Thursday, March 30, 2017

Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zacharias

I was delighted with the premise of Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zacharias. He writes, "I have little doubt that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on our part to live it out. Apologetics is seen before it is heard."

The book address three components of discipleship: Giving an Answer (addressing the questions of non-believers), Internalizing the Questions and Answers (spiritual transformation), and Living out the Answers. I have to admit I was hoping for more emphasis on the third component since that is what the title implies, but much of the text is given over to apologetics and thus requires a slow, careful reading.

Beyond Opinion covers everything from the authority of scripture, atheism, Islam, the "science vs. faith" dilema, to the importance of understanding the Trinity in order to defend one's faith.

The lack of trinitarian thinking and preaching has exacerbated the prevailing individualism of our culture and has brought it right into our Christian life and practice. If we do not think of God as a relational being in himself, we cannot appreciate the point that we are made to reflect his image in our relationships with one another. (p. 246)

The most helpful chapters to me were on Islam (written by Sam Soloman, a Muslim scholar who later converted to Christianity), Buddhism and Hinduism. I was fascinated by Stuart McAlister's story of imprisonment (for handing out Bibles in a communist country) and his subsequent realization that his theology of suffering was completely inadequate. Chapter 13 (Idolatry, Denial and Self-Deception) was more psychological and didn't quite seem to fit with the others, but every chapter had important ideas to mull over. I even highlighted many of the footnotes.

Great quotes:

The task of the apologist is plainly and simply to remove the doubts and point people to the cross.

Tossing a verbal grenade down the chimney chute will not do.

This is the age of therapy, the domination of market values, where looking good and feeling good replace being good and doing good - and most people don't know the difference.

Our role is to win the person, not the argument.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017

Karen at Books and Chocolate is hosting a Back to the Classics Challenge for 2017 (I was so late finding out about it that sign-ups are now closed, but I still plan to do it.) Because of the original challenge (50 Classics in 5 years ), I read 48 books on my list! I loved having the gentle pressure to keep chipping away at my goals. As I neared the end of the challenge, I looked around for a new one and found Karen's today. I have many classics I still want to read so I'm adapting some of them to her requirements.

1.  A 19th century classic - The Scarlet Letter (1850). 4/25/17
2.  A 20th century classic - My Antonia (1918) 
3.  A classic by a woman author. - Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery 6/20/17
4.  A classic originally published in another language.  - The Iliad
5.  A classic originally published before 1800. - Shakespeare play/Merchant of Venice 11/12
6.  A romance classic. by Trollope or Gaskell (Mary Barton?)

7.  A Gothic or horror classic. Picture of Dorian Gray 5/21/17
8.  Classic with a Number in the TitleAround the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne 3/16/17
9.  A classic about an animal  - Old Yeller 10/15/17
10. A classic set in a place you'd like to visit. (real or imaginary) - Secret Garden (re-read)  4/18
11. An award-winning classic - John Adams by David McCullough (Pulitzer)

12. A Russian classic. – Anna Karenina by Tolstoy

Other classics I hope to read in the next ten years:
13. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
14. Augustine's Confessions 12/18
15. Ben Hur by Lew Wallace
16. The Betrothed by Manzoni
17. Bleak House by Dickens
18, 19. Two Brazilian Classics (O Alienista 2/18Ira├žema by Alencar 11/17)
20. Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky
21. Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
22. Chronicles of Wasted Time by Muggeridge
23. The Daughter of Time by Tey
24. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon
25. The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper
26. Divine Comedy by Dante (Ciardi's version)
27. Dombey and Son by Dickens 12/15/17
28. Everlasting Man by Chesterton 12/18
29. Far from the Madding Crowd by Hardy
30. Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter
31. Holy Living and Holy Dying by Jeremy Taylor
32. The Inferno by Dante
33. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
34. Journal of a Plague Year by Defoe
35. Journals of James Cook
36. Journals of Lewis and Clark
37. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
38. Kon-Tiki by Heyerdahl
39. Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
40. Lilith by George MacDonald 3/18
41. Jungle Book by Kipling 10/17
42. Lark Rise to Candleford 6/18
43. Madame Bovary by Flaubert
44. Man in the Iron Mask by Dumas (or Black Tulip)
45. Martian Chronicles by Bradbury
46. Morte d'Arthur by Malory
47. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
48. Phantastes by George MacDonald
49. Princess and Curdie (re-read)
50. Red Badge of Courage by Crane
51. Rise of Silas Lapham by Howells
52. Swallows and Amazons by Ransome
53. A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn 10/18
54. Things Fall Apart by Achebe
55. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
56. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
57. Walden by Thoreau
58. War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
59. The Way We Live Now by Trollope 
60. Water Babies by Kingsley (re-read)


Friday, March 24, 2017

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

I didn't enjoy Around the World in 80 Days the first time I tried to read it, but when my sister told me it was one of their family favorites, I decided to give it another try. It helped that the second time around I listened to the audible version, wonderfully narrated by Patrick Tull. Tull is British, but does a great job with Passepartout's French accent, and also with the gruff American voices.

Phileas Fogg leads a quiet life, living alone (except for his valet), frequenting his men's club and living by the clock. His previous valet was fired for bringing him shaving water at 84 degrees Fahrenheit instead of 86. All of that changes when he wagers that he can circumnavigate the world in eighty days. The story takes place in 1872 when most modes of transportation were extremely unreliable, so the men in the club are eager to bet against him. Although he encounters many obstacles on his journey, he remains delightfully unperturbed. Even when he's accused of a crime and hunted by a determined English detective.

The whole story pokes fun at British exactness (and later at American energy/ingenuity). It is a nice light-hearted read if you are looking for clean, escapist literature. There are damsels in distress (in India), gun fights with Indians (in America), kidnappings (on the high seas), and other hair-raising adventures. And a good dose of humor.

Is Fogg a criminal? Or just an eccentric? Will he fall in love with the lovely Aouda? Or is it true that he has no heart? Will Detective Fix be able to stop him? All these and other questions are answered nicely by the end of the book.


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!


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.