Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How to Like Paul Again (book)

How to Like Paul Again: The Apostle You Never Knew: The Apostle You Never KnewHow to Like Paul Again: The Apostle You Never Knew: The Apostle You Never Knew by Conrad Gempf
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book description: You know you're supposed to like him, but you just don't. Maybe it's the authoritarianism, maybe it's the arrogance, maybe it's the views he seems to hold, maybe it's the way that he drones on and on until you're falling asleep. Well ... you're not the only one. None of that is new. Not even the last bit (see Acts 20:9). But there's a secret to liking an initially unlikeable person like Paul: walk a mile in his moccasins. Or three. This small book aims to take you inside three controversies that Paul faced. Would you have advised him to do anything differently? Would you have done as well as he did? This is a quick and entertaining introduction to the letters of Paul, from which you'll also learn about yourself.

My review: I completely understand why people are rating this book 5 stars. I think it is a must read for anyone new to reading/interpreting the Bible (particularly the Pauline letters) so they avoid flat fundamentalist proof-text readings of the texts (and, may I dare say, many SDAs need to read it). The author takes an excellent approach to hermeneutics and exegesis and does it in very plain, conversational language. For me, personally, however, the style irritated me - I felt like it was a bit forced at times trying to make it conversational and simple. So please don't misunderstand me - the 3 stars is my rating for myself. I liked the book but didn't love it. However, I highly recommend it for someone new to the Bible or who have been "infected" with simplistic approaches to it. If a reader is already knowledgeable about appropriate approaches to interpreting ancient texts and arrived at a historico-grammatical reading of the text, they would probably be a bit bored with it. So - highly recommended as an introduction to responsible reading of the Pauline letters!

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How to Like Paul Again (book)

How to Like Paul Again: The Apostle You Never Knew: The Apostle You Never KnewHow to Like Paul Again: The Apostle You Never Knew: The Apostle You Never Knew by Conrad Gempf
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book description: You know you're supposed to like him, but you just don't. Maybe it's the authoritarianism, maybe it's the arrogance, maybe it's the views he seems to hold, maybe it's the way that he drones on and on until you're falling asleep. Well ... you're not the only one. None of that is new. Not even the last bit (see Acts 20:9). But there's a secret to liking an initially unlikeable person like Paul: walk a mile in his moccasins. Or three. This small book aims to take you inside three controversies that Paul faced. Would you have advised him to do anything differently? Would you have done as well as he did? This is a quick and entertaining introduction to the letters of Paul, from which you'll also learn about yourself.

My review: I completely understand why people are rating this book 5 stars. I think it is a must read for anyone new to reading/interpreting the Bible (particularly the Pauline letters) so they avoid flat fundamentalist proof-text readings of the texts. The author takes an excellent approach to hermeneutics and exegesis and does it in very plain, conversational language. For me, personally, however, the style irritated me - I felt like it was a bit forced at times trying to make it conversational and simple. So please don't misunderstand me - the 3 stars is my rating for myself. I liked the book but didn't love it. However, I highly recommend it for someone new to the Bible or who have been "infected" with simplistic approaches to it. If a reader is already knowledgeable about appropriate approaches to interpreting ancient texts and arrived at a historico-grammatical reading of the text, they would probably be a bit bored with it. So - highly recommended as an introduction to responsible reading of the Pauline letters!

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Doubting Stephen (book)

Doubting StephenDoubting Stephen by Anne Borrowdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book description

What happens if everything you’ve built your life on turns out to be wrong? Jill Sandley knows what her brother Stephen did to her husband on his stag night 25 years ago. It’s why she made sure Stephen left the country, and never came back. Her daughter Georgia knows the incredible power of crystal healing. It’s why she and her homeopath boyfriend have devoted their lives to alternative therapies. Georgia’s sister Charli knows Jesus loves her. Hasn’t he provided her with the perfect Christian husband? The Sandley family’s confidence in their beliefs seems unshakeable, but then Georgia contacts Stephen, and Stephen has his doubts. 

My review

A thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying read. Covers so many themes: religion (Christianity), alternative medicine (crystal therapy), sex (hetero- and homosexuality), a mysterious death, the way humans construct ideas of truth - and the intersection of all these. The death plays a secondary role to the characters and their relationships to each other (although the plot around the death gets pretty suspenseful near the end!) - and they reflect a little (or a lot) of all of us who have grown up in religious or health fundamentalisms. The writing is excellent and the story is totally engaging as we peer under the surface of faith and family. The ambiguous title is great. Although all the ideas I've listed above may seem heavy the story is actually easy to read but wonderfully provocative. Highly recommend it!

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Frozen (movie)

Fearless optimist Anna teams up with Kristoff in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, and a hilarious snowman named Olaf in a race to find Anna's sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter.

A very good message about the power of love to thaw frozen hearts. In the style of the great Disney classics - great animation, enjoyable songs and music, great humour and a wonderful reindeer who steals the scenes he's in. thoroughly enjoyable and heart warming. One for the whole family.

Overall= ****, Story= ****, Humor= ****, Soundtrack= ***, Action= ****, Special Effects= ****, 3D Quality= ****.

 

Philomena (movie)

A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman's search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.


A tragic story that exposes, yet again, the shocking policy of the Catholic Church in Ireland to "punish" single women who had babies outside of marriage by forcing them to work in convents and selling their "illegitimate" children. Judi Dench (Philomena) and Steve Coogan (Martin Sixsmith) are outstanding in their roles as the mother searching for her son after 50 years of silence and the journalist who partners with her to help her on her journey. Filmed and directed in the unique way the British do drama, it's almost too "nice" a portrayal - although there are moments of heart-rending grief. The evil of religious judgmentalism is counterbalanced by amazing forgiveness - it's a moving story of another stolen generation that needs to be told. Some have suggested that this movie is this years The King's Speech. But I don't think it is quite that good. Definitely worth seeing though.

overall=***1/2 ; acting=***1/2 ; story=**** ; humour=***1/2

 

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Gatekeepers (book)

The GatekeepersThe Gatekeepers by Stephen Moss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: In this marriage of modernity to antiquity, two mysteries, one contemporary, the other ancient, twist their way to the startling origin of Christianity.

The Reverend Richard Jim Hamilton built the powerhouse Hamilton Ministry, and now has his sights on the US Presidency. Arrayed against him though are his wife, his Chief Lieutenant, and his son Joshua, who in the pursuit of exposing his father, also exposes the Bible’s greatest secret—and turns religious convention on its head.

MY REVIEW: At the heart of this novel is a very controversial thesis that St Paul (as he his known) was merely an entrepreneur who picked up on the apocalyptic-teaching Jesus, radically altering Jesus' message to allow everyone into "God's kingdom" and, by promoting this lie, made lots of money which contemporary Christian religious organisations have continued to do - particularly televangelists. This central thesis is wrapped around by a fairly straightforward set of thriller sub-plots.


The central thesis takes a number of proof texts from the New Testament documents, combined with what we now know about the chronology of the writing of those documents, to propose that Paul was a capitalist - capitalising on the potential money-making opportunity that creating a new religion - albeit based on an existing one - would bring.

The book most certainly presents a thesis worth considering - all ideas should be considered fairly and critically before determining their validity. I would like to read a non-fictionalised argument for the proposal of the book along with the scholarly argument and evidence in support of it. If someone knows where to fond that, I'd be very interested! In particular, the argument offered doesn't deal with any potential objections. The believers in the story who meet at the conference to discuss the thesis offer no substantial objections - one on particular is constructed as merely emotionally collapsing as his threat is threatened by "the facts". The author would have had a more substantial and believable thesis if he'd had someone at the table like N T Wright (fictionalised, of course!) arguing critically with the thesis.

The fiction part of the story - the story of the televangelists and his motives, the way his followers are ripped off and emotionally damaged - resonates with what we know of the worst forms of contemporary Christian evangelism. Enough has been documented about the nefarious activities of televangelists to fully accept the way in which the author presents the story. There is no doubt the story comes across as authentic.

Having said all this about the generally positive aspects of the story, it is written in what comes across as a first draft. It could do with a good edit and the misspellings became very irritating. It shouldn't, though, put you off reading what is quite an engaging story. It's provocative and presents a very different view of the origins of Christianity to the dominant narrative throughout the history of Christianity. It's going to be interesting to see what sort of responds the book receives from Christians - lay and scholars - if any. It does smack, somewhat, of being a bit Dan Brownish with its theories - but time will tell. Check it out and see what you think.

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Saturday, October 05, 2013

Stop Talking, Start Communicating (book)

Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in LifeStop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life by Geoffrey Tumlin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book description:

PLAY DUMB. BE BORING.
DON'T SOLVE PROBLEMS.
AND ABOVE ALL, DON'T BE YOURSELF.

Not exactly what you'd expect to hear from a communication expert, but these counterintuitive strategies are precisely what we need to interact productively and meaningfully in today's digital world. Our overreliance on quick, cheap, and easy means of "staying connected" is eroding our communication skills. Speed steamrolls thoughtfulness; self-expression trumps restraint. Errors and misunderstandings increase. And our relationships suffer.

With startling insights and a dash of humor, Stop Talking, Start Communicating combines scientific research with real-world strategies to deliver a proven approach to more effective communication.

My review: Social media such as Twitter, Facebook and email are here to stay and most of us make use of these services often each day. According to the author, these interactions are low-level communications. When we talk face-to-face and engage in in-depth conversation, negotiation, problem solving, and creative interactions that are deeply personal - these are high-level communications. While low-level communication has many advantages and is an essential part of our modern world, for Tumlin, low-level communication has the danger of undermining and distracting us from high-level communication when high-level communication is the most appropriate or necessary. How many times have you been trying to have a face-to-face conversation with someone who keeps looking at their mobile/cell phone? Or doing their email in a meeting when they need to be fully present? How many of us have been caught up in email misunderstandings, forgetting how limited that medium can be in understanding someone?
In this short book, the author offers a series of practical, and often surprising, strategies for managing communication in our modern society where fast and superficial communication is the norm. It's short, to the point, easy to read, well written - just what we need for our busy lifestyles! The challenge, of course, will be putting the strategies into practice. But if we want good, healthy, meaningful relationships then that is just what we need to do.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

The Great Partnership (book)

The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for MeaningThe Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning by Jonathan Sacks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book description: Writing with his usual grace and fluency, Jonathan Sacks moves beyond the tired arguments of militant atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens, to explore how religion has always played a valuable part in human culture and far from being dismissed as redundant, must be allowed to temper and develop scientific understanding in order for us to be fully human. Ranging around the world to draw comparisons from different cultures, and delving deep into the history of language and of western civilisation, Jonathan Sacks shows how the predominance of science-oriented thinking is embedded deeply even in our religious understanding, and calls on us to recognise the centrality of relationship to true religion, and thus to see how this core value of relationship is essential if we are to avoid the natural tendency for science to rule our lives rather than fulfilling its promise to set us free.

My review: This is a brilliant discourse on the relationship between science, faith, and religion. It should be read by three groups of people: 1) religious fundamentalists who have rejected science; 2) secular fundamentalists who have rejected religion; and 3) everyone in between.

The author, Jonathan Sacks, Baron Sacks, Kt is the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. His Hebrew name is Yaakov Zvi.

In THE GREAT PARTNERSHIP Sacks rejects the extremism of both religious and secular fundamentalists who wish to but an unbreachable barrier between religion and science. And unlike Stephen J Gould's suggestion that religion and science should be kept separate, Sacks argues for a complementarity (a partnership) between them.

This book is one of the most clearly articulated discussions on why both science and religion are necessary to maintain a full humanity and the way in which both need each other to avoid extremism. My finger was almost worn out with all the highlighting I was song on my Kindle. Sacks is very, very widely read, a deep thinker, and yet writes in a beautiful, easy-to-read narrative style making profound and memorable statements simply.

His essential point is that science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean. The idea is simple but extremists on both ends of the alleged science vs religion divide have burdened this idea with some very destructive unhealthy nonsense. Sacks is gently critical of both religious and secular fundamentalists appealing for a respectful conversation which, all too often, neither side are willing to engage in.

I can't speak highly enough of this book. It's one of the best I've read for ages. In fact, I nearly didn't read it, thinking that there can't be much more to say on the topic given the myriad books and debates on the topic. But I took the plunge and was incredibly rewarded. If you have any issues regarding the relationship between religion and science - whether you are an atheist or a “believer” - don't miss this brilliant, thought provoking read. It's easily digested meat for the mind!

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Joshuanism (book)

Joshuanism: A Path Beyond Christianity by Michael Vito Tosto
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book description: In this conversational, theological book, Tosto details a new spiritual approach for knowing God in the 21st century. This new approach is called Joshuanism, an evolved expression of Christianity (though it draws from other sources as well, such as Buddhism, existentialism, psychology, and science), rooted in the same son of God Christianity worships: Jesus. Yet in this case, we are approaching him with a fresh, unencumbered perspective, preferring to call on him by his Hebrew name: Joshua. Thus, Joshuanism.

My review: Michael Vito Tosto wants to start a new movement. By writing this book he has made a start. The new movement is Joshuanism - based on the Hebrew transliteration of the name for Jesus. Joshuanism is intended to be an alternative to Christianity which he considers to have lost its way in fulfilling the teachings of Joshua (Jesus). The author's new movement is intended to appeal to those who are disaffected by Christianity or who perhaps have previously had nothing to do with Christianity, but are attracted by the teachings of Joshua. The reason for using Jesus’ Hebrew name is to avoid all the various negative connotations that are associated with the name “Jesus”.


Joshuanism is structured around some carefully articulated elements: The Ten Tenets of Joshuanism; The Eight Immovables of Joshuanism; and The Joshuanism Creed. There's nothing new in this “new” version of Christianity (for that is essentially what it is). There is nothing offered that has not been suggested in other writings or theologies that have, in some form or other, critiqued some of the negative features of some forms of Christianity. Even the suggestion that Zen meditation be practiced by Joshuans is hardly innovative. What is new is the way the author has synthesised it into his own system. Tosto writes in a conversational style and he is articulate and provocative - particularly for those who haven't heard these ideas before. He has also come up with some contemporary terminology (eg the Extraction for the church; the Table for the gathering together of beleivers) which often make more sense than some of the ancient terminology some Christians stick to. The book is engaging reading and does provide the opportunity for reflection on one’s own beliefs and values in relation to Christianity.

There is, however, some cause for concern. I do not want to review the whole system of thought that makes up Joshuanism. But I would like to reproduce the list of the Eight Immovables of Joshuanism. Here they are:

  1. A belief in God
  2. A belief in the Singular Relationship (The Father, The Son, and the Soul of Godliness)
  3. A decision to view God’s Son as Joshua rather than as Jesus
  4. Acceptance of the Ten Tenets of Joshuanism
  5. Acceptance of the Joshuanism Creed
  6. A decision to gather together with other Joshuans in a definitely Joshuan way
  7. A decision to practice the Five Elements
  8. A decision to read primarily The Joshuan Pages version of the New Testament [a paraphrases Tosto is currently working on]
Notice that these are called the “immovables”. In this context, I assume immovable means non-negotiable. In other words, a belief in the doctrine of the Trinity is non-negotiable. You must decide to view Jesus as Joshua - that's non-negotiable. There is a creed that is non-negotiable. You must decide to practice the Five Elements (spiritual disciplines) - non-negotiable. And you must decide to primarily read Tosto’s paraphrased New Testament - that's non-negotiable.
It always bothers me when people start telling me I must believe certain things and do certain things in order to be included in a group. The irony of this in regard to Joshuanism is that Tosto has taken great and repeated pains to affirm what he calls Diversified Uniformity. This is defined as “a proviso within Joshuanism stating that aside from the Eight Immovables, the Joshuan can hold any theological or zo√™ological view and still be considered a Joshuan.”

The moment any group starts setting up non-negotiables that determine when you're in or out then, however you might say it, it's no different to any other denomination of Christianity that has existed. Creeds haven't had a good history within Christianity. They've always been used to make judgments on others - despite plans not to use them as such.
Perhaps of most concern is the non-negotiable decision required to primarily read Tosto’s paraphrase of the New Testament. Why this? Why would anyone wish to make what someone reads non-negotiable? Providing even implicit primacy to any one version (or paraphrase in this case) seems to imbue it with an inappropriate authority - particularly when it is the product of one person’s interpretation.

Enough said. There are some elements of Joshuanism that are attractive and reasonable. In fact, the majority of the book is probably a very positive representation of the best of Christianity. It is naive, however, to think that producing yet another system with its own creeds, disciplines and doctrines is going to solve the problems of other similar attempts.
So ... worth a read but, like all ideas, think critically before jumping on board any new bandwagon. Adopt what is good and realise that anything good can also be distorted when human fallibility is part of the equation.

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Friday, September 06, 2013

On Guard (book)

On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and PrecisionOn Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision by William Lane Craig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Description: This concise guide is filled with illustrations, sidebars, and memorizable steps to help Christians stand their ground and defend their faith with reason and precision. In his engaging style, Dr. Craig offers four arguments for God’s existence, defends the historicity of Jesus’ personal claims and resurrection, addresses the problem of suffering, and shows why religious relativism doesn’t work. Along the way, he shares his story of following God’s call in his own life.

 

My Review: William Lane Craig is a very sophisticated apologist for Christianity and this book is a very sophisticated argument first, for the existence of God and, second, for the historicity of Jesus Christ and his resurrection.


The philosophical arguments for the existence of “God” were the most interesting and compelling in the book. Craig is a professional philosopher who studied under John Hick. The topic of his PhD was Liebniz's cosmological argument for the existence of “God”. And his careful and articulate presentation of the argument and refutation of major criticisms is very persuasive and logically coherent. In addition to these arguments, Craig also presents a moral argument for God's existence.


Craig also studied under the NT scholar Wolfhart Pannenberg and he draws on Pannenberg's scholarship in mounting an argument for the historicity of Jesus Christ.


For me, the philosophical arguments were excellent. I didn't enjoy the arguments for Christ's historicity as much - I have more questions about those than the philosophical arguments. And I thought his justification of Christian claims to exclusivity of salvation through Christ could have been better.
William Lane Craig is a frequent target of atheists and there are times I agree with some of the those criticisms. I can't help believing, however, that some of those criticisms are based on a misunderstanding of Craig's arguments.


If you are looking for a clear, articulate defence of (specifically) Christian belief in the existence of God and the historicity of Christ then this book is a good place to start - for believers and non-believers alike.

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Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Earthquake Bird (book)

The Earthquake BirdThe Earthquake Bird by Susanna Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book description: A haunting first novel set in Tokyo, "The Earthquake Bird" reveals a murder on its first page and takes its readers into the mind of the chief suspect, Lucy Fly -- a young vulnerable English girl living and working in Tokyo as a translator. Lucy grew up in England, and still harbors painful memories of her childhood in Yorkshire. Only her fascination with music and language provide her with a final break from her past, allowing her to move to Tokyo and start a new life as a translator of technical books. There, she begins an intensely erotic affair with a brilliant and secretive photographer named Teiji. But when Lucy befriends Lily Bridges, a young woman who has also fled trouble in Yorkshire, her life begins to unravel. Lucy doesn't like being reminded of what she left behind in England. Nor does she like Teiji's friendship with Lily. Now the police have accused her of killing Lily, because it is becoming apparent that Lucy has had the motive, the means, and the opportunity.

My review: What an intriguing crime story - nothing like any crime I've read before. The crime is very much secondary to the character telling us of the events. The story starts off with Lucy being arrested and, while she is being interrogated, she tells of her life and events leading up to the crime. Some readers will hate the ending - I loved it - and I won't say more about it than that. Hard to believe this was the author's first novel. Not only that, she won an award for it. Beautifully written and the way she writes about Tokyo makes me want to go there and visit! Heartrending and deeply emotional, I couldn't wait to see how it turned out - and wish there was more now it’s over!

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Saturday, August 31, 2013

kissing Bowie (book)

Kissing BowieKissing Bowie by Joan Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an unexpectedly enjoyable read! A very intriguing story with an unexpected outcome right at the end. And if you have ever visited London, you will love the evocative descriptions of that amazing city. Explores some pretty deep issues around identity, mental health, friendship. Throughout the whole book there was a sense of something not quite right and the way the author unfolds the events was excellent.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Slaying the Dragons (book)

Slaying the Dragons: Destroying Myths in the History of Science and FaithSlaying the Dragons: Destroying Myths in the History of Science and Faith by Allan Chapman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this lively and often surprising study, Chapman examines popular misunderstandings about key events in the history of science-faith relations. For those interested in science-faith relations, this important study examines popular misunderstandings about key events in history. It covers the major episodes such as Galileo's trial, the Wilberforce-Huxley debate, and the Scopes trial of 1925, but also looks further back through the medieval period to the Classical age, revealing how these events have acquired mythical and misleading statuses. Chapman exposes the facts that have been forgotten and the contemporary opinions that have been supplanted by modern propaganda. Slaying the Dragons is an important book that strips away layers of misunderstanding and misinterpretation. (Amazon)

Very interesting, enjoyable, intelligent, well-written book. Combined with the author's obvious professional mastery of history his witty, passionate, and rhetorically sophisticated (in the positive sense) survey of the alleged conflict between science and religion is potent and entirely believable. Raises serious questions about the alleged war between science and Christianity - a myth held by both atheists and fundamentalist Christians. The best parts of the book are those in which the author stays with exploring the past and antecedents for the present. When he turns to the future and where we need to 'go from here' I found the book a little less engaging. Overall, though, a must read for any atheist or Christian who is willing to revisit their possible distorted myths about the "war" between science and religion.


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Saturday, August 24, 2013

WHAT MAISIE KNEW (movie)


In New York City, a young girl is caught in the middle of her parents' bitter custody battle.

A very affecting story with an incredible performance by Onata Aprile (Maisie). Avoids sensationalism and slowly Angela subtly shows the devastating (but unacknowledged) emotional impact of adult neglect of their children when they become so focused on their relationship struggled, fights, and separations. The whole movie is portrayed from the perspective of Maisie and it is impossible to resist empathising with her plight even though a child of this age cannot articulate what they are experiencing. This movie should be compulsory viewing for any couple with a child who is dealing with divorce/separation. Childhood should not have to be like this. Unfortunately, it too often is.

 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Second Chance

Second ChanceSecond Chance by David D. Levine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very enjoyable short sci-fi story that tackles some very contemporary issues. Tightly written, nuanced, with interesting characters and tension. I do wonder, though, if the end is a bit too easily resolved.

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Elysium

Set in the year 2154, where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, a man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.

I was disappointed with Elysium. Still a good movie but didn't achieve the brilliance of DISTRICT 9 which was done by the same directors etc. The special effects are good, the "future" technologies are interesting, the world of Elysium - a space station providing a perfect life for earth's elite - was impressive, and the social "commentary" is as expected. However, the story is pretty simple and unoriginal - at times a bit contrived. Jodie Foster, who is made to speak in some South African-derived accent, comes across as inauthentic and forced as if she's acting for the first time and trying too hard. Matt Damon isn't bad and the flashbacks to his childhood are possibly the most interesting aspect of the story. The characters were not emotionally engaging so, while the movie is entertaining enough, there is just not enough dramatic tension to make us care too much about what happens. Worth seeing on the big screen to appreciate the special effects but the whole thing turns out to be somewhat average.

 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book Review: The New Couple

The New Couple: The 10 New Laws of LoveThe New Couple: The 10 New Laws of Love by Maurice Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good, indepth discussion of 10 "laws" that contribute to good relationships. Well written, easy to read, responsible advice. Nice to read something that has some depth on the subject.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Movie Review: Goddess (2013)

goddessElspeth Dickens dreams of finding her "voice" despite being stuck in an isolated farmhouse with her twin toddlers. A web-cam becomes her pathway to fame and fortune, but at a price.

A delightful, uplifting musical comedy that is entertaining and a genuine pleasure to watch. Some great songs, dance routines, slapstick, situational comedy and good natured humour. A joy to watch and one that could comfortably be shown to the whole family. Thoroughly enjoyable.

4-stars

Monday, March 18, 2013

Movie Review: Seventh-Gay Adventists (2012)

Seventh-Gay AdventistsDavid loves Jesus and wants to go to heaven, but he also wants Colin. Marcos was fired for being gay, but wants to be a pastor again. And Sherri wants her kids to grow up to be good Seventh-day Adventists even though the church teaches that her same-sex marriage is sinful. All three are caught in the middle between the church they know and love and their desire to be fully accepted for who they are. 'Seventh-Gay Adventists' offers a revealing look at the inner spiritual world of three LGBT church members struggling to reconcile their faith and sexuality and explores what it means to belong when you find yourself on the margins. (IMDB summary)

A very gentle, highly accessible exploration of three gay/lesbian couples who are living on the edges of their respective Seventh-day Adventist communities. Seventh-day Adventism is a conservative, Christian denomination which has an official stance that homosexuality is not acceptable but that those who identify as homosexual should be loved and accepted without accepting their homosexuality or a homosexual lifestyle.

Of course, this is easy to say and, as these three couples share their stories, some of the pain and heartbreak they have experienced becomes real to us as viewers. Without doubt, the three stories we share are on the more "positive" end of the spectrum - surely many lesbian and gay people would suffer a great deal more than these three couples. But, as the filmmakers express it, they wanted to make a movie that would allow people whose immediate reaction to homosexual people would be to run and hide - to reject them - to put up barriers between them - to allow those viewers to be gently led into the world that these couples experience and begin to understand what it means to them to be living on the edge of a community they so desperately want to be part of. And this documentary most definitely succeeds at that aim.

This is not an "issue" film. It doesn't take sides. It doesn't engage in theological debate. Instead, we are gradually introduced to who these people are, their varied journeys as they come out to their communities, the responses that people have to them, and the way they choose to relate to their families (and vice versa). It's a very moving journey and we can't help but empathise with these couples as they engagingly communicate with us about their joys, their pain, their loves, and their fears.

It's a truly inspirational film, demonstrating the potential that religious communities could have in genuinely welcoming gay and lesbian people who can enrich and be enriched by their presence - and the way in which those who are forced to leave their spiritual homes can make a difference somewhere else.

Apart from being a little too long (for me) its a sensitive, beautiful portrayal and has genuine surprises at the end (I won't tell you what they are!). After its official premiere at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival in the near future, it will hopefully be released more widely. If it comes to a place near  you, make sure to go along and see it. You'll be glad you did.

3half-stars

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Great Expectations (2013)

Great Expectations

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com

A humble orphan suddenly becomes a gentleman with the help of an unknown benefactor.

It's ok but really nothing genuinely new. Takes no risks and is essentially the sort of thing you might watch on a rainy Sunday night on commercial free television. Pleasant, well-acted, with no surprises. It's a shame because it would be great to have a revisioning of this story for the 21st century!

3-stars

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and DoubtLeaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt by Richard Holloway
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Richard Holloway is a significant person to read and his journey away from Christianity is an important and interesting one. But I found this autobiography fairly average except where he specifically analyses and critiques contemporary Christianity and the issues it faces - including his engagement with those issues. I was pretty bored with what seemed to me an endless commentary on place names, streets, buildings, towns, etc. Clearly Holloway connects with the places and people of his life but I didn't find his writing at all engaging. Worth reading, I think, because of who Holloway is and his influence on Anglicanism and his recent writings on morality without God (which I am yet to read). So check it out, but for me, I was hoping for a much more subversive and engaging piece of writing.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Book: Wool

Wool (Omnibus)Wool by Hugh Howey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great read! A fresh post-apocalyptic dystopian novel that had me frantically turning the pages. Apart from a drop in pace in one section it moved along quickly dealing with lots of themes like social control, freedom, friendship, and whether ignorance is truly bliss. One of the most satisfying pieces of fiction I've read. Some great characters. Looking forward to more by this author!

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book: I Am Christ

I Am ChristI Am Christ by Michael Sherlock
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

According to the bio at the end of the book, ’Michael is deeply troubled by the infirmities of this world and will not rest until he has done everything in his power, to at least attempt, to remedy them.' One of those infirmities is "belief" and, in this book, Michael sets out to disabuse the world of this life and death threat.

There are lots of good points made in the book but the problem is that they are buried amongst overwrought hyperbole and highly emotive, sarcastic language (the author sees himself as ’sarcastic and slightly antagonisitic’). But “slightly” is an understatement. The entire first part of the book is highly emotive, full of hyperbole, and written in a style that undermines the intention (I assume) to present a rational, objective case against belief - particularly the beliefs of Christianity (especially fundamentalist Christianity). By the end of the wordy and repetitive first section I really felt irritated and had to resolve to persevere onto the next section. The title of the first section is ’Belief: Cognitive Constipation’ - the subtitle being an apt description of its contents despite making an essentially good point.

Parts 2 and 3 are a polemical attack on Christianity and the historicity of Jesus Christ. Once again, there is some good material in these sections but, once again, the style of writing is confrontational, sarcastic, antagonistic, and laborious.

One of the more serious criticisms I'd make of the book is its lack of fair-mindedness. While the author does, at times, summarise some of the arguments opposing his view, they are not presented in a way which communicates good faith and an unbiased perspective. The author clearly has a vested interest in the issue and, unfortunately, he does not take care to present his case in rational, objective language free of emotionality. This feature of the writing would undoubtedly alienate many readers, particularly fundamentalist Christians, who one assumes, if his intention to liberate people from the prison of belief is genuine, would be included in the intended audience.

The are a whole range of other problems with the book which I don't have the time or inclination to document (eg, caricatures of general Christian beliefs rather than recognising the diversity of perspectives; engaging in speculation similar to that the author criticises to mock certain fundamentalist doctrines; and so on).

The problem with all this is that, to glean what is good from the book, an enormous amount of critical thinking needs to be done unless, of course, a person is already persuaded of the perspective and just wants to laugh along at the sarcasm, mockery, and attempts at humour (some of it successful!) thrown at those the author thinks are liars or stupid. There is no genuine engagement with the best Christian scholarship on the subjects covered and quite a few “straw men” that are easily destroyed.

In my opinion, there are much better books on the topic which take a critical look at the claims Christians make about the Bible, Jesus Christ and their beliefs. This book could have been so much better if a good editor was to be involved. I look forward to a second edition if that process was ever engaged in.

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Book: Tales of the Rational

Tales of the Rational:  Skeptical Essays About Nature and ScienceTales of the Rational: Skeptical Essays About Nature and Science by Massimo Pigliucci
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent read. Needs a good proofread but otherwise Pigluicci writes with clarity, balance and reasonableness. Covering philosophy, science, religion and more, the author offers fresh insights with wit and substance. I lost a bit in the first part of the chapter on chaos where he explains the basic ideas, but apart from that his discussions have all the hallmarks of good thinking and communication. A must read!

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review: Reclaiming Reason

Reclaiming Reason: A Christian's Guide to Recognizing Logical FallaciesReclaiming Reason: A Christian's Guide to Recognizing Logical Fallacies by Adam Murrell
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book is so bad I couldn't read any further than the introduction and first chapter. The title is interesting - Reclaiming Reason. Reclaiming from who/what? It reads like he wants to reclaim it for Christians back from those evil non-believers who use bad reasoning to tempt vulnerable Christians away from the faith. Adam Murrell is really wanting to give his readers the ability to resist objections against Christianity by atheists and other non-believers (and, of course, to identify bad thinking in oneself!). The problem is that Murrell can't see how poor his own reasoning is. The whole Christian world-view is assumed to be true without any evidence of actual critical thinking about the Christian beliefs (as he defines them). Some examples:

After describing the way in which the Gallup Polls show declining trust in religion to answer 'all or most of the problems of the time' and increasing belief that 'religion was largely old-fashioned and out of date' he blames Christians for not giving '... serious thought to the foundation of their beliefs or reasoned through the logical ramifications of their worldviews. Had they spent more time in sombre reflection, the poll numbers would presumably reveal a different story.' Really? What about the possibility that people may have critically thought about their beliefs and concluded, for good reasons, that their trust in religion was misplaced?

How's this for thinking critically: 'The spiritually developed Christian should bring all thoughts captive to the Word and allow Holy Write to guide his or her every decision.' This is not critical thinking - this is deciding a priori that everything the Bible says is correct or that one's interpretations are always right. In other words, if your thinking doesn't agree with what the Bible says, your thinking must be wrong! Where is the critical reasoning in that?

The real agenda of this book is expressed by the author when he writes that the '... book shows you how to respond to nonbelievers and likewises furnishes you with a new perspective so you will be able to answer Christians when they are being inconsistent regarding their beliefs.'

Murrell engages in simplistic examples to prove his own points. For example, did you know that the difference between the creation of '... a republic on the North American continent that enshrined religious liberty in her constitution, enabling generations of Christians to practice their religion without fear of reprisal or fear of persecution...' and '... the chaos and the nihilistic slaughter of the French Revolution...' was the use of words that influenced the emotions either positively or negatively? Ah! That explains everything!

It goes on and on... every point made by the author is dependent on his own interpretation of the Bible which he assumes is the right one. Some of his assertions are actually offensive. He writes, 'Would it be unreasonable to assert naturally destructive occurrences could be used as a gentle reminder for people everywhere to repent and believe before it's too late? Is this too great a possibility, especially if judgement is to be weighed upon the earth?' 'What if God is truly showing his compassion by reminding us, through natural calamities, of a future, certain judgement?' Did you get that? When tsumanis, earthquates, volcanic eruptions, etc occur it's possible this is God being compassionate!

Murrell offers another response to objections to Christianity that are based on criticisms of God's non-involvement in protecting people from natural evil. Apparently we hear too many examples of people being killed or injured and we overlook the times people are actually protected - and we don't know how many people have been protected by God because it's not obvious!

According to the author, many arguments made against Christianity are emotionally manipulating. For example, 'We are made to feel guilty if we believe God instituted marriage and, as a result, strive to uphold a union between one man and one woman.' Oh... really? He goes on, 'Instead of interacting with these fair concerns [eg, the shared benefits of society as a result of traditional marriage], we are insulted and made to feel guilty if we respect the boundaries established by God by rejecting all forms of perversion to the divine institution of marriage.' I think you get the picture.

And, if you happen to disagree with the author's point of view, you need to remember that 'God must first grant a new heart before it can properly assent to truth and righteousness and before it can be trusted to serve as a guide and moral compass.'

There are so many more examples that could be provided and I'm only identifying issues in the first chapter! This book is not about identifying logical fallacies at all - although that is what it is ostensibly about. It's really about providing Christians with a shield to ward off any criticisms and with easy answers to objections from non-believers - at least, that's what I have gleaned from the first chapter.

If you want a good book on logical fallacies, don't start with this book. There are plenty of other books out there. Also, check out this website for free information about logical fallacies (http://www.fallacyfiles.org/resource....). Then, if you really must read this book, watch out for logical fallacies while you read!

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Book Review: 40 Questions about the End Times

40 Questions about the End Times40 Questions about the End Times by Eckhard J. Schnabel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's always been interest in the end of the world across many cultures. Western culture has always had those who try to predict the end of the world based on Nostradamus's prophecies, the Mayan calendar, or passages in the Hebrew and Christian bibles. ALL attempts at setting a date for the end of the world have failed. But that doesn't stop continual date setting by foolish "gurus" who attract just as foolish followers.

Eckhard Schnabel's book focuses specifically on the Hebrew and Christian bibles, examining every passage in them that talks about the end of times. So if you are interested in the whole issue of the end of time and, specifically, what the Bible might have to say about it, Schnabel's book is a must read. It avoids sensationalism, date setting, and all other nonsense that abuses the text to fit a particular agenda.

Instead, Schnabel takes a literary interpretive approach where he tries to interpret the texts within their own literary, historical and cultural contexts. He most certainly comes from a Christian perspective in accepting the authoritative nature of the texts for Christians. But he deliberately avoids labels and preconceived ideas (as much as one can) and provides fresh insights into the meaning of these ancient documents. Refreshingly undogmatic, it's a pleasure to read and would make a good entry into this genre for those starting that particular journey. It would also provide a reference point for evaluating other works on the subject.

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Book Review: The 5 Money Personalities

The 5 Money Personalities: Speaking the Same Love and Money LanguageThe 5 Money Personalities: Speaking the Same Love and Money Language by Scott Palmer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Typical self-help book based solely on the authors' anecdotal evidence culled from their practice as financial advisors. Some helpful advice but I get really irritated with this sort of quasi-psychology. Given that it's written by two Christians, I was pleased that they didn't try and make it all "biblical". God is only mentioned near the beginning in passing so could be read by anyone as it is mostly good common sense.

Book Review: Reframing Paul: Conversations in Grace & Community

Reframing Paul: Conversations in Grace and CommunityReframing Paul: Conversations in Grace and Community by Mark Strom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The most interesting part of this book is the survey of the Greco-Roman world which formed the context of the letters written by St Paul found in the Christian New Testament of the Bible. The author discusses what he calls the social, historical and personal frames of the ancient world and compares these to Paul's. The essential point of the book is that St Paul has been misappropriated by the Christian evangelical movement in developing a structure that is controlling, ideological, and self-perpetuating. At the heart of the social fabric of evangelicalism is a resistance to genuine conversation that is open, creative, radical and subversive in positive ways. An actual analysis of Paul's writings in the context of the thought and experience world of his day shows that there is no biblical authority for what evangelicalism takes for granted as being "determined by God". What the average Christian experiences when they attend church is worlds away from the freedom St Paul envisaged for the Christian. Instead, evangelicalism is all about conformity. The author describes the stifling power of evangelical structures and processes in the following paragraph:

Conformity requires ideals, ideals require persuasive oratory, the orator needs to feel he knows the truth; persuading others of the truth is the basis of conformity. The conventions of preaching establish boundaries for the comgregation's thought, feelings and behaviour. The effect is to make the whole system seem self-evidently true and to pull people back from the storms of their questions and doubts into the shelters of authorised explanations and ideals. They must be calmed before they find grief, anger and freedom.
For the author, the key to Christan freedom in community is "grace-full comversation". 'Conversations marked by grace. Conversations full of grace. Conversations that bring grace. For the author, the rhetoric of grace abounds in the church but the structures and processes of the evangelical community are inherently resistant to its being experienced in everyday life. This situation leads to many people leaving (or being jettisoned from) the traditional church. If only we could recover grace-full conversation the Christian community might have a chance.

The last section of the book provides a sense of what grace-full conversation might look like in practice and the challenges of implementing such conversations within the evangelical system. The negative effects of traditional preaching, absolutist theologies, idealism and authority are explored leading to the breakdown of meaning experienced by contemporary believers. In the last chapter of the book the author shares his own personal journey attempting to nurture a grace-full community - including the warts and disappointing outcome. The second-to-last paragraph on the power of grace to subvert is excellent and a good place to finish this brief review:

Grace is subversive. It undermines the ideals and standards of those of us who cannot tolerate weakness in others (or in ourselves). It undermines the pride of those of us who search out every vestige of unbiblical belief and practice. It undermines the presumption of those of us who preach the pure gospel to cure all ills. It undermines the safety of those of us who throw off the shackles of abusive and codependent relationships only to exclude grace from those who have hurt us. It undermines our need to find the ideal, the answer, the method, the cure. We ate left with the weakness of grace-full comversation.
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