In Brief : The Road

As I’ve read various everyman reviews for Cormac McCarthy’s celebrated novel, The Road, I’ve realized that it can be a polarizing story. There are those who see it as a marvelous tale of sacrificial love and hope. There are others who can’t stand the abandonment of punctuation and the repetitively repetitive nature of it all.

The Road is a post-apocalyptic story of survival featuring a nameless man and his nameless son in an ashen and dreary world. Without crops, animals, or even the sun, the world is on the brink of extinction. The two travel the road in search of life and survivors, though trust is also in short supply as many have turned to crime and cannibalism.

The Road won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 2007, so it must get something right. But to be honest, I can sympathize with the detractors. Since I finished it this weekend, I’ve come to call it the best worst book I’ve read in a long time. My thoughts are all over the map here, and I could write for days… but since the title says In Brief… 

The Best

Cormac McCarthy drew me in deep with his mastery of English vocabulary. In a world that is gray and barren, he unearths a great variety of words to communicate grayness and barrenness. He draws on language to reveal depths of despair and courage, and for that I am in awe. His prose is elegant.

The dialogue between the man and his son is often cold and distant like the world they traverse – serving a thematic purpose – and is apparently drawn from McCarthy’s own personal relationships.

Given the dire situation, there is no shortage of suspense as they come upon decrepit dwelling after dwelling. The man’s deliberate drive to find sustenance in sketchy places alongside the boy’s hesitation and fear at what else they might find create a fantastic tension both in the story and in their relationship.

Providing contrast and complexity in the characters, the man looks upon every surviving human with skepticism, the boy with compassion. This creates an internal/emotional tension that nicely expands the situational elements.

The Road contains the elements of greatness… which is why it is the best worst book that I’ve read in some time.

The Worst

The artist in me wants to believe that McCarthy left out the punctuation used in the top half of the line (quotations & apostrophes) in order to highlight the glass being half. Half full? Half empty? I suppose that’s a matter of perspective.

The writer in me wants to believe that he left it out in order to blur the lines between the man, his son, and anyone or anything else they happen to encounter. Why attribute words to particular persons when all are simply seeking survival in a blurry world?

The reader in me thinks his prose is strong enough that the lack of punctuation is annoying. McCarthy’s writing doesn’t require tricks. If a device must be overlooked in order to enjoy the book, it’s not worth including.

The characters, while complex, are also quite flat. Just like the world they inhabit, the characters encounter little growth or change (which, I know, is probably the point). I might have enjoyed this aspect more if McCarthy had explored the past a little more or further utilized their dialogue/dreams/flashbacks/thoughts to a greater extent.

I was losing heart in the middle of the book. I really didn’t want to finish. But I read a few reviews (without spoilers) that said, I’m so glad I stuck with it to the end. And so I persisted.

Love and Courage Without Hope

McCarthy’s man embodies sacrifice and survival. He lives for the boy’s wellness. The barren world places them in a situation where flight is not a viable option (from the situation or the accompanying suffering), and so the beauty of his love is that it gives all in the face of insurmountable odds.

McCarthy’s boy is the image of cautious trust, wanting to see goodness yet painfully aware of the reality of evil. He possesses an appropriate and surprising childlike faith, both in his father as protector and provider, and in an uninformed notion of God as a grounded source of black and white amid the world presented as eternally gray.

But while I applaud the complicated relationship of father and son, I diverge from the multitudes in the misguided notion that there is any lasting hope on The Road. McCarthy gives no room for ultimate hope. There is no food. No sunshine. No possibility of growing or cultivating livelihood. Mentions of an eternal reality are hollow at best. Everyone will die, and soon. The only revealed mission of every living human is to consume what remains.

The Road is hopeless. The man’s love has no ultimate relevance because it serves only to prolong both his and the boy’s pain in a world which boasts not even the slightest glimpse of light. The boy’s trust is charming but McCarthy gives no reason to believe he’s accomplished anything but finding a bigger family to die alongside.

Through his apocalypse, McCarthy lifts the veil of worldly distraction and comfort, and exposes the emaciated core of a materialistic worldview. On The Road, it doesn’t matter where we came from or how we got here, because ultimately we’re not going anywhere and so it doesn’t matter which way we go. Love merely serves to make the hopeless tolerable.

If the story meant to convey hope, the least the man could have done was tell the boy about love, beauty, and the colorful world he once knew. Instead, he suppressed it all as dangerous. He prepared the boy for an eternally ashen existence of militant survival.

I might like to ask Cormac McCarthy why he would bother to compose such aesthetic prose to tell the story of a man who refused to allow his son to even imagine color.

There is a journey. But without an anchor upon which to rest questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny, The Road leaves us only to eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.

Best worst book.


In Brief: Pinocchio

Our literary quest through the homeschool year ended with a massive flourish as we enjoyed Carlo Lorenzini’s (better known as Collodi, his adopted surname which doubles as the name of his hometown) classic Pinocchio. 

From a schooling perspective, our typical approach with any classic is to read the book, view the most popular version on film, and then write a reflection piece detailing the similarities, differences, and our personal preferences. In the case of Pinocchio, my children and I unanimously preferred the Collodi version.

My daughter preferred the suspense of the 1883 classic. My sons preferred the broader variety in the story and the detail with which Collodi brought the puppet and secondary characters to life. Personally, I preferred the depth of Pinocchio’s transformation which was utterly (and regrettably) absent in the mammoth Disney offering.

The Page vs. The Silver Screen

If there are complaints about the original tale of the beloved puppet, typically they revolve around his biting and nasty character, or the lethal peril which he faces after every increasingly disappointing decision. In all honesty, Pinocchio is as much the villain of the novel as any other. But it is the depth of the marionette’s depravity that makes his repentance all the more glorious.

The movie presents Pinocchio as the whimsical boy whose one bad decision leads to a series of unfortunate events. The viewer is led to sympathize with Pinocchio as a victim. His brokenness is shallow. So, then, is his eventual transformation into a real boy. What was the point of it all? I guess when you wish upon a star, your mild misadventure will end in all your dreams coming true?

Collodi’s Pinocchio makes repeated willfully disobedient decisions, each a slap in the face to those who have loved him most. He abuses the sacrificial gifts of his father who fashioned him from a talking piece of wood. He rejects the redemptive efforts of the blue fairy who repeatedly comes to his aid. At every turn, he laments his situation, pleading for help and half-heartedly feigning sadness. He loves complaining and being the recipient of the world’s pity. It’s easy to dislike Gepetto’s puppet.

Even when he turns completely into an ass (the most egregious omission from the movie), he doesn’t break. Even when he is then sold into the big top to perform tricks, he does not repent. Even when he’s lamed after failing at the tricks and sold to a trader who intends to kill him, skin him, and turn him into a drum, he’s not ready to change.

It’s only when that trader throws him into the sea with a millstone around his neck that the Pinocchio of the page changes. Critics of the book complain that Pinocchio so vividly describes the fifty-minute ordeal under the sea where fish consume his donkey flesh, leaving only the wooden skeleton behind. But it is this death that leads to Pinocchio’s true repentance.

Upon being pulled from the sea by the man (who then realized he wasn’t getting his drum!), Pinocchio repents. He changes. He seeks after his father Gepetto who had been swallowed by a great fish while searching for his son. He cares for the ailing blue fairy, sacrificing every earthly penny to restore her to health.

And it is at the end of this journey that Pinocchio becomes a real boy.

Sometimes the best part of good news is first knowing the bad news. Where Disney, sadly, offers cheap grace and a couple of catchy songs, Collodi walked his main character through the valley of the shadow of death. My children and I both appreciated the depth of Collodi’s story, which only left us wanting more of the film.

The Takeaway

More than a morality tale, Pinocchio tells the story of a living creature who was little more than dust, who was crafted into the image of his maker, destroyed his own conscience (yes, Collodi’s Pinocchio kills the cricket at the first suggestion that his actions were foolish), swallowed the most dastardly lies, and discarded the most valuable treasures, believing that his way would be more fruitful.

The real Pinocchio shows the consequence of foolishness as the main character chases fleeting pleasures and transforms fully into a donkey, just as it was promised he would.

The real Pinocchio shows that a cheap turn will not suffice. Talk is cheap if the heart remains darkened. Only the death of wicked selfishness can lead to the kind of change that would satisfy his heart’s greatest desire.

Pinocchio then shows the power of a transformed life as it radiates with true love, self-sacrifice, generosity, and joy.

Personally, I believe my children preferred Collodi’s story because it echoes the greatest story. Likewise, I think many dislike the original because it provides an all-too-familiar look into the depths of our own souls and makes clear that the road to true transformation comes through death to self.

The cost of becoming what we were created to be is quite severe. More than we would or could pay on our own. Am I allowed to say that Collodi’s Pinocchio made me praise my Savior?



Homeschool Dad : Tuesday

I’m still new enough in the realm of homeschooling that, even as I share the current patterns of our days, I am evaluating and asking myself if there aren’t immediate improvements that could be made.

One thing I have noticed to this point in the year is that the schedule is a work in progress. While I have made changes, I have tried not to make constant changes. I know I will have time to fine tune adjustments. Here stands our current Tuesday:

07:45am – wake kiddos
08:20am – stretch
08:25am – catechism & prayer
08:35am – family walk
09:00am – geography
09:30am – art
10:00am – literature
10:30am – language arts
11:00am – reading aloud #1 (#2 v. #3 chess)
11:30am – lunch
12:45pm – science
01:15pm – math #1 (#2/#3 silent reading)
01:35pm – math #2 (#1/#3 silent reading)
02:00pm – math #3 (#1/#2 silent reading)

At a glance, it would seem that we read a lot. And we do. Two principles are fixed in my brain which may or may not be entirely true, but which we pursue nonetheless.

First is that a great deal of learning is both taught and caught. I wake up Monday through Friday intending to fill my children with what little knowledge and wisdom I have to impart through a teacher-student paradigm. But I also recognize that their repeated exposure to varied forms of literature will leave varied and valuable imprints.

I can and will teach them spelling, capitalization, when to use quotation marks, when to break a paragraph. But I can also immerse them in books which will teach these rules without ever speaking an intentional word on the matter. And if I’m being honest, I recognize that a great many books do so in a far more engaging and interesting fashion.

(Obviously, literature leaves other imprints that can be positive and negative to their impressionable minds, which is why we are also trying to cultivate a family culture of discussing what we read!)

The second principle I keep in mind is that a life of learning is inextricably tied to the ability to read. Much wisdom comes from simply living, but exponentially more is also available on printed pages. I want reading to be comfortable and normal. I want to instill and train them for a life of learning that extends well beyond my ability to teach. I want their knowledge, and their thirst for understanding, to far exceed my own.

And so we read. I read aloud to them. They read aloud to me. They read silently. We talk about what we read. Tuesdays certainly highlight that. And, to this point in the year, I believe we are all growing as a result.



Flappers and Fancy: Gulliver #9

If you are following along in the Summer Read, it would be helpful if you’ve read through Chapter IV of Laputa in Gulliver’s Travels.

This week was slow for reading. Our schedule (and a couple nights of illness) didn’t allow for the same time in the story. That makes me sad. It happens, though. I’ll catch up with the kiddos tonight, and then we’ll be off for voyage #3. I hope you’ve been able to enjoy your time in Gulliver. I know our family has found reasons to smile throughout. Even our three-year-old asks for it by name (I’m not sure he knows what’s what, but that doesn’t stop him from asking for “Gover”).

Satire knows no rest. At least, not in the world of Lemuel Gulliver. A mere ten days after arriving home from two extraordinarily strange journeys, he is invited yet again to sail the seas. Two months later, he is adrift. If I’m being honest, though the first two voyages are perhaps the most well known, it is the final two which stand as my favorites. They are, in many ways, the most absurd. And yet, at the same time, they offer us an even larger mirror through which to view humanity – sometimes in particularly relevant ways.

The floating island of Laputa, unusual as it may be, doesn’t hold a candle to the natives in terms of absurdity. Two particular features scream with modern application… flappers and fancy.


Laputans are known to drift mid-conversation into a world of their own self-important imaginations. (We know nothing of such problems here in the sophistication of the 21st century!) What happens when an island is entirely inhabited by humans incapable of sustained focus on other humans?


Flappers, or Climenoles in the native Laputan tongue, follow the natives, carrying a pea-filled bladder strung from a stick which is used to flap people on the ears and mouth (and occasionally the eyes) in order to reset their span of attention and welcome their inflated minds back to earth. Swift is believed to be jabbing at London’s Royal Society, a learned group of scientists established sixty-six years prior to the publication of Gulliver which still exists today. While Swift may have had a target in mind, I think it’s safe to say his commentary extends comfortably into our modern context.

It would seem that these Laputans do have the capacity to dial in and focus… just not for another human. They are content to chase their own thought processes, their own calculations, their own discoveries. But along the way, it is the inclusion of another member of the species that requires an extra jolt. In other words, it is in relationship that they most desperately fail. In communication.

Think about the last person you met, for the first time for the last time. (Sorry, Spaceballs was on last week). What was their name? I am excessively guilty of this. I meet a person. I get their name. I immediately forget their name and go back to thinking about myself. What do I want to say next? How can I make this person like me? How can I get rid of this person? (Hint: forgetting their name helps) So often in conversation, my mind drifts to the next thing I’m going to say – and in the process I stop attending to the living, breathing human in front of me. This is probably why I need 2-5 quality interactions (preferably at my house, for some reason) before I remember anything of value.

Personally? I could use a flapper. How about you?



Another key feature of the Laputans is their apparent inability to bring their brilliant encounters in the clouds down to earth in any practical way. For example, they are renown for their mathematical prowess, yet they cannot use simple geometry to craft a shirt. The illustrated version pictures limp third sleeves, baggy proportions (and horrid colors?!). All the intellect in the skies over Balnibarbi is useless without practical application. Somehow, their servants are able to carve food into geometric shapes – a clearly useful skill – but they cannot properly clothe themselves.

This is probably something of an extension of the whole flapper business. But here I am convicted of a very basic principle… a killer reading list, a puffed-up noggin, and a top-notch vocabulary (anybody knock out the vocab assessment on facebook this week?) are useless if the knowledge attained never finds its way into practical application. At the same time, I would emphasize that I view this as no reason to avoid study, but rather as a clarion call to pursue studies that produce practical fruit in our lives.

As I write this, I am preparing for my summer run of camp preaching. I’ll be speaking 23x in 26 days. I am thankful that 19 of those occasions allow for me to overlap material, but there is still a ton of preparation involved, which means (for me) a boatload of reading. Regardless of my audience, I choose to challenge myself deeply in preparation. I will read biblical and systematic theologies, scholarly papers and books, commentaries and novels… to teach children. (for the first 10 messages, anyway!)

Now granted, I will never share 97% of what I read, but I’m always feeding the conversation inside my head in order to gain a better understanding. I chase knowledge to the exclusion of everything around me, at times beyond my own comprehension, just so I can stand in front of a group of kiddos and say “Jesus loves you” with an extra measure of confidence.

If I’m not careful, I pay closer attention to the conversation in my head than the one in my living room. If I’m not careful, I spend so much time reading that I forget to apply the most simple expression of truth to my own life. If I’m not careful, I confuse more than I instruct, failing to pass on the wisdom I’m called to impart.

This Laputan business is not stuck on another continent, in another century. This is my life.

I laugh at the flappers. I think about sending flappers to friends and family. But who needs the flappers more? Could it be *gasp* me?

I laugh at the thought of a three-armed shirt. But how often do I misapply the knowledge I am fed?

More and more, I’m thankful for the light Mr. Gulliver is shining!


A Vile Torrent: Gulliver #4

If you are following along in the Summer Read, this post assumes you’ve finished Chapter V of Gulliver’s Travels. If you happen to be reading the kiddos’ version, it would help if you’ve read through pg. 37.

On Pace

Despite the extensive vocabulary and the centuries-wide gap in manners of speech, I’m still enjoying Gulliver. I am excited to serve as family narrator for the summer, reading the nerd version aloud to my wife and the kiddos version to our four young ones. At different points, I’ve caught everyone in the family laughing, even our littlest. All along, everyone has listened intently and stayed on board to at least have an understanding of the story. I hope you’ve found a sense of enjoyment in the book as well.

I’ve also enjoyed reading quite slowly. I’m often one to swallow a book quickly, which can have its benefits. But there is a wonderful delight in chewing on the chapters for awhile in order to let them smack me around a bit. If, as Swift has said, truth convicts, then we must let truth speak no matter where we find it!

On Making Water

Mr. Gulliver is not shy about sharing stories involving bodily functions. In fact, they provide some of the lighter moments in his Travels thus far. As I considered the event of the flames in the royal palace (and the unorthodox effort to extinguish), I was again drawn to consider the incident from multiple perspectives.

With the palace on fire, Gulliver used the only viable resource available. He considered it lucky, in fact, to have such an opportunity. And so naturally he availed himself, though I’m pretty sure it would take a Gulliver-sized bladder on a Lilliputian for the effort to have lasted a full three minutes. In any case, the flames were out, the mission accomplished, and the day sufficiently saved.

Despite the preservation of the palace – with a lingering funk – the people are unsure of the method employed by the Man Mountain. Gulliver himself worries that the Emperor will resent his actions. In the end, though Gulliver receives a pardon for the crime (punishable by death!), the Empress chooses to move across the grounds rather than live near such a vile act. She distances herself from the offensive action rather than see (or smell) the effects. Gulliver’s time on the island has taken a turn for the less comfortable. It would seem as though, on a certain level, the royal family might have preferred their home to burn than to be saved in such a manner. Imagine the horror of the scene through the eyes of one 1/12th the size of the giant!


As the footnotes declare, the palace fire is possibly a reference to Queen Anne’s hesitation to elevate Swift in the Anglican church because of his occasionally crude and impious way of telling stories. (Go figure!) If this is the case, then the goal is to join Swift in his smarmy satire and view the situation through the cynical eyes of the author. Maybe we’re supposed to see the whole situation as ridiculous and cheer as the overconfident Lilliputians get theirs. But there is a strange draw in the story that leaves me sympathetic to the Lilliputians as well. I am curious, this time around in reading the book, if I’m drawn to the inhabitants of the other lands as much as I am this first bunch.

Taking the Lilliputian perspective, then, I can’t help but think of sovereignty and blood.

Really, Bob?


I cannot count the number of times in my life I’ve heard or been asked, why would a good God _________? The question is posed as a response to doubt and pain. If I may toy with the notion of our current chapter, though, I would propose that often times providence feels like the vile torrent of Swift’s Chapter V. Caught within the circumstance, with a perspective far too small and marred by sin, it might appear that we are being defiled in the hands of a irrational God. As a result, we respond in a manner not unlike the Empress… disgust and distance. We stay away from the pain, away from the damage, away from the redeeming quality, because to face the damage is to possibly face the uncomfortable means by which we received care.

Could it be that God might work through pain – not only by passively allowing it, but also by actively ordaining it as his agent in this cursed world – in order to bring the greatest redemption? To be quite honest, sometimes our palaces need a little “made water” in order to let go of them as a means of ultimate security. The irony of Swift’s beef with the Queen is that in what seems like taking out his frustration through a tale of filthy firefighting, he was illustrating the point he may have failed to believe… that sometimes the vile torrent is a means of grace. Setback and pain are warning signs that something is amiss, and a clear signal that our eyes may be fixed on the wrong mighty fortress.

I think of biblical redemption and what is often considered the vile torrent that brings peace – blood. And this all in the name of supreme love? For those who cannot bring themselves to find comfort in the bloody reality of salvation, typified in animal sacrifice and fulfilled in the cross of Christ, they too respond with disgust and distance. Yet it is the disgusting and vile blood that saves. At the risk of sounding irreverent in the face of a story such as the palace fire, there is something very real to consider… God’s ordained means of saving have rarely if ever resembled the expected. And to be quite honest, if we’re not willing to embrace mystery in humility, his means are often downright difficult.

I don’t want to press to far in aligning Gulliver with God in the story. I don’t believe that to be the point. But I can’t help but see the parallels when the so-small-yet-so-puffed-up race encounter the giant beyond their comprehension. I don’t see God in Gulliver as much as I see myself in the Lilliputians.


“… For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2Corinthians 1:8b-9 ESV)

“So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV)




The Man-Mountain: Gulliver #3

If you are following along in the Summer Read, this post was born of Chapters I-III of Gulliver’s Travels. If you happen to be reading the kiddos’ version, it would help if you’ve read through pg. 27.

On Selecting Your Shoes

Rather than combine two ideas into a single post, I’ve opted to post twice this week, figuring maybe one would bless you. Reading can be such a chore. 😉

Throughout Gulliver, we as readers face the task of deciding whose shoes we are to wear in the moment. Gulliver provides the primary perspective. As literary historian Pat Rogers noted in an essay, it is curious that the one item Gulliver would not give up to the Lilliputians was his pair of spectacles. He is prepared to give up “his money, his watch, his guns, his razor, his handkerchief, his knife and even his ‘Journal Book.’ Rogers contrasts this to Robinson Crusoe, who saw no value in those things which helped him maintain perspective. To Gulliver, sight is critical, so it is easy enough to read the story and become Gulliver.

However, as Swift’s task seemed to be drawing out the absurdities of others through observation, it is helpful to assume the role of the Lilliputians, even if we are slightly taller than six inches. It is in the notion of the little people that we often find curiosity and conviction. Rather than reading with a finger pointed, it is sometimes helpful to read with a mirror.


On Control

The contract between Gulliver and the Lilliputians struck me, particularly from the vantage point of the smaller folk. As I considered the terms of the agreement, I found myself asking, If I knew someone HUGE, what would I require of them in order to keep them in my life? What would be the boundaries? 

Gulliver’s terms, in very brief:

  1. The Man-Mountain cannot leave without permission.
  2. The Man-Mountain cannot come too close without permission.
  3. The Man-Mountain cannot interfere with infrastructure.
  4. The Man-Mountain must not trample.
  5. The Man-Mountain must serve as a delivery system.
  6. The Man-Mountain must fight for the Lilliputians.
  7. The Man-Mountain must provide labor.
  8. The Man-Mountain must pursue and share knowledge.
  9. If he complies, we will provide for the Man-Mountain.

By virtue of Gulliver’s size he is “dangerous.” Apart from his exhaustion following the shipwreck and/or the Lilliputian’s deception involving a questionable drink, he cannot be controlled. He submits to their requests in his benevolence. But even in gentleness, there are still aspects of his person that they cannot comprehend or handle.

Perhaps these terms make sense when their knowledge of such a being is limited. The Lilliputians had received glimpses of Gulliver’s kindness, but they had not the time nor the evidence to completely trust him. Their time had been consumed cleaning up, restoring self-determined order to a world invaded by such a presence. In their ignorance, their primary interest was control. They saw the potential of having such a Man-Mountain on their side, but they could not surrender sovereignty. Instead, they chose to deliver terms of surrender to a being whom they so precisely calculated would contain 1724 of their own.

In a moment, I am prone to look at the Lilliputians demands and think them silly. Did you laugh there as well? Walk through the terms of the contract, though, replacing Man-Mountain with God, and the mirror falls firmly into place. I’m not so foolish as to see deep parallels between Captain Gulliver and the Creator, but rather in this instance I choose to put on the shoes of a Lilliputian and ask myself a few questions. I ask myself when I’ve treated the Sovereign King in similar fashion. Granted, we aren’t as likely to do so through a written contract, but through our behavior, we often make similar requests.

Don’t leave me, but don’t get too close.
Help me, but only when I ask.
Serve me, and I will serve you.

Sometimes it feels as though we have to clean up the mess of having God around – explaining his actions, questioning his motives in the events of the past and the minutiae of everyday living. In our ignorance, we choose to live under the illusion of control. We extend the contract in foolishness, expecting the Sovereign of the universe to surrender to our terms.

The trouble is, if God is God, that means we are not. His terms, not ours. His sovereignty, not ours. His glory, not ours.

In the gospel, though, God has given us a lens through which to view all of his actions, a filter through which we understand all of his words. What might seem a mess without the cross becomes quite clear in light of such amazing love. He has given us the ultimate act of sacrifice as the linchpin to our own existence. He gave his only Son to die in our place, suffering a fate our sin deserves, offering the life he earned in perfect obedience, so that we could find redemption in him. And with that redemption comes surrender, mediated by the Son of God – Jesus. We tear up the feeble contract we might contrive and live to know God on his terms – through the person and work of his Son as revealed in the Bible. The “terms” are found in the story of Scripture. We leave our ignorance in the past and seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. Love demands as much.



Tune in next week! Until then, press on and enjoy!



The Man-Mountain: Gulliver #2

If you are following along in the Summer Read, this post was born of Chapters I-III of Gulliver’s Travels. If you happen to be reading the kiddos’ version, it would help if you’ve read through pg. 27. 

On Reading

Monday we sat down to read to the end of Chapter III. More accurately, I sat down to read aloud while my wife was painting the walls. It happens. We found ourselves laughing aloud for a few portions, offering a simple “Hmmm…” for others. Gulliver keeps you on your toes, and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of reading Swift’s extensive vocabulary out loud! The book is indeed challenging in that way. Swift demonstrates the unique gift of being able to place 18th century potty humor (Gulliver is not shy about his bathroom exploits) right next to stabbing, yet engaging, human commentary.

The nerd version features a number of footnotes that hint at the possible historical persons who show up in the various characters. Gulliver was a work of offense to Swift’s original audience, but I’ve quickly come to realize that the footnotes add nothing to the enjoyment of the story unless you are interested in finding out what they have to say. Is it helpful to know that Flimnap is “usually taken to represent Sir Robert Walpole, chancellor of the Exchequer and head of the Whig government from 1715-1717?” Maybe. But let’s be honest, if you don’t know, you’re not missing much. It’s a fun story.

On Time

I found the inventory of Gulliver’s pockets to be enjoyable. It is probably a comment on my own typical reading habits, but trying to decipher the contents of his clothing from the perspective of a man six inches tall, combined with the period in which the book was written proved to be a fun game! I found myself going back, after reading about the gunpowder demonstration, to realize that the pieces in his pockets were in fact pistols.

Most fascinating to me, though, was the pocket watch.

As I sat down to write this post, my son was watching intently over my shoulders – not because he cared to read dear ‘ol Dad’s words. He was watching the clock on my laptop. You see, 3:30 is snack time. He returned to my back three times in the ten minutes between 3:20 and 3:30. At 3:28, he was content to wait for the digital readout to change. Is it snack time yet? I’m sure by having a snack time at all, I am guilty of promoting this pattern, but it speaks to the Lilliputians viewpoint of time.

“And we conjecture it is either some unknown Animal, or the God that he worships: But we are more inclined to the latter Opinion, because he assured us… that he seldom did any thing without consulting it. He called it his Oracle, and said it pointed out the Time for every Action of his Life.”

The nearest reference (as I remember) to specific time in Lilliputian terms is the “fourth Day of the eighty ninth Moon of your Majesty’s auspicious reign.” They had apparently taken the time to record the length of their good fortune, but the notion of hourly tracking was unusual.

I’ve often heard it said that the obsession with linear time is an American trait. (For a rather lengthy article discussing the proposition, check this link. You will be redirected to Business Insider. Whether fact or no, the article addresses the idea.) From a biblical perspective, this is certainly true as well. For example, what day of the week was 9/11? Easy enough. What day of the week was the Last Supper? Scholarly folks are still arguing about that one. Today, we obsess over tracking every single minute of every single day – studying the trees. Other cultures, perhaps, pay more attention to the forest… or at least different trees!

As I’ve studied biblical Hebrew, one of the most fascinating differences is the treatment of linear time. Verbs in Hebrew do not retain, in and of themselves, a past/present/future voice. Rather they exist as perfect/imperfect with regard to completion. Linear timing is determined largely by context. If that notion confuses you, that’s OK. It confused me as well, at first. I’ve tried to learn from a non-linear expression of time the significance and spatial relationship of the event, rather than simply a timeline.

I am a time-tracker. I’ve not always been surrounded by time-trackers, though. This means I’ve spent unfortunate portions of my life waiting. Only in the current stage of living have I taken considerable time to pay less attention to the clock, or rather to be less controlled by it. Obviously, if I fail to show up to work or class on time, there are consequences. But while this may be true, it is all-too-easy to allow the clock to have a say in my mood or my view of others, or perhaps to dictate the actions of my day, including how I spend my time waiting.

I have been challenged over the past few years on how to strike a balance between honoring the time of others (particularly those who obsess over the clock more than I!), while also resisting the urge to watch the clock to the exclusion of the person or event in front of me. I’ve tried to “calculate” my day based on both time and the importance of the action. It’s not easy. A creature of habit, I am.

At the outset of this year, I spent considerable time (ironic?) considering how I would govern my time. I’ve never been able to maintain an accurate calendar for long, and I am no good with tech calendars. I prefer paper. I can’t help it. I came across a number of interesting resources, including one from Donald Miller called The StorylineWhile I did not adopt the planner as my day-to-day scheduling process, I found the premise to be fascinating, and I have visited the concepts from time to time. His aim is to combine time and significance to achieve productivity (and a hint of peace along the way). If nothing else, it’s an exercise in thinking differently about your time.


How much is the clock an Oracle for your life?

How do you react when the hours fail to follow the schedule?

How do you spend time waiting?

And what would the Lilliputians find in YOUR pockets?


There is another post coming today!



In Brief : Daytripper

2016 ReadingTitle: Daytripper : Deluxe Edition
Author: Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon

Pages: 256

The premise of Daytripper is fascinating. Bras de Oliva Domingos is an obituary writer. It is fitting, then, that in each issue this man, whose vocation is death, would himself meet his end. Ba & Moon have masterfully written a unified arc that is unexpectedly cut short in every episode. I can only imagine they began by writing the life of Bras, and then explored what it would have looked like had he perished in various circumstances that came to define his life.

The stories are not chronologically arranged, a detail which shines light on the grown man before considering the possibility of a much earlier demise. It is helpful to catch a glimpse of the man Bras will be before looking, for example, at his childhood.  

The series itself stands, in the writers’ own words, as an honest meditation on mortalityThey’ve succeeded. Daytripper raises wonderful questions as to the significance of a life, and the value of knowing the full story before casting a lasting judgment.

I can honestly say that the final two issues of the series take an interesting story and infuse it with meaning. Without them, the story would be far more tragic. These final reflections frame the authors’ efforts and make the story extraordinary. I share this, not as a spoiler, but as an encouragement to see the parts in light of the whole. In that regard, their story writing mirrors the story they wrote.

As a fair warning, the book does contain panels that are inappropriate for children. As much as I’ve grown to love the graphic novel as a medium, I sure wish folks believed they could write a real story without necessarily showing everything. It’s almost as if there’s an unwritten code in the industry that there must be at least a few nude panels, some blood, and  curse words. As it turns out, humans have been blessed with a certain creativity that enables us to fill in blanks. But that’s a commentary for another day.





Ba & Moon, by varying the timing and circumstances of death, demonstrate their point, that the end casts its shadow over the minutiae of the middle. What might have seemed a tragedy in the middle becomes a mere stepping stone, and what appeared to be the best day proves to be nothing more than a dangerous snare. The final perspective is set by the instance of death. Unforeseen fatalities keep the tragedy a tragedy, and the best the best, removing the opportunity to see growth dependent upon survival.

Were the authors to lay out all of the possibilities and then choose a particular instance of death and declare, “this is how it really happened,” (something like the end of one of my favorite movies, Clue) they would have introduced an entirely different effect. In light of the proposed possibilities held within the life of Bras, this would have stirred a set of emotions and forced a particular judgment. But by merely exploring the possibilities, Ba & Moon have instead raised a number of wonderful questions on the effect of mortality and the valuable process of life.

Daytripper calls upon the reality that moment by moment our stories are being written, as are the stories of all humanity. Every encounter might be a piece of tragedy, or a slice of the best. The final determination will become clear when death enters the picture. In many ways, Daytripper awakens the sense that our limited human perspective means that we rarely (if ever) understand the purpose, effect, or alternative possibilities of any given moment. We cast our efforts, be they in love or enmity, without any substantial perspective. We inherently lack divine perspective.




As an honest meditation on mortality, the effect of death upon life is central to Daytripper. Ba & Moon offer encouragement to embrace the reality of death, without being so bold as to suggest exactly what that will look like. Instead, their engaging efforts allow you to walk away into meditations of your own.

If you are not easily offended or tempted by the more depraved panels, I would highly recommend the series. The challenge within is compelling.


A Christian Consideration

Our brains may acknowledge death, but that doesn’t mean our hearts are prepared. In reality, we fear death. Death raises questions we aren’t, by nature, excited to answer. But just because we fail to see the baby grand piano hanging by a frail thread above our heads (a la Looney Tunes), doesn’t mean it’s not there.

I am thankful for Christ. He has not only conquered death, but the fear of death as well.

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself [that is, Christ] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Death has no hold upon the Christian heart. Death has been defeate, losing its sting. The slavery of fear has been eternally broken by the Son of God who died in our place. This does not mean death is no longer a reality. Sadly, we must still face death until Jesus returns to make all things new. However, death has been put in divine perspective for the Christian. The work accomplished by Jesus has enabled the Christian to see death through God’s eyes, and to rest confident that the enemy has been defeated, that resurrection is the final reality. Resurrection and life embraced by grace through faith.

For the Christian, the consideration of death being in a state of care by the Lord Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, the concern moves as well to the life and death of others. I meet Bras every day. Men and women, created in the image of God, growing by their experiences, unwilling to face the fear of death and unaware of the hanging piano.

Even with a hint of divine perspective, though, I am incapable of fully discerning the heart condition beneath the surface. What I see as tragedy, God may be working for their glory. What I see as joy may be nothing more than the deep and dangerous snare of sin. How do we move forward in such ignorance?

With love.

Love meets the tragedy and the joy as a single facet of a much larger picture over which we have no control, and over which Jesus is Lord.

When we reach the end, I mean the REAL end, the picture will be clear. The moments will make sense. The minutiae will have had a purpose. And Jesus will be praised.

For now, I rest my ignorance at the foot of the cross, gaze upon my Savior, and go out to love.

Make no mistake, Daytripper will awaken something in your heart.




“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory? 
O death, where is your sting?”
(1Corinthians 15:55)



In Brief: The Crowd

2016 - The CrowdTitle: The Crowd
Author: Gustave LeBon (1841-1931)

Pages: 232

As I was reading The Drama of Doctrine towards the end of 2015, I spotted an interesting reference to this work from French social psychologist Gustave LeBon, and decided to give it a read. I found the work fascinating. Outside the text, LeBon seems to be a fascinating figure. Legends hold that he claimed credit for discovering radioactivity and the theory of relativity. The Crowd is his best known work, a description of the psychology of crowds, rooted heavily in the context of late 19th century Europe.

His writing is easy enough to follow, and I found myself easily agreeing with a number of his observations. The aim of The Crowd was not to explain, but rather to observe the condition of collective humanity. Similarly, he offers no changes or solutions to perceived problems, instead offering suggestions as to how change might be affected. Curious is the fact that he contends leaving certain anomalies (even those he obviously disdains) in place, simply because crowds seem to function better with them than without. Again, the book consists of observation rather than explanation or prescription.

It would be an understatement to say that LeBon presents a low opinion of crowds.


“Crowds are only powerful for destruction.” (p. 38)


Broadly speaking, he believes that individuality, along with any particular moral or intellectual prowess, is rendered null and void by interaction with a crowd. He describes the leveling of the crowd as something of a reduction to the lowest common denominator, the basest desires of humanity. As such, he holds that there is no benefit to a crowd of “elites,” as they will present no differently than the common peasant. As an aside, he notes this to be the reasoning behind a jury of common men rather than society’s greats. Both, he claims, will render the same decision because in a crowd the collective humanity will always lean on the same instincts.


“An individual in a crowd is a grain of sand amid other grains of sand, which the wind stirs up at will.” (p. 53)


Religious Fervor

LeBon’s disdain for religion is unmasked and unashamed, in fact attributing the acceptance of religion to some of the less-than-flattering qualities expounded in the book. It was on this point, obviously, that my pastoral heart took interest. And it is at this point that I’d like to interact with the text for a moment. LeBon is quick to point out the human propensity towards religion.


“A person is not religious solely when he worships a divinity, but when he puts all the resources of his mind, the complete submission of his will, and the whole-souled ardour of fanaticism at the service of a cause or an individual who becomes the goal and guide of his thoughts and actions.” (p. 94)


Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God “has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” In other words, the imprint of eternity is found on the heart of every image-bearer, even if we cannot fully comprehend God’s purposes. We are eternal beings, and as such we have a particular longing to pursue the eternal. This search naturally leads us to God, the creator. The heavens declare his glory (Psalm 19:1). His eternal attributes and divine power are on display for all to see, even if the truth of his supremacy is suppressed by the sinful human heart (Romans 1:18-23) By virtue of our sin-stained existence, our hearts – perpetual “idol factories” in the words of John Calvin – reject the right view of eternity when left to our devices (Jeremiah 17:9).

What I found to be ironic, then, was LeBon’s own tendency to elevate time to the position of deity, declaring it to be “the sole real creator and the sole great destroyer. It is time that has made mountains with grains of sand and raised the obscure cell of geological eras to human dignity… a being possessed of the magical force of varying time at his will would have the power attributed by believers to God.” (p. 106) As is the case for most who have adopted a materialistic worldview, time is the great power to which must be ascribed all honor. For if time is unlimited, even the random and purposeless is apparently possible.


Racial Distinction

In his observations of collective humanity, he makes note that race is the greatest factor of distinction between crowds.


“… the power of race is such that no element can pass from one people to another without undergoing the most profound transformations.” (p. 103)


From a biblical perspective (because what else would I attempt to offer?), I found this to be an intriguing affirmation of the truth of Genesis 11, which contains the story of Babel. Mankind, in an effort to make much of themselves, erected a city with a tower. God, in his wisdom and mercy, rather than letting mankind achieve full and final destruction, descends to view the paltry attempt to reach the heavens and confuses the speech of men, scattering them across the earth. LeBon’s observations affirm the Scriptures in identifying the depth of the separation imparted by God. Sin brings separation and alienation. First with God, then with self, third with other men, and finally with the earth itself. Such racial divides coincide with God’s truth.



“The frightful absurdity of the legend of a God who revenges himself for the disobedience of one of his creatures by inflicting horrible tortures on his son remained unperceived during many centuries.” (p. 166)


I am thankful for the wisdom of God in the face of such a statement. One of the great features of the Scriptures is that God beat Gustave LeBon to the punch. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1Corinthians 1:18) How glorious the fact that LeBon so beautifully demonstrates! We cannot argue, for God’s mercy defies our reason. While I do believe Christianity is beyond thorough in regards to reason, I also firmly believe that no one separated from Christ would believe this to be the case. God in his wisdom affirmed LeBon’s position 18 centuries before his birth. Where LeBon is drastically incorrect is in his assertion that the foolishness of the cross has been unperceived. To the contrary, the folly of the good news has been either in preparation or on display since the fall.



In conclusion, I enjoyed the book. It has sparked within me an interest in social psychology. I can’t help but engage the text (you should hear the conversation in my head while I read!) from a biblical perspective. Regardless of LeBon’s religious views, though, the realities of collective humanity are fascinating. We do behave differently with each other than we would in solitude. It is as if we believe differently. Our intellect is often erased, our morality smudged. We become susceptible. We act on different impulses. The observations are real.

I look forward to further interaction with the subject. I’ll be sure to share what I come across!



Summer Reading: An Invitation

(I’ve set up a page for this project. You can visit the page and follow along by clicking here.)

I’ve been reading Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Works for months. I don’t spend much time in fiction, but I love Sherlock Holmes. Arthur Conan Doyle does a wonderful job of drawing me into short stories. I find they challenge me to think along, to observe, to try to solve the case. They also provide a literary framework in which to appreciate the thespian efforts of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

This summer, I’m laying down Sherlock Holmes, though, to take an interim adventure. I’d like to invite you along for the ride… on a bus. No joke. It’s a literary bus ride.

I have a set of books on my dresser. They’ve been there for years. They consist of books that have had an impact on me for one reason or another. Among these books is a work by C.S. Lewis, the Great Divorce. I can remember being drawn into this strange bus ride, being challenged and convicted by the encounters of the book. The idea of the interaction of heaven and hell is intriguing.

Recently, I’ve had a number of conversations about heaven & hell. These conversations have prompted me to pick up Lewis’ great work again. Because I can’t read multiple works of fiction at the same time, I have also been prompted to put down all 1090 pages of Sherlock Holmes for a season.

So what is the invitation?

I know summer is a time when folks pick up books. I want to encourage you to pick up the Great Divorce and give it a read. 160 pages. It is about as far from intimidating as possible. Though a short work, I believe it will challenge you and provoke thoughts and conversation. I believe the book is suitable for everyone, which means it is an opportunity for individuals – young and old – couples, and families to read together if that’s your situation. Perhaps reading it out loud would be a unique experience? It will be guaranteed dinner conversation and quantity time together.

Will you join me?

Summer Reading

Each week, I’m planning to post thoughts & reflections here on a chapter of the book, as well as encouragement for those who maybe pick up a book every summer but rarely find the motivation to finish!

For those who are part of the FCC family, or those who are local to Grove City, this is an invitation to discuss the book over coffee at Beans, ice cream at Sweet Jeanie’s, or even to track me down on my front porch (it won’t be hard – I’ll be there more often than not for the next few months!) I believe the book will be a blessing. I look forward to hearing how you’ve been challenged as I share the same!