Monthly Archives: April 2010

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Ron’s #16: Columbine by Dave Cullen

Why would anyone want to read a 400-page book on the Columbine High School massacre?

Several friends have asked me, “Why are you reading that?” and I don’t know. I cannot answer this question for myself, but I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this difficult subject. As for most, the events of April 20, 1999 are still vivid in my memory. I was student teaching then, and I came home after work to watch the newsreels. I was beginning a career in a place where something like that could happen. Over the years, I can’t say that I paid much attention to the facts and theories surrounding the tragedy beyond an article or two around the anniversary dates. After reading Columbine, I see how much I didn’t know about it, or, the facts that I did think I knew were wrong.

The journalist Dave Cullen sifts through 10 years of police records, evidence, testimonies, court cases, and interviews to offer readers a complete picture of what occurred on that Tuesday morning at 11:17 a.m. It was more terrifying than I originally thought.

This book alternates between chapters showing the planning of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold before the massacre and chapters showing the effects after it. This provides a unique perspective and narrative flow of this story. The pages are filled with intimate portraits of the victims, teachers, and other members of the community. He spends more time on some over others—Dave Sanders (the teacher) and Patrick Ireland (the boy in the window, as he came to be known) get far more ink than others, and rightfully so. Both stories are powerful ones.

The supposed “martyrdom” of Cassie Bernall was the topic of this book that I heard about last year when it was first published. Cassie was the girl that some Christians made a posthumous superstar during a supposed exchange with Eric Harris. “Do you believe in God?” Eric asked. “Yes,” Cassie replied. “Why?” he said before shooting her. This resulted in a whirlwind of media proclaiming Cassie a martyr. The problem is, as Dave Cullen shows, is that it wasn’t her who said it. Rather, it was another girl under the table who was shot but lived.

As one would expect, most of the book is focused on Eric and Dylan. He includes a full picture of what occurs in the final year leading up to the day they dubbed Judgment Day or NBK (an allusion to Oliver Stone’s uber-violent Natural Born Killers). Leaving behind journals, other writings, and videos help others see their twisted minds as they seek god-like power to wipe out mankind. We read about the real plan intended for April 20, one that would have resulted in far more deaths than 13. This was supposed to be a school bombing, not just a school shooting.

I remember in the days following April 20, many were defending violent video games and movies as they were targeted as the cause. This book does something similar. I know that the “cause” of the attacks is that Eric was psychopathic. The other elements must have fueled that need for violence. They both had a love for the violent video game “Doom,” and Eric wrote that he wishes that he could be in a real-world Doom game. They loved violent movies. They wrote violent stories. Eric listened to music with violent lyrics. Again, I know that the cause is a suffering mind, but you are a fool if you ignore the influence of these other factors.

Much in the book is about reactions to the parents of Eric and Dylan. They are not to blame, as it was Eric and Dylan who did the murders. I agree wholeheartedly. However, I find it troubling that the boys had a small arsenal of guns, ammunition, and bombs in the basement of their house and no one knew.

This book was a depressing read, knowing that there are boys like this in the world today, perhaps even in my school. Following the life of Eric and Dylan with the dramatic irony of how it ends made this a heavy and difficult story to read. It’s the story of unimaginable violence, but it’s also the story of healing. I’m not sure why I chose to read this, but I’m glad I did. I’d recommend this book to you, but I’m not sure why you should read it either.

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Ron’s #15: Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef

Son of Hamas has been discussed on several of the blogs I follow, and I was eager to read it. This book did not disappoint. It offered more insight into the Israel-Palestine conflict than anything else I’ve read. It offered a better face of Palestine, reveals problems with how Israel handles the occupation, and shows the power of the Christian message.

Mosab Hassan Yousef is the son of Hassan Yousef, a founding member of Hamas (the acronym of Islamic Resistance Movement) in Palestine. The younger Yousef describes his father as a good Muslim with a love for his people. However, he begins to question the terrorist actions that Hamas is involved in, and works with Israel’s Shin Bet—the equivalent of our F.B.I.—as a spy. Imagine the son of Hamas passing on key information to Israel to thwart future attacks.

The story is more than a spy tale; it’s an account of the crisis of conscience that Yousef undergoes as he wants the best for his people while realizing that bombs and guns are not the answer. He is a man between two worlds, and he no longer belongs to either.

This alienation is complicated further when he meets a British missionary who invites him to a Bible study. Being an inquisitive man, Yousef attends and learns about the teachings of Jesus. Even though he isn’t yet a Christian, Yousef begins to put Jesus’ teaching into practice: he’s a Muslim becoming more Christi-like. Finally, in 2000, Mosab Yousef becomes a Christian.

I enjoyed this book because it was many genres in one: history book, spy thriller, political overview, and a conversion story. All are told well in this volume.

Son of Hamas is a book that you should read regardless of your religious persuasion or political affinities. It will provide you an important overview to the Middle East conflict, one that will be with us for some time to come.

Check out Mark’s review here

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Ron’s #14: Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams

I’ve slowly been working my way through the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series over this past school year. Science-fiction is not a genre I typically like, but this series seems to be written for readers like me. It focuses more on humor and ridiculousness than it does on the fantastic nature of futuristic events. The main story of the stolen Heart of Gold ship and Arthur Dent’s reluctant traveling through time and space is not nearly as interesting and enjoyable as Adams’s small side notes and descriptions. In this book, the pieces are weightier than the whole.

Here are a few tidbits:

“He just won an award at the Annual Ursa Minor Alpha Recreational Illusions Institute Awards ceremony [for]..the Most Gratuitous Use of the Word ‘Belgium’ in a Serious Screenplay. It’s very prestigious.”

“…pausing at a bar on the way back for a quick glass of perspective and soda.”

“It’s all right,” she said in a voice that would have calmed the Big Bang down.

Life, the Universe, and Everything was a quick read and a good distraction, but I was impatient for its end. I’m sure I’ll finish the series, but it may be a little while before I get to it. I know that these books are beloved by many, and I want to understand why. If you have an answer, please let me know.

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Mark’s #15 – Stuff Christians Like by Jonathan Acuff

This book just came out this month.  As a way of promoting the book and building a ‘buzz’ ChristianAudio.com is giving the book away free during April – I took advantage of that offer.

Is it wrong to count an unabbridged audio book as part of my 52 books? – Of course not.  Christians like audio books :)

This book is hilarious.  I read (ok, listened) to most of it while waiting in both the Bangkok airport and the Nagoya airport.  Often I could not control my laughter (at one point, other Japanese people were laughing at me for randomly laughing out loud in public).

If you’ve been part of the American Christian sub-culture for more than 5 days, you should get this book… It’s that funny…

Jonathan takes on a wide variety of things Christians like – for better or for worse – and then points out how silly we Christians can be sometimes.  It’s good to laugh at yourself (I’ll laugh at you if you can’t).

Here’s just a few tidbits of the humorous jewels of the book:

———-

“Sometimes, we fall in love on mission trips even though we know we’ll break up when we get back.

Sometimes, you have to shot block a friend’s prayer because she’s asking God to bless an obviously bad dating relationship.

Sometimes, you think, “I wish I had a t-shirt that said ‘I direct deposit my tithe’ so people wouldn’t judge me.”

———–

Though overtly humorous, Jonathan does a good job of dealing with some serious issues of our faith from time to time throughout the book.   Often I found myself saying, “That’s a really good point”.   Also, I took some notes, as much of the material is sermon gold…

Get the book and enjoy!

For bonus nuggets of wisdom and humor, visit Jonathans blog stuffchristianslike.net

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Mark’s #14 – Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (270 pages)

Gilead is a Pulitzer prize winning book, and was voted as one of the 100 greatest novels of all time. I was interested in Marilynne Robinson’s novels after reading a blog about how they are all heavily influenced by Calvinism. I also heard the author, Marilynne Robinson speak as a guest on the White Horse Inn podcast… at the time I remember thinking, “This woman is really smart… much smarter than me.”

As I began to read Gilead, I realized that this was indeed very good literature… and that I do not yet have the mental faculty to process and appreciate such literature.  I was the kid who never read any of the assigned books in high school – the best I could muster at the time was the cursory glance through some ‘Cliff Notes’…   I now realize that I have only harmed myself as I missed an opportunity to learn the art of literature.

In college and seminary I worked hard to train my mind for reading other material and studying theology… yet, I still fall short in apprehension of great literature… I hope this begins to change as I read through 52 books this year.

Back to the review… I almost gave up on this book… after 100 pages, I scratched my head wondering where the plot was…  I tossed the book aside for a month or two…

Then I read a blog about Gilead written by John Piper entitled, “I love this book”.  Dr. Piper wrote about how he often reads through Gilead and savors the rich imagery and storyline.

Since John Piper is one of my theological heros, I decided to give Gilead another shot… I’m glad I did.  As I pressed on, the plot did indeed emerge, subtly, but powerfully and engaging.   The literature was still above my pay grade, but I could feel the way the book was moving me in deep and emotional ways…

As I don’t feel qualified to accurately rate this book, I won’t.   I am committed to growing in my appreciation and appetite for well-written literature.

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