Friday, November 11, 2016

The Shattered Vigil by Patrick Carr

A REVIEW

I don’t read fantasy. Not for me the aliens and half-man half-beast beings. I want no eggplant suns rising over lemonade seas. Yes, I can take a few hobbits, but some race must resemble human at least in the way humans act and reason. This Patrick Carr novel is one of a very few fantasy novels that I enjoyed completely. The author adeptly weaves a tale replete with blue skies, green trees, and people that look and act like you and I might if we were in the same circumstances. The society feels somewhat medieval with horses for transportation, swords and knives for weapons. But the city looks more like Rome with its classed society, more than medieval towns with a local ruler and farmers and trades people living inside a walled community. However, as in modern times this culture boasts libraries and an efficient means of long distance communication (though restricted mostly to rulers and priests). The novel’s world comprises two major divisions: the Darkwater (an unexplored land of war and legend) and the known world where our protagonist and his friends live and travel. The kings and the four churches vie for the peoples’ allegiance along with another unknown entity. The churches each hold a different view of Aer, their god. The inhabitants of the known world are imbued by Aer, with. . . well it might be well to quote The Exordium of the Liturgy at this point.

The six charisms of Aer are these:

For the body, beauty and craft

For the soul, sum and parts

For the spirit, helps and devotion

 

The nine talents of man are these:

Language, logic, space, rhythm,

motion, nature, self, others, and all

 

The four temperaments of creation are these:

Impulse, passion, observation, and thought

 

Within the charisms of Aer, the talents of man,

and the temperaments imbued in creation

are found understanding and wisdom. Know and learn.

 

The charisms, or gifts, are limited in number. Those people who possess them generally gain wealth. The gifts are highly sought and highly treasured. They are most often handed down within a family, from one person to another, by the laying on of hands. The characters are real, questioning their destinies and their decisions.

Our hero Willet Dura received his gift unexpectedly in the first novel in this series, The Shock of Night. Willet is a former student of the priesthood, a soldier who fought in the land of the Darkwater, who alone among the fighters returned to live in the land of his birth, and to live a somewhat normal life. Willet is a reeve (detective) for the Kingdom of Collum. He examines murder scenes, interviews witnesses, and places guilt. This novel begins after an incident in which Willet acquires a gift, and a battle which changes the course of his life and the lives of others in his community, both described in The Shock of Night, the first novel in this series, which should be read prior to The Shattered Vigil.

What was missing from The Shattered Vigil? I would have liked fuller descriptions of the places in the novel. The author paints his landscapes with a broad brush but I would like a fuller description of the sights, sounds, and odors of the environment. I am thinking of The Lord of the Rings because in some way I was reminded of those books when reading The Shattered Vigil. Where Tolkien described a multi-layer forest, Carr leaves us with a few trees. There are plenty of places where the action can rest and description begin. That is my only quibble. Give me a little more description to go along with the almost breathless non-stop action and political intrigue.

Without telling you anything to destroy your enjoyment of The Shattered Vigil (or The Shock of Night), I can tell you that this novel works on several levels. First, it lets you see that good characters do not always do good, and bad characters can sometimes be life savers. Next, it explores issues that relate to our lives today, issues such as church-state relationships, political maneuvering, the appropriate use of gifts and talents, how evil functions, and others. And this is the type of novel I like: one that makes me consider and reconsider attitudes and perspectives that I may have to adjust. Just what might happen if church and state get too chummy? To what lengths might spiritual gifts be exercised? Is it ever right to do wrong from a good motive? Is it right to do good from a bad motive? What powers should people have over others? Is the right and honorable thing, really the correct action? Are there times when we should be less open and truthful? And it challenges us to consider the wider ramifications of our actions. Could we save a life or change a life for better or worse by our action or inaction?

Finally, The Shattered Vigil leaves you wanting more, needing more. You need more time to ponder the line between the people in the known world and those in Darkwater. Will those in the known world survive? What would it mean to survive? Would they become evil? And what will happen to Willet and his comrades? Will they survive? Or will they succumb to the Darkwater? Is survival even possible with the tools of their enemy arrayed against them? I guess we’ll all have to wait for the next book in the series.

NOTE: While reading the prepublication version of this novel, which was provided for me at no charge solely for purposes of review, I noticed several major errors that should have been corrected. I also logged onto Amazon prior to writing this review and found that the Kindle edition was already being sold. It is my hope that these errors were corrected prior to the Kindle edition being released.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

WHAT IS TRUTH?

Pontious Pilate, sitting as judge, heard Jesus say “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to Way_to_Akiba_secret_areathe truth.” Pilate’s response?  “What is truth?” His response summed up the world of the judge with the words of the jaded, the one who has heard it all, all the lies, the half truths, and so many truthful witnesses giving very different descriptions.  That was in the 1st century A.D.  In the 21st century, the question is still the same: What is truth?  Police detectives ask it, as they sift witness statements and physical evidence.  Each witness may portray a different truth.  Politicians claim to have the truth?  Do they?  We think we know the truth based on our own education and experiences.  Do we?

The truths we see may run contrary to the truths others see, and we assume they are wrong.  But what if they are right, and we are wrong?  What if we both are wrong? Could we be wrong?  What if, like witnesses to an accident, who see a red car, a black car, a dark green car, with a woman driver, a man driver, a man with a mustache and glasses, a man without a mustache or glasses, a passenger, no passenger, a tinted windshield, one with no tint, what if, like those witnesses we see only part of what is true.  What do we really know?  What have we actually observed?  Who knows the truth?

If if we are completely and sincerely honest to the best of our ability we are still going to be caught out someday. Yes, we will be wrong.  So, where is the truth?

Jesus said it.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  If we want to know the truth we must know the One who is the truth.  We can be wise, we can demonstrate our wisdom, but unless we are honest with ourselves all we may be able to say for sure is that we saw a dark car.  We can be sure of only one thing. And if that one thing is truth, it’s the most important thing.  So where do you find your truth?  Is it with yourself, you parents, your classmates, your teachers?  Sure, they will all have some of the truth but which bits are the right ones?  Jesus is the only one who has all the pieces.  He is the one who embodies  truth.  He’s the only completely reliable teacher, and He’s the only one who can teach you the truth, show you the truth, and be the truth in your life.

The Apostle Paul said it well when he said that some want wisdom and some want signs but he would teach only Christ.  If it’s truth you’re after, it’s Jesus.  If it’s life you’re after, it’s Jesus.  If it’s a way you’re after, it’s still Jesus.  There no way, no life, and no truth without Jesus.  And there you have it.

 

Photo By Stéfan Le Dû from Nantes, France [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Landlords and Tenants and their Circumstances

 

EVICTED by Matthew Desmond   

I was drawn to Evicted by my own circumstances. I had made friends with a poor family living about an hour away. We hosted their daughter’s 18th birthday party and invited her to live with us while she attended school. When they were losing their 9780553447439home through financial ignorance (they thought they could pay ahead and then stop paying for a while), I offered to sell them a property which I was preparing to rent—to sell it to them on land contract because they had bad credit: no bank accounts, no credit cards. In the back of my mind I carried the idea that everyone should be given the opportunity to own their own home. After all, isn’t that the American dream? What this family lacked in financial stability, they had in friendship. There was nothing they would not do to help me, going out of the way to find a part for one of my appliances, offering to mow my lawn, not asking for anything at all in return. I believed that I could give them the means to improve their lives financially, to learn how to make regular payments, to gain an asset, and ultimately to qualify for a bank loan.

My assumptions were that someone acquiring ownership in a home would improve the home. I also assumed that a friend would make regular monthly payments and would follow through on everything they promised to do. Both of these assumptions proved false. After about 5 months, the payments stopped. I gave them more time—a few months and then confronted them. They told me about a work injury and hung their heads in shame. I gave them even more time and told them that I would not throw them out because of an unforeseen injury. Now, 20 missed payments later and a trashed house, I must do something, but how can I throw out a mother and three minor children? Even though I no longer trust the mother (who is now divorcing the father), what about the children who have not only lost the stability of a two-parent household but now might lose their friends, their teachers, their coaches, and their school? What might an eviction cost them? It sickened me to think of evicting these children whose birthdays I had celebrated, baseball performances I had cheered, and who had cut and colored my hair. Their mother cleaned my vacation rental in the area and their father performed carpentry and other work for me. I had an entanglement that is far more complex than the ordinary landlord/tenant relationship.

The stress of my decision convinced me to read and review the book Evicted. Maybe it would give me a different perspective. Maybe it would help me understand people who seem so irresponsible and uncaring. Maybe it would help me find other options.

The book was not as I expected from a major publisher. Cheap paper and large print do not create a pleasant reading experience. I only hope that the copy I have is not the final version. However as bad as the paper felt, I quickly forgot it when I encountered the real people within the book, landlords trying to make a living and provide for Milwaukee’s poor and tenants who take measures that seem reasonable only to themselves. This is an ethnography, a book relating a culture through the eyes of the people within it.

EVICTED follows the stores of 2 landlords and several tenants in a poor section of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. One landlord, a former elementary school teacher buys distressed properties and with her husband fixes them well enough to rent to the poorest of the poor. She and her husband work full time on their properties and bring in about $10,000/month. When a tenant fell behind, she said, “I guess I got to stop feeling sorry for these people because nobody is feeling sorry for me. Last time I checked, the [county treasurer, loan officer, electric company] still wanted their money.” My feelings exactly. Doesn’t my tenant realize that I have bills to pay? The other landlord profiled in EVICTED owned a trailer park and had hired a manager and office helper to rent the trailers, handle repairs, and collect rents. This is not part of my experience and as I read about the drug dealers renting in the trailer park, it was as though I was peering into an alternate reality. I simply could not relate to someone whose only interest was achieving the highest return on his property with no concern for the quality of his tenants or his properties, or what extreme measures were taken to collect rent. Still, it was an education to see the lengths to which he went to get cash in hand from a defaulting tenant. The author rented from him and could not even get this landlord to supply him with hot water. That’s my definition of a slumlord.

All of the tenants were low income, but shared little else in common. Most of them were desperate to provide for their children. Some of the tenants were on drugs; others would not touch drugs, and still others were recreational marijuana users. These were people who could not plan for the future, who simply spent each day trying to survive. Those who made paying rent a priority often had little left to live on, and found themselves scrimping on food, medications, and clothing.

And the landlords? One had the time (and money) for week-long island vacations, but found herself scrimping the last week of the month—a week before the rents would roll in. Some landlords would not rent to people of color, people with children, or people who had even a single eviction on their record. Evicted shows us the landlord using self-help means to collect rent: knocking on doors the day welfare checks arrive, showing up at odd hours with hands out, asking for money, going to court and working out a settlement . . . or not, and then the sheriff and moving company walk in, empty the house of all items down to the ice cube trays, leaving a pile at the curb, or in storage where the tenants’ treasured belongings remain in rented storage space until redeemed, or more likely, until rent goes unpaid and the things are sold or discarded.

Landlords get tired—tired of handling evictions, tired of fixing broken plumbing and appliances. Tired of physically knocking on doors to collect rent. Tired of tenants who make empty promises to pay in full when their income tax refund comes in, or from money borrowed from a tapped out relative, or when they receive their welfare check. These promises are recycled in various forms at various times by various tenants trying to stay in their homes. Landlords hear them at the eviction hearing where the tenants try one last time to convince the landlords to give them more time.

The tenants are tired, too, and overwhelmed. Instead of fixing a constantly clogged kitchen sink, they just ignore it, throwing old clothes on the floor to soak up the overflow. They close the kitchen door and do dishes in the bathroom, until that sink clogs. The heat fails and they turn on stove burners. The toilet fails and they go in a bucket and empty it into the trash. The refrigerator fails and they live on McDonalds. When children’s services comes calling, they purchase cheap half-working appliances just to keep their children. Why do they do this? To avoid any contact with the landlord to whom they owe money. And no, this is not the heart of Appalachia, this is Milwaukee, Wisconsin a major metropolitan area.

In Milwaukee, as in every American city, we see families forced to endure sub-standard housing, living in shelters, searching for the elusive “home.” This book isn’t even about home ownership, but about the ability to have a safe and stable housing situation. Ownership is too far away from many people to be even a glimmer in their minds, but a safe and stable living situation is their desired goal. They scramble to find rent by begging, borrowing, and stealing, selling drugs, and even their own bodies. The author allows us to peer into their world and see “solutions” that are not working and the desperate search for housing.

I had never considered the author’s idea, statistically supported, that neighborhoods have a life of their own which can be fragile. We in the “burbs” enfold ourselves in subdivisions where houses and yards look similar and we have our “standards.” But inner city neighborhoods are formed from people who have a common interest. When people remain in a neighborhood and get to know their neighbors, they can band together for the safety of their homes and children. One man in the book was struggling to raise his two teenage sons in a stable environment. He was a double amputee but was unable to obtain Social Security disability payments. He survived on welfare payments, with next to nothing left over after his rent payment. Despite his circumstances, his place was where the neighborhood teenagers would come to hang out in safety, play cards, and talk about growing up. He was a stabilizing influence on his block. When people are shunted in and out of a neighborhood through eviction (or foreclosure) the neighborhoods become unstable and unsafe. Drug users and sellers move in, gangs are formed, and crimes increase. Stable neighborhoods, where people can move in and out freely and are not evicted or otherwise forced out of their homes, are safer and make the entire community safer. The author believes that decent housing should be a basic right afforded to all people for the common good.

The current system is broken. That’s clear. No one can survive in northern winters and no one should have to survive without a safe place to lay their heads. Landlords cannot give away rental property. They should and must make money from their investments. And tenants are not all the same. Some will treat property well and even improve its value. Others will allow their children to run wild, tattooing hardwood doors and trim with ball point pens, tearing doors from their hinges, smashing holes in the drywall. Discouraged tenants live in squalor and disgruntled landlords give up performing more than make-do repairs and just go after the money.

The solution offered by the author, vouchers or rent subsidies, does not currently work because landlords can and do raise the rent above what is customary in the locale simply because the voucher authority sets high rent caps. In many cases, access to vouchers are limited—many poor cannot get them and the program sets standards for the housing which might exceed a landlord’s improvement budget, especially in older homes. The author’s solution would require universal vouchers for every family below a certain income level, less onerous requirements for landlords to accept the vouchers, and a demand that all landlords accept vouchers. But who will fund this? It’s been successful in England and the Netherlands, but those are small countries. Is some legislator in the United States willing to try? Or could there be a better solution?

Something must be done. I’m almost persuaded to leave the rental market due to the stress of broken relationships and a trashed property that I put so much time, energy, and money into making beautiful and up to code. On the other hand, my erstwhile friend and her three children need a safe place to stay. Maybe the electric companies have the right solution. The poor can pay drastically lower utility bills through a program that gives them an incentive to make regular on-time payments. For each payment (at about 10% of income), the remainder of what they would owe each month is forgiven and they have a percentage of their payment applied to past debt. But how many of the poor keep up the utility payments? The utility company has an out. They can turn off their service. Landlords’ only recourse is to convince a defaulting tenant to move or to evict them. And there is no evidence that the utilities have success with their program. If someone will not pay rent for more than a few months, perhaps they will also stop paying for their utilities. Maybe we landlords can come up with something better for tenants who fall behind. I don’t know what that may be, but private solutions are often better than ones provided by the state. Just look at public housing.

This book was provided to me free for an unbiased review. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Want to read more? For current information on the US rental market: http://www.jchs.harvard.edu/americas-rental-housing

Thursday, December 31, 2015

DELIGHTING IN GOD

DELIGHTING IN GOD

By A. W. Tozer

I first stumbled on A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) a few years ago when I was engulfed in a dark night of the soul, a several-year period when I felt completely disconnected from God and P-12desperately searched for some means to get back to a time of sweet communion and freedom. Something about the title of his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, convinced me to read it and I was hooked. It was exactly what I needed and brought light into that dark place. I read it twice, just to absorb it all. It brought my heart to its figurative knees whether I was reading in a waiting room or on my sofa.

Now I am in another not-quite-so-dark place and Delighting in God was billed as a follow-up to The Knowledge of the Holy. Delighting in God’s chapters are short enough to be read devotionally and each begins with a prayer of preparation and ends with a hymn, most from the 18th and 19th centuries. The 18 short chapters may be pondered and stretched into a 3-week devotional. But the book’s own purpose is clearly stated in Chapter 5: “to be faithful to point out” the problems with the evangelical church. And there went any hope I had for an uplifting sequel to The Knowledge of the Holy. However, as I continued to read I found myself both comforted and convicted.

The primary theme of the book is passion for God which we regain by contemplating God in all his aspects, beginning with the basics of how we know Him and why we may have an inadequate perception of Him, followed by expositions His attributes. Tozer also explores our limitations and the problems that occur when we hold a wrong or inadequate perception of God. He explains what it means to our lives to have a proper view God’s transcendence, His perfection, grace, mercy, and goodness.

I have been a Christian for more than 40 years. A new Christian has no problem with passion for God, but as time passes and life becomes difficult we all may come to a place of common humanity where our minds and hearts become skewed, crooked, warped and unable to receive from God. It is at such times that books like The Knowledge of the Holy and Delighting in God come along and untwist our hearts and minds so they are positioned once again to properly appreciate and delight in God.

This book was compiled and edited by James L. Snyder from audio recordings left by Tozer. It certainly does have the feel of an authentic Tozer for that I commend him. I was furnished a copy of Delighting in God free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Word Meanings

Much of the following is from the preface to Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.  Any sentence quoted came from that book. I have been on a Lewis kick, reading and rereading all that he wrote. 

Like Lewis, I want words to have an exact meaning; not just mean what anything thinks they mean. I don’t want them diluted or expanded.   let’s just call a spade a 256px-CSLewisPlaquespade and let a word mean what it was supposed to mean.  Lewis points out in his preface that the world “Gentleman” once meant man who was a landowner.  It had only that one definition.  But people started deciding that “Gentleman” had characteristics other than landownership and they formulated what those characteristics ought to be.  For example, to them, Gentleman meant kind.  So an unkind person was not a Gentleman.  Then Gentleman meant nice, and when it finally resolved, Gentleman meant only a person that the speaker liked.  There already were terms for nice and kind people.  Nice.  Kind.  It was not necessary to dilute the term Gentleman so it meant nothing anymore. 

In the same manner, Christian has been diluted.  “The name Christians was first given at Antioch (Acts 11:26) to ‘the disciples’, to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles.  If we refine or spiritualize “Christian” then the word is no good to anyone.  If we spiritualize it we can say that Christians have no right to determine who is or who is not close to God.  If we refine it, non-believers will call anyone who is good (or bad or bigoted or . . . ) a Christian.   But it is no refinement because we already have words for good, bad, and bigoted.   So the word Christian is ruined because it means nothing or we can go back to the original meaning and say that a Christian is one who accepts the teaching of the Apostles, that is the New Testament.

That leaves it wide open denominationally and all we can really say is that someone is a good Christian, if they live lives worthy of the Apostles’ teaching or a bad Christian if they accept the Apostles’ teaching, but live unworthy lives.

Let’s keep the word Christian to its original meaning.  A clear meaning.  An undiluted meaning.  A good word.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

New Earth or Why I want the Windows Open

 

The TV weather forecaster has been predicting 90 degree days for the past week.  As a result, we have had the windows closed and the air conditioning on.tree for blogger bkgd (768x1024) 

When windows and doors are closed, it’s ethereally quiet.  I don’t hear the crickets, frogs, birds, squirrels, or the wind in the trees.  I don’t hear the automobiles with squealing breaks or trucks’ rumbling engines.  I don’t hear neighbors’ cars starting and pulling away or their children’s voices protesting.  Silence reigns with intermittent thunders of airplanes and helicopters, and the quiet hums from my computer and the refrigerator.  It seems lonely and sad—like death--a body surrounded by glass and timber—coffined--where outside, somewhere, a hostile but desperately desired world awaits.  

This morning, standing at the kitchen sink, which no longer even drips, drips, drips because the faucet is new, I realized that I was being given a foretaste of the new heaven and earth where the Holy One himself will be our light, a light without heat, a temperature fit—as we seem currently unfit to survive hot humid days and cold winter nights--for our perfect enjoyment.  Then the windows will be flung open for us and the sound of birds, crickets, all the animals and insects will meet our ears, far clearer and sweeter than we perceive them now.  The shouts and cries of our neighbors will be music.  Though now we see through dim eyes and clouded glass, then we will see face to face, truly see colors beyond compare, a green bower greener than green, a bluer than blue sky.  Although we cannot perceive it now, save in glimpses from a kitchen sink, our real home, our true abode awaits.  Even so, Come Lord Jesus!

Monday, August 31, 2015

GOING BACK

Abraham_Lincoln_Letter_to_Mr._Brayman_September_23,_1854_-_NARA_-_192847

 

I am a technology freak.  I have an excess of electronic paraphernalia.  I thought these things consumed too much of my life until we took in a young adult roomer.  Between the iPhone and the iPad and Netflix, we barely saw her.  She would come home, disappear in her room and barely emerge to eat or drink.  And then it happened.  Our roomer ran out of money and failed to pay her cell phone bill.  Her service was cut off.  No phone calls, no text, no normal communication with her friends and family.  She fell into a funk.

And now I digress.  I have been reading the voluminous correspondence of C. S. Lewis, some of it mundane, much of it personal, theological, interesting.  At the same time, the former owner of my vacation rental Wren Eagle Retreat sent me a letter about tree falling on a neighbor’s vehicles and his own health problems.  I had emailed him once with a question about the property but he never responded.  Now we are carrying on correspondence as our letters pass back and forth once a week or so.  Other people have received letter from me now that C. S. Lewis has shown me what a letter may be: an insight into daily life (when he wrote to his brother away at war), or a sharing of knowledge and thought.  Although at times I feel like an intruder to his privacy, nonetheless I have made myself his recipient and taken his advice about novels to read and considered ideas he, himself, was pondering.

Now my technological gadgets seem more a distraction than a delight.  I’ll continue reading on my Kindle, but there’s something about the hand pressing into a pen and moving that pen across blank paper to form symbols with meaning.  I can underline, press harder, and write larger all with more ease than doing it on a computer.  And if I misspell, so what?  My recipient will understand. 

And our roomer who no longer has access to phone and text?  She may just have to learn to write letters, address envelopes, and stick on stamps.  Would that be so bad?  Would it be so bad for her to write with thought rather than dashing off a text message?  Would it hurt her to have to live with the tension of waiting for a response for days or a week or not at all?  I have begun turning off my cell phone when I go to bed and not answering it when I am driving or involved in something that takes my entire concentration.   What do you think?  Might it be time to jettison the short text messages, tweets, and Facebook posts.  To restrict ones own phone time—remembering that once there was no phone access to your life when you were not at home or in your office or at a public phone booth.  What have we lost?  What should be regained?

 

 

 

 

Attribution for picture of letter:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abraham_Lincoln_Letter_to_Mr._Brayman_September_23,_1854_-_NARA_-_192847.jpg