Saturday, April 21, 2018

Winter in April {seeking Allah, finding Jesus}

via Pixabay
Last Sunday morning an April storm came through the Great Lakes area, icing over the roads and canceling most of the morning services. There's something all the more relaxing about getting up late on a Sunday morning, and instead of dressing up and scurrying around, seeing everyone just laying around with blankets and cozy talk. The whole day turned into blankets and cozy talk--sis and I cuddled up on the couch while we all watched a live stream sermon. Then there were Sunday nap comas. Then there were three episodes of the Great British Baking show. (Normally two is our high water mark, but we had a library due date and less free evening time that week.)

I woke up that Sunday morning over cereal and yogurt, accompanied by Nabeel Qureshi's Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Our church ladies are having a book discussion night with it, so my mom and sis and I are all reading the copy a friend passed on to us. We received the copy last year sometime last summer before the hurricanes in Houston. During the floods, I still remember hearing about Qureshi leaving for the hospital as the floodwaters rose higher. Then, in mid-September, I heard that Qureshi passed away. While I had never heard him speak and knew none of his story at the time, I added his book to my sooner-than-later TBR.

Nabeel's book is fascinating and easy to read since he describes a lot of his spiritual journey in conversations with his family and his friend, David. He was raised as a Western Muslim and a peaceful man, with a deep love for his parents and their Islamic heritage. Qureshi's book details how his faith in Islam grew as a child in a wonderfully loving home, and how he later came to accept Christianity when he examined his faith and found it lacking in truth and consistency. Qureshi doesn't disguise how hard it was; how much he loved his family; and how much he had to give up to accept Jesus Christ as Lord.

What makes reading it even more interesting is contrasting it with another book my mom and sister and I are reading: In the Land of Blue Burqas, by Kate McCord. While Qureshi's book explores growing up Muslim in the West, McCord's book explores the lives of Muslim women in Afghanistan. The differences between Eastern Islam and Western Islam, according to Qureshi, are that Eastern countries are focused on authority and shame, while Western citizens are more influenced by the independent rationalistic mindset of right/wrong. McCord's account of Afghanistan offers a bleak picture of that, especially for women. In the West, a land filled with independent settlers, it doesn't surprise me that people don't want anyone to tell them what to think or do. Qureshi's picture of his Eastern mindset meeting Western America offers a lot of clarification on how we approach religions from different viewpoints. 

One theme which carries through both books is that of listening. The author of Blue Burquas came to a culture where people sit and talk. They listen and ask questions. There are no fast conversations, and she impacted people in many ways by taking time to converse with them. Qureshi, in his book, says that many Christians would look at him as someone needing to be saved--but the man who looked at him as a friend was the man who ultimately led him to the Lord.

Qureshi's bravery in pressing on to know and test his faith is more than I've done. His comments about being loved as a person versus being seen as a convert offer food for thought. And his life demonstrates his careful attention to truth, and God's patient love as he gives Qureshi confirmation after confirmation of the truth in several miraculous ways.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Love Which Expands {dorcas lane and gabriel cochrane}

via Pixabay
"I believe that love expands our world."

Dorcas Lane says this to Gabriel Cochrane in Lark Rise to Candleford, after he explains to her that he loves his work to the exclusion of all other loves. Dorcas disagrees with his assessment; she thinks that love is a different thing entirely. 

If Dorcas Lane slipped into our Bible Study Fellowship, her gorgeous belts, chic hats, and feminine shirtwaists might be a little out of place. (I'd dress up with her style any day.) But I think she'd find a resonating answer in the pages of Romans. The last few weeks we have been studying how to love the body. And that means loving those different than us; loving those weaker than us (Romans 14); loving our enemies (Romans 12). 

There is no time in the Christian life where we can look at the world around us and say "I have no one to love." 

Set just on the cusp of the upcoming 20th century, Lark Rise embodies all that is beautiful in its small-town stories and wind-tossed harvest fields. It's a BBC adaptation of a book I hope to read someday. There are many beautiful points; many tear-jerking moments. But one of the beautiful plot lines in Season 4 is Gabriel Cochrane's character arc. 

Gabriel Cochrane comes to Candleford after having his father's foundry confiscated for debts that he cannot pay. He is devastated by the loss of his young wife. And as he tries to make a new life in Candleford, he often rubs Dorcas the wrong way because of his loveless-ness. 

Gabriel believes he can only love one thing. When his wife was alive, he loved her so much he betrayed his financial stability and his word to please her. Now that she is gone, he thinks that he is no longer able to love people. So he throws himself into his work and loves that, to the inconvenience of other people's schedules and impatience towards a little boy who looks up to him. 

Dorcas finally confronts him. 
"Love is not a selfish need; not a hunger that must always be fed. Love should not exclude. It should make our lives broader; our hearts wider. What kind of love is it that would lock us away from those around us?" -Season 4, Episode 4
This is truth. Gabriel's love is really warped love. Warped love gathers about it the people and objects of its possession like treasured idols, refusing to expand or allow them to expand. Warped love is willing to allow other people to suffer for the sake of the comfort of one. Or even allowing the one to suffer for the sake of the comfort of the many. Warped love sets up barriers and comfort zones and walls.

But if you dive into Scripture, you see a different picture of love entirely. God inextricably links love for him with love for his people (1 John 4:21). We're called to love the body. To love the unlovable. To love even in a way that sacrifices some of our lesser loves on occasion (Romans 14). Christian love does not shut its heart. Doesn't sees someone approaching the table and say, "I have no room for you." Doesn't say, "My world is complete. I don't need any more people."

"I don't need." Surely a warning sign.

When I love only within my little exclusive circle, like Gabriel Cochrane, then I am actively showing hate to those I refuse to let in. Warped love has borders. As Dorcas says, passion has borders. Love is something else entirely. Love is not collecting people who contribute only to my praise. Not talking only to those who share my exclusive little hobbies and areas of excitement. Not solely fellowshipping with my select gathering. Not using people's goodwill just to forward my own ambitions. Love is extending the love of God to all whom God brings to me....a broader, wider love as described on the lips of a wise postmistress.

So Gabrial Cochrane, just because he cannot love one person, learns to show love to others. A little boy with his tempestulator. An employer who shows kindness to him again and again. His world expands. And an already endearing character is all the better for it. 

Would you add thoughts to this? I'd love to have my perspective expanded. 

Also, 3 reviews left on Amazon releases the first snippets of the War of Loyalties sequel! Have a favorite character? Criticisms? Overall impressions? (Honest reviews are the best!)


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sleeping Beauty and Humble Self

via Pixabay

She was sitting in a rocking chair near the window, I perched on a bed next to her, when her friend handed us warm mugs of creamy hot cocoa.

"Don't fall in there and drown," she teased.

We live half a world apart. That afternoon we had perhaps two hours of a grey November day before the road called our family home to Michigan again.

Two years before, Suzannah stumbled across My Lady Bibliophile through a comment on Jasmine Baucham's pre-marriage blog. (You can now find Jasmine Holmes writing excellent stuff here.) I think it was one of the only comments I've made, which always points me to the beauty and unpredictability of the ways God calls friends together. We exchanged occasional emails; sometime later Suzannah asked me to beta read a novel she was working on: Pendragon's Heir.

Humble self is at your service.

I've been doing it on a Watsonian level ever since. I read Ten Thousand Thorns last summer, spending Saturday mornings with Clouded Sky and Iron Maiden at the breakfast table. (Yes, I was eating alone.) For those of you who don't know, these two smol precious beings are found in a lusciously artistic retelling of Sleeping Beauty set in China with martial arts.

via Goodreads 
what are we waiting for, schuyler? send us to amazon.  

It was splendid when I read it the first time. I wasn't able to open a final draft until early 2018. The first chapter found me swiping pages on my phone while we wound through early morning country roads with cross-streets named "Empire" and "Britain." We were on the way to a radio recording day. The rest of the chapters found me this last Sunday clinging to same said phone. On the way to church, on my bed before my traditional Sunday nap-coma, and tucked into our cushy red recliner while the clock marched on to bedtime.

The sudden palm-strike to seal an acupoint.  Hands cupped in humble obeisance. Silky sleeves rippling in the wind. The tiptoeing sun. The threat of a masked face. Characters wrestling with war and spiritual enlightenment against the tension of fleeing pursuit, along with guarded legends from an unknown location. Ten Thousand Thorns provides so much to be loved. Explored through a high-quality story, it chastises spiritual disengagement from the world's problems, dramatizes Ecclesiastes 4:13, and provides an inspiring look at how women can effectively equip believers in the kingdom of God.

Hard to believe all that can be dealt with in the brevity of one novella. But as Clouded Sky wrestles with saving his country or enlightening his soul, it deals with all of them phenomenally well.

Coupled with Christina Rosetti's poems, I felt like I was enjoying a literary feast on Sunday. It's a feast you'll love to engage with as well.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Of Minky Blankets and Discipline and Joy

via Pixabay
We have a blanket in our home made of Minky which my mother sewed last year. She wanted to experiment with sewing a new type of fabric, and it's been a popular blanket in the home ever since. It's soft, brown on one side, with scattered woodland creatures on the other. I can't remember what they are. I only remember the foxes. 

Minky enshrouds you in a cascade of warmth and softness. It's the great Procrastinator. The Work-Destroyer. The Peace-Inviter and Shield-of-Forgetfulness against the demands of a fast-paced and productive world. A couple of weeks ago, sis brought me Minky and The Silver Chair on a Friday night. I don't know what prompted this act of love, but I spent the next few hours cocooned in comfort, escaping with Jill and Eustace to Narnia. While the rest of the family studied or rested from sheer exhaustion after a long week, I wandered through the land of talking owls and Marsh Wiggles. 

Prince Caspian was my favorite Narnia book growing up, and more recently, I've claimed him as my favorite still. After reading it again this year, I could see even more reasons to love it besides the superficial ones I had as a child: the triumphant victory and rejoicing in the presence of Aslan, the great bonfire feast of victory at the end. It's a tale that points to the victory of God, and the deep, satisfying joy of fellowship with his people. Who can forget David Suchet on the Focus on the Family drama, with his rich voice describing how Aslan and the moon stared at each other with joyful and unblinking eyes? 

So I wasn't expecting to go into The Silver Chair and have it beat Prince Caspian out for first place. In fact, I was putting it off a little bit because I expected to be bored. I have no idea why. Maybe because I knew the story so well that it was all going to be review; another obligatory stop in the series. 

Oh, Schuyler. Your mistakes are amusing sometimes. 

So many joyful, wonderful, deep and stirring things stood out to me as I journeyed through. The end of Dawn Treader hurts when Caspian meets Ramandu's daughter. The glory and joy of falling in love with the daughter of a star--who can help feeling the ache of beauty, along with the terrible stab of knowing that their time together will be so short? There is nothing to heal that tragedy. If I could undo anything in the series, it would be the death of Ramandu's daughter. But at the same time, I cannot say it was ill done when the emotion it describes is so deep. 

Then we have Puddleglum--dear Puddleglum, with his infuriatingly pessimistic predictions and stalwart loyalty. Puddleglum is always seeing the worst, and like Eustace and Jill, it's easy for me to be annoyed and dismissive of pessimism. Things generally work out, and when you travel a long journey with someone who looks at the glass half-empty, over time you start to shut their viewpoint out. But the danger of that is that sometimes, when you're in the neighborhood of giants, the gloomy predictions actually strike the right note, and you're too blind to see it anymore. 

The Silver Chair dramatizes the hard struggle of spiritual growth. Jill starts off as the bullied student of an Enlightened school and doesn't know much worth knowing. Her spiritual muscles are weak, and Aslan assigns memorization and obedience to strengthen them. In The Silver Chair we continue to catch glimpses of the Lion's severity. He's not a Santa Claus, fixing wrongs and dispensing pats on the head with benign smiles. He has a heart of necessary sternness towards his children, and a strong, corrective expectation of what they need to do (or think) better. Like Hebrews 11, he disciplines the children he loves. And it is not an easy journey. But throughout his discipline is tempered mercy and guidance. Even when his children are frail and faulty, he helps them accomplish the purpose he gave them, both for the land of Narnia and for their own souls. God is able to keep us from falling, and more kindly patient with our errors than we often give him credit for. I was blown away by the sweet moment I had utterly forgotten towards the end of the book, one gave me a glimpse of God himself: 
And in less time than it takes to breathe Jill forgot about the dead King of Narnia and remembered only how she had made Eustace fall over the cliff, and how she had helped to muff nearly all the signs, and about all the snappings and quarrelings. And she wanted to say "I'm sorry" but she could not speak. Then the Lion drew them toward him with his eyes, and bent down and touched their pale faces with his tongue, and said: 
"Think of that no more. I will not always be scolding. You have done the work for which I sent you into Narnia." -The Silver Chair, CS Lewis, pg. 236. 
It's beautiful. 

The Silver Chair doesn't only dramatize discipline so wonderfully. It also expresses celebration. C.S. Lewis is so good at giving his readers lavish joy after the hardship. From the Great Snow Dance to a firelit cave and frothy mugs of hot cocoa (including a dig at fake sausages), I love his descriptions. I also love his chapter title: "The Healing of Harms." The simple gifts of food and togetherness, of the generosity of God after he has called us to struggle: so generous that he could even grant Caspian's wish to catch a glimpse of the human world. It's a bonus. An unnecessary. Icing on the cake is necessary, so we will compare it to piped chocolate garnishes: the extra beauty that most people wouldn't care to put on, which a generous God so graciously gives to his beloved children. 

I don't rejoice as much in God's generosity as I should. Caught up in the fear of my own frailty, it is much easier to obsessively contemplate myself than to give thanks. C.S. Lewis reminds me of this. 

Friday nights with Minky are restorative to the soul. The Silver Chair is so beautiful I'm not sure how to end this article, except with thanks. So thank God for C.S. Lewis and Eustace and Jill, for frothy hot cocoa and gentle lions. And thank God, too, for a hole left in a Narnian hillside that contains an underground sea world, where evil has been silenced and the good can "sail to and fro, singing." 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

To Understand the Generations

via Pixabay
Tonight I am curled up near my sister. We're both working in our room; she studying, and I writing to the accompaniment of Patrick Doyle's A United Kingdom. It's been a joy of a day, spending half of it in pajamas, catching up on some sleep, and going for a random pizza run as a family. Sis and I are going to hang up some fairy lights in our room later. Tomorrow we're going to be with family for Easter. And the day after that, I am going to start draft two of the sequel to War of Loyalties.

I am experiencing what it feels like to be young, with a great deal of life stretched out before me. I am not a child anymore. I have fears and aches that make the future seem more intimidating than it used to be. But I have a zest for life; a joy of risk; the knowledge that I still have wiggle room to grow and experiment and learn as a person.

Already I am old enough to have forgotten some of what it felt like to be younger--A.A. Milne's poetry last year reminded me of some of the things I used to do as a child--watching raindrops race down the car window as we were driving, and things grownups would say that would grate upon a little person. But on the other hand, I'm not old enough yet to have experienced what people a generation or two ahead of me love and dislike and fear and dream of. I am on the young end of the spectrum of life. But today I got to experience through the hands of a good author what it felt like to be on the other end.

A friend lent me Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter a few months ago. It's been lying quietly in my stack of books, waiting for me to find time to pay attention to it. Appropriate, because the story itself, about the town of Port William, touches on the theme of being forgotten and left behind in the faster pace of a new age.

Hannah Coulter is a young woman who grows up experiencing war. She graduates highschool, loses a husband, has her first child, and learns to love again. Her life is one of quiet strength. She makes me think of Paul's works in 1 Thessalonians: "Make it your ambition to live a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we have told you." (NIV) Wendell Berry's story is one of appreciative reminiscence of life. It is told through a lens that only quiet reflection can bring: not frantic to accomplish a plot line before time runs out, but a counting of blessings. Hannah's point of view has a tinge of nostalgia tempered by a practical acceptance of what life has given. While she looks back on her life farming and watches it become a lost art in the lives of her three children, she still sees it all as good and accepts the changes of the age without bitterness.

As I read about her feelings as a mother, watching her children choose their own careers and cutting their own paths through life, I felt the bittersweet realization that probably my own children will do that one day, as every generation's does. There is an inevitable divide of custom and aim between one generation. I would hope to be closer to my children than Hannah was to hers. But through Wendell Berry's skilled hands, I ached and felt as if I understood her processing as a mother. It's not a sharp ache. Just a present one that she carried with her, something that perhaps she was not expecting, but found herself able to bear.

Life is so incredibly sweet. And it is good to work with your hands, to love and be loved, and to have a fellowship of community around you. Wendell Berry captured this along with the feel of the history and the span of a woman's life from young to old. I am glad to have experienced it.

It is good to have books written for my age and about it. I am glad for songs and stories that capture what it is to be young. But it is good, too, to look at life from the perspective of different ages--the very small, the middle-aged, the older--so that I do not think my age is the only age. Each one comes with its own fears and dreams. A person is no less a person because they are not experiencing what I am experiencing. And the hands of a good author help me to see with eyes of knowledge that I do not yet have on my own.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Art Which Nourishes, Art Which Starves

via Pixabay
Last week I picked up a phenomenal article by K.M. Weiland about risk-taking with your art as a writer. In it, she said that
"...Good art is innovative art. It is not what we initially expect. It takes time for us to adjust our expectations. “Bad” art, on the other hand, is what we initially expect, in the sense that we’ve been there before. It’s familiar and therefore often cliched. It’s not risky. It’s very, very safe. And as a result, it’s ultimately forgettable."- Learn 5 Ways to Take Risks With Your Writing, by K.M. Weiland 
It made me think about several pieces of art I've come across lately and how they each took different sides of the equation.

The first two contrasts were both Christian art. One was God's Not Dead, which we borrowed off Hoopla for free on a Sunday evening. (Sorry guys, I'm many years behind on this one.) The other was N.D. Wilson's fantasy book, Boys of Blur.

Both are art. Both have agendas. But Boys of Blur is clearly innovative art, and the other is in many ways art that you'd expect. God's Not Dead is safe. It's "familiar and therefore...cliched". It's also predictable. The self-centered businessman, three breakup scenes, a conversion scene, and a Christian winning a debate. It's meant to inspire Christians to take a stand for what they believe but it lacks originality in characters and situations. It leaves me comfortable, but not always convicted or changed.

Wilson's Boys of Blur, however, is in a completely different camp. The poetry of his writing style in a book that young boys would love almost seems like setting a gourmet meal before an audience that can't even appreciate it. (And in saying that, I'm not trying to be derogatory towards school-age boys. It's just you don't normally connect them to poetic styles). It's a story that combines fantasy and war without even mentioning prayer or Scripture. And yet, in a symbolic inclusion, the church building features in various scenes again and again. His characters are priceless: Cotton, the homeschool kid. Sugar, the football player with a diamond in his ear (I just loved his character profile. He was so vivid.) Charlie, and his abusive step-dad. Flame and feathers, hotels and church, knife and panther. Published by Random House, the book is not openly Christian. But it's good art. It's art I want to savor. To own. To re-read and introduce others to.

The second category of contrasting art, funnily enough, showed up on recent television viewings.

television viewings. schuyler, stop being so formal. 

Our family loved Food Network on our annual vacations where we had cable television. We would collect recipes in the morning, watch competitions like Iron Chef in the evening, and it was part of our vacation experience. But over the years we noticed a shift. The cooking shows descended into more and more competition shows, and those shows started including more profanity, prideful competition, and revenge. Don't get me wrong. I still love Iron Chef, and I don't mind an occasional episode of Chopped. But I wouldn't call it art. It's among the junk food of the television offerings.

Recently, however, sis found The Great British Baking Show 3 with our library card Hoopla rentals. We've been savoring it, one episode per evening. Like Chopped and Iron Chef, it has all the elements of competition. But in a way that is doesn't rely on revenge for drama, it is full of art. The creativity of flavor combinations and baking skills. The diversity of the cast and their personalities. Their willingness to help one another succeed, and their regret when someone is eliminated. The standard of art is higher. You walk away after an episode feeling like you've just eaten a piece of fine cheesecake, and you can't wait until tomorrow night when you get to eat another one.

Bad art takes from you. It takes brain cells and creativity. It leaves you feeling vaguely guilty, kind of like an excessive amount of junk food. It's for entertainment. But good art nourishes. It nourishes with creativity, quality, and a deep joy of the soul. It's oftentimes risky, not always predictable. And memorable in the best of ways.

Read art that nourishes. Write art that nourishes. We'll all be a better world for it.

What good art have you been enjoying lately?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Spring TBR

via Pixabay
It's the first day of Spring! I'm so glad! Spring always feels like a fresh burst of energy after the cold winter season, so it's time for a new TBR stack and endless ambitions for the next three months or so. Here's what I've come up with for my stack this spring:

Crowning Heaven
You guys. My friend Emily is releasing Crowning Heaven, an epic portal fantasy, on May 15. You won't want to miss this. I don't want to miss this. I simply can't wait. You can add it on Goodreads here and check out the official announcement here.

The Silver Chair
Precious Puddleglum. I'm almost through The Chronicles of Narnia series re-read.  I have so much respect for Lewis's talents in this read-through. And not only that, but my heart is warmed and stirred by the truth and glory of Aslan in these stories.

The Last Battle
I really wrote down The Voyage of the Dawn Treader here when I was first drafting this post. Moment of distraction. Should I read the last one this spring? Should I save it? I feel like I should read it now while the spark is hot.

Hannah Coulter 
Some friends lent me this book. I've had it waiting too long, so I started it last night. I love the gentle, nostalgic look at life's memories told from the perspective of a woman who lived through WW2 in America.

The Art of War for Writers 
The kind administrators at the place where I teach are adding a highschool fiction class to the lineup this fall. I get to teach it, so I want to start reading in preparation. I cannot wait to talk fiction for an hour every week and discuss stories and brainstorming and characters and all that good stuff.

A Study in Scarlet 
Like the Chronicles of Narnia, I'd like to finish the Sherlock stories this year. I've read a lot of the short stories, so I'm going to tackle a couple of the novels next. I'm actually reading A Study in Scarlet in order this time. Normally I start from the middle, read all the backstory, and then read the mystery uninterrupted.

A Wounded Shadow 
I am so excited. SO excited. This is the end of Willet Dura's journey in Patrick Carr's latest series, a fantasy world threatened by a forest so dark that no one can escape it unscathed. Questions will be answered. Mysteries will be uncovered. I have waited so long for this.

Anne's House of Dreams 
I've been reading through the Anne series the last few years and hope to finish it this year. To be honest, I can't wait for Rilla of Ingleside, but must.read.in.order.

Good News for Anxious Christians 
I'm almost done with Elisabeth Elliot's Passion and Purity. After that, I'd like to read this one to be changed and strengthened with truth.

What's on your TBR stack? Is anything cool coming up in life this spring?
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