Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Review of "Evil Eye: Four Novellas of Love Gone Wrong" by Joyce Carol Oates (2013, The Mysterious Press)

In the first of four stories, in this little thriller anthology, one of the characters references an episode of "The Twilight Zone". The story has hints of the supernatural and the reader may begin to suspect the book will a collection of stories that could have been presented on the classic Rod Sterling series. But soon one sees we're not in the twilight zone, but in the world of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents".
In that other classic anthology series, the supernatural was occasionally implied but never really came through. The dangers were be found in the all too human hearts and minds.

As the subtitle of the book indicates, all the stories deal with a twisted love, but that love isn't always romantic. Parental love takes a dark turn as does the love of a child for a parent and even love between siblings.

Oates does a wonderful job at times of sowing curiosity and dread about the characters which pulls the reader along to an often gruesome conclusion. Of course, the content would have kept a couple of the stories off television in the black and white days. "The Execution" has a quite detailed and brutal description of murder. And "The Flatbed" is quite graphic (but not licentious) in sexual detail.

But "Evil Eye" and "So Near...Any Time...Always" would have been quite cheerily introduced by Hitch, the cherubic host, with assurances after the last act that the guilty were caught and all came out well (said to please the censor, but the audience knew it really wasn't so.)

Tales of suspense by one of the world's most celebrated writers that can be read quickly with at turns pleasure, heebie-jeebies, and moral unease.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The World's Greatest Car Game (Hat Tip to J. B. Rudell)

DVD players and portable gaming systems have cut down on the “Are we there yet?”s on long car trips. But many choose the car rather than the plane so that children will see the country and not just video screens. But how to keep our kids interested in what is outside the window?

Certainly, use the alphabet license plate game, along with “I spy with my little eye’. But what has become a favorite on country roads is “Hey Cow!” It is a simple game. If there are cows feeding in a field along the road, slow down, roll down the window and someone calls out, “Hey Cow!”

You then count the number of cows that look up. Everyone in the car takes turn and you total up the upturned heads for a total. I’m sure you can play “Hey Horse!” or even “Hey Dog!” in urban areas. But nothing beats “Hey Cow!”

(And yes, in Mexico, play “Hoy Vaca!”, just so they’ll understand.)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A review of John Piper's book, "The Passion of Jesus Christ" (Crossway Books 2004)

“As parents, we know we would never do anything to harm our children. So we know that God the Father didn’t send His Son Jesus to the cross. But we learn from this that God suffers senseless pain just as we do.”

And with that, a row of pastors collectively jaws dropped. It was Good Friday in Felton, California where traditionally a group of protestant churches gathered to remember Christ’s death. On that day, seven pastors were sharing seven to nine minute sermonettes on the last seven words of Jesus. A new pastor to the San Lorenzo Valley was invited and she was giving her take on, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.”

She argued there was no inherent purpose in Christ’s death on the cross and that it seemed to take God the Father and Jesus by surprise. But the good thing we get out of it was that whenever we suffer on boo-boo, we can know that God feels our pain.

The next pastor up dropped his prepared text and used Scripture to take the previous talk apart. But I’ve been amazed at how many clergy people I’ve come across through the years since then who believe Christ’s death on the cross was some terrible cosmic accident.

I recently read a book on theodicy by a Catholic priest who claimed to love the song “How Great Thou Art” except for that nasty verse three that reads, “And when I think, that God, His son not sparing, sent Him to die”. He argued God would never do such a thing.

John Piper’s “The Passion of Jesus Christ” not only cites Scripture that shows that the crucifixion of Jesus was part of God’s plan, but that it was in fact The Plan of History. Piper then goes on to show fifty different purposes God accomplished through the death of Jesus.

Obviously, many of those purposes will come quickly to mind to anyone who has stayed awake through a communion service in church. Jesus died for our redemption, justification, sanctification and salvation. Piper makes it clear that these are different things and uses God’s Word to show why each of these theological concepts are important and great gifts.

But he also points to unexpected benefits of the Cross such as strengthened marriages and battling racism and many other great things were accomplished at Calvary.

A fairly short book with a powerful message; it would be a great devotional during lent.