Weekend Reading: February 25, 2017

Welcome to the weekend reading!  Happy Saturday from our Nation’s Capital, where our family is touring some museums and historical sites for the weekend. So given my time restraints, I’m going to keep this brief…

There has been some major success in Iraq that’s worth reporting, because I didn’t see this hit a lot of the regular news outlets. Iraqi, and U.S. coalition forces are close to taking back Mosul, which is the second largest city in Iraq. For the last two years the group ISIS has been in control of the city.

More national security stuff this week, this one you probably saw: Trump picks Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster to be national security adviser.  Ironically, several months ago I had purchased McMaster’s book Dereliction of Duty, but have yet to read it. The General wrote the book and released it in 1977, and it focuses on how Generals at the time of the Vietnam War caved to political pressure from politicians.  The Washington Post, whose writing since the Election has become rather venomous, used this literary ditty on McMaster as a way to verbally backhand the President who was cagy about how much golf he’d been playing in the last few weeks.  But they do give a good little summary of the book:

McMaster’s narrative focused on a handful of key decisions that were made from 1963 to 1965. “The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field,” he concluded. “It was lost in Washington, D.C., even before Americans … realized the country was at war. … The disaster in Vietnam was not the result of impersonal forces but a uniquely human failure, the responsibility for which was shared by President [Lyndon] Johnson and his principal military and civilian advisers. The failings were many and reinforcing: arrogance, weakness, lying in the pursuit of self-interest, and, above all, the abdication of responsibility to the American people.”

Anyone who calls our Lyndon Johnson for the corrupt politician that he was is a hero in my book.

The American Conservative ran a provocative headline, with a more informational story worth scanning: Polygamy: The Next Frontier.  This is something that Al Mohler and others have been warning us about for years now.

Funny: Someone had linked to a GQ article about how fashion designers are contemplating a move back to baggier, boxier suits for men again. I’m totally against going back to giant shoulder pads, btw.  But this story, the pictures, they’re just outrageous. This designer was hailed as some sort of genius, but if I wore ANY of these things, I’d be ridiculed…nothing fits anyone in any way. It just reminded me of how ridiculous the world of fashion can be.

There’s some weird religions around the world: Bare cheek as Japan men strip off for naked festival.  I can see some inspiration for Ace Ventura 3…

TECH: The incredible moment Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket lands back at Cape Kennedy.

MORE TECH: The Man Who Broke Ticketmaster…

Interesting Weekend Read: “Raised in East Germany, Jack Barsky abandoned his mother, brother, wife and son to spy for the KGB. In America, he started a second family. And then it all came crashing down…”  Anything with spies and international intrigue is pretty good reading, right?

Books: It was a bit of a boondoggle this week on the book front. I got quite a bit of the way into two books and decided to quit reading them both because of how bad/annoying they were. The worst part was that they were the handiwork of two of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien.  The culprits were ‘Pilgrim’s Regress’ by Lewis, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – which Tolkien had translated. I think that the latter’s audio reading is what was what pushed me over the edge. The only way I can explain it is that the recording seemed to be overly feminized or something (Terry Jones is the artist to avoid, I suppose)…it wasn’t good. Lancelot is supposed to be this strong and chivalrous knight, after all. As for Lewis, I’m not entirely sure what he was going for, but this book was almost unreadable. I have read in other places (I think Jacob’s bio on Lewis points this out) that Pilgrim’s Regress was his worst book; now I know it for myself!  To top all of this off, my family started the second book in the Wrinkle in Time series, and the book got off to a VERY slow and repetitious start…I surely hope that this coming week is better!

What made my reading tolerable this week was time I got to spend in Psalm 119. It was obvious to me that the writer is someone who has a strong desire for reading and treasuring the Word of God. Here’s a great sample:

Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared. Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good. Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life! (Psalm 119:33-40)

That’s it!  I hope you enjoy your weekend.

 

Weekend Reading: February 18, 2017

Good morning, and welcome to the weekend reading. For those of you who are new to this email/blog, what I’m doing is rounding up all the stories, blogs, books and videos from that past week that I found most interesting and passing it along to you.  Very often I’m not going to simply send out the stuff you already heard about, unless I want to comment on it. What I’m trying to do here is give my friends in politics more access to good Christian material that can be hard to find, while giving my friends in the church more information on political events from the week from the perspective of a political professional, all while discussing tech, literature, and more. So here’s what I found interesting this week…

The most interesting thing that happened politically this week was the 80 minute press conference that President Trump held, ostensively to announce his replacement pick for labor secretary (Andy Pudzer having withdrawn from the process).  However, the presser took on the form of a rant against the media for being so hate-filled. I watched most of the press conference, and found it absolutely hilarious, and highly entertaining. Erick Erickson mentioned that as enjoyable as the press conference was, it was still not how most Americans would want their President to behave. Still, I think Erickson might be a bit tainted in his opinions of the President, having been a long-time Trump basher. Still, he’s not wholly incorrect. I would just say that he may not fully grasp the danger that the mainstream media poses to our Republic. They taint everything they write with agenda driven opinion. I think this happens on both sides of the spectrum, and its the reason I have as difficult a time watching Fox “News” as I do watching the Clinton News Network.

That said, the liberal media has gone completely berserk. I can’t even read the Post or Politico anymore without it being completely saturated with opinion – no serious news reporting. If you’re curious as to the political bent of a particular reporter, simply find them on Twitter. It is on the Twitters that these folks generally loose their sense of decorum and let their proverbial hair down. After the presser, I saw one major Ohio reporter infer that the President was being a racist, completely taking comments he made out of context (I took him to task, and he quickly admitted that, perhaps, I was correct…the whole thing left me shaking my head). I don’t think these guys do it maliciously, but from what I can discern, it springs from a few things. 1. They have a built in hatred for the President and even think he’s nuts (the Times actually ran an opinion piece this week saying as much!)  2. They don’t think carefully before they tweet/speak/write 3. They have laid aside/forgotten the fact that they are responsible to the public for their journalism, and have thus forfeited their responsibilities  4. They don’t know what it means to do hard work of true un-biased journalism (i.e. real reporting with no opinion inserted) 5. They have egos the size of the President they criticize…but forget they aren’t as important as he is.

Did the President breach decorum?  Yes, probably so.  But given the way the media has been covering the President, he might rightfully believe they pose a real threat to our Republic because of their willful neglect of their duty to the American public.

The President isn’t making it easy on himself though – for good and for bad. The nomination process for his cabinet picks has been dicey, and he just had a major cabinet official (Michael Flynn) resign in the wake of inappropriate (illegal?) conversations he was holding with the Russians (prior to Jan. 20?) re: sanctions and other important matters. It remains to be seen if there are people within our intelligence community who are actually disrupting the President’s agenda (some reports out about them not fully briefing him, and worse). Some of this drama is self-imposed, some of it is the result of the media making a mountain of a molehill, some is because his cabinet picks have been so fantastic, and some of it is because he’s running a hurry-up offense and mistakes tend to happen when you’re doing that.

Side Notehere’s a funny moment from the presser…

Staying on politics for a moment, I caught a small story in the Wall Street Journal this morning about the Consumer Protection Agency that Richard Cordray heads up. A court has finally ruled that this thing just might be unconstitutional, and the President is starting to turn on the heat.  I’m keeping an eye on this because this is an agency completely out of control, and its headed by a man who just might come back and make a run for statewide office in Ohio.

Speaking of the WSJ, they have a long Saturday Essay on Christians choosing “a life apart” from modern society. I’m a little wary of this one, and haven’t read it yet, but its the kind of article you want to keep an eye on…

In case you missed it, Samsung big-wig Jay Y. Lee was arrested this week in South Korea. This is part of a major corruption scandal that extends all the way up the chain of SK government. I suspect that there will be a lot more info on this in the weeks to come.

More international politics: Nikki Haley: U.S. supports 2-state Israel-Palestinian solution.  This is only interesting because her boss has been floating the idea that a two-state solution is out the door. In fact, a Wall Street Journal headline from the week (front page, big banner deal) said, “U.S. Drops Longtime Push for a Two-State Solution.”  So…some mixed signals coming from the administration on this front. They’re going to have to get this straightened out one way or another eventually, but it sort of plays into the POTUS’ modus operandi when it comes to international politics – namely that he wants to keep people confused and on their heals.

TECHfrom Bloomberg: Elon Musk is Really Boring (h/t Alex W.) Preview:

For years he’s been thinking about tunnels—both out of a personal fascination and because they’d be an important component of the Hyperloop, the fanciful high-speed rail system he proposed in 2013. All the while he’s been quietly encouraging anyone who asks him about new business opportunities to consider digging for a living. “I think they were hoping I’d say some sort of iPhone app that they could make,” he says with a smile. “I would just say, ‘Do tunnels.’ It would obviously solve urban congestion—and we wouldn’t be stuck in soul-destroying traffic all the time.”

This story was made more interesting for me because I just finished Musk’s bio last week (h/t Brian R. for the great suggestion!).

When one thinks of Musk one thinks of space, which leads to this little ditty: Lost Winston Churchill essay reveals his thoughts on alien life. (h/t Parris P.) I don’t really want to encourage all the leftist scientists in their salivating, as if they can use WSC for proof that they were right all along etc. But its still a pretty funny article.  I’m also not entirely sure this was really a “lost” essay. Seems like Manchester might have covered some of these items in his definitive series…I could be wrong, it just sounded familiar.

MORE TECH – How algorithms (secretly) run the world

Theology for Thought – John MacArthur has a guest column on the Ligonier blog this week which is worth reading and pondering. The Title, ‘What Is the Relationship Between Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility?’ 

A few Pop-Culture stories…

This guy just can’t keep a plane in the air: Harrison Ford in Incident With Passenger Plane at California Airport

Why I Won’t Be Seeing (or Reviewing) The Shack Movie – Challies has some thoughtful points on this one. I like where he’s going. (h/t Scott Z. for having me take a closer look at this article)

Hilarious: Vehicles Flung off Carrier in Test (what is it with the Weather Channel now showing all these random videos which have absolutely nothing to do with weather???)

WHOA! Discovery of intact WWII-era bomb under Greek gas station prompts mass evacuation.

Now, some thoughtful longer-form pieces for review.  First, is James K.A. Smith’s editorial in Comment Magazine, ‘Teach Us (How) to Trust‘ which looks at society and how trust is the foundational element/glue that holds us back from complete chaos. Some interesting points here to consider.  Second, is from Max Boot over at Foreign Policy Magazine titled, ‘Trump’s Big Mouth Has Already Weakened America‘.  I don’t agree with everything he’s saying here, but his main point is that POTUS is his own worst enemy, and that is certainly the case. Ironic that he’d post this just a day or so before the big White House presser. I think there are some things in here worth considering for any leader, and if you want a more reasoned dissent from a liberal, this would be the story to read.  I personally really like knowing the mindset of my liberal opponents, and Boot has a long history of journalism that (from my experience) isn’t as reactionary or over the top as some of the others in the mainstream media, so its a good place to start.

There were three really exceptional articles/blogs over at Desiring God this week. I don’t know how they manage so much good content each week, but all three of these are of the must-read variety. The first (and my favorite of the three) is called ‘How to Love When You Don’t Feel It’, by a man named Greg Morse. This is absolutely great stuff. Here’s an excerpt:

The command to love God with everything, and others as ourselves, often assaults this kind of love, oppresses our natural cravings, and inconveniences our self-actualization:

  • Love your neighbor as yourself regardless if they have wronged you.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself no matter how unpopular they are.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself notwithstanding the fact that they embody every pet peeve that you didn’t even realize you had until you met them.

Or, more importantly:

  • Love God with everything no matter how busy you are.
  • Love God with everything no matter how angry with him you may be.
  • Love God with everything no matter how sick, tired, or confused you are.

No footnotes, asterisks, or qualifications nuance these two commands. “Not feeling it” is the problem to overcome, not an excuse to disobey.

The second is about disciple making and is called ‘You are My Joy’ (David Mathis), and finally, one by a lady named Vaneetha Rendall Risner entitled ‘Where is God When Things Keep Getting Worse’ which is really fantastic.

Books: As I mentioned earlier, the Musk book was pretty darn interesting, though it was full of swear words. I also read G.K. Chesterton’s classic work ‘Orthodoxy’ after some inspiration from my friend Nic M. Ironically, one of my favorite chapters in the book was chapter 4, where I find Chesterton is both at his best and his worst. He sublimely explains why he believes in democracy, and then is studiously conveys his own misapplied reasoning for the importance of ‘tradition’, revealing some of the incorrect underpinning for his Catholic faith. It is almost as if an a priori belief in democracy has influenced his thinking on the role of tradition (in fact, there really is no “almost” about it). I thought Chesterton magnificently explained some of his reasoning as to why he is a Christian, while showing some willful ignorance on others – I especially thought his treatment of Calvinism horrendously unintellectual (or at least beneath his abilities).  In addition to these, I finished ‘Alexander Hamilton’ by Ron Chernow, thereby confirming that Hamilton was as deserving of my low opinion as I thought he might be (still the book was really interesting, and his life would make a good movie…its probably why the broadway play is so successful). Conrad’s famous ‘Heart of Darkness’ was polished off early in the week, and I found it really interesting. The style of writing was something else. I’d grown up watching ‘Lord Jim’ with Peter O’Toole, and seeing how Conrad’s characters dealt with personal moral struggles. He does a good job of conveying some of that in his halting style of writing. Finally, I read ‘The Billionaire’s Vinegar’ which was a fascinating story (about 300 pages, maybe 75 too long) about ancient wines…well wines from two hundred years ago. Specifically it focuses on the drama surrounding some bottles of French wine supposed to have been owned by Thomas Jefferson. There’s a lot of modern day legal intrigue that makes the book drag at certain points, but overall very interesting stuff.

The Tele – and lest you think I’m simply a bookish troglodyte, I do watch some TV (from time to time). Last night we finally got around to finishing the third (and final?) installment of the recent Sherlock Holmes (season four from PBS).  It had parts that were not as believable from an acting standpoint, than others, but overall it was nice. This one felt as though the ending was a bit more true to the books – at least that’s the sense I got.

That’s it!  I hope you enjoy the weekend!

PJW

Weekend Reading: February 11, 2017

Welcome to your weekend!  As you may have noticed, I didn’t get to send out a blog posting last week – sometimes life just gets a bit too hectic.  So I have some stories and blogs that may be a bit older than one week.  I hope you enjoy!

First on the list is a compelling story in the Federalist by Bre Payton which wins the award for longest headline: A Disabled Lawmaker Speaks Out About Abortion: ‘People Like Me’ Are Facing Extinction. I like the points being made here, and am glad that there is some pushback across the pond to the almost continual devaluation of life by society and political elites.

Next…the big to-do in the news this week was how the courts have blocked (for now) the travel ban that President Trump put in place. In his Briefing from Friday, Al Mohler talks about what’s going on here, and helpfully focuses on the separation of powers. This is part of what makes our country so unique – we aren’t a pure democracy, and we aren’t a pure dictatorship, we are a republic. Along similar lines, Mohler also discusses how liberal Senator Elizabeth Warren was rebuked for her breach of decorum on the U.S. Senate floor. Warren, who might be labeled one of the most liberal politicians in American, was criticizing Senator (now Attorney General) Jeff Sessions in remarks that were too personal to find a place within the Senate’s standards of debate. Mohler ties this story into his larger discourse on the nature of our republic, and how the Senate was put in place as a check on the democratic passions of the House. So when Warren started behaving in such a way that reflected the worst sensibilities of the mob, she was silenced by the leadership of that institution which she (unforunately) belongs. Not because what she was saying was just an attack on decorum, but because it represented a type of discourse that didn’t belong in the Upper Chamber. Certainly this was an interesting week to watch the American political system at work.

On the travel ban...I found an interesting opinion piece over at the Washington Examiner this morning, which is more well-rounded (or at least more civil) in its appeal than I’d heard out of either side recently.  The piece starts from the assumption that as Americans one of the ways we like to keep the peace and promote that peace throughout the world is to spread our ideas around the world, and give deserving people a chance to enjoy our ideas and values here on these shores. In the end, the author argues for some tweaks to the travel ban (no specifics here though), and spends significant time giving examples of those worthy folks making their way to our shores.

FUNNY: Alex Trebek makes fun of Jeopardy contestant’s music preference

Quick Theology Hit: What is the most important factor in your life? Steve Lawson gives a short answer here.

And…since its almost Valentines Day: The Rude, Cruel, and Insulting ‘Vinegar Valentines’ of the Victorian Era

valentines

NOT THE ONION:  Bibi Netanyahu on meeting with Chuck Norris: ‘Israel is strong but it’s indestructible now’

NOT THE ONION…but close enough…this one is for my friend Rob L:  Family Exiting Church Unable To Find Minivan In Sea Of Identical Minivans

“Squirrel!!”  Trump Supports Ex-Im Bank, Democrats Say After White House Visit. (requires WSJ subscription…i.e. pony up if you want to read)…sneak peak:

Conservative Republicans have waged a battle over the past two years to close the agency, which finances exports by companies based in the U.S., because they say it is an example of the government picking winners and losers. The bank’s backers say the agency allows U.S. firms to compete on equal footing against foreign rivals that receive similar support from their governments.

Top Story I will be reading today: The Next Big Blue-Collar Job Is Coding

As you know, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the next Secretary of Education earlier in the week. Beth Green from Christian (Canadian) think tank Cardus has a blog entitled, ‘Advice for Betsy DeVos From Canada’.  If you like to nerd it out a bit on the policy front, then Cardus is a good place to peak at.

On to Foreign Policy: Nicholas Eberstadt writing for Fox News Opinion discusses ‘How to really deal with the North Korean nuclear threat’.  Excerpt:

As bizarre and satire-prone as the North Korean regime’s buffoonish-looking Kim Jong-Un and his servile courtiers may be, Pyongyang’s leadership is neither irrational nor suicidal. The rationale behind this confrontation would actually be to achieve a maximum of strategic gain with a minimum of actual destruction and violence.

The basic idea is to force Washington to blink in an escalating crisis on the Korean peninsula—a crisis of Pyongyang’s own making, at a time and under circumstances of Pyongyang’s own choosing.

TECH: Uber Hires Veteran NASA Engineer to Develop Flying Cars

TECH: WHY HOLLYWOOD AS WE KNOW IT IS ALREADY OVER (h/t Lisa W.) This was really a great read – highly recommend!

Funny! From Aimee Byrd:  ‘How John Owen Proposed to His Wife’ (h/t my Kate)…”That he who possesses a happy wife doth, as spake some philosopher, possess also a happy life.”

Popular in my Facebook feed this week, from National Geographic: Why All the Cool Kids Love Columbus, Ohio.  Oh ya!  I love me some CBUS bragging!

Fascinating stuff from Atlas Obscura: Watch a Massive Swirling Tornado of Tuna.

SCOTUS Watch…from Ramesh Ponnuru writing for National Review: Neil Gorsuch: A Worthy Heir to Scalia 

From Jon Bloom over at Desiring God: Your Weakness is Not Meaningless…excerpt: “What do our limitations have to do with love? Just about everything. Because the way God made us, we always experience love most in the places where grace is most needed. This is true both in how we receive love (from God and others), and in how we give love.”

In Case You Missed it: A good Q&A with R.C. Sproul from January has been posted up on Ligonier’s website here. 

Literature Alert: A Tale of Two Tolkiens. This is about the grandson of the famed novelist who has come out with a new novel himself. The novel is somewhat inspired by the real life events of his grandfather.

John Piper addresses the Old Testament’s relevance: Which Old-Testament Promises Apply to Me?   SAMPLE TASTING re: 2 Chronicles 7:14…

Therefore, the application we make of this verse is not that if Christians will repent God will heal America. We have no such promise in the Bible. Rather, if Christians repent, turn from their wicked ways, humble themselves, and pray to God, he will do a mighty work in and through the church however he please.

Christians – please soak that in.  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard Christians preach, pray and claim 2 Chron. 7:14 in a way that pertained to America, then I would have paid for my kids’ college by now. However, Piper goes wider than this, and looks at more examples, so it worth considering what he is saying here, and thoughtfully applying it to other such passages.

Books…Here’s where you can find the books I’ve read and/or am reading right now. This week I read several short stories adapted from Shakespeare with my kiddos, and also finished Paul Tripp’s ‘Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands’ as well as Bauer’s ‘The History of the Ancient World’. I’m half way through two biographies, one on Elon Musk, and one on Michael Jordan. Both have been very enjoyable thus far!  I’m also about a third of the way through Roger Christian’s book on industrial art and set creation for Star Wars, which has been insightful, but really poorly written. Speaking of poorly written, after 40 or so pages in ‘We Two’, a biography looking at the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, I had to put it down. It was so scatter-brained and poorly executed that I couldn’t take anymore assault on my senses.  Short stories from the week included Oscar Wilde’s ‘Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime’ and Sir Walter Scott’s ‘The Tapestried Chamber’, both of which were interesting – Wilde’s short book was pretty amusing but ended in a disappointed fashion – it almost seemed Wodehouse-like in its humor.

That’s it!  I hope you enjoy your weekend!

PJW

Weekend Reading: January 28, 2017

Welcome to the weekend!  Here are the stories I found most interesting from this past week…

There was a lot of talk this week about Trump’s first week as President. Talk about his executive orders, talk about the (cancelled) meeting with the President of Mexico, talk about voter fraud, talk about inauguration crowd sizes, and of course talk about the Mexico/U.S. border wall.  On Friday, the March for Life descended on Washington and showed residents of the nation’s capitol the difference between peaceful protest and what we saw last weekend from the anti-Trump anti-Semitic driven Women’s March. Most of these stories you’ve likely already digested, so I won’t spend a lot of time on them.

However…Speaking of the March for Life, for those keeping track at home, Americans have murdered over 60million children since the fatal Roe v. Wade decision. This week Crossway had a blogpost with 10 things to know about Abortion (from a Christian perspective).

Politico has a summary of all the executive orders signed this week, which I recommend everyone scan because its helpful and very encouraging. Its just good to know what’s actually going on behind all the media hype (h/t Alex W.).

You may or may not have caught some of Obama’s final actions, but if not, then this Charles Krauthammer story about his terrible final power plays will be helpful.

A long, and somewhat insightful story about Wilbur Ross, the new commerce secretary to-be under Trump.  The article seems to hold a basic air of complaint about it – complaint that a rich guy is head of commerce. The irony of Bloomberg publishing a story about the ultra wealthy meddling in politics and government wasn’t lost on me. Still, there’s some biographical information in here about Ross that I didn’t know, and found interesting.

Speaking of Trump world, I usually find Ann Coulter rather obnoxious, but this was funny:

Here’s a fascinating story from the Times about a new-ish company whose mission is to market/display startups that need investors. A pretty cool way to invest in other small businesses.

David Mathis has thought-provoking look at exercise: Do You Exercise for the Wrong Reasons?  TEASER:

The word endorphins is simply a shortened form of the phrase “endogenous morphine.” In other words, these are morphine-like chemicals that originate within our bodies. They “inhibit the transmission of pain signals; they may also produce a feeling of euphoria.” And they are a gift from God, put there by him to lead us to himself.

Sean Davis at the Federalist rebuts a lengthy rant from the Atlantic on Abortion. The title of his article is Abortion Science: Heartbeats Are Imaginary, Unborn Babies Aren’t Alive, And Ultrasounds Are Just Tools Of The Patriarchy.

Newt Gingrich on Trump and understanding ‘Trumpism’ – this is a long video, and I didn’t get through all of it, but what I saw thus far was pretty interesting (Gingrich is nothing if not interesting), and somewhat insightful into the 90’s when the GOP took over Congress. Gingrich talks about that moment in time, and some of the policy parallels…h/t Nate. E.

HAVEN’T READ THIS ONE YET…BUT: CIA head was ‘blindsided’ by waterboarding memo.

Another article from the Federalist that is probably the most interesting piece of writing I read all week comes to us from one David Ernst. The title is Donald Trump Is The First President To Turn Postmodernism Against Itself. I’m thankful for Adam J. for sending this brilliant piece of writing along. If you read nothing else, read this because I think it will get your mind cranking a bit.

TECH: a cool behind the scenes look at how the visual effects for Star Wars Rogue One were put together – particularly the Moff Tarkin portions of the film.

MORE TECH:  Alexa, Stop Making Life Miserable for Anyone With a Similar Name!  Keep an eye on Alexa and the evolution of at home personal assistants. This is probably going to be a BIG component of our every day lives in the future. From the article…

Jordann Mitchell, 27, jumped across the room a few weeks ago when watching her new favorite sitcom, “Schitt’s Creek.” Alexis, the main character on the Canadian show, was told by her dad to order 12 pints of milk. “The Echo lit up and I immediately started yelling, ‘No, no, no!’ Thank goodness she didn’t order the milk,” Ms. Mitchell says.

Signs of the times…an article posted a few weeks ago on Desiring God’s blog called Marijuana to the Glory of God.’  Bookmark this one, and make sure to read it and come back to it. This one will be helpful for anyone thinking through the differences between the affects of marijuana and that of alcohol.

Fun Video: Why Air Force One could be a downgrade for Trump. 

FYI for us midwesterners: Bob Evans to sell restaurants, focus on foods business

BOOKS I read this week: I finally got to read and enjoy Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion‘. It’s not her most insightful work, but the reflective conversation between Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth near the end of the book was worth the price of admission.  I also enjoyed several of the essays in ‘The Legacy of Luther’ and would recommend the one by Joel Beeke particularly. Star Wars ‘Rogue One’ was done on audiobook, but I found it really added nothing to the movie.  Two Instaread book summaries were digested, one on Ty Bollinger’s ‘Truth about Cancer’ and one on Megyn Kelly’s ‘Settle for More’...the cancer book was interesting and worth checking out, the Kelly book was pretty much best read in summary form. I was also FINALLY able to finish Volume V of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall – it was probably the least interesting volume of those I’ve read, with the exception of the chapter on Mohammed, which was very insightful and worth wading through the rest of the book.

That’s it!  I hope you enjoy the weekend!

PJW

Weekend Reading: January 21, 2017

Welcome to the weekend!  Grab some coffee, and enjoy the most interesting stories, blogs, videos and more from the week.

Friday was inauguration day, which means that the 45th American President, Donald Trump, was sword into office. Regardless of who gets elected in America, one of the amazing things about living in this great country is seeing the peaceful transition of power – something many countries don’t have. I’m thankful to God to live here!

If you missed President Trump’s (very populist) address, you can check it out here. 

How should Christians think about this moment, and about the coming four years of a Trump presidency?  Two of my favorite Christian leaders spoke out today to frame the occasion. First, R.C. Sproul and Dr. Steve Nichols spoke about how Christian should be “confident” in a podcast from Ligonier Ministries.  I thought they did a good job of zooming out a bit, and comparing this current presidency and moment with others in recent – and even ancient history.  Second, John Piper wrote a scathing blog post called ‘How to Live Under an Unqualified President.’  This will no-doubt draw some ire, and plenty of discussion. But, I’m glad he wrote it, because as I’ve talked to Christian friends over the last week or two, I’ve heard more than a sense of optimism, I’ve sensed an almost jubilant tenor in their voices as they contemplate all the Donald Trump will do.  Piper is bringing people back to reality, and clearly drawing a line for later referral (“you can’t say I didn’t warn ya”).  Now, as the owner of several small businesses, and the father of a young family, I want Trump to succeed. I want him to keep us safe, and help make the country prosperous. I’m rooting for that to happen! That being said, Christians need to remember who this guy is. By all account, he’s not at all in line with what Christians believe on traditional marriage, the need to seek forgiveness for sins (one of the most BASIC Christian doctrines!), or the importance of respecting fellow image bearers. So my outlook is positive, and hopeful. I’m excited by the cabinet picks Trump made, but I’m not going into the next four years naively thinking that this man values what I value, or believes what I believe – heck, its hard to know for sure what he believes on a plethora of issues. Therefore, my confidence, my hope, is in the Lord.

This is what Jesus said to a group of people living under an oppressive Roman Regime:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

Meanwhile, the Washington Post took it upon themselves to catalogue the biggest lies of the Obama Administration. A strange way for the liberal media to look back on his presidency. Yet a good reminder that there is nothing hidden from view when you’re a leader – especially the President.  The Blaze was all to eager to fill in the blanks where they forgot certain items.

Michael Horton in WaPo: Evangelicals should be deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy

Gene Veith had an interesting little column about the Fear of the Working Class (h/t Lisa W).

Something to note: Trump’s Cabinet Nominees Diverge on Russia, Security Issues. Excerpt:

Retired Gen. James Mattis, the secretary of defense nominee; Rex Tillerson,named to be secretary of state; and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.), the Central Intelligence Agency director nominee, all made statements at Senate hearings this week that differed from views Mr. Trump has expressed, staking out positions that might help them win approval from the Senate but could set them on a collision course with the incoming White House over critical issues, ranging from Russia to Iran.

A different experience: At Elaine Chao Hearing, Smiles and Laughter in an Otherwise Tense Washington

HOW DID THIS FLY UNDER THE RADAR??? Top Lawmakers Left in Dark About Planned Iran Uranium Shipment.

A few articles on MLK from earlier in the week.  First, from Steve Berman ask, ‘What’s the Real Legacy of MLK?’ An excerpt:

Hardly an hour would pass that Dr. King would not make reference or direct appeal to his Savior and King, Jesus.  I challenge anyone to find a reference to Dr. King’s body of writing and speaking in which he was not engaged in proclaiming the Gospel.  Dr. King’s frame of reference for social justice in race relations was single-eyed:  through the lens of Biblical morality, and only through that lens.

Second, Greg Morse over at DG asks if Dr. King is Coming to Dinner?, the crux is this:

Perhaps we should let our calendars speak to us: Do we allow our tables to reflect the love of the entire body of Christ as well as our theological convictions? What specific number of people unlike ourselves have come into our homes, and sat at our dinner tables, since we last celebrated King’s influence a year ago?

Some Satire: Confirmed: Earliest Manuscripts Of Jeremiah Just Had Chapter 29 Verse 11

On at the Wall Street Journal, and subsequently on the American Enterprise Institute blog, Sally Satel discusses ‘How to treat an opioid epidemic’.  The main thing that stood out to me here was the importance of community – the right kind of community – in the lives of sinners (addicts and “normal” people alike).

Another one from WSJ. This is Noonan’s column from a few weeks ago, and it will make you think: Shining a Light on ‘Back Row’ America.  Think about my note earlier on “community”, according to the guy Noonan talking about in this column, there are two things holding together America: McDonalds and small community churches. These are the glue holding us together, he says. Why? Because people gather there to do life together. They talk together and study Scripture and chat sports. They encourage, laugh, hug, and eat together in these places.

This was excellent: Trembling Before the Holiness of God.  There’s really no one in our generation who can express the character of God like Sproul.

EGO WATCH: Obama’s farewell address longer than Reagan’s, Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s combined.  Mohler’s take was pretty good (find it here).

Really??? Wow…In England, You Can Camp in Abandoned Medieval Churches

This is pretty angering: Islamic State militants partly destroy Palmyra’s Roman amphitheater.  However, it fits right in to the Muslim mindset (some clear historical president going back to the burning of the library at Alexandria).

FYI: El Chapo: Drug lord Joaquin Guzman extradited from Mexico to US.  Hope they don’t give him anything remotely resembling a digging tool. This guy could tunnel to Mexico with a Wendy’s spoon!

Fascinating: The Most Coveted Ball in Golf Is From Costco….excerpt:

That idea sent shock waves through a billion-dollar industry, left Costco out of stock for weeks at a time and caused secondary-market prices for the ball to soar. Its popularity is threatening one of the sport’s long-held consumer beliefs: when it comes to the quality of golf balls, you generally get what you pay for.

For your Radar: C of E archbishops call on Christians to repent for Reformation split.  The Catholic Church in Rome seems to be succeeding in coaxing some guilt for splitting from the church of England.  Keep in mind that there were definitely political (Henry VIII) reasons for the split, however, in England some of that had been brewing from a desire to read the Bible in a language that the English could understand. That’s the undercurrent effect that Wycliff and his disciples had on the times.  In other parts of Europe, the reason for the Reformation was a bit different (if such exact lines could be drawn). Rome had (has) forsaken the Gospel. When you forsake the Gospel of grace by faith, and add things to the Gospel (works, indulgences, purgatory) and then never actually change or correct your error, then you can’t expect for other churches to accommodate your theological mistakes. Both the Council of Trent (which Rome still upholds) and the most recent Catholic Catechism make clear that they intend on willfully neglecting the Gospel instead of correcting their errors.

The reason I harp on this a bit is because this year is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which means there will be a battle over what it meant then, and what it means today. Stay tuned…

Interesting book review: A Prison Bigger Than All of Western Europe.

roads

Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads: Airbus CEO sees ‘flying car’ prototype ready by end of year

 

My Favorite Books of 2016

Over the past few weeks I have repeatedly promised (threatened?) to write down my favorite books from 2016, and a bit about them.  There are around 36 or so here and I tried to pick the best ones by genre, so that if you don’t care for a certain kind of reading, you could simply ignore all the nonsense I write about them.

I hope you enjoy, and as I’m always curious to hear what others are reading (many of the books I read were recommendations), please let me know what your favorites from 2016 were, and what you are looking forward to reading this year!

Favorite Books of 2016

With the Kids

Number the Stars – Lois Lowry – This was one of the first books we read with the kids in 2016, and later on we found a movie that was made based on the book that we watched as well. The story wasn’t one I’d heard, but it was thought provoking and a wonderful true story of courage that I think did a good job of introducing the kids to the concepts that defined and started WWII – especially the extermination of Jews in German occupied nations. Obviously questions were raised that were important: the value of human life, the nature of evil, and the way in which God made men different, and yet all equal in value before His eyes.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh – Robert C. O’Brien – This is one of the most vivid and creative books we read together this year. I really enjoyed it when I was a kid, and hearing the story again brought back memories. The Rats in this story aren’t the normal furry fellows, they have an extra level of intellect, and how they gained that, and then gained their freedom and independence (two different things for these rats) is an interesting story. I especially enjoyed the way in which O’Brien’s rats struggle with the morality of dependence on human beings. They have had their consciences awakened to the idea that stealing food is no way to live in this world, and set out to do something about it.

A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle – This is the famous first volume in what is actually a five-volume series. L’Engle uses some big (fun) words to explain amazing concepts of space and time travel to kids, all in a way that was quite a fun read. I’m really excited about reading volume two with the kids this year!

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien – When I first broached the idea of reading some Tolkien to the kids this year, I was really thinking of The Hobbit, or something less daunting, like ‘Leaf by Niggle.’  But the kids were begging, and, how can one resist such entreaties? The time spent going through all 400+ pages of The Fellowship was really wonderful, and actually moved along pretty well. I thought they might tire of the story or that it might drag a bit for them, but every night the request for more was renewed. Given the quality of Tolkien’s writing, and the depth of the character development, I am not surprised looking back on our time. For those who know me well, know this was a dream come true. I love Tolkien, having first read through this first volume in the weeks before marrying Kate. For me it fires the imagination, and brings to light all the very best and very worst in the world and those who in inhabit it. Safe to say that I’m really looking forward to ‘The Two Towers’!

Biographies

Washington: A Life – Ron Chernow – Rare is the biography that leaves you understanding the man himself, and not just his accomplishments or what others thought or wrote of him. This is that rare biography. Chernow has written a masterful book that easily ranks as one of the top 5 I read all year, and probably one of the top 5 biographies I’ve ever read.  It’s not a book for the faint of heart. Clocking in at 817 pages, this book is really massive. But, to be fair, he does a good job of keeping the story moving, so that you really feel like it’s harder to get “stuck.” I came away knowing the mind and the man of George Washington so much better than I thought this seemingly inaccessible founder could ever have been know. Put this book at the top of your reading list.

Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship – Colin Duriez – This one was…a slog.  But I’m not entirely sure if it’s because of how Duriez wrote it, or because I spend time musing over every detail. Either way, it took me a few months to actually get through this (not so big) book. The book is on the list because of how much it helped me to understand the relationship between these two great and gifted men, not necessarily because its be best written account – though Duriez has written a LOT on these two men.  If you’re at all aware of Lewis and Tolkien’s work, then you’ll appreciate hearing more of their personal story and how they encouraged, disagreed, and challenged each other along the way. I have two more similar books lined up for this year, so I’ll be interested to see how this one stands up!

John Adams – David McCullough – This was a re-read for me, the first time I read Adams was in 2002, so it was time to revisit this really wonderful account of his life. The read was made all the more enjoyable because I read it with my buddy Rod, who is also a student of history. If you’ve ever read anything by McCullough, you know he’s a master storyteller. One of the things that stood out to me this time that I hadn’t remembered from the first time reading it, was the graceful way in which Adams aged. What I mean by that is that he seemed to prize grace in his interactions and relationships with each year that he got older. He mended old rifts, and seemed to let all bitterness and wrongs go. As you read his letters with Jefferson and others, this is something to be on the lookout for.  Like Chernow’s ‘Washington’, this book is rather hefty, weighing in at just over 650 pages, but worth the time. 

Means of Ascent – Robert Caro – If you thought you knew something about Lydnon Johnson, then think again. This is volume two in a multi-volume account of Johnson’s life and rise to power.  This volume covers his days as a Congressman, and his runs for U.S. Senate – as well as the war years (not that he really served in the military in those years). If you read McCullough’s book on Adams, you come away with a certain sense that Alexander Hamilton was a bit of a rascal. Reading Caro’s account of Johnson will engender something close to loathing and detestation for the author’s quarry. The only people I felt more disgust for after reading their biographies were Peter and Catherine the Great(s) of Russia.   

The Generals – Winston Groom – I enjoyed Groom’s ‘Aviators’ and wanted to read something else by him this year. My choice was a book featuring three American Generals: Patton, MacArthur, and Marshall. Groom is easy to read, and I’m looking forward to reading ‘The Admirals’ some day as well. What made this book so interesting was how little I knew of Marshall and MacArthur. I’d read quite a bit on Patton. My plan for some time now has been to read Manchester’s ‘American Caesar’ in order to get the full color version of MacArthur, and this served as a welcome appetizer. With the format of the book, it’s easy to see common threads in these men, who had different personalities, skill sets, and theatres of action. One similarity I wasn’t expecting was how their parents all read books aloud to them as children – some of the same staples, in fact: The Bible, Plutarch’s Lives, and Sir Walter Scott’s novels were all hits. 

The Wright Brothers – David McCullough – I wasn’t sure whether it was fair to include two books by one author, but ‘The Wright Brothers’ was so good that I couldn’t help it (I actually also read ‘The Path Between the Seas’ as well, but it didn’t quite make the grade – though it was still fascinating!).  What was amazing about this story was the courage and morality of these men. I felt at the end of the book like they deserved every ounce of fame and reward they have been accorded. This is one I want my kids to read when they reach their teen years because it’s the story not only of courage, but of steadfast endurance and integrity in the face of trial after trial. This book is not quite as hefty as the Adams book, so it was much more manageable – I also listened to it on audio, and that combined with McCullough’s easy to read style made it very enjoyable. 

Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill – Candice Millard – This is one of the few books that I had pre-ordered in advance so that when it was finally released, I was very excited. One of the issues of being only 34 years old is that much of the 20th century is much more freshly imprinted upon the memories of my elders – so I feel like I’m always playing catch up to books long since devoured. So when I get to pre-order a book…well, I don’t feel so doggone behind the 8-ball! This book in particular was a joy to read. Millard writes history in such a skillful way that you think you’re reading fiction. Each book is carefully researched, and you feel as though you’ve got a pretty good hold of the character by the time alls said and done. I thought her ‘River of Doubt’ was a bit too wordy, but she tightened things up here. My only critique of this volume is that I think she missed some of Churchill’s impetuous character as a youth (something very evident from his letters home from Harrow, and during his stationing in India). Nonetheless, it’s an exciting account, and highly enjoyable – even if you don’t know what a ‘Boer’ is, or give a fig about South Africa, Millard does a splendid job filling you in and painting the scene. Highly recommend.

The Narnian – Alan Jacobs – No one reads in a vacuum. Most every reader gets book recommendations from friends and family or book reviews. My friend Parris Payden was only about half-way through ‘The Narnian’ when he notified me of just how good it was. And he was definitely right! Jacobs does an excellent job of focusing on Lewis the man – what made him tick, what were the major and minor influences in his life. I know there are several biographers who have sought to sketch Lewis’ life, and I have not read McGrath or others yet, but this was a wonderfully written account that was not only enlightening on the man, but had many nuggets of wisdom that had my underlining time and again.  In fact, I’m thinking of reading it again this year, it was that enjoyable!   I will leave you with an excerpt:

We should recall here what he wrote in the aftermath of his late-night conversation with Tolkien and Dyson: “The ‘doctrines’ we get out of the true myth are of course less true: they are translations into our concepts and ideas of that which God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.” And he also realized then, the “more adequate” language of historical event is best approximated by story. Who taught Lewis that? Tolkien of course (Pg. 246).

Fiction (Fantasy, Humor, Great Literature)

The Children of Hurin – J.R.R. Tolkein – Like ‘John Adams’ this is a bit of a retread for me. I first read this book several years ago, but had since misplaced my edition. So early in 2016 I purchased a new copy and began paging through the content, only to find that I had to dive in. After a short time, I got distracted with other books (as is want to happen), and found myself putting off this story until stumbling across Christopher Lee’s excellent audio performance on Audible! For the Tolkien fan, this proved to be too much temptation and I eventually pulled the trigger and added Lee’s recording to my audio library. Lee, who plays Saruman the White in the Jackson movies, has a very grave, deep, and almost creepy voice – perfect for a tragedy like ‘The Children of Hurin.’ I enjoyed the story again, though I found it rather dark, it was still worth coming back to.

Carry On, Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse – Last summer my mom and I took a road trip to New England and spent a week or so going through a class on Jonathan Edwards at Yale Divinity School. On the way she introduced me to P.G. Wodehouse for the first time, and man was it funny! We listened to all of ‘Carry On, Jeeves’, and once I got home I bought my own copy and listened to it twice more!  I believe its Martin Jarvis who performs the edition we listened to – and he’s fantastic. Later I bought some used Wodehouse books, and armed with the unforgettable voice of Jarvis’ firmly ensconced in my head, I thoroughly enjoyed several of the short stories he tells about Jeeves! All I can say is that if you enjoy Monty Python, you’ll probably enjoy these stories. I’m smiling in light-hearted glee as I type, knowing that I need to re-inject myself with another dose of the old boy here in the near future!

The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells – Who hasn’t heard of H.G. Wells, right?! This wasn’t my first Wells story, but it was first time I’d ever read a book by him. I’ve seen the movies and such, but this was first rate fiction. You really really hated that invisible man by the time the book was at full steam, and I couldn’t help but note at the dim view of humanity that Wells seemed to take. Not that I completely disagreed with his assessments, but the characters in this novel were certainly vivid, and not all that flattering. Fear seemed to reign among men, and selfishness was closely on its heels as a prominent feature. No grand hero emerges, and no character leaves you drawn in to either identify or empathize with them. That said, the writing was pretty good, and the action was fast and continually coming. It was a very worthwhile read.

Nicholas Nickleby – Charles DickensSpeaking of “good writing”, here is a master at work. I grew up watching the Nathan Lane movie version of this well-loved novel, and thought the twists and turns in the plot something well worth exploring in book form. This book is a beast – nigh on to 1000 pages!  But the characters and their roles were so familiar to me that it seemed a wonderful 1000 pages – it was one that I both read and listened to the audio version to aid in my trek. Unlike some of his other work, this story isn’t dark or peppered with depressing characters. There is a good deal of suspense and the protagonists are certainly tried and tested in difficult – and somewhat odd – circumstances, but there are no cruel twists of fate like in A Tale of Two Cities.  The characters are endearing and enduring, and it’s given me a taste to read more Dickens in the future. Like Austen and Gibbon, Dickens is a master of the English language and is a heck of a lot of fun to read.

…let it be remembered that most men live in a world of their own, and that in that limited circle alone are they ambitious for distinction and applause. Sir Mulberry’s world was peopled with profligates, and he acted accordingly.

The Red Badge of Courage – Stephen Crane – A short story, but masterfully told. This story takes place during the American Civil War, and is told from the point of view of a somewhat cowardly private in the Union army. You learn a lot about human character, nerves, the herd mentality, and how men react to war in this book. It’s really something else. The main character, Henry Fleming, will make you cringe, will make you angry, and yet you might also empathize with him as he deals with his battlefield experiences. This is one of those classics that I am catching up on, and am very thankful to have read this year. Crane is a wonderful story teller, whose use of irony and thorough research of the war (he lived just after in the later part of the 19th century) brings the book to life.

The King of Torts – John Grisham – It had been years since I last read this (or any other) Grisham novel. The last time I read it, it left a bad taste in my mouth. This time I found it more appealing – though it raised some of the reasons again why I think Grisham is both popular and yet not that great.  Grisham writes in ways that keep you mentally checked in to the action while give you a bird’s eye view of that action from the point of view of the protagonist. What I mean is that you’ll often hear the blunt thoughts of the main characters as they contemplate their next move, or whatever they’re considering. Often Grisham uses this as a way to fill in a sketch of his characters’ character (so to speak).  You learn a lot about these people as you read their “inside thoughts.” Still, you don’t come away feeling especially close to who they actually are as human beings. You feel like you know enough for everything to make sense, and because the story/plot is really what’s driving Grisham novels, character development can feel somewhat secondary, cheap, or slipshod at times. Still, the story of this books is about a young man’s rise to wealth and power – and how he handles it.  The effect of money and success on the characters is a central theme, and one of the most interesting parts of the story. Overall it was an enjoyable re-read, and an interesting look into the mass tort industry.

Miniatures and Morals: The Christian Novels of Jane Austen – Peter J. Leithart –  This was easily one of the most unique and creative books I read in 2016, and probably one of the volumes I enjoyed the most. In fact, Leithart’s explanation and Christian contextualization opened up for me deeper understanding and thinking on stories I’d been watching or reading since I was a kid. The concept of the book is to examine each major Austen novel and understand how Austen would have seen the characters from her own Christian perspective, and how we can understand their actions (for good and evil) in that same context. Leithart isn’t reading context into the author that isn’t there, indeed once you understand the morals of Austen, and her perspective as a Christian who enjoyed writing, you begin to see more clearly the failings and triumphs or her characters. Especially brilliant was Leithart’s explanation of ‘Emma’, what he considers Austen’s most Christian novel.  I will leave you with this paragraph from pages 168-169:

Above all, the romance that contributes to the cohesion of the community is an “accidental” rather than an “arranged” romance. When she (Emma) comes to recognize her love for Knightly, it comes as a shock, “with the speed of an arrow” (the wound of love). She has not been planning this; it comes at her without her asking for or wanting it. Matters of love are best left to fate – to God. Trying to play God with human affections is cruel and dangerous. True love always comes as an overwhelming surprise, and act of grace, as a rushing mighty wind.

The Hunt for Red October – Tom Clancy – When I was growing up, one of our favorite movies was ‘The Hunt for Red October’. My younger brother and I would lay in bed at night quoting the best lines to each other, seeing if the other would be able to finish the sentences, or perfectly quote the appropriate rejoinder. After years of enjoying the film, this was the first time I’d actually read the original novel, and it was a highly enjoyable affair!  To make matters better, I listened to the book on audio, which allowed my imagination to really take flight in a way that seemed to be a hybrid between the film and simply reading the book. The movie still holds a special place in my heart, but the book helped provide context for the plot and sub-plots that I found enlightening. If you enjoyed the movie, you’ll love the book. The research was typical of Clancy, top notch (if not a bit too in-depth!), and the writing was fast paced.

History and Politics

The Lion’s Gate: On the front lines of the six-day war – Steven Pressfield – I knew next to nothing about the six-day war, so this was a very exciting adventure for me – an excitement which was heightened by the fact that the way this book is composed of first-hand accounts from soldiers and generals. The pace is fast, and that’s good because the book is on the longish side.  Still, you’ll hear some simply astounding accounts of how Israel defeated its enemies and captured back portions of Jerusalem up to the ‘Lion’s Gate’ as the world watched. The inside accounts of how the nascent country scrapped together its rag-tag airpower alone was worth the read. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone interested in military history, or Israel’s modern miracle.

Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Volume IV – Edward Gibbon – This year I continued my odyssey through Gibbon’s famous six-volume history of Rome’s decline and fall, ending the year half-way through volume five. That said, volume four gets the honorable mention on this list because of how enjoyable it was. For those who have heard me write about Gibbon in the past, you know I’m a huge fan of his writing abilities and powers of description. If you appreciate the English language, world history, or simply like a challenge, Gibbon is for you. NOTE: For those of you who are Churchill fans, you’ll appreciate Gibbon all the more for the role he played in Churchill’s self-education. While stationed in India as a young soldier, Churchill devoured Gibbon. Here’s a sample for your edification, from Gibbon’s summing up of whether or not Christianity helped or hurt the Roman empire:

…the introduction, or at least the abuse of Christianity, had some influence on the decline and fall of the Roman empire…If the decline of the Roman empire was hastened by the conversion of Constantine, his victorious religion broke the violence of the fall, and mollified the ferocious temper of the conquerors.

The Lost Empire of Atlantis – Gavin Menzies – My buddy Rod encouraged me to check this volume out, and I wasn’t disappointed. Menzies may not be the most organized or systematic writer, but his journey and findings are incredible and must be reckoned with. The research he’s done essentially points to the Minoans as the conduit race for the explosion and spread of the bronze age. These intrepid people were traders who mined copper and tin and traded them from North America to Egypt and all over the Mediterranean. Evidence points to their having crossed the Atlantic multiple times much earlier than we had ever thought possible, and that they used a system for calculating lunars that would have made Nat Bowditch envious several thousands of years later. Even if Menzies is missing pieces of the puzzle or is wrong on some things, he’s done some fascinating work that blows holes in much of our typical historical assumptions about the sophistication and global boundaries of the ancient world.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World – Jack Weatherford – Again, I was encouraged by Rod to learn more about the great Khans of Mongolia, and this was my first foray into that part of world history. Little did I know how dominant, how tolerant, and how sophisticated the Mongols were. Their empire was the biggest empire in terms of square miles ruled in the history of the world, dwarfing the British and even Alexander the Great’s conquests. What you’ll learn is how this piece of the puzzle fits into medieval European and Chinese history, and how interesting and just plain different their methods and thinking was comparatively. I was impressed with Weatherford’s work, though the middle of the book really slackened on the pace, it was worth plugging away to read about Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis. It was Kublai who conquered and rules China, and almost did the same to Japan with his enormous armada (however some bad weather and cunning field commanding by the Japanese saved them).  I know there are many options for study in this period of history, but I think Weatherford did pretty well, and would recommend the book. 

Poetry

 Kipling – Poetry from the Everyman’s Library Collection – Most of the poetry I read in 2016 was of the variety that you read a poem, skip around, and then read another etc. But in this edition of Kipling, I found myself on a long plane trip, and was turning page after page in enjoyment right through to the end.  What made Kipling so good was that I felt I was right there in the action. I could sense the jungle, I could hear the tigers, and feel the impending danger of each situation, or the beauty of every description. I had really only known Kipling’s stories up until this year, but his poetry is just as good, and deserves a look if you’re thinking of putting something in your briefcase or purse for the Spring.

The Fall of Arthur – J.R.R. Tolkein – It is a great pity that Tolkien started and did not finish many a creative work, this project is one of those victims. Yet, what he did get done is of a very high quality. When I was a boy my parents gave me a book on King Author by Malory and it greatly fired the imagination. So as I read through the lines of Tolkien’s ‘Fall of Arthur’ it sent me back to those happy memories. If you enjoy poetry and great adventures, then you’ll enjoy this travel back into the days of medieval Britain.

Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson – Barnes & Noble Classics Series edition – I really had no idea that during the lifetime of Emily Dickinson no one really knew she was a poet, much less a poet of great ability. As I began to read her work, I quickly figured out how arresting it could be. She’s definitely going to make you stop and think – sometimes at moments when you least expected it. My rule of thumb for her is that if you think there may be something more to what she’s saying, there probably is!

Poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Everyman’s Library edition – Early in 2016, after trying my hand at several famous poets (including Coleridge’s personal friend Wordsworth) I had become discouraged that I was destined to only enjoy Kipling…and maybe only rikki tikki tavi at that!  But as I lighted upon Coleridge that changed. His story and meter is fantastic, and you can almost feel your skin crawl or heart leap at times. Here is a man whose poetry made sense to me, and had me fully engaged for many an evening this past year.

Theology and Christianity  

When I Don’t Desire God – John Piper – Several years ago I was introduced to John Piper through the book ‘Desiring God’.  I found the book helpful, but long and a bit wordy. At first I found his concept of ‘Christian Hedonism’ to be fraught with peril and not quite the way I’d prefer to think if the Christian life. However, over time (and through many conversations with good friends), I came to appreciate Piper as a modern day Jonathan Edwards – a role he probably embraces more than any other recent contemporary. This book, however, is not simply an additional volume to the first, but a very thoughtful and practical application for the Christian battling through life’s many ups and downs (especially the latter).  I found it to be the best book I’d ever read by Piper bar none (even though I’d read many good ones from him in recent years). I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to persevere in their walk with God, and wants practical, theology drenched tools and thoughts about just how to do this.  At the end of chapter three Piper concludes this way:

The essence of the Christian life is learning to fight for joy I a way that does not replace grace. We must be able to say at the end of our lives, “I have fought the good fight.” But we must also say, “It was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” I have pursued Christ as my joy with all my might. But it was a might that he mightily imparted.

Church Elders – Jeramie Rinne (from the 9Marks Series) – This may not be a volume that applies to everyone sorting through my list, but I enjoyed the book immensely. Most of my enjoyment came in the form of a challenge.  That is to say that I found Rinne’s explanation of the Biblical passages surrounding church eldership to be aimed right at my heart. He does a wonderful job asking the tough questions of those desiring higher office in the church, and explaining the role of an elder in general to those interested in how their church is (or ought to be) structured.

The Cross of Christ – John Stott – I know many people who’ve read Stott’s classic and continually refer back to it. However, this was my first go at this formidable volume, and I found it dense, encouraging, and probably the best book I’ve ever read on the mission of Jesus and what he accomplished in his death. It is nothing short of a tour de force of theology and philosophy of the most important event in human history. It is extremely thoughtful, and is packed with theological goodness. As soon as I finished it, the realization hit me that I’d need to read it again. So comprehensive, so thorough, and so quotable is this volume that I think every Christian needs to own it and reference it from time to time. I’ll leave you with a sample:

Justification is our legal standing before our judge in the court; reconciliation is our personal relationship with our Father in the home. Indeed, the latter is the sequel to the former. It is only when we have been justified by faith that we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1), which is reconciliation (Pg. 190).

Philosophy 

Penses – Blaise Pascal – This was a real challenge for me. I found Pascal to be brilliant, if a little (heck, a LOT) disjointed. Following his thoughts from inception to conclusion could be somewhat difficult. However, some of the things he says are simply so fascinating and so full of wisdom and insight, that you can’t stop reading. He’s a master at getting to the heart of why people do things, act in certain ways etc. He doesn’t linger on the surface, but dives into man’s motives, and it is that exploration of man’s will and motive that made this so interesting to read. Some parting wisdom…

Between us and heaven or hell there is only life, which is the frailest thing in the world.

The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand – This was my first Rand book.  I both loved and hated it simultaneously.  Mostly I felt that her writing abilities didn’t square up with the great men and women of allegory in her time. For instance, as obvious and overt as C.S. Lewis can be, he has a style that draws you into the story and characters that are believable.  Rand’s characters are machines with human names who would never believably act in the way that they’re portrayed.  Yet there is a lot of compelling storytelling going on, and a lot of interesting points about architecture and the desire of man to be happy. I really enjoyed the overall story, and found it compelling to the point of not being able to stop reading/listening to it for days.  Ultimately, however, I think she misses the mark in a serious way, because she failed to understand the true wiring of the human being. She is clearly advocating her own special brand of hedonism, but that hedonism isn’t that kind which ultimately fulfills a man/woman.  If only she’d read Piper…

Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl – Earlier in the year I had read Elie Wiesel’s ‘Night’ before reading Frankl, and found the combination of the two formed a powerful impression. Both men dealt with the horrors of concentration camp life in different ways. Without disparaging Wiesel in anyway, I felt that Frankl’s thinking and descriptions resonated with me a bit more. This is certainly a book that everyone ought to read, if for no other reason than it provides the inside look at how men thought during this experience, and deals with the lies and truths they tell themselves in order to survive. You will find yourself grappling with Frankl, and being forced to ask serious questions about assumptions of humanity, the way we’re wired, good and evil, and morality.

Science

Not a Chance – R.C. Sproul – With typical skill in communication, and adroit understanding of the logical, scientific, and philosophical issues at stake, Sproul exposes some of the mistakes in the Big Bang theory, discusses causality, and dives into modern scientific thought – its motives and its pitfalls. To get an idea of the fun that awaits you, when discussing Einstein, Sproul quotes Stanley Jaki and then (in typical fashion) sums things up nicely on the topic of “chance”:

If anything is really a chance product, then the battle is already over. Science falls in the battle. Here science suffers from intellectual hemophilia. Scratch science with chance and it bleeds to death…if chance can produce anything we can have something from nothing, which destroys both causality and logic with a single blow. We are left abandoned to ultimate, inexorable chaos.  

I personally haven’t spent much time studying issues of cosmology or cosmogony or causality in years! So this was a welcome reminder of how important it is to approach the universe with humility and logical thought, and not surrender the sciences to those whose starting point is often irrational.

Business 

Every Good Endeavor – Tim Keller – I’ve read my share of business and leadership books over the years, and this was by far one of the most enjoyable and helpful books on business I’ve ever read. Keller’s focus is to look at the concept of work from a Christian perspective, and he does a wonderfully thorough job of this. The book is divided into three parts: God’s Plan for Work, Our Problems with Work, and The Gospel and Work. A small sampling from his exposition of work as “cultivation” …

…that is the pattern for all work. It is creative and assertive. It is rearranging the raw material of God’s creation in such a way that it helps the world in general, and the people in particular, thrive and flourish. This pattern is found in all kinds of work.

This is a book that will demand some thought, and provide a helpful perspective on life whether you’re a professional banker or stay at home mom. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

 

Happy reading to you in 2017!

Weekend Reading: December 31, 2016

Welcome to the final weekend of 2016!  Here are a few stories to scroll through as you enjoy your Saturday.

It seems like the most important stories of the last two weeks have been about foreign policy. In the space of only a few weeks, the outgoing President of the United States has managed to burnish his reputation as the most dangerously incompetent President since the obsequious foreign bootlicking Jimmy Carter.  In a masterful stroke of personal arrogance and pettiness, the President refused to exercise his veto capability during a United Nations vote to censure Israel for its settlements in the West Bank. Then,as if that wasn’t enough, the “haughty John Kerry” (2004 campaign c/f Rush Limbaugh) gave a speech to the world that essentially heaped more criticism on Israel. Here’s the National Review story on the speech. Here’s the Wall Street Journal take on Obama’s refusal to veto the resolution.  Here’s a story from Haaretz about how John Kerry colluded with the so-called Palestinians on the deal.

Next, there’s been a large outrage from the left over the Russian hacking of the DNC HQ during the election campaign. This has set off the Obama administration and caused them to expel 35 Russian “diplomats” – many are suspected intelligence operatives. I agree with the retaliation here, though the timing is pretty latent if you ask me. Frankly,  it begs (at least) two questions: 1. Why would Obama allow these people into (or to stay in) the country in the first place?! and 2. Would he have done the same thing if this had happened to Trump.  Now, I know the answer to the second question because of the President’s long record of perverting justice, but the answer to the first is not readily available, though its perhaps the scariest.

There are two other things to point out about all this Russian business, and the first is just a reminder that it was Mitt Romney who in 2012 was warning about Russia as a major threat, all the while Hillary Clinton was working on the “Russian reset” of diplomatic relations…how did that end up working for ya Hill?  The second is that the left is decrying the Russian hack as having effectively helped Trump win the election. Poppycock!  I like Erick Erickson’s common sense blog post on this, which explains that hacking the DNC is not nearly the equivalent of hacking the election. Yes its bad, but it has nothing to do with ballots or voting or the voting systems whatsoever. Donald Trump won the election fair and square – let’s not forget that Hillary Clinton was one of the worst candidates in modern history (and that takes some doing), and was extremely unpopular, AND ran a campaign in such a way that she expected to win. The combination proved too much, despite Republican’s failure to coalesce around a more appealing candidate.

In response to the expulsion of his people from America, Putin has said he will not respond in-kind. The aim of this response is naturally to show Obama as a blustering and reactionary child who is throwing a tantrum.  With a more pro-Russian President set to take the oath in a few days, Putin knows he can wait this issue out, and used the opportunity to a way to show the world he is more of a grown-up than Obama, and he’s really the one in control etc.  Whether or not this works, I don’t know. But the President-elect has already come out praising Putin for his cool reaction to the expulsion. There’s a lot going on here beyond the headlines, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming year or two.

As a side note to all this foreign policy news, there was a Politico story a few days ago about how Henry Kissinger has been sidling up to Donald Trump.  Kissinger, as you might recall, was the head of the NSA under Nixon, but in reality, his power extended beyond that of Nixon’s Sec. of State, and his influence was widely felt in the Nixon White House. This has led some to speculate about the kind of foreign policy that Trump will have – one thing we know for certain is that it will be more “unpredictable” (as he has said), and this is very Nixonian.  

Besides foreign policy, there are other interesting stories out there.  One is on Why Christians should Refuse to Support Female UFC-style fighting (h/t Adam J.).  This is a very thorough story on an odd topic that is likely instructive of where we are as a culture.

Similarly, INC.com’s business of the year is Riot Games Inc.  I had never even heard of Riot Games, but the (lengthy) story was both fascinating and eye opening. 

This was super cool: Where do People Say That? 

OUCH:  Man’s Shot from Frozen Hazard Goes Terribly Wrong

The Smithsonian has a blog post I found interesting (h/t Challies): Did Ellis Island Officials Really Change the Names of Immigrants?

Thomas Sowell retired from his column this past week. Here is a blog from Joe Carter that includes 6 great quotes from the great man. 

Carrie Fisher died this week, which was sad. He mother (Debbie Reynolds) died only a few days later. Fisher suffered a massive heart attack while on board an international flight from Europe back to Los Angeles.  One wonders about the human heart, and why there are so many heart attacks around the holiday season – one story here attempting to explain. Of course what is more fascinating to me is the death of Fisher’s famous mother so soon after. We all know from experience how loved ones pass away, and their husband or wife or close family member dies soon thereafter. This says a lot about the will to live, and the power of the mind on the body.

Fisher’s death will have implications, of course, for the Star Wars franchise. In the newest Star Wars flick, ‘Rogue One’, Fisher makes a CGI appearance that was nothing short of stunning from a technical perspective and has awed fans for its realism. The more pressing issue is that Fisher herself had been a part of Episode 7 (The Force Awakens), and one can assume was going to play some role in Episode 8 – she’s central to the plot of these movies as the one who has instigated the search for Luke Skywalker. How Disney chooses to deal with this now will be closely scrutinized.

Funny: That Time Pepsi Promised to Give Away a Harrier Jet

Thoughtful: From Sam Storms…10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT GOD’S WILL(S)

TECH: Voice Is the Next Big Platform, and Alexa Will Own It

Implications of TECH: Police seek Amazon Echo data in murder case

This looks…outrageously bad: A Turkish Rip-Off Of ‘Star Wars’ Exists And, Oh Boy, Is It A Wild Ride

Where does Saint Nick come from? Stephen Nichols explains…

Along similar lines – John Piper answers the question of whether Santa Claus is harmless fun or dangerous. He is pretty doggon frank in this one…

Prominent Pastors within the Southern Baptist Convention have attacked Russell Moore for his writing about the Presidential Election. Here are two stories about it…WaPo: Southern Baptists who marginalize Russell Moore are making a grave mistake.  WORLD: Supporters rally to Russell Moore after Trump criticism.  If you’re not a theologian or a pastor, then at least scan the stories simply in order to know who is attacking Moore. I believe that there are even people who read this blog whose pastors are publicly attacking Moore. So pay close attention to what is going on here, and how far your pastor has strayed from reason (this is the ultimate mission creep, if you ask me).

Some of these pastors are very big voices in the megachurch movement today, and (as a Southern Baptist myself) I’d love to see them fail miserably in their attempts to take down Moore, who is an articulate and helpful voice for conservative Christians in America – even if you don’t agree with every position Moore takes.  This is the heart of the issue: Many pastors within the convention conflate their Christian beliefs with an implicit (and sometimes explicit) support of whomever the Republican Party nominates for President. Publically these pastors make it seem like there ought to have been no struggle, no thinking, no reasoning or wrestling at all in the decision of who to vote for – and that is a huge mistake. There is nothing wrong with having voted for Donald Trump, of course! But to not even wrestle or think through the issues – or even acknowledge the MANY issues – that surrounded Trump’s personal life, or candidacy or past immoral public statements, is absolute negligence. What I’m saying is that some of these men need to re-orient the way in which they come to their decision on matters of politics in order to help their congregants sort through how to make the best decision at the ballot box while still holding to the faith with a clear conscience. That is what Moore was attempting to do, and I think its good to have thoughtful – even dissenting – voices in Christian community.

Here’s an interesting story about a man who dug up a ton of treasure…then became a fugitive from the law! 

Fascinating article from the Atlantic on Sleep, and how to get better sleep and whether or not you can really do with less…

Lastly, before I get to the book section, because I took some time off for Christmas, I didn’t get to post this column by Stephen Wellum on The Ten Things You Should Know About the Incarnation. This is one that I’ll be saving for the future because its very very good.

Books, Books, and More Books…

I’ve been chatting with many of my friends and family about what types of books they’ll be reading in 2017, and planning my own reading (and the reading for my kiddos) this week as well. One book I plan on reading is ‘The Legacy of Luther’, which was available for free download earlier this week (that may have expired, still it’s going to be a great read!).

Here’s what I finished reading this past week or so since my last blog:  Samuel Johnson’s Insults (this was hilarious!), The Bird’s Christmas Carol (a classic I grew up hearing from my mom), Smith of Wooten Major (a short story from Tolkien), Fool’s Talk (a good book on apologetics),  Sojourner Songs (beautiful poetry based on the Psalms), The Trumpet of the Swan (an E.B. White classic that our family read together – it was fantastic), Essays from Samuel Johnson (I got through a dozen or so and really enjoyed them, though they aren’t always easy to understand).

Here’s what I’m currently reading: Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands (finally making good progress on this, and enjoying it despite its being too wordy), In Cold Blood (a classic recommended by my brother – Kate and I reading together, its very well written), Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Volume IV (sooooo close to finishing this!), The Birth of Britain (this is the first of 4 volumes in Winston Churchill’s ‘History of the English Speaking Peoples).  There are others as well, but this has been the focus of the current and upcoming week.

Soon I’m going to do a post of my favorite/top top 40(ish) books from 2016, organized by category (it’s almost done!).  I’d love to hear from you and learn what your favorite books were in 2016!  

Have a wonderful weekend – and a Happy New Year!

PJW