Saturday, July 26, 2008

NEA List: How many have you read?

If you're the "average" person, you've only read SIX, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. You all of course, dear readers, are not average at all.

So, here's what you do: Copy onto your blog. Bold the books you have read. Italicize the books you intend to read. Underline or change the color of books you love. Then bug those people who have only read six of these.

Reading through this list, I realized that (1) I have spent quite a bit of time reading things other than these books, (2) I'm surprised at some of the "classics" (three Thomas Hardy books, puh-leeze!), (3) I'm surprised at some of contemporary books here (Five People You Meet in Heaven? Time Traveler's Wife, really?) (4) the absence of other African-American writers like Zora Neale Hurstson, Ralph Elliot, Toni Morrison, and Ernest Gaines; only Alice Walker is represented (5) while I've read quite a few, I've never heard of some of these (6) yay! for some of the children's classics like Anne of Green Gables and The Wind in the Willows (7) I've seen the movie; does that count?

Lists like these always bring up questions of quality, diversity, tradition, authority. Who decides what should be included? What are their criteria? What is their intention? Why are there FOUR Jane Austen novels (not that I don't love, love, love Austen, but let's give some space to someone else)? Why no Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor? And of course, based on your schooling or preferences, you may have missed a bunch of these. In Amer. Lit. I, I read other Melville stuff, not Moby Dick, since my prof wanted more diversity. In 12th grade, I took AP English Lit, which meant I didn't read 1984 or Animal Farm back then. And I don't really like Dickens.

Anyway, I can update Good Reads this week with some more "intend to read" books for my shelf. Maybe you'll do the same.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell (how I taught senior Brit Lit English without having to read this whole thing is probably enough to have my teaching certificate revoked)
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (I've read most)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie (NOOOOO!!!! One Rushdie was enough!)
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Friday, July 25, 2008

Week 6 - Lead/Follow

"...submission is not an occasional event. It is a lifestyle. It isn't a negative obligation on women, but the natural outworking of the gospel in every Christian's life. Submission is an attribute of Jesus, so it ought to show up in all of his followers" (James 161).

Whenever you bring up the topic of leading and following with a group of women, it seems gender tensions inevitably arise. Since the curse, we find ourselves wanting to follow strong leadership but find it lacking; with critical spirits then, we can take over, dominate, and dictate whether in our homes or churches. But every women is called to lead--in action and attitude--and every woman is called to follow--with sacrifice and submission.

This chapter focused us on the centrality of faith and trust in both leading and following. And in looking at Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, we see the centrality of submission in all three people and the way the gospel is lived out through their actions. Carolyn James devotes a chapter to the role of submission in her book on Ruth. So we started our discussion there.

Naomi deeply desires to see Ruth "well-provided" through a husband, the primary means of provision and security for a woman in that culture. She knows there is a connection between Ruth and Boaz so she sends Ruth to the threshing floor with the intention of securing a marriage that night. She sacrifices her own future security by sending Ruth to Boaz--who is not the closest kinsman-redeemer--and essentially releases her hopes of restoring her husband's land or lineage. Ruth's future, the future after Naomi's death, is most important to her.

Ruth, however, challenges Boaz, the "man of high standing" to undertake a rescue mission that night. Risking humiliation and rejection, she pushes Boaz beyond the letter of both the levirate and kinsman-redeemer laws. Boaz is not a brother (more like a cousin) and not even the closest kinsman-redeemer. Ruth, now barren for ten years, offers to marry Boaz and produce a child for Naomi which will inherit the land and continue the family line. Boaz, not emasculated in the least by this strong woman, listens to Ruth's plan and resolves to act immediately.

Boaz, for his part, sacrifices his own financial and family interests, by joining Ruth. Rather than refuse to help, getting off on a technicality, he recognizes the call of Yahweh to care for widows, to restore families, to show great kindness to the least.

This week's chapter also looked at the lives of Deborah and Esther, two more strong women leaders in Israel's history. Judges 4-5 gives the account of a battle in which Barak, the general of the army refused to go to battle without Deborah with him and in which the greatest victory was given to a Jael, the woman who drove the tent peg through the enemy's skull. In looking at the meaning of "lead" and "follow" this week, I saw over and over again in Deborah's song (Judges 5) that both the leaders of Israel and the people "offered themselves willingly" or volunteered. In contrast, tribes who did not send soldiers were said to be on their ships still or in the inlets of safety. They were unwilling to sacrifice.

This willing offering on the part of both leaders and followers is the call of every follower of Jesus. It is an offering in faith and a dependence on someone else--first God and then others. It demands a complete lack of self-sufficiency and a relinquishing of control, power and to cease fighting. It is a willing, conscious laying down of one's own interests and desires for the sake of another.
  • Do you consider yourself more a leader or a follower? Where are you more comfortable?
  • What does "lead" mean? (You can use your thesaurus.)
  • Why do we refuse to lead?
  • (from Question 2) Examine any obstacles that might be in the way of you being a good emotional leader in your home.
  • What are some practical ways we can lead or initiate in our homes, our neighborhoods, and church?
  • What does "follow" mean?
  • "Faith, submission, surrender, leadership, followship--it's really all about how much you trust God" (157). How do you define faith, trust, dependence, surrender, submission?
  • By faithl...."What would you want the faith chapter to say about you? What does it say about who you are as a leader, and as a follower" (157)?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Still here...

Still without a computer to call my own. So I have to catch up at night as best I can which means trying to remember all the things I wanted to do, e-mails to send, books to order, blog posts to write.

I thought I would catch up on the book reading and movie watching we've done lately. And, side note, I'm currently on both and book cataloging/organizing social websites that essentially do the exact same thing--which means I'm updating and reviewing books on both sites. If you're on either one, look me up. Maybe one of these days, one site will win out over another but right now I have friends on both and I like certain features on both.

Books - I feel I need to fully recommend Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Several people have asked me lately if they are really all that good. I just finished book 6 last night (I believe it is my favorite so far) and I can wholeheartedly recommend them, especially for light summer reading that won't leave you sorry in the morning. McCall Smith is an older Scottish gentleman who lived in Africa for some time. Amazingly, he writes Mma. Precious Ramoswte, the traditionally built Botswana woman who opens the first detective agency in Gaborone, with skill and humor. The books are not Murder She Wrote mystery novels, especially as the series continues, but novels about Africa, about relationships, and about the dreams of the main characters. McCall Smith has a unique style that is readable and enjoyable. You can clearly tell that he loves Africa and its people as much as his characters. In fact, Africa--Botswana, the Kalahari desert, the heat, the dry season, the politics, the changing culture--is as much a character as the imposing Mma. Ramoswte. My favorite character though is actually Mma. Grace Makutsi, the assistant detective and secretary who graduated with an unheard-of 97 percent at the Botswana Secretarial College, a fact that she frequently brings up. She is somewhat awkward and shy at times, dogged by a background of poverty and a peculiar complexion--certainly not a glamorous woman who becomes a secretary with the intention of snagging a handsome executive. But her hopeful attitude toward her future, her ability to rise to challenges, her humility and kindness, and her less than worldly ways make her a great counterpoint to her Boss. Plus, you throw in a manipulative orphanage matron, two foster children, the best mechanic in Gaborone, two feckless garage apprentices, and a mystery or two to unravel and you have a pleasant read for a warm summer night. My only warning--read only one or two in a row. Also, McCall Smith's Scottish "mystery" series--The Sunday Philosophy Club--is also enjoyable though I've only gotten to read the first one so far.

Movies - Two favorites and one I really wanted to like
After reading two glowing reviews from sources I trust, I moved these up in our queue: Lars and the Real Girl and Once. Lars was sweet and quirky and clean (I promise!). I loved how the family and community rallied around Lars and was willing to "become all things" in a way to help him. Once--what can I say? I nearly hit "play" again as soon as it was over. Simply beautiful, affirming, and refreshing (you just have to get past all the f-words, they are Irish after all).

This weekend, we watched The Ultimate Gift with James Gardner, Abigial Breslin, and some others. Gardner plays a recently deceased multi-billionaire. In his video will, he leaves his grandson with a series of tasks (gifts) to accomplish to get to the ultimate gift. It is clear his spoiled, trust-fund grandson needs to learn some values and lessons. For most of the movie, this is done without sap and sentimentality, and even humorously. Then, it jumps the shark with a plot point involving Ecuadorian drug lords and ends predictably. But I'm glad we supported the producers for making a movie with values and morals we share. And they did it better than most. The soundtrack did include some Switchfoot and Sara Groves so it wasn't too bad.

Summer A to Z - We're still trying to make it through the alphabet before school starts. We did accomplish "J" is for "Jumping" with a series of jumping activities outside and an attempt to jumprope. I actually did okay, though my bladder isn't what it used to be. "L" was for "Lemonade" and R and I squeezed lemons for refreshing lemonade with our cookies. Wish I had pictures, but that's more complicated on D's computer. We'll do a few more this week with my mom and brother who are coming down later.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Week 5 - Hold On/Let Go

So sorry I've been a bit behind here. We've been without a home computer for about a week and a half. It's like losing an arm. So, I have to commandeer Dave's laptop at night instead of during my quiet nap time.

I thought this was a long chapter, full of stuff, and our discussion was so encouraging and uplifting as we focused on the amazing things God gives us to hold on to--the Person of God, the Plan of God, the Power of God, the Peace of God, the Presence of God, and the Provision of God. This is what sustains, inspires, and strengthens us.

The things we found the hardest to let go of seemed to center around control--fear, hurt, and expectations. All of these things have our desire to control our lives, be independent, keep hurt and disappointment away, and find a way to maintain our plan for our lives at their heart. One aspect of the chapter which we didn't touch on as much was the need to see Christ as LORD. "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and don't do the things I say?" (Luke 6:46). Instead of allowing him to be in control of our actions, attitudes, and thoughts, we control, micromanage, avoid, push away, and seek satisfaction in things other than Him.

In looking at the lists outlined in the chapter, we also reflected on what we need to hold on to to replace what we're letting go of--the only way we will truly be able to let go of these tough things. How do you connect them, so to speak? As you learn to let go of hurt, what do you cling to? And it is a continual process to keep on letting go, putting off the old and putting on the new.

Let go of....
Comfort Level

Hold on to...
The Person of God, Jesus Christ
Plan of God
Power of God
Presence of God
Peace of God
Provision of God

  • Which is the hardest thing for you to let go of?
  • What else do we tend to hold on to that we really should let go?
  • (from Question 3) Why do you think it is so hard for us to open our hands and hearts and let God be our "Everything"?
  • (from Question 2) What sustains, inspires, and strengthens you most in your Christian walk, besides the person of God, himself: God's plan, God's power, God's peace, God's presence, God's people, or God's provision?
  • "Isaiah 65:2 is a powerful verse which gives us a promise we can hang out hats on: "I will answer them before they even call me. While they are still talking to me about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers'" (page 131). How does the "principle of prior provision" sustain you? Have you experienced God providing while you were still praying?

I also appreciated hearing the verses that sustain those in our group--life verses or just ones that have been with us lately for the season of our life--and the stories and reflections everyone shared. For those who were unable to attend, I'd love for you to share yours either here or next week. Next weeks, we'll look at Chapter 6--Lead/Follow.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Week 4 - Proceed/Wait

Some time ago, in my college years, someone recommended a book for single women based on the life and character of Ruth. It has a cheesy title, a kinda corny cover, and nuggets of wisdom for single and married women alike. The title--Lady in Waiting.

This week, we looked at how Naomi and Ruth exemplified both proceeding and waiting with the same character qualities outlined in this chapter. Waiting with integrity, confidence, expectation. Proceeding without all the information, despite obstacles, and without understanding why. For me, this has been another instance of seeing how God's revelation comes (more often than not) after obedience. Motivated by love and loyalty, Ruth's decision to go out into the fields of a strange landowner in a strange community and glean intersects with God's divine Providence("As it turned out," Ruth 2:3). A life of abundant blessing was in store for her. A plan is in the works as Naomi, revived by God's and Ruth's kindness to her, desires to see Ruth well-provided for. Ruth makes a gutsy risk in how she asks Boaz to redeem both the family and the land, for she desires to see both the family line preserved and Naomi secured. There's a night in the barn, a request, and an answer.

But the first words Naomi says to Ruth the next morning: "Wait, my daughter." Having done what was in their abilities to do--placing the request at Boaz's feet--the women wait for their kinsmen-redeemer to do what they cannot--sacrifice his wealth and riches to restore and rescue.

Once again, these "hard things" to do are so interconnected. Fear of failure and a tolerance of mediocrity often keep us from proceeding as God calls us. If we take our focus off Him, we lack trust, faith, and patience in the "before hindsight" time. (We want to live in hindsight, in the look-how-God-sustained-us time, not the in-the-middle-of-it-all.) We want to remain in comfort, security, and what we know; we fear change, the unknown, and what He might reveal in us.

This was a good chapter to listen to others' stories, with their perspective of hindsight or "still in the middle of it"! Continue to pray for those in our group who are waiting to proceed or simply waiting.

  • Which is harder for you--proceed or wait? (Or the third choice brought up: knowing when!)
  • What other Biblical persons are called to proceed? Who is called to wait? What is the common denominator?
  • Are there things in your life God is asking you to proceed with?
  • What are some of the obstacles that hinder or prevent us from proceeding?
  • How patient are you in most areas of life on a scale of 1-10?
  • Are you waiting with a positive attitude towards God and expecting great things from him?

We'll proceed onto Chapter 5 next week--Hold On/Let Go.

Monday, July 7, 2008

G is for Grandparents; H is for Handprint

We spent the Fourth in Titusville with D's parents. Yummy strawberry pie, a porch swing, and visiting with some old friends was the perfect way to spend a quiet holiday. I have no pictures of R with either of her grandparents since she was pretty much on the go the whole time.

Earlier in the week, we bought a stepping stone kit from Michael's to put R's handprint in and then place in the butterfly/herb garden. She was a real trooper, stirring the cement, smoothing it like a pro, and putting her hands right in without a flinch. Pretty remarkable for the girl who doesn't like dirt or mud. She decorated the border with bits of glass and I stamped her name and the year. It coordinates quite nicely with our pink pentas and purple butterfly bush. We'll do B's hands this week and add his to the garden as well.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Week 3 - Fail/Succeed

We had a mixed reaction to this chapter. Love it or leave it, I think there were good words said all around. I felt encouraged by our discussion that focused us onto God's sufficient grace and our need to depend on him. Because we fail when we try to do it on our own, right?! My favorite line from Jill Phillips' "Nobody's Got It All Together": What good is it to say, Please, Savior, come, if there is nothing you need rescue from. Only when we realize how desperate for a Savior we are (like the list in the chapter) and be real about it, can we experience the freedom and peace of being rescued.

I shared bits of the book, Dangerous Journey, the illustrated "children's" version of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress based on the TV/movie version. (You can watch the video on I was flipping through it again today and came to the part with the Giant Despair. Hopeful and Christian do their best to encourage one another. And the Giant, sensing they are "sturdy rogues" shows them the pile of bones of other pilgrims he has dispatched with. Lacking food and water, Christian starts to fail. But Hopeful reminds them of past battles they have fought: "My brother, he said, Apollyon couldn't crush you, nor the Valley of the Shadow of Death. And remember how you played that man in Vanity Fair. Don't forget I'm in the dungeon with you, a far weaker man by nature than you are...So let us exercise a little more patience, and bear up as best we can, and keep on praying." And then Christian suddenly remembers the key in his pocket. And the key that sets them free--Promise.

We need to remember the battles the LORD has fought for us, not despair at the past failings, keep encouraging friends around us, and hold onto the Promises of God.

Looking at Naomi and Ruth, I saw their failures fall into a failure to provide and a failure to expand or increase. In a famine, without husbands or sons, they have reached the end of themselves. Some of this is beyond their hands--Naomi can't make it rain in Bethlehem; Ruth is unable to have children for 10 years. Some may be their own sin. The blessing of rain in the Promised Land is connected with the obedience of the children of Israel. But they do have a responsibility in how they respond. And they choose to turn towards God, on the road to Bethlehem. Naomi, in her sadness, proclaims the LORD'S hand in her life. Ruth proclaims her loyalty to the God of Israel.

And God moves. There is rain in Bethlehem again. Ruth meets the most influential and wealthiest man in the land and he provides food for them in abundance. "The lowly he sets on high and those who mourn are lifted to safety" (Job 5:9-11). And God expands His family--first with Ruth the foreigner who has "come and pray[ed]" (1 Kings 8:41-43) and then by giving Ruth conception (Ruth 4:13).

After considering the concept of "success," what it looks like in our culture, how it's defined, and even whether it's the best word to define our Christian walk, we talked about what success really is. I liked Trish's comment that it is being completely dependent on God, 100%. We discussed the idea of "pretending" and how appearances set us up to fail when we compare ourselves or think that everyone else has things figured out. We also discussed how Satan holds our failures up to us, time and time again, reminding us of when we've failed and telling us not to even try again. But the Gospel has an answer for all of this! God has already won! We can rest in His grace with peace, not fight on our own.

Much of this comes back to the topics we've discussed earlier--the sin of self-focus and the lack of single-focus on God. Doing so can cause us to remain in "failure" mode (pg. 71). But the Holy Spirit, who does convict us, also comforts us, moving us past failure and encouraging us to persevere.

So persevere we will! Moving on, the next chapter looks at Proceed/Wait. We'll rotate vacationers so Bon Voyage to those who will be gone next week and Welcome Home to those returning.

Resources Another plug for The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges (I know many have read this. I feel like I should have read it years ago), and the encouraging music of Jill Phillips' CDs Nobody's Got It All Together and The Writing on the Wall.