Tuesday, June 30, 2020

What I Read and Watched in June

One of my bookstagram friends wrote that she is re-reading old favorites because she doesn't have the cognitive energy to tackle anything new. I keep hearing about the lethargy caused by the Covid crisis and agree that my capacity to read deeply and then to write out my thoughts has been much harder in recent months. Blogging has taken a serious hit.

I managed to get through three novels in June: L.M. Montgomery's Emily Climbs, Mary Stewart's suspenseful Madam, Will You Talk? (during which I had to take in deep gulps of air at the end of each chapter because I had forgotten to breathe), and Dorothy Sayers' Murder Must Advertise. The non-fiction I completed was Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren, and Foundations of Wesleyan-Arminian Theology (for an upcoming class.) I also listened to the short book, Where is God in a Coronavirus World? by John C. Lennox.

I watched 3 episodes of PBS' The Great American Read and don't think I'll finish it. Harrison Ford's newest movie, The Call of the Wild, was okay, but I could never emotionally connect with the CGI animals. The murder mystery, A Bundle of Trouble was pleasant, but unremarkable - except for the fact that it was the first Hallmark movie I've seen with a transgender character.

My most surprising reading was from an online Catholic periodical called Crisis Magazine. I don't know who sent me my first free issue, but I was quickly hooked by the exceptional writing and politically conservative perspective. I am not Catholic so I skip the articles about Catholic doctrine and polity, but the other articles on culture and politics have helped to clarify my thinking. Two of my favorites were "And Then They Came for J.K. Rowling," and "Domesticity is Not Slavery."


Friday, June 12, 2020

Walking Faithfully with God by Kay Arthur

Do the kings and kingdoms of the Old Testament run together in your mind? If so, you are not alone. Sure, everybody know about David and Solomon, but after the kingdom was divided, forty more (mostly villainous) rulers reigned in Judah and Israel. How in the world do we keep them straight? The book Walking Faithfully with God is a great place to start.

The beauty of the inductive Bible study method is that it forces you to slow down and pay attention. This book requires you to patiently note down character traits of the major kings. It requires highlighting, reading, and re-reading. After studying a chapter in I or II Kings, you jump over to the corresponding chapter in II Chronicles to get a more complete picture of that king's life. It is VERY thorough.

Even though this was my fourth time through this book, I was still constantly amazed at the wickedness of the various kings. Though they are persistently sinful, God is persistently merciful in sending prophets to warn them to repent. After a series of discouragingly evil kings, suddenly there is a man who loves God with all his heart to remind you that God can raise up men of God under the most adverse circumstances.

The book is full of helpful maps and charts and at the end of each week there are insightful life lessons as well as discussion questions to help you dig deeper. I have been doing inductive Bible study for fifteen years, and this is far and away my favorite study. I'm always a little sad when I finish any inductive study because of the rich, fruitful hours I've spent in God's word. I hated to see this book come to an end.


Friday, June 5, 2020

Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery

Emily of New Moon was a lovely surprise in a month when I've been suffering from reading doldrums.

The book was written in 1923 and tells the story of newly-orphaned Emily Starr who must move in with unfriendly relatives. (The Murrays had rejected her mother when she eloped with Emily's father.) In book one of the trilogy, she learns to love her new home and to grow into a brave and thoughtful young woman.

Where do I start to sing her praises? Emily has a perfect mixture of pluck and insecurity that make her endearing. She pours out her heart in long, poignant letters to her deceased father that are mixed with honest questions about life's hardships and observations about the people around her. Some of her observations made me laugh out

Emily has the gift of wonder. It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside - but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond - only a glimpse - and heard a note of unearthly music..... And always, when the flash came to her, Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.

The book is chock-full beautiful descriptions: Winter came with its beautiful bare-limbed trees, and soft pearl-grey skies that were slashed with rifts of gold in the afternoon, and cleared to a jewelled pageantry of stars over the wide white hills and valleys of New Moon. Or the description of the tin man, whose wagon is covered with pans that flash back the sunlight so dazzingly that Old Kelly seemed the beaming sun of a little planetary system all his own.

Add to that all the delicious literary references to the Bible, Pilgrim's Progress, Shakespeare, Jane Eyre, Wordworth, Dante and Thackeray. Throw in dear, odd cousin Jimmy, Father Cassidy and a cast of other unique, but special friends PLUS an long unsolved mystery, and you've got a full plate of bookish delights. Very highly recommended.


Thursday, May 28, 2020

What I Read and Watched in May

We started the month with a re-watch of Hidden Figures, which was just as good the second time around. In general I have very little patience for Hallmark movies, but I enjoy their mysteries when I get a chance. So I was happy to find Roux the Day and Three Bedrooms, One Corpse, which were good, clean (yet forgettable) fun. BUT Fixer-Upper Mystery: Concrete Evidence was the most suspenseful HM movie I've ever watched. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I was delighted to see that hard-to-find author, O. Douglas, (who wrote Penny Plain, a vintage favorite) had more titles available for Kindle and immediately bought six of them. I re-read Penny Plain before tackling its sequel, Priorsford. Sadly, Priorsford did not meet my expectations.

My other reads for the month were theological: The Power of the Blood of Jesus by Andrew Murray (reviewed here) and Grace, Faith and Holiness, a theology textbook that I've been reading for months. (review here)

My absolute favorite of the month was L.M. Montgomery's  Emily of New Moon, which I'll be reviewing soon.

I discovered several free books this month: 365 Meditations from George McDonald's Fiction, Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law (Christian classic, 1729), and The Last Man by Mary Shelley (possibly the first post-apocalyptic novel, 1826) I can't vouch for any of these titles, but thought if you are reading this blog, you might have similar tastes in books.


Friday, May 22, 2020

Evangelism as Exiles by Elliot Clark

As biblical values crumble in our surrounding society, how should Christians respond? The natural reaction is fear, but Elliot Clark writes, Instead of whining and feeling sorry for ourselves because the culture is becoming unrecognizable, Christians should align their vision with that of first-century Christians. If opposition mounts to the place where it can be rightly called persecution, we are called to follow the apostles, who left the Sanhedrin rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering for the disgrace of the name. (Acts 5:41)

In Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land, Clark walks the reader through the book of 1 Peter which teaches that suffering and social exclusion are actually the most normal thing in the world…. The Christian in exile is called to embrace the shame and social humiliation that come as a package deal with the cross. We’re to be first and foremost God-pleasers and not man-pleasers.

In Chapter Five he writes about an aspect of Christian living that is often ignored in modern circles – the need for holy lives. Holiness is not only the result of conversion, it’s also an embodied argument in support of the gospel’s veracity. Gospel declaration is linked to life transformation. But in America Christians think the gospel is more credible to others when they see us as most like them. We’ve come to believe that God is most glorified and people are most evangelized when the church is either hip and trendy or when it’s struggling, broken and weakNow is not the time for us to try to make the Christian message fit into the world’s mold. We should keep Christianity weird. And in so doing, we just might reach our neighbors. (!)

As hopes diminish and fears increase, as opponents rise to power and our cultural influence fades, as we become outcasts and even refugees – it’s then, at this very moment, that the church will have an incredible opportunity for the gospel. (This is also one of Rod Dreher's main points in The Benedict Option.) 

Clark offers a lot of food for thought in these pages. Most books about evangelism tend to say, “Do it this way and you’ll have success.” I appreciated Clark’s approach because his own experiences as a missionary in a Muslim country taught him there is no “one-size-fits-all” method. My only quibble is that he emphasizes witnessing out of fear (awe) of God and fear of the other’s eternal damnation. I prefer LOVE as motivation because it overcomes the other fears that Clark so eloquently describes in his book.


Friday, May 15, 2020

The Power of the Blood of Jesus by Andrew Murray

Of my top ten Christian classics, three titles are by Andrew Murray so I was prepared to enjoy The Power of the Blood of Jesus. Still, it was more theologically dense than some of his other books. 

One of Murray’s most helpful insights was on the holiness of God. We often think only of its negative aspect, i.e., that He hates sin. But Murray points out that the positive side of His holiness is that He is good, loves goodness and wants to make us good (holy). Holiness, as we wrongfully understand it, is the priggish keeping of rules. But to Murray Holiness is a disposition in entire agreement with that of God, which chooses in all things to will as God wills. It is nothing more than oneness with God, effected by intimacy with Him.   

Chapter 8 had a helpful explanation of Christ’s words in John 6:53 (“Drink my blood”). It’s hard enough to wrap our modern sensibilities around the idea of being “washed in the blood,” but the admonition to drink it is mind-boggling. Murray simplifies the idea by using water as an example. Water cleanses outwardly, but to be life-giving, it must be imbibed. Without drinking the blood of the Son of God – i.e., without hearty appropriation of it – eternal life cannot be obtained. Not only must the blood do something for us by placing us in a new relationship with God (forgiveness), but it must also do something in us (cleansing), entirely renewing us within.

He who “drinks” the blood of Jesus, receives Christ’s eternal, abundant life into himself. Only as we allow Him to fill us with Himself can we live the Christian life. This is the resounding theme of all of Murray’s books - the fruitfulness of a life completely surrendered to Christ.

If you are new to Murray, I would suggest either Humility (free for Kindle) or The True Vine to introduce you to these important ideas. But if you are ready for something a little meatier, The Power of the Blood of Jesus (free at the moment) will certainly stretch your thinking.  


Friday, May 1, 2020

What I Read and Watched in April

Though I'm still in a stress-induced brain fog, I managed to read several classics this month. I tried to listen to an audio version of Bambi, but disliked it so much that I gave it up halfway through (review here). My Antonia by Willa Cather, on the other hand, was an excellent audio book. Another book that was surprisingly good was The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis. I read a few poems a day and found consolation in their beauty. Persuasion by Jane Austen was a perfect comfort read.

My Christian non-fiction for the month was Affliction by Edith Schaeffer, which was a solid, sensible look at suffering. (reviewed here) There's never any fluff with Edith Schaeffer.

My biggest disappointment was Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley (reviewed here) because I loved her book, Beauty, so much.

As far as movies go, I watched Across the Pacific with Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor because I had heard the banter was witty. It was filmed in 1942 and Japanese stereotypes are rampant, but the repartee between the protagonists was perfect. I also watched the 1971 BBC version of Persuasion after reading the book. The hairstyles and dress were dated, but I thought the actress who played Anne was lovely. She was beautiful but had lost the bloom of youth (just as Anne is described in the novel).

We watched the first season of VidAngel's series on the life of Christ called The Chosen. My husband and I are such biblical purists that we thought we'd hate it. But it was actually very well done and we enjoyed it. I liked the series, but I LOVED the pilot, The Shepherd, which is available on YouTube.

Did you have a favorite book or movie this month?