Saturday, April 1, 2017

Off the grid

No April Fools.  Life is getting busy.... Family, ministry, travel, and all those wilderness/mountain outings I lead.  I'm gonna take a break from Garth's Blog (but not from my other blogs, nor Twitter) so I can focus on writing the remaining credentialing reports for my ministerial licensing process.

Garth's Blog will return.

Here is a re-post from one of my other blogs about my anxiety of being phoneless, originally posted last month:

March 4, 2017

Day 3 of no cell phone.  Cancelling my Mount Hood climb up/ ski down event that I was leading for NW Wilderness yesterday was a bit of a relief.  It's a challenge to coordinate these outings without a phone.  Though I was bummed that the mountain weather was too extreme for my friends and I to play on the slopes... What could beat sitting inside a Sprint repair store for 3+ hours on a sunny Saturday instead?  Blah.

Grumbling aside, being phone-free has ultimately been a calming experience for me.  But first, I had to overcome the expected anxieties:

  • My friends are gonna think I'm either a flake or a jerk for not texting them back (some of them apparently followed up on Facebook, which I also can't check when I'm away from WiFi).
  • How will my loved ones get ahold of me in an emergency, or if they need me for something?
  • I have plans with my surfing buddy and also hiking/climbing friends this upcoming week... How will any of them let me know if something comes up?
  • I already miss my Twitter friends.
  • How many Instagram friends will I lose from not posting my daily Instagram Story pics?
  • When I'm away from WiFi, how will I even message my overseas friends to plan our international trip for next weekend?

Looking back at this list, it's embarassing to see how overly social I am.  It's silly.  And it's sobering to realize how much I kill myself to stay in touch with the people I love.

Everything will be alright.  I'll see my friends when I see them.  In the meantime, I'm gonna enjoy being offline.

From my Instagram Story:  The latest winter adventure I led for NW Wilderness was, ahem, eventful.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Just Read: Love and Respect, The Art of Manliness, The Purity Principle, Mosaic, and devotional book roundup

En route to surfing in Australia (I hope!)  Originally written in the jungles of Guatemala and during our Oregon Coast surfing trip last month, this entry should have been posted in February.

Instagram Story Pic: My new Kindle Paperwhite e-reader—A welcome break from the eyestrain of book marathons on my phone and tablet screens

With yet another youth all-night party on the books (I was asked to be the speaker!), I’m ready to begin my devotional reading plan for 2017. I’ll be reading through God’s Justice Bible this year, as well various novels and the required reading assignments for my credentialing process. That credentialing book list is a doozy!

For a fun change of pace, I’ll also begin reading the Harry Potter book series this summer. My Twitter friends have finally convinced me to take the plunge.  Better late than never, no?

The book reviews below will also be featured on my Goodreads page soon.

By Randy Alcorn

Note: This is the first ever book I’ve read on my new Kindle Paperwhite! I’m trying to cut down on how many Kindle books I read on my Galaxy Note phone and S2 tablet. The less LED screen time, the better.

This small book was a reread for me, required as part of my Church of God credentialing process. I’m glad I revisited it. I expected to be clubbed over the head with guilt and shame for every stray thought… But The Purity Principle feels less like a book of legalistic rules and more like practical encouragement to foster thought patterns which result in a satisfied life of monogamy. Alcorn fits a lot of practical advice into such few pages, and every single page is worth reading.

Verdict: ***** out of 5 stars

Adulting couldn't be any more clearly explained than in Brett McKay's how-to guide to being a dude. Society often takes for granted that guys have been taught the survival skills and manners of a modern day man: Dressing, grooming, behaving graciously, fighting, saving someone’s life, surviving in the outdoors, dating, parenting, being well read… Including the little things, like how to not screw up a man hug.  Even the most seasoned gentleman would probably glean a few pointers from this book.

McKay has a few old fashioned rituals mixed in with the relevant stuff (Joining a fraternal lodge as a rite of passage to manhood? “Newsies”-style hats?).  Yet much of his advice regarding style and manners that might be written off as dated would be better described as timeless.

Stay classy, San Diego!

Verdict: **** out of 5 stars

A woman needs love, and a man needs respect.  That's the premise of Eggerichs’ book and marriage conferences.  Though a bit too complementarian for my world view, there are several valid points and mutual exercises for both parties to help get off the "crazy cycle" which many relationships are trapped in.

Besides the overbearing complementarianism, Eggs also makes generalizations about gender-specific thought patterns which simply won't fit many couples.  For instance, occasional sections described me and my significant other in terms which fit each of us to a tee... But the roles were COMPLETELY REVERSED.  Yet other sections applied to us perfectly, with no flipping required.  To each their own, I say.

Something I really appreciated about Eggerichs’ presentation of his love and respect theory is that both parties of the relationship are instructed to provide their respective love/respect, regardless of whether or not they are receiving the love/respect that they desire.  Initially, I was concerned (offended, actually) to read that a woman ought to unconditionally respect her husband even when he isn't being loving or otherwise "deserving" of respect.  That sounded chauvinistic.  But when I later read that the man should absolutely, in turn, be unconditionally loving even when the woman is not showing him respect, it all made sense:  Whomever is the more mature person should make the first move.  It's a copout to blame your own behavior/attitude on the other person's lack of love or respect.  Be the more mature person.

I highly recommend this book, disagreements and all.  The reader may argue about whether the "love and respect" prescription is a magic bullet to save all relationships that are on the rocks.  I, in particular, am wary of plugging in a simple formula to solve complex issues.  But still, there is no denying that doing your part to be more loving and respectful is likely to have a profound impact on your significant other… And your relationship.  Love wins.

Verdict: **** out of 5 stars

Patrick Nachtigall tells of his two year international journey of visiting various Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) communities around the world. This book is much more than a travelogue, though.  He highlights the cultural flavor of each church, its place in the community, its place in the Church of God, and the local challenges that are faced.  Nachtigall’s goal is to create diversity awareness, communication, and cooperation between our worldwide churches.
Although this book was required reading for my Church of God credentialing process, I would recommend it for anyone who has an interest in the diversity (and theological distinctiveness) of the Church of God holiness movement. Nachtigall also mentions bumping into a few of my own friends during his international journey, which made his book an even more enjoyable read for me.

Controversial opinion about racism:   This will upset many of my beloved activist Twitter friends, but Nachtigall (a POC himself) makes a bold statement about racism in our country. Based on his extensive travels, his observation of racism in other countries has led him to rate the United States as a relative 4 out of 10 for severity of racism.

Before you send me hate mail… I’m not making the case that we don’t have significant work remaining in the name of racial equality.   But seeing the U.S. from a global perspective gives me even more appreciation for our country’s strides for equality.

Verdict: **** out of 5 stars

The most well-travelled book in my library (not counting my Moleskine journal) has been to several continents already. To save weight in my backpack, I’ve started scanning the daily travel-themed devotions into Evernote so I can read and reflect on them on my tablet when I’m overseas.

Each entry is a travel-themed meditation on Scripture, applying the passages to scenarios which travelers  are likely to encounter on their journeys. Some of the devotionals seem to favor theme over the Scripture’s actual context... But the daily Scriptures are reasonably relevant to each topic at hand, and Kuyper's reflections themselves are really what tie the journal entries to the travel theme anyway.

And herein lies this devotional’s strength: Kuyper's clearly loves the wonder and discovery of travel, and she provides insights to make the most of every day of any adventure.

Verdict: **** out of 5 stars

Nearly every summer, we take our Aloha Church of God youth group down to Vicente Guerrero, Mexico for a mission trip with Welcome Home Outreach Ministries (link). In addition to delivering a full-length message or two (plus a home dedication message for when we ceremonially hand over the new home keys to each family), I prepare daily devotions for the end of each work day in Mexico.

Some of the short devotionals in this book have been useful jumping-off points for our evening debriefing sessions in Mexico, as well as any pre and post mission trip gatherings. Note that further preparation by the group leader will obviously enhance the depth of discussion.

All in all, this book is a helpful tool for anyone who leads or co-leads a domestic or overseas short term mission trip.

Verdict: **** out of 5 stars

There isn't much substance in these family Advent devotions. Frankly, they require quite a bit of creativity to stretch out into a family discussion of any length. But for $.99, impulse Kindle buys like this one make it easy to keep my disappointment in check.

And what's up with that pudgy white-boy baby Jesus on the cover? Ugh.

Verdict: ** out of 5 stars

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Central America bound

Guatemala, here I come! After easily snagging a Business Class seat from Portland to Seattle tonight, I'm about to board the next leg of my standby journey: Atlanta. My Atlanta to Belize flight in the morning looks too full to score Business Elite class, but I should at least get an Economy Comfort seat.

(Update as I leave Atlanta: I'm sitting in a Business Elite seat to Belize, after all!)

From Belize City, I'll hop a bus to Guatemala to spend the evening and next day in Tikal. The jungle bungalow near the entrance to the Mayan ruins still had one more vacancy, so I jumped on it.

Follow my photo journey on my private Instagram Story!
(When I have WiFi)

On Monday night, I'll bus it back to Belize to meet Kathy in Caye Caulker (we're doing separate vacations, really). We're splitting up the next day so she can lounge on the beach while I do Garth stuff: Jungle hiking, swimming, snorkeling, and cave tubing.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Go, tell it on the mountain (summits)

Instagram photo from a climb I led in August

I’ve led more than a dozen scrambles, climbs, and hikes (and no more for 2016)...

...Though I’ve already 
posted a New Year’s coastal hike for next week (RSVP for free HERE!).

A photo posted by Garth Hamilton (@garth_hamilton) on

Climbing Mount Hood again, last week
(uncropped Instagram Story pic)

I’ve traveled to my final overseas country of the year…

...Though another international friends-visiting trip is in the works for January.

Switzerland, Italy, France, Iceland (pictured), and Mexico were among the list
(Previously unseen pic from my Instagram Story)

I’ve concluded my teaching series for youth group…

...Though I’ll be speaking at the Portland area all-night youth party this week.

Most of my outings and expeditions have been wrapped up for 2016...

...But the dearest adventure to my heart will never end:

Family time with those adorable Ls!

Merry Christmas, from our family to yours!!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Just Read: Star Wars: Catalyst (A Rogue One Novel); Comic #3: Rebel Jail; The Rebellion; Tales... Vol. 1: Aliens

Release date! (Photo from my daily Instagram Story)

These book reviews will also be featured on my Goodreads page soon.

For my review of the outstanding Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt, Book 2 of the Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy, click here.  Also, check out my link about why I’m reading the new canon Star Wars novels.

Star Wars: Catalyst (A Rogue One novel)

By James Luceno

With the upcoming Star Wars film Rogue One opening in theaters tomorrow (!!), I was looking forward to last month's prequel novel, Catalyst.  I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon to arrive exactly on the release date, November 15.

So, was it worth the wait?  Absolutely… With one caveat:  It’s a slow starter that doesn’t kick into high gear until over 100 pages in.  But when it’s hot, it’s hot.

Taking place between the films Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope, the novel Star Wars: Catalyst provides the tense backstory for this Friday’s Rogue One film about the Rebel Alliance’s brave efforts to steal the plans for the original Death Star.

My summary of the plot:  At this earlier point in the Star Wars saga, the original Death Star is still in the planning stages.  And it’s missing its key component:  A massive super weapon that will be capable of destroying an entire planet (And to Princess Leia’s dismay, we original film trilogy fans know how that’s gonna turn out).  Scientist Galen Erso is researching the power of the Kyber crystals which power the Jedi’s lightsabers.  Imperial mucky muck Orson Krennic wants to weaponize the Kybers’ power to produce a superlaser to mount onto the parabolic focusing dish of the yet-to-be-built Death Star.  In order to one-up Grand Moff “Governor” Tarkin on his own Death Star construction project and also become Emperor Palpatine’s right hand man, Krennic tricks Erso into believing that his research will be used for development of clean, renewable energy.

Honestly, it was initially tough to stick with this book.  Pointless subplots involving side characters like Has Orbit and Saw Gerrera feel like a waste of time.  And it’s front loaded with backstory and sci-fi technical jargon, withholding even the first minor action scene until page 61.  Fortunately, the earlier sections also feature cool bits of insight into the construction of the Death Star, the Jedi’s complex relationship with Kyber crystals, and the effect of the Force on non-Jedi who happen to be “Force sensitive” (A term not used in this book).  Cool stuff for Star Wars fans!

The story really gets cooking after this long opening stretch, as husband and wife Erso and Lyra are seemingly pitted against each other to discover the truth about Krennic’s intentions.  I won’t spoil the tension… Other than to say that this novel finally stops feeling like overstretched short story as it transitions into an effective family-in-jeopardy thriller, with fascinating political implications for the Star Wars universe.

Speculative spoiler for the upcoming Rogue One film:  Given the chronology of the Star Wars timeline, Erso and Lyra’s baby daughter Jyn should be of age when the movie takes place.  I’m avoiding most of the movie trailers, but I’m guessing Jyn will be a key member of the “Rogue” squadron who tries to steal the plans for the Death Star (Maybe even the girl on the movie poster?).  If she’s not, then why the cutesy baby/young girl subplot in this novel?  There’s gotta be a payoff.

Verdict: **** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, *** for non-fans

Star Wars #3: Rebel Jail

 By Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen, and Angel Unzueta

Of the three stories collected in this volume, I found the closing young Ben Kenobi/ Luke Skywalker tale to be the most fun.  Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi is secretly watching after Luke Skywalker on Tatooine as Biggs and Luke’s other kid friends cheer him on as he tries to fly through Beggar’s Canyon.  Ben saves Luke behind the scenes from various scraps, and has a run in with a bitter Uncle Owen who blames Ben for his brother Anakin’s death.

Even the often lame film prequel trilogy gets some thoughtful love from Ben:  “There’s still hope, Master Qui-Gon.  You thought Anakin was the chosen one.  Perhaps in a way, he was.  If his son shows the same abilities, then just maybe…

The first two stories in this annual collection are also worthwhile.  Story #1 is about the unglamorous life of Rebel spy Eneb Ray in Coruscant, who needs to be a heartless jerk to his “subjects” for fear of blowing his cover if the Imperials discover his true identity.

Story #2, the Rebel Jail title story, is a fun female empowerment yarn set in Sunspot Prison.  Princess Leia, Doctor Aphra, and Sana open up a can of whoop on the villains… just so that Han Solo and Luke Skywalker can show up to cockily “save the day” for the women after the dust settles.  Haha, go patriarchy!

There are plenty of other funny gags.  C-3PO tries his hand at “fisticuffs.” Han plays backseat driver while Luke learns how to fly the Millennium Falcon.  And they actually get to herd some nerfs!  Hilarious stuff.

Verdict: **** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, *** for non-fans

By John Wagner, Paul Alden, Randy Stradley, Darko Macan, Cam Kennedy, Raul Trevino, David Fabbri, and Dave Gibbons

“Epic” is an overstatement.  While this graphic novel compilation is better than much of the Legends (read: older, non canon stories) material I’ve read, it falls short of the artwork, characterization, and continuity of the new canon stuff.  That being said, I enjoyed reading these earlier conceptions about the events that went down immediately after the film Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope.  And we get more Boba Fett.  Who can argue with that?

The standout by far is In the Shadow of Yavin, an extended comic book series which offers a glimpse behind the scenes of the construction of the second Death Star, above the planet Endor.

And all the Ewoks said… “Yub nub!”

Verdict: *** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, ** for non-fans

by Landry Q. Walker

This one gets an enthusiastic “meh” from me.  While officially canon, it's six short stories featuring side characters from the film Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.  If you like aliens as main characters (I do not), this is your bag.

The main hurdle that these short stories try to overcome is that few of the protagonists are memorable characters from The Force Awakens, even for fans.  It’s also challenging to acquire much investment in these characters, due to the short length of these stories.  Some chapters are barely a single page.
For what it’s worth, the best stories are “All Creatures Great and Small” and the really good “The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku.”  Also, “A Recipe for Death” is notable for a cool fight scene in zero gravity.

As a non sci-fi fan who has loved Star Wars since my childhood, critter stories are a tough sell for me.  But fortunately, the Star Wars universe also has enough mythology and human stories to keep me hooked.

Verdict: ** ½ stars (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, ** for non-fans

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Finish What Ya Started

C'mon, baby! Van Halen's got nothing on me.  I am the king of unfinished blog posts. I start a new blog post (with gobs of beautiful photos) nearly every time I:
  1. Lead a hike, climb, or scrambling expedition for NW Wilderness
  2. Spend a weekend or daytrip away with my kids Lena and Levi (the Ls)
  3. Fly overseas for a day or two, to visit my international buddies

Last month's Iceland travel photo from my daily Instagram Story

Also, many posts have been drafted but not released about spiritual and social issues which I feel need to be addressed. Those entries usually end up on my personal blog. But the travel and outdoors posts... I have no excuse. I just need to battle my short attention span and finish what I start.

Lots of cool adventure posts are on the way! In the meantime, I'll keep writing my "Just Read" posts about the books I read. Hopefully those book reviews are entertaining enough diversions to distract y'all from my lack of getting things done.

And speaking of distractions... How could I get anything done with these adorable Ls hanging around?

Photo from my daily Instagram Story

Monday, November 14, 2016

Just Read: Rage, A Dance with Dragons, Star Wars: Vader #3, and the Special Power of Restoring Lost Things

The brand new Star Wars novel, Catalyst: A Rogue One Story finally drops tomorrow!  I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon so it would arrive on the release date.  It’s a prequel story to the upcoming film, Star Wars: Rogue One.  I’m unreasonably excited to tear into it, after I'm done leading my next NW Wilderness hike on Thursday!

My world traveling posts, as well as trip reports from the recent hikes and climbs I’ve led, will resume soon.  And the mini-reviews below will also be featured on my Goodreads page at some point.

By Zygmunt Miloszewski

Translated from Polish, this crime melodrama centers on a justice/rules obsessed prosecutor Teodor Szacki who is investigating a series of grisly murders which may be targeting domestic abusers.  The slow burning “rage” depicted in Szacki’s characterization eventually pays off big time, more cleverly than I expected.  And there are at least two or three truly memorable moments, including a chilling scene involving a mother and infant in peril that haunted me for days (And I was on a Mexico mission trip!).

Other than those standout moments, this novel was a bit slow paced for my taste.  Also, some of the graphic sexual depictions and gruesome CSI-type investigation details seemed a little excessive.
After realizing that this is the final book of a trilogy, I surmised that faithful readers of author Miloszewski would find the conclusion of Szacki’s character arc to be quite dramatic indeed.  The mystery elements of the plot are interesting, yet this novel works best as a character study.

Note: This was a pre-release book, but it’s now available.  I selected this title for free from Amazon’s Prime’s “Kindle First” offerings of August 2016.

Verdict: *** ½ out of *****

By George R. R. Martin

Since I don’t have HBO, I can’t say how this book compares to the latest season of the hugely popular Game of Thrones.  However, this book is a slight improvement over A Feast for Crows, the fourth and previous book in the Song of Ice and Fire high fantasy book series.  It’s set at the same time period of Feast, which means that the events take place immediately after A Storm of Swords, the third book.  The main characters whom were mostly neglected in Feast return to the spotlight here: Tyrion Lanister, Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Bran Stark, Arya Stark, Theon Greyjoy/Reek, Stannis Baratheon, and others.

Was it worth the wait?  Not particularly.  We should have been reading about these characters in the fourth book, which spent most of the time in King’s Landing, the Iron Islands, and Dorne.  But it was nice to finally return to the characters at Castle Black, beyond the Wall, and Pentos and Slaver’s Bay across the narrow sea.

Disturbingly misogynist sexual content, meandering prose, and excessive length mar this book just as much as the previous books.  And the wait for the long overdue Book 7, The Winds of Winter, has dragged out for years.  But how could we readers quit the Song of Ice and Fire series now?  We’re so invested in the characters.  George R. R. Martin isn’t on the hook.  We are.

Verdict: *** ½ out of *****

The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things

By Courtney Elizabeth Mauk

Listed under Kindle's “Literature” genre, I expected this pre-release to be a substantive read about coping with grief.  It wasn’t what I anticipated.  However, this tale of a devastated family living in the aftermath of a daughter’s disappearance is an acceptably brief diversion.

The storyline (which isn’t the focal point anyway) is somewhat engaging, the characters draw sympathy, and theological matters are occasionally addressed.  The book’s most effective hook is illustrating how unbearable it would be to live through the disappearance of a daughter/sister.

Note: This was a pre-release book, but it’s now available.  I selected this title for free from Amazon’s Prime’s “Kindle First” offerings of September 2016.

Verdict: *** out of *****

By Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, Leinil Andrews, and Kaare Andrews

Taking place between the films Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, the dramatic continuity of the previously excellent Darth Vader graphic novel series makes no sense.  No spoilers here, but did that thrilling, revelatory moment with Boba Fett in Volume 1 never happen?

That’s a relevant gripe, making this feel more like a standalone story than a continuation of Darth Vader’s character arc.  His relationship with Grand Admiral Tagge still provides dramatic tension, though, especially with the added conflict of Dr. Cylo being assigned to make Vader look bad.  Unfortunately, as with previous volumes, Vader’s ludicrously sadistic droid Triple Zero and blastomech BT-1 (the Tobey Maguire/Spiderman 3-esque bad-guy versions of C-3PO and R2-D2) are too silly to bear.  For that matter, MOST of the supporting characters are drastically less intriguing than Vader himself.

As a fan of the new Star Wars canon, I’m reluctant to say that I also noticed a potential contradiction between Vader #3’s account of the remains of Leia’s home planet Aldaraan and the account given in the latest Star Wars novel, Life Debt: Aftermath #2.  But I REALLY want to believe that Disney’s Story Group has a firm grasp on the continuity of the new Star Wars canon.  Don’t let me down, guys!

On the bright side, Darth Vader #3 is not boring.  But let’s hope that Vader doesn’t continue to be a co-star in his own Star Wars spin-off comic series.

Verdict: *** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, ** for non-fans