Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Portrait of Loneliness

Silvia trundled home in her little car.  There was a new and unexplained rattle from the engine and the choke didn't seem to be working properly.  Her gate, with the name Roskenwyn painted upon it, stood open.  A pretentious name, she always thought, for such a small and ordinary house, but that was what it had been called when she and Tom bought it, and they had never got around to thinking up anything better.
She parked outside her door, collected her handbag off the seat, and went indoors.  The cramped hallway seemed deathly quiet.  She looked for letters, forgetting that the postman had already passed, leaving none for her.  She dropped her handbag at the foot of the stairs.  The silence pressed upon her, a physical thing.  Silence, stirred only by the slow ticking of the clock on the upstairs landing. 
She went across the hall and into her sitting room, an apartment so small that there was room only for a sofa and a couple of armchairs and desk with bookshelves over it.  In the grate lay the dusty ashes of a fire, although she had not lit one for days.
She found a cigarette and lit it, and stooped to switch on the television, she punched the buttons to change channels, was bored by everything, and switched it off.  After the moment's burst meaningless voices, silence pressed in on her again.  It was only eight o'clock.  She could not, reasonably, go to bed for at least two hours.  She thought of pouring herself a drink, but already had had two with Even and Gerald, and it was best to be careful with alcohol.   Supper, then?  But she felt no healthy pang of hunger, no inclination to eat.
A glass door stood open, leading out into her garden. She threw the half-smoked cigarette into the empty fireplace and went out of doors, stooping to pick up a pair of scissors from a wooden basket. Now, with the sun nearly gone, the lawn lay dark with long shadows. She crossed the grass towards her rosebed, began aimlessly to snip off a few dead heads.
A wayward briar became entangled in the hem of her dress, snagging the material.  Impatient, angry, she jerked it free, but in her clumsiness caught her thumb on on a jagged thorn. 
She gave a little cry of pain, holding up her hand to inspect the damage.  From the tiny agonizing wound blood swelled.  A dot of blood, a bead, a trickle.  She watched its progress, a miniature scarlet river, flowing down into the palm of her hand.
As though in sympathy, tears welled in her eyes, brimmed, overflowed.  She stood there in the gloomy twilight, numbed by the misery of loneliness, bleeding, and weeping for herself.

From Voices in Summer by Rosamunde Pilcher.

Monday, November 5, 2018

14 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Broke My Knee

1.       It’s never wise to go downstairs quickly or run downstairs—you may break a bone and 2 ligaments.
2.       The operating room looks like something out of Star Trek, yes that’s right.  Star Trek, not Star Wars.
3.       When the doctor asks if you want physical therapy, you might want to say “no” and simply google the exercises associated with the injury.
4.       Muscle strength may decline after age 40 and alsowhen you are inactive, find a way to exercise both your upper and lower body—maybe a gym.
5.       When your physical therapist tells you that you can walk over grassy fields and packed earth paths, ask if he’s consulted the doctor.
6.       When your physical therapist tells you that you don’t need a brace, get one anyway.
7.       Stretching like a cat may be better than the stretches prescribed by the physical therapist.
8.       When something other than your knee hurts, you need a massage therapist, not a physical therapist.
9.       When your physical therapist tells you that you cannot quit, quit anyway.
10.   You should not exercise after seeing the massage therapist—it is too painful.
11.   You must not exercise before seeing the massage therapist—the massage becomes useless and the muscles ache for days (instead of removing lactic acid and increasing blood flow, the lactic acid remains and blood flow diminishes with the massage after exercise).
12.   If the massage causes excruciating pain, you should find another massage therapist.
13.   It will take a long time to get back to easy hiking.  Keep working at it, persevere, keep moving. 
14.   Find friends and therapists who are encouragers.  Find them and hold on to their words of encouragement.  Forget the discouraging words in your brain.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Three-Part Invention: a review of A Light So Lovely

Madeleine L’Engle made an impression on me when I read A Wrinkle in Time and the Austin novels as a child and young adult.  The books showed a loving family and gave me hope for the future.  As I grew older, I read her Crosswicks Journals, her adult novels, her other books, and the remainder of the later published Time series.  In all of them I found a hope that included neither the stringent boundaries, the black and white world, or the rigid structure of church.  Nor did it include the lack of structure present in my home with an alcoholic parent.  L’Engle brought me hope and freedom and was someone I went back to time and again to regain my perspective and maintain my faith.

As you can discern, I have been a long‐time admirer of L’Engle: the woman who had a lonely childhood, who lost her father while she was still a teenager, who had an alcoholic son, and a less than satisfying marriage.  But L’Engle was more than the sum of her life experiences.   She became to me an icon: an open door through which I could glimpse a wider world, breathe a breath of fresh air, and walk back into communion with Christ.  Like a gentle masseuse she took my twisted thoughts and stroked and pulled  them into a place where I could experience real life and love.  She taught me to appreciate both my strengths and my weaknesses.

A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle by Sarah Arthur is a work of one part biography, one part anecdotes, and one part analysis.  The author has themed and divided the book into chapters based on the life and works of Madeleine L’Engle.  In each chapter the author shares some of her own life (as a writer, a book judge, a mother, a former youth pastor), gives us a brief partial biography of L’Engle, and relates interviews with writers who have met L’Engle (either in person or through her writings) and have been influenced and motivated by her, and traces L’Engle’s developing faith.  The book focuses on L’Engle’s appreciation of paradox in the areas of icon and iconoclast, creation and evolution, faith and science, fact and fiction, sacred and secular, and scripture or nothing.  Each paradox is a chapter and there is much here to stimulate thought and discussion.  Indeed, A Light So Lovely stimulated me to reread some of L’Engle’s works.

The book’s title comes from  L’Engle’s book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art where she wrote: “We draw people to Christ, not by loudly discrediting what they believe, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

L’Engle strove to be an icon, to show us that light so lovely, to draw us into a wider world and new ways of thinking much as the children in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis left a dark world at war and were drawn through a wardrobe into the wider and brighter world of Narnia.  Icons are a means to an end, but idols are the end.  Icons can come and go and be imperfect with strengths and weaknesses.  Idols must be kept at a distance because we don’t want our knowledge of their weaknesses to tarnish our vision. Icons open our view. Idols diminish it.  L’Engle was no idol.  Rather, she was an icon from whose books I could always return with a renewed and enlarged vision.  She was both an icon and a mentor to me and the others who benefitted from her works.

For those of us who have loved L’Engle and her works, this book renews our acquaintance.  For those who have never met her or who have read none or few of her works, A Light So Lovely is an introduction to L’Engle’s ways of thinking, her life, and the body of her work.  As it has done for me, I hope it encourages others to dig into L’Engle’s work and hopefully keep it in print for generations to come.

 I received this book free through a book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Ordering Your Private World: A Review

I had never desired to read Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald when I first saw its title in 1984.  Perhaps that was because I don’t like taking orders.  Or maybe because I have little order in my life. You might think I live in chaos if you surveyed my desk or any other flat surface in my home.  Or it may have been because I believed that my private world was in order or, even if it wasn’t, I had no ability to bring such order.  Or perhaps I likened this book to another book on organization I had purchased which I could not bring myself to read past the first chapter, and finally discarded.  In 2017, however, I noted the words “Revised and Updated” above the title and decided to give Ordering Your Private World a chance, harboring the faint hope that perhaps even I could have order in my life or at least in my life’s private world.

From the beginning, the Authors Note encouraged me with these words: “I am still challenged—every day!—by the notion of ordering my private world.”  So, Gordon MacDonald who wrote about bringing order to our private world did not even have his own private world in order many years later.  It’s both encouraging to know that organization is a problem for a successful person, but also discouraging to realize that after all these time, he is still challenged by the effort. 
The Preface provides additional discouragement.  The author is married, has children, and one day suddenly realizes that his professional life, family life, and spiritual life are in shambles and he has no ready answers.  His natural talents and gifts enabled him to do well in his profession, but they had masked the reality that his spiritual life was weak and shallow. He suffered a complete breakdown.  And then Jesus said to him, “Now you know what it’s like to live out of an empty soul.”  To live.  Out of an empty soul.  Isn’t that a bit like kicking someone when they’re down?  But we must remember that Jesus didn’t say “Yay, Peter!” when Peter walked on the water.  Instead, when Peter feared he would drown, Jesus reached out a hand and said “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  Is Jesus reaching out a hand to you in this book?  Maybe.

I plowed ahead into the first chapters because having order in our private world is important.  What do we do with our souls?  How do we exercise soul care?  Body care is relatively simple.  We eat right, exercise, and sleep an appropriate number of hours.  But what about our soulish part?  What about that undefined space where God’s Spirit resides?  What do we do about that?  As I listen to acorns drop and the squirrels rustling aside the fallen leaves to search for them and plant them, I wonder how we find and nourish our souls during our own dark nights and cold days.   Here’s what the author found:  If our private world is weak, we become empty shells, rotten nuts.  Like the squirrels in autumn, we must formulate a plan to find the best nuts and secure those in a cache for leaner times.  It requires work in advance of the need, and quality rather than quantity.
Our plan must be wide.  No squirrel concentrates only on one tree.  We must take direction from those wiser than us: from the Bible and Biblical mentors.  We must maintain control of our passions and gifts or we will become self-centered in an uncontrolled pursuit of more, more adulation, more high-level connections, more, more, more.  We will rush after the goal rather than paying attention to the process and see people only as a means to our end.  We will discover disloyalty everywhere and nurture our anger rather than giving it to God.  Indeed, we may become so busy hurrying after what is of little worth, that we have no time or desire to play and or to exercise spiritual activities.   Sound like anyone you know?  A prime example from the Bible is King Saul. 

Saul begins as a warrior king who spirals downward.  Like Saul, when we pursue our passions above all else, we forget that we are called out ones, people with a purpose that is larger than ourselves and which supersedes our passions.  We know the One who called us and do not assume ownership of either our work or the people we work with.   Called people know when to move forward and when to fall back and release. 

According to the author, how do we implement our called-out purpose? Control our time—like Jesus we must know when to pray, when to act, when to sleep (yes, even sleep can be a soulish activity, for in that sleep, what dreams may come!), and to understand our limits.  Like John the Baptist we cannot hold onto a position forever.  At some point we will be called to release our activity, our calling, just as John released his crowds, his disciples, and his reputation to Jesus.

How do we control time?  According to the author, if we do not control our time, we become disorganized, feel poorly about our work, and lack intimacy with God.  How did Jesus do it?  He understood his purpose, his mission.  Jesus understood his limits as a human being, and a man, and a Jew in a time of Roman occupation.  He listened and observed.  He worked within His limits and within His culture.  And he made time to be with a few important people (his disciples).  Who are the people who are important to you?  Do you make time for them?  Listen to them?  Who are you spending the most time with?  Maybe it’s time for a change.

How do we change? Recognize that unmanaged time flows toward our weaknesses and we spend time doing thing that are not helpful.  And because we are not managing our time, someone else may mange it for us—we may be unduly influenced by dominant people.  When we fail to manage time, we end up putting out fires and neglecting what we really need to do. Our unmanaged time is used to bring us immediate gratification and not for what is most important.  Time is best managed when it is budgeted far in advance.  If an activity is set for a certain date, all that precedes that activity can be accomplished in the most effective manner.  But, if we try to be consistently spontaneous, we will invariably forget something important.

However, even if we do everything right, there may come that dark night of the soul, that desert experience that leaves us adrift in a lake of sand.  Jesus made a point of spending time in deserted places.  What happens there?  Our senses are heightened.  Away from noise and the call of the ordinary, we can experience the extraordinary.  We may be able to hear God more clearly.  We may view life from a different perspective.  We learn dependence.  And in the bleakest of desert times, we are accorded freedom to hear thoughts that lead us in a new direction, that give us a different plan, that help us prepare.

And here’s my main quibble with Ordering Your Private World: the book is disorganized.  I don’t know if it’s because new material was added without rewriting the old material, but it is most evident in my outline as I search back and forth for topics that fit together.  This was one difficult book to follow.  So far, this review has taken you through the first seven of 15 chapters.  The final eight chapters deal with spiritual disciplines such as endurance, mindfulness, silence, solitude, reflection, meditation, prayer, friendship, and rest.  Only Chapter 13 on prayer was one into which I could sink my teeth. 

Prayer is difficult.  Gordon MacDonald asks “Why do we have trouble praying?”  Yes, why?  It should be second nature for those of us who carry God’s spirit within us, but it’s not.   Gordon MacDonald has the answers and if we absorb these and let them work in us, we will realize that prayer is a vital necessity for ordering our private world.  Yes, worship and intercession feel unnatural.  They are not part of everyday life in America.  Nor is it normal to worship what we cannot see and to intercede with One we cannot physically encounter.   When we pray, we act contrary to our culture and it creates a dissonance within us—a dissonance that may keep us from prayer.

Praying exposes our weaknesses.  Even as we proclaim our dependence on God, we tacitly declare our independence and self-sufficiency.  We are Americans, after all.  We overcome, we endure, we succeed.  We are DIYers.  At some point, however, we have to learn that we cannot do everything, that we are not as strong as we think we are, and that we lose relationship with others when we do not ask them to help us and with God when we don’t depend on Him.  

And perhaps, prayer seems irrelevant when no matter how much we pray, or how little, the results or don’t happen anyway.  We have become fatalists.  We see prayer as only a means to an end result.  But prayer is not about getting results.   Prayer is aligning our thoughts, motives, and desires, indeed our whole selves, with God so that we may participate in his work in the world.  We pray to seek His will, not to impose our own on Him.  But just as we struggle for independence wouldn’t we like a world fashioned after our own passions?  Indeed, this is the very struggle we have in prayer.  Not my will, but Thine. 

And once we have, but how feebly, prayed to the point where we are aligned with God’s will, then, and only then, notes Gordon MacDonald can we effectively intercede for another in prayer. 

Ordering Your Private World was a useful book to read for time management and an overview of spiritual disciplines.  For an in-depth ordered view of the disciplines, I recommend Celebration of Discipline: The Path To Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster.  Ordering Your Private World also made me more mindful about how I use time.  Recognizing that unmanaged time flows toward my passions causes me think twice before I perform any activity.  Is it useful?  Will it bring improvement?  Or am I just doing what I like doing to the excess?  And what about you?  You must recognize your own times of maximum effectiveness and have criteria for time usage.  Ask yourself, does it advance a cause, is it useful for others, is it helpful to your Christian life?  Will it bring you closer to God?  Will it allow you to rest, relax, or play?  Take the best from multiple good choices. And, when you are able, budget time far in advance so you can effectively use the intervening time to efficiently prepare for the future event.  

A wise presenter once told me that if his audience took only one new idea, tool, or perspective from his talk, he felt that he had done a good job with his topic.  Ordering Your Private World is a tool to use to step out and begin your exploration of time management and spiritual disciplines.  Anyone can take away at least one new idea, tool, or perspective from this book. Or your time may be better spent reading the Bible and paying attention to how Jesus lived, reading a good business book (perhaps the classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven R. Covey), finding a good personal time management book, and reading Celebration of Discipline provides keen insight into the spiritual disciplines and why they are important.

 I received this book free through a book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Leaving Room for Revelation

Some time ago, a friend explained that she didn’t agree with a particular interpretation of the book of Genesis in the Bible because “it’s”  And for her that concluded it.  “It’s history,” means that what we have is a set of linear facts, nothing more.  And though I love my friend, in this she is wrong, wrong because for the Christian (which she is) the Bible is far more than history, or poetry, or songs, or letters; the Bible is revelation, and not just any revelation but the revelation of the living God and as such, it is living and active and sharper than a double-edged sword.

When we say one thing is nothing more, i.e. a woman is nothing more than a sexual object; an immigrant is only drain on society; a person on welfare simply lazy; then we set the worth of that person and we become no more than slave masters putting a value on something, someone, who is priceless.  We want to think we are civilized, but underneath we all wish to enslave that we might have the greater power.

But, I don’t really think that was my friend’s intent.  No, her desire was to protect, to keep close what she feels is eroding, to hold onto something good and decent.  But, in doing so, she is falling into the camp of the atheist.  As the great atheist Thomas Paine stated:

As to the bible, whether true or fabulous, it is a history, and history is not revelation.  If Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, and if Samson slept in Delilah’s lap, and she cut his hair off, the relation of those things is mere history, that needed no revelation from heaven to tell it; neither does it need any revelation to tell us that Samson was a fool for his pains, and Solomon too.

Yes, in diminishing the scope of the Bible, we also diminish its revelator and without the Revelator the Bible really is nothing more than a book of ancient history, poetry, and letters.

But what if we say that the Bible is more than history.  What if we say that there are multiple ways to read the first couple of books of Genesis.  What if the book of Genesis is both a history and a book showing God’s original temple on earth.  What would it mean if God actually took the stuff of earth, molded it and shaped it to make it fit for Himself and for the crown of his creation: human beings?  What would it mean if that original pattern was God vision casting, creating His theocracy?  What if both this interpretation and the factual (historical) creation and something else beside are all true?  What if we looked at the words with all the creativity imbued by God?  What if we looked at them with all our academic prowess?  What if we looked at the Bible as a complete book (yet, more than a book) where the first and last books echoed across time?

If we think about the Bible in the way that ancient cultures did (and some current cultures that are not so westernized) we would have a decidedly more exciting and accurate experience.  They did not believe that you must settle for just one thing (history) but could hold various interpretations in thoughtful ambiguity. 

So what do we settle for.  Will we allow revelation to color our reading?  Or do we settle for black and white. thus taking the Bible prisoner for our own intents? 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Temple Policeman! Temple Policeman!

I recently read a novel and its sequels (Finding Nouf, City of Veil, Kingdom of Strangers, by Zoe Ferraris). The location is Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and its desert environs. What fascinated me was the Morality Police who could arrest a woman for driving a car, not walking behind the man she was with, not wearing appropriate covering clothing, and various other offenses by both menGold_and_Silver_Jewelry_in_Downtown_Jeddah_(3343317802) and women who would be publicly shamed (and worse)for such actions. [Zoe Ferraris was told to cover her hands with gloves and wear socks because she was so white.]

This differs little from the 1st Century Pharisees in Israel who sometimes went around looking for “sins” to uncover.  (unwashed hands before eating, working on the Sabbath, and the like). 

I recently discovered a certain Christian denomination (and I’m sure there are others) that refuses to allow into membership people who drink alcoholic beverages or smoke. For those who, as it says in Colossians 2, still "submit to regulations, do not handle, do not taste, do not touch" and I would add: do not drink, do not smoke, do not dance, do not, do not, do not. . . Colossians reminds us that these are only human commands and only appear to promote piety, "but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence." Christians should certainly remind their alcoholic friends not to drink, their drug-addicted friends drug to stay away from drugs, and their technology addicted friends to leave their cell phones behind.  But, to exclude people from the congregation on the basis of personal habits is not something that Jesus ever practiced.  He was highly inclusive, making the best wine for a neighbor’s wedding at Cana, socializing with the enemy, the thief (tax collector), and sharing life with both the religious and irreligious, the wealthy and the poor, the educated and the uneducated.  So, instead of being Temple Policemen,  Colossians 3 says Christians are to get rid of slander, abusive language, and lies, and not practice greed, fornication, and impurity, but instead to practice "compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience" and, not the least, forgiveness and love.

Once we start being Temple Policeman, we are just like the Taliban, the Morality Police in Saudi Arabia, or any other repressive society.  So let's get rid of any inclination we have to be Temple Policemen or Morality Police. As Christians, we are to walk in love and forgiveness, humility (there, but for the grace of God, go I) and kindness. 






Picture of Saudi Woman trying on jewelry by Nouf Kinani (Gold and Silver Jewelry in Downtown Jeddah) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Conspiracy of Silence by Ronie Kendig

A Review

I requested to review this latest book by Ronie Kendig because I have enjoyed her previous military thrillers. Each of those featured a special forces fighter with great skill, but relational/emotional problems, who finds himself on a perilous mission with civilians to protect. Among those civilians is a woman who eventually will become the love interest. I had hoped that this novel would be similar to those with lots of action, and in the basics, it was. However, the convoluted plot left confusion that was not part of her other novels.

Conspiracy of Silence is a military thriller along the lines of Tom Clancy or Lee Childs, with an emotionally distraught soldier sent out after an assassin. However, this novel adds archaeology and two archaeologists, references to the Bible, a certain Biblical event, and the supernatural all thrown into the mix. Yes, think of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Ah, but if only it was another “Raiders!” Raiders had one Ark, one hero pursuing the Ark, and one love interest. In Conspiracy of Silence we also have one hero and one love interest, but we also have one assassin, four censers (containers for burning incense), and three pages (leaves) from the Aleppo Codex, a bound 10th century C.E. manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, originally kept in Aleppo, Syria, but later parts to parts of it were transferred to Israel. This book does not explain the Aleppo Codex until late in the story and in the appendix, however you can find information on Wikipedia.

In any event, at about the same time an American official is assassinated in England and our hero is tasked to eliminate the assassin, one of the archaeologists unearths a missing page from the Aleppo Codex and three censers, and somehow unleashes a plague which can be stopped only if all four censers are located and reunited along with several pages from the Aleppo Codex. This is where the novel loses its vision and lost this reader. A reader by definition must suspend their disbelief in the reality of the situation in order to become immersed in the world of the novelist. But when the novel loses its vision, the reader also loses theirs. If it had remained a novel about the search for and destruction of an assassin, it could have followed an interesting path and ended with a struggle between the protagonist and the antagonist in which the protagonist emerges bloody, but victorious. In other words, a classic hero novel.

But Conspiracy of Silence introduces a subplot which did not work. The subplot includes the theft of the censers, a plague introduced by the censers (how does that happen?), a need to find the censers and read certain marks on pages from the Aleppo Codex, which were located in different parts of the world, and the introduction of seemingly supernatural characters and situations. And, with the addition of this subplot, many more words (409 pages) than the author had in her prior novels.

The plot bogged down for me and my mind started questioning. How does a woman wrap her arms around her waist? Why do several team members smirk? Why is the team travelling with two archaeologists, putting two civilians at risk? Why does one archeologist who is skilled in martial arts never use this skill? Why does such a virulent plague only kill about a dozen people? Why is The Frenchman inserted like a super-hero? Why does one member of a covert team that had worked together on previous projects and who is very close to the team leader, why does this man have contacts and knowledge that are new to the team leader and that he refuses to disclose to the team leader? Why does the team need pages from the Aleppo Codex when they could consult any modern text of the Hebrew Bible and find the same information? Some of these questions are answered; most are not.

I also took issue with the author comparing the Masons to a terrorist organization. I don’t know her personal experiences with the Masons, but in a cursory search I found no evidence of their involvement in anything but charitable work. She could have easily compared the terrorist organization in her novel to the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, or any other multi-national terrorist organizations.

Those issues aside, the novel does have plenty of perilous situations where our hero can shine. Yes, after a chapter that made me question the novel’s integrity, the following chapters have a real chase for information from a contact inside the religious establishment and an assassin that pops up in unexpected places. In fact, the second half of the novel picks up nicely with only a few pauses as the team resumes its search for the assassin and a way to stop the plague, experiencing secret tunnels, confusing messages, chases, shootouts, flaming arrows, explosions, an abduction, and everything you’d want in a thriller. There are only a few confusing blips—when the team leader thinks he is chasing down mace and the lack of any role for The Frenchman. All in all, it’s a satisfactory ending with tension-filled final scenes. If you skip over the confusing parts with the censers and Codex, you have ably written military thriller will give you hours of pleasure.

This novel was provided for me at no charge by the publisher for purposes of review. I was not required to write a positive review.