Red Mars (1993)

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Author: Kim Stanley Robinson

Finished reading on: 6/23/17

 

Actually, this book is part of a trilogy chronicling the colonization and terraforming of Mars. I went back and forth about whether to read the whole trilogy but I decided against it at this time. I have so many things on my list to read.

For this reflection I’m going to talk about some of the positive and negative aspects I found while reading.

Science fiction fans who are big on the actual science side of things will greatly enjoy this book. Like The Martian, the writer used a lot of research and theory on the human habitation of Mars to support his writing. If you don’t find that stuff interesting, you might be a bit bored at times. However, I appreciated most of time the writer spent in explaining some of the science behind what was going on. This effort on the writer’s part makes the book very believable.

Along the same lines, the process of colonization Mars and the problems that came along with it were very realistic. I think this was the novel’s strongest element. The writer used existing social concerns and tendencies and extrapolated what would happened as the world reached out to a new planet. Corporations are fighting the governments for control of resources, the governments are negotiating with each other over making policies on this neutral land, there are massive immigration issues people flee Earth’s problems to the new frontier, environmentalism finds a new outlet in fighting to keep Mars pure, the first colonists on Mars are fighting to make Mars a new society not simply an extension of Earth, and so on. Eventually, what happens is that some colonist disappear and start their own colony at the south pole of Mars and others start revolution against the corporations which are preventing anyone from formulating a new culture and society. Even though this book was written over 20 years ago, its vision of colonization is still very believable.

On the other hand, some aspects I did not enjoy as much. For instance I did not like the writer’s POV structure. It would have worked better to go with a more conventional shifting of POV character where chapters instead of whole parts were devoted to a character’s POV. For a great model of this style, take Game of Thrones. I particularly didn’t like this style because some characters got two parts and some only one which made the book feel very unbalanced.

I also found some of the writer’s prolonged descriptions boring and hard to follow particularly when describing the landscape. Part of this might be because the landscape is of course unfamiliar to a “Terran” reader. But also used some technical vocabulary which for a lay reader made it hard to imagine what he was talking about. I found myself zoning out during these descriptions, or long discourses on the travels of the characters and the scenery or talking about the different areas of Mars. His books would really benefit from a map of Mars so you could track and better visualize where the characters are especially since they travel around so much. Diagrams and other images would also be useful since his book is so technical.

Finally I really disagreed with some of his plot choices. For instance the beginning of the book starts with Frank’s POV and its set a bit later in the timeline. In this part we find out that Frank kills his best friend and fellow leader, John Boone. However, we never really find why he kills Boone or what he hoped to accomplish. We assume he killed Boone out of jealousy, but Frank is clever man, it would make more sense if he had killed him as part of some plot and it certainly looks that way at the beginning of the book but by the time we get back to Frank’s POV it doesn’t look like Boone’s death accomplished anything or was even part of some elaborate plan. In fact it seems like Frank immediately regrets this action even though it was clearly premeditated. I also thought that the last part of the book, where a small group of the first colonist travel down to the hidden colony at the south pole. This was a bad plot choice. It draws out the ending with a lot of useless activity and description. It’s like the ending of The Giver slowly and annoying.

Red Mars is certainly a good read though perhaps as not as finely crafted as other literary pieces. It’s strengths lie in it’s well researched scientific detail and interesting predictions on what a global effort to settle Mars would look like.

 

Quotes:

And it seemed to him as he drove on day after day that history was like some vast thing that was always over the tight horizon, invisible except in its effects. It was what happened when you weren’t looking – an unknowable infinity of events, which although out of control, controlled everything.

The Martian Chronicles (1945)

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Author: Ray Bradbury

Finished reading on: 6/13/17

 

Synopsis: A short story collection which telling the story of Earth’s colonization of Mars at the turn of the twenty-first century. The short stories actually start from the perspective of the Martians, an old and ancient race whose civilization is dying. They Martians hold off the first waves of Earthling explores but eventually they are killed off by a human plague. People from earth begin to arrive on Mars looking for a fresh start, wanting to be the new pioneers of the next frontier. People came looking for escape but all that happens is that American culture and civilization are simply transplanted to the new soil. Some are true pioneers but most are simply colonists. It’s colonialism and manifest destiny all over again. The humans back on earth succumb to their self-destructive tendencies and the last world war breaks out, bring the Martian settlers back home and sending our green garden up in a ball of fire. A family of human survivors take one of the last known rockets back to Mars to start over again and this time they actually become the new Martians.

In many ways this is a classic tale of there’s nothing new under the sun; everything that has happened before will happen again. We are known for desecrating the Other and changing what’s new and different into our own image. For heaven sakes there’s even a hot dog stand on Mars before the war breaks out.  Even when a few souls such as Spender see the error of our ways and do everything in their power to stop it, the massive momentum of the majority eventually catches up to them.

However, the book is also a celebration of the human spirit, the will to grasp a hold of the new and start fresh. It’s a celebration of the true pioneers who are willing to actually make a new way of life, not just reinvent the old ones. The stories sing of those who cry out to be different, to be better, to change the ways of our past. Instead of recreating some lost vision of the past, let’s blaze forward.

Americans typically approach nature as a force to be tamed. We don’t live in harmony with our environment, we subdue it. This way of life is vastly contrasted with the Martians who lived more in tune with their planet and their civilization lasted much longer than ours. The Martians learned to integrate art, science and religion whereas we keep them categorically separate and this division is often our undoing.

Bradbury also hits on some themes that become more apparent in Fahrenheit 451. One of his characters moves to Mars to escape the vacuum of culture that is America. Like Fahrenheit 451, the people of Bradbury’s future burned books and films to keep people safe from art, culture and fantasy. The moral climate control people want everyone to live in reality and not be distracted by fiction. Through this Bradbury makes the point that life and society without these cultural artifacts isn’t full. It’s a sort of half-life where no one thinks for himself or herself.

These are just some of the thought provoking elements in The Martian Chronicles. It’s a classic work of science fiction which comments on and critique our own society. It’s asks each reader a very personal question: who are you going to be? A pioneer or a colonist? A product of your society or your own person?

 

Quotes:

 

We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things. The only reason we didn’t set up hot-dog stands in the midst of the Egyptian temple of Karnak is because it was out of the way and served no large commercial purpose.

 

We lost our faith and went around wondering what life was for. If art was no more than a frustrated outflinging of desire, if religion was no more than a self-delusion, what good was life? Faith had always given us answers to all thing. But it all went down the drain with Freud and Darwin. We were and still are a lost people.

 

They blended religion and art and science because, at base, science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle.

 

Who are we, anyway? The majority? Is that the answer? The majority is always holy, is it not? Always, always; just never wrong for one little insignificant tiny moment, is it? Never ever wrong in ten million years? He thought: What is this majority and who are in it? And what do they think and how did they get that way and will they ever change and how the devil did I get caught in this rotten majority? I don’t feel comfortable. Is it claustrophobia, fear of crowds, or common sense? Can one man be right, while all the world thinks they are right? Let’s not think about it. Let’s crawl around and act exiting and pull the trigger.

The Aeneid (Circa 19 B.C.)

Image result for the aeneid robert fitzgerald

Author: Virgil

Finished reading on: 6/9/17

I read parts of this epic poem for my world literature course in college. Ever since then I have planned to go back and read the whole damn thing and reading it after the Iliad just felt like the appropriate thing to do.

Everyone says that the first half of the Aeneid is so much better than the second half, that the second half kind of sputters and peters out. In fact in my college course we read most of books I-VI and of books VII-XII we only read the part where Aeneas gets his kick-ass shield forged in the fires of Vulcan and the final battle scene between Aeneas and Turnus. However, after reading the whole thing I much prefer the second half of the book and if I were going to make a film out of the Aeneid, personally I would focus on books VII-XII and make books I-VI into some short flashbacks. Of course there are some wonderfully ghastly and moving moments in book II as Aeneas describes the fall of Troy. And Aeneas’s dalliance with Dido, Queen of Carthage is full of intrigue, heart break and rage. He falls in love with the wrong woman and he must tear himself away while in the very grip of passion. But personally, the plot doesn’t actually get interesting until Aeneas and his ragtag band of Trojan refugees land on the shores of Italy. It is here that we see Aeneas come into his own as a true leader of his people and such a badass warrior you wonder what happened the Aeneas from the Iliad who was a poor and pouty understudy for glorious Hector.  Aeneas is the personality holding together this remnant of a persecuted people by his sheer willpower and his faith in his destiny. The war between the Trojans and the Latins is pretty thrilling. Three moments I found especially suspenseful were when Turnus breaks into the Trojan’s walled fortress and does considerable damage before escaping, when Pallas goes up against Turnus, and when Aeneas is shot with an arrow as the Latin army closes in on the Trojans. Obviously the final battle between Aeneas and his rival, Turnus, is the stuff of legend especially as it mirrors in many ways the show down between Achilles and Hector even to the running around in circles chasing each other.

In any case there is a clear divide between the first half and the second half of this epic poem and the two portions have been described in many ways. The first half resembles The Odyssey and the second half resembles The Iliad. The first half is focused on the past and the second half the future. In the first half Aeneas struggles to accept his fate, in the second half he has surrendered to it. In the first half Aeneas is more human, relatable and emotional, in the second half he becomes grim and removed. People have also debated the true nature and purpose of the poem. Is it really about a man or is it the origin story of Rome? Is it heralding the utopian promise of the empire or subtly questioning the empire’s character? Despite the ambiguities (which many scholars are now seeing as its merits) the poem has been a cultural and artistic standard in the Western world for a long time and it is a shame that it less well known today.

There is little I could add to the reams and reams of material already written on such a classic Western masterpiece but I will take some time to comment on some of the themes which were especially poignant to me.

The nature of leadership. Ancient heroes are always also leaders but this poem seems to have even more to say about leadership than the other epics. This maybe because it was in many ways written as a propaganda piece for Caesar Augustus. Especially in the Dido episode we see the effects of poor leadership. While the two leaders are carousing in bed, the building of the city slacks off and all together stops, the government becomes nonexistent. Self-indulgence makes for a bad leader because it shows lack of devotion to duty, honor, family and nation, Roman virtues. When Aeneas finally snaps out of it, the takes up the mantle of true leadership by putting aside his personal desires and doing what’s best for his people. He says to Dido twice that he leaves her not of his freewill. This is the case with leadership, they are bound by a will greater than their own. Clearly Aeneas struggles to meet these expectations at first. The poet says, “Burdened and sick at heart, he feigned hope in his look and inwardly contained his anguish.” (1.284-86). Aeneas doesn’t have the luxury of indulging his feelings. After Dido though, he easily puts himself aside and does all that is expected of him. Such is the call of public life. In the second half of the book, we get a contrast in leadership styles with Aeneas and the Latin King, Latinus, who is a weak king. He follows the whims of his people even when it leads them into civil war. He doesn’t make a stand even when he knows what is best for his kingdom. He often capitulates to Turnus even when he knows Turnus is making the wrong choices.

The nature of love and passion. This theme mostly occurs in the Dido episode. Dido is placed under Cupid’s spell and falls madly in love with the amazing manliness and manhood of Aeneas. We can’t really fault Dido though because who would be able to resist such a piece of work? It may be true though the for the rest of Dido’s shortened life, she isn’t really herself anymore. Love makes us do crazy things, turns the wisest into utter fools. “Unconscionable Love, to what extremes will you not drive our hearts!” (4.571) Here is where the story gets a bit ambiguous. For the Roman plot, Dido is an irritating distraction from Aeneas’s duty and destiny. However, it isn’t written that way. The whole incident is deeply respectful of love and of the power of love. That’s why it has become throughout Western history and literature such a popular love story. Her love is her destruction because although Aeneas’s and Dido’s relationship was their own personal and private affair, their public roles could not allow them to be together. It was the public life that destroyed their love. So this theme is set up in opposition to the theme of leadership. Aeneas is praised for this “wise” choice but the poet makes us very, very aware of the devastating consequences of sacrificing love to duty. The poet also shows us an incident where the power of love moves us to brave sacrifices. Nisus who had made it to safety through the Latin camp, turns around to save his love who was caught by the enemy. Here Nisus sacrifices his duty (he was supposed to get through the siege to get a message to Aeneas) for love and far more moving and powerful than Aeneas choice to abandon his love.

Fate and the will of the gods in human affairs. Just as in The Iliad and The Odyssey, it is the gods (and ultimately Jupiter) who get to decide the outcomes. The gods are constantly meddling and manipulating human affairs. Ultimately your battle strategy and prowess may not matter at all if the gods are against you. All your work to make a peace can be easily flipped into war when the gods get their hands messy. When Jupiter gives you fate, such as Aeneas fate to found the Roman people, it makes him unstoppable. Aeneas’s fate is both his greatest boon and his greatest doom. When he tries to avoid his fate, i.e. his time in Carthage, he just makes a mess of things. Fate is the driving force in this plot and Aeneas appeals to his fate on a constant basis. It’s pretty clear that your only choice is to resign yourself as many characters ultimately learn. Though the outcomes are predetermined how you reach these outcomes is up to you. This is where free will comes into play. You’d better respect the gods though or they’ll make your life a living hell before they send you there.

The collective memory and myth of Rome and Rome’s special destiny. This theme goes hand in hand with fate. Repeatedly throughout the narrative, the poet brings to the reader’s attention specific characters and events from the history of Rome. When Aeneas sees his descendants in Elysium, when he walks through the forest’s glades which will become the city of Rome, and when he receives his shield from his mother are all moments of “prophecy.” From the narrative perspective, it is foretelling the future but because the poem is set much earlier than when it was written, these episodes are actually relating the history of Rome. The people of Rome saw themselves as special people called by the gods to conquer and civilize the known world (in much the same way that the Western world would believe their duty to civilize the savage nations in the age of exploration and empire). The Roman people had a fate and duty to bring their culture to the world. This poem serves as their original story, showing how all of their history has lead up to the current moment: Caesar Augustus’s empire.

The virtues of duty and devotion to one’s family and nation. Aeneas is repeated called pious Aeneas. Pious here doesn’t just mean religious, it’s more like taking seriously one’s duty. Aeneas has many duties from caring for his aging father, to caring for his people, to fulfilling his fate. He literally shoulders, takes up the burden of his duties. “No help or hope of help existed. So I resigned myself, pick up my father, and turned my face toward the mountain range” (2.1043-46). He says this to his son: “Learn fortitude and toil from me, my son, ache of true toil. Good fortune learn from others” (12.595-96). Aeneas has no illusions about how difficult duty is, he has experienced the self-denial first hand. Devotion to family and country were essential virtues for the Romans. The Romans believed in their nation and so they did great things. Dying on the battlefield for one’s country is often seen as being a glorious ending, even beautiful. “Men dealt out death by cold steel as they fought and strove by wounds to win the beauty of courageous death” (11.878-80). To be courageous, to toil, to suffer for an idea larger than yourself is beautiful. It makes sense that their mythical hero would embody these qualities even if it means his character loses some of its luster for later readers.

The parent-child relationship. Going along with the above theme is a reoccurring emphasis on parents and children. We see Aeneas fulfilling both roles of dutiful son and loving father. His is not the only parent-child relationship of importance. The tragic death of Evander’s son Pallas in the Italian civil war also plays an important role. Another sad death is Euryalus who leaves behind him a grieving mother. Throughout we see how important it is take care of your family, to sacrifice yourself for them, and we see how painful it is when one is taken from the other, especially when the child dies before the parent.

The self-defeating nature of warfare. This theme sets itself up in opposition to the theme of Rome’s destiny. It’s another element of ambiguity in the narrative. Everyone knows Aeneas’s destiny to found a city in Italy and yet, the Latins still stir each other up to make war, Turnus in particular. After many people on both sides have dies simply because some leaders can’t accept the inevitable outcome, nothing has changed. Aeneas is still alive and is still founding a city and is still marrying Lavinia. All they did was make a bunch of trouble and get a bunch of people killed. Even when the most common sense thing to do is to surrender, Turnus won’t accept it and keeps fighting on despite everyone’s wishes to capitulate. The poet shows us that war for the sake of war isn’t worth it.

And finally I will note two interesting elements in the story.

The first is the poet’s obvious sympathy with the opposing side, which goes right along with the theme of warfare.  This element was also present in the Iliad and it catches many modern readers off guard because we come from the age of action and adventure stories where the villains are often very clearly designated and very clearly defeated. The closest we get to a true villain in the Aeneid is Mezentius and even he has a sympathetic moment when his son dies defending him and he turns back into the battle, though wounded and dies fighting. The reader is often given insight and perspective into the opponents of the hero. We can often relate to them just as much or even more so than we can with the main character. They don’t strike us as evil. They simply ended up on the wrong side of fate, the wrong end of Jupiter’s scales.

The second is the female warrior Camilla. She is way out of the norm for gender roles in ancient culture. In fact she shames the men she fights. It seems that in mythology there was a place for the blurring of traditional roles. I highly doubt that Camilla was held as an example of what women should be. Was Virgil early feminist? Somehow I doubt that too. It’s more like that her character serves a purpose in the narrative. Every line written about her is highly praiseworthy yet she is on the opposing side. For her moments on the battlefield, she outshines everyone. Perhaps it says something about Turnus, that he resorts to women warriors to support his cause. It shows that his cause is lost and that he is desperate. Then her bright light was extinguished in the collateral damage of this pointless civil war.

I did read the translation by Robert Fitzgerald as my book cover image suggests. As with most ancient epics deliberation as to which translation to use can be quite daunting. I spent several hours on the web trying to nail down which I would use. Of the quality translations there are positives and negatives to every one but it became apparent that the Fitzgerald’s version is held in high regard by everyone regardless of individual preference. Fagles’ translation was also a top choice.

Aeneas is about as b.a. as they come. He’s a hero of Troy and the founder of Rome. He’s the heart-throb of the ladies and the doom of his enemies. He’s Achilles, Odysseus, Luke Skywalker and Aragorn rolled into one. And his story is legendary.

 

Quotes:

 

“To hoist sail to the winds of destiny”

 

“for who deceives a woman in love?”

 

“Unconscionable Love, to what extremes will you not drive our hearts!”

 

“To die – is that so miserable? Heaven has grown cold.”

 

“Let me be mad enough for this mad act, I pray before I die.”

The Sirens of Titan (1959)

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Author: Kurt Vonnegut

Finished reading on 5/28/2017

 

Kurt Vonnegut has always won my heart by his flare for the bizarre even more so than other science-fiction writers. Furthermore, Vonnegut hailed from Indiana which just goes to show that Indiana can produce freethinking, masterful artists. His dark humor and satirical writing give his novels an edge that most other science fiction hasn’t yet struck the depth of.

Nevertheless, his works have always presented quite a challenge for my reflections, this one perhaps most of all. There are clear elements of the anti-war theme in the episode concerning The Amy of Mars cultivated specifically for a suicide mission to Earth. The people of the Martian army are actually earthlings who were stolen by another earthling and forced to work for the Army. The new Martians are memory wiped and installed with an antenna which controls their actions. No one in the army, even the people who are not subjected to the memory wipe and antenna understands the true purpose of their mission, they simply follow the faceless orders given them. It’s not hard to draw anti-war sentiments from this plot line.

Another forefront element is a deeply skeptical view of institutional religion. Especially the kind of staginess that preys on the masses. Vonnegut himself was an atheist, a self-identified humanist, and a subscriber to the philosophy of Jesus. He was always benevolent towards Christianity but didn’t believe it held any significant truths about reality, simply that it showed a decent and desirable way to live in respect to your fellow creatures. If I were to pinpoint his philosophy it would be a statement the main character makes at the end of his life: “It took us that long to realize that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”

From my own personal reflections I want to take a moment on this statement from the book: “’I must warn you,’ Redwine said to Unk, ‘that when you go out among all those people you mustn’t say anything that would indicate that God took a special interest in you, or that you could somehow be of help to God. The worst thing you could say, for instance, would be something like, ‘Thank God for delivering me from all my troubles. For some reason He singled me out, and now my only wish is to serve Him.’” I don’t believe this is Vonnegut’s personal philosophy, especially since he was known and remarked for saying things like “Thank God” and “God forbid.” I do find it fascinating how completely opposite it is from the Christian view of a personal, intimate, and involved God found in the scriptures. The statement which the main character is warned against saying in some ways parallels quite nicely the Christian confession. The God of the Christian scriptures is one of deliverance who is personally interested in His people. Christians are aware that both good and bad “luck” come to us from the hand of God (see the book of Job) for His purposes and neither is He is simply using us to just get something done. His purposes intimately concern us.

The last element I’ll write on is the book’s obvious struggle with the questions of destiny and purpose. The incidents in our lives seem to have such an arbitrary nature to them, but is there purpose behind them, or a hand directing them? At one point in the narrative the main character takes the view: “I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.” However, it is also revealed that events inflicted upon the main character had two levels of direction. The first level of control was from a fellow earthling who used the main character to set up his own religion. The second level came from an alien species originating many galaxies away from ours who manipulated the development of humanity all so that humans would create and then transport a replacement part for a spaceship trapped on Titan. One of these aliens had been sent out thousands of years ago to traverse the universe and deliver a message to a galaxy far, far away but his ship broke and he ended up on Titan awaiting the replacement part. I personally don’t think the novel gives an answer as to whether our haphazard lives are arbitrarily thrown together or whether intelligently guided for some unknown purpose. The overall message seems to be to live well despite these unanswered questions. The main character finally gets over himself and his self-pity enough to realize this at the end. And despite all this, perhaps it is nobler and better to be guided by a purpose than to not be, as one character says at the end of her life: “The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody,” she said, “would be to not be used for anything by anybody.”

 

 

 

Quotes:

 

Everybody on Mars came from Earth. They thought they would be better off on Mars. Nobody can remember what was so bad about Earth.

 

Her office was crammed with ungraded school papers, some of them dating back five years. She was far behind in her work – so far behind that she had declared a moratorium on school work until she could catch up on her grading. Some of the stacks of papers had tumbled, forming glaciers that sent fingers under her desk, into the hallway, and into her private lavatory.

 

“They push me this way, then they push me that – and nothing pleases ‘em, and they get madder and madder, on account of nothing makes ‘em happy. And they holler at me on account of I ain’t made ‘em happy, and we all push and pull some more.”

 

It was all so sad. But it was all so beautiful, too.

 

“It took us that long to realize that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”

 

“The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody,” she said, “would be to not be used for anything by anybody.”

 

“Don’t ask me why, old sport,” said Stony, “but somebody up there likes you.”

Lost Moon: the Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 (1994)

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Authors: Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger

Finish reading on May 20, 2017

 

I remember watching Apollo 13 several times as a small child. That movie plus the Star Wars Trilogy, several of the Star Trek movies, the first Indiana Jones and a selection of Disney movies are what I mainly remember watching in childhood. The Martian reminded me of this long lost childhood film and so this spring I sat down to watch it again. Of course watching the movie made me itch to read the book. I knew that my dad had the book because he always talked about how Jim Lovell came to Fort Wayne in the 90s to give a speech and my dad bought the book and had him sign it.

However, after reading the book I can’t say that I honestly recommend it over the movie unless you want more precise details about the incident. The movie does tweak several details for the sake of cinema such as giving Ken Mattingly a huge role, showing only one mission control team and even cutting out some problems Apollo 13 and the controllers had to deal with. I’m not a purist though, when it comes to movie adaptations. I understand that converting from one art/entertainment form to another requires changes. In my view, what must never be sacrificed is the essence or the spirit of the work.

The writing style of Lost Moon really got me down. I, who have always harbored a general interest in all things related to human space exploration (thanks to my dalliance with the sci-fi genre), enjoyed learning the nitty gritty details of the disastrous lunar flight. But other than absorbing more details about this space incident, I can’t say this read was worth much else. The style was very forced and not natural at all. Perhaps due to its co-authorship or some other reason. Often the technical explanations weighed down the narrative to an alarming degree making for a sluggish read. Furthermore, the writing was not emotive at all. For a mission that was, I assume, fraught with tension, stress, frustration, anxiety and uncertainty, very little of the emotional experience was imparted to the reader. The text was laborsome and distant. The narrative understandably jumps around to the perspectives of so many people who play a part in the Apollo 13 mission and it also gives a lot of background information on Lovell. Unfortunately, the writers bit off far more than they could chew with this grand vision and sweeping tale. They painted with broad brush strokes at the expense of storytelling.

This book had great potential, inherently residing in the subject matter, to be truly remarkable, a best-seller. But the challenge was left unmet. The book flutters, sputters and ultimately fizzles out.

Knowing Christ Today: why we can trust spiritual knowledge (2009)

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Author: Dallas Willard
Finished reading on 5/11/17

This book is a contemporary philosophical analysis of the state of Christian knowledge today. It examines how our society has arrived at the assumption that spiritual knowledge of Christ and His teachings are taken as merely a matter of belief without any foundation of reliable knowledge at all. The book is set up as a series of arguments which examine the state of Christianity today and the unreliability of scientific knowledge in fields outside of science (i.e.: worldview issues). He then makes an argument for the existence of God which he builds into an argument for Christ and His teachings. This knowledge of Christ is based on an interactive relationship in which being a disciple of Jesus leads us into knowledge because we then experience his action in our lives through grace. He also makes the point that we can verify miracles (i.e. Christ’s resurrection) by observing the effects of the miracle. In this case the explosion and dominance of Christianity in the historical Western world and its continued presence globally.

Willard explores other topics and makes other points as well. He examines the uniqueness of Agape love to Christ and Christ’s teachings and how that is way of life is still acknowledged by many serious thinkers and lay people alike to be the “good life.” He comes to an interesting conclusion of the topic of Christian pluralism. Here he essentially says that we as Christians assume too much when we say that without knowledge of the historical person of Jesus, made available through Christian teaching no one can know Jesus and through Jesus God. God will judge who is acceptable to Him of those who died without specifics historical knowledge of Jesus.

Finally he concludes his book by calling on pastors to teach the faith as related to reliable knowledge and for all Christians to live in the knowledge of Christ and to make him known.

I found the book to be very insightful and his arguments on the whole to be very solid. I took issue with a few random statements but none of his main ideas and I found his view of Christian pluralism particularly refreshing. I would wish for a few pages on the issue of finding the Bible to be trustworthy. Though perhaps he found this to either be a moot point or just too broad a topic to treat in this volume. I also think it worth mentioning that because spiritual knowledge is not empirical there comes a point where it can no longer be verified outside of an individual person. Which I suppose is the whole point. He is not trying to equate scientific knowledge with spiritual knowledge. He’s not saying the two are the same but that the two are equally valid ways of knowing truth (i.e. Reality) within the spheres in which they deal. And that spiritual knowledge would in many ways be more meaningful (i.e. For our worldview) than scientific knowledge. But it seems to me and my own understanding is that there comes a point where we choose to trust and obey and wait as what we once believed we come to know as reality. Perhaps some people know IT right away but that is not my experience.

Fresh Perspectives on Women in Minstry

fresh perspectives on women in minstry

Publisher: Zondervan

Finished reading on 5/6/17

Zondervan put together a 3 books series written by various authors on the ever controversial evangelical issue of women in ministry. The three books are as follows:

Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles: A Case for Gender Roles in Ministry

Author: Kathy Keller

Hearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons

Author: John Dickson

Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry

Author: Michael F. Bird

Despite the various purported purposes of the subtitles, all three books say almost the same thing. The last book on the list is slightly more egalitarian than the others but in the end, the author never supports a pure egalitarian view.

These three books represent the very moderate complementarian view on the spectrum of stances on the issue of women in ministry (the third book claims to lay right in the middle of the spectrum. However, I’m not sure that truly middle view is even possible with the issue involved. If there was a middle stance I would make it my own today).

Let me summarize all three books by outlining the application side of this very moderate complementarian view. The ministry role of women in the Bible and especially in the New Testament was indeed a very prominent one. Women were allowed and even encouraged to engage in all sorts of public speaking opportunities within the early Church. The one role reserved for men is that of the upper authority in the church. Thus, though women can teach men, their teaching does not hold the same authority which an ordained male minister or a church elder would have.

Each of the three books may explain the restriction placed on women in slightly different terms or applications but this is the essence of it. Each of the three books take a similar route of Biblical interpretation to arrive at this conclusion. Focus passages are 1 Timothy 2:8-14, 1 Corinthians 14:33-36, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Other Biblical evidence examined are the accounts of women ministering in both the Old and New Testaments.

The books do vary in their audiences. Kathy Keller is clearly writing to egalitarians and feminists. She is arguing against total sameness in ministry and encouraging women to find joy in the equal but submissive role given to them by the grace of God. But in the end the role she outlines for women is ministry is very similar to an  egalitarian position excepting the restriction on eldership, headship and senior positions (ie: ordained status). She argues for this mostly using evidence from 1 Timothy 2  and 1 Corinthians 14 to explain that “teaching and exercising authority over men” means the special authoritative role elders have in examining doctrine and executing church discipline. Other than these head roles (including a co-ed pastoring position), women can participate in the church leadership of co-ed ministries.

John Dickson is writing to more conservative complementarians who have for a long time restricted women from any form of church public speaking where men are present. His argument is very narrow and specifically focused on sermons and other public speaking in church. He doesn’t attempt to answer leadership questions. He argues very persuasively from the 1 Timothy 2 text and various others that women did indeed speak publicly and instruct men in the early church but that a special kind of authoritative teaching from the oral tradition of the apostles was reserved for men. This bit of scholarship on the oral tradition or apostolic deposit that both Kathy Keller and John Dickson describe is very enlightening. They describe a situation where the New Testament literature had not yet been written down. The teachings of Jesus and of the apostles were preserved through oral tradition. This role of communicating the oral tradition and of using it as a standard to judge all doctrine is the special role Paul bars women from.

Michael F. Bird also writes to the conservative complementarians. His position is slightly more liberal than the other two but he still hesitates to say that women are allowed in senior authority positions in the church. I think the only difference with his position is that women pastors would be okay as long a male senior pastor is still in authority. He uses evidence from Paul’s ministry with women in the early Church as well as a study on 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2. He is trying to persuade the section of evangelicals who have long held extreme patriarchal views that their assumptions are not Biblically based.

Each of these writers has a high regard of scripture and firmly advocates that although we have a limited understanding of God’s purposes for women’s distinctive role in the church there is something in the Biblical text which must be taken seriously regardless of cultural context when it comes to this issue. There is some principal at the heart of these passages that all cultural contexts in every period of history should seek to apply appropriately.

I will not burden you will my theoretical opinions, positions and questions. However, after reading the arguments of these moderate complementarians I feel more understanding of and comfortable with their position. In reality, I could attend with a clear conscious any church in the moderate spectrum of the complementarian and egalitarian positions. Since I am not interested in full-time church ministry, the question doesn’t concern me in a practical way. I am attending a moderate complementarian church right now and I have no problem following their doctrine on this subject though I reserve my personal questions and positions as I am still forming them.