Monday, December 31, 2012

Well, I Did It!

With this last post of the year (which is, admittedly, rather a cheat), I have, in 2012, tied with my second most prolific year of posting on this blog . . . which was 2006!  66 posts of varying subject, quality, and length.  I think that I will never match my "best" year, which was the inaugural year of 2005.  Remember 2005?  When blogs were new and fascinating and all the rage?  Before the vile machinations of the Devil known as social networking came to be?  Blogs were hopping hot spots -- with even lowly folks like your humble blogstress getting lots of visitors and readers and feedback.  The constant back-and-forth really spurred me into action, which is how I managed to write 93 posts in 2005!  Don't think I'll ever see the glory days again -- which is, rather, fine by me.  I am very grateful for anyone who still swings by and reads a bit and even leaves a comment (yes, I'm thanking you, vermonster!).  But, why I post here now is pretty much all for me.  Adorable Trivialities is still a great place for me to let off steam or flesh out a pesky, irritating idea, or banish a demon or two.

So, thank you Blogger for keeping this service open and free and uncensored.  Thank you for bringing into reality G.K. Chesterton's previously impossible-sounding dream: that every man would have available to him his own public forum in which to write and publish the news and views dear to his heart.  It's been a fun eight years of writing, and I hope it lasts at least another eight!

This Will Be My Resolution: To Seize the Day!

Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite singer/songwriter is Canadian wünderkind Carolyn Arends.  And, even though she is pursuing a Master's in Theology, she still manages to write very good and thoughtful songs and essays.  She has not gone Theron Ware yet, and I pray that she manages to complete her studies unscathed by the sad disillusion that overcomes so many who grapple with the deep from these shallows.  If anyone can dissect the butterfly's wing and not destroy the beauty, it's Carolyn.  But, I'll feel better when she's achieved her goals and gets back to the business of answering Art with art.  

That said, one of her most well-known songs from the 1990's is "New Year's Day."  That song's been playing in a loop in my thoughts today, as it does every December 31.  So, while my main resolution will accord with the song's chorus (namely, to make every day New Year's Day), I still would like to offer up a list of goals for 2013.  Maybe, by penning them in such a public forum, I'll actually keep one or two this year.

1. To get my finances in better shape.  I need an overhaul in my operating system.  The time is now. 

2. To sell my car and go forward on two wheels or two feet.  I hate to drive; I'm not good at driving; and my car mostly sits and takes up 1/2 of the garage.  I could easily survive, nay, thrive without a car, and so I will.

3. Finish my first novel.  Doesn't matter if it ever gets published or even read by anyone outside of my family and friends.  I just have to finish it so that I can . . .

4. . . . Go to bicycle mechanic trade school!  I promised Jason and Flicka that I would not go until I had finished my book; but, oh how I long to learn this trade!  I have always enjoyed working with my hands -- and, knowing what I know now, wish I had gone to trade school years ago instead of college.  It's time for a second act in my life, and that act will involve fixing bikes.  Yay!

5. Plant a better vegetable garden.  My half-hearted attempts these past couple of years were lame and depressing.  This year, I want to do it right -- which means putting in a bit more effort in learning about growing veggies in the Northwest.  Thankfully, there is just the book for neophytes like me: Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades

6. Run the Seattle Half Marathon in under 2 hours.  Or, maybe, the Seattle Marathon in under 4!  My real goal is to run a marathon by the time I turn 40, so I have another year and slightly more than a half to do that.  But, who knows?  This running thing has taken off for me -- and I love setting and achieving new goals!

7. Do a triathlon.  Just a small one.  Maybe the sprint that takes place at Lake Meridian

8. Write an advanced German curriculum for Sadie.  She'll finish up Second Year Elementary German this year.  I want to introduce her to more complexity than her online course has provided.  So, I bought a couple years' worth of high school German textbooks and will develop a curriculum based off of them.  Viel Spaß mit Deutsch!

Here are a couple of things I'm looking forward to in 2013 (which I think will end up being, overall, another fairly miserable year -- not to be a gloom-and-doomer, but rather a realist):

1. Our trip to London in March!  Jason's been hoarding Hilton Honors points for years -- and now he's blowing a whole stack of them on our first family adventure off the North American continent.  We're non-revving, too, which means that, even with the crapulence of the American dollar, we ought to have a few pennies left to enjoy 10 days in the Land o' Literature.  This is Sadie's big birthday extravaganza, so we'll be heading to the Warner Bros. Studio in London to see where they filmed the Harry Potter movies.  Because he loves me, Jason is also allowing for at least one day trip outside the city to an Austen-oriented outpost.  Ought I to choose Bath or Chawton?  And how fun it will be to visit the replica Globe Theatre and get a sense of the Bard's world!

2. We're getting a dog!  Sadie finally wore Jason down.  I used to be against getting a dog, too, until I started running.  Seeing all the happy people with their canine companions jogging jauntily about made me rather lonely in my solitary slogging.  So, I changed my mind first -- provided we get a pup with long enough legs to keep up with me for miles at a time.  Then Jason, realizing that everything has gone to hell anyway so why should he stave off any longer the particular ring of perdition that dog-ownership would be, at last affirmed that he, too, would not be opposed to welcoming a four-legged member into the family.  When we get back from London, we will pursue this goal seriously.

3. Spending time with my friend Flicka.  I don't know when I will spend time with her and her absolutely amazing family.  I just know that I will.  So, I'm looking forward to it. 

4. Teaching Sunday School.  Out of all the good things in my life (and there are too many to count), teaching the munchkies on Sundays is one of the very sweetest.  Here is the latest example:  In the middle of preschool worship yesterday, little Sawyer (age about 3) sidles up to me and whispers, "I was wondering if maybe you would like a hug."  I whispered back, "I always want a hug."  And so, small arms were promptly placed about my neck with a hearty squeeze.  Don't tell me that anything this world has to offer is better than hanging out with children.  Sarah Smith of Golders Green and Jesus both knew it well.

Happy 2013, everyone!  I hope that this year brings you unexpected joys and manifold blessings!  And may God help us all.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

I am Jonah

Jonah is my favorite Old Testament book.  Does that surprise you?  Well, I have my reasons, and I am ready in season and out of season to give a defense of my overlooked and under-appreciated Jonah.

From Jason Davis's website
Even though it’s classified with the "prophets," Jonah is more of a straightforward narrative.  And what a rip-roaringly good tale it is! I love that Jonah starts out right away with his disobedience. That comforts me. Here is Jonah – a prophet of God. He lives in daily communication with the Most High. Yet, when God tells him to do something he doesn't want to do, Jonah runs away like a little monkey boy. Here I am – God’s daughter through Christ. I live in daily communication with the Most High through His Holy Spirit. Yet, when God tells me to do something I do not want to do, seven times out of ten, I cower and whimper and try to avoid Him. But, even I am not so foolish as to think that a sea cruise to Tarshish will get me away from the presence of the Lord. But, Jonah does – which is funny. This is a very funny book.

So, here we have Jonah, riding on a boat to Tarshish, where he has convinced himself that the Lord will never find him. We all know what happens next: God sends out a giant storm; the pagan sailors freak out, start throwing cargo overboard, and pray desperately; their gods do what they can do – which is nothing; Jonah's snoozing down in the cargo hold. The sailors rouse him with cries of "Hey, you! Get up and call on your God that He may consider us, so that we may not perish!" See, God is not only interested in getting through to Jonah, but to these sailors as well.
Jonah arises and plays it cool. The sailors decide to cast lots to see for whose cause the trouble of the storm has come upon them, and the lot falls on Jonah. He sings like a canary. "I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land!" The sailors are even more terrified. As the storm rages, they start haranguing Jonah -- "What should we do with you who have caused this calamity? Why have you done this to us?" So, Jonah tells them to toss him overboard.

 I like that the sailors do not want to do that. They try repeatedly to row toward land in order to save Jonah. They seem like decent fellows.  Finally, they give up and give in, praying that the Lord will not hold Jonah's death against them. They throw him in the sea, and the storm instantly ceases. The men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows. God uses Jonah's disobedience to draw a whole crew of pagan sailors to Him! What a good and crafty God!

Who doesn't like the next part? Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Three things stand out. First of all, God is so startling and creative. Who else would have thought of a fish? Also, He is kind.  That rascally Jonah, all grumpy and hard of heart, was running away from God and essentially giving Him the raspberry. Does God strike him down and find another prophet to do His bidding? No. God is infinitely patient with Jonah. Patient, but not without delivering a bit of comeuppance to His wayward servant. Jonah was stuck in a fish, after all. Lastly, it is significant that it was for three days. Three days, Jonah sat in that fish’s belly, breathing in the noxious fumes of decaying sea life, bathed in stomach acids, pouting and gnashing his teeth in rebellion. It took Jonah three whole days to decide that God was God and he had some repenting to do. I know I’m stubborn, but I ain’t got nothing on Jonah!

From Ford
At last, the old reprobate decides to call upon the Lord for deliverance. He repents and promises to fulfill his vows and be a good boy from now on. So, the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Nice! Of course, there was no hot shower and fresh set of clothes waiting for Jonah on the beach. Picture him with me, will you? Hair and beard plastered with regurgitated stomach acid and half-digested remnants of seafood; his headpiece all askew; his clothing reeking of things too nasty to contemplate. Without skipping a beat, the Lord says, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you." So, stinky old Jonah trudges his way to the city and walks about it crying, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"

God, whose wisdom is deeper than anything man can fathom, had a very good reason for not letting Jonah get freshened up after his gastrointestinal sojourn: the pagan people of Nineveh worshipped both the fish goddess, Nanshe, and the fish god, Dagon. They were riveted by the stench and convicted by the revelation of a God who could control so easily the mighty beasts of the sea. Jonah's humiliation was used by God as a vehicle for the Ninevites' salvation. They believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth. The king himself sat in ashes and sent out a decree commanding that everyone turn from wickedness in the hope that God would relent and turn away His fierce anger. Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

 So far so good -- a nice feel-good story with an amusing fishy twist. But, that is not the end of Jonah. And it is for the end of this book that I hold it in such esteem, because it reveals so fully the long-suffering goodness of God, and, to my discomfort, drives home my own tendency toward hardness of heart. You see, Jonah got angry with God, specifically because of His mercy toward Nineveh. There is a darkness in this that is almost too awful to contemplate, because it is too familiar: I knew that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!

To which the Lord mildly replies: Is it right for you to be angry?

Though I don’t think I’ve ever been this extreme, there is residual hardness in my heart –though I know well my own hopeless cause outside the blood of Christ – that makes me understand Jonah’s words too well. It is a hidden, visceral understanding that I’m ashamed to acknowledge. I know it's there, and God knows it's there. And I praise God mightily when He responds to Jonah (and thus to me) with an incredulous, but gentle, "Is it right for you to be angry?"

What does our prophet do next? He goes up onto a hillside overlooking Nineveh, hoping yet to see the wrath of the Lord consume the evil city. I know God is Spirit, but I still see Him shaking His head at this; don't you? Again, though, instead of smacking Jonah down, God provides mercy. He causes a plant to grow up, shading Jonah's head from the harsh sun. Jonah takes this gift as his due, but it does not cause him to reconsider his hatred of Nineveh. I am convinced that that is the reason that God next prepares a worm to chew up the shading plant and cause it to wither. So, the wind and the sun beat down upon Jonah, nearly causing him to faint.

Jonah begins to whine again: It is better for me to die than to live! God replies, Is it right for you to be angry about the plant? The prophet, clueless as ever, avers, It is right for me to be angry, even to death! I love Jonah’s honesty in recounting to us a story that never casts him in a good light. And, even though he is wrong, wrong, wrong throughout this whole narrative, he never loses faith that he can be completely himself with God and yet still be loved by Him. Jonah keeps up the conversation, and he trusts that God will continue to abide with him.  And so, in the face of Jonah's whining and anger, God delivers His heart's cry:

You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left -- and much livestock?

The end of Jonah always makes me cry with self-awareness of how small I am in stature and spirit. I like to think that Jonah cried, too, at the piercing revelation of his own failings to mirror the great and good heart of the God he served. The narration stops abruptly after God's rebuke. And that is the last reason that I love this book. Because, that is life, isn't it? It does not consist of episodes that end tidily with an over-arching thematic denouement. All each story in a life can end with is the goodness of God proclaimed yet again, because it is the only stable element of the human condition. We are bad people learning to serve a holy, good, and wholly good God. And so, though I believe that Jonah did repent again, because he did, after all, write out this adventure for posterity, I do not know for sure how he replied to God. And, by leaving the story as he did, Jonah was telling us that what he said or did after that was not important. God's love, God's mercy, God's grace -- those were final words of this amazing tale.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Sweets of Springtime

In one of L.M. Montgomery's Emily books, Emily and her Cousin Jimmy spend time on wintry days poring over seed catalogues and planning out their garden.  I can highly recommend this activity.  While I do love winter, there is something rather sweet about gazing out on your sleeping garden -- desolate and withered -- and then turning to a gardening catalogue, whose robust, vibrant photographs of potential bounty verily drive the grey away.

I received a new catalogue yesterday from a company called Burpee.  They're out of Pennsylvania.  Right smack dab on the cover was the largest tomato I have ever seen (Shown actual size! -- each tomato, they claim, weighs in at 2 lbs., 5 1/2" tall, 5" wide!  Holy moly!).  Ah, now that was a bit of exquisite torture.  Tomatoes are perhaps my favorite garden fruit.  I have been known to munch my way through several a day -- especially when they're in season; especially if I can snag a few harvested from a friend's garden.  They are one of the foods that really taste discernibly better when they are grown at home.  Alas, alack, I have no talent for growing them.  In part I blame the lingering drizzle of the PNW that covers my garden all the way up through the middle of July and then returns toward the end of September.  Tomatoes need a childhood drenched in sunshine.  Yet, my neighbor across the cul-de-sac manages to harvest enough to share every year.  He must have a sunny spot . . . or just the knack. 

I do not think I'll ever get a satisfying batch of tomatoes until I get a Grow Camp.  So, there's the dream: Sell the car; buy a Grow Camp!  Or, maybe my studly carpenter husband will build me something similar (but prettier).  He's already planning on building me a Rabbit Mansion for our buns for my next birthday (in September -- I like how he realistically gives himself a lot of time).  He's built me a compost bin and Sadie a treehouse already.  You know, as much as I love Mr. Darcy from P&P, I think I've always loved Almanzo Wilder from the Little House books a bit better -- because he built Laura a house (with an awesome pantry!!).  Something so delicious about a man who can build things.

An easy carpentry project for Jason will be to make a couple 4'X4' raised cedar beds for Sadie in the spring.  She's going to start her own little garden, into which she insists she will put a plastic flamingo.  Kitschy!  So, I think I'll have a buddy with whom to mentally devour all the gardening catalogues that come our way this winter.  Here's to knowing that spring will come, that spring will always come!  Happy garden dreaming!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Phor Phans oph Phantastes

Beware the Alderwood!
And the Alderwood Mall!
(But mostly Southcenter Mall!)
If you have read George MacDonald's faerie romance, Phantastes, you'll know what this song is all about!
The Anodos* Song
(For Flicka)
Verse 1:
Are you weary wanderer?  Are you tired and footsore?
Do you want to lay down your pack and not wander anymore?
Is the road before you lost in fog? Are your markers all unclear?
Rest assured, dear wanderer, there's a reason He's brought you here.
A great good is coming, is coming, is coming to thee, o Anodos.
May you know that good is always coming.
Though it seems like evil now, someday you'll surely bow
And confess that His good was always coming.
Verse 2:
Do you wish that you had not been placed on this path so labyrinthine --
Wanting to unhear the things you've heard and unsee the things you've seen?
Does your world feel like a grammar book, 'cuz you find your present tense?
And your past is so imperfect?  And your future does not make sense?

When the lines blur between fantasy and reality
And you search in vain for good
You're just confined by time and a limited capacity
To see things as you should
Verse 3:
So you ask me how do I know that these things I say are true?
Well, my name also was Anodos when I was a wanderer, too.
I walked wonder-filled and tempest-tossed 'til I crossed that great divide,
Just to find that I was never lost when I reached the other side.
Chorus 2:
A great good was coming, was coming, was coming to me, o Anodos.
I can say that good was always coming.
Though I called it evil then, when I saw with eyes of men,
I know now to have been good always coming.
Repeat original chorus.
UPDATE: Got all the chords!  Wrote the bridge!  Huzzah!
*Anodos = "pathless" or "ascent" in Greek -- connoting a seeker of enlightenment.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The UnChristmasy Christmas

Tree and hall are decked and resplendent in their seasonal glory.  The stockings are hung from the mantel with care.  Candy and baked goods overwhelm the kitchen table.  Sadie is beside herself with anticipation.  And I am still not really feeling Christmasy yet.  I guess that's because there is an unsettling combination of the usual and unusual in our holiday celebration this year.  Also, I've been combating a highly uncharacteristic lingering depression over the state of the world.  Pollyanna won't come out to play this Christmas.  Sigh.  But, as Bing would advise, I'll count my blessings, instead of sheep, and list out to soothe my troubled spirit the strange and commonplace of this particular Christmas season to, perhaps, convince myself, that unusual does not mean unblessed.

The usual: I'm late in getting presents sent out.  This is why God (and procrastinating and/or inundated humans, I'm convinced) created the 12 Days of Christmas.  So, my heartfelt apologies to those still awaiting their annual partridges and pear trees from Western Washington.  It is not lack of love, but lack of time that leads to my tardiness.  Who knows?  You may just find the bean in your Twelfth Night cake!

The unusual:  My parents are not coming to visit this Christmas, leaving the house (and downstairs fireplace where they sit yearly struggling to warm themselves in our deliciously chilly Northwest abode) strangely empty.

The usual: We'll be going to Christmas Eve candlelight services tonight at our wonderful church.  Golly-gee, I hope it's traditional again with Scripture and old-fashionedy Christmas hymns.  Sometimes they mix it up with more modern stuff -- and, frankly, the more modern stuff (which invariably includes the wretched "Mary Did You Know?" and insulting "Breath of Heaven" -- two of the worst modern Christian Christmas songs EVER) sucks the holy life out of Christmastide. 

The unusual: I could not find a Carolyn Arends Christmas concert anywhere, which totally bums me out.  I'll be happy when she's done with her graduate studies and gets back into the business of making glorious music.

The usual: I have made so many Butter Caramels that I don't care ever to see one again until next December.

The unusual: We have to be back at church tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM to help out with the Community Meal.  Since my folks are not out, Jason thought this would be a worthy use of our time on Christmas Day.  As Jane Austen might say: he is only too good for me.  My natural inclination on a lonely Christmas morn would be sleeping in and imbibing a whole pot of coffee, perhaps laced with whiskey.  Jason is more noble than I.

The usual: We watched Elf

The unusual: We also played over the course of several nights a new computer game called Christmas Stories: The Nutcracker.  It was excellent, and I highly recommend it!

The usual: There is a honey ham in our fridge, awaiting a thorough heating tomorrow afternoon.

The unusual: I will probably go for a 6-mile run tomorrow afternoon while that ham is heating.  Who knew that I would ever include that on a Christmas Day?

The usual: It's grey and cloudy and rainy and altogether satisfyingly gloomy to match my downbeat attitude.  Though, to be fair to my beloved Northwest clime, I do in general love the wintry wetness.  But, if you're in a mood to growl at the world, seeing shades of grey outside your window helps.

The unusual: The weather forecasters are teasing us with maybe, possibly, don't-take-it-to-the-bank-but-we're-just-saying-it-could-happen snow for Christmas Day.  That would be awesome, despite what Jason (scarred by a childhood in South Dakota) might say!

Ah, but at this moment, "O Holy Night" is pouring out of my radio (KING 98.1 FM) -- a particularly gorgeous instrumental interpretation.  And, despite my misgivings and general grouchiness, it will, indeed, be a holy night.  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On the Eve of Destruction

Paging Barry McGuire . . .
The headlines of the day on my Comcast Homepage:

Iran: We Can Copy Captured U.S. Drone »

Do you see it, too?  Did you ever think it would come to this?  Oh the horror!

Crazy Iranians -- yawn.
Image: North Korean scientists work as a screen shows the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket being launched
Crazy North Koreans -- yawn.

And they say the doomsdayers who watch the Mayan calendar and the stars are full of baloney.  As for me? I'm staying inside on December 21 . . . under the bed . . . with my teddy bear . . .
Pope Benedict XVI pushes a button on a tablet at the Vatican on Wednesday to send a tweet from his new personal account.
OMGoodness!  The Pope at 140 characters or less! 
Why, your Holiness?  Why?

Friday, December 07, 2012

Our Great Cosmic YES!

There are two things I learned early on about prayer. The first is that we pray not to change God, but to change ourselves, so that we can be more ready for and more receptive to what God will do. The second is that God answers every prayer, but sometimes that answer is no. Recently, I have experienced the unsettling paradox of having some of the richest, most fulfilling prayer times of my life coupled with answers from my Father that were almost exclusively, "No." Loving, gentle, embracing no’s they were; but a no is a no is a no, and that can be hard. I cannot change God; but, these difficult times of prayer have changed me. And it is a good thing, indeed.

 As a believer, I am called to pray without ceasing.  As a frail human and constantly redeemed sinner, I fail at this calling.  However, I know there is one perfect prayer to pray whenever I cannot find the strength or will to pray anything else: Father, Thy will be done. So, I pray this as unceasingly as I can.  It is the ultimate prayer of trust; and, as hard as it is to let go of my own ideas about what God's will ought to be, it is the most freeing one I can fathom. His will is perfect; ergo, His will should be done. Something that I know is true, but sometimes have trouble believing, is Jesus' encouragement at the end of the Parable of the Persistent Friend: So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened (Luke 11:9-10). Ah, but these recent days have been full of asking, seeking, knocking, and no. Or have they been? In a struggle to understand that has both exhausted and edified me, I was not left unfulfilled.  For, while my specific prayers may be met with no after no, my meta-prayers have already been given a great, cosmic Yes in the person of Jesus Christ.

What in the world do I mean by meta-prayer? The prefix "meta" is Greek, and it is used to indicate a concept which is an abstraction from another concept that is used to complete or add to the latter. The Greek word can mean several things literally; my translation in affixing it to prayer would be "beyond." So, meta-prayers are the prayers that are beyond that about which we pray. That is, we may have very specific requests or issues that we bring before God when we meet Him in prayer; but, beyond what we even know we are asking and saying are our meta-prayers. These meta-prayers are the unspoken words of prayer: Are You there, Lord? Do I matter to You, Lord? Is there any purpose in this at all, Lord? Can You provide my every need, Lord? Are You really who You say You are, Lord? Can I trust You, Lord? We so rarely dare to speak these questions aloud, but they are there. And to those questions — questions we most need answered simply to exist day-to-day —— we have received our cosmic Yes.

Prayer is a gutsy and almost unfathomable thing.  We, bound by time and weighted by substance and sin, seek and engage in fellowship with the Most High. When I stop to think about it, I am always reminded of that part of Psalm 139: such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it. Were it not for my Yes, would I dare to come so boldly to His throne? It is because of this Yes that Paul could confidently write one of my favorite passages about prayer: Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Note well, in that passage from Philippians: Paul does not say to make our requests be known to God and He will be our magical genie and give us everything we want. One need only look at lottery results or sick children in hospitals, or pain and trouble all around to know that on this side of the veil, many prayers will be answered No. But this we are guaranteed: our sincere and constant prayers will bring us His peace, which is what we need, and better – how we must believe it to be better! – than anything we want. Paul, himself, was no stranger to no. I find comfort in his words from 2 Corinthians about his struggle against a mysterious (to us) "thorn in the flesh" about which he pleaded three times for the Lord to remove. The Lord replied, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Paul writes in triumph that he takes "pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distress for Christ's sake." Would that my own response be so filled with trust to my own replies of "no"! The weaker I am, the stronger I am in Him. Father, Thy will be done.

There are so many other biblical examples from which to take heart of mighty men and women of God who have had to face the answer "no." Job wanted to put God on trial for his sufferings; God said, "No," and then gave him a "yes" in the revelation of His glory and restoration of His servant. David wanted God to spare his illicitly-begotten son's life and fasted and prayed; God said, "No," and the boy died. But, He reaffirmed His "yes" promise to David's line in the birth of Solomon. Jeremiah, troubled and oppressed by the sin of his people and the coming wrath of his Lord, would pray without hope and receive every no he expected.  But, God said yes to the future renewal, regeneration, and return of his people, and Jeremiah clung to those promises, even as he wept.

So, when I pray for a rescue of an unrighteous, rebellious nation that bows before even darker gods than Molech, God must say, "No, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, for when they do evil, then they rejoice." But He has said to His children scattered across a wide and treacherous globe, "Yes, I will guard your hearts and minds through difficult times; be anxious for nothing. I will bless My remnant in the lands of their captivity." Father, Thy will be done.

When I prayed that an injury that would keep me from participating in an event I had long anticipated would be lifted immediately, God said repeatedly, "No. Your timing is not My timing." But, He also said, "Yes, I can heal and will heal everything in your life, even and especially the things you do not know are broken. And I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Father, Thy will be done.

And when I pray that a stubborn and unseeing earthly father will have his heart softened and humbled and come to know the living God through some spectacular Road to Damascus moment, God says, "Dearest, do you not know that this man has seen everything necessary to believe? That he has seen far more than many who came to believe?" But, He also says, "Yes, you can trust Me. It may not turn out how you thought it would; but know that I am Father to the fatherless." Father, Thy will be done.

And, in dealing with the frustration, confusion, and heartache of no, I hope that I never forget from what broken and bloody and beautiful circumstances my cosmic Yes has come.  For, in that Garden so long ago, sweat and blood dripping from His brow, Jesus prayed a fervent prayer: Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. That cup — a cup of scorn and mocking and torture and death — the very heart of the darkness of sin to be drunk by the source of all Light . . . at that moment, not even our very God incarnate could countenance the horror. But, our Lord and Savior continued, Father, Thy will be done. And when His will was done over those unspeakable hours on the cross, the Father looked upon His Son — can you not see the sorrow and pain and endless love in His eyes even now across the millennia?  and said, "No."

And that silent, deep, terrible No became our joyous, cosmic, eternal Yes.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Life is a Curious Thing

There is really no such thing as a dull life, you know.  Each person lives an adventure of unimaginable proportions, if only he would wake up enough to relish it.  Things are constantly moving, changing, happening!  Yes, even -- and maybe especially -- in the 'burbs.  The suburbs are the closest thing nowadays to those quiet English villages where tragedy and comedy lay together uneasily under the seeming calm surface, waiting only for an eye keen enough and a hand sure enough to bring them to life on paper.  Jane Austen knew well that 3 or 4 families in a country village is the very thing to explore and mine for all the drama, pathos, hilarity, and complexity of the human experience.  These villages and suburbs are places where you actually know your neighbors; where folks are settled longer than a one-year lease; where pets and kids and falling leaves blur property lines and vex calm tempers; where malcontent simmers constantly with occasional amusing bubblings over into rage.  Here we are all together, the village or modern suburb says, and we must learn to live with each other. Yes, this we must do, even when our kids get drunk and drive their cars onto neighbors' lawns and then abandon the vehicles without so much as a howdy-do to the surprised and confounded homeowner.

OK, not my kid.  She's only nine -- and I hope and pray she will never make such a series of bad decisions that would lead to her driving while intoxicated, missing a left turn onto a road, careening her Thunderbird coupe over a 3-foot-tall bush into someone's front yard, making an deeply-grooved tire-tread arc on the lawn, and then, for a grand finale, smashing the driver's side headlight into that unfortunate neighbor's tree.  And, should she be so ridiculously misguided as to perpetuate this reckless scenario, I do hope that she would never be so craven as to exit said vehicle post haste and skedaddle her way home on foot without any sort of attempt to let the homeowner know what outrage has come to pass in his front yard.

As you may have guessed, this is -- as close as I can reconstruct -- an actual event that took place Monday night in this hotbed of human frailty and absurdity known as the suburbs.  What I know is this: sometime between 6:15 PM, when Sadie and I walked home after missing our bus to her dance class and crossed our front lawn to get to our front door and 6:45 PM, when Sadie and I pulled out of the garage to drive to dance class instead, some idiot crashed his (formerly very nice) car into our front yard.  And it was completely in our front yard -- none of this half on the street or sidewalk nonsense for our ambitious drunk driver.  Our front yard is completely lined with bushes and trees, so he somehow jumped a bush (taking with him a good chunk of its foliage) and nicked an ornamental plum tree on his way in, then came to his ignominious stop with his car's front end firmly lodged into another ornamental plum before his poltroonish exit, stage right.  And he never even rang our doorbell to see if anyone was home.

(Now, you may ask, as the policeman did, how it was that I managed not to hear this extravagant exercise in dastardly driving, since I was home the entire time.  Well, I did hear a screeching of tires while I was gathering laundry sometime close to 6:30 PM; but, our house is situated on a particularly ill-planned intersection with several blind spots, so the screeching of tires is a common enough occurrence that I thought nothing of this particular instance.  Plus, Sadie was listening to her Narnia audiobooks rather loudly, so that also impaired my ability to hear whatever mischief was afoot --awheel? -- outside.)

So, instead of dance class, we had a very interesting evening with police and security and a tow truck driver and a poor, haggard-looking old man to whom the car belonged.  Every problem he has had with his extremely troubled and troublesome son was written on his face.  Apparently, this was not the first time police had come knocking on his door.  And so, there you have it: comedy and tragedy, inseparable, inexhaustible, in secula.  That's the 'burbs for you. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Did the Seattle Half-Marathon on Sunday, November 25 with one of my dearest friends (and a very fast runner) Anita!  Here we are above, soon after the finish line, displaying our awesome medals!  Suh-weet!  We ran an average 9:49 mile, bringing our chip time in at 2:04:58!  I have never run that distance at that speed before.  It was truly a great and encouraging event -- and so much fun with my friend!  Oh, and NO RAIN! -- so no soggy shoes or drenched head.

I almost did not make it to this amazing running experience, so I want to take a moment to recognize publicly the faithful and powerful prayer warriors I had backing me up before this race -- Anita and Flicka.  About 2 weeks before the race, my right foot inexplicably began to hurt so much that I could barely touch it to the ground.  After about a week of studiously ignoring this inconvenience and pressing on with my training (hey, I've given birth without drugs to a baby with a 14" circumference head -- I'm not going to let some wee sore foot stop me from running), my ankle swelled up so angrily and alarmingly that I could no longer pretend that all was going to be well.  So, the panicked calls for persistent prayer went forth to two of the strongest women of faith I know.  Prayers were lifted, doctors were visited, and all signs were pointing to a big "No" from the One whom we so fervently petitioned -- the doctor suspected a fracture and warned me off of running while the radiologists examined the x-rays she took.  I was becoming resigned to another terrible disappointment in November.

Then . . . hallelujah!  The radiologists could find no fracture!  The doctor still tutted on the phone about weak ankles and laying off running and not doing the marathon on Sunday -- all I heard was "no fracture" and was elated!  I knew that she had to err on the side of caution, this being a land of malpractice suits and idiots; but, I knew I would never sue her -- should my right ankle cross the finish with a big CRRRACK, it would be my own damn fault.  All that mattered was that I COULD RUN!  The doctor gave me a brace to wear to stabilize my ankle; I iced and elevated it every day; I ran a couple trial runs on the week of the half; and -- miracle! -- the pain, instead of getting worse or even staying the same, began to subside!  By the time I had reached the end of the last tenth of a mile of our race, it was a dull throb, but nothing I couldn't handle.  By Sunday evening, the pain was gone.  And it has not come back this week -- praise the LORD!

Feels good to be a finisher -- even for something as inconsequential as a half marathon.  Now, as for that novel I've been writing . . . (sigh)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sense and Sensibility Reconsidered

Whenever I re-read any of Jane Austen's novels, I always feel compelled to write about the experience.  There are only six completed works in her oeuvre, and each one is a gem in its own way.  From the broader comic strokes of Northanger Abbey to the high wit and exuberance of Pride and Prejudice to the fastidious structure of Mansfield Park to the mystery and depth of Emma to the exquisite and mellow voice of Persuasion -- I have read each novel again and again until its spirit has been imprinted on my soul.  And then there is Sense and Sensibility.  I have only just completed my third read-through ever of Jane Austen's first-published work, and I think I have finally learned to love it.

I was helped along on this journey of new-found appreciation by the annotated edition recently released that was edited by David Shapard.  He did an excellent annotation of Pride and Prejudice a few years back, and I enjoyed his editorial tone -- a fine balance between gentle, never intrusive, interpretation and historical context.  While I did not agree with every conclusion he made about Jane Austen's masterful shadings of language in my favorite novel -- we Janeites are a prickly crew -- I did respect his views and was edified by his obvious admiration for my favorite novelist.  When I saw his edition of Sense and Sensibility a few months ago at B&N, I picked it up without hesitation.  I knew I would gain insights into this red-headed Austen stepchild that I was determined to love.

You know, if it weren't for Sense and Sensibility's early, steady, quiet success, I wonder if we would have the rest of Jane Austen's works.  Sure, we would have Pride and Prejudice in some form; though, probably not in its current masterful one.  We would have had Northanger Abbey, as well.  Had her family been faithful in preserving her youthful efforts, as I reckon they probably would have been, those earlier efforts would come down to us in the manner of her Juvenilia and Lady Susan.  At least, I hope they would have.  They may have never been discovered after all -- the dusty relics of an obscure and anonymous novelist of the early 19th century.  What a horrifying thought!  But, because Sense and Sensibility met with enough acclaim to encourage A Lady, we have the rest of her too small, too truncated body of work to delight and sustain us today.  For that reason alone, I ought not to denigrate Sense and Sensibility

The heroines:  So my main beef with S&S has always been Marianne Dashwood.  I know, I know -- she's supposed to be annoying.  Boy, is she ever!  Her effusions about nature, her refusal to conform to proper societal standards of civility, her overblown emotionalism -- she is really just a selfish little brat.  I know she's only seventeen during the main action of the novel.  OK, most seventeen-year-olds are selfish little brats.  I know I was.  But, that doesn't mean you want to spend 350+ pages with them.  I think that her main sin is that she is annoying without being amusing.  That does not often happen in Jane Austen novels. Even worse: Marianne has no sense of humor -- and I have no patience with those who have no sense of humor!  I would have loved to have seen Elinor slap her around a bit.  Then, she should have slapped Lucy Steele around a bit, too, for good measure.  But, of course, Elinor (sense incarnate) would never do that.  In fact, Elinor's almost too-perfect self control and societal conformity rankles nearly as much as Marianne's lack thereof.  Unlike many Austen heroines, Elinor never has that moment of self-revelation when she realizes a crucial error in her judgment or assumptions.  This keeps her at a certain distance from the reader, even though it is through her eyes that we witness most of the scenes in the novel.  But, Elinor does have some sense of humor, so she is redeemed.

The suitors:  Willoughby's too weird -- feckless, debauched, hedonistic -- ought we ever to feel sorry for him?  In re-reading the novel, I have decided that, no, we are not.  Despite what kindnesses of reflection the Dashwood women are able to bestow in the end, Miss Austen wants the reader to be wiser and harsher in her estimation of that cur.  And Colonel Brandon . . .OK, so it was another era; I know.  It's just that in my world, we have a certain set of attributes we associate with 35-year-old men who obsess over 17-year-old girls.  None of them is positive, believe me.  So, though all the characters of S&S uniformly declare Col. Brandon's innate goodness, I can never help but think of him as that creepy guy with the van lined with shag carpeting that my parents warned me about.  Edward is strong, quiet, and good.  I think I would end up liking him very much, if I were ever able to get to know him.  He is "off-camera" most of the novel, so that is nigh impossible.  But, he seems a good match for Elinor, and I am happy for them both at the end.

The supporting cast:  Like many British authors, Jane Austen excels in filling the world of her protagonists with real people -- characters that breathe and live and round out her imagined places with veritable humanness.  This is why British writers are the best -- they get the fact that a novel must be filled with real people, not just walking mouthpieces of abstract ideas (yes, I am talking to you, Russians).  It was in re-considering these auxiliary players in S&S that I came at last to love the novel.  For the sake of Mrs. Jennings alone, I will forever declare S&S a worthy member of the Sensational Six.  Lucy Steele is perfectly formed to be perfectly abhorrent.  John and Fanny Dashwood are likewise superbly written to be as itchingly irritating as possible. 

Sense and Sensibility seems to want to instruct the reader, bending her away from the excesses of emotionalism and toward expressions of rational self-control.  No one is more in favor of rational self-control than I.  However, I think that the didactic bent of the novel does occasionally interfere with clean story-telling.  Mansfield Park is also gently, subtly about core values and the author's view of the behavior and morals most likely to lead to individual happiness and a healthy society.  Its structure, though, is so absolutely perfectly balanced, that the reader never realizes she is being instructed until reflecting upon the novel after its completion.  I do not know how Sense and Sensibility could have been structured differently; I just know that it does not seem to have the harmony of Miss Austen's later works. 

If you are to read Sense and Sensibility for the first or twenty-first time, I highly recommend David Shapard's annotated edition.  He does another excellent job of elucidating such tricky Regency-era things as money and fashions and manners that can keep the 21st century reader from fully appreciating Miss Austen's meaning.  His interpretive notes are, again, not intrusive -- and any of his strayings from my own decided opinions are, of course, much more easily forgiven for this novel than for those in Pride and Prejudice.  It looks like he has done annotated editions for Persuasion and Emma as well.  I can hardly wait to read them! 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

In Umbra, Igitur, Pugnabimus.

At the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, a plucky army of around 7,000 Greeks, led by the Spartan Leonidas, faced off against a throng of Persians, led by Xerxes, that numbered upwards of 300,000.  After two days of fighting, Herodotus records, a mere 300 Spartan soldiers were left to defend the Pass of Thermopylae.* A Persian taunt fell upon the ears of the brave remnant: "Our arrows shall be so numerous, they will block out the sun!"  And so the Spartans responded: "Then we will fight in the shade!"  As translated into Latin years later: In umbra, igitur, pugnabimus. It is the only reply that a gallant spirit can make at a hopeless last stand where surrender is unthinkable and victory impossible.  Then we will fight in the shade

And so we conservative Americans went to bed with broken hearts last night, tossed and turned, and awoke this morning to a country we no longer recognize.  Has our land of people strong and free really become a haphazard cobbling together of various unholy alliances?  Walking vaginas whose only objects in life are to be filled with sperm and emptied of unborn babies?  Racists who only judge a candidate by the melanin in his skin and not the content of his character or the record of his leadership?  Labor groups that would rather sign their own death warrants of economic catastrophe than rethink their narrow prejudices and temporary self-interests? Is this who we are now?  A nation filled with perpetual adolescents -- forever on the cusp of adulthood, but never fully there?  Demanding rights while eschewing responsibilities?  Are these the arrows that fly over the heads of true patriots, blocking out the sun?  Then we will fight in the shade.

There is a shadow now over this land.  Was it de Tocqueville** or Tytler who wrote: "The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: "From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage."?  Regardless of whom to attribute this prescience, note well that the only thing that can pull humankind out of bondage is spiritual faith.  We live now in the shadow of God's back turned against our nation.  He cannot bless this unrighteous people -- though we know that He can and does bless the individuals who turn to Him and trust in Him.  But, as we are now as a nation, He cannot bless our land.  So we sink into bondage and into the twilight of our republic, the arrows that fly from wicked and deceitful hearts blocking out the sun.  Then we will fight in the shade.

We will fight because that is what we must do.  We are not a people given over to despair, as those who have no hope. While knowing deep within that this world is not our home, we fight for our homeland, because we are not ones to kneel before the false gods of a debauched culture.  We refuse to give up or give in, not because we are stubbornly clinging to an ancient past, but because we stubbornly cling to the truth of the Ancient of Days who made men to be free.  And when our backs are to the wall and our strength is almost gone and the Enemy is closing in with his arrows of doubt, derision, and despotism  flying as thick as a locust swarm, we will know at the last that victory is impossible.  But, we will also know that Victory has already been eternally claimed in Christ Jesus. And we will fight in the shade.

*700 Thespians as well; but, do they really count? Actors, after all, are not known for their fighting skills. :-)
**If you want to shudder in thrilling horror at prophecies made, ignored, and come to fruition, check out this page of quotes from Alexis de Tocqueville.  He was our Jeremiah.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Another American Woman for Romney/Ryan!

I was so unfortunate as to find myself forced to watch CNN the other night while we were in Philadelphia.  They were interviewing people at a Romney/Ryan rally for the express purpose of proving that all momentum for the GOP ticket this year is based upon anti-Obama rather than pro-Romney sentiment (most likely to further promote the racism meme that the desperate Dems hope will shame people out of voting their consciences and values).  Bosh and poppy-cock, I say!  Sure, I don't like and never have liked the Obama Administration.  I am a conservative, after all.  But, I have grown absolutely fond of Mitt Romney during this campaign and, when I filled in my little bubble on my mail-in ballot, it was for Mitt Romney, rather than against Barack Obama.

The best thing about Mitt Romney is that he loves America.  Truly and really and through and through.  I see him as a man of unimpeachable integrity, warmth, humility, quiet strength, sound judgment, and mature character.  He will be a steady hand to guide a battered and bruised American people back to self-reliance, self-control, temperance, and prosperity.

When my daughter, Sadie, was between two or three, I took her to the Seattle Aquarium.  Round the tank where the puffins dived and swam was a crowd of people.  Little Sadie wanted to see those puffins up close, and her tiny little body squeezed quickly into the crowd out of my grasp.* I watched as she approached the concrete step in front of the plexiglass barrier of the tank.  She needed a hand up onto that step and reached up and found a convenient one at the other end of which was a kindly-featured old man.  She quickly hoisted herself onto the step and pressed nose-to-glass, watching the puffins play.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," I gasped to the man, when I finally got close enough to Sadie.  He turned to me with the most benevolent expression imaginable and said, "That's quite all right.  That young lady just needed a grandpa at that moment, and I was happy to fill in."

A grandpa is a wise and wonderful presence.  When I look at Mitt Romney, I see a grandpa -- steady, reliable gentleness cloaking a spine of steel.  America just needs a grandpa at this moment in time, and I am happy that Mitt is here to fill in.

*N.B. There is nothing on earth that moves as fast as a toddler on the go.  Warp speed.  Seriously.

Friday, October 19, 2012


What you may not know about L.M. Montgomery (author of the acclaimed Anne of Green Gables series) is that she was one of the most accomplished and published short story writers of her time.  She wrote, in 1930, my favorite of her short stories, entitled “The Price” (published in the collected After Many Days).  In this story, a flibbertigibbet named Christine believes that she has accidentally poisoned her beloved aunt through carelessness and self-indulgence.  After inheriting all of her aunt’s vast wealth, Christine embarks on a journey of guilt-laden, secretive punishment.  To this end, she engages only in activities she finds annoying, boring or abhorrent.  One of these activities is to force herself to read her Bible daily.
Ah, but in engaging regularly with the Word of God, Christine finds something interesting: she has grown to love it.  Montgomery writes:
“One month, eight years after [her aunt’s] death, she suffered from a slight but uncomfortable affection of the eyes, and she could not read at all.  Then she discovered that she missed her Bible, that she had come to enjoy it.  From that time she never opened her Bible again. . . . Yet, she had read through it so often that it had become part of her: its philosophy, its poetry, its drama, its ageless, incredible wisdom – of earth and of spirit, its unexampled range of colourful human nature were hers inalienably, permeating her soul and intellect.”
In the story, Christine never seems to find this sort of joy in most of her other acts of self-denial.  The housecleaning she does by herself: nope.  The ugly clothes she makes herself wear: uh-uh.  Shutting herself off from the man she loves: no warm-fuzzies in that.  Maybe after the Bible had “become a part of her,” she did find a measure of joy; the story does not say. She certainly changes over the span from the tragic beginning to the hopeful and happy end; and, I think, what started the real change was her submitting herself to spending time with God. What Ms. Montgomery captured so well is what every believer comes to know: you cannot encounter your Creator, especially with any regularity of practice, and not come away as the old song says, “filled with His goodness, lost in His love.”  He is so completely what we need, that in seeking Him, we are never left unsatisfied.  And He can come and redeem the time in unexpected ways or places.
This past May, I began to run regularly.  The combination of a muffining top, doubling chin, and desire simply to wear the clothes I already had without lamentable “up-a-size” shopping trip finally roused me out of complacency and away from my pie and into running shoes.  Here’s an open secret: I hate running.  That runner’s high that my more enthusiastic pavement-pounding compadres rave about?  Yeah, I don’t get that. I would bet that they were making it up, except for the fact that so many of them are good Christian women who would not engage in such blatant prevarication.  So, there is good in running that I don’t get.  The good that I do get is that my muffin top has melted away and I’m getting by with one chin and old clothes.  Huzzah!  But, you know, I almost did not get this far.
In the beginning, every day when I would run,  I would look for something to take my mind off of the hideous fact that I was, well, running.  I tried music, but the headphones kept falling off and out and driving me nuts.  I tried chanting, but my chant tended toward the rather dark repetition of “I hate this. I hate this.  I hate this.”  Then, I tried to change my chant to “Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes Lord.”  But, it never took long for that to regress to the former.  So, there I was: doing my best to keep to a benign, yet loathsome, physical activity and failing utterly to find a way to keep motivated.  So, I started arguing with God.
It probably started with something like, “Why, God?  Why do you make the best foods so full of calories and the healthiest foods so comparatively blah?  And why can’t I just be one of those fortunate few on whom pounds find no sticking place?  Huh?” What bad prayers!  The Bible doesn’t tell us only to pray good prayers, though.  God wants us, ideally, to pray without ceasing.  Because we are bad people, we will pray bad prayers; but, our good God can surely separate wheat from chaff here as elsewhere.  And He wants us to come to Him regardless.  I am sure that my first running prayers were grouchy, complaining ones.  But, they did not stay that way.
It really did not take long for me to run out of steam with my arguing.  One of my favorite Rich Mullins songs has a line: you can argue with your Maker, but you know that you just can’t win.  Amen!  Soon, the other, better prayers started pouring forth. Hopes, fears, dreams, worries, expressions of gratitude, tears of repentance, psalms and hymns and spiritual songs . . . the time started to fly!  I was running three, four, five, ten miles and loving it.  Not the running, mind you, but the time with my beautiful Savior. Unexpected.
I have always loved to pray; but, like so many, I get distracted easily at home.  Every time, it seems, that I set aside a good chunk of knees-on-the-ground time, my prayers will early on be interrupted by my racing thoughts -- usually a memory of something I had read that would totally back up what I was saying in prayer; so, I will stop praying and go try to find the book or magazine, because, as we all know, God totally needs proper citation when you’re by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, letting your requests be made known to Him. Oh, I frustrate myself mightily with my lack of discipline!  “Squirrel!”  It’s different when I run.  Nothing can distract me from taking everything to Him, and take it I do.  And it has become such a part of my life now that I do not know how I would go on without this almost daily returning to companionship with my truest Friend.
And that is why I have always loved “The Price.”  It rings true.  Every time I have done what Christine did and simply made space and time to immerse myself in the Spirit of the Living God – whether by reading His word, serving His people, or fellowshipping with Him in prayer – I have been met anew and surprised again by His manifold goodness.  It really does not matter how rebellious my heart is in the beginning. He will turn it around.  I, who have expended so much time over the years trying to be filled with pie, always find that I am best fed when in His company.  It is still, after all these years, unexpected.  By why should it be?  Is not the truth of what I’ve found written on every page of our Bible – that fountain of ageless wisdom that becomes ours inalienably, permeating our souls and intellect? It is imprinted, indeed, on every verse as surely as in every heart that seeks His face.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Against the Stream

Question on an American History quiz:

Who had religious and political freedom in [colonial] Massachusetts?

Sadie's answer: No one

I write many of Sadie's quizzes and tests, but this one was written by A Beka, from whom we've purchased one of our two history curricula for Fourth Grade.  I did not really look it over before giving it to Sadie.  When I graded it, I marked the answer incorrect and wrote in the book's answer: Puritans.  When we discussed the quiz afterward, Sadie appealed that correction.  Her argument was as follows:

If only Puritans had religious and political freedom, then no one had religious and political freedom, since that "freedom" was contingent upon one's remaining a Puritan.  If a person in colonial Massachusetts disavowed Puritanism, he would then lose his freedoms.  So, they aren't really freedoms at all.  Freedom is only real when it applies to everybody to choose as they please. 

I decided that she was correct.  The question ought to have been phrased more clearly, such as: who had religious and political rights in colonial Massachusetts?

Based upon her argument, I overruled A Beka and re-awarded the points on the quiz.

So, what do you think?  Do I have a future lawyer on my hands?  God, I hope not!  Still, though, I'm proud of her for thinking for herself and having a well-reasoned answer for why she went against the grain.  I'm sure she knew what answer the quiz was looking for; however, far be it from Sadie ever to go with the flow when she has a different opinion about what is right.

A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it. -- G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Why, yes, I DID get a Latin Vulgate Bible for my birthday! Why do you ask?

Verbum Christi habitet in vobis abundanter in omni sapientia, docentes et commonentes vosmet ipsos psalmis, hymnis, canticis spiritalibus, in gratia cantantes in cordibus vestris Deo.  --Ad Colossenses III:XVI

(You may add in your own melismatic "Amen" here.  I always do -- sometimes internally, sometimes aloud -- whenever I read Scripture in Latin.  The Gregorian monks would be proud.)

N.B. I added in the punctuation to conform with my NKJV.  Also, isn't it funny that in my Latin Bible they use the Arabic numbers?  I substituted the Roman ones for fun.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Oy! Books!

My one goal this year with my blog was to use it as a repository for not only a listing of the books I've read in 2012, but also my impressions thereof.  And I have, of course, fallen short.  So, I've read plenty of good books that I have not yet noted, but shall try to remember to note today -- with the briefest of accompanying descriptions:

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver: This ultimately gut-wrenching novel is told in the voice of a mother whose son, Kevin, committed a school massacre.  The form is in a series of letters to her estranged husband who had always been their disturbed son's greatest champion.  The mother had never really wanted to be a mother, nor had she really bonded with her boy in the years leading up to the killing.  It is an interesting study of nature vs. nurture, as the mother struggles throughout to come to terms with her offspring's descent into evil -- was he born that way?  was it her fault?  Personally, I think when you give a kid a name like "Kevin," you're just asking for trouble down the road.  Ms. Shriver is a writer I always enjoy at a certain level, mainly because she takes her time to really establish characters, and she is unafraid to be politically incorrect in pursuit of literary truth.  Oh, but that unflinching voice can get dark, though.  She is also one of those writers with whom I would love to have a cuppa someday, as in her interviews, she always comes across as a hoot and a half.

Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander: I finished Hope right before going off on a Women's Retreat with ladies from my church.  Everything about Christianity is born from our great hope; so, being thrust from my reading cocoon into a time and place set aside for worship and prayer about hope helped focus my reflections upon the novel I had just read.  It is a secular Jewish novel, through and through.  This means that it is alternately uproariously and outrageously funny and hair-pullingly frustrating.  Which, I am certain, is just what Mr. Auslander intended.   

Shakespeare's English Kings by Peter Saccio:  Prof. Saccio is one of those (occasionally) bearded academics on whom I have a bit of a crush. If you have never seen his Teaching Company lectures on the Bard, I encourage you to seek them out.  His ebullience for the shaker of spears and stirrer of souls comes through in this history book; however, it really is what it purports to be: a chronicle for the historically confused of the English Kings about whom Shakespeare wrote magnificent plays.  I had been hoping for more Bill and less Henrys and Richards, but that was my own foolishness.  Still, a good and engaging read that helps indeed to place those unwieldy monarchs in order for the bewildered American.

Inventing English by Seth Lerer: Another Teaching Company crush!  What woman could resist a man who speaks Old English with ease and enthusiasm?  A stronger willed woman than I!  This book is the next step up for those who have read Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue, and are looking for a still accessible, but more scholarly, review of the English language's roots and growth and metamorphoses.  Prof. Lerer is a philologist par excellence, who definitely puts the emphasis on the philo.  A very nice read -- though it's still hard to wrap my mind and tongue around the Great Vowel Shift.

The Power of Art by Simon Schama: This sort of book is irresistible to me.  I am definitely one of those philistines who knows so little about visual art, but remains fascinated and appreciative and always in search of more information.  So, I seek out books that are written, not by dry academics, but by enthusiasts -- whether professional or amateur.  Simon Schama's book fits the bill.  He takes several different important and revolutionary artists and gives thoroughly delightful biographical sketches and career histories for each.  It seems to me the pitch-perfect mixture of the personal (and how can you discuss a form of art so visceral as painting or sculpture without bringing in the personal?) and the professional.  Especially touching to me was the chapter on Van Gogh.  He has never been one of my favorite artists (hey!  where was Manet, Mr. Schama?); but, I certainly learned to appreciate his work a little more after learning more about him.

The Abolition of Britain by Peter Hitchens and The Fortunes of Permanence by Roger Kimball: I guess I'll always classify these two books together in my mind, because I read them simultaneously.  There is a certain sense of masochistic pleasure that conservative curmudgeons like me take in books of this sort.  They confirm what we know to be true: that everything is going to hell.  And there is more than a bit of catharsis in reading about that perdition-directed descent from such erudite and witty sources as Mr. Hitchens and Mr. Kimball.  Add to that the facts that Mr. Kimball is one sexy, sexy beast of a man and Mr. Hitchens is British, and you've got a perfect concoction of awesome to delight and depress.  I found this interesting: a quote used in both books from George Santayana, writing of England in the early 20th century: "Never since the heroic days of Greece has the world had such a sweet, just, boyish master.  It will be a black day for the human race when scientific blackguards, conspirators, churls, and fanatics manage to supplant him."  Michael Medved may say and prove that "America is the Greatest Nation on God's Green Earth," but I'll confess here and now that t'would have been far better to lose America than to have lost Britain. 

 Hmmm . . . I am sure I am missing some books.  Oh yes! I did read Robert O'Brien's The Silver Crown before assigning it to Sadie as her first book report book of Fourth Grade.  Not a very good book, I'm afraid.  The plot is sloppy, the characters are under-developed, the pacing is off-putting, the ending is unsatisfying.  I still made Sadie read it, because she needs to understand bad books, as well as good ones.  She, of course, missed all of its faults -- but that's what teachers are for! 

Now I'm reading through Simon Schama's History of Britain trilogy -- based upon his mini-series of the same name.  And I have a new book from the library: a one-volume (!) history of the Roman Empire -- Rome: An Empire's Story by Greg Woolf.  Should clip along at a good pace.  Re-checked out some Ibsen and Moliere collections -- to see if I could coax myself off of old favorites and try some different ones of their plays.  And I also borrowed Robert Fitzgerald's translation of The Iliad.  Did I get a good one?  Not sure.  There are so many translations -- every single one seems to have its detractors and fans.  I've read good things about Fagles and Lattimore; and, in September's New Criterion, John Talbot writes glowingly of Anthony Verity's brand new translation.  Of course, they did not have that one in the library yesterday.  Maybe, if I'm left unsatisfied by Fitzgerald, I'll seek out the Verity translation in a bit.  Any thoughts, blog passers-by?