Reading round-up (4.11.14)

Yesterday I shared a little bit of the everyday beauty of this last week, and today I’ve got some of the bigger, more extravagant graces of the season along with some weekend reading for you!

[One] For as “boring” as Iowa sounded when we first moved there, I always felt it worked out well for us to connect with traveling friends while we lived there. Our house became a common stopping point for many friends and acquaintances traveling between the Midwest and the “Real West,” usually Montana or Colorado. With a comfy couch in the back room, easy quiche and baked oatmeal recipes, and a fabulous patio to enjoy in the warmer seasons, we had a pretty decent bed&breakfast going on. I worried that moving to Minnesota would mean an end to some of that flurry, but I’m pretty sure that is not going to be the case. We have had an amazing influx of visitors in the past little bit! There was our first official hosted dinner with some Hillsdale friends, a few nights hosting my dearest Jenny (also on Hillsdale business), and now my parents are here for an impromptu birthday-and-DIY-weekend. (We really know how to party around here.) Another uncle is likely to arrive a few days after my parents leave, as well. We were gifted with a bed for our guest room, and we’re putting it to great use! Max is not at the greatest stage for hospitality, but he likes people so much that he laid at the door in despair when Jenny’s flight was delayed.

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[Two] I usually read a lot in the summer, maybe because it’s too hot to do many crafts. I don’t know how much I’ll be able to do this year, but I know the first place I’ll look for recommendations is Bethany’s blog. (Again — the blogs of real life friends are always the best!)

[Three] I have a funny relationship with controversial religious topics, so I don’t generally mention them on my blog as often as I think about them. I’ve really enjoyed a few articles about the intersection of the church and homosexuality lately. While I would hope and pray this is not a sorrow my daughter has to bear, I hope that she will hear this same truth growing up in our home: “Although I have found the experience difficult, it has never been difficult to reconcile with my faith. One of the best things my parents gave me was an understanding that the Christian life is often difficult, and that God takes and uses our sufferings to make us more like Him.” (From A New Kind of Coming Out in Christianity Magazine, UK.) Additionally, I appreciated Jen Hatmaker’s blog “Where I Stand,” because I think there is a huge need for people who stand for the clear teaching of God’s word on marriage and sexuality AND good neighboring, wound-binding, and loving kindness. These values are not mutually exclusive!

[Four] I thought these two articles were a great balance for each other — one talking about appreciating what we can from polarizing teachers and another on the importance of naming and speaking against false teachers. (For the record, I don’t even agree with a lot of the stuff in the first article because I am so bothered by some of the personalities mentioned! But maybe I need to rethink some of that? Right now I don’t even want to appreciate anything about the influence of Donald Miller, for example.)

[Five] Is Christianity just about pragmatism?Here are some wonderful thoughts on the wild work of a backwards God in our Oprah-driven hearts from Emily at Weak and Loved.

[Six] If you, like most people, get the majority of your information about Genetically Modified crop controversy from links posted on Facebook by people who are not scientists, this article about the true cost of labeling GMO’s would be a good read for you!

[Seven] And on the topic of even more significantly important and controversial advances in science and genetics, this article describing 10 Things You Need To Know About IVF is well worth a read. It’s one of my many soapboxes in life, but really… It’s much better to read and pray about this before you’re possibly in a position to make decisions clouded by years of heartache.

So… Maybe more controversy than I originally intended to mention here? (May as well get it all out there: I use an e-collar for training my dog and plan to both regularly vaccinate and possibly occasionally spank my child if it is the most effective way to keep her safe while she grows up.) You can read other Friday quick-takes over at Conversion Diary, if you’re interested.

Have a great weekend, friends. We are celebrating my 28th birthday with the installation of a dishwasher. This is even better than the year I got a circular saw!

shooting for the moon

My summer reading plans are always a bit, uh, ambitious, and I don’t usually get anywhere close to completing the list before I get distracted by other books or run out of time. I’ve accepted this. At least when I shoot for the moon, I’m likely to land among the stars.

summer reading

Especially when I’m working and there is always stuff to do around the house, it can be too-tempting to be in the middle of a book when I get bored with a project, like transplanting hostas or demolishing something in the bathroom. I usually just make myself some iced tea and finish my book so I only have one project left incomplete. As you can imagine, this doesn’t always go over well with Aaron at the end of the day. But I am really, really, really grateful to be self-employed and less busy in the summers, and part of that privilege gives me extra household responsibilities on my off days, so in an effort to stave off boredom AND live responsibly, I have been devouring audio books.

It complicates things a bit that I have to get CD’s from the library and listen on a huge boom box that Aaron had in high school, because our technology situation is laughably behind the times due to our grad-school/self-employed set up. (The CD driver on my six-year-old laptop is uncooperative and my iPod has buttons.) And audio books are hit-or-miss because sometimes the people who read them have overly boring or soothing voices. The best ones are usually read by the authors, because they have the most authentic vocal inflections and they have a vested interest in hooking readers. So far, though, I’ve been enjoying the Harry Potter series because the story is engaging without being overly complicated. Aaron and I were a little curious about this because we grew up evangelical, which meant JK Rowling was probably a demon based on how everyone’s mom talked about the evil books. After starting them now, I can see why parents would hesitate to permit young kids to read the series, but I would definitely call these “fantasy” and not “occult,” probably in the same category as Chronicles of Narnia,  Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc. I think it’s also pretty telling that I’ve never talked to someone who has read the books and still condemns them; it’s always someone who is just guessing on the content. (The books are so interesting when you know Latin, too. It adds another layer to the plot if you know the Bad Guy’s name, Voldemort, means “Will of Death,” for instance.)

Other than that, I’m a huge fan of GoodReads to keep track of books I’ve read and get suggestions from people I trust. (The GoodReads site makes it easy – I can tell if I trust someone or not based on their “shelves” and “book ratings.” It will also probably put me on a government watch-list.)  I’m keeping a summer reading list there, and so far I’m working through Nancy Guthrie’s Lamb of God Bible study, some Wendell Berry essays, and a book about the Russian aristocracy right before the Bolshevik revolution. You know, to keep things interesting.

My favorite things to read are suggestions from friends, so I’d love to hear any other suggestions! Do you like reading in the summer? Are there any books you keep returning to re-read as years pass? (Is anyone else really excited about another season of 24 returning?)

at capacity

Several months ago, I realized anyone who compared the things I claim to value to the things my calendar claimed I valued would think I was crazy. I probably was. It definitely felt like it. So I had to do some cutting back, getting rid of good things that I wanted to do, and the only rationalization was that they were (innocently) choking the life out of the things that were necessary. This was the hardest and wisest thing I have done yet this year, and I’ve seen much good come out of it. (I found this post on marriage encouraging during the process of schedule-culling.)

saturday am

One of the things that I was a little embarrassed to protect in the revised Spring schedule was times like this one. I really need some time for hot coffee and morning reading built into my weekend schedule. Nothing else works if I don’t get this in before the weekly grind spills over into the rest of my weekend. Really, there is no good reason for a Christian to feel bad about putting non-negotiable boundaries around their practice of a sabbath rest, but these things always make more sense when you look at it in retrospect.

I started this morning feeling disappointed, used up, exhausted, uncertain, and fully inadequate for the tasks ahead of me, nagged by the thought that this shouldn’t be happening because I have all the skills necessary to tackle my responsibilities. My relationship with Oswald Chambers ebbs and flows, but I find myself invariably turning back to this old copy of My Utmost for His Highest when I am frustrated or wanting something that isn’t happening. I read it every day the year Aaron was in Iraq and it feels comforting to revisit the graces that sustained me then.

saturday am promises

“We must not measure our spiritual capacity by education or by intellect; our capacity in spiritual things is measured by the promises of God. …When it is a question of God’s Almighty Spirit, never say “I can’t.” …Never forget that our capacity in spiritual matters is measured by the promises of God. Is God able to fulfill His promises?” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, April 20.

The other thing at capacity in our lives? Our chicken ownership. We had just the right amount for our coop, but Aaron succumbed to the cuteness of baby chicks and brought a few more home. He came up from the garage mid-day last week when I had a break in piano lessons and said something like, “I just want you to think about how much you love me… and how much you love things that are little and soft before you go down to the laundry room.”

sunny chick

Surprise! Though the timing was close, I’m not letting him pass this off as a birthday present. And unfortunately, this isn’t an exotic colored breed; that purple mark is just from a Farmer’s marker.

It’s hard to get or stay mad at someone who brought you home some baby chicks. It seems that Space Dad is becoming a total softie. And if you don’t hear from us for a while, please check in and make sure we’re not accidentally becoming chicken farmers.

“Don’t you wish your Bible was ecumenical like mine?”

My April to-do lists are pretty crazy. Trying to make lots of people happy is never a great way to avoid busyness and stress, but it’s a necessary evil of my self-employment. Additionally, there are taxes to finish up, there is an impromptu bathroom remodel to tackle, there are classes to direct and piano students to teach. Weekends aren’t really weekends for the next few weeks. I love what I do and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but there is a lot of working and not a lot of sleeping going on at our house!

As an anti-insanity measure, I squeezed in a walk in our park this weekend when the weather finally became warm and sunny. A no-cell-phone-so-no-one-can-bug-me kind of walk. And then I even had some outside Bible study on a beach chair in sandals. (I feel like there should be some exclamation points in that sentence.)  ecumenicalI found this Bible during a recent visit to my parent’s house. My maiden name is written inside the cover, and I vaguely remember having it at some point for some College class or something. And by some strange happening, there are notes all over the generous margins in my handwriting and I have absolutely no recollection of studying from this volume. It’s huge, about 3x the size of my usual leatherbound NIV, possibly because it contains the Apocrypha, which I always mean to read and research but never do, but also because of the generous cross references at the bottom of each page. It’s been fun to discover (or really rediscover, I suppose…) these resources. I still want to learn Greek, but in the meantime, it’s nice to have so many study aids available in English.

Psalm 38. I don't know why I underlined this; good to know it's still true!

Psalm 38. I don’t know why I underlined this; good to know it’s still true!

I definitely get a huge nerdy kick out of opening up this scriptural monstrocity, but it’s really spooky to find notes I have no memory of making, especially when they are helpful and insightful. The real world may be dulling my senses, because these notes definitely indicate I was a lot smarter in college. Or at least I had more insights concerning the Minor Prophets than I would these days…

Vander Port preparations!

“I don’t think you should get your hopes up for this wedding dress trip, Mrs. Hummel, because I have two sisters just like you and I’ve gone shopping with them both before.  I don’t think there is anything fun about it. You’re probably going to be really disappointed.” – a nine-year-old boy in my piano studio.

My first Sabbath of Lent started off with a sudden burst of tears. While I scrambled eggs before church, Aaron showed me a meteorologist’s report indicating a big snowstorm for the end of the week, and said I should prepare myself to make a hard decision about my weekend plans: driving (solo) to Michigan for a special day of wedding dress shopping for my sister Bethany, who is getting married in July. I knew Midwestern road trips in February were never a sure thing when I put this on my calendar, but facing the reality of a predicted blizzard in an area not known for decent road conditions was entirely disheartening.

Almost everyone I know heard my tale of woe during the week, and many faithfully prayed this trip would work out for me. With three sibling weddings coming up this summer, extra time to visit and prepare for the big day(s) are a luxury, so it is likely this dress shopping trip would be my only time to celebrate with Beth before her nuptials. This was it! The trip HAD to happen! And then my prayers were mercifully answered with a very light snowstorm so I could travel safely. This probably came at the expense of children all over my county who hoped and prayed for a snow day from school. I hurried through the local library and grabbed some random audio CDs off the shelf to keep me company on the road.

I listened to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua during my drive. I cried when she spoke of her sister’s cancer diagnosis, and it made me so glad I was going to spend this weekend with my own sisters. After I arrived and recovered from the car time, my mom and all three of us girls spent a long Saturday shopping for a wedding gown. We watched Beth start off nervous and quiet, (probably overwhelmed by thousands of yards of lace, satin, taffeta, ruffles, ruching, sparkles, and appliques)  transforming through the day into a confident, comfortable, well-spoken Bride – with the perfect dress to match! I wiped a few tears when she first wore it. Grandma had to stay home nursing an injured knee cap, so we took secret forbidden iPhone pictures for her.

After all this hoopla, we ended our Saturday with a party celebrating the engagement with both sides of the new family. Now that she’s engaged to Isaac, Beth is marrying into a family of our old home-school friends. (Aaron and I even went to college with the oldest brother and his wife.) During the past ten years of friendship we’ve all known we would somehow become related, since “they have boys and we have girls,” and we have called ourselves “The Vander Ports,” a combination of our last names, for years during our movie nights and beach parties. For a while it wasn’t clear where the romantic connection would eventually happen to bring brother-sister friendships into an official capacity, but Beth and Isaac are finally making good friends into a big extended family. We made plans for the wedding and swapped stories, laughing until we cried on more than one occasion.

vanderports

The Vander Ports (minus Caleb) — best wedding party ever! 

Then I cried a bit when I had to leave on Sunday morning. We chose to move forward with Aaron’s PhD knowing that this career was not ever going to bring us back to the same towns (or state, probably) as our families, but it’s really draining that the current distance requires such sacrifices to get back and forth. During that long trip back, I listened to A Mighty Heart by Mariane Pearl, and I sniffled along with her tale of love and sacrifice, losing her husband Danny at the hands of Islamic terrorists in Pakistan. My story isn’t the same as hers, but she hit me hard; I was very ready to be home and celebrate that my husband was alive. When I arrived, I found Aaron working on a project in the garage. He says it is an A-frame playhouse for our future kids. I think it looks suspiciously like a chicken coop, which he recently mentioned was legal in our neighborhood.

chicken coop Oh, my!

(It seems like there was altogether WAY too much crying over such a great weekend, no?)

sharpened pencils

This rest of this summer was brutally dry and hot, but now our mid-August weather has mellowed into a gentle respite of 70-degree days. With a cool breeze at night, sleep comes easier and deeper. (At last. I never sleep well in the summer.) And after that, these mornings are just right for steaming cups of coffee on the patio. I love this. The very end of summer signifies a turn to my favorite season, fall, and I usually call these weeks of changing weather “Pre-Autumn” in anticipation. I spend them obsessively dreaming about piles of leaves, apple cider, flannel shirts, butternut squash (not spaghetti squash – I will never eat that again), mugs of chili topped with sour cream, wool sweaters, hot tea, crisp mornings, thick socks, and orchard apples. Also, school supplies. I can’t get enough. I love the feel of paper, the tab dividers on folders, the sharp open-close of the rings on 3-ring-binders, and, second only to sticky post-its, I love writing with regular sharpened wood pencils. I usually indulge myself in some unnecessary stationery purchases during this time because that urge to browse the school supply aisles is so overwhelming.

“Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” – Joe Fox in You’ve Got Mail.

This year I join my teacher-friends in a collective mid-August panic attack because school is starting. On Monday I leave this state of suspense and enter my favorite season with exciting challenges that will stretch me in many different ways for ministry and business. (And luckily, I feel like the business is a bit of a ministry, too.)  There are thirty-one students registered for fall semester piano lessons, I’m leading a group of other ladies in my Bible study program, I’m on a Sunday-School rotation at church, and I’m directing six academic subjects for a group of ten home-school students in 8th and 9th grades.  It was a huge leap for us when I quit my job and let my marketable skills and budding entrepreneurial spirit take us into uncharted income territory, and it’s wonderful to see this dream coming to fruition. I’m overjoyed that this is happening, but I’m also hyperventilating every time I look ahead to how much is already filled in on my calendar.

But I think fall is a great time to be stretched. Nature will provide some important lessons, because I know there is a lot that has to die and fall away in my life during the next few months. I’m thrilled about my new adventures, but also very aware that  last year’s leisure is almost entirely over. There will be a lot of dying-to-self required this year. There is beauty in that mortification. And there are also freshly-sharpened pencils, so I’m sure it will all be okay!

a bouquet of pencils via u-create.

it takes courage

I’ve never thought of myself as a writer, really. A musician, an artist, a creator? Yes, but not much of a writer.  During my senior year of high school I had a tutor for my college entrance essay assignments, and I remember confessing this frustration during an editing session. Nearly every other form of creative expression came easily for me. I could write a song, arrange a collage, perform a piano solo, lead in a musical, knit a scarf, or decorate a room with confidence, but every time I tried to write, I questioned myself and was consistently unhappy with the results of my hard work. She listened patiently, and then suggested that frustration about my challenges as a writer might actually be a cover for the fear that my ideas weren’t valuable. Writing doesn’t have to come naturally to matter, she assured me, and good things are worth working for. I didn’t really understand what she meant for several years, and I rarely thought of this conversation after it happened. (I can recount this now because, in a move that is admittedly ironic, I recorded her comments in my journal, which is my long-standing habit after all thought-provoking conversations.)

Though I got plenty of challenging writing assignments once I started college (thank you, Dr. Freeh, et al!), I spent most of those years surrounded by absolute geniuses in every variety of written communication – literature analysts, poets, journalists, scriptural exegetes, curriculum editors, and columnists of every sort. I’m sure my writing competence sharpened significantly during this time, but I never felt like I was even close to average abilities. My insecurity might make even more sense if you know that I was tight with these writers: I married a scholarship-winning journalist, one of my wedding bridesmaids has now published a book, and several other friends from that life are in graduate school or regularly writing things read by people they don’t know. Spending my life with people who were beyond my own mastery in this one area was a fertile breeding ground for that long-held fear of inadequacy, the nagging sense that I just didn’t have much to say. I didn’t realize this was exactly what my tutor meant yet by then, or even in the following years when I would escape boredom at work by maintaining frighteningly voluminous email correspondence.

I finally remembered the admonition about writing-insecurity hiding my idea-insecurity again at the end of our recent Michigan vacation when I was packing up a box of my belongings from my old bedroom in my parents’ house. It’s been four years since I “officially” moved out after graduating from college and marrying Aaron, and we own our home so I don’t have many things left there. This final load was a collection of my journals, now chronicling over half of my life. There were twenty-five notebooks that I brought home, with dates stretching back to 1998. I was twelve years old then.

After arriving back in Iowa, I organized this small library by date and added my other recent journals, which brings the total number to thirty-four. While setting things in order, I thumbed through a few books and recalled God’s kindness and my growth with laughter and cringing. I’m glad I don’t have to go back to middle school… or high school, for that matter!

And maybe it’s a sign of that same kindness and growth that in the middle of this project (besides wondering where on earth I am actually going to keep these) I couldn’t help but think: It’s probably time to stop pretending I don’t write. And I should stop being afraid of my ideas, too.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.
– e. e. cummings.

Recent Reads

We’ve had our first rhubarb harvest, every other dinner’s salad is fresh from the garden, and last night’s bike ride included nine bunny sightings. It’s not that warm yet, but summer has definitely started! One of the best parts of summer is… Well, who can pick just one? I like it all! But right now I’m excited about summer reading. I just finished a great Bible Study program that ran through the school year, so my regular book reading diminished drastically since September. This summer my work load is decreased a bit, and while I hope to maintain consistent study of scripture, I’m excited about extra time for real books, too. So I can’t say I’ve been reading two books a month like I did last year, but I’m going to blog about the past year’s worth of literary edification now in case you want to pick anything up for your own summer reading list. My natural bent is towards devotional, historical, nerdy, or “self-help”-ish books, but I have been richly rewarded by some intentional fiction reading, so I’m hoping to be more balanced with reading stories and “real life” in the future.
(These are listed here alphabetically by author.)

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
I’ve had Wendell Berry on the radar for years. In college I frequently babysat for the children of a Berry scholar (as in, wrote a real book about it), and sometimes I thumbed through the books on their shelf. But I didn’t get anything read start-to-finish until now, and I am kicking myself for taking half a decade to get around to it. This author is gently profound, and his prose beautifully marries an understanding of God’s dual revelation (in scripture and nature) with an uncanny knack for describing the human condition. Berry “gets” God, and he “gets” man. I will say that I found it especially intriguing that a confessing Baptist would write a story where the main character spends much of his life in confusion about faith and veers sharply off the path of orthodox Christian belief at the end, but I would still highly recommend this book as a story about loss, grief, growth and redemption.

“This grief had something in it of generosity, some nearness to joy. In a strange way, it added to me what I had lost. I saw that, for me, this country would always be populated with presences and absences, presences of absences, the living and the dead. The world as it is would always be a reminder of the world that was, and of the world that is to come. … I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circle or a doubling back. …The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I have deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led — make of that what you will.” -Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry.

***
When God Talks Back by  T.M. Luhrmann.
This is a huge volume based on an anthropologist’s report of spending years in two different Vineyard churches throughout the country. I feel like I’m cheating because I actually returned this to the library before I finished it, but I would like to finish it sometime, and I still recommend this to anyone who is intrigued by anthropology or curious about the psychological study of prayer. Which would be… probably no one. I’m okay with being a little nerdy here: I thought it was really interesting. And I truly appreciated that a non-believing author managed to write a book about evangelical prayer without an overwhelming air of cynicism. Though I don’t necessarily agree with some of her conclusions, I appreciated that she took people seriously and wanted to figure out how the human side of prayer works. My biggest beef with what I’ve read so far is that Luhrmann keeps using the word “evangelical,” while most evangelicals probably wouldn’t call the churches she visited mainstream. But, whatever. The evangelical Christian movement is almost impossible to narrowly define, even in a book that’s 300+ pages like this one.

***
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Gilead is a beautiful story, told in letters from an elderly minister near death to his seven-year-old miracle son. (While every child is a miracle, one who is seven when his father dies of old age is more likely to be referenced as such, I suppose.) The San Francisco Chronicle said Gilead “explores big ideas while telling a good story,” and I would recommend this for anyone who has thought about God’s will, singleness, marriage, childlessness, parenting, grief, disappointment, ministry, or the meaning of life. Which means, everyone. I liked this so much that I listened to the audio CD a few weeks after reading the book, and I was so excited to share this novel with some friends that I recommended it to several people right away. Then I found out most of them had read it already. So I feel like I was late to the party, but you should read it now, because this is one of those things that isn’t worth missing!

“I don’t know exactly what covetise is, but in my experience it is not so much desiring someone else’s virtue or happiness as rejecting it, taking offense at the beauty of it.” -Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson.

***
Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren F. Winner

I have loved several of Lauren Winner’s other books, especially her conversion memoir “Girl Meets God,” so I was very curious about “Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis.” Written out of the spiritual torment she faced grieving her mother’s death and doubting her faith in a difficult marriage resulting in an (admittedly) unjustifiable divorce, Winner tells her raw story of doubt and faith. Many times, it seemed that her “journal-entryish” writing (like CS Lewis’ “A Grief Observed,” but a bit more organized) left me feeling emotionally brutalized along with her – doubt is a painful thing, and it hurt to read about, too. In both knowing personally that Christian marriage is not all picnics and rainbows, and walking alongside a dear friend in the aftermath of marital dissolution, I have a hard time feeling sympathy for the trauma Winner faced after leaving her husband. I don’t know the whole story behind that, but I do know she reflected on those grave choices with honesty and renewed faith. It’s not as though she can go back and change it, and I am grateful God meets us where we are instead of where we should be. In many ways, this book reminds us that life is tough and God, though sometimes hard to understand, is good. Winner writes with a haunting narrative voice and her words are thought-provoking in some ways I didn’t expect. For that reason I think it deserves mention here.

“The enthusiasms of my conversion have worn off. For whole stretches since the dream, since the baptism, my belief has faltered, my sense of God’s closeness has grown strained, my efforts at living in accord with what I take to be the call of the gospel have come undone. …And yet in those same moments of strained belief, of not knowing where or if God is, it has also seemed that the Christian story keeps explaining who and where I am, better than any other story I know. … I doubt; I am uncertain; I am restless, prone to wander. And yet glimmers of holy keep interrupting my gaze.” (‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ John 6:68, esv.) – Still, by Lauren F. WInner.

I have a few things on my summer reading list already (Eric Metatexas’ Bonhoeffer biography is in progress, Return of the King by Tolkien, the Huger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden, and Great Expectations by Dickens), but I’d love to hear more suggestions if you have any to offer!

Decluttering: What to do with bad books?

During recent months of working towards the elusive goal of having less stuff, I’ve given away more than half our books. As educated and literate people with mild pack-rat tendencies, we have accumulated more books than necessary and I was excited to pare down our collection. I was surprised how easy this was, maybe because we have access to multiple libraries, online bookstores and our Kindle.

For the most part, the book-sorting process was very straightforward. Since I can donate to the library for a tax deduction I decided against gambling with used book sales online, and most of the books easily sorted between “keep” and “donate.”

Any book I questioned was put in an “undecided” sack. But then I came back and started thumbing through them and realized they promoted some disturbing themes. I’m not trying to go all Farenheit 411 bookburning here, I have no reason to keep them and I’m not comfortable donating if someone else might take these ideas seriously. So the lonely books sit on my closet floor and I haven’t decided what to do about it.

Out of this wacky collection, the most ludicrous volume is Music and Morals: Dispelling the Myth that Music is Amoral, by Kimberly Smith. I used this as part of a broad research base for my senior thesis in college and I distinctly remember sharing some great laughs with my advisor at the ridiculous material we found here.

The basic premise of this book is that hymns and western classical music written before 1820 inherently honor God while other styles do not. This hits close to home for me because I love the music she favors, but the author makes outrageous and illogical arguments to support her false belief. Arguing that Christians should only sing and listen to her “God-honoring” music, she claims newer music causes people to move sensually (a term she uses interchangeably with “immorally”), says jazz is the musical equivalent of a one-night-stand, and blames contemporary music for teenagers developing romantic intentions towards their peers at youth group. Most disturbingly, this book subtly promotes racist values by excluding the rich musical traditions of Asia, Africa, South America and any other cultures from her rigid definition of “moral” music. (I’m pretty sure if God made people all over the world, He’s glorified in music that comes from all over the world, too.)

I suppose my fear is not so much that one would take this book seriously, but that they might think Christians like me take this book seriously. It makes my whole religion look bad. I have a handful of books I won’t read again but don’t want to promote – so what do you think is the best solution here? Trash, burn, donate,  “accidentally” leave in garage so they are susceptible to water damage?

I might end up keeping this one around after all, just for laughs. After reading this next blurb, I must wonder what she would say about how often I sing Old McDonald with kids in music class:

Popular Music/Animal Music (1900+) Directed to the Undisciplined and Unrestrained Passions of Man

“…Some of the music and dances of this time had animal names, and America learned such dances as the Jitterbug, the Fox-trot, the Monkey, and the Funky Chicken. This parallels the theory that evolutionists believe humans to be nothing more than educated animals.”

the holy words will fall inside

I barely slept last night because it was so hot in our house. We are outrageously frugal with our air conditioning. I mean, as long God made cold glasses of ice water, electric fans and clinical strength anti-perspirants,  why should we start shelling out buku bucks to cool our home while most of the world lives in shacks without any sort of temperature control at all? We won’t close the windows and adjust the thermostat, we pledge, until we feel like we are absolutely dying. Friends, that moment of surrender came this morning about 12:45 when we realized the bedroom had not cooled down enough in two hours for either one of us to sleep a wink. In the insanity and boredom, we had a middle of the night pillow fight that finally wore us out enough to break into fitful dozing until the morning. Needless to say, I was completely exhausted and unexcited about most of life all day. After work I saw that a big box of books came, and I lazily thumbed through each one a bit in some effort to decide which one to read first.
Amidst the weariness I found myself so refreshed reading this paragraph, from my now top-of-the-list book:

“I was twenty-seven when I first read the story about the Hasidic rabbi who told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. A woman asked him, “But why on our hearts instead of in them?” The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your hearts, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.”
– “the scent of water” by naomi zacharias

I’m really looking forward to reading this and I’ll be sure to share my thoughts on it when I’m through. Have you been reading lately, and reading the sorts of books that really make you think?