Saturday, December 15, 2007

We simply do not believe

in a God who is so intrinsically good that His commitment to be fully Himself is equivalent to a commitment to be very good to us. When he tells us that He is out for His own glory, and will glorify Himself by making known who He is, we can relax. It's something like a wealthy, generous father declaring his intention to display his true character. We know we're in for a bundle. That is, if we're his heirs.

~ The Safest Place on Earth, ch. 6

Quotable Apologia

No one is at liberty to speak ill of another without a justifiable reason, even though he knows he is speaking truth, and the public knows it too.

. . .

May we not . . . look for a blessing through obedience even to an erroneous system, and a guidance even by means of it out of it?

~ Apologia Pro Vita Sua, ch. 4

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders (Aimee Liu)

If you're reading this post (I don't think many people are), you're probably wondering if I have an eating disorder. And the answer is, I don't. So your next question is, why did I read it?

Because I (like every other American) know at least one person with an eating disorder. And many more people who are either borderline or won't admit they have this problem.

Because this is an excellently written book that takes you inside the minds of people who struggle with eating disorders and helps you to understand where they are coming from.

Because this book sheds light on the full spectrum of each personality trait that is associated with eating disorders. As I read this book and placed myself in each spectrum, I saw how my own personality has led me down similar or contrasting paths to the men and women featured. In other words, I came to a better understanding of myself.

I wish Christians wrote books like this. Aimee Liu has carefully researched, sensitively interviewed, and evocatively described the issues and people connected with the concept of "recovering" from eating disorders. She has interpreted a range of behaviors to come up with a model for what constitutes reasonable human behavior. She has done this without the aid of the Bible or, according to her, any organized religion. Her starting point is all wrong, and yet her conclusions match up with the solution Christianity should be offering. With that caveat, I highly recommend Gaining to everyone.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sidewalk Poet

He's an urban curiosity--a poet of passers-by, a vendor of verse. With his manual typewriter outside a downtown Manhattan supermarket, William Chrome forges poems on the spot from bystanders' requests, sentiments and dares.

He also attended high school not far from where I live.

Death on the Nile (Agatha Christie)

I am hereby inaugurating a rating system for Agatha Christie mysteries:

1=If you miss one of these, you're not missing anything
2=Enjoyably predictable Christie fare
3=Christie at her best

Death on the Nile warrants a 3--go read it, it's clever. And the featured detective is Hercule Poirot.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Book Roundup

I recently finished three books, feel like I could go on for pages discussing them, but I won't. Here are three mini-reviews.

The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis: Out of the three books mentioned here, everyone should read this one. It is a collection of essays and talks. Lewis is brilliant, as always; he blends the head and the heart so well. There is a lot of variety in these essays, so you can just flip through the book and read whatever suits your fancy at the time.

Apologia Pro Vita Sua, John Henry Newman: The Penguin Classics edition has Millais' portrait of the author on the cover--a gentle-faced old man in cardinal's robes. I felt when reading this book that I was getting a glimpse of a beautiful soul. This is a very odd book. It's not a defense of Roman Catholicism or even of Newman's views; it's plainly and simply a defense of himself--this little old man saying querulously, "Stop persecuting me for becoming a Catholic!" And yet in that feeble old voice you hear the deep whisper of a truly brilliant intellect and devout heart. How I wish I lived in the days when higher education fielded men like Newman!

On the Road, Jack Kerouac: Feeling very openminded, I read this book (this year is the 50th anniversary of its publication). Kerouac was obviously a very talented writer, which is why I wish his writing were edited a lot more thoroughly. I mean, c'mon, I know he hated Hemingway, but he could have cut or refined half his verbage without losing his own distinctive voice. It's a very sad book (and very funny in spots). A bunch of guys drive around without shirts on, sleep with women in every town along the way, and look for their fathers. Dean Moriarty is a guy with no roots who, in his attempt to find meaning, fathers children all over the continent and leaves them to live rootless lives just like his. I can see why this book is considered the voice of a generation, but why do people consider that a good thing? It's tragic.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Beauty is an attribute of holiness.

~ "Why Study Art?" Linda Trumbo, The Virginia Home Educator (vol. 13, no. 3)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Perfect Paragraph

It was mid-morning when the man dropped him at a corner beside a little country hotel. The snow had all lain and there was more in the sky and the day was extremely silent. Mark went into the little hotel and found a kind elderly landlady. He had a hot bath and a capital breakfast and then went to sleep in a chair before a roaring fire. He did not wake till about four. He reckoned he was only a few miles from St. Anne's, and decided to have tea before he set out. He had tea. At the landlady's suggestion he had a boiled egg with his tea. Two shelves in the little sitting room were filled with bound volumes of The Strand. In one of these he found a serial children's story which he had begun to read as a child but abandoned because his tenth birthday came when he was half way through it and he was ashamed to read it after that. Now, he chased it from volume to volume till he had finished it. It was good. The grown-up stories to which, after his tenth birthday, he had turned instead of it, now seemed to him, except for Sherlock Holmes, to be rubbish. "I suppose I must get on soon," he said to himself.

~ That Hideous Strength, ch. 17

How We Met

Reading is as much an experience as it is an accomplishment, so I love stories about how certain books get read. For instance, when I was elementary-age I checked a book out of the library whose title I misread as The Civil War. It was actually called The Cybil War (by Betsy Byars) and it had nothing to do with American history. But I did enjoy it very much.

With C.S. Lewis's space trilogy, which I just finished, the story is quite different. I've loved C.S. Lewis's work ever since I heard The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a book on tape when I was three or four. But I've never really been into science fiction. I came to be rather embarassed that I had read many of Lewis's writings, including obscure poems, but not his space trilogy.

So then one day when I was visiting my family last year, I picked up That Hideous Strength just to sort of fill some time. I started reading it and really got into all the college politics and the workings of the N.I.C.E., and somehow realized that this was the last book in the trilogy. After that I convinced myself to start with the beginning of the trilogy so that I could eventually get to the N.I.C.E. again, in context. Every time I visited home after that I would work through the trilogy. I enjoyed it so much that by the time I reached the last few chapters, I tried to stretch them out over a few days because I didn't want the books to be over.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Autoimmune Connection: Essential Information for Women on Diagnosis, Treatment, and Getting On With Your Life

Celiac disease, which I have, is an autoimmune disease, so that's why I picked this book off of the library shelf. Apparently 75% of the people with autoimmune diseases are women. There's not really any confirmed reason why women are more susceptible to these diseases, but this book posits a few theories. It's written by Rita Baron-Faust and a doctor named Jill P. Buyon, and it surveys at least 17 autoimmune diseases, from rheumatoid arthritis to antiphospholipid syndrome.

I found chapter 1 to be the most useful, since it explains how autoimmune disorders work. The rest of the book is kind of freaky because it provides warning signs for various diseases, and if you're borderline hypochondriac like I am, you'll imagine you have all of them.

Miss Marple on the British

"Really I don't know what I mean--but the English are rather odd that way. Even in war, so much prouder of their defeats and their retreats than of their victories. Foreigners never can understand why we're so proud of Dunkerque. It's the sort of thing they'd prefer not to mention themselves. But we always seem to be almost embarassed by a victory--and treat it as though it weren't quite nice to boast about it. And look at all our poets! The Charge of the Light Brigade. And the little Revenge went down in the Spanish Main. It's really a very odd characteristic when you come to think of it!"

~ Murder with Mirrors, ch. 11

A Useful Page for Christie Fans

This is Christie's output, with year of publication, alternate titles (if any), Swedish titles, and the detective of the story.
I know, I know--Swedish titles? But this was the best Christie-ography I could find.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Palliser Novels

I remember my mom giggling over Barchester Towers when I was a teenager, but I was not at all intrigued. At the time I was interested in sterner authors than Anthony Trollope, such as Charles Dickens and the Bronte sisters.

But this spring my roommates and I got hooked on the 1974 Pallisers miniseries. It was like a Victorian soap opera. We always wanted to know what would happen next, even though the makeup was hideous and the music sounded like an old phonograph and the drama all took place in drawing rooms or Parliament. That doesn't sound like a recommendation, but it just goes to show how transcendently good Trollope was as a writer.

So I picked up the first Palliser novel (there are six) and it was even better than the TV show. Trollope's novels are like beautiful jewelry. His writing is extraordinarily controlled and nuanced, like a delicate filligree setting, and his characters are like small, perfect precious stones (not sparkly ones, like emeralds and diamonds, but pearly ones like jade and opal). There are so many characters in these novels that the Oxford University Press edition actually provides a character index in the back of each volume. And yet each character is unique, and conceived in detail. Their actions are described and explained down to the smallest motive, and are almost always consistent with their personalities.

Then, each novel consists of not just a main plot but several subplots, and all the plots are pretty much the same. We have love stories, thwarted-love stories, social climbing, social falling, and politics (which should be boring, but is somehow absorbing in these tales). The subplots are the same and yet not the same, because each one is just a little different from all the other ones. I don't know how Trollope kept all these things straight. He must have been a wide-ranging observer of human beings.

He wrote a huge number of novels, I'm happy to say, which means I can read one a year for the rest of my life, or something like that.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Do you not regret our mountains and our prairies," said the poet; "our great waters and our green savannahs?"

"I think more perhaps of Fifth Avenue," said Miss Boncassen.

~ The Duke's Children, ch. 7o

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Grand Weaver

I borrowed Ravi Zacharias's new book from the library because I've been wondering lately about how to identify God's hand in my circumstances, and the book is subtitled How God Shapes Us Through the Events of Our Lives. Unfortunately, although there is a lot of good insight in the book, I found it more confusing than anything. I assume that it was written to fulfill a book contract, and the editor wasn't quite on the ball. (Curses on the Christian book industry! That includes you, Zondervan!)

Chapter titles include "Your DNA Matters," "Your Disappointments Matter," "Your Will Matters," and "Your Worship Matters." Each chapter is best read as a unit unto itself, offering good suggestions for transforming our attitudes about each facet of our being.

What I found confusing was fitting all the chapters into the weaver metaphor. As I sat down to write this review, I was going to tell you my solution to this problem, but I gave up instead. Not only is it difficult to figure out how the chapters fit together, but many of the illustrations don't seem to fit into the chapter arguments.

If you want to read it (and I'm not saying not to), check it out from the library or borrow it from someone. Actually, it might work well for a group Bible study, because then you could go down all the rabbit trails and the overall plan of the book wouldn't matter. How ironic, that a book about design fails the design test.

This is the only book I've read by Ravi Zachiarias. I've heard him speak and I was really impressed, so I'm hoping his other books are better. But like I said, there's still some good insight in this book.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The End of the Road

On May 1, I moved back home to live with my family. My plans were to drive around New England for a few weeks, return home and find a job, and attend Regent University in the fall. But lots of stuff went wrong. The fact is, it's going to take a lot more than a bottle of pills to heal me from years of undiagnosed food allergies. I'm like a building that looks okay on the outside but has severe termite damage on the inside. So even though moving back home gave me the rest and freedom from stress that I needed, it simply made the truth more obvious: I need MORE rest, MORE freedom from stress. In other words, working full-time, outside the home, isn't an option for me right now. So that has an impact on finances, of course. And college, as we all know, has a cruel effect on both health and finances.

God recently drove the point home by requiring my car to need a new transmission. My symbol of independence is currently stranded at a shop in Purcellville, over an hour away. Do I want to save my funds for car repairs or for college? That's a no-brainer. So college is out for now.

Over the last year I've watched my plans for the future dwindle away to nothing. I used to think my life had no meaning if I had no vision or capacity for changing the world. Remember the lesson from Patrick Henry College--God wants to USE you!! In a MIGHTY WAY!!! Wanna know how God's used me? By not using me. He's tied my hands and cut off much of my connection to the wide, wide world. My focus has shrunk to this week, this day, sometimes only this minute. The people I touch in any meaningful way are the ones I can encourage, in some small fashion, as I encounter them in the daily round of cooking meals and going to church. Some days, life is bliss: reading, putting in a few hours of work, trying a new recipe, being with my family. Some days, the lack of distractions (going to work, buying clothes, hanging out with friends, envisioning a magnificent future) is agony.

Henri Nouwen writes about creating "space" for God in our lives. He shows how spiritual disciplines like solitude, prayer, and contemplation carve out empty spaces in our lives for God to fill. He sees these emptinesses as beautiful and gracious, contexts in which we can encounter God. And he is right. The maddening emptiness that I face has proved to be the opportunity for Him to hold my attention. He has directed my thoughts when, self-directed, they have merely whirled in confusion. When I have given up all hope for meaning, the meaning has come, and it consists of being in His presence.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Sound Familiar?

Reba and Kelly's new duet, "Because of You," is going to be one of my favorites, I think. Not because I'm a morbid, morose, sad kind of person--but just because it's so true. Here's a sample of the lyrics:

I will not make the same mistakes that you did
I will not let myself
Cause my heart so much misery
I will not break the way you did,
You fell so hard
I've learned the hard way
To never let it get that far

Because of you
I never stray too far from the sidewalk
Because of you
I learned to play on the safe side so I don't get hurt
Because of you
I find it hard to trust not only me, but everyone around me
Because of you
I am afraid

I lose my way
And it's not too long before you point it out
I cannot cry
Because I know that's weakness in your eyes
I'm forced to fake
A smile, a laugh everyday of my life
My heart can't possibly break
When it wasn't even whole to start with

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Why Minor League Baseball Is So Much Fun

My brother is a batboy at the stadium up the road. Read about him in this newspaper article.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sunny Day Blues

We finally had spring and
friends in town and
a reason to celebrate (a wedding with real champagne)

but somehow it took more energy than I had

leaving just enough, this morning, for me to take a shower and crawl back into bed.

Forget the plans to be the perfect hostess, the perfect friend.

On a better day I'd provide square meals and clever conversation,
but don't take it personally because
today I even failed God by skipping church.

Now, for most people today is a day for a drive in the country,
mowing the lawn, or taking a walk,
today, lying on the couch is about all I'm up to.

Through the open window I can see and hear
all the life that is going on without me.

The world is still spinning gently, the game still in play--
but I somehow got disqualified.

Today, my worst is the best I have to give.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

'Nuff Said

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Friday, February 23, 2007

What Poetic Form Are You?

It's not a trick question! Take this personality quiz. I'm a cywydd llosgyrnog (no kidding, it's a kind of Welsh poetry).

A cywydd llosgyrnog; I'm one.
"A what?" Well, quite. There'd be no fun
In being understood; I
Thrive upon obliquity.
Don't comprehend or follow me,
For mystery's my ally.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Things I'm Thinking About

George Orwell advised readers of the Evening Standard how to make "A Nice Cup of Tea" in 1949. Was he right? I was surprised to discover that even though I don't follow all eleven of his guidelines, I see the wisdom in each. Even though I pour my milk in first, it's because I think that gives the final cup of tea a smoother flavor; whereas Orwell poured the milk in last because he wanted to precisely regulate the amount. Whatever floats your boat.

Although I'm an eleven-point Orwellian, I determined in the wee hours of the morning (woke up, couldn't go back to sleep) that I'm a one-point Calvinist. The point I hold to is perseverance of the saints. Maybe Calvin got more sleep than I do.

Randomly, the concept of sensory processing is also on my radar screen. Try it, you'll like it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Modern-Day Middle Ages

I know the Middle Ages weren't so hot. People lived in squalor and died of germs and ate gruel amongst the pigs. But then again, if the Middle Ages were so bad, where did all that beautiful art come from? I wish that today, people dreamed big enough outside of their windowless cubicles and postage-stamp-sized front lawns to tell modern-day Arthurian legends. I wish that they performed acoustic music that was never, ever recorded or even written down--just music out of someone's memory and remembered by everyone as a moment never to be repeated. I wish we used beautiful words like thee and thou and hight. I wish we only did one or two things every day, that we hung out with our friends more, that we walked more than drove, that silence was a fact of life. That minutes meant something. That we were proud of the work of our hands. That we were buried in real graveyards with beautiful hand-carved stones. That we didn't miss all the fun because we were too busy taking pictures.

And if you are tempted to comment with some nasty statistics about how most people in the Middle Ages were actually poor downtrodden miserable souls, I beg you to refrain. I really find it hard to believe that they were any more miserable than us, flooded in fluorescent lighting and eating artificial colors and flavors.

Friday, January 12, 2007

I'm Famous!

Okay, not really. But click here to see the article that Abigail and I wrote about our experiences in the counseling class we took last spring. (If that link does not work for you, go to and click on "LCI News Volume 6" under "LCI Newsletter.")