Friday, September 27, 2019

What I Read and Watched in September

We finally had enough down time to watch movies, and I'm surprised at how many we watched. We liked them all, but I'm ranking them in order from "okay" to "really good."

The Long Goodbye - a documentary on Netflix about Kara Tippet's battle with cancer. Good, but not fun to watch if you know what I mean.
Overcomer - newest Kendrick Brothers' pic at the theatre. We liked this, but the Christian clich├ęs were pretty thick by the end.
Maltese Falcon (1941) - saw this classic in the theatre, but didn't love it as much as I thought I would.
Good Sam (link leads to trailer) - Clean movie on Netflix. Fun, but too much like a Hallmark movie by the end.
Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (link leads to trailer) - on Netflix. What's not to love about a film that shows the transforming power of books? Plus three actors from Downton Abbey. Beautifully filmed.
The More the Merrier (1943) - A favorite screwball comedy with Jean Arthur
Ramen Shop (link leads to trailer) - on Netflix. Japanese foodie movie. Showed the importance of love and forgiveness without all the preachiness.

I read five books. Village Diary by Miss Read was a treat. So was the mystery Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart. I read a good missionary biography called An Irrepressible Passion and a disappointing cookbook called How to Eat by Nigella Lawson. I only made it halfway through James Russel Lowell's poetry book Heartsease and Rue because it was so unpleasant.


Friday, September 20, 2019

Village Diary by Miss Read

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single school teacher of a certain age, must be in want of a husband. And the folks of Fairacre are certain that the newest bachelor in town must be heaven-sent for their favorite spinster, Miss Read. She isn't interested in him in the least, but when he chooses another, the townspeople kindly express their regrets to her. Happily, she sees the bright side of their meddling:

Sitting alone, in that quiet classroom, with only the tick of the wall clock and the faint shouts of my approaching pupils to be heard, I felt perhaps more keenly than ever before, just what it means to be a villager - someone whose welfare is of interest (sometimes of unwelcome interest) to one's neighbors - but always to matter. It was a warming thought - to be part of a small, living community, members one of another, so closely linked by ties of kinship, work and the parish boundaries, that the supposed unhappiness of one elderly woman affected all.

Village Diary is book two in the series and includes all the same characters (over 30 of them) as book one, and adds Amy, Miss Read's well-heeled friend from London. Her busy, plush life is in stark contrast with the village school teacher's, but Miss Read would much rather live quietly. She writes:  I, finding myself remarkably uninteresting, am only too pleased to observe others and the natural objects around me. Thus I am spared the pangs of self-reproach, and, as my lot is cast in pleasant places, find endless cause for happiness and amusement.

These books are not Christian fiction (thank goodness!) but they frequently contain biblical references (like the highlighted phrase above) and contain Christian themes (community, grace, forgiveness, etc. ) Plus the writing is delightful: Outside the post office grow three fine lime trees, murmurous with bees on summer afternoons.

I'm still not sure I'll love Fairacre as much as Thrush Green, but I've enjoyed the first two novels.


Friday, September 13, 2019

Miracles by C. S. Lewis

I understood so little of  the first chapters of Miracles that I was tempted to give up. But when I saw that Chapter 14 was on the Grand Miracle (the incarnation), I knew I had to hang on. Everyone knows the famous quote, We believe the sun is in the sky at midday in summer not because we can clearly see the sun, but because we can see everything else. But its context is the incarnation. To Lewis, God's act of becoming man is the light that clarifies all other Christian doctrines.

In the first half of the book Lewis argues for the naturalness of miracles. Contrary to popular opinion, they do not go against natural laws, but confirm them. If the laws of Nature are necessary truths, no miracle can break them: but no miracle need break them. It is with them as with the laws of arithmetic. If I put six pennies in a drawer on Monday and six more on Tuesday, the laws decree that - other things being equal - I shall find twelve pennies on Wednesday. But if the drawer has been robbed, I may in fact only find two. Something will have been broken (the lock of the drawer or the laws of England) but the laws of arithmetic will not have been broken.... 

We are in the habit of talking as if the laws of Nature caused events to happen; but they never caused any event at all. The laws of motion do not set billiard balls moving: they analyze the motion after something else has provided it. They produce no events; they state the pattern to which every event must conform. Thus in one sense the laws of Nature cover the whole field of space and time; in another, what they leave out is precisely the whole, real universe - the incessant torrent of actual events which make up true history.... A miracle is emphatically not an event without cause or without results, Its cause is the activity of God; its results follow according to Natural law.

On the necessity of the incarnation: In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him.

On Christ's death: On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall. Death is, in fact, ambivalent. It is Satan's greatest weapon and also God's great weapon; it is holy and unholy, our supreme disgrace and our only hope, the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.

Lewis also addresses the important topics of prayer, free will vs. God's sovereignty (always a mind bender), death/rebirth and the spiritual vs. the material. I loved his quirky phrase for the idea that all reality is found in Christ: He is ultimate Fact-hood. This was a difficult but extremely worthwhile book for building mental and spiritual muscle.


Friday, September 6, 2019

Letters to An American Lady by C.S. Lewis

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Letters to an American Lady by C.S. Lewis. The intro warned me not to search for deep theological insights in these rapidly written missives so I was expecting it to be rather dry. Instead it was delightfully replete with simple details of Lewis' life that gave glimpses into his marriage, daily habits, likes and dislikes, fears, and his walk with God. A constant theme was the necessity of faith without feelings.

On August 21, 1958 he writes, Dear Mary, Remember what St. John says, If our heart condemns us, God is stronger than our heart. The feeling of being, or not being forgiven and loved, is not what matters. One must come down to brass tacks. If there is a particular sin on your conscience, repent and confess it. If there isn't tell the despondent devil not to be so silly. You can't help hearing his voice (the odious inner radio) but you must treat it merely like a buzzing in your ears or any other irrational nuisance.... You must always go back to the practical and definite. What the devil loves is that vague cloud of unspecified guilt feeling or unspecified virtue by which he lures us into despair or presumption.

On his morning routine: I'm a barbarously early riser and have usually got my breakfast and dealt with my letters before the rest of the house is astir. One result is that I often enjoy the only fine hours of the day - lovely, still, cool sunshine from 7 till 10, followed by rain from then on, is common. I love the empty, silent dewy, cobwebby hours.... (Sept 30, 1958)

I especially appreciated these thoughts on busyness: Don't be too easily convinced that God really wants you to do all sorts of work you needn't do. Each must do his duty in that state of life to which God has called him. Remember that a belief in the virtues of doing for doing's sake is characteristically feminine, characteristically American, and characteristically modern; so that three veils may divide you from the correct view! There can be intemperance in work just as in drink. What feels like zeal may be only fidgets or even the flattering of one's self-importance. And by doing what ones duties do not demand, may make one less fit for the duties that are demanded. Just you give Mary a little chance as well as Martha!

I found it fascinating that he hated letter writing but felt compelled to answer all letters. He even wrote little notes to Mary when he was in the throes of his wife's illness and death. Remarkable!

A fairly quick read, but a wonderful way to while away a few hours.