Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: Korean documentary -- My Love, Do Not Cross That River

This powerful documentary is not for everyone. Its slow languid tender pace is not only beautiful but it is a death-watch of sorts. We know from the beginning scene that one of the main persons --in this case, the husband Kang Kye-yeol-- in this documentary is going to die.

It is the ending story of married couple Jo Byeong-man and Kang Kye-yeol who have been married for 76 years ever since they met when he was 19 and she was 14. It has been said that if one really loves one's spouse one must be prepared to let that spouse die before one's own death. In that way, the survivng spouse won't have to deal with the horrible loss. Most marriages do not last for 76 years. So one can imagine how harrowing it must be for an 89 year old woman who has loved and known her husband since she was a child.

Korea is good at these intimate documentaries of the human condition. The filmmaker Jin Mo-young filmed the couple through joyful and intimate moments and the viewer wonders about how the fimmaker managed to be afforded this privacy for 15 months. Throughout the 90 minute fim, we see the everyday activity of two people who have lived and loved each other, and who have seen the death of children and the indifference of one particular son. The film will definitely bring you to tears. Not to be missed, especially by romantics who aim to love and live long.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review: Rain -- A Natural and Cultural History

 Rain: A Natural and Cultural History 

by Cynthia Barnett 

Hardcover: 368 pages

Publisher: Crown (April 21, 2015)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0804137099

ISBN-13: 978-0804137096

If you're someone who loves non-fiction, especially informational non-fiction about natural phenomenon, you will love this book. 

It's a great solid, beautiful, thoroughly-researched book. And I do mean "thoroughly-reserched." The author writes about Rain in all its forms, function, manifestations, causes, effects, power, powerlessness, cultural, historical forms. Seriously, there is the cinematic power of rain. There is evolution and rain. There is cosmology and rain. There is literature and rain. There is religion and rain. There is geography and rain. There is history and rain.  Rain has changed history, destroyed kingdoms, been responsible for great literature and great films. 

It deals with rain as a chemical, mathematical, biological, nutritional, artistic, and powerful entity.  I seriously cannot tell you how well-researched this book is. But in addition to that, this is one beautifully-written book. 

As a Christian I really liked the discussion of Earth's evolution and rain. Not that the author is a Christian. (There are a few moments when I got antsy with some typical dismissive anti-religion sentences but overall, she was pretty respectful.) But the way Barnett descrbes how rain affected Earth's formation, it reminded me of the Genesis Creation account where Earth is described as having a watery firmament around it. The description of the effect of a great flood also reminded me of the story of Noah's flood where water came up from inside the earth. 

Again, this is not a religious book. But the author does make one see how wonderful and magical and powerful rain is. 

I received this book for free in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Review: NIV Zondervan Study Bible

Review: NIV Zondervan Study Bible
D A Carson, General Editor

 The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is a new study Bible which uses the NIV translation and which is structured in the following manner:
 Quick Start Guide
 Table of Contents which is divided into the following sections:
 Each book of the Bible and its location
 List of Articles
 Abbreviations and Transliterations
 Editorial Team
 Editor's Preface
 The Bible
 Weights and Measures

 The Bible proper is introduced with Chronological maps for both testaments and each Bible book is preceded by an Introduction which generally describes the author and place of the book's composition, the date of the book, the genre to which the book belongs, the style, content, and challenges of the book and the purpose for which it was written. Canonicity, Themes, and Theology of the books are also summarized. Some book introductions have more than these topics, some less. At the end of the Introduction, there is an outline of events in the Bible book.

 Each page of the Bible takes up about --on average-- 50% of the page with verse-by verse commentary taking up the bottom half of the page. Verse cross-references are in tiny columns on the upper right edge of the pages.Illustrations are found throughout. Sub-chapter sections have summary headings that are printed in green. Corresponding Bible stories are listed under each topic heading.

 The Articles in the Study Bible begin after the book of Revelations and are very good for the most part. Some writers write more accessibly than others. There are two or three women contributors, but for the most part the writers are men. The writers are also primarily European and from mainstream seminaries, denominations and theologies.

 Unlike many Bible studies where verse-by-verse commentaries focus more on the spiritual application, exegesis, and meaning of a verse, the study portion of the Study Bible seems to have been written for story or reading comprehension. Historical backgrounds, insights into motivations and actions of Biblical characters as well as analyses of ramifications and consequences are shown for verses, individually or collectively. Most of the explanations are historical and spiritual. And again, there is a feeling of someone beside you telling you what is literally going on in each verse. There are moments, however, when certain cultural biases or ignorance creep in, sometimes at the cost of truth. (This is often the reason why Study Bibles can be detrimental. Because human opinion is placed beside God's word, careless readers will incorporate the assumptions and biases of the Study Bible's editors and writers. )

 For instance, a writer states in the commentary on Daniel 1:8-16:
 "...this refusal of the royal diet has NOTHING to do with keeping kosher, avoiding political connections, or refusing food offered to idols; rather, they are giving God room to work. Their healthy appearance at the end of the chapter is the result not of diet but of God's grace." (The capitalization is my own.) But why does the writer use "NOTHING"? "Nothing" is a big word. In assessing anything, it is often best to edge one bets and not generalize too much.
 and Daniel 1: 13-14:
 "A diet of vegetables and water rather than the royal food and wine would naturally make the four men look worse." NATURALLY? Based on what?

 The commentator even states that Daniel not eating the king's choice food was only temporary and cites Daniel 10:3 as proof that Daniel later ate the king's food. But "choice food" is not the same as the king's choice food. And one can eat choice food according to the Torah without it being choice food from the king's table..even if one returns to meat-eating. Seems like a big leap to me.
 Reading such a line makes the reader wonder if this is someone out to defend the meat diet. Is the writer speaking against vegetarianism? Has he had some run-in with a Seventh Day Adventist or some person who took the Daniel Fast to the extreme? Additionally, the writer's parochial American notion of what is healthy also causes him to dismiss the possibility of Daniel being healthy without meat. Not to mention he goes so far as to deny Daniel is actually keeping the diet prescribed by the law. The writer has a good point; God is the ultimate keeper of one's health. But in attempting to show this truth, he goes overboard. "NOTHING to do with keeping kosher?" I think this is a big leap.
I found myself thinking: Did this man in one commentary on a verse totally dismiss Daniel's allegiance to the Kosher diet? What about the verse where Daniel decided he would not defile himself with the king's meat?

 This kind of questionable opining is everywhere in this study Bible.
 For instance, the description of what a spiritual mystery is in the commentary on  1 Corinthians 14:2 reads as follows: "Because nobody understands the language [when someone is speaking in tongues] what is being said is a mystery."

 The writer is saying that Paul says speaking in tongues is a spiritual mystery because no one understands what is being said. The writer is wrong, I think. Certainly the word "mystery" turns up in other Bible books. "Great is the Mystery of our faith" is mentioned in Phillipians for instance. And as used in the Bible, "mystery" doesn't mean simply not understanding anything, much less a language spoken in tongues. And here, the author doesn't use the Bible to define the Bible. He doesn't use mystery as it is not defined in other Biblical Scripture. Why not? For me, and for many other commentators in other Bible commentaries, "someone who is speaking mysteries in an unknown language" would still be speaking mysteries in known language. It is not the lack of comprehension of the language that makes the mystery. It is the deep truth itself, a truth that is so high and unattainable to mere human reasoning. But why did the reviewer write his weak explanation? Is he simply unaware of the general meaning of the verse? Or is he trying to downplay the power of speaking in tongues. One gets the unsettled feeling that some of the writers of this Bible Study don't read the Bible much. Or that they are not writing so much to explain the Bible but are writing to lead the reader to their own denominations.

For the most part, though, it's a good Bible. The analyses are very insightful and helpful OR sometimes just plain obvious to a longtime Bible reader. Or sometimes --on rare occasions-- downright questionable. Although nothing in this Study Bible will cause anyone to stray from theological truth, it's best if the reader of Study Bibles use two or three Study Bibles --from different denominations-- instead of just one. It is not a bad book. It is even a good and helpful book but it could be better.

 The font used for Scripture is thin and perhaps should've been heavier but it is still readable. This book was sent to me free of charge in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: Exploring Christian Theology Vol 2: Creation, Fall, and Salvation

Exploring Christian Theology Vol 2: Creation, Fall, and Salvation  
Nathan D Holsteen & Michael J Svigel, Editors
Bethany House

The editors of Exploring Christian Theology Vol 2: Creation, Fall, and Salvation are affiliated with Dallas Theological Seminary.

This book is written for mainstream Christians who want to understand the historic battles and debates that have occurred among Christian theologians. The writers are
concerned with showing the many shades and permutations of Christian theology throughout the ages. Because of this, there are clarifications which might help the reader understand if he/she has subtly veered from the right theological path.  It might also be good for atheists who want to understand what Christianity really says and not what popular theology says it is. Roman Catholics may not agree with some of the author's conclusions. Sects such as Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists might also disagree with some conclusions but all groups will probably agree on the historical facts. This book also shows the various pitfalls and wrong near-miss theologies that Christians can fall into without quite knowing it.

For some people, theology is a head game. For others, knowledge of true Christian traditiona beliefs is a matter of life and death. It is possible that many people have changed denominations because the doctrine of one denomiation -- whether true or false-- suited their itching ears or aching hearts better. Indeed, Christians who hated doctrines -- such as hell, eternal punishment, etc-- have created whole doctrines in order to have their Christianity and their own emotional peace as well.

The importance of Christian theology to daily life is first seen in the first sections where the various philosophies on the origin of the soul is presented. Many Christians have wondered, "When is the soul created?" Perhaps they lost a child to abortion or miscarriage and wanted to understand.

The editors and writers are clearly educated but they make an effort to make Christian theology accessible, although there are some chapters which might be difficult for pastors and teachers who do not have good reading comprehension skills.

The book is divided into the following sections:

The Christian Story in Four Acts
Part One: From Dust to Dust
Part Two: Wise Unto Salvation
These two parts are further divided into chapters entitled: High Altitude Survey, Passages to Master, Humanity and Sin in Retrospect, Facts to Never Forget, Dangers to Avoid, Principles to Put into Practice, Voices from the Past and Present, Shelf Space: Recommendations for your Library. These chapters are also then divided into subsections.
The book ends with a very large glossary of Christian theological terms

There are scripture memory boxes, charts of ideas, and footnotes at the end of each chapter.

In addition to their own words, the authors have also compiled quotes from famous theologians throughout the ages such as Aquinas, Wesley, Pascal, Jonathan Edwards, Whitefield, Augustine, Martin Luther, and of course Calvin among many others.  This is mostly in the section entitled Voices from the Past to the Present athough the book contains quotes throughout.

The book also speaks of salvation and shows the way of salvation throughout. Highly recommended.

This book was sent to me free of charge by Bethany Publishers in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Review: New International Reader's Version NIrV Study Bible for kids

New International Reader's Version
NIrV Study Bible for kids

  • Age Range: 6 - 10 years
  • Hardcover: 1792 pages
  • Publisher: Zonderkidz (June 30, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0310744032
  • ISBN-13: 978-0310744030

  • This new kids' Study Bible is quite good. It's not perfect, and some readers will probably compare it with the venerated King James Version. But, for people who are not native English Speakers, especially children and those who have studied English as a Second Language, this will be an easy accessible read.

    There are two main differences between the NIrV and Bibles for adult readers and native speakers. The first and main difference is how verses are broken down. Those of us who regularly read the Bible have gotten used to sentences that are run-on sentences or often one long clause after another linked together by commas, dashes, hyphens, and semi-colons. This version fixes all that. For the most part, most of the semi-colons and commas have been changed to periods. This sometimes makes the Bible a bit clunky and sometimes there is a tiny bit of paraphrasing (or repetition of the obvious) but the verses become clearer. So there are many Bible verses which are no longer made of one sentence but of two or three.

    For instance, instead of "A time to be born, a time to die" (KJV), there is now "There is a time to be born. And there's a time to die." The Bible doesn't feel bloated however.

    The other main differences is in vocabulary. This change is somewhat iffy at times. Again, from Ecclesiastes.
    "That doesn't have any meaning either. In fact, it's a very bad deal." Ecc. 4:8    

    Most of the vocabulary changes are not so trendy-hipster sounding and the book reads well. But there are a few moments when a reader will miss the majesty of certain verses or will cringe at what seems like banal-phrasing. Kids, of course, will not be bothered by that.

    Other issues with the vocabulary occur when some spiritual meaning seems lost. John 3:16 no longer states, "His only begotten son" but states "His one and only son." Some people might not like this change; after all, Scripture later states that all who are in Christ are children of God. In another example, there are changes from "the lepers worshiped Jesus" to "the lepers kneeled before Jesus."

    There are also some moments when it seems some words should have been changed to accomodate younger children.

    The cover is a hard-cover. There are several illustrations which are used to depict some larger spiritual truth. The typical information one finds in the Bible are present here as well, but they are written for children. So, for instance, the section which lists the books of the Bible is illustrated as books on a bookshelf.

    Highly Recommended. I received this book free in exchange for a honest review.

    Tuesday, May 19, 2015

    Mama Maggie by Marty Makary and Ellen Vaughn

    Mama Maggie
    by Marty Makary and Ellen Vaughn
    Thomas Nelson
    ISBN: 978-0-7180-2203-7

    I like books that tell me about other ethnic cultures, especially about the struggles of Christians in other cultures. If the story involves hardship in anyway, then I'm totally going to love it. When one considers all the books published by American Christian publishers, there are relatively few books for the general public that explores Christians in other cultures.

    Within the past ten months, I've reviewed books on Vietnamese refugee Christians, and one about a young Christian woman who started an orphanage in Haiti. This time around the book is about the religious and social suffering that Coptic Christians in Egypt have endured.

    Christians of all faiths will probably like this book. It's an inspirational story about a Christian doing good in this world. And the world is full of Christians doing good things that many people are unaware of. In this case, it's about Maggie Gobran, Egypt's Garbage Slums, the daily martyrdom Arab Christians endure, and inspiration.

    The writers really give a good historical background of these slums and why many Coptic christians from the countryside --many of whom don't really understand their faith-- have ended up living in such poverty. This is where the book shines.

    The book is about the work of Maggie Gobran, a woman who was rich and educated and who gave it a up to (wear all white) and work among the poor Copts in an Egypt slum. In vignette after vignette and chapter after chapter, we see how difficult the lives of young children in the slums were and how much Mama Maggie, the "Mother Theresa of Cairo," has improved their lives and their self-esteem. No wonder she was a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.  

    I mentioned the wearing of the white because I feel it's important. Christians in other cultures are not like western Christians and I suspect the wearing of white is a good external image, especially in the Middle East where Islam and Christianity are so obsessed with the Virgin Mary and with female purity. If a woman is going to do good in such a culture, I don't think it's a bad thing to wear white. White nun-like flowing robes are iconic and the power of the iconic in such a culture -- and among many uneducated people-- is powerful. I could only think of God telling John the Baptist to wear the outfit of a prophet.

    I really liked this book. Sometimes we Christians in the west cannot even conceive of what sufferings other Christians are enduring.  I will say though that I had a few struggles getting past the actual cover and writing style of this book.

    The full title of this book is Mama Maggie: The Untold Story of One Woman's Mission to Love the Forgotten Children of Egypt's Garbage Slums
    by New York Times Best-Selling Authors Marty Makary and Ellen Vaughn

    A round pseudo seal appears on the cover which states The Authorized Biography of Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Maggie Gobran.

    The book is published by Thomas Nelson.

    That's one unwieldy title, isn't it? Seriously, book covers like this tend to turn me off because I tend to dislike the way that Christian publishers promote books. Simply looking at the cover makes me think of several things:

    1) The best-selling authors were hand-picked by the publishing house because they are best-selling authors.
    2) Why does a book need two authors? To erase all personality from the writing and to make the book fit into the same exact mold of all Christian memoirs and biographies?
    3) Is there an un-authorized biography coming around soon?
    4) Mama Maggie was a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee? Who is Maggie Gobran and Why don't I keep track of Nobel Prize Nominees anymore?
    5) I didn't know there were Forgotten Children in Egypt's Garbage Slums. I should've known shouldn't I?
    6) Why is this woman wearing white with a big cross around her neck? Is she a nun?
    7) How am I going to make it through what promises to be a very very very overy-reverential book?
    8) If I, a Christian, is cynical about the presentation of this book, how would a non-Christian cynic feel about it.

    Yes, it is I, Carole the cynic, reviewing yet another modern Christian memoir. And you can imagine what it's like reading this book after pushing past all those questions.

    It's a good book, though. Of course it's reverential to an almost canonizing degree. Maggie Gobran is praised by these two writers in amost every line so that even when they try to humanize her she hardly sounds human at all. But here is a case where my feelings about the writing has to be divided from my feelings about the object of the writing.

    True, Maggie is saintly and is to be praised for all the wonderful programs and organiations (such as Stephen's Children's) that she created. But the continual praise the writers throw at her can be off-putting for some readers.

    I received this book for free in return for a fair and honest review.

    Saturday, April 25, 2015

    Review: Just Add Watercolor

    JUST ADD WATERCOLOR-  Inspiration & Painting Techniques From
    Contemporary Artists
    by Helen Birch

    Watson-Guptill Publications
    ISBN 978-60774-757-4

            A handy, colorful instruction book that uses contemporary art to
    illustrate watercolor tricks and techniques. Each technique is
    demonstrated in a spread, with the art on the right and the technique
    that the artist used described on the left.  Instead of the usual
    table of contents, there is a "visual index" which reproduces a square
    from each painting, with the page number in the lower right  of the
            The examples are not strictly reserved to watercolor; other
    categories include digital, mixed media, other water-based media, and
    non-paper media. There is a brief chapter in the back called
    "Watercolor fundamentals" that deals with materials, media & terms.
            Some of the artists and the techniques they demonstrate are Eleonora
    Marton, (painting in monochrome), Leah Goren (bold and unusual
    colors), Madara    Lukjanovica (glazed landscape), Charlene Liu
    (stenciling), Simona Dimitri  (creating color shift), Sasha Prood
    (creating movement), Peggy Wolf (painting from photographs),  Hornung
    (creating a stylized painting), Marcus Oakley (using primary colors),
    Kasia Breska (using "found" materials), Paul Bailey (mixing watercolor
    and acrylic), and Jennifer Davis (painting on wood).
            The book is 7.5 x 5.5 in, making it easy to carry and refer to. The
    artists are well selected for stylistic variety and give a good
    cross-section of approaches to this versatile medium.

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