Books, Baking and Movies.

Regardless of the things that loom large in our lives, collectively, or as individuals, normal activities (eating, sleeping, bathing, reading, etc), still go on. We are living through a season in which everywhere we turn, we’re being reminded of the current crisis. In my opinion, history will reveal that our true crisis is whatever follows this pandemic more than the pandemic itself, but that’s just my opinion. One thing for certain is that thinking about this stuff constantly will do little to mentally prepare us to live a sane, healthy, positive life. With that in mind, here are a few normal living type things we’re doing of late.

On the literary front:

  • Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer is taking longer to read than I anticipated given that it is such a short book. However, I keep feeling the need to step away from it for a bit to really ruminate on a section as I finish reading it. I hope to have a review up sometime next week.
  • The Plague by Albert Camus. I’m almost finished with this one, which I am enjoying and it usually wouldn’t take me so long to finish a novel. But when our library dropped Tucker Carlson’s book on my doorstep, I dropped Camus and hastily read through Carlson’s Ship of Fools. Here is a review if you haven’t read it. I really appreciate Tucker Carlson’s very honest, common sense commentary. I think I just read it to hear someone else say, “No, Els. You’re not crazy!”

On the homefront:

  • I baked the most phenomenal loaf of bread yesterday, and have eaten two and a half slices of it. I also ate two of these “healthy” gluten-free chocolate chip oatmeal cookies last week, and I’m becoming painfully aware of the risks of being at home so much when I’m used to being out and about more.
  • I have been working out consistently, mainly because the walks and jogs are the only time I get away from home most days. That still didn’t stop me from gaining two pounds in March. Gotta get back on the good foot with regard to my fitness regimen.
  • The kids are doing a decent job keeping up with their studies. We’re not without challenges, but that’s mainly because their teachers are doing such a great job of utilizing technology to stay connected to them. Homeschooling has evolved in our house since the elementary years when I did all the heavy lifting.

On the cinema front, here a few movies we’ve watched over the past few weeks:

  • The Case for Christ, which is the true story of atheist journalist turned Christian apologetics author Lee Strobel. This is definitely a Protestant story, but it’s still a good story. Strobel and his wife Leslie are happily married and loving the life they’ve built. In a moment of crisis, a Christian woman is there to help them, Leslie is drawn to the deep faith of the woman and soon converts, putting their marriage in serious jeopardy. Strobel sets out to prove Leslie that all of this is nothing more than a fairy tale, and the rest, as they say, is history.
  • Signs, a 2002 alien movie which we still own on DVD in this the year of our Lord 2020. Mel Gibson plays a farmer and former Episcopal priest, deeply estranged from God after the untimely death of his vibrant young wife. He’s left with to raise their two little children along with his younger brother who moves in to help him. When a group strange extraterrestrial beings arrive on Earth with hostile intent, events unfold that change the trajectory of his family’s life and rekindles his faith.
  • Miss Austen Regrets. This was supposed to be the story of Jane Austen in the aftermath of her failed engagement and as she gained a bit of notoriety for her now-classic novels. It turned out to be a long bit of feminist propaganda as Jane finally notes that she didn’t live her life alone. She lived it “free”.

That’s a little of what’s been happening around the homefront, in the shadow of the lockdowns. Life goes on. The sun still rises in the east and sets in the west. There is still cooking and cleaning and learning and reading and loving. And praying; lots of praying.

You know. The stuff that really makes the world go round.

Stay healthy, sane, and positive!

 

Friday Faves: Just a Short Update

Jow are you guys doing out there? You staying sane in the midst of our collective national push to practice social distancing? I thought I’d take a minute to talk about what life is looking like for us during this season.

Where we live, large swaths of the state are under some kind of stay at home order. Some are more strict than others, but most everyone has guidelines to adhere to. Because of that, we’re -obviously- spending a lot more time at home. We still get out for walks, jogs and the occasional bike rides, and we buy groceries like milk and eggs as needed (we’re pretty well stocked on the non-perishables). Other than that, we’re not getting out much, although a few of us are in jobs considered “essential” for various reasons. So there are family members heading out and returning home each day. We’ve maintained our health and our sanity, for which we are quite grateful. So what are we doing with all this extra time? By way of home projects (since thankfully home improvement and gardening places are still open):

  • Building new garden beds, and doing other backyard projects.
  • Cleaning out the garage (on the to-do list for the next week)
  • Clearing out the file cabinet (a hellish job if ever there was one!)
  • Reorganizing cabinets and bureaus.

On the literary and education front:

  • We’re already technically homeschoolers, despite the fact that most of our kids’ academic courses are supported by outside class time. So our kids have been doing several classes online using Zoom meeting platforms as I continue my usual role as supporter and facilitator.
  • I’m reading a lot when we’re not working on home stuff. Currently reading A.W. Tozer, a writer who requires a fair amount of prayerful concentration. I’ve spent the last 36 hours -when I can manage a private moment- trying to discern what it is I really believe about God; deep down in my soul, and not just from all the Bible verses I’ve memorized.
  • Cooking and baking, of the paleo variety. Except I need to remember that cookies made with almond flour and sweetened with coconut sugar aren’t magically calorie-free!  The flour was wiped out at my local grocer (I wasn’t looking for it I just noticed), and I’ve since learned that women are getting into baking bread and stuff since they’re stuck at home. That, in my opinion, is very cool.
  • Working on my side hustle. You might remember that I acquired a certification last year from my Local U. I figured since I’ve been forced off my normal suburban mom rate race treadmill, I may as well put the time into drumming up some coin out of it. Requires a fair amount of -again- ability to concentrate, so I’m not making much headway there.
  • Sewing. My daughter and  I are gearing up to make skirts. I’m not the greatest seamstress, but I really want to fit this into the time that is available to us right now.
  • And lastly, writing. That’s all I say about that because it is very slow going right now.

This list is composed partially of works in progress and partly ambitions of things I hope to do over the next two weeks.

The theme of this season for me, right now, is learning to be content, and preparing for the possibility of a very different world when this is done. The possibility that our lives will change materially, culturally, and politically is a possibility we would all do well to prepare for. so that’s what I am doing in addition to striving to be productive during this time, since productivity, along with prayer, also staves off panic and worry. Panic and worry help no one.

So…what’s life looking like for you guys?

The Practice of the Presence of God

presence of god book

The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawerence, Kindle edition. The text was originally written and compiled in 1692.

Timing is everything, at least that’s what the ubiquitous “they” supposedly say. In this case, I’d have to agree. The time was right for me to read The Practice of the Presence of God. I know that the time was right because, at almost any other time, I would have found it too mystic for my general sensibilities. However, these times are uncertain, and for the duration of this season and its fallout, I have a strong impression that Brother Lawrence’s admonition to purposefully focus on God will be the key to enduring whatever comes next.

Before I offer my overall impressions and brief excerpts, a little background may be in order for readers who are unfamiliar with this book, or with Brother Lawerence. From a brief biographical piece by Christianity Today:

[Brother Lawerence] was assigned to the monastery kitchen where, amidst the tedious chores of cooking and cleaning at the constant bidding of his superiors, he developed his rule of spirituality and work. In his Maxims, Lawrence writes, “Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?”

For Brother Lawrence, “common business,” no matter how mundane or routine, was the medium of God’s love. The issue was not the sacredness or worldly status of the task but the motivation behind it. “Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”

Brother Lawerence’s peace and communion with God became so well regarded that many people sought him out for spiritual guidance.

When I first started reading the book, my stoic, sola Scriptura mind was not entirely receptive. I’m not a Calvinist, but I see some of the merits in Reformed Theology, and one of them is the wholesale condemnation of relying too much on our feelings at the expense of the written word of God. I actually put this book aside for a bit to ruminate before picking it back up. It’s a short book, however, so once I went back to it in the wake of current events, it spoke to me in a fresh way. I realized that what Brother Lawerence referred to was not a contradiction of the Scripture, but was in effect a result of hiding the logos in my heart.

After getting past my initial reservations about the mysticism, and reconciling the veracity of Brother Lawerence’s recorded experiences and admonitions with the truth of Scripture, I was challenged with contemplating whether what Lawerence described is even realistic for a busy wife and mother with a busy life and days filled with lots people, places, and things to do:

Thus, I resolved to give my all for God’s all. After having given myself wholly to God that he might take away my sin, I renounced, for the love of God, everything that was not God, and I began to live as if there was none but God and I in the world.

I don’t live in a monastic order like Brother Lawerence did. St. Paul himself acknowledged that the married believer is naturally distracted by the things of the world in a way that an unmarried believer is not.

Nevertheless, I have come around to the conclusion that Brother Lawerence’s single-hearted devotion to remembering and focusing on the fact that God is always with us, and that Christ, the hope of glory, is indeed in us, is a truth within the grasp of each and everyone who is a believer. Is it a challenge? He admits as much:

I found a great deal of pain in this exercise, and yet I continued it even in the midst of all the difficulties that occurred, trying not to trouble myself or get angry when my mind had wandered involuntarily. I made this my business throughout the entire day in addition to my appointed times of prayer.

At all times, every hour, every minute, even at my busiest times, I drove away from my mind everything that was capable of interrupting my thought of God.

This has been my practice since the first days I entered into religion. Though I have done it imperfectly, I have found great advantages in this practice. I am aware, however, that all of these advantages are to be attributed to the mercy and goodness of God, because we can do nothing without him—especially me!

What is good is almost never easy to acquire, and while few of us postmoderns may ever reach the heights of spiritual fulfillment Lawerence described, we can, by God’s grace, achieve more than we have to date.

As far as the writing goes, the structure of the book lends itself to a bit of repetitiveness. Because these are mostly letters written by Brother Lawerence to various fellow Christian travelers to whom he is offering spiritual encouragement, this is to be expected. Lawerence had found the key to living at peace in a tumultuous world and rather than coming up with new or novel things to say to his friends, he continued to share with them what worked. Repetitiveness is often a very good thing, especially when are trying to internalize things that are particularly hard to internalize.

The biggest thing for me to embrace (and again, I don’t know if I ever fully will), is that despite my deeply flawed nature, I can have faith in God’s presence if I draw near to him rather than hide as Adam and Eve did:

I imagine myself as the most wretched of all, full of sores and sins, and one who has committed all sorts of crimes against his king. Felling a deep sorrow, I confess to him all of my sins, I ask his forgiveness, and I abandon myself into his hands so that he may do with me what he pleases.

This king, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastening me, embraces me with love, invites me to feast at his table, serves me with his own hands, and gives me the key to his treasures. He converses with me, and takes delight in me, and treats me as if I were his favorite. This is how I imagine myself from time to time in his holy presence.

Timing is everything, and this was the right time for me to read this book. At no time is the reality of God’s presence more important than when we are facing the unknown and the reality that we are not as in control of our life’s trajectory as we imagined.

4 out of 5 stars.

Lots of Extra Time to Read These Days…

The latest call to self-isolate means a lot of people are currently finding themselves with a lot of extra time their hands. Yesterday, our daughter reported that her coworker complained that, given the need to avoid the usual away from home distractions, it’s unfortunate that he can’t find anything worth watching on Netflix. He was promptly reprimanded that he could always read a book, and I totally agree! Of course, the wonderfully insightful Joshua Gibbs offers some movie suggestions for those so inclined:

Fourth, a few recommendations… If you’re going to allow your children to watch just one movie a day over the coronavirus break, I would suggest imposing a rule on your selections— as in, resolve to not watch anything less than fifty years old. Whatever you do, don’t have a Lord of the Rings marathon, a Star Wars marathon, or what have you. It isn’t not gluttony just because you’ve attached the word “marathon” or “contest” to whatever you’re doing.

While the word “classic” means something much less when referring to a film than to a book, older films demand more patience, more intellection, and repay third and fourth viewings. Here are several older films which any student attending a classical school ought to see.

1. Vertigo: In the last ten years, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo has replaced Citizen Kane as the film which most regularly tops critic’s lists of the greatest films ever made. Like Psycho and The Birds, Vertigo is a retelling of the Tristan and Iseult myth, though it easily the most sophisticated of the three.

2. The Night of the Hunter: A good film to show anyone who thinks old films are boring. The Night of the Hunter is a humid, terrifying film about two children on the run from an ersatz preacher who murdered their mother. It is one of just two films written by legendary film critic James Agee (his other screenplay is The African Queen). Made in 1955, but not recommended for anyone younger than high school.

3. Paths of Glory: One of Stanley Kubrick’s early films, Paths of Glory is a vexing, aggravating movie set in World War I about a French general (played by Kirk Douglas) whose men are unfairly condemned for refusing to take part in a suicidal charge. Part war film, part courtroom drama, fans of René Girard will adore this scapegoat story.

4. Casablanca: The Bogart-Bergman classic needs no introduction, but have your sons and daughters watch this one, then have them read Umberto Eco’s “Casablanca, or, the Clichés Are Having a Ball,” which is one of the most delightful film essays ever written.

5. Black Narcissus: Powell and Pressburger’s gorgeously shot psycho drama about a bunch of nuns high on the Himalayan mountains who are trying to 1) run a school and 2) not fall in love with a shirtless David Farrar who play the lusty but cynical handyman who knows their school won’t last.

Three of these five recommendations are movies I am wholly unfamiliar with, so I appreciated the list.

The fortuitous thing about living where we live is that self-isolating in early March need not mean being stuck indoors. Fresh and sunshine are superb health tonics and we are experiencing that in spades right now, along with moderate temperatures and lower humidity than we’ll enjoy a few weeks hence. I’m encouraging my kids and other people I know that taking long walks during this season can only serve your health, not endanger it.

Of course, I recognize that many Americans are not living where it’s sunny, breezy, and 80 degrees in Mid-March, and so won’t be sitting on their patio reading books, as I am about to do after I throw in the next load of laundry. My kids are currently meeting online with one of their teachers since classical co-op class meetings are on temporary hiatus. Here are a few books I am adding to my current queue over the next couple of weeks:

I was considering adding Bowling Alone, but there will be a new updated version of that book available this summer, so I’m going to wait. The new addition will consider the role the Internet has played in the increased disintegration of community and social capital in the 20 years since the original book was published.

My question for readers is two-fold:

First: how are you handling the requests for increased isolation and social distancing? Are you changing your lifestyle and habits during this time?

Secondly: If you are changing your routine a bit, are you increasing the time you devote to reading? And if so, what will you be reading? I’m endlessly curious about what other people are reading!

Book Review: Bowling Alone

This is Hearthie’s review of the book Bowling Alone.

I haven’t read this book, but I am planning to read it very soon. The loss of community bonds and social capital is a topic that interests me greatly.

When I read this book later in the spring, I’ll add my thoughts.

Hands, Heart, Hearth

bowling_alone

20 years late to the party is better than never….

It’s the habit of most of my readers and friends online to discuss the whys and wherefores of community involvement, religious involvement, and “how did we get into the mess we’re in”.   This book looks at the correlative and causative factors in the demise of community involvement (from politics to religion to the Lion’s club) and gives some theories about what we might do about it, now that we’re here.

A short quote to sum things up:

“To predict whether I am likely to give time, money, blood, or even a minor favor, you need to know, above all, how active I am in community life and how strong my ties to family, friends, and neighbors are.”  (p. 120-121)

In other words, being a member of the Bumble Bee Association makes you more likely to vote or pick up trash…

View original post 461 more words

Friday Faves Potpourri: Pandemic Edition

In this age of Cornonavirus overload, I will resist the urge to pile on to the millions of discussions about preparation for the pandemic. This Friday, in the absence of a planned set of favorite things, I’m going to list a few thoughts I have entertained over the past week. Feel free to add your own in the comments:

  • A virtual friend of mine pointed this out, but it’s funny, and I think she’s right. Y’all know there are far worse things than toilet paper to run out of, right? The toilet paper aisles are empty, but numerous varieties of bread are on the shelves of my local grocery store. What good is it really going to do anyone, if it comes to that, to starve surrounded by bulk packages of toilet paper?
  • I picked up Albert Camus’ novel, The Plague, from my local library.  I have been reading it in the evenings for the past couple of days (after reading from my Lenten reading list in the mornings). The Plague is a really good book. I was struck by how similar the post-modern USA is to the description of the Algerian city Camus uses as the setting for his novel published in 1947. It reminded me that while modernity is fluid and unstable, its underlying characteristics are recognizable across generations.
  • Whatever my negative thoughts about American politics in general and the Democrat party, in particular, I have marveled yet again at how they exercise the discipline they do in their ranks. In one night, they managed to completely change and control the trajectory of their primary race. Because I don’t generate enough traffic to warrant fear of being politically incorrect, I’m going to say what isn’t being said: trading out the old socialist for an equally old establishment guy who is showing signs of dementia means their choice of a VP candidate is probably more important than any VP pick in recent memory.
  • On a happier, lighter note, we recently went on a tour of the historic city of St. Augustine with some fellow homeschooling travelers. St. Augustine is a touristy town,  being the oldest European settlement in the United States. However, it’s touristy without being overly crowded, which is nice. Touring the historic buildings commissioned and financed by the ridiculously, obscenely rich Henry Flagler induce contrasting feelings of awe at the beauty and craftsmanship combined with “oh my gosh who needs this much money?”

    rotundaCapture

    What looks like gold in this rotunda? It is ACTUALLY gold!

  • The Gilded Age, which is what Mark Twain billed the period in which Flagler and other wealthy industrialists reshaped America, is an apt name for the period. It reminds us that the blatant materialism that we lament today is nothing new.  I am also reminded that most of us are probably more materialistic than we think or are willing to recognize.
  • We noted that whatever one might think of the gilded age, at the very least, they built things with a level of craftsmanship and beauty that are still worth admiring 150 years later. Can any of us imagine anyone building anything today that people will care to tour and admire 150 years from now? I know I can’t.

Happy Friday! Stay healthy and safe!

Sick of Me

sickof me2

Sick of Me by Whitney Capps, published in 2019. 192 pages.

I started reading this book a few weeks ago, but due to a hectic schedule including family obligations, school obligations, and two trips in as many weeks, it has taken me quite some time to write up a review.

In general, I tend to shy away from Christian books that are new, and this is doubly true if said new Christian book is written specifically with women in mind. Nearly without fail, such books contain cultural nods to emotions and feelings and water down theology in ways I find intolerable. I am not a woman who often trusts my feelings (I know me too well!), and I am not interested in a concept of God which encourages me to elevate my feelings beyond that which is warranted.

Thankfully, Mrs. Capps takes an admirable turn at laying out the case for why we need to get our feelings in check. One of my favorite quotes in this book is found on page 25, and it gets to the heart of what the book is trying to express:

Take one of the more popular passages we flip open to affirm the peaceful, easy life of Christ: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

This is Matthew 11:28-30. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not super familiar with a yoke. So, I did a little research. A yoke is a curved piece of wood that was fitted to oxen to keep them pulling a plow, cart, or otherwise heavy load. It was affixed using metal rods or a noose of rope around the animals’ necks. It was used to keep them from taking an easier path, ignoring the lead of the one driving the plow. Yokes were meant to keep them in line. The more they resisted or struggled, the heavier the yoke felt.

After explaining to the reader what a yoke is, she comes back around to the way modern Christians often misuse the aforementioned Scripture:

You’ve probably read it or heard Matthew 11:30 quoted when life gets wicked hard. We love to chant the life-affirming truth that Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden light. But friends, it’s still a yoke. His yoke is definitely easier to carry than the world’s but it’s still a yoke.

For me, that was worth the price of admission. Whatever issues I have with the overly personal tone of a book focused on theology, it was easily forgiven because Mrs. Capps doesn’t engage in the normal female Christian writer ego-stroking. You know the spiel: “You are enough”, and all that good stuff.

In fact, her thesis, if you will, seems to be that we focus so much on being “transparent” about our faults that we forget that the gospel is about being transformed from where we are to the image of Christ. More importantly, we need to get over ourselves and turn our attention to pleasing our Lord more than feeling better about our broken selves. In other words, we’re really not enough, and in our well-intentioned attempts to avoid living life feeling condemned, we forget that we do need to feel convicted.

Overall, this book added value, and it would be especially useful to women who are more immersed in the usual content aimed at modern Christian women. It’s 1000 times better than books such as Girl, Wash Your Face. No book is a replacement for The Book, which Mrs. Capps is also careful to point out on p. 107, but women are starved for truth, and while this book isn’t perfect, it’s closer than most being marketed to women from houses like Thomas Nelson, et. al.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars