Science Fiction Book Review

 Wall Around a Star

by Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson
Reviewed date: 2023 Oct 31
Rating: 3
275 pages
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Dyson sphere. It's a Dyson sphere. It takes them too long to figure that out.

Christian Book Review

 Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith

by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg
Reviewed date: 2023 Oct 30
301 pages
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Excellent. I thought I knew a lot, but it turned out there is a lot I didn't know about the cultural context of Jesus's earthly ministry.

Book Review

 The Power of Serving Others

by Gary Morsch and Dean Nelson
Reviewed date: 2023 Oct 29
131 pages
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Gary Morsch, a doctor who started an aid organization called Heart to Heart International, talks about how serving other people brings meaning to your own life. It's a moving story and he gives specific examples of how small acts of service can lead to changed lives. It's not a specifically Christian book, although the comments in one of the later chapters make me think that Morsch is a believer.

Theology Book Review

 Are You Sure You're Right? Evangelicals and the Church of God

by Jerry A. Hickson
Reviewed date: 2023 Oct 28
138 pages
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Jerry Hickson wrote this book to explain how the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) traditions differ from common evangelical beliefs that dominate American Christianity, particularly in the south. Although I would argue that the Church of God is firmly a part of the larger evangelical tradition that goes back almost 300 years, Hickson defines evangelicalism narrowly as a movement that arose out of the Fundamentalist movement in America in the mid-20th century. The Church of God (Anderson) has a lot in common with that strain of evangelicalism, but has some points of difference. E.g.,

  1. Evangelicals often hold to biblical inerrancy, whereas the Church of God traditionally taught that the Bible is inspired and authoritative but not inerrant.
  2. Evangelicalism is often Calvinist, emphasizing God's sovereignty, whereas the Church of God has been Arminian and emphasized human free will.
  3. Evangelicals often view the end times through a pre-millennial dispensationalist lens (e.g., like the Left Behind series), whereas Church of God has been largely amillennial.

It's a good book, but likely not of interest for those outside the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana.)

Science Fiction Book Review

 Farthest Star

by Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson
Reviewed date: 2023 Oct 21
Rating: 3
189 pages
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Christian Sociology Book Review

 The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles the Sexes

by Nancy R. Pearcey
Reviewed date: 2023 Oct 21
344 pages
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Thumbs down from me.

I wanted to like this book, but it's got so many problems. It's disjointed, broken up into little sections that rarely flow together well. Pearcey relies heavily on older, out-of-date sources. She says she draws a lot of W. Bradford Wilcox's book Soft Patriarchs, New Men which came out in 2004. That's 19 years ago, y'all.

I also noticed that although she cites a lot of sources and has copious footnotes, for some of her biggest claims there is no sourcing at all. Just claims existing all on their own.

The bulk of the book traces the historical development of masculinity (that is, views about men and male roles) from pre-industrial times to today. (Today being twenty years ago, that is, considering her sources.) And while I found some of it interesting, it is also a whirlwind tour of history, and based on some other reading I've done, is not entirely convincing. I'm not a historian, but Pearcey traces the decline of men's roles and the rise of toxic masculinity to the Industrial Revolution and of men working outside the home; this led to men being less involved in childrearing and in church, which in turn led to the church catering more to women. But I read Leon J. Podles's book The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity and he makes a strong case that the church's turn toward women began hundreds of years earlier. Pearcey even cites Podles, so she's clearly aware of his work, but she doesn't address it at all. That makes me wonder what else she's not addressing.

It's got some good bits. The chapter on how the church should deal with marital abuse is one highlight. On balance though, this one's not a winner.

Theology Book Review

 Why Evangelical Theology Needs the Global Church

by Stephen T. Pardue
Reviewed date: 2023 Oct 17
191 pages
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Who am I to have an opinion?
When considering my analysis and response to Why Evangelical Theology Needs the Global Church, keep in mind that I am not a theologian. Nor am I a pastor, apologist, evangelist, or missionary. I am an evangelical Christian and I am moderately well-read for a layman. Whether that qualifies me to have an opinion I cannot say. Nevertheless, I've done my best to summarize the book and to indicate whether the theses contained therein are convincing.

But don't take my word for it. Read it for yourself. The book is short (Pardue is concise—a virtue I admire) and accessible. It's not easy reading, but you don't have to be steeped in academic theology to understand it.

Pardue introduces the question that inspired the book: "What difference does it make for evangelical theology that the church is no longer primarily rooted in North America and Europe but increasingly comprises people from an astonishing variety of cultures and nations?"

It's a good question, and Pardue points out that generic appeals to multiculturalism are insufficient. In this book Pardue says he will explain the “compelling reasons internal to the Christian faith” for the evangelical West to look at the theology coming out of the rest of the world.

Next he brings up some terms that will be important throughout the book. First, he makes a distinction between the West (which is, generally, America and Europe, where Christianity's center of gravity has historically been) and the Majority World (which is Asia, Africa, and South America, which is where the majority of Christians live today.) He also introduces the term contextual theology, which (I think) is essentially just theology shaped by cultural context—but he will explain in further detail in a later chapter.

Finally, Pardue gives a preview of what the book will cover, how it is organized, and he lays out his five theses.

Even in this introduction it is obvious that Pardue has done his homework. He is widely read and quotes a lot of people, but he does it in an organic way while making insightful points. He's not name-dropping to borrow other people's credentials or as a sly boast about how well-read he is, he's quoting these people because they make important points that illustrate and illuminate the concepts Pardue is grappling with. After having read books that just throw platitudes and generalities at me, I cannot tell you how delighted I am to encounter a writer who is careful to show his work and root everything he says in tangible examples and real sources. I.e., Pardue never claims people are saying such-and-such without a quote from somebody influential actually saying such-and-such.

1. On God and Gravity: Evangelical Objections to Contextual Theology
I'm glad Pardue started with this chapter, because I have some objections and concerns about contextual theology. He mentions that evangelical theologians, far more than Catholics or mainline Protestants, have resisted contextual theology, and Pardue sees these objections as real and significant: they are rooted in the evangelical zeal for preserving the word of God as revealed in Scripture. (That's the influence of the evangelical high view of the Bible. I.e., the "biblicism" point of the Bebbington quadrilateral.) Pardue's treatment of these objections is serious and deliberate, and I'm glad, because if he dismissed these objections lightly, I would be tempted to take the rest of his book lightly too. But he gives them weight, and responds to them appropriately, and I dare say, convincingly.

Objection: "theology, like science, should operate independent of culture"
This seems reasonable on its face. If God's words are true, then they are true in all circumstances, regardless of culture. They don't depend on culture any more than the law of gravity does. Therefore we should do theology by studying the Bible, and leave culture out of it. In response, Pardue points out what others have said, that science—and in particular, scientific practice—is heavily influenced by culture. For example:

E.g., many North American biologists today are especially concerned with the need for stronger antibiotics to respond to increasingly drug-resistant bacteria, while their counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa are equally focused on mitigating the ongoing impact of malaria and other mosquito-borne illnesses.

Furthermore, Pardue points out that even those who argue against contextual theology do still practice it to some degree: simply translating the Bible from the original languages is a form of cultural contextualization. "[No one], including Hodge, Chafer, or Henry (to my knowledge), has actually argued that Christian theology must use the Koine Greek of the biblical writers or the early church." We can't escape culture when we do theology.

Objection: To avoid idolatry, culture's impact on theology must be kept to a minimum
Again, this seems fair on its face. This is an attempt to avoid syncretism, the mixing of Christianity with pagan cultural elements to create a watered-down, false gospel. As a counterpoint to this, Pardue points out that while evangelicals are on guard against syncretism, "evangelicals have also found themselves in the vanguard of contextualization," for example, by taking "the lead in creating Bible translations that are readable and relevant to everyday people." (Aside: if you're not aware, evangelicals do a lot of missionary work, and a great deal of Bible translation into languages around the world.)

Pardue also points out that the Bible itself offers examples of contextualization. Paul didn't preach to the Gentiles the same way he preached to the Jews. He used different cultural references.

Objection: cultural context may help us apply and express theology, but it should not affect theology's content
This is the objection I found myself tripping over when I first read the title of Pardue's book. Obviously culture influences the way we explain theological truths, and it affects the way we use theology. But it shouldn't influence the content, right? God's truth is eternal and unchanging, right? I have heard progressive Christians say that God's truth changes based on our cultural context; that is, what was sinful in Paul's time is not sinful today, because God actually takes cues from our cultural norms. But as an evangelical who believes the Bible is authoritative, I reject that absolutely. Doesn't this objection severely curtail the usefulness and the necessity for contextual theology? If Pardue can adequately answer this objection, he will be halfway to convincing me. (The second half will be showing me what positive value contextual theology can provide.)

The main response to this objection is that, because we are human beings who live within a particular cultural context, we cannot wholly separate cultural influence from our attempts to understand and discern God's truth from the Scriptures. Pardue summarizes David Clark: "the shaping force of context applies as much to the process of principlizing or abstracting lessons from Scripture as it does to the expression and application of those principles." Pardue doesn't mention this in so many words, but I suspect a great many fundamentalists would disagree, and would claim instead that the Holy Spirit reveals to us the timeless truths from Scripture, free from any cultural context. As I'm not a fundamentalist I will grant Pardue's point.

In what I find to be the strongest line of reasoning, Pardue notes that God uses culture: "in Scripture and in Christ, God chooses to use local languages, genres, and cultures to reveal himself, rather than communicating with us in some supracultural or supralinguistic mode." These cultural aspects are not temporary either: "the perfected humanity of Revelation 7 praises the Lamb in a diversity of tongues rather than leaving their cultural baggage altogether behind."

So, we cannot escape culture and context. It is part of who we are as God created us to be. There are still dangers, though: "our talk of God must not be so dominated by culture that we merely reaffirm what our communities already believe." Pardue closes the chapter by saying that the rest of the book will show how we can make use of culture and context while "preserving the coherence of the church and of Christian teaching."

Pardue has managed to convince me: the objections to contextual theology per se are insufficient. I am still concerned (and Pardue seems to agree that this is a valid concern) that any particular form of contextual theology is in danger of syncretism or of losing core Christian doctrines. But just because something can be done badly does not mean it cannot be done well, and as Pardue points out, we cannot escape cultural context. In that sense, all theology is contextual theology, and to insist that the only valid context is Western thinking is dangerous because we will have no outside voices to raise the alarm when we fall into error. But my thinking is getting ahead of Pardue, so let me put on the brakes and continue reading.

2. A Word Very Near: Contextual Theology and Christian Scripture
All theology is contextual to some degree, but Pardue offers a more nuanced definition:

"With that caveat, for the sake of clarity, we will refer to contextual theologies as those theological efforts that intentionally make use of local cultures and languages as key resources for the theological task." - page 37

Then Pardue takes us on a whirlwind tour of how to categorize contextual theologies. There are different ways of looking at things, but (from an evangelical perspective) it essentially boils down to this: some contextual theologies treat Scripture more highly than others. On one end there are contextual theologies that find God's revelation anywhere and everywhere. For example, there is theologian Rubén Rosario Rodríguez:

“[Rodríguez argues that] Christians [should] look beyond their own canon of revelation for insight into God's being and work. … Specifically, Rodríguez highlights what Christian theology may gain from the revelation to be found in Judaism and Islam, as well as from contemporary movements of liberation, such as the Black Lives Matter movement.” - page 50

Islam? Really? I am deeply skeptical. From my perspective, what Rodríguez is proposing shouldn't even be an option on the table for Christians. I would have liked to see Pardue issue a stronger condemnation of looking to Islam and other false religions as a source of revelation, but he does at least challenge Rodriguez’s dangerous proposal.

"Yet there are powerful reasons to insist that, even when we consider all the other sources that inform the theological task, Christian Scripture must play a uniquely normative and definitive role." - page 51

I still wish he'd been more forceful in pushing back against the proposal of looking to Islam for revelation from God, but I suppose in a book about contextual theology he must look at all the ways people are practicing contextual theology. But he's not forsaking the evangelical emphasis on the Bible as authoritative. In fact, that's one of his theses. For evangelicals, even when doing contextual theology, the Bible must be the source of authority:

"This leads us to our first thesis regarding an evangelical contextual theology: evangelical contextual theologies must look to Scripture as their magisterial authority, even as they increase their appreciation for the crucial ministerial role of culture for the theological task." - page 52

Well put.

Next Pardue uses liberation theology as a case study in contextual theology. He starts with Gustavo Gutiérrez, who created a new way of doing theology that centers the poverty and oppression of people in Latin America. I found Pardue to be far too generous to Gutiérrez and his liberation theology (I say call it like it is: heretical and Marxist, and either one of those should be enough to condemn it) but he does conclude the Gutiérrez and other first-generation theologies of liberation used the Bible only “superficially” and they failed to catch on because they looked at social trends and forces but were not gospel-centered. Which is to say, they lacked an emphasis on personal salvation and personal relationship with Jesus.

OK, so if Gutiérrez's liberation theology is lacking, what's a better way? Pardue points to Ecuadorian theologian René Padilla, who developed a Scripturally-based theological framework called misión integral (Integral Mission) that pairs a high view of Scripture with an understanding that the church has a role to play in fighting poverty and oppression, and in combating "systemic evil."

An aside: I've read Gutiérrez's book A Theology of Liberation but I've never encountered Padilla's ideas before. So while I can easily see the problems with Gutiérrez's liberation theology—he owes more to Marx than to Jesus—I'll take Pardue's word that Padilla's version is more true to the gospel.

Pardue pulls his punches
I would have liked to see Pardue issue a stronger condemnation of looking to Islam and other false religions as a source of revelation. I wish he would have called out Gutiérrez for being heretical and Marxist, either one of which is enough to condemn his liberation theology. Pardue does, ever so gently, explain why their theologies are wrong or out of balance. But as I ponder this, it occurs to me that if Pardue were to forcefully call out someone for heresy, that claim would overshadow everything else in the book. People who might otherwise read the book and learn something will get hung up—triggered, one might say—by such a statement, and would no longer be open to anything else Pardue might have to say.

3. The Wealth of the Nations Shall Come to You: How Culture Matters for Theology
The thesis of this chapter is: "evangelical contextual theologies must acknowledge culture as a material theological good, a gift from God designed for the benefit of the church." That is, culture is not only necessary, but it is good.

Pardue spends a lot of time talking about what culture is, how various anthropologists define it. Then, to demonstrate the culture is good, he looks at the biblical example of Babel, where God accelerates cultural diversity. (He also explains why the text of that biblical account is not just about language, but about culture and people groups.) Then he ties it to what we see at Pentecost and in Revelation 7: "Babel is undone not through a return to a monolingual, monocultural past but through a redemption of vast cultural and linguistic diversity." Culture is not a curse. It's a blessing, and although we've made our cultural differences into sources of conflict, culture will be redeemed in the end. Until that time, we can recognize that culture is a gift from God, but at the same time, sometimes we create evil things. Eg, sometimes culture perpetuates racism and sexism.

Finally, Pardue looks at a concrete example: Carver T. Yu, a Chinese theologian in Hong Kong, takes the concept of ren (which has the sense of communal human flourishing, I think) from Confucianism and uses this to communicate to a Chinese audience the depths of what salvation in Christ means. Yu is not afraid to criticize the culture, though: he sees that market capitalism has created a highly transactional view of marriage in China, and he identifies the biblical concept of covenantal love as the solution.

I must admit some confusion after this chapter. I see that evangelical theology must be attuned to the culture. An American theology would likely entirely miss the need for a theological response to transactional marriage, because marriage in Western culture is seen in romantic, not financial, terms. But…what does this mean practically for theologians? Does this mean that American theologians must learn from Chinese theologians, and vice versa? Or does it just mean that theologians must work independently in the culture they know? In other words, is there an inherent good in a cross-pollination of ideas? Or is it enough that the American theologian speaks to Americans and the Chinese theologians to a Chinese audience?

4. A Great Multitude From Every Tribe and Tongue: Grounding Contextual Theology in the Doctrine of the Church
Note: I took a break after reading the first three chapters. After I came back from the break and picked up at chapter 4, my note-taking was less comprehensive. From this point, my review is a rough draft consisting of fragmentary notes. My apologies.

p92 "evangelical contextual theologies should look to the Christian doctrine of the church in order to coordinate the once-for-all of the gospel and the remarkably diverse expressions of the faith that emerge in the real world."

Pardue says we can attempt to ground contextual theologies in three different concepts, but each of them have flaws. The best answer is to look to the doctrine of the church. The three flawed concepts are:

  • Process of globalization
  • Doctrine of the Trinity
  • Doctrine of the incarnation

Economic and consumerist, not a model for good theology. (My response: Pardue is a bit too willing to see the problems with globalization and less willing to highlight the absolutely stunning advances that have brought about an unprecedented alleviation of global human suffering. Globalization of the economy has been a boon in almost every conceivable way. But that's a minor quibble.)

anchor contextual theologies in the trinity.

"The concepts developed by Christian theologians for understanding the plurality and unity in the Godhead point to a strategy for engaging the wild diversity of culture and the created order discovered in modernity with hope instead of despair." p96. I do not know what this means. I do not know what it could possibly mean. It is words strung together with no tangible idea underlying them. Or possibly I have completely misunderstood what Pardue is saying.

Trinity -> points away from monarchy and toward social orders that embody equality, not oppression and marginalization. Mutuality, mutual submission, communion. My response: I don't see the connection. This is too clever by half.

p98 - but monotheism does not naturally lead to oppression

p98-99 NT claims are not about egalitarian social structure, it's about God incarnated as a man

p99 Also this is a misunderstanding of the Trinity as "independent cooperative beings."

p102 not just Jesus, but a "model for the church"

Should the church "incarnate" to local cultures to reach people? Does this lose the distinctiveness of the gospel? Or can we be all things to all people, but still retain the gospel distinctive?

p107 the doctrine of the church -> that's a better place to ground contextual theology

Simon Chan, Singaporean theologian
Asian contextual theologies fail by focusing too much on West vs. East thinking, being intentionally different from the West. And they focus on the Spirit's work outside of Scripture and outside the church.

Corrective: see where the Spirit is working in the church. The Spirit's work outside the church is in preparation to bring people into the church.

Chan says to study and listen to the church. Asian culture is built on religious worship at home in family units. Christianity thus rips people from their basic social unit, their families. Western-style individualistic church structure and culture is not a sufficient replacement for what Asian Christians lose when they follow Christ.

Asian churches thus develop a more collectivist ideology and practice. E.g., ministerial dress codes, communal "faith homes," group missions, and radical hospitality across castes. Another point: ancestor veneration brings to mind the doctrine of "communion of the saints" including the dead, which the West tends to dismiss as pagan.

5. The Children of God Scattered Abroad: Contextual Theology in the Fellowship of the Worldwide Church
Contextual theology must engage the Great Tradition of the church. Unity, catholicity, holiness, and apostolicity. But mostly unity/catholicity.

ancestor Christology in Africa and Asia, where Christ fulfills—even better—the role that ancestors play in the local cultural worship traditions. Challenged by some as not a fully valid comparison or illustration.

Puerto Rican theologian Jules Martinez-Olivieri
A kind of liberation theology, but grounded in the Trinity and the historical person of Jesus, and the work of the Spirit.

  • Awareness of the full Christian tradition
  • Openness to other voices
  • Wisdom, discernment, patience

6. A Great Cloud of Witnesses: Contextual Theology in the Fellowship of the Saints
Look to history, not just present-day theologies.

Thesis five: evangelical contextual theologies should engage the Great Tradition of the church, finding there a rich treasury to support contemporary renewal as well as a community that helps prevent slavish obedience to the theological present.

p146 evangelicals are skeptical of culture and tradition, even—or especially—our own. E.g., insisting we throw away Western ideas in order to reach new people groups. Maybe there is some value in Western thought?

p147 primary task of evangelical missionaries is to cut away traditions and history to introduce people to the pure, authentic gospel. But we lose the value of tradition. So, just give them the Bible. My thoughts: this is unlike, say, the American Baptists who also set up Bible schools and seminaries, helped the people organize. This isn't polluting them with Western ideas, it's giving them tools.

p152-3 "Thus the New Testament offers a vision of tradition as a central, life-giving force that acts not only to demarcate and preserve doctrinal boundaries, but also to spur the living saints on to a life of holy commitment to divine purposes."

theologians of retrieval -> recover truth from older works and traditions. Compare to local theologies/contextual theologies.

Kwame Bediako looked to the 2nd century church to see how they handled a growth similiar to what Africa is experiencing.

Pardue sums up and gives a recap.

Theology Book Review

 Does the Bible Support Same-Sex Marriage? 21 Conversations from a Historically Christian View

by Preston Sprinkle
Reviewed date: 2023 Oct 13
237 pages
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Preston Sprinkle holds to a historic Christian view of marriage and sexuality. In his latest book he takes up some common questions and arguments in favor of same-sex marriage, and gently explains why he doesn't find them convincing. I think Preston Sprinkle sometimes tries just a little too hard to find common ground with those who wish to revise thousands of years of Christian moral teaching, but his scholarship is thorough and he does a good job of answering all the common arguments (and most of the uncommon ones) that you might encounter. There are 21 chapters, but they are short.

Science Fiction Book Review

 The Robot Rocket

by Carey Rockwell
Reviewed date: 2023 Sep 2
181 pages
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This is dreadful. The rocket science, the astronomy, the orbital mechanics, and the nuclear physics are wrong, even granting 1950s-era knowledge. The cover says that Willy Ley was "Technical Adviser" on this book. I hope they didn't pay him.

Science Fiction Book Review

 Between Planets

by Robert A. Heinlein
Reviewed date: 2023 Aug 31
Rating: 3
190 pages
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It's a plot that public-key cryptography renders unnecessary, but hey, public-key cryptography hadn't been invented when Heinlein wrote it.

Science Fiction Book Review

 A Case of Conscience

by James Blish
Reviewed date: 2023 Aug 30
Rating: 4
188 pages
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A classic. It's uneven in parts, but it gets bonus points for treating religion seriously. I look forward to reading again in twenty years.

Non-fiction Book Review

 Innovations & Attractions: Film History Essentials of the 1800s

by Jared Wheeler
Reviewed date: 2023 Aug 29
641 pages
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Did I know I wanted to read a book about the film industry in the 1800s?

Did I enjoy the book?

Did I learn anything?
Yes. The invention of the motion picture camera was not a singular event. Many people, across the United States and Europe, independently invented moving pictures. The birth of the film industry, both technically and artistically, was a complicated and complex process, and much has been obscured by propaganda or lost to history.

Did I watch the films?
Of course! They are nearly all on YouTube. I looked them up myself until it occurred to me to ask the author if he had a YouTube playlist. Here it is: Innovations & Attractions: Film History Essentials of the 1800s [YouTube playlist]

And for good measure, here's a link to the book on Amazon. It's available in print or Kindle: Innovations & Attractions: Film History Essentials of the 1800s by Jared Wheeler.

Were the films rubbish? They were all rubbish, weren't they?
They are early silent films that show the limitations of the technology, but surprisingly the picture quality is better than I expected. That is, most of them are simply awful, but a few of them are well-preserved and the picture quality is astonishing. It turns out that the poor quality of these old films is largely due to their deterioration with age. The few that are preserved well give us a glimpse into what they all must have looked like to contemporary audiences.

And the color! More than a few of these films from the late 1800s were colorized. (By hand. Color photography was a ways off yet.) I wasn't expecting color movies, but there they are. The author points out that a lot more color-tinted films existed, but the color prints wore out and many survive only in their uncolored versions.

Favorite film?
Le Manoir du diable (1896) (The House of the Devil) by Georges Méliès had me genuinely laughing. Well done.

Anything else?
I'm aghast at some of these early pioneers who became disillusioned and deliberately destroyed their own work.

Science Fiction Book Review

 Seed of the Dreamers

by Emil Petaja
Reviewed date: 2023 Aug 26
Rating: 3
103 pages
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I enjoyed this book. It's not deep, but the plot moves fast. Famous characters from other well-known works of fiction make cameos, and are delightful and almost never wear out their welcome. Petaja lets us enjoy the appearances of famous characters that we know and love from popular books (and films!), but never forgets to advance the plot too, so it doesn't degenerate into mere fan fiction. Thumbs up on this one.

Starcop Brad Mantee
Star Control keeps order in the galaxy by ruling with a brutal iron fist. Loyal Starcops like Brad Mantee are the cogs that keep the machine in motion. In particular, Brad is delivering Dr. Milton Lloyd to the Sunnystar mental facility for incarceration. Unluckily for Brad, when he lands his spaceship he's met on the landing pad not by the Sunnystar staff, but by a beautiful young woman. This is unusual and out of order. Brad is discombobulated just enough that the woman distracts him, which allows Lloyd to escape—which he does, right back into Brad's ship. Moments later Lloyd blasts off in Brad's spaceship. Brad's perfect service record is ruined. Oh bother.

Harriet Lloyd
The woman explains that she is Harriet Lloyd, Dr. Lloyd's long-lost daughter. She has been searching for him for years. Brad doesn't care to sit around at Sunnystar and answer a lot of questions about why he lost Dr. Lloyd, and Harriet wants to locate her father, so they agree to team up and search for Dr. Lloyd together. They take Harriet's spaceship and set off. Harriet uses her ESP sense to direct them.

Illegal fiction books
Harriet and Brad get to know each other. Harriet calls Brad a big phony, and says she knows all about his secret stash of illegal books. Brad is surprised and concerned. Star Control has outlawed fiction, but Brad (despite being a loyal Starcop) has a collection of ancient books such as Treasure Island that he's read and re-read dozens of times.

Virgo and the emerald halos
They arrive at the planet Dr. Lloyd landed on. Brad lands the spaceship, but they must traverse on foot to locate Dr. Lloyd. The planet is unexplored and primitive. There is abundant plant life but no sign of animals larger than insects. Curiously, the insects have what Harriet dubs an "emerald halo" about them. It is a “nimbus of greenish specks”, a “band of coruscating flecks…a kind of mobile coronet.” Harriet dubs the planet Virgo, after her zodiac sign and because the planet is virgin and unexplored.

King Solomon's Mines
Brad and Harriet are ambushed by a war party of black African tribesmen. Brad recognizes them. They are Kukuanas, and their leader is named Infadoos. They are characters from the classic H. Rider Haggard book King Solomon's Mines. Someone or something has brought to life the characters from Brad's books. Curiously, the Kukuanas have emerald halos just like the insects.

The Word
Infadoos and his Kakuanas are loyal to the Word, which is the plot of the book from which they were taken. Brad pretends to be Alan Quatermain (Petaja spells it Alan, though Haggard's character was Allan) but Infadoos is not fooled for long. Infadoos orders their execution for blasphemy against the Word.

Zartan, Morlocks, and more
Who should rescue them but Zartan and a herd of elephants! Yes, due to copyright issues, this is Zartan, Lord Staygroke rather than Tarzan, Lord Greystoke. I have no words.

Tarzan, I mean Zartan, and his elephants have emerald halos. So do all the other book characters that Brad and Harriet meet—and there are a lot. There are dwarfs from Princess Ida; or, Castle Adaman by Gilbert and Sullivan. There is Deena from the Morlocks of H. G. Wells's The Time Machine. Later they find the characters from As You Like It by Shakespeare. Petaja moves quickly between characters and none of them overstay their welcome.

The love interest
Brad the loyal Starcop is beginning to soften. Harriet is having an effect on him.

Harriet kept surprising him with her buoyancy, her resilience, her intuitive intelligence that kept him on his toes. Maybe it was all that reading: Brad was the all-man, would-be hero; Deena was the helpless, clinging female.

Harriet wasn't that way. She had trailed her father halfway across the galaxy, alone. It took brains and guts and a lot most of the book women didn't have. They were their heroes' ego-feeders. Harriet is—

Well, she's damn special, and while she irritates the hell out of me every once in a while, she also—never mind. Later.

Shangri-La Shamure
For copyright reasons Brad and Harriet run into Tsung from Shamure rather than Chang from Shangri-La. The book is Lost Horizon by James Hilton. I had to look that up. You're welcome. Tsung is thoughtful and philosophical, and he understands when Brad explains that he's a character in a book. It's all moot though, because now The Mind intervenes.

The Mind, the Egg, and the Wizard
The intelligence that brought the book characters to life has decided it's time to meet Brad and Harriet face to face. It brings them to itself. What is itself? A dome that's shaped like a giant egg. The intelligence transports them inside the egg, and suddenly we're in the Wizard of Oz. But it's the 1939 MGM movie version, not the 1900 L. Frank Baum book version, and there's no bowdlerization of names to avoid copyright concerns. This is truly odd. Anyway, moving on. Brad is the Scarecrow, Harriet is Dorothy, and the alien intelligence is the Wizard. The Wizard explains that he's a single cell of a cosmic entity called The Mind. The Mind seeds planets with life, life that will later be useful for them when they arrive to use the planet. The Wizard seeded this planet using local resources and the plots of Brad's books. Fun, right? But having learned what he can from Brad, Harriet, and the book people he animated, the Wizard must confer with the rest of the Mind to determine the next steps. He shoos them out, and sends Dr. Lloyd with them.

Dr. Lloyd, but not Dr. Lloyd
The Wizard fixed Dr. Lloyd's body but not his mind. The man is an empty husk. Tsung and his crew take care of Lloyd while Brad journeys into the forest to meet and confer with as many book people as he can find. He's up to something.

Some time later, the Wizard calls Brad and Lloyd back to himself. After conferring with the rest of The Mind, the Wizard has decided that what he's done on this planet is a mistake, and The Mind always expunges its mistakes. Oh dear. The Wizard will eliminate Brad, Harriet, Dr. Lloyd, and all the book people.

Emerald halos
But surprise! The Wizard didn't count on one thing: the emerald halos. He may have seeded Virgo with the book people, but the little emerald halos existed before the Wizard arrived and are pure Virgo. They are swarms of tiny symbiotes native to Virgo, and their presence gives the book people—the heroes that Brad recruited—the ability to break free from their programming and become independent creatures of free will. These creatures of free will very much desire to continue existing, so they attack the Wizard and kill him.

Happily ever after
Dr. Lloyd's body dies. Harriet and Brad are in love and neither has any reason to return to Star Control's domain. They will stay on Virgo and teach the book people how to move beyond their sacred Word and build a free and independent society.

Science Fiction Book Review

 The Blind Worm

by Brian M. Stableford
Reviewed date: 2023 Aug 25
Rating: 0
149 pages
cover art

It is the inconceivably distant future. Earth's oceans have dried up. Mankind is nearly extinct. The globe is dominated by the Wildland, a vegetable hive mind comprising all the plant life on the planet. John Tamerlane (aka the Black King) ventures from Ylle, one of the last remaining cities of man, to parley with Sum, the hive mind. Tamerlane wants the Gulf for his own, free of interference from the Wildland. In payment he will give Sum the key to the Quadrilateral.

The Quadrilateral
Oh, the Quadrilateral? It's the combined mental link of Sum's mind with the analogous minds in three other alternate universes. Sum believes that if he can complete the Quadrilateral he will become all-powerful. Tamerlane just wants some room to carve out his own little empire of man. Plus, he has the key to the Quadrilateral: a boy named Swallow, whose minds can forge the links to complete the Quadrilateral.

The Characters

  • John Tamerlane, the Black King, who rules over a ragged few men and desires the Gulf so he can establish a proper empire.
  • Swallow, a boy whose mind is the key to the Quadrilateral
  • Vanice Concuma, a hero. Employed by John Tamerlane.
  • Zea, Tamerlane's mistress. Her name sounds like sea and she looks like the ocean, which is foreshadowing.
  • Silver Reander, aka Shadow, one of the wild men who lives in the Wildland. Employed by John Tamerlane
  • Jose Dragon, an immortal man and the eternal antagonist of Sum.
  • The Blind Worm, who is neither a worm nor blind. He's a creation of Jose Dragon. He serves Sum.
  • Sum, the hive mind of the Wildland.
  • Warwand, who shows up in Part III.
  • Honorable mention: Ocean, the hive mind of the sea which Wildland/Sum vanquished eons ago by sucking up all the water and covering the globe with plant life. (Remember the foreshadowing about Zea?)

Part I: The Quadrilateral
John Tamerlane approaches Sum with the offer: Swallow will complete the Quadrilateral, and Sum will grant Tamerlane the Gulf. Sum agrees. Sum transports the whole party to an alternate universe, where Swallow completes the first link. Sum takes the group to a third universe, where Jose Dragon, who has sneaked into the group, tries to kill Swallow to prevent him from completing any more links. The Blind Worm kills Jose Dragon instead. Swallow completes the second link. The trip to the final universe goes awry when Zea pulls the group off track and they end up on a strip of beach on an ocean world in the wrong universe. You see, Zea is the last remaining bit of the long-vanquished Ocean. Vanice Concuma and Swallow drown. With Swallow dead, the key is gone. The Quadrilateral cannot be completed. Tamerlane will not get his Gulf.

In anger, Tamerlane attacks Zea, but Reander intervenes and is killed. Zea walks into the ocean and disappears in the waves. Then the Blind Worm reveals that he copied the key from Swallow's mind, so he now has the key. The Blind Worm completes the Quadrilateral. In payment, Sum grants him an entire universe. Tamerlane, on the other hand, gets abandoned on the ocean planet.

Part II: Blind God
This part is so, so bad. The Blind Worm is now the god of an entire universe. He creates copies of all the characters from the previous section and demands they fight each other. In particular he wants the other to kill Jose Dragon. There's something about the Blind Worm trying to overcome his programming by killing Jose Dragon, his creator. Never mind that the Blind Worm already killed Jose Dragon for real in the original universe. No, we need eight chapters of incomprehensible ramblings about philosophy and identity and the nature of free will. It's excruciating. This is neither a good story nor a compelling philosophy lecture; this is Stableford padding his word count with rubbish in order to reach full novel length.

Part III: The Army of the Dead
In the final section we abandon the Blind Worm and return to Tamerlane, stranded on the ocean planet. Somehow Reander/Shadow is alive again. Then a god-like entity called Warwand appears and then suddenly Reander/Shadow is dead again, but Vanice Concuma is alive. It makes no sense. Warwand sends Tamerlane and Concuma back to Earth to defend the Wildland from an army of undead men from the city in the great Gulf.

Wait, like, a zombie army?
Yes, a literal zombie army. Tamerlane and Concuma's job is to organize the few remaining men of Earth and defeat an army of dead people who are marching to burn and destroy the Wildland. It's a gruesome battle. They win, I think. Later it turns out that Warwand is the Blind Worm in disguise. I really think Stableford is making this up as he goes. Sum leaves to go inhabit the other universes with the Quadrilateral, and leaves the now-mindless Wildland on Earth. With no guiding mind, the Wildland will revert to its natural state and the oceans will return. But that will take hundreds of years, and in the meantime John Tamerlane, the Black King, can establish his little empire. The end.

The Blind God is so, so bad. Reviewer Bruce Gillespie called it "the second worst s f novel I've ever finished." (SF Commentary, #17, November 1970) My feelings are similar.

Rich Horton has has a medium-length review over at Strange at Ecbatan (Link here) and there's a longer review by Brett Bligh via the Wayback Machine (Link here).

Classic Literature Book Review

 The Trial

by Franz Kafka
Reviewed date: 2023 Aug 15
Rating: 1
165 pages
Translated from the German by David Wyllie
cover art

Maybe this is better in the original German, but this is a bad book. I read The Trial because I was familiar with the basic idea—a man is arrested but not told the charges against him, and must navigate a murky and labyrinthine bureaucracy—and I wanted to get more insight. But there isn't any more. That's all there is. One clever idea, and then 165 pages of monotony. There's no more insight to be gained beyond the first intriguing idea.

The idea of The Trial is worth knowing about, but you don't need to read the book to get that. A Wikipedia plot summary is sufficient. The actual reality of The Trial is that it's not worth reading.

One thing I found is that, the more I read The Trial, the less I believed any of it was real. (I mean real within the context of the story. Of course the book is a novel.) The entire trial makes more sense as a prolonged hallucination of a man going mad. Josef K. is a neurotic, unstable man, and his actions and reactions are not those of a mentally healthy person. He is living in a delusion. What challenges this interpretation, though, is the abrupt ending in which Josef K. is killed by the secret police.

Fantasy Book Review

 Alpha Centauri

by Robert Siegel
Reviewed date: 2023 Aug 12
256 pages
cover art
cover art

Overall impressions
Alpha Centauri is a work of Christian fantasy that is reminiscent of Narnia. But it's also unlike Narnia, in that so much of the text focuses on food, music, and the still beauty of un-despoiled nature. In that regard it reminded of Stargate by Pauline Gedge, in that both books emphasize the character's connection to nature and the environment around them, to the point that it becomes overwhelming and obnoxious. (But on that front Alpha Centauri is a minor offender where Stargate is a career felon.) It's a charming book, and it's a shame it's not better known.

Becky, an American girl from Massachusetts, travels to Britain with her father to visit his friend in Surrey. Once there, Becky makes a connection with one of the horses, Rebecca. In the middle of the night Rebecca wakes Becky up and she rides to the center of the forest. There, in a fog, they travel through the Eye of the Fog and are transported to a Britain in the deep, deep past.

Immediately Becky is captured by centaurs. Yes, this long-forgotten Britain is home to centaurs. Back at Silver Garth, the centaur village, the centaurs accuse Becky of being a Rock Mover. Becky doesn't know what a Rock Mover is, and she soon convinces them she's not one. Becky makes a friend in Lala, a young centaur girl, and finds an ally in her father Cavallos. Other centaurs, particularly Flimnos, are still skeptical of her. The centaurs decide to ask Scopas the seer for advice about what to do with her.

Scopas says Becky must go see the First Ones. The First Ones are an ancient people, and they keep to themselves mostly. To see them it is a journey of several days. Becky and a group of centaurs lead by Cavallos set out, but on the way Becky and Cavallos are kidnapped by Rock Moves.

Rock Movers
The Rock Movers are humans, and they are bad. They take Becky and Cavallos to Longdreth (which will, eons later, be called London). Becky is trained as a palace servant, while Cavallos is tortured for information about the centaurs. The Rock Movers distrust all other races, and they seek to exterminate the centaurs, and they hope that Cavallos will reveal the locations of the last remaining centaur villages. Additionally, Cavallos is slated to be sacrificed to their god Phogros at the Feast of First Harvest.

The Rock Movers are technically ruled by a King, Rhadas, but he is a young man and the real power rests with his regent, Targ. When Targ gives Becky away to Faloor, Ack-Lonthean ambassador, to be a wife for his son Josef, Becky knows she must escape quickly or be carried away from Britain forever. She confides in a maidservant, Neetha, who brings her secretly to Rhadas. It turns out Rhadas is just as much under Targ's thumb as everyone else, and he would like nothing more than to undermine Targ's power. So he helps Becky and Cavallos escape from Longdreth.

First Ones
Becky and Cavallos make their way back to Silver Garth. Scopas the seer reminds Becky that she still must go to the First Ones. Much time has been lost, and this time, Becky must go alone. She goes. It's a long journey, and when she arrives she discovers the First Ones are human, not centaurs.

Becky spends much time talking with a First One named Menos. He tells her much about the ancient history of the world. In particular he describes the fall of man, and how they brought misery to the world. (The First Ones appear to be unaffected by the Fall, and I was never sure whether they were unfallen, sinless humans, or whether they are a pre-Adamic race.) Menos talks about the Shaper (who is clearly God), the Healer (who is clearly Jesus) and the Warper (who is clearly Satan.) He also quotes a long prophecy which has several stanzas that clearly refer to the cross and the atoning blood of Christ. These things are not spelled out as such, but left as clues for the discerning reader.

Menos says also that the centaurs are not originally from Earth. They are from Alpha Centauri, and can travel there through the Path to the Stars. Under the right conditions, the Singing Stone (which happens to be nearby) opens up into a Path to the Stars. It used to open freely, but since the fall of man has not opened in generations. However, the prophecy indicates that Becky can open it one final time and allow the centaurs to return to the safety of their ancestral home. She must bring the centaurs to the Singing Stone before the season gets too late, or it will never open. She has four days.

To Alpha Centauri
Becky finds the centaurs and they agree that the Path to the Stars is their best hope. Concerningly, the Singing Stone is several days' march away, and they have women and children with them. But it's worse than that: The Rock Movers have raised an army and are chasing the centaurs. In a desperate bid, the centaurs send their women and children ahead and the warriors stay behind to lay a trap for the Rock Movers. It works. The centaurs rout the Rock Mover army. But it may not be enough. The Rock Movers regroup and pursue. In the end it comes down to a matter of hours, but the centaurs arrive at the Singing Stone. Becky opens the Path to the Stars, and the centaurs leave Earth forever to live in the sinless paradise of Alpha Centauri.

Back on Earth, Rhadas overthrows Targ, marries Neetha, and takes his rightful place as ruler of the Rock Movers. He swears off violence and hatred, and vows that his people will live peacefully. Becky returns to her own time through the Eye of the Fog.

Science Fiction Book Review

 Their Majesties' Bucketeers

by L. Neil Smith
Reviewed date: 2023 Aug 11
Rating: 1
182 pages
cover art

The lamviin: all aliens, no humans
Their Majesties' Bucketeers is one of those rare science fiction books that contains no human characters. The story is set on the planet Sodde Lydfe, which is inhabited by a race called lamviin. Lamviin are trilaterally symmetrical, with three sexes. They have hard carapaces, can regrow limbs and eyes, but perish quickly if the carapace is pierced or broken. Water makes their shells soft, and they avoid it; they live in the desert. When our story opens they've had an industrial revolution and the beginnings of electrification. They have telephones, electric lights, and steam engines, but beast-drawn carriages—the watu (plural watun) being analogous to our horse—are common.

Lamviin is the race or species name, analogous to the word mankind or humanity. A single individual is a lam, and plural is lamn. Lamviin have three sexes. Each individual has a three-part name, and based on the sex a different part of the name is emphasized. For example, Agot Edmoot Mav is male and is familiarly addressed as Mav, while Liimevi Myssmo Law is female and is familiarly addressed as Myssmo.

  • Male
    Pronouns: he/him/his
    Formal address: Gentlelam/gentlelamn
    Example name: Agot Edmoot Mav
    The males are dominant. However, the world is changing and professions once exclusive to males are being opened up. Still, it's a patriarchy, and when a trine marries the others take the male's last name.
  • Female
    Pronouns: she/her/hers
    Formal address: Lady/ladies
    Example name: Liimevi Myssmo Law
    The book offers surprisingly few details about the female lamviin.
  • Surmale
    Pronouns: rhe/rher/rhers
    Formal address: Lurry/lurries
    Example name: Mymysiir Offe Woom
    The main viewpoint character is surmale, so we learn a fair bit. Surmales are subordinate in society to the males, although there are more professional opportunities opening up. Surmales tend to be smaller than other adults, and they lack the characteristics of adults; that is, they look like overgrown children.
  • Children
    Pronouns: rhe/rher/rhers
    Lamviin children are of indeterminate sex. They do not develop sex characteristics until they mature, at which point they either develop into males or females—or do not develop, and become adult surmales. It's not revealed whether the sex is actually determined at birth and merely becomes apparent in adulthood, or whether the sex is actually indefinite and a given individual could (depending on environmental factors, say) develop into any of the three sexes.

The planet, the people, and the politics
The planet, as mentioned, is Sodde Lydfe. The story takes place on the island of Foddu, which is ruled by the Empire of Great Foddu. (Over on the continent but barely figuring into the story is the Podfettian Hegemony.) Most Fodduans support the royal family, at least publically, but there are various flavors of Unarchists that cause trouble. It is not a strict monarchy though: there is a Parliament with three houses: the Lezynsiin (or Upper House), the Nazemynsiin (or Middle House), and the Mykodsedyetiin (or Lower House.) The state religion is the Church of the Martyred Trine, which most Fodduans nominally belong to, although there are breakaway sects.

Lamviin do not drink water, but they do eat food, sometimes including soup made with oil. They also have vices analogous to Earth vices: they take kood, which is served in a fancy kood service sort of like tea. Kood is (I think) vapors inhaled from a burning wick. Presumably very pleasant vapors. Lamviin also juice, which is imbibing of electricity; it is intoxicating and is analogous to alcohol.

Things to note, both annoying and fun
One irritating thing is all the familiar Earth things with new names. For example, ascension = evolution. unarchists = republicans. Nonades = decades, octaries = centuries. (OK I guess that part is cool.) And I did like the off-hand way the author slipped in a reference to nine-day weeks. Cool. But one of the biggest problems was just trying to take in all the new vocabulary, while also deciphering a whole new alien culture, plus trying to map that all back onto stuff in Earth history—because it does really all map back to stuff in our history. And the alien names are all so unpronounceable. That never helps.

The plot
Anyway, on to the plot synopsis.

Our narrator is Mymy, a surmale paracauterist employed by the Bucketeers. That is, rhe is neither male nor female, and rher job is analogous to a paramedic employed by the fire department—though in this case, the lamviin (the name for this species of alien) being averse to water, fires are put out with sand. Sand is carried in buckets (hence, Bucketeers) or pumped and sprayed through hoses (those must be some pumps.)

Mymy's friend is Mav, an Extraordinary Inquirer for the Bucketeers, which means he (for he is male) investigates crimes. So I guess the Bucketeers have grown to encompass police work as well as firefighting. Anyway, Mav is trying to introduce the idea of forensic evidence and deductive reasoning to his superiors, and it's not going well. So this will be a Sherlock Holmes pastiche.

Srafren Rotdu Rizmou, Prof.
The learned professor gives a public lecture on rher (for rhe is surmale) new theory of ascension, which is evolution by another name. During the lecture, which both Mav and Mymy attend, a bomb kills him. Now the game is afoot. Mav is Sherlock Holmes and Mymy is Watson.

An aside
I'm not impressed so far. The author has an interminably long debate between a fringe religious leader and the main character, which just so happens to parallel exactly the stereotype of an argument about evolution between a Creationist and an enlightened, rational scientist. It’s boring, it’s mean spirited, and I don’t read science fiction to be fed poor social propaganda. For that I read Facebook comments.

The end
It's a locked room murder mystery. After many boring and interminable pages, Inquirer Mav solves the case. I guess, technically, the clues were there. At least as to the location of the bomb. The answer for how it was detonated did not convince me. Nor did the identity of the perpetrator.

Sorry, this one is not for me. It was a chore to read from the first page to the last.

Christian Living Book Review

 Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

by Peter Scazzero
Reviewed date: 2023 Aug 7
240 pages
It's Impossible to be Spiritually Mature While Remaining Emotionally Immature
Updated Edition
cover art

Peter Scazzero's book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality is a psychology book, not a book on theology or doctrine. There is biblical content in the book, but it exists largely to demonstrate that these psychology concepts are compatible with Christianity. I mention this because most of the critical reviews I've found misunderstand the book completely and are approaching it as a work of theology; or they understand it but reject modern psychology out of hand.

There are eight chapters in this Updated Edition (the first edition had ten chapters.) I haven't read the first edition so my comments only apply to this updated edition.

In brief: Scazzero talks about:

  • Symptoms of emotional immaturity

Then he talks about same ways we can become more emotionally mature:

  • Dealing with the past
  • Handling grief and loss
  • Handling conflict

Finally, he talks about some Christian spiritual practices to incorporate into your life.

  • Christian practices: Daily Office, Sabbath, and the Rule of Life

That's it. The Christian spiritual practices he presents don't seem well connected to the psychological concept of emotional maturity. They are fine practices, to be sure, but he hasn't drawn the connection between them and emotional maturity.

Overall: there are some good ideas and good thoughts in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. However: they are packaged with sketchy scholarship; questionable Scripture use; disparaging, unfair, and overbroad criticisms of the American church; and some just plain wrong teaching. This is not a dangerous book—to the contrary, it will probably be very helpful to some people—but I hesitate to recommend it. Surely there is something better out there.

Chapter 1: The Problem of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality
Something is Desperately Wrong
Scazzero starts out by describing his life as an emotionally immature, insecure man who felt compelled to say yes and agree to any demand asked of him as a pastor. It is not a pretty picture. Scazzero was immature, had never thought about much less confronted the patterns of his family of origin; he'd never examined his own feelings or unconscious thought patterns. He lived his life reacting, but never examining the feelings and motivations that drove his actions. Much of his life was driven by the need to keep up the image of a good pastor, but this image came at the expense of his family life and his own well-being.

Next, Scazzero explains how he came to understand the “link between emotional maturity and spiritual maturity.” (p21) By remaining emotionally immature, he stunted his spiritual growth and he damaged himself and those closest to him.

Aside: emotional immaturity affects all people, not just Christians or religious folks. Scazzero identified the patterns of immature behavior in his own life, but he hasn't connected it to anything uniquely Christian. He's about to attempt to do so, though.

Scazzero lists ten signs of emotionally unhealthy spirituality. He doesn't say this (perhaps because he doesn't believe it?) but emotionally unhealthy spirituality isn't distinct or separate from just being emotionally unhealthy. This is merely the way that emotional stuntedness manifests itself in the life of a committed Christian.

Here is the list. The list items are from Scazzero, and the short descriptions are my summarizations.

  1. Using God to run from God - e.g., using theology as a cudgel or a shield to avoid the harder work of loving people and helping them
  2. Ignoring anger, sadness, and fear - e.g., refusing to acknowledge negative emotions because to do so would be akin to a lack of faith
  3. Dying to the wrong things - e.g., giving up the good things that make us happy
  4. Denying the impact of the past on the present - e.g., refusing to see how our experiences shape us, insisting that because we are new creations in Christ that our past or our family of origin is meaningless
  5. Dividing life into "secular" and "sacred" components - e.g., getting that spiritual high at church or in Bible study, but it never translates into our day-to-day lives
  6. Doing for God instead of being with God - a need to always be serving, never enjoying God. Measuring spiritual growth by how much we do for the Kingdom of God.
  7. Spiritualizing away conflict - refusing to address and resolve conflict out of fear that even acknowledging conflict is a sign of spiritual weakness or failure.
  8. Covering over brokenness, weakness, and failure - e.g., keeping up appearances is more important than actually dealing with problems
  9. Living without limits - e.g., lacking the ability to say no to others.
  10. Judging other people's spiritual journey - thinking that our way of following Christ is the only way, or the best way, and not respecting that God may have called different people to different ways of living out the Christian life.

Rant: on page 29 Scazzero lists complaints about how Christians don't act any better than unbelievers, and he quotes that old canard that Christians divorce at the same rate as nonbelievers. It’s not true! It was never true, and I am angry that this lie has been used to beat up and denigrate Christians for over twenty years. The statistic came from a biased and flawed Barna survey and has been used repeatedly by those with an agenda to knock down and discourage Christians. The truth is that when two committed Christians (measured by regular church attendance, since we can't peer into the hearts and determine who is a genuine Christian) get married, they are far less likely to divorce than non-Christians.

The fact that Scazzero repeats this false statistic makes me question this whole book. He clearly hasn't done the bare minimum of research or he would know this popular divorce statistic is untrue. What else hasn't he researched properly?

Aside: I wonder whether emotional immaturity is really prevalent among Christians? Scazzero implies that it is. I haven’t seen or experienced that. This may be a book that is useful to some, but this isn't a uniquely or even particularly Christian phenomenon. To the contrary, there is a lot in Christian culture that encourages honesty, openness, and gives space (in men’s groups and women’s groups and small groups) to be vulnerable and explore one’s emotions. I’ve never encountered a situation where this was looked down on, and I can recall instances in Christian small group settings where healthy dialog was made possible that could not have happened outside the church. The church fosters healthy emotional growth.

Chapter 2: Know Yourself That You May Know God
Becoming Your Authentic Self
Chapter two begins with another story (pages 40-43) of Scazzero acting like an emotionally immature child whose hangups from his childhood and his need to maintain an image in front of his church members (most of whom would never notice or care) cause unnecessary friction in his marriage and family life. (His wife wanted to take the kids and spend a few weeks with her mother who lives near the coast. Scazzero, a grown adult human man with a career, a wife, and four kids, couldn't handle the idea of her being away from home without him.)

I guess I'm supposed to draw a lesson from the example, but he is so over-the-top that I just can’t see this being a problem most people in the church face. I’ve rarely (maybe never?) met anyone this insecure. On the other hand, not everyone advertises his emotional insecurity, so maybe I have met people like Peter Scazzero. In any case, not everyone has to be as far-gone as Scazzero was to benefit from some emotional coaching, and perhaps Scazzero has some useful things to say on the subject.

The chapter is about recognizing and understanding your own feelings. Scazzero introduces the idea that God created us with emotions and expects us to feel them—that he even speaks to us through them. Scazzero quotes a number of Bible verses that speak positively about a range of emotions; it's not just the positive emotions that are important and God-given, but the full range. He identifies eight categories of emotions (taken from Daniel Goleman's book Emotional Intelligence, and says it's OK and expected to feel them all. The eight categories are:

  • anger
  • sadness
  • fear
  • enjoyment
  • love
  • surprise
  • disgust
  • shame

Aside: I still think the church does a pretty good job of allowing Christians to experience the full range of emotions. I remember twenty years ago a whole Sunday school curriculum on the Psalms, where the imprecatory Psalms were taught. It's OK to feel in church, it's even encouraged and taught. Maybe Scazzero's church experience was different. Anyway, back to the text.

It is important, Scazzero says, to feel our emotions and understand what they are telling us.

God speaks to us through a knot in the stomach, muscle tension, trembling and shaking, the release of adrenaline into our bloodstream, headaches, and a suddenly elevated heart rate. God may be screaming at us through our physical body while we look for (and prefer) a more "spiritual" signal. The reality is that often our bodies know our feelings before our minds.

Aside: Scazzero doesn't mention this, at least not that I recall, but the reason we may prefer a "spiritual" signal over the messages from our physical body could be that many of us still believe (at least partly) in a form of spirit/matter dualism. We believe the spirit is good and the body is bad, the spirit is true and the body is false, the spirit is of God and the body is of this fallen world. Actually, Adam and Eve were created in the Garden of Eden with a body and a spirit. The body is part of who we are designed to be. We live in a fallen world, yes, and sin has touched us. But the body is not any more fallen than our spirit is. We should listen to both.

We need to feel our emotions, interrogate them, understand them. Because, ultimately, our actions follow from our emotions. If we don't understand them, we live life in a constant state of reacting but never understanding ourselves. That's a miserable way to live, for us and for those around us.

Complaint: this chapter should be broken into two chapters. The first half of the chapter is about how emotions are good things, created by God, that God expects us to feel them, he speaks to us through them, and it's important to acknowledge and understand our feelings. That's a complete idea right there. The second part of the chapter is about living authentically instead of living a life that is a facade put on for others. That's a separate idea, and it needs to be a separate chapter. Putting them together in a single chapter makes it confusing.

So I will correct Scazzero's mistake and add another chapter division right here.

Chapter 2 (again)
In the second part of chapter two Scazzero talks about how to live authentically, not putting on a facade for others. First he talks about ways we are tempted to live falsely:

  • Temptation One: I Am What I Do (Performance)
  • Temptation Two: I Am What I Have (Possessions)
  • Temptation Three: I Am What Others Think (Popularity)

On pages 59 and 60 Scazzero has a little scale that helps you identify whether you're an "undifferentiated" person living life as a performance for others, or whether you are a more "self-differentiated" person who lives a more authentic life. This is…fine. I'm not sure that the person who scores low on this scale would necessarily recognize that fact himself, though. This may be something that requires a trained counselor to help him realize.

OK, so if someone wants to get to the pot of gold and find this "self-differentiated" authentic life, how does one get there? Scazzero spends the rest of the chapter talked about four ways to grow in authenticity.

  1. Pay attention to your interior in silence and solitude - remove the distractions of constant activity. Be silent and alone. Pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that arise.
  2. Find trusted companions - You need community, other people to point out things about yourself that you don't notice about yourself.
  3. Move out of your comfort zone - To go from an emotionally immature life to an emotionally healthy life will require change, and change is rarely comfortable. Do the hard work to get to a better place.
  4. Pray for courage - It will be hard, there will be pushback and consequences, and you'll need the "Holy Spirit's power to continue."

Thoughts: Scazzero's advice seems solid. It is also pretty basic. Then again, a lot of those emotional maturity stuff isn't complicated—it's just hard.

Chapter 3: Going Back in Order to Go Forward
Breaking the Power of the Past
In chapter three Scazzero introduces the idea that family patterns can repeat themselves. That is, we are prone to falling into the same problematic patterns of behavior that our parents and grandparents played out. He illustrates this with examples from people he has counseled, and in biblical examples. E.g., Abraham favored Isaac over Ishmael, Isaac favored Esau over Jacob, Jacob favored Joseph (and later Benjamin) over his brothers. Each of these caused major ruptures in the family, but the same favoritism played out in each generation. Whatever the particular problems in your family of origin, these problems are impressed upon you during your formative years, and are likely to play out in your own life—unless you recognize them and change them.

Scazzero points out that when a person becomes a Christian, he is a new creature in Christ, but this does not mean he is not still affected by his past and his family of origin. To uncover and understand some of these patterns (many of which we may be unconscious of) Scazzero introduces the idea of a genogram: a method of drawing a family tree that visualizes not just the interpersonal relationships, but also information about nature and health of those various relationships.

Finally, Scazzero mentions something called the Beaver Model, which is a description of five different types of families, on a scale from "severely disturbed" to "optimal." This is…fine, I guess. The main difference seems to be the way the family handles disagreement and conflict, which is related to the idea of emotional health but I'm not convinced it's precisely the same thing.

So how does one fix a family that is less than optimal? Scazzero gives us the biblical example of Joseph. He 1) "Had a Profound Sense of the Bigness of God", 2) "Honestly Admitted the Sadness and Losses of His Family," 3) "Rewrote His Life Script According to Scriptures," and 4) "Partnered With God to Be a Blessing." I'm not sure that's helpful. I guess the main takeaway here is that Joseph didn't pretend everything was fine, he was willing to confront the problem, and he was willing to trust God through it all. I wish Scazzero would have spent more time on how Joseph tested his brothers before reconciling with them, but he doesn't go there.

Thoughts: This seemed a weak chapter. The biblical examples were a stretch and just didn't do it for me. In the Joseph example Scazzero skipped the biggest, most consequential part of the reconciliation story: the part where Joseph secretly tested his brothers and they demonstrated their changed hearts. To skip that is problematic. Nevertheless, the concept of examining one's own family of origin and one's extended family is a good one. Just leave it at that. Not everything needs to be justified directly from a Bible story.

Chapter 4: Journey Through the Wall
Letting Go of Power and Control
Scazzero talks about the stages of Christian spiritual growth, as well as the concept of hitting Walls that stop our growth. The stages are adapted from the work of Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich in their book The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith, and are:

  • Stage 1: Life-Changing Awareness of God
  • Stage 2: Discipleship (learning)
  • Stage 3: The Active Life (serving)
  • Stage 4: Journey Inward
  • Stage 5: Journey Outward (from my inner life)
  • Stage 6: Transformed Into Love

The stages are cyclical, so we progress from Stage 6 back to Stage 1, and repeat the cycle. Eventually something interrupts our growth, and Scazzero calls this a Wall. The Wall typically takes the form of a crisis: "divorce, a job loss, the death of a close friend or family member," or other events of similar magnitude. Some people deal with the Wall, confront it, and move through it. Others stagnate and refuse to recognize or acknowledge the problem. Scazzero identifies that one marker of unhealthy emotional spirituality which gets stuck at a Wall is the inability or unwillingness to acknowledge and express the following feelings:

  • I am bewildered
  • I don't know what God is doing right now
  • I am hurt
  • I am angry
  • Yes, this is a mystery
  • I am very sad right now
  • Oh God, why have you forsaken me?

The emotionally healthy person will admit those things, and be able to process them and move forward. The emotionally unhealthy person will refuse to admit that anything is wrong, will hold on to platitudes like "in all things God works for good" but not take time to grieve, cry, and feel hurt.

Then Scazzero talks about something he calls the dark night of the soul, which he gets from the work of St. John of the Cross. This dark night of the soul is a requirement for progressing beyond a beginner stage of spirituality. It is a period of time where God removes from us the blessings he's previously given, where our prayer seems worthless, our worship dry, our Bible study fruitless. This dark night of the soul can last months or years. It's a testing of some kind, and when we emerge from it our faith is deeper, our relationship and knowledge of God is more complete, and we can live on a whole new level of spirituality.

Aside: To which I say: what sort of nonsense is this? Nobody can become more than a beginner Christian without going through a full-on "dark night of the soul?" Come on. I don't believe that, and there's no biblical evidence for that. This is Scazzero (and possibly St. John of the Cross, although I haven't read his work so I won't level any accusations at him) making things up. He's just making things up.

A person who makes it through their Wall (aka their dark night of the soul) will have the following spiritual benefits:

  1. A greater level of brokenness - less judgemental and more humble
  2. A greater appreciation for Holy Unknowing (Mystery)
  3. A deeper ability to wait for God
  4. A greater detachment - more focus on eternity, "free from the dominating power of things"

Thoughts: I am deeply disappointed in this chapter. I understand that going through trials can strengthen our faith, but this idea that we must absolutely go through a dark night of the soul or remain baby Christians forever is not true. I don't even see how it connects with the main point of this book, which is emotionally healthy spirituality. Is Scazzero trying to tell us we can only get emotionally and spiritually healthy if we've undergone a months- or years-long trial sent by God to deepen our faith? If so, then why does he bother writing this book? If not, why is he introducing the concept of a dark night of the soul? This is baffling. And it's untrue.

Chapter 5: Enlarge Your Soul Through Grief and Loss
Surrendering to Your Limits
Using Job as a biblical example, Scazzero talks about the need to properly grieve over losses in our life. Every culture has different modes of expressing grief, but it's important to express it. Scazzero warns against the temptation to use addiction to numb the pain and avoid fully grieving. He mentions other ways that we block out the pain of loss and suffering: denial, minimizing, blaming others, blaming ourselves, rationalizing, intellectualizing, distracting, and becoming hostile. But these are blocks to spiritual and emotional growth, because they prevent us from confronting the loss and grieving fully.

Scazzero goes back to Job to show a healthy way through grief. We must:

  1. Pay Attention - that is, pay attention to our grief and sadness. Work it out before God. Express the anger, and sadness, the grief, and confusion. If we don't, the feelings will still be there, and they will "leak out" of us in destructive ways.
  2. Wait in the Confusing In-Between - Don't be satisfied with false explanations like those offered by Job's three friends. Be patient, and wait for God to work, even when it seems there is no answer. Don't demand answers when there are none.
  3. Embrace the Gift of Limits - Do less. Understand our limitations, and recognize that we are not the center of the universe. The world will get along without us while we step back and take the time to grieve.
  4. Climb the Ladder of Humility - this is based on the work of St. Benedict, who developed a twelve-point ladder. Scazzero adapts this into an eight-step ladder:
    • Step 1: Fear of God and Mindfulness of Him
    • Step 2: Doing God's Will (Not Our Own or Other People's)
    • Step 3: Willing to Subject Ourselves to the Direction of Others
    • Step 4: Patient to Accept the Difficulties of Others
    • Step 5: Radical Honesty to Others About Our Weaknesses/Faults
    • Step 6: Deeply Aware of Being "Chief of All Sinnes"
    • Step 7: Purposeful to Speak Less (And With More Restraint)
    • Step 8: Transformed Into the Love of God

Scazzero seems to have forgotten about Job now, because he doesn't tie the gift of limits or the ladder of humility in with anything Job did…except that suddenly, Scazzero brings Job back and says that everything is demonstrated in the example of Job, and that God's restoration of Job is the new birth and blessings we can expect (in God's time, naturally, not ours) when we've made it through the sufferings and loss.

Response: Job is a great biblical example to turn to when studying grief. I'm concerned, though, that Scazzero has lost the plot. He wants to use Job as a support example for his model of the stage of grief, but Job doesn't fit Scazzero's model. That's why Scazzero drops any mention of Job for quite a while. But to then come back and claim that the story of Job illustrates every step of his model is dishonest. It's not that I dislike Scazzero's model--to the contrary, it seems a reasonable one. Scazzero is just not using the Bible with care. He's using it as a prop to justify what he's already determined to teach. I want to reach out and tell Scazzero that it's OK to just teach something that is true and useful, and not pretend it's in the Bible. God has given us wisdom and understanding, and not everything has to be hung on the bones of a Bible story.

Chapter 6: Discover the Rhythms of the Daily Office and Sabbath
Stopping to Breathe the Air of Eternity
Scazzero introduces the practices of the Daily Office and the Sabbath. They are "ropes that lead us back to God in the blizzards of life." Rather than adding another chore or item to our to-do list—which is often what more Bible study, or another prayer group, or a small group, or therapy, or whatever—these time-worn and tested Christian practices can help us slow down, calm down, and remain grounded in God.

The Daily Office is a ritual wherein we spend regular periods of each day in prayer and meditation. Rather than one quiet time of study and reflection, there are seven: Vigil, Lauds, Prime, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. The idea is that repetition and regularity help us maintain an awareness of God's presence throughout the day. Now, Scazzero says we should not get too hung up on the legalism of making sure we hit all seven every day. And they don't have to be long. They can be anywhere from two to twenty minutes. The important thing is that each Daily Office should have these elements:

  • Stopping - We should be unhurried.
  • Centering - "Be still, and know that I am God."
  • Silence - shut off the outward and inner voices.
  • Scripture

Most importantly, Scazzero says that we should find what works for us. Each of us is unique, and what may work for one individual may not work for another. But find a rhythm that works, and do it with regularity.

Next, Sabbath. Regular periods of rest are important. Scazzero has four principles for a biblical Sabbath too:

  • Stop
  • Rest
  • Delight
  • Contemplate

In addition to weekly sabbath rests, Scazzero suggests yearly sabbath vacations, and for those in ministry, a longer sabbath from ministry is appropriate every six to seven years.

Thoughts: I have few complaints about this chapter. I like the idea of the Daily Office, although I've not truly attempted it yet. Weekly sabbaths is something I've kinda-sorta tried, but still am still working on. I don't know that Scazzero tied this into the concept of emotional maturity very well; he didn't connect the dots as clearly as he could have. But I like that this chapter has practical advice taken from historic Christian teaching and practice.

Chapter 7: Grow Into an Emotionally Mature Adult
Learning New Skills to Love Well
It's curious that the title of this chapter is Grow Into an Emotionally Mature Adult, because isn't that what the whole book is purportedly about?

Scazzero lists some characteristics that typify emotional infants, emotional children, emotional adolescents, and emotional adults. In brief: emotional infants are motivated by instant gratification and need others to look after them. Emotional children are OK when they get what they want but are unable to handle disappointment, conflict, and stress. Emotional adolescents keep score, are critical of others, and blame others for their problems. Emotional adults can handle conflict without taking it personally, can advocate for their needs without being combative, and can assess and make allowances for others needs and abilities.

So, how does a person become an emotional adult? Scazzero is glad you asked because he has the answer. It requires a Copernican revolution in the way we view other people. We need to move out of a narcissistic worldview. Instead of viewing other people as revolving around us (the main character), we learn to view them as fully distinct human beings who are just as much the main character as we are. (The "main character" language is mine, not Scazzero's, but I trust it communicates what he's saying.)

Scazzero puts it another way: instead of interacting with people in an I-It relationship (where we treat people as objects or tools, a means to an end), we need to see them, see their humanity, and interact with them in I-Thou relationships.

We also must handle conflict well. Resist the temptation to achieve a false peace by ignoring conflict. Ignoring conflict is not true peacemaking. That just pushes the conflict beneath the surface and leads to resentment, anger, and causes bigger problems later. Instead, bring the conflict out into the open and resolve it. Scazzero spends the rest of the chapter explaining some ground rules on how to maturely handle conflict and disagreement.

  1. Speak and listen well. When you speak, talk about your own feelings and your own desires, not assumptions you have about the other person's feelings, desires, or motives. Speak clearly, in short sentences, and make sure that the other person understands you. When you are listening, don't interrupt; allow the other person to communicate his complete thoughts. When he's done, ensure you understand what he's said by repeating his words back to him, or summarizing them. The goal here is that each person gets to calmly express himself or herself, and each person understands what the other has said.
  2. Bill of Rights (respect each other's rights). For example, everybody has the right to space and privacy; to their own preferences, likes, and dislikes; to disagree with others; to be heard; to be taken seriously; to be given the benefit of the doubt; to be told the truth; to be consulted; to be imperfect and make mistakes; to be respected; and to be treated courteously and honorably.
  3. Stop mind reading. Don't make assumptions about others, particularly their motives. Ask them (respectfully, not accusingly.)
  4. Clarify expectations. A major source of conflict is unconscious, unrealistic, unspoken, or un-agreed-upon expectations. So be conscious of them, make sure they're realistic, speak them, and come to an agreement on them. Talk to people, discuss.
  5. Allergies and triggers. Recognize that due to our past experiences, we all have particular situations and events that will trigger strong emotional feelings. Recognize these, and verbalize them. Once we know what these are, we can react in more appropriate ways.

Thoughts: A solid chapter. Scazzero gives specific advice for how to embrace and resolve conflict. Possibly there is more to being an emotionally mature adult than just conflict management and resolution, but it's a big one and it's probably the one to start with.

Chapter 8: Go the Next Step to Develop a "Rule of Life"
Loving Christ Above All Else
To grow spiritually, we should develop and live according to a Rule of Life. This is not a Rule in the sense of a law or command to follow, but in the sense of a ruler or guide. Scazzero gives the analogy of a trellis that guides a plant's growth. A fully-developed Rule of Life will guide our spiritual growth.

The Rule of Life can (and should) be customized for each individual. Tweak it as necessary. Scazzero gives an example (page 194) that we can use as a starting point to develop our own Rule.

Thoughts: This chapter seems…unconnected with the rest of the book. I'm also not clear on whether we should be developing and using this Rule of Life immediately, or only after we've made progress and become emotionally healthy. Presumably we can start doing it immediately. But if so, why wait until this final, very brief chapter to mention it? This just doesn't seem to jibe with the rest of what Scazzero is trying to convey. I will just pretend the book ended with chapter 7.

Classic Literature Book Review

 Moby-Dick; or, the Whale

by Herman Melville
Reviewed date: 2023 Aug 4
Rating: 2
654 pages
cover art

Moby Dick is better than Lord Jim. It's got an actual plot told in an actual straightforward way. Yes, with a lot of digressions, but this is way better than the circumlocutions that Conrad employs in Lord Jim to obscure the fact that it has no plot.

Moby Dick would be better if most of the whale-related rot was cut out. I mean the digressions from the plot, not the part about Ahab's monomaniacal quest to find and kill the white whale. Keep that part. But all the other stuff, throw it out. I know the literary purists disagree and say that if you remove the whale-industry digressions and the whale-history digressions, the book would be totally different. And they're right. If that stuff was removed, Moby-Dick would be a better book.

Then again, as I listened to the book on a long cross-country drive, I didn't mind the long digressions. It killed time, and Melville's writing is fantastic. He sure has a way with words.

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