August 1, 2011

I Sold My Soul on Ebay




I bought this book for two dollars in a bargain bin at Chapters. The reason that I bought it was almost purely based on the advertised forward by Rob Bell. At the time of purchase I had not read any Bell but the name was familiar. (I am currently wading into Velvet Elvis.)

The premise for the book is interesting: Hemant Mehta is a self professed Atheist from a Jane background. He posts an add on eBay to "sell his soul". The soul selling was not actually part of the original deal but a magazine used it and it ended up sticking. The real deal was that Mehta offered to attend any religious service as a full participator for a fee.

A Christian group essentially bought the right to send Mehta to a handful of church services. Mehta attended the gatherings and reported his findings back to the organization in an article format that I presume they published. In this way he was acting a little bit like a secret shopper. Mehta is careful to sell himself in this way throughout the book. He presents himself as the every-atheist. It is this point that causes the book to be a little bit uninspired in my opinion.

Mehta visits a variety of churches ranging all the way from small suburban venues to Mega churches. He examines the churches based on sermon content, sermon delivery, musical talent, style, length, parking, seating etc. Although this information is very helpful for the specific churches and it is of some general interest to the Church at large I do think it is incomplete. Perhaps the most important thing that Mehta's evaluation highlights is a flaw in perspective that many Christians share with him.

Mehta is approaching the Church as a purely consumer experience. He is examining the Church as a "drop in guest" that is shopping for a place that is selling the product he wants marketed in a way he likes. The problem with this approach is that Church is a living community. Church, in my opinion, is better viewed as a family reunion rather than a Broadway show. While I can see the value in Mehtma's critiques and I sympathize with his bad experience at some more bigoted places of worship I don't think he is using the proper criteria for a true evaluation of Church success.

Mehta continually refers to himself as the "target audience" of the Churches he visits. I disagree with him on this point. Firstly, I think it is a mistake to think that the main goal of Sunday service is to attract a "target audience" with the goal of conversion. It is true that a major facet of evangelical belief is the desire to evangelize; however, I do not believe that the primary goal of Sunday service is evangelism. While I would hope that all churches would welcome non-believers to partake or observe a worship service I believe that the primary goal of the service is corporate worship with fellow believers.

I also do not believe that Mehta can claim, in any real sense, to represent all non-believers or even all atheists. In my limited experience I have met a huge variety of non-believing folks with a vast array of beliefs, personalities, and preferences. The truth is that much of what Mehta found unappealing may be very appealing to another person. This is also a good reason for Church to be thought of less as a shopping experience and more as a family function. If we only go where we like to music and the sermons than our commitment is not a religious one but a decision of entertainment. Their is much more to the Christian experience than a good show once a week.


May 28, 2011


AUTHOR: Robert Charles Wilson

DATE: April 2011

My wife and I walk down to the Moose Jaw Public library a few times a week for exercise and to browse the shelves. I was just returning Spin, which I loved, so I thought I would browse the Sci-Fi shelves. I had thought about getting Axis next but I usually find that the sequel does not measure up and I was afraid of ruining my pleasant Spin memories. Grabbed a stack of other Wilson novels, looked over the covers and read the back blurbs and 
Chronoliths won me over. The thing that helped me decide was the excellent cover art that features a Chronolith jutting out of the surf while two tourist looking people look on dwarfed by its excess. The way the picture is rendered reminded me of the religious pamphlets that sometimes show up in the mail that always look a bit dated.

The book itself was really interesting. Basically huge monuments start showing up across the globe that memorialize the world conquests of a leader twenty years into the future. Wilson utilizes this unique situation to explore a number of avenues of life including cult worship, government, the science of time travel and so on. I loved the feel of the book. It was set in modern times but it felt a little bit the like the turmoil of the sixties(from what I have seen in film). My only criticism would be of the ending. The mystery that drives a lot of the novel is never really revealed in a satisfying way so the reader is tugged along chapter by chapter expecting a reward and is left empty handed.u

After reading two books by Wilson I think I can comfortably say that he holds the top spot in my "favorite modern sci-fi writer" category. His writing is smart and interesting and he is a master at creating oddly believable landscapes and using these landscapes to explore important and interesting issues.

April 21, 2011


AUTHOR: Robert Charles Wilson

DATE: April 2011


Robert Charles Wilson writes in a unique style. While this book is obviously science fiction with all the usual elements (aliens, futuristic technology, REPLICATORS (Stargate what!) even space travel) its doesn't feel like traditional science fiction. Almost the entire book is narrated through human experience (with the exception of the one Martian speaker who is essentially human [and not human like all the aliens were human in the original Star Trek; rather, human, with a plausible explanation for the similarities]).

The book has a really great mystery at its core and Wilson gives the reader enough answers in each chapter to satisfy while maintaining enough questions to make you want to keep reading. 

The character development was excellent. By the end of the novel you feel as though you know the people from  the story and you have distinct feelings about each of them (some you love, some you miss, and some you hate). 

I really can't say enough about the book. It did have a dry spot about three quarters of the way in that was hard to trudge through (to much information , not enough action) but aside from that it was a really good read. I would probably rank it in my top three favorite science fiction novels. 

I should also mention that Wilson, like all sci-fi moguls, manages to address the major issues of life in his imaginary future (love, death, religion, politics etc.) 

Spin was highly entertaining, enjoyable and thought provoking. I can't wait to see Wilson at this years Festival of Words and I imagine that I will tackle Axis in the near future.

February 28, 2011

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

AUTHOR: Donald Miller

DATE: February 2011


I read this book over the course of a month with my wife, Sarah. I have long been an admirer of Donald Miller. I first read "Blue Like Jazz" as a disillusioned college student and I found hope in it. I even went so far as to email Donald Millers people to ask if I could move in with him. At the time I think I mostly liked that he was a bit shocking and that he seemed to challenge the climate of "staunch morality or else!" that I was finding myself confronted with. At the time Donald Miller understood my feelings of disillusionment and he answered them with hope in a God that is not always angry, that likes art, that cares about the odd people of the world.

As I read this latest offering I felt again like Miller was speaking to my situation. I am older than I was in college, I have a career, I cut my hair and I wear dress pants and button up shirts to my office job every day. I am overweight and that bothers me and I am not totally satisfied with the life I am living. Don't get me wrong, I love my wife and my house and all of that but I deeply want my life to mean something more than average.

"A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" is a story about story. Miller frames his narrative around a movie that is in the works about himself based loosely on "Blue Like Jazz". As Don learns about the elements of a good story he sees that these elements can be applied to life itself. He begins to see that he is not living a good story. He, like me, is overweight and living a boring narrative. He begins to take steps to start living a good story, these steps involve risk and danger which any reader will tell you are essential elements in a good book. He embarks on a long and difficult hike, he joins a gym, starts a foundation, looks for his birth dad and takes a bike ride across America. And as usual Don peppers his narrative with stories about the interesting and inspiring people he has met along the way.

Don's book got me excited about life. I sometimes feel like I live in a sea of complaint and bad news. Many people around me seem unhappy with their jobs, their relationships, they fitness etc etc. The news is always about the latest tragedy, protest, murder or missing person. Millers book said that I could work toward a better story. He said I can look for ways to impact people around me in positive ways, I can get fit, I can use my time more wisely and so on. Don painted a hopeful picture of the future and he encouraged me to be an active force in changing my own stories ark.

The book is not terribly profound in any way. It does not reveal any truth that has not been said before but as usual Donald Miller was able to communicate to me on my level.

P.S. My wife and I visited Portland a year back and I also liked the few times that Miller mentioned places my wife and I had seen face to face.

February 12, 2011


AUTHOR: Robert J. Sawyer

DATE: February 2011


The "Far-Seer" is wonderful. Robert J. Sawyer is a master at creating a fun science fiction landscape. The reader is transported to an alien world that is populated by intelligent dinosaurs. The dinosaurs call themselves Quintaglio's and they have a society that is developed to the point of steam power, sailing ships, metal working, rudimentary astronomy, the printing press, and complex societal and religious systems. Religion and science play key roles in the story.

Afsan is the main character in the novel. He is a young Quintaglio, a friend of Dybo (the prince of the dinosaurs), and apprentice to Tak-Saleed, the head astronomer in the royal court. The majority of the novel deals with Afsan's coming of age story. The reader discovers that dinosaurs have two major rights of passage in their young lives. The first right is called the first hunt. In this exercise the young join a group hunting expedition to kill a lower dinosaur (quadrupeds). This episode is very important to the story as we see that Afsan is a naturally gifted hunter. I won't share the details because I think the book is worth reading yourself.

The second right of passage is the pilgrimage. In fairly recent dinosaur history a prophet dinosaur emerged named Larsk. Larsk sailed halfway around the world and came upon a large glowing disk in the sky that he took to be the face of God. This signalled the end of one dinosaur religion (the worship of the original hunters) and the beginning of a new chapter in which all dinosaurs are to resist their instincts (sin nature?)Also, all dinosaurs must take at least one boat trip to view the face of God as Larsk did. It is on Afsan's first Pilgrimage that the story begins to take a different direction.

Afsan is given a "Far-Seer"(telescope) on the voyage. 

SIDE NOTE: One major issue I had with the book is that I do not think that a Tyrannosaurus would be physically able to lift a telescope to its eye. 

With the aide of the telescope Afsan becomes a Galileo figure. His most dangerous discovery involves the true nature of the face of God. As one can imagine Afsan's heretical observations cause a significant stir. The rest of the book deals with the tension between science and religion. 

The last five chapters of the novel were the most impressive in my opinion as Sawyer introduces an exciting twist that I did not see coming. Throughout the book the reader is introduced to various elements of Quntaglio culture including tapestries, religious rights, various hand signals and words. At the time these items appear to only serve the purpose of developing the novels landscape.  However, by the end of the novel Sawyer will use many of the elements in a plot twist that is so interesting that the reader will be compelled to reader the next book in the trilogy. 

All this to say that Robert Sawyer's "Far-Seer" is thought provoking, interesting and of the highest quality Sci-Fi. Sawyer is also a masterful action scene writer. There are enough dinosaur fights in this book to satisfy the most verocious fan. 

For those who don't have the time to read here is a taste of dinosaur fight action. (try to imagine the T-rex wearing a red sash and speaking in proper english).