I have written an e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which is free to anyone. To download that book, in several formats, go here.
Creative Commons License
The posts in this blog are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. In other words, you can copy and use this material, as long as you aren't making money from it, and as long as you give me credit.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Soul Surfer, the movie

My wife and I recently saw the movie, Soul Surfer. It's not the greatest movie ever made, but it was good. Much of the photography, involving views of surfing from under and above the surface of the Pacific, as well as scenery from Hawaii, was spectacular. The movie's web site is here. There's a Wikipedia article on the movie here. Bethany Hamilton, who is portrayed in the film by AnnaSophia Robb, with stunts by the real Bethany Hamilton, has a Wikipedia article here. The Christianity Today movie review is here.

I don't think it's much of a secret that Hamilton was bitten badly by a shark, and lost an arm, but recovered well enough to resume a budding career as a surfer. There's more to the plot than that, but that's the bare bones of it. For more, see the links in the previous paragraph.

Some musings:

1) Although the movie has a Christian orientation -- Hamilton goes to church, and on a mission trip, the family prays, and seems to have faith -- I don't think it's preachy. Also, the title comes from a term that does not refer to Christianity, but is a term used to describe a surfer who has good instincts*. (If the film said that, I missed it -- I picked it up from the Wikipedia article on the film.) The Wikipedia article on Robb says that she is a Christian.

2) There were some recognizable Hollywood names, such as Robb, as well as Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, Kevin Sorbo and Craig T. Nelson. Carrie Underwood, country singer, had her first film role in Soul Surfer. The Christianity Today reviewer was less than overwhelmed with Underwood's acting, but it seemed competent enough to me.

3) One question both my wife and I had was "what do these people do for a living?" There was no mention of a job for any of the five Hamiltons, unless they made their living by surfing or making surf-boards. There was a very brief mention of home schooling for Bethany, but no other mention of school, for her or her two brothers, who looked old enough to hold a job. The impression was that surfing was the center of their lives. They lived for it, and not for much else. (Not only did the brothers show no evidence of going to school, or working, but they showed no evidence of having girlfriends, either.)

4) The shark attack was handled well. It wasn't over-dramatized, but it was clear that it was a serious matter. The amputated arm was also handled well. It looked like it had really been removed. There were several episodes showing how difficult ordinary acts are, if a person has only one arm.

5) There was rivalry between Hamilton and another surfer. (I have no idea whether this was based on reality, or just put in for the plot.) That is understandable. However, Bethany's best friend, also a surfer, and apparently supposed to be a Christian, fouled the rival on purpose, and did not apologize. Bethany thanked the rival for not cutting her any slack.

6) The best line in the movie was Hamilton's. After being beaten by the rival, but having done a great job with a good wave, just after time expired, a TV newsperson asked how it felt to lose. Hamilton said "I didn't come here to win. I came to surf." If that was true, it was a change of heart. Hamilton was shown to be extremely competitive, and obviously wanted to win very badly. But if God gave her ability to surf, then she should have used that ability, to His glory, and let the victories come, or not. I hope that was true.

Thanks for reading, even if you were web-surfing.

*I changed this sentence on April 30, 2011.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip

Ombria in Shadow (New York: Ace Books, 2003) by Patricia A. McKillip, is a good book. As the Wikipedia article on the book says, it won the Mythpoeic Award, and the World Fantasy Award.

Like most McKillip works, I read it twice -- once to get an idea of what was going on, and once to get some of the details.

The Wikipedia article, referenced above, considers the plot. I wish to muse about other things.

First, the title. Ombria is a city. McKillip doesn't connect it with a country, or a planet, except that it has docks, and ships come and go. She treats it as an entity unto itself. The shadow part of the title relates to two aspects of the city. First, there is an under-city. There are tunnels and passages, sunken rooms and mansions, under the city known to most of the inhabitants, and even in the palace. Then, there is a shadow city -- a city separate from the "real" city, but somehow linked to it: "The shadow city of Ombria is as old as Ombria. Some say it is a different city completely, existing side by side with Ombria in a time so close to us that there are places -- streets, gates, old houses -- where one time fades into the other, one city becomes the other. Others say both cities exist in one time, this moment, and you walk through both of them each day, just as, walking down a street, you pass through light and shadow and light . . ." (Lydea to Kyel, p. 4)

Then, the characters. Lydea is one of them. She grew up as the daughter of a tavern keeper, but Royce Greve, the prince of Ombria, took her as his mistress when his wife died. Kyel is the five-year-old son of that first wife. As the book begins, Royce Greve is dying. An ancient, evil relative, Domina Pearl, also known as the Black Pearl, takes power as regent for Kyel. She expels Lydea from the palace. The "real" Ombria is such a corrupt city that Domina Pearl, and Lydea, don't expect her to last through her first night in it. There are evil people abroad. But Lydea does survive, thanks to Mag, another of the main characters. Mag is the teen-aged ward of Faey, a sorceress, who knows the under-city as well as anyone. She helps Lydea get to her father's tavern, without being seen by Lydea. Faey calls Mag her "waxling," pretending that she has made Mag out of the drippings of candle wax, to help her run errands of all kinds. The last main character is Ducon Greve, the illegitimate son of Royce Greve's dead sister.

Next, love. Lydea loves Kyel. So does Ducon. And, it develops, Faey loves Mag, and Mag loves her. (They both know that she is human.) In all cases, this love is unselfish, giving love -- concern for, and exerting effort for, the other person.

In the end, Faey, with help from Mag and Ducon, destroys Domina Pearl. Love triumphs. There are hints that Lydea and Ducon are in love with each other, too. Ducon becomes regent, and he begins to set Ombria to rights, having trash cleaned up, and getting the gangs off the streets, and into useful pursuits.

Finally, I'm going to include a quotation from the book, not because it is central to the plot, but to show what sort of writing McKillip does: Air trembled on the threshold, smelling of grass, slow rain, and lavender. A light sparked, reflecting Ducon's candle; how near or far, he could not tell in the utter darkness. There were voices, whisperings. A bell began its slow dirge, faint and far away within the shadow, for someone who had died. Ducon felt the icy hand of sorrow and wonder glide over him. Shaken, unable to move, he heard a second bell, louder, on this side of the shadow, its great open mouth speaking the word that Royce Greve could not. Ducon closed his burning eyes and wondered if, in the shadow city, someone stood like him, in a secret place, listening to the mourning bell of a city within a tale. (32. Ducon is in the old passages in the Palace.)

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sunspots 311

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Humor: (Sort of, but it's for serious) If you are looking for a stroller that works well, and does everything (including expanding to carry two children of different sizes) this one's for you, if you have the money, says Wired.

Science: An amazing discovery  --  people have ecosystems of bacteria inside them,  made of many species, but there seem to be only three groups of such bacteria.

Computing: Your iPhone keeps track of where you've been, and it's possible for a bad person to find out this information.

Microsoft has an emergency malware scanner, here. It expires after 10 days, so must be re-downloaded frequently, but it's great at checking for possible problems..

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

John Calvin on Genesis 1 as a book of science -- not

The material not in black is a quotation from Calvin.

(From John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, Vol. 1, Part 3)
[Genesis 1:]16. "The greater light." I have said, that Moses does not here subtilely descant, as a philosopher, on the secrets of nature, as may be seen in these words. First, he assigns a place in the expanse of heaven to the planets and stars; but astronomers make a distinction of spheres, and, at the same time, teach that the fixed stars have their proper place in the firmament. Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove, by conclusive reasons that the star of Saturn, which on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon. Here lies the difference; Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labour whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them. For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God. Wherefore, as ingenious men are to be honoured who have expended useful labour on this subject, so they who have leisure and capacity ought not to neglect this kind of exercise. Nor did Moses truly wish to withdraw us from this pursuit in omitting such things as are peculiar to the art; but because he was ordained a teacher as well of the unlearned and rude as of the learned, he could not otherwise fulfill his office than by descending to this grosser method of instruction. Had he spoken of things generally unknown, the uneducated might have pleaded in excuse that such subjects were beyond their capacity. Lastly since the Spirit of God here opens a common school for all, it is not surprising that he should chiefly choose those subjects which would be intelligible to all. If the astronomer inquires respecting the actual dimensions of the stars, he will find the moon to be less than Saturn; but this is something abstruse, for to the sight it appears differently. Moses, therefore, rather adapts his discourse to common usage. For since the Lord stretches forth, as it were, his hand to us in causing us to enjoy the brightness of the sun and moon, how great would be our ingratitude were we to close our eyes against our own experience? There is therefore no reason why janglers should deride the unskilfulness of Moses in making the moon the second luminary; for he does not call us up into heaven, he only proposes things which lie open before our eyes. Let the astronomers possess their more

(Continued, here, in the Commentary on Genesis, Vol. 1, Part 4. I have no idea why someone separated this thought in the middle of a sentence.):

exalted knowledge; but, in the meantime, they who perceive by the moon the splendour of night, are convicted by its use of perverse ingratitude unless they acknowledge the beneficence of God.

In other words, Genesis 1 was written for the ordinary Hebrew. It was not meant as a text of science. This, according to Calvin, should not have acted as a barrier to further study of the heavens. Calvin's astronomy was that of his own time. Astronomers no longer believe that the planets and the moon are found in spheres around the earth.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Jesus forgives His crucifiers

Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (WEB)

Jesus, again, our perfect example, prayed this, while He was on the cross, dying for me. He asked the Father to forgive those who crucified Him, Roman soldiers, temple servants, priests, probably Pilate. In a way, that includes me, too. But for my sin, He wouldn't have had to be crucified. What a thought!

This is one of a series on Prayers in the Bible. The previous post is here.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Good Friday/Easter poster

Good Friday/Easter

This poster is an Easter offering for this year. It uses 1 Peter 3:18, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God . . ." and Colossians 1:20, ". . . and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." (Both quotations of the English Standard Version.) The poster, itself, is a link to my Flickr photostream, where a larger version can be found. No password is required to see Flickr graphics.

Thanks for looking. Have a blessed Easter!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Earth Day poster

Going on hiatus, but here's one for Earth Day: L'Engle on dealing with the unpleasant

Earth Day poster

The above poster is my Earth Day post for 2011. It is based on a quotation from A Wrinkle in Time, the Newbery Award-winning novel by Madeleine L'Engle. Mrs. Which, one of the characters, said, "There will no longer by so many pleasant things to look at if responsible people do not do something about the unpleasant ones." (Modified into standard English -- Mrs. Which's speech was represented by extra letters, and the like.) The photo was taken near our home.

The photo serves as a link to my Flickr photostream, where larger versions are available.

Thanks for looking.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sunspots 310

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Computing: A robot sportswriter has done a good job of reporting a sports event.

Christianity: A fine post on what the Atonement does. (It does several things.)

Another good post, from the same blogger, on why thinking of God's omnipotence, omnipresence, etc., is not always the right focus.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy -- Christian?

Great literature will be important long after today's news is forgotten.

I have recently posted on the three books of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. The post on The Fellowship of the Ring is here, on The Two Towers here, and on The Return of the King here. The books are wonderful, and everyone who likes, or can even tolerate, fantastic literature should read them.

I have, in the past, attempted to set forth a diagnostic description of what makes a novel Christian. I, perhaps arbitrarily, concluded that such a work should have at least the following characteristics. (I quote the previous post):
First, some sort of important choice between good and evil. There should also be evidence that a character has hope, beyond despair. Such a work should also contain at least one of the following, as a significant part of the plot, or the theme, or as an attribute of an important character: 1) A Christ-figure 2) Belief in important orthodox Christian doctrine, on the part of a narrator or character 3) Practicing prayer to a monotheistic divine being 4) Having a relationship with such a monotheistic divine being in other significant ways, including receiving guidance from him, or being placed in his presence.

Now, to evaluate the trilogy.

Clearly, there are important choices between good and evil. Bilbo decides to give up the ring, Frodo decides to take it, and the other characters of the Fellowship decide to follow him. Saruman decides that he wants the ring for himself. Galadriel decides that she does not. Théoden chooses to throw off the ministrations of Saruman. Faramir decides to trust Gandalf and Frodo, rather than his own father. Sam decides to be loyal to Frodo, no matter what. There are others, but the books are full of such choices, and they make up their main feature.

There are a number of instances where a character demonstrates hope beyond despair. The whole attempt to destroy the ring is one such. Gandalf, Galadriel, Théoden, Faramir, Éomer and Éowyn all show such hope, as do Sam and Frodo, and others.

I'm not as confident about the last criterion, even though there could be alternate ways of fulfilling it. I don't know of any explicit expression of an important Christian doctrine, by any of the characters. The only episode which is even close to prayer is described in a quote from The Two Towers, in this post, but it is not clear that it's prayer at all, and, even if it were, it's not necessarily to a monotheistic god. There is no evidence of a relationship with a monotheistic god, either. So that leaves the matter of a Christ-figure. There are at least two possible legitimate candidates, I believe. One of them is Gandalf, who put himself in grave danger, and, seemingly, died, near the end of Fellowship. Then, in Towers, he seems to have been resurrected. Frodo also could serve as a Christ-figure. He willingly offered himself to a task that seemed difficult, and to offer only death at the end. He didn't die, but did lose a finger, and also was not able to live with the rest of the hobbits, in peace and safety, at the end of the trilogy.

Rather to my surprise, since there is no evidence of anything close to communal worship, priests, or scripture in Middle-Earth, I am forced to decide that Tolkien's trilogy can, indeed, be described as Christian.

Thanks for reading. Read Tolkien!

Monday, April 18, 2011

May 21, the end of the world? I don't think so.

In the spring of 2011, I discovered that there is an enthusiastic, but misguided, group of Christians (I hope they are such) led by one Harold Camping, who proclaimed that the second coming of Christ was scheduled for May 21st of that year, on billboards, apparently throughout the country. The billboards said that the Bible predicted Christ's return at that time. That was wrong. Camping has since recanted, saying that his prediction was a sin. (This paragraph was redone in early in January 2013. The rest of the post is almost as it was originally published on April 2011, except for two editorial changes.)

Well, I don't think so. Or, if judgment day does happen on May 21st, it won't be because these predictions are accurate. Why do I say so? First, because Matthew 24:36 says that no one knows the day or the hour of Christ's return.

Second, because the calendar Camping presented is based on a number of assumptions, all of them questionable.

For example, they state that the Flood of Noah's time occurred in 4990 BC. (Ussher's chronology, which had its own set of dubious assumptions, but is still found in some Bibles, claimed that the creation of the earth was in 4004 BC.) They further state that Peter's statement, in 2 Peter3:8, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, is to be taken exactly literally. It seems more likely that Peter was simply saying that God's time is not the same as ours, not that one can substitute 1,000 years for a 24-hour period. But that's what they do. They further claim that, in Genesis 7, when God told Noah that in seven days it would rain on the earth, He also meant that in seven thousand years the judgment would occur. Huh? Really? But that's how they come up with the 2011 date. (There is, they say, a 1 year adjustment needed, because of the way a calendar was constructed. Allowing for that, 4990 + 2010 = 7000)

There are also assumptions about eschatology. Christians hold to a number of views about these matters, perhaps all of them at least partially incorrect. But two popular aspects of these views are a tribulation and a millennium. Since those who predict that judgment will be next month also claim that the earth will be destroyed in October, there doesn't seem to be room for either a tribulation or a millennium in their calendar.

Christ will return. I don't know when. I should be ready when He does, or when I die.

Why do people do these things?

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Jesus, forsaken?

Matthew 27:46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lima sabachthani?” That is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (WEB)

What a prayer! (Christ was on the cross at this time.) It is possible that God the Father had temporarily separated Himself from Christ, because Christ had my sins on Himself. It is possible that Jesus was undergoing such terrible physical suffering that He thought that the Father had left Him. Other interpretations are possible.

Sincere Christians have prayed such prayers, when tested severely. God the Father did not totally reject the Son. God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, will not totally forsake us, so long as we are in God's will.

Thanks for reading. This is one in a series on Prayers in the Bible. The previous post is here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis

I recently posted on Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis. That book, which won both the Nebula and Hugo awards, was a serious work, in tone, and in subject matter.

The second of Willis's time travel books is much less serious. In fact, it may well be the funniest book I have ever read. The title of that book is To Say Nothing of the Dog: or How we Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last. You can get a good summary of the plot by following the link in the previous sentence, which is to the Wikipedia article on the book. Although this book and the previous one are related, they are independent, and enjoyment and understanding don't require that both be read, or that they be read in sequence. The main characters in the two books appear only in one of them. The idea of historical time travel, and the Oxford University time travel team, based in a history department, and headed by James Dunworthy, are common. The novel gets its title from the subtitle of a hilarious novel, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), by Jerome K. Jerome, which was published in the Victorian era, and is still in print, and available in its entirety on-line. Willis refers to this book in the novel.

I wish to muse on a few aspects of To Say Nothing.

First, Willis can detail you almost to death, so if you aren't up to reading details of, for example, what the time travelers were thinking, you probably won't like Willis. But the details are a way of establishing character, setting, and plot. What do I mean, detail? Well, for one thing, the details of Victorian life, or at least Willis's view of Victorian life. We read about how rooms were furnished, what they wore, what luggage they took on short journeys, whether by boat or coach, and what they had for breakfast. We also read about jumble sales (known to some of us as yard or garage sales). There is an ongoing dialogue between two Victorian professors about the importance -- or not -- of the individual in history. That dialogue is related to the science fiction aspect of the book, which is on time travel.

It is the details that make the book funny. The book is entirely told from the viewpoint of Ned Henry, who has been sent into the past for reasons he doesn't really understand. One detail is that time travel may cause lack of sleep, and inability to concentrate. The results of these symptoms, which are evident in Ned, are hilarious. So are his attempts to sleep comfortably.

Second, Willis has made the book a mystery novel. There are two ongoing mysteries. One of them is the mystery of who Tossie Mering will marry. Tossie is a Victorian who is an ancestor of an important person from Ned's Oxford time frame. When I first read the book, I was taken completely by surprise when I found out the answer. My latest reading discovered clues, which I had missed. The second mystery is, as suggested by the subtitle, the question of what happened to the Bishop's bird stump. (The detailed description of that object, which is a large vase for holding flowers, but a garish, and seemingly indestructible one, is another funny aspect of the book.) There are clues, again -- Willis likes Agatha Christie, who makes a token appearance in a subsequent time travel book, and Ned's fellow time traveler, Verity Kindle, is an expert on mystery novels -- and they are used to solve the theft.

Third, as in Doomsday Book, the characters, both in 21st century Oxford, and in Victorian England, are very well drawn. Some of them are to be endured. Some are to be emulated. They are by no means constructed of cardboard. By the way, the characters include a dog and a cat, who are also not cardboard -- they are fictionally substantial.

Fourth, Willis does examine time travel. The historians of the Oxford group, and others using time travel, had previously concluded that the past cannot be substantially changed, and that significant objects cannot be brought from the past to the present. The first conclusion remains in doubt through much of the book -- the historians are afraid that they have changed the past in such a way that it affects their own time. The second is discarded, under certain circumstances -- they find that it is possible to bring objects, including live animals, from the past into the future, if that is done just prior to their destruction in past history. 

To Say Nothing of the Dog is a fine book, and I'm glad that I read it again.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Return of the King, by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Return of the King is the third book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, by J. R. R. Tolkien. I am so grateful for the impulse, and the opportunity, after I'm not sure how many years, to read these books again. They have their flaws, and I have pointed out some of them (see also my previous posts on the first and second books) but they are well-crafted, with some believable, three-dimensional characters, a suspenseful plot, a well-described setting, and, above all, they are uplifting. By the end of this book, the major source of evil in Middle-Earth has been removed:
'A great Shadow has departed,' said Gandalf, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then, as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed. (J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963, p 230)
Here is a poster, which includes another quotation about Gandalf's joy, from this book.

But at considerable cost:
I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. But you are my heir: all that I had and might have I leave to you. (Frodo to Sam, p. 309)

The trilogy is about heroism. The heroism isn't riding off on a white horse, with trumpets blowing and flags flying, to get people's attention, but it's agreeing to try to do a job you don't understand very well, that promises to be difficult or impossible, and sticking to it. The main heroes are Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee, although there are others.

For more of the plot, see the Wikipedia article on the book, which is the first link in this post. I wish to muse about a few matters.

1) Celeborn - I had read the book several times, but apparently hadn't caught the fact that Celeborn, an elf, and the consort and husband of Galadriel, did not leave Middle-Earth with Galadriel. Tolkien doesn't make the reason, or the consequences, clear. (See here for Wikipedia article on Celeborn. This article, from the Tolkien Gateway, also indicates that Tolkien did not seem to have a clear idea about Celeborn's origin.)

2) Tolkien's descriptions, and the genealogies in the appendix, spend a lot of time in detailing ancestry. Having high parentage is important, again and again. Tolkien seems clearly to have believed in a class structure (which is hardly surprising for one born in 1892, in a British colony). He also uses color. Fair hair is often related to nobility or goodness. Dark skin is often related to evil.

3) Some sentient and intelligent creatures in the books have no redeeming features. By this, I mostly mean the orcs, but the same could be said of trolls. There is nothing to like about them. No orc, and no troll, ever does anyone a good deed. Presumably they have no choice in these matters.

4) Tolkien was a scholar of languages, and it shows. He made up some for his sub-creation. There are several languages mentioned, occasionally with examples given. These include the languages of men, of orcs, of ents, and of elves. There is more than one language used by men, and more than one used by orcs, and more than one by elves. These beings all use a common speech, on occasion, at least. Sometimes the love for languages shows too much, as in the many names given to characters and things. But it was Tolkien's book.

5) There is a love story in the book. It is not long, but Tolkien carefully describes how Faramir and Éowyn fell in love, and does so from both of their viewpoints. Éowyn is Tolkien's most fully developed female character, although Galadriel is more important. Arwen marries Aragorn, but she appears but seldom, and says less, including all three books.

6) As in the previous books, the role of providence is important. Pity, as related to providence is critical in this one. It shows up in the relationship between Gollum, Sam and Frodo. Sam wants to kill Gollum, but does not, out of pity. Frodo knows that Gollum is dangerous, but does not kill him, either, also out of pity. In the end, it is Gollum who unwittingly provides the climax, the achievement of the quest.

My post on the second book, The Two Towers, is here.

Again, I'm glad I read these books again! Maybe in a few years, I'll have another go at them.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien

I have re-read The Hobbit, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, by J. R. R. Tolkien, once again, and, this time, am blogging about the books. My post on The Hobbit is here, and that on The Fellowship of the Ring is here. There is, of course, a good Wikipedia article on the book, and also one on the Peter Jackson film based on it. I won't concern myself with the film here.

One of the most remarkable features of Towers is the resurrection (?) of Gandalf. In Fellowship, the last we see of Gandalf, he had fallen into an abyss, while in single combat with an evil being. In Towers, he appears, to the surprise and joy of Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Merry and Pippin. But there is serious work to be done. Gandalf explains that he destroyed the Balrog, but that he was changed in the process. He does not describe what happened to him, but does indicate that the eagle who carried him to consult with Galadriel after his restoration said that he weighed a lot less. The Encyclopedia of Arda article on The Battle of the Peak between Gandalf and the Balrog unambiguously describes what happened to Gandalf as a resurrection, without using that word.

There are many moral choices confronting the characters. The one described in the most detail is the choice of Saruman, offered by Gandalf. Saruman, of the same order as Gandalf, was sent to earth, like Gandalf, to help elves, men, and others to withstand Sauron and other evil beings. But Saruman fell, mostly because he became fascinated with Sauron and his doings. As Elrond put it: ' . . . It is perilous to study too deeply the arts of the Enemy, for good or for ill.' J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963, p. 278. In Towers, Gandalf asks Saruman if he will renounce his attempt to mimic Sauron, and rejoin the battle against evil. Saruman refuses. Gandalf tells Merry that, although he did not have much hope that Sauron would choose to change, he had to try, and that Saruman almost chose to join Gandalf. But he did not.

Pippin also was confronted with a choice:
'I wish I had known all this before,' said Pippin. 'I had no notion of what I was doing.'
'Oh yes, you had,' said Gandalf. 'You knew you were behaving wrongly and foolishly; and you told yourself so, though you did not listen. . . .' (about ) J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1962. p. 204. Pippin took the palantír from Gandalf, while Gandalf slept. Gandalf's speech to him, quoted above, would be widely applicable now.

Frodo, Sam, and even Gollum have moral choices to make, as Frodo tries to enter Mordor so that the Ring can be destroyed, accompanied by faithful Sam, and by Gollum, who is anything but faithful. Among these choices are what to do with Gollum. Frodo does not have Gollum killed, even though Sam wishes that he would choose to do so. Gollum sees, in Frodo and Sam, something of what he might have become, but remains self-centered as he has been for centuries. Sam chooses to follow Frodo, no matter what.

There is a little evidence of providence in this book, but not as much as in Fellowship. Sam blurts out the nature of Frodo's quest to Faramir, then is immediately afraid that Faramir will take the Ring. Faramir doesn't, and tells Sam that perhaps he was supposed to impart this information.

There is a female character, Eowyn, who is of some importance, and a spider-like monster who is said to be female. But, as in the previous books, this one is male-dominated. There is an entire species, the Ents, who have been separated from the females for centuries, perhaps millenia. There is no appearance of female orcs. Toward the end of the book, two orcs discuss getting away from the "bosses" -- Sauron, Saruman and others, with a few trusty lads, to start up somewhere on their own. In this Wikipedia article on orcs, there is a statement that female orcs do not appear in any of Tolkien's writings, except in a letter, wherein he indicated that he realized that there must have been females.

The only occasion of worship in all three of the books is this:
Before they ate, Faramir and all his men turned and faced west in a moment of silence. Faramir signed to Frodo and Sam that they should do likewise.
'So we always do,' he said, as they sat down: 'we look towards Númenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be. Have you no such custom at meat?' (284-5, to Frodo and Sam, who do not have any such custom.)

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sunspots 309

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Humor: (or The Arts) Wired reports, with video, on a woman's project to build a Lego ship in a bottle.

Science: Wired reports on a report that algae and some salamanders have a mutualistic relationship, something like that in lichens, with algae cells living in salamander embryos. There are photos.

Computing: Gizmo's Freeware discusses free on-line storage. (I use one of the two services mentioned, free, and it's great.)

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Fellowship of the Ring, by J. R. R. Tolkien

I have read Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings novels several times, the first being over five decades ago. (The Wikipedia page on Tolkien is here, on The Fellowship of the Ring, the book, here, and on the recent movie derived from the book, here.) I decided that it was time to not only re-read these books, but to blog about them. This post is on the first of the three books.

My first impression was that providence, or destiny, or divine guidance, is an important part of this book. Here's a statement by Gandalf: 'Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. . . .' (p. 65 -- the book I am using is J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963. The book uses single quote marks, and I am quoting them, too.)

And: 'Such questions cannot be answered,' said Gandalf. 'You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: nor for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.' (to Frodo, again about the fact that Frodo has found himself in possession of the Ring, left him by his uncle Bilbo, p. 70)

On page 94, the elf, Gildor Inglorion, tells Frodo that his group of elves has not met Frodo by chance. On page 137, Tom Bombadil tells Frodo much the same thing. Gildor and his elves seem to have scared the Black Riders away from Frodo and his companions, and Bombadil rescued them from Old Man Willow. On page 255, Elrond tells those who have come to Rivendell with Frodo, and the others who are there, including Boromir, Gimli and Legolas, that they are not there by accident. On page 423, Frodo tells Sam that the two of them are "meant to go together" in carrying the ring on. In no case, in the entire trilogy, is the nature of the guidance specified, but Tolkien clearly wants us to know that it is there. (There is an on-line Encyclopedia of Arda, which has hundreds of entries on characters and aspects of Tolkien's work. I have not linked to individual entries, except for this sample -- Gildor Inglorion.)

The most important passage in the entire trilogy is this:

At last with an effort he spoke, and wondered to hear his own words, as if some other will was using his small voice.
'I will take the Ring,' he said, 'though I do not know the way.' (284. Frodo, to the Council of Elrond.)

Besides the matter of providence, three other aspects of Fellowship should be mentioned. One of them is the matter of choice. As quoted immediately above, Frodo chooses to take the Ring. But this is not the only important choice made by characters. Sam, Pippin and Merry choose to go with Frodo. Bilbo chooses to give the Ring to Frodo, although he needs help in doing this. Elrond, Gandalf, and Aragorn choose not to take the Ring. Most notably, Galadriel also chooses not to do so. (See a quotation of her speech, in this post. That speech is repeated, almost verbatim, in Peter Jackson's movie based on this book.)

A second aspect is the matter of time, in Lothlórien, and for the Elves. The Elves are immortal, and many of them, such as Galadriel, have lived for thousands of years. But time seems to run differently in their realms than in the realms outside of their most important influence.

The book, A Question of Time: J. R. R. Tolkien's Road to Faërie, Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1997, by Verlyn Flieger, deals with the importance of time to Tolkien's narrative. Part of Tolkien's use of time is as a way of escape. This is clearest in the episode in Lórien:
" . . . Frodo felt that he was in a timeless land that did not fade or change or fall into forgetfulness. When he had gone and passed again into the outer world, still Frodo the wanderer from the Shire would walk there . . ." (pp. 365-6)

The third aspect, and I hate to do this, is to question the presence of Tom Bombadil in the book. I'm not sure that he was needed. Jackson's movie ignores him, and that episode.

It was a joy to re-read this book. It is readable, and at times inspiring. Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I recently read The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is the most challenging book I have ever read. Why so? Well, first, I know something of the story of the author. Bonhoeffer was a young theologian, with a superior intellect. He stood up for traditional Christianity against the influence of Nazism in Germany, and, in fact, was one of the leaders of the Confessing Church there. He was well received in Britain and the U. S., and could have stayed in either place, until the end of World War II, but he chose to return to Germany, saying that he would have no right to be a spiritual leader among the Germans, after the war, if he had not experienced what they were experiencing. He was imprisoned and eventually executed in a concentration camp.

Bonhoeffer's life was a challenge, but the contents of the book are, if anything, more so. What are the contents?

The book begins with a biography of Bonhoeffer. Then, there's what is probably Bonhoeffer's best-known chapter, a chapter on costly grace. He also writes about cheap grace:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. (44-45)

. . . Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace becaus it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995. (Translated from the German Nachfolge, 1937, by R. H. Fuller. Some revision by Irmgard Booth.) Copyright 1959 by SCM Press Ltd.45)

There are five chapters on Discipleship.

Then, Bonhoeffer expounds on the Sermon on the Mount, in 15 chapters, each one about a short section of Matthew 5-7. He writes about such matters as love, hiding your gifts, and the role of Christians in politics. These chapters would make great short devotionals, and did so for me.

I had my only disagreement with the late Bonhoeffer in this section. It wasn't over a critical doctrine. On p. 147, Bonhoeffer claims that the Old Testament "tells us more than once that we must love [our enemies]" He says that Ex. 23:4-5, Prov 25:21-22, Gen 45, 1 Sam 24:7, II Kings 6:22 teach this. I checked, and I don't think so. They do teach to be fair and generous to enemies, but I don't think these passages require and teach love of enemies. The New Testament certainly does, whether Bonhoeffer is correct or not.

Bonhoeffer closes with two sections, six chapters each, on "The Messengers," and one on the church.

The entire book, covering so many topics, but yet only one, namely the Christian life, is well written, challenging -- do I measure up? -- and doctrinally sound. It's a great read for the Christian. I commend it to you.

Thanks for reading. A couple of days ago, this blog used a quote from Bonhoeffer as the basis of a poster.

Added August 2, 2013: I have now posted on a biography of Bonhoeffer, here

Added June 10, 2014: See here for a chart, based on Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Jesus, praying that God's will be done

Matthew 26:39 He went forward a little, fell on his face, and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me; nevertheless, not what I desire, but what you desire.”

42 Again, a second time he went away, and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cup can’t pass away from me unless I drink it, your desire be done.” (WEB)

These two verses are part of the same episode. Jesus is praying to be excused from dying on the Cross. Understandably? Or not -- He was God, after all! But the bottom line is that He wanted to do the right thing, and we are all, potentially, at least, infinitely better off for that act of obedience. Thank You for doing what You didn't want to do!

This is part of a series on Prayers in the Bible. The previous post is here. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Discipleship, quotation

Bonhoeffer grace alone

This is a quotation from The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995. See here for Wikipedia article on Bonhoeffer.) Bonhoeffer wasn't just being theoretical about the cost of following Christ, and the single-mindedness with which we should follow. He was an intellectual leader of the Confessing Church, which stood up to Hitler and Naziism. He left Germany, then felt that, if he was going to be part of the church in Germany after World War II, he needed to experience what Germany went through, because of Hitler and what came to his country, with the other Germans. So he went back. Bonhoeffer was eventually arrested, and executed by the Nazis, shortly before the end of Hitler's regime, at the age of 39.

Since searches won't pick up the text in the quotation from the graphic, I quote it here: "The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ." The graphic also serves as a link to a larger size, on Flickr. No password is needed to access Flickr.

I wish I were a better example of this.

The background comes from the Flickr photo, of immature blueberries, in the comment below, which photo was posted earlier.

Thanks for looking!

On November 17, 2012, a relative told me that I had used the wrong first name for Bonhoeffer in the description of this picture. Sorry, and I am grateful to the relative. That name has now been corrected.

Added August 2, 2013: I have now posted on a biography of Bonhoeffer, here

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Sunspots 308

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Science: You probably don't really want to know what's in Easter Candy. Wired tells us, anyway.

Sports: Frank Deford wants major league baseball to stop wasting fan's time. (Particularly, by fooling around with their batting gloves.)

Computing: Gizmo's Freeware has listed LucidChart, which, they say, is "a top-notch program for creating charts, mockups, flowcharts, org charts and the like. It's free, and it's online, so there's nothing to install on your computer." You can also use it to collaborate with others.

The Arts: One of my photos was selected as icon of the day by The World Through My Eyes, a large Flickr group. I thank God for this.

Christianity: Weekend Fisher on why the resurrection is important.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

"Creation" - the movie, Darwin, pain and suffering

I did not see the movie, Creation, which is about the life of Charles Darwin, when it came out. I may not see it. One aspect of Darwin's life that was important to him, but doesn't get mentioned much in our time, is that he had a beloved daughter, Annie, who got sick and died at age 10. Apparently the movie considers that at some length. The Wikipedia article on the film is here.

I have read a good article on the movie, written from a Christian perspective. The article is largely sympathetic to the film, and, for example, points out that some of the medicine of Darwin's time would now be considered quackery. The article also considers the conflict between the Christian faith of Darwin's wife, and the perceived implications of Darwin's theory.

I'm not clear as to whether the film considers that the death of Darwin's daughter was an example of selection against the unfit, but the article mentions that. (Darwin and his wife were related, hence their children were likely to have gotten a double dose of some bad recessive genes.)

Two other aspects of the article are important. The first is the consideration of a problem that has vexed believers since the Fall, namely the question of how pain and suffering in the world is compatible with the existence of a loving, omnipotent God. Here's the most important passage in the article:
Regardless of what philosophical problems Christians may have with the notion of God’s sovereignty and evil, our first commitment is to discover what the Bible says about the issue, not to presuppose what can and cannot be proposed philosophically. Clearly, the Bible claims that God somehow ordains natural disasters and both good and evil in such a way that man’s responsibility is not diminished, nor is God himself engaged in evil. Just how this is so is not explained to us.

The author then goes on to discuss Bible passages which are what the Bible has to say about it.

Another idea that I didn't realize that Darwin had had is mentioned in the article, namely that Darwin considered the possibility that, although evolution seems to work through blind chance, it is possible that God foresaw all of this, and made it possible, by constructing the universe in such a way as to bring it about by chance processes.

Thanks for reading. The movie sounds, from the article, like it is thought-provoking and far more worth seeing than many a film. AllMovie is less generous, but praises the portrayal of Darwin's daughter, whom is described as Darwin's intellectual superior and most penetrating critic. Read the article.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Books about the King James Version of the Bible

This year is, sort of, the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible.

I say "sort of" because the KJV was re-translated more than once, especially in 1769.

A review of books about the 400th anniversary is full of lots of interesting facts and ideas, and well worth reading.

See here for my take on the idea that the King James is the only Bible that should be used -- it isn't, and I explain why.

Thanks for reading this.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Jesus by Himself

Matthew 14:23 After he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into the mountain by himself to pray. When evening had come, he was there alone. (WEB)

Again, Jesus is our example. Here, He felt the need to pray, by Himself. And He, after all, WAS God. How much more should we do this?

This is part of a series on Prayers in the Bible. The previous post is here. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Lessons from Sodom

Genesis 19:29 It happened, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the middle of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in which Lot lived. (WEB)

God spared Lot because of the righteousness of his uncle Abraham. Genesis records Abraham's concern -- he kept asking God if He would spare it for smaller and smaller numbers of people. But Genesis doesn't say that Abraham asked God to spare it for Lot's sake. God must have known of Abraham's concern for Lot, even if Abraham never voiced it explicitly.

Some people make a big deal out of Sodom and homosexuality, and, no doubt, their behavior was sinful and despicable. But Ezekiel doesn't even mention anything sexual, but other sins: Ezekiel 16:49 Behold, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: pride, fullness of bread, and prosperous ease was in her and in her daughters; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. (WEB)

In Matthew 10:15, and elsewhere, Jesus said that Sodom would be better off, in the day of judgment, than a city which rejected the Gospel. (Jude 1:7 does mention the sexual sins of the people of Sodom.)

If I had to select the most important sin, it wouldn't be homosexuality. It would be pride, I guess -- putting myself forward, thinking chiefly, or only, of myself, or perhaps unbelief. Note that pride comes first in Ezekiel's list.

For what it's worth, here is a previous post on homosexuality.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Waterdrops on Flowers: Two recent photos

rain on lavender flowers

Raindrops on a lavender plant, Lavandula (I think) taken in a church parking lot in San Diego, CA.

Yellow rose interior, with raindrops, sooc

Raindrops on a yellow rose, somewhere in San Diego County (I forget where). Perhaps in the same church parking lot.

I like water drops in photos, and am grateful that I was able to take both of these photos in 2010. The photos above also serve as live links to the originals, which are larger, and posted on Flickr. No password is necessary to access my Flickr photostream.

Thanks for looking!