When cramming for an exam at Harvard Law School, Thomas Rollins felt woefully unprepared. So he obtained videotaped lectures of a noted authority in the field. To his amazement, the lectures “were outrageously insightful, funny, and thorough.”
Years later, when he felt the wisp of educational nostalgia resurging, Rollins founded The Teaching Company (www.teach12.com), capturing excellent university lecturers in many disciplines on audio and video recordings. A friend and I first bought Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition together, and I’ve thanked Rollins ever since. These stimulating lectures have broadened my horizons and deepened my understanding of so many dimensions of human existence. Religion, history and philosophy are my draws, although I constantly dabble in all disciplines. Professor David Zarefsky’s final lecture on Abraham Lincoln brought tears to my eyes.
I’ve since added The Modern Scholar lectures from Recorded Books (www.modernscholar.com) to my ear-candy collection. Though the lecturers are less consistently out-of-the-ballpark-great as those of The Teaching Company (and sometimes there are obvious editing mistakes), these are also more than worth the price. Listening to Timothy Schutt recount the “Wars That Made the Western World” is about as fascinating and intriguing as human communication can get. Marvelous!
A host of free resources can also be found online. YouTube has created a separate address (www.youtube.com/edu) for university lectures. The sheer volume of presentations available is daunting, but viewers can click on the “Most Viewed” videos to find plenty of great options.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a leader in the field of online open classrooms. While the focus is obviously on the sciences, all courses found at http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/web/courses/courses/index.htm are incredibly interesting, even for non-scientists. A host of other university courses can be found at http://internet-tv-search-engine-swicki.eurekster.com/online+lectures/?=lectures.
Most engaging for its truly broad diversity of scintillating presentations, with none more than 20 minutes in length, is www.TED.com. A dose each day will make you the most interesting conversationalist on the block.
This fall, when the buses roll through your neighborhood, don’t miss out. Go back to school in your car or home or even at your computer.
reviewed by Robert Keeley
In their new album No Line on the Horizon, U2 looks into the future and sees a time when there is no line separating heaven and earth, when there is justice and peace. They sprinkle their songs with scriptural references but keep them oblique enough that fans can spend weeks figuring out what they had in mind. One song is clear, though: “Magnificent” is a beautiful psalm of praise and one of the highlights of this thoughtful and compelling album. The psalm references will continue when the companion, Songs of Ascent, is released later this year. (Interscope)
by Steven Waldman
reviewed by Wayne Brouwer
Some say the United States was fashioned by Christians establishing a biblical theocracy. Others maintain that Enlightenment rationalism was the only religion of the founding fathers. In a wonderfully clear, concise, readable study, Waldman finds a truth somewhere in-between. Digging into the lives and writings of Franklin, Adams, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, he reconstructs their intentions. Ensuring that there would never be a national church, they safeguarded both political and religious freedom in a historical first. (Random House)
by Hillary Jordan
reviewed by Kathryn Hoffman
At a farm called Mudbound, both the white owner and the black sharecropper welcome home their beloved sons from the horrors of World War II. The young men struggle to adapt to life at home while trying to reconcile themselves with their new battleground: the racist South. Told through alternating voices, Hillary Jordan’s novel draws readers into the world of the Mississippi Delta and into the lives of unforgettable characters bound by tragedy and love. (Algonquin)
reviewed by Ron DeBoer
This public television DVD presents concrete proof of the existence of—among many other biblical facts—Solomon’s palace and the Israelite people. Using models and special effects, along with the perspectives of the world’s most renowned historians, this film presents 100 years of excavation and centuries of biblical scholarship, digging deep into the origins of the Old Testament. I liked the film because, even though I have faith that every word of the Bible is true, the findings of highly respected archaeologists proving biblical facts makes me feel really good. For video previews, see www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bible/.
by James Orbinski, M.D.
reviewed by Jim Romahn
After serving in Rwanda, Somalia, and Afghanistan, Dr. James Orbinski of Canada was elected president of Doctors Without Borders/Medicins sans Frontiéres. Besides graphic descriptions of the horrors he saw, this book tells how the organization lobbied for justice in a number of places, calling individual countries and the United Nations to account. While those countries were not always pleased with them, Doctors Without Borders won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee works in many of the places Orbinski describes, facing the issues he explores. (Doubleday Canada)
by Stephanie Innes and Harry Endrulat
reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema
In 1916, Teddy makes a remarkable journey in a care package from the loving arms of his young Canadian owner, Aileen, to her father on the battlefields of France. While there, Aileen’s father derives strength from Teddy’s company, knowing the love that sent him there. A year later, Teddy returns home, but Aileen’s father doesn’t. Told from Teddy’s perspective, this poignant children’s picture book, based on true events, shows children the power of love at work in dangerous and desperate places. (Key Porter)
A Shoe for a Shoe: TOMS offers canvas and vegan shoes with a philanthropic twist. Each time a customer purchases a pair of shoes, TOMS gives a pair of shoes to a child in need
Star Power: Rob Bell’s latest book, Drops Like Stars, examines the connection between suffering and creativity. (Zondervan)
Hit the Holy Road: Check out Travelujah.com for a website focused on travel in the Holy Land. Gather travel information, share your trips and photos, and, of course, they’d also be happy to sell you a tour.
A Good Hart: The book I Did It His Way is a collection of religious-themed comics by the late Christian cartoonist Johnny Hart, creator of the long-running “B.C.” comic strip. (Thomas Nelson)