Monday, January 31, 2011

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

My brother-in-law, Michael, recommended this book to me.  I was a little skeptical at first.  The narrator is a teenage autistic boy.  The chapters are numbered via prime numbers rather than the normal 1, 2, 3, 4.
However, it's quirkiness offers an exquisite look into the mind of an autistic person.  At the same time it offers a compelling picture of families dealing with special-needs children and all of the stress that entails. 
The narrative is sharp and (at times) biting.  It is also witty, heart-warming, and heart-wrenching.  The story reads quickly.  I finished the whole book in less than a week, and that's really fast for me.
I highly recommend this book.  Everyone ought to read it, but for people who live or work near special needs individuals, this is a must-read.
The Josh rating: JJJJ.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Brothers Karamazov - Review

I love Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, but this was one of the most difficult books I've read in a long, long time. 
First of all, it's really long - 940 pages!  That alone is pretty intimidating.
Second, in Russian style, each character has about 4-5 versions of their names.  I had a hard time keeping track of who was who until about 1/3 of the way into the book.
Third, it covers so many characters and so many themes that it's hard to follow (or even to identify) the main theme.

However, with those difficulties noted, I'm glad I read The Brothers Karamazov.  There are some absolutely beautiful scenes - notably Ivan's parable about the Inquisition. 
Also, after about half-way through the book, the action and pace increased quite a bit.  It took me about 6 months (and several stops and starts) to read the first half, but it only took a few weeks to read the second half.
In the end, I guess the theme of the book is that selfishness really screws up your life one way or another.  The only character who comes out happy is the one who is always trying to help others.

I'm reluctant to rate a classic this low.  However, because of the difficulty I experienced in the reading process and the lack of clarity for the over all theme, I'll give this only: JJJ.  But, I still recommend it.  It's hard, but it's worth the effort.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Korea Tip #102 - 3 Great New Places in SsangYong Dong

SsangYong Dong (the neighborhood around Korea Nazarene University) is really developing.  Recently, three great little places have popped up.
First, Pasta Noodle Office (파스타 면 사무소) is a chic little Italian place, next to Tom N Toms above McDonald's.  It offers great specialty pizzas and tasty pasta dishes.  The prices range from 7,000 won to 15,000 won.  My first impression is that this is the best Italian place in the neighborhood.
Second, Mama's Table is a quiet little cafe above Cara Cara Sauna.  It has excellent sandwiches on real whole wheat bread, with good side salads, and coffee.  They also have real cheese cake and soft homemade cookies (even oatmeal raisin - my favorite!).  Go out the KNU main gate up the hill toward the mountain.  Take the first left and follow that street as it makes an L to the right.  Mama's Table is almost at the end of the street on the left.
Third, A Twosome Place is a gourmet cafe chain based out of Seoul.  I was delighted to see this at the end of the Lotte Mart street.  It has great sandwiches and a wide variety of specialty coffees and deserts.  Think Starbucks crossed with Panera (almost).  From the KNU area, walk past Lotte Mart, go under the walkway under the main road, and keep going straight.  A Twosome Place will be on your right almost at the end of the street.
And by the way, don't miss Lower Garden (a quaint little coffee shop with simple but tasty sandwiches and Signore's Pizza (pizzas are baked in a real clay oven with a wood fire) - both are behind the post office. 

Friday Night Lights - Season 2 - Review

We're behind on this one, but we just finished Friday Night Lights Season 2.  We have mixed feelings about this series.
On one hand, it's kind of a soap opera - with the unusual element that it's centered around a high school football team.  With this downside, we see all the high school, soap-opera type elements - drinking parties, sleeping around, etc.
On the other hand, this series is refreshingly realistic.  It is honestly and courageously dealing with real issues, and that's why I keep watching.  The depiction of the coach and his wife is raw, painful, and heartwarming.  Most characters are genuinely trying to overcome their difficult lot in life (four of whom have almost zero fatherly influence and very difficult living situations).  Christianity is fairly often depicted, and usually in a neutral or positive light.
Friday Night Lights poignantly tells the story of the struggle for meaning, love, and significance, and that's why we keep watching (that and the Texas football). This season was OK, but I've heard the next seasons get better.  For season 2, the Josh rating is: JJJ (with hopes of better luck next season).

Jujitsu Love - Matthew 5:38-48

 Jujitsu is a Japanese martial art.  “Ju” means the “gentle art” or the “yielding technique.”  During a surprise attack, one unarmed warrior might do battle with a fully armed attacking warrior.  They quickly learned that indirect combat is the best way to defeat a more powerful opponent.  Use his own force against him.  When the other guy swings his sword, you duck.  When he lunges, move to the side and give a little push so that he smashes into the wall.  The aggressor will destroy himself with his own violence.  This strategy is jujitsu.
    In our passage today, Jesus advocates jujitsu love.  It is not a surrender to violence.  It is a subversion of violence.  Listen carefully to how Jesus advocates a subtle defeat of violent actions or attitudes through jujitsu love.

Read Matthew 5:38-48. 

Our epistle lesson today gives us a fair summary of this passage: “Do not let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good” (Romans 12:21).  Conquer evil with love.  Love’s creative power erodes the power of evil.  ...

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Friendly Korea Tip #101 - Hangul Word Processor Online Viewer

So if you live in Korea, someone has probably emailed you a .hwp document.  This is a document created in Hangul Word Processor, Korea's most popular word processor (popular because it was specifically made for the Korean market - instead of just translated into Korean).  However, most westerners don't have HWP.  To further complicate the problem it has zero conversion capacity.  It can't be opened in Word, Open Office, or Mac's Pages.   Most people either go to a Korean computer to open the document or ask the person to send it again in Word. 
However, I recently discovered a new option.  HWP has created a free online site that will allow you to view any HWP doc and/or convert it into a pdf doc which you can download to your own computer.  I have used it twice now, and it works splendidly.  Go to to try it out. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dangerously Biblical (Matthew 5:17-45)

    In Greek mythology, Pandora was given a beautiful golden box as a wedding gift from the gods.  The gods told her never to open it.  However, on her wedding day, she was also given the beautiful/horrible gift of curiosity.  This was all Zues’s cruel plan for personal revenge.
    Eventually, Pandora could no longer keep herself from the box.  She opened the lid, just a little bit, and all the evils of the world spilled out:  greed, theft, lies, jealousy, sickness, death - every evil thing imaginable poured out into the air and into the world before Pandora could close her box.

    In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus tells us that the real God has also given us a kind of box - the Bible. 

Read Matthew 5:17-45.

    So here is the Bible, this box that God has given us.  It is beautiful and valuable, but how does it work?  And how do we work with it?  And how does the Old Testament fit with the New Testament?  And how does the Bible fit with our lives today?
    But here’s the real difficulty in understanding this box that we have as the Bible.  Jesus seems to contradict himself.  ...

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lassie Come-Home - Book Review

Emma and I read together almost every night.  She gets more or less books based on how quickly she gets ready for bed.  (We've found that this kind of reward system takes most of the stress out of the nighttime rituals, by putting the responsibility on her and by having a reward that really matters to her.)
I've started insisting on one chapter out of a chapter book as one of the "books" for each night.  So far we've finished lots of Magic Tree House books, The Wizard of Oz, and now Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight. 
This book was far too difficult for Emma to read alone - lots of big vocabulary and English or Scottish accents.  Sometimes, I had to rephrase some of the difficult parts or check for comprehension, but mostly she was able to follow along quite well.  When we got down to the last 50 pages or so, she was super excited to read every night. 
Eric Knight shows an incredible knowledge of both dogs and humans.  As Lassie makes her long journey home, we are treated to a tour of humanity and British culture between the World Wars.  We see gripping scenes of families struggling with poverty and yet maintaining a great generosity of spirit, but we also see other individuals or groups who have hard hearts and quick hatred. 
For all with elementary children, or for anyone who wants a good heart-warming story, I gladly recommend Lassie Come-Home.  It's not earth shaking, but it is very good.  The Josh rating: JJJJ.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Already Gone - Book Review

This book was definitely outside my normal reading box.  On one hand, I found the statistics to be unnerving and yet very believable.  On the other hand, I found the diagnosis and recommended cure to be frustratingly off-base.
First some of the most pertinent statistics.
  • 2/3 of people who were active in church as children or teenagers will not be active in church during their 20s.
  • Of those 20-somethings who used to attend church but now don't, 95% attended regularly during elementary and middle school, 55% attended regularly during high school, and only 11% attended regularly during their early college years.  This means that we're losing our young people in high school and college.
  • When these 20-somethings were asked why they dropped out of church, the reasons listed were: 
  1. Boring worship services
  2. Legalism
  3. Hypocricy
  4. Churches are too political
  5. Self-righteous people
  6. Distance from home
  7. Not relevant to personal growth
  8. God wouldn't condemn me to hell for not going to church.
  9. The Bible is not relevant or practical.
  10. I couldn't find my preferred denomination in my area.
Notice that only #8 and #9 are belief based issues.  The top 5, which make up 54% of the respondents are all complaining about human behavior issues in the church.

However, the most surprising statistics related to Sunday School.  According to the surveys in this book, Sunday School seems to be counterproductive (at least as currently operated).  20-something church drop-outs who had regularly attended Sunday School as kids or teenagers were MORE likely to ...
  • Not believe that all the stories in the Bible are true.
  • Defend premarital sex.
  • View the church as hypocritical.
  • Become specifically anti-church (hostile instead of just not attending).
  • Feel that the Church is irrelevant to their needs today.
It's unclear why Sunday School seems to be having this effect.  At this point, all we can do is theorize.
However, There were a few statistical hints of hope.
  • 51% of the church dropouts still attend worship services at Christmas or Easter.
  • 38% expect to attend regularly again after having kids, and 30% aren't sure if they will or not.
Now, let me be clear here.  I'm not saying that attending a worship service makes someone a Christian.  I'm also not saying that not attending worship services regularly makes someone a non-Christian.  However, I do believe in the Church and in local churches.  I know the millions of faults to be found in our institutions and individuals.  However, I believe that churches are absolutely necessary and good for the world.  Therefore, I'm concerned that a growing number of young people find local churches to be irrelevant, unnecessary, boring, or even distasteful.  This is a major problem for the Church and for local churches.
Unfortunately, in my maybe not-so humble opinion, Ken Ham and Britt Beemer do a fairly poor job of addressing this problem and recommending a cure.  They seem to completely overlook the basic statistics that most young people who have quit church have quit because of the behavior and attitudes of the church.
Instead, Ham (the driving writer) pounds on fundamental beliefs as the cure, and his take on fundamental beliefs is an extremely literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11.  While I think such a literal interpretation is possible, I don't think it is necessary, and in some cases (like the comparison of sequence in Genesis 1 and 2), strict literalism is not even logical.   What shocks me the most is the blind insistence on right beliefs above all else.
For example, in the entire book, Ham never mentions (even once) the church's mandate to care for the poor.  In all of his calls to defend the Word and to live the Word, he never once calls our Western materialism into question.   In fact, when he does call for people to live the Word, he gives precious little guidance as to what that might look like.  Once he even says that living the Word is believing that the whole Bible is the literal Word of God (a belief statement).  For me this is evidence that many well meaning people in our church have an unnatural and unhealthy fixation on right belief, while turning a blind eye to right behavior.
However, for someone so conservative, I was surprised to read Ham's chapter attacking traditionalism.  He rightly argued that much that we consider "traditional" is not in fact Biblical.  I was shocked when Ham suggested that we should give 20-somethings who are still in the church the freedom to reinvent the church in more interesting and relevant ways.  Ham said that older, mature believers should stand by as advisers and allow the young folks to take us into a new way of being the church.  He even suggested that these new ways of being church may not feel much like "church" to older folks because they are not "traditional" but may still bear all of the essential elements of a Biblical church.  Mr. Ham (Mr. Uber-Conservative), I tip my hat to you on that one.
 So, that's a long review, of a so-so book.  At the least, the book raised some good points and sparked some good discussion among Sarah and I (and hopefully among the readers here).  Also, these authors see a genuine problem and are honestly trying to understand and to solve it.  For that I give them lots of credit.  For theology, perspective, methodology, and writing style, not so much.  The Josh rating: JJ.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Covenant of Kindness

We have lost the skills of civil discourse. We have forgotten how to be kind to those with whom we disagree.
The Board of General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene is attempting to recall us to basic Christian kindness in our conversations and debate. They have released a "Covenant of Kindness."
As the debates on the net and in our home communities have been overheated at times, I rejoice that more people are speaking out on behalf of mutual respect and genuine humility in conversation. May this be part of our collective healing.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

American Graffitti (#63 Greatest Movie) Review

This weekend Sarah and I watched American Graffitti, AFI's 63rd greatest movie of all time.  Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, co-written and directed by George Lucas, and staring big names like Ron Howard, Harrison Ford (one of his first), and Richard Dreyfus, we had high hopes.  However, we were sadly disappointed.
The whole movie takes place in about 15 hours of time, from evening to morning the next day.  It is set in the early 1960s with a group of kids in (or just out of) high school cruising the strip of their local town. 
I'm guessing this movie meant a lot more to people, for whom "cruising" was a major part of their childhood.  As I watched, I remembered vaguely some of my mom's stories for this sort of thing.  However, for Sarah and I the whole story seemed kind of slow and pointless. 
It's billed as a "coming of age story," but it didn't feel like much maturation actually happened.  The main characters exhibited a fair amount of angst and confusion, but the resolution was rather slim. 
Also there was this weird bit at the end, with text based follow-ups on the main characters in a "where are they now" format.  It gave the impression that this was a true story, but from what I can tell, Lucas just made this up from his own similar experiences.  It seemed out of sync and also pointless.
The final scene (before the weird text follow ups) was a fanciful but artful and slightly poignant wrap-up on the night.  As the white Thunderbird drove along the road, I wasn't sure if the message was that happiness is always just out of reach or that happiness is out there and worth pursuing.
Alas, sometimes even the "greatest" movies are duds for us.  I guess beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.  The Josh rating: a dismal 2 Js - JJ.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Becoming Real (Matthew 5:1-16)

During “Common Time” over the next two months, we are studying Jesus’ most famous teaching, “The Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5, 6, and 7.  If you want to know what it means to follow Jesus in your common, ordinary, everyday life, this is the place to start.  Jesus is answering some basic questions.  What does it mean for the Kingdom of God to become real in our world?  What does it mean to be a real follower of Jesus?  What does it mean to be a real human?

    Before we start reading today’s text, I want to talk about someone else who explored what it means to become real.  In my opinion he was one of the greatest psychologists of the 20th century.  Abraham Maslow studied what he considered to be the top 1% of humanity.  He wanted to discover what helps people reach the highest limits of their potential.
    Maslow’s great contribution to human understanding was his Hierarchy of Needs.  The basic concept is that we need to have our most basic needs met before we can move upward to the next level of needs.

    We all start at the bottom with physical needs: food, water, air, sleep, shelter, etc.  We have to have this stuff to live.  That last one on the list is kind of funny: excretion.  That means pooping and peeing.  That may not seem like such a big deal, until you think of a time when you really, really, really had to pee but couldn’t find a bathroom.  You weren’t thinking high and lofty thoughts about how to become a better person or make our world a better place.  All you could think was, “I’ve got to PEEEEE!” 
    The next level is safety.  We all want security.  We need physical health, a safe home, safety for our possessions, income security, etc.  A year or two ago, one of our church members experienced a robbery, while she was at home, in her bed.  Safety became one of her dominant concerns. 
    When our basic needs are met, and we feel basically safe in the world, we start to focus our attention on love and belonging.  We want friendship and family.  We want to fall in love and get married.  We want to have sex, and not just any sex - good sex, intimate sex that connects us heart and soul with another person.  (And by the way, I don’t think sex actually belongs on that bottom level of most basic human needs.  Nobody ever dies from lack of sex.  We are designed to have sex.  It is good to have sex in the right kind of relationship, but we CAN live without it.)
    When we feel love and belong to a close community, we move on to the next set of aspirations, those focused on esteem or respect.  Notice here that love and belonging precede self-esteem and achievement.  We need to love and be loved before we can really feel good about ourselves or anything we accomplish.  This level of needs is all about significance. 
    Finally, we get to self-actualization.  According to Maslow, the highest aim of humanity is to become our true selves.  We have an accurate and honest understanding of ourselves and our world.  We have come to peace with ourselves and what we have to offer our world, and yet we work to solve key problems in our world.  Self-actualized people are people of integrity, joy, passion, honesty, and creative action.  They are fulfilling their potential.  They have become - or are becoming - their REAL (or actual) SELF, the person God made them to be.  This is the ultimate blessing.
    When we look at this, pyramid of needs, we intuitively connect with this.  The basic premise here is intuitively and obviously true.  We look at this and say, “Yeah, that’s about right.”  We might want to adjust this or that, but over all we say, “Yes, this is obviously true.”

    So with this hierarchy of needs in mind, let’s read the introduction to Jesus’ most important sermon.  Read Matthew 5:1-16. 

    Is anyone else confused?   ...

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Cool Church Videos

During my sermon research, I've found some pretty cool church videos I want to share.  Enjoy.