Friday, September 30, 2011

Multi-tasking millions

Incredibly cool discussion of the "captcha", and how it's being used not only to screen out non-human users, but to digitize old books and newspapers.  Seriously awesome. 

Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, by John Piper


As Joey Tribbiani once said, there is no such thing as a truly selfless act--the only reason people do anything is, on some level, because they see it as somehow being in their own self interest.  And on some level, John Piper seems to agree with him.  I like his overall point--that we glorify God by enjoying Him--but I'm not sure this book needed to be quite so long. Granted, I was already in agreement with Piper and thus was not a tough sell, but it still seems like he could have made his point in fewer than 300 pages (plus another 150 pages of appendices).

Still, I appreciate his encouragement to enjoy God. So many Christians obey merely out of duty, and while I think God is still glorified when we choose to obey Him in the absence of an emotional desire to do so, I don't doubt that we should seek to obey with joy. As Piper notes, the relationship between Christ and the church is pictured by human marriage, and no spouse wants to be loved only out of obligation. There will certainly be times when duty is what drives us, but if it is all that drives us, the marriage will hardly be the vibrant picture of sacrificial love that it was intended to be.

Piper does his best to address the criticisms that have been offered since he first started his platform of Christian Hedonism--that is, that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (a slight tweaking of the Westminster Catechism), and that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. I don't think Piper's wrong in his choice of label, nor do I think the idea itself is theologically questionable. However, I do see the potential for abuse. Piper certainly does not mean to encourage human-centered theology, or to make emotions and pleasure into gods, but I can definitely see how a philosophy of Christian Hedonism could be vulnerable to a general tendency to drift in that direction. In other words, he's not wrong, but Christian Hedonists will need to be very careful to keep God's glory--as opposed to man's pleasure--at the center of their beliefs.

All in all, it's a decent enough book, and encouraging for those of us with a tendency to prioritize obedience over emotion.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray


The story? A plane full of teen beauty pageant contestants crashes on a 'deserted' island, and hijinks ensue. (It has been billed as Lost meets Clueless meets Lord of the Flies.) The story itself is interspersed with "commercial breaks", "Fun Fact" sheets about the various contestants, words from your Sponsor, and "classified" updates on secret shenanigans elsewhere on the island. 

Along the way, Bray pokes fun at American pop culture (boy bands! reality show pirates! Betsy Ross in her underpants!), consumerism, corporate greed, U.S. foreign policy, celebrity politicians, the beauty product industry ("There's nothing wrong with you that can't be fixed"), gender stereotypes, racial stereotypes, and all sorts of other Americanisms that she finds ridiculous. The book is entertaining, and sometimes downright amusing. Bray's fake reality shows and beauty products are scarily believable, and I laughed out loud when Miss Ohio figures out how to cook fish on a sun-warmed piece of sheet metal and quips "I'm from the Buckeye State. We are serious about our tailgating parties. I can turn anything into a grill."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dexter (Season 1)


I really like this show.  Or at least, what I've seen of it.  We'll see how I feel after seeing later seasons. 

The show combines several popular tropes (serial killers, detectives, noir, and vigilantism) to great effect. For those who are unfamiliar with the series, the show centers around (you guessed it) Dexter, a blood spatter analyst with the Miami-Dade Police Department. He also happens to be a serial killer.  His foster father Harry, a police officer, noticed Dexter's violent tendencies early on, and instilled in him a Code: only kill people who deserve it.  Specifically, killers who have somehow escaped the system.  The credit for this creative idea goes to author Jeff Lindsay, who penned the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter.  Lindsay's book focuses exclusively on Dexter and his relationship with another serial killer in the area who seems to be trying to communicate with him.  There is no room for in-depth treatment of the other characters, and as a result, the stakes are much lower when the big crisis arrives.   

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris


Not all that brilliantly written, but the audiobook kept me awake on the long drive home, so I am not complaining. 

Harris's big schtick is the assimilation of vampires into human society (thanks to the development of readily available synthetic blood).  As a result, the vampire-human relations take on shades of civil rights and other culturally relevant issues.  An interesting idea, and though Harris is no wordsmith, she does a decent enough job creating a compelling story, even if it's not terribly well-executed. 

There are a few steamier scenes (possibly more than in later books, since this marks the beginning of Sookie's romantic involvement with vampires), but there's plenty of bloodshed to divert the reader's attention from Sookie's love life.  (Mercifully, the reader only sees Sookie's love life, and not that of other Bon Temps residents--a big difference from the (largely naked) television show.)  The focus of this romantic attention is the rather dull (for a vampire anyway, especially compared to the viking vampire Eric) civil war era vampire Bill, but I suppose that makes him easier to buy as a sort of "gateway drug" for Sookie's entrance into vampire society.  This Sookie is not yet ready for Sheriff Northman. 

There are plot holes, to be sure:  Sookie is "surprised" at Sam's revelation that vampires are truly supernaturally reanimated dead things--as opposed to being merely the victims of a virus--even though she knows vampires are preternaturally strong and have "magical" blood, and she previously saw Bill levitate.  Or Sookie's convenient inability to read the thoughts of the murderer . . . just because.  Still, despite the lackluster writing, Harris knows how to hold her readers' attention.

Fortunately, the audiobook narrator invests Sookie with a vulnerability and naivete that improves the story, and makes her improbable discoveries slightly more believable.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Christian Zombie Killers Handbook: Slaying the Living Dead Within, by Jeff Kinley


A meandering, directionless, and ultimately discouraging discussion of the Christian's fight against the "living dead" sin nature, interspersed with scenes from a rather underwhelming, uninspired, and largely unrelated fictional tale of zombie warfare.  So, John Owen's Mortification of Sin by way of Max Brooks' World War Z.  But minus all the awesome.

The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone Bye, by Robert Kirkman


A promising beginning, though the ending is a bit tidy for a series that is ostensibly designed to last for quite some time. Well-drawn, and well-plotted, even if many of the ideas are fairly familiar by now. I look forward to reading more in the series (as well as watching the television series).

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Adoration of Jenna Fox, by Mary E. Pearson


This is a really, really good book.  In addition to the YA standard issues of authority, expectations, independence, isolation, acceptance, and identity, Pearson weaves in an assortment of less standard questions of ethics, humanity, death, freedom, entitlement, and even idolatry.  There are the obligatory parent-child conflicts--though the circumstances and reasons for the conflicts are less conventional--and  the equally obligatory adolescent romance.  In many ways, the story could be an excellent introduction to science/speculative fiction for those young female readers who prefer standard coming-of-age fodder. 

Like most good science fiction, this book asks more questions than it answers.  The ending seems a bit tidy; it seemed like many of the questions Jenna struggled with throughout the book were tidily swept away in a hasty epilogue. But then, I'm not sure there was any other way to conclude the story, since the questions are inherently unanswerable--and with young adult fiction, an unresolved ending isn't likely. Ethical conundrums make great problems, but resolutions are hard to come by, unless you're willing to cheat a bit. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Warrior's Way (2010)


I don't remember hearing anything about this movie when it was in theatres last Christmas . . . possibly because it was only in theatres for about 3 minutes.  It was one of the biggest box office bombs of 2010, with a production budget of $42 million and a worldwide gross of just over $11 million.  Rotten Tomatoes lists a "freshness" rating of only 31% for critics and 46% for moviegoers. 

I confess, I don't really understand why.  I found the movie quite enjoyable.  It may not have reached the lofty heights of "awesome", but it was far from terrible. 

The premise of the movie is an answer to two questions:  "What if the laundry man was the deadliest assassin?" and "Who wins a three-way fight between ninjas, cowboys, and dynamite-wielding carnies?"  With a schtick like that, I confess it seems like it would be a sure fire hit.  Even the opening line of narration--"This is the story of a sad flute, a laughing baby, and a weeping sword"--is a rather unconventional (and in my case, effective) attention-grabber, especially when delivered in Geoffrey Rush's lazy Western drawl, which provides a rather original contrast with a stereotypical minimalist (yet artistically impressive) Asian backdrop. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Jane Eyre (2011)


Let me start out by confessing that I may not be impartial enough to judge this movie fairly.  I have read and re-read Jane Eyre numerous times, and loyalty to the source material can lead to unreasonable expectations (and rigidly inflexible demands) for film adaptations.  It may be that no movie version would ever satisfy me, for the simple reason that no movie version can ever measure up to the original.

That being said, I think that it has to be possible to do better than this. 

Let's talk about Jane.

So wrong it's right

I guarantee that you have married the wrong person. We all marry the wrong person. Perhaps I should say it like this: we all marry the “wrong” person. We all marry a person who sins against us, who sometimes exasperates us by helping us worship our idols and at other times irritates us by smashing them to pieces. We all marry a person who has stinky breath and physical blemishes and bad moods. We all marry a person who is apparently incompatible with us on all kinds of levels. [...]

What I have found is that often times, when someone fears that he has married the wrong person, or when he fears that he is about to marry the wrong person, he is looking at the differences between himself and this other person and lamenting that this other person is not more like him. [...] If only she was…me! Too many men, too many women, truly want to marry an image of themselves. And why not? You tend to like your preferences, to like your idols, to like your likes.

But ask any married person what his life would be like if he had married someone who was just like himself and you’ll see the folly of it. [...] God uses incompatibilities to produce godliness. These differences are truly glorious, the means by which God helps us put our own sin to death.

So did you marry the wrong person? Yes you did. Embrace it and thank God for it. Her wrongness is just right in God’s eyes.
~"Did You Marry the Wrong Person?" by Tim Challies (on

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Preaching is not just a spectator sport

Do you ever find yourself . . .
• waking up on Sunday morning and wishing you didn’t have to go to church?
• having a hard time staying awake in church?
• daydreaming during the message, or making a mental “to-do” list while the pastor is preaching?
[...] If we’re not benefitting from the ministry of the Word as it is publicly proclaimed in our local churches, the fault may not lie in the one proclaiming the Word. It may lie in our readiness to hear, receive, and respond to the Word.

How can you prepare your heart to get the most out of your pastor’s preaching?

Monday, September 19, 2011

And Then There Were None (Ten Little Indians), by Agatha Christie


One of my favorite Christie mysteries. I think Christie may be one of the first, if not the first, to combine serial murder with the "murder at a country house" trope to create the "countdown" murder--that is, the murder one-by-one of persons in an isolated group. This concept maximizes the drama and tension in the story, as each suspect is "exonerated" by his or her own murder. Tying in the old children's rhyme ("Ten Little Indians") as a symbol (and prophecy) of the countdown murders adds an element of deliberation and psychosis to the murders, and the juxtaposition of the innocent (a children's rhyme) with the horrific (serial murder) is chilling. Christie further complicates the tale by making all her victims murderers in their own right, and possibly deserving of their fate. This knowledge of guilt amplifies their terror and increases the tension.

As is often the case with works like this, it takes a while to get a handle on who everyone is--the reader is immediately introduced to 11 people (the 10 visitors to Indian Island and the boatman), and although most editions include a cast of characters at the start of the book, it can be difficult to keep track. However, as the characters move through the story, they become more distinct. Or are killed off.

All in all, it's a fun read, and fast, and Christie's solution is clever and creative. I'm not entirely sure whether the reader is given enough information to actually solve the murders on his or her own, so in that sense it may contravene the "rules" of good detective fiction, but it's still an awfully enjoyable book.

A piece of work, forsooth!

Women's Lib?

[...] In 2001, nearly 60 per cent of working Dutch women were employed part-time, compared to just 20 per cent of Canadian women. Today, the number is even higher, hovering around 75 per cent. Some, like Van Haeren, view this as progress, evidence of personal freedom and a commitment to a balanced lifestyle.

Others, however, view it as an alarming signal that women are no longer seeking equality in the workplace. Writer and economist Heleen Mees, for example, argues that the stereotypical Dutch woman has become complacent. “Even at the University of Amsterdam—the most progressive university we have—I had a 22-year-old student say, ‘Why is it your business if my wife wants to bake cookies?’ and the female students agreed with him! I was like, what’s happening here?” [...]

“I think highly educated women have a moral obligation to take top positions, to set an example by their choices,” says Mees. “When women just stay at home or work part-time, they don’t reach the top, and they set bad examples for their daughters and daughters’ daughters.” [...]

The relationship between personal lifestyle choices and the socio-economic standing of women has been under the microscope in Holland ever since the publication of Dutch Women Don’t Get Depressed in 2008. Ellen de Bruin, who patterned her book after Mireille Guiliano’s bestseller French Women Don’t Get Fat, began by defining the stereotypical Dutch woman: naturally beautiful with a no-fuss sense of style, she rides her bike to fetch the groceries, has ample time with her kids and husband, takes art classes in the middle of the week, and spends leisurely afternoons drinking coffee with her friends. She loves to work part-time and does not earn as much as her husband, but she’s fine with that—he takes care of the bills. The book went on to note that Dutch women rank consistently low, compared to those in other Western countries, in terms of representation in top positions in business and government—and rank consistently near the top in terms of happiness and well-being. In fact, just about everyone in Holland seems pleased with the status quo; in 2009, the Netherlands ranked highest of all OECD countries in terms of overall well-being. [...]

In 1986, Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, came under fire when she told the New York Times, “What we need are real choices. And I don’t want to hear women saying one choice is more feminist than another.”

Perhaps women in the Netherlands have achieved that vision of real choices. Certainly, the prevailing cultural attitude seems to be that one choice—say, working part-time instead of striving for the corner office—isn’t better than another. Whatever this says about the current state of feminism, it is evidence of a certain type of independence: in Holland, it’s every woman for herself. 
~"How Dutch Women Got to Be the Happiest in the World," by Claire Ward (on


When I heard about the decisions made at Oxford [to retire certain words from the Oxford Concise Dictionary] my first reaction was “Forsooth!” Well, OK, not absolutely the first but among the first. Because “forsooth” is a spectacular case of an abandoned word. It now lives in the shadows, reduced from a common term meaning “truly” to an archaic fragment for jocular use only. It will remain in good dictionaries for centuries, if only because it’s part of enduring masterpieces by great writers (“Yes, forsooth, I will hold my tongue,” says the Fool to Goneril in King Lear). But its future as a way of expressing thoughts and ideas is non-existent.
Shouldn’t we have a category for endangered words? Perhaps we need a system of adopting words to keep them safe and well, the way people adopt favourite stretches of highway. We would sign up, promise to use our chosen words as often as possible and of course object when they are misused or threatened with abandonment.
~"When Words Die," by Robert Fulford (on

Attention Deficit for the Internet Age

We can evaluate the persistence of the link by calculating what we’re calling the half life: the amount of time at which this link will receive half of the clicks it will ever receive after it’s reached its peak.

[...O]ne alternative theory that comes up again and again is that the dynamics of the link traffic depend on where the link is posted: do links posted on facebook last longer than they do on twitter?

So we looked at the half life of 1,000 popular bitly links and the results were surprisingly similar. The mean half life of a link on twitter is 2.8 hours, on facebook it’s 3.2 hours and via ‘direct’ sources (like email or IM clients) it’s 3.4 hours. So you can expect, on average, an extra 24 minutes of attention if you post on facebook than if you post on twitter.
~"You've Just Shared a Link. How Long Will People Pay Attention?" (

Grave Sight: Part 1, by Charlaine Harris


Decent enough graphic novel, though it's tough to tell from just one volume. There's definitely potential here, but whether it will be realized remains to be seen.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Do not want

So I’ve noticed that pretty much whenever somebody in the evangelical world negatively critiques somebody else in the evangelical world, a few bad arguments are sure to follow from folks who seem to be allergic to any sort of sharpening confrontation. Whether these arguments rear their well-worn, played-out, ugly heads in their own follow-up blog post or just in the comment threads of the original critique, we’re sure to be paid a visit from these uninvited rhetorical guests.

[...] (Hear me now: I’m not saying any commenter is uninvited or unwelcome, just that there are some bad arguments that I could go without seeing for the rest of my life.)

Happy birthday to me!

Amazon may soon launch a book equivalent of the [Netflix], charging a fixed monthly fee for access to a library of books.
 ~"Amazon reportedly in talks to launch a Neflix for books"

For better or worse?

This week on his television show Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said a man would be morally justified to divorce his wife with Alzheimer’s disease in order to marry another woman. The dementia-riddled wife is, Robertson said, “not there” anymore. This is more than an embarrassment. This is more than cruelty. This is a repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The marriage union is a sign, the Apostle Paul announces, of the mystery of Christ and his church (Eph. 5). The husband, then, is to love his wife “as Christ loved the church” (Eph. 5:25). This love is defined not as the hormonal surge of romance but as a self-sacrificial crucifixion of self. The husband pictures Christ when he loves his wife by giving himself up for her.
At the arrest of Christ, his Bride, the church, forgot who she was, and denied who he was. He didn’t divorce her. He didn’t leave.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine


Writing from someone else's point of view is always tricky, especially when that someone else faces challenges the author does not. This book is written from the first person perspective of Caitlin, a fifth grader with Aspberger's. From what I can tell, the author did a fairly thorough job researching the disorder (rather than just writing based on caricature and stereotype), and the book has certainly received a significant amount of acclaim, winning the National Book Award in 2010.

In addition to relying on a character type prone to stereotype, Erskine also selects a set of events that, in the hands of a less skillful author, could easily alienate the reader: a school shooting. Fortunately, Erskine wisely chooses to focus primarily on her main character Caitlin, and her grief over losing her brother, rather than the precise events that caused his death (the shooting).

A book about a kid with Aspberger's whose brother is killed in a school shooting could easily devolve into a cheesy, schlocky mess. However, Erskine avoids most of the pitfalls that would result in such overwrought writing. Caitlin's blunt and sometimes humorous way of perceiving the world around her shields the reader from the worst of the searing pain such events leave behind them. And Erskine deftly portrays a community's efforts to cope with the reality of the shooting and its aftermath--not directly, but through Caitlin's eyes. Her direct, childlike, and yet oddly clinical perspective allows her to see things a "normal" person would not see, and as a result, the grief of others is poignantly and creatively portrayed.

Yes, Caitlin's brother is idealized, depicted as an inhumanly kind and selfless saint. I suppose that was to be expected. And of course Caitlin is better able to cope with her Aspeberger's as a result of all the wonderful lessons she learns about grieving and empathy. But then, it is a book for children, and that requires a certain amount of hope. And I confess a great deal of ignorance about Asberger's--perhaps that kind of growth is not uncommon.

All in all, it was an easy read, and well-presented. Erskine uses lots of little visual linguistic tricks to communicate Caitlin's unique way of seeing and relating to the world. Many of these are lost in the audiobook, but the reader does a good job of highlighting what she can, and the narration adds a lot. I suspect it's a book that works well in audio or print format.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2010)


Not nearly as good a movie as it could have been, but not bad enough to be enjoyably so.  With a premise like "human private detective entrusted with investigating crimes involving the undead", you'd think it would be hard to go wrong.  Noir private detective movies?  Fun!  Vampires, werewolves, and zombies?  Also fun!  Mash them together . . . and the result should really be more fun than this.  The two main culprits here are 1) Brandon Routh and 2) the dialogue.

Brandon Routh is considered a very attractive man.  I do not dispute this.  However, I have yet to see him as anything more than this.  He showed the occasional glimpse of personality as the is-he-or-isn't-he agent/traitor Shaw on Chuck, and was extremely enjoyable as the arrogant, self-satisfied vegan ex-boyfriend in Scott Pilgrim v. the World.  But as a hero, he lacks depth.  He has no edges.  Not yet, anyway, and certainly not in this film.  There's a reason Humphrey Bogart is the quintessential private detective of the noir genre--he embodies that complex and rough-edged anti-hero.  Not exactly trustworthy, he is a good(ish) guy who is not afraid to do bad things. He is jaded and cynical and hard, but not completely unscrupulous.  Brandon Routh is none of these things.  We know he is tortured only because his flat, lifeless voiceover tells us so.  We know he has a past for the same reasons.  We know he is attracted to a female client because they end up having sex.  There is no noticeable chemistry to speak of.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism: for Study Classes, by G.I. Williamson


Really more of a two-and-a-half star book. Ostensibly, the purpose of this book is to present and explain the beliefs contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. However, Williamson choose a much more partisan path, and uses the book to present his own particular variety of Presbyterianism and his own interpretation of the Catechism, not the text of the Catechism itself. So, for example, according to Williamson, it is not wrong to drink alcohol (believer's freedom), but it is wrong to sing any uninspired songs (i.e., songs that are not psalms) as part of Christian worship (regulative principle), even though the Westminster Catechism does not actually take a position on either issue. He also tends to focus on his particular pet issues--such as the need for Christian schools as opposed to secular public education--which, regardless of whether the reader agrees with him, are not necessary in a discussion of the Westminster Catechism.

Williamson is also prone to hyperbole--to such an extent that it damages his credibility with the reader. So, according to Williamson, no doctrine is more clearly taught in the bible than election (I grant that it is clearly taught, but there are many doctrines more clearly taught), and he repeatedly uses words like "obviously" or "clearly" and is generally overly dismissive of opposing viewpoints. As a result, he renders his own opinions more suspect in the mind of a careful reader. (In his defense of infant baptism against those who advocate believer's baptism, he borders on snide.)

He also devotes a lot of attention (and an entire Appendix) to the model of prophet-priest-king, not only as illustrated in Christ, but as illustrated in pre-fallen man, corrupted in fallen man, and rectified in salvation. This may be a central teaching of Presbyterianism; I don't know. It was the first time I'd seen such a thing, and it was not immediately apparent to me from the text of the Catechism.

The book does include helpful discussions of many challenging biblical principles. The illustrations, though simplistic, are useful and largely well done. Williamson seems to be at his best when explaining the gospel and more abstract theology concepts--the Trinity, the dual nature of Christ, the representative principle (in Adam all sin), etc. When he got into the weeds of practical application, he tended to come across as rigid and puritanical, often without sufficient textual support for his views.

Still it would make a good family devotional, if you read with a critical and discerning eye so you can distinguish between what the bible necessarily teaches and what is just Williamson's (or the Westminster Catechism's) interpretation.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Help (2011)


First, let it be said that this is not the kind of movie I usually see in theatres.  If a movie can be described as "sweeping,"  "inspirational," "gut-wrenching," or "heartwarming," I usually give it a wide berth.  But a friend wanted to see it, and since I liked the book, I thought I'd give it a shot.

I'm glad I did.  I actually really liked this movie. 

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)


Yeah, I definitely liked it.  Granted, I knew I would.  They had me from "Cowboys & Aliens."  Actually, they had me from "Directed by Jon Favreau."  I thoroughly enjoyed Iron Man and Elf, and Favreau has always struck me as someone with skill who genuinely loves the nerdy stuff he makes movies about.  There's a self-awareness and humor there that is often lacking in Hollywood (or so it seems).  The addition of Indiana Jones, James Bond (sort of), and Sam Rockwell, with Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg producing, were icing on the cake.

Plus it is such a fun idea.  And clever, too.  I mean, if aliens exist, why would they have to wait for the present (or the future) to make contact?  Why not pay a visit to earth during the days of the Old West?  It's exactly the kind of idea little boys have dreamed of for decades--Woody and Buzz, together for real!

Let's go to the movies!

In addition to book reviews, and the occasional noteworthy (to me) article, I have decided to add movie reviews to this blog.  Nothing super in-depth--I don't know anything about film or cinematography or anything.  But I do watch movies, and I like having opinions.  So yeah.  You have been warned.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, by John Piper


A decent enough book. It was, perhaps, less revelatory than Piper may have hoped, at least for me, but I already agreed with him about the importance of thinking (love the Lord your God with all your mind, after all) and the danger of intellectual pride and spiritually dead knowledge. I have seen in my own life the emptiness of head knowledge alone, and have also been guilty of intellectual laziness when I avoided thinking about challenging spiritual truths instead of continuing to grapple with those truths by the light of Scripture. So I agree with Piper that we love God best with heart and mind and soul and strength. Still, for those who struggle with a natural (or learned) antipathy to intellectualism, or those who place their faith in knowledge and understanding (and there are many Christians in both camps), this could well be a much-needed rebuke.

I particularly liked Piper's discussion of reading as thinking, but that's hardly surprising, since that discussion included linguistics, hermeneutics, textualism, and any number of other areas that I find inherently interesting.

All in all, a fine book, though not exactly earth shattering (for me, anyway).

Charity and Its Fruits, by Jonathan Edwards


An excellent (and thorough) analysis of I Corinthians 13. This was my first exposure to Edwards, and he did not disappoint. Edwards thinks deeply and critically about each aspect of the well-known discourse on love, and his insights are, for the most part, extremely helpful and well-supported. This passage is read so often that it is easy--for me, anyway--to gloss over it or place it in the mental category of "yeah, yeah, patient, kind, I know the drill . . . next!" Edwards slows the reader down and really dwells in the text so that the words have a chance to really sink in. I particularly appreciated his discussion of the various attributes of charity--what it is, and what it isn't. Edwards expands each attribute into positive and negative characteristics, actions, words, and heart attitudes with a thoroughness that is pretty much guaranteed to result in serious conviction in the reader.

The Puritan Paperback version is very readable, though of course the language is--necessarily--somewhat old fashioned, and the content is dense enough to warrant a slower reading pace. I read one "lecture" each week, and that turned out to be a pretty good pace.

Definitely a worthwhile read.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Amen, sister!

I actually enjoyed a lot of the Die hard sequels, and even though Live Free or Die Hard was no Die Hard, it still made some smart choices--Lucy McClane was well cast and well-written ("Now there are only 5 of them"), and let us not forget that John McClane shoots the bad guy through his own freakin' shoulder.  All of that being said, I still think Original Recipe Die Hard is an absolutely brilliant film, so I appreciated this tribute . . . from a female writer . . . at NPR!  Awesome.
What makes the Die Hard franchise practically tragic is that it's become so stupefyingly ordinary after bowing in 1988 as a remarkably taut, funny, exquisitely crafted action film that — but for the appearance of late-'80s computer and phone technology — has not aged a day. As explosively entertaining as it was the first time I saw it on the big screen 23 years ago, it was just as good two weeks ago, when my local theater showed it as part of their summer '80s series in a marvelously earthy print that screamed, "I hold up so well that I have been watched ... a lot." The print had been loved into a certain degree of scruffiness that somehow was just right for the film.

Monday, September 5, 2011

My Soul Is Rested: Movement Days in the Deep South Remembered, by Howell Raines


This book is incredible: moving, eye-opening, horrifying, inspiring, and deeply disturbing, all at the same time.

Raines wisely allows the various historical figures to describe their experiences in their own words, and so on some level it is their storytelling ability that makes the events come alive. Yet Raines' skill in coaxing these stories from those who lived through the atrocities of the Civil Rights movement and the careful piecing together of those stories undoubtedly entitle him to his own fair share of the credit for this masterpiece.

My experiences with oral histories (both fictional and non-fictional) have been quite impressive, but the use of oral history as the medium for the story was, in this case, an inspired choice. As with other oral histories, the telling of the story through individual experiences (rather than dry, omniscient narration) heightens the emotional effect of the material--the reader feels the panic, senses the chaos, marvels at the senseless hatred and violence that plagued the South in the 1960s. Indeed, the book makes for a disturbing read, as the horror and fear and pain are all too clearly communicated through the memories of those who lived through the events.