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

Thr3e

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.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Reality, Meet Fiction: Sporting Events

Reality:

This week is a big week in American sports. The Superbowl (championships for the National Football League--American Football, of course) was on Sunday. This Thursday marks the kick off of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which should be interesting as well. 

Regardless of how sporty you are (personally, I'm watching the Yukon Quest sled dog race over football), these events give some insight into national mentality. 

Not only does it show that we have enough time, leisure, and extra money to pay people millions of dollars to play for our entertainment, but it offers insight into what Americans value. 

And you don't get much more American than the Superbowl. Home celebrations center around greasy, overly sweet, and spicy foods accompanied by mass amounts of pop and (depending on the group) alcoholic beverages while yelling at the television. The event itself is subject to huge marketing, with some people just watching it for the commercials. Beyond this, it focuses largely on many typical American things, notably the military; this year, a WWII vet did the coin toss at the beginning of the game and, as for many big sporting events, there was a flyover by the Air Force at the start of the game. National pride definitely shines through in American Football, in spite of any politics that may have taken center stage earlier in the season.

Fiction:

How can you utilize sports or recreational events to show part of your world's culture? Do they compete for religious reasons? Or is it pure entertainment? 

Are there stereotypes about people who are fans of a particular sport? (Loud, obnoxious, nerdy, fanatical, etc.) Are certain sports more popular than others? Are nations associated with a particular sport? (It's American as baseball and apple pie).

What sort of marketing goes into the sports your culture values? How does that reflect on the culture at large? 

Are there stereotypes of people who compete in different sports? Are they considered violent? Stupid? Smart? Patient? Skilled? Graceful?

What's your favorite sport to watch? Are you looking forward to the Olympics?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Hound Dog Harmonies: "Flood"

The Short

Song: Flood

Artist: Jars of Clay

Genre: Pop/Soft Rock

Listening Suggestion: While on your way to do something stressful.

Selected Lyrics


Rain rain on my face
It hasn't stopped
Raining for days
My world is a flood
Slowly I become
One with the mud


But if I can't swim after 40 days
And my mind is crushed
By the crashing waves
Lift me up so high
That I cannot fall
Lift me up
Lift me up when I'm falling
Lift me up I'm weak and I'm dying
Lift me up I need you to hold me
Lift me up and keep me from drowning again

You can find the music video at YouTube. Please pardon the 90's/ early 2000's feel. 

The Long

This is one of my favorite songs for when I'm having a rough day. It's perfect for the days when you feel like you've got nothing left. With the water imagery and the reference to 40 days, it calls to mind the story of Noah (or of Jesus in the wilderness) and the times God has saved his people in the past. 

The song also has a beautiful cello/strings section in the middle of it that accompanies the lyrics quite well. It's pretty suitable for most musical tastes (unlike some other songs I've featured). While it's not particularly heavy hitting theologically, it can be a nice pick me up on a hard day. 

What's your favorite song when you're having a bad day?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Computer Trouble

My computer was on the fritz most of last week (which is why there was no Friday Fiction Fix). Normal posting will resume this Friday once I have a chance to sit down and work on some articles. Thanks for your patience!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Reality, Meet Fiction: Transportation and Weather

Reality:


It's been a snowy winter here in the midwest and we aren't even in the depths of the season yet. This is the first year I've owned a car, so it's given me a new perspective on how weather affects transportation.

For college, I moved one state north. While we don't get terribly much more snow here than I did back home, peoples' attitudes are quite different. In my home state, we were regularly given updates on road conditions by county and the roads were sometimes completely closed to allow for the plow trucks to clear them faster. People tend to drive quite slowly and carefully. Mention of a snowstorm sends people running to the stores for bread and milk days in advance.

Here, people just charge out into the snow with seemingly no concern for their own safety. Snow plows are rarely seen (or used, from the looks of the roads some days). Traveling is entirely at your own discretion. Rather than using "rumble strips" (a textured strip of pavement that makes a loud noise when you drive over it) only on the sides of the road, they're present in between lanes/directions of traffic as well. And it's a good thing--you frequently can't see the lines on the pavement.

Fiction:

How can you leverage the intersection of travel and weather in your story? Does your character know how to drive on snow? Does the airport have de-icer for airplane wings? Do roads close down when it's snowy? Does the rental car come with an ice scraper to clear off the windshield? What are your characters' opinions of what weather is safe to travel in? Do characters in a certain region own different vehicles to make travel easier?

Of course, even space has weather. How do solar storms impact spaceflight? Does your galaxy have seasons of planet alignment that are more favorable for travel?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Skin Map"

The Short:

The Skin Map
Bright Empires, Book 1

By: Stephen R. Lawhead

5/5 Stars

What: An unremarkable young man is sucked into interdimensional time travel by none other than his great-grandfather.

Recommended to those who like: Time travel, interdimensional travel, loosely Christian.

The Long:

I picked up this series mostly because I was intrigued by the cover of the last book, The Fatal Tree. I don't know that I would've picked up the series off of the title and description of The Skin Map, but I'm happy that I did! As usual, Mr. Lawhead brought a rich and poetic tale to his readers.

Kit Livingston is an average Londoner. He has a girlfriend, fights traffic on the subway, and trudges about his life without much enthusiasm--until his great-grandfather appears to him in a back alley.

Suddenly, his life is turned upside down. Following the mysterious ley lines, he is taken on an adventure through both time and space. But what starts out as a merry jaunt quickly turns dangerous--it turns out he and his great-grandfather aren't the only ones who know the secret of the ley lines. And those people will stop at nothing to get the most prized possession of the travelers, the skin map. 

What could've been a simple McGuffin-esque story turned into a multi-layered story that had some characters I truly cared about by the end. Some of those characters take surprising turns in their arcs and choices, which was delightful to read. 

The plot itself was engaging and kept me hanging onto every page. This was aided by rich writing--take it or leave it; the style may be a little extravagant for some tastes. 

I would consider the story loosely Christian in light of some of Lawhead's other works. It'll be interesting to see how (or if) he continues to develop that element throughout the rest of the series. 

The Bottom Line: I'd recommend The Skin Map to fans of weird fiction that goes off the map into time travel and urban legend.