23 July 2016

The Man in White

Johnny Cash wrote a book about the Apostle Paul? Yes! And here's the rundown on The Man in White.

Johnny Cash was actually a capable writer. He clearly put a lot of research and time into his exploration of the pre-conversion life of Saul of Tarsus, and felt a strong personal connection to the apostle. He has great description of Paul's mystical experiences, and most of the characters in the book are well drawn.

On the other hand, I'm not very convinced of Cash's interpretation of Saul's character before his conversion or the relationship he had with the Sanhedrin and his fellow pharisees. In Cash's story, the Sanhedrin views the Christians as heretics and worthy of death, but at the same time they view Saul as a dangerous and rather annoying fanatic. The high priest is only too happy to give Saul the required letters simply in order to get him out of Jerusalem. Of course, the Bible doesn't paint a clear character picture for us so it's mostly just a matter of personal interpretation, and Cash is careful not to contradict the Scriptures in any particulars. The ending felt a bit rushed as well, and there were a couple of factual historical errors that were clearly simple editorial oversights; Diana is called the goddess of love, for example.

To be honest, I most enjoyed the lengthy introduction to the book written by Cash. It details his spiritual journey as a Christian through his later years of addiction to pain killers up through the death of his father. I especially liked the image of Johnny Cash traveling with a saddlebag stuffed with three Bibles, and copies of Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius. Cash writes nonfiction with much more ease and style than he does fiction.

Overall I would recommend this book for fans of Johnny Cash as an interesting curiosity. Also for folks who are big fans of historical fiction, this is a shortish read that you may want to check out as well. Otherwise, you're not missing out if you give this one a skip.

25 June 2016

The Brother of Jesus

I was fortunate enough to be taking Archaeology in college when the “James Ossuary” was revealed to the public. It was an exciting event for the class to talk about, and, as I recall, it was a topic everyone wanted for their final term paper. Alas, our teacher made us all pick a different topic. I ended up writing about the bytdwd inscription found at Tel Dan, but that’s another story.

The ossuary (bone burial box) is engraved with the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”. If this inscription is authentic to the first century it might refer to the James in the New Testament, the head of the Jerusalem church. This would truly be an exciting find. Unfortunately, there were several problems with the ossuary when it was made public. First of all, it wasn’t found in situ. It was part of a private collection and purchased on the antiquities market in the 1970s. This automatically casts a shade of suspicion over the find in the minds of many professionals. When it was initially revealed, a number of professional epigraphers and paleographers concluded that it was authentic and from the latter half of the first century AD. However, other scholars registered skepticism about the possibility that the find could be authentic. And even if the ossuary proves to bear an authentic first century inscription, what is the likelihood that the Jesus, James, and Joseph in the inscription are identical with the Biblical characters.

Even now, over a decade later, the ossuary is a matter of controversy. In 2004, the Israeli Antiquities Authority released a statement saying that they had tested the box and that it was a late forgery. However, other independent studies seemed to confirm the first century date. The owner of the ossuary was put on trial by the Israeli government for forgery and was found not guilty, but this doesn’t settle the matter of whether the box is authentic.

This particular book,  The Brother of Jesus, written soon after the ossuary went public, is really two books in one. The first part of the book, written by Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, gives the archaeological background of the box. As one of the people responsible for the public unveiling of the ossuary, he gives the inside story of how the box came to the attention of Andre Lemaire, and how he recognized the possibility inherent in the inscription that the owner had never considered. Shanks tells the background story on the ossuary and goes on to explain the controversy surrounding it up to the time the book was written and the methods used to date the box.

The second part of the book, written by Ben Witherington III, turns to the character of James himself. He gives a background of who James was in the New Testament and how he is important to the history of the Christian church. Some of this is basic info that any Bible reader would know. However, the most interesting part of his section was the exploration of later legends that developed around James and the political and theological biases that led to them. Also he talks about the implications of the ossuary for various views of the brothers of Jesus in the New Testament, explaining how the authenticity of the ossuary would affect Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant theology. He gives a background and evaluation of the origin of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary doctrine as well. Finally he concludes with a plea for the significance of James as an equal to the more well known and understood Peter and Paul.

Overall this was a great book. Both parts were well written and informative. The second part has probably held up better than the first, as the debate on the authenticity of the ossuary has moved on since Shanks’s overview. However, it still stands as a fascinating account of how the ossuary was made public. If you’re interested in archaeology or New Testament backgrounds and theology, you’ll probably find this book interesting.

27 May 2016

Time to get Political


03 May 2016

Responding with Empathy

Here's a cute but important little video about the difference between sympathy and empathy from Dr. Brene Brown.

18 April 2016

Yet Still More Music for Grading

I'm not in the habit of doing Top Five lists anymore like I used to on this blog. However, it seems like without my meaning it to, it has become a tradition at some point each year to share the music I'm listening to while grading papers.

Music for Grading

More Music for Grading

Still More Music for Grading

So here's what's on my playlist this year. I guess my musical taste hasn't changed much here.

1. Andrew Peterson, The Burning Edge of Dawn
Someday Andrew Peterson will release a new cd that doesn't make my cry like a little baby when I listen to it. But this isn't the one. Powerful, painful, and lovely.

2. Jon Foreman, Sunlight and Shadows

3. Jon Foreman, Darkness and Dawn
Jon Foreman called these four cds "The Wonderlands". There are 6 songs per cd, 25 songs in all (okay, so one cd actually has 7 songs), each song corresponding to an hour of the day.

4. Randall Goodgame, War and Peace
Charlie Brown, Harry Truman, Pope Joan.. what sort of album is this? It's funny sometimes. And sad. (The title is "War and Peace" after all.)

5. M. Ward More Rain
M. Ward is always great music for relaxing.

14 April 2016

The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe about Ourselves

Do you ever feel like people are counting on you to have the answers? To have it all together? To be strong? Do you feel like you fall short? Like you aren’t enough? Like if anyone found out what you’re really like, you would be pushed aside and forgotten? This is the feeling of shame.

Aristotle defined shame as “pain or disturbance in regard to bad things, whether present, past, or future, which seem likely to involve us in discredit.” This definition meshes well with the way Curt Thompson talks about shame in his book The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe about Ourselves. Shame is the feeling that you’re not enough, will not be enough, cannot be enough. It’s a fear that you can never meet the expectations that people have for you, or that you’re not good enough for people to care for you.

According to Thompson, shame is a key component of the lives of all people. While shame comes in many forms and in varying levels of intensity, it is always there, whispering in your ear, causing you to reshape the story you tell yourself about your life and relationships with others. The main fear that shame promotes is the anxiety of separation from others, the fear of abandonment and lonliness. Paradoxically, shame causes us to hide who we really are in response. We can’t show our weaknesses. We have to appear strong, with it, and put together lest people reject us as not good enough for fellowship. As this shame creeps like a pernicious weed into every part of our lives, we can end up withdrawing from people altogether and experiencing the lonliness that we feared at the beginning of our shame journey.

Thompson points out that shame is different from guilt. Shame can exist alongside of guilt, but unlike guilt, which can be good for us, shame is always negative. Without guilt, shame separates people. Because of the fear of separation, shame drives us to hide ourselves from one another, not willing to be vulnerable and weak. Alongside of guilt, shame causes us to hide from God, wearing our fig leaves and avoiding confession. Shame coupled with guilt also prevents us from confessing our sins to one another for fear of the rejection we may experience from others if our sin should become known.

This book shows how shame begins to have its effect on us from our earliest childhood experiences. It is inculcated, usually unknowingly, in our families. It features strongly in schools for both students and teachers. It infiltrates all organizations and workplaces. It can especially be prevalent in church communities, the one place one would expect to find freedom from shame.

Through the course of this book, Thompson talks about how to be attentive to shame and deal with its lies that it feeds us on a daily basis. He gives a reaffirmation of vocation the way God intended it to be, and shows how we can combat the way shame strips us of joy and fellowship in our lives.

This was an excellent book in every way. Thompson does great research into the neuroscience of shame. There is a lot of information about the brain and how the experience of shame affects the operations of the brain. Apparently shame can actually shear off neural pathways and affect our ability to form accurate memories of events that we experience. Shame is a state of mind that we slip into unconsciously, and by being consciously attentive to the process when it happens, we actually alter the physical functioning of our brains to combat shame. Thompson pays special attention to what it means to be humans, embodied creatures with body and soul. While our mind and our brain are not identical, the functioning of our brain has a great effect on the health of our souls.

I appreciated Thompson’s numerous expositions of Scripture. He shows how shame was present and active at the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. He shows how shame was active in the early church communities and addressed by Paul. He shows how Jesus dealt with shame and guilt in the way he talked to others and interacted with individual sinners.

I also appreciated the numerous case studies of his patients and clients. As a practicing psychiatrist, Thompson has a wealth of personal experience to draw on. It would be very surprising if you were to read this book and not find a situation that connected with you directly.

For me, this book has already changed the way I talk to my children on a daily basis. From finding ways to encourage hard work and creativity without the fear of falling short, to finding ways to deal with sin and bad behavior in order to restore fellowship rather than shame, this book would be helpful to any parent. I think this book is going to greatly affect the way I deal with students as a teacher as well. Schools, especially schools with a strong academic reputation, are hotbeds of shame. This book definitely explains the burnout I’ve seen in many students over the years. Oftentimes shame is a chain reaction in educational environments affecting administrators, teachers, parents and students. And this holds true from large schools to homeschool co-ops.

In conclusion I don’t think there is a person, family, school, organization or church community that would not benefit from this book, and I’m going to be recommending it like crazy to everyone I know.

07 April 2016

Medieval Christianity and the Rise of Science

I am currently reading, and very much enjoying, Rodney Stark's book The Victory of Reason. In the chapter I'm on right now, he attempts to show that, far from being a hindrance to the development of science, Christianity in the Middle Ages laid the groundwork without which science could not have developed.

"Not only were science and religion compatible, they were inseparable—the rise of science was achieved by deeply religious Christian scholars.”[1]

He explains why this is the case:

“The rise of science…was the natural outgrowth of Christian doctrine: nature exists because it was created by God. In order to love and honor God, it is necessary to fully appreciate the wonders of his handiwork. Because God is perfect, his handiwork functions in accord with immutable principles. By the full use of our God-given powers of reason and observation, it ought to be possible to discover these principles.

There were the crucial ideas that explain why science arose in Christian Europe and nowhere else.”[2]

[1] Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason (New York: Random House, 2005), 12.
[2] Ibid., 22-23.

06 March 2016

Mental Insurrection vs. Kindling the Fires of the Heart

"If all the universe and everything in it exist by the design of an infinite, personal God, to make his manifold glory known and loved, then to treat any subject without reference to God's glory is not scholarship but insurrection."

"God did not give us minds as ends in themselves. The mind provides the kindling for the fires of the heart. Theology serves doxology. Reflection serves affection. Contemplation serves exultation. Together they glorify Christ to the full."

-Quotes from Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper

18 February 2016

That Hideous Strength

Last year I read the first two parts of C.S. Lewis’s “Space Trilogy,” Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. I thought they formed a wonderful experiment in meshing old-school science fiction to medieval cosmology. I especially liked Perelandra, which is a bit unusual because many people name it as their least favorite. However, despite how much I enjoyed the first two books, I approached C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength with some trepidation.

I might as well start by saying that I like J.R.R. Tolkien’s fiction better than C.S. Lewis’s. I’m not dissing Lewis here; I already hear the boos and hisses from the Lewis fans. I do think that most of Lewis’s non-fiction is stellar and his fiction is great too. But none of the Narnia books come close to comparing to The Hobbit. And though Till We Have Faces is a great book, in my opinion Lewis’s best fiction, it doesn’t hold a candle to The Lord of the Rings. So, all that said, I was in two minds going in to That Hideous Strength because Tolkien, who was a fan of the first two books of the space trilogy, thought that the third book “spoiled it.”[1] He attributed this to the great influence of Charles Williams on That Hideous Strength and said that Lewis’s mythology was “broken to bits before it became coherent by contact with C. S. Williams and his ‘Arthurian’ stuff.”[2] So much for that. It’s well known that Tolkien and Williams, though on friendly terms, never saw eye to eye as far as literature went. Now add to this the fact that I am actually a fan of the novels of Charles Williams, and you can see why I approached this book with mixed feelings.

This book is very different from the first two. The first two books felt very much in the line of classic pulp sci-fi. They would fit well on a shelf with Edgar Rice Burrough’s Carson of Venus or John Carter of Mars series. This third book is wholly earthbound. We don’t see any of the characters from the first two book for a good long time (or at least we don’t know that we’ve seen them.) The plot does pick up elements of the first two, but it uses them in a wholly different way. This book does, as Tolkien said, take a distinctly Arthurian turn, and Lewis does channel Williams in parts. However, there are also parts of the book that are quintessentially Lewis. I will say that Lewis doesn’t do as good of a job being Charles Williams as Charles Williams does. When it’s time for psychedelic, esoteric, mystical/spiritual happenings, Williams beats Lewis hands down.  But the parts of the book that play to Lewis’s strengths are wonderful! Lewis is a master of understanding human psychology: what makes people tick, why we make the decisions we make, what motivates us to sin, etc. Lewis is also one of the only authors I know of who can make simple virtues seem exciting. The domestic scenes and the lessons Lewis has to teach about our relation in the modern world to careers, marriage, family, and fulfillment are perfectly expressed and wonderfully portrayed.

There are parts of this book that are beautifully written. The plot and pacing is gripping. I didn’t want to put it down, and only did so reluctantly. There is certainly a larger cast of characters in this book than in the first two; your mileage may vary on this, though, as one of the things I liked best about the first two books was the sense of adventure, isolation, and loneliness. However, having a large number of realistically drawn characters is something Lewis does well.

As far as weaknesses go, the first I would point out is that this book is clearly no longer science fiction like the first two. I loved the first two for their sci-fi vibe and this one clearly trips over into fantasy. It’s a great book in and of itself, and it could be read as a standalone novel without prior knowledge of the other books. However, as a book that is meant to be part of a series, the tonal shift is just too great for continuity. The very ending of the book was a bit weak as well, but it was a very “Charles Williams” ending. As I said before, Williams does Williams better than Lewis does Williams.

Overall, it is a very good book with clever satirical commentary on modern culture. It’s required reading for Lewis fans, and would be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys Lewis’s other fiction.

[1] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter (Houghton Mifflin, 1981), 342.
[2] Ibid., 361

09 February 2016

2015 Book Awards and Reading List

Well, it seems like I get later every year with my awards for the books I read the previous year. Such is life, I suppose. But I’m not about to give up a tradition that I’ve had rolling for six years, so here we go. For those of you reading this who haven’t been around here for long, here’s how it works. At the beginning of each year, I make a list of all the books I’ve read during the past year. Then I select the best book in a variety of categories. These are not books that have been published in the past year, just books that I’ve read in the past year. I also only consider a book if it’s a book that I’m reading for the first time. So when you see a bunch of G. K. Chesterton books or C. S. Lewis books on my reading list and are wondering why I haven’t picked any of them as the best, You can just assume that it’s because I’ve read them before. Got all that? Great! Here we go!

The 2015 Flying Inn Book Awards!
Best Fiction Book I Read this Year:
Perelandra by C.S. Lewis

Runners Up: These books couldn't be considered the greatest I've read this year, but they were both good in their own ways. Last Call by Tim Powers combined the feeling of a Charles Williams novel with Las Vegas gangsters, Tarot cards, and Arthurian Legend. The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter was a fun science fiction romp in and of itself, but the way it juggled and subverted so many common sci-fi tropes was great!

Best History Book I Read this Year:
Read Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt by Barbara Metz
Best Theology Book I Read this Year:
Inerrancy (Norman Geisler, ed.)

Best non-history, non-theology, non-fiction Book I Read this Year:
Beauty for Truth's Sake by Stratford Caldecott

Best Book I Read Out Loud to My Kids This Year:
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

Special Mention
Cambridge Latin Course 1 by Ed Phinney
This book doesn't rate as a best book in any of the categories. However, I was trying to learn Latin this past year and I read it. Each chapter tells part of a story about a family living in Pompeii. The father Caecilius, his wife Metella, and the rest of their family perish at the end of the book when Mt. Vesuvius erupts. Pretty sad ending for a kids' Latin book. Shortly after reading this book, my wife and I got into Doctor Who (and by "got into" I mean "quickly became rabid fans of, and binge watched"). So imagine my happiness when it turns out that Caecilus and his family actually made it out of Pompeii after all! :)

And, as always, here are the books I read this year:

·  Doctor Who: The Last Voyage by Dan Abnett 12/15
·  Lords of the Sea by John Hale 12/15
·  The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett 12/15
·  Martin Luther's Christmas Book (Roland Bainton, trans.) 12/15
·  Father Hunger by Douglas Wilson 12/15
·  The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper 11/15
·  The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft 11/15
·  Two Hearts by Peter S. Beagle 11/15
·  Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers 11/15
·  Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Volume 2: The Weeping Angels of Mons by Robbie Morrison 10/15
·  Perelandra by C. S. Lewis 10/15
·  Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater 10/15
·  The Confessions by Augustine of Hippo (Maria Boulding, trans.) 10/15
·  Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis 10/15
·  Last Call by Tim Powers 10/15
·  The Trojan War by Barry Strauss 9/15
·  Meaning at the Movies by Grant Horner 9/15
·  Thud! by Terry Pratchett 9/15
·  The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting 9/15
·  Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Volume 1: Revolutions of Terror by Nick Abadzis 8/15
·  With Lee in Virginia by G. A. Henty 8/15
·  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle 8/15
·  Reliquary by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child 8/15
·  Let's Study 1 Timothy by W. John Cook  8/15
·  A Skeleton in God's Closet by Paul Maier 8/15
·  The Ball and the Cross by G. K. Chesterton 8/15
·  Inerrancy (Norman Geisler, ed.) 8/15
·  Star Trek: U.S.S. Enterprise: Pride of the Fleet by Scott Tipton 8/15
·  The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien 8/15
·  Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child 8/15
·  The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter 8/15
·  The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh by A. A. Milne 8/15
·  A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain by Marc Morris 7/15
·  The New Testament (Richmond Lattimore, trans.) 7/15
·  A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett 7/15
·  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury 7/15
·  Roman Realities by Finley Hooper 7/15
·  From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury 7/15
·  Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome 6/15
·  Murder in the Cathedral  by T. S. Eliot 6/15
·  Little Pear by Eleanor Lattimore 6/15
·  The Jewish Study Bible (Adele Berlin, ed.) 6/15
·  The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton 6/15
·  The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury 6/15
·  The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster 6/15
·  Three Philosophies of Life by Peter Kreeft 5/15
·  National Velvet by Enid Bagnold 5/15
·  The Second World War: Milestones to Disaster by Winston Churchill 5/15
·  Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (Interlinear) 5/15
·  The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings 5/15
·  Persuasions by Douglas Wilson 4/15
·  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis 4/15
·  Alarms and Discursions by G. K. Chesterton 4/15
·  The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates by Matthew Trewhella 4/15
·  The Proper Role of Law Enforcement by Richard Mack 4/15
·  The Greek Alexander Romance (Richard Stoneman, trans.) 4/15
·  Cambridge Latin Course 1 by Ed Phinney 4/15
·  Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis 4/15
·  Josephus and the Jews by F. J. Jackson 3/15
·  The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G. K. Chesterton 2/15
·  Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie 3/15
·  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis 3/15
·  Lingua Latina per se Illustrata by Hans ├śrberg 3/15
·  The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton 2/15
·  These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder 2/15
·  Tuck by Stephen Lawhead 2/15
·  Tutankhamen by E. A. Budge 2/15
·   Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt by Barbara Metz 2/15
·  The Voyage of Argo by Appollonius of Rhodes (E. V. Rieu, trans.) 1/15
·  A Survey of Israel's History by Leon J. Wood 1/15
·  Funeral Games by Mary Renault 1/15
·  Manalive by G. K. Chesterton 1/15
·  Old Testament Parallels (Victor H. Matthews, ed.) 1/15
·  Beauty for Truth's Sake by Stratford Caldecott 1/15