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
Nightstand

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.

27 August 2014

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky


      This was my second reading of The Brothers Karamazov and this time around I was even more moved than the first. And that is saying something because I gave it five whole stars on Goodreads. If I could have given six this time, I would have. 

Reading to Know - Book Club

      The Brothers Karamazov is the story of three brothers (and a potential illegitimate fourth?) and the murder of their father. The father is a licentious tyrant who has no love for his children. One night he is killed in his own home presumably by the hand of his eldest son Dimitry, who is competing with his own father for the hand of a woman they both are interested in. The story follows each brother in the complexities of their lives, while they witness the trial of their older brother. But like any good Dostoevsky story, the characters serve as backdrops for the philosophy under discussion. This is not to say that Dostoevsky's characters are in any way stock characters. They are beautifully drawn and complex people you can believe in, but their main purpose is to discuss faith.

      The Brothers Karamazov is ultimately a story of the tensions of belief and unbelief. The youngest brother, Alyosha (who for a time was planning on being a monk and was under the tutelage of a mysterious character, Elder Zosima) represents belief, while the troubled middle brother, Ivan represents atheism. The whole novel deals with the statement, “If there is no God than everything is permitted.” To clarify for the hairsplitters of the world, those words, in that order, do not actually appear in the novel, but that statement definitely sums up the thrust of the whole novel. I'm trying to not spoil the end for everyone, but when we finally find out who the murderer is, he says as justification, “I did it all simply because 'everything is permitted.'”

      Though Dostoevsky himself calls Alyosha his protagonist, I would say possibly the most interesting, or at least most tragic, figure is Ivan. Ivan, as an atheist, understands that without God everything is permitted, yet he still wrestles with a God who will not leave him alone. He's a thoughtful man, and realizes that it's the world cannot be quite that simple. Through his avowed atheism, he keeps encountering his own conscience. We have here a perfectly illustrated tortured man whose own worldview says that everything is permitted yet who cannot let the idea of God go completely. Even at the end of the novel nothing has settled for him. He has not found peace. 
 
      I cannot leave the discussion of Ivan without talking about The Grand Inquisitor which has often been misinterpreted, but always seen as the chapter upon which this novel turns. The chapter is written by Ivan and it is about Jesus coming to earth during the time of the Inquisition. The Inquisitor (representing the church) takes Jesus aside and chastises him for giving people too much freedom. People need to feel secure rather than free, he argues and it's Jesus's fault that the church had to take over when he gave them too much freedom. You see, though Dostoevsky portrays Ivan as a man troubled by his own philosophy, he also has a 'no holds barred' approach to the challenges facing believers. If this was merely a story of belief, Dostoevsky could have chosen to have Ivan slowly open up to the possibility of God and eventually find peace, but he also brings up many issues that have always been hard for Christians to deal with, like, “Why would God allow cruelty to children?” and “What shall we do with our Christian freedom?” In a move that has baffled the literary world Jesus's only response is to kiss the Grand Inquisitor and walk away. Here is my humble take on that: Jesus forgives. Even in the face of scorn and rage against Him, He still forgives. I recognize it is a tad bit more complicated than that, but ultimately Christ forgives. Also, on a more human level that is about all we can do as believers. In the face of so much hurt the only response is to love the hurting. We can't reason people out of things sometimes. Sometimes they just need a kiss. Or a hug, if you are more Western minded...like me.

      The tragedy of the story is that the kiss burns for a little while in the heart of the Grand Inquisitor, but he never turns from his “old idea.” In the same way Ivan has been touched by Alyosha and by Christ himself, but as far as we can tell, never turns from his “old idea.” 
 
      Ok, now I can probably go on for far longer than you have patience to read, but I would like to bring up Elder Zosima, just because I have a personal axe to grind. As far as I can tell, he's some bigwig in the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian Orthodoxy is far beyond me, so I'm not even going to try. However, we are led to believe he is a sincere and holy man who loves God and who loves his fellow men. These are the greatest commandments.
 
      Well, very soon into the book, he dies. Now, because this is a more mystical religion than I am used to, there is some belief among the villagers that not only will there be miracles after his death, but there will be no rotting of the body. Well, oddly enough, like any dead body, after some time, he begins to stink. Suddenly aspersions are cast on the man's character and Alyosha himself comes very near to losing his faith over this. There are many amazing things I could praise Dostoevsky on regarding this incident and the effect it has on Alyosha, but I really just want to talk about something personal. I feel like there is a bit of a “where there's smoke; there's fire,” attitude about people. Often just because a rumor begins about someone (a stink, if you will), everything they've ever done no longer matters. They could be the kindest and friendliest people, but the instant something bad is said about them, everyone believes the bad. As believers, we should let people's lives speak for themselves, and maybe we shouldn't believe everything we hear. Anyway, that's my little moral that I thought of while reading this book.
 
      As I said, I could probably keep going, but smarter people than me have written whole treatises on this book, so all I can say is THANK YOU Shonya at Learning How Much I Don't Know. for giving me this opportunity to read The Brothers Karamazov again. I hope everyone was able to pull all the amazing greatness that they could out of this book.

25 August 2014

Fine China is For Single Women Too by Lydia Brownback


      About a week after Husband asked me out my parents gave me a book for my birthday called Fine China is for Single Women Too. Now, they got it for me before I was asked out but they went ahead and gave it to me anyway. Mainly for laughs. Anyway, I read it a few weeks ago. I figured if I was going to read it I had better do it while I could still vaguely remember being single.

      I really wish I had read this book while I really was single. I thought it was outstanding. Now, I'm a little biased since I'm a big Lydia Brownback fan ever since I read A Woman's Wisdom. I think the biggest thing this book has going for it is that it's extremely Christ-centered, but the second biggest thing is that Ms. Brownback is actually a single woman. I do remember reading books about being single from married women and thinking, “well, this is easy for you to say...”
 
     The title is actually very clever. She's not talking about entertaining, though one could see how entertaining would be encompassed in her message. She's talking about not putting your life on hold until marriage. She encourages women to find their contentment in whatever state they are in. Maybe you are considering being a missionary, or getting a Masters degree, or just buying yourself your own set of fine china. Ms. Brownback would endorse your pursuit of any and all of these things. If God has someone for you, that person and you will find each other no matter what you are doing, and if He doesn't, you will already have found contentment.
 
     According to Ms. Brownback, God's ultimate goal for all of our lives is to make us holy. “It is his top priority” she says. Our marital status is merely a way He goes about sanctifying us. Married or single only means God has chosen that for us, for now, to make us holy. When a single woman (or man) is tempted to feel as if something is wrong with her she can think of what God is doing in her life. He didn't forget about her. He has a perfect plan for her which involves singlehood right now. It might even involve singlehood long term, but if so, it's only because that is the way God feels will be the most sanctifying.
 
     Ms. Brownback also gives a new way of thinking about your singlehood. One of my favorite parts was when she brought in the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism “Q: What is the chief end of man? A: Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” If one is single, “God has determined that you will most glorify him and come to enjoy him most fully as a single woman.”1 That's an interesting way of thinking. It's not just about the contentment of the woman, but it's about God ordering our lives so that we can glorify him the most. God has chosen singlehood for you right now because that is how you are most effective to the kingdom. What a wonderful thought!

      Much of what Ms. Brownback says in this book can be found in most books written for single women, but again, it helps that Ms. Brownback practices what she preaches. You get a feeling reading her book that if she can do it, you can do it too. Also, she just doesn't hold back from getting right to the heart of the matter and completely backs up all her statements with scripture. She not only encourages those struggling with being single, but she also chastises those complaining against the lot God has given them. I think if I was a single woman I would have been challenged and encouraged by this book. I will be recommending this book to all of my single female friends.

      I want to end quoting something beautiful Ms. Brownback says about God's work in us. God is doing something with our lives, “Weaving something beautiful out of the tangle yarn of our sins, our frailty and our disappointments. We cannot see what he is making, but we can be sure the end result will make us beautiful...Isn't that reason for thankfulness? We can rejoice and be thankful even before we see the finished work.”2


1Brownback, Lydia. Fine China Is for Single Women Too. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Pub., 2003, pg. 16
2Ibid., pg. 62