Thinking Out Loud

November 23, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Wednesday List Lynx - The lynx is considered a national animal in Macedonia where it is featured on the five denar coin

I’ll have whatever links she’s having…

  • Let’s start out with some great music: A new song by Northpoint Community Church’s Eddie Kirkland; help yourself to a free download of Here and Now.
  • Maybe your marriage isn’t in trouble, but it’s in struggle.  Justin and Trisha Davis offer four reasons why some marriages are hurting.
  • Julie Clawson has a very short, but very profound piece about how the spiritual conversion journey does not end with finding Jesus; in other words, finding Jesus doesn’t complete the process.
  • It’s possible that Charles Spurgeon’s view of Arminian theology wasn’t shaped so much by reading as it was by the stage in history where the movement was when Spurgeon wrote.
  • InterVarsity Press, aka IVP, has purchased Biblica Books, a publisher whose 170-plus titles are truly a great fit for the Illinois-based company.
  • At The Ironic Catholic, this take on Genesis 3: 16-19 — “There are three aspects taken from a casual reading of the passage: 1) God makes childbirth painful, 2) Eve and all women get cursed by God as a punishment for sin, and 3) Adam appears to get off way easy.”
  • Not sure of David Brooks’ spirituality, but this NY Times article shows how certain kinds of inequality are tolerated, and certain types of inequality are not.
  • I know there’s a word that means “fear of the number 13,” but what about phobias about “666”??  Refusing to wear the number on religious grounds got this Georgia man fired.
  • Of the making of Calvinist/Arminian T-Shirts there is no end.  The one pictured at right is for those who prefer the middle of the road. Click the image if you want to buy; click here for the backstory at More Christ blog.
  • For those of you who use small-group discipleship curriculum, this video about a whole new paradigm from Downline Ministries is going to rock your world.
  • Jon Acuff explains why it’s possible to have the congregation extend you some grace when yours is the first cell phone (that’s mobile for you Brits) to go off during a church service, but why you don’t want to be the second person to have it ring.
  • Some of you may know more than I about the Duggar family, but apparently they are expecting their 20th child.  (HT: Clark Bunch)
  • Michael Hyatt thinks novelists should offer a “director’s cut” of their work at their blogs; along with twelve other blog ideas for writers of what we could call non-non-fiction.
  • C201 highlights this week: A 30-minute video interview with N.T. Wright, and a summary of C. Michael Patton’s Why Do We Love C. S. Lewis and Hate Rob Bell?
  • Tomorrow at Thinking Out Loud: Remembering Family Circus cartoonist Bil Keane.  Today the comic is drawn by “little Jeffy” who is actually, at age 53, not quite so little, and continues to feature church-based themes like this one from a week ago Sunday:

August 10, 2010

The Last Christian: David Gregory’s Brave New World

The year is 2088…

Any kind of futuristic writing — both fiction and non-fiction — requires taking a great deal of risk.  Especially if you incorporate technologies that some readers find just plain silly.   What if the audience doesn’t see your vision of that era as plausible?   A few bad reviews and your book is fodder for recycling.

Fortunately, David Gregory (Dinner With a Perfect Stranger, A Day With A Perfect Stranger) is able to navigate the future just fine, thank you.   While he hasn’t lost the heart of an evangelist that so characterized his shorter works mentioned above, any apologetic in Last Christian is weaved into a much larger, much more complex plot.

That plot concerns biomedical advances that are becoming reality towards the end of the 21st century.   But it’s the absence of religious ethics that characterizes the world in which these so-called ‘advances’ are taking place.   Into that environment steps a character who is almost literally from another time.  Someone who doesn’t fit into such a world.   Someone who discovers that the unease is mutual.

As a mostly non-fiction reader, I now fully understand the meaning of the oft-used, “that was real page-turner.”   This is a book possessing a literary intensity I have not experienced in a long, long time.  Each chapter — and the narrative moves along quite rapidly — ended with a surprise, driving me deeper into what followed.   That pace — and those plot twists — continue right up to the end.

But don’t take my word for it.   Allow me to do something I’ve never done before here, and steal some consumer reviews from a retail website:

  • As I read the back cover’s description, I thought to myself, “Yeah, right.” Then I read the book. Gregory’s use of existent technologies, experimental technologies and not-too-far-distant-future-type technologies renders this fictional work very believable. As for there only being one Christian left in America in 2088? Well, even that isn’t so hard to imagine if you see how rapidly we’re following Europe’s footsteps, using no discernment governmentally, socially and even the evangelical church seems to be losing it’s bearings on the gospel and God’s Word…
  • This book was full of nail biting edge of your seat suspense, with a few twist and turns you won’t expect or see coming! … I would love to see this as a movie!
  • Christianity has died out completely. The mega-churches of the 90’s are now schools and malls. While all this sci-fi stuff is entertaining to read, the heart of the book goes much deeper. Gregory makes a really important point in his book. The reason, he writes through one of his characters, that Christianity died in the US early in the 21st century is because Christians didn’t look any different than non-Christians. Their lives hadn’t been transformed by the power of the Gospel.
  • David Gregory’s America seems so far removed from our current way of life, but it’s easy to see how we could easily venture down the same road. The Christian worldview is becoming an object of disdain for many, and technology is advancing at an incredible rate. The Last Christian was a fun and entertaining read. It’s a science fiction thriller with Christian apologetics mixed in. Although it was certainly a page-turner, it also caused me to really think about some serious issues in our culture today
  • Christian fiction has taken a direction that is wonderfully exciting and The Last Christian is a fantastic example!
  • I was shocked by the many things that are slowly taking root even now in America, despite the book’s setting being in 2088. At this time, Americans have become accustomed to feeding their desires and pleasures through entertainment and enjoyment. …many live in virtual reality more than they do in the “real world”. In the name of tolerance and acceptance, all things are acceptable and morality is something each individual decides for his or himself…

I compared these reviews to a few from “the usual suspects” list of bloggers, and while I recognize that some of these reviewers’ blogs as well, I think they said it best.

My recommendation here leans a little more toward Christian readers, but some other reviews spoke of possibilities in giving or loaning the book to someone outside the faith; perhaps provided they had demonstrated some spiritual openness.   It certainly speaks in a mature manner to some of the main elements involved in following Christ, as well as addressing what Christianity isn’t.   Age-wise, because of the ‘sci-fi’ flavor, I can see this book appealing to older teens as well as adults, provided they can commit to the 400+ page count.  (We’re talking about four times the word count of the two Perfect Stranger titles.)

The two of David Gregory’s shorter books mentioned above already exist as movies.   Could Last Christian make it to the big screen?   It would be an extremely fast-paced film to be sure; but for now, we have the book which earns my highest recommendation.

August 5, 2010

Rooms by James Rubart

It’s been more than a week since I turned the last page of Rooms by James Rubart.   More than a week to gather my thoughts about the twists and turns of plot and spiritual journey that make up one of the most interesting books I’ve read.

I am not a fiction reader at all, but an increasing percentage of my  reading in the last twelve months has been Christian fiction.    The book came to me by way of a recommendation from the owner of the Christian bookstore in a small town in Eastern Ontario while we were on the first day of our vacation.

Then, in a manner fully in keeping with the spirit of the book itself, a copy showed up unsolicited in the mail. [Insert Twilight Zone theme music here.]   I took it with me on the next leg of our holidays, and began to understand the passion in the store owner’s recommendation.

There are going to be comparisons to The Shack. I say this in the future tense because I’m not sure that this book has hit its stride yet, even though it’s been available for a few months.   Unlike Shack, however, I think Rooms will avoid the doctrinal and theological controversies that dogged the former title, especially given its publication by conservative B&H Fiction (a division of the Baptist company, Broadman & Holman.)

That said, the book is edgy enough in a couple of areas to raise some Baptist eyebrows.   Don’t let the publisher imprint dissuade you.    James Rubart is a comparatively new author, but one who I believe we will be hearing more from in the future.  (I’m already looking forward to Book of Days releasing in 2011…)

There are also going to be comparisons to a title which I have not read, the book House by Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti, as both books are based on a similar premise.   (Although, if you want to stretch things, so also is The Great House of God by Max Lucado, although that’s not close to being a fiction title.)

The protagonist in the story, Micah Taylor,  finds himself the inheritor of a large (9,000 square foot) house with, for lack of a better word, supernatural rooms that appear and disappear — and one that is more constant — representing different aspects of his life history and personality.

And then there’s Rick.   Seems like every book I read lately has a guy who ‘just shows up,’ who has uncanny insights and knowledge.   Echoes of The Noticer by Andy Andrews, So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore by Jake Colsen, and Bo’s Café by a trio of authors.   (Tangent:  All books mentioned in this post, including Rooms, should be high on your list of books you can recommend to a male reader, including those who don’t consider themselves readers.)

Yeah.   That’s about all of the plot that I need to say.   From there you’re on your own.

Given sales figures in the millions, comparing this book to Shack isn’t exactly the worst thing I can do.   However, while that book is something unique that is being used to reach those outside the Christian faith, Rooms may find its audience among the already converted.  I do think there’s room for both types of readers with this book, and I hope it finds a response over the next few months from a variety of readers.   Keep it on your radar.

The reviews:  On one Christian retail site that allows customer reviews, 15 were posted.   One gave the book 4.5 out of 5 stars.   The other fourteen gave it 5 out of 5 stars.   Wow!

The book trailer video:   46-seconds; blink and you miss it.

The picture:  James has one and one only promotional picture which appears everywhere.   Including LinkedIn.  There was one exception — the one on this post — but when I right-clicked it, I ended up with a message reading  “Ephesians 4:32 “(“…let him who stole, steal no more…”) advice which, if taken, would mean and end to photo sharing on any social networking sites.  So I got the picture above from a tribute James did to his father on his personal blog.  Not sure how Ephesians feels about that.  Next time I’m stealing the other picture.

The publisher marketing:  I was a little light here on plot, so here’s more teaser copy from B&H which may contain minor spoilers:

On a rainy spring day in Seattle, young software tycoon Micah Taylor receives a cryptic, twenty-five-year-old letter from a great uncle he never knew. It claims a home awaits him on the Oregon coast that will turn his world inside out. Suspecting a prank, Micah arrives at Cannon Beach to discover a stunning brand new nine-thousand square foot house. And after meeting Sarah Sabin at a nearby ice cream shop, he has two reasons to visit the beach every weekend.

When bizarre things start happening in the rooms of the home, Micah suspects they have some connection to his enigmatic new friend, Rick, the town mechanic. But Rick will only say the house is spiritual. This unnerves Micah because his faith slipped away like the tide years ago, and he wants to keep it that way. But as he slowly discovers, the home isn’t just spiritual, it’s a physical manifestation of his soul, which God uses to heal Micah’s darkest wounds and lead him into an astonishing new destiny.

Comments here:  This is about a book called Rooms; it’s not about a book called Shack. Guide yourselves accordingly.

February 12, 2010

Church History in the Dan Brown Tradition

Although the mainstream press — outside of book reviewers — ignored the hardcover release in May 2009; the May 2010 paperback release of The King James Conspiracy still threatens to do to the renown Bible translation project of the 1600s what Dan Brown’s books did to the disciples and the early church. Furthermore, one shudders to think there might be movie rights at play.

Here’s the marketing from St. Martin’s Griffin:

The turning of the wheel by the tilling of the wheat.

With these cryptic words, a conspiracy is set into motion that threatens the new translation of the Bible ordered by King James I, and the lives of the scholars working on it.

In 1605, in Cambridge England, a group of scholars brought together to create a definitive English translation of the Bible finds one of its members savagely murdered by unknown hands. Deacon Marbury, the man in charge of this group, seeks outside help to find the murderer, to protect the innocents and their work. But the people who offer to help are not who they claim to be and the man they send to Marbury–Brother Timon–has a secret past, much blood on his hands, and is an agent for those forces that wish to halt the translation itself.

But as the hidden killer continues his gruesome work, the body count among the scholars continues to rise. Brother Timon is torn between his loyalties and believes an even greater crisis looms as ancient and alarming secrets are revealed–secrets dating back to the earliest days of Christianity that threaten the most basic of its closely held beliefs.

August 24, 2009

Life Among The Lutherans: Garrison Keillor

“…So our family celebrated [the fourth of July], a day in one group of people split off from another group of people — it seemed like a happy thing to us — and we kept right on splitting off — we believed in the value of a good snit and walking out, slamming the door and never speaking to those people again.  Better yet, never speaking to them in the first place.  We were Sanctified Brethren, we believed that God had bestowed his truth on us and nobody else, and if you number had ever gotten above 12, we’d have found some way to break off with the others and form a new and purer group.  A church of, say, 3 people.  Two to procreate and one to watch and make sure they didn’t do it in an unscriptural way.”

GarrisonKeillorGarrison Keillor is an American humorist, author and the force behind “A Prairie Home Companion,” a permanent fixture of Saturday evenings in many U.S. homes as it broadcasts live, for two hours, on National Public Radio.   The show is a mix of music, poetry and radio drama, culminating with the monologue, which always begins, “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my hometown.”

“…now even ice fishing, in all its sanity and silence, has been blighted by the curse of this century which is communications.  Never before have we learned so much we didn’t need to know from people we don’t like and can’t get rid of in media that has only one purpose, to sell, sell, sell, and which has been steadily encroaching and circling and crowding out whatever peace and quiet is left in the cosmos…”

Much of his writing has to do with life in middle America.  On the one hand, he laments the passing of simpler times, while on the other hand he highlights the ability of some communities to preserve a sense of that simpler past.

“…Our public reputations depend on the opinions of the uninformed.  Each one of us is a book reviewed by critics who only read the chapter headings and the jacket flap.  We’re all a mystery.  We should all respect each other on that basis.”

Garrison Keillor - LutheransLife Among the Lutherans is a collection of those monologues, going back as far as 1983, and featuring the particular essays that deal with the religious side of life in this fictitious Minnesota town.  When you consider that most of them do contain some mention the equally fictitious Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church, narrowing it down to 28 stories must have represented a rather difficult editing process.  The book is appropriately published by Augsburg, a leading Lutheran publishing house.

“The organ is the enemy of worship, as most Christians know.  Scripture says, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’  This is not the organist’s philosophy.  Organists despise stillness.  They’re sitting there with the organ equivalent of a 300 hp Ferrari and they want to put the pedal to the metal and make that baby fly.”

In the preface, Keillor admits he did not grow up as a Lutheran.   But he understands the people intimately, and he understands the role that the church(es) play in a small town.    We only hear of one other church in town, the Roman Catholic parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility.

“…It’s not easy being a minister and preaching to your own family — sometimes it gives a Lutheran pastor real respect for the rule of celibacy over across town.  Preach on forgiveness and forbearance to a congregation that includes one woman with whom you’ve had some arguments you’d rather not remember, including one that isn’t over yet.”

Truth be told, the book deals in the superficialities of church life.   But that said, once you get past the meandering plots and colorful characterizations, the book is actually rich in deep theology.   People live and breathe and act the way they do because they are acting on certain beliefs and convictions.   Keillor confronts issues and ideas which, in a pluralistic, politically correct, mostly secular society, simply never come up in normal conversation.

“…The people divided over the question ‘will we recognize each other in Heaven or will our spiritual forms not have our earthly features?’  The clergy fought this out for two years, some arguing ‘Yes, of course we’ll know grandma there, and she will know us — the family was meant to be eternal,’ and other people saying ‘No, we will go on to a finer and better life there and if you think your face is anything God would allow in a place of perfect bliss, then you ought to take another look.'”

Garrison Keillor (2)But Keillor doesn’t always celebrate this particular church culture.   Every page consists of material that could represent hours and hours on an analyst’s couch.   In the second to last chapter, there is an outpouring of angst greater than the sum of the previous chapters, wherein Keillor seems to regret a religiously repressive past that made him lack adventure or lack confidence or lack certain kinds of experiences.    However, much of this may simply consist of looking at growing up in the mid-20th century through a 21st century lens.

“The honest truth is that most of these young people marry because they desperately want to have sex and be normal nice people…so two people sense each other’s interest and availability, and powerful forces come into play…and the mothers of the two of them exert their influence.   A candidate is brought in for inspection and goes home, and afterward the mother says, ‘Well, I thought he was nice.’  And the way she says, ‘I thought he was nice’ communicates the fact that the boy is a dolt, about as bright as a mud fence, and none of this has much to do with honesty.   It’s more about sheer hope — that if you love somebody, or try to, and try to do the right thing, somehow it’ll all work out over the long haul.   And you set out down the highway of marriage, trying to ignore the many vehicles you see overturned in the ditch.

Why is that some of the most tormented people seem to produce the most innovative and quirky humor?   With Christmas fast approaching, Life Among The Lutherans is a natural gift idea for someone who, like Keillor, enjoys some sentimental reminiscing.    But it should also be read by a younger generation, if only to see what they escaped.   Unless they happen to currently reside in Lake Wobegon, that is.

“Christmas is a holy day that the early church fathers invented because they were in competition with the Roman religion.  One thing Christianity lacked was a big feast and the Romans had one toward the end of December, Saturnalia, so the Christians established Christmas, sort of like one chain putting up a store right near its competitor.  It doesn’t have so much to do with Jesus as it does with business, and it’s been a big hit;  the number of people celebrating Saturnalia and offering sacrifices to the gods has really diminished.”

November 16, 2008

While Cluttering Up Other Peoples’ Blogs, I’ve Noticed A Common Theme

Filed under: blogging, books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:33 pm

First, I posted this last week to Zoeincarnate:

When I’m not blogging, I own a couple of Christian bookstores, where there might as well be a big white line down the middle of the store separating the fiction buyers from the non-fiction buyers. It’s nice when there’s a book somewhere in the middle, like Shack and Jacobsen’s So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore.

So my take on this is: Bring on more socratic dialogue. (What do publishers really know about my customers anyway? They certainly aren’t up to doing much in the way of listening to what retail is trying to tell them.)

BTW, it’s interesting to note that the last time we had a really big landmark Christian fiction title — This Present Darkness, 22 years ago — there were actually very few imitators. If anyone wants to imitate anything about Shack, they should consider the whole didactic conversations that, as you note, are also common to McLaren’s trilogy.

Actually, I need to divide the store into friction and non-friction! (Read last sentence again if you missed it!)

Ha Ha!  That last line is so funny.   Then last week, I found myself repeating myself myself at 22 Words:

As a bookstore owner, I’m always astounded by the reluctance of fiction readers to consider biographies, which are, by definition, great stories.

(Whaddya know? That was exactly 22 words!)

(Guess I’m just passionate about The Shack, and the whole retail perspective on Christian fiction in general, as seen by a person who otherwise doesn’t read very much of it.)

October 25, 2008

The Shack — Whaddya Mean You Haven’t Read it Yet?

Filed under: books, Christian — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm

I still think The Shack is the ultimate small group discussion book. You could so something that everybody agrees on, and they’ll all feel good after reading, but it makes for boring conversation.  Do this one and you’re going to get strong opinions and that is going to lead to passionate discussion. Our local Christian bookstore is sold out again — like the Energizer Bunny, the book just keeps going and going — with more copies arriving next week. If you can’t talk the book club into it, you can join the online discussion here.

October 10, 2008

The Shack Almost-Sequel: So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore

Filed under: Christianity, Church, theology — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:27 pm

With all the people reading The Shack, I’m surprised more people haven’t gotten into this book, one of only three from the same publishing company that produced The Shack, and featured in an advert on one of Shack‘s final pages.   So I’m repeating the original review on this from April 19th.

It’s actually been a long while since I read a book in 48 hours. As it got closer to midnight last night, I said I would quit at the end of the chapter, and then found myself forging into the next.

The book is So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore and is credited to Jake Colsen, which is a pen name amalgam of the two authors, Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman.

As its title suggests, this is a book that comes out of our 21st century climate of restlessness with all things institutional. I’m not sure the title accurately pinpoints the intended market, either. It’s not a book for those who have given up — well, maybe some — but it’s also for those who have a deep longing for something more. The title also betrays the book’s style. This isn’t a how-to book; it’s actually written as a narrative story. Is it fiction?*

Based on a radio interview with coauthor Wayne Jacobsen I would say this is probably more fact than fiction. If anything, the message of the book is that the situation described happens all too often; a sense that institutional church simply is not working in the ways Christ would have it.

The story centers around Jake, an associate pastor at a local church in California, who is forced to confront some serious priorities, by a stranger named John, who, just to make things more interesting,  may or may not be John the Baptist. Not, as in John the Baptist come back to life, and not, as in the ghost of John the Baptist; but rather as in John the Baptist who never died. But whoever he is isn’t central to the story; it’s the insights he brings to Jake’s situation.

“The problem with church as you know it, Jake, is that it has become nothing more than mutual accommodation of self-need. Everybody needs something out of it. Some need to lead. Some need to be led. Some want to teach, others are happy to be the audience. Rather than become an authentic demonstration of God’s life and love to the world, it ends up being a group of people who have to protect their turf. What you’re seeing is less of God’s life than people’s insecurities that cling to those things they think will best serve their needs.” ~p.71

And that’s one of the milder excerpts. Not everyone is going to like this book. In fact, some people get a weekly paycheck (that’s ‘paycheque’ for us Canucks and Brits) not to think about such things. And that’s just the point.  Because Wayne Jacobsen was heavilly involved in the editing of The Shack, this is going to be familiar territory for some of you.

So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore is published by Windblown Media, which also publishes the #1 U.S. Christian book of the year** in sales — it’s hard to imagine anything catching it in the last half of 2008 — The Shack by William P. Young; a book which is also the subject of some controversy. If you or someone you know someone is getting burned out on going through the motions on Sundays (and beyond), this is the book to read. Because in going through the motions, we may have slowly lost sight of what Jesus is really all about, and what priorities really count.


*Or, we could ask, “Is The Shack a normal work of fiction, really?”  Think about it.  Is it your normal novel, or is it something more?

**Or, more accurately, “Christian book of the decade.”  I don’t think Purpose Driven Life was this big.

Today’s book group question:  There is no question mark in the book’s title.  Discuss.

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