Friday, October 07, 2011

Uncomfortable with Jesus

The only thing I remember from my college biology class is reading Lee Stroebel’s Case for a Creator. And then, the only thing I remember from the book was a testimony from a scientist, whose name I now forget. Every time I read one of the Gospels, I recall what he said and I again agree with him. Here was the gist of it: “If the Jesus of the Gospels were fictitious, then I would want to worship those who made him up. “

Jesus startles me. It doesn’t matter how many times I read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—I am left uneasy, keenly aware of an energy, a goodness that I cannot predict or control. Jesus does not fit into my ideal of goodness and love; he efficiently shatters any marble statue I shape for him in my mind. Those static print words on a page bear witness to one who electric-cracks with dynamic, shocking love—decisively counter-intuitive to my paltry ideas of love. He is the cold water on my face to wake me up from dreams of reality.  I am not comfortable with him, but I love him.

I am not comfortable, but I love that he delighted in the faith of those who didn’t wait in line, but pushed or tore holes in the roof on their way to him, confident that he would heal. I am not comfortable, but I love that Jesus gently rebuked the one who dutifully served and commended the one who neglected duty and sat at his feet. I am uncomfortable, but I love that he defended and rejoiced in the prostitute who anointed him with ridiculously expensive oil out of her ‘excessive’ love. I am uncomfortable, but I love that Jesus broke the law of righteousness in order to do righteousness. I am uncomfortable, but I love the parable of the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the Sermon on the Mount. I am uncomfortable with the way that Jesus saw to the heart of the matter—whatever was keeping anyone from following him—“let the dead bury their own dead,” “deny yourself,” “go and sell all you have and give it to the poor.” He sees to my heart and that makes me uncomfortable. He is certainly not safe or tame, as C.S. Lewis said, but he is good.

We read Graham Green’s novel The Power and the Glory in high school and this statement by the “whiskey priest” has always haunted me: “ ’Oh,’ the priest said, ‘that’s another thing altogether—God is love. I don’t say the heart doesn’t feel a taste of it, but what a taste. The smallest glass of love mixed with a pint pot of ditch-water. We wouldn’t recognize that love. It might even look like hate. It would be enough to scare us—God’s love. It set fire to a bush in the desert, didn’t it, and smashed open graves and set the dead walking in the dark. Oh, a man like me would run a mile to get away if he felt that love around.’ ”

Carravagio, The Calling of St. Matthew
I feel this when I read the Gospels.  I am scared and fascinated by this Love, by this Jesus. If he were fictional, he is so counter-intuitive and yet so unquestionably good that I would worship the one who made him up. Nonetheless, I do believe this is the one on whom God set his seal of approval, vindicating his life of self-giving love by raising him from the dead. The Jesus of the Gospels compels me. Whenever I doubt, I come back to him, and I again affirm Peter’s words, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn. 6:68-69)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Duly Noted

I'm reading Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death for my Center for Faith and Culture research. His primary concern in the book is the way that medium profoundly impacts content; he focuses on public discourse and whether or not the television is the proper medium for that. My research will apply the same kind of considerations to church music-- whether or not the the form and style of the music appropriately matches its message. Here are some jewels from reading the first few chapters:

In every tool we create, an idea is embedded that goes beyond the function of the thing itself” (14).

“We do not measure a culture by its output of undisguised trivialities, but by what it claims as significant” (16). 

In chapter 3, Postman discusses the intellectual climate of early America. Here are some facts that amazed me:
"No literary aristocracy emerged in Colonial America. Reading was not regarded as an elitist activity, and printed matter was spread evenly among all kinds of people. . . By 1772, Jacob Duche could write: 'The poorest labourer upon the shore of the Delaware thinks himself entitled to deliver his sentiment in matters of religion or politics with as much freedom as the gentleman or scholar. . . . Such is the prevailing taste for books of every kind, that almost every man is a reader" (34). 

On the Lyceum Movement, in which lecture halls were set up for adult education, featuring leading intellectuals, writers and humorists: 
"Alfred Bunn, an Englishman on an extensive tour through America, reported in 1853 that 'practically every village had its lecture hall.' He added: 'it is a matter of wonderment. . . to witness the youthful workmen, the over-tired artisan, the worn-out factory girl. . . rushing. . . after the toil of the day is over, into the hot atmosphere of a crowded lecture hall' " (40). 

In chapter 4, he discusses the Lincoln/Douglas debates. The crowds willingly listened to 7 hours of debate at points! This statement by Douglas, responding to lengthy applause,  especially demonstrates the climate of the time:
"' My friends. . . silence will be more acceptable to me in the discussion of these questions than applause. I desire to address myself to your judgment, your understanding, and your consciences, and not to your passions or your enthusiasms.' " (45)

When you think about that kind of intellectual climate, a 'constitutional republic' of citizens voting responsibly and intelligently would make much more sense. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Yes, I did read the Hunger Games

Sometime Last Week…

Jon and I are eagerly—well, that’s not strong enough—ravenously awaiting the package that should be arriving on Friday. It contains our hardcover set of the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

Oh dear goodness. We both finished Catching Fire and subsequently, have been mentally living in Panem, constantly discussing whether we think Peeta or Gale is better for Katniss. And, of course, if you’ve read the books, you know that the second book is the worst book to have to wait 50+ library requests for the third. So, Jon broke down and bought them. I can’t say I was angry.

This is yet another series that I didn’t expect to like—not when junior highers (no offense) were the only ones I heard raving about them. Well, I should have known. I always find myself enjoying young adult and children’s books. There have been many points where I’ve almost declared that children/young adult books are my favorites. Then, I realize that would be hasty as the titles which wouldn’t fit that category start piling up in my mind like the cards when you win computer solitaire.

Regardless, Collins has given us a good story with the Hunger Games. You’ve got many great themes—courage, freedom, love, sacrifice, goodness—once again embodied in another setting that teaches us more about what it means to be human. And, if you get anything from the Hunger Games, you see yet again that being human is not about being fashionable and trendy, gluttonous in the face of hunger, needing entertainment to the point of watching other human beings being forced to kill each other, etc. Collins’s portrayal of the Capital heightens attributes of both ancient Rome and modern America, so that while their actions are despicable, they’re also disconcertingly familiar.  I mean, it’s not very subtle, but it gets the point across.

So, I think these are good fun books to have in our library and would recommend them—at least the first two. I can’t wait to read the last one!

5 Days (Or So) Later…

Surprisingly, the Wake Forest Library actually ended up getting Mockingjay before Amazon delivered. I finished the last book on Friday morning. I have to confess that it was not my favorite; in my opinion, some aspects of the ending were uncharacteristic and disappointing. Nonetheless, if you’re in the mood for a really fun read, then I still would recommend the trilogy to you.

Since I last wrote, in addition to the Hunger Games, I also read Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Unlocking Romans by J.R. Daniel Kirk, and the Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. In other words, I’ve been indulging in over-reading and have been neglecting my writing diet. It’s time to get back on track. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thoughts on "Of Gods and Men"

Saturday night, Jon and I watched the lauded French film, “Of Gods and Men.” It is based on the true story of Trappist monks dwelling in an impoverished Algerian community under the threat of Islamic Fundamentalists. 

The monks live harmoniously, working to cultivate love. They nurture the ground, care for the ill, discuss life with the local Muslim leaders and give advice to the youth, who all clearly trust them. All this is interspersed and structured by their worship habits—their beautiful chants and prayers to God.

Very early in the film, we learn the threat of Islamic fundamentalists who violently murder Croatian aid-workers; authorities urge the monks to leave their monastery. The majority of the film, thereafter, records the monks’ agonizing struggle to know what it looks like to love their village with the love of Christ. Everything in the film is understated. It is slow and silent. It leaves room for the viewer to insert their own weaknesses and questions into this tumult of fear and struggle, peace and love. It is profoundly heroic, because it is profoundly human and painful.

I loved how the film shifted between expansive, exalted landscapes scenes; the small, plain chapel, in which the monks unite to sing and pray to God; and each monk’s quiet and measured service in his daily duties. Each scene compels with variegated beauty. The monks love the sparse glory of the world around them; they love Algerian people who depend on them; they love each other with honesty and understanding; they love life and good wine and beautiful music; but more than anything, they love the Prince of Peace who would give up his life for the love of others.

So that was the context for hearing our pastor preach from 1 Corinthians 13 on Sunday morning. It was so good to have the film re-playing in my mind as he reminded us that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” I loved that the film depicted all levels of this—it wasn’t only a matter of physically dying, but the daily dying to self-interest out of love for each other. I need these sorts of examples. I need to see how my brothers and sisters have shaped their lives according to the Gospel—the shape of Jesus’ life and death, hoping in the resurrection.  I need to see how the powerful love of Christ cascades through those who have gone before me, making them fall down in worship, love, and sacrifice, in the hope of being set once more on their feet in new life, in the hope of “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” 

Friday, September 09, 2011

"Excuses, Excuses," but also, Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Yes, I have been caught in that noncommittal middling period, that to-and-fro indifference of “Do I actually want to have a blog?” “Is it really worth it for me to add my two cents into the internet void?” It all comes down to the fundamental question, “Do I really want to lose valuable reading time by writing?”

This is all mental, just like a commitment to working out. I guess my frustration is that I’m not actually sure why I’m writing these things down. When I work out, I do it because I don’t want to feel or be fat. When I write, well, I suppose I do it to exercise and strengthen my ability to say what I actually mean to say. And, that’s a good thing. But, is a blog the best way to do that anyhow?

I’m not sure. We shall see.

In other news, I have been busy filling in my literary gaps-- those books where I’ve felt somewhat ashamed to own up, “Well, I’ve always meant to read that, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.” So, in the past few weeks, I’ve read Catcher in the Rye, Love in the Time of Cholera, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Oh, and don’t worry, I did indeed finish War and Peace a while ago). Nonetheless, while it would be most proper to write about each of those classics in turn, I’m most interested in discussing the Tess since I just finished it today.

I actually didn’t expect to like it so much.  All my reading life, for no apparent reason, I assumed I wouldn’t care for Thomas Hardy. Of course, I’ve always meant to fill in the Tess gap, but entered into it with the expectation of drudgery and despair. All I knew was that it was sad.

And the book certainly is very sad. I told Jon that my heart felt it was being perptually butterflied, raw-chicken-breast-style, the entire time (this rather nasty simile makes me wonder if I spend too much time in the kitchen). Nonetheless, that Thomas Hardy-- he certainly knew how to create some characters.  Tess is captivating; her vitality and trueness exhibit those deep down things that we feel about being human. This morning, as I was praying, I almost started praying for Tess in her horrible plight. Then I had to remind myself that she’s not really, well, real. You could infer several things from this slightly embarrassing confession (i.e. that Amanda is crazy because she prays for literary characters; but honest, it’s the first time; I’m almost sure!) but the main thing to conclude is that Hardy, in creating Tess Durbeyfield, brought to life someone who so breathes of reality that the impressionable reader will find himself or herself wanting to pray for her. And that’s the end of that!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Oh, Hemingway...

He said some good things: 

"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer." 
Ernest Hemingway

Thanks, "Daily Literary Quote," for putting this on my iGoogle today. Good one. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Reading War and Peace... Still

Well, I’m still in the midst of War and Peace. I don’t think I have ever been in the middle of a book for so long while consistently reading. I’m on page 821;  The novel has 1,215 pages. Well, to be more precise, I’ll just stick with calling it a “book,” not a novel. Tolstoy said, “it is not a novel, still less an epic poem, still less a historical chronicle. War and Peace is what the author wanted and was able to express, in the form in which it is expressed.” There's creative genius for you.  It is just so different than anything I’ve ever read. Isaac Babel said, “If the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy.” That seems to capture it.

The force of the book moves forward ponderously, inevitably, enormously, unstoppably—containing and gathering up within itself the intermittent, sporadic motions of small and great individuals. The power of it all takes your breath away and leaves you feeling quite small. And yet, simultaneously, Tolstoy highlights the strange magnificence of humanity. He turns the tables so that the great figures of history—Napoleon, specifically—are shown to be small-minded and incidental. Meanwhile, ‘mediocre’ people with their mixture of beauty and baseness experience these crazy moments of transcendence that elevate their souls, in Tolstoy’s depiction, beyond that of the great Napoleon. Within all of this, Tolstoy exposes the tragedy and absurdity of making war a game--of playing with human lives like chess, when the player is the same as the pieces.
These reflections bring to mind Lewis’ famous quotation:

"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods or goddesses, to remember that the dullest or most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are in some degree, helping each other to one or another of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection due them that we should conduct all our dealing with one another, all friendships, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Native cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life to ours is as the life of a gnat. But is immortals we joke with, marry, snub, and exploit.”

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Story and Virtue: Or, Why You Should Watch Good Movies and Get Completely Lost In Good Books Without Feeling Guilty

I just finished reading After You Believe this morning. Wright finishes his book with the question that has been looming over the entire book: “Yes, Tom, I understand that I’m supposed to develop these virtues of ‘faith, hope, and love.’ But, you see, I think that’s another thing that’s very easy to say, much more difficult to practice. So, how do you think we do this?” Wright’s answer lies first of all in the presupposition that moral effort is not contradictory to grace, a matter of ‘legalism’ or ‘hypocritical putting on.’ To try to be virtuous is not saying that we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps (what does that mean, by the way?). That kind of mindset rests on the wrong presupposition that ‘whatever God does we don’t do, and vice versa. Life (thank God!) is more complicated than that” (258). So, Wright proposes intense moral effort in implementing the ‘virtuous circle’ of “scripture, stories, examples, community and practices” in order to form those hard-won habits of virtue.

Nevertheless, while I would love to expound on each one of these, I would like to focus on one area in particular—the area of stories.”

(Sidenote: I just looked down and there was a yellow spider crawling on my shirt. If the rest of this post seems a bit jumpy, he (i.e. the spider) is the culprit).

I’ve thought for a while now that loving stories is something more than a fun escape or hobby. Wright confirmed this more for me. While of course, his particular focus is in the area of biblical stories, he also addresses the reality that we are ‘storied creatures’ (264). We are swept away by the tension and resolution in stories because we identify. We yearn for resolution, for completion. As we experience stories, we automatically discern between characters. We see their development, we see how their actions unfold, and we can learn from that. Wright also states:

“All of this is true, of course, of any human being in any tradition. But within the Christian tradition there is special reason to pay attention to stories. Many of the great writers in the world have been deeply formed by the Jewish and/or Christian tradition, and their thoughtful words can help us to reflect on that tradition more deeply. But Christians believe that all human life is itself a gift of God and, however much it may be distorted, a reflection of God. Thus even stories written by writers who are explicitly atheist—indeed, writers whose words were intended to mock or dismiss God—have a strange knack of making crucial points about what is means to be human, about the importance of love and justice and beauty. Living within the world of stories increases—if we let it—the capacity for discernment.” (265)

In my opinion, it even goes beyond “the capacity for discernment.” I think that stories—whether it be reading good literature or watching good movies—have a fundamentally humanizing element in that they take the focus off of ourselves and allow us to get into the mind and story of another. It gives us a practical way to practice, as Atticus Finch implored, the ability to step into another person’s shoes. In short, literature helps us to love our neighbor as ourselves. I found this quote on a blog a couple of months ago and I think it expresses this reality precisely:

"Literature is "useful" because it wakes us up from the sleepwalk of self-involvement—of plans, anxieties, resentments, habits, the fog that clings to our eyes as we stumble through the day, stumble through our lives—and shows us the world, shows us ourselves, shows us life and experience and the reality of other people, and forces us to think about them all. The pleasure of serious literature is not escape or fantasy, it is this very shiver of consciousness, this troubling exhilaration. Reading is thinking and feeling, both at once and both together, simultaneous and identical.” (William Deresiewicz,

Thursday, August 04, 2011

War and Peace & N.T. Wright, Part 1

It’s difficult to write about the books you’re reading while you’re in the middle of them. I suppose I could try to write about something else, but I am not fully engaged in anything else. I am almost halfway through the monster known as War and Peace. It’s taken a month to get that far, which is quite a feat of patience for me. But, we’re starting to gain momentum now. I have reached the reading stage which is one of my favorite things in life, namely, when I sit down, grab that fat book with two hands (too big for one), let it fall heavily open on my lap and eagerly enter the world fully as a participant because I’ve thoroughly taken the time to get to know the characters and their world. These gigantic novels take patience, but “you reap what you sow” and l’m pretty excited to reap War and Peace.

Besides the fact that War and Peace is quite lengthy, I’ve also been proceeding slowly because I was finishing N.T. Wright’s Justification and subsequently starting his book, After You Believe. Of course, Justification was brilliant, but I will probably address that book in a subsequent “N.T. Wright is Splendid” post. Right now, I would like to recommend to you After You Believe.

 After You Believe is a sequel of sorts to Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope, addressing the issue of Christian character. Wright couches his teaching within the tradition of virtue, demonstrating how Jesus and the NT writers expanded and surpassed the wisdom beginning with Aristotle. Virtue, simply put, is “what happens when wise and courageous choices have become ‘second nature’ ” (21). Within the framework of ancient wisdom, the four main virtues were “courage, restraint, cool judgment, and determination to do the right things for others” (21). Christianity summed up and surpassed these by the overlaying triad of “faith, hope, and love,” which synthesizes what it means to look more and more like Jesus, which, by default, means becoming more and more human.

All of this is framed within an eschatological framework. Eschatology is the “study of last things,” but don’t immediately think about the Left Behind series (which, if you own it, should be buried in a place where no-one can ever find it, ever. I would say ‘burn it,’ but burning books—even such a wretched series—is pretty horrible and I start getting images of Fahrenheit 451). You see, the early Jewish followers of Jesus interpreted the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus through their contemporary theological framework. Within that framework, when the Messiah came to fulfill God’s promises to restore the world to Himself, he would bring in the “last days” (i.e. when God would make all things right). Indeed, the resurrection of Jesus brought that future restoration into the present. God turned death on its head in Jesus, giving a foretaste of when He would finally conquer Death once and for all. But, the early Jesus followers also recognized that this restoration is not yet complete. We live in what can seem to be a Jackson Pollock world with some beautiful color spatters mixed up with a lot of darkness and confusion. The NT clarion call within that world is to faithfully live in a manner that is decidedly oriented to the future reality of judgment and restoration.

Wright especially brings attention to the promise that those who are faithful to following Jesus will indeed be glorified and will reign with him, accompanying him in bring healing justice to the world. When we hear “reign,” I know it’s easy to cringe because we associate any sort of power with corruption. But, Jesus was exalted to reign over all because of his self-giving love (i.e. Phil. 2). Those who reign with him will also be like him. If I truly believe this will be the future reality, then I will shape my life accordingly.  I will “anticipate” that reality by properly reigning over myself in self-control. And self-control does not only refer saying ‘no’ to sin, although that’s certainly an important part of it. I think it also has something to say to my patterns of indecisiveness and oscillation, which proceed out of fear.

Unfortunately, at points, within a certain view of spirituality, my wishy-washiness would be affirmed as proper waiting upon the Lord for him to move my emotions and give me “peace” about whatever I should do. Within that point of view, one mistrusts using the mind to make a fully-thought-out decision because it could be “worldly wisdom.”  Christians are supposed to step out of the way and let God move them ‘spiritually’ (i.e. emotionally) to do whatever he wants, no matter how absurd it might seem to the rest of the world. The more ludicrous it is, the more obvious it is from God because “I would never have thought of it on my own.” Wright straightforwardly addresses this issue:
 “Part of the problem in contemporary Christianity, I believe, is that talk about the freedom of the Spirit, about the grace which sweeps us off our feet and heals and transforms our lives, has been taken over surreptitiously by a kind of low-grade romanticism, colluding with an anti-intellectual streak in our culture, generating the assumption that the more spiritual you are, the less you need to think. I cannot stress too strongly that this is a mistake. The more genuinely spiritual you are, according to Romans 12 and Philippians 1, the more clearly and accurately and carefully you will think, particularly about what the completed goal of your Christian journey will be and hence what steps you should be taking, what habits you should be acquiring, as part of the journey toward that goal, right now."
The whole scope of Scripture tells a story of humans created in God’s image to be strong and free people—not wishy-washy people trying to ‘get out of God’s way’ (how do you do that anyway?) so that he can possess them and make them do whatever he wants. Instead, part of being fully human means making wise decisions out of self-giving love and gladness to be holy. Tragically, the first humans rebelled against that and instead became enslaved to death and sin and life-depleting addictions. Jesus came and was the true human, freely choosing to take upon himself the consequences of all of their sins. In his death, burial, and resurrection, he defeated Death, Sin, and Evil. In following him, humans are freed from their slavery and are given life through the life of Jesus, both in this age and in the age to come. By the indwelling Spirit of God, they are being renewed and restored back to what they are created to be—glad and free people, who love both passionately and intelligently, people who make wise decisions to show God their hope that he indeed is restoring this world through his Son. In sum, God rescued those people from the inhumanity of slavery to sin, self, passions, and evil and is transforming them to be more and more human, to be a “kingdom of priests” who will properly reign over the earth.

If I live with the expectation of being part of that kingdom of priests, then I will reign over myself well.  I won’t be so fearful and timid and indecisive. I will wisely and confidently make decisions that are aligned with the truth that I know. And, I will be disciplined to think about how the patterns of my daily life also reflect that truth.

Well, I think Tolstoy is rubbing off on me because this is getting long. My next post, I hope to integrate more fully this topic of “war and peace” and N.T. Wright. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Recently, I’ve been reading through Paul’s letters. It’s always a good refresher to read an epistle a day and get a panoramic view of Paul’s mindset and priorities. One of those priorities which has stood out to me is the way that Paul constantly exemplified and commanded thanksgiving. I don’t hear enough or think enough about this practice which seems to be as fundamental to being human as eating and breathing. Paul holds a rich theology of enjoying God’s creation with thanksgiving—“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4). 

 Like so many, I’ve often been influenced by a spirituality which ignores or denies the goodness of creation. I used to implicitly believe that true spirituality consisted of dividing my mind somehow so that the more important part of me was constantly thinking about theology, praying, and reciting Bible verses, while the less important part of me could unconsciously float through necessary activities in the real world. When I thought like that, Paul would startle me when he would affirm the goodness of creation, like when he speaks to the people of Lystra proclaiming that God had “did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).  I would think,“ ‘rain, fruitful seasons, food, and gladness’ seem so unspiritual.” Isn’t that an absolutely horrible way to live?

My parents have never lived that way. When I read Paul’s commands to constantly give thanks, I think of them. More than anything, they are people characterized by a simple gratitude and a joyous wonder at God’s creation. To them, everything is a gift. It’s a cliché statement, but I’m not really sure how else to say it.  Because they lack presumption or entitlement, they are thankful for everything.

It’s not necessarily what they say, but their overall attitude.They are obsessed with the weather and hope for a beautiful day so that my dad can do his job, but even if doesn’t, they sit on the porch and wonder at the thunder and the lightning and the wind. When my dad gets business, it’s only from the Lord. When my parents have company, my mom chatters more happily about it than a Christmas present. They love it when people feel comfortable enough to just stop by and hang out for hours and hours. To them, it’s a gift to mow the lawn and smell the fresh-cut grass. For my mom, the crispness of clean sheets, the clarity of washed windows, the glory of a shiny sink can make her day. They love anything that is fresh and green and growing- - flourishing herbs, hydrangeas, soybeans, grass, green beans, corn, strawberries. They rejoice in their work, in their meals, in their church, in their home, in their garden, in their family, and in their friends 

I don’t know anyone else who can talk so excitedly and at such great length about the weather and cleaning products and trucks. Admittedly, I tease them for it, often. But the more I learn, the more I realize that their attitude is so beautiful and humble and good. I hope that the same deep and simple gratitude will grow in me. It all reminds me of Gerard Manley Hopkin’s perspective in “Pied Beauty.”

Glory be to God for dappled things— 
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; 
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; 
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; 
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough; 
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim. 
All things counter, original, spare, strange; 
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) 
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; 
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Summer of Harry Potter

Well, for the past month or so, Jon and I have been obsessed with Harry Potter. After years and years of ignoring the series (for some now incomprehensible-to-me reason), we have been taken over by the craze. We are buzzing with excitement, “Have you read them??? Have you read them??!!” as though we had discovered a new phenomenon, as though we weren’t the last people in the world to read them.

Why did it take us so long? We’re both wondering that. I think we felt a latent defensiveness against them because of our love for Lord of the Rings. Now, after reading Harry Potter, I have no idea why LOTR and HP were compared to each other. Nonetheless, Jon and I previously felt that people pit them against each other and so, of course, we would side with Lord of the Rings and turn our nose up on Harry Potter.

We have clearly repented and have realized that we can love them both because they are both wonderful in their different ways. Harry Potter is ridiculously fun to read. Of course, if I am really needing a glimpse into the battle between good and evil and need to weep at the beauty of goodness and the destructiveness of evil, I will always go to LOTR. The good is more good and the evil is more evil. And of course, it just demands more of you.

But all of those considerations certainly cannot null the fantastic world of Harry Potter. (Look at me, I am falling into the very same comparisons I rejected at the beginning of this post.)  It’s taken me a while to stop pining for the world and missing the characters and wishing I hadn’t finished. But I do still miss all of them—Harry, Hermione, all of the endearing Weasley family, Luna, Neville, Dumbledore, Hagrid.

The character development was wonderful, the relationships resounded with the realities of growing up, and the overarching plot quite simply echoed the Gospel. How ironic that the Gospel is right under our noses in a rampantly bestselling series that Christians boycott because there is magic and “bad things” in it. How that makes me squirm.

Well, anyway. It’s just fun. Spells are a common part of our everyday life now. I text my husband, “Accio Jonathan” when I want him to come home. Jon decided one of our chopsticks would suffice as his wand at the Harry Potter party we’re going to. And now, we’re just brainstorming on our costumes. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I like to read the same kind of writing as the food I like to eat—fresh, clean, crisp, understated, with an unexpected- yet-oh-so-right surprise thrown in here and there. In other words, Southern cooking is just not my thing. The oil, the fat, those poor breaded-and-fried vegetables bereaved of all their health, the sugary-syrupy overflowing ooze—good ole Southern cooking makes my stomach claustrophobic.  I know, sweet southern friends, this may be tragic, but I despise deep-fried foods. Perfectly good meats and vegetables (and all other sorts of things, like butter, that I hear they deep-fry at the state fair) are twisted from all their original wholesomeness . I profoundly feel this tragedy, especially when I remember my mom’s garden. I think those poor deep-fried vegetables are just yearning to go back to their Eden—to being naked and unashamed-- but the Cherubim of Oil and Breading guards the way back.

Writing is the same way. Who hasn’t felt like they would explode in impatience if they had to read yet another redundant, melodramatic sentence that fried the life out of perfectly good words? Of course, I have no room to talk. There are plenty of times where I am attempting to express the weight of something I’ve learned or felt and it just ends up, so to speak, overdone, mushy, and/or burnt. That’s why this blog is not primarily about what I learn or feel. I start trying too hard to be profound and that inevitably leads to flowery, hyphenated words. I don’t like writing like that. You don’t like reading writing like that. So, we’re all well and pleased now.

To say I admire C.S. Lewis’s writing is a bit of an understatement. In his last interview, he said “The way for a person to develop a style is (a) to know exactly what he wants to say, and (b) to be sure he is saying exactly that. The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean. If our words are ambiguous, our meaning will escape him. I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or the right the reader will most certainly go into it.”

I long to say exactly what I mean to say—to fit the perfect words into their perfect places, so that a reader could express, “I always felt that to be true, I just never said it.” That’s what I think it is to read good writing.  But, indeed, the writing itself almost seems transparent, for minds can meet, time can be travelled, and new worlds can be seen through those perfectly chosen words.

But here I go, speaking of something too great and too marvelous for me. Soon, you’ll start feeling your shoes sticking with my over-sweet, syrupy sentiment. I’ll stop now. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My First Book

The day after I was born, my Aunt Kathy gave me my very first book—“A Child’s Treasury of Poems,” edited by Mark Daniel. She inscribed it inside the cover with my name, “4-30-87,” and “Love, Aunt Kathy” in blue, cursive letters. My mom kept it away from me when I was really little, to save it from baby teeth, saliva, and ferocious fingers thinking that page-ripping was a blast. But I think she started to put it into my hands when I was around five. I would hold it reverently. It’s so beautiful—mossy green cover (now well-worn), about an inch think, properly substantial page paper. I would open it and feast my eyes upon the gorgeous illustrations--full-color reproductions of Edwardian and Victorian era oil paintings. Then, I would read each poem or rhyme and savor the feel of the words connected in just the right way. This was my first experience of beauty that I remember.

I still have little torn pieces of lined paper marking my favorite poems. I would go for the longer and more epic ones. I did really like the ones by Christina Georgina Rossetti and I just thought her name was so very lovely. I had a thing for names, too. I snuck my parent’s dog-eared, baby-name book into my room and would hide, looking at the names. I was a weird kid.

Anyway, my mom would also read the poems to us and we memorized a few:

                Whether the weather be fine,
                Or whether the weather be not,
                Whether the weather be cold,
                Or whether the weather be hot.
                We’ll weather the weather
                Whatever the weather,
                Whether we like it or not!

This poem and many many good ones were by this fabulous poet named Anon. We thought he was just great. So many poems/rhymes we just commonly knew, like “Rub a dub dub, three men in a tub” were actually by him! Every time his name would come up, we would wonder wide-eyed at how prolific he was and how famous so many of his poems had become. He probably wrote 60% of the poems in the book.  

Well, in high school, I was thumbing through the book and was reading the little biographies of the poets in the back. I was trying to find Mr. Anon, but lo! He was not in alphabetical order. I read through all the biographies and got to the end: “A Brief Note on Some of the Anonymous Verses.” After ruminating on this for a while, I blushed, laughed, and ran to go tell my mom. You know, they really should have put a period on “Anon.” to show that it was an abbreviation. At least, as far as I know, we never shared that he/she was our favorite poet. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

It Started Young With Me

I think I read the entire children’s section at the Greene County Library. I would scour the shelves of both the picture book and the chapter book areas to find something new. I would bring my big maroon bag with the Iron-On Noah’s Ark appliqué that my Aunt Sara gave me and shove it so full that the corners of books made poor Noah quickly peel away. “Homeschoolers,” the librarians might have sighed whenever they saw my family coming in at 9am, but I never understood why so many librarians were glum. They got to continually browse books while they scanned them. “What a job,” I thought. I still think, actually.

So it started young with me. I was reading three or four Boxcar Children books a day around seven. My hunger only became greater as I grew older and I took it very seriously. Nevertheless, at that point, I would not call my condition “Over-Reading" because I put out a fair amount of original writing. I still possess some classic poems from that period. One noteworthy ballad tells of a romance between two English Shepherd owners who fall in love, get married, and die. And of course, the dogs loyally guard the graves-- quite tear-jerking and original.

Homeschooling provided ample time for my voluminous book consumption and subsequent day-dreaming based on whatever I read. I would go out to our swing on the big walnut tree overlooking the pond and dream and dream (and then hide whenever a car came down the lane--I don’t know why). The book came in and then it went out, as it should be—just like proper digestion.

But, as you might have guessed, I have a confession to make. In the past years, I have become a book glutton. Indeed, I have a severe case of literary obesity. I take in and take in and take in, but it never goes anywhere. I have been stuck in excuses and self-justification, but I am done. I don’t care whether or not I am the best writer or whether my writing shames my literary heroes (well, I do care, really), or whether I really am wasting cyberspace. Words have filled me up beyond my needed vocabularic limit and are now pushing out. I have engorged myself on sweet prose. I need to exercise, Jillian Michael’s style. In other words, I desperately need to write.

So, here I am. I am going to write about books. I am going to write down the thoughts which are propelled by those books. I am going to get creatively "shredded."