Tuesday, December 30, 2003

So good to be back. I liked visiting family and all, but I only feel at home when I'm, um, at home.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

But before I go, You should probably read a contractual analysis of LOTR.
Merry Christmas to all you readers. May your holdays be a time for increased rather than decreased thoughts and ideas and reflections. Be careful on the roads.

Don't have time for my list of biblical and theological books of the year, as we are about to leave for Ohio and Indiana, so look for it on the 30th or 31st. Read a good book over the holidays!
"I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expendture on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them . . . For many of us the great obsstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear--fear of insecurity. This must often be recognized as a temptation."

--C S Lewis

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Here you can read the full text of the letter excerpted below. The background is that the Ugandan church had cut ties with the ECUSA, and were surprised to learn that the ECUSA was planning to send a delegation to see the installation (or whatever they call it) of the new-arch bishop. It is truly astonishing. I read it aloud to my shpherding group this evening and everyone was quite moved.

Speaking of our group, we had an interesting event occur, which I can't really talk much about, since it involves the difficult decision of a family in my church, but what happened was that we prayed for thier decision and the family in question called at the end of the meeting to tell us what they had decided. Unfortunately it was not the decision we were all hoping for, but now we are still committing ourselves to praying for them and supporting them. It's just weird when you pray for something and God answers with a pretty immediate "no".
Anyone recognize this? I'd like to nominate it as quote of the decade.

Recent comments by your staff suggesting that your proposed visit demonstrates that normal relations with the Church of Uganda continue, have made your message clear: If we fall silent about what you have done promoting unbiblical sexual immorality and we overturn or ignore the decision to declare a severing of relationship with ECUSA, poor displaced persons will receive Aid. Here is our response: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not for sale, even among the poorest of us who have no money. Eternal life, obedience to Jesus Christ, and conforming to His Word are more important.

Best of the Year: Non-fiction (non-religious)

I have three honorable mentions, plus a special mention of the book Culture Shock: Ukraine, which is an excellent book, ad possibly an intriguing read for anyone, but I doubt anyone would read it unless they are planning a trip to Ukraine.

Honorable mentions:

From Beirut to Jerusalem: Thomas L Friedman
Moab is my Washpot, Stephen Fry
No Shirt, No Shoes . . . No Problem!, Jeff Foxworthy

10 Roughin It, Mark Twain--a truly unique first-hand account of the Nevada silver rush. While Twain's refusal to stick closely to the facts makes it difficult to assess things with any precision, his description of the violent and lawless life of the mining community is something you really won't see elsewhere. Would go higher on the list except that the last hundred pages about his trips to California and Hawaii really need to be ripped out of the book.

9 Red Lobster. White Trash and the Blue Lagoon, Joe Queenan--I think I read most of this one out loud to my wife. Good if you need cheering up and want to feel superior to the masses at the same time.

8 The Armchair Economist, Stephen Landsburg--I think this would be a great text to get people interested in what economists do. Explores a number of oddball questions from an economists point of view. Also demonstrates, IMHO, the type of ethics that seems commensurate with economic analysis of everything, but that discussion will have to wait for another day.

7 The Pillars of Hercules, Paul Theroux--Theroux's diary of his trip through (almost) all the countries of the Mediterranean. I suppose the big surprise was that the only realy interesting places he descibed were Turkey and Syria. I suppose that Algeria and Libya are also intersting, but those were the ones he missed. Most of the med is apparently a cultural wasteland.

6 Burden of Dreams, Catherine Wanner--An academic study of post-independence Ukrainian culture. I suppose I was only interested since I was planning to travel there and my ignorance was pretty thorough, but I think the book is laudable on its own merits. Also, I bet you (unless your last name is Bush) don't know anything about the subject either. The uneasy relationship between Ukraine and Russia is one of the themes and will be something to watch as the future of all the former soviet lands unfolds.

5 To Resist or Surrender, Paul Tournier--Only two things, as far as I can tell, have prevented Paul Tournier from being read as widely as Chesterton or Lewis: the fact that he wasn't English (he was Swiss and wrote in French), and the fact that his theology was somewhat unorthodox (he was a universalist). Tournier was a doctor in general practice and was constantly learning things about the human psyche fom his work. This particular book is short and narrowly focussed on the question of what to do when dealing with oppressive situations and people. Should one stand up and fight about it, or should one just let things be and take it? Under what circumstances should one path be chosen rather than the other? There's lots to think about i the way he answers these questions.

4 City Life, Witold Rybczynski--This one could fairly be summarized by the question, "Why don't american cities look like european cities?" Rybczynski traces the origins of the american city and its planners and compares the ideas of how cities are conceived in the western world.

3 Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury--If you liked any part of the movie (go see it now if you haven't yet), you'll like this book, unless you are squeamish or you demand that a book have a plot. There is no overarching story here, merely anecdotes of various lengths about 19th century Manhattan. The level of violence in New York in this period defies description, at least by me. Mr. Asbury, though, does a fine job. The book was researched and published back in the '20's, so you'll see some, umm, interesting attitudes on display, but just consider them another part of the history.

2 An Anthropologist on Mars, Oliver Sacks--I didn't want to rate Sacks so highly, since he's a wacko-liberal (not just the ordinary kind), but he's an extremely gifted writer. I enjoy learning about how varied human experience can be, and Sacks certainly describes some of the most varied! The chapters each focus on one "abnormal psychology" case, some stemming from head traumas, some genetic conditions, one apparently brought on by drug abuse. The "cases" are of course people in thier own right, and they all have their own stories as well. I still find myself thinking about things I learned from this book quite often. Also, th main character from Motherless Brooklyn seems to be drawn almost straight from this book, so if you are planning to read Lethem, read him first before Sacks. You don't want to read the sources for the fiction you read, trust me.

1 King Leopolds Ghost, Adam Hochschild --Some of you could probably enlighten me further in this regard, but this book was really the first book that actually made me feel ashamed to be a white guy. I think it's possible that we ignore african history for some of the same reasons Germans prefer not to talk about WWII. There is simply no easy way to get rid of the guilt feelings. That being said, the big villain if this piece is of course the title character. I won't tell you why that is, since you are going to read the book anyway (right?), but I'll tell you that when you do so, you'll also learn the strange story of Henry Morton Stanley ("Dr Livingstone, I presume?"), as well as those of a couple of heroic, black, southern presbyterian missionaries. Need I say more?

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Just for Jim,

I decided, after long reflection, that Quicksilver was not as good as I had wanted it to be. Still good, but only maybe 80% of what Cryptonomicon was. How to Be Good was on the edge of making my list. Probably should have included it. I really liked the question of the book, but I'm pretty sure the author didn't have the answer :)

Motherless Brooklyn was a great book as well, but for some reason I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I did other Lethem novels. Would enjoy discussiong these more with you anytime you like though.
Best of the Year Awards: Fiction

This is not at all a recommendation of the best fiction published this year, especially since I don't think any of the books I'll mention were published this year. Merely the best of what I read. I present to you forthwith three honorable mentions and a top ten list.

Honorable mentions (good reads, but no review for you):

More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem
Brothers No More, William F Buckley

And now the 10 biggies. apologies to all the books that didn't make it. Most of them were pretty good too, and the only reason Winter's Tale didn't make the list is that I've read it before and already recommended Helprin to everything that moves. Also don't make too much of the rankings. Just a rough approximtion of how much I enjoyed these.

10 Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry --Fairly simple tale of a barber in a very small town, but an illuminating look as well at how our country has been changing. I found myself often arguing with this book, but I consider that a good thing.

9 Heartfire, Orson Scott Card --Kinda weird to recommend the fifth book in a series, but this one played on my emotions quite a bit, as Card usually does. Sometimes I find his stuff a bit uneven, but when he is good, as he has benn in the entire Alvin Maker series, he tells a story like no one else can.

8 The End of the Affair, Graham Greene --My first time reading Greene. I would call this the ultimate anti-romance novel. Deals with life after an affair. The love is gone, only the hatred is left. I think men need to read this kinda stuff occasionally, which I suppose is why Proverbs 7 is in the Bible.

7 High Spirits, Robertson Davies --This is not a novel, but something in this case just as good--a series of ghostly Christmas tales Mr Davies told to the student body of Massey College many years back. Truly one of the oddest and funniest ghost story collections you'll ever find. Some knowledge of Canada would help, but not strictly necessary if you are willing to let a few jokes fly over your head.

6 Strange Travellers, Gene Wolfe --The story of the man staying at the inn on the road to Hell is well worth the price of this book. Also contains a good story about a piano. And it's Wolfe. Need I say more?

5 The Golden Age, John C Wright--Extremely well crafted mdern sci-fi story. Deals with issues of identity and memory, alternate selves, virtual worlds, and utopian societies. Has a good touch of humor plus a great courtroom drama scene. Rivals Cordwainer Smith in terms of sheer imaginativeness.

4 Alastor, Jack Vance --This is a trilogy of tales set in a large cluster of worlds, seemingly united only by a monarch of sorts and a love of a particular sport, though the sport has lots of intersting variations. Each of the worlds Vance describes here has a unique and well realized culture, but the balance between introduction to these worlds and the stories themselves is done in an exquisite way, and like most of my favorite books, has plenty of humor as well.

3 Love in the Ruins, Walker Percy --A laid back tale of the nd of the world as we know it. If you are familiar with Chesterton's quote about how we are not being destroyed by our vices, but rather by virtues run amok (or something to that effect), you'll like this book. A very spiritual and personal and rowdy look at what's wrong with us.

2 Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream, John Derbyshire --I was fully prepared to not like this book, but every time I think of it now, I say to myself, "dang that was good." The Derb, as many of you know, is a frequent contributor to National Review (both in fleeting pixels and on dead tree), and is a programmer, a mathemetician and a Chinese-Brittish-American, or something like that. In any event, this book is the tale of a Chinese immigrant who runs into one of his old flames from the old country and decides to have a go and see what happens. Can't give you any more. It's a pretty light and quick read, but powerful as well.

1 Snow in August, Pete Hamill --I had read Hamill's autobiography, A Drinking Life, and while it certainly didn't convince me that he is a great person, it sure convinced me that he was a thoughtful and gifted writer, so I figured I'd see if his fiction was any good. Like a few of the earlier entries, the tale here is not a complicated one. But the emotional impact on me was staggering in places. Hard to explain, but I'm hoping that by giving it my novel of the year award, maybe you'll read it and tell me if you like it too. Has been in mass market paperback for a while, so you should be able to find it cheap.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

I really like the idea of the lunchbox for kids.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

"There are at least two reasons that, as Christians, we should establish separate spaces where we can instruct and form each other to be disciples and wise readers. The first reason is pragmatic. That is, the formation needed to develop the character of disciples requires committment and concentration that can best be achieved apart from the routines of everyday life.

The second reason is conceptual and and is related to the fact that Christians are not called to manifest just any sort of character. Their lives are to be a faithful reflection of God's character. Ironically, the nedd for the type of separate space we are talking about is particularly urgent in those places where most people claim to belive in God. This is because of the heightened danger of that belief of becoming acculturated or trivialized. When Christians are the only ones around who procalim allegiance to the God of Jesus Christ, there is little chance of their knowledge of God becoming profaned through exposure to a non-Christian culture. The earliest Christian found themselves in this situation.

But if and when Christians find themselves in a context in which people both claim to know the God of Jesus Christ and attemot to reduce knowledge of God to a series of platitudes ranging from the inane to the incoherent, they must struggle to create a separate spance in which they can teach each other about God apart from the reductionistic practices and profaning tendenies that otherwise dominate their lives. We think the church in the United Staes and in Britain finds itself in this latter situation. But we are also convinced that too few churches have recognized the need for a separate space devoted to forming people's character to be disciples of the Triune God."
--Stephen E Fowl and L Gregory Jones, in Virtues & Practices in the Christian Tradition: Christian Ethics After MacIntyre, ed Nancey Murphy, Brad J Kallenberg & Mark Theissen Nation

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Alright, who's responsible for this? Just the format cracked me up for some time.
If you've read the other story, I suppose you should read this one too.
I just loved this post from the little aardvark blog:

Thursday, December 04, 2003
Making a list
Well, it's that time of year again, isn't it?

My wife finally held the kids down long enough to get them to make a Christmas list (it's not like it's a HUGE problem for them to tell us what they want ... usually, it's the other way 'round). The Youngest Aardvark Child (YAC, and believe me she does), at 13 has finally started to turn the corner into young adulthood. She only put ONE "toy" type item on her list. She has mostly moved on to jewelry, music and movies. ::sigh:: She even had CLOTHES on her list this year.

I thought I taught her better than that.

I haven't made my list yet, but I can guarantee you one thing; there won't be ANY clothes on it. If I need clothes, I buy 'em. I don't want them as a gift. You see, I never got over the 10 year old boy desire for TOYS. Computer games, board games, puzzles, books, puzzle books, gadgets, gizmos, doodads, toys for the office (yes, as a matter of fact, I DO own a singing hamster. Doesn't everyone?), CDs, DVDs, and anything else that will hold my attention for more than a minute. But don't give me clothes. My family knows this, which is the reason why MY kids always do their shopping for dad at the toy store (or the Museum Store, or Natural Wonders, or other places that sell the "Gee whiz" kind of merchandise).

Don't get me wrong, if I DO receive clothes (like from my Mother-in-law), I AM grateful. It's not that I don't appreciate the gift or the thought behind it. It's just that there's a 10 year old inside me that's jumping up and down saying, "Ok, great, now what's in THAT package? Maybe it's a TOY!!!!" I keep thinking that one day I'll grow up, but I'm not holding my breath (Hey! THAT'S grown up right there!) or anything.

Now Mrs. Aardvark ... well, let's just say that her list making abilities leave something to be desired (that's the nice way to say, "They suck"). First off, she NEVER shops for herself (unless I force her too). She can think of things to buy for people she met one time sixteen years ago, but she has NO IDEA what she wants for herself. Last year was the first year we could get her to actually make a list. While the rest of the Aardvark's had a dozen (or so) items on their list, she only managed about three:

* Toenail clippers
* Socks
* Dental floss

Ok, so that isn't the real list ... trust me, the actual list wasn't much better. After reading her list to us, the YAC says, "Wow mom (It's the same UPSIDE DOWN and REVERSED!), you really stink at making a list. Maybe you should let me coach you." Yep. That's what she needs. Lessons from a 12 year old on how to dream up things you want (nothing like getting coached by an expert).

So this morning, my wife is reading me the YAC's and EAC's (E for Eldest) lists (I haven't made one yet). I asked her, "When are you going to write YOUR list?" At which point, she turned and headed for the bedroom saying, "I need to finish getting ready." Naturally, I followed her.

"So what about your list?"

"I stink at making a list." (she was smiling and pouting too. Awwwwww)

"Yes, you do, honey. Yes, you do. Do you need (YAC) to help you this year?"


That's where we left it. It remains to be seen whether or not we'll get a list out of her
I did some initial tallies today. When I finish the three books I'm working on now (less than 500 total pages, so it won't be long), I will have finished my quest to read one hundred books this year. Of that, 47 were fiction, with the remained being divided between 24 in biblical/religious studies and the other 28 in general non-fiction. I'll try to come up with top recommendations-awards in each category, but it will be tough. I had envisioned just announcing the top book and a few runners-up in each group, but right now I've got at least 14 semi-finalist books for each category. Maybe you'd like 3 top ten lists?

The bigs lists are here, here, here, and here.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Coming Soon: the end of the quest, and the best of the year awards. Stay tuned, folks.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

I can honestly say I've never quite seen a letter like this one. Are there any examples now of (relatively wealthy) celebrities who don't acquire the trappings of wealth? If I haven't said it enough already, Dick was the greatest nutty sci-fi writer of the 20th century.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Exactly once in my life I bought something which turned out to be an awesome investment. I purchased a discounted book back in 1998 or so, and now it's become rare. I think I paid about 6 bucks for it originally. I've got it listed in eBay now and it's up over $20 with still a day and a half left to go. I didn't like the book all that much (it's a fantasy novel), so it doesn't bother me at all to part with it.
For those of you too cheap to have bought Stan Hauerwas' books, you can watch him lecture in streaming video here. This lecture touches on a lot of the themes I've picked up in his books. You will undoubtedly find something there you dislike/disagree with, but there hasn't been an author in the last ten years of my life (or perhaps ever) who has made me do as much hard thinking as Hauerwas. Just one note for those unfamiliar with him: when he says universities create the kind of people who support George Bush, there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that if it were four years ago he would have said Clinton instead. He's not at all a political partisan, unles you count the church as a party. The lecture is one hour and thirty eight minutes, but you can always pause it or come back to it later as I did. Much better use of your time than tv if that's your other option.