The Year in Review: Top Ten Books of 2012

books

This is so fun – I feel like I’m introducing you to dear friends.

Here are my favorite books of 2012 (in no particular order):

Refractions by Makoto Fujimura
Through a series of essays, Fujimura makes a compelling case for the crucial role of creativity in the midst of a dehumanizing culture. The thread running throughout Refractions is one of hope. Life is full of challenge, disappointment, and at times, great tragedy. Yet we can choose to bring light into darkness, create beauty from ashes, and bring order to chaos. This is an important book with a timely message. I can’t remember reading the same book twice in one year. Until Refractions.

You can find more of Mako’s writing (including additional Refractions essays) at his site here. If you missed reading Refractions with our reading group, I hope to have a reading guide posted on this site in the next few months.

Surprised by Joy/The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
Surprised by Joy tells the compelling story of Lewis’s early years. I was struck by the pivotal role that disappointment and hardship played in his spiritual formation. Already an admirer of Lewis’s intellect and faith, this book gave me a glimpse of his humanity. The Friendship essay in The Four Loves explores the nature of friendship in a way that was challenging and insightful. It made me think. About why we choose the friends that we do. About the role that friendship plays in society. About what binds us together.

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones
This a devotional packed with deep truths about our Maker and way in which he sees his children.  I continue to be amazed at Sally Lloyd-Jones’s ability to take the most significant, poignant truths and distill them down to a limited number of words. Her writing is the case-in-point for Lewis’s quote, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” This book is the perfect present for everyone – from the newborn to the grandparent.

Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson
N.D. Wilson’s writing has taken permanent residence in our home this year. My son, who is quite a discriminating reader, raved about Wilson’s 100 Cupboard series. After having read Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl, I wasn’t surprised. I can honestly say that Tilt-A-Whirl has had a significant impact on the choices made and life lived out in our home. Here’s a taste:

“This world is beautiful but badly broken . . . I love it as it is, because it is a story, and it isn’t stuck in one place. It is full of conflict and darkness like every good story, a world of surprises and questions to explore. And there’s someone behind it; there are uncomfortable answers to the hows and whys and whats. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through Him were all things made… Welcome to His poem. His play. His novel. Let the pages flick your thumbs.”

I’ve never read anything quite like it.

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
Often cited as J.K. Rowling’s favorite book from childhood, The Little White Horse is a children’s fantasy novel full of rich characters, longing, delight, self-sacrifice and redemption. Goudge is a master at weaving beauty and truth throughout her stories.

 

Fiddler’s Gun by A.S. Peterson
What’s not to love about an orphan’s adventure with pirates during the American Revolution? Fiddler’s Gun is a delight to read. The story is fast-paced, yet lyrical. The characters are well-developed and highly relatable. It’s a story about choices, consequences, and ultimately grace, yet doesn’t moralize.  Beware – this is one of those books that will keep you up late at night as you have to read “one more chapter.” The sequel, Fiddler’s Green, is on my list to read in 2013.

Culture Making by Andy Crouch
A provocative book to say the least. Culture Making successfully defines  and discusses an ambiguous, but incredibly important, concept. Culture. What is it? How is it made? What is our role and why does it matter? In particular, I was intrigued by Crouch’s observations of the ways in which we examine and interact with our culture (his section on “postures and gestures”). Culture Making is an artful blend of sociology, theology, and philosophy. It inspires and challenges us all to breathe life and goodness into the world in which we live.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I’m not sure how I missed this one in high school. No wonder Lee won the Pulitzer Prize. If you missed it as well, now’s the time.

Telling the Truth by Frederick Buechner
This short book by Buechner offers a unique perspective of the gospel – as tragedy, comedy, and fairy tale. It challenges and encourages us to take an honest look at life. “What is the kingdom of God?… He suggests rather than spells out. He evokes rather than explains. He catches by surprise. He doesn’t let the homiletic seams show. he is sometimes cryptic, sometimes obscure, sometimes irreverent, always provocative. He tells stories.” I’m a Buechner fan, and this may be my favorite of his books.

Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers
This was the first book on the list for our reading group, and I’m not sure that I would have made it through (very effectively) without the insights and camaraderie of the other folks. That being said, it has become one of the most influential books that I’ve read. Sayers redefines the call and boundaries of creativity, walks through an amazing explanation of the nature of evil, and builds a framework through which the creative process can be understood. For our group’s written responses to specific chapters, you can visit here (this is the first week, with links to the following weeks found at the bottom of the page). The Mind of the Maker is well worth the time and energy invested. Highly recommended.

A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy
A beautiful, thoughtful book illustrating that even the smallest light can push back the darkness. A Tree for Peter has at its core the principles found in Refractions, Mind of the Maker, and Culture Making, yet all wrapped in a beautiful story that was written for children. It is outstanding. You can read more here.

 Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring by Andi Ashworth
In a society where efficiency and technology are held in highest esteem, we find ourselves busy and productive. Yet we are also more lonely and dehumanized as a result. Real Love for Real Life reminds us that at our core, we have all been created to care well for one another. A balanced blend of the philosophical and practical, this book is food for the soul of a people hungry for connection.

For you detail-oriented folks, yes, that was twelve. It’s been a good year.

If you’d like to join the Greener Trees Reading Group, we’ll be starting with The Art of T.S. Eliot by Helen Gardner the week of January 7th.  Consider joining us!

What were your favorite books of the year? 

Happy New Year and happy reading to you!



If you liked this post, you might like these:

THROUGH A SCREEN DARKLY - An Invitation
Raising Arizona: An Appreciation
The Courage to Keep Going

And It Was Good

It’s an honor to share this guest post, written by Emily Cottrill, with you.  Emily is an oil painter, avid reader, and daily cow-milker. She teaches art and is the author of the Simply Charlotte Mason Picture Study Portfolios (of which I’m a big fan).  Emily and her mother run Living Books Library, a private lending library with thousands of out-of-print living books on their fledgling farm in southwest Virginia.

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In today’s culture, we have easy access to all kinds of images, information, words, music. In what seems like a constant bombardment of media we can lose sight of an objective criteria to help us sift through the bad and mediocre to find the worthy. Have you ever seen a stunning piece of art, read a wonderful story, heard an exquisite piece of music, had a flash of insight while listening to a gifted teacher, and said, that is Good? Genesis 1 GOOD?

A favorite encounter with this kind of Good work in my life, at least in the world of literature, was one I met with in the pages of a children’s book. Perhaps the best I’ve ever read. When I picked up a fairly thin, unassuming beige volume with a green fir tree embossed on the cover, I had no clue what I was in for. I started reading it one night, knowing absolutely nothing about it beforehand, and I couldn’t stop until I had finished the last page. A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy stopped me in my tracks.

I’m not being overly dramatic to say I cried myself to sleep that night. The story did have some sad elements, but it was hopeful, it was beautiful, it was GOOD. That ache of joy I felt encountering such sorrowful beauty caused me not only to weep but to consider, to mull over, to remember, to share, and to act. The idea of the book, working on me through the right words crafted together and accompanied by hand-drawn sepia-toned illustrations changed me—compelled me to respond.

But what is it that makes a piece of work good? Dorothy Sayers has given us a model of understanding creativity in that it reflects the Holy Trinity with three distinct, yet unified parts—the Idea (the Father), the Material Form (the Son), the Power of Response (the Holy Ghost). When a creative work seems good these three elements are in harmony, perfect balance.

Unfortunately, the state of our fallen world is off-kilter, imbalanced, or, as Sayers says, scalene. The old image of a three legged stool wobbles if one of the legs in the creative trinity is longer than the others. This is not, usually, an insurmountable problem. Slight imbalances still yield good work. But when the three are in complete balance, then something Good results.

A Tree for Peter not only demonstrates to me how an artistic work in itself can exhibit a balanced creative trinity, but the theme of the book itself is illustrative of balanced Idea-Form-Power.

Peter, a small, lame boy, lives in a slum. Spending every day alone as his widowed mother goes out to work—toiling longer than the sun—in a laundry, Peter’s world is full of fear and despair. The buildings decaying around him reflect the hopeless lives of those who seek shelter within their drafty walls. The meager interiors shrink from the light dimmed by broken and grimy glass just as their occupants slink away and return under darkness to hide their shame. Fearful Peter is a lonely shell just like the dilapidated houses around him. Rough boys, a noisy policeman, and wild dogs add to the chaos.

But one day…one day hope finds him in the form of a cheerful tune whistled by a new friend.

With this hope an idea is planted in Peter’s heart, one he doesn’t even know how to name, living as he has for so long in brokenness and ugliness. Hope…that one day this slum could be…beautiful. But Peter knows he needs tools, materials to work with. His ephemeral friend supplies all that is necessary—one small spade.

A toy really, a red spade. And that one tool changed the world.

Working diligently, yet in secret, as a surprise for his mother, Peter clears away debris and begins to prepare a place for a garden. Saying his hope out loud—that he longs for a tree to bring beauty to this barren patch of earth—Peter’s friend promises to bring him one, but he must do the work, get his hands dirty, prepare the soil, and dig the hole. He must work with the materials around him, working in faith, and then his idea will be brought into existence. So he does. Hard as it is for him with his lame leg, his frail frame, Peter toils for months.

And then…a cheerful tune carried through the chinks in the walls by the whistling wind draws Peter and his mother out on a snowy night. There, in the place prepared by the small boy stands a tree, its evergreen branches lit with candles, beckoning not just the lonely pair, but slowly, one by one, all the inhabitants of Shantytown.

For Beauty must be shared.

This work, born as an Idea, manifested in the earthy Material wrought by a small creator, called a community out of their loneliness and shame. They began to have Ideas of their own; through honest, patient work men and women brought beauty back to a place everyone tried to ignore. The work begun by a small boy with one small spade was powerful, evoking response first from those nearest, growing in Power until an entire city was impacted.

This is Good work.

But Peter did not accomplish this work alone. His redemption began when one man spoke Truth into his fearful soul. Hope for a better life blossomed the moment he learned to trust his new friend, someone other men overlooked. This friend taught Peter to see with new eyes, with his new vision our hero was able to embrace the broken, fallen, mess of material reality around him, to see through it, to re-create it into beauty.

We are not perfect Creators yet. Human creators are necessarily skewed to one aspect or another of the trinity, weaker in one and stronger in another. But we are still creators, capable of good work. And we are not left alone without hope. We too have a Friend, one who is constantly interceding for us before the Throne. As Sayers reminds us,

“The son works simultaneously in heaven and on earth, this needs to be unceasingly reaffirmed, artistically as well as theologically. He is in perpetual communion both with the Father-Idea and with all matter. Not just with some particular sort of etherealized and refined matter—with things enskied and sainted—but with all matter; with flesh and blood and lath-and-plaster, as well as with words and thoughts.” (pg. 166)

 

So we must go about our own lives—our daily work, whatever it may be—rooted in the Idea that we are creating, every single day, building a kingdom here on earth that speaks of and brings glory to our Creator. As we craft beauty and order from our earthly Materials we must have faith that the Spirit will work in Power. And the results will be Good.

 

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For more from The Mind of the Maker reading group:

Thoughts from week 1 found here
Thoughts from week 2 found here
Thoughts from week 3 found here
Thoughts from week 4 found here
Thoughts from week 5 found here


 



If you liked this post, you might like these:

First of the Foundational Five: The Bible
Redeeming the Fall
Looking Back: Books of 2013

An Unfinished Work

 

I’m grateful to share this guest post, written by Jen Rose, with you.  Jen is a writer, poet, radio nerd, and hopeless book and music addict. She’s a born and raised Floridian (apparently an endangered species) and has been blogging since she begged an Internet acquaintance for a LiveJournal invite in 2002. Her musings on faith, art, and the writing life can be found at www.jenwritesstuff.com.

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Sometimes I wonder why God would create a beautiful universe with a fatal flaw.

It’s one of those questions good Christians aren’t “supposed” to ask, the kind we’re tempted to shrug off, saying, “well, His ways are higher you know.” But if you think about it long enough, it’s a question that can make the stoutest faith waver, enough to cause you to stumble on a wave just as you were getting the hang of walking on water. Why would an all-knowing, sovereign God design a world that he knew would fall? Why would an all-powerful God not board up Eden’s door before Evil could slither inside?

In Chapter 7 of The Mind of the Maker, Sayers tackles the mystery of evil, reasoning her way to the end “we may redeem the Fall by a creative act.” (p. 107) Through the entire book, she builds an argument for creativity as a central aspect of the image of God, and in Chapter 9, she explores the impetus for any creation: love. Not fuzzy sentimentality or possessive control, but an all-consuming fire.

“A work of creation is a work of love, and that love is the most ruthless of all the passions, sparing neither itself, nor its object, nor the obstacles that stand in its way.” (129)

Sayers writes with the sharp mind of a critic and the heart of a storyteller. As an author of mystery novels, her default concept of creativity is writing: how the author is compelled to tell a story, and how she creates characters out of love and sends them into conflict and even to death. No loving storyteller (or certainly no good one) spares the characters pain or forces them to act contrary to who they are, and even an imperfect writer would tell you that any story needs conflict to have any meaning.

I think of authors who talk about mourning with and for their characters, even though they have full power to snatch their beloved creations away from any danger. In his essay “The Bond Between Creature and Creator,” (http://www.rabbitroom.com/2012/05/the-bond-between-creature-and-creator/) author A.S. Peterson describes writing a character’s tragedy like this:

“I reached a point one night when Fin, my heroine, had come to the lowest point in her life. All her dreams had fallen apart; everything she’d hoped for was gone. She was in total despair and she was crying out to God: Why?

When I heard that cry, I cried. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I sat in my chair and shook. I felt her pain so clearly and so personally, because, of course, she was part of me, wasn’t she? She was my own creation. Created in my own image. To whom was she crying out if not to me?

Why? she cried. And then I realized that I had the answer. My answer was: Because I know the end of the story. “Just wait,” I wanted to tell her. “Just wait!” But of course she couldn’t hear that. She was lost in the cornfield with no idea of what lay over the immense horizon–and no way home.”

The world was good, the world is fallen, and the world will be redeemed. It’s the heart of the Gospel, the lifeblood of a tale that stretches to the beginning, when God spoke worlds into existence, from the most far-flung galaxies to the tiniest organisms in the sea. He breathed a handful of dirt to life, then wiped the dust from his hands and called it good.

And then, as creation is prone to do, it broke his heart. Again and again. When pride told his children they could be like gods, when the first brothers fell victim to the first murder, when the Artist looked upon his beautiful work and, in perhaps the saddest story ever told, said, “I am sorry that I made them.” Even Jesus, the Son of God himself, stood at Lazarus’ tomb and wept, though he knew the power of resurrection was in his hands and the grave would soon be empty. History is a long line of disappointments, failures, death.

And yet, love burns on. What else could keep the broken world running but a passion to see the plot through to the end?

“A passion of this temper does not resign itself to sacrifice, but embraces it, and sweeps the world up in the same embrace… love is the Energy of creation.” (136)

Any artist can agree that in order to finish a work, they must do the work, and sometimes the resistance is so great that we, pale shadows of the Creator that we are, all too often give up. An Idea must flame with Energy, because even as it fights coming to life, a “violent urge” to be born pushes it into the light of day. The Fall set this universe careening into entropy, but the same creation groans and aches to be remade. Every day, it is being remade, even now.

Imagine God bending over the world, painting another magnificent sunset, calling the seasons to turn, and whispering, “Just wait. Just wait.”

Sometimes, I do still wonder what an unfallen world would look like. Perhaps it’s not so helpful to consider though, because in the end, a more glorious thing happened. What was meant for Evil was remade into Good by the grace of God, stepping into frail bones and blood and living in our dirt for a while. Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t a resigned, self-pitying thing that had to be done. It wasn’t a discreet, sentimental cleanup job. It was accepting mockery, torture, death, and ultimately, taking victory over death.

It was perfect love, all along, crafting a better Story than any literary genius could dream up.

Sayers goes on to say, “The universe is not a finished work.” It’s like a book that the characters live in and read, or a play where the actors are the audience and no one has seen the script, or a film still being edited. No one is allowed to just watch; we all participate, improvising our parts as we go, looking to the Author for clues to the journey’s end.

So maybe, without a Fall, we wouldn’t know the depths of his ruthless love, the fire that consumes us, scars us, and leaves us pure in the end. Maybe the joy and pain of creation wouldn’t have quite the same meaning. It’s impossible to know what could have been.

But knowing the tale is still unfinished and the Maker hasn’t given up on his masterpiece is a comforting thing. In time, the pain will be a memory, and somewhere in eternity, these days will be part of the epic tale written from the beginning, a love story like no other.

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For more from The Mind of the Maker reading group:

Thoughts from week 1 found here
Thoughts from week 2 found here
Thoughts from week 3 found here
Thoughts from week 4 found here



If you liked this post, you might like these:

On Tiptoe
Less than Ideal
Books for Lent

Redeeming the Fall

The Tree of Life, now on display at The British Museum

The following post was written by Chris Yokel, who is a poet, musician, and writer on art, creativity, and music. Chris lives in Massachusetts.  Drop by and visit his blog to explore his writings and music.

The Mind of the Maker:  Week 4 (Chapter 7&8)
If you’re not reading with us, that’s ok… Each post shares one idea found in the text. 

“In the beginning there was Illúvatar, the One, and he sat alone. Then he made the Ainur, the Holy Ones, who were the first offspring of his thought, and he spoke unto them a theme of music, and they sang before him and he was glad. And ever as they listened they came to greater understanding, unison, and harmony. And it came to pass that he called them together, and propounded to them a great theme of music, more glorious and wonderful than he had yet revealed, and he bid them to make in harmony a Great Music, since he had kindled them with the Flame Imperishable. And so they began to fashion the theme, and the endlessly interchanging harmonies and melodies rose to fill all the dwellings of  Illúvatar, and it went out into the Void, and it was no longer Void.

But there was among the Ainur one Melkor, mightiest among them, who began to weave into the music themes of his own imagining, to increase the glory of his own part. For he had often gone alone into the Void, seeking and growing in lust for the Imperishable Flame, desiring to make things of his own. And as he wove his own themes into the music of the Ainur, a discord arose and spread. But Illúvatar raised his left hand, and a new theme arose against that of Melkor, but the discord of Melkor swelled up and took the mastery. And Illúvatar raised his right hand and a third theme grew, soft and delicate, but it could not be defeated. And at last it seemed as if there were two themes before the throne of Illúvatar, one beautiful and deep, yet woven with sadness, the other loud and vain and clashing. Then Illúvatar rose and raised both hands, and in a great thunderous chord, the Music ceased.

Then Illúvatar spoke, and he said: ‘Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Illúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.’”

In this the Ainulindalë (or “The Music of the Ainur”), J.R.R. Tolkien re-fashions the biblical creation story into the beginning of his own fantasy world, Middle-earth, and in doing so gives what I think is one of the most profound responses to the question of evil. In the mysterious depths of God, evil will redound to the greater beauty of all things.

This is not easy to see in the midst of the sweat and struggle. Chapter 7 in The Mind of the Makerwas complicated and frustrating to get through (even for a Philosophy major like myself). The problem of evil is complicated and frustrating to understand. Creativity in a world of thorns and thistles is complicated and frustrating to bring forth.

But what can we do in the midst of such things? We could rail against God and ask why. We could turn our back on Him and embrace the darkness. We could pretend that evil doesn’t exist and bury our heads in the sand. But that is not the way. As Sayers says,

“We must not, that is, try to behave as though the Fall had never occurred nor yet say that the Fall is a Good Thing in itself. But we may redeem the Fall by a creative act.” (107)

In the wisdom of God, the Fall and its repercussions will be woven into the devising of things more wonderful, which we have never imagined. And we are called to be part of that redemption now because Jesus, the incarnate one, has come down to grapple with and take the mastery of death and sin:

“The Fall has taken place and Evil has been called into active existence; the only way to transmute Evil into Good was to redeem it by creation. But, the Evil having been experienced, it could be redeemed only within the medium of experience—that is, by an incarnation in which experience was fully and freely in accordance with the Idea.” (107)

What does that look like for us? It looks like people on whom Pentecost has fallen, a people filled with the Imperishable Flame, spreading the new creation of God birthed in their hearts out into the world. And that means picking up the broken pieces and making them into something beautiful. In his lecture “The Bible and Christian Imagination” (which I would encourage you to watch the full lecture here: http://vimeo.com/27582688), N.T. Wright gives a picture of what that looks like:

“There’s a work of art which stands at the moment in the great new atrium in the British Museum in London. The director of the British Museum is a practicing Christian, Neil McGregor. And he has with great courage put this work of art there. It speaks volumes about the nature of Christian imagination, taking the great biblical story and making it live again, speaking into and engaging with our culture. It’s a sculpture from Mozambique, and it’s a sculpture of the Tree of life, the Tree of life which stood there in the Garden of Eden, but was inaccessible, the Tree of Life which now grows on the banks of the Waters of Life coming out of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 and 22. But this tree of life is different, because it is made of decommissioned weapons after the Mozambique civil war. It’s composed entirely of military hardware—guns and stuff. It’s a very powerful symbol of what Isaiah was talking about. There will come a time when people will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, a time of peace. How do you re-imagine the Christian story after a civil war? Maybe you do it like this. You turn the weapons into a tree of life. What a wonderful symbol of engaging the culture, of taking a theme which spans Genesis to Revelation and of saying, put this in the middle of your world and imagine, imagine what God is like and what the world will one day be like.”

Your efforts of new creation may not be as profound as this. It may be taking old clothes from a deceased cancer patient and making a memory quilt for their family. It may be planting a garden where only a patch of dirt existed before, and fighting those weeds day by day. It may be training young minds to “wait upon Pentecost,” to open themselves to the gifts they have been given. Every act of Spirit-empowered new creation is a blow against the curse. Every creative act redeems the Fall. And one day, we will straighten up our stiff back, step back, and see the whole glorious tapestry and gasp, as the light and dark hues stand before us in a pattern “of things more wonderful, which [we] hath not yet imagined.”

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If you live in Charlotte and have interest in getting together with a group of folks for an evening to discuss The Mind of the Maker, please let me know.  All are welcome – whether you’ve kept up with the reading or not.

Thoughts from week 1 found here
Thoughts from week 2 found here
Thoughts from week 3 found here

 



If you liked this post, you might like these:

Miracle
On Reading Aloud - to the Bigger Kids
Raising Arizona: An Appreciation

On Limitations and Lemonade Stands, Free Will and Miracle

The Mind of the Maker:  Week 3 (Chapter 5 & 6)
If you’re not reading with us, that’s ok… Each post shares one idea found in the text. 

With little-to-no warning, the small, innocent piles of paper had grown into mounds of clutter.  Remnants of late-night swim meets had developed their own little communities – hanging bags, crumpled damp towels, and stray coins left over from concession stand purchases were congregating in their respective corners of the kitchen.  In response, we declared war.  We spent the morning cleaning and de-cluttering.  For a brief period of time, we had transformed chaos into order.

Clean, organized countertops greeted us as we entered the kitchen the following morning.  The renewed sense of order brought with it freedom and a surge of energy.  We had planned on making blueberry muffins for breakfast. But ideas were percolating.  The previous day, the kiddos and their buddies in the neighborhood had created a lemonade stand.  The money raised was for their friends, who were going on a mission trip to Mexico this summer.  They wanted to do it again.  Eureka – we could sell the muffins at the lemonade stand!  The plan quickly came together, and within a few hours, a fair amount of money had been raised to donate to the cause.

I’m struck by how the joy from the morning’s lemonade stand was a direct result of the prior day’s work.  We had been enjoying the relaxing pace of the summer.  Freedom from the constraints of a busy schedule had slowly eroded order in the house.  Yet on Friday, order (at least in my kitchen) had been regained.  It was that sense of space and organization that provided the mental and emotional (not to mention physical) space needed for creativity.  I wouldn’t have been up for the morning lemonade stand had we not buckled down to clean the day before.  Order wasn’t something to escape – it was a venue through which we could experience freedom for more.  (Although I’m also aware that for some, the constant compulsion to maintain order brings its own set of chains).

The Laws of the Universe are constant.

Physically – If I eat poorly and don’t exercise, eventually…

Intellectually – If I treat my mind to a steady diet of mindless entertainment and starve it of healthy, stimulating ideas, eventually…

Relationally – If I take more than I give, or am driven primarily by fear or control eventually…

Spiritually – If I live a life in which I decide what is true and insist (even subtly) on independence from my Maker, eventually…

We were all born with the fatal flaw of independence.  We think we’re beating the system by living on our own terms.  Yet ironically, it’s that very spirit which eventually brings our downfall – or at the very least, limits our capacity to live the full, rich lives for which we were created.  We’ve all experienced the consequences.  Some seasons of life are marked by catastophic downfall – like deeply wounded or severed relationships.  Others are much more subtle – like the decreased capacity to create.

In Chapter 5 of The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers explores the relationship of free will and miracle as seen in the relationship between a playwright and his characters. A playwright who creates substantive and believable characters can’t be egotistical (enforcing his will and viewpoints upon the characters).  The characters, however, have innate limitations.

“For the true freedom of Energy (activity) consists in its willing submission to the limitations of its own medium. The attempt to achieve freedom from the medium ends inevitably in loss of freedom within the medium, since, here as everywhere, activity falls under the judgement of the law of its own nature.”  Dorothy Sayers p. 66

 

Our choice to clean the kitchen seems like a frivolous example when compared to the laws of the universe.  Yet, the reality is that our lives are rarely defined by dramatic, life-altering events.  Rather, we build our lives one small, seemingly insignificant choice at a time.

Do I clean the kitchen or become distracted with something more pleasurable?

Do I speak into lives of those around me based on what is in their best interest, or am I easily offended (or angered, or guarded)?

Do I defer to the Source of all wisdom, strength, and power, or continue to rely on my own resources?

Our spiritual heritage, inherited from our parents in the garden, is marked by a legacy of independence.  We think that we know best.  We live life accordingly.  Yet if we dare to trust the heart of the Father, it is possible to live a life that more closely resembles the original design.   A life lived more richly.  More fully.  More freely.  His heart is not one of control, domination, or manipulation.  It’s one of sacrifice.

“The business of the creator is not to escape from his material medium or to bully it, but to serve it;  but to serve it he must love it.  If he does so, he will realize that its service is perfect freedom.  This is true, not only of literary art but of all creative art.”   Dorothy Sayers p.66

And I’d add, true of all creative art – including The Creator’s masterpiece, of which He said, “It is very good.”

Consider your everyday choices.

Are there areas of life where you’re trying to “beat the cosmic system”?

Are there times when you’ve experienced greater freedom as a result of living within limitations?

Life is full of choices.  And thankfully, the Father is full of grace.

~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s not too late to join us as we read through The Mind of the Maker this summer.  We’d love to have you.  The reading schedule has a bit of a break for the week of July 4th, so it would be a great time to catch up and join us!

Thoughts from week 1 found here
Thoughts from week 2 found here 

 

 

 

 



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An Unfinished Work
Looking Back: Books of 2013
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Hope Restored


 

The Mind of the Maker:  Week 2 (Chapter 3 & 4)
If you’re not reading with us, that’s ok… Each post shares one idea found in the text. 

We live in a beautiful, broken world.  I’m amazed by watching folks who, rather than becoming cynical, work passionately to restore.  They make a difference.  They offer hope.

Lynne stepped into the lives of a Somali refugee family in Charlotte several years ago. They are not a project for her – they are her friends.  She has gathered a team of folks who invest significant time and boundless love in the everyday lives of each member of the family.  The destiny of this family, and of countless generations to come, is different because Lynne knew what she did (and did not) have to  offer.  Then she acted.  The children are thriving, and the mother became an American citizen a few weeks ago.  Hope restored.

Ruth responded to a phone call from the chaplain of the county jail. The women who end up in jail are frequently in their situation as a result of abusive histories.  The chaplain wanted a woman to step into their lives to listen, pray, and offer a different paradigm for life.  A weekly Bible study evolved into Changed Choices, a discipling-modeled ministry for incarcerated women and their families.  Their success rate is unparalleled, and families (as well as communities) are being transformed. Hope restored.

Dustin, has invested in the lives of children, teens, and communities all over the world. When he learned of the local refugee population in Charlotte, he developed a vision for the Charlotte community’s response.  As a result, Project 658 is actively engaged in bringing hope to the places in our city (as well as in Africa, Mexico, other areas of the world) where hope is most needed. Hope restored.

Sam had a dream to inspire, encourage, and foster a “holy imagination” in those who have children in their lives.  This week, he launched Story Warren, a site dedicated to breathing beauty into those who breathe into the lives of little ones.  We frequently hear of the woes of this generation. Story Warren is an ally in the fight for all that is good.  Hope restored.

Restoration is happening, through these people and countless others.  The folks on the giving end frequently receive more than they give. Hope flows both ways.  Impact, however, doesn’t start with programs, organizations, or projects.  What is the genesis? Take a few minutes and watch the following video.  Think about it.  Take notes.  Share it.  Watch it again.

(This is a link to a video embedded in a website.  Click on “The Next Christians” then scroll down to watch. Sorry for any confusion – the video is not on Youtube, so it was tricky to link.)

Video: The Next Christians

Gabe Lyons asks the questions, “What would happen if we showed up to the world’s problems as creators, rather than critics? . . . What would happen if we show up to create solutions to the systematic problems that could have caused the brokenness to start in the first place?”  Then he walks through the model of what form that might take:

1) Provoked – Hope stimulates vision/ a call to action
2) Creative –  Creativity makes vision a reality
3) Calling – Implementation translates into mission, and response is evoked

What correlation exists between Gabe Lyons’s charge to the “next Christians”of this generation and Dorothy Sayers’s message from the WWII generation?

In chapter 3 of The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers outlines her view of the creative trinity as follows: “For every work (or act) of creation is threefold, an earthly trinity to match the heavenly.” (p.37) In a nutshell:

1) Creative Idea – The guiding, unseen image (reflective of God)
2) Creative Energy – The idea worked out into activity (image of the Word)
3) Creative Power –  Meaning of the work and the response evoked (image of the indwelling Spirit)

See the similarity?

Idea. . .  begets activity. . . begets impact. . .brings hope

The creative process extends well beyond art, writing, and music.  We are given limitless opportunities to engage with the world around us – to bring hope.

~ Where have you seen the creative process result in bringing hope to others?

~ What stirs in you heart as you see “systematic brokenness” in the world?  Remember – it all starts with being provoked/ the “idea.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s not too late to join us as we read through The Mind of the Maker this summer.  We’d love to have you.

Thoughts from week 1 found here

 



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Foreshadowing
Ambition: An Invitation to Read, Consider, and Discuss

DNA

“In the beginning, God created.”

 

The Mind of the Maker – Week 1 (Chapters 1 & 2)

I had the great privilege of hearing and meeting Makoto Fujimura this week. He spoke  words of hope, vision, and beauty that drifted through the auditorium like dandelion parachutes dispersing in the wind.  The many seeds of thought deposited in my soul are just beginning to germinate, but I’d like to share with you one in particular.

For a bit of background, carve out a few minutes to watch the recent graduation address he delivered at  Biola University.  It will be time well invested.

If you weren’t able to complete the first week’s reading of The Mind of the Maker, Mako’s address was a beautiful companion to Sayers’s observations:

“Looking at man, he (author of Genesis) sees in him something essentially divine, but when we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the “image” of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, ‘God created.’  The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that:  the desire and ability to make things.” p. xvi

We’re innately creative, because we are made in the image of a creative God.  Most of us would conceptually agree with that statement as it relates to humankind, yet we struggle to see how that truth applies to us individually in our everyday lives.  Perhaps this will help:

“He made the world out of nothing, but we cannot ourselves make anything out of nothing. We can only rearrange the unalterable and indestructible units of matter in the universe and build them up into new forms . . . The components of the material world are fixed;   those of the world of imagination increase by a continuous and irreversible process without any destruction or rearrangement of what went before.  This represents the nearest approach we experience to ‘creation out of nothing’.” (p.22,29)

 

We create everyday.

In the material world, we create by rearranging matter.

We create when we plant a garden.
We create when we make a meal.
We create when we design a spreadsheet.

In the world of imagination, we create through daring to hope.

We create when we dream of our children’s future.
We create when we map strategy for our business.
We create when we reach out to those who are different, alone, or in need.

My husband, the banker, creates when he pulls together financial information from a company, analyzes trends, and foresees possible threats or opportunities.  He collaborates with others, gleaning insight and developing consensus.  As a result, he creates opinions.  Those opinions can result in corporate creation – both tangible and intellectual.

We create everyday.  It’s in our DNA.  We’ve inherited the ability (and drive) to create just as we’ve inherited our eye color and body type.  When we create, we experience pleasure.  We experience joy. We experience our humanity.  We experience a faint whiff of the fragrance from the Garden.

Don’t miss it.  Take the time to consider.

In your everyday, how do you create?
In the material world?
In the world of imagination?

Thoughts from week 2 found here
Thoughts from week 3 found here
Thoughts from week 4 found here
Thoughts from week 5 found here
Thoughts from week 6 found here

 

 

 

 



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Join Us

“The characteristic common to God and man is apparently. . .
the desire and ability to make things.”  Dorothy Sayers

Would you consider joining a group of like-minded folks as we read through The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers?  Although it may not be the typical book on your summer reading list, that’s a great reason to read along with a group.  I’m already a few chapters in, and am itching to hear what others have to say.  We have so much to learn so much from one another.

The Book

Sayers was a contemporary of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and her insights are highly relevant to us today.  For those who are unfamiliar with the book, the back cover states:

“This classic, with a new introduction by Madeleine L’Engle, is by turns an entrancing meditation on language; a piercing commentary on the nature of art and why so much of what we read, fear, and see falls short; and a brilliant examination of the fundamental tenets of Christianity. The Mind of the Maker will be relished by those already in love with Dorothy Sayers and those who have not yet met her.

A mystery writer, a witty and perceptive theologian, culture critic, and playwright, Dorothy L. Sayers sheds new, unexpected light on a specific set of statements made in the Christian creeds. She examines anew such ideas as the image of God, the Trinity, free will, and evil, and in these pages a wholly revitalized understanding of them emerges. The author finds the key in the parallels between the creation of God and the human creative process, and continually refers to each in a way that illuminates both.”

I’ve asked a few folks to share their thoughts:

“I’d had a hunch for a long time that there was an underlying connection between our human creativity and the manner in which we were, ourselves, created.  But it wasn’t until I read Dorothy Sayers’s The Mind of the Maker that I felt anyone had really articulated precisely why this might be so and why it might be so important.  As I read, I found myself nodding in almost constant agreement, often stabbing a finger at the page and proclaiming “Yes, that’s it exactly! That’s what it feels like to create!” And to my great delight, she describes the process with, not only great wisdom, but sharp wit.

Dorothy was quite a woman and far from perfect.  She’d stand out boldly and scandalously in our own generation, so you can imagine just how large she must have loomed in her own day–a day in which women had to fight tooth and nail to be taken seriously by the academic establishment. Part of what I so admire about the book is how carefully she builds her arguments and attends to her detractors. You can almost imagine the voices of the stuffy, misogynistic world around her poking holes in her thesis while Dorothy–severe, opinionated, and undaunted–sits hunched over her desk fearlessly plugging up those logical holes with the insight and wisdom of a modern-day sage. In reading The Mind of the Maker I fell in love not merely with the work itself, but, in the end, with the fierceness and audacity of its matchless author.” Pete Peterson

 

The Mind of the Maker unpacks Dorothy Sayers’s view of the creativity trinity. She breaks the creative process down into Idea (the unseen image which guides), Energy (the outworking of an idea into form), and Power (the connectivity between art and viewer). Sayers believed this creative triad permeates the artistic world because it follows the structure of the Creator Himself: Father (the unseen Idea), Son (the physical manifestation of Idea), and Spirit (the connective force between God and humanity). Sayers’s work is a tightly woven masterpiece, encompassing philosophy as well as diagnostics.”  Rebecca Reynolds

The Plan:

There are a few different ways to participate:

~ If you’re on Facebook, there is a new “Greener Trees Reads” closed group, which is ironically open to anyone who would like to join.  Just send a  message to me (or leave a message on the Greener Trees FB page) and you’ll be added to the group.

~ Or, you can join the conversation via Blog updates.  Details to come, but you can start by letting us know “you’re in” in the comments section.

~ If you live in Charlotte, we’ll provide a few meeting options during the summer where we can get together and discuss as well.  Time and place TBD.

The schedule:  

Introduction, Chapters 1-2 by June 15th
Chapters 3 – 4 by June 22nd
Chapters 5 – 6 by June 29th
Chapters 7 – 8 by July 13th
Chapters 9 – 11 by July 27th

*I’ve been warned that the first few chapters are fairly dense, but well worth the time invested – hang in there.

The Rules:

There are none.  But I’d ask that we focus on “what is stirred in me” rather than “what I do or don’t agree with.”  We each bring a unique story and perspective to the group.  All are welcome.  All are valued.

Even if you can only join us for a part of the summer, your insights and comments will teach and encourage others.  

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, and pass the information along to anyone who may be interested.  This is my first time to jump into such a venture, so we’ll be learning together. Thanks in advance for grace and flexibility!

The Mind of the Maker is available at The Rabbit Room store.

 



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The Art of Darkness
Graffiti Art and Repentance
Ambition: An Invitation to Read, Consider, and Discuss