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Thursday, August 24, 2006


This Book Looks Interesting

This is next on my reading list. Order it here and see if you agree with my review.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill

Tom Cahill has two classics under his belt: How the Irish Saved Civilization and The Gifts of the Jews, both of which I have read, so when a friend loaned me her copy of Desire of the Everlasting Hills, (as a writer, of course, I believe someone should buy books, but when someone--or a library--allows my work to be read by passing it along, I make an exception. I'd rather be read than not be read if buying the book is an obstacle.) I was delighted to have an opportunity to read his latest as well.

In his previous books, Cahill has shown that he is a master of writing popular history and his latest is no exception. At the present time Christians and Christianists are shouting at each other over very basic and opposing ideas about the interpretation of the Bible. Cahill, it seems to me, has grasped the way in which the modern world must read scripture if either Christianity or the Bible is to remain relevant. The Bible is the underlying authority of the Christian faith, but that authority is diluted and debased if what the Bible means is restricted to what the Bible says "literally." In the first place, there is no true "literal" version of scripture. Even the most ancient versions in the original languages in which they were written are not authentically literal if one means that they are error free in transcription or translation.

It is a most rediculous position and a somewhat superstitious one (but unfortunately a common one) to believe that the King James' version of the Bible in English speaks with God's true, error free authority because God somehow guided the 15th century fingers that wrote it down. This is not the usual position of the more "enlightened" literalists however. They acknowledge that later translations and more modern exegetes and interpreters are correct, but they are highly selective when it comes to which texts are "literally" true and which are not. As a general rule, you can expect that literal authority will be the one that favors the rights and prejudices of heterosexual, white, males in the northern hemisphere.

The real key to understanding the Bible and applying it to life in the modern world, however, requires that one go beneath the surface of what the text says and try to determine the principal that can be applied in modern life. This means of course that everything has to be stripped away that had meaning only in the social context of the time it was written, especially in terms of race, ethnicity, and sex--by that I mean male and female not sexual practices or orientation.

Secondly one has to evaluate the ancient texts in terms of their knowledge of the natural world--i.e., the age of the earth, the source of thunder; all the natural phenomina that modern science has revealed. That means that much of what the Bible says about the natural world; the sun, stars and planets, the oceans and life; has to be evaluated in a poetical sense, and not in a literal sense. This also applies to what modern science knows in terms of disease and human psychology. People may have had demons in the ancient world and mant still do in the modern world, but that does not necessarily mean the same thing as it did prior to the modern age. This also applies to phenomena such as sexual orientation and gender identity. This is the area where the so-called "enlightened" literalist has the most trouble; having to meet head-on the specific prohibitions in the Bible--homosexuality to be specific--and understand that when the Bible uses homosexuality as an example of "sexual perversion" as Paul does in 1 Corinthians to condemn a man or woman for "turning away from Christl" his premise is right, we do turn away from Christ, but his example is flawed because he did not understand homosexuality as it is understood in the modern world--at least by those who are not invincible ignorant.

So, back to Thomas Cahill's book. He does approach the Bible from a truely enlightened perspective and judges everything he comments on in the Bible in the proper light of modern revelation--under that understanding (correctly I think) that the Holy Spirit has indeed been active in the world for the last 2000 years, and if we ignore what we have learned through the Holy Spirit, we do so at our peril.

The subtitle of Cahill's book is "The World Before and After Jesus" and he uses that perspective for what he has to say. He divides the book into seven parts: 1. Greeks, Jews, and Romans in which he explains each of these cultures and the differences among them and how they interacted during Biblical times; 2. The Last of the Prophets, the age and writings that set the stage and the expectations for the coming of the "Messiah;" 3. The Cosmic Christ, which is an explanation of the mythic Christ of Paul's writings as opposed to the historical Jesus that is sought by modern "Jesus" scholars; 4. The Gentile Messiah portrayed in Luke's Gospel, which separates the Jewishness of Christianity in Mark and Matthew and makes Jesus a figure acceptable to a gentile audience; 5. Drunk in the Morning Light, the record and development of the Post Ressurrection church and the inpouring of influence by the Holy Spirit; 6. The Word Made Flesh the theological development of salvation through Christ of the Eucharist in John's Gospel; and 7. Yesterday, Today, and Forever, a summing up of the meaning of the previous six parts of the book and what they mean in terms of the on-going Church, its practices, its value (and values) and the danger of its becoming irrelevant in a secular world.

Desire of the Everlasting Hills is beautifully written, clear and easy to follow and understand and immanently convincing. Unfortunately I suspect that it will not convince all those who had rather use scripture to further their own selfish interests--but the fact that some will not appreciate Cahill's work does not diminish its importance.

You can order the book from Amazon.com by clicking on the link below.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Jaroslav Pelican's New Book

I heard Pelican lecture when I was in seminary. He died recently but he was a Russian Orthodox priest who taught in the Orthodox seminary in New York. I just noticed this book, Whose Bible is It? History of the Scriptures, which must have been published post-postumously. I'll order it as soon as I finish my review of Cahill's book. (See below.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin Books

I am re-reading Pat O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series about a Royal Navy Captain in the late 18th, early19th century British Navy. Not only are the books (some 20 in the series) exciting sea stories, the two main characters, Jack Aubrey, RN and his companion Stephen Maturin, a Navy surgeon and occasional spy, are "buddies" in the classic example of tightly bonded (thoroughly heterosexual) men, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which have a lasting appeal in male-oriented literature. The first three books in the series are Captain and Commander, Post Captain, and HMS Surprise. You can order them here by clicking on the Amazon.com links below.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Another Article About "The Long Tail"

The first thing I'll do when Arise Beloved is published is get Amazon.com to list it with "similar" titles.

‘The Long Tail’ Foresees a Marketplace of Pixel-Size Niches

Published: August 10, 2006

This, and other articles like it seem to be pointing the way toward writers being able to "wire around" conventional publishing. Another miracle of the Internet.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


The Bravest Man by William Tuohy

William Tuohy’s The Bravest Man is a great read and as good as it gets in describing the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, and life aboard a WW2 vintage submarine. I have first-hand experience of both. I was a midshipman at the Academy from the summer of 1954 until I graduated with the class of 1958 and served in USS Bream (SS-243) a “fleet boat” stationed in Pearl Harbor from 1960 until 1963, when I was transferred to new construction of a Polaris boat, USS Alexander Hamilton (SSBN 617).

My time at the Academy was 20 years after the period described during the time of Richard O’Kane, the Bravest Man of Tuohy’s book, but things had not changed much during the interim. In fact, I doubt if things had changed much since the 1920s. We still wore dress shirts with detachable collars and the Academy laundry was the only facility left in the country that still had the machines to iron them into the stiff, neck chaffing torture devices they were; almost impossible to get buttoned on to a shirt and a necktie tied without destroying their perfection.

We still wore sock garters; elastic, calf encircling devices that attached to the top of non-elastic, calf-length cotton socks to hold them up–no elastic-topped socks for us. The elastic in the garters deteriorated rapidly as a result of sweaty calves and not only wouldn’t stay up, but were notorious for coming undone while marching in formation leaving the garter dragging behind a drooping sock, resulting in the unfortunate victim of the garter getting “gigged” by an observant duty officer and a five-demerit (one-hour extra duty marching with a rifle) penalty for “being out of uniform.”

During my time, plebes (freshmen) were still subjected to harassment by upperclassmen, but it fell short of “hazing,” and was confined to enforcing strict discipline and to learning a high standard of professionalism. Mealtimes were especially hectic with the plebe sitting on a 2-inch edge of his chair, “eyes in the boat” i.e. looking straight ahead, and being barraged with questions: “What’s the main armament of an Iowa-class battleship, what’s the movie in the yard (the Academy campus), and what’s the menu for evening meal." If the answer was one you were supposed to know because it was “plebe knowledge,” and you didn’t know, the answer had to be “I”ll find out sir.” and never, never under any circumstances was “I don’t know.” acceptable–even if it was a question that you weren’t supposed to know. Failure to correctly answer a question correctly resulted in a “come around.” from the upperclassman and the dreaded “Bring your atlas.” The atlas, a broad, flat book, was not for the purposes of a geography lesson, but rather used to deliver “swats” to your behind. I still have mine after 50 years and it is still bent to the shape of my 18-year-old ass. No plebe I knew ever thought the discipline or the punishments were excessive and were in fact a source of pride that one could “take it.” If there were ever excesses in dealing with plebes, I have long since forgotten them.

Tuohy also has the New London Submarine School and the fleet boat experience down pat. Although my time in subs in the Pacific was after WW2, it was not that long afterward and we sailed in the same boats with many of the same men who sailed them during the war. My boat Bream had a permanently misshappen hull due to depth charging by the Japanese during the war, which restricted its maximum depth during dives. Other than the fact that the boats had been retrofitted with snorkels, which allowed for charging batteries while submerged at periscope depth, the boats still smelled the same, the torpedoes still occasionally misbehaved the same, the food was still the best in the navy, and the boats were still just as dangerous as ever when riding out a typhoon. I spent a watch or two topside on the surface, chained to the compass binnacle to keep from being washed overboard, and under water for as long as a minute at a time when huge waves washed over the bridge. And except for the fact (a huge except I’ll admit) that we weren’t facing danger from the Japanese, we still had some anxious times with Russian submarines and “trawlers” as well as a bit of harassment from the Chinese in the South China Sea. The Pacific ocean was still as treacherous and the same shallow water shoals were still in the same unpredictable places.

And the submariners were still the same intrepid, brave, adventurous, and sometimes mischievous men depicted so accurately by William Tuohy. I was proud to be one of them then and I am still proud to have faced the perils without ever thinking of quitting when the going was uphill.

I enjoyed William’s Tuohy’s book tremendously and I recommend it heartily. It’s real. It’s honest. And it’s accurate. My only complaint was Tuohy's grave mistake in calling midshipment "Middies." That term was especially offensive to a midshipman and I'm surprised that no one pointed it out to him. We were either "mids" or "midshipmen," and never, ever, "middies."

You can order the book directly from Amazon.com by clicking on the link below.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


More Books About World War 2 Submariners

I will be reading and reviewing these books as research for a possible novel about submariners in WW2.

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