Thursday, March 16, 2017

Radical Hospitality: Benedict's Way of Love

Radical Hospitality is not a book about recipes and table-setting techniques. Instead Father Homan defines hospitality as listening to and opening space for the strangers in our midst. He cuts to the chase by listing the most “dangerous” strangers that most of us can think of: the homeless, the AIDS patient, the Muslim.

Hospitality has two meanings for most people today. It either refers to hotels or cruise ships, or it is connected to entertaining friends and family in the warmth of candlelight with gleaming silver and ivory lace. One model makes it an industry, making it profitable. The other model relegates it to the domain of entertainment and housekeeping…Thus it has become safe and cozy, rather than revolutionary, risky and world-rattling. (p. 10)

The subtitle refers to the Rules of Saint Benedict (480 – 550 AD) which were guidelines for living in monastic community. When St. Benedict wrote of hospitality he stressed the importance of welcoming the outsider, the poor the pilgrim. Benedict understood that guests are crucial to the making of monk. Benedict was a realist; he knew there would always be people at the monastery door. It was a means of grace given to monks, a complicated reality that contributed to the making of their hearts. (p. viii)

The theme of the book is hospitality as a spiritual discipline: Listening is the core of hospitality, and while the people we listen to benefit, in the end we are the ones transformed. (p. 220)

This book challenged me to think in new ways. The only reason I'm not more enthusiastic about it is because of its average prose ("You like yourself better after you've reached out to someone.") its occasionally fluffy theology, and it's unnecessary length. The same truths could have been delineated in half the number of pages. My biggest gripe, though, is that it emphasized grace at the expense of truth. (The Rules themselves are very biblical, but this interpretation of them is less so.)

Oswald Chambers put it quite sternly when he wrote, If sympathy is all that human beings need, then the cross of Christ is an absurdity and there is absolutely no need for it. What the world needs is not “a little bit of love,” but major surgery. If you think you are helping lost people with your sympathy and understanding, you are a traitor to Jesus Christ. You must have a right-standing relationship with him yourself, and pour your life out in helping others in his way – not in a human way that ignores God. (from December 20th of My Utmost for His Highest)

Favorite quotes:
Gratitude is the center of a hospitable heart.

We greet the morning sun each day with our to-do lists, while the monk greets the sun with prayer and silence.
None of us likes or welcomes the sudden interruption or change that alters everything. But hospitality is not a planned event… It is the stance of the heart that is abandoned to Love.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Celia's House by D.E. Stevenson

Celia's House is vintage Stevenson. The house is one of the main "characters" (as in Amberwell) and is often described in human terms: It was a lovely afternoon and Dunnian House slept peacefully in the sunshine... (p. 13) and The years passed, but Dunnian showed little signs of change. There was electric light in the old house now, and four bathrooms, and there was a new garage behind the stables that held two cars, but Dunnian had assimilated these modern improvements without losing character or dignity. (216)

The book starts at the turn of the century and ends in the middle of WWII. (It was first published in 1943.) Celia is a lively spinster who wants to ensure that the house is inherited by someone who will not just live there, but love it. So she re-writes her will to the consternation of all her relatives, except her moneyless nephew Humphrey

For a moment Humphrey felt quite alarmed. Would he and Alice be able to "live up to" the place? They were used to a different standard of life and to all sorts of makeshifts and expediencies; this would be quite a new experience with new responsibilities and new problems to solve... and then he remembered the children and his heart was suddenly at peace, for the children would make the old house into a home and that was what it should be. Dunnian had been built by Old Humphrey Dunn, not as a sort of glorified hotel in which to entertain strangers, but as a family house for his children and his children's children. (p. 91)

The rest of the book details Humphrey's life at Dunnian House, especially the personalities and life decisions of each of his children. Not a lot of plot, but delightful nonetheless. Biblical and literary allusions are sprinkled throughout. When the young people decide to put on a Shakespeare play, every one of them is familiar enough with A Midsummer Night's Dream to know which part would be best for them. (Imagine any group of young people knowing that today!)

One thing I enjoy about Stevenson's books is that she often shows the shallowness of romantic love and emphasizes friendly enduring companionship. Oliver, a neighborhood playboy, falls in love with Debbie because he can see himself settling down with her and being happy when the first frenzy of love is over. Jerry has a similar revelation about Sam in Miss Buncle Married.

A good quote: People are apt to take you at your own valuation. I mean, if you lie down on the floor and look like a doormat, people can't be blamed for wiping their boots on you. (p. 455)

Please note: The "sequel" to this book is Listening Valley. The young American soldier who is introduced in the last pages of Celia's House reappears in Chapter 20 of Listening Valley. Many of the allusions to family names in Listening Valley make more sense if you've read the first book. BUT Listening Valley can be read as a stand-alone because the story line is completely different. It is not as satisfying as many of Stevenson's other titles because it is not as light-hearted. And the whole "listening valley" theme is not that convincing. It was published in 1944 and many of its characters have been frightened and damaged by the war. Others are very unhappy due to the unkindness of others. And unlike most of her books, Stevenson takes a cavalier approach to marriage in this one (as she did in Shoulder the Sky) when she includes a man who kindly divorces his wife so she can be happy with another. Ugh!


Monday, March 6, 2017

March Deals on E-books at Amazon

There are quite a lot of interesting e-titles for sale this month at Amazon. Here are a few I culled out:

Apologetics/Theology: I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Geisler, God's Crime Scene by J.W. Wallace, None Like Him by Jen Wilkin

Biographies: Churchill by Martin Gilbert

Bible Study: Be Victorious (on Revelation), Be Complete (on Colossians) These studies by Warren Wiersbe are normally $10.

Fiction: Long Way Gone by Charles Martin

Women's Issues: Missional Motherhood: The Everyday Ministry of Motherhood in the Grand Plan of God by Gloria Furman, Women Living Well by Courtney Joseph

Other: Just Show Up: The Dance of Walking through Suffering Together by Kara Tippetts, Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World  by Tsh Oxenreider, Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung, Southern Slow Cooker Bible (365 recipes for 99 cents)

Also: Five interesting titles from Navpress...


Friday, March 3, 2017

Books I Read in February

You can't tell from my reading log this month that I made a New Year's Resolution to read more non-fiction. I am plodding through the fantastic Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend, edited by Ravi Zacharias. But for every 50 pages I've read in it, I've read an entire light novel. 

Here's what I read in February:

By the Light of a Thousand Stars by Jamie Langston Turner (reviewed here)
Heartless by Stengle - Christian fantasy (I got through 193 pages before giving up.)
Seek and Hide by Amanda G. Stevens (Christian suspense, reviewed here)
Found and Lost - the sequel to Seek and Hide (mentioned in the above review)
Home to Harmony by Philip Gulley (humorous look at a fictional pastor's life in small town Harmony, Indiana)
Celia's House by D.E. Stevenson (review forthcoming)
Listening Valley by D.E. Stevenson (sort of a sequel to Celia's House, but not as good)
A Fool and His Monet by Sandra Orchard - mystery/chick lit, I prefer heroines who are less insecure and less boy-crazy.


Friday, February 24, 2017

By the Light of a Thousand Stars by Jamie Langston Turner

After I read Jamie Langston Turner's Winter Birds (2006), I was quick to download several of her other titles because I was pleased to finally find an author who could write good Christian fiction without bashing me over the head with the gospel.

By the Light of a Thousand Stars (1999) is another example of excellent writing and intriguing characters. Each of the protagonists has a unique story of brokenness and is at a different stage of her faith walk. Dottie has been a Christian for a long time and is struggling with her faith since the death of her daughter. Della Boyd has lived a life of service to others and can't imagine why anyone would call her a sinner. Catherine is a cantankerous, shallow housewife who criticizes everything and everyone. Barb is the fairly new Christian who is trying her best to share her faith with others. Each woman is likable and believable. I loved the other kooky characters (the poetry club members) that Turner introduces into the story as well.

Turner taught in the English department at BJU for many years and weaves references to poetry and plays throughout her narrative, which I enjoyed. But the book fell short in two areas. First, the excessive teenage banter/humor got old after a while. And the fact that so many people ended up getting saved robbed the book of the sense of authenticity that I so appreciated in Winter Birds.

But I'm still a Jamie Langston Turner fan. Her writing ability is light years ahead of most Christian novelists and I look forward to dipping into her other books.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Seek and Hide by Amanda G. Stevens

One of my New Year's resolutions was "no more substandard fiction," so I've been ignoring all the free Christian e-books that have come across my path. But when I saw the premise of Seek and Hide, I couldn't resist:

Six years ago, the government took control of the church. Only re-translated Bibles are legal, and a specialized agency called the Constabulary enforces this and other regulations. Marcus Brenner, a new Christian, will do anything to protect his church family from imprisonment--including risk his own freedom to gain the trust of a government agent. (The story is a lot more complicated than that, but that gives you the main themes.)

Brenner is doing his best to save people before they can be arrested for hate crimes (i.e. owning a Bible) and in the process he meets an intriguing mix of good guys, bad guys and folks in between. I was especially intrigued by the number of people who were not Christians in the book, but who were sympathetic to believers because they felt that their loss of religious freedom was unjust. The book takes place in the not-so-distant future when evangelism is equated with terrorism and Christians are "re-educated" to give up their antiquated, hateful ideas of sin.

I liked this book for so many reasons. Beside the fact that it is darn good storytelling, I appreciated that Christians are portrayed in a realistic manner and that the book offers no easy answers to life's problems. In addition, Stevens manages to write about gritty situations without sordidness. The conversations are believable. And, unlike most Christian novels, the characters are complex and interesting.

If you like your novels squeaky clean, you may be uncomfortable with a few brief episodes of women ogling a bare-chested man. There are also references to rape and alcoholism. These were handled discreetly and added to the multi-layered story.

A fascinating read!

P.S. The sequel, Found and Lost, is very, very good. Unfortunately it contains some mildly steamy love scenes, which I thought were unnecessary. (This is a risk some Christian writers are willing to take so as not to replicate the saccharine-sweet tripe that is peddled as Christian fiction, but it's a hard line to tow.) If you watch American TV, it won't faze you at all.


Friday, February 10, 2017

The Four Graces by D. E. Stevenson

The Four Graces is another winner from D.E. Stevenson. It isn't technically a sequel to the third Miss Buncle book, but it has some of the same characters (newlyweds Jane and Archie for example) and continues the saga of small-town English life during World War II. Although the gist of the story takes place in the home of Pastor Grace, there are side stories of clothing, food, and gas shortages, as well as a poignant tale of an evacuee child from London.

The vicar of Chevis Green is a widower with four daughters, each of whom is splendidly drawn by Stevenson with her own personality and challenges. Addie is serving the war effort by living and working in London. Liz is a "land girl", serving as a farm hand in place of a young man who has gone off to fight. Sal and Tilly live at home, helping their father with his parish responsibilities. Though a couple of the girls have love interests, this book cannot be classified as a romance. It doesn't really have much of a plot either. It's just a splendid recounting of every day life in an English town where people are trying to make the best of difficult times.

The friendly conversations, the bravery through hardships, and the literate dialogue make this book a treat. Stevenson did not write "Christian" novels (thank goodness!), but her characters were familiar with the scriptures and quote the Bible (as well as poems and works of literature) in casual conversation which I find delightful. In fact, the book is twice as funny if you catch the biblical allusions. (I could not read this in public places because I chortled too loudly.)

Some good quotes:

When Mrs. Smith meets Mr. Grace, she says she hopes is broad-minded. "No," he answered. "Not in the sense you mean. I have noticed that nowadays when people speak of being broad-minded they really mean muddleheaded, or lacking in principles...Nowadays people are anxious to appear worse then they are. It's a queer sort of inverted hypocrisy."


Sometimes the girls disagreed with each other and said so, making no bones about it, but they were so much in tune, and so fully in accord upon essentials that it did not matter how violently they disagreed upon nonessentials. In fact, a good hearty disagreement was welcome, adding spice to their talk.

"Books are people," smiled Miss Marks. "In every book worth reading, the author is there to meet you, to establish contact with you. He takes you into his confidence and reveals his thoughts to you."

This was my tenth Stevenson title, and definitely one of my favorites.