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7 Questions for Pro-Choice Individuals

We are aware that the government has determined that unborn infants have no legal status (except in certain cases). The following questions are not about “what the law is,” but to discuss “what the law should be.”

  1. It has often been said that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Why rare? Why not frequent?
  2. Do you believe the mother’s right to choose an abortion is absolute throughout the pregnancy and should never be denied? Or is there some point prior to delivery at which you think her choice should be limited? Why at that point?
  3. If there is no point prior to delivery at which the mother’s choice should be limited, at what point during the delivery process do you believe that a mother loses her right to choose an abortion? Why that moment? (Again, remember that we’re not asking what the law is, but what you think it should be.)
  4. What–apart from their legal status–do you consider to be the difference between an 8lb infant in the womb as the mother arrives at the hospital and that same 8lb infant outside of the womb four (or fourteen) hours later?
  5. Prior to the moment at which you think the abortion should no longer be an option, what do you think actually exists in the pregnant woman’s womb? Is it a person, a human being, a ball of cells, a potential life, or some other thing entirely?
  6. Do you find any of the following motivations for an abortion to be morally offensive: genetic defects in the child, the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, the baby is a girl, the father is of another ethnicity or lower economic class? If you are offended by any of these, which ones and why? What grounds do you have for taking offense over the mother’s choice rather than celebrating it as an expression of reproductive freedom?
  7. If scientists were able to develop a test to determine, during the pregnancy, the likely sexual orientation of the child, would you oppose an abortion chosen by the mother because the child is considered likely to identify as gay? If so, on what grounds?

For fellow Christians, please read and consider the following article: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2015/07/14/this-kind-cannot-be-driven-out-by-worldview-training-and-legislation-the-place-of-prayer-and-fasting-for-the-pro-life-movement/

What John Piper writes is true. At some point, the logical arguments are going to fail to persuade those committed to the use of abortion. The series of horrific videos released in 2015, which detail terrible evil at Planned Parenthood clinics, have also demonstrated that many are willing to turn a blind eye to the gruesome nature of the practice they staunchly support.

Today, on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, women all around the country are marching for life. Please join them and us in praying and fasting for the end of abortion in America and around the world.

Seeking God’s Mercy,
Dan & Anna J.

A Look Back at What I Read in 2015 and a Look Forward at What I Plan to Read in 2016

2015 was a good year in many ways. We had our first kid, we led our first Spanish Bible studies, we joined our first church planting team, we made a successful move across Spain, we got the go-ahead to start working on the types of ministry to which we feel clearly called, and we enjoyed visits from both sets of parents.

We also had–thanks to the first kid–a lot of evenings in which we were home a little earlier, and during which I had my hands on a couple of unexpected hours of free time.

Early in the year, I started to read What’s Best Next by Matt Perman, and as a consequence, spent some useful time thinking through my mission statement. One of the conclusions I came away with was that I should focus my ministry efforts on training Spanish nationals and on writing.

So, I used some of the time to write, and managed to place my first short story, “The Earth Groans,” with Youth Imagination in August. I wrote it a while ago, and it came out of some reflection on Romans 8:19-22. I’m still writing and hoping to get more stories and a couple of articles or essays accepted in 2016.

And I used the rest of the time to read and read widely. Reading helps me to preach and teach more effectively (see Kevin Vanhoozer’s useful comments here: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/4-reasons-pastor-theologians-should-read-fiction), and it helps me write more competently. In his post, “Read Until Your Brain Creaks,” Douglas Wilson wrote:

“Wanting to write without reading is like wanting to grind flour without gathering wheat, like wanting to make boards without logging, and like wanting to have a Mississippi Delta without any tributaries somewhere in Minnesota. Output requires intake, and literary output requires literary intake….

“Go for total tonnage, and read like someone who will forget most of it. You have my permission to forget most of it, which may or may not be reassuring, but you will forget most of it in either case. Most of what is shaping you in the course of your reading, you will not be able to remember.”

And of course, Faulkner’s famous advice to writers:

“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master.”

So, I went for tonnage in 2015. I read a lot of books. Some of them very, very good. Some of them just okay. Some of them absolutely horrible. In all, I read 48 books.

The best were (and I recommend these with the caveat that some of them include content that one might find objectionable and so of course, use discernment):

So I found 12 books (since Winters’ work is a trilogy) out of 48 to be particularly good. Out of the rest, I counted 11 terrible reads, and the remaining 25 books were somewhere in between. I nearly included some of them in the list above, but for some reason or another, I didn’t find them as compelling or enjoyable as those I’ve listed. If you’re looking for something to read, you can’t go too wrong with any of these.

So, 2016 is here, and I think I want to accomplish two things with my reading: I want to read less this year, and I want to read better. If 2015 was about volume, I would like 2016 to be about value. I’ve picked 24 books (although three of these are trilogies, so I guess it’s 30) to read over the next 12 months.

I chose books that are well-known classics, books by authors that I admire, and some genre books that come highly regarded in their fields. (Also, I already own all of these, and Anna would like me to read what I have before buying more.)

I’m planning to read:

  • Don Quixote, Book 2 by Cervantes
  • The Life and Death of King John by William Shakespeare
  • The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
  • Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  • The Turner Trilogy by James Sallis
  • The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe
  • The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  • 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
  • The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
  • The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee
  • The Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. Eliot
  • Absolom, Absolom by William Faulkner
  • This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Twelve by Justin Cronin
  • The Sunlight Dialogues by John Gardner
  • The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy
  • A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe

I might change one or two of these, but for the most part this is what I will attempt to read this year, Lord willing. I’m also reading through the Bible (this app is fantastic!), and I imagine I’ll do some other reading as well. I’m hopeful that at the end of 2016, I will look back on a year of reading many good books.

If you have some reading plans for 2016, drop them in the comments. If you’re interested in reading one or more of these along with me, let me know and we can read them together! I would really enjoy it.

Happy Reading,
Dan J.

What I Read in November & December, 2015

Well, I’m pretty happy. I managed to finish 8 books in November & December, in spite of a busy November, and thanks to the downtime around the holidays in December.

In November & December, I read:

As I mentioned in my last post, I started reading Ted Gioia’s History of Jazz, but at about the 15% mark, I was burned out on it. It’s good, but it’s probably better as a slow read. I’m still reading it, slowly, but I let myself move on to other books.

The reading over the last two months of 2015 was remarkably pleasant, with only one real stinker in the bunch.

I read 1984 in October, and I did not enjoy the experience. Some portions were very well written, but on the whole, it took a pretty basic story and used it as the thin framework for a 300 page tract warning against the methods and dangers of authoritarian governments. Still, I’ve enjoyed Orwell’s essays. In “Shooting an Elephant“, for example, he manages to say something significant about the British Empire in India while telling the fascinating story of the time he was called upon to execute an elephant. He blends the two–his story and his worldview–in such a way that one is compelled to read further and inclined to give his beliefs a sympathetic ear.

So, I thought I’d try Animal Farm. I’m glad I did. It’s a quick read–about two or three hours in all–and he manages to make most of the same arguments and warnings as he did in 1984, but with clarity, emotional weight, and cutting satire. If you read nothing else by Orwell, read Animal Farm. It’s a very small investment of time with a good return.

Wonder Boys is an early work by Michael Chabon. I love Chabon’s work. I personally think he is one of the greatest living American novelists. This isn’t a remarkable opinion–many other people have thought this before me; I just agree with them. There are those who prefer Jonathan Franzen. I am not one of them. I read some of his essays (here & here) a couple years back, and, though the writing was clear and simple, there was little art and no joy. Chabon’s work is loaded with both.

I read two of his short story collections last year and mostly enjoyed them both. His The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay was absolutely fantastic. Wonder Boys is also wonderful. At its core, it’s a tale of anxiety–anxiety over how the fixed past will affect the not-yet-fixed future, anxiety over missed trails, anxiety over just about everything that one discovers oneself to be. I’ve set aside another of his novels for 2016, and I’m eager to get to it.

Eight Ball Boogie was laugh-out-loud hilarious. I received it as a gift from the author–Burke was giving away copies through his Twitter feed a few years back. He takes the old Sam Spade detective story and drags it into the current-day Irish underworld, and he has a lot of fun in the process. One quote will give you some of what you need to get the feel for the book:

“I felt buoyant, untouchable. Bulletproof. Of course, that was before all the shooting started.”

The Bees was on several “best of 2014” lists. It’s a different sort of story, following a worker bee named Flora 717 as she navigates life in a beehive. It’s well-written, but I found it difficult to care about the characters in any meaningful sense, and this was not helped by the “children’s story time” tone that dominated throughout.

Gotham Knights is a graphic novel. I’m–perhaps unjustifiable–happy with myself for reading it as it’s the first book of length that I’ve read in Spanish. I found it on the shelf in the Benicàssim library, and have since discovered that it is a unique collection of Batman comics, in that it was written and drawn by Spanish authors and artists. I’ve read better Batman before, but this was still an enjoyable couple of evenings.

Frozen Assets gives me a chance to use an adjective that I don’t often think to use: workmanlike. It’s an efficient and competent, but far from unique or impressive. Actually, I’m being too generous. It’s not great. It’s the first in a series featuring Icelandic police officer, Gunnhildur Gisladottir. I grabbed it on sale, thinking it might be another translated Scandinavian crime novel–and as a rule, translated works are often much better than the average publication–but the author is from England. So, for much of the book, I was scratching my head at the various Icelandic cops and criminals using British lingo (“cuppa,” “a spot of tea,” etc). It was disorienting, to say the least. And for some reason, at the 1/3 mark, every character started saying “Ach” as an exclamation. This got old.

Ratlines by Stuart Neville, however, is a great crime novel. The book is set in Ireland in the early 1960s, and it opens with the execution of a former Nazi officer. As it turns out, Ireland has welcomed former Nazi officers, and someone is killing them off. About a year ago, the idea that Nazis received welcome in any European nation after the war would have seemed surprising to me. Then I read this: “Germany still paying pensions to Spain’s Nazi volunteers during Second World War.”

So, Albert Ryan–an Irish intelligence agent–is asked to investigate and to report back to an infamous Nazi officer. He does so, quickly learning who can and can’t be trusted (here’s a hint: no one can be trusted), and by the end, Neville has delivered a morally complicated, tense, and emotionally satisfying crime novel.

Neville’s a great writer, and I’ll be reading more of his work in the future. I can still remember a line from his Collusion: “He barely registered the detonator’s POP! before God’s fist slammed him into nothing.” I’ve never read a better description of death by explosion. True, I’ve not read a lot of descriptions of death by explosion, but of those that I have read, Neville has produced the best.

Finally, Make Room, Make Room was the stinker of the bunch. Harrison was, in his time, very concerned about over-population. If society didn’t get a handle on the rising birth rates, he worried, then by 1999, we’d be out of room and out of food. Turns out he was wrong. I picked up the book out of curiosity–Harrison is well-respected and popular among science fiction fans, his work has been influential, and Make Room, Make Room was the basis of that old Charlton Heston classic, Soylent Green (you know, the one where “Soylent Green is people!”). Sadly, the book suffers from the same sickness that afflicted 1984–it’s a tract wrapped around the thin framework of a boring story.

In any case, that’s what I read for the last two months. Not a bad list, all things considered.

I’ll be posting a follow-up in a few days with my thoughts on this past year’s reading and my plans for reading in 2016.

Happy New Year,
Dan J.

What I Read in October, 2015

I enjoyed a visit from my folks over the week of my birthday in October, and we found ourselves settling into our new place a bit more, which made it possible to read a couple of longer books. In October, I read:

1984 is a classic, and perhaps rightly so. I read it back in late high-school (or was it early college?), and have lately been interested in re-reading some classics that I haven’t read in over a decade. How I got through it the first time, I’ll never know. Apart from the chapters in which the story moved forward, about 2/3 of the book is little more than a series of extended monologues evaluating the benefits and dangers of an authoritarian government. It’s dry and repetitive, and I’m sure it made the point it needed to make, but I ran out of patience with it all pretty quickly.

Still, a couple of ideas struck me as particularly interesting. First, if one has control of the language (or expression) one has control of the people. This is clearly true today, and it is not always bad; for instance it is a tangible good when a change in the language used results in increased empathy and charity. Second, whole divisions of Orwell’s dystopian society were devoted to the production of mindless, lurid, sexed-up and dumbed-down entertainment in order to keep a large percentage of the population distracted and disengaged. This also is clearly true today, though it’s not in the hands of the government.

I’ve included a few quotes that struck me as interesting:

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”

“But if there was hope, it lay in the proles. You had to cling on to that. When you put it in words it sounded reasonable: it was when you looked at the human beings passing you on the pavement that it became an act of faith.”

“Sanity is not statistical.”

“Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”

The Girl on the Train and Dark Places were a fortuitous combination, as both are written in first person, both feature women who have suffered a great deal of harm, and both revolve around how the awful past has affected these protagonists in the still-awful present. However, similarities aside, I think Hawkin’s Girl on the Train would have seemed more impressive were it not placed alongside Flynn’s much better Dark Places. In Flynn’s novel, the characters are more sympathetic, the stakes are higher, the emotions run deeper, the prose is more polished, the twists are better earned, and the conclusion is appropriately tuned (I mean here that it hits the right blend of forward-looking optimism and understandable melancholy).

That’s not to say that The Girl on the Train is bad. It’s not bad. It’s just not nearly as good. And being not nearly as good, it feels much worse in retrospect.

Dark Places is the second book I have read by Gillian Flynn this year, and I think it’s safe to say that she will be on my “to read” list in the future.

Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art is a very quick read, directed to writers. A couple of friends here in Spain (very good musicians, check out their music!) recommended it, and then Jon Acuff recommended it in a video on three books that changed the way he looks at creativity.

Pressfield first identifies a bunch of little tricks creators use to avoid creating (he calls these tricks “Resistance”), then offers suggestions for combating such tricks. I found these two sections helpful and insightful. He has a third, semi-mystical section on the Muses, which I found less helpful. A few quotes on the difference between those who write and those who merely tinker:

“There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”

“The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch. He takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself.”

“The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.”

“Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. ‘I write only when inspiration strikes,’ he replied. ‘Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.’ That’s a pro.”

And a final, longer quote in which Pressfield taps into what I think is a fairly Christian way of thinking about the gifts God gives each of us:

“Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.

Do it or don’t do it.

It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

So that was my reading for the month.

As November races along, I’m only about 10% into a long book on the history of jazz, and I’m realizing I may have difficulty finishing four books this month. Oh, well.

Happy Reading!
Dan J.

What I Read in August & September, 2015

August and September were productive months, and my reading happened in spurts and fits. I read a few books before the move, and a few after:

Bull Street was awful. This book was so incredibly bad that I looked up the order on Amazon to see if I had paid for this ebook. I had. I will regret that for a long time. I could have spent the $2 on a coffee, poured the coffee on my head, and been more satisfied with the results. My review on Amazon (which I’ve pasted here) is titled, “Now I’m a victim of Wall Street too.”

There is no tension, there is no suspense. The bad guys are obviously bad from the first description. The stakes are incredibly low. The protagonist manages to be boring, offensive, immature, totally self-ignorant, and cowardly at the same time. The author frequently introduces important information only when it’s helpful to the plot. Foreshadowing is apparently not in his literary vocabulary. He either forecasts with the subtlety of an elephant, or waits too long to inform us of something critical.

Every secondary character speaks with the same voice: the voice of the narrator. Also, pistachios. Somewhere the author must have read that it’s important to give the characters a quirk. Pistachios can be a great quirk, but I’m tired of reading that a character shelled a pistachio and then “popped the meat into his mouth.” I’m sure that’s a technically correct way to refer to what’s happening, but what’s technically correct and what’s good are two different things.

At least I didn’t pay for The One That Got Away. It was Amazon’s free book of the month for Prime members. This book was so bad. I read this in a night, and by the end, I turned to my wife and said, “You’re never going to believe how bad this book is.” The book was a master-class on terribly developed characters, cops that would get fired in a heartbeat for incompetence, and totally unrealistic motivations. For example (SPOILER ALERT!): the killer is motivated by a desire to punish people who have bad manners. He’s also apparently really bad at killing. I will not read another book by Simon Wood. I am probably going to stop taking advantage of the Amazon Prime Kindle First freebies as well.

Faulkner once advised writers: “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master.” So, since I write, I’m reading a lot of books, and these were two of them. I learned a lot about bad writing while reading this book, but I won’t buy or read anything by David Lender or Simon Wood ever again. Is it wrong to say, “May their tribe decrease?” I mean that in the sense of, “May these types of books never be published or conceived again.”

Then things got a little better and improved dramatically through the next six books.

D.M. Pulley’s The Dead Key was another Kindle First freebie. The thing is, this book is not half-bad. Good character development (not amazing, but hey, not bad), good tension (genuinely tense at a few points, generally tense throughout), goodish, clearish writing, and a more-or-less satisfying conclusion. I thought it wrapped up a little too quickly considering the scope and scale of the villainy involved, but it was still good enough.

And Robert Ellis’ City of Echoes wasn’t too bad either. I was not expecting this book to be much good, and the opening pages were sub-par, but after things started rolling, the surprises kept coming, and the writing kept me engaged. There were a few twists that were way more predictable than they should have been, but on the whole, it was a decent read, and I’ll maybe pick up the next if it’s free.

Kim Stanley Robinson is a very good author, generally, so I was happy to get a collection of his short stories. This collection was like all collections–it had its high points (“Escape from Kathmandu” or “The Blind Geometer” or “The Translator”) and its low points (“Sexual Dimorphism” or “Prometheus Unbound, At Last”). The strong stories are stories. The weak stories are experiments. Though that may say more about my personal philosophy than Robinson’s talent. If you’re in the mood for some solid science fiction, pick up his Mars Trilogy.

Speaking of Mars, The Martian was very enjoyable. I imagine the movie is also enjoyable, and look forward to seeing it someday, probably after Calvin grows up and moves out. (Missions and parenthood = a drastic reduction in movie nights.)

Station Eleven was the fictional highlight of the last two months. The author (is it St. John Mandel or just Mandel?) managed to craft the sort of post-apocalyptic story that slides right past all of the easy material (the moral reproach in the form of some disaster, the disintegration of society, the violence of survival, etc) and delivers a heartbreaking and gently told tale set in the midst of tragedy. She weaves themes of memory, regret, repentance (or unrepentance), hope and artistic joy around a set of characters drawn with the sympathy and humanity that marks an excellent author.

And finally, Art & The Bible is my first Schaeffer book. This was a very short book, containing two essays: “Art In the Bible” and “Some Perspectives on Art”.

A couple of great quotes from the first section:

“Despite our constant talk about the Lordship of Christ, we have narrowed it’s scope to a very small area of reality.”

“About all that [evangelical Christianity has] produced is a very romantic, Sunday school art.”

“A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.”

“God is interested in beauty.”

“The Christian life should produce not only truth…but also beauty.”

The second essay was also fantastic. Schaeffer thankfully affirms the value of art as art–it is valuable simply because it is “a work of creativity” and because in creating, we are imitating our Creator–and he proceeds to lay out some helpful instructions for thinking about art, both as a viewer and as a creator. Perhaps the most compelling sections for me were his “Four Standards of Judgment” and “The Christian World View”.  Some quotes from these:

“We are not being true to the artist as a man if we consider his art work junk simply because we differ with his outlook on life. Christian schools, Christian parents and Christian pastors often have turned off young people at just this point. Because the schools, the pastors and the parents did not make a distinction between technical excellence and content, the whole of much great art has been rejected by scorn or ridicule. Instead, if the artist’s technical excellence is high, he is to be praised for this, even if we differ from his world view. Man must be treated fairly as man.”

“If we stand as Christians before a man’s canvas and recognize that he is a great artist in technical excellence and validity–if in fact he is–if we have been fair with him as a man and as an artist, then we can say that his world view is wrong.”

“The Christian and his art have a place for the minor theme [of our fallen state] because man is lost and abnormal and the Christian has his own defeatedness. There is not only victory and song in my life. But the Christian and his art don’t end there…[And] if our Christian art only emphasizes the major theme [of redemption], then it is not fully Christian but simply romantic art.”

“Even though we may spend most of our time on the judgment of the law, love dictates that at some point we get to the gospel. And it seems to me that in the total body of his work the artist somewhere should have a sufficient place for the major theme [of redemption].”

If you are a Christian and you have not read this book yet, do yourself a significant favor and pick it up. For Christian artists, it’s a wonderful little summary of why we are called to create and how we can glorify God through such activity. For Christians who are not artists, it’s a wonderful discussion on how to interact with art for God’s glory.

Happy Reading,
Dan J.