Wednesday, 20 May 2015

#bookreview: Meant for Greater Things by John Mickus

Meant for Greater ThingsMeant for Greater Things by John Mickus
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jasper Joyce is an adorably awkward geek who's trying to change the world. It's clear from the beginning that he doesn't quite fit into society, but it's not entirely clear why. After all, he seems like a pretty smart guy - he works with lasers and satellites and reads really difficult books about physics and solar panels. He enjoys hiking and taking pictures. Yet on the other hand, he needs to coach himself constantly to be able to interact with people properly and to pass a job interview and seems incapable of going grocery shopping. Meeting women - especially a very attractive one like Violet Downing - is a whole other challenge.

Meant for Greater Things is a bit of a draggy read - up until the middle of the book, I was still wondering where it was going. It was maybe somewhere about 2/3rds in to the book that some things started to get clarified a little. I suppose that's one of the reasons why I tend not to prefer stories written in the first person - it limits what the author can reveal at any given time, and when things take a long time to unfold, the reader is left hanging. (I'm impatient. I want the characters to TELL ME ALREADY.)

Overall though, Mickus' debut novel is an interesting soft(ish) science fiction read. It cycles a little around time travel and efficient energy systems, satellite tech and software coding, but is not too tech heavy that you get lost in details.

* I was gifted a copy of this ebook by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Sunday, 17 May 2015

Redeeming the arts, not just reviling it

We had this seminar today which cued a lot of eye rolling and snide remarks from me. Because I am a horrible human being. I am not afraid to admit that. Haha. I was wondering if I should start a rant about it and then I got distracted and then I decided maybe not. But I'm here now. Typing. So.

I guess the most important thing I have to say about this whole... whole.. thing, is really this:
If your God is greater, stronger, mightier, more powerful, omnipotent, omnipresent, redeemer, higher, creator and ruler of all, don't you think that you have nothing to worry about?

Because at the root of it all, this is blatant fear-mongering. If I may be so bold, I would say that whilst it is true that symbols do have power and we should be careful about what we watch, read and listen to, going witch hunting for symbols in everything in the world is not useful in any sense. Look - if you really want to find something, you will find it. You can fit anything into your theories after the fact, but is that really what you want to do? [DUH TRIANGLES AND CIRCLES EXIST EVERYWHERE HELLO! BEE HIVES AND OWLS AND LIGHTING BOLTS WERE CREATED BY GOD DUH] If anything, it's only going to create a culture of fear whereby you might as well go live in a cave or become Amish.

You think the Chinese are superstitious? Try the Christians. *rolls eyes*

Okay - so you can point out a gazillion examples of how the media is influencing us in the wrong ways and throw out statistics like how there's only 4% of homosexuals in America vs 40% evangelicals but how they are over-represented in media (I'm just dumping numbers off the top of my head from what I remember was said - not sure if they're correct). Why is that, you ask?


Because the people who have gone before you, and who have put all this "information" on the net for you to "research" and "preach" about, have done a very fine job of scaring off the Christians from the entertainment industry so that there are NO PRODUCERS OF GOOD CONTENT LEFT.

And by "good" I don't just mean "quality" - I mostly mean wholesome (though if wholesome isn't very entertaining, it's also not very good).

The answer to deception and manipulation by the media is not to run away. It is not to cry foul and say "how can you produce such awful, evil things! Remove it from our sight! We are so holy we can't see this! It's a bad industry! Stay away from it!" The answer is not to pull ourselves out of the world and refuse to get involved.

The answer is to counter-produce - to flood the market with good, holy, wholesome things that will inundate the industry with good. The answer is to give the people a choice. To put God back into the culture and references of the world. They may not always choose the good - but if there is no choice, then there is no conversation, and what are you complaining about?

It's no use to only always ever be pointing people away from something. People need something to head towards. So if you're going to be warning people about how bad the entertainment industry has gotten, you had also better be able to start pointing those same people to good examples of how the entertainment industry can and has changed the world for the better.

After all, isn't that what redemption is all about?

Okay. So I ranted. Sorry, couldn't help it.

The point here is this: we need to change the narrative that says
"we pull ourselves out of this [sphere] because [all these bad things] are happening, and all the people involved act in [these certain kinds of ways that we disagree with] and we don't want to be influenced by them" 
and instead say
"despite all the [things we disagree with] that are happening, we will continue to be involved in this [sphere] in order to be able to influence them for good because we believe that God has called us to redeem His creation by our presence in this [sphere] and among these people."
Because then, and only then, can we really make a difference in the world.


Wednesday, 13 May 2015

#bookreview: Spare Change by Bette Lee Crosby

Spare ChangeSpare Change by Bette Lee Crosby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"The Good Lord don't do things that way. When he sees a person's flat out of hope and feeling dead broke, He slips a bit of spare change into the bottom of their pocket. Not a lot maybe, but enough for them to get by."

Spare Change is a story of hope and a future, not just for orphaned Ethan Allen, but for newly-widowed Olivia Ann.
When Olivia's husband, Charlie Doyle, dies just 22 days after their wedding, in the middle of their honeymoon, she blames it on herself for not watching the signs - the eleventh day of their honeymoon and that opal she really should have refused.
Ethan Allen is the sole witness to the brutal murder of both his parents, but he can't tell because the murderer might kill him. Running away from home, he sets off to find the grandfather he's never met, only to find himself stuck with his grieving widow.

I quite enjoyed reading Spare Change. In her charming Southern voice, Crosby interweaves the stories of these two disparate people from very different worlds and binds them in a knot of love and family that is increasingly hard to find. She fleshes out her characters so well that you feel Susanna's pain of frequently dashed dreams, even if you don't like the way she's carrying on with that Scooter Cobb, and you understand Ethan's frequent foul-mouthed outbursts grown out of habit and fear, even if you agree with Olivia that he should stop it.

I think what broke it (a little) for me was the last two chapters. It was maybe kind of necessary to tie up the story, but it felt a little forced and out of place.

* I received a free copy of this ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, 11 May 2015

#bookreview: An Infinite Loop by Dan Rix

Special delivery!
I don't usually post book reviews on Mondays, but here's one from Dan Rix.

An Infinite Loop, book 3 of Dan Rix's Timeloopers series, was launched last week. He's an awesome writer who gives me free books to review, and since I love most of his stuff, that works out well for both of us. =)

Anyway, the Timeloopers series starts with A Strange Machine, followed by The Ghost At Retreat Lake, and now An Infinite Loop. Now I just gotta wait for book 4: The Man with Two Pasts.

An Infinite Loop (Timeloopers, #3)An Infinite Loop by Dan Rix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh gosh. This book was tantalizing from start to finish. I would like to gush, but I don't gush (right).

Cory, being Cory, lands himself and Iris in big trouble when he accidentally sends her into an infinite timeloop. What that means, really, is that she's stuck in the stupid time machine and can't escape because Cory made an error in the code. Which means... she's dead.

What results is a heartbreaking story of a Cory trying to make amends, and trying to figure out how to save the girl he finally realises that he doesn't actually hate. (Ah, I guess I'm a little more okay with this now than I was when reading The Ghost At Retreat Lake)

Rix is getting better at this alternate timeline stuff too. Where in The Ghost At Retreat Lake it felt like there were dual story lines that didn't jive (whether on purpose or not, it just felt jarring), it just seems to flow one after another in this book. There's still the inevitable repeating timelines, told from past and future Cory/Iris, but it seems to pick up seamlessly from where the other story line let off.

And seriously, I'm glad that Cory isn't as annoying a jerk as he used to be. Though what's with all the annoying girls? I'd like to slap Sam, Anneliese and Pris and tell them to grow up. I'd also sometimes like to slap Iris as well, though I kind of get where she's coming from with Cory being an idiot.

*I received a pre-release copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Though to be honest I just like his stuff. Lol.

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Sunday, 10 May 2015

To all artists: You are called

Exodus 31 (NASB)The Skilled Craftsmen
Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 3 I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship (workmanship), 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, 5 and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship. 6 And behold, I Myself have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are skillful (wise of heart) I have put skill (wisdom), that they may make all that I have commanded you: 7 the tent of meeting, and the ark of testimony, and the mercy seat upon it, and all the furniture of the tent, 8 the table also and its utensils, and the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, 9 the altar of burnt offering also with all its utensils, and the laver and its stand, 10 the woven garments as well, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, with which to carry on their priesthood; 11 the anointing oil also, and the fragrant incense for the holy place, they are to make them according to all that I have commanded you.”*
I love the fact that NASB puts it as "I have called by name" and "I Myself have appointed" as compared to the very vanilla "I have chosen" and "I have appointed" in the NIV. Does it make a difference? Probably not. (Mr. Exact Translations would probably disagree. Bwahahaha)

But the fact remains that in the narratives of our lives, the knowledge that God has chosen you - not just simply any "you", but called you by name and appointed you personally - is incredibly important. It's the difference between receiving, say, a generic employment letter, and being personally called by the CEO of a large multinational to be told, "hey, [your name], you're hired!" And then he doesn't stop there. He goes on to say "I've also given you everything you need to make sure you do the job well." 
(Maybe not a very exact analogy.)

The most beautiful part of this passage (for me) is that these two guys, Bezalel and Oholiab, as well as "all who are skillful" aren't being called into some holy-type job, such as the priesthood - though there's another whole passage about those who are - but they're called into doing craftsmanship. 

It's a clear difference to the normal narrative of today, where you're usually "called" into missions or "called" into ministry. Here, they're called into being artisans... or artists. We don't really work in gold, silver and bronze anymore. Jewellery making and wood carving are also not that common. But if you really want to translate what they do into modern terms, what they did was build the tabernacle, and all the beautiful things in it: 
- The tabernacle needed these curtains of so-and-so sizes and such-and-such design? Sure, we know how to make that. 
- You need a gold design on that there sacred item? Yeah, that's the kind of thing I know how to do.  
It's kind of like saying, you're called to be an interior designer so that the church can look beautiful. You're called to do flower arrangements so people can enjoy the flowers we put up every week. You're called to graphic design and web design because that's what the church needs at this point of time. It's the everyday, mundane stuff, which doesn't seem so very important in the grand scheme of things.  

I'm finding it difficult to say what I have in mind because in someways it seems just so trivial. But the thing is that the physical beauty of the tabernacle, the temple, and the churches of old was very important because that was the outward, physical representation of God to the world. And buildings was their primary way of representation because it's there - it's big, it's large, it looms in your sight and it was a place that people gathered.

In our very tech-driven, digital world, it isn't the physical beauty that is paramount. It's the way God is represented in our online world. Why? Because where buildings was where one generation used to live and gather and build community, a large bulk of that has moved over into the digital world. And though buildings and physical things cannot be eliminated, I would dare to say that our digital, online presence is our primary way of representation because it's there - it's big, it's large, it looms in your sight and it is a place that people gather. 

So we don't do "artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood" anymore, but we do "artistic designs for work in websites, forums, and blogs, and in the making of videos and in graphic design." Or something like that. And the Spirit of God is equally in you, as it is in the pastor of your church.

As this commentator says:
It is definitely notable that a very obscure craftsman like Bezalel is just as filled with the spirit as the much better known Joseph son of Jacob, who is responsible for saving his entire family from the famine.  Just as Moses is told all of the divine plans for the construction of these various articles, it means nothing to have a divine plan without having a divinely skilled craftsman to carry them out, and that is what we find here.

* Emphasis mine. 

Friday, 8 May 2015

#fridayflash: Rest

She stood on the edge, her arms spread wide. The wind lifted her hair off the nape of her neck, tying it in tangles. She tilted her head back, the sunlight falling on her eyelids, glinting off the tears on her head that belied the smile on her lips.
She didn't know how she could be so certain and yet so unsure; so wild and yet so steady. Like she was two different people, warring with each other and yet inexplicably at peace.
It was conflicting. Confusing.
And yet strangely clear.
He came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist, enveloping her with the smell of earth. Grass. Freshness. Life.
"Ready. Are you?"
She smiled nervously in reply.
"It's okay."
She dropped her hands to his, nails digging into the back of his hands, drawing strength from his warmth, from his grip. "I don't know if I'll ever be ready. But I guess that this is the best that I can do for now."
"I love you," he whispered into her ear.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

#AtoZChallenge: Reflection

Eh. I suppose I should do my reflections post, though there isn't much for me to reflect on.

A to Z this year was mostly on autopilot. I was able to schedule most of my posts by the end of March, with a few done in April itself. Actually, past the first week, I hardly even visited other bloggers, partly because I was trying to concentrate on my editing (hah) and also partly because I was out a lot.

Not the best of participants. Sorry. Just too much going on in my life right now.

The only thing I can add to this was that the page view stats for April blew my mind. Highest ever in the history of my blog.

I suppose I did something right.

Thanks y'all. Hope to see you around!