Friday, September 28, 2012

Lord of the Flies tells the truth about us

Lord of the FliesLord of the Flies by William Golding
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't like Lord of the Flies, and I liked it. I didn't like it because it was so dark, and I liked it because it tells the truth.

Several boys are stranded on a deserted island when their plane goes down. No adults survive. The boys organize themselves to maintain life until they're rescued and to maintain a signal fire in order to be rescued. At first the boys are governed by the strictures and relative morality of adult civilization, but as time progresses many of them slowly cast aside their inhibitions with the absence of a credible accountability.

As examples, Jack hesitates when he first has the chance to kill a wild pig, and the pig escapes. As time progresses he feels himself swallowed up by a compulsion to kill, though he twitches when he mentions cutting the throat of his first pig kill. Later he revels in the blood on his hands after a pig kill and presides over the death of something else.

Roger early on tosses rocks at one of the younger boys, but never hits the boy. He obviously means to torment, but actually hitting the boy is "taboo." "Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and law" (ch. 4). But later, when Roger's meanness has conquered his social conditioning, he is the one who leverages with deadly aim a boulder against another weaker boy.

The boys who join Jack in the end are simply called "savages."

The book tells the truth about the sinful nature. Men and women, left to themselves, are savages. We are by nature sinful and wicked, selfish and hateful, violent. Lord of the Flies does a great job of showing that--demonstrating both the reality and the terror of our dark inclinations.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Examples of "It's a small world"

While visiting with a family from church, Gerry told me about a time when his dad took him over to the Alpine to play guitar for a party involving Bob H.  "Who did you say?" I asked. 

Flashback to yesterday when Pat asked me what Terry H.'s son's name was.  It wasn't Bob, was it?  No.  OK, because Bob H. from I&M is coming over today.

"Gerry, does Bob H. still live in town?"  Yes.  "Where does he work?"  Oh, he's been with I&M for years.  "How are you connected with him?" He was my sister Cheryl's first husband. 

So I told Pat: Bob H. isn't connected with Terry H., but he IS connected ... to Gerry and the family.  Small world.

Further conversation revealed that Esther and Vicki sing in a multi-church choir where Shirley P. has been the organist.  She was my elementary music teacher, and I took organ lessons from her for 5 years as a teen.

The pianist is Larry M.  He was the director of the Summit City Chorus when Jeff, my dad, and I sang in it.  He also trained Jeff's and my barbershop quartet.  Small world.

Shirley P. was, as mentioned above, my first elementary school music teacher.  My second music teacher was Phyllis B.  Before I was even born, my future mother-in-law roomed with one and then the other when they were in college.  Small world.

Pat relayed this to me today: Eric and Amy, when they were dating, discovered they were second cousins by marriage and they had once been in the same wedding together as young-uns, him a groomsman, her a flower girl.  They later had a wedding of their own.  Small world.

Friday, September 21, 2012

You gotta stand in another man's shoes to really know him

To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A John Grisham novel before there was John Grisham.  To Kill a Mockingbird is a great story on the stupidity of racial prejudice and yet its persistence and difficulty to overcome.

Atticus Finch, a lawyer in Maycomb County, Alabama, is the admirable character of the story, the man with (un)common sense in a town where that seems to be in short supply. He is an Abraham Lincoln in a town of plantation owners. At one point in the midst of the Tom Robinson trial, when Scout and Dill step out, Mr. Raymond tells Scout, "... you don't know your pa's not a run-of-the-mill man, it'll take a few years for that to sink in--you haven't seen enough of the world yet. You haven't even seen this town, but all you gotta do is step back inside the courthouse" (ch. 20). (There are other citizens, one comes to see, who also possess sense--Heck Tate, Judge Taylor, Miss Maudie, and even Mr. Raymond, not to mention most of the black characters: Tom, Calpurnia, Rev. Sykes.)

Hooray for a book that portrays a father in a positive light--Atticus, a widower, wisely navigating his son and daughter through the trials of childhood in a town where his views on race and justice are in the minority.

Throughout he teaches his children that empathizing with others leads to understanding and mercy. This was certainly the case with Mrs. Dubose, the elderly woman with a poison tongue, even as it was with Tom Robinson, and even Mayella Ewell, Robinson's accuser. "Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them" (ch. 31). At the end of the book, Scout, the daughter, remarks about their neighbor: "Atticus, he was real nice," to which Atticus responds, "Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them" (ch. 31).

Who knew that a story told through the eyes of a 3rd-grade girl could be so interesting? (My own prejudice coming out, I guess.)

Some of my favorite lines in the book:
"... but they were Haverfords, in Maycomb County a name synonymous with jackass." (ch. 1)

"Atticus said naming people after Confederate generals made slow steady drinkers." (ch. 16)

Introducing the readers to one of her neighbors, Scout relates the most important details: "Besides making change in the collection plate every Sunday, Mr. Avery sat on the porch every night until nine o'clock and sneezed." (ch. 6)

I can relate to Scout's description of her father, Atticus: "Our father didn't do anything. He worked in an office, not in a drugstore. Atticus did not drive a dump-truck for the county, he was not the sheriff, he did not farm, work in a garage, or do anything that could possibly arouse the admiration of anyone.... He did not do the things our schoolmates' fathers did: he never went hunting, he did not play poker or fish or drink or smoke. He sat in the livingroom and read." (ch. 10)

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Reflections on the Psalms

Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fresh perspective on themes in Psalms (judgment, cursing others, death, dealing with wicked people, the Lord's beauty, nature, praise, Scripture, and second meanings). Lewis's routine approach is to lay out the problem he had with each theme, and then to explain the new understanding that he arrived at. Following are a couple of my notes.

1: “Judgement” in the Psalms
We moderns fear judgment. We don’t look forward to God’s judgment. But the ancient Hebrews rejoiced in it and talked of it fondly in the Psalms. The difference is that we think of ourselves as defendants, but they thought of themselves as plaintiffs. They were looking forward to God coming and judging their oppressors, that they would finally get justice. They would identify with the widow in Jesus’ parable of the unjust judge (Lk 18:1-8).

9: A Word about Praising
Lewis early on as a Christian was bothered by the repeated calls to praise in the Psalms and the notion that God demanded our praise. But praising God is a means of enjoying him. Praising him completes our enjoyment of him. Our world and our lives are full of praise. Enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise. We praise a multitude of things, favorite poets, creation’s beauty, our children, etc. What’s more, we try to get others to admire what we delight in. “Isn’t she beautiful?” “Wasn’t that cool?” Praise not only expresses enjoyment, it completes it. “It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.” Glorifying God and enjoying him are the same thing. “In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bible: kill the dragon, get the girl

Holy Bible: English Standard Version Holy Bible: English Standard Version by God through his prophets and apostles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you think about why Jesus came--to destroy the works of the devil and to save sinners, i.e., the bride of Christ (1 Jn 3:8; 1 Tim 1:15; Eph 5:25ff.)--then the message of the Bible is both simple and exciting. It is (in the words of Douglas Wilson as I remember them): Kill the dragon, get the girl. That's the story from Genesis 1:1 all the way through Revelation 22:21.

The ESV is currently my favorite translation. I succumbed to the heavy promotion it received when it came out 11 or so years ago, and it hasn't disappointed. I prefer a more literal trans. to the dynamic equivalent approach, but I don't find the ESV as stilted as the NASB (though I have not read the updated NASB).

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Jesus did it all, all to him I owe

The Transforming Power of GraceThe Transforming Power of Grace by Thomas C. Oden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thorough treatment of grace. Emphasizes that grace goes before faith, works all through faith and repentance, and continues to keep and shape those who respond to God's call to salvation. A deft Arminian treatment of grace, highlighting dozens, it seems, of aspects and categories of grace. This is no Semi-Pelagianism. The effectiveness, power, and comprehensiveness of grace is emphasized alongside the responsibility of each person to respond with appropriate faith. When people refuse Christ, the defect lies not in grace, but within the fallen will.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thankful for release

Idiopathic neuropathy was the eventual diagnosis for my wife's pain that exploded in her body and hung on in her extremities, primarily the feet and hands, for a few years.  "Idiopathic" means "unknown cause."

She was on strong meds for a few years, and then she began to cut back some, eventually reaching 75% reduction in med strength.  The Lord was healing her. 

Then she tried going off the meds completely a few times, but unsuccessfully.  Until a few months ago.

Today she saw Dr. Shah, and he gave her a full release from his care! 

Eight years ago was when the neuropathy set in.  What a journey.  We don't know what caused it, but we do know the Lord has healed her from it.

This release is reason for praise.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Book on memory fascinating, not life-changing

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering EverythingMoonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As one who perceives (and is anxious) that his memory is diminishing, I was hooked by Joshua Foer's subtitle, The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.

The storyline of the book is the author's year-long journey from covering the 2005 U.S. Memory Championship as a journalist, to competing in 2006 ... and winning!

Moonwalking is an entertaining blend of the science of memory, case studies of mental abnormalities, and Foer's own training for the Memory Championship.

Throughout the book Foer introduces readers to such individuals as EP, who can only remember back to his most recent thought; Kim Peek, inspiration for Rain Man who remembers everything, including the contents of phone books he scans at 10 secs. per page; and S, who has synethesia, a condition where the senses are intertwined in such a way that forgetting anything is next to impossible.

Tasks that mental athletes train to do include memorizing the order of a shuffled deck of cards (Foer did this in 100 secs. at the Memory Championship), memorizing random lists of numbers (1000 in 5 mins.), random lists of words (300 in 15 mins.), and poems. The technique most often used is called the memory palace, where picturesque and bizarre images are stored in various locations within a building (house, library, etc.) in the athlete's mind, and later retrieved. Memory palaces, contends the author, are far more effective than rote memorization.

To me, the stuff these guys work so hard to memorize is banal. I'm far more interested in remembering concepts, ideas, arguments, and sources, than I am in a deck of cards or the digits of pi (the world record currently at 67,890).

True confession time: I was looking for tricks; effortless ways to significantly increase my memory. Big take away from the book: memorizing takes a lot of work, whether by rote or by memory palace. At this point I doubt I'll change my rote memorizing ways.

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