Review and Giveaway: The House at the End of the Moor

Michelle Griep’s novel, The House at the End of the Moor, is set in England in 1861.

A woman known as Mrs. Dossett lives at the title house with only a sheepdog, mute maid, and a manservant. It’s obvious she’s in hiding, but we don’t know from whom at first.

So when she finds a severely wounded unconscious man on her property, she’s torn. It can only mean trouble to bring him home. But she can’t leave him to the elements.

As the man, Oliver, heals and his head becomes clearer he and the woman are wary of each other. He’d like to leave, but he’s too injured.

Just as the two are beginning to trust each other, Oliver opens the door to a room where a beautiful gown is displayed along with a gorgeous red jeweled necklace–the very necklace he was falsely accused of stealing and for which he was thrown in prison.

The mystery of who each of the characters are, where the jewels are from, and what the characters decide to do all make for an interesting read. The faith element is naturally woven into the characters’ makeup and thinking.

A secondary character, Barrow, is the constable seeking Oliver since his escape from prison. Barrow is similar to Javert in Les Miserables but is much more cruel. His motivation is seeking justice for righteousness’s sake. But he has to learn what justice truly is and who is supposed to mete it out.

Somehow I ended up with both a Kindle and paperback version of this book. So I’d love to give away the physical copy to one of you. I can only offer it to someone in the US due to mailing costs. If you’d like to enter the drawing for this book, just leave a comment on this post before Wednesday, June 30. I’ll draw a name then from among the entries. I’ll count all comments on this post as entries unless you mention that you’re not interested in winning the book. Also, I must have a way to contact you to let you know you have won. If I don’t hear back from the winner within a couple of days, I’ll draw another name. Best wishes to each of you!

(Update: I originally scheduled the contest to end Saturday, but decided to extend it to Wed., June 30.)

EPIC: An Around-the-World Journey Through Christian History

When Tim Challies first mentioned traveling all over the world looking for objects connected with Christianity for a book he wanted to write, I was puzzled. Our faith rests on the unseen—so why all that trouble for objects?

But then I remembered God used physical things all through the Bible. Stones piled up for a memorial. A brass serpent. A tabernacle and temple. A stone to kill a giant. Even His Son took on a physical body in which to die, be buried, and be resurrected to accomplish the means of our salvation.

Plus, Tim was not looking for these items to revere them, but to learn from them.

Tim’s travels culminated in EPIC: An Around-the-World Journey Through Christian History. Tim takes a close look at 33 objects and the stories behind them. They cross the centuries from the oldest known fragment of Scripture to the YouVersion app, from the statue of the Augustus who ushered in the Pax Romana, to the traveling pulpit someone made Billy Graham after observing him struggle in a small one.

Each chapter gives a brief background of the person or situation the object represents, then shares what that object tells us about God’s movement through the ages. None of the chapters are very long, and they include a few pictures each. It’s easy to pick up the book here and there and read a chapter or two at a time.

The most meaningful chapter to me focused on Amy Carmichael. Frank Houghton’s biography, Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur, was one of the first missionary biographies I read. That book and Amy’s own writings had a deep influence on me since my early adulthood. And Amy had a profound influence on Elisabeth Elliot, who impacted my life even more. So when Tim had a post about visiting not only Dohnavur, but also the room where Amy spent the last 20 years of her life as an invalid—that was when I began to get really excited about his book! Here is his video of that visit.

Another chapter that meant a lot to me was the one showing Nate Saint’s airplane. The story of the five missionaries killed in 1956 by the savage Indian tribe they were trying to reach has had a far-reaching impact ever since. I had not known that parts of Saint’s aircraft, which had been stripped at the time, had been recovered and reassembled.

I knew of most of the people mentioned in the book: William Carey, Hudson Taylor, David Livingstone, and others. Even Selina Hastings, or Lady Huntingdon, as she was known, one of my favorite people in Christian history. I enjoyed revisiting their stories and even learning a thing or two I hadn’t known.

Some of the folks mentioned were new to me: Marie Durand, Lemuel Haynes, and the folks who built the Papallacta Dam just so they could reach people in the area via radio.

Most of the objects discussed have positive stories and repercussions. A couple do not. One is known as the Slave Bible. Some missionaries wanted to reach slaves for the Lord, but “How could these missionaries teach the Bible to slaves without condemning slavery and therefore angering the slave owners?” Appallingly, they cut out “any passages or verses that condemned slavery or condoned racial equality. So pervasive is the message of freedom in the Word of God that only 232 of the Bible’s 1,189 chapters made the final cut” (p. 119).

One thing that becomes clear in a view over large swaths of Christian history is the realization of how God brought so many things together to accomplish His purposes. The Pax Romana and the system of roads created by the Romans allowed for the rapid spread of Christianity in the years after Jesus died and rose again. The invention of the printing press changed the world in many ways, but perhaps none more so than making the Bible available to the common man.

In one chapter, Tim said, “If I learned anything from my journey around the world, it’s the simple truth that the Lord is always at work” (p. 94). It was enjoyable and encouraging to see some of the Lord’s works in Tim’s book.

A DVD series was also made of Tim’s travels here. And here’s a trailer that gives an overview of the book:

I’m counting this book for the travel category for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

The Adventures of Pinocchio

The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi was originally written in serial form for a children’s magazine in Italy in the 1880s. Collodi had ended the series with the fifteenth chapter. But readers clamored for more, so Collodi gradually added eleven more chapters. The series was published as a single book in 1883.

The story was meant to be didactic. A poor woodcarver named Geppetto begins to carve a marionette out of a piece of wood given to him by his friend. Before the puppet is even fully carved, he starts making trouble: sticking out his tongue, calling names, pulling Geppetto’s wig off. He’s wild and self-willed and won’t listen to anyone. And, of course, he gets into various kinds of trouble. Gradually he begins to be disciplined by his hardships and turns into “a real boy.”

Parts of the story are comedic, but parts are scary. Some are darker than I’d expect in a children’s book.

Pinocchio doesn’t have Jiminy Cricket as a companion. Instead a Talking Cricket tries to advise Pinocchio–and Pinocchio throws a hammer at him and kills him!

The Blue Fairy is here the Maiden with Azure Hair. Other familiar characters are the evil theater director, a shark (not a whale) that swallows Pinocchio, the friend named Lamp-wick who tempts Pinocchio to the Land of Toys. And there are several more characters I had not heard of before.

I was glad that Pinocchio didn’t change in one sudden burst of realization. Rather, he gradually learned a bit, fell back, went forward, fell back again. Most of us mature and learn that way.

The chapter titles or headings seem to me to give away much of the story. Chapter 17 is “Pinocchio eats sugar, but refuses to take medicine. When the undertakers come for him, he drinks the medicine and feels better. Afterwards he tells a lie and, in punishment, his nose grows longer and longer.” Chapter 23 is “Pinocchio weeps upon learning that the Lovely Maiden with Azure Hair is dead. He meets a Pigeon, who carries him to the seashore. He throws himself into the sea to go to the aid of his father.” Maybe that was the style then.

I was surprised to learn that Pinocchio is “the most translated non-religious book in the world.” Another surprise learned from Wikipedia is “Children’s literature was a new idea in Collodi’s time, an innovation in the 19th century. Thus in content and style it was new and modern, opening the way to many writers of the following century.”

Most of us are familiar with the Disney version of Pinocchio. I wonder if anyone, particularly if any children or families, read the unabridged original book today. By today’s standards it might seem a little too long and didactic. Then again, kids might enjoy reading about Pinocchio’s antics and seeing him get his comeuppance several times over. Personally, just when I was starting to get a bit tired of the story, Pinocchio began making some real advances.

I read this book for the classics in translation category of the Back to the Classics Reading challenge. In all honesty, I chose it mainly because it was short. I’ve read some hefty Russian tomes, like War and Peace and The Brothers Karamazov, for this category in past years. But I just didn’t feel like getting into something like those this year. However, I do also like reading the original versions of familiar stories.

I listened to the audiobook by Librivox which, as it’s read by volunteers, is a mixed bag. But it’s free. I also looked up portions on the online Gutenberg version here. Both use the translation by Carol Della Chiesa.

Have you ever read The Adventures of Pinocchio? What did you think of it? Do you think children today would like the longer original version?

The Orchard House

If you’re familiar with Louisa May Alcott’s life, you may know that one home where her family lived was called the Orchard House (though Louisa called it Apple Slump). Orchard House is beloved by Louisa’s fans not just because she lived there, but she wrote her most famous novel, Little Women, and several other books there. Orchard House is open to the public for tours and special events.

Heidi Chiavaroli wrote a time slip novel, The Orchard House, using Louisa’s time and town as the setting for one plot line.

Johanna Suhre had written to Louisa for more information about her brother, John, whom Louisa tended while a nurse during the Civil War. John had died, and Louisa featured him in her Hospital Sketches. Johanna and her mother and brother longed for any details Louisa could give them.

That’s as much as we know about the facts, but Heidi imagined Louisa’s and Johanna’s correspondence and friendship growing.

When Louisa needs someone to stay with her parents while she travels, she asks Johanna. Johanna is eager not only for something new and different, but delighted to meet her friend in person and visit the town so steeped in literary talent. Johanna had written some poems that she hoped to work up the courage to show Louisa.

While in Concord, Johanna meets the Alcott’s neighbor, Nathan Bancroft. Louisa cautions Johanna against Nathan, but she doesn’t have any specific details to warn against. After Nathan and Johanna marry, however, Johanna discovers another side to him.

The modern timeline also takes place in Concord. Taylor’s mother had abandoned her. The family of her best friend, Victoria, took Taylor in. Though Taylor appreciates the Bennetts’ kindness, she doesn’t quite fit in. Though she and Victoria rejoiced at becoming real sisters, the situation feels awkward.

Both girls enjoy writing and attending a young writer’s camp at The Orchard House. One of Taylor’s most treasured possessions, one of the few things she has left from her childhood, is a beat-up copy of Little Women.

Though Taylor never quite feels like family, she and Victoria work out their differences. At least, they had until Victoria unexpectedly betrays Taylor.

Taylor packs up her things and drives to the other side of the country. She becomes a famous author, writing under a pen name. She keeps her distance until eighteen years later, when she learns that her adoptive mother has cancer. She goes back to Concord, intending to stay for a short while. She and Victoria take tentative steps to at least be civil. Victoria would like to explain and make amends, but Taylor’s not sure she wants to hear it.

Victoria, who now works at the Orchard House, invites Taylor to speak at the young writer’s camp. Then she shares with Taylor some poems by a woman named Johanna Bancroft that were unearthed in the schoolroom. As the sisters try to unravel the mystery of who Johanna was and how Louisa knew her, they learn some things about themselves and each other as well.

I took a chance on this book when I saw it on a Kindle sale back in April. I had never heard of this author, but the story sounded intriguing. Plus the Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge was coming up, and this would be a good choice for that.

I’m so delighted I took the chance. I enjoyed both timelines and felt for both Johanna and Taylor in their trials.

I also liked the quotes from Louisa at the beginning of every chapter. One favorite was, “All the philosophy in our house is not in the study; a good deal is in the kitchen, where a fine old lady thinks high thoughts and does good deeds while she cooks and scrubs.”

Though I wouldn’t call this book full-out Christian fiction, there were references to forgiveness, faith, and yielding to God.

I’m happy to recommend this book, and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

Since this is the only book I am reading for Tarissa‘s LMA challenge, I’ll let this serve as my wrap-up post as well.

A Room With a View

In E. M. Forster’s A Room With a View, set in the early 1900s, Miss Lucy Honeychurch is traveling through Italy with her older cousin, Miss Charlotte Bartlett, as a chaperone. They’re lamenting to each other that their rooms overlook a courtyard, when they were supposed to overlook the Arno River. An older man, Mr. Emerson, overhears them and joins the conversation. He and his son have rooms with a view of the river, and they don’t particularly care about the view. They’d be happy to switch rooms with the ladies.

However, Miss Bartlett feels this won’t do, it isn’t proper, and the offerer is ill-bred, so she declines. But a short while later the ladies run into Mr. Beebe, a rector they knew in England. They tell him the situation. He feels that, even though Mr. Emerson is “peculiar,” “has no tact,” and “will not keep his opinions to himself,” he’s not a bad man and it would be all right to accept his offer.

So the switch is made. Lucy runs into the Emersons in their visits around town. Though they are not refined, she feels they are kind. Mr. Emerson is irreligious, and George seems morose because “the things of the universe . . . won’t fit.”

On one of Lucy’s rare excursions alone, she laments that she hasn’t had any adventures. “Nothing ever happens to me.” But “Then something did happen.” She witnesses a murder and faints. As she wakes up, she finds that George Emerson has carried her away from the scene.

Later, several of the English tourists go on a day trip to the countryside, There, in a field of violets, George kisses Lucy.

Miss Bartlett comes across them and is mortified. She asks Lucy not to tell her mother what happened, fearing she’ll be blamed for not chaperoning adequately. They decide to go on the next leg of their travels.

Part 2 opens at Lucy’s home in England, where she has just accepted Cecil Vyse’s proposal of marriage. Cecil, as Lucy’s mother says, is good, clever, rich, and well-connected. But he’s also snobbish, arrogant, and controlling.

When a property in the area needs new renters, who should the new tenants be but the Emersons.

Thus Lucy is pulled in two different directions–the conventional and expected or the freeing and individualistic.

I probably won’t take the time, but I’d love to go back and trace every time Forster mentions a view in this novel. It comes up quite often. Cecil even says he connects Lucy with a certain type of view, while she responds that she always pictures him in a room, like “a drawing room without a view.” Obviously, he’s presented as close-minded and unopen to change, while she’s the opposite.

This was written at the end of the Victorian era, when some of the old social order was changing. Forster doesn’t seem to be saying all conventionality is wrong–one character, Miss Lavish, is often described by others as “original,” a little more free-thinking than most. She goes with Lucy in Italy for an “adventure” and takes Lucy’s guidebook away so they can see the “real” Italy and not the prescribed tourist’s view. But then Miss Lavish sees someone she wants talk to and disappears, leaving Lucy alone in a strange country with no guidebook. Later Miss Lavish shares an incident someone told her confidentially in her new novel. So she takes things a little too far.

At one point the author has Lucy wonder:

Why? Why were most big things unladylike? Charlotte had once explained to her why. It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves. Indirectly, by means of tact and a spotless name, a lady could accomplish much. But if she rushed into the fray herself she would be first censured, then despised, and finally ignored.

Then later, when Lucy has an outburst, Cecil thinks:

He longed to hint to her that not here lay her vocation; that a woman’s power and charm reside in mystery, not in muscular rant. But possibly rant is a sign of vitality: it mars the beautiful creature, but shows that she is alive. After a moment, he contemplated her flushed face and excited gestures with a certain approval.

George, by contrast, tells her, “I want you to have your own thoughts even when I hold you in my arms.”

I liked this description of the Honeychurch family: “So the grittiness went out of life. It generally did at Windy Corner. At the last minute, when the social machine was clogged hopelessly, one member or other of the family poured in a drop of oil.”

One beef I have with the story is that George does not seem at all attractive. What he says about her having her own thoughts comes later in the book. At first he’s shown as moody, odd, and not terribly communicative. He’s only shown as happy twice in the book. I also felt that Mr. Emerson didn’t always make sense to me when he was pushing Lucy towards George.

Unfortunately, I could probably never see a film version of this book because there’s a scene where George, Lucy’s brother, and the rector are “bathing” in a pond when Lucy, Cecil, and Lucy’s mother come upon them unexpectedly. When George speaks to Mrs. Honeychurch, “He regarded himself as dressed. Barefoot, bare-chested . . .” So they’re not running around naked. But I’m sure filmmakers would play this scene up. In fact, I looked up the parental guidelines of the one film I was interested in, and sure enough, they take it too far.

I’m counting this for the travel or adventure classic for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge. I’m thankful to another participant for giving me the idea. I really didn’t feel like a Jules Verne type of novel this year, and I was glad to finally become familiar with A Room with a View.

 

How to Read a Book

Why would an avid reader for decades pick up How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren?

I had three reasons:

  1. I’d like to retain more from my reading. Though I flag pages, underline or note important points, sometimes even outline chapters, I forget much of what I’ve read in a short while.
  2. Reading better in general should enhance one’s ability to read the Bible.
  3. I see so many people online talking past each other. I’ve wondered if that has anything to do with a lack of reading comprehension.

This book was originally written by Adler in 1940. Adler revised and updated it with Charles Van Doren in 1972. Even though 1972 doesn’t seem all that long ago to me, as far as literature is concerned, I found this book very tedious. I read a lot of old classics, so I don’t think older language is the problem here. I think it’s just Adler’s style.

It would take up too much time and space to go into Adler’s method here. But this Goodreads review goes into more detail.

Adler’s first step would be what we call pre-reading, and most of us do this to some degree, depending on the book, the author, and our familiarity with both. Many of us would look at the front cover, the back cover, look over the table of contents, read the first paragraph or two, maybe leaf through the whole thing briefly. But Adler’s method goes into much more detail and study. One of his first steps is to read the whole book once and then come back and apply these other steps.

Adler’s stages of reading are: elementary, inspectional, analytical, and syntopical. He discusses the first three in great detail and then applies his principles to various types of books. Then he has a chapter on syntopical reading, which goes beyond the reading of one book to reading several books on a given topic. He ends with a list of recommended reading and an appendix of exercises and tests for the various levels (I just glanced through the last appendix without trying any of the tests).

Honestly, I can’t see someone going through all Adler’s steps unless they’re incredibly academically minded or unless they need to know the book extremely well for a class.

Does that mean my time in the book was a waste?

No. Even though I have no desire to follow Adler’s advice for all my reading, I agreed with many points. I especially appreciated the urge to read actively, not passively. I gleaned numerous nuggets I liked. I can’t share them all here, but here are a few:

I think his evaluation of the average high school student is probably true even of many adults today:

He can follow a simple piece of fiction and enjoy it. But put him up against a closely written exposition, a carefully and economically stated argument, or a passage requiring critical consideration, and he is at a loss. It has been shown for instance, that the average high-school student is amazingly inept at indicating the central thought of a passage, or the levels of emphasis and subordination in an argument or exposition. To all intents and purposes he remains a sixth-grade reader till well along in college (p. xi.).

This was written before personal computers, much less iPhones and ebooks, but this is even more true now:

There is a sense in which we moderns are inundated with facts to the detriment of understanding. One of the reasons for this situation is that the very media we have mentioned are so designed as to make thinking seem unnecessary (though this is only an appearance). The packaging of intellectual positions and views is one of the most active enterprises of some of the best minds of our day. The viewer of television, the listener to radio, the reader of magazines, is presented with a whole complex of elements—all the way from ingenious rhetoric to carefully selected data and statistics—to make it easy for him to “make up his own mind” with the minimum of difficulty and effort. But the packaging is often done so effectively that the viewer, listener, or reader does not make up his own mind at all. Instead, he inserts a packaged opinion into his mind, somewhat like inserting a cassette into a cassette player. He then pushes a button and “plays back” the opinion whenever it seems appropriate to do so. He has performed acceptably without having had to think (p. 4).

Even though I don’t know many people who would read a whole book at an elementary level before coming back to read it analytically, I can see Adler’s point here:

We were told to consult footnotes, scholarly commentaries, or other secondary sources to get help. But when these things are done prematurely, they only impede our reading, instead of helping it.

The tremendous pleasure that can come from reading Shakespeare, for instance, was spoiled for generations of high school students who were forced to go through Julius Caesar, As You Like It, or Hamlet, scene by scene, looking up all the strange words in a glossary and studying all the scholarly footnotes. As a result, they never really read a Shakespearean play. By the time they reached the end, they had forgotten the beginning and lost sight of the whole. Instead of being forced to take this pedantic approach, they should have been encouraged to read the play at one sitting and discuss what they got out of that first quick reading. Only then would they have been ready to study the play carefully and closely, because then they would have understood enough of it to learn more (p. 37).

I thought this about propaganda was especially good:

The best protection against propaganda of any sort is the recognition of it for what it is. Only hidden and undetected oratory is really insidious. What reaches the heart without going through the mind is likely to bounce back and put the mind out of business. Propaganda taken in that way is like a drug you do not know you are swallowing. The effect is mysterious; you do not know afterwards why you feel or think the way you do (p. 198).

What about my three purposes for reading the book?

First, I did not get any information specifically about retaining more from reading, but that was not this book’s purpose. Probably one would retain more, at least for a time. Even if I did use Adler’s methods, I would still probably forget much without reviewing either the book or my notes from time to time. But I did get some ideas for improved note-taking.

Secondly, I did think that Adler’s methods would be good for Bible study. I’m an advocate of reading a book of the Bible at a time rather than cherry-picking random verses here and there.

As to my third purpose, I thought he brought up some very good points. One of his steps is ascertaining whether or not you agree with the author, and if not, why not. But you have to support your views from what the book actually said. So one can’t take things out of context, infer one’s own views, etc. Of course, our era of sound bytes and no context at all on Facebook and Twitter doesn’t really support good, meaningful communication.

Have you read Adler’s and Van Doren’s book? What do you think about any of his points mentioned here?

I counting this book for the Hobby category of the Nonfiction Reader Challenge since reading is my main hobby.

Be Counted (Numbers): Living a Life That Counts for God

The book of Numbers in the Bible covers the time that Israel headed to the promised land to the time just before they finally got there after a 40-year detour. As Warren Wiersbe said in his introduction to Be Counted (Numbers): Living a Life That Counts for God:

The book of Numbers opens with a count of all the fighting men in the camp. They were counted, but they couldn’t be counted on, because all but two of them died during Israel’s march through the wilderness. Then the new generation was counted, and they were people whom the Lord could “count on.” They trusted His Word, entered the Promised Land, and claimed it for their inheritance (pages 13-14, Kindle).

The book begins with getting ready to march to Canaan. Soldiers are numbered, the tribes are arranged in their places around the tabernacle, duties and procedures are assigned, the tabernacle is dedicated, and Passover is kept.

But the people complain about the manna God sent them. Aaron and Miriam, Moses’s own siblings, challenge his leadership. When the people send out spies to look over the land, the spies come back telling how many and how large the enemies are. Instead of trusting that God would give them the land as He promised, the people rebelled.

They looked at the people of the land and saw giants; they looked at the Canaanite cities and saw high walls and locked gates; and they looked at themselves and saw grasshoppers. If only they had looked by faith to God, they would have seen the One who was able to conquer every enemy and who sees the nations of the world as grasshoppers (Isa. 40: 22). “We are not able” is the cry of unbelief (Num. 13: 31 NKJV), but, “Our God is able” is the affirmation of faith (Dan. 3: 17; see Phil. 4: 13) (p. 74).

God pronounced that all those who refused to enter the land would die in the wilderness over the next forty years. Their children would inherit the land in their place along with Joshua and Caleb, the only two spies who urged to people to go forth and trust God.

And then: more rebellion, this time from Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. They challenged Moses and Aaron’s leadership, and God dealt with the rebels severely.

Then as the people complain once again about the need for water, Moses responds angrily. He calls them rebels. Instead of speaking to the rock as God instructed, Moses struck the rock twice.  “It was a sad demonstration of hostility by the meekest man on the earth (Numbers 12:3), showing that we can fail in our strengths as well as our weaknesses” (p. 105). God told Moses, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12). I’ve always felt bad for Moses, but one man in our church commented that he did eventually get to see the promised Savior in the promised land when he appeared with Elijah during Jesus’s transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8).

After a battle, more complaining, an encounter with Balaam and his talking donkey, falling into sin with the false gods of Moab, judgment, revenge against Midian, and another census, the people finally come to their second opportunity to go into the promised land. Eleazar has been appointed to take Aaron’s place and Joshua Moses’s place. Boundaries for the tribes are set. Interspersed in the narrative are some of God’s instructions for promised-land dwelling. These were encouraging reminders that they would eventually get there, that they were still God’s people, and that He would keep His promises. In fact, His faithfulness to His promise is probably the only reason the people did make it. The end of Numbers leaves Israel poised on the brink of Canaan, awaiting Moses’s last instructions to the tribes in Deuteronomy. “Though he wasn’t allowed to go in himself, Moses invested the closing weeks of his life in preparing the new generation to enter Canaan and claim the land God promised to give them” (p. 153).

What are some things we can learn from Numbers? According to Wiersbe:

We don’t have to fail as did that first generation; we can be “more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Rom. 8: 37) (p. 14).

The more comfortable we become, the less we welcome change, and yet there’s no growth without challenge and there’s no challenge without change. Comfort usually leads to complacency, and complacency is the enemy of character and spiritual growth. In each new experience of life, one of two things happens: Either we trust God and He brings out the best in us, or we disobey God and Satan brings out the worst in us (p. 58).

So sinful is the human heart that it’s prone to forget God’s blessings, ignore God’s promises, and find fault with God’s providence. “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” (Ps. 107: 8, 15, 21, 31) (p. 61).

Over these many years of ministry, I’ve learned that it isn’t enemies outside the local church who do the damage, but counterfeiters who get inside the church fellowship (Acts 20: 28–30; 3 John 9–11). These intruders might march with the church crowd and act like they are God’s people, but they don’t have an appetite for spiritual things, and eventually their true allegiance is revealed (1 John 2: 18–19) (p. 62).

The will of God is the expression of the love of God for His people, for His plans come from His heart (Ps. 33: 11). God’s will isn’t punishment, it’s nourishment (John 4: 31–34), not painful chains that shackle us (Ps. 2: 3), but loving cords that tie us to God’s heart so He can lead us in the right way (Hos. 11: 4) (p. 77).

God in His grace and mercy forgives sin, but in His divine government He allows that sin to have its sad effects in the lives of sinners (p. 78).

Be careful what you say to God when you complain, because He may take you up on it! After all, God’s greatest judgment is to let people have their own way (p. 79).

There is no substitute for faith in God’s promises and obedience to His commandments. Faith is simply obeying God in spite of how we feel, what we see, or what we think might happen. When God’s people trust and obey, the Lord delights in doing wonders for them, because they glorify His name (p. 81).

We have to be careful about judging Israel’s penchant for complaining and failure to trust God. Instead, we need to recognize those tendencies in ourselves and seek His grace to trust, obey, and follow.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Tarissa at In the Bookcase hosts the Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge in June. You can read all the particulars here.

This year I’m reading The Orchard House by Heidi Chiavaroli. It’s a time slip novel with one story set in modern times and another in Louisa’s time, both connected to her. And isn’t that cover gorgeous!

I doubt I’ll read anything else connected with LMA this year–I have too many other things on my reading plate. But we’ll see. If this one goes quickly, I might try to work in another.

Two Short Fiction Reviews

In The Sign Painter by Davis Bunn, Amy Dowell has fallen on hard times. Her husband died and she lost her home. Now she travels in a camper with her young daughter. After charges of vagrancy and the threat of having her daughter taken away, she has a lead on a job painting signs for a car dealership. She comes across a church with an extensive ministry to the homeless, including temporary housing.

Just as things are looking up, she faces a dilemma. While working after closing hours one night, she discovers a salesman has left a significant amount of cash on his desk. If she leaves it, someone could steal it. But if she takes it to keep it safe, would she be accused of stealing? Would her record make her seem all the more guilty?

Meanwhile, ex-policeman Paul Travers has been hired to help the church find the best way to deal with a nearby house overtaken by drug dealers. Some of the church folks are already wary of the kinds of people the homeless ministry brings in. Having drug dealers in the neighborhood might push them into closing down the whole ministry.

I’m used to a more exotic locale in Bunn’s books, so it was interesting to read a novel of his set in the US. I appreciated what he said in a interview at the end of the book. The story was inspired by a news item he saw about homelessness in Orlando. He wanted to show the hardships, but not stop there. “I wanted to focus on the rebuilding. To my mind, too much attention is given to the falling down, and not enough to the getting back up again. So The Sign Painter aims toward hope and healing—a new future for homeless families, but also a reminder about the help our communities may be able to offer.”

The story took a little different turn from what I expected. I enjoyed getting to know Amy and Paul. I appreciated the glimpse into the challenges of those who are homeless and those who want to help.

In Saving Alice by David Lewis, Stephen Whittaker had been in love with Alice in high school. When a car accident takes Alice’s life, Stephen and Alice’s best friend, Donna, comfort each other and eventually marry. They have a daughter named after Alice, Alycia, with whom Stephen has a special bond. But all these years later, Stephen still has nightmares about Alice’s accident.

Stephen is a stockbroker who nearly drove his company bankrupt with a bad deal. They avoided bankruptcy and are slowly making their way back.

But when Alycia turns twelve she wants to know more about her parents’ friend, Alice. When her relentless questions finally bring out the truth that her father loved Alice first, Alycia loses respect for him.

Stephen’s bad decisions and cluelessness lead to Donna’s leaving him. But just as things begin to look up in his job and his relationship with Alycia, everything comes crashing down.

I enjoyed the father-daughter banter, and some of the scenes were very well-done and drew out my emotions. However, a plot device in the latter part of the book fell flat to me. I can’t go into it without spoiling the story. But it didn’t seem to mesh with the rest of the book and seemed too convenient. I liked the rest of David’s writing well enough that I’d try his other books.

David is the husband of Beverly Lewis, one of the first Amish fiction writers.

Though I reviewed these books together mainly because I read them one after the other, they do have similar themes getting back up and rebuilding after crises.

Animal Farm

My youngest son and I were discussing communism and capitalism not long ago. I don’t know if you realize it, but there is a lot of anti-capitalism sentiment out there. Young people are frustrated with the greed of capitalism. But, as I told my son, no economic system is going to be perfect, because no individual or group of people is perfect. Those at the top in communism are just as oppressive (more so, in my opinion). Nothing illustrates this better than Animal Farm by George Orwell, a combination fable, allegory, and satire about the Russian revolution of 1917 and Stalin’s takeover.

But even if you’re not familiar with the details of the Russian revolution, Animal Farm is a good illustration of what often happens when oppressors are overthrown: the formerly oppressed become the new oppressors.

In the book, Manor Farm is owned by a careless man who likes to drink a lot: Mr. Jones. One night the old boar, Old Major (Marx/Lenin), calls all the animals of the farm to a meeting. He encourages them to overthrow Jones and adopt animalism (communism), where they work for themselves.

Old Major passes away, and soon the animals’ opportunity comes. Jones forgets to feed them for several days. The animals don’t really plan an organized revolt, but they are so hungry and fed up, they drive Jones and his men off the property with great rejoicing (the revolution).

Two pigs, Napoleon (Stalin) and Snowball (Trotsky) become the leaders. The farm’s name is changed to Animal Farm. Seven commandments of Animalism are adopted, like “No animal shall sleep in a bed,” “No animal shall kill another animal,”etc. But the most important is “All animals are equal.”

The pigs teach themselves to read from a child’s primer in the house. Snowball tries to teach the other animals to read. They adopt a green flag with a horn and hoof emblem. Napoleon takes the newborn litter of puppies to train them. Snowball and Napoleon clash sometimes, but things come to a head when Snowball proposes that they build a windmill and outlines all the improvements it will bring. Napoleon disagrees and downplays the idea. But then Napoleon brings out the dogs he has been training into his own personal guard. They turn on Snowball and chase him off. Then Napoleon declares the windmill was his idea, which Snowball had stolen. Snowball is conveniently blamed for everything that goes wrong.

Since the pigs are the smartest an therefore the leaders, they take up residence in the house. They take the best food and all the milk, because of course they need to be in top form for all the decisions they have to make.

One by one, the promises made to the animals in the early days are broken. The pigs’ spokesman, Squealer, comes out and explains away anything that looks untoward. When the animals object to anything, they’re reminded, “We’re better off than when Jones was here” and “You don’t want Jones to come back, do you?” If any animal object too much, some reason is found for those animals to be executed. When the rest think they remember something about animals not killing each other, some who remember how to read go to check the seven commandments that had been painted on the barn wall. Now the sixth commandment reads, “No animal shall kill another animal without cause.”

When the pigs are discovered to be sleeping in beds in the farmhouse, the barn wall reads “No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.”

And as the pigs become more and more like the human oppressors, the barn is found to say, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Wikipedia says that Orwell wrote in an essay “Why I Write” “that Animal Farm was the first book in which he tried, with full consciousness of what he was doing, ‘to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.'”

I hadn’t realized until now that this book first came out in 1940s, when the UK and the Soviet Union were allied against Germany. Publication was delayed, and the book “became a great commercial success when it did appear partly because international relations were transformed as the wartime alliance gave way to the Cold War” (Wikipedia).

The Wikipedia article details many more of the symbolic details and allegoric references.

Some of the most noteworthy quotes from the story:

Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure! On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?

The needs of the windmill must override everything else, he said. He was therefore making arrangements to sell a stack of hay and part of the current year’s wheat crop, and later on, if more money were needed, it would have to be made up by the sale of eggs, for which there was always a market in Willingdon. The hens, said Napoleon, should welcome this sacrifice as their own special contribution towards the building of the windmill.

But the luxuries of which Snowball had once taught the animals to dream, the stalls with electric light and hot and cold water, and the three-day week, were no longer talked about. Napoleon had denounced such ideas as contrary to the spirit of Animalism. The truest happiness, he said, lay in working hard and living frugally.

Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer–except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs.

I had read this book back in high school and remembered the overall story, but had forgotten a few particulars. Orwell did a masterful job. Reading the book as an adult, it’s easy to recognize the “spin” that leaders and their influencers can put on events. I don’t advocate mistrusting all political leadership, but it’s wise to be aware and wary.

I listened to the audiobook nicely read by Ralph Cosham. This will count for a classic about animals for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

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