Friday, March 22, 2019

Book Write-Up: Decoding Your Dreams, by Jennifer LeClaire

Jennifer LeClaire. Decoding Your Dreams: What the Lord May Be Saying to You While You Sleep. Emanate Books, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Jennifer LeClaire was the editor of Charisma magazine and has written over twenty-five books. She leads prayer networks and believes that she is a “prophetic voice.”

This book is about the interpretation of dreams. For LeClaire, God can speak to people through dreams. LeClaire examines what the Bible says about the topic. She also offers possible interpretations of motifs that appear in various dreams. In so doing, she considers what the Bible says about a given motif as well as what the motif means in different cultural contexts: a motif in one cultural context may bear a meaning that it does not bear in another. Moreover, LeClaire offers advice as to how Christians can respond to their dreams.

One may legitimately inquire what qualifies LeClaire to interpret dreams. Personally, if I wanted to know what my dreams meant, I would consult a trained psychologist. Whether one finds LeClaire’s book to be helpful is a personal decision. LeClaire brings to the table some of her own experiences with dreams that she believes were from God. To her credit, this book is not overly dogmatic, for it sifts through different options and draws from scientific insights about dreams. LeClaire is probably a little more critical of dreams in which dead relatives appear than secular psychologists might be, on account of biblical warnings against consulting familiar spirits. At the same time, even this discussion ends rather tentatively, after exploring alternatives. Her discussion of deja vu is also enlightening, as she interacts with scientific and conservative Christian proposals about what it is.

And perhaps some of her interpretations overlap with what secular psychologists would say. She consults the Bible, and Jung would not dismiss the Bible as irrelevant but would see it as one manifestation of the human collective consciousness. LeClaire brings a distinctly Christian perspective into her discussion, however, in that she believes that God can use dreams to instruct and to guide people as to how they are to act in response to situations that they and others are experiencing. But could even that overlap with Jungian views on synchronicity?

The book perhaps would have been stronger and more authoritative had it drawn more from secular psychology. Identifying parallels between psychological insights and Christianity would have been impressive, but noting her areas of disagreement with it would have been interesting as well.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through BookLook Bloggers. My review is honest.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Church Write-Up: Atoning for Betrayal

At the LCMS Lenten service today, the pastor preached about Judas, who betrayed Jesus. The pastor said that Jesus bore our sins of betrayal and our failure to live up to our obligations to people on the cross. Judas, however, tried to solve his guilt problem by himself, by returning the thirty pieces of silver that he was paid to betray Jesus. The result, of course, was disastrous, since Judas committed suicide. By contrast, Peter, who had denied Jesus, was restored by Jesus himself.

The pastor said that Jesus atoned for our sins, but that does not necessarily mean that our relationships with people will be as they were prior to the sins. People’s impressions of us may remain the same. He referred to the view that, when James in James 1:6-8 refers to a double-minded man who is unstable in all of his ways, James has in mind Peter, particularly Peter’s denial of Jesus. Peter could not live down the betrayal, according to this view. I don’t know. James says that a double-minded man will not receive anything from the Lord. Would James say that about Peter, a man whose ministry God blessed?

Monday, March 18, 2019

Book Write-Up: Sin and Syntax, by Constance Hale

Constance Hale. Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose. Revised & Updated. Three Rivers Press, 2013. See here to purchase the book.

Constance Hale is a journalist and an author. This book is about how to craft effective prose. As the back cover states, “mere devotion to grammar commandments won’t make your prose shine.”

Here are some thoughts:

A. On the one hand, Hale promotes an economy of words: getting rid of all those distracting adverbs, for example! Use a simple word like “use” rather than “utilization”! Hale is also critical of being so formal as to sound pompous, by, say, using “one” as a subject rather than “you” (i.e., “one must do such-and-such”). On the other hand, Hale wants writers to be imaginative and creative about the words that they do choose to use, as opposed to being banal. The prose that she advocates does not just tell but shows, enabling readers to see or to feel what is being described.

B. Hale overlaps with other writing manuals in that she encourages writers to keep their prose simple. At the same time, she qualifies the advice of other writing manuals, as when she states that writing manuals are often correct to discourage the use of the passive voice, but that in some cases the passive voice is appropriate.

C. Hale is sometimes a stickler for grammar, and at other times she is more liberal, as in her discussion about whether a writer can end a sentence with a preposition.

D. The book has a lot of political references. Political junkies like me will appreciate that! She even has a sarcastic comment about Donald Trump, before he became a politician.

E. In some cases, Hale could be dismissive, and I rolled my eyes at her corny put-downs of others’ prose, even as I understood why she was criticizing it.

F. The book confirmed something that I have long suspected, and that is that some of the rules that students are taught in school can hinder effective prose. For example, I have often felt as if I have to qualify everything that I say to avoid generalizations or misrepresentations of people’s position. Thus, I use what Hale calls “wimp verbs,” namely, “seem” and “appear.” The problem with this is that readers gravitate towards prose that manifests conviction and a sense of authority.

G. Hale shows what effective prose looks like and explains why it is effective. The book is not as helpful in explaining how writers can become imaginative enough to write it, however. It does not provide much of a road map.

H. I think that there is a place for formal prose, especially in academic writing. Formal prose—-as is four or five syllable words—-can command respect. But, even then, there is a place for getting rid of disruptive jargon.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Church Write-Up: Jesus Heals the Afflicted Woman

At the LCMS church that I attend, the main text was Luke 13:10-17. That is the story of the woman who was bent over due to a disabling spirit, and Jesus got in trouble for healing her on the Sabbath. Here are some items:

A. The youth pastor made the point that Jesus fulfilled the law for us, but that does not mean that we as Christians lack obligations. We are supposed to love God and neighbor. In the case of our story, Jesus’s critics should have loved their neighbor by desiring her healing.

B. Like last week, the church had a skit in which a prosecutor interrogated a witness. This week, the witness was the bent over woman. On the one hand, the woman was detailing how difficult her life was before Jesus healed her. She was bent over, and it was believed that this was due to a demon, so other Jews wanted little to do with her, lest she bring a demon into their presence. She was absent from the synagogue for a year and people forgot about her. But she went one time when Jesus was preaching, and Jesus noticed her, even though she was in the back. He not only healed her but also called her a “daughter of Abraham,” which she appreciated, on account of her feelings of exclusion. On the other hand, the prosecutor was expressing concern about Jesus’s transgression of the Sabbath. If the Jews tolerate violation of their laws, which keep order, define what God wants, and define them as a people, what do they have left?

C. For Sunday school, the pastor was supposed to start a series on the Book of Hosea but there was a miscommunication, so instead he had an open forum. He started by talking about the reading. He noted that Luke, more than Matthew and Mark, focuses on women. Women were seen as property in those days, but they feature prominently in the Gospel of Luke and in Acts. Jesus’s healing of the bent over woman highlights that he, as creator, has the power to heal, and also that people are more important than the Sabbath rules. (Here, I am relaying what the pastor says and do not want to be nitpicked over how high or low Luke’s Christology was.)

The woman was said to have a disabling spirit and to have been bound by Satan. On the one hand, the pastor said that this was how people talked about disease back then. In the story of the person Jesus healed after the Transfiguration, for example, the person was said to have a spirit, but the person’s symptoms were of epilepsy. On the other hand, the pastor seemed a little uncomfortable saying that Luke did not know better, so he noted that, technically, Luke says that the bent over woman was not possessed but was afflicted by Satan, as if Satan were using a disease that she had to afflict her. Jesus did not cast out a demon in her case.

D. The pastor got into other biblical issues. He said that tassels then were a sign of authority, and the bleeding woman who grabbed Jesus’s tassels grabbed a sign of his authority; when David cut off Saul’s garment, he may have been cutting off a tassel, a sign of Saul’s royal authority.
Someone asked about how news about Jesus spread in Jesus’s time. The pastor replied that the Romans built good roads in the Mediterranean and that allowed news to spread. Israel was also smaller than Massachusetts. Jesus may also have been on a predictable itinerary in Galilee, going from one synagogue to another. He also sent the seventy out to heal and to proclaim the Gospel. People at the wells in villages would tell stories about how Jesus healed someone they knew, or maybe even themselves.

E. The discussion then got into institutional issues. People were expressing their opinions about the incumbent President, President Harrison. There was also discussion about LCMS churches training deacons to be pastors, as there is a shortage of pastors in the LCMS. There were a lot of sub-issues in this discussion, but I will stop with the note on which the pastor ended. Although the church in the West appears to be in decline, it is blossoming in Africa; that is the case with other denominations, as well. We should wait and see what the Holy Spirit will do. The church still has a mission, for not everyone on earth yet has heard the Gospel.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Book Write-Up: The Reluctant Disciple, by Jim O’Shea

Jim O’Shea. The Reluctant Disciple. Ambassador International, 2018. See here to buy the book.

The Reluctant Disciple reminded me of the following:

The Devil’s Advocate: You have the offspring of an evil entity, who seduces a woman in a Christian religious environment, of all places.

Frank Peretti’s The Prophet: A cynical, skeptical reporter gets to the point where he makes a firm, public stand for the truth.

Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkin’s Left Behind: Perplexing vanishings are occurring, and a reporter is too close to evil.

The Exorcist: There is a botched attempt at an exorcism.

Ancient Aliens: This TV show presents the “ancient astronaut” view that aliens have visited the earth over the centuries, forming the basis for religious and mythological stories about the gods.

There are differences between this book and some of the above. The vanishings, for example, occur at different points for different people, rather than all at once. The two witnesses have their own YouTube channel! And UFOs get tied into premillennial, pretribulational eschatology.

In the first half of the book, we are introduced to the characters. There is Ryan, the cynical host of a cable show that deals with the paranormal. There is Eleanor, a past love interest. There is Eleanor’s brother Warren, a defrocked priest who unsuccessfully attempted to perform an exorcism.

I do not recall a whole lot that happened in the first half of the book. Apparently, something happened to Eleanor’s daughter. There was occasionally an intriguing discussion, such as one between Ryan and a Christian professor about whether the existence of aliens is consistent with Christianity, and Warren’s musings about whether the Beast and False Prophet will be regular people or something else. The first half of the book had a “comfort food” feel but was not as vivid or as competently executed as, say, a Frank Peretti novel. Still, the part of me that enjoys listening to “Coast to Coast” enjoyed the first half.

The second half of the book clearly resolved the puzzles of the first half and signaled where the author wanted to go, in terms of the book’s ideological framework. Questions occurred in my mind. How are people expected to know the truth, when a very plausible alternative scenario is being presented to them? The book makes some attempt to address this. How exactly does the book arrive at 666? Why does the letter sigma, for instance, represent six? The book presents an interesting proposal that addresses the question of whether the Antichrist will pretend to be Jesus Christ or will publicly oppose Jesus Christ.

This is an enjoyable book to read. The prose is all right. And, as one who actually likes Frank Peretti, the first Left Behind book, and Ancient Aliens, I found The Reluctant Disciple to be engaging.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Bookcrash. My review is honest.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Church Write-Up: Mary Anoints Jesus

At the LCMS Lenten service this week, the pastor spoke about Mark 14:1-9. That is the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with nard. Some saw that as a waste. It could have been sold for three hundred denarii—-three hundred days of wages—-and that could have been given to the poor. But Jesus honors her act of devotion to him.

The pastor talked about how, in the same way that this woman gave so much to Jesus, so Jesus gave so much for us. But he cautioned that we should not treat this good news as a club, guilting people into giving their all for Jesus because he gave his all for them. What was beautiful about the woman’s act was that it was freely given. John 11:2 and 12:3 identifies this woman as Mary of Bethany. She was the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, and she sat at Jesus’s feet listening to his teaching in Luke 10:38-42. She not only recognized Jesus’s value but was also grateful that Jesus gave her back her brother, and that probably contributed to her act of devotion.

The pastor told a story about a school in Africa to which he and his wife donate money. The head of this school, whom I will call “W,” grew up in Africa and was an orphan, but he happened to meet a Westerner who paid for his education. “W” completed his education and decided to start a school in the place in Africa where he grew up.

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