Friday, October 13, 2017

Literary Quotes on Simple Pleasures

There’s nothing like a fresh page of a new book, a first date, or a patch of turned-over earth in the garden. All the possibilities! – from Small Kindnesses by Satya Robyn

No yoga exercise, no meditation in a chapel filled with music will rid you of your blues better than the humble task of making your own bread. - from M.F.K. Fisher's The Art of Eating

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. - May Sarton

Households that have lost the soul of cooking from their routines may not know what they are missing: the song of a stir-fry sizzle, the small talk of clinking measuring spoons, the yeasty scent of rising dough, the painting of flavors onto a pizza before it slides into the oven. - Barbara Kingsolver.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Mission at Nuremberg by Tim Townsend

Can thoroughly evil men be redeemed? That was the key question for the administrators and lawyers connected with the trials of Nazi war criminals after WWII. Did they deserve spiritual help? Would they even want it?

Some wanted to exterminate them without a trial since their guilt was so obvious. But others felt a trial was important because it distinguished between revenge and punishment. Gordon Dean (press spokesperson for the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials) wrote, "The concept that guilt should be fairly ascertained is so embedded in the charters of civilized countries that we cannot afford to abandon it here simply because the guilt is great."

Based on the religious rights clause of the Geneva Convention, Henry Gerecke, a Lutheran pastor from St. Louis, was called to minister to the Germans on death row. He felt that God was the ultimate Judge and that the earthly guilt of his "congregation" was of no significance as far as he was concerned. His only duty was the care of souls. He asked God to preserve him from any prejudice against those who spiritual care had been committed to his charge.  Some wondered how he could comfort these Nazis who had caused the world so much heartache? How could he minister to the leaders of a movement that had taken millions of lives? He was even criticized for shaking their hands on their first encounter. But he was operating on the principle, "If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water."

What follows is a fascinating story of 22 men during their last weeks on earth. Thirteen of them attended Gerecke's daily services. Four attended Catholic mass and five refused all spiritual counsel. Some repented and some went to their deaths declaring themselves innocent of all wrong-doing.

Although the facts behind this book were gripping, the prose was often lacking.  (I have found this to be true with most WWII non-fiction.) Because the recorded spiritual conversations between Gerecke and the prisoners fill only about 6 percent of the book's 300 pages, Townsend had to put in A LOT of filler. He gives 150 pages of background (including the grades the chaplains got in college) before Gerecke actually meets his prison congregants. In Chapter 9 he meanders through his odd understanding of the Old Testament. In another chapter he writes extensively about the Lord's Supper.

Still, I'm glad I gave this book a chance. I was impressed that these men were given a fair trial in spite of the overwhelming proof of their guilt. I was touched by Gerecke's life and that he took the eternal destiny of these men seriously enough to dedicate himself to their care. Most of all I was amazed at the miracle that God did in the hearts of some of the men.

P.S. Exceptions to dry WWII non-fiction are Lauren Hillenbrand's Unbroken, Robert Edsel's The Monuments Men, Robert Leckie's Helmet for My Pillow, and anything by Ernie Pyle.)


Friday, September 29, 2017

How Scout Learned to Read (from To Kill A Mockingbird)

To Kill a Mockingbird is in the top ten of my favorite novels. I especially enjoyed this quote on reading that comes early in the book. On Scout's first day in school the teacher asks her to read. Scout has been reading anything and everything as long as she can remember.

When she discovered I was literate, she looked at me with more than faint distaste. Miss Caroline told me to tell my father not to teach me any more, it would interfere with my reading.

"Teach me?" I said in surprise. "He hasn't taught me anything, Miss Caroline. Atticus ain't got time to teach me anything," I added, when Miss Caroline smiled and shook her head. "Why he's so tired at night he just sits in the living room and reads."

"If he didn't teach you, who did?"  Miss Caroline asked good naturedly. "Somebody did. You weren't born reading The Mobile Register. . . Now you tell your father not to teach you any more. It's best to begin reading with a fresh mind. You tell him I'll take over from here and try to undo the damage."

I mumbled that I was sorry and retired, meditating upon my crime. I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers. In the long hours of church - was it then I learned? I could not remember not being able to read hymns. Now that I was compelled to think about it, reading was something that just came to me. . . I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. (p. 17-18)


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Books I Read in September

To be honest, I didn't really enjoy any of the books I read this month (except for the last two). Here's the list:

The Made From Scratch Life by Norris (introduction to homesteading with Bible verses thrown in)
I Will Repay by Baroness Orczy (part of the Scarlet Pimpernel series with, sadly, very little Sir Percy)
The American Heiress by Dorothy Eden (light fiction, reviewed here)
Murder at the Lighthouse by Frances Evesham (light mystery)
The Incomparable Christ by Sanders (I'm embarrassed that I didn't enjoy this classic; much of the excellent content was hidden amid syrupy poetry and suppositions about Christ's life.)
A Singular and Whimsical Problem by R. McMillan (A mystery that read like a teenage diary with one scripture verse thrown in for good measure.)
Mission at Nuremberg by Townsend (WWII non-fiction, the story of the American chaplain sent to minister to the Nazi war criminals, review forthcoming.)
The Church Planting Wife: Help and Hope for her Heart by Christine Hoover (a helpful re-read)

Last chance book deals this month:
Free audiobook from Christian Audio: Steven Curtis Chapman's Between Heaven and the Real World
Two vintage e-book mysteries: Lord Peter Views the Body (Lord Peter Wimsey #4) by Dorothy Sayers, and A Going Concern by Catherine Aird
Several Wiersbe commentaries: Be Counted (Numbers), Be Comforted (Isaiah) Be Responsible (1 Kings), Be Rich (Ephesians), and Be Complete (Colossians)
Two C.S. Lewis titles: The Great Divorce ($1.99) and The Discarded Image (99 cents)


Friday, September 22, 2017

A Bride Goes West by Nannie T. Alderson

The title of Nannie Alderson's biography sounds like a romance novel, but it's anything but romantic. A Bride Goes West is about her life as a Montana rancher's wife in the 1880s and 90s and although she's upbeat, she doesn't gloss over the hardships.

I went with romantic ideas of being a helpmeet to a man in a new country, but I was sadly ill-equipped when it came to carrying them out. Before I left West Virginia a dear old lady had taught me how to make hot rolls, but except for that one accomplishment I knew no more of cooking than I did of Greek. Hot rolls, plus a vague understanding that petticoats ought to be plain, were my whole equipment for conquering the West. (p. 19)

Since there were so few women nearby, Nannie learned to cook and keep house from the men who worked for her husband. She was amazed at how much they knew! At first it was all a big adventure, but as the years wore on (with the children arriving and with various financial failures), the glamour wore off.  The remoteness of their lives, the constant work and stresses made her worry more and more: I don't think I was naturally of a nervous disposition. I think I was overworked. I had four children to care for with practically no help; I had gotten up too soon and had done too much work after the last two of them were born; I was worn out, and once more took to feeling sorry for myself.

In spite of the difficulties and occasional bouts of self-pity, Nannie's perseverance and hopefulness shine throughout the book. My husband enjoyed the book as much as I did, pronouncing it a "nourishing" read. Nannie writes about the ups and downs of marriage. She tells of the elusiveness of riches and how they had to carve joy out of simple things. She never sugar-coats her life, but there is a sense of fierce determination to make things work out that is inspiring.

Elisabeth Grace Foley lists this book among 10 exceptional western memoirs here.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Surprisingly Short Classics

I recently downloaded Lady Susan by Jane Austen and was astounded to see it is only 82 pages long. The next day I began The Jungle Book and was surprised at its modest length. Naturally, I felt compelled to make a list of works by classic authors that are about 100 pages or less. I linked to Kindle Free titles whenever possible, so without further ado, here is the list. . . .

A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (77 pages)
Aesop's Fables (this version is 104 pages)
The Call of the Wild by Jack London (68 pages)
The Dead by James Joyce (80)
The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy (54)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (61)
Elements of Style by E.B. White (the only non-fiction title here, 93 pages)
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (94)
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (117)
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (89)
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (74)
The Man Who Knew Too Much by G.K. Chesterton (87)
Metamorphosis by Kafka (50)
Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck (73)
O Pioneers (101 pages)
Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kipling (73)
Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving (25 pages)
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (90)
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (103)

Also, each Shakespeare play can be read in 2 to 3 hours.

Abe Books has a similar list here.

Did I miss any? Please feel free to make suggestions in the comments.


Friday, September 8, 2017

The Things of Earth by Joe Rigney

How should Christians view the pleasures this world? Is it really true that “the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace?”  Not according to Joe Rigney. He sets out to prove that Christians, more than anyone else, experience joy in this life because they recognize each blessing as a gift from God.

Rigney spends the first eight chapters establishing a theological basis for understanding the goodness of God. Only then does he specifically address the topic of “Christian hedonism” (a phrase he borrows from John Piper) vs. biblical self-denial. I happen to like theology and stuck with Rigney till then, but I can see how many people could wish he’d just get to the point.  
He talks A LOT about the trinity in this book, which at first seems off-topic, but I eventually warmed up to the oft-repeated theme. Rigney describes the giggles of his young son while being tickled. This tickle fight is high theology – a parable of a glory that existed before the world did. Fatherly delight is at the heart of reality. (“This is my beloved Son.”) My one year old will forget it, but in a sense it’s the most spiritual thing I can do for him. My delight and pleasure in him can leave a mark on him that will outlive the sun.
Because the Father loves to give good gifts to His children, we are free to enjoy and relish His goodness. Pleasures become sinful when we go beyond delighting in them to putting our hope in them. In this way even good things like family, sex, vocation, etc. can become idols. Christians are world-affirming at the same time as they are world denying. They know that their ultimate hope is in Christ, but that does not keep them from savoring His goodness in this life. Christians celebrate creation because it was made by God, but they treat it lightly because it’s NOT God.

A very thought-provoking book.
P.S. While Piper defends his use of the term "Christian hedonism" here, I still struggle with its negative and self-centered connotations.