Drawn from Nature: A Stunning Children’s Book

Helen Ahpornsiri’s Drawn from Nature might be the most beautiful children’s book we’ve ever read. (And we’ve read a lot of them over the years.)

Ahpornsiri uses plants pressed by hand to lead the reader through the four seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. The text itself is informative and lyrical, but the artwork is stunning.

Here are some pictures:

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t imagine how long it takes to illustrate a book (let alone do one page!) with hand-pressed plants. This 64-page book invites staring and wonder at the beauty of creation… not just that Ahpornsiri created from pressed plants, but how she did it. The creations that emerge are gorgeous.

My kids have gotten lost in this book already, as have I. It’s really fun to read a section at bedtime, but any child—reader or not—can easily find themselves swept up in these pages.

You can go here to look inside. Find the book at Amazon here, or through its publisher here.

 


 

Thanks to the good folks at Candlewick/Big Picture Press for sending the book for review, though that did not influence my opinions.

Book Review: The Inner Runner

 

On the one hand, Jason Karp’s The Inner Runner is the running book I’ve been looking for: it’s not focused on technique and training but on the why of running.

This is from the publisher’s description:

Why are so many people drawn to running? Why is running the most common physical activity? What is it about running that empowers so many people? And how can runners harness that power to create a more meaningful life? The Inner Runner addresses these questions and a whole lot more. This book is not about how to get faster or run a marathon; rather, it explores how the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other and helps you harness your creative powers. Learn about the psychological, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual benefits of running and introduce lifestyle changes based on the latest scientific research on running and its effects on hormones and the brain.

That description and the chapter titles drew me right in:

  • Why Do We Run?
  • Healthful Runs
  • Better Runs
  • Creative and Imaginative Runs
  • Productive Runs
  • Confident Runs
  • Becoming a Better Runner and a Better You

“Better Runs,” for example, discusses the benefits of a variety of runs: slow runs, fast runs, long runs, paced runs, track runs, social runs, and more. Karp is at his best when he gives advice that is both physically practical and psychologically helpful. Regarding starting a race too fast, he says:

Whether the race is a mile or a marathon, you can’t put running time in the bank. You will end up losing more time in the end than what you gained by behind ahead of schedule in the beginning. …Listen to your inner runner. When you run a race, ask yourself within the first mile (or the first lap or two of a track race), “Can I really hold this pace the entire way?” Be honest with yourself. If the answer is yes, then go for it. If the answer is no, then back off the pace, so you can have a better race. (61-62)

That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Karp’s inspiring coaching. On running fast he writes:

Rather than worry about your pace or become a slave to the technology of running, make your runs better by feeling your runs and improving your own kinesthetic awareness. …Faster running comes when we don’t try as hard, when we are relaxed, when we are so well trained that the effort is almost effortless. (68-69)

9781634507950-frontcoverThough the book is more philosophical in nature, Karp delves just enough into the science to convince the reader-runner that he knows what he’s talking about. I can only imagine how invigorating it would be to have Dr. Karp as a coach. For example, he says, “The amount of time spent running is more important than the number of miles, since it’s the duration of effort (time spent running) that our bodies sense” (151). And I love the idea of “developing an inner GPS and becoming an expert ‘feeler’ of our runs” (70), even if it takes more time and work than The Inner Runner might imply.

On the other hand, The Inner Runner left me wanting more.

I resonate with Karp’s experience of running as a primary locus of creative ideas. But I had hoped he would get a bit more technical, or at least more deeply reflective, about what that process looks like for him. For example, in the chapter “Creative and Imaginative Runs” he writes, “I don’t have such a clear sense of how my running influences my writing or my other creative pursuits of my sense of self…” (107). There’s nothing wrong with that lack of clarity, but it made me wish Karp had either dug deeper or just left out that chapter altogether. So, too, with this promising but otherwise unexplored insight:

Ultimately, in life’s bigger picture, running is just an activity I choose to do. It shouldn’t define my self worth. Yet it does, and I am perplexed as to why. (179)

A number of sections read like journal entries that could have been edited down to make the book hold my interest more consistently and pack a more powerful punch.

Still, the book is inexpensive, and I starred at least a dozen passages that I’ve gone back to. I’ve also deeply internalized Karp’s advice about not coming out of the gate too fast and asking whether this initial pace is one I can sustain. That alone made the book worth reading.

You can check out The Inner Runner: Running to a More Successful, Creative, and Confident You here at Skyhorse Publishing, and here at Amazon.

 


 

Thanks to the good folks at Skyhorse Publishing for the review copy, sent without expectations of the content of my review.

All the New Ends: *Another* New EP from Amusement Parks on Fire, Reviewed

Press Photo

 

It’s not until about 30 seconds in to Amusement Parks on Fire’s beautiful new three-song EP, “All the New Ends,” that you hear their signature, shoegazy lead guitar. It sneaks in and out of the first track, an homage to the band’s heavier sound of previous releases, even as recent as November 2017’s excellent two-song EP Our Goal to Realise.

That APOF would begin their 20-minute (!) EP with a mellow (by their standards), lilting 6/8 waltz is surprising, but this band is so good–and had been on hiatus for so long until last year–that their fans will welcome any new direction. It’s still APOF after all: a beautifully crafted song with melodic vocals and layered but not overproduced guitar parts.

That first track, “All the New Ends,” seamlessly moves into “Temporal Rinse” with a wall of distorted, tremolo-picked guitars, overlaid with high-register, ascending diads that I can only describe as reminiscent of the soundtrack of Final Fantasy IV on Super Nintendo.

The listener expects that the band will, at some point, break through the wall of distortion and into a hard-rocking groove, much as “So More It Be” transitions to “Blackout” on their album Out of the Angeles, or as the final 40 seconds of “Road Eyes” prepares us for the almost danceable beat that begins “Flashlight Planetarium” on the Road Eyes LP.

Instead, the title “Temporal Rinse” turns out to be descriptive of the song’s role. It’s a sort of palette cleanser that moves listeners from the mellower “All the New Ends” to the epic and heavier final track, “Internal Flame.”

Rare is the song that eclipses six minutes and holds the listener’s attention the whole time. I think of the Smashing Pumpkins B-side, “The Aeroplane Flies High,” or Sun Kil Moon’s 10-minute “I Watched the Film, the Song Remains the Same,” or anything from Side B of The Cure’s “Disintegration.”

“Internal Flame” takes longer to build than those songs do, clocking in at an impressive 12:43. (This ought to convince anyone that this “EP” is easily worth its $3 in digital format.) By about the 7-minute mark, I was ready for more musical variation than the four-chord progression, but as the song structure remains constant, the band continues to add tracks: more guitars, more drums, tambourine, still more guitar lines, and probably dozens of other tracks lurking beneath the surface that make the song what it is. As an erstwhile recorder of music and writer myself, I can hardly imagine the challenges involved in tracking a 13-minute song so flawlessly.

“All the New Ends” releases in digital format on April 13, with CD and vinyl releasing likely this summer. Here’s the track listing:

  1. All The New Ends (4:31)
  2. Temporal Rinse (3:57)
  3. Infernal Flame (12:43)

Check out the album here.

 


 

Many thanks to the album’s PR team for early download access so I could write the review.

 

 

Known By God: A Biblical Theology Of Personal Identity (Book Note)

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Brian S. Rosner has just published a book I’m excited about working through. It’s called Known By God: A Biblical Theology Of Personal Identity. Here is the overview from the publisher:

Who are you? What defines you? What makes you, you?

In the past an individual’s identity was more predictable than it is today. Life’s big questions were basically settled before you were born: where you’d live, what you’d do, the type of person you’d marry, your basic beliefs, and so on. Today personal identity is a do-it-yourself project. Constructing a stable and satisfying sense of self is hard amidst relationship breakdowns, the pace of modern life, the rise of social media, multiple careers, social mobility, and so on. Ours is a day of identity angst.

Known by God is built on the observation that humans are inherently social beings; we know who we are in relation to others and by being known by them. If one of the universal desires of the self is to be known by others, being known by God as his children meets our deepest and lifelong need for recognition and gives us a secure identity. Rosner argues that rather than knowing ourselves, being known by God is the key to personal identity.

He explores three biblical angles on the question of personal identity: being made in the image of God, being known by God and being in Christ. The notion of sonship is at the center – God gives us our identity as a parent who knows his child. Being known by him as his child gives our fleeting lives significance, provokes in us needed humility, supplies cheering comfort when things go wrong, and offers clear moral direction for living.

The book is part of Zondervan’s Biblical Theology for Life series. (Check the first results here to see more in the series.)

Especially with a new year approaching—and the potential resolutions that come with it—I’m looking forward to reading Rosner’s theology of personal identity.

The book is here (Zondervan) and here (Amazon). I’ll write more about it as I am able.

Amusement Parks on Fire Is Back

 

It’s always a little bit sad when a young band with a ton of talent puts out a couple of great records and then stops releasing music.

My brother introduced me to Amusement Parks on Fire in 2005. Their song “Blackout” is a shoegazing classic. They put out a couple of LPs in the mid-oughts, followed some EPs in the following years. In 2010 they released Road Eyes. I was impressed at the time, but the album didn’t impact me as much as their earlier stuff. Still, this is Amusement Parks on Fire, and even a less-than-stellar album from them is really good.

It had been quiet on the APOF front since 2010’s Road Eyes. Now, however, they are back. There’s a two-song EP dropping next week. (I love both songs.) And I hear rumors of a full-length to follow….

A few months ago the band re-released 2010’s Road Eyes as a deluxe edition. The re-release adds some demos, some tracks that came out on other EPs, and the glorious unreleased track “Airstrike.” (How this did not make it onto an LP or EP already is beyond me.) There are other previously unreleased tracks, too, giving you a full nine-track “Side B” that complements the original Road Eyes LP.

There are very few APOF songs I don’t love, and none I don’t like. I bought Road Eyes the week it came out, seven years ago, but it didn’t wow me then as much as the first two LPs. Going back and listening again now, though, I think Road Eyes is just as good as anything APOF has released. Having new music to digest in this deluxe edition is an added bonus.

I’m stoked that Amusement Parks on Fire is recording again. The deluxe edition of Road Eyes will both fill your APOF-less void and get you ready for their upcoming offerings. Can’t wait.

Check out the album here. It’s currently digital-only, but in February 2018 will be available in vinyl and CD formats.

 


 

Thanks to the kind folks at Saint Marie Records for giving me access to the album so I could write about it.

 

OT and NT Library from Westminster John Knox, Now in Accordance

This week Accordance Bible Software has released a massive 68-volume bundle from Westminster John Knox Press: the Old Testament Library and New Testament Library.

The whole bundle, which is also available in component parts, includes a full set of 31 Old Testament commentaries, a series of 15 New Testament commentaries, and topical monographs for both Testaments. Here’s an article from Accordance on the release. In this post I interact with the bundle, as well as provide a short video demonstration of how to smartly search the modules via different search fields.

 
 

Sample Passage: Mark 12:13-17 (Among Others)

 
 

Nothing against commentaries that draw on an established translation, but I appreciate commentaries (like this one) where the author offers an original translation with explanatory footnotes.

Here’s Mark 12:13-17 in Eugene M. Boring’s original translation:

12:13 And they are sending some of the Pharisees and Herodians to him, to set a verbal trap for him. 14 And they come and say to him, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and answer without regard to what people may think, for you show no partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it right to pay the poll tax to the emperor, or not? Should we pay it, or should we not?” 15 But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and show it to me.” 16 And they brought one. And he says to them, “Whose image is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Give back to the emperor the things that belong to the emperor, and to God the things that belong to God.” And they were utterly astounded at him.

This section reads well enough. Note that Boring translates the beginning of the verse

Καὶ ἀποστέλλουσιν πρὸς αὐτόν τινας τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ τῶν Ἡρῳδιανῶν

as

And they are sending some of the Pharisees and Herodians to him….

The “and” is translated (better, I think) in other versions as “then” (NRSV) and “later” (NIV). And I don’t find compelling reason in an English translation to preserve Greek’s “historical present” (ἀποστέλλουσιν) as “they are sending,” when the passage is describing a past narrative event. Formal English narrative prose wouldn’t be expected to use historical present. So, too, with verse 14’s, “And they come and say to him….” But that doesn’t overshadow Boring’s exegetical prowess!

For the second part of verse 13, ἵνα αὐτὸν ἀγρεύσωσιν λόγῳ, Boring provides a nice explanatory footnote:

The dative / instrumental logō, without preposition or pronoun, can refer either to what the inquirers say, “with a question,” or what they try to get Jesus to say, “in what he said.”

The translations throughout the OT and NT Library are strong in this regard—the authors highlight other options and why they chose what they did, focusing on lexical and grammatical challenges as they arise.

OTL and NTL are full of historical background:

While in the Markan story line the whole scene is part of the effort to find grounds on which Jesus may be arrested, the question itself, and Jesus’ response to it, is also inherently important for Mark. It was a live issue in his own time, in which the relation of Christians to the demands of the Roman government was not an abstract problem.

And more:

The denarius was a Roman coin, bearing the image of the emperor and an inscription declaring him to be divine and pontifex maximus (high priest). Not only the image, but the inscription, would be offensive to Jewish sensibilities.

In addition to focus on grammatical-historical detail, the series is refreshingly theological in a way that keeps the wider biblical witness in view for a given passage. Here’s more of Boring on this passage in Mark:

There is no paralleling of Caesar and God. God is God and Caesar is not God, in direct opposition to the image and title on the coin. The world is not divided into two parallel kingdoms. There is no encouragement in this text for dividing the world into “secular” and “sacred,” with Caesar ruling the one and God the other, nor is there any “balancing” of civic obligation to the state and religious obligation to God. Obligation to God overbalances all else (cf. 12:44, which concludes this section). Caesar is relative and God is absolute, so the two statements are not on the same plane; the second relativizes the first. Even the conjunction kai that joins them is not coordinating but adversative (as, e.g., Rom 1:13). Caesar does have a kingdom, and Jesus’ followers live in it, but God is the creator of all, and God’s kingdom embraces all, including that of Caesar. Thus while the saying itself calls on Jesus’ hearers to give both Caesar and God their due, it is not directed to those situations in which one must choose between God and Caesar as Lord. When those situations arise, devotion to God must clearly take precedence over Caesar; God demands all (12:29–30; cf. Acts 5:29). But the saying does not tell the hearer in advance how to discern what those situations are.

(His honesty and humility are refreshing!)

Again, the attention given to the passage in its wider literary-biblical context is a hallmark of the series. Here is Stephen E. Fowl on Ephesians 4:1 (“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received”):

Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians is that they walk in a manner worthy of their calling. The use of the term “to walk” to characterize a way of life already appeared in 2:2, to refer to the Ephesians’ moribund way of life outside of Christ. In 2:10 it is used to speak of the manner of life that God has prepared for believers, further connecting chapters 1–3 and 4–6. Here in chapter 4 the initial admonition to the Ephesians is to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” The standard to which the Ephesians’ common life should conform is the “calling with which they have been called.” This calling is first mentioned in 1:18, but it is really in 2:1–10 and 11–22 where the shape of this calling is developed. Recall that in chapter 2 the Ephesians learn of their deathly state in God’s purview and outside of Christ, yet also of how God has graciously delivered them from death into life in Christ so that they may walk in the good works that God has prepared for them. Hence, Paul is not setting some new standard for them. Rather, he is reminding them of what God has already done on their behalf.

When it comes to critical issues like authorship, the volumes I’ve interacted with take a balanced approach. Here’s Fowl, again, on Ephesians:

The overwhelming majority of people read Ephesians for broadly theological reasons. That is, they read Ephesians because it is indisputably a part of Christian Scripture, and Christians by virtue of their identity are called to a lifelong engagement with Scripture as part of their ongoing struggle to live and worship faithfully before the triune God. Christians read Scripture in a variety of ways and in a variety of contexts to deepen their love of God and love of neighbor. Given the ends for which Christians engage Scripture theologically, the issue of authorship is not particularly relevant. Ephesians plays the role it does in the life and worship of Christians because it is part of the canon, not because it is written by Paul or not written by Paul. The text is canonical, Paul is not.

There are some real standouts in the series: Gerhard von Rad on Genesis, Brevard S. Childs on Exodus and Isaiah, Leslie C. Allen on Jeremiah, Adele Berlin on Lamentations, Luke Timothy Johnson on Hebrews, and more. I wish I’d had this Berlin volume as I preached through Lamentations last Lent! (I did access some pages via Google Books preview.)

 
 

VIDEO: Using Search Fields in Accordance

  

How about the OT/NT Library in Accordance specifically? In April I made a 12-minute screencast (just for fun… and for free!) that explains how to read a book in Accordance. I highlight four features that you won’t find on Kindle or that aren’t possible in print. (Here’s the link.) All that I highlight in that video is true of just about any tool in Accordance.

In the below video, I take a shorter time (if you don’t have 12 minutes) to highlight just one feature that sets Accordance apart from other software: search fields.

 
 

 
 

Where to Get It

  

For a few more days, the OT/NT Library is on sale through Accordance.

The OT/NT Library is also available as individual commentaries, if you want to pick up just the volume covering whatever book you’re studying or preaching on now.

You can read more about the new release here, which includes hyperlinks to the full bundle, the smaller bundles, and individual volumes. And be sure to check out Wes Allen’s review here!

 


 

Thanks to the PTB at Accordance for providing me with free access to the OT/NT Library in exchange for a review. This provision did not influence my assessment of the series! See my other Accordance posts (there are many) gathered here. I recorded the video using the app Capto.

New Jeremy Enigk New Jeremy Enigk New Jeremy Enigk New Jeremy Enigk

I’m a little excited. Maybe more than a little: a new Jeremy Enigk album drops tomorrow.

Enigk was frontman of emo’s iconic Sunny Day Real Estate. Wikipedia has great articles on both SDRE and Enigk, if you have some discretionary reading time.

I saw Jeremy Enigk live in Boston, two and a half years ago. It was only $17, even with service fees, God bless ‘im. He had just one other dude playing with him, and the fullness of the sound–even when it was Enigk alone on vocals and guitar–was hard to believe. He played a bunch of classics, both his solo stuff and SDRE, and then the room stood in reverent silence as he played a new song. He owned that venue. All the dads in the room were like the mesmerized teenagers we used to be when we first saw SDRE/Enigk play in the 90s, if we were so lucky.

Jeremy Enigk

And that’s how I’ve been again with his new record, which officially releases tomorrow. “Ghosts” is as transcendent as anything Enigk has offered fans in the past. It’s creative, thoughtful, catchy, heartfelt, and might even make you feel warm inside.

His 2015 tour was to promote and raise money for this album. Now, two and a half years later, it was worth the long wait–even longer if you consider his last record was 2009. Or, as Enigk sings on the gorgeous second track, “The long wait is over.”

(Another great line from a lovely waltz on the album: “I dream of ever-changing worlds.”)

Forgive the melodrama… I’d honestly given up on checking for this album about a year ago, and then my brother sent me a link to the first single the other day. I’m really happy to have this music to listen to this fall, and you might be too!

Check it out here.