Read Again

These reviews are based on a second (or third) reading of the book. I link to my previous review as well.

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled TimesSummary: Commentary on Lamentations and a primer on the importance of lament.

I have joined a Be the Bridge group that is meeting via video call every other Saturday morning. Part of the method of BTB is to have each person present some historic event of racial injustice as part of creating a shared history which leads to real lament. I was asked to put together a summary of Prophetic Lament because I had already read the book. Because it had been a few years since I have read it, I wanted to re-read the book to prepare.

I did a lot more highlighting than I did on my first reading because I was trying to get quotes and ideas for the presentation. I am not going to write up a full new review, but I am going to link to my presentation and link to my highlights (42 of them).

I know it is not quite the same thing, but the American church often feels like the InsideOut movie, where Happy thinks initially that the best thing is for the girl to be happy all the time and for her to make sure Sadness is kept on the sidelines. Instead, by the end of the movie, Happy realizes that there is a real role for Sadness to play in the life of their girl and that repression of emotions other than happiness only backfires.

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

The Black Cauldron (Chronicles of Pydain Book 2) by Lloyd AlexanderSummary: A second adventure for Taran and his companions. Taran sees the problems of seeking glory and honor and the weight of leadership. 

I have been in a bit of a reading rut lately. So many books I want to read theoretically, but I have been not finishing much while starting a lot.

I stumbled across The Black Cauldron because there was an update to the Kindle edition, which pushed it to the front of my kindle. Last weekend I read through it in two sittings. These children’s books seem so much simpler reading them as an adult compared to my memory of them as a child. They are not simplistic, but the plots are much less detailed than some modern children’s books like Harry Potter and certainly less than many adult fantasy books.

What I like most about Lloyd Alexander as an adult and I think what drew me in as a kid was how seriously he takes Taran and Eiloiwy. They are not just some kids, but they are unique individuals, and while they are flawed people, they can grow and change, be self-reflective, and do important things. Unlike some kids books that have the kids do big things because the adults are incapable, Alexander has kids and teens do extraordinary things because there are important things to be done. This isn’t a rejection of adults, but part of the maturing process of becoming an adult.

I am about halfway through a book on discernment by Thomas Green (Weeds Among Wheat) that I am reading for my Spiritual Direction class. Green suggests that often when thinking about discernment, we believe God is either the puppet master, who controls all the things, so discernment doesn’t matter. Or we think about God in deistic ways with God not being involved in the world at all. Green thinks a better social imaginary is God as the parent of adult children. There are times that a parent of an adult will intervene and get involved, but there are times when the parent of adult children will allow their children to make their own decisions and live with the consequences as part of the process of growing up.

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John le Carré

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John le CarréTakeaway: Being a spy, influencing the other side is difficult to do and prone to morally questionable decisions.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is the book that first made John le Carré’s name (or made John le Carré, a pseudonym famous.) John le Carré was a spy, who became a writer. He came to prominence at about the same time Ian Fleming was becoming famous with James Bond. In many ways he was the anti-Bond.

Bond is known for action and individualism. George Smiley is over weight and a bit dumpy. He is an intellectual and an analyst. Carré’s books are slow and have complex plots. Fleming’s books are much shorter, are much more action based and idealize the work of a spy.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is the first of le Carré’s books that I have re-read. And it reminds much how soul deadening that le Carré makes intelligence work. There is some action and some understanding of the west being on the right side of the cold war. But that doesn’t mean that the west is always right in their actions. John le Carré is an author that if he had not read Niebuhr, he at least understood the basic concepts that Niebuhr wrote about in the Irony of American History.

Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering by Makoto Fujimura

Silence and Beauty- Hidden Faith Born of Suffering by Makoto FukimuraSummary: Thoughts on faith, art, Japan and the novel Silence.

Despite the movie Silence bombing at the box office (I didn’t have a chance to see it before it was gone), critics have mostly given positive reviews. And that seems to be similar to what I have heard from people that seen the movie. There were many that have previously read the book and have looked forward to the movie for years. But more than a few did not like the movie or the basic theme of the book. Bishop Barron, who regularly reviews movies as part of his video podcast and who I have usually found very sympathetic to attempts to portray faith in popular culture media really did not like it.

But I can’t help but feel like there is something missing in between those that have been raving about it and those that suggest it is missing between those that really like the film and those that are suggesting it is only marginally Christian theologically.

There is a pretty good discussion between Fujimura, Martin Scorsese and Kutter Callaway at Fuller Seminary. When I hear Scorsese talk about his intent behind the film or Fujimura’s discussion in Beauty and Silence or his many other places, it seems to be exactly the type of art that Christians need to be making. It has hard questions, no particularly easy or pat answers and it is technically superb.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

Goblet of Fire Book Review Summary: If you really need a summary, you probably aren’t going to read the review.

I have been craving some comfort reading lately. So I picked up the Stephen Fry narrated version of The Goblet of Fire that a friend loaned me. (It is the narrator for the British edition; Jim Dale is the narrator for the US edition). I don’t think there is any way for someone in the US to get the UK edition without importing the CDs or off of the internet.

The new narrator did help give a fresh gloss to a story that I have read at least five times and listened to at least once. Stephen Fry is best known to me as the narrator of Pocayo, a kids TV show. I think I prefer him to Jim Dale. I need to listen to another one or two books to be sure.

Silence by Shusaku Endo (Read Again)

Silence by Shusaku Endo Book Review

Summary: A 17th missionary from Portugal to Japan recounts the persecution of Christians and his own crisis of faith.

This is the year of Silence. First, I read Makoto Fujimura’s excellent book about his own journey with the book Silence and his coming to faith in Japan. It is still top on my list for the best non-fiction book I have read this year. I still plan to read it again before the end of the year.

And while it has been pushed back a little, the new movie directed by Martin Scorsese will have a limited release in December with a wider release in January 2017. My college alma mater (Wheaton College) has chosen Silence as part of a new general ed curriculum for all Freshman to read and hosted a conference on the book with Makoto Fujimura last week. I am hoping the conference sessions will be online at some point. 

I purchased the paperback to re-read (there is not a kindle edition available) and after losing the paperback twice, I went back to the audiobook for my second reading.

I am not sure what to add about the book from my first reading. My only thoughts that are not in the original review are related to the growing discussion about the persecution of the church in the US (if persecution is the right word) and the idea of the Benedict Option as popularized by Rod Dreher. I am not sure that I fully understand Dreher’s concept of becoming disciplining communities. But I think a discussion about how Christians act in the face of the retreat of Western Christendom should interact with real stories of persecution from the global church. (This is the review of Dreher’s book on the Benedict Option that I added later.)

Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir by Carolyn Weber (Read Again Review)

Surprised by Oxford: A MemoirTakeaway: The love story, whether between man and woman or God and human is one that brings joy to those that have experienced it.

I have said it before.  But one of the things I most love about blogging is that I have grown to ‘know’ so many authors. It is a distant knowing.  I have yet to meet any of them in person. But Matt Anderson, John Dyer, Rhett Smith, Tyler Braun, Karen Swallow Prior and Carolyn Weber (and others) I have interacted with beyond their books. It is not merely using one another for page views and book sales. With social media and some longer conversations, I feel like I can actually enter into their lives, at least in a small part.

Carolyn had a baby boy this past year and we exchange the occasional pleasantries. Carolyn has on several occasions thanked me for a blog post or review, and there are very few things that make my day more than an author I love (especially Carolyn) making appreciative comments on my writing.  The internet is such an odd world.

So on this second reading of Surprised by Oxford, I am not coming to the book fresh.  The first time I picked it up because of good reviews and a free review copy. The second time I had more invested  I had purchased a couple of copies for friends. Some had liked it and some had not. I now knew what was going to happen. These were people that I had some understanding about, both the characters from the memoir and the real people that inhabit the current world because these are people that I potentially could meet.

In my last reading, I was most struck by the beauty of the words. Carolyn Weber writes beautiful, evocative prose. That is no less true this time. But most of what struck me was the story. It was not new, but for some reason, I wanted to savor the poems that the characters were sharing. (And I am not a poetry guy, the fact that I found myself re-reading poems should speak very highly of this book.) I was more invested in Caro and TDH (Tall, Dark, and Handsome)’s occasional romance.

Prayer by Richard Foster (Read Again)

I am reposting this 2014 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $1.99.

Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home

Takeaway: If you are serious about learning about prayer and have not read this book yet, you need to.

I have read this book at least once previously (and I think twice.) It would not be the first book I recommend to someone that want to start out learning about prayer.  But it is one of the more important modern books on prayer.

Prayer is one of those topics in Christianity that is hard to write about. It is something learned best by doing and by being mentored by others. Surrounding yourself with people that pray is much better than surrounding yourself with books on prayer.

That being said, when you have spent time learning to pray with others, it is good to spend some time reading about the why and how of prayer. No book will fully explain that, of course. But Richard Foster does a very good job showing the different ways that prayer occurs within the Christian faith.  Few modern authors are as widely read and as fluent in different streams of Christianity as Richard Foster. That is both helpful, and the primary reason I would not suggest this to someone that is new to prayer. There is just too much here for someone that does not have a good grounding and idea about what type of pray-er they are.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel by Neil Gaiman (2nd Reading)

The Kindle Edition is $1.99 on Dec 18th only.
Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil GaimanTakeaway: The world of adults can be scary for children.

I have read, and in most cases re-read, all of Neil Gaiman’s adult novels. (I have read most of his children’s books and some of his short stories as well, but none of his graphic novels.)

Neil Gaiman continues to be one of my favorite modern novelists. And he is definitely among my favorite audiobook narrators. (As an aside he has a free audiobook of A Christmas Carol if you are interested.)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is hard to categorize. It is mostly about a child, written in the voice of the man reflecting back on that childhood. Its’ outward form is a spooky fairy tale.

Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints by James Martin

Summary: Brief exploration of seeking after who you were created to be.

I originally read this just over a year ago. James Martin originally put this together as a lecture to honor Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen.

On the second reading, Martin’s insights are still as hard to internalize, but as still important.

God has created each of us as unique individuals. Working toward becoming the self that God created is a lifetime process. And at least part of that process is rejecting the roles that are placed upon you but not a part of you.

The second reading I was struck by how we become who we are, not by focusing on our own selves, but by serving others. This was the theme of a sermon at my church recently so the focus here resonated more.

I mentioned this in the earlier review, but part of what is helpful about this book is that it is focused on people that many consider spiritual giants. Merton, Nouwen, Mother Theresa all were human. They were all broken people that struggled into their spiritual lives.