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Entries in Reading (43)

Wednesday
Nov292017

The best female authored book I have read

I'm procrastinating. I should be studying for my Greek quiz. But I saw again the article about the ten books every Christian woman should read, and I was again struck how the list was all female authors. So, really, the article should be about the ten female authored books women should read. I'm going to assume that the writer of the article isn't implying that women should only read female authors.

I thought about the female authors I have read over the years (aside from fiction) and thought about which had left an impact on me. I scanned my shelves and my eye caught the book Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down by Marva Dawn. Dawn is a Lutheran theologian, and not a conservative one. I'm sure that many in Reformed leaning circles or evangelical circles might not like her. But her book made an impact on me. 

I read the book over ten years ago (probably more like twelve) and I don't remember specific elements, but I remember that it changed the way I looked at worship and at the life of the mind. That book in conjunction with David Wells's No Place for Truth: Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? was a catalyst toward my embrace of Reformed theology. Perhaps if I read it today, I may not agree entirely with Dawn. When I have more time, I do want to re-read it. But its impact was far beyond remembered phrases, and extended to a change in disposition. I began to lose the fear of asking "Why are we doing this?" Prior to that, I assumed that every authority always knows best. I was in that place where I believed that theology was for the "professionals," and that I could not possibly need to know it myself. When I saw how a woman theologian thinks and writes, I felt a sense of relief, because I realized that I could ask those interior questions out loud.

A few years after I read Dawn's book, I was speaking to a pastor who said some pretty discouraging (and, in retrospect, uncharitable) things about her, so I kept silent about my view of her. I wish I'd had the courage to speak out.

I love to see women write about theology proper. Practical books are always in easy access, but those more theoretical ones by a woman author are not as available. 

Wednesday
Jun212017

Re-visiting Scarlett

When I was 15 years old, a local theatre held screenings of David Selznick's Gone With the Wind, and I went with my mother. Following seeing the movie, I read the book by Margaret Mitchell, and loved it. Over the years, I read it a few more times. Recently, I picked it up again after having watched the movie on TCM.

It's always interesting reading years later a book one loved as a young person. Some reactions are the same, and others are different. I still found the attitude toward the African American population shocking and disturbing. The story really is about Scarlett, and not the slaves, but reading in 2017, one knows of the brutality of slavery. Mitchell's depiction of slavery reflects the reality that she was born only 35 years after the end of the Civil War. She was from Atlanta herself, so she grew up in the culture of Reconstruction. While I cringed at much of what I read, I recognize that the story it is a reflection of its author.

This time around, I saw something else. Scarlett lives in a world where there are clearly defined rules of conduct; rules based entirely on arbitrary judgments, not on any sort of reason, and certainly not based on anything biblical. Scarlett struggles to fit in with other women because she questions the prescribed rules she must follow. Before the war, she accepts them, even while she secretly resents them. After the war, to survive, she must reject those norms. Not only is she engaged in business, but she consorts with Yankees. If that isn't bad enough, she is good at it. Surely, there is something inherently unwomanly about being good at trade. She is outside the circle of acceptable conduct for women, and she is not to be trusted. Women who do not reject those norms judge her:

These women, so swift to kindness, so tender to the sorrowing, so untiring in times of stress, could be as impacable as furies to any renegade who broke one small law of their unwritten code. This code was simple. Reverence for the Confederacy, honor to the veterans, loyalty to old forms, pride in poverty, open hands to friends and undying hatred to Yankees. Between them, Scarlett and Rhett had outraged every tenet of this code.

We have many unwritten codes for Christian womanhood, different depending on which group one belongs to. Women who favour more progressive attitudes have a code and women who are more traditional in their approach have their code. Is it "unwomanly" to love theology as it was "unwomanly" for Scarlett to be good at business? Sometimes, I identify with Scarlett because like her, I am selfish and vain. Other times, I identify with her because I feel frustration that the unwritten codes often have more influence on how women conduct themselves than does biblical teaching.

I don't know how long it will be until I read Gone With the Wind again. But I will read it again. Perhaps if I live to be 80, I'll pick it up again. And I'll be curious about what looks different at that time.

Thursday
Jun082017

Does summer mean we have more time?

The other day, a friend of Twitter pointed out that summer reading schedules assume that people have more time in the summer to read than at other times of the year. Having been brought up in a family with ties to farming, I have also thought about this notion of "summer reading." Summer, for some people, is actually busier than winter. While churches tend to trim their schedules in the summer, it isn't because we're all farming. Why is there a sense that summer = slowing down?

Of course, when I was a child, there was more time to read in the summer because there was no school. When I became a grown up and had a job, that wasn't true. Especially when I had children, the opposite was true. Having kids home all day and being involved in summer sports meant life was much busier. We did not have the means to take off to the beach or the lake for two weeks. Our family vacations involved travelling across the country to see family. We spent a great deal of time on those vacations running around to ensure we got to see everyone we wanted to see. I am fortunate in that I don't get car sick when I read while travelling, but not everyone can plow through a book while she's on the road. When the kids were in school, even though we homeschooled, I looked forward to the routine of fall.

There does seem to be, however, the notion that summer is time for rest and relaxation. I doubt that was the way of it when we were a more agrarian society. The summer months are time of growth, actually. People planted their vegetable gardens and were busy tending their crops. Winter was the time for rest, when people were able to visit friends and relax. My aunt and uncle, who are only now retiring from farming, never took time off in the summer. In fact, they could not attend my wedding, which was in April, because they had cows calving. They were able to attend my brother's wedding, which was in September, when things slowed down.

Having more time to read in the summer is definitely a luxury. My daughter pointed out recently that people who are financially limited are often also lacking in time as well, so things like a summer off for reading is never going to be a reality. I have been out of school since the end of April, and I don't think I've read more than I normally would; and I don't have outside employment to keep me from doing it. I still have the same hours in the day, and summer means making time for household maintenance that can't be done in winter months. Even when I went on a vacation to see my parents in April, the only time I read for any sustained time was on the plane. 

That said, I do encourage all children who are out of school for the summer to read, and read as much as you can. I loved those lazy afternoons when I could read as long as I wanted. I made a path from my house to the library throughout the summer months. It was a luxury I am thankful I was given. Take the time now, because we don't get any more time in a day as we get older.

Wednesday
Jun072017

Are we attentive readers?

When we read the Bible, our first line of inquiry is to observe what is being said in the text. Because the Bible is the wonder it is, a revealed word of God, written over thousands of years, from several authors, from two different cultural perspectives, and three different original languages, it is work to unravel everything it says. Solid interpretation depends on good observation.

In their book Inductive Bible Study, Andreas Köstenberger and Alan Fuhr devote a chapter to "Having Eyes to See." These days, with our attention spans being compromised by a flood of visual information, it can be tempting to skim. I catch myself skimming when I shouldn't all the time.

While the chapter deals with the principles of good observation, specifically things to look for when reading, the authors repeat more than once the need for attentive readiing. One one page alone (p. 143), they mention it three times:

"Attentive reading will usually bear this out . . . "

". . . an observant eye will catch figures of speech throughout all genres and books of the Bible."

". . . without attentive readiing, many fail to see figurative language . . . "

They conclude the chapter with this: 

Attentive reading is perceptive reading, and perception tends to connect the dots, to make sense out of relationships.

How does one become an attentive reader? Obviously, we need to slow down. And we must pay attention to words and phrases. In this chapter, the authors point out several things to note in order to be an attentive reader: repetition, escalation, contrast and comparison, association, question and answer, conjunctions, conditional clauses, illustration, question, and irony. It's a substantial list. I am reminded again what a task it is to read the Bible well.

I would suggest also that becoming a more attentive reader of the Bible necessitates a rich reading life in general, and specifically, longer works other than short articles on the internet. Furthermore, I think we need to read from numerous topics; science, history, philosophy, theology, and fiction. Yes, fiction. I honestly don't know how anyone can fail to truly appreciate the importance fiction has on our ability to detect imagery and figures of speech. My friend and I joked once that we don't trust people who don't read fiction.

There are books out there which focus on how to read well. There is the oft recommended, but mind-numbingly boring How to Read a Book, for example. Also good are James Sire's How to Read Slowly, and Susan Wise Bauer's The Well-Educated Mind.

Those would be worthwhile reads, but if you weren't inclined to purchase a book about reading, the simple practice of summarizing is helpful. Keep a notebook and write a summary of each chapter or section. Take note of questions you have, words which were unfamiliar, things which puzzled you or challenged you. That alone slows us down in our reading.

I also prefer reading in silence. The world is full of noise, both to the ear and to the eye. Reading in silence means we focus on the material. Try choosing the quietest time during the day to read the most difficult material. I used to have music on while I read, but then as I got older, I found music with words a distraction. Now, I even find music that is just instrumental a distraction. 

It is true that the Holy Spirit will teach us as we read Scripture, but applying ourselves to read attentively can only help our understanding, and thus make our minds open to what the Holy Spirit is teaching us.

Monday
Apr032017

Absolute power corrupts absolutely

I just finished reading Proved Innocent. It is the autobiographical account of the unjust incarceration for 15 years of Gerry Conlon and four others who were accused of bombing a pub in Guildford, England, in 1974. The bombings hastened the passing of The Prevention of Terrorism Act, which gave law enforcement officials extended powers in the arrest of potential terrorists. Conlon's father and other family members were also falsely accused and convicted. Conlon's father, who was already ill, having had one lung removed, died in prison.

I had seen the movie In the Name of the Father, but of course, the book was different. The account of what the prosecution suppressed is more detailed in the book than in the movie. And the cruelty and violence Conlon and the others received was graphic at times. In the movie, law enforcement officials coerce Conlon into confessing by threatening to kill his father. In reality, they threatened to kill Conlon's mother and sisters. While being questioned, Conlon was never allowed to sleep in his cell. If he did fall asleep, guards would create noise, telling him he could not sleep. The other three members of what became known as "The Guildford Four" had similar treatment. After his release, Conlon's life was not free from grief and struggle. He struggled emotionally until he died in 2014.

This is what happens when governments are given extensive powers and when those powers reside alongside public hysteria. Absolute power is always a bad thing when given to men and women. People may have good intentions and may be really convicted that there is threat which needs to be squashed, but fear and a sinful heart make for a very bad combination. Fear can be a deadly thing.

This book made me think of the reality of sin. It is pervasive. And it is not just "them" who struggle with sin. Christians are not immune. Why are we surprised when Christians sin? Perfection is not going to happen in this lifetime. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can have victory from sin, but our natures have not changed. We see daily Christians behaving badly.

I don't remember what I was reading, but something over the weekend made me stop and wonder if those who believe in Calvinistic doctrine actually believe in Total Depravity. Do we take our own sin seriously? We often underestimate ourselves. We may think we know how we will behave in a certain situation, but we don't have foreknowledge. Surely I am not the only Christian who has done something and thought, "Why on earth did I do that?" 

We need to be aware of being too self-satisfied; too sure. We need to stop expressing shock when sin happens. And we need to stop looking at others and saying, "How on earth that so-and-so do this or that?" It could just as easily be us doing that shocking thing. There is a reason by the Lord's Prayer includes petitions for forgiveness and freedom from temptation. Practicing virtue and holy character is crucial, but it also must live alongside exhortations to flee from sin.