Scared fish

(I was going through some old notes and came across this entry I had written in May 2006, just four months after we brought Carlos and Jeremiah home.  Enjoy!)

I am finding out that 4-year olds can and most often will interpret what you say QUITE literally. We were shopping a few days ago and while Sarah did the grocery shopping, I wheeled Carlos and Jeremiah around the store to keep them entertained. Carlos was talking away and suddenly he got excited because he saw some fish tanks nearby with fish in them. So off we went to see the fish.  Big fish.  Small fish.  There were even a couple of little tubs with fish in them ready to be taken home. After a few minutes, Carlos wanted to tap on the glass. I tried to explain to him that this would scare the fish, by saying, “Carlos, if you tap the glass, the fish will be scared, like ‘AAGGHH!!'” (Usually this is exactly what he says when he is scared or thinks he might be scared and is trying to convey the scariness of whatever situation he is thinking of.)  After a minute of thinking about this, he looks at me with a puzzled expression and says, “Fish no say ‘AAGGHH!’ – they’re in water!” Yup, definitely can’t pull one over on Carlos! I finally had to demonstrate by tapping on the tank and sure enough, the fish scattered.  BUT they didn’t say “AAGGHH!”

Board Games

I love playing board games and have for as long as I can remember.   When we weren’t playing Legos, my brother, sister & I used to spend hours playing board games in our younger years, sometimes making up our own rules but mostly playing by the original rules.  In addition to the usual ones such as Risk, Clue and Monopoly, there were a few unique ones that were really quite fun.  It’s a little disconcerting that many of these games are now considered VINTAGE!  Here are a few of my favorites in no particular order.

Wildlife (by Spears) 

In this game endorsed by the World Wildlife Fund, players race around the world trying to find specific kinds of animals to fill their zoos.  It was a fun game that subtly taught players different facts about animals including where each type was found in the world.  For example, you could only find the giant panda in China.  Alligators could be picked up in Florida.  You could pick up animals that weren’t specific to your zoo and use them to trade other players for animals that you needed.

London Game

The London Game is what helped me to understand and figure out the London Underground train system long before I ever went to London.  The board is a fairly accurate map of the London subway system, complete with varying colored lines weaving throughout London.  Each player has a certain number of destinations to visit in London and has to figure out the best way to get there.  Destinations include the Tower Bridge, London Zoo, St. Paul’s Cathedral and The War Museum.  The first player to visit all his destinations and return to their starting station wins.  When Sarah and I visited London shortly after we were married, I felt like I already knew where everything was and which station/line to take from years of playing this game.  I was very happy to purchase this one again a few years ago.

Wide World of Travel 

This game, perhaps the oldest one of the lot, was another one that snuck in the educational element. The board was a map of the world with various destinations dotting the globe.  Each player moved his 1950s-style jet airplane/spaceship across the map trying to visit each destination and collecting product cards before the other players reached theirs.  Players learned where Moscow, Peru, Cairo, Turkey and Alaska were.  A transparent weather guide that was placed on over the board in various places could cause lots of havoc since you never knew when it was going to move.

What board games do you like to play?  Do you have any childhood favorites that you’ve rediscovered? Any new ones that you enjoy?

Book Review – The Unlikely Disciple

What would happen if you took a student from Brown University,  a decidedly liberal college, and sent him for one semester to one of the bastions of conservative education, Liberty University (LU)?  While this sounds like the makings of yet another “reality” TV show, it is exactly the situation Kevin Roose placed himself in during his sophomore year at Brown.  Instead of embarking on a European cultural experience, he decided to experience an American culture, yet one decidedly foreign to him.  In his own words, he states, “Here, right in my time zone, was a culture more foreign to me than any European capital, and these foreigners vote in my election! So why not do a domestic study abroad?” (p.10)

The result of this “domestic study abroad” is his book, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University.  In it, he documents his experience of being completely immersed into the world of evangelical Christianity.  Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly?), Roose is able to pass himself off as part of the evangelical crowd, so much so that at the end of the book when he reveals his true purpose for being at LU, most if not all of his friends are completely shocked.  He gets involved in everything he can in an attempt to learn the culture.  He joins the church choir, takes Bible classes, works hard to curb his swearing habit, and even goes on a weeklong missions trip for some street evangelizing.  Along the way, he discovers that while some of his previous held beliefs of the stereotypical evangelical are true, many other beliefs about them are unfounded.

Roose’s writing style flows very well, making this book feel like a relatively quick read.  What gives this book an edge though is the evenhandedness with which Roose gives his encounters.  He is just as quick to praise the good he finds at LU as he is to point out the flaws.  For example, it doesn’t take him long to realize that many of the students and faculty at LU are sincere in their love for God and their desire to let others about God.  At one point, Roose states “I’m still adjusting my mind to all the earnest God talk I’m hearing at Liberty….But one thing has become clear: these Liberty students have no ulterior motive.  They simply can’t contain their love for God.  They’re happy to be believers, and they’re telling the world.” (p.64)  He also tells of his encounter with a pastor who, while firmly believing homosexuality is a sin, doesn’t involve himself or encourage the “gay-bashing” that Roose does come across in the dorms.  The pastor wanted to help those who struggle with “same-sex attraction” by befriending them, not berating them.  Although it is evident that Roose disagrees with the underlying belief that homosexuality is sinful, he can’t help but respect the pastor for his approach.

On the flip side, we observe with Roose the disconnect between the students’ theological beliefs and how it affects their lives on the practical level.  Many of the guys in Roose’s dorm engage in frank and often crass discussions about women.  At first it seemed like Roose was unfairly painting all LU men with the same brush; however in the end I think he focused more on these types of encounters because he wasn’t expecting this and also because he admittedly liked to hang out with the “wrong crowd” as it were – those more prone to indulge in such behavior.  While he admires those students willing to be ridiculed and rejected while street preaching, he makes a fair point in asking whether or not this is truly effective.  He has a difficult time in some of the classes where his professors draw a distinct line between accepting what science says vs. accepting what the Bible says.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am more in the evangelical category than not.  My graduate degree is from LU and my undergraduate degree is from the even more conservative Pensacola Christian College (a college that Roose mentions briefly in an effort to find a stricter environment than the one at LU- believe me, LU has nothing on PCC!)  That being said, I don’t think LU could get a more evenhanded, balance perspective from someone who is not only unfamiliar with the evangelical culture, but is in many areas diametrically opposed to the LU belief system.  If I were an administrator at LU, I would take great encouragement from the fact that the students’ zeal for God was readily evident.  I would be encouraged by the stance taken by such individuals as the pastor who reached out in love and grace to those struggling with same-sex attraction.  On the flip side, I would be concerned about the disconnect between the students’ faith and the application of that faith in the everyday areas of life.

In the end, I would not recommend this book so much to people outside the evangelical circle so much as I would recommend it to those INSIDE evangelicalism.  To get a true grasp of how effective a culture or belief system is, you have to have an outside perspective and Kevin Roose gives us exactly that. (5/5 stars)

Book Review – The Band That Played On

Any discussion of the sinking of the Titanic will usually include a mention of the heroic band of men who, even though facing certain death, played their instruments to the last, providing some measure of comfort and serenity to their fellow passengers.  As a band, their last act lives on in fame, but as individuals very little is known about them.  Steve Turner, in his book The Band That Played On, attempts to delve into the little that is known about each of the eight musicians, chronicling the history of each man, including family backgrounds and how each came to be a part of the Titanic’s fateful voyage.  Turner also weighs in on the “last song” debate, answering the question of which song the band is purported to have played in their last moments.  Was it really “Nearer My God to Thee” or some other song?  Read the book to find out!

Although the amount of details available about each man varies, Turner weaves them together to present a stirring narrative.  He does not go into the details of the sinking of the Titanic, choosing instead to focus on the musicians themselves.  He gleans snippets of information about the band from accounts written by other passengers, both during and after the voyage/sinking.  The end result is a book that brings the musicians out of the murky waters of obscurity and gives them back their humanity.  (4/5 stars)

(Thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing a review copy of this book.)

Book Review – The Greater Journey

Ever since I picked up John Adams, I have been an avid fan of David McCullough.  His biography of Harry Truman is perhaps the best one I’ve ever read.  McCullough has a knack for taking people or things that perhaps have escaped the popular limelight (such as the Panama Canal or the Brooklyn Bridge) and writes a completely captivating history of them.  You do not simply read a McCullough book, you experience it.

When I first heard that McCullough was penning a new work focusing on the impact that Parisian life had on Americans of the 19th century, I was quite excited to say the least.  And when I was offered the chance to do a pre-release review of The Greater Journey, I was thrilled and jumped at the opportunity.  McCullough did not disappoint.

The Greater Journey varies in focus from his other works.  While the majority of his previous books have focused on political and engineering aspects of American history, The Greater Journey instead highlights many of the artistic influences of American history (Adams, Jefferson and Franklin get barely a mention).  Although working with a large cast of characters such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mary Cassatt, Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Harriet Beecher Stowe, McCullough spotlights a few in more detail.  Although Samuel F. B. Morse is more widely known for inventing the telegraph, McCullough spends more time discussing Morse’s artistic work in the Louvre.  Augustus Saint-Gaudens, sculptor of such memorials as the Farragut, Sherman and Robert Gould Shaw Memorials, was greatly influenced by his time in Paris.  Of particular interest to me was the account of Elihu Washburne’s efforts during the Franco-Prussian War to protect French, American and German citizens.  With each of these and others, McCullough writes of how their time in Paris influenced their artistic abilities or, as was the case with Charles Sumner, their political/humanitarian views.

When I first heard of the subject matter of the book, I wasn’t sure it would be as interesting as McCullough’s other works that dealt with more sweeping changes such as 1776.  But while watching an interview of McCullough about the book, he made a statement that convinced me otherwise.  He said “History is much more than just politics and generals.  History is about life.  History is human.  And music, art, literature, poetry, theatre, science, the whole realm of the human spirit is all part of history.”

As captivating and readable as his other books, The Greater Journey offers a unique glimpse of the more cultural side of American history and the huge role Paris life played in shaping this culture. (5/5 stars)

Book Review – The Greener Grass Conspiracy

Every now and then, I’ll come across a book that hits me right where I need to be hit.  Such is Stephen Altrogge’s new book, The Greener Grass Conspiracy which, as can be deduced from the title, is about contentment.

Altrogge points out virtually everyone’s complicity in this conspiracy of thinking that “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”  While he doesn’t necessarily present anything new and earth shattering, the down-to-earth perspective and humor he uses shone the light on my discontentment.   In one chapter, Altrogge points out the lies we believe in that fuel our discontentment, lies such as “God is withholding from me” or “God owes me” or “If I get it, I’ll be happy.”

Instead of constantly berating his readers for not having perfect contentment, he points the way to Godly contentment by showcasing the glories of the gospel.  He encourages the reader to focus on the blessings we have been given (such as life, health and/or food), but even with this his emphasis is to continually point to the cross.  That is not to say that Altrogge encourages a Pollyanna-ish attitude of just being glad no matter what our circumstances.  In Chapter 11, he specifically addresses those who are going through “the furnace of suffering.”  In this chapter, he says “I don’t want to give you pat, trite answers.  I don’t want to tell you just to trust in God and everything will be okay…I want to connect you to the only person who can carry you through and give you contentment in the midst of suffering.  I want to connect you to Jesus.” (pp.119-120)

Although it’s a relatively short book, this book to me is one that I need to read again, not only to be reminded of my lack of contentment in Christ but also to encourage me to do something about it.  The Greener Grass Conspiracy is a huge help in prying off the tinfoil hats of discontentment.

Many thanks to Crossway for providing a review copy of this book.   (5/5 stars)

Book Review – A Carpenter’s View of the Bible

You can’t read the Bible without seeing clear references to carpentry and building.  Jesus, who was most likely a carpenter during his earthly life, is said to be building his church.  We as believers are “living stones.”  We are given very specific details of the construction of both the wilderness tabernacle and Solomon’s temple.  To appreciate the construction narrative, it often takes someone who is well versed in building and design.  Charlie March provides such a perspective in his new book, A Carpenter’s View of the Bible.

In this book, March takes us on a somewhat chronological journey through Scripture, highlighting various passages and stories that speak of constructions of different kinds.  These include the Genesis account of creation, Noah’s ark, the Tower of Babel, Jericho, and the Tabernacle.  He also talks about the New Testament church and the “City of Heaven” still “under construction.”  In each, he makes a Biblical application of key construction points, such as pointing out God’s tent/tabernacle can be seen as a “tent of refuge from the storms life throws at us, the place where we may meet God and find a balm that soothes the painful things that always seem to plague us.” (p.93)

In several chapters, he covers some archeological information uncovered that sheds light on the Biblical narrative.  Most interesting to me was the chapter on the Jericho walls.  He spends some time on the issue of accurately dating the Jericho archeological site as well as describing the city’s setup and how the walls played a key part in its defenses.

Although the book is interesting, it is not light reading.  Often the writing style is disjointed and March wanders down unrelated rabbit trails that don’t seem to fit.  He also tries to make an attempt at light-heartedness with remarks that only succeed in coming across as flippant.  However, although the material is scholarly in nature, March does his best to make it accessible for the average reader.

Overall, A Carpenter’s View of the Bible is a fascinating book uncovering details about the archeological aspects of Scripture and how many of those aspects apply to the Christian life.

Thank you to Pleasant Word/WinePress Publishing for providing a review copy of this book.(4/5 stars)