Friday, June 22, 2018

Mere Christianity: Introduction

Welcome to the Mere Christianity read-along. I'll be covering one-two chapters each post, approximately one to two times a week. This week we'll be covering the Preface and discussing the context of the book. In addition to the book, I may occasionally reference The Great Courses: Life and Writings of C.S. Lewis by Professor Louis Markos. 

Preface and Background

Mere Christianity is a bit of a different book. It's heady and theological (don't come into it expecting it to read like The Chronicles of Narnia), but it also has a curiously familiar and conversational quality to it. No doubt this is partly due to the fact that is adapted from C.S. Lewis' audio talks over the BBC radio from 1941-1944, during the height of WWII. The result is a conversational book that tackles tough topics in an understandable way. The times also show through in the book; references to military action and analogies to war are quite common and likely would have struck a chord with listeners (and later, readers).

In the preface, Lewis starts out with a somewhat long summary of how he decided to edit the book--it's obvious he put an extraordinary amount of thought into it, even obsessing over contractions--but he then gives way to a much more intriguing discussion on his reasoning behind the book. He has set out to explain Christianity in its most basic form--something that anyone who calls himself a Christian can agree on. He explains that he has deliberately tried to avoid controversial issues and leave those to the reader to understand. I find it particularly encouraging that he sent the most heavy theological portion of the book to members of other denominations to be reviewed (Lewis himself was an Anglican).

He ends with a fantastic opinion on denominations, which you can find in the discussions below. I have frequently referenced the analogy in discussion with friends and it has helped a couple understand my position (a firm member of a denomination who believes its doctrines are true and correct while also understanding that others must be fully convinced of their own convictions).

Discussion One

Lewis writes: "It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men's hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge. It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense...We must therefore stick to the original, obvious meaning. The name Christians  was first given at Antioch (Acts 11:26) to 'the disciples', to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles...When a man who accepts the Christian doctrine lives unworthily of it, it is much clearer to say he is a bad Christian than to say he is not a Christian."

How does judging a person's salvation differ from judging their actions? When is it acceptable to judge someone's actions if they're a Christian? What if they're not a Christian? How do you address these situations if they think they need to be addressed?

Discussion Two

Lewis writes on denominations: "It (basic or mere Christianity) is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms...The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in...above all, you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling. In plain language, the question should never be: 'Do I like that kind of service?' but 'Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?'...When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall."

What role should denominations play in Christianity? Is there a good reason for them? How should we address differences in the church? How did you choose your personal denomination? Is being non-denominational its own kind of organization, statement, or theology? If Christianity doesn't have denominational organization, how should it be organized?

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Book Hound is Back!

After a long and (mostly) unintentional hiatus, the Book Hound is back--hopefully without any further significant interruptions for the foreseeable future. However, as I mentioned in my last (woefully inaccurate) update, I'll be dropping to one post a week (usually Fridays) just to make it more manageable on myself. Life's gotten a little bit busy lately, but I still want to continue to spread word of great Christian Speculative Fiction.

That being said, there are things outside the Christian Spec Fic genre that I want to read (or in the genre that I want to re-read). That means that it's going to be difficult for me to post a review of a new book every single week.

Since I'm taking a hiatus for a while from novel writing, that means I need something new to fill in the gaps left between reviews (after all, I can't talk about my half marathon experience every day or my baking adventures every day, or even the craziness that is living on call every time I need to post).

So, for the next few months, I'm going to be hosting a "Summer of C.S. Lewis" read-along. I'm going to be starting with Mere Christianity  and then we'll take it from there. On read-along weeks, I'll post my thoughts on a chapter (or two), then a few discussion questions, favorite quotes from the chapter, etc. We'll see how long it takes to get through Mere Christianity and if we're liking the format, then maybe move onto another Lewis book or something else entirely.

Thanks so much for your patience! If you've emailed me in the last few months, please know that I'll be working to catch up on missed emails over the next couple of weeks.

I'll see you next Friday for the introduction to Mere Christianity!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Hound Dog Harmonies: 30 Pieces of Silver

We're back after an unintentionally long hiatus! I originally intended to post this for Holy Week, but it's still technically the Easter season, so I guess I'm not that far off.

Song: 30 Pieces of Silver

Artist: Theocracy

Genre: Christian Metal

Listening Suggestion: Car jam session that's willing to take an introspective turn.

Selected Lyrics

What’s the price you’ve named?
Well is it money, power, acceptance, or fame?
When all the world is asking you to sell your soul
And to deny the cross for silver and for gold
The kiss of Judas or the bended knee?
Vainglory or humility?
The ultimate goal

All the treasure in the world so blinding
30 pieces of silver shining
Tell me what’s the price you seek
To place the kiss of death upon His cheek?

You can find the whole song on YouTube if you're interested.

The Long

This is the song that made me fall in love with Theocracy. Like so many of their songs, it's a little heavy on the thrashiness at points, but it also has some better driving guitar lines. 

Most importantly, however, it has some lyrics that stopped me in my tracks and made me take a long, hard look at my soul in a way that Christian music rarely does.

So often during Holy Week, it's easy to point our fingers and scratch our heads at Judas. This guy walked with Jesus himself. Knew him. Ate with him. Was one of his closest friends. 

And then, he decides to out him for a measly price at the first chance he gets. And not just out him--but hand him over to be killed in one of the most brutal forms of execution ever invented. What was this guy thinking?

And then we stop, pause, and take a turn inward. If we were in Judas' shoes (or perhaps sandals, as it were), what would our price be? 

And, like Peter, we cry that we would never deny the Lord. That we would die for Him. 

Until we think about that unkind word we said to our coworker, or the places our thoughts strayed that they should never have gone, or the dark desires of our hearts that come along when we don't expect it. And then we remember every time we've not shared Christ's love, every time we've put our own desires before taking time for God, every time we've failed. 

Every time we've cashed in our 30 pieces of silver.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Pastors in Fiction: Ealdor

A bout of stomach flu and a 50 hour work week later and I'm back! Sorry for the delay. I hope you enjoy this installment of Pastors in Fiction, which features Ealdor from The Darkwater Saga by Patrick W. Carr.

Book: The Shock of Night, by Patrick. W. Carr. Christian fantasy.

Personality: Humble, good listener, non-judgmental.

What he brings to the table: Ealdor is a key player in the protagonist's life. He helps him to work through his PTSD-like symptoms following a war in which he was involved. He's always available for confession and is quick to help the poor, even refusing donations for his dilapidated church and telling Willet (the protagonist) to spend his money elsewhere to help others.

Pastorly/Worship Notes: We don't see Ealdor perform any sort of public service, but he frequently performs the rites of confession for Willet, as well as haeling (which seems to be somewhat similar to communion). He belongs to the Merum order of the church, which is the oldest in existence.

Ninja Status: Blue belt. I probably would give him a yellow belt, but at the end of the second book, a substantial secret is revealed about Ealdor that earns him some bonus points for secrecy.

Further Discussion: 

I love Ealdor as a character, though he plays a rather minor role in the first two books of the series. His mysterious nature opens many questions but also reveals some secrets regarding Willet Dura's own puzzling condition. He fulfills a role that I haven't seen in very many books for a pastor, Christian or otherwise. While he often is a friend and confidant for Willet, we also see him using that role in an "official" manner by performing private confession and absolution. As someone who prefers a more liturgical/traditional style of worship, it's encouraging to see that same style of worship positively portrayed in a book (without having it shoved down your throat).

I think Ealdor's role also opens up an interesting discussion on the role of pastors in people who have been traumatized. No matter how often Willet comes, he's open to the idea of providing comfort and absolution on a spiritual--and personal--level. Perhaps my reading has not been terribly broad in scope, but I can't say that the spiritual care of people suffering from a terrible past has been discussed in many books.

Ealdor isn't the only interesting religious character in this series, either. Mr. Carr does an excellent job of portraying all sorts of different shades of devotion in the church--from those who stress forgiveness, to those who employ nearly militant tactics. For each expression, there are also varying degrees of trueness of heart, from those who are after only personal gain to those who are truly selfless, and everyone in between. It's a refreshing take on the portrayal of the church.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

February/March Blog Update

Hey folks!

I know it's been a bit spotty around the blog here for a while. That's what happens when you're working 45 hours a week and trying to keep up with housework, I suppose. I'm also trying to re-evaluate where to go with the blog now that I'm taking a bit of a momentary step back from writing full-length fiction.

The Blog from Here

After some self-reflection, I've decided that I'm going to be stepping back posting from twice a week to once a week for the time being, at least for the next few months. Posting once a week lately has allowed me to enjoy some other hobbies of mine, get caught up on housework, and has generally made blogging more enjoyable and less straining for me. 

I'll still be doing similar posts to what we've been seeing on the blog lately--Reality, Meet Fiction; Reflections, etc. I'll also be posting book reviews on a  more regular basis than I have been lately, though not as frequently as I have previously (it turns out I relied on public transportation and times between classes for reading more than I thought I did). However, how often I do that will depend on a few factors. It could be every other week or once a month. One of those factors will be how you respond to the questions in the next section.

Where I'm Asking for Input

The Book Hound started out as a way for me to build an audience for a dream of one day publishing some of my own works of fiction. That dream's on hold for the moment for a number of factors I don't care to go into right now (notably, I'm tired of editing and I don't have a great, fresh novel idea at the moment, so I need some serious time to recharge my creative juices). 

As such, many of the post series I started out a couple of years ago aren't quite as applicable as they once were--such as detailing my writing process or talking about forms of publication. You'll notice that many of those have been replaced by reflections on real life and the continued emphasis on spreading news about good Christian speculative fiction. 

I still want to keep up the emphasis on Christian spec fic, but I do want your input on what sort of things you would like to see on the blog. Do you like Reflections? What about Hound Dog Harmonies? 

Also, while I'm taking a small break from noveling, would you be interested in something like a short story series? (I make no promises, but I do  have an idea or two for some serial-style fiction.) 

Would you be interested in a read-a-long? (Reading a book together with discussion questions posted). I would even be nice and pick something you have a prayer of finding in stores. This might be something fun to do with a book like The Screwtape Letters. 

I guess what I'm asking is, what sort of things keep you coming to the blog, make you think, make you smile, or give you something to talk about? And, if there's something else you want to see, what would it be?

Sound off in the comments! And thanks for your patience!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Friday Fiction Fix: "Thr3e"

Well, it might be Tuesday, but it's been a while since we've had a book review. Note to any other book bloggers--don't save all your book reviews on your computer without backing them up somewhere where you can access them with a loaner computer. 

The Short


By: Ted Dekker

5/5 Stars (And Possibly a Favorite)

What: A seminary student finds himself the next target of a serial killer.

Recommended to those who like: Thriller/suspense, Christian, teen and up.

The Long

I read this book a couple of years back and enjoyed it--though it scared me pretty good at the time, too. Now, a few years later, it still sets me on edge, but I was also able to more fully appreciate the theology subtly discussed throughout the book. It was a surprisingly good pick for the start of Lent. 

Kevin is a young seminary student leading a somewhat normal life, if overly organized. He attends classes, has thought provoking discussions with his professors, and reads voraciously. The only thing his professors absolutely cannot know is that he has a past to hide. 

It's not the sort of past that naturally comes with converting to Christianity, either. It's the sort of past where a serial killer can call you up and ask you to confess your sin tot he world--or he'll blow up your car. 

The resulting read delves deeply into the nature of sin and the two natures of mankind without seeming to get too theological or sacrificing suspense and plot. Really, it's a story that's Christian at its core without being preachy or contrived at all, the way books are meant to be. 

Given that the book does deal with a serial killer, I would recommend it to mature teens and up only. It doesn't involve gratuitous violence, but it can be quite dark at times. 

The Bottom Line: This suspenseful book combines some great action with deeper theological truth in an organic and meaningful way; highly recommended to fans of suspense who are interested in a Christian message.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Reflections: Define Yourself

It's hard to believe it, but I've been out of school for nine months now, working a full-time job and
finding out more about myself every day.

My day job is that of a veterinary technician/veterinary nurse with a focus in anesthesia. I'm one of the newest employees; the youngest, least experienced person in my department; and I just entered phase two of the three-part training program that will end with me answering emergency calls in the middle of the night and dropping 2000 pound horses by myself. I'm determined, hungry to learn, and stressed to the max.

At some point this week, it dawned on me that part of my stress is due to the fact that I am no longer quite the person who started nine months ago. I don't have any of the labels that meant so much to me before graduation.

"Honors Student" and "Good Test Taker" don't mean much here. It doesn't matter what my GPA was, what my test scores were, or even that I can tell you the life cycles of about 20 different parasites. I no longer study for hours into the evening on a regular basis. I don't eat, sleep, and breathe books for class.

That's not to say that my education was a waste or those skills that I developed aren't useful; I use them every single day--hourly, in fact. I still need to know the physiology of the heart, understand how the drugs I use work, and be able to identify anatomical structures for epidurals.

But what I saw myself as--a good student--isn't important here. Being a good student set me up to be a good vet tech, but it can't be my end-all be-all. My self esteem can't come from good grades on tests, or seeing my name on the dean's list.

And it's hard to find my definition of self in a workplace where feedback is hard to come by and where I'm trying to compare myself to techs who have been in the field for ten or twenty years and are amazing at what they do. I don't have a little box to tick to say that I'm doing a good job. Each day, I try to find how I can affirm that I'm good enough. That I'm living up to the definition of whatever I'm trying to define myself as.

And there's the catch, isn't it?

At the end of the day, those vocations we have will change. Student changes to employee. Son changes to Father. CEO changes to retiree.

We can't be the perfect <fill in blank here> in the limited time we have; even if we had unlimited time, we'd never be perfect. It's futile to try. Chasing these things, we'll never be satisfied. We'll always come up short. We'll always be yearning for something more if we seek fulfillment in these transient things in life.

Instead, we have something else we can define ourselves as; something that won't change. Because that definition comes from outside of us. It's placed on us by Someone else, who doesn't have an impossible to-do list of incredible things for us to do. That name is a Child of God.

Jesus died and rose for us, and, at the end of the day, that's all the definition we need for ourselves. It won't change whether we're single or married, whether we're the best at our jobs or the worst at our jobs. It won't change whether we're students or teachers.

Because we're His.

And one day, I hope that I'll more fully understand why that's enough for me.