Friday, October 31, 2014

Profanity in Books and Culture - Part Two

Many years ago I wrote a post about profanity in books and culture. Instead of rehashing what I have already written, I want to add a few thoughts based on the book I just finished called The Exact Place by Marjorie Haack.

First of all, this book is about a young girl's hunger for a father's love. Every page is loaded with the heaviness of her stepfather's rejection, making it a ponderous read. Second, the book is about the glory of everyday things. "I loved the daily ritual of feeding a crowd of chickens who waited eagerly for you to dump their oats and mash into the feeders, of gathering eggs so fresh they were still warm in your cupped hand, of throwing slabs of hay over the fence to the horses who nickered to you as they watched..." Third, the book is about finding grace in the dark places, which is why I liked it very much.

But I didn't love it because of the author's choice to use crass language. I know it's trendy for Christians to swear, but I still found it disheartening.

Beautiful and well-chosen words edify and bring joy. Smutty words denigrate. John MacArthur, in an excellent article about how the Christian community is bending over backward to look, talk and act like non-Christians (in order to better reach them), wrote: I frankly wonder how any Christian who takes the Bible at face value could ever think that in order to be “culturally relevant” Christians should participate in society’s growing infatuation with vulgarity.

Here are two differing posts on the theme of profanity:

Why Christians Shouldn't Cuss and Why Christians Should Cuss

(We all know how wonderful it is to have friends who love us unconditionally, for whom we don't have to clean the house or put on makeup. But to use profanity to weed out your real friends from the false ones seems a trifle juvenile.)

Last of all, I disagree with profanity because the Bible is clear that "the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." (Luke 6:45) If we've experienced the transforming power of God in our lives, our words should be hopeful, grace-filled and life-giving.

James comments on this in chapter 3, verses 10 to 11: Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? Additional thoughts on this subject can be found in this good article over at Gospel Coalition.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Printable C.S. Lewis Quote

Bre posts a free printable on her blog each Friday and last week she quoted C.S. Lewis.

"Dear Heart" is an expression of affection that has waned in popularity, but it's so beautiful. It's the title of one of my favorite movies and the title of a classic love song. It's what the Scarlet Pimpernel calls his wife in the book El dorado. And it's lovely to know C.S. Lewis used it too.

Anyone else ever heard of or used this expression?

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Saint Books by Leslie Charteris

My apologies to anyone who bought Enter the Saint based on my raves in an earlier post. This was a very early entry in the series (1930) and the writer was still developing his hero. (Initially, an adolescent James Bond type.) The only other Saint book I've read has been Follow the Saint (1938), which I enjoyed much more. The truth is that I came to love the Saint stories via movies and old radio shows long before I discovered the so-so novels.

Leslie Charteris began writing the books in 1928 and continued until 1963. The suave, wise-cracking Robin Hood figure caught the imagination of the American public, spawning movies (with the inimitable George Sanders), copycat movies (also with Sanders) , comic books, radio shows (superbly done by a young Vincent Price), and a popular T.V. series with Roger Moore. The regrettable 1997 film character (played by Val Kilmer) bears no resemblance to the original debonair protagonist.

Simon Templar (S.T. = saint) is a droll sophisticate who follows his own code. Like Zorro and the Scarlet Pimpernel he is a "good guy" who is on the wrong side of the law. His mix of worldliness, boyishness and  good humor endeared him to gazillions of fans. Charteris describes him as a "flippant dandy with the heart of a crusader, a fighter who laughed as he fought, the reckless, smiling swashbuckler, the inspired and beloved leader of men..." (p. 123)

In the afterward to Enter the Saint, Ian Dickerson explains why the series was so popular: Aside from the charm and ability of Charteris´ storytelling, the stories, particularly those published in the first half of the ´30s are full of energy and joi de vivre. With economic depression rampant, the public at large wanted escapism. And the public got what they wanted in the chain-smoking, elegant outlaw. And in spite of the smoking and drinking (which were considered highly glamorous), there's a lot of good clean fun. Apart from Templar, my favorite character in the books is the homely, down-to-earth Inspector Teal who is a perfect foil to the reckless gallant.

(Be forewarned that the books and films contain stereotypes that were common in the '30s and '40s.)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Free E-book on C.S. Lewis

Coffee, Tea, Books and Me linked to a free title that sounds really good: Alive to Wonder: Celebrating the Influence of C. S. Lewis.

It is made available at and there are several other free titles (all by John Piper). Worth a look.

While I'm on the subject of Brenda's blog, I want to give a shout out to her excellent post on "Why Bother?" In it she makes a case for taking the extra time (and money and energy) to make something beautiful even when you know that beauty won't always last.

Here's one quote: We bother because every instance we have to choose between getting by and making Beauty, we choose that part of us which is in the image of God. We choose... life.

Thank you, Brenda, for always sharing your life with such grace.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Value of Fairy Tales - Part Two

When I wrote about the value of fairy tales in my last post, I was not referring to the Disney versions. I am not thrilled with the messages that most of those stories convey of ignoring your parents to follow your heart (Little Mermaid, Aladdin, etc.) and female  empowerment (Mulan and Brave). Nor do I support the Princess mentality that says girls are entitled to bling and pampering.

Which brings me back to The Sleeping Beauty. In the version by C.S. Evans, we have an antidote to the fluff mentioned above. As the fairies give their gifts to the long-awaited baby, the third fairy gives virtue. "And the queen nodded her head and smiled, for though she esteemed beauty and cleverness, she knew that neither was of any worth without goodness of heart."

The above quote is one of many examples of the story´s rich language. Here is another: The king's decree required that all spinning wheels, whether they be worked by hand or by treadle or by any other device, together with all spindles, shuttles, bobbins, and all other accessories or appurtenances, shall forthwith be rendered up to the officers of the King. (Hooray for books without dumbed-down language!)

Not only was the story well-written and slyly humorous, it was morally uplifting. It effortlessly dealt with eternal truths such as:

1) We were made for happy endings. No, this is not the same as saying life will have no problems. We live in a sinful world, but Christians are called to be hope-ers. We believe God's power is available to help us overcome struggles and that even with less-than perfect lives, life is a gift worth living. And because we have eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), no earthly pleasure will truly satisfy  us. We were made for more.

2) We were made to await a bridegroom. Not everyone will get married and live happily ever after, but the key theme of fairy tales is still a biblical one. We were created to live in intimate fellowship with God. This begins on earth when we believe in Christ for salvation, but will culminate when He comes back for his pure and spotless bride. (Revelations 19:7-9, II Corinthians 11:2)

3) We were made to be virtuous. We were created in the image of God and meant to be holy. When Adam and Eve sinned, we were robbed of our heritage. Salvation and sanctification are what God uses to slowly restore what was lost.

Who knew there could be so much theology in fairy tales!?

There are many versions of the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk, but my favorite highlights goodness of heart. While the huge giant (with his enormously long legs) is chasing after the little, helpless boy, we are amazed that Jack can outrun him, but the narrator quickly explains, "Jack was not a bit afraid, for he saw the giant was so tipsy he could hardly stand, much less run; and he himself had young legs and a clear conscience, which carry a man a long way."

A nice, free source for fairy tales for Kindle is Andrew Lang´s The Blue Fairy BookThe version is only 99 cents.

Any thoughts? Comments? Story recommendations?

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Value of Fairy Tales - Part One

I just finished reading The Sleeping Beauty, which was a poignant reminder of how much I love fairy tales. Why would a 50-something, no-nonsense mom/teacher/missionary who hates sappy books and gushy movies, have a yen for this kind of thing? Aren´t fairy tales unrealistic and unhealthy?

Both G. K Chesterton and C. S. Lewis believed in the power of story to transmit eternal truths. Some would argue that fairy tales are hogwash. (In my early years as a homeschooler I read many diatribes against them.) But I tend to agree with Victorian author Juliana Ewing who wrote:

Fairy tales have positive uses in education, which no cramming of facts, and no merely domestic fiction can serve. Like Proverbs and Parables, they deal with first principles under the simplest forms. They convey knowledge of the world, shrewd lessons of virtue and vice, of common sense and sense of humor, of the seemly and the absurd, of pleasure and pain, success and failure. . . . They treat not the corner of a nursery or a playground, but the world at large, of forces visible and invisible, of Life, Death, and Immortality.

If you read my post on On The Shoulders of Hobbits, you will remember the quote on how politically correct stories have taken the place of  fairy tales. Now instead of virtues such as courage, honesty, and self-sacrifice, we are starving our children´s moral imaginations by teaching them that the highest virtues are tolerance, multiculturalism and environmentalism. Ugh.

Obviously, not all fairy tales are created equal and discerning parents must choose carefully. Hans Christian Anderson is often too dark for my tastes (even though I know the deaths in his stories mirror the self-sacrificing love of Christ). Some versions of Rapunzel have her getting pregnant out of wedlock; other stories deal with problems such as injustice (Cinderella), abandonment (Hansel and Gretel), cruelty, greed and imprisonment (Rapunzel). But it is in the context of these stories that children learn that evil can be overcome. As Chesterton so famously said, Children know that "dragons" (evil) exist. Fairy stories tell them that dragons can be killed. (paraphrase from Tremendous Trifles)

My next post will go into more detail of the lush prose and spiritual imagery of Charles Evan´s version of Sleeping Beauty.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist

One of my favorite books of the year has been Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist (reviewed here) so I was happy to nab one of her previous books, Bittersweet, when it went on sale for Kindle.

 Bittersweet is the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through. . . . Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, earthy. (p. 11)

Niequist writes of her struggles after job loss, miscarriage, moves and other challenges with a quirkiness and vulnerability that are appealing. I totally "get" her confession about standing in front of the refrigerator and inhaling cold pizza before a writing deadline. I, too, am a nervous wreck before beginning any major project.

She emphasizes the longings we all have and the grace that heals our brokenness. She mercilessly exposes the reasons why we try to "fix" our husbands ("we want the other person to grow because it suits our own needs better") and why we are always running on empty ("because of my insistence that I can do all, my lust for life crosses over into a cycle of frantic activity, without soul or connection.")

She addresses the soul-crushing load of always trying to meet other people's expectations. She does this in a funny way in the chapter on motherhood, but in a more serious way in her essay on priorities. "Deciding what I want [to be] isn't that hard. But deciding what I'm willing to give up for those things is like yoga for my superego, stretching and pushing and ultimately healing that nasty little person inside of me who exists only for what people think." (p. 57)

More favorite quotes: A full life is not the same as a full calendar. (p. 169)

We are where we are. The world is as beautiful and broken as it ever was, and if you're like me, it takes some tricks to get back to centered, whole, deep-breathing, faith-filled places. (p. 132)

And this funny one: Weddings are almost like birth experiences: something entirely new and sacred coming to life right in your midst. Of all the things I get to do, officiating weddings for people I love is my absolute favorite, because it's like. . . being a midwife, but with no blood or screaming. (p. 138)

This book didn't touch me as profoundly as B & W, but it is insightful, witty, and keeps it real. Worth a look.