Friday, March 29, 2013

The Battle Won (Reprise)

Last year I wrote this post for Good Friday, and I chose to re-post today in commemeration of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body... Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. ~2 Corinthians 4:8-11,16-18

The Battle Won
Today, millions around the globe commemorate "Good Friday", the day on which we remember the death of Jesus Christ.

I had a book review for today, but as Good Friday drew closer and closer, my heart felt burdened with a different message. So today, for the first time, the only book I will refer to is the Book of Books--the most important one we could ever read. Today, a little less than 2,000 years ago, a Man died. He died for you, he died for me.

And the minute that Jesus died, the fight for truth became that much more brutal, because his act made truth invincible.

Think about it: when a wild animal receives its death wound, does it willingly concede the fight and slink away? More than likely, it turns and furiously attacks the one who dealt the blow. And since this is the case in the spiritual realm as well, we Christians have been fighting against the roaring lion, Satan, for century upon century. Many of us are receiving grievous wounds from a beast that is already conquered, but not yet dead.

We grow steadily more weary of the fray.

Even we, fellow bibliophiles, are fighting for truth and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ with every page we read. With every book review, with every piece of correction tape or every paper knife to remove pages, we are fighting for the truth and the Lordship of our precious Savior to prevail. But I am growing ever more aware that only the grace of God keeps us in the battle.

Think of this: if a soldier knows beforehand that his army will be victorious in the battle, will he turn away in fear and weariness? If the runner knows that his head will receive the laurel wreath of victory, will he fall back in the race? And yet Christians are calling truce, and fleeing in despair from a foe that is already conquered. He has no sting. He cannot, for Christ is Lord and Master. Why should we fear the foe that has power only over our mortal bodies, which we cannot keep? Why not fear more the sweet Lord Jesus, who holds in his hands our very souls?

Never turn away my friends. As we fight for biblical manhood and womanhood, biblical patriarchy and economy, as the light separates ever more from the darkness in our world today, do not look upon the growing darkness, but look ever to the Light of Christ. Our fight is not in vain, for Christ himself promised that he did not come for peace, but for division. We should rejoice when the darkness fights harder and more brutally against us, for this means that we grow ever closer to the Image of our Lord.

And in the pain, we should take joy.

I wish that today I could see every one of you in person to give this message. I have seen both sides of this issue, even in my limited existence. I have seen the soldier who thirsts and the runner who stumbles, and I have seen some stand even amidst the pain and disgrace and suffering. Throughout the years, I have also seen some turn away needlessly. Are we so alone that we forsake the battle already won to join the battle already lost?

Take joy today in remembering the agony of Christ, for He won the victory that we would never have had the strength or righteousness to win. And if you are thirsty, if you are weary, if you are suffering from the death wounds of the roaring lion who seeks to devour, think not upon your suffering. Think not upon the darkness that you are fighting against or the pain of our disgrace in the eyes of the world. Think rather upon the One who was willing to bear sweat drops of blood, who was willing to spend one agonizing night looking to the future, who was willing to have others strip the earthly body of the heavenly Son, and who was willing to go through the rejection of the Father Himself. Think upon his victory for your sake, and cry out to the One who possessed such strength to reach down and touch your weary feet, your stinging wound, your thirsty tongue. For He has won, my friends, and throughout the rest of our lives, we can overflow with the joy of his victory.

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."
-Revelation 2:7

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death."
-Revelation 2:11

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it."
-Revelation 2:17

"To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—
‘He will rule them with an iron scepter;
he will dash them to pieces like pottery’
just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star."
-Revelation 2: 26-28

"He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels."
-Revelation 3:5

"Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name."
-Revelation 3:12

"To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne."
-Revelation 3:21

Never give up. Never lose heart. Never break faith. All praise and glory to Him who is able to keep us from falling and present us spotless before the throne of God.

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Twice Freed

15-year-old Harry St. John fell in love with his future wife during a Sunday service. She was three at the time.  He was merely trying to be kind in his offer to carry her home afterwards, but as he returned home, he decided that Ella Swain was the girl for him, and he would wait for her.

Harry turned to Christianity some time later, and through his ministry Ella herself came to know the Lord. After twelve years of patient waiting, during which time Harry affectionately nicknamed her "Piglet", Ella accepted his proposals. They ministered for two years in South America, when the health of their two children and the prospect of the third baby's arrival forced Harry to bring his family back to England. But before he left alone to return to South America, and indeed, almost immediately upon their arrival in England, Ella St. John gave birth to their third child, Patricia Mary.

This little girl would grow up to work as a nurse in WWII, and later on join her brother Farnham in Morocco where he directed a missions hospital. She lived from 1919-1993, and is best known as a beloved author of children's books.

Before she moved to Morocco, Patricia spent some time as a house mother in a boarding school, and while she was there she wrote the beautiful classics Treasures of the Snow and Tanglewood's Secret. I read Tanglewood's Secret many times during the summers of of my tenth, eleventh, and twelfth years; and loved the movies adapted from both novels. Our mother read aloud many of her other titles: Rainbow Garden, Star of Light, and Three Go Searching; and later on I discovered The Secret at Pheasant Cottage for myself.

I bring her up this week, because as we approach the Easter season, I am reminded of her clear Gospel message portrayed in every book. The charm and beauty of Patricia's works lie in that her evangelistic messages are not forced like many of today's offerings. Coming to Jesus is not an obligatory event tacked on at the end of the story, but a joyous and natural result of God's love drawing a person to Himself. This is a portrayal of evangelism as it should be.

For today's review, I chose one of her books that I had never read until this weekend, a book that truly portrays a unique angle of her writing style. Most of her stories are rather quiet and peaceful, though they have their heartache as well. But this one takes the reader back to the ancient times, shortly after the resurrection of Christ, and spans the turmoil of many years.

I present to you Twice Freed, by Patricia M. St. John.

The Book

I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.
~Philemon 1 (ESV)

The boy Onesimus lives in the valley of Colosse as slave to his master Philemon, his mistress Apphia, and their son Archippus. The son of a Greek slave and a native Colossian woman, Onesimus knows well the story of his father's death: a lover of beauty, who could not bear to exist as a slave. Onesimus is determined to win the freedom his father never saw. Vengeful and bitter, the betrayal of his childhood companion Archippus only serves to heighten his resolve of returning all the grief he has received at the hands of Philemon's family.

He succeeds all too well.

Philemon travels to Ephesus during the time of the festival of Artemis (Acts 19) to trade for wool, and also to learn more about the teachings of Paul at the request of his wife Apphia. While he attends Paul's teachings, Archippus watches the games with Onesimus in attendance on him. Caught during the riot of Ephesus, Onesimus sends whispers through the crowd that Archippus is the son of a detested Christian, and they trample the boy, leaving him crippled for life.

But Onesimus plan disintegrates, for Philemon decides to take on this new faith, and Archippus with him. They bring it back to Apphia, and a little church gradually springs up in Colosse and the surrounding area. Onesimus doesn't want the Christian God of love. He wants the gods and goddesses of beauty that his father worshipped so many years ago. Now a young man, and well looked upon by family he serves, Onesimus takes the first chance he finds to flee his slavery, and sets out for Corinth and Rome.

A fictional narrative, it is true, but a pleasant and Christ-honoring portrayal of the life of Onesimus the slave.

My Thoughts

Patricia dedicated Twice Freed to her sister, for travelling with her along the route of Onesimus' journey during the research period. I find it captivating that this was a story in her heart from a very young age, and when she was a younger child, she told her father that she wanted to write a story about Onesimus. He took her down to the library and gave her a stack of books to read about biblical history. Decades later at the age of 51, her childhood dream came true and the story idea she had tucked away for so long appeared in print. Some dreams are a long time in the making, but nonetheless valuable even when begun in childhood.

It's a good story; an engaging and non-graphic look at early Rome, suitable for ages 10 and up, but appealing to those older as well. If you love the rest of St. John's works, then Twice Freed would make a valuable addition to your library. It's not meant to be a scholarly tome, nor a work of art. Rather, it's intended to be a simple story revelling in the joy of finding a Savior, Jesus Christ.

 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.
 ~Philemon 17-20
May our love of Christ's sacrifice be rekindled as we approach this Easter season.
Lady Bibliophile

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Stag at Eve had Drunk It's Fill...

Our family vacations at a sweet little spot in the heart of the United States, where you can hear the wind rustle the leaves all along the road and see the rippling of a small lake nearby. It's truly a piece of heaven on earth, augmented by the delights of windy hikes along the sand and the smell of wood-burning fires into the evening hours.

It's not surprising that here I found one of my favorite treasures, almost the oldest book on my bookshelf. Just a short walk from where we stay is a sleepy little touristy town packed with curious shops, and it is our custom to walk there almost every day. At the beginning of our walk is a quaint log-cabin style book shop that has lovely steps and wooden floors and little rooms tucked away. The book stock itself isn't quite so lovely--most of the shelves are filled with new age and beach thrillers, and the general aura is one of atheism. But if you walk all the way past these, then you'll come to a crooked doorway with a tiny handwritten sign that says "used books"--and this is truly a delight to look through. A complete set of Waverly novels graces the bottom shelves, Dickens' A Child's History of England (possibly an original 1853 edition, though I can't remember for sure) sits on the top shelf, and I'm praying madly that it will still be there the next time I go. One year I found Cranford, and what a dear delight that was. Granted, it's a mixed delight. Some of the books are over-priced, but the majority of them are first or early editions, and many of them are signed. We've seen Tasha Tudor, the Bobbsey twins, and even signed editions of Sam Campbell's Living Forest series.

But the book I want to review today was the book I found the first year: The Lady of the Lake, by Sir Walter Scott. I had just read it in the summer of--oh, dear, 2009 perhaps?--and as I opened the bookshop door for the first time, I could think of only one title I wanted--this one. I was praying I would find it. Sure enough, there on the shelf it sat, for a modest price. A 1910 edition, it long remained the oldest book in my library until the Travels of Marco Polo surpassed it this summer. I've read it numerous times since purchasing it, and a few of my acquaintances have long-sufferingly listened  to me recite the opening lines of the first stanza time and time again. ;)

It's one of Scott's finest novels, written entirely in poetic form, and if you love Scott, old books, and bonnie Scotland, you'll surely love The Lady of the Lake.

Eager as greyhound on his game,
Fiercely with Roderick grappled Graeme.
~Canto II, Stanza XXXIV, Line 777-778

The Story

The stag at eve had drunk his fill,
Where danced the moon on Monan's rill,
And deep his midnight lair had made
In lone Glenartney's hazel shade;
But when the sun his beacon red
Had kindled on Benvoirlich's head,
The deep-mouthed bloodhound's heavy bay
Resounded up the rocky way,
And faint, from farther distance borne,
Were heard the clanging hoof and horn.
~Canto I, Stanza I

What impact would a small party of huntsmen have on the history of Scotland? None, really, unless you count a highland rebellion and the happiness of a pretty maiden. James Fitz-James, the head of a fruitless search after a noble stag, finds himself separated from his company and on foot, after his horse dies of exhaustion. After a long walk (which occupies a few stanzas) he comes to the border of Loch Katrine in the middle of which is a small island, most obviously inhabited. While he gazes at this, a maiden appears in a skiff just off the shore. A most beautiful dark-haired maiden: "The Lady of the Lake". James Fitz-James persuades her in most elegant language to allow him to take refuge on her island and after a night's rest he is gone. Seemingly a chance meeting which is portent of great weight to Ellen's future.

The story continues without James Fitz-James, and turns instead to the lovely Ellen. She and her father live in the middle of Loch Katrine due to the fact that James Douglas is an exile. Not long after the stranger Fitz-James leaves, Douglas, his highland chief Roderick Dhu, and Ellen's lover Malcolm Graeme return to their home, with news that Dhu plans to rebel with the highland Scots against King James V and the lowland Scots. Dhu plans to precipitate this bloody civil war by marrying Ellen, but needless to say, Malcolm Graeme is averse to the idea.

Full of gallant swordsmen, dramatic duels, strumming bards, and all the savagery of the Highland Scots, the Lady of the Lake tells an epic tale in the most beautiful form of all--poetic verse. Beauty, suspense, and even a touch of sorrow come together in the greatest tale of Scotland I have ever read.

To find out the fate of Roderick Dhu's revolt, the identity of James Fitz-James, and the man who wins fair Ellen's hand,  I bid you good speed in securing your own copy of Scott's masterpiece.

My Thoughts
Canto III, Stanzas V-XI tell of Roderick Dhu consulting a pagan priest to fashion the classic Scottish symbol "the fiery cross". It tells of the priest Brain consulting spells and casting curses, as well as making sacrifices, so I avoid it. But it isn't hugely relevant to the rest of the story, and the only place where witchcraft occurs, for those who prefer not to read about such topics.
I was unaware how much The Lady of the Lake impacted its readers, and more shame to me, for it is the sole inspiration behind our Presidential Anthem 'Hail to the Chief'. What a glorious piece of music, and glorious lyrics, and I am most proud of it's source.

Here is the American version:

Hail to the Chief we have chosen for the nation,
Hail to the Chief! We salute him, one and all.
Hail to the Chief, as we pledge cooperation
In proud fulfillment of a great, noble call.
Yours is the aim to make this grand country grander,
his you will do, that's our strong, firm belief.
Hail to the one we selected as commander,
Hail to the President! Hail to the Chief!
And here is Scott's original version from which ours was inspired:

Hail to the chief, who in triumph advances,
Honour'd and blest be the evergreen pine!
Long may the tree in his banner that glances,
Flourish the shelter and grace of our line.
Heaven send it happy dew,
Earth lend it sap anew,
Gaily to bourgeon and broadly to grow;
While every highland glen,
Sends our shout back agen,
"Roderigh Vich Alpine Dhu, ho! i-e-roe!"

Ours is no sapling, chance-sown by the fountain,
Blooming at Beltane, in winter to fade;
When the whirlwind has stript every leaf on the mountain,
The more shall Clan Alpine exult in her shade.
Moor'd in the lifted rock,
Proof to the tempest's shock,
Firmer he roots him, the ruder it blow:
Menteith and Breadalbane, then,
Echo his praise agen,
"Roderigh Vich Alpine Dhu, ho! i-e-roe!"
Proudly our pibroch has thrill'd in Glen Fruin,
And Blanochar's groans to our slogan replied,
Glen Luss and Ross Dhu, they are smoking in ruin,
And the best of Loch Lomond lie dead on our side.
Widow and Saxon maid,
long shall lament our rade,
Think of Clan Alpine with fear and with wo.
Lenox and Levon Glen,
Shake when they hear agen
"Roderigh Vich Alpine Dhu, ho! i-e-roe!"
Row, vassals, row for the pride of the Highlands!
Stretch to your oars for the evergreen pine!
O, that the rosebud that graces yon islands,
Were wreath'd in a garland around him to twine.
O, that some seedling gem,
Worthy such noble stem,
Honour'd and blest in their shadow might grow;
Loud should Clan Alpine then,
Ring from her deepmost glen,
"Roderigh Vich Alpine Dhu, ho! i-e-roe!"
"Hail to the Chief" was played for our first president, George Washington, in 1815, and remains our Presidential Anthem to this day.

The Lady of the Lake also inspired the last name of Frederick Douglass, a tireless abolitionist during the American Civil War; the custom of cross burning in the Klu Klux Klan (one of its more unfortunate effects) and the Highland Revival in 1822, when the Scottish people revived the use of kilts and tartans so widely that the linen industries could not meet the demands.

It may sound daunting in its poetry form, but it really is most pleasurable and gripping, and not difficult at all to read.

A true classic.

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It is a Truth Universally Acknowledged...

Rejoice with me, friends and fellow bibliophiles, for at long last I have conquered Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. :)

I think I'm going to have to read it again to get the full essence of it. Life chopped it up into so many bits and pieces that the grand reunion I was imagining after five years' absence simply didn't happen. But in spite of that, the closer I got to the end the more I enjoyed it.

This time I learned *gasp* that some of Mr. Bennet's best '95 lines were not in the book to nearly the same effect. I also learned *shock* that Lizzy never ate dinner with Darcy at Pemberley. Andrew Davies made it up. That whole scene just dripping with romance, where you know Darcy is going to pop the question any minute--it didn't happen.

Oh, dear.

The Plot

I'm not sure I need to give the plot--even those souls who never read a word of the classics in their life have heard of P&P. Say "Darcy" and you'll have fan girls swooning over Tall Dark and Handsome. (More on that later.) Mutter "A truth universally acknowledged", and pretty much anyone will finish the excerpt for you.

But let's, just for the fun of it. After all, there may be someone who hasn't yet read about it.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of someone or other of their daughters. ~ P&P, Chapter One

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet originally intended to raise a son when they set up their establishment together. Five daughters and an entailed estate later, they realize that Longbourn will one day go to Mr. Bennet's young cousin. Plan B: marry their five daughters as soon as possible. When young and prepossessing Charles Bingley takes a lease at nearby Netherfield, Mrs. Bennet is ecstatic that surely he will marry one of her offspring.

But the course of true love never did run smooth.

Charles Bingley delights her by settling on her eldest daughter Jane (or at least, everybody thinks so. They seem to be attracted to one another) and all promises fair, even with little rifts
in the form of his insulting friend Darcy and his snobbish sisters, Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Hurst.

But Mrs. Bennet, in endeavoring to advance the marriages of her five daughters, may be her own worst enemy. A silly, ill-informed, and occasionally vulgar woman, she somehow managed to raised two sensible eldest daughters and three very silly younger ones. While Jane and Elizabeth are worthy helpmeets for any man, Mary (the vain bookworm) Kitty (the weak-minded one) and Lydia (the wild flirt) join with their mother in impeding their sisters' chances of happiness with every embarrassing public display they can manage. Mr. Bennet, while a sensible man, is an uninvolved one, and shuts himself up in his library for a little peace and quiet.

Therefore, Lizzy isn't very surprised when tensions arise between Longbourn and Netherfield. While Charles Bingley seems blind in his infatuation, his friend Darcy is far from pleased at his choice of in-laws, not to mention repulsed by this country family. His pride disgusts Elizabeth, and the two are determined to see as little of each other as possible.

Then Charles Bingley takes a sudden leave of Netherfield, leaving Jane's hopes disappointed. Elizabeth receives a shocking proposal from the man she has sworn to loathe for all eternity (a la Kiera Knightley. Ahem.) and when her choice of happiness threatens to take an about-face, Lydia's flirtations with the regiment stationed in Meryton may destroy both sisters' chances at an eligible match.

Oh, and I nearly forgot Mr. Collins. You won't regret his acquaintance, I do assure you.

A Word on Mr. Darcy

To be honest, I never thought of Darcy as a paragon of virtue until I learned that girl's were being counselled to avoid Jane Austen because of her dashingly romantic men. To be honest, I think many of the girls 'waiting for their Darcy' are more likely to snub him on first acquaintance than fall head-over-heels in love with him, if he's anything like the book.

Jane Austen's men are real, because they have faults. Darcy's a snob, Ferrars keeps secrets, Wentworth cherishes resentment, Tilney teases way too much (even though he's almost perfect otherwise), etc. The point about Austen's eligible bachelors is that they have shining virtues and glaring faults all mixed together. But if you have difficulty looking past the blushing cheek and the melting romance, then yes, I would stay away from these and any other romantic book you can find. And that's pretty much all books ever.

It is so important to practice self-control when we read about literary men. It not only makes a lot more books available to us, it also gives us appropriate expectations for real life.

And note that there are a lot more romantic men then Mr. Darcy in literature. Rochester, though much worse morally, exudes romantic passion through all of Jane Eyre.  And I won't even touch on Christian fiction novels.

But if you want to read more about Darcy's imperfections, click here.

'95 Movie
We started this around the official 200th anniversary (January 28th) and I enjoyed viewing it again. The costumes are splendid, the sets are fantastic, and time and again I noticed the scripts' elocution was impeccable. Andrew Davies kept the spirit of the novel and even had to make up a great deal of conversation, much more than I thought. His continuity with the book was superb and some of Mr. Bennet's lines are better in the movie than in the book.

If you would like a review, this is available by email request!

'05 Movie
Yes, we watch this when we're so tired we want to laugh at something. But it's a ludicrous adaptation made to connect to a modern audience. The Bennets look like well-to-do pig farmers with a model-figure Lizzy wearing dresses that just don't fit. There are a few lines that are worth quoting but they are few and far between. Rosamund Pike is a very worthy Jane, and the only really good actor in the movie. Matthew MacFadyen showed his quality as Arther Clennam in Little Dorrit, so I think he could have pulled of Darcy just as well as Collin Firth, had he not been acting opposite to Kiera Knightley. She really pulled down his performance, coupled with his awful haircut. He looked like he had just recovered from a nervous collapse during the whole film. Mr. Collins is very well acted (Same actor who plays Osbourne in Wives and Daughters) and looks a much better age, though my personal favorite is still the '95.

 But the scene that causes us to roll on the floor with laughter:

"You have bewitched me body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you."

"Well, then. Your hands are cold."

No, that wasn't a caption joke. They really did say it.

A proper young lady should not go walking around the fields in a long chemise and overcoat.

If you would like a movie review (including where to find the Scene to Avoid) then send me an email, and I will do my  best to remain neutral. Except in the accuracy section.

 My Thoughts
I find Jane Austen's writing style really fascinating. Her descriptions are quite sparse, and her writing is much more factual than you would think going into it. One person says their piece, then the next person says theirs, then a short paragraph gets them through the carriage ride to the next ball, and so on. She doesn't waste words at all. However, this is counteracted by her constant use of italics. In the various writing studies I take on, I have been trained to remove all italics and exclamations points, but Austen sprinkles them constantly throughout her conversations. Evidently the writing fashions change over time.
There is a mild amount of language (less than you'll find in the movie) and most of it comes from Lydia, who is supposed to be a flighty girl.
Jane Austen surprises you. She doesn't often mention God, but God is there all the same. Nor does she hire a clown and circus in her attempts to show you how her characters change over the course of the story. (He's not proud anymore! No really! Don't you see?) Certainly something which modern Christian fiction could take a point from. In fact, this method of the character arc is a little disconcerting. Occasionally I would listen to something Lizzy said, and think "Oh, my, she wasn't as eligible a heroine as I thought. In fact, she's downright wrong." Only to find that Austen thought so to, but she didn't call it out until later in the book. We need such books as these, where the morals aren't instant-serve, and the character changes aren't screamed in our face. Why? Because subtle literature forces us to think and grow. We have to evaluate rather than have the author hand the moral to us. And that is a very good thing indeed.

And of course, Pride and Prejudice will give you plenty of amusement with Mr. Bennet's wry comments and Mr. Collin's pompous commendations of his 'esteemed patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh" As well as just a smidgen of romance. ;)

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Hole in Our Holiness

Throughout the last year or two I have begun a list of essential reads for every Christian. Among these are Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship, which explains the true costly grace of following Christ as opposed to the cheap grace presented by the modern church. Another is C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, which I have not reviewed on the blog yet, but which I hope to make an annual read due to it's insightful critique on our war with the underworld.

An Anglican, and a Lutheran. Such a combination provokes a good deal of thought, which further compounds when I add today's review to the list: The Hole in Our Holiness, by Kevin DeYoung.

DeYoung pastors the University Reformed Church in Lansing, Michigan, a member of the RCA denomination. Earlier this year, some friends of ours referenced his blog when introducing us to the hilarious Bored Shorts on YouTube, and after that, my further acquaintance with his works grew by leaps and bounds. From reading his blog every so often (though I still haven't sat down to read his articles on "The Dangers of Being Crazy Busy") to finally picking up one of his written works, I have been more than impressed with what I see.

I've been convicted, affirmed, and encouraged.

Earlier last year I pricked up my ears when I heard news of his new book release "The Hole in Our Holiness". Not only was it a powerful title that gave me joy simply from the standpoint of literary excellence (much different than the upcoming release What We Talk About When We Talk About God) it also bid fair to address an issue that the Church is facing today in America.

What does it mean to be holy? In my experience, much of the Church considers the idea of holiness to be a prudish one in the light of Christ's sacrifice for us on the cross. Others consider holiness impossible, due to our sin nature. Some, like me, considered holiness an indispensable calling and a reachable goal. But very few exist in the latter camp. Is holiness an impossibility? Is it an idea of legalistic righteousness that kills the life and joy of the Church?

Without further ado, friends and fellow bibliophiles, I present The Hole in Our Holiness, by Kevin DeYoung.

The Book

I had to laugh. When I started this book, I was fully determined to write down all my favorite quotes, so as not to forget them when we had to return it to our friends. After writing down almost the entirety of a section in the first chapter, I realized that note-taking would be impossible without plagiarism. This book simply requires a highlighter. And that's a very good thing.

The hole in our holiness is that we don't seem to care much about holiness. Or, at the very least, we don't understand it. And we all have our reasons too: Maybe the pursuit of holiness seems legalistic. Maybe it feels like one more thing to worry about in your already overwhelming life. Maybe the emphasis on effort in the Christian life appears unspiritual. Or maybe you've been trying really hard to be holy and it's just not working! Whatever the case, the problem is clear: too few Christians look like Christ and too many don't seem all that concerned about it.
This is a book for those of us who are ready to take holiness seriously, ready to be more like Jesus, ready to live in light of the grace that produces godliness. This is a book about God's power to help us grow in personal holiness and to enjoy the process of transformation. --The Hole in Our Holiness, book flap
You've probably heard something like this before: "Praise God for Jesus' salvation! All my righteousness is as filthy rags, and I could never, ever, ever, ever be deserving of Him for one moment."

That's a way.

But not completely. If holiness were impossible, then why would God command us to "Be holy, because I am holy"? (1 Peter 1:16) If "by their fruits ye shall know them", then it is a plausible premise that, as Christians, we are capable of producing fruit pleasing to God. And here's where a call to holiness comes in to play.

Why did God save you?
...Maybe you've thought about how God saves us, or what we must do to be saved, or when you were saved. But have you ever considered why he saved you?
There is more then one right answer to that question. The Bible says God saved us because he loves us (John 3:16) It also tells us that God saved us for the praise of his own name (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14) Those are two of the best answers to the why question.
But there is another answer--just as good, just as biblical, just as important. God saved you so that you might be holy. Pay attention to the purpose statement in this passage from Ephesians:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him...that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Eph. 1:3-4)
-The Hole in Our Holiness, Chapter Two 

Kevin DeYoung discusses why we are redeemed, what Christian growth should look like, the necessity of moral imperatives for the Church, why Godliness is possible, and who we really are in Christ. With numerous Scripture references and notes, his biblical thesis is an encouraging and enlightening call for purity in the body of the believers.

My Thoughts

The Hole in Our Holiness is a family-friendly read, with the exception of chapter 8, which is entitled "Saints and Sexual Immorality". It's a great chapter, and warns us that we're not being as tight as we should be in keeping sex out of our thoughts and entertainment. But it's a mature one, and not for young readers, though it is appropriate for older ones.

What I most appreciated: how this book answered some questions that had been niggling in the back of my mind for years. Common statements about how we are and always will be worms of sin before Christ always bothered me, and now I know why. DeYoung also explained the difference of being with Christ and being in Christ, two different and essential aspects of the Christian walk. And his unabashed biblical literacy showed me yet again that there is a remnant of uncompromising believers, even in the Bible Belt.  To follow more of Kevin DeYoung's teachings, check out his blog here.

It's a small book that carries such a powerful message. If you've ever had questions about legalism, sanctification, or what being like Jesus requires, then The Hole in Our Holiness should give you some answers.

Definitely on my list of essential reads for every Christian.

Lady Bibliophile

P.S. BBC's Cadfael, Season 4, is now available on the "Movie Reviews" page!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Will Our Generation Speak: A Call to be Bold With the Gospel

Needless to say, the Mally family has contributed a great deal to our family's theology. From the time my mother and I attended a Bright Lights conference to the required family readings of "Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends" (honestly, would you think we really needed that?) their resources connect to our situation very early on. Perhaps it was their emphasis on discipling young people, something that fits in very well with the homeschool mindset. Perhaps it was the stories and definitions that we children found so amusing. But whatever the reason, God used their ministry to touch our hearts, and more specifically in my own life, affected the way I viewed my future.

Not only did their girl's conferences lead to some major blessings in my life  (including like-minded fellowship and deciding to learn the harp), they also helped me with many of the insecurities I faced during adolescence. The Mally family ministry focuses on serving Christ, honoring Christ, living for Christ, even when it's hard. This perspective helps diffuse the 'self-image' counselling and turns young people instead to dedicating their lives back to Christ.

Perhaps one of the hardest areas, covered in the book that we're going to discuss today, is the area of witnessing.

Will Our Generation Speak: A Call to be Bold with the Gospel

Grace Mally, the youngest of her siblings, released a book last year on one the subjects she is most passionate about--sharing the gospel. I have to admit, I was a bit tentative picking it up.

In fact, extremely nervous would describe my feelings quite adequately.

I should have known better. Not only is Grace a very sweet young woman, but her whole family ministers on the idea that it's not necessary to be perfect to be a witness, and they're more than willing to share their real side with others. This helps a good deal in diffusing the tension surrounding the subject of sharing the gospel. From the very first paragraph, Grace sets her readers at ease on the one subject that terrifies pretty much all of us. In other-words, if the family who will buy a returned Christmas tree can do it, then you can do it too. ;)

This is her premise:

Today Jesus is at the right hand of God, building His church. In a short while, He is coming back as Judge and King. Very soon, we will see Him face to face. That will be a very exciting day!...The baton--the gospel--has now been handed to us, and there is still much work to be done! In every nation, people are dying without Christ. An estimated 150,000 people die every day (that's approximately two people per second) and those who do not know Christ will be separated from God eternally, paying the penalty for their sins in Hell.
This brings us back to the question each one of us must ask ourselves: What has God given me to do?
We have been entrusted with the most valuable news in the world--the saving message of the cross. Let us follow in the steps of those who have gone before. Heaven is watching The world is waiting.~Will Our Generation Speak? (Chapter One)

The church needs to face the fact that we are horribly apathetic when it comes to sharing Jesus with others. Blanket revival meetings and feel-good Jesus songs aren't working, and we need to implement more (dare I say) Biblical tactics in our approach.

If we win people with the world, then we've only won them to the world. And for those of us who aren't doing any winning (including myself) it's time to wake up.

I have found that most adults of my acquaintance enjoy listening to young people. They enjoy hearing our ideas, and it's a non-threatening way to get our message across. We're young, so they won't be on the defensive. Plus, young people enjoy listening to young people. We can strike up a conversation with pretty much any person our own age and find something to talk about. Therefore, Grace says, young people have a peculiar advantage when it comes to sharing the gospel.

But I'm Scared

God is waiting to enable us with all the power of His omnipotence, and time is ticking. It's reasonable to be afraid. It's wrong to let fear prevent us from sharing the truth with people.

Grace has a big heart of compassion for people who were scared just like her. Included in WOGS are 17 conversation starters, the right perspective on fear in witnessing, what to do when people aren't so friendly, and keys to having a confident approach. Solidly biblical and very convicting, Grace's book leaves her readers with an abundance of resources to start right in.

Witnessing for the Young Generation

I would certainly not say that this book tries to appeal to the 'cool' Christians. However, Grace has a disarming knack of pinpointing what our generation loves and adding it to her book's appeal. She's writing to young people to try to encourage them to share the gospel, and she makes her book appeal to them accordingly. Throughout are sprinkled jokes, references to Starbucks, and little 'smiles' in brackets for those who like emoticons. ;)  Similar to AiG's Demolishing Strongholds, which presents the creation message in comic-book style DVD messages, Grace writes her book so that the tough truths of Scripture are presented in an appealing way. I hesitate to use the word 'appealing', because that makes it sound as if she were trying to make it 'relevant'. She isn't. But she's pinpointed her audience, and very well too. Conviction is sometimes a pleasant experience, and this is one of them.

For those of you who know the Mally family's books, you'll find a whole new set of hilarious stories to illustrate her points. From Sarah and Stephen's cream soda escapade to Grace's numerous conversations in her favorite haunt (Starbucks) the Tomorrow's Forefathers ministry has produced another timely work on on of Jesus' primary commissions.

We finally have a book on witnessing that not only tells us why, but tells us how. Praise the Lord, and may His church take the message of Will Our Generation Speak? to heart.

About Tomorrow's Forefathers

Besides this new book on witnessing, Tomorrow's Forefathers distributes creation science materials, sells a purity book called Before You Meet Prince Charming (along with a brand-new study guide) and are currently releasing a group study guide for a young men's discipleship group. So far, only Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends is available in  another language (Spanish), but I have heard that they have more plans to produce their materials in other languages.

After I finished highschool I began a Bright Lights group in our area, one of Tomorrow's Forefathers resources for teen girls. The goal of this group is to help girls establish wise habits and make right choices during this period of life, so that they have a strong foundation in their adult years. In other words, it's a curriculum designed to help girls before they mess up. And it's a very valuable one.

The focus of the Mally family is to teach young people to take their commitment to Christ seriously. Their ministry emphasizes discipleship and costly grace.

I hope it will challenge and equip you as it has our family.

Lady Bibliophile

Thursday, March 7, 2013

All Creatures Great and Small

I've wanted to give this book a review for quite a while, but was unsure how to do it, since I really can't give it a full endorsement. However, I think it is profitable to discuss such books on occasion, so I've decided to go through with it and present the pros and cons together. In general I like to keep my reviews clear-cut between "recommended" and "not recommended", but in this instance the book I chose falls into neither category. I would probably call it "recommended to certain ages with strong cautions".

So here we go.

I was thirteen or fourteen when a set of lovely fat hardbacks introduced me to James Herriot, one of the most entertaining authors I have ever read. For decades his adventures as a country vet inspired tears and laughter in myriads of readers, a magic which lasted through time, for they are just as engaging today as they were when he first published them. How much is true and how much is fiction I couldn't say, but I've eaten up most of what Herriot wrote, and even on one occasion procured a tape of his stories read by himself. There's a thick accent for British fans.

After a brief hiatus due to the language, I returned to him last year and re-discovered the wonder. It's a gritty wonder, for Herriot certainly doesn't  romanticize  getting out of bed and lathering up in a country barnyard at 4:00 a.m. In fact, I told my mother I thought I had a pretty good idea of how to birth a calf by the time I was done with it. Probably not, but due to his explicit descriptions I felt as if I did.

Birthing cows aren't his only adventures--caring for Mrs. Pumphrey's Tricki Woo, adjusting to his new supervisor Siegfried Farnon, and trying to establish a relationship with pretty Helen sprinkle the pages with laughter and lightness. I don't know what his spiritual beliefs were, but he touches briefly on the issue of animals going to heaven throughout his books, and from the perspective of a vet, his words hold a powerful pull. 

I've never been a big animal person. Living in the middle of the city, the most you'll have to fend off are chihuahuas at the supermarket.  (A slight exaggeration, I suppose. We have collies, too.) The dogs I knew as a child were always big and loud and terrifying, and pretty much the only thing I liked was a cat. But gradually, after losing our cat and meeting some dogs that didn't try to devour me at first sight, I grew more comfortable with the animal kind, and I think his books had something to do with that. They come alive in his stories, giving rise to a thought that there's probably more to the theology of animals than the church has explored thus far.

We live in a culture that worships animals, and to compensate for that, some of us have swung the pendulum all the way to the opposite side, myself included. Evolution is to blame for that as well. But I think, even though I don't belief we're descended from animals, they still have personalities, sufferings, enjoyment, and emotional reactions (to some extent). They even have communication. And so I think we can take some valuable lessons from their existence, as well as procure infinite love and enjoyment from their care.

But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;
or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of all mankind.
-Job 12:7-10
The Book
Not long before World War Two, James Herriot graduated from medical school and took a position as veterinary assistant to Siegfried Farnon. In a time where most young vets weren't finding work, Herriot counted himself fortunate to secure a position in the Yorkshire Dales, and after he arrived, he realised that he hadn't even begun to fathom his blessings. From sweeping views to stolid farmers, he found himself growing attached to the little community that looked indifferently upon the march of progress.
His first year, however, was not without difficulties. An absent-minded employer, Siegfried often left him to coast down the steep Yorkshire hills without breaks instead of fixing them. Farmers looked with skepticism upon his new-fangled remedies, and preferred the butcher's wives'-tales to his advanced arts. And when love came his way, Herriot managed to bungle just about every opportunity.
All Creatures Great and Small captures his first two years in the Yorkshire Dales, with a gritty charm that only animal stories can bring.

My Thoughts
Herriot (who's real name was James Alfred Wight) practiced in Thirsk, Yorkshire. While many of the details are true, the chronological events of the various animal cases are fictionalized. Most of the cases he wrote as taking place in the 30s and 40s actually occured in the 60s and 70s. His employer (who's actual name was Donald Sinclair) didn't particularly like Herriot's humorous accounts of his absent-mindedness, and called the books "a real test of our friendship." But according to Farnon's colleagues and Herriot's son, Herriot actually toned down the adaptation of his employer's eccentricities. Siegfried's younger brother Tristan was Brian Sinclair in real life. Brian enjoyed Herriot's portrayal of his character, even though he was a smoking, drinking college student always goofing off.
Combine a high-strung employer with an irresponsible younger brother, and sparks flew in pretty much every chapter. While many of the arguments have you rolling in your seat with laughter, neither Siegfried nor Tristan kept their language clean, and James often didn't either in the stress of the moment. In fact, on a level of 5, I would give it a 3.5 for intensity and words used. I've just finished editing my copy, though I had to take it slowly because of that, and I give a strong warning on this score. In this instance I decided to edit, but in another I might decide to get rid of the book altogether. It depends on the quality of the story, and be aware of this when you decide whether or not to read it. Due to the amount and type of language used, I do not give this book my full recommendation.
If you've grown up in the city, like I did, then you probably don't know most of the Life Facts presented in this book. Anatomy, medical care, etc. are stated with honesty. It's not rude, but it's real. However, if you've grown up in the country or bred animals, you probably know what is in here. It's the kind of information that I would call PG-13, and I recommend it for 15 on up.
There's a heavy amount of beer drinking, mostly during a companionable visit and not on a drinking orgies. However, I did skip one chapter when James and Tristan go out with two nurses to a dance. It wasn't worth it.
Herriot's poignancy and characterization are real gems. Both the people and the events take on a reality that attaches you to them, and you really do feel like you've visited the Yorkshire Dales by the time you're done. His ability to capture caricatures is hilarious, and he constantly has you doubled over in mirth. Laughter doeth good like medicine. In fact, I think the best thing about his book is his ability to portray emotion: love, sorrow, sweetness, inconsistencies, stubbornness, and character, shine through the each page and offer myriads of quotables.

It is a heartwarming story, as the covers say. Though I wouldn't give it my entire endorsement, I think it offers both entertainment and edification when properly handled.

If you want an introduction to him without the language and honest facts, try starting out with James' Herriot's Treasury for Children, a book full of lovely stories adapted for young people (but far from childish). Animal lovers of all ages will enjoy them, and they were a special favorite of Junior B.'s when she was younger.

And now I would love to hear your impressions! Have you read the book, and if so, what did you think of it?

Lady Bibliophile 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Truth is the Daughter of Time"

Look carefully. Look very carefully at the man's face on the left. Is he the hero, or the villain, do you say? In the delicate lines of the mouth, and the narrow, sensitive features, do you see the face of a noble king? Or do you see the face of a man who locked two young boys in a tower--and murdered them?

Faces are neither here nor there, for as the author I am about to review aptly stated, this man was capable of murder, whether or not he did it. You and I, as well as all mankind, are capable of murder.

We are looking at Richard III, of course, the last Plantagenet to reign on the throne of England. Interestingly enough, not long after I re-discovered him, I heard the joyous news that his skeleton has been found 500 years after his death, under a car park in England.

However much I laugh at the car-park, it's difficult to laugh at Richard III once you know him. The legend of "The Princes in the Tower" has long baffled scholars and historians trying to untangle the dusty deeds of history. Did he or did he not murder his little nephews in an effort to cement his claim to the throne of England? Shakespeare immortalized him as a curmudgeonly villain, murdering this person and that person in his frenzy for power. But I would hope Shakespeare isn't looked upon as an authoritative source of fact. And what about Thomas More's Life of Richard III? Well, he wrote it during the reign of Henry VII, and Henry VII was the one who killed Richard and ignominiously disgraced his body.

One doubts whether a fiction book would be a reliable source for such a debate, but after Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, I'm inclined to think that she holds a sound theory. And it's not a wild first blush of enthusiasm. I see good evidence to back her theory up. 

The Princes in the Tower
Upon the death of Edward IV, the coronation of his son proceeded in good order. Edward's younger brother, Richard, took the position he had been given as Lord Protector, and planned out everything for the young king. Not long before his coronation was to have taken place, a man named Stillington came before Parliament with a shocking testimony: Edward IV had secretly married another woman before he married the boy's mother. Therefore, Edward V and Richard, Duke of Gloucester were illegitimate, and Richard III had the rightful claim to the kingship.
After his coronation, the two little boys continued to live in the tower, apparently pursuing their studies. Playing in the grounds, looking out of windows, nothing out of the ordinary. Then, legend has it that they appeared less and less, until sometime during the summer of 1483, when they were never seen again.

Did Richard murder them, to cement his claim to the throne? Or did something even more sinister occur?

In 1684, nearly two hundred years later, two little skeletons were discovered under a staircase in the Tower, leading to the chapel. Upon scientific evaluation, they were determined to be between seven and thirteen years of age.

Who they are, and what happened to the Princes in the Tower, remains a mystery to this day.

The Daughter of Time

Enter Alan Grant, inspector at Scotland Yard, who is trapped in a hospital room with a broken leg, steadily ignoring a stack of wishy-washy novels kindly loaned him by his friends.

He's read the the like before. They're insipid, and insupportable.

To fall through a trap-door was the ultimate in absurdity; pantomimic, bathetic, grotesque. At the moment of his disappearance from the normal level of perambulation he had been in hot pursuit of Benny Skoll, and the fact that Benny had careened round the next corner slap into the arms of Sergeant Williams provided the one small crumb of comfort in an intolerable situation. Benny was now "away" for three years, which was very satisfactory for the lieges, but Benny would get time off for good behavior. In hospitals there was no time off for good behavior.
Fortunately a helpful friend drops by and understands exactly what he needs: a mystery to solve. Grant has a penchant for picking out a criminal simply by his face, and so his friend gives him a stack of portraits from a picture gallery, containing the faces of famous people in history who have dark threads of intrigue clinging to them. Grant immediately focuses on the picture of a kind, though somewhat sad-faced man, and immediately loses his reputation for being a good judge of character. He assigns him as a good man, until he flips the portrait over, and finds that out who he is. After all, there's nothing more heinous that murdering two little boys.
With the help of a lanky young American and a beautiful actress, Grant sets out to prove that Richard III couldn't have murdered the Princes in the Tower. After all, a man with a face like that could never be the cold-blooded villain Shakespeare made so famous. At first it's just an amusing hunch; but it quickly turns up evidence much more substantial.

I give you fair warning: you'll never be able to put it down.

My Thoughts

Much as I enjoyed it, I probably won't read it again until I can buy my own copy and white it out. Fortunately Grant only swears at the ceiling once before he's rescued from his boredom, but it's the funniest pattern I've ever seen. The book will go for pages and pages with never a swear word spoken, and then there will be three or four instances all on one page.

I will warn my readers that Tey doesn't take a very favorable view of the Scottish Covenanters. You'll have to bite your tongue a good deal, as Alan Grant considers their religious zeal one of the biggest frauds in history. Tey is right--plenty of Covenanters did gather around murderers, and our side committed plenty of acts to be ashamed of. But I don't go as far as Alan Grant does and say that all the religious martyrdoms were a fraud. Just a hint of prejudice on his part, I fancy. I certainly don't have any. ;)

Perhaps it was a stroking of my ego that kept me going, after all. Reading the back was intriguing enough, but a British author who complements Americans on the third page of her work, and makes an American an integral part in working out the solution, will soften the hardest of Yankees. After Verne and Dickens, it was oil on a wound.

Not everyone agrees with Tey's theories about the murderer of the little princes.  And now, if you don't want anything spoiled *don't look* Tey says that the boys were very likely alive during the reign of Richard III, and on through his death. Many scholars disagree with this, because rumors of their disappearance appeared in the writings of Dominic Mancini, a man who visited England during Richard's reign. Mancini's book was discovered after Tey's death. Tey doesn't deny rumors might have surfaced before his death, but she says they were perpetrated by Richard's enemies, in preparations for Henry VII's invasion. I did a little digging, and found that Dominic Mancini couldn't even speak English, and relied largely on an interpreter. It is not known for sure who his interpreter was, but one possible candidate is John Argentine, a doctor who was the last attendant of the princes in the Tower, and fled after Richard's coronation. The question is, did Argentine plant this rumor in Mancini's work out of spite, and because he was Richard's enemy? Why did he flee England? Or was he an honest physician, and were the princes truly in fear of their lives? Upon first glance, I don't see that Dominic Mancini's book would seriously, if at all, undermine Tey's theory. *end of spoilers*

We may be seeing further research into the princes in the coming years. Thought the Queen has not allowed the skeleton's under the stairs to be given an extensive examination, perhaps with the discovery of Richard III's skeleton she may sanction further DNA testing to try to identify them. I certainly hope so.

I am indebted to the person who mentioned this book to me in passing.  Pride and Prejudice has taken me a horrific 43 days, and I've only gotten Lizzy as far as her visit to Mrs. Collins. The other book I'm working through is sitting quietly at 35 pages, and has sat there for over a month now. But after I picked up The Daughter of Time, I sat in frozen state for an entire evening, so wrapped up in the story that I couldn't take myself away from it. I haven't been absorbed like that since Dickens' Bleak House, and Inspector Bucket's midnight chase through London streets. The Daughter of Time gave me the momentum, not only to finish something, but also to dive into Kevin DeYoung's A Hole in Our Holiness, which I mightily look forward to reviewing. And I think it will give me the speed to conquer Mr. Darcy yet.

Not only that, but this is the first book that has actually catapulted me to my computer upon finishing it to find out everything I could about Richard III. For a good solid block of time I checked fact after fact; and the debate was so absorbing, I lay awake long after the rest of my respective clan had gone to a well-deserved rest, thinking about it.

I think it shall haunt me for a very long time. Did he murder the princes in the tower? Or did someone else do away with them?

I'm inclined to think he didn't. No absolute proof, of course, but Tey's book is not a theory to be despised. And it's one I look forward to re-visiting.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, March 1, 2013

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

Welcome back, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to part two of our series on passion vs. idolatry. You may be wondering why this post is so important. Let me explain.

We live in a culture that idolizes reason and academia, and if we read a lot, we feel that we're living up to that. Thus, we inadvertantly make reason an idol in our reading. Also, many girls especially fall into the trap of fan-idolizing. A seemingly innocent and excusable activity, which leads to a very shallow view of literature. We must worship God and God alone. We must never idolize books, for they are inanimate, and sometimes very flawed, objects. The object of this post is not idolatry, so we'll have to deal with rooting that out another time. The object of this post is on the importance of having a passion for reading.

 A lot of people refuse to enter into reading with passion, because they are afraid of idolatry. We talked about the difference between passion and idolatry last time, so if you didn't get a chance, you can catch up here. But we forget that a book is a tangible expression of the author's soul, and when we take it in our hands, we should be incredibly awed and excited about the privilege of sharing in that. Anything worth doing is worth doing with boiling-over excitement. Reading is a very worthy activity, when we do it to advance the kingdom of God, and passion is a key part of that.

We will never truly enjoy reading unless we read with passion.

What Does Passion Require?


1. Passion requires Exclusivity.

Jesus Christ preached a gospel of exclusivity in his time on earth. "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) Since Jesus is the Truth, and the only way to God, that means that truth can be very exclusive. In the matter of reading, the principles of truth found in Scripture may cause us to make some bold decisions on what is good and what is not good reading material. Many people criticise exclusivity because it seems so narrow, but the principle remains--if God has given us an exclusive gospel, then we must be bold in saying "This is right, and this is wrong." I understand differing convictions to a certain extent, but we are a set apart people, and Christian bibliophiles must not be afraid of coming across as narrow-minded simply because they have standards of right and wrong in their reading. Truth is absolute. Morals are absolute. And we must be passionate about making sure that our reading conforms to absolute standards found in God's Word.

2. Passion requires Vulnerability

To have a zeal for something, we have to go out on a limb with it. Our biggest block to reading passionately is the fear that we are reading something wrong. What if we throw ourselves heart and soul into a story, only to find that it is something we must give up? That's a risk we take. To truly enjoy reading, we have to be willing to be vulnerable to hurt. Yes, maybe we're going to have to give a book up some day, but it's better to take that risk than to never truly take delight in anything.  When we refuse to take risks, we miss so much joy and beauty that God wants us to have. We must be willing to take so much delight in reading that we are vulnerable to disappointment.

3. Passion requires Surrender.

When we hold books tightly, God must pry our fingers open and take them away from us. Don't get me wrong--getting excited about a book doesn't mean that it will turn into an idol. But harboring an unwillingness to give a book up quickly turns passion to idolatry. Oftentimes, after finishing a particularly good book, I think "I don't know how I would ever give that one up." And then I remind myself that these books are not mine, but the Lord's, and if He calls me to do so, he will give me the strength to carry through. Passion requires holding your books with open hands instead of clenched fists.
4. Passion requires Confidence.

 The Church of Christ needs a generation of confident bibliophiles. Many homeschoolers live in fear that their way is not as good as everyone else's way. Confidence means being able to clearly and passionately articulate why we choose to read certain books. Don't second guess yourself every time someone doesn't read what you do. Know what you believe, and why you believe it, and apply that belief with confidence. Christian bibliophiles should fear God, not man, in their reading requirements. Fear of God chooses books that please Him. Fear of man chooses books based on other people's convictions and approval. We must truly try to cut down on all our clarifications and apologies, for excessive clarifications cut down on both passion and confidence. If we have to apologize for a book, then maybe we shouldn't be reading it. Humans are frail, and I think we should be able to read faulty human writing without having to make it sound God-inspired when we talk about it with others.

Let us be a confident generation, avoiding the pitfall of constantly justifying our choices in the eyes of others. We will be called to give an account to God, and God alone.

The End of It All
 I have often had the worry about the passion vs. idolatry that I discuss here. Particularly one story, and one author, that I met this last year.  Every time I pick it up to start it again, I get this nail-biting worry that maybe I'm loving it too much.

And the Lord asks me, "If I wanted you to give it up, would you do it?"

"Yes, Lord."

Then, after I confirm that I am holding it with open hands, I am free to go and read it again--laughing and crying, and re-living all the same favorite scenes that I did before. I do not try to justify it to everyone, for I know not everyone approves of it. But willingly do I embrace the vulnerability of loving it, for I have received glorious joy and drama as a result.

Just because you love a story deeply doesn't mean you're idolizing it. And if Christians cannot read with deep passion, then it would be better not to read at all.

What do you think?


Lady Bibliophile

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