Just a general update

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I love to read. I love to blog. But lately, not much of either has been happening. I'm okay with it--I'm reminding myself that this particular season of life, with two little ones and a husband who frequently travels, is a temporary one. Right now, I'm just trying to savor all the sweet moments that two little girls bring me. For now, that means more raspberries and snuggles and walks, and less blogging.

Once I get a break though, watch out! I have a huge list of books I'm looking forward to reviewing. But for now, I'm going to go downstairs, savor a cup of coffee, and enjoy some excellent company. I hope wherever you are, Dear Reader, you are able to do the same.

The Adventures of Sally

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I'm back! Well, back to Virginia at least. I'm not back to full energy or even back to myself for that matter, but I'm definitely feeling better. Basically, life with two little ones was kicking my butt, so I went to my parents house to rest and recharge. It was a wonderful visit.

It was eye-opening, too. I had lots of help with my two little girls and was relieved of all cooking, cleaning, and household responsibilities and I was still wiped out at the end of each day. If I felt tired on vacation, no wonder I was exhausted at home!

During the relentless nursing, I finished reading this. (I'm hoping to start posting more of the reviews I'm behind on. But they will be short, starting with this one.)

The Adventures of Sally, by P.G. Wodehouse
I got an iPod Touch, which is just about the greatest thing ever. Since I'm nursing so much, it's fantastic to be able to hold something small, bright, and entertaining for all of the long days and tired nights when I am nursing a baby.

I downloaded the Kindle app for the iPhone, and I like to visit the Kindle store weekly to see what free books are the top downloads. That's how I found this gem.

It's a classic P.G. Wodehouse story, but not so over-the-top as a Bertie and Jeeves story. Beautiful young Sally inherits money and goes back and forth abroad and to the New York theater scene. It's more along the lines of a romantic comedy or a screwball comedy from the 1930's. It's light, it's fun, it's free. Love it.

Here's an excerpt for your reading pleasure, from a dinner at the boarding house where theater folk are giving a Sally a going away party.

"I have been asked," proceeded Mr. Faucitt, "though I am aware that there are others here far worthier of such a task -- Brutuses compared with whom I, like Marc Antony, am no orator--I have been asked to propose the health..."
"Who asked you?" It was the smaller of the Marvellous Murphys who spoke. He was an unpleasant youth, snubnosed and spotty. Still, he could balance himself with one hand on an inverted ginger-ale bottle while revolving a barrel on the soles of his feet. There is good in all of us.

Wild Fermentation

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Katz

I'm starting to get way out there about my food... are you worried for me yet? The more I read, the more I am convinced that basically every culture has healthier food than Americans. The further back in history, the more nutritious the food. For example, if you go back several generations, women canned their own produce from their gardens. Better than supermarket food, right? Well, if you go back even further, before canning was invented, people used a process called "lacto-fermentation" to preserve food.

Lacto-fermentation used good bacteria to kill bad bacteria and in the process it actually adds nutrition to the raw ingredients. Here's an excellent article citing a USDA official who says it's actually safer than eating the raw produce from the fields (found via Food Renegade). My husband is totally repulsed by this method, but it's the same process that gives us yogurt, cheese, wine, beer, chocolate, black tea... you know, the good stuff!

I've made a few things using this method before, but reading this inspired me to start doing it again. Here's what's in my fridge right now:

From left to right, pickles, saurkraut, pickles, ginger carrots, pineapple chutney, and more saurkraut. The pickles ended up kind of yucky, maybe because I used the wrong kind of salt. They taste a little bitter and are carbonated, wierdly enough. As they say around here, that aint right. The saurkraut is a terrific condiment for red meats, although it discolors a bit after opening. The carrots are good with chicken and Asian dishes, and I haven't tried the chutney yet--it's on next week's menu.

I think most people who object to this book fall into two camps: either they are grossed out by the concept of using bacteria to preserve food, or they are offended by the author. Here is some philosophical musing on the two subjects.

I proudly call myself a follower of Jesus ("Christian" has lots of baggage, but I call myself that too). We are called to improve the world, just like Jesus redeemed us and made us a new creation. Eden wasn't a pristine wilderness--it was a cultivated garden. (Actually, part of the Curse was being rejected from Eden and forced to live in the wild, which is the best argument this bookworm has against recreational camping.) In the same vein, heaven is not clouds in the sky, but a dazzling city. God took us out of all of the crap that accompanies our humanity and instead applied the purity of the only perfect human, his own son Jesus. We are supposed to use God's law to transform our lives into what He intended for us in the first place. Ultimately, human being's mission on earth, and my job here right now, is to improve our immediate environment, redeem culture, and eventually transform the world. In practical terms, this means I'm not a raw foodist--I try to improve upon what God has given us, and that includes even small little details like making traditional saurkraut so that a lowly cabbage has extra flavor and nutrients. Theology always has consequences.

Which leads me to the author, who is also living out the practical implications of his worldview. He is gay, and lives in a self-described queer community in rural Tennessee. They live off the power grid and are self-sufficient. That community also wants to remake society, but in a way totally opposed to the Bible. I admire him for living out the implications of his idealogy. Frankly, I'd rather read books by people who are thinking and doing, rather than something like Julie and Julia, where the author just does random stuff to fulfill her angst. (But that's another book review.) I was surprised to read how offended people were on the Amazon reviews. There's nothing in here remotely obscene and gives about the same story you could find in a New York Times article.

I'm mostly using the recipes from Nourishing Traditions, but I like the scope of recipes and the ease of use. The author has a "try it and see" approach which is fun and relaxed. I recommend this book if you're interested in better food and better health.

Good Calories, Bad Calories

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes

The more I learn, the more I am convinced that if a scientific idea is popular, it is most likely untrue. Examples?
The four humors determine one's personality.
The sun revolves around the earth.
Leeches can cure a fever.
If a woman floats, she's a witch.
I'm sure you're nodding your head and rolling your eyes about those ancient, ignorant people. But what about our enlightened modern times? You might also believe, for example, that Americans are responsible for global warming. Did that one hit a little closer to home? No? Okay, how about this: maybe you think, like I used to, that saturated fat causes heart disease, eating fat is bad for weight loss, and lots of dietary fiber prevents colon cancer. Nutritionally speaking, this book rocked my socks.

Good Calories, Bad Calories was written by a distinguished science writer, not some dietary crusader. He seems to be writing for others in the scientific community and not the average Joe, so this book is quite technical, and frankly, a little too thorough for my sleep-deprived mommy brain. It's easy to get lost in the myriad of studies, interviews, hearings, and medical journals; I wish I would have taken notes as I read it. It would have helped me better summarize it for you, dear reader, and better argue with my husband about the best route to weight loss. I bogged down in chapter 9, when trying to keep track of the five different lipoproteins carried in triglycerides. I need to finish it later when I don't have a baby and a toddler competing for my attention. (I might watch this 1 1/2 hour webcast sometime when I don't want to read the entire book. What I did read, however, was thoroughly convincing and I'm already trying to eat differently based on what I learned.

He starts off with a brief bio of William Banting, who I had never heard of before. He describes how America, and then the rest of the world, came to believe ideas that are just plain wrong. For instance, did you know that high cholesterol is associated with longer life, especially in women? Indigenous people groups who eat no fiber have the healthiest digestion? And what we think of as common health problems (cavities, cancer, appendicitis, or really, almost every chronic disease) are almost totally absent in native, traditional diets. To make a sweeping generalization, not all calories are the same. Refined carbohydrates such as sugar, white flour, and white rice wreak havoc on our bodies. Here's an excerpt from the Prologue (page xvii):

The reason for this book is straightforward: despite the depth and certainty of our faith that saturated fat is the nutritional bane of our lives and that obesity is caused by overeating and sedentary behavior, there has always been copious evidence to suggest that those assumptions are incorrect, and that evidence is continuing to mount. "There is always an easy solution to every problem," H. L. Menken once said--"neat, plausible, and wrong." It is quite possible, despite all our faith to the contrary, that these concepts are such neat, plausible, and wrong solutions. Moreover, it's also quite possible that the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets we've been told to eat for the past shirty years are not only making us heavier but contributing to other chronic diseases as well.
This book is just as much an indictment of modern science as it is an expose of nutrition. It's amazing to read how researchers and policy-makers became even more committed to certain hypotheses with overwhelming evidence to the contrary. To paraphrase that old saying about law, bad science makes bad food.

Marley and Me

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Marley and Me, by John Grogan

I had no desire to read this book originally. It seemed to be romanticizing a crazy dog with irresponsible owners, and I had a strong hunch that the dog died in the end. I hate it when dogs die. Why would I want to read about that? Plus, this book was an easy reading top-seller, and I enjoy being contrary and ignoring popular trends. That's just me.

However, the universe conspired to change my mind. My mom recommended it, and she's not a sentimental person. The movie got good reviews. I had a free ebook copy. I was having a really bad day and needed cheering up. And now after reading it, I can see why so many other people enjoyed it too.

This one hit pretty close to home, actually. A young idealistic couple gets a really cute dog that ends up being a handful... check. Begin to outgrow their beloved home in a sketchy neighborhood... check. Start a family and focus on the all-consuming kids while the dog loves them unresevedly anyway... check. I'm at a different stage of life than where this couple ended up at the end of the book, and it was reassuring to hear from someone who made it through on the other side. Plus, it made me feel better about my own hyper dog!

This was a funny and authentic book about loving family, dogs, and life. Save it for when you're having a bad day, and I promise you'll feel better.

In progress

Monday, June 15, 2009

Has anyone else read A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving?

If so, has anyone else found it fantastically boring?

I kept coming across it in lists of great literature, and when I saw a free ebook version of it, I downloaded it right away. I'm still slogging through the novel (right now I'm on page 216) but I checked reviews on Amazon.com to see what others thought. At last count there are 816 five-star reviews. Just typing that made me sigh again. It's supposed to be an amazing, funny, brilliant novel about faith, which inspired the movie Simon Birch. I found that movie okay, although a bit emotionally manipulative. I've forgotten how it ended but some of the reviews on Amazon gave away enough plot points that if I stop reading A Prayer for Owen Meany I won't wonder what happened to the characters. I also learned that it contains 512 pages of narrative, which begin in the 1950s and keeps trudging on through all the way to Vietnam and Iran Contra. To top it all off, the book is also considered an excellent critique of the faults of American foreign policy. Haven't we been here before? Can we move on to something else now, please?

This reminds me of the preface of Fanny Herself, by Edna Ferber. Click here to read it. I might give up on this one. Life is too short to read boring books.

The Princess Bride

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Princess Bride: S. Morgensterns Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, by William Goldman

I grew up watching the movie so I thought I knew everything there was to know about the Princess Bride. But two things about the book surprised me: (1) its author and (2) its audience.

The real author is William Goldman, a successful screenwriter who wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men, and many others. He uses a literary convention of discussing a fictional book to tell a story about a fictionalized version of himself. As such, it's really a book for adults, not kids. There are a few things that kids won't appreciate (like the humor) and a few things that they hopefully won't get (like some mild racial slurs and the author briefly considering an affair in the preface) but mostly its a story about a grown man in a cold marriage and a grinding job, who still longs for the ideals of a childrens' story: true love and high adventure. But fictional book and the real one both reveal that however wonderful romance and adventure are, life isn't fair.

The author tells the story of being a lonely boy obsessed with sports who has no interest in books until his father reads to him the Princess Bride by "S. Morgenstern". The young boy is so enthralled with the story that he becomes a writer as an adult.

Years later when his own son could care less, the author reads it for himself only to discover his father skipped the boring and sad parts so his son would enjoy it more. To hopefully make his own son love it as much as he did, the author decides to abridge it and get his editor to publish it. We the readers end up with a story with running commentary on the story. The gimmick works: the Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern could stand on its own, but the Princess Bride by William Goldman will stay with me.

Here's some dialogue, which might be familiar to you if you saw the movie.

'She does not get eaten by the sharks at this time,' my father said.
I looked up at him. 'What?'
'You looked like you were getting too involved and bothered so I thought I would let you relax.'
'Oh for Pete's sake,' I said, 'you'd think I was a baby or something. What kind of stuff was that?' I really sounded put out, but I'll tell you the truth: I was getting a little too involved and I was glad he told me. I mean, when you're a kid, you don't think , Well, since the book's called The Princess Bride and since we're barely into it, obviously, the authors not going to make shark kibble of his leading lady. You get hooked on these things when you're a youngster; so to any youngsters reading, I'll simply repeat my father's works since they worked to soothe me: 'She does not get eaten by the sharks at this time.'

100 Cupboards

Monday, May 18, 2009

100 Cupboards, by N.D. Wilson

I've been reading N.D. Wilson's short stories and articles in the theology magazine Credenda Agenda for over a decade. He's matured from writing weird stories with off-the-wall observations to kooky stories with insight. I believe that writing, like any craft, takes much practice, and I'm glad it paid off so handsomely for him in this great story, 100 Cupboards.

The plot is this: twelve year old Henry goes to live with his relatives in small town Kansas after his parents disappear. He discovers secret cupboards in his attic bedroom, which turn out to be portals to different worlds. His understated uncle is more than originally assumed, his deceased grandfather's bedroom door is impenetrable, posted letters from other worlds deliver ominous warnings, and Henry finally plays baseball with other boys. Even though it is technically a children's story, it had me hooked from the beginning. I was completely spooked for the last half. (It probably didn't help that I was reading it in the dark, while nursing in the wee small hours of the morning.) My only quibble is there's no resolution to the story: this is only the setup for the next installment of the series, or what my husband calls the Tim LaHaye school of writing.

Here's an example of the engaging perspective Wilson brings to his story--constellations above watch Henry and marvel at his lack of imagination.

Above him, the stars twinkled with laughter. Galaxies looked. Nudged each other. Chuckled. He didn't even know about secret cities," Orion said. "His mother never told him."
The Great Bear smiled. "Did his dad tell him about forgotten doors?"
"Only having to do with science projects or bicycle trips."
"Mostly topographic, or the kind that shad countries in different colors based on gross national product or primary exports."
"Nothing with 'Here be dragons' on the edges?"
"Never. He found a hidden cupboard with compass locks, and do you know what he thought was in it?"
"A unicorn's horn?"

PS: While browsing through other bloggers' reviews of this book, I noticed that we all seem to have the same reactions: (1) Wilson's writing is so good that we can't help but quote excerpts and (2) it's spooky!

Reviews and ramblings....

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Oh my word, I'm so far behind.

Far behind on laundry, thank you notes, housecleaning, potty training Violet, and all that lifey stuff that gets thrown to the wayside when there's a newborn in the house. Although, I'm not sure if Faith is a newborn anymore--she turned 6 weeks old this week! It's a milestone I really enjoyed with Violet, because it seemed mark the transition from newborn to baby. (This time, I hope I will be awake enough to appreciate it.)

So in addition to all the other things I'm backlogged in, I'm also quite behind in blogging. As I very gradually figure out how to be a mommy to two little girls, I hope to catch up with all the books I've read these last few months. I'll start with a double review of two mysteries I recently finished.

Arson Plus, by Dashiell Hammett
I enjoyed reading a few Dashiell Hammett novels in high school. I hoped that this short story would be a fail-safe good read, but was disappointed. The characters, especially the hardboiled detective who solves the case, have nothing compelling about them and the story it ended up having the emotional impact of a newspaper. It could be from my sleep-deprived state, but I had to go back and read the first part of the book again after I finished it, because I had no idea who the bad guy was. That should only happen in Russian epics or Dickens' novels .

Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers
Why isn't Dorothy Sayers more renowned? She was brilliant and surprisingly well-rounded. Her friends and peers seem to have stolen some of her thunder, but her crime novels are on par with Agatha Christie, her love of medievel times was as reverential as CS Lewis', and her essays are just as obtuse as GK Chesterton's.

This mystery was a great counterpoint to Dashiell Hammett's, especially how the story revealed the characters' humanity--both good and bad. It played by the classic rules of mystery novels: the baffling crime, the interesting setting, the crime-solver and his sidekick, and the objective truth, deduced by both logic and awareness of man's capacity to do evil.

If the story has any faults, it's that it is dated. Here's an example of some dialogue:

"Bunter," said Lord Peter, "I beg that in the future you will restrain me from starting two hares at once. These cases are gettin' to be a strain on my constitution. One hare has nowhere to run from, and the other has nowhere to run to. It's a kind of mental D.T., Bunter. When this is over I shall turn pussyfoot, sorswear the police news, and take to an emollient diet of the works of the late Charles Garvice."
What? Nevertheless, it's a good story.

The latest news

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

This is why I haven't posted lately....

We welcomed Faith Susannah into our hearts and home on March 24. She's such a blessing, but it doesn't leave much time for blogging. I have quite the backlog of books to review, but for now, I'm going to try to take a nap.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Hello? Is anybody still out there?

I really miss my poor abandoned blog. Don't think I've forgotten you, kind readers. I haven't stopped reading (never!), but I just can't keep up with blogging right now. I'm two weeks away (or sooner) from having our baby, and at this point I'm doing good just to get dinner on the table and keep our toddler diapered.

Incubating a baby is hard work. This is me, two months ago:

This is me, now.

(Photo credits here)

I'll be back this summer!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I don't plan on seeing the movie, even though it won Oscars and got great reviews. Frankly, the whole movie looks pretentious and I find Brad Pitt annoying (and don't even get me started on "Brangelina"). But then I saw this at the library...

How could I resist? I could learn what the movie was about without needing to sit through hours of Brad Pitt gazing soulfully, plus I can smugly say I read the book instead of watching the movie. Perfect! Even better, the dialogue of the novel was used in the graphic novel format so my tired, mushy pregnancy brain didn't have to think too hard.

I liked the book, but it was a sad story. It's set at the turn of the century, and a baby is born "backwards." He comes into the world a full-grown, aged man who wants nothing more than a decent cane, hot tea, and the Sunday paper. His whole family is embarrassed by him and they have no idea what to do with this old person who is really their son. As time passes, he ages backwards, getting younger as the rest of his family passes him by. It was a sad story because at the end of his life, Benjamin Button was truly an infant. His family put him away somewhere where they wouldn't be embarrassed, his friends moved on, and all the memories of his rich and interesting life were replaced by the simple desires to drink his milk, sleep, and be comforted by his nanny.

It was an interesting concept for a book. Apparently the author really enjoyed writing these surreal novels but they didn't sell as well, necessitating his move into "serious" fiction and commercial success. It got me thinking about what I hope to have at the end of my own life, my family legacy and what accomplishments I want to remember. Not bad for a graphic novel.

The Forgotten Man

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, by Amity Shlaes

This book was written last year but could not be more timely. Our faltering economy is reminding everyone of Great Depression, however inaccurate the comparison is. Things were actually much worse under Carter than right now, but it's easy to see how our normally happy-go-lucky country is being startled enough to look to history to make sense of it all. The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, is the perfect book to explain our times and theirs.

My strongest conclusion from reading this book is that FDR was a bad president. I'm a child of the '80s, long removed from the Great Depression, but even I know the folklore. Supposedly he saved our country by doing what had to be done to bring the masses out of misery and hunger. This book has thoroughly convinced me otherwise. The author is like a good novelist in that she never makes character judgments (like I just did). She doesn't tell, she shows. And she shows thoroughly. I can't imagine the research she must have done for this meticulous 390 page book, but the notes, bibliography, coda, and index continue to page 464. There's so much in this book, but let me tell you what was new to me. Some of it was quite surprising.

  • FDR coined the phrase "Brain Trust" to define the young intellectuals who advised him. Many of them went on the same fact-finding trip to the newly soviet Russia in 1927. The Soviets, of course, were tightly controlling their image and at first glance they seemed to offer alternatives to the answers of their day. The naivete of the young Americans, who eventually got played by Stalin himself, is even more sad when compared with what we now know about the effects of communism. They patiently waited until a crisis gave them the opportunity to implement their ideas.
  • At the time, Black Tuesday seemed like a simple adjustment of a robust economy. "'Closing Rally Vigorous,' remarked the New York Times headline with the stock market crashed the last Tuesday in October 1929." (page 85) Ignorance of how basic economies work made the dip extend, especially by interventionist President Hoover and the newly created Fed. Their ignorance amazed me.
  • The US Government was officially trying to combat inflation, but the real problem was deflation. "Deflation meant that the currency was becoming more valuable every day, rarer and scarcer. Deflation can be good for lenders; the money they are owed in the future is more valuable that it was when they wrote the original contract to lend. But deflation is terrible for borrowers, whether they be countries, banks, businesses, or families. It means they must pay back more than they originally contracted to borrow. Inflation taxes savers. Deflation taxes risk takers and punishes leveragers. It makes paying mortgages, as well as property taxes, especially difficult. It goes against the American sense of promise, punishing those who dare to hope they might move ahead." (page 108) Eventually money would be so scarce that Americans resorted to barter systems and municipalities printed their own script.
  • When FDR was elected by using religious imagery and displaying a great sense of optimism which contrasted with the grumpy Republicans in office for the last 3 terms. But he basically expanded Hoover's poor policies of bullying businesses and punishing risk. He constantly tinkered and vacillated to the point it embarrassed his supporters. At an international summit on currency in London in 1932, he sent Brain Trusters who argued for opposite theories, which confused everyone. When there was finally consensus he vetoed the recommendations of his own delegates. One time, while waiting for a British diplomat who was scheduled to arrive at any moment, he interrupted the small talk by saying, "Congratulate me, boys! I've taken us (the US currency) off of the gold standard!"

  • The Supreme Court kept declaring the scope of the New Deal programs unconstitutional. For instance, the Tennessee Valley Authority was created to supposedly provide electric power, but it competed with private companies, who unlike the TVA, had to pay taxes and and didn't have laws written expressly for their expansion. "In 12 months, the National Relocation Act had generated more paper than the entire legislative output of the federal government since 1789." (page 202) FDR was so displeased that he launched a two-sided attack on the supreme court. He targeted some of them personally in an effort to make them retire so he could appoint new judges, and he developed a plan to "flood the bench" and have 15 judges instead of nine. The public reaction was so strong he had to withdraw his plan.
  • Even Keynes, the father of Keynesian economics, criticized FDR. His theory emphasized government spending as a way to help the economy and "gave license for perpetual experimentation -- at least how Roosevelt and his administration applied it." Even he disapproved of the New Deal's scope. "Keynes saw no use, he wrote, in chasing utilities around the lot every other week.... 'It is a mistake to think that businessmen are more immoral than politicians.'"
FDR was a brilliant politician, as can be seen by his popularity during an entire decade of broken promises. "The president made groups where only individual citizens or isolated cranks had stood before, ministered to those groups, and was rewarded with votes. ... Roosevelt's move was so profound that it changed the English language. Before the 1930's, the word 'liberal' stood for the individual; afterward, the phrase increasingly stood for groups." (page 11)

The New Deal created the appearance of attacking the problem but I got the impression that if nothing were done, the economy would have righted itself fairly soon. Instead, the administration constant tinkered with prices and wages (which are symptoms, not causes), increased bureaucracy, increased taxes (up to 83% income tax), demonized businesses and Wall Street, and used litigation to target individuals. The most egregious examples were personal attacks: attempts to shame the wealthy by suing and revealing their assets, and targeting poor immigrants in court cases to validate the constitutionality of the New Deal Programs. If FDR had used his enormous political capitol he could have changed the South and the racism of the 1950's and 1960s; instead, he consistently ignored the calls to end lynching (and even rewarded KKK members politically). Sadly, the Great Depression wasn't fixed until WWII offered jobs for so many unemployed, opportunity for businesses, and a common cause for America to believe in again.

I recommend this book highly. It seemed odd to me that after a long day, I couldn't wait to pick up a huge book and read about a topic as intricate and depressing as ... the Great Depression. But the personal stories especially made this book so interesting I was totally absorbed. It also, strangely enough, made me optimistic about our own "crisis." If Americans were able to overcome the Great Depression, we can face this quasi-recession. I just hope it doesn't take a world war to rescue us.

A Primer on Reformation

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Primer on Reformation: Recovering the High Church Puritan, by Douglas Wilson

Here's another book by Douglas Wilson, kindly sent by the nice folks at Canon Press. Doug Wilson can always be counted on to give his reader plenty to think about, and I'm still thinking. Pondering. Musing. Here's a description of the book, which will hopefully prompt you to read it and think about these things with me.

He starts by establishing the need for reformation in the American church, something his audience surely can't disagree with. Full steam ahead, he launches into an indictment of the shallow and commercial nature of our church, as can be seen by the title of chapter one: They'll Know We Are Christians by Our Schlock. We gladly rip off pop culture in our desire to relevant, but in the process make light of God's holy name, and make lots of money doing it. It reminds me of a quote from the sitcom King of the Hill. "You're not making Christianity better, you're making rock music worse!"

Wilson makes the case that we ended up with such a trivial faith because we focus on ourselves, not on God. The sin of individualism is seen as a virtue. He argues that individuals have pitted correct doctrine and unity of the body of Christ against each other. This false dichotomy leaves no room for submission to each other (i.e., Ephesian 4) and genuine humility.

So what's the answer? Becoming a "high church Puritan." The word "Puritan" couldn't be more misunderstood today. I aspire to be like the Puritans, but I'm afraid I'm not intelligent enough, not educated enough, and not passionate enough. (Doesn't fit with the modern definition of Puritan, does it?)

And so I want to use the word in its original sense -- one who has a deep desire to purify the Church, but who has no intention of voluntarily separating from that Church if he doesn't get his way immediately. ... He has a high view of the covenant, and of our corporate identity with one another. Because he is a Puritan, he intends to be a theological cavalier, and he fights for the integrity of obedience. He does not do this as some gloomy caricature, sitting in the back pews lamenting the regrettable apostasies up front...
This cannot be done without affirming, sola Scriptura, the primacy of Scripture, and the centrality of the gospel within those Scriptures. (page 22)
The rest of the book describes how proper worship will necessarily promote respect for God's Word and a fierce love for His people. The following chapters are brief but thorough, addressing transforming cultural evangelicalism, corporate worship, Biblical preaching, correct understanding and practice of communion, psalm-singing, Sabbath-keeping, and our children's place in the covenant.

Wilson starts this book with both barrels blazing, but the topical chapters change their tone and are crammed full of Scriptural proofs and really good points. I could nit-pick the chapter on psalm-singing, but the chapter on why so many Christian parents are failing to evangelize their own children was excellent.
Christian parents are commanded to teach their children to believe, and instead, in the name of high conversion standards, we teach them to doubt. Then, when they grow up and mature in the doubting that we have taught them, we point to that doubt as clear evidence that we did the right thing in keeping them away in the first place. (page 64) (emphasis his)
I'm still chewing on this book, and I'd like to hear your input, dear reader. It seems like there are two audiences to Mr. Wilson's book: the typical American Christian, and the theologically conservative pastor. I can't help but feel like I missed a crucial point or something, but at first read I don't fit either of those two categories. However, I don't want to read something convicting and just agree how it applies to other people. What can I learn from this? Where is my sin?

I'm certainly not going to pastor my own church, so the chapters on liturgy, communion, and preaching were a little frustrating (although still edifying). I suppose it would be nice if my own church did things differently, but I'm so grateful for the church I have and I have no intention of leaving it, even if the "perfect" one popped up in my neighborhood.

As for the first part of the book, it didn't step on my toes so it was easy for me to cheer from the sidelines, so to speak. I make it a point to avoid most "Christian" pop culture stuff, because usually it's not very good and a little embarrassing. I prefer Stufjan Steven's music over most Christian acts, never wear messaged tee shirts in general, and don't even own any VeggieTales DVDs (no offense, VeggieTale fans.) I think I'm struggling most with this question: in regards to to the root cause of our shallow faith, how can I, as an individual, repent of of the corporate sin of individualism?

The easy answer is for me not to cause a church split (so far, so good). I'm sure the "right" answer is for me to have proper submission for the authorities God has put in my life (I still have a long ways to go). But I still have a nagging feeling like I'm missing something. If you've read the book, what are your thoughts?

Perhaps if I were a true Puritan, I would have figured it out by now.

Cordelia Underwood, or the Marvelous Beginnings of the Moosepath League, by Van Reid

I stumbled across this book from someone's Amazon list--the author of which liked PD Wodehouse, so I figured I could trust his recommendations. I read this in December, and it was a nice break from the cough lozenges, tissues, and stress of my Christmas this year.

It's a modern book written in the style of a Dickensian serial novel. The many characters speak in English appropriate for the times, and I found myself using a larger vocabulary while reading it. (See? There I go again.) It is set in coastal Maine around in 1896, and the author has a great sense of the time and place. Like Dickens, he keeps throwing new characters at you in the beginning of the book, but the story gradually focuses on a well-to-do young lady named Cordelia Underwood, who surprisingly inherits a mysterious chest from her deceased sea-dog uncle. The story meanders a bit so even more quirky characters can be introduced, but eventually becomes an adventure with pirates, kidnappings, bumbling fools, quick wits, and even a little romance hinted at--for the next installment, I'm sure.

It took me a while to get used the pacing but once I did, it was an entertaining read. The author's family has lived in Maine for generations, and he obviously has a great love for his home. I might pick up the next book in the series next time I have a gap in my reading list, but I definitely want to visit Maine now.

Heaven Misplaced: Christ's Kingdom on Earth

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Heaven Misplaced: Christ's Kingdom on Earth, by Doug Wilson

I'm back. I'm sorry I was away for so long. After months of the pregnancy fatigue, I was starting to (finally) feel like myself again. Then the holiday craziness took over my life, and I got a cold that just won't die. I did, however, read some terrific books during my leave of absence and I'm looking forward to sharing them with you. First: Heaven Misplaced.

I finished this a while ago, and I've been mulling over how best to review it. What do you say about a book written by someone smarter than you, who knows Scripture better, and is a better communicator? "Read this book." "Buy a copy for your friends." "I really liked it." See? Everything seems so trite. These underwhelming statements doesn't detract from the truth, though: I think you should read this book, get a copy for your friends, and I really liked it.

Doug Wilson tackles postmillennial eschatology in this book, although you'll have to read through to an appendix before you ever reach that description. He makes his argument using every day language, and footnotes define theological terms like "root of Jesse" and "the Incarnation". He makes his arguments in a particularly winsome way. He describes The Story, the best and greatest story ever told. In the introduction, he asks the reader to suspend skepticism and read his book with the same mindset as a work of fiction. But the best news of all, he says, is that it is all true. Instead of me poorly trying to paraphrase this, I recommend you read his introduction--it's an excellent summary of his book.

For you theological types, I grew up arguing for postmillennial eschatology, which is usually a pretty lonely road. I was challenged by this book though, because I've absorbed some of American Christianity's pessimism regarding the end times. For you non-theological types, eschatology is what Christians believe about how the world will end. Most Americans think that, to quote Wilson, "the world is God's Vietnam, and the return of Christ consists of the few lucky ones helicoptered off a roof during the fall of Saigon." To me, that just doesn't seem right (not to mention I have a pocket full of proof texts to back me up here). Christ conquered death and sin on the cross, bound Satan, and rose again from the dead and now reigns from heaven. Would this victorious God just slink off into history and let the world, literally and figuratively, go to hell?

This book is an introduction to historical optimism. This is the view that the gospel will continue to grow and flourish throughout the world, more and more individuals will be converted, the nations will stream to Christ, and the Great Commission will finally be successfully completed. The will will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. When that happens, generation after generation will love and serve the Lord faithfully. And then the end will come. (page 9)

This book would be a great companion piece to a book with another contrarian thesis, Heaven is not my Home, by Paul Marshall (see a review here). I marked up my copy of Heaven Misplaced and read it slowly because I wanted to really absorb it. I would have liked to have read it with other people--I'm sure the conversations would be great, and each chapter has discussion questions which I think are helpful for individuals or groups. Basically: I label myself with these theological terms, but I want to write this on my heart: Jesus Christ is victorious in history, and I am privileged to be tasked with the Great Commission and help accomplish "Thy Kingdom come, and Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."