Friday, November 8, 2019

Sing a Song of Seasons by Fiona Waters

Most modern poetry for children is twaddle, so I was delighted to find an exception in Fiona Water's collection, Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year. Not only has Waters chosen fine poems filled with rich language, she chose an illustrator who captured the whimsy and wonder of the natural world. (I am troubled by the garish, cartoony figures in most children's books.)

Sing a Song of Seasons offers 365 bite-sized poems that coincide nicely with each season of the year. Several well-known poets are included such as Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Cristina Rossetti, but most are more modern. The choices are child-friendly without being too silly which shows a surprising respect for young readers. I am very hard to please when it comes to poetry, yet there were very few poems in this collection that fell completely flat. Most had gentle alliteration, beautiful imagery, and rich vocabulary. The entry for February 18:

The round full moon, 
So clear and white, 
How brightly she shines
On a winter night! 
Slowly she rises, 
Higher and higher, 
With a cold clear light, 
Like ice on fire.

Some entries will cause the reader to wonder at their meaning, but in a positive way. Take the July 19th poem for example:

I wish I was 
a dragonfly
in sungleam.

This would be a lovely, painless way to introduce your children or grandchildren to beautiful language. The books ends appropriately with a non-nature poem that emphasizes the pleasure of having poetry swimming around in your brain: Keep a poem in your pocket and a picture in your head and you'll never feel lonely at night when you're in bed.

Highly recommended!


Friday, November 1, 2019

What I Read and Watched in October

Seven books and seven movies this month. (Husband out of town for ten days!)

First, the movies. 1) Shazam came highly recommended by our son who said it had Christian themes. It was pretty juvenile, but I appreciated one strong image of a demon devouring a man, a gruesome reminder of what sin does to us. 2) Downton Abbey was beautiful in its painstaking attention to details and there were several happy endings for beloved characters. But it was ruined for me by one of the sub stories. 3) Christopher Robin with Ewan McGregor was delightful. 4) The Bookshop was an understated British film about a woman who opens a book store in a little village. The movie is sad, yet somehow triumphant. 5) Tolkien was beautifully filmed, but showed only a slice of Tolkien's early life. 6) I watched a couple of Hallmark movies, but, frankly, I rarely remember their titles because they all run together in my mind.

I'm reading mostly non-fiction these days. 1) Matt Perman's rambling treatise on time management, How to Get Unstuck, 2) Rosaria Butterfield's third book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, 3) The Class Meeting by Kevin Watson, 4) As Long as They're Laughing, a look at a 1950's quiz show, and 5) Poetry as a Means of Grace by Charles G. Osgood (English professor at Princeton in the early 1900s.) 6) A Little Moonlight by Betty Neels was the only fiction title I read. Finally, I read The War Romance of the Salvation Army by Grace Livingston Hill, which took me completely by surprise because it was definitely not a romance.


Friday, October 25, 2019

The War Romance of the Salvation Army by Grace Livingston Hill and Evangeline Booth

I read Grace Livingston Hill books voraciously in high school, sometimes one per day. But as my reading tastes matured, I moved on to other authors and never looked back. So I was a little stunned when my sister-in-law gave me The War Romance of the Salvation Army. Who knew that Hill even wrote non-fiction? Her fans might be confused by the title since she was a popular writer of romance novels, but the word "romance" in the title refers to the old-fashioned definition (adventure and chivalry).

(The soldiers learned better
than to flirt with these
no-nonsense girls.)
Evangeline Booth, the commander of the Salvation Army in the U.S. (1904-1934) was too busy to write a book herself, so she gave hundreds of letters and documents to Hill. Hill strung them together into a fascinating, albeit overlong, array of anecdotes about the 40,000 Salvationists who offered physical and spiritual comfort to men in the trenches of France during WWI. Most stories were told in a straightforward manner, but a few bordered on sentimentality, which should be no surprise to those who are familiar with GLH novels.

(Modern Cover)
The "Sallies" did everything they could: from driving ambulances, to helping in hospitals, to frying thousands of doughnuts for war-weary soldiers. The Salvation Army hut had candy and toiletries for sale, free lemonade and coffee, and often a Victrola for playing records from home.The grateful men filled up the tent for the evening church services.

I thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse into the sacrificial service of the men and women of the Salvation Army during this horrific time in world history. It was serendipitous that I read this just after finishing The Gospel Comes with a House Key because, in a way, the Salvationists were showing hospitality by bringing the comforts of home to the fighting men.

Written in 1919, The War Romance of the Salvation Army gives a fascinating look at one denomination's outreach to soldiers during World War One. A short video about this is available here.


Friday, October 18, 2019

The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield

There are, of course, other ways you can use your days, your time, your 
money, and your home. But opening your front door and greeting neighbors
 with soup, bread, and the words of Jesus are the most important. 

Not since Open Heart, Open Home (Karen Burton Mains 1973), has there been a better "anti-hospitality" book than Butterfield's latest title, The Gospel Comes with a House Key. It is "anti" in the sense that it eschews modern ideas of perfect homes and perfect menus as the requirement for receiving guests. Hospitality is a dying art since few have perfect homes and those who have them would rather protect them than welcome in folks who might "ruin" them. The household that loves things too much and loves people too little cannot honor God through the practice of radically ordinary hospitality... Sometimes Christians tell me that they don't practice hospitality because they don't have enough space, dishes, or food. They fear that they do not have enough to give. This is a false fear that no one should heed. Hospitality shares what there is; that's all.It's not entertainment. It's not supposed to be.

Butterfield contends that authentic hospitality is the strongest witness we Christians can have. Let's face it: we have become unwelcome guests in this post-Christian world. Conservative Christianity is dismissed as irrelevant, irrational, discriminatory, and dangerous. To a world that mistrusts us, we must be transparently hospitable.

The ultimate purpose of opening our homes is so that others may come to know Christ. She warns against the two extremes of building protective walls (condemning those outside) or accepting everyone while ignoring sinful behavior, reinventing Christianity that fits nicely on the "coexist" bumper sticker, avoiding the cross and bowing to the idols of our day: consumerism and sexual autonomy.... We are not extending grace to people when we encourage them to sin against God. Grace always leads to Christ's atoning blood. Grace leads to repentance and obedience. Grace fulfills the law of God, in both heart and conduct. When we try to be more merciful than God, we put a millstone around the neck of the person we wish to help.

I appreciated her reminder that when Christians open their home to non-Christians, they lose the right to protect their reputations. Her own example of befriending a neighbor who turned out to be a drug dealer highlights some of the dilemmas they willingly faced to extend the love of Christ to him. I also appreciated her sharing about how she, an introvert, manages to have a house constantly full of people.  Knowing your personality and your sensitivity does not excuse you from ministry. It means that you need to prepare for it differently than others might.

Lots of things in this book will make you uncomfortable. Because it's convicting. Because real hospitality is messy. And because sometimes it feels like Butterfield is tooting her own horn. (I honestly don't think she intends to, but I know from experience that it's hard to describe your ministry successes without sounding prideful).

I was greatly encouraged to worry less about impressing guests, and to simply share what we have with others.


Friday, October 4, 2019

Thoughts on Prayer by Oswald Chambers

Prayer develops and nourishes the life of God in us. We generally look upon prayer as a means of getting things for ourselves, but the biblical idea of prayer is that God’s holiness, purpose, and wise order may be brought about. 

“Your Father knows the thing you have need of before you ask Him”(Matt 6:8). Then why ask? Very evidently our ideas about prayer and Jesus Christ’s are not the same. Prayer to Him is not a way to get things from God, but so that we may get to know God. Prayer is not to be used as the privilege of a spoiled child seeking ideal conditions to indulge his spiritual propensities. The purpose of prayer is to reveal the presence of God, equally present at all times and in every condition.

During a war many pray for the first time. It is not cowardly to pray when we are at our wits’ end. It is the only way to get in touch with reality. As long as we are self-sufficient and complacent, we don’t need to ask God for anything. We don’t want Him. It is only when we know we are powerless that we are prepared to listen to Jesus and to do what He says.

It is not so true that “prayer changes things” as that prayer changes us.

(All above quotes are from If You Will Ask: Reflections on Prayer by Oswald Chambers)


Friday, September 27, 2019

What I Read and Watched in September

We finally had enough down time to watch movies, and I'm surprised at how many we watched. We liked them all, but I'm ranking them in order from "okay" to "really good."

The Long Goodbye - a documentary on Netflix about Kara Tippet's battle with cancer. Good, but not fun to watch if you know what I mean.
Overcomer - newest Kendrick Brothers' pic at the theatre. We liked this, but the Christian clich├ęs were pretty thick by the end.
Maltese Falcon (1941) - saw this classic in the theatre, but didn't love it as much as I thought I would.
Good Sam (link leads to trailer) - Clean movie on Netflix. Fun, but too much like a Hallmark movie by the end.
Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (link leads to trailer) - on Netflix. What's not to love about a film that shows the transforming power of books? Plus three actors from Downton Abbey. Beautifully filmed.
The More the Merrier (1943) - A favorite screwball comedy with Jean Arthur
Ramen Shop (link leads to trailer) - on Netflix. Japanese foodie movie. Showed the importance of love and forgiveness without all the preachiness.

I read five books. Village Diary by Miss Read was a treat. So was the mystery Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart. I read a good missionary biography called An Irrepressible Passion and a disappointing cookbook called How to Eat by Nigella Lawson. I only made it halfway through James Russel Lowell's poetry book Heartsease and Rue because it was so unpleasant.


Friday, September 20, 2019

Village Diary by Miss Read

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single school teacher of a certain age, must be in want of a husband. And the folks of Fairacre are certain that the newest bachelor in town must be heaven-sent for their favorite spinster, Miss Read. She isn't interested in him in the least, but when he chooses another, the townspeople kindly express their regrets to her. Happily, she sees the bright side of their meddling:

Sitting alone, in that quiet classroom, with only the tick of the wall clock and the faint shouts of my approaching pupils to be heard, I felt perhaps more keenly than ever before, just what it means to be a villager - someone whose welfare is of interest (sometimes of unwelcome interest) to one's neighbors - but always to matter. It was a warming thought - to be part of a small, living community, members one of another, so closely linked by ties of kinship, work and the parish boundaries, that the supposed unhappiness of one elderly woman affected all.

Village Diary is book two in the series and includes all the same characters (over 30 of them) as book one, and adds Amy, Miss Read's well-heeled friend from London. Her busy, plush life is in stark contrast with the village school teacher's, but Miss Read would much rather live quietly. She writes:  I, finding myself remarkably uninteresting, am only too pleased to observe others and the natural objects around me. Thus I am spared the pangs of self-reproach, and, as my lot is cast in pleasant places, find endless cause for happiness and amusement.

These books are not Christian fiction (thank goodness!) but they frequently contain biblical references (like the highlighted phrase above) and contain Christian themes (community, grace, forgiveness, etc. ) Plus the writing is delightful: Outside the post office grow three fine lime trees, murmurous with bees on summer afternoons.

I'm still not sure I'll love Fairacre as much as Thrush Green, but I've enjoyed the first two novels.