Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Best Headline Ever

In case you were wondering, The Morning News has officially come up with the best headline of all time:

If you want to read the actual article, you can find it here, but really, it can't possibly live up to the standard it's tease set...

Books Like Whoa: Books to be Stranded With

Again, getting inspired by some podcasting... yesterday, Bookrageous considered the desert island game with books. As in, "If you were stranded on a desert island, what 5 books would you take with you?"

To my mind there are 4 approaches to this question: the 5 books you would want to take to help you survive; the 5 books that would be best read in the middle of nowhere/a tropical locale; the 5 books you would want with you if you were going to be bored for an indefinite amount of time; or the 5 books that you could reread indefinitely.

I'm going to tackle the last 2, mostly because I'm not that into books about survival or tropical settings. So first, books I would want to read if I was going to be bored for an indefinite amount of time:

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: This is a freakin' long book that I've always wanted to read and just have never gotten around to. With indefinite time, I could not only finally read this masterwork, but also could analyze the crap out of it, preparing me to rock the face off of any literature professor I should encounter
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer: I am very, very sllloooowwwllyy getting through this book right now. It's literally one of the most fascinating books I've ever read and I take something away from it everytime I read a chapter. The problem is that it's about 1200 pages of deep thinking, meaning that I can only sip, not slurp. If I had a lot of time, I could read a chapter a day and actually get through it at a reasonable pace.
The Most of P.G. Wodehouse by P.G. Wodehouse: If I'm stranded somewhere, I'm going to need a laugh now and again. This collection of Wodehouse short stories is always a guaranteed way to make me giggle. It's another one that I never seem to be able to finish, but I could read and reread for a long time and still derive pleasure
The Brother Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky: See Anna Karenina... this is another long book that I really want to have read but never seem to get momentum on
Masterpieces in Miniature by Agatha Christie: This is my favorite short story collection from one of my favorite authors. If I just need a flavor burst of intrigue and enjoyment, I often turn to this for a quick story. Perfect for long term boredom mitigation.

And books that I could reread indefinitely:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: This book changed my understanding of what fiction can do and how it can talk about big ideas. Aside from pure plot enjoyment, it's a book that makes me feel and think deeply.
The Bible: Kind of obvious, yes, but it's just ideal for indefinitely reread - deep ideas, very long, and practical for coping strategies.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling: It's my favorite book in one of my favorite series and it's all about perseverance through difficult times. Apropos, oui?
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: Specifically, I'm talking about the gorgeous collected edition of all the books into a single volume with the beautiful original color illustrations (this is what I gave each of my nieces as the day of birth present). I have these on audio and already "reread" them at least twice a year. I don't get tired of them. I don't cease to be moved and changed by them. And I certainly wouldn't want to be stranded without them.
Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro: I just love this book - it's a downer, so maybe not the best for a dire situation? But I don't care. I love this story and the main character just breaks my heart. I love him so, and I get so involved with what's happening to him every time I reread.

What are your "desert island" picks? Is there another way to look at the question?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Feel the Love for the Ladies, People!

Inspired by the folks at Books on the Nightstand, I've been thinking about some lady authors out there who don't get nearly enough love. Let's not make this a strictly female issue - plenty of great male authors fade into obscurity, as well. Alas, since there are not as many well known women writers in the first place, their loss is felt all the more strongly.

Here are a few female wordsmiths who should get more love. Some of these are more obscure than others (especially to those on the west side of the Pond), but all could stand to find a few more readers:

If you like Jane Austen, try Barbara Pym. Her most excellent book is Excellent Women, but rest assured, all of her work is great. She has Austen's piercing social analysis mixed with not a little bit of humor towards her characters.

If you like Dead Poet's Society, try Muriel Sparks' The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Love boarding school, angst, and a life changing teacher? Muriel brings it all in her most well known novel (though her novellas are pretty great, too). But unlike the beloved (and admittedly sappy) Robin Williams movie, Sparks explores the seedier side of a teacher with so much hold over her pupils.

If you like Agatha Christie, try Dorothy Sayers. A pal of C.S. Lewis, Dorothy is known for both her laymen's theology (The Mind of the Maker) and for her Lord Peter Wimsey detective stories. I'll be honest, I prefer the stories with his gal pal, Harriet Vane, so I'd recommend starting with Gaudy Night and then Busman's Honeymoon. They are a little more challenging with the language and take a high minded view of crime, but they are delightful artifacts of the 1930's English mystery epoch.

If you like the Harry Potter series, try Jenny Nimmo's The Snow Spider.  I haven't read the full series yet, but the first book is amazing. Aimed at a slightly younger audience that Harry Potter, the writing still manages to be almost lyrical and portrays the relationships with an unsentimental sensitivity. Magic and Wales? Yes please!

If you like Flannery O'Conner, try Shirley Jackson. Okay, okay, I know you all read The Lottery in school and probably saw one of the adaptations of The Haunting of Hill House. But for reals, guys, Shirley is awesome. She pulls off the whole gothic/creepy thing just like Flannery, minus the grotesque elements, so that works better for some folks.

If you like fairy tales, try Angela Carter. Angela is a piece of work, that's for sure, and she's definitely not hiding her feminist leanings. That said, the writing is gorgeous and she brings her unique POV to any project she tackles. I especially love her short story collection, The Bloody Chamber.

If you like C.S. Lewis, try Evelyn Underhill and Carolyn Custis James. Evelyn Underhill was another contemporary of Lewis, and though she tended towards the mystical end of the spectrum, her musings on the spiritual life are as instructive as Lewis at the height of his powers. And for laymen's theology, you don't get much better than Carolyn Custis James. With or without an extra X chromosome, every Christian should read When Life and Belief Collide and especially Half the Church.

Who are your favorite female writers, either known or obscure?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (ReRead)

Epic Harry Potter re-read continues on to the center point of the series...

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
by J.K. Rowling

First Read: I was there at midnight, with so many other fans, waiting to midwife this book into the world... I tore through it the next day in 2000

Format: Pottermore provided me with this audio book (Jim Dale as narrator again). Good gravy, I'm nuts about that site - some folks don't seem too keen on the user interface, but I think it's great. Great premise and great execution, so far as I'm concerned.

Thoughts: Whew. Now that we're past the shorter books at the beginning, these are some looonnnggg audio books. It takes between 18-25 hours to get through each of Books 4-7, so this will be slower going.

Here is the rundown on my impressions from this round of rereading:
  • Goblet remains the best starting point for adult first-readers, I think. Azkaban would be a fine place to start, as well, but by the time we get to Book 4, Rowling is cooking with gas and her story & humor can connect with readers of any age.
  • Jo continues her love affair with adverbs in Book 4, though she does seem to have backed off a little bit by this point. People are still too prone to say things "darkly" whenever they are suspicious of something, but overall the situation seems to be much better controlled this go-round
  • This books has an interesting structure - it reminds me of a video game layered on a mystery. You have the build up to and description of each of the tasks which creates a nice framework for the rest of the story to build around and helps significantly with the necessary handwaving around this book's main mystery (which is very cannily constructed - I think Agatha would have been proud of the way Jo pulls this off).
  • However, though I did like the structure, there's no denying that there's simply too much put into one book. The book would have flowed much better if one or two of the subplots had been cut. It's hard for me to think which one should get the ax, because I did enjoy all of the narrative. That being said, her editor probably should have put their foot down - the beginning in particular is stuffed to the gills with action and setup that probably could have been trimmed without anyone noticing. The lack of editing and the subsequent success of this book led to the same problem in the next book, which is felt much more strongly. 
  • SPOILER ALERT: Knowing the bit about Barty Crouch Jr. and his impersonation of Mad-Eye Moody, I marveled at her success of pulling the switch-a-roo. The Polyjuice Potion had been firmly set up in the previous books and the necessary information is plainly given throughout the story in other contexts that don't jar you into realizing she's info dumping. 
  • I encountered Voldemort as less scary than I thought the first few times around - part of this is because I'm older, I'm sure, and I see more of his flaws from the remaining books. Either way, I was able to see more clearly that he is a very nuanced villain. We learn more of his backstory in time, but even in this book, we are able to see that he is kind of an arrogant ass, even if he is the most powerful dark wizard ever. Everyone is super scared of him, but (and maybe it's because through the whole series, we never see any markedly unique kinds of magic from him) he's only different from other baddies in that his depravity level is higher. Even then - is he more depraved than Bellatrix? Or Umbridge? When we find out more about him, maybe that's a conclusion that we reach, but considering how much hype/infamy he has in the world (people won't even say his name), upon reread, seeing him in his full form is a little bit of a let down in the terror department
  • Also, is Voldemort's scariness compromised by the fact that he consistently fails to kill Harry? Kind of hard to be too afraid of him until Book 7, because I know Harry is going to keep thwarting him.
  • An interesting (and recurring) theme is explored more thoroughly in this book - a distrust of the media and the degree to which we allow ourselves to be influenced by those sources. The seeds for the malevolent force that the media becomes in the series are planted. This is an interesting theme, btu one that takes up too much of the narrative in an already overfull book.
  • I also found myself growing a little bored with the day to day class stuff... in the quest to make this a leaner, meaner story machine, I wish someone had taken the pen to those bits.
  • Is anyone else a little skeeved by the Hermione/Viktor relationship on second read? It's a 17-18 year old stalking a 14 year old in the library. Kind of creepy- I would have been warning Hermione about stranger danger if I were there
  • This was an overall pleasurable rereading experience. Again, I found myself laughing at loud at points and appreciating Jo's observance of some of the more nuanced aspects of teenage-dom. I suspect, however, now that I'm getting better sense of the series as a whole, I won't end up liking this one as much as Book 6 & 7. 
This was my second favorite of the books on my first reading... I'm not sure whether or not it will hold up by the end. Tune back in to find out!

Do you have a favorite book in the Harry Potter series?

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Cranky Culture Moment...

I was watching VH1's 100 Best Songs of the 90s on Friday... it was the last day we were going to have cable in our house, so I was trying to live it up. Plus, and this comes as zero shock to those who have been charting my television taste, I have a huge soft spot for all VH1 music lists and/or decade round ups. So after a long day of application status hunting, I was happy to unplug with some 90s nostalgia.

As I watched, I could not help but notice a striking thematic difference in one group of songs, in contrast to songs from contemporary artists - songs from women were sooo different back in the 90s! Not only the themes, but also the presentation and "attitude" of the video makers towards them. The songs were often love songs ("Linger" and "Vision of Love"), but just as often, they were kiss-offs ("Never Said" and "You Oughtta Know"), about self discovery ("Bitch") or self-assertion in a relationship ("Wannabe" and "Say My Name"), having fun ("All I Wanna Do" and "Vogue"), message songs ("Waterfalls" and "Who Will Save Your Soul?")  or about something else altogether ("One of Us" and "The Rain"). The women were presented as attractive, true, but it wasn't a uniformly sexualized beauty. Often, the women are shot as pieces of art, dramatic clothes and lots of close ups on their faces. Some women were pudgy or had crooked teeth or weird noses- they didn't look like airbrushed confections. I saw cellulite - I swear. It was there. I don't see the 90s as a zenith of the feminine ideal by any stretch of the imagination, but given my usual immersion in current music video imagery and thematic elements of today's songs, it was a jarring contrast.

I am realizing that in middle school, I was on the cusp of what I see as a very negative trend in music. "Baby One More Time" was on this list, as well, and my totally biased opinion is that this is the song that brought us to where we are now - the idealized woman as one who is aware of and self-exploits her sexuality to gain control over men. I had kind of forgotten that it wasn't always this way... When I was in early middle school, we had Lilith Fair. We had the Cranberries, Paula Cole, Hole, Liz Phair, and Sarah McLaughlin... I don't want to hold them up as the gold standard of femininity or anything. I mean, they seemed like they might kick some random dude in balls and rip off their bra to burn at any time. Whatever. But what I would submit is that their brand of female empowerment was far less troubling than what is the prevalent image of being an independent woman means in popular music these days.

The idea now being sold is that empowerment is controlling the male gaze puts the power back in your hands and makes you a strong woman. False. This makes you a woman who is objectifying herself on her own terms. It makes you a woman who is still defining herself in sexual terms judged by men. Say what you want about the bra-burners, but at least their flavor of empowerment is about dealing with yourself on your own terms. It is love and sexuality coming from your own preferences and desires, rather than what is most likely to illicit a socially pre-conditioned positive response.

You can certainly take that idea too far and it turns into a kind of smug selfishness that takes no consideration of others into account. Then again, the whole blatant sexuality bit is manipulating others to make yourself feel powerful, so that's not too much better. Either extreme is problematic in a distinctive way. However, all things considered, I would rather have girls thinking that they can define for themselves what makes them special rather than trying to conform to a specific type in order to get positive feedback from someone who isn't looking at them as a full person.

Anyways, that was my small feminist/what's-the-matter-with-kids-these-days rant...

Do you think that music from female artists is more or less positive today than it was 15 years ago? 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Books of the Planes (Volume 6)

A little peak into the reading habits of the first class...

The Heart and the First by Eric Greitens(young business guy with Elvis slick backed hair)

The Rich and the Rest of Us by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West (an older woman with gray hair, Toms, a Northface backpack, and a Mac)

Collision Course by S.C. Stephens (a young woman with a neck pillow and 2 velour blankets)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Books Like Whoa: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller (Jesus Corner)

Ye old spiritual memoir from ye old ubiquitous Christian memoirist...

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
by Donald Miller

Procured from a certain ginormous online retailer

Procured in October 1, 2011

Finished on April 6, 2012

Challenge?: For the "A to Z Challenge"

Format: A tactile delight of a paperback with great cover design

Why I gave it a try: Miller's biggest memoir, Blue Like Jazz, was a big book when I was in high school, one that made us all insufferable with our "yeah, man"-ing along with his reflections. Upon a reread, I don't find it as profound, but I do find it incredibly well constructed and genuinely helpful for people at the beginning of spiritual exploration (or those further along the path that need to remember the importance of a seeking heart)

Summary: Our old memoirin' pal, Donald Miller, finds himself somewhat adrift in his settled routine of being a hip Christian circuit superstar when two rag tag filmmakers come aknockin' and say that they want to make his memoir, Blue Like Jazz, into a movie. Cue grand quest to discover where story and reality intersect...

Thoughts: Let's get the negative part of this out of the way: I really, really didn't like the first part of this book. I probably would have given up, but so many people I knew loved it and I wanted to be able to talk cogently about the whole thing. I am glad I stuck with it, because Miller went to an interesting place with the second half of the work that I enjoyed. That being said...

If you have read Miller's most famous work, Blue Like Jazz, you need not read the first section of Million Miles. Why? Because he's going over the same trodden ground, which he did to much better affect in Jazz. Not only that, he has added two elements that made the prose nearly insufferable to me: 1) a gestural, "hey-I'm-not-even-going-to-fully-commit-to-my-tried-and-true-parlor-trick-but-you-are-going-to-keep-reading-because-I'm-Donald-Miller" element that was dangerously close to arrogant, and 2) a level of uninteresting navel gazing that would surely curl the toes of even the most dedicated philosophy undergrad. In discussing the relationship of screenwriting to actual life, there are so many scenes of intended-to-be-profound grunting that it bordered on paraodic. "Dude." "Dude." "Duuuuuddee." I do believe some of the inertia at the beginning of this tale is intentional, but it is almost more inexcusable that Miller would purposefully subject his readers to such empty philosophizing. I kept waiting for a wise dojo master to turn up at his Portland hiptopia to teach him about the beauty of Toms, loving yourself, and eco-friendly toilet paper (only one sheet, people!).

Okay, those of you who have sharpened your very relevant and hip knives can now sheath them. And I apologize because that last paragraph did smack a bit of snobbery. Mea culpa. Once Miller actually starts deigning to engage his readers with some kind of clear narrative, he explores some genuinely interesting and affecting moments in his life. He is able to rescue the unfocused and feel-goody beginning from falling into a pit of self-indulgent introspection. Rather, he's able to construct something of an adventure story premised on the idea that a life without story is a life without purpose. He is drawing on the same sentiment that made women around the world sigh when Kate Winslet declared, "You're supposed to be the leading lady of your own life!" Color me convinced. There seems to be a universal (or at least uniquely Western) predicament of being lost in the minutia of life- adrift without a sense of direction or reason for keeping on the path you're on.

It's important to remember that what Miller does isn't theology. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see people making with Miller's work- acting like he's promoting a version of the gospel. That is not what he's doing (or if he is, we have bigger problems). Rather, what I think he does document very well is what Peter calls "working out your faith with fear and trembling." He documents his own journey to reconciling truth with his own life and what that looks like. His work resonates with people so strongly because there is a lot of disingenuous "I'm fine"-ing that happens in the church. People don't want to get real with the fact that you aren't always sure where you're going or how in the world to reconcile some verse with your day to day reality; this makes people feel unholy or weird when they experience doubts. Miller has created a way for people to acknowledge this very natural and necessary part of the faith life.

He also provides interesting and often helpful constructs for dealing with these uncertainties. The ideas about story and living into the kind of story you want to be a part of is not new by any stretch of the imagination (see The Sacred Romance for one of many previous contemporary books that examine this idea, along with the writings of Lewis, Chesterton, Tolkien, etc.). He brings a fresh take to this idea, however, and uses his own life convincingly to get his point across. In short, you finish this book and want to go figure out what kind of adventure you want to have and how to live into that adventure. I don't think that's a bad thing to walk away from a book with.

In the end, this is a fairly uneven offering that is ultimately not without it's pleasures. Reaction I have heard has been overly generous, in my opinion, but I definitely think that Miller presents some interesting ideas in an engaging way that is well worth whatever parts are a bit of a slog.


4 - I enjoyed it... a solid offering 

What do you think of multiple memoirists? Do they have a responsibility to branch out or do you want what you expect from their books?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Books of the Planes (Volume 5)

Okay people, there's been a long lag between things - it hasn't been for want of trying to find books to report on. I've had my eyes peeled. But besides some Game of Thrones and Hunger Games (which I've already reported), there has been nothing but a sea of ereaders and magazines.

However, I've found a few worthy items in the last few weeks, so, without further ado:

Prague Winter by Madeline Albright (older fratty kind of guy in polo and sunglass straps)

Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose (teenage boy in prep school jacket)

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray (very buttoned up business guy in pink oxford)

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (an older guy wearing an uber creepy smirk)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Books Like Whoa: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Super helpful, interesting non-fiction? Yes, please!

The Power of Habit
by Charles Duhigg

Procured from a certain ginormous online bookseller

Procured on April 14, 2012

Finished on April 16 , 2012

Format: eBook edition - I gotta say, this is my first experience highlighting on the Kindle, and I do enjoy it. I can now see myself reading a lot more non-fiction on the device that I would have thought I'd be inclined to do

Why I gave it a try: I have been thinking about my habits and how to reconstitute them for a while now, and when I heard the author on the NYT Book Review podcast a few weeks ago, I was completely charmed by the anecdotes he shared and the premise of the book. Then it started showing up everywhere on the interwebs with glowing reviews

Summary: How are habits made? How are they broken? How are they perpetuated? These are the macro questions that Duhigg addresses in a Malcolm Gladwell style pop psychology delight. Duhigg looks at examples from the personal, business, and scientific arenas to unpack what he calls "the Habit Loop."

Thoughts: A book in this ilk is particularly appealing to book purveyers because of it's wide net. Who doesn't have at least one annoying habit that they want to break, or a good one they want to take up? Duhigg tackles the Habit Loop by looking at its 3 key components (cue, routine, reward), and then examines points of variation and/or decision making that happens at different points in the cycle.

What I appreciate about Duhigg's approach to this topic is that he is repetitive and consistent. That could be a problem in the hands of a lesser author, but in this case, he uses reiteration with slight variations to peck away at various parts of the habit loop.

For example, he devotes a good number of pages of to the company Alcoa and the man who took them to the next level. Paul O'Neill took over as CEO- coming from a bureaucratic background, he had seen the ripple effects that one change to a routinized organization could have. He made a single commitment to the stockholders: he would make Alcoa the safest place to work that he possibly could. At first, this befuddled everyone. As time went on, however, the entire corporate culture began to change as everyone's incentives were completely aligned to putting a premium on the safety of the workers. Production became more efficient, employees were empowered to communicate their ideas to management, and union relationships improved. Stock prices soared. From this, Duhigg draws persuasive parallels to the power of disrupting the habit loop on an organizational level. This is one of dozens of anecdotes, all of which sum up to a pretty extensive laymen's understanding of the neuroscience, psychological, and social components of habit formation and perpetuation.

The self help portion of this book is more implied than explicit, but I think this is what helps Duhigg maintain the authority the rest of the book conveys. Rather than trying to sell you on some self-serving principle (buy my milkshakes and you can lose 20 pounds in 2 days!), he is basically advocating for mindfulness. The whole point of habits is that our brains want to learn how to turn themselves off for routine tasks. He is merely pointing out how we can be aware when our brains want to do that, and then suggesting ways to counteract our basal ganglia. He also points out small ways to teach our brains to expect new, healthier habits. There is nothing extreme or reactionary in the few suggestions he does offer, and for the most part, he has crafted his presentation of the data to make the appropriate inference plain.

This is a shining example of what journalistic pop science writing should be. It is entertaining, clear in its scope, and reasonable in its claims on your subsequent behavior. Here's hoping that Duhigg finds more topics to elucidate for us! 


6 - Why are you still reading this review? Go pick this one up NOW

What was the last book you read that inspired you to try something new?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Why I Couldn't Sleep on the Plane This Morning...

This is what happens when you are stuck next to a bodybuilder with gigantic guns in the window seat if you are a busty lady. Where to put your arms?!

Alas, this means I am sleep deprived and cranky.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

On the Last Old Churchin' Sunday (or On Mother's Day)

I've not mentioned much about what's going on with my church here in the blogosphere. It's a hard topic to talk about in a constructive way in this forum and I've not wanted to get too emo or soap boxy. I'm going to try to go into this with as much grace and truth as I can muster, but I ask for your grace in return.

Today is our last day on the property that our congregation has been worshipping on since the early 1700s. It's also the point from which we have to turn over the majority of our cash to be held in reserve until the appeals have been sorted out. My emotions about the court case are mixed, to be sure - mostly sad, a little angry, and generally just scared - scared, because I think some of the precedents the decision sets for religious freedom in this country are scary for my generation and the ones to come. If I'm being honest, as a parishioner, Christian, and American, I think this situation and decision is fundamentally unjust. We have some support - the VA Attorney General spoke in court on our behalf on the donations issue - but in general, we know that the court system has not been sympathetic to our position. That being said, it means that our vestry has some tough decisions to make about if and to what extent we are going to pursue appeals.

When I talk about the situation we find ourselves in, it's easy for it to sound very dour. It sounds like we're some entrenched little huddle in sad times corner. The reality is basically the exact opposite - I have rarely been in a church that felt more alive and filled with the Spirit. Yes, there is anger in some folks, and yes, there has been mourning. But amidst that, I am learning more and more what it means to be a family.

I am seeing in the macro what I've had to learn again and again in the micro; one simple hymn continues to run through my head:

"Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey."

This seems like such a facile thing to say to someone. "Oh, just close your eyes and hope it will all turn out alright." If that's all you mean when you sing that song, then it is a facile thing to say. It's a stupid thing to say. Is it your experience in life that you can just block out the bad, put your head in the sand, and assume things will be fine? It's not mine and it's not what this lyric means.

It means engaging with God to the point that you have a relationship where you can trust and obey. It doesn't happen overnight- not with God, and not with any relationship. On Mother's Day, it serves us well to remember that our trust in our mothers is something that is both natural and earned. A baby naturally trusts her mother for food and protection - if that mother consistently violates that trust, though, the child will eventually learn to withdraw from the mother, to fear her, to distrust her, to resent her. The whole point of dating is to build trust to a point where you are ready to commit to the next stage of a relationship - eventually, that next stage will be married. You don't (or at least shouldn't-) keep dating someone who has demonstrated themselves to be untrustworthy.

In my walk with God, He has shown Himself to be faithful to me over and over again. I've done ugly things - I've had ugly things done to me at times when I should have been protected and innocent. That is the story of humanity. But I also have the security that comes with knowing that God has done everything to be in a relationship with me; that He is for me, not against me. That over the course of years, I have built enough experience and history with Him to find Him trustworthy and good.

On Mother's Day, we often think about the defining characteristic of motherhood: unconditional love. God is the fount of unconditional love. We think about the sacrifice and pain our mothers endured to carry us as we grew. God knit us together in the womb and knew from the beginning of time He would need us in His story. We praise the mothers who are faithful to advocate for their children and their welfare, who are a soft place for their children to rest, even in adulthood. God is our ultimate place of rest and assurance- we can rest in full assurance that He is for us. (Romans 8 - we've been sitting in this chapter for 12 weeks as a church and it has been of great comfort)

I turn to my mother for comfort and advice to this day because she has spent her life demonstrating to me that she is for me and that her love is unwavering. Not everyone can say that about their mothers, and that is tragic. Likewise for their fathers. But we have seen God demonstrate His unwavering love in the cross; we have seen Him repeat it that love a thousand million times in a thousand million ways in a thousand million lives. It is a love that goes beyond the selfish interest that even the best of mothers have and transcends our understanding about how to love another person.

It is as uncertain but cherished children that we move forward - not uncertain about God's goodness or will, but as to how the path will unfold before us. We can move forward and not be paralyzed by over thinking or worrying. We can know that we will land where we are supposed to be, not because of our own righteousness, but because that's just how our Father operates. It will be good - it may not be easy, comfortable, or what we would have chosen, but it will be good. A mother who potty trains her child is thinking of their good, not their short term preferences or comfort. A mother who disciplines her child is thinking of their good, not what's the easiest thing for her to do at the time.

One thing our head pastor mentioned was that he knew that we were outgrowing the property and wondered if this was God's way of moving us to the new place we need to be to do what He has for us. That's an exciting thought. It may or may not be true. But what it reveals is the most important heart that we can have in these situations. It places God's glory above our rights. If we are only concerned about our rights, then of course we should fight this decision to the end, because I think we all believe our rights have been genuinely infringed upon. That's not what is important to us. What has been (and thank the Lord continues to be) the biggest point of concern is, "Is this how God wants us to bring Him glory? Does continuing to fight this particular injustice accomplish the work that He has for us at this time?" I thank God that our leadership has modeled this attitude to us all. This has been a significant time for me, if for no other reason than to see Godly leadership work itself out.

That's another point of "trust and obey" - if I am surrounding myself by others who are seeking to trust and obey God, it is easy to trust and obey my brothers and sisters when the time comes. At every level of our church family, we are learning how to trust and obey each other as we all seek to trust and obey God. (We are also learning that division among denomination is a widely overstated problem, at least where we sit. It has been overwhelming to see the support our brothers and sisters from every denomination have poured out in their resources, facilities, and prayers for us. They are trusting and obeying the Lord as they help us and we are just amazed at their generosity and support.)

We've learned a lot in the last months- there have been many difficult decisions that have had to be made. Plans have had to be hatched. Communications have had to be drafted and dispersed. When you have thousands of people to deal with, of course there are going to be missteps. Yet I am excited and heartened to see where this road leads. It doesn't feel like an ending - it feels like a glorious graduation to new things. We keep talking about how we are going from being in a temple to being in a tabernacle on the move. Well, shoot - the last time there was a tabernacle, there were children of God moving into the Promised Land. I will take that!

In this morning's worship service, I found myself in tears more than once- tears of joy. It felt so good to be with my church family worshipping in what has been our home for a long time. It felt good to see what the Spirit is doing and continues to do. More than anything else, though, it felt wonderful to be in a place where I know that I am trusting and obeying God, and that I am among a diverse group of believers who are trusting and obeying God as a single unit. What a crazy and glorious experiment - I am humbled to be a part of it.

I'll leave you with a selection from Romans 8:

"There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus... for God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit... But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in You, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you... For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
For all who are led by Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the Spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"
... And not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience....
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose... What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.... Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?... For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Books Like Whoa: England The Bookish Edition

I unintentionally had a very bookish holiday in England, y'all. It wasn't planned, I swear - in fact, my mother did 95% of the planning, so I guess she just knew what I would want to do. It started with seeing Agatha's most famous play:

I had seen a couple of her other plays when I was studying abroad in Cambridge, but I had not seen the production that has the honor of being the world's longest running. Verdict? I correctly guessed whodunnit based on my Christie acumen, but it stumped my ma, so all around, thumbs up! Very well acted and beautifully staged. (Incidentally, we also saw The Woman in Black, which is based off of a book... and it is freaking terrifying! You wouldn't think that a stage play could do that, but it was truly scary. The experience was somewhat marred by the excessively rude high school class in attendance, but still one of the better theater nights I've had)

On Tuesday, we went to Oxford... now, if I were picking between Oxford and Cambridge to take someone to, I would normally choose Cambridge. It's where I lived for a bit, so of course I'm fond of it, but it also is more of a town rather than a city, which is a different flavor for someone to enjoy. In this case, however, we both wanted to visit the home of my favorite, favorite author, C.S. Lewis. So off to the Kilns we went!:

It's a lovely little home, and though it makes me sad to see all the other houses that have grown up around it, you can definitely feel the magic that drew Lewis to the spot. I got a real sense of him as a person, rather than as an author or speaker or professor, and it was a treat. Highly recommend people make the trip out there.

The next day, we went to see the newly opened, super awesome, geektastic Harry Potter sound stages on the Warner Brothers' backlot:

(These are robes in the gift shop- the ones in the front are 500 pounds! Who is buying these?)

We got back from HPtopia and I dragged us to Foyles, a famous London bookstore, where I proceeded to geek out over all the titles that aren't available in the US yet, notably 2 that The Readers are doing for their summer book club (I got a signed copy of Pure!) and the newest Johannes Cabal book!

And finally, I got my fill of Jane Austen in Bath, where the whole city is lousing with Austenian landmarks. I snapped a photo of her house as we went by:

Besides the overt landmarks, I had forgotten how pervasive books are in British life. The ads in the underground consist proportionally of promotions for plays, books, and films, rather than in DC, where it's 90% big budget movies and 10% useless junk ads. So many people walk around with a book under their arm or peeping out of their purse. Independent bookstores are much more frequent occupants in city blocks. Basically, books seem to be a much more important part of life here.

When can I move?!

Have you ever taken a bookish vacation?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

England: The Non-Bookish Edition

'Ello gov'unr! I am back from the Mother Isle- I felt refreshed upon first landing back in the USA, but that has been swiftly beaten out of me by work. Alas- this is the plight of man.

Anyways, we did a lot of things I'd already done/seen before, so I didn't take a ton of pictures. But we did go to a couple of new places, so I thought I would share some of my pictures from those outings...

We took a day trip to Oxford and spent a lot of time wondering around Christ Church college:

We also took a day trip that included a stop at Windsor... and while we were inside, we saw THE QUEEN! She was presenting new flags to a regiment that was back from Afghanistan. It was awesome - she was rocking a pink skirt suit and looking very stately... Here are some pics of her castle:

We also stopped at the Cotswolds' village of Lacock to eat a pub established in the 1300's... Very idyllic:

And we spent a little time in Bath (what an unusual English city!):

And on the last day, we took high tea in the Orangery on the Kensington Palace grounds. Afterwards, we walked in the gardens a bit, which was lovely:

We had a really good time and I always love being in England. I hope to make it my homeland some day... until then, I have to satisfy myself with the occasional trip.

What surprised me, however, was how many of our outings were bookish in nature! So look for more to come on my trip to England...