Category Archives: Literature

What I’m Reading

Since I’m on vacation, I’ve been reading a little more than usual.  Here’s an update on what’s gotten my attention recently…

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

This book is one of the best ones I’ve read in a long time.  Donald Miller is a young, witty, godly guy who is trying to change the world.  The book is all about living a life worth telling stories about – taking risks, embracing uncertainties and fears, challenging ourselves, and being the people we want to be.  He uses examples from his own life, explaining that he wasn’t living a very good story and the changes he’s made.  It’s inspiring and led me to reevaluate the choices I’m making in my day to day living.  I liked it so much that I went to see him when he came to town to talk about the book.  It’s the first time I’ve ever gone to an event with an author I liked.  It was more than worth it.

Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis

I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time but never got around to it.  I ended up downloading it onto my iPod for my recent trip home.  It is Lewis’ story of how he became an atheist and what led him back to Christ, and it includes a lot of detail about his childhood.  Although I don’t understand all of his references to classical literature, I’m really enjoying the book.  He gets very personal with the details of his life and important relationships, but he accepts responsibility for the part he played in the challenging things he faced.  He also has great wit and humor, which I really enjoy.  

High on Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips

I heard about this book the day it came out earlier this year.  There was a lot of sensationalism surrounding it and it caught my attention.  I’m really too young to have watched her TV show One Day at a Time, but I was drawn to the story she told.  She was raised by an extremely irresponsible, drug-abusing, abusive and neglectful father and had no stability in her life.  That led her to become a drug addict and make some terrible mistakes.  She was sober for 15 years and then relapsed and was caught in an airport with heroin.  She got clean again and now has written about her experiences.  While I think the book is her attempt to resurrect her career and help her finances, I also think she has to genuinely want to help those who’ve been through things similar to her or she couldn’t have written it.  It’s a terrible story and I learned things I’d have been happy to never know about.  At the same time, I think it’s an important story.  She doesn’t glamorize the use of drugs, but she explains their power.  She explains clearly the horrible things that they do to people.  And she takes ownership for the terrible things that she’s done under their influence.  It’s a window into a life I had no concept of and still find it hard to imagine.  I couldn’t put it down. 

The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature by Dr. Leon Kass

I’ve made a commitment to pay much more attention to what I eat, how I eat, why I eat, and how I feel about eating in 2010.  I’ve already begun to become a healthier, more attentive eater, and I want to really understand the subject more.  That’s why I picked up this book.  It’s a philosophical discussion of how eating affects our lives, our relationships, our bodies, our souls, and so forth.  I’ve been reading a little at a time, trying to understand it but not forcing myself to get every single word.  So far I’ve read the forward, the introduction, and the first chapter.  I’m on chapter two and feel like I’ve been reading forever.  The subject matter is very new to me.  I’m not much of a philosopher.  But it’s also interesting and thought-provoking.  I’m anticipating that it’ll take me awhile to finish the book, but I’ll keep working on it a little bit at a time.

The Psychology of Small Groups

I’ll have to update this blog later with the author’s name for this book.  It’s an out of print textbook that my senior pastor gave me to read and I’ve been learning a lot from it.  Any time I have a little down time at work, I’ve been picking up this book and reading as much as I can.  It’s not written from a Christian perspective, but it’s all about the way that people in small groups behave and why.  From my experience of being in numerous small groups over the years, I find what it’s saying to be true and very helpful in figuring out what’s going on in my groups.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

I recently read this book for the second time, but by a different translator.  It was originally written in Russian.  It’s a novel set in 19th century Russia and is a fascinating description of life during that time and of human nature in general.  I’m not sure why I find the book so compelling, but I really love it.  The first time I read it, I think I skipped all the political stuff that Tolstoy addresses and read it merely for the romance and action.  This time I tried to understand the social and political statements he was making.  I can’t say that I was totally successful, but I tried.  I have a feeling this is a book I’ll read over and over again and enjoy more with each reading. 

The basic plot is that Anna Karenina is a young, beautiful woman who married an older, boring, but successful man whom she didn’t love.  She felt obliged to marry him by society.  She tries to make her marriage work, but she ends up meeting a handsome, vibrant young man who sweeps her off her feet.  She has fun for a while with him, but it leads to a tortured existence of being stuck between her marriage and the child she has with her husband and her lover and the child she has with him.  (It’s a morality tale with an unspoken and complex lesson of the shame and torture that we can be spared when we do things the right way.)  The story expands to include the family members of the Kareninas, and there is where my favorite characters are found.  The love story between Levin and Kitty stirs my heart and captures my imagination.  The relationship between Kitty’s sister and Anna’s brother makes me want to scream.  I think the value of the book may lie in it’s insight into human relationships, romantic and platonic.  It’s a wonderful book.

Have you read any of these books?  What did you think of them?

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Madeleine L’Engle

Madeleine L'EngleMadeleine L’Engle is an author I believe I will enjoy all my life.  I was introduced to her through a devotional book called Glimpses of Grace.  It was on our resource table at a seminar I did.  One day I was bored, so I picked up the book and flipped through it.  I was hooked.  I bought it and used it as my devotional guide for several years.  It opened my soul to the presence of God, ignited something new inside me, and caused me to think in a different and delightful way.  The book is made up of excerpts from L’Engle’s various works.  She was a prolific author.

The first book of hers that I read was chosen because I so enjoyed the excerpts in the devotional book.  It was titled A Circle of Quiet.  My family made fun of me for reading it because it wasn’t some kind of romance novel and it took me quite awhile to work through it.  The ideas she presented were so new and fresh and beautiful to me that I didn’t want to miss anything.  She writes about truly being yourself, what that means, and how to find out what makes you come alive.  She writes about not being embarrassed by who we are and the things we are gifted to do – how to accept our own creativity and joy.  I didn’t agree with everything she wrote, but I loved the parts I did agree with so much that I couldn’t get enough.  A Circle of Quiet is the first book in the Crosswicks Journal Series.  I went on to read the entire series and thoroughly enjoyed them.

She wrote her first novel as a young woman and out of curiosity, I read that.  It’s titled A Small Rain.  It was fascinating and moving.  When she was much older, she wrote a sequel to it titled A Severed Wasp.  I immediately purchased that book and read it as soon as I was finished with the first one.  Her books are life-changing in the way she uses stories to present ideas and concepts.  I am forever changed by the stories she tells.  For example, she writes of a long-term marriage and the love between the two people.  There’s nothing easy about their love for one another and it takes work every single day.  They make interesting compromises and struggle with terrible challenges, but they work it out every day.  How much different than our fairy tales that tell us “they lived happily ever after,” yet you never get the idea that her characters aren’t basically happy people with real lives.

A Wrinkle in TimeShe wrote the popular children’s book A Wrinkle in TimeI read that as an adult and devoured the other three books in the series that came after it.  I can’t wait to read them to my own children one day.  They are creative and imaginative and wild.  Space and time travel, other creatures, and stories that present truth to children – what can be better than that?

She has a book on writing titled Madeleine L’Engle Herself, which is another collection of excerpts from her writings and lectures.  It is full of advice on how to become a writer and the writing process.  I read a little bit here and there and have been working on it for a few years.  I love how she has encouraged and shaped me as a writer.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her book of poetry titled The Ordering of LoveShe writes religious poetry, love poems, and many other types of poems.  She uses words in such an amazing way, you can read her poems over and over and still find new and wonderful things in them.  There are poems about her husband that take my breath away.

Tonight I was looking at amazon.com and imagining buying all her books now so I’ll have them when I’m ready to read them.  I already have a few that I haven’t had a chance to read yet.  I decided not to buy them all up now, but to wait and get them here and there until I have all of them.  I can’t imagine anything that she’s written that I wouldn’t thoroughly enjoy.  You all really ought to check her out.  She’s amazing.

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Girl Meets God – Book Review

My church is about to enter a new series called A Journey to Pentecost.  This seven-week series is a way for us to prepare our hearts for Pentecost – the day when the Holy Spirit rushed in as a mighty wind and appeared with tongues like fire upon those who were gathered in the upper room (Acts 2:1-4).  We are preparing our hearts for the Holy Spirit to visit us on the Day of Pentecost. 

 

As part of that sermon series, our pastor will reference a book called Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner.  For this reason, my blog today is a book review of Girl Meets God.  For those of you who do not attend my church, I hope you’ll read it anyway and consider adding this wonderful book to your reading list.   

 

Book Review – Introduction

 

Lauren Winner is a young, single woman with several degrees from prestigious universities, ending in a PhD from Cambridge.  She’s currently teaching at Duke Divinity School and has published three books.  From reading this book, it’s safe to say that my own reading list (which my family and friends often tease me about because it has too many intellectual books and too few fluffy romance novels) is as fluffy as they come.  She reads things like out of print church history books (for fun), biblical commentaries, Chinese history, and guides to American Supreme Court decisions.  I’m kind of proud of myself for reading Dante’s The Divine Comedy and my working knowledge of Shakespeare.  I don’t read biblical commentaries for fun or care much about the history of other countries.  Winner’s obvious intelligence doesn’t get in the way of her ability to tell good stories and engage the reader though.  She’s a talented writer and I enjoyed her book.

 

The book is about her personal spiritual journey toward God.  She’s the daughter of a Jewish father and a “lapsed Southern Baptist” mother who divorced when she was young.  She was raised to be Jewish, but she had to officially convert to Judaism since her mother isn’t Jewish.  She became an Orthodox Jew – a strict and traditional form of Judaism – wearing long skirts, keeping the Sabbath laws, and learning Hebrew.  Nearly all her closest friends were Jewish.  She dated Jewish guys – although those guys wouldn’t marry her because she was a convert and for various reasons they wanted to marry a girl from a traditional Jewish home.  She ate Jewish food.  Her Judaism engulfed every aspect of her life. 

 

Even though she officially converted to Judaism, Winner had a fascination with Christian things.  She read Christian books and wrote papers on Christian topics.  She knew this was strange behavior for a Jew, but that didn’t stop her.  She eventually had a dream in which Jesus appeared to her in person.  She knew it was Him and writes,

 

I knew, as soon as I woke up, that the dream had come from God and it was about the reality of Jesus.  The truth of Him.  That He was a person whose pronouns you had to capitalize.  That He was God.  I knew that with more certainty than I have ever known anything else (p. 56). 

 

This was one major step in her journey toward God.  Because her entire life was centered on Judaism, it took her several years and several other major steps to make the decision to convert to Christianity. 

 

Sometimes when a person’s entire life is centered on something they want to change, the best way to make that change is to move away for a time.  (It worked for me after the breakup of my engagement when I went to Virginia Beach for a couple years.)  Winner graduated from Columbia University and went to Cambridge in England.  It was there that Winner found the courage to declare her faith in Christ, be baptized, and become a member of a church.  Her father was horrified, her Orthodox Jewish friends did not understand and many turned their backs on her entirely, and she faced the judgment of those who thought she would tire of Christianity the way she had Judaism and become a Buddhist.  But she took great pleasure in eating pork, casting off the long skirts, and embracing the amazing fact that God had sent His Son to earth to become a man who could understand us and live among us. 

 

Much of the beauty of this book lies in the comparisons that Winner weaves between Christianity and Judaism.  She sets up the book in sections that coincide with the seasons of the church – beginning with a Jewish holiday called Sukkot (an 8-day Jewish festival celebrating the harvest), then moving into the Christian seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide, and Pentecost.  Winner writes about how she misses the Jewish traditions that she grew up with, pointing out similarities and differences between Jewish and Christian holidays. 

 

Pentecost

 

The main reason that our pastor is referencing this book in our new series is in regard to her section on Pentecost (makes sense, since the series is A Journey to Pentecost…).  She starts this section by explaining that “Pentecost, which means ‘fifty days’ in Greek, was once just another name for Shavuot, the Jewish holiday that comes fifty days after Passover” (p. 227).  She then goes on to explain the significance of Pentecost for Christians, which you non-Pentecostal readers can find in Acts chapter two.  (Those of us raised Pentecostal or Charismatic had no choice but to memorize this moment in Christian history a long, long time ago.) 

 

Jews traditionally stay up all night the night before Pentecost studying the Torah because they commemorate God’s revealing the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai on Shavuot.  She and her friends decided to do the same thing, studying to find the reasons that the days (Shavuot and Pentecost) coincide.  In Acts, the followers of Jesus were gathered all night to celebrate Shavuot.  The next day, the Holy Spirit fell on them. 

 

The author and her friends take turns teaching each other what they’ve discovered and this all night study leads them to the conclusion that when God gave Moses the Torah, He gave “a living tradition.  He gave not just a book, but a way for His children to read and interpret that book” (p. 236).  When God gave His followers the Holy Spirit, He gave “the thing that would make His revelation stay alive for us, stay with us, even though the moment of revelation is over.  He gave us the Holy Spirit to help us build the church even though Jesus has ascended into heaven” (p. 235).  The parallel is that at both events, God gave His people a gift that would keep on giving, growing and developing our understanding of Him and our ability to know Him.  “At Pentecost and Shavuot, revelation becomes a human responsibility” but “the authority of people to unfold revelation here on Earth will always be held in check by His will” (p. 237).

 

After establishing that the Holy Spirit is given for the on-going work of the church, Winner (now an Anglican) has a chapter devoted to speaking in tongues.  She writes frankly about the gift of tongues and what she has learned about it.  A friend of hers told her that it’s the best way she knows to express her gratitude to God because words often fail her.  Overcome by gratitude toward God and unable to express it the way she wished, Winner writes,

 

I sat on my couch and I began to pray for a prayer language.  I wanted to make the creek-rushing sounds.  I wanted to thank God with words bigger than any words I had.  I wanted to praise Him effortlessly, to not have to think of sentences all the time, to not be constrained by my own small vocabulary” (p. 257). 

 

In her prayer, she turned her request into a test of God.  If He was real, He would give her a prayer language.  When the prayer language did not come immediately, she realized how ridiculous that test was and that God would give her the gift of tongues when she could ask for it without making it a test of her entire faith. 

 

The Holy Spirit is also the Sanctifier.  In a chapter entitled Sanctification School, Winner tells of the day that one of her best friends announced she was having a baby.  This friend’s marriage had gone through a fiery trial and had been on the mend for about a year.  The author, still single and wanting to be married, did not handle the news well.  While polite to her friend, she went home and cried out to God about her own jealousy and asked God to give her the grace to stand with her friend during this time.  This is one of my favorite parts of the book – probably because I can identify with the author.  I feel that many people see marriage as THE Thing God uses to sanctify people, to purge them of sins.  But are singles not also sanctified through the trials we face – loneliness, uncertainty of the future, celibacy, childlessness?  Winner captures this sentiment so well by writing,

 

Hannah’s pregnancy is my own school of sanctification.  God is sanctifying Jim and Hannah through marriage and parenthood, but He is not just blessing them and leaving me out in the unblessed cold.  He is using my ridiculous jealousy and my endless self-pity to sanctify me…  God does not cause our suffering, but He uses it. (pp. 280-281). 

 

Conclusion

 

Like her thoughts on sanctification, there are some other wonderful gems in this book that I hope you will discover for yourself.  Winner writes candidly about her own life and experiences.  She opens herself up to the reader and shares very personal details of her life.  She struggles with the restrictions of Christianity in some of the same ways she struggled with Judaism, but the gracious mercy of a God who would send His Son to be our brother draws her back in.  Those things make her want to be a better Christian. 

 

One topic in this book that I found refreshing and surprising is her openness about the difficulty of celibacy as an evangelical Christian.  As I did a little research on her, I found that she has recently published a new book called Real Sex:  The Naked Truth about Chastity.  In this book, she discusses the topic in more detail and helps modern evangelical Christians get a handle on the theology of chastity.  I ordered a copy immediately and look forward to reading it as soon as it arrives. 

 

I guess that’s the best praise I can offer for the book – I immediately ordered her newest book.  If you enjoy reading at all, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of this book at your local bookstore and get to know Lauren Winner.  Hopefully in reading her journey, you will discover something of yourself and come to a fresh understanding of all that God offers to His saints.

 

Girl Meets God:  On the Path to a Spiritual Life by Lauren E. Winner

Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, (c) 2002.

ISBN:  1-56512-309-3

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My Book

I’m writing a book.  I feel like I’ve been working on it all my life – and I probably have in some ways.  It is far from finished because I stopped writing it for a while. 

 

I’ve been asked many times what it’s about and have had difficulty answering that question.  The reason I think it’s been hard is because I haven’t been quite sure myself.  I’ve subjected my book to the thoughts and criticisms of a few people and that’s changed what I wrote.  It changed it so much that I lost the joy of writing it and stopped  for a while.  Those ideas and suggestions were really good, and I’m glad I requested them, but I allowed them to have too much influence and get me off track. 

 

I’m ready to write again now because I’ve rediscovered my vision. 

 

The book is a collection of stories.  It isn’t a book that will tell anyone how to live, how to lead, or how to succeed.  Who am I to tell people those things?  It is a book of stories – the way I experienced things that happened in my life and how they impacted me. 

 

I truly enjoy telling stories.  I hope the inherent lessons in those stories will be understood by the reader.  But it exhausts me to think about telling the story, then trying to explain the meaning of it and telling readers what they should think or do as a result of that story.  If they can’t figure out what they think or can do as a result of the story, then I’ve probably failed as a story-teller…

 

It’s fun to me that sometimes on my blog comments other people do me the favor of explaining the lesson in my story to me.  Or maybe they’re explaining it to others who read the comments on my blog?  (I like to read the comments on other blogs, so I guess this is possible.)  Either way, it’s rewarding in a way to get to read the revelation they had through my story.  I try not to imagine that they don’t think I realize the moral of my own story.  J 

 

Madeleine L’Engle is one of my favorite writers of all time.  I think I like her so much because she loves to instill ideas and concepts in the mind of the reader through stories.  If you read A Wrinkle in Time, you will probably never have the idea that people can be governed through mere brain power alone.  You will recognize that people are all different, they need different things, and compassion (heart) is essential in leading others.  One of the characters in the book is a large, disembodied brain who rules with rigid laws about conforming to ridiculous rules.  L’Engle doesn’t have to explain this concept to the reader.  It’s understood. 

 

This realization about my book just really hit me recently.  I was reading L’Engle’s thoughts on writing well in a book called Madeleine L’Engle Herself in which she repeatedly writes things like – I don’t write my books; my books write me.  She makes it sound like she has very little to do consciously with the writing of her books.  It’s a practice of her sub-conscious.  When she’s writing, something totally outside of herself happens and the words on the page are often far different from what she thought of before the pen touched the paper.  As a writer, this makes sense to me.  I have also experienced this phenomenon many times and have been amazed by it.  If I have a problem to figure out, the surest way to do it is to put pen to paper and write until it’s solved.  And it works.  It’s like the pen allows me to tap into a place in my soul that my verbal communication skills can never reach.  It’s admittedly weird, but it happens. 

 

The point of explaining all that is to say that when I first started writing my book, it flowed naturally.  As I wrote about my past, things came to light in my mind, fit together, and finally made a little sense.  I trust that process now so much that I have no doubt the things I write are truth.  But this ability to write truth suddenly stopped in regard to my book.  Instead, I was trying to force myself to write out “lessons” after each story.  Yuck.  I’m done with that.  Let the reader figure out the lesson – I’m on to a new story! 

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What I’m Reading

Currently, I’m re-reading (or rather, listening to the audio book) “Live, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s a totally non-Christian book about spiritual things. I completely disagree with the conclusions she comes to about God, but at the same time I love the way she writes. I love her observations about life. Something about the book makes me feel happy and peaceful. I can’t explain it.

I’m also reading “Herself” by Madeleine L’Engle. It’s a wonderful collection of snippets from her work over the years as it relates to the writing process. It’s the perfect book to inspire writers.

I just finished the fourth book in Lynn Austin’s Chronicles of the Kings” series. It was a pretty depressing book – everybody dies! But I thoroughly enjoyed the first three books and I think the fifth one in the series will be excellent as well.

I also just finished a fluffy little romance novel not even worthy to name here. Every once in a while it’s nice to read something that I don’t have to think too hard about. Plus, my sister demanded that I get something fluffy with the Barnes and Noble gift card she sent me…

I am ABOUT to read a book called “Girl Meets God” by Lauren Winner. It’s about a Jewish girl’s journey toward Christ. This one I’m reading for work, but also personally interested in.

Thoughts? Comments?

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My Brain is Tired?

I’ve been under the weather for the last few days. How much TV can one person watch before they lose their minds?  It’s not much for me.  In my old age, I’m finding I have less and less tolerance for stupid story lines.  So I spent most of yesterday in bed, reading a book titled Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars.  It’s a business book, written as a fable, and a quick and interesting read.  Believe me when I say this…  I am not a big fan of most business books, but this one is good.  Even though it’s a good book, I was definitely surprised when I finished it in about three hours. 

 

In the preceding days, I’d also finished a book titled The Weight of Water and another one titled Redeeming Love.  Both of those books are novels that I’d been working on for awhile and was able to finish when I had the time to just sit and read.  I also finished reading the book that was recently published with an article that I wrote – God, Please Help Me through this Wilderness.  I hadn’t had a chance to read all the other articles in it yet and when I had the time, I read through them.  By the way, the other articles are really good and I had a great devotional time because of them.

 

I don’t think I’ve told anyone what I read and it never occurred to me to do so.  Then my sister called this morning.  When I told her I just wasn’t feeling right, but am not sure what’s wrong, she said,

“Well, maybe your brain is just tired from all that reading.” 

            “What?”  I replied, wondering if she’s installed hidden cameras in my house.  “I haven’t talked to you in days.  How do you know I’ve been reading a lot?” 

            Katie kind of laughed and said, “You didn’t have to tell me you’d been reading.  Some things never change.” 

 

What followed was a sincere attempt on my part to justify my reading, followed by her making fun of me for not watching Lifetime movies all day but reading a business book.  She thought I should at least be reading romance novels…  My sister was also quite amused at my shock that she knew I’d been reading.  I tried to tell her that there are months on end when I rarely pick up a book, but I guess that’s probably not true.  I’m always reading something. 

 

The thing is, there’s just so much to learn and so little time.  What better way to learn than to read?  How does a person get better at their job, at relationships, or at life if they don’t read?  My friend Reneé says one of these days she’ll catch me walking around with a pocket protector.  I don’t know about that, but I do know that the best place to stash a book you can’t find the time to read is in the bathroom.  J 

 

Thus, there will be a new section of my blog called What I’m Reading.  Not that any of you will care that much, but just in case you’re interested…

  

 

What I’m Reading:
Making Small Groups Work – Cloud and Townsend

The Weight of Water – Anita Shreve
Redeeming Love – Francine Rivers
God, Please Help Me Through This Wilderness – assorted authors (including me :-))DemmeHouse Publishing

 

 

What I Recently Read:

Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars – Patrick Lencioni

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