La Hotel Espero: Chapter Fourteen: Part One

Day Five:  Kate

It came naturally to her to help her friend in need.  She did not know what Ashley had done to find herself crumpled in a heap in the dark night, but it looked as if she was trying to escape and had not succeeded.  She supposed that everyone who was ever here–who knows how many people that was–felt the same way about the place and wanted to get out, but apparently it was not a very easy task.  Of course, getting out was only part of the challenge.  She had seen endless miles of dark forest on all sides, with nowhere to go to find anyone else.  She could not imagine that a place that close to Portland could be so remote.  It made no sense that a hotel would be located in a place so distant from the beach or from human civilization at all, and she wondered what kind of design had placed a hotel like this one in a place as desolate and deserted as this one.  No wonder that Ashley had wanted to escape, and yet she had found herself knocked out and unable to do anything about it.  Even though Ashley was not the ideal roommate, Kate cared a great deal for her well-being.  She was not the sort of person who wanted anyone to suffer and had a genuinely kind heart when it came to such matters.  She was certainly not the sort of person who would let someone else suffer if she had it within her the power to do something about it, and here she did, at least a little bit.

She would likely be unable to remember it now, but once upon a time she wanted to be a nurse.  She would have made a good one, to be sure, with her concern and her compassion, her tolerance of long hours, her natural conscientiousness, and all of that.  She would have made a fine nurse, had she realized that childhood dream, but her life took a different direction.  She had a hard time remembering the past, except as it involved her friend, and she sometimes wondered what was blocking her mind from an understanding of what had gone before.  She knew that she had lived a decent life and had moments of genuine fun and excitement, that she had traveled and seen the world a bit, and yet she could not bring those matters to mind easily.  She did not know why, and did not know who to ask about that.  It was not an easy matter in a world where forgetfulness was seen as the first sign of mortal doom from a horrible disease like dementia to ask someone else whether they too had memory problems that prevented them from calling to mind the past as easily as they did before.  She had lost access to a great deal of her own memories, but at the same time she was aware that there was something to remember.  It was like the windows of this hotel.  There was a wall in front of them but one knew all the same that there was something blocking the windows from the inside.  It was not a pleasant reminder, that the hotel should so closely resemble the state of her own mind.

She tried to do the best she could to take care of Ashley.  She could tell that there was breathing, but there was no response to anything she did.  Kate made sure that her patient of sorts was resting comfortably on pillows.  She was surprised that there was no obvious head wound as surely she had knocked herself unconscious with something like a serious concussion.  Yet it had not broken the skin at all, and for that she was grateful.  She wondered why there was no trip to the hospital, no clearing for athletic activity by a licensed medical official or anything like that.  Conditions here, for such a place as this, were rather primitive.  It puzzled her and she wanted to figure out the mystery, and she resolved to ask the bellhop about it.  It was not, of course, the first time she had ever given unlicensed but useful help to her friend.  How many times had Ashley had a bit too much to drink and she had nursed her back to health after a bad hangover?  What about those pregnancy scares when a one night stand threatened with becoming something far more serious, something that would have horrified Ashley to think about, the thought that she would be connected through a living being to someone who had been merely temporary entertainment and the satisfaction of her considerable but ill-focused longings and desires.  It had not been easy to help take care of Ashley, and yet here again there was the matter of secrets.  She hoped that Ashley would be able to talk to her, to tell her what was troubling her.

After spending some hours doing this, she turned off the lights and had a few hours of fitful sleep herself.  She seemed to remember herself on a road, the car weaving back and forth, feeling greatly anxious, and then seeing a bright light and the world going black.  She wondered what it meant.  Was this a nightmare or a memory?  How was one to tell the difference?  It troubled her, and she was not the sort of person who appreciated being troubled by such a thing, or was used to it.  She was used to the sleep of the blessed, where she could not remember her dreams and was used to waking up full of energy and encouragement to face the day ahead.  It was not like her to be troubled and tormented in herself, as if her mind was trying to work out some sort of trauma, with the results that she would be reminded over and over again of something horrible that had happened that had to be faced with grim courage day by day.  She had lived a good life that was relatively free of intense suffering, at least so much as any life could be free of such torment.  It bothered her that something had happened that she could not understand that was robbing her of a great deal of the joy of life.  She enjoyed having loving and friendly company to be with, but it felt as if she was being imprisoned for a crime that she could not conceive of, and it was not a happy feeling.

After a few hours of fitful and unsatisfying slumber, she awoke to find her friend still unconscious and insensible, but breathing relatively peacefully, and so she resumed her nursing duties with as much cheer as possible.  Yet it was a lonely and unpleasant task, and after a few hours of this she wondered if the task would not be better with company.  She hoped she was not interfering with the work of the bellhop, since she knew he worked a fairly normal shift most days.  He, like many people, was a creature of habit with his own routines that he held to, perhaps more tenaciously than most.  She picked up the phone with some hesitation and gave him a call.   “Good morning,” she heard him say, a bit sleepily, she thought.  “This is Kate,” she replied, feeling a bit idiotic for being so obvious.  “I trust all is well with Ashley?”  “About that.”  “What about that?”  “I think it would be better if you came over here,” was the concerned voice she summoned.  “Will do.  Would you like some fresh towels?”  “Would I ever!”  “I’ll be right there.”  They closed with some loving words that no one likes to hear who is not a lover oneself, and with that she had to wait for only a few minutes before there was a knock at the door, and when she opened it, she saw the bellhop with a laundry cart taking the towels and replacing them with some fresh ones.  She was certainly glad to see that, and would feel a lot cleaner when she used those, that is for sure.

Not long after the bellhop arrived, Ashley began to stir, keeping Kate from asking the questions she wanted about nightmares and about her feeling of being imprisoned here and what Ashley was up to.  Ashley opened her eyes and put her hand to her head and saw the bellhop.  “Get out of here,” she said somewhat fiercely.  “It’s your fault that we’re here.”  He looked at her a bit puzzled, with his head tilted.  “I don’t know what you mean.”  “You’re the jailer here, aren’t you?”  “No, I too am a fellow inmate.  Perhaps I am a lifer while you are new here, but I am certainly not your jailer nor anyone else’s.”  “You want to hurt us.”  “I want nothing of the kind, but if it will make you feel better for me to leave, I will do so and leave you to the tender care of your friend.”  Kate looked a bit sad, knowing that he would sacrifice his own pleasure at her company to keep her friend from being irrationally upset.  The two of them kissed and made a promise to see each other later and talk, and then he was gone as quickly as he had arrived.  Never had she felt that her friend had been more unreasonable or had denied her of more pleasure and enjoyment from the company of someone, but she supposed that people who had just knocked themselves out while trying to get out of a mysterious and somewhat creepy place were not the sort of people who could be relied upon to be the most reasonable beings around.  She did not know if she would respond any differently or any better to the same sort of circumstances herself, and tried to have mercy on her friend even if she was irritated.

Kate looked at Ashley, who appeared to have a spark of realization and asked something.  “Where is the bellhop’s room?”  “It’s a small room near the lobby.”  “Is there anything interesting in it?”  “There is a somewhat fancy box on a desk and a lot of books.”  “Okay, so no bodies or anything like that?”  “No, nothing like that.”  “What kind of books are there?”  “There are novels and a lot of history books, and quite a few volumes in other languages that he seems to be able to read.”  “Oh, okay,” and with that Ashley was silent.  “How do you feel?”  “I feel like I had too much to drink last night, except not nauseous.”  “You knocked yourself out pretty good at the gate.”  Ashley seemed to remember this a bit.  “I was trying to get away from here.”  “We figured that.  The bellhop and I found you out cold on the driveway and brought you back here.”  “Thanks for that, I suppose.”  “Don’t mention it.  Why do you think the bellhop wishes to harm us?”  “He’s the only other person here and this place is obviously shady, so what else could it be?”  Kate had to admit that Ashley’s logic was at least superficially plausible, even if she thought that the truth was more complicated.  “You’ve got a point there.  I have some questions for him myself about that.”  “Are you going to stay here?”  “If you’d like me to, I will, but I did want to see the bellhop again this evening.”  “Go to him.  I think I can manage myself as long as I keep the lights low.” “Alright, fine by me,” Kate said, relieved that Ashley was getting back to herself again, or at least a more pleasant version of herself.  Kate then busied herself with getting ready for tonight, finding a lovely emerald green dress with a black belt, and then taking a luxurious bath in order to help herself feel more relaxed and using some of those fresh towels to feel clean.  Feeling clean always made a day or evening easier to face, especially if one had questions that one wanted to get answered.  And with that, she was off to talk to the bellhop and hopefully enjoy a pleasant date together with him once again.

Posted in NaNoWriMo, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Scandal Of Redemption

The Scandal Of Redemption, by Archbishop Oscar Romero

[Note:  This book was given free of charge by Net Gallery/Plough Publishing House.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Sometimes books, like other creations (this happens a lot especially in songs and movies) suffer because of a problem of framing.  One may find a great deal that is praiseworthy in content that is presented, but one finds the framing of that content to be troublesome, and one hesitates to praise the content because the person who wrote this book is being co-opted for an unacceptable political approach that he himself rejected.  Such is the case with this book.  Insofar as my comments about this book are complementary, they are about the writing of the ostensible author of the book, an archbishop who was assassinated in 1980 during the midst of a brutal civil war in El Salvador by the military and government authorities who he criticized for their injustice.  That said, this book is framed in the context of liberation theology, a theology similar to the contemporary social gospel of my own nation that I particularly abhor [1].  I think the archbishop was right to reject the narrowly focused and Communist-influenced liberation gospel that was being peddled by the radicals of his time and remains on offer today, even as he spoke the truth to corrupt and brutal authorities who ended his own life far too soon with an assassin’s bullet.

This book consists of excerpts from the diary and homilies of Oscar Romero between 1977, when he became Archbishop of San Salvador and showed that rather than a “safe” candidate he was one willing to speak out against the evils the elites of the country were committing, and his death in 1980.  These materials are divided into nine chapters:  The Creator, The Word Made Flesh, Redemption, The Call, The Way, The Church, The Kingdom, Liberation, and All Things Made New.  In these contents the author shows himself to be directly critical of both the left-wing and right-wing polarization that was present in El Salvador as well as the Roman Catholic Church at the time and that remains present in decadent cultures and societies like our own.  Despite my disagreement with the author’s views on soteriology, as he seems to provide a picture of good works leading to redemption rather than from the outward working out of a salvation by grace, there is much to appreciate here.  The author is certainly on sound ground in speaking up on behalf of the vulnerable and those who have no voice and in favor of justice, even if his brave and principled stance cost him his life, as it did so many others in his tiny and troubled nation.

Even so, it is one thing to celebrate that Romero’s words have lived on long beyond his own tragic and violent death and another thing to celebrate the purposes to which his life and message have been turned.  The foreword to this book is written by someone whose hands were blown off in a bomb attack by a political opponent and who openly claimed to be part of the Liberation movement and politically involved against apartheid in South Africa.  As a reviewer who has no particular interest in supporting either left-wing revolutionary politics or right-wing reactionary regimes, I find the framing of this book intensely off-putting and offensive as it presents a false dilemma between those two views, which I find equally abhorrent.  Thankfully, after a lengthy foreword and an introduction of who Romero was, as some of the readers of this book may not know, about 100 or so of this book’s 140 pages are devoted to the writings of Romero himself, avoiding the specific references to most of the violent acts that would be unfamiliar to the readers of the book while focusing on the author’s religious beliefs and their implications for the El Salvador of his time.  There is much here that will encourage those who seek justice, even if they have no particular fondness for contemporary social justice warriors and other left-wing activists.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Saving A Sick America

Saving A Sick America:  A Prescription For Moral And Cultural Transformation, by Michael Brown

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

There are times when authors go for the route of least resistance and this book is one of those cases.  The author seems to think that there is any shortage of books that are hard on lukewarm Christians who don’t live up to their ideals in an age of cultural malaise and decadence [1].  This book is a case where the author isn’t nearly as groundbreaking or original as he thinks he is, with a combination of triumphant idealism and a great deal of grim reality about the state of culture, with a look at the media, abortion, sexuality, pornography, and various other social evils.  I have read more than half a dozen books that convey the same basic point with the same kind of historical appeal and the same sort of length and are aimed at an audience of at least nominal Christians, because while the author talks about the need to reach out to those who are broken by sin and have a short attention span, the author is certainly not trying to reach out to them here, because he’s making this book a self-righteous attempt to shock contemporary Christians out of his complacency.

In terms of its contents, this book doesn’t break any new ground.  The book begins with a discussion of what is wrong with today’s society and how good the good old days were.  The second part of the book explores America’s biblical roots and seeks to defend biblical values as being something other than sharia law and shows how the Bible is still relevant in America.  The author then talks about how to rebuild America by pointing out how we are created in the image of God, how we need to build a culture of life, how we having a multi-generational approach is essential to rebuilding America, how we need to rebuild the educational system, how ministers need to restore thunder to their messages, how to reverse the spread of pornography, how to live in self-control and avoid gluttony, how to say goodbye to the entitlement mentality, and overcome selfishness.  Does any of that sound unusual or groundbreaking to you?  I hear this sort of message all the time, and I read this sort of message frequently.  It is merely self-righteousness masquerading as tough love, and this book is full of it.

This book is not aimed at those who this society would view as sinners.  Yet it also is not really aimed at Christians, because it insults believers for not being very good at living out their faith.  How many people have the patience to read books that are hundreds of pages and contain information that is going to insult people for being overweight, being single, having unfulfilled romantic/sexual longings, and so on.  I felt insulted in nearly every chapter of this book, and didn’t feel that the author was trying to encourage believers, even though the author could clearly diagnose the fairly transparently obvious problems of our society.  It is one thing to be good at diagnosing what is wrong, but this author spends very little time talking about how things will get better.  He wags his finger a great deal but doesn’t really provide a blueprint for how Christians are to live better, sounding like a Pharisee who wants to view himself as some kind of great voice for moral improvement while looking down at other people.  This is a book that could have been a lot better than it was, but it is a serious book that is worth taking seriously.  Let us not fool ourselves that this author is good at encouragement or is even remotely original, though.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in American History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History | Tagged , | Leave a comment

La Hotel Espero: Chapter Thirteen

Day Five:  The Bellhop

He sat awake in his bed, unable to sleep.  He had been unable to sleep many times before because of nightmares that triggered his PTSD, to be sure.  There had been times where he had made himself too much sweet tea before trying to go to bed only to have a long caffeine rush that kept him from sleeping, but never before in his memory had he been asleep because of what he was thinking about.  With the help of his quasi-girlfriend Kate he had brought an unconscious and unresponsive Ashley back to her room and Kate had agreed to keep watch over her as long as possible.  He figured there was something that he should be doing, but he wanted to be very careful about his words first.  He was sure that she had tried to escape from the hotel.  It was only natural that she should view the hotel as some sort of prison.  Perhaps it was a prison free of the threat of rape or economic exploitation for its inmates, but he could not imagine that anyone who had even half of one’s wits would think of the place as anything other than a prison.  And he was sure that Ashley had tried to escape and narrowly failed, but there was much he did not want to speculate on, and much he could not say without implicating himself.  To be sure, he had not been explicitly told that he was some kind of involuntary prison warden on the inside, nor told why the young women were were.  He knew enough to know that there was some higher purpose involved with their being here and that the purpose was not going to be explained to him no matter how curious about it he might be.  So he would have to be very careful, but he also knew that what he had seen would have to be reported.  There was no other way about it.

Although it was still night, he got up from his bed and abandoned all intent to sleep for the rest of the night.  Instead he went to the lobby and read the relevant portion of his employee handbook that specified the sort of reporting information that had to take place concerning mishaps to the guests.  He then typed a message as eloquence as his exhaustion and concern allowed, and it said something like this:  “To whom it may concern, Last night, while I was off-duty, I responded to an alarm and found one of the two guests at my hotel crumpled in a heap on the driveway at the gate unconscious and unresponsive.  The other guest and I carried the guest back into her room, where the other guest promised to keep watch over her.  As there were no other people present, the circumstances of the case are such that I believe the guest was trying to escape.  I have not had a great deal of conversation with this guest as my attempts to enter the room have always been foiled by the “Do Not Disturb” sign that remains placed outside the door at all times I have passed by the room during the course of the week.  In order to help our guests feel safe I have not pushed into the room, as I think that it would have a negative effect upon their morale, as there is at least some suspicion, I think that I would have harmful designs towards the unresponsive guest.  I hope that there is some intent to communicate the purpose of the guests being here before too long, as it is my concern that the guests as a whole may feel themselves imprisoned, and may behave in an unpredictable fashion.  I am not suggesting how this should be dealt with, although I did feel that according to the rules and regulations I am duty bound to follow I thought it was necessary to bring the matter to your attention.  Regards, ____________.”  He looked at it before sending it with a bit of a frown.  The message had been a bit more fiercely worded than he had wished, but he supposed there was no alternative.  Overall, he thought he had kept a friendly tone, or at least a polite tone, and seeing no way of making it more polite without making it more wordy and filled with artful dodges and circumlocutions, he sent the message into the black hole of silence where his messages generally went.

He looked at the time and returned to do some reading.  Although he had only read the passage a few days ago, he had a sense of intuition to read the passage after he finished his Bible reading for the day.  He went back and read the following:  “Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.  And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.  Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise.  For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen.  And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!  Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.”  More than most people, he was convinced that there was life after death.  It was not for him a matter of faith, but rather a matter of experience.  He knew why, for example, he did not need to eat but could choose to eat.  He knew why there was no escape from this place, why there was no connection with the outside world so that he was not even aware what was going on outside of the narrow walls of his hotel.  He knew that there was no chance for Ashley to be more dead than she already was.  What he did not know is why any of them were here, and why especially all of them were here together.  And it was not knowing the reasons why that was bothering him so much.  He supposed that since he still had some vestigial awareness after so many decades of solitude that there was still hope for him.  He believed that once his fate was decided that he would be allowed to sleep in peace like so many, but for some reason he was kept in some indeterminate state, a state that he found to be unceasing torment.

He turned his head and saw the book No Exit in Esperanto, for which he had wanted to thank the fellow who had translated it from the original so skillfully.  His current existence was so much like that discussed in the play that he was amazed that he had not seen it before.  Of course, there were differences.  There the bellhop had a brief role of introducing the characters to each other in a room that they were stuck in, and here he was both the bellhop and one of the people stuck and they were stuck in a larger place than the room itself, and the love triangle was not quite the same as it was, here there was a clear couple and one odd party out, rather than the perfect triangle that Sartre had written about.  Still, Sartre had some serious insight into the problem of hell being other people.  The problem was that hell was not only other people on the outside but also the other people inside.  We could not escape torment while we lived and breathed, or while we were conscious in some place at any rate, because there were always other people, even if we were all alone by ourselves.  He had been terribly isolated for so very long, at least as he understood it, but he always had voices in his head, always had some sort of tormenting dreams or the knowledge that his fate was being influenced by others who he did not trust to have his best interests at heart.  And whether or not that was true, or whether or not there was anyone else who thought of him at all in any light, he would be tormented by that thought, and would thus be aware of there being some sort of outside aspect to his existence.  There was a wider world that he was barred from, and he could not help but to be deeply saddened by the thought.  He wondered if Kate and Ashley were as tormented and bothered as he was by that thought.  They were in prison and they did not even know why.

Putting down the books, he saw that he could at least do something productive with his day instead of wallow in his sadness and gloominess, and so he showered and put on a clean uniform and went about his business.  He saw there was no response to his message or any of the other ones he had sent over the past week, and he had nothing new to report about his relationship with Kate.  And so he went to the fifth floor and did his customary thorough inspection.  Of course, there was nothing unusual about the rooms except for a slightly fainter scent that was in the fourth floor he had looked at previously.  But now he had a better idea of what it meant.  It meant that Ashley had been looking through the rooms on all the floors, trying to find a window to the world.  She had been outside, and probably seen that there were windows on the outside, but nothing on the inside.  Surely she would suspect that this place was not a good place if it did not give people a glimpse into the world around them.  She knew that there were no balconies and precious few exits, and would likely take whatever chance she could at getting out, only she had failed.  He had to admit that this hotel had foiled his own attempts at escape throughout the years, especially at the beginning when he to thought he could escape, and it was a far more secure place than it appeared to be.  Yet he thought that he would refrain from telling these experiences to Kate and especially to Ashley, because it might only discourage them further and they would likely not appreciate the discouragement.  Their reservation had only been for a week, and so he did not feel it would be wise to force anything upon them, much less force them to realize the reality of their existence.  They would have to come to that on their own, and he trusted the reality would come soon enough.

He came at last to the end and then went to the middle of the floor and looked at the drawing.  The fifth day of Creation was the day when fishes and birds were created, and the drawing was a beautiful one of these two creatures, the birds frolicking in the air and the fishes enjoying the sea where their loving Creator had made them.  And yet the same was not true for mankind.  As much as he disagreed with Rousseau when it came to politics, he did agree with the statement that mankind was born free but everywhere he was in chains.  That was the fate of mankind, to struggle with the chains of heredity and environment, of addictions and duties and of consequences and repercussions.  With some difficulty he broke his reverie and went back down to the first floor.  He saw that the sign on the door was still there.  He returned to his desk and sat down, somewhat sleep deprived but still in full control of his behavior and not even feeling the desire to sleep at this point.  Before he had the chance to sit there and stare out into space, though, he received a call that startled him.  “Good morning,” he replied as cheerfully as possible.  “This is Kate,” as if it could be anything else.  “I trust all is well with Ashley?”  “About that.”  “What about that?”  “I think it would be better if you came over here,” was the concerned voice.  “Will do.  Would you like some fresh towels?”  “Would I ever!”  “I’ll be right there.”  With that they made their pleasant farewells as awkward lovers sometimes do, and he put the phone back on the hook.  At least he had something productive to do now, he said to himself as he went to the laundry room and got the cart and pushed it over to the room.  At least this time he would be able to do this task, with permission and welcome.  With only a slight hesitation he gave his familiar knock at the door, and it was not very many seconds before Kate’s shining face greeted him and he went inside, and the door was shut behind them.

Posted in NaNoWriMo | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Long Before Luther

Long Before Luther:  Tracing The Heart Of The Gospel From Christ To The Reformation, by Nathan Busenitz

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Moody Publishers.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

My feelings about this book when I was reading it were deeply complicated, but mostly positive.  The author’s approach to looking up historical antecedents of the heart of the Gospel in the Bible and the writings of various Church Fathers is not unlike some of my own similar researches [1], and this identification certainly makes me feel more positively about the author, even when in my own particular religious background looking at the quotations of church fathers is not something that would help to prove a point.  More positively, though, I happen to be in full agreement with the author that not only is “Faith alone” biblical, but that it makes a genuine gulf between biblical religion and the ditches of antinomianism and legalism on both sides [2].  Seeing, therefore, that the author’s point is interesting to me even if I do not believe that appealing to Hellenistic Christians is necessarily valuable except that it forms a basis of shared authority between the writer and his largely Catholic opponents in the debate, I read as an interested outsider.

The book fully meets the author’s expectations.  He has clearly done his homework in showing the long chain of belief in justification by faith (alone) from the Bible through the Middle Ages to Luther and the other early reformers.  There are page after page of detailed endnotes as well as a lengthy appendix of quotations from thinkers like Anselm of Canterbury and Bernard of Clairvaux among many others that show proto-Reformation beliefs about justification.  The author starts from looking at the writings of the early Reformers themselves and who they cited as fellow belivers in sola fide and then proceeds to follow the writings back.  While the author is honest in conceding that the writers of the Middle Ages were not as consistent or as precise in their use of language about justification, he manages to find plenty of evidence of belief in justification by faith alone, enough to clearly prove that Catholics err in believing it to be a Protestant innovation.  His research is extensive and his analysis is sound, and what started as an internet challenge makes for a compelling volume that defends the legitimacy of the Protestant Reformation and for later groups seeking to restore biblical Christianity.

I feel it is necessary to say that while I believe that the author has gone above and beyond what was necessary to demonstrate the biblical and historical pedigree of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in terms of forensics and imputation, for example, I do not think that the author is fully aware of the nature of the argument that he uses to justify Protestant positions in general.  Although the author can certainly be taken as a foe of false ragamuffin gospels as well as false legalistic gospels of grace and works, the author’s belief that the Protestants were successful in restoring genuine biblical Christianity in all aspects is more than a bit too sanguine.  Even so, this was a very enjoyable book and the approach of the author in research and writing is a very welcome one.  This is precisely the sort of book that is very useful when one is dealing with polemics regarding the very serious and momentous difference between Catholics and Protestants (as well as Restorationists) with regards to beliefs about justification and sanctification.  Coming in at under 200 pages of core material and a whole host of endnotes and sources that sound like interesting reading, this is a book that encourages you to read more, and that is a good thing.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

Posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, History | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Is Justice Possible?

Is Justice Possible?:  The Elusive Pursuit Of What Is Right, by J. Paul Nyquist

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Moody Publishers.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

If you view this book as a call to mercy and reform of the legal system [1] in ways that cut against the partisan grains of our time, and appreciate that, then you will likely enjoy this book as much as I did.  This is a book written with an agenda, but the agenda is not a partisan one even if it is highly political in nature.  Much of this book feels like a consistent appeal for a legal order that corresponds to a culture of life, one that seeks opportunities for redemption for those who have done wrong and paid the price, even as it seeks to defend what it sees a biblical worldview that pays special concern for the vulnerable of society–migrants, the unborn, the poor, minorities.  Fortunately, the author shows enough concern for godly morality to make the book’s obvious desire to appeal to issues of social justice easier to support wholeheartedly.  This is a book whose desires for justice are not mere left-wing pandering, and that is quite a relief.

In about 150 pages or so the author discusses justice while focusing on issues of the creation and enforcement of those laws.  The author starts by pointing out that God is the starting point of justice and not man, but that mankind has a role in living justly and enforcing standards of justice that we all too often fall short of.  The author then gives four reasons why justice is elusive:  we make unjust laws (legislative), we have limited knowledge (cognitive), we have darkened understanding (spiritual), and we have implicit bias (neurological).  These reasons hit home, and then the author then turns to the question of how we should do justice given the enduring divine requirement in the political, public, and personal arenas.  The fourth part of the book ends this challenging book in a discussion of how we will finally see justice in the reign of the just king Jesus and receive the verdict of the righteous judge in the final judgment.  An afterward as well as resources for participating in efforts at showing mercy to former prisoners follows, pointing the reader to apply the book’s discussion in personal activism and community service.

This book is a powerful discussion of what makes justice elusive–ourselves.  Without pandering to the supposed insights of philosophers, this is a book that is both uncompromising in its defense of the biblical ethic as well urging mercy for fellow sinners and evildoers, people not so much unlike ourselves.  In reading this book I get the feeling that this book is being written to white Christians of at least middle class background who have had a life that is filled with the blessings of intact families as well as education and a generally high degree of blessing, but who have the idealism that would lead them to support a more just world for those who have not been so fortunate due to circumstances beyond their control.  This is a book that combines an appeal for the legitimacy of the Christian moral worldview while also pointing out that the biblical worldview includes a concern for those who are vulnerable and outsiders within society, concerns that are not always addressed by those who claim to be Christians in the public sphere.  Rising above the false dilemma of social justice on the left and a personal morality combined with a certain degree of harshness towards the poor and unfortunate on the right, this book is a good example of how to strive for justice in our imperfect world.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

La Hotel Espero: Chapter Twelve

Day Four:  Ashley

It was the same thing as yesterday.  Ashley was rather irritated at herself that she had to pretend sleeping, but if there was one thing that was good about pretend sleeping was that she likely heard things that she wouldn’t have heard if she was obviously awake.  She had heard her roommate leave the room in mid-morning and didn’t know whether it was safe to actually be awake to avoid an awkward conversation, and she felt she was wise to do so because in a couple of hours she was back and watching some boring judge shows on television.  She had forgotten what a barren wasteland television was during the daytime, even in a hotel like this.  When was the last time she had watched as much television as she had in the past few days, she thought to herself.  Most of the time she preferred streaming on her phone or computer, but those weren’t available and she hadn’t been online in forever.  Come to think of it, the judge show was pretty useful for one thing, and that was reminding her that she might want to call in a lawsuit against the hotel for its general shadiness.  She was sure that there were a lot of things about this building and the way that she was imprisoned here that were against the rules, and she wanted to escape today.  She had already found out, for example, that there were no windows or doors in the rooms of the hotel, and only one exit through the lobby, and to use that effectively she would have to make sure that the bellhop was distracted, and there was only one way to do that.

She saw her chance when her roommate did exactly what she hoped she would do and scheduled a date for the evening.  She also noted with some pleasure that her roommate wanted to see where the bellhop’s room was.  This was an area of potential interest, because if he was hiding anything, it would be likely to be in his room.  She now felt that it would probably be good to talk to her roommate at some point to see if there was anything of interest.  She hoped that Kate could focus on something other than the bellhop, who was quite plain by her demanding standards, but since Kate was usually pretty conscientious she was sure that there would be something worthwhile in what she reported even if she would have to suffer a lot of discussion about how Kate felt.  She didn’t want to hear about how Kate felt, and honestly in her long friendship she had never had much interest in how Kate felt.  She could remember well what she would rather be doing and where she would rather be.  Even though it was probably a weekday, she wanted to go out to some concert or out to the club, find some handsome guy and ride him, because she was pretty sure that she was going to go crazy if she didn’t find someone to be with.  She didn’t understand how people could restrain themselves or why they would want to.  She felt horrible, and she hadn’t even given any thought as to why she hadn’t been hungry for anything but a handsome bed partner for days.  She normally didn’t eat a huge deal but food never mattered that much to her and she wasn’t paying attention to little details like that.  She hadn’t taken a bath or shower in a few days and that didn’t enter her mind either.  She was a person of limited interests, and right now that included getting out of the hotel and away from whatever evil forces were in control of it and finding someone to sleep with.  Everything other than that was not a problem for her to worry about at present.

Perhaps she would have been less troubled and less anxious if she had paid attention to the details of her existence.  Her existence, for the past few days, we remember, had not been very interesting, but the few details of it were worthy of thought and reflection.  She had woken up in a strange driverless car with a friend of hers and been dropped off at this sketchy hotel where only one person worked.  If she had been in her right mind, she would have seen that the bellhop was not particularly threatening, but that clearly the situation was strange.  It was odd that the living arrangements were so austere.  It was strange that there were no exterior doors or windows or balconies or something of that nature.  She was certainly not entirely unreasonable to be puzzled by these mysteries.  Yet she assumed that the bellhop was malicious.  Because she did not think highly of him, she assumed him capable of great evil.  To be sure, it would have taken a great deal more imagination to have wondered if maybe he too was a cog in some larger machine.  It was this way in the real world too, in that people assumed that others were necessarily evil, and not that there were larger systems involved with much of the evil that was present in the world.  That did not, of course, absolve people of all responsibility for that kind of evil, but they did put those evils within a larger context.  If there was evil here, and Ashley was sure that there was, she would have been better served to enlist as many allies as possible.  If she had been an empathetic person with a sort of moral imagination that would have raised her above the ordinary young woman of her time, she would have recognized that the bellhop was not some kind of psychopath, but was a suffering soul as well.  The insane and the paranoid, though, were not often wise.  Few people, even on her good days, would have ever called her wise, and she was certainly not being wise right now.  She didn’t need anyone to tell her that, however much she tried to excuse herself on a count of general exhaustion.

When Kate left for her date, Ashley got up and pretended to be awake this time.  She walked to the door and made sure that the “Do Not Disturb” sign was on the outside.  She wondered if Kate had noticed that she kept on putting the sign outside to keep the bellhop from coming in.  Again, had she been a more alert person, she would have noticed that the very same consideration and mildness that kept him from entering the room anyway was what made him an unlikely serial killer to lure two beautiful young woman to his creepy hotel and then kill them in brutal and grotesque ways that one would see in an Eli Roth film, but she did not have the time or the capacity to be generous about the morality and decency of other people.  She went to the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror.  She thought she till looked pretty ravishing but looked a bit tired.  She wondered if she had any makeup to get rid of the bags under her eyes and then paid attention to what she wore.  She tried, with her limited capacity for empathy, to put herself in someone else’s place, and figured that she should probably wear some fresher and more athletic clothes for her escape attempt which was to begin shortly.  She looked in her suitcase and closet and found a cute looking tracksuit.  That would definitely work, she nodded to herself approvingly and made a quick change.  Yes, looking as if she was working on a triathalon would definitely improve her credibility should she meet up with anyone on the road.  Looking to herself in the mirror once again confirmed her in her own mind that she definitely had improved her odds of a successful getaway from certain destruction.  And that was all the confidence she needed to be off.

She figured that by this time that Kate and the bellhop had gone to eat but she walked carefully by the lobby and heard the voices coming from the restaurant and saw the empty place at the lobby.  The coast was clear.  As silently as she could, she exited the hotel.  There was still enough light out that she felt that she should be able to find a place to get away.  She jogged around the hotel from the outside and noted all of the windows that could be seen, and she saw continuous fencing except for one gate.  Several times she tried to get through the fence itself with no success.  She was not skinny enough to fit through the wrought-iron fenceposts to get to the forest outside.  She was unable to get a foothold so that she could climb up the fence and over it, although she tried her best.  This was not an easy place to get out of, she said to herself.  After a considerable amount of effort she saw the sun dip below the line of trees and knew that she didn’t have much time left if she wanted to escape tonight, and so there was only one more thing to try.  She went to the gate, which she figured would be the most watched place there, and tried to get the gate to open.  She was unsuccessful at that, but saw that the machinery of the gate allowed her a chance to climb, a bit, and so she did.  She had climbed on top of some machinery and reached up towards the top of the gate to place a handhold between some decorative spikes, when all of the sudden her foot slipped and she fell backward onto the drive.  Immediately, her world went black.

Perhaps it was fortunate that her hopes for escape that night died with her slip and her knocking herself out by accident.  She did not hear the alarm that was raised on her behalf, at least eventually, nor did was she conscious when the bellhop and her friend Kate together carried her into her room and tucked her into bed and sat together and talked to each other with some concern, and when the bellhop kissed Kate goodnight as Kate promised to take care of her roommate.  She was insensible to everything, although aside from that she appeared to be fine.  No one called 911 for her.  No one could, for there were no emergency services that went to where they were.  Of course, that would have raised more red flags for her had she been alert and aware, but she was not.  She didn’t have to pretend to be unconscious this time, because she was unconscious for real, and it would be a while before she woke up.  The more cynical person, I imagine, would wonder if she had knocked some sense into herself, but that stuff only happened in the movies.  Well, there was that one time, it must be admitted, that a certain Louisa Musgrave was jumping too high on the Cobb at Lyme and knocked herself unconscious and had what most people would consider PTSD afterward with being startled, but for the most part that sort of thing did not happen.  Ashley, as much as it might be hoped for by anyone else, did not have a moral reformation as a result of her concussion.  We will explore the repercussions of this fall at a later date, but suffice it to say that she had put herself in a lot of pain but was not improved in character as a result of the experience.  And, for the moment, her being unconscious did have one very good result as far as she was concerned, and that was absolving her from having to explain what she was doing.  All things considered, if she had to fall, it was probably for the best that she was not conscious, even if would be an unpleasant surprise for her to wake up in bed with a massive headache.  That happy event, though, would have to wait several hours.

Posted in NaNoWriMo | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Omega Fatty Acids Blend

The Omega Acids Fatty Blend, by Monika Griessenberger

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Books Go Social.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

The author really wants you, dear reader, to eat more omega acids–of which there are apparently quite a few–especially through plant sources.  This book is mercifully short so it does not try the patience of the reader too much, but when a book depends on its brevity to avoid causing offense there are clearly some problems.  Some of the problems of this book relate to genre, as this book follows a similar approach that many longer and sometimes better books on health and nutrition take [1] in that the author presents herself as an expert trying to get the reader to change their eating habits and, in this case, eat some really weird stuff.  As the author comes from the approach of endorsing raw & vegan/vegetarian food, the author urge the reader to avoid eating too many of the meat-based (usually fish-based) sources of the various mostly odd-numbered Omega fatty acids like Omega 3, 5, 6, 7, and 9, this means eating the oils of odd plants, some of which I must admit I have never heard of.

The contents of this book are pretty rudimentary.  Unfortunately, the author appears not to have looked at the output of whatever conversion software turned her short nutrition pamphlet.  This book is formatted terribly, with word wrap working its usual horrors to make a page look like garbage.  This should be a lesson to would-be self-published writers, and that is to make sure that when one is converting one’s writing to another format, to make sure to disable word wrap first so that the texts can be formatted properly.  It is hard for a reader–especially a reader who reads a great many books–to take a writer seriously when the page looks like it was written by someone whose word processing skills are rudimentary at best.  That is not even getting into the content of the book, which is at least passable.  It would have been better had the author cited some sources that would give her nutrition claims a bit more credibility.  When she talked about how people who ate too much of some obscure hipster plant-based oil had their urine turn red, I was wondering if she would talk about the kidney damage people could suffer from trying her diet, but alas, that was not the case.

What we have here, therefore, is a terribly formatted book that seeks to promote some trendy but dubious nutritional fads without a great deal of sources that would have more credibility than the author.  We may honor the author’s intentions to encourage better nutrition on the part of readers and we may even appreciate that she is both honest about her own dietary preferences but also not interested in causing offense to meat eaters who eschew the raw food approach.  Likewise, the author does a good job in trying to familiarize readers with various nutrients that may not be present in our diets.  So it is not as if this book has nothing to offer.  Still, this book resembles a sales pitch more than it does a book with any sort of authority.  At best, this book is well-intentioned infotainment that is selling something that I am not interested in buying.  Fortunately, this book is formatted in such a clumsy manner that most of the offense that would normally come from such an effort is replaced by a sense of pity that the author wants to write a book to show herself an expert but does such a terrible job at making the book look good enough to appeal to anyone.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Art Of Getting Hired

The Art Of Getting Hired, by Brad Justice

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Books Go Social.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

As someone who has read my fair share of books related to sales and marketing approaches [1], I find this book ironic on a fundamental level.  Salesmen are continually talking about how image trumps reality, how rapport and emotion trump logic and reason, and yet in order to enjoy this book, a reader will have to overcome a substantial amount of irritation because of the poor formatting of this book.  That is to say, the author has placed himself in a bind where the more the author takes his advice and approach seriously, the less he will appreciate the sloppy way this book has been made.  While the content of this book is at least decent, the book suffers from pagination problems as well as word wrap mistakes that make this book pretty ugly to read.  Someone really should have edited the .mobi file I read the book in before this book was green-lit for publication, and someone should certainly edit it to make it look good before it is released to the world at large.  I would be embarrassed to have something I write look this bad.

In terms of the content, this book is a fairly short one, but longer than it would be if the author did not feel it necessary to bookend his advice with efforts to make himself an expert.  The first part of the book talks about his supposed sales expertise by appealing to the idea that one must spend 10,000 doing something to be an expert at it.  After this, the author gives a discussion on the three activities that one is doing in order to get a job, and that is talking, meeting, and building rapport.  This seems very simple, and for the most part it is, but the author is effective at discussing how lowering the pressure of interactions makes them less awkward–this sounds like something I should try, because one has the knowledge that there will be more interactions and that interactions can be enjoyed without trying to push for something.  Of course, it would be easier for such an approach to be accepted if one did not feel the author pushing so hard in this book, but be that as it may one can appreciate counsel without feeling that the messenger is the best one to be delivering it.  After delivering such chestnuts as never leaving an appointment without another appointment, the author closes the book by talking about his own experience in joblessness, which he stated he delayed saying because he was concerned about how it would affect his credibility, which ends the book on a strange note of unsuccessful attempts to leverage vulnerability.

Ultimately, this book fails to deliver its author’s intentions because of a misalignment between the author’s apparent aims and the author’s delivery.  The author talks about the need to reduce pressure in interactions to sell things but also makes this book an extended sales pitch to his approach and worldview.  Furthermore, he does so in a way that plays to his weaknesses–his poor understanding of how to format a book, his apparent emotional manipulation of his own struggles that undercuts his previous self-portrayal as an expert salesman.  This is a book that one can only appreciate if one does as the author says and not as the author does, and if a reader is that charitable to the book, then the author’s worldview is not really succeeding.  Let us hope that the author is able to edit this work in such a fashion that it more successfully conveys his point that we need to pay attention to certain fundamental details in interactions with others in order that we should get jobs as well as better our own interests in other areas of life, like dating (which is a frequent comparison made here).  The author, though, would be well served to understand the fundamental importance of conveying his thoughts in a format that is appealing and that does not distract the reader from what is being said.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Why Aren’t They In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: Kenny G

On his entertaining video for his ten least favorite songs of 1987, You Tube video blogger Todd In The Shadows, who I am particularly fond of [1], put at #1 Kenny G’s top ten hit “Songbird,” with some expletive-loaded commentary about how terrible the song was and what a disaster it was that he had a big hot.  Unfortunately for him, Kenny G had many more hits than that one, both hit albums (including one album that is among the best-selling albums of all time) as well as hit singles where he was the lead as well as guest artist on.  If you are looking for one of the more unlikely pivotal music figures of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Kenny G is a firm example of an instrumentalist that was able not only to break into the mainstream, but to make it safe for all kinds of “Easy Listening” music to do to the same.  If you are looking at the most consistent musical acts of his era in terms of popular sales and influence on others, there are few people who had a bigger influence on music during that time tan Kenny G.  Whether you consider that a good thing or not depends on where you stand.  We know where Todd In The Shadows stands, but millions of people disagree.

The Influence Of Kenny G

The influence of Kenny G is rather striking consider that he plays the saxophone.  This is not generally something that is conducive for a career as a multi-platinum instrumentalist with numerous top 40 hits and multiple top 10 hits on the pop charts.  In order to properly understand Kenny G’s influence, we have to look first at his own body of work and how immensely successful it was.  Not only do we have to look at his own work, but also at the work he did accompanying other artists at the time, which showed his ability to add a sense of class to other songs.  Both as a sideman and as an artist in his own right, Kenny G had a striking influence on music and on the careers of many artists.  He has some of the few major instrumental hits of all time as part of his repertoire, among the few Easy Listening acts to have broken that far into the mainstream repeatedly.  Whether or not you like his music or its success, one cannot deny or ignore it, try as hard as rock critics might to minimize it and avoid giving recognition to one of the outsized talents of his time.

Why Kenny G belongs in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Kenny G is not one of the more obvious choices one could pick for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  Those people who think that dance music (like Madonna) is insufficiently “rock” for induction would give birth to calves before considering Kenny G as an acceptable rock act.  Even fans of the soft rock of the 1970’s and early 1980’s may consider Kenny G to be too soft and easy listening of an act.  Yet Kenny G has a strong case for induction.  Let’s lay out the numbers.  Kenny G’s first ten studio albums were certified at least gold, every studio album he released from 1982’s self titled debut to 2004’s At Last…The Duets Album.  Of those, three were certified platinum, three of them multiplatinum (selling at least 4 million copies), and one, 1992’s Breathless, certified diamond for sales of over 12 million copies.  In addition to this, he had three additional holiday albums certified at least gold, the other two of which went triple-platinum and 8 times platinum between 1994 and 2002, his first live album from 1989 went triple-platinum as well, and he had a triple-platinum greatest hits album [2].  His album sales alone merit induction, but he has further merit as a singles artist.  His domination of the adult contemporary chart is unsurprising, with 2 #1 hits, 6 additional top 10 hits, and 13 top 40’s aside from that.  What is more surprising is his 2 top 10 pop hits (“Songbird” and an instrumental version of “Auld Lang Syne”) along with 4 additional pop top 40 hits (including my favorite song of his, “Silhouette”), along with hits on the R&B charts and rythmic pop hits.  His collaborations are just as impressive, as on his own solo hits he has collaborated with such acts as Smokey Robinson, Peabo Bryston, Aaron Neville, Louis Armstrong, and Earth, Wind, & Fire.  He has also been a successful collaborator with others, turning his musical talents to hits from Dionne Warwick, Natalie Cole, Johnny Gill, Michael Bolton, Whitney Houston [3], and Babyface featuring Mariah Carey [4].  Other musicians have recognized his talents, and it is time for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to as well.

Why Kenny G Isn’t In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

Kenny G has a large and appreciative fan base, to be sure, but it is not the sort of fan base that writes about those acts unfairly excluded from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it seems.  As a saxophone musician with no appreciable vocal talents, Kenny G is not a very hip choice for music fans–he wasn’t in his heyday and he certainly isn’t now.  Even among those who respect his fine musicianship, it may be hard to figure out where to place him as an inductee.

Verdict:  Put him in.  At the very least he was an effective sideman who made a lot of smooth music in an important stretch of time between the mid 1980’s and the mid 1990’s, and that alone is worthy of recognition for those who do not want to induct him as a main act.  In both categories, though, he is worthy of induction.

[1] See, for example:




Posted in History, Music History, Musings | Tagged , , | Leave a comment