The Joys of Great TV

No, that is not an oxymoron. There is some great TV out there and I’ve been watching it, thanks to Netflix. A couple of weeks ago I watched the last disk of the last season of Frasier, so now I’ve watched the entire series from the beginning. When it was on originally, we didn’t have cable and couldn’t pick up an NBC station with the antenna, so had only seen occasional episodes of the series. But I always liked it and wished I could start at the beginning. Now that I’ve finished the series, I’m glad I got to watch it. (And in case you’re interested, I started in February 2008.) It really is excellent situation comedy. I think Frasier ranks right up there with my other favorite sitcom, The Dick VanDyke Show. In both shows, the humor is timeless because it’s based on the characters and their interaction with each other. In both, the writing was good and the cast was perfect. And both shows are really, really funny. Frasier was on longer than Dick VanDyke, and some seasons were better than others, but it finished strong.

I’ve also been watching Lost. Yes, I know, the last season is about to start so I’m coming very late the Lost party. But, boy, is it good. I’m almost through the second season (fortunately it’s available to watch instantly on Netflix, so no waiting for disks to arrive). I’ve also watched some summary episodes so I kind of know what’s been happening in the other seasons, but I’m still going to watch it all. A summary can hit the high spots, but it doesn’t give you those “a-ha!” moments when you see another connection between characters or another mystery is revealed. Lost is another good example of well-drawn characters and good writing. I’ve noticed that the second season has slowed down some in the middle, sort of treading water, but it’s picking up again toward the end. It’s hard to sustain that kind of show over 20 plus episodes. But I think the other seasons are shorter, which will probably mean they’re a little tighter. Even at it’s worst, though, Lost is very good and I’m enjoying it a lot.

I think, at least for me, Frasier and Lost have something in common. They’re both shows that revolve around well-written characters. They’re complex, layered, and they grow and change. Frasier Crane, though he seems pompous and arrogant, is also insecure and just wants to love and be loved. At the start of the series he and his dad barely tolerate each other, but as the years pass, they learn to appreciate each other and value their differences. On Lost, the characters are developing as well, though the time frame is shorter. On the face of it, Jack and Sawyer seem to be opposites. And in some ways they are. But both are more complex than the sterotypical good guy and bad guy. They are each driven by their own personal demons. While I’ve liked Jack from the start, I’m starting to appreciate Sawyer more, too. And Locke is an enigma. Sometimes I like him, and sometimes I don’t think anyone should trust him. So it’s fun to see how the story has developed and how the characters respond to their circumstances. Lost involves more of a time investment and not everyone likes this kind of complicated, long-term story. But my favorite novel is The Lord of the Rings, so I think I’m up for it.

Advertisements

New Year’s Thoughts

Well hello, 2010. Nice to see you. I’m really not sure where 2009 went, but it’s still nice to greet a new year.

Actually, 2009 was fairly eventful and 2010 promises more of the same. We’ll be getting ready for two weddings: Tim is getting married in August and John is getting married early next January. And then there will be other, unexpected, things I’m sure. Some will be good and some will not be so good, but I know that God will be with us through all of it.

Once again I’m starting the new year with a resolution to be more faithful about Bible study or at least some kind of quiet time. I’ve started using the Daily Texts from the Moravian Church (frequently recommended by Brad Boydston). They’re short, but they also allow you to go deeper if you want.

I may or may not blog more regularly. I do have several months of newsletter columns to post, so maybe I’ll at least get caught up on that. I’m sure I’ll find some books and music worth writing about, too.

I think as I get older I realize how hard it is to really plan for the year to come. Things can change so quickly and yet God is at work through all of it. I think it’s better to have a general idea of what you hope to accomplish and be flexible about the details.

So welcome, 2010.

Can a kitten and a Christmas tree peacefully coexist?

Tiger in the Christmas tree

Tiger liked the Christmas tree.

Well, the kitten thought so. Me? Not so much.

Perhaps I was overly optimistic. I thought that if I left the tree up for a little bit, the novelty would wear off and Tiger (our three-month-old kitten) would get used to it. It quickly became apparent that the novelty would not wear off. Tiger batted at the branches, grabbed the light string and then climbed the tree. This would be a source of endless amusement and a disaster once I started putting ornaments on the tree. So, this year, we will not have a Christmas tree. I put out other decorations (out of Tiger’s reach) and we’ll just leave it at that.

Bible Review: The Transformation Study Bible

trans NLT sbI’m not usually a fan of study Bibles built around a particular author or niche group. (I’ve been using the ESV Study Bible and like it a lot.) But when I got the chance to receive a review copy of the Transformation Study Bible, I was interested. For one thing, it’s the New Living Translation (NLT), which I’ve been interested in learning more about. And I was very interested in the study helps based on Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe’s series of Bible commentaries.

So far, I like this study Bible. The NLT is a good, readable translation and I think I’m going to enjoy using it. It’s a dynamic equivalent translation, which means it’s less formal than the ESV. That makes it a good contrasting version for study. This Bible’s layout is useful — it has two columns, with center references, for the scripture on the top two-thirds of the page. The bottom third (more or less) of the page is the study notes, which are set in two columns in a slightly smaller contrasting font. The text of both is large enough to be easily read. (And that matters a lot to me as my eyes get older.) There’s also a concordance and maps in the back, along with preaching outlines of each book of the Bible (a feature of Wiersbe’s commentaries). Interspersed throughout the Bible are set-off sections labeled “Catalyst.” These sections highlight specific themes in the text. For example, on the page with Hebrews 11 is a Catalyst section about Faith — just a couple of paragraphs of additional thoughts a reader could use devotionally or to spark further study. Each book of the Bible has an introduction that includes an outline of the book, a brief overview, and a section labeled “Be Transformed,” which focuses on the application of the text. Dr. Wiersbe is a respected writer, preacher and Bible teacher and his commentaries have been widely used for years. His doctrine falls squarely within the evangelical mainstream. His commentary in the various helps and study notes is clear and will be easily understood by the average person in the pew, as well as useful to pastors and teachers.

Most study Bibles come with a certain set of theological presuppositions and the reader needs to keep in mind that introductory sections and study notes are helps and not part of the scripture. But a good study Bible can help the reader understand more and dig deeper into the scripture. I think the Transformation Study Bible is another good tool that a student of the Word will find useful.

For Your Consideration: The Writing Course

I recently had the opportunity to look at a writing program geared toward the homeschool community — The Writing Course — Educator’s Version. The course consists of a set of 21 audio lessons, with an accompanying ebook (a transcript of his seminar), workbook, answer key, and a few handouts. There’s also another course for learning to write essays. The author, Fred Lybrand, is a pastor, author and teacher who has used this approach with his own five children (some of whom are now grown and in college). Lybrand uses a conversational tone in the audio and written materials,  and it’s a very accessible style. His approach doesn’t focus on grammatical terminology (though he does talk about correct grammar), but instead on building confidence through practice. He does a good job of addressing many people’s initial fear of writing and teaches ways to overcome it. He recognizes that it’s OK to write something that’s less than perfect, then revise and rewrite to make it better. I think if I were teaching my children to write, I might find this course helpful, though I would probably supplement it with other English materials to help with grammar and spelling.Visit Lybrand’s company, Advanced Writing Resources, to find out more.

CSFF Tour: Offworld

No, this isn’t going to become a blog celebrating all things Robin Parrish, but I do want to highlight Offworld once again. One of the things I thought Robin did well in this story was the gradual development of faith in the characters. It wasn’t heavy handed, it wasn’t preachy — it was organic. If you came home and found everyone gone, you’d have questions, too! If events so bizarre and unexplainable were happening around you, and to you, you’d wonder where God was in all of the chaos. A couple of weeks ago, Robin commented on his facebook page that some Christians complained that the book wasn’t Christian enough, but to non-Christians it was too Christian. I think that’s a good dilemma for a writer to have — it suggests that the writer is telling the truth and it’s making people uncomfortable.

Of course, a lot of people just want to read a good story. And that’s another way that this novel succeeds. It’s a rousing good tale that keeps the reader hooked from the first page. Robin does a good job of weaving the elements of the story together so the reader learns new things along the way, but not too many new things at once. This is the kind of story that depends a lot on the author’s ability to engage the reader — if the reader can’t buy into the premise of the story, then the author has lost him. Robin never lost me, even at points where I was afraid the story might be headed off the rails a bit. But the story world held together and I rode the roller coaster to the end.

One of Robin’s strengths is that ability to tell a fast-paced, wildly imaginitive story. The flip side of that, though, is that the breakneck pace can leave a reader feeling out of breath. And sometimes the characters can be somewhat less than fully realized. I prefer character-driven stories, so if I don’t like the characters in a book, it won’t hold me, no matter how thrilling the tale. I would say that for the most part, Robin did a good job of pacing in Offworld and the characters developed as the story progressed. I was intrigued by them and wanted to know more about them. I cared about what happened to them.

So, if you’re looking for a good read that doesn’t shy away from the spiritual development of the characters, Offworld is for you. If you don’t normally read Christian fiction, give this one a try — and then find Robin’s Dominion Trilogy and read that, too. Then you’ll understand that good Christian speculative fiction is not an oxymoron.

And if you’re interested in joining the discussion about Christian speculative fiction, visit the other fine blogs listed below.

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Gina Burgess
Canadianladybug
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Linda Gilmore
Beth Goddard
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika
Eve Nielsen (posting later in the week)
Nissa
John W. Otte
Lyn Perry
Steve Rice
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Stephanie
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Elizabeth Williams

CFBA: Offworld, by Robin Parrish

This week’s featured book for the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is one I’m excited about. I’ve been a fan of Robin’s since he started and edited the late, lamented online magazine, Infuze. His first three books, the Dominion Trilogy, were fast-paced, thrilling and wildly imaginitive takes on super-hero fantasy. I called it a “new mythology for a post-modern generation.”

So I was pretty interested to see what he would do with more straight-on science fiction. Once again, he’s told a story that grabbed me from the first page and didn’t let me go until the last. Check out the book blurb and first chapter and I think you’ll be hooked, too. (FYI, I’ll probably do a little more detailed review in a couple of weeks or so, when this book is featured for the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy tour.)

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Offworld
Bethany House (July 1, 2009)
by
Robin Parrish

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Robin Parrish had two great ambitions in his life: to have a family, and to be a published novelist. In March of 2005, he proposed to his future wife the same week he signed his first book contract with Bethany House Publishers. They contracted him for the rights to not only that first book, Relentless — but two sequels including Fearless and Merciless. A trilogy that unfolded in the consecutive summers of 2006, 2007, and 2008.

Robin Parrish is a journalist who’s written about pop culture for more than a decade. Currently he serves as Senior Editor at XZOOSIA.com, a community portal that fuses social networking with magazine-style features about entertainment and culture. He and his wife, Karen and son live in North Carolina.

ABOUT THE BOOK

“Every Person on This Planet Has Disappeared.”

Commander Christopher Burke and his crew are humanity’s greatest explorers. They’ve finished their mission on the red dirt of Mars and now they just want to get back to Earth. To see friends, family, and loved ones. To be home. But even with communication to ground control cut and a perilous landing, nothing could prepare the crew for what they discover when they step foot back on planet Earth.

Everyone…everywhere…is gone.

It’s not a dream. It’s not a trick. Now Burke and his team have one mission:find out who or what is behind the disappearance of all mankind.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Offworld, go HERE

15 books … (more or less)

I’m a sucker for memes and facebook quizzes. So when Chris tagged me in a note called 15 Books That Have Shaped You (for better or worse), I had to make my list. It’s on facebook, but I’ll post it here, too, with a little commentary. (And these are probably not in any particular order, other than roughly chronological.)

1. Black Beauty
2. King of the Wind
I read these two horse stories more times than I can count and I loved them every time.

3. Little Women — I think I related to bookish Jo, always the outsider, the most. The four March girls old friends I like to visit now and again.
4. Jane Eyre — I first read this when I was about 13 and I think this is the book that really awakened me to literature. (up until then I read a lot, but I don’t think I’d tackeled anything very challenging) Sure, it’s gothic romance, but it’s gothic romance at its best, with rich characters and thrilling conflict. I was enthralled.
5. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land (both by Robert Heinlein)  — I should probably also mention a book by Andre Norton, but I don’t remember what it was called. But it was one of the first science fiction books I ever read. I was probably about 15 or 16. Then it was on to Isaac Asimov and  Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. I was hooked on science fiction.
6. The Left Hand of Darkness (by Ursula K. LeGuin) — I first read this one weekend while I was in college and it was one of those books that so completely sucked me in that when I would come up for air, it was a bit of a shock to find myself in a college dorm room and not on the planet Gethen. LeGuin is a master storyteller and in this book she was at her best. I still love it.
7. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings — I discovered The Hobbit in high school and had never read anything like it. So then I tackled the Lord of the Rings. It took me a couple of tries to read it all the way through, but I’ve been a resident of Middle Earth ever since.
8. The Chronicles of Narnia — I didn’t discover these until I was in college. We were fond, at my little Christian college, of using passages as devotions. But I think even if you never knew anything about C.S. Lewis or about Christianity, the beauty of the stories would speak to you. They’re all good, but my favorite is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
9. To Kill a Mockingbird — I actually read this in high school and I’ve returned to it many times since. I love the voice and the way Harper Lee wove the story. It’s as if someone were sitting on the front porch and telling it to me.
10. Mysteries by Agatha Christie — My mom is a mystery lover, so I suppose it was only natural that I’d start delving into her collection. I’ve read most of her books and enjoyed them a lot, though I have found that they aren’t the kind of books that hold up to rereading. But she was very good at writing mysteries and I don’t think I ever figured out who did it very much  before the end.
11. Mysteries by Ngaio Marsh — I discovered Ngaio Marsh after I was grown and found her stories to be a little meatier, at least in some ways. Her characters seemed deeper than Christie’s. I think I liked her later books better (especially the ones where Inspecter Allyn’s wife appears).
12. Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers (as well as her others, but this one’s my favorite) — and then I discovered Dorothy Sayers and most English mystery writers have paled in comparison ever since. I can reread some of Sayers’ books, especially Gaudy Night. I realized that a mystery story could be good literature, too, and I just loved the way she told the stories. Some of them are a little rambling and seem dated, but the characters and scenes are still vivid.
13. Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger — it’s beautiful and what else is there to say. Enger has a way with words and with characters.
14. On Writing, by Stephen King — I’ve read a lot of books about writing, but this is my favorite. And I’m not even a big Stephen King fan. But I liked his approach — telling his story and then telling about writing. It all fits together somehow and it’s entertaining as well as instructive.
15. In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden — I think I first read this in a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book and loved the story of nuns in Britain. I’m not Catholic, but Godden brought that faith tradition alive. But it’s also full of very human characters and it’s a good story.

I could go on and on (and have sometimes). But I would say that these are some of the books that have had the most lasting affect on me. What about you?

Where have I been?

My daughter, grandson and dad, with me, as we celebrate Dad's 80th birthday.

My daughter, grandson and dad, with me, as we celebrate Dad's 80th birthday.

As you can probably guess from the picture above, we had a great time celebrating my dad’s 80th birthday in May. Most of my immediate family (siblings, kids, etc.) were able to come and we had a lot of fun. It was chaos at times, but my parents were so glad we all came and I know we were all glad to be there, too. Dad got lots of nice cards from people, too, and he still enjoys them, I think.  It’s a memory we’ll all treasure.

Earlier this month, I got to spend a week in beautiful downtown Des Moines, Iowa (and that’s only a tiny bit of sarcasm you here). I was at a conference for work and it went well, other me forgetting my poster and having to recreate it. Fortunately, the FedEx/Kinko’s downtown was very helpful and I was able to do an acceptable job. I completed the ACE Leadership Institute, too, and I think it will help me in a lot of areas, as well as my job.

Now I think I’m home for the forseeable future. So maybe I’ll do a little more blogging. I know I’m going to do a couple of blog tours this summer for Robin Parrish’s new book, Off World. It sounds good, so stay tuned.

I’m finishing up the layout for Relief 3.1, and I can tell you it’s a good issue. A little edgy, but that’s OK. And I’m working on a time-travel story of my own, so maybe I’ll be able to finish that. But in the meantime, I’m trying to stay cool.

Remembering God’s Faithfulness

(This is my May 2009 column)
Psalm 77

In the early 1970s my father preached at a church in Linton, Indiana. I was just entering my teens and it was a good place for me. My brothers and I had friends in our neighborhood and there were a lot of kids in our church. What I was not aware of though, was that it wasn’t such a good place for my dad. There were good people there, but it just wasn’t a good fit and after a couple of years he resigned. I think it was the only time my father resigned before he’d been called by another church. I’ll never forget our parents telling us that we were going to be moving, but we didn’t know where or even if we would be serving another church. I think we were all a little scared, but our parents told us that God was with us and we could trust him.

My parents understood, better than my brothers and I, what the psalmist is talking about in Psalm 77. Sometimes God seems far away, sometimes we enter a desert time in our lives when the path is rocky and hard to follow. Those are the times, though, that we can say:

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
(Psalm 77:11-12)

By remembering what God has done throughout history, and in our lives, we’re reminded of what a great God we serve and can be comforted. We know we can trust him because he’s never failed us.

And all those years ago, when we wondered what God had in mind for our family, he proved himself faithful once again. Within a month, my Dad had been called to another church in southern Indiana, where he would have a fruitful ministry and our family would be at home once more. And ever since, when the path seems uncertain, that time in my life reminds me of God’s faithfulness and I know I can trust him.