I wrote a new post!

It's true... but not here.

I have joined a friend of mine and we are posting on http://church24hr.com. I just posted about wisdom and the heart. Check it out.

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I’m in a podcast!

My friends Nick and Chris (of Bringing up Bobby fame) called me recently asking for input about some research they were doing on tithing. After a brief chat and some catching up they asked if I would be on their podcast. It was just posted on there website http://glowingnose.com in their post about The Love of Money. Check it out! With all their brilliant editing and arrangements I actually sound okay - if I do say so myself.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I read this book on a recommendation. Allow me to add to that endorsement: I enjoyed it thoroughly.

The premise of the book is simple: our lives, our character and actions, are imprinted on our visage as we age. This book considers what might happen to a person if this were not true.

The story is told of Dorian Gray, a beautiful, innocent youth who is the favorite sitter for a burgeoning painter. After his picture is complete Dorian bemoans the beautiful face in the painting knowing that his own beauty will fade while the likeness in the picture will stay young and perfect forever. In a twist the painted portrait begins to show the wear of life while Dorian remains unchanged. Of course, I have revealed nothing of the plot as this is merely the setup.

This story reflects on the shallowness of human nature. First on the propensity of a man to indulge himself in every form of evil when consequences are removed, and second on the fact that society is so quick to accept and believe anyone with a pure face. The slow descent of Dorian from purity to terrible evil is well told and thought provoking. Throughout the book he is guided by his mentor who enjoys turning morality, religion, and societal norms on their heads. He sounds very much like people today who see freedom as the only virtue worth guarding. In this way the book was surprisingly current.

This book considered the nature of the soul and its relation to the body. It is not merely our deeds but our character that is revealed in our face, according to Mr. Wilde. The blackness (or innocence) of our heart is projected through our eyes and the contours of our face. We cannot hide who we are from the sensitive observer. Ultimately everyone will be exposed for who they are, no matter how hard they try to hide it.

I heard that they were turning (have turned) this book into a movie. I will be impressed if they can paint a portrait with the same subtleties and effect. I'm not hopeful, but every now and then movies can surprise and delight. Either way, don't let the fact that this book has been given Hollywood attention dissuade you from giving it a read.

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The Three Musketeers

The Three Musketeers by Dumas

The Three Musketeers by Dumas

The Three Musketeers by Dumas started off great; a young man with a chip on his shoulder dreams of becoming one of the king's musketeers. Lucky for him, short-tempers were in fashion. One by one he meets the Three Musketeers and separately offends them so deeply each challenges our young hero to a duel to the death. Through a series of events he wins their affection and loyalty. Without a doubt the first 100 pages of this book were some of the funniest I have ever read. Of course, with an author like Dumas 100 pages in means you're just getting started. Little did I know what I was getting into.

I read a book about writing stories once which suggested that you start at the beginning, then write your conclusion, and then figure out what in the world you're going to do to fill in all those extra pages in the middle. I think Dumas might have read the same book. This book seriously dragged in the middle, but amazingly it ends as good as it begins. My favorite scene involved the villain who had been locked in a prison by her brother-in-law convincing a Puritan prison guard to set her free and then kill her enemy. No easy task. It took Dumas over 10 chapters to do it. 10 chapters in a prison cell with an evil genius, used to getting her way through seduction, trying to figure out how to control a man immune to her wiles. And she does! Convincingly so. Brilliant writing... it made the entire book worth it.

To say that the middle dragged is not entirely accurate. In fact, most of the book was very entertaining and surprising; it just suffered from the high hopes generated by its opening pages. Reflecting on the story now I genuinely enjoyed the entire work; it just took 300 pages for me to get over how my initial disappointment, that's all.

Before reading the Three Musketeers I had heard that Dumas' readers often wonder if he has any idea where he's going with the story. This book was no exception. That's part of what made the middle so difficult. You think you know who the villain is, then he disappears. Then a new villain comes on the scene, but he is untouchable by any of the Musketeers, and it is clear that that's not going to change. Finally, a person you thought was completely inconsequential is slowly (slowwwwly) shown to be the corrupter of all that is good and pleasing. This made the book frustrating. I couldn't figure out who to hate. Once the villain is finally revealed, however, nothing is left but pure vitriolic delight.

This book is light historical fiction. It is set in the historical world with caricatures of major figures blending fact with fiction to ridicule some and honor the genius of others; but mostly to ridicule. I imagine for his contemporaries it is something like when Gerald Ford was portrayed in the Pink Panther movies and a buffoon who cared more about the scores of football games than then destruction of civilization. No doubt there were several layers of humor along these lines that could have made the arduous middle more of a delight. Perhaps when I have mastered the nuances of French history I will give it another go.

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Unabridged: Les Misérables

Les Miserables

Les Misérables

Les Misérables is a story written by the French novelist Victor Hugo in 1862. It is set in the years following the French Revolution, and details the story of a released convict from the day of his release until his death. It is a tale of redemption, justice, politics, history, and love. The reason I note in the title that I read the "Unabridged" version is not to tout my sense of accomplishment at completing such a massive work (though there may be a little of that,) but so that those who have read the shorter version or seen the play will not wonder why I touch on themes and ideas they don't remember from their interaction with the story.

The story begins with a lengthy section about a devout priest who practiced in a remote village in France. Hugo goes through great lengths to explore his piety and humility so when the main character comes on the scene we are not surprised by his radical personal change. This portion of the book, completely though necessarily ignored in the abridged versions, was perhaps the most touching and devastating of the entire work. Touching because Hugo captured in this priest the life and love of a man imitating Christ with all his being. It was devastating for the same reason. He exposes both the fragility and incomprehensible power of a virtuous life in this lovely character; a character responsible for all the joy and heartache that takes place in the story once he is off the scene, though he participates in none of it. All of the change and constancy that takes place in every character can be traced back to this single man and the life he lived, though he is barely fit for mention in the versions most read today.

All the same, I do not think I would recommend the unabridged version to anyone, unless they had a special interest in either French history, or the history of the sewage system in Paris: he writes voluminously about each. About every three or four sections (out of 48) the reader finds a lengthy hiatus in the story exploring a particular battle, the language of street urchins, or the peculiar way an isolated group of royalists choose to speak about the latest revolutions going around. I went into this work looking for understanding about the French Revolution; I got that and a whole lot more. If the reader does not bear a similar interest I recommend the abridged version.

Enough people are familiar with the story that I will not detail it here. I will just offer a simple reaction: this book may have ruined reading for me forever, it's that good. Where can I go to read something of this quality again? Hugo wrote at a peculiar time in history when political and social philosophy was at a zenith and yet Christianity, while heavily critiqued and criticized, was still seen to have inestimable value. There is no dark underbelly to this story castigating religion in its entirety placing it upon the same dunghill as alchemy and superstition; there are no subtle (and ignorant) jabs suggesting that one day science and reason will lead us to the perfect society. Hugo inspects both the good and the bad of the Christian faith and finds much more gold than dross.

Two chapters, the two longest chapters in the book, I believe, were devoted to introspection by two of the chief characters when they had to make a life changing decision. In these chapters the characters find their systems challenged to the utmost, and each is tempted to abandon his course. In the first instance the Christian virtue of self-sacrifice is put to the test. Never before have I read such a penetrating and revealing account of the inner workings of a human soul when temptation is at its worst. Hugo demonstrates with elegance the axiom that only the virtuous truly understand the nature of evil, for in resisting they must face all its wiles, trickery, and cunning. The man who gives in knows not the strength of his opponent as the one who fights to the death. In the second instance a loyal ward of the state discovers that human law is unfit to answer all the questions of justice. In this the reader perceives the beauty of the law of Christ and the inadequacy of the laws of men as the first man overcomes his temptation and the second gives in. The story alone is enough to make the heart sing, but these two chapters challenged my mind and imagination to see anew the glory of faithfulness and humility, of true Christian love, compared to all human virtue.

Volumes more could be written about this work but I will refrain. This story has deeply affected me. I would love to hear how it has affected you.

Posted in Literature | 2 Comments

Stranded in Denver

The only reason I'm in Denver is to get to Chicago. I was on the plane to O'hare, the luggage was getting packed onto the plane, when a disconcerting beep begins to play over the loudspeaker. The captain comes on to reassure us. "A sensor is down, things don't look good. They said they're going to try to fix it by 2:00... that's not going to happen. Don't rush off the plane yet. I'll tell you when it's official."Just what I wanted to hear from my captain.

The amazing thing, no moaning. I expected a sudden outcry complete with gnashing teeth. I expected an enraged public to massacre the flight crew and storm the luggage bins. In fact, everyone stayed calm. I think the quiet acceptance had something to do with the solidarity of the moment. There was no unfairness here. We all have places to be, and right now. A lowsy situation stuck us all; there's no need to make it worse my moaning. It's almost enough to make you feel okay being human.

So now I've got three hours to spend in an airport. Luckily, it's a nice airport. I have a quiet location, more or less, to plug in my laptop and sit on a chair and compose. When I'm hungry, I have a bounty of adequate and nearly-adequate food choices. I'm on a business trip which means expenses are paid. Within reason. Using my ipod, complete with all the books I could ever want, I can send text messages and emails so the important parties are informed of my whereabouts. Who needs a cell phone. Bah!

Airports are funny because they are like a giant mall with one exception, no one wants to be here. Everyone here is just waiting to be somewhere else. There are plenty of fine stores, resturants, and wild people to watch, and yet, it just doesn't have that jazzy mall feel. It's like they have invented a way to make us shop while we wait in line. Yes, it's just like that. Airports are those isles of useless goods in the checkout line at the grocery store trying to seduce the kid in you (or your actual kid) to reach out and buy some gum you didn't intend to purchase. And a candybar. And, oooh, I didn't know Brangelina met up with Jennifer A. this week, I'll have to check up on that. While I'm at it I might as well catch up on my biblical prophesy. The only real difference is that rad voice reminding you to watch your step before the moving floor comes to a sudden stop. I'm still waiting to see someone fall flat on their face.

Posted in Life | 5 Comments

Eats, Shoots and Leaves

Eats, Shoots and Leaves

Eats, Shoots and Leaves

I love British writing. While I can't say the same for music, their authors are top notch. Perhaps it's only because we get the best of their work sent over here, but I think it's more than that. Even the British classics from the past 200 years are better than our American classics. I love how they flaunt it in this book, "The #1 British Bestseller". Who cares if it hit #1 on the New York Times? This book sold to the people who know what reading and writing is all about.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves is a satire about grammar. By the time you're finished you either want to become a grammar Nazi yourself, or at least ensure that they never break down the door of your house or store to correct a poorly punctuated sign. The author suggests a violent revolution is the only way to fix our grammar impaired culture, and she's quite convincing. It may be the first cause I've ever believed in strong enough to actually consider taking up arms.

In this book Lynne Truss offers a brief history of each punctuation mark and a few examples of improper and proper usage. The humor is of that distinctly British flavor that no American has yet to master. You can almost hear the derisive accent through the pages, and you love every minute of it.

Only a master of punctuation can write with genuine humor. Humor in writing takes profound subtlety, and punctuation is the key. Truss elaborates on the subtle differences between words that are placed "in quotes" and words that are italicized, and even shows why the semicolon shouldn't go out of style. By mastering the nuances of every form of print and punctuation a good writer can play a finely tuned piece able to take a reader anywhere thought and expression can go. This book was not only humorous but inspirational. Highly recommended.

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Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

Ivanhoe was written by Sir Walter Scott in 1819. It is set in 12th century England when king Richard was returning from the crusades and prince John was attempting to usurp his throne. Ivanhoe is perhaps the best knight that served under Richard in their attempts to win back the Promised Land.

I almost didn't make it through this one. Scott opens every scene with a superfluity of detail near excessive enough to thwart even my most valiant attempts to endure this work. Couple that with his propensity towards arduous language (words like superfluity) and the fight was near to great for this brave knight. But hail, the foe is vanquished. If in patience you attend to my discourse I will distribute the spoils forthwith.

Ivanhoe is historical fiction. Scott shows his mastery of the time through his knowledge of people, places, customs, prejudices, clothes and even language. If his descriptive language was not difficult enough, all the dialog in the book is written in old English, complete with thees, thous, and thuss, that took quite an adjustment on my part.

By chapter 4 I nearly gave up. Until this point the story was boring, I had no sense where it was headed, and the title character had yet to be introduced. Today they tell you stories should start off with a bang. A conversation between a swine herder and a jester with no context besides the excessive detail about their clothes and personal affects was hardly the bang I was looking for. I don't say this to dissuade you from this book, but to prepare the reader for a difficult beginning.

By the time I came to terms with his writing and dialog the story picked up. Ivanhoe is story about knights and damsels in distress, concealed identities, battles, and a nation ill at ease with its own identity. It has the tenor of a fantasy novel without all the magic and dwarfs and hobbits. Notwithstanding, its characters are exceptional; from the bowman Locksley who can hit a switch from 100 paces to the mysterious Black Knight whose power in battle is beyond renown. Scott's interweaving of history with the legends of the time is masterful and well worth it.

Occasionally a book has a scene that fully exploits and demonstrates the power of the written word over other media. I recall one such scene in Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities where a fight broke out between two woman that was so masterfully portrayed it could not be done justice in film. This book, too, had one such moment; in this case between a Jewish girl and a Templar knight. In his attempt to rape her she threatens to cast herself from the castle wall. She then expounds on the true meaning of virtue. The knight cannot help but change in her presence. To say more would spoil the work, but rarely is virtue so eloquently described while showing its insurmountable power against those who are without. There is mighty strength in purity and honest virtue, strength we often forget in our attempts to justify ourselves against a licentious world. Scott understood this power well and nobly embodied it in the form of the weak Jewish beauty who conquered the passions of the Templar knight.

Highly recommended for the stout of heart.

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Web Design Business

Freshly Brewed Web Design

Freshly Brewed Web Design

After long deliberation I have decided to start a web design business. I have been making websites for pay since this summer and the experience has been positive for me and my customers, so I have decided to expand. You can check out my main site for this venture at http://fbwebd.com. The site is only recently completed so I am open to suggestions for improvement. I numberswiki.com

will be using this page as a hub for the business as well as a place to catalog my web development ideas. I currently have but one post that is about getting a coverflow plugin working as a portfolio. Techincal, boring stuff, but helpful for people building sites like I am (and helpful for reminding me how I got certain things working).

If you know of anyone who needs a new site or who has a site that needs a face lift feel free to send them my way.

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Rethinking Reading and The Darksword I

The Darksword Trilogy: Volume 1

The Darksword Trilogy: Volume 1

I recently decided that my reading was a bit haphazard. After completing a list of must-read of books I was left to my own devices trying to discover profitable reading material from the vast storehouse of literature. That was frustrating, to say the least. Too much to read, no context to appreciate what I was reading. After a few attempts I decided to limit myself to a particular era and supplement my reading with history, philosophy and poetry from the same era. After contemplating this for all of two minutes I settled on the French Revolution. History has always been a murky subject for me, but this was the fog among the murkiness; I couldn't make heads or tails of this event. Couple that with its enormous influence on the rest of European history, my ignorance of this era left me feeling historically inadequate; a feeling, I'm sure you agree, that is quite despicable and disheartening.

Sadly, there is no standard list of "books you must read to understand the French Revolution." Consequently, for now, I have limited myself to books written between 1770 and 1820. Happily, I have found this era full of great works that are not too ancient to be difficult to read or understand. On the side, I began reading a book on European history to give me a context for this literature. Most of this historical material I have read before for my coursework, but it is much more engaging when I don't have to read 100 pages a day for an assignment.

To the book at hand: Clearly The Darksword Trilogy is not from the 18th century. For some time now I have considered writing a fantasy novel. I have a robust pre-history that is ever expanding, a wonderful set of characters (in my opinion) and a basic plot for at least one book. One problem. I almost never read fantasy. I love Lewis and Tolkien more info

but I have yet to enjoy other fantasy authors, not that I have tried all that hard. Discerning this weakness my friend Steve Fitz. has taken it upon himself to recommend fantasy novels for me to read for my education in the subject. He has gone through great travail, at my behest, procuring a wide range of authors and styles for me to read to give me an understanding of the genre and its readers. As I did not want to be overcome by this pursuit, I have committed to read 1 fantasy book for every 3 literary novels I consume. (Steve, for his part, has allowed me to recommend 1 piece of literature for every 3 of his books he reads. Lord of the Flies is the first for him.)  Forging the Darksword was my first in this pact.

As I doubt many of my readers will be interested in this particular work I will make my comments brief. The writing was mediocre. The author's use of metaphors reminded me of Max Payne. Remember those great one-liners? "The night was cold, cold like a gun." In this book every breeze, bush, and bucket of water was personified, which became very grating over time. All the dialogue was broken up with enumerable details of body position, facial contortions, lip licking, breathing style and sweat rate. Come on! Just let the people talk for once! That being said, the story was decent, and the characters, while not believable in the least, were fun. I did learn a lot about conduits, life magic, and the differences between warlocks, mages, druids, and sorcerers. All important information.

The true frusteration of this book was that the author resolved almost nothing in the end. The climax was the death of a relatively minor villan with no change in situation for any of the major characters. If I enjoyed the book this would entice me to read on, but as it stands I doubt I will pick up any more of this author's books anytime soon, if ever.

Posted in Literature | 13 Comments