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I had a friend who recently threatened to comment on my site, “Stop watching politics, get off your duff, and start posting something.”  I appreciated the humor, but honestly I was feeling a little bad that I hadn’t written anything lately.  It’s not like I haven’t been reading, as a matter of fact, I’ve been working on some fascinating books.  As to thoughts in my head, there are a plethora.  However, it seems that this little entity being created inside me has me both too tired to sit and write and too inward focused to comment on the world around me.  This post is indeed a labor.  It is 9pm–a new witching hour.  The thought of my bed drives me to distraction, but I must press on for the good of those ten or so people that actually read my blog regularly, and who have become tired of waiting for this baby to come.  Not that my regulars will find it interesting, but I did finish a remarkable book by Marie F. Mongan called Hypnobirthing.  It is remarkable in its claims and yet simply believable at the same time.  Maybe I’m just easily convinced having given birth to two girls naturally (that is without drugs for all of you epidural moms out there), or maybe I am eager for it to be true.  Either way, the information wasn’t entirely new, and I know at least two people personally that can attest to the results.  What am I talking about–painless childbirth of course!  Now, for those of you who do not believe that there is such a thing, let me ask you a question:  “Why not?”  Some would say, “Well, aren’t we promised in the book of Genesis that we would have “great pain in childbearing”?  Others might add, “It hurt me, at least” or “Are you telling me that pushing a 7 lb baby through what once was a tiny opening is not going to hurt?”  I would say these are all legitimate reasons for believing this way, however, bear with me, or rather, bear with Ms. Mongan.  She starts out by explaining a history of pain in childbirth, and more specifically, a history of our beliefs about childbirth.  Much of her information is based on the writings and experiences of an early 20th century obstetrician by the name of Grantly Dick-Read.  Dr. Read’s transformation came about as he witnessed rural women giving birth outside the hospital arena, naturally, and without pain.  When inquiries were made by him, there was always a common denominator–the woman did not expect it to hurt.  Her expectations and therefore her lack of fear and anxiety in giving birth resulted in a virtually painless, easy birth every time.  Years of experience and many case studies later confirmed his suspicions that there was indeed a fear/pain relationship.  What he didn’t understand at the time about the body’s chemistry, such as endorphins, or about the sympathetic nervous system and specifically how fear affects and sometimes stops labor is now understood.  Ms. Mongan goes into great detail as to how all of this works, the history of pain and birthing, and has developed a method of self-hypnosis whereby women can speed up labor, encourage their bodies to produce these endorphines, and have a relaxed, peaceful birth experience.  As I said before, having birthed two babies naturally, I was intrigued.  What was different about her method than the way I had birthed before?  After all, I had taken the lamaze classes, learned coping methods, and even birthed my second in a tub of warm water.  How could this be improved upon?  Well, it was obvious to me, before I had gotten too far into the book, that the thing that had affected my labors most (the average was around 30 hours each) was fear.  I would be doing fine until anxiety and fear took over, and then my labors would drag on and on.  Even if I could not accomplish the said “pain free labor”, I was hopeful that I could at least learn to let go of anxiety.  “It couldn’t ‘hurt’ to try” (pardon the pun).

So, I have been creating my own meditations.  Along with reminding myself that my body knows how to do this, I have been reciting scriptures on faith and not having fear.  I have been putting my confidence in a different place than Ms. Mongan has recommended, but I believe that my hope is in something much more stalwart and unchanging than the chemicals or muscles in my body.  My hope must be in the Lord.  I am learning to relax and to trust the instincts that he put within me, and that he will bring this little boy into the world.  I wish I could tell you what the results will be now, but you’ll just have to wait around four more weeks.  Until that time, don’t count on me to blog about every book I’ve read.  I’m much too distracted for all that, and besides it might cut into my meditation time.  Ummmmmmmmmmmm.

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Hood

A dark medeival forest.  An entourage of battle hardened knights surrounding a caravan of ox carts filled with the king’s gold.  The woods are filled with the sounds of forest creatures and the babble of a nearby brook.  Suddenly, a gut wrenching, otherworldly scream pierces the night.  The men are suddenly trapped by fallen oaks at their front and more blocking their escape.  They stand on guard, swords in hand, ready to face whatever man or beast would prevent them from their most urgent errand.  But as they peer into the gloaming, they see a hideous sight.  A creature, with the legs of a man, but with the wings of a raven and a long dark beak lets out another blood-curling scream, calling forth fire and a chaos which neither man nor beast can stand against.  No, this isn’t an 11th century tail of Batman, rather it is a retelling of the Robin Hood legend like you’ve never heard it before.  Stephen Lawhead’s Hood (the first book in the King Raven Series) takes the famous hero out of the English forests, out of the realm of King Richard and Prince John, and into the heart of Wales amidst the political intrigue and the fierce fighting of the Norman conquest of Britain.  Why he did this, is explained in detail, and I must add very convincingly, at the end of the novel.  The legend, says Lawhead, reaches much further back in time than we have been led to believe, thanks to movies with Errol Flynn, and who could forget, “Men in Tights”.  The actual ballads have a much older history, and the history of Wales and the fierce guerilla tactics and prowess with longbow of the Welsh people provide a more likely backdrop for the “true” story.  Whether there is any truth to the tale or no, Lawhead gives us a glimpse into the history of 11th century Britain, as well as Celtic mythology and superstition which was intermingled with the Christian faith during this time.  Although there is no mention of Robin Hood’s name, Bran ap Brychan is our hero, old favorites have not been left out.  Friar Tuck and Little John play important roles, and Merian (the paramour) is of course brought into the story.  The second book, which I have just begun, adds Will Scarlett to the band of thieves.  Notice I did not say merry men, because they are angry outlaws fighting for survival, for their homeland, for their people, and their very lives.  Part history and part fantasy, this book left me with a desire to read more.  If you like adventure, intrigue, with old world history and mythology thrown in, you will love King Raven.

Several years ago, I watched a good friend go through a difficult, although necessary divorce.  Before it was even finalized, she began agonizing over the affect this split would have on her minor children.  Her main concern was the relationship or rather lack of that her children had with their seemingly apathetic father and how it would ultimately influence their view of God.  It was an understandable concern, and unfortunately the vast majority of people from broken homes or homes where fathers are somewhat indifferent or have no emotional bonds to their children, struggle with how to relate to their heavenly Father.  However, I can’t help but feel that we have the pattern all backwards.  I mean, should we let earthly fathers inform our view of God, or should we rather take the Father of fathers and let Him and specifically the description of Him in scripture be the benchmark for which all other father’s should be measured?  His care, His provision, His intimacy, His affection, His strength, His protection, etc. are the only standards we even have for what a father could or should try to emulate.  Christian dads should make this their aim, to walk in His footsteps, and single moms should daily hold this up to their children and remind them that there is one who “will never leave [them] or forsake [them]”.  (Dt. 31:6, 8; and Heb 13:5)  This pattern was followed very closely by Phillip Howard, father of the Christian author and teacher Elizabeth Elliott.  Ms. Elliott writes very deliberately of the holy exercises and daily practices of both a man and a woman (her mother, Katherine Gillingham Howard) who desired to show the very face of God to their children in her memoir The Shaping of a Christian Family.  Not intended to be a blueprint for living, but rather a great monument to a couple who joined together for one goal, one purpose, that of glorifying God in their lives and of seeing Christ formed in each of their little ones.  Elizabeth Elliott tells the story of how an ordinary family can in effect, change the world through simple obedience.  Looking through her father’s journal and letters as well as the recollections of her mother, we are transported back to a time that seemed much simpler but was sometimes bitterly difficult.  Ms. Elliott minces no words, as she gives her opinions on how a family ought to run and conduct itself; but where our practices may differ, the principles still hold true:  a father ought to sacrificially love his family, parents ought to fall on their knees daily and ask for wisdom for raising their children, a wife ought to love and respect her husband, and children should be taught to be disciplined and respectful.  Essentially, all are called to “lay down their lives” for the others in the home.  Here are just some of the biblical principles that this book brings to light, told through the beautiful reminiscences of a thankful daughter.  Some might grieve over missed opportunities, or lives that in no way resemble the biblical pattern; however, this is not the book’s intent.  It’s purpose is to remind us that there is a better way to live, it’s true; but I think that it also serves to show us how far short we all fall, fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers; and how much we need to cry out for “mercy and grace for help in our time of need.”  (Heb. 4:16)  I was inspired and convicted by reading this book to point my children upward, to raise their gaze, and encourage them to keep their eyes on the plumb line.  I know you’ll be similarly inspired by Ms. Elliott’s heartfelt writing.

I had a very good friend in college, I’ll call him “Joe”, who unexpectedly lost his sister to cancer.  One day she was a beautiful, athletic mother of two, and the next she was wasting away as cancer ate at her bones.  Up until that point, my friend was passionately serving the Lord.  He loved going to church and we would spend hours talking about God and His goodness.  After the loss of his dear sister, however, his heart began to harden; and though we his friends mourned with him, we were at a loss as to how to console him.  He immediately moved away and his last words to me were “I just want ‘Him’ to give me my sister back!”  Since that time, I’ve heard snippets about his life:  successful career in broadcasting for a major sports network, wonderful uncle to his nephews, and in a good relationship.  But then there is the dark side.  I have also heard rumors that he frequents strip joints and is hostile to those who would talk to him about God.  So, when I heard about William P. Young’s The Shack, I had hopes that it might be just the book for my friend Joe.  After all, it was supposed to speak words of comfort to those who have experienced great tragedy in their lives.  I was further impressed while reading the many accolades on the cover and opening pages, and those by many that I have admired through the years.  As I delved in, however, I was immediately struck by the controversial theology.  Although, The Shack should not be read as theology, it forces you to look hard at it.  The Shack speaks to the diverse views within mainstream evangelical theology today:  Reformed versus Armenianism, complementarianism versus egalitarianism, and other ism’s that divide the church.  One side hails the book as genius, while the other cautions it is “dangerous”.  I seem to be in neither crowd.  I definitely cannot recommend the book to non-Christians, as there is no scriptural backbone behind it; however, I cannot call it dangerous either, that is, not to studious people.  A book such as this can stir a debate that is both necessary and fruitful to have.  I am reminded of the Bereans who “continually searched the scriptures” to see if what was said to them was true.  This is the type of mind that should read The Shack.   

The Shack is about tragedy, and especially how tragedy affected one man, Mack’s, relationships with his family and ultimately with God.  One winter night, he receives a message from God inviting him back to the apex of his pain–a ramshackled shack in the wilderness where his daughter was murdered.  This is where God, in all three persons, meets him and heals him, literally turning winter to spring and melting the coldness of his heart.  Another friend once said to me, “It is amazing how God can always bring something so wonderful out of winter!” She is so right–this is in essence who God is, the one who is always melting the snows of winter just like Aslan did when he returned to Narnia.  W.P. Young is not, however, C.S. Lewis, and although I was intrigued by his creativity and audacity in writing a story about a man’s encounter with the Holy Trinity, his similarity with Lewis ends with the use of allegory. Where Lewis’s fiction would inform us that although God is love, He is also one to be feared, Young downplays God’s wrath.  Narnia fans will remember the words of Mr. Beaver in answer to whether Aslan is “safe”, “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “…Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (Lewis, 80) When God reveals himself to Mack in The Shack , however, there is no fear, but simply bewilderment, amazement, and sometimes hilarity.  In all of scripture, I have never read of anyone in their encounter with God, doing anything but falling on their faces.  They even fell on their faces before His servants the angels.  Consider Job for a moment.  Who on earth has encountered more misfortune than him?  Yet, God did not coddle to his fear or give him a bunch of warm fuzzies to make him feel good about life.  God did not even give him an explanation of why these things happened to him.  He simply revealed Himself in all His glory and then asked Job hard questions like “Where were you…?” and “How?” and “Tell me if you know!”  Job’s response was adoration and holy fear and lastly repentance. 

The real tragedy in The Shack, is not the murder at the outset, but that opinion is elevated as scripture.  We are told to check our Sunday school knowledge at the door, while we listen to “God” speak to us through this book.  That is all well and good if God is actually the one speaking to us, however, I am quite sure that the voice from The Shack is actually that of Young himself, and of his clearly learned if not sometimes misguided opinion.  I have called these opinions “planks”, and will look at them one by one.  It should be obvious that I was not impressed with many of the planks; however, before I set about dismantling The Shack, I want to first tell you what I did like.  Young definitely elevates relationship, with God and with other people.  He emphasizes the love and mercy of God, grace and righteousness apart from the law, and simply how to walk with God.  Mercy is definitely at the forefront in The Shack, and  I have to think that this attribute does need to be emphasized in more Christian literature.  After all doesn’t God want “all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4).  However, we must remember that the mercy and love that our heavenly Father poured out at the cross exists to save us from His own wrath.  Jesus bore God’s wrath.  We must not forget that.

Plank #1 God the Father appears to Mack as a jovial black woman.  “Papa” (the name for God the father in the book) explains to Mack that he has done this because of Mack’s emotional rejection of a father figure in his life.  Theologically, he defends himself by explaining that He is neither male nor female.  Of course critics are up in arms about this, but can’t God appear however he wants.  He may call himself “Our Father”, but he describes his love quite often as the love of a mother.  “As one whom His mother comforted, so will I comfort you.”  (Isaiah 66:13). I’ll leave this plank in place.

Plank #2  Critics have complained that God the father and the Holy Spirit never became human.  Again, I say, can’t He (God) do whatever He wants? This is fiction and specifically allegory, so I have no problem with the three becoming flesh for a weekend. 

Plank #3  All are God’s children and are special to Him.  I’m not a supporter of the Calvinistic view of “limited atonement”; however, scripture clearly does not support the argument that “we are all God’s children”.  In fact, until we are “born again” we are told that we are “children of the devil” (John 8:42) and  (I John 3:10), or “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).  Plank #3 has fallen down.

Plank #4 Young brings out his belief that there is no hierarchy within the trinity, and therefore there should be no hierarchy among human beings.  This is of course an egalitarian view, but he takes it a step further by insisting that the Godhead submits to human beings (Young, 145).  Now, depending on your view of submission, this is either acceptable or heresy.  Those considering it heresy would define submission as obedience to authority, while Young takes great pains (through God of course) to explain his view on submission as having nothing to do with authority, but rather an omniscient, omnipotent being purposely limiting Himself to man’s free will.  In other words, we have hit on the great sovereignty (God ordains, rules, and upholds all things) versus free-will (God allows evil and chaos, but does not ordain it) debate.  So, depending on which side you fall, this plank could stay or come down.  Personally, I have a problem with the language of “God submitting to us”, so in my book, plank #4 has hit the ground.

Plank #5  All roads lead to Jesus.  This is actually not a plank of the book; but comes from a critic of the book.  This critic apparently did not read the whole thing, because this is expressly taught against in The Shack . Mack asks Jesus if all roads lead to Him and He aptly replies, “No…but I will travel any road to find you.” (Young, 185)  Plank #5 is still solid.

If you read this book, and if you have any knowledge of scripture, you are going to discover more spiritual planks than these.  Some will be obvious, and others more obscure.  The important thing is, will it drive us to question our beliefs, changing them or solidifying them.  The Shack is nothing if not thought-provoking.  I have enjoyed it mainly for the debate it has stirred, the sermons it has prompted, and the truth it has caused me to unearth.  We must remember, however, that no book on earth has the power to convey ultimate truth to us, unless it is that sacred literature, which is “able to make us wise unto salvation”.  So, thus I cry with Luther “sola scriptura!”  What can help my friend Joe, then?  Well, I would hope that the God of the universe would confront Him, whether through His word, or personally, maybe sending him a note and calling him back to the school where his sister used to teach.  I happen to know, that on that day, Joe maybe laughing or crying, but he definitely won’t be standing.

References:

Young, William P., The Shack. Los Angeles: Windblown Media; 2007.

Lewis, C.S., The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, New York: Harper Collins; 1950.

Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton, 2003.

 

 

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with the pains of childbirth until now.”  Romans 8:22

C.S. Lewis cannot just write a piece of meaningless fiction.  His works are not the dimestore variety.  You know the kind of worthless trash that you want to just curl up with and not think about?  I have to admit that I was almost afraid when I picked up the first book in his Space Trilogy.  “Oh, no” I thought “what if I have to think, and much worse, what if I can’t understand it?  What if the depth of thought is so far over my head that I am reeling with the theological implications of it all?”  Then, as I got pulled into the story, I began to see strange and wonderful things, and then my mind became alive with possibilities.  My what if’s changed from being about me, to about creation and the human race.  “What if God created life on other planets, wouldn’t they (being part of creation) be affected by the fall of all creation?  And what if we could travel through space and time and view our world as those other creatures must view it, what might we think?  What would they think not only of us, but of the cosmic battle and redemptive plan by which Yahweh has inacted to restore all of creation?”  The questions and answers are mindboggling and numerous.  For one thing these creatures and worlds, would be  affected by our sins; however the creatures themselves, not being human, would not be “bent” or ruled by sin .  The rulers of their worlds would be amazed that their own God had condescended and subjected himself to save the very creatures that rebelled against him.  In fact, we are told that the angels in this world “desire to look into” these very things.  Thus has Lewis once again revealed his brilliance in developing a novel that is not only entertaining, but thought provoking. 

The story follows mild-mannered philologist, Dr. Elwin Ransom who is abducted by a couple of “mad” scientists while on a walking tour.  The next thing he knows is he is being heralded through space on a secretive mission that only his hosts are privy to, and they are hellbent on not revealing.  Ransom soon uncovers their motives and begins forming a plan of escape that may forever ruin is chances of returning to earth.  Seemingly alone, he must now learn to survive on the strange planet of Malacandra where he dare trust no one, and nothing is as it seems. Don’t expect Lewis’s science to be perfect.  He did, in fact, write this in the 1930’s where space travel was still relegated to the realm of science fiction, and little was known about the surrounding planets in our solar system.  Still, it is obvious that he writes from the point of view of an early scholar and though his knowledge of astronomy is limited, it does not detract from the valuable lessons of the story.  So, embark on a journey with Dr. Ransom to the beautiful and dangerous shores of Malacandra; but hurry, it is a dying world and won’t last long.  As for me, I am off to Perelandra, where I hope to entertain more questions and even have some of them answered.

At 14, a visit to my grandparent’s meant lying in the guest bedroom, enjoying the sound of an LP featuring old-time radio favorites.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with an LP, that is not blogging lingo for “lollipops”; it stands for “long-playing” record–a vinyl disc with grooves in it which would produce sounds recorded in studios.  Think CD, only bigger and more archaic.  Anyway, I loved to be transported back to a time when comedy didn’t have to be bleeped out, but was simply hilarious:  Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen; and the drama, though devoid of any blood and gore was still suspensful and had you on edge.  I still remember the dark, foreboding voice:  “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?  The Shadow knows. Ha ha ha ha….” The Shadow was an elusive crime fighter that lurked in the shadows. With the ability to levitate, knowledge of any language, and invisibility, he was the 1930’s equivalent of Batman without all of the fancy contraptions.

Though necessary for a crime fighter, I personally don’t want to know “what evil lurks in men’s hearts”. It is enough for me to guard against the blatant visible evil, then to contemplate or want to know the sordid thought life of someone else.

This is what left me cold while reading Charles Frazier’s Civil War drama Cold Mountain. Frazier’s descriptions of a place of raw beauty, a place his protagonist, Inman, can’t wait to get back to, seemed to me to be a stark contrast to the ugliness in men’s hearts. From the mountain people he met along his road home, to the infamous Home Guard itself, you can’t get away from the vile and revolting sentiments of the time. There is, however, love and survival; and this makes for a great story no matter how you spin it. The characters of Ada and Ruby trying to make a working farm out of one that is near ruin, Inman trying to get home on foot, injured, and evading the Home Guard, and Frazier’s descriptions of the beautiful Smoky Mountains almost had me fully embracing this book. As I read, I found myself cheering for Inman to get home safely, and that would still have been my hope, except for the thought, “Wait a minute. He’s a deserter.” He’s just abandoned the men he signed up with and promised to fight beside. Who cares if he has a “love” at home that he feels stronger about then he does about this war. Who cares if he thinks that his Commander and Chief made a mistake or that it is an “immoral war” (now where have we heard that before); he could have stayed home in the first place or fought for the other side. The justification for his desertion fell a little flat for me. Still, I thought Frazier did an outstanding job developing this story, and that from a true story about the thoughtless killing of some Scottish immigrants by the controversial Confederate Home Guard. If you don’t already know that “war is hell” then read this book and it will help you in your assessment. For those of us who already know that what goes on in men’s hearts is better left there, then best leave Cold Mountain and pickup your warm and fuzzy’s like Little Women and The Secret Garden. I might need a dose of those before I trek back up the mountain.

Prize Fight

It was the fight of the century…well, at least the year.  In one corner, weighing in at about 65 lbs., quick, wiry, and cocksure sat the challenger–Dd1.  In the other corner, standing at 5’8″ (weight insignificant), the undisputed, undefeated, champion reader–Mom.  The competitors enter the ring, having just finished City of Ember the first book in Jeanne DuPrau’s Ember series.  Now, there was dispute over who would be the first to read the sequel People of Sparks.  It is kind of nice that Dd1 is old enough that we can enjoy some of the same books.  She is really starting to appreciate classics like Little Women and Anne of Green Gables which were previously beyond her years.  This particular piece of fiction came highly recommended to us by her piano teacher as Juvenile Fiction definitely worthy of the most discriminating reader.  DuPrau’s story of an post-apocalyptic society is both unique and complex in its unfolding.  She doesn’t give anything away at the outset, but allows the reader to discover, along with the characters, the origin and the purpose of their city’s existence.  The story centers around two young people, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, who along with the rest of the city, are puzzled and disturbed by the town’s shortage of food and the breakdown of the power generator, the only source of light for their dark world.  These young people are given a clue that might help lead them out of Ember, but with the flickering lights, and a force of corrupt politicians against them they are in a race against time to solve the mystery and save their people. 

The sequel firmly in her hands, Dd1 begins reading it as we pull out of the bookstore parking lot.

“You get carsick,”  I reminded her.

“Oh yeah.”  She puts the book down.  Round 1–Me

I quickly grab it and begin reading it on the way home.  I soon remember that I get carsick as well; but I don’t let that stop me.

My husband stops at the grocery store.  Dd1 picks up the book again.

“I need a helper says my husband.”

“I think Dd1 should go with you,” I say.

“Good idea” he says.  Round 2–Me

Once we get home however, I am all out of excuses.  Dd1 reminds me that I originally bought the book for her.  Knockout–Dd1

Oh well, she finished it in three days, so my turn came swiftly enough.

If you’re going to read this book, I would recommend you doing it before the release of the movie in October.  For scenes that will whet your appetite for the book as well as the movie, follow the link below to the official ember website.  Hurry, before the lights go out!