Friday, January 24, 2014

Birth

I thought this description of Dr. Zhivago's wife after she had delivered their first child was a beautiful picture of birth.

"Squirming on the palm of the nurse's hand lay a tender squealing, tiny human creature, stretching and contracting like a dark red piece of rubber....Tonia lay exhausted in the cloud of her spent pain. To Yurii Andreievich she seemed like a barque lying at rest in the middle of a harbor after putting in and being unloaded, a barque that plied between an unknown country and the continent of life across the waters of death with a cargo of immigrant new souls. One such soul had just been landed, and the ship now lay at anchor, relaxed, its flanks unburdened and empty. The whole of her was resting, her strained masts and hull, and her memory washed clean of the image of the other shore, the crossing and landing."
- from Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Baby Walter, 19 November 2013

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Little New Year's Thought

Radio in the car on Christmas eve: "In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world..."
Me: "I'd guess that Caesar's census was about as obnoxious then as Obamacare is now."
Caleb: "Probably worse..."

But think what God did through that obnoxious census. Don't underestimate what He might do in and under our own national annoyances. 

Happy New Year wishes to all!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Good Parenting Advice

"We evangelize children through the years by confronting them with the Gospel. Let them live with people whom Christ has saved, people who live Christ-centered lives. Let the children never question the power of God to change men and women. Let them hear the stories of God and Jesus in which people were saved.  Let them hear the stories of the church in mission. Let them experience failure, that they may realize that man cannot save himself.  Let them ask God for forgiveness, that they may experience the answer to their faith in God. The life of a child in a Christian home may be full of blessings such as Jesus declared in His Sermon on the Mount, full of discouraging sinning experiences, full of forgiveness, full of promises from God, and full of pulls of the Holy Spirit to take the narrow way. All these are leading the child on toward God."

- from Christian Education in the Home by Alta Mae Erb, 1963

Monday, October 21, 2013

That Masculine Strength

Here's a delightful tidbit of Lewis from the last book in his space trilogy - That Hideous Strength. The Director's words to the doubting, searching Jane gave me a fresh perspective on how my girl's life has been drastically changing as I've married a man and am now preparing to have a boy child. Maleness and femaleness are much deeper than biology and we oughtn't to run from what God intended these realities to do in our lives. 

Here's the Director's response to the unhappily married Jane, who is realizing, with some disturbance, that masculinity is not the primitive and barbarian thing she once thought it to be:
"There is no escape [from being invaded by the masculine]. If it were a virginal rejection of the male, He would allow it. Such souls can bypass the male and go on to meet something far more masculine, higher up, to which they must make a yet deeper surrender.  But your trouble has been what the old poets called Daungier. We call it Pride. You are offended by the masculine itself: the loud, irruptive, possessive thing - the gold lion, the bearded bull - which breaks through hedges and scatters the little kingdom of your primness as the dwarfs scattered the carefully made bed. The male you could have escaped, for it exists only on the biological level.  But the masculine none of us can escape.  What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it..."
I love these words - not only for how they give me a healthy perspective on my own life, but also for how they fly like a fresh wind in the face of current reasoning about the legitimacy of homosexuality. I'm not like Jane in that I'm quite happy to be married to a real masculine person. But words that can pull one person from disapproval to appreciation, can also move another person from vague appreciation to hearty appreciation, and that's what they did for me.

The conversation continues:
"...You had better agree with your adversary quickly."
"You mean I shall have to become a Christian?" said Jane.
"It looks like it," said the Director.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Lean Hard

I have mixed feelings about my copy of the classic devotional, Streams in the Desert. Sometimes it hits the heart of things just right, and sometimes it seems to totally miss the point of an obscurely considered text. But I've plugged away at it, and am sometimes rewarded with treasures like this poem - the kind of piece that you read and suddenly have urges to plaster on every flat surface because it's too good to not think about all the time. It's really just a call to prayer, but sometimes we need to be told to pray in ways that remind us what exactly that is, and why the duty is our most precious privilege.

Child of my love, lean heard
And let me feel the pressure of thy care;
I know thy burden, child, I shaped it;
Poised it in Mine Own hand; made no proportion
In its weight to thine unaided strength,
For even as I laid it on, I said,
"I shall be near, and while she leans on Me,
This burden shall be Mine, not hers;
So shall I keep My child within the circling arms
Of My Own love." Here lay it down, nor fear
To impose it on a shoulder which upholds
The government of worlds. Yet closer come:
Thou art not near enought. I would embrace thy care;
So I might feel My child reposing on my breast.
Thou lovest Me? I knew it. Doubt not then;
But loving Me, lean hard.

- from Streams in the Desert by L. B. Cowman


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Under the Rainbow

Have you seen the banner for the Gay Pride movement?


It's nearly a dumb question, because nearly no one hasn't seen the signature rainbow flag - in college dorm windows, on bumper stickers, on television news reports, etc. I've seen plenty of them, and noticed another on a bumper sticker this morning as I was walking up Liberty Street. I've always gotten the message the movement is trying to send with their colorful stripes - "We like diversity and we accept everyone and it's a big happy party".

But this morning, for some reason, the flag on that bumper sticker sent me a different message.
It's a rainbow.
The rainbow is a sign of God's covenant mercy and patience with man's perversity:

"... the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22 ESV)
When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh." (Genesis 9:14-15 ESV)

Isn't it amazing? That a movement seeking to promote a lifestyle that goes against what God created them to be, a movement marching proudly into the last frontiers of man's heart that "is evil from his youth", should do so under the banner of God's patiently withheld judgment?

This morning the gay pride bumper sticker with its bright rainbow colors said to me, "God is patient with you - sinners, both homosexual and 'straight'- not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance." It said, "We are a nation under judgment - but oh, of what a patient and merciful God". Incredible that rebels against a good King should march under the sign of His longsuffering. But we cannot wave the sign of God's promised mercy in His face as we disobey Him forever. The Lord is not a God to be mocked, but to be glorified for both his patience and his justice.

"For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 
(2 Peter 3:5-13 ESV)

Someday, people who marched under the rainbow flag will stand with others who abhorred that striped banner - both worshiping before the rainbow-encircled throne, glorifying God for His mercy, for they have all been washed and sanctified and justified by the blood of the Son of God. But that will only happen if God's mercy leads them to repentance here.  Think of it next time you see a rainbow flag.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What I Thought of Harry Potter

I've heard of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling for years, in contexts of widely-varying opinion. Many praised them highly. Many judged them severely. I just ignored them, having better things to do - until I realized that, as they were becoming somewhat of a 'classic', the boy child we are expecting might want to read them someday. I felt a need to see for myself what this much-loved wizard boy story was made of. So I read the first book in the series - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I felt that reading one book entirely was sufficient to form my judgment of the spirit and quality of the series, if not sufficient to make a comprehensive literary judgment of Rowling's plot.

Since the Harry Potter books are frequently lumped with the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis as well-crafted magic literature for children, I found myself comparing and contrasting Harry Potter's world with Lewis's Narnia as I read. The differences were striking, especially at points where the story elements seemed most similar. While my critique is not a thorough comparison/contrast between the two series (I haven't read the one entirely, after all), I have made a few comparisons throughout. My critique is mainly a criticism, since I was largely displeased with the spirit of the book, but I think each of the criticisms are significant.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was not a chore to read. Rowling knows how to craft a good story. The plot skeleton of the first book is actually similar to many classic kid's adventure/ mystery stories, but the clever layers of fantastical elements - goblins, flying brooms, wands, spells, etc. -  over the classic plot make it uniquely fascinating. Harry Potter himself is very ordinary, human and likable for being so extraordinary, and in my opinion, his boyish, courageous character is the chief appeal of the book.

Rowling seems to have attempted to portray in Harry Potter the classic battle between good and evil that parents and educators love to find in children's books. However, I believe the book is a marked failure in this respect. There is a definite evil - referred to as the 'dark side', but the good opposing is not defined biblically, as is Lewis's good against evil in the Narnia series. Narnia's 'good magic' is a holy power, used in submission to authority, and is made of entirely different 'stuff' than the 'bad magic' of the evil side.  The 'good guys' use of magic in Harry Potter is sometimes just as self-directed and unsubmissive to authority as that of the 'dark side'.  Characters repeatedly take supernatural matters into their own hands and use magic to do what they want -which is specifically what Scripture condemns when it forbids witchcraft and sorcery. (1 Chron 10:13, 1 Sam 15:23)  The Pevensie children in the Narnia series learned to love and submit to Aslan's magic - it was not given to them to use as they pleased, but only worked rightly when they obeyed him.  Harry Potter's magic skills are his own and echo every sinful child's desire to be able to do what they please and be their own authority. Potter's lovable, courageous character does not atone for this flaw to make him a hero I would set before my children. "To obey is better than sacrifice" seems to be the last lesson on Rowling's mind.

Hogwarts, the school where Potter learns wizardry is populated not only by students and professors (some of whom are witches), but by ghosts (are they good or evil?) and a demonic creature called Peeves who is simply allowed to exist there. I was impressed by a sense of the unholy as I followed Harry Potter and his friends through the halls of Hogwarts. Imaginary beings that children are taught to regard as evil are portrayed as tolerable, sensible authority figures, or normal (though irritating) companions. I couldn't help but think that the old hag killed by the brave Narnians in the mound of Prince Caspian would have probably been a respected professor at Hogwarts.  In the Narnia books, witches, ghosts and other ugly/demonic spirit-like creatures are always on the dark side, but the lines between holy and unholy in Harry Potter are muddy. Defining good vs. evil as 'brave and generous vs. selfish and cruel' is nice, but not sufficient if there is no  'pure and obedient vs. impure and disobedient'. It is the good and evil of humanism, but not of Scripture.

Another major flaw I found in the characters of Harry Potter was their un-rebuked sinful attitudes. Obviously, no children's book is good with polly-plum-perfect characters, but the hero's flaws need to be seen as flaws and not as acceptable qualities. Lying to authorities to get out of trouble, repeatedly breaking rules for one's own ends, and maintaining hateful, vengeful attitudes towards troublesome people are sins Potter and his friends commit in their heroic adventures, but these are all seen as normal young people's behavior, atoned for by the good they end up achieving in the end. Again, Harry Potter's version of "To obey is better than sacrifice" is "To sacrifice is better than to obey", and the story is constructed in such a way that it works. There is no sober, holy Aslan to confront Harry with his heart at the end, but only the prospect of Harry's summer holiday, rich with opportunities to torment his beastly cousin with newly-learned magic skills.

A last criticism of Harry Potter is one that seems less important, but is still weighty - that is the emphasis on ugliness rather than beauty. Humorous, droll, awe-inspiring or creepy descriptions of ugliness or weirdness fill the pages, but descriptions of genuine beauty are sparse and mostly limited to descriptions of the wizard's grand buildings or meals. Glimpses of appreciation for natural beauty, which are usually sprinkled throughout good children's books, are remarkably absent in the first volume of the Harry Potter series. This is merely a reflection of the growing focus on ugliness in children's literature as a whole, and the accompanying avoidance of real, heart-touching beauty. Ugliness can be funny or exciting or scary. It doesn't demand the observer to grow up. Real beauty demands our sobriety It makes one mindful of God and holiness. Lewis knew how to express beauty to children in his Narnia series. Rowling seems to write for children who don't care about that stuff anymore. Power, thrills and action, humor and horror - yes, but beauty and holiness - no. We're more comfortable with ghosts and goblins, actually.


So why is this book popular? My prudish-sounding answer is that it appeals to sinful human nature, especially that of young people. We all desire to be better than other people, to have special powers that others don't have, to be admired and intelligent, and to do what we want and be heroes in the end, without needing to repent of our sinful desires. Harry Potter lets us live in a world with a boy like that, and watch him succeed despite great opposition. It's a fun escape, but unlike better book-journeys, it is not an exalting one. It left me just as base, greedy and earthy as when I picked it up, but with just enough inspiration to heroism to feel good.

I did reap one benefit from this book though. I was able to critically compare myself throughout the book to Hermione, Potter's annoyingly task-driven, nosy, mothery and overbearing fellow student. The evening after finishing it, I stopped myself mid-nag in a conversation with my husband (who has also read Harry Potter) and apologized for being Hermione. It made him laugh and I was glad I read the book.

That evening, however, our Bible reading was Psalm 101. That finalized my decision that I wouldn't choose to read any more Harry Potter books or recommend them to my children. Read it. Holiness is more important than entertainment. I won't deny I was entertained by Harry Potter, but I need holiness more, and thankfully there are other places (like Narnia) to find a bit of both.