Guest blog post: Could it be?

February 7, 2016

[Today’s blog post is written by my husband]

In several articles I have read recently, I have seen “true Christianity” equated with a liberal/progressive ideology (see below for links). In the course of article, they make certain assumptions about the understandings and motivations of “conservative” Christians, make broad generalizations, and seem (to me) to take a morally smug/superior view – very like what at least one author accuses the “Christian right” of doing. Only one author – Paul Prather – even admits to the possibility that the real truth lies in between in a balance between the two, and that is done in a throw-away line that is essentially ignored the remainder of the article.

It is not my goal to impugn the authors, or point up the shortcomings of the progressive Christian theology and ideology. Rather, I want to try to help these folks understand the where many (and dare I say “most?”) conservative Christians actually come from when they make their statements and support their causes. I will be using the article by Paul Prather the most, since his is the only one that does not dismiss the conservative understanding outright, and actually gives a comparison. Read the rest of this entry »

Another Iowa caucus is over

February 2, 2016

There is a possibility that when I get home this evening, there will be no messages on my phone. I have been looking forward to that. This past weekend I must have deleted at least two dozen messages urging me to support one candidate or another. I briefly thought how nice it might feel to support whichever campaign had called the fewest times, but I really do try to vote primarily based on issues.

As a resident of Iowa, I get a firsthand view of a process that the rest of the country just reads about in the newspapers. Hmm, do many people still read newspapers? OK, that the rest of the country hears about on TV … or on facebook, or wherever it is people get their information these days.

Read the rest of this entry »

Books: Palace of Darkness

January 18, 2016

I was recently introduced to the novels of Tracy Higley by a comment on one of my recent posts. The library didn’t have the book he mentioned, perhaps because The Incense Road was just published last year (it is a collection of novellas, individually available only on Kindle as far as I can tell).

But one of the libraries in the system did have Palace of Darkness: A Novel of Petra, and I just finished reading it yesterday. As historical fiction it is an absorbing read. It begins in Rome for Julian, in Damascus for Cassia, and as a result of the death of someone important in each of their lives, they both flee to Petra, where of course they meet. Read the rest of this entry »

Books: The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass: Adrian Plass and the Church Weekend

January 16, 2016

Looking at my 2016 Reading Challenge, I had wondered how I would find “a book guaranteed to bring me joy.” There are books by favorite authors that I know I will enjoy, but that’s different from books that bring me joy.

As it happens, I had already ordered the latest book in Adrian Plass’ Sacred Diary series, as a Christmas present for our whole family. We’re read – and re-read – all the previous books in the series, and I was happy to discover he had written a new one.

If you haven’t read Adrian Plass before, you might want to start by reading the previous five books, starting with The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass Aged 37 3/4. Some reviews say his latest is not as laugh-out-loud funny as some of the earlier books, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to my husband while he was reading just the first chapter.

I find it more quietly amusing – but then, I rarely laugh out loud. What I appreciate about Plass’ writing is how well he weaves together humor with wisdom and with a view of God who loves us more than we can imagine.

A lot of what passes for humor these days is just making fun of people, but while Plass gently pokes fun at human foibles, it is always good-natured fun. People do such foolish things, but it’s not a reason to despise or disdain them. (Though I don’t think I could stand spending much time around Minnie Stamp, a new character in this volume.)

There is always an assurance that we are loved by a God who not only loves us but actually likes us. I know I find that hard to accept, though I’m not sure exactly why. Because I don’t think someone who knows all there is to know about me would like me? Because I think I need to want to work hard for God’s approval, otherwise I’d take it easy? Or because so few Christian books seem to convey that same message?

If I tried to convey what Plass’ books are like, I’m sure I’d fall far short. So if you have a chance to read some, find out for yourself.

Books: If the Oceans Were Ink

January 3, 2016

I have several times thought about reading the Koran for myself, rather than just depend on what I have read about it. But each time I pick up a copy in a bookstore or library and leaf through it, I find it so inaccessible that I decide to wait until I find some kind of guide to it. (And since such a guide would naturally reflect the religious/social/political perspective of its author, I still wouldn’t know whether I was getting a proper understanding of the subject.)

So when I saw If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Power in the library, I thought this could be a very helpful book. Power spent a year studying the Koran with Sheikh Mohammed Akram Nadwi, an Islamic scholar. Along with Power, I would learn from the Sheikh some rudiments of his holy book.

Read the rest of this entry »

Books to read in 2016

January 1, 2016

I’ve seen a couple of 2016 reading challenges posted on Facebook. This one looks pretty interesting.

I had been planning already on reading a book translated to English (no particular one, it just sounded like a good way to broaden my reading). I had planned on a biography rather than an autobiography, but I could probably manage both.

A book set in my state – well, that should be easy. Though at first I was thinking Iowa, where I live now, then I realized it says “home state” which would be Connecticut where I grew up. Well, still shouldn’t be too hard. I’m less sure about finding a romance set in the future.

I’m not generally keen on reading books from Oprah’s Book Club (though I see from this list that there are some I read before they were ever on the list), but there seems to be enough variety there that I can pick out something, while still expanding the range of my reading to something I might not have picked up otherwise.

A protagonist with my occupation – now that might be difficult to figure out. If I say “computer programmer” there are probably lots of them, but programming has never been the bulk of my job. I’ve always done a mix of IT work (though I like programming best – I just don’t want to do it eight hours a day), and my current job includes troubleshooting, training, user access control, documentation, release testing, implementation of new features in the software, and writing queries to run ad hoc reports.

I’m glad that, unlike the other challenge and the one I did last year, it doesn’t ask me to read a book I should have read in high school, only one that I haven’t read since high school. I think I can manage that. A Tale of Two Cities, maybe? I liked that one and have sometimes thought of rereading it.

One category that could be very difficult is “first book you see in a bookstore.” At Barnes & Noble, the first books I see are generally the ones on clearance in the entryway, and are often things like cookbooks, craft kits, and children’s books. I like cooking a little but I’m not going to read a whole cookbook; I like crafts but generally not the kind that require a book to make them; and the children’s books on clearance are generally not the greatest – otherwise what would they be doing on clearance?

I don’t generally care for satire, but reading one would no doubt expand my reading horizons, which is of course the idea. And I have no idea what kind of book would be guaranteed to bring me joy.

One category not in this list, that is in the other one, is a book that was banned at some point. I’m sure I’ve already read some of those, but it would be interesting to find another one.

Others that I had planned on that aren’t in either list are

  • a book written as a sequel to a book by another writer
  • a book where an animal is a main character
  • a book published the year I was born
  • a book about books
  • a book of short stories

I’m already in the middle of a murder mystery (Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None) and a book at least 100 years older than me (Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice). So I guess I’m off to a good start.

More books I’ve been reading

December 29, 2015

I’ve enjoyed science fiction since I was a girl, so when I saw How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu in the New Books section of the library, it didn’t take me long at all to decide to check it out.

It’s an unusual book, kind of hard to categorize although it’s obviously science fiction. When asked how he would like to see it characterized, Yu answers, “In terms of genre, I would be happy for it to be shelved in both fiction and in science fiction. Or maybe under a new category, where they would put books that resist either classification. A lot of my favorite books would be in that category.”

Like the best science fiction novels, it’s more about real life than it is about science fiction. It’s about time travel, but it’s not time travel to go sightseeing in the future or the past, or to rewrite history or to prevent history from being rewritten.

Charles Yu (the protagonist, who happens to share a name with the author) is a time travel repairman. He responds to service calls from people who have caused their time machines to malfunction in their efforts to change their own past – which they can’t do.

Of course, he can’t change his own past either, but he spends a lot of time thinking about it. (Not real time, since he lives outside of time, but his own subjective time.) His father is lost somewhere/somewhen, and he hopes to somehow eventually find him. His mother lives in a repeating one-hour time loop of her choosing. (Or is it?)

Author Yu explains that he started out wanting to write a story about family, but it didn’t come together until he got the time travel idea. So it’s serious sometimes, sad sometimes – but also often humorous in a quirky way. There’s an operating system with a low self-esteem problem, a boss who is a computer program but thinks he is human, a dog who is mostly hypothetical, and a whole universe that was not quite finished by the manufacturer.

The book isn’t for everyone. My younger son started it enthusiastically but lost interest after a while. Not his soft of time travel book. It’s not really a page-turner, and it doesn’t follow any kind of normal plotline (the protagonist gets stuck in a time loop after shooting his future self), but it’s worth reading if you like that sort of book. Of course, the only way to find out if you do is to try reading it…

Much more traditional are a set of young adult time travel books I read earlier this year. I was trying to find a downloadable MP3 to play on my iPod while riding the exercise bike, and the selection from the library is rather limited. But this one turned out to be a good choice.

The Ruby Red trilogy by Kerstin Gier is all about time travel, but unlike most time travel novels, it employs no time travel machine. There is a Chronograph, but its function is not to cause travel but simply to control the timing of it. Time travelers are born with the ability, though it does not manifest until about age sixteen, and the person has no control over it except by using the Chronograph.

Those who control the Chronograph, therefore, have all the power, and over the centuries have built up a secret society. It’s not surprising they would want to keep time travel a secret (since only twelve time travelers will ever be born, and most people would consider the whole idea lunacy), but it turns out there are some very dark secrets being hidden.

These are hardly dark books, however. Gwen is very much the modern teenager (British, as it happens, though I discovered with surprise that author Kerstin Gier is German, and what I read is the English translation), and more concerned with clothes, boys, and TV and movies than all the dull history and etiquette she is expected to learn in order to blend in when she visits older centuries.

She is annoyingly emotional and self-absorbed sometimes, but also gutsy, loyal to her friends, and determined to find out the truth behind all the secrets — which turns out to have a great deal to do with her personally. One of the big secrets is fairly obvious to the reader long before Gwen overhears it, but the identity of the villain remains a surprise at the ending.


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