reading round-up returns!

[What We’re Up To]
This week started with Aaron home for the MLK holiday, so we painted the ceilings in the entire upstairs of the house, and then spent a huge (for us) amount of money purchasing new flooring for the main floor. We’re cutting off the bottom of our door casings to prepare for the installation, and Max is extremely helpful in his supervisory role.
photo 1Aaron is working even more than he did during his PhD, which makes for very rough days and sloooow progress on the DIY front, but when we actually can work on a project, it’s a great way to spend time together and (bonus) have a better-looking house.

We also had a noteworthy birthday for Aaron — the big 30! — celebrated with his favorite dessert, Guinness Cake. I had forgotten he didn’t like icing on it, so now I am left with an entire bowl of homemade frosting in the fridge. Forget the “Whole30 Food Challenge” so many people are doing in January… I’m just trying not to gain a Whole 30 Pounds lick-by-lick off the spatula.

[Surfing the Web] 
Mommy-Blogs: There’s a big thing I wondered about how motherhood would change me: would I start enjoying “Mommy Blogs”? After five months, the answer is still NO.  I know now that wasn’t  that I couldn’t read them because I was so sad about not having a baby myself… It was just that, beyond the fact of my own desires to have a baby, I still thought reading regular things about other people’s kids were kind of boring. Every so often I’ll find an article or post that resonates, like They Should’ve Warned Me, which beautifully mirrors my own experiences with a baby, but I still skip posts about “basic updates on pregnancy and child growth/development.”  I do really, really like kids, I just don’t find it particularly noteworthy or entertaining that some stranger’s five month old can roll over. (I, of course, gush over Annie’s milestones to my mother on a near-daily basis.) I also have problems with monetized mommy blogs, which usually make me feel like the child’s privacy has been violated, and I don’t see the point of making money because you took pictures of your kids eating spaghetti or something like that. Hannah Anderson’s article on “Women’s Discipleship and the Mommy Blogosphere” communicates some of my previously unarticulated frustrations about how often legalism flourishes in that setting, with a noted lack of sound theology and critical thinking in most cases.
Life and Death: I thought we would have some family funerals this year, and three weeks in to 2015, I’m on pins and needles expecting to hear of our second family loss. I’m still chewing through some of the thoughts on A Far Green Country: Looking Past Uncertainty Towards Eternity. And This post about how life is like a pregnancy and death is a birth is just… profound.
Christianity and Education: No matter where formal education takes place in our family, the curriculum will include a strong emphasis on formal logic and the creeds and catechism of historical Christianity. Here are 7 Reasons to Teach our Children Church History from an evangelical perspective. And this article about the theological differences in the Christology of orthodox Christianity and Mormonism is, in my opinion, a fabulous illustration about the necessity of critical thinking and a thorough understanding about whether a difference is “denominational” or “ultimate.” How many people would read the statements about Jesus from the Mormon perspective and think they were consistent with evangelical teaching?

[People I Actually Know]
From my friend Hannah — What They Should Tell You When You Are Dating. (my alternative title: The Things People Who Believe In Courtship Forget About What It Takes To Sustain A Relationship For Your Entire Life. Other alternative title, if I had written it: Why I Will Encourage My Daughter To Date At Least A Few People Before She Gets Married.)

A chapter from The Jesus Storybook Bible and a complete read-through of the Pout-Pout Fish are daily occurrences. I love it.
I’m discussing Desiring God’s compilation “Mom Enough” with some friends, and enjoying a more balanced look at motherhood in light of the gospel than is promoted in most Christian arenas. You can download a PDF for free!
I’m working through What’s Best Next by Matt Perman — definitely not aimed at stay-home-moms, which means it doesn’t always feel immediately applicable, but very useful thoughts on the gospel and productivity.

We sing lots from Andrew Peterson’s Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies, and we’ve been enjoying the original Fantasia on Netflix during the day. (That might count as watching? Annie definitely watches the screen. But it’s just classical music and fine art rolled in to one, right? So it’s like baby education multi-tasking?)

Here’s a look at ordinary (some gross, like the foot of a fly) things under a microscope.

Happy Weekend, friends!


reading round-up (11.15.13)

Conversations at home are talking a lot about risk right now, especially since I have come to describe life not as “stressful,” but as “risky,” and aim to have “the courage necessary to live well in risky situations.” I loved so many thoughts about how risk is The Surprising Ingredient to Creating a Pro-Life Culture from Tristyn Bloom, a junior at Yale.

Nearly two years ago at Christmastime, I sat at a cafe table with my friend Elyse, and while we hadn’t seen each other in four years, we have the sort of connection that allows (perhaps insists?) that the “synopsis of my spiritual journey since we last spoke” conversations should launch as soon as the coffee is poured. The discussion was refreshing and encouraging, and now you have the chance to get a small peek of what she shared there reflected in her article about how beauty and tradition in worship reflects the incarnation. While we don’t see exactly eye-to-eye or attend the same type of church, I’m enjoying so many thoughts she shared about the intersect of matter and spirit. The following commentary is particularly insightful in light of our recent unwelcoming church visit:

If church sanctuaries are merely places to hear music, see friends, and enjoy our morning coffee, there are other places where the music is better, the coffee is fresher, and the fellowship less forced.

(Special note – relevant because of her article’s content and title – we met doing drama in high school, playing Nuns in The Sound of Music. She is now married to the guy who played Captain Von Trapp. Ha!)

One of the books that didn’t survive my pre-moving purge was Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, which I received as a gift several years ago, and I’ve wondered since if it would have been better in the recycling bin than as a Goodwill donation. (Not the first time I’ve dealt with discarding bad books.) My friend Emily and I lamented once that it embodied everything wrong with evangelical women’s ministry, promoting the idea that reading the actual Bible is too hard for girls and that in our supposed delicacy we can only be drawn closer to God by reading fluffy things about how much he loves us. Not, of course, that Scripture isn’t hard, or that God doesn’t love us. But. You know. There is just a lot more grit and salt and excitement in all the fullness and sufficiency of what God has already communicated. Also… there are major, major issues with someone claiming to speak the words of Jesus. Problematic all around! So I loved discovering this article by Kathy Keller that lays it all out there, and I feel so relieved to know I’m not just being cynical about popular devotional materials!

For some animal funnies, we both laughed at these Elk in someone’s backyard. I’m not saying he’s fat, just that he’s probably over the weight limit on that trampoline…

listening in the wilderness

I feel strange about taking Lent seriously this year because, on the surface, I’m mostly participating on my own. This isn’t something my church (or even my husband) is observing, and so I find myself feeling a little misplaced. I know many people in evangelical circles might argue against Lenten practices like extra church services, fasting and “giving things up.”  And regardless of one’s stance on observing liturgical seasons, every Christian would agree that faith is an internal work of God, not external, not of ourselves. I believe there is much value in traditional celebrations like this, because corporate expressions of faith that spring out from the genuine belief of individuals are a strong witness of our Christian unity and devotion. And though the people I spend my day-to-day life with aren’t really walking on this road with me, I’ve found encouragement that I am actually not alone. Since this Lent thing is something many Christians all over the world are doing right now, too, by setting aside a few weeks as a significant season of prayer and repentance in my own life, I’ve found common ground with friends and family who worship in a variety of traditions and styles very different from my own.

One of my dear Lent-observing friends, Bethany, is a treasure all her own. We met when I was leading her freshman bible study in college and really hit it off over some cookie-baking in my apartment. I always felt those bible study girls taught me more than I ever hoped to teach them, and my friendship with Bethany consistently reminds me of this unexpected blessing. I continue appreciating her beautiful articulations of faith and life, especially recently while reading the same copy of the Bible I used when we studied together, rediscovering profound “Bethany Kj” commentary scribbled in the margins.

While she blogs occasionally about teaching, literature, food, church, and having a cool apartment, Bethany agreed to share some “serious” reflections about Lent here. Her thoughts on this topic began at a young age with the traditional soup dinners and extra services at her Missouri-Synod Lutheran church, and today she finds Lent observance as an encouragement in the midst of weariness and brokenness. In reading this, I found myself thinking of the seventh chapter in Romans where Paul talks about wrestling with the “body of death,” which is what we do during Lent, and praises God that the solution is in Jesus and the resurrection.

“Thoughts on Lent,” from Bethany Kjergaard.
My earliest memories of Lent are sense memories. I remember the smell of the soup for the communal supper before the service (I didn’t eat soup, too picky). I remember the early darkness. We would arrive to church at twilight, and we would leave just before my bedtime. I remember snatches of the liturgy we sang (“let my prayers rise up like incense before you”). The hymns we sang during these Wednesday night services were much more melancholy than the ones we sang on Sunday morning. The services were much shorter too.

As I grew older, Lent became one of my favorite seasons of the church year. Last year I don’t think I missed a Lenten service (and I really don’t like going to church all that much). I think I treasure Lent because normally I feel that I’m supposed to pull it together for church each week. We are exhorted to be joyful in the Lord. Most Sundays I’m surrounded by happy, smiling people. Not so during Lent. During this season I can take the time to be grief-stricken at my sin and my hard heart. I don’t have to “fake it until I make it.” Rather, I can look around me and see that I am broken and the world is broken. As a Christian, one of the most difficult things is looking at the world around me and realizing that while Christ came and was resurrected and lives, it often does not seem that he has made much of a difference. We still have wars, poverty, and famine. The universal church does a lot of good things and a lot of bad things. Time marches onward.

I’ve been reading different meditations on Lent and what this season ought to mean to us. One of the most powerful comes from St. Benedict, and it is the idea of the New Adam and the Old Adam. Old Adam fell and was cast out of paradise into the wilderness. Humanity wandered in this “wilderness” until the New Adam (Christ) journeyed out into the wilderness to bring him back. Lent is recognition that although our path has been made known to us, we are still in the wilderness, the darkness of this world.

I think the darkness of the church during these services made the biggest impact on me. It was very dim with only the altar candles lit. Bernard Clairvaux commented that sin entered the world through sight (Eve being tempted by the beauty of the fruit), but salvation comes through the hearing of the Word. Darkness certainly obscures sight, but it cannot stifle sound. Lent is a time that allows me to admit that I am fallen, in the wilderness, in the darkness and yet despite that I can listen.

giving up

A little over a week into Lent, I’m surprised at how scattered my thoughts about self-denial and repentance remain. I suppose it’s not a very fun thing to think about. At least with the other “big” Church season of Advent, we prepare for the revelation of Word made flesh while planning holiday menus and anticipating the spiritual experience of getting loads of loot. Not so with Lent! For nearly two thousand years, Christians have spent forty days in repentance and self-denial preparing to observe the most extreme series of events in human history: Jesus’ undeserved betrayal and gruesome death that make way for the eternal victory of His resurrection.

It can be rightly said that this is a special season of grief for sin and brokenness in ourselves and the world, and turning away from these things back to God. Of course we should seek repentance at all times, but that doesn’t make Lent irrelevant. There is much to gain in approaching this corporately and systematically — or, to use the evangelical lingo, “in community” and “intentionally.”  Compared to our full observance of Christmas (and sometimes Advent), we evangelicals tend to tend to sweep Lent and Easter under the rug. Perhaps this is further evidence of our own brokenness, indicating that we don’t always take the the death and resurrection of Christ as seriously as his birth.

My thoughts and convictions on this topic are still not fully formed, but mostly my point here is that these forty days are a special time of examining my own heart and orienting myself more fully towards the gospel. In giving up small things – this year, it’s sleeping in past six o’clock and using the computer after dinner – I’m more aware of how much I hang on to and how much Christ gave up for me. And I’ve failed at one or both of these things every day. This teaches me even more about my own rebellion and powerlessness, and how much I must cling to God in all things. I want Lent to be a big deal because these tangible experiences help break me out of my own fallen perspective and emotions. Rightly understanding my own state of helplessness and defeat is the only way I can rightly understand what the gospel means. In Lent, when I turn my heart towards sorrow for sin and grief for all that brokenness has wrought in my life and the world, I gain a deeper understanding of St. Paul writing: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive!” and the traditional liturgy stating: “Thus we proclaim the mystery of faith – Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ is coming again!”

Though “giving up something for Lent” alone is meaningless, with a contrite heart the tradition of fasting and denial teaches us about surrender, sacrifice, and salvation. These lessons are profoundly valuable. I’m glad to be observing Lent this year, because I know in “giving up”  little things  to make room for greater devotion to God, I’m learning more about giving up entirely.

“…whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” – Matthew 10:39, esv.

Thou art the journey

I love this prayer from Boethius, a 6th century Christian:

O Father, give the spirit power to climb
To the fountain of all light, and be purified.
Break through the mists of earth, the weight of the clod,
Shine forth in splendor, Thou that art fair weather,
And quiet resting place for faithful souls.
To see Thee is the end and the beginning,
Thou carriest us, and Thou dost go before,
Thou art the journey, and the journey’s end.

-Boethius, c. 480-524 AD.

(photo found here)

fire at Slane Hill

I have many reasons to love St. Patrick’s Day. Although my strongest ethnic identity comes from my Finnish grandfather who blessed us with Saunas and Kropsu and loose familial ties to the “Flying Finn” Paavo Nurmi, I can celebrate this day whole-heartedly because I’m about one-quarter Irish. I love beer, corned beef and cabbage. I love the color green. And if it were possible for an annoying little red-haired leprechaun to give me a pot of gold, I would be in favor of that. I do have a kitchen to remodel.

I also love the nerdy and sacred historical basis for this celebration. The exact details are sketchy, but it’s widely accepted that teenage Patrick was kidnapped from his home in Scotland and taken captive to tend sheep for a druid master in Ireland in the 400’s. In the six years (My God! I whine about much shorter trials nearly every day!) of his slavery, he gave his heart over to God in prayer and was so intimately connected to the Lord that he recounted praying at least one hundred times a day in all weather and all circumstances. These circumstances were pretty awful, being kidnapped to live outdoors as a shepherd and enslaved to a druid master.  In his sixth year of captivity, God led him to run away from his captors and he escaped to be with his family again. Happy ending? Not yet. He was then trained as a priest and called to go back to spread Christianity in Ireland. Legend says he dreamed of the people of Ireland calling him to come and preach to them. (This wasn’t the first time someone heard their call to mission in a dream…)  He brought the gospel to the country of Ireland and ministered effectively throughout the land for 28 years, inestimably blessed by a full knowledge of their language and religious customs. He is famous for lighting a fire on Slane Hill the night before Easter to represent the light of Christ – this against the direct commands of the pagan rulers celebrating a Spring Equinox festival.  The fire burned brightly and incited a showdown with the pagan ruler and his men, but by the power of God, Patrick preached the gospel to the whole pagan army on Easter morning.

The Irish tune Slane is named after the memory of Slane Hill where Patrick shone the light of Christ and proclaimed his death and resurrection on Easter Sunday. We often sing it with the words of the song Be Thou My Vision. It’s a wonderful hymn, and I especially love the “hidden” verse you almost never hear sung in church:
Be Thou my battle-shield, sword for my fight
Be Thou my dignity, Be my delight!
Thou my soul’s shelter, Thou my high tower
Raise Thou me heavenward, O power of my power.
(Be Thou My Vision, English translation by Eleanor Hull)

We also have a prayer from St. Patrick which includes the following stanzas:
I bind unto myself today:
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name:
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

So. If you think of all this when celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, you will see that drinking beer can be a very spiritual experience.