3 Theories in audio book format  

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            I recently received an email from my good friend, Ellis Potter, and wanted to pass it on to you. My review of Ellis’ fine book, 3 Theories of Everything, is available on Ransom’s website here. If you haven’t read it, please do so or order the audio version if you prefer.

Dear Friends:
            3 Theories of Everything (3TOE) is now available as an audio book.
            It is beautifully narrated by Ed Burrowes, who has a great voice and wonderful sense of drama and narration. Enjoy.
            Help make this news go viral. You know how.
            The audio book is available from:
                        Amazon here.
            Google here
            CD baby here.
            God bless and keep you.
            In Christ,


Detective stories (3): a dependable hero  

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            The appeal of detective stories includes our need for order when crime has introduced disorder (always a dangerous state), and our yearning for justice when something has gone wrong (which threatens our humanity). We are also drawn to them because we all live moment by moment with uncertainty and so desperately want a dependable hero.
            Somehow we know it is too much to ask that we escape the uncertainty. Even if the brokenness was removed we would remain finite. The uncertainty can be endured, however, if we have a hero who can sort things out, make things right, and keep us from tumbling into a pit from which there is no recovery.
            There is a reason why detective stories center around a particular detective. In the final analysis we are attracted to the stories not because of the variable crimes but because of the dependable detective. Even if he/she fails to solve the case, we know they tried their best and left no stone unturned.
            As a Christian I would argue that this archetype is imprinted in our consciousness because we are part of a story in which the hero becomes the savior. All is lost until the hero produces the solution, and in the end sheds light into the shadows where death has tried to hide.

            Walt Longmire (played by Robert Taylor) is the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. It is a sprawling place, dominated by gorgeous peaks and wide lush landscapes that give the cinematographers ample opportunity to frame lovely background shots. (The series is filmed in New Mexico, but no matter—the landscape is so stunning that it is reason alone to watch it.) Assisted admirably by Deputy Vic (played by Katee Sackhoff) and by the duplicitous Deputy Branch (Bailey Chase), Longmire wrestles with the tragic death of his wife as he tries to keep law and order in a place where the citizens prize self-sufficiency and privacy. Walt’s best friend, Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips) helps bridge the sad chasm of distrust and prejudice between whites and the Native Americans who live on a reservation within the county.
            Good writing, superb cinematography, and fine character development makes me wonder why this A&E television series has not garnered more attention and awards. The filming of each episode includes a Native American consultant to assure the accuracy of what is depicted. One of the things I most appreciate about Longmire is that it keeps me interested but is never frenetic, maintaining a thoughtful pace that not only suits the setting but that seems to take me as viewer seriously.
            If I lived in Absaroka County, Wyoming, I’d want someone like Walt Longmire to be wearing the sheriff’s badge. In fact, I’d like someone like Walt Longmire to be the sheriff wherever I lived.
            (A&E, 3 seasons 2012, 2013, 2014; each episode 50 minutes)

            One of the primary reasons why Sherlock Holmes remains a perennial favorite is that he is a dependable hero. He may be cold-hearted and rational to a fault, he may have a drug problem and treat people abominably, he may play the violin horribly and have no friends for good reason, but we always know that when he is on the case, no better detective could be imagined.
            The recent BBC series that locates the famous detective (played with superb quirkiness by Benedict Cumberbatch) in 21st century London is a fine addition to the Holmes legacy. Along with his sidekick Dr. Watson (played by Martin Freeman), Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft (played with great comic effect by Mark Gatiss), and Sherlock’s long suffering housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), the stage is set for solving crimes in a way that only Sherlock Holmes could accomplish it.
            For all the changes this series brings to the classic detective, it allows Holmes to remain Holmes, and that is one reason the series succeeds. It is also produced with a clear love of Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective and stories, and that love is reflected in the sharp filming, editing, and dry wit that shines in every episode.
            (BBC, 4 seasons, each episode 90 minutes).

Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction  

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            I don’t usually use this space to plug events, but this one is simply too good to ignore. My dear and respected friend, Wesley Hill, author of Washed and Waiting, will be speaking at a conference October 10-11, 2014 hosted by Trinity School for Ministry where he teaches. I recommend that you consider attending.
            This, by way of description from the brochure:

How can our churches speak the Good News of Jesus Christ to our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer neighbors? And how can their faith and discipleship be nurtured so that they, in turn, can use their gifts and exercise their ministries in our churches? “Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction” is a conference designed to explore these questions. The historic biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality affirms that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman, requiring fidelity and chastity, while the chaste single state is equally honored and celebrated. Such teaching requires sacrifice and discipline on the part of gay Christians (as it does for all Christians), but it also affirms the blessings and opportunities that gay people bring to the life of faith. “Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction” will provide a forum in which to examine these questions for the sake of Christian witness in our world today.

For details, information on speakers and to register, use this link.

When bad news prevails  

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            Over the past week the news dominating the media has not been good. The precise stories are not the point, since this next week new ones may take their place. Or the old stories—of Ebola and ISIS, of political paralysis and economic greed, of brutality, mistrust and injustice—may have evolved into new versions, as bad as the last one, or worse.
            And if you take the time to dig deeper into the reality of the brokenness, you find it extends far deeper than we know. Consider “Ebolanomics” in The New Yorker (August 25, 2014, p. 21). It’s a reminder that the problem is not merely individual sin or evil but that the brokenness infects all the systems of the world as well.

When pharmaceutical companies are deciding where to direct their R. & D. money, they naturally assess the potential market for a drug candidate. That means that they have an incentive to target diseases that affect wealthier people (above all, people in the developed world), who can afford to pay a lot. They have an incentive to make drugs that many people will take. And they have an incentive to make drugs that people will take regularly for a long time—drugs like statins.
            This system does a reasonable job of getting Westerners the drugs they want (albeit often at high prices). But it also leads to enormous underinvestment in certain kinds of diseases and certain categories of drugs. Diseases that mostly affect poor people in poor countries aren’t a research priority, because it’s unlikely that those markets will ever provide a decent return. So diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, which together kill two million people a year have received less attention from pharmaceutical companies than high cholesterol. Then, there’s what the World Health Organization calls “neglected tropical diseases,” such as Chagas disease and dengue; they affect more than a billion people and kill as many as half a million a year. One study found that of the more than fifteen hundred drugs that came to market between 1975 and 2004 just ten were targeted at these maladies. And when a disease’s victims are both poor and not very numerous that’s a double whammy. On both scores, a drug for Ebola looks like a bad investment: so far, the disease has appeared only in poor countries and has affected a relatively small number of people.

            One must be careful, since only God has the capacity to absorb the full brokenness of the world with descending into despair or cynicism.
            One friend appended to an email, “I have been following the news and ‘this world is not my home.’ ‘Even so come Lord Jesus.’” He is half right.
            My friend’s final phrase is from the end of St John’s stunning Revelation that brings the New Testament to its glorious end. The apostle allows us to see behind the cosmic dual of good and evil to the deeper reality of God’s triumph over the forces of death, darkness and disease that have infested his creation. To assure us that this is not merely the optimism of an exiled visionary, Christ as Lord speaks: “He who testifies to these things says,” St John records, “‘Surely I am coming quickly’” (Revelation 22:20). The king will return, will not delay, will consummate his kingdom, and his reign will be one of justice, world without end. This is the hope of every Christian who prays, as our Lord taught us to say, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” So, St John adds, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”
            My friend’s other quotation is not from scripture but from the hymn, “This World is Not My Home,” by Albert Brumley (1905-1977).

            This world is not my home,
                 I’m just passing through.
            My treasures are laid up somewhere
                 beyond the blue.
            The angels beckon me from
                 Heaven's open door
            And I can’t feel at home in
                 this world anymore.

It’s an understandable yearning, I suppose, but it’s wrong.
            The brokenness of the world is unnatural, true, and so we should feel the brokenness as wrong, as a perversion of what should be and of what was intended. The reason for my sin and brokenness is not “I’m only human,” but “I’m fallen and in need of redemption.” My hope as a Christian is not to escape this world for heaven, but for God’s redemption to be complete, so that a renewed heaven and earth show forth the full glory of which they are capable.
          The news also provides glimmers of that glory, shining through the darkness, as it were. Last week I also read “Termite Soldiers’ Legs Sense Alarms” in Science News (August 23, 2014, p. 16). This is the species of termite that builds tall mounds of red soil that hardens like rock for defense and is constructed with a myriad tunnels to provide cool air for the bustling millions of insects living below the surface.

Africa’s Macrotermes natalensis termite relies on a fighter caste to defend its hardened, meter-high-plus mounds and up to several thousand square meters of underground tunnels. When an aardvark or other predator gouges the insects’ home, termites known as major soldiers pound their heads against the floors. The vibrations from the drumbeats tell other soldiers to speed to the breach.
            These headbanger alarms vibrate through the walls of tunnels at about 130 meters per second. What lets a soldier know which direction to go is the slight delay between when the vibrations hit the soldier’s leg nearest the drumbeat source and when they hit its farthest leg, says Felix Hager of Ruhr University Bochum in Germany. A delay of as little as 0.20 milliseconds was enough to orient soldiers.

Even in a broken world, creation reveals a few hints of the wonder of what this world, made to be our home, will be like when the rightful king returns.

Detective stories (2): achieving justice  

Posted by Denis Haack in , , , ,

            I argued in the first installment of this series that one reason we are drawn to detective stories is that we were made to live in an orderly world. When chaos and disorder expands, we yearn for order to be restored, even though it is never perfect or complete in this broken world.
            Detective stories are also about achieving at least a measure of justice, though it too is never perfect or complete in this broken world. A crime has been committed, so the detective enters the sordid, dangerous world of the criminal, hopefully to find evidence that will bring the miscreant to justice. Our desire for justice is so strong that even though the crime may have nothing to do with us personally, if the case is botched and the criminal is freed we feel a sense of not just disappointment but anger—we believe it wrong even if we can’t justify our response with much philosophical vigor. It’s. Just Wrong.
            The yearning for justice is ubiquitous, deeply rooted in our humanity. This reality, James Sire says in Echoes of a Voice, leads biblical scholar N. T. Wright to include it in his list of four “signals of transcendence” that “point to a realm beyond the material world.” Wright’s four signals include “the longing for justice, the quest for spirituality, the hunger for relationships, and the delight in beauty.”
            This means that detective stories tap a deep longing of our hearts, and even if only in a fictional world satisfy a yearning that is hardwired in our humanity. The question is less why some of us are drawn to detective stories, but why everyone isn’t.

True Detective
            This gritty, dark, at times shocking series stands out from usual television fare. The entire season involves a single crime, and each episode follows the detectives—in this case over a period of 17 years—as they seek to solve the murder. Because it is a cable (HBO, 8 episodes, 2014) production, there are scenes of sexuality besides rough language that is more standard for R-rated movies than TV programs. And though it used to be common knowledge that television was a wasteland not worth much attention, True Detective proves that TV can be very much the opposite.
            The pace of True Detective is never frantic, though the writers never allow the tension in the plot to falter. The cinematography is beyond good, so that settings and landscape shots not only fit the plot, they are lovingly produced and stunningly portrayed to become an essential part of the story. Woody Harrelson (Detective Marty Hart) and Matthew McConaughey (Detective Rust Cohle) are perfectly cast for their roles. And in a surprising and delightful twist, at least for me, True Detective is both philosophically literate and attentive. Detective fiction, because it explores the yearning of the human heart for justice, has the potential to take ideas and their consequences True Detective, a true philosophical drama written by Nic Pizzolatto, includes all these, but never cheats by depending on them to carry the story, instead using them to add color to the story.
seriously. Cheap detective fiction skips that and centers on something else: the action, quirky details of the character’s life and personality, the tension with supervisors. In fact,
            Best of all, T Bone Burnett was hired to direct the music for the series, and that means the soundtrack is both appropriate and a work of art in its own right. “The depth of character is the breadth of music you get to use,” Burnett says in Mother Jones. “So all I have to do is imagine what they’re listening to, and imagine the stories rattling around in their heads. How do you strengthen that? How do you make that resonate? It’s about having the songs become part of the storytelling.”
            “This show does not avert its gaze,” Burnett says. “It takes a good, hard look at who we are right now, in a very profound way... I live in Los Angeles, and I recently took a drive through the middle of the country, and I was stunned by what I saw. In places that had once had purpose, all that’s left is a pawnshop, next to a gun shop, next door to a motel, next door to a gas station, with a Walmart right outside of town. There are people working three jobs just to get by and having to take methamphetamines to do it. That’s the middle of the country, and that’s a plague that’s spreading outwards. We’re not seeing it, and these are things that you see in the show.”

Source: Echoes of a Voice: We are Not Alone by James W. Sire (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books; 2014) p. 206; “T Bone Burnett on How He Chooses Music For True Detective by Asawin Suebsaeng in Mother Jones (8/3/2014) online.