Young Josiah

Earlier this week I got a brief message from our choir director that told us we had no choir practice and encouraged us to enjoy our week off.  As is my fashion, I felt it necessarily to reply somewhat cheekishly to this message by commenting that with two other practices–one before services with the a capella choir with the children’s choir for a performance in June, and the other a practice after services for the piece we are to sing next Sabbath–as well as Sabbath School, I did not have this particular Sabbath off, even though a church-wide fast was scheduled.  It seems that I am temperamentally unable to simply let things rest, whether it be a day or whether it be a brief and lighthearted message.  If it is half as exhausting to deal with me as it is to be me, it must be more than exhausting enough for most people not to want to tangle too closely.

As it happens, the Sabbath School lesson today is one I find of particular importance.  I am not sure how much of the story the children will understand of it, but it is the story of the law being found in the temple and brought to the young King Josiah.  The story is told in 2 Kings 22:  “Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath.  And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.  Now it came to pass, in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, that the king sent Shaphan the scribe, the son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the house of the Lord, saying:  “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may count the money which has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have gathered from the people.  And let them deliver it into the hand of those doing the work, who are the overseers in the house of the Lord; let them give it to those who are in the house of the Lord doing the work, to repair the damages of the house—to carpenters and builders and masons—and to buy timber and hewn stone to repair the house.  However there need be no accounting made with them of the money delivered into their hand, because they deal faithfully.”  Then Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it.  So Shaphan the scribe went to the king, bringing the king word, saying, “Your servants have gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of those who do the work, who oversee the house of the Lord.”  Then Shaphan the scribe showed the king, saying, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king.  Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes.  Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Michaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king, saying, “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”  So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. (She dwelt in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter.) And they spoke with her.  Then she said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Tell the man who sent you to Me,  “Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will bring calamity on this place and on its inhabitants—all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read— because they have forsaken Me and burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands. Therefore My wrath shall be aroused against this place and shall not be quenched.’”’  But as for the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, in this manner you shall speak to him, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel: “Concerning the words which you have heard— because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they would become a desolation and a curse, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you,” says the Lord.  “Surely, therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place.”’” So they brought back word to the king.”

Let us look at the various aspects of this story which are striking, and there are a lot of them.  Whether or not I am able to convey all of them to the young people is uncertain, but if they get even a part of it, it will still be a worthwhile story for them.  For one, let us note that Josiah was a righteous king who had decided after generations of unbelief that the Temple to God in Jerusalem needed repairs.  The freewill offerings of the brethren came in for the repairs, and priests and the workmen of the temple were considered so trustworthy that it was not necessary to account for what they were given.  While they were engaged upon this task, the book of the law had been found in the Temple, apparently ignored and unread for many years.  When the law was found and read, Josiah’s response was to tear his clothes in mourning over the failure of Judah to obey the law in the face of what was promised punishment, even to the point of destruction.  They then went to Huldah, a prophetess, who pronounced that although the doom on Jerusalem was certain that Josiah would escape the national calamity because of his own tender heart.  It is more than a little bit striking that they would go to a prophetess, not least because there are so few prophetesses named in the Bible and because there were plenty of God’s prophets active including literary prophets like Jeremiah and Habakkuk.  At any rate, what we see here is a praise of Josiah’s faithfulness as a ruler combined with a gloomy prophecy about impending national ruin.  It is hard not to read this passage without thinking of our own age [1].

In order to help the children better understand what was found, I printed out four passages from the law in Deuteronomy for the students to find in our class and then to read out at least portions of it to understand what it was that the people of Israel and Judah had disobeyed so flagrantly.  I also hope they are able to understand at least a little bit about the context of the repentance of Josiah–I might have them look at Josiah as he is mentioned in 1 Kings 13 in a prophecy as well as how he was raised up as king among the possible heirs through the people of the land, as those are interesting aspects of the historical and political and religious context as well.  Anyway, as tired as I am, as plagued by headaches and poor sleep, I hope I can convey just how distressed Josiah was to know about the doom of the nation he ruled, a doom that I reflect upon often when I think about the state of my own nation.

[1] See, for example:

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Restaurant Review: The Peppermill (Aloha, OR)

I don’t make it my general habit to review restaurants [1], but as it happens, this one is a request.  As I was sitting on my bed hungry and headachy towards the end of a fast this evening, I pondered how it would be best to finish the fast.  Given the sort of mood I am in, I had a place in mind but was not sure that it had wifi, so after calling the place and finding out that it did, I made my way to a place that I have eaten at a few times but none particularly recently, The Peppermill of Aloha, which is not too far away from Aloha’s library, another place I do not go to even though it might seem to be a fairly natural place for me to end up given my tastes in reading.  When I arrived at the place, I found to my surprise that one of my coworkers was there smoking outside the restaurant with a lady, and surprised to see me going out to eat alone.  He requested that I try the pot roast (which I declined, on account of it not being a gout friendly food), and that I write a restaurant review of the place, so here goes.

How friendly is this restaurant for a quirky writer like myself?  Well, after quietly watching me awkwardly look under the tables and booths for a while looking in vain for an plug while a laptop bag was on my shoulder, one of the waitresses directed me to a place I had never sat in, the far back wall of the resttaurant, next to a television that was turned off.  In general, this place is a comfortable and homey sort of restaurant, where one has witty conversation with the waitresses–and they are invariably waitresses–and enjoys well-cooked and hearty food, which we’ll get to shortly.  Despite the fact that it was a Saturday night, the place was nearly empty.  Perhaps the paucity of televisions devoted to the Blazers game and the fact that the restaurant appeals to a senior crowd that goes to bed earlier had something to do with the general emptiness of the place, because I have been here before earlier in the evening on work nights on the way home when I lived in the Murray Shoals area and the place was much busier.

So, what did I get to eat when I was there?  Well, for one, I got some fried motzarella for an appetizer, and though the dish is a bit spendy (averaging about $1 per fried cheese stick), the dish is a tasty one and the supply of marinara sauce with shredded cheese on top is pretty generous.  I ordered a dinner salad with the house Italian dressing to go along with my entreè, the chicken fettuccine alfredo, and forgot to tell the wait staff to take off the beets.  The waitress helpfully commented as I was taking off the beets from my salad that beets are a somewhat polarizing option for salads and I agreed with her, and later on as she delivered the chicken fettuccine alfredo, she asked somewhat rhetorically about their cheese sticks being the best.  Their iced tea was pretty strong, which is good, and after seeing the way I guzzled the first couple of glasses the waitress wisely brought an entire pitcher for me to drink the rest of the evening.  The chicken fettuccine alfredo was tasty–one only wishes there had been a bit more of it because by the time I had it, I was about ready to eat the plate.  Will I regret eating an alfredo dish in a few hours?  Quite possibly, but it was tasty.  As I was still hungry after I was done, I picked up an inexpensive slice of carrot cake to close out the meal and add a bit of balance to it.

Is this place worth coming back to?  In a perfect world, if my dinner choices were not highly conditioned by cost, this would be a place I go out to a lot more often.  I enjoy the friendliness and occasional stabs at wit from the waitresses, and the place is one where I can be left alone to read or write without being frequently bothered, all of which I particularly enjoy.  While the food, especially the appetizers, are a bit spendy, the food is tasty and the place is certainly worthwhile.  As it stands now, I can’t imagine myself eating here all that often, but it is a place I could see myself eating at from time to time.  It is certainly a local establishment that I find sufficiently quirky to give my seal of approval, even if I can be more than usually awkward when it comes to my own experiences here.

[1] But see, for example:

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Book Review: The Philosophy Of Jesus

The Philosophy Of Jesus, by Peter Kreeft

This is a good book, even a great book, but not a perfect book.  This author [1] gets as close to one can of a great many truths about God as one can as an unconverted Catholic, but the fact that he is a Catholic means there are at least a few matters here that are irritating to many readers.  For one, he considers John Paul II to be among the most insightful believers in recent memory for some platitutdes about the importance of Christ and the culture of life.  For another, more seriously from the point of view of a philosopher, the author makes some serious errors of non sequitor when it comes to the nature of God.  The author argues from the premises that God is loving, lover, and beloved and also a family that therefore God is a closed Trinity, which simply does not follow in any way shape or form.  Likewise, the author’s Catholicism is a problem when he talks about supposed saints like Augustine, Francis, and Ignatius of Loyola, none of whom would have met the biblical standard of sainthood.  Given my warm and favorable feelings for the book as a whole, I figured it was necessary to state my concerns and objections about the book forthrightly at the start, in order not to lead anyone astray by too warm of a recommendation.

The contents of the book are organized very logically.  After introducing four elements of philosophy and commenting on the reality of Jesus Christ as a philosopher through an appropriation of the arguments of C.S. Lewis in one of his letters, the rest of the book is organized into four chapters where the author looks at his view of Christ’s metaphysics, epistemology, anthropology, and ethics.  The author is at pains to remind the reader that Jesus Christ was a Jew and that had implications, although the author himself appears to be ignorant of the implications of the Jewishness of Jesus Christ and that following Jesus authentically would involve a great deal more obedience to God’s laws in the Torah than he appears conscious of.  As kyrios of the Sabbath [2], Jesus Christ is not honored by worship on the Lord’s Day as is so common among Hellenistic Christians like the author.  Nevertheless, in under 200 pages and told with verve and enthusiasm, this book ought to be something of interest for a wide variety of philosophically inclined Christians, especially if they do mind the way that the author brings in his characteristic concerns about the culture of life as opposed to our society’s culture of death, especially as it relates to sexual morality.

Ultimately, this is an attempt to view Jesus Christ from a philosophical Catholic perspective.  I find elements of this view appealing, and other elements less so, but I am aware that there are many who would find this particular book quite appalling in contrast, whether that is liberal Catholics or those who view everything that is written by a proud and enthusiastic and loyal Catholic as being beyond redemption.  If this book is missing something of the Holy Spirit in its inspiration, it is certainly an able and brave cerebral account of Jesus Christ according to the standards and language conventions of philosophy.  The author does a great job at writing in philosophical language and showing how Jesus Christ’s thought and practice met the standards of the academy, despite the fact that it is not culturally fashionable to say so.  There is something refreshing in the author’s willingness to engage in an apologia of the intellectual value of Christianity and a refutation of the way that Christianity is often perverted and corrupted through its adoption to ungodly ends and human ambitions.  If this book is not perfect because of the author’s perspective, it has a valuable and worthwhile purpose to those of us who are both Christians and intellectuals.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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Book Review: A Little Book For New Philosophers

A Little Book For New Philosophers, by Paul Copan

When one reads a book, even a book as little as this one (about 120 pages and small enough to fit in a pocket), one has to ask what motive the author has for writing it.  What agenda is the author trying to promote?  What audience is he (or she) aiming at?  In this particular book, we find that a suitably introductory work to encourage philosophy as a profession–the author even asks the obvious question of what kind of living a professional philosopher can make–ends up also being an appeal for Neoplatonism.  As someone who has mixed feelings about the relationship between Christianity and philosophy [1], this book gave me profoundly mixed feelings, as I could not completely buy the author’s argument but at the same time agreed that there were ways that Christians can and should practice philosophy.  There is good philosophy, but this particular book does not quite qualify as it.  To be sure, this is a book that encourages and legitimizes good Christian philosophy, but it does not quite live up to the high standard it aims at.  At least it aims well, though.

The contents of this short volume are two parts with four chapters each.  The first half of the book discusses why a Christian should study philosophy.  The author compares philosophy to baking bread and comments on the concerns that many people have about practicality.  Then the author talks about what philosophy means as loving wisdom–not necessarily being wise, about the relationship between faith, philosophy, and scripture, and then the way that we should think about God.  Unfortunately not all of the author’s advice on this last score is very accurate or wise, to say nothing about biblical.  Those who believe in illogical contradictions when it comes to the nature of God should refraim from considering themselves fitting models of biblical philosophy.  The second half of the book consists of the author talking about how to study philosophy–as an encouragement to the virtuous life, as part of a godly Christian community, with wise doubts and humility, and as a pursuit.  After that comes a couple of indices.  Overall it can be said that this book does not overstay its welcome, and it provides a lot of worthwhile quotes and thought-provoking material, so there is a lot to enjoy here, but I have to admit that I was a little bit disappointed by it myself.

After all, this author is a Hellenistic Christian and not a biblical one.  Those who are intellectually-minded professed Christians will likely greatly appreciate this book.  They will find nothing wrong with believing in a faith that does not take the Bible completely seriously and that seeks to curry favor with other intellectual people like deists through having a deeply cerebral religious worldview.  To be sure, that is the ideal audience of the book, the people who are already involved in the sort of synthesis the author represents that was typical of medieval Catholicism or certain strains of Reformed thought.  I am not the ideal audience for this work, because although I am a cerebral person with a great interest in philosophy, I face a much more difficult task than that dealt with by the author and those he is writing for.  Unlike them, I don’t come from a tradition that views Athens with even the grudging respect given by others, and this book quite frankly is not a help to me as an intellectual Christian.  It would be nice if it was, but perhaps I simply expected too much.

[1] See, for example:

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The Night Is Just A Shadow Falling On You

Today I saw a story showing on my social media that discussed the arrest of a husband and wife for female genital mutilation, a social custom quite popular in certain backwards areas of the world and with their refugee populations in the United States, apparently.  In other news, my social media wall exploded with a great deal of ferocious political commentary concerning our current president’s crackdown on sanctuary cities who deliberately attempt to disregard federal laws against illegal immigration [1].  I am not talking harsh new laws either, but the rather ineffective laws we already have on our books.  The discourse on that latter issue fell under three different lines.  Some people, of course, whined about xenophobia of our president and his administration.  Others supported the crackdown as a necessary and proper enforcement of law and order, and still others decried any sort of use of government coercion to deal with problems of anarchy in the not unreasonable fear that left-wing administrations in the future would do the same to right-wing opposition to abortion and other forms of moral evil because they disagreed with such coercion on principle.

Both of these stories demonstrate a problem that has to be dealt with in any society.  Do governments have the right of self-preservation?  Does government have legitimacy as authority, even apart from the specific conduct of those authorities?  I would argue, along with the apostle Paul, that authority did have legitimacy.  Paul, we should remember, applied this principle most awkwardly to himself [2].  The legitimacy of authority in the general case and the behavior of corrupt and fallen human authorities cannot be conflated together, but must be examined apart.  I am not sure why it is that so many of the libertarians I know neglect this fact.  These are people, by and large, who want to be viewed as authorities, at least in the sense of being people worthy of being listened to and accepted as authorities in terms of political discourse, but they rail against authority in general.  Their behavior undercuts their own desires, as they show themselves inconsistent to their own principles and ambitions.

It might seem unfair that authorities are given a presumption of legitimacy.  We know, after all, how authority can easily be abused, and how painful and destructive that abuse can be.  Yet if we know ourselves, we will also realize that there is an automatic tendency for us to denigrate those authorities we disagree with.  Any authority that acts against our own desires, regardless of how illegitimate those desires, is going to be seen by us as abusive or coercive.  If one is standing apart from a situation, as a generally uninvolved third party, one can tell the difference between proper discipline and abuse.  When one is involved in the situation, one is not generally so able to see things with a perspective that approaches impartiality.  Since we cannot be just judges in our own causes, any authority that disagrees with us in any point is going to be considered by us as illegitimate, regardless of the facts of the matter.  Yet at the same time many of us wish to be seen as authorities over others, unaware or uncaring of the fact that we do unto others what we detest being done to us.  We think of ourselves as being fit for power and honor and influence and think of others as being unworthy of such things, and we often do not have enough regard for offices as such to separate the legitimacy of the office from the conduct of the officeholder.

After all, regimes and institutions only have legitimacy insofar as their offices are worthy of honor apart from whomever happens to hold them.  We may have had fathers and mothers whom we thought particularly ill-suited for the authority given to them, but if our regard for the offices they held is high enough, we may aspire to be better fathers and mothers ourselves if we have the opportunity, and give proper honor to others for doing a difficult task, regardless of how poorly it was done in our own estimation.  We may think a particular president ill-qualified for the office, but hope that a better one will be chosen next so that the dignity of the office will suffer no permanent harm.  Because the authority of an office is apart from any sort of personal dignity held by those who are in such an office, we can see the private sins and failings of a person as not having any sort of permanent harm to the robes of office that they happen to temporarily wear.  No one is irreplaceable in a position of honor and authority, not even ourselves, and separating offices from officeholders, and seeing offices as being worthy of respect and honor for the well-being of institutions and society even if we have a poor opinion of the people who often hold such authority is the only way that we can honor God and have a realistic understanding of the world in which we live.

After all, it is not as if our leaders are worse evildoers than the rest of us.  We are all fallen beings.  Any leaders we have will be fallen leaders.  Some will be more corrupt than we are, some will be less corrupt, and many will be on the whole as corrupt but in different ways where both we and them could feel ourselves smugly to be superior based on our own biased perspectives.  Are cities that disregard the enforcement of just laws worthy of sanctions?  Absolutely.  Are people who mutilate small children in order to obey barbarous customs rather than our own laws worthy of punishment?  Without question.  Are there any perfect authorities present under heaven in order to exercise such authority and to enforce justice?  Not in the least.  Does the absence of perfect authorities negate the legitimacy of those imperfect authorities we have to do the best job possible?  Not at all.  Even angels are a part of the government of God with their own hierarchies and their own system of authority under God.  And if angels are a part of an ordered and structured realm, how can we humans resist the same, seeing as we require greater restraint against the evil tendencies within us?

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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Book Review: Angry Birds Star Wars Character Encyclopedia

Angry Birds Star Wars Character Encyclopedia, by Steve Bynghall and Glenn Dakin

Do you like Angry Birds?  Do you like Star Wars [1]?  Do you find the idea of these two being mashed together like the Lego Batman Movie to be at least somewhat appealing?  If so, you will probably like this book.  I must admit that I am not as knowledgeable about angry birds as others, but even despite this handicap I found the book to be entertaining and a little silly in the best possible way.  As someone with a high tolerance for silliness, I found this book enjoyable and likely would find the game that this book seems to be connected with as enjoyable as well.  This is not a demanding book, and even by the standards of books meant for children this one appears particularly undemanding and silly, but it has a specific purpose and a modest target that it is aiming at, and manages to do what the authors set out to do.  One wonders, of course, if this book is part of the new Star Wars universe set up by Disney, and if there will be future Angry Birds characters to add to this one, but I do not know if that will be the case.

In terms of its structure and content, this book is rudimentary but actually a bit more involved than one might expect.  This book manages to exceed what any reader would have as very modest expectations.  The first half of the book manages to discuss a lengthy roster of Angry Birds heroes on the good side of the Jedi and the second half of the book, roughly, manages to discuss the Pork Side, various evil pigs.  The worldbuilding is remarkably impressive, giving a translation of the mythos of Star Wars that fits in with the ethos of Angry Birds, a mashup that works better than it has any right to do, with concerns over controlling anger and gluttony, both of them quite serious concerns in the Angry Birds game as well as for many of us in real life.  I will freely on to the reality that controlling anger and appetite is a struggle, but a struggle well worth engaging and persisting in.  As one might imagine, it is quite shocking to me at least that Angry Birds as a game would have anything worthwhile and serious to say about the world and how we should live, and so I found myself pleasantly surprised by the material I found here.

Will you find this book to be worthwhile?  Possibly, if, as stated above, you appreciate either/both Star Wars and Angry Birds.  The amount of work done to make the Star Wars story, at least the first six episodes of the film saga, fit within the Angry Birds universe is impressive.  Even if you do not find a great deal of interest in either of the worlds that are combined here in this particular book, and in the game that it is a companion to, there is still something to appreciate in this book concerning the relationship between different companies and the possibility that different corporate interests have for alliances and crossovers for mutual profit.  Even if you have little interest in games and contemporary fantasy film and literature, there is still something useful in seeing the success of corporate tactical alliances.  The possibility of this ought to raise in our minds at least the thought of what sort of connection and cooperation can exist for those with common interests.  If companies can join together and work together for their own mutual benefit, can others with mutual interests and compatible goals be any less ready to unite?

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Ultimate Official Guide To Club Penguin

The Ultimate Official Guide To Club Penguin, by Katherine Noll

Have you ever heard of Club Penguin, an online community for flightless bird-loving young people?  Me neither, despite my general familiarity with age inappropriate entertainment [1].  I have to admit, though, from reading this book I am not sure if the Club Penguin still exists, but it existed for at least a few years in the mid-to-late 2000s (this book was published in 2008) and it seems like a pretty cool place.  If I was a web-savvy kid, it looks like the place I would have enjoyed going and would have provided some suitably worthwhile ways to waste time and enjoy online socializing.  The place looks like something appealing, and therefore this book, as odd as it is, ends up being appealing as well.  I am no stranger to online games or to online communities, and this one strikes an interesting note, in that it encourages good, clean, innocent fun and activities that could at least theoretically prepare someone for responsible adulthood–including taking care of imaginary pets–and also one that captures the flavor of contemporary anxieties by encouraging children to snitch on those who harass or cause problems.  The book reflects a genuine and apparently successful attempt at building an ersatz online community through games and a focus on imaginary trinkets and baubles to amuse the young.

In terms of its contents, this book is pretty straightforward.  One would think of it as little else given its target reading demographic somewhere in the tween range.  After an introductory section appropriately called “getting started,” the book’s contents are largely focused on the NPCs and games and activities and items that can be purchased that relate to various places within the gameworld, and the places are listed as:  town center; the underground; the plaza; the forest and the cove; forts, rink, and dock; the beach and the Migrator; the ski village; hidden places; and the igloo, which is the player-owned territory that can serve as a social location as well.  In addition to these chapters there are chapters about joining the community and how one can do various actions through combining special items and the dance move.  The last part of the book looks at the individualization of the player’s penguin.  All told, the book takes less than 200 pages to give an introductory discussion of an imaginary world that is somewhat nonspecific but also somewhat quirky and interesting at the same time, along with enough secrets to make this book appealing to those who are already familiar with the basics but might want a bit more.  I read this sort of book very commonly as a child who played role playing games and wanted to know all the tips and secrets so I could get all of the loot in the most efficient way possible.  This book was made for people who are like I was as a child, for what it’s worth.

So, is this book worthwhile outside of its age range?  Yes.  Obviously, if you like Club Penguin, and especially if you play it, this book is worth reading.  The book is sufficiently interesting on its own right, though, to make this reader wonder what book two has in its contents, or if its listing as book one was merely a tease in expectation of future success and growth the same way that the Backstreet Boys called their first hits compilation “Volume One” optimistically.  Aside from its target audience, though, the book is worthwhile as an exploration of imaginary communities in the digital age.  What is it that can lead somewhat atomistic people to join together in ersatz online communities in an age of widespread anxiety over predatory adults?  How can children learn responsibility in a safe fashion in the absence of intact social institutions like families?  This book provides at least an attempted answer at how such goals can be achieved in the right imaginary world, where children form part of the help and part of the security apparatus and interact with avatars of other children while being raised to report on those whose behavior is outside of the norm.  Whether one views this as a good thing or a bad thing depends, of course, on one’s own perspective and worldview, but it is certainly worth paying attention to all the same.

[1] See, for example:

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What’s Love Got To Do With It?

In 1984, from her immensely successful comeback album Private Dancer, Tina Turner released what is perhaps her signature solo song, which became her first and only #1 hot in the Billboard Hot 100, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”  The song became so synonymous with her as an artist that it was also the title of a movie about her life.  If you know a little bit about the back story of Tina Turner’s life, the title of the song and its sentiments make more sense.  Having spent many years in an abusive relationship with the controlling Ike Turner, Tina Turner had better reason than most people to be more than a little bit down on love.  To be sure, she is a woman with the same sort of longings that human beings have in general, but in this song she questions why people should put the longings and chemical reactions inside of us on such a pedestal.  She saw, again more clearly than most, that merely following the chemical reactions inside of us often led to unhappiness and misery.  Certainly that is true for many of us in this world.

Throughout my life I have had very little sympathy with those who rage against all restrictions against following their defective brain chemistry wherever it wants to go.  To be sure, I have a lot of empathy with those who struggle to deal with longings in the face of moral, legal, and cultural opposition, but I have little sympathy with those who rage against the need to struggle against their own natures.  Anyone with a shred of self-knowledge will know that we are all filled with a great deal of loathsome and problematic longings.  Perhaps I am aware of such matters better than most because my own longings have been more loathsome or at least more problematic than most [1], but I know the level of heroic self-restraint that is necessary for me to live anything remotely approaching a decent and normal life.  I have to continually remind myself that the slow people on the road or the frustrating people I deal with in my life are not intentionally trying to bother me but are people likely focused on their own problems and issues and just unaware of the irritation that they cause to others through their ignorance or incompetence.  Being a bit more aware of the difficulties I cause myself and others through my own incompetence, I tend to feel a sense of deep melancholy and shame for myself.

I have a dear relative whom I deeply love.  I remember when she was very young that I taught her how to play checkers.  I remember that from the time I become an adult that we would frequently walk around the country block near where our grandparents lived and would talk about the goings on of life, and the way that it was so complicated by the behavior of others.  Shortly after I turned twenty-one my grandparents and the widow of a Belizian sugar farmer took us to a wine tasting (a grape juice-tasting for my dear relative) and it was thought that we were a couple from the way we got along.  One time I took her as a date for a ladies’ night and my pastor at the time thought it necessary to announce to the whole congregation during announcements that I was there with my cousin, on account of how struck he–and apparently everyone else–was by my rapport with her.  The fascination other people saw in how I got along with this relative, and with other people for whom I have felt a great deal of love and fondness, has always struck me as more than a little strange.  Did people think that I lacked any sort of emotional longings being a person of deep intellect and more than the usual amount of awkwardness and discomfort?

Being a person with a heart formed for love, I have never thought it necessary to hide or disguise the love I felt for others when I felt it.  God knows I have known too little love in this life as it is.  But I have never viewed the love I have felt as an excuse in acting for my own selfish desires.  I have plenty of selfish desires, have always had more than my share of them, and likely will struggle with them as long as I live and draw breath in this human existence, just like everyone else.  Fortunately, though, my love has always been combined with a regard and a respect for others and a deep horror at coercing others into being mere objects.  I have loved others as subjects far too much to engage in the sort of objectification I find all too common in the world around me, and if that has saved me from a great deal of suffering and torment, and saved others from a great deal of suffering at my hand, then perhaps it has been worth at least some of the complications and unhappiness that has involved my own emotional life.

Famously, the Greeks had at least four words for love.  Our English language seems a bit impoverished in comparison, but we too have plenty of words, it just that the word love itself is a bit too slippery and elusive for the purpose of clarity.  Perhaps this is so because we want it to be.  We could, if we wanted, cut and slice our own complex and even contradictory definitions for love into other words if we wanted to.  We could have a word like storge to describe family affection, phileo to describe the love of brothers and friends, eros to describe our considerable sexual and romantic longings, and agape to describe a self-sacrificial love that few people approach in their own conduct towards God or others.  The fact that we, and I speak here as a native English-speaker with a large vocabulary, do not choose to do so says something about us.  It is as if we know somewhere intuitively that calling something, whatever it is, by the name of love will give it a dignity and a legitimacy that it would deserve if it were called by a more limited and precise term.  Our language is fuzzy because we want it to be.  We do not want clarity, because if we were clear about what we meant we would have to stare into the dark abyss of our own hearts, and be honest with ourselves and others about the limits of what we meant.  That is not an appealing prospect for any of us.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: And Still She Laughs

And Still She Laughs:  Defiant Joy In The Depths Of Suffering, by Kate Merrick

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishing.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

This book is messy in the best way.  Reading this book, which is one of an unfortunately long list of books about dealing with the messiness and brokenness of life by female authors [1], one gets the feeling that speaking to the author would not be unlike reading the book in its honesty and in its forthright awkwardness.  I have somewhat mixed feelings about the rush of books being written by and for people who have been deeply damaged by life.  On the one hand, as someone who has been deeply damaged by life in ways that are painful and distressing, and knowing many people who feel the same way from a variety of circumstances, I am glad that there are books made that seek to comfort people and reach them where they are.  On the other hand, I think we would do well more to point towards the ideal than wallow in the pain and suffering of the real.  This book, like many, reaches us where we are, but there are other books needed to point us to where God meant for us to be.  Perhaps this author, in the future, will write some of them.

In this book’s 200 or so pages with twelve chapters that mix the author coming to terms with the death of her daughter Daisy from cancer and the experience of multiple miscarriages with her own intense biblical study of other notable biblical women like Bathsheba, Mary of Nazareth, Sarah, and Hagar.  The book has an interesting feel to it, in that it is full of vivid discussion of the problems of life from the author’s own experience and observation, told with wit and even sometimes a sense of reckless abandon and also a thoughtful and serious take on notable biblical women and their value as models and comforters to believers.  It goes without saying that this book is written by women, about women, and for women, as are many books that are in my library, but this book is not meant only for women, and there are certainly men who would find a great deal of encouragement in the honesty of the author and her willingness to openly wrestle with the pain and difficulty of life with a fair amount of bravery.

There is a lot to value about this book.  The author clearly has a good authorial voice and a command of her subject matter.  One can empathize with her and how she struggles to overcome grief and bitterness and PTSD.  One can also celebrate the fact that despite her suffering she has a loving husband and two surviving children who bring her great joy, even if they do not erase the pain and suffering and loss that she has experienced.  This book is one that asks some tough questions and in wrestling with God gives encouragement to those who are wrestling with God in their own seasons of divine discontent and trial and struggle.  Indeed, it is surprising how polished this book feels despite the author’s scatological focus and the messiness in many senses of the word of her subject matter.  Be that as it may, as a book that combines biblical study along with elements of memoir, this book is one I can warmly recommend, especially for women looking for encouragement during dark seasons of life.  The author’s honesty and grim determination will likely lessen the burden that many feel in their own periods of grief and sorrow.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Reclaiming The Art Of Biblical Meditation

Reclaiming The Art Of Biblical Meditation:  Find True Peace In Jesus, by Robert J. Morgan

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.  A free study guide is available for all readers of this book.]

I have been looking forward to this book for quite a while, or at least a book like this one.  As a person with lifelong anxiety difficulties, a subject I write about often [1], I have often come across recommendations for meditation as a way to reduce the high levels of crippling anxiety under which I labor in this life [2].  There are many books that either assume that the reader knows a great deal about biblical meditation or seek to promote Buddhist or New Age meditation, about which I have a great deal of abhorrence given the way it opens up one’s mind to ungodly spiritual influences.  The author here gives a short and straightforward guide to biblical meditation aimed at people like myself who desire more peace and calm in life and have a biblical worldview.  One wonders why there are not more books like this one available, but this is the sort of book to appreciate anyway, given the conditions of our world.

In terms of its contents, this book is very straightforward in its approach.  This is not a particularly difficult or complicated book.  To be sure, application is harder than reading, but the author has an immensely worthwhile approach to his material and this book is a joy to read.  Most of this book is made up of ten short chapters that deal with the subject of biblical meditation, discussing its importance, focusing on God and gaining perspective, seeing ourselves as God sees us, calming our spirit and finding peace, helping us to understand God’s word, gaining insight into God’s will, giving techniques for effective meditation, finding godly success, hiding God’s word in our hearts through meditation and memorization, and a conclusion discussing the benefits of biblical meditation.  After this comes a ten-day meditation guide that gives practical steps and questions to encourage meditation through looking at each word, reading passages in different translations, and doing word studies.  The book closes with a thoughtful set of scriptures to meditate on, acknowledgements, and notes, all of which come in at under 200 short pages.  The book is not only beautiful to read, but its graphical design is beautiful, a sign that those involved really paid attention to making this a worthwhile book in many ways.

To be sure, this book is not perfect.  There are at least a few occasions where the author gets a bit too mystical about the Trinity, as many professed Christian mystics are wont to do on occasion.  That said, for the most part this is a practical guide to how to meditate on scripture based on what the Bible itself says.  There is a wide need for this in our contemporary society, as I am sure I am not the only one in life who finds myself far too burdened by anxiety and stress.  The book’s approach is made all the more better by the author’s own admission of his own struggles with self-doubt and his own knowledge of his lack of preparation for the godly success he wanted out of life, and his awareness of the difference between how God measures success and how the world does.  This is a book that manages, therefore, to answer quite a few concerns in our desire to know God and God’s word better even as we become the way we need to be for God to work out His plans in our lives.

I would like to comment in addition on the free study guide material that is included for download for those who follow the link at the top of this entry and go through the subscription process outlined on the author’s webpage.  The introduction to the short guide (28 pages) shows the author is aware of the intense anxiety of our age and the fact that a how-to guide on meditation was needed.  The guide then includes five sessions which have a consistent format of conversation, content, and conclusion, each of which has important elements of questions, an intense study of God’s word, and application.  The guide as a whole is an effective companion to the book, and one wonders why the author didn’t simply include it in the book, which was fairly short already.  At any rate, while one would wish for more meditation on the law of God, this book is fantastic at providing the practical tips needed to meditate on scripture along with plenty of worthwhile passages to reflect on.  It would be ungenerous not to appreciate this book for being so practical and helpful, and its guide is the same.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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