Friday, October 28, 2016

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The only thing I knew going into this book was that it was about a white lawyer defending a black man in the South. I expected it to be gritty and so held my breath for the first half of the book; If I'd known that the trial would not be as tawdry as expected, I would have enjoyed the book that much more.

Atticus Finch is a small-time lawyer in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. He is a gentle, book-loving widower who never sets out to promote himself. But because of his firm conviction that all people are created equal, he takes on the "lost cause" case of Tom Robinson who is accused of raping a white woman. Finch is the hero of the novel, but there are many others who are equally as heroic in their quiet ways. In fact, I don't think Atticus is the main character as much as a mirror from which we see reflected all the other characters.

Scout and Jem's mother has passed away and their absent-minded (but loving) father spends little time on developing their manners and social graces, much to the horror of his sister Alexandra. I tried my hardest to hate the small profanities coming out of Scout's mouth, but the more I read, the more I saw how pitch perfect Lee's writing was in giving voice to a young motherless girl growing up without much parental intervention.

Scout may not have had a lot of input from her daddy on how to speak like a lady, but the book makes it very clear that he had a powerful influence of another kind. Because of his strong stance on helping the weak, both of his children learn hard lessons about human nature. When Jem  (the older brother) is "forced" to read to a cranky elderly lady as a punishment for ruining her flowers, he begins to learn compassion. Jem's coming-of-age through various difficult events was one of my favorite parts of this book.

Through Atticus the children learn that:

(1) People aren't always as bad (or good) as they seem.

(2) Life isn't Fair - though Atticus had used every legal tool available to save Tom Robinson, he could not influence the secret courts of men hearts. (p. 241)

(3) Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand - It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. (p. 112)

Harper Lee introduces us to many brave people who will work their way into your heart. No wonder this book is considered a classic. I'm still astonished that Lee could write such a sad story with so much humor, wisdom, pathos and beauty. Remarkable. 

Keep in mind this novel was banned for its use of the N word, but much like Huck Finn, the word was used to reflect the times, but not the author's view which is clearly against racial inequality.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Gold by Moonlight by Amy Carmichael

Amy Carmichael (1867-1951), missionary to India, lived with severe pain most of her life. Gold by Moonlight was written to encourage fellow sufferers to persevere in the faith. The title is taken from a quote by Reverend Samuel Rutherford and means that with God's help gold can be found even in the dark. Carmichael shows how illness can bring a clearer understanding of God's love and mercy. She walks a very fine line between gentleness (allowing for the fact that pain often brings irrational thinking) and no-nonsense advice (discouraging all self-pity.)

At times the language in the book is difficult and the prose is dense. Sources (most unnamed) are as varied John Buchan novels, Pilgrim's Progress, Victorian poets, and missionary biographies of a hundred years ago. Because of the antiquated language this book needs to be read slowly. Because of it's unflinching call to Christian maturity, it also needs to be read prayerfully.

A major theme in the book is submission to God's will, but this is no wimpy resignation. God does not ask for the dull, weak, sleepy acquiescence of indolence. He asks for something vivid and strong. He asks us to cooperate with Him, actively willing what He wills, our only aim His glory. (p. 40)

 I have many favorite quotes but I'll try to limit myself to just a few:

God forgive us for the strange coldness of so much of our love. The calculating love of Christians is the shame of the Church and the astonishment of angels. (p. 139)

Before the peace which passeth understanding can be ours, there must be a renunciation of faithless anxiety. (p. 81)

And my very favorite: We live a double life. Forces of distress may assail us (as they continually assailed our Lord), and we are called to labor from the rising of the morning till the stars appear, and yet all the time in the inner life of the spirit we are marvelously quickened, and raised up and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (p. 218)

A very worthwhile book for patient readers, especially those who are feeling side-lined by difficult circumstances.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Humility by Andrew Murray

I first read Humility thirty years ago and I still remember being in awe of its revolutionary and uncomfortable truths. It's author, Andrew Murray (1828-1917), was a well-known writer and pastor from South Africa whose many books emphasize the deeper Christian life.

According to Murray, humility is the attribute that most Christians need but that most don't want. It's the "forgotten" virtue that enables us to be most like Christ. True humility involves dying to self and letting Christ live in you. A common misconception of "death to self" is that it annuls one's personality, but just the opposite is true. Murray says that the "death-life" enables us to be our true (as we were meant to be) selves because as we become less, we actually become more as Christ dwells in us in His fullness. Throughout the book he makes references to the idea that the main attribute of Satan was pride and the main attribute of Christ was humility. 

The life God gives is not all at once, but moment by moment, through the unceasing operation of His mighty power. Humility, the place of entire dependence on God, is the first duty of the creature, and the root of every good quality. Likewise, pride, is the root of every sin and evil. It was when the Serpent breathed the poison of his pride - the desire to be as God - in the hearts of Adam and Eve, that they fell from their high position into all the wretchedness in which mankind is now sunk.

Another misconception about humility is that it makes us door mats. But as I think of the people I know who are truly surrendered to Christ, there is nothing "door-matty" about them. They have an inner strength and purpose that enables them be "careless" about what others think of them.

When we see that humility is something infinitely deeper than regret [over past sins], and accept it as our participation in the life of Jesus, we will begin to learn that it is our true goodness. We will understand that being servants of all is the highest fulfillment of our destiny as men created in the image of God.

Don't look at pride only as an unbecoming temper, nor at humility only as a decent virtue. The one is death, and the other is life.

This is a book to be read slowly, to savor and to pray over. It is not your average Christian self-help book because of it's emphasis on Christ presence and power in our lives rather than living  the Christian life by our own efforts. It's interesting that when I read this book a second time, I noticed this theme in Scripture everywhere. I'm glad Murray opened my eyes to it.

The version of Humility that I've linked to above was free at the time of this post. Previous Murray titles that I've reviewed are The Two Covenants, The Blood of Christ, and A Life of Obedience.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Books I Read in September

I have been trying to give Christian fiction a go this year. I've read 21 titles and only one author, Jamie Langston Turner, succeeded in impressing me. Most were okay but a couple were so dreadful that I've decided to give up the effort to find diamonds among the coals. It's just too much work for too little pay off.

Here's what I read this month:

1) Insight by Deborah Raney (better than most CF)
2) Sixteen Brides (mediocre CF, What can I say? The cover snookered me in.)
3) Paper Roses (horrific CF)
4) Arsene Lupin & Herlock Sholmes by Leblanc (nice little mysteries, free for Kindle)
5) Rules of Murder by Deering (clean mystery/romance, a little too heavy on the romance for me, but very well written, free for Kindle at the moment)
6) Lifted Veil by George Eliot (bleak sci-fi short story, free for Kindle)
7) Crispen's Point  by Reardon (ugh! I'm tired of CF heroines who swoop into town and fix everything)
8) The Age of Innocence by Wharton (definitely not Christian, but more satisfying because of good language and having to wrestle with important ideas WITHOUT simple solutions.)

The only title I reviewed on the blog was Age of Innocence. The others I reviewed at Goodreads.