Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: Theology in Aisle Seven

Just submitted to Amazon:
What do a fenced-in backyard, a fraudulent E-bay transaction, a headless snake, and a bad case of laryngitis have in common?  Through the eyes and pen of author and songwriter Carolyn Arends, each becomes a spiritual signpost, pointing ever nearer to the mysteries of God.  Using these and myriad other everyday occurrences, Carolyn marks her path as skillfully as a sailor marks the stars. And, after reading this collection of columns, the only conclusion the reader can draw is that we are constantly standing on holy ground, and nothing and no one ought to be overlooked as ordinary in this grand adventure of Christian life.  
The title of the collection sort of sums up the thread binding each column to the others.  Theology in Aisle 7 refers to an experience in that hotbed of potentiality: the office supply store.  In Chapter 7, Letting Go of God: Trying to Organize a God who Transcends, Carolyn relates her purchase of a desktop file sorter (Organizational Supplies, Aisle 7) with her then recent decision to pursue a Masters in Theology.  She writes, “On the same day I bought my new organizer, I decided on a concentration in spiritual theology.  I’ve been longing for more structure, not only in my office but also in my faith.”

A friend teases her a little, asking whether a part of her was looking for more control in her course of studies in systematic theology.  No, Carolyn realizes, not part of her – all of her!  She writes again, “I really don’t like it when God behaves unpredictably, when he seems to be as much about mystery as about revelation, and when he refuses to fit into the slots I have labeled for him.”  She longs for a tidier faith, a PowerPoint presentation God, a concise, inarguable exposition of God’s will and man’s work.  Like anyone else who grapples with the Holy One, she is left strengthened in her weakness, knowing that, “We have a God who both transcends our messy lives and incarnates himself in them.  That reality is hard to organize, but it is the best news there is. . . .Praise God, there is not a thing in Aisle 7 – or in the universe – that can contain him.” 

The whole of this collection reminds me of a sermon I recently read by the extraordinary George MacDonald (Phantastes), wherein he writes about our desire to shove God into a clearly marked box and be done with Him: “Sad, indeed, would the matter be, if the Bible had told us everything God meant us to believe.  But herein is the Bible itself greatly wronged.  It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as the Word, the Way, the Truth.  The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever unfolding Revelation of God.  It is Christ 'in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,' not the Bible, save as leading to him.” (Unspoken Sermons, “The Higher Faith”) This is why, unless we wrestle daily in Spirit and Truth and find our hips dislodged and our hearts broken, we will never revel in spiritual renewal -- that wholeness of what God desires for us.  This collection is one way that Carolyn Arends offers us insight into her journey and encouragement on ours.

So, if you go looking for Theology in Aisle 7, what you’ll find instead is a meandering path of constant wonder where every footprint is filled with grace.  Do not be deceived by its switchbacks and unexpected turns; it has a defined destination that is no less than the very heart of God.  Happy travels!
P.S. Thanks to Flicka Spumoni for the heads-up on George MacDonald's Unspoken Sermons.  Wow!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Theology in Aisle Seven

Lucky us!  Carolyn Arends has a new book out!  Unfortunately, it's only available as an e-book right now.*  Also, it is a collection of her Christianity Today Magazine columns -- all of which I have already read.  But still!  A new book by Carolyn!  Of course, it's well worth getting. My favorite chapters are Chapter 2 -- Initiator: Come, Lord Jesus—oh, wait—he’s already here; Chapter 3 -- Merciful Victor: Why defeat at the hands of God is magnificent; Chapter 5 -- Benevolent Lawgiver: Why God’s law is good news; Chapter 13 -- Saying More Than We Can Say: The Arts; Chapter 24 -- Going Down Singing: The gift of mortality; and, especially, Chapter 25 -- Lessons from a Headless Snake: God’s coming victory.  They are truly all good, though.  Thought-provoking and encouraging and full of, um, fullness -- Spirit and Truth. 

So, go already!  Get it sent to your Kindle or Nook!  Read!  Enjoy!  And come back and let's talk about it!

*I just cannot get used to these new-fangled reading devices.  I bought her book for my Kindle and will happily re-read her columns on it, should I ever dig it out of my bedroom trunk and recharge it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

And Then There Were Three

We got our replacement duckling for the one that died when Princess Paula was shipped.  And with him came another duckling, just for kicks (and warmth during shipping).  So, now we have three ducklings.  Problem is, they grow incredibly quickly, and Princess P is two weeks older and about 3X bigger than the two boys.  So, they think she is Mama Duck and Sadie has been displaced from her maternal role.  This makes Sadie sad; but, the ducks seem happy.  They are having a hoot exploring the house together.  Here is a video of them wandering about, because ducks are cute (and messy and smelly).  I, for one, can hardly wait until they grow their feathers and wings and we can release them into our backyard to eat our slugs and terrorize the neighbors' dogs.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What If They Offered an IPO for a Silly Company, and Nobody Bought It?

About 70% of what is wrong with our economy can be summed up in Facebook's projected IPO of $38.  That would put the value of this cyber-concoction of dandelion fluff and jarred moonbeams at around $104 billion.  Uh-huh. 

I know lots of people like Facebook.  And that's fine.  But, what is it about Facebook that even remotely brings its value up to such an astronomical level?  The advertising potential?  Really?  Have you ever bought something you were not already going to buy because a "friend" "liked" it on Facebook?

And this is just my curmudgeonly, quasi-Luddite opinion, but about 75% of everything that is wrong with our culture can be summed up by the existence of Facebook at all.  The very phenomenon calls to my mind this lovely quote from a Wall Street Journal editorial on September 1, 2006: The therapeutic ethos of recent years has encouraged each of us to get every thought off our chest, lest we suffer from the ordeal of civility.  Engaging in face-to-face conversations, living within our communities, loving our neighbors as they are given to us from outside our control, measuring our words before we speak them -- these are the actions that civilize us, that build us up, that help us find common ground; emphatically not flinging posts at each other through cyberspace.

OK, leaping down from the soapbox now.  I mean, it's not that blogging is much better, truly.  But, it is more in depth and more about substance and thought than Facebook, I think.  Wherever your networking fancy takes you, go with God.  But, don't be surprised by the stupendous fall of Facebook in the near future.  It is a very silly company.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Book Notes: April 30 - May 15 (Alas, Au Reservoir, Lucia!)

In the introduction to the Knopf's Everyman Library edition of Sanditon and Other Stories (a collection of Jane Austen's juvenilia, fragments, and one complete epistolary novel), Peter Washington writes of Miss Austen's relatively new status as a major author -- one whose works have launched a thousand academically pretentious and dubiously premised critical theses.  He writes of readers such as I, "Dismayed by this assault, many old Janeites have staged a tactical retreat, instinctively turning for comfort to writers more likely to withstand academic appropriation -- Wodehouse, Angela Thirkell, E.F. Benson.  Benson is an interesting case, because he now has the status Austen used to enjoy.  He was a fine novelist with greater depths than one might suspect . . . but he is rightly favoured for his light touch, his dry humour, his caricatures, his lucid, lambent style, his old-maidishness, all the features that once belonged to 'Miss' Austen."  Oh heck yeah!  Mr. Washington had me at "light touch and dry humour."  I already knew I loved P.G. Wodehouse; now I had two more authors to discover.  E.F. Benson came first.

Do yourself a favour*: Read Benson's six novels that make up the Mapp & Lucia series.  Oh, they are so very, very good for whatever ails you. The first book I read (and I was lucky to have figured out how to read them in order, which is the best way) was Queen Lucia.  At first I was puzzled, as I did not really like the main character and was unsure how to view her going forward.  Then, all of a sudden, it hit me smack in the gob, and I was a confirmed Luciaphile in a heartbeat. Someone once, erroneously in my opinion, described Miss Austen's books as "exercises in regulated hatred."  They missed the fun, the sheer comic brilliance, of a master craftswoman who can laugh at "follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies" without ever losing that essential benevolence.  E.F. Benson is even easier to catch in the humour of it all, because his characters are so bald in their ambitions and transparent in their snobberies.  Everyone in the books knows what everyone else is up to, and watching these refined middle-class British suburbanites plot and scheme and maneuver is like watching a chess match between two masters with nothing important at stake other than prestige and eclat.

Lucia's Progress finds Lucia and Elizabeth Mapp at it again in Tilling -- that town by the sea.   If you do not know the characters, there is not much to tell you about them, other than that each disguises a near blood lust for the other's throat beneath a veneer of chilly, sarcastic civility that is utterly diverting.  [spoiler] The twisting and turning plot finishes up with Elizabeth put down quite soundly and Lucia rising to prominence as Mayor of Tilling.  Ta-da!
I took a break from E.F. Benson to read a type of book I generally like: The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson.  I haven't much to say about this one, other than that it was interesting enough for a pleasure read, but not as wittily written as I've come to expect from British writers.  Maybe I was too full of Benson yet to appreciate the two Johns fully.  But, I learned just enough about various characters who are currently dead but were once very much alive doing interesting things.  They grouped these dead into categories that might have surprised the subjects in their living years.  For instance, Freud, DaVinci and Byron had "bad starts in life."  Some people were grouped as monkey-keepers.  Other for their sexual proclivities.  All in all, a good beach read. 

But, it was soon back to Lucia & Mapp, this time for the final novel of the series, Trouble for Lucia.  Remember, you're still under spoiler alert.  Lucia is mayor of Tilling and appoints Elizabeth Mapp as her mayoress, just to keep her out of Lucia's hair.  And everything goes swimmingly for the new mayor, as her sworn-but-never-stated enemy Elizabeth grinds her (fake) teeth in frustration.  Hijinks ensue; prestige is won and lost by all; and it looks in the end as though Lucia may finally get her come-uppance and see Elizabeth Mapp triumph once and for all.  Does she?  I'll leave that spoiler out.  With one sigh of regret and another of satisfaction, I lay aside this final volume with a final "Au reservoir" to my beloved Tilling-and-Riseholme-ites.  I should think I'll be ready to read the lot again within a year or two.  They are definitely akin to Miss Austen in their re-readability as well as their immense fun.
* the extra 'u' in favour is to honour my beloved Brits; the extra 'u' in honour was for consistency

Monday, May 14, 2012

The World is Too Much With Us

THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
          Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
          Little we see in Nature that is ours;
          We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
          The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
          The winds that will be howling at all hours,
          And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
          For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
          It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
          A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;                      
          So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
          Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
          Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
          Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
                                                            ~ William Wordsworth, 1806

Feels like that lately.  But, I've got a duckling sleeping on my lap and the sun is shining and I still see much in Nature that is mine.  So, adieu computer and bonjour glorious spring day!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Good Night, Wolf Boy

One small child can imagine monsters too big and black to get into any picture, and give them names too unearthly and cacophonous to have occurred in the cries of any lunatic. The child, to begin with, commonly likes horrors, and he continues to indulge in them even when he does not like them. . . .The fear does not come from fairy tales; the fear comes from the universe of the soul. ~G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles, "The Red Angel"

And to paraphrase from that same essay with a Sendakian nod: Fairy tales do not give a child his first idea of a bogey. What fairy tales give a child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of the bogey. The baby has known the wild things intimately ever since he had an imagination. What [this fairy tale] provides for him is a Max to tame all the wild things by staring into their yellow eyes without blinking once.

It would be the rare parent who has not to some degree committed to memory the smooth cadences of the text of Where the Wild Things Are.  It just flows so easily -- in the deceptively simple way of all great prose -- that a few times of reading it through will imprint it indelibly in the grey cells.  I used to have to read this book almost every day through the preschool years of two little girls.  I think I will have it (with maybe a few mistakes or mis-rememberings) memorized forever.  It is a lovely book; it is everything that a book of this sort ought to be.

I'm sure I've read and enjoyed others of his books over the years.  But, Where the Wild Things Are is such a triumph of children's literature, Maurice Sendak's eternal prominence in the genre was secured by that one offering.  And now, he is gone.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Sendak.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Funniest Thing You've Never Seen (Yet)

We received our ducklings in the mail yesterday.  Sadly, one was dead in the box.  The other, our little girl, Princess Paula, is very, very, very much alive.  And, as she is an only duckling for now, she is quite dependent on constant human attention.  Sadie opened the carton, so she was the first person Princess saw, and she imprinted on Miss Sadie-Pants instantly.  Today, she has been following Sadie everywhere on her scrambling little webbed feet -- and it is the funniest and cutest thing I have ever seen.  The video I took does not do the preciousness of it all justice, but here it is anyway:

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Miss Anne Thrope

Ana B Designs
Somedays, I kinda hate being a Christian.  Oh yeah.  Because some days I hate people, and I know I'm not technically allowed to do that, as a purported follower and lover of Christ.  But, goll durn it, people suck, don't they?  I mean, not usWe're cool. Totally.  I mean other people.  L'enfer, c'est les autres.

Hell is other people.  People like those heinous May Day protesters yesterday who wrought havoc on beautiful downtown Seattle. No matter how much of a self-aggrieved ne'er-do-well loser you are, nothing gives you the right to assault private property.  Nothing. Idiots.

Hell is other people.  People like the guy who stole the check from my mailbox last week and then washed it and wrote a $250 debit to my checking account, causing me no end of grief in closing that account and opening a new one and all the attendant tsuris of that.

Hell is other people.  People like the guy who hacked my credit card number off the Internet in March.  Then, this gem of a fellow made some delightful charges to the thousands.  Thank goodness Citibank has a vigilant fraud department and a kind and understanding group of people to help. So, hell is not those nice Citibank people.  Take that 99%!

Hell is other people.  People like a certain neighbor who came over to bitch about our needles and leaves getting into her yard.  These come from trees that do not in any way hang onto her property.  What does she expect me to do about this?  Everybody in this Evergreen State has neighbors' and neighborhood trees depositing foliage into their domain.  Flicka says she was trying to get me to agree to go do her yard work for her.  No way, Jose.

Hell is other people.  People like the Compassion International "child" I sponsor, who turned 21 in March and is still on the program.  When I was 21, I had already lived away from home on my own for 3 years and was working full time and paying my own college tuition.  What gives?  All right, so a young lady in Ethiopia cannot really be hell for me.  How about heck?

But God is good, even though we people are so bad -- and I the worst offender of all.  And He has given me wonderful friendships with far better people than I in whom I find more than a glimpse of heaven.  So I am blessed.  And I'm going to keep repeating that to myself until it pierces my soul and drives me again to my knees with repentance and gratitude.  In the middle time, though, you will find me in the phone book under Thrope, Miss Anne.