The Psalter Reclaimed, by Gordon J. Wenham

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Psalms has long been my favorite book of the Bible. I have said for years that I don’t think it’s an accident that they are in the center of the Bible. In most non-study editions, you can open the book in the middle and you will find yourself in Psalms. And in Psalms you can find prayers that address pretty much every emotion that you will ever experience. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it “The Prayer Book of the Bible.”

In The Psalter Reclaimed, Gordon J. Wenham gives us a brief, but somewhat in depth discussion of the book of Psalms. He discusses singing the Psalms and why we should do that. He speaks of praying the Psalms and why we should do that. There are a couple of chapters on how we should read the Psalms. I confess that those got a little over my head, because he began talking about different types of biblical criticism, which I have done little to no study about.

But one thing I did learn in those chapters is that Wenham, as well as other theologians, definitely believe that the arrangement of the Psalms into five distinct “books” is no accident. They are not randomly thrown together. There seems to be a reason for the order and placement of these prayers and songs. Therefore, Gordon believes that each of the Psalms should be read, sung, prayed in context with the entirety of the rest of the book.

There is even a chapter on “The Ethics of the Psalms,” in which Wenham addresses an issue that has not been touched on very much, and that is that the Psalms are also good for teaching the law of God.

He also has a chapter on the somewhat controversial “emprecatory” Psalms. You know, the ones where the psalmist prays that the enemy’s babies will be dashed against the rocks? These, he believes are necessary for us to pray and sing, as well. Even though we, ourselves, do not have such enemies as David and Israel had, when we pray these prayers, we could be praying them for people in the world who DO have such enemies, people who are oppressed in other nations. Gordon disagrees with those would completely remove these from their prayerbooks.

There is a Greek word that Wenham addresses in the next to last chapter, and that word is “hesed.” This is a word that, out of all the times found in the Old Testament, more than half of them are in the Psalms. It simply means “steadfast love.” And perhaps the best example of the usage of that word is in Psalm 103. Gordon provides us with an in depth look at that Psalm in chapter 7.

Finally, he addresses “The Nations in the Psalms.” This topic turned out to be more complex for him than he realized it would be.

All of these chapters were given as lectures at various places in the world, and, I believe, edited slightly for book form.

This is a wonderful overview of Psalms, and I recommend it for anyone who is as fascinated with the book as I am. I do plan on reading this one again, more slowly and taking note of each individual Psalm that is referenced throughout the book.

TTFN, y’all

Adam Immortal, by Carley Eason Evans

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If I’m not mistaken, this is Ms. Evans’s first foray into Science Fiction, and it doesn’t disappoint. Adam is a robot, programmed to be a surgeon. He is what is known as a “mechanical,” which differs from a “humanoid” in that he isn’t manufactured to appear human. His shape is, more or less, human, but he is made of blue plastic, and his lips do not move when he talks.

The story is written in first person, from the perspective of Dr. Mark Michaels, a “Fellow” at a teaching hospital in Louisville. When Adam arrives, it becomes apparent that he is better and faster than any human surgeon. Dr. Michaels, for the most part, is not intimidated by this, but some of his senior surgeons are quite resentful.

As this story progresses, it ventures into territory that is both frightening and awkward. The idea of robot autonomy is addressed, and that is an unsettling concept. Both Adam and Millie, the nanny/housekeeper/cook humanoid that belongs to the Michaels family, at some point develop a measure of autonomy.

There are some even more unsettling twists that occur as the story unfolds, but I will not divulge those in this review.

The story was enjoyable to me, although not my favorite novel of Carley’s. To this date, that still remains I Am Sofie. I wasn’t quite satisfied with the ending, though. I don’t really feel like it ended; rather, it just stopped, and I wanted more. In addition, there were ways in which this story reminded me quite a bit of Asimov’s Bicentennial Man. Of course, Ms. Evans may also take that as a compliment, me comparing her to Isaac Asimov.

There may come a day when the question of robot autonomy is addressed in our society. I, personally, will never feel that machines should have “rights,” no matter how intricate and complex they become. If, however, what happens in Adam Immortal happens in real life, that will be an entirely different, and quite uncomfortable issue.

TTFN, y’all!

Auraria, by Tim Westover

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Auraria, Georgia was a real town. Today it is counted among the many “ghost towns” in the country. It rose to a population of around 1000 during the Georgia Gold Rush of 1832.

Tim Westover takes a real location and turns into a tale of fantasy and imagination. While there might have been gold at Auraria, there probably weren’t spirits and moon maidens. There really was a resort hotel, known as “Queen of the Mountain,” where people enjoyed bathing in and drinking mineral waters.

In this tale, a man named Holtzclaw travels to Auraria, under direction of his employer, H.E. Shadburn, to buy up all of the land in the town. It seems that Shadburn had some lofty ambitions for the area, which involved creating a lake and building his own “Queen of the Mountain.”

The first thing Holtzclaw encounters upon his arrival to the area, is a boy fishing off of a cliff. This would not be unusual, but for the fact that there was no water below him, only mist. What made it even more unusual was that they boy caught a fish. Believing it was a trick, Holtzclaw brushed it off and continued on.

In Auraria, he encountered many strange things. There was a ghostly wife, who appeared to Holtzclaw to be very much alive. There was a springhouse that blew icy winds out of it. There was an invisible piano player named “Mr. Bad Thing” at one of the inns. In that same inn, the proprietor, Abigail Thompson, only served sweet potatoes. The inn was called Old Rock Falls. Then there was Princess Trahlyta. Trahlyta is thought to have been a true Cherokee maiden who lived on a nearby mountain. Her beauty was known around the area. When she refused to wed a Cherokee warrior named Wahsega, he kidnapped her and took her to his home. She begged for release, but he would not hear of it. As she grew weaker, she eventually asked to be buried near her mountain paradise. There is actually a pile of stones in Stonepile Gap, Georgia, that is alleged to be her grave. Legend has it that the highway department has tried to move the grave multiple times, each time resulting in the “accidental death” of a crew member.

Mr. Westover’s tale of a real place, mixed in with some fantastical imagination, is quite enjoyable. Weaved into it is, in my opinion, a morality tale of what happens when greed drives your life. You see, to the people who live in this little mining town, gold means nothing. In fact, they, with the help of Princess Trahlyta, are trying to completely wash it away. But when Holtzclaw gets wind of all this gold, even seeing the “moon maidens” washing it off of their bodies, he gets greedy.

Things seem to be going very well, but then tragedy strikes, not entirely unexpected. No spoilers will be shared here, but I can say that the story has a happy ending, with which I was entirely satisfied. In fact, it turned out exactly the way I wanted it to.

TTFN, y’all!

Night & Fear: A centenary collection of stories by Cornell Woolrich

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I had never heard of Cornell Woolrich before I randomly picked up this book at Half Price Books. It looked interesting, it was short stories, and it did not disappoint. Says the bio on the cover, “Cornell Woolrich wrote his first novel in 1926, and throughout the next four decades his fiction riveted the reading public with unparalleled mystery, suspense, and horror. America’s most popular pulps – Dime Detective, Black Mask, and Detective Fiction Weekly – published hundreds of his stories.” Movies such as Hitchcock’s Rear Window were based on his work.

This collection, published in 2004, includes 14 of his short stories. The genre might be considered “noir.” I could certainly see the sort of “Sin City” vibe as I read these stories. They kept my attention to the point that I didn’t want to leave my breaks at work so I could finish the story I was reading.

One of my favorites, “The Case of the Killer-Diller,” involved a young lady in a jazz band that played their own rendition of Ravel’s “Bolero,” which drove a person mad to the point that he killed someone every time he heard it. But he made the killing appear to be a suicide. No one seriously began questioning it until the third time.

Another good one, “The Heavy Sugar,” was about some stolen jewelry that had been hidden in a sugar bowl in a local diner. A regular patron observes the strange behavior of a guy moving from table to table, ordering another cup of coffee, and then spooning sugar into it.

“The Fatal Footlights” told the tale of a woman killed by simply denying a necessity from her. You see, she danced in a burlesque show, completely covered in gold paint. Someone took her cleanser so she couldn’t take it off between shows, which, ultimately, caused her death by prolonged exposure to the paint.

Some of the stories involve detectives, some don’t. All of them involve some kind of crime. All of them are simply written, yet well-written, in order to capture the imagination and keep it held captive until the end.

I would love to find some more of Woolrich’s work.

TTFN, y’all!

My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers

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This is at least the sixth time that I have read through Oswald Chambers’s great book. And it still continues to amaze, confound, disturb, devastate, and inspire me.

This year, as I read each day’s devotions, I was astounded at how much they went hand-in-hand with the material I was reading on spiritual formation, by Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and others. While Chambers didn’t always use the same words, the concepts were the same. And this is something that I really want to focus on more, in 2017.

As always, My Utmost gives great material to ponder each day, giving me something to think about on my daily drive to work, as I, well over a year ago, turned off the morning radio and began using the morning drive as meditation and prayer time. Each time I read through, there are some devotions that I remember well from past years. Other devotions seem fresh and almost take me by surprise. This book is almost as “alive” as the actual Scriptures from which it derives.

My Utmost for His Highest is a necessary read for anyone seriously into a devotional life.

TTFN, y’all!

Daily Guideposts 2016

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Guideposts are always hit-or-miss for me. Sometimes, they really inspire me, and other times, I wonder why a particular reading is even in there, because it really doesn’t seem to have much spiritual content at all. There are some authors in this year’s book that I really like, and others that I don’t care for at all. I think last year’s volume was much better, as a whole, than this year’s. Of course, I have next year’s ready to go, compliments of my mother’s yearly Christmas gift, which I greatly appreciate.

The readings are never extremely deep, and frequently, if not always, reflect life experiences of the writers. Never deep, but somehow, amazingly profound, at times. My favorite authors in this year’s volume are Andrew and Julia Attaway, Brian Doyle (he was my father’s favorite), Katie Ganshert, Julie Garmon, Rick Hamlin, Brock and Pam Kidd, Carol Knapp, and Carol Kuykendall. I’m sure I’ve left one or two out.

I look forward to seeing what experiences the 2017 volume will bring.

TTFN, y’all!

Praying with the Psalms, by Eugene Peterson

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Anyone who has known me for a number of years knows that I am a huge fan of Eugene Peterson. I have read a number of his books, and fond of The Message version of the Bible. When I discovered that he had written this devotional book, I had to get my hands on it.

Praying with the Psalms is a year’s worth of daily devotions that goes through the Psalms from chapter 1 to chapter 150, breaking some of them down into multiple days. Each day, the reader gets a focal verse from the selected passage, a brief commentary on the verse/passage, and a prayer, sometimes taken from a hymn or another author’s work. Each devotional is just a page, and the book is actually smaller than a standard paperback, so the devotions are short. They are a great way to begin the day’s spiritual exercises.

Many authors emphasize the importance of the Psalms in the Christian’s life. Peterson has written several books on them, and when he began translating the Scriptures into modern English, he started with Psalms. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called Psalms “the prayer book of the Bible.” I have long said that I do not believe it to be accidental that they are in the middle of our Bible. Many times, I have gone through a year of reading five Psalms a day, as a routine. The impact on one’s life cannot be measured.

I highly recommend this book for daily devotions, especially to “jump-start” your daily prayers.

TTFN, y’all!