Thursday, January 28, 2016

From Dubai-- Just Read: "Aloof" by Tony Kriz, and Ntl. Outdoor Leadership School's Wilderness Guide

Posted from the Dubai airport in the United Arab Emirates, these two book reviews will also be posted on my Goodreads page when I fly home to the States.

And of course, my current Dubai travelogue (as well as other recent travelogues and mountain climbs) are coming soon!

Warner Pacific College’s author-in-residence Tony Kriz is such a cool and fascinating guy in real life, I was eager to read his latest book when I spotted it in the Kindle store last year.  “Aloof: Figuring Out Life With a God Who Hides” did not disappoint, even as it deals with spiritual disappointment as one of its themes.  Kriz wrestles with the notion of a God who does not always reveal Himself to us in tangible ways.

Doubt, skepticism, and a genuine yearning to know God permeate Kriz’s personal reflections on his life, part of the process which he refers to as “narrative spiritual formation.”  The purpose of sharing this discipline is to invite the reader to consider their own story and answer these questions:

What do I believe about God’s presence… and God’s absence?
Why does God hide from us?
Why do I hide from God?

Shallow, formulaic beliefs about prayer and how God works in this world are challenged by stories from Kriz’s own faith journey, often running counter to what he was dutifully taught about how God ought to behave and reveal Himself to seekers.  The disappointment of not feeling God tangibly enough, or at all, is a common theme of many of these stories.

Without giving away too much of the book, “Aloof” is, in a narrative sense, examining scenarios in which God may purposely be hiding Himself from us according to our seasons of life and stages of faith.  The stories range from painfully candid (It’s heartbreaking to read about the reactions of well-meaning adults in response to his perceived childhood encounter with God, and especially later, when a teenage Kriz tragically feels compelled to publically lie and share what he THINKS his church wants to hear about God’s indisputable presence after a mission trip to Ecuador)…

…To heart racingly inspirational (His harrowing incidents in the Philippines and also at the Albanian Greek embassy both left me thinking, ‘Wow, Tony… next time, lead with THAT!’).  It’s refreshing that none of his anecdotes neither assume nor dispute God’s participation in the events of his life.  There’s no magic “if this, then that” assertion of how God reveals Himself.  The tension between doubt and faith is highlighted and engaged, rather than dismissed and explained away with pat answers.

Kriz scores bonus Garth points for using the archetypal superhero’s journey as a parallel to suggest how we may benefit and grow from God’s “suspicious presence,” even when God seems to deny us any awareness of it.  On a personal note, however, one specific facet of Kriz’ superhero analogy offended me on two different levels.  But I couldn’t reasonably expect everyone’s Christology to line up neatly behind my own admittedly subjective and ever-evolving theological understandings.

Verdict:  Highly recommended for all open-minded readers.  This is a compelling, authentic read about the complexities of experience, doubt, and faith which refuses to reduce a relationship with God to simplistic formulas or comforting human relationship analogies.

One of the other books I read in January was The National Outdoor Leadership School's Wilderness Guide, by Mark Harvey.

As a hiking/expedition leader for local Pacific NW organizations myself, I was curious as to what wisdom Mark Harvey would impart to aspiring outdoor leaders.  Turns out that the advice here is very basic, but the (occasionally dated) information is presented with a good sense of humor and some amusing stories.

Outdoor skills covered in this volume include how to:  Plan expeditions (goals, routes), select equipment and clothing, set up camp, get along with others on trips, use maps and compasses (I’m still an old-school map guy, so I would’ve appreciated an updated edition covering GPS units), deal with emergencies, anticipate and prepare for weather, cook food in the backcountry, and preserve the land.

Though the majority of Harvey’s advice would be common sense for outdoor junkies like myself, I read this book from cover to cover and even jotted down a few notes into Evernote.  For a more detailed how-to guide pertaining to my more specific passion for mountaineering, check out The Mountaineer's Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills.  I’m currently rereading "Freedom of the Hills" on Kindle for the second time within the past 10 months… It’s THAT helpful.

Verdict:  Recommended for outdoor newbies and relatively inexperienced outdoor enthusiasts who’d like to brush up on their backcountry skills, as well as learn the basics of leading groups into the wilderness.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Just read- Hunger Games: Mockingjay

Happy 2016, friends!  The much delayed continuation of our Belgium Travelogue will resume soon.  As usual, it's been difficult for me to stay indoors.

I blame the ski slopes, mountain peaks, and the trails.

This spoiler-free and plot-free review of “Hunger Games: Mockingjay” will also be featured on my Goodreads page soon.

After reading a book or book series, I rarely get around to watching any movie adaption it spawns.  The film rarely measures up to the book anyway.  I may make an exception with the Hunger Games series, though.  The immense popularity of Suzanne Collins’ Katniss Everdeen trilogy drew me to this saga, and the first two books lived up to the hype.

Mockingjay,” the last and bleakest of the Hunger Games trilogy, is enjoyable but also a bit of a letdown.  The end game of the character arcs are disappointing across the board.  Katniss devolves from the fiercely independent heroine of the Hunger Games to a self-absorbed, depressed, and drug dependent pawn of opposing political systems.  Other main characters whom readers have invested in throughout the trilogy are given abrupt sendoffs (i.e., gruesome and often meaningless deaths, unceremonial dismissals, etc.) that almost seem tacked on as afterthoughts.  Even the outcome of the requisite Young Adult love triangle seems inconsistent with the characters’ journeys which preceded it.

I'm all for realism in storytelling... But the guarded hope of books #1 and #2 is replaced by a dreary tone of despair, with few glimpses of optimism for the human condition.

Neither of the two sequels (the second book being “Catching Fire”) could possibly live up to the female empowerment and engrossing originality of the “Hunger Games” series opener.   That being said, “Mockingjay” provides an exciting, if not completely satisfying, conclusion.

Coming next on Garth’s Blog…

A look at the latest Tony Kriz book—
Aloof: Figuring Out Life with a God Who Hides