Saturday, April 19, 2014

Review: Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holme

Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
Maria Konnikova
ISBN 978-0-14-312434-4
US $16.00
CAN $18.00

Mastermind is psychological self-help book, a study of the mechanics of thinking, and a literary tour of the stories about Sherlock Holmes. Primarily, it is a book on aspects of mindfulness. Sherlock Holmes is a literary character who is well-known in detective culture and he is always praised for his skills at “noticing everything” and “deductive reasoning.” Konnikova shows, however, that those skills do not fully describe Arthur Conan Doyle’s character. In fact thenway Sherlock is described is often reductivist because those who suppose they understand Holmes are often not really understanding the very character they praise. Using scenes from the stories, Konnnikova shows the reader that thinking like Sherlock Holmes requires a much more complicated mental training and awareness. It is not that Sherlock Holmes notices everything but that he understands the importance of what he notices and understands where he has shelved it in his mind.

This book is essentially about gaining insight into how to renew one’s mind by understanding how cultural baggage, personal history and the biological neuroscience of the brain works -- sometimes detrimentally-- to mindfulness.

To explain the art of thinking, Konnikova uses the metaphor of the mind as an attic in which memories are filed away. The metaphor works well. The reader will readily understand that attics contain important and less important memories and that some places in the attic are more accessible than others. There is also the problem of remembering where one has placed certain items -- memory retrieval. But there is much more to learning how to think than how one deals with memories. There is encoding, overconfidence, mindful distraction, the inner storyteller, distancing, probability, appropriateness, adaptability, and observation among other aspects.

Konnikova has written a witty conversational book that explains the mind. It is conversational and accessible but it is not an easy self-help read. There are mental strategies some readers might not wish to try -- for cultural or personal reasons-- and there is the central issue of Sherlock Holmes. Although Sherlock is everywhere in western culture, some readers may not have read the Conan Doyle stories referenced in these pages. They might find the book is not what they expected or they might think the quotations amount to literary analysis. Yet, although the book references and discusses Sherlock Holmes, it can be a good read if a reader is willing. This book would be a good addition to psychology, creative writing, or criminology courses. It is also a good read for those who love Sherlock Holmes or who wish to understand how the brain works.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: Unseen by Jack Graham

Unseen, a nonfiction book written by Jack Graham, the internationally known televangelist is a book that shows the Christian Worldview. The Bible declares that God's ways are not like human ways. This, the book concerns itself with showing the ways of God to man, and in showing Christians how Christians believe the world operates.

It's a perfect book for new Christians or non-Christians. Its doctrine is mainstream, correct, and accessible to all. Most mainstream denominations --with the exception of Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses-- will agree to all its tenets. Roman Catholics might quibble because such Catholic elements such as Purgatory and The Virgin Mary as co-redemptrix are not included. But, for the most part, the book shows the shared theologies of Christianity -- the belief in one invisible God who is uncaused and who caused all things, who works in and with humanity, whose Spirit collaborated with frail holy humans to create the Bible, and who sent his only perfect Son, Jesus Christ to reconcile mankind to God.

The book tells about Angels, Heaven, Hell, and the power of God. It is a good book, well written but also, curiously, "unnecessary" or even "old." It says nothing new. Neither does it say the old truths in a new way. Often many Christians do not read old Christian writers so perhaps it is a good thing for Christians to write a new book every few years to explain theology to new Christians. But for believers who have read their Bibles, there really is nothing new written in or spoken of or seen in Unseen...and the sections where one reads about the Christian view of salvation through Christ does make the reader wonder whom this book is written for.

Yet it is a good book and will no doubt bless many. I recommend this book.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Review: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
by Sun-Mi Hwang
$15.00 US, $16.00 CAN, ISBN: 978-0-14-312320-0, 134 pages

It is no wonder the book The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly became an instant Korean classic and decade-long bestseller when it was first published in 2000.It is philosophical without being preachy, heartfelt without being maudlin or sentimental, challenging without being arrogant or insulting.

Its 133 pages has a simple plot: Sprout, an egg-laying hen cooped up and past her prime — and suffering from an existential depression because of her childlessness– longs to have a child. It is an improbable wish, of course. Sprout is caged and only one rooster resides on the farm, a rooster who is happily mated. But wishes often come true if fate and a strong will are present.

After a series of life-threatening incidents brought about by the humans and animals on the farm’s pecking-order, Sprout becomes a mother. But even then, she has emotional and natural challenges to contend with.

The heroine (who has no name but the name she gives herself) could be a protagonist in a story on slavery, status and restrictions, infertility, adoption, cross-cultural families, committing to a dream, or even animal rights. But while all these are present, the story is much more than all these. That is the power of a fable.

As is also common in a fable, the vocabulary is accessible and the story is universal. The setting is a farm but not specifically a Korean farm. Although the story is about an isolated female and her wish for even one child, it can speak to old and young and to anyone who has ever longed to do what he thinks he/she was born to do. The story is about greatness of soul, perseverance, parental sacrifice, belonging and purpose. And it is also about fulfillment and accomplishing a dream in spite of the odds.

The line-drawing illustrations give the book a childlike feel but the story itself has such strong imagery, children will be able to “see” the story unfold before their eyes. However like all great children books — Charlotte’s Web, for instance– this novel transcends its genre. Highly, highly recommended.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Review: Moving Your invisible Boundaries: Heart Physics: The Key to Limitless Living

Many Christian books are written about trusting God and His promises. These are God centered and their purpose is to tell the Christian that God is worthy of trust. There are also self-help Christian books which are concerned with behavior modification and helping the Christian to change. This book concerns itself with the human heart, the place where God's promises must rest and the place in which God's grace engenders change.
It is about understanding what has affected one's heart and prevented God's spirit and God's words from changing the believer.

The Bible often writes about the heart, stating in many verses that human life comes from the heart. In the book of proverbs, the reader is told, "Guard your heart with all diligence for out of it comes the issues of life." In addition, Scripture often uses the idea of the fallow ground as a symbol of the heart, and seeds as God's word in the heart. The parable of the Sower in the New Testament is one such example, and the parable in Isaiah 28:23-29

However, legalism as well as humanity's fear of God and habit of trusting its own righteousness has affected the power of God's words and God's grace. This book is a manual on how to recognize and allow God to remove the images and emotional pains that have affected one's heart. In so doing, the seed of God's word is enabled to move freely in one's life.

This is not a new teaching but it is an indepth one that needs to be taught in every generation in the language of all generations. Many theologians --for instance the 19th century pastor William Griffith Thomas in his book, The Prayers of St Paul-- have spoken about loving God, accepting God's righteousness, and about faith in the heart. I feel the need to mention this because many Christians will assume this is a new-fangled teaching and sometimes one has to show that a teaching has been around for a long time and is truly Scriptural.

Although this book is clear and Biblical, it is a book that has to be read rather than described because many Christians will hear certain words and immediately think they understand the book. This is a book that truly describes the gospel.
Highly recommended. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Review: And There was Light

And there was Light
Jacques Lusseyran
New World Library
ISBN 978-60868-269-0

Some books should not be read with other books. Or the other book will not compare favorably. Some books remind the reader of why books are read in the first place  - because they open the eyes and heart to new worlds that the reader had never dreamed of. Some books remove the cap from our head, and open the top of our skulls. “And There was Light” is such a book -- at least in the first section. But for some, it might be the second section. It depends.

This is because “And There was Light”  is divided into three sections. This is a subtle division, of course, because one’s life is generally not laid out in clearly demarcated lines. But the autobiographical relating of Jacques Lusseyran’s life does fall neatly into three sections.

The first is about his blindness, the second about his work in the Resistance, the third about his time in a prison camp and release. A book with three such disparate sections will elicit different reactions depending on the writer’s heart and interests. The first, about the author’s blindness and subsequent discovery of a different way of seeing, is spiritual, philosophical, almost rhapsodic in its depiction of the greater inner light that guided him and helped him to see. The almost mystical feel of the narrative would affirm truth to those who are acquainted with the magical in life. It is energizing, amazing, spiritual truth, yet to the more rigid-minded whose ideas of life are rooted in mundane ideas of how the world “really operates” this section might seem poetic at best and deluded at worst.

The second section -- that in which Lusseyran describes the work of the Resistance and his part in it-- reads at first like a story about young boys pretending to be important. This is true especially if the reader does not understand the work of the French Resistance during the Nazi Occupation. But as one reads -- and puts aside the idea that these young teenagers are merely playing at war-- one sees the importance of the work they carried out. Those who live in countries which have never known life under the occupation of a foreign power will begin to understand the great work of the French Resistance.  Lovers of war history will like this and the last section although some readers may be hard put to make it through the first section.

The third section details the author’s imprisonment. Throughout the book, the author is of course blind. But he is not imprisoned by his blindness. His blindness does not shrink his life or impinge on him but turns out to be freeing. Still there were moments when blindness affected his optimism. The first was when the fascist Vichy government declared that blind people could not teach. The second was when he was imprisoned. But none of these challenges affected Lusseyran’s natural optimism, an optimism which was based on his trust in God’s love and pity.

One of the most harrowing experiences in the book concerns the author’s meeting with a blind despondent child whose parents had not understood the different way of “seeing” and had effectively shut down the emergence of the child’s other senses. Seeing the child, Lusseyran is horrified at what his own life had been if his parents had not challenged the accepted norms of educating the blind or the accepted human idea of physical reality.

Spiritual books open the world of spirit to  those who are willing to see it. The world of spirit is readily understood by those whose minds are rooted in the earthly way of seeing. When Lusseyran speaks of living light, or the morality of sound, some Christians and New Agers may understand. Those who understand Quantum Physics might understand. But others might be skeptical, confused, or dumfounded. No matter. Lovers of memoir will find the entire narrative majestic and heroic. The author speaks of the great things he did and yet the story is humble. The humility stems from his love of God, his adoration of his parents, and his admiration of his friends. The memoir has the feel of a classic, which it is ...being named as one of the top 100 Christian books of the 20th century. Powerful insightful commentary and insights stream across the narrative beautifully, effortlessly, and casually. Yet the verbal stylings are so joyful and rhapsodic that they echo older classic writings.  

This book is highly recommended, especially for those who feel they need the need to have their mind renewed, to those who work with or are disabled, to those with a spiritual bent, and to history buffs.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Review: Miracles by Tim Stafford

A book is like a horse one hitches one's wagon to. In order to enjoy it, one has to totally trust in that horse. By the time I reached page 199 of Tim Stafford's Miracles, I wanted to unhitch my wagon. Miracles is the kind of book that talks about Miracles yet uses "only those Biblical passages everyone reads" one would expect from a Senior Writer for Christianity Today, has written a book about miracles.

Although Stafford writes as one who is a "journalist" he doesn't include much of the primary document -- The Bible. He certainly doesn't include those verses that might challenge his take. This is what is bothersome: an author thinking he is being fair when he is biased, at worse or Biblically-ignorant at best.

Stafford is trying to be honest.
A good
thing, because many Christian books often strike some readers as dishonest for various reasons. So, honesty in a book about skepticism and faith, is to be lauded. But when an author writes a book on healing that focuses more on human experience, denominationalism, and human reasoning without adequately balancing it with the Bible, then iffy human-experience-based theology is what results. Not that Christians should go about not using their minds, but God's ways -- and His Mind-- are higher than mere human minds, observations, and conclusions. Jesus warned his disciple Peter about looking at John's life. Paul warns his readers to  look to Jesus and to the Scriptures as well. The experience of human life is not to be the basis for any theology and the "this is what I have seen and understood about miracles" ways of discussing theology is problematical at best.

Paul has many letters in his epistles, many of which are prayers that the readers (or hearers) in the churches have wisdom and revelation. Tim Stafford should have prayed those prayers prayerfully before he wrote this book.

There are many things wrong with this book. But I will only state a few.

On page 199, he writes: "God is the master of everything that happens." One is tempted to ask: "WHAT?" John the Evangelist writes that "we know all the world is under the power of the evil one." But Stafford seems to believe the popular cultural sayings "There's a reason for everything" or "God's in charge of everything" or "God is sovereign."  Not that we should blame everything on the devil but many things are not under God's control: human sin, human doubt, human actions being just a few.

Admittedly, this is what most people believe, but that a journalist would state such an untheological common truism shows a Calvinist bias.

There are other aspects of healing which he could have discussed.

One of the largest fallacy in the book is the false dichotomy it presents between "human faith versus God's sovereign will." By setting up this dichotomy, God is made to seem "mysterious" (allowing people to be afflicted for some great unknown good.) Thus Christians who believe God desires healing in all things are made to appear as if they are blaming innocent sick people for lack of faith. Not that miracles come by human work alone. In the Bible miracles comes by love, by faith, by community, by persevereance, by repentance, by know-how. And sometimes it comes by God's sovereign will. But John states that God is light and in Him is no confusion at all.

There are also questionable assumptions. Stafford states, "The Bible doesn't tell how to do miracles." But Jesus taught the disciples --even Judas Iscariot-- how to heal the sick and cast out devils. Peter and John healed the blind man by saying, "Such as I have I give you." The Great Commission seems to imply that all Christians have the power to heal the sick when the gospel --not legalism-- is being preached. From what I see Jesus told people to command if they believe. Plain and simple. This book subtly blames God by calling God mysterious. It never says -- as far as I can see-- that the church needs to understand more about healing or that the church is simply not doing things the way God told us to. After all, few Christians actually pray for the sick the way God has told us to pray.

Stafford also doesn't address the possibility that human illness is often the battleground of the cosmological war between God and the devil, and that miracles are a sign that Jesus has conquered evil and has commanded His church to continue to prove His victory. Stafford doesn't mention the devil at all. Jesus said, "The devil comes to kill, steal, and destroy. I came that you might have life." Jesus stated, "The Prince of this world is judged." If the darkness is past and the true light shines, the kingdom of God is still against sickness.
But most importantly, He creates a God who is vastly different from Jesus. While Jesus healed all who came to Him --and a few who didn't-- the God Stafford creates is mysterious and unpredictable. An easy answer to a predicament, and the easy answer for Christian believer-skeptics. It would be much more difficult to say God is generally predictable but I have not researched this matter enough to understand why miracles don't happen more consistently.

It is best to read books that promote a faith rather than those which engender confusion under the guise of journalism. And it is best to read one's Bible and ask for Holy Spirit wisdom to understand than to lean on one's own understanding and experience.  Jesuc Christ warned His followers to take heed how they hear.

Unfortunately, Stafford has not researched modern healing miracles as much as he should have and the examples he gives mostly fall into a certain camp of Pentecostalism. For those needing to build their faith, reading this book is like finding someone has poisoned one's Gatorade during a race. Not recommended. Better books than Miracles have been written. A J Gordon's The Ministry of Healing for instance is much more comprehensive about church history, the Bible, the missionary field, etc. (Here is Gordon's on Amazon.)  Also, Divine Healing by Andrew Murray, and The Gospel of Healing by A.B. Simpson. These are old books, written by true researchers whose insight were helped by the Holy Spirit. While Stafford wanted to write of his own experiences, somewhere along the line distinctions got blurred. The book stops being about his experience and his own spiritual journey and becomes a  "This is what I have seen therefore this is what is true because I am a journalist and I know what's true" treatise. Unfortunate because other books about miracles have been written by Christian nurses and doctors, people who see God's miracles daily. Stafford should have read those books before venturing into his own pitiful entry.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review: Juicing, Fasting, and Detoxing for Life

Juicing, Fasting, and Detoxing for life: Unleash the Healing Power of Fresh Juices and Cleansing Diets  Revised and Updated
by Cherie Calbom MS, CN with John Calbom, MA
Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Some books give readers hope; some books go further and save lives or purport to do so. Every page of this book breathes passion. The introduction is a memoir of healing and the crisis that created the need for healing. That healing turned into a mission in which the Calboms attempt to bring healing to the lives of others.

The chapters are Introduction, The Secrets of Vibrant Health, Juicing for Life, Juice Fasting for Life, Detoxing for Life, Intestinal Cleansing for Vibrant Health, Liver, Gallbladder, and Kidney Cleansing, More Detox Programs, Mental and Emotional Cleansing, The A-Z Guide to the Nutrient Content of Foods, Recipes for Fasting and Detoxing, Resources Guide, References, Acknowledgments, Index.

Interestingly, considering its title, this book contains more information than juicing information, although juicing is its primary focus. The title and the table of contents do not convey the wealth of information about general detoxing. This book has chapters dealing with such issues as parasites, GMO-foods, massages, toxic emotions, vitamins, and heavy metals. But it is primarily a book on the power of juices, especially raw juices. It’s as if everything that has ever been written on healthful living has been collected into one handy, non-judgmental, and passionately hopeful book.

The writing is clear and conversational. There are charts galore and scattered notes on all aspects of wholesome eating and foods.

Heartily recommend this book. If one wants one book on healthful eating, this is the one book to buy.