Thursday, July 06, 2017

Added to my virtual bookshelf ... Dreamweaver: Book 2 of the Dream Cycle by Najeev Raj Nadarajah

DreamWeaver is a good enough read for fans of swords-and-sorcery and other stories that fall within the realm of 'fantasy fiction.' I read my e-copy from cover to cover, and I enjoyed the experience. But I can't help but think there's something familiar about it ... something that I've read somewhere and somewhen else, by someone else.

DreamWeaver is the second installment of the 'Dream Cycle' by Najeev Raj Nadarajah, and it follows the journeys of young Weaver - not only physical journeys across a landscape ravaged by conflict, but personal journeys through Weaver's mind, heart and soul as he grows and matures, and seeks his place in a chaotic world.

Weaver is a young man with powers abilities beyond those of ordinary humans - and perhaps even beyond those of other empowered individuals. How far beyond? Hard to say, because Weaver doesn't know himself, and each of those steps in those aforementioned 'journeys' are part of the learning process. Fortunately, Weaver is accompanied by an elder - bound by vows and paternalistic feelings - who protects him and guides him as best he can through those journeys.

But that's only part of the process. Weaver finds himself in school where he will not only study reading and writing, but exclusive classes to help him better command and control his powers. Some of his instructors are warm and encouraging, while others are cold and appear to hold him in contempt. And while he finds antagonists among the other students, he also has a growing circle of friends, companions who will play a significant and supportive role in his journeys.

He'll need that support because there is an evil Lord in this world, one responsible for much of the conflict that has ravaged the land through the exercise of his own powers and the actions of his agents among the people, and one who has a growing interest in young Weaver.

Sound familiar? Oh, and did I mention that there is also some fun and exciting diversion from all this in the form of a sport played by Weaver, his friends and antagonists, and the matches are VERY popular at the school and the community at-large?

I'll admit, this HAS become a crowded genre since the success of J.K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter' ... I remember something like this happening forty years ago, during a resurgence of interest in J.R.R. Tolkien's 'Middle Earth.'

Which is why I give Nadarajah credit for carving-out his own niche, one that has elements all its own ... the story, it's characters, their motives, their powers, the media for getting in touch with those powers and the means for expressing them and taking them to the next stage.

DreamWeaver does have an ending. But in the tradition of serials past and present, it leaves some questions unanswered, some issues unresolved ... and some material for the third installment of the 'Dream Cycle.'


NOTE: I received a free e-copy of this work through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Suggestion for PCUSA ... Music for “Marching As to War”

The most recent national election has provided a new President of the United States ... one with an attitude and goals that some within the Presbyterian Church USA find alarming ... to say the least!

Through the world wide web and with the assistance of internet applications, a number of my 'virtual' acquaintances within the church have shared their concerns - their dread, even - over the developing situation ... and a call-to-arms, of sorts, to alleviate that situation. And let me say, their concerns are not unfounded ... in just a few weeks, President of the United States Donald Trump and the conservatives in Congress have already set back victories already achieved by liberal-to-moderate factions within our society during the term of Trump's predecessor, Barrack Obama.

And more may be on the way ...

There is genuine heartbreak among the liberals over these setbacks to their hard-won victories ... and there is anger, as well. I hear expressions of that heartbreak and anger from a number of my virtual acquaintances, and during our weekly #PresbyIntersect Twitter chat frequented by pastors and laymen and general public from all over. They are heartfelt expressions and a number of them are quite strong ... words such as 'action,' resistance' and 'fight' are not uncommon.

And while they're not advocating violence, taking up firearms in their resistance to what's happening, they are calling upon us to stand up/speak up/act up nonetheless, utilizing hearts and minds, voices and votes in this fight fueled, in part, upon Christian faith.

Marching orders ... marching as to war? In a way ... yes.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – a man who knew more than most of us about resistance, about activism in the pursuit of justice for all – once said, “those who love peace must organize as effectively as those who love war.” It was almost exactly fifty years ago that he said those words, in the midst of a rally opposing the war in Viet Nam. But they are words that apply to a variety of conflicts, for those seeking peace to resolve those conflicts for the benefit of all ... including those within the Presbyterian Church (USA) now considering the prospect of action and resistance to what is becoming – for now, at least – the new status quo.

Shall we, as Christians sharing the love of Jesus, go marching as to war? If so, maybe I could recommend some marching music. I have to warn you, though, it is a song of which thew Presbyterian Church (USA) does NOT approve.

"Onward, Christian Soldiers" dates back to 19th-century England, with music by Sir Arthur Sullivan and words by Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould. The hymn was inspired by calls in the Bible for Christians to be soldiers for Christ. A frequently-cited example is II Timothy 2:3 ... "Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." ... and, YES, I do continue to prefer my old King James version of the Bible.

Personally, I think the Presbyterian Church (USA) was wrong to strip “Onward, Christian Soldiers” from their official hymnals. In the years since then, I have appreciated those individual PCUSA congregations that chose to dismiss ‘that silliness out of Louisville’ and continue to use the hymn in worship. And I still get a lump in my throat and my heart when the Salvation Army band comes marching down the streets of Pasadena, California every January 1st, playing that hymn ... God bless ‘em all!

But here’s a thought ... considering the points I made above ...

How about presenting a resolution to an upcoming gathering of the PCUSA General Assembly to restore “Onward, Christian Soldiers” to the hymnals? 

Take a moment to read through the lyrics ... considering the calls-to-action that are being heard lately, they may be just what we need to think and say. And maybe it’s time to act upon those words, for us to accept our marching orders ... to be “Christian soldiers, marching as to war.”

Thank you for your patience with my rambling, and God bless you for your thoughtful and prayerful consideration of my suggestion.

Jeff McDonald
Member, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Midland, Texas, USA

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Well done, good and faithful servants!

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following text is from a letter by Pastor Cheryl Homsher, Grace Presbyterian Church of Midland, Texas, to the church family at Grace. The Fellowship Christian Church of Midland (founded by refugees from Myanmar/Burma) had been a part of Grace, using its facilities for worship, fellowship and more ... until this past weekend. It was cause for a gala celebration. The photographs in this post were taken by Homsher and Judy Brown.

This past Sunday, we gathered to seek and to worship God with the Burmese Chin congregation at their new building.

What a truly spirit-filled day!

I believe the 35+mph winds were just a way of reminding us of the tremendous power of the Holy Breath of God in our world and in our lives – and especially today for the Chin.

We started outside with prayer, singing, balloons and ribbon-cutting, and then gathered inside for worship.

The sanctuary was filled to capacity (and beyond), and the service was live-streamed into the fellowship hall, which was also full.

Members of the other 5 Chin churches of Midland were present; we had a strong representation from Grace; and delegations from Chin churches in Ft. Worth, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona and Oklahoma were present. Leaders of the North American Chin Baptist Association were present from Battle Creek, Michigan; Atlanta, Georgia; Indianapolis, Indianaand Des Moines, Iowa.

There was lots a great music, including two songs from The Backsliders. (Thank you, Backsliders!)

Pastor Thang’s mentor, The Rev. Dr. Stephen Kio, preached the sermon. Pastor Stephen, a distinguished guest, worked for the United Bible Society for many years and translated the Bible from English into Falam/Chin.

We were treated to a wonderful lunch after the worship – many different meats, and vegetable salads.

As always the Chin were very gracious, and their gratitude to Grace was overflowing.

And looking back over the day, my words to you, Grace, are these: Well done, good and faithful servants.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Call it what you will ... but MARK it!


In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved,
and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lt. Col. John Alexander McCrae, MD - Canadian Expeditionary Force
(Died January 28, 1918 at Boulogne France)

Here in the U.S., one doesn't see the poppies on people's lapels so much, as we used to when were children ..... One of the most ridiculous victories in America's 'war of drugs' was the declaration by 'drug czars' and their staffs that the poppy reminded people of addiction to drugs, rather than appreciation to those who gave the 'last full measure of their devotion' in service to their country. Such is not the case in Canada, England, and other countries that once formed the 'Commonwealth.' The paper poppies - and the fundraising for veterans' relief that they represent - have been prominent in photos and video the past couple weeks.

Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, Veterans Day ..... call it what you will ..... but find some way to mark this day. Here, in America, the focus of the day has been expanded to honor all men and women who, throughout history, have answered their country's call to serve. There have been many in our own family, but - mindful of the origins of this particular holiday - I will tell the boys of their great-grandfather Frederick, a sergeant with the 102nd Balloon Company, U.S. Air Service, American Expeditionary Force, and his service in France during the First World War.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A prayer for Trump is a prayer for us all

Looking back over the weeks leading up to Election Day, as the idea circulated that response to election results might include protests, I noticed the focus was almost entirely upon candidate Donald Trump and his supporters. Little or no mention of candidate Hillary Clinton and her supporters ... but then, depending upon your news sources - and your personal views - there would be no cause for complaint from that camp, come Wednesday morning.

Which brought us to that Wednesday morning, and a 'Dewey defeats Truman' moment for the new century. So, what is the proper response to that moment, for Clinton supporters? Via texts, tweets, blog posts and online chat rooms, I've heard from a number of them - their outrage over the results, their fears over what life will be like 'with Trump in charge, their tears and their anger ... and from some, a call to hit the streets and share all of that with the general public.

I'd like to propose another response for supporters from BOTH camps ... prayer.

Me? I'll be praying as someone who entered the voting booth less-than-enthusiastic about both of the major party candidates for President, prepared to take a co-worker's advice to 'hold your nose, lean in and press one of the buttons.' I cast my vote ... and I wish that more people across the country could say. But now, it's time to deal with the results.

I shall pray that President Elect Donald Trump will be a better President than I expected him to be. I pray that he will be open to new experiences and new views, and that he will learn and grow from them. I pray that he will receive good advice and good counsel from those he chooses to be part of his inner circle, and that he will also keep his eyes and his ears, his mind and his heart, open to those outside that circle.

I pray for his success as President of the United States. As current President Barrack Obama said following a meeting with Trump at the White House, "If you succeed, the country succeeds." I was encouraged by the demeanor of both men following that meeting, and the tone of their comments about one another considering what has passed between them over the preceding years ... funny how your view of someone might change once you have ACTUALLY met that someone face-to-face, looked them in the eye and shaken their hand ... for all that has passed between them in those preceding years, this was their first ACTUAL meeting.

And so, I pray ... and I urge all of you who are open to faith, regardless of your religion or denomination, to do the same. And remember, there will be opportunities for ALL of us to speak and work towards helping our nation succeed.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Added to my virtual bookshelf ... "Professor Challenger: New Worlds, Lost Places" compiled by J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec

In the course of a prolific career that traversed a wide variety of genre, British writer Arthur Conan Doyle created - for me, at least - three singular characters. Over time, those three have achieved varying degrees of popularity and shelf-presence.

I have read all of Doyle's stories of detective Sherlock Holmes, and almost all his stories of Brigadier Etienne Gerard. In contrast, I have read only one of his Professor George Edward Challenger stories ... but what a wonderful story it was! And I am not at all surprised that it provided much of the foundation for “Professor Challenger: New Worlds, Lost Places” a collection of short stories inspired by Doyle's brilliant, headstrong and physical academician.

The stories were compiled by J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec, and I strongly recommend reading their introductions before proceeding to the stories themselves. These intro’s provide a very good background from which many of you will learn something new and useful ... I know I did.

As for the stories themselves, it should be no surprise that some appealed to me more than others ... although the general level is good, and I recommend them all. It’s just that some were less successful for me than others. One of those was Guy Adams’ and James Goss’ “Professor Challenger & the Crimson Wonder,” which is related to us in the form of a series of communications between the story’s characters. It’s not a bad idea ... it worked very well for Lawrence Sanders’ “The Anderson Tapes” ... but here, not so well. Still, though, I was intrigued enough to want to finish the story and find out how it ends .. it was just a little harder getting to that end.

Some stories that appealed to me more were those that captured – even in brief snippets – some of Doyle’s original story, and the exchanges between its characters. There are several with brief exchanges between Challenger and Edward Malone that display thr professors disdain for the ‘dim-wittedness’ of people in general, and the journalist’s public education in particular. Another was Stephen Volk’s “Shug Monkey,” which closes with an exchange between Challenger, Malone and Lord John Roxton that very much captured the spirit of an exchange between those same three characters in “The Lost World” ... a spirit of work to be done and adventures to continue.

More than a century has passed between the publication of these stories and thr novel that inspired them. So it should be no surprise that the passage of time and concurrent development of science and technology is reflected in the vocabulary. I have no problem with that. I also have no problem – welcome it, actually - with the stories including female characters of strength, intelligence and initiative who are allowed to do more than just scold the professor, or wail when said scolding leaves them set atop a high dresser.

My thanks to Campbell and Prepolec for assembling these stories ... and inspiring me to seek out and read the rest of Doyle’s stories of Professor Challenger. I recommend the - both this collection of stories, and the stories that inspired them - to you all.

NOTE: I received a free e-copy of this work through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Love is in the air ...

Loading-up at H.E.B.
... well, green chile, actually ... same thing.

For me, September is one of those times where something touches and excites the senses, bringing fond memories to the surface, and setting me on the path to add yet another page to that particular 'fond memory' archive.

It's chile-roasting time in the southwest ... and love truly is in the air ... well, for me, at least!

The first page of this particular archive was entered more than forty years ago, when I made the move from northeast to southwest, bidding farewell to the Keystone State to pursue my education - and, eventually, my life - in the Land of Enchantment.

It was only a few weeks after my arrival, and the start of the fall semester, and I was on my way to class when I caught a whiff of something new, something wonderful in the air. It was still there after class, and I had some spare time, so I took Toucan Sam's advice ... "Follow your nose!"

That led me to a nearby K-Mart parking lot and my first view of a chile roaster, and my first taste of fresh-roasted green chile, harvested just the day before from the fields of Hatch, New Mexico (the Green Chile Capital of the Universe), and trucked overnight to Albukookoo.

Firing-up at Market Street
There was a hint of love in the aroma ... and the taste sealed it, beginning a passionate relationship that continues to this day, renewed each September when roasters set-up in parking lots of shopping centers around the southwest ... when I take a bag of freshly-roasted chile home to wash and package, some for now and some for later ... and when I think about the meals ahead - green chile stew/casserole/strata/enchiladas/quiche/cheeseburgers/chicken salad/pizza (especially with piƱon nuts)/omelettes/queso/cornbread - you name it!

Something that touches and excites the sense of smell, bringing fond memories to the surface. For some, it's the smell of freshly-laundered linens drying on the clothes line, while for others it's bread baking in the kitchen, or a pile of leaves burning in the backyard. For me, it's the smell of roasting chile ...

... oh, YES ... love IS in the air!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

My problem with Patriot Day

It's been just under fifteen years, now, that Joint Resolution 71 passed through the U.S. House of Representatives, then the U.S. Senate, then was signed into by law President George Bush, proclaiming September 11 as Patriot Day. This followed President Bush's proclamation of September 14, 2001 - just three days after the horrific terrorist attacks of '9/11' - as a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. Personally, I think President Bush had the right idea in that proclamation, perhaps realizing that there was more to what we experienced that terrible day - and the days and years that followed - than just patriotism.

You see, I have a problem with labeling 9/11 as Patriot Day ... I believe there was so much more to those attacks, and to the response of people on-the-scene, across our nation and around the world, that was deeper than an emotional attachment to a nation.

I have no doubt that there were patriots among the firefighters who and police officers rushed into the Twin Towers that day. But they were also responding to a call of duty, fulfilling an oath they took upon graduation from the academy, with their hand upon a Bible, closing with 'so help me God.'

Was it strictly his patriotism that led Mychal Judge, O.F.M. - a Franciscan friar and Catholic priest who served as a chaplain to the New York City Fire Department - to enter the lobby of the World Trade Center North Tower, where he continued offering aid and prayers for the rescuers, the injured, and the dead until debris from the collapsing South Tower sliced through the lobby, killing him and many others?

On the far side of the world, I believe there was something more that patriotism at work when a Thai village delivered an illustrated letter of condolence to the U.S. Embassy in Bankgkok, for the people in America. and in the months following the attack, the Japanese government found a way to support America's war in Afghanistan with non-combat support troops, in spite of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution - drafted in the wake of World War II - that forbade use of Home Defense Forces abroad.

These are just a few examples ... I'm sure you can offer others ... and I welcome your contribution. You may also offer examples of how I'm wrong, that this 9/11 is aptly labeled Patriot Day ... I welcome those contributions, as well.

BUT ... whatever you call it, please find some means in your mind and in your soul, to mark this day.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Added to my virtual bookshelf ... Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling With Gods compiled by Liana Kerzner and Jerome Stueart

Don't let the title of Wrestling with Gods, a collection of short stories and poems assemble by Liana Kerzner and Jerome Stueart, fool you. It DOES provide an overlying theme for this latest installment of the Tesseracts series ... but it provides only a hint of what the reader will find inside.

The idea of wrestling with gods is an old, even ancient tradition ... just ask Jacob about his wrestling an angel, or Gilgamesh about his battle with Ishtar's bullish minion, or Sun Wukong about his smackdown with Buddha's palm.

Over the millennia, tablets have crumbled into dust and temples have been consumed by the jungle. But the belief in gods is still with us, and tales of conflict with said deities are still part of our shared literary tradition.

Wrestling with Gods is a good addition to that tradition. Story by story, we read of a protagonist's conflict ... with faith or religion, with family or community, with themselves or with a wide and colorful variety of gods and demigods, their priests and supplicants, their blessings and curses. These stories, their settings and their cast of characters are limited only by the imaginations of the contributors, and their ability to tell stories in a manner that draws readers in and entertains them ... which in this case is to say, 'unlimited.'

And the variety of 'styles' employed by the different contributors - their perspective, their language, their tone - was another attraction for me.

That's not say there aren't stories that will appeal to you more than others ... there were, for me. My favorites included "Mecha Jesus" by Derwin Mak, "Come All Ye Faithful" by Robert J. Sawyer, "A Cut and a Prayer" by Janet K. Nicolson, "Summon the Sun" by Carla Richards and “Ganapati Bappa Moriya!" by Savithri Machiraju.

That's just a small sample of the total offerings ... I'm sure you will find some favorites of your own ... and enjoy the book in general.

NOTE: I received a free e-copy of this work through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Added to my virtual bookshelf ... Railroad Rising: The Black Powder Rebellion by J.P. Wagner

I am told J.P. Wagner covered a lot of ground and a lot of topics in the course of his career as a journalist. Having 'been there, done that' myself, I suspect it left him with an appreciation for a broad range of interests.

That certainly appears to be the case in his first published novel, Railroad Rising: The Black Powder Rebellion. Fantasy, action and adventure, swords and sorcery? Check, check, check. Steampunk, royal court intrigue, love story? Check them all off as well.

The story follows the adventures of Cartog, a young nobleman far down in the line-of-succession, and far-removed from any prospect of inheritance. Accompanied only by Yakor, his faithful retainer and a formidable master-of-arms, Cartog has set off on a journey to find his fortune elsewhere and make his own way in the world, perhaps as a mercenary.

They ride into a small town seeking employment ... but instead find themselves in the midst of a what appears to be an uprising and attempted kidnapping. This is the first of a series of events that will involve Cartog and Yakor in a growing conflict and circle of enemies, as well as a growing prospect for advancement and circle of friends. It could lead to great fortune in the long term, or death in the short term.

"Railroad Rising" was an easy read and enjoyable enough, with a straightforward story line and simple characters. But I have to agree with other LibraryThing Early reviewers who thought it could have used some editing, and some polishing to the story and characters.

And we might have gotten some of that, had it not been for circumstances far removed from the realm of Cragmor, in our own real and mundane world ... "Sadly," we read in the book's postscript, "J.P. Wagner passed away in 2015, before the publication of 'Railroad Rising.'" It is something I read with regret as I finished this book ... I was looking forward to Wagner's NEXT book.

NOTE: I received a free e-copy of this work through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.