Friday, December 9, 2016

Simple Christmas Music

I'm sure it's a sign of my age, but I am getting tired of frantic songs about sleigh bells.  So I hopped over to Amazon and perused some of their classic Christmas albums. I was delighted to discover a few new albums with rich voices and minimal orchestration.

A Hollens Family Christmas by Peter Hollens and Simply Christmas by Leslie Odom, Jr. were pleasant surprises.

Other songs that are simple and beautiful: Sarah Brightman's "Silent Night" (Winter Symphony album), Julie Andrew's entire album devoted to songs about the Christ Child, and Bocelli's "Cantique de Noël." The acapella group Straight, No Chaser is generally rambunctious, but I enjoy their modest renditions of "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."

 

(I tried everything to embed this video, but it would not play in my preview.
Would one of my readers let me know if it plays on the site?)



I got a kick out of an album called Christmas at Downton Abbey, partly because some of the songs were awful (but were thought acceptable since they were sung by people in the cast), but partly because one of the actors (Julian Ovenden) really can sing. Who knew? Some of the choral pieces done by the Choir of Kings College were quite beautiful and Jim Carter reading "The Night Before Christmas" is a real treat.

I'd love further suggestions for meditative and acoustic Christmas albums.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Why Beauty Matters by Roger Scruton

This may be the first and last time that I review a YouTube video, but I couldn't let this one go by without comment.

Honest folks will admit that much that passes for modern art is an assault on the senses, but what has worried me more in recent years is the way that the world is teaching our children to embrace ugliness through their play. Many cartoon characters are distorted human figures. Hideous monster dolls are sold alongside the Barbie dolls. School backpacks are covered in skulls. The princess turns into an ogre in the Shrek films because that's more politically correct.

Where is the beauty? Who will show it to future generations?

Enter Roger Scruton, a British writer and philosopher who has been writing about this subject for forty years. His one hour lecture (6 ten-minute videos) on "Why Beauty Matters" touched on some of my questions and worries.

Although not a Christian, Scruton readily admits that beauty brings us into the presence of the sacred and that our need for beauty is something deep in our nature. He argues that proponents of modern art mock the pursuit of beauty because in a godless world there is no longer a valid definition for it. "Their willful desecration is a denial of love, an attempt to remake the world as though love were no longer a part of it." (He is not talking of sexual or romantic love, but of a purer, higher love. To those of us who are believers, this would be God.) "The chief characteristic of the post-modern world," he says, "is this lack of love. Artists are determined to portray the human world as unlovable."

He makes an articulate appeal for us to return to real art. "The sacred and the beautiful are not rivals. They stand side by side, two doors that open into a single space. And in that space we find our home."

If you have an hour, I highly recommend this lecture. Two related links are Budgeting for Beauty, (at Coffee, Tea, Books and Me) which has nothing to do with physical beauty, but instead recognizes that humans have needs beyond mere survival.  And Matt Capps at Gospel Coalition writes about how the Church has neglected this important topic.

Two books that helped me to think about this subject are: Art for God's Sake by Ryken, and Wisdom and Wonder by Kuyper. Do you have any other books to recommend on the subject?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Technopoly by Neil Postman

This is one of the hardest book reviews I've ever written. I had pages and pages of relevant quotes that I had to keep culling out. They were so helpful and so good that it hurt to cut them away.

Though not as readily accessible as Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman's Technopoly has a lot to add to the discussion of the surrender of culture to technology (the book's subtitle). I expected it to be dry, but found many nuggets of truth that kept me eagerly reading. I skimmed the chapters that were outdated, but those were very few because this book is more about the philosophy rather than the mechanics of technology.

Postman is not a Luddite who disdains all technological advances. But he wants us to be very careful to realize the difference they will make in our lives. "Their gifts are bountiful, but not without cost." He describes America as a Technopoly (the submission of all forms of cultural life to the sovereignty of technique and technology) because of our unquestioning acceptance of all technological advances.

We are currently surrounded with zealous prophets who see only what new technologies can do and are incapable of imagining what they will undo. (p. 5)

How did Technopoly find fertile ground on American soil? Postman gives four interrelated reasons. The American distrust of restraints (our "Anything is possible," can-do mentality), the exploitative genius of technological pioneers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (Morse, Rockefeller Alexander Graham bell, Edison, Ford, etc.), the successes of technology in providing Americans with convenience, comfort, speed, hygiene, and abundance. (Why question it?), and the devaluation of traditional beliefs brought on by a growing faith in science to solve problems. (p. 53-55)

We scoff at Luddites, but fail to see that they are calling us to re-evaluate how various technologies dehumanize us. Postman prefers to call those who abstain from adopting every new technology as "resistance fighters" and points out that their resistance is a thoughtful and careful rebellion in order to preserve that which really matters.

I've been quoting this book non-stop since finishing it three weeks ago. A very worthwhile read.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Book Loot & Book Report

I just returned from a whirlwind visit to the U.S. to visit my mom and my sons, so no book review today. When I wasn't visiting family, I was scouring stores for book bargains for Dan and me, as well as looking for gifts and prizes for a women's retreat I'm leading next week. A good time was had by all.

Some of the titles I bought: 3 Betsy-Tacy novels, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, P.D. James' book on detective fiction, Pen of Flame (about Salvation Army poet/hymn writer, Catherine Baird, and a new Killer Sudoku book. For my husband, I brought Saving Eutychus, The Sky is Not Falling by Chuck Colson, What Works by Cal Thomas, AND the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings.

While traveling I finished Wiersbe's Be Basic (on first 11 books of Genesis). I also read Escape from Colditz, Rescuing Finley, and made it halfway through The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. (I'm not sure what I think about it since I'm reading it in Portuguese and get about 75% of what's going on.)

 I also cringed through Summer's Fury, a Christian Fiction novella that suffers from the usual ills of that genre: unlikable characters, choppy writing and a heroine who "just happened" to know how to set a horribly broken leg even though she is an absolute wimp.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Worthwhile Movie #15 - The Railway Man

I rarely like a movie more than the book on which it is based, but Railway Man is one exception. I read the book a few years ago and felt the conclusion was flimsy.

It tells the story of a young soldier in WWII, tortured by his Japanese captors. After the war he spends many years planning how he will take revenge. But when he finally meets his arch enemy, things turn out quite differently. Yet the motivation for forgiveness is never quite clear.

That's where the film fills in the blanks. The movie invents quite a bit of drama regarding the reconciliation of Lomax and Takeshi, which makes the reconciliation more believable.

I like films that are more cerebral than action-packed and this one does not disappoint. (Although mercifully few, the flashbacks of torture scenes are very violent. Pressing the mute buttons helps me to get through them.) The filming is excellent, the dialogue good, and the acting understated. I've heard mixed reviews on Colin Firth's acting ability, but he plays the silent sufferer to perfection. Nicole Kidman is quite good even though the film makers were unsuccessful in making her look like a plain housewife.

Unbroken, To End All Wars and Jacob De Shazer's personal testimony are more satisfying stories than the one by Lomax, but I highly recommend this film to fans of WWII POW history for it's fine filming, excellent dialogue and redemptive truths.

Friday, November 4, 2016

E-Book Deals for November

Amazon.com has some interesting e-books on sale this month.


Mysteries: Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death (my review here) - $1.99

Classics: Children of Hurín by Tolkien - $1.99, Mary Poppins - $1.99, Honey for a Child's Heart - $2.99

Bios: The Great Good Thing. A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ (reviewed here) and Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story - $1.99

Marriage: Mingling of Souls by Matt Chandler - $2.99, and Sacred Marriage by Thomas - $1.99

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Books I Read in October

October was a great time to finish up three books that I'd been reading for many months: A Year with G.K. Chesterton (reviewed here), Chesterton's perplexing book of poetry, and Amy Carmichael's classic on pain, Gold by Moonlight (reviewed here).

Christian fiction continues to disagree with me: I read (and did not enjoy) 2 CF titles: Roanoke by Hunt, (free) and The Pursuit of Lucy Banning by Newport.

I got a kick out of the 1970's Library Fuzz stories which were a spoof on the detective fiction of the 40s and 50s. (99 cents)

I squeezed in one vintage fiction novel, Who Was the Heir? (1890) and one brief Bible commentary on the book of Esther, Be Committed, which was not my favorite Wiersbe title.

To Kill a Mockingbird was the highlight of the month (maybe the year). Reviewed here.

Looking forward to more reading in November!