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.