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Ben-Hur, a Reflection on the Novel and Upcoming Movie

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I decided to read Ben-Hur this year, not knowing that a remake would be in theaters on Aug. 12. I had seen the original classic in the 1959 version as a boy, which was mesmerizing, but going through the entire novel slowly as an adult impacted me at a much deeper level as I saw it afresh on the backdrop of the Bible narrative.  One passage that really hit home personally and for which I wrote about in a prayer letter to supporters on March 30, 2016 (5 years to the day from the passing of my wife due to cancer in 2011) was the following:  “In a recent reading of the novel, Ben Hur, I came upon a section where the Arab chieftan, Simonides asks his daughter what day it was…she affirmed it to be the anniversary of her mother’s death: "True, most true, my daughter!" he said, without looking up. "Today, five years ago, my Rachel, thy mother, fell down and died. They brought me home broken as thou seest me, and we found her dead of grief. Oh, to me she was a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of En-Gedi! I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey. We laid her away in a lonely place--in a tomb cut in the mountain; no one near her. Yet in the darkness she left me a little light, which the years have increased to a brightness of morning." He raised his hand and rested it upon his daughter's head. "Dear Lord, I thank thee that now in my Esther my lost Rachel liveth again!"

Five years ago this very day, my cluster of camphire, Paula, was received into glory. It is easy to identify with Simonides as he reflects on those five years with his daughter. Today I had the opportunity to reflect with my daughter, Amber, concerning this significant day. Amber reflects so many of the lovely traits that I saw in her mother. So, after talking with Amber I read afresh the words of Simonide, but changed them a bit, “Yet in the darkness she left me a little light, which the years have increased to a brightness of morning…Dear Lord, I thank thee that now in my ‘Amber’ my lost ‘Paula’ liveth again!"

 

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Book Notes ~ July 2016

July was a rather poor month for me in terms of book reading, only finishing 2 books out of the needed 4 in order to stay on target to reach my goal of 50 books in 2016.  But I would particularly commend to you the second of the two books I read, about revival in Thailand.

The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution 

I have mixed feelings about this book because I started reading it in order to better understand the course of the American Revolution. And eventually, in the last third of the book, the author did delve into the final stage of the war where Washington defeated Cornwallis at Yorktown. However, the majority of the book consisted of a detailed account of the European conflicts and naval histories of the 17th and 18th century in order to set the context for the American conflict. I learned more than I ever intended to learn about the Dutch fight for independence from Spain and the internal politics of the British Royal Navy. I nearly put the book down before I got half way through but I kept hoping that the author would eventually get into the American Revolution in earnest. My patience was rewarded but I came away with the feeling that it was not necessary to get into such gory detail about the conflicts between the European nations in order to understand the American Revolution. In the end though, I learned that perhaps the primary reason why the Americans won the war was because the British were arrogant, lethargic, incompetent, and internally divided.

 

 

 

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Furlough Fever

One of the odd phenomenon of missionary life is “furlough fever” or “home assignment fever.”   For missionaries who are away from their home countries for three or four years (or more) at a time, the symptoms of furlough fever often begin to appear in the last three to six months before their regularly scheduled return “home”.  
 
Symptoms of furlough fever are easy to detect if you know what to look for:
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Book Notes ~ June 2016

The end of June marks the half way point in my goal to read 50 books in 2016.  So far I have completed 24 books, which is almost keeping pace to finish 50 by the end of December.  This past month, I enjoyed reading about procrastination, George Washington, the Solas of the Protestant Reformation, and expectations and burnout among women missionaries.

The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging, and Postponing, or, Getting Things Done by Putting Them Off

I know that procrastination is one of my weaknesses and I want to improve my ability to focus on what I should be doing, so I was intrigued by the whimsical title of this book which seems to promise to redeem my wasted time in some way.  Could there be any positive aspects about procrastination?    
The book is written by a philosophy teacher who found the time to write this book as a means of avoiding doing other things.  His main point is that some people are structured procrastinators, meaning they avoid doing what they should be doing by doing something else which is also productive.  For example, you should be writing an important email but instead you organize your files.  This book is largely anecdotal and is extremely fun.  My family and I listened to the audiobook version while driving to our vacation recently and were enjoying listening to it so much that we missed our turn and almost ran out of gas.   If you have a procrastination problem, read (or listen) to this short book to get a new perspective on your (mis)use of time and to help you stop feeling like a useless excuse for a human being when you have trouble staying on task.

 

 

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The Idol of Busyness

If you ask many people today, “How are you doing?”, it is extremely common to get an answer along the lines of “I’m really busy.”  It seems that everybody is busy.  Everybody is tired.  In fact, it is almost expected that people will be busy and that any answer other than “I’m really busy” is unacceptable.

But is it socially acceptable to NOT be busy?

Imagine with me that someone asks you, “How are you doing?” and you reply, “I’m doing well. I don’t have a lot going on.”  Is that an acceptable answer?  If you answer like that, will people think you are lazy?  If we don’t claim to be busy, will people think we have no ambition and no goals in life?

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Book Notes ~ May 2016

In May, I wrapped up a couple long books left over from April and "read" my first whole book from a Puritan author (besides John Bunyan).  I am still working on figuring out a research topic in Thai church history in order to apply for Ph.D studies, which is reflected in this month's titles.

How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity

This was a fascinating read from sociologist of religion Rodney Stark.  In short, he advances the thesis that there were distinctive factors that have contributed to the development and prosperity of Western nations that were not present in other cultures around the world.  The West, for example, developed democracy and modern science because of beliefs in progress and the value of innovation.  As in many of his other books, Stark seeks to overturn popular misconceptions and self-loathing critiques about Western civilization, namely that European nations gained ascendancy by merely being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of other cultures for their own advancement. He does not try to hide the flaws and evils of the West, but does want to bring balance to the overstated critiques of recent years.  The longer I live in Asia, and the longer I study history, the more I see that although there are many beautiful and worthy aspect of non-Western cultures, there are many aspects of Western culture that are better than other places in the world (commitments to democracy, equality, progress, and innovation).  That may sound like any old colonial attitude but I’d rather think of this position as a realistic view which finds a middle ground between white guilt and white man’s burden.  From this short description of the book, you may not be convinced of Stark’s thesis so I would encourage you to read the book for yourself.  It is well written and worth your time.