The Commodification of God

Commodification has led most people to view God as a device to be used rather than an all-powerful Creator to be revered. This also explains our abundant and careless words about him. Is it any surprise that a divine butler would fail to provoke reverent silence? What need is there to rein in one’s tongue if God is merely a cosmic therapist? The god of Consumer Christianity does not inspire awe and wonder because he is nothing more than a commodity to be used for our personal satisfaction and self-achievement.

— The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity” by Skye Jethani

Midnight Riot (Peter Grant, Book 1) by Ben Aaronovitch


As the handful of people who read this blog regularly, or who follow me on Goodreads, know I have gotten in the habit of listening to audiobooks and lectures on my daily commute.  What I have found is that neither the overly-complex nor the particularly subtle, literary or quiet work well in the car.  Relatively straightforward lectures or history can work, provided you are in the mood, or fiction with action, plot and drama work best.

I bring this up because I stumbled on a great series for audio book aficionados. I don’t even remember why I put Rivers of London on my Amazon wish list but when looking for potential audiobooks I decided to see it was available on Overdrive.  It turned out it was but under the title Midnight Riot.  And it is a great listen.

midnight-riotProbationary constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny.

Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

This is exactly the type of book that works in the car, at least for me.  It has strong characters, a great setting, an interesting hook and engaging language and style.

Peter Grant is a great character and voice.  An average, or perhaps slightly above average, guy trying to make it as a (mixed-race) copper in London.  He is fascinated by technology, the city, and cars among other things but he is not a particularly adept or perceptive constable.  But the magical elements gives him a potential career path.

The style is witty and laidback; a sort of urban fantasy meets police procedural with a good mix of nerdiness (architecture, computers/phones, music, Harry Potter, etc.) mixed in.  It has an enthusiasm that is contagious.  Which is one of the points of audiobooks in the car; to be entertained while traveling.

The narrator, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, does a great job with the voices and personalities involved. It was like listening to a radio drama. And along the way you get a great sense of London as both a place and as an identity.

The plot is rather convoluted and not particularly tight or tension filled.  But it is the characters and voice of the novel that is the attraction here not the plot.

I found Midnight Riot to be a great combination of fantasy, London as a place and a character, literature, wit and mystery. And I am looking forward to listening to the rest of the Peter Grant series.

The Perfect Pass by S. C. Gwynne


Sunday night I was sitting on the couch with my daughter enjoying a blowout win for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Thanks to their high-powered offense, and some ineptitude on the part of the Kansas City Chiefs, they soon built a three touchdown lead and never looked back.

What does this have to do with a book you review, you might be asking.  Well, it has to do with the change in the game of football and the Steelers are a good example of these changes.  Steelers football for years was identified with a punishing running game and a stingy defense.  These days it is more about its star QB Ben Roethlisberger, his favorite target Antonio Brown, and the other weapons he has around him.  Even running back Le’veon Bell, the other star in the backfield, plays an important role in the passing game.

And S.C. Gwynne argues we have Hal Mumme to thank for that.  Gwynne is the author of The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football, an interesting story about influential football coach and thinker/strategist Hal Mumme.

the-perfect-pass-9781501116193_hrIn the tradition of Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, award-winning historian S.C. Gwynne tells the incredible story of how two unknown coaches revolutionized American football at every level, from high school to the NFL.

Hal Mumme is one of a handful of authentic offensive geniuses in the history of American football. The Perfect Pass is the story of how he irreverently destroyed and re-created the game.

Mumme spent fourteen mostly losing seasons coaching football before inventing a potent passing offense that would soon shock players, delight fans, and terrify opposing coaches. The revolution he fomented began at a tiny, overlooked college called Iowa Wesleyan, where Mumme was head coach and Mike Leach, a lawyer who had never played college football, was hired as his offensive line coach.


In The Perfect Pass, S.C. Gwynne explores Mumme’s leading role in changing football from a run-dominated sport to a pass-dominated one, the game that tens of millions of Americans now watch every fall weekend. Whether you’re a casual or ravenous football fan, this is a truly compelling story of American ingenuity and how a set of revolutionary ideas made their way from the margins into the hot center of the game we celebrate today.

There are basically two threads in the book: one focused on Mumme’s coaching career through high school and obscure colleges before a brief stint at Kentucky in the powerhouse SEC; and another focused on the development of his famous Air Raid offense.

Continue reading →

How William F. Buckley Put Liberal America on The Firing Line

For some odd reason I had not really listened to the Federalist Radio Hour until just recently.  This despite being a huge fan of The Transom and all things Ben Domenech. But I am now tuning in on a regular basis.  He has had some fascinating authors on for extended conversations and it is refreshing in today’s soundbite world.

Speaking of that, I just finished listening to his conversation with Heather Hendershot, professor of film and media at MIT, and the author of the new book, “Open to Debate: How William F. Buckley Put Liberal America on The Firing Line.”  It is worth a listen.

The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg

A Swedish novel, The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg, is a charming story of a group of senior citizens stuck in a nursing home.

The premise of the book is that the leader of the group, Martha, is tired of nursing home life and does not want to end her days in a nursing home whose management has gotten progressively more stingy. So, she hatches a plan with four of her fellow residents, to “break out” of the home and commit a robbery. However, they do not want to keep the loot, but want to get caught so they go to prison and enjoy the good food and shelter offered by prison. Things soon go awry.

The book is an endearing and heartwarming tale of respecting our elders and realizing that life should not end at retirement. Ingelman-Sundberg brings life to an older generation that is often overlooked and quickly forgotten.  She asserts, through her story, that life should not end when a person gets old.

Each member of the gang brings their own unique talents. For example, Brains brings the innovation and Anna-Greta brings the math and money management skills. Their combined talents help their plan to succeed.

There are many surprising and funny scenes. For instance, the planning and execution of the robbery is hilarious. The group is overlooked as suspects because the thought being old people would never be able to pull off a heist of epic proportions.

A must-read for people who overlook the older and mostly wiser seniors in our world.

The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel by Uri Bar-Joseph

The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel by Uri Bar-Joseph is an excellent book about Ashraf Marwan, son-in-law to late Egyptian president Gamal Nasser.

Here is a synopsis of the book from the publisher:

A riveting feat of research and reportage, The Angel explores one of the twentieth century’s most compelling spy stories: the sensational life and suspicious death of Ashraf Marwan, a top-level Egyptian official who secretly worked for Israel’s Mossad.

As the son-in-law of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and a close adviser to his successor, Anwar Sadat, Ashraf Marwan had access to the deepest secrets of his country’s government. But Marwan had a secret of his own: He was a spy for the Mossad, Israel’s renowned intelligence service. Known to his handlers as “the Angel,” Marwan turned Egypt into an open book and saved Israel from a devastating defeat by tipping off the Mossad in advance of the joint Egyptian-Syrian attack on Yom Kippur in 1973.

Remarkably, Marwan eluded Egypt’s ruthless secret police for decades. In later years he enjoyed a luxurious life—but that would come to an abrupt end in 2007, when his body was found in a bed of roses in the garden below his apartment building in London. Police suspected he had been thrown from his balcony on the fifth floor, but the case has remained unsolved. Until now.

After Marwan died, details of his shadowy life were slowly revealed. Drawing on meticulous research and exclusive interviews with key figures involved, The Angel is the first book to discuss Marwan’s motives, how his identity as a Mossad spy was deliberately exposed by none other than the former chief of Israel’s Military Intelligence, and how the information he provided was used—and misused. Expanding on this focus, it sheds new light on the modern history of the Middle East and the crucial role of human espionage in shaping the fate of nations. And, for the first time, it answers the questions haunting Marwan’s legacy: In the end, whom did Ashraf Marwan really betray? And who killed him?

After reading the book and some comments about the book, I feel like I was living in a hole when Marwan was killed. I feel this way because I had never heard of him. I understand it was not as big of a deal in the U.S. due to his influence in Middle Eastern affairs, but those affairs affected our relations in the region (especially with key ally Israel).

Joseph painstakingly outlines Marwan’s relationship with Mossad. He explores Marwan’s motives for spying on Egypt for Egypt’s mortal enemy at the time. This discussion is fascinating because it delves into Marwan’s psyche – if Joseph is correct, Marwan’s reasoning does not completely make sense to me.

The most interesting part of the book is the Israeli response to the intelligence that Marwan fed to them. Based on Joseph’s account, it is almost too hard to believe that Israeli military intelligence was that completely inept when deciding not to believe the intelligence that Egypt was preparing to attack to start the Yom Kippur War. All indications were pointing to an attack, but many Israelis chose to not believe it because they had it in their minds that the Egyptians would not attack (they felt that the Egyptian military even thought they would fail in an attack). However, these Israelis did not take into account Sadat’s erratic thinking.

One final note is on Joseph’s scathing criticism of Eli Zeira, Israel’s director of Military Intelligence during the Yom Kippur War. Joseph claims that Zeira purposely revealed Marwan’s name. Zeira did this to defend his actions in not believing Marwan before the War. Zeira contended that Marwan was a double agent and was not to be trusted – Zeira tried to convince the general public of this in many ways.