Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reading Goals for 2017

I don't often join book challenges because I like to read where my whims take me, but I know that joining a few of them (Classics Club and Cozy Mystery) has made me more intentional in my reading habits. I wish someone would start a Christian non-fiction challenge so I would read more of that.

Anyway, based on what I read in 2016 here are some of my loosely planned goals for 2017.

1) No more Christian fiction unless the author can convince me in the first 20 pages that it's worth my time.

2) 15 non-fiction books by Christian authors

3) One Charles Dicken's title

4) C.S. Lewis' On Stories - because my husband read it this year and I was so jealous.

5) The last five titles in my Classics Club Challenge list: Jane Eyre, Eugenics and Other Evils, Silas Marner, Pilgrim's Inn and Heart of the Family

6) 10 audiobooks - because I own over 40 that I haven't listened to.

May your new year be replete with good food, good books, good company, and God's blessing.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Reading Year in Review - 2016

I read over 90 books this year, but can't gloat over that accomplishment since 28 of them were Christian fiction (i.e. inconsequential fluff)  that I read during times of stress. They caused me to add a new category to my Goodreads bookshelves ("dud"), but the year was not a total failure. Here are the gems:

Classics that I loved: To Kill a Mockingbird, North and South

Classics that I expected to dislike, but enjoyed: The Great Gatsby, Age of Innocence

Best new (to me) author: Jamie Langston Turner for Winter Birds. One of the few Christian authors I can recommend.

Favorite non-fiction: Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies

Favorite Children's Lit: Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace

Books with the most long-term influence (that I keep quoting or using): Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller, Technopoly by Postman, and An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by Davis

It was my slowest year yet for the Classics Club Challenge, but I managed to check off five titles from my list: Gaskell's Cranford and North and South, The Great Gatsby, Pilgrim's Progress and To Kill a Mockingbird.

I managed to get in my 8 mysteries from the Cozy Mystery Challenge.

Goodreads has a fun app that shows all the covers of  the books I read in 2016.

Looking forward to more good reading in 2017!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Tripp and Lane

Because of the semi-fluffy title, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, my expectations for this book were low. As I worked my way through the book, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the solid, biblical advice for strengthening relationships.

Healthy friendships are costly. They require much more than we can humanly give if they are to flourish. And that is why Tripp and Lane emphasize the need for God's grace to pervade our lives in order for it to pervade our difficult relationships. And they are not talking about the flimsy interpretation of Mark 12:31 (that self love is necessary before you can love your neighbor.)

This quote sums up their philosophy:
Already Jesus has come to provide salvation for us, but his saving work is not complete.
Already the power of sin has been broken, but the presence of sin has not yet been eradicated. Already we have grown and changed in many ways, but we are not all we will be in Christ.
Already we have passed through much difficulty, but we have not yet climbed our final hill.
Already we have learned many lessons of faith, but we have not yet learned to trust God fully. Already God has established his kingdom in our hearts, but that kingdom has not yet fully come. Already we have seen the defeat of sin in many ways, but its final defeat has not yet taken place...

Our job is to learn how to best live in the middle. So we live as broken people who are being repaired, among neighbors in the same condition - always thankful for what has already been done, but ever aware of our need for more grace. (p. 108)

My favorite chapters were Chapter 10 on hope (especially the idea of a "sanctified imagination") and Chapter 12 on mercy, but the whole book is excellent. Each chapter begins with real-life examples of relationships in crisis, which I could have done without. But I can see how they would help readers (to whom these concepts are new) to understand them. This would be a good book to study with a small group.


Friday, December 16, 2016

Worthwhile Movie #16 - The Nativity Story

Just in time for Christmas, I'm reviewing one of our very favorite films. It's the only one that my husband and I watch every single year. The Nativity Story (2007) was never a box-office smash, but it beautifully portrays the events leading up to the birth of Christ. Perfect for Advent season.

Its "G" rating is dubious because the movie opens up with Herod's soldiers killing babies (not graphic, but still frightening). Later scenes show both Mary and Elizabeth in childbirth, and there are crucified bodies displayed on the road to Jerusalem. But it would be good for ages 12 and up.

No big names light up the screen, unless you count Ciaran Hinds as Herod. The acting is good. The script is great. The sets and costumes are fantastic.

The casting is spot on. The shepherds look weather-beaten. Joseph and Mary are completely believable in their parts. There is an authentic feel to the film because Mary is actually a very young girl, and the characters all look Jewish (unlike many other Bible-based films).

The movie follows the biblical narrative pretty closely; the few additions are not heavy-handed. The writer/director took the most liberty with the three wise men, using them for comic relief. I know that sounds awful, but we LOVE the wise men and chortle through their scenes.

What I appreciate most about the movie is how the relationship between Mary and Joseph is portrayed. It shows how their affection for each other grows while they are also learning to trust God with the gift of His son. It shows Joseph's very human reaction to the news that Mary is pregnant. It reveals the possible insecurities they may have felt as future parents of the Messiah. In one scene Joseph wonders, "Will I even be able to teach him anything?" Their humanness juxtaposed with their faith is very touching.

The Nativity Story has all the beauty and subtlety that was lacking in The Bible mini series. I have a hunch the writer of this movie, Mike Rich, might be a Christian. (He did a wonderful job intertwining scripture into the movie Secretariat.) This is not your typical hokey Christian movie. Highly, highly recommended.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Simple Christmas Music

I'm sure it's a sign of my age, but I am getting tired of frantic songs about sleigh bells.  So I hopped over to Amazon and perused some of their classic Christmas albums. I was delighted to discover a few new albums with rich voices and minimal orchestration.

A Hollens Family Christmas by Peter Hollens and Simply Christmas by Leslie Odom, Jr. were pleasant surprises.

Other songs that are simple and beautiful: Sarah Brightman's "Silent Night" (Winter Symphony album), Julie Andrew's entire album devoted to songs about the Christ Child, and Bocelli's "Cantique de Noël." The acapella group Straight, No Chaser is generally rambunctious, but I enjoy their modest renditions of "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."


I got a kick out of an album called Christmas at Downton Abbey, partly because some of the songs were awful (but were thought acceptable since they were sung by people in the cast), but partly because one of the actors (Julian Ovenden) really can sing. Who knew? Some of the choral pieces done by the Choir of Kings College were quite beautiful and Jim Carter reading "The Night Before Christmas" is a real treat.

I'd love further suggestions for meditative and acoustic Christmas albums.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Why Beauty Matters by Roger Scruton

This may be the first and last time that I review a YouTube video, but I couldn't let this one go by without comment.

Honest folks will admit that much that passes for modern art is an assault on the senses, but what has worried me more in recent years is the way that the world is teaching our children to embrace ugliness through their play. Many cartoon characters are distorted human figures. Hideous monster dolls are sold alongside the Barbie dolls. School backpacks are covered in skulls. The princess turns into an ogre in the Shrek films because that's more politically correct.

Where is the beauty? Who will show it to future generations?

Enter Roger Scruton, a British writer and philosopher who has been writing about this subject for forty years. His one hour lecture (6 ten-minute videos) on "Why Beauty Matters" touched on some of my questions and worries.

Although not a Christian, Scruton readily admits that beauty brings us into the presence of the sacred and that our need for beauty is something deep in our nature. He argues that proponents of modern art mock the pursuit of beauty because in a godless world there is no longer a valid definition for it. "Their willful desecration is a denial of love, an attempt to remake the world as though love were no longer a part of it." (He is not talking of sexual or romantic love, but of a purer, higher love. To those of us who are believers, this would be God.) "The chief characteristic of the post-modern world," he says, "is this lack of love. Artists are determined to portray the human world as unlovable."

He makes an articulate appeal for us to return to real art. "The sacred and the beautiful are not rivals. They stand side by side, two doors that open into a single space. And in that space we find our home."

If you have an hour, I highly recommend this lecture. Two related links are Budgeting for Beauty, (at Coffee, Tea, Books and Me) which has nothing to do with physical beauty, but instead recognizes that humans have needs beyond mere survival.  And Matt Capps at Gospel Coalition writes about how the Church has neglected this important topic.

Two books that helped me to think about this subject are: Art for God's Sake by Ryken, and Wisdom and Wonder by Kuyper. Do you have any other books to recommend on the subject?