Saturday, 21 February 2015

Opening Lines

For your reading enjoyment, the opening lines of books I've been reading lately:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . ."

"I hate my father. I hate school. I hate being fat."

"I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war."

"Many people today are somewhat familiar with the parable of the prodigal son, found in Luke 15:11-32."

"The joy of fearing God? It sounds like a contradiction in terms."

"On the first page of Romans in my Greek Testament, I have scribbled at he top of the page a few significant dates."

"It was midnight in Ankh-Morpork's Royal Art Museum."

"There was once a woman who had three daughters, of who the eldest was named "One Eye," because she had only one eye in the middle of her forehead."

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Stories That Didn't Happen

From some old notebooks, I give you the start of some stories.

First, an introduction to a fairy tale or fantasy:

The problem with being a princess in a small kingdom like Kalden, though Marlynda, was that you got all of the restrictions and inconveniences, but none of the perks, of being a princess.

That's as far as that one got. This one may have been based on real life:

She took eight buses every day, and all eight of them were noisy. There were the crowds of students (high school and college) chattering loudly, and not always in English either. Too bad, because that cut down greatly on her eavesdropping. There was usually at least one crying baby or cranky kid, and a mother's constant refrain of "sit down...I said sit down...properly...sit down now!" She didn't know why they bothered; even if the kid did sit down, it was never for longer than half a minute at best. Which isn't to say that there weren't some good kids on the buses; just not all that many.

This next one just stops part way through a sentence:

A state of utter confusion is not always a bad thing. It can keep you from seeing what is truly terrible by keeping you busy trying to understand what really is. Plus, it can be a lot of fun. Take, for example, the classroom of James T. Barker. The grade four students

I have no idea where that sentence was going. I was either interrupted or realized that I didn't actually know what was up with those students!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Adoniram Judson

I've been reading To the Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson. It's the story of Adoniram Judson. I've read about him before in the Christian Heroes Then and Now series, and last year I read My Heart in His Hands, the story of Ann Judson, his wife. This book is longer and more in-depth than the others and I'm really enjoying it.

There are two things that stand out so far. The first is how real this book makes Mr. Judson. Many missionary biographies gloss over faults and paint a beautiful picture of the man. This book shows the whole man, including his mixed reasons for becoming a missionary, his battles with himself, and his struggles with pride. Along with all of that, of course, are his joys and successes and his hard work. Showing the whole man is more honest than just showing the good parts, and it is encouraging for those considering missions (or any type of ministry) but don't feel "good enough".

The other thing was the challenges he faced in translating the Bible. There were no words in Burmese for many of the ideas in Christianity because they didn't have the same concepts. They had no concept of an eternal God, for example. His struggles mirrored how I sometimes feel when speaking with non-Christians: we don't always speak the same language (even we are at least using the same words). The solution people give is to stop using Christian terms, but I don't think that works. Sometimes the alternatives end up lacking. We can't talk about an eternal God without some ideal of eternal: not just a long time, and not just forever from some point, but eternally existing from before all time. Mr. Judson used words from a separate language, one that the Buddhist monks used, that had the ideas he needed. We use the words we have, explain what we can, and pray that they will understand.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Thoughts at the Beginning of a New Year

As a teacher, I find it hard to accept that the new year begins in January. It's still winter and cold and snowy (at least in my part of the world). For me, the new year begins in September, with the start of the new school year. This actually caused some confusion once with the elders at the church. I said, late one fall, that we might need to start a new Sunday School class "next year". They thought I wanted to start it in January. I wondered why they thought I would want to change things part way through the year. Really, they should understand that "next year" in a Sunday School context is the next school year.

I don't have any New Year's resolutions this year. They always seem so pointless to me: this year I'm going to change everything and be wonderful and do everything perfectly! No I'm not. I'm going to be the same person I already am. Of course I'll change; we all do, and usually it's good. I'm just not going to set up some unrealistic expectations and then feel guilty when I don't live up to them.

On that note: I'm also not doing a "read through the Bible in a year" plan. I find it very stressful and either I rush some days or I get behind and then read all of Revelation in the last three days of the year just so I finished on time. This year I found a "read through the Bible in 3 years" plan. It works for me. Each day you're supposed to read 1 chapter (and on occasion 2 short chapters). Now I just follow the reading plan (it alternates between Old and New Testaments), and read how ever many chapters I want to that day, taking time to think about what I'm reading rather than just reading to get it done for the day. If I read more than one chapter (and I've been doing 2 most days so far, but it's only the 6th), that's fine. If I have a busy day and don't read (by which I mean "Tuesdays" when I work 9-5, and have Bible Study in the evening, and often don't get home until 11), it's not the end of the world. I'm also doing my reading in the evenings instead of mornings. I don't like to feel rushed in the mornings, and I need something to focus my thoughts in the evenings rather than spending all evening on the computer.

I do have a goal for 2015: the 2015 Reading Challenge. It looks like a fun way to decide what to read and maybe try something new. I've already finished one book (The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde) and I've started 3 others. I'll see how it goes.

I'd also like to write more this year. No promises there, though!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Books of 2014, Part 2: Non-fiction

You know, I was a bit worried about what would happen to my reading habits once I finished school. For years, a lot of what I read was school-related. I figured, without the required reading, I'd sink into fiction and never read anything deep again. So far that hasn't been a problem! Here are my favourites from last year:

1. Jerry Bridges: Growing Your Faith. So far I like everything Jerry Bridges has written. I've already started another one (we're doing it for my ladies' group).

2. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert: When Helping Hurts. This was a school requirement but I'd recommend it to anyone interested in missions, helping the poor, etc. It gave me some good perspective on how to help and how not to help (and balanced out the "go and do stuff now or you're a bad Christian" attitude of some books).

3. Greg Harris: The Cup and the Glory. Dr. Harris was my professor for Worship and Wisdom (my favourite class). He writes well, pulls things from the Bible together well, and keeps his readers thinking.

4. Moreau, Carwin, and McGee: Introducing World Missions. This was another school book, and very interesting. The authors traced world missions from the Old Testament to the modern times. They looked at the good and the bad. It's also set up to work for a classroom or Bible study type situation.

5. Tara Kelen Barthel and Judy Dabler: Peace Making Women. This one I read for the women's discipleship class at the church. The authors give principles for being a peace maker in different situations, showing the most likely problems that we may face and how to deal with them biblically.

6. Kevin DeYoung: Crazy Busy and The Hole in Our Holiness. Both of these are short books, but still deep. I like that the author doesn't try to heap condemnation on people; rather, he gives both practical and biblical advice on overcoming in both books (and he points out that we aren't called to do everything).

7. John Piper: The Swans are Not Silent series: The Roots of Endurance, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, and The Hidden Smile of God. These are biographies of famous Christian men. Each book looks at three men, their struggles, their joys, and their legacies. I started them because one had William Wilberforce, and he's one of my heroes.

8. Sharon James: My Heart in His Hands. This is a biography of Ann Judson, and it makes use of her journals and letters. Ann Judson and her husband were among the first American missionaries and the first missionaries to Burma.

9. William Varner: Jacob's Dozen. This is a short book that looks Jacob's final blessing to his sons and how that blessing has been realized through the rest of the Bible.

10. Carl Honore: In Praise of Slowness. I like the idea of slowing down. The idea, as I understand it, is not that everything must be done slowly, but that everything should be done at its own pace, and that faster is not always better.

11. Malcolm Gladwell: David and Goliath. I stumbled upon Malcolm Gladwell's writings several years ago and have enjoyed everything I have read of his. This one looks at why the little guy can (and often does) win, and the advantages of things that look like disadvantages.

12. Richard Feynman: Perfectly Reasonable Deviations and "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman". Richard Feynman was a Noble-winning physicist. Neither of these books has anything to do with physics (or I wouldn't understand them). The first one is a compilation of letters he wrote over his lifetime. The second (which was actually a re-read; it's how I was first introduced to Feynman some 15 or so years ago) is autobiographical, and relates various of the more interesting (and/or odd) incidents from his life.

Those are the best of my non-fiction reading this year. There were others, of course, but these 16 were the most interesting and/or enjoyable. Between the fiction list and this one, you have about half of what I read last year.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Books of 2014 Part 1: Fiction

In going through the books I read in 2014, I realized that I didn't read a lot of fiction (at least not compared to non-fiction). I think there were more books, but they were re-reads, and I only count those if it's been many years between readings. And a lot of the re-reading was kid's stuff that I read to relax.

Still, based on my records, here are my favourites for the year:

1. Brandon Sanderson: Elantris, The Rithmatist, and the last 2 books of the Mistborn Trilogy: The Well of Ascension and The Hero of the Ages. I really, really enjoy Brandon Sanderson's writing. He's one of my favourite fantasy writers. I enjoyed the different story lines in Elantris, and how they all overlapped in the book and eventually merged. The Rithmatist is a young adult book (I meant to bring it to my nephew at Christmas but forgot) with a good premise (and the promise of sequels, yay). I was pleased with the ending of the Mistborn Trilogy. The last book brought everything together nicely without dragging things out forever. If you like fantasy, go read Brandon Sanderson.

2. Chris Colfer: The Land of Stories books 1 and 2: The Wishing Spell and The Enchantress Returns. My nephew introduced me to these, and I admit I was a bit hesitant because the author is best known for his role on Glee, and actors don't always write as well as they think they do. I'm glad I gave them a chance, though, because I liked them. They're a nice read when you want a good story and they give a new perspective on some of the fairy tales and the villains and their motivations (and some of what happened after: for example, Little Red Riding Hood has been elected queen of one of the fairy tale kingdoms, but is rather full of herself and not a great ruler). The overarching story is about 2 children who discover that their grandmother is the Fairy Godmother and who learn how to travel to the Land of Stories.

3. Dee Henderson: Undetected.  This is my sole foray into romance, and I read Dee Henderson because her books are more adventure and intrigue than romance and they tend to deal with a world that I don't know (usually military life, but also various forms of law enforcement). In Undetected, Mark is the commander of a ballistic missile submarine, so I learned about submarines, how the men train, and how the commander deals with the real possibility that he might have to launch a nuclear missile. The more I read, the greater my appreciation for the people who defend us.

4. Lois Lowry: Son. I picked this up in the library because I like Lois Lowry. I missed the part about it being the sequel to The Giver, which I have always loved (actually there are 4 books; Gathering Blue and The Messenger come in between, but Son is the most directly connected to The Giver). I figured it out, though, in the first chapter. It was a good book and a good ending to the story. Also, years ago a friend and I had an argument about what the end of The Giver meant, and I was proven right! I definitely recommend it, but it's best if you read all 4 books in order (Son won't make as much sense without the others).

As a side note: The Giver has been made into a movie and I watched it on the plane on the way home from Thunder Bay. It's not bad so far as movies go, and it keeps most of the ideas of the book intact. There are some unnecessary changes (at least that's my opinion). The main one is that they add some romance between Jonas and Fiona (which is not quite as bad as it would be if they had left them as 12 year olds, but they also make them 16).

That's really the best of what I read. I know it doesn't look like much, but there are actually 8 books (although only 4 authors). It really wasn't a great year for fiction; I read more, but a lot of it was just okay.

As a bonus, I'll give you one more list of books that were okay (sort of the "honorable mention" list). These are the other children's books that I read and am willing to recommend:
Diango Wexler: The Forbidden Library
Polly Shuman: The Grimm Legacy
Gordon Korman: Ungifted
Jean Little: His Banner Over Me

Tomorrow I'll give you my favourite non-fiction books. There were a lot more of them.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

When God Became Flesh

After the time of Malachi, the last of the Old Testament Prophets, God was silent for around 400 year. And then He spoke again, not only with words, but by sending the Word to us.

Matthew 1:18-25
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him.He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.
There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’”16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.