Reading Ever On – 2018, 1st Quarter

Here are the books we read the first three months of 2018 and what we thought of them…

 

Gowdy Cannon

Free Will Revisited: A Respectful Response to Luther, Calvin, and Edwards by Robert E. Picirilli

Book Review can be found here.



The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

Some of this material is over my head but at times it is thought-provoking.



The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman

White hot in certain plot points and pretty slow in others, I was more than stunned by how adult it was. Even though it advertises itself that way it was more extreme than I anticipated.



Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Timothy Keller

One of the shortest books I’ve read this year, it is a true sledgehammer to my soul and to my ego in how it challenges me to do more.



The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything by Stephen M. R. Covey

A crucial concept that will help me be a better pastor.



1984 by George Orwell

A classic I had not read in probably 20 years, this novel has messed with my head both times I read it.



Looking For God In Harry Potter by John Granger

I wish this book would have been written after the 7th Harry Potter book instead of the 5th.



Glory Road: My Story of the 1966 NCAA Basketball Championship and How One Team Triumphed Against the Odds and Changed America Forever by Don Haskins

Fantastic autobiography that sports fans and civil rights students should read.



Holy Types: Gospel in Leviticus by Joseph Augustus Siess

The book is 150 years old but reads very modern. Leviticus deserves this excellent a treatment!



The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary R. Habermas and Michael Licona

The book is good; the pages and pages of citation material in the back are incredible.




Ben Plunkett

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

Since the 1897 publication of the War of the Worlds, there have been several movie adaptations of the story. Of these, I have seen the 1953 version and the 2005 Spielberg version. While I thoroughly enjoyed the 2005 film, it is quite a different story than the book. All of the basics of the setting are there, but the human stories are very different. In addition, the book is much more detailed and descriptive. It also has a more complex format with there being two parts to the entire story, with the first part following the stories of two brothers in separate adventures. If you choose to join the adventure, be warned that it will not read like a contemporary sci-fi novel. It is more scientific in description and almost impersonal in how it unfolds, but it leaves little question why H.G. Wells is considered one of the greatest science fiction of all time.



Mike Lytle

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock by Gregory Alan Thornbury

I have known of Larry Norman for many years. I was familiar with many of his songs and even saw him in concert at a festival once. I was intrigued by his life and place in Christian music history and had been anticipating the release of this book for at least a year since I first heard about it. With all that being said this book still exceeded my expectations. Norman led an incredibly interesting and eventful life. His influence far exceeded his actual record sales. Thornbury captures that, noting that everyone from Bob Dylan to Bono of U2 considered themselves Larry Norman fans. Thornbury also refuses to shy away from Norman’s personal failings. He paints what appears to be a thorough, well researched, and balanced portrait of the godfather of Christian Rock and Roll music.

This is a must-read for anyone who cares about the history of Christian music. I would also recommend it to those interested in the cultural upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s since it intersects with wider cultural events at times. Even those who simply enjoy a well-written biography would find much to like here.



Phill Lytle

The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive) by Brandon Sanderson

This was my 3rd time reading The Way of Kings and my second time through Words of Radiance. If you don’t like epic, world-building fantasy, you can skip this review. If you enjoy this sort of thing, there is no one writing better books in this genre than Brandon Sanderson and there is no better current series than The Stormlight Archive. Sanderson has this whole thing worked out in his head, which I find baffling and impossible, but when you read these gigantic, 1,000 page books, you realize that is not a joke or a lie. He does have it all worked out. I can’t get my head around the depth and complexity of the plot, even though I am only reading it and not trying to create it. These stories take place in a world of magic, tradition, war, politics, and racial and ethnic oppression. Sanderson takes his time to create living, breathing characters with real problems, real inner worlds, and real connections to each other. I’m currently reading the third book in the series, Oathbringer, and it is just as good and satisfying as the first two books. Sanderson is a master at his craft and I am more than happy to hang on for the ride.

 

Visionary Parenting: Capture a God-Sized Vision for Your Family by Rob Rienow

If you have read Christian parenting books, there is probably not much “new under the sun” in this book. That doesn’t lessen its impact. Rienow writes with humility and authority, both traits making his advice and teachings all the more powerful. I recommend that all parents read this challenging and encouraging book. It’s a quick read too, so there really is no reason to skip it.



The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

One of the most intelligent, thought-provoking, spiritually challenging books I have read. I recommend it to everyone who will listen but it is not an easy sell. If you have an aversion to sci-fi, the plot of the book has the potential to really turn you off, but the story is about so much more. It’s a story about a group of Jesuit priests and a few others who discover music that is being transmitted from a far away galaxy, and they decide to journey there to meet God’s other children. It is beautiful and heartbreaking.




D. A. Speer

A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

This is one of the few books I have read so far this year, mainly because I needed it at the time. The contents are actually a compilation of Lewis’s personal diary from around the time his wife died. As my wife is still with me, I almost put it down, because I had little ability to identify with his specific pain. I’m glad I read on. The Lewis I expected to find at the beginning of the book was far different than the Lewis I encountered. He is reeling, emotional, and is very frank with his hurting, pain, and doubt. I’m so thankful to have found that, and I’m also glad to have seen how his grief unfolded throughout the remainder of the book. Most beneficial to me was his perception of God as a surgeon. He writes:

“But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary…What do people mean when they say ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good’? Have they never even been to a dentist?”

I recommend this short read to anyone who is going through a season of loss in their life, whether a loved one you have known for some time or a loved one that you never even got the chance to meet.



Nathan Patton

A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door (Time Quintet) by Madeleine L’Engle

 

I began reading the Time Quintet in response to hearing about the A Wrinkle in Time film before it was released in theaters. I somehow had managed to not read it as a child, and I wanted to read it before watching the movie. I loved the book but never managed to make it to the theater to watch the movie.

I appreciate that these books are children’s fantasy stories with overtly Christian references yet don’t shy away from scientific principles. It presses all the right buttons for me.

I look forward to my children reading these books because of the emphasis on certain character traits it would encourage within them: love, humility, faith (and reason), loyalty to friends and family, courage, personal responsibility, creativity, empathy, and sacrifice.

I have finished the first two books (and enjoyed them immensely) and hope to finish the other three in time for our next “Reading Ever On” article.






The Other Stories of J.R.R. Tolkien

Considered by many as one of the greatest authors of the 20th century, J.R.R. Tolkien is best known for his two masterpieces of the fantasy genre: The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Yet the good professor wrote so much more than just those two great books. With the recent announcement of a previously unpublished story by Tolkien that is to be released this August (The Fall of Gondolin), we felt this was a good time to shine the light on some of his lesser-known works. Ben Plunkett, Nathan Patton, and Phill Lytle discuss some of their favorite “other” stories by J.R.R. Tolkien. After you read their recommendations, stick around and tell us about the other Tolkien stories that you love in the comment section below.


The Silmarillion – Benjamin Plunkett

 

To make a huge understatement, J.R.R. Tolkien was a slow and very meticulous writer. It took him 14 years to write The Lord of the Rings. That right there is a very long time for an already published author to write a novel for an expectant editor. But that has got nothing on his writing of the text of what would become The Silmarillion. He began working on it in 1917 during World War I and kept on working on it until his death in 1973. His son, Christopher, took up the task of compiling the many texts that would ended up becoming what we now have. It was as a soldier in the trenches that Tolkien started composing the vast and rich mythology of the Middle Earth universe. The Silmarillion begins at the literal creation of Middle Earth. Much of the rest of it discusses the history of the elves, with the other races playing very key roles throughout time.

As you probably know, elves are immortal so although the book spans many thousands of years, there are elves most readers will be familiar with who were living at the time of LOTR, which chronicles a story that comes at the tail end of The Silmarillion.

Like the LOTR story, many of the stories herein are expounded upon more fully elsewhere. But don’t think of The Silmarillion as just a book of summaries. It is a masterpiece. It is probably my second favorite Tolkien book after LOTR. There is so much more of rich complexity than I have mentioned here. There is so much more depth. There is the Ainur, Beleriand, Glaurand, Hurin, Morgoth, the rings of power, Gondolin—and these are only the tip of the iceberg. But if you are not familiar at all with The Silmarillion, be warned: It does not read like a regular novel. It is first and foremost a history of Middle Earth which gives Tolkien’s vast mythological creation an incredible richness.


Mr. Bliss, Roverandom, and Letters From Father Christmas – Nathan Patton

 

Many of Tolkien’s books began as stories that he told to his own children, inspired by events in the lives of their family.

Mr. Bliss

In 1932, Tolkien went out and bought himself a motorcar and, evidently, had a series of misadventures with it that inspired this tale.

This is a silly story about a man named Mr. Bliss who buys a motorcar on a whim and experiences rather ridiculous events as a result. It is a delightful and charming read. We also see our first glimpse of Sergeant Boffin and Gaffer Gamgee, whose names, at least, we will see again in Lord of the Rings.

Sadly, this book is out of print. Even the 2007 25th anniversary edition is no longer available. (However, the audiobook version, read by the excellent Sir Derek Jacobi, is quite affordable on audible.) If you can manage to find a copy, though, you really should read the hardback edition, as it contains copies of the entire original manuscript including many original illustrations by Tolkien himself.

Tolkien had originally attempted to have Mr. Bliss published as a picture book, but his publishers deemed it too expensive at the time.

Roverandom

In 1925, the Tolkien family took a holiday to the Yorkshire coast where a five-year-old Michael Tolkien lost his favorite toy: a miniature lead toy dog.

Papa Tolkien, in order to console his heartbroken son, told him the tale of what happened to that toy dog afterward. That story became Roverandom.

It turns out that the toy used to be a real dog named Rover, who got on the bad side of a grumpy wizard and found himself turned into a toy as a punishment. That toy spent some time with a nice young boy who unfortunately misplaced him on the beach. The toy dog then meets a “sand-sorcerer” who sends him on a series of adventures including a trip to the moon and a journey under the sea.

Unlike Mr. Bliss, Roverandom is still in print and widely available.

Letters From Father Christmas

Starting in 1920, when John Tolkien, the eldest child, was three, every Christmas the Tolkien children received a letter from Father Christmas detailing the happenings at the North Pole that year. His primary companion is the North Polar Bear who is continually getting into mischief. Later letters include Snow-elves, Red Gnomes, Snow-men, Cave-bears, and the North Polar Bear’s nephews. There’s even an attack by Goblins attempting to raid Father Christmas’ cellars.

This book contains the letters from 1925 through 1938 as well as the final letter and a short note from the North Polar Bear written in an invented alphabet based on Goblin drawings. Each letter is accompanied by illustrations by Tolkien himself.

We, as a family, traditionally read the letters, one per day, in the days leading up to Christmas.

Like Mr. Bliss, the hardcover version is the way to go with Letters From Father Christmas as it includes copies of the original letters and illustrations; however, it is also, like Mr. Bliss, seemingly out of print.


The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien – Phill Lytle


Professor Tolkien is my favorite author of all time, and much of that is due to his two most popular works The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. But my love for his writing goes well beyond those two. Tolkien was a prodigious letter writer, a skill-set that I fear is quickly becoming extinct. He wrote letters to friends, to family members, to fans, and to publishers. This book – The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien – selects some of the best correspondence to and from the great author. His wit is on full display throughout the book. His passion for language, faith, and family is evidenced as well. Tolkien was a man of strong beliefs and not so insignificant stubbornness. His back-and-forths with his publishers are a highlight of the book. Perhaps the best moments though, are when he engages with fans or his family and you can see the teacher, the father, and the deeply committed believer shining through. This book does a fabulous job of adding insight and clarity to his other books once you see the man behind the words.

 




I Don’t Know Your Face

I don’t know your face.
I know the shape of it. The curves, the lines, the beautiful contours.
I know the idea of it.
But I don’t know your face.
It is hidden to me.
Not always.
Not forever.
Just today. Right now. In this moment of strife.

 

I said words that were beneath me. Words that made less of you. Painful words.
Words ill-fitting and ugly. Unworthy words.
I said them. I meant them. I hate them. I hate myself for saying them.

 

You are no angel.
Your imperfections are beautiful and heartbreaking.
You are mine. I am yours. We take turns hurting, biting, maiming.
That is not who you are. It is not who I am.
It is who we are together.
Not always.
Not forever.
Just today. Right now. In this moment of rancor.

 

You said injurious words. You raged and quaked and yelled.
Your words have broken my heart. They made me feel small. Insignificant. Impotent.
You said them. You meant them. You hate them. You hate yourself for saying them.

 

I love the all of you that I know.
Some parts are hidden. I have kept things hidden as well.
We share those hesitantly. With fear and trembling.
We hold back. It protects us from shame. From rejection. From loneliness.
Together, we reject that shame. We know this.
Always.
Forever.
Today. Right now. In this moment of healing.

 

We made promises before. Promises for then and forever.
We are one. Bodies, spirit, hearts. Knitted together by holy words. A holy vow.
We said them. We meant them. We love them. We love each other for saying them.

 

 




500WoL Reviews: “Tyndale, The Man Who Gave God An English Voice”

“And the Lyght shyneth in the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 4:5, William Tyndale New Testament) 

 

I’m coming up on 40 years of life this Summer and it has me all self-reflective and evaluative. One thing I absolutely need to change is that I need to read more biographies. As someone who has championed fantasy-fiction as reading that captures the imagination, I have woefully underestimated how real flesh and blood human beings with real lives can accomplish the same thing. And in some ways, in a deeper sense, since they are actual history.

Enter this book, written in 2012 by David Teems. It is cleverly written, packed with history down to the small players in Tyndale’s life and absolutely edifies the English-speaking Christian reader with a life worth dissecting.

I confess that Tyndale’s life is fascinating to me on the big story arcs because I am a pastor of a bilingual ministry, an ESL teacher and a subscriber to Voice of the Martyrs. Translation is my life’s work, though not nearly to the significance that his was and to the cost that his gave. Persecution and martyrdom are horrific in a human sense, yet biblically we can see how God exalts it. William Tyndale literally gave his life to give people of my native tongue one of the most precious gifts there is, the readable Word of God.

Christian history is indebted to countless people for the Bibles we have today, many of them nameless and faceless, like the Masoretics of the Old Testament and the often maligned scribes and copyists of the New Testament. Tyndale thankfully is a name we can know and celebrate. He wasn’t just a translator. He was a noble man, an educated yet humble man, and a great man. He is a hero. All of us who hold a KJV, or NASB, or NIV in our hands should know his name and his story.

Beyond the major and more well-known plot lines of his life, Teems gives other details that are equally as important. Like how much of the KJV was influenced by Tyndale and how many phrases we find in our Bible, and hence our popular culture, that can be traced back to Tyndale. Like “Am I my brother’s keeper?”. Tyndale used beautiful, easy-to-memorize, poetic English. And we owe our ability to recall many verses so easily to him.

Teems also speaks over several pages to how much Erasmus and Luther affected Tyndale and how much he affected them. These men were not friends, yet God used them all in their own way to greatly affect how we do church and bible study today. It is a testimony to how no one can do anything on their own. Not just without God’s grace, but without Christian community. Even from a distance.

I recommend this book to all Christian teenagers and adults. It’s not just an inspiring story, but an illuminating one.  In 500 years, this story will still matter. Yet let us read it today.




The Progression

The Progression

 

I.

I took my icy water in white cups
when we sipped the evening’s streams
beside the round lava rocks
freezing our forest with dreams.

 

II.

I take tiny cups
with icy water from the evening’s wells
when we dip them with deep
dips in dreaming wells

beside my tick tocking clock
on my mantle of bells.

 

III.

I dip them pell-mell,
the white cups
in the dipping well
of my deep dipping dreams

and
I think thoughts,
and thoughts and droughts,
beside the lithe, long legs of the thinking tree

when I dip my pen
in deep letters
that aren’t the words I mean to say.

 

IV.

And at last we
forgive our human language,
you and me,

in deep wells beside the round, rocking tree

where I
dreamt of the deep deeps

and the deep,
rocking hum of the earth
dreamt and dreams.

 

V.

And there were round founts
where I froze my deeps with dreams
around round river mounts
in the light of day,

and there were uncovered founts
by the long legs of the tree

when we dipped our pens
in deep letters
that weren’t the words we meant to say,
when nostalgia transpired,

and there was heaven
gesturing toward
its gates all along;

that is all
we really needed after all,
that is all.

 

 




La Himnodia Latinoamericana

Hace un mes, una amiga aquí en Nashville que fue bibliotecaria en Welch por más de 30 años, puso una sugerencia en su pared de Facebook.  Hablando de la bendición que son para los hijos de Dios los himnos y otras canciones cristianas, pidió que todo aquel que quisiera pusiera el nombre de alguna canción favorita y que incluyera porqué le gustaba tanto esa canción.  ¡Muchísima gente respondió!  Viendo los nombres de aquellos himnos y leyendo los testimonios fue de mucha bendición y edificación espiritual para mí, y según los comentarios que leí, para muchos más.

Ahora, yo quisiera poner algo en español, pidiendo prestado el concepto de mi amiga.

En mi opinión, en ninguna parte del mundo hay mejor himnodia que en América Latina.

Comenzando con los himnos que llegaron a Centro y Sudamérica de América del Norte y de Europa, las iglesias evangélicas han cantado “En La Cruz,” “Cuando Allá Se Pase Lista,” “Oh Tu Fidelidad,” y “Cuán Grande Es Él,” y mil himnos más, llenando sus cultos con alabanzas al Todopoderoso.  Traducidos del inglés, han enriquecido la vida espiritual y la adoración congregacional del pueblo hispano por más de cien años.“

Autores hispanos como el famoso Alfredo Colom de Guatemala escribieron canciones inolvidables para el pueblo latinoamericano.  “Manos Cariñosas,” “Pero Queda Cristo,” conocido popularmente como “Por la Mañana Yo Dirijo mi Alabanza,” “Canten con Alegría,” y “A La Victoria Jesús Nos Llama.” Colom nació en 1904.  En su juventud era mujeriego, alcohólico y pecador perdido.  Cuando conoció a Cristo, su vida fue transformada.

El himnario “Celebremos Su Gloria” destaca dos famosos músicos, himnólogos de antaño:  Alfredo Colom y Roberto Savage.  Savage era norteamericano pero durante muchos años de su ministerio sirvió como misionero en Ecuador en la emisora HCJB, y dio a luz a proyectos musicales que incluían la serie “Adelante Juventud, himnos, coritos y cánticos espirituales que guió al pueblo latinoamericano en sus alabanzas al Señor.  Hizo compilaciones de música de varios países y arreglos que eran fáciles de cantar.  El impacto que se sentía por los esfuerzos de estos dos siervos es incalculable.

Otros nombres destacados de otra generación:  Santiago Stevenson, el trovador panameño (A La Casa de Jairo Iba Jesús), Danny Berrios, Stanislao Marino, y Juan Romero (“Visión Pastoral,” o “Eran Cien Ovejas”) entre muchos de las décadas de los 70 y 80.  Más recientemente, Marcos Witt, Juan Adrián Romero, Marcos Barrientos y Marcos Vidal nos han dado nuevas canciones, muchas, y el pueblo sigue alabando al Señor.

Pero los Latinoamericanos también crearon una multitud de coritos y canciones en español.  No he visto ni conocido otro continente u otra cultura que haya producido más música original.  Canciones espirituales, salmos abundan.  (Piensen en “Si Fui Motivo de Dolor,” “”Más Allá del Sol,” “”Alabaré,,” y salmos como el 145, 3:3-4, 25, 92 (“Bueno es alabarte oh Jehová”) La lista es interminable.

Me impresionó mucho cómo la gente respondió al blog de mi amiga en inglés.  Me gustaría invitarles a ustedes que respondan a este blog, indicando su canción, o canciones favoritas, y diciendo por qué le gusta esa canción en particular.  Estoy seguro que será de mucha bendición.

Termino con una canción – una de mis favoritas. No es necesariamente mi favorita absoluta, pero es linda, y la letra expresa grandes verdades.  Muchos de ustedes la conocen – “Día en Día.”

Día en día Cristo está conmigo,
Me consuela en el medio del dolor.
Pues confiando en su poder eterno,
No me afano ni me da temor.
Sobrepuja todo entendimiento
La perfecta luz del Salvador.
En su amor tan grande e infinito
Me dará lo que es mejor.

Día en día Cristo me acompaña
Y me brinda dulce comunión
Todos mis cuidados él los lleva;
A él le entrego mi alma y corazón.
No hay medida del amor supremo
De mi bondadoso y fiel Pastor
Él me suple lo que necesito
Pues el pan de vida es mi Señor.

Oh Señor, áyudame este día
A vivir de tal manera aquí.
Que tu nombre sea glorificado
Pues anhelo honrarte solo a ti.
Con la diestra de tu gran justicia
Me sustentas en la turbación.
Tus promesas son sostén y guía
Siempre en ellas hay consolación.




500 Words or Less Reviews: Ready Player One

Time warps our memories of things we once loved in various ways, and when enough time goes by, the exact memories we had begin to slip away from us like sand through an hourglass. When we finally are able to come back to the thing itself, whether a good book or a Nintendo game played with a trusty NES controller, some pieces of time come shooting back up to us through the hourglass. For a moment, we are reconnected to those past memories and versions of ourselves. And yet, we have changed in that time span. Our perception of what we are able to experience again is colored by eyes that have since matured and have felt more of the weight of the world.

I read the book version of “Ready Player One” almost two years ago, so it’s fitting that enough time has gone by for me to forget key scenes or details from the plot. It’s like my memory of what happened has since dissolved into fragments. During the early screening for the film, I was sitting between a close friend and a random stranger, and all three of us had read the book. We discussed a few scenes, and the plot progression started to come back to me. My anticipation started to build. Would the film deliver, or would it let me down?

When I first heard that the Ready Player One movie was in production, I wasn’t too thrilled. The book was an ambitious and expansive imaginary romp through 80’s nostalgia. “They’ll never pull a movie like this off convincingly,” I told myself. The trailers left a lot to be desired because it looked like they were going to change the plot significantly. And they did.

But you know what? Somehow it worked.

After the movie, the three of us sat and reflected on what we had just watched. The movie had the overall feel of an 80s adventure flick, Spielberg style. It felt like what author Ernest Cline (who was part of the creative process on the film) might have done with the plot in a parallel universe. My biggest fear going into the movie would be that it would turn out to be a heartless, piecemeal version of what I had experienced and loved while reading the book, but I was quite happy to be wrong. Yes, parts of the movie felt a bit rushed or contrived, and I was still miffed at a few parts of the book that didn’t make it into the movie, but overall I was very glad to have seen it.

The movie left me feeling a bit bizarre because it was like what I had once experienced, yet it was different altogether. It’s akin to playing a favorite game from your childhood that is now radically different in form, yet still retains the original essence of what you had enjoyed in the past.

8/10

(Parental content advisory: There are a few strong curse words throughout the PG-13 rated film.)




Lights, Camera, No Action! Five Non-Conventional Science Fiction Films

The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines Science Fiction as “a form of fiction that deals principally with the impact of actual or imagined science upon society or individuals.” That is an adequate definition but it falls far short of describing the kind of impact sci-fi stories have had. From its very inception, science fiction has endeavored to challenge, to provoke, and to inspire, and sci-fi films have been at the forefront of that movement. There are the classics of the genre: 2001: A Space Odyssey. Star Trek. Alien. While sci-fi has never been confined to one style, many people think of action films when they talk about sci-fi. Star Wars (not science fiction, for what it is worth), Avatar, The Terminator. No doubt there is a place for high energy, fast-paced, action-oriented sci-fi films. Yet the root of the genre is in stories and ideas. For today’s Five, we want to focus on a handful of sci-fi films that do more than just entertain. Enjoy and be sure to tell us about your favorites in the comment section below.[1. Click the Title of each film to be taken to Amazon for the option to purchase the films and a portion of that purchase will go to supporting REO.]


Primer

I have a particular weakness for time travel shows and movies. That is why while I might experience some fatigue or get bored with other types of popular genres,  I always, always love anything involving time travel. Anything. And the best of the genre, the most thought-provoking, the most complex that I have seen is Primer (2009). Let me say right here that this movie is not everyone’s cup of tea. Many people will just find it incredibly boring and overly tedious. And it certainly isn’t flashy, being made for only $7,000. If you are a movie viewer whose primary goal is watching a movie with lots of action and a fast-moving plot that lets you turn off your brain, Primer is not for you. However, if you love a movie that really challenges your mind, Primer is the time travel movie for you without a doubt.

There is so much complexity going on with this movie that I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t get it all the first time through. Maybe not even the tenth. There are several good discussions online to help people who have viewed it to better understand it. The emphasis in that last sentence in on “who have viewed it.” Many of these places obviously have spoilers, so watch it through once or a few times before visiting any of these places. You might also want to try figuring it out for yourself first. (Benjamin Plunkett)


Gattaca

Genetic perfection? DNA manipulation? What once only seemed possible in the world of science fiction is almost a reality. Before that though, writer and director Andrew Niccol gave us a film that exhibited the true power of the sci-fi genre. Gattaca is smart, stylish, and full of symbolism and spiritual questions. The story takes place in a world where genetic tinkering allows parents to choose the best version of themselves to pass on to their children. Babies “created” this way have a massive advantage over babies conceived in the old-fashioned manner. This is where we meet the protagonist, Vincent Freeman, whose only dream has been to reach for the stars and become an astronaut. That path is closed to him due to his genetic inferiority. His hero’s journey is one of impressive willpower, unmatched determination, and a little help from a few outside sources.

Niccol envisions the world as both futuristic and retro, maintaining an elegance throughout. All the actors do good work, but Ethan Hawke and Jude Law give career best performances. And to this day, the musical score is one of my favorites. Gattaca checks all my boxes for what I love about the genre. (Phill Lytle)


Moon

Moon

Back in June of 2009, Moon quietly released with a limited showing in America, earning a paltry $136,046 on its opening weekend. Word quickly spread of just how good of a movie it was, and by November of that year, it had earned over $5,000,000. My brother-in-law went to see the film at an independent theater at the time and told me that I needed to go see it, but I just never got around to it. Moon even made a few appearances on Netflix in the past, but I always missed out…until its most recent arrival.

The main actor, Sam Rockwell, does a fantastic job exploring the loneliness and frustration that might come with an extended stay on the Moon, where he is serving out a period of time harvesting solar energy for Earth. His character is completely isolated from the rest of humanity, and watching him develop as his grip on reality starts to come unraveled is an unsettling, interesting experience. The robot GERTY, voiced by (now-disgraced actor) Kevin Spacey, adds to the sense of loneliness you feel for Rockwell’s character as you see the robot’s faltering attempts to imitate human emotion and touch.

Watching the film now, almost 9 years after its release, is a bit of an odd experience. Other space survival films (The Martian, Interstellar, etc.) have since borrowed or re-imagined some of the same scenarios, so it’s that much harder to isolate and imagine how the film would have been taken at release. Overall the plot and progression are spot on, along with the soundtrack. If you’re interested in sci-fi at all, be sure not to pass this one up before it leaves Netflix again.  (D.A. Speer)


The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant

 

Brad Bird is one of the best directors working today and this early animated film is a perfect example of his particular talents. This is a story that if handled by less skilled hands would feel clumsy or derivative. We know this story. It feels like it is a part of our cultural DNA. Small town. Curious child protagonist. Existential fear of some foreign nation – the USSR in this case. And finally, the unlikely friendship that is the backbone of the plot. Our child hero – Hogarth – befriends a giant robot that has crashed near his home. It’s a fish-out-of-water story, a buddy film, and a mystery story all rolled into one. The animation is simple and elegant. The music is rich and full of strong themes. The script is crisp, funny, and poignant. All the voice actors do great work, even Jennifer Aniston. For my money, there are very few animated films that are better. The Iron Giant towers over the competition, not with flashy action or choreographed fights, but with strong characters, a compelling story, and a deeply emotional climax. (Phill Lytle)


Signs

Signs

Every once in a while a movie comes along that transcends entertainment and becomes a piece of art that creates deep conversation and makes a difference in real life. M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs was that for me and my closest friends. It impacted me in such a way that I showed a clip of it before a sermon I preached in 2003: the conversation between Graham and Merrill about whether or not there are “signs” of God. Amazing conversation between two A-list actors. Exceptional mood setting, lighting, and general cinematography as well. The double meaning of the movie’s title brought life to that sermon and hours of conversation to my church friends.

The movie is not scary as much as it is riveting and spooky and thrilling. In his review of the movie, the late Roger Ebert said, “Shyamalan doesn’t want to blow up the world; he wants to blow our minds.” I think that says it well. Much of the movie is subtle and building. It’s not a flashy film. And this makes the intense parts even more effective, as when Merrill sees the alien on the TV footage. Complete with plenty of laughs (actual tin foil hats, anyone?) and touching moments (Graham telling his children about how they were born when he thinks they are going to die), it is a suburb blend of all the right emtions. But more than anything this movie rises and falls on the writing and direction of Shyamalan in colliding a world of the wrecked faith of a former clergyman and the classic movie trope of invading aliens. And he knocks it slam out of the park like Merrill’s 587 foot HR. (Gowdy Cannon)

 




The Forgotten History of Christian Rock: Part Five

Welcome to The Forgotten History of Christian Rock.

This is Part Five of a five part series exploring the history of Christian Rock and Roll Music.

To read Part One of the series focusing on the pioneers of the movement in the 1960s and 1970s click here.

To read Part Two where we looked at the popular rock bands of the 1980s and early 1990s click here.

To read Part Three covering the visionary bands of the 1980s and early 1990s click here.

To read Part Four covering the music of the late 1990s through the early 2000s, click here.

To read our intro where we explain some of the reasons we wanted to do this series click here.

Thank you so much for reading. Please feel free to comment below.


Part Five:
Where Do We Go From Here? by Phill Lytle
The mid/late 2000s through present

What has been the point of this series? Why have we spent the past month writing over 4,000 words and creating playlists with hundreds of songs?

To remember.

It really is that simple. As our scope has been laser-focused on the rock music genre, we realize that this leaves many artists unexplored. Many great artists that risk being forgotten just as much as the bands we have covered. There is a whole other series that needs to be written about those wonderful bands, singers, and performers in Christian music history that didn’t quite fit into what we were doing. Perhaps one day, we will tackle that topic. For now, we appreciate all the comments, questions, and suggestions we have received as we have released each new installment in this series. Our hope is that we, at the bare minimum, started a conversation. For reasons we will never understand, the Christian music world is seemingly the only one that actively forgets its history. That needs to stop. Based on the massive reaction we received from this series, it is clear there are many others who feel the same way.

That leads us to our next steps. Where do we go from here? Instead of writing another 1,000 words about the Christian bands and artists that are currently making what we consider to be the best music, we would rather let their music speak for itself. We would also like to invite you to join us by telling us about your favorite artists that don’t quite fit the CCM mold. We all know the Hillsongs, the Casting Crowns, the Toby Macs of the world. We want to move right outside of that space and show you a world of music created by artists, poets, and visionaries that will challenge and inspire. Artists like Andrew Peterson, John Mark McMillan, Josh Garrels, and many more. These artists carry the banner first picked up by Keith Green, PetraThe 77’s, and The Call. They carry on the legacy of excellence, artistry, and creativity. Let us do our best to not overlook this amazing music simply because it does not get played on the local FM station.

 




Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

Introduction by Gowdy Cannon

He left a mark on American Culture which is as unique and inimitable as could be. A few years ago, in a Facebook tournament I did on people who influenced your love for fantasy, I included him alongside names like Tolkien and Disney. Because he deserved it. Very few children in the U.S for the last several decades have escaped his influence. And considering how he took something as crucial to development as learning to read and crafted words and pictures to make us long for more books and to reread the same ones over and over, I would say his legacy in this arena is unrivaled.

So to honor what would have been the 114th birthday of Theodore Seuss Geisel, we pay tribute to five Dr. Seuss books that were formative to our childhoods and that have even impacted our adulthoods.


How The Grinch Stole Christmas – by D.A. Speer

As with (I assume) most other people in America, almost every childhood holiday season the animated Grinch movie would somehow end up on our TV. It usually wasn’t deliberate on my family’s part. The television would be on, and one of the major networks would be airing it. Thus, my memory of the story was piecemeal at best. And my most recent memory of it involved Jim Carrey, but we won’t speak of “that one.”

This past year while we were in Japan, my daughter suffered greatly from bacterial meningitis and made a miraculous recovery from both that *and* a mass/tumor that they discovered behind her eyes. After we moved back the States and she was given a clean bill of health, we were in shock. I think we might still be. Thus, I wanted to make this past Christmas extra special, because I was celebrating with my special daughter.

I hyped up the movie for her one day, and we sat down on the couch that evening to watch it, my arm around hers. I’m sure it was the first time I have seen it through as an adult.

I soon realized while I was watching just what it was that kept Dr. Seuss’s works alive and relevant after all these years. It wasn’t the nostalgia. It wasn’t the artwork. It wasn’t that it was kitschy or had meme value. It was simply the heart.

When the townspeople gather together after all of their stuff is taken and happily sing their song anyway, I was completely overwhelmed. Tears started flowing.

“Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart, and hand in hand.”

I hugged my daughter that much closer.


Hop On Pop – by Gowdy Cannon

A huge draw to Dr. Seuss has always been how he combines simplicity with zaniness to produce education and Hop on Pop is a premier example. This book is a riot to read and as a kid you probably do not realize how much you are learning about English sounds. As I’ve written recently, English is extremely inconsistent with pronunciation yet the good Doctor found some very common patterns and put them to at times nonsensical, other times pointed and yet always delightful phrases. I could live to be 100 and never forget the fish in the tree. Yet the quick wit of Dr. Seuss responds “How can that be?” And I will always associate this book with wanting to hop on my dad and him letting us (though not quite like in the book). Put this together with Seuss’s hilarious illustrations and you have a timeless classic of a book.

This book to me is more entertaining than half of the TV episodes I have watched. At nearly 40 years old, it still tickles my brain.


And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street – by Benjamin Plunkett

As a child, I read and owned around 20 books by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel). No other books, juvenile or adult, have done more to inspire my imagination through both writing and imagery. The most imagination-inspiring and thus my favorite Seuss book of all is And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street. Upon researching this book for REO I was surprised to discover that this was the very first children’s book that he wrote in 1937.  The story goes that he wrote the story to alleviate the immense boredom while traveling on a ship. And presto changeo, his first of a long and legendary line of children’s books that inspired imagination in millions of kids for decades.

If you are not familiar with the story, you should be. Look it up now. The entire text of the book is online for free.  Wow. Marco’s imagination really grows on Mulberry Street. First it is just a horse and cart, then the horse turns into a zebra, then the cart turns into a chariot, and on and on it goes until finally there is a squad of policemen on motorcycles guiding two giraffes and an elephant pulling a wagon with a big brass band pulling another wagon with an old man watching them in awe. And that’s not all. Marco’s imagination has spawned more stuff than you can, well, imagine. But Seuss could and he did. It is not an overestimation to say that Seuss probably had more of an impact on generations of children through his unforgettably imaginative writing, incredibly clever storylines, and the unfailing beauty of his signature illustrations than history’s many pop culture personalities. Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss, may your works continue to impact children for many more years.


Green Eggs and Ham – by Phill Lytle

Sam (aka: Sam-I-am) is persistent. He is a bit pesky. It’s no wonder the unnamed curmudgeon at the center of Green Eggs and Ham is so curmudgeonly. Sam just will not leave him alone. Sam-I-am makes his appearance riding the back of a happy-go-lucky creature while holding a sign announcing who he is….because, who wouldn’t want to know who Sam is? Our humorless curmudgeon makes it clear at the outset that he does not care for Sam-I-am. So Sam does the most logical thing: he offers the grump some green eggs and ham. It’s a hard pass on the green eggs and ham for Mr. Curmudgeon but Sam does not give up because he knows that if he can get his new “friend” to try this delicious meal, everything will change.

Sam is a genius. A happy, creative, crazy genius. His new friend – the curmudgeon – does not really dislike green eggs and ham. He dislikes Sam. We don’t know why, but page 9 makes that perfectly clear. So Sam decides to wear him down. He presents one absurd option after another. Each more ridiculous than the one before. There are goats, boxes, and trains involved. By the end, Sam triumphs. The curmudgeon eats the green eggs and ham. He loves the green eggs and ham. He smiles. He puts his hand on Sam’s back. He thanks Sam-I-am. They are friends indeed.

Only 50 words. That was all it took. The entire story, all 62 pages, used only 50 different words. That was the genius of Dr. Seuss. In this book, arguably his most popular, he used silly characters, crazy antics, and inventive rhymes to teach us how to try new things, how to deal with grumpy people, and how to admit when we are wrong and make amends.


Oh, the Places You’ll Go! – by Amy Lytle

“You can go anywhere and be anything!”

Except when you can’t.

“You are so amazing, everyone will love you!”

Except when they don’t.

And that little word “except” is what makes me, a person who isn’t very emotional, choke up nearly every time I read Oh, the Places You’ll Go! In addition to Seuss’ typical style of rhyme and imaginative word usage, he tackles the truth that life is hard and doesn’t always go as planned, even for the brainiest and the footsy-est.

It’s a book about grit.

As a teacher and a mother, I’ve read and studied and researched the concept of instilling resilience in children. We now have the research that shows the tell-everyone-they-are-great concept of building self-esteem does not work. Kids are too smart for empty words. Dr. Seuss was ahead of the research, publishing Places in 1990. He tells kids they have some choices in life, and even with brilliance and a sense of adventure, things don’t always work out. But they should keep moving.

He tells them the truth.


That’s five. There are so many more stories to talk about. We would love to hear about your favorites in the comment section below.