I’m reading 50 books in 2012.

So, I’m pretty awesome, right?  I’m going to read 50 books this year.  At least, that was what I had planned to do at the beginning of the year.  And so far, things are moving along at a decent pace.  I’ve read 7 books so far and I am about to finish my 8th book.  I’ve taken too long on two of the books, but hopefully, I can make up some ground soon.  I’ll try to update this as often as I think about it. 

Here is a list of the books I have read so far:

  1. Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
  2. Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
  3. Superman: Earth One (graphic novel) – written by: J. Michael Straczynski and penciled by Shane Davis
  4. Wizard’s First Rule (Book 1 in the Sword of Truth series) – Terry Goodkind
  5. The Mediterranean Caper – Clive Cussler 
  6. Master and Commander – Patrick O’Brian
  7. A Wrinkle In Time –  Madeleine L’Engle

 

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New posts coming soon!

Seriously.

This is for real.

I’m working on a couple of things and should have something new posted in the next couple of days.  One of the items I am working on is a review of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender.  If you have paid any attention to this blog you know that I am a huge fan of the television series, Avatar: The Last Airbender.  Needless to say, based on the negative reviews and the general dislike of the film adaptation, I just had not gotten around to watching it.  I remedied that recently and will be posting a review. 

Also, I’ve got another Four that got away installment – this is where I highlight one movie, one book, one TV show, and one CD that have been overlooked by the general public.  I will probably have that one ready early next week.

Finally, I am working on a couple of other things – one serious and one not so serious.  I don’t know which one will be ready first, but I hope to have them both posted this month. 

So, stick around.  New material coming soon!

God Gave Rock and Roll to You

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. – Philippians 4:8

When I was in my early twenties, back in my college days, I was confident, sure of myself, and completely convinced I had all the big and important things in life figured out. I’ve known a lot of people that have gone down that road. (There must be some “full-of-ourselves” hormone that most college students have.) I had all the answers. Or at least all the answers that really mattered in my life. I knew what I believed and nothing would dissuade me from my convictions. Those were simpler times.

One of the main areas of my life where I was resolute in my beliefs was in regards to the music I listened to. Through much study, prayer, and fasting (I’m using poetic license here) I decided that I would only listen to Christian music. No more of that terrible secular music that was birthed in the very pits of hell. That music was causing me to sin, backslide, and abandon the faith (once again – speaking poetically). No more would I listen to the likes of Nirvana, Collective Soul, Pearl Jam, and most definitely not The Beatles. These bands were comprised of sinners and that meant that nothing they could say would help me in my spiritual journey. In fact, what they said would have the opposite effect. From my superior vantage point, secular bands had nothing to offer Christians. They were devoid of all honesty and truth. And even though their music was really good and a lot of fun to listen to I would turn my back on them so that I could continue down the straight and the narrow. I had convinced myself that unless the songs I listened to were clearly and without prevarication speaking about or to God, then they were useless to me. What benefit could songs like The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love offer me? I had fallen prey to the faulty thinking that has trapped so many Christians throughout time: God is too small to operate outside of the creativity and the machinations of believers. Perhaps even more significantly I had failed to comprehend true worship and it was in that failing that my mind and my motives went astray.

Worship goes beyond words and catch phrases. It does not need a quota of religious terminology and expressions. Real worship does not come about if we say “Holy” or “Jesus” or “Praise” enough times. Worship is the very nuts and bolts of our lives. It comes from the most basic and elemental parts of our souls. True worship is uncomplicated and many times unremarkable. God lives in the mundane; in the boring details. He excels in working with the everyday and the commonplace. Scripture tells us that if mankind fails to praise Him like we should then nature itself will cry out. God’s glory is proclaimed by the sun and stars, their unspoken truth is being revealed to the world. If God is capable of eliciting praise from inanimate objects, then why are we so convinced that He can’t be glorified by the tongues of sinners; whether they intend it or not. Why do we recoil at the thought that God could communicate His truth through the creativity and the talents of unbelievers? That was my error, and perhaps the error of many. I was limiting God. I had confined Him to a little corner of my world. He could live, move, and act in that space, but nowhere else. He could speak through my Christian songs. But He was incapable of receiving praise or communicating truth through the thoughts, words, and music of an unbeliever. Simply put, my God was not so big or so strong or so mighty and there were some things that my God could not do.

When this realization hit me, I’ll admit, it hurt. It shamed me. I was so arrogant in my ignorance. I was master of my universe and to be frank, my universe sucked. I had heard the phrase, “All truth is God’s truth” since childhood and I thought I believed it. Sadly, I had learned to compartmentalize my life. Well intentioned, I had constructed separate spaces for the sacred and the secular. God was allowed to speak to me and to receive my praise through the unambiguously Christian. God was overlooked, or even worse, not welcome, in the secular. I could enjoy sports, food, television, and even movies as long as those areas of my life were separate from my hearing and understanding of God’s voice. For some reason I had no problem with those areas in their unbaptized form. Music on the other hand was different. Secular music was dangerous, frightening and decidedly not Christian. The line must be drawn here and no further! I would remain safe and comfortable surrounded by songs that didn’t offend or question me. Songs that played it safe; using the appropriate language and ideas.

After the aforementioned epiphany, I realized how narrow my thinking had been. God was at work in ways that my mind could not fathom. His truth was being proclaimed and communicated by the most unlikely people imaginable. But isn’t that just like Him? Scripture is full of examples of God using damaged and even unbelieving spokespersons. Nebuchadnezzar proclaimed:

Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God…no other god can save in this way.

He was in no way a “believer” but he spoke the truth: There is no other God that can save in that way. King Darius wrote a decree extolling God’s power after Daniel had been saved from the lion’s den:

For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.

Wow! That’s a praise song right there. We have no evidence that Darius was a believer yet he wrote those words for the entire nation to read and hear. The truth was crafted and penned by a sinner and it was heard by most of the civilized world.

Perhaps the most amazing example in Scripture is the time when God used Balaam’s donkey to save his life, by speaking. Yes, a donkey spoke to protect it’s master who was disobeying God. If God can speak the truth through an animal then I have no problem believing that He can use the likes of John Lennon or Mick Jagger.

So what does this all mean? I think there are few things that we should keep in mind when considering these ideas. Most importantly: Use wisdom. I’m not advocating jumping in head first into all the world offers us. Much of it is garbage and should be treated as such. Much of is dangerous and deadly; Flee from temptation and all that. But that is where discernment and wisdom come into play. Know your strengths and your inclinations and make good choices on what you will entertain and what will entertain you. Secondly, look closer, listen more carefully, and examine more fully. The real stuff, the things that really count are not always easy to spot or easy to ingest. Those things have to be tested carefully and completely. Your search will lead you down some unforeseen roads, and that is ok. As Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message would put it; God plays in ten thousand places. Don’t underestimate God’s ability to make His truth known. Finally, don’t be afraid of the difficult questions. When you listen to secular artists you are going to be challenged. They don’t see the world through our eyes. Many times they are going to confront God directly and perhaps even have a few negative things to say about Him or his children. Guess what? God doesn’t mind. In fact, I think he appreciates the honesty much more than the shallow spiritualized rhetoric that is found in so much of our modern Christian music. To prove that He doesn’t mind He made sure His revealed Word was full of questions. There are plenty of examples in Scripture of this. If you spend enough time with the secular your faith will be questioned. Rest assured of that. Embrace that. These people are searching and are simply expressing that search in the only way they know how; through their talents. Mankind has questions, even Christians have questions, and it is much healthier to accept that and figure out ways to confront those questions than it is to close our eyes, ears, and minds to the very things that could be a catalyst for growth.

At this point you might be wondering what the passage from Philippians has to do with any of this. Simple: Truth, nobility, purity, loveliness, and excellence can and will be found in a thousand different places. Don’t be afraid to think without limits when searching for them because contrary to popular opinion, God is limitless and He is looking forward to taking your hand and revealing His truth and His glory to you in ways that are beyond your imagining. God has made everything beautiful in its time and he created humanity with an innate ability to appreciate truth and beauty. He did this so that we could and would recognize the Originator of that Truth and Beauty. God is at work in the sublime, in the transcendent, in the fallen, and in the broken. God is drawing all men unto Himself and He uses more than His Words or His people to accomplish this. He even uses those things that entertain us. Just one thing: Be sure to recognize when God is making Himself known through these broken vessels. If you don’t, it would be a waste of a really great song.

The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God.   Gilbert Meilaender

Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet

 

The best things dazzle us slowly.

Jeffrey Overstreet more than competently introduced readers to the world of the Expanse in Auralia’s Colors, the first novel in the four-part Auralia’s Thread series.  The  Expanse is a world of Beastmen and Seers.  A world inhabited by fangbears and viscorcats.  A world infused with color and wonder by a cast of characters that are intricately and passionately alive:  Auralia.  Cal-Raven.  The Ale Boy.  It is a fantasy world, but one that mirrors our own precious and delicate existence.  The second novel, Cyndere’s Midnight, took all that was good about Auralia’s Colors and somehow made it all more interesting, more beautiful, and more emotionally satisfying.  It was the work of an artist; a writer with unique gifts and abilities.  Raven’s Ladder continues that progression.  Overstreet has a strong, confident voice now.  These are his characters, in his world, and he knows exactly how he wants to use to them to best tell his story.  His writing is poetic, yet never ostentatious.  He writes with a sense of artistry that is missing in so much of modern fantasy literature.  This time out, the stakes are even higher for our characters.  There is a festering corruption that seeks total control.  It has gained a foothold of power in seemingly all corners of the Expanse.  If the good people of the Expanse are to survive, it will be through grace and hope.  There is a better way, a more beautiful way, but it’s up to these fragile souls to hold on to that vision with all of their might.

Raven’s Ladder is a worthy continuation to the ever expanding saga.  The characters are given more depth with much more complicated pasts and problems than we had perceived.  The plot is engaging and complex, but never hurried or confusing.  Late in the story a character remarks, “The best things dazzle us slowly.”  Raven’s Ladder does just that.  It dazzles.  Slowly.  Overstreet takes his time.  He “dazzles us slowly” with words, actions, and amazing people.  It is a welcome respite from the massive fantasy novels that use a vast amount of words poorly.  Overstreet uses a few words perfectly.  He gets all the little details right, enriching an already overstuffed story.  He takes seemingly minor characters, characters that other authors would simply use as plot devices, and he gives them purpose and meaning.  He gives them souls.  It is a beautiful thing. 

Do I have any complaints?  Not really.  I do have one wish though.  I wish these stories were given a little more room to breathe.  I am certain that it is publishing constraints that keep the books under 400 pages, and Overstreet works wonders with those pages, but it would be nice to let him stretch out a bit.  I’m not asking for a “massive fantasy novel”.  But there is so much to explore and learn about this world he has created, it seems a bit unfair to not let him and the readers do just that.

With Raven’s Ladder, Overstreet has firmly established himself as one of the better writers working in the fantasy genre today.  Auralia’s Color’s hinted at that.  Cyndere’s Midnight announced it.  And Raven’s Ladder removes all doubt.  It is a great book by a great writer who deserves much more recognition than he is receiving.  I’ve never been to the Expanse, but somehow, when I read these stories, I come home.  Thank you Jeffrey Overstreet for taking me there.

5 Things I am Digging.

1.  Rebellion (Lies) by Arcade Fire off the album Funeral.  The song is energetic, catchy, and it moves me every single time I hear it.  After No Cars Go, it is my favorite song of theirs.

2.  Toy Story 3.  I am still a little overwhelmed with how much I enjoyed this film.  I love almost every Pixar film to date, so it’s no surprise that I loved this one, but I didn’t expect to fall so hard for it.  I can’t wait to see it again.

3.  Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet.  I finished it about two weeks ago and I am still thinking about it – that pretty much says it all.  I am working on a review for it that I should have finished in the next couple of days.  Overstreet has become one of my favorite authors and I am very excited to see what he has planned for the final book in this series.

4.  Lost.  Yes, I know.  I’ve already finished this series.  Who cares?  It’s just that good.  I am working my through the series again on Netflix Instant and I have just finished Season 1.  I hope to start Season 2 very soon.  I still stand by my belief that Season 1 is the best season of television I have ever seen.

5.  I never thought I would write or even think this but here goes:  World Cup Soccer.  I am totally invested now.  I am and will never be a huge soccer fan, but this World Cup has sucked me in and I am kind of hooked.  I think it helped that the US team got screwed out of a goal.  That slight got some non fans to pay attention for once – all that national pride and stuff.  I hope they can keep this ride going for a little longer.  Go USA!!!

Four that got away.

For today’s pop culture entry I want to highlight a book, a movie, a TV show, and a CD that deserve a little more attention.  These aren’t reviews; rather they are just little blurbs describing why they should be revisited – or visited for the first time.

TV Show:  Sports Night

Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) created this groundbreaking show that gave viewers a behind the scenes peek into the inner workings of a Sports Center type program.  But if you are not a sports fan, don’t let that setup turn you off.  The show is so much more than sports or sports related ideas.  It is about the characters: The anchors, the producers, the writers and it follows their triumphs and their failures.  The characters are three dimensional and fully fleshed out.  The writing is sharp and fast paced.  The acting is top notch with Josh Charles, Peter Krause, and Felicity Huffman all giving some of the best performances of their careers.  The show only lasted 2 seasons but those two seasons were great.  Also, since it is only 2 seasons long you can watch the whole thing in a fairly short amount of time. 

CD:  Shout Out Louds – Our Ill Wills

My brother recently introduced me to this amazing band, and since they just released their 3rd album, Work, I felt that I should point people back to their incredible sophomore release of 2007.  So, what does this band sound like?  Good question and its one I probably can’t answer since their sound changes quite a bit from one album to the next.  The album in question, Our Ill Wills, has elements of Arcade Fire’s spontaneity and energy with a healthy dose of The Cure’s vocal and lyrical structure.  But even that doesn’t really do their sound justice.  The music is energetic and exuberant.  They blend traditional rock instrumentation with dynamic percussion, string arrangements, and a variety of other musical instruments.  The results are compelling and a whole lot of fun. 

Movie: Sweet Land

My guess is most people haven’t even heard of this film.  That’s too bad because it’s a wonderful little romance set in rural 1920’s Minnesota.  The film stars Elizabeth Reaser, Tim Guinee, Lois Smith, Ned Beatty, John Heard, Alex Kingston and Alan Cumming.  It tells the story of a young Norwegian woman who comes to the United States to marry a farmer due to an agreement with his parents back in Norway.  It’s a simple, meditative film with subtle performances and beautiful imagery.  While the film is slow moving, it is never boring. 

Book: Auralia’s Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet

Auralia’s Colors, film critic and author Jeffrey Overstreet’s first attempt in the world of fantasy/fairytale, is an original and inventive piece of fantasy literature that is a delight to read.  Overstreet has a way with words.  He delights in constructing sentences that swell with vibrancy and color.  His characters are memorable and interesting.  The plot is simple yet complicated at the same time.  If you read it you will understand what I mean.  It is not an easy read, whatever that phrase implies to you.  You have to really pay attention, because he doesn’t dumb things down.  He kept me on my toes the entire time I read it, and when I got lazy, I would pay for it.  It’s the first book in a four part series and the second and third books are already available to read, but it is necessary to start at the beginning of this tale.  I have yet to read the third entry in the series, Raven’s Ladder, but the second book, Cyndere’s Midnight was exceptional storytelling.  If you love fantasy or fairy tales then this series will be a joy for you to discover.

Raven’s Ladder Contest

Jeffery Overstreet has a contest running over at Looking Closer.  Pick three characters from either Auralia’s Colors or Cyndere’s Midnight and find the perfect actor for that role.  Well, I have decided to lend my expertise to this challenge.  I am going to be picking characters from Cyndere’s Midnight.  We will start with one of the leads of the book – Jordam the Beastman.  I loved this character and the actor that portrays Jordam has their work cut out for them.  He is sympathetic and horrible at the same time.  He is my favorite character of any book that I read in 2009.  Really.  He is that good.  So clearly, finding the right actor for this role is not easy.  He needs to be able to convey much with his eyes and with his voice since his face will be somewhat obscured by makeup and prosthetics – at least I am assuming that Jeffrey would want to go more traditional in the creation of his characters.  Also, you would need to find an actor that is physically imposing and threatening.  Not some 5 foot nothing pretty boy.  I would want Jordam to be big and burly.  I have tossed a few actors around in my brain and I keep coming back to one name.  This actor has been primarily a character actor, finding smaller supporting roles in many well known films.  He is 6’3″.  He has great control of his voice.  He has the ability to convey a lot with just his eyes – and that is key.  My pick for Jordam the Beastman is Liev Schreiber.

Next, I chose the actor that would portray Emeriene – Cyndere’s best friend.  While Overstreet never gives us a definitive age for his characters, I always viewed both Cyndere and Emeriene as fairly young.  Possibly early 20’s.  I wanted to chose someone that was beautiful yet with an air of sadness around them.  The actress I chose impressed me with her debut performance and she has grown into a captivating and talented actress who needs to be in many more films.  I have chosen Rachel Hurd-Wood to portray Emeriene.

And finally I saved the final spot for Cal-raven.  This one was tough.  You need someone that is handsome, intelligent, and charismatic.  He needs to be someone that you could see people following.  There are many young actors out there that could do a good job in this role but good is not good enough.  This story demands that we find someone that would completely become that character.  Someone noble, honest, determined.  Someone that women want to be with and men want to be.  The actor I finally settled on has been criminally underused for much of his career.  He is a little older than I envisioned Cal-raven to be but he has a young face so I think he would work just fine.  My choice for Cal-raven is James Marsden.

Well, there you have it.  I fully realize that many people – Jeffrey included are going to disagree with my choices.  Everyone sees things differently.  I hope that my choices are well explained though and that people can at least respect that.