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

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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…

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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?”

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    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

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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

 

 

 

 

Word Nerd Wednesday: Syllogisms

I almost forgot about Word Nerd Wednesday! As it happens, I was studying logic this afternoon with my kids and this word, which is cool to say, struck me as a suitable installment.

For the record, I’m not very good at the study of formal logic. Someone else handles the instructional guidance, while I provide home support. With that said, here is the definition:

Syllogism: A form of deductive reasoning consisting of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion.
For example:
All mammals are living things.
Human beings are mammals.
Therefore, Human beings are living things.
For those interested, the concept of the syllogism was introduced by Aristotle.

Friday Faves: Miami Arts District

My beloved and I recently whisked away to Miami to celebrate our wedding anniversary. It was a beautiful, picture-perfect weekend with sunny skies, temps in the mid-70s, and postcard-worthy beach views. One of my favorite parts of the trip, however, was our walk through the Wynwood Arts District. So this Friday, I thought I’d share some of the spectacular murals on display at the Wynwood Walls.

This first one made me smile as soon as I lay eyes on it. It is so happy and cheerful:

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You can get a feel for the scale of this one by noting that I am 5’9″ standing in front of it:

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This one isn’t quite as big, but something about the paint dripping upwards really grabbed me:

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This one, which you can see is at the top of a taller building, is really spectacular:

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This woman spanning the width of the wall was pretty cool:

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Last but not least is another mural featuring yours truly for scale. The wind took over my hair, but I really liked this mural too:

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My husband has something of an artistic gift, which I do not share, but I have acquired his love of creativity and design. Gifted artists remind us that we are the Imago Dei of the Great Creator.

What are some of your favorite artworks or mediums? Feel free to share! Have a glorious weekend.

 

 

Lenten Reading List

Lent begins today, and I’ve prepared a reading list for the next few weeks.

It’s a fairly short list, to be read one book per week or so. I’ve turned to Goodreads for synopses of the books.

The Knowledge of the Holy by popular evangelical author and Christian mystic A.W. Tozer illuminates God’s attributes—from wisdom, to grace, to mercy—and in doing so, attempts to restore the majesty and wonder of God in the hearts and minds of all Christians. A modern classic of Christian testimony and devotion, The Knowledge of the Holy shows us how we can rejuvenate our prayer life, meditate more reverently, understand God more deeply, and experience God’s presence in our daily lives.

  • Sick of Me, by Whitney Capps. I picked this one up in an effort to put my dollars where my mouth is and patronize an independent Christian bookstore. I just started it, and it’s surprisingly astute for a modern book. And I do get sick of me sometimes, so…

Our world is filled with fake facades, from the unrealistic filters used on social media to the “holier than thou” personas seen in certain hypocritical believers.

To combat the fake trends, a new trend has emerged—one that fights the facade with transparency and vulnerability. Instead of being filtered or super-spiritual, we’re told to be real and honest. And rightly so. We should be getting real with each other about our junk.

But should we stop there? Should we gather to simply commiserate about our current version of “me”? Is community about more than just feeling understood by one another in our hard places, or does God have actual change in store for us beyond brokenness

In Sick of Me, Whitney Capps shows us that spiritual growth means being both honest and holy—that we can come to Jesus just as we are, but we cannot stay that way. While virtues like vulnerability, honesty, and humility are desperately needed, we should fight for more. After all, the gospel is a change-agent.

  • Hinds Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard. I’ve been meaning to read this one for quite some time, and what better time than Lent, when we are focused on the holy and redemptive work of Jesus:

With over 2 million copies sold, Hinds’ Feet on High Places remains Hannah Hurnard’s best known and most beloved book: a timeless allegory dramatizing the yearning of God’s children to be led to new heights of love, joy, and victory. In this moving tale, follow Much-Afraid on her spiritual journey as she overcomes many dangers and mounts at last to the High Places. There she gains a new name and is transformed by her union with the loving Shepherd.

Brother Lawrence was a man of humble beginnings who discovered the greatest secret of living in the kingdom of God here on earth. It is the art of “practicing the presence of God in one single act that does not end.” He often stated that it is God who paints Himself in the depths of our souls. We must merely open our hearts to receive Him and His loving presence.

As a humble cook, Brother Lawrence learned an important lesson through each daily chore: The time he spent in communion with the Lord should be the same, whether he was bustling around in the kitchen—with several people asking questions at the same time—or on his knees in prayer. He learned to cultivate the deep presence of God so thoroughly in his own heart that he was able to joyfully exclaim, “I am doing now what I will do for all eternity. I am blessing God, praising Him, adoring Him, and loving Him with all my heart.”

This unparalleled classic has given both blessing and instruction to those who can be content with nothing less than knowing God in all His majesty and feeling His loving presence throughout each simple day.

Are there any books you are planning to dive into as we pray and contemplate during this Lenten season?

 

 

 

 

Word Nerd Wednesday: Epigenetics

One of the many blessings of having intelligent, well-read friends is that you often find yourself engaged in fascinating conversations about all manner of things. Topics wander deliciously from one subject to the next and before you know it, someone stops and says, “Wait. What is that? I don’t think I’ve ever heard that word before.” It was such a confabulation that lead to this week’s word: epigenetic.

Epigenetic:  of, relating to, or produced by the chain of developmental processes in epigenesis that lead from genotype to phenotype after the initial action of the genes

I’m still working all of this out, but researching an answer to the age-old question of nature versus nurture inevitably leads you to the study of epigenetics, and epigeneticists say the answer to the question is that nature and nurture have a huge impact on why each of us is the way we are. As a Christian, I am firmly persuaded that nature plays one part, nurture another, and our own free will as moved by consciences plays yet another. We are a spirit, possess a soul and live in a body.

However, it’s no accident that I am generally comfortable in 80-degree heat while my friend of Scottish descent finds it particularly stifling. African genes tend to prefer warmer climes. Or that regardless of how much I work out, my arms are weak and wobbly compared to those of a 15-year-old boy, even if he never worked out. Men and women are different. The website What is Epigenetics describes it this way:

Here’s an analogy that might further help you to understand what epigenetics is, as presented in Nessa Carey’s Epigenetics Revolution. Think of the human lifespan as a very long movie. The cells would be the actors and actresses, essential units that make up the movie. DNA, in turn, would be the script — instructions for all the participants of the movie to perform their roles. Subsequently, the DNA sequence would be the words on the script, and certain blocks of these words that instruct key actions or events to take place would be the genes. The concept of genetics would be like screenwriting. Follow the analogy so far? Great. The concept of epigenetics, then, would be like directing. The script can be the same, but the director can choose to eliminate or tweak certain scenes or dialogue, altering the movie for better or worse. After all, Steven Spielberg’s finished product would be drastically different than Woody Allen’s for the same movie script, wouldn’t it?

Now you know a little about epigenetics.