Friday, July 12, 2019

Be Free by Warren Wiersbe (Commentary on Galatians)

Since we don't have to "do" anything to earn salvation, how do we avoid erring on the side of complacency or mediocrity in our Christian walk? What exactly are we free to do and how can we be sure our freedom doesn't lead to licentiousness? Warren Wiersbe sets out to answer these questions in Be Free, his user-friendly commentary on the book of Galatians.

I've read a dozen of Wiersbe's commentaries on the Bible and while they were all excellent, this one stands out above the others. This may be because I spent many years of my Christian life trusting in outward actions to measure my spiritual maturity. I was a legalist with a capital "L."

Wiersbe writes, What is it about legalism that can so fascinate the Christian the he will turn from Grace to the law? For one thing, legalism appeals to the flesh. The flesh loves to boast about its religious achievements. The person who depends on religiosity can measure himself and compare himself with others.

I loved it when he cited F.D.R.'s four freedoms (of speech, of religion, from want and from fear) and added a fifth freedom: freedom from sin and self. Only those who deliberately misread Bible verses about grace will use them to validate sinful choices. Liberty does not mean license, says Wiersbe. Rather it means the freedom in Christ to enjoy Him and to become what He has determined for us to become. It is not only freedom to do, but also freedom not to do. We are no longer in bondage to sin.
But can Christians take this whole freedom thing too far?? Not according to Wiersbe: No man could become a rebel who depends on God's grace, yields to God's Spirit, lives for others, and seeks to glorify God.

As I read through the book of Galatians, using the comments in Be Free, I said many a "hallelujah" for the Lord's kindness in bringing me from a works-based faith to a faith that is dependent on His mercy. I still slip up sometimes, but the Lord gently calls me back to Himself.

In closing: The unsaved person wears a yoke of sin; the religious legalist wears a yoke of bondage; but the Christian who depends on the grace of God wears the liberating yoke of Christ. (Matthew 11:30)


Friday, July 5, 2019

The Five Most Influential Books in My Life

While preparing for my latest move, I came across a letter I wrote to my mom a few years ago about the five books (apart from the Bible) that have had the biggest impact on my life. These are not necessarily the books I have loved the most, but they all had a profound effect on my behavior.

1) Jane Eyre influenced me as a teen to stay true to my convictions no matter what.
2) My Utmost for His Highest showed me that Christianity is not for wimps.
3) Edith Schaeffer's books reinforced what my mother taught me about the value of making a home where people are loved and nurtured into the Kingdom.
4) How to Really Love Your Child by Ross Campbell radically changed my parenting style.
5) British author Anthony Trollope transformed my reading tastes from "I will read almost anything" to "Don't insult me with your fluff." (!)

What about you? What books have most influenced your life?


Friday, June 28, 2019

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

Caddie Woodlawn is a sweet coming-of-age story that takes place in the 1860s. Because she was a sickly baby, her father recommends that she get plenty of exercise and sunshine playing outdoors rather than staying at home to learn domestic duties. She and brothers have wonderful adventures, but as time goes on she must decide how to balance her wildness with her femaleness. Her father helps he to see that she can be true to her adventuresome spirit while at the same time developing womanly virtues. Certainly, a book that highlights the special contribution that women make to society would not be published today, but I appreciated Brink's careful handling of this subject.

The story has some similarities to the Little House books in that Caddie's mother is disdainful of Indians while her father is more open and trusting. I couldn't help comparing the books in my mind since I re-read all the Little House books last year and was so captivated by them. Although the Woodlawn family doesn't experience the same crises as the Ingalls' clan, they face their difficulties with the same no-nonsense attitude. When Caddie falls through the ice while skating, her brothers don't run for help. Instead they find a way to save her:

With cool presence of mind, Tom made Warren lie down on the ice, and, catching hold of Warren's feet, he pushed him out over the thin ice until he could reach Caddie's groping hands. "Hold tight, Warren,"he shouted. "I'll pull you both in!" And he did. Nobody made much fuss over it. Pioneer children were always having mishaps, but they were expected to know how to use their heads in emergencies. (p. 74)

 The rapscallion escapades are balanced with tender stories of Father's childhood, Caddie's growing friendship with her pesky sister, and a neighbor boy's heroism during a prairie fire. Through it all Caddie learns that though the world is filled with painful challenges, it also offers delightful surprises. She concludes that "Whatever life is like, I like it." This would be an excellent read-aloud for children.


Friday, June 21, 2019

Fair Harbor by Joseph Crosby Lincoln

Fair Harbor is a forgotten, vintage novel that snuck up on me and captured my heart completely. I had read a couple of other light novels by Lincoln before and expected a pleasant escape from stress. But I did not expect the book to make me chuckle and cheer and worry so intensely for each beloved character.

Sears Kendrick is a young sea captain who is recuperating from injuries while living in the fictional city of Bayport, Massachusetts in the 1880s. He is anxious about never being able to regain enough strength to return to sea and wondering how he will make a living. Suddenly he's offered the job of managing a home for mariners' widows. There he meets a host of interesting characters including the lovely Elizabeth Berry.

In spite of some light swearing, I thoroughly enjoyed this well-told tale of small town life. In the midst of gossiping busy-bodies, bickering lovers and money-grabbing scoundrels, stands Captain Kendrick, a man of sterling character who is eager to do what is right even at the cost of his own happiness.

I am a sucker for stories of unrequited love and I suffered with my hero through every chapter of this book. On the other hand, I found Lincoln's New England slang highly amusing. P.G. Wodehouse makes me snicker, but J.C.L. elicits loud hoots of laughter.

This is not Jane Austen, people, but it's fun writing nevertheless. Like when Lincoln describes one of the Fair Harbor residents: Miss Elvira's thin figure stiffened to an exclamation point of disapproval. Or when he describes Miss Berry as being as cold as the bottom of the well to him.

Many of J.C. Lincoln's books are free for Kindle so I would encourage you to give him a try. Be forewarned that this book reflects its time period and twice refers to African Americans using words that are unacceptable by today's standards.


Friday, June 14, 2019

Married Love - a quote by Timothy Keller

On the richness of married love:

The passion we share now differs from the thrill we had at first like a noisy but shallow brook differs from a quieter but much deeper river. Passion may lead you to make a wedding promise, but then that promise over the years makes the passion richer and deeper. Only if you maintain your love for someone when it is not thrilling can you be said to be actually loving that person. Otherwise you are just in love with the feelings the other person brings.

from Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage.


Friday, June 7, 2019

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller

Of the more than 20 books I've read on marriage, Tim Keller's The Meaning of Marriage is the best.

The popular idea of marriage as the source of happiness and fulfilment has helped to erode the institution that was created for higher purposes. The Kellers clearly and skillfully address many aspects of Christian marriage, and help their readers to look beyond a consumeristic view (I'll stay married as long as all my needs are being met) toward a God-centered view (I choose to stay committed to a person when it isn't easy because God through Christ shows that kind of grace toward me.)

Tim and Kathy address many important issues: What is love? What is marriage for? How can you reflect these purposes if you are single? What about gender differences? How are Christians supposed to view their sexuality? What about the submission/headship passages?

First of all they affirm the goodness of marriage and sex. But they quickly assert that this goodness is not just personally "good for me" (i.e. meets all my needs) but good because it builds families and societies and because it brings glory to God.

Sin and self-centeredness is what makes marriage hard. (Your own sin as much as your spouse's.) What if you began your marriage understanding its purpose as spiritual friendship for the journey to the new creation? What if you expected marriage to be about helping each other grow out of your sins and flaws into the new self God is creating? Then when you come to the [difficult] seasons, you will roll up your sleeves and get to work. (p. 149)

Romance, sex, laughter, and plain fun are the by-products of this process of sanctification, refinement, glorification. Those things are important, but they can't keep the marriage going through years and years of ordinary life. What keeps the marriage going is your commitment to your spouse's holiness. . . . Jesus died not because we were lovely, but to make us lovely. (p. 134)

It's interesting to note that the book is based on a series of sermons that Keller originally preached to his congregation of mostly singles when Keller realized that many of them were not marrying because they had wrong expectations for marriage.

This is a great book with many helpful insights. Definitely in the top ten best books I've read this year.


Friday, May 31, 2019

What I Read and Watched in May

It's been a month of decluttering, packing up the house, and saying goodbyes as we head to the U.S. for home assignment. My brain was going in 20 directions per minute so reading anything heavy was out of the question.

1) I listened to Hurricane Season by Lauren Denton, which was wonderfully narrated. There were several discreet references to sex which probably wouldn't have bothered me if I'd read them, but listening to the couple talk about it felt a little like voyeurism.
2) Alias the Saint - A rather weak entry in The Saint series by Leslie Charteris
3)  The best book of all was Eugene Peterson's Take and Read, a delightful list of recommendations of worthwhile books.

On the movie front, we endured the 3rd film in the Hollow Crown film series, Henry IV, part 2. My husband said he appreciated having the background for Henry V (his favorite), but I am glad I never have to watch it again. The acting wasn't that great and the script is not Shakespeare's best. Add an unnecessary sex scene and you get a wasted Friday evening. The sequel, Henry V, was much better, but quite different from the Kenneth Branagh version. We also watched some Perry Mason and we thoroughly enjoyed the last few episodes of Season 4 of Larkrise to Candleford. Once again, I was impressed by the message that you see NOWHERE else on television - that real love is costly and yet worth the price.


Friday, May 24, 2019

Take and Read by Eugene Peterson

Author, pastor and theologian Eugene Peterson (1932-2018), has written a very dangerous book for Christian bibliophiles. If you love the Bible, the Church, Church history, deep thinking and beautiful writing, Take and Read offers a veritable sinkhole of books to add to your TBR list. (I added 135 titles to mine.)

Subtitled "an annotated list of spiritual reading," the book cites several hundred classics that strengthened Peterson's heart and influenced his thinking throughout his many years of ministry. Although I don't always agree with every point of  his theology, I appreciate his love for the Church and his gift for expressing spiritual truths in clear language.

Spiritual reading does not mean reading on spiritual or religious subjects, but reading any book that comes to hand in a spiritual way, which is to say, listening to the Spirit, alert to intimations of God. Reading today is largely a consumer activity. People devour books, magazines, pamphlets, and newspapers for information that will fuel their ambition or careers or competence. The faster the better, the more the better. It is either analytical, figuring things out; or it is frivolous, killing time. Spiritual reading is mostly a lover's activity - a dalliance with words, reading as much between the lines as in the lines themselves. It is leisurely, as ready to reread an old book as to open a new one. What follows is a list of books that require the lost art of SLOW reading.

In the chapter on Classics, he gives this tantalizing description of The Collected Works of John of the Cross: Virtually everyone who pursues the spiritual life expects to be rewarded with ecstasy. John has no patience with what he calls our "spiritual sweet tooth." He is a ruthless realist, stripping away the illusions, the fantasies, and the delusions, training us to discern the realities of faith.

In the chapter on prayer, he describes John Baillie's A Diary of Private Prayer: I find a cadenced and austere beauty in these morning and evening prayers. And a searing honesty. There is always a temptation in written prayer toward rhetorical flourish, grandstanding before the Almighty. These prayers guide us in a way of prayer that is simple, direct, and immediate.

I gobbled up the chapter on poetry since I am always on the lookout for meaty, theologically sound poems. And I hadn't read a single one of the books he mentions in his chapter on mystery novels so that sent me scurrying to Amazon. But even though I devoured this book, I don't expect to love all the titles mentioned (some writers lean toward liberal theology). I expect, however, to be nourished by a great number of them. I'm especially happy we'll be spending the next eight months in the U.S. where I'll have access to several wonderful libraries where I can search for many of these gems. Another happy note is that Take and Read is on sale for 99 cents till May 31st.


Friday, May 17, 2019

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

The story of The Great Divorce is deceptively simple. A group of strangers board a bus going to heaven and their various reactions to celestial realities show their true character. C.S. Lewis brilliantly imagines and describes what heaven might be like, but I have to confess that I sometimes found myself wondering, "What in the world is going on here?"

Although short, and not as theologically hefty as some of his apologetic books, The Great Divorce requires patient reading because of our limited human understanding of spiritual realities. Lewis does not pretend to know what heaven is really like, but he does his best to show that it is more real than anything we've ever experienced on earth. Since everything earthly is a shadow of things to come, he makes everything much heavier in Paradise. The little flower was hard, not like wood or even like iron, but like diamond

Standards of beauty and power are turned on their heads. (The first shall be last, etc.) A plain woman who lived a quiet selfless life on earth is practically a princess in heaven. When a man asks an angel if he'll be able to meet any famous artists, the angel replies that he's not sure he's seen any...

"But surely in the case of distinguished people, you'd know?
"But they aren't distinguished - no more than anyone else. Don't you understand? The Glory flows into everyone, and back from everyone like light and mirrors. But the Light's the thing." Nobody's famous in heaven and nobody cares because only One is worthy of praise.

The sensation that Lewis' character sees most often in the heavenly creatures is joy. They also are dwelling in love in a way that makes the human idea of being "in love" look infantile and anemic. In fact, Lewis shows several passengers from the bus whose love for others is purely selfish or lustful.

How to describe how achingly beautiful everything is? Lewis emphasizes that human senses can't take in all the glory, but will adapt to it as time goes by. He describes a group of singers: If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old.

A fascinating read!


Friday, May 10, 2019

Stories as Truth Teachers - Quote by Andrew Peterson

If you want a child to know the truth, tell him the truth. If you want a child to love the truth, tell him a story. (Andrew Peterson quoted by Sarah Mackenzie in The Read-Aloud Family)


Friday, May 3, 2019

What I Read and Watched in April

I read a mixed bag of genres this month (Christian fiction, Christian classics, non-fiction, and vintage), which I'll list in order from least liked favorite:

Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Bonds (I would have enjoyed this more if the author had not spent an inordinate and unnecessary amount of time bashing non-Calvinists. It was a definite distraction from the main subject.)
Interior Life by Upham (some good insights on the holy life, but outdated in language)
Secrets of a Charmed Life by Meissner (fabulous writing for CF, but lacking in theological heft. I hate preachy books, but this one had a fluffy take on forgiveness.)
Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie(Gives reasons for reading together and many book lists)
The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis (much easier to read than I expected!)
Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller (The best book I've ever read on the subject. Review forthcoming)
Fair Harbor by Joseph Crosby Lincoln (1922 fiction that had me rooting for the hero and chortling at all the foibles of the townspeople. Free for Kindle)
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer - An absolute must-read for any Christian. Reviewed here. (Free for Kindle)
The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald (audio narrated by Ian Whitcomb. Pure delight. E-book is free for Kindle)

We avoid most new movies so I cannot explain how we happened to watch these three within a seven day span. The Avenger's End Game was overlong but fun. Since we hadn't watched Ant Man, Black Panther, Guardian's of the Galaxy, and Captain Marvel, we were lost some of the time. Next we watched The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, a true story of a young Malawian boy who brought an end to drought in his village with his home-made invention. Lastly, we watched The Return of Mary Poppins and were delighted with most of it. (The topsy-turvy song with Meryl Streep was a low moment.)

Did you read or watch anything that you'd recommend?


Friday, April 26, 2019

The Cultivation of Godliness - quote by A.W. Tozer

Last week I reviewed Tozer's classic, The Pursuit of God. There were too many wonderful passages to squeeze into one brief review, so I saved this choice quote for a separate post. He writes of shallow Christianity in 1948. If he only knew what distractions we face now!

The idea of cultivating a relationship with God, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture. It is too slow, too common. We now demand glamor and fast-flowing dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient with slower and less-direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relationships with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions, and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar. (p. 54)

Lord, help us.


Friday, April 19, 2019

The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer

If you have tasted God's holy, immediate presence,
you will not have much use for life without that intimacy.
- Dr. Dennis Kinlaw -

What a delight to revisit Tozer's classic, The Pursuit of God, after many, many years. As Tozer so aptly puts it, Our pursuit of God is successful only because He is forever seeking to manifest Himself to us. We find Him only because He is eager to be found. (Jeremiah 29:13-14)

Many Christians believe in God, but don't live in intimate fellowship with Him. Their ideas are brain-deep, not life-deep. What makes some people so much more sensitive to the Holy Spirit's promptings and correction? What makes some people so willing to give up all this world's "toys" to serve selflessly and wholeheartedly? Tozer proposes that those who actively pursue Him, put into place certain attitudes and actions that help them to cultivate their life in Christ. Their receptivity may be increased by practice or destroyed by neglect.

One hindrance to communion with Christ is what Tozer calls "hyphenated sins." They are not something we do; they are something we are, and therein lies both their subtlety and power. The self-sins are these: self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love, and a host of others like them. These hidden sins must be rooted out if we are to live in glad obedience to our loving heavenly Father.

Another hindrance is lack of faith. Why do we know so little of that habitual conscious communion with God which the scriptures seem to offer? The answer is our chronic unbelief. Faith enables our spiritual sense to function.

This devotional classic is chock full of admonitions and insights such as, Religion has accepted the monstrous heresy that noise, size, activity, and bluster make a man dear to God. If you want to go deeper in your relationship to Christ, Tozer will point you in the right direction. But be warned, if you are used to fluffy Christianity that requires little or no effort on your part, you may be offended by what Tozer has to say. I'll close with one of the prayers in the book:


Friday, April 12, 2019

A Well-Read Christian - Quote from Dennis Kinlaw

One day when my son was home during his medical training, we had a conversation about his work. I said to him, "In medicine you have found what you want to do. You are going to give your life to it, and you will love it. But you must be careful. The first thing you know, you will wake up and be fifty years old, and the only thing you will have between your ears will be human anatomy and how to cut into it. That is a pretty thin ration on which to live intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. You need to start forcing yourself every day to read something that is not medical so that when you are fifty, you will be a human person as well as a surgeon

(from Feb 13, This Day with the Master devotional book, Zondervan)


Friday, April 5, 2019

These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I'm not a huge fan of young love. The sighs, blushing, sweaty palms and goosebumps irritate me. I prefer the steady, time-tested love of such couples as Elizabeth and Darcy, Anne and Wentworth, and Jane and Rochester. So I was a bit dubious when vlogger Kate Howe  listed her favorite literary couples and most of them were teenagers. I watched her video, which included Almonzo and Laura, just before I started These Happy Golden Years

And I have to agree with her. Their courtship is exceptionally sweet without being saccharine. Almonzo is several years older than Laura and she has trouble seeing him as a possible suitor. When she gets a teaching job 12 miles away from home, he kindly offers to pick her up and take her back each weekend so that she can see her family. She is thrilled to have a way to escape the hardships of her job and accepts, but later decides to give up these rides because she doesn't want to give him any false hopes. She showed a lot of integrity in making that tough decision and he showed just as much in his response. To her surprise, he insists on taking her back and forth anyway saying, What do you take me for? Do you think I'm the kind of fellow that'd leave you out there at Brewster's when you're so homesick just because there's nothing in it for me?

In his gentleness and persistence, he finally wins her. All the pains he takes to make the kitchen of their new home agreeable to her may not be romantic to some people. But being married to a man whose love language is "acts of service" has taught me that they were swoon-worthy.

Another aspect of the Little House books that I've enjoyed has been the underlying faith of the Ingall's family. Wilder is never pushy about Christianity, but shows it as the natural part of their daily lives. When Pa gets out his fiddle to play, he plays a mix of Scottish ballads, American folk songs and hymns. The family attends church even when they don't particularly like the preacher. They pray, trust God, and persevere through trials. When Mary comes home from college where she has learned many skills including doing bead work and reading braille, she gives hand-made gifts to each family member. Later she tells them that having memorized Bible verses as a child had helped her in her studies: Knowing them was a great help to me, Ma. I could read them so easily with my fingers in braille that I learned how to read everything sooner than anyone else in my class. "I'm glad to know that, Mary," was all that Ma said, and her smile trembled, but she looked happier than when Mary had given her the beautiful lamp mat.

This was meant to be the end of the original 8-book series and I highly recommend it as such. The ninth book, The First Four Years, was published after Wilder's death and was a rough draft that she never completed. It is completely unlike the other books in tone and was a huge disappointment.


Friday, March 29, 2019

What I Read and Watched in March

I waffled on my New Year's resolution of reading 20 physical books before reading any fiction on my Kindle. After only 13 "real" books, I caved in and read a D.E. Stevenson novel, The House on the Cliff. I thoroughly enjoyed it and felt it was worth falling off the wagon for.

The longest novel I read this month was Shogun by James Clavell. It was not my kind of book and it left me feeling emotionally depleted. (My review is is here.) Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill by Maud Hart Lovelace (reviewed here), The Mind of Christ by Kinlaw (reviewed here), and The Return of Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (reviewed here) were much more enjoyable.

On my Kindle was the terrific The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (free at the time of this posting), Be Encouraged by Warren Wiersbe, and The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Bond (reviewed here.) On audio I thoroughly enjoyed George MacDonald's classic, The Princess and the Goblin.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that my viewing tastes are pretty tame. Rather than feel violated by shocking and violent images, we opt for older television programs on DVD - about two nights a week. We watched the second movie in the Hollow Crown series and were disappointed. There are reasons why Henry IV is not one of Shakespeare's better known plays. The dialogue isn't very memorable. The acting wasn't as good as the first film. And it was bawdier. We also watched a couple of Columbo movies from Season 4 and Perry Mason, Season 3. We finished up Season Three of Larkrise to Candleford (second time through); episode 12 is the best thing I've ever seen on television about the different kinds of love that it takes to make a marriage.

What about you? Did you read or watch anything worthwhile in March?


Friday, March 22, 2019

Pilgrim's Inn by Elizabeth Goudge

At the root of all art is giving. You can’t hoard the beauty you’ve drawn into you; you have to pour it out again for the hungry, however feebly, however stupidly. You’ve just got to.

One of the themes of Pilgrim's Inn is true beauty. Several members of the Eliot family are extolled for their physical appearance and artistic talent, but Goudge expertly shows that loving deeply and unselfishly is its own kind of art. By this definition, the plainest of the Eliots  (Margaret and Hilary) are artists of extraordinary talent. Some people express loveliness just by loving. Goudge does not sentimentalize love, but instead shows its high cost. 

The title of the book refers to the old inn that Nadine and George buy as their country home. It used to house devout believers who made their pilgrimages to the nearby abbey. Now it has become a refuge not only for Nadine's family, but for other wanderers. Slowly the residents discover the house's  hidden surprises and its ability to bring them healing. The book was written after WWII and several of the characters have lost their hope in humanity and see no point in bringing children into such a world. Goudge deftly proposes that it is BECAUSE of children that the world can improve. While there were children, men and women would not abandon the struggle to make safe homes to put them in, and while they struggled there was hope.

To Goudge, home-building is world-building. Every family unit is a piece of the armor needed to keep mankind safe and sane. Lucilla, the family matriarch feels this strongly:

She tried to pay attention to what the others were saying. But they were talking about the deplorable state of the world, about that terrible bomb, about famine and inflation and chaos and death, and her mind shied away from their talk like a terrified horse. She couldn’t do anything about it now, at eighty-six, except pray, and in between her prayers, now that the war was over, she wished they would let her forget sometimes that things had not turned out as well as one had hoped, and enjoy the things that were left: the spring sunshine slanting into the quiet room and lighting up the flowers, the lively ripe corn color of Pooh-Bah’s coat, the hot tea, the log fire burning on the hearth, the feel of the dear old dog’s chin resting on her shoe, the sound of the sea coming in the pauses of their talk…Every home was a brick in the great wall of decent living that men erected over and over again as a bulwark against the perpetual flooding in of evil. But women made the bricks, and the durableness of each civilization depended on their quality, and it was no good weakening oneself for the brick-making by thinking too much about the flood.

A lovely installment to the trilogy!


Friday, March 15, 2019

The Confessions of St. Augustine (Modern English Version)

If you put off reading the classics because you are intimidated by their outdated language, this version of Augustine's Confessions is an excellent way to become acquainted with his most personal work. It is not a confession as we normally think of it, but is more a prayer of praise interspersed with personal anecdotes.

As Augustine looks back over his life, he perceives God's mercy at every turn. Even as he ran from God, God's presence surrounded him. In misery my soul cast about seeking sensual objects that could scratch where the pox itched. Yet there was no love to be found. None of these things had a soul, so they could not be objects of love. To love then, and to be loved was sweet to me. But when I found someone I loved, I wanted only to possess and enjoy the body of the person I loved. I found a spring of friendship and polluted it with lascivious filth. I veiled the brightness of real love with a hell of foul, unseemly lust. My God, my Mercy, how much bitter root did You sprinkle on that sweetness? You were gracious to do it. (p. 32)

Although not a heavy book (except for the last few chapters), it merits careful reading. I normally eschew paraphrases, but thought this one was well done. It retained the rich language while giving the sentences better flow. Here is one example:

Original: Narrow is the mansion of my soul; enlarge Thou it, that Thou mayest enter in. It is ruinous; repair Thou it. Modern English Version: Narrow is the mansion of my soul. Enlarge it, so that You can enter. It lies in ruins. Repair it. (p. 19)

One drawback of the Modern English Version is that it skims over two very famous passages that are often mentioned in other books (the pear stealing and Augustine's astonishment at seeing Ambrose reading silently). Still, there is much to be gained by reading this version. I was greatly encouraged by the influence of Augustine's mother's prayers for his life, which spurred me to greater faithfulness in praying for my own grown children.

The band Gungor wrote a lovely song (Late Have I Loved You) based on several lines from Augustine's Confessions, which you can listen to on YouTube.


Friday, March 8, 2019

The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge

There are two kinds of romantic love. One is the passionate emotion that leads you to say, "I do." The other is the unemotional choice that enables you to keep your promise even when the feelings come and go. In The Bird in the Tree, Elizabeth Goudge explores both types.

Nadine and David are deeply in love. Their passion for each other is the "truest" thing they know. But Lucilla, the matriarch of the family, isn't so sure that their marriage is a good idea. And she does her best to persuade then that there might be something truer.

As part of my resolution to read more deeply, I'm reading only physical books for the first few months of 2019. I've already seen a difference in my attention span! And also an increase in my overall enjoyment. The Bird in the Tree by Goudge was splendid in every way: good writing, non-simplistic answers to life's problems, and believable characters (even the dogs are wonderfully "real").

Some delectable quotes:

In times of storm and tempest, of indecision and desolation, a book already known and loved makes better reading than something new and untried. The meeting with remembered and well-loved passages is like the continual greetings of old friends; nothing is so warming and companionable. (p. 266)

It was that declaration of Nadine's, that she wanted "to live her own life," that had exasperated Lucilla beyond anything else in the whole wretched business. It was a remark frequently on the lips of the modern generation, and it annoyed her. For whose lives, in the name of heaven, could they live except their own? Everyone must look after something in this world and why were they living their own lives if they looked after antique furniture, petrol pumps or parrots, and not when they looked after husbands, children or aged parents? (p. 83)

If you are familiar with Goudge, I don't need to extol her gifts, but if you aren't yet familiar with her novels, I suggest this trilogy (Bird in the Tree is Book One) or the stand-alone The Dean's Watch.


Friday, March 1, 2019

What I Read and Watched in February

I continue to stick to my New Year's resolution: NO FICTION on my Kindle until I finish 20 physical books. I miss my e-reader because that is where most of my light reading is stored. On the other hand, I am less distracted with my present reading style, so I'm pleased with that.

I finished Pilgrim's Inn and The Heart of the Family, the last two books in Elizabeth Goudge's Eliot Family trilogy. I also finished up The Little House series, wishing I had skipped the last book, The First Four Years, because it is dissonant in tone from the other books. The Long Winter and These Happy Golden Years were my favorites of the set.

I listened to The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher and although I didn't agree with everything, I greatly appreciated his deep thinking on several hard subjects. I also listened to 18 Holes with Bing, a biography by Nathaniel Crosby. I read Tozer's God's Pursuit of Man and Wiersbe's Be Wise (commentary on 1 Corinthians) on my Kindle.

I watched two old movies on YouTube, neither of which were uh-mazing. But I enjoyed the acting in the British melodrama Turn the Key Softly (1953). And I love Jean Arthur in anything, so I gladly put up with the silliness of Too Many Husbands (1940). (Though I prefer the 1963 remake with Doris Day and James Garner called Move Over Darling.)

What about you? Did you read or watch anything in February that you'd recommend?


Friday, February 22, 2019

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I could hardly put this sixth book in the Little House series down! How on earth are the Ingalls' family going to survive The Long Winter?

The story begins with Laura offering to help Pa with the haying. Although she is very young, he relents so that he can finish before winter. Even with her small size and limited strength, she does her best and they complete the task.  I loved it that she willingly gave of herself even though it was hard. The first night she goes to bed with a feeling of accomplishment: Laura was proud. Her arms ached and her back ached and her legs ached, and that night in bed she ached all over so badly that tears swelled out of her eyes, but she did not tell anyone." (p. 9) That's almost impossible to believe in the selfish, selfie-crazed, "look at me!" world that we live in.

Everyone in the story gives of themselves even when it seems like there is nothing left to give. During that long winter they are hit by blizzard after blizzard. The food and fuel run out. The general store is bare. But complaining is forbidden. Each one is expected to do their part to keep the home running. Ma Ingalls invents recipes out of odds and ends that are left over. She creates a "button lamp" when the kerosene is gone. When there is no more coal, Mr. Ingalls comes up with a solution.

I appreciated the patience and kindness that were expressed during their trials. When Pa comes back from the store with the only food item that was left, Ma expresses her thanks, saying how thoughtful it was for him to know that they would need tea on the upcoming cold nights. With no prospect of Christmas gifts of any kind, Ma and the girls gather up their pennies and nickels to buy one item the stores are not out of - a pair of suspenders for Pa. The girls are as thrilled to give this present as their father is to receive it.

Sacrificial love is a repeated theme in all of the books and one of the reasons they merit multiple readings. A fun element in this book is that Almonzo Wilder is introduced as a part of the community. (His story is told in Book Four, Farmer Boy, but that is before he moves out west and meets the Ingalls' family.) He and his older brother Royal have several interactions with Mr. Ingalls, but not the rest of the family yet.

I was so immersed in the story of multiple blizzards that I was surprised to look up and see the sun shining through my window! And I shed a tear for joy when the "Chinook" finally blew in.

This is probably my favorite Little House book so far.


Friday, February 15, 2019

C. S. Lewis quote on Faith

Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. . . . That is why faith is such a necessary virtue. Unless you teach your moods "where they get off," you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really depending on the weather and the state of its digestion.

The first step is to recognize the fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers, and religious reading, and church going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?

(p. 123, 124 Mere Christianity)