Monthly Archives: June 2011

Jim

Jim’s #22: Everyone Wants to Go to Heaven, But Nobody Wants to Die by David Crowder and Mike Hogan

A few very interesting events led up to the reading of this book.  First of all, I bought it at a David Crowder Band concert last week because 1. I love their music and 2. they’re hilarious, so naturally the book would be as well.  More on that in a second.  Then, last Friday, as I was getting my oil changed, I read the prologue of the book and then forgot it at the register.  I finally came back yesterday to pick up the book only to notice that one of the employees of Jiffy Lube was already a good chunk into it and wants to borrow it when I’m done.  Well, I’m done… 24 hours later and 257 pages.  Just an idea of how captivating this book is.

Yet surprisingly, it is not primarily funny.  I was sure it would be (and the footnotes are still), especially after reading the hilarious prologue, but the book took a turn for the worse?/better?… both I suppose.  The tone became a mix of melancholy and hope, of pain and healing.

It’s a book about death, bluegrass, and the soul.  It’s part academic in their analysis of the history of the soul and that of bluegrass, presented in a way that makes you wonder how it will all tie together in the end (which it does).  These parts help break up the weightiness of the rest of the book.  Death is the resounding theme, something that is very real to both authors, David Crowder and Mike Hogan, and a difficult topic to handle with care and sobriety without losing a reader’s interest.  In particular, they recount the story of their pastor and friend, Kyle, who died unexpectedly by being electrocuted in the baptismal of their church.  The pain of this instance resonates throughout the book, focusing much more on the hard realities than the eventual hope offered.  One of the most unique and genuine parts of the book are the 7 IM (instant messenger) conversations printed between the authors.  This is the area where it all ties together and where we see the unplanned thought-processes of the authors.  Toward the end of the book David reflects again on Kyle’s death with resounding hope through one of these conversations:

What we want is rebirth.  We want something beyond what we are currently experiencing.  We want new life.  And there Kyle was, standing in it [the baptismal]!  The whole weight of his person immersed in a metaphor, chest deep in burial; the Christian representation of movement from mortal death to the residence of God.  To follow Jesus leads you to the grave; it leads you to death.  You must follow him up the hill, and there was Kyle, standing in a metaphor, and became it.  And it was what he said at the end, the very end that was so simple and profound. “Someone help me. Someone, please help me.” The supplication of humanity.  He enunciated our plea while standing in the figurative response to it.

Amazing insight and all that on the fly.

Their album, A Collision, is an album about death (and my favorite of theirs to date); I had no idea until I read this book, but it makes sense now.  Shortly after the album release, Kyle died.  David wondered if they wrote the album as much for them as for anything.  Then in another IM conversation, he comes across something incredibly profound.

Well, hallel consists of 6 Psalms that are recited at the Jewish celebration of passover.  A group of songs really. You know, the recitation of “His love endure forever…” well that’s part of it.  So you get the tone.  Now this might be a little crazy but follow me… ok?  So the night of the last supper, we can, with a fair amount of safety, assume that Jesus recited the hallel with his disciples the last night they were together.  So if we believe that scripture is inspired by God, that it is God-breathed, and if we believe that Jesus was divine, that He was God-incarnate, then would it be unreasonable to wonder whether God breathed out a song that he knew he would need later in his human form?  Did He know that something as simple as a bit of art could help shape the reality He saw with His human eyes and heart? That in a moment of such weight and enormity it could make all the difference.

This ended up being one of the heaviest books I have ever read (which is kind of funny because my mom just called me and told me I need to do some lighter reading) :) , but one I will probably read again when the unfortunate reality of death strikes nearby.  It’s difficult, but helpful, hopeful, and makes me want to listen to some bluegrass right now.  I guess I need to return this to Jiffy Lube now!

mark

Mark’s #28 – In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

In 1933, America and the world was gripped in economic crisis known later as “The Great Depression”.  Fresh off his campaign promises of “change” (he may have used the term “hope” as well), newly elected President Roosevelt now faced the difficult task of making good on such promises.  Americans were eager to restore the economy, and even more eager to avoid any military involvement around the world.
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Meanwhile, in Germany, a charismatic leader was rallying the German people and infusing a level of nationalistic pride rarely seen in history.   Of course, we now know how the story of Hitler and the Nazis progressed and ended, but in 1933 the fate of world history was still very much “up in the air”.
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In the Garden of Beasts gives the readers a vivid and unique insiders look at 1933-34 Berlin through the stories of two principle characters; newly appointed Ambassador to Germany William Dodd and his young adult daughter Martha.
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Knowing how the story ends so tragically, as I read this book, it was hard not to cringe whenever the Ambassador, other members of the State Department, the president, or the American people would somehow think the best of Germany and the Nazis. Dodd, a history professor by trade, eventually does connect the dots and is able to see the terrifying direction the Nazi party will eventually lead the world… though it was either too late, or too few western democracies were willing to face reality.
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As for Martha, she basically ‘sleeps’ her way through Berlin, with a variety of illicit affairs and trysts.  Most notably, she had prolonged and overlapping love affairs with the head of the Gestapo as well as the Russian ambassador to Germany.  In my opinion, these retellings in the book were too long and uninteresting.
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As is common with history books, there are many lessons to be learned and applied in our day… but will we choose to learn from the past, or will we choose to put our heads in the sand as most of America and other western democracies did while Hitler scrambled to gain absolute power.
Jim

Jim’s #21: Cowpens: “Downright Fighting” by Thomas J. Fleming

Part of my coursework for the Captain’s Career Course is to help conduct a battle analysis of the Battle of Cowpens from the Revolutionary War.  It’s an interesting battle in its own right, but frankly, I really was not that interested in it.  Maybe that comes from the fact that it’s basically required reading.  Nonetheless, it still counts as a book, so here it is.  If you’re interested in a book on the Battle of Cowpens for any reason, I would suggest A Devil of a Whipping instead.  If you want the short, reader’s digest version to get a basic feel for what happened (which is exactly what I was looking f0r) then this one, at barely 100 pages, might be your best bet.

Jim

Jim’s #20: The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul

I first read this book a couple years ago and remember being so struck by it I thought I should take another look at it.  I truly believe that this is one of the most important pieces of literature in Christendom.  I know that’s a huge statement, but it certainly is when compared with all the other Christian literature I’ve read (which is an admittedly small sample size).  Part of what makes this book so profound and useful is the importance of the topic discussed and the lack of understanding of God’s holiness in the church; this is reflected in the disparity of books on God’s holiness verses His love or His grace or His peace (and the disparity in results found on a google search).

If you’re like me, you’ve read the old testament and have found yourself wondering why God did certain things.  There are just some things that seem out of place to a loving and merciful God.  Why did God kill Uzzah for steadying the ark of God when it was going to fall into the mud?  Why did He strike down Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu for offering additional sacrifices to Him.  Why does God destroy complete nations, or command Joshua to extinguish all of Canaan?  I had to wrestle with those questions myself.  Plenty of explanations and inferences have been made to reconcile the apparent disconnect, but Sproul throws those away and offers the biblical and awe-inspiring answer to these troubling passages and much more.  ”The question is not, why does God punish sin but why does He permit the ongoing human rebellion?”

But Sproul does not begin there.  He starts by calling us to see God’s holiness throughout the scriptures, looking at Isaiah’s vision, Moses and the burning bush, and the difference between Lord and LORD in the bible.  Understanding these passages and encounters with a Holy God lead us to a grasp of His works in all of creation, even most the difficult ones.  ”How we understand the person and character of God the Father affects every aspect of our lives.  It affects far more than what we normally call the “religious” aspects of our lives.  If God is the Creator of the entire universe, then it must follow that He is the Lord of the whole universe… His holy character  has something to say about economics, politics, athletics, romance–everything with which we are involved.”

If I get the privilege to lead another bible study, this is a book I want to go through.  The questions at the end of each chapter are thought-provoking and would further great discussion within a group.  The holiness of God is such an important aspect of the divine to understand.  Without it, we have a hard time resolving the inner difficulties of our faith in relation to a fallen world; more importantly, we diminish the value of the cross and lose sight of the awesome chasm bridged by the death of Christ.

mark

Mark’s #27 – Kingdom Without Borders: The Untold Story of Global Christianity by Miriam Adeney

In August, Lord willing, I’ll be leading a team from The Harbor on a worldview immersion and mission trip to Cambodia.  The preparation for this trip has been very different than any of our other mission trips.  One of the key goals for this trip is to expose people to, and to think deeply about worldview issues and what God is doing in the world.  To that end, the team has been assigned several books to read and discuss prior to the trip, which is why I read this book.

As the title suggests, Miriam Adeney aims to give the reader, the American Christian reader in particular, some snapshots of how God’s people live and worship around the world.  If you decide to take the journey with her by reading this book, you’ll be exposed to all sorts of stories of struggle and pain, joy and celebration, hunger and yearning, filling and refreshing by the Holy Spirit from around the world.  You’ll read about our persecuted brothers and sisters in China, and how they not only survive, but thrive in the midst of persecution.  You’ll see how God is using His Word in the lives of people groups who have been without the Bible until recently.  You’ll get a picture of what it is like to follow Christ in the midst of the overtly spiritual land and Hindu land of India, or how God is moving even in the prison systems of Brazil.

As we discussed this book as a mission team, I remember being struck by this thought: “If every American Christian could read this book and get a glimpse of global Christianity, I believe this fresh insight would certainly reduce the number of silly arguments we get into in the American Church.  People would be less likely to squabble over worship style and the color of the sanctuary carpet.”

While I didn’t always  agree with Adeney’s conclusions or implications, I can say I benefited from reading this book, and I would recommend it.

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