Read in 2016

Some commentary was written as I finished. Mostly leaving these unedited because, 2016.

  1. Elijah in Jerusalem by Michael O’Brien. Dreams and visions. Encouragement to see truth/discern.
  2. Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper. Entertaining, but lacking any depth behind its mysteries. They felt arbitrary.  I think this series is insidiously against a Christian worldview and I will be evicting it from my library.
  3. The Bible. Green and orange ESV journaling
  4. Sand by Hugh Howey. It was a creative story that I read quickly and for which I eagerly anticipate a sequel. However, the high profanity and sexuality content were disappointing, so I cannot recommend this book as highly as I did Wool.
  5. Invasive Procedures by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnson. I read it in less than a day, so it’s certainly a page turner. However, its bioengineering is much more far fetched (and, frankly, ridiculous) than I was hoping for.
  6. The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead
  7. The Bone House by Stephen Lawhead
  8. The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead
  9. Early Christian Writings
  10. Odd Apocalypse by Dean Koontz
  11. The Shadow Lamp by Stephen Lawhead
  12. Deeply Odd by Dean Koontz
  13. Phantastes by George MacDonald. Not my favorite MacDonald, despite CS Lewis’ high praise of the novel. I’m not sure where the plot was going.
  14. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. I borrowed this one on a lazy trip celebrating graduation. It’s set in a dystopian future following a band of Shakespearean actors. I devoured it in two days, but the ending felt anticlimactic.
  15. Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. An enjoyable novel at the intersection of old books, the Internet, and mystery. The narrator reminded me of Odd Thomas.
  16. Island of the World by Michael O’Brien. Gut wrenching. Hard and absolutely beautiful. A novel of crucifixion and resurrection. It follows Josip, born just before WWII hits Croatia. I devoured it and sobbed through my last day of reading it. I would like to read it again more slowly.
  17. Fatal Tree by Stephen Lawhead. I think he didn’t really know how to end a delightful series. The first ones were page turners. Different from Lawhead’s usual subject matter and certainly interesting. However, I was disappointed in the last. It felt like it was finished by a different author.
  18. Saint Odd by Dean Koontz. Gripping. Rarely has the death of a character been so sweet.
  19. Odd Interlude by Dean Koontz. Enjoyed it – devoured in one plane ride on the way to Ireland.
  20. Strangers and Sojourners by Michael O’Brien. Similar to Island of the World in that it follows one character’s entire life through the large changes in the 20th century. This one follows a young female teacher who moves out west to the frontier. That’s a plot that I’ve read a lot of, but O’Brien puts his characteristic spin on things and it was wonderful. Would have cried much harder at the end had I not been in an airport (on my way back from Ireland). This novel was less overtly Catholic/Christian than his others.
  21. Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Every November, terrifying horses come up from the sea on the island of Thisby. People catch them and race. Everything I wanted out of a book when I was young.
  22. Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. Read with Lindsay. Still very good. Convicted by thoughts on posture during prayer, being too content with spiritual troughs, something dull distracting you from prayer or sleep, and Ch 24 – spiritual  pride.
  23. Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. I have been giving this to various people lately (our confirmation students, for one) and decided it needed a re-read. It was interesting (and slightly confusing) to read it concurrently with Screwtape.
  24. New Testament via church
  25. Letters of St Patrick. The two surviving writings of the great Irish saint – his Confessions and letter to a king. Written at nearly the same time as Augustine’s confessions. Good – some parts very familiar, some ancient and foreign.
  26. The Shell Collector by Hugh Howey. Meh. Cool premise, a plot that turns predictable, and a few chapters that need to be skipped for adult content.
  27. Anne of Ingleside by LM Montgomery. Lovely. The kind of mother I want to be.
  28. My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell. To cry with.
  29. Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberley Hahn. Not quite what I expected.
  30. Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey. Lighthouse operator in space. Felt like it could be in the Ender universe. A bit dark, but enjoyable. Not sure how I feel about the moral decision at the end.
  31. Halfway Home by Hugh Howey. People on a colony ship wake up before they’re fully grown and have to deal with a hostile planet and, possibly, computer. And each other. Engaging read. Again questionable on the morals propounded.
  32. Scaling Up by Verne Harnish. Read in preparation for a work retreat. First book like this I’ve ever read.
  33. Gift of Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. Sequel to My Name is Asher Lev. In this one, the orthodox Jewish artist is grown up, raising children, and is pulled back into his Brooklyn world again. Quite good, as you’d expect from Potok.
  34. Christmas Playlist by Alistair Begg. Discusses the four biblical Christmas songs – Mary, Zechariah, the angels, and Simeon.
  35. Beginner’s Guide to Photography

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Living in Babylon, Buying New Pants

In Jeremiah 29, the Israelites have recently been exiled from their home and moved to Babylon. They’re dejected and confused. “Why would God take us out of the land He promised us?”

The prophet Jeremiah, remaining behind in Israel with the very poor, has heard from God and sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon. I imagine they were expecting some hopeful news: “God is sending some warrior angels to rescue you! He will defeat the Babylonians tomorrow! Pack your bags!”

Instead, he has harder news: you’re not coming back to Israel for 70 years. Settle in.

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

I have long loved this chapter in talking to new graduate students (the not-so-subtle metaphor here is to see grad school as exile, though I think rarely is grad school one of God’s punishments). To thrive in graduate school, one needs to view it not as a transitory period, where the temptation is to focus on schoolwork to the exclusion of all else. Jeremiah’s letter reminds us that we should invest deeply in our communities while we are there – make deep friendships, get involved in a church, even date, get married, and have children. Grad school is real life – not another holding pattern before “real life” starts.

Now I find this passage meaningful in a new way. I’ve been in the long, painful wait of infertility for about two years now. The extra challenge of infertility is that every month could be the last one. The uncertainty, the pain, and the hopefulness cycle over and over again, one after another.

I recently went to a support group where I found people who understood the unique challenges of this season. We shared many struggles, even down to not wanting to buy new clothes. “What if this is the month I get pregnant, and then I won’t be able to wear them?”

One woman wisely shared that God was asking her to live in to her current circumstances: buy a few new clothes, make the “baby room” a sewing room, make an appointment with the doctor. Don’t put your life on hold awaiting the good gift of a child.

I connected this beautiful idea to my beloved Jeremiah 29 passage*. I am especially meditating on the phrase, “Multiply there and do not decrease,” or in another translation, “Increase there and do not decrease.”

Alas, the immediate context of this phrase (meaning, “Have babies”) and being in the state of infertility are mutually exclusive. What, therefore, does “increase there and do not decrease” mean for me? What is God trying to grow in me during this barren time?

I am listening, I am praying, I am waiting as I sit here in Babylon, trying to grow and waiting for the call to come home. And I bought some new pants last week.


*I also have “Run the race that is set before you” (Hebrews 12:1) pinned to my desk. I only have to run the one race that God has given me, which at this moment includes infertility.

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Patient Quotes to Remember

“How are you doing today, sir?” “I only have 4-6 months to live, so I’m not sure how to answer that question anymore. I just hope I can help you with your research.”

“You’re just an angel – there’s angels all around taking care of me. An angel here to take my blood.”

(Translating) “She says, We are all in the hands of God.”

The doctor comes out of the room looking sad, shaking her head. “There’s just nothing we can do.” I enter, in expectation of a somber atmosphere, to shouts of joy: “Oh! It’s the finger-pricker! The finger-pricker’s here!” There was so much laughter in that room.

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A Tuesday in January

Continuing to try to chronicle the daily life of a grad student.
I was tired, as usual, and got in around 10:15. I scanned documents to apply to get a badge to do a study at a hospital – something we’ve been trying to get approval for since April.
I emailed my thesis committee about a date for my defense!
I responded to various other emails, including sending in some puzzles for a podcast I enjoy.
I started to assemble the slides for my research presentation in group meeting later that week.
Getting excited about the possibility of actually defending, I printed and filled out my application for degree. Procrastinating real research, I wrote my biannual progress report for the department. I ate lunch at my desk, surfing the internet.
In the afternoon, I hung out in the lab running lateral flow experiments one after the other. A few looked like success, then a few looked like failure. As I started to investigate why, I ran out of antibody-latex and had to make more. I started that reaction, and then Jessica and I walked to Starbucks for a break.
While I waited on my reaction, I edited an application for Jessica and foozled a bit with the background chapter of my thesis.
I went back into the lab to finish off the reaction, playing Sudoku at my lab bench while things centrifuged.
I drove home around 6:30.

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Read in 2015, Part 2

  1. The Light Princess and Other Fairy Stories by George MacDonald. Delightful and profound as always.
  2. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. We listened to this driving back from somewhere, and I picked it up and read it on vacation in Denver. It was a beautiful story – a smalltown Kansas pastor and son of a pastor looks back on his life. I do think this is one of the rare books that was better on audiobook than print – the reader’s voice added much to the story.
  3. Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill. Hill’s new book discussing the Christian perspective on friendship – some theory and some practicality – especially as pertains to single Christians. I thought it very good, and very important for our church moving forward.
  4. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams. Crazy, campy, intricate, and funny as ever.
  5. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. We stumbled across Brother Odd on another long drive and loved it. Odd Thomas is the first of the series: An ordinary guy can see dead people and uses it to solve mysteries. The series is witty, funny, and deep.
  6. Forever Odd by Dean Koontz.
  7. Odd Hours by Dean Koontz.
  8. Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill. This is Hill’s first book, writing about the practicalities of living out a celibate life as a gay Christian in modern times. I thought it was very good – informative and thought-provoking for those gay or straight, single or married.
  9. Patrick by Stephen Lawhead.  Lawhead’s treatment of the legend of St. Patrick covers his early life and a bit of his return to Ireland. I enjoyed it, but was left wanting more, especially about his ministry in Ireland. I really enjoy how Lawhead weaves in native beliefs with Christianity – I think it is done authentically and well.
  10. Peter Pan by JM Barrie. So good!
  11. Tramp for the Lord and Not I, but Christ by Corrie ten Boom. Tales of Corrie ten Boom’s travels and a collection of speeches. Lovely, but I’ve enjoyed her other writings more.
  12. Robots and Empire by Isaac Asimov. This and the next book bridge Asimov’s Robots series with the Foundation series, which I have never read. Enjoyable.
  13. Currents of Space by Isaac Asimov. 
  14. Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. My Halloween reading this year.
  15. Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton. I’ve been meaning to read this one for a long time. Walton sees Genesis One as narrative about the creation of the cosmic temple (with parallels in other ancient Near Eastern writings and in other places in the Bible) and has some convincing arguments. This viewpoint resolves (or rather, removes Genesis 1 as evidence for) a lot of controversies. I really liked this one.
  16. Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers. Enjoyable mystery introducing Harriet Vane.
  17. Letters to Children by CS Lewis. Read as I was beginning a penpal relationship with my small kinfolk. Very good.
  18. My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. Potok is Greg’s favorite author. This story follows a young Jewish boy with a profound gift for art.Very good.
  19. Greenwitch by Susan Cooper. Part of a kids’ Arthurian series. I enjoyed the first two books, but this and the Grey King had some things in it that concerned me. The book argues that light and dark are equal and opposite powers, and that there is a cold hardness at the center of the light. I will probably finish reading the series and then get rid of it.
  20. Grey King by Susan Cooper
  21. Empyrion: the Search for Fierra by Stephen Lawhead. Lawhead does sci-fi?! I found these at my in-laws’ over Thanksgiving. The main characters go to a far-off planet expecting to find a recently planted colony, but they actually end up far in the colony’s future. I’m not sure it was particularly profound, but I enjoyed them very much.
  22. Empyrion: the Siege of Dome by Stephen Lawhead
  23. The Martian by Andy Weir. I got this for Christmas and devoured it. It was amazing. My two complaints were (1) language and (2) being too short.

Happy reading!

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A Comfort

I had “a comfort” yesterday.

I’ve been struggling with some health issues lately that have altered my appearance – my feet are really only happy in my tennis shoes, and my eyes/brain apparently no longer tolerate contacts. I’ve never really struggled with self image issues in the past, but these two problems have hit me kind of hard.

Andrew Peterson’s song World Traveler came on my radio yesterday.  One of the lines says,

Tonight I saw the children in their rooms
Little flowers all in bloom
Burning suns and silver moon
And somehow in that starry sky
The image of the Maker lies
Right here beneath my roof tonight

The image of the Maker. 

That’s me. I am an image of God. 

How can I not be beautiful if I bear His likeness?

A comfort.

The image of the Maker.

That’s you too, my friend.

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Life as Gift

Christianity teaches that life is a gift from God. It is a gift given and taken away under His authority.

I think seeing this truth is important because it protects against two seemingly opposite errors at both ends of life.

On the one hand, seeing life as a gift protects against the idea that a life that is not wanted is disposable. This error has led to abortion and infanticide at the beginning of life and assisted suicide, “mercy” killing, and neglect at the end of life.  If life is a gift, we accept its entrance into the world at any time and in any form. If life is a gift, we treasure it while it is here and do not throw it away early.

On the other hand, seeing life as a gift protects against a clinging, clawing, grasping for it; it protects against the idea that life is worth preserving at any cost.

With life as a gift, techniques like IVF and surrogacy that separate the marital act from the beginning of life are seen as wrong. If children are a gift to be received, then children are not a right to be manufactured.

At the end of life, if life is a gift, we can recognize that while life is a high good, it is not the highest good.  This prevents us from errors like that of the villain in The Wolverine who grasps and claws at staying alive such that he changes from a kind grandfather to an evil… thing. (Surely there are other, better examples?)

(Edit: OH MY GOODNESS.  Voldemort.  Voldemort was the example of an ugly, grasping, clawing at life that I couldn’t think of the first time.)

I’m currently watching the 6th season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in which the Federation is at war with the Dominion. There have been multiple arguments where a character argues for doing a certain reprehensible act because it will save x number of people. If we see that life is a gift, and that it is knowing Christ that is the highest good, then we can reject that faulty logic. It is acceptable for people to die – there is a higher good. (This article, with the phrase, “Better two deaths than one murder,” espouses a similar idea.)

… what do you think?

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