Books: The Columbus Affair

October 13, 2014

I finished The Columbus Affair a few weeks ago, but decided to put off writing a blog post until today. I was busy, and anyway – today just seemed appropriate. I know, yesterday was October 12, but today is the official government holiday. And being an employee of a community college, I get those holidays off. So I have time to reflect back on what I learned about Columbus from reading this book.

It’s fiction, but it’s fiction that deals directly with mysteries surrounding Christopher Columbus. So there’s a fair amount of history related in the novel, as well as some segments of historical fiction where the events described elsewhere are actually taking place. While I was listening to the audiobook, I was skeptical about how much of it could really be historic fact as opposed to the creative output of author Steve Berry’s imagination.

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Books: People of the Book

October 11, 2014

I looked at this audiobook on at least two other occasions before finally deciding to check it out from the library. I’m not sure what made me hesitate – perhaps the phrase “intimate emotional intensity” on the back of the case.

There different kinds of intimacy and different kinds of emotional intensity, some much more pleasant to read about than others. Some books get too intimate, and even with those that are a level – and kind – of intimacy that I would want to read about, sometimes I shy away from because I want to enjoy my commute, not find myself drawn into the wrenching emotional upheavals of someone else’s life.

But I enjoy historical fiction, and I enjoy books about books. I liked the idea of a mystery surrounding a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript, and the different places in Europe where the book had traveled during its long history. I decided People of the Book was worth checking out.

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Books: The Nine Tailors

September 30, 2014

Having enjoyed Dorothy Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise, I eagerly read some of her other mysteries featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. Since I like to read books in order, I started with Whose Body? and Clouds of Witness. About all I can say about them is that I’m glad I started with one of the later books, after she had developed more as a writer. If I had started with one of those first two, I would have wondered why she was considered such a great writer and looked around for another author to enjoy.

Next I read Gaudy Night, which I enjoyed very much, but I found it odd that the story was told from the point of view of someone else rather than Peter Wimsey. Indeed, he comes into the story very little until late in the book. But of course now I want to know more about what happens to both characters.

First, however, I wanted to check out The Nine Tailors, which came between Murder Must Advertise and Gaudy Night. Unlike several books I have read recently that were more or less enjoyable but about which I could find little to say (hence the dearth of my blog posts recently), The Nine Tailors got me interested in learning about something I had never heard of before: change ringing.

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Time and eternity

September 1, 2014

A few months ago, I read an article about “How to Tell Time in Heaven.” Wait a minute, I thought. Time in heaven? I thought heaven existed outside of time.

Not that I had really ever thought about it much, that I can remember. I had a philosophy professor in college (a Baptist liberal arts college where the Christian faith was a part of every field of study) who challenged some notions people commonly have about heaven, even among Bible-believing churches.

For instance, it is a common idea in our society that dead people become angels. I grew up reading The Littlest Angel (still one of my favorite Christmas-themed stories), and while I knew it was fiction, I guess I more or less accepted its premise of a human boy becoming an angel.

Then in high school, our youth group at the Baptist church did a study on angelology, a branch of theology I hadn’t even known existed. (Not that I knew much about theology in high school, but I was an avid reader of Christian books, both fiction and non-fiction.) Scripture gives little information about angels, but it certainly never suggest that any of them were once human beings.

But most churchgoers don’t study angelogy, much less people who have no use for organized religion (though they may still believe in angels). So the idea of people becoming angels persists, helped along, no doubt, by various movies (two I can think of offhand are It’s a Wonderful Life and The Heavenly Kid, and I’m sure there are several I haven’t even seen).

Another common idea my professor challenged is thinking of heaven as some ethereal region for disembodied spirits, while the Bible talks about resurrected bodies on a new Earth. He also challenged the belief common among Christians that our souls are eternal by their nature, explaining to us that we will remain created beings, and the eternity of our lives will still be, on and on throughout eternity, a gift of God. What I don’t remember is any discussion of time versus timelessness in that regard.

What I do remember, from attending churches throughout my life, is singing hymns such as “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” that state that “time will be no more.” Discussions of whether a believer goes to heaven immediately upon death (as opposed to “soul sleep”) also assume the idea of timelessness in heaven.

Michael Patton discusses this concept in his Parchment & Pen blog, in a post from 2009 that I apparently missed. As he explains, and as I read elsewhere when I started thinking about this, the verse in Revelation that says “time will be no more” would be more accurately translated “there will be no more delay” before certain end-times events take place.

Some of the articles and blog posts I found on this subject state that there must be time in heaven because the nature of life – even eternal life – requires it. Thinking, talking, and acting all involve a succession of thoughts, words, and actions, and for one thing to come after another there must be passage of time. One of these discussions points out that time is an essential element of music, which is generally agreed to have a prominent role in heaven.

Now, it doesn’t bother me to be told that heaven is different from how people, including many Christians, commonly think of it. The Bible gives very little in the way of direct description of heaven. Much that Scripture does say about heaven is in the form of visions, and it is hardly surprising that such visions would make heavy use of symbolic language to try to convey experiences and ideas that go beyond the limits of earthly human understanding.

In some ways, speculation about the details of heaven is pointless. We neither can know nor need to know now the particulars of our future existence. For the most part I see the entire topic as something God will take care of and I’ll find out when I need to.

It’s fun to imagine huge libraries in heaven where I can read as much as I want to, but even if books don’t exist in heaven (which I find highly doubtful considering that God used Scripture to reveal Himself to us), I am sure I will not be bored. I don’t think we’ll sit around all day playing harps, but I would be happy to be able to play the harp.

Would I just instantly find myself able to play, however, or would I have to learn? Learning implies change and change implies time. God made us humans naturally curious and eager to learn new things, and it seems strange to think that trait would be gone in heaven. I love the idea of learning for eternity.

What about other kinds of personal development? For years I attended churches where it was assumed that whatever level of spiritual maturity one had reached upon death, that was the level one would be at for eternity.

I suppose this teaching (not generally stated explicitly but I think it was occasionally) was based on the idea of timelessness in heaven, and it was used as a means of motivating people to pursue spiritual growth so they wouldn’t be stuck at some low level of spirituality forever. After all, if you could be certain not only of being saved but of gaining the highest level of spirituality immediately upon death, why would one work hard at spiritual growth in this life?

If there is time of some kind in heaven, however, then there would seem to be the opportunity not only to learn more about God’s creation and to create (books, songs, works of art), but also to continue to grow in one’s relationship with God.

What there won’t be is the sense of time as a burden, either having too much to do before a looming deadline, or having too much time and too little that is meaningful to fill the empty hours. My husband, in a recent sermon on the eternal nature of God, talked about a kind of “timeless time” that we spend worshiping God – not just someday in heaven but here and now.

Time can be meaningless, he said, when we are in the presence of God. It’s hardly that time ceases to exist, merely that it does not constrain us. And that is the kind of time that I suppose we will experience in heaven – or on the new Earth, to be precise, but “in heaven” in that we will be in the eternal presence of God.


Movies: God’s Not Dead

August 31, 2014

I had not planned on watching God’s Not Dead with the church youth group. I was taking our younger son, and since we don’t live nearby, I was going to spend the time in another room reading a novel rather than make the trip to church twice in one evening.

But the meeting got moved from the church to someone’s home, and when I was invited in to join them, it was naturally assumed I would be joining them all to watch the movie. I decided it was probably just as well, as this way I would know what my son had seen and be better able to answer any questions he might ask.

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Books: The Auschwitz Escape

August 26, 2014

I usually like reading historical fiction, but it’s hard to read about the awful things done by the Nazis in their death camps. Looking through the fiction choices in Tyndale’s Summer Reading Program, however, I thought it seemed like a better choice than most of the others.

I had heard of Joel Rosenberg and had for some time thought about reading one of his novels, but I never got around to it. (There are always so many other good books to read.) When I saw that he had written this historical novel set in WWII, I decided to give The Auschwitz Escape a try.

My initial impression, from reading the six chapter of Part One, was that I was not particularly impressed. It deals with the character Luc, an assistant pastor in a small town in France, who ends helps Jews who are escaping from Germany and other Nazi-occupied territories. That’s admirable, certainly, but as a character Luc seems rather flat. Read the rest of this entry »


Books: While the World Watched

August 9, 2014

When I saw While the World Watched on the Tyndale Summer Reading list, I decided this would be a good opportunity to learn a piece of history that had never been covered in any classes in school. When I was growing up, the Civil Rights Movement was too recent to be in our history books, but by the time I was in middle school (and had actual history classes instead of just an occasional social studies lesson), it was no longer part of current events. I remember seeing a picture of Governor George Wallace in a wheelchair, when I was in seventh grade (the year after he was shot), but I had no idea of the history behind that.

At church I occasionally heard references to the importance of race relations, but I had no context for understanding what they were talking about. My parents were friends with a black family, as well as with the black janitor at church, but that was about the extent of my experiences with people of other races. I was only a baby when the church bombing in Birmingham took place, and in first grade when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. I knew vaguely that there were places where whites and blacks didn’t get along but gave it little if any thought.

Reading the firsthand account of Carolyn Maull’s experiences growing up in Birmingham gave me a new perspective on the whole subject. I had, over the years, picked up some general knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement, but seeing it through the eyes of a child who lived through it gave it a vividness and emotional immediacy that whatever I had read previously lacked. It’s one thing to read about the fact of atrocities committed decades ago. It’s another to feel her anxieties as she tries to cope with the violent death of her friends.

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