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Books Read in 2009!

Ahhh!  Is it 2009 already!  I guess it would have to be, but I’m really not prepared for 2009.  I liked 2008 – as a number – much better.  Funny, because I would prefer 9 the digit to 8.

Ok here is what I have read so far (and I’ve told you everything, but not all together):

10 Most Common Objections to Christianity by Alex McFarland (This is a book that our high school girls small group went through this fall.  It was a really good defense of the Bible and the existence of God.  We got a basic course in apologetics through it.  The appendix for small groups in the back was a great help.  My one reservation is the weakness of his chapter on evolution – but only in the area of the age of the earth.  If I were a skeptic, I don’t think I would be flattened by all of the points in this book, but some of them are pretty convincing!)

Desiring God by John Piper (Read this book.  Don’t get turned off by the term “Christian hedonism.”  Christian is an important modifier.  God calls you to enjoy Him, for life in Him and through Him to be all about relationship.  Get some good teaching on some great verses to help you put it into practice!)

Coming to Grips with Genesis by Terry Mortenson and Thane H. Ury (see full review)

The Empty Cradle by Philip Longman (see full review)

Prodigal God by Timothy Keller (see full review)

Old-Earth Creationism on Trial: The Verdict is In by Dr. Jason Lisle and Tim Chaffey (see full review)

The Grand Weaver by Ravi Zacharias (A quick read, unusual for this author, this book is a how-to on finding God’s will for your life, emphasizing faith in the sovereign plan of God.  Using the illustration of the father-son teams of weavers who make the wedding saris of India, Dr. Zacharias talks about the perfection of the Father’s plan even when we don’t see the design emerging yet.  One of his favorite topics is the Trinity: “unity and diversity in community”, and he uses it to communicate the love of God for us His children.  The second half of the book, comparable to other reformed works on the purpose of a Christian’s life, focuses on worship as a way of life.  In this book the Anglican roots of the author emerge more than in anything I have read or heard of his, as he revels in the imagery and tradition of the church as it pertains to worship.  The best part about this book to me was the quotes, which I can hear Ravi reciting in his crisp Indian-accented English.  I wish I could live in his library, because I have no doubt that this Christian apologist owns copies of the cherished volumes he quotes. )

Persuasion by Jane Austen (Yes, I read it again.  And it is still wonderful, far exceeding any movie renditions to date.  I want everyone to know this sweet story and to emulate the gentle, helpful, good, passionate Anne Elliot.  I also wish everyone to have her happily ever after!)

The Eighth Shepherd by Bodie and Brock Thoene (Centered on the story of Zacchaeus, this dramatization of the gospels teaches the importance of humility before the Shepherd-King who hears prayers and has come as doctor to the sick.  Enter Jericho.  Read of figs, taxes, sycophants, blind men, slaves, and the faith that could set any man or woman free.  Ask the question with Shimona whether it is better to be sick and know your need or to be healed by an excommunicant and feel alone.  Why does God save and heal?  What comes after that?  Perhaps God sends out the healed as instruments of more healing.  Shimona demonstrates courage, faith, gentleness, and a choice-love that doesn’t make sense but won’t be denied.  Can God use the love of His children to soften the hearts of the sick and the lost?  I loved the Ezekiel passage about shepherds placed between chapters.  What a warning to Christian leaders, and encouragement to those who are fed by the Great Shepherd.)

Chronology of the Old Testament by Dr. Floyd Nolen Jones (see full review)

Ninth Witness by Bodie and Brock Thoene (is another of their novels dramatizing the life of Christ, this time focusing on his twelth year Passover in Jerusalem.  I confess I didn’t like this one as much as most of this series.  The authors seem to be making Jesus and Simon Peter boyhood friends, and they felt it necessary to portray Mary and Joseph as adopting children rather than them being fathered by Joseph and mothered by Mary, the plainest interpretation of the New Testament account.)

The Chosen by Chaim Potok (see full review)

Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna (see full review)

Reimagining Church by Frank Viola (see full review)

The Shadow Within by Karen Hancock (see full review)

Newton’s Revised History of Ancient Kingdoms by Sir Isaac Newton (see full review)

Shadow Over Kiriath by Karen Hancock (see full review)

Unveiled Hope by Scotty Smith and Michael Card (see full review)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith (Despite contamination with inappropriate and disturbing material, this is a parody of the classic novel beloved by refined women everywhere.  I get the impression that Seth believes he can improve Jane Austen’s work.  Often retaining the original language, he adds his interpretation of the story – things you know he was always longing to say he guessed about the characters’ true intentions or activities – and the ridiculous addition of zombies.  Most versions of Pride and Prejudice retain the same characters and plot, but this is a rather amusing twist that ends up changing the characters significantly.  To describe this book I have told everyone that the famous scene where Mr. Darcy first proposes involves the exact dialogue of the original, but Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are literally dueling.  Go figure.)

Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer with Todd Hillard (see full review)

Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews by David Pryce-Jones (A summary of centuries of French policy and prejudice, including some world history especially in the 20th century.  David Pryce-Jones researched the archives at the Quai d’Orsay for internal memos and official reports detailing the Foreign Ministry’s policies towards Jews and the Arab world, proving that all France has ever intended was to be more prominent and powerful than the Jews or the ‘Jewish-dominated’ United States.)

Flood Legends by Charles Martin (see full review)
Blink of an Eye by Ted Dekker (see full review)

The cry in Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, is not a yell from rooftops. This is a crying book, with tissue and red eyes and the ache in your throat when you try to hold back the tragedy from taking over you. There are no answers in this book, only the brave resolve to do what is right and to speak the truth, knowing that some things belong to God, and He alone can rescue mankind. South Africa, like all of our nations, has for decades and centuries been in the brokenness that needs God. Still men are praying, and crying for their beloved country.

JRR Tolkien: Myth, Morality & Religion by Richard Purtill (see full review)

Get Married by Candice Watters (Some encouraging stuff and some challenging ideas and some points of view that weren’t helpful. I believe God wanted me to read the book, so I did.)

Gertrude McFuzz by Dr. Seuss; Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss; I had Trouble Getting to Solla-Sollew by Dr. Seuss; The Butter Battle by Dr. Seuss (who knew Dr. Seuss didn’t just write silly nonsense! Some of his books are actually allegories and parables. I much prefer them if they rhyme, but am rather unhappy when the rhyme is only accomplished by inventing a word.)

The Ultimate Proof of Creation by Dr. Jason Lisle (see full review)

Return of the Guardian-King (Legends of the Guardian-King, Book 4)
by Karen Hancock
(see full review)

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (The classic children’s story about growing up. Not quite like the movies. Great writing, quirky quotes. I cannot figure out whether JM Barrie was trying to say something with his story, or a lot of things as they popped into his head. He seems to be fond of manners and humility.)

God and the Nations by Dr. Henry Morris (see full review)

Perelandra by CS Lewis (is the richly poetic tale of Ransom’s trip to the planet Venus, where he encounters the first created woman of the land, the Eve.  Ransom discovers the purpose for his visit when his old enemy, Weston, splashes into the Perelandrian ocean, bent to tempt the woman to prove she is “grown up” by moving out of the will of God.  While this question is strongly presented, there are other parts of the story more moving.  The opening description of the fluid islands and sensuous sights and smells, the intriguing but unfathomable moodiness of a world that is femininity incarnate – this is a strength of the story: the environment is a character.  As a character, it can be accepted or rejected or even abused.  Will one take the next wave as it comes?  Does a man try to maintain his plane when the island swells first into a hill and then dips into a valley?  If a fruit is good, must one drink of it again even when full?)

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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I first looked up Michael Crichton after discovering the time travel adventure, Timeline. Starring all sorts of wonderful people with wonderful accents and wonderful hair (including the now-famous Gerard Butler), Timeline placed a team of archaeologists in the hands of an innovative company that had developed the technology to fax 3-dimensional objects – except they accidentally faxed them to the past. The movie addresses questions of fate, of the impact of tampering with the knowledge in the past, and of whether modern enlightenment is really superior to the technology and wisdom of the past. Given the choice, where would you spend out your life?

Fascinated by the story, I saw that the book had originally been written by Michael Crichton. The list of other movies based on his books was incredible. I’d seen several, all thrilling adventure movies with real intriguing plots at the same time. His imagination lived on the edge of reality, whether it was science fiction or fantasy or the cutting edge of technology. Included in his list are: Jurassic Park, Timeline, Congo, and Twister. He also writes for the TV show ER, though I never watched that.

Then I began to notice that his older books are frequently found on used bookstore shelves for very good prices. I bought a few. The first one I began had a horrible opening scene, quite inappropriate in content and language. Maybe I shouldn’t have spent money on them. I put that one well away.

A few months later I read that Frank Peretti’s favorite contemporary author is Michael Crichton. If Frank Peretti likes him, all his books can’t be like that. And who ever heard of movies cutting the content or language? Rather the contrary. But I’d seen several movies that were mostly just intense. One of the books I own is Timeline itself, a beat up mass paperback edition. I’ve read the first few pages.

Generally speaking, I’m having a hard time justifying novels since graduating high school. In high school there was all this mandatory non-fiction reading and literature (sometimes really boring literature), so I occasionally needed an easy-read novel to lighten things up. Now I read entirely what I want. So usually I might as well read something new, edifying, and educational. In fact I am a much bigger fan of history now that I’m reading books focused on a few years, decades, or centuries rather than the history of the whole world.

But I was cleaning my room a couple days ago, reorganizing some of my books again (I’d used their container as decoration for a Pigfest), when I came across one of Michael Crichton’s books, Sphere. The front cover featured divers swimming around several underwater spheres, and boasted an upcoming motion picture (which is decades old now, and I’ll guarantee you without even checking that it was rated R). The scene on the cover never happens, and totally misconstrues the title. The back was more accurate, indicating some sort of alien novel. I opened to the first page.

Not bad. I set it aside. Now last week I finished the book about Iceland. I had a million things to do, and no free time. So the beginning of this week was spent in rebellion against responsibility and hard work. I’m getting over it. During the hours in which I finally had nothing scheduled, I curled up with Sphere.

To my delight, part of the plot actually does deal with time travel (and I’m such a fan of time travel!). Basically a half-mile long spacecraft is found at the bottom of a shallower part of the Pacific Ocean. Based on the coral growth, scientists estimate that the ship has been submerged for three hundred years. But it isn’t rusted, or even damaged as if from a crash. The conclusion is that it must have materialized there after voyaging through time. A team of US Navy and US scientists is assembled to investigate the Anomaly.

Throughout the book Michael Crichton deals with the question of intelligence, especially contrasted with soul and emotion. The end of the book reveals the paradoxical union of these, and the consequences of neglecting one over the other. Even the individuals on the team represent different aspects of humanity, with our desires and interests, strengths and weaknesses. As sort of a subconscious defense against being too involved in the story, I enjoyed observing what the author was getting at. I observed his craft and motivation as though he was one of the characters. That is the best way to solve mysteries before the author tells you, to collect the clues and notice the connections. Except I lost. I didn’t realize. Oh well.

The book spends a fair amount of time talking about evolution, both biological and intellectual. When discussing the possibility of alien life and the probabilities of its attributes, this is bound to come up. Whence comes life? Why is life the way it is? Can something be alive and not have a body, or not have DNA, or not have emotion? Might there be life that is indestructible? What if it’s thought and communication systems are completely foreign? What if the alien life is intelligent, but evolved mental science rather than physical? They could be blobs that don’t have to sculpt a sculpture; it just is how they think it to be.

Several difficulties with evolution are also mentioned, but skimmed over. I thought it was interesting that the biologists were attributed with the theory that alien life is unlikely, while physicists and cosmologists believe it is likely. The answer Michael Crichton gives is that the physicists and cosmologists imagine a bigger world than what they see. They imagine other dimensions, possibly even other universes. In the twenty years since Sphere was written, a shift has taken place. The sciences heavily dependent on math and probability boast fewer believers in alien life. Biologists are almost desperate to find alien life for two reasons: it would indicate an as yet undiscovered law by which life is more likely to evolve (something to add to chance and natural selection) or it would grant more validity to the increasingly popular theory that since we don’t have any evidence (or enough time) for life evolving here on planet earth, perhaps life was planted here by aliens who evolved a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away where they keep all the evidence.

As to whether I can recommend this book, I’d have to say no. There are some strong content issues in just a few places, some crass language and a lot of mild profanity and a profusion of using God’s name as a curse word. Additionally there is a lot of violence and “disturbing images” – more disturbing when I read because generally I don’t close my eyes for parts that get too scary while I’m reading. At one point I remember thinking, “Wow. I get to see a giant squid. Jules Verne only wrote about one, and the movie versions, they’re all fake… Wait a second!”

Ok, so if you are going to take my recommendation and not read the book, but you’re interested in the conclusions of the ideas presented, highlight the invisible text below:

The main character of the story is a psychologist who specializes in anxiety. He is the one who compiled the team of geniuses to hypothetically meet with alien objects or life (never expecting them to actually be needed). He typically voices the need to heed and control emotions, both in themselves and in each other.
Most of the story takes place in a touchy artificial environment 1,000 feet below the surface of the ocean, in which they are trapped by reason of a hurricane. So everyone is a little anxious, living in tight quarters and needing to make sure everything is done properly.

In the spaceship, by one member’s impulsiveness, they discover some pretty advanced technology, crafted by Americans fifty years in the future. A lot is made of the fact that even our technology today would seem like magic if we brought it back a hundred years or more to brilliant scientists on whose work our technology was built. They’d have to be caught up on our advances in physics and such to even begin to comprehend.

The team learns from the cooperative computers on the ship that the voyage was made to enter a black hole just beyond Pluto, which induced time travel. Black hole theory is explained in layman’s terms using a bowl, and apple, and a ball bearing.

Along the way the spacecraft seems to have picked up an intelligently-designed object, a 30-ft. sphere with “cabular grooves,” which end up concealing a door they can’t open.

Eventually the door is opened without any apparent reason. The smartest man on the team, and youngest scientist, a mathematician, figures out how to get into the sphere, and spends three hours inside, after which he will explain nothing of his knowledge or experience. He is simply exhausted.

Soon after they start experiencing strange phenomenon, like the discovery of three unidentified species of sea life in an area that had been barren of life on the sea floor. They lose a member of their team to jelly fish. And things get worse from there. A giant squid comes around, claiming the lives of most of the team. Those who are left are a mathematician, a biologist, and the psychologist. (mind, body, soul)

In the meantime, the sphere has made contact, projecting first number codes, then letters and words and sentences onto their computer screen. He says his name is Jerry. He can hear them, enjoys talking to them, and doesn’t understand questions about where he came from. They gather as events pass that he is the cause of the “manifestations,” including the giant squid. He wants to talk, and when they wish to talk privately, he gets angry. He turns hostile through the giant squid, which attacks the habitat and individuals, even luring one person with a sign of attention and intelligent playfulness. His hostility grows to the point where he says “I will kill you all.” Not a comforting thought when dealing with an all powerful unknown being. But are they?

What eventually works for the team is the instructions of one of the psychologist’s professors. Don’t try to understand everything. Do something. If that doesn’t work, do something else, no matter how crazy. It’s a pretty good way to quickly tackle the unknown. Especially when this line of reasoning reveals that rather than dealing with an alien entity that doesn’t understand what he’s doing, they’re really suffering the effects of the sphere, which enables those who enter it to manifest whatever they imagine, to manipulate reality. This was the union of thought and emotion: imagination.

The first to discover this was the underappreciated super-genius, who felt lonely his whole life, and restrained from demonstrating his full genius. But he was a man despairingly afraid, and his fears came to life. (In fact his logical brain reasoned that since there was no reference on the spacecraft to the discoverers of the technology in the past – the team discovering it now – that the team must all die in the ordeal, before ever revealing anything about the spacecraft to the world.) The second person to (secretly) enter the sphere was the concrete biologist, who required constant reassurance, connection, and control. She imagined offenses and constantly considered herself the victim. She turns out to be semi-suicidal and bent on self-torture. Finally the psychologist himself enters the sphere and has a mental conversation with his dark side. His weakness is to discredit the importance of logic, to rely on feelings. His survival means more to him than almost anything. Ultimately, though, it is his beliefs that save them all. He believes humans are worth helping. Emotions can be controlled and are worth controlling. He had been the one saying “Stick together,” and so he could not desert.

Was the sphere some cosmic test? Was the sphere itself a form of life? Did an alien (or future human) intelligence want to know how a human would react to getting whatever he wanted? Is that what imagination is for? How powerful is the imagination? Maybe the sphere accidentally had that effect. Maybe its intentions had nothing to do with humanity.

In the end the three survivors (mortal enemies mere hours before) cooperatively and unanimously decide to imagine the sphere and their past week’s experience out of existence. They come up with a new story to imagine in its place, and so it is done. The world ends up having no knowledge of time travel until they boldly voyage for the black hole fifty years in the future.

PS: I looked up Sphere on the internet. Lo and behold it did cut content from the book, and ended up with a PG-13 rating.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

 

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