Monday, May 01, 2017

What I'm Into (April 2017 Edition)

So apparently I haven't done one of these posts since November... oops. Here's a catch up for March and April anyway.



Books completed in March:

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman (3/1/2017)
C.S. Lewis: A Life Inspired by Christopher Gordon (3/3/2017)
The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis (3/3/2017)
Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis (3/7/2017)
Finding God in the Shack by Roger Olson (3/9/2017)
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (3/14/2017)
The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis (3/21/2017)
A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis (3/24/2017)
Miracles by C. S. Lewis (3/28/2017)

Books completed in April:

Real Presence: The Christian Worldview of C. S. Lewis as Incarnational Reality by Leanne Payne (4/2/2017)
How I Changed My Mind about Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science by Kathryn Applegate (4/3/2017)
Three Views on Creation and Evolution by Paul A. Nelson, Editor (4/3/2017)
The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next #1) by Jasper Fforde (4/4/2017)
The Dark Tower and Other Stories by C. S. Lewis (4/5/2017)
Adjustment Team by Philip K. Dick (4/13/2017)
Feels Like Redemption by Seth Taylor, David Glenn Taylor (4/13/2017)
The Story of Christianity: Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day by Justo L. González (4/21/2017)
Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott (4/25/2017)
Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain by Matt Bays (4/26/2017)
Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer (4/30/2017)


TV:


Doctor Who is back! Yay!

I finally caught up on The Flash and DC's Legends of Tomorrow. I'm almost caught up on Supergirl, but I haven't watched any of Arrow since it game back after winter break... Maybe when my semester is over in a couple of weeks.

Podcasts:
Here are my top 10 favorite podcasts at the moment:



Other things:

I got to go hear Dr. Michael Ward speak here in Louisville back in March, so that was super fun!

And we just celebrated my dad's birthday yesterday:
Happy Birthday Dad!




What I'm Into

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Top Ten Books on my Spring 2017 TBR List

For future Top Ten Tuesday topics and info on how to participate, click here!

Top Ten Books on my Spring 2017 To-Be-Read List

1. The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis
2. A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis
3. Miracles by C. S. Lewis
4. Lies We Believe about God by Wm. Paul Young
5. The Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now by Gregory A. Boyd
6. And It Was Good: Reflections on Beginnings (Genesis #1) by Madeleine L'Engle
7. Preparing for Easter: Fifty Devotional Readings from C. S. Lewis
8. Real Presence: The Christian Worldview of C. S. Lewis as Incarnational Reality by Leanne Payne
9. Lord Willing?: Wrestling with God's Role in My Child's Death by Jessica Kelley
10. C. S. Lewis and a Problem of Evil: An Investigation of a Pervasive Theme by Jerry Root



Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Shack: A Postmodern Novel

I just saw the movie, The Shack, on Sunday night, and I am so glad I did. I thought they did a great job bringing the book and the conversations in the book to life on the big screen. I first read The Shack back in 2008 and I even wrote a paper for grad school, talking about The Shack as a postmodern novel. So I decided to publish that here if you are interested in reading it. Warning, it is kind of long... but Enjoy!


The Shack, by William Paul Young, began as the self-published debut novel of an unknown writer and is currently the #5 book on Amazon.com. (I'm sure sales have been boosted again by the release of the movie this past weekend.) Through story format, The Shack communicates deep ideas about God and theology that have strong implications. If reasoned debates could be called a rhetoric of modernism, story is a primary rhetoric of postmodernism. It should be no surprise then that The Shack, has experienced such widespread popularity as a story imbued with theology, and has been especially popular among those who might be considered postmodern.

The novel is about Mackenzie (Mack) Phillips wrestling with God over the abduction, rape, and murder of his youngest daughter, Missy. Following Missy’s death, Mack, who has always had a somewhat strained relationship with God, falls into what he calls “the Great Sadness.” One winter day, Mack receives a letter from Papa (his wife’s favorite name for God) asking him to meet God in the shack where Missy’s bloody dress, the only evidence of her murder, was recovered. The rest of the book is a conversation between Mack and the Trinity.

When Mack arrives at the shack, his memories and anger are stirred up and his feelings towards God are revealed. Mack desperately wants answers but feels his prayers and concerns are being shouted to a deaf and uncaring person. At his wit's end the scenery around the shack changes and when he goes to the door, he is met by an older African-American woman who reveals herself to be Papa. Mack finds himself in the presence of the entire Trinity: Jesus is depicted as a middle-aged Jewish man, and the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman named Sarayu (Sanskrit for "wind").

When reviewing any book, it must be considered within its literary genre. This book is categorized as fiction, and the reader should remember that it is a story designed as fiction, not an account of real events that happened in the Northwest. Though it is not categorized as a book about theology, much of the uproar surrounding the book has to do with the theology that is embedded in the story. Young claims that it was not his intention to change theological foundations, but critics have claimed that his depictions of God and theology are at best, misinterpretations, and at worst, a heresy. Young deconstructs different elements of Christian theology and paints a new picture of God and The Trinity it would seem he wants readers to embrace.


This deconstruction begins with the depiction of God the Father as an African-American woman, deviating significantly from conventional stereotypes, including Mack’s own preconceived idea of God as an older grandfather figure, who he had “naturally assumed … would be white” (87). The book uses some characterizations of God to play with the religious stereotypes to get people to consider God as he really is, not how we have reconstituted him as a white, male autocrat bent on religious conformity: “For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning” (93). There are important reasons in the story why God takes the expressions he does for Mack, which underlines his nature to meet us where we are, to lead us to where he is. However, this postmodern play with the manifestation of the character of God is a major point of contention for many Christians. Mark Driscoll, former pastor of a church in Seattle, WA, calls this goddess worship: “if God the Father is really God the Mother, that changes everything … if God reveals himself to us as Father, we are to honor him as Father and if we say that God the Father is a woman now we’re not worshiping God, we’re worshiping goddess." (Link to video clip) Critics have called Young’s depiction of God, in essence, idolatry, seeking to set forth the terms of the relationship rather than God setting the terms.


This deconstruction and redefining continues with the characters of Jesus and the Holy Spirit as well as the Trinity as a whole. By doing so, Young seems to be saying that Christianity has misconstrued an understanding of the nature of God that must be revised in order to truly know God. Critics like Albert Mohler say Young paints a picture of Jesus that diminishes his divinity. This would be called a limited Christology in theological circles, for example, Papa says that when Jesus healed the blind, “he did so as a dependent, limited human being trusting in [Papa’s] life and power to be at work within him and through him. Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone” (100). This statement goes against orthodox Christian doctrine, and it is statements like these that illustrate how The Shack is postmodern in the way that it shakes up the “accepted” ideas and plays with words and definitions in an attempt to make people think differently about things.

Again, one of the defining postmodern elements of this novel is the way it embraces storytelling to teach theology and persuade the reader as opposed to direct statements of belief. Stories are terrific teaching tools, however they can be manipulative, sometimes disguising a denial of truth and relying too heavily on experience and subjectivity. Young says, “The Shack was a story written for my six children, with no thought or intention to publish.  It is as much a surprise to me as to anyone else that I am now an ‘author’”. Young writes (in story format) about the function of parables in an article entitled “Fiction, Truth, Reality and all that stuff”:
That’s what a parable does.  It uses a story to tell the truth in a way that gets by your training and your defenses.  I think you might be confusing facts with truth, thinking that what seems to be ‘real’ should be the same as what is true! … Parables are not as concerned with facts and reality as they are about communicating the truth. … The truth of a story like this parable is much more significant than just the sum of its parts, in fact, Truth belongs to a different realm of existence and significance than facts and reality. 
In addition to the postmodern elements of deconstruction and emphasis on story, The Shack emphasizes relationships over institutions. This book has clearly resonated with the masses, likely many who have been burned by deep tragedy, bad church experiences, and churchgoers who consistently misrepresent Christ. The content of this book takes a harsh look at how many religious institutions and practices have blinded people to the simple Gospel and replaced it with a religion of rules and rituals that have repelled people away from God. Sarayu says, “Enforcing rules ... is a vain attempt to create certainty out of uncertainty. And contrary to what you might think, I have a great fondness for uncertainty. Rules cannot bring freedom; they only have the power to accuse.” And Jesus says that the church Mack knows is only an institution, a man-made system that is not what he came to build, when Jesus thinks of the church he sees “people and their lives, a living breathing community of all those who love [him], not buildings and programs” (178). Jesus tells Mack that it’s simple, “it’s all about relationships and simply sharing life … being open and available to others” (178). This goes hand in hand with the emerging church that is attempting to embrace certain aspects of postmodernism that can be beneficial to them as the Church. This anti-institution theme is most definitely a postmodern one, summed up in this book when Jesus says to Mack:
Institutions, systems, ideologies, [are] futile. I can give you freedom to overcome any system of power in which you find yourself, be it religious, economic, social, or political. You will grow in the freedom to be inside or outside all kinds of systems and to move freely between and among them. Together, you and I can be in it and not of it. (181)

The failure of the church is woven into the fabric of the story. After taking a walk across the lake together, Jesus tells Mack that he is not a Christian and does not want to make people into Christians; he just wants a relationship with people. It is a sentiment that harmonizes beautifully with one of the anthems of postmodern culture: institutions and labels are impersonal and inauthentic. Mack is also an example of institutional failure; he admits that his years in seminary taught him things that failed to result in a real relationship with God. Jesus highlights this clash between stale, unreal doctrines and living personal relationships by insisting that Mack's experiences of hymns and sermons are not the church he came to build.

One of the most postmodern elements in this story (and most controversial among Christians) is probably the following passage:
Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved. (182)
Immediately after this, Mack asks Jesus if that means that all roads will lead to him and Jesus says, “'Not at all, most roads don't lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you” (182). Despite the clarity here, Young has been raked over the coals for this passage, and mostly because people are not paying attention to the tenses of the verbs. “They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans … I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous” (182). These same people tend to end the quote after, “I have no desire to make them Christian,” instead of reading the rest of it, “but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved. (182). The point here is not that all roads lead to God, but that He is a God of relationships and transformation, not institutions, rules and regulations.

A final postmodern element may be the ongoing conversation with the author. Because of the internet, communication with the masses is at our fingertips and Young has taken advantage of this and responded to some of the strongest allegations on his blog:
Every person has a right to an opinion, but there is much being stated that is simply not true. No, I am not a Universalist! There is no ‘agenda’ behind my book - I wrote it for my six children.  The Shack is not scripture, not a book on systematic theology, it is fiction.  I love the community of believers and am not particularly bothered by how they choose to gather - I am the master of no one.  People are people, and Papa has purpose in everything, and adores each of us. Some are upset that the book is ‘fiction’… sorry, there was no ‘intent’ to deceive anyone into thinking it was not (that is why it says ‘fiction’ on the cover, is endorsed as ‘fiction’ and sold as ‘fiction’).  It would have made no sense to have the Foreword and After Word be non-fiction, but the rest of it be fiction. (WindRumors) 
Young also addresses these accusations in the same format in which he wrote The Shack, as a dialogue between himself and Papa called “The Mystery of Ambiguity.” In it, Papa asks him what specifically is bothering him that is being said about him and he responds, “Let’s see, that I am a Universalist, that I am an adherent of various religions, that I hate the Church…” When Papa asks him if he is indeed a Universalist Young responds, “You know that I’m not. I know that faith in Jesus is the only way into your embrace; that only what you did on that cross saves us.” As the dialogue continues, it progresses into a discussion about why God did not make things clearer in the Bible. At one point Papa says,
Have you ever thought that ambiguity, that mystery, might have purpose? ... I delight in ambiguity. I relish what mystery brings to the table. It’s not that I don’t delight in clarity; after all, the Scriptures themselves are about revealing me so that you can know me.  But part of that revelation is that I am completely different than you and you will never completely comprehend me or my ways. … It reveals the heart of the individual.  In fact, mystery is at the center of both relationship and faith.
Again, Young is pointing to a more postmodern Christianity, which of course is the reason for much of the controversy. It is not easy to speak definitively of The Shack's theology (maybe this is intentional). Young did not choose to write a systematic theology, he chose to write a story, a parable more than an allegory. As even the back cover of the book says, at its core, it seems to mostly be a story of a soul wrestling with the timeless question: “Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?” Even a postmodern society is still concerned with understanding the answer to that question.


Works Cited

Young, William Paul. The Shack. Los Angeles, CA: Windblown Media, 2007.

---. “Fiction, Truth, Reality and all that stuff…” Wind Rumors.
https://web.archive.org/web/20080827094902/http://www.windrumors.com/42/fiction-truth-reality-and-all-that-stuff/ December 2007.

---. “The Beauty of Ambiguity (Mystery) Wind Rumors. https://web.archive.org/web/20090920064943/http://www.windrumors.com/43/the-beauty-of-ambiguity-mystery/ March 2008.

---. Wind Rumors. https://web.archive.org/web/20081028021817/http://windrumors.com/ 2008.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Top Ten Books I Liked More/Less Than I Thought I Would

For future Top Ten Tuesday topics and info on how to participate, click here!

5 Books I liked More than I thought I would:

1. Rysa Walker’s Timebound series - A series of super fun time traveling stories.

2. Blake Crouch, Dark Matter - A sci-fi thriller that plays with the idea of the multi-verse and a big twist.
“Are you happy with your life?” 

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. 

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. 

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.” 

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves?

3. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, (Audiobook Narrated by Wil Wheaton)
Synopsis from Goodreads: "In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the  OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win—and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape."

4. Armada by Ernest Cline



Synopsis from Goodreads: Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders. 

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

5. Off to Be the Wizard (Magic 2.0 #1) by Scott Meyer
Synopsis from Goodreads: Martin Banks is just a normal guy who has made an abnormal discovery: he can manipulate reality, thanks to reality being nothing more than a computer program. With every use of this ability, though, Martin finds his little “tweaks” have not escaped notice. Rather than face prosecution, he decides instead to travel back in time to the Middle Ages and pose as a wizard.

What could possibly go wrong?

An American hacker in King Arthur’s court, Martin must now train to become a full-fledged master of his powers, discover the truth behind the ancient wizard Merlin… and not, y’know, die or anything.


5 Books I liked Less than I thought I would:
1. Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
2. Fire (Graceling Realm #2) by Kristin Cashore
3. A Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket
4. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
5. The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles #1) by Rick Riordan

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

2017 Reading Challenge

Well I have set my goal at 150 books for 2017. I figure since I read 141 in 2016, I should be able to reach 150 books next year. We shall see. 

I also decided to try something new this year. I had heard of the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge before, but I decided to participate for the first time for 2017. Here is the challenge I'm doing:
Here are the books I'm thinking about reading for the challenge:

A book you chose for the cover:
• The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
• The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen



A book with a reputation for being un-put-down-able:
The Martian by Andy Weir

A book set somewhere you’ve never been but would like to visit:
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber

A book you’ve already read:
Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
Miracles by C. S. Lewis
The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis

A juicy memoir:
• Spiritual Sobriety: Stumbling Back to Faith When Good Religion Goes Bad by Elizabeth Esther

A book about books or reading:
The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel by Jasper Fforde
• The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

A book in a genre you usually avoid:
Columbine by Dave Cullen
All the Winters After by Seré Prince Halverson

A book you don’t want to admit you’re dying to read:
• The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer
Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

A book in the backlist of a favorite author:
And It Was Good: Reflections on Beginnings (Genesis #1) by Madeleine L'Engle

A book recommended by someone with great taste:
• The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

A book you were excited to buy or borrow but haven’t read yet:
• The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion by N.T. Wright

A book about a topic or subject you already love:
• Image and Imagination: Essays and Reviews by C.S. Lewis


Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 Book Breakdown

Number of books read: 141
(21 more than last year)


Number of pages read: 32,865

Average Length: 249 pages (I know this was brought down by several short stories I read this year.)

Mode of reading: 
Audiobook (92), Ebook (26), Print (23)
I think I can increase my reading goal in 2017 to 150 books without too much trouble. If I read around 25 ebooks, 25 print books, and 100 audiobooks, I will be able to meet that goal. It averages out to 12.5 books a month.

Book Genres:
C. S. Lewis Studies: 8
Seminary: 24
Theology: 23
Spiritual: 3
Spiritual Memoir: 5
Science Fiction: 36
Fantasy: 22
Fiction: 15
Non-Fiction: 5

I grouped Seminary/Theology together with Spiritual and Spiritual Memoir for this chart:
I really want to increase my reading in C. S. Lewis and C. S. Lewis studies in 2017. And I will be taking a class on C. S. Lewis and the Christian Faith, so that should help me towards that goal at least a little.

Male/Female Authorship:
Female: 28
Male: 113

I really want to even out this statistic, but it is harder than you might think when you are also focused on reading in C. S. Lewis studies and Theology. 

Books Read Per Month:
April was the month I finished the fewest books, probably because I was busy with seminary work. But I had to read a lot of books in order to write my final paper for my Old Testament class so the book count went up again in May. I would have expected my book count to be a little bit higher in June, July, and August, because I was on break from school. But apparently I slacked off a bit. =) But then I made up for that in November and December. Part of the reason for the increase was that I was finishing several books I had been reading over the course of the semester for my classes. And once the semester was over, I've been reading more for fun again here in December. 


Hat tip to Brenton Dickieson for giving me the idea to include some charts and graphs in this post. Check out his end of year book breakdown too


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My Year in Books: 2016


Goodreads puts together a fun info-graphic of the reading I've tracked on there throughout the year, so I thought I'd share it on here.

I exceeded my goal for number of books read this year, reading 20 more books than last year: