Book Review: Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Karen Swallow Prior is a professor of English at Liberty University. In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, she shares how books taught and influenced her throughout her life.

Books have formed the soul of me. I know that spiritual formation is of God, but I also know—mainly because I learned it from books—that there are other kinds of formation, too, everyday gifts, and that God uses the things of this earth to teach us and shape us, and to help us find truth (p. 10).

In commenting on her parents being pretty free in what they allowed her to read, Karen says:

It seems to be to be an entirely negative, not to mention ineffective, strategy to shield children from reality rather than actively expose them to the sort of truth that merges organically from the give-and-take of weighing and reckoning competing ideas against one another (p. 14).

That sounds a lot like Hebrews 5:14 (ESV): “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Karen goes on to say:

Books meet with disapproval because of their objectionable content. Wisdom, however, considers not only what a book says (its content), but how it says it (its form). Just as important–or perhaps more important than–whether a book contains questionable themes like sex or violence or drugs or witchcraft or candy is how those topics are portrayed. Are they presented truthfully in terms of their context and their consequences? Are dangerous actions, characters, or ideas glamorized in such a way that makes them enticing? (pp. 14-15).

Karen came to these conclusions not only from her own experience, but also from John Milton’s Areopagitica, a tract against censorship. Milton’s fellow Puritans wanted to ban books that they deemed unworthy. Milton argued instead that books should be “promiscuously read.” “Promiscuous” did not have the sexual connotations then that it does today: it just meant “indiscriminate mixing” (p. 22).

The essence of Milton’s argument is that truth is stronger than falsehood; falsehood prevails through the suppression of countering ideas, but truth triumphs in a free and open exchange that allows truth to shine (p. 10).

Milton goes on to argue that “our faith and knowledge thrives by exercise,” that “Moses, Daniel, and Paul . . . were steeped in the writings of their surrounding pagan cultures,” and even bad books “to a discreet and judicious reader serve in many respects to discover, to confute, to forewarn, to illustrate”(pp. 22-23). He asserts, “Truth is strong . . . Let her and falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?” (pp. 23-24).

I don’t think either Milton or Karen are saying that “anything goes.” But we don’t have to restrict our reading to just that with which we already agree. Karen quotes 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “Test all things and hold fast that which is good” (p. 22).

I’ve spent the most time on this first chapter because I found it so fascinating. I don’t remember exactly when I started to come to some of these same conclusions– I think maybe during or not long after college. I realized that the Bible itself contains what many would consider objectionable elements, but it handles them in a way that does not glorify sin but exposes truth.

Karen goes on to discuss several different literary works and how they influenced her thinking. Charlotte’s Web had much in common with her own childhood and her grandparents’ farm (though her pet rooster wasn’t granted the same reprieve as Wilbur). Gerald Manley Hopkins’s “Pied Beauty” revealed the unexpected beauty found in surprising places. Jane Eyre’s quest to become her own person rather than Rochester’s mistress or St. John’s missionary wife gave insight to Karen’s emerging self between eighth-grade cliques. Vocation, sexuality, faith, doubt, love, and marriage were likewise informed by Karen’s reading.

I greatly enjoyed Karen’s discussion of books I was familiar with. Her chapter on Gulliver’s Travels helped clear up aspects of the book I had been confused about. Her discussion of Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Madame Bovary made me want to read both of those books. I knew the former was about a girl in Victorian times who got pregnant and the latter was about an adulteress, and I had figured both would be somewhat risque.  But Tess has to do with purity of heart. Either due to naivete or rape, she had gotten pregnant, which at that time meant she was “ruined.” Yet Hardy presents her purer of heart than the society that so harshly judged her. And Madame Bovary shows Emma’s struggle between the idealized life she longed for that would never be true while she missed the joys of everyday reality.

Madame Bovary changed my worldview. It made me realize that happiness is in here, not out there. That the imperfect love of a real person is far greater than the perfect love that exists only in fairy tales or movies. That living happily-ever-after begins with embracing life–not fleeing to fantasies–today (pp. 176-177).

Karen mentions throughout the book that she grew up in a home with believing parents and regular church attendance. Though she “asked Jesus into her heart” at a young age, she led a double life of sex, drugs, and drinking. She realized as an adult that she had never asked Jesus into her mind, and the Bible tells us to love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind. Furthermore, she realized that repentance involves a change of mind that results in a change of actions. While much of the book tells how God brought her to this place step by step, I wish she had included a little more about how this change came about from professing faith to really embracing it for herself.

I will warn some readers that Karen is quite frank about some of her thinking and activities in this split part of her life. But I think it’s important to realize that many young people (and even older people) are the same way, and hearing their stories will help us understand them better.

A few more quotes that stood out to me:

In focusing my attention on things much bigger than myself, ironically, I learned who I was. It’s the lesson, once again, that beholding is becoming (p. 142).

[Jonathan] Swift’s orthodox theology led him to a realistic understanding that all of man is fallen, and this includes man’s reason . . . His method was to expose the errors of rationalism by taking it to its logical extreme (p. 129).

I wanted not only to comfort the young woman, but also to get her to see that talking about such an event in a book was a safe, constructive way of dealing with these issues (pp. 101-102).

I’d love to audit Karen’s classes. I enjoyed the insights she brought out from the various works she cited and how they influenced her own growth.

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Book Review: I’ll Watch the Moon

MoonIn the novel I’ll Watch the Moon by Ann Tatlock, 9-year-old Nova lives with her mother and 13-year-old brother in her aunt’s boarding house in 1948. Her mother works in a bakery by day and helps at the boarding house afterward. Nova’s mother is usually sad or angry, and Nova doesn’t know why until much later. Nova’s aunt, Dortha, is a woman of faith but has learned to choose her words carefully around her sister.

She was, you see, actually a loving and gentle woman. It’s just that she was lost, hidden way deep down inside somewhere, in a place of no light, the bottom of an ocean of too many hard years. And yet there were moments when she rose to the surface, breaking through the sadness and the anger like a diver coming up through murky waters. When I glimpsed her then, in those moments, I knew that this was the real Catherine Tierney, the good and kind woman, my mother, and someone I wouldn’t see very often because she had to work so very hard to find her way out of that dark inward place.

Nova’s brother, Dewey, is nicknamed Galileo because he loves astronomy and wants to be the first man on the moon. Nova and Dewy are exceptionally close, making it doubly hard for her to accept his going swimming without her. Their mother has strictly forbidden them to swim due to the possibility of getting polio, which was running rampant at the time. Dewy will risk it himself, but will not let Nova.

Other boardinghouse residents are a quiet Polish professor named Josef, a couple of show-business sisters, a middle-aged single lady, and a few others. One theme of the book is that every heart has its secrets sorrows, and some of these are revealed as the story progresses. And, as their stories come to light, and Nova goes through her own set of hard circumstances, another theme emerges: we often can’t explain why things happen the way they do. But we can trust God is with us.

“And if I curse him, Mrs. Tierney? What then? If I turn away from him, what do I turn toward?” Josef paused, shook his head slowly. “No. Better to keep one’s face toward heaven, even if you are angry with God, than to turn away and find nothing at all.”
___

Even a grain of hope can manage to eclipse a whole world of despair.
___

“Until then you can put yourself in the hands of God—he’ll see you through. You can take it from someone who knows, dear. I’ve found his hands to be an easy place to rest.”

I had read this book some years ago, evidently before I had a blog. I couldn’t remember much about it, so I bought a copy during a Kindle sale. Lou Ann’s recent review reminded me of it and brought it to the top of my TBR list. Interestingly, I was reading this just as our church was reading through Ecclesiastes, which often shares a similar theme: some things in this life don’t make sense, but we can trust God for what we can’t understand.

This was a wonderful story on many levels. I am so glad I read it again, and, this time, jotted down some of what I gleaned from it.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

 

Book Review: How Green Was My Valley

How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn is the story of a family in a Welsh mining village in the 1800s. The story begins with the narrator, Huw (pronounced like Hugh), looking back over his time in the valley just as he is getting ready to leave it as an older man.

Huw remembers his somewhat idyllic childhood. Most of the men in the valley worked in the coal mines. They’d come home en masse covered with coal dust, take a bath, and enjoy a fine meal prepared by their wives. Saturdays were special: payday. Every wife would dress in her second-best and bring a chair outside her door. Her husband would put his pay for the week in her lap. After a bath and a good dinner, then they’d go shopping.

Huw was the youngest son. Most of his brothers worked in the mines and contributed to the family coffers, so they were well-off, comparatively, and able to help others when times were hard. Huw was in an accident after which he could not walk for five years. Even after he could walk, his legs were spindly. Huw was educated by a village woman until she had taught him all she could. Then she prepared him for the national school. There he was a target, both because he was so slight and because he was the new kid. When he came home beat up, his father taught him how to defend himself.

Fighting was a big part of life then. People fought over slights, over speaking to a man’s daughter without asking his permission first, over just about any real or perceived infraction.

Huw’s memories trace the progression of his family, his own coming to manhood, Mr. Gruffydd (Griffith), the town minister, troubles and triumphs in town and at school. Trouble with the mines affected most of the families, and arguments flew back and forth about the best way to handle them. Some, including some of Huw’s brothers, were for unions, some for striking. And the slag heap, made up of waste from the mines, continually grew into a bigger blight on the landscape, eventually choking off life from the river and the land.

I’m not one to see symbolism behind every element in literature, but the slag heap is such a presence through the book that it must symbolize something. I’m not sure exactly what, though. Man’s progression, which so often ends up  harming his environment? Man’s inherent corruption, which affects everything he touches? Maybe a bit of both.

Llewellyn is a beautiful writer, with a musical lilt to much of his prose. I listened to the audiobook wonderfully narrated by Ralph Cosham, and enjoyed hearing the lyricism of the book that way. I also checked a print copy from the library and enjoyed rereading a few passages.

There is beauitful to watch a mountain sleeping, and other mountains in the other valleys rising up like bits of blue velvet to make you feel you could cut a piece and wear it for a coat, to dance in above the fat clouds.

O, there is lovely to feel a book, a good book, firm in the hand, for its fatness holds rich promise, and you are hot inside to think of good hours to come.

There is good a cup of tea is when you are feeling low. Thin, and plenty of milk, and brown sugar in the crystal, in a big cup so that when your mouth is used to the heat you can drink instead of sipping. Every part of you inside you that seems to have gone to sleep comes lively again. A good friend of mine is a cup of tea, indeed.

I knew she was laughing, but she looked as though she were crying, with golden tears unsteady in her eyes, and her eyes gone lovely blue to call for pity, big, and round, like a little girl wanting to be carried, and turning down her mouth, only a little not to be ugly, and a tremble in the chin, and with hair almost the colour of a new penny about her face and hanging down three feet, with stray ones shining like the strings of a harp across her eyes and down her cheeks.

There is a wholeness about a woman, of shape, and sound, and colour, and taste, and smell, a quietness that is her, that you will want to hold tightly to you, all, every little bit, without words, in peace, with jealousy for the things that escape the clumsiness of your arms. So you feel, when you love.

Men lose their birthrights for a mess of pottage only if they stop using the gifts given them by God for their betterment. By prayer. That is the first and greatest gift. Use the gift of prayer. Ask for strength of mind, and a clear vision. Then sense. Use your sense. …Think long and well. By prayer and good thought you will conquer all enemies.

Never mind what you feel. Think. Watch. Think again. And then one step at a time to put things right. As a mason puts one block at a time. To build solid and good. So with thought. Think. Build one thought at a time. Think solid. Then act.
____
Well,” my father said to her, and looked at her.

“Well,” my mother said to him, and looked at him.

In that quietness they were speaking their own language, with their eyes, with the way they stood, with what they put into the air about them, each knowing what the other was saying, and having strength one from the other, for they had been learning through forty years of being together, and their minds were one.”

When Huw was sent to take some things to a neighbor having a baby, he thought doctors brought babies in their bags. The daughter of the woman having the baby told him otherwise and brought him to a window to watch to prove her point. Traumatized, he went home, and eventually his parents found out. He thought he was going to get in trouble, but his father just said:

Listen to me. Forget all you saw. Leave it. Take your mind from it. It had nothing to do with you. But use it for experience. Now you know what hurt it brings to women when men come into the world. Remember, and make it up to your Mama and to all women. . . And another thing let it do . . . There is no room for pride in any man. There is no room for unkindness. There is no room for wit at the expense of others. All men are born the same, and equal. As you saw to-day, so come the Captains and the Kings and the Tinkers and the Tailors. Let the memory direct your dealings with men and women. And be sure to take good care of Mama.

Another interesting comment about women came when he and one sister had to do all the dishes for their large family, and he commented, “A man will never know a woman until he knows her work.”

One of the funniest parts was when the village school teacher came to the house to drill Huw before his examination for the English school. She gave him a math problem about how long it would take to fill up a bathtub with so many gallons going in and two holes letting so much out the bottom. Huw’s mother, a smart woman in her own right but not much on “book learning,” can’t get over the silliness of someone pouring water into a tub with holes. Then when they move on to decimals, she wants to know who came up with that idea and who says what that little dot is supposed to do.

One somewhat disturbing part was when a small girl was “ravaged,” and the men of the village sought him out and took his punishment into their own hands.

“To hand her murderer over to the police will give him an extra day to live, which your daughter was denied,” said Mr. Gruffydd. “He shall be fed and housed until the day he meets the rope, but your daughter will lie beneath the dead wreaths long before then, and the rope gives a good quick and clean, without blood, without pain, without torture of the soul and body. Is justice done, then, with a rope about the neck of a man, and his victim, a child of seven years, torn and twisted, long in her grave?”

“No,” said the crowd.

“Shall we burn him?” asked Mr. Gruffydd. “But if we do, he will die a death of honour, for martyrs died in the flame. What then?”

“Give him to me,” said Cynlais Pritchard.

“Is that your common decision?” Mr. Gruffydd asked the crowd.

“Yes,” they all shouted back.

“Take him,” said Mr. Gruffydd, “and as we do with him, so shall we do with the next, if next there is. And remember, if you bury him, however deep, you pollute innocent ground. Burden not the earth with such.”

Though the people were God-fearing, sadly, Huw saw Christ as only a man.

There is a smattering of “damns,” “hells,” and such. There is one description of teenage fondling and another of a sexual encounter that are written metaphorically, but still more graphically than I am comfortable with.

Though much of the book has a nostalgic feel, to me it ended up sad. Nearly everyone has passed on and the slag heap is about to crush what’s left. Huw muses:

But you have gone now, all of you that were so beautiful when you were quick with life. Yet not gone, for you are still a living truth inside my mind. So how are you dead, my brothers and sisters, and all of you, when you live with me as surely as I live with myself.

Llewellyn was of Welsh decent and portrayed this as something of his own history. After his death, it was discovered that he had not been in Wales until well after the book was published. He knew people from Welsh mining families and drew from their conversations.

The 1941 film version with Roddy McDowall and Maureen O’Hara remains popular even today. I saw it years ago but I remember little from it. I’d like to watch it again some time.

Book Review: The Fashion Designer

Fashion designer The Fashion Designer by Nancy Moser is a sequel to her book The Pattern Artist. I think the second book could be understood alone, but I encourage reading both of them.

In The Pattern Artist, which I read and reviewed last year, Annie Wood was a housemaid in England in 1911. She hoped her skill in sewing and designing would move her up to a lady’s handmaid. But the handmaids took credit for her work. Deciding there was no future for her in the Summerfield’s house, she decided on a trip to the US to strike out to pursue her own version of the American dream. She started out in the sewing department of Macy’s, then was hired on as a pattern artist for Butterick.

In the beginning of this new book, The Fashion Designer, Annie and a few friends from Butterick had quit their jobs to start a new company designing practical patterns for the everyday woman. But the lady who had enthusiastically promised to fund their endeavors inexplicably has a change of heart: she wants the women to design for her elite, upper crust friends and wants them to create patterns for a fashion show. At first Annie and her friends comply, but then bow out because their investor’s vision no longer matches their own.

After several discussions with her husband and the other women, they decide to try to open a store with dresses that people can buy off the rack but also have altered to fit if need be. They pool their resources to get started while they look for funding to continue. But all the financial avenues that seem promising end up closing.

Meanwhile, someone from Annie’s past at the manor house in England shows up seeking her own fresh start. Maude, one of Annie’s coworkers and partners, faces struggles in her relationships. She had vowed never to marry, for her own private reasons, but she meets someone who makes her wish she could change her mind. And a difference of opinion with Annie’s husband’s father puts a rift not only in their relationship, but between his parents as well.

Once again Nancy shared at the back of the book how some of her research informed the story and included facts and photos from the era. I especially enjoyed how she tied in Lane Bryant’s true story to intersect with Annie’s fictional one.

I enjoyed following along with Annie and Sean as they struggled to trust God for His wisdom and provision for the plans that they felt had come from Him.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Literary Musing Monday)

Book Review: The Wednesday Letters

Jack and Laurel Cooper were married for 39 years. The last few years they’ ran a bed-and-breakfast in VA. Jack had been battling cancer and knew his time was short. Laurel had heart issues they were both unaware of. At the end of the first chapter, Jack and Laurel died in each other’s arms.

The Coopers had three adult children. Matthew, the oldest, is a tightly wound businessman. Samantha, the only daughter, is a police officer who originally wanted to be an actress. Malcolm, the youngest, is a bit of a wild card, living in South America and writing a book at the time of his parents’ deaths.

As the three converge at their parents’ place and start going through papers, they discover a collection of letters. They had never known that their father wrote a letter to their mother every Wednesday of their marriage. Some are fun (especially one about a chance meeting with Elvis). Some recall daily or major events, some are silly, some are poignant. Some reveal deep and painful secrets that are of particular consequence to Malcolm. Can he forgive as his parents forgave?
___

I first saw this book advertised in the Victoria Trading Company catalog and thought it sounded interesting. Because it was in that catalog, I thought it would be from the Victorian era. Instead, it’s set in 1988. I don’t often take chances with modern secular fiction, unless I have heard favorable reviews from someone I trust, because it usually contains bad language or explicit scenes. But I decided to go ahead with this book. And I was pleasantly surprised. There were no objectionable elements, and the story was well-written and touching with an undercurrent of faith.

I did not know until after I finished the book and was looking for more information that the author is a Mormon. I have serious disagreements with much Mormon doctrine, but I didn’t pick up on anything of that nature in the story.

Book Review: She Makes It Look Easy

In the novel She Makes It Look Easy by Marybeth Whalen, Ariel Baxter is a stay-at-home mom and photographer. Her photography side business has taken off to such a degree that she and her husband can afford a nice new home in a neighborhood she has dreamed of living in for years. Though Ariel has her gifts, her life and home are disorganized and chaotic.

Through my lens I watched the dynamic of friendship play out among Heather and her friends: the familiarity laced with timidity, the chance to open up paired with the fear of being exposed, the awkward dance of really knowing another person. . . somehow the girls always found a way to come back together, to find what made them stick and hold on to that. I envied their natural rapport, the ease that can only come with time together. How ironic, I thought as I focused and clicked, that these girls already had what I couldn’t seem to find.

Ariel’s neighbor, Justine is one of those women who has it all together. She’s pretty, fit, perfectly made up for a pool party, her daughters wear matching outfits. She’s organized – she even has an organizing notebook! And she’s creative and speaks to her church’s ladies’ group.

Ariel is delighted that Justine deigns to befriend her and help her start organizing and exercising. As they spend more time together, Ariel is sometimes frustrated that Justine calls the shots in what they do. But she doesn’t want to jeopardize the friendship, so she goes along. She even acquiesces when Justine steers her away from another neighbor, Erica, whom Ariel actually likes.

As events unfold, we see that Justine’ life is not as perfect as everyone else thinks. She may be organized, but her happiness, marriage, and spiritual life are facades.

We had been living in denial for months, fooling ourselves into thinking that we were safe if we stayed inside the bubble of our affluent neighborhood, not realizing that’s the problem with bubbles: They shimmer and shine, but they burst easily.

I think we all have a little bit of Eve in us. She had perfection and everything she could ever want and still she reached for more.

I fell asleep praying for the strength to do what was right and for God to guard me from situations that could land me in the same situation Justine had gotten herself into. I was learning we all need protection from ourselves.

The not-so-subtle theme of the book is that no one is perfect and we shouldn’t put people up on pedestals. No matter how great everything looks on the outside, we all have our issues. While I think this is an important point, and we get into a lot of trouble comparing ourselves to each other, I felt the author took the theme and characters to extremes. I don’t think she’s saying that organized, put-together people are bad and disorganized people with messy lives are on the right track, but it almost looks that way in the book.

Another theme is the contrast between healthy and toxic friendships. Justine is the suburban equivalent of the “queen bee” at school whose favor almost everyone seeks and who decides who is “in” and “out.” Ariel’s just glad to be “in” at first and she’s entirely too trusting. Slowly and painfully her eyes are opened to the truth.

Motivations are another key factor. Justine seems to be primarily motivated by finding “happiness,” even if it takes her on a path that she knows is wrong. Her organization, ministries, and everything else were not for God and His glory or to benefit her family and others. They were her personal search for significance.

Some readers would want to know that a couple of characters engage in adultery, but there are no explicit scenes.

Overall, this story uncovers important truths to consider in our friendships, motivations, our evaluation of ourselves, and our walk with the Lord.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Love Is Not a Special Way of Feeling

I’ve mentioned before that I sometimes struggle with the concept that Christian love, agape love, is said to be more about what we do than how we feel. Yet 1 Corinthians 13 warns that we can do notable, even sacrificial things without love, which sounds like clanging gongs and such. So if I go through the motions of, say, caregiving without feeling warm and loving about it, is that lacking in Christlikeness and therefore assigned to the gong department?

Evidently this question has been on my mind for a long time, because I got this book, Love Is Not a Special Way of Feeling, way back in college. Yet, somehow, I never got around to reading it. I just rediscovered it recently and determined to get it read this year.

First of all, I do not know much about the author, Charles G. Finney. I had heard him quoted favorably in my first few years as a Christian (which probably was a factor in my picking up this book). In more recent years I’ve heard him referred to negatively as somewhat manipulative in his revivalist methods. His Wikipedia page says he was an advocate of Christian perfectionism, which I do not believe in (not until heaven, anyway). So I especially prayed for discernment while reading this book.

As it turns out, the text of this 1963 book is taken from a section of Finney’s 1846 Lectures on Systematic Theology titled “Attributes of Love.” The latter is much more accurate. The back of the 1963 books admits the new title was an attention-getting device.

After a chapter on “What is Implied in Obedience to the Moral Law?” Finney discusses three to four attributes per chapter. Some you would expect: kindness, impartiality, holiness, truth, justice, sincerity, self-denial. Some were a surprise and took a bit of reading to discern how he meant them in regard to love: economy, efficiency, severity, complacency, and others. Some words have changed since the book was originally written. Finney supports some of these attributes with Scripture; others seem based on conjecture.

The language was very difficult to work through: the back of the book and the foreword concede that. But if I am reading him correctly, he seems to be saying that emotions are in themselves neutral. They are only good or bad depending on one’s will or intention. Anger can be a sin or not, depending on what one is angry about. There’s a righteous anger against wrong-doing, like slavery, human trafficking, abuse, etc. But there’s an anger the Bible warns against, especially in Proverbs, Colossians, and Ephesians. I don’t think I’d agree entirely with the thought that emotions are totally neutral, because some of them spring from my sinful nature before I even have time to think about will and intent.

On the other hand, faith is not based of feelings: it is based on facts. He remarks rightly, I believe, that too many Christians, when asked about their spiritual life, will reply with how they feel.

They judge their religious state not by the end for which they live–that is, by their choice or intention–but by their emotions. If they find themselves strongly exercised with emotions of love to God, they look upon themselves as in a state well-pleasing to God. But if their feelings or emotions of love are not active, they of course judge themselves to have little or no religion (p. 31).

I agree that our spirituality is not just a matter of our feelings. But I disagree “that feeling and outward action are only results of ultimate intention and in themselves neither virtue or vice” (p. 125).

Some of Finney’s statements were helpful. Some I strongly disagreed with.

The biggest takeaway from the book for me was that a thought or feeling can sometimes be just a temptation and not a sin in itself. I’m sure I knew this to a degree, but these pages brought it home to me in a new way.

Patience as a phenomenon of the will, tends to patience as a phenomenon of the sensibility. That is, the quality of fixedness and steadfastness in the intention naturally tends to keep down and allay impatience of temper. As, however, the states of the sensibility are not directly under the control of the will, there may be irritable or impatient feelings, when the heart remains steadfast. Facts or falsehoods may be suggested to the mind which may, in despite of the will, produce a ruffling of the sensibility, even when the heart remains patient. The only way in which a temptation, for it is only a temptation while the will abides firm to its purpose, I say, the only way in which a temptation of this kind can be disposed of, is by diverting the attention from that view of the subject that creates the disturbance in the sensibility. I should have said before, that although the will controls the feelings by a law of necessity, yet, as it does not do so directly, but indirectly, it may and does often happen, that feelings corresponding to the state of the will do not exist in the sensibility. Nay, for a time, a state of the sensibility may exist which is the opposite of the state of the will. From this source arise many, and indeed most, of our temptations (pp. 66-67).

I wish now, then, to state distinctly what I should have said before, that the state or choice of the will does not necessarily so control the feelings, desires, or emotions, that these may never be strongly excited by Satan or by circumstances, in opposition to the will, and thus become powerful temptations to seek their gratification, instead of seeking the highest good of being. Feelings, the gratification of which would be opposed to every attribute of benevolence, may at times co-exist with benevolence, and be a temptation to selfishness; but opposing acts of will cannot co-exist with benevolence. All that can be truly said is, that as the will has an indirect control of the feelings, desires, appetites, passions, etc., it can suppress any class of feelings when they arise, by diverting the attention from their causes, or by taking into consideration such views and facts as will calm or change the state of the sensibility. Irritable feelings, or what is commonly called impatience, may be directly caused by ill health, irritable nerves, and by many things over which the will has no direct control. But this is not impatience in the sense of sin. If these feelings are not suffered to influence the will; if the will abides in patience; if such feelings are not cherished, and are not suffered to shake the integrity of the will; they are not sin. That is, the will does not consent to them, but the contrary. They are only temptations. If they are allowed to control the will, to break forth in words and actions, then there is sin; but the sin does not consist in the feelings, but in the consent of the will, to gratify them. Thus, the apostle says, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” That is, if anger arise in the feelings and sensibility, do not sin by suffering it to control your will. Do not cherish the feeling, and let not the sun go down upon it. For this cherishing it is sin. When it is cherished, the will consents and broods over the cause of it; this is sin. But if it be not cherished, it is not sin (pp. 67-68).

The example from which Finney posits this truth is Christ in Gethsemane.

Patience as a phenomenon of the will must strengthen and gird itself under such circumstances, so that patience of will may be, and if it exist at all, must be, in exact proportion to the impatience of the sensibility. The more impatience of sensibility there is, the more patience of will there must be, or virtue will cease altogether. So that it is not always true, that virtue is strongest when the sensibility is most calm, placid, and patient. When Christ passed through his greatest conflicts, his virtue as a man was undoubtedly most intense. When in his agony in the garden, so great was the anguish of his sensibility, that he sweat as it were great drops of blood. This, he says, was the hour of the prince of darkness. This was his great trial. But did he sin? No, indeed. But why? Was he calm and placid as a summer’s evening? As far from it as possible.

Patience, then, as an attribute of benevolence, consists, not in placid feeling, but in perseverance under trials and states of the sensibility that tend to selfishness. This is only benevolence viewed in a certain aspect. It is benevolence under circumstances of discouragement, of trial, or temptation. “This is the patience of the saints.” (pp. 69-70).

In conclusion, at the very least I can say that I have finally read this book. I gained perhaps a bit more insight into my original question of faith vs. feeling, but not a definitive answer.

As I have thought through this repeatedly over the years, I agree that love sometimes means doing the right thing despite feelings. A weary mom awakened by her baby for a 2 a.m. feeding probably doesn’t feel warm and loving at first. She probably feels groggy and maybe even grumpy at having to get up in the middle of the night. But those warm, loving feelings kick in later. I don’t necessarily feel the joy of ministering to my family as I make dinner: sometimes I am frustrated at not being able to finish whatever I was doing. I don’t feel kind and loving when I’m interrupted at the computer just when I’m on a roll in my writing. And some of those irritations at being interrupted are selfish. But the kind and loving thing to do is to give my attention to my loved one and hope that the brilliant ( 🙂 ) thoughts come back to me later. “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Galatians 5:17, KJV). But, hopefully, as I grow in the Lord, my feelings as well as my actions will line up more and more with a true expression of godly love.

Book Review: Saving Amelie

AmelieIn the novel Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke, American Rachel Kramer’s dreams for her life do not match her father’s, so she is eager to get away and start her own life. But she agrees to accompany him for one last trip together to Germany in 1939.

Her father, Dr. Kramer, has done extensive work in the field of genetics, specifically eugenics. Motivated by a desire to eradicate tuberculosis, he argues for sterilization of those who might spread the disease. He shares his work with German scientists who want to apply eugenics much more broadly.

While in Germany, Rachel plans to meet with an old friend, Kristine. But instead of a joyful reunion, Rachel is alarmed at the changes. Kristine is cowed by her controlling husband, SS officer Gerhardt Schlick. Furthermore, Kristine is afraid for the life of her daughter, Amelie, who is deaf and thereby a blight on Gerhardt’s Aryan bloodline. Kristine begs Rachel to take Amelie away before something terrible happens to her. But Rachel has her own plans. She’s not good with children and doesn’t know how she would ever get her out, much less what to do with her afterward.

But as Rachel checks further into her father’s research, she finds that eugenics goes far beyond the prevention of disease, and the German scientists are running experiments on a wide variety people whom they deem imperfect in some way. She’s further stunned to find that she herself has been an object of experimentation, and she has a family she never knew of.

American journalist Jason Young’s reports have been censored by the authorities before leaving the country. But even though his reporting has been hampered, he’s aware of much more than he lets on. At first he thinks Rachel is a part of the Nazi regime and scientific community, then realizes she doesn’t know the full extent of it. Once she does, they join together to save Amelie and others, even crossing paths with theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Rachel herself has to go into hiding, with Gerhardt Schlick determined to find her.
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This is the first book I’ve read by Cathy Gohlke, but it won’t be the last. Not only was the story was riveting, but Cathy deftly showed how some of the policies of that day are making inroads in modern times, with some less than perfect children deemed unworthy of life. I love how she wove the philosophical discussion in without weighing down the action of the story. The secondary characters are just as well-drawn as the main ones. Highly recommended.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Reviews: If I Run Trilogy

If I RunTerri Blackstock’s If I Run trilogy follows Casey Cox on the run from the law. In the first book, also titled If I Run, Casey went to meet her friend, Brent, at his home only to discover his bloody, lifeless body. Horrified, she ran from the scene, leaving a trail of evidence and DNA between his house and hers. She threw a few things together and fled in disguise.

Dylan Roberts has been hired by Brent’s parents to find Casey. He and Brent grew up together, but Dylan had never met Casey. Dylan had been a criminal investigator while in military service, but his severe PSTD has prevented him from landing the police job he wanted. As Dylan searched for Casey, he can’t help but do a bit of his own investigating and profiling. Nothing pointed to Casey as a killer — except her DNA at the crime scene.

Dylan is a Christian and struggles with gaining victory over his PTSD. Casey is not a believer, but comes across a Christian lady in her new location.

As Casey starts life with a new look, name, and job, she discovers that a missing girl is being kept captive. If Casey helps her, she risks blowing her cover and being discovered. But how can she not?

The chapters go back and forth from Casey’s and Dylan’s viewpoints as more of the story unfolds. Casey’s reasons for running become clear.

If I'm FoundIn Book 2, If I’m Found, Casey is on the run again in a different town with a different look and name. Dylan believes her story and finds an untraced way to communicate with her. They agree that it’s too dangerous for Casey to come back: first they need to have a solid case against the people who killed Brent and are after her. Dylan has to be careful to make it seem like he is still searching for Casey while he’s actually seeking evidence to clear her.

Meanwhile Casey accidentally witnesses parents giving their daughter to a man who pays them for time with the girl to abuse her. By the time Casey realizes what is going on, it’s too late to stop the incident. But she can’t let this happen again and looks for ways to rescue the girl and bring the adults to justice.

If I LiveI was a little afraid the plot would follow the same formula in Book 3, If I Live, with Casey risking her own safety to help an innocent victim. Thankfully, that was not the case. By this point in the story, Casey is getting weary. She and Dylan have not only met, but have come to care for each other. But they still need further evidence to bring a solid case against Casey’s pursuers. Dylan is having a harder time keeping up the ruse that he’s still looking for Casey, which puts his own life in danger. Meanwhile Casey is having an even harder time avoiding notice as the police have issued several pictures of her in different disguises taken from various business security cameras. Danger escalates on all sides as Brent’s killers get more desperate. In this book some of the chapters are from the killer’s point of view as well as Dylan’s and Casey’s. Dylan is gaining victory over his PTSD, but his parents’ misunderstanding makes it even harder.

Finally Dylan and Casey have what the evidence they need. But who can they give it to? They can’t trust anyone in the police department, because the killer has several of them under his thumb. As they concoct a plan, they draw closer to each other, closer to God, and the plot comes to an exciting conclusion.

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I read the first two books in this series in quick succession while traveling. Since I had the third one on hand, I decided to wait to review the series all togteher after reading the last book.

The story grabbed me from the very beginning. Each book was hard to put down. I was glad I had them all before I started so I could immediately go to the next one instead of waiting. I’ve loved Terri’s books since I first read her Newpointe 911 series decades ago and passed them on to my mom. I love that her characters are relatable. I enjoyed getting to know both Casey and Dylan and felt with them through their stresses and faith journeys.

Terri says in the afterword of the last book that this series was inspired by the old TV show, The Fugitive. That was one of my favorites shows as a kid, with the innocent man on the run from the relentless detective. I also didn’t realize until that afterword that the three covers go together to form a picture. Clever!

If I Run seriesAn excellent series all together. Highly recommended if you like suspense stories. Even though that’s not the genre I read most often, I enjoyed this series very much. As it happens, just now the first book is on sale for the Kindle app for $1.99.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Steal Away Home

Steal Away Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey is a fictional book based on facts. It parallels lifelines of two men growing up in very different circumstances and their eventual meeting and friendship.

The two men in question are Charles Haddon Spurgeon, famous and oft-quoted English preacher in the 1800s, and Thomas Johnson, a Southern slave who was freed after the Civil War, became a pastor, and eventually became a missionary to Africa. “In 1879, there were only two Christian missionaries in the entire country, and Thomas Johnson would be the very first African-American missionary to ever step foot on Cameroon soil as an ambassador for the Good News.”

It’s unlikely that two men from such different lives would cross paths. But a member of Johnson’s congregation knew Spurgeon, knew that Johnson lamented his lack of education, and knew there were funds for students who needed them to go to Spurgeon’s college, so he recommended Johnson to Spurgeon. The story has Johnson hearing of Spurgeon while still a slave, when slave owners were burning Spurgeon’s books and papers because of his stance against slavery. So meeting Spurgeon had special meaning for Johnson. They became friends after their first meeting, even to the point of Johnson traveling with Spurgeon for a retreat and being present at Spurgeon’s death.

Though this tells the story of both men, it’s not a full biography of either. It mainly tells their stories as they relate to each other.

And because the book is fictional, we don’t know what’s real and what’s made up. I would have preferred a realistic account.

I’ve read two biographies of Susannah, Charles’ wife, and several accounts of his life. I know he suffered from depression. Most accounts portray him as joyful with occasional bouts of depression: this book characterizes him as mostly depressed with occasional bouts of joy.  The truth is probably somewhere in-between. Probably depression affected him much more than anyone knew. I knew he had gout as well, but didn’t know just how extensive the pain from that could be. But the authors seemed to play up the negative physical and spiritual effects of both Susannah and Charles.

I did not know anything about Johnson, so of course I can’t compare what was said of him. I did learn that he wrote his autobiography, Twenty-Eight Years a Slave, or the Story of My Life in Three Continents. I would love to read that some time.

In a fictionalized story, naturally we expect there will be a few made-up scenes – conversations that did not happen yet reflect events or characteristics of the person’s life, etc. But according to this and this review, some scenes were revised, even the details in the account of Thomas’ conversion. If that’s true, I am very disappointed that the authors would make such revisions. The authors themselves say the book is “not a biography, and it’s not a history book, but a story, based on real events that occurred in history. Many passages in the book are word-for-word quotations from Spurgeon’s or Johnson’s own writing.” They were inspired by another historical book written as fiction that brought the characters and situations to life an wanted to do the same with this book. They admit that they “take literary license, and deviate slightly from the historical record,” but assert that “the overwhelming majority of the persons, places, dates, and even the dialogue of this book are based on real events.”

But aside from those quibbles, I did enjoy learning the relationship between these two men. I felt the hopelessness of Johnson’s situation as a slave, the palpable fear as the slaves met privately late at night to quietly worship together, the long road he had to face even after freedom was granted. I appreciated that Spurgeon was a leading voice against slavery and in treating people of all colors as equals. And though I think the authors over-emphasized Spurgeon’s suffering (they often portray him as incapacitated and don’t show much of the productive aspects of his life), I did appreciate the window into what his down times might have been like.

The title, Steal Away Home, comes from an old spiritual which is referred to often throughout the book. It’s sung here by Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)