all of us to move into the TGIF world, and to move the TGIF world toward the gospel.  Social networking has created a culture that breeds virility.  And this virility could easily become the virtual petri dishes of Christian revival."

The strength of Viral is Sweet's emphasizing the many positive qualities of TGIF culture and contrasting it with Gutenberger culture.  Tools like Twitter and Facebook have been criticized for trivializing or diminishing personal relationships, but Sweet points out ways they can be used for discipleship and evangelism.

While the sociological descriptions are spot-on, and surprisingly relevant even now, four years after the original publication, the leap from "this is culture" to "this is revival" seems too bold.  "The TGIF world could be the impetus for an infectious epidemic of monumental proportions."  No doubt he's right.  We have seen, obviously, major movements in the last few years that have been fueled by TGIF.  Now, whether a major move of God will be fueled by TGIF, time will certainly tell.  Sweet's case in Viral is more for the medium and the culture itself, not what it spawns.

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

2016 Reading Challenge: A book about revival

Monday, November 28, 2016

Furious, by T. R. Ragan

Faith McMann is Furious.  Coming home from work with her two kids, she thought she was going to have an uneventful evening preparing for her son's birthday party.  The minor frustrations of the yard needing mowing and her sister's cooperation with the party preparations fade away when she enters her home to see her husband and terrified children bound by gun-toting strangers.  She witnesses their murdering her husband before they slash her throat and leave her for dead.  After a stay in the hospital, she awakes to find that her children are missing.

Determined to find her children and frustrated by what she perceives as a lackluster effort by the police, Faith and some new friends dig into the dark world of organized crime and human trafficking. Sensitive readers may find T.R. Ragan's story to be too realistic and gritty.  She does not sensationalize the subject matter, but it is tough material.

Faith is a heroine we can relate to.  She's not ex-special forces.  She has no combat training or super powers.  She is a mother and a wife and a school teacher who suffers an incomprehensible loss and fights back every way she knows how.  Tough moms will empathize with her unyielding instinct to protect her children.  Readers will cheer her on and will want to pick up book two of the Faith McMann trilogy to see how she continues the fight.

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

2016 Reading Challenge: A book written by an author with initials in their name

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Catology, by Adrian Searle and Oliver Ninnis

Adrian Searle and Oliver Ninnis have observed that "cats are every in the venal, self-serving, indolent and utterly ruthless domestic squatters that they're made out to be," but "that's why we love them."  In Catology: Inside the Twisted Mind of Our Feline Friends, Searle and Ninnis reveal the inner workings, secrets plotting, and ulterior motives of cat personalities.  Their simple black and white illustrations, accompanied by the cats' narratives reveal what we have always known.  For example, of course our cats plot to eat us while we sleep.  And in case we survive, they will annoy you by sitting your face, keyboard, or wherever is least comfortable and convenient for you.

The illustrations and cat quotes are an uneven batch, ranging from very funny to ho-hum.  Cat lovers will enjoy Catology, but the real audience is cat owners who are cat haters, or maybe lovers of cat owners who can't understand why the cat lovers love cats.

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

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Platonic Tradition, by Peter Kreeft

Philosopher A.N. Whitehead famously said that the European philosphical traditino is a "series of footnotes to Plato."  Hyperbole, perhaps, but there is no doubt that Platonic thought is fundamental to philosophy.  Boston College professor Peter Kreeft discusses the content and repurcussions of Platonism in a series of lectures, The Platonic Tradition.

Kreeft is a great popularizer of complex ideas.  The Platonic Tradition is a bit heavier than some of his other works, such as his dialogues, but he definitely makes philosophy accessible to the non-philolospher.

As a Christian, Kreeft emphasizes the impact of Platontism on Christian philosophical and theological traditions more so than, I would suppose, a secular philosopher might.  But the strongest part of these lectures is Kreeft's descriptions of Platonism in Augustine, Aquinas, and other Christian thinkers.  On a different note, he attrubutes the more recent philosophical movements like nihilism and existentialism to the abandonment of Platonism.

Kreeft is dealing with bid ideas in The Platonic Tradition.  But he makes them approachable by providing context and multiple layers of explanation and illustration.  Highly recommended.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book about philosophy

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Zookeeper's Wife, by Diane Ackerman

Jan Zabinski was the zookeeper at the Warsaw zoo.  He and his wife Antonina lived on the grounds of the zoo.  When the Nazis occupied Warsaw, the Zabinskis, like many Poles, refused to sit by while their neighbors were forced into the ghetto or dragged off to work camps.  Diana Ackerman's book The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story, tells of the bravery of the Zabinskis and some of their countrymen in harboring and assisting Jews during the occupation.

The Zookeeper's Wife is a great account of Warsaw during the Nazi occupation.  In contrast to Austria, where the Nazi's were welcome and the Germans had more kinship with the Austrians, the Poles tended to be less welcoming.  The Nazis purged many Poles with money and/or an education.  If you need more reason to hate the Nazi ideology and governance, you will find plenty in The Zookeeper's Wife to keep you occupied (pun intended).

I was surprised by the seemingly low-key manner in which the Zabinskis harbored their Jewish guests.  They had some close calls, but for the most part it was a matter of hiding in plain sight.  It's hard for me to fathom the constant stress of war time while defying the occupying force, who seemed to have eyes and ears everywhere.  The stamina and wit of these heroic families is remarkable.  Ackerman sprinkles plenty of anecdotes about life among the surviving zoo animals to remind the reader that life goes on, even when surrounded by so much death and oppression.

The Zabinskis' level-headed approach is reflected in Ackerman's descriptive yet even-toned prose.  I felt right at home with this remarkable family, while humbly admiring their quiet dedication to the survival of their friends and neighbors.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book based on a true story

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Residential Solar Energy, by Vince Hough

Like anyone else, I'd like to save some money on my utility bills.  I have wondered from time to time if I would benefit from solar energy at home.  I see the panels on houses here and there but don't know much about it.  Then along came Vince Hough's Residential Solar Energy: Your Guide to Whether Solar Will Save You Money.  That sounded like just what I needed!

Hough has done his homework, and we get the benefit.  He covers how solar works, which was really more than I wanted to know, but it's important to have some understanding if you're considering a major commitment like installing solar panels.  More importantly, he discusses the variety of regulatory and financing issues to be considered.

The problem is that every state is different, and regulations may even vary on the local level.  The good news is that Hough's treatment will give you an understanding of the options that are out there.  Once you begin to research what is available in your area, you will have the knowledge to compare programs.  The bad news is that with the variety of programs that exists around the country, finding what you need on the local level can be a challenge.  Hough gives some tools to get there, including web sites, books, and other resources.

At this point, I'm not sure solar makes sense financially for my house.  Hough says "a very rough rule of thumb says that you should adopt solar if the local utility retail rate is more than $.12 per kWh."  My last bill shows I pay $.1161, so it's probably a wash.  Plus, I would have to consider the initial outlay of purchasing a system, versus leasing or renting a system.  But, as Hough points out, solar power is becoming less expensive, and is the "most cost-effective clean energy alternative for replacing the residential energy provided by fossil fuels."

Solar power keeps getting cheaper and more efficient.  I suspect it won't be long until many of us power our homes from the abundant energy of the sun, and Hough will be leading the way.

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

Monday, November 21, 2016

Impossible People, by Os Guinness

Os Guinness may be an import from the UK, but he has his finger on the pulse of American culture.  In Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization, Guinness calls on Western Christians to stand against the "four infamous S factors that have built up over several centuries: Secularism, . . . secularization, . . . separationism, and . . . statism" that have contributed to the widening cultural gap between Christians and the wider culture.

The West is becoming, or has become, a cut flower civilization.  "The West is cutting off its Jewish and Christian roots and destroying the entire root system of tis culture."  Just like a cut flower can only last so long, no matter how many times you freshen up the water in the vase, so is the survival of the beauty and strength of our culture at risk as long as it is cut off from its Judeo-Christians roots.

As one important example, Guinness offers the idea of equality.  The American ideal that "all men are created equal" is demonstrably not true from a genetic, evolutionary, purely secular perspective.  By contrast, "The Americans got the idea of equality from Christianity, which argues that every person has a directly created soul, and that all people are equal before God."  Without the moorings of faith, equality drifts away.

Guinness doesn't place the blame for the loss of our roots on atheists, but on the church itself.  "the sad truth we must bear on our hearts is that we who follow Jesus are often the leading argument for the rejection of our Lord."  Chruches have been too concerned with cultural relevance and appealing to popular tastes and trends, so that "churches resemble a field of quick-growing, quick-disappearing field of mushrooms rather than a longstanding forest of oaks."  His solution?  "What we need above all in the church today is for each Christian to have a profound personal knowledge and experience of God himself, and a deep knowledge of the Scriptures as his authoritative Word."

These are hard truths, but Guinness's tone is not judgmental or angry.  He is a modern-day prophet, calling the people of God to turn back to him.  God is looking for "impossible people--Christians with hearts that can melt with compassion, but with faces like flint and backbones of steel who are unmanipulable, unbribable, undeterrable and unclubbable, without ever losing the gentleness, the mercy, the grace and the compassion of our Lord."

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

2016 Reading Challenge: A book written by an Anglican

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Altars Where We Worship, by Juan M. Floyd-Thomas, Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas, and Mark Toulouse

Observers of religious life in the United States have long noted the decline of religious commitment.  Church attendance and professions of faith, while still substantial, have declined precipitously for a couple of generations.  But as Juan Floyd-Thomas, Stacey Floyd-Thomas, and Mark Toulouse write in The Altars Where We Worship: The Religious Significance of Popular Culture, what we observe is not so much a decline in religion but a redirection of our religious affections.  They write, "decreasing numbers at the altars of organized religious has not meant the cessation of worship."

Following Paul Tillich, they show that religion, as understood as "the 'ultimate concern' of a person," is expressed through culture, through those things that give people fulfillment.  Reflecting on body and sex, big business, entertainment, politics, sports, and science and technology, the authors demonstrate that, for some people, these expressions of culture have become a replacement for religion.

It is important to note that, although they are writing as Christians, they are not writing about Christianity and popular culture, or religion in popular culture.  Rather, they describe popular culture as religion.  Each chapter describes the rituals, icons, apostles, morality and ethics of popular culture.  For example, sports fans have their "cathedrals" where they "worship" on game day.  The players and fans have rituals they go through.  The rule book provides the guidelines, administered by the priests in black and white stripes.  As a college football fan, this hits home with me.  During football season, I must be honest, I look forward to attending games more than I look forward to Sunday worship.  The enthusiasm with which I sing and worship on Sunday morning pales compared to the exuberance with which I cheer for my team on Saturday afternoon.

In a similar way, we find escape through music and film, satisfaction through work and business (and with the "conspicuous consumption" that comes along with it), and communal faith through civil religion.  Each of the chapters is thought-provoking and forced me to examine the extent to which I place my "ultimate concern" in these areas.  The authors' treatment is descriptive, not prescriptive; their aim is to "suggest a new direction in the study of American religion that would make room for a broader understanding of how religion and religious experiences hidden within American popular culture actually shape the lives of nearly all Americans."

In spite of their nonjudgmental academic detachment, readers who identify as Christians and who take seriously a life a discipleship will grapple with the realities that the authors identify.  They draw from a variety of academic disciplines as well as from current events as they link fulfillment to culture.  If we are honest with ourselves, our professions that we sing on Sunday, that we "surrender all" to Jesus or that "All I need is you, Lord," fall a little flat as we worship through the week at a variety of other altars.  For Christians, may our prayer be that our ultimate satisfaction would come from the only one who can ultimately satisfy.

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

2016 Reading Challenge: A book used as a seminary textbook

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Miraculous Movements, by Jerry Trousdale

Jerry Trousdale's Miraculous Movements is a book that will leave you speechless.  Normally any time I hear about the Middle East or other majority Muslim parts of the world, it's suicide bombers, beheading of Christians, oppression of women, etc.  Not here.  Trousdale, director of International Ministries for CityTeam International, has traveled and ministered throughout the Muslim world.  The stories he tell, in contrast to what I'm accustomed to hearing, are of a vibrant Christian witness and miraculous encounters drawing Muslims to Jesus.

The core of the work Trousdale describes is the Disciple Making Movement, consisting of Discovery Bible Studies and obedience-based discipleship.  They turn discipleship on its head.  As I've normally been taught, discipleship looks something like this: a person becomes a Christian, then through a combination of individual Bible study and prayer, mentorship, and participation in communal prayer, worship, and Bible study, the new Christian is discipled into increasing maturity.  Under the DMM model, discipleship is a process that leads to conversion.  As Trousdale describes it, it's much more like Jesus practiced with his disciples.

Trousdales examples are amazing to read.  In many cases, DMM gains entry into a community as a result of a miraculous healing or encounter.  The stories are so encouraging, reminding jaded Western Christian readers like me that God is very much at work in the world.  Even better, Trousdale presents a model that can be replicated even in the American Bible Belt.  The cultural milieu is very different, and the risks of persecution in the U.S. are minimal.  But lost people are just as lost.

Like other books about missions, Miraculous Movements encouraged me with the stories of God's powerful work in the Muslim world.  But Trousdale doesn't let me stop with thinking that all of this doesn't apply to me.  DMM can be implemented anywhere, and miraculous movements know no boundaries.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book your pastor recommends

Monday, November 14, 2016

Hiding from Myself, by Bryan Christopher

A rift is growing in the American church, even among otherwise like-minded conservative evangelicals.  The question: can someone be a homosexual and a Christian?  OK, the easy answer to that is yes; no Christian is perfect, so a Christian can be a liar, thief or philander.  So put more precisely: is homosexual behavior a sin?  And related, should churches recognize and bless marriages between people of the same sex?

Bryan Christopher has dealt with this question all his life.  In Hiding from Myself: A Memoir, he writes about the denial, his years of trying not to be homosexual, and his ultimate acceptance of himself.  Contrary to the stereotype, Bryan was not abused or raped, and he had loving, supportive parents.  No trauma made him homosexual.  He recognized from adolescence that he simply was not attracted to women.

Most of Hiding from Myself deals with Bryan's efforts to escape homosexuality first through heterosexual debauchery, then through Christian discipleship and therapy.  Of the latter, he is no fan.  Bryan is a huge critic of ex-gay therapy.  He believes it's dangerous and abusive.  Obviously, it can be, but despite his own experiences, I am not willing to discount the power of God to change lives.

He writes of his frustrations: "The world is full of miraculous accounts: if a cancer patient given six months can baffle doctors by mysteriously becoming cancer free, or a paralyzed patient inexplicably walks again, why can't a patient suffering from same-sex attractions one day wake up craving the succulent center of the playboy centerfold?"  I wonder the same thing.  After all the prayer, he "can't help but wonder if God is even listening." 

I will give away the ending and tell you that, as of the book's publication, he had been in a committed relationship with another man.  That conclusion is not satisfying for Christians who believe that God's plan for us is heterosexual relationships.  But even the most conservative Christians should listen to Bryan's story.  If there is not someone in your life who is homosexual, I'd be surprised.  In my case, I have several people close to me who are Christians and homosexual, most of whom believe the two are not mutually exclusive.  Even though I may disagree with them (and with Bryan), reading Bryan's story helps me to empathize with their plight, and even to share in their joys.

I appreciate Bryan's willingness to expose himself in his memoir.  Even though it made me uncomfortable at times (By the way, some of his descriptions and language are very frank.  The book is not for children.), I am glad to have read his story.  If someone close to you is homosexual, I encourage you to read it as well.

Thanks to the author for the complimentary review copy!

2016 Reading Challenge: A book about homosexuality

Friday, November 11, 2016

Hebrews, by D. Stephen Long

We used to joke in seminary that we should read the Bible every now and then so we can see what the commentaries are talking about.  For Hebrews, I took the opposite approach.  I was reading Hebrews in my devotional time, reflected on some of the difficult passages, and picked up D. Stephen Long's Hebrews, from Westminster John Knox Press's Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible.  Long, a Methodist theologian, is Professor of Ethics at Southern Methodist University.

The first thing you'll notice in reading Long's commentary is that a theological commentary is very different from what I think of as a traditional commentary.  This is not a verse-by-verse commentary such as one might use in sermon preparation to glean grammatical insight, historical background, or structural help.  Long treats Hebrews as a unit, as single sermon, and examines theological themes with a broad view. 

The theological breadth is a strength and a weakness.  By bringing in resources and perspectives from far afield, Long helps the reader to see Hebrews in the wider picture of theology and philosophy.  But it can be distracting for a reader who is more interested in a historical, contextual treatment of the book.  Long appreciates that Hebrews can be one of the most difficult and frustrating books in the New Testament.  He writes, "I continually wonder why Hebrews continued to write after his first sentence.  He tells us God has definitively spoken in the Son such that no more needs to be said, and then goes on to say a great deal more for thirteen chapters." 

Just as the writer of Hebrews can expand our understanding of the work of Jesus, so can Long, in a different way, expand our understanding of the book of Hebrews.

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

2016 Reading Challenge: A commentary on a book of the Bible

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Food: A Love Story, by Jim Gaffigan

Funny man Jim Gaffigan loves food.  And I love to hear him talk about food.  In Food: A Love Story, Gaffigan puts together some of his best stand-up routine jokes about food.  His hilarious stories and attitude kept me laughing out loud from start to finish.

He wants to be clear: he's not a foodie.  He writes, "I think of myself as an 'eatie.'" Unlike foodies, who are "on a never-ending search for new restaurants and interesting dishes," Gaffigan believes "there is plenty of regular food I still want to enjoy."  Gaffigan has one credential to present: his waistline.  You don't want to take food advice from a skinny person.  However, you don't want to take advice from someone who is too fat.  "If they are morbidly obese, then  you can conclude that they will probably eat everything and anything and do not have discerning taste."

Apply this logic to tacos.  "When a thin person announces, 'Here's a great taco place,' I kind of shut down a little.  How you they know it's so great?  From smelling the tacos?"  If they loved a taco but only ate one because of their diet, "A taco that won't force you to break your diet just can't be that great."  By the way, Gaffigan shares my love of Mexican food: "Anyone who doesn't like Mexican food is a psychopath. . . . Even bad Mexican food is better than 90 percent of all other foods."  Amen, brother.

Gaffigan is hilarious and fun to listen to.  And, as a bonus, I can actually listen to him with my kids!  That's a rarity among stand-up comics.  As a fellow eatie, Food: A Love Story cracked me up and would be worth listening to or reading again.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book about food

Monday, November 7, 2016

A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare

Call me what you will, but I simply don't enjoy Shakespeare.  I have been to seen some plays at Shakespeare in the Park, watched a few with an English class in college, tried to read some, and have seen some modern film adaptations.  The other day I pulled out my DVD of A Midsummer Night's Dream and read along in my copy of the play.  (Years ago I bought a boxed set of all of Shakespeare's plays and poems.  Why?  I don't remember. . . . I must have had a reason. . . . )

First of all, the movie (this was the 1999 version with Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci, et al.) sticks very close to Shakespeare's script, but not exactly.  Several long speeches are truncated, a few bits of dialogue are out of order, and I think the filmmaker actually added a few lines hear and there.  I wonder about the gall and hubris of editing the greatest playwright in history (supposedly).  For a dumb and silly story, spoken in archaic language the is difficult to follow, it's actually a decent movie.  It was almost enjoyable.

This reminds me of what my college English professor said: Shakespeare wrote plays.  Plays are meant to be performed and watched, not read from a book.  Amen to that.  Is A Midsummer Night's Dream great literature?  In my admittedly limited view, I don't think this is one of his better plays.  I'm probably in the minority, because it's quite popular.  If anyone has seen anything by Shakespeare, they probably remember Puck and the dude with the donkey head.

2016 Reading Challenge: A play by William Shakespeare

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Rendez-Vous in Phoenix, by Tony Sandoval

Tony Sandoval grew up in northwestern Mexico and dreamed of becoming a comic book illustrator.  When he fell in love with an American girl who was living in Mexico, his fate was sealed.  Now he had to figure out a way to move to Portland to be with her.  He had no luck getting a visa, so he resorted to an illegal crossing.  He tells the story of that adventure in Rendez-Vous in Phoenix.

I really loved the personal perspective Sandoval brings to the story.  It's not just his story, it's the story of the dad who's been crossing back and forth for years, and finally has brought his family.  It's the stories of the Central Americans who cross into Mexico and ride the train north so they can cross.  It's the story of the constant stream of immigrants looking for a better life in the U.S.

I didn't love the complete disrespect for the laws of the U.S. that Sandoval and his companions display.  I know the vast majority of border crossers are innocent people seeking a better life (or a reunion with a lover), but there are good reasons for a country to know who is taking up residence within its borders, and good reasons why we don't like people illegally crossing over.

The ethics and politics of illegal immigration aside, Rendez-Vous in Phoenix is nicely illustrated and the story is well-told, making personal the realities of dealing with coyotes, border crossing, criminal gangs, and the heartbreaking separations that families and loved ones experience.  Sandoval's account makes me very happy for him that he was able to reunite with his girlfriend, but it does not convince me that a porous border is a good thing.

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

Friday, November 4, 2016

Kolbe, A Saint in Auschwitz, by Desmond Forristal

Perhaps you've heard the story of the Polish Catholic priest at Auschwitz who, when a fellow prisoner was selected to be executed, took the place of the prisoner and was killed.  That priest was Maximilian Kolbe.  While that sacrificial act is what Father Kolbe is primarily remembered for, there was much more to his life.  Desmond Forristal wrote a biographical account of Kolbe's life and martyrdom, Kolbe: A Saint in Auschwitz.

Kolbe's parents were devoted Catholics, so it was no surprise that he and his brother decided to pursue the vocation of priesthood.  They served together in the Franciscan Order.  Maximilian Kolbe became a leading figure, opening monasteries and creating periodicals to spread the message of the Church.  He particularly promoted devotion to Mary, the Immaculate.  I am not Catholic, but I think even Catholics might have a problem with Kolbe's take on Mary.  When she appeared at Lourdes, she is reported to have said: "'I am the Immaculate Concetion'" . . . by which Kolbe believes "she meant something more than that she had been conceived without sin: she meant that she was the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, so completely one with him and filled by him that she could take his title as her own."  Mary as the third person of the Trinity?  Or married to the third person of the Trinity?  Hmmm…..

But much more important than this theological quirk was Kolbe's selfless service to others, which he demonstrated throughout his life.  This became especially true during the occupation of Poland and during his internment at Auschwitz.  As an ethnic German he could have received special privileges, but "He refused the invitation, saying that he was a son of Poland and would always remain so."  In the camp, he constantly ministered to other prisoners, giving up his own rations and supplies to others.  Finally, in the ultimate act of selflessness, he submitted himself for death in the place of another prisoner.

I am humbled not only by Kolbe's sacrifice, but by his sacrificial lifestyle and the energy with which he served the church throughout his life.  He is one about whom we ask, "How did one man accomplish so much?" Forristal's account is quite sympathetic to Kolbe, inspiring the reader to study Kolbe's life and emulate his ministry.  Kolbe was justifiably recognized by the Church as a martyr and a saint.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book by or about a martyr

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Answering the Call, by Ken Gire

Few missionaries have typified a lifetime of laying down one's life for others more than Albert Schweitzer.  Texas writer Ken Gire tells Schweitzer's story in Answering the Call: The Doctor Who Made Africa His Life.  Gire's passion is story telling and he has an eye for film, so Answering the Call has a cinematic feel, as Gire moves from scene to scene in Schweitzer's life.  Gire clearly has a great admiration for him and wants to keep his name alive.

Schweitzer was born near the French-German border in 1875.  By the age of 30, he held doctorates in theology and philosophy, and was known as one of the world's leading experts on Bach's organ music.  But the theologian/philosopher/concert organist had made a commitment to spend his life in the service of humanity.  So he trained as a doctor, and at the age of 38 he and his new wife left Europe for Africa, where he would serve the rest of his life as a doctor.

He ended up in Gabon (equatorial Africa, on the west coast--I had to look it up).  No other doctor practiced within a thousand miles.  He started up a clinic from nothing and grew it into a hospital that is now one of the most highly regarded in all of Africa.  Schweitzer overcame obstacles such as sickness, lack of funding, lack of supplies, and being sent to a prisoner of war camp during World War 1. One can't help but admire Schweitzer's untiring labor on behalf of the people of Africa, and his unwavering faith in Jesus.

Gire's admiration for Schweitzer causes him to gloss over the theological controversies surrounding Schweitzer's work.  Gire did point out that the missions agency that sent Schweitzer was at first reluctant to send him, given his liberal theological views.  But once he arrived in Africa, that subject never came up.  When the needs are great, theological debates tend to seem less important.  Nevertheless I would have like to have read more about his theological views.  One of his themes was "respect for life." Obviously this is in keeping with a gospel perspective.  But it can also be derived from a strictly humanistic, naturalistic perspective as well.  We don't learn a lot about where Schweitzer falls in these distinctions from Answering the Call.  For someone who questioned the divinity of Jesus, Schweitzer was certainly devoted to service in His name.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book by or about a missionary

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Freedom, 250,000 B.C., by Bonnye Matthews

Bonnye Matthews writes imaginative stories about ancient peoples, based on archaeological discoveries around the world.  In Freedom, 250,000 B.C.: Out from the Shadow of Popocatepetl, Matthews tells the story of Wing, who lived in what is now Mexico more than 250,000 years ago.  That date is quite controversial.  Years ago some bones with carvings on them were uncovered in this area.  Carbon dating placed their age at 250,000 years, which is tens of thousands of years before other scientists believed humans had come to this hemisphere.  Needless to say, the finding was controversial, contested, and may have been a fraud.

Matthews believes the date is accurate, and has created Wing's story set in that era.  Wing and his people are primitive hunter-gatherers, but practice some medicine, have permanent homes, use weapons such as spears and knives, and build boats.  Sixteen year old Wing tires of his father's verbal and physical abuse and sets out on his own.  After a lengthy journey, he settles in with relatives who accept him as one of their own.  He marries, has children, and eventually returns for a visit to his home village.

Obviously the story is purely fictional, but it's fun to imagine these primitive people raising families, passing along parental wisdom, exploring their world, and even having self-reflective revelations.  They weren't that different from you and me.  Matthews even envisions different animal life.  Camels and lions live in Mexico at this time, and Wing and his family have close encounters with enormous alligators and terror birds (which thanks to Wikipedia I now know are a real thing.  They were called Phorusrhacidae and sound pretty terrifying).  I like the way Matthews weaves geological, paleontological, and anthropological history into a story with adventure, romance, and spiritual enlightenment.

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

2016 Reading Challenge: A book about ancient history