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August, Vanity, Desperation, and France

In Long Time Traveling in August on August 31, 2010 at 7:03 PM

The month of August is coming to an end and with it I fear the unsettled feeling that I have had consistently for the last two months. Knowing that I will have a sort of regular schedule for the next four months with the exception of traveling for a week at the end of September when I have a little vacation to England for a week makes me think that perhaps my blog entries will become a little less interesting. No more exciting adventures gallivanting around Europe telling myself, “See everything that you can.” Honestly though, I am so ready for a sense of normalcy in my life and a set schedule for my life. Once I heard that the reason why old people on farms like the grandparents that so many Americans have seem to live for such a long period of time is because of the consistency of their lives. Being out on the farm they have the same schedule every day seven days a week almost 365 days a year. As a result their bodies don’t break down as quickly because their life schedules stay consistent helping the body to find a rhythm that isn’t regularly broken. I think I very much envy this sort of lifestyle.

At Hillsdale I was always so grateful to have a consistent schedule to my week. It simply made life easier knowing that I had things to do at a certain time. It was always a great reminder when I would get sick however, that the obligations that I impose onto myself as a result of my classes are exactly that, self-imposed. If I miss a class the world doesn’t end. Do I pay a certain amount of consequences, of course, but ultimately life goes on. Similarly, I found that while being here in Europe no matter how big of a deal I seem to make things, life goes on. It’s really beautiful when one thinks about it in a Biblical context. Where some people consider the circle of life and the fact that we are all going to die to be cause for despair, desperation, and “living life to its fullest,” I consider it to be one of the most fervent reminders of God’s control over our lives and a reminder to consider why I am here on Earth and for whom I am living. When we begin to think too much of ourselves and make too big of a deal of our problems it is in those moments that we ought to be reminded of how truly small we are.

I recall being on the train in Prague on my way to Pilsen to visit Melissa Stewart when I thought to myself, “I have never once considered in my life a train going from Prague to Pilsen. Hundreds of people take this train every day and we all have different lives, destinations, relationships, and goals for our lives. And yet the train runs 12 times a day with hundreds of different people on it.” But I don’t think any of the people on those trains have ever considered the drive that hundreds of people in Detroit take every afternoon getting stuck in ridiculous amounts of traffic in West 696 at 4pm. But we are all traveling somewhere every day.

It makes me think of God up in heaven looking down to the Earth seeing millions upon millions of people looking and moving straight ahead like ants, but who never take the time to look up. Yet I think it is upon those people who do take the time to look up or as I like to think of it, live in the light of eternity, that God notices and more importantly who notice God and His control and plan for this world. Some people use the expression, “Take time to smell the roses.” They say this to remind people not to take life so quickly and so seriously. A good reminder, but utter vanity if the work they are doing is only for themselves. If they are only smelling the roses to invoke some sort of ethereal or superficial reminder about the natural beauty of life that is also passing away like us, this too will only harden them and leave them depressed. So really what’s the point in stopping to smell the roses unless you are smelling them to remind yourself of God’s grace and His beauty that is made manifest to us through His Creation and His supreme power over the world. That my friends, is not vanity. It is worship!

We have no reason to make ourselves out to be so wonderful, especially considering we are all in the same boat. So some of us are more beautiful than others, so what? Our looks fade away. So some of us are richer than others, so what?  Our money fades away. In the end, we all die and have to face the consequences of our actions in this life, and it’s about more than simply being a good person and not doing anybody any real harm. That doesn’t cut it in God’s eyes. He requires more of us, and honestly this idea of vainly puffing ourselves up and “just trying to figure things out” is really just an excuse for leading lives of silent desperation. While I am here in France I hope to have the chance to read the writings of Blaise Pascal. He has written such wonderful words in terms of the silent desperation that so many people feel in their lives. He argues for the existence of God by referring to those times when we cry out into the dark hoping someone hears us. It is in those times, he says, that our faith comes though and we attest to God’s existence and our need for Him in our lives. I don’t necessarily think it’s a perfect philosophy, but I think he was definitely on to something. There is something within our natures that desperately wants to cry out and yet with all of our might we refrain out of fear from answering its call. But when one is truly honest with one’s self, it becomes very apparent that we are all the same and under the same God who rules us all.

I am looking forward to seeing what I learn while I am here in France outside of simply the language, which is the ultimate goal. But already I learned something very interesting, and yet the conclusion that I reached wasn’t reached by anyone else in the class. In discussing the beginnings of French literature my professor mentioned that Louis XIV built Versailles out of fear of the French Court. It ultimately ended up driving France into bankruptcy and resulted in the French Revolution. But before all of that, Versailles was built and Louis XIV lives there entertaining himself with whatever little money he has left from the sheer cost of building such an amazing palace. Meanwhile, the bourgeois are jealous that Louis XIV has this amazing palace and they have nothing. But because Louis XIV has no more money he can’t do anything else. So the people out of jealousy of Louis XIV’s power decide to build palaces as well all over France to make themselves look like they have power as well. At the same time however, Louis XIV is jealous of the people because they have all of the money and he has none. So he is upset and takes it out on his less noble relatives, the counts, barons, and marquises. So then they are jealous because they only have a little bit of money and a little bit of power and they want more. So what are we left with, an entire society of jealous people all desiring what the other has and never being satisfied because they can’t find any sense of contentment. How completely absurd and totally French? Whether or not they have learned from these lessons I don’t know. We read a fable today about a frog who wished he was a cow because he is so small and the cow is so big. The moral of the story is essentially don’t try to be something you are not. The moral given in the story is exactly that, but with examples that encourage the bourgeois to remains the bourgeois and let the nobility be the nobility. Practical enough I suppose, when you discount the whole monarchist tyrannical dictatorship aspect, but in principle, a good lesson to be learned. I am looking forward to my literature seminar that I am taking because I always learn so much from French literature.

This month began with dreams of adventures in many different countries. It ends now with those adventures being had and a very content 22 year old looks forward to regaining a sense of pattern to his life for at least a few months. For those of you who seem to enjoy my book reviews, which by the amount of views they receive I think generally most people do, my review of Tinkers by Paul Harding is forthcoming. It will most likely be my first post for the month of September. As August brought experiences I had not intended on I am sure September will do the same. I appreciate your prayers and words of encouragement as always. Tis all for now. Ciao!

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Reflections on Germany

In Long Time Traveling in August on August 28, 2010 at 7:22 PM

It is now the end of the month of August. Tomorrow morning at 6:00am I shall leave 2615 Leoweissmantel Strasse for the last time. It has been a wonderful two months here and I am sad that I am leaving now, just as I was starting to get the hang of things. With each day I find myself remembering more and more German. My ability to think in the language has become much more comfortable and I have taken on a number of different expressions from Germany that I love that I will definitely miss using. Among the favorites are, “Ach, so.” And “Genau!” The first doesn’t really have a direct translation in English but it would be said when you realize something. So when I was practicing my violin earlier and one of my neighbors came and said it was too loud, I responded with, “Ach, so. Es tut mir leid.” It could be translated as, “Oh, okay,” but that only covers part of the meaning. “Genau” translates into the English word “Exactly” but I like how it sounds better. I also know I am going to have a hard time switching to French after having spoken German so intensively for the past two months. It is interesting how things that we assume in our vocabulary in English have also quickly become assumed in my vocabulary in German. I was thinking about it today in terms of food and getting somewhere. When I go to the grocery store, I don’t have to ask anymore what the names of the foods are. The same way we aren’t challenged when we go to the grocery store simply to read the labels, I have started to become that way as well here in Germany. I hope I can adapt quickly in France. In comparison to French, German is spoken much slower. Of course like any language it can be spoken quickly, but French moves much more naturally at a faster tempo than German. Interestingly enough, I find German harder to read than to speak and French harder to speak than to read. I have almost no problems reading in French because I can see the word for what it is and understand a cognate to English or Latin. Yet when it is spoken, it is spoken with such fluidity I don’t even recognize that as the word that has been spoken. To try and help me remember what it’s like to speak French I watched a French film yesterday entitled Angel-A. I have gotten to the point where I can watch German films without subtitles simply because I find them distracting and I have now gotten used to the German sentence structure so I don’t constantly have to be hearing every word. I can listen and understand most of what’s going on, simply by watching and listening. Like I have said before, it’s all about context. With French films, however, it’s something completely different. I watched Angel-A with subtitles and I am very glad that I did otherwise I don’t think I would have understood a word that they said in the entire movie. They speak so quickly that the most mundane sentences are difficult for me to catch simply due to the speed at which they are spoken. I know it is something I will get used to, but at the moment I am not looking forward to having to get used to another language….again. I was encouraged however in that while I was reading the French subtitles I felt like I could read them fast enough and actually understand them better than I do the German when I watch a German film. But the next four months will be all about France. I think that perhaps my blog entries might get a little boring simply because my schedule won’t be as frantic as it has been here in Germany; running around to city after city and seeing as much as I can in as short of a time span as possible. Of course, this was never really my hope or my intention. I want to see the cities, yes. But I never like feeling like a city is just sites for taking pictures. People live there. There is a culture and a lifestyle. That’s what I want to see. Living there would definitely make this possible because it’s very difficult to get this idea from only being in a city for three days, but nonetheless, I have tried to enjoy where I am and not just feel like I am rushing around from one place to the next. But to think about what I have actually done in the last two months is really remarkable. I have learned to speak almost totally conversationally in another language, I have seen four countries, eaten more pork than I think I have in my entire life, tried at least 30 different beers, went to a club until 5:30 in the morning, adapted to life in a different country, and I would say more importantly than anything else, grew stronger in my faith and my relationship with God. My faith became my choice when I went to Hillsdale, but now my faith is my foundation. At Hillsdale I could walk around confident knowing that I was surrounded by people who love the Lord and want to serve Him. In Germany, however, it is very different. I am grateful to Sue for introducing me to the church community in Vienna because it was indeed a wonderful experience to see that there are Christians in Europe and that they struggle with the secularization of culture in the same ways that we do in America. Of course the details are going to be different, but the struggles are the same. No matter what, people are people. We are all looking for some sort of acceptance and comfort. The focus at this church that I went to was particularly on healing. During the service they offered for people to stand up if they desired to be healed from the Holy Spirit. Not so much in a Southern Baptist crazy preacher man sort of way, but simply saying stand if you desire to be healed for some hurt in your life. I think generally in America if this were done, it would be done during a time of prayer asking people to keep their eyes closed so as not to embarrass anyone with enough courage to stand. At Cornerstone I know that they offer a time where if anyone requires special prayer they can come down to the front of the sanctuary and either a pastor or elders will pray with you specifically about whatever concern you might have. I think that’s excellent that churches offer that opportunity for its congregation, but I think it has both a positive and negative effect. Positive in that the person has to acknowledge that there is a problem and that they need God’s guidance and provision in their lives for comfort and healing. Negative, however, because the entire congregation watches their neighbor get up to ask for prayer. I have seen how this can be good in that a close friend who might not have known that anything was wrong can now go talk to their friend and ask how they can pray for them. However, maybe that friend simply wants to keep the matter private between them, God, and the pastors and elders. Standing up before the congregation isn’t going to keep the situation under wraps for much longer. People always want to know what’s going on. Of course they want to help, but I have seen first hand how sometimes even your best friend doesn’t want to tell you something and we have to accept that. By publicly showing that there is some issue that necessitates public prayer with a pastor or group of elders I think there are many risks that are taken and as Christians we have to be careful not to fall into gossip or worse. I was simply amazed however at how many people at this church stood up without shame right where they were. Only a few other times in my life have I seen such an attitude of brokenness within a congregation. There was such a neediness that showed itself but only in terms of our need for Christ. There wasn’t any sense of pride in asking for healing or wanting extra attention, it seemed to me simply as sincere desire for healing from the Lord. At the same time, I felt like perhaps some of these people are waiting on miracles. The pastor even talked about how miracles happen and that through believing and praying, miracles can happen. Amen to the power of Jesus Christ that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. But there must be a balance as well and an understanding that a miracle probably won’t occur, and that acceptance of whatever ailment or sorrow exists is a necessary step to healing. Sometimes I believe, coming to acceptance is the miracle. I am very glad to have witnessed church while I have been in Germany and I plan on going to church regularly while I am in France. My dear friend Julie Robison reminded me of something wonderful that I had completely forgotten about: Mass. I love attending Mass. Even though I am not a Catholic, I can still appreciate how serene and sacred Mass is and it in turn helps me to worship my Heavenly Father. I would love to find a protestant organization in Tours, if possible, but I am not holding my breath either. But I have really seen in these last two months how essential it is to have a sense of community. Reading the letters of Paul it is so apparent to me that he longs for this sense of community while he is in prison. He shows no shame when he speaks of loving his brothers in Thessalonica and how fervently he longs to be with them. I feel like I have started to appreciate only a glimpse of Paul’s longing. Every time I talk to one of my friends from America I always tell them that I love them, because I so sincerely do, and the distance between us makes that so much more apparent to me. The conversations I have had with people while I have been here in Germany as well have been very strengthening for me. I have had so many great opportunities to share what I believe and have to know what it is exactly that I stand for and why. The Lord has indeed blessed me with the presence of the Holy Spirit while I have been here in that where I was afraid my faith would dwindle and I would be overtaken by the secularization of the culture around me, instead I have found I need God’s Word daily, more and more. Sometimes I have to fight with myself and really remind myself that I believe that God’s Word is the true water that I need for sustenance in my life. But when I take the time to sit down and read God’s Word, I am so blessed and encouraged. I was thinking to myself earlier this week that I could really use a good conversation with one of my friends from back home to encourage me before I go to France. But the Lord has filled that need with His Word. I just finished the book of Hebrews and although I still find much of what the author writes to be very confusing, right in the middle of chapter 9 I found this gem. Hebrews 9:13-15 “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” The author of Hebrews is making case after case to the Hebrews in his attempt to convince them that Jesus Christ truly is the Messiah. He belabors the point of the first covenant because he understands that it is under this first covenant that the Jews believe they still live. Breaking down the purpose of sacrifice with an explanation that no redemption for sin is possible without the shedding of blood, he then describes the purpose of the priesthood and their position as mediators between God and man. Yet in so doing, he presents Jesus Christ as our High Priest who sacrificed Himself, to shed the blood necessary for the redemption of sins, once for all! It is at this point that the author writes these truly inspiring words. Comparisons like this can only leave us dumbfounded in terms of the work that Christ did during His time on Earth. Our flesh is not only purified through Christ’s sacrifice, but our souls! We have found eternal rest for our souls because of Christ. Notice the focus here is on the soul and not on the flesh. One of the areas where the Jews had such a hard time understanding how Christ could be the Messiah was because the first covenant had been made almost entirely in the physical realm. What Christ did for us, he not only did physically, but spiritually. The new covenant is a spiritual covenant, not just a physical covenant. This is why we can be saved spiritually and continue to battle with sin physically. Sin affects us physically and of course the physical realm and the spiritual realm are not entirely separated. Our physical actions can and do have a spiritual affect on us. But Christ has ultimate control over the spiritual realm. He manifested His ultimate control when He died on the Cross and established Himself as the only possible Mediator between man and God. It is in this way that He becomes our greatest treasure. We owe Him everything because He gave up everything that we might have everything. It’s simply incredible when you think about it. The most wonderful story ever told, as they say. My time here in Europe will be worth nothing if I don’t focus all of my time around this truth. If Christ is not my Mediator between my life and God, then nothing matters. My learning German or French, all of my experiences are vanity if they don’t teach me and help me to live my life more and more for the glory of God and in light of eternity. Yesterday would have been Daniel Parker’s 24th birthday and I am reminded yet again that it was by his recommendation that I read Living in the Light of Eternity by K.P. Yohanan. This book acted as the key phrase to Daniel Parker’s life and I see daily how his testimony is affecting others who knew him in drastic ways for the sake of the kingdom. Talking to Ben Parker this evening I see how his brother’s life has prepared him now to leave for Argentina for the next ten months for Bible School and strongly considering entering into full time ministry. This was Daniel’s life, this might be Ben Parker’s life, and it might be my life. The more time I spend in God’s Word, the more I want to enter into more permanent ministry. The separation that we have in our lives between our professions and our spiritual duty as Christians to take dominion of God’s Kingdom on Earth must end. Of course there are Christians that are very good about maintaining a full time job as well as ministry in their lives, but sadly a large majority only view their responsibility to be an extra activity that sometimes interferes with their lives. I myself am guilty of this in my own life. But when we really consider it, our responsibility on this Earth is towards God and his Kingdom. If we were to have this attitude in our lives, then our personal lives and desires wouldn’t supercede God’s in our lives. I only pray that I might better live this out in my own life through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. This is my life, and I am going to live it for the right reasons whether I am in Germany, France, or the USA, all across the globe Jesus remains the author and perfector of our faith and He demands our all. I intend to give it!

Book Review: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

In Long Time Traveling in August on August 26, 2010 at 8:03 PM

Time for another book review. All of the traveling I have been doing has enabled me to do something I have been wanting to do for a long time: read. I thoroughly enjoyed tearing to pieces The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffmann and in some ways I am almost remorseful I can’t do the same for this last book I read. (Also I use the word “that” way too often. I really need to improve my writing skills.) I went into Huegendubel, the German equivalent of Borders, and began browsing around their English book section. I was fortunate in that it wasn’t limited to 25 books, 7 of which are written by Stephen King or Tom Clancy. Tired of always reading the same genre of literature, I tried something a little bit more modern in its plot and much more historical in its content. Although controversy has sprung up about this author in the past, I was curious to read The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. For those who don’t recognize the name he is the author The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. The Lost Symbol is yet another book focused around the symbologist Robert Langdon. This book, however, focuses on the good ole U, S, of A as opposed to whisking Langdon off to the Vatican. However, in common with the other books there are definite elements of the occult that play a pivotal role in the action of the story.

I haven’t read the other Robert Langdon stories, but what I initially liked about The Lost Symbol was that I didn’t need to have a lot of background information about Langdon in order to understand him. I didn’t lose anything in this book having not read the others. As you will see, I plan on comparing The Lost Symbol to The Left Hand of God, but as briefly as possible considering the two are not really related at all with the exception that they are both novels focusing around the life of a protagonist. Yet immediately I learned more about Langdon in the first few pages of The Lost Symbol than I did Cale in the entire sorry episode called The Left Hand of God. Immediately I was given a context that made Langdon seem although not as young and sexy, definitely as adventurous as Indiana Jones. Unlike Indiana however, he is not a treasure hunter. Being a symbologist often brings Langdon into arenas of ancient history and interpretation of many debated and misconstrued legends and myths, i.e. the Holy Grail, Free Masons, the Fountain of Youth, etc. All myths that we have grown up hearing about always in some way wondering if they actually do exist. I would say the success of this novel illustrates my point that many people have a curiosity about such stories and a desire to learn more information about them.

This story focuses in depth on the secrets of the Free Masons. Although difficult to know what information about the Masons presented in this novel are true, it was very interesting to see how Brown used the secrets and ideals of the Masons within the context of the story to heighten the drama. Perhaps sometimes too melodramatic, every chapter ends with some sort of cliffhanger begging you to go on reading. In comparison to Hoffmann’s Hand of God where the only cliffhanger came on the second to last page, I was immediately hooked and desperate to learn more. Brown very clearly understands how to write a gripping tale and his focus around a Harvard symbologist immediately offers a sense of intrigue. Symbols that require severe amounts of study in order to understand brought down to the level of the everyday reader makes the book not only easy to read, but invites the reader to comprehend that which has taken others years and years of study to understand.

I don’t want to offer too many details of the plot but surrounding Robert Langdon we have his mentor, Peter Solomon, an older gentleman divorced after his son was killed, wealthy beyond all reason, a 33rd degree mason, and the direct of the Smithsonian Institute. Central to the plot as well is his sister Katherine an attractive middle-aged woman, similar to Langdon although a romance is only ever hinted at, and a leader in the field of Noetic Science. As described in the book, Noetic science seems to be a combination of science and faith and has some very interesting ideas. I am not sure if the field actually exists or if the hypotheses presented by Brown in the book are congruent to actual Noetic science, but if it is, it certainly impressed me. Of course, no book about symbols and ancient secrets would be complete without some crazy lunatic trying to find out these secrets in order to gain ultimate power. This character is named Mal’akh, so named after the demon Molech as I believe was presented in Milton’s Paradise Lost. (Unfortunately I have never read it but I believe that is right according to what I recall in the book.) He is the model of physical perfection and is covered with tattoos symbolizing his desire to reach apotheosis.

This idea of apotheosis is central to the plot because it is also central to the beliefs of the Masons whose beliefs and practices ultimately play a major role in the book for it is believed that they hold the secret to, “The Lost Symbol.” This symbol refers to a secret called The Ancient Mysteries that will enlighten all of mankind and remove the darkness that has been covering our eyes and confusing our quest for absolute truth. Ultimately, the book’s theme can be stated in this phrase, “No ye not that ye are like gods?” Seeking ultimate truth and at-one-ment with the universe/God is the quest that all Masons seek to obtain and as set forth in the novel, the path towards ultimate truth. Central to this quest is the belief that man can be like God but has simply forgotten how and is desperately seeking to regain this ability to create and make new all things. A common phrase used by the Masons in the text says, “The key is how to die.” Essentially saying that man cannot help mankind unless he first accepts his own mortality, thus freeing him to be able to live solely for the betterment of future generations that through their work they might eventually find “ultimate enlightenment or apotheosis.

The idea is an interesting one and the facts that correspond with it as they are presented in the book certainly make for a gripping novel. The setting for the plot is Washington D.C. which according to legendary tradition makes sense as it was believed that Washington D.C. would be the capitol of enlightenment for a new world and therefore would be the perfect place to hide secrets. The action takes Langdon through the Capitol Building, the Mason’s Temple, the Washington Monument, and other places of extreme historical significance to the American people. Before the book even begins, Brown gives as a preface, “All rituals, science, artwork, and monuments in this novel are real.” Considering how much of the plot focuses on legend it was hard to believe that to be true, but if it is, then I am most certainly very impressed.

Allow me to say that I would recommend this book to anyone. The ideas set forth in it will only educate you. Of everything that Brown does well, what I most appreciated was his consistent clarification of words and their true meanings. In a society where words seem to have lost their meaning, teaching the audience the original meaning of words used by our founding fathers, the ancients, and other cultures like the Egyptians, Hindus, and Aztecs, Brown demonstrates how essential it is as a culture to understand where your words come from and why we say them. To simply take these words and their meanings for granted often only leads to further confusion and a continuation of unenlightened individuals within the culture.

In regards to the ideas of ultimate enlightenment and apotheosis, of course I do not believe these things to be true as they are presented within The Lost Symbol. As a Christian I stand firm on the doctrine of God’s Word and the teachings of the Bible as the ultimate source of truth and enlightenment. I believe that the Bible has answers for every question that can be asked. Many people claim that the Bible doesn’t offer answers concerning sciences like physics, astronomy, or nutrition. I would argue that the Bible does offer some, not all answers to these questions and that of course modern science has done much to extrapolate further knowledge in greater detail than perhaps the Bible offers, but the Bible is not an instruction manual on astro-physics. It is however, a life-manual on how we need to live our lives and a guide to the moral consequences for our actions.

Where Dan Brown delves in The Lost Symbol is that each religion has its own truth that people believe, but that that truth is only a half-truth. Where the Masons have members who are Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim, Brown expounds through the text that each of these religions have found part of the truth which was lost by The Ancients who had true enlightenment and understood the purpose of life and hid that truth from those who were unworthy, allowing only those who were of a correct open understanding to keep the secrets of truth and preserve them for future generations until mankind would be ready to accept them. Interestingly enough the constant debate between Conservatives and Liberals is their differing belief between where the better future lies. For conservatives the path towards a better life can be found in the past whereas for a liberal we must keep moving forward and try new ideas understanding that the ideas of old didn’t work otherwise they would still exist in greater acceptance today and without great opposition.

Where Brown leads in The Lost Symbol is towards a balance between the two. Finding the truth in the past and combining it with the knowledge of the present towards creating a better future. Sounds good in theory, and as it is presented in the book, it might actually work. Of course the problem is always acceptance of complicated and controversial ideas. Yet accurately enough, Brown shows how the ideas that we commonly accept today were always seen as monumental and impossible during their time. Those we remember today were those who had such a strong conviction that they were right and held to that truth with all of their earthly might. Offered as examples within the text, Brown talks about how the earth being round was considered to be crazy for hundreds of years, or that man could one day fly would have gotten a man hung in the middle ages. Yet today, they are not even questioned. Brown even says that if the ancients were alive today they would indeed think that we were gods.

An interesting thought, but one that I find hard to believe. Yet the book still offers ideas of the future of mankind through an incredibly gripping tale of adventure and mystery surrounding a pyramid containing a map to The Ancient Mysteries. The book has consistent twists and turns that keep the reader on his toes and even if he has figured out the truth, the way in which Brown writes allows the reader to read between the lines to know that he has indeed found the truth to the situation. What The Left Hand of god offered on the second to last page, The Lost Symbol gives you on every page. The characters are rich and the background information only makes them richer as the reader learns more about the plot. There is an excellent balance between the past and the present in the story and every character plays an essential role to the plot. Not one word is wasted. The only negative comment I have is that Brown perhaps to often goes into the past in the same style. In the middle of being chased down a dark hallway character “A” suddenly remembers an essential episode in her life that takes the next five pages to explain in order for the reader to understand what happens later in the text. The book was very easy to follow because it followed the same form of a movie. It isn’t difficult for us to imagine a film where character “A” is asked a question, he looks out the window, and suddenly we are in a flashback of something that happened in the characters life that critically shaped the person he is.

The question of whether or not this book is a classic I will not embark on. (Why is that word not spelled with “que” at the end anymore? It looks so much better.) In terms of sheer entertainment, education, and enjoyment, I would definitely give this book my highest recommendation. The action doesn’t let up and Brown’s ability to write almost 700 hundred pages over a period of under twelve hours in the time span of the book I found truly remarkable. The different plots are not confusing and when they come together the reader immediately understands the urgency of what is happening. As well, the ideas, rituals, and scientific thought presented leaves the reader challenged in his/her understanding of what truth is, and if this world that Brown presents is actually possible. At moments, Brown seems almost Christian in his word choice and the world he creates. And yet at times, I don’t think I have ever seen a greater humanist in my life. If anything, I would say that Brown believes in a firm connection between God and man, with man’s chief end being found in his understanding that he comes from God and that God wants him to be like Him. Although a beautiful scenario in which to live, I don’t think the Bible offers that sort of ideology for Christians to live under. Yet the style that Brown uses and the world that he creates, although meant to reflect real life, I think must be kept within the understanding of a fictional novel with many parallels to real life. Although sometimes difficult to keep the separation while reading the book, I find it absolutely necessary.

I haven’t yet addressed the subject of Noetic science and its critical role in the plot of the story, but this is simply because I wish to do some personal research within this subject and write about it on a separate occasion. As it is presented in The Lost Symbol, however, and if this is truly what Noetic scientists practice, it could potentially change a lot about how we view the world. But I would encourage everyone to at least look up Noetic Science on Wikipedia and learn about what this interesting branch of science is offering to the world.

In conclusion, this thoughtful creative imaginative historically significant thrilling novel creates a world that a reader will not regret delving into. It will take up only a small portion of your time and I promise you will love every second of it. More could be said of course, but I think for the moment I have said enough. If anyone has any questions or perhaps has also read the book and has learned something concerning what Dan Brown has written about, I would be most interested to hear about it.

Also I am about to begin reading Tinkers by Paul Harding. It won the Pulitzer Prize for literature either this year or last year I think. If anyone knows anything about it, or would be interested in reading it as well, let me know!

Similarities Between My Great-Grandfather and I

In Long Time Traveling in August on August 25, 2010 at 10:33 AM

The following is a post from my friend Bess Cozby’s blog. She is an amazing writer and great friend of mine who I respect highly. In her latest post, she poses the question of the creation of a genre of literature for twenty-something’s arguing how there isn’t literature being written today that is aimed at the age group of 20-30. Here was my response.

I am not sure about the creation of a new genre for twenty-something’s. I agree that the time is certainly an auspicious one that seems unique. However, when you consider the history of how people have lived, twenty-something meant adult. And in reality, we are adults. Of course we aren’t going to be able to identify with every book out there about having kids and watching them grow and going through a midlife crisis. But I think generally we are encouraged more in literature to think as an adult, almost in preparation for those years. I am not sure, so I am curious what you think Bess, as well as everyone else out there. It’s a fascinating subject, and I think perhaps you could be on to something. My initial impression was that the genre might become YA novels with more sex, because that’s what we do in our twenty-something years, right? But as I think more about it, I think you have something worth offering to the world. As much as life is the same, the times have changed, and we live differently at 22 then we did 50 years ago. The expectations are different now. 22 is an age of uncertainty where life is a room with 800 open windows and we are so overwhelmed by the amount of choices, we don’t even know where to go. Of course I am no literary expert, but I think there was a definite simplicity about American life in the past. With the strong undertone of making a better future for future generations, the simplicity of life with a wife and kids was always seen as a good thing. But now the expectation has changed. That better future that previous generations have worked for is now here, and it’s not what we were expecting. For our grandparents, they see the splendor of our culture and probably feel responsible for where we are. They feel that their work contributed and made this “better life” possible. Our parents on the other hand, are still working but are in the middle because although their jobs are not guaranteed, creating a sense of insecurity, the lives they live seem to have a certain permanent state to them that causes them to teeter unconsciously between the uncertainty of a job and the permanence they so deeply long for. Ours, however, is a generation plein d’energie, and nowhere to put it. We have grown up believing our lives can be anything we want them to be. If you want to be a nuclear physicist, go for it! Nothing can stop you! This might have been true twenty years ago. But the truth is today there are about 2,000 other people who all want to be nuclear physicists and are fighting for the one position that just became available because of someone who had an unexpected heart attack.

It seems to me that the class of 2010, although screwed, has an interesting opportunity in front of them. I am curious what you guys think, but I think we have come full circle and we have to return to the generation of our great-grandparents. What I mean is that at the turn of the 20th century, Henry Ford did something amazing. He offered workers an unheard of $5 a day to work for what would become the Ford Motor Company. This opportunity gave hope to hundreds of people in Detroit and across the States who came to Detroit for work. They all had something in common, desperation for work to be able to provide for themselves and their families. They made incredible personal sacrifices in order to get a job and live a decent life. That was one hundred years ago, and today I think we have returned to this era. The money has changed. Unfortunately, $5 a day ain’t gonna cut it anymore. We need something more than that. But what hasn’t changed is the desperation for work, and the understanding that many personal sacrifices will be made. I think there is a tension between our parents and us because we see how truly desperate the situation is, and because they have jobs, they want to keep us from making “rash decisions.” I know more people who stay within the protective walls of their parent’s homes out of fear of making personal sacrifice for the sake of their future. It’s as if because we were told, be all you can be, someone was going to hand it to us on a silver platter as soon as we graduated from college. Just apply for a job, and you’ll not only get the job, you’ll make $40,000 right away! Unfortunately this isn’t our reality anymore.

Similarly, there are no more factories for us to work in. Those jobs are either taken or obsolete. We have to find new creative ways of finding jobs and making them. We have to create ways for people to give us money. This is what I mean by coming full circle. Where our great-grandparents had the choice of working in a coal mine or car factory, the choice before us is the same, but with new obstacles. We have to discover a new way of making lives for ourselves. Now if our generation can write literature about life in these terms for twenty-something’s, then I think we’ve got something. And in turn, you might just find that job you’re looking for. Let me know what you think, I am very eager to address this subject more and maybe even have a forum .

What Water Are You Drinking?

In Long Time Traveling in August on August 22, 2010 at 9:46 PM

My week of traveling has finally come to an end. After three nights in Salzburg and three nights in Vienna I am on my final train on my way back to Wuerzburg. The trip was excellent and I had almost no problems throughout the entire thing, thus increasing my confidence to travel like this on my own in the future. I noticed a couple of interesting things along the way, however. For example, being on my own I was actually able to find my way around the cities of Salzburg and Vienna better than when I was with other people. I became more directionally aware while I was alone because I didn’t have anything else to distract me with the exception of stores.

I also really enjoy traveling alone simply due to the possibilities it creates. You can talk to anyone at any time and I was even able to travel around with some people I would say mainly because I was alone which in turn gave me the capacity to get to know people because I wasn’t worried about anyone else. Of course I love traveling with other people, and the privilege of being totally independent and only having to make decisions for myself is not one that I hope becomes a permanent state, but on first time trips to large cities, it can actually be more beneficial because you aren’t dealing with all of the distractions and desires of other people.

Talking with Dad yesterday for just a minute reminded me of how my traveling alone will make a return trip so much easier in the future either with people, or by myself. I am hoping to be able to create an opportunity in the not too distant future for Dad and Mom to be able to come to Vienna and see the amazing city that it is. Today before I left, I learned about the Vienna State Opera House (Wiener Stattsoper) and about their 10 month season that includes 300 performances of 45 different operas and 11 ballets performed on different intervals seven days a week from the beginning of September through the end of June. Tickets at the opera house range from 3 euro for only standing room at the top, to 240 euro for a seat in the front six rows. Interestingly enough, the 240 euro price is actually cheaper than the cheapest ticket for an opera at the Salzburg music festival. Although, after talking to our tour guide she informed me that it makes sense because the Salzburg music festival is only a festival and it must make enough money to be able to support itself in the way that it does, combined with the incredible quality of the performances, which makes the cost for the tickets so high.

One day I hope to be able to see an opera at the Salzburg music festival, but I think the Viennese Opera House has sparked a new interest for me. If I am going to spend an exorbitant amount of money for an evening where I am going to make a memory for a lifetime, I think I would want more than simply an opera. Of course there would be dinner, most likely a tuxedo, and a limo to take us there and back. Some champagne or wine would be necessary as well, so this evening is looking to become quite expensive very quickly. (Programs even are 4 euro.) So instead of an opera in Salzburg I think I would much rather spend that sort of money on the Viennese Opera Ball that happens once a year. The incredible beauty of this event I can only describe in terms of combining the scene in which Eliza Doolittle is presented before the queen in My Fair Lady with the Masquerade scene from Phantom of the Opera. The entrance fee alone is 230 euro and the tickets are booked one year in advance. In addition to the entrance price, however, one must also pay for a seat in which to sit during the ball because that’s not included and therefore they also charge a ridiculous amount. Of course everything is a la carte so this chair would be separate from a table which would be reserved for people that are eating and drinking and paying way more money than I think I will ever have, simply for one evening. All in all, I think it sounds like a dream, and so it shall most likely remain. But it shall remain for me a dream like so many of the other dreams I have of “one time only’s” in my life. I am curious if anyone else I know has these sorts of ideas in their heads where they say to themselves, “one time I am going to save up my money and do this one really cool thing.” I am sure I am not alone in this simply in that many people save up their money for this reason to be able to travel. For me, however, the allure is more in terms of things at home. For example, I would love to go to a restaurant one night and order a bottle of Cristal or Dom Perignon. The bottle at a restaurant runs about $200 just for the bottle, hence why it’s a one time only. But I think it would be very fun to walk into a restaurant and say, “We’ll have a bottle of Cristal!” I know this is perhaps a waste of money, but that is why it’s a one time only sort of thing. That way I am not consistently spending $200 on things like bottles of champagne.

I did want to mention as well that along with the opera house this afternoon, I had the opportunity to go to church this morning for the first time since I arrived in Europe on July 1. It has been a long time and I was very grateful especially when I found out I would have the opportunity as well to participate in the Lord’s Supper. How I could go six months without taking Communion I don’t know, so I am very grateful and Lord willing will have the opportunity again while I am in France. My dear loving friend Sue, who like a fine wine only gets better with age, gave me the heads up about this church in downtown Vienna. Essentially called the Christian International Community, or in German Christliche International Gemeinde (CIG) the church is simply a protestant gathering of believers who come together for worship every Sunday to worship God and fellowship. All in all, seemed like a pretty average church with the exception of the community being so internationally based. There were people there not only from Germany, Austria, and the USA, but I even heard people say they came from Romania and Iran as well. The service is done in both English and German, which I was curious to see how it would work.

As it turns out, the pastor gives the message and simply pauses every few seconds or every phrase in order to allow the translator to repeat what he said in German. Of course some things are lost in translation, but generally I thought it worked very well. I am sure the years of practice probably helped, but I very much enjoyed worshipping in both German and English. I have heard people say how difficult it can be to worship in a language that is not their native tongue and as a result I think I was on my guard against that which enabled me to enjoy the experience that much more. When we sang the words, “Jesus Lebt!” (Jesus Lives) it wasn’t like singing a chorus in English where all we say is Jesus Lives, it actually meant something more to me than just the words. I have been to so many worship services where people just sing the words and don’t allow the words to mean anything to them as they sing them. They are simply words on a screen or in a book. But in a different language, you are forced to actually understand what is being said and register it in your mind for what it means. I think too often our native tongue enables us to process the words so fast that we forget what they mean unless we make a conscious effort to focus on the truth of the words that we are singing. And shouldn’t this be the point anyway? The songs are meant to be more than just catchy, they have real truth and power behind them and sometimes I think people just use the music to either get themselves into a spiritual high before a sermon, or don’t even register the words at all. We have to find a balance in the middle of allowing the truth of the words we are singing to sink deep inside our hearts and have it encourage us in our burdens and worries. When we sing, “Jesus Lives,” it means we don’t have to have those burdens or worries. But because we are so used to the songs we sing, we forget the meaning behind the words and when we aren’t filled or energized as we once were by a song, it doesn’t mean that the song is bad, it simply means that we have to re-register what the song is saying and allow its truths to penetrate into everlasting truth about God and His Son Jesus Christ.

Something interesting happened to me though even before I arrived at the church. As I was getting ready to leave the hostel this morning to find the church I was packing my things and was debating whether or not I would bring my Bible. My initial thought was of course I would bring it, but then I realized I would be carrying it with me all day even in the opera house without any sort of bag or someway to hold it other than in my hand. So I thought to myself I would just grab my water bottle and leave and hope they had Bibles at the church. As it turned out, everyone in the church brought their own Bibles and I looked really stupid. What I found to be interesting was the thought process that went through my head on my way to the church as I was justifying to myself why I didn’t my Bible. As soon as I got there of course I wished that I had but I had chosen my water bottle instead.

I justified it in my head by saying, the difference between my Bible and my water bottle, is that the water bottle gives me sustenance. Without my water bottle, I could become parched and in the heat of the day potentially collapse. It was at this point that I realized my grave error. Who was I to look at God’s greatest gift to mankind outside of His Son Jesus Christ as anything but sustenance to my life. The Bible is the water that I need when the heat a.k.a. pressure from the world around me or the devil becomes to great. That is when I need to be drinking in His Word and be refreshed by its awesome power. As when a person is so thirsty and they finally receive that first sip of water, the feeling of refreshment is almost impossible to describe. Everyone knows what I am talking about, and it is this feeling that we ought to get from the Bible. I think because the refreshment comes to us in spiritual form and not something as sensory as physical water we forget about the work that it is doing in our lives and often act as if nothing has happened because we don’t “feel” anything. But the Word of God is living and active. Simply because we don’t feel it, doesn’t mean it isn’t sanctifying us. We must register this and know that God’s Word is powerful and will quench or spiritual thirst. We can’t choose between a bottle of water and the Bible for what fills our thirst, we are thirsty in many ways but both physical water and water from God’s scripture are both gifts from God. It all comes back to Him and the gifts that He so lovingly gave us. We must remember that and live our lives in the light of that truth in order to find satisfaction and the true quench to our thirst.

Also….I ate a cricket and a kangaroo burger at the Australian pub in downtown Vienna next to the opera house yesterday. They were good. Wish I were still hungry to try the ostrich as well.

Vienna and the Schoennbrunn Castle

In Long Time Traveling in August on August 21, 2010 at 11:17 AM

For those who don’t know, I have been traveling on my own for the past almost week through Austria. First stop was Salzburg and now we are on to phase two of the plan: Vienna! And let me say, already the city has blown me away! There have been so many things here that I have seen that I never imagined I would ever see. In comparison to every other city I have been to, Vienna is by the far the grandest. The Rathaus (City Hall) is the largest I have ever seen and tonight and every night in the summer months of July and August they have a huge film festival where they show operas, ballets, concerts, films, and documentaries on the largest screen I have ever seen right in front of the opera house. And in order to attract people as well, they also have tons of food, beer and wine venders. And because they know the natives want more than just their own Viennese food, they have Ethiopian, Australian, Chinese, and Indian food to attract guests as well.

The Rathaus as well is set right in the middle of downtown Vienna (what a thought eh? Town Hall…in the center of the city…) and surrounding it is what is called the Museum Quarter that includes the City Theater House that I am hoping to tour tomorrow. I ended up walking into downtown from my hostel because I wanted to get a look around and get some exercise. The street that leads into downtown, Mariahilfegasse is one of the most insane streets I have ever been on. I thought I was in New York City that’s how busy this street was. What surprised me the most was that there were more H&M’s than McDonalds on this street. Shows how popular they are in Austria. The city also has a heavy connection to Bratislava because they are the two closest capitol cities in all of Europe. Of course Vienna is known for the Hapsburg reign in the 18th and 19th centuries as well as their influence over musicians and artists making Vienna a cultural highpoint in all of Europe.

Inside of the State Library (like the Library of Congress) they had one of the most amazing museum exhibits I have ever seen. I will be sure to post pictures on Facebook and hopefully a few on here as well so people can see what I mean. The museum has three exhibits that go on simultaneously within the halls. The first, and the reason I went, was the Musical Instruments Museum. This collection of ancient and Baroque instruments is considered to be one of the greatest collections of musical instruments in the world, and it does not disappoint. The reputation deserves the recognition! I got to see Leopold Mozart’s violin, pianos played by Haydn, Schubert, and Beethoven, as well as some of the most beautiful and oldest instruments I have ever seen. Instruments that are no longer played or made, as well as instruments that were precursors to our modern versions of instruments.

The second exhibit was the most ornamented collection of medieval suits of armor ranging from 600-200 years old. It was kind of a dream for me actually to see these suits of armor because we always see them in movies, and of course we know what they look like, but to see them up close to something entirely different. Being able to see every little detail of these suits, it made the armor come alive for me. As if I could finally sense that these were actually worn into battle. Not only were there suits of armor, but the largest weapons collection I have ever seen. Swords, axes, spears, maces, shields, helmets, guns, crossbows, longbows, and any other instrument used to kill someone you can imagine were all in this collection in a pristinely preserved condition. After spending about an hour in this exhibit and being utterly blown away by the creativity and beauty of some of these weapons, I moved on to the last exhibit. This exhibit although not very large, is probably the most impressive to me. The exhibit features the research of Austrian archeologists from the 1970s in Greece and in Turkey. Fittingly, the exhibit is called Ephesus, for that is where the majority of the pieces came from. Pieces of ancient temples were transported from Turkey to Austria to be put on display in this exhibit for the world to see. The explanations are essential for these pieces in order to truly grasp why they are so significant. Otherwise, it is very easy to walk into the museum and only see carvings and designs in rocks, and not really appreciate it for anything else.

All in all, this was probably the best museum I have ever been to. Of all the museums I have seen, none have been more linked to my interests or nearly as well explained. The nice thing as well was that the exhibits didn’t last forever. Although I spent probably almost three hours in the whole thing, it wasn’t really possible for me to spend that much more time there, and I liked that. Museums where you are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information tend to make me want to know less about the subject, because I feel like it will never be enough and other people have devoted their whole lives to the subject as is demonstrated by the mile long halls filled from head to toe with different pieces of information about every last detail. Frankly, it’s exhausting. This museum though was in the words of the great country lass Goldilocks, “Just Right!”

After seeing this museum I continued to walk around the city for a while looking at some of the different churches. Inside one of them, I believe the Franciskanerkirche; I found not only a magnificent statue of St. Francis of Assisi, but also a huge fresco of the Last Supper by Da Vinci that had been transported to Austria for this church. (So cool, right?!?!) And the churches here are simply wonderful to see. Seeing he different types of architecture and how they all show the reflection of God’s glory in a multitude of different ways never ceases to amaze me every time I walk into a new church. From medieval to modern times, the churches here continue to show God as One who is to be worshipped and adored.

I then bought my train ticket for the three days so I could take the subway to get around without having to walk everywhere and made my over to the Karlskirche where I bought my ticket for Mozart’s Requiem last night and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons tonight. The Requiem was beautiful, unfortunately reduced, but beautiful nonetheless. Definitely a touristy attraction, but the venue made it completely worth it. The beautiful sound that came out from the echo of the church was amazing and the orchestra played on period instruments which helped with the atmosphere as well. Tonight I am going to see Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at the Karlskirche as well. The nice thing about the concert not being a professional production is that means great seats are reasonably priced. I got a 4th row ticket for tonight for 22 euro.

Today as well I saw Schloss Schoennbrunn where Emperor Franz Joseph and Maria Theresa lived. The site is simply incredible. Not only did they feel it was necessary to have a castle, but the grounds surrounding the castle stretch out for miles and include a greenhouse, a desert house, and Europe’s oldest zoo. At first I wasn’t going to get the ticket to be able to go in, but then I thought you know, I came to Vienna to see the sites, it was definitely cheaper than the tours they were offering so I decided to buy the combination ticket to be able to see all three.

Totally worth it! The greenhouse was absolutely beautiful and probably the highlight for me of the whole day. The desert house shows many different creatures and cacti that are not common to the region. (The greenhouse also has a rainforest section that was very hot and made it feel as if it were actually the rainforest.) The zoo was also really cool. To think that the Emperor felt it was necessary to have all of these is really something else. I have no idea why he would build them, except maybe to show off his grandeur, but then again, he was the emperor, so it actually makes sense. The castle grounds also have an amazing labyrinth made from the gardens that unfortunately I didn’t have time to see, but I would highly recommend anyone visiting Vienna to take a whole day just at Schoennbrunn. Even if you just sit for hours in the shade in the gardens, it is absolutely worth it.

And how could I forget food? I have taken part in two Viennese meals so far and they haven’t disappointed. The first yesterday evening for dinner was a wonderful meal of ham and noodles (called Spaeetzel) with salad that made my night before the concert. And then today in the Zoo I had veal cutlets with mashed potatoes in a mushroom sauce served with steamed vegetables with a great Austrian dark beer. The beer here in Austria is definitely good. Not sure if I can say it’s as good as German beer, or the Swiss beer that I brought back from Basel, but still very good. Better than American beer, which is not beer, it is just water with a little bit of alcohol and something that reminds me of wheat.

That’s about it for the moment, I will report more later after the Vivaldi concert and going out tonight. Bis dann, Ciao!

Love, Imitation, and Encouragement

In Long Time Traveling in August on August 19, 2010 at 9:02 PM

I have been thinking about something that corresponds with what I have been reading in my Bible lately that I would like to address. 1) Imitation, 2) Love in 1st Thessalonians, and 3) the importance of encouragement as it corresponds to love.

Imitation is a subject that is actually very near to my heart, simply because I would say that it is one of my top personality characteristics. I don’t know what it is, but I love to imitate those around me and generally it’s unconscious for a long time. I first started noticing it when I would go to CWSC in Virginia and hear all of the southerners talking and by the end of the week I would have developed a southern accent. They all thought I just sounded stupid, but it kind of drove me nuts because I couldn’t control it. Even within the past three days being in Salzburg I have met tons of Aussies and New Zealanders and I started using words like “Mate” and “Misty” and that is only after having spent an hour with some of these people. I can’t control it, there is something within me that naturally loves to imitate and be like those around me. (As I am writing this I am on the train towards Vienna and the guy sitting next to me is having a beer. Of course in Europe this is a very common occurrence, but what I love about Europe is that it is only 11am and this is completely normal behavior in the morning.)

But even more than speech patterns, I started imitating Ben Parker’s laugh during the school year, and that one has stuck with me. I started listening to Middle Eastern music in high school because all of my friends at school would listen to it, and in college I started listening to country music because of Ben, Brandon, and Marissa and now I really like it. Of course it’s completely normal to start doing the same things as the people within your surroundings, but for me, I have learned to consider it a very high compliment. As I am developing more permanently my interests and the things that I very much enjoy, I love to meet new people who exhibit qualities that I admire and therefore imitate them in an effort to gain those qualities myself, thus the compliment. I would say this is probably the closest I come to having role models. I have spoken before of how I have never had a role model or thought about people in those terms. But for my friends whom I admire greatly, my imitation of them is the closest I think I could get to a sort of role model.

Yet, along with imitating the good personality traits of my friends, sometimes I end up imitating the negative ones as well. I think we have all experienced this at some point. A friend really enjoys drinking and because you like your friend and want him/her to like you more, you have a drink as well. Of course there is nothing particularly wrong with this scenario, but where it leads can be very dangerous. Or just use any other example in the same scenario but with drugs, or sex, or maybe even stealing things. The possibilities are limitless especially when the person is looking for approval. Approval is sadly something we as humans too often seek in the wrong places and even with good character traits the desire is still an improper placement of a need that ought to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ alone.

This is where 1st Thessalonians comes into play. 1st Thessalonians 2:14 says, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans.” Interestingly enough the term imitate is only found within the New Testament. Yet biblically, this makes complete sense. The law had yet to be fulfilled, and therefore godly imitation wasn’t possible until the death of Jesus Christ. The standard by which we as Christians are called to live hadn’t been established. Yet once it was, Paul began to use the word imitate because we as Christians now have a legitimate source of imitation that God implores to imitate. The word imitate has its root in two meanings, to mimic and to follow. We are called to copy the example of Jesus Christ and follow in His footsteps. It is for this reason that imitation of character traits of friends and family are only good when the basis for our desire to imitate them is that we see how they glorify God with their lives, and we too desire to live like them for the furthering of God’s glory.

When Paul uses the word “imitators” in 1st Thessalonians 2:14 he is encouraging the Thessalonian church and thanking them for their imitation of the Judean church that also suffered for holding firm to the truth of the Gospel while under sever persecution and attempts to destroy the sacred truth of the Gospel. It is this type of imitation that we ought to imitate. The Thessalonian church mimicked faithfully and so should we. I am curious of something though. I think the desire to imitate stems from more than a desire for approval, but from a sincere manifestation of love for another. If we only imitated others or even Christ because of an emptiness that we feel then I think it is hard to argue for imitation in a positive. Allow me to clarify. Of course we are all desperate for Christ and need him to fill the emptiness in our lives that is fulfilled only by an acceptance of sin and the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. But what I am referring to comes after this period. Where I think godly imitation becomes of foremost importance is in personal sanctification.

Notice the context under which Paul uses the term imitators. He is referring to the Thessalonian CHURCH and applauding them for their imitation of the Judean CHURCH. These are already believers who are standing firm in their faith and fighting the good fight. As well, I was simply blown away by Paul’s use of language to the Thessalonians. He writes as if to a long lost friend whom he loves so dearly and would do almost anything to be reunited with. The imagery is beautiful. As if two wore torn army buddies who had been separated during battle with almost no hope of survival see each other years after the war is over, each of them thinking the other was dead. Paul opens the letter by addressing the Thessalonian church from not only himself, but also Silvanus and Timothy as well implying how deeply they care for the Thessalonian church. I think the only thing I might be able to compare it to in my life is the first time I had to leave the Popiel’s house in Ohio. There was such a strong sentiment of love between our family and theirs and the desire that we didn’t have to part was so strong that we ended up just standing outside in the 40 degree weather freezing just talking for over an hour because we didn’t know how else to show our love for one another and we didn’t know when we would see each other again. Writing on Facebook for me to one of the Popiels is always a reminder to me of those times and the foundation of our relationship is the desire to honor and glorify God with our lives. And how much stronger is this same bond between Paul, Silvanus, Timothy, and the Thessalonian church?

But their longing to see each other is not found in any sort of lack of satisfaction, but true godly love which makes their separation although difficult bearable because they trust in God’s respective plans for all of their lives. What they desire for is not satisfaction from the other, but encouragement. And it is this that ties everything together. The love they share and their imitation comes from Christ and therefore they wish to be together that they might share in God’s infinite grace, mercy, and truth, and be mutually sanctified. How much more beautiful can this picture be? As it is a true imitation of God’s love for us as demonstrated by His Son Jesus Christ, I think it is utterly sublime.

And it is this desire for encouragement that I miss so dearly from my church and friends back home. As Paul longed for the Thessalonians, so do I long for my fellow believers in Christ that I might be encouraged and they in turn encouraged by me through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. Those here in Europe I do not long to imitate because there is no love of Christ in their hearts. Of course I can identify with people in other areas that make for great conversation and wonderful memories for this present life, but that is not what’s important to me. Talking to friends back home is always more important to me, simply due to the encouragement that I receive knowing that I am not alone in my fight and desire to honor and glorify God. I could talk for hours about how great Europe is, but only in terms of physical and aesthetic beauty and appeal. In terms of eternal matters, Europe has been a den of misery. I have yet to meet a Christian on my whole trip. And from the people that I have talked to, they tell me that those who are “Christian” wear it as a badge of honor in order to be able to show off.

The situation is not hopeless, and although desperate like Paul for encouragement, I am not alone for God is with me and my satisfaction rests in Him alone and I can therefore bear the burden of separation from my Christian brothers and sisters. I pray that this attitude would b held by all those Christians separated from their families that they too might be encouraged as I have from God’s Word. As long as we remain faithful to Him and to His Word, we can bear all that the world might bring against us. Amen!

Purposeful Thoughts on Fairytales and Godly Purpose

In Long Time Traveling in August on August 17, 2010 at 10:46 PM

So in comparison to last time, I think I might have some more thoughts in order this time. In general I try to talk about things related beyond my experience in Europe simply because I find it not only helps me think better, but also because it helps me keep in touch with reality. I have mentioned many times during my time in Europe I have felt like I have been in a fairytale. As we all well know, as much as we would like fairytales to become reality, (although I think I question that as well) they are not real, and there is life for me outside of Europe that I am sincerely looking forward to returning to. As great as it is being able to do the things I have always dreamed of, they are in fact just that: dreams.

I find that the more time I spend here in Europe the harder I have to work to keep my guard up against the secular worldview that I am constantly surrounded by. Especially living in a fairytale, it’s not easy to keep myself out of the clouds and not get swept away by the glitz and glamour. Of course I am enjoying myself and making the most of the experience and meeting great people, but that’s not life. The fact that it’s a Tuesday night and there is a huge party going on at the bar inside my hostel speaks to that. Everyone here is on holiday, generally a lot of Australians and I even had my first experience with New Zealanders. And they are all at the bar right now having beer after beer and having a great time. I considered joining them, but when I considered how much they had already had to drink, combined with how loud it is, I am not going to actually have good conversation with people and enjoy the experience because unlike my Australian magician roommate named Mike, I am not looking to get some tonight. He asked the receptionist out to dinner and when I saw him later he informed me they were meeting up at the bar inside the hostel. I said, “lucky you.” To which he responded, “lucky her!” Clearly this guy has a bit of an ego, very exuberant, and a good looking guy for sure, but it’s always funny to me how every time I come across those sorts of people they always remind me of how I am not them.

I believe that I have more to offer God’s world than simply being here and existing. And of course God expects more from us as Christians. It is this idea that is in complete rebellion and disagreement in Europe. No one lives as if they are being held responsible for their actions or that they need to redeem the time for the days are evil. In fact the ideology is very much, “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” But I have been trying to keep in perspective God’s law as well as His plan for my life. At the moment, I have no idea what that might be, but I actually find being in Europe distracting to that process, which I think is very telling.

I keep asking myself if I could live in Basel, Wuerzburg, Munich, Salzburg, or would I want to? Do I like and want that sort of lifestyle for my kids one day? And every time I really think about it I come up with two answers, 1) I haven’t spent enough time in one of these cities to have an accurate perception of what permanent life here would actually be like, and 2) where are God’s people? I don’t see them; I haven’t met them because I don’t think they exist here. Maybe I will have better luck in France, but then again, I highly doubt it. In comparison to France, Germany and Austria are probably more traditional and not as acceptant of an existential existence. So maybe I am just out of luck. Dad always tells me that he finds that much of my character development during my time at Hillsdale and away from home has been positive as a direct result of my personal choice to find Christians and make good strong friends with them. I don’t really even have that option here. Of course the opportunity to talk to people about what they believe and why is always a great chance to engrain deeper within myself exactly what it is I claim to believe and why I believe it, and in that respect having to constantly defend the faith is great. But that’s not my spiritual gift. I don’t have a heart to constantly be fighting against a secular mindset over and over again without any support. That’s why it’s so important to me to keep in contact with my close friends while I am away. I talked to Julie Robison the other day, and although we didn’t really talk about anything spiritual, just knowing that I was talking to a fellow Christian who has similar life goals and perspective and could talk about God and His direction comfortably was very comforting to me.

The truth is, the more I ask myself what I want to do with my life while being engrained within this secular culture, the more confused I become. And in direct contrast, every time I sit down alone in my room, read my Bible, pray, and listen to a sermon, I gain such a sense of clarity and excitement and passion for God’s people and His Kingdom. I have no idea what God is calling me towards, but I know it involves Him at the very forefront of it and I am so glad I can say that with sincere honesty and desire for God in my life. Does this come through at every moment of every day? Unfortunately not. I sin just like every one else, but I am not going to let the guilt of my sin from the Devil control me any longer. Brandon sent me a great sermon from John Piper the other day that really encouraged me and re-instilled such a passion for Christ within me. Instead of being part of the multitude of Christians who live in hidden guilt because of sin in their past, and unconsciously allow Satan to take over their spiritual condition on this earth by convincing them that they are indeed guilty and that God hates them. When in reality, what God hates is that we don’t turn to Him and understand that we have sinned against Him, He demands brokenness and repentance and as well, and this is the new part for me, We need to learn to accept that the sense of guilt that we feel comes from God as a gift and as a reminder to return to Him and ask for repentance. Yet we always say that the devil makes us feel guilty and that God doesn’t want to talk to us, especially after we have just sinned. This is in no way true. Micah 7:8-9 as John Piper quoted in this particular sermon speaks to this effect. “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; When I fall, I will arise; When I sit in darkness, The LORD will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the LORD, Because I have sinned against Him, Until He pleads my case And executes justice for me. He will bring me forth to the light; I will see His righteousness.” Those words, “I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned again Him.” This speaks directly to this idea. We have sinned, and we must beg forgiveness and the feelings that we are awful come from our Lord, reminding us of how much we have indeed hurt Him. And instead of turning upwards towards Him, we always do the opposite and turn down towards ourselves and that is when the devil comes in and convinces us that the guilt is taking us further and further away from Christ, when in reality it is merely ourselves and the devil’s words that are pulling us away from God.

I have no idea what God wants me to do with my life, but I know that every time I receive a blessing from the Holy Spirit in terms of true knowledge and wisdom, the type referred to in Proverbs, I become overjoyed and the words of David and Solomon of wisdom being more precious silver and how all of the desires of our hearts can not compare with her become to ring true in my heart. Faithfulness to God makes His Word true. We don’t see the power of His Word when we don’t earnestly desire for His Word to be true and be the law written on our hearts. This is my desire, that I might evermore worship the true Creator in fullness and truth and know the fullness of His Grace that out of his tremendous mercy and love for us, his people, he made manifest through His Son and His death on the Cross. This is true beauty and the very definition of what we are to seek after with all of our heart’s and life’s ambition. Without this, nothing else matters. I pray God’s face would never turn from me and leave me to my own will and desires. I pray I would turn daily more and more unto the Great Shepard and not only in times of need and insecurity or in gratitude, but in making the mundane actions of my life something sacred and not leaning more towards the secular and profane. For all of our actions can be seen as either only having value at the present moment, or in terms of  a lifetime of eternal peace and happiness found in fellowship and communion with Christ before His eternal throne. I pray the readers of this page would share the same vision with me and join me in making the most of every day for the sake of the Kingdom of God and not allowing ourselves to fall into sinful guilt, but righteous indignation from our sin against God. And if I can succeed through the power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, then I know I will have made the right decision to sit and write this evening instead of going to the bar to have a beer. May God bless you all mightily in His never ending abundant Grace.

The Purpose of Unfiltered Thoughts

In Long Time Traveling in August on August 13, 2010 at 9:20 PM

The past few days have been really good for me in a lot of different ways. For a while I felt like I was simply going to be a naïve tourist while I was away in Europe, enjoying the sights and the people, but without any real solid impact or at least awareness of the impact this experience is having on my life. But now I am beginning to return into my personal habits of self-reflection and thought process that I hold so dearly as a part of my sanity and faith. The reasons for writing in terms of self-reflection are many and probably varied depending on what type of person you are. I suppose for me, the purpose has always been to help keep my thoughts clear and within this blog, bring others joy through reading about my experiences in Europe while providing a sort of personal chronicle for future reference of my first experience of Europe. I hope that reading these posts reminds my friends of why we are friends. Every time I get on Facebook and simply see a picture of a friend of mine from Hillsdale, or Csehy, or wherever I always feel glad just to know that these people are close to me, and I to them. I once told a friend of mine from Hillsdale that one of my favorite expressions in the English language is, “and I, you.” Doesn’t mater the context, the phrase, “and I, you.” always sounds sweet to the ears. I think one would actually have to try to makes the phrase sound unpleasant to the ears. But the phrase itself and my perception of it I believe symbolizes how I view my relationships with my friends.

For example, I try very often to say the words that too often I believe people refrain from saying simply due to the fear of rejection. For example, being so far away from home some of the first few words that come out of my lips, or I suppose in this case are typed on to the screen, are, “I miss you.” Now of course this phrase doesn’t necessarily have such a strong bind or connection implicate within its meaning, but it most certainly can. I can’t think of a single person who at some point in their life upon being reunited through telephone or letter to an old friend, family member, or perhaps romantic flame, hasn’t said, “I miss you” and implied much more than the casual expression often implies or meant it with as much fervor in saying it to your friend that you haven’t seen in three days. But I think for me, when I say I miss you, perhaps the most complimentary thing a person could say to me in response would be, “and I, you.”

Don’t ask me why, but from time to time I find certain expressions to be as beautiful as a piece of artwork or a Beethoven symphony. Often they come in the form of song lyrics, something I think most people at least within my generation can identify with. One of my favorite lyrics ever comes from the Train song Meet Virginia. During the bridge after the guitar solo he says, “She only drinks coffee at midnight, when the moment is not right.” Yet again, I have no idea why but I almost fell in love with this one line of lyrics since the first time I heard it. I think for me it has somewhat of a fantasy meaning attached to it. Almost as if there is a bit of magic within the words that can’t be explained.

The English, of course, are notorious for this sentiment concerning the value and indeed art form of words. Putting them into a sentence with the most precise and particular order from which the most beauty and pleasure can be received, they seek to find the most beauty possible within words. I’ve seen this as well many times while being a student at Hillsdale. Time and time again I saw my friends hunched in corners in literary ecstasy after reading a poem or sequence of lines from a particular novel. Banging their heads against the wall utterly overwhelmed by the sheer beauty contained within the meager words. I suppose I can identify in a different sense. Music has always had this affect on me, as Elisabeth Henderson can attest to. One day, we were at the Donnybrook and hardly anyone was around and I played for her the 1st movement of Wieniawksi’s 1st violin concerto and any time she tried to speak I would shush her in my attempt to hear and as well for her to hear and appreciate the intense beauty and drama of the music being played. At the end of the piece I recall her laughing at me because of how hysterical and excited I had become simply over a violin being played.

It’s an interesting thing, the word we refer to as beauty. I do not intend to launch into a philosophical discussion of what the true meaning of beauty is, or what can be beautiful, (I’ll leave that to my more philosophically minded and most likely Catholic friends.) Yet still, I find myself in Europe stumbling across beauty in places I least expected to find it. The gardens at Veitschoechheim might have single handedly been the most beautiful thing I have ever had the pleasure of seeing in my entire life. I believe I spoke briefly before about how I felt like I had been transported into a fairytale I was there. Similarly, being in Wiesbaden and hearing the recitals of Philippe Jaroussky and Diana Damrau put me in such a state of aural bliss unlike I have experienced. I have seen three operas since my arrival in Europe, each one better than the last and opening my eyes to music in a way that I have yet to experience. Every day I listen to music and discover something new about a piece I have heard a thousand times that I had never noticed before.

For example, often times the recordings of opera arias that I listen to, I never noticed until now how in general the timing of the orchestra doesn’t seem to fit in perfectly with the vocalist. Because the listener is so focused on the words and beauty of the tone of the vocalist the orchestra quality can succeed at playing at a lower level on recordings without anyone ever noticing. One of the things I love about listening to recordings of Renaissance music or Baroque opera when the timing of the instruments and vocalists is completely in tune and in time together, they synchronize in such a way that creates absolutely impeccable musical moments unlike anything heard in after the Baroque period.

I think I have come to the point where I can say that Renaissance and Baroque vocal music might be my favorite musical style in the entire classical repertoire. Of course I love the different piano and violin concertos, symphonies and tone poems. But the huge range of emotional capability within such a simplistic style never ceases to amaze me. I live for the moments in the music when the tonic clashes against the minor second above it. Nothing is more riveting to me! As we speak I am listening to the madrigals of Claudio Monteverdi and feel as if I am one of my good friends at the Donnybrook who just read Tennyson and simply exist for a few moments in awe of the beauty.

This post is somewhat unorganized I suppose, but then again, sometimes our thoughts are very unorganized aren’t they? Being in Basel, Switzerland on Tuesday and Wednesday with Lauri was wonderful. It was great to get to experience another side of culture that I hadn’t seen before, as well as have to use a different currency. Life is indeed much more expensive in Switzerland. As the owner of the hostel we were staying at was telling both Lauri and I, where minimum wage in Germany might mean that one makes 900 euros a month, in Switzerland minimum wage makes it so that one makes almost the equivalent of 2,000 euros a month, thus allowing for mugs that cost twenty francs and a grande iced vanilla Americano that cost me almost 8 francs as well. By the way, the franc is almost equivalent currently to the American dollar, just to give you an idea of how much money we are talking about. I ended up spending the francs that I had on beer, simply because I didn’t have anything else to spend the money on that I felt would be worth the price. I did, however, buy a sausage that although smelling horribly of moldy foot, Marci assured me was one of the best sausages in all of Europe. Of course I tried it before I bought it, but Lauri can attest to my complaining throughout the day of having to consistently smell what reminded me of week old worn socks. It was bad!

But the city of Basel, Switzerland is beautiful. The city itself has almost 200,000 inhabitants, but because the city lays on the borders of Switzerland, France, and Germany, the total surrounding suburban area includes about 800,000 people. And from what I learned as well from the owner of our hostel, in contrast to the general perception of the Swiss being neutral, he assured me that the Swiss are not neutral, they are opportunistic. For example, during WWII it wasn’t beneficial to Switzerland to be affiliated with either the Allied or Axis powers. So that was why they chose to remain neutral. They wouldn’t get anything out of being a part of either one, so they chose not to be. And this is from what I can tell is the main gist  of the Swiss mentality. While the world thinks the Swiss are neutral and don’t really consider the Swiss for anything except for cheese and banks, they are always keeping one foot in and one foot out of every door, always having a way out to keep their best interest in mind. Quite clever really, and perfect for a country the size of Switerland. And of course, they have the Alps, and so tourists consistently bring money into the country.

In other words, Well done Switzerland! It seems like you figured out the system and have worked the system into your favor. Perhaps I am not qualified to say this, but I think the Swiss might agree that it’s good to be Swiss! And on top of this presumably particular profitable political position, (Had an alliteration moment, sorry.) the majority of people speak several languages. We met a receptionist at a hotel who spoke English, German, French, Italian, and Swiss German (a dialect of German), and this is not uncommon to find. So separate from the very expensive life style and apparent regulations for every little thing, Switzerland is lovely and I recommend it to anyone traveling through Europe. I would wish I had more time to spend there if it weren’t so darned expensive. So as my Savta said, if you go to Switzerland, take a lot of money!

I think that is all for now.  I didn’t leave my room at all today. It was actually quite nice just to sit and have a day to myself. Of course I could write about much more, and I don’t think I actually wrote  about what I had originally intended, but such is life. I prepare now for my week in Austria where I will be in Salzburg for three days and Vienna for fours so as not to incur the wrath of the gods of music. I will report with more soon. Ciao for now!

Book Review: “The Left Hand of God” by Paul Hoffmann

In Long Time Traveling in August on August 11, 2010 at 11:02 PM

This isn’t going to be so much of an elaborate explanation of my travels in the past week to Wiesbaden and Basel, Switzerland but more a venting of frustration over time spent reading a book that I can sincerely say for the first time in my life, was a waste of time. At first, I merely thought the action in this book was slow and leading to something greater as most books often do, yet this author’s idea of greater, was really a sad excuse for a novel. I hate to be so harsh, but I was sincerely excited to have time to read a book for pleasure that was great than 200 pages. Generally I try and read solid literature that I can chew on and don’t spend as much time experimenting in other genres of literature, but I was in the Heidelberg train station faced with the realization that I would be spending the next 7 and ½ hours on a train and that I would need something to do.

I realize of course that a German train station’s bookstore is not necessarily going to have the most profound or thought provoking literature, but I figured with a title of “The Left Hand of God” this book written by Paul Hoffmann could be interesting. The front and back cover makes the story out to be one of tremendous violence and action to fill your head for years to come. In reality what I discovered were poorly written pages using as much gruesome vocabulary as possible to create an effect of violence that wasn’t really necessary. “Filled with plot twists you don’t see coming,” the back cover said, I saw them all coming. There wasn’t much not to see.

None of the book made any sense. First of all, I have no idea what time period this book was set in, or if the world in which it is set is real or fake. There are no geographical references given to which the reader can understand the action taking place, except for references to Huguenots, Norwegians, and gypsies. Not even a crude map is given to give the reader any idea of what is going on. I thought during the course of the novel that perhaps the action was taking place in Germany, but the majority of the plot takes place outside of the city of Memphis in an area referred to as the Scab Lands and with such a name this terrain could be nothing more than a desert. Yet nothing of this nature exists within Germany, or as far as I know, within the European landscape. So why is he mentioning a desert within the same context as Norwegians, Huguenots, gypsies, while inventing groups of people like the Materazzi who are feared and renown for their immense power and athletic prowess and grace, and yet almost 100,000 fall by the thousands to less than 6,000 hooded monks called Redeemers who are not seen as particularly powerful, just extreme in that they have no fear in death, making them harder to kill.

The author made the mistake of using terms he invented while combining them with terms and places that people understand. For example, the main city is called Memphis, (not referring to Tennessee) and is fortified by a wall thirty feet thick. The city is also a huge marketplace metropolis and is made out to be something like Troy with its gates open before the doors were closed at night and no one was allowed to enter. Yet even with this description of a fortified city, giving the reader an impression of the Middle Ages, the author uses the term, “and she was sent away with twenty bucks in her pocket, never to be heard from again.” This would never be said in the Middle Ages, and according to the context of the world he created, this expression makes no sense. Why couldn’t the author simply create a currency? Why not come up with something called Vitros. Send her away with twenty Vitros. Would that have been sp hard? And there are many further examples of peculiarities that indicate the author is clearly not qualified to be writing good literature, let alone two more sequels to this already awful book. Another of my favorite examples, a character mentions that 6,000 soldiers would be firing 5 arrows a minute; meaning 24,000 arrows would be fired every minute. This is just plain stupidity. Nothing is mentioned about the math being wrong; it is simply presented like the figure is accurate. Even as a publisher, why wouldn’t anyone question the point of giving this figure without any explanation? I could offer more examples, and perhaps will continue to do so later, but I have another subject I would like to broach.

I have yet to mention our protagonist. His name is Thomas Cale, and he is 14 years old. After reading the first hundred pages, I felt like maybe the book was meant to be read by high school kids, but there was really nothing indicating further that besides the character being of such a young age, that this book has anything to do with being a teenager. In fact, this is not even a subject that the author broaches, making me believe he intended for an adult audience but uses a character that an adult target audience can’t really identify with or understand, nor would they want to. Further still, the author doesn’t really give any impression whatsoever to whom he seems to be writing this “engaging” novel. And to make matters worse, in searching for some sort of identity within this novel, the author reveals almost no information about the protagonist, except whenever it seems to be within the interest of the protagonist. Everything is a big secret, but no one has any idea why. Thomas Cale is brought up in probably the worst monastery ever where every human action is considered a sin and so hundreds of young boys are beating consistently and in utterly horrible conditions akin to Nazi concentration camps and lead and bred to believe that they are going to hell because they were born with sin and they will never be good enough to be accepted in the eyes of God.

The information we are given is that this group of monks, called the Redeemers, (if an attempt at irony, a failed one.) are preparing for a war against the Antagonists who believe in justification by faith. Now this at first seemed like it could lead to something interesting, even in terms of someone who is very anti-religious, I was looking forward to hearing more about his perspective and hoping it would be developed further. Unfortunately, like every expectation I had of this book, I was disappointed. The argument can be made that the author is holding out on essential pieces of information for the sake of continuing the plot and keeping the reader interested. Yet this formula only works if the action surrounding the mystery is intriguing enough for the reader to keep his interest peaked long enough for the mystery to be revealed.

Instead what I encountered was a protagonist with potential abilities that are only revealed at the most bizarre points of the action with seemingly no evidence to back up the claims being made and leaving the reader forced into simply accepting critical character and heroic qualities without any sincere understanding why the protagonist is the way he is. (Without giving much away) In fact, the reader must read 497 of the book’s 498 pages in order to discover one critical point about Thomas Cale’s life that changes the whole future of the character, and yet this critical piece of information is given credibility because one of the character’s claims to have had “a vision!” At this point I almost put the book down and didn’t even bother reading the last page I was so furious.

No substantial background is ever given for anything in the book. Characters are introduced and removed for completely arbitrary reasons. My favorite example, a particularly plain woman named Jennifer Plunkett is introduced as a hired assassin intent on murdering Thomas Cale. The author belabors the point of how dreadful of an assassin Jennifer is for about two pages. Heartless, a cold blooded killer and whatever other terms one can come up to make this woman out to be a dreadful murderer intrigues the reader to see what is going to happen. Of course a battle between Jennifer and Cale is expected, yet much to the dismay of the reader, this is not what occurs. During her stake out with another paid associate named Daniel Cadbury she falls head over heels in love with Cale upon the sight of his naked body jumping into the river enjoying swimming as only a 14 year old boy could. Filled with such strong emotion for him, she attempts to kill Daniel Cadbury and runs down the hill after Cale with a knife in her hands shouting his names at the top of her lungs. Upon realizing what was occurring, Cale grabs some pants and a sword and seeks to arm himself. As he is doing so, Jennifer is shot through the chest by an arrow and considering she is running down hill cannot stop her body from running into a tree, where she falls over dead. And as the author puts it, “This was the end of Jennifer Plunkett.” Excuse my language, but why the hell did he make such a big fuss about her being such a clever murderer and cold hearted for about three full pages, only to remove her from the plot two pages later. Five pages were all this character was given, and it seemed as if the author only invented her to fill in space.

Sadly this whole book seemed as if it was merely filling in space for lack of good material, ideas, and writing skills. Honestly I felt like I could come up with a better story line. The plot of the Redeemers fighting against the Antagonists has no resolution in the first book. It is left on hold with nothing leaving the reader with any idea of further development of the introduced political and religious conflict and wondering why it was even introduced at all. Plot after plot is introduced, seeming to have potent significance in the life of the protagonist and yet no resolution is given. His two friends, Kleist and Vague Henri are accompanied by a plump girl saved by Cale towards the beginning of the book named Riba, but none of them seem to play any great role in the book that make the reader think they are even worth having. Entirely self-centered on the life of Cale, the author even pokes fun at the uselessness of the characters by constantly asking the questions of whether or not Cale and them are even friends? No one really knows. Cale as we learn later in the book is a notorious killer with no fear of death making him practically invulnerable in battle as is demonstrated as he defeats opponent after opponent who appear to be much stronger and more experienced than he is. Yet, as previously stated, almost no account for this skill is given until the second to last page in the book.

Of course Cale falls in love with the most beautiful woman in Memphis, and of course she is royalty. Her name is Arbell Materazzi and her father is essentially the emperor of Memphis. Cale saves Arbell’s life, as well as the lives of multiple others throughout the book, but for no reason. And when asked why he did it, Cale can offer no reason. Much to the frustration and chagrin of the reader, no reason is EVER given. For pages, the reader wonders why this protagonist is worthy of being a protagonist. Unlike in Lord of the Rings where the subplot of the relation between Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas the Elf causes all readers to enjoy the battle as much as the characters are, nothing even remotely close to this level exists within this book. I almost wish he had stolen the idea from Tolkien and given him credit at the end so as to give himself at least a little bit of credibility in trying to mimic the writing style of a genius. Instead, all I received as a reader were character plots attempting to be mysterious and complex falling very short of either of these goals and making me regret spending almost ten euros on this book. The only beneficial thing I could find in reading this book was that I haven’t lost my ability to read literature longer than 300 pages. Not much of an accomplishment I know, but then again, neither was this book.

I do not plan on continuing to read this series. I certainly hope others realize how poor of a quality this book is and don’t continue reading as well and maybe, just maybe, we will encourage our lovely author Paul Hoffmann to reconsider the next manuscript he presents to a publishing company and maybe even further we will encourage our lovely publishing companies to reconsider what they allow to published under their name. I was severely disappointed with this novel, if that has not already been made blatantly clear, and I hope no one I know ends up reading this horrible mess of five hundred pages referred to as “a novel.” The Left Hand of God in judgment might have a special place reserved for this guy after writing such an awful book.