Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Farmer Giles of Ham Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A hero on his own terms

Lovers of Tolkien's books on Middle Earth could do well to take a break and relax with a story that he told to his children at bedtime. This story takes place in the "Middle Kingdom" of old England, when the Island was divided between various small kingdoms, dragons and giants ruled the north, and choices of a weapon ranged from enchanted swords to a blunderbuss. Oh yes -- and dogs could talk, though their vocabulary was generally restricted to the vernacular.

Farmer Giles is a humble farmer who just wants to get on with business at hand, which is to bring in the crops, keep the larder well stocked and get a good sleep at night. His night time peace is broken when his dog, Garm, begins barking and babbling on about a giant that has stepped on his prize cow. So, Giles loads his blunderbuss and goes out to see what's going on...

And what's a blunderbuss?

"A blunderbuss is a kind of big fat gun with a mouth that opens wide like the end of a horn, and it goes off with a terrible bang, and sometimes it hits what you are aiming at." That's a quote from the second version, based on what Tolkien's daughter remembers of her bed time story. This edition contains both versions, as well as an unfinished sequel -- the first few paragraphs and some sketchy notes on how the story would have gone from there.

Back to the giant. The farmer falls over backwards as soon as the giants head appears over the hill, the gun goes off, and a piece of scrap metal from the barrel hits the giant on the nose. Being near-sighted, and having no clue that there are people living in these parts, he thinks it's a stinging fly, so he turns around and goes back home. Garm, the farmer's dog, runs through town announcing that his master has single handedly driven away the giant, and Giles becomes the hero.

That's just the beginning. Next is the story of the dragon, where Giles again becomes the unwilling hero. But hero he is, so he's a hero on his own terms, much to the chagrin of the king and the knights of the realm. Tolkien, a storyteller on his own terms, brings it to a delightfully satisfying "happily ever after".

Among my favourite characters is the dog, Garm. He's exactly what I imagine a dog would be if dogs could talk. The old mare and the dragon are also well cast. In all, it's a great read.

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Israel had twins, their names were Christianity and Islam...

...perhaps not in the sense that we normally think; they were born 600 years apart. The elder twin, Christianity wasn't called by that name at first. It was the local street urchins and the bullies who began calling him that as a taunt. They kept it up for so long that soon he was calling himself that, and the name stuck.
At first, Christianity took after his mother, which meant he reflected the two divine attributes, Justice and Mercy -- also known as Holiness and Love. In fact, he reflected them so well that the mother became jealous, and he began to find it difficult to live in the same house with her. This was also due to the fact that Israel's husband had called, dressed as a beggar; and she, failing to recognise Him, had turned him away. However the son had recognised him, and they stayed in communication. He promised the child that one day, they would all be reunited.
As time went on, the son could no longer stand to live in the same house as his mother, and left home. About that time, the house was seized and the mother also had to leave. They became a broken family.
Cut off from his mother's influence, Christianity began to emphasise the divine attribute of Love and Mercy, neglecting that of Justice and Holiness -- receiving only the new and rejecting the old. He also began to emulate the neighbourhood boys in other ways, and was soon unrecognisable as the son of his mother.
This was truly sad, as the child had been destined to reign as a prince alongside his mother, a queen, and his father, King Messiah. This would bring perfect balance to the universe, however it couldn't happen, because the child who was to be prince was away from home, and his character was becoming increasingly unbalanced. Even as it was, the mantel of “Prince of the Universe” was still on the child, and as such, his imbalance also affected the universe.
What happened next was not the original plan of Him who was to reign as King, but it was as though nature were correcting the imbalance. He allowed it to happen, knowing that it would bring about his purpose in the end, and in the mean time, there would be a semblance of balance in the universe. So, because of the imbalance in the cosmos, a twin was born. Just as the older twin was the son of Abraham through faith, the younger was also a son, through Ishmael. That twin's name was Islam.
Everything that the elder twin rejected, the younger twin embraced. The elder child had clung to mercy at the expense of justice, so the younger twin clung to justice, but rejected mercy. The elder twin had become careless in describing the Holy Trinity, giving the impression that he believed in three gods instead of One God manifested as three persons. The younger twin responded with, “That's polytheism! There is only one God,” and rejected the Trinity. The elder child had begun to describe the doctrine of the Incarnation and Virgin Birth in a pagan sort of way, as though God had intimate relations with Mary to give birth to Messiah, thus His title, the “Son of God”. The younger brother was repulsed by this idea, and retorted, “No! God cannot have children!”
Never-the-less, the younger twin did believe in the Messiah, even acknowledging that He was the Word of God, not realising that that's what the term, “Son of God” really meant in the first place. But he didn't believe in the crucifixion and the resurrection, because those were the ultimate expressions of Mercy. In essence, he had rejected Mercy because his elder brother had so distorted it by divorcing it from Justice. However, his own understanding of Justice was likewise distorted.
It was truly a broken family, and all nature wept. The mother, having fled from her home and living wherever she could, was tormented and persecuted by both of her children – when they weren't too busy fighting each other.
Then, one day the first child had an awakening. He began to realise what a horrible son he had been, and began, by degrees, returning to his mother. The mother's heart also began to open to her son. The son asked her, “Please, remind me of the truths I've neglected this past 2000 years, like Justice the Fear of the Lord.”
As the mother began to open up to her child, her eyes also opened to King Messiah, whom she had once turned away from her door when he came dressed as a beggar. He had been communicating with the elder twin from a distance all along, but the child had not been very good at remembering all that he told him, and didn't know how to mix the new with the old. But now that the King was revealing Himself more directly, the elder son also began to think more clearly and understand the will of the King, and the divine attributes of Justice and Mercy.
Another thing began to happen: the more the older child embraced the more balanced view, his twin began to fade away as his soul began to merge with that of his older brother. Soon, they were no longer two separate twins, but one child. Only a shell of the younger twin's body remained, sort of like a zombie that continued to put up a fight until it disintegrated. There were also other zombies, clones of the mother and elder child that had spawned when the reunion came. For a short time, all the zombies joined forces in an attempt to devour the Queen and the Prince, trying to bring about a zombie apocalypse. That was short-lived, and soon total harmony was restored in the universe as King Messiah reigned with the Queen and the Prince for the rest of eternity.

Image: By William Fraser [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, December 17, 2015


Subtitled: Deep Healing Needed

HEAL NOT LIGHTLY, as the title suggests, is a book about healing – not light healing that might be applied with antiseptic cream, or a sticky-plaster or band-aid, but a deep one, that might require the skill of a surgeon. More often than not, problems between ethnic groups fit into the latter category. This book takes a look under the surface of what have been called “The Troubles” of Northern Ireland, and Harry Smith finds a few areas requiring the deeper sort of healing.

One of these is the Ulster Covenant, which was the response of the Protestants of Northern Ireland in 1912 to the proposed Home Rule Bill that had been submitted to the British Parliament, and looked like was going to become law. This would have placed all of Ireland, North and South, under an autonomous parliament in Dublin.

This was good news to the Irish Catholic community, whose experience of British rule had been quite turbulent and often traumatic. However, the Protestants community in Ireland didn't share the same historical perspective. There were other issues.

Among the biggest was that such a parliament would have a Catholic majority. The Protestant community who had migrated to Ireland in large numbers during the times of Queen Elizabeth I, James I, and William of Orange to serve as their political pawns, would suddenly find themselves in the minority. It was rightly believed that the Dublin government would be heavily influenced by the Catholic Church. A common slogan was, “Home rule is Rome rule”. If that seems far-fetched, remember that religious freedom was not taken for granted in Europe then as it is now. Also, those were the days before the Vatican II council, which liberalised the Catholic Church's position towards non-Catholics (however, even now, there are many Protestants who regard these changes as strictly cosmetic).

So, many Protestants feared the worst. The Protestants of Northern Ireland, primarily under the leadership of the Presbyterian, Church of Ireland and the Methodist churches, banded together and signed a document called the Ulster Covenant. In this, they swore not to submit to Home Rule, and in the event that it was forced on them, to resist, taking up arms if necessary. Some prominent Ulster Protestants signed it with their blood. This covenant has been the basis of Northern Irish identity ever since.

The first chapter of the book contains numerous statements in the press by various church leaders, politicians, editors and others regarding the danger that was eminent, and the necessity of every Protestant who values his history and his freedom as a British subject. Just reading them gives one a sense of the atmosphere that prevailed. In all, around 250,000 men signed the covenant – with a similar number of women signing a supporting document.

Harry Smith also goes into some more background, relating how former Moderators of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland utilised the Scottish National Covenant of 1638 to unite people politically and spiritually against the Home Rule Bill.

The Scottish National Covenant was a vow of solidarity, which established Scotland as a Christian nation under God with their Presbyterian values, in their resistance to attempts at control by the Church of England. In effect, it was a reminder to God whose side He was on. It was even said that in the same way that God had once regarded the Israelites as His chosen people, whom He had now rejected under the New Covenant, He now regarded the Scottish nation. In other words, Supersessionism, or Replacement Theology was a cornerstone of Covenant terminology.

Then, we read details of how, during the times of James I and William of Orange, Scottish Protestants were offered land in Ireland from which Irish Catholics had been forcibly removed. They regarded this as their divine mandate, and that later became the basis of the Ulster Covenant.

So, whose side was God on? Reading all the press statements in the first chapter compels one to consider that a covenant may have seemed like a good idea at the time. In fact, one would have been considered a traitor – an enemy of God – for opposing it. But was it really a good idea? The song by Bob Dylan, “With God on Our Side” comes to mind.

Harry Smith believes that the Ulster Covenant is now one of the biggest hindrance to peace in Northern Ireland.

But, you ask, didn't the Good Friday Agreement bring peace? There still exist huge fences crossing whole sections of Belfast, which are referred to as the “peace wall”. They are, in fact, proof that there isn't peace, otherwise, why would we need walls to separate us? That actually fits with the same passage in Jeremiah 8:11 from which Harry Smith took the title: "They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace."

God showed Harry Smith that it is like a log-jam that holds back the flow of His Spirit - like the river mentioned in Ezekiel chapter 47, which brought healing to the land. Repentance at Church government and personal levels are essential for the removal of this log-jam so as to release the river of God.

To achieve peace in Northern Ireland, Protestants in Northern Ireland must renounce the Ulster Covenant, and the Nationalist community must renounce the Sinn Fein Covenant (that was signed a few years later); let go of our political agendas, and trust God to direct the future according to His plan.

There are also chapters on intercessory prayer, a helpful exposition on the basis for believers' authority, and many practical guidelines on how to seek God's plan for a city or a nation, with particular emphasis on Ireland. Even if it were just for those aspects, it's a worthwhile read.

If you're interested in ethnic reconciliation and want to understand more clearly, what you're up against, definitely, get this book.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Subtitled: Humanity Can't Be Trusted

It's classical science fiction. I read it in 1969 when I was about 13 years old, but re-reading it now, I realise how much of it was away over my head. Not only has my head changed since then, but so have the times. Yet, the message comes out very clear in a way that only became popular later on: Humanity can't be trusted.

Robert Fairlie is an expert in languages, ancient and modern. He has been asked to help with a project for what he thought was the Smithsonian Institution. Instead, on disembarking at the air terminal, he's picked up and driven to a top secret facility in the New Mexico desert.

I suppose you guessed it -- it's a pre-Neil Armstrong we've-landed-on-the-moon story. On the moon, they made a shocking discovery: someone's been there already. Thousands of years ago, actually. There are the ruins of what was a space port and evidence that it was destroyed in an attack. Enough relics are found to enable scientists to recreate one of their space ships, but no one understands how they work, or where they're from. There's documentation, but in a totally unknown language. Also, voice recordings that play back on a strange machine they happened to find in one piece. That's why Robert Fairlie and other linguists were drafted.

Deciphering a language with no known references is nearly impossible. Almost ready to give up, Robert tries one more idea that has been plaguing him. Some of the syntax of the language reminded him of ancient Sumerian. He follows that lead, and sure enough...

The ancient astronauts are the ancestors of humanity -- Earth humanity, that is. Humans didn't start on Earth. What's more, they locate the original planet of humanity. Now able to read the how-to manuals, they get the ship into working order. The bulk of the narrative is the trip to a planet across the galaxy. Of course, Robert Fairlie has to go along, as someone has to talk to the people there.

One question remains, which is why the project seems so urgent. Who destroyed the base on the moon? Who was the enemy even more advanced and high tech than the ancestors of the Sumerians?

Before it became a Hollywood scriptwriter's cliche, Edmond Hamilton characterised DeWitt as the military heavyweight who's going to run roughshod over any obstacle to American interests. Christensen is the more level headed scientist who knows that there are more important things at stake. If it seems like an old and dusty scenario, give him the benefit. It was a much more fresh and daring thing way to express when Edmond Hamilton wrote it in 1960. When I first read it, America was still the good guy, playing the hero in Vietnam, "with God on our side". Military men were always depicted as knights in shining armour. Think John Wayne. Contrary to one of the other reviews I've read on the Amazon review page, it wasn't a tired cliche when Hamilton wrote it.

As it is, Hamilton presented a very well narrated story of human imperialism then and now. Who destroyed the base on the moon? Someone who knew that humanity couldn't be trusted.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Review of Iranaeus' The Proof Of The Apostolic Preaching

Subtitled: Towards a much more simple and basic theology
Find it hard to get your head around Calvinism, Armenianism, Original Sin, Predestination and other focal points of Augustinian theology? Try simplifying things by shifting your focus to much earlier in history -- the time of Irenaeus.

Mind you, St. Augustine was a deserving of the honour of sainthood. His dedication and devotion to God are exemplary, and his testimony of his conversion is a great inspiration. The story of his mother's dedication and unceasing prayer is especially inspiring.

But his Bible teaching....?

St. Augustine lived in the fourth century, was heavily influenced by his Greek style education -- though he never learned the Greek language. In other words, he based his theology on the Latin scriptures (with all their translation errors), and used his Greek style reasoning to interpret it. Many of the doctrines that he passed down to us, we are hard put to find in the writings of earlier Church Fathers.

St. Irenaeus, on the other hand, lived in the second century. He was well versed in the Greek scriptures in their original (or closer to the original) texts, but interpreted it in the Hebraic style rather than Greek. In fact, he was the pupil of St. Polycarp, who was the pupil of St.John.

A great piece of work is St. Irenaeus' THE PROOF OF THE APOSTOLIC PREACHING. He goes systematically through what the early believers had received directly from the Apostles. Free will vs determinism wasn't even a question yet. Original Sin isn't mentioned, nor alluded to. Instead, the emphasis is on death and resurrection. Sin -- or disobedience -- resulted in death. Jesus came to bring life, and the resurrection.

Overall, you'll be edified by a challenge to walk the life of faith, worded in the simple language of the earliest believers.

You can read it for free at www.tertullian.org/fathers/irenaeus_02_proof.htm
Or download a copy here: www.ccel.org/ccel/irenaeus/demonstr.html

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review of John C. Wright's City Beyond Time

Subtitled: Time and Space Gymnastics

John C. Wright is one of the best I know at spinning a yarn out of the fabric of space and time. This is a set of short stories that are all based on universe of Metachronopolis.

Metachronopolis is the city at the end of time. It's where time travellers live, referred to as "time wardens". They're the ones who keep things organised -- well, at least they're supposed to. Like police in many parts of today's world, a lot of them are corrupt and self seeking.

They're not the only ones there. Just about every famous personality in history is also there. The time wardens are capable of showing up an instant before a person's death, and replacing them with a dead clone of themselves. It happens in a split second, so no one sees it happening. In other words, that wasn't John F. Kennedy's body you saw being rushed to the hospital on that momentous day in 1963, but his clone.

In each tale, Wright does a different acrobatic stunt, each with an unexpected twist on time travel. They're all stand alone stories, but the last sort of ties the whole concept together by showing us what it's really all about. A Christian that John Wright is, there's a profound lesson in each one.

A must read...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Review of Sean Sanborn's Rescue: Book one of the Naga Trilogy

Subtitled: Not the Typical Missionary Tale


Link to eBook Edition

I can relate to Chaz, because I was also a missionary's kid, spent time in Chiengmai, have frequented some of the same haunts and can practically taste the various foods as they're mentioned. But that's not why I'm giving this book five stars.

Chaz is 13 years old, lives with his parents and two sisters on the outskirts of Chiengmai at the foot of Doi Suthep, near the university. Many tourists and world travellers will know exactly where I'm talking about. It's the beginning of the summer holidays and they're expecting a team of young people on a mission trip from America.

So far, does this sound like a typical boring missionary tale?

That picture on the cover says otherwise. That's Chaz and his friend, Ashley holding the hands of Katya, the little girl in the middle, running down a street near the Night Bazaar. Chasing them is a European man who has bought the little girl's “services” for the night. On an impulse (maybe it was God's voice?) Chaz had grabbed the little girl and ran.

Not pictured on the front cover is the local Chinese Mafia warlord and his men who don't take lightly to their young prostitutes being snatched away like that.

Katya is a nine-year-old tribal girl. The book opens in the Karin village with her aunt and uncle warning her she must take the canoe and leave, and never come back. A little later, she finds out that the spirit doctor and the other villagers plan to sacrifice her to the Naga who lives in the river. That's the ornate snake-like dragon, whose head appears at the top of the front cover.

What exactly is a Naga? Is it mythological, or is it real? Is it a demonic power? Apparently, the creature will play a part in the story, but we'll have to wait for the sequel.

So, Katya fled to the next village, where a “nice man” offered to take her to the big city to get a job. Chaz and Ashley meet her on the first night of what would have been her new career.

For daring such a thing, the police tell Chaz that he's foolish, rash, and could have got himself and his family killed. But at least this particular policeman is cooperative – not like some I've heard of.

And Chaz's dad, Nick, is not your ordinary dad, even for a missionary. Does he scold Chaz for pulling such a stupid move? Does he ground him for a week, and drill some sense into him, like a responsible parent would have done?

Well?

What would David's dad have done had he known he was going out to fight Goliath? What about Jesus' parents when he stayed behind at the Temple? You get the idea. Nick's response was, “I don’t like how it all happened but I have to agree with Chaz. I think in this instance we did a good thing in helping the girl.”

But the Mafia people aren't happy, and there are consequences. They meet again...

A day or two before that, while sitting in an ice-cream shop, Nick had described to his three kids how to listen to the voice of God. Basically, it's to do with getting away from distractions and hearing “the still small inner voice of God.”

Chaz begins to get the idea. The plot moves onward on the strength of the “still small voice”. Once it leads to the decision to make a trip to Katya's village (which will happen in the sequel). Another time, it saves Chaz's life. To say how would be a spoiler.

There are other aspects to the story as well, for instance, the mission team that's visiting. On the team are various sorts, including Ashley, for whom Chaz develops a crush; and Brandon, the boy with the attitude, who's only on the trip because his parents promised to buy him a motorbike. Things get into a tangle.

Not all the loose ends are tied together. This is only the first in a trilogy. The sequel will be the trip to Katya's village, all because Katya believes that if Jesus is all-powerful, he can defeat the Naga.

I'm looking forward to it...