Monday, May 28, 2018

Review of A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

I've always been a fan of really good demon possession stories, probably ever since seeing The Exorcist as a young child. There's something about the confrontation of genuine undeniable evil in these stories that gives me hope that evil can be faced and defeated.

I picked up Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts because it's about a young woman and her family, who are portrayed in a reality television show as the family struggles with the young woman's demon possession. The story is told from the present day by the possessed girl's sister Merry, now an adult, as she relates what happened in her house from her perspective when she was a little girl.

The point-of-view of young Merry as she recounts the story reminded me of my own daughter, and that added to the terror of the story. Merry is close to her sister, but she doesn't understand what is happening to her as she begins acting strangely, playing terrible tricks on her, and freaking out her parents. There's a sense of foreboding throughout the novel as you wonder what exactly happened to Merry's family. What happened to Marjorie? Was she really possessed? Was she healed? Did things get better?

This was a great story from beginning to end, and I'm interested in reading anything else Paul Tremblay has written as a result.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review of Perspective in Action by David Chelsea

When I was younger, I used to draw all the time. I don't think I was particularly great at it, but I was decent. Most of the things I drew looked somewhat like what I intended. As I've gotten older and become more and more a fan of graphic novels and video game art, I've wanted to get better as an artist. I'm a writer, but I'd love to be able to both write and illustrate. The problem I've faced as I've been practicing drawing in the last couple years is that I just can't get perspective down. It makes sense to me, but I can't seem to implement it in my drawings.

I'm currently working through David Chelsea's new book on perspective called Perspective in Action. While I'm already familiar with the concepts the book covers, Perspective in Action is unique in that Chelsea teaches readers how to understand and use perspective through a graphic novel format. This more interactive approach is fun while also challenging me with practical exercises to help me get better as an artist.

It's too soon to say whether or not this book will get me to the level I hope to reach next, but based on what I've read and worked with so far, I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants to learn more about perspective in a variety of artistic mediums.

Review copy provided by Blogging for Books

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Review of Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God by Brian Zahnd

33163181I learned about Jonathan Edwards' most famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," in my tenth grade English class when I was assigned to study it and give a presentation about it. It certainly wasn't my first encounter with the concept of an angry and vengeful God, but I remember being quite disturbed by reading Edwards' sermon. I've known Jesus to be loving and forgiving, but I've always struggled with the violent portraits of God presented in the Old Testament of the Bible. I've read the OT multiple times, and each time it disturbs me and threatens the faith I've carried since I was a teenager. Those struggles have led me to study and read the Bible to find the answer to the disconnect between the Old Testament and New Testament conceptions of God.

That struggle has led me to read a lot of books on the subject recently, one of which is an upcoming book by Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God.

I should begin by saying that Zahnd challenges a lot of the traditional theological assumptions I grew up, and while there are a few things I feel like I need to think and study more about in the book, I found myself agreeing with much of what Zahnd says in the book. He begins with the clear contrast between the God of the Old Testament who commands genocide and the Jesus of the New Testament commands people to love their enemies.

"Does God change?" Zahnd asks. If God doesn't change, an which is a theological belief that most orthodox Christians accept, then we're left with questioning whether the Old Testament or the New Testament more fully reveals the nature and character of God. The NT itself claims that Jesus is the most perfect revelation of God, which means we have to interpret the violent conceptions of God in the OT in light of who Jesus is. This leads to what I've already been reading about in Greg Boyd's new book on the subject, Crucifixion of the Warrior God, a reading of the Old Testament that reveals that Israel's (and humanity's) understanding of God was incomplete because of the cultural climate they lived in. They made assumptions about God that were incorrect.

It doesn't mean the Bible is full of mistakes. It means that God introduced himself to the world and worked within the world to progressively reveal more about himself over time until he was most fully revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. God has never been a God to command genocide. The false gods of the ancient near east were those types of gods. Yahweh was and is different, but it took the Israelites many generations to understand that. They couldn't see God, so it's easy to understand how they might have made some incorrect assumptions. When people were finally able to see and hear God in Jesus, many of those assumptions were revealed to be false. God has always been loving, and we interpret the Old Testament in light of the full revelation of God in Jesus.

As someone who has always held a high view of Scripture, I have to admit that this way of looking at the Bible feels a little off. But as I wrestle with it, what Zahnd proposes makes a lot of sense. I have hard time with many of the depictions of God in the Old Testament, and the idea that the writers of the Old Testament may have attributed some things to Yahweh just because that's what the other nations did with their gods brings a lot of comfort. I'll continue to wrestle with it, I'm sure, but Zahnd's book does much to elevate God's loving nature over caricatures of him as violent vengeful deity that don't match up with the nature of God revealed in Jesus.

The rest of the book is further elaboration on the initial ideas presented in the first couple chapters. Zahnd takes his framework of God's love as revealed in Jesus and applies to other troubled areas people struggle with when they think about God. These areas include theories of the atonement, hell, and the interpretation of Revelation.

Zahnd's book gives me a lot to think about and continue to wrestle with when it comes to the nature of God. The book releases on August 15, 2017.

Review copy provided by Blogging for Books

Monday, June 5, 2017

Reading What is the Bible? by Rob Bell

I'm reading Rob Bell's new book about the Bible, aptly titled What is the Bible? I've been a fan of Rob's ever since his Nooma video days. Of course, Rob has become famous in recent years for questioning many of the things orthodox Christians believe. The firestorm began with the release of his book Love Wins, which challenged many of the teachings the church has about hell.

I don't agree with everything that Rob says, but I do think he has a lot of important things to say and gets people thinking creatively. With that said, I'm really enjoying the book so far. Most orthodox Christians would probably shy away from the book simply because it's written by Rob Bell, but I think it's worth a read from what I've read so far. He says some enlightening things and some questionable things.

Most importantly, however, he gets people thinking about the Bible and the God it points to. I'm looking forward to writing a more detailed review of the book when I finish.

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Bittersweet End of the School Year

The end of every school year is bittersweet. Of course, summer vacation is exciting. But there's something about saying goodbye to these students that I've spent more days with than not over the past nine months, especially when so many of them come to say goodbye and offer their kind words on the last day when they don't have to.
Every year, I think to myself that this is the class that I'll never forget. Then this year's freshman class walked in, and now they also are the ones I will never forget and that has made the most impact on me. I'd gladly teach them another year if I could. I am truly blessed to have a job I never dread going to each day.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Review of Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle

I'd heard of Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water many times but never read it until recently. In fact, it's the first book of L'Engle's that I've read, and it makes me want to read more books by her. L'Engle was a storyteller who also happened to be a Christian. Being an artist and being a Christian seems to come with certain struggles. There's the question of whether or not the things we create are created for the primary purpose of trying to evangelize. What if something we create doesn't lead someone to become a follower of Jesus? What then?

What I loved about L'Engle's book was her assertion that we created by the Creator to be creative, and to be creative is reason enough to create something new. The stories we write don't have to be "Christian" in nature because Christian was never meant to be an adjective. L'Engle encourages artists who are Christians to be who they are but to create art that is true to who they are. The stories we tell should reflect our worldview, but they shouldn't be just to lead people to Jesus. L'Engle charges that art created solely for the purpose of evangelism often feels forced and just isn't organic. We do our art and the people who might enjoy it a service if we don't create something that is true and organic to who we are.

Walking on Water is a fantastic journey through L'Engle's own experiences as an artist who is also a Christian. I'd recommend it to creators of all types.

Review copy provided by Blogging for Books

Monday, November 14, 2016

Review of Confessions of a Secular Christ Follower by Tom Krattenmaker

Tom Krattenmaker isn't a Christian. He doesn't believe in the concept of Jesus as the Son of God or that Jesus died for the sins of the world. He does, however, believe that Jesus is an important figure in history with much to say about how to live as people who solve more of the world's problems than create them.

In his newest book Confessions of a Secular Christ Follower, Krattenmaker shares his journey toward following some of the teachings of Jesus that focus on human flourishing and encourages readers to follow in the footsteps of Jesus' ministry. Krattenmaker does an excellent job of showing the relevance of Jesus to the problems of today's modern culture. Christians and non-Christians alike will find much to appreciate from this book. The only criticism I have of Krattenmaker's approach is that Jesus said a lot about himself as the Son of God coming to die for the sins of the world. If Jesus believed he was the Son of God and wasn't, then it's not likely that he should be considered a great teacher.

However, as someone who does believe in everything that Jesus said, I think Krattenmaker makes some important points about the relevance of Jesus' teaching to improving the way people live among one another in the world.

Review copy provided by Blogging for Books