The Children Act – Review

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Ian McEwan’s latest book revolves around the world of family law. Fiona is a High Court judge working in the family division. She is constantly ruling on every known issue that could disrupt a family legally. As her marriage crumbles, the life of a Jehovah’s Witness family does as well. This family is fighting for the religious rights of their son who is soon to be 18. The state desires to save his life with a blood transfusion which goes against the teachings of The Watchtower. What follows is a clash of world-views with no clear winner.

Foundations

McEwan’s book presents what appears to be twopposing world-views, yet with closer examination, they differ very little. Fiona clearly believes in law and order. Yet for her, what is right and best is founded on society-imposed ideas that shift as the sands, flowing from one “enlightenment” to the next. She thinks to herself while meeting with Adam, the boy in question,

“As he said this, looking at her directly, with no particular challenge in his voice, she believed him completely; he and his parents, the congregation and the elders knew what was right for them. She felt unpleasantly light-headed, emptied out, all meaning gone. The blasphemous notion came to her that it didn’t much matter either way whether the boy lived or died. Everything would be much the same. Profound sorrow, bitter regret perhaps, fond memories, then life would plunge on and all three would mean less and less as those who loved him aged and died, until they meant nothing at all. Religions, moral systems, her own included, were like peaks in a dense mountain range seen from a far distance, none obviously higher, more important, truer than another. What was to judge?”

Her world-view has started and ended with human thought. And with that as a foundation, the weight of any meaning in life cannot be sustained, all is meaningless.

The most interesting thing that the book does is try to set Fiona’s world-view against a sect of people who claim to know the truth and live by God’s Word. Yet when put to the test, their beliefs are shown to be all about them and the foundation was not God at all. Adam confesses to Fiona later in the book,

“My feelings came out of my religion. I was doing God’s will, and you and all the rest were plain wrong. How could I have got into such a mess without being a Witness…. Oh you know, wanting to suffer, loving the pain and sacrifice, thinking that everyone’s watch and caring and that the whole universe is about you…. That’s when I saw it as an ordinary human thing. Ordinary and good. It wasn’t about God at all. That was just silly. It was like a grown-up had come into a room full of kids who are making each other miserable and said, Come on, stop all the nonsense, it’s teatime!”

When belief is built on anything other than the immutable eternal, it cannot sustain the weight of pain, suffering and glory. Adam’s faith was about him, earning his place and suffering well for the cause as penance for forgiveness and acceptance by others and God. In the end, without a free gift of grace, his faith has no more meaning than Fiona’s.

Meaning

Through their shared experience, Fiona and Adam begin searching for meaning. Fiona asks Adam,

“So you’ve lost your faith”

“…Yes, perhaps. I don’t know. I think I’m frightened of saying it out loud. I don’t know where I am, really. I mean, the thing is, once you take a step back from the Witness, you might as well go all the way. Why replace one tooth fairy with another?”

“Perhaps everyone needs tooth fairies.”

Fiona is on to something. We need meaning in this world. The thought that this is meaningless and oblivion is all that awaits the other side of the pine box leads to nihilistic suicide. Later in the book, Fiona eats a meal with her husband as he pontificates about the bleakness of the human condition and the inconsequential nature of time. As he speaks, she can feel his words weighing on her, causing her to leave the table because of her discomfort. The logical end of her belief system confronts her and sickens her for it’s lack of purpose.

At the end of the book Fiona finds out that Adam’s leukemia has returned and that he refused treatment. She believes strongly that he denied himself treatment as a form of suicide. She thinks,

“Adam came looking for her and she offered nothing in religion’s place, no protection, even though the Act was clear, her paramount consideration was his welfare. How many pages of judgements had she devoted to that term? Welfare, well-being, was social. No child was an island. She though her responsibilities ended at the courtroom walls. But how could they? He came to her, wanting what everyone wanted, and what only free-thinking people, not the supernatural, could give. Meaning.”

The book ends with Fiona lamenting the death of this boy, his loss of hope and her complicitness in his death. The sadness is that the meaning she desires, the meaning that was never truly Adam’s, is the meaning they both need. Meaning can only be given if there is a standard set above us, if there is truth outside us and not dependent on us. Meaning can only come from the eternal perfect, not the temporal fallen. Thank God that there is meaning and hope beyond oblivion.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10 ESV)

Conclusion

Adam keeps chasing Fiona for help and “enlightenment,” but she has nothing else to give. It shows how the offer of shared knowledge (books and new ideas), art (music, etc.), and relationships (his wanting to live with her) can’t always go as far as we want them to, even though that’s often the culture’s prescription to problems. The Children Act is well written and McEwan’s prose sparkles as per usual. The though-provoking nature of this book, along with the lack of sufficient answers to it’s timeless questions make it worth the read.

 

The Clone Wars Legacy

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Fans of The Clone Wars rejoice. StarWars.com has released The Clone Wars Legacy. This new pages celebrates the greatness of The Clone Wars and shares with us unseen treasures from the abandoned seasons as well as the background for the Son of Dathomir comic and the upcoming Dark Disciple novel about Ventress.  It is unfortunate that the series was cut down in what would arguably been it’s best and most important season. But with the release of The Lost Missions on Netflix as well as comics, novels and story reels, The Clone Wars lives on and continues to prove it was one of the best parts of the Star Wars Saga.

Concept art for the Utapau and Dark Disciple arcs.

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Owl Post 9-12-14

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U2′s Songs of Innocence: Familiar But Surprising, Free But Costly

738aa476The biggest surprise of the launch of U2’s new album isn’t the way it was released—it’s how good the songs are.

It has been five long years since No Line On The Horizon, an album with some great moments but one which also revealed a band in artistic decline. In those five years, they knew they were one more misstep away from irrelevance. The reports weren’t hopeful: a new producer here, a scrapped album concept there. They seemed “stuck in a moment that they can’t get out of”, finally crushed under the weight of their own ponderousness.

Apple Watch: To Wear It Like a Man — or a God?

440633-apple-watchTechnology keeps getting more and more personal. First “personal computers,” which sat on your desk, gave way to laptops, which sat in a rather more intimate position. Now laptops are giving way to tablets and phones, which nestle in your hand and slip into your pocket. And early next year, the Apple Watch will wrap around quite a few wrists, which it will tap gently to signal that a friend is calling or a message has arrived.

On Repeat: Why People Watch Movies and Shows Over and Over

190568.1020.AThe millisecond that Dumb and Dumber clicks into focus on the television screen, something magical happens to me. It can be a terrible day, a stressful day, or a sick day, but within seconds of seeing Jim Carrey’s bowl cut, I’m 10 years old again. The number of movies I have once memorized is small (The Lion King, A Few Good Men, and, inexplicably, While You Were Sleeping), but Dumb and Dumber is perhaps the only one where I have reasonably thought, “I could perform this entire film from start to finish, on my own.” On multiple occasions in college, I think I tried.

Why I Love to Read Non-Christian Book

atonementMy practice of reading goes through phases. There are times where I just cannot get enough of the newest Christian books, and there are times where reading yet another Christian book seems almost intolerable. In some seasons I love to read novels, and in some seasons I can’t stand them. I’m sure any committed bibliophile can identify with the ebb and the flow of the literary appetite.

Getting Married Is Not Enough to Fight Sexual Temptation

ring-2If you follow a certain road away from the city center, it will cross the river and lead you to the surrounding mountains. As it rises and falls with the contours of the land, it will pass cow pastures, dilapidated barns, and neat ranch houses built on family land where generations live side-by-side. Near the end of the road you’ll come to a small, brick church that just last year celebrated its 90th anniversary. The congregation is made of folks who have known each other their entire lives. They have attended school together, married together, reared children together, and even today, worship together. The oldest member was also the first to be married at the church back in 1947. Another couple recently celebrated 50 years together — she agreed to marry him one month to the day after he landed a full-time job — and yet another member could tell you about being a bride at 16.

IN WHICH WE ANSWER THE QUESTION: “WHAT CAN STAR TREK FANS DO TO ENCOURAGE CBS TO RELEASE DEEP SPACE NINE ON BLU-RAY?”

8yrv5uThe one question I get probably more than any other these days – outside of “When will the unaltered Star Wars be released on Blu-ray?” – is this: “Will CBS keep releasing remastered Star Trek series on Blu-ray, including Deep Space Nine and Voyager?” I get this question in one form or another at least several times a week. And the answer is simple: Maybe. I’ll explain in a minute. But the second part of the question is often this: “What can I do to convince CBS to remaster Deep Space Nine for Blu-ray?” That I can answer very definitively.

Star Wars: A New Dawn – Review

A_New_Dawn_coverIn June of 1991 Heir to the Empire gave Star Wars fans something they had been craving since 1983, further adventures in the universe George Lucas created. Timothy Zahn’s book kicked off what became known as the Expanded Universe and for over 20 years thrilled, annoyed and satiated the fans desire for more Star Wars. With the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney and the plans for a new trilogy to take place after the events of Return of the Jedi, the expanded universe has been reclassified as the “Legends” line. Bits and pieces of it will influence future projects in the Star Wars universe, but none of what is seen in the Legends line is considered canon. A New Dawn is aptly named as it begins a whole new line of Star Wars tie-in merchandise. From now on, the books, comics, films and games will all work in concert, creating the whole saga.

Path of Destruction

A New Dawn is the prequel to the upcoming Disney show, Star Wars Rebels which introduces the genesis of the rebellion against the Empire. Set 14 years after the events of Revenge of the Sith and 2 years before Rebels, the galaxy is firmly in the grip of the Empire. John Jackson Miller uses his Soviet studies degree to full effect in creating the milieu that exists under the rule of Emperor Palpatine. Citizens are under constant surveillance and their importance is based solely on their usefulness in growing the Empire. Miller is able to weave in the topical issues of wire-tapping and corporate greed well without getting lost in the parallels. This time period feels perfect as the galaxy “obeys the master’s whip.”

The main villain here fits brilliantly. Vidian is a commercial opportunist with a Machiavellian streak rivaling Palpatine himself. He is willing to do what ever it takes to fulfill his desires even if that means destroying a world. He may be more machine than man, bringing to mind Vader, but his mind puts him on par with the most cunning villains Star Wars has had.

Choice of One

The true highlight of the book is the origin story of Kanan and Hera’s relationship. These two will be part of the main cast of Rebels and Miller chronicles what brought them together.

Kanan is a former Jedi who’s master was killed by Order 66. He received Obi-Wan’s message to avoid Coruscant and detection. Therefore he takes on the persona of a drunken rebel-rouser, who’s only goal is to make enough to earn that next drink. Kanan is a man adrift, feeling abandoned by the Force and the galaxy at large, he’s lost any sense of purpose. It’s inspiring to see him slowly learn throughout the book the meaning of being a Jedi, even if he can’t be one in the open. It’s about serving others and the greater good.

Hera on the other hand knows who she is and her mission from the beginning. She’s seen to oppression of the Empire, it’s evils and is looking to do something to challenge that. She understands clearly that change has to begin somewhere, “Ignition leads to reaction leads to detonation.” Miller really captures the spirit of rebellion in Hera. It’s the choices of ordinary people, every day that can make a difference and it starts with one brave soul, willing to stand up for what is right to inspire others. Hera is this person, clearly having that effect on every person she meets in the story, inspiring them to be their best selves for the betterment of others.

Hera and Kanan have the best banter this side of Han and Leia. It will be fascinating to see how the characters evolve as Rebels progresses. Especially in light of what is revealed in the book, that the Jedi ban on romantic relationships is not part of the Jedi Code but an addition to their rules for life later. These are the nuggets that will leave Star Wars fans guessing. Is this a set up for things we will see not only on the new TV show but also the new feature films as well? Only time will tell.

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Conclusion

If you come into this book expecting a new Heir to the Empire you will be disappointed. This is every inch a tie-in novel. It’s boundaries are clear; introduce us to Kanan and Hera as well as the feel of the Rebels era and in that Miller soars. From the moment the book begins it just feels right. The atmosphere utterly represents the dark times, after the Clone Wars, but before the flames of rebellion have begun to spread. The secondary characters of Skelly, Zaluna, Okadiah and Sloane are all worthy additions to the Star Wars pantheon and hopefully will pop up in other novels.

A word of caution to Del Ray, Disney and Lucasfilm. If you are going to have the books, comics and games be canon they need to have weight. People need a reason to read or play, so make the stories important and not just filler. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has suffered with this very issue, so please be careful to not allow this to happen with the these Star Wars properties. The fun of the now Legends line, were the big, galaxy altering events that took place. Just because there are new films or shows does not mean readers and gamers don’t want meat to the stories, something that matters. A New Dawn is a wonderful start to this new era, hopefully all that follows will be just as fun and meaningful to the overall saga of Star Wars. Rated 8 1/2 out of 10 

 

Disclosure: This book was provided by Del Ray as an early review and in no way affects the thoughts or feelings of the reviewer.

Owl Post 8-19-14

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The Problem with Christian Films

gods_not_deadThis past year has been the year of the Christian film. We have seen an explosion of Christian-themed and Christian-produced films, each seemingly more financially successful than the last. In the words of Scott Mendelson, box office analyst for Forbes.com, “I think we can safely say that 2014 is the year that Christian-themed religious pictures officially outnumbered comic book superhero films. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it definitely is a thing.”

Confronting Reality By Reading Fantasy

TheLionWitchWardrobe(1stEd)“If you were in a room full of books,” Lev Grossman writes in his latest novel, The Magician’s Land, “you were at least halfway home.” For Grossman, no books feel more like home than C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, which provide the template for what he likes to read—and how he wants to write. In our conversation for this series, Grossman explained what The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe taught him about fiction, what makes Lewis’s work so radically inventive, and why his own stories must step through the looking glass into fantasy.

Five Principles of the New Sexual Morality

boy_girl_symbolsThe sociologist Mark Regnerus recently published a piece for the Witherington Institute’s Public Discourse, suggesting that support for same-sex marriage in some Christian circles correlates to broader shifts in morality surrounding sexuality and relations. Survey respondents were asked to declare their level of agreement with seven statements relating to the issues of pornography, cohabitation, no-strings-attached sex, the duty of staying in a marriage, extramarital sex, polyamorous relationships, and abortion. The results illustrated pronounced fault lines between those committed to historic Christian stances on sexual morality and supporters of same-sex marriage.

I Quit Liking Things On Facebook for Two Weeks. Here’s How It Changed My View of Humanity

Facebook-Like2On August 1st, I announced that I was going to quit liking things on Facebook. At the time, I simply stated that I no longer wanted to be as active a participant in teaching Facebook how to advertise to me as I had been in the past, but another and much larger issue was my real curiosity: how was my Facebook experience going to change once I stopped feeding its engine with likes?

How To Keep the Spark Alive

sparksWhy do married couples have sex? And how can they ensure that they keep enjoying the sexual relationship throughout their marriage? This weekend I read through a pair of recent studies from the University of Toronto that offer some intriguing, though not shocking answers.

Why We Love to Read

reading-a-bookI have watched the avid outdoorsman, the fisherman, come slowly drifting by. He goes by morning after morning, day after day, always at the same time, always casting into the same locations. He is patiently waiting for the big one, waiting for that hard strike, that long battle that will land him his prize.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Review

guardians-webGuardians of the Galaxy is summer fun at it’s best. Great jokes, action, adventure, explosions and a fantastic soundtrack. This movie will have you cheering and laughing the whole time. Director James Gunn has created an incredible looking film. There may be CGI all over the screen, but you never for a minute don’t believe that everything you are seeing is “real”. This movie proves that CGI can be just as affective as practical, if it is done well. As an aside, this should give everyone hope for the new Star Wars movies, since they both Disney properties.

This is the latest film in the Marvel cinematic universe and you can tell they are a well-oiled machine. They are able to take the strangest ideas and make them work, talking raccoons and trees seem completely normal in the hands of such professionals. What is lacking is real heart. Everything in the movie is choreographed. Much of the movie tells the audience things instead of showing us. By the middle of the movie this band of miscreants goes from enemies to friends, which is said by the characters multiple times; basically, “Isn’t it nice that we’re friends now”. The problem is that the film does not establish enough of a reason for this change.

Another issue is some of the cast. Zoe Saldona lacks any emotional punch as Gamora. There are quite a few times she is telling a story or meant to make the audience feel something and it just falls flat. She perfect when asked to kick someone’s ass but fails when it’s most important for the tender moments. Dave Bautista will have you snickering at his inability to understand metaphors, even if he is also lacking in emotive ability, which is a detriment to his character’s story. Luckily, the rest of the cast is wonderful. Chris Pratt is a star, it’s official. He carries the entire film. Bradley Cooper who voices Rocket the raccoon and Vin Diesel as Groot are as close to Han and Chewie as has been seen in years.

One more criticism. A fun as the movie is, it doesn’t have much to say. It’s cotton candy, good as you taste it, but gone in a flash. It’s a problem with the Marvel line as a whole (Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a fortunate outlier). There is a formula for their team-up films as seen in Avengers and now continued in Guardians. It’s a problem. Marvel may have the corner on fun, but if they want their films to stand the test of time, it would behoove them to give them some gravitas.

Even with all of this, Guardians Of the Galaxy is the most fun you can have at the movies this summer and a spectacle not to be missed.

Owl Post 8-4-14

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Bringing New Toys to Someone Else’s Sandbox

Point_of_Divergence_coverFor those of you who may still be wondering: Yes, the rumors are true. I do indeed write Star Trek novels.

Why? Well, sure, they pay me, but I also do it because it’s just so gosh-darned fun. I’ve been a nerd for Star Trek for as long as I can remember, having grown up in the 1970s and 80s watching reruns of the original series every weekday afternoon. Catching the gazillionth rerun of Captain Kirk fighting Klingons or whatever was the sole exception to my mother’s “homework and chores before TV” rule. To this day, I’m sure she thinks that hour could’ve been better utilized cutting the grass or cleaning our backyard pool.

Bibliotheca: What’s the Point of Making the Bible More Beautiful?

34fb575c62d581abe2984a3a70341386_largeWhen I graduated from high school, my parents gave me a study Bible for a present. It was packed with supplements: book introductions, historical information, a version of Strong’s Concordance, and best of all, hundreds of notes that sought to explain the Bible’s more challenging passages. All of it was intended to make the Bible more accessible.

How I Discovered the Secret Ingredient to Being a Good Man by Watching Doctor Who

rory-cast-a-good-man-570x320I have had a long and fairly wonderful relationship with science fiction and fantasy. The first movie that my mother took me to was Transformers, all the way back in 1986. I was only eight months old, at the time, so my memories of the event are, well, hazy at best. She assures me that we had a great time, though—the two of us and the one lonely old African-American man sharing the theater with us—and up until the age of twelve I thought that God looked like a giant, blue helmet and sounded like Optimus Prime… but that’s probably a story best told at another time. The first movie that I actually remember going to see, consciously, was also science-fiction. It was Star Trek V, granted, but I think I can probably be forgiven for thinking it was awesome. I was, after all, only three years old.

Bring Back the Holy Kiss

ab30fceebf2b93eb_14974775_468e147941“Nobody ever touches me,” a friend recently lamented. I could sympathize. In my 20s, I was in the same situation—unmarried and living far from my parents. As a teacher in a public junior high school even my job was strictly touch-free. Faculty were routinely warned against so much as placing a hand on a student’s shoulder, and once an anonymous co-worker filed a sexual harassment complaint against a single male teacher who sometimes stopped to talk to me on his free period. With no spouse and no nearby relatives, I returned untouched every evening to a quiet room and a stack of papers, often spending several days in a row without so much as a handshake of human contact.

Just One of the Guys?

irJenny Lewis’s latest album, The Voyager, dropped this week, but the video for the single “Just One of the Guys” was already making internet waves due to the inclusion–in drag, no less–of actresses Kristen Stewart, Anne Hathaway, and Brie Larson. I walked away from my four minutes at the screen feeling that Lewis had tapped into something pivotal and subversive about how we see gender.

7 Different Ways to Read a Book

bo6Reading is kind of like repairing a bicycle. Kind of. For too long now my bike has been semi-operational. It has one brake that just doesn’t want to behave and all my attempts to fix it have failed. Why? Well it turns out that I haven’t been using the right tool. To get the bike working I need to use the right tool. And when it comes to reading, well, you’ve got to use the right tool—you’ve got to know what kind of reading to do. Here are seven different kinds of reading.