Books for Lent

The season of Lent begins this Wednesday, February 18th.

If you’re looking for resources for personal reflection or family devotion, I thought I’d share what we’ll be reading:

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Behold the King of Glory by Russ Ramsey

This book’s companion Advent devotional, Behold the Lamb of God, has become a staple in our home. Ramsey’s writing is rich with imagery and steeped in sound theology. He invites, challenges, reveals and inspires – all while drawing us more deeply into the Greatest of Stories. For more about the heart behind and content found in Behold the King of Glory, you can read Ramsey’s recent interview with Barnabas Piper.

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The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter by Malcolm Guite

Last year during Lent, our family read through the corresponding sonnets from Malcolm Guite’s Sounding of the Seasons together. In response, the children illuminated a few of the readings that were particularly meaningful to them. Although a stretch for all of us, Guite’s poetry played a significant part in preparing our hearts for Easter. The Word in the Wilderness includes poetry and meditative prose from Guite as well as a number of poems from classical and contemporary poets.

If you’re looking for something to read with younger children:

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Vinegar Boy by Alberta Hawse

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Amon’s Adventure Arnold Ytreeide

Both Amon’s Adventure* and Vinegar Boy transport the reader back in time to experience the culture, social climate, political dynamics leading up to the crucifixion through the eyes of one who was there. Either would be an excellent choice for families with children of all ages.

*Amon’s Adventure is a companion book to the Jotham’s Journey Advent series by Ytreeide.

* * *

Do you have any recommendations for reading during the Lenten season?



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Merry Christmas  from the Silanders – 2014

Every year, the onset of Advent brings with it a small degree of (self-imposed) pressure to make the most of the season. We’ll never have another Christmas when the children are their current ages. I want them to remember. To capture smells of peppermint cookies and fresh pine, sights of white lights and red bows on the trees, and sounds of Yo-Yo Ma, Sufjan Stevens, and Andrew Peterson’s Christmas music. To tuck away their experience in an emotional time capsule – one that can be excavated when life down the road gets hard and they need to remember.

We may not have another Christmas when we’re all in good health. Or in our current home. The list of what could, and probably will, change in the next twelve months is longer than Santa’s scroll filled with names. Once the season slips by, it’s gone forever. I want to live fully in the moment – in the story unfolding before me – but I can’t help grieving the little (and big) lost opportunities.

This year, we won’t be sending out Christmas cards. I just couldn’t pull it together to get a reasonably good family picture taken, much less to order color-coordinated cards, then address, stamp, and get them in the mail. It’s a small thing, really. But there will never be another Christmas 2014 – the last one with a ten-year-old in the house, and the last one before our eldest son gets married. And I missed capturing it in a glossy 4×6. The calendar flips and the children grow up and we say goodbye to a season that’s gone forever.

It’s hard not to look back.

Among the many decisions to be made each Advent is, no surprise, is what we’ll be reading. This year, it will be a lesser-known Christmas story by Charles Dickens and a re-read of This Way to Christmas by Ruth Sawyer. But of particular importance is the choosing of an Advent devotional. We’ve accumulated quite a selection. Personally, I keep returning to God is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And for the family, despite the countless options available, we keep returning to the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.

Our children are hardly wide-eyed little ones anymore. There will be no baby doll paraphernalia or Rescue Hero action figures found under our tree. Rather than spending these days reading (and rereading) cherished Christmas picture books, we’ve been wrapping up school projects and tweaking papers. Much to my enjoyment, my thirteen-year-old has been taking a Literary Analysis class from which much of our daily dialogue flows. Words like “protagonist, conflict, and foreshadowing” pepper our conversation. I miss the fair-haired little boy sitting on my lap while we read, but I’m sure having fun with the larger version’s rascally smile and quick sense of wit.

Earlier this week, in order to catch up with the reading schedule (yes, running chronically behind), we read a few chapters out of the Jesus Storybook Bible. Then we read a few more. Here’s how they ended:

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As we closed the book, my boy turned his face toward me, and rather pleased with himself, proclaimed, “Foreshadowing.”

This year, he has learned a new word that represents a much more complex concept. Through months of example, analysis, and practice, my son has developed the skill of reading words on a page – then looking beyond what is seen to anticipate what is to come.

Perhaps that’s the purpose of the Advent season: to prepare the eyes of our heart to look beyond what we can see. To anticipate the coming of the One who makes all things new.

If it’s been a hard year, take heart. Advent is for you.

For you, friend, who feels the pressure of having to get it right. In your relationships, your career, your parenting, your choices. In the million minor daily details like creating and sustaining holiday traditions.

For you, friend, who’s grown weary of longing. Who feels paralyzed in the twilight between hope and despair. Who flirts with the temptation named numbness, which protects from pain, but suffocates joy.

For you, friend, who is fighting for your marriage. The marriage that felt so solid to you and looked ideal to others. The one that is gasping for life in an atmosphere running dangerously short on oxygen.

For you, friend, who received the diagnosis. The diagnosis that’s only supposed to be delivered to “other people.” The one that brought life to a screeching halt and has permanently rerouted your plans for the future. The one that terrifies to the core and steals dreams.

For you, friend, who is broken and wounded. Who feels too tired to move forward. Who is weary and losing hope, because life isn’t what you’d thought it would be. Who lives in regret of lost dreams and what could-have-beens.

It’s hard not to look back and remain tethered to the past. It’s hard to believe that life is more than the joy, sorrow, hope, fear, delight, regret, love, and loneliness we experience.

But Advent is here. Readjust your eyes. The text is pointing to a Truer Truth than the sum of what we can see.

Foreshadowing.

Light will drink up darkness.
Hope will snuff out despair.
Love has already won.

The stories are true. 

He’s been whispering them since the beginning of time.

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Tell Me a Story

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I’m grateful to share this guest post, written by Jen Rose Yokel, with you. In addition to being one of the original members of Greener Trees Reads, Jen is a writer, radio nerd, music lover, and hopeless literature addict, who grew up in the weird state of Florida where wild reptiles roam free. She writes for The Rabbit Room, fancies herself a poet and has been blogging since she begged an Internet acquaintance for a LiveJournal invite in 2002. Currently, she is settling into married life with her husband Chris in Fall River, MA. She doesn’t particularly enjoy writing about herself in third person, but she would like you to know that she really digs Apple products, vinyl records, good coffee, and spelunking used bookstores.

From the moment I stepped inside, something felt different. Different from any church experience I’d had before. I took the copy of what we called a bulletin in my Baptist heritage. Instead it was a list of readings, instructions, recitations.

I was about to experience my first Anglican liturgy.

It felt foreign, and yet, completely at home. There were no lights, no worship band on stage. The priest wore robes, walked to the middle of the church, read Scripture. We stood and knelt and took communion from a common cup. The sermon was short, lively, but the heart of the service was hearing the Word and taking the bread and wine.

It was otherworldly, beautiful in its calm reverence. Funny considering just a decade before I’d craved a more energetic experience than my memories of little Southern churches with a liturgy of hard pews and “Turn to page 320 and sing the first, third, and fourth verses.” I wanted movement, excitement, and everything else seemed dead. Now, I craved quiet, because everything else seemed fake.

My church journey has taken a number of turns, including a couple of charismatic side trips, many rock concert worship experiences, and now, a tiny city church that walks a line between Baptist and liturgical. If I think long enough, every one of them have their flaws. If I go into them with openness and appreciation, every one of them have their beauties.

Cliché as it seems, there’s some truth to the bumper sticker-ish advice: if you find the perfect church, run, because you’re going to ruin it. But what if all of us, together, in our fragmented quirky ways, are all simply telling the greater Story?

This isn’t to excuse harmful theology, but I wonder sometimes if despite all our grasping, searching, and learning, in the end we will always struggle to apprehend “pure truth,” always strain against the confines of logic, always fall short of grasping reality.

Maybe this is why, when asked hard questions about blinding truth, Jesus, the incarnation of the God who wove the universe and history, and continues telling the tale into a new creation, would say, “Let me tell you a story…”

As Luci Shaw tells it in Chapter 3 of Breath for the Bones

“I am reminded of an afternoon when my youngest daughter came home from high school, saying in disgust, ‘Well, today we dissected a grasshopper.’ As if that’s any way to discover what a grasshopper is.

We know the truth about grasshoppers not from a scatter of small body parts under a scalpel on a lab table, but from seeing them arcing up from the long, hot grass in a summer field…” (43)

I could chart the bits a of grasshopper for you and tell you what it does, or I could point to a real one, strong legs propelling it through the garden before you can blink. Dissection kills.

I can tell you what I think I know about God through the stories, grasp for an explanation, cross-reference and dole out doctrine, or I could let you read them and know a little something about Jesus through the way he talked about prodigals and treasures, through the way he put on a towel and washed the grime from his friends’ feet on his last night before dying on earth, before waking from death and changing everything.

This isn’t to say that it’s wrong to take a systematic approach. Great evil has been done by misinterpreting Scripture, and great good has been done for our understanding and inspiration. There is nothing wrong with memorizing a verse that gives you strength, feeling a flash of insight, or connecting the lines between stories, poems, and letters to see the structure of the Gospel.

What is a problem though is when we fail to recognize the limits of our language and understanding. “Truth is a touchy subject, a daunting word,” says Shaw. “It demands our serious thought… and we’re still baffled by it.” (40) You can’t face infinite God in limited flesh without being mystified.

Rather than letting our differences divide us into camps of black and white, perhaps it’s a better thing to let them give colors and shades to our understanding, to see the thrum of life below the surface with a “baptized imagination.” We seek truth. Our metaphors break down. They bump us up against contradictions and paradox, ask us to believe God’s people are oaks of righteousness and withering grass. Still we go on, together catching fleeting glimpses and trying to describe what a grasshopper is.

Shaw describes faith as “a large, rambling house… added onto over the years.” What happens inside makes it remarkable:

“Inside the building lives a diverse community, an extended family of people variously occupied — cooking, cleaning, studying, conversing, teaching, giving advice,receiving advice, listening, rehearsing, resting, making love, dreaming, creating. They are young and old, male and female, single and married, widowed and divorced, inexperienced and mature, naive and wise. They are school children, parents, laborers, teachers, businesspeople, scholars, artists.

Moving among them, talking and working with them, is and ordinary-looking man; it is the Christ, the One who lends the house its personal warmth, its structure, its creative center, its vision, its reason for being.” (x)

Not a specific kind of church — not in stained glass, icons, fog machines, or a rented movie theater — but a community. And our imaginations unlock the rooms, let us wander into each other’s space where we are free to ask, “tell me a story.”

Where do you see your room in the “house of faith”? What have you learned from people in other rooms?

How does seeing Scripture as a story rather than a theology text alter your understanding?

– – –

This post was written in response to reading Breath for the Bones by Luci Shaw. If you’d like to read along, the schedule is as follows:

Last week: Intro, Chp 1-2
This week:  Chp 3-5
Sept 15: Chp 6-7
Sept 22: Chp 8-10
Sept 29: Chp 11-12



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Catching Up: Conferences, Cliffhangers, and a Movie Critic

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Lots of life happening at our house these days.

A friend recently asked me if she needed to re-subscribe to Greener Trees – she hadn’t received anything in her inbox for a while. I tried to log in to the blog’s administrative page to work on a few things and couldn’t remember my password. Apparently, it’s time for an update.

Here’s what I’ve been up to lately:

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A little over a year ago, I was honored to join a team of wonderful folks over at Story Warren. You can learn more about their mission here. I’m delighted to share that Story Warren’s inaugural conference, Inkwell, will be held in Charlotte on June 21. On that day, two of my favorite worlds will collide. To say that I’m excited is an understatement. The conference is sold out, but there are still tickets available to the Andrew Peterson and Randall Goodgame concert to be held later that evening. We are lucky ducks, indeed.

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NOAH

Last summer, Greener Trees Reads (online reading group) read Jeffery Overstreet’s Through a Screen Darkly together. In the fall, I was able to meet and chat with Overstreet during the wonderful weekend called Hutchmoot. We talked about the possibility of working on a future project together. Months later, the idea became reality. Here it is:

Once upon a time, two total strangers — one a mother and a teacher with a background in business; the other a writer, editor, and film critic — became friends after she invited him to join an online discussion of his book about film. They were both Christians. And they met at an arts-and-faith gathering called Hutchmoot in Nashville. They both agreed that they wanted to work together on something someday. You can continue reading here:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lookingcloser/2014/04/noah-2014-part-two-of-a-two-part-commentary/#ixzz331Sgw68s

This summer, we’ll be listening to and discussing the recordings from Hutchmoot. If you have an interest in the intersection of faith and art, you may consider purchasing the 17 hours of audio here. It will be well-worth your investment.

 * * *

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A simple assigned writing prompt surfaced this long-forgotten memory. We have much to learn from each other – far more than initially meets the eye. Over at Art House America:

Not much was said as we hiked up the trail. Words would have tarnished the moment. The Colorado mountains were doing their thing — offering the fresh taste of reality in a saccharine-laced world. The climb provided ample time to survey the landscape. I was overcome with the beauty, so thick I couldn’t swallow it all in one gulp. I had to take in little sips. You can continue reading here.

* * *

In March, David and I celebrated twenty years of marriage by taking a few days away in the Big Apple. It was a rare grown-up playdate – complete with Broadway shows, unbelievable food, and my first visit to the Met. I’ve binged on the life and works of Van Gogh this spring, so standing before Starry Night was a hi-light. We’re deeply grateful for twenty years of struggle, joy, friendship, community, and far more detours from the assumed path of life than we could have imagined.

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* * *

Perhaps the biggest news coming from our home is the newest addition – Little Lucy. It’s amazing how much joy this sweet little pup has brought into our home. She’s six months old and we are all smitten.

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Happy summer from our home to yours!

 



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Hope from an Unlikely Place

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During the season of Lent, we’re reminded of our humanness. From dust we were made, and to dust we will return. We attend church services marked by ash, read devotionals to focus our minds, and abstain from sugar, caffeine, or the internet to redirect appetites. The forty days serves a solemn reminder. This year, the season feels particularly weighty. The stark reality of cancer, deeply fractured relationships, and untimely deaths have seeped deep into the Lenten liturgy of our community.

We begin most mornings with a family devotional, which is followed by the current read-aloud. Today, after naming and praying for a number of folks who are walking through incredibly painful situations, I was given pause. Although brief, it was a “Why does any of it matter anyway?” moment. I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the small cheerful book covered in red and gold cloth. To transition from our world filled with pain to one marked by myths and fairy tales felt foolish. The moment passed. The show must go on. There are tasks to be completed and boxes to be checked.

Half-heartedly, I opened the book and began reading where we’d left off. The world had been a paradise full of beautiful children. There was no sickness, nor aging, nor despair. Yet Pandora couldn’t be content with perfection. Her companion, Epimetheus, was no help. The ornate box in their possession, full of mystery and promise, drew Pandora closer. With a slight touch of her hand, the golden knot at the enclosure was untangled. The box flew open. The grave deed of all deeds had been done. For the first time in history, the world knew evil passions and diseases and sorrows of all kinds. Again, I was given pause. This make-believe world was a mirror of our own. It was tarnished. Soiled. Full of despair.

But despair wasn’t the ending. It was the beginning.

Epimetheus sat down sullenly in a corner with his back towards Pandora; while Pandora flung herself upon the floor and rested her head on the fatal abominable box. She was crying bitterly, and sobbing as if her heart would break. Suddenly there was a gentle tap on the inside of the lid.

Hope had been born from the place of deep darkness.

“As long as you need me,” said Hope, with her pleasant smile, – “and that will be as long as you live in the world, – I promise never to desert you. There may come times and seasons, now and then, when you will think that I have utterly vanished. But again, and again, and again, when perhaps you last dream of it, you shall see the glimmer of my wings on the ceiling of your cottage. Yes, my dear children, I know something very good and beautiful that is to be given you hereafter… Trust in my promise, for it is true.”

And so they did; and not only they, but so has everybody trusted Hope, that has since been alive. And to tell you the truth, I cannot help being glad – (though to be sure, it was an uncommonly naughty thing for her to do) – but I cannot help being glad that our foolish Pandora peeped into the box. No doubt – not doubt – the Troubles are still flying about the world, and have increased in multitude, rather than lessened, and are a very ugly set of imps, and carry most venomous stings in their tails. I have felt them already, and expect to feel them more, as I grow older. But then that lovely and lightsome little figure of Hope! What in the world could we do without her? Hope spiritualises the earth; Hope makes it always new; and, even in the earth’s best and brightest aspect, Hope shows it to be only the shadow of an infinite bliss hereafter! —Nathaniel Hawthorne (A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys)

Perhaps the days we feel least like reading stories of knights and dragons, of giant wooden horses and sea serpents, and of mythical gilded boxes filled with the problems of the world – are the very days that we need to catch a glimpse of the shadow of Hope. In the beginning, Hope spoke while hovering over darkness. In the end, it will sound like rushing waters and blaring trumpets. But while we’re waiting, Hope’s whisper can be heard in the most unexpected of places – like the funerals of saints and the flutter of fairy wings.

– – –

This piece was originally published at The Story Warren.



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Return of the Feechies

Apparently, my daughter has grown weary of waiting for me to compile a list of Books for Girls. Said hypothetical list’s predecessor, Books for Boys, has been floating around cyberspace for a while now. I’d always planned on pulling together a companion list, but it seems as though my girl is taking matters into her own hands. I recently discovered this tucked neatly between the pages of her book:

photo-43The second title listed is one of our family favorites (which also happens to appear on the Books for Boys list). We have given the Wilderking books as presents and frequently recommend them to friends who are looking for quality children’s literature. When the books went out of print, they became fairly expensive (the third book in the trilogy, The Way of the Wilderking, has been listed on eBay for up to $100). It’s a sad thing when tales of feechie folk have become too costly to acquire – but take heart. With spring comes hope.

I’m grateful to share with you that the Wilderking Trilogy will be back in print this April. If you preorder our copy before the end of next week, you’ll get yours in early March.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

~ You don’t know what a feechie is? Peruse the Feechie Film Festival.

~ You want to know what kind of practical instruction your children will receive? Here are a few things we learned from the books:

~ How can you reserve copies? Visit the Rabbit Room today. Then while you’re there, go ahead and order The Charlatan’s Boy.

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Full disclosure: The author of the Wilderking books has previously demonstrated a disappointing prejudice against the fine city of Charlotte, NC. We’ve chosen to believe that his views are a result of misinformation rather than deficit of character. The love of good story covers a multitude…

 



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The Courage to Keep Going

LITTLE PRINCESS, A (1995)

“I don’t think I can keep going,” I told my daughter.

We were mid-chapter, and the story had taken an abrupt turn. The bright little girl, so full of hope and life and love, was minutes from receiving devastating news. She would have to trade in her pink satin birthday frock for a black dress of mourning. In an instant, her day of celebration would become one of unbearable grief. The life she’d known as an adored, lavished-upon daughter was to be no more. Unbeknownst to her, the little girl’s father had died. Fate had left her a penniless orphan. Life would never be the same.

I’ve been present when such devastating news has been delivered. When the hot coal of truth was passed to a child, searing the tender soul and leaving an indelible scar. I remember wanting to stretch those last moments of blissful naivety into years, where innocence could romp and play through the fields of childhood. Yet the hard realities of the world had intervened. I had no control. The truth had changed life’s landscape forever.

The real world is one thing, a story quite another.  In the world of ink on paper, I possess the power to freeze time. With the closing of a book, heartache and evil can be kept at bay. I didn’t want to read further. I wanted to prolong the party, taking note of every detail, and basking in the enjoyment of fanciful dresses, the bounty of refreshments, and the crowning present – a beautiful doll, complete with a wardrobe fit for a princess. My heart dropped. I couldn’t bear what would happen in the next few minutes. It was all too familiar.

“But we have to go on, Mom,” she said to me. “We can’t just quit, or we’ll never know what happens. It has to get better. We just have to get through the hard part.”

My girl’s steadfast words spoke volumes.

We’ve been at this juncture before.  When Tacy’s baby sister dies. When Elizabeth Ann must leave the safe, protected world of her Aunt Harriet and Cousin Frances to live with strangers who felt like foreigners. When the cholera outbreak in India leaves Mary Lennox an orphan.

As we’ve walked with these characters-turned-friends through valleys of grief and hardship, a pattern has developed: Life is as it should be. What feels like unbearable hardship interrupts. Provision is made. Adjustments occur. Life, although not what was expected, continues. Like a river quietly cutting a path through stone, with time and repetition, such a pattern is engraved into the heart’s memory,

As my daughter’s insistence to continue reading nudged me out of my sentimental stupor, I was reminded. Of the power of story. Of the unexpected turns in life. Of the truth of redemption. Of a Storyteller who is often unpredictable, yet always good.

Ultimately, our quick conversation about little Sara’s plight left me hopeful. That when disappointment, hardship, betrayal, or heartbreak enter into my daughter’s story, a still, small voice will echo back to my girl (and to me, and to you), “We can’t just quit, or we’ll never know what happens. It has to get better. We just have to get through the hard part.”

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 This piece was originally shared in Story Warren. Drop by and visit. You’ll be glad that you did.


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The Art of Darkness

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Look at the picture.

What do you see?

My eye is drawn first to the two profiles facing each other.

I could stop there and would be correct in my description. Partially.

But if I’m willing to take a step back, look away, and view the picture with fresh eyes, I’ll gain a different perspective. I’ll see more. While the darkness reveals the profiles, the negative space reveals an urn. The darkness exposes the white paper that had always been there.

~ Rembrandt used darkness to draw the viewer’s eye to the light.
~ Haydn used bold dynamics in  Symphony 94 (his “big surprise”) to capture the listener’s attention for the rest of the (much quieter) piece.
~ And the darkness found movies can give us a new perspective on the light that is, and always has been, present in the world.

Sometimes looking into the darkness can help us see the light.

* * *

Welcome to our discussion of Through a Screen Darkly by Jeffrey Overstreet. Feel free to join in the discussion, even if you’re not reading along. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Week 4 – Art of Darkness
Movie of the Week – Apocalypse Now

I’m grateful for the experience of Taxi Driver, as disturbing as it is. It reminds me of what others are experiencing outside of my daily routine. For many of these individuals, a kind word, a conversation, or a gift could come as a bright and guiding light in a time of crisis. – p. 246

1. How can some movies, which are disturbing and hard to watch, result in the viewer having a softened heart? Have you ever had that experience?

 

They’re (people pedaling various modes of escapism) after us like paparazzi to celebrities – salespeople eager to sell us redemption at a reasonable price. In seeking satisfaction along these misguided paths, we ensure that we, as a culture, remain dissatisfied. Pursuing happiness, we try to steer clear of anything difficult or inconvenient, convinced that there are shortcuts to joy. As a result, we end up unhappy, disconnected, weak, and lonely – p. 254

Clearly, the heart is the problem. Both Apocalypse Now and Titanic show ambitious human endeavors that lead to catastrophic failure. – p.286

When Bruce’s  (from Bruce Almighty) definition of love is self-referential – seizing the freedom to do what pleases him – he is not capable of finding or receiving love. Some freedoms are only accessible through the denial of ego, along the humbling path of service. Freedom to follow one’s baser appetites is not freedom of all, but slavery. – p.290

2. Many movies focus on characters who live beyond boundaries, who have achieved “the American dream”, and who indulge in their hearts’ desires. At first glance, these films could seem dangerous, drawing us deeper into worldliness and depravity. How could they, like the black and white picture above, result in our seeing the light more clearly?

 

I suspect that these films (Alien, The Thing, The Shining) resonate not merely because they’re outrageous but also because we know they are illustrations of the truth. Evil does exist as a force outside of us, seeking to lure us into error. That leaves us to determine if we are ultimately helpless, or if there might be a power greater than evil seeking to help us escape the monsters. – p.273

Code Unknown (and other similar movies) could be, for some viewers, nothing more than an 118-minute downer. But the watchful may find glimmers of hope. And perhaps we can find understanding by noting what is absent from these confused lives. – p.264

If a heart opens to reveal ugliness and corruption and we respond by recoiling and turning away, we also turn away from the possibility of redemption. – p.267

3. What do you make of Overstreet’s thoughts on the depiction of evil in movies, and of the possible resulting redemption?

 

4. When you think of darkness in movies (in a character’s heart, a society, situation, etc.), what movie comes to mind? What redemption could come from watching that particular film?

 

* * *

If you’d like to join us or to catch up on the conversation:
Introduction/Schedule
Week 1 – How We Watch
Week 2 – Saving the World
Week 3 – Fools and Jokers
Intermission – Raising Arizona: An Appreciation

 

 

 



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On Reading Aloud – to the Bigger Kids

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Reading with my big kid.

There’s nothing quite like reading picture books to our little ones. They snuggle in tightly, nestle close to the heart, trace pictures with chubby fingers and beg for “one more”. But what happens when the little ones grow into lanky teenagers?

My middle-schooler no longer fits in children’s clothing, but must shop in the men’s department. As his body transitions from that of a child into that of an adult, so does his world. His calendar rivals mine. Discussions of college have begun to pepper our conversation and our planning for the upcoming school year. Conversations about world events have reflected the despair and depravity that are impossible to avoid. And then there is the dreaming together. The discovery. The hope.

I was reminded this week that despite the “necessities” that demand our time – the pivotal conversations, schoolwork, music lessons, sports and the myriad of activities that make up our days – our older children still need us to read aloud to them. Maybe as much or more than they did when they were toddlers.

As a family, we’ve been reading The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom, aloud. There is tremendous power in the story. In the realities presented. In the faith lived out that no human could conjure in his own strength. No doubt, there is great value in reading such a book alone. Yet each time we embark on the adventure of reading as a family, I continue to be surprised. Not so much by the power of the story – I’ve come to anticipate that. But I continued to be amazed at the potency of the conversations that flow from our reading together. I’ve discovered through the years that to “teach” breaks the spell woven by the language and the story. Rather, I’ve learned to guide our conversations – by opening doors of possibility, listening, and doing the hard work of seeing through the children’s eyes. As a result, not only are their souls stirred, but I’m given the indescribable privilege of baring witness to their personhood. It’s holy ground.

To attempt to distill such rich time would be futile – I’m not gifted enough as a writer. Yet I want to share a few snippets of our discussions. If for no other reason than to chronicle for posterity.

As The Hiding Place unfolds, it becomes clear that the most treasured possession is not a vial of precious vitamin oil or the blue sweater from home smuggled under the prison uniform. Rather, the most precious object in the prison camp is the small tattered Bible that hangs around Corrie’s neck. The role of Bible grows in importance through her captivity and practically becomes its own character. One day after we read, a child paused thoughtfully, then asked if I thought it had been “just a regular Bible” to the prisoners before they had entered the concentration camp. I could see his wheels turning. We have several Bibles. Always have. No big deal. Or perhaps it is a bigger deal than we can begin to comprehend.

Items present in our everyday that hold little or no significance take on new meaning. Like bread crumbs guiding Hansel and Gretel, a sparse trail of beauty offer hope in the midst of tragedy. Corrie uses scavenged threads to create a masterpiece of embroidered flowers on her pajamas. The singed remains of tulips offer promise. Color is more than symbolic for life – it infuses life to the deadened imaginations and despairing souls. The book ends with the following words:

“Windowboxes,” I said. “We’ll have them at every window. The barbed wire must come down, of course, and then we’ll need paint. Green paint. Bright yellow-green, the color of things coming up new in the spring.”

As we prepare our questionable garden (not enough sun and relentless dear threaten its success), as the children sketch on lazy summer days, and as we make simple choices to bring beauty into our home, this same trail of hope is offered to us. Our conversation will continue through these everyday observations. “Remember when she wrapped the light with red paper to decorate her cell?” We don’t live in the unthinkable environment of a concentration camp, but our souls are assaulted daily. Just more subtly. We need the same life-saving medicine of beauty.

I first read The Hiding Place as a young adult. I remember the shock and horror, but not much else. This time around, life experience had given me much broader vision through which to take in such a story. My children, although lacking years of experience, bring their own unique perspective to our reading. For them, much of that framework was the result of the myriad of stories they’ve ingested. The prisoners in the concentration camp were referred to only by numbers, not by names. “Mom – that’s just like Les Mis” interjected my son. He’s right. The conversation meandered down a path leading to our interactions with the local refugee community and how hard it was to learn and remember a person’s name. But knowing a name is important. We treat others like numbers everyday when we fail to look into the eyes. To Listen. To develop a posture of curiosity.

As we finished The Hiding Place, the children talked about what they would remember about the book. God’s provision in the midst of a horrible situation. The difference between the kingdom of the world and the Kingdom of Heaven. But the response that stopped me was when one of them said, “It helps us imagine what it looks like to trust God when really hard things happen.” I saw it happen. In my living room. My child is developing what my friend, Sam, calls “Holy imagination.”

Life is full of wonder, adventure, and beauty yet to be discovered. But life can also be ruthless. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and I can’t protect my children from the realities of the world. But I’m grateful that I can do something. I can continue to feed their minds, souls, hearts, and yes – imaginations. So if and when the unimaginable happens, they’re not taken completely off-guard. Through our reading, they’ve witnessed injustice and loss. They’ve practiced empathy, trust, choosing others over self, and belief that in the end, good will undoubtedly triumph over the most heinous evil. In reading as a family and leaving space for discussion, we have the great privilege of offering them a training ground for hope.

There’s nothing quite like reading to older kids. They leave behind their schedules, assignments, and social engagements. If even only for a brief period of time, they hang on every word we say. And if we’re lucky, they still snuggle in tightly and nestle close to the heart.



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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!



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