The Illusion of Control

There’s been nothing like this.

Such a strange time we live in.

What’s next?

Will we ever be the same after this?

Have you recently spoken these words with friends or family as you connect in some of the only ways we are able–online, on the phone, or from six feet away? But it’s true: we haven’t lived through anything like this.

Our expectations for 2020 have been blown up as COVID-19 makes its way around the world. Graduations, weddings, sports events, even funerals have been canceled or postponed. Millions out of work, the economy limping along.

“It stinks,” said a high school senior, wearing a face mask, leaning out the window of a coffee drive-up window. “I’m finishing my senior year online. I don’t get to graduate with my friends. But,” he continued, “at least I have a job!” With a big thumbs-up he handed me my coffee and wished me a good day.

“Well put!” I responded. “Gotta see the positive side!”

We miss our friends and coworkers. Some of us hadn’t realized just how much we need face-to-face contact with others! This isn’t solitary confinement, but our circle of contacts has been made so small.

We each have stories to tell, I’m sure, that we will recount to our children and grandchildren. “Gramma, what was it like during the Big Shutdown of 2020?” “Did you really hide hundreds of toilet paper rolls in the attic?”

Don’t tell anyone, but a friend heard our local garden center was open in late April. (I may or may not be that friend.) It is big, open-air; what could go wrong? This friend wondered if it would be called cheating if she “happened” to meet another friend at the garden center and stroll around together–but 6 feet apart, of course. Lo and behold, at an appointed–“coincidental”–time, the two friends met and wandered around. What a joy to talk face-to-mask, as it were, after a long separation! That is, ahem, if I was indeed that friend.

And, funny thing, a hundred or more people, the largest crowd I’ve seen at that garden center, seemed to be thinking the same.

At times, though, it is difficult not to be depressed about our imposed quarantine. Events around the world and in our own communities seem so out of control. Rulers give us seemingly conflicting stories and projections. Angry mobs protesting, officials threatening with jail anyone who reopens their business before the appointed time. Who can we believe, actually? Whose numbers are right? We won’t know until this is way past us. But right now? Right now, we’ve lost whatever control we thought we had over our own lives.

Sometimes don’t you wonder if God is trying to get your attention? What else could go wrong, you ask. Is this one of God’s messages–to pay attention, get your life straightened out?

We think we are in control; we hate to give up control to someone else.

When disease, disaster, or other problems big or small strike, we face three options with three very different results:

1. Take control myself: failure rushes in.

Out of desperation or the need to keep everything under my control, I will circle my wagons, panic-buy toilet paper, hand sanitizer, meat, or canned goods. I’ll empty my savings accounts and buy gold and stuff it in my mattress. I’ll turn in those neighbors who are having a small party against the lockdown orders, or whose business is staying open in defiance of the rules. No kidding: some cities have snitch-line websites where you can turn in the names of rule-breakers. Ever heard of McCarthy, or the Salem witch trials?

Trying hard to keep control while all the world seems out of control is the epitome of desperation. We grasp even tighter. We fight even harder. We don’t really know that we have already lost all semblance of (or never really had) authority over our own lives. What follows is increasing anger and impatience, lashing out at others, alienating the few people we have in our small circles of contact.

Then emptiness, frustration, and desperation overwhelm you. You give up.

2. Give control to government: tyranny walks in.

This is a familiar pattern throughout history. When chaos walks in, and we can’t control it or cure it, or run away from it, we beg the government to “just do something about it!”

Governments love to rescue people out of their emergencies…as long as they have unlimited funds. No unlimited funds? That’s okay! We can borrow or tax or both! The more, the better! And of course, the government says, we need to pay ourselves to administer the funds! No one will notice the millions we have skimmed off the top!

The more power the government gets, the more it grows, and the more areas of life they can oversee. The more willingly we give them authority to take power, the more powerfully they will rule. Note, just in relatively recent history, how chaos in the aftermath of the French Revolution and Germany in the First World War led to the tyrannic rule of Napoleon and Hitler, respectively. Once tyrants rule, it will take another war (or more) to restore more peaceful rule.

3. Give control to God: peace walks in.

We probably should go this route initially, but I seldom do the right thing first. I thought I could take care of things on my own. I lose sleep, become anxious, my auto-immune conditions hit me badly, blood pressure rises… It’s pretty ridiculous. Then I remember what I should have done first.

Jesus’ disciple Peter watched him walking on the water during a storm. Peter impetuously jumped out of his boat to walk on water too, and he actually took a few steps when the storm and the waves and wind alarmed him. He took his eyes off of Jesus and immediately sank into the storm-tossed sea. He had forgotten that Christ was his safe harbor.

It’s important to note that as Christ walked in that stormy sea, He didn’t at first calm the waves. He told Peter to walk to Him in the middle of the rough waters. Why is that important?

Sometimes we can call to God and He will calm the waters:

And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm” (Matthew 8:24-26).

Other times we call out and He chooses to let us go through the storm:

And after [Jesus] had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matt 14:23-33)

It seems a cliche, but it is true: We must go through the storm, BUT–and this is vital–He will accompany us on that rough journey. He will not abandon us, He promises to those who have put their trust in Him. That is the source of our peace.

 

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Books–and Movies–from 2019

I can’t talk about books I read this year without also telling you what I recommend from the list of movies of 2019. I guess since my two sons each write for movie review sites (The Next Best Picture and Ready Steady Cut),  as well as hosting podcasts (The Screeners Podcast and Geek Card Check), and because they spent Christmas time talking about their favorites, it’s fresh on my mind.

Books first:

My goal was to read a book a week. I read half of that. I have no excuses! But maybe if I have a goal of two books a week for 2020… Well, we’ll see.

Remember that I told you I am an eclectic reader. History, biography, fantasy, science fiction, mystery thriller–just give me something well written. Also it doesn’t hurt if it is also in a British setting; I’m an anglophile.

History:

  • Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert Massie. The account of the tragic lives of the last Russian tsar and his family. The royal family were victims of the Bolshevik revolution in the early 20th century, but they were also trapped by their own refusal to recognize that their people cried to be released from the feudal bondage from which the rest of Europe had departed.
  • Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking by Deborah Cadbury. Having just finished Nicholas and Alexandra, I wanted to take a look at the progeny of Britain’s Queen Victoria. An astounding number of her descendants sat on or near the thrones of many European countries in the 19th and 20th century, including Russia’s Alexandra. Many even found themselves on opposite sides in World War 1.
  • Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. This is the story of the development of the FBI in the US. In this department’s genesis, investigators find themselves racing to discover the killer of many members of a Native American tribe in Oklahoma because of the money they were set to inherit from property and mining rights. Since my own grandmother was born and raised in that vicinity, I was fascinated by the intrigue. This is a story well-told.
  • Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. I’ve known that this was a great story, and that it spawned a miniseries, but I never took the time to read it. So my husband and I, driving to see family, listened to this book. It’s compelling, grim, inspiring.

Theology:

  • The Knowledge of the Holy by AW Tozer. My Bible study uses this book for 2019-2020. It’s a small book with short, bite-sized discussions about the nature of God. If your Bible study is interested in using it, please let me know and I’ll send you the study notes.
  • Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by RC Sproul. I used this book to supplement our reading of Tozer’s book. These chapters are small–around two pages for each attribute of God. So you can imagine it can’t go terribly deep. It makes an excellent companion to Tozer’s book, though.

General Fiction:

  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. This was probably the most delightful book I’ve read in quite a few years. A Russian aristocrat is “imprisoned” for life in a hotel in Moscow, never to set foot outside. This is a better alternative to what many of his social circle received at the hands of the Communists, so he makes the best of his situation. Every character is perfectly depicted; I didn’t want the book to end. Up through the very last page, this book had me entranced. It’s what prompted me to read Nicholas and Alexandra, just to get a feel of the setting and of the people.
  • Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley. If you’ve read my reviews of the past few years, you’ll know that I love this series of books. They are like dessert: delightful, funny, and sweet. This is the ongoing story of Flavia de Luce, a 12-year-old genius living in the huge but run-down ancestral home of her family in post-World War 2 England. She loves to solve mysteries and also enjoys mixing up the occasional poison in her great-great uncle’s laboratory. If you haven’t read these, drop what you’re reading and pick up the first book of the series, Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. If you have to ask why the books have strange titles, you’re not as smart as Flavia, and she’d tell you that herself.
  • Tidelands by Phillipa Gregory. This is the first of a new series by the author of The Other Boleyn Girl. Her characters are portrayed beautifully, and she has researched the time period  well (Tidelands is mid-17th century). Her books can get a bit racy. This one isn’t too bad.

 

Mystery/Intrigue:

  • I needed to catch up on many of the John Grisham books I’ve not read. Each one is rewarding. How he manages to come up with fresh plots and characters, I have no idea, but he depicts his characters so well and keeps you guessing until the last. I’ll recommend all of these to you:

The Litigators
The Broker
The Last Juror
The Racketeer
The Reckoning

  • The Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci. This author is prolific. He’s got several series of books, including a fantasy series. He must never sleep! Anyway, this is the start of a new series that promises some interesting plots set in the American Southwest.
  • I binged on a TV series called Shetland (remember I love nearly anything British), so I decided to read the books on which the show is based. Ann Cleeves writes them, as well as another series on which the TV show Vera is based. Here’s what I’ve read so far:

Raven Black
White Nights
Red Bones
Blue Lightning

 

Re-reads:

  • The Lord of the Rings  trilogy by JRR Tolkien. If it’s been a few years since you read it (and DON’T tell me you’ve never read it!), I recommend it to you. Great books invite repeated readings. This is very nearly a perfect story.
  • Another series that invites frequent re-reading is Harry Potter by JK Rowling. I re-read the first two toward the end of 2019. On to the next five!

Science Fiction/Fantasy:

  • The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky by Mary R. Kowal. This is Hidden Figures meets The Martian. Such good books! This is an alternate history book set in the 1960s, in which a meteor devastates the Earth and they need to rush the developing space program in order to establish a new colony of survivors on Mars before the Earth succumbs to a new Ice Age. Very well written, with a woman as the scientist who plays a key role as “calculator”–human mathematician–and also longs to be one of the astronauts who goes to Mars..
  • Skyward by Brandon Sanderson. This is the first in a new series by this prolific author. I have liked a couple of his other series, but not all of them, but this one was quite good. A young woman dreams of becoming a pilot like her father, fighting an alien race that threatens the planet from just beyond the planet’s atmosphere. The main character is brilliantly depicted, and I look forward to the next volume to come later this year.

Finally, books waiting in my queue for 2020:

  • The Guardians by John Grisham
  • The New World, Volume 2 of Winston Churchill’s History of the English Speaking People. I read the first volume a couple years ago.
  • Dead Water by Ann Cleeves
  • Star Sight by Brandon Sanderson
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (re-read)
  • Making Sense of God by Timothy Keller
  • The Gown by Jennifer Robson
  • Saving Truth by Abdu Murray
  • The 36-Hour Day by Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins, a guide for those caring for people who have Alzheimer and other dementia diseases. My sisters and I are watching our mother unravel, and it’s heartbreaking, and I need to know more.
  • Also I received The Book of Common Prayer for Christmas. I will use it during my quiet times, to supplement the Scripture I read every day. I’m looking forward to reading this more than all the other books on any list!

 

And now I can give you my list of movies from 2019. My top favorites are listed first, but the rest have no particular order.

  • Yesterday: Maybe one of the top films of the year for me. Drop what you’re doing and watch it.
  • Little Women: Beautifully portrayed in a unique manner that really works. I need to re-read the book!
  • JoJo Rabbit: This was a complete surprise to me. The subject might seem off-putting: it’s about a little boy in Nazi Germany whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler. But wait! Go see it! It is funny and sweet and emotional, very much worth your time. It sits in my top favorites list.
  • It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Such a good movie. One of my top favorites. I just re-watched it and love it even more. Sweet, honest, evocative. I hope Tom Hanks earns an Oscar for it.
  • Knives Out: This is on my favorites list. Hilarious. Well done who-dunnit film you should see.
  • Honey Boy: This is harsh and gritty, devastating and honest. Shia LeBeouf wrote this autobiographical script and plays his father. Give yourself a few minutes to digest it once the movie’s over. So well done. This makes it to my list of favorites.
  • Avengers Endgame: You have to see the Avengers movies in order, and this one follows nicely but (spoiler alert) kills off a character I will miss terribly.
  • The Farewell: Sweet and honest, could be emotional but pulls back from the edge nicely.
  • Toy Story 4: Pretty good, but the best was #1.
  • Captain Marvel: This is an Avengers movie, so read what I said above about Endgame. Well done!
  • Apollo 11: The documentary. It’s a must-watch for everyone.
  • Shazam: Nope. Waste of time.
  • Aladdin: Will Smith’s genie was great, but for the most part this was a yawner.
  • Late Night: Funny and sweet story of a talk show host facing dwindling audiences and finally decides she needs to make some changes–not just in the show, but also in herself.
  • Missing Link: Good animation but predictable story line.
  • Ford v Ferrari: Another sweet, funny movie, well done.
  • 1917: Well done. Non-stop action, gritty, depicting the horrors of that war in a new perspective.
  • The Aeronauts: Not on my favorites list but interesting.
  • They Shall Not Grow Old: On the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1, this film relies solely on real film footage and old recordings of the voices of British soldiers to tell the tale. It’s not for everyone, but if you like documentaries, you should watch this.
  • Star Wars Rise of Skywalker: Honestly, my husband and I didn’t like this very much, which scandalized our kids. So we went again (yes, I know…), and on second viewing it came together better for us. Not my favorite Star Wars film, but it was okay. (Sorry guys!)

Now let me hear from you! What books and movies are on your lists?

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An Attack on Pro-Life Governor Aids the Pro-Life Cause

Jim Carrey on AbortionAnti-Life actor-turned-cartoonist Jim Carrey scored a major point–for his opponents. Without meaning to, his pictorial depiction of a late-term abortion is disgustingly accurate, but it doesn’t help his cause.

He depicts the governor of Alabama being suctioned out of a womb, using a late-term-abortion technique of a powerful suction that quite literally sticks a needle into the skull of an unborn baby and sucks the brain, and all living material, out of the mother’s womb.

This could be laughable if it weren’t so heinous. Did Carrey stop to think twice about the truth behind his cartoon, or was he so bent on bloodying his opponents that he just dashed the cartoon out in a moment of creative inspiration? You be the judge: does this help or harm the pro-abortion argument?

 

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That hideous victory

When you take away the inherent value of a human being, you can easily repress, jail, imprison, destroy him without bothering to involve your conscience.

When I was 30 weeks pregnant I went into labor. In the hospital for a week, then home on bedrest and terrible meds designed to keep my labor from progressing, my doctor worked heroically to keep my baby safely in the womb. At one of my weekly OB/GYN appointments, I sat across from a teenage girl, her boyfriend, and her mother in the waiting room. They were all nervous, but the theme of their discussion was about how it would all be over soon. That was the first time I saw the glaring hypocrisy, the horrible moral lapse, of abortion-rights advocates. My doctor, who I adored for working so hard to keep my baby safe in my womb, was also that day going to perform an abortion.

No one. Not one person can justify that moral hypocrisy.

No matter how its proponents gleefully laud the virtues of new legislation signed by New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo to legalize abortion at any point in pregnancy, this hideous new law legitimizes the murder of unborn babies for any reason, at any time. He even called for celebration using the lights of NYC’s World Trade Center building: the tower’s lights turned pink. Instead of a beacon reminding Americans of its indomitable spirit of freedom, the building was shamelessly used to herald the slaughter of the country’s most vulnerable people.

Virginia Democrats hoping to pass a similar law even stated that a mother might have the option to leave an ill, just-born infant to die if she has changed her mind. Did you catch that? Maybe, they say, a physically handicapped newborn might also be endangered if he is not wanted.*

A sickening celebratory air among abortion advocates encourages women to “Shout Your Abortion”–as if the murder of an unborn infant is cause for jubilation. And now more states promise to do the same. But this is not something new under the sun.

In 1729 author Jonathan Swift observed the huge numbers of poverty-stricken Irish families and penned his famous “Modest Proposal” to deal with the problem. Tongue in cheek, he proposed that the elite in his kingdom could buy, slaughter, and serve up the poor infants of the Irish nation as meals in the finest homes and restaurants in Great Britain. His satirical point: his fellow Britons cared more for their high society parties than they did for the poor children of the nation.

Now enter Cuomo’s Modern, Immoral Proposal. How to pander to the Left? Allow the wanton slaughter of millions of unborn children. Unfortunately, tragically, this isn’t satire. Cuomo signed the bill to serve up a bloody sacrifice to “Progressives,” calling this a moral victory for women’s rights.

Ironically, they equivocate their so-called morality. To them, it’s immoral to force women to continue an unwanted pregnancy.  To their mind, they can commiserate with a sister or friend who loses a child to miscarriage, but Shout Your Abortion to herald the end of an unborn child.

In fact, Progressives tout all sorts of causes as moral. The cause of undocumented workers and their children is moral. The cause of climate change is moral. The cause of endangered species is moral. (Here your eyes have to roll: the endangered species, they say, face destruction of their natural habitats. Sort of like unborn children in their mothers’ wombs, if the mother is intent upon aborting.)

And to prove that we are a compassionate people, we send aid in the form of water, food, medicines, and doctors to nations suffering a national disaster. We spare no expense to bring home the bodies of soldiers who died overseas. Though we don’t talk about it too openly, we work toward toppling evil, dictatorial governments so their people can be freed from the bondage of slavery and tyrants. These are all good.

Yet how can we consider ourselves a nation that is kind, and just, and moral–when the most vulnerable among us are ripped from their mothers’ wombs, their hearts stilled, with no rights, no voice, no compassion? Even worse: how can we celebrate such monstrous evil?

In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., jailed while protesting segregation in the South, penned a masterful letter refuting a group of white religious leaders who objected to his presence in Birmingham. Those in power, he said, tend to dehumanize the people they want to oppress or annihilate. We could even say that the powerful legalize their suppression in order to justify it.

How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? (Emphasis mine)

Jewish philosopher Buber’s comments were universal; they apply to the history of the Jewish people even from the time of the Bible,  relegated to the status of non-persons–killed, deprived of rights, expelled, carted away all through history. That truth also easily applies to slavery in the United States, in which even the Supreme Court declared that blacks deserved only three-fourths the status of whites, and then the 19th and 20th century, in which–though freed–blacks could not live equitably alongside whites. When you take away the inherent value of a human being, you can easily repress, jail, imprison, destroy him without bothering to involve your conscience. What has this country done today? Taken away the inherent humanity of unborn children.

Our nation, in supporting and celebrating this hideous immorality, can no longer consider itself a moral nation, a free nation. If a nation will not (NOT cannot) protect the lives of its most vulnerable people, what separates us from the most gruesome regimes in history?

*https://www.vox.com/2019/2/1/18205428/virginia-abortion-bill-kathy-tran-ralph-northam.

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My 2018 booklist: picking up more history

…and a helpful must-read list for Christians who want to study their faith

Last year’s list of books highlighted the theme of how eclectic a reader I’ve become. This year is no different.

I’ve wanted to pick up certain genres “once I’m retired,” and finally into my third year of retirement I’m beginning to blow the dust off that list. British history fascinates me, and I’ve been reading British lit for most of my life. Heck, my degree is in British lit, so no surprises there. So in addition to sticking with my penchant for all novels British, I’ve begun to pick up history books on that subject.

Winston Churchill wrote an enormous, 4-volume History of the English-Speaking People, completed in 1956, and I’ve always been curious about it. The first volume, Birth of Britain, spans from the earliest days of Roman occupation and ends after the Wars of the Roses in the late 15th century. For such a heavy subject, this is surprisingly readable and interesting. I’ll be picking up the next volumes in the coming year: Volume 2–New World, Volume 3–Age of Revolution, and Volume 4–Great Democracies. The last volume finishes right before the first World War. Churchill mostly focuses on the political and economical developments in this first volume.

Along that theme, I also read The Plantagenets by Dan Jones, documenting the royal family spanning from 1066 to the late-15th century when the Tudors rose to power. (Not coincidentally, this spans nearly the same time period as the first Churchill volume!) I had attempted a book on this same subject by Thomas Costain and couldn’t slog through it, even though I do like Costain. Jones’s book, on the other hand, was a smooth and compelling narration from beginning to end. (I’ve added a few more of his books to my to-read list.)

A  more modern British history book, Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre, follows the story of a most unlikely spy during World War 2. Eddie Chapman, a con man serving a sentence for numerous petty crimes, ends up a most valuable double agent. A frustratingly narcissistic thief, always hungry for the next con and/or the next woman, leads such a complicated double life that neither side–German or Allied–can really be sure of his alliance. This reads like a James Bond novel, and I’d love to see it made into a movie.

So historical survey aside, I hope you’re ready for my seriously eclectic reading list from 2018. You are welcome to recommend more!

First, a report on the books I promised myself I would read in 2018, taken from my 2017 reading list. I just could NOT get into several of these books!

  • Dune by Frank Herbert. This was going to be my summer-by-the-pool read, since it is in paperback and therefore safer to take to the pool than my iPad, on which I do most of my reading. Unfortunately we didn’t have much summer by the pool, because our sky was filled with ash and smoke from early-July through November, so no pool reading. (We live in Northern California, just a few miles from where the Carr fire started. We were evacuated for 7 days, but thanks to the heroic efforts of first responders, our neighborhood still stands.) You might say that this is not an excuse, but I’m using it anyway.
  • Rooster Bar by John Grisham. A very good read, building excitement and intrigue as he tells the story of a trio of law school students who go off the reservation and try to con their school.
  • The Whistler by John Grisham. This one follows an investigator for a board of Judicial Conduct, who finds herself looking into a judge who gets wealthy off of the bribes of a Native American-run casino. Her investigation turns deadly, and the story is a fast-paced race to find the truth before the judge disappears with her fortune.
  • The Buried Giant by Kasuo Ishiguro. I just couldn’t get into this one. I was told it was beautiful, but it just didn’t capture me.
  • Never Let Me Go by Kasuo Ishiguro. Tried this one as well. What’s wrong with me?
  • The Conquering Family: The Pageant of England, Volume 1 by Thomas Costain. As I said earlier, this was too dry, so I picked up Dan Jones’s history instead.
  • Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson. Another one that just didn’t capture my attention. I’ve read many delightful British mystery novels, but I couldn’t get into this.
  • Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson. I love Sanderson’s fantasy novels. His Mistborn Trilogy and Stormlight Archives held me riveted to the very last pages. And then there are some fantasy books in his collections that I just didn’t have the patience to endure. This one, I felt, needed me to go back and re-read everything else just to understand the first chapter. Too many characters, too much happening all at once.
  • Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. Ditto.
  • The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki. The true story from Austria-Hungary of two sisters who traveled to the palace of Emperor Franz Joseph to fulfill the betrothal of the older sister to the emperor. Unfortunately the younger sister, Elisabeth, was the one who fell in love and married him. If it hadn’t been a true story, I would not have believed the events that followed. The emperor’s shrew of a mother took every opportunity to rule the couple’s lives, including taking away their babies–literally from the birthing room–to raise them herself, claiming that Elisabeth was not a fit mother. The book was well-written (enough to make her readers angry at the dragon-lady and at the emperor’s inability to stand up to her. I’m still seeing red).

Now follows the list of also-read for 2018. (Not sure I want to tell you what’s on my 2019 list since I am embarrassed that I didn’t get through my to-read list of 2018.)

Science Fiction and Fantasy:

  • Artemis by Andy Weir, author of The Martian, which I enjoyed a couple of years ago. My one (very minor) complaint about The Martian was its exhausting use of physics, so I wondered if Artemis would be the same. Thankfully, it’s not! There’s still plenty to keep the geeks engaged, but this one was a little less…physics-focused (read: more dumbed-down for people like me). This takes place on the moon, where a city called Artemis has been established. Great protagonist, wonderfully crafted supporting cast. If you like Sci-Fi, pick it up. And listen to it on Audible if you can. The reader was absolutely perfect.
  • Skyward by Branden Sanderson. I mentioned above that I couldn’t get into a couple of Sanderson’s novels. For me, he is hit-or-miss. But this one is fantastic. Humans in a world where they escaped a devastating war, living underground and building spacecraft so they can fight the aliens who threaten to destroy them all. The protagonist is a young woman who wants to be trained as a pilot/fighter, not just because she wants to save her people, but also because her father was said to have cut and run during battle, and she is compelled to get out from under the disgrace she feels as the daughter of a coward (and really not willing to believe that he was a coward). Well done, exciting, great characters, a must-read.

Intrigue and Mystery:

  • Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci. Riveting adventure of an FBI investigator who mans a one-man (one-woman in this case) office near the Grand Canyon. She’s a compelling character with a dark history. The story is well-told (like most of Baldacci’s novels) and gripping. This looks to be a new series by Baldacci, so I’m keeping an eye on his upcoming books.
  • The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova. Written by the author of The Historian, a tale of Dracula, this dark, mysterious novel takes its readers to Bulgaria, where a young American woman has come to start a new life, escape her demons, and find adventure. The slow-moving book didn’t capture me at first, but the two principle characters are compelling. You will wonder about them both through the entire book. I recommend it.
  • Camino Island by John Grisham. As always, I thoroughly enjoy Grisham’s novels. For some reason I stopped reading him a few years back, so I have a treasure trove of novels to make up. This centers around a rare, expensive book heist. While the main characters are not his best, the book is still fun and satisfying.
  • The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse by Alan Bradley. This is a novella from the author I have loved for a few years now. Bradley’s main character, Flavia DeLuce, is a precocious, genius 12-year-old in post-war Britain who solves mysteries. Yes, this is probably categorized as a YA (Young Adult) novel, but don’t let that keep you from picking up Bradley’s first book in the series, Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Flavia is hugely entertaining.

Theology/Bible Study

I never felt like I had the time to do some more in-depth studies while I was a teacher. I’m so grateful to have the time now. None of these books ever take the place of daily Bible-reading, which I urge you to do. These books supplement the study of the Bible. Some study books become more about me-me-me, so be careful to discern the intent of the writer.

  • The “Be” books by Warren W. Wiersbe. He wrote in-depth commentary on books in the Bible. If you’ve decided to study, either in a group or on your own, these are great help and insightful aides for further study. In the past year we have read Be Faithful (on 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon) and Be Mature (on the book of James) in our small group study.
  • Women of the Word by Jen Wilken. If you know me well, you might see me resisting a twitch or two when considering Bible study books written just for women. I won’t get started on that rabbit trail for now. But wanting to take the women in our church’s Bible study group into examinating of books of the Bible, rather than the self-focused study books used by many other groups, a friend recommended this book as a starting point. I highly recommend it to you. This book tells us the WHY and the HOW of Bible study, then launches us out of our nest to go study books of the Bible on our own. Having finished it, we are now studying the book of Colossians–one of my favorites. If you’re interested in seeing the study questions I’ve put together, please let me know!
  • Westminster Confession of Faith. I recommend every believer to read this at least once, with a Bible open. This is from the description on Amazon:

The Westminster Confession of Faith is a Reformed confession of faith, in the Calvinist theological tradition. Although drawn up by the 1646 Westminster Assembly, largely of the Church of England, it became and remains the ‘subordinate standard’ of doctrine in the Church of Scotland, and has been influential within Presbyterian churches worldwide. In 1643, the English Parliament called upon “learned, godly and judicious Divines,” to meet at Westminster Abbey in order to provide advice on issues of worship, doctrine, government and discipline of the Church of England. Their meetings, over a period of five years, produced the confession of faith, as well as a Larger Catechism and a Shorter Catechism. For more than three centuries, various churches around the world have adopted the confession and the catechisms as their standards of doctrine, subordinate to the Bible.

This is a study of theology and doctrine. If you are a believer, you should be able to defend your faith, knowing why you believe what you believe. Find the version of the Confession that is heavily footnoted with scripture references. I say this because anyone can make a list of beliefs, but not ground them thoroughly in Scripture. I want to see what the “divines” wrote, but I want to know what the Bible says about it. Please don’t try understanding who God is, what He has done, and what your response should be, without finding it in the Bible. As the last sentence of the description above says, this Confession is “subordinate to the Bible,” as should all your Bible studies should be.

Along that note, add a few more helpful sources to your library:

  • Luther’s Small Catechism
  • The Heidelburg Catechism
  • The Book of Concord

And these brief, beautiful books by Martin Luther:

  • On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church
  • The Bondage of the Will
  • Concerning Liberty

And by Augustine: Confessions 

Finally, I want to hear from you about your booklists. What did you love reading in 2018?

And would you like my classic reading list? I’ll be happy to send it to you.

Oh! And if you’d like more recommendations regarding biblical worldview and Bible study, please ask!

Now get reading!

 

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Watch your language when you write

angrymobSeveral years ago I was invited to address a group of Christian leaders in Canada, about church writing groups and the need for Christians to write in a compelling manner in whatever marketplace writers may find themselves. My aim was to teach about worldview and about including God’s word in reaching a secular audience. (Before you read further, in my defense I will say that I had previously given this same talk to several different Christian audiences.)

I began to make a point about how your harsh words and insensitive writing will polarize an audience before even reaching your main point. Using a letter to the editor I had found, I began reading it aloud so they could hear a harsh, insensitive writer spouting venom about homosexuals. My second step was to dig into the letter together with my audience so that we could find a more appropriate way to make a point.

I’ll admit to the irony of what happened next.

Before I could finish reading the offensive letter out loud, a quarter of my audience had stood, turned their backs, and exited the room.

What could I have done differently? I warned them, up front, that this would be something we could–we should–all learn to do better. Perhaps I should have brought up my main points earlier on, so they could see that I myself intended no insult. Before planning my talk, I should have asked some questions of the conference organizers, in the hope of learning more about the attendees.

It has always been my policy to remember first what Paul instructed to his readers–and what I was going to teach my audience–to do:  “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (NASB Colossians 4:5-6). In this case, my message failed to reach many people in my audience because I didn’t understand how to “respond to each person.” 

Consider, though, that you can’t always anticipate how each audience member will react. Better to hold on to the truth than to water down your message.

Think about who your audience is: who reads your discourse or sits in your audience? Think about them and write so that they can understand.

This means you need to evaluate–or maybe anticipate–your audience before you write. Now, if you are a Rhetoric student, your audience is not so vast:

  • Your teacher
  • Your parents, who will proofread
  • Your classmates

Or maybe you have a larger audience:

  • Readers of your blog or other social media
  • Readers of your letter to an editor
  • Your youth group
  • Classmates, teachers, administrators, and parents at your school–perhaps in a graduation assembly or thesis defense

Perhaps you have a passionate response to something in the news, or you want to join a demonstration and make your voice heard. Who will be that audience?

Most importantly, you want to craft a speech or discourse in the best light so that your audience will be moved to take action. And alongside of that, you must keep in mind WHO your audience is, and be sure to write so that they understand what you’ve said.

In the situation above, what could I have done differently? Before I read aloud that offensive letter to the editor, I DID tell them what they were going to hear and that I wanted to work with them on less strident language. What can I conclude from their hasty departure? Either they didn’t hear my introduction, or they just couldn’t stomach what I was reading out loud. It’s hard to know now. Something about the subject caused them to shut down and walk off.

This is bound to happen sometimes. If we’re speaking the truth in love, at times it won’t matter that you have the best intentions. Truth offends. Often, though, we need to:

  1. Observe who we are trying to reach,
  2. Review what we’re going to say, and
  3. Commit our words and our presentation to the Lord, asking him for wisdom.

In his instructions to the faithful in Colossae, Paul writes a beautiful passage on how to speak with others both inside and outside of the church:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (ESV Colossians 3:12-17, emphasis added)
Be that salt and light to your audience, whoever they are. Speak the truth in love. Have compassion for the lost. Put on love.

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Filed under Apologetics, Biblical Worldview, Rhetoric, Uncategorized, Writing

The Style of Good Rhetoric

Aristotle classified five “canons” of Rhetoric: Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory, and Delivery. Our own course of Biblical Worldview Rhetoric is also divided in the same manner.

Style arrives midway through our course with good reason. Invention–the method of discovering what to write about and how to prove our point, and Arrangement–deciding how to argue and in what order it will happen, provide us with a strong foundation. We might call it the “bones” of an argument.

Once we have 1) arrived at our arguments and 2) arranged them effectively, then we must 3) skillfully and artfully weave our words together in a pleasing, clear, compelling manner. Consider this the clothing that covers the flesh and bones of your argument.

Skillful writing:

  • Uses proper grammar.
  • Chooses the right word for the right meaning. Vague writing will inevitably confuse the audience.
  • Finds compelling ways to paint a word picture in the mind of the audience. One homeschool writing curriculum calls it “dressing up” your writing.
  • Is not redundant: it does not repeat itself retelling in a repetitious manner. (Got it?)

Aristotle uses a bit of sarcasm when discussing what seems to be common sense: if you want to persuade, do not be ambiguous “unless, indeed, you definitely desire to be ambiguous, as those do who have nothing to say but are pretending to mean something” (Rhetoric Book 3). Your audience might be momentarily charmed by clever words, but they can detect specious reasoning and a thin façade of argumentation.

Think about your favorite writers. Why do you love to read what they write? They probably weave together a great story that keeps you engaged, make characters come to life, hold you in suspense, make you love the protagonist and hate his enemy. I agree with all of that, and I’ll add another quality, because I love words: the best authors paint an engaging word picture that might make me pause and admire how that was done.

I just finished reading another book in Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series, The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place. Seriously, go pick up the first book, Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie,  and tell me what you think. Bradley goes into the mind of a genius 11-year-old girl, Flavia (rhymes with “gravy-a”, and she insists that you pronounce it correctly), in post-World War 2 Britain. She is funny, terribly clever, dreams of concocting poisons in the chemistry lab on her estate, and solves crimes.

Here are some brilliant uses of the language that continue to endear Flavia to me:

  • “I could see at a glance that sunlight was not welcome here.” Bradley could have said simply, “This was a gloomy room.” No, he wanted to use this room to create a setting for his reader.
  • “I raised an eyebrow at Dogger, who had told me that the word [‘momentarily’] meant ‘briefly’ rather than ‘soon,’ and was best avoided if one didn’t want to be mistaken for an American. But Dogger was wearing his unreadable poker face, and I was left to feel superior all by myself.” Flavia is smart and knows it. And she’s a bit disdainful about Americans. But notice how Bradley’s words don’t insult Americans outright; they are a soft nudge, tongue-in-cheek. Besides, Bradley himself is Canadian, so he doesn’t get it right every time either.
  • “When I woke up, the shadows of late afternoon had subtly rearranged my room.” Could Bradley have just said “When I awoke, I noticed that the sun was going down”? Sure, but his choice is much more evocative.
  • “The conversation was becoming like one of those absurd French dramas in which the characters stand about swapping nonsense dialogue while the audience pretend they know what’s going on.” I am certain Bradley meant Waiting for Godot. The icy, vague shadow of a nightmare rises up, along with memories of a sadistic professor who tried to convince us that it was a brilliant work of art. Bradley transported me back to a decade of frustrated reading (that was probably actually only a week long, but I can never get that time back), trying to discern any deep meaning in that play. It’s not worth your time, folks.

The third Canon of Rhetoric, Style, puts the icing on the cake, the jewels on the crown, the gold filigree on the tapestry… You see what I mean. And the more you pay attention to excellent writing, the more ways you will arrive at beautiful, compelling Style to prove your point and convince your audience.

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Filed under Education, Grammar, Literature, Rhetoric, Uncategorized