My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
Dune
Jhereg
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 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.

#TheTransfigurationOfChrist #NetGalley

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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.

#HouseOfCards #MartelliNYPD #FreeAudiobookCodes

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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.

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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:
Introduction
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
Conclusion

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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Sunday, March 31, 2024

Review: The Life of the Qur'an: From Eternal Roots to Enduring Legacy

The Life of the Qur'an: From Eternal Roots to Enduring Legacy The Life of the Qur'an: From Eternal Roots to Enduring Legacy by Mohamad Jebara
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For most of my life as a Preacher’s Kid, I have been interested in comparative theology and the story of how other religions come to understand their own scared scriptures. Toward that ideal, I have read english translations of many of the main scriptural texts for most world religions; however, being more at home within the Christian traditions, my ability to truly interpret and understand how these are received and implemented by the various practitioners. As a christian apologist, I am frequently working to provide context to many of the more problematic passages within my own text, so I am keenly aware of the need to know something of the context from which a sacred text emerged … and quite frankly, with respected to the Quran, I have only a limited understanding of that context (and there is plenty of fundamentalists proof texting on all sides to confuse the issue). To be clear, I do not speak any dialect of Arabic, nor do I have any depth in reading Quranic commentaries (with a passing exposure to the Hadiths). Quite frankly, the non-traditional organization of the Quran (by length instead of chronologically) make it even more susceptible to proof texting by proponents and opponents of the Muslim faith … so while I am not in a position to critique the accuracy of Jebara’s exposition on how the Quran can to be and how it should be interpreted, I had hoped that I might find a better appreciation for the text from an apologist and expert exegetist who has the background that I lack. I was not disappointed.

The book is organized in three (3) parts describing the environment into which the Quran was sent, how it was transmitted and received, and its evolution after the death of Muhammad, its principle recipient and herald. With a presumption that Jebara’s interpretations are correct, I found quite a lot to admire in professed purpose of the text, actually finding in it a lot of similarity to my own faith tradition … which is not too surprising given how much of that tradition is shared between the three (3) principle Abrahamic religions. One such shared focus in on that the author describes as a focus on “Blossoming” that has a direct correlation to the concept of “Flourishing” that I am more intimately familiar with. There is an expectation of ambiguity within the written archaic Arabic (without vowels) that permits multiple interpretations, a point supported by an anecdote where two students disagreed on a particular interpretation with Muhammad declaring that they were both correct. That makes it all the more heart breaking to see the state of relations between these faiths today that seems so far removed from the original intent of the revelations; in this case, the ambiguousness of the Arabic allowing certain fundamentalist interpretations for political purposes was briefly described in part III, but offers no specific critiques or solutions (despite some specific examples of where this form of error can be found today, the last 600 years or so of Islamic evolution is not covered at all).

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Part I: The Qur’an’s Roots
Chapter 1: DNA: Arabic Letters and Language
Chapter 2: Ancestry: Abrahamic Mindset
Chapter 3: Audience: Stagnant Seventh-Century Arabia

Part II: The Qur’an’s Growth
Chapter 4: Hanif: The Qur’an as Challenger and Awakener
Chapter 5: Muslim: The Qur’an Guiding Healing and repair
Chapter 6: Baqarah: The Qur’an Directing Lasting Impact

Part III: The Qur’an Legacy
Chapter 7: The Struggle for Custodianship
Chapter 8: The Race to Unlock the Qur’an’s Vision of Blossoming

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

Derived from the Arabic concept for separating strands of raw flax and weaving them into a garment, the discipline of Tafsir was developed by Muhammad to help make the Qur’an accessible and relevant to popular audiences. The field today comprises thousands of volumes of commentary aiming to assist readers in making sense of the Qur’an to help improve their lives.

Life-saving wisdom therefore needed to be passed down from one generation to another in a more permanent manner. In the Qur’anic account, Adam’s grandson Enoch invented writing and thus earned his moniker Idris—“the great scribe” (a parallel to Shakespeare’s moniker “the Bard”).

Imam: literally, “a guide out of a dark cave back to the light” (11:17 and 46:12);

Blindly inheriting idols reflected how polytheism froze critical thinking. A stone statue might be designed to appear awe-inspiring, but its inherent lack of physical dynamism signified a stagnant worldview. The Qur’an repeatedly invokes the Arabic term for idol—sanam—literally, “frozen in time.”

The English term “prophet” suggests someone foretelling the future, yet Semitic prophets are more focused on recovering a precious heritage in order to chart a better future. The Nabi, the Semitic term for prophet, describes an unlikely source of water bubbling up in an unexpected location, like a desert spring.

To help his two sons (and their own progeny) serve as guides who help others emerge from darkness, Abraham builds with each of them a special sanctuary. In Jerusalem, he and Isaac together construct a “masjid”—literally, “a place of re-grounding”—with a parallel masjid erected with Ishmael at Mecca.

The Qur’an calls Jesus Al-Masih, the Messiah—literally, “the anointed one” or “the one who wipes away injustice.” Rather than adopting the Jewish framing of the messiah as a political redeemer, the Qur’anic understanding of the messiah is a reformer anointed by God to revive the theory of Abraham and the structure of Moses.

Around 200 CE, rabbis began developing the Pirke Avot, a collection of wisdom literature, and the Mishnah (“study via repetition”), a compiled set of commentaries clarifying Biblical scripture. A century later, they expanded the effort to launch a mega-project compiling Jewish oral tradition into a grand work known as the Talmud (“instruction”).

The Qur’an does not hesitate to retell biblical incidents with modifications—or to introduce entirely new vignettes around iconic biblical figures. As a book purposely not constructed around a formal narrative, the Qur’an leverages these allusions primarily to emphasize a moral value rather than reveal an origin story.

To understand the Qur’an, therefore, requires knowing whom it addresses. While its wisdom may be timeless, it was not revealed in a vacuum, but rather in a particular social and historical context to a particular set of people, constantly adapting to its evolving audiences in seventh-century Arabia.

The city’s talisman was its central cubed shrine, called the Ka‘bah (“the Nexus”), which designated Mecca as the capital city of Arabia. Built by the patriarch Abraham, the shrine contained 360 devotional statues, one for each of Arabia’s major tribes.

To deepen its intimate relationship with Muhammad while simultaneously propelling him forward, the Qur’an began addressing him directly with the verbal command Qul! Typically translated merely as “say,” the highly nuanced directive conveys the need for visible action: “Emerge to publicly proclaim!” And not simply to speak, but to explain by demonstrating so everyone can hear and see. Qul embodies the opposite of retreating under blankets or stagnating in self-reflection.

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

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Thursday, March 28, 2024

Review: The Big Four

The Big Four The Big Four by Agatha Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: **
Performance: ****

A Departure from the Usual Fare

This story was originally published as 12 short stories for “The Sketch” magazine and latter cobbled together with an overarching plot based upon a cabal of “The Big Four” (4) uber villains bent on world domination … with the elusive Number Four (4) being an English master of disguise showing up in most of the stories. The other three (3) are a Chinese master mind, a French scientist and an American tycoon. Considering these were written at a time when the author was struggling to write, these were actually pretty good … if you are not a stickler for how Poirot was previously portrayed (the style here is less criminal detective and more international espionage similar to the famous Sherlock vs Moriarty matchup) … or if you don’t particularly like short stories (I actually find these classic detective stories well suited for the short story format). The benefit of the short format is that each part almost stands on its own with just the conspiracy of The Big Four tying it all together … the disadvantage is that there is very little discernible plot movement until the very end which feels a little forced and not really all that clever … making this story a fairly average classic (not her best work) that is actually made much better with the solid audible narration.

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, March 24, 2024

Review: Strange Religion: How the First Christians Were Weird, Dangerous, and Compelling

Strange Religion: How the First Christians Were Weird, Dangerous, and Compelling Strange Religion: How the First Christians Were Weird, Dangerous, and Compelling by Nijay K. Gupta
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Today it can be difficult to understand how disruptive and transformative Christianity was when it first made the scene, given ubiquitous it is in western society today. To truly get of good feel for this, you need to know the context from which Christianity emerged. Dr Gupta helps to provide a general treatment of that context in Strange Religion, highlighting both the common perception of how religion was supposed to work then as well as providing the striking contrasts of christian worship that made adherents to that way “weird.” The book is divided into four (4) parts that logically progress from what the ancients expected from their religion and how they practiced it, to what they believed and how they behaved and lived … and where each of these were different for Christians AND why that difference might be considered dangerous. There are a few quotes from scripture to help illustrate a particular point, but IMHO it stops short of actually using prooftexting (the quotes are part of the support and not the foundation). If anything, I thought in many cases the author didn’t delve deeply enough to provide any surprising incites, but provides an excellent introduction that should prove helpful to anyone interesting in interpreting christian scripture … especially the epistles of St Paul.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Introduction

Part 1 Becoming Christian
1. Roman Religion and the Pax Deorum: Keeping Peace with the Gods
2. “Believers”: The First Christians and the Transformation of Religion
3. A Dangerous and Strange Religion: Christianity as a Superstition

Part 2 What the First Christian Believed
4. Believing the Unbelievable
5. Cult without Smoke and Blood: Strange Worship
6. Possessed by the Spirit of God
7. Beginning at the End of All Things: A Strange Reckoning of Time

Part 3 How the First Christians Worshiped
8. A House of Faith: The Family Practices of the Early Christians
9. A Priest-God and a Priestly People: Church as a Liturgical Community

Part 4 How the First Christians Lived
10. Dangerous Contact: Becoming Godlike
11. To Treat Allas Equal
12. The Christians Were Not Perfect

Strange Religion: Putting It All Together

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:
Ancient worshipers were generally not looking for nirvana or inner peace. They weren’t obsessed with heaven or the afterlife. They believed that the welfare of persons, families, and civilizations depended on the goodwill and favor of Mount Olympus. Humans offered the gods their sacrifices, prayers, respect, and devotion, and the gods graced them with health, safety, and sometimes wealth. This became a circle of benefaction.
In Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, he comments that four specialists were assigned to provide triple-check accuracy when it came to religious rituals. One person would read the ritual formula out loud, another would perform the ritual, a third would be an observer to ensure perfect execution, and a fourth would be present to enforce silence.
About four hundred years earlier, Socrates was put on trial in the very same city, Athens, under the accusation that he corrupted the city’s youth with his teaching, was impious toward the protective deities of the city, and taught about new and strange gods.
A foreign cult coming into Roman territory could help prove itself as beneficial to the pax deorum if it was ancient and storied, supported by a long history of divine-human cooperation.
In 81 BCE, the Romans sought to punish purveyors of magical rites with the most severe repercussions. The Cornelian Law of Assassins (and Poisoners) explicitly condemned sorcerers and magicians to death by crucifixion or by being thrown to wild beasts. Any spell books had to be burned and the owners either exiled (if they were noblemen) or executed (if they were commoners).
Now, Christians were like Jews in the sense that they emerged out of Jewish religious concepts and practices. But one of the unique dynamics of early Christianity was that this group of people was not an identifiable ethnic group. Jews had a common heritage, land, and national history.
When the Romans were about to besiege a foreign city, they would perform a ritual known as evocatio (“calling forth”). Here, the Roman leader would stand at a distance from the city and invite the local patron deity to transfer their allegiance from the city to Rome. 
Worship (homage, prostration) is about power. It is about recognizing and reinforcing a hierarchy in the world. Let’s briefly look at the key Greek words that we can translate as “worship.” Proskuneō: to revere (most common) Latreuō: to worship (assuming a cultic context, service toward a god) Sebomai: to revere (popular in pagan literature) Douleuō: to submit to, serve a master. 
Roman religion was not about being “formed,” molded in the moral likeness of the gods. Roman religion was primarily about benefiting from what the gods could offer while at the same time avoiding any offense against them. 
But one scholar, Greg Beale, argues that this might be a kind of both/and wordplay. While the Israelites were at the bottom of the mountain worshiping a golden calf, with horns, Moses was in the presence of God, absorbing his divine radiance. Moses was becoming like God, shining with divine glory, while the people were becoming primitive like their idol. 
For example, Greek travel writer Pausanias recounts the story of a famous Greek athlete named Theagenes. After this hero died, his family had a bronze statue made to honor his life. Theagenes had a particular enemy who wanted to get back at him and did so by beating the statue. According to Pausanias, the statue fought back and killed the man. (Wait, it gets weirder.) The children of the murdered man took the statue to court. The court found it guilty and mandated a punishment of exile. 
The Holy Spirit gives for the good. Another clear distinctive of the Holy Spirit’s work is that it is all for the good. While most people at the time believed that the cosmos was populated by all manner of spirits, powers, ghosts, and phantasms, good and evil, vying for power, Christians believed that this one great Spirit of spirits is gracious and gives only to bless and build up. The Holy Spirit cannot be manipulated or channeled to harm. 
On average, Romans observed about four festivals a month. This is ironic because they often accused Jews of being lazy for taking a day off per week for their Sabbath observance while they themselves took off almost the same number of days per year. 
If religion was everything, then everything would be shaped by the will and the ways of the gods. If the gods didn’t care about mortals, then that would reflect on the value of humanity. And we have also seen that worshipers naturally emulate their gods (and, ironically, they end up creating gods in their own image). The bottom line is this: the behavior of the gods becomes the behavior of the humans; they are teachers and “lifestyle influencers,” whether they want to be or not.
I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Thursday, March 21, 2024

Review: METAL

METAL METAL by J.F. Lawrence
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: **
Performance: ****

An Apocalyptic Military Fantasy

What happens if 7 of the most critical metals suddenly “rust” into nothing but “ash?” It was an interesting premise and the author infers that the story is based upon actual science … so let get this out of the way up front. The science doesn’t work like that; but it is the details of the science that trip up the plot, so it was relatively easy to give it a pass. What remains is a fairly decent military fantasy as the MC drives the almost non-stop action toward overcoming the contagion unleashed by a bioterrorist looking to “reset” humanity. The the primary plot is to figure out what the disease actually are (with a few head fakes thrown in) and then engineer a solution to save a world that has already burned down around them? Don't think about that too hard, you'll get a cramp. There is of course the requisite “hot” female spec ops character that drives this rather typical male fantasy, along with a few supporting characters to make this a character driven story … which also means we get a fair amount of navel gazing by the MC … but not enough to actually derail the fun. Unfortunately for me the low brow humor and 'good ole boy' euphemisms does get a bit old by the end. Still, with 14 hours of near nonstop action it’s worth a listen.

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, March 17, 2024

Review: Wisdom of Solomon: (A Catholic Bible Commentary on the New Testament by Trusted Catholic Biblical Scholars - CCSS)

Wisdom of Solomon: (A Catholic Bible Commentary on the New Testament by Trusted Catholic Biblical Scholars - CCSS) Wisdom of Solomon: (A Catholic Bible Commentary on the New Testament by Trusted Catholic Biblical Scholars - CCSS) by Mark Giszczak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a Catholic commentary on the [apocryphal] Book of Wisdom [of Solomon], which is organized on the three parts of the scripture: The Book of Eschatology, The Book of Wisdom and the Book of History. This is preceded by an extensive Introduction covering the history, structure and form of this scripture (with a summary of important connections with the New Testament). Each part is further divided into pericopes with references to the Old Testament, New Testament, Catechism and Lectionary (where applicable) before a brief summary and verse by verse [roughly] commentary. Where possible (as cited in the Introduction) there is a reflection/application or a discussion on the connections with the Gospel/New Testament to end a section. The commentary itself is fairly straight forward with few surprises, but it does a decent job of providing context as well as textual analysis. The Book of Wisdom is not really something a lot of folks spent much time on; probably why there were not a lot of commentaries for it … so given all that we get here along with the excellent organization, this work gets top marks.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Part 1. Life and Death (1:1-6-21)
- Love Righteousness (1:1-15)
- Ungodly Reasoning Wisdom (1:16-2:24)
- The Just and the Unjust Wisdom (3:1-4:20)
- The Judgement of the Ungodly and the Reward of the Righteous (5:1-23)
- Honor Wisdom (6:1-21)
Part 2. Solomon’s Pursuit of Wisdom (6:22-9:18)
- Solomon’s Quest for Wisdom (6:22-8:1)
- Solomon’s Love for Wisdom (8:2-21)
- Solomon’s Prayer for Wisdom (9:1-18)
Part 3. Book of History (10:1-19:22)
- Prologue: Wisdom from Adam to Moses (10:1-21)
- Water from the Rock versus River of Blood (11:1-14)
- Excursus: God’s Mercy toward Egyptians and Canaanites (11:15-12:27)
- Excursus: Against Idol Worship (13:1-15:19)
- Unappetizing Animals versus Delicious Quail (16:1-4)
- Lethal Creatures versus Saving Bronze Serpent (16:5-14)
- Storms of Wrath versus Manna from Heaven (16:15-29)
- Plague of Darkness versus Pillar of Light (17:1-18:4)
- Death of the Firstborn versus Israel’s Deliverance from Death (18:5-25)
- Drowning in the Sea versus Being Saved by the Sea (19:1-9)
- Epilogue: Summary and Doxology (19:10-22)

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

In its essence, wisdom has three distinct yet related meanings: (1) God’s perfect knowledge, (2) the knowledge of causes that human beings can come to possess, and (3) the habitual seeking of knowledge with integrity of heart.

Since the Wisdom of Solomon owes a debt to Greek philosophy, it contains many unique doctrinal perspectives that are only latent in the other books of the Old Testament. These ideas resurface in the New Testament and are incorporated into Christian teaching.

The Wisdom of Solomon stands at the very end of the Old Testament era and on the cusp of the New. It is the last Old Testament book to be written. Its meditation on salvation history allows us to take a deep breath and look back on the Old Testament before proceeding to the New.

Building on the imagery of Isa 59:16–17, the author describes the Lord putting on battle armor to mete out punishment on the ungodly. Each piece of armor is given a metaphorical meaning: the armor is zeal; the breastplate is righteousness; the helmet is justice (Greek krisis, “judgment”); the shield is holiness; and the sword is wrath.

Wisdom will grant Solomon not only virtue or honor but two kinds of †immortality—a personal immortality of the soul, as presented earlier (1:15; 3:1, 4; 4:1), and an everlasting remembrance, in which his memory will be held in honor by those who come after him (compare Sir 39:9–11).

The final verse of the prayer highlights the powerful effects of wisdom: (1) setting right one’s path—giving humans a sure route to living for God; (2) teaching humanity—likely a reference to the law of Moses; and (3) saving humanity. James Reese explains that “Lady Wisdom is a personification of God’s saving grace at work in the world.”

The idea corresponds to the wider biblical theology of retribution, that “those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:8). Wisdom’s view of retribution also corresponds to the legal version of this concept, the so-called lex talionis, the “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Exod 21:24), wherein legal penalties are designed to be proportionate and befitting.

Though Wisdom teaches that God’s immortal spirit is in all things, it does not teach †pantheism (that concept that the universe is God), but rather it reasserts the biblical teaching that the “breath of life” that sustains all creatures comes from God (Gen 2:7; Job 27:3; Ps 104:29–30; Eccles 12:7).

Wisdom counters that God did not want to hurt them but wanted to save them. The bronze serpent then was not an animal idol (although some Israelites later treated it as one, 2 Kings 18:4) but a token of deliverance or “sign of salvation” (Wis 16:6 NABRE).

Instead of receiving the Hebrews as honored guests, they enslaved them. To explain how terrible their wicked acts are, the author compares them to others, the despicable men of Sodom (Gen 19:1–11), a biblical comparison for emphasizing the gravity of a sin (Lam 4:6; Matt 10:15).

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

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Thursday, March 14, 2024

Review: Day After Infinity

Day After Infinity Day After Infinity by J.F. Lawrence
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: ****

Welcome to the Ryanverse

By the author’s own admission, this story was inspired by Taylor’s Bobiverse series … in fact, it was perhaps too derivative to stand on its own merits. Instead of a human consciousness downloaded into a virtual environment … the author keeps the meat sack and adds a rather irritating AI whose sarcastic humor was generally hit or miss for me. Add in a few nanites and the ability to clone so that you can ignore the inherent human frailties and you are ready to pilot your very own von Neumann probe that gives us our very own Theseus Boat debate … which seems silly when you consider how often cells replicate and die within the human body.

Regardless, the story opens in a quasi-dystopian future after an apocalyptic AI war where the MC (Ryan) basically sells himself to one of three (3) interstellar colony projects headed to Tau Ceti. Apparently, as a result of his previous stint as a medical experimental subject perfecting the cryofreeze tech, his nanites (controlled by his secondhand AI riding shotgun in his head) are super effective in regenerating damaged tissue (aka regeneration factor), making him a near perfect candidate to be a “failsafe” or backup crew member, despite his lowly status, young age and humble beginnings (because picking on the underdog is a tried and true method of building an empathic connection to the MC). What follows is a virtual torture fantasy i(aka training simulations) that is primary designed to show how tough Ryan is (and slowly “upgrade” his human parts until he becomes the Borg and foreshadow his future) making the first half a very slow start.

We come back to the Bobiverse plot in the second half and Murphy makes sure Ryan must pick up his role as a failsafe … and some of the science inconsistencies become more obvious … but as the action ramps if it is also easier to ignore them. This is also where we reintroduce the bad guy … a rogue/insane AI (come on … you had to see this coming right? ref the Ai war and the Bobiverse? There are a few interesting twists as the story follows what by now should be a fairly predictable plot so it was the narration that actually kept it entertaining (and where the frat boy AI … called AL … calmed down enough to be less aggravating). Of course … the emotional drama ramps up as well in order to make the finale pull on heartstrings … and hide the plot holes that would otherwise had be large enough to drive a truck through. For those who miss the Bobiverse, this is a fun diversion.

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, March 10, 2024

Review: Holy Hell: A Case against Eternal Damnation

Holy Hell: A Case against Eternal Damnation Holy Hell: A Case against Eternal Damnation by Derek Ryan Kubilus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second book that I have read recently that tries to present the case for universalism (all are saved). Unlike the first, which seemed to be drive more by frustration, anger and anxiety … this one was well reasoned and calm … primarily focused on the Love of God and what that should mean for us. So let’s get this out of the way first …

1) I am not a universalist.
2) I would love to be wrong.

The author makes some compelling points about the incompatibility of a loving God and the eternal torment of Hell … an idea that could be has never set easily with me. To make these points, the author combs through scripture to highlight where exegesis/interpretation was perhaps more ambiguous that commonly believed … and that approaching them from the viewpoint of the universal love of The Father should coach us more toward a universal concept than an exclusive or selective interpretation … including an in depth look at the nuances of the Kone Greek that helps support a position of universal salvation. The author also discusses why this can be difficult for people to accept … imagine salvation for the likes of Hitler or other historical monsters. We just seem to have this internal need to see evil punished simply for the sake of justice … and this is actually not very Christ like. All told, this is a book that I will need to continually come back to and reflect on each point … and hopefully continue to deepen my own understanding and faith even if I can’t always [completely] accept some of what I find here. After all … one of the guiding principles about funeral homilies that I was taught is that we (the Church), should never place the departed in either Heaven or Hell … but to trust in the mercy of our loving God to hold our loved ones as dearly as we do ourselves.

The chapters and sections in this work are:
Chapter 1 - Haunted by Hell
Chapter 2 - What We Talk About When We Talk About Hell
Chapter 3 - A Hell By Any Other Name
Chapter 4 - A Paddle In The Hands Of An Angry God
Chapter 5 - Breaking Out Of Baby Jail
Chapter 6 - The Bureaucracy Of The Afterlife
Chapter 7 - The Great Work
Chapter 8 - Protestant Purgatory
Chapter 9 - The Circles We Draw
Chapter 10 - Kicking And Screaming
Chapter 11 - A Generous Heresy

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

It seems that ever since her founding, the church in every age and place has secretly relied on a pernicious, unstated, but almost universal fallacy: the idea that the authority of our leaders is directly proportional to the amount of certainty they can project.

By definition, an everlasting hell neither heals nor teaches. That’s actually the express purpose of this version of hell: that no reform is possible, that the debt can never be repaid. The pain of hell is specifically unredemptive. Rather, the pain exists for its own sake; its only intended purpose is to be felt by the one who is suffering forever and ever.

Whenever we pick up the Bible, read it, put it down and say, “That’s just what I thought,” we are probably in trouble.—Ellen F. Davis, The Art of Reading Scripture

It has become so common and overused that few of us really know what it means anymore. Yet any goldsmith or metallurgist worth their salt would know immediately what the term means and why it has nothing to do with eternal torture. “Fire and brimstone” is an idiom that refers to purification. To be exact, it references the refinement of gold or other precious metals.

A harrow is a heavy rake that is used to “distress” a field. A farmer drags it over their soil to break up the dirt and remove any rocks or roots that might get in the way of the plow. Some people use harrows to glean, to pick up any produce that the harvest left behind. “Harrow” is also an idiom. To “harrow” a person is to distress them, to shake them up. To “harrow” a city or a region is to lay siege to it, to invade with an overwhelming force. Likewise, the Harrowing of Hell was said to be when Christ laid siege to hell itself, shaking its gates, terrifying its devils, and gleaning lost souls.

“When you hear of sepulchres, do not think only of visible ones; your own heart is a sepulchre and a tomb. . . . Are you, yourself, not a Hell, a tomb, a sepulchre, a dead man toward God? . . . Well, then, the Lord comes into souls that seek after him, into the depths of the heart-Hell, and there he lays his command upon death, saying, ‘Bring out the imprisoned souls that are seeking after me!’”

If you read other Greek literature of the time, it becomes clear that aiōnios has never meant “eternal” as in “the forward advancement of time into infinity.”2 In its most literal sense, the word means “of the age” or “of the eon.”3 (We can still hear the shadows of this original meaning in some traditional Christian prayers that end with the line “unto the ages of ages. Amen.”) There is another Greek word, aidios, that really does mean eternal as we think of it, but that is not the word that is used here or anyplace else in the New Testament where punishment in the afterlife is concerned.

Kolasis, the Greek word for “punishment,” is primarily a horticultural term used in gardening, orchard keeping, and vine dressing. The most fundamental translation of the word is “pruning,” and it was only used by way of analogy to represent the punishment of a person. Just as a tree or a vine must be pruned in order to produce fruit more efficiently, so a person must suffer a kind of pruning for the sake of their own fruit.

However, there are two mistakes we can make here. The first is to imagine that the people who are outside of our circle don’t deserve our love, care, or attention, whether it’s because of something they’ve done, someplace they’re from, or just who they are. The second is to imagine that they don’t deserve God’s love, or that they are outside of God’s circle, for those same reasons.

Apokatastasis isn’t just about putting something back where it was; it’s about putting something back where it’s supposed to be. It’s not just a return to a previous state but a return to a rightful state, the state that it was supposed to have been in all along.

To be fair, the Greek word that is usually translated as “tormented,” basanizō, is used elsewhere as a synonym for torture or torment, as one might do to extract information from an enemy, but even that is a kind of linguistic analogy. The most fundamental meaning of the word is, again, metallurgical. It is the word for testing a substance against a touchstone to see whether it is gold.

To be a Christian universalist is not merely to believe that we are saved from hell itself—indeed, we all may experience something of the purgative flames of Gehenna—but it is also to believe that we are saved from the dread of hell, the dread we might feel on our own behalf and, indeed, the dread we might feel for the whole human race.

The first thing that clergy and other leaders can do immediately is to stop using hell as the default translation for words like Gehenna, Sheol, and Hades. By swapping in the original Greek or Hebrew word, we can introduce nuance to our sermons and Bible studies and elicit questions for further discussion.

We wonder why the reputation of our religion is so bad while we bend ourselves over backward trying to find ways to make the case that either (a) God hates some people so much that God tortures them forever and ever or (b) God is somehow so disinterested in humanity that God would allow us to stumble into hell the same way a child might stumble into traffic.

For us, the salvation of an individual soul will never be an emergency. That means we will never be tempted to compromise the ethics of Christ for the goal of creating more Christ followers. It means that we would rather allow someone to pass through this life rejecting Jesus than become the reason that they reject him.

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

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Thursday, March 7, 2024

Review: THE MAN WHO SAVED THE UNIVERSE [THE ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY MAYHEM #1]

THE MAN WHO SAVED THE UNIVERSE [THE ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY MAYHEM #1] THE MAN WHO SAVED THE UNIVERSE [THE ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY MAYHEM #1] by C.H. Thames
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Performance: ***

My Name is Mayhem: * (78m)
They Sent a Boy: *** (56m)
The Burning Man: *** (53m)

Here we get the first three (3) short stories from the Johnny Mayhem pulp sci-fi sage originally published in Amazing Stories in the mid 1950s. As might be expected, the science has not aged well and the short story format doesn’t allow for much world building and/or character development … so the focus of the first story is basically our introduction to who is Johnny Mayhem … and after listening, I find it almost impossible to see how such an inept operative ever became a “legend.” Sure … there is the obvious mystery of a body hopping assassin (a la quantum leap) working to bring law and order to galactic chaos, all while fighting against a mysterious mind controlling alien (and yes … I see the oxymoronic plot here and yes, I understand this is pulp fiction, so it is supposed to be ridiculous). As a fan of old radio theatre broadcasts … there was so much nostalgia potential here that I jumped at the opportunity to preview the audible ...

I was disappointed. While the narration was decent/okay, it was not anywhere close to the quality of the old-timey radio shows; which quite frankly is the primary reason to listen to them. Missing that, the problems with the stories themselves were often difficult to overlook. After the first story … this was almost a DNF. Fortunately the new story was much better and more inline with what I was expecting when Mayhem jumps into the body of a young boy (complicating his assignment). The final short takes Mayhem into a prison on Mercury and was also fun and taken with the second, saved this book.

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, March 3, 2024

Review: Hell? No!: Why You Can Be Certain There Is No Such Place As Hell

Hell? No!: Why You Can Be Certain There Is No Such Place As Hell Hell? No!: Why You Can Be Certain There Is No Such Place As Hell by Rick Lannoye
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: ***

An Ironic Tilt at Christian Neo-Fundamentalists

Neo-fundamentalists are rather famously known for their literal reading of select portions of scripture … which is exactly what happens here as well, just with a different selection. While I am very sympathetic to the concept here, the author’s support becomes problematic by the use of poor academic research and questionable exegesis. For example, in attempt to highlight the influence of Persian Zoroastrianism, we get a complete erroneous connection between the term and the word Farsi (aka Persian) … when in fact, it is known to be related to the Hebrew pārūš which is commonly interpreted as pious or separate. Then we get an introduction to Sheol, the early Hebrew concept of death and/or the grave, having two levels or compartments … a concept that was only developed in the apocalyptic literature of the late Second Temple period (circa 200 BCE) showing the author has a tenuous grasp of how such concept actually evolve over time. In fact, the Book of Enoch divides Sheol into four levels … but this was conveniently ignored by the author. However, despite all of that, there is some truth behind the idea that the Jewish understanding of Sheol development through some syncretism with other world-views (such as Greek and Persian). In addition, there is no effort to actually separate potential legend/myth with actual practice … which is painfully clear in the treatment of Gehenna and its association with the tophet (of which there is no archaeological support in or around Jerusalem … which includes the valley of Hinnom). To be fair … a lot of the basic facts appear to be accurate, with just some of the minor details slightly off …

The problem here is that Christianity is an incredibly diverse religion, so using neo-fundamentalists as a proxy is just lazy and allows the author to completely ignore the centuries of tradition and debate within the early Church that actually does address many of these questions … in fact, even when some of these beliefs are referenced in his straw man arguments, they are so incredibly erroneous (ref: Limbo et al) that it is not surprising that any conclusions are based upon faulty theology … and this is extremely sad because many of the questions raised are good ones. This is all exacerbated by an extremely sarcastic (at times even mocking) and antagonistic presentation that is highly likely to put many readers immediately on the defensive. Frankly he ascribes way too much conspiracy level credit to the motivations of christian clergy to be taken seriously.

Finally … the narrative was often awkward and even irritating (with some incorrect pronunciations and slurred enunciation), making it difficult to dispassionately evaluate some of the silly antics and fallacies presented (IOW I was ROFLOL … a lot :-).

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Introduction (12:58)
Chapter 1 - Where Did Hell Come From? (1:35:40)
Chapter 2 - Why Heaven is Impossible If There is a Hell (59:19)
Chapter 3 - Did Jesus Believe in Hell? (1:19:03)
Chapter 3b - Did Jesus Believe in Hell? Part B (1:16:23)
Chapter 4 - Is Hell Necessary for the Sake of Justice? (56:59)
Chapter 5 - Why Didn’t God Keep Hell a Secret? (3:41)
Chapter 6 - Why Pascal Didn’t Wager for Ammit? (28:26)
Chapter 7 - What Evangelization Would Be Like Without Hell (10:52)
Chapter 8 - Why Hell Retards Morality (35:05)
Chapter 9 - The Day of Judgement (47:09)

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

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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Review: The Secret of Scripture

The Secret of Scripture The Secret of Scripture by Felix Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: ****

A History Book Disguised as a Mystery

This is the second of the series following The Secret of Heaven; however, it can be read by itself (just don’t think too hard about any of it).

Preach Brother … This book is a historical conspiracy wrapped in a mystery presented through pontificating data dumps thinly veiled as dialog. There is no doubt that a lot of research went into this story; unfortunately the author seems compelled to beat the reader about the head and shoulders with all of it. The plot itself revolves around a murder of a mathematics professor on the eve of a tech conference in Tel Aviv … and apparently sets in motion events that are designed to bring about the fall of the Zionist State of Israel. While a fair amount of the information presented was accurate (more of less), there was little to no nuance and/or context presented with it, allowing the author to weave an entertaining, if improbable, conspiracy that subscribes to a number of obscure and mostly heretical interpretations (you have been warned). With historical and scriptural interpretations designed to titillate more than to inform (much like National Treasure and The Da Vinci Code), it can be fun to play with these "what if" concepts so long as you don’t take anything at face value. Of course … with all of this exposition, the plot moves at a glacial pace that is mostly saved by an excellent audio performance. With an awesome array of character voices and near perfect delivery, the only [minor] critique I would raise about the narration simply highlights some imaginative pronunciations that didn’t conform to the more conventional forms that I am familiar with … but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment at all.

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, February 25, 2024

Review: Bible and Reconciliation: Confession, Repentance, and Restoration

Bible and Reconciliation: Confession, Repentance, and Restoration Bible and Reconciliation: Confession, Repentance, and Restoration by James B. Protho
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It can be argued that the whole concept of sin and forgiveness is a founding principle to the Christian faith. In this installment of the “ Catholic Biblical Theology of the Sacraments” series, the primary focus here is where this pattern is found within the Christian Holy Scripture, with the principle target audience being Catholics of the Latin Rite where the Sacrament of Reconciliation is an important element. Beginning with the Old Testament, we examine how the concept of how the People of God (aka [Proto]-Israelites) turn away from God (aka sin), suffer consequences (sometimes seen as punishment), repent or turn back to God and finally reconcile with God’s forgiving mercy. The second half of the book looks at this pattern in the New Testament, were reconciliation is less communal and more personal or individual. It is repeated enough in both cases that there is now real doubt about what this cycle is or how it works …

Where the book stretches and is less convincing, is the need to have a human mediator of reconciliation (aka priest absolution) where the author primarily looks at the power of the Apostles, and ultimately the church authority, was created to power to bind and loose on earth and translating that as giving them exclusive authority to do so. This approach is unlikely to have the same interpretation outside the Catholic Church … and I think this may be a missed opportunity. There is a very brief discussion about traditions within the early church where sins were confessed to the whole community. There is another very brief sentence that explained that as the severity of penance was reduced/relaxed, the concept of confession and reconciliation was expanded to less serious sins (aka venial sins). That whole hierarchy os sins and what can be reconciled by the individual and what needs a mediator is frequently misunderstood by non-Catholics … and I was hoping for more on that (despite the Title limiting the discussion to the Bible). That makes this a solid book for what it was designed to do, I just wish it had done more.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

1. Confession and Reconciliation An Encounter with Divine Mercy
2. Sin, Mercy, and Promise Foundations in Genesis 1–11
3. Mercy, Penalty, and Mediation The Patriarchs and the Exodus
4. Rebuke and Promise for Israel Kings and Prophets
5. Confession, Restoration, and Penance Psalms and Sages
6. Confessing in Hope, Awaiting the Messiah
7. Jesus and the Mission of Restoration
8. Christ, the Spirit, and the Ministry of Forgiveness
9. Be Reconciled to God! Sin and Restoration in the Pauline Letters
10. Growing in Christ, Confessing in Hope The Catholic Epistles and Revelation
11. The Manifold Mercy of God

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:
Our rational soul is not undone by sin, though sin darkens natural reason and “weakens” and even “saps” the will’s capabilities. Many distinguish the rational soul as the divine image and God’s likeness as our actual state of embodying divine attributes.

God’s mercy is enacted for the world through the death and resurrection of Christ, a singular event at a particular place and time in the world’s history, but one whose saving power is limitless, paying the ransom for every soul past, present, and future. Yet to individual souls this gift must be mediated and received through other humans.

Generally, since Scripture speaks of various acts like fasting, almsgiving, forgiveness, and prayer obtaining rewards or being acceptable offerings to remit sins (e.g., Ps. 51:17; Sir. 3:30; Matt. 6:14; Luke 11:41), only grave sins—particularly murder, apostasy, and adultery—were brought to the Church as requiring sacramental penance and reconciliation.

As penances began, in many places, to become less arduous, and as the medicinal value of the sacrament became recognized to heal and strengthen Christians in the fight against sin, the broader value of sacramental reconciliation became recognized not only as the bishop’s task to address grave sin but also as part of the priest’s ministry to treat venial sins.

In the sacrament of reconciliation, too, Christians must humble ourselves to confess and name our sins and to be willing to accept a penance as we receive God’s forgiveness. But we do it because we believe and hope in the God who reconciles us in Jesus Christ and speaks to us through his mediators.

Confession is not a request for a mere “clean slate,” but a petition to be admitted to a restored and ongoing relationship with God. This is God’s goal in rebuking sin: to reconcile us to walk anew in his friendship. This is what psalmists want when they confess and express contrition. The assignment of penance by a priest builds this aspect of renewed relationship into the rite of reconciliation.

Like Job, Tobit laments his life and prays for death (Tob. 3:6). Unlike Job, he holds God to be righteous over against Israel and even against himself, even for unintentional sins.149 Tobit is a model of the penitent piety encouraged in the exilic and postexilic periods.

The apostles also have to use their authority to bind and loose in governing the Church and dealing with disputes and sin. They do so in deciding to appoint deacons under them to manage the affairs of the Church and communal distribution when their tasks become unmanageable (Acts 6:1–6). They do so in their teaching and governance, determining the Church’s practice in the case of Gentile (non-Jewish) converts and whether they should be required to undergo circumcision and adopt Mosaic purity customs.

Awareness of one’s sins, of how far one has “fallen,” is important to repentance (Rev. 2:5). Self-examination is a part of developing self-control, diagnosing ourselves so that we can see more clearly how to repent and grow in virtue or what graces to pray for.
I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook 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.