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.

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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.
___

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)

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)

Book Review: Becoming Mrs. Lewis

I did not start reading anything by or about C. S. Lewis until about twenty years ago. Something I read then indicated that his marriage was just one of convenience so his American wife could stay in England. Since then I’ve read varying accounts of his relationship with his wife, Joy. Patti Callahan asserts that the woman whom Lewis mourned in A Grief Observed and who inspired Til We Have Faces had to have been more than just a dear friend. The letters between the two have been lost, but Patti researched all of the other pieces of Joy’s and Lewis’ writings she could find plus biographies of them to get to know Joy. Based on her findings, she crafted a fictional story titled Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis.

Mrs. LewisJoy was something of a child prodigy, graduating from high school and college early and earning a master’s degree by age twenty. She was Jewish, an atheist, and, for a brief time, a Communist. She married William Gresham in 1942 and had two sons, but the marriage was troubled almost from the start. Bill was an alcoholic with some seeming mental issues after his military service. In one incident when Bill was drunk, despairing, and talking of suicide, Joy dropped to her knees and prayer to a God she did not believe in – and felt something of an encounter. It was enough to change her perspective and start her searching for answers. She had read and respected C. S. Lewis and knew he had converted to Christianity from atheism, so she wrote to him.

They corresponded for three years. In the meantime, due to health issues and a need for more answers, Joy took a trip to England, where she stayed with a friend, rested, wrote, and finally met Lewis, who asked her to call him Jack. By this time, Joy’s marriage was seriously crumbling, and she was beginning to have feelings beyond friendship for Jack. But she wanted to keep her friendship with Jack pure. She determined to try to save her marriage – until she learned that her husband and cousin were having an affair. Then she asked for a divorce.

Joy returned home as soon as she was able and returned to England with her boys. She and Lewis visited often. She and the boys even stayed with Lewis and his brother, Warnie, for several weeks. They read and edited each other’s writing, walked, ate, drank. Joy fell hard for Jack, but he treasured the philea (brotherly, friendly) type of love they had. He felt he was too old to start thinking about romance, and, besides, in the eyes of his Anglican church, she was still married. When Joy had to face leaving the country due to bureaucratic regulations, Jack offered a civil marriage and bought her a house. When Joy was diagnosed with cancer, Jack realized his true feelings for her and married her in earnest.

Joy was an intelligent, complicated woman. She reminds me very much of the woman at the well in John 4, “looking for love in all the wrong places,” as the saying goes. Early in her life, she was made to feel that she could never “measure up.” Her father punished her for besmirching her A report card with a B. Her mother compared her unfavorably to her prettier, more graceful cousin. She sought for acceptance and assurance of her worth in a string of sexual encounters. She came to learn that sex in itself does not equal love.

Joy is also a reminder that true Christians don’t always fit in a nice, neat box. Really, we have to look no further than our Bibles to know that. Almost every major figure in the Old Testament had serious family and/or personal issues, and the NT epistles dealt with issues in churches that we scratch our heads over these days. Yet even in the messiness of her life both before and after salvation, and the up and down pattern of her growth, there’s a steady trajectory of growing in grace and knowledge.

I must know when it is enough. And I must trust God — again and again I was learning and relearning to trust the truth who had entered my sons’ nursery. The rusty and decrepit habit of trusting in only myself, only abiding in my own ability to make things happen, died hard and slow (Chapter 40).

Much of what I’d done — mistakes, poems, manipulations, success and books and sex — had been done merely to get love. To get it. To answer my question: do you love me? . . . From that moment on, the love affair I would develop would be with my soul. [God] was already part of me; that much was clear. And now this would be where I would go for love — to the God in me. No more begging or pursuing or needing. Possibly it was only a myth, Jack’s myth [Til We Have Faces], that could have obliterated the false belief that I must pursue love in the outside world — in success, in acclaim, in performance, in a man.

The Truth: I was beloved of God.

Finally I could stop trying to force someone or something else to fill that role (Chapter 44).

Jack: I’ve spent all my life in an attempt to find Truth and moral good and then to live it. I can’t discard my moral habits for feelings, which are just that — feelings (Chapter 42).

I enjoyed getting to know Joy and seeing Jack as a normal person in everyday mode. And I loved the truths quoted above that Patti incorporated into the story.

However, even given Joy’s penchant for looking for love through sex at first, there seems to me to be more of a sensual aspect of the story than needed to convey Joy’s misdirection. Even a hill is unnecessarily described as appearing “like the breast of a woman in recline.” Another friend mentioned the preponderance of alcohol in the story. Even allowing that different Christians have different convictions about whether and how much a Christian can consume, alcohol seems the major drink of choice for any occasion here. It’s mentioned even when we really have no need to know what the characters are drinking. I’m left wondering why. I don’t know how much of these things are the author’s choices and how much of it is integral to Joy’s story. Because of these issues, this book won’t appeal to everyone. While I don’t endorse everything in the book,  I think if one can set aside some of the objectionable elements, Joy’s growth as a person, as a Christian, and her impact in Jack’s life and work can be seen and appreciated. The choice whether to read it or not must be left to individuals.

Linda is currently hosting a four-week book club to discuss this book. Week one’s discussion is here: week two is here. Week three is here., just posted today, with one more session coming next week. So it’s not too late to join in if the discussion if you’d like.

Linda also pointed us to a couple of nice videos. In this one, the author shares her thoughts and shows photos of Jack and Joy and videos of Jack’s house, the Kilns.

This one shows aspects of Oxford, integral to both Jack and Joy:

An interview with the author is here (HT to Linda).

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge Wrap-up for 2019

The end of February closes the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge for this year. I hope you had fun with it, and I look forward to hearing about what you read!

A week from today I’ll use random.org to draw a name from the comments on this post to win either The Little House Cookbook compiled by Barbara M. Walker, Laura’s Album: A Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson, The Little House Coloring Book, or a similarly-priced book related to Laura. A week should give some of us who are still reading time to finish up and post about our reading. You don’t have to have a blog to participate: you can tell us what you read in the comments here. If you have a blog, you can either let us know what you read in the comments or share the links back to any reviews or challenge-related posts from your blog or even from Goodreads if you review books there. Due to shipping costs, I’m afraid I can only ship to those in the US, unless you’d like a Kindle version.

For my part, I read:

Fairies

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Fairy Poems, compiled by Stephen W. Hines, illustrated by Richard Hull. I had forgotten that Laura wrote such poems until Rebekah mentioned them. Laura is usually more matter-of-fact than fanciful, though some of her descriptions are lovely. So I was interested to see how she did with fairy poems. Hines provides a brief introduction, telling how Laura came to write the poems for the San Francisco Bulletin. Then he shares an adaptation of an essay Laura wrote called “Fairies Still Appear to Those With Seeing Eyes.”

There are only five poems in the book, spread out over several pages with a number of illustrations. The poems are very old-fashioned, naturally, as they describe the various activities fairies are involved in. I’m not normally into fairy poems, so I don’t know how they would measure up for young readers today.

Honestly, I didn’t care for the illustrations much. I think I would have preferred lighter colors, maybe a watercolor effect. I liked the detail of the plants and animals, but not the fairies and people.

Have you or your children read this book? What did you think?

LIW song book

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Songbook compiled and edited by Eugenia Garson.

The copy I checked out from the library looks like the one above, but I saw other copies on Amazon with a Garth Williams illustration of Pa with his fiddle on the front.

What I appreciated most about this one was Garson’s research. She looked up every song mentioned in the Little House books, provided a few sentences of background for it (when it could be found), and a quote from the LH book where it was mentioned. Sheet music is provided for all the songs, making me wish I could play the piano enough to pick out the tunes. I was familiar with just a few of them. This would be a nice resource for anyone wanting to learn more about music from this era.

Traveler

I also read On the Way Home and The Road Back by Laura Ingalls Wilder. These two books have been packaged together with West From Home, Laura’s letters to Almanzo while visiting Rose in San Francisco for the World’s Fair, into one volume called A Little House Traveler. Since I had read West From Home a few years ago, I did not read that one at this time. The first is Laura’s record of moving with her husband and daughter by covered wagon from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri; the second is her journal of traveling back to South Dakota to visit her two remaining sisters 40 years later in an un-air-conditioned Buick. I reviewed them here.

I also wrote Why Laura Ingalls Wilder Is Still Worth Reading because some question whether she is any more. No, she and her family were not perfect. But we can still learn from them.

That’s it for me. How about you? Remember, leave a comment on this post about what you read or did for the challenge before Thursday of next week to be eligible for the drawing.

Update: The giveaway is closed. The winner is Roberta! Congratulations!

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)

Traveling with Laura Ingalls Wilder

I read two short books about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s travels as an adult. They weren’t written with an eye toward publication, at least not in the form she left them. They were just travel journals, notes she made for herself along the way. Perhaps she just wanted to remember certain things about her trips, perhaps she wanted to note details for letter-writing, or perhaps she did plan on incorporating some of the information into future articles or books. But since she did not start writing for publication until seventeen years after her first trip, it seems more likely that these were just notes she kept for herself. Both were published after her death.

The first book, On the Way Home, details Laura’s move with her husband and daughter from De Smet, South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri in 1894. Laura’s daughter, Rose, who was seven at the time, provides an introduction and ending to set the context from her vantage point as a child. Rose had had to stay with her grandparents (Ma and Pa Ingalls) while her parents had diphtheria. Dire prediction were forecast about their health, but they survived, although Almanzo walked with a limp the rest of his life and “was never as strong as he had been” (p. 8). In addition there was a worldwide “panic,” which Rose explained was different from a depression. For these and various other reasons, the Wilder family decided to move, traveling with anther family, the Cooleys. Rose shares details of some of their preparations, like Laura’s sewing to make money. Once Laura “made sixty good firm buttonholes in one hour, sixty minutes; nobody else could work so well, so fast. Every day, six days a week, she earned a dollar” (pp. 11-12). I enjoyed seeing a few glimpses of the Ingalls family through Rose’s eyes, like her “aunt Grace, a jolly big girl,” singing “Ta-ra-ra boom-de-ay” (p. 9).

After the family got their covered wagon ready, packed it, and said good-bye to their loved ones, the narrative shares Laura’s notes. Often she jotted down little details like the price of crops, landscape conditions, places they found to bathe or trade, and the weather. (The first day, their thermometer showed 102 degrees inside the wagon!) Of course, as with any trip, there were various mishaps, like a horse running away, causing a later start one day.

Some of her most interesting notes involved the people they met along the way, like a Russian settlement.

Laura’s notes end just after the family’s arrival in Mansfield. Rose takes up the narrative again, describing her father going out every day to search for just the right spot. When he found it, the family dressed up to take the $100 bill they had hidden in Laura’s writing desk to the banker and buy the land. But the $100 was missing. Rose was highly offended that her parents asked her if she had told anyone about it or played with the desk. Since they could not find the money, Almanzo looked for work for a few days while still keeping an eye out for an ideal property. Finally they found the $100 and bought what they later named their Rocky Ridge farm.

To be honest, I have never been fond of Rose. I read one biography of her years ago in which she just did not seem like a likeable person. Then in more recent years I read that she played fast and loose with facts, even in biographies she wrote. So I have never really trusted her. I enjoyed her writing and the scenes from her viewpoint here, but she paints Laura rather harshly most of the time. Then again, Rose seems highly sensitive. For instance, when her father cut wood from the property to sell in town, she greeted him outside when he came back and learned he had sold the whole load. Excited by the news, she ran in to tell her mother. When she “pranced out to tell my father how glad she was . . . he said, with a sound of crying in his voice, ‘Oh, why did you tell her? I wanted to surprise her.'” Rose then writes:

You do such things, little things, horrible, cruel, without thinking, not meaning to. You have done it; nothing can undo it. This is a thing you can never forget (pp. 106-107).

She might have been referring to her father being cruel for his reaction, but I think she’s talking about herself. Somehow she magnified what would have been in the grand scheme of things a minor misunderstanding and disappointment into something “horrible” and “cruel.”

There’s one really odd sentence in Laura’s section. She described hating to leave the Russian settlement where they were camping. As she looked back on the scene:

I wished for an artist’s hand or a poet’s brain or even to be able to tell in good plain prose how beautiful it was. If I had been the Indians I would have scalped more white folks before I ever would have left it (p. 30).

She wasn’t wishing the Russians harm, because she had enjoyed her time there. Looking at it again just now, she seems to be saying if she lived there, she would have put up a fight rather than leave the area – or perhaps she understood the Indians fighting to stay on their land in a way she had not when she was a child.

The Road Back contains Laura’s notes made some forty years later on a trip back to De Smet to visit Carrie and Grace, the only remaining family members. It was interesting reading this right after the previous book, because they covered the same ground, only going the opposite direction, in an un-air-conditioned Buick instead of a covered wagon. Laura was 64 and Almanzo was 74.

I marveled at how many times Laura remarked on the good dirt or gravel roads. Some roads were made of cement, but many were not: yet in that day they still beat the trails or prairies they had come in on.

They had not been back in the forty years they had lived in Mansfield. Laura had written Little House in the Big Woods, but it had not been published yet. So she was not well known as a writer at that point except for her columns for the Missouri Ruralist.

Once again Laura detailed road, weather, crop, and economic conditions of the places they traveled through. She also listed their travel expenses: their first night on the road, they spent $3.42 for gas, food, a night in a cabin, and paper. They got a lot of their news about different areas from filling station attendants. Once again, Laura’s humor winks in places. She described seeing a group of signs along the road that said, “For the land’s sake, eat butter.” When they stopped to eat, she wrote, “I had bacon and eggs and coffee, bread, and for the land’s sake ate the best butter I’ve tasted” (p. 305).

I enjoyed her different observations about seeing again the places and people she had know. She said of Carrie, “She had changed a great deal but I knew her.” (I guess so, after 40 years.)

She waxed a bit more philosophical in this journal. She and Almanzo and those they visited also did some sight-seeing. One interesting stop was observing the carving of Mount Rushmore in progress.

The narrative ends near the end of the trip, where they stopped to eat and call Rose to say they were nearly home. Laura noted that though she didn’t keep up very well with the accounting, the trip cost “$120 for 4 weeks and 2,530 miles” (p. 344) for the trip to De Smet and back.

TravelerThese two books have been packaged together with West From Home, Laura’s letters to Almanzo while visiting Rose in San Francisco for the World’s Fair, into one volume called A Little House Traveler. Since I had read West From Home a few years ago, I did not read that one at this time. On the Way Home and West From Home had been published as stand-alone books, but The Road Back has only been published here. Rose had On the Way Home published a few years after her mother’s death. Roger Lea MacBride, Rose’s lawyer and heir, found the notes for the other two book in Rose’s papers after her own death. He had West From Home published and wrote the introduction. Abigail MacBride, Roger’s daughter, provided the introduction for The Road Back. It’s interesting that the mode of transportation for the first trip was a covered wagon; for the second, a train; and for the third, a car.

Sprinkled throughout the book are pictures of the Ingalls and Wilder family, their homes, and some of the scenes the Wilders might have seen in their travels. At the end is a short (three-page) biography of Laura, a family tree, photographs of notes children had written to her, and a copy of her last letter to Rose.

I enjoyed visiting with Laura on her travels. Even though her notes were off the cuff and not polished, I enjoyed her powers of observation and descriptions as well as her characteristic humor.

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

Book Review: I’d Rather Be Reading

ReadingAnne Bogel’s I’d Rather Be Reading is aptly subtitled The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life. Anne is the blogger behind Modern Mrs. Darcy, where books and reading are among her primary topics.

In this book Anne covers nearly every aspect of being an avid reader communicating with other avid readers.

Since she writes so much about books, people sometimes feel compelled to divulge their guilty reading secrets: hating books that everyone else loves, never having gotten around to reading a well-loved classic, having books on their shelves for decades that they haven’t read yet.

She discusses the books that we seem to come across at just the right time, even though we picked them up randomly, the books that “hooked” us into lifelong readership, the puzzling love for books that make us cry, the charm of libraries and bookstore, books that we keep because they were given to us or remind us of friends, how reading enhances real-life experiences, “bookworm problems” like never having enough storage space for books or needing to stop just at the best part of a book to go to work  or pick up a child from school, the different types of readers we are at different stages of life, the discoveries made in an author’s extra notes (acknowledgements, introductions, afterwords), and much more. Along the way she references a plethora of books she’s read.

Maybe because I am only an occasional visitor rather than a regular follower of Anne’s blog, I didn’t have the same sense of conspiratorial camaraderie I might have had in discussing some of these same topics with friends. But I enjoyed plenty of head-nodding and “me, too!” moments, which, along with Anne’s breezy style, made this book a pleasant read.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: A Little Princess

PrincessIn A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, seven-year-old Sara Crewe has grown up in India with her beloved father. Her mother had died years before. Now the time has come for Sara to go to a boarding school in England.

Her father takes her to Miss Minchen’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies. Because he is rich, he provides for Sara to have her own room, maid, and carriage. Because Sara’s father is rich, Miss Minchen fawns over Sara and sets her as her “star pupil.” Privately she dislikes Sara. Because Sara is so elevated, the older popular girls immediately dislike her.

Sara herself is largely unaware of what being rich means. She seems much older than she is, quiet, thoughtful, and serious. But she has a sweet disposition and befriends other outcasts, like the overweight and not very smart Ermengarde, a motherless younger child named Lottie, and the scullery maid Becky.

Sara likes to pretend, and her most frequent pretend is that she is a princess – not because she is haughty or thinks herself entitled to be a princess, but to remind herself to act as a princess would act. Acting as a princess helps her not to lash or or slap people, even when they deserve it.

Suddenly Sara’s world is turned upside down when her father dies amidst a massive business failure. With no time to mourn or even adjust to the news, Sara is relegated to the attic and now has to work at whatever Miss Minchen assign to her. Sara has no other relatives and apparently there is nothing like children’s protective services in that day and time: Miss Minchen is now responsible for Sara and her upkeep, so she’s determined that Sara will earn her keep.

Sara still pretends to be a princess to help her act right, and she pretends that she is a prisoner in the Bastille to make her situation a little more palatable. But she is sad and miserable. Demands are made on her all day, she’s scolded and denied food for the least infraction. She visits with Becky, who has the attic room next to hers, but Lottie and Ermengarde can only come up when they can sneak in unawares.

At Sara’s lowest point, she wakes up to find “a dream come true” in her attic room – a fire in the grate, good food, warm bed coverings, a stack of books. Where could they have come from?

Though A Little Princess isn’t written exactly in the style of a fairy tale, it has many fairy tale elements: a “princess” in disguise or down on her luck, facing various trials, hidden away in a dark place, only to have things change and put to rights at the end with the villains getting their due comeuppance.

I searched a bit to try to discover Burnett’s purpose in writing the book. I couldn’t discover anything except that Wikipedia said “The novella appears to have been inspired in part by Charlotte Bronte’s unfinished novel, Emma, the first two chapters of which were published in Cornhill Magazine in 1860, featuring a rich heiress with a mysterious past who is apparently abandoned at a boarding school.” Perhaps she just wanted to write a fairy tale set in her time. But Sara certainly seems to be an exemplary heroine: not perfect (she admits to having pride and a temper), but constant in her character, kindness, and interest in others no matter what her circumstances. Maybe Burnett set up a character children could look up to and emulate.

But one factor that stood out to me was the way people treat others based on their economic status. Sara was the same person in good times or bad. Neither she nor her father asked or expected that she be out on a pedestal when they were rich, and certainly no one deserves to be treated as Sara and Becky were just because they were poor. The difference came in how others perceived them. Sure, there are some rich people in every age who feel entitled and deserving of pedestals and accolades. But we need to treat people with kindness and consideration no matter what their circumstances.

There’s some mention of “magic” in this book, but it’s not as pervasive as in The Secret Garden. The view of English imperialism and Indian servants might be offensive to modern sensibilities.

I had never read this book, that I can remember, but some years ago I saw a film version which I’d like to see again now.

I didn’t like the cover (pictured above) of the audiobook I listened to, but I enjoyed the wonderful narration by Virginia Leishman.

C. S. Lewis said the best children’s books are good reading for adults, too, and I agree. I very much enjoyed getting acquainted with this classic.

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

 

Book Review: Read the Bible for Life

I first discovered George Guthrie through links to his blog from others. The posts I read there were so helpful that I got his book, Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word.

After an introduction detailing reasons for reading the Bible, lamenting a lack of Biblical literacy among Christians, and posting several reasons why Christians don’t read, Guthrie launches into the four parts of his book.

The first part covers “Foundational Issues,” like how to read it, reading it in context and for transformation. etc.

Part 2 discusses reading the various genres in the Old Testament: stories, laws, psalms and proverbs, and prophets.

Part 3 covers the different types of literature in the New Testament: stories, Jesus’ teachings, epistles (letters), and Revelation.

Part 4 contains four chapters concerning “Reading the Bible in Modern Contexts,” like personal and family devotions, as a church, and in times of sorrow.

At the end, Guthrie includes a couple of reading plans, including a chronological one.

Most of the chapters are the result of interviews Guthrie conducted with experts in various fields of Bible study. I appreciated that the interview format kept the book informal and accessible rather than academic. But because of the interview setting, sometimes extraneous details were included, like scenes from where the interview took place, the interviewee’s posture, etc. But I think the benefits of this process probably outweighed the extra unnecessary details.

I have multitudes of places marked in this book, but I’ll try to share just a few. If the source was someone other than Guthrie, I put that person’s name in parentheses.

God’s Word, wielded by the Holy Spirit, has the power to sort us out spiritually, to surprise and confront us, growing us in relationship with our Lord Christ. Thus, reading the Bible ought to at once be as encouraging as a mother’s gentle touch and, at moments, as unsettling and disturbing as a violent storm.

I would suggest that true literacy—the kind that matters—brings about clearer thinking and informed action. Thus, true biblical literacy involves an interaction with the Bible that changes the way one thinks and acts, and that kind of interaction takes time.

As we read on a daily basis, growing in our skill in Bible reading, the rhythm of a life lived deeply in God’s Word will become as nurturing as our daily meals, as spiritually strengthening as daily exercise, and as emotionally satisfying as a good-morning kiss from a spouse. It takes discipline, but Bible reading can come to be a discipline of delight if we open our hearts and lives to it.

The key is to have a posture toward God’s Word by which His Word is changing us in our context rather than our molding the Word to our cultural tastes and values. That is hard to do. We have to read with humility. And I think the beginning of humility is the fear of God. We have to believe in the authority of God’s Word and be ready to adjust our lives to it. (Andreas Kostenberger)

Jesus meant for people to put His words into action in specific, tangible ways. Our problem is that we think it is enough just to grasp general concepts as if taking in the Word of God is a mental exercise. Jesus, rather, meant our interaction with the Word to be a life exercise.

When we begin to see the beauty and power of the Bible’s story as a whole, we then begin to read each part of the Bible better. (Bruce Waltke)

When slogging through the myriad of laws about priestly worship practices, the tabernacle, uncleanness, and primitive issues of justice, you may feel like the wheels are coming off your momentum. Yet this part of Scripture is also God’s gift to His people. Gems here are waiting to be unearthed from under the seemingly crusty surface, and those gems form a vital part of the foundation of the Bible’s grand story.

I would hope, that when we come to Scripture, we would approach it not as a chore or a duty or a textbook but as a source of delight. At times we should say, ‘Wow! I’ve actually got the next half hour to read the Bible and talk to God!’ (David Howard)

So we need to remember that the Lord wants us to understand this book. We should pray, asking the Holy Spirit for insight and discernment as we read, even as we are putting forth effort to study and understand it. (J. Scott Duvall)

Lament teaches us that we have to go through the process of dealing with our suffering before God. You don’t just stuff your feelings down and put a good face on it, like a lot of us tend to do. You need to go through the process of pouring your heart out to God. And if you don’t have the language for it, the Bible will give you the language. (Michael Card)

Because we are ‘self-help’ oriented, too often we as Christians have become more content to go to the Christian bookstore and get good books there, neglecting our reading of the Bible. We think those books apply to us better than the Bible does, but the reality is, no book in the Christian bookstore can do what the Bible is divinely inspired to do: to transform us at the deepest levels in the way we think and live, to mold us into the image of Christ and show us our place in the grand story of Scripture. (Buddy Gray)

All I know about Guthrie is from some of his blog posts and this book, and I didn’t know any of the people he interviewed except that I had heard of a few of them. But don’t remember seeing any theological problems or concerning issues or statements.

This is a book I wish I had kept running notes or outlines of. But Guthrie does include a summary of the principles discussed at the end of each chapter, which helps for a quick review.

The general helps to reading and understanding as well as the specific advice and tips for the different genres were greatly helpful. I thought this book was an excellent resource for anyone who would like to understand and apply more of the Bible.

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

Book Review: Katie’s Dream

Katie Katie’s Dream is the third installment in Leisha Kelly’s book about the Wortham family. In the first book, Julia’s Hope, Sam and Julia Wortham had come to the end of their resources when they discovered an empty house needing work and asked if they could live in it and let repairing it be their rent. The owner, Emma, agreed, and the Worthams even made it possible for Emma to move back home. They forged a new kind of family and learned from and helped each other. In the next book, Emma’s Gift, both Emma and a neighbor passed away. The neighbor was the mother of ten children. The Worthams had to help the neighbor’s grieving husband plus deal with their own grief and the consequences of Emma’s passing.

In  Katie’s Dream, the Worthams and their neighbors, the Hammonds, have settled into a routine. Half the Hammond children are at the Wortham’s house at any given time. Sam Wortham and George Hammond help each other with the farming. Life is still hard and resources are few, yet everyone is doing well.

But suddenly life is turned upside-down when Sam’s brother, Edward, shows up on their doorstep after being released from prison. He claims that Katie, the little girl he has with him, is Sam’s daughter.

Sam is dumbfounded. He has never been unfaithful, has never even met the girl’s mother. Why would Edward do such a thing? What will the townspeople think? What will Julia think? And what should be done with poor Katie, who just wants a home?

Samuel has never talked about his family much in the years Julia has known him, but now she learns about his mother’s alcoholism, his father’s violence, and his brother’s antics. It wasn’t that Samuel was ashamed of them, but he just wanted to forget the life he came from and start a new one. But now the old one won’t leave him alone. But perhaps he and Julia can find the grace to listen, to forgive, and to share God’s love with those who seem to have no interest in it.

The plot is a somewhat unusual premise: I don’t think I have ever read a story quite like this. But I liked the truths that were subtly conveyed. For one, you don’t have to come from a pristine family to go on and serve the Lord and change the course of your own life. Too, troublesome people (even family members) are not just a plague to be avoided: it’s a challenge to show them love and grace, but sometimes that’s exactly why God brings them to us. As Julia says, “Thank God for the opportunity to know Hazel and George and Edward and all the other difficult people we’d ever had to love. God knows what he’s doing wrapping up the crazy mix he put on this earth.”

There’s also a subplot with the Hammond family. One son, Frankie, is smart but can’t learn to read. He’s somewhat dreamy, but can say the most insightful things at times. His father, George, just doesn’t understand him and sometimes unwittingly hurts him by his reactions. This comes to a head when Frankie is injured.

I think each of these books could be read as a stand-alone novel, but the story is enhanced greatly by reading them all.

I loved visiting with the Worthams once again and am looking forward to the next book.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)