"Book-o-rama (|14|)"    [ 02 ]   
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Feb 2015
 starz (5) Outrageously Superb
 5
Outrageously Superb  
 starz (4½) Nearly Perfect
 4½
Nearly Perfect  
 starz (4) Quite Wonderful
 4
Quite Wonderful  
 starz (3½) Really Excellent
 3½
Really Excellent  
 starz (3) Pretty Good / Enjoyable
 3
Pretty Good / Enjoyable  
 starz (2½) Just All Right / OK
 2½
Just All Right / OK  
 starz (2) Not Very Impressive
 2
Not Very impressive  
 starz (1½) Barely Readable
 1½
Barely Readable  
 starz (1) A Waste of Time
 1
A Waste Of Time  
 starz (½) Hideously Unthinkable
  ½
Just Rotten Stuff  
 starz (0) Not Yet Evaluated
Not Yet Evaluated  
 
   1 · "The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF" (Mike Ashley)
   2 · "A Chronology of Aviation" (Jim Winchester)
   3 · "Spiritual Parenting" (Michelle Anthony)
   4 · "True Strength" (Kevin Sorbo)
   5 · "Stories of Your Life and Others" (Ted Chiang)
   6 · "Secret Power" (D. L. Moody)
   7 · "Yestermorrow" (Ray Bradbury)
   8 · "Rush: The Illustrated History" (Martin Popoff)
   9 · "God's Passion for His Glory" (Piper/Edwards)
 10 · "The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook" (Andrew Doughty)
 11 · "Kauai (Images of America)" (Stormy Cozad)
 12 · "Hawksbill Station" (Robert Silverberg)
 13 · "Scott Joplin" (James Haskins)
 14 · "Life's Operating Manual" (Tom Shadyac)
 15 · "Jesus on Trial" (David Limbaugh)
 16 · "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus" (Nabeel Qureshi)
 17 · "Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts" (Jerry Bridges)
 18 · "Ready Player One" (Ernest Cline)

This annual reading list, spanning 2014, ended up with a scant 18 titles as opposed to last year's 30 in my inaugural 'Book-o-rama' report. But in all fairness, that entry covered materials read during a timeframe longer than one calendar year ~ so it looks like I'm dialing in an average of just under 20 books per annum. And next year's Book-o-rama post will probably show even less, as I am currently gnawing my way through a massive 1,000-page tome of time travel stories gathered up in a glaring orange binding. (Thought it was a good idea at the time...)

I try to make improvements and tweaks to these web page layouts as the years roll on... easier font size to read, a better framework for printing... gearhead stuff like that. I am including a table of contents now in the upper right corner for review posts like these, affording quick & easy access to any title(s) of choice. (O the joys of web design!)  [I will retrofit last year's Book-o-rama post to match]

Another notable difference is the disparity in quality. Last year showcased no less than three  starz (5) Outrageously Superb five-star rated books, with another six weighing in at four or more stars ~ that's 30% of the total. This year featured just one 5-star winner, and that dropped into my hands completely unplanned! However, fully half of this year's incongruous collection ranks at 4 or more stars, so 50% of them qualify as books I would gladly re-read at any time. So that's a good ratio! However, this year also boasted one of the worst books I've cracked open in years, so discombobulated in its own reasoning that I would have gladly slapped it with a ½ star rating if not for the genuine intentions of its author, I believe, to just express 'goodness' into the world... But part of the journey of Reading involves exploring territories and paradigms you might never encounter in your normal day-to-day routines, right? So you eat the meat and spit out the bones, as they say.

Awesome! Such fascinating statistics!  ~  OK then, on with the Reviews . . .


book: "The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF"
1 · "The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF" (Mike Ashley [editor]) © 2013 / 535 pgs
   starz (3½) Really Excellent [3½]

Love the cover, and love that title! The back cover asks: "What happens when we meddle with time?" These 25 time travel stories explore the possibilities. But being an anthology, this is truly a mixed bag. Some of the stories inspire with original ideas and/or spectacular presentations even when dealing with occasionally overly-familiar tropes. A few, unfortunately, are nothing more than thinly-veiled attempts at erotic prose. [!!] Had I suspected any such thing, I would not have bothered with the book at all, but as it is I just opted to slice three stories in particular right out of the pages [literally] before affording it a place in our home library. Of the remaining 22 stories, some of them seemed crafted to twist your mind all up so badly you could hardly think straight by the end of it, like "Twember" (Steve Rasnic Tem) and the so-thick-I-couldn't-cut-through-it-all "Traveler's Rest" (David I. Masson). And plenty of the rest left me wishing I would have just used my time to catch some STAR TREK or ONE PIECE with the chicklettes .. But that's just the way it goes with anthologies picked off the shelf because the cover looks so cool . . .

Five of these stories will stick with me for years to come. "Walk to the Full Moon" (Sean McMullen) explains what happened to Neanderthals as a species, and it's a really cool idea .. "Scream Quietly" (Sheila Crosby) catches you off-guard, or at least it did me! I won't give away what's so electric about it, but you don't think it's going to end up being so sweet while reading it, up until the last part. And speaking of sweet, "Dear Tomorrow" (Simon Clark) toys around with changing one's own timestream and wraps itself up in a romantic inclination so giddy that I couldn't help but feel exhilarated by the end. It was sad, sort of, but I also felt as if I had just watched a truly inspiring feel-good movie or something — quite an achievement for a short story. Ah, then there is one of the best takes on meeting yourself in time I've ever read, Christopher Priest's "Palely Loitering". His time-travel mechanism is the definition of simplicity, but what he does with his protagonist really keeps the pages turning .. and extra kudos for the way he captures the age-appropriate 'voice' of his main character at different ages and levels of maturity. Really well done. And finally, there is "Red Letter Day" (Kristine Kathryn Rusch) with another simple-ruled time-slipping device. My praise here goes to her inclusion of contemporary events that lend themselves to her tragic conclusion.

I don't know if I could necessarily recommend this book as a whole, but I know that I will likely revisit "Palely Loitering" again .. and maybe even look into Christopher Priest's other works. (This guy has apparently won a truckload of prestigious awards for his novels) After all, that's exactly what such samplers are for, discovering great authors you may not have read yet!


book: "A Chronology of Aviation"
2 · "A Chronology of Aviation" (Jim Winchester) © 2007 / 160 pgs
   starz (3) Pretty Good / Enjoyable [3]

Every now and then, I am stricken with the compulsion to learn all about the precise origins of a particular subject. This sporadic interest originated, I think, with my ancillary discovery of the very first recorded sounds mankind ever captured ~ it happened in 1860, and surprisingly did not involve Thomas Edison (here is my 2010 post about it). These occasional curiosities generally target subjects so broad in scope that millions of books swamp the world describing every possible angle of interest. So where to begin? ~ Wouldn't it be great, I often wonder, to just stumble across an abridged historical overview that might provide enough periodic detail to fill in the gaps without having to read 32,000 pages..?

That is precisely what happened while browsing the shelves at our local Barnes & Noble store one day. I found this book for $9, exactly what I wanted regarding the history of aviation.  :-)

It begins with the unfortunate account of Brother Eilmer, a monk in Malmesbury, England, who risked leaping from a 150-foot abbey tower with some kind of glider rig. He coasted for some 650 feet before stalling, dropping far enough to break both legs! He survived, but was left crippled for the rest of his life by this misadventure (and something of a local celebrity, so there is that). The year was 1010 AD. Pretty gutsy, bro.

Man's fancy to fly has surely existed since the first bird was spied soaring overhead. This just had to be possible! It is the pioneering spirit of the early inventors which dazzles me more than even the practical (and amazing) mechanics of the feat. I mean, just imagine being the first person to try lofting yourself up in a hot-air balloon, rising up, and up, and still higher, feeling the air plunging to frigid temperatures, not being able to breathe after a time. At any moment a malfunction in your contraption would cause a drop from this height that would be terrifying, gruesome, and positively fatal. ...Or think about climbing into some mechanism bolted together with wings affixed in the hopes they will help, and a weighted launch system.. willing be flung into the air at an angle you and your partners hope will see you flying and not just crashing in a disastrous heap.. which happened far too often. What incredible bravery...

Da Vinci's amazing designs from the 1400's and the Mongolfier brothers' late 1700 ballooning expeditions led to various attempts to design any kind of functional heavier-than-air flying machine during the 1800's. Unlikely/ungainly gliders, manned kites (no kidding - think that experience through), and all manner of rotocrafts were designed, built, and tested by hopeful aeronauts throughout Europe and America. Of course, Orville & Wilbur Wright are credited with the first practical airplane design with the first real powered and controlled flight on December 17, 1903, cruising along the beach at Kittyhawk, North Carolina.

Inspiration, design, creation, testing, refining. All of these steps built one upon the other in quick succession, leading to the first airmail operations, fledgling passenger transports, and even parallel advancements in blimp and zeppelin construction. Rudimentary fixed-wing canvas planes gave rise to biplanes, simple bombers, and even tri-planes, which Baron Manfred von Richthofen made famous during WWI with his brilliantly-painted 'Red Baron'. He made 80 confirmed kills in that flying machine before getting shot down himself at age 25. (He wasn't the only successful WWI ace; Frenchman René Fonck had 75 CK's, and Canadian Billy Bishop made 72 CK's) Dogfighting tactics gave rise to rapid practical innovations such as synchronized guns, retractable landing gear, and eventually metal-skinned airplanes.

The years between World Wars saw the rise (heh) of passenger airliners and the appearance of the very first airports. Charles Lindbergh made his risky flight from New York to Paris on May 20-21, 1927. LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin circumnavigated the globe in August of 1929. Amelia Earhart made her famous solo flight across the Atlantic May 20-21, 1932. The first truly successful helicopter made its maiden flight on June 26, 1936. The Hindenburg disaster, May 1937, effectively ended the airship era. By now, Pan Am controlled the airways with their workhorse DC-3's and pioneering radio communications, but it was Boeing's 307 airliner that offered the first pressurized passenger cabins. Of course, Howard Hughes also grabbed a piece of the action by flying around the world with a crew of four over three days in the summer of 1938. (His 'Spruce Goose' would later become the largest airplane ever constructed, taking wing briefly in November, 1947)

 P-38

World War II started with biplanes advancing engine and flight capabilities, seeing such famous fighters as the Luftwaffe, British Spitfire, Japanese Zero fighters, the U.S. P-51 Mustang, along with "flying fortress" bombers like the B-17, B-25 and B-29, not to mention my own personal favorite prop-plane design, the twin-boom Lockheed P-38 Lightning. At the end of the war, radar was in regular use and jet fighters were breaking new records.

Captain Charles 'Chuck' Yeager was the first person to break the sound barrier (Mach 1) in level flight October 14, 1947, flying the experimental Bell X-1 at an altitude of 45,000 feet. (Commercial airlines cruise at 35,000 feet) The highest altitude reached by any aircraft was 59,445 by a de Havilland Vampire jet in 1948 . .. until other craft with sleeker design and more power soared higher, the apex being 123,520 feet achieved by Alexander Fedotov in a Russian Ye-266M record for a jet under its own power (Aug 31 1977). A few test pilots flying specialized rocket jets have even been awarded astronaut wings!

The historical accounts trickle into variations of design and advances in speed records, passenger accommodations, and transport automation... Boeing 707 in the mid 50's gave rise to 747's, then eventually 777's, and now the ubiquitous 'airbus' ... Cold war fighters (including the vertical-take-off 'Harrier'), Top Gun school, and helicopter advances from Bell UH-1 'Huey' choppers to Black Hawks and Apaches... Stealth bombers like the Lockheed YF-12 Blackbird (3x speed of sound), F-117 Nighthawk, and the B-2 Spirit took to the skies, while the high society Concorde set new commercial speed records, like 3-3½ hours from London to NYC, along with the fastest non-orbital global circumnavigation (1992: 32 hours 49 minutes, 3 sec). Practical solar-powered planes and automated drones are the new 'cutting edge' . . .

This is about when I just popped in Coldplay's "High Speed" and dreamed about mutual trust in relationships, along with F-4 Phantom II jet fighters in the Vietnam War . . obviously.


book: "Spiritual Parenting"
3 · "Spiritual Parenting" (Michelle Anthony) © 2010 / 220 pgs
   starz (3½) Really Excellent [3½]

I have dozens of parenting books on my library shelf, and have also attended numerous parenting classes over the years. This book was given to me with best intentions from a dear friend. It seems geared toward younger parents, even first-time parents, so much of the material was either familiar to me or no longer applied. Twenty-two years ago, our doctor placed my firstborn baby into my arms.

Here, this is a brand new human being — raise her to be a healthy, functional, well-balanced adult.

:-|

As a Christian who believes that God created all things, has a Plan for humanity (down to the individual), and seeks a vibrant relationship with each of us, the most precious gift I can offer my children is to point them to Him... their real Father. This book does a very good job explaining this and offering real-world practical examples on how to "Do Life" together as your children grow up in your care. It is no mere academic read, but shares lots of 'mud-splattered' stories of how to guide children to wisdom of all different hues, citing the 'shema' as a cornerstone for spiritual guidance:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
—  Deuteronomy 6:4-9    

Every parent knows 'more is caught than taught' when it comes to raising children, so you had better get your act together if you think you want to teach your little ones about the Truths of Life. Obviously nobody's perfect, so we can only hope to do our best... and pray God will make up for the difference in their lives.

This book also encapsulates some really nice focus points that are excellent building blocks in one's parenting foundation, such as 'the Big Story'. Pages 48-54 provide a simplified overview of God's plan through all eternity involving humankind, starting with the Creation in Genesis through His manifest covenant with Abraham, His witness to the world through His chosen people (Abraham's descendants) the Israelites, and most importantly, His plan to restore mankind to a place of pure fellowship with Him through the atoning sacrifice of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, ending with the surety of His return to physically rule here on earth all clearly found in the Bible and embraced in the Christian fait very practical spiritual material.

Simple matters of daily life are addressed as well. One idea that I do wish I would have discovered years ago involves framing a child's responsibilities using the label "acts of service". This really underscores how it is not 'just a chore' but a service to oneself and/or the entire family. This goes from picking up dog poo to completing homework, helping with the dishes .. you name it. Discipline (ie 'course correction) is also discussed as an extension of spiritual guidance. Instead of lashing out in anger or frustration as some parents do, Michelle indicates that we should exercise Godly discipline in such a way that our children experience healing from the adverse effects of their sin, whether it be apathy, direct rebelliousness, or subversive behavior . .. all of which we ALL had to be taught how to overcome in our own sinful nature!

If you find this book somewhere and are considering it, I highly recommend you turn to pages 62-63 and read just a sampling of the rich goodness to be found here, illustrating our children's inherent value in God's eyes, and the impact they may have in His grand story ~ it is SO good and healthy! The whole point is knowing God versus knowing about God...

We are raising our children in a world that denies absolute truth. Yet God's Word offers just that. As we create an environment that upholds and displays God's truth, we give children a foundation that is based on knowing God, believing His Word, and having a relationship with Him through Christ. These are essentials for our faith, and they all begin with knowing God. (pg 197)

Michelle even offers a succinct outline of the seven feasts God instituted with His people, the Israelites (pages 93-94). There are a lot more feasts and festivals and days of remembrance in Hebraic tradition, but these are the original seven God established through Moses. This is not some 'code' or formula to emulate, but rather a demonstration of our Father's continuing desire to essentially Party With Us! (My words.. not hers) The first four occur in the springtime with the rest coming about in the fall:

  1. The Feast of the Sabbath (Lev. 23:1-3) — a perpetual celebration of worship and rest to mark God's finished work first in creation and then in the redemptive work of Christ on the cross.

  2. The Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread (Lev. 23:4-8) — a celebration of God's miraculous deliverance of the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt and His ultimate deliverance of us from the bondage of sin.

  3. The Feast of Firstfruits (Lev. 23:9-14) — a remembrance of God's abundant provision through the harvests that provided Israel's food.

  4. The Feast of Harvest (Lev. 23:15-22) — a celebration of God establishing the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai.

  5. The Feast of Trumpets (Lev. 23:23-25) — a celebration of God's faithfulness to His covenant promise and the future calling to Himself of all who believe in Christ.

  6. The Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:26-32) — a remembrance of God's righteousness that demands a sacrifice and the ultimate work of atonement completed in Christ.

  7. The Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-44) — a celebration of Israel's wandering in the wilderness and God's blessing to all who remember their wanderings and seek to obey Him.

I will end this review by going back to the start of the book and quoting one of the most inspiring family legacies I think I've ever heard of:

I grew up in a Christian family. I grew up hearing that my great-grandfather was a preacher around the turn of the previous century and that my father's grandmother told my father stories of his own faith in Jesus — and that nothing else mattered in life. I watched my grandparents spend half of each year in the U.S. fund-raising so that they could spend the other half of the year in India providing education and spreading the gospel to the poorest of the poor. My uncles, aunts, and cousins also lived lives that taught me something of what it means to be a follower of Jesus... I watched my mother live out the words she taught. Her life was an example of integrity and beauty. My father lived in humility and generosity. Then I became a parent . . . (pg 30)

How will you live? How will you parent? We are not called to be perfect, but to be genuine about Truth, doing our best to live honestly before God and mankind, seeking to extend His love, mercy, and compassion to all we encounter ... and this starts with our own.  :-)


book: "True Strength"
4 · "True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life" (Kevin Sorbo) © 2011 / 276 pgs
   starz (3) Pretty Good / Enjoyable [3]

An unusual number of Christian movies were released in 2014, some with massive Hollywood budgets (complete with secularized, Scripture-hacked scripts) and smaller but more theologically-sound efforts like "Heaven is For Real" and "God's Not Dead". Kevin Sorbo shows up as an angry atheist university professor in the latter, and practically goes bananas in his role! I got to wondering how he ended up in a movie like this. The more I checked around, the more hints and allegations seemed to indicated that he is a Believer...

In case you don't know, he filled the lead role in a pair of back-to-back award-winning TV series: "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" followed by "Andromeda"... neither of which I ever watched. (Sorry Kev) This book is an excellent autobiography telling how he became the hulking HERCULES, ruler of all his television domain! He truly was king of all he surveyed - until at age 38, in the summer of 1997, a nearly fatal aneurysm in his shoulder left him completely crippled. Most of the narrative chronicles his arduous return to some degree of normal in the aftermath ... forget about body-building and ever playing 'Hercules' again .. .

I expected this account would showcase how God moved mightily in his life, that he would express a deeper newfound relationship with the Living Lord .. but not so much. It's more like he just endured everything, and simply continues on to this day, struggling along with his faithful companion/wife Sandra ("Sam") at his side, and their kids. He is deeply grateful for his family, and to God, though some 'rough' language and descriptions of events/people can come across as pretty coarse. But hey, the Family of God is made up of all sorts of types, colors, and stripes (see Romans 12:3-8), all of us different members of His Body who call upon Jesus Christ as our Savior. He is obviously called to swim in more challenging social waters than I.  :-]  I am interested, though, to see what professional moves he will take next, and might even pick up some 'Hercules' & or sci-fi 'Andromeda' DVD's just see what all the hubbub was about . . .


book: "Stories of Your Life and Others"
5 · "Stories of Your Life and Others" (Ted Chiang) © 2002 / 286 pgs
   starz (3) Pretty Good / Enjoyable [3]

Somewhere along the line I heard about Ted Chiang and became intrigued by the descriptions of the type of sci-fi stories he writes. This book collects eight of his stories, so I'll just jot down my impressions of each:

The first story 'Tower of Babylon' is probably my favorite, expounding on man's attempt to build a tower reaching to the very heavens, expressing for all mankind a brash and independent defiance against God. Beyond the biblical account, Ted turned this into something much more explorative and experiential, evoking both an historic and contemporary feel among the denizens of the desert plains of that era. He explains the construction techniques and sub cultures that may have formed along various heights of the tower, divided by the different working castes. He posits a construction schedule spanning centuries, but it is so entertaining and thought provoking that you just go along with it, even when they build past the sun and reach the underside of the firmament of heaven, eventually tapping into a universal Möbius Strip of sorts. I thoroughly enjoyed the evident research and creative thought that went into creating such a vision ...and the cosmic sense of claustrophobia revealed at the end. Cool story!

'Understand' is next, a crazy but fascinating account of a young man named Leon who is saved after drowning by a curious injection which manifests the unexpected side effect of exponential growth in his intelligence. The narrative follows along as he realizes more and more, how thinking works, solving impossible world problems with ease... All seems well until he encounters another like him who harbors less altruistic aims concerning mankind. The story ends with a sort of psionic battle between them, riveting not only for the concepts but also for Ted's daring to attempt capturing in common terminology that which is thinking pandimensionally beyond any current norm...

'Division by Zero' is an exposé on how, if you dig deep enough, the universal consistency of math in general seems unstable. Or something to that effect. And this really challenges Carl and Renee as they consider how the fundamental framework for describing reality through mathematic equations may be a gossamer illusion in its own right. (Yeah, it's pretty egg-head stuff)

'Story of Your Life' is the curious account of learning to communicate with visiting aliens called 'heptapods', deciphering their spoken language of flutters and such [Heptapod A] and their much more complex written language [Heptapod B] which, in translation to human thinking, is best explained through Fermat's principle of least time, which has to do with optical ray trajectories and lots of calculus.

'Seventy-two Letters' is a steampunk-ish tale about learning how to craft words in script to program automatons to perform various boundary-busting tasks, trying to insert a ghost into the machine, in essence...

'The Evolution of Human Science' is a super short story that asks the question: "What is the role of human scientists in an age when the frontiers of scientific inquiry have moved beyond the comprehension of humans?" touching on such concepts as DNT (Digital Neural Transfer) and metahumans along the way.

'Hell Is the Absence of God' describes a "what if" scenario in which very public appearances by angels are not only a pretty regular thing, but also excessively cataclysmic to anyone unfortunate to be near the event. We're talking destruction of buildings and the ensuing casualties, occasional random 'miracles of healing', and all manner of dissociative side effects.

'Liking What You See: A Documentary' explores humankinds obsession with Looking Good, incorporating 'calliagnosia' to affect one's visual perception.

A brief section called 'Story Notes' at the end allows the author to describe some influences that inspired his ideas for these stories. I can only imagine what this guy's nightly dreams must be like .. . Here's just a sample of some of his prose..

Textual hermeneutics became popular first, since there were already terabytes of metahuman publications whose translations, while cryptic, were presumably not entirely inaccurate. Deciphering these texts bears little resemblance to the task performed by traditional paleographers, but progress continues: recent experiments have validated the Humphries decipherment of decade-old publications on histocompatibility genetics . . . The most common technique is the crystallographic analysis of nanoware appliances, which frequently provides us with new insights into mechanosynthesis... (pg 202)

You're welcome! ~ Look, I don't pretend to comprehend the higher-end scientific/voodoo-math this guy espouses. I grew up reading the sci-fi stylings of Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. (Robert Heinlein was a little too much like this guy for me I wonder who Ted read growing up, eh?) But most every one of his stories have won prestigious science fiction awards, so someone out there is getting this stuff! Discussion forums pepper the internet where Deep Thinkers debate the topics and suppositions presented in Chiang's stories. In fact, a motion picture adaptation of 'Story of Your Life' is in the works right now, starring Amy Adams. (go figure) Personally speaking, I think the most I got out of reading this collection is the realization that, although I foster a droll fascination for sciencey concepts that stretch way beyond my capacity, I could never hope to tackle such subject matter as this. I am more Bradbury than Heinlein .. Good thing there's plenty of room in the electromagnetic spectrum for all of us dreamer-communicators. Also, this is the first time I have encountered good science-fiction that does not shy away from acknowledging God Himself, the Author of the universe in which we wiggle, as an integral part of its narrative fabric. Off-scripture as Chiang's suppositions are, this straight-faced treatment is wholly refreshing which adds, I think, an inspiring 'next level' dimension of wonder to his stories.


book: "Secret Power"
6 · "Secret Power" (D. L. Moody) © 1881,1997 / 142 pgs
   starz (4) Quite Wonderful [4]

This is a slight book (just 142 pages) yet page after page is cornered and or highlighted by my reading through it. The Bible declares followers of Christ have all the power necessary to live effectively in this world for the Lord, the same POWER that God exerted when He resurrected Christ. (see 2 Peter 1:3-11 and Ephesians 1:17-21).

Movies and TV shows these days abound with rampant spiritualism and dabblings into the occult. To see a character become demon-possessed is not viewed as entertainment, but also quite plausible in today's culture. How is it, then, that most everyone balks at the idea of God's Spirit personally indwelling a willing heart? Unlike other [very real] spiritual entities such as demons and devils (think about it: no God-ordained angel would ever presume any such thing ~ read your Bible for plenty of proofs ~ there are no 'friendly spirits' hovering around ouija board, etc), the Holy Spirit of God is a respectful Being who will not force His way upon an unwelcoming soul. Yet the Holy Spirit is often thought of as nothing more but some sort of 'power' or Force, an 'it' to manage like so much electricity somehow coursing through the life of a believer. (ie, New Age beliefs) Yet God's own Word, the Bible, describes the Holy Spirit not as some impersonal power, but rather a unique Being with personal feelings, thoughts, and intentions, sent in the necessary absence of Jesus Christ in single-person from here on earth in order to (A) provide counsel and insight into God's Word, the Bible, (B) convict God's children of sin, and (C) comfort His followers through times of crises.

I was a Christian for a long time before I found out that the Holy Spirit is a person. Now, this is something a great many people don't seem to understand. However, if you will just take up the Bible and see what Christ has to say about the Holy Spirit, you will find that Christ always spoke of Him as a person He never spoke of Him as [merely] an influence... (pg 19)

It has been said that the Father plans, the Son executes, and the Holy Spirit applies. Such a distinction of persons is often noted in Scripture. In Matthew 3:13-17 we find Jesus submitting to baptism, the Spirit descending upon Him, and the Father's voice of approval saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

In John 14:16 we read, "I [Jesus] will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter." Also, in Ephesians 2:18 we read, "Through Him [Christ Jesus] we both [Jews and Gentiles] have access by one Spirit unto the Father." From these and other Scriptures, we learn the identity and actual existence of the Holy Spirit, and we learn the distinction of persons in the Godhead. But I also believe that they plan and work together, for these Scriptures likewise reveal their inseparable union. (pg 11)

"But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father
  will send in my name, will teach you all things and
  will remind you of everything I have said to you."

—  Jesus (John 14:26)  

An 'energy' does not teach, personally comfort, or prick one's conscience with precise convictions. D. L. Moody goes on to explain at length what the fruit of the Spirit will look like in the life of any Christian who yields to the loving counsel & guidance of the Holy Spirit:

The fruit of the Spirit, as you find it in Galatians, begins with love. (See Galatians 5:22-23) There are nine graces spoken of here, and of the nine different graces, Paul put love at the head of the list. Love is the first thing, the first in that precious cluster of fruit. Someone has said that all the other eight can be included in the word love. Joy is love exulting; peace is love in repose; long-suffering is love on trial; gentleness is love in society; goodness is love in action; faith is love on the battlefield; meekness is love at school; and temperance is love in training. Love is at the top, at the bottom, and all the way through these graces; and if we only brought forth the fruit of the Spirit, what a world we would have! (pg 27)

The nine graces given in Galatians 5 can be divided this way: Love, peace, and joy are all related to God. God looks for these three fruits from each one of His children, and that is the kind of fruit that is acceptable to Him. Without that, we cannot please God. He wants — above everything else that we possess — love, peace, and joy.

And then the next three, goodness, long-suffering, and gentleness, are toward man. These are part of our outward lives to those whom we are coming in contact with continually, every day, and even by the hour. The next three, faith, temperance, and meekness, are in relation to ourselves... (pg 38)

The narrative then focuses on the first three types of this 'spiritual fruit' which ought to be evident in the life of every believer, expounding into details concerning the aspect of Joy, for our joy in the Lord is our strength! (Nehemiah 8:10) Then a curious perspective on some Heroes of the Faith is presented, underscoring how it is not of our doing but at God work within each one of us that makes our lives really matter in this world (see James 5:17):

Someone has said, if you had asked men in Abraham's day who their great man was, they would have said Enoch, not Abraham. If you had asked in Moses's day who their great man was, they would not have said it was Moses, for he was nothing; it would have been Abraham. If you had asked in the days of Elijah or Daniel, it wouldn't have been Daniel or Elijah, for they were nothing; it would have been Moses. And in the days of Jesus Christ, if you had asked about John the Baptist or the apostles, you would have heard that these men were lowly and contemptible in the sight of the world and were looked upon with scorn and reproach. But see how mighty they have become. And so, we will not be appreciated in our day, but we are to toil on and work on, possessing this fountain of joy all the while. (pg 63)

Finally in Chapter Three (pgs 69-84), he warns against blocking the Spirit of God from working in and through our lives, which itself is what is commonly called the Unforgiveable Sin: grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit's influence in one's life (see Ephesians 4:30-32 and 1 Thessalonians 5:19).

It is a short book, easily read within a single day even in light of our typically busy schedules. But D. L. Moody was no theological slouch, so it is no surprise to find so much potentially life-changing honesty packed into such a small volume. To work in partnership, as it were, with the very plan of God in redeeming as much of mankind as He will, this final statement crystallizes what is, and what is not, the responsibility of everyone who would aspire to follow Him:

It is my work to preach and hold up the Cross and to testify of Christ, but it is
the work of the Spirit to convict men of sin and lead them to Christ. (pg 136)


book: "Yestermorrow"
7 · "Yestermorrow: Obvious Answers to Impossible Futures" (Ray Bradbury) © 1991 / 240 pgs
   starz (3) Pretty Good / Enjoyable [3]

During my 2013 visit to San Diego Comic·Con (check it out here), I learned that the nearby and delightfully bizarre Westfield Horton Plaza had been built partly from inspiration found in a short article written by Ray Bradbury, entitled "The Aesthetics of Lostness". That bit, plus other calls to city planners and architects to "fill us with wonder", may be found in this obscure book. Reading this collection of stories, essays, and poems is what I imagine it must have felt like to have the opportunity to just sit down and hang out with Mr. Bradbury in his favorite L.A. diner, and simply discuss things. He ruminates like a slightly modernized version of Mark Twain, filling these pages with observations and tributes to persons long gone, all culminating in a hyperkinetic tour of the product- and experience- and time-hopping "The Great Electric Time Maze".

My personal favorite among all of these is "Art and Science Fiction", which describes my younger self and all the hopes burning within me as an eager writer back in the 70's and 80's. Reading his account left me glassy-eyed with wonder and hope again . .. such Amazing Possibilities available to anyone bold enough to Really Envision The Future .. . Ray Bradbury got this ~ He Understood. More importantly, he could communicate this same wide-eyed wonder through his many and varied tales of fantasy, sci-fi, and the occasional retro folk tale cultivated from his younger days in middle America. Despite occasional moments of awe, this collection strikes me more as a wandering lecture, which is why only three stars float atop this review. But still . .. anyone who can list Walt Disney on his dedication page, and probably rubbed shoulders with him and others operating at that level of social impact (and becoming one himself), certainly deserves attention when offering opinions on sundry matters.

Science fiction remains the architecture of our dreams. (pg 29)

Most famous for "Fahrenheit 451" and "The Martian Chronicles" and "The Illustrated Man" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes" (here is a link to Amazon's Ray Bradbury author page), I think the novel I remember most, and most often, is "Dandelion Wine" (1957), which chronicles a boy's delightful summer in 1928. It made quite an impact on me when during my own high school days in the early 1980's. { wonder how it would hit me now? } Interesting to me: when he wrote my favorite inspirational bit found this collection (1987), when I wasn't busy being an assistant manager for a Wendy's restaurant in Minneapolis, I wrote my two most Bradburian short stories ("Ambrosia" / "The Fourth Pedal").

He lived from the middle of 1920 to the middle of 2012, attending such wonders as the World Fairs hosted in the early years of the last century. Just think of the all international history he observed in his lifetime and how it informed his art, his vivid truths and pithy commentary disguised in animated tattoos, magic carousels, or clouded by the red dust of Martian landscapes. Every self-respecting writer aspires to create such visions and imbue them with the kind of deep, touching, universal meaning he did with such effortless regularity. One day, perhaps, if I keep at it, I might trace the edges of his shadow once or twice with my own nervous pen . . .


book: "Rush: The Illustrated History"
8 · "Rush: The Illustrated History" (Martin Popoff) © 2013 / 192 pgs
   starz (4½) Nearly Perfect [4½]

With the recent release of their 20th studio album "Clockwork Angels" following the theatrical release of 2010's documentary motion picture "Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage" I was thrilled to find this lengthy (and in my opinion, so far BEST) biography of the three men who comprise RUSH. They've been doing this for 40 years now, only growing in popularity and, while it is true that Geddy Lee's high singing voice can be a bit of a shock to the uninitiated, the volume and diversity of music alchemized by these three is nothing short of legendary.

 "Rush · Beyond the Lighted Stage"

This is a fantastic oversized book flooded throughout with photos of the guys and all manner of memorabilia from their early days all the way to through their latest tour. The narrative offers historical and first-hand accounts dating back to Canada in the mid-1960's, when Fisherville Junior High students Gary Weinrib ("Geddy Lee") and Alex Zivojinovic aka 'Lifeson' ("Lerxst") met and began noodling around with guitars in a basement. Along with drummer-friend John Rutsey, they practiced enough tunes by the Who, the Yardbirds, Rolling Stones and so on to score a gig at a local church club. In the basement, of course. (Canada) A year later, Led Zeppelin would release their first album and turn the rock & roll industry up a few notches. Shortly thereafter, this fledgling Toronto trio cobbled together their first album, garnering more airplay south of the Canadian border (Cleveland, to be specific) which, fortunately for them, quickly led to a signed deal with Mercury Records. But John had diabetes and decided to walk away from their dawning Rock & Roll Lifestyle...

Geddy and Alex needed a new drummer fast for their upcoming opening tour dates, so they put the word out, and in walked Neil Peart, already an accomplished rock/jazz drummer in his own right. He has since grown to become not only Rush's primary lyricist, but one of the most prolific and innovative drummers in the world — ever. (Look it up if you doubt my enthusiasm) Since that summer in 1974, their collaboration has charted new territories in progressive rock music which bands by the score have tried to emulate but simply cannot match . . . And they still call Neil 'the new guy'.  ;-)

So this book showcases their creative intentions and production techniques per album, along with 1-page review per album scribed in light of their latest release, history and personal accounts that even touches on their various producers over the years. (The steadfast Terry Brown worked with them from "Fly By Night" all the way through "Signals", and another half dozen since then with often lesser results..) Rush's work ethic and success is reflected in their 24 gold records and 14 platinum records (including 3 multi-platinum), placing them third only behind the Beatles and the Rolling Stones for most consecutive gold or platinum studio albums produced by any rock band. [ !! ] But the best part is, they're just three regular guys from Canada — honestly. During their entire career, they would rather go catch a ball game than attend some hotel-trashing party with the guys from KISS (whom they opened for a lot in their early days) or whatever. In interviews, they always come across as humble and sincerely appreciative just to be recognized for their musicianship and creative endeavors. Keep in mind, these three lead the way in their respective disciplines, having garnered stacks of awards over the years for their collective and individual efforts.

So .. if you are into Rush at all and would like to learn more, learn about how this synergistic collaboration coalesced into Rush, GET THIS BOOK! And if you're new to all of this and maybe are wondering if my zeal is misplaced, I will conclude this 'review' by expounding on their creative influence in my life:

I had never heard of Rush in 1981 when "Tom Sawyer" first hit the airwaves, which sounded .. different .. than anything else ~ kinda cool, sort of science-fictiony, and certainly Rockin' — quite unlike anything else on the airwaves. I gave no more thought to it until a friend scored their new double-LP live album "Exit... Stage Left" and played it. I was just digging deep into early-70's Yes at the time ("The Yes Album"/"Fragile"/"Close to the Edge") and "Point of Know Return" (Kansas). The concept album "Paradise Theater" had just been released by Styx. You had to really hunt past the FM dial to find well-imagined, musically-interesting, thought-provoking sounds back then. So among all the 'sex & drugs' rock music in the air, it was a Revelation to hear a real rock band crafting great prog-rock tunes out of something so innocuous as the approach of a thunderstorm ("Jacob's Ladder"), or a seriously rockin' instrumental (complete with amazing drum solo) based on Morse code ("YYZ"), and the sci-fi-story-wrapped-in-a-song "Red Barchetta" .. or even a full-on stadium rocker based on the magic that IS radio ("Spirit of Radio") ~ all of this on one live album, topped off at the end with the amazing instrumental diversity of "La Villa Strangiato"! And side 3 of this double live album = sonic perfection: "Broon's Bane" · "The Trees" · "Xanadu". I dare you to get cozy with some headphones and really soak in these sounds, and NOT dream up entire book series you are certain you can and should author yourself!

I began seeking out the studio albums from which Rush selected "Exit... Stage Left"'s concert tracks, discovering the entirety of "Permanent Waves" and then the full impact of the stone-cold masterpiece "Moving Pictures". This rock band made an anthem of "A Farewell to Kings" complete with a delicate medieval-esque guitar intro ~ then on that album's flipside, featured something so insightful and socially tender as "Closer to the Heart". That same record ends with a 10-minute avant-garde musical plunge straight into black hole "Cygnus X-1" in the exploratory spaceship, the 'Rocinante' (not a good omen), whose protagonist returned musically and lyrically one studio year later right in the middle of their next album as a demi-god in ancient Greek mythology!!

Who were these guys that could conjure up such tales and captivating music??

I found another perfect 3-song set on side two of their "Fly By Night" album: the melodious "Making Memories" followed by a visit to Middle-earth's soul-quieting "Rivendell", then easing into the sonorous (but rocking) "In the End" ~ all while I still pondered the lengthy esoteric thrasher from side 1: "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" (best transporting guitar solo found on their live "All the World's a Stage" LP) ◄ the inspiration for this epic piece is hilarious! In fact, this trio really do laugh at much in life and take themselves none too seriously (except for their craft), often showcasing their humor through lyrics and/or concert film footage accompanying certain songs. On the same 1975 album "Caress of Steel", they open with a political rocker all about France's 1789 "Bastille Day", followed by the straight-up "I Think I'm Going Bald" (seriously) which is packed with really great riffs, and then a wistful visit to picturesque "Lakeside Park". The rest of the album is dedicated to sprawling mythical sagas of sorcery and wonder, with lots of great music to be found in "The Fountain of Lamneth". Their diversity in subject matter and soundscapes positively mesmerized me. By the time I stumbled upon their award-winning epic science-fiction album "2112", just like just like sooo many others: I was a Certified Rush Fan for Life.

A local radio station back then played select albums in their entirety upon their release. So there I was, September of 1982, finger poised over the 'record' button of my boombox when "Signals" hit the airwaves... so full of great sounds and cool ideas that it still amazes me to this day. Alex's solo in "Losing It" has to be the saddest guitar riff ever recorded, yearning for one's lost way and years of inconsolable regret. "Grace Under Pressure" came next in 1984, with a much harsher edge in both lyrics and sound. "The Body Electric" stands out as my favorite from that album, a pounding desperate tale about an android striving to break free of its constrictive programming (a recurring lyrical theme in most of their lyrics). But it was "Power Windows" (1985) that would go on to become my favorite Rush album of all time, start-to-finish, featuring (for me) "Territories" with its sobering global message and a skittering lead motif that bounced freely from one lead instrument to the next, and "Marathon" with its sweeping emotionally soaring anthem chords .. actually every track explodes with fabulous sonic structure, fantastic imagery, and excellent memories...

With "Hold Your Fire" (1987) Rush started exhibiting more of an ill-fitting 'pop tune' sensibility, which translated to a quite unexpected sameness in their songs, which lingered on in "Presto" (1989), though I do favor four tracks from that album: the anthemic "Show Don't Tell" with its age-old secondary-message/call to Writers and Artisans everywhere, the optimistic and magical "Presto" in counterbalance to the grim "Available Light", and then the oddity "Superconductor" which took a while to grow on me, but now I crank up loud whenever I've had a little too much of corporate commercialism.

I liked about half of "Roll the Bones" (1991) and "Counterparts" (1993), then hit a low point with their best-packaged but probably worst album ever, "Test For Echo" (1996). (Rush's own Star Trek V) Unfortunately, some horrible and life-altering tragedies struck Neil's family after this. It took a few years and plenty of soul-searching before they were able to reconvene and produce a new album: "Vapor Trails" (2002), which rocks hard with "One Little Victory" and the relentless "Freeze".

They have slowed down production since, releasing an e.p. called "Feedback" (2004), filled with covers that pay homage to a few of their favorite bands they mimicked back in those Canadian basements. I prefer Rush songs, played by Rush, and not the music of these other bands.. but have to admit that their take on "The Seeker" has kind of grown on me over time. "Snakes and Arrows" (2007) never did a thing for me, with their humanistic world view bursting at the seams in lieu of just intermittent occurrences in earlier songs like "Anthem" and "Freewill" .. . though I think I would listen through this one any day before T4E, just for the record. And instead of just resting on their laurels, which they could so easily manage, they refocused their passions into a powerful new concept album, the Steampunk-influenced "Clockwork Angels" (2012). Amazing - the creative forces generated between these three guys! "Mystic Rhythms" indeed!

♫  "Draw another goblet from the cask of `43..."  ♪

When I get in a Rush mood these days, I'll likely pop in one of their live collections, like the exemplary "A Show of Hands" (1989) or even better "Different Stages" (1998), or maybe the more recent "Rush in Rio" (2003) or the brand new "Clockwork Angels Tour" (2013). With 20 studios albums to choose from, 10 live albums, 10 compilations, and a couple of box sets, there's just an embarrassment of riches to choose from! ( Rush discography ) I will end my 'review' with a long-overdue mosaic of all of Rush's studio and live album covers —( you're welcome, Internet )— all but the first two designed by the legendary Hugh Syme.  :-D

NOTE: Their first, self-titled album will likely show up and fall into your hands with the big bold letters colored an obnoxious hot pink, due to an unfortunate printing error back in 1974. This has unfortunately become the standard version of that cover, which was originally designed to appear as a much more appropriately bold and bright RED. So here you go: one Cosmic Injustice rectified.  :-)  Also, their third album "Caress of Steel" was designed to show a silvery burnished-steel look, but another printing error 'bronzed' it. Personally, I favor the normative green & gold look, but have provided a rollover (below) to demonstrate what it might have looked like — Happy Listening!

 "Rush"  "Fly By Night"  "Caress of Steel"  "2112"  "All the World's a Stage" [live]
 "A Farewell To Kings"  "Hemispheres"  "Permanent Waves"  "Moving Pictures"  "Exit... Stage Left"
 "Signals"  "Grace Under Pressure"  "Power Windows"  "Hold Your Fire"  "A Show of Hands" [life]
 "Presto"  "Roll the Bones"  "Counterparts"  "Test For Echo"  "Different Stages"
 "Vapor Trails"  "Rush in Rio" [live]  "Feedback"  "R30"  "Snakes and Arrows"
 "Snakes and Arrows" [live]  "Time Machine 2011" [live]  "Clockwork Angels"  "Vapor Trails Remixed"  "Clockwork Angels Tour" [live]

book: "God's Passion for His Glory"
9 · "God's Passion for His Glory" (John Piper / Jonathan Edwards) © 1998 / 266 pgs
   starz (4) Quite Wonderful [4]

This tome is actually two books in one binding ~ or just one single book featuring a preceding novel-length commentary. "The End for Which God Created the World" (©1765) is one of Jonathan Edwards' many theological treatments which, in this volume, is expounded upon by pastor and theologian John Piper in his equally lengthy "A Personal Encounter with Jonathan Edwards". However, due to Jonathan Edwards' overly tangled verbosity, I seemed to gain more from John Piper's appraisals of his ideas than the original work itself.  :-|  I'm not sure what this says about me, perhaps revealing an ignorance or arrogance on my part, I'm not sure. Delving into this material feels just like heaving open the lid of some massive chest, its weighty treasures glowing within, so priceless, all so ornate and skillfully crafted that no inspection of mine could properly convey their full worth. But in all fairness, the way Edwards presents his material does not help:

This propensity in God to diffuse himself may be considered as a propensity to himself diffused, or to his own glory existing in its emanation. A respect to himself, or an infinite propensity to and delight in his own glory, is that which causes him to incline to its being abundantly diffused, and to delight in the emanation of it. (pg 155)

Surely, God's glorious omniscience in and through the Cosmos (even 'to Himself') can be expressed more concisely; but alas, no such commonality is found in Jonathan Edwards' Puritan-era prose (notwithstanding its update to modern English).

All that being said, Jonathan Edwards is considered one of the foremost theologians of the last 1,000 years. He lived from 1703 to 1758 and played a leading role in the Great Awakening. This man was the living embodiment of fervent intensity and Christian zeal (after Martin Luther, one might argue), probably most widely recognized for his sermon entitled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (PDF w/summary here) first delivered in Enfield, Connecticut, on July 8, 1741. But some 20 years prior to this, as a young man, he constructed a list of "70 Resolutions" to define how he would search his own motives and live out his faith for his entire adult life. It is a humbling call to one's own excellence and holiness (printable PDF here, if you dare). He longed to know God in such precious communion, like how the Bible describes Joshua in the tent of meeting (see Exodus 33:11). It is no wonder that a deep sense of God's supreme and right holiness permeates his writings, and that is found here referenced throughout this book.

John Piper, like may pastoral types, was smitten early on with the earnest integrity found in the life and writings of Jonathan Edwards, so much so that he purposed to study the man and his works throughout his own life. No slouch in scholarly theological writing himself, John Piper has published a veritable mountain of books, not least of which is this one. Yet if you were to condense John Piper's philosophy down to its most condensed form, it would be this now increasingly famous statement: "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." There is a TON of God-centered theology packed in this little combination of words which, I believe, can be traced in no small part to his influence by Jonathan Edwards. The first half of this book, entitled "A Personal Encounter with Jonathan Edwards" explains this, and offers a smorgasbord of resonant truths, including his own 'Fifteen Implications' (pgs 33-47) which are likely inspired by "70 Resolutions". These are convictions based on the truths explored in the second half of this book, Jonathan Edwards' "The End for Which God Created the World". John Piper writes:

My conviction is that if I can infect you with Edwards, you will have a very powerful inoculation against the hollowing disease of our times. (pg 83)

By way of example, I have selected one of the best treatments of the "ever-increasing Joy in an Inexhaustible God" as found in God's promise of heaven that I have ever read. Jonathan Edwards puts it this way: "It will take an eternity of increasing joy to experience all the fullness of God." (pg 251) But what does that 'look like', to use our modern parlance? John Piper presents his own view on the subject, which plucks at the deepest strings of hope in my heart:

Implication #6: Heaven will be a never-ending, ever-increasing discovery of more and more of God's glory with greater and ever-greater joy in him. If God's glory and our joy in him are one, and yet we are not infinite as he is, then our union with him in the all-satisfying experience of his glory can never be complete, but must be increasing with intimacy and intensity forever and ever. The perfection of heaven is not static. Nor do we see at once all there is to see — for that would be a limit on God's glorious self-revelation, and therefore, his love. Yet we do not become God. Therefore, there will always be more, and the end of increased pleasure in God will never come. (pg 37)

The enjoyment of [God] is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, and children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the ocean. (pg 75 [quoting from JE's 'The Christian Pilgrim'])

Another implication (which I have embraced conceptually for years but have never put into words) calls to order the God-honoring Responsibility of all leading thinkers and intellectuals throughout the world:

Implication #13: The task of Christian scholarship is to study reality as a manifestation of God's glory, to speak about it with accuracy, and to savor the beauty of God in it. I think Edwards would regard it as a massive abdication of scholarship that so many Christians do academic work with so little reference to God. If all the universe and everything in it exists 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.
   Moreover, the demand is even higher: Christian scholarship must be permeated by spiritual affections for the glory of God in all things. Most scholars know that without the support of truth, affections degenerate into groundless emotionalism. But not as many scholars recognize the converse: that without the awakening of true spiritual affections, seeing the fullness of truth in all things is impossible . . .
   One might object that the subject matter of psychology or sociology or anthropology or history or physics or chemistry or English or computer science is not "divine things" but "natural things." But that would miss the first point: to see reality in truth we must see it in relation to God, who created it, and sustains, it, and gives it all the properties it has and all its relations and designs. To see all these things in each discipline is to see the "divine things" — and in the end, they are the main things. (pgs 43-44)

Our concern with truth is an inevitable expression of our concern with God. If God exists, then he is the measure of all things, and what he thinks about all things is the measure of what we should think. Not to care about truth is not to care about God. To love God passionately is to love truth passionately. Being God-centered in life means being truth-driven in ministry. What is not true is not of God. What is false is anti-God. Indifference to the truth is indifference to the mind of God. Pretense is rebellion against reality and what makes reality reality is God. Our concern with truth is simply an echo of our concern with God. (pg 97)

Edwards could not conceive of calling any act truly virtuous that did not have in it a supreme regard to God. One of the great follies of modern evangelical public life is how much we are willing to say about public virtue without reference to God. (pg 109)

Man, that is Good Stuff!  Of course, to a non-believer all of this is complete nonsense! (Even the Bible describes how this is so — see 1 Corinthians 1:18 & 2:14) But to the Believer, such declarations about the nature of Almighty God swell up in the chest like a deep-rooted spiritual "YES!" Taking action to (re)establish Truth as the cornerstone for society is the tip of Jonathan Edwards' urgent call to action for Christians who live after him, an eternally-framed sense of one's current social responsibility:

Don't limit your passion for justice and peace to such a limited concern as the church-saturated landscape of American culture. Lift up your eyes to the real crisis of our day: namely, several thousand cultures still unpenetrated by the gospel, who can't even dream of the blessings we want to restore. (pg 103)

Both authors posit arguments and logical bases from which to deduce fundamental truths about God's ultimate goal, which stated in a summary sense is this: to bring glory to Himself as the only Perfect Being [A] through and by Himself, and [B] through and by all that He has created, including (and especially with) mankind. Jonathan Edwards also provides objections and first-level reasonable arguments against his own postulations to offer practically-balanced considerations to his readers.

Other heavy concepts are also addressed along the way, such as God's inherent 3-in-1 nature, beginning with God as He reveals Himself to us as our heavenly 'Father':

Understanding of the Trinity coheres with what Edwards says about the conception of God glorifying himself in two ways: by being known and being loved or enjoyed. That corresponds to the very way the Godhead exists: the Son is the standing forth of God knowing himself perfectly, and the Spirit is the standing forth of God loving himself perfectly. (pg 85)

The Bible is packed with accounts and declarations revealing how God delights in doing good toward His creatures; however, neither does it shy away from God taking responsibility for a great deal of what most anyone would consider 'bad'... God being ultimately responsible for all things, this makes absolute sense, though it may seem unpalatable to the homogenized mindset permeating western Christian thinking. "Doing good to his creatures is pleasing to God in itself, while doing harm is pleasing only in relation to something else." (pg 220) Ever since man's fall from his station of pure uncorrupted communion with God: "All the wheels of providence turn for the sake of saving the people of God..."

All the wheels of providence turn for the sake of saving the people of God — The whole universe is a machine or chariot which God hath made for his own use, as is represented in Ezekiel's vision. God's seat is heaven, where he sits and governs, Ezekiel 1:22, 26-28. The inferior part of the creation, this visible universe, subject to such continual changes and revolutions, are the wheels of the chariot. God's providence, in the constant revolutions, alterations, and successive events, is represented by the motion of the wheels of the chariot, by the Spirit of him who sits on his throne on the heavens or above the firmament. Moses tells us for whose sake it is that God moves the wheels of this chariot or rides in it, sitting in his heavenly seat, and to what end he is making his progress or goes his appointed journey in it, viz. the salvation of his people. (pgs 225-226)

I conclude this review/appreciation with just one more excellent illustration from the mind of Jonathan Edwards:

The glory of God is compared to the emanation of light from a luminary — Thus we see that the great end of God's works, which is so variously expressed in Scripture, is indeed but ONE; and this one end is fitly compared to an effulgence or emanation of light from a luminary. Light is the external expression, exhibition, and manifestation of the excellency of the luminary, of the sun for instance: It is the abundant, extensive emanation and communication of the fullness of the sun to innumerable beings that partake of it. It is by this that the sun itself is seen, and his glory beheld, and all other things are discovered: it is by a participation of this communication from the sun, that surrounding objects receive all their luster, beauty, and brightness. It is by this that all nature receives life, comfort, and joy. Light is abundantly used in Scripture to represent and signify these three things: knowledge, holiness, and happiness. (pg 246)

A man does no disservice to himself or his community at large by pursuing God whole-heartedly — in fact, such a one usually sets new standards of service and excellence through his efforts and the example he provides. While this very concept becomes less and less tolerable to those who claim to stand opposed to intolerance [!!] for my part, I think I may adopt among my regular studies an additional new measure: RESOLVE to weekly read through the "70 Resolutions" as initiated by Jonathan Edwards, prayerfully considering if, why, and how I may apply adopt them into one man's modern life...


book: "Ultimate Kauai Guidebook"
10 · "The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed" (Andrew Doughty) © 2014 / 272 pgs
   starz (3) Pretty Good / Enjoyable [4]

Lightening things up a bit after that, I decided to include this travel guide because I finally read the thing cover-to-cover for this trip. Probably the best travel guide for Hawaii (as there are plenty of `em out there) it is chockfull of rich Hawaiian goodness!

This book begins, oddly enough, with a nice little summary of Ni'ihau (pgs 17-19) as if to get this out of the way when people look westward from Kauai and ask about that long hazy rectangle hugging the horizon. Answer: there really is not much to Ni'ihau — it's mostly just dirt.  :-| (Full disclosure: it is a designated haven for native Hawaiians, but that's a different subject altogether)

What to bring along on your Hawaiian vacation is listed next, though I have added "water-proof" to most of the suggested items on my own list. Rental Car options are next, followed by a quick intro to the variety of critters you will likely encounter during your explorations (mostly roosters and feral cats, and spiders) and the different little sea beasties that may be swimming beside you in those warm swells...

Kauai is known as the 'Garden Isle' among the Hawaiian Islands, and for good reason. You can more or less divide it in two: the jungle side on the east, and the dry side on the west. Along the eastern coastline you will find the capital city of Lihue ("lih-HEW-ee"), the famous Wailua Falls, luscious Hanalei Bay, and all manner of vine-choked towns and grottos. The western side features Waimea Canyon (the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific") and endless miles of red dirt. They make T-shirts out of that. If you've ever known anyone who has just returned from Hawaii sporting an intense umber-orange T-shirt with "ALOHA" or a 'shaka' printed on the front, that's what I'm talking about.

 Kauai Ethnicity

The ethnic population is mentioned briefly, but I charted the data ► to gain a better grasp of Kauai's contemporary racial demographics. A few Hawaiian words are provided next, though you will probably sound them out most when scrutinizing their lengthy street signs. The Hawaiian alphabet consists of only 12 letters, five of which are vowels, which is why Hawaiian words sound a lot like singing variations of A, E, I, O, & U. A handy vowel pronunciation key is also offered (pgs 36-37) so you can correctly identify a Humuhumunukunukuapua'a when you see one.  :-)  And for good measure, a smattering of Pidgin is provided, that fluid and colorful mishmash of dialects indigenous to the locals. I used to 'talk pidgin' effortlessly as a kid in Oahu, but those days are long gone. Just avoid any on-sale T-shirts declaring "Genuine Haole!" (appropriately pronounced as "HOWL-ee")

Detailed maps fill the pages, allowing for quick reconnaissance of Princeville & Hanalei, Kapa'a & Wailua, Lihue and the airport, Po'ipu & Kalaheo, Hanapepe & Waimea. These towns describe a complete drive around most of the island along their one main highway. The northwestern edge of Kauai is all picturesque jaggedy cliffs known as the Na Pali coast, filmed regularly for movies like "Jurassic Park" and "Pirates of the Caribbean". It is world famous (as if the rest of Kauai isn't) and plays host to one of the wildest through-hikes on the planet: the 11-mile Kalalau Trail. Ann & I traversed a couple miles of it to Hanakapi'ai Beach and back — incredible trail . . and views!

Other wonders await, including Kipu Valley (and Falls, though it is now sadly blocked from public access), the Fern Grotto (also in recovery to its former glory), Manawaiopuna Falls (the "Jurassic Park" waterfall, visible by helicopter), and 7-mile long stretch of searing sand known as Palihale Beach. I botched up my digital camera in a sudden tidal wave at Glass Beach, where the sand is made of tiny bits of sea glass. But our favorite beach to visit has got to be Shipwreck Beach (Keoniloa Beach) which always feels just a little bit wilder than the rest, but not too incredibly dangerous.. unless you count the big waves, rumbling stretches of huge lava rocks clogging up half of the beach, or the 40+ foot cliff you can (so far) still leap from into the wild ocean. If you've ever seen the (meh) movie "Six Days Seven Nights", that's the cliff Harrison Ford & Anne Heche jump from ... way cool, unless you smack into the water all wrong-wise ..

Heaps of activities are offered in glorious detail with recommendations and warnings, contact numbers and directions to find them, ranging from mud-bogging on ATV's in the jungle to some of the most picturesque golf courses in the world, helicopter tours, power gliding, sky-diving, kayaking, zip lines, tubing through tunnels in the mountains, limitless hiking options, surfing (obviously), the new-ish kine sport of stand-up paddling, coastal and ocean and river tours, whale-watching or deep-sea fishing, and always: snorkeling, scuba, and snuba . . and just loads more.. and this doesn't even touch on the dining options and shopping, cultural gatherings & events, crafts and festivals, traditional luau's (complete with hula dancers &/or dancing) .. . While I enjoy a fine dinner now and again, my natural tendency leans toward a good, slogging, vine-swinging hike through the jungle, followed by a Bubba Burger dinner by the beach. One of the easiest and most rewarding hikes featured in this book is called.. wait for it... the Jungle Trail, on page 155. There is a picture, but believe me, it does NO justice to the experience of getting to this amazingly beautiful waterfall, with grotto walls some 30 feet high leaning over converging creeks, complete with a rope swing and a natural jacuzzi to bubble around in! No exaggeration! If you can manage the drive to get to it, which can be pretty rough on a rental car, it is SO worth checking it out! And if you're Extra Daring, bring an innertube and sluice your way through a long dark irrigation tunnel running a couple hundred yards through the mountain rather than taking the trail . . you'll be glad you did!

But the BEST hike (for me) has to be the TUNNELS Hike which starts on page 200 and goes on for a while... Their directions for this venture can get a little dodgy, but honestly, what they're trying to describe is pretty difficult to nail down in concrete terms. Click this link for a detailed account from our most recent trip, complete with photos, stats, and my own gear list. :-)

'Shave ice' has become sort of a cottage industry in Hawaii. It's like an extra large snow cone served in a giant cup or bowl (and now usually a scoop of macadamia ice cream at the bottom) complete with spoon and a straw.. But when they're made properly, the ice is heaped into smooth and ultra-fluffy perfection .. then they drizzle tons of flavoring all over it... Our favorite shave ice spots are found in the Hee Fat General Store in Kapa'a, the little shave ice shop in Koloa-town, and when you can catch the attention of the uncommonly grouchy waitresses, get some shave ice at Hamura's Saimin. I always end up getting a slice of lilikoi pie there after a big bowl of 'the Special', so it's been a while since I've scored some shave ice at Hamura's...

Kauai can also lay claim to two Taco Bells: one in Kapa'a, and the other located in Puhi, just west of Lihue. Jessica and Ann each begged to hit a Taco Bell during their time in Kauai.  :-|  I am happy to say that at least Danielle, during her visit back in `07, exercised a bit more discretion. All three of them loved the mountainous ice cream composite 'hula pie' at Keoki's Paradise restaurant in Po'ipu. Another favorite of mine is the easy-access 'Savage Shrimp' located in the outdoor Shops at Kukui'ula. You may also hear talk of a Puka Dog, whose whole shtick is hotdogs and lemonade. Granted, each overpriced hotdog is served in a gigantor self-contained bun (think: giant corndog) injected with your choice of novelty relish like papaya or mango or banana . . yeah, relish... It's kind of fun & exciting the first time, but gets just sort of gross the second time around.

Right, so this guidebook ends with a pretty exhaustive list of shopping centers, restaurants, and resorts, with a tidy index that I referenced quite frequently. For my trips to Kauai, each updated reprint of this tome was indispensable. My next trip out I'll probably not have to bother with it, but for the newbs who are island-bound, I highly recommend picking up the latest edition. You will be glad you did. :-D


book: "Kauai (HI) (Images of America)"
11 · "Kauai (Images of America)" (Stormy Cozad) © 2008 / 128 pgs
   starz (3½) Really Excellent [3½]

Still can't get enough of Kauai? Same here!

I'm not usually one to go in for these dry-looking little fact-filled books, but during our 2014 visit, got to wondering about a couple of whaling towns and other elements of local history, so I picked it up to find it stuffed with old B&W photos and hand-drawn records dating back to the late 1700's! A few Hawaiian words are thrown in along the way to explain things, like the five original 'mokus' (or districts) divided along watershed valleys stretching shoreward.

Kauai is 90 miles northwest of Oahu, and is where Captain Cook first weighed anchor in 1778, establishing 'first contact' at Waimea. Of course the Hawaiian islands were already full of natives living there since the AD 800's, flush in their own cultures, mythologies, kings and religions. This did not stop Captain Cook from re-naming the whole lot of `em as 'the Sandwich Isles'. (...white people..) And though King Kamehameha conquered all of the other Hawaiian islands, Kauai retained its independence under King Kaumuali'i until such a time as a workable peace agreement could be reached between the two sovereigns. Things did not end quite so nicely for Captain Cook, however, who just a year after landing at Kauai, got himself killed on the shores of the Big Island.

A full century later, the United States of America would annex Hawaii as its very own following a coup d'état in 1893, ultimately declaring it the 50th U.S. state in 1959. The author of this book first visited in 1962 and relocated to Kauai permanently in 1973. Twenty years passed, and the the U.S. would get around to offering the "Apology Resolution", a token resolve for "the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom". A growing percentage of the native population still chafes at America's Imperialistic claim over their amazing islands (you can see/read Queen Lili'uokalani's official protest to the U.S. overthrowing her government here) — the Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement lives on to this day in passionate political debates and legislative drives...

But this book is not so concerned with such things. The closest Stormy gets to such matters is an overview of the rise and fall of local industries over the years, such as taro, sugar(cane), pineapple, rice, and coffee, and the driving personalities behind them. No (resent) history of Hawaii is complete without mention of the Christian missionaries who 'suffered for Christ' in Hawaii, which is where I caught up with my original Koloa-town whaling port history. All of these things, people, prominent families, and social upheavals have shaped the boundaries that make Hawaii what it is today. But really, when all is said and done, I'm just happy to know where that waterfall is behind Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" when he first steps into the light from the shadows .. it is Kipu Falls, where Jurassic Park dinosaurs roam in the valleys beyond ~ and I am blessed to say I've had the extreme good fortune explore the region in person.

This book gives a pictorial history of how many famous natural and man-made locales came to be, such as the Tunnel of Trees (pg 40), the 1912/1913 Kilauea lighthouse (pg 86), and even Ka'awako at the very top of Mount Wai'ale'ale (the wettest place on earth -- here's a photo of the cold, boggy little lake hidden up there among the clouds) where mostly U.S. Geological surveyors lugged ungainly rain gauges up and down jungle-entangled, razor-edge cliffs (pgs 89-94). My favorite image in the whole book is found on page 97: Lester Robinson's old house perched at the edge of Olokele Canyon. Here is a link to that page ~ look for the house on the cliff edge to the right. That house is long gone now, but man what a view that must have been! Like something straight from a Roger Dean album cover.. .

Stormy describes the various means of transport employed throughout Kauai over the years: canoes, ships, wagons, horses, trains, automobiles, planes, and helicopters. She showcases quite a few black-and-white photos of waterfalls and swimming holes no longer accessible to the general public; however, many of the locales and buildings from yesteryear can still be found and enjoyed all around the island, especially in and around Lihue.

I will probably chuck this into my carry-on next time I visit Kauai, but have to wonder if my tourist presence and monetary resource is helping or harming the Future that is best for this glorious place .. ?


book: "Hawksbill Station"
12 · "Hawksbill Station" (Robert Silverberg) © 1968 / 185 pgs
   starz (3) Pretty Good / Enjoyable [3]

After all that theology and history, I spied this slender paperback in a used book store and decided to take a brain break. Robert Silverberg wrote my long-standing favorite time-travel short story ("In Entropy's Jaws") so I figured this would be a safe bet. I had no idea that his story was pirated by Steven Utley, as reprinted in "The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF", featuring the world's most boring research team being sent so ridiculously far back in time that dirt hasn't even formed, where they do pretty much nothing. So goes "The Wind Over the World" (©1996) which, I understand, is widely considered the best of Steven Utley's three dozen Silurian Tales. However, this book was published nearly 30 years before all that, and actually tells a story. It may be slight, but it still kicks the prehistoric nautiloids out of Utley's anemic rip-off...

In a nutshell: certain political prisoners are exiled from 2014 and 2015 through a one-way trip in time to the late Cambrian / early Paleozoic era, a world of grey water, slick smooth stone, no soil yet (so no vegetation), and little else than crab-like trilobites to harvest from the shallows. The Moon still maintains a remnant atmosphere, glowing salmon-hued over the nondescript landscape. Their dead-end rough and tumble campsite is called Kawksbill Station, named after the inventor of the time-slip mechanics. The narrative bounces back and forth from the moment a young new arrival makes his appearance at Hawksbill Station, and the backstory of most of the main characters whose insurrection brought them to this place across the last 20+ years. Both story arcs are interesting in their own right, and the characters interesting in their own right... mysterious newcomer Lew Hahn, Jim Barrett, Jack/Jacob Bernstein, Bruce Valdosto and Edmond Hawksbill .. and of course (in the future) a love interest in the form of Janet. I won't give away the climactic 'a-ha' moment at the end, but it's really the only reasonable 'twist' that could conclude a story like this.

More exciting to me were the many unusual words I kept stumbling upon, such as 'astigmatism', 'propinquity', and 'stochastic'. I can now recognize what a 'futilitarian' looks like, how 'hegira' is not a monster on the wrong end of Godzilla, and spot someone who seems 'epicene' which, ironically, is a growing concern these days... Until now, it never dawned on me to use 'dialectic' as a noun. (Not as though I used that word in normal parlance, ever, but you get what I mean) So this book served its purpose: Silverberg proves once again he can write easy-to-visualize characters and fantastic situations, weaving a compelling story through it all every step of the way .. and broaden the reader's vocabulary (mine, anyway)... not bad for $2.00!  :-)


book: "The Time Traveler's Almanac"
13 · "Scott Joplin: The Man Who Made Ragtime" (James Haskins) © 1978 / 248 pgs
   starz (3) Pretty Good / Enjoyable [4½]

Every now and then I get all crazy for Ragtime, listening to it all the time &/or playing some. A few years ago, I decided to learn Scott Joplin's most challenging piece entitled "Maple Leaf Rag", figuring that if I could master that, I could probably knock out any of his other selections we dig the most. So I practiced and practiced and learned about ¾ of it before other pressing needs stole my time for such things. Then one day last year while popping through Ragtime riffs on YouTube, this girl showed up playing 'MLR' on none other than the Main Street piano at Disneyland! Since then, I have learned that this is one of the most common tunes Disney guests play at Casey's Corner — but this whole resurgence got me wondering about the man himself. Who was this composer of such delightful music? How did he come to develop such tunes... and what became of him?

It is here I must confess my uncertainty whether my high star rating reflects the book or its subject. In choosing a biography, I flipped through Edward Berlin's 1994 book "King of Ragtime", which reads like a never-ending phone book of facts. It is comprehensive, no doubt, but goes down like a dry dirt clod. This biography feels rich and personal, like you're unearthing his parents' slave records on your own recognizance, or tagging along while the young Scott travels and grows up, struggling to publish his music in a hostile, only recently post-slavery America... Certain unsavory facts of his life are clearly glossed over, such as the rampant Syphilis which eventually killed him, but his career, life-long friendships and business dealings are detailed, along with plenty of commentary and explanation of his culture and times — all fascinating stuff for a reader like me!

The narration begins in the late 1830's, predating the birth of Scott's parents. His father, Jiles (or Giles), was born a slave owned by the Moores family who farmed in the eastern region of the Republic of Texas. (Texas did not become a U.S. state until 1845) Jiles became a 'freedmen' sometime before the Emancipation Proclamation (1863), meeting Florence Givins around that time, who had been freeborn in Kentucky. Though technically a 'free' couple, their world was still white-controlled and prejudiced in the extreme during the waning years of the Civil War. Scott Joplin, the middle brother of three, was borne to them sometime between late 1867 and early 1868.

Scott grew up in Texarcana while his father moved on with America's westward expansion laboring on new railroad lines, eventually abandoning Florence to raise their boys alone. Undaunted, Scott's mother taught him how to play banjo by age 7, with which he learned church hymns and plantation songs from his elders. At least one home in which his mother worked as a maid featured a piano. Young Scott was allowed to practice on it while she worked where, under the tutelage of various musical teachers, he began to develop his own creative style. In those days, popular music spread from town to town through the occasional traveling musician and vaudeville acts. Scott learned to play the then-popular two-step, "cake walk", and a jaunty precursor to what would become Ragtime, 'Tin Pan Alley' (here is a good sample of that).

He left Texarcana in 1889 to make his own way as a troubadour of sorts, playing in hotels, saloons, brothels, and most every kind of red light district 'establishment' where a musician of his race might find welcome. He also joined millions from around the globe to attend the 1893 World's Columbia Exposition (aka Chicago World's Fair) where his brand of composition and playing began to garner attention on a broader scale. (Sorry!) Named for its 'ragged' or syncopated style, Ragtime spread like a national wildfire in the 1890's.

In 1894, he moved to Sedalia, Missouri, which would serve as a sort of home base for the rest of his life, and is still considered 'the cradle of Ragtime'. There he began to teach piano as a formal vocation, leading a few local music groups in multiform disciplines. Most of his students and/or musician friends went on to become successful nationally-recognized Ragtime composer/players themselves, such as Otis Saunders, Louis Chauvin, Tom Turpin, Arthur Marshall, Brun Campbell, James Scott, Scott Hayden, Joseph Lamb, and Eubie Blake. In 1899, he contracted with music publisher John Stark to publish "Maple Leaf Rag" and swept the nation as a new sensation. John Stark would publish most of his compositions over the next decade. By the time Scott returned to Texarcana to visit family and friends in 1907, his was a household name. He was welcomed as a genuine local hero!

Known among his peers as "The Entertainer" it is no surprise that his composition of the same title became perhaps his most well-known and oft-played piece. As Haskins writes: "the success of ragtime depended greatly on the quality of its performance, for while its forms indicated the reactions it should inspire, a skilled pianist was necessary to make them a reality, and became more and more necessary as classic ragtime came into being." (pg 92) He goes on to quote from one of John Starks' advertisements of the time:

We knew a pianist who had in her repertoire, "The Maple Leaf," "Sunflower Slow Drag," "The Entertainer," and "Elite Syncopations." She had played them as she thought, over and over for her own pleasure and others, until at last she had laid them aside as passé. But it chanced that she incidentally dropped into a store one day, where Joplin was playing "The Sunflower Slow Drag." She was instantly struck with its unique and soulful story, and—what do you think? She asked someone what it was. She had played over it and around it for twelve months and had never touched it. (pg 104)

In the early 1900's, roaming piano thumpers engaged in "cutting contests" when each musician would play a selected rag faster and faster, improvising changes and striving to excite the crowds with their increasingly wild innovations. Scott shied away from such contests not for lack of talent, but because his compositions were meant to be played at a slower tempo to elicit the right 'feel' or mood of the piece. This is something he battled against most of his life, and to this day more often than not, you will hear a well-meaning yet positively spastic renditions of Scott Joplin's ragtime music. (I'm looking at you, Martin Spitznagel) — Click here for a decent enough rendition of "Sunflower Slow Drag".

I have provided lynx to my Top 10 Faves below if you are interested in hearing what this is all about rather than just reading about it.  :-)  I admit that some of these compositions required a couple of listens before I caught the real heart of the melody, or a musical 'joke' he inserted in the phrasing. A variety of players are offered to represent the wide appeal of his music; however, I did seek out samples that adhered to the slower feel Joplin preferred, with the minor exception of "Pine Apple Rag" which I personally prefer in a slightly quicker tempo ~ it reminds me of that certain feeling that accompanies the best late-spring-early-summer days, with hope hanging in the air like a breeze (not unlike reading "Dandelion Wine" by Ray Bradbury):

 ♫ "Pine Apple Rag" (1908) as played by Joshua Rifkin in the early 1970's
  ♪ "Fig Leaf Rag" (1908) another favorite of mine, played by I don't know who .. .
 ♫ "The Chrysanthemum" (1904) (Benjamin Loeb)
  ♪ "Rose Leaf Rag" (1907) played by Scott Kirby, widely considered the best performer alive for Scott Joplin's music
 ♫ "Solace - A Mexican Serenade" (1909) performed by Joshua Rifkin (most famous for its second half, which you may recognize) *
  ♪ "Felicity Rag" (1911) [co-written w/Scott Hayden] performed by Giovanni Tornambene (this one has a real interesting turn of melody)
 ♫ "The Ragtime Dance" (1902) Joshua Rifkin
  ♪ "The Easy Winners" (1901) Cory Hall, with a bit of 'swing' lilt added (and not going overly 'Cory-Hall-ish' like he usually does...) *
 ♫ "Maple Leaf Rag" (1899) Kristen Mosca playing the piano at Disneyland's Casey's Corner ~ kind of messes up at the end, but that's OK!
  ♪ "The Entertainer" (1902) This guy... hopefully playing keyboard in his little sister's room - quite serious at the end, but great playing! *
* Selections from original soundtrack of "The Sting" (1973): "Easy Winners" / "Solace" / "The Entertainer" with loads of orchestration

A soft-spoken man of keen wit and dapper attire, Scott Joplin was married three times: first to Scott Hayden's sister-in-law, Belle, which did not end well. His second wife, Freddie (to whom he dedicated "The Chrysanthemum") seemed a perfect match; however, she died from a cold that led to pneumonia just 10 weeks after they were married. Lottie, his third wife and a true love, helped him through the latter years of his life as he struggled to produce his ragtime opera "Treemonisha" in New York City. Scott believed that if he could find an audience through such efforts, he might be able to truly consider himself an accomplished composer and musician. But every attempt to launch this production met with compromised partnerships and/or mismanaged production efforts. He eventually succumbed to trembling dementia and was admitted to a local mental institute in January, 1917. Three months later, Scott Joplin passed away at age 49 all but forgotten by the music world.

Occasional revivals kept his music alive, orchestrated by Jazz players in the late 30's and 40's, followed twenty years later by classical musicians. Yet it can be argued that Joshua Rifkin pretty much single-handedly revived global interest in Joplin's music through his early 1970's recordings "Scott Joplin: Piano Rags". These records, marketed now as Classical, rose to the top of the charts. What's more, many of Joplin's signature tunes proved the perfect musical accompaniment for the 1973 movie "The Sting" which won seven Oscar Awards. And if that wasn't enough, this 'Classic Cat' biography details how "The opera Treemonisha was finally produced in full to wide acclaim in 1972. In 1976, Joplin was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize." Today, his music is as widespread as any other, played, re-recorded, re-arranged, and even posted on YouTube by amateurs and professionals alike. As mentioned in the music links above, Scott Kirby is widely considered the best contemporary performer of Scott Joplin's music, phrasing and emoting through the music as closely as most believe the pieces should be played.

By reading this book, I learned not only about the man behind this most excellent music, but also of the countless others who have preserved his memory and artistic legacy. I am throwing in a couple of 'added bonus' artists in this review because their music dances from the roots of Joplin's ragtime: George Winston and his "New Hope Blues" (©1972) and virtually anything posted on YouTube featuring Morgan Siever, like this bit (advance to the 2:00-minute mark and Be Amazed). Oh, I also learned that there are just an awful lot of 'Scotts' populating the world of Ragtime. ~ weird.

 Maple Leaf Rag (sample)

book: "Life's Operating Manual"
14 · "Life's Operating Manual" (Tom Shadyac) © 2013 / 261 pgs
   starz (1) A Waste of Time [1]

I wrote about Tom Shadyac back in November 2010 after learning about how this Hollywood director/producer chose to downsize his life rather than run amok with financial success. He helmed a long string of comedy movie hits and made heaps of money, but pretty much chucked it all, sold his mansion, and moved into a mobile home trailer park within bicycling distance from his most frequent appointments. Then this past year, one of my daughters spoke of their class viewing one of his latest efforts entitled "I Am" so I decided to check it out for myself. Despite a few Christianese inclinations, when one interviewer graciously identified Tom as a Christian, he looked a little pensive and wore an obviously non-committal demeanor. He did not so much as give a smile or a nod to the affirmative ~ and rightly so. Tom Shadyac could not (and to his credit, would not) describe himself as a Christian by definition, as any true follower of Christ clearly, and usually with joyful passion, declares the Lordship of Jesus Christ, how He is the only Saving Hope for mankind, and so on. But that's not Tom's angle at all. In fact, his angle seems rather difficult to determine ... so I read his book.

What a spaghetti bowl mishmash of world philosophies and hopeful sentiments, hopping from 'mother earth' to Buddhism and raking select quotes from NON-Biblical sources like the gnostic 'gospel of Thomas', just to mention a few. But wait, there's more. Along with this cherry-picking 'salad bar' approach to gathering dogmatic morsels from quite literally ALL the world has to offer, He justifies his convictions not upon solid reasoning, but through (and I'm being generous) supposed objective arguments peppered throughout his narrative as an imagined dialogue between personified Fear and Truth. But his 'truths' are nothing but wandering declarations founded upon nothing concrete whatsoever, no sensible basis of logic, no historical or archaeologically-sound findings, but rather what he hopes or wishes reality might be... (That's what a diary is for, dude) He speaks of humanity's need to 'awaken' (ie, shades of the 'Self Enlightenment') and references ancient 'mystics' in a vague sort of way, not really identifying of whom he writes, giving the impression (I think is his intention) of wisdom by osmosis .. or something.

He speaks in wistful tones of the "unifying ideals of the major faiths" but fails to address how, should one actually examine and compare the fundamental tenets of the major world religions, scores of show-stopping basic differences flare up at once. They are often exclusionary in their contrasts .. but hey, not in 'Life's Operating Manual'. He sprinkles in occasional bits of Jesus' teachings along the way like toppings on a theological sundae of hope-it's-true flotsam, whatever suits his opinion, but fails to accept (or even entertain) the other 99% of what Jesus taught... which He did Quite Clearly.

By page 57 I had to stop reading this thing in any serious sense, as it only got more ridiculous the more he wandered on... The rest of it just compounds more glumpily into a shapeless morass of New-Age-Unitarianism-Socialism, bouncing occasionally across the rails of God's Truths, but more often swirling off after more sparkly rabbit-trails of metaphysical hopes, dreams, or intentions — nothing that 5 minutes of Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" wouldn't clear up... at least on a humanistic level.

I do not doubt the man's sincerity. And for what it's worth, whatever it is he thinks he has figured out for himself (and, God bless him, he's sharing through a worldwide publication that makes about as much sense as fly-fishing for elephants) he certainly is not afraid to live it out big and bold in front of everyone. He may not have any concrete source-assuring answers for his cultural pie-in-the-sky dreams, but for his part, he is most definitely walking his (esoteric) talk, and that takes some real nerve in today's Hollywood culture.


book: "Jesus on Trial"
15 · "Jesus on Trial" (David Limbaugh) © 2014 / 406 pgs
   starz (4½) Nearly Perfect [4½]

After the insipid twaddle of that last book, reading this was like drinking deeply from a fountain of YES! Besides the subject matter which admittedly appeals to me, so much is logically examined and explained here that I almost felt like my brain was on a badly-needed vacation in the land of Refreshing Reason. I bought two copies, one for me and one for my daughter's boyfriend, aiming to read a chapter and then meet to discuss whatever he liked, hoping to address a number of questions he had at the time regarding the foundations of Christianity and leaning on Jesus as a way of life. Even if I could not manage to read this, at least he would have it as a resource of his own. But his college and work schedule proved too much for him, so it was I who ended up reading it after all.  :-]

Again, given the last book I had read, this one rained all over me like a balm to my soul, so it's no wonder dozens of pages got cornered and highlighted. This is a fine Biblical apologetic, introducing not only facts but also (perceived) paradoxes, going on to addresses each of them squarely. (No reason not to, eh?) The premise is right there in the title: examining evidence for, and against, Christian theology, including many of the far-reaching claims made by Jesus Himself while ministering here in person 2,000 years ago. My rating represents how well-written and effective I believe this might be for anyone seeking a good book to dive into such matters. It shares a place on the shelf alongside other apologetical books by Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell. If you really mean to dive into some fabulous Christian theology and topical studies, I highly recommend you look into the works of C. S. Lewis ► start with "Mere Christianity". By the way, these three men (and there are plenty more) were staunch intellectual atheists before examining the Truths about God, the Bible, and Jesus Christ... just saying... (Added Bonus: a good example of a modern skeptical atheist turned Christian due to the evidence she found; and here's another one)

Right! So I will fill the rest of this 'review' with points and quotes I found especially compelling...

To say that saving faith involves more than the intellect is not the same thing as saying it is unreasonable or that it involves abandoning our rational faculties and embracing our faith blindly. Our faith is based on abundant evidence, rationally weighed and considered, as this book intends to demonstrate. It isn't taking some blind leap; it's taking a fully informed plunge of the will into the arms of Christ. (pg 75)

In considering the value of pursuing spiritual disciplines (Bible study, scriptural meditation, personal examination, prayer, worship, fellowship, service, etcetera):

Richard Foster, in his Celebration of Discipline, put it this way: a farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for its growth. He cultivates the ground, plants the seed, waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and the grain comes up. This, says Foster, is how it is with the spiritual disciplines. “They are a way of sowing to the Spirit. The disciplines are God's way of getting us into the ground; they put us where he can work within us and transform us.” The farmer works hard and the disciplines likewise require effort on our part, but the farmer can't produce fruit without God and we can't produce spiritual fruit without God. So sanctification is a process, one in which we, as believers, are actively involved, but it is not a partnership with the Spirit in the sense that we each do our respective tasks. It is His “work” that drives the process; we can only grow spiritually as He empowers us. He works in us and through us. (pg 79)

Limbaugh, a lawyer himself, goes on to examine the "problem of evil" in the world, the seeming paradox of God's sovereignty versus the freewill He allows mankind (quoting in part from Professor James O. Edlin: "human action matters in a world governed by a sovereign God"), our personal responsibility in light of an absolute and holy God (and no, it is not to become perfect .. as if that were even possible in our own power...)

Why should we pray when God is sovereign over everything anyway? This is a question I myself have wrestled with in years past, which is addressed as well as I've ever seen it here on pages 116 and 117.

The Absolute Sovereignty of Jesus Christ, His own claims to that equality with God the Father, and how ludicrous it is to describe Jesus Christ as having been merely "a good teacher" is all addressed in fabulous detail in pages 134-146.

Ah, then Limbaugh explores the prophetic portions of the Bible that Jesus Christ fulfilled, which, in doing so, is literally mathematically impossible unless it really happened as described. (See some really amazing and easy-to-understand calculations by Peter Stoner, professor of mathematics and science, on page 199 - verified as scientifically sound by the American Scientific Association) This caps pages and pages of other prophetic Scripture fulfilled to the letter from Abraham's time (roughly 2000 BC) and into the New Testament (late 1st century AD).

Next is the historicity and just a few of the thousands of archaeological evidences validating the Bible's origins, including the accuracy of transmission of Old Testament manuscripts from Hebrew to Greek and so on, itself verified in no small part by the Dead Sea Scrolls found between 1947 and 1956. This all begins on page 201 with chapter 9 "The amazing Bible, Part 3: Reliability and Internal Evidence". Non-Christian historical sources are included a'plenty, persons and events substantiating Biblical accounts.

Then matters of hard science are explored, such as the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the structure of DNA, and human consciousness. Here is just a taste from that section:

MATHEMATICS —
Further complicating matters for Darwinists is applied mathematics. David Foster researched the probability of the development of DNA for one of the most primitive single cells from random processes. He concluded that “the DNA of the T4 bacteriorage has an improbability of 10 to the 78,000th power. In a universe only 10 to the 18th power seconds old, it is obvious that life could not have evolved by random chance.”
“But what if the universe is older than David Foster says it is?” asks Christian author and pastor Joe Coffee. “The consensus of today's naturalists claims the universe is 13.7 billion years old. That's less than 10 to the 42nd power seconds old and, according to the mathematics of the Big Bang, still not nearly enough time to explain the complexities of DNA and the origin of life.” (pg 306)

GENETIC LIMITATIONS —
Naturalists have been bombarded from all angles, including by the science of genetics. Geneticists have determined that many changes can be engineered within a species, but there are limits to such changes. While you could engineer a bigger dog, you can't make one with wings—because genetic boundaries preclude it. This casts further doubt on Darwinist theories of species evolving into other species (macroevolution). (pgs 305-306)

Toward the end of his book, Limbaugh tackles the prickly subject of Pain and Suffering and reminds his readers that, while all he has presented thus far is well and good, "It's not knowing about God, but knowing God" that truly matters. One's physical situation will certainly change over time, sometimes for the better, but always resulting in death in this fallen world. (It is as certain as the next breath you take) The Bible teaches that ALL of this — entropy, illness and disease, death — is a direct byproduct of the curse of sin, which WILL be abolished one day by the Lord. Suffering serves a number of purposes, which Limbaugh details along a number of logical paths. Additionally, many other books have been written about this particular topic over the centuries, so I will not get to quoting it all here or I will by typing all night .. [yes, even more than all this] ..  ;-)  If you are curious to learn more this subject, then pick up a copy of this book or one of the many other volumes addressing this universal human condition. For the purpose of this particular review, I will conclude with the following:

[ Quoting from Ravi Zacharias... ]

God alone is the absolute expression of love that is never separated from holiness. God cannot be at the same time holy and unloving or loving and unholy. In turning our backs upon Him, we lose the source of defining love, live with the pain of unholiness, and suffering remains an enigma—leaving our blemished characters in search of a moral law and our finite minds crying out for an answer.... When we come to Jesus Christ at the cross, where love, holiness, and suffering combine, we find both the answer to why we suffer and the strength to live in this mortal frame for Him....

Words alone cannot possibly eradicate the anguish, agony, and grieving that human beings endure. But Christianity does offer the one ultimate answer, Jesus Christ, Who will sustain all who place their trust in Him. Countless people who had given up all hope finally found their rest in Christ, Who, if we'll place our faith and abide in Him, will truly give us a peace that surpasses all understanding. We know that we can trust Him because He voluntarily suffered and died on our behalf. We know we can relate to Him and Him to us precisely because, for our sakes, He voluntarily endured every kind of indignity that we can possibly experience ourselves. His offer is not for us to embrace an abstract intellectual belief in His existence. It is to develop a real and intimate personal relationship with Him. In that relationship, the Bible assures us, we will find enduring peace and fulfillment. Please believe it. Please act on it. You won't regret it. (pgs 130-131)


book: "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity"
16 · "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity" (Nabeel Qureshi) © 2014 / 296 pgs
   starz (4) Quite Wonderful [4]

In case you just simply are not aware, a growing contingency of Muslims, at risk literally of life and limb, are denouncing Islam for what it is: a heretical and blood-soaked threat to ANY kind of common sense. (Don't believe me? Look into it yourself - their own dogma fuels their hatred and madness) These daring souls are declaring Christ as the One True Savior. Islam's Quran (their equivalent of the Bible) teaches that such 'apostates' should be hunted down and killed with extreme prejudice. Imagine for a moment witnessing such behavior at a local Christian church in your own neighborhood. "Hey, welcome to our church, how nice to meet you - oh by the way, if you ever leave our faith we will kill you!" That is seriously what this is all about — I'm not joking or exaggerating here. How is this acceptable in any conceivable way?! And yet, this is what Islam teaches. And it is happening more and more around the world today, encroaching even now through our own porous American borders . . .

This book chronicles one such devout Muslim raised in this exacting faith, delighting in it, relishing its history, teachings, culture, dogma - everything. He embraced every bit of it, fervently defended it, and loved it all passionately ...as a good Muslim should. But in all fairness, true adherents to any faith can manifest such piety as a regular part of their lives. But this one was so On It, he was being tailored to become a bold young leader in their Muslim community, so he sought after higher professional education, proselytizing each step of the way. However, he found in time that Islam just crumbles under honest scrutiny, that its strongest debaters could not defend their own religious tenets against reason (and more specifically, Christianity), and that the violence being perpetrated in the name of Allah and Muhammad these days is a demonstrates true adherence to what the founder of the faith, Muhammad, did and taught.

This book not only chronicles his paradigm-shifting journey out of darkness, but provides a rich and bracing education on what Islam is all about, describing in detail the history of its growth, its culture and subcultures, offering comparisons to Judaism and Christianity along the way as he continued to find himself challenged. Dr. Nabeel offers dozens of definitions for unique terms necessary in understanding the Islamic faith, He touches on the five pillars of Islam, the six articles of faith, and explains the value of the hadith, sirah, shahada and salaat, Ramadhan, sharia law, the doctrine of abrogation, and Bucailleism, just to name a few. (He provides a glossary at the end of the book, thankfully) One of the more fascinating aspects I learned about are the myriad and flat-out unbelievable lengths they embrace to dismiss the deity of Jesus Christ, claiming that he only feinted while nailed on the cross (called the 'swoon hypothesis'), and that he therefore survived the crucifixion (not likely.. study Roman crucifixion, and you'd better have a barf bag handy) after which he just sort of wandered off to India to lay low. ...Well, that's just one idea. There are plenty more, and of course none of them can be agreed upon by ruling Muslim authorities. But all Muslims everywhere are unified in supporting ANYTHING to disavow Jesus Christ's claims of deity, His (documented) resurrection, and all that He accomplished while here on earth ~ not to mention His ongoing Lordship . . .

Right. Anyway, Dr. Nabeel describes in lurid detail how his firm beliefs came to be rattled by mounting evidences. It is quite a fascinating thing to watch as his entire world gets rocked, slowly at first, then undeniably as he begins to compare these challenges to the true (so-called) scripture of the Quran and Muhammad's and Islam's genuine history. One of the things that rocked his mind was a comprehension of the Christian teaching of the Trinity: God is three-in-one, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. (see pages 194-195)

The Quran is a disjointed mess of noise, often not finishing its own topics, with no internal coherent structure. The Bible, on the other hand, is clear, historically sound, cohesive to a fault, and validated both by Christian and bountiful secular ancient sources. On page 36, Dr. Qureshi explains how "Muslims believe that every single word of the Quran was dictated verbatim by Allah [in 610 AD] through the Archangel Gabriel, to Muhammad." Yet the Bible warns against this very thing:

Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other
than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!

—  Galatians 1:8 

How eerily similar this sounds to Mormonism and their angel, Moron(i), providing 'gold tablet' New Scriptures to Joseph Smith .. which cannot be seen, produced, or even exist to this day... Deception is the signature of Satan. Mormons claim that you too can become a god which, curiously enough, is Satan's original lie. And Muslims spread their 'love' by terrorizing and killing anyone who will not succumb to their ways. I wonder ... could it be that these are NOT of God, or something..? Sorry. I just get really torqued with those who espouse lies at the expense of the eternal destiny of gullible souls .. . like Jehovah's Witnesses and all other like cults...

Dr. Nabeel Qureshi's conversion to Christianity cost him all of his family relationships and a good measure of security in his life. He cannot return to visit those he loves in the Middle East without fear of harm or death. Yet he is not alone in these experiences. Check out Kasim Hafeez's testimony "How a Pakistani Muslim Became a Zionist" (3½ min) [September 2014]. Other accounts can be read about here, or here, or here. I challenge you to peel back the veneer of America's mainstream news feeds and investigate for yourself some international news and LEARN what the rest of the world is contending with out there: the plague of Islam spreading like deadly scourge across mankind... And for my cushioned American readers who (like so many in the U.S.) think all of this smacks of fanaticism and is just worlds away, then I urge you to take a look at how Sharia Law is creeping into America's legal system right now, and see if your blood does not run cold at the totalitarian, backward, and brutal ideology (with its inherent abuse toward women, among other atrocities) is already being instigated in heartland states like Oklahoma, Michigan, and of all places, even Texas . . .


book: "Jesus on Trial"
17 · "Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts" (Jerry Bridges) © 2014 / 240 pgs
   starz (5) Outrageously Superb [5]

This books fell into my hands serendipitously, and turned out to be one of the best I read all year. I have read quite a few of these kids of books over the past decade, but this one really seemed to hit me where I live even now. It is one of the best, if not the best, I have read when it comes to maintaining a grip on God's Love and Sovereignty when life goes horribly awry. Consider how the preface begins:

When I was fourteen years old, my mother died suddenly, without warning. I was in the adjoining room and rushed in just in time to see her gasp her last breath. I was stunned and devastated. My older brother was away at school, and my dad was too stricken with grief himself to be able to help me. Worst of all, I did not know how to turn to God in times of trouble. I was alone in my adversity. (pg 7)

Jerry Bridges is unafraid to ask the Really Big Questions most people (even Christians) avoid, then dives right into that rough and tangled territory with honesty and integrity, which I truly appreciate. Yet I found even more valuable the bedrock assurances he draws from Scripture, and from the lives of others who have suffered greatly and yet still praised God through it all. ( What tenacity / what Trust! ) It is by quite a margin the book I highlighted the most in this past year. Just take a look at the table of contents to get an idea of where he dares to go:

1. Can You Trust God?   8. The Wisdom of God
  2. Is God in Control?     9. Knowing God's Love  
  3. The Sovereignty of God   10. Experiencing God's Love  
  4. God's Sovereignty over People   11. Trusting God for Who You Are  
  5. God's Rule over the Nations   12. Growing Through Adversity  
  6. God's Power over Nature   13. Choosing to Trust God  
  7. God's Sovereignty and Our Responsibility   14. Giving Thanks Always  

Honestly, the best praise I can offer is in sharing samples from a few of my favorite sections. See if, in reading some of this, you too are not compelled to spend some time considering these points...

    In His well-known statement about sparrows, Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. . . . So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31). According to Jesus, God does exercise His sovereignty in very minute events — even the life and death of an almost worthless sparrow. And Jesus' whole point is: If God so exercises His sovereignty in regard to sparrows, most certainly He will exercise it in regard to His children. While it is certainly true that God's love for us does not protect us from pain and sorrow, it is also true that all occasions of pain and sorrow are under the absolute control of God. If God controls the circumstances of the sparrow, how much more does He control the circumstances that affect us? God does not walk away and leave us to the mercy of uncontrolled random or chance events. (pg 29)

    Trusting God is not a matter of my feelings but of my will. I never feel like trusting God when adversity strikes, but I can choose to do so even when I don't feel like it. That act of the will, though, must be based on belief, and belief must be based on truth. (pg 52)

    We are absolutely dependent upon God, but at the same time, we are responsible to diligently use whatever means are appropriate for the occasion... The student who fails her exam [cannot blame God for it], nor the worker who loses his job for lack of diligence, nor the person who becomes ill because of poor health habits. Our duty is found in the revealed will of God in the Scriptures. Our trust must be in the sovereign will of God, as He works in the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives for our good and His glory. (pgs 120-121)

As Alexander Carson (pastor, teacher, theologian) observed: yes, God has promised to protect us and provide for us, but it is through the means of His appointment of, and for, each of us, through our vigilance in His empowering strength, our continued prudence in Him, and our application of industry, that we are to look for these blessings. [paraphrase]

The chapter entitled "The Wisdom of God" really does a great job describing God's sovereignty over this fallen world in its current state of decay. If such questions prick at your conscience, I highly recommend that you find this book and check out pages 123 to 141. God's limitless love (ultimately as expressed through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf) is described in the following chapters, demonstrated through Scripture and with affirming reason, which then leads to my favorite section in the entire book, pages 160-165 in the chapter "Experiencing God's Love":

    We must see our circumstances through God's love instead of, as we are prone to do, seeing God's love through our circumstances. (pg 160)

    There are several things we can do in order to learn from adversity and receive the beneficial effects that God intends. First, we can submit to it — not reluctantly as the general submits to his conqueror, but voluntarily as the patient on the operating table submits to the skilled hand of the surgeon as he wields his knife. Do not try to frustrate the gracious purpose of God by resisting His providence in your life. Rather, insofar as you are able to see what God is doing, make His purpose your purpose.
    This does not mean we should not use all legitimate means at our disposal to minimize the effects of adversity. It means we should accept from God's hand the success or failure of those means as He wills, and at all times seek to learn whatever He might be teaching us.
    Sometimes we will perceive quite clearly what God is doing, and in those instances we should respond to God's teaching in humble obedience. At other times we may not be able to see at all what He is doing in our lives. At those times, we should respond in humble faith, trusting Him to work out in our lives that which we need to learn. Both attitudes are important, and God wants one at one time and the other at another time. (pg 190)

    [When adversity comes] we realize we are not disposed to trust God. Unbelief and resentment surge within us. We are dismayed at the scene. The growth in Christian character we thought had occurred in our lives seems to vanish like a vapor. We feel as if we are back in spiritual kindergarten again. But through this experience God has revealed to us some of the remaining corruption within us.
    Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit. . . . Blessed are those who mourn. . . . Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:3-4,6). All of these descriptions refer to the believer who has been humbled over his sinfulness, who mourns because of it, and yearns with all his heart for God to change him. But no one adopts this attitude without being exposed to the evil and corruption of his own heart. God uses adversity to do this. (pg 194)

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift
you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

—  1 Peter 5-7  
 

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

—  Job 2:10  
 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many
kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not
lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives
generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

—  James 1:2-5  
 

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

—  Hebrews 13:5  
 

    Let's go back then and take a deeper look at 1 Peter 5:7. God cares for you! Not only will He never leave you — that's the negative side of the promise — but He cares for you. He is not just there with you, He cares for you. His care is constant — not occasional or sporadic. His care is total — even the very hairs on your head are numbered. [Luke 12:7] His care is sovereign — nothing can touch you that He does not allow. His care is infinitely wise and good so that again in the words of John Newton, “If it were possible for me to alter any part of his plan, I could only spoil it.”
    We must learn to cast our anxieties on Him. Dr. John Brown says of this verse, “The figurative expression 'cast,' not lay, seems to intimate that the duty enjoined is one that requires an effort; and experience tells us it is no easy matter to throw off the burden of carefulness.” So we are back to the matter of choice. We must by an act of the will in dependence on the Holy Spirit say something such as, “Lord, I choose to cast off this anxiety onto You, but I cannot do this of myself. I will trust You by Your Spirit to enable me to, having cast my anxiety on You, not take it back upon myself.”
    Trust is not a passive state of mind. It is a vigorous act of the soul by which we choose to lay hold on the promises of God and cling to them despite the adversity that at times seeks to overwhelm us. (pgs 214)

    On the one hand we are to humble ourselves under God's mighty hand — an expression equivalent to submitting with a spirit of humility to God's sovereign dealings with you. And on the other hand, we are to cast our anxieties on Him knowing that He cares for us. The anxieties, of course, arise out of the adversities that God's mighty hand brings into our lives. We are to accept the adversities but not the anxieties
    Our tendency is just opposite. We seek to escape from or resist the adversities but all the while cling to the anxieties that they produce. The way to cast our anxieties on the Lord is through humbling ourselves under His sovereignty and then trusting Him in His wisdom and love. — Humility should be both a response to adversity and a fruit of it. (pgs 227)


book: "Ready Player One"
18 · "Ready Player One" (Ernest Cline) © 2012 / 384 pgs
   starz (4) Quite Wonderful [4]

An old adage advises writers of fiction to craft their tales based on experiences and close familiarity with a given subject matter. This lends credibility and authenticity to one's narrative voice, affording the best chance for the story to ring true for its readers. In other words: Write What You Know ~ and man, did this guy ever take that to heart! He is currently 42 years old and it shows in this book. I mean this in the best possible sense. He grew up in 80's and, as anyone who ever harbored an appetite for the popular culture of that decade can understand, it left an indelible impression in his soul that he now shares with the rest of us through this sci-fi/fantasy pop-culture wonder of a mashup.

Imagine Willie Wonka in cyberspace, controlling the universe but allowing tons of freedom for all who choose to join to his network. In this case, that is everybody. It is the year 2044, and James Halliday has created the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation), which is basically the internet as we know it now, but hyper-expanded into an all-immersive alternate reality. While this idea is not new in sci-fi (see 2010's anime "Summer Wars" and its virtual world 'Oz', along with a whole slew of alt.reality MATRIX-ish books and films released since the 90's), this environ feels the most authentic and lived-in, to me anyway, with all the trappings that might naturally spring up throughout such a cosmos, like entire planets formulated around a popular movie, characters and registered properties duplicated helter-skelter, and all manner of creative (but coherent) mayhem. In fact, this very point is something Ernest Cline pursues with wild abandon.

This is the kind of book another writer buddy and I would imagine back in the early 80's, examining the details in the cover art of our favorite alt-rock albums, dreaming up meanings and stories behind all the imagery... but the spectre of copyright infringement precluded any blossoming ambitions. No such fears hampered Ernest C. Cline, who uses STAR WARS and STAR TREK as merely a starting point for his rocket ride across the galaxy through hundreds, perhaps thousands, of meaningful pop culture references. And the best part is, it never grows passé, but feels just as fresh and invigorating as you sense it is for the characters working through its construct.

My only hesitation with the book occurs early on, where God is dismissed as some kind of centuries-old hoax bordering on the schlock found in 2003's "The Da Vinci Code" with its own variant truth claims that, while fine in a fantasy story, rang a little too close to reality for most uneducated readers who could not separate errant elements from what is historically authenticated. This kind of 'false = true' nonsense really irks me .. but this is my own personal concern. The rest of "Ready Player One" is nothing but a blast!

Set in a (dystopian natch) future, the plot follows the journey of a young protagonist named Parzival who sets out to be The One to find the ultimate prize in all of OASIS, a hidden 'Easter egg' left by Halliday before he passed away. Whomever finds this prize will win the rights to control all of OASIS. Nearly everyone, then, is an egg-hunter, either by casual interest or single-minded profession. True devotees are known as 'gunters' ("egg hunter" abbreviated). Parzival is a prime gunter, but so are many others. Some of these are his friends, like his online crush, Art3mis, and Aech (pronounced like saying the letter "h"). Besides the challenges of the hunt itself, chief antagonists take the form of 'sixers', who are employees of IOI (Innovative Online Industries), the totalitarian company hosting the OASIS servers and unified to the last employee in finding the Egg for absolute control and commercialization over the entire network — nothing short of complete world domination.

That's just the setup. I hope you're taking notes because this thing takes off from here like a manic rollercoaster, barely slowing down for occasional edge-rimming turns... Cyber-jargon rolls from the page like an unceasing avalanche, insourced and 1980's related. Since Halladay (and Cline) loves him some 80's, the most crucial locales and experiences are wrapped up and/or embodied in every conceivable form of that decade's pop-culture. It is amazing, to say the least, to carom through all of this while Parzival and his friends struggle to locate clues, ward off real-world threats, and out-pace the sixers running their own parallel quest ..but with overwhelming corporate backing (and no small amount of real-world menace).

Halladay hid three keys throughout the unspeakable vastness of the OASIS, each leading to a gate housing another clue that points cryptically to the next. Shuffled into all of this, our heroes encounter variations of u-live-it movies made famous in that Glorious Decade, like "War Games" and "Sixteen Candles" and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (just to name a few) and all manner of other incarnations... cartoon characters and fantastic locations made manifest, songs and TV shows woven in as integral elements to the Quest... For instance, the clues to the first key lead gunters to 'The Tomb of Horrors', a legendary adventure from the old Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game (module 'S1' ~ not that I would just know that or anything). Anyone hoping to find and acquire the Copper Key must brave this extensive and dangerous dungeon in the OASIS. And should they finally reach the goal to face off with the lich in the heart of the tomb, the final contest requires no hair-raising battle of arcane magic (although it so easily could), but rather they must best Acererak the Lich in two out of three games of JOUST, which just so happens to be my favorite arcade game back in the day .. .

~     SPRECHEN MI LINGO, BRAH    ~

Video games feature prominently throughout the narrative. The very quest for the keys and gates are overtly modeled upon the crude Atari game 'Adventure' (©1979) which featured a pesky prize-snatching bat and unstoppable dragons that looked like ducks...

 Atari 'Adventure' game cartridge

 Atari 'Adventure' Yellow Castle with Key

 HERE BE DRAGONS!

 Yorgle, the Yellow Dragon

This, like so many other references and imaginative twists from the 80's, rang so close-to-the-bone in my own experiences of yesteryear. Countless after-school afternoons found me 'studying' at a friend's house as we plunked in one Atari game cartridge after another, 'Adventure' and 'Warlords' ranking highest among them. To this day, the slightest whiff of autumnal apples takes me back to the pantry where they always stored bags of apples, which then led to the living room and their Atari 2600 console. That kind of resonance occurs with nearly every turn of the page . . .

Plenty of other games like Pac-man, Tempest, and even Zork, all play pivotal roles in the plot. This fact alone is just simply Too Cool because it all works in service to the story. Parzival rides around in a flying DeLorean from the "Back to the Future" series, housing an onboard KITT computer system, all tricked-out in GHOSTBUSTERS gear. He engages a Voight-Kampff machine from BLADERUNNER, turns into Ultraman (life-size) to fight Mechagodzilla, and incorporates Max Headroom as a real-world avatar in his home-based OS. I could go on and on (as Cline does) with countless references, but by now you probably get the picture.

...Or maybe not. If none of this rings any bells for you ... then honestly what are you doing reading this blog..? You should probably just get yourself a good Tom Clancy novel and be done with it. ~ But for the rest of us —( and judging by the sales and worldwide success of this, Cline's first book, we are legion )— especially if you lived during the era and swam in all that 80's goodness, this book is like a goldmine of memories packaged in a modernistic cyberpunk Dr. Who Lunchbox!

As if all of this was not enough, a deep and healthy appreciation for Rush shines throughout the story! Halladay (ie, Cline) works a number of elements from the band and their history into the Quest, requiring Parzival to literally extract a vintage guitar from behind a waterfall and play "Discovery" inside the actual Temples of Syrinx!  If the significance of this is entirely lost on you, then you can just move along with that Tom Clancy novel in hand. For this represents just another iconic moment of the hundreds shared in the OASIS. (Too bad the Actual PRIESTS were not involved.. they would have made for an excellent plot complication.. maybe made the sixers Priests of the Temples of Syrinx ... Hey Ernest, I have an idea for you..!)

Steven Spielberg has signed on to direct a movie version of "Ready Player One", which is one of the most Outstanding and Perfect thing I've ever heard of, I think, in my life. (Dude - I sure wish Steven Spielberg would make a movie of my first book!) Actually, I am curious to see how this will be developed with the torrent of licensing concerns producers will need to overcome. But hey, that's not our problem, right? Let's just see what ol' Stevie will make of this, and how he manages to get the rights to include the countless elements outside the bounds of his own movie-magic properties referenced in these pages.  :-)

To conclude: I would have ranked 'RP1' higher ("Nearly Perfect") if it weren't for the unnecessary jive about God, along with a few other low-brow elements. Maybe I'm expecting too much from someone targeting as broad a secular market as this.. But why is it so hard for anyone to either [A] just not bring it up in their otherwise creative story, or [B] acknowledge the 'possibility' that God exists and just might be behind EVERYTHING..? I dunno .. another personal point I can rectify if/when I bring my own super-cool sci-fi novel to market...

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