Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Belief in God in an Age of Science by James Polkinghorne

I really wanted to like Belief in God in an Age of Science by John Polkinghorne. I really did. He says great things in this book like, “The world is not full of items stamped ‘made by God’ – the creator is more subtle than that – but there are two locations where general hints of the divine presence might be expected to be seen most clearly.” What a beautiful statement. 

But then he also states, “The extreme popularity of the indeterminacy interpretation has been due, I believe, not just to its chronological priority but also to a certain naturalness about an approach that allows overt epistemology to be the guide of ontological conjecture.”

… and then he lost me. 

I feel like a failure, but I couldn’t finish it. It’s probably beautiful and poetic and would make my life more meaningful… if it was written in English.

We the Drowned by Carsten Jensen

I haven’t yet figured out where I got the recommendation for We the Drowned by Carsten Jensen. It’s a quirky novel originally written in Danish. 

This epic tale begins in the mid 19th century in Marstal, Denmark and loosely centers around the life of Laurids Madsen and his son Albert as well as Albert’s adopted son, Knud Erik. Laurids’ boots also end up playing a central role. Marstal is a town peopled with sailors. Every year the men of the town battle the sea while the women “man” the town. 

The story is full of off-beat characters and magical events. It’s a fun story of a culture very foreign to my own. It presents somewhat mystical occurrences with a matter-of-fact tone, although we are repeatedly told the main characters have nothing more than a nominal faith in God. That adds to its quirkiness. 

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book, because, while it was entertaining, it wasn’t great. Worth reading, but don’t put aside a great book for this one!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Miracles by Eric Metaxes

Tim got me Miracles by Eric Metaxas for Christmas last year. Since I always have a library book waiting on my bedside table, it took me a while to get to this one. I wish I wouldn’t have waited. It is a delightful and uplifting book. It left me in awe of our Awesome God with every story.

He begins the book with a discussion of belief and faith and miracles. He believes that we implicitly know there is more out there. Yet our rational minds fight this feeling, trying to convince us the material world is all there is. But, he wonders, if there truly is more? 

In a beautiful paragraph, he asks, “What is it in us that rebels against this lie of life without meaning – and not only a lie but a monstrous lie that stands against everything we somehow know to be true and good and beautiful? Why do we sometimes feel that we are exiles from someplace glorious? What is this innate feeling that we have shared across cultures, centuries, and continents? We can spend our lives denying it, but our very bones and atoms cry out that this denial of meaning is a lie, that everything in us not only longs for that other world and for meaning, but also needs that other world and needs meaning more than food or water or air. it is what we were made for and we will not rest until we find it again.”

If we are willing to acknowledge there is more, there is something or someone else out there, that we long for what is beyond our understanding, then perhaps we can bring ourselves to believe that sometimes eternity touches earth and we experience the beyond. 

In the second half of the book, he tells the miracle stories. He categorizes them into tales of conversion, healing, inner healing, angelic encounters, and heavenly visions. He even includes a “variety of miracles” chapter to catalog the ones that don’t neatly fit into his categories. 

The stories are told by people he personally knows so as to negate and credibility factor. The sheer number of amazing encounters makes me wonder if miracles are more common than I thought. Perhaps many people are experiencing God, and we just don’t know about it. 

This book is a breeze of fresh air, and reading it was a sheer delight.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre

Somehow Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre got on my list. I’m glad it did. 

It tells of a fascinating part of the counter espionage activities undertaken by the British against the Nazis in World War 2.

I never actually considered the role of misinformation in helping to defeat an enemy, but this book makes a powerful case for its importance. 

Basically the British unit is tasked with leaking to the Germans false information. The trick is to make it look authentic. Mostly this is done through double agents. It’s harder than it would seem. The Germans are not stupid and they know the British are trying to feed them falsehoods. So the British must concoct very elaborate tales and connections to keep the Nazis engaged. 

One such misinformation campaign centered around an allied invasion on the island of Sicily. This was such an obvious target that the need to introduce subterfuge became readily apparent. The question was, how can the allies convince the Germans that Sicily was not the principle target. An elaborate story was devised that the allies were going after other targets, and that an invasion of Sicily was simply a diversion from the real battlegrounds. In order to maintain the facade, battalions were diverted and whole military operations were done to convince the Germans that these other targets were the focus. 

But that was not enough. Somehow they had to get word to the Nazis of the fake plan, without any hint whatsoever that it was fake. If the enemy felt in any way that the British were trying to fool them, they would redouble their efforts to protect Sicily, convinced it was the real target. 

So Even Montagu and Charles Cholmondely conceived of a plot to create yet another fictitious character. Yet this one was different. He wouldn’t just exist on paper, but in physical form. They needed a body.

The basic plan was to plant the “top secret plan” to fake an invasion of Sicily while actually going after other Mediterranean ports on the body of a victim of an air disaster. When the victim washed up on the shores, with the papers on his person, the Nazis might be convinced they had lucked into something worthwhile. But how to convince them? The logistics were incredibly complex.

Where would the body wash up? Who was he? Why would he have the plans on him? How could they be sure the plans would be discovered? Would they be passed on to the right sources? Would his “accident” be believable? Would his death look like it was caused by drowning? Would the “too good to be true” nature alert the Germans to the implausibility of it?

They worked for months to nail down all these details. That intricate work is wonderfully fleshed out in the book. Every thing from theater tickets in the victim’s jacket, to publishing his obituary in a military newspaper was done to further the illusion. They even had the “family” of the man send money for a headstone and the regular delivery of flowers to his grave. In short, they worked tirelessly to make “William Martin” come alive, using the body of profligate Glyndwr Michael. 

In short, the body “washed up” (rather dropped off by submarine in another harrowing part of the story) in Spain, which was ostensibly neutral, and came to the attention of an intricate double agent ring. The Nazi agent was in fact a Jew, desperate to hide his identity and provide solid intelligence to his superiors. His desire to embellish and impress led him to accept implicitly the story William Martin presented. So desperate to to be credited with a major intelligence coup, he raised no flags. The plans in a brief case handcuffed to Martin were quickly dispatched and reached the highest levels within the third reich. At that point, a normally suspicious officer passed them onto Hitler himself with a glowing endorsement of their authenticity. Why no questions? It’s possible he did this to help lure Hitler into the trap the allies were setting for him. We’ll never know. He was killed shortly after for taking part in a death plot against the f├╝hrer.  

The Sicily invasion was a stunning success, and was the beginning of the end for the Nazis. All due to a man who didn’t exist.

All the details made for a fascinating read. 

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

I started watching Call the Midwife on PBS because of numerous recommendations. I really enjoyed it. I cried every time a baby was born. So I decided to read the books (there's 3 of them) because of the mantra that the book is always better. 

In this case, I’m not sure it’s true. I can see a resemblance between the books and the stories on TV. It’s true that the book gives more details and goes deeper into certain stories. On the other hand, what is a little snippet in the book is turned into a bigger story in the show. So I guess there’s a balance between added stuff and stuff they took out. 

Either way, I liked the books, but I think seeing it visualized on the screen gave the TV show the edge.