Read Again

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

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.

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

I am reposting this 2013 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $1.99. I really love this book.
Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir

Takeaway: 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 occasionally 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 at 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 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.

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 stuck 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.

The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson

Summary: A pastor’s thoughts on being a pastor (and I think an essential book for anyone that relates to pastors.)

This past week I have started walking to the top of Kennesaw Mountain, a nearby park. I am going backpacking with friends at the end of the month and need to start preparing.

After finishing After You Believe, I went back to Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor. This is my third reading of it since it came out four years ago. (First and second reviews.)

I am not a pastor, I have no intention of ever becoming a pastor. But Eugene Peterson exemplifies not only what it means to be a pastor to me, but also what NT Wright is talking about in what character and spiritual maturity are about.

Part of my need for these books are that I think I have absorbed the myth that spiritual growth is somehow different from growth in areas of life. Peterson is a man that has been shaped by scripture. Most of his books loosely revolve around a portion of scripture. One of the complaints about Peterson’s Message Bible is that it has done too much interpretation. First that complaint misunderstands the nature of translation, but more importantly, Peterson believes that the role of the pastor is to proclaim and illustrate through his or her life what scripture is saying to them.

The Pastor is really a record of Peterson finding his way as a pastor, but he is never far from the root of how scripture shapes him and directs him.

The art of pastoring that Peterson is recommending is a direct challenge to the leadership model that many understand pastor to be. For Peterson, the role of the pastor is first to call people to God, second to teach them to pray and third to call them together to love one another. Like most books by Peterson, he is rarely that explicit. Peterson tells stories. He tells stories about how he was convinced that the way he had done things was wrong and how worked to become a better pastor by changing.

Absolute Truths by Susan Howatch

Summary: Spiritual leaders are human, full of sin as all of us, but willing to have their sin redeemed by God for greater glory.

Over the last couple months I have re-read all of the Starbridge (or Church of England) series by Susan Howatch and the first of the off-shoot trilogy. This second reading of each of the main series has confirmed to me that this is one of the greatest series of ‘Christian Fiction’ written in the 20th century.

I use scare quotes because no US Evangelical Christian publishing house would actually publish this. It is full of sin. But also full of grace and redemption and more theologically rich than any other fiction series that I am aware of.

Absolute Truths is the last, and I think best, of the series. It returns to Charles Ashworth, the main character of the first book of the series (Glittering Images.) Instead of a young priest and professor, Ashworth is now a Bishop. And in the course of the book his third life crisis comes to pass.

What was so transformative for me with this series is that all of the conflict and story is based on clergy in the Church of England. All are real and devout Christians. All take their faith seriously (although in different streams of the Anglican way).

Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by CS Lewis

I am reposting this 2014 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $2.99
Takeaway: The gift of friends that allow us to explore and try out and explore ideas in safety and love is truly a gift that we all need.

As I am continuing to try out KindleUnlimited I decided to pick up the kindle edition of Letters ot Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by CS Lewis.  I had purchased the audiobook and read and reviewed it several years ago.  But I have been wanting to read it again, and I like changing formats when I re-read a book.  So I mostly read this short book on kindle with a few audio chapters.  (As I keep saying, the ability to seamlessly move back and forth between audio and kindle with whispersync is a great feature.)

As I was reading it, I confirmed that Letters to Malcolm is probably my favorite of Lewis’ books.  I am not sure many others think so, several reviews on Goodreads think it is one of his weaker popular books.  But like Paul’s II Timothy, there are hints of real humanness here that give me great joy.

Letters to Malcolm is a fictionalized set of letters that Lewis writes as if to a close friend.  It was Lewis’ last book to be published while he was alive, about 6 months before his death.  And while it is fiction, it feels like real letters.  There are side notes and personal details.  You can feel his age and some loss of freedom because of his health.

At the same time this is not a book that is completely easy to read.  There is only one side of the letters.  Malcolm’s letters are not included so we only know the response through Lewis’ side. Some of the letters are light and simple, some are pretty dense and dealing with heavy problems.