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Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Worldview dilemmas blog series veritas domain

Here’s the round up of our series on Worldview Dilemmas in the Movies and Comics.  I plan to have perhaps one or two more posts after the Shepherd’s Conference that is going on this week.

Principles

Film Reviews

Graphic Novels Reviews

Free Movies Online

Book Reviews

Speaking Out

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American Born Chinese Gene Yang

Purchase: Amazon

Note: This is a review as part of our Worldview Dilemmas in the Movies and Comics series.

This is the third comic by Gene Luen Yang that I read.  The first two works I read by Gene Yang were his later works, Boxers and Saints, which impressed me enough that I decided that I have to read American Born Chinese which was the Graphic Novel that made Yang popular.  The book has countless awards such as being the National Book Award Finalist for Young People Literature, the first Graphic Novel to achieve this status.  While I enjoyed Boxers and Saints more than I did American Born Chinese, I must say that American Born Chinese was still a pleasant leisure reading.

The book tells the story of an American Born Chinese boy growing up in America. Throughout the book the author tells his story with great humor and insightful to the phenomenon of being second generation American while having traditional Chinese parents.  I’m sure American Born Chinese would be able to identify with it.  The book is partly autobiographical—like the main character Jin Wang, Gene Yang also had parents who first met in the Library.  Also like the main character Yang also grew up listening to the story of the Monkey King, which comes out in the book.  The book is creative, with the author balancing what at first seems like three stories that later comes together (I won’t spoil it).  I loved how the three stories are foils to the American Born Chinese experience.  In fact even within the main story of Jin Wang there are wonderful characters that are foils to Jin Wang himself.  Wang tries very hard to fit into America and has some success but this is in contrast to those who were more recent immigrants.

I know that as a pastor reviewing this book the question among some would be “What can we learn spiritually after reading this book?”  I think the book brings greater awareness of negative Chinese stereotypes in our culture today.  Those in ministry with Asian American background might want to be conscious of those.  The stories in the book should also shed awareness that there are different kinds of cultural barriers, even among those who are Asian Americans.  I am not bringing this up to say we must idolize certain specific cultures (or sub-cultures), and I also appreciate the fact that the author doesn’t really point fingers, having had enough personally of all the stock liberal neo-colonial and ethnic studies dribble in my undergraduate days.  But being aware of certain cultural current should allow us to be better friends and better minister to people who are different than us culturally.

The book at times did have it’s quirky moments.  Sometimes it’s a bit slap-stick or it made me say, “Awkard…”  However, it is still insightful and a good story.  After reading this book and comparing how much he has improved with his story telling in later works, I hope to see the author produce more works in the future, works that I will read whenever the opportunity for leisure reading arises.

Purchase: Amazon

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Boxers and Saints Gene Yang

Purchase: Amazon

Note: This is a review as part of our Worldview Dilemmas in the Movies and Comics series.

I was teaching weekly Bible studies when some of the children in my class introduced to me this graphic novel called Boxers.  The kids told me it was a good story and that I would like it since it has to do with God and religion.  After doing a little research myself and seeing glowing reviews of the book online I decided to give the book a shot.  What at first began as a concern for the kids of whether they were reading appropriate materials turned out to be quite an enjoyable read.  Although I rarely read fiction (let alone Graphic Novels!) I must say that I really enjoyed this book and its companion work titled Saints.

The book Boxers and its sequel Saints is situated in the late nineteenth century historical even known in Chinese history as the Boxers Rebellion.  During the rebellion some Chinese whom we often called “Boxers,” took it upon themselves to attack foreigners and Chinese.  The turmoil eventually ended when eight foreign states united to put down the rebellion militarily.  As one might have guessed, the book titled Boxers tells the story from the perspective of a young boy that grew up to lead the Boxers’ rebellion while the second volume titled Saints tells the story of a Chinese girl that later became Christian.  I like how the author overlapped both stories in a similar fashion as Clint Eastwood’s movies Flag of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima.  Incidents from one book is covered in the other book and one get a better picture of what happened after going through Saints.  If you only read one volume without the other I think each story would be able to stand but it would not have the same depth as it is when read together.

Both books are very well researched.  The author did his homework and the amount of historical detail is amazing for graphic novels.  I loved how the author also gave the readers recommended readings to learn more about the history of the Boxers’ rebellion.

What I really like about Boxers is that it allows the readers to see the motive of what drove the boxers.  The characters were believable and even have endearing characteristics.  It is important to realize that the author is not trying to communicate that their violence was justified, even though we can empathized with them as one of us.  In fact, as the story continued the plot gets darker and I myself started to question the legitimacy of the protagonist’s cause.  One needs to read the end of the sequel to see that the author’s main point was not a moral justification for what the Boxers did.

What I really like about Saints is the author’s ability to describe what Christianity must have sound like to those who first heard about Christianity (note: the author’s Catholic background does come through the book).  The author has a gift of being acutely aware of cultural barriers between East and West in his other comics and it is put to good use here in our story here as well.  The author was able to do a good job giving a portrait to the readers of what good can come about through sincere Christians while also balancing that with the shortcoming of Christians and even hypocrites.  The author is able to portray so many interesting characters in the limited space of the book.

Both books were beautifully illustrated.  The author has good humor although at times it seems a little bit juvenile, which reminds us that this book was intended for a younger audience!  However, the book is not just for kids; both volumes make us think about the good of faith, how some would abuse religion, what human nature is like, and the role of peace-making in contrast to violence.  It is fast paced and has an amazing conclusion in the sequel.  You wouldn’t want to miss both books!

Purchase: Amazon

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Superheroes The Best of Philosophy and Pop Culture Edited by William Irwin

Get it for free on KINDLE

Review: This is a neat kindle book put out by the publishers Blackwell.  I typically think of their academic books that they published but apparently they have a series on Philosophy and Pop Culture.  In this book various contributors explore how superheroes are complex characters that have become the myths of our times.  In the introduction the book notes that while philosophers specialize in nuance articulation of philosophy often those who are unfamiliar with the more technical expression of philosophy “gets” their philosophy through the more familiar medium of movies, comics, music and video games.  This is a good book for those not as familiar with philosophy to see how philosophy is put in action; it is also a good book for those who are naïve not to see that there are worldview undercurrents in popular culture and entertainment to see that comics and films about superhero are not “value-free” or done in a vacuum apart from a worldview.  I think those who do enjoy philosophy will also find this book interesting in showing examples of various philosophy and isms displayed in the comics.  I think the book is insightful.  For instance I enjoyed the discussion about Captain America and the virtue of humility.  I especially enjoyed the chapter on the discussion of why Batman doesn’t kill Joker.  I admit it has also made me wanting more and seeing some of the discussion has made me see how various philosophies are inadequate; but to the end that this book is an exploration of philosophies and superheroes this book accomplished it’s goal.

Get it for free on KINDLE

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Hitchcock's Villains Murderers, Maniacs, and Mother Issues

Eric San Juan and Jim McDevitt.  Hitchcock’s Villains.
New York, New York: Scarecrow Press, 2013. 196 pp.

My wife and I have recently become fans of Hitchcock’s films so it was a delight to stumble upon this book in the library.  I didn’t read this book because I am somehow morbid but because I think Hitchcock understands the depth and quirks of depravity more than most film makers in his life time and even film makers today.  One thing that I appreciate about his film is how his villains are believable (not a cookie cut-out that is standard in many cheesy films); and if they are unbelievably horrendous, there is still something about them that reminds us of their humanity.  For me being reminded of the humanity of Hitchcock’s villains doesn’t necessarily mean we should always sympathize with the villains (although sometimes Hitchcock does want us to go down that road) but the fact that they are more like us than we realize brings us to the uncomfortable realization that everyone’s sinful nature can make us depraved monsters, a truth that we might not like to admit.  Ultimately I enjoyed Hitchcock’s film and this book for its observation that leads me to think more deeply of the Christian doctrine of total depravity.

This particular book is a collection of short chapters that explores Hitchcock’s themes in the way he portray his villains and also analysis of specific antagonists in his films.  I’ve enjoyed the book’s analysis especially with how the writers point out things I missed when I watched them.  I was blown away by the book’s take on the film Veritgo and the thesis that the protagonist Jimmy Steward is really the villain in the film.  Vertigo is one of the more stranger films that I didn’t know what to make of it when I first saw it but after reading the book I do see the authors’ point that Jimmy Steward is really not the ex-detective police hero that the beginning of the movie made him out to be, especially with how controlling and selfish he is later in the movie.

Another aspect of the book that I appreciate is the exploration of Hitchcock’s fear of authority throughout his life that comes out in his film.  In several films the police are not necessarily the villains but they are not necessarily friendly either.  At times they can go after the hero in the film, mistaking them for villains such as in the movie Stranger on the Train.  Having friends in law enforcement I think it is unfortunate that at times Hitchcock can present a far more sympathetic villain than he does of authority and those who enforce laws.  At the same time I can appreciate Hitchcock’s observation that those who uphold the law are not perfect either, with their bumbling around and at times being down right wrong.

I wished the book could have explored more on the villainy of ideas.  This constructive criticism is not meant to fault the book but also a compliment for the author’s approach of Hitchcock’s work from the angle of how ideology produces villain.  Their discussion left me hungry for more exploration of this theme since I believe worldviews, philosophies, and various “isms” can produce moral monsters from what seem to be every day people.  I appreciated the chapter that looked at this theme in the movie Rope.

In conclusion, I enjoyed the book.  I have seen most of the films the authors discussed with the exception of two; it made me want to watch other films that was briefly mentioned but it also made me realize there are certain films that I’m glad I haven’t watch yet nor plan on watching because of how twisted it is.  In some instance I believe it’s better not to watch it being act out before one’s eyes.  I do recommend the book.

Purchase: Amazon

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Fearless

 Eric Blehm.  Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown. Chrstianaudio.com, 2012.  10 hours and 19 minutes.

There have been a myriad of books under the category of biographies.  Biographies are great.  They are educational.  You get educated about the life of the person.  Disclosing their life requires that one enters into an excursion.  I remember Charles Spurgeon mentioning from his book, Lectures to My Students, in the section: “To Workers with Slender Apparatus,” that you can learn much by reading from others; especially experienced saints.  Spurgeon’s wisdom rings true.  This book grabs your heart. Unlike most war biographies on Navy Seals, whereby BUD/S is one of the main scenes in the early stages of the book, this book does not do that; rather the pendulum swings the other direction by taking you into a panoramic picture of Adam Brown.

This biographical work documents Brown who is from Hot Springs, Arkansas.  Hot Springs, Arkansas is where Brown spent most of his life.  A life that spans his successes and failures as a young boy and man.  A life that portrays his descent into drugs and his remarkable climb into not only the Navy SEALs, but the most elite of the SEALs: DEVGRU (aka SEAL Team 6).  Joining the SEALs was not a childhood dream for Brown, but it would be a crucible that would forge him into a better man.  He was sick and tired of his drug addiction.  He needed a challenge that would help him purge out the dirt in his life.  And joining the SEALs would be one instrument in this journey.

This biographical work documents the grace of God in Brown’s life.  Fearless reveals the importance of God in His life.  God conquered his heart.  Brown had this void in His life.  As a result, he turned to drugs.  But want he really needed was a supernatural power that would quench his thirst.  He needed the Living Water.  Christ was important to him.  Christ patched his life together.  He made him a whole person because He found forgiveness in Christ.  In Christ, and via His grace, Brown became a better husband, father, and SEAL. As a man devoted to Christ, He lived the Gospel both in word and in deed.  That is verified by those around him.  His life impacted many.

This biographical work reveals the fearless characteristics in many ways.  You see it with his fight against drug addiction and his climb to being in the most elite fighting force in the world.  You see it will his physical protection of his family and SEAL brothers. Brown’s last fearlessness was seen in Komar Province of Afghanistan in March 17, 2010.  In that foreign land, he faced evil by going into the heart of it.  He placed himself in the line of fire in order to protect other members of his unit so they can live. Tragically, Brown lost his life.  He died a hero.  He showed the warrior spirit.  He laid down his life for others.  Even though he injured his dominant hand and suffered a injury to one of his eyes that caused blindness he still made it through SEAL sniper school and became one of the most elite operators

This biographical work reveals how one’s sanctification is tested.  Although Brown was no longer enslaved to cocaine as demonstrated in the past, there were a few times where he relapsed.  It took the help of others like his wife and friends and the power of God to wake him up from his dismal fall into relapse.  He made war against sin.  He revealed his identification in Christ by taking sanctification seriously.  Brown wanted others to see not only the bright side of his life, but also his dark side.  His life is like a sparkling diamond that is placed in the middle upon a black velvet.  His life shines brightly when seen against the backdrop of his sin.  It is where you see the hand of God, the grace of God, moving in his life for His glory.

I encourage you to check out this biography because Fearless is sobering, emotional, inspirational, and honest concerning this Christian, husband, father, and Navy SEAL Chief.

This audiobook also has a bonus interview section.

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Christian Bioethics A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families

C. Ben Mitchell and D. Joy Riley.  Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2014. 197 pp.

This is a wonderful book on bioethics from a Christian perspective.  I have felt for years that there is a need for more works on Christian bioethics and no doubt this book makes a contribution.  The book exceeded my expectation.  I appreciated the fact that both authors’ background helped in making a contribution to the book:  C. Ben Mitchell has a PhD in medical ethics in addition to his pastoral background while D. Joy Riley is a physician with a masters in bioethics.  Both Mitchell and Riley serve in hospital ethics committee and have written previous on bioethical issues.

The book is divided into four parts.  The first part is an introduction with chapter one on doctors and medicine and chapter two on how to apply the Bible for the Twenty First century.  The “meat” of the book is in part two through four which adopts the bioethics rubric by theologian Nigel Cameron of “taking life, making life and remaking/faking life.”  Under “Taking Life” there is a chapter each on abortion and human dignity in death.  Under “Making Life” the authors discusses the topic of assisted reproductive technology, organ donations, transplantation, cloning and human-animal hybrids.  Part four consist of one chapter on the topic of aging and life extension technologies with a significant discussion on Transhumanist movement.  General readers will learn a lot from these chapters concerning these controversial issues.

I also appreciated the format of the book.  Each chapter opens up with a case study followed by some discussion questions based upon the case study.  The heart of each chapter is a dialogue discussion between the two authors.  At first I wasn’t sure whether it would work having the book set up as an “interview” but I was pleasantly surprised that it worked out well and brought out the authors’ particular knowledge and specialty.  The interview format allows us to see two experts dialoguing on the issue with the readers being able to “listen in.”

It was thoughtful of the authors to have helpful summary in the back of some of the chapters; for instance, there is an outline for the “Process for Medical Ethical Decision Making” after the chapter on how the Bible communicate to the Twenty First Century and a helpful list of suggestions of practical ways the church may help with the issue of abortion.  In fact, the book was constantly giving practical advice to the readers.  For instance I found the chapter on human dignity and dying to be very practical as a pastor to think about how to minister to those who are dying—and also got me thinking about my own death as well.  As the book documented, we are in an interesting age in history in which many people in the West have the privilege of not having to constantly think about death as many people in the past have to face.

I would encourage that if one were to read this book to read it with a highlighter since there are a lot of information.  I learned a lot reading this!  I enjoyed learning the historical background of the Hippocratic Oath, its pagan origin and how it was later adapted to reflect a Christian worldview.  I was also surprised to learn how it is not an administered oath for doctors today.  The book also discussed about the Christian origin of hospitals and historic precedence for caring the sick.  The book did a good job defining terms and my only criticism of the book is that it would be nice to see a glossary given the many acronym and medical terms used it could be easy for a general audience to forget them.   One helpful discussion about defining terms is the book’s discussion about the problem of defining death in terms of brain activity or the lack thereof.  The book mentioned that there has been documented case of over 175 “brain dead” long term survivors which should definitely serve as a caution.  I also appreciate the book’s discussion about the mechanics of cloning and embryonic stem cells.

I highly recommend this book.

NOTE: I received this book for free from the publisher B&H Publishing Group  through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest opinion. The thoughts and words are my own and I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

Purchase: Amazon

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