My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Curse of Chalion
The Name of the Wind
Chronicles of the Black Company
The Faded Sun Trilogy
The Tar-Aiym Krang

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Review: Chaplaincy: A Comprehensive Introduction

Chaplaincy: A Comprehensive Introduction Chaplaincy: A Comprehensive Introduction by Mark A Jumper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I am not an exact match for the target audience, not being an Evangelical Christian, am I close enough (in formation to be ordained as a Catholic Deacon) to potentially find the information presented to be interesting and helpful … and for the most part I was correct. The book is divided into two parts; with part one providing a basic foundation to understand the specifics cited in part two (which talks about where chaplains are typically found along with what is typically required in that specific ministry. As might be expected with multiple authors, there was a but of repetition and a bit of a bipolar feel to part one, where I assume the intent was to demonstrate the tension between being true to the principals championed by your organization ordination and the need to minister to a plurality of faiths, some of which may not be compatible with your own confession. This includes an excellent discussion on the Constitutional Separation of Church and State and how public chaplains can still fit within that framework. In addition, a fair amount of part one involved talking about how chaplains need to live there faith … which wasn’t really much different that how christians in general should live their faith … so … they need to be Uber Christians? That actually was not as helpful as the authors might has expected (given a presumption that most of this was probably already covered in depth in their formation process). This gave part one more of a motivation feel than a practical guide with specific tips and examples on how the chaplain was different.

Part two introduction ten (10) areas of our society where chaplains are currently serving, with a rough comparison that allows the reader to get a good feel for how each ministry might be different (extremely helpful for anyone discerning a call to be a chaplain). Each Chapter is further divided into a brief history of chaplains within that functional area, a summary of the culture and ethos in which these chaplains serve, a few tips and recommendations about the work a chaplain does in this capacity, and an outline of the requirements and supporting organizations that can help someone discerning a call to be a chaplain in this segment of our community. Each chapter finishes with a section on leadership and an overall summary of the chapter material. Each chapter was also concise and well organized, leveraging much of the terms and ideas presented in part one. Overall, I would recommend this book for anyone either discerning a call to be a chaplain, or even for those who might otherwise work with or hire a chaplain for their own organization.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Part One: Chaplaincy Examined
1. A Brief Introduction to Chaplaincy
2. Biblical, Theological, and Philosophical Foundations of Chaplaincy
3. Chaplains in History
4. The Constitution and religious Freedom in Chaplaincy
5. Evangelical Identity
6. Endorsement and Employment
7. The Person of the Chaplain
8. Chaplaincy Case and Chaplaincy Skills
9. The Ministry of Presences
10. Chaplaincy Leadership

Part Two: Ten Functional Areas of Chaplaincy
11. Corporate Chaplaincy
12. Healthcare Chaplaincy
13. Military Chaplaincy
14. Education Chaplaincy
15. Prison Chaplaincy
16. Community Chaplaincy
17. Disaster Relief Chaplaincy
18. Public Safety Chaplaincy
19. Recreation Chaplaincy
20. Sports Chaplaincy

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

We are thus defined by our location not outside something but inside something—with unparalleled access to people’s lives. Our paradigm is to serve in the workplaces of those outside the church with all the ministry that’s possible, rather than going on mission to attract people to our church or to build new churches.

A chaplain is a minister (or priest or holder of another such office) who represents a recognized religion and who joins an institution or organization, usually secular, as one of its people in order to support and minister to its members from the inside.

Much of the chaplain’s ministry is focused on helping people with their relationships, whether in the workplace, at home, or in their play.

Essentially, GC2 is all that God calls chaplains to do. The Great Commandment directs the chaplain to enjoy an all-consuming love relationship with God and then to share that love relationship with others—a task that is accomplished by fulfilling the Great Commission.

Chaplaincy offers unparalleled access to people’s lives and access by those people, regardless of their religious beliefs or affiliation, to a clergyperson serving as a chaplain.

The good chaplain does not just show respect for all but takes the trouble to hear deeply and learn who others are, whatever their beliefs or religion. The good chaplain serves as a via media, a “middle way”: a person who, while standing strong in their own faith, can love those of other faiths while daily living and working with them as a colleague.

Clinical pastoral education (CPE) has expanded dramatically in practice and influence since its founding almost a century ago. Many areas of chaplaincy encourage CPE qualifications, and some—especially healthcare chaplaincies—require it.

Confessional pluralism is the maintenance and accommodation of a plurality of forms of religious expression and organization in the community. Structural pluralism encourages each community to maintain and accommodate a variety of social units that foster religion, such as families, schools, charities, churches, and synagogues.

The endorsement of chaplains by federally recognized religious groups allows the government to ensure that the First Amendment right of free exercise of religion is afforded to military members, hospital patients, and many other people, while at the same time not establishing religion. To this end the ecclesiastical endorser serves as the sole religious authority for chaplains.

Chaplains working in pluralistic settings should seek to make sure every individual’s religious needs are met without violating their own biblical convictions, their ordination vows, or the endorser’s policies. When a chaplain cannot provide direct religious care to an individual, the chaplain should seek out another chaplain or clergyperson who can help meet the need.

Some evangelical chaplains have found a warm reception among religiously diverse audiences by making the following statement prior to voicing their Christian prayer in order to show respect for all: “Thank you for the opportunity to pray. I will be praying from the perspective of my Christian faith tradition. Please join me as you desire, according to your faith tradition.”

Ninety seconds is more than sufficient for a prayer of invocation. A benediction is a prayer of supplication and blessing for the future, asking for God’s help to strengthen all involved to accomplish all that they hope to achieve. Sixty seconds is more than enough time for this prayer of benediction as people fidget to leave the ceremony.

Examples of theoxenic hospitality exist throughout Jesus’s ministry. Many people invite Jesus to their homes, providing dinner, wine, and conversation. Jesus enters their homes as a guest, partaking of the hospitality of the host. As the dinner progresses, the home—the safe space—of the person becomes a holy place and a sacred space in which Jesus transforms into the Good Host.

When chaplains enter a room, their presence elicits responses from people, including the avoidance of offensive language, the hiding of certain books and magazines under couches, the changing of TV stations, and the cessation of negative behaviors. People respond as if Christ is entering the room. Through evangelical chaplains, God’s presence calls people to a sense of accountability.

Northouse explains transformational leadership’s main focus as being “concerned with emotions, values, ethics, standards, and long-term goals. It includes assessing followers’ motives, satisfying their needs, and treating them as full human beings.”

A relational style of leadership means leading from the bottom up in that the leader will guide others by fostering relationships, practicing a personal kind of management, and caring for others.

A servant leader is a person of character who puts people first, is a skilled communicator, is a compassionate collaborator, demonstrates foresight, is a systems thinker, and leads with moral authority. These descriptions are also known as the seven pillars of servant leadership.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#Chaplaincy #NetGalley

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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Review: Forsaken Commander

Forsaken Commander Forsaken Commander by G.J. Ogden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: **
Performance: ***

The [Force of] Non-belief is Strong In This One

It’s a Space Opera … so a certain level of silliness is expected … however, there is a point of diminishing returns and that point is in the rear view for this story. The classic elements (tropes) of a good story are there but are so mechanically stitched together that it never really takes on a life of its own. So we get a human stellar union (republic) that comes under threat from mysterious (Aternien) super-humans, aka post-humans (Sith anybody?). Their only hope is a couple of augmented humans (Jedi) wielding plasma swords (light sabers), their AI gopher bots (droids) and their former weapons platform (aka long sword spaceship) that was scuttled and abandoned (but apparently just needs a few patches and an OS to be good to go) after the previous war ended in an armistice (that being the perfect time to forget how to actually fight a stellar war). The one (damsel) human intelligence officer on the team is apparently there to serve as a foil to show just how much the augmented humans are over the top “Mary Sue(s)” … a fact that the reader is constantly reminded of ad nauseam … oh and the obvious shipping potential. So we have a team of three (3) good guys vs a handful of Uber bad guys in which was intended to be an Epic story, but there is not a single minion or supporting character in sight … and that is as good as it gets.

The character voices are pretty good and captured the witty banter well; however, the (overly dramatic) narrative text between that didn’t work for me. Still … it was good enough to improve my enjoyment of the story (at least a little) and enabled me to ignore some of the over explanation of the obvious as well as basic errors that would otherwise make no sense … such as a statement that ballistic rounds were unable to penetrate skin that was as solid as lead (which actually can be cut with a butter knife) … of shattered glass from a space shuttle cockpit … directing a massive warship (that maneuvers like a craft with a fraction of its mass) in a space battle with just three people … a rank of Major in a space Admiralty … nanites are basically magic plot armor … et al.

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#TheBigFour #FreeAudiobookCodes #KindleUnlimited

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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Review: Transfiguration of Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Reading

Transfiguration of Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Reading Transfiguration of Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Reading by Patrick Schreiner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Recounted in all three (3) of the synoptic gospels, the Transfiguration of Christ is obviously an important part of the faith from the very beginnings of the Church that is rich in symbolism that can be difficult to unpack and appreciate today without the appropriate historical context. Schreiner does an excellent job providing that context along with commentary that explores a number of potential interpretations, some of which provided new insights and some of which seemed to be a bit of a stretch, all of which provoked some deep thoughts about how this event should fit within the faith. Overall I found this to be a valuable addition to me reference library.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Introduction: A Two-Level Christology
Chapter 1. The Necessity of the Transfiguration
Chapter 2. The Glorious Setting
Chapter 3. The Glorious Signs
Chapter 4. The Glorious Saying
Chapter 5. The Transfiguration and Theology
Conclusion: Restoring the Transfiguration
Appendix: Light from Light

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

For Christians, “metamorphosis” refers both to the physical unveiling of Jesus on the mountain (Matt. 17:2; Mark 9:2) and to the change that progressively occurs in Christians (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18) as we behold “God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6) and eventually “see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

First, the Gospels saw the episode as foreshadowing Jesus’s resurrection and exaltation. Second, Jesus’s transformation and the cloud recalls the glorification of Moses. Third, the dazzling white garments are typical of heavenly beings, including the glorified saints.

This context is fundamental for understanding the transfiguration. Jesus, in an allusion to Daniel 7:13–14, predicts that some of the disciples will not die until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. The temporal note signifies that the transfiguration fulfills Jesus’s prediction. The transfiguration is a vision of the Son of Man’s glory, victory, and exaltation.

God created the world in six days, then on the seventh day he rested. The eighth day was known as the first day of the new creation, since it transcended the seven days of creation. The seventh and eighth day imagery therefore symbolizes the reconfiguration of the cosmos.

Second, mountains are places of theophanies, where God and humankind meet. A mountain is an axis mundi, a conduit between earth and heaven, a place of divine revelation. God met with Abraham on a mountain (Gen. 22), revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush on a mountain (Exod. 3:9–10; 19:18–20), and spoke to Elijah on a mountain (1 Kings 19). Mountains are where humans encounter God.

The church fathers all affirmed that the transfiguration, while a concrete historical event, was symbolic of our own ascent to God. The setting becomes a cipher for what it means to “seek the things above” (Col. 3:1), ascend God’s mountain (Exod. 19:3; Isa. 2:3; Ps. 24:3; Mic. 4:2), and reach for the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). To ascend God’s mountain requires casting off that which clings so closely (Heb. 12:1–2) and discarding the deeds of darkness (Rom. 13:12). This has been called the work of purgation––burning the sin from our bodies.

All three Evangelists recount Moses and Elijah’s advent with only minor differences. Matthew and Luke list the figures in chronological order—Moses then Elijah—while Mark names Elijah before Moses. Luke is unique in saying they appeared in “glory” (doxa) and spoke of Jesus’s “departure” (exodos). Significantly, only after Jesus is transfigured do they appear.

Many assert that Moses and Elijah appear because they are covenantal figures who represent the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). Throughout the New Testament, the phrase “the Law and the Prophets” summarizes all of Israel’s Scriptures.

The church has spoken of the stage after purgation as one of illumination. We put off sin so that we can ascend and see. We move from the ways of a child (purgation) to that of an adolescent (illumination) (see 1 Cor. 13:11–12). Illumination is “characterized by a radical shift of the deep dynamics of our being, a profound transformation of our relationship with God.”

His error lies in his basic proposal to make tents. Peter’s misstep pertains to his attempt to prolong the glory of the scene ad finitum. Peter envisions this mount as the new Bethel, the dwelling place of God, that should last into eternity.

The Lord commands Abraham to take his only and beloved son and sacrifice him on the mountain. The links to the transfiguration are hard to miss: (1) sacrificial imagery, on (2) a mountaintop, accompanied by (3) beloved-son language, and (4) future glorification. In the Jewish tradition, Isaac is seen as a sacrificial figure. The story is called the Akedah, from the Hebrew term for the binding of Isaac.

For Hebrews, “today” is forever. Today is always present. Therefore, when the Father says, “Today, I have become your father,” it implies a past, present, and maybe even eternal meaning.

The Old Testament contains an iconic text that also calls Israel to listen: the Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4–5. The title “Shema” is based on the first Hebrew word of the text, which means “listen,” “hear,” or “obey”: “Listen [shema‘], Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one [ekhad]. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

Origen held to a three-stage understanding of Christ’s visibility. First, everyone can see Christ’s physical body donned in the incarnation. Second, there is a glorified but only semi-spiritualized body shown at the transfiguration and between the resurrection and ascension, and only the spiritually mature can perceive it. Third, there is the body of Jesus that has ascended into the heavens, which is fully spiritual and can only be seen by those who have assumed “spiritual” bodies.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Review: House of Cards: Dead Men Tell No Tales

House of Cards: Dead Men Tell No Tales House of Cards: Dead Men Tell No Tales by Theodore Jerome Cohen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: **
Performance: ****

A Silly Ole’Timey Detective Story

The best thing this recording has going for it is the narration; from a completely nostalgia aspect it reminds me of the old radio detective dramas in the 50-60's ... which I still listen to. That was what hooked me when I listened to the sampe and what ultimately saved the book. The series follows an NYPD detective (and military vet with a prosthetic leg) who plays fast and loose with the rules to get the bad guys ... not a plus in my book as it typically lends to lazy writing. 

In this episode, Martelli falls into a conspiracy involving a terrorist organization and a fraudulent hedge fund scheme Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDOs) and Credit Default Swaps (which were at the center of the financial crisis of 2008 ... of which the author apparently needs to go into great detail using info dumps thinly disguised as dialog. Too much unneeded detail is the watchword for this piece as the author shows off his mastery of jargon and testosterone replacements. 

For some reason not completely clear to me (outside a typical manly measuring contest), the Martelli also needs to stay clear of the FBI (they guys that would normally get involved in this kind of thing) , so he engages in various hijynx to make them the rube here while he himself engages in extrajudicial activities that somehow never taint the case. Just for fun, he also throws in a few pontifical monologues a a jab or two at the HYPD administration ('cause they got nuttin' better to do than get in the way of real police work). Then you have the cheesy ending that is cleaned up in the Epilogue …

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Review: Reading the Gospels as Christian Scripture: A Literary, Canonical, and Theological Introduction

Reading the Gospels as Christian Scripture: A Literary, Canonical, and Theological Introduction Reading the Gospels as Christian Scripture: A Literary, Canonical, and Theological Introduction by Joshua W. Jipp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In understanding and/or interpreting scripture, it is usually important to know the context in which they are written. Most of the commentaries that I have encountered spend a lot of time on the details, often debating the interpretation of the original language, marching verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book … rarely looking at the work as a whole. Reading the Gospels as Christian Scripture fills the gap here well, giving a brief over of how we got the Gospels in Part 1, before providing a general, historical context by which to read the Gospels in Part 2, before diving into each of the four (4) Gospels specifically in Part 3 … and it is this last part that is the best part (and accounts for nearly half of the total book … and is extremely well organized for each Gospel. Each Gospel will have an historical discussion followed by a literary analysis (structure, form, emphasis, et al) and concluding with how this view should impact living the faith of the Gospel. While perhaps not as interesting to those outside of the Christian faith, I found it to be extremely helpful to my personal growth and understanding of my faith.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Part 1 - From Jesus of Nazareth to the Fourfold Gospel: History, Literature, Theology
1. What Are the Gospels?
2. Where Did the Gospels Come From?
3. What Are the Relationships between the Four Canonical Gospels?
4. Why Only These Four Gospels?

Part 2 - How Should We Read the Gospels?
5. Reading the Gospels in Their First Century Historical Context
6. Reading the Gospels as Narratives
7. Reading the Gospels for Transformative Discipleship

Part 3 - Reading the Gospels
8. Matthew and History
9. Matthew and Narrative (1)
10. Matthew and Narrative (2)
11. Matthew and Discipleship
12. Mark and History
13. Mark and Narrative (1)
14. Mark and Narrative (2)
15. Mark and Discipleship
16. Luke and History
17. Luke and Narrative (1)
18. Luke and Narrative (2)
19. Luke and Discipleship
20. John and History
21. John and Narrative (1)
22. John and Narrative (2)
23. John and Discipleship

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

Second, while one need not suppose that the Gospel traditions were creatively shaped and molded at will by the early church, there’s no reason to deny the strong likelihood that specific memories of Jesus were preserved and remembered precisely because of their relevance and usefulness for the earliest Christians.

As different communities recycled and passed on Jesus’s teachings and with different aims, it should not surprise us to find some level of flexibility and fixity in the transmission. Getting the essential gist of who Jesus was and what he said, rather than his exact wording, precise geographical location, chronology, and so forth, which are just not quite the point.

This explains, in part, why some of Jesus’s sayings—found in Gospel texts, Paul’s Letters, and other early Christian writings—are remarkably similar. This is probably not because these sayings are literarily dependent on the same text but simply because the oral Gospel tradition was fairly stable and, much of it at least, committed to memory.

Whether the primary goal here is evangelism or community edification, John’s purpose statement alerts us to how writing a Gospel served practical goals and purposes for the early Christians. For example, some have very plausibly argued that Matthew’s Gospel was written, at least in part, for catechetical reasons—to draw on Jesus’s teachings in order to teach converts about the meaning of their Christian faith.

The Didache demonstrates obvious awareness of the Gospel of Matthew as it reproduces its version of the Lord’s Prayer (Didache 8:2; cf. Matt. 6:9–13) and sayings found in the Sermon on the Mount (Didache 9:5; cf. Matt. 7:6).

Proper interpretation of the Scriptures requires proper moral formation and the appropriate posture of humility when reading them. Stated simply, the church fathers believed that “lives that mirrored the message were best disposed to see that message.”

Thus, faithful discipleship and learning from Jesus will not be a simple matter of rote repetition; rather, knowing how to follow the Jesus of our Gospels will require communal discernment together as God’s people, a commitment to prayer and expectation of Spirit-illumination, and a constant and close attentiveness to the person of Jesus in the Gospels.

Mercy. Matthew consistently portrays Jesus as one who gives mercy and expects his followers to dispense mercy as well. Since God is kind and loving to both the just and the unjust, Jesus argues that the only right way to understand God’s Torah is from the standpoint of mercy and justice (5:43–48).

And Jesus declares that God’s law itself prioritizes mercy and compassion as the proper means of interpreting the commandments of the Torah. The Torah rightly interpreted is not a burdensome or impossible yoke; neither is it something that is rightly used as a means of exalting oneself above one’s neighbor (23:11–12).

Mark’s frequent usage of “and” (kai) and “immediately” (euthys) strikes many as demonstrating an unsophisticated writing style and less polished narrative. But this view does not sit easily with the recent recognition of Mark’s careful literary artistry, and in fact Mark’s Gospel is a never-ending treasure trove of theological meaning for careful readers.

Here’s the point: Although it is not the normal “season” for fruit on the fig tree, given that the gospel and the kingdom of God are here in the person of the Messiah, Jesus is nevertheless examining the tree and looking for fruitful abundance. Finding no fruit, Jesus curses the fig tree as a sign of God’s impending judgment on the temple and its leadership. The lack of fruit signifies that the temple is not functioning as a place of real prayer and true faith.

Second, Luke expects a high level of knowledge and appreciation for the Jewish people, their history, customs, and Scriptures. We have seen that Luke begins his Gospel with a preface comparable to Hellenistic historiography (1:1–4), but he immediately transitions into a way of telling his story that is remarkably biblical, involving the stories of a barren womb, Jewish priests in the temple, angels, hymns that use scriptural language, a circumcision on the eighth day—all of these draw the reader into the world of Israel’s Scriptures (chaps. 1–2).

The economy of Roman Palestine during the time of Jesus was oriented primarily around subsistence agriculture. Wealth was tied up in the very few landowners. The cities were places of consumption and extraction (rather than production).

Worshipers also engaged in a water ritual during the feast that commemorated God’s provision of water for Israel in the wilderness.2 It is during this Jewish feast that Jesus, in the temple, cries out that he is both the one who provides “streams of living water” (7:37–39) and is the “light of the world” (8:12).

The prologue itself shows this to the reader quite clearly in 1:14–18 by drawing parallels, especially using the language of Exodus 33–34, between God’s two primary forms of revelation: “the law” and “the word.”

John’s Gospel does not reject or criticize Moses and the law. The law is not spoken of in any way as leading to legalism, works righteousness, or a false, external piety. Moses foreshadows and points toward the greater grace and revelation of Jesus.

Jesus states this clearly when, in response to his opponents, he says, “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father. Moses is your accuser, upon whom you have set your hope. For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me. For he wrote about me” (5:45–46).

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#ReadingTheGospelsAsChristianScripture #NetGalley

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Thursday, April 11, 2024

Review: Irish History & Mythology: Exploring The History, Celtic Myths, Folklore, Sagas, Traditions of Ireland

Irish History & Mythology: Exploring The History, Celtic Myths, Folklore, Sagas, Traditions of Ireland Irish History & Mythology: Exploring The History, Celtic Myths, Folklore, Sagas, Traditions of Ireland by History Brought Alive
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Book: ***
Performance: **

A Quick Summary of Irish Myth

This is a very short survey of the history and mythology of the Irish, starting in the mesolithic era (stone age) up through the middle ages to current day. The legend of the four migrations to Ireland ( Muintir Nemid -> Fir Bolg -> Tuatha Dé Danann -> Milesians) which most scholars believe was a convenient fiction invented by Irish Christians (who wrote about such legend … much like the christian skalds of Iceland) to link them to stories in the Old Testament (specially Noah). As such, it really doesn’t belong as “history” but it is still entertaining. I supposed this can be expected since there are no written records prior to the these storytellers of the middle ages. Once we do get such written records, the history provided is on firmer ground, if quite brief. The next two chapters quickly march up to modern times before returning to myths and legends that is presented in the form of a bestiary followed by a compendium of heroes (and some of the stories attached to each figure). For the most part this was interesting and fun … and brief (which pretty much describes most of the book) although it hardly qualifies as quality scholarship. Unfortunately the rather average narration does suffer from from an awkward pacing, but overall was still pretty decent.

The narration was decent for this genre.

The chapters and sections in this work are:
Chapter 1: Prehistory Ireland
Chapter 2: Gaelic Ireland
Chapter 3: Ireland During the Middle Ages
Chapter 4: Ireland from the Rule of Henry VIII
Chapter 5: Irish Paganism
Chapter 6: Mythological Creatures
Chapter 7: Mythological Figures

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Sunday, April 7, 2024

Review: The Evolution of Religions: A History of Related Traditions

The Evolution of Religions: A History of Related Traditions The Evolution of Religions: A History of Related Traditions by Lance Grande
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At just over 1000 pages, this is a pretty big book that attempts to tackle a big question … how religion fits into the human condition (as humans themselves continue to evolve). Even so, there was limited space to go into much detail and any examination of pre-literate religions remain in the realm of educated speculation … presumed to have started with spiritual/animistic beliefs and rituals. As a fan of comparative studies, this was extremely helpful, since the entire purpose of a taxonomy is to enable the reader/student to compare and contrast the subject matter … and how better than to propose such an evolutionary tree than an evolutionary biologist and systematist … still there were plenty of times where the author acknowledged that this categorization didn’t work well, however, Grande’s ability to call out similarities and differences with antecedents was extremely help in understanding the worldviews professed by the predominate, contemporary religions: Hindu, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam (which also tended to have the most detail). I particularly enjoyed the exploration of the heterodoxy that periodically springs up in each of these. Ultimately this is a fairly decent introduction to the religions of today and how they evolved into what they are … and hopefully enable a better toleration of each other along with that better understanding.

My primary complete would be that some of the charts/illustrations were awkwardly formatted with the text alignment and orientation changing within the same illustration … making some of them hard to figure out … and the best part … of of these is well presented in easily accessible language that doesn’t require a background in any of the covered studies (although if you do, you may notice a few, small, nuance errors that don’t really detract much from the overall understanding).

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Preface: A Modern Evolutionary Approach to History of Religion Studies
Introductory Section
1. Religions, Classifications, and Phylogenetic Pattern
2. Explaining Hypothetical Patterns with Evolutionary Process Theory

Main Section
3. Early Supernaturalism and the Development of Organized Religion
4. Indigenous Eastern Organized Religion and Asian Cyclicism
5. Afro-Euro-Mediterranean Organized Religion, Beginning with Old World Hard Polytheism
6. Linear Monotheism
7. The Early Diversification of Abrahamic Monotheism
8. Traditional Christianity
9. Reformation Christianity
10. Biblical Demiurgism: A Subgroup of “Gnosticism”
11. Islam

Concluding Section
12. Organized Religions and the Evolution of Human Society

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

Moral and ethical behavior did not originate with religion; it was instead an independent product of evolution. It has been found to be present even in some of the great apes. However, religion, in its most positive form, helped establish certain codified rules of ethical human behavior that often aided in the development of large civilizations (as civilization is defined in Note 3C).
However, as certain supernatural beliefs were seen by later generations as worth preserving, they became institutionalized. They became preserved with narratives (written scripture or oral transmissions), practices (rituals), and often with objects of reverence (iconic objects and structures); and they developed into one of the most influential aspects of human culture: Organized Religion (discussed in chapters 4–11).
Eventually, synapomorphic elements of general importance to most Dharmic Religions came to include the following: (1) dharma (duty and maintaining order and balance in nature), (2) karma (the consequences of one’s actions and service to society), (3) samsara (reincarnation and the cycle of rebirth), and (4) yoga (as an aid to meditation).

The four basic goals of a person in Hinduism (called the Purusartha or Purusha-arthas) include the following: (1) dharma (righteous moral values and duty), (2) artha (prosperity and economic success), (3) kama (sensual pleasure, best known in the West by the ancient sex manual Kama Sutra), and ultimately (4) moksha (transcendental state attained because of being released from samsara and the cycle of rebirth).

Buddha’s beliefs can be summarized with three basic assumptions: First, no matter how many material comforts one has in life, they cannot protect one from the pain of suffering. Second, denial of all material comforts and living a life of asceticism (severe abstinence from any indulgence) also does not protect one from suffering. Third, each person needs to find a balance and moderately disciplined lifestyle that takes account of his or her individual circumstances.

Unlike Confucianism, Taoism focuses more on effortless natural order and the individual rather than on social order and a harmonious society. It emphasizes the “Three Jewels of the Tao”: Right belief, Right knowledge, Right conduct.

Unlike Taoism, which emphasizes natural order, Confucianism emphasizes social order. It promotes a harmonious system linking humankind to society and heaven.

I include Shintoism provisionally as a Taoic branch of Asian Cyclicism on my phylogenetic tree (page 000) because of the general characteristics that it shares with other Taoic schools (e.g., strong emphasis on ancestor veneration, historical veneration of emperors, prolific use of shrines, less concern with the afterlife than the present life). The name Shinto is a combination of the Chinese characters Shen (divine being) and Tao (way).

Ritualistic blood sacrifice was supposedly a cornerstone of Old Norse Polytheism. Animal sacrifice was the most common, although there were also examples of human sacrifice (or perhaps sacral death penalty is a better term). People convicted of certain crimes were sentenced to death and ritually sacrificed to the gods. Their execution was done by hanging or by ritualistic drowning in special temple wells.

The significance of twelve for the special deities of Olympia and the Dii Consentes also followed the Twelve Titan deities of earlier Greek Polytheism. Old Norse Polytheism had twelve special gods overseen by Odin. There were the twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles in Traditional Christianity, and twelve imams of Shia Islam. According to the Book of Revelations in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, twelve gates of heaven are guarded by twelve angels. There were twelve aspects of the god Shiva in Hindu Shaivism and twelve Divine Generals in some of the Buddhist denominations. Going back to the first millennium BCE, Mesopotamian astronomers of Babylon created the twelve signs of the Zodiac, which often were associated with Sumerian deities.

Historians estimate that in 1491 CE there were as many as between 75 and 145 million native inhabitants in the New World. By 1550, after fifty years of Spanish conquest and the spread of diseases from Europe that indigenous Americans had no immunity to, it is estimated that only about ten million natives remained.

Monotheistic Dualism may go back as far as the twelfth century BCE. It can be divided into two early patriarchal branches: Zoroastrianism (with the one God of Creation known as Ahura Mazda) and Abrahamic Monotheism (with the one God of Creation known as Yahweh, Jehovah, El, Yaldabaoth, Allah, El Shaddai, God, G_d, or even “he who should not be named”).

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Thursday, April 4, 2024

Review: Holding It All Together When You're Hypermobile: Achieve a Better Life Experience with EDS, POTS, and Joint Instability

Holding It All Together When You're Hypermobile: Achieve a Better Life Experience with EDS, POTS, and Joint Instability Holding It All Together When You're Hypermobile: Achieve a Better Life Experience with EDS, POTS, and Joint Instability by Christie Cox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Performance: ***
Book: *****

A Helpful Guide to Living with a Chronic Condition

This book is a balanced look at coping with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (hEDS) and the associated comorbidities; the latter being what drew me to it as I have friends and family with POTS and gastroparesis, which are very common along with EDS. Some have managed there condition well and others not so well … and this book seems like it would be a great help for both. Unfortunately many of the resources are imbedded within the text with a few being out of date; it would have been better putting them into the companion pdf (which was missing for my audible) or better yet a public resource list on author’s website (which is still live). Regardless, there is still quite a lot of value to this fairly personal story about the author’s journey to better health, making this book a combination of inspiration/motivation and useful advice/tips for adopting the lifestyle changes required to manage a condition that will never completely go away. That by itself make this a worthy read for anybody struggling with any of these conditions.

Each chapter starts with some description and/or definitions about some aspect of the how and why the symptoms are what they are before the author goes into her own experience with trying to manage those symptoms … and across the book it is clear that the author have tried a lot of things, both conventional and controversial. Each time she reinforces the fact that everybody is different and just because it worked or didn’t work for her, doesn’t guarantee the same for others … and that before starting anything, it is very important that you coordination with your health care provider team. Each chapter closes with a quasi summary of recommendations (assess, act, affirm) followed by one or more positive self affirmations to encourage those following along her journey to keep moving forward to obtaining a better quality of life (because this may take awhile to achieve, but it is possible).

The chapters and sections in this work are:
  • Introduction: Straight from the Zebra’s Mouth (17m)
  • Part I: One Patient’s Perspective
    • Chapter 1: My Story (17m)
    • Chapter 2: EDS and Me (25m)
    • Chapter 3: Comorbidities of EDS (29m)
  • Part II: Coping with EDS
    • Chapter 4: Dealing with Pain (51m)
    • Chapter 5: Navigating the Medical System (45m)
    • Chapter 6: Miracles of the Modern Mindset (33m)
  • Part III: Learning to Heal
    • Chapter 7: Mastering Stress (22m)
    • Chapter 8: Managing Autonomic Dysfunction (24m)
    • Chapter 9: Mindfulness and Meditation (30m)
  • Part IV: Healing Habits for your Body
    • Chapter 10: Movement (12m)
    • Chapter 11: Meals and Minerals (14m)
    • Chapter 12: Massage and Physical Therapy (13m)
  • Part V Healing Habits for Your Soul
    • Chapter 13: Make Time for Self-Care (31m)
    • Chapter 14: Maintaining Relationships (18m)
    • Chapter 15: Mustering Up Support (26m)
  • Conclusion Making It (18m)

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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My Ratings Explained ...

  • [ ***** ] Amazing Read - Perfect story, exciting, engrossing, well developed complex characters, solid plot with few to no holes, descriptive environments and place settings, great mystery elements, realistic dialogue, believable reactions and behaviors; a favorite that I can re-read many times.
  • [ **** ] Great Read - Highly entertaining and enjoyable, exciting storyline, well developed characters and settings, a few discrepancies but nothing that can’t be overlooked. Some aspect of the story was new/refreshing to me and/or intriguing. Recommended for everyone.
  • [ *** ] Good Read - Solid story with a 'good' ending, or has some other redeeming feature. Limited character development and/or over reliance on tropes. Noticeable discrepancies in world building and/or dialog/behavior that were distracting. I connected enough with the characters/world to read the entire series. Most of the books I read for fun are here. Recommended for fans of the genre.
  • [ ** ] Okay Read - Suitable for a brief, afternoon escape … flat or shallow characters with little to no development. Over the top character dialog and/or behavior. Poor world building with significant issues and/or mistakes indicating poor research. Excessive use of trivial detail, info dumps and/or pontification. Any issues with the story/characters are offset by some other aspect that I enjoyed. Not very memorable. May only appeal to a niche group of readers. Recommended for some (YMMV).
  • [ * ] Bad Read - Awkward and/or confusing writing style. Poor world building and/or unbelievable (or unlikeable) characters. Victimization, gaslighting, blatant abuse, unnecessary violence, child endangerment, or any other highly objectionable behaviors by Main characters. I didn't connect with the story at all; significant aspects of this story irritated me enough that I struggled to finished it. Series was abandoned. Not recommended.