Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tall Tales: Passion vs. Idolatry--A Call to Bibliophiles (Part One)

The longer I live, the more people I meet who are afraid to live with passion.

Regarding the bibliophile, they're afraid to love books wholeheartedly. They're afraid to enter into stories as if they are real. They're afraid to admit that books are important to them.

They're afraid of making books an idol.

So they live a passionless life. Books are dispensable, stories are just that--stories. In the grand scheme of things, 'real' life is way better than anything they could find between the pages. And of course, even though they really like to read, they would never set that ahead of God. If He called them to give up every single book in their library, they would do it without a second thought. Somehow, we have missed the memo that vigilance against sin does not equal fear, and indifference does not equal fearing fearing God alone.  

What is Idolatry?
According to the very handy Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary, idolatry is:

1. The worship of idols, images, or any thing made by hands, or which is not God.

 2. Excessive attachment or veneration for any thing, or that which borders on adoration.

It is true that we are all to prone to worship the wrong things, and we need to be very vigilant about this, constantly evaluating where our affections lie. If we set up books as an idol, then yes, we are on the wrong road, and need to get back to the worship of the one, true God as quickly as possible.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

I think any bibliophile goes through an ebb and flow. Though it is hard to admit, there are times when the things of this earth seem so very much nearer, and brighter, and deeper, then the God whom we cannot see. It is in such times that we must draw closer to the Lord through self-discipline, even when the inclination doesn't follow. We must plead with Him to open our blind eyes to the richness and glory, and deep, satisfying history of His salvation in the greatest of all Books .

Resisting idolatry is a discipline. The Greek word for "put to death" means

 3499 nekróō (from 3498 /nekrós, corpse-like, lifeless") – to view as a corpse, i.e. without life; to regard (but not "make") as dead, inoperative; to mortify, deprive of life or energizing power; (figuratively) to cut off (sever) everything that energizes (especially sin in Col 3:5).

In other words, we must sever our idols of everything that gives them life.

And in that same verse, the Greek behind  the phrase 'evil desires' or 'evil passions' is the following:

3806 páthos (from 3958 /pásxō, "having strong feelings") – properly, raw, strong feelings (emotions) which are not guided by God (like consuming lust).

It is not wrong to have strong feelings. But they must be guided by God. And here is where we fall into error: the main problem with bibliophiles is that half of them have strong feelings, but are not guided by God, and the others refuse to have strong feelings in the first place.

In the world of literature, how do we have strong feelings guided by God?

 What is Passion?
 Again, pulling out Webster's 1828 dictionary, we find that passion is:

1. The feeling of the mind, or the sensible effect of impression; excitement, perturbation or agitation of mind; as desire, fear, hope,joy, grief,love, hatred. The eloquence of the orator is employed to move the passions.

2. Zeal; ardor; vehement desire.

3. Love.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9)

The Greek word for Love in this instance means 'esteem'. Our esteem must be genuine, and without hypocrisy. Also. this word means 'moral preference'. We must not disguise our moral preferences, and hide what we truly esteem from people. Also, this instance of love (agape) is often use to refer to "What God loves". Therefore, we can take the first sentence to mean "We must genuinely love what God loves, not hypocritically pretend we do." That's a lot to pack into one little sentence, but there's more.

"Hate what is evil." This is no weak language here. Abhor. Abominate. Detest.

"Cling to what is good."-- 'Cling' in this phrase means literally to be 'glued together' with what is good. Glue is a strong bond that requires breaking one of the objects glued to get them apart. Figuratively, 'cling' in this verse means a close, 'soul-knit' friendship.

If two souls are knit together, that means they are one, and their eternal fate cannot be separated. Therefore, according to the figurative sense of the Greek here, we should be so closely knit to good that our fate is the same fate as that of the cause of Christ. That when good is affected, we are affected. When good is tormented, we are tormented. When good is triumphant, we are triumphant too. In otherwords, we cling to good so much we cannot escape from it.

What is good?

The Greek word for this phrase is 'agathos'. This means: "intrinsically good, good in nature, good whether it be seen to be so or not, the widest and most colorless of all words with this meaning. According to the word study: "(agathós) describes what originates from God and is empowered by Him in their life, through faith."

Therefore, we must genuinely love what God loves, abhor that which is evil, and irrevocably attatch ourselves to any good that originates from God.

As a bibliophile, our goal is to read books that are good, with the kind of goodness that originates from God.  But we are not to hold them loosely--to be afraid that good books will call us away from the Father. We are to be irrevocably attached to every good thing that He sends us. This is not idolatry. This is, according to the Greek, sweet fellowship--the kind of fellowship you would feel towards a kindred spirit.

If your calling is to teach and reform in the area of literature, then you need to have zeal. Not the fan-girly kind. I'm talking about the earnest kind.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.--Romans 12:11

"Never be lacking in zeal." If the Lord has called us to love books, to read them, perhaps even to write them, to proclaim a message of reform in the literary culture, then the Greek in this verse tells us that  "For the believer, 4710 /spoudḗ ("speedy diligence"[or "never be lacking in zeal"]) means quickly obeying what the Lord reveals is His priority. This elevates the better over the good – the more important over the important – and does so with earnest swiftness (intensity).

We are to serve the Lord in our talent for reading and writing with earnest and swift intensity.

"Keep your spiritual fervor"-- "to be deeply committed to something, with the implication of accompanying desire – 'to be earnest, to set one's heart on, to be completely intent upon' "

According to this Scripture, we must literally 'boil in spirit' about what God has called us to do.

In Conclusion
To sum up part one, many of us who love books are afraid of turning books into an idol. And we should be. We must not adore or worship anything but God himself. However, we must be extremely careful that we do not lose our passion just because we're trying not to be idolatrous.

Bibliophiles must read that which is good with passion. We are called to love good to our very soul, and for those of us called to serve the Lord more specifically with our reading and writing of books, we are to obey Him with swift and earnest zeal.

As long as we genuinely love what the Lord loves, and abhor that which He calls evil in the books we read, idolatry will have no place in our hearts.

Read with passion for the Kingdom of Christ.

Lady Bibliophle

Friday, February 22, 2013

Dream Big...But Beware of Dream Killers

Of all the people I have ever known, those who have pursued their dreams and failed have lived a much more fulfilling life than those who have put their dreams on a shelf for fear of failure. ~Author Unknown

I've kept this review in the back of my mind for the majority of this blog's history, and now that it's come to the forefront of my thoughts again, I thought I would take a brief jaunt into Todd Wilson's home school books; particularly Dream Big...But Beware of Dream Killers.

We quote his cartoons all the time, and if you need a good laugh then by all means pick them up. You can find samples here. There's nothing like the gratification of, after a rough day, pulling out one of his comics and making everyone collapse in laughter.

Now don’t mention that we didn’t get up till 9:30 or that your little brother can’t read…or that we buy our bread from a store…or that you’ve seen Disney movies…and whatever you do try not to say the words Batman or Power Rangers…and for goodness sakes try to act SMART!!!--www.familymanweb.com

Yep, they're good for a laugh. But the great thing about Todd Wilson is that, mixed in with all of his humor he manages to touch on some of the deepest hurts of the homeschool community: trying to be like the public school kids, worrying about having A+ grades all the time, fear of taking a day's break because other people might think you're slacking off, having difficulty with family relationships.

We first heard him in 2009 at our statewide homeschool convention, and laughed our heads off at his hilarious RV escapades and family mishaps, mixed in with his catch-phrase "This life is hard...but it is good." There are certain hurts that can only be ministered to under the cover of humor, because they are so personal, and the difficulties of marriage and parenting in the homeschool life are those kinds of hurts. We bought the DVD from that convention and watched it several times; ate up volume 1 of his homeschool cartoons, and my parents bought Help! I'm Married to a Homeschool Mom and Lies Homeschooling Moms Believe, respectively.

Then in 2011 he was back in our area at a campground. And the message he gave that week was a pivotal one for me. It was on dreaming--and how to deal with dream killers. Before I heard his message, I was attracted by a little blue paperback on his book table entitled Dream Big...But Beware of Dreamkillers, and I was definitely excited to find that his talk that day was about dreaming against cultural trends.

You see, I've always dreamed big. You can't chuck the traditional college route and strike off on your own without dreaming big. You can't go against all cultural trends on public school and dating and career without having something bigger than cultural affirmation to hold on to. And you also can't try to write without dreaming big, because publishing literary fiction in this economy is a very daunting dream indeed.

One of the greatest gifts of homeschooling is our capacity to dream, for we are taught to believe in the same God that fed 3 fish to 5,000 and brought men through a blazing furnace unharmed. We believe that no miracle is beyond His ability, and we also believe that He is just as willing to work them for us today as He was to work them in Bible times.

However, we live in a society of dream killers.

Put simply, there are just two kinds of people: dreamers and used-to-be-dreamers. To me, there is no sadder statement. That's why I'm starting this book again..because it needs to be written and you need to read it and then step out in faith and DREAM BIG!!!!
The 'safe' people around you will sake their heads in disbelief. Well-meaning 'safe' Christians will quote 'safe' verses and encourage you to stay in the 'safe' shallows, not realizing that God wants you in deep water. He wants you to trust Him and fear nothing. He has placed a dream in your heart because He wants you to go for it, set your jaw in determination, throw caution to the wind, and do it.
The Bible is filled with dreamers, who, against all odds and common sense, believed God and did something worth recording. In fact, their stories were recorded for us and serve as a reminder, not of great men, but of normal men and woman who were used by a great God to do great things.--Dream Big, but Beware of Dream Killers

Before we go on--what's your dream? Is it to have 19 kids in a world that mocks the value of children? Is it to produce high-quality Christian films even though you don't have a penny in the bank? And now ask yourself a second question--what are the dreams of the people around you? Maybe your dad wants to quit his job and strike out on his own, and he's going to need your help and support to do that. Maybe your parents want to adopt a child, go on a family trip, or have a better relationship with you.

Now that you've got your dream in mind, there are three key areas that Todd Wilson covers in his book.

Beware of Dream Killers
A dream killer is someone who tries to dissuade you from accomplishing your goal. Dream killers come in the form of well-meaning friends, husbands, wives, parents, and grandparents. The fact is that, while sometimes this is a God-given caution, in many instances it's the reaction of a former dreamer who has had a dream killed themselves. It doesn't necessarily mean that your dream is a bad one. When I graduated high school I had many people who were concerned for my welfare and success, who suggested that I at least go to college until I 'figured out what I wanted to do'. They loved me, and didn't want me to make choices that would ruin my chance at the American Dream.
Dream killers don't want to see something go wrong--in reality, they're afraid that your dream won't come true, and they don't want to watch that happen.

But part of dreaming is gently showing the person that God has given you the dream, and you don't have to have a backup in case it doesn't work out. You just have to obey and follow Him.

And don't be a dream killer--people won't stop dreaming, they'll just stop telling you about it. You don't want to break down those lines of communication. Trust God to kill the ones in those around you that aren't the good ones. He has the power to take away the desire, but that's His prerogative, and He is the only one who can do it without breaking heartstrings in the process.

Know Your Dream is From God
Some dreams are merely selfish desires, and it's important to tell the difference between the two. Here are three pointers that can help determine which is which:

1. Is it in obedience to your God-given authorities?
There are times when we bring forward an idea and our parents veto it immediately. In some cases, that's a clear indication that it is not God's plan, but in some cases it is merely a sign to wait. Don't pursue it unless you have their blessing and understanding--it will come, if it's God's dream. I've had dreams that I've had to wait on, but many of them God has brought about in His good time.

2. Is it crazy?
If it's a God-dream, then it should be. I have found that to be the case--in choosing to go the non-traditional route, my life is no longer a safe one. Often I wake up and wonder how God will possibly use this for good in a culture that wants accreditation from the 'experts'. It is not safe, or secure, or easy, but I would not trade my situation with any other young woman on earth. I would rather be living a crazy dream from God without guarantees than a safe American Dream that He never designed His people to follow.

3. Do you have a track record?

I guess God could have taken a three-year-old little girl armed only with a jump rope and killed Goliath, but that's not usually how He works. --Dream Big, But Beware of Dreamkillers

You need to study your craft, have just a smidgen of natural inclination for it (though not a lot--God doesn't need you to be John MacArthur to become a pastor) and have a heavy dose of passion for your subject.

Be Willing to Dream Alone
Never, ever say "I could have been so much in life if other people hadn't killed my dreams." It's not true. If God gives you a dream, then He doesn't need a single other person on this earth to believe in it for it to work. And the fact is, if your dream is impossible to pursue because of the limitations of others around you, then it either isn't a God-dream, or now isn't God's time.

God never holds you back because of other people's sins or fear, or lack of interest. Sometimes you have to dream alone for a while. And when people see you dream, and watch your dream take tangible shape, they may just start dreaming with you.

In Conclusion
Todd covers so much more in his short little book than I can in this article. Probably some of the points here have sparked questions that I haven't addressed here. I hope you get the book for yourself, because he covers all the angles and excuses and fears that dreamers struggle with. Every couple of pages he puts inspirational and thought-provoking quotes to spark the dreamer in the person reading it.

This is a tough world to dream in, but it's not impossible. I highly recommend that you pick up your copy and leave the safe waters of mediocrity. You'll never regret it.

After the message was over, my mother gave me Dream Big, the book version. I took it up to Todd to have it signed, and on the title page whenever I open it, I see "Schuyler, Dream it!! Todd"

I've been "Dreaming it" ever since.

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Journey to the Center of the Earth

2/20 Update: The "New? Start Here" page is now complete, which makes the final adjustment to the new look here on My Lady Bibliophile. I may add more things as I think of them, but to all intents and purposes it is finished! If you have any questions about the new look or anything on it, don't hesitate to leave me a comment or drop me a line by email. :)

Descend, bold traveller, into the crater of the jökull of Snæfell, which the shadow of Scartaris touches  before the Kalends of July, and you will attain the centre of the earth. I did it. Arne Saknussemm--Journey to the Centre of the Earth, by Jules Verne

The very last thing that unadventurous Axel wants to attempt is a journey down a volcano to find the center of the earth. He's quite happy as he is, thank-you very much, and with a good cook, a pretty cousin, and a dedicated interest in mineralogy, his stoic German upbringing effectively removed any explorer spirit years ago.

Axel lives with his uncle Lidenbrock, who took him in after the death of his parents. When his uncle brings home a new book purchase (a used book purchase, actually) Axel isn't too worried. Not worried, that is, until his uncle finds a Runic cypher tucked in the back, and becomes so upset trying to solve it that he orders no-one to eat until he discovers its meaning.

Unknown to Linenbrock, Axel finds the solution. He refuses to reveal it, however, as he's not about to send the excitable man on a wild goose chase to a place that doesn't exist. After all, if his uncle will starve everyone in his household for a three sentence cryptogram, to what lengths will he not go  when he discovers its meaning? And he, Axel, would be forced to go along.

However, the lack of dinner, and supper, and breakfast, and dinner again, begins to work on him, and he decides that "Very likely he would make the discovery himself when I should have suffered starvation for nothing. Under the influence of hunger this reasoning appeared admirable. I determined to tell all."

All of his forebodings come true. Uncle Lidenbrock takes off in a transport of joy, gets out maps of Iceland, packs his bags with plenty of mountain climbing picks, and sets of with Axel in tow. Axel couldn't be less enthusiastic. Not only do heights terrify him, but the thought of leaving pretty Grauben and dying in the bottom of a volcano doesn't appeal to him. Once in Iceland they secure Hans Bjelke the eiderdown hunter as their guide and prepare to descend the crater of Sneffels. Axel in vain postulates various scientific theories why this adventure is impossible. In vain he watches with glee as a cloud cover threatens to hide the shadow of the sun on the 15th of July. One by one Professor Lidenbrock rejects his theories, and the cloud cover fades away with minutes to spare.

They are descending. And come dinosaurs, come water shortage, they are going to the center of the earth. Unless, of course, they die first.

My Thoughts
Some of you may be trying to wrap your names around "Axel", "Lidenbrock", and "Grauben", but never fear. Most American editions have changed them to "Harry", "Hardwigg", and "Gretchen", respectively. I put the original names in this post to do honor to Verne's work, but I find "Harry" a little easier to empathize with than "Axel". ;)
Axel is often dubbed a coward, but I would hesitate to be that harsh with him. He's a cautious fellow who likes to have routine meals and routine studies. There are many such people in the world that I myself am acquainted with, whom I would never call a coward. He is rightly called overcautious in regards to anything that upsets his carefully regulated schedule, and his protests for the first leg of the journey are the jerk reaction of an introvert trying to wrap his mind around spontaneity. I didn't like him when I read it through the first time, but now we're good friends (probably sparked by our mutual terror of heights), and he is rather my favorite of the characters. The journey is related from his perspective.
I have heard that this is the only one of Verne's scientific theories never to be proven, however it is not one to be laughed at. Verne may have founded it on Charles Lyell's Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man which would explain why the scientific theories in this book haven't been proven. There are two types of science: observational science, which can be observed, tested, and repeated; and historical science, which we have neither seen (since it occurred in the past), nor are we able to test, nor can it be repeated again. Verne's designs for a super cannon in The Begum's Millions can be imitated and tested, but his theories in JtCE rely on the evolutionary ideas of rock layers, which fall into the realm of historical science. Historical science is a legitimate field, but one interprets evidence as a creationist or an evolutionist, and the proofs for either view in this type of science are taken on faith. Unfortunately, Verne in accepting Lyell's proofs, took the wrong evolutionary view. The rock layers Axel and Lidenbrock examine so excitedly are a result of a catastrophic world-wide flood, not millions of years of random evolutionary processes. (For more info on biblical geology, check out Answers In Genesis.) JtCE, perhaps more than any other of Verne's works, pinpoints his worldview of theistic evolution, including Axel and Lidenbrock's sightings of neanderthals and dinosaurs.  Verne certainly seemed to believe in the providence of God, often making his characters pray and seek God's deliverance, but he obviously didn't believe in young earth creationism. Most of his books, however, do not bring up this theme, as they focus on observational science rather than historical, and  when read with a biblical perspective of what a neanderthal truly is, and the real history of dinosaurs, there is nothing in JtCE that cannot be changed to fit with a creationist conclusion, even though Axel and Lidenbrock don't have the right perspective. Just take the time to evaluate the conclusions they should have come to based on biblical creationism, and you'll find plenty to spark good conversations. The underground dinosaur fight, though a bit far-fetched, would fit much better with the biblical timeline of dinosaurs having existed at the time of man rather than millions of years before, and the neanderthals are simply that--real men who live in caves, not ape men as Lidenbrock imagined.
Not all the science in JtCE deserves to be called evolutionary, however.  Verne's descriptions of Iceland and some of Axel's mineralogical musings are quite interesting, as well as their discovery of acoustic underground communication phenomenons.
I don't recall any language, but it's been a while since I read it, so there may be some mild instances. Verne is generally conservative in the amount he uses, if he does so at all.
There are no movie adaptations that do justice to this work. Giant lizards, women accompanying the expedition, and other such atrocities spoil Verne's original masterpiece.

Perhaps after this short scientific rambling you're wondering if JtCE has any other claims on your attention? Well, splendid adventures, including Axel losing himself after a wrong turn, an underground dinosaur fight, and a volcano eruption should provide several hours of fascinating entertainment.

As well as, of course, the question: do they make it to the center of the earth?

Have a great week of reading adventures!

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, February 15, 2013

Top Ten Heroes and Heroines

4:00 p.m. update: The "Recommended Resources" page is now complete. Thank-you for your patience while I renovated. :) "New? Start Here" coming soon!

Welcome, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to our second and final post celebrating Valentine's week. :)I debated a length between highlighting unmarried literary characters (which would be fun), and the top romances of literature (which seemed in great danger of being too spoilery), or the top five heroes and heroines. (from separate books, of course.) I also considered highlighting one couple only, and making an entire post about them.

In the end, I thought it would be nice to give a practical illustration of last year's series on biblical romance, so I elected for the Top Ten Heroes and Heroines, five men and five women--the ones in literature that best express loving in actions and in truth.

And Jane Austen is not making a clean sweep of all of them. Just for the sake of variety. ;)

Photo Credit

Before We Begin
The heroes and heroines highlighted in this post are meant to illustrate a specific principle, which we discussed last year at this time: namely, instead of a couple that spends their time glorying in physical and emotional reactions, these heroes and heroines (while they are attracted to each other) get to work and dirty their hands together advancing the cause of Christ, or at least bettering society. These are men and woman who dream, but who don't despise the everyday things; who know when to resist evil, but who never claim selfish rights; who love each other so much that they want what's best for the other person, even if that future doesn't include a happily-ever-after marriage.

We live in a fake, feministic, Hollywood love culture that lauds couples for 'breaking the chains' of 'tradition' (i.e. Christianity) and 'seeking their own happiness'.

These couples did things differently.

To avoid spoilers, all the heroes and heroines in this post are from separate books. Not all of the people I chose got married. But since this is Valentine's Week, each person listed below loved someone and hoped to marry them, whether or not they actually did.

Now I present to you five men and five women who loved in action and in truth.


1. Peter Morrison (Her Father's Daughter, by Gene Stratton-Porter)
Many people have never met this most estimable of men, more's the pity. An author who takes the notion to build a home in California, he soon finds himself attracted to his young and original neighbor, Linda Strong. From beginning to end, his first thought is to wait for her until she's ready to be awakened, and treat her as a good friend in the meantime.

2. Laddie Stanton (Laddie: A True, Blue Story, by Gene Stratton-Porter)
Laddie's head-over-heels in love with Pamela Pryor, even though she comes from a rather odd family. A gruff atheist father, household secrets, and the even the English class divisions can't get in his way once he sets his heart upon her. But Laddie shows that love isn't blind, and there are some things he just can't do for the Princess, even if it means breaking off his courtship with her.

"You see," [Laddie said], "a very charming friend of mine expressed herself very strongly last night about the degrading influence of farming, especially that branch of agriculture with evolves itself in a furrow; hence it is my none too happy work to plow the west eighty where she can't look our way without seeing me, and I have got to whistle my favorite 'toon' where she must stop her ears so she doesn't hear; and then it will be my painful task, I fear, to endeavor to convince her that I am still clean, decent, and not degraded."
"Oh Laddie!" cried Mother.
"Abominable foolishness!" roared father like he does roar once in about two years.
"Isn't it now?" asked Laddie sweetly. "I don't know what has got into her head. She has seen me plowing fifty times since their land has joined ours, and she never objected before."
"I can tell you blessed well!" said mother. "She didn't care two hoots how much my son plowed, but it makes a difference when it comes to her lover."
3. Captain Ralph Percy (To Have and To Hold, by Mary Johnston, Vision Forum edition)
Intending to take a wife that will bear him children and keep his house clean, Captain Percy is in for a surprise when he finds that his new acquisition is a runaway ward of the king. Even though under threat of death, he refuses to renounce his marriage, and stands by the woman who does not love him.

She spoke haltingly, through dry lips. Her face was as white as her ruff, but a strange light burned in her eyes, and there was no trembling. "This morning you said that all that you had--your name, and your sword--were at my service. You may take them both again, sir. I refuse the aid you offer. Swear what you will, tell them what you please, make your peace while you may. I will not have your blood upon my soul."
There was yet wine upon the table. I filled a cup and brought it to her. "Drink!" I commanded.
"I have much of forbearance, much of courtesy, to thank you for," she said. "I will remember it when--Do not think that I shall blame you--"
I held the cup to her lips. "Drink!" I repeated. She touched the red wine to her lips. I took it from her and put it to my own. "We drink of the same cup," I said, with my eyes upon hers, and drained it to the bottom. 

4. George Knightley (Emma, by Jane Austen)
Of all Jane Austen's heroes, Mr. Knightley  perhaps most embodies the principle of loving in action and in truth, though Henry Tilney would make a close second. While Darcy, Wentworth, and Bertram struggled with pride or blindness before they could begin to love, Knightley loved Emma as a brother before he ever loved her as a man for a woman. Though not without his faults, he was bold to rebuke and reason when the occasion called for it.

5. Malcolm MacPhail (The Fisherman's Lady/The Marquis' Secret, by George MacDonald)

"You seem to have quite a regard for your young mistress, Malcolm."
"I would die for her, my lord."
"That's a common enough assertion," said the marquis.
"Not with fisher-folk. I don't know how it may be with your people, my lord."
"Well, even with us it means something. It implies at least that you would risk your life for someone. But perhaps it may mean more than that in the mouth of a fisherman? Do you fancy there is such a thing as devotion--real devotion, I mean, self-sacrifice, you know?"
"I don't doubt it, my lord."
"Without fee or hope of reward?"
"There must be some capable of it, my lord, or what would the world be like?"
"You certainly have a pretty high notion of things, MacPhail. For my part, I can easily imagine a man risking his life, but devoting it! That's another thing altogether. What, for instance, would you do for Lady Florimel now? You say you would die for her. What does that mean on a fisherman's tongue?"
"It means everything my lord--short of evil. I would starve for her, but I wouldn't steal. I would fetch for her, but I wouldn't lie."
"Would you be her servant all your days? Come now!"
"More than willingly, my lord--if she would only have me, and keep me."

1. Amy Dorrit (Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens)
A hard-working little woman who loves and hopes even with no thought of return. Not a hint of self-pity spoils her character, and though she lives with a family takes for granted all the work she does for them, and loves a man who is perhaps the most endearingly thick-headed heroes of Dickens thus far (in regards to not recognizing her true feelings), she carries on.

2. Fanny Price (Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen)
 A 'living' definition of biblical meekness. Fanny illustrates love without resentment or self-seeking, very similar to Amy Dorrit. And she gets much less than is her due among bibliophiles.

3. Elinore Stewart (The Frontier Adventures of Elinore Stewart, narrated by Victoria Botkin)
 She is not perhaps the youngest heroine, but Elinore Stewart is a real-life woman who  travels out West to show other widows they can build a homestead. There she finds a husband, and in her letters we find humorous accounts of loving and cheerful service to him. A heroine worthy of anyone's acquaintance, and a biblical, real-life depiction of a friendship that leads to marriage. (Though marriage in itself is a side-plot in the story, and not the main focus.)

4. Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte)
Perhaps one of the greatest tests of love in literature, Jane chooses to love in actions and in truth, even when it could lead to the self-destruction of the man she desires. 

While he spoke my very conscience and reason turned traitors against me, and charged me with crime in resisting him. They spoke almost as loud as feeling, and that clamored wildly. "Oh, comply!" it said. "Think of his misery, think of his danger, look at his state when left alone; remember his headlong nature, consider the recklessness following on despair; soothe him, save him, love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?"
Still indomitable was the reply, "I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained, I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God, sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad--as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigor; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?

5. Masouda (The Brethren, by H. Rider Haggard)
Worthy of Sherlock Holmes' acclamation "The Woman", Masouda shows practical love on the level of ice and blood and fire--the bold, sparkling kind.

As he spoke the lighting flashed and showed her face as she stood there against a background of green leaves and red lily flowers. There was a strange look upon it--a look that made Godwin feel afraid, he knew not of what.
[...] "Masouda," he said in a whisper, "oh! think me no vain fool, but since it is best perhaps that both should know full surely, tell me, is it as I have sometimes--"
He took her outstretched hand, hesitated a moment, then lifted it to his lips, and went...As she slid thence into the black, embracing night, Masouda said to herself:
"Had I played a little more upon his gentleness and pity, I think that he would have offered me his heart--after Rosamund had done with it and in payment for my services. Nay, not his heart, for he has none on earth, but his hand and loyalty. And, being honorable, he would have kept his promise, and I, who have passed through the harem of Al-je-bal, might yet have become the lady D'Arcy, and so lived out my life and nursed his babes. Nay, Sir Godwin; when you love me--not before; and you will never love me--until I am dead."
Snatching a bloom of the lilies into her hand, the hand that he had kissed, Masouda pressed it convulsively against her breast, till the red juice ran from the crushed flower and stained her like a wound. Then she glided away, and was lost in the storm and the darkness.

Masouda deserves the honor of the greatest heroine to embody loving in actions and in truth.

So, friends and fellow bibliophiles, thus we have my five top heroes and heroines in my small library. And now, I would love to hear your favorites! :)

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Top Six Literary Couples

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Welcome, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to Valentines' Week. :) Whether or not you celebrate this most romantic of holidays, I thought it would be fun, in honor of the occasion, to highlight several romances, divided between today and Friday. (I won't forget, I promise.)

Today we'll be looking at literature's Top Six Couples. I gave myself the stipulation that to be included in this list, they must be married before the book begins. Believe me, though I have a plethora of favorite love stories, finding couples already married was quite a stretch.

Oh, and if you're in the mood for some extra Valentine cheer, check out last year's series "Is Love a Fancy or a Feeling?" (Parts 1, 2, and 3) and my review of It's (Not That) Complicated, by Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin.


6.Duncan and Sarah. (Freckles, by Gene Stratton-Porter)
A hard-working Scottish couple who give Freckles room and board and family while he fights his fight with the Limberlost. Even though life is hard, they think the world of each other.

Duncan's arms closed convulsively around his wife. With a big, brown hand he lovingly stroked her rough sorrel hair.
   "Sarah, you're a guid woman!" he said. "You're a michty guid woman! Ye hae a way o' speakin' out at times that's like the inspired prophets of the Lord. If that had been put to me, now, I'd 'a' felt all I kent how to and been keen enough to say the richt thing; but I'd 'a' stuttered and stammered and got naething out that would ha' done onybody a mite o' good. But ye, Sarah!...I wouldna trade ye an' my share o' the Limberlost with ony king ye could mention."
  He relaxed his clasp, and setting a heavy hand on each shoulder, he looked straight into her eyes.
   "Ye're prime, Sarah! Juist prime!" he said.
   Sarah Duncan stood alone in the middle of her two-room log-cabin and lifted a bony, claw-like pair of hands, reddened by frequent immersion in hot water, cracked and chafed by exposure to cold, black-lined by constant battle with swamp-loam, calloused with burns, and stared at them wonderingly.
   "Pretty lookin' things ye are!" she whispered. "But ye hae juist been kissed. And by such a man! Fine as God ever made at His verra best. Duncan wouldna trade wi' a king! Na! Nor I wadna trade with a queen wi' a palace, an' velvet gowns, an' diamonds big as hazel-nuts, an' a hundred visitors a day into the bargain."

5. Admiral and Mrs. Croft (Persuasion, by Jane Austen)
They have been around the world together on board ship, and are a fine example of life-long friendship.
   "What glorious weather for the Admiral and my sister! They meant to take a long drive this morning; perhaps we may hail them from some of these hills. They talked of coming into this side of the country. I wonder whereabouts they will upset today. Oh! it does not happen very often, I assure you; but my sister makes nothing of it; she would as lieve be tossed out as not."
   "Ah! you make the most of it, I know," cried Louisa; "but if it were really so, I should do just the same in her place. If I loved a man as she loves the Admiral, I would always be with him, nothing should ever separate us, and I would rather be overturned by him, than driven safely by anybody else."

4. Sir and Lady Dedlock (Bleak House, by Charles Dickens)
The most fashionable couple in British society; but I doubt that Sir Leicester is fully aware of the test his love will undergo.

   Sir Leicester is twenty years, full measure, older than my Lady. He will never see sixty-five again, nor perhaps sixty-six, nor yet sixty-seven. He has a twist of the gout now and then, and walks a little stiffly. He is of a worthy presence, with his light grey hair and whiskers, his fine shirt-frill, his pure white waistcoat, and his blue coat with bright buttons always buttoned. He is ceremonious, stately, most polite on every occasion to my Lady, and holds her personal attractions in the highest estimation. His gallantry to my Lady, which has never changed since he courted her, is the one little touch of romantic fancy in him.
   Indeed, he married her for love. A whisper still goes about, that she had not even family; howbeit, Sir Leicester had so much family that perhaps he had enough, and could dispense with any more. But she had beauty, pride, ambition, insolent resolve, and sense enough to portion out a legion of fine ladies. Wealth and station, added to these, soon floated her upward and for years, now, my Lady Dedlock has been at the centre of the fashionable intelligence, and at the top of the fashionable tree.

3. Joe Gargery and Pip's sister (Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens)

A humble blacksmith and a woman 'given to government'.

   "Whatever family opinions, or whatever the word's opinions, on that subject may be, Pip, your sister is," Joe tapped the top bar of the poker after every word following, "a--fine--figure--of--a--woman!"
   I could think of nothing better to say than "I am glad you think so, Joe."
   "So am I," returned Joe, catching me up. "I am glad I think so, Pip. A little redness, or a little matter of Bone, here or there, what does it signify to Me?"
   I sagaciously observed that if it didn't signify to him, to whom did it signify?
   [...] Joe stopped me. "Stop a bit. I know what you're going to say, Pip; stay a bit! I don't deny that  she do throw us back-falls, and that she do drop down upon us heavy. At such times as when your sister is on the Ram-page, Pip," Joe sank his voice to a whisper and glanced at the door, "candour compels fur to admit that she is a Buster...And last of all, Pip--and this I want to say very serious to you, old chap--I see so much in my poor mother, of a woman drudging and slaving and breaking her honest hart and never getting no peace in her mortal days, that I'm dead afeerd of going wrong in the way of not doing what's right by a woman and I'd fur rather of the two go wrong the t'other way, and be a little ill-conwenienced myself. I wish it was only me that got put out, Pip; I wish there warn't no Tickler for you, old chap; I wish I could take it all on myself but this is the up-and-down-and-straight on it, Pip, and I hope you'll overlook shortcomings."

2. Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney (The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy)

It was nearly a year ago now that Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart., one of the richest men in England, leader of all the fashions, and intimate friend of the Prince of Wales, had astonished fashionable society in London and Bath by bringing home, from one of his journeys abroad, a beautiful, fascinating, clever, French wife. He, the sleepiest, dullest, most British Britisher that had ever set a pretty woman yawning, had secured a brilliant matrimonial prize for which, as all chroniclers aver, there had been many competitors.
     ....Clever men, distinguished men, and even men of exalted station formed a perpetual and brilliant court round the fascinating young actress of the Comedie Francaise, and she glided through republican, revolutionary, bloodthirsty Paris like a shining comet with a trail behind her of all that was most distinguished, most interesting, in intellectual Europe.
Then the climax came. Some smiled indulgently and called it an artistic eccentricity, others looked upon it as a wise provision, in view of the many events which were crowding thick and fast in Paris just then, but to all, the real motive of that climax remained a puzzle and a mystery. Anyway, Marguerite St. Just married Sir Percy Blakeney one fine day, just like that, without any warning to her friends, without a soiree de contrat or diner de fiancailles or other appurtenances of a fashionable French wedding.

And by far the number one literary couple to provide witticisms for countless family dinner conversations:

1. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen)

"My dear Mr. Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?"
Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.
"But it is," returned she; "for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it."
Mr. Bennet made no answer.
"Do you not want to know who has taken it?" cried his wife impatiently.
"You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it."
This was invitation enough.
"Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week."
"What is his name?"
"Is he married or single?"
"Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!"
And thus we have my top six literary couples. Honorable mention also go to Mr. and Mrs. Plornish in Little Dorrit, and Mr. and Mrs. Bagnet from Bleak House ("Discipline must be maintained!"). Who are your favorite literary couples? I'd love to hear of them! (Remember, they have to be married before the book begins. ;)

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, February 8, 2013

Tall Tales: A Healthy Reading Diet (Part Two)

It wasn't until Wednesday morning that I realized I was supposed to finish up this series on Tuesday. I apologize for not following through, and make all haste to remedy the situation by presenting the final part of "A Healthy Reading Diet".

In part one we looked at the five basic literary groups, according to the government food pyramid, and imagined which components would comprise each group in the book realm. If you haven't read that post, you can catch up here. Today, we're going to look at twelve principles for a healthy reading diet.

You see, the government food pyramid has affected what Americans think they can eat, and how much. Different body types and dietary needs try to conform to the 'ideal' measurements and portions dictated by the government, Hollywood, and fad diets. Those who don't are divided into two groups: the obese, and the hippies.

Such dangerous ideas have drifted into the literary realm as well. Books, often called the food of the mind, are consigned to a pyramid of elements with pre-determined levels of healthiness, and pre-determined portion sizes. Book lovers, therefore, are divided into three groups as well: the conformists (who get a dutiful sort of pleasure out of following reading guidelines from an anonymous source) the obese (who glut themselves on trash) and the hippies (who refuse to conform to popular standards).

There is, of course, the fourth group.

Christian bibliophiles, whose aim in reading is to glorify God and enjoy Him, who give careful thought to their reading, but refuse to follow one-size-fits-all standards, are often lumped in with the hippie non-conformists. We're quite different, really, and in the twelve standards following you'll see why.

You know the rules: half a plate of nonfiction, go light on the adventure, (if you must have it) and for fiction, get those grains in. Keep it normal, folks. And don't cheat on sweets; romance is wicked.

It's time to take back healthy reading for the glory of God. His standards of health are quite different than the American government's, and much more enjoyable and individual.

So here are twelve standards for a healthy reading diet.

1. Everybody has individual literary needs.
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Any good dietitian will tell you that not all bodies are made alike. Some people live a life of active physical labor, others work office jobs. Some are short and stocky, others are tall and slim. Some can eat three servings and never know the difference; others have to watch their food intake much more carefully. Different cultures around the globe have different physical characteristics.
The same is true with literature. Some people can take in 10 technical tomes in one gulp while others struggle through a 200 page treatise. Some people can read 80 books a year, while others are doing well to read 3. Different cultures have different styles of humor, different themes of adventure, and different spiritual history. Older people need different mental food then younger people, and some people read for a living while others read merely for leisure. God has created us with different jobs, capacities, needs, and enjoyments, and we should take delight in these differences.

One caution: while we are supposed to celebrate differences, there is only one standard of truth found in God's Word, no matter what the culture or age. This truth should  not be violated in our reading.

2. Some people have allergies.

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
-- 1 Corinthians 10: 23-30

Because of my sin nature, I have to flee different temptations then the rest of you do. Likewise, there are certain things that I can read without raising questions in my conscience that you might not be able to. All of this is subject to the standards of God's Word, but within those standards we all have crutches that we're leaning on. If you're sensitive to a certain topic, then avoid books with that topic. If someone else is sensitive to a topic you enjoy reading about, then don't quit reading about it ("For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience?") but find a different person to enjoy it with.

3. Read when you're hungry.
There are many things to do in life, and some times reading is not the best activity to choose for the moment. Bibliophiles need to experience a wide range of activities so that they will be well-rounded in their ability to judge what is true, and holy, and God-glorifying. After all, why do we read? So that we are equipped to advance the kingdom of God in our daily living.

4. Control fleshly appetites.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
--Galatians 5:16-24

 Bad appetites should always be curbed, and even good things are bad when gorged upon to excess.

5. Avoid poorly-processed literary themes.

Six servings of this isn't going to get you far in the good grains category:
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This will get you somewhere:
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Some themes have become over-processed. Most romance is now sadly in the category of the first slice of bread. A few kisses, a few lingering looks, a little healing from childhood trauma, and you have yourself a couple; rather than good honest work, and sweat, and clean, God-breathed love joining a man and woman together.

Sometimes it's not the theme that's wrong. It's a good theme coupled with bad ingredients and lots of chemicals. Bread in itself isn't bad, but we can choose between healthy bread and the filler kind.

6. Read whole foods.
In the physical food realm, most ingredients are stripped and sprayed and processed before we ever get to the dish itself. While fresh-ground wheat berries are out of budget for some of us, in literature we have no excuse. The best of books are readily available online, through libraries, or at rummage sales. You like adventure? Then read the most excellent and God-glorifying and thrilling adventure that you can lay your hands on. Don't settle for second-best. Read as close to God-made as possible.

7. Read variety.
Well rounded bibliophiles know that we should read in all good and biblical genres. If you want to write good historical fiction, you're going to have to be grounded in geography, medicine, science, and culture to have all the components you need. And even theology and church history are vital genres for developing the theology of your heroes and villains. After all, their morals will dictate their actions.

8. Read good cooking.
We placed this in the dairy category, but make sure the books you read pay attention to technical excellence. Give grace where grace is due, but don't excuse bad grammar, poor vocabulary, and poor attention to the rules of good writing.

Anna Pavlova, the famous ballerina, described her training at the Russian Imperial School, famous for producing the world’s best ballet dancers:
“From the very hour of my ninth year that my mother gave me into the keeping of the Imperial School to the time I began my world wanderings I never saw a badly painted, cheap...picture; I never read an ill written, tawdry or trashy book: I never saw acting that was not of the finest; I never attended an ill-made play or a badly sung opera; I never ate a badly cooked or ill-chosen meal...”
(Reclaiming Beauty Study Guide, Session 5, pg. 30, by Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin)

9. Dull doesn't mean healthy.
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This is one of the most common myths in literature. "It's dull. It must be good for me." "That biography was too interesting. It must be fictional." The fact is, some ingredients in themselves are quite dull. A good dinner isn't a pile of carrot and celery sticks on a plate; it's carrots and celery (or what have you) incorporated with herbs, meats and grains to make a delectable dish. The same is true in literature. Granted, sometimes we work through dry chapters, but if the entire work is dull, take the time to ask if you can find a more interesting source to teach you the same subject matter. Food should be interesting. Books should be too.

10. God has given us every holy theme for our good mental health. No one is less clean than any other.

On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.
--Acts 10:9-16

All themes that God deems good and holy are for us to read and enjoy. This includes marriage, poetry, history, science, wisdom, dominion, friendship, and all things beautiful, just and true.

11. Don't despise good cravings.

(Sometimes you need to eat the chocolate cake.)
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12. Read to the glory of God.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. --1 Corinthians 1:31

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Damsels in Distress

Finding good counseling books specifically for women is an uphill fight. The ones that don't leave you with a cotton candy sugar high are generally egalitarianist in their theories. (Big word, small concept. More on that later.) In fact, I have more success with books designed for men, or neutral gender, than the 'women's advice' genre.

I don't really like cotton candy.

Enter Martha Peace with Damsels In Distress. We were visiting a bookstore in a theological seminary, and my mom handed me this one, asking the question every bibliophile loves to hear. "This looked good to me. What do you think?"

I only had to read one page, and I knew it was good.

The Review
"Covering issues from gossip and slander to...legalism, Martha Peace, best-selling author of The Excellent Wife, offers biblical insight on problems women face. This straightforward, clear-cut book offers practical solutions in an ideal format for personal reading or group study."

Martha divides her book into three sections: biblical solutions for problems with others, biblical solutions for problems with ourselves, and biblical solutions for problems with the world. Whether you struggle with idolatrous emotional attachments, hurt feelings, vanity, or feminism, she offers straight speaking. Sometimes shockingly straight. This is no Snuggie book, but a surgical knife to remove the sin that we often don't even know we are harboring.  Plenty of grace, but no skimping on biblical counsel and loving rebuke.

Martha Peace is a certified counselor in Jay Adam's nouthetic system, which repudiates mainstream, humanistic psychology. It instead focuses on overcoming sin, whether it be in yourself or in someone else. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." This is cornerstone of their philosophy. Jay Adam's counselors believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, and their primary source for solving all of their counselee's dilemmas. Martha Peace brings this sound perspective to her book on dealing with women. Her advice is well worth taking the time to drink in.

One more plus about this book: it embraces the biblical roles for men and women. And here's where egalitarianism comes in to play. Egalitarianism embraces the idea that men and women are equal, that there is no difference in their roles, and that a woman can serve God in any role a man can. Authoritarianism is the idea that women are to yield unquestioning obedience to men. But complementarianism is the idea that men and women are equal, that both are to serve God with their gifts and talents, and that women are to use theirs to serve God under the authority of fathers and husbands. Men are still in charge according to the complementarianism system, but women are not mindless slaves, but willing helpmeets, in Godly subjection to male authority.

Most women theologians embrace egalitarianism--no difference in men's and women's roles. But Martha Peace teaches complementarianism, in a far from palatable way to our modern feminist movement.
Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God...A man...is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man...In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.  For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
--1 Corinthians 11:3, 7-9, 11-12

My Thoughts
By far the most helpful chapter to me was the one on manipulation. Sinful manipulation is 'using unbiblical words and/or your countenance to bully another person into letting you have your way. All the while you know that if you cannot have your way, you can at least punish the other person in the process." (Damsels in Distress, Chapter 4) It's hard to recognize manipulation, and once you do recognize it, it's hard not to give in (for some of us) but Martha clearly detailed both the signs and the biblical responses: manipulators will sweet talk, cry, threaten, accuse, and use the cold shoulder tactic. Martha gives four scenarios to help show what a manipulating situation might look like, and she covered all the relationships: one spouse manipulating another, a parent manipulating a child, a child manipulating a parent, and a friend manipulating a friend. Manipulation is 'verbal abuse', and according to Scripture, manipulators are acting like fools. How to deal with them:

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5)

"In other words, give the fool an answer that will convict him of his responsibility before God. He may not repent, but at least he will have been told clearly of his responsibility  before God." (Ch. 4)

Each of the eleven chapters has excellent and applicable advice. The other one that stood out to me was the chapter on feminism. As Peace says: 'Because influences are often very subtle, our challenge is to understand how we have been influenced and how we must change.' And further down: 'It is not a matter of "if" we have been influenced, but "how much" our ears have been tickled to think in the terms of what feminist philosophy dictates."

Note that because this is a woman's advice book, it speaks to women. Some of the subject matter covers women's health and mature themes. Therefore, it's a women's only  book, which I recommend for mid-teen and up.

Each chapter offers further study questions for your own personal application, and also every subject has graphs dealing with multiple thoughts and situations applying to the subject matter. For example, the chapter on manipulation has five scenarios detailing different tactics the manipulator might try to use. The chapter on feminism has common thoughts that Christian women think that have been influenced by unbiblical patters of thought. These graphs help the reader understand and know how to apply what they are reading.

Damsels in Distress. Straight talk to women about 11 applicable issues. Full of grace and truth, and I highly recommend it. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, February 1, 2013

Hinds' Feet on High Places

By request of one of my blog readers, I have for you today a review of a very special book. This book is a depiction of the life of a Christian through allegory, but unlike Pilgrim's Progress, it is not a depiction of travelling to the Celestial City; it's the journey of a new Christian to that of a mature and growing believer.

The Plot
Much-Afraid lives in the Valley of Humiliation, a fearful little servant of the Great Shepherd. Hurnard doesn't even give us a depiction of conversion in this allegory; she simply says "For several years Much-Afraid had been in the service of the Great Shepherd" and off she goes from there. Much-Afraid might be a good servant, if she wasn't crippled and ugly and living near her cousins, the Forebodings. There's a fearful lot of them: Mrs. Dismal Forebodings, Gloomy, Spiteful, Craven Fear, and others unmentioned. They are determined to marry Much-Afraid to Craven Fear. an abusive wretch that she despises, but is to timid to send packing. After her relatives try to kidnap her, Much-Afraid flees to take counsel with the Good Shepherd. She utters a wish to leave the Valley of Humiliation, the Good Shepherd surprises her by saying that he has waited a long time for her to wish that. He offers to take her to the High Places, to make her feet like hinds' feet, to give her a new name, and to place the flower of Love in her heart. The hinds' feet will come in time; the new name is not yet for her to know; but the flower must be planted immediately, and the Great Shepherd drives a long sharp thorn into Much-Afraid's heart.

Love and Pain go hand in hand, he says.

Much-Afraid soon finds that the journey is not to be all to her liking. Instead of having the Good Shepherd with her for the entire journey, she must accept the companionship of "Sorrow" and "Suffering", two veiled women that cannot speak her tongue. They are there to guide her crippled feet on the path she must follow to the High Places. If this wasn't bad enough, Much-Afraid is forced to face the geographic difficulties of Pride, Injury, Tribulation, Loss, and Loneliness. Gradually, as she overcomes her fearful heart and learns to obey the Good Shepherd wherever he bids her go, her journey seems to lead ever closer to the end she longs for--the High Places of her Lord.

My Thoughts
The most stunning part of this whole book is Hurnard's use of Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs if you prefer.) The one book of the Bible that causes little children to burst into fits of giggles and skeptical teens to roll their eyes becomes the cry of Much-Afraid's heart, as she prays and sings to her Good Shepherd, and uses it to boost her shrinking courage. Hurnard turns it to rhyme and places sections of it throughout her story, giving it fresh meaning in an all-too-cynical society. I absolutely loved it, and I hope that the Church of Christ takes to valuing all of Scripture instead of just what's comfortable or relatable. Well done.
The Christian life is a journey from one High Place to the next High Place to the next High Place during our life on earth; it never ends. A High Place is a season of fellowship with God, where we have a heart surrendered and trusting, ready to learn from him. Oftentimes when we've learned one thing the Good Shepherd moves us on to the next mountain. That's another theme that resonated with me. My own journey of spiritual growth was at one point very similar to Much-Afraid's living in the Valley, longing for more. But now I am on a journey up to one mountaintop, and then for a time I rest in its green fields before moving on to the next one. And yes, Sorrow has held one hand and Suffering the other much of the way. But they are strong companions, and sturdy ones, even if they never speak a word or show me their face.

A good allegory: true, relatable, and thought-provoking. I highly recommend it for all Christian bibliophiles.

Now, I'm afraid, we must move on to Hurnard herself. And I must start with the disclaimer that I was not aware of the following information until Wednesday, when I started drafting this post. I didn't know that Hinds' Feet had sequels, and I certainly didn't know the controversy surrounding Hurnard herself. While I endorse one of her books, I certainly don't endorse her as an author. If this would disturb you or spoil your enjoyment of the book, I highly recommend that you end here, but if not, then by all means continue.

This is what I found.

Hurnard's Heresy
Hurnard grew up a Quaker, but she never had the 'experience' with God that the rest of her family seemed to enjoy. When she finally received the 'experience' she craved, she felt God telling her that he would heal her stammering difficulty and use her as a foreign missionary. She served in Israel many years as a housekeeper in a hospital, and brought the gospel to others through her speaking and her writing.

But later in Hannah's life her theology derailed. Into her beliefs crept such heresies as universalism, pantheism, and reincarnation. She took to vegetarianism after embracing the belief that God was within his creation, and therefore eating animal flesh was sin.

“In fact, in the later years of her life, Hannah herself ceased to attend church. Her lifelong conviction that God would speak to her personally, giving her deeper and deeper insights and ‘light’ that was to be widely shared with others, led her to believe that there could be no spiritual authority over her or her speaking and writing except the Lord Jesus Christ himself”
(Standing on High Places, by Isabel Anders, pg. 170).

As good as this sounds, God doesn't speak through some mystic, inside voice. He uses his Holy Spirit to illuminate the truths of Scripture, not to give us an entirely separate revelation.

Invitations dwindled, and Hurnard passed away in 1990, in Florida. Up to the end of her life she opened her home every Monday evening to explain reincarnation, vegetarianism, and New Age thought to those who wished to come.

To quote the third book in the Hinds' Feet trilogy, Eagles' Wings to Higher Places:

To the depths of her soul she knew that she could live here no longer where there were no Higher Places in sight. No, it was not sorrow for the hopeless plight of the poor people in the dark places which caused her grief; it was anguish at the thought of the hopelessness of the only message which she had to give them. Lost forever with no hope if they rejected it! Cast off by the God who had brought them into existence, if they rejected His call now. All her unacknowledged doubts and questions arose again concerning a God who called Himself Love and who brought myriads of souls into existence without being able to prevent them from condemning themselves to an eternity of hopeless darkness and suffering, lost to Him forever. How could He possibly love them, if He let this happen to them? How could He possibly be good, if He brought them into an existence where it was possible for them to separate themselves from His love and joy and goodness forever?” (pp. 21-22)

This really tugs at the heartstrings, but a closer look at Scripture shows us where Hurnard's error lies. First of all, Hurnard says "Cast off by the God who had brought them into existence"; however she neglected to remember that we cast him off first. He gave Adam the choice to disobey, and Adam took that choice. From here on out, mankind was justly punished by a righteous God. God could not be holy if he did not punish our unrighteousness with death. He had the power to prevent us from condemning ourselves, but that would have taken away our voluntary obedience and love for him, and he did not want us to be puppets in his hands. "The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." Revelation 22:17. Whosoever will. That means according to the Greek "he that desires, he that is willing, he that wishes". God is not willing that any should perish; his only requirement is that we keep his law. Once we break that, we are cast upon his mercy.

And he gave it to us. But some of us still reject it.

Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.--Revelation 21:27.

As hard as it is for some to accept, Christianity is an exclusive gospel. One way to heaven: Jesus Christ. You either are saved, or you aren't. There is no in-between. Those who aren't saved go to hell. After death the time for repentance is passed. But those who humble themselves and enter through the narrow gate find themselves in a blissful eternity with God. The gate is open; the gift is outstretched; it only remains for us to accept it.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. --Revelation 20:11-15

The Bible teaches clearly on hell, and sadly, many people will be there for eternity. But they made that choice of rejection, and hell is the consequence.

Please don't mistake my meaning. I don't intend to come across as indifferent or unnecessarily harsh. My objective is to show that God is a God of justice as well as of mercy, and a God of wrath as well as a God of love. Each of these qualities must be accepted to have a full understanding of God's character, and through that, His redemption.

While further refutation of these false theologies are beyond the scope of this blog post, G. Richard Fisher wrote an article entitled From High Places to Heresy, which I recommend to my readers for more information concerning Hurnard, and the false theologies she embraced.

Hinds' Feet on High Places holds much useful Biblical truth, and I hear from several sources that its sequel, Mountain of Spices, is theologically sound as well, though I would have to check it out to be completely sure. But do avoid Eagles' Wings to the Higher Places, as that book contains much of the faulty thought she embraced later in life.

Hannah Hurnard did not move on from one High Place to the next. Sadly, she ran down one after another and ended her life in the Valley. It's always sad to see an author produce a valuable tool for Christian living and then walk away from the very truth they taught. We must not allow it to become a cause for fear in ourselves, but search the Scriptures ever more diligently to lay our faith's foundation, and trust Him alone Who is able to keep us from falling.

Lady Bibliophile
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