Books

Book Review!

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Please feel free to check out my book review of  Christ’s Descent into Hell: John Paul II, Joseph Ratzinger, and Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Theology of Holy Saturday for Homiletic and Pastoral Review through link below. This book is probably the best book on Holy Saturday theology I have ever read!

http://www.hprweb.com/2017/09/early-fall-reading-2/

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Planetary Peregrination III- Reviewing C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength

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The solar eclipse provided a unifying effect on the world, albeit momentarily, when people stood outside to witness the splendor of the moon covering the sun. 2017 seems to be the year of space: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 premiered in May, Star Trek: Discovery will launch in September on CBS, and finally Star Wars: Episode VII The Last Jedi comes to theaters in December. Science fiction fans and astronomers get to experience a solar-system’s worth of story-lines to satisfy their cosmic cranial cravings!

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Traveling the across the imaginative galaxies, I have been currently reading Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy comics. The subject of space travel ignites a creative fire in my mind. Peculiar surroundings and new literary beings I encounter through the medium of science fiction point toward a higher reality than the drudgery I face on a daily basis. Today, I am going to provide an analysis and my opinion on the final novel of C.S. Lewis’ epic Space Trilogy—That Hideous Strength. Having read the first two books multiple times and the setting occurring on other planets, I found it fairly easy to compose reviews.  Please bear with me as I gather “strength” to complete my thoughts on this final installment of Lewis’ SF series.

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While the events Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra occur largely on the Mars and Venus respectively, That Hideous Strength’s setting is grounded to Earth. Along with the change in scenery, the primary character of the Space Trilogy—Dr. Elwin Ransom—was absent for a sizeable chunk of this third novel. Lewis starts the book focusing on a cast of individuals, an academic Mark Studdock, his wife Jane, and Lord Feverstone, director of National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments [N.I.C.E]. N.I.C.E. is an institution that seeks to implement social control for individuals. Unaware of the events of the previous two books, Jane begins to receive visions in her sleep. Initially, she is transported to St. Anne’s hospital because the dreams are believed to be psychologically, not divinely inspired.

Persistence of Jane’s visions causes her and Mark’s marriage to strain. Dr. Elwin Ransom finally makes his appearance in chapter seven. The prophetic revelations Jane experienced Ransom tells the reader were actually a warning about an upcoming war. Ransom details the events of Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra to Jane. He explains that reality is not limited to the physical realm. Ransom serves as the king [Pendragon] of the legendary kingdom of King Arthur. In keeping with the mythology of the first two books, Lewis reveals that Lord Feverstone is actually Richard Devine- foe to Ransom in Out of the Silent Planet. Feverstone is determined to really be working on behalf of the fallen Oyarsa [demons/fallen angels] who seek to exploit human greed and selfishness with and end game of total annihilation of humanity.

Lewis incorporates Christian elements into That Hideous Strength maintaining the theological tracks he built earlier in the Space Trilogy. He juxtaposes the scientific materialistic philosophy of N.I.C.E. against the traditional Christian worldview that is embodied by the Random-led camp at St. Anne’s. Over the mode of fiction, Lewis shows that while humanity naturally have a selfish tendency, our sinfulness cannot be overcome except through the aid of God. The agenda of the fallen angels [Lewis calls them eldila] under the guise of nicety and scientific advancement believed that true progress could only occur if the flesh of humanity was destroyed.

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I discovered that the meaning of the title– That Hideous Strength—is a reference to the Tower of Babel. A new Tower of Babel, the building that housed N.I.C.E represented humanity’s attempt to control nature and unify through man-made efforts alone. Genesis 11:4 tells us of the pride of a united humanity, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky,* and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.” Unification under a common purpose breeds the potential for good, but also may lead to potential for evil. In the ninth chapter Elwin Ransom reflects on the possibility of his enemies [the fallen angels] on the verge of achieving artificial resurrection of the body [i.e. artificial immortality], “Despair of objective truth had been increasingly insinuated into the scientists; indifference to it, and a concentration upon mere power, had been the result” (p. 200)  We only need to look back last century on what concentration of power in the “greater good” looks like under a Hitler or a Stalin.

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Honestly, I would give That Hideous Strength 3.5 out of 5 stars. Initially, I found the shift in plot and scenery to be laborious to follow. This book was disconnected from Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Along with the new set of characters, the late arrival of Dr. Ransom left me confused. After reading the book a second time, I gained a new found respect for Lewis’ contribution to science fiction and the completion of his Space Trilogy. The Christians become more evident the second time around- especially the theme of the New Tower of Babel. Hidden in the final pages of That Hideous Strength is a subtle, yet curious allusion to Middle Earth. According to Bradley Birzer in The Challenge: How C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy Came into Being“Lewis had borrowed significantly from Tolkien’s Atlantean world of Númenor. Númenor, corrupted as “Numinor,” appears nine times in That Hideous Strength as well as in one of Lewis’s poems, “The End of the Wine”.

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C.S. Lewis was also a contemporary and close friend to the Lord of the Rings’ creator J.R.R. Tolkien. May it be possible that The Hobbit, Silmarillion, and Lord of the Rings represented ancient history while the events of Out of the Silent PlanetPerelandra, and That Hideous Strength reflect the fictional universe’s modern timeline? This Easter egg may be in reality me simply searching for a link between my two favorite fantasy writers, but I still found it to be intriguing.

Despite the awkward handoff between Perelendra and That Hideous Strength, I still recommend reading the final installment of the Space Trilogy. Lewis, a largely non-fiction writer, went on a limb to delve into the realm of science fiction. This work is a necessity for any collector of science fiction or fan to C.S. Lewis!

Detective Daddy Episode 3: Does the Apple Fall Far from the Tree?

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Characters:

Detective Daddy: Me

Apple Aficionado: Josiah

Sir Isaac Newton: Ancestor of the former sippy cup snatcher

Annie Applesmith- town resident

Stephen Savant- town resident

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Prologue [summer afternoon, England, 1667]: Sir Isaac Newton rested under the foliage of a large apple tree. The past few weeks have been exhausting—teaching at the science academy, daily research on the peculiar fall of apple from the branches, and on top of it all he came home to tend to his ill mother. Life was busy and constantly in motion. Isaac seemed close to an explanation for a working theory on the subject of gravity—an invisible force in the world. Relying on his previous successes and family name has allowed Isaac to stave off criticism from his scientific peers. “I need some real evidence soon,” though Isaac. “Otherwise, my tenure at the local university will be over! How else will I be able to support my mother?”

Pensively gazing at the ripe red apples from the tree, Isaac remembered how his interest in science began. His father owned an apple orchard and enjoyed telling little Isaac about the various breeds and farming methods to produce the best apple crop. Isaac had a tenuous relationship with his dad, but the topic of apples always provided an easy way to connect. “What if I had more time with him?” thought Isaac. Perhaps if he had a better relationship he would be ready to form a family of his own. “I am thirty-nine with no marital prospects in sight,” Isaac reflected. He needed this scientific breakthrough to come and to come soon. Staring up at the

clouds he started to nod off. His mind kept repeating the some words to himself: “Hopefully the apple does not fall far from the tree; hopefully the apple does not fall far from the tree.”

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Summer 2017: Opening his mini-refrigerator in his office, Detective Daddy surveyed his selection of fresh fruit for a small afternoon snack. Grapes, oranges, plums, and strawberries lined the inside rack- the colors providing a kaleidoscopic effect. The private investigator’s eyes did not rest until they landed on a brilliant red, crisp Braeburn. “I need to go to the store,” Detective Daddy said to himself as this was the final apple.

Along with being his favorite fruit, apples held a special place in his heart. Detective Daddy remembered fond memories of yearly trips to the apple orchard with his family. An apple a day kept his deductive skills from decaying. Recently pulled out of retirement due to the emergence of the Sippy Cup Snatcher, the veteran gumshoe quickly got back into his routine. Within the last month, he solved 15 cases! “Headquarters better promote me to super-sleuth,” thought Detective Daddy.

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Later that day: Within the heart of the town, the Sippy Cup Snatcher forlornly meandered up and down the streets. Fresh on parole from his recent stint in timeout from stealing sippy cups and causing shenanigans, the former criminal enjoyed the first moments of freedom. Pilfering water holders did not interest him anymore—no, the Sippy Cup Snatcher set his sights on a far sweeter reward—arboreal antics.

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Annie’s Apple Orchard [city limits]: Detective Daddy received a call from an anxious owner of the town’s favorite orchard Annie Applesmith. People also wondered if her surname motivated Annie to continue the family business. Unfortunately, that tale will take too long to tell as Detective Daddy discovered key clues to crack this case. Scattered across the grassy rows of the orchard were a plethora of bruised apples. “Muscles, bruises, strong, disregard for apples feelings,” the sleuth uttered to himself. “Annie, I think I have a lead,” declared Detective Daddy. “But I need more evidence. Call me if you see any other suspicious activity” he said.

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Municipal Library [downtown]: Stephen Savant, the town’s head librarian called Detective Daddy exactly 9.80 days from the incident at Annie’s Apple Orchard. “Detective, I found strange shenanigans that occurred in our non-fiction section”.

After arriving at the library and questioning Mr. Savant, Detective Daddy scoured the crime scene [The non-fiction science section]. Both rows of bookshelves consisted of books stacked in orderly manner. A lone book laid half-open on the floor– Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. “Eureka!” exclaimed Detective Daddy. A couple of elderly library regulars put their fingers to their lips to hush him. The private eye was interrupting a compelling discussion of Willa Cather’s My Antonia. “Sorry,” apologized Detective Daddy. “Wrong mathematician! I know where our Apple Aficionado will strike next,” he stated.

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Pink Lady Park [9.80 days later]: With the help of Annie Applesmith and Stephen Savant, Detective Daddy waited in his granny smith apple colored car. They waited and waited what seemed like 9.80 hours. “According to my watch, we waited exactly 9.80 hours,” stated Stephen.

As Detective Daddy deduced the Apple Aficionado made his move. Circular objects started falling out of the sky and landing on the sleuth’s car. “THUD, THUD, THUD!” It sounds like a hail storm outside. Exiting the car, Detective Daddy yelled, “Stop! I know what you are doing. You almost had us fooled.” Annie and Stephen prepared themselves for an intense chase scene which would ultimately lead to Detective Daddy’s record 16th solved case for the month.

Nothing of that transpired. Instead, Detective Daddy praised the Apple Aficionado. “I would like to offer you a job on my team—as lead scientific inquirer. You almost had me fooled and thinking you reverted back to your cute capered ways.” Detective Daddy went on to fill Annie and Stephen in on the motivation of the Apple Aficionado. He was the long lost descendent of the great scientist Isaac Newton. The penchant for apples and idiosyncratic interest in integers pointed toward the English scientist’s study and discovery of the law of gravity. “Let me guess, the Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica in the library sealed the case?!” exclaimed Stephen. “Yes, all I needed was one last observance to test my hypothesis…the apple does not fall far from the tree,” stated Detective Daddy.

Detective Daddy arrived back in his office later that week. “Great, it has arrived,” He told the figure sitting in the chair before his desk. The private investigator replaced his old door sign with a plaque that read:

D.D. and A.A.

Detective Agency

***

No Crime too Small to Solve

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How My Flight toward Fiction Helped Me Escape the Strangeness of Reality

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Mark Twain once wrote, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” While I do not fully understand the meaning of the great American author’s words I find myself drawn to the concept that reality is odd, weird, peculiar, and problematic. Seeming senseless suffering occurs daily throughout the globe: wars, famine, and violation of human rights. I do not want this post to turn into a philosophical treatise on the problem of evil. [please refer to the writings of St. Augustine or The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis for a clearer and more authoritative outline of the issue than myself !] To be clear, although I experienced a push from reality toward despair when things get overwhelmed, it is interesting that fiction pulls me away from this strangeness and helps center myself.

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Over the past year, I have delved into the DC Comics Universe- the realm of Superman, Batman, The Flash, and Green Lantern. I am most recently reading a voluminous story arc from the New 52 series on Superman! I think I finally realized why I am drawn to and experience calming graces in the medium of comics.

1. Larger than Life, Yet Relatable Characters: Stories portray transformation and inner conflicts within characters. Superhero comics contain traditional character developments. They also add layers to the story through its main actors possessing enhanced powers. Instead of alienating the reader, I find I am drawn into a comic book through the device of the dual identity of a superhero—their superhero appellation and their secret identity.

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I will use Barry Allen/The Flash as an example because I loving running and the main power of this character revolve around speed and endurance. Most versions have Barry’s desire to help others stemming from the death of his mother at a young age. Later endowed with super-speed and Speed-Force powers from a lightning in a laboratory, Barry soon dons the mantle of The Flash! Despite his ability to nearly travel at the speed of light, Barry oftentimes has to slow down to solve both personal and professional problems. By reading these comics this superhero appeals to me because I sometimes tend to be impatient and act rashly at times.

2. Alleviation through Art: I am a visual learner. Illustrations bring me closer to the events of the comic book story. When I am reviewing books to check out from the library, one of the things I look for in a good comic is appealing artwork. The Blackest Night Green Lantern story-line contained popping colors and heroes decked in hues highlighting their unique power rings. I felt like I dove into a verbal kaleidoscope in that crossover event. I cannot quite put my finger on it but something about the artwork of the New 52 DC Series soothes my anxiety. Without alleviation through art, I would return  an unread story back to the library as opposed to diving further into the comic book universe.

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3. In a galaxy far, far away…there is no place like home: Along with the character development of DC’s superheroes [and even non-powered support characters] and the beautiful art, I have come to greatly enjoy the move to solar system based settings. Although strangeness abounds in the various planetary systems and alternative timelines, I get a sense of excitement and wonder instead of fear from my mind travels to exotic scenes!

The freshness is anchored by the stability of the characters in the DC universe. Despite reading a revisionist version of Superman, Batman, or other heroes, a certain familiarity and tradition still remains front and center. Traveling on these journeys provide small interludes of rest from the weariness of reality. For instance, the phones were going of the hook at my job today. I encountered strange and perplexing questions I never dealt with before. During my break time, I become an observer of Superman’s battle against his archenemy– Brainiac. I returned to the real world energized to complete my day’s remaining work.

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Pontius Pilate asked Jesus Christ a question that in an old as time but still fresh and relevant today, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Truth, reality, actuality is a perplexing thing to grasp. Humanity is not called to fully understand the mysteries of the universe yet creation is laden with hints at what the purpose of the real world is all about. What I have learned it that created truth—i.e. fiction– helps orient myself toward realizing my purpose of this life. Through the gift of fiction, I acquire a renewed and broader perspective when I return to the “real world”. I will leave you to ponder the wisdom of J.R.R. Tolkien legendary creator of Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Referring to fantasy as a natural human activity he states,

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?

A Whimsical Wednesday Encounter with Wonder

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There is something special about Wednesday. Maybe it is because it is the halfway point of the week and the journey toward the weekend is on the downhill slope. When I used to teach I always loved Wednesdays since that was the day we had our all-school weekly Mass. I mentored this past school year on Wednesday to a 2nd grade student and I will continue this going into the next school year. Wednesday is simply wonderful. The same is true during the lull of a humid summer day.

I want to share the whimsical Wednesday encounter with wonder I experience on the waning part of yesterday [Wednesday]. My wife took our three children [we have an almost six year old, three year old, and a 1 year old] to the library to get both her library card and their first ever library cards. Coming home from work I sensed a wonder about in our house. Gone was the normal tumult of chaos and sibling fighting. My daughter ran up to me as I entered our house with a beaming smile and holding tightly onto her new book about pigs! In the living room, oldest son was reading his book aloud.

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I am a bibliophile! During the summers of my youth, I checked out a minimum of 20 books a week from my local library. I immersed myself with fiction and non-fiction books alike. I was an equal content opportunity reader—I read about every subject and still do! To find my children experience the wonder and joy of the library at such an early age, even earlier than I remember myself going, is a delight.
Little did I know that I would experience such wonder and joy on this Wednesday evening. A few weeks ago I would not have noticed this joy within my children because I was struggling with my OCD tendencies and my own personal struggles. I have since made efforts to slow down my pace and find the hidden joy and wonder in life. I thank my wife for taking time to bring our children to our city’s library and foster a love of reading! Whether you are a parent or not I strongly encourage you to visit your local library this week and encounter a wonder hidden in a story!

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Planetary Peregrination- Reviewing C.S. Lewis’ Science Fiction

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Growing up I had those glow-in-the-dark planet decals attached to the ceiling of my bedroom. Space exploration and the study of astronomy always fascinated me and still grips my attention. As a kid, I even made sure my planet decals were proportionately spaced from the sun [the light in the center of my bedroom ceiling] as the real planets’ orbit around the sun!

I have maintained a love of space through my reading of both scientifically based works like Stephen Hawkings’ A History of Time and Space to sci-fi works like Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. About five years ago, my cousin introduced me to another sci-fi series related to space—one by Clives Staples Lewis! You heard me right, the same C.S. Lewis who wrote great Christian apologetic works of The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity along with his endearing children’s series Chronicles of Narnia. Penned by the motivation of a literary challenge to delve into the genre of science fiction posed by his close friend J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis branched out and wrote three tales in The Space Trilogy. Because I want to share this amazing work, here is a brief review of the first book— Out of the Silent Planet.

The basic theme of the book centers around the idea of what life would look like in an unfallen [without Original Sin] world. Out of the Silent Planet opens with the main character, Dr. Elwin Ransom, being kidnapped by the antagonists—Devine and Weston.  The kidnappers’ aim is to find another planet to colonize in hopes to perpetuate the human race. Ransom, Devine, and Weston end up on a mysterious planet known as Malacandra [more commonly known as Mars!].

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Most of the book focuses on Dr. Ransom’s interactions with the planet’s hnau [a word used to describe rationale beings]. Ransom learns that the inhabiants of Malacandra do not suffer from the effects of Original Sin like humans from Earth do. A mutual respect between the species and self-less obedience to Maeldil [Jesus Christ] exist. Furthermore, he finds out that each planet in the solar system is guided by an angelic being known as an Oyarsa. What is different about Earth’s [called the Silent Planet] guardian is that our Oyarsa became Bent and led humanity toward a path of selfishness and destruction.

The remainder of Out of the Silent Planet explores the relationship between the various Malacandrian species and juxtaposes this harmony against the strife daily seen on Earth.  What I really enjoy about this book is Lewis’ ability to imagine an unfallen world and ponder how that would concretely exist. His portrayal of the various species on Malacandra assumes that being a hnau [person] is not limited to a particular species. The best analogy I can think of is to image a world where humans, dolphins, dogs, and chimps all are viewed as rationale beings who mutually respect each other and worship the same God!

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Reading Lewis’ tale is both a fantastical and metaphysical experience. The language of the hrossa, the first species Ransom encounters, is fun to learn and the idea of an unfallen world definitely puts a new spin on space travel for me. While the end of the book gets somewhat ethereal and philosophical there is a certain wit about it that is quintessentially Lewis. Without giving too much of the ending away I want to share a small quote from Out of the Silent Planet. The chief Oyarsa [angel] in charge of Malacandra tells Weston, “The weakest of my people do not fear death. It is the Bent One, the lord of your world, who wastes your lives and befouls them with flying from what you know will overtake you in the end. If you were subjects of Maleldil you would have peace” (p. 138-1389).

Overall, I would give Out of the Silent Planet four out of five stars. My only real concern was initially the style of writing at the beginning of the book took a little getting used to. Nevertheless, I loved the theme and the relationship between Ransom and the three alien species. Having re-read this book multiple times I encourage you to check out your local library or search for this book online. This is a must have work for any ardent C.S. Lewis fan!

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3 Ways I Encountered God on a Playful Thursday!

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Yesterday, I encountered God and reflected on his majesty during three rather sprightly activities: lifting weights at my local fitness center, reminiscence of my childhood through classic youth books, and playing a game of cornhole toss in my basement with my toddlers.

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After eating breakfast, I went to my local fitness center to do my daily 45 minute exercise routine. Since Thursdays are chest/back exercise-days I bench-pressed. I have been lifting consistently for a while and I started to notice that I improved on my weight goals. Great. But how does this relate to God? Well, a motivational quote posted on the mirror in the weight room stated, “If it does not challenge you, it won’t change you!” This means that if I want to get stronger I have to increase the amount of weight I lift. From the eyes of faith I interpreted this as “While God is everlasting and eternal, he sent his Son in the world to give us a path to change humanity for the better. This is known as the way, the truth, and the life and it is preached by the Catholic Church.” Just as reaching a weightlifting goal is challenging, so too, living a life of love and forgiveness is challenging.

Secondly, I noticed the creativity of God during my time of scanning through classic books I purchased from a local used book store. Authors like Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, and Jerry Spinelli were just some of the many writers that I recalled from my childhood as I peered over the yellow-paged, but still nicely preserved copies of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Ramona Qumiby, and Maniac Magee. Here I realized that the genius of these mere human writers pale in comparison to the Author of the Universe–who composes each and every one of our stories. Nevertheless, it is through human ingenuity that God can be glorified. I mean God did inspire human authors to write out his love story to humanity and that collection of books would be canonized as the Bible. In other words, the brilliant human mind–in this case, I noticed it in children’s book authors– is a reflection of the creativity found most perfectly in God. To briefly quote the Bible, Genesis 1:1-2 states, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters”. A more literal translation Genesis 1:2 has the “might wind” rendered as the “spirit of God”. This matters because the creative power of God the Holy Spirit has in fashioning the universe in 6 days [stages]. I refer to this passage because the first biblical image of God, as creator, highlights his creative energy.

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My third and final example of how I encountered God through play this Thursday occurred during my afternoon cornhole toss game with my children. For my readers that live outside of the Midwest, cornhole toss is lawn game with a objective similar to horseshoes– one must throw an item to score points. In this case, there is two inclined wooden boards with a circle in the top. The boards are placed 20 feet away from each other and two teams compete at trying to reach 21 points by tossing beanbags either onto the board itself of into the hole. That is the game in a nutshell. If you want more information I check out the American Cornhole Association’s website [yes this is a thing and the website is AWESOME].

To get back on track, cornhole toss is a remarkably simple activity and people of all ages can play. While playing this game with my children I realized that there is a certain type of beauty to cornhole toss–that although is is an incredibly simple game I could play it for hours and still be captivated. Analogously, God is a simple being do the fact of his remarkable unity and oneness. God is not composed of multiple deities but rather simply one Lord over the whole universe. Like cornhole toss, I can contemplate the beauty of God for hours on end.