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!

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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.

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.

The Fastest 18 I’ve Ever Played

I don’t do it often. No time. Too many competing joys, family and school and teaching. I actually can’t remember when I last did it. But with the school year approaching, I thought, “It’s now or who knows when.” So last night, I started Par for the Course by Ray Blackston. I finished it this morning—250 pages in less time than it takes to play 18. Now, I read all the time, just never big gulps like this. My usual intake includes a sip here, a sip there. So I splurged.

Blackston is not your Pulitzer Prize winner, and since he is in the Christian market, will probably not show up on the NY Times bestseller list. But he is funny. And that is why I read it. I have read his four others and enjoyed them all for the same reasons: light hearted, funny, and with just enough theology thrown in to make you think—nothing over the top, no bashing, often subtle. As is often the case in writing, the second half of the book lacked the style of the first (do authors and editors just get tired?). But I was not reading for literary genius. I was reading to be entertained. And I was.

Set in South Carolina, Par for the Course is a romantic comedy about Chris (driving range instructor) and Molly (political correspondent) and their long distance relationship. Chris, living in Charleston has to deal with feminists, arsonists, and alligators as he seeks to win Molly’s affections. While the political jabs are aimed at both parties, the left gets the more direct shots as might be expected from the author. Being a once avid golfer and now a wish-I-was-an-avid golfer, I felt comfortable with the golf theme and enjoyed the nostalgia of my high school days of daily golf. 

A fun read and worth the few hours I spent on it. Looking forward to his next book.

The Shack—so far, so bad.

I have heard much praise for The Shack. I have heard nothing about its contents, surprisingly, other than it is the “Pilgrim’s Progress for our day.” Interested, and seeing it for $5.99 on i-tunes, and having some money still on my account from a Christmas present (yes, I shop selectively), and having 25 minutes of commute time each day, I thought, “Why not.”

Being two hours into the eight hour recording, I have to say I am underwhelmed. The writing is clichéd and sloppy throughout. The characters seem to do contradictory things to they way they are described. Granted, I am listening, not reading, so going back and checking details is not an option, but this inconsistency has happened too often. The characters and their actions, for me, anyway, are not overly believable. 

The story itself is intriguing. I am curious how Mack gets out of his depression, which I am assuming he will since it is the “Pilgrim’s Progress for our day.” I have almost stopped listening a couple of times, but I do want to give it a fair shake. Patience is running thin, though.

On a brighter side, I have started Par For the Course. I have little expectations for this except humor and relationships. I sprinted through 150 pages last night and can’t wait to read the rest. I will comment on it soon. A delightful read so far.

Offering belief in suffering

Kumalo said, 

…so in my suffering I can believe.

How? In the face of what he had suffered: a child condemned to death, a sister forsaking hope for sin, starvation among his people, how could he believe?

Kindness and love can pay for suffering.

The body of Christ rose up and held his hand, supported his frail body and disturbed mind—with kindness. The body of Christ did what God designed it to do. They accepted their pastor and his family’s failures and allowed him to grieve. And they loved him in the process. What about me and you? Are we being the body of Christ today? Can kindness and love guide our actions? Or are we angry? Are we self-absorbed? Can we forsake our agenda for someone in need? 

And I come to believe that he [Jesus] suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is no life without suffering. 

The friend offers these words to Kumalo. They bring him joy for he knows that his friend understands that suffering is not to be shunned, not to be explained away, not to be trivialized. He knows his friend will not encourage him to just put a smile on his face and pretend all is OK for the sake of others. Kumalo knows he can suffer—and still be loved.

And he gave some as…pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-12

Make no mistake. The body of Christ in Ndotsheni would not have acted this way unless Kumalo had taught them how. The actions of the community upon his return testifies to his Godly pastoring. And so the charge is laid at our feet, those of us who have children, employees, congregants. If God has placed someone under your care, are you equipping them to be the body of Christ? We must not disciple for selfish reasons, but we must disciple in a way that those whom we are seeking to equip understand the truths of suffering and kindness. If not us, someone will need them.