Friday, December 23, 2016

2016 Reading

Time for my annual summary of books I read this past year! As usual my favorite genre was history. I highly recommend The Kingdom of Ice,  Rebel Yell, The Wright Brothers  and Empire of the Summer Moon (probably in that order). Listening to the former in our cold January weather left a particularly deep impression!

I would also highly recommend Stuff Matters as an excellent and easily navigable read related to materials science. The World Without Us is a thought-provoking semi-scientific look at what the future could have been like.

I typically find Bill Bryson's books insightful, relaxing, and downright hilarious in places as I let my mind travel through time or around the world. This year was no exception. In addition to the books I recorded as having read, I listened to the audio version of Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, which I had already read a decade or so ago. Just as good the second time around!

The Things of Earth is an excellent read helping us to orient our lives to appreciate all God has created and freely given us to enjoy. I look forward to reading future books by this author!

How about you? Did you read any of these or have other favorites to recommend? Please leave a comment below!

As for the format of books I read this year:
  • 20 were audiobooks (most were free loans from the Maryland Digital Public Library; I'm so thankful for the availability of this service overseas!)
  • 6 ebooks (all but one of which were also library loans)
  • 5 hardbacks (2 of which were from the library)
  • 8 paperbacks

According to, I am currently reading 16 other books but these will all have to wait for next year!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Absorbing God is like Drinking from Niagara Falls

Three weeks ago while we were enjoying the view above from our hotel across from the American and Canadian (Horseshoe) Falls, I mused about how absorbing God’s nature might be like drinking from Niagara Falls. 三個禮拜以前我們在飯店欣賞尼加拉瀑布的景觀時,我一邊看一邊想著吸收上帝的本質就如喝尼加拉瀑布的水一樣。

Jesus said: “Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (John 7:38) 耶穌說:「人要是渴了,就該到我這裏來喝。聖經上說:『那信我的人有活水的河流要從他心中湧流出來。』」約翰7:38

Elsewhere the psalmist writes: “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.”  (Psalm 42:7)  在別的地方,詩者寫著:你的瀑布發聲,深淵就與深淵響應;你的波浪洪濤漫過我身。詩篇42:7

In yet another place God announces: “The leaders of Judah have become like thieves. So I will pour my anger on them like a waterfall. Hosea 5:10 在另外一個地方,上主宣告:「我要向猶大的領袖發怒,像洪水沖擊一樣地懲罰他們,因為他們侵佔以色列的領土。何西阿書 5:10

In Waterfall, singer/songwriter Chris Tomlin sings:

  Your love is like a waterfall, waterfall你的愛就像一個瀑布,瀑布
  Running wild and free狂野且自由的流動
  You hear my heart when I call, when I call 當我呼求你時,你聽到了我的心
  Deep calls to deep 深淵就與深淵響應
  Your love is like a waterfall, waterfall 你的愛就像一個瀑布,瀑布
  Raining down on me 如雨點般落在我身上
  It's coming like a flood 這就像潮水般涌来
  I'm dancing in the rain 我在雨中跳舞
  Everything I've done  一切我所做的
  Is covered in rivers of grace, amazing  都被恩典的河流淹沒,多麼奇妙啊

Indeed, appropriating different aspects of God’s character (His love, holiness, justice, etc.) can be like drinking from a waterfall. The water will of course hydrate you, but too fast and too much and it will certainly crush and kill you! Thanks be to God for His mercy and His grace in dispensing what we are able to handle as we live out our lives each and every day. May He increase our inner capacity for more of Him.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Be Careful What You Wish For!

In 1961 Michael Rockefeller went to a place called Asmat in what was then known as Netherlands New Guinea. His purpose was not just to collect what was then referred to as  “primitive art,” but to taste, touch, smell, and see that world for himself. In short, he wanted to free himself from the societal conventions of being a Rockefeller. Similarly, author Carl Hoffman retraces Rockefeller's steps with an admitted hunger "to see a humanity before the Bible, before the Koran, before Christian guilt and shame."

In spite of Rockefeller's aspirations to connect with what he may have thought of as a "pure" primitive world, there was nevertheless an aspect in which he was treating the art of the people purely on esthetic and formal grounds. He ignored what Paul Hiebert has elsewhere referred to as the "Flaw of the Excluded Middle": a complex spiritual world filled with dangerous rituals, anxieties, and reciprocal systems of checks and balances to which westerners are usually blind. Western sojourners, in the words of the author, have been "able to collect and photograph and dig into Asmat culture, to travel with the Asmat and be deep in their midst, without ever really understanding their world and the unseen dimensions of its reality."
Unfortunately, in spite of his laudable attempts, the author may have fallen into the same trap. The author is to be commended for striving to obtain a beginner/intermediate level of the Indonesian (not Asmat?) language, and understand some basics of the culture(s). He made a few short-term trips, more than he says the Rockefellers attempted to make. Yet I feel he too still only obtained a rudimentary and superficial grasp of the culture. Like others who went before him, he too was "blind, deaf, and dumb to the symbols and meanings of the cultures."
Since others have complained about reviews others have posted spoiling the book for them, I won't reveal much here other than to say Hoffman relates cover-ups from both the "uncivilized" and so-called modern "civilized" societies. Was Michael killed and consumed by head-hunting cannibals? At times Hoffman seems obligated to share every last detail of his investigative efforts. Yet, in his conclusions, there is still an element of speculation. And did Hoffman need to take 336 pages to present his narrative?
Another problem I have with the book: Why not just call "evil" (whether "primitive" or "civilized") evil? Hoffman writes: "It was an old story, the same in Asmat as in the Amazon or so many other places in the world—native people who were innocent about the world, who had few defenses against its encroachments. They are easily influenced by the outside, too easily." Really? Untarnished and innocent? I give Savage Harvest 3 out of 5 stars smile emoticon "liked it") for what was overall an engaging read, but at times meandering. In my opinion, it's falls a little short of being a "Best Book of the Year," as it was touted on a list or two.

Simone Weil on Equality and Respect

The ideal social/work environment all of us desire:

Equality is a vital need of the human soul. It consists in a recognition, at once public, general, effective and genuinely expressed in institutions and customs, that the same amount of respect and consideration is due to every human being because this respect is due to the human being as such and is not a matter of degree....
In wartime, if an army is filled with the right spirit, a soldier is proud and happy to be under fire instead of at headquarters; a general is proud and happy to think that the successful outcome of the battle depends on his fore-thought; and at the same time the soldier admires the general and the general the soldier.
Such a balance constitutes an equality. There would be equality in social conditions if this balance could be found therein. It would mean honouring each human condition with those marks of respect which are proper to it, and are not just a hollow pretense. Simone Weil, THE NEEDS OF THE SOUL, An Anthology p 99, 101.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS JeannetteIn the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book started out slow with a lot of interesting but sometimes tedious information. Nevertheless, it lived up to the high expectations I had for it after seeing it on several "Best Books of 2014" lists. What I appreciate the most was the ability of the captain (and most of the crew, barring two notable exceptions) not to call it quits or despair in the face of the overwhelming odds stacked against them. Their hopeful attitude and ingenuity led them farther than I would have ever imagined possible in such situations. My main regrets are that (1) not everyone survived, and (2) I didn't wait until the spring or summer to listen to this book. Listening to the audiobook in January and early February left me feeling the artic cold all the more chillingly! :-)

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