Friday, June 29, 2007

Book Review: Skin

Ted Dekker has to be one of the best Christian novelists today and his intriguing, suspenseful thriller, Skin, lives up to his reputation. Three terrifying tornados drive a group of people together who get caught up in the manipulations of a serial killer. The group all seem to have something in common but are not sure what that is. The killer is extremely clever and seems to be ahead of their every move to escape. I won't say much more because the suspense builds and the reasons for the circumstances of the group are revealed slowly making the book a pleasure to read. It has some very profound underlying spiritual themes and leaves some provocative things to think about when it is all done. Get it and read it if you like a good thriller with thought provoking themes! It will have you on the edge of your seat as well as stretch your mind.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Movie Review: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

I caught a movie here in London last night - Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. It's a fun movie with the usual good vs evil plot line along with some great special effects.

Silver Surfer started out a bit woodenly with the actors delivering their lines in a somewhat contrived fashion as if they were trying a bit too hard to make rather thin dialogue work. But after awhile they settle into their roles in a completely predictable plot that is never mind stretching in the least.

The silver surfer is an alien that has come to earth to destroy it and, of course, the Fantastic Four have to save the planet. This time, though, the threat is so bad they are required to work with an old enemy if they are going to succeed - which brings its own problems.

Silver Surfer is a reasonably enjoyable yarn if you approach it with low expectations and it is lifted a little with its themes of accepting one's uniqueness and working with it rather than trying to be something different. But that message is getting a bit worn now - everyone seems to want to make it. The action is good and the surfer is pretty cool!

My Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)

Positive Review

'It's almost a surprise that the sequel is actually better - much better - than the original.' - Jack Mathews/New York Daily News

Negative Review

'Surely the dullest of Hollywood's many comic-book-derived summer movies, "Silver Surfer" is drearier than corn dying in the Iowa sun, slower than molasses in Antarctica.' - Stephen Hunter/Washington Post

Content Advice

Sequences of action violence, some mild language and innuendo


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Book Review: The Sea of Trolls

Here's a delightful book for 12-16 year olds - Nancy Farmer's The Sea of Trolls. Set in the Holy Isle post-738 C after the raid, by the Vikings, of the island of Lindisfarne. Lindisfarne was founded in 635 CE by a group of monks and became a centre of scholarship and art. The famous Lindisfarne Bible was a product of this community. Nancy Farmer has produced an engaging historical fantasy based on what happened following the attack on the community by Vikings in 738 - the beginning of 200 years of Viking raids on the British Isles. The story is about Jack, a farm boy who becomes an apprentice bard to a mysterious character who seems to have magical powers. But Jack and his sister are captured by a Viking chief and go on a thrilling adventure that tests their ability to survive. Jack and his sister are separated and Jack, using his immature magical powers as a new bard, accidentally casts a terrible spell on an evil half-troll queen. He is banished to the kingdom of the trolls to find a magical well from which he needs to drink in order to find out how to undo the curse and get his sister back from the evil queen. At the back of the book, Farmer has included some historical detail about the period she is writing about, including the myths and legends of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden that pervade the narrative. This includes one of the hypothesised origins of the Jack and Jill rhyme we all know so well. Farmer writes as though this particular hypothesis is the only one, but there are many (check out the Wikipedia for more possibilities). One of the interesting things about The Sea of Trolls is its frequent reference to Christian beliefs in comparison to the pagan beliefs of the era. This was a time when Christianity coexisted with paganism and Farmer does a good job in subtly referring to the existence of the Christian belief system - much of it as fantastic as the paganism with which it is compared! At the heart of the story is a warning of the danger of being imprisoned by our own belief systems and expectations, unwilling to venture outside of them and, thus, remain ignorant and unchallenged. At the end of the story, the Bard who apprenticed Jack, in response to the disbelief that people had to the stories of Jack's adventures, says:
Don't be angry ... Most people live inside a cage of their own expectations. It makes them feel safe. The world's a frightening place full of glory and wonder and, as we've both discovered, danger. Flying isn't for everyone.

This comment speaks to the tendency we all have to create cages of our own that protect us from anything different or new. It is the cause of much fundamentalism and sectarianism. As Christians, we need to take the risk of "flying" and facing the dangers and glories of reality even if it means having to modify what we believe or expect.

The Sea of Trolls is a thoroughly enjoyable yarn that is highly informative about times and places that existed long ago but still have an influence on the way we think today. It should provide lots of opportunities for parents and teachers to discuss religious belief, myths and legends, friendship and loyalty, the relationship of humans to nature, and the history of the time and place. I thank my teenage daughter for recommending it to me!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Book Review: Nineteen Minutes

Jodi Picoult is back in her 14th bestselling novel, Nineteen Minutes, with a compelling story set in a small town following an horrific school shooting.

The nineteen minutes refers to the time that Peter, a student at Sterling High School, takes to move through his school killing and injuring a large number of students, sending shockwaves through the community. In a narrative alternating between 17 years earlier and the time following the shooting leading up to the trial, Picoult peels away layer after layer so that we come to understand how the shooting took place. In doing so, we are taken on the inner journey of the main characters so that we understand how, over many years, the horror of that nineteen minutes was in the making.

Jodi Picoult is a brilliant writer and, after a slight hiatus with her last novel, returns to her old form with a story that is as contemporary as today’s headlines. Grappling with major themes of justice, power, and the pain of being different, the story winds its way to the inevitable day and its sequel in court where a devastating finale will take your breath away. Nineteen Minutes is a story with extraordinary depth and power.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Book Review: Frequently Avoided Questions

Frequently Avoided Questions: An Uncensored Dialogue on FaithHave you ever asked any of the following questions:
  • Why the Bible?
  • Do I have to go to church?
  • Do I have to sell God?
  • Can Christianity be reduced to steps or stages?
  • Does God speak outside the Bible?
  • Is forgiveness real?
  • What makes the Christian experience unique?
  • Are Christians the morality police?
  • Do good people go to hell?
  • Does the Bible contradict evolution?
  • Am I supposed to hate the world?
  • Are there gay Christians?
  • Is it wrong to take a job in a bar?
  • Where is your God?
These are tough questions that many Christians would rather avoid - and they want to avoid the answers even more! Well... two authors, Chuck Smith Jr and Matt Whitlock have decided they have to be tackled if Christianity is going to be an authentic faith in contemporary society. They have written an excellent little book entitled Frequently Avoided Questions: An Uncensored Dialogue on Faith. Matt Whitlock works with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) and has traveled the world and gotten to know people living in the thick of real life. Chuck Smith has been a pastor of a church for more than 30 years. They are from different generations and decided to team up to write this book. Each chapter in the book tackles one of the questions above. Matt shares a story from his own experience that raises the question under consideration along with a host of other related ones. Then Chuck responds with a respectful, reflective, reality-based response that tries to do justice to the biblical text. In the process, what we often take for granted about the Bible, and the alleged answers it provides, is put under a magnifying glass and we discover that some of the answers to the questions we ask are surprising and yet biblical. And there is a lot of things we think we understand that need refining or abandoning. The central theme of the book is that there are two "schools" or approaches to religion/Christianity available in our contemporary world and within Christianity itself - the "old school" and the "new school". They explain these terms in the following way:
By "old school" we do not mean liberalism, fundamentalism, or evangelicalism but rather a set of specific attitudes, beliefs, and practices--and the subcultures in which they thrive--that emerged in the modern era and were defined by modern concerns. We use "old school" to refer to a conceptual mode of what is no longer an accurate representation of the biblical God within popular culture and "new school" to refer to the ideal solution based on Scripture. Our objective is to emphasize the importance of abandoning old-school errors, which most devout Christians agree needs to be done, and live out the new school implications. (pp. 11-12)
Frequently Avoided Questions is a thoughtful, challenging, refreshing look at a range of questions that trouble people. There are some surprises in this book for everyone. Frequently Avoided Questions is a must read for those who want to think about what Christianity needs to be like if it is going to move towards authentic faith that is able to relate to the real world that we live in. I highly recommend it!