Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters

This second book in Riordan’s Percy Jackson series is not quite the book the first one was, but do seconds often meet up to firsts? The humor seemed a little more forced than the last book, or maybe we are just getting used to his style, and therefore, it it not as funny. Still, there are plenty of fun monsters to battle, another quest to attempt—sort of, a few twists and turns, and a god who finally appears to be on Percy’s side. The book got better as it went along, and the new characters (Tyson, Hermes, Polyphemus)  were a welcome addition to the cast. Riordan added a love-to-hate character as well: Tantalus. Not sure if we will see him again, but the grasping the burger at the end was a priceless addition to the story. The writing is certainly not White or Wilder or even Andrew Clements, but the story is fun and clean, and one gets to learn a little mythology along the way. We are looking forward to starting Curse of the Titans tomorrow night due to the cliff hanger at the end. To Riordan’s credit: didn’t see that one coming!

How Splendid Are Your Surroundings?

What made Scrubb look so Dingy was the splendor of their surroundings.

When compared to the court in Narnia, Scrubb and Jill looked downright horrible. What do your surroundings look like? No, here’s a better question: What do you surround yourself with? Do you surround yourself with splendor? Or do you surround yourself with the ordinary?

I hope you realize that you can make yourself appear better off than you are if you surround yourself with the ordinary—the world. Someone will always come along to whom you will compare favorably. 

But we are not called to that. We are called to surround ourselves with the splendor of another world. When we do, this world, ourselves even, will dim in comparison. Pride will be humbled. That which we thought worthy will pale to true worth. Excitement in the temporary will give way to joy and longing for the eternal. 

How do we surround ourselves with the splendor of another world? In the same way that Jill and Eustace could not get to Narnia without Aslan’s assistance in The Silver Chair, so too, we cannot surround ourselves with the splendor of the kingdom without God’s assistance. They thought it strange the way Aslan got them there. Strange too how we arrive! It requires a relationship with the Almighty. It requires time. It requires letting the Spirit blow us where He wills not trudging along where we will. 

And when we do that? Well, then this world will begin to appear dingy, less tempting. It will feel less like home.

The Shack: Style and Semantics

I have finished listening to The Shack. The recording included an author’s explanation of how the book came about as well as a “friendly” interview (I have also just finished listening to an “unfriendly” interview.) Young answered my concerns about the quality of writing: basically self-published.

As stated in an earlier post, I struggle to comment on the book because I can’t remember the points I wanted to discuss, and I can’t go back and check what I thought I heard (actually, I don’t want to spend time rewinding and hunting, but I could). All that to say, I know some of Young’s theology is suspect, but I also know that he does some other things well. I have thought about commenting on other’s reviews, but you can read those yourself if you are interested.

I do want to comment on one argument in the “unfriendly” interview mentioned above. While Young did fail to answer some of the interviewer’s questions, they also wrangled over semantics. One might say, “We’ll just define your terms and move on.” The problem occurs when someone uses a term differently than how everyone else does. If the majority of Christians use a term one way, and someone else uses the same term differently, confusion can occur. 

When Bultman says he believes in the resurrection, someone might say, “So what’s the big deal?” The big deal is that Bultman does not believe in the same resurrection as most Christians. He believes in a spiritual resurrection. Bultman’s resurrection leaves Jesus in the grave. I can’t reconcile that with 1 Corinthians 15:12-19. 

So we must use care in using our terms, and if we use a term differently than it is normally used, we must define it to avoid confusion at best and accusations of heresy at worst. Young has left himself open to that charge.

Probable Impossibles

Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water quotes Aristotle: “That which is probable and impossible is better than that which is possible and improbable.” Fiction works this way. We buy the boy riding the dragon (an impossibility) because the author has made it a probable occurrence in his novel. However, when a normal character does something that the author has not set up his character to do, even if it is something he could do, the reader doubts. 

So what’s the point? My troubles with The Shack belong in this category. Mack keeps doing things that just seem improbable. I wish I were reading instead of listening as I can’t give you a direct quote, but Mack, racked with sorrow and depression, will hear something from God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit and all of a sudden all is well. And I don’t think God’s explanation answers Mack’s questions. In fact, God has promised a better explanation later about a couple of issues (hell and judgment), but as of yet, He (or should I say, she) hasn’t delivered. For me, Mack’s character is possible but improbable. And that makes The Shack less fun than this interesting theological treatise should be. I don’t want to be thinking, “Mack wouldn’t do that!” when I’m trying to wrestle with the theology of the book. For me, the writing distracts from the message. 

Going Home

As a man aches for his evening meal when all day long his brace of wine-dark oxen have dragged the bolted plowshare down a fallow field–how welcome the setting sun to him, the going home to supper, yes, though his knees buckle, struggling home at last.

Odysseus longed for home. Do I? Or am I too comfortable here, having someone to run my plow for me over soft, well tilled ground? 

Odysseus’ long hard day was drawing to a close, and despite his weakness and tiredness and temptation to just rest where he was, he knew that home was better.

I am lured by the pleasures of this culture to be content and not long for home. Don’t I have all I need? What could home offer beyond what I have here?

And that is the lie: the lie that has been told from the beginning. The lie that what hangs before my eyes, within my grasp, affords me a better life than what God has promised. I am no different than Eve or Adam, believing that shortcuts are best. Odysseus knew, however, that he belonged at home.

Entertaining Strangers

Four times now in The Odyssey, a group of people have entertained strangers without first asking who they are (twice for both Odysseus and Telemachus). What made these people so inclined to offer food and lodging to complete unknowns? Maybe the Greek culture lent itself to this type of activity. Regardless, the practice made me think about how I and the church treat others. Do I have to know someone’s credentials before I am kind to them? Am I generous with my food and material possessions? Does this culture encourage me to be guarded around strangers? Or do I use that as an excuse to be stingy and trust in my riches instead of the God who supplies all I need?

The Fractal Garden

Theology aside, the concept of a fractal garden as created by Young’s Holy Spirit character in The Shack fascinates me. I have always loved mathematics. The endless complexities of this world and the amazing order that accompanies these complexities excite my inquisitive mind. Think about pi: a number that never repeats and never ends yet describes such a simple concept. And those paradoxes abound. (By the way, did you know that the string of numbers in my birthday appears 3 times in the first 200,000,000 digits of pi? To find how often your phone number or birthday or some other random string of numbers appear, go here. Keep reading down that page if you are a fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)

And so Mackenzie sees “the mess” from his perspective, but if he could take on a different perspective, he would see a fractal. As a wish-I-had-time-to-garden gardener, I would love to play with plant placement having read this, as I’ve always put the tomatoes with the tomatoes and the peppers with the peppers. Aren’t things supposed to have order from my perspective?

I am reminded of how little we actually see of what God is up to in life. Often I see a dark mass in front of me, but if I could see everything, I would see that that dark mass is only a tiny black thread in a tremendous mosaic of color and form and meaning. 

God is a God of order. But He is also the God who knows the order in what we perceive as random, chaotic, hopeless. And so the fractal garden delights me because it reminds me of His character and the fact that He controls the chaos and mess in my life.