Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Professor in Your Pocket

Scouring the aisles at Hastings, I often find unexpected little treasures.  Honestly, though, it is a bit dangerous to let me enter the doors....after all the place is filled with BOOKS.   I know there are other things there like movies, music, video games, and such, but the books are what captivate me.  I listen to all the predictions about how soon there will be no more brick and mortar bookstores.  I will put black crepe paper all over my house and lawn when that day comes.  (Ask my family...I have done that before, a long time ago, over something completely unrelated.)  I really don't mind browsing books online, but I thoroughly delight touching books in person whether at the bookstore or the library or the piles on my bedroom floor. There is so much more to discover skimming a book and getting a feel for it instead of reading another person's review.  Which, by the way, here I am reviewing another book.....

My favorite times at Hastings are during the 5 for $25 used book sale.  On one of those days, I found Thomas C. Foster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor for Kids.  I didn't know at the time that he had written an adult book titled the same, only of course without the "for Kids" part.  It was such a fun and interesting read, I did what I usually do and assigned it to "the kids" to read.  (Yes, you can hear them groaning I am sure.)  Then I requested the adult version of the book from the library for me to read.  

How To Read Literature Like a Professor,  especially "for Kids" is a quick introduction into how to discover all those "themes" and literary techniques that I (loathed) was supposed to learn in literature class in high school. Thomas Foster puts it into a readable, engaging style and tells  it in less time than it took for the bell to ring in 11th grade.  In my defense, that year was the year we had to do "author reports" and I got assigned Henry David Thoreau.  Really?  I have to read about some guy who made pencils for a living and went off into the woods so that like a million years later I would have to read endless pages of his describing how an ant walked around on the ground?  Yeah....how can anyone make a report about him interesting?  I had way better things to do, I reasoned in my 16 year old mind, including play field hockey and skip classes for a pizza break.  

So finding a guy who can make all those quests, symbols, and appearances of vampires meaningful is a treasure in my mind.  I want the kids to learn to recognize the nuances of literature without having holes bored into their skulls and a learning vitamin inserted.  Foster does a good job of revealing things to be looking for.  It is like having a professor in your pocket if you want to understand what you were supposed to be learning in literature class but found as dull as toast without jam.

The only thing disappointing to me was that when Foster declares "There's only one story", he cannot explain what that story is or its meaning or where it came from.  Christianity can answer that and it is so satisfying:  there is one story...it is THE STORY and it is the GREAT STORY and all really great, wonderful, satisfying, beautiful, agonizing, creative, scary, epic stories that we return to again and again are the ones that reflect something from the GREAT STORY.   So drop a professor in your pocket that you actually like and learn something from and use it to teach your children to consider literature's themes.  Then do something more and teach them to recognize and redeem story for the glory of God.    

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bread and Wine and Risotto

Last night I made risotto for the very first time.   I think it came out a little too sticky, but I did have to increase the recipe amounts to accommodate my large family so I learned I don't have to increase the liquid quite as much.  I honestly did not know what risotto actually was until I read about it in Shauna Niequist's book Bread and Wine which I and my book club friends just finished reading.

This book is a collection of essays and stories about the author's life and philosophy on community, fellowship, and how food is central to both.  It is a cookbook with personal anecdotes, but also important tricks for how to make many of the recipes she includes in the book.  Since her family has gluten issues, many of the recipes are perfect for gluten-free needs. From the book jacket, Shauna states her main purpose: "Many of the most sacred moments in my life, the ones in which I feel God's presence most profoundly, when I feel the goodness of the world most arrestingly, take place around the table.  Something extraordinary happens when we slow down, open our homes, look into one another's faces, and listen to one another's stories around the table.   This is my love letter to life around the table."    

Shauna Niequist's call is to another generation to learn how to cook food for their family and friends, to demonstrate hospitality without concern for what she calls "Martha Stewart-y" perfection, and to develop relationships and a welcoming spirit for those that cross our paths. This book is similar to older books like Karen Mains' Open Heart, Open Home and Steve Wilkins' Face to Face where the general idea is that Christian's are not to be "lone rangers" as Mr. Wilkins says, but are to obey the hospitality commands and use their homes, themselves, and their substance to reach out in ministry to others. 

Bread and Wine made me thankful for the times our family has shared with loved ones over a hearty meal.  Some of my favorite memories of the last 20+ years are from interaction with people of all walks of life, from different denominations, and with unique perspectives.  My children have grown up with a knowledge that hospitality is just part of who we are as Christians.  Serving others is often inconvenient, time consuming, costly, and disastrous, but that is true in any form of ministry.  We have plenty of our own stories to tell about sharing meals with strangers and friends alike, but they are all memorable and woven into the fabric of our family traditions. 

 Bread and Wine inspired me to try new recipes like risotto.  My parents were children of the Great Depression.  To them, it was a big deal when they could afford a good roast.  They grew up on farms, so we had meat, potatoes and vegetables.  My mother always had "intult" (a word from my Scottish great grandmother) soup or casseroles where she threw leftovers from the week's meal "in to it".  When we lived on the coast, Mom would go down to meet the fishing boats on the pier at the end of the day to get fresh shrimp or fish.  I don't remember Mexican foods being available in New England in the 1970's but I do remember when pizza became popular.  I also remember when my grandfather in Vermont was so excited to try instant ice tea mix (the unsweetened kind).  So, that I didn't know what risotto was is nothing surprising to me.  My friend who grew up in southern California had never seen or had a Hubbard squash.  My other friend who grew up in Idaho had never known avocados until she went to California when her husband was in the service. The availability and accessibility of foods has changed dramatically over the last 30 years. I look forward to trying out more recipes of foods that I didn't know existed.

There are two disturbing things I found in Shauna's book that are disturbing trends I see in the church at large.  The first trend is that Shauna is a popular speaker at Christian conferences.  Her work takes her away from her family extensively.  She mentions putting her little five year old on the bus to public school. Like Jen Hatmaker, author of 7, these young mothers have chosen a lifestyle that thrusts their little ones into a godless arena where hours on end every single weekday their children are being exposed and trained to think in anti-God ways.  Meanwhile these young mothers are being leaders and speakers (especially to other women) to follow God's Word...and this is where the disconnect happens for me.  God is pretty clear in many verses in Scriptures about what our priorities are supposed to be as wives and as mothers.   Second, I am disturbed that many middle aged women who should be taking on the roles of teachers and mentors are missing from the Christian world at large.  Those same middle aged women are attending these conferences where these young women are speaking. The disconnect for me here is that Scripture also says that the "older women are to teach the younger women" not the other way around.  I have theories about why this is happening, but that would have to be another post...but one thing I know is that choosing to live the teachings of Scriptures often means serving in obscurity. These aspects of Shauna Niequist's writings are sad but common in the next generation of "relevant" Christians, but someone can still enjoy the simplicity of her message to make hospitality a part of your walk with God and others.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Birthday Bliss

 My artist daughter with the impressionist style I love so much, Momma brought back a teacup from Vermont, a perfect kitchen memo board my kids found, candle filled creamer my daughter found at a craft fair, and a teacup and saucer covered in wild roses from my son and daughter-in-law.....

 Special decorations....

 Two special friends surprising me with high tea at a local Bed and Breakfast.
My husband and kids totally spoiled me.  How can you beat Napoleons for dessert instead of cake?  Napoleons remind me of a little French bakery my parents and I would visit whenever we went to St.Augustine.  I got to go see the new Hobbit movie and enjoy a brisk walk along the dike.  Momma gave me money so that I could get a haircut and my first ever facial....ooooh, aaaah!  Hard to not feel completely wonderful when my cup overflows.  Thank you dear ones for all the love, gifts, and blessings of YOU.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Thinking of Oneself

In the Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom wrote:

    "And as the cold increased, so did the special temptation
of concentration-camp life: the temptation to think only of oneself.  It took a thousand cunning forms.  I quickly discovered that when I maneuvered our way toward the middle of the roll call formation we had a little protection from the wind.
     I knew this was self-centered:  when Betsie and I stood in the center, someone else had to stand on the edge.  How easy it was to give it other names!  I was acting only for Betsie's sake. We were in an important ministry and must keep well.  It was colder in Poland than in Holland; these Polish women probably were not feeling the chill the way we were.
     Selfishness had a life of its own....And even if it wasn't right---it wasn't so very wrong, was it?  Not wrong like sadism and murder and the other monstrous evils we saw in Ravensbruck every day.  Oh, this was the great ploy of Satan in that kingdom of his:  to display such blatant evil that one could almost believe one's own secret sins didn't matter."

This thinking only of oneself is such a daily temptation outside of concentration-camp life. I see it in myself and other Christians.  When we grab the first place,  try to be the one recognized or elevated, look for ways that our kids get the best opportunities over others, subtly take whatever it is that we want first for ourselves....this is plain selfishness. Whenever we do it, our actions impact someone (or many) more.  Selfishness has room for only one and it is NOT the other person.  We make excuses: "after all, I worked hard and deserve this"; "I was mistreated and that gives me a right"; "if I don't work to get this it won't come to me";  "it is just a little thing and doesn't really matter"; "my kid is so special and should have this"; and so forth.  Whatever it is, to whatever degree, it is still selfishness and it is still sin. This temptation is rampant in modern American Christianity. We are all about coming out ahead or in first, having it all together and things going our way, and being admired for what we have and are.  We have forgotten what God values: humility, faithfulness, service, sacrifice, and most of all, love. We forget that what we do to the least of the brethren even in small things--all these selfish acts--we actually are doing to Christ.

So what's the cure? Miss Ten Boom said, "It was all Christ's strength...that made the difference."  Christ at work in our weaknesses and sin, Christ showing us our tendency to selfishness and excuses, Christ leading us to repentance and confession, Christ enabling us to put others first instead of ourselves. "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. (Philippians 2:3)  It starts with putting aside ANY selfish ambition and all excuses for it.  Then changing our minds and our thinking so that we hold others in high regard (esteem).  We actually need to consider others better than ourselves. The rest of Philippians chapter two tells us how Christ lived it and He is our example. What we need is His strength to produce in us self-LESS-ness. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Stories Collide

Tuesday morning my book club discussed N.D. Wilson's newest book, Death by Living.  In it, Wilson says that this is his statement on "a way of living, a way of receiving life."  He discusses the idea that each life is a story within the great STORY being written by God.  We all contribute to the narrative of that story, touch others' stories, make decisions about whether or not our life will be a good story containing thoughts, words, and deeds that are filled with grace.  He encourages us to do our best, face trouble in such a way that the nature of God is clear to the world, and be thankful for the breaths we take and the lives we get to spend for God and others.  That all of us are careening toward death and we get there by living so how will we spend our life?

Tuesday evening my mother called to tell me that a dear friend of our family had passed away into eternity.  Frank's story is over for now.  His story collided into mine decades ago.  Frank was married to my mom's best friend from childhood.  During the summers of my teen years, I would take the commuter flight from Poughkeepsie to Burlington to travel to my grandparents' house for summer visits.  Often Frank and his wife, Jan, would pick me up at the airport and let me spend the night at their house.  There was always pizza and card playing and laughter at their house.  Next morning my grandfather would pick me up and we would make the 2 hour drive to his house.  Later, when 2 poor grad students decided to get married, Frank and Jan gave my husband and I wedding rings they had inherited to help us out and bless us.  For the first couple of years of our marriage, we had many nights of pizza together with my folks and Frank and Jan.  We taught Frank how to play "nasty Uno", a fast paced, card-flying version of the game.  We finally had to quit, though, when Frank, an accountant, sheepishly revealed that it was getting too easy for him because he remembered all the cards as they went flying past. Frank's life was characterized by joy and kindness.  He always had a smile, sparkling eyes, and a happy take on life. It wasn't that his life didn't have tragedy and sorrow, it did.  I just never heard about it from him.  He wrote his story with kindnesses and those flowed into my life.  Later, my first son was born on Frank's birthday.  I am so thankful for the grace of Frank's life spilling over into mine.

Three loved ones from this picture are now gone into eternity this past year.  Frank, my dad, and my mother-in-law.  Heavy losses indeed, but also opportunity to remind myself of how their stories made mine so much better.



Friday, October 18, 2013

Arrival

Then came Avery.  His destiny from before the dawn of time wrapped in the name given him by his parents.  He was born to be the wise ruler of all the elves, a sage counselor to mankind, and a noble warrior to wrest the kingdom from the Dragon.  His parents also gave him a powerful strength charm when they bestowed his second name.  His strength would come from the magic of generations praying, hoping, seeking a blessing of the Great King to send them a child, a ruler, a deliverer.  Jordan, the descender, was his gift. So much power and faith and hope wrapped up in one small bundle sleeping under the star kissed sky.

Soli Deo Gloria!!!!!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"7"

          I am convinced that the social gospel promoted today as the path to better Christian living is not THE GOSPEL of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This social gospel is preached in almost every Christian church in America  and is popular, elevated, and venerated.  It certainly seems holy, but what are the tenets of this social gospel?
          The book “7” by Jen Hatmaker is subtitled, “an experimental mutiny against excess.”  Within its pages Jen declares that as a Christian her life is now all about “justice” and battling “inequality”.  She says, “It’s too soon to declare the Bride [the American Christian church] hopelessly selfish or irrelevant.”  Her belief is that if we choose to battle inequality then “our generation could turn this ship around.”  I suppose by that she means that we could see justice and equality come to town and fix all the problems with our society.  She certainly lays on the guilt about how much we all have and waste and disregard the poor and needy both here and abroad.  She comments that the church has good intentions but misguided theology and spends way too much time building expensive churches and too much energy on Bible studies, conferences, sermons, and resources on itself.  Lastly, she uses the term “deconstruction” to describe what she thinks needs to happen to Christianity’s paradigm before it can become the right one.
          Hatmaker’s orientation on “justice and inequality” seem good, but my concern is that this is NOT what THE GOSPEL really is.  The social gospel has been around for a long time.  Wikipedia’s article on the social gospel’s origins and history reveals that the goal of this movement was designed to make Christian churches more aware, motivated and responsive to the social problems of a generation.  An early proponent and spokesman for the movement was against the selfishness of capitalism and made social reform the primary focus of Jesus’ teaching.  Dwight Moody countered this by claiming that concentrating on social aid and reform kept people from hearing about the good news of salvation through Christ.  I find it interesting that the article mentions that the supporters of the social gospel were connected to the liberal wing of the Progressive movement and were liberal theologically but conservative when it came to social ills. 
          Fast forward to today.  On Michele Malkin’s website (accessed 10/8/13) she addresses the foundation of the Common Core curriculum as derived from “progressive” reformers who operate in the name of “fairness, diversity, and social justice.”  Malkin also mentions that a key word for these reformers is “deconstruction” which in the reformers’ ideology means moral relativism.  And these are the same words that author Jen Hatmaker uses in “7”. Can this be a coincidence? 
Jen also reveals that while she is all about justice and promoting this social gospel, her children are sent to public school where they can be conveniently exposed to anti-God indoctrination for 6-8 hours per day.  She mentions that she had spent her time in “baby prison”.  Really?  How can any of us justify “saving the world” when we are not sacrificing to save our own children?  As a teen in the 1970’s I heard way too many incidents of missionary and pastor’s families that had “done the Lord’s work” while their own children grew up and left the faith.  The social gospel takes the Christian’s focus off of the primary duties.  We are to love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves.  As Christian women, our husbands and children are our nearest neighbors.  If we labor at fulfilling that priority well, then God may grant us faithful children and faithful generations to come.  Our society needs faithful husbands and wives, faithful children, faithful families that will in turn build faith filled churches and communities.  But first things first: if we bring social justice and equality to the whole world but we lose our souls or the souls of our children, what have we gained for Christ and His kingdom in the end?
“7” is about the social gospel.  Jen Hatmaker uses all the same terminology as the social gospel and liberal progressive reformers both from the past and from today.  She lives what she believes and focuses on getting the church to “wake up” and get to work fixing all the problems with society.  This is not all bad.  After all, there are many problems with our culture and society at present. The social gospel is being preached in almost every church in modern evangelicalism.  Christians are told to go and do good works, get busy in an outreach ministry.  While many of those activities and works are good, they can come at the expense of what God says in His Word are our priorities.  Those God ordained duties may not seem glamorous, but faithful living in our most intimate relationships is the gritty training ground for more public ministry.