Friday, November 9, 2018

Katherine Wentworth by D.E. Stevenson

Sometimes a book comes along at just the right time and is pure pleasure. That's how I felt when I started reading Katherine Wentworth. The calm dignity of the protagonist, the stark beauty of the Scottish countryside, the stalwart friendship of Alec, and the gentle kindnesses of the minor characters all joined together to make a refreshing tonic for my tired heart. Underneath it all is a current of quiet happiness that I found irresistible.

Katherine is a widow raising three children. She's come through the heartache of losing her husband and has learned to be independent and self-sufficient. She is strong, yet insecure enough to be believable. When a new man comes into her life, however, she isn't the least bit interested in matrimony.

As I read, I was reminded of C.S. Lewis' assertion that we are most truly ourselves when we forget ourselves. The most likable characters in the novel are those who lack self-consciousness: the twins, Mrs. RacRam (the cook/housekeeper), the vicar and his wife, Katherine and Alec.The unpleasant people are those who are tied up in knots over their own happiness (or lack thereof).

It was rewarding to see how the sensible characters interacted with the difficult ones. One of the themes is the folly of riches as a means of happiness. Several Wentworth family members are suffering under the burden of wealth because they have nothing meaningful to do with their lives. Katherine, on the other hand, is struggling to raise the children on a limited budget, but finds joy in it.

In addition to the fine writing and good storytelling, I enjoyed the literary references from the Bible, King Lear, Robert Burn's, and Pilgrim's Progress. I enjoyed this book so much that I read the sequel,  Katherine's Marriage, in one gulp.

Blessings,

Friday, November 2, 2018

What I Read and Watched in October

I broke some kind of record this month (11 books) because I had an unusually large amount of time for reading (I got paid to sit in a classroom while students worked independently!) and because some of the books were ones I'd been reading slowly for many weeks and just happened to finish up at the same time.

Mere Christianity was by far the best title of the month, followed by Katherine Wentworth (review forthcoming) and On the Banks of Plum Creek.

Other titles: The Scarlet Pimpernel, True to You (CF), 100 Bible Verses Everyone Should Learn by Heart, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Poems Every Catholic Should Know, Complete Works of Richard Crashaw (Vol. 1), and Where the Red Fern Grows.

I read just 2 1/2 Victorian novels for Victober: The Doctor's Family by Oliphant, The Bird's Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggins, and I'm half way through Oliver Twist.

My husband and I don't watch television so on free evenings we are enjoying our second time through the Larkrise to Candleford DVDs. We intersperse these with Season 2 of the old Perry Mason courtroom dramas. I watched an interesting movie on YouTube called "Summer Snow," about a family dealing with the death of their mother. It was less syrupy than most Christian films.

Blessings,
 

Friday, October 26, 2018

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Frankly, one does not review a classic like Mere Christianity. I can only give my impressions and an overview of its themes. The book is based on a series of broadcasts that Lewis gave on BBC radio between 1941 and 1944 to explain the basic tenets of Christianity. It continues to have great impact because Lewis avoided theological jargon and explained each concept as simply as possible.But even though he had a gift for cutting through rhetoric to get to the heart of an issue, there are still difficult bits.

I always enjoy Christian authors who dare to go against the modern myth that if you come to Christ, all your problems will go away. The idea that God is an indulgent father who makes our wishes come true and demands little in return is understandably popular. But Lewis is having none of that!

Regarding the belief the God is an impersonal life-force: This is a tame sort of God. You can switch it on when you want but it will not bother you. [It has] all the thrills of religion and none of the cost. (p. 35)

The Moral Law does not give us any grounds for thinking that God is good in the sense of being indulgent, or soft, or sympathetic. There is nothing indulgent about the moral law. it is as hard as nails. It tells you to do the straight thing and it does not seem to care how painful, or dangerous, or difficult it is to do. (p.37)

Atheism is too simple. And I will tell you of another view that it too simple. It is the view I call Christianity-and-water, the view which simply says there is a God in heaven and everything is all right - leaving out of all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil... (p.46)

Book 4, Chapter 9 emphasizes the painful changes that must take place in us as we are being formed into Christ's image. I will restrain myself from sharing the dozens of other passages I highlighted, but must mention that the most important section in the book may be Book 3, Chapter 1 on "The Three Parts of Morality" because it answers the vital question, "If what I'm doing doesn't hurt anyone else, then how can it be wrong?"

He starts the book making a case for doctrine and moral law, but finishes by making a plea for us to fully surrender our lives to Christ. Lewis contends that the more we lose ourselves in Christ the more human (and fully ourselves) we become. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in. (p.190)

This is a book to read carefully and prayerfully. Well worth the effort!

There is an audio version on YouTube.

Blessings,

Friday, October 19, 2018

100 Bible Verses Everyone Should Learn by Heart by Robert J. Morgan


I have seen 100 Bible Verses Everyone Should Learn offered on Amazon and have wondered if it was worth getting. I was glad to finally find a copy to help me decide.

I would highly recommend this book to those who are new to Scripture memory. Morgan has preached his way through each passage and does a wonderful job of explaining the importance of each carefully selected verse. The intro includes inspirational stories of many whose lives had been transformed by hiding God's Word in their hearts. I especially enjoyed the story of Vietnam P.O.W. Howard Rutledge as shared in his bio, In the Presence of Mine Enemies: Bible verses literally kept him from losing his mind. The memorized snippets of Scripture in his brain were potent. They faced down death, rallied his spirits, steeled his nerves, and tapped into the deepest strength known in the universe. They beat back the torture, stifled the despair, and subdued the terrors he felt. Those verses were the reason he came home alive. (p. 20)

After forty-seven pages of introduction, Morgan devotes 200 pages to the verses themselves. The book is more than just a list of important verses. In the main section Morgan carefully shows how each suggested verse builds on the previous, giving a thorough explanation of the implications of each passage This is essential to Morgan's emphasis that memorization is not just about words remembered, but about truths absorbed. If "Wisdom is seeing life from God’s point of view,” then Scripture memory is a good way to saturate our thinking with God’s way of thinking.

First you have the verse and then the verse has you. (p. 44)

Although Morgan includes a few tips on memorization techniques, the best book I've found on the subject has been An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by Andrew M. Davis. I have used his simple method (slightly modified) for the last two years with great success.

Blessings,

Friday, October 12, 2018

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder

In spite of the recent hoopla on Wilder's legacy, I still think her books should be required reading for American children. Not only are they living history books, they are rich stories of sacrifical love and perseverance in hardship.

On the Banks of the Plum Creek is 4th in the series and chronicles the family's move from Kansas to Minnesota. Upon arrival, Charles Ingalls trades his wagon and mustang horses with a man who wants to head out West. In exchange he receives a plot of land, two oxen and a dugout house. Charles has big plans to harvest wheat and build a fine house for his wife Caroline, not knowing the many discouraging challenges that will delay these dreams. From the very beginning of the book, when little Laura expresses disappointment at the loss of their horses, Pa responds with the sentiment that runs throughout the narrative: We must do the best we can, Laura, and not grumble. What must be done is best done cheerfully.

I appreciated the simple, non-preachy lessons about the Christian life. When the family is able to go to church for the first time the girls knew from Ma's voice that going to church must be better than going to a party. We find out about the cost of disobedience when we read, Laura had been bad and she knew it. She had broken her promise to Pa. But no one had seen her. No one knew that she had started to go to the swimming-hole. If she did not tell, no one would ever know. But she felt worse and worse inside. The fact that Laura repents of some sins and nourishes others shows the struggles of real human being, (as opposed to an Elsie Dinsmore-type.) There are many instances in the book where family members give up their wants for the good of another. These lessons on unselfishness are one of the main reasons parents need to keep reading these books to their children.

Sometimes the very simple language left my heart longing for more eloquence, but there were enough pretty phrases to keep me going: Grey-green lichens with ruffled edges grew flat on the rock. Wandering ants crossed it. Often a butterfly stopped to rest there. Then Laura watched the velvety wings slowly opening and closing, as if the butterfly breathed with them.

Here's A U.S.A. Today article on why we should not ban Wilder's "racist" books.

Blessings,

Friday, October 5, 2018

The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

If there is any children's classic that teaches (true) tolerance better than The House at Pooh Corner, I don't know what it could be. All the animals in The Hundred Acre Wood have their idiosyncrasies, but each one is accepted and loved. There is the overprotective, but kind, Kanga, timid yet noble piglet, pompous Rabbit, pessimistic Eeyore, and obnoxious Tigger. Most important of all is Pooh, that "bear of very little brain" who has a big heart, which may make him the wisest of all.

As I listened to the audio version, I could easily imagine A.A. Milne telling these stories to his little son. Perhaps each animal personality-type was a copy of a child or grown-up they both knew. In any case, the stories of Christopher Robin's toy menagerie are told quite simply. Christopher isn't central to all of them, but when he appears, he radiates a joy and affection that I found quite contagious. Sprinkled throughout each story are acts of kindness, math jokes (which made me laugh out loud), and little bits of wisdom that are never preachy.

Chapter 9 had this little insight into poetry: Poetry and hums aren't things you get. They are things which get you. And all you can do is go where they can find you. Chapter 10 has this delightful description of leisure: Christopher Robin says, What I like doing best is nothing. How do you do nothing? asked Pooh. Well it's when people call out to you just as you are going off to do it, "What are you going to do Christopher Robin?" And you say, "Oh, nothing," And then you go and do it. . . It means just going along and listening to all the things you can't hear and not bothering.

In the last chapter the animals hear that Christopher Robin is going away. Maybe it was referring to boarding school. Or maybe it was a reference to growing up. But it's a lovely, poignant moment as Christopher Robin and Pooh bid each other goodbye.

Peter Dennis does a wonderful job narrating this book (although it took me a while to get used to the snorting sound he uses for Piglet.) He handles the voices well and his British accent makes the understated jokes all the funnier. During the same week that I listened to this audio book I was reading Miss Read's Celebrations at Thrush Green. I was amazed at similarities in the two stories. Mrs. Gibbons IS Rabbit and Albert Piggot IS Eeyore. ha!

This children's classic offers as much for adults as it does for children. Maybe more!

Blessings,

Friday, September 28, 2018

What I Read and Watched in September

Life wasn't quite as crazy this month so I was able to read quite a bit and watch several better-than-average movies. After reading Barbed-Wire University, I watched the 1953 movie Albert R.N., which accurately portrays life in a European POW camp.

Christian movies are often sappy and theologically thin, so I was pleasantly surprised by Paul, The Apostle of Christ. The writing and acting were good and the ending was magnificent. (Quite a nice change from modern drivel that teaches if you come to Christ all your problems will go away.) One more movie I watched was The Trip to Bountiful. I'm a sucker for any movie based on a play because it usually has good dialogue. This 1985 film is about an elderly woman who dreams of returning to the town where she grew up. It is slow-moving, heartbreaking, and garnered the Oscar for best actress for Geraldine Page.

As far as reading goes, I slowly worked my way through C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity (3 to 4 pages a day) and loved every bit of it. I listened to The Scarlet Pimpernel (for the umpteenth time) whenever I was working in the kitchen. But that was only after I'd listened to House at Pooh Corner TWICE. Lovely!

Three books that were okay, but that didn't wow me, were Miss Read's Celebrations at Thrush Green, Anthony Trollope's Dr. Wortle's School, and 101 Great American Poems.

Anyone else familiar with Kate Howe's Victober Book Challenge? Every year in October she encourages her listeners to read more Victorian literature. I'm already a big fan, but I appreciate the nudge to add more of it to my literary diet. I hope to read one Charles Dickens title and one Thomas Hardy. Here's her video introducing the challenge.

Blessings,