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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game (1985, by Orson Scott Card, and based on a 1977 short story) was, and is, an important science fiction book. See here for its Wikipedia article -- the book won both the Nebula and Hugo awards. The book has been adapted for a movie, which is to come out tomorrow. I have not seen the movie, but I like the list of actors -- Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Abigail Breslin, Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis. I don't see many movies, but I have seen all of these people in one or more, and like their work. I may see this one. Card, himself, has been deeply involved in the script of the film.

Amazon recently advertised the Kindle edition of the book. I purchased it, and I'm glad that I did. I hadn't read the book in a decade or two, and it's a good read. Also, the new edition includes a fine introduction by Card, about the book, and other things. Here's an excerpt:

Why else do we read fiction, anyway? Not to be impressed by somebody’s dazzling language—or at least I hope that’s not our reason. I think that most of us, anyway, read these stories that we know are not “true” because we’re hungry for another kind of truth: The mythic truth about human nature in general, the particular truth about those life-communities that define our own identity, and the most specific truth of all: our own self-story. Fiction, because it is not about somebody who actually lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about ourself.

What is the book about? Before I give a brief summary, some broad themes:

Relationships. I would say that extended family relationships is the most common theme I have encountered in Card's books, almost so much that his science fiction and alternate history tales are, in large part, vehicles for portrayal of that.
War, and some of the ways it warps our morals.
Teaching children to stick up for themselves by not backing them up.
What it's like to be an exceptionally intelligent child.
How we might interact with aliens.

There are some interesting science fiction ideas in the book. One of them is the ansible, a device for communicating instantaneously with others, not matter how far, really far away they are. Ursula K. LeGuin seems to have invented this device, in her equally important science fiction novel The Dispossessed. Another one is the alien species that Card describes sketchily in Ender's Game.

There is no explicit religion in the book, except for some Bible quotations, and a mention of the religions of Ender's parents, one of them a Mormon, one a Catholic. (Card is a Mormon.) No one prays or goes to church. There is a high moral tone, or at least recognition that some things are right.

Now, for a summary. Don't say that I didn't warn you! Spoilers included.

Before the book starts, humans have encountered an alien race, insect-like, the buggers, a few decades earlier. They defeated them, but believe that the buggers may come back, with better weapons. Mazer Rackham was the military leader who defeated them the first time.

Ender is a six-year-old boy, highly intelligent. He, and others, all over the earth, have been monitored by the army, who is looking for children who are flexible enough in their thinking, intelligent, and physically adept, to train so that they can lead the fight against the buggers, when they return. A bully attacks him, and he believes that the only way he can stop this bully is to defeat him utterly. He does, but, although Ender doesn't realize it, he kills the bully. He is given the opportunity to go to Battle School, a satellite where such children will be trained in free fall group war games, with the understanding that he won't see his family for years.

Ender's brother, Peter, is a highly intelligent sadist. His sister, Valentine, is a highly intelligent good person. He will miss her, and hates to leave her at Peter's mercy, but accepts.

Ender becomes the best leader in Battle School. Again, a bully attacks, and Ender defends himself, so thoroughly that he kills the bully, although Ender doesn't realize this. The adult leaders of Battle School want Ender to understand that he is on his own -- if something bad happens, he has no one but himself to count on. I wonder how the movie will handle the two bullying/retaliation scenes, if at all?

Ender is so good at the games, especially at leading others to be effective, that he is sent to Eros, where he takes part in more drills to fight the buggers. Eventually, Mazer Rackham becomes his teacher. (Rackham has been traveling at near-light speed, so that he can still be helpful in the next battle with the buggers.)

As you might expect, Ender, and several colleagues from Battle School, who have joined him on Eros, eventually defeat the buggers. But there are a couple of surprises in that defeat, which I won't give away.

Ender is such a hero that he can't really go back to earth. His future, traveling with Valentine, makes up a part of four additional novels. So do the lives of some of his colleagues at Battle School.

In my opinion, the most important of the succeeding novels is Speaker for the Dead, the next novel. For more on that, and other Enderverse books, see here.

Thanks for reading

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sunspots 442

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

Christianity: Fancy horse on teaching a two year old about sacrificial giving.

Health: National Public Radio reports on a scientific study of whether adding bacon to recipes really makes them more appealing.

Politics: NPR also reports on whether just giving money to poor people helps them or not.

Science: I am not making this up. There is an animal, known as the demon mole rat, which, unlike the naked mole rat, which is highly social, is solitary. They bang their heads against their tunnels to tell nearby animals to stay away. (reported in Wired.)

Sports: Various outlets, including ESPN, report that a football game last weekend was to have been officiated by a crew which included four females.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Does the Bible really say that? Excerpt from my book, 7

[The previous text in the book says that praying for believers is by far the most common type of prayer in the New Testament. Praying for the sick occurs a little. Praying for sinners to be converted is hardly mentioned in the New Testament.]

What, exactly, should we pray for other believers? Based on the New Testament, there are several things we should ask for. Some of them were given in the prayer of John 17 . . . . Others include these:

That other believers don’t habitually sin, and that they become sanctified:

1 Corinthians 13:7a Now I pray to God that you do no evil; not that we may appear approved, but that you may do that which is honorable,

1 Thessalonians 5:23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

James 5:13 Is any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praises. 14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the assembly, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, 15 and the prayer of faith will heal him who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your offenses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The insistent prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective.

The James 5 passage is commonly used as a motivation for praying for the sick, and that’s appropriate, but it is also about praying for forgiveness of sin in believers.

That their love may increase: Philippians 1:9 This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment;

(Paul is speaking of agape love, the unselfish, caring kind that Christ had for others, and the kind described in 1 Corinthians 13.)

Colossians 1:9 For this cause, we also, since the day we heard this, don’t cease praying and making requests for you, that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 that you may walk worthily of the Lord, to please him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, for all endurance and perseverance with joy;

2 Thessalonians 1:11 To this end we also pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire of goodness and work of faith, with power;

The above, except for the insert in brackets, which was put in for clarity in changing from a full book to a series of blog posts, is an excerpt from my recently published e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which may be obtained free of charge, or purchased from Amazon for $0.99, which is the lowest price Amazon lets an author set. Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible, public domain.

The previous post in this series is here.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sunspots 441

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to
someone else:
Christianity: Ken Schenck has a short post on different ways the New Testament authors used the Old Testament.
Computing: (or maybe politics) Leonard Pitts on how connecting with people on-line can make us not see what's around us.
Gizmo's Freeware on a site that lets you make a free web page.

Health: WebMD says that having a flu shot lowers the risk of heart disease.
Science: National Geographic reports that Eucalyptus trees in Australia deposit minute amounts of gold in their leaves, and that this might be useful in pointing miners to gold deposits underground.
Wired reports that it is possible to predict a child's ability in math by observing how well they can estimate quantities when so young that they can't yet use words.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Joshua's Long Day: Some simple geography, and some difficult textual analysis

Joshua 10:11 As they fled from before Israel, while they were at the descent of Beth Horon, Yahweh hurled down great stones from the sky on them to Azekah, and they died. There were more who died from the hailstones than those whom the children of Israel killed with the sword. 12 Then Joshua spoke to Yahweh in the day when Yahweh delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel. He said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still on Gibeon! You, moon, stop in the valley of Aijalon!”
13 The sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation had avenged themselves of their enemies. Isn’t this written in the book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the middle of the sky, and didn’t hurry to go down about a whole day. 14 There was no day like that before it or after it, that Yahweh listened to the voice of a man; for Yahweh fought for Israel
. (World English Bible, public domain)

I recently read a penetrating essay on this story, by John Walton, an Old Testament scholar. (By story, I don't mean that we are dealing with fiction, and neither does Walton.) The difficult part of the essay is Walton's comparison of the story of Joshua 10 with similar tales from the surrounding cultures. He analyzes these stories, (most or all of them being fiction, but still an important part of the cultures of nations around Israel) and the language of the Old Testament, and believes that, to Joshua and the Israelites of that time, the story did not mean that Joshua prayed for, and God answered, with some sort of astronomical foundation. But you'd better read Walton to see what he is talking about, and he, himself, seems to not be absolutely sure just what is going on here. His claim, though, is that the story, in spite of the literal reading, is not speaking of some astronomical phenomenon.

The simple geography is in verse 12. According to Walton, Gibeon is in the East, and Aijalon in the West, of where Joshua was at the time. See this map, which shows that Gibeon is, indeed, East of Aijalon. The sun, then, would have been in the morning sky, with the moon near moonset. That is not the way I (and many others, I'm sure) had thought of this story. We supposed that Joshua prayed that the day be extended, because it was getting dark, and he wanted to finish the job. Well, he wanted to finish the job, but it must not have been near dark when he prayed. Walton uses this information to show that the story cannot be taken completely literally.

I'm not sure what happened back then, except that Joshua prayed, his prayer was answered, and God was glorified.

Thanks for reading. I have previously written about Joshua 10, here.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Does the Bible really say that? Excerpt from my book, 6

I have searched the New Testament for examples of prayer, which asked that unsaved people may become converted to Christ. The only example that I have found is the last prayer in the [previous excerpt, from Romans 10:1], where Paul indicates that he wishes that his fellow Jews would become believers.

Prayer for believers

Wasn’t Paul concerned about people becoming converted? Wasn’t Jesus? Weren’t the other disciples? Of course they were. But this concern didn’t seem to translate into making prayer for the conversion of specific people, or even groups, a high priority. Why not?

Based on prayers that are found in the New Testament, the answer is this: It’s more important to pray for believers. Here’s the longest prayer in the New Testament, with emphasis added:

John 17:1 Jesus said these things, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he said, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may also glorify you; 2 even as you gave him authority over all flesh, he will give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and him whom you sent, Jesus Christ. 4 I glorified you on the earth. I have accomplished the work which you have given me to do. 5 Now, Father, glorify me with your own self with the glory which I had with you before the world existed. 6 I revealed your name to the people whom you have given me out of the world. They were yours, and you have given them to me. They have kept your word. 7 Now they have known that all things whatever you have given me are from you, 8 for the words which you have given me I have given to them, and they received them, and knew for sure that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I don’t pray for the world, but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All things that are mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them through your name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are. 12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in your name. Those whom you have given me I have kept. None of them is lost, except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I come to you, and I say these things in the world, that they may have my joy made full in themselves. 14 I have given them your word. The world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I pray not that you would take them from the world, but that you would keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in your truth. Your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, even so I have sent them into the world. 19 For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. 20 Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. 22 The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one; 23 I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also whom you have given me be with me where I am, that they may see my glory, which you have given me, for you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 Righteous Father, the world hasn’t known you, but I knew you; and these knew that you sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and will make it known; that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Christ prayed for his disciples, and, explicitly, for those who would believe because of them, including you and me. If we are spiritually up-to-date, and doing what God wants us to, others will become believers because of us!

The above, except for the insert in brackets, which was put in for clarity in changing from a full book to a series of blog posts, is an excerpt from my recently published e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which may be obtained free of charge, or purchased from Amazon for $0.99, which is the lowest price Amazon lets an author set. Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible, public domain.

The previous post in this series is here.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why I go to church

Why do I go to church?

"While many things in Scripture can be elusive, the truth that God intends us to worship, serve, and fellowship together is not one of them." - Prayers from the Pews: The Power of Praying for Your Church by Teri Lynne Underwood

(Church means a group of believers, and perhaps others, meeting together. It doesn't mean a building, although many churches meet in designated church buildings.)

I don't go to church because doing so will keep me from eternal punishment. As someone said, "going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going into a garage makes you an automobile." Being a believer, following Christ, is not a bargain, sealed by correct behavior on my part. It is, however, a life of obedience and trust, in Christ as Lord and Savior.

So why do I go to church?
1) Because it's a lifelong habit, and habits are hard to break.
2) Because the New Testament indicates that doing so is being obedient. Here's what the author of Hebrews had to say:
10:24 Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good works, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as you see the Day approaching. (World English Bible, public domain. All Bible quotations from that source.)
3) Because the New Testament indicates that that's what the early church did:
1 Corinthians 11:18 For first of all, when you come together in the assembly, I hear that divisions exist among you, and I partly believe it. 19 For there also must be factions among you, that those who are approved may be revealed among you. 20a When therefore you assemble yourselves together . . .
4) Because it is my responsibility to encourage other people to do good things, and to be encouraged by others, in the same way, and the church offers opportunities for these transactions. (See Bible quotation for point 2)
5) Because a church can do things that I cannot do, such as send out missionaries, or carry out charitable projects. (The New Testament Church did these things, too.) I can join in some such efforts, contribute funds for such activities, and pray for the results, but I can't do them myself.
6) Because I can serve others. Different people serve in different ways. I should serve in ways that God calls me to, that the church appoints me to, and that I believe I am gifted in, have some ability in, and background for.
7) Because I can worship collectively. I'm not a choir by myself. I don't prepare a sermon every week. I shouldn't take the Lord's Supper by myself. The passage in 3), above, is particularly about observing the Lord's Supper, as a body of believers. The New Testament church seems to have met together, not just for observation of the Lord's supper, but for fellowship and worship.
8) Because I can learn. The pastor, or a group leader, or some other believer, may have an insight that I don't have. Someone may introduce a song that I haven't heard before, but should sing and think about.
9) Because I can find out about things to pray for, and others can be told of prayer concerns that I have.
10) Because the church is a good influence on children. We took our children, and, when we can, still attend church with them, and with our grandchildren. If the church isn't there, or isn't as good as it can be, because I don't support it, then what happens to the next generation?
11) Because I like the people. That shouldn't be the primary reason, and some of the people may not be very likable. I may not be, either. But most of them are people I'd like to maintain friendships with. God has made us to be social beings.
12) Because, sometimes, it's an emotionally uplifting experience. Sometimes I see, in church, evidence that someone else is growing spiritually. Sometimes the music moves me, or the words of the music. Sometimes the sermon makes me realize that I have fallen short, and need to do better, in some area. Is it always an emotionally uplifting experience? No, but I should be there when it is.
13) Because the Old Testament believers offered collective praise to God, and we should, too. Church music, especially, isn't supposed to be about me. It's supposed to be about praising God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Thanks for reading. See also "Why Should We Worship Together."