Sunday, April 19, 2015

Everything We Have Comes From Him

I'm in the midst of a several day slog through a lot of work deadlines, which in actuality is part of a longer series of months where I've been pushing at a pace I know I can't keep up much longer.

My mind is tired. I am running out of creative ideas (both teaching and writing). I am running out of energy and hours.

My heart is tired. We have friends going through the unfathomable sadness of accompanying one of their children through terrible illness that looks as though it will end soon in death.  I have turned twice to news reports in recent days about the persecution and killing of Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

My mind and heart are also bursting with love and gospel goodness, which in the midst of all the heartbreak and heartache feels ever more precious each day. We have been loving our nearly teenage daughter through a ton of very hard questions about God, life, Jesus, the Bible, and the world -- incredible questions that come faster than we can possibly answer (her mind works at such an amazing pace sometimes). I spent part of the morning trying my best to answer questions from a seven year old who told me he really wants to see God.

Tonight I was glad to come across these words from the end of 1 Corinthians chapter 1 in The Message:

"Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.”

What a rich treasure God has given us -- all of us who weren't much when we were called, but who by God's grace have been given everything we need, including a clean slate and fresh start.

 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Upside Down World

I'm working on a proposal for a youth curriculum lesson based on Acts 17 and 1 Thessalonians 1. The Acts 17 passage has that wonderful verse where Paul and his friends are accused of having "turned the world upside down." The people of Thessalonica didn't mean that as a compliment -- Paul and his fellow missionaries were proclaiming the gospel, and it had upset their whole way of thinking and being! (Sometimes having your world turned upside down isn't very comfortable!) But their words were truer than they probably realized at the time.

And what was true then is still true now. The gospel changes everything!

My dear husband gave me the terrific idea of having the kids look at an "upside down map" for one of the activities. If you've never had a chance to check out a map with a south-north orientation, do. It will blow your mind and get you thinking about the world in highly creative ways. It might humble you a bit too, especially as you ponder how many tacit assumptions we sometimes make about our place in the world based on the accepted construct of our maps.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Holy Week and Easter

"He became naked so that we might be clothed; he who was truly fit to rule took all our dishonesty and unfitness to rule upon himself; he rose from the utter dependence of death with an imperishable body, "more fully clothed," so that we, too,clothed in his merciful robe, might be fully knowing and fully known in love's full embrace.  Like God.  As we were meant to be."
                                       ~Andy Crouch, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power

A blessed end of Holy Week, and a joyous Easter!

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Penderwicks in Spring

I don't usually pre-order books, but with The Penderwicks in Spring, the fourth book in Jeanne Birdsall's planned five book series, I made an exception. Not only had my twelve year old daughter been eagerly anticipating the next installment since she was nine, I love these delightful books too. When I had a gift certificate around Christmas, I plugged the pre-order into my purchase...and almost forgot about it.

You can imagine the excitement when the beautiful yellow and green jacketed hardback arrived on Friday. The sweet girl and I promptly treated the book like Nick and Tommy Geiger treat their beloved football, passing it with great enthusiasm. She read it in two days, managed to not give me any major spoilers, and handed it off after telling me that she loved it. I also read it in two days (knowing we will both go back to savor it more slowly later) partly because I knew she was longing to talk about it. Which is what we did for a good bit of yesterday morning.

Without providing too many spoilers, I do want to give a shout-out that this book is every bit as lovely as its predecessors, and in many ways moved my heart more deeply than the first three. The books have always been a wonderful mixture of humor, sweetness, and some bitter sweetness. Birdsall manages to balance multiple emotions while providing stories with lively pacing and character defining moments for her beloved cast of characters.

Fans of the books should know – and this is nothing you can’t discover online or on the book flap – that the events in this book take place about five years after the last one. That means that Rosalind, Skye, and Jane Penderwick are nearly grown up – 18, 17, and 16 respectively, with Rosy off to college in Rhode Island and only home for occasional visits. That makes Batty almost 11, about the age Jane was when we last spent time with the Penderwicks, and Ben (their stepbrother, the son of Iantha) now 8. (One of the first things the sweet girl said to me when she was in the midst of reading was “Ben really talks now!” which made me laugh.) There is also a new Penderwick on the scene, rambunctious Lydia, age 2.

The book belongs to the younger Penderwicks, with its heart and soul reserved for Batty. While I missed more time with the older three…though they do come into the story in important ways, and still feel very much themselves in spite of being teenagers…I was so glad that Batty finally got her book. I don’t know if I feel a special affinity for Batty because we share the role of “fourth child” in the family, but I’ve always loved this youngest (well, used to be youngest) Penderwick sister, ever since she wandered into the pages of the first book wearing her butterfly wings. Batty has long since outgrown the wings, but this book is, in many ways, about her learning to fly. 

In case you’re wondering, Jeffrey makes a couple of important appearances, and the Geiger boys (now young men), are also prominent this time out, especially the oldest Geiger, Nick, who turns out to be an important mentor for Ben and a good friend to Batty when she most needs one. Tommy Geiger, Rosalind’s long-time suitor, is offstage for most of the narrative, but have no fear…Tommy being Tommy, he shows up when it counts.

Ben has turned into a delightful kid, with a love for action figures and rock collecting and a personality as big as it needs to be to help him hold his own in a houseful of girls. Mr. Penderwick and Iantha have small roles this time out, but they’re still their usual loving selves, supportive and helpful parents with the humor they need to help their children sort things out. Mr. P still spouts Latin whenever he gets the chance, but since Skye is now taking Spanish and Jane is learning French (badly), little Lydia, in the parroting stage, is quite the polyglot.

I won’t say a thing about Penderwick animals (fearing to give too much away), but animals are important in this story, as they almost always are.

The moments of humor are delightful, as always, especially when Rosalind brings a potential suitor home from college, a handsome guy whose terrific cheek bones can’t make up for the fact that he spouts all sorts of pretentious silliness about books and films.

Keep an eye out for echoes from the first books, including the very first book. The Alcott echoes continue to feel strong in this book too. Oh, and don’t be surprised if there are a few secret MOPS meetings, as well as MOOPS, MOYPS and even a MOBAB. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you need to get to your nearest library quickly and pick up a copy of the first novel. Go! Now! What are you waiting for?)

The moments of pathos are also beautifully rendered in this book, especially as Batty does some soul-searching, both about her musical gifts and about her place in the family. Since the four girls’ mother died not long after Batty was born, Batty has always been the liminal character, the one more than anyone else who seems to straddle the family as it originally was and the family as it has come to be. We see in the book that sometimes that perch can feel a little precarious, but it also has its gifts.

I both laughed and cried in the final chapters. The Penderwicks in Spring is a worthy penultimate installment in a great series. The sweet girl and I both eagerly await book five and whatever surprises and familiarities that may have in store.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Big Vision, Difficult Tasks, Lasting Fruit

A letter from a missionary organization hit my electronic mailbox this morning. In it, I found this wonderful prayer its leaders have been praying recently, one which I think I need to adopt as a prayer of my own. They are praying for:

"A vision bigger than what our faith believes. Tasks bigger than our own hands can accomplish. Fruit that will last longer than our lifetimes."

Very Amen!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The World is Almost Too Beautiful



The world is almost too beautiful. The variegated petals of a tulip, the wisps of straw fluttering from the open door of the white birdhouse where sparrows are once again busy setting up housekeeping, the way the light looks on a late March afternoon when you’re not yet used to the lingering softness of the light. It is almost too beautiful, almost, until you remember, your throat aching with mingled joy and sorrow, the echoing beauties of redemption, forgiveness, release, and deep, deep peace. And you recall the beauty of the Author of it all, beauty past recounting, rhyme or reason, beauty that can only make you stutter in worship and fall down in praise. 

(Just a little prose poem on this Palm Sunday.) 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Middle School Reading: Then and Now (Or Old Books and New)

An interesting post hit my FB page earlier today, with a link to this list of middle school reading in Minnesota today and Minnesota of 1908. (And all Betsy-Tacy fans will almost immediately think, "Margaret Ray would have been in middle school just a few years after this!")

The accompanying article, which I confess I only had time to skim, addressed the significant differences in the time periods, thematic elements, and reading levels addressed by the books in question. Under time period, she was chiefly pointing out that the 1908 list didn't hesitate to recommend reading to students that had been published 50-100 years before, while the current list mostly features contemporary work of the past 20 years.

While I think the article makes some valid and important points, especially on reading levels and on our current trepidation about giving young people older books, I think the discussion could be even more fruitful if we allowed ourselves to notice that at least some of the contemporary books appear to contain literature that provides some cultural perspective beyond Anglo-American. I agree with the writer of the article that we need to give our young people literature that helps them understand the foundation of the United States and of western civilization. (And I totally agree we need to give them language and sentence structures that challenge them.)

Without addressing the merits of the individual books in question on either list (some of which I know pretty well, and others I don't know at all) wouldn't it be wonderful if we could both give them the foundational literature of our country and culture and the more contemporary literature that tries to broaden our understanding of the complexities of American history, the riches of the American melting pot, and the responsibilities and joys of global citizenship? Just a thought, but wouldn't having the grounding in foundational American and English literature prepare them to better read (and appreciate in context) some of the literature that is being produced in the English-speaking world today?

Seems to me that we would all be well-served by C.S. Lewis' idea of varying our reading diet to include three old books for every new one (not a challenge I always meet, but one I appreciate). If you haven't ever read Lewis' Introduction to Athansius's On the Incarnation, where he explains this idea and the reasons behind it, it is well worth your time. In fact, the whole book is worth your time, and one of those delightful exercises in reading something "relatively new" (the Lewis introductory essay) and then something very old, the Athanasius work. As someone who has sometimes questioned my own ability to read, comprehend, and absorb older literature, I occasionally read Lewis to bolster my courage and enthusiasm. He helps me want to dive and dive deep, even if I end up getting in over my head. (Was it Karl Barth who once used the metaphor of surfing to describe reading theology? It sometimes feels just about that vigorous!)