No easy hope in The Narrow Road to the Deep North

‘But an easy hope is a fake one and that is far away from what Flanagan seeks to achieve in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. There are no living gods in Flanagan’s war and post-war and that must have been the feeling of many, but not all, who lived and died or lived and lived.’

Read my review of the only Australian novel to be long-listed for the Man Booker Prize at cread: reading is believing.

Filipino wins 99designs contest for Purpose Driven Life cover

There are a couple of interesting sidelights to the redesign of Rick Warren’s best-selling The Purpose Driven Life.

This year Rick Warren and his publisher decided to relaunch the book with a fresh design for younger readers to mark the 32 million-seller’s 10th anniversary.

They used the online marketplace for graphic design, 99designs, to launch a contest for the cover design with a prize of US$3,500.

One designer to enter was Filipino Brian Montes who said,  “The book inspired me to strengthen my principles in life, so designing a cover for the new edition was personally a very meaningful opportunity for me.”

Brian’s clean and simple design features a tree with 40 leaves.

Read Brian’s story here.

Meanwhile 99designs is the number one crowdsourcing online marketplace for graphic design and as of today boasts 145,513 contests hosted to date; 166,281 designers and US$36,127,663 designer prize money awarded.

And to check out the new edition of Rick Warren’s book now titled What on Earth am I Here For? The Purpose Drive Life, you’ll have to wait a few more months but there will be four new chapters from Warren.

Visit the current Purpose Driven Life site.

Related: Purpose Driven meets Starbucks

Dymocks enters self-publishing domain with launch tomorrow

Authors will be able to publish their own books in print and ebook format with possible release through Dymocks’ stores thanks to the bookseller’s own online self-publishing tool to be launched tomorrow, December 7.

Known as D Publishing, it will be similar to Amazon’s Kindle Direct or Blurb with the added bonus of possible sail through Dymocks’ 90 strong retail bookstore network, 70 of which are located in Australia.

Announced earlier in the year and originally expected to be rolled out as early as October, D Publishing “aims to support all Australians with stories to tell”.

In announcing the launch, Dymocks Chief Executive Officer, Don Grover said the new publishing service, allowing Australian writers and authors to create and publish books, was a logical extension for the business.

“We believe that D Publishing has the potential to significantly support and grow the book industry in Australia by providing more opportunities for Australian authors to create, publish, and sell their books,” said Mr Grover.

“Unlike the traditional publishing model this service is driven by the author. If you are thinking about publishing your first, or one of many books, you should think of D Publishing.

“D Publishing will be an opportunity for all budding Australian authors to see their works in published form and available for purchase online, while a selection of titles may also be available in Dymocks stores across Australia.”

The launch will take place in Dymocks’ George St, Sydney store tomorrow and is expected to be available online to registered Dymocks Booklovers.

Having self-published two books through US-based Blurb, I will be interested to compare quality, costs, turn-around time and author’s rights. The process by which Dymocks selects titles for sale through its bricks and mortar stores or online will be another point of interest.

Check out my Blurb books here and here

The Slap hits TV and may assault your senses

The television adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ 2008 novel The Slap is about to screen on ABC 1 and while it is a best-selling book in Australia and beyond, many of the television viewers will be encountering the story for the first time.

The Slap is an explicit novel – explicit in its treatment of nearly every bodily function and relationship dysfunction you can think of, or prefer not to think of. Oh, and did I mention the abundant use of legal and illicit drugs?

The television adaptation apparently holds little back and if that is the case, many will find reason why they can’t watch it, which is understandable, but a pity that some of the extremes of description were not moderated originally by the author. The story would not have suffered…

But that’s not his style and if you’re not sure if it’s your’s, check out a review of the book I wrote some time ago – it might give you some more insight, or a little more to offer around the water cooler tomorrow.

The Slap book review

Logos leads the way in innovative use of the Internet

20110620-100852.jpg One of the world’ leading leadership and business authors, Seth Goddin has highlighted an innovative book pricing mechanism used by Logos, a Bible software company.

In Goddin’s most recent blog post, titled Coordination, he discusses a new more collaborative approach to internet business, made possible by technology and cited Logos’ Community Pricing strategy as an example.

According to the Logos website, “Community Pricing offers some amazing deals on classic works in the field of biblical and theological studies. Thousands of Logos users have gotten books for less than the price of a latte or a gallon of gas (which is around $3.00 in Bellingham, Washington).”

Community Pricing works by online customers indicating on a graph how much they would be willing to pay for a specific title. At some point in the process enough customers and a high enough price cover production costs and the book can be released.

Logos explains it this way: “If it costs $4,000 to produce an electronic edition of a book, the costs can be covered by 4 people paying $1,000 each or by 1,000 people paying $4 each. The more likely scenario, though, is that no one wants to pay $1,000 and there aren’t 1,000 people interested in the title, even at $4. But there may be 200 people who would pay $20 each.

“Community Pricing is about finding the lowest price that covers the production costs.”

Customers bids are tracked on an online graph to provide some guidance as to how to bid and when a price is set, it is the lowest possible price which is paid by all bidders, even if they bid higher.

It is another example of how the book industry specifically and retail in general is changing due to digital communication.

Godson loves the approach because it eliminates waste and allows customers to collaborate with the supplier.
It is great to see a Christian company at the forefront of change.

Most democratic book in the world turns 400

“The King James Version is a Magna Carta for the poor and oppressed: the most democratic book in the world”, said Theodore Roosevelt on the KJV’s 300th anniversary in 1911.

Claimed by some to be the only version which should be read (sorry all you non-English speakers); by others to be outdated and outmoded (too many maidservants and thous); and yet enjoyed by many for its beautiful glimpse into Shakespearean English – the King James Bible is this year turning 400 years old.

This landmark is being celebrated in Australia by a Bible Society exhibition, The Book that Changed the World, that is touring the south east of Australia. It is in Canberra now but very soon will be around the corner in Annandale.

Read the full report at Australian Christian News.

What is your favourite King James Bible quote?

The dealings of grief and possibilities

‘The emotion of it was still strong. There was a bitterness in him that he continued to chew over as Digger did not. For Digger it had been one time of his life among others; a time, simply, that had laid hard responsibilities on him, but ones that were too deeply ingrained in his nature now for regret. He accepted them. He made no complaint.

‘For Vic the injustice that had been done to him was absolute, a thing he could not forgive. Some possibility had been killed in him then, and though he had found others and made what he could of them – that’s how he was; that was his nature, his character – that other possibility, the one that had been starved and beaten out of him, seemed especially precious.’ The Great World, David Malouf.

An old war veteran died today. Like all of them, Claude Stanley Choules no doubt had his own way of dealing with the grief of war.

‘He served in two wars but he hated war – he just saw it as a job,’ said his son Adrian. At 110 he had been the last remaining World War 1 combat veteran.

Incredible grief and loss is buried in the lives of many who have returned from war but also in many who have never been. Australian author David Malouf captures two of the dealings of pain, loss and grief. Does one or the other resonate with you?

Some of us integrate it and become something a little more, or perhaps a little less, than we might have been. Others are driven and cajoled by what might have been and never truly settle. Even achieving great other ‘possibilities’ does not assuage our sense of loss.

There is a Way that releases us so that now and not the past becomes the arena of living.

New Last Supper theory interesting, but not so new

Media outlets are today reporting claims from a new book that Easter celebrations are a day late in marking the celebration by Jesus of the Passover before being crucified.

Many close readers of the Bible who have studied the Gospel accounts of the last week of Jesus’ life would have already considered the possibility of the Last Supper occurring on the Wednesday, rather than Thursday, before Good Friday.

The Gospels are not motivated by a desire to inform readers of exact dates – presuming early Christians were already well aware of these,  or because they were focused on the content of Jesus life and teaching rather than chronology.

However as an historic faith, it is heartening to see scientists seeking to test accounts and find explanations for these eye-witness accounts, handed down over many centuries.

And while this latest book is unlikely to change the way Christians celebrate Easter (although perhaps we could argue for an extra Easter holiday?) it is a useful reminder that Easter is more than religious tradition, it remembers extraordinary events in the lives of real people, one in particular.

“‘One of the most famous meals in history is commemorated a day late, a new  book by a Cambridge University physicist claims,” the SMH report says.

“Professor Sir Colin Humphreys, who was knighted last year for his  contribution to science, argues that the last supper Jesus Christ shared with  his disciples occurred on Wednesday, April 1, AD33, rather than on a Thursday as  traditionally celebrated in most Christian churches.

“The theory would explain the apparent inconsistencies between the Gospels of  Matthew, Mark and Luke – which say the Last Supper was a Passover meal – and  that of John, which says Jesus was tried and executed before the Jewish  festival. It would explain another puzzle: why the Bible has not allowed enough  time for all events recorded between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.

“Sir Colin’s book, The Mystery of the Last Supper, out this week, uses  astronomy to re-create  calendars, plus  detail drawn from texts such as the  Dead Sea Scrolls  to propose a timeline for Jesus’s final  days.”

Read more at the SMH’s New theory on date of last supper.

Check out a previous Easter Utterance post

Where to with Utterance?

So, I’ve had a very long case of writer’s block. More writer’s coma than block. More writer’s near-death experience than coma. More…

Anyway, I’m just searching for that sweet-spot of an idea for what to do next. Don’t tell me, I’ll get it eventually.

In the meantime, it did spark my interest that the 7pm Project discussed falling church attendances tonight. Tellingly, they quoted no hard statistics, quoted a minister from a denomination with famously declining membership due to its abandonment of faith, and quoted an atheist who is too young to have any idea if there is a God or not because he hasn’t lived long enough to have a single conviction tested. Or so it seemed to me.

Host Carrie Bickmore admitted her mother had dragged her along to Hillsong, Steve Price had the usual hackneyed response about churches and money and Hughesy said that if it makes people happy and gives them good values then what’s the problem. The too-young-to-know atheist pondered what would happen without the community  that religion provides, but failed to give an alternative.

Oh, and by the way, on a different note, I’m reading my first Ernest Hemingway book, Death in the Afternoon, which is non-fiction and about bullfighting… well, it was the only Hemingway available at Leichhardt Library – but already I’ve gained a few insights into his approach to writing, which may or may not be a good thing.

His friend the ex-mercenary finds God

My Friend the Mercenary by James Brabazon is one of the most brutal, true stories you may ever read and yet streaming through it is a remarkable and unlikely friendship.

Brabazon was just beginning his career as a documentary maker and war-correspondent when he was invited to film rebels fighting against dictator Charles Taylor in Liberia, west Africa.

He was introduced to one of Africa’s most notorious mercenaries, Nick du Toit, who had an ambiguous history as part of South Africa’s special forces at the tail end of apartheid.

As James discovered, the sheer need to survive turns the theoretical world of objectivity on its head but also allows friendships to forge that might not otherwise exist.

Alongside the brutal description of rebels executing government soldiers and in one case cutting them up and eating their heart, there is a remarkable, tender portrayal of friendship between two men of different backgrounds.

After Liberia, James is invited by Nick to film the overthrow of the government of Equatorial Guinea. He is part of a small band of mercenaries who are working for the instalment of an exiled leader to replace yet another brutal, corrupt ruler.Read More »

Balancing freedoms as Bibles and bodies are burned

The threatened burning of the Qur’an by a Florida pastor created international headlines and now a Brisbane atheist has used pages of the Bible and the Qur’an to roll fake joints and smoke them. 

And while journalists waste time over these peculiarly western debates, we hear nothing about the very real plight of millions of Christians, many in Muslim countries, where such freedoms are not enjoyed. 

For example a young Laotian woman had her Bible burned (pictured) by villagers who believed it was causing her mother’s illness. 

‘My villagers still hate me and mock me, like they mocked Jesus on the cross. It is the world’s right to hate us or to love us. But for me, I will follow Jesus.’ 

 Many people like this young woman are assisted by Voice of the Martyrs. You might wonder why we need such an organisation in the 21st century but there are more Christian martyrs today than ever before. 

VOM says, ‘In restricted nations around the world, Bibles are burned, shredded or confiscated every day. Those opposed to the gospel can destroy Bibles, but they cannot destroy the faith of those like ****’. 

To read many other heart wrenching stories of the persecution of Christians – the burning of their Bibles, churches and bodies – visit Voice of the Martyrs

We do enjoy remarkable freedoms in the west, rarely known on our planet or throughout history, very much brought about by a Christian world view that says every life is sacred and deserves dignity, freedom, opportunity and life. 

This should be extended to people of all faiths and Koran burning or Bible ‘smoking’ are ridiculous parades of ego. 

But there is something that would help balance the debate. Whenever we stand and affirm that Muslims, for example, should receive the same freedoms in Australia or America as anyone else, it would be inspiring to hear those voices, especially Muslims, speak up and say they would like to see the same freedoms for those persecuted for their faith in Muslim or other restricted countries.

Utterance passes 10,000 visits this year

Oh, I just noticed Utterance has clocked over 10,000 visits. Nice. It all started with a New Year’s Resolution to blog every day, something I haven’t managed to do, but almost.

My best effort was seven posts in one day, including three audio posts via mobile phone, all while participating in the 14km City to Surf. Have you ever tried to jog and type on Nokia E71 keyboard…

Anyway, we have a way to go in the year and lately I’ve been thinking of a little book of Utterance, maybe available around Christmas time. Some of the best of Utterance in a nice little real-book package… What do you think?

And some Utterance trivia, I posted a story about Masterchef and the seven deadly sins back in July and it continues to be one of my most popular postings. To date, more than 350 people have visited it directly, many in the past couple of weeks. Is it a fascination with Masterchef or sin? Not sure… If you missed it, check it out.

Masterchef’s seven sins; God’s endless forgiveness

Relentless, restless reading confessions

People with blogs often tell other people, with or without blogs, about what they are reading. This may be to come across as a clever, readerish type or out of a genuine attempt to stimulate reading and discussion.

In my case I’m going to tell you what I’ve been reading because the litter of books next to my bed could be ignored no longer. I suddenly noticed it one day and thought, mmmm.

Anyway, here’s what I’m reading and feel free to use the comment facility with this post to inflict on me what you are reading. No, seriously, I’m generally interested! By the way, this reading does not include the portions of novels I am required to read for the publishing and editing courses I am doing which so far has included Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, James Bradley’s The Resurrectionist and Brett Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park (and that’s just the first week…). And then there is the constant noting of books other people are recommending in my lectures so that I now have a list of about 37 books that simply must be read…

But back to the leaf-litter around my bed:

Read More »

What drives you – plot, character or both?

In literature, stories are said to be either plot-driven or character driven, but what about life?

Some novels are all about the plot – the unfolding of action and drama – while the development of character is less important. A Matthew Reilly novel would be an example – we don’t really need to know his characters other than have a vague sympathy or antipathy for them, as long as something blows up every few paragraphs.

Some novels are character driven – the characters are highly developed and the plot flows out of who they are. Jane Austen meticulously crafts her characters and we watch and see how they negotiate the life that unfolds from the authentic decisions they make.

Of course no story can be one or the other – plot requires people and unless we replace them with plankton, some degree of characterisation is required. People do things and have pleasures and problems and so a plot will develop. If all we had were just endless descriptions of people, we might prefer they were plankton.

For me it is the issue of starting point, of emphasis. One emphasises things happening more than the people to whom they happen. The other wants us to see inside people more fully as things happen.

I can’t help but draw a line to real life, our lives. Is our life more about plot – what’s happening next – or more about character – who we are as things happen?Read More »

How atheism led me to faith…

If several billion God believers can’t dint the unbelief of an atheist, perhaps just one family member’s faith might make the difference.

Christopher Hitchens is famous for his book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and is one of the poster boys of the new atheism secular liberalism. He was a special guest of this month’s Sydney Writers Festival as he promoted his memoir Hitch-22.

But while Christopher has been busy debating Christians and even threatening to have the Pope arrested, his brother Peter has rediscovered faith and published The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith.

As the Hitchens brothers’ books battle for bookstore ascendency, we see a microcosm of the struggle between belief and unbelief in the world.

While most atheists will cite logic and reason for the reason of their non-belief in God, behind this for many is a personal religious atrocity that has led them from grace. For Christopher Hitchens it may just have been the brutal, even sadistic regime he encountered at a church boarding school from the age of eight.

And while brother Peter went through his own atheistic ‘revelation’ it was not to last and his book now attacks the blind spots and flaws of atheistic argument.

There is no doubt much more to run in the story of these two men’s lives, and it is a reminder that wherever darkness seems to flourish, a resilient light is close at hand. Pray for Christopher and Peter Hitchens, that both would find themselves beneath the grace of God as they play a part on the world stage.

An excellent article on the belief and unbelief of the Hitchens brothers appears in the Fairfax media today . It is written by Simon Smart, the head of research and communications at the Centre for Public Christianity. PH

God drives the bus to his own defence

God gave a clue to his reality during our bus trip to the ‘In defence of God’ session of the Sydney Writer’s festival today (May 23).

Running late due to bus delays, we were worried about missing the session until our bus driver got lost in the Rocks and pulled over randomly to let us out – right in front of our destination, Sydney Theatre, instead of the actual bus stop two streets away! God is providential, generous and has a sense of humour…

As we gathered with the unfaithful – the session was chaired by an atheist and featured a lapsed Episcopalian – we found we had more in common with the other speaker, the Iranian-American author and scholar, Reza Aslan.

While Eric Lax, author of Faith Interrupted, lamented his fall from faith (I believe he’ll be back though), Aslan launched an attack against the new atheists. He described their behaviour as being as fundamentalist as some of the religious people they hate. He also reminded the audience that despite a century of violent secularism, the number of religious adherents  had risen from half to two thirds of the global population.

Aslan was challenged by a few questioners but was able to mount a good defence for God before the brief question section was wound up. He even began his talk by referring to the blogs that had questioned why an atheist, lapsed Episcopalian and Muslim were leading this session, with no Christian authors present. I take it from this, that he has read Utterance!

In the long run, however, there was inability of all panelists to consider a God who is a personal, tangible reality in our lives with the chair Louise Adler asking for a more concrete definition of faith and God. It wasn’t forthcoming and this was because no one had been invited to speak who actually believes in God this way. It was a timely reminder that atheists and agnostics are searching for something to lovingly but powerfully challenge their unbelief.

A good place to start might be to invite New York minister and author Timothy Keller to next year’s Sydney Writer’s Festival. In the meantime, read his book, The Reason For God – Belief in the age of Scepticism. PH

Listen to a short section of Reza Aslan’s defence of God:

Reza Aslan
Reza Aslan.mp3
Hosted by eSnips

Running with Jesus to provide Bibles for schools

While the battle lines have been drawn over Special Religious Education in NSW public schools, the Bible Society has uncovered a desperate need for Bibles in SRE classes across the state.

Earlier this year the Bible Society sent out a notice to public school scripture teachers in NSW and ACT, inviting requests for Bibles. Anticipating a need for about 10,000 Bibles, the society was instead inundated with requests for 70,000!

‘The few Bibles I have are old, torn and falling apart,’ says Rebecca Mawhinney who teaches scripture at a school with 1,000 students at Beverley Hills.

‘I bring my daughter’s Bible to my class and leave it with them – 23 children have to share it to have a look,’ says Rev Karen Jansson from Stockton.

In response to this need, the Bible Society has joined up with the Jesus All About Life campaign and under the ‘Big Rescue’ banner will field runners in this year’s City to Surf on August 8 to raise sponsorship dollars so they can meet the call for Bibles in schools.

Christians and interested people are urged sign up as City to Surf runners and then visit the fund-raising website Towards the Goal and register individually or as a team. Last year 1200 runners raised $30,000 for the Bible Society and this year they are hoping for 2000 runners to raise at least $60,000.

I am personally considering signing up for the City to Surf so I can help raise funds for Bibles. As it has been some time since I’ve done any running, I need to work out whether this is even humanly possible! Encouragement and promises of sponsorship might just push me over the line… PH

Writers’ festival ‘undefends’ God…

Read, Rethink, Respond... catch-line for Sydney Writers' Festival

At first glance, Christians might be gratified to learn that the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May will feature a session called, In Defence of God. Closer examination though suggests a name change is in order – God Thrown to the Lions… Media reports say festival director, Chip Rolley, felt that ‘God deserved some time’ after recent visits to Australia by high-profile atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

Good one Chip, are you having a joke with us? The session will be chaired by atheist and publisher-in-chief at Melbourne University Press, Louise Adler, and the two speakers are Eric Lax, a lapsed Episcopalian, now described as a ‘hopeful unbeliever’; and Reza Aslan, an acclaimed Muslim scholar and writer. Reza’s surname is the only (accidental) positive reference to Christianity (think CS Lewis). 

The plot (pun intended) thickens when it is realised the session will be held on Sunday 10am (May 23). Now, where would most Christians usually be at 10am on a Sunday?

Read More »

Just enough bread

I nearly forgot… Also in the Utterance side-bar, strategically placed at the top, is a Bible verse for the day automatically updated by BibleGateway . The verse appearing right now as a I write – 2.29pm, March 24, 2010, is James 1:12. Here’s my comment on this verse (also verse 11) appearing in my devotional book, Transform Your Faith:

‘James continues to assault the false sense of security we draw from material things. He focuses on that human tendency to try and give our lives meaning by accumulating money, possessions, power, position, fame, and accomplishments. These things aren’t necessarily wrong in themselves, but if we use them as a substitute for God then we are in serious danger. We are reminded that “people will fade away with all their achievements” just like the grass dries up and the flowers wither and fade. Secretly we all know this, even if we do tend to buy into this materialistic approach to life. Something deep inside yearns for eternal things. The good news is that God offers a “crown of [eternal] life” to those who love him and stay faithful to him, regardless of the opposition we may face. This is an offer that does not depend on our works because in the long run, nothing we can do will earn us a spot in heaven. Instead we are encouraged to enter into a relationship with God through Jesus – a relationship built on life-long love. Rich or poor, we can look forward to our earthly lives being crowned with eternal life if we make loving God our first priority…