Archive for October 27th, 2008
Rama II by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee is one of those rare sequels that absolutely works, and may even be better than the first book in the series in some important ways. The viewpoint that I have just stated is absolutely going against the grain of the overwhelming number of other reviews I have read. This review will be my explanation of what I saw in the story and a rebuttal to those who have written against this classic.
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being  will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Clarke never intended to write a sequel to Rendezvous With Rama but was persuaded to do so by overwhelming fan desire and an encounter arranged by his agent, Scott Meredith, with movie producer Peter Gruber and NASA engineer Gentry Lee, in 1986. This was Clarke’s first collaborative effort with another author on a fiction book so that explains why there are so many major differences between Rendezvous With Rama and Rama II.
Clarke’s writing style is more poetic and succinct (Rama had only 214 pages while Rama II has 466); he is a master craftsman with the English language. Gentry Lee is an American and writes with a much heavier hand. Rama II is likely written 90% by Gentry Lee with Clarke doing the basic outline so do not expect the same fine of prose that you got in Rama. Many of the reviews I have read brought out that the book was twice as long as it should have been, or 100 pages to long. Many were upset at the large scale character development that Gentry Lee engages in with Rama II; but some of the criticisms of Rama were that not enough character development took place. The two books had different authors and very different purposes. The writing style of Lee was just fine for the purpose of this book.
And what is the purpose of this book? Rama II presents a study of how a chaotic, even sinful, society would respond to a peaceful visit from an alien ship, and goes into depth to examine how faith and science relate to each other. The way that Lee and Clarke present the struggles with the sinfulness of man, science and religion is so profound that I was deeply moved by this novel. This is the most serious examination of genuine Christian faith (albeit Roman Catholic) in the SF genre that I am aware of. Though I have not read the novel, “Contact”, the movie did a fair job of studying this question, but it does not compare to Rama II.
The basic plot of Rama II is that 70 years after the first Rendezvous with Rama, the human race gets a second chance to examine a Raman spacecraft. This time the world got a chance to prepare a team of scientists and military to meet the craft a bit further out and have more time and a better plan for exploration and study. Clarke-Lee throw in several curves to this second encounter beginning with the world situation, the nature of the team sent on the mission, and the Raman spacecraft itself. In contrast to the setting of the first novel, this time around the human response to Rama is chaotic, fearful, and ultimately violent. If the first Raman craft found humans to be curious, the second found humans to be fearful to the point of paranoia.
The novel is built upon the stories of two women and one man primarily, Francesca and Nicole des Jardins, the first a journalist, the second is the medical officer/surgeon. Clarke-Lee use these two women as foils to show the two sides of the human condition: evil, violent and cynical versus loving, rational and innocently curious. But Clarke-Lee add a third hero, General O’Toole, the scientist-general who also happens to be a committed Christian, and it is O’Toole’s faith, not science, that ultimately saves the day in the story.
Many reviewers of Rama II found the first third of the book tedious and wanted the authors to move directly into the Rama adventure itself as Clarke did in the first Rama. Though I grant the first third of the book to be a bit tougher reading than the rest of the book, I now see it as crucial to the broader issues the authors are confronting with this book. In Rendezvous with Rama, Clarke did show some of the tedium of the bureaucracy with his glimpses into the committee that handled the Rama situation. Now in Rama II Clarke-Lee show some serious bureaucratic bungling and confusion in the preparation for, and execution of the mission to Rama II. Keep in mind that Gentry Lee was a NASA insider in real life; he has had first hand experience with the problems of the space program. Also, this novel was written after the 1986 Challenger disaster which was caused in part by bureaucratic wrangling and red tape of the worst sort.
This theme of chaos is carried on throughout the novel with a vengeance. It makes you wonder if Gentry Lee might be bitter? But this is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. The authors give us the historical context of this chaos with the 4th and 5th chapters which was one of my favorite parts of the book. In some ways you could paint the world of Rama I as a Utopia and the world of Rama II as a dystopia. The cool professionals of Rama I are replaced by the self absorbed, undisciplined crew of the Rama II who are the accurate products of a world that totally lost its bearings for about 30 years. Clarke-Lee give an excellent description of a world that bankrupted itself to the point of societal collapse. The fact that I am reading this novel in the fall of 2008, during the worst decline of the stock markets of the world since the 1929 Crash is not comforting. But then, novels like Rama II are meant to disturb, not comfort.
This chaos is personified by the beautiful Francesca, a journalist (every bit as disgusting as the journalists of today are) who is a part of the crew sent to visit Rama II. Sexually abused as a child, rebellious, ready to use her beauty and body to get what she wants from men, brilliant but cold blooded and deadly, Francesca is the epitome of the me-first generation that sounds like people of our day. She is the grand manipulator who is the real leader of the mission by sheer force of intelligence, power and guile if not by position. She is directly responsible for the death of the official commander of the misison and easily manipulates the others to do her will.
If the authors intended to portray the press in a bad light with Francesca, they succeeded brilliantly. I am no fan of the MSM and this book shows that in the future the press will be every bit as nasty, biased, self absorbed and manipulative as they are today. The two scenes that show how diabolical Francesca was are the interview with Nicole at the party in Rome where she asked Nicole who the father of her child was and then on board Rama II where she has Nicole risking her life by running beside the crab biots filming them as they try to capture one. Then there is her “accidental” killing of General Borzov with a drug and the attempt to kill, destabilize or whatever, her former lover, Reggie Wilson with drugs. Francesca’s coldness is shown in the dialog about her abortion on pp.105-106 and, in a rarity for science fiction, she shows obvious racial prejudice on pp.137 and 281.
The racism of Francesca I find interesting. In most SF writing we see that racism disappears in the future. One of the things I really liked about Rama II is that Clarke-Lee show man to be a sinner still in the future, rascism included. Way too many SF authors portray the future in cotton candy terms, in this book the authors are very realistic with the evil that lurks in the hearts of men. This is shown again by the behind the scenes media deal that some of the crew participated in illegally. In what should have been a purely scientific mission we see people with secret agendas, greed, lust, power hunger, envy- in other words the characters were very real and would fit in with our world today.
Another component of the book that portrays chaos or the effects of sin in society and how it deals with others, is in the secret mission TRINITY, that sent some nuclear bombs with the expedition to Rama with orders to blow up Rama if it proved threatening. After three deaths of crew members due to internal plots, careless behavior and disregard for the rules, and a change in flight path by Rama II, earth gives the order to destroy the ship. This hearkens back to Rama I and the response of the people of Mercury who felt threatened by the alien craft, but this time it is the earth that feels threatened. Earth’s chance to meet aliens and they respond with nukes. This is another sign by the authors that the earth, which had been through a 30 yr long time of troubles, was indeed paranoid and violent.
The interesting thing about my take on this subject is that about 18 years ago I read this book for the first time, and did not like it for precisely the reason that I now like it. I was aghast at how the crew acted, at how unprofessional they were. Back then I was an idealist, today I am much more realistic, almost cynical. I have learned much about the sinfullness of my own soul and those of my fellow man in the past 18 years.
In looking at the culture portrayed by Clarke-Lee we see a few things that stand out that they got wrong and some they got right. On p.35 “Those zealots on the American West Coast would make smoking a felony if they could”. This was published in 1989 and the war on smoking had already begun, so this line is directed at the current age and projected into the future. The anti-smoking Nazis drive me crazy, and I don’t even smoke! On the same page he has “the Japanese were now prosperous again as the world returned to a free market.” Two interesting things here: 1) by 2200 there likely will not be many Japanese left with their current demographics. Their birth rate has declined below the replacement rate and is so low that they will be placed on the endangered species list in another 25 years or so. 2) A return to a free market seems overly optimistic in the fall of 2008! The liberty that Britain and America built and established was founded upon a Protestant, biblical world view. That worldview is dying while I type. Capitalism and liberty cannot be sustained apart from a firm Christian foundation.
For me, the key element of this wonderful book is the way the authors have Faith and Science interact. Here we obviously look to General O’Toole, the Catholic. Ch.10 “The Cosmonaut and the Pope” was one of the best chapters! The authors have O’Toole ask some of the same questions that I have been asking secretly for years. Unfortunately, most of my Christian brothers do not see any way that there could possibly be other intelligent life forms in space. I look at the beauty, the almost infinite size and age of the universe and say it seems impossible to me that the God who created it all would not have created thousands of inhabited worlds, maybe millions. If God is truly infinite, it is just as easy for him to create millions of other “peoples” as it is to create just one.
O’Toole asks some probing questions in this chapter. Do the Ramans have eternal souls? Did they, too, fall into sin? Are they created in the image of God? Did God send Jesus in some form to save them like he did for us? I believe it may be that God created some in his image and others he created differently. Some are probably saved in a very similar way that we are, and perhaps others are damned. Clarke is reputed to be an atheist though he did show a lot of interest in the soul in many of his writings, notably 2001 A Space Odyssy. It seems to me that if he was an atheist, he was one of the rare, honest atheists who was willing to ask some hard questions and seek some real answers.
Then, to top it off, the authors have O’Toole actually live according to his beliefs. In the end, O’Toole must disobey his orders in order to keep his faith. And THEN, he is proved right! The authors actually bring up on p.457, Pascal’s wager, a baptism scene, and a prayer. How fantastic is that! I congratulate the authors in portraying religion in a positive light without any sense of mockery. How refreshing!
It is not just religion, Christianity, that the authors use to distinguish between the “good” people of the novel and the “bad” people. Nicole herself is a nominal Catholic, but she is a mystic in many ways. Her African background told in detail is essential to the story. Though a scientist, she ultimately relies on her mystic side when she is near death, and she is strengthened and actually finds the answers she needs.
What the authors seem to be saying in this beautiful tension between science and faith is that it does take both. There is not only room for both, there is a need for both. Man is not merely a rational being, we are spiritual beings. To deny the spiritual is to become narcissistic and cynical like Francesca and Dr. Brown. Even Nicole’s lover, Richard Wakefield, relies on Shakespeare for help. Religion, faith, the arts, mysticism, all are essential parts of man. Science alone cannot give us all we need to know and understand Rama.
I highly recommend this book, though must give it a PG-13 for the sexual content. While none of the sex was explicit, it was substantial, so parents- I would save this for the older teens. I would certainly agree that Rendezvous with Rama is the better written of the two, this book is an essential companion and actually goes into deeper issues than the first book. This is clearly one of my all-time favorites.
Here is a great article about the spirituality of Sci Fi from Christianity Today:Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Mark 2:18-22 “Are You A New Wineskin Or An Old Whineskin?” 3 October 1999 AM
I. The Conflict
II. The New Wine of the Gospel
III. The Joy of the Wedding
IV. Ridding Ourselves of Old Garments and Brittle Wineskins
Introduction: In a minute I am going to ask you to list some things that simply do not go together, such as oil and water; think about that for a minute. We are studying verse by verse through the Gospel According to Mark looking for some answers to some very important questions- What is the Gospel? What does the good news of Jesus have to do with me and my daily life? How should I respond to the Gospel? How can I relate the gospel to others?
This morning’s text is about mixing things that do not belong together. The Gospel of Jesus is fundamentally new and different from the legalism of the Jews. The Jewish religion had degenerated to a works based religion of outward forms and laws about minutia, laundry lists of do’s and don’ts, a religion of human effort instead of God’s grace.
What are some things in our day that just do not go together? Oil and water, avocados and ice cream…
At the conclusion of this sermon I want you to know for sure if you are trying to mix the grace of God with your own religious works and are thus still lost in your sins. If you are sure you are born again, you may need to examine your life for areas of being an old and brittle wineskin, or whineskin, where God is trying to stretch you and you are resisting. Are you living a joy filled Christian life like a newlywed, or is your faith permanently in a sour mood?
I. The Conflict.
Any time we examine the scriptures we must first examine what was going on with the people directly involved, what is the situation. The story immediately prior shows Jesus participating in a banquet with a new disciple, Levi (Matthew); a feast, a party (we see a similar situation when Jesus meets Zaccheus in Lk 19). The fact that Jesus was associating with notorious sinners was by itself a scandal. But apparently this party with the publicans was on a day that the Pharisees and John’s disciples normally fasted (Mon or Thurs). These disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees were therefore questioning Jesus about why his disciples did not keep these traditional fast days (the only fast day required of the Jews in the Law was on the day of atonement in late September, see Lev 16:24). Tonight we will study this question of fasting.
One of the key themes of Mark’s gospel is the conflict that surrounds Jesus. In ch.1 Jesus is confronted with the temptation of Satan and the dangers of the wilderness and wild animals; then in Capernaum he attends synagogue and is confronted with a demon possessed synagogue member; next Jesus confronts the effects of the Fall by healing various diseases, including leprosy (symbolizing sin). In ch. 2 Jesus heals a paralyzed man but forgives his sin publicly first, thus causing the attending Pharisees to question Jesus in their hearts, accusing him of blaspheming God by taking on the prerogative of God. Now he has the audacity to choose a tax collector as a disciple and to actually eat with all those nasty sinners, and to ignore the fast days that were highly valued by the Pharisees. Jesus is just plain irritating to the Pharisees and in this text He explains why.
II. The New Wine of the Gospel
Jesus uses three short parables to contrast what he is doing with what the Pharisees are expecting. First he explains why his disciples do not fast by saying there is no fasting at a wedding banquet. We will look at this aspect in a few minutes.
Right now look at vss21-22. Jesus says that nobody sews a new patch on an old garment. The new patch would shrink up and tear the old garment worse. Nobody is going to put new wine into an old, brittle wineskin because the new wine emits gasses as it ferments, thus stretching the fresh, pliable wineskin into a proper shape, but causing an old wineskin to burst thus wasting the wine and the skin. What is he teaching? What is the meaning?
Chrysostom, writing in the 4th century, says, “The souls of some are like an old garment, an old wineskin- not as yet renewed by faith. Not yet renovated in the grace of the Spirit, they remain weak and earthly. All their affections are turned toward this life, fluttering after worldly show, loving a glory that is ephemeral.”(ACCS, p.34)
Jesus is here stating that he is bringing something entirely new onto the scene, he is announcing the coming of the Kingdom of God, and he is proclaiming the Good News. This could certainly be compared with his conversation with Nicodemus in John’s Gospel ch 3 where he tells Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the council that he must be born again.
The legalistic Jews, like all of us, were in need of a new garment entirely. No mere patch will do. Because we are all lost in sin, totally depraved, radically corrupted in every aspect of our lives, separated from God by our extreme ungodliness, a simple patch will not do! People try to satisfy their soul’s needs with morals or immorality, education or the bliss of ignorance, worldly goods of prosperity or the poverty of asceticism, manmade religions of works and rituals or the secular escape of materialistic science. But in our spiritual darkness of sin we cannot ever fix the problem, we keep on sewing patches onto our worldly ways. In God’s eyes our clothing is in tatters, soiled and useless, filthy rags as Isaiah says about our best man centered righteousness. No, as sinners, we cannot be patched. We need a new garment entirely!
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he deals with the problem of trying to mix works with grace. The judaizers were trying to say the way of salvation was to become a Jew first then add the grace of Jesus. But Paul says, 3:1-3
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?…6 Consider Abraham: He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness…11
Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, The righteous will live by faith.”
In this confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus is saying there is no mixing of the old ways of legalism with the coming of the Kingdom, for salvation by grace through faith is a brand new garment, a new wineskin that cannot be mixed with a man centered works righteousness. The works oriented religion cannot contain God’s grace that He is now pouring out. Grace requires new wineskins.
We see this principle even in the old testament book of Ezekiel 36:26,27
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
Notice that our keeping the law comes after we receive the gift of God’s Spirit, after we have been born again we keep the laws of God as a thank offering, a love offering back to God, not in order to earn our salvation or keep our salvation. Obedience follows faith and repentance. Obedience is an act of faith not the flesh. This is the new wine that bursts the old wineskins of the Pharisees.
Have you repented of sin and placed your faith in Christ? Have you trusted in Jesus alone for your salvation? Or are you trusting in church membership, good morals, and religion?
III. The Joy of the Wedding
Jesus uses the parable of a wedding to explain why his disciples do not keep the fasts. The wedding party and Bride and Groom had a week of celebration after the wedding and were officially excused from the weekly fasts. Joy was the characteristic of the wedding.
The Jewish religion as distorted by the Pharisees was a somber and joyless system of legalism and man centered works. Jesus is now ushering in a new age of joy. Joy and the works righteousness of the Pharisees are incompatible. Joy comes with grace in the kingdom of God.
Dr. R. Kent Hughes writes about this passage and relates an Erma Bombeck story of “how she was sitting in church one Sunday when a small child turned around and began to smile at the people behind her. She was just smiling, not making a sound. When her mother noticed, she said in a stage whisper, ‘Stop that grinning! You’re in church’ gave her a swat , and said, ‘That’s better’ Erma concluded that some people come to church looking like they had just read the will of their rich aunt and learned that she had given everything to her pet hamster!”
With the coming of the kingdom of God, with the salvation that Jesus died on the cross to obtain for us, with the regeneration of our hearts by the Holy Spirit, comes a divine joy that ought to pervade our lives. We are the Bride of Christ, we are His betrothed not his bothered. Joy is a supernatural fruit of the spirit!
In the church, just a few bitter, legalistic, nitpicky individuals can rob the joy of a whole congregation with their constant criticisms, complaints, and fussing. In essence they become whineskins instead of wineskins; containers of sour grapes instead of the joyful new wine that Christ intends. Just a few pharisaical saints can cause a church unending turmoil and run off pastor after pastor, run off member after member with their joyless, self centered religion. Christ brings a wedding party to us, a party of joy, peace and grace that cannot mix with the constant grumbling and murmuring that is a sign of immaturity and carnality. The Pharisees were the ultimate biblical example of this, but there is plenty of this in the church today as well.
Are you rejoicing in the Lord? Are you joy filled? Do you come to worship in a spirit of joyful anticipation or of criticism and complaint?
IV. Ridding Ourselves of Old Garments and Brittle Wineskins
The dominant meaning of this text is clearly that the new wine of the gospel replaces the works righteousness of the Pharisees distorted religion. The coming of the Kingdom of God requires a totally new garment, not a patch, a new wineskin for the new wine of God’s grace. If we want new life, lasting joy, we must let God change out our old wineskins and give us a new wineskin. This is what we do as we repent of sin and trust in Christ for salvation.
But does this text also speak to established believers? Does this text also speak to our sanctification? Yes! I believe there is a principle here that helps established believers.
Growing in Christ is a gradual thing as the Spirit sanctifies us one day at a time. Human beings are complex and multifaceted; we have several areas of our lives that must be submitted to the Lordship of Christ. We can grow in grace and become disciples but then one day a hidden area of our life gets challenged by the Word of God. When we resist the promptings of the Spirit in this regard, we act like an old whineskin don’t we? As the Spirit pricks our hearts with guilt over our sin it hurts, and we whine as the consequences of our disobedience mount. The new wine of the lordship of Christ is expanding into every corner and secret recess of our hearts and if we resist we become brittle, our hearts can harden, the garment of our new life in Christ tears. You see we must put on Christ every day, be refreshed by the Spirit every day, be made new every day.
Barclay writes. (p62) “Jesus is pleading for certain elasticity in our minds. It is fatally easy to become set in our ways. As they grow older almost everyone develops a constitutional dislike of that which is new and unfamiliar. We grow unwilling to make any adjustments in our habits and ways of life. The Christian has no right to ask where he is going. Abraham went out not knowing whither he went.”
When we become set in our ways so that we cannot find new ways to worship, make disciples and reach out to the lost that are biblical yet relevant to our society then we are like the old worn out garment or the wineskin that is about to burst. We become useless for the kingdom and waste the new wine of God’s grace in Christ. The world looks at our torn patched garment and has no use for it. We receive the biggest insult of all- we are ignored as irrelevant by this present generation. When God’s people are so stuck in the past that they fail to learn anything new it is time for the new wineskin of revival and renewal that can only come from the Holy Spirit. And if we resist the Holy Spirit, we continue to tear, and burst as an old wineskin.
Conclusion: Where are you this morning? Are you just religious, trusting in your morals, your church attendance, and your good works to save you? Have you dangerously tried to mix works and grace as the Galatians did? Have you repented of sin and trusted in Christ alone for your righteousness? Will you trust him this day? You may have been a church member here for 30 years, but are you truly born again?
Look at your life this morning; are you full of the joy of the Lord that comes from the Holy Spirit? Or are you full of complaints, pride, murmurings and rebelliousness? Are you eager for a new work of the Holy Spirit in your life? Are you teachable, eager to learn, grow in grace and participate in the new works the Spirit is doing today? Or are you satisfied with your faith the way it has been for the past year, or 5, or 30?
Do you want this church to be a new wineskin that expands, grows as the Spirit does his new work in our midst?
We have the opportunity to be a new wineskin, or we can choose to be a brittle whineskin. What will this church choose?
This sermon was one of my favorites from the series in Mark I preached 9 years ago. The congregation was less than enthusiastic upon hearing it.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Monday, October 27, 2007– It has been a long time since I posted a recipe so here is the recipe I used at our Church Care Group fellowship last night. Steak and Chicken Quesadillas.
I used 16 of the large Burrito sized tortillas, 8 for the steak and 8 for the chicken.
I used some frozen packs of fajita steak that were already seasoned and cooked, about a pound to a pound and a half of meat. 2 red bell peppers and 2 green bell peppers and a large red onion. Dawn sliced and chopped the peppers and onion up while the meat was cooking on the stove, then I added the veggies to the meat. I also cut up some big bella mushrooms and threw them in for some extra pizzaz. Each quesadilla had a GENEROUS portion of meat for both the steak and chicken quesadillas.
I got our pancake griddle out and put two of the tortillas on, but the tortillas were so big they were only half on but that worked out fine. I sprinkled some cheddar cheese on the tortilla halfs and once it began to melt I added the cooked meat and veggies, then folded the tortillas over. Once I got that started I was able to do add a third tortilla, again with only half of it on the griddle, and this way I was cooking 3 at once.
I did not time how long to cook the tortillas on the griddle, but basically long enough for the cheese to melt and for both sides of the folded over quesadilla to get some lightly browned spots from the griddle.
I repeated this process with the chicken, but instead of using the frozen chicken fajita packets I usually use, I grilled several breasts on my gas grill outside. I seasoned with some bar-b-q rub and some cajun rub. When the chicken was done I sliced them up into bite sized pieces and pretty much had a full plate of chicken, about 1 1/2 pounds, same as the steak. Dawn was doing the hard work of chopping the onions and peppers while I grilled.
For the chicken quesadillas I used a mixture of monterrey jack and chedder cheese and did not add any mushrooms to the veggies and meat. Otherwise we cooked them up on the griddle just like the steak quesadillas. When each quesadilla was done I did chop them in half for easier handling, even then the folks at the fellowship thought they were kind of large.
I got the most comments on the grilled chicken quesadillas at the fellowship.
This was a fairly quick and simple meal that made way more than enough for the 13-14 of us, but there was a lot of other food there as well. Dawn and Jeremy and I have supper for the next two nights, that’s for sure.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )