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Archive for the ‘Jane Austen’ Category

Fanny Price is one of the most boring heroines in literature.  She is always good, always correct, and it seems that her only faults lie in being too timid and being too easily fatigued.

Edmund Bertram is one of the least interesting heroes in literature.  He is sincere, intentional, and sober.  His primary shortcoming seems to be thinking the best of people and making the most of bad circumstances.

But isn’t real life and real goodness more like this duo?  Do they not refute our human tendency to buy into bright personalities, to follow confidence, to love foolishly?  Isn’t it hard to draw the line between dying to self and giving in to the pressures of those less wise?

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, does seem to be busy pressing these truths.  The most charming characters are the ones who oppose the good.  Mr. Henry Crawford and his sister Mary may not set out to be wicked, but they don’t try to be good.  They try to seem good.  They may even wish they were good.  What good could be done with them if good people took them under wing, befriended them, taught, influenced, married them?

How are good people to resist the allure of reforming their lovers?  How are good people to judge accurately?

While simultaneously facing these dilemmas and illustrating them, Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram move through the excitement of new connections in the small neighborhood that has been their comfortable home.  Over and over again you see the heroine and hero making mistakes because of the things that influence their perspectives.  They doubt themselves.  They deceive themselves.  They reproach themselves.  They deny themselves.

And all through the plot, following paths merely tangential to each other, they’re getting a chance to discover the value of each other’s steady, reverential characters.  So when the events conspire to divide them from all the temptation of flattery, charm, and attraction, little wonder they proceed to fall in love with unsatisfactory brevity and with a felicity the envy of all their foolish relations.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I remember reading the Anne of Green Gables series, how well it taught the lesson.  Anne turned down a silly farmer who asked her to marry him via his sister.  She said no to Gilbert who’d been her rival all through school.  She was disappointed when her best friend agreed to marry the ordinary local, Fred.  But maybe her friend Diana was onto something.  Maybe Anne’s tall, dark, handsome, charming ideal wasn’t what Anne really needed.  As fiction conveniently wends its way, Anne met with such a man at college.  They courted for months.  And in the final breathless moment when he asked her to be his wife, she realized that she’d been wrong.  Her girlhood husband list had been dreamy and foolish.  There was nothing so wrong with this man.  But her heart wasn’t in it.  The truth was, she had been meant for Gil all along, only her stubborn fantasies had kept her from accepting it.

Having a list seemed to help me when I was in high school.  It reminded me that love and marriage were about choice, not just feelings.  I still like my lists, even if only for self-knowledge.  In my case I was over 20 years old when I realized that a man doesn’t have to have a career plan for the rest of his life to make a good husband.  Many of the men I have ever respected (including my own dad) have been hard workers, caring for others, but trying different things, or whatever work they could find.  In a changing world, myself even desiring a bit of adventure, how could I demand stability? So my list has been modified.  As I’ve gained humility about my own certainty of how the world should be, I’ve grown a bit more relaxed about some of the things.

Never mind the unforeseen and unknown; what selfish attitude is it that tells me that I can decide what I want and demand that I get that or else?  How was that affecting my relationships with men?  Is that what marriage is about?  Is that what life is about?

I know lots of examples of people digressing from their lists as they matured:

A friend said she’d never marry someone in the military.  Then she met her husband on a military base in Japan, and she changed her mind.

Another friend said her husband would have to own a top hat.  Would she really turn down an otherwise perfect match because he didn’t own the ideal accessory?  (The answer was “no”, she wouldn’t turn him down!)

Some friends wrestled with more serious questions.  Could they marry someone who was not a virgin?  What if his views on finances (debt, saving, spending) was different from hers?  If God was calling her to ministry, could she marry someone who didn’t have that same calling?

I suppose it goes both ways.  No doubt men have their own hang-ups.  One man I know struggled because his family owned many animals and the woman he was interested in had severe allergies.  I’ve heard that many men planning to be missionaries look only for women who are pursuing the same goal.

Some of these things are generally good wisdom.  A pastor I know counsels people to marry only if they’re physically attracted to one another (successful legacy of arranged marriages notwithstanding).  I know couples who were not attracted at first, but as they proceeded with their relationships, gained such feelings.  I myself would rather not marry someone in the military because of the demands on time and loyalty.  It’s a good idea to be unified about things like money and children and ministry.  But they’re not essential.  And sometimes, especially when we’re young, we don’t know what we need.  One artist friend knew God would provide her with an artist-husband, whose soul could understand hers.  Another artist friend has been married for decades to a man who’s good with numbers instead.

Still other friends now happily married look back and think their “lists” or ideas were lacking some significant points, like respect for parents.

In our society we barely know what marriage is really about, let alone what makes for a good one.  Sometimes parents and mentors advise us.  Sometimes they’re just taking a guess and pioneering new territory they never ventured on in their own relationships. Some of it is good advice, general wisdom.  A lot of it is promoting self-interest.  Some of it is universally-useful advice about trusting God and loving others.

Are there legitimate deal-breakers?  Is it wrong to have a list of things we’re looking for?  What guiding principles are there for deciding to get married?  What is marriage?  What contributes to a good marriage?  If you choose rashly at first, is there hope for a good marriage in the end?

But the fuss we make about who to choose…

~ Miss Austen Regrets

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I first heard of celeriac because Harriet Smith mentions it in Gwyneth Paltrow’s film version of Emma.  To be honest I only looked up the vegetable because the scene was running in my head like a parallel to my feelings.  You can’t really find it in grocery stores, and even the farmer’s market, sell grains in bulk, entire sections devoted to vitamins and organic produce stores didn’t have it.  But when I happened to be at Whole Foods with a friend this week, I checked and sure enough, there was the knobby root with the cropped remnant of celery stalks on the top.  “Knobby” is actually an understatement.  Celery root (celeriac) looks like dirty brains.  Anyway, I chose one – a smaller one that was still heavy; denser is better.

 

After showing off my find to everyone in the house – my 81 year old grandmother has never even seen one – I sat down to find a recipe for what I’m impudently renaming “Irony Soup.”  Every recipe I could find had onions and leeks.  I don’t have either on hand.  Onions I usually leave out anyway.  Leeks I have never used and for that reason I was hesitant, besides knowing they’re in the onion family.  Ginger I had – for the first time I was going to try grating my own straight from the root, into some recipe or other.  So at the last minute, before heading to the grocery store to pick up leeks, I did a Google search for a soup with celeriac and ginger.  What I found, here: http://straightfromthefarm.net/2009/03/07/celeriac-and-ginger-soup/ is Irony Soup.

 

No onions even to be crossed off of the recipe.  An entire head of garlic.  Carrots and cream and potato and herbs, some of my favorite soup ingredients (you know – for the two or three soups I’ve ever made or eaten).

 

Chopping the vegetables and peeling the garlic took way longer than I expected, but this is just what one would expect from Irony Soup.  I chopped away.  I forgot the salt when I first started simmering the mixture, so maybe that’s why the vegetables took so long to soften.  I also improvised on measurements a bit and added celery just to enhance that edge of the flavor.  Making it up as you go following general guidelines is also apropos for Irony Soup.

 

The celeriac and ginger smells wafted through the house while the soup simmered.  Because I started late and the softening process took longer than expected, I had to interrupt the soup and go to a party.  I resumed this afternoon.

 

I paired my serving with buttered wheat toast, because you want to make sure you have something you like at your side when you’re trying something new.  The soup came out ideally creamy and thicker than most soups I’ve had.

 

And just like irony whose poignancy lingers, the ginger is strong, with a bite still felt after you swallow.  It’s full of healthy things, low in calories, so it won’t boost your energy all that much, and low in fat so you won’t end up regretting the experience.

 

In this house, where we like to share things, the batch will probably serve more than four.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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If you were my Facebook friend, you would know that I’ve been in a questioning, controversial mood lately.  I decided that instead of just letting these thoughts float through my head, I’d expose the Facebook world to the incessant barrage of deep or significant questions that most of us choose to ignore or forget.  So I post the questions, and friends comment.  I try not to participate much.  Truly, this thinks-all-the-time writer isn’t a know-it-all for all the thinking.  And I have real questions.  Sometimes I think I have the answers, and I need the strongly-self-confident opposition to teeter-totter me back the other way, just a bit.

 

Back in November I took a weekend to read through old journals.  There were a lot more than I thought, so I didn’t even read through all of them.  My object was to see what God’s been up to.  Has He been changing me? What can I praise Him for?  I rather failed in the praising part.  Mostly I kept the things I discovered to myself, and what’s more – in the back of my mind.  But one thing I know I realized was that I’m not nearly as confident as I used to be.  For my pitiable Facebook friends, it may be hard to believe, but I’m gentler.  I used to take a firm and lengthy explanatory position, with rather contempt for other ideas, about predestination – to myself of course, in my journals.  Except each time I wrote, the position was a little different, and it was like I hadn’t realized my understanding was changing.  But I’m not like that now, not as much.  I don’t always know the answer, and just because I think of an explanation doesn’t mean it’s true.

 

Last night I was watching the newer film version of Emma, the one starring Romola Garai.  For some reason I was paying attention, and realized that Emma doesn’t just learn in the course of the story: she grows.  There is a difference in her reaction to correction, gradually growing in humility and grace as the movie progresses.  So not only is she learning not to manipulate, and to be kinder, and to pay attention to the world around her – she’s also moving from defending against correction, to beating herself up when she’s wrong, to contemplating the opinions of others, and finally, to almost anticipating their criticisms of her.  She’s not flippant any more, but she’s not stormy either.  The Emma who marries Mr. Knightley is still a bit silly, but she is – I want to say calmer, but every time I think it, I picture her tear-stained face protesting that she cannot marry because she cannot leave her father – more profound, maybe?  She is truly thinking of others, and that makes her own opinions less relevant.

 

So I hope that I am becoming such a woman.  I am praying for humility.  For kindness and gentleness.  I want to be honest, and to be known, and to be helped and encouraged.  So I won’t be avoiding controversial topics.  Anyway, they seem to chase me down.  Just when I was letting the doctrines of ecclesiology simmer in a peaceful slumber, a friend brought them up again, awakened me to more questions – and most pressing, how to apply what I believe.  Next Facebook status: “Do you need a pastor?”

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

 

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This cinematic remake of Jane Austen’s Emma is delightful, from the music to the shadows.  It is less comic than the version starring Gwyneth Paltrow, focused instead on watching characters develop.  I think that Emma is the most realistic of Jane Austen’s novels, the most relevant to an average person’s life.  Other renditions of the potrait of humanity in Emma do not leave this out.  However, Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller delve deeper.

Emma has never been challenged, never been exposed to new places or new ideas.  She honestly thinks she is always right.  And she wants to excel.  As the movie progresses, she discovers she is lonely.  Playing with one’s own creations ends up dissatisfying, however painful it is to relate to real, independent people.

Mr. Knightley has also been content with his life, set in a routine that keeps him happy enough.  Everything he’s known could change, though.  Disruption is not impossible.  And what if he is wasting his life?  On the other hand, should he want to change something, is it even possible?  He cannot control Emma, this he knows – Emma who is ever declaring that she shall never marry.  What will give Mr. Knightley the confidence – or desperation – to try to win the heroine’s heart?

Surrounding the main characters are all the other inhabitants of Highbury: Miss Bates, Mr. Woodhouse, Mr. and Mrs. Elton, Mr. and Mrs. Weston, Jane Fairfax, Harriet Smith, and Frank Churchill.  Each is shown with their own struggles with identity, love, and managing their friends.  Staying in Highbury or leaving it has shaped their lives.  They all fear change, while simultaneously fearing that change may never come again.  Can good friends help them endure whatever life sends their way?

Watch as Emma goes from playing with dolls under the table, to arranging flowers, to arranging matches, back to arranging parties and managing a house – and her own heart.  See Mr. Knightley through the window, gradually approaching Emma’s loneliness.  Experience the light and seasons shift.  Feel the restrained emotion at the ball.  Dream of what might be.  And fall humbly into the beauty of what really is.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Your God is Too Safe by Mark Buchanan – A well-written book about Christian living.  Dare to believe in a God who is not about rules, whose way is not comfortable or easy or popular.  Practice His presence.  Wait on Him and don’t give up, taking matters into your own hands.  It took me a while to read this book.  But every time I picked it up, it echoed the very lessons God was driving home in my lived-out life.

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning – All about grace.  And grace is always good.  I knew before I read it to be wary of some of Brennan Manning’s ideas, so that didn’t hang me up.  Even when I disagreed, I talked to my Jesus about it, and *that* made my week.

Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo – Was not a great story, not great writing, and not a great ending.  But I read it anyway, my first venture into Austen fan-fiction.  The title was the best part.  (To be Austen purist, I am pretty sure the author mis-identifies the inhabitants of Mansfield Park.  She should have said Bertram, but she said Rushworth.)

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (see full review)

Castles in the Sand by Carolyn A. Greene – A novel about the subtle ways pagan spirituality and eastern mysticism are becoming accepted in evangelical Christian organizations.  Focuses on the teachings and life of Teresa of Avila.

Annotated Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and David M. Shapard – The classic Jane Austen novel with lots of extra commentary as well as notes about history, economics, and fashion.  I liked it a lot!

Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul – Explanation of Calvinism especially versus Arminianism.  Focuses on the doctrine of predestination.

Tristan and Isolt, A Play in Verse by John Masefield – A short play telling a story of thoughtless love leading to tragedy.  What is real love?  How does Destiny figure in?

Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart by Beth Patillo – Another adventure in England with the Formidables, this time featuring a codependent heroine who has the chance to reinvent her life for a couple weeks without worrying what anyone needs her to be.  The exercise reveals her insecurity and causes her to confront her life choices.  Can a woman build a life on other people?

Green by Ted Dekker – Book 0 of the Circle Series, the beginning and end of the Thomas Hunter story.  I haven’t read any of the other books in the series, which Ted Dekker says is ok.  But it was confusing.  And I don’t think I like reading the end before the beginning.  I did like all the talk about hope.  And remembering that spiritual realities are real, even if they are unseen.

Miniatures and Morals: the Christian Novels of Jane Austen by Peter Leithart – A wonderful look at the beloved authoress’ use of satire, contrast, irony, and very good story-telling to communicate a morality originating in a deeply Christian worldview.


The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall, and Edmund Weiner (see full review)

Why Pro-Life?  Caring for the Unborn and their Mothers by Randy Alcorn A short summary of the major points of pro-life Christianity.  Pro-life is also pro-woman.  The “choice” is a moral one.  Preborn babies are people, too.  Pro-life ministries also help women after the babies are born.

That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis (see full review)

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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At the bottom of my Blogger website, I have a quote that I consider to be both great insight and fair warning.  Jane Austen wrote,

“A lady’s imagination is very rapid;

it jumps from admiration to love,

from love to matrimony, in a moment.”

That is to say, when a woman sees signs of admiration in a man, she imagines he is in love with his object of admiration and begins to plan what to wear to the wedding.  This is true, though rather conceited, even of ourselves.  To feel admired by a man suggests marriage to us.  I don’t know why.  And to confess the truth, we hear a woman admiring a man and think she is destined for him.  Or we do imagine ourselves in love when we have experienced only the slightest flutter of respect or attraction.

Girls are like that.  Jane Austen knew it.  I have not found many girls who could refute it. In Fiddler on the Roof the eldest daughter sings, “There’s more to life than [happiness in marriage]… Don’t ask me what!”  We’re a little obsessed, even when we are striving to focus on other things.  We see the world in matches, even our forks and spoons are paired off into couples or families.

And even though this is just how things are, life is not made simple by these unfounded convictions.  The rapidness of our imaginations does not only make it awkward for men to be around us (and more so when we act on these emotions or ideas without checking them against what we ought to do); it makes determining the actual sources of our emotions and regard rather difficult.  With these expectations come frequent disappointments.  Some people even teach that we ladies ought to quiet our hearts, to “guard them”

from feeling and hope and imagination.

I’m not talking about lust, but a way of sorting out and reacting to life.  Most men and women will marry, and the origins often are something like admiration, then love, then commitment to marriage.

So we have this option, to prevent our rapid imaginations.  We can go into a nunnery until the knight in shining armor rides by to select his bride.  Or we can treat the world as though we consider ourselves nuns (often complete with vows of silence).  I have, in the past, tended to be unwilling to do the work it takes to relate to men without assuming things about them that are not significant, or that are even untrue.  Part of this was for my own sake, as I said: life is much simpler when you do not let yourself interact with or admire others.

Another part is that we presume men take similar imaginative leaps, and that they are not to be trusted with any them.  And good little girls who are trying to be modest, well, we do not realize that men are not quite as rapid as we, and we assume that sparking admiration will make a man desperately in love…  It goes something like this:

If I smile at him, he’ll think I like him.  And if he thinks I like him, he will fall in love with me.  When he falls in love with me, he’ll want to marry me.  But I don’t want to marry him!  I barely know him!

So the good little girls don’t smile.  Never mind that if I smile at his compliment, courtesy, or joke he might think I was pleased – and I was, but I don’t want him to know.  In the words of the “faultless” Mr. Darcy, “Disguise of every sort is my abhorrence.

I know it is risky, but wouldn’t it be better to be honest?  I dare say that a woman can trust a man with a smile or a laugh.  We need to stop trying to control the situation.  What I have practiced, before I learned this, was rejecting people, not rejecting suitors.  When someone is being themselves and meets with no response, or no attentive audience, his identity is being torn down.  My heart has been my idol, so that I guarded it and exalted it at the expense of people.

What about this?  If I don’t smile at him, he’ll think his joke wasn’t funny, and he’ll try something else or give up relating to us entirely.  For a woman frustrated with the reluctance of men to marry, it is rather contradictory to be discouraging them from even interacting with us.

It is now my goal to be the woman of kindness and quietness that God has called me to be, to do the extra work it takes to contain the eager imaginations and assumptions that are my tendency as a female.  I will trust God with the consequences of being myself – in modesty and discretion and humility – but also with being myself as a sister, an emissary of God sent to build up (even nurture) those around me.  If I do fall in love, I will trust God.  If a man falls in love with me, I will trust my good Lord Jesus.  These situations are not impossible even when they are unwelcome.  And I would rather suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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On January 24, January 31, and February 7, PBS’s Masterpiece Classic will be airing the new BBC Emma starring Romula Garai and Michael Gambon.  I’m looking forward to this one.  Emma is the independent and fickle heroine bent on matchmaking.  Watch with her as she learns what real love and charity are all about.  It should air at 9:00 PM on each night, but CHECK YOUR LOCAL LISTINGS!  The first episode is 2 hours, and episodes 2 and 3 are each 1 hour long.  In Denver, Masterpiece airs on KRMA Channel 6.  Beginning February 9, you can also purchase Emma from PBS at their shop for about $35 or on Amazon for about $25 (pre-order).
You might want to also tune in the following week, February 14, for the short and delightful Northanger Abbey.  Give an hour and a half to giggle and sigh over the silly but likeable Catherine Moreland and her hero, Henry Tilney.  See my full review here.
Also to update you on my Jane Austen movie preferences, I could not excuse myself for failing to point you to the good adaptation of Persuasion, BBC’s 1971 miniseries starring Ann Firbank.  It is old, but much closer to the book.  Live for the moment when Mr. Elliot’s notice of Anne reawakens Captain Wentworth’s attention, or that letter, the perfect letter, at the end of the story.
Update April, 2010 – see my review of Emma starring Romola Garai!
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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To balance the post-election doldrums this week, I read Lady Susan, a complete short novel written by Jane Austen, the last on my list of her works to read.  Consisting entirely of letters except for the last two or three pages (which summarizes both why the story could not be continued in letters and the fates of all the main characters).  For my part I wish that the story had been developed more.  I want to know the young Miss Frederica, and the smart Mr. Reginald de Courcy.  Perhaps the value is in the art by which Miss Austen communicates so much leaving almost the whole unsaid.  One feels that there is a whole story and world of events that Jane Austen knew but wouldn’t share because she didn’t have to. 
 
The worldview of the widow Lady Susan is summed up in her words from Letter 16, “Consideration and esteem as surely follow command of language, as admiration waits on beauty.”  She is a scandalous flirt and insufferable liar, scheming throughout the novel to acquire pleasure, money, and importance at the expense of all her relations, friends, and even her daughter.  Jane Austen tends to end with her villains unpunished.  They don’t go to prison, or suffer a life-long illness or poverty or death.  The world may scorn them, but generally they never cared what the world thought.  We the good readers may pity the partners with whom they finish the tales, but the villains themselves will not wallow, we think, in self-pity for long, rather getting something for which they have always aimed. 
 
Lady Susan is a novel where, with the concise style, these patterns are readily exposed.  Read Lady Susan.  It’s a light, funny story with a background romance.  Characters are typically Jane Austen even if we see little of them.  And the style makes a good template for understanding the rest of Jane Austen’s beloved books.
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Books Read in 2008
Persuasion by Jane Austen (ok, so I re-read it, but loved it more the third time. The tale of a good, intelligent woman on the verge of being forever an “old maid,” whose family ignores her but whom she helps all the same. There is a handsome man she loved before he was rich, and so turned down at the influence of her family and friends, and very much regrets. He comes back into her life and suddenly everyone realizes Anne Elliot is the girl they want to marry. I underlined every word that illustrated persuasion, steadfastness, or persuad-ability. There are a lot.)
The Preacher and the Presidents by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy (a modern history book looking at leadership, politics, and big decisions as associated with Billy Graham.)
A Walk With Jane Austen by Lori Smith (Single Christian girl in early thirties goes to England to trace Jane Austen’s life. She dreams of love, finds something special, and goes on to share her very human, very female thoughts about life, love, and God – often borrowing words from Jane Austen herself.)
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare: I’d say the book is about making choices, and the freedom that comes from doing the right thing even when you don’t understand what’s going on. And it has to do with contentment and waiting and hard work. I see my friend, who recommended the book, in the pages. It’s the kind of thing she would like and live – and the kind of thing I would like and try to live.  Kit grew up in the free, warm Atlantic equatorial islands.  When her grandfather, who raised her, died, she decided to move in with her penpal aunt in New England.  The Puritan atmosphere doesn’t quite suit Kit, who looks for friends who share her sense of freedom.  Life doesn’t turn out quite how she imagines (through failure of imagination of consequences), but she means well.  Her influence gently softens the community, but eventually she is still tried as a witch.
I recently read GK Chesterton’s first novel, Napoleon of Notting Hill. It was a quick read, interesting and fast-paced. It follows the life and career of the most unique humorist of England, one Auberon Quin, who was elected by lottery the king of England according to the consummate democracy of his fictional future government. Auberon enjoys making people confounded and annoyed, by being himself completely ridiculous. I have a feeling that this would be an even less popular course in England than in America.
 Young, Restless, and Reformed by Collin Hansen took a tour of the country to find out about this multi-rooted movement of ‘young Calvinists.’ He did a great job of filling pages with information about theology, denominations, organizations, authors, and what’s so exciting to us about God’s sovereignty. Grace, a consistent description of the world, a God worth worshiping – we have lots of answers, lots of paths that are bringing us to become part of the revival of Calvinism in the West. Why is God doing this? We wait to see.
Brave New Family by GK Chesterton is a compilation of many essays written about the Home and Family, about relationships between men and women and children.  It is excellent, but I read it so long ago that I can’t remember all that much about it.

The Man who was Thursday by GK Chesterton is a sort of allegorical tale about sovereignty and the war of the anarchists.  It is filled with character sketches.  The full impact of this book did not hit me until after I had read it and proceeded with life, when I began to encounter ideas and people frighteningly similar to those in this book.  I think Chesterton based some of them off real people whom he had met as well.  Hang in there for the end of the book.  It will blow your mind.

Ekklesia, edited and compiled by Steve Atkerson of the New Testament Reformation Fellowship, is an exposition of the New Testament’s descriptions of and instructions for the Church.  Apart from the business model, consumer structure of traditional church meetings, the authors argue from the Bible for a more personal and interactive gathering in homes.  There was very little in this book with which I could disagree.  Not only was it informational, reading Ekklesia was also challenging and encouraging.  The theology and exposition is spot on, well supported with biblical references.  In an age when God is working in many hearts to produce a desire to engage in community and God-powered ministry, this is a good book for direction.  An added bonus is that NTRF has not copyrighted Ekklesia, encouraging you to distribute portions to your friends or quote it in publications.

The Shack, by William Young, is a novel of a man dealing with the tragic death of his daughter and his feelings about God.  He ends up spending a weekend with God, dealing with classic issues of the problem of pain and our acceptance of God’s goodness despite what we feel.  God is incarnate in three persons, with whom he has many vivid interactions and conversations.  At the end of the story, he is left with more peace about God and the life he has experienced, but still does not have answers about what God expects of him.  The story is written in a way that tempts you to believe it is based on a true history.  At the end when I read the “making of” that told me it was only fiction, I was much relieved.  There is enough truth in the philosophy and theology that I could not believe the book represented demonic activity (producing the supernatural things described).  But there were also enough problematic elements (God as a girl wearing blue jeans) that I could not believe the events were truly from God.  Realizing that the author used fiction to introduce his own thoughts on theology must allow for him to be mistaken yet in some areas.  Most concerning are the indications that God would not send any of His creations to hell, because He loves ‘all His children’ – with an unbiblical definition of God’s children.  The semi-gnostic tendencies and references, including a conference with Sophia, the goddess of wisdom, provide insight into the background of Mr. Young.  The book is not keen on the Bible or church, either.  For a best seller, this book is a quick read and an interesting visit to theology.  But God gave us the Bible as His personal revelation; don’t substitute anything for it.

The Midnight Dancers is Regina Doman’s fourth fairy tale novel.  I don’t know whether she was a rebel herself or consulted heavily with people who had been there, but all of her observations on motive and inner conflict resonated well with my observations, and actually explained things.  Her main character is very human, torn between desires to be responsible and to be appreciated as an adult, between her love of freedom and her love of people.  Midnight Dancers also shows the slippery slope of sacrificing even a little bit of discernment while justifying your freedom and pleasure.  Like all of Mrs. Doman’s books, I was entranced.  However this edition, similar to Waking Rose, got pretty graphic and even too intense for my spirit to remain healthy.  I skipped a few pages near the end.  Fairy tales are fairly predictable in their endings, and this is no surprise.  They all lived happily ever after.

Mark is a book that transports me immediately back in history.  Full of action with little explanation, it is a biography of acts more than teachings, of impact rather than influences.  Beginning with a scene straight from a screenplay, of a voice crying in the wilderness, climaxing with the compassionate passion of a good Man suffering in the place of others, and closing with a simple instruction to pass the story on, Mark is a book for the ages.  Even though Jesus is the main character, the other characters are just as active and many are vivid personalities.  Mark himself may even make a cameo in a humble role at Gethsemane.  First to last this gospel is glorious.

It never ceases to amaze me how many facts are tucked into Genesis.  Details of the lives and failings of men who lived so long ago surprise me with their human reality.  Places and people, kings and battles, ancestries and inventions cover the pages.  Of course Genesis begins with creation, establishing the understanding of matter, time, energy, life, marriage, science, music, farming, boats, rain, rainbows, government, justice, worship, sacrifice, truth, possession, family, and judgment.  The generations are also sprinkled with hints of redemption and unwarranted preservation and forgiveness, of the second man supplanting the first.  Read in light of the New Testament’s references to this first book, Genesis is remarkably alive with parables and theology.  My favorite part in this reading was the theme of changed lives.

Treason by Ann Coulter is a history book with a strong political bent.  She documents how the Democratic Party is always cheering for and or supporting America’s enemies.  In the very least they have a record of opposing any efforts Americans make to defend themselves against enemies.  She describes the myth of McCarthyism, pointing out that all those people whose lives McCarthy’s trials (and just his influence) supposedly ruined were either open Communists or eventually found out to be Communists.  And most of them enjoyed long, pleasant lives (not getting everything their way, but who does?).  McCarthy, on the other hand, died young, at age 48.  But Ann Coulter doesn’t stop with the post World War II McCarthy.  She goes on to discuss Vietnam, the Cold War, North Korea, and the War on Terrorism.  History is dirty, and she both addresses some mature issues and references them to make jibes.  But I appreciate the excessive documentation of the habit of Democrats to stand up on the side most opposed to America’s interests.  They used to call such blatant and effective acts “treason.”

Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas and Power by Jesse L. Byock (see full review)
Sphere by Michael Crichton (see full review)
Alien Intrusion by Gary Bates (see full review)
Godcast: Transforming Encounters with God; Bylines by Media Journalist and Pastor Dan Betzer (see full review) 

Lady Susan by Jane Austen (To balance the post-election doldrums this week, I read Lady Susan, a complete short novel written by Jane Austen, the last on my list of her works to read.  Consisting entirely of letters except for the last two or three pages (which summarizes both why the story could not be continued in letters and the fates of all the main characters).  For my part I wish that the story had been developed more.  I want to know the young Miss Frederica, and the smart Mr. Reginald de Courcy.  Perhaps the value is in the art by which Miss Austen communicates so much leaving almost the whole unsaid.  One feels that there is a whole story and world of events that Jane Austen knew but wouldn’t share because she didn’t have to.  The worldview of the widow Lady Susan is summed up in her words from Letter 16, “Consideration and esteem as surely follow command of language, as admiration waits on beauty.”  She is a scandalous flirt and insufferable liar, scheming throughout the novel to acquire pleasure, money, and importance at the expense of all her relations, friends, and even her daughter.  Jane Austen tends to end with her villains unpunished.  They don’t go to prison, or suffer a life-long illness or poverty or death.  The world may scorn them, but generally they never cared what the world thought.  We the good readers may pity the partners with whom they finish the tales, but the villains themselves will not wallow, we think, in self-pity for long, rather getting something for which they have always aimed.  Lady Susan is a novel where, with the concise style, these patterns are readily exposed.  Read Lady Susan.  It’s a light, funny story with a background romance.  Characters are typically Jane Austen even if we see little of them.  And the style makes a good template for understanding the rest of Jane Austen’s beloved books.) 

Dead Heat by Joel Rosenberg (see full review)

Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver (There wasn’t a lot of new Christian stuff in this book, but it was a good read and some challenging reminders.  This book covers topics ranging from worry to service to worship to personal devotions.  I love how the book draws everything together into the One Thing conclusion.  Joanna invites you to join her journey of seeking a Mary Heart in a Martha World.)

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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