Monday, June 23, 2008

Summer Road Trip 2008: learning about whaling on the Atlantic coast

Our family just returned from a two-week vacation during which we visited Washington D.C., the port at Mystic, CT, the Jersey shore, Boston, Plymouth, New Bedford, New York City, and the Outer Banks. More on this soon - to see pictures, scroll down about seven posts.

Book Review

Ministry in the Image of God, by Stephen Seamands
***** 5 stars

This is a fantastic book and a must-read for anyone involved in Christian ministry. I enjoyed it because, in all my 39 years of being a Christian, I had never heard anything like it.

I had always been of the opinion that the doctrine of the trinity, while undeniably biblical, had to be about the most boring of the Christian doctrines. I regarded it as a fact, but a flat one, something that you sing about occasionally in the doxology.

But as I read this book, I could not believe how the trinity came to life in Seamands' writing. One of my favorite ideas from the book is how he describes various aspects of our lives and relationships as following the pattern of the trinity.

For example, when we are involved in listening to and empathizing with another person, we are exemplifying a quality of the trinity: that of flowing in and out of each other while remaining distinct entities, separate from one another. As we listen to the other person, part of us enters into their experience, and feels the pain or joy they are feeling.

When this happens, we are truly living in the image of the three-personed God.

Seamands' intended audience seems to be those working in ministry, though I am sure any Christian would gain insight from the book. I have incorporated many of his ideas into my ministry, as well as my understanding of the trinity - a doctrine which, thanks to this book, will never again seem boring to me!

Book Review

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
4 stars

OK, I know, this one is way out there. But seriously, I liked it! Although I only agreed with about half of what she said, and I had problems with the Godless ideology upon which her principles rest, I think she's on to something.

Very simply put, I believe she's right about many of her practical suggestions for achieving success. When I listened to her book for the first time, I immediately identified a lot of her suggestions as things that have worked for me in the past.

For example, she advises to start out each day with confidence that good things will happen, that you will be successful in reaching your goals, that people will respond positively to you, and that you carry unlimited potential. Look at the good, not the bad, she urges. She encourages us to constantly give thanks and be grateful for the things we already have, and by doing this, we will attract more good things into our lives.

Her philosophy jives with my belief that optimism, an attitude of gratitude, and faith go a long ways towards helping us achieve our goals. However, the one thing missing in this equation is God. In Byrne's universe, humans seem to be the only gods. And herein lies the problem.

While I am definitely using many of Byrne's practical suggestions in my interactions and daily life, with good result, I completely reject the notion that I am successful in and of myself. Instead, God makes me successful and causes all of these laws of the universe to work. Byrne has identified some laws which are true, but failed to give the credit to God, for creating those laws in the first place.

I have given the book four stars because it is interesting and practical. If she were to write a book called The Secret for Christians, which included God in all of this, I would probably give her five!

Book Review

Son of a Witch, by Gregory McGuire
***** 5+ stars

WOW! I thought it couldn't get any better than McGuire's last (and also debut) novel, Wicked. And then I read this one, and realized that it just had!

This is a delightful book from start to finish. Picking up the story moments after the witch's death (which takes place at the end of the last book), Son of a Witch tells the tale of Liir, the only son of Elphaba (who is the witch featured in Wicked).

I liked Liir from the start. He is young, very insecure, and alone in the world, but also brave and honest. And these qualities, which he demonstrates throughout the book, end up making him (in my opinion) a true hero.

I don't want to go into more detail and give away the plot for those of you who may read the book, which I highly recommend. Not only is the plot thoroughly enjoyable, but the quality of the writing is superb - for anyone who loves language it is like candy for the mind. But it's not all mind-candy, there is more nourishing fare as well: the themes run deep and could provide the fodder for many a long conversation.

Son of a Witch is my favorite so far this year, and quite probably for several more to come.

Book Review

The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman
**** 4 stars

For some reason, I had never read this classic relationship guide till recently. I found it to be helpful and read some of it with JD. The information Chapman presents is organized, easy to read, includes plenty of good examples, and really makes a lot of sense.

The five love languages that Chapman identifies are words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. He describes numerous examples of couples whose relationships were transformed by the discovery of, and learning to speak, each others' primary love language.

While I think this book should definitely be in the arsenal of anyone in the business of helping others with their relationships, or of making their own better, I question whether the discovery and practice of the love languages can really provide the be-all, end-all solution to marital problems that it seems Chapman is suggesting. Let's face it, sometimes discovering a spouse's love language just isn't enough. For couples who face deeper, more complex issues on a personal or relationship level, other paths to healing may be required.

However, as far as it goes, this is an excellent book. I have used it both personally and professionally with good results. I do recommend it to anyone interested in improving their relationship.

Book Review

No country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy
*** 3 stars

This book was simply too violent for me. Since it's about a serial killer, I guess the killing is kind of indispensable to the plot. Call me a sissy, but I just don't enjoy reading about one grisly murder after another.

If there had been a point to it - like, for example, the violence in the movie "Schindler's List," which reminded us that hope and bravery can survive even the most horrific evil - then I would have plodded through all the killings in the hope of some redemption at the end.

However, the redemption never comes. One is left with more questions than answers, wondering if anything can stop evil. And, according to the rules of the universe McCarthy creates in this book, the answer is "no."

The book moves quickly, is gripping, and for the most part well-written, so I gave it three stars. However, I would not read it again, and have not been able to bring myself to watch the movie.

Book Review

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
***** 5 stars

This is a futuristic novel which portrays the journey of a father and son along the road to the sea. The road they travel is dark and dangerous in the aftermath of an unnamed disaster which has killed almost all plant and animal life and left everything covered with a thick coat of ash.

Beautifully written, this is a book that celebrates the love between a father and son. It is a book about sin, darkness, survival, and hope. The prose is actually more like poetry throughout much of the book.

A real page-turner full of suspense, this book is multi-layered, thought-provoking, and heartbreaking. In the world of modern fiction, it doesn’t get much better than this.

In Memory of Don

Author's note: I wrote the following remembrance about one of my patients, who passed away on June 13th, 2008, at the age of 48. I had the horrible responsibility of diagnosing him with lung cancer last summer, only about a week after his first visit at the clinic.

I see lots of patients with cancer, but for some reason, Don was extra special. Soon after I started seeing him, Don had an experience with God that changed his life. Throughout the following months I witnessed firsthand the difference that God can make in a life.

Before his death, Don was featured in our Hope Clinic video. He wanted his story to inspire and encourage others who might be facing similar circumstances, and gave me permission to share this story to that end. Following is my remembrance of him.

-Jenny Dittes, June 13, 2008

Love -that’s what it came down to.

Love that reached down and took hold of a man who was lost, pulled him out of the darkness, and clutched him close to the heart of God – so close the Devil could not get him back, no matter how he fretted and begged.

I was swept into the love because the minute I saw this man, God whispered in my ear, “This one is mine. It’s time for him to come to me, after a lifetime of running away; it’s time, and I want you to claim him for me, and tell him about my great love for him.” So I prayed for him, and as I spoke, and he wept, I could sense the Spirit filling and claiming him.

In the months to come, as his body gradually filled with cancer, his mind and heart were re-made. He struggled with many things during those months, as he sought to restore relationships with family and friends that, through his own actions, had grown sour through the years. But one thing he never struggled with or doubted was God’s love for him. Like a child, he accepted it without question.

One day, when he was discouraged, I asked him if he was worried about his salvation, or frightened about what would happen after his death. Without hesitation, he said No, he wasn’t worried about that. What worried him most was becoming helpless – not able to walk or care for himself. He dreaded that terribly, and told me he’d rather that it all be over right away than to gradually lose his abilities.

And in the end, I think God honored that wish. Just days before his death, he was still able to walk – slowly, with a limp – and to talk, in halting sentences. And then, within hours, his brain function deteriorated and he went into a coma. Within twelve hours, it was over. I have actually never seen a cancer patient who went that quickly and mercifully at the very end.

One of the last things he said to me, just several days before he died, was: “I love everyone!” It came out haltingly, as though he was fighting to get the words out; but he said it several times, and the look in his eyes, and the tone of his voice, told me that this was a new thing for him. I think he himself was surprised by the love that filled him and overflowed to everyone around.

When I think of Don, I think first of his big smile – a smile that completely lit up his face. And the tears that come to my eyes are not only tears of grief that he is no longer here, but also tears of joy, for the miraculous way in which God redeemed him, claimed him, and changed his heart.

In the end, it all came down to love: God’s love which flowed steadily and freely, like clear water, washing away all the obstacles, dirt, and sin in its path; a love which said, “I don’t care what you've done in the past; now, you are my child, my grace is sufficient for you, and nothing can separate us again.”

A few days ago, Don let go of our hands and took the hand of Jesus, where that love became stronger and brighter than we can imagine.

Though we, his friends, are lonely without him, I know he would would not want us to be sad. Instead, I think he would want us to be swept up into the same love that swept him away.

Don is resting now in that love and peace that passes our understanding.

Praise be to God!