Wednesday, December 10, 2014

2014: Best Films

Only a few of these films are actually new releases this year--they are just new to me. Though I typically don't see very many movies, I try to make sure that the ones I do see really count. These days, that's not a particularly easy task. At any rate, here is my very subjective list of the best of the year, in no particular order:

1. The Hundred Foot Journey, directed by Lasse Hallström, starring Helen Mirren, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon, and Om Puri

2. Still Mine, directed by Michael McGowan, starring James Cromwell and Geneviève Bujold

3. Haute Cuisine, directed by Christian Vincent, starring Catherine Frot and Jean d'Ormesson (French, English subtitles)

4. My Afternoons with Marguerite, directed by Jean Becker, starring Gérard Depardieu, Gisèle Casadesus, and Sophie Guillemin 
(French, English subtitles)

5. Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Jude Law, Chloe Grace Moret, Sacha Baron Cohen, Richard Griffiths, and Christopher Lee

6. The Book Thief, directed by Brian Percival, starring Geoffrey Rush, Sophie Nélisse, and Emily Watson

7. The Words, directed by Lee Sternthal and Brian Klugman, starring Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, and Dennis Quaid

8. Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, directed by Peter Jackson, starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood and Andy Serkis.

9. Quiet Bliss, directed by Edoardo Winspeare, starring Celeste Cascara, Laura Licchetta, Anna Boccadamo, and Barbara de Matteis (Italian, English subtitles)

10. Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes, starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Naomie Harris, and Javier Bardem

11. Chef, directed by Jon Favreau, starring Jon Favreau, Dustin Hoffman, Sofía Vergara, John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johansson, and Robert Downey, Jr.

Monday, December 8, 2014

2014: Best Non-Fiction

Here is my very subjective list of the best non-fiction books I was able to read in 2014, ranked here in no particular order:

1. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief by John Frame (P&R) This is a massive, magisterial work that sets traditional, orthodox, Reformed systematics within the compass of Frame's triperspectival and trinitarian didactae. It is eloquent and cogent. But, it is also invigoratingly inspirational.

2. From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, and Pastoral Perspective edited by David and Jonathan Gibson (Crossway) With contributions from J.I. Packer, Sinclair Ferguson, John Piper, Michael Haykin, Alec Motyer, and a host of other pastors and theologians, this fat collection of essays ably unpacks one of the most difficult questions surrounding Reformed soteriology.

3. The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen by Sinclair Ferguson (Reformation Trust) This latest volume in the Long Line of Godly Men series from Ligonier is, not surprisingly, the best yet. Dr. Ferguson makes the life, work, and legacy of Owen, one of the titans of the faith, fresh and lively for a whole new generation.

4. God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth by G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim (IVP) This is a very practical and pastoral distillation of the much-larger and more-academic work by Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission. For all kinds of reasons, I love this book even more than the original--and I was wowed by the original.

5. A Small Cup of Light: A Drink in the Desert by Ben Palpant (IngramSpark) Adversity, sorrow, disappointment. None of us ever want it. But, all of us will surely face it. Ben Palpant's beautiful book--beautifully conceived and beautifully written--explores the dark profiles of suffering with the glistening light of hope. I am giving dozens of copies of this book away for Christmas.

6. Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery by G.K. Beale and Benjamin Gladd (IVP) This a roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-deep-into-the-marvels sort of book on hermeneutics and Bible study. Like all of Beale's work, it is integrative and inspirational, academic and practical, theoretical and pastoral. In short, it is a marvel of insight.

7. What's Best Next by Matt Perman (Zondervan) The best single book on time-management/self-management/life-management from a Christian perspective I have ever read--and I've read everything I've ever been able to get my hands on. I have had all of my staff read through this--and I am thinking that we may reread it together later this next year. It's that good.

8. How Architecture Works: A Humanist's Toolkit by Witold Rybczynski (FSG) Rybcynski is far and away my favorite writer on the subject of architecture. I have tried to read everything he has written--no mean feat given the fact that he has written voluminously and prodigiously. But, so far every book has been worth it. And his newest, a wonderful survey, is no exception. This book is part history, part sociology, part moral philosophy, and all architecture.

9. Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin (Doubleday) This sequel to the bestselling Happiness Project focuses specifically on habits that build family vision, family cohesion, family harmony, and family happiness. Though not a Christian work in any way, this is a wonderful sort of DIY-simple, nuts-and-bolts-personal, Pinterest-practical approach to healthy, loving homes.

10. Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life by Daniel Klein (Penguin) This very slim volume is part travel adventure, part philosophy inquiry, part bibliophile romance, and part coming-of-old-age memoir. This is a most satisfying slow. lingering read.

11. Confessions of a Young Novelist by Umberto Eco (Harvard) I have to confess that any and every Umberto Eco is irresistible for me. I'm fascinated by his omnivorous medieval mind, his gargantuan renaissance erudition, and his wry modern skepticism. In this collection of talks he waxes eloquent about the process of creative writing at the intersection of probing philosophical inquiry and wildly imaginative creativity.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Will Rogers Election Eleventary

“The short memories of the American voters is what keeps our politicians in office.”

“A fool and his money are soon elected.”

“I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”

"There is only one redeeming thing about this whole election. It will be over at sundown, and let everybody pray that it's not a tie, for we couldn't go through with this thing again.

"If you ever injected truth into politics you have no politics"

"America has the best politicians money can buy."

"Congress is so strange; a man gets up to speak and says nothing, nobody listens, and then everybody disagrees."

"We all joke about Congress but we can't improve on them. Have you noticed that no matter who we elect, he is just as bad as the one he replaces?"

"Never blame a legislative body for not doing something. When they do nothing, they don't hurt anybody. When they do something is when they become dangerous."

"There is something about a Republican that you can only stand him just so long; and on the other hand, there is something about a Democrat that you can't stand him quite that long."

"There's no trick to being a humorist when you have the entire government working for you."

Sunday, July 27, 2014

J.R.R. Tolkien “On Fairy-Stories”

“History often resembles myth, because they are both ultimately of the same stuff.”

“Supernatural is a dangerous and difficult word in any of its senses, looser or stricter. But to fairies it can hardly be applied, unless super is taken merely as a superlative prefix. For it is man who is, in contrast to fairies, supernatural; whereas they are natural, far more natural than he. Such is their doom.”

“The trouble with the real folk of Faerie is that they do not always look like what they are; and they put on the pride and beauty that we would fain wear ourselves.”

“It is usually assumed that children are the natural or the specially appropriate audience for fairy-stories. In describing a fairy-story which they think adults might possibly read for their own entertainment, reviewers frequently indulge in such waggeries as: ‘this book is for children from the ages of six to sixty.’ But I have never yet seen the puff of a new motor-model that began thus: ‘this toy will amuse infants from seventeen to seventy;’ though that to my mind would be much more appropriate. Is there any essential connexion between children and fairy-stories? Is there any call for comment, if an adult reads them for himself? Reads them as tales, that is, not studies them as curios. Adults are allowed to collect and study anything, even old theatre programmes or paper bags.”

“It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the turn comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality. In such stories when the sudden turn comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart's desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.”

“Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured. If they ever get into that state (it would not seem at all impossible), Fantasy will perish, and become Morbid Delusion. For creative Fantasy is founded upon the hard recognition that things are so in the world as it appears under the sun; on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it. So upon logic was founded the nonsense that displays itself in the tales and rhymes of Lewis Carroll. If men really could not distinguish between frogs and men, fairy-stories about frog-kings would not have arisen.”

“The Recovered Thing is not quite the same as the Thing-never-lost. It is often more precious. As Grace, recovered by repentance, is not the same as primitive Innocence, but is not necessarily a poorer or worse state.”

“Art is the human process that produces by the way (it is not its only or ultimate object) Secondary Belief.”

“Although now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not de-throned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned:
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons- 'twas our right
(used or misused). That right has not decayed:
we make still by the law in which we're made.”

“Faërie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons; it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.”

“The consolation of fairy stories, the joy of the happy ending; or more correctly, the good catastrophe, the sudden, joyous turn (for there is no true end to a fairy tale); this joy, which is one of the things that fairy stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially escapist or fugitive. In it's fairy tale or other world setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace, never to be counted on to reoccur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, or sorrow and failure, the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance. It denies, (in the face of much evidence if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

“Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using Escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. just so a Party-spokesman might have labeled departure from the misery of the Fuhrer's or any other Reich and even criticism of it as treachery .... Not only do they confound the escape of the prisoner with the flight of the deserter; but they would seem to prefer the acquiescence of the "quisling" to the resistance of the patriot.”

“Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Spurgeon on Prayer

I know of no better thermometer to your spiritual temperature than this, the measure of the intensity of your prayer.

The ship of prayer may sail through all temptations, doubts and fears, straight up to the throne of God; and though she may be outward bound with only griefs, and groans, and sighs, she shall return freighted with a wealth of blessings!

It is a good rule never to look into the face of a man in the morning till you have looked into the face of God.

It is well said that neglected prayer is the birthplace of all evil.

Methinks every true Christian should be exceedingly earnest in prayer concerning the souls of the ungodly; and when they are so, how abundantly God blesses them and how the church prospers!

Oh, without prayer what are the church's agencies, but the stretching out of a dead man's arm, or the lifting up of the lid of a blind man's eye? Only when the Holy Spirit comes is there any life and force and power.

Prayer girds human weakness with divine strength, turns human folly into heavenly wisdom, and gives to troubled mortals the peace of God. We know not what prayer can do.

Prayer meetings are the throbbing machinery of the church.

Remember, Christ's scholars must study upon their knees.

True prayer is measured by weight, not by length. A single groan before God may have more fullness of prayer in it than a fine oration of great length.

We shall never see much change for the better in our churches in general till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Solzhenitsyn Eleventary

“Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”

“You should rejoice that you're in prison. Here you have time to think about your soul.”

“Freedom or prison--what's the difference? A man must develop unwavering will to live by faith not by sight, regardless of his outward circumstances.”

“You can have eyes and still not see. But a hard life improves vision.”

“Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?”

“That which is called humanism, but what would be more correctly called irreligious anthropocentrism, cannot yield answers to the most essential questions of our life”

“It is here that we see the dawn of hope: for no matter how formidably statist humanism bristles with policies and decrees, with tanks and rockets, no matter what successes it attains in smothering cultural sanity, it is doomed never to vanquish Christianity.”

“The concept of maximum promotion of human rights to the expense of the majority of people in fact undermines the entire concept of the human community.”

“To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he is doing is good or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law. Ideology—that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification. Thanks to ideology, modernity was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions. This cannot be denied, nor passed over, nor suppressed.”

“Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic diseases of modernity.”

“We always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.”

“Freedom! To fill people's mailboxes, eyes, ears and brains with commercial rubbish against their will, television programs that are impossible to watch with a sense of coherence. Freedom! To force information on people, taking no account of their right not to accept it or their right of peace of mind. Freedom! To spit in the eyes and souls of passersby with fashionable nonsense that is little more than perverse decadence. Is this really what has come of freedom?”

“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”

Monday, May 5, 2014

London Eats and Treats

1. Pret a Manger: Charing Cross
2. Nero’s Coffee: St. James Piccadilly 
3. Barbacoa: St. Paul's
4. Wagamama’s: Tower of London
5. Jamie’s Italian: Covent Garden
6. The Eagle: Cambridge
7. The Borough Market: Southwark
8. West Cornwall Pasty: Victoria
9. Nando's Peri-Peri: Brighton
10. Maoz Falafel: Leicester Square
11. Jamie Oliver's Diner Picadilly

Friday, April 11, 2014

Must Read List (Among the Living)

There are only a very few living authors that I find I will try to read everything they write--even if I don't always agree with them. And of course, that is no mean feat given the fact that each of them is so astonishingly prolific:

1. R.C. Sproul
2. John Frame
3. Paul Johnson
4. Umberto Eco
5. Colin Thubron
6. Daniel Silva
7. Tim Powers
8. Jan Karon
9. Douglas Wilson
10. Witold Rybczynski
11. N.T. Wright

Must Read List (Among the Dead)

The list of authors I aspire to read across their entire canon is likewise rather spare. But as is the case with those on my living authors list, that does not necessarily mean that I will be able to achieve the feat—Chesterton, Spurgeon, Kuyper, and Belloc for instance, wrote more than 100 books apiece. But, I am working through the titles.  Thankfully, over the years I have been able to collect virtually all of their books:

1. Thomas Chalmers
2. G.K. Chesterton
3. J.R.R. Tolkien
4. Arthur Quiller-Couch
5. John Buchan
6. C.H. Spurgeon
7. Abraham Kuyper
8. Francis Schaeffer
9. Walter Scott
10. Hilaire Belloc
11. Samuel Johnson

Saturday, March 22, 2014

My Favorite Infidel: H.L. Mencken

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

“Truth would quickly cease to be stranger than fiction, once we got as used to it.”

“There are no dull subjects. There are only dull writers.” “It is the misfortune of humanity that its history is chiefly written by third‑rate men.”

“A good politician is quite as rare as an honest burglar.”

“Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.”

“Congress consists of one-third, more or less, scoundrels; two-thirds, more or less, idiots; and three-thirds, more or less, poltroons.”

“A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in.”

“I am suspicious of all the things that the fashionable mob and the faddish rabble clamors for.”

“Public opinion, in its raw state, gushes out in the immemorial form of the mob's fear.”

“The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.”

“Hooey pleases fools a great deal more than sense.”