Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Sept 12, 2006 Book Summaries:I have found that I need at least two things in my walk with Jesus (besides the Holy Spirit but that is assumed), namely to be in community and to be reading good books. On that note, even though I have not been able to add to my blog as I had originally intended, I have not given up and would like to review a few of the books I have read over the last few months.

*�The Circle Trilogy� by Ted Dekker (Black, Red, & White- 3 books)

These are three of the best books I have ever read. Thomas Hunter gets a shot to the head, goes unconscious and wakes up in another world. Every time he sleeps in one world he wakes up back in the other. In our world he is trying to save the population from a virus unleashed by two evil men. In the other world he is living out the great romance between the people and Elyon and dealing with the black bats and their leader, Teeleh, who desire to destroy them all. The three books paint a picture of the gospel that is fresh and vibrant. This summary does not do them justice. I bought 10 copies of Black to give to everyone I see. I finished this trilogy inspired to love God more intimately, to love my wife more passionately, and to love the lost more graciously. Dekker's writing reminds me of C.S. Lewis. He is the best Christian fiction writer I have read, and one of the best fiction writers Christian or otherwise period.

*The Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

An excellent if not difficult read. Solzhenitsyn develops characters masterfully. The story is set in the 60's, I think, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in a cancer ward. The main character is an exile. The reader is introduced to many different people in the Soviet Union as the various patients in the cancer ward are from a number of ethnicities as well as personalities. I was surprised how little has changed in Tashkent in the last 50 years. I have visited a cancer ward there, and they have not changed much. It helped me to understand better the past of the people among whom I have lived for 6 of the last 9 years.

*Setting the East Ablaze by Peter Hopkirk

Hopkirk follows up his The Great Game with this thriller. This book falls into the category of truth is better than fiction. Hopkirk's goal is to show how Lenin and then Stalin's goal was to spread Communism throughout Asia and especially India. They tried to use Tashkent as their base. The English were naturally against this idea as India was a jewel with which they did not want to part. We follow many of the players as they go in and out of Central Asia from WWI through the 1930's.

An example of the truth is better than fiction category is the story of Colonel Bailey, an English spy trying to escape from Tashkent. He pretended to be part of the Soviet KGB (it actually was not called the KGB at that point, but I forget the name and gave the book away) and was sent to Buchara to assess the situation there. While there Colonel Bailey disguised as a Soviet agent received a telegram from the Soviet office in Tashkent instructing him to find and capture Colonel Bailey. Needless to say he did not carry out that mission, but was able to escape into Iran/Persia and finally back to India and then England where he wrote his story and became a hero.

This book is an easy, quick read and well worth it, although it could use an update and looks like they were in a hurry to get it published.

*We Would See Jesus- Roy & Revel Hession
I like everything by Hession. His writing a good reminder of what is important, and he is always calling us back to Jesus. I have realized recently that in spite of all my years of being a Christian, I feel like I barely know Jesus. So I have been reading every book about HIM that I can get my hands on and focusing on the gospels. This book did not disappoint. The summary on the cover quoted below says all that needs to be said about the book.

Back cover summary: We Would See Jesus is an amplification of Roy Hession's well-known Calvary Road. In WWSJ he ably points out that incresed Bible knowledge and emphasis on service for God fall short of God's redemptive plan. The direction and theme of WWSJ is � JESUS � 'The Lord Jesus has come to take us from every yoke of bondage and to set us free to serve Him in the freshness and spontaneity of the Spirit'. To see Jesus is the answer to every aspect of our Christian life.�

**4 Russian Short Novels- I found this book in a used bookstore and read it in an attempt to grow in my understanding Russian culture. Russian literature is unique. The book was old and falling apart so that as I finished each page, it fell out, and I threw it away. Thus, when finished the book all that was left was the back cover.

*First Love by Turgenev
Three men are hanging out one night when the host asks them to tell the story of their first love. One of them agrees but says he needs to write it out and read it. They agree and meet at a later date to hear the story. When the man was 16 he went with his parents, who had a poor relationship, to a summer cottage. Next door a family in the royal line moved in. The daughter, a princess, was a beautiful flirt who enjoyed nothing more than having lots of men around her and teasing each of them. The storyteller joined the girl's entourage and adored her. She saw him as a child, which bothered him, but he kept hoping. The princess often alluded to a man whom she loved deeply but who mistreated her. The boy wished he could be that man. One night when the boy could not sleep he went out in the garden and saw the princess' light on. As he was walking he heard something and hid. To his surprise his father walked by. This storyline goes on for a while. Finally the summer ends and they return to the city. One day the father goes for a ride on his horse and takes his son along. After riding for a while the father tells the boy to wait on him as he needs to run an errand. The boy secretly follows him to an alley where to his surprise he sees the princess with his father. The boy did not hold it against his father and never told his mother. We return to the three men and the story of his first love has come to an end.
I did not find anything redeeming in the story. It was rather depressing and left me with the sense of emptiness that a life apart from God guarantees.

Back cover summary: �Turgenev recreates with extraordinary freshness the vision of love which tormented his youth.�

*Master and Man by Tolstoy
We find ourselves in a Russian village with two men, the rich landowner only interested in making more money and his servant, a simple man, preparing to go on an errand in which the master is trying to buy some land. He desperately wants to be the first to acquire some land for a good deal and therefore is eager to set out even though there is a terrible blizzard blowing through. The rest of the story takes place in the horse-drawn sleigh as they get lost over and over again due to the fact that the snow is so deep they keep losing the road. They end up in a nearby village in an acquaintance's warm home. The friend begs them to stay but the master refuses fearing he will lose out on the deal. They get lost again and the sleigh gets stuck. It is dark and they can't find their way back to the road due to the blizzard. So they decide to stay there for the night knowing that they may die. The master can't sleep and seeing that his servant is asleep he decides to try to take the horse and try to find cover, leaving the servant. At this point, the reader hates the master and sympathizes with the servant who does not deserve this fate. However, this is where Tolstoy turns the tables. The master cannot find his way and fortunately, thanks to the horse, is able to find the sleigh. He finds his servant close to death from freezing and undergoes a transformation. He puts the servant in the sleigh and lays down on top of him in an attempt to save him. He recognizes the horse is going to freeze to death also, but is now as determined to save his servant as he was to make money earlier. The next morning some passersby see that something is buried in the snow and dig them out. It turns out they were very close to the road but did not know it. The master is redeemed in a sense, but you will have to read it to find out who lives.

Back cover summary: �Tolstoy, the moralist, tells a striking tale of misadventure and revelation.�

*The Gambler by Dostoyevsky
We follow a tutor who has come with his Russian employers to a German gambling town. He is in love with the oldest daughter (he only tutors the two youngest children) but she barely gives him the time of day. The father, a retired general, is enamored with a madame Blanche who is only with him for his money. The problem is that he is broke. They are all waiting for his mother to die so they can get her money. The reader is following the life they are living as seen through the mind of the tutor, a gambler who is not gambling much. The story takes a few odd twists and turns, and we soon realize the tutor is a little insane. The story held my interest, but I did not really get the point. Most of the characters were pitiful and miserable with empty lives.
The craziest thing in regards to the story occurred a few days after I finished it. Laurie and I were watching a movie called �Alex and Emma� with Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson directed by Rob Reiner. The movie plot is almost entirely stolen from this story by Dostoyevsky. They make a couple of changes but not enough to disguise that they plagiarized. I expect that they assume that nobody reads enough Dostoyevsky to realize what they did. I have not watched the director's commentary on the DVD to see if they acknowledge where they got the story.

Back cover summary: �Dostoyevsky, in a story equally autobiographical (referring here to Turgenev), turns his remarkable powers of psychological analysis on the abnormal passion of a gambler.�

*The Duel by Chekov
Set in the Caucasus near the sea, we find a little town in which everyone knows everyone. Our story takes place among the wealthy, or at least educated �foreigners� (meaning Russians as opposed to local peoples), class of the town. Our main characters have moved here to escape their past and start a new life. The man (I can't forget his name) has seduced another man's wife and together they have left that town and settled here. At this point the man has grown tired of the woman and is looking for a way to escape. Their relationship is a scandal to the �proper� people of the town, but they put up with them as �proper� people should. That is except for one man who hates our main character and thinks he deserves to die and, in fact, should die in order to save society from his lazy and immoral ways. The story moves forward towards the duel, which is ironically not the climax of the story. But in the end both the man and woman are transformed and carry out their lives in total contrast to before. The picture Checkov paints is not really a happy one, but they are clearly more at peace than they were before. One thing that is clear is that Chekov did not like Tolstoy. Also, I think the dialogue is well done, and he does a good job of presenting two sides of the same story making the reader feel that whoever is speaking makes sense until the next person speaks.

Back cover summary: �Checkhov, in a brilliant study of a man's decay and regeneration, refutes Tolstoy's thesis that Christian love and sexual love are incompatible.�

*Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
Donald Miller tells the story of his journey to Christian Spirituality. He felt that his Christian life in suburbia was missing something, and he began to challenge it. Along the way he discovers that Jesus is not a Republican, and that he loves all people, even liberals. Through many experiences and failures he finds that experiencing the love of Jesus is the only way to transformation. The book, in my opinion, is a prophetic message to the conservative church. At first I thought it would be a good book for post-modern seekers (and it still might be), but having finished it I think it really spoke to ME in a healthy, convicting way. If a democrat would not feel comfortable in your community, then this book would be a good one to read and work through. I don't agree with everything he says, but there is enough good in the book to make it worth reading. His picture of community and of the simplicity of loving people as a way of following Jesus is compelling, I think.

*Supernatural Childbirth by Jackie Mize
Jackie Mize says that when God is involved �natural� is not the term people use. Rather when God shows up, He works in �supernatural� ways. She shares her journey and claims that three of her births were painless (her first was not). She does a Bible study showing that Jesus has broken the curse in Genesis 3 and that in his power birth does not have to be painful. Although this is a very radical view she is actually pretty grounded and much of what she says makes sense. Her basic message is that one should ask God for as much as one has faith for. So she believed God for a pain free birth and had three, while others may only be able to trust God for a birth without an epesiodomy (sp?) or tear. She answers common questions she receives and includes testimonies from other women who have benefitted from her message (apparently she gave a talk on this topic and the tape was widespread, which is what most of the testimonies refer to).
Laurie appreciated the book. Her births have been relatively easy, but have stalled late in labor the last two times. The message of the book encouraged her to seek healing in certain things as well as to pray and trust God for a few specific things including that the labor would not stall, a daytime labor, people would be available to watch the kids, and we would know the right time to go to the hospital. For te most part all of these happened as we had hoped.

*Jesus Asked: What He Wanted to Know by Conrad Gempf
Gempf, a New Testament scholar and professor at London Bible College, has studied the many questions Jesus asked, categorized them, and laid them out in unique way. He has clearly spent a lot of time not only studying the Gospels, but also developing an intimate relationship with our Savior. His insights are excellent and his style is easy to read and even humorous. He comes across as someone I would enjoy hanging out with. I definitely recommend this book.

*Mealtime Habits of the Messiah: 40 Encounters with Jesus by Conrad Gempf
This is a good devotional on the life of Jesus. Gempf is humorous and insightful. As I said above he has clearly spent a lot of time not only studying the gospels but also �hanging out� with Jesus. He sees things in a fresh way and is a good writer. He does not answer all the questions and leaves a lot to think about.

**Audio Book on CD:
*The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
Great classic. Lewis takes us on a journey to where we go when we die. He carries out the idea that God does not send anyone to hell, but rather people choose to be there. Agree or disagree he does a great job of looking at different personality types and how they may respond to the invitation to heaven. I found it very enjoyable and convicting. The audio version is well done. The reader uses a variety of British accents which make the tape/cd easy to listen to and engaging.

*Mastering Monday by John Beckett
Although I have no doubt John Beckett is a godly man of integrity and has done a wonderful job of leading a company with God as the real leader and has probably helped many others trying to do the same, this book is pretty boring. I can't say I would recommend this one. There is not much new in it. If this is an area in which you are really struggling, then this may be a good one, but I doubt he says anything that you don't already know. My guess is, however, that if you could sit down and talk with him, he would be a wealth of wisdom.
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Ok... we could use a few comments on exactly how you get so many books read. Do you forgo sleep?
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