Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hearing Silence

The Chosen first trade paperback edition
Sometimes you can hear silence. And sometimes you can even hear silence crying.

"You can listen to silence, Reuven. I've begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and dimension all its own. It talks to me sometimes, and I feel myself alive in it. It talks. And I can hear it....You have to want to listen to it, and then you can hear it. It has a strange, beautiful texture. It doesn't always talk. Sometimes--sometimes it cries, and you can hear the pain of the world in it. It hurts to listen to it then. But you have to."
-Chapter 17, The Chosen by Chaim Potok

Chaim Potok's excellent book The Chosen highlights the divide between Hasidic Orthodox and Modern Orthodox Jews during and after WWII. While this book is not written from a Christian perspective, it provides keen insights into the Jewish culture and parent/child relationships. As Christians, it is our responsibility to have an understanding and love for the Jewish people, for though they do not recognize Jesus as their Messiah, we are sharing in their blessing of their gift of salvation, and they will one day be gathered in along with the Gentiles.

The Story
The Chosen is told through the eyes of Reuven Malter, a Modern Orthodox Jew living in Brooklyn, New York. When Hasidic Jew Danny Saunders pitches a ball that shatters Reuven's glasses into his left eye, he is forced to come to terms with his boyish dislike of Hasids during an enforced hospital stay. Reuven's father is a professor at a local college, and he would like his son to become a mathematics professor, but Reuven desires to become a rabbi. He lives a fairly free existence--going to the movies, hanging out with friends, extensive academic study as well as Talmud during school hours.
Then Danny comes to apologize, and as Reuven struggles to overcome his antipathy towards him, he learns just how free his existence is. Danny's father is a rabbi, and Danny, as the eldest son, is expected to take on his dynasty. It extends for generations, and even though Danny would like to become a psychologist, he will not do so unless he can find someone to take his place. Hasidic Jews looked down on extensive academia, preferring to focus almost entirely on Talmud studies. And Danny is keenly suited to studying Talmud, for he has a photographic memory that can repeat every page he reads by heart, as soon as he has read it.
So the two form an unlikely friendship. Reuven finds that his father has been helping Danny with a course of psychological reading at the public library, unknown to Danny's father. When Danny takes up Freud, both Reuven and his father are concerned. Danny's father invites Reuven to their synagogue to meet him; as Danny's friend, Reb Saunders is concerned that a Modern Orthodox Jew will lead him astray.
While there, Reuven gains his first insight into the strange customs that permeate the Hasidic household. He also wonders why Reb Saunders never speaks to his son except during Talmud studies. In a moment of privacy, Reb Saunders tells Reuven that he knows about Danny's secret reading at the library, and he trusts the Malters not to lead his son astray--but what Reuven cannot understand is his softly moaned out statement: "What can I do? I can no longer speak to my own son. The Master of the Universe gave me a brilliant son, a phenomenon. And I cannot speak to him." But Reuven knows, and Danny knows, and Reb Saunders knows, that it is not any wall that Danny has built that is blocking off their communication. It is for some inexplicable reason that neither of the boys can fathom, and that Reb Saunders will not explain.
The boys finish high school, WWII ends, and they move on to college. Danny has now told Reuven that he intends to become a psychologist, but he will tell his father after he finishes his college education. Reuven still desires to be a rabbi, so his father consents to his wish. Then Reuven's father becomes involved in a Zionist movement; Danny's father forbids the boys to communicate with each other, and the streets of Brooklyn erupt into passionate rallies. When Reuven's father suffers a heart attack from overwork, Reuven lives alone while he is in the hospital recovering. And Reuven begins to taste the silence that Danny has been suffering under all these years.

Neither of them understand why Reb Saunders will not speak to his son. Each of them dreads the moment when Danny tells his father he is not carrying on the dynasty.

Neither of them knows if they have the strength to break the silence.

My Thoughts
First of the bat, and something I include with every book review, The Chosen contains a hefty amount of language, which should be edited out. Addition: While I do not endorse the use of language at all, I sometimes consider it worthwhile to use white-out on it when the content of the book provokes worthwhile thought. Obviously, much of this depends of the actual words themselves. In the case of The Chosen, the swear words used were of the kind often found in a Dickens, Austen, etc., not the more vulgar ones I have highlighted before. More on this in upcoming posts.
The Chosen has the pitfall of accommodating both sides of the life purpose issue, which, if not correctly examined, brings no resolution to the question. The pain of choosing life purpose according to the gifts and abilities God gives you, and the decision of whether or not to carry on family dynasties (whether it be a family business, ministry, or vocation) is a very real one. Life is a balance between the individual and the group. Because Reb Saunders refused to communicate with his son, and the weight of their Jewish history lay so heavily on the shoulders of the next generation, Danny had little opportunity to express his desires to his father. Each of them made mistakes in handling the issue, which Reuven and his father did not. In The Chosen, you sympathize with both the fathers and the sons--but its easy, when reading this as a family, for the children to sympathize exclusively with Danny and Reuven, and likewise with the parents. When both can see across the boundaries, this will spark many fruitful discussions, which, even when there are differences, can be carried on in a God-honoring way.
It would have been easy for Danny to just give in to the dynasty sway, even though he was not fully committed to it. It's easy for any child to accept beliefs that others dole out to them, without making them their own convictions. But Danny chose the hard way, and while I might disagree with some of the finer points of their decisions, I think both he and his father handled it very well. He made his father's beliefs his own, and while they didn't turn out identically, their core of was the same.  Danny is determined that he will not leave his father without someone to carry on the dynasty--in otherwards, he refuses to take the attitude "I'm going my own way, and you'll have to figure it out for yourself." He is deeply committed to his life purpose of becoming a psychologist, but equally determined that he will honor his father as much as possible in the way he does so. And Reb Saunders wisely balances what to hold on to, and what to let go of. The pain is there for both of them, but they know and trust to each others' hearts, and neither considers breaking off their relationship. This provides a good example for any young adult. Because when it comes down to it, you and you alone will be accounting to God for how you followed Hi purpose for your life. And He will also call you to account for how you honored your authorities while doing so. Pray. Wait. Honor. And God will honor you for doing so, and open doors through your obedience.
The only other criticisms I have would be on Reuven's standpoint: while he is very respectful and honoring towards his own father, he is not always so when he refers to Danny's father behind his back. Whether or not he thought his friend's father was a tyrant didn't give him license for saying so to Danny's face.
Also, while Danny's father trusted them to take care of his son's reading in the library, the course that Danny takes often causes him to question his Jewish beliefs. While that is not wrong as long as it points him to Christ as his Messiah, it does serve as a warning to us as Christians to be careful what we read. Sometimes Danny seeks out knowledge that is too heavy for him, and that can be a very dangerous thing.
Finally, many of the struggles in this book could have been averted, had the characters known Christ as their Messiah. Traps in any religion are set free when we follow Christ. He alone can truly break the silence, and heal the barriers.

So can you hear silence after all? I think, in a way, you can--and not in a weird, way either. The people who are content to listen, who are often turned to to provide the service of counseling, have a special compassion that senses what people are really saying, even when they cannot find words for their pain.

Maybe that sounded a little odd, but some of you will  be able to take my meaning. :) I recommend The Chosen for a clear look into the Jewish culture and  a coming into adulthood. Best read with thought, evaluation, and digging beneath the surface.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, July 27, 2012

Of Kidnappings and Murders and Outlaws in the Highlands

Statue of Alan and Davie in Edinburgh
I thought I would conclude this week with a second adventure novel, by another classic author: Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped.

Believe it or not, Robert Louis Stevenson isn't as widely read as I first imagined him to be. One time, trying to make a visiting girl feel at home in our church, I asked her if she liked to read. (What a question, Lady B!) Upon answering in the affirmative, I asked what she liked to read. She didn't know. So, I thought, I'll pick something familiar. They were homeschooled, and therefore (I assumed) must read lots of classic literature. I picked a book so obvious, that I expected to see a flash of recognition and a "Oh, yes, I've read that one!"

Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.

Blank stare.

I really was floored after that, and the conversation dwindled away. (Sorry, folks, I know now that wasn't the most well-known one to pick.) But since then I've met many people who consider Stevenson's Treasure Island the epitome of adventure. I also realized, over the years, that even these fans rarely go on to discover his other classics.

So welcome, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to Kidnapped. It's the sort of book that's well worth discovering more of, if you've never heard of it, and fun enough to remember again, if you've read it a dozen times.

The Story
Davie Balfour's father is dead, and he sets off to seek his fortune at the hands of his only remaining relative: Ebenezer Balfour, of Shaws. When the seventeen-year-old arrives at his kin's home in Edinburgh, he finds a secretive, slimy old hermit who promptly tries to make an end of him. (oh, the glorious staircase scene!) Eventually he does, or nearly, by paying for David to be kidnapped and taken to the Carolinas to be sold as a slave.
Enter Alan Breck. When the ship Covenant capsizes a little boat, the only man that survives is a fugitive Jacobite, outlawed from Scotland. Captain Hoseason has already proved his willingness to deal under the table, and for a dip into the man's belt of gold he'll set him down somewhere and never alert the authorities. Alan Breck, as he calls himself, is willing to give him "thirty guineas on the seaside, or sixty, if ye set me on the Linnhe Loch." The rest he will not touch, as it's the rent the poor clans scrape up to pay their outlawed chief, Ardshiel, and he is the courier that carries it each time.

So, if you can't get a man's gold by fair means--you get it by foul.

Map of the Covenant's travels

Davie overhears a plot and warns  Alan Breck just in time to save his life. After the ship wrecks, and they are separated, Breck leaves word for Davie to rejoin him at the house of James of the Glens, at Aucharn, in Duror, of Appin. It's the heart of outlawed Scotland, but Alan is a kind fellow at heart, and determined to help Davie out some way. Then a tragic murder, in which Davie is in the wrong place at the wrong time, forces them both to take to the heather, with redcoats in pursuit.

Through misty moors, meeting wild outlaws, and holding together the pieces of a percarious friendship, they traverse Scotland's highlands and provide an adventure well worth the time it takes to read.

My Thoughts
This book is scarcely two hundred pages, but there's so much I could say in its praise. The geography is real, while the gloomy weather winding inconspicuously throughout the pages sets the whole tone of the drama. Stevenson includes the history of the Appin Stewarts and the aftermath of Culloden in a memorable way. James of the Glen, Alan Breck, and Cluny MacPherson all come alive. "Gyte", "bauchled", "whiles wonder" and other fun dialectal phrases fill the pages--I hear Stevenson watered down the dialect so as not to confuse his readers, but I had little trouble with it, even though it was fairly thick.
 I have the Wordsworth Classics edition, which is nothing in itself, but it includes a fun introduction by his wife detailing their research and what led up to the original inspiration for Kidnapped. The most important, according to her, was the discovery of Alan Breck--wouldn't that vain little fellow be proud? :) Also, she notes that the release of Kidnapped sparked "letters of expostulation or commendation from the Campbell and Stewart clans" which showed that the Appin murder sparked as much emotion then as it did at the time of its occurrence.
By far, the best character is Alan Breck, and Davie is second only to him. They make the best of literature pairs, and their camaraderie and quarrels were well-done, including both humor and honesty.
 Kidnapped, I think, is best read in four days--one day for the brig, one for the Ilse of Mull and the Appin murder, one for the flight in the heather, and one for the conclusion. This may seem surprising, but in my experience, Stevenson doesn't move his plot very fast, and if I string it out too long I can easily get bogged down in the descriptions of the weather and Campbell rabbit trails. Opinions vary on Kidnapped; I've met many who enjoy it immensely, and others who find it too slow. It's a fantastic story, but not the type that requires lingering over it for ultimate enjoyment.
There is a little bit of profanity here and there. The only other criticism I would have is that  I think Stevenson could have focused a little longer on the flight in the heather. That was the best part of the book, and didn't take as long as I could have wished. But a small complaint in an otherwise great plot.
If you want to hear the music for Alan's taunt song Johnny Cope during the quarrel, check it out here, though realize there are a couple of verses I have reservations on.
And it is just a bit funny to hear Captain Hoseason offering to export Cardinal birds (from an American perspective). But I can understand why other countries would want them, as they are beautiful and a brilliant crimson.

Best Quotes:

"For just precisely what I thought I liked about ye, was that ye never quarrelled--and now I like ye better!"

"I see ye're a man of some penetration."

"Ye have the rudiments of sense."

The Movie
I once saw the 1960 version of Kidnapped starring Peter Finch as Alan Breck and James MacArthur as David (you'll recognize MacArthur as Fritz from Swiss Family Robinson.) It's produced by Disney, and email requests are welcome. (Also, you can watch a couple of clips from IMDb here.) If you liked Disney adaptations of Swiss Family Robinson, etc., you'll probably enjoy this one, but more specific details in the email review.

Audio Adaptations
This is the only novel in which Jim Weiss stepped out of his element. I've listened to his rendition once, and tried to listen to it again, but he makes Alan Breck sound like a burly giant of a man, and many of the other voices pretty much opposite to my opinion of how they should be. Plus, Kidnapped shouldn't read by a smooth-voiced American in my opinion. It doesn't fit the story.
Michael Page with Brilliance Audio did a fantastic job.  He really caught the Scottish  dialect and the characters.
There was one more narrator, which I knew and loved (and listened to over and over. I could tell you nightmare stories of library loans.) But unfortunately I cannot remember who he was. I know that it was either Blackstone or Penguin, and I hope to find it again someday.

Though I am not able to copy them, you may enjoy looking at the following illustrations by N.C. Wyeth (after, of course, you've read the book.) Click here.

Altogether, excellent Scottish dialect, detailed cultural descriptions, and classic Scottish feuds combine to form a fun and satisfying Stevenson adventure. If you've never gone beyond Treasure Island, you will enjoy adding Kidnapped to your collection.

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Of Shipwreck and Pirates and All Things Adventurous

Let's have some fun with a couple of book reviews this week. :)

To be honest, I'm not sure exactly which ones. But I think--yes, I think today calls for a taste of drama, adventure, fiction--something like that.

Definitely Jules Verne--by far the greatest science fiction author I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

(Not that I've read that many.)

Today's review: The Mysterious Island.

Jules Verne wrote a couple of books set in America; most of his books center around a brave Englishman making a scientific discovery or taking a daring trip. But occasionally, he allows the accolades of bravery to an American when he finds a worthy recipient. Verne's presentation of America is much the same as Dickens'. We're a bunch of greedy cutthroats with coarse manners, riotous elections, and little to no human sympathy. Being biased, I wouldn't pass an opinion on that particular view, but we do laugh uproariously when hearing such things as "An American can scarcely remain unmoved at the sight of sixty thousand dollars." Too, too true.

In The Mysterious Island, however, he abandons all such previous opinions  and produces a group of really stellar citizens that I am proud to own as my countrymen, however fictional they may be.

THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (non illustrated)The Cast

Cyrus Harding--valiant army captain, and walking encyclopedia of useful knowledge. You'd almost think he studied ahead of time for the occasion...
Gideon Spillet--army reporter, very supportive, and bright as well; great man to have along in an expedition
Pencroft--definitely the humor element. A sailor, whose knowledge of ships come in handy, though he does make a mistake or two. And loses a tooth...
Neb--former slave, devoted to his master Cyrus Harding.
Herbert Brown--Pencroft's young protegee, about fifteen or so when the adventure begins. Bright lad, orphan, and very brave.
Top--the dog. Cyrus Harding's dog, I might add.

The Story

Ever wanted to find out the fate of Captain Nemo? (Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea)

You can, if you read The Mysterious Islands.

Ever wanted to find out the fate of Ayrton? (for the dedicated Verne fan; In Search of the Castaways)

You can, if you read this epic adventure novel.

Five Americans escape capture from a Confederate city during the American Civil War; and their method of escape: quite simple. The Governor of Richmond has a balloon anchored in the public square, ready to launch when weather permits to cross the battle lines and get a message to General Lee. So, the five intrepid souls launch it themselves in the midst of a storm. The only problem is the weather, really. It blows them off their course and wrecks the balloon on an island just over 1,500 miles east of New Zealand.

One of their expedition disappears. Cyrus Harding, the most beloved, the most noble, the brightest of them all.

They find him eventually in a cave on another side of the island, with no remembrance of how he reached it--and the footprints leading up to the cave are not his.  Gradually, they establish a life, inventing their own gunpowder, excavating a house for themselves, and even beginning a boat so that they can escape from the island. Taming an orangutan and fighting off wild animals offer a spice of variety to their otherwise peaceful existence.

But a few mysterious incidents lead them to suspect that they're not alone. Then they find a message in a bottle from someone trapped on a neighboring island. Pirates anchor along the coast, preparing to land.

Everything falls apart when Herbert Brown is wounded by pirates, succumbing to a strange fever for which they have no cure. And the mysterious rumblings in an extinct volcano warn them that time is running out. Will they ever see America again? And if so, will they return with as many as they left?

With swashbuckling pirate fights, interesting inventions, and twists of mystery, The Mysterious Island offers a unique spin on the normal shipwreck drama.

My Thoughts
You will require just a bit of perseverance in Book One (there are three books). This one covers the main portion of their building and scientific exploits on the island. But it's well worth it, and lays a good groundwork for the rest of the book. My record is five days for the entire book. :)

Scientifically speaking, the most interesting discussion they have centers around a replacement for fuel when coal ran out, as they saw the supplies were dwindling during that time. They speculated that water would replace it.

I don't remember off the top of my head any language, but be on the lookout for it, as it's a Verne.

Also, though Verne did have some belief in God, his works support theistic evolution--the belief that God and evolution are compatible. While this comes up more during Journey to the Center of the Earth, you may find the occasional evolutionary comment.

The Mysterious Island offers a fun and enlightening read; be sure to carry it with you when you are shipwrecked, as it will be immensely helpful. I recommend this to all readers, and it's a great read-aloud for all ages. I enjoy the edition illustrated by N.C. Wyeth.

The Movie
As for that 1961 twaddle with giant chickens, giant bees, and giant crabs, which has the indecency to claim inspiration from Jules Verne-- It. Is. Not. Accurate. (Sorry, I just had to get that out.)

I highly recommend Jules Verne for real and biblically grounded science fiction. This is the real stuff--not aliens and weird substances that have no basis for reality, but God-given inspiration and creativity to produce realistic inventions. It has been aid that all of his predictions as far as weapons, space travel, etc., have been fulfilled--except, of course, Journey to the Center of the Earth (which I hope to review in future.)

If you've never enjoyed Verne's stellar works, now would be a very good time to start. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, July 20, 2012

"I Have Freedom In Christ" (Part Three)

Welcome, friends and fellow bibliophiles to the third (and final!) post in my series called "I Have Freedom In Christ"  Today we address the specifics of bondage to Christ and the concept of judgment.

The first question to be addressed is this: Since I am a slave to Christ, and my reading is subject to him, what are the specific rules I am bound by?

This question brings us to the heart of Christian liberty.

The fact is, I can't give you any. Don't get me wrong; the Bible has plenty of rules for what we should fill our minds and hearts with. But as I thought about this issue, I came to what I consider the heart of Christian liberty advocates: namely, that they feel drowned in a multiplicity of rules they cannot remember, and fear to break. The burden of their religion is too heavy for them. And frankly, they're burdened by rules that they shouldn't have to keep. How do we come to an understanding of the fact that we are bound by rules, but sometimes we try to follow ones that we never should?

The difference, my friends, is God and man. And I have written the following definition of Christian liberty for your consideration:

Christian liberty is the realization that I am free from the laws established by men, and subject to the laws established by God.

Let's explain this a little further.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
-Matthew 23:1-13

"Christian Liberty" is really a cry for "Let me be free from this heavy load." Barring the instructions of your parents, you are not obligated to follow the rules of any other Christian, when they are rules that are made by men. Sola Scriptura, and that applies to the books you read. For instance, your family may think it biblically acceptable to read stories about marriage and engagement. When you meet another family who says "It is wrong for people to be filling their heads with such trash", don't let it shake you up. Simply walk away saying "They're right; it would be wrong for them to do so." But don't think twice when God himself has not given you the same conviction. You don't have to do a double-take every time someone has a different "rule" than you do. Take again The Chronicles of Narnia and other fantasy novels. I've heard everything from "the greatest Christian allegory written in the history of man" to "a dangerous minefield of occult influences". I don't go with either of these opinions; I'm somewhere in the middle. But if you do read The Chronicles of Narnia, you don't have to do a double-take every time someone else writes an article against them.

It disturbs me when I see people in bondage to "what does this family do?" or "what does that speaker agree with?" or "does this ministry think that concept acceptable?" It is right and good to fellowship with other believers, and even in some cases to debate on disagreements when the law of God is at stake. But just because someone says "this is right" and "that is wrong," doesn't mean we have to change our own convictions to match that. We only change it when we realize our former conviction has been in violation to the law of God.

In the end, it's  a mistaken application of trying to make ourselves better Christians. We look at someone else's reading convictions and think they're somehow more Christian then ours, so we try to follow the "rules" to make ours as good as theirs. This is a wrong thinking that breaks my heart, because it only entraps those who follow it.  We must look at the speaker, follow the example of the family, and accept the doctrine of the ministry, only as it points us to God's law--and if it isn't found in Scripture, then it's an addition, and one we don't need to follow unless God so directs us.

God judges. God sets the laws. God controls our Christian life. And it is dishonoring to Him and unfair to fellow Christians to compel ourselves to follow laws added by man.

In conclusion to the Christian liberty question: enjoy discussing differences with fellow believers. Allow yourselves to have differences without panicking; God calls us to different reading convictions (though they must all line up with Scripture). Be very careful in distinguishing man's law from God's law. We still have laws that we need to follow. We're still in bondage to Christ. But we shouldn't be bound by man-made laws that hold us in perpetual fear and guilt.

This is a personal and sometimes confusing issue. But if we bring our books to the Father to seek his wisdom and His grace, if we hold them up to the light of Scripture and Scripture alone, then He will grant us the wisdom to apply His rules for us.

Three indications that you're adding too many extra guidelines to your reading:

1. You are afraid of other people disagreeing with you.
2. Reading has lost its delight.
3. You are afraid that breaking rules set by others means breaking the law of God.

There are some of us that are weary and burdened because we're trying to obey man's opinions instead of God's commands. Let it go. Practice resisting the false guilt that has developed from trying to follow restrictions that were never set forth in Scripture. Rest in the Lord and in his commands for you. He is the one that commands, and no-one else (again, outside the guidelines set forth by your parents) has the authority to do so. Come to grips in your mind with the fact that you can agree to disagree, and still be good friends and supporters.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

The final issue for this series is as follows:

You can't judge me. Christians aren't supposed to judge."

Matthew 7:1, as one speaker remarked, has become the new John 3:16 of our culture. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged."

Unfortunately they don't keep reading.

"For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
-Matthew 7:2-5

They're absolutely right. We don't judge. But God's law judges both of us. And therefore:

If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.
-Luke 17:3

When your brother sins against the law of God (and we must make sure that it is God's law, not our law) then Christ commands that you rebuke him. In such cases we must do so kindly and graciously, but we must do so. The passage in Matthew 7 doesn't say "forbear to remove the speck from your brother's' eye." It says "remove it". And "taking the plank out of your own eye" doesn't mean "perfect yourself" before you do so. It is God who judges. But we are not excused from lovingly pointing out the sin in our brother's reading material when it violates the law of God. Judge, and then give mercy, so that it may be done as well to you.

In a word: God judges. But He sometimes requires us to speak His judgement, so that our brother might be saved from his sin. "Do not judge" yes, but "Rebuke" and "Remove the speck" should also be coupled with this statement.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this series. Questions? Concerns? Comments? Leave them in the comment box or drop me a line. It's always a pleasure to hear from you. :)

And next week, I think I'll line up a couple of book reviews.

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I Have Freedom In Christ (Part Two)

Welcome, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to part two of "I Have Freedom In Christ". Today we're going to look at the ins and outs of the meaning of freedom, once we accept Christ's grace. I began last week with a look at God's judgement because I wanted to establish the fact that our choices will be judged--we cannot expect to do anything we like and say "His grace covers me". Yes, it covers us from the eternal consequences of our decisions, but it does not free us from an obligation to lay aside evil.

To pick up from where we left off:

Does this mean we are free to do anything? How far does Christian liberty extend, once we accept Christ's grace?

I have a lot of Scripture to include today, but let's start off with a few verses from Romans:

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.
-Romans 6:15-22

Many people consider that when we are free from the bondage of sin we are free from bondage, period. No chains, no control, no unpleasant restrictions, nothing to make us feel guilty: after all, we shouldn't feel guilty--we're under grace!

I understand this to a certain extent. But let's keep going for a fuller explanation.

If we are "slaves to Christ", what does this imply?

We are under his authority; we are not our own; we need to obey him; he has the final say. Namely, we don't get to decide what we can and cannot do.

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.
-1 Corinthians 6:9-10

In this section, Paul is addressing a specific sin in the Corinthian churches. They are claiming that "all things are lawful to them", but Paul counters this with the statement that they are still under the control of their God and King, and the church was not excused from sin. This quote "all things are lawful to me" is the one phrase upon which Christian liberty hinges. But in the actual verse, the quote itself is not intended to be set forth as a Scriptural principle:

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.
-1 Corinthians 6:12 (ESV)

Paul is countering the plea of the church congregants with a correction: it's not true that all things are lawful--on the contrary, neither all things are helpful, nor are they up-building in the faith. We are bought with a price; we are slaves to Christ, and only what Christ bids us read is lawful to us: only Christ.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. -Philippians 4:8

Not all things are lawful: only what is true, what is noble, what is right, pure, lovely, and admirable: the problem with asking "aren't all things lawful?" is the attitude behind it. We're asking what we can get away with. How close we can get to the line and still honor Christ is not the question. The question is, how close can we get to Christ? How well can we honor Him?  When we ask "Is the book clean enough?" we're really asking "Can't I get away with it?"

Often, liberty in Christ is merely a front to excuse indulgence of the flesh. When we claim liberty, we must be very careful that we are not trying to push our own wants, rather than seeking the will and blessing of our heavenly Father. We know that our hearts are seeking him when we ask "Lord, is this beneficial? Is this true and praiseworthy? Is this how you would have me spend my time?"

Two trademarks of slavery are as follows: number one, your actions are not yours to decide; you obey what your master tells you to do. The second is that your time is not yours to dispose of; it is your masters to fill with his goals and objectives.

Our reading choices are not our own. They are Christ's, and the time we spend reading is Christ's. We must bring all our books and our reading standards to the light of his law for us. This whole concept of slavery to Christ may seem harsh to advocates of Christian liberty. After all, it seems so constricting. But think of it this way: it's supposed to be.

When we are slaves to Christ, we are restrained from committing evil.

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
-Galatians 5:16-18

We take captive the desires of the spirit, and the temptation to expose ourselves to evil:

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
-2 Corinthians 10:5

Even Paul admits, when he evangelizes as if he is not under the law that he is under law:

To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
-1 Corinthians 9:21-26

And after all, is following the "law"--having restrictions in what we can and cannot read--so terrifying after all? According to Psalm 19, the law of God is a very precious thing:

The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple. 
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes. 
The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous
-Psalm 19:7-9
It is much safer to be in "chains" under Christ, then to be in the bondage of the flesh. We are either in bondage to the one, or to the other--there is no middle ground.

How that specifically plays out, along with the question of judgement, will be addressed on Friday. Until then, I wish you all delight in your reading as you obey the law of Christ.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, July 13, 2012

I Have Freedom In Christ (Part One)

It's time.

Martin Luther once said "If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point."

Now I'm not saying that I'm addressing a heretical doctrine today; far from that. But I do want to address some confusion in the area of Christian liberty. I'll be couching in in bibliophile terms, but it applies to everything else as well: modesty, television, lifestyle, etc. It's an issue that's been going around several different circles I move in; and it's provoked a lot of thought for me.

"You can't judge me. Christians aren't supposed to judge."

"We believe differently. After all, God doesn't call everybody to believe the same thing."

"The Bible doesn't speak to the issues surrounding this particular book. I have the liberty in Christ to read it."

"Christ is grace; we're no longer bound by legalistic rules about reading or anything else. Grace is freedom, and we shouldn't feel guilty for not following a set of rules."

But is grace without "chains" of its own sort? And are we really free to read something if the Bible "doesn't speak to it"? Should Christians never judge? And should we never lovingly point out sin in another's reading choices? All these issues tie into the larger elephant of "Christian liberty". And in this series, we'll be discussing this issue in depth.

Today's issue: The meaning of Christ's grace.


Christ is grace; we're no longer bound by legalistic rules about reading or anything else. Grace is freedom, and we shouldn't feel guilty for not following a set of rules.

The modern church (and the private man) prefers to gloss over sin very quickly. Pastors and congregants are uncomfortable with the idea of an angry God, who would send us to the fires of hell for eternity. Part of this is because the thought of separation from God, (and therefore, all goodness) forever, is too staggering a weight for the human soul to contemplate. But glossing over the ugliness of our shortcomings led over the years to a blindness to our need for a Saviour. Why really commit your life to Jesus? After all, it's just a white lie, just a little lust, just a small item to steal; don't be so hard on yourself. Christ forgives and makes us complete.

Let's pause a moment here.

What a contrast between soft warnings from mainstream evangelicals and the word of God himself spoken through the mouths of his servants of old when Israel turned astray.

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
circumcise your hearts,
you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire
because of the evil you have done—
burn with no one to quench it.
-Jeremiah 4:4

The great day of the Lord is near—
near and coming quickly.
Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter,
the shouting of the warrior there.
That day will be a day of wrath,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of trouble and ruin,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness,
a day of trumpet and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the corner towers.
I will bring distress on the people
and they will walk like blind men,
because they have sinned against the Lord.
-Zephaniah 1:14-17

We find no such thing, in historical accounts of God's chastisement, as "little" sins. All sins, whether little or great, are an outrage upon His holiness, and as such, he would not be a holy, or a just, or a loving God to overlook them. A judgment is coming still for those who sin against the Lord, both in this life and in the life to come.
Grace in today's society is often the equivalent of a free ticket to an amusement park. Since it doesn't cost us anything to receive (and we often don't value what we don't pay for) it's a small legality along our way to achieving heaven. And as pointed out above, since we often underestimate our sin, we therefore underestimate the value of its cure. Grace is portrayed as an all-encompassing, warm and fuzzy commodity that every Christian needs. But if our sins aren't serious enough to condemn us eternally, then why do we need Christ's grace save us eternally? Only when we understand the abiding wrath of the Father upon sin, can we hope to glimpse a picture of his abiding gift of Grace.


"Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills
and mountains is a deception;
surely in the Lord our God
is the salvation of Israel.
 From our youth shameful gods have consumed
the fruits of our ancestors’ labor—
their flocks and herds,
their sons and daughters.
 Let us lie down in our shame,
and let our disgrace cover us.
We have sinned against the Lord our God,
both we and our ancestors;
from our youth till this day
we have not obeyed the Lord our God.”
-Jeremiah 3:23-25

Christ, in his great mercy, doesn't open our eyes to grace before he opens our eyes to sin. That would be cruel--like offering a drowning man a life jacket while telling him there's no real danger. The real cruelty lies not in telling people of their sin, but in hiding from them the extent of God's wrath upon their rejection of Him.

And then, when their hearts are broken from the realization that they have gone astray, God binds up their hearts with His true grace, in the form of his precious Son:

As Jesus fulfilled:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor. 
-Isaiah 61: 1-3

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1) You cannot have grace without condemnation. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. There was before, but now we are set free by his sacrifice.

Too often, we evangelise or explain our salvation with the concept: "God was going to judge us in his wrath, but Christ offered us eternal life because of his death on the cross."

But this, my friends, is an erroneous idea.

God still judges us. Christ saves us, not from his judgement, but from the penalty of his judgement.  If God no longer judged, then His character would be incomplete: he could not be God, because he couldn't hold anyone to a righteous standard. Psalm 89:14 says: "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you." Christ himself will also take the throne of judgment one day, though those who have received his grace are also assured of his advocacy.

This post is meant to lay the foundation of Christian liberty: to establish the fact that God's judgement is just as real and relevant today as His grace. That we are not freed from the former through the latter. We are freed from death, not from judgement. But the glory and praise of it is, that Christ's work on the cross can now ensure that we receive the judgement "not guilty." To receive grace, to receive the verdict "not guilty" we have to be judged first as "guilty", so our Advocate can step forward and free us from our penalty and our sin.

Does this mean we are free to do anything? How far does Christian liberty extend, once we accept Christ's grace? And what about the concept of judgement?

Do bibliophiles have Christian liberty to reject the advice of other Christian bibliophiles?

That's all next time. Until then, I wish you thought-provoking reading.

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words

Perhaps some of you, like me, have been following Rachel Coker's amazing story for the past several months. This home schooled young lady received an offer of publication from Zondervan for her finished manuscript Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words--that's not surprising. What is surprising: she received the contract at the age of fifteen. After its successful run in the months since its publication, Zondervan plans to release her next work later this year in December. Needless to say, all author-wanna-bes are pointing to her story as a ray of hope in a sometimes discouraging field.  But recently, I had the pleasure to go beyond her publication story and secure a copy of her book through our ever-obliging library system. Does it stack up to all it's claimed to be? Let's find out.

The Story
14-year-old Alcyone Everly spends her days coping with a sick mother. Such a problem would be difficult for any young teen, but add the fact that it's mentally debilitating, and it's terminal, and you have the set-up for a tragic situation. The visits from neighbor Sam Carroll, who's close to her age, don't offer much comfort; but her drawing and her writing--along with a talent for piano and a love for Emily Dickenson--add a little sparkle to otherwise grey days. Allie is fiercely loyal to her mom, trying to protect her growing childishness from the eyes of curious neighbors. But she knows that the end is growing closer, and when her mother falls and sinks into a coma while Allie was talking with Sam Carroll at the door, it only takes a few days before she dies. Allie is devastated--orphaned--and if Sam Carroll hadn't come, she might have been there to save her mother. An adoption agency takes her after the funeral to her new home in Maine: and her new mother, Miss Beatrice Lovell.

She determines three things: Maine will never be her home, Miss Beatrice will never be her mother, and she will never forget her real mother's memory.

Miss Beatrice is a Christian, and Allie definitely isn't. Her Christian father walked out when she was a small girl, and her mother told her: Christians will make you feel loved--make you feel wanted. But they don't mean any of it. Allie's held tight to this advice ever since, and this added dimension creates further tension between the two opposites. Miss Beatrice simply keeps praying that Allie's heart of stone will be turned to a heart of flesh.

Gradually she adjusts to her new life. 1939 fades into 1943, and finds her writing in her ever-present notebook: poems, and letters to "Mama".  She's graduated from high school, close friends with another girl, Charlie Cooper, struggling with the same relationship problems with Miss Beatrice. Then, in the midst of the growing tension surrounding the war: Sam Carroll shows up in Maine to visit his aunt. And he remembers her.

'Nuf said. :)

My Thoughts
Coker's book, though it's fairly short and not too complicated, had a quality that kept coming back and teasing my mind. Because it's her first novel, it has a good mix of worth, and elements yet to be worked on. I'll discuss a few of them below:

It's clean, it's concise, it's straightforward--Coker doesn't compromise on language, she knows her plot and she sticks with it; and she doesn't get sidetracked by each one of her characters. Though I enjoy complicated tomes, I liked the fact that this was 250 pages of just one story. Allie. That's it. It was easy to concentrate, and fun to read on the beach. (Yes, I did.) I have heard some reviewers criticise Coker for her straightforward conclusion, but personally, I think that best fits the plot style she chose. It's a straightforward problem, and the solution is--straightforward. So why shouldn't Coker use that one? Is it "unrealistic" to have someone come to their senses and choose the right, rather than choosing all the wrong options first? I don't think so. Some people do find resolution the complicated way, but not everybody does. And it's okay to have a predictable ending. Another criticism was, again, that her conclusion moved to fast. But as I read all of part two in one day, I got a bird's eye view of the story, and again, I would say that the pace of the conclusion fit the pace of the plot. Coker doesn't string it out. It happens, we move on, it happens, we move on, etc. It wouldn't make sense to pause for a long time over the end conflict when all the other conflicts along the way have been solved fairly speedily.

Elements yet to refine--Allie is not a Christian; Coker presents that well, I think, in portraying her unsaved heart throughout her thought life. This tactic is the safest way to leave no regrets that you've made your character too bad. Mostly, her thoughts are ones of self-sufficiency. She doesn't need adult help, adult council, or adult care. I think that most readers will recognize that Allie is not a Christian, and that her thoughts are poor because of this, but if they do not, I would clarify that they are meant to show a poor example. I would say, however, that I think a different adjective than "prissy" might have been chosen in her silent criticism of the adults around her. That's going a bit farther than I prefer.
The only other point I would have to offer is Sam's relationship with his parents. The conclusion Coker gave left something to be desired, and made it look like Sam wanted his parents approval, but he was going to follow his desires regardless. Perhaps this wasn't the case and I mis-read it, but the potential for misunderstanding on the part of her readers does exist. It's not okay to place your desires in life direction before your parents' blessing. God will give you both, if you cry out to Him for favor in their eyes. He controls the heart of authorities, and if it is His will for you to pursue your dream, than He will grant you the support of your parents before you pursue it.

The best element by far--Coker's descriptions of the town, the ocean, the houses Allie lives in; they were all well written. I felt as if I could see every one of them. I loved her references to songs of the times; (while I might not listen to them, they added the 1940s flavor excellently). I think, with only a couple of exceptions, she pulled off the time period which she was aiming to portray. Well done.

My ultimate encouragement for her (as a reader, not an expert) would be the following: She has great potential, and I look forward to seeing further works. I like the fact that she isn't following the mainstream Christian idea of making every issue so complicated. Allie has a right choice, and a wrong choice. She doesn't struggle with "grey" areas, situational ethics, etc. Some critics find this too simple, but I think it's unique and a worthy style to preserve. I enjoy struggling through a book with the above themes upon occasion, but not every Christian author should think it's an indispensable element. Coker will do well as long as she keeps the voice God has given her, and doesn't give in to the mediocrity of mainstream Christian fiction: namely the cliche (every book the same), the starstruck (every character has all their wants fulfilled), or the romance (childhood friends fall for you every time). I don't think she will as long as she reads the best literature has to offer, and continues to press for biblical excellence.

I have found only one other author of teen fiction I enjoy following. Coker made it two. And as the years pass, and God leads her, I look forward to seeing her grow as she seeks his leading in her writing dream.

I recommend Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words for a great weekend read. And all author-wanna-bes take heart: if God controls the hearts of kings, then he also has the publishers in His Hands--no matter your age. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Providence of God Upon America

Welcome, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to the final post on Independence week. I shall be sharing today a review of the best books I have found on the history of America, and the treasures I found at the book sale on Friday. But business first, and pleasure afterwards. The results of the book sale shall come at the end of the post. Don't peek! :)

Book Review
Light and the Glory, The: 1492-1793 (God's Plan for America)If you are looking for a Providential perspective on the history of America, then I would highly recommend Peter Marshall and David Manuel's The Light and the Glory for a comprehensive Christian view on the founding of America up to the Revolutionary War. Their enlightening quotes, stellar commentary, and careful reasearch combine to give an eye-opening view of God's providence throughout our country's founding.
Peter Marshall, son of the well-known authoress Catherine Marshall, set out on a mission to see if he could find God's hand of blessing upon our country's heritage. He teamed up with author David Manuel, and the story of how they found each other and the facts they sought is quite interesting. Their journey turned into a three book series, The Light and the Glory, From Sea to Shining Sea, and Sounding Forth the Trumpet. I have read and can recommend the first two, which take the reader up to the start of the Civil War, but I have not yet had the opportunity to read the third one. Today's review encompasses only From Sea to Shining Sea, as this is most pertinent to our week of celebration.
The book starts with Columbus's discovery of the North American continent, and the fact that his original focus was evangelizing the natives there. That focus changed, and the spreading of the Gospel then passed to the monks of Spain--also to evangelists from France, travelling over deserts and rivers to establish missions among the natives.  Abundant natural resources, especially gold, drew young adventurers from France, Spain, and England; these countries began to charter colonies and transport Europeans to populate key areas. The history of Jamestown, Roanoke, and the Pilgrims, with original quotes from men in the British East India Company and other settlers, as well as William Bradford's work Plymouth Plantation, give a clear picture of their dedication to spreading God's Word, and the consequences upon those who failed to do so. Then Marshall and Manuel swing by the Puritans; their reluctance to leave London, and the incentives that convinced them to do so. After the Puritans comes the influence of the Quakers (a surprisingly rowdy bunch at that time) which dovetails into the Great Awakening, and our tension with Great Britain. The history of the war brings us up to a final conclusion with the framing of our Constitution, and the end of Washington's presidency.

My Thoughts
Marshall and Manuel do an excellent job of emphasizing a principle God told the Israelites again and again: "Obey my commands, and I will bless you. Disobey, and I will curse you." Not all of our history in this particular timespan is a stellar one--even with the Pilgrims and Puritans. But The Light and the Glory shows a birds-eye view of God's patience, His Providence, and His Hand upon America. In spite of our imperfections, He reigns supreme, and He is gracious enough to grant us time to turn to Him.
The only warning I would give is that Marshall and Manuel do include profanity if it's in the historical accounts. I think they could have easily used "[expletive deleted]" instead and still preserved the accuracy of the text.
New readers will want to be aware that they go into detail on the Salem Witch Trials, and other instances of rebellion in the church where the members involved themselves with demonic influence. Though they are careful with the information they provide, there are a couple of gruesome portions regarding a woman and her baby that you may wish to avoid. Beyond this, nothing comes to mind, but do use your own discretion of course.
By far, the best knowledge I came away with is the history of the Puritans. Their works, their struggles with whether to stay in England or flee to America, and their final casting off of all ties that held them back, is an important point in history to remember as we face similar circumstances. Their dedication to following the Lord's leading was challenging and inspiring.

I highly recommend The Light and the Glory to anyone who wishes to know more about America--from a "politically incorrect" perspective.

Results of the Book Sale
And now, of course, I will share what I found on the 4th of July. It was a good day for a bibliophile. :) I shall share them in the order in which I found them, as closely as I can recall. Please note that while I endeavored to choose with discretion, I have not read any of the following books, and cannot therefore give them an unconditional recommendation.

1. The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens--Dickens' last and unfinished work was a mystery novel regarding the murder of one Edwin Drood. When I read it, I shall of course offer my own convictions regarding "whodunnit"--or whether they did it at all. It's been confusing scholars for decades, and I have read detailed arguments in various hypotheses. I wonder which mine shall agree with most...

2. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien--The core of Tolkien's Middle Earth in a nice hardbound edition, complete with a pull-out map of the various regions mentioned.

3. Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens--The one book I came to the booksale hoping to find. Ecstasy! His last completed novel.

4. The Travels of Marco Polo--He wrote an account of his travels to the Middle East while he was in prison, and I have heard speakers refer to his accounts of seeing dragons (possibly dinosaurs?) so I am intrigued to learn more. Includes a pull-out map of the Far East marking the routes of various explorers. Nice little hardbound.

5. Carpathian Castle, by Jules Verne--I had never heard of this one, but look forward to new scientific hypotheses amidst Verne's typical adventure. It looks a bit Gothic, and I do suspect it's a tragedy, so I'll have to see if it turns out as good as his other books have.

6. Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope--I had so much fun with The Way We Live Now, and have heard excellent things of Barchester Towers. I look forward to exploring further Trollope and his satire on the Church of England.

7. American Practical Navigator, by Nathaniel Bowditch--found this in the collector's section, and it would have knocked my socks off if I had worn any. For those of you who love Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, you may be interested to take a peek at Bowditch's book, which is still carried on every U.S. Navy ship. It was originally published in 1802, and while I have a later edition, it's still pretty exciting to see 1,500 pages of star charts, navigation definitions, and tables of natural trigonometric functions. (Not sure exactly what they mean...) This, for me was the most exciting find. :)

I hope you all enjoyed a little slice of America's Independence Day this week. I am praising the Lord both for all the good book finds, and the history of our nation. Next week, I've planned an exciting review on the up-and-coming homeschool author Rachel Coker, and I also hope to delve into the knotty issue of Christian freedom for the bibliophile. Until then, I wish you a weekend of fruitful reading.

Lady Bibliophile

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave

I haven't said much about my love for America. Believe me, it's not for a lack of patriotism--I love worldwide literature, but when it comes down to it, this is my home sweet home.

However, today is a very special day in the history of the world. It's the 4th of July, America's Independence Day. And from the beginning of the fight with England, our Lord in Heaven meant us to be free. There are two biblical systems of government: one is a constitutional monarchy, and one is a constitutional republic. We already had the former in Great Britain, but the world needed the latter in the United States of America.

I encourage you, whether or not you are a staunch American patriot, to read the document I shall include at the end, which so beautifully expresses our reasons and rights to be free. Read it, and seek to understand the principles of biblical interposition it expresses: that this country was not founded in rebellion, nor formed as a democracy, but undertook separation and biblical government under the headship of Jesus Christ. I memorized this document three years ago, and I have been reciting in on the 4th of July ever since.

I wish you today the freedom of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. God designed mankind with the freedom of choice, and America desired at its founding to protect this choice. We may chose wrongly, but by the grace of God upon America, we are still able to choose.

My greatest desire for every one of you as a patriotic citizen, is that you will commit to protecting the freedom in worship and economy that our Founding Fathers fought to preserve. Your voice must be raised, your vote must be cast, to keep our country as a land of liberty for all the world. Never forget that silence is not an option, inaction is poor action, and that we must always seek to bring our earthly government under the dominion of a Heavenly King.

This is the duty of every American bibliophile. Celebrate today with the remembrance that God calls us to preserve the knowledge of the past and embrace dominion for the future.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation.
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
-Verse Four of The Star-Spangled Banner, by Francis Scott Key

Lady Bibliophile

P.S. Off to a booksale to celebrate my freedom to buy and read. :) I'll tell you on Friday what I find.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Two Kinds of Freedom

File:Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States.png

 Welcome, my friends and fellow bibliophiles, to Independence week here on the blog. This week we have an exciting line-up of an article, a book review, and a special edition post on Wednesday, July 4th. After all, this country is my home turf, and I hope to give you a little slice of American Independence before the week is out.

This is a grand and glorious time to be free.

Note that I shall not be discussing the present state of American affairs in the political realm, nor deploring the state of the nation in the passing of the new health care bill. No doubt such a time will come, but this is a week of gratitude to our Lord for granting us 236 years to live in this constitutional republic. And as such, we will be celebrating the past, not deploring the present.

Today I shall share with you an important literary lesson I learned. The most important one I have ever learned thus far. I learned it on the 4th of July, two years ago.

You see, I prided myself on never shedding a briny drop when I read a book. Now granted, there were plenty of books that my parents read to me, in which I raised a very tempest for the tragedy. But on my own, I disliked to succumb to the weakness. I was strong. I could rise above the stories, and overcome the tragedy. Mostly, I just wanted to overcome the tragedy of death--perhaps I was afraid of people seeing me react to it.

This may seem pretty silly to some of you. Big deal--so what if you do, so what if you don't? It's personal preference; we're all created differently. But in reality, emotional reaction is a very important concept to any dedicated bibliophile. You see, I had successfully stifled the tears (most times) but along the way, I had lost other things as well--I couldn't see the tragedy behind wrong decisions, as long as they turned out "all right" in the end. The humor passed right over my head. And most of all, I took for granted the grace of God--not His grace to me, but the grace evident in the lives of the story characters. I was so blind that I didn't even know I was missing these things, just as a person losing their sight can't compare their present dimness with past clarity. It's a gradual loss of color, of detail, and even of enjoyment. All because I tried to maintain a dignified front--when reading a book, of course.

Then came the 4th of July, 2010, where we gathered around us a few friends and relatives to celebrate. On that day, holding a bowl of homemade ice-cream, I was startled by the following question:

"How often do we weep at the grace of God?"

We weren't even talking about books; we were discussing some of the struggles we all had overcome around that time. And that question stuck with me:

"How often do we weep at the grace of God?"

It's a strange question. Weep? Shouldn't we rejoice? Rejoicing comes with laughter, with smiles, with excitement. Tears are for sorrow. But the Christian understands that grace is a manifestation of Christ's mercy; grace is God's free and unmerited gift to us of salvation and blessing, both now and in eternity to come. When we realize the meaning of His grace, then we are forced to examine our own unworthiness to receive it. Grace is a free gift; otherwise it could not be grace. And grace in the Christian life is a result of sacrifice and suffering.

I realized that afternoon that I was so paranoid about losing my running competition, that I didn't even value the grace of God. It had become commonplace in my reading. And I prayed, "Lord, will you help me to love your grace so much, that I would even weep at its manifestation?"

This may not sound appealing to some of you. After all, it is an emotional reaction, and most women don't need prayer to become more emotional. But we do need prayer to express the right emotions,  and tears are no unworthy things when used correctly. Strong men in the Bible were bowed with them when contemplating God's mercy. Jesus himself shed tears, which shows that men and women can use them correctly. Granted, they shall all be wiped away in heaven, but until then they are given to us as part of our make-up.

I can't remember exactly how long it took me; I think it was about five months later in December of that year. I was listening to a story of redemption in the midst of suffering, and as it drew to its close, I wept. Needless to say, it was a bit hard to explain to my astonished family members. ;) They weren't tears of sadness, but tears over the redemption in one man's life. Tears that were not maudlin, or excessive, or painful, but a refreshing release of the overflow of goodness. Because in reality, God's grace should overwhelm us so much that we have to seek release in something--whether tears or otherwise.

And gradually, as I allowed myself to do this, God opened up a whole new world in my reading. Stories sparkled so much more. I could find jollity I never suspected before, and pain I never knew existed. And I could find His redemption so much more easily. It was as if a blindness lifted from my eyes, and the pictures showed so much clearer. With the grace came a greater pain when I read books in which characters rejected it. But I would rather live on the heights with both than in the valleys with neither. That's the way books are meant to be read.

The point of this post is not that everyone should weep over stories. I realize that some people aren't designed to react this way. But do allow yourself to react. To get swept up in the drama, the excitement, the pain, and the joy. You'll be surprised at what touches you, and what doesn't. Don't harden your heart for a competition like I did; allow it to remain soft and open to the lessons that the stories teach. You'll enjoy it so much more that way, like I am now. I would never go back.  Emotions are often designated as weakness; but Christ himself used them to great effect, and used them well. When we try to surgically remove them from our reading as a fear of vulnerability or weakness, we are stifling a God-designed part of our mind. Read stories as a whole person. Tears and all. When you read them with your whole mind, you will be able to glean from them all that God has for you. Throw yourself into them as if they are real, for they are in a sense. With every high stake, it is a picture of right or wrong--which shall prevail? Christ used stories in his earthly ministry--and He used them to spark not just an intellectual response, but emotion. Tragedy, joy, fear, contentment, relief, faith. I covered more of this back in the article Why We Love Stories.

When I shut out my heart to sadness, a mixture of pride in my strength and fear of giving way, I shut out a lot more than I ever knew. But by the grace of God, I found freedom from this often unrecognized trap.

I find it ironic that I found freedom while celebrating America's Independence Day. Now I have a double reason to celebrate: as a staunch American, and as a dedicated bibliophile.

Our fathers' God to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright,
With freedom's holy light,
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God our King.

Don't forget to come back tomorrow for a special edition post on Independence Day! :)

Lady Bibliophile
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