5.25.2014

{Culture/Worldview} Book Review of Bill Bryson's Neither Here Nor There



My latest read was Bill Bryson's European travel memoir, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe. This was the fourth of Bryson's book I've read so far, and I have to say, I was disappointed. I was hoping for something along the lines of Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad, but more current, but it wound up being less about actually seeing Europe and more about his sitting in bars and reminiscing about the hedonistic trip he and a friend had made through Europe in his younger days. It wasn't all that funny, and it wasn't all that informative. It definitely could have been better, and after reading At Home, I know Bryson has done better work.

It did have a few laugh-out-loud moments, and when he actually described the sights he was visiting (not just the bars he sat in and the women he ogled), he did an accurate and informative job. Bryson also has a knack for observing and poking fun at the various idiosyncrasies of each country and its inhabitants which is just good-natured enough to avoid being offensive. His way of expressing himself is entertaining, and there's no denying he's an excellent writer.

However, the bad language and inappropriate sexual references were enough to prevent me from recommending this particular book, which is sad, because Bryson is witty and well-informed enough not to have to rely on those tactics. If you're looking for a hilarious and educational (albeit outdated) travel memoir of Europe, I'd stick with Mark Twain's version instead.


So, what are you reading these days? 

5.19.2014

{Culture} Book Review: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo


If there were ever a novel that had some divine inspiration behind it, I think this must be it. Les Miserables paints an amazing picture of the human condition, the power of Grace over the Law, and the transformative power of love. The characters are believable, well-developed, endearing, and fascinating on a number of different levels. I really, really loved this book. 

At nearly 1800 pages, this novel isn't for the faint of heart. Hugo frequently deviates from the main plot line to give you extensive background information that, while educational, isn't exactly essential to the progress of the story. However, overall, it does give one a good sense of the social and political dynamics of France during that time period, which gives the main plot a very believable and vivid backdrop. 


I'd also like to add that the Broadway musical and some of the film adaptations of Les Miserables are as much masterpieces as the novel, which can't often be said. My personal favorite is the recent musical film version starring Hugh Jackman. If you don't feel up to tackling the entire novel, this film does an excellent job of capturing its essence.

I highly recommend adding this to your reading list! 

***************

Victor Hugo certainly had a way with words. I've included a random list of some of my favorite lines from Les Miserables - some funny, some thought-provoking, some profound. Enjoy.... 

"Sometimes he dug in his garden; again, he read or wrote. He had but one word for both these kinds of toil; he called them gardening. 'The mind is a garden,' said he." 

"'The beautiful is as useful as the useful.' He added after a pause, 'More so, perhaps.'" 

"'Let us never fear robbers nor murderers. Those are dangers from without, petty dangers. Let us fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers; vices are the real murderers. The great dangers lie within ourselves. What matters it what threatens our head or our purse! Let us think only of that which threatens our soul.' Then, turning to his sister: 'Sister, never a precaution on the part of the priest, against his fellow man. That which his fellow does, God permits. Let us confine ourselves to prayer, when we think that a danger is approaching us. Let us pray, not for ourselves, but that our brother may not fall into sin on our account.'" 

"'This is not my house; it is the house of Jesus Christ. This door does not demand of him who enters whether he has a name, but whether he has a grief.'"

"That which was certain, that which he did not doubt, was that he was no longer the same man, that everything about him was changed, that it was no longer in his power to make it as though the Bishop had not spoken to him and had not touched him." 

"She who wishes to remain virtuous must not have pity on her hands." 

"Children at that age are only copies of their mother. The size is smaller; that is all." 

"The supreme happiness of life consists in the conviction that one is loved; love for one's own sake - let us say rather, loved in spite of one's self; this conviction the blind man possesses." 

"There is no one for spying on people's actions like those who are not concerned in them." 

"Certain persons are malicious solely through a necessity for talking." 

"Misery offers; society accepts. The sacred law of Jesus Christ governs our civilization, but it does not, as yet, permeate it; it is said that slavery has disappeared from European civilization. This is a mistake. It still exists; but it weighs only upon the woman, and it is called prostitution. It weighs upon the woman, that is to say, upon grace, weakness, beauty, maternity. This is not one of the least of man's disgraces." 

"To lie is the absolute form of evil. To lie a little is not possible: he who lies, lies the whole lie." 

"He recognized the fact that one of these ideas was, necessarily, good, while the other might become bad; that the first was self-devotion, and that the other was personality; that the one said, my neighbor, and that the other said, myself; that one emanated from the light, and the other from darkness." 

"The highest holiness is to think of others." 

"...the whole crowd, as by a sort of electric revelation, understood instantly and at a single glance the simple and magnificent history of a man who was delivering himself up so that another man might not be condemned in his stead." 

"Fortunately, God knows where to find the soul again." 

"Blind is he who will not see!"

"He suffered all the pangs of a mother, and he know not what it meant; for that great and singular movement of a heart which begins to love is a very obscure and a very sweet thing. Poor old man, with a perfectly new heart!" 

"He trusted in God, as she [Cosette] trusted in him. It seemed as though he also were clinging to the hand of some one greater than himself; he thought he felt a being leading him, though invisible." 

"On the first goblet this inscription could be read, monkey wine; on the second, lion wine; on the third, sheep wine; on the fourth, hog wine. These four legends express the four stages descended by the drunkard; the first, intoxication, which enlivens; the second, that which irritates; the third, that which dulls; and the fourth, that which brutalizes." 

"This book is a drama, whose leading personage is the Infinite. Man is the second." 

"What a contemplation for the mind, and what endless food for thought, is the reverberation of God upon the human wall!" 

"The peculiar property of truth is never to commit excesses." 

"There is, as we know, a philosophy which denies the infinite. There is also a philosophy, pathologically classified, which denies the sun; this philosophy is called blindness. To erect a sense which we lack into a source of truth, is a fine blind man's self-sufficiency. The curious thing is the haughty, superior, and compassionate airs which this groping philosophy assumes towards the philosophy which beholds God. One fancies he hears a mole crying, 'I pity them with their sun!'" 

"The negation of the infinite leads straight to nihilism." 

"A smile is the same as sunshine; it banishes winter from the human countenance." 

"He was one of those children most deserving of pity, among all, one of those who have father and mother, and who are orphans nevertheless." 

"Theodule was the favorite of Aunt Gillenormand, who preferred him because she did not see him. Not seeing people permits one to attribute to them all possible perfections." 

"A Group Which Barely Missed Becoming Historic" (Chapter Title) 

"A skeptic who adheres to a believer is as simple as the law of complementary colors. That which we lack attracts us." 

"And sarcasms, sallies, jests, that French thing which is called entrain, and that English thing which is called humor, good and bad taste, good and bad reasons, all the wild pyrotechnics of dialogue, mounting together and crossing from all points of the room, produced a sort of merry bombardment over their heads." 

"He took good care not to become useless; having books did not prevent his reading, being a botanist did not prevent his being a gardener." 

"And then should not the charity be all the more profound, in proportion as the fall is great?"

"Communism and agrarian law think that they solve the second problem. They are mistaken. Their division kills production. Equal partition abolishes emulation; and consequently labor. It is a partition made by the butcher, which kills that which it divides." 

"If there is anything more heart-breaking than a body perishing for lack of bread, it is a soul which is dying from hunger for the light." 

"Love has no middle course; it either ruins or it saves." 

"Of all the things that God has made, the human heart is the one which sheds the most light, alas! and the most darkness." 

"'You've got the sniffles, old lady,' said Gavroche. 'Blow your promontory.'" 

"Nothing is more natural to drunken men than ellipses. The ellipsis is the zig-zag of the phrase." 

"'Ah, by the way, Laigle of the funeral oration, your coat is old.' 'I should hope so,' retorted Laigle. 'That's why we get on so well together, my coat and I. It has acquired all my folds, it does not bind me anywhere, it is moulded on my deformities, it falls in with all my movements, I am only conscious of it because it keeps me warm. Old coats are just like old friends.'" 

"Here is the Spring presenting arms and in full uniform." 

"When grace is mingled with wrinkles, it is adorable. There is an indescribable aurora in beaming old age." 

"Everything can be parodied, even parody." 

"If people did not love each other, I really do not see what use there would be in having any springtime." 

"To love, or to have loved, -- this suffices." 

"It is not enough to be happy, one must be content." 

"It is a terrible thing to be happy! How content one is! How all-sufficient one finds it! How, being in possession of the false object of life, happiness, one forgets the true object, duty!" 

3.31.2014

{Worldview}: My Thoughts on the New Noah Movie

{Photo Source}

Last Saturday night, Josh and I headed to our little movie theater on base to watch the new "Noah" film directed by Darren Aronofsky. Wow. Where do I even begin?

 It's tempting to dismiss the film as a total farce, and I probably would have done so if I hadn't noticed so many professing Christians making such defensive (and at times, completely asinine) comments about it.  Yes, for some reason, some folks apparently feel the need to justify the blatant and (often) utterly ridiculous departures from Scripture as "artistic license," saying that we can "still learn a lot from this version of the story."

In case you haven't seen it (and I hope I can talk you out of wasting your money on it), I'll recap some of the "artistic licenses" they take in the film farce.

  • We are treated to a super-fast-forward version of watching a "Big Bang"-like beginning of the universe, followed by a single-celled organism evolving into a fish, then a lizard, then an otter-like creature, and so on until we have – SURPRISE! – a monkey, followed by man (coincidence? I think not), while Noah misquotes the "creation" story to make it compatible with the theory of evolution (He begins, "In the beginning, there was nothing," rather than the Biblical version, "In the beginning, GOD created…") The evolutionist propaganda is reinforced as we watch the bad guys kill the missing link – armadillo-dino-dog – in the first scene. (THAT'S why it's still missing – the evil carnivore bad guys barbecued it!)
  • Noah's grandfather, Methuselah, is portrayed as a slightly creepy guru /witch-doctor who lives in a mountaintop cave, serves hallucinogenic tea, is obsessed with berries (a rare treat in the mud pit they all live in), and magically heals his great-granddaughter-in-law's barrenness by touching her stomach. Oh, and he gives Noah a magic seed from the Garden of Eden that grows a Jack-and-the-Beanstalk forest in a matter of seconds, because man has proven his evil nature by chopping down all the forests and killing off all the plant life, don't ya know. Ironically, the magical forest produced by the seed is chopped down to build the ark. (I wonder if they even realize they kinda shot themselves in the foot there?)


  • Noah (hereafter referred to as "Psycho-Noah" to distinguish this fictitious character from the historical Noah this movie completely maligns) is presented, not as a "just" man like the Bible describes him, but as a militant-vegetarian-psycho-maniac who won't allow his family to eat meat or pick any of the vegetation growing in the barren wasteland (what exactly DO they eat?), and who spends most of the movie angrily brooding and contemplating the murder-suicide of his entire family, including his unborn granddaughters. No doubt in the musical version we'll be treated to Russell Crow's angst-y rendition of R.E.M.'s, "Here's me in the spotlight, losing my religion." The only resemblance Psycho-Noah has to the actual Noah is the name, the ark/animals, and that awkward post-ark incident where he gets drunk and is found naked and mocked by his son Ham, then covered up by Shem and Japheth (of course they kept THAT part).

  • God (or "Creator," as the film refers to him) is portrayed as a hands-off, enigmatic, vindictive meanie who unfairly punished the fallen angels (more on them later) for "trying to help man," and wants to kill off mankind entirely (including Noah and his family) in order to preserve the animals and plants, like a good little environmentalist. He never communicates with Psycho-Noah directly or explains his intentions to save him and his family through the Ark (as the real GOD does in the Biblical account). Psycho-Noah has a couple of vague and fuzzy visions of impending doom after he drinks some of Methuselah's tea, and that's about all the revelation he gets. It is never made clear to him that the ark is intended to save him and his family, as it is in the Biblical account. Psycho-Noah is convinced that God intends for everyone – including him and his family – to die, and thinks he's only building the ark to preserve the animals.

  • Speaking of his family… the Biblical account tells us that 8 people went into the ark – Noah and his wife, and his three sons and their three wives – but not in this film. Shem is lucky enough to get to bring his wife (only because Psycho-Noah believes she is barren and can't repopulate the earth), and Psycho-Noah gets to bring his wife since they're done having kids, but Ham and Japheth are out of luck. Ham attempts to bring along a girl he meets in a ditch full of corpses (who needs e-harmony?), but Psycho-Noah forces him to leave her stuck in a bear trap where she is shortly thereafter trampled by the bad guys who are coming to attack the ark. If Psycho-Noah had known that his granddaughter-in-law was miraculously pregnant with twins (thanks, witch-doctor Methuselah!), he probably would have put her in a bear trap and left her to die too. (But let's be clear that, while Psycho-Noah is okay with leaving women to die in bear traps, he would NEVER tolerate leaving a BEAR in a bear trap).

  • The "evil men," the line of Cain, are headed up by Tubal Cain, who frankly is friendlier and more likable than Psycho-Noah. He also quotes Scripture more accurately (of course). However, we know he's bad because he hunts animals and bites the heads off lizards (pretty much the only "sins" we ever see represented in the pre-flood world). Tubal Cain becomes the seventh human passenger on Psycho-Noah's ark after he hacks his way in during his army's assault against the ark. He secretly stows away below deck and plots to murder Psycho-Noah with Ham, who is still miffed that his dad left his girlfriend in the bear trap. Of course, the only details the Bible gives us about the actual Tubal Cain are that he was a descendant of Cain and that he was skillful in metal work. Everything else in the movie is completely made up.

  • OK, I can't go any further without bringing up the fallen angels, known in the movie as "The Watchers." These bizarre, giant rock men with six arms show up to help Psycho-Noah build the ark (because, you know, demons are so HELPFUL like that), and they come in super handy on the front lines when Tubal Cain shows up with his missile launchers. When the bad guys come to threaten Noah and ask him what he expects to do since they so greatly outnumber him, he announces, "I am not alone." Is he referring to God being on his side? Oh no. He's referring to his demonic rock buddies, who immediately jump up and start whooping up on the bad guys. These fallen angels are not portrayed as wicked beings who rebelled against God and were cast out of heaven FOREVER, like the Bible says. No, ol' meanie Creator just misunderstood their good intentions and unfairly punished them. Luckily, they eventually earn their way back up to heaven by their good deeds of building the ark (which looks kind of terrible, but hey, woodworking is hard when you have rock fingers!) and fighting off the bad guys. They dramatically ascend into heaven just before the flood hits when their rock shells rip open at the stomach and their glowing Tinkerbell bodies shoot off into the sky in beams of light, or, as my husband put it, "the part when Treebeard did the Care Bear stare." Yeah, it really was that ridiculous.
  • On a lesser note, it's not even a good movie, as far as movies go. The special effects stink. This isn't the sweeping epic we could have hoped for in any sense of the word - the ol' Charlton Heston Ten Commandments is far more impressive (and certainly much more theologically sound). The set is just a big mud pit with a shoddy looking ark (that we're not even sure is finished) and cheesy looking rock monsters. They don't even do a good job with the animals - we see a distant flock of birds coming in, then we see some very fake-looking snakes sliding in the door, then we see a herd of computer-generated, unidentifiable animals stampeding in with absolutely no detail, and it's over in a few seconds. In a purely cinematic sense, the film was anti-climactic and disappointing, considering the cast  and budget they had to work with.
  • However, I think the most disturbing departure from Scripture was that they COMPLETELY MISSED the significance of the type of Christ that is so obviously clear in the true, Biblical account of Noah's Ark. The ark represents the grace of God that is available to those who put their faith in Christ. Just as Noah and his family were saved from destruction by being sealed by God inside the ark, we have the opportunity to be saved from destruction eternally by being sealed under the blood of Christ.


Hollywood, in typical fashion, has taken a truly epic story brimming with great truths, and turned it into a puny, pathetic, ludicrous wad of liberal propaganda.... 

In the real story of Noah, GOD regrets that He made man because of the great evil they had brought upon the earth (which I'm pretty sure went WELL beyond having an affinity for armadillo-dino-dog burgers) and decides to destroy everything, INCLUDING the plants and animals. But then, GOD considers Noah, "a just man and perfect in his generations." HE decides to save Noah and his family via the ark, and the animals are included to provide for Noah and his family and to help repopulate the new earth after the Flood. GOD clearly details the entire plan to Noah, who trusts GOD and builds the ark in obedience, bringing his family and the animals inside. Then GOD closes the door of the Ark, and they are preserved inside until the waters recede and they are brought safely to rest on Mt. Ararat. There are no attacks or near-misses, no stow-aways, no murder plots, no attempts at escaping on life rafts. They are SAFE inside the ark, all eight of them.

You know what happened when they came out? Noah wasn't pouting about not having the "nerve" to murder his grand kids, that's for sure. Noah built an altar and sacrificed one of each of the clean animals that GOD told him to bring along. Yep, he killed a bunch of animals. Then GOD told him that they were allowed to use the clean animals as food. Yep, that's right – He told them they could be carnivores.  Of course, the Hollywood version couldn't include this, because their Psycho-Noah is a militant vegan whose whole purpose was to reestablish vegetarianism, and that would be, you know, super awkward... {crickets}

However, the biggest problem with this film, besides, you know, pretty much everything, is who gets the credit for saving man from destruction. "Creator"? Nope. "Creator" in this film wants mankind dead. It's Psycho-Noah who disobeys Creator and spares humanity, although we get the feeling he kind of regrets it.

So, what is wrong with this picture. Um, HELLO!?! GOD! GOD is the One who saves mankind from destruction! HE saved them in the real Noah's Ark, and HE saves them today through Jesus. This stuff matters, and it matters big time. 

It would be nice if we could all just agree to ignore this movie as simply another piece of Hollywood garbage, laughing it off as utter nonsense, and get on with our lives. If you can do that, by all means, do.

However, before you jump on the, "It's just artistic license and we can learn some good things from this movie," bandwagon, let me challenge you with this:

GOD cares VERY much about how HE is portrayed. The first two commandments expressly tell us Who GOD is, and that we can't take any "artistic license" with portraying Him to the world. The entire Bible reveals aspects of GOD's character to us, and that's what we have to go on. We can't add to it, we can't take away from it. And guess what? It's not just in the Old Testament. Jesus went into the Temple and chased the money changers out with whips and knocked their tables over when they were misrepresenting GOD to the people. All throughout the Bible, GOD gives VERY detailed instructions about how He is to be worshipped, and how we are to think of Him and tell others about Him. There is NO room for "artistic license" when it comes to representing God to the world if it means that you are changing ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF HIS CHARACTER AS REVEALED IN HIS WORD. Period.

In chapter 44, Isaiah describes the foolishness of a man who chops down a tree and uses half of the wood to build a cook fire, and the other half to carve an idol, which he then bows down and worships. Isaiah laments,

And none considereth in his heart,
neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say,
I have burned part of it in the fire;
yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof;
I have roasted flesh, and eaten it:
and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination?
shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?
He feedeth on ashes:
a deceived heart hath turned him aside,
that he cannot deliver his soul,
nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?
 
Psycho-Noah's "Creator"-god bears more resemblance to the pagan god, Moloch, who demanded infant sacrifice from his followers - a "god" who bears NO resemblance to the True GOD of the Bible.
{Photo Source}

An idol is simply that – a lie  a lie you choose to believe about GOD. 

Guess what? Psycho-Noah, the movie, is a lie about GOD. It maligns HIS very character and HIS intentions and grace towards mankind. You can call it "artistic license" all you want, but in reality it's a graven image. It's an idol that a professing atheist setting out to make the "least Biblical Biblical movie" has carved and held up in his right hand for the world to see.

Don't bow down to it.

_______________________________________________________________________________

*Addendum: In my original post, I didn't address the theme of the glowing snakeskin that is passed down through the line of Psycho-Noah, stolen by Tubal Cain, then restored to Psycho-Noah at the end of the film; but the implied symbolism of that rather bizarre relic has been troubling me since I watched the film. THIS ARTICLE is extremely interesting and exposes the Gnostic and Kabbalistic undertones of the movie and reinforces the fact that the god they portray has absolutely no resemblance to the true GOD of the Bible. I highly suggest you read it. 







3.17.2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day!


St. Patrick's Day: one of my favorite holidays.... maybe because it's essentially a day celebrating a Christian missionary, maybe because I love all things Irish, maybe because green is my color, maybe because it gives me a good excuse to put on ridiculous socks and jump around like a leprechaun. Whatever it is, I love it. 

To celebrate, I thought I'd share a few more photos from our recent trip to Ireland with you. 
(To see more, click HERE.) 




The Seven Churches, Inis Mor (Aran Island)


Christ be with me, Christ be within me, 
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me, 
Christ to comfort me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

(from the breastplate of St. Patrick)






Although the following story doesn't have anything to do with St. Patrick, 
we did experience a little of the famous "luck of the Irish" on our visit to the Emerald Isle.

When we visited the Cliffs of Moher, as you can see, it was quite windy...



My husband was wearing a little Irish cap that I had had since my college days, and he made the mistake of wearing it up on the cliffs. As you can imagine, it wasn't long before a huge gust of wind grabbed the hat and carried it thirty feet or so out over the edge of the cliff, then out of sight down towards the sea. 

As we stood there, me yelling at Josh for losing my hat  lamenting the loss of the hat, what do you think happened? Another gust of wind whipped the hat up from wherever it had gone, and deposited it neatly at our feet! It had been gone for probably thirty seconds, completely out of sight down the face of the Cliffs of Moher, which are a whoppin' 390 ft. high! 

Josh held onto our "lucky hat" pretty tightly after that.


There is definitely something a little magical about Ireland... 
If you ever get a chance to visit, by all means, do.



And now, I'll leave you with the beautiful words of an Old Gaelic blessing: 

Deep peace of the running waves to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the smiling stars to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the watching shepherds to you.
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you. 


Happy St. Patrick's Day!


Shop HERE. 


 Shop HERE