Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hoping for the BEST

“I am the Almighty God, able to fulfill your highest hopes and accomplish for you the brightest ideal that ever my words set before you. There is no need of paring down the promise until it squares with human probabilities, no need of relinquishing one hope it has begotten, no need of adopting some interpretation of it which may make it seem easier to fulfill, and no need of striving to fulfill it in any second-rate way. All possibility lies in this: I am the Almighty God.”

Marcus Dods, The Book of Genesis (New York, 1902), page 161.

Now this is just cool. I've had it sitting in an open tab on my computer for days, and every time I look at it, it makes me grin.

HT: Ray Ortlund

Friday, September 17, 2010

Reading McKillip

I think that when I grow up, I want to be Patricia Mckillip. Which could be discouraging, because when she was my age she'd had eight books published and won the Newberry. But I don't think that she'd had four kids. I'll take the trade. (And yes, #4 is still in utero, but I swear that he's taking more time and energy than the other three combined right now, just in the amount of extra sleep that been extracted this summer).

In the last month I've read Od Magic and Alphabet of Thorns, (together with a smattering of her short fiction from Harrowing the Dragon). McKillips prose is some of the best out there and the worlds she creates so rich, so layered, that I can actually get lost in them. Putting the book down can be like exiting the theater. "Oh, it's still light out. I had no idea--"

After spending a large chunk of yesterday reading, I could actually feel the need to transition. My head was swirling and it was a good thing, lost in speculation on the nature of magic and the power of words--but I had a first grader getting off the bus in ten minutes, and I needed to be ready to hear about recess and the bus ride, to provide hugs and snacks and start working on dinner. A completely different good thing.

This, I think is what has been one of the hardest things about trying to write over the years. It's not finding the time to write exactly, but I want to be able to submerge myself in the writing and reading--and that requires an emotional and mental energy that is not natural to parenting small children. It's not easily interruptible. I can't lose myself in ten minute allotments between loads of laundry and while keeping one ear open to negotiate squabbles.

I'm reminded of the Olympic biatholon. I'm told that one of the challenges of this sport is that the cross country skiing drives the athlete's heart rate up, while target shooting is most natural while one is calm, with a low heart rate.

I'm not sure that I have any answers. But maybe being able to articulate the problem a little more clearly will be able to clarify things a little. But I think that the start of an answer may be here: this is essentially the same set of concerns that swim around the issues of spirituality and religion and that so plague the church. We have an innate desire for our spirituality to be transcendent, to be able to lose ourselves in worship, to be able to touch the infinite. And yet the reality of Christian discipleship is mostly carried out in the frustratingly mundane. Christ does not pull us out of this world, but rather comes down into it with us--and sets about showing us how to interact with it. Hmm.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pray for the church

This from Jonathan Edwards, via Ray Ortlund . . .

“If we look through the whole Bible and observe all the examples of prayer that we find there recorded, we shall not find so many prayers for any other mercy as for the deliverance, restoration and prosperity of the church and the advancement of God’s glory and kingdom of grace in the world. . . . The Scripture does not only abundantly manifest it to be the duty of God’s people to be much in prayer for this great mercy, but it also abounds with manifold considerations to encourage them in it and animate them with hopes of success. There is perhaps no one thing that the Bible so much promises, in order the encourage the faith, hope and prayers of the saints, as this . . . . For undoubtedly that which God abundantly makes the subject of his promises, God’s people should abundantly make the subject of their prayers. It also affords them the strongest assurances that their prayers shall be successful.”

Jonathan Edwards, Works (Edinburgh, 1979), II:291.

How often do we pray for ourselves, and how our individual wants, and how often do we pray for our communities? I am reminded that Paul's confidence that God, "who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus," (Phil 1:6) is for the whole church in Phillipi . . .

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Christian life and fear

Take a moment to read this quote from William Gurnall, courtesy of Rev. Ray Ortlund.

Then think about God allowing Satan to bring the subconcious fears in our lives to the surface, not to torment us, but so that Christ can completely disarm Satan. So that there is nothing left for Satan to use against us because God has proved himself trustworthy, yet again.

True, fear is part of the human condition, but isn't it fun to look at it and think about it as a sign that we're winning? :)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Book Review: Wild at Heart by John Eldredge

It's a bit of a different thing reviewing the 10th anniversary edition of a New York Times bestseller than it is reviewing a new release. The book has obviously already resonated with a great many people and has staying power as well--they don't put out revised and expanded editions of flash-in-the-pan bestsellers. The questions a review should ask, it seems to me, tend more towards the reflective--not, "What will this book do?" but "What has this book done, and why? And is that a good thing? And what does that tell us?"

It's also a bit of different thing reviewing a book for which one is not the intended audience. This is a book for men, about men. It is a book about gender differences, and I am a woman reading and reviewing it. I can choose to believe its assertions or not. I can try to evaluate whether the worldview and system that Eldredge sets forth rings true with my observation and experience--but I cannot interact with the questions from the inside as he intends his audience (of men) to do.

Eldredge says that there are three God-given desires built into every man:
1. A battle to fight
2. An adventure to live
3. A beauty to rescue

Additionally, he says that every man is battling fear, primarily in the form of the question "Do I have what it takes?" That healthy men will operate out of their strength, through Christ to fight the battle, live the adventure and rescue the beauty. But that the wounds to a man's strength (from the world, the flesh and the devil) leave men so afraid that they are not "man enough" to pull it off that they end up either
--desperately over-compensating and trying to prove to themselves and everyone else that they can do it, or else
--abandoning it all as hopeless and left as weak, passive and ineffective.
The way out of this mess is the recognition and healing of the wounds, finding the source of true strength (God), and acceptance of the battles, adventures, and beauty that God has in store for each man.

It's easy to see why this book has been so popular and widely used. Eldredge is a good writer. Alternating anecdotes and explication, he unpacks his ideas thoroughly and carefully, making it virtually impossible to miss or misunderstand his points. Additionally, he invites the reader to go through the material slowly, taking time to process and apply the principles he lays out. This combination makes the book ideal for a church small-group study or class setting. In tone, Eldredge is relentlessly encouraging and positive. And the schema that he sets out is general enough to cover a full half of the human race, but the probing questions he uses to guide his readers through their own self-discovery and healing are the sort that are probably going to spur growth with just about anyone who interacts with them seriously and intentionally.

No single interpretive lens for categorizing and understanding people will give us the whole truth. Individuals are too complex and varied for that. Meyers-Briggs, the Enneagram, and perhaps even cat-people-dog-people can shed some light on who we are and give us tools to interpret and name and understand what we see and feel. By using multiple lenses we can see different truths and gain an ever more accurate and nuanced understanding of who we are as people. Eldredge's work in Wild at Heart (and its companion book for women, Captivating) give a valuable and truth-revealing lens to help us better see ourselves.

If you're inclined to read Eldredge's work, I would particularly recommend you do so together with Tim Keller's short (though challenging) book Counterfeit Gods. Eldredge's weak point is his theology. Wild at Heart is basically a work of Christian pop psychology--and quite a good one. While Eldredge's theology informs and shapes his views of people, I think that his worldview--his first lens, if you will--is a psychological, not a theological one. This isn't surprising, or even necessarily a criticism. The man was trained as a counselor, not as a pastor or theologian. Keller says in his promotional video on Amazon that "Idolatry is anything more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, or identity." Eldredge describes very clearly some of the ways that we go looking for happiness, meaning and identity apart from God--but he does not name them as idols--and he calls for a return to God to find identity, etc, but he writes as if simply recognizing God as the better source is sufficient. As if it were that easy. Keller recognizes how bent on idolatry the sinful human heart is. As he preached in his sermon at the Gospel Coalition in April 2009, idols must not simply be discerned--they must also be exposed and destroyed. The always excellent Keller gives some superb teaching in rooting out things that we'd rather not look square in the face.

All of us need help to see ourselves and to see God truly. We all need corrective lenses. (Scripture tells us that those who worship idols blind themselves, and though Christ comes to give sight to the blind, through our continuing idolatry we continue to screw ourselves up.) If you're looking for some self-understanding and encouragement, Wild at Heart (and Captivating) are certainly worth trying out.

Four stars out of five.

This review was written as part of Thomas Nelson's Book Sneeze Review program. I received a complimentary copy of the book to read and review. I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.

Monday, June 14, 2010

It's a great big universe . . .

shown here to scale. Very cool.

And of course, something like this needs Yakko Warner to add the music . . .

Monday, May 31, 2010

Book Review: Jesus Manifesto, by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

(Guest post by Rob, filling in for Sara)

The best summary of this book comes from the authors themselves, in the last chapter: Christians don’t follow Christianity; they follow Christ. Christians don’t preach themselves; they preach Christ. Christians don’t preach about Christ: they simply preach Christ. The purpose of the book is to lay out why that’s so and what that looks like, in order to address “the major disease of today’s church . . . JDD: Jesus Deficit Disorder.”

Sweet and Viola do an excellent job of this; they have written a book which is truly centered on—indeed, saturated with—Jesus. Rather than resting on human wisdom, it rests solidly on Scripture, the word that contains the Word, “the cradle that contains the Christ,” in Luther’s phrase; this is not to say that they ignore the wisdom of Christians through the ages, but they only use it to expound and amplify the voice of the Scriptures as they speak of Christ. This book will make anyone who reads it with an open mind and heart aware of their hunger and thirst for Jesus; one hopes it will do the same for the American church.

This book was provided to me free by Thomas Nelson in exchange for a book review as part of their BookSneeze program. I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why liturgy? Some initial thoughts

My husband pastors a very strange beast in this day and age--a conservative, orthodox, liturgical church. It seems these days that many people assume that liturgical means "liberal." That those who keep the forms of historical Christianity do so to mask the fact that they've lost the heart of it . And it seems that those who pride themselves on being "evangelical" are intent on stripping out anything from theier liturgy that can't be passed off as spontaneous*. There's this idea that because something is rehearsed, it's not as genuine. It's a dominant attitude. So why are we as a church making the deliberate decision to worship in a manner which we can expect people to mis-understand? Why keep all the formal elements of read prayers and a call to worship and reading the creed?

1. It emphasizes that our worship is not about us. It's about God. The very structure of the liturgy reminds us that we do not come to worship on our own--we come because God calls us to him. It is not our initiation, it is his, and that reality shapes our understanding of what we are doing and the logical way to do it.
2. It emphasizes that worship is something we do corporately. I can sing along to a worship CD and listen to a sermon podcast by myself at my computer (and sometimes I do). God calls us as a people, not just as individuals. I cannot pray with my brothers and sisters by myself. It's a logical impossibility, like a square circle. The liturgy forces me to place myself in community in a very particular way.
3. It trains our understanding of ourselves. A worship service is not something in which I am the consumer and the church staff the provider. God is the recipient, the audience, and we all together are the performers.
4. It prevents us from leaving the hard parts out. And we're not very good performers to boot. We would prefer to think that our offerings are acceptable to God on our own, and our own understanding and effort will get us there. They won't. We have the prayer of confession, because we come into God's royal throne room in pretty sorry shape. We have the prayer for illumination, because unless the Spirit opens our blind eyes and softens our stone hearts, we won't be able to understand what God's on about in the Scripture.
5. It keeps us polite. In this hustle and rush culture of ours, we have lost a good understanding of hospitality. We don't have each other into our homes very much. But imagine, for a moment, going to a friend's house, and simply walking through the front door and starting to unload on them without taking the time to knock, say hi, take off your shoes, and let them pour you a cup of coffee before plunging into the conversation. But often, that's what we want to do with God. We call the church "the house of God," and when we gather, we structure things in such a way as to remember that we are guests (even while we are family members) in his house. Call to worship? Open the door and come on in! Been looking forward to seeing you! Prayer of confession? Sorry my shoes are filthy--it's pouring rain and splattering mud out there. You're right, I don't want your muddy shoes all over my house, God answers. But I've taken care of it. I've got all that you need to get clean right here. And before we leave, the thank you and goodbye and let's set out when we're going to see each other again.
6. It cuts through the cult of spontaneity. As I noted above, we live in a culture which likes to equate "genuine" with "off the cuff." They're not the same, but many people like to think they are. At the same time, these same people want excellence and a good show. So what we end up with are churches that try to project authenticity by making it appear unstructured and unplanned. But the truth is that most all worship services are planned. The musicians rehearse (Some of you may have noticed on the Sundays that they didn't get a chance to.) And the preacher? Even if he's not up there reading from a text, or even looking at an outline, he's thought about what he's going to say ahead of time. He planned. He prepared--however conversational his presentation is and how much he makes it sound like he's just telling you these insights as they occur to him. The liturgy, on the other hand, reminds us that excellence is planned and rehearsed (ask any musician). In fact, the liturgy reminds that our worship services are in fact a rehearsal themselves--a practice session for heaven's music.

Yes, it's easy to let doing the same things the same way become a rote exercise in form. But consider a child at the piano flying through the scales as fast as she can rush through them, hurrying to get through her practice time and on with everything else. Now consider the concert pianist, going through the same scales. Taking her time. Fast and slow. Major and minor, varying the dynamics, never bored but aware of just how much time and effort and practice it takes to get even scales up to the musical standard . . .

* Definition of liturgy: a form of public worship. Ritual. A particular arrangement of services. Most every church has a liturgy--even if it's only "we sing for 30 minutes and then the pastor preaches for 30 minutes.

Memory and forgetfulness

We are finite and lose even ourselves, sometimes in the end (as with Alzheimer's or Huntington's diseases). But God is infinite and holds each of us perfectly.

a good morning for videos

Love it. :)

This one reminds me of Amy Walker's 21 accents video, which I thought I had posted before and now can't find. Well. Here it is again then.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book Review: I Am Hutterite, by Mary-Ann Kirkby

In 1969, Ann-Marie Dornn's parents took eleven year old Ann-Marie and her six brothers and sisters and left their Hutterite Colony to live in the "English" world. The decision had been years in the making. Though this book purports to be the story of Ann-Marie's adjustment to life away from her Hutterite community, it is as much the story of her parents as her. She starts her tale with the family history of each of parents individually and covers their courtship and its controversial place in the community. She writes about the establishment of Fairholme colony and the community dynamics of Hutterite colonies. We're three and a half chapters in (out of eleven) before Ann-Marie is even born, and eight chapters in before her family actually leaves the colony. Only the last third of the book is about their adjustment to the outside world. Mostly, this is a book about what it means to be an integrated part of a Hutterite community.

Or is this in fact Ann-Marie's story? Hutterite faith is definitionally lived out in community. Gemeinshaft ist der einzege Weg, they say. Community life is the only way to heaven. This is a story about belonging and choice. About family and commitment. About the difference between the ideal of community life and what happens ordinary sinful people try to live it out. About keeping individual integrity when there doesn't seem to be a right way forward. Ann-Marie-the-child loved community life, was welcomed and enfolded by it, while her parents struggled with adult conflicts, of which she knew virtually nothing. To understand Ann-Marie's story, it is clear, one must understand the community of which she was a part. The proper Hutterite understands her identity first and foremost not as an individual, but as a member of the group. Ann-Marie was wholly a proper Hutterite child and her beloved family-colony was who she was. No wonder leaving was so wrenching.

This is a well written memoir and I would happily recommend it. The common themes that play out in our human experience of love, pain, family and forgiveness are richly drawn within the very concrete experience of a specific time, place and culture. It's a quick, easy read. Four stars out of five.

This book was provided to me free by Thomas Nelson in exchange for a book review as part of their BookSneeze program. I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Two Book Reviews: The Marriage Code and Love & War

One of my husband's ministry mentors some years back told us that he believed that every married couples--especially pastors--ought to go in for marriage counseling routinely every three years. Rob and I haven't done that. But I have taken it as encouragement that our marriages are something with which we need to actively engage. Two new relationship books bear reading and discussion this spring--Farrels' The Marriage Code and Eldredges' Love & War. I'd strongly recommend both of them for any couple, whether healthy or struggling (though my recommendation for Love & War comes with some caveats).

The Marriage Code examines the dynamic of security and success in a marriage. Both men and women need both security and success the Farrels say, but women tend to primarily need security and use success as a means to that end, while men primarily need success and will sacrifice security to achieve it. Additionally, (as per the Five Love Languages) people tend to give what they themselves want to receive, so women, the Farrels argue, tend to try to make their husbands feel secure when what they need to be doing is helping to be successful, while men tend to try to feed their wives success when what they need to be doing is feeding them security. The Farrels then unpack this idea across a variety of issues, covering work and play, communication, finances

One of the more interesting things to me about this book is the principle that men are supposed to be successful and that one of the keys to a good marriage is for a man to feel that he is a success as a husband and a father. A man will pour his time and energy into the areas in his life where he can accomplish things and being deliberate about setting up those positive feedback loops in areas where God has called him to work is critical. Much of the language of success has been hijacked by the legalists and heretics of the American church. An orthodox, gospel-driven view of righteous success in an accomplishment driven society is sorely needed.

This brings us to Love & War. In this book, John and Stasi Eldredge give us a picture of marriage--all marriage in general and yours in particular--as a battleground of spiritual warfare. Satan wants your marriage to fail and you need to be active in fighting for your spouse, not against them. My main problem with the Eldredge's theology is this: I think they are far too prone to name as the devil that which is simply the world and the flesh. There is a real danger in anthropomorphizing certain kinds of problems and sin. That said, the Bible makes very clear that Satan is very real, that we do have a malignant, intelligent Enemy working against us. And the Eldredges have written a challenging, sympathetic, pragmatic, gritty book on the core how-tos of making marriage work between profoundly sinful and broken (that's all of us, folks!) people. Too many Christian marriage enrichment materials start with the implicit assumption that the couples working through them are Nice Christian People without significant hang-ups or issues. Give 'em a few active listening techniques and understanding and peace (voila!) will blossom. The Eldredges start with the assumption that you don't really have a clue just how screwed up you are and that the best thing that you can do for yourself and your relationship is take a good long look in the mirror. Get some humility. And expect Capital I Issues from yourself and the people around you.

Any good counselor will tell you that any real change starts with the understanding that you can't change other people; you can only change yourself. (And indeed--good theology takes that a step further; you can't change yourself in any meaningful sense. Only the Spirit of God can change you). So in order for our marriages to grow, we need to not focus on our spouse's problems but on letting God point out to us the areas where he wants to grow us and then cooperating with God to become the people he means us to be.

But if the Eldredges make the challenges to our marriages out to be worse than you wanted to admit, they also promise a pay-off better than you could have hoped for. "This is the deepest and most mythic reality in the world. This is the story of God's romance with mankind." Each of our marriages is a microcosm of the love of God, a peephole for us to see the wild, infinite, creative love that we are called to. A crack we allow in our self-protective shell that pry wide open to pour his love through us.

At the end of last year, Elizabeth Weil published an article in the NY Times about the quest she and her husband took to "improve" their marriage. For the most part, the secular experiment turned into an exercise in frustration, simply bringing into focus irritations that they were generally able to ignore. In the end, she comes to the conclusion that happiness cannot be found in ones spouse and a good marriage is one in which the spouses keep growing. This dovetails neatly with the Christian insight that we do not find our fulfillment in other people but in God. And our marriages are the primary place where we help each other along in doing that. If your desire is to grow into the fullness of who God made you to be, and for your spouse to do the same, each of these books is a good resource.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Joshua fit the Battle of Jericho

Just . . . wow. I've always loved this song. I think love it more now.

P is for Process: preamble

Now for a little bit of Meyers-Briggs talk. Of the four sets of toggles that combine to make the sixteen personality types in this scheme, the "J-P" split is the most difficult to understand. "Extrovert" and "Introvert" are fairly self-explanatory. So are "Thinking" and "Feeling." "Intuitive" and "Sensing" are even managable. But what are "Perceiving" and "Judging" supposed to mean? I think that they would have had a hard time doing a better job obscuring the issues if they had tried.

I knew it had something to do with being organized--the questions that sort out J's from P's have to do with whether you're neat or messy, and whether or not you're likely to be on time for something. It's something to do with planning. For a long time, I tried to describe it to people in terms of closure--do you prefer things being decided or open-ended? But all of these seemed lacking. Then two things happened this fall that helped me start thinking through the issue a little more.

The first was that I was working through the personality inventory questions with my parents, and I realized that the questions are about emotionally healthy and mature J's, but about unhealthy and immature P's. The readily identifiable lifestyle choices and tendencies that the questions highlight are biased.

The second was that a sociologist (someone who tests strongly P) came to our MOPs group to talk about Meyers-Briggs (and the ways that personality differences between parents and children can be addressed). It was an interesting talk by a man who has been working professionally with these materials for decades. I brought the handouts that he gave us home and my husband looked over them. "Oh," he commented. "Someone else who thinks that J's are morally superior to P's." (My husband tested J for years due simply to the fact that he thought that's what he was supposed to be.)

Our society is strongly biased for J's. It is run by J's, for J's, and indeed, many J's think that they are, in fact, morally superior to P's. (There is no allowance in our culture for many of the flaws that P's are most prone to).

But if we are all of us, J and P, made in the image of God; if in fact, humanity as a whole reflects God's image; if it is the J-P spectrum that reflects God . . . what does that tell us about this character trait? How do we understand the spectrum so that we can see the strengths of an emotionally healthy P and the flaws of an emotionally unhealthy J?

What I have come up with is this: P's are about process and J's about result. Put another way, P's are about the means and J's about the ends.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book Review: The Egypt Game, by Zilpha Keatly Snyder

This is a review with spoilers.

My dear MIL, who loves to send books to our daughters, has picked up on the fact that any book with a Newberry medal on the cover is probably a pretty good bet for something that we'll be pleased to have our kids read, so it was no real surprise when a used copy of "The Egypt Game" showed up in the mail. But something from my long gone days as an elementary school library aide (volunteer shelving slave) rose up to the surface with the title and author. Hadn't there been some sort of controversy at my little Christian school over this book? Occult something or another? For a conservative Christian school, ours really had a remarkable selection on the shelves, counting on parents to screen what their own kids checked out rather than heavily censoring what went onto the shelves in the first place. And after all, a Newberry book is usually a pretty good read--I decided that this was one that I wanted to read myself before passing it on to my nine year old daughter.

What I found, to my delight and consternation, was a book that didn't fit in to any of my preconceived slots. The book definitely deserved the Newberry honor that it received; from a literary point of view, everything about this book is excellent. Character development is realistic and subtle, and tied together with a strong plot. The writing is clear and interesting. The story involves April, a sixth grade girl in 1960's California who is dumped on her grandmother by a mother who isn't interested in having a child around. The grandmother and reader know that this is a permanent move for April, but April wants to believe that her mother wants her, waiting anxiously for infrequent postcards and accepting at face value thin excuses. At her grandmother's apartment building, April makes friends with Melanie and they discover a mutual love for "imagining" games. An additional mutual interest in the history of ancient Egypt and the availability of an almost private vacant lot lead naturally into "The Egypt Game," an extended reimagining and role-playing of life as high priestesses in ancient Egypt. They are joined by Melanie's tag-a-long four year old brother Marshall and--eventually--several other friends from the neighborhood.

So what do we have? An excellently written book in which children make diverse friends (good!), have active imaginations (good!), are vibrantly interested in real history (good!), and want to play out their interest (very natural) by recreating altars to Isis and Set and then developing and carrying out pagan rituals, sacrifices and mummification (WHOA!). Historically, the ancient Egyptians really did worship a wide variety of false gods. Pagan rituals really did dominate and heavily influence their lives.

Let's jump ahead a minute. There is no occult in this book. There is no implication that the kids actually awaken Egyptian gods. Late in the book there a couple of sort of creepy occurences when the kids start to wonder if they might have, but then (Scooby-Doo like) it's all revealed to have all been people doing tricksy things all along, and everyone is reassured that none of it was actually real and it was all just a game. The neighborhood bad guy is caught and April develops a better relationship with her grandmother, and it's all a nice almost-coming-of-age story about family and friendship, imagination and learning. At least, I'm sure that's how the author intended it.

Problem is, from a Christian point of view, what was actually real and what wasn't? Some of those kid-constructed pagan rituals looked . . . an awful lot like real worship. God has a lot of very pointed things to say in scripture about worshipping false gods. None of them are good. Additionally, there's a lot of confusion (even among adults! even in the church!) about the nature of worship and how we practice it and what it means.

As a Christian parent, trying to guide my children in holiness, trying to help them sort out what it means to live a life of worship, I can't imagine a situation in which I wouldn't slap my kids down hard if I found them playing "Pagan Rituals." There's just no way that it can be a good idea. I don't buy the line that reading about magic in stories is going to turn kids to witchcraft, or that kids will mindlessly mimic anything they find in a book. But the message of "The Egypt Game" is much more subtle and dangerous--none of it is real, and it's all in good fun. Because make no mistake, the kids have a great time and the game is a great game. The author is sure that most all kids would be better off if they were imaginative like this. Am I going to give this book to my kids to read? Maybe when they're thirty-five and raising my imaginative grandchildren.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Jack Prelutsky on Karla Kuskin

I hadn't heard of poet Karla Kuskin before, rather to my shame. Her work looks delightful. Jack Prelutsky presents several of his favorites.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Book Review: Hand of Fate by Lis Wiehl and April Henry

FBI Agent Nicole Hedges, Federal Prosecutor Allison Pierce and TV news reporter Cassidy Shaw form the Triple Threat Club--friends united by their mutual passions for justice and dark chocolate. This second book of the series has them working to solve the murder of radio personality Jim Fate. The problem is not who would want kill him--the problem is, who wouldn't? A bombastic, over-opinated loud-mouth, this is a man who uses even his own hate mail to boost his ratings, handing out "Nut of the Day" awards on the air for the wackiest emails and insults he receives. Former lovers, envious co-workers, corrupt politicians and people he has bullied and mocked on the air provide a daunting list of suspects.

This was a fun read. It's billed as a thriller, but I would describe it more as a crime drama. It reminded me strongly of TV shows like Law & Order, CSI, and Numb3rs. Strong characterization is nicely woven together with almost non-stop action, and well-chosen details about law and media sketch in the professions of the protagonists well. And Portland here is written very much as itself--not just as a generic city. I appreciate the light, realistic touch that the authors give religion here. Each of the three protagonists has a different religious viewpoint (Christian, cynically de-churched and agnostic), and each is written simply and fairly. Our beliefs influence how we interact with the world around us and we don't all believe the same thing. The authors clearly intend to follow these themes out over the course of the series, but I appreciate the fact that they don't seem to be in any hurry to come to quick solutions and canned answers. Real change usually is slow and organic, after all. My one real complaint with the book was towards the end, with a twist that seemed to come out of left field. Would there have been a mystery if they had found that key piece of information on page 50 instead of 250? Maybe not. On the other hand, is it realistic that it would have taken that long for that to turn up? Um, yes. Definitely.

I'd have no hesitation in recommending this book to someone looking for a good piece of beach reading for Spring Break. I'll probably go and get the first of the series now from the library and will definitely look for the third coming out next year.

Three and a half stars out of five.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

one element of a good evening

was finding that Ray Ortlund had posted this video. Love Ashley Cleveland.

Monday, March 29, 2010

This about sums it up at our house

except that the middle of our three children seems to be a morning person. So while the rest of us are stumbling around making mono-syllabic noises, she is Oh-So-Happy! that the rest of us are finally up . . . there are mornings that doesn't work out so well.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hymn of St. Patrick

The worship leader of our chapel program in college wrote this arrangement of St. Patrick's Breastplate. I like it best of any of them I've heard.

link to audio only:

Saturday, March 13, 2010


So our four year old has a thing for They Might Be Giants. Best of all, she loves their song "Seven," (I think because she gets to go around shouting "Where's our cake? We want cake!" with impunity for days afterwards.) It was with great delight that she realized that the seven song was originally podcast on . . . March 7th. Her birthday. Apparently that's her birthday cake that all the sevens are devouring.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Colorado Pork Green Chili

Hey! Our western green chili won the church chili cook-off at our very Midwestern church! That's a fun surprise. As promised, the recipe:

Colorado Pork Green Chili

2 lb pork roast, cooked and diced (about 4 cups cooked meat)
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 large fresh tomato, diced
2 7 oz. cans green chilies--undrained
1-2 fresh jalapenos, diced (seeded or unseeded, depending on your heat preferences)
1 tsp onion powder (or one medium onion, diced)
1-2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 cup flour
2 Tbsp. oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 chicken boullion cube
2-3 cups of water

Simmer on low until pork is extremely tender and stew is desired thickness. Works great in a crock pot.

Adapted from Colorado Collage cookbook

Friday, February 26, 2010

lots of rules of writing

The UK's Guardian asked a slew of authors to each give ten rules of writing. Part one is here. Part two is here.

Featured authors include Elmore Leonard, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, A.L. Kennedy, Hillary Mantel, Michael Moorcock, Michael Morpugo, Andrew Motion, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Ian Rankin, Will Self, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Toibin, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, and Jeanette Winterson.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book Review: The Voice of Psalms

The Voice Project is, according to its website, "a retelling of the Scriptures . . . not of words, but of meaning and experience." You might call it a translation project. Its team of contributors is tackling the Bible one book at a time, publishing each book separately. It represents a "collaboration among scholars, writers, musicians, and other artists."

It seemed to me that the book of Psalms might be particularly suited for this kind of project--it is, after all, the hymnal of the Jewish Temple, the lyric book and liner notes for the songs of David (and a few others). Songwriters and poets have been re-translating, re-expoloring, re-singing the Psalms for centuries. "The Voice" has reduced them to prose. Here then, is the first of my complaints on this grievous, ridiculous, self-important re-telling project. (It's too far off to be considered a translation). It doesn't even succeed at what it purports to be trying to do. I presume that the meaning and experience of the original readers (and singers) of the Psalms would have been such that they could recognize what they were reading as song lyrics. But it is nearly impossible to imagine singing what is rendered in "The Voice," sometimes laughably so. Who thought it was a good idea to render Psalm 2:12 ("you will be destroyed" in the NIV and "you will perish" in the ESV) as "you won't stand a chance." ? Just one small example of how the book is riddled with unpoetic modern cliche.

Now, about the italicized material. The introduction says that it is "not directly tied to a dynamic translation of the original language." Put another way--it's interpolation. Or, let's simplify yet again, since "The Voice" seems to be all about simplifying--it's stuff that they just added in because they felt like it. And they don't want anyone to be distracted by footnotes or whatnot--so it's right there in the text. Italics or no, which of us can really read through a passage and keep ourselves from integrating the material? It's very troubling.

There's not much worth saying about the interpretive/devotional essays spattered through the book. They're pretty typical American, legalistic apply-it-to-me-and-how-I-feel and God-wants-you-to-work-at-this type fare. Utterly ignorable.

For more educated critique of the word by word translation and theological agenda of this project, see Chris Rosebrough tackling their rendering of the Gospel of John 1 here and Romans 3 here.

One half star for good paper, font and binding. Otherwise, none. If you want a dynamic translation, try The Message.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fear and Grace

From Pursuing Titus 2, via Jennifer F.

When we are simply imagining chilling scenarios, we are facing the horrible emotions without any of God’s sustaining grace. Every time we imagine something, we put ourselves through agony of a kind we will never have to go through in real life. Because when awful things are actually happening, God walks with us through them and gives us His grace and strength. The peace of God’s presence through a trial is something I can never conjure up in my imagination, and something that only comes with real trials, not the pretend ones I make up while driving.
Worry really doesn't serve us well. God calls us to live in each moment--which means to take the time and energy to actually be present in each moment. And each day has enough troubles of its own . . . when we actually go to the trouble enjoying God today, it doesn't leave us with time or energy to be making contingency plans for all sorts of situations which will never actually happen.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Book Review: Five Cities that Ruled the World

I review for BookSneeze

How could a man this smart, how could as good a writer as Douglas Wilson write a book this bad? Five Cities that Ruled the World is a popular history giving an overview of Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and New York. In the introduction Wilson informs the reader that he will be showing how "Jerusalem has bequeathed to us a legacy of spirit; Athens, reason and the mind; Rome, law; London, literature; and New York, industry and commerce." He also intends to explore the Platonic ideal of city with Revelation's Babylon and the heavenly City of God marking opposite ends of the spectrum.

He then takes each of the cities in turn and . . . does what? Okay, so he writes about Jerusalem and spirit--but the concept of "spirit" is vague enough that one could write about just about anything and tie that in. The section on Athens is supposed to be about its legacy of reason and intellectual influence, but he's halfway through the chapter and spent a number of pages retelling the stories of the War with Troy and the Battle of Salamis before he even touches on their intellectual history. The chapters on Rome, London, and New York are even less tied to the "legacies" promised in the introduction. In each chapter Wilson meanders back and forth across history, from pre-history to modern times, cherry-picking battles, quotes, myths and incidents in pursuit of some agenda sensed but never quite articulated. It makes for increasingly bizarre reading because Wilson's prose is actually very good. He's often laugh-out-loud funny and his paragraphs are well constructed. But his paragraph and larger sections seem to have little or no connection to each other--at least in light of the schema he purports to be following. Where are the transitions? Where is the connective material?

Finally, mercifully, the reader gets to the epilogue in which Wilson essentially says, "Aha! See what we've accidentally discovered along the way! Isn't it providential?" Well, no. It's not. We all learned the core of essay-writing in junior high school: 1. Tell me what you're going to tell me. 2. Tell it to me in detail. 3. Tell me what you just told me. Not: 1. Tell me what you're going to tell me. 2. Wander across 5000 years of history telling me things that almost have something to do with what you said you were going to do but not quite, and then 3. Suprise! Tell me you were really on about something else all together. The book is really about . . . Freedom. Freedom is good.

I was still in the first chapter when the similarities with The Mainspring of Human Progress (a screed which constituted a large portion of my "Economics" education at my conservative Christian high school) struck me. The breezy narrative style and casual treatment of history are unmistakeable in their flavor. And I am grieved because I sympathize with the libertarian instincts of both these books. And bad books do not serve to advance the causes of good ideas; rather the reverse. And this poorly structured, agenda-heavy, historically dubious text, I am afraid, will do little but persuade Wilson's choir that their cause has been adequately defended, when it hasn't.

Two stars out of five, because at least his retellings of many historical incidents are very good as scatter shot pieces of world history--whatever purpose they're supposed to be serving.

This is a review through Thomas Nelson's Book Sneeze program.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Seven Quick takes: Volume 100129

I'm seriously missing my husband while he's gone for a few days at Calvin College's wonderful Worship Symposium. Some quick takes on the stuff of daily life that I forget to mention while on the phone and may not remember to tell him when he gets home.

1. The baking blitz last night with the 9 y.o. went amazingly well. Once again, I find as a parent that my children are capable of far more than I might have thought. When in my desperation and rush I let them try (whatever), I often discover that--yes, they actually can do it! Or at least clean up their own mess afterwards. The eldest sucessfully followed the recipe for bread and put all the ingredients in the bread machine. She sucessfully cleaned up her own flour and dried milk spills. She did most of the mixing for the chocolate chip cookies and learned a few useful techniques on cracking eggs and using the electric mixer. She shaped the bread rolls (though I divided the dough for her because I could do it in about three minutes and it would have taken her twenty). And the reinforcement of 3 tsp = 1 Tbsp, 8 Tbsp = 1/2 cup, 8 oz. = 1 cup fit in beautifully with the fact that they're covering units in math this week. (We went over cups, pints, quarts and gallons a few days ago).

2. I didn't really need Kidnap to inform me that soccer is the most popular sport in Brazil. After four years of working for a Brazilian boss--and living through Brazil's loss to France in the 2000 World Cup, I knew that. (Disclaimer: that France beat Brazil in the 2000 World Cup is about the only I know about professional soccer.)

3. Today's xkcd. I really didn't need any help anthropomorphizing inanimate objects. It comes (distressingly?) naturally to me. Now I'm grieving for the NASA probe and feeling guilty over every childhood toy I ever got rid of.

4. The kids have an issue with the fact that I don't turn on Grant St. like you do when I'm taking them to school, but wait an extra two blocks and go up to Colfax.

5. Suzuki's Allegro has to be one of the more insanely catchy pieces of pseudo-classical music around. Our 3 y.o. is going around singing it. This is only making it more difficult to get it dislodged from my own brain.

6. The Anchoress's litany on the difference between an icon and an idol here is beautiful. It is an effective definition. That is, it differentiates by the effect it is having. (Something which is intended as an icon might function as an idol. Our sinful nature tries to warp all good things to idolatry. )

7. The girls and I watched a very strange effect as the sky was getting dark last night. By some quirk of light and cloud, the sky was very dark very low--we couldn't see the normal tree and house line--it was all absorbed in the dark. Up above was light--and the whole things made it look like we had a mountain range out our dining room window, here in suburban/rural Indiana. I glanced up from my dinner and did a double take--I might have once again been driving I-70 on the north side of Denver, with the Front Range in front of me. Beautiful.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fun from the Epic Win blog

I would like each of these in my life.

Check out the Epic Win blog. Fun

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Be your own good friend

Professor John Stackhouse, quoting William Law, on how to be a friend to ourselves. Food for thought that plays into any new year's resolution.

The Periodic Table of Typefaces