06 April 2015

Divergent by Veronica Roth

     We can all agree that teen romance is stupid, right? I mean, I figure if you disagree with this you wouldn’t be reading my blog anyway. So, I feel like I can just say we all agree that teen romance is dumb and should go away, forever.
     Now that I have that out of the way, I need to say I read the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. In fact, I read it a week or two ago and I’ve been thinking about what to say in this post ever since. The thing is, it was really really good. I am loathe to say it but I think it might have been even better than The Hunger Games. There were some real Christian themes and very good discussion topics.
     That being said, this is an adult book. The romance is waaaay too erotic for kids. In fact, it’s too much for teens. I’d wait until you know for sure your teen is a serious Christian and very mature (think 17 and up) and then give it to them. Now, I don’t really know because I’m not a mom, but that would be my guess. This is actually the only bad thing about this book. It makes me doubly angry because the rest of the book is so good, if the romance wasn’t so erotic it would have been perfect. Though there are no actual descriptions of sex happening and though one could read the book and never know if the characters had sex it got close enough that I didn’t care for it. The romance is also between teenagers which (as aforementioned) we all think is stupid. So, this is actually going to be the last thing I’ll say about it.
     So, I dislike giving too much away which is why I often shy away from the description of the book, but it’s a dystopian series (my favorite!) set in a future where humanity has wiped out more than half of itself. In order to ensure that this doesn’t happen again society has split into five factions, each cultivating a different virtue. Beatrice, the protagonist is a sixteen year old girl raised in the faction called Abnegation. They cultivate selflessness, but Beatrice knows her own selfish heart and thinks she won’t be able to fit into her family’s faction. (This all happens in the first few chapters, if not the very first one so I don’t think I’m giving too much plot away) Later on in the book and for the rest of the series the reader watches as man’s attempt to better himself ultimately fails.
     The series isn’t a Christian series, but the themes are striking. I find it lovely that a believer can write redemptive literature without explicitly saying, “And then Beatrice accepted Jesus into her heart and everything turned out better after that.” This is a book that can appeal to believers and unbelievers, but believers will naturally pick up on certain aspects.
     Ok, I said I wasn’t going to mention the romance again, but I realize that I have to. One of the big themes of the book is forgiveness. And it is most blatant in the relationship between the two main characters. If you can for a moment pretend they aren’t kids, the romance is actually quite mature. They don’t stay starry-eyed about each other all the way through the series. I was particularly blown away by this quote, “I fell in love with him. But I don't just stay with him by default as if there's no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me.” What a great description of marriage. Love is not a free-fall or a lack of control, love is a choice you make every day. The same applies to family relationships. There are some broken familial ties and though not all of them get fixed (yet another realistic aspect of life. We don’t always get all the loose ends tied up this side of heaven) the forgiveness shown is remarkable.
     The theme of sacrifice also is strong in the books. People die in this series. Everything from suicide to murder to laying your life down for your friends is explored. Each death is treated with respect and thought. Not all of these deaths are sacrificial, but some are. There is quite a bit of a discussion of what is worth dying for and I think Ms. Roth and her protagonist display a great deal of maturity in the right way to look at death and particularly in sacrificing yourself for others. As believers we know the power of a death to save others (I am posting this the day after Easter so this should all be fresh in your minds), and I think Ms. Roth wants us to think of Christ when we read these books. The sacrificing isn’t always one’s life, however. Beatrice is raised in the faction that values self-sacrifice above all things. Beatrice never ends up despising where she comes from. She actually sees the sacrificial life as beautiful and brave in its own way. She just is all too aware of her own selfish heart to feel that she can fit in there.
     The biggest theme though not necessarily the one I picked up on until I read reviews from other people is the topic of original sin. The entirety of the series revolves around whether or not men can fix original sin, either by cultivating specific virtues or by genetic modification. Each faction takes a virtue they claim can fix a broken world and ends up distorting that virtue. Bravery becomes cruelty and unnecessary risks. Truth becomes harsh and insensitive treatment of others. Knowledge becomes pride. Ultimately men cannot fix themselves. Total depravity.
     I have one last thing to say about the book that is going to be a little cryptic if you haven’t read the books, but it is my own personal axe to grind. I think the ending of the series was heart-wrenchingly beautiful. I didn’t cry, but I thought it was genius, and I’ll never understand the negative backlash about it. Ever. Selah. Now, everyone go read it!
     In conclusion there is a website called EpicReads and the author of said website apparently falls victim to the same problem I have. I want to eat what my characters are eating. I actually made an orange saffron cake for Easter this year because I was reading Susan Cooper's Over Sea, Under Stone and the characters had a saffron cake. Anyway, in the Divergent series a certain cake is mentioned a few times and really it’s not explained at all, but here is a recipe put together anyway by the fans of the series. I kind of want to give it a shot.

Great quote that all Christians can rally behind:  “You don’t believe things because they make your life better, you believe them because they’re true.”

30 March 2015

Forgive the Fan Girl Moment

It's coming...

Reading to Know - Book Club

It was a bright cold day in April...

 And the clocks were striking 13....

My copy is by my bed already and I can't wait for April to begin our next read!

27 March 2015

The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

     I made the mistake of reading Carrie’s review of The Pursuit of God before I even started the book, so I may have begun the book with an already tainted perception of it. I would like to think; however, that I would have come to some of the same conclusions without reading what she had to say. I was already a little skeptical when I saw that Mr. Tozer was a pastor without formal training. *sigh* I’m not even going to start ranting about that. Also, I knew there were just going to be some things I disagreed with when I read that he was a Methodist minister. I’m sure he is a sincere believer with a serious love for the Lord, but I knew we were going to have rather large theological differences.

Reading to Know - Book Club

     That being said, I feel like Mr. Tozer and I could have had a better conversations if he stuck to his points rather than attempting to hammer them home by pointing out how “many misguided Christians today think…” or “Churches today often blindly do…” I actually came away totally unsure of who he was talking about. It kind of sounded like everyone except Mr. Tozer himself.  He even went so far as to say that most churches don’t encourage their members to pursue God. I apparently lucked out and went my entire life to that slim percentage of churches that did encourage their members to pursue God. In, fact, somehow despite my immersion in the intellectual side of theology, the churches I grew up in actually encouraged a heart and head approach to God. Who knew how close I was to attending one of the GINORMOUS amount of churches who have absolutely NO idea about how to actually have a relationship with the Lord?! Lucky me!
     Ok, all sarcasm aside I now have to come to grips with a few of his points. His tone was just so distracting it was hard to get to these points. Mainly, Mr. Tozer is all about the experience. This really shouldn’t come as a shock since he is a Methodist minister. I don’t feel like I’m denigrating the experience, when I say it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Some people (you can’t actually SEE me but I’m pointing at myself) grow up with no memory of a conversion experience, but are still somehow able to be awed by the work of Christ in their lives. And some people do have quite a dramatic experience and also end up awed by the work of Christ in their lives. God works in all kinds of ways, and to insist that He only work in one is, at best, a little arrogant.
     Also, somewhat unsurprisingly Mr. Tozer is very skeptical of theology. Now, I agree that one can know theology and not have a very thriving relationship with God, but I feel like a lot of misguided Christians (sorry, I can’t stop) think that a strong emphasis on theology immediately equals a poor relationship with God. Believe it or not, one can have both! “The highest love of God is not intellectual, it is spiritual,” says Mr. Tozer, but Luke 10:27 says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (my emphasis). Jesus Himself believes that both are important. Why are both important? (I mean, besides the fact that Jesus said so, which honestly is actually good enough of a reason) Because we are sinners and sometimes our “feelings” and “emotions” will fail. We will grow weary and in those moments we just need to hold on to what we KNOW. There is a popular song from a few years ago about our relationship with God. It says “More like falling in love than something to believe in/More like losing my heart than giving my allegiance.” I imagine if one treated marriage this way (No honey, we don’t need to make vows, we just need to be in loooove), it would go horribly awry. Why do people feel like we can treat our faith this way. We need the heart AND we need the head to be fully engaged. One is no better than the other.
     In chapter five, Mr. Tozer talks about Universal Presence. He starts (of course) with talking about how he is the ONLY person who is comfortable talking about the universal presence of God. “Christian teachers shy away from its full implications…and, if they mention it at all, mute it down.” I’ve actually not experienced this, but ok, Mr. Tozer. Later in the chapter he talks about the biblical biggies: John, Moses, and Isaiah and even talks about later saints like Luther and posits the idea that they were perhaps more spiritually receptive than others. I’m not necessarily saying he was wrong, but I personally think the reason those biblical characters are so powerful is that there really isn’t anything bigger or better about them. The fact that they are all ordinary sinners like us is more of a testament to the power of God. He uses ordinary sinful people to enact His plan.
     In chapter eight, Mr. Tozer takes up the subject of restoration. He says that the fall created an estranged relationship between creature and Creator (true) and how we need to be restored to that right relationship (true). So, we need to work on that (um…?) and somehow this is a separate work from what Christ already has done (wait, what?). I feel like there is a bit of self going on in Mr. Tozer’s thinking. I don’t think he would agree with me, and I think he is very sincere, but every chapter (especially this one) seems designed to pump up the Christian (Emotion! Experience!) and encourage us to do something. I guess I feel like the work has already been done by Christ. Not that we are off the hook. We are told to examine our lives and of course we want to look more and more like Christ, but I just think there is a worry from Mr. Tozer that Christendom just needs to work harder. I think this might be a misplaced worry.
     So, I guess at the end of this book I’m glad I read it, but I won’t be reading it again. And I don’t think I will attempt anymore of his books either. I don’t read enough theology though, so I am glad to have got this one under my belt. I'm actually looking forward to someone's review who actually LIKED this book. Thank you to Carrie and Shonya for the opportunity to read this with you all!

20 March 2015

I Will Be Near To You by Lindsay McCabe

     When I was younger I read a book called Behind Rebel Lines which is based on a true story of a woman who entered the Civil War on the Union side (I believe) dressed as a man. Now, I don’t recall all the particulars because I think she ended up becoming a spy and I’m not sure how that happened. I do recall being terribly fascinated with her story.
     I know it is no longer a big shock to people that women in disguise fought alongside men in the Civil War, but I think because I found Behind Rebel Lines so interesting as a young person, I picked up I Shall Be Near to You by Lindsay McCabe when I read the description. Also, when I was at the library I noticed there were about five copies of the book on the shelf, which led me to believe it was once a book club book and for better or for worse I’m drawn to those books.
     The story is about a newly married woman, Rosetta Wakefield, whose husband enlists in the Union army and leaves her on his parents farm. She tries for a few days (literally) to be apart from him and decides her place is with her husband so she disguises herself as a man and enlists with her husband’s company. I’ll try not to spoil anything for anyone, but oh my GOODNESS this was a tear-jerker.
     Now, most of the story takes place at the camp, with a lot of soldiers. There is at least one character named Hiram, who is the course jester of the group and he has many bad words and remarks about women that the gentler reader might not like, but other than that the book is very clean.  Hiram is not exactly viewed favorably. Rosetta and her husband seemed to remain chaste prior to marriage (it takes place very early) and even in the confines of marriage Ms McCabe leaves the romance mainly veiled. You understand what is happening but it is treated respectfully.
     I feel like one can’t enter into the topic of women disguising themselves to fight without touching on egalitarianism or women’s rights or something, but I enjoyed how non preachy McCabe’s story was. Rosetta has always found farm work and outside labor much more interesting than housework, which doesn’t come very naturally to her, but it doesn’t seem like she’s trying to make a statement. She has seen her father mourn over his lack of sons and she is trying to fill that space for him. So, when she eventually enters the war some of the tougher tasks come easier to her than it would to most women. But she doesn’t even enter the war to make a statement. She goes because she decides her place is with her husband. I can dig that.
     This is a wonderful story of love. True, real, and sacrificial love. There are undertones of Ruth throughout the book and it will break your heart. I just thought it was completely well done and very moving. I am probably going to go back to the library and see if Ms. McCabe has written anything else.

14 January 2015

So Much More by Anna Sofia Botkin and Elizabeth Botkin

     I just finished So Much More: The Remarkable Influence of Visionary Daughters on the Kingdom of God and I have to say I was very unimpressed. Actually I was more than unimpressed. I think the book is pretty bad.
     I recognize that Godly womanhood is under fire in today’s world, but I kind of think Godliness has always been under fire. It’s tough to be a believer.  In John 15 Jesus says “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you…If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” As believers, we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus’s prediction is true. So, yes, being Godly will put you in a position of opposition to the world.
     So, I appreciate the fact that these girls are questioning things the world takes for granted: “Everyone needs to go to college,” “Independent is the way to be!” “Birth control for at least the first year of marriage,” “Of course women should have their own careers.” All of these things the world, and to a certain extent the church just swallows as truths without much examination. I love it when a Christian comes on the scene saying, “Wait a minute here. We need to think about this.” But I feel like the girls made their arguments very poorly.
     First, a caveat, when I say girls I really mean it. At the time this book was written, they were 17 and 19. I think they are thoughtful young women with good hearts and I think they were very zealous for Godly femininity. I just think a few more years would have given them some perspective. I guess I’m more surprised that there were adults in their lives that let them write this sort of thing and put a stamp of approval on it. I mean, this book was kind of a big deal in the homeschooling world.
     I think my first clue to the fact that there would be theological problems was when the young authors said, “Many of the answers and solutions we…have found will seem incredibly extreme and drastic. We believe that in a day of extreme apostasy and judgment, extreme measures are exactly what are called for, and that a drastic step in the opposite direction is exactly what we need to take.” First of all, this assumes our struggles are far and away harder than the struggles of any other Christian civilization throughout history. I think that is very untrue. I’m looking at you, Emperor Nero.  Also, I’m going to need some biblical proof that the answer to a problem is to take a “drastic step in the opposite direction.” I think there are plenty of directives God gives us as to how to live a wise Christian life and if we just followed them (which is hard enough) we’ll be fine. I don’t think we need to go beyond what God has told us to do.  Revelation 22:18 “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.” I think anyone who wants to go extra-biblical with rules should read that verse over a few times.
     Anyway, the rest of the book is basically rules for living in a way that shows direct opposition to the world. 1. Women must submit to the headship of fathers or husbands; 2. Women should never go to college because every woman who goes to college loses her faith or exits an embittered feminist; 3. It’s best women never work. Ever. But if you must be a “wage slave” work under another Christian woman because male bosses are just RIPE for sexual encounters with their employees; 4. Women must never enter the mission field, unless accompanied by their husbands; 5. Women should never be in leadership positions, not just in the church, which is as far as the bible goes, but in any leadership position ever; 6. The only training women should have is to train for marriage; 7. Modesty is important.
     Ok, outside of the first and the last rule, obviously there is plenty to make fun of here. Like I said, I love when Christians challenge the world’s thinking. I hate that stay at home wives are made to feel like they are no benefit to the world. I hate that there is blindly accepted that everyone needs a college degree or a career, when maybe you know you are going to get married and be a stay-at-home mom and you just don’t want to spend four years and TON of money on college. I think where the bible is silent we should be too. The much touted Proverbs 31 woman works publicly and at home. Priscilla and Aquila BOTH were tent makers. God just doesn’t say whether women should or should not work outside the home. We probably shouldn’t step in and fill in what we think God wanted. They did somewhat hesitatingly admit that going to college, getting a job, etc  wasn’t actually a sin, but then they proceeded to heap guilt on you about it.
     And even when they talk about headship and submission, they admit that there isn’t much directive in the bible about what a daughter’s submission is to look like, so they use the directives for a wife and claim that a daughter should be her father’s helpmeet. I think that is going a little too far for my taste. So, even some of the things I agree with them on, I didn’t necessarily agree on the lengths they took them.
     Anyway, I guess reading the book made me think I was reading a book written by a conspiracy theorist. They had all these examples of women whose lives fell apart in college or who finally found fulfillment in working at home after trying to find in everywhere else. I don’t deny the truth of those stories. I just have a feeling the Botkin sisters would deny my story or the stories of other women I know who have been through college and/or jobs and made it through with our faith still intact and our lives pretty joyful. They’d probably just say that I was well-intentioned and thought I had it together but I didn’t really. You just can’t argue with someone like that.
     I would like to know how they would respond when I tell them that due to my college degree I am a better helpmeet to my husband. He actually said it would have been very tough to marry someone who hadn't gone through college. So...hah!