A Review Of The 2019 YE Hot 100: Part One

Having several times looked at the YE charts [1], I thought it would be worthwhile to reflect upon the most popular music of 2019.  While 2019 was certainly a better year for music than 2016 or 2018, there was definitely a lack of songs at the very top of the rankings.  It was hard to figure out songs to view as either the best or worst, as I didn’t feel particularly passionate about either the top or bottom of the charts.  A lot of songs on here simply exist.  I have heard them, I acknowledge their existence, and I don’t really have strong feelings about them.  I don’t think this year’s music will really stand out in the future aside from a few songs for both good and bad, and nothing on this year end chart is something that I think I will go out of my way to listen to the way I have felt about favorite songs in years past that I still listen to today.  With that said, I will go backwards from 100 to 1 and give a score from 1 to 10 along with some thoughts if I have them about the songs on this year’s end chart for your amusement.

#100:  Robbery – Juice WRLD – 0/10 – This song is laughably bad, not only one of the worst songs of the year but one that I couldn’t take seriously in the slightest.  Every time I heard this song I couldn’t keep myself from laughing at the angsty high school lyrics or the ridiculous framing of the song.  I’m almost glad this song made the YE chart simply to mock it.

#99:  Walk Me Home – P!nk – 9/10 – This song was one of the best songs of the year for me, a passionate reflection of someone with too many thoughts in one’s mind and the longing not to be alone, things I can defintely relate with.  This was probably my favorite hit song of the year, actually.

#98:  Boyfriend – Ariana Grande & Social House – 6/10 – This song is pleasant radio filler in a year where Ariana Grande released a lot of filler.  I don’t really have any strong feelings about it, but it exists and is at least decent.

#97:  All To Myself – Dan + Shay – 6/10 – The first of three songs on this YE chart by this country duo, it was a modest hit and I enjoy it modestly.  It’s not a song that I really like but it’s one I can listen to without being irritated.

#96:  Eyes On You – Chase Rice – 3/10 – This song could have been much better, and is really dragged down by the framing, where the singer/songwriter portrays himself as a lunkhead who only has leering eyes for his girl and has completely missed the enjoyment of the places where they go.

#95:  Beautiful – Bazzi f/Camila Cabello – 7/10 – I enjoyed this particular song and was glad that it gave Bazzi a second hit, if a minor one.  My feelings about this song aren’t particularly profound but it was a pleasant tune.

#94:  Talk You Out Of It – Florida Georgia Line – 5/10 – This song exists, and is actually the lowest charting song to ever make a YE Billboard List (it peaked at #57).  I’m not the biggest fan of the band as a whole but this song is average enough.

#93:  Hot Girl Summer – Megan Thee Stallion, Nicki Minaj & Ty Dolla $ign – 5/10 – It exists, and it isn’t as loathsome a song as it could have been.  About the most noteworthy part of this song is that it didn’t peak until fall and fell of the charts far faster than expected because of the delay to get a Nicki Minaj feature, so that it missed capitalizing on, you know, being a summer song.

#92:  Shotta Flow – NLE Choppa – 4/10 – It exists?  I mean, this is the sort of song that I don’t find myself enjoying at all but I wasn’t upset by it either, so there’s that.

#91:  Tequila – Dan + Shay – 6/10 – This song was a holdover from last year’s charts and managed to have enough longevity to make the YE for 2019 as well.  It’s a moody breakup song but by no means a bad one.  By the way, moody breakup songs are going to be a them here, so be prepared.

#90:  Cash S*** – Megan Thee Stallion f/DaBaby – 5/10 – DaBaby was a thing this year, and this song and Hot Girl Summer kept Megan Thee Stallion from being a one-hit wonder.  This song exists, and while I’m not very fond of it myself I can understand the appeal of seeing a woman flex about her wealth and so on and so forth.

#89:  One Thing Right – Marshmello & Kane Brown – 6/10 – I like this song more than most people do, thanks to the fact that I can get Kane Brown’s delivery, but this song was really hampered by the production.  Marshmello does not do a good job here, it must be admitted.

#88:  Love Lies – Khalid & Normani – 7/10 – This song was another holdover from last year’s YE chart and it was pleasant enough.  I still enjoy this song moderately even if I don’t seek it out, and Khalid & Normani have a low-key energy, even if Khalid has a lot of low-key in his musical approach.  This won’t be the last time I talk about it either.

#87:  Clout – Offset f/Cardi B – 7/10 – I enjoyed this song at least somewhat, and thought that it expressed a good reason for the existence of the marriage between the two of them, namely that both of them will do anything for the clout, and that they see being together as helping out each other’s clout.  There are worse reasons for being with someone, it must be admitted.

#85:  Good As You – Kane Brown – 6/10 – This song doesn’t leave a strong impression with me, but Kane Brown’s singing is certainly pleasant and the sentiment isn’t a bad one.

#85:  Look What God Gave Her – Thomas Rhett – 4/10 – I mean, I’m not as bothered by this song as some people are going to be, but it’s not a really great sentiment to use tropes from early 2000’s rap to brag about how hot a girl is.  One needs a bit more.

#84:  Baby – Lil Baby & DaBaby – 6/10 – This song is probably the most inevitable song in existence, where two rappers with baby in their names sing a song called baby, but at least DaBaby is moderately enjoyable here, so there’s that.

#83: How Do You Sleep? – Sam Smith – 6/10 – This song is more angsty melodrama from a man who provides plenty of that, but it’s not a bad listen and the singer certainly sings this song with conviction.

#82:  Swervin – A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie f/6ix 9ine – 3/10 – This isn’t a very good song, although it would admittedly have been a bit better without Snitch Nine in it.  This was the second and definitely the worse of the songs we got from the Spiderman animated film soundtrack.

#81:  Rumor – Lee Brice – 5/10 – This song is okay but I don’t really tend to have any strong feelings or any resonance at all when I listen to it.  It exists and was popular enough to make the charts, so there’s that.

#80:  Trip – Ella Mai – 8/10 – This song was certainly a pleasant and enjoyable holdover from last year and was one of the best R&B songs of the year.  Ella Mai is certainly a performer I would like to hear more from and this song did a good job of showcasing her vocals over an amazing DJ Mustard beat.

#79:  Knockin’ Boots – Luke Bryan – 7/10 – Although my enjoyment of this song wasn’t particularly deep it was at least an enjoyable song and I found myself nodding my head to it and that is pleasant enough.

#78:  Only Human – Jonas Brothers – 7/10 – One of two Jonas Brothers songs on the YE charts, this one has a cheap sort of 80’s feel, but it’s one that the band leans into, even if the song’s sentiments aren’t one I can wholeheartedly endorse.

#77:  Worth It – YK Osiris – 3/10 – This song is unpleasant to listen to and YK’s caterwauling certainly isn’t pleasant to hear.

#76:  My Type – Saweetie – 6/10 – This song exists and didn’t actively offend me, even if it’s sentiments aren’t really those I enjoy.  I can get the appeal of a song like this for some people but it wasn’t aimed at me.

#75:  Baby Shark – Pirnkfong – 0/10 – This song is one of the most annoying songs I have ever heard and it’s baffling that it became a big hit, but it is precisely the sort of song that children like because of its annoying qualities.

#74:  Close Friends – Lil Baby – 1/10 – Why does Lil Baby have a career?  This song is unpleasant to listen to and Lil Baby’s voice is a monotonus drone here.  I just can’t get the appeal of this.

#73:  Bury A Friend – Billie Eilish – 8/10 – The first of three Billie Eilish songs on this year’s YE chart, this is a song whose creepiness I can really enjoy.  It’s not a scary song, but its darkness is pretty clear.

#72:  Breathin – Ariana Grande – 8/10 – This song is my favorite of the Ariana Grande songs that appeared on the YE charts, and the one whose appeal most resonates with me.  Dealing with her efforts to keep moving after the Manchester terrorist bombing at a concert of hers, it is a song whose resolution to power through PTSD is something I can definitely endorse.

#71:  Leave Me Alone – Flipp Dinero – 5/10 – This song exists, and I’m surprised it leaves so little a trace.  I really can’t think of much that is distinctive about this song to me or any reason to look for something.

#70:  Trampoline – SHAED – 8/10 – I really dig the moody and atmospheric nature of this particular song, with its dreamlike feel.  I don’t think this band will necessarily have another big hit, but there are far worse things to be remembered for than this.

#69:  I Like It – Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin – 3/10 – I don’t really like this song, and the only parts of the song I even find tolerable are from the sample.  Cardi B and her associates don’t add anything to this song that pleases me at all.

#68:  Act Up – City Girls – 5/10 – I mean, this song exists, and it’s nice that City Girls have a career, but this isn’t a song that I really enjoy at all.

#67:  When The Party’s Over – Billie Eilish – 8/10 – This song is another enjoyable and very melancholy song from Billie Eilish, and even though it never became a big hit, it stuck around on the charts long enough to make the YE, and I’m happy for this.  You can really get a sense of genuine pathos here.

#66:  Murder On My Mind – YNW Melly – 6/10 – Although I don’t have very good feelings about the rapper who made this, this is the sort of melancholy reflection of urban violence that I can understand.  The fact that the song seems to mirror the real life of the rapper only makes it more poignant a reflection of waste.

#65:  Con Calma – Daddy Yankee & Katy Perry f/Snow – 4/10 – I’m glad that Snow has another hit but Katy Perry really drags this remix down.  I’d give a 6/10 to the original (?) song, which is itself a pleasant enough remix of Snow’s early 90’s cod raggae smash.

#64:  The London – Young Thug, J. Cole & Travis Scott – 5/10 – This song exists.  I don’t feel much about it, but I’m not bothered by it either.

#63:  Beer Never Broke My Heart – Luke Combs – 6/10 – I’m not much of a drinker but the sentiment of this song is certainly one I can understand and Luke Combs is an emotive country singer, so the appeal here is easy enough to see even if it’s not his best work.

#62:  Circles – Post Malone – 8/10 – This song is enjoyable adult alternative music for me at least, moody song about the winding down of a relationship that is easy enough to appreciate.  I’m glad it hit #1 for Posty.

#61:  Hey Look Ma, I Made It – Panic! At The Disco – 4/10 – My feelings about this song are conflicted.  On the one hand, I appreciate this song’s effort to portray the seedy underbelly and nothingness of pop glory, but this is a pop sellout that tries to gain credibility by attacking pop sellouts, and everything about this song appears cheap and cynical.

#60:  You Say – Lauren Daigle – 9/10 – If Lauren Daigle is a bit uncanny in being a Christian Contemporary Adele clone and even if it is unlikely that she will crossover again with massive pop success, this was a song whose message is one I can definitely endorse and the song held up despite massive overplay, and that’s worth a lot.

#59:  Envy Me – Calboy – 4/10 – I don’t really feel much of anything about this song and I can’t really envy the empty flexing from someone who was a no-name before this song and hasn’t done anything since then.

#58:  Close To Me – Ellie Goulding X Diplo f/Swae Lee – 7/10 – I actually enjoyed this song, in large part because of the bracing singing of Ellie Goulding.  Swae Lee, of course, will be talked about later, and he does his usual thing.  This song has a memorable hook, to be sure.

#57:  Taki Taki – DJ Snake f/Selena Gomez, Ozuna & Cardi B – 5/10 – The melody is okay, but I really didn’t like the singing on this song very much.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to listen to it much either.

#56:  The Git Up – Blanco Brown – 6/10 – If this song is a rip-off of Old Town Road (more on that later), and if it is slower than dance songs are, this was at least an enjoyable song as far as shameless cash grabs are concerned.  The fact that Blanco Brown appears likable as far as corporate plants go certainly helps as well.

#55:  Pure Water – Mustard & Migos – 6/10 – I must say that 2018 and 2019 have given me a much better appreciation of DJ Mustard as a DJ and artist, and if this song isn’t as good as some of his other work it’s certainly decent at least.

#54:  Be Alright – Dean Lewis – 7/10 – This song is a moody breakup song (no shortage of those this year), and there is a considerable gap between the platitudes the lyrics express and the downbeat nature of the song’s singing and framing, but honestly, that’s what I like most about the song.

#53:  God’s Country – Blake Shelton – 9/10 – I really appreciated this song, with its bombast and dark tone about the struggles of farming and Blake Shelton’s flinty and combative faith.  This was the third of the hits of this year that most resonated with me, and we’ve already talked about all of them.

#52:  Whiskey Glasses – Morgan Wallen – 6/10 – I’m not a huge fan of this song or the drinking that it celebrates, but it is certainly an honest and vulnerable wallowing in post-breakup sorrow, and I can respect that.

#51:  Wake Up In The Sky – Gucci Mane X Bruno Mars X Kodak Black – 4/10 – Why have we given Kodak Black more hits?  This song is pretty tired and awfully complacent about itself and none of the singers do a great job here.  Bruno Mars is a lot better than this and his 2019 hits were a big disappointment (more on that later).

To Be Continued…

[1] See, for example:




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Book Review: Ysabel

Ysabel, by Guy Gavriel Kay

One can tell that this book was written towards the beginning of the author’s career.  For one, the author sets his story in the present-day.  For another, he uses actual historical peoples and hasn’t fully integrated this novel into his fictional universe.  But in reading this book one can definitely see the author’s fondness for exploring the boundary between life and death and also his fondness for heathen religion.  There is plenty of creepiness to be found here as a young man comes of age in a fascinating and complicated way.  And although I do not consider myself a fan of the themes of reincarnation and of heathen religion that are found here, the author does provide some thoughtful examination of the tension between mysticism and scientism.  If the author does not appear to have a grasp of genuine Christianity (something I have noted), he certainly has an interest in exploring religion in his novels, and that is something to appreciate.  This book manages to keep interest to the end and has a compelling set of characters at its center and lots of complex family drama, all of which makes for fine reading.  As an early effort, this book shows promise and points to where the author would go from there.

At its heart, this book of about 400 pages is about a complex love triangle in the midst of other complex personal and cultural matters.  A young man named Ned Marriner is with his father in Provence, and finds a mysterious figure from the afterlife while visiting a cathedral in Aix-la-Provence with a geeky but attractive exchange student named Kate.  The two of them along with his family and his father’s co-workers (including his father’s personal assistant Melanie) get wrapped up on Beltraine into a complicated challenge between a Celt and a stranger that apparently occurs every 25 years.  A mystical boar, a murderous Druid, Ned’s doctor’s without borders mother and witchy aunt and athlete uncle all join in as they attempt to rescue Melanie from spirit possession and deal with the complexities of an ancient duel between two men who represent two hostile pagan cultures.  And in doing so the people involved find out more about themselves and are led to think about the weight of history as well as the porous boundary between life and death even as they seek to save a friend and figure out their own identities and powers, all of which leads to a dramatic and surprising conclusion that I will not spoil.

As is often the case in Kay’s writing, this particular novel encourages the reader to think about the complex competition between Celtic and Mediterranean religion.  It must be emphasized that the author has no apparent conception or understanding of Christianity apart from the heathen elements that are a part of mainstream Christianity–something other novels deal with even more than this one.  That said, the author is interested in the competition between Greco-Roman and Celtic religion, and appears not to be under any illusions about Celtic religion not having any human sacrifices, something that irritated a previous reader of this novel from our local library system who penciled in that it was not true that Celts offered human sacrifices, contrary to what the author had stated.  This novel dwells heavily on the ghosts of the past and on the futility of trying to wipe out the past and those are lessons that contemporary readers could stand to pay more attention to when we look at the way that some people, especially on the left, wish to wipe out the past by destroying historical memory and the teaching of historical events in favor of contemporary identity politics.  This book is at least a subtle rebuke to such ignorance.

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Book Review: River Of Stars

River Of Stars (Under Heaven #2), by Guy Gavriel Kay

This book was a deeply moving and sad one.  Interestingly enough, the author takes as his inspiration a tragic period in Chinese history when the folly of the Song Dynasty’s rulers led to an attempt to use barbarians against barbarians in the attempt to recover territory that was under the rule of Liao dynasty only to end up losing even more territory to the Jurchens, a process that this book describes painfully and in some detail, pointing out the brutality of the barbarians who sought to conquer China as well as the dangerous results of military weakness in a dangerous world.  Over and over again this book explores the lack of martial valor of the Song Chinese, called the Twelfth Dynasty here, showing how bureaucratic excellence could not entirely overcome military weakness when those who had military skill were viewed with such mistrust.  This volume, which has some marked historical parallels with the history of 12th Century China, is definitely tragic, as the main characters pursue their interests and longings with the full knowledge that it is likely to end very badly, and the fairy tale ending cannot overcome the deep sorrow of what precedes it.

This sprawling work of more than 600 pages largely tells the story of a small group of people during the transition point between the Northern and Southern Song Dynasty.  The lead character, Ren Daiyan, begins as a bright young boy whose chance encounter with some bandits leads him to become an outlaw.  Meanwhile, he recruits a disgraced soldier who becomes a trusted second-in-command as they rise and eventually return to the service of a beleaguered China seeking to recover lost lands despite a lack of martial fervor in the country.  Meanwhile, China’s emperors are immensely spoiled and power is divided between conservatives and progressives who are both deeply interested in bureaucratic power and neglectful of the military, to say nothing of the common people who suffer frequent famines and massive civil disorder.  This disorder only becomes worse as a new barbarian tribe overthrows their overlords and brings death and destruction to the northern and middle part of China and is only barely staved off thanks to the efforts of Daiyan.  Also, there are court poets and eunuchs and a feminist character whose lack of feminine graces pushes her to be married to a gay antiquities collector while she has an affair with Daiyan (unsurprisingly enough).  Needless to say, this cannot end well and it does not end well, with a weight of tragedy as a ninth son seeks to establish his place in the aftermath of catastrophe even as his elder brother and father live disgraced in captivity.

In reading this novel as the second novel of the author’s I have finished so far, I think that the author’s approach is not really fantasy literature so much as supernatural literature.  There is little magic to be found here, although the main character has an encounter with a fox girl who is clearly demonic and there is a picture of a dramatic exorcism here as well and certainly a great deal of thought about the relationship between the living and the dead as far as ghosts are concerned.  The author takes a great deal of interest in ghosts, including ancestral ghosts and the importance of honoring one’s ancestors, and this provides a supernatural rather than a fantasy angle to his novels.  This book carries a heavy weight, though, the weight of the heaviness of fate and destiny and the way it can be shaped in small chance occurrences, and how it is that someone’s loyalty can be misinterpreted and become the source of ruin.  The author can also be praised for the way that he seeks to make the Prime Minister of the first Southern Song Emperor less of a villain while making the emperor himself more of one.  Sometimes history is not just or fair, sadly.

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Book Review: Under Heaven

Under Heaven (Under Heaven #1), by Guy Gavriel Kay

I was informed about this particular series by a coworker of mine, and this book is the first of the author’s thirteen books in our library system that I was able to get to.  It certainly was a powerful beginning, as the author provides a just barely fantasy retelling of a fascinating story of Chinese politics that goes on for more than 500 pages and makes the reader appreciate the discussion of court politics and the folly that led to the death of tens of millions of Chinese during the An Lushan rebellion during the T’ang Dynasty.  Again, this book is fictionalized, but sticks very closely to the historical knowledge along with enough plausible fictionalization to dress it up.  One can easily imagine this book as being a biographical history of an obscure noble Chinese scholar and warrior in an only slightly parallel universe to our own, and there is no question that the author has done his homework on China and its relationship to outsiders during the course of the 8th century AD.  The character at the center of the story is immensely appealing and the world he inhabits both large and small in all the best ways.  This is a novel to savor.

The book begins as a bit of a mystery, as the gift of 250 magical horses to a retired Kitaian military officer finds him seeking to get rid of his unwanted gift in such a way that does not lead to his slaughter by different sides in a court dispute between a powerful but illiterate barbarian ruling over multiple provinces with three armies and his adopted cousin, a petulant fool and relative of the young empress at court who hired hitmen to kill the protagonist while hiring his older brother as a chief adviser, making a chief concubine out of the protagonist’s love interest, and raising the protagonist’s sister to the status of princess to marry a brutal barbarian chieftain.  The protagonist manages to find some allies in a banished but immensely talented poet and a lithe and fantastically brave bodyguard and manages to find his way in the messy and complex court politics while impressing the emperor as well as his heir.  Flight and fight interplay as armies clash, a large amount of dead bodies is racked up, and people face their reckoning in brutal coup attempts as the preservation of life and honor proves an immensely difficult challenge.

In reading this novel, I was a bit surprised that there were not more fantastic elements.  When someone has devoted years to burying graves for soldiers in massive battles and ends up acquiring a good reputation as a result of his piety, the ability to add ghosts and shamans with magical power is pretty evident.  More surprising than the presence of such elements to me, at least, was the restraint with which the author treated such materials, showing the protagonist as someone who both had seen some supernatural phenomena but was by and large what we would consider a rational person.  And the family and personal dynamics at the heart of this particular book are powerful as well, with sisters being raised up to the status of princess to be married abroad, and brothers quarreling over power and position.  This book shows a generally dim perspective of elites and shows how foolish and rash decisions can lead to the deaths of millions of people in pointless slaughter.  The tragic results of the petulance of people in power is definitely on display here, and it gives a weight to this book that raises it above mere escapist literature.  The author has achieved something very special here in making a compelling picture of Chinese geopolitics with resonance far outside of its genre and subject material.

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I Cannot Find Rest Because I Am Powerless To Amend A Broken World

This three line fragment of a poem appears in at least two of the novels by Guy Gavriel Kay:

…I cannot find rest
Because I am powerless
To amend a broken world.

The first time this poem appears it is part of the reflections of a T’ang era poet on the brokenness of his own time at the beginnings of the An Lushan revolt, which ended up killing tens of millions of Chinese and leading to the sack of China’s two largest cities in northern China at this time.  In the second novel the poem appears, it is remembered by someone who has survived the catastrophe that led to the destruction of the Northern Song dynasty in the face of the Jurchen invasion.  In both cases massive catastrophe on a civilizational level was involved in the invocation of these lines.  Should we wonder that we do not have the power to amend a broken world?  We do not have the power to amend our own broken selves, so how could we fancy that we have the power to fix the world around us that is so broken?  Why would we even think that we would have such power?

Who are the people who are not rest because they cannot fix a broken world?  Such people are not hard to see around us.  Most of them are young and blind to their own brokenness and of the belief that with youthful energy they will be able to solve the problems that have bedeviled humanity from time immemorial.  If we are unlucky, such people will create more evil and brokenness in the world in their energetic progressiveness.  In seeking to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth they will turn the earth into hell.  Such types were the passionate revolutionaries of 1789 France, of 1917’s Russian Revolutions, of 1979 Tehran overthrow of the Shah, of 2011’s Arab Spring, and so on and so forth.  Those who think that only reactionary forces are standing in the way between foolish idealists and the salvation of the world or some corner of it will not hesitate to consign many millions and tens of millions of people to death and imprisonment to achieve their aims, and will turn on each other when the sacrifice of blood demanded from their false gods ends up leading somewhere other than the millennial paradise they promised to themselves and others.  Indeed, those who wish to fix the broken world the most only end up breaking the world even more through their error and folly.

And so it is for most of us.  How is it that the world came to be broken in the first place?  It was broken through the blunders and errors of people in the absence of correct information, in the rejection of correct information that was provided in favor of the delusions of one’s imaginations and hopes (and fears).  The world has been broken through careless words and deeds, casual hatred and prejudice, the objectification of people for the gratification of our own lusts and desires, as if others did not matter except for our amusement or satisfaction.  It has been broken as a result of the consequences of our own sins and those of others.  It has been broken by the sins of our fathers and mothers, by the sins of our children, of the sins of our husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends and by our own sins, as well as the sins of more distant relatives and friends and acquaintances and coworkers and bosses and subordinates and strangers and enemies.

When we are faced with the brokenness of the world within us and without us, we are faced with various choices.  Do we seek to fix the brokenness within us first?  If we try this, we will find that it quickly overwhelms our efforts, and requires divine aid to make even the smallest lasting changes to our nature.  If we seek to fix the brokenness in the outside world, we will quickly find ourselves dealing with the enmity that results from a resistance to change coerced from outside that can be found burning in the heart of every human being that has ever been or ever will be.  To fix the outside world and those in it requires the sort of coercive power that makes a hell on earth and that leads to yet more brokenness than existed in the first place.  And whether we are killed by angry mobs or the despair over being unable to fix this broken world that we have inherited and that we have broken still further through our error and folly, we will find that we are unable to leave the world behind us a substantially less broken world than the one we picked up in our unworthy hands from those who came before us.

What then is our task?  What can we do to arrest the progressive breaking down of the world around us if it is not within our power to repair and fix what has been broken?  We can tend our gardens, be a good example of the right way to be for those who see us, so that others may be encouraged and inspired to follow our example if they share such a desire.  We can gently teach through word and deed, raise up godly and decent children, make good friendships with decent and honorable people, have loving and happy marriages, do the best job we can with the times and situations that we are faced with, and hope for a positive verdict in the memory of loved ones who will live on after us and, if we are conspicuous enough in how we have lived, in the verdict of history, and whether we are great or small, in the verdict of God.  Perhaps this is not as glamorous as we would like.  At best we can be the unworthy bearers of God’s grace to a broken world whose example can be seen and imitated by only a small and obscure corner of a great big world.  But that is what we can do, and God willing, if enough people are able to do this necessary task well, it will be enough.  To do more requires the establishment of God’s kingdom on this earth, and for that we fervently pray.

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Book Review: Discernment

Discernment:  The Essential Guide To Hearing The Voice Of God, by Jane Hamon

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

I don’t know who Jane Hamon is or who ordained her father-in-law to be a bishop, but I found this book to be strangely entertaining.  I don’t think that was the aim of the book, but it certainly did achieve that.   Given that Pentecostals (and I assume the author is one) care so much about the gifts of the Spirit and spiritual warfare, subjects this book gets into a lot, it is little surprise that discernment should be such an important subject within this book.  The author doesn’t really make it clear, though, that she has the sort of discernment that would make her an expert.  Not only is there a heavy odor of nepotism in the way that she has a ministry at all given her modest grasp of the Bible but she frequently shows in this book a tendency to enjoy word games and wrangling over definitions that is not necessarily very discerning.  This is a book that tries very hard to show itself as an essential guide, but it is far too personal to be essential for all of its author’s edit.  That doesn’t make this book not worth reading because it is, but it is not worth reading in precisely the way that the author intends.

This book is almost 250 pages long and it is divided into 14 chapters.  The book begins with a foreword by Dr. Chuck Pierce as well as an introduction by the author.  After that the author discusses what it means to hear the voice of God (1) and how to discern the times (2), which leads her into an entire chapter on something the author refers to as the Isaachar anointing (3).  After this the author discusses the importance of having a discerning heart (4) and having the discernment to lead (5) and build (6) in religious and spiritual matters.  After that the author discusses discerning the Spirit of God (7) as opposed to demons, discerning angels (8), and also discerning demons (9), whom the author shows a marked tendency to name personally, something the Bible refrains from.  The author discusses the importance of discerning the human heart (10) as well as the relationship between discernment and that favorite Pentecostal subject of spiritual warfare (11).  Finally, the author closes the book with chapters on discernment and intercession to transform territories (12), discerning and identifying strongholds of demonic influence (13), and having eyes to see and ears to hear (14), after which there is an index.

This book is decidedly odd, and it shows the author to have what appears to be a particularly Pentecostal interest in making up concepts that only appear very briefly in the Bible.  This is by no means uniquely a Pentecostal habit, it should be noted, but it is something that this book and many others written by fellow Pentecostals shows.  In this case the author spends a lot of time talking about a supposed Issachar anointing based on a single scripture about some people in Issachar having the ability to discern the signs of the times and then runs with it to excess.  As odd as this is, it is certainly better than the author’s occasional accusations of others as being demonically inspired, that’s for sure.  One might have thought that an editor would have read this book and had the author tone down some of the accusations of those who used to attend the same congregations, but no, she goes right out and calls those who have sought to build up their own fellowships and their own congregations as being demonically influenced with a spirit of rebellion.  In reading a book like this it is hard not to wonder who it was that gave the author that kind of authority to make those pronouncements in the first place.

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Book Review: Operating In The Power Of God’s Grace

Operating In The Power Of God’s Grace:  Discovering The Secret Of Fruitfulness, by Robert Henderson

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

A book like this is a tricky one to read and review for someone outside of the holiness tradition, as is sometimes the case.  The book rather mysteriously says of the author that he is an apostolic leader (according to whom?) who is driven to disciple the nations through writing and speaking, and other vague words to this effect.  Having never reviewed any of his other books I cannot express familiarity with his thoughts on the apostolic or the courts of heaven or any of his other subjects in which he discusses, but this book does offer at least enough information about the author from his own pen (or keyboard) that it indicates a desire to avoid taking blame for his failures in saving marriages (he claims that he does not have that particular gift), and the nature of the book indicates a strong desire on the part of the author to avoid the extremes of cheap grace or legalism, with considerable success in pointing out that good works come about as a result of God working through us, which ought to provide at least a reasonable picture of the way of life that Christians should engage in.

This book is bit more than 200 pages and is divided into twelve chapters.  The book begins with a foreword by Mark Cironna and then moves on to the author’s thoughts about what it means to be freed to be fruitful, which takes up a substantial part of the book, larger than the other chapters here by a good bit (1).  This leads to a discussion on God’s varying looks towards us (2) as well as how we seek mercy from God and find grace (3).  There is then a discussion of the familiar false dilemma between grace and works (4) as well as a discussion of the grease of God (5) as an amusing follow-up.  The author then spends several chapters looking at various aspects of grace, including the grace attached to God’s purposes for us (6), the relationship between grace and spiritual gifts (7), which the author views in various numbered lists, and then the supernatural ability of grace (8).  After this there is a discussion of the grace of people (9), how to enjoy limitless living (10), although the author elsewhere talks about his own lack of certain types of gifts, and then a discussion of how one moves in grace (11), and enjoys the finishing touches of grace (12) in one’s life.

Admittedly, though, this book is full of aspects that are hard to decipher without a larger understanding of the author and his own personal context.  Frequently in this book the author makes speculations as to the identity of a Jezebel spirit, and it is very clear to anyone who reads this book that the author has a large degree of personal interpretive schemes that undergird his understanding of such matters as gifts and spiritual warfare.  This is not a bad thing, but it does mean that the reader who does not share the author’s own religious context is unable to fully grasp how it is that the author thinks even where there is a large degree of agreement.  The question here is one of authority, and the author’s rather coy refusal to address how it was that he viewed himself as having the authority to make pronouncements about certain matters or make obvious interpretive leaps from the scriptures he is talking about makes those questions about the author’s authority all the more pointed.  Who made this author a recognized expert in the spirit?  Where does his authority come from?  How can he be believed?  These are not necessarily the kindest of questions to ask, but neither are they the easiest of questions to answer from the course of this book itself.

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Book Review: Small Groups Made Easy

Small Groups Made Easy, by Ryan Lokkesmoe

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

It is always interesting to know what particular agenda a book has when it is being written.  It should always be remembered that no book is written without reasons, often several reasons, and so the fact that this book exists indicates that those who lead small groups of believers are considered a large enough book market to cater to, which would suggest a target audience of thousands or ten thousands of people at the very minimum.  I personally find that fascinating.  The book, based on its contents, is clearly based on a desire to appeal to small group leaders with very little knowledge in basic and foundational biblical truths, as evidenced by the studies that are included, which are immensely basic material most suited to new believers who have no solid doctrinal and biblical understanding whatsoever.  Such a focus on the basics and fundamentals is by no means a bad thing, but it is certainly a striking and unusual thing that deserves to be remarked upon.  In reading this book I was deeply struck as well by the way that the author seemed somewhat defensively to comment about the small group format being the apostolic model for congregations.

This book is about 150 pages and is divided into two parts.  The author begins with a defense of small groups as being an authentic and apostolic aspect of Christianity (1) and then spends four more chapters looking at practical starting points in running a small group (I), namely clarifying the role of a small group leader (2), dealing with various logistical matters like attendance and child care (3), dealing with personal challenges among group members (4), and also looking at spiritual concerns among the group (5).  The next part of the book provides very basic and fundamental starter small group studies for the reader to use (II), on such subjects as the nature of God (6), grace (7), God’s view of believers (8), what faith in God means (9), how we grow spiritually (10), what is sin and how it affects us (11), how should we pray (12), God’s view on suffering (13), how can we repair broken relationships (14), how to view money and possessions (15), how to share one’s beliefs in personal evangelism (16), and how do we deal with doubts about God and the Bible (17).  After this the book ends with some reassurances for the leaders of small groups.

In reading a book like this, the credibility of the author is of immense importance.  As it happens, I am not unfamiliar with the writer’s work [1], as he has written two previous books that explore similar topics.  As it happens, the author appears to be a small groups pastor for a large Houston church and seeks to use that experience as a way of encouraging others to be able to lead small groups despite a great deal of doubt about their own leadership skills.  Some of the advice provided is immensely shrewd, including how to deal with needy members (as opposed to those genuinely in need) and how to address or cope with those who tend to dominate small group conversations.  Admittedly, small groups are something I have familiarity with, mostly in an informal basis when it comes to small congregations that end up being small groups (as in rural Oregon congregations that I visit from time to time) or informal small groups of believers who spend a lot of time together in large part to discuss spiritual and biblical matters among other things.  I wonder how many of them will find this book, though.

[1] See, for example:



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The Strength Of Local Attachments

One of the more notable ways that maps lie is in the way that they view states as unitary structures.  We look on a map and see the United States as one color and neglect to see the massive diversity that is present within its states as well as its territorial possessions like Puerto Rico.  The same is true if we look at Morocco and see Western Sahara attached or Moldova with the Transdnistrian Republican not shown or Georgia with South Ossetia and Abkhazia shown within its borders.  Given that maps rarely show the ambiguities of borders outside of obvious cases like the empty district between Yemen and Oman and Saudi Arabia or the border between Egypt and Sudan or the overlapping claims that Western Sahara, Algeria, and Morocco have, it is obvious that most maps struggle even more mightily to represent the strength of local attachments that make countries far less united than they might otherwise seem to us.

The strength of local attachments is not something that ought to be unfamiliar to us.  We deal with it frequently in our own lives.  I will speak from my own experience in the following passage, but I am sure that your own experience could provide plenty of similar examples.  When I was growing up in rural Florida my rapid accent and bookish nature led me to be thought of as a Yankee, but when I moved to Southern California, I found myself being teased with “Dueling Banjos” references by those whose brain-dead liberal opinions I disagreed with.  People in Oregon (and other places) blame Californians for all kinds of problems like bad driving and rising rents and property taxes, while people in Molalla, a small town in rural Clackamas county, are decidedly not friendly to outsiders who visit them.  Likewise, when I have visited Texas I have tended to find those Texans I had not personally met elsewhere rather unfriendly, an experience which has in turn made me think far worse of Texans that I might otherwise.

Nor is the matter of the strength of local attachments something that has not been noted or commented on by many.  I recently finished a book on the Spanish Empire (review forthcoming) that commented on the lack of cohesion within this realm over the course of its history (more on that below), all of which gave the lie to claims that the Spanish Empire was a coherent and unified realm when its military, trade, and diplomatic matters depended on a massive involvement of “foreigners” ranging from those who were outside of Castille to those who were outside of the Iberian peninsula (including a lot of Belgians, Dutch, Italians, and even Burgundian translators) to those who were outside of Europe, even, like Chinese merchants in Manilla or blacks defending Spanish colonial possessions in Cuba and Peru from invading Brits.  In Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, one of the more interesting moments is Darcy’s attempt before his abortive first proposal to determine whether Lizzy Bennet has too strong of local attachments to Herefordshire to think of someone from Derbyshire as an appropriate husband.  And lest we laugh at this provincialism, we might think of the same sort of cultural divide that would separate a Nebraskan from a Northern Californian or a Floridian from a Michigander.

Among the obvious consequences of the strength of local attachments is the way that it hinders too much centralization.  To the extent that different local attachments have rivalries with others, overall unity is somewhat hindered.  As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan (thanks in large part to my loyalty to the place of my birth, a small post-industrial town outside of Pittsburgh), I can find myself the subject of hostility from Seattle Seahawks fans who blame our team for bad officiating that cost them a chance in their first Super Bowl appearance.  My various places of residence have led people to judge me based on their own misconceptions of those areas when I have traveled to different areas.  The fact that people from North and South and East and West and Middle America do not see eye to eye hinders the overall unity of the United States, especially when people look at blue and red states and counties as a way of showing the strength of political identities in different locales that appear to be hardening in the face of increasing violence on the part of the extremist left.

Nor is this a problem that hinders the United States alone.  There are plenty of examples where local attachments hinder the unity of larger nations.  Hong Kong’s separate political culture is certainly causing headaches for Beijing imperialists who want to control that area and profit from its wealth.  Spain is being wracked by separatism in Catalonia, and numerous referenda on independence for various areas have been held or are being held.  Indeed, in just a couple of days or so we should know whether the people of Bougainville wish to be independent from Papua New Guinea and whether their wishes will be respected by that troubled nation.  The mining wealth of that area and the fact that the people of Bougainville culturally belong far more with the Solomon Islands than with the Papuans in terms of language and ethnicity has made these local attachments the source of violent conflict, as has been the case in many areas around the world.  Sometimes this violence has been directed by those with local attachments at larger areas that claim their loyalty and at least as often (if not more) it has been directed by those larger areas at those whose local attachments may be in conflict with the larger entities which they are a part of.

This is not something that is true only of ethnic politics, but is something faced by businesses (where local attachments can include departmental silos and semi-autonomous regional offices), churches (where local congregational identity can sometimes be stronger than larger denominational identity) and any other number of institutions.  On the one hand, local attachments make it easier to get things done within that locale thanks to the improved trust and cohesion based on those close bonds.  However, sometimes close bonds with one’s neighbors can mean a weakening of bonds with others, and can lead to a lessened ability to get things done for those larger entities or institutions.  Likewise, too close of bonds between those who fancy themselves to be rulers and authorities can make the development of bonds between levels and classes more difficult.  What we should takeaway from this is an understanding of just how difficult it is to keep institutions and polities unified given all of the ways that people can be pit against each other by those who wish to destroy cohesion and unity and trust and mutual good feelings.  Let us not underestimate the task of those who wish to encourage the mutually beneficial binding of people together in unity and harmony.

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Book Review: The Ruin Of The Roman Empire

The Ruin Of The Roman Empire:  A New History, by James J. O’Donnell

It is not as if the author of this book is a total idiot.  There are at least some things that the author gets right–Justinian’s attempt to re-conquer the Roman empire was ill-advised, especially in the wake of a plague that killed a large percentage of the population of his empire and made his successors ill-equipped to handle the many foreign wars that would beset them in the next few decades.  The author correctly notes at the end of the book that it is by no means foreordained that civilization will succeed and that it depends on wisdom and some measure of pragmatism.  The author is also generally right to praise the importance of healthy village culture as a necessary handmaiden to urban civilization in providing the food that is necessary for urban parasites to survive above and beyond the subsistence level.  That said, the author says a lot of things that are just impossible to believe, and sometimes downright contradictory as when he tries to out-Procopius the Secret History as as critic of Justinian and claims that Alexander The Great was the one sane emperor of the ancient world, he of the paranoid murders of childhood friends and trusted advisers and all, lest we forget.

This sizable book of about 400 pages is divided into three parts and 8 large chapters.  The book begins with a preface and an overture that sets the destruction of Rome in the 6th century by looking at the decline of Rome in the 5th century that precedes the events discussed in the rest of the book. The first part of the book then consists of two chapters that examine the world of the doomed Ostrogoth Theoderic (I), including a look backwards at 500 from Rome (1) as well as a look at the world that might have been (2) had Theodoric not gotten paranoid and killed his advisers.  After that the author spends a fair amount of time with his bete noir Justinian (II) discussing what it was like to be Justinian (3), whom the author thinks to be not very wise and discerning, what opportunities were lost in the author’s mind by not focusing his attention on keeping the Balkans unified and tied to Constantinople (4), as well as the wars that were worse than civil that ended up destroying Italy (5).  Finally, the author closes the book by looking at Gregory The Great (III), and discussing what it was like to learn to live again (6), the debris of empire that followed Justinian in Constantinople (7), as well as Gregory The Great’s life and career (8), after which there is a list of Roman Emperors, notes, suggestions for further reading, credits and permissions, and an index.

This book is not a really good example of history.  It is the example of someone trying to force history to fit along with his prejudices against Christianity (despite his love for Pope Gregory The Great, who he insanely calls the last consul), of which there are too many examples in new histories.  While the author is not completely misinformed he is nonetheless not the sort of person whose opinion can be taken seriously or as gospel truth.  Indeed, in one section of the book he states various untruths while saying at the same time that everything he says is true, acting like a Democratic politician on the stump claiming that this time contemporary Western states know how to set the right level of taxation so as not to discourage entrepreneurial efforts (which is laughable when one looks at the meager economic knowledge of folks like Sanders, Warren, et al in our contemporary political scene).  One wonders whether the author has actually ever pondered that the ancients may not be as dumb as he thinks they are or whether he is not actually as smart as he thinks he is.  A bit more humility would have made this a far better book.

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