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!

09 December 2014

Until the Very End

     The year is almost over and I have to read eighteen books to reach my goal of one hundred fifty books. Up until the dead end of November my goal for 2014 had been two hundred books. (It takes me a very long time to give up, but eventually reality kicked in) I think that shouldn’t be a problem, but just for kicks I’m going to list the eighteen, plus one (for my online book club) that I’m going to attempt to finish before the end of the year.
     Also, my sister challenged me to a reading contest for the month of December so this post is also partially for them to size up the competition.

  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – I’ve historically really appreciated everything I’ve read by Kingsolver despite some issues I have with her works. So, I’m looking forward to this one.
  • The Most Famous Man in America by Debby Applegate – It’s the biography of Henry Ward Beecher that I’ve been working on for what seems like YEARS
  • I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley – Book four in a series about a precocious little girl who is a brilliant chemist AND a crime solver. So great. So. Great.
  • Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith – Book two in a series about a woman detective in Botswana. The stories are much more about the personality of the detective and her neighbors than the mysteries themselves. I really enjoy them
  • A Godward Life by John Piper – A collection of little talks from John Piper is the best way I can describe this. I haven’t gotten very far in it yet.
  • Tuck by Stephen Lawhead – Book number three in a series about Robin Hood. Recommended by my friend, Libby.
  • Rule Britannia by Daphne DuMaurier – I haven’t started it, but it’s DuMaurier so…yay!
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – Raise your hand if you are a reader who hasn’t always secretly wanted to be a writer…thought so!
  • The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace – Love it or hate it many people have a very strong opinion on this book. I’m excited to read it.
  • Desire Under the Elms by Eugene O’Neill – A play I haven’t read. I’m trying to read more plays
  • On Reading the Grapes of Wrath by Susan Shillinglaw – I got this book for free at a history conference. I loved Grapes of Wrath so I’m excited to be told about how important historically the book is.
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien – I actually saw a talk by this guy. Sadly at the time I didn’t have the book so I couldn’t ask him to sign it, but I’m excited to read it now because it’s one of those books you always hear about.
  • The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky – Does this NEED any explanation?
  • The New American Poetry edited by Donald Allen – I haven’t been reading enough poetry. It’s pretty sad.
  • The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan – I like the cover of this book. That’s the only reason I got it from the library
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry – After reading Number theStars I wanted to read more of this author.

Well, that’s it. December. I hope I meet my goals.

04 December 2014

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

     Joy of joys! I may have found a book club. I sort of weaseled my way into the group on Monday night and I think I’m going to be a member. I can barely contain my excitement. Anyway, they are reading Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry and I read it as quickly as I could to catch up. Let’s revisit that “quickly as I could” bit. I warn everyone even considering reading it that this book is a tear jerker, but not in that over the top emotionally manipulative way, in like the quiet sadness that is super beautiful kind of way. I actually had to put it down a few times and read something else because it was too emotional.
     Despite all that I loved it! It was a novel written by a poet which is entirely different than a poem written by a novelist, by the way. There were quite a few chunks of the novel that I felt could be extracted and still be a great poem. There were sentences you had to read over again not necessarily because it took another go to understand (though there was that too), but just to taste the beauty of words and feel the emotions again.
     The novel itself reads much the same as Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.  Hannah Coulter is a now eighty year old woman looking back on her life. The story is somewhat told to her nephew who apparently is considered the most like Wendell Berry himself, but is mainly her own reminiscences to herself now that her husband is gone.
     Hannah Coulter is a story of loss. This loss could come from death but also comes from eras changing, from children growing up, from people moving away, and from war. The beauty of it is that throughout this story of loss there is, in Hannah’s words, “gold stitches in a piece of embroidery.” These gold threads of light in the darkness of loss are love and thankfulness. “Love is what carries you,” Hannah says, “for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark.” As Hannah recalls how full of loss her life is she doesn’t grumble or complain. She somehow tells a heartbreaking story and manages to concentrate on the blessings and the love that she has had.
     What I particularly loved were the amazing Christian themes in the book evoked by blatant biblical phrasing. Hannah and her husband refer to their community as “the membership.” And the Coulter’s neighbors truly embraced the spirit of unity. The way Hannah described it sounds similar to the way the church ought to be.  The concept of Love in the book seemed very Christian as well. As Christians we know the real Love that is always there, even in the dark. We know it is God’s love. And we know that God supplies us with things to be happy about. They maybe aren’t the things we think we want, but they are other kindnesses and we should thank him for those. In almost the middle of the book there is an account of one of the members of Hannah’s “membership” playing the hymn “Abide With Me” (my actual favorite hymn) which is basically about God being with us whatever is happening around us.
     The book is so moving. I cannot say enough times how wonderful it was. Wendell Berry actually wrote a couple of books and a few short stories about this community from the perspectives of different members. I want to read them all now. I think this might go down as one of the best books I read in 2014. 

29 September 2014

The Princess and The Goblin by George MacDonald

     I have to admit, when I read The Princess and the Goblin I read it way too fast. My usual M.O. is getting the book at the end of the month and at the very last minute I manage to write up something, so I thought I would get a head start. So, unfortunately I read it too fast. It didn’t help that the reading was much easier since it was a children’s book.  And for whatever reason I have a really hard time writing reviews of children’s books. This is bad news because November is a children’s book, and I’m leading it. Anyway, this review was hard to write! And it's like...three paragraphs, and only one has anything worthwhile that I added to the conversation. So, if you'd like, you could just go straight to the penultimate paragraph and read that.

Reading to Know - Book Club

     The Princess and the Goblin is the story of Princess Irene who lives with her nursemaid apart from her father, the King because he has to travel a lot. Underneath their city in caves live hordes of evil goblins plotting something against the kingdom. One day, Irene is unable to go outside because of rain and she discovers a mysterious staircase and eventually her mysterious grandmother, also named Irene. Eventually the grandmother gives Princess Irene a thread that will always bring Irene back to her grandmother no matter where she is. Princess Irene later meets with the son of a miner, Curdie Peterson who knows how to keep the goblins at bay and eventually learns the secret of how to defeat them.  Irene and Curdie eventually must use their skills to keep each other and the kingdom safe.

     One of the particular themes I picked up on which I felt was important was a theme of trust. In order to escape the goblins, Irene has to follow the thread her grandmother gave her even when it seems to take her in a direction that she doesn’t understand. This is basically what we have to do with how the Lord leads us. Sometimes we think God is directing our lives in a way that seems confusing and often terrifying. But we still have to follow him in trust.

     Also, I kind of like that Princess Irene saved Curdie, but not in an in-your-face feminist sort of way. It was just normal. She just saved him. That’s all. Just kind of thought it was cool.

28 August 2014

What's On My Nightstand for September

Ok, yes, I realize it was Tuesday two days ago. However, I've been rushing to finish Agnes Gray and The Brothers Karamazov (which I did! Hooray) and I forgot that What's on My Nightstand Day hosted by 5 Minutes For Books was passing me by.

What's On Your

I love how honest this thing keeps me....

  • Idols of the Heart by Elyse Fitzpatrick: This was the book the ladies at my new church all read together. They were finishing their discussion on the day I first came to women's group. Woops. Anyway, it sounded good and I thought I should read it. Especially since it talks quite about my old friend, worry. Sigh Sometimes I need a good shaking up.
  • The New American Poetry by Donald Merriam Allen: Allen is actually the guy who compiled the poems. He's not the poet. It's a compilation of a lot of poets. So far, I've liked one, but I'm not very far into it. I'm somewhat trying to read one Christian living book and one poetry book a month. When I tell you that Idols of the Heart is my April Christian living book and The New American Poetry is my April poetry book, you'll understand how well I'm doing with that.
  • Saints and Villains: A Novel by Denise Giardina: Uhm, this is a novel...about Bonhoeffer. I've talked before about how awkward it is to write about a real person, but at the very least it makes me want to research Bonhoeffer and figure out how much of all this is true. I brought this book on the honeymoon with me. (No judgies!) So, what with the glorious wedding and the perfect honeymoon, I didn't get much of it read. Also, it's just not that interesting of a book, so I'm still slogging.
  • Lilith by George MacDonald: I'm actually listening to this one with Husband. What can I say about this book. It's...insane. I don't even know how to explain how crazy this book is. The only explanation I have is that it is sort of a defense of MacDonald's universalism, or at least his lack of belief in hell. Hell is basically just being stuck in this crazy creepy “other world” and getting things figured out before you're ready to enter heaven. Or something. I don't know. I wouldn't recommend it.
  • The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher by Debby Applegate: It's a biography...in case you didn't pick that up. I technically, haven't even taken this out of my bookshelf in order to put it ON my nightstand, but it is the next “history” book. I've just been too scared to start it. I'm hoping this post will be the push I need.