Willa Cather’s *Death Comes for the Archbishop*

Death Comes for the ArchbishopDeath Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Enchanting, profound, elegiac, epic, beautiful. As a man with a PhD in Divinity and professor at a seminary I will tell you that the missiology and anthropology of religion in this book is penetrating and deep. As a priest and pastor I found it incredibly moving, sometimes to the point of tears.

Anyone interested in the history of the West of the USA or missiology should read this book or listen to the audio version.

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Humanity, Robots, Empire and Asimov

Robots and Empire (Robot #4)Robots and Empire by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a hard book to find here in Madrid. Neither of my two (American) library systems had it as an eBook or mp3 audio book. That was odd when the Elijah Bailey (Robot) series and Foundation series are easy to find.

This is an enormously ambitious book. It is much more than meets the eye. In this book the author is trying to marry two distinct and quite different universes into one. For people who know the universe of Caves of Steel and Foundation this is the uniter, this is the book that explains how R. Daneel Olivaw can appear in certain of the Foundation books and the pre-history of psychohistory.

But Asimov’s other concerns are quite interesting and relevant and even prescient, one might say. What happens with the Spacers who are all very comfortable and really have no need for self-betterment at this point? Nor do they have any need for fanciful things like procreation. The robot economy will do everything they need for them. Well, it’s not quite Brave New World, but it’s getting there. (The big difference is that Spacers are somehow immune to vices like drugs and alcohol. How can they resist these temptations? Asimov has no answer because his philosophical anthropology is in the end deficient.)

And the Settlers who all hail from earth: they remain stuck in a sort of nativism in relation to earth. Ergo, earth must be depopulated, but not too fast. (Again, this explains why no one knew were earth was in a much later book.) Is this Asimov’s humanistic effort of people to get past nationalism? If it is it doesn’t sound preachy or condescending as do so many authors when they try to address contemporary political issues. (Yes, Hunger Games and Divergent, I’m grocking you. Oh, and of course the infamous book The Martian by Heinlein.)

As to characters, D.G. and Gladia are amusing, but Daneel and Giskard are by far the most interesting characters.

If you really want to appreciate this book read the Elijah Bailey (Robot) books, then all the Foundation books, and then, finally, this one.

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Review of *Station Eleven*

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have tried to read (or listen to) every end of the world, apocalypse book I can get my hands on. I was excited then to hear about a new addition to this genre. Unlike many other books in this genre this one ends up on a slightly hopeful note. These books usually focus a lot on technology and getting things working again, or simply letting them die out as people return to a state of more primitive life (like my favorite book of the genre, Earth Abides).

Station Eleven is not only an end-of-the-world book though. It is an exploration of art, fame, family and relationships. Because of this the book has a depth to the personal relationships that is not common for books in this genre.

I will say that I thought the idea of a traveling art caravan with actors and musicians in the post-apocalypse was, well, a bit romantic and naive. I am also pretty sure that as the smothering arms of mother State die out that people will return to what is natural to humans–an awareness of the centrality of religion and a reliance on God. Mandel’s people are unrealistic in this way, though, as they seem happy to continue with their secular humanist worldview–a highly artificial and unnatural way to live, and one which is completely dependent on the welfare state for its existence.

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Review of “Unexpected Grace” by Farifteh Robb

Unexpected Grace: A Life in Two WorldsUnexpected Grace: A Life in Two Worlds by Farifteh V Robb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some years ago while completing my research for a PhD I interviewed Farifteh Robb. That led to the publication of a brief article titled “The Secret World of God: Aesthetics, Relationships, and the conversion of ‘Frances’ from Shi’a Islam to Christianity” in Global Missiology. At that time Robb was not discussing her history publicly, but I’m glad that she decided to do so.

This books brings a welcome contribution to the growing literature by converts from Islam to Christianity. Robb’s strong background in literature allows her to reference great authors and work in a way that other converts cannot. The fact that she ended up in Anglican Christianity as opposed to evangelical or charismatic Christianity is also rare for such conversion narratives. My favorite thing about the book was reading her personal recollections of what life was like in Tehran before, during and after the 1979 revolution.

Finally, the author has a light and witty style. Her sense of humor is much appreciated.

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Reviewing Andy Stanley’s *Deep and Wide*

Deep and WideDeep and Wide by Andy Stanley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My wife and I have been in full-time Christian ministry for some 14 years now. I presently serve as pastor at the Anglican cathedral in Madrid. My main work has not been as a congregation pastor, but I’ve done a lot of teaching at churches throughout the USA and other countries as well. I’ve had many, many opportunities to see what is working and what is not working. I’ve seen that in everything from home churches to megachurches. I’ve seen it across denominations: Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Nazarene, Pentecostal—you name it.

A ministry partner of mine bought this book for me and my wife, Sharon. We slowly read it together over two years or so. But we did read it. We just finished it last night.

I’m excited about this book. I want to recommend it to everyone in church leadership and especially for pastors. I want to recommend it to people from every single denomination. Yes, yes, he’s not sensitive to liturgical realities, I get it. But still there is so much to learn and apply from this book.

The author’s main goal is to tell you how to create a church that is welcoming to unchurched people. He gives you pointers on sermons, ministry, leadership, and basic nut and bolts things like welcoming people and music. There is a load of useful stuff in here. Also, his writing style is easygoing and very readable.

Pick it up. Read it. You won’t regret it.

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Revisiting Asimov’s *The Naked Sun*

The Naked Sun (Robot, #2)The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read this book when I was a teenager. It has aged very well. Asimov gives us a fascinating world in Solaris where people view each other often, but overall live in isolation, with hundreds of robots for each human. As an adult I found the ethical questions and anthropological questions particularly fascinating. For instance, how the Solarians raise their children, training them to live in solitude in spite of what seems like an ingrained human need for company and friends. And of course there is a murder mystery to solve. And robots. What’s not to like?

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My review of *Caves of Steel* by Isaac Asimov

The Caves of Steel (Robot #1)The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Returned to this book for a reread after decades away. I really enjoyed it, again. Jess is a bit melodramatic. Some things feel a bit out of place in the future, like Elijah’s penchant for smoking his pipe indoors. But overall the vision of a future in caves of steel, the distantly related spacers coming back to earth, and the development of a C-Fe society–they still feel fresh and like plausible insights into the future.

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