Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Reason for God

What an intelligent book! A friend recommended a few of us read Tim Keller's The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.Admittedly, I was skeptical that this would be a quality read. I'm glad to say I was wrong, very wrong.

Keller's book is an apologetic for smart, skeptical readers. He tries (and many would say succeeds) in explaining why God's existence makes sense. He debunks the current claims that attempt to "prove" God doesn't exist like How could there be a hell if God's all loving? or the question of pain and suffering. He presents his side thoroughly and intelligently.

In the end, God's existence or non-existence is a leap of faith. I thought Keller was brilliant when he points out that not believing in God or not thinking religion should enter into realms like politics was in fact a belief so that those who might say let's keep religion out of social policy are actually advocating for their belief system to dominate, was insightful.

Keller started a church in New York years ago. So many told him he'd never get people to go to church in New York. Yet he's built a big, thriving faith community with members from all walks of life, from artistes dressed in black to Wall St. financial whizzes, many of whom are highly educated, skeptical and street smart. What's interesting is he didn't compromise the faith by ditching dogma or rules to do so.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Master Puppeteer

I really wanted to like Katherine Paterson's The Master Puppeteer, an historical novel for young readers set in Japan during a time of famine. It seemed like a good choice for a quick read about a culture I find fascinating. It took me so longer to read than I expected because I'd put it down and just lack the interest in reading more. I never connected or really believed in the characters.

The story is set in feudal Japan during a famine when a Robin Hood-like figure, Saburo, roams the city stealing food from the rich to give to the poor. The main character is Jiro, a boy whose father makes puppets for Bunraku theater, an artistic fine art. His siblings died in the famine and the family has little to eat. The mother resembles Cinderella's step mother she has no love for Jiro, whose birth she blames for the death of her other children. His father seems like a kind, but weak man.

Jiro realizes it would help his family if he took a position as an apprentice at a reknown Bunraku theater. Like many such arrangements, Jiro finds himself in a new "home" with a tyrant who's talented, but intimidating, a kindly older man, and a collection of peers each with a different tick - e.g. the stutterer, the nice older boy, the resentful boy, etc. You've seen and read this kind of thing before.

As I read, I could easily see how the story would play out, and it followed the predicted course pretty much. Because I've lived in Japan, I was familiar with the historical era and Bunraku. I just never felt transported there and doubt that the intended audience, say 5th grade kids would really wrap their heads around life in that era or this art form. Paterson visited Japan to research this book, but it still just felt so stilted. So different from Sigrid Undset's work which is just or maybe more foreign to me. Yet with Undset I felt right in the thick of things.