Friday, September 23, 2016

A Year With G.K. Chesterton: 365 Days of Wit, Wisdom and Wonder

I've written before that Chesterton is good in small doses. His genius is so far beyond me that I'm happy when I understand a tenth of what he is saying. So, a daily "bite-sized" devotional book is a clever, manageable way to become acquainted with his way of thinking. Each reading includes a verse, two short paragraphs from his writings (strangely, the source of the first one is never given) and a "this-day-in-history" entry showing what G.K. was doing on that particular day (lecturing, releasing a book, traveling, etc.)

A Year with G.K. Chesterton is not a typical devotional in the sense that it gives daily inspiration from Scripture. Because of his strong Catholic beliefs, his essays presuppose the existence of God. But many readings are critiques of writers such as Dickens, Milton and Bunyan.

So why read it? Frankly, because a daily dose of sparkling lucidity braces you to face the ever increasing foolishness of our culture and our world. Somehow the air I was breathing felt clearer after a page of  G.K. His fierce optimism and childlike wonder were a daily uplift. As was his beautiful language.

On the trinity: God himself is a society. It is indeed a fathomless mystery of theology. Suffice it to say here that this triple enigma is as comforting as wine and as open as an English fireside. This thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart.

On how fairy tales reflect the gospel: In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.

A lovely book. If you adjust your expectations to this as a "devotional" (as something mentally rather than spiritually invigorating), it would make a great addition to your daily quiet time.

One of Chesterton's critic's described him well: His wordy rockets soar desperately into the dark, pause, break into a cascade of stars, and, there, to our astonished gaze, lie momentarily revealed the peaceful landscape of simple truth.

Friday, September 16, 2016

An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by Andrew M. Davis

Who knew that this 30 page booklet would cause a quiet revolution in my life? For years I've been wanting to memorize poems and larger chunks of scripture, but the busyness of life kept me from taking steps to actually do so. Some books I read on memorization (featuring mnemonics where each word is an outlandish mind picture) didn't appeal to me because that system robbed the literary pieces of their beauty.

Enter Andrew M. Davis. In his book An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture, he gives tips for perseverance rather than mind tricks. With his system you choose a passage and decide how many days it will take to memorize it. (I chose Psalm 103 and scheduled in five minutes a day for 30 days.) You begin the first day reciting the first verse 20 times. The second day you recite it ten times and then add the next verse. So simple!

I have to admit I hit a wall with by verse 16 (of 22) so I spent an extra week on those initial verses before going on to the final ones. I'm still a bit shaky with the last six verses but I'm in phase two of the passage, which is to say the whole thing out loud for the next 20 days. I'm confident I will have it well in hand by the end of the month.

Like a good meal, a good workout, or a good book, Bible memorization leaves you feeling fortified, energized and satisfied. I knew it would be work, but I didn't realize how rewarding it would be. 

By the way, I've tried memorization before by placing a poem on my Kindle cover or in my purse to look at in off moments, but making the piece to be memorized a part of my daily devotions has made all the difference in going from haphazardness to consistency.

Worth every penny of the 99 cents I paid for it.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Golden Road by L.M. Montgomery

The Golden Road (The Story Girl, book 2) cannot be read as a "stand alone," since Montgomery takes little pains to reintroduce the characters from the previous book. Many former adventures are referred to so it would be good to read Story Girl and Golden Road back to back.

In the first book I laughed unkindly at the ever practical Felicity in comparison to the whimsical, delightful Sara Stanley. But in the second book I saw how important she was to balance out the wildly imaginative characters. Because she was less vocal in the second half of book two, it was too sentimental for my tastes.
But the humor was still there. One of Peter’s New Year resolutions is to refrain from unkind remarks to his sister, but what he does instead is laugh-out-loud funny.

And the beautiful writing: Our summer was over. It had been a beautiful one. We had known the sweetness of common joys, the delight of dawns, the dream of glamour of noontides, the long, purple peace of carefree nights. We had had the pleasure of bird song, of silver rain on greening fields, of storm among the trees, of blossoming meadows, and the converse of whispering leaves. We had had brotherhood and wind and star, with books and tales, and hearth fires of autumn. Ours had been the little loving tasks of every day, blithe companionship, shared thoughts, and adventuring. Rich were we in the memory of those opulent months that had gone from us – richer than we then knew.

We don’t really find out what happens to the children when they grow up except through the Story Girl's shrewd predictions. We can assume things will play out as she suggests, but the open ending left me a little sad. Maybe that was what Montgomery wanted to convey. The Golden Road of innocent and carefree youth must have its end.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Books I Read in August

Now that we've practically given up T.V., I'm reading two to three books per week. But since we've had a stressful year, I've read a lot more fluff than usual (free Christian novels). Here's a recap of August:

Guarded - Correll (superior Christian fiction for 99 cents)
The Recipe - Candice Culvert (a pleasant, short book which was free, but is now $2.50)
The Little Duke - Charlotte Yonge (YA vintage fiction, free for Kindle)
The Wedding Invitation - A. Wisler (okay Christian fiction, unappealing protagonists, but great sub-characters)
Wisdom and Wonder - Abraham Kuyper (a gentle introduction to "common grace", 99 cents)
Rasberry Jam - Wells (okay vintage mystery, free for Kindle)
The Story Girl by L.M. Mongomery (excellent vintage YA fiction, free for Kindle)
The Christian Book of Mystical Verse - Tozer (hymns and poems, some gems, $2)
The Golden Road - L.M. Montgomery (free for Kindle, sequel to Story Girl)
Humility - Andrew Murray (outstanding book on the beauty of a surrendered life, free for a limited time)
The Measure of Katie Calloway - Miller (far superior to most Christian fiction except for the unnecessary references to bodily functions, free for a limited time)

Titles in purple were (or will be) reviewed on this blog. All the others were reviewed by me at Goodreads.

Also, I post links almost daily on the Worthwhile Books Facebook page for free or reduced e-books.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Wisdom and Wonder by Abraham Kuyper

I'd have to write a very long post to do Wisdom and Wonder justice, but I'll be as brief as I can. 

Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was a Dutch theologian and political leader who wrote tirelessly on the necessity of integrating faith and life. One of his most famous themes was common grace: 

Common grace responds to the question: "How does the world go on after sin's entrance and how is it possible that 'good' things emerge from the hands of humans within and without a covenant relationship with God?" Common grace is God's restraint of the full effect of sin after the Fall.

Because of common grace, secular scientists and artists can honor God in how they pursue their fields. Kuyper's definition of science is broader than our present day view because in that term he includes all reason, knowledge, and truth. Divine thinking is embedded in all of creation. All things have proceeded from the thinking of God, from the consciousness of God, from the Word of God. God created in human beings, as his image-bearers, the capacity to understand, to grasp, to reflect, and to arrange within a totality these thoughts expressed in creation. The essence of human science rests on these realities.

Kuyper is occasionally dry, but he is never boring. He asks thought-provoking questions such as, "Would there have been art without the fall?" (Since the fall made a strong contrast between the beautiful and the ugly.) He breaks beauty down into three types: the perfect beauty of Eden, the marred beauty of this present world and the glorious beauty of Heaven. He says we get glimpses of all three kinds in our lives. Have you ever wondered why some things are so beautiful that it hurts? That is a glimpse of heavenly beauty that our human bodies can't adapt to yet.

In writing about art, he writes that it cannot be disconnected from specific standards, disproving the adage that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." According to Scripture, beauty cannot be separated from God. Glory is, in fact, nothing other than the highest degree of beauty. Art cannot be excused from following God's law, and art disgraces itself by seeking that freedom.

On the danger of less noble forms of art (in plays, books, music, or paintings) he says, Repeated exposure to such surface sensations leads our emotions into a discordant condition, weakens our capacity for genuine sensations, and ultimately damages our emotional life.

Not an easy read, but worth the effort to wrestle with these important ideas. Though $15 for the hardcover, it's only 99 cents for Kindle.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery

I confess, I was halfway through The Story Girl before it really grabbed me. At first I thought it was because I had a hard time connecting with childish ways of thinking and talking, but that doesn't make sense since I loved Betsy-Tacy. Then I thought it might be for lack of plot. The book follows half a dozen children through their summer activities and is interwoven with the tales told by the enchanting Sara Stanley. Cousin, Beverly King, and his brother Felix are visiting for the summer and Bev is the narrator/onlooker of interactions between siblings Felicity, Cecily and Daniel, as well as the hired boy Peter, and two neighbor girls, Sara Ray and, of course "the Story Girl."

The more I read it, the more I grew attached to the characters. I appreciated their very honest, child-like opinions and their questions about faith and prayer. This was not the tacked-on religiosity of most Christian novels. These children were brought up in a time when respectable families attended church, and when the adults around them discussed these things. It was very natural for them to parrot the  grown-ups while at the same time pondering the truths behind their words and practices. Delightful biblical allusions are sprinkled throughout such as when one of the aunts "brings tidings of great joy" at Peter's recovery from illness and Beverly responds by saying they had been "given beauty for ashes."

Although fourteen-year old Felicity is the clear favorite with the boys for her beauty and her cooking ability, the (much plainer) Story Girl captivates them with her charm. I cannot describe [her voice.] wrote Beverly. If voices had colors, hers would have been like a rainbow. It made words live.

Which brings me to another highlight of the book - its lovely writing.

Haylofts are delicious places, with just enough shadow and soft, uncertain noises to give an agreeable tang of mystery.

The rain was weeping on the roof as if it were shedding the tears of old sorrows.

The Story Girl sighed again. She loved expressive words, and treasured them as some girls might have treasured jewels. To her, they were as lustrous pearls, threaded on the crimson cord of a vivid fancy.

And I can't fail to mention the gentle humor: I don't suppose your Aunt Jane knew all the rules of etiquette, said Felicity, designing to crush Peter with a big word. But Peter was not to be so crushed. He had in him a certain toughness of fiber, that would have been proof against a whole dictionary.

This was a thoroughly delightful book and I look forward to plunging into its sequel, The Golden Road. (Both the books I've linked to are free for Kindle.)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Miracles from Heaven - Worthwhile Movie #14

Christian movies tend to be as hokey as Christian novels, so I never thought I'd be recommending one of them here. But last weekend we watched Miracles from Heaven with Jennifer Garner and Martin Henderson and I have to admit it is better than most films in the genre.

Christy and Kevin Beam and their three daughters are a traditional church-going family. Suddenly ten-year old Anna is diagnosed with a disease requiring complex medicines and frequent doctor's visits. The family's faith is put to the test as they learn that there is more than one kind of miracle.

The acting is terrific. Jennifer Garner (Christy Beam) and Kylie Rogers (her sick daughter, Anna) are superb in their roles. The movie shows Christians in a realistic light. Some with deep faith, some with little faith, and some who are just nasty.

The humor is not dorky, unless you count the doctor who acts silly to make his patients laugh. (I thought he was wonderful.) Many Christian films tend to shy away from using the name of Jesus, and this one is no exception. There was lots of talk of the importance of faith, though. And one of the characters wears a cross necklace which is one of the plot points.

I loved the ending of the film followed by the extra clips of the actual Beam family. A heart-warming worthwhile film.