The Girl in the Painting

In The Girl in the Painting by Australian author Tea Cooper, Michael and Elizabeth Quinn are orphaned siblings who immigrated from England to Australia in 1862. Their parents had gone on ahead to take advantage of free passage for married couples and left them with an aunt. But the aunt died before the children left and they had to go to a workhouse until time for departure. Then they found, upon arrival, that their mother had died, and the father passed away, too, before long.

The father had established himself in an area of gold seekers. But he didn’t mine gold for himself: he started a business servicing the miners, especially hauling their things around. Michael, a teenager by this time, took over the business and built it up, leaving Elizabeth in the care of a woman they’d met on the ship until he could establish a home for them..

By 1906, the Quinns were wealthy business people and philanthropists in Maitland Town. One of their outreaches was to the local orphanage, in memory of their own time as orphans. One of the orphans, Jane, has an exceptional aptitude for math. The Quinns offer to take Jane in and pay for her education in exchange for her working for their company. She eventually becomes their bookkeeper as well as taking over many of Michael’s duties.

One day Jane and Elizabeth visit a one of their buildings where they’ve invited an artist to hold an exhibition. Suddenly the ultra self-controlled Elizabeth is on the floor, shaking in terror, hat off, mumbling unintelligible words.

After a while, Elizabeth seems back to normal and insists everything is fine. But she’s not back to normal, and everything’s not fine. Odd snatches of memory and terror keep coming back to her mind.

Jane makes it her mission to find out what caused Elizabeth’s episode and discovers some unexpected long-held secrets.

This was an enjoyable book, especially in trying to figure out the mystery behind Elizabeth’s reaction to a painting. It was nice to read something set in a different time and place than a lot of historical fiction (so much of which centers around WWII). We get a picture of what immigrants were up against in those times, not only the English, but also the Chinese who were treated mainly as servants and the lowest workmen.

I loved the cover.

My only minor complaint is that the change between happy and adjusted Michael and Elizabeth and unraveling Elizabeth and brooding Michael seemed rather sudden. I guess that’s an indication that the past was a well-kept secret. But it just seems that, in a literary sense, there would have been more hints throughout the book that everything was not as we thought. I only caught one, and that was only after finishing the book and going back to reread the siblings entry onto the ship taking them to Australia. But, again, it’s a minor complaint and can be explained by the reaction to the painting that set off that aspect of the story.

I had thought this was a Christian fiction book because I bought it from a Christian site. But it wasn’t in any real sense of the word. That’s fine—I don’t restrict myself to Christian fiction. It just meant the book wasn’t what I expected at first. The orphanage Jane comes from is Catholic. Some of the Chinese religious practices are explained when Elizabeth befriends the Chinese man who works for them. But there’s not much other religious content. I would disagree with one statement that it doesn’t matter what gods people prayed to and one person’s thought that a dead relative was looking out for them from heaven.

The book is remarkably clean for modern secular fiction. Michael took the Lord’s name in vain a couple of times and a couple people said “what the hell.”

But, overall, I enjoyed the story.

Ten Time Management Choices

My husband has no idea how much he owes Sandra Felton.

I did not come to marriage very organized in either my time or my stuff. In college, I wasn’t lazy, but I was always running behind. Many of my grades suffered from late deductions. And I can’t tell you how many times I got frustrated over not being able to find an item or paper I needed.

Sometime during early marriage, I came across Sandra Felton’s book, The Messies Manual. Then I subscribed to her newsletter for years until I knew by heart what each one was going to say.

I put a lot of Sandra’s principles into practice. I can’t say I became a paragon of organizational virtue, but I definitely improved from where I was.

But I learned something else about organization on my own. We can’t make up a workable schedule and put everything in its rightful place and then be done organizing. We have to maintain our systems and adapt them to new demands on our time and new items in our home.

So I have decided organization is not a destination. It’s a journey. And, therefore, I continue to occasionally reads books or articles about organization.

When I saw that Sandra had coauthored a fairly new book with Marsha Sims, and it was on sale for the Kindle app, I got it. That book is titled Ten Time Management Choices that Can Change Your Life.

The authors state that “One of the goals of this book is to help you accomplish easily and quickly those necessary but uninspiring activities that comprise much of our daily lives so you can turn your attention to the significant things you want to do” (p. 9).

They point out how the advent of modern technology eased life in some ways but created a lot more things to do, some necessary and some distracting.

They say some authors “downplay organizing systems and indicate that if you have enough focus and self-control, you’ll be okay. Not so. You need good skills as well” (p 21.) So they point out overarching principles but also offer practical tips.

They remind us often that “time management is not the art of getting everything done. It is the art of getting the most important things done. To put it another way, it is priority management.” (p. 63).

The authors offer a variety of ways to determine priorities, make schedules, etc. I love that. Some time management books promote a very rigid system. I don’t usually like everything about other people’s systems, so I appreciate the variety of methods to experiment with to find one that works best.

They also tackle multitasking, interruptions, procrastinating, delegation, time wasters, schedules, developing good habits.

They apply principles to home and business.

Each chapter has several vignettes of people with organizing problems and the solutions they found.

The end of each chapter and the end of the book contain questions and activities to help implement the principles. The sessions at the end of the book could be done alone or with a group.

Here are a few more quotes that stood out to me:

Creative people have more ideas and interests than any one person can do in a lifetime, and we accumulate the paraphernalia to prove it. (p. 54.)

A word of explanation is necessary to those who fear setting up a schedule because it feels rigid and stifling. Scheduling is not an inflexible list that is written in stone. It is a statement of what regular tasks are important to accomplish each day and when you plan to do them during the day. As you become experienced in using and tweaking your schedule, you will find it meets your needs more and more successfully and will become your friend. (pp. 163-164).

When you create a schedule for routine tasks, you open a tap through which good time management can flow. A schedule is absolutely necessary because 1. It keeps you from forgetting what needs to be done. 2. It protects you from the unsuccessful “What do I feel like doing today?” approach (p. 164).

Although I would not classify this as a Christian book overall, the authors do employ some biblical principles.

There was only one place I strongly disagreed with the authors.

Organized people work dispassionately. That frees them from a lot of stress. Disorganized people wear themselves out by investing emotion in the things they have to do. They work while saying, “I hate making the bed every day” or “Unloading the dishwasher is such a drag.” The way to take the emotion out of doing what you need to do regularly is to make the activity into a habit (p. 196).

I can’t say that making activities into habits takes the emotion out of them. I still chafe at a lot of things that have to be done. However, making them a habit gets them over with rather than pushing them to the background. And I look forward to the satisfaction of getting them done.

I don’t think I learned much that was totally new to me from the book. But many of the principles I had formerly learned were applied in new ways, and all of the book was a much-needed reminder.

If you need to organize your time better or need to brush up on organizing principles, this book would benefit you.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

The Winnie-the-Pooh Books

Winnie-the-Pooh is a creation of A. A. Milne based on the teddy bear of his son, Christopher Robin. Milne had written many other genres: plays, magazine articles, books for adults. But these days he is best known for Pooh and Christopher Robin and their friends.

My kids grew up with the Disney version of Winnie the Pooh and company. There were four individual videos at the time: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, and Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore. The first three videos have since been combined into The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Then there was a Saturday morning cartoon called The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh which we watched regularly for many years. We had stuffed Poohs (and Tiggers and Piglets) and Pooh picture books. If there were Pooh sheets or jammies, we would have had them.

But somehow, I never read the original Pooh books by A. A. Milne to my kids, and I have always regretted that. I’m not sure why I never read them. I had not read them in my own growing-up years: perhaps if I had, I would have made it a point to read them to my children just as I searched out some of the Little Golden Book titles that I’d had as a child. I dipped into one of the volumes at some point, but I don’t remember which one or if I completed it.

When I read Christopher Robin Milne’s autobiographies recently, I was reminded that I had never read the original Pooh books. So I set out to correct that lack.

There are four books that specially deal with Pooh.

When We Were Very Young is a book of children’s poems. Christopher Robin’s bear there is named Edward. Some time after that, he renamed his toy bear Winnie-the-Pooh (with hyphens when his whole name is written, though he is often called just Pooh or Pooh Bear. The Disney version dropped the hyphens). “Pooh” was after a swan that Christopher had previously given that name to, and Winnie after a bear by that name in a zoo. Some of the poems feature Christopher, but all of them were probably inspired by him. One of the most famous is “Vespers” about Christopher saying his prayers.

Winnie-the-Pooh is a collection of short stories about Christopher Robin and Pooh and the other animals/toys. The House at Pooh Corner, another collection of stories, was published next, and finally there was another collection of poems, Now We Are Six. “Forgiven” is one of my favorite poems from this volume.

One of the things I had liked about the videos and TV series was that they were quiet. There were conflicts and predicaments and misunderstandings, yes. But the shows weren’t full of noise and razzle-dazzle like other kid’s shows were (that was something I liked about Mister Rogers as well).

The books are the same way. The characters are endearing. Pooh is “a bear of very little brain,” but he is kind, thoughtful, and a faithful friend. He likes to make up rhymes and take time for “smackerel” of “a little something—usually “hunny.” Christopher Robin is the one everyone looks up to and the one who rescues the others when they get in trouble over their heads. Piglet is small and timid, but also kind and thoughtful. Rabbit is bossy, but has everyone’s best interests at heart. Eeyore is gloomy (actually, he’s a little harsher in the books). Owl is wise (he can even spell Tuesday!), Kanga is motherly, Roo is spunky.

One of my favorite quotes is from Pooh in The House at Pooh Corner about how poems come to him: “But it isn’t easy,’ said Pooh. ‘Because Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.” Another is this: “Sometimes,’ said Pooh, ‘the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” And these:

Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.

People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”

“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
 
Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.

I love how Kanga is described as carrying her family in her pocket (something Rabbit thinks strange at first).

And I dearly love this exchange between Eeyore and Pooh, read in Eeyore’s deadpan voice, when Eeyore thinks everyone has forgotten his birthday:

“Good morning, Pooh Bear, if it is a good morning. Which I doubt.”

“Why, what is the matter”

“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t, and that’s all there is to it.”

“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.

“Gaiety. Song and dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”

I was very glad to see that the films and videos, for the most part, told the stories almost completely as the books did. The series went on to develop their own stories based on the characters, but kept the same tone.

Milne captures childhood innocence and ways of thinking well with playfulness and gentleness. I was very sad to learn that Christopher came to resent the books about him as he became an adult, perhaps due to teasing from others when he went to boarding school. Christopher said in his own books that his father wasn’t very expressive in person: his inner thoughts came out in his writing. But his father’s obvious delight in his son and how he thought shines through in these stories and poems. I think Christopher must have come to terms with that at some point since he provided a favorable introduction to the audiobook of When We Were Very Young, saying family friend Peter Dennis’ narration presents Pooh “as he [Christopher] knew him.”

All four volumes of the books were available as part of my Audible subscription. I listened to the stories via audiobook, but read the poetry collections via Kindle (which included, thankfully, E. H. Shephard’s original illustrations).

One thing I didn’t like about the audiobooks was the long musical interludes between chapters.

But otherwise it was a sweet experience to visit these characters their original settings.

The Back to the Classics Challenge allows us three children’s classics. So I am going to count Winnie-the-Pooh as one for the “Classic that’s been on your TBR list the longest.”

“Don’t Call Me Spry”

It’s a shock to the system when you realize someone thinks of you as “old.”

For me, it happened when a fast-food cashier rang up my order with a senior discount—and I was only 50.

For Win Couchman, it happened when she ran into an old friend who commented, “You’re so spry!” “Spry” was a “compliment reserved for exclusively for old people.”

As the shock of this well-meant statement brought Win to tears, she began to consider aging.

I am at the young end of old: junior-high old. Youth is gone and now, also, middle age. My life at sixty-four is rich, adventurous, blessed, and full of joy (p. 2).

I am not only wrinkling. I am growing. And while I am forgetting some things, I am learning much that is new. This season of my life is as fearsome and exciting as turning fourteen. Nobody told me it would be this way (p. 3).

She decided to investigate “what it means to grow old” from the Bible, culture, the examples of older people in her life (“Not everything I learned from Grandmother about aging was glamorous, but all of it was valuable” [p.84]). She wanted to “notice and enjoy the perks that come with old age” (p. 4).

The results of her study and contemplation is “Don’t Call Me Spry”: Creative Possibilities for Later Life.

Win noted, “The halves of my life each merit my attention. The tension between the material and spiritual aspects of reality are normal. The struggle is to keep a balance: to live in light of the unseen while resetting the washer from ‘permanent press’ to ‘delicate fabrics.’ In order to live for God’s glory and not lose heart, I have the perspective of the eternal as a gift” (p. 4).

In their fifties, Win and her husband, Bob, began to pray and consider what to do when he retired. For many years, they had hosted a ministry called Forever Family which combined hospitality, mentoring, counseling, and teaching. But they were sensing maybe the time had come to do something different.

Through a series of events and contacts, the door eventually opened for them to minister in a variety of other countries eight months out of the year. They enjoyed the novelty and the opportunities to minister, resulting in some never-to-be forgotten experiences.

But they also experienced stresses with travel and continual adjustments, and they handled them differently. She liked to talk things out when stressed or anxious; he withdrew and became quiet. I’m sure those tendencies were always a part of their personalities, but these new experiences brought them to the forefront and required them to meet each other half-way.

Bob’s retirement brought other stresses and adjustments, like sharing space that she had previously had to herself.

Then new stresses arose when Win developed a heart issue which brought not only their international travel to a close, but their full-time active ministry as well. She had to rethink what she could do within her new reality. “It grieved me to give up thinking I could do anything anyone even a generation or two younger than I can do” (p. 45).

It saddened me to give up the illusion that I could always push myself a bit more if I needed to, that pushing was the thing to do. I could no longer be casual about getting too tired. I was newly aware of another true separation between me and those who are younger (p. 46).

She tells how God led her to other types of ministry, mainly mentoring, prayer, being involved with her grandchildren. She still taught and spoke on a limited basis.

One of my favorite chapters is “The Downside,” dealing with some of the negative aspects of aging. “When you ask me how I am, sometimes it is a little hard to know how to answer” (p. 107).

But even though Win describes herself as a pessimist, overall the book is hopeful and positive. The Bible assures that God’s care and love and grace will always be with us. In addition:

As I have looked repeatedly into the mirror of these verses, I have not only been provided with new assurance of God’s caring for me, but I have a greatly enhanced concept of the possibility of lifelong usefulness (p. 136).

While searching for more information about Win, I came across this video of her.

I had not heard of Win before until I read a chapter by her in The Wonder Years: 40 Women over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty, and Strength compiled by Leslie Leyland Fields. I didn’t discover until recently that her chapter, “The Grace to Be Diminished,” originally came from a magazine here. Then I found her poignant article, “The Beds I Have Known,” about living separately from her husband of 72 years when she could no longer care for him. I saw somewhere that she had written this book, so I searched for it. It’s out of print, but I found a used copy in good condition for $5 at Amazon.

I am glad to have found and read it. It gave me much encouragement as I look ahead.

The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting first created the character of Doctor Dolittle in letters home to his children while he was in WWI. The first book in the series is The Story of Doctor Dolittle: Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed.

Dr. Dolittle is a medical doctor, but he has a lot of pets. He begins to lose patients when they are scared by the number and kinds of pets he keeps. Someone suggests he become an animal doctor. His talking parrot tells him all animals have languages and teaches the doctor several of them. The doctor’s fame spreads far and wide since he can now diagnose and treat animals for the exact ailments they tell him about.

There’s only one problem. Animals aren’t paying customers. As much as the doctor dislikes money and wishes he didn’t have to bother with it, a certain amount is necessary to live.

So he and the animals devise ways to economize plus make some money.

Then birds bring word that monkeys in Africa are very sick, with many of them dying. They’ve heard of Doctor Doolittle and wonder if he can help them.

So after making arrangements for his house and the animals who will stay home, and finding a boat and supplies, the good doctor sets off along with several of his animal companions. They experience several misadventures during their travels and their time in Africa.

I had not realized that there were a number of books with Doctor Doliitle as the main character until I set out to read about him. I had thought that there was one main chapter book. This book is the first written, but others tell of time periods before this book. So some sets of the Doolittle books are arranged in the chronology of the settings rather than publication order. I prefer publication order of any series because that’s how the story would have originally unfolded. Sometimes we don’t care much about the back story until we come to know and care about the characters and their world. I listed to the audiobook very nicely read by James Langton. But it was put together in setting order, so I had to search through several beginnings of chapters in The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, which had been placed first, before finding this story (the beginning of the different books wasn’t marked).

Also, I didn’t realize the set I listened to was “fully updated for the modern listener.” I would much rather read and listen to books in their original words. One new illustrated edition has taken the liberty of adding an “updated magical twist.” So if you prefer original classics, check for these things before choosing a volume.

Some editions say they have removed “ethnically insensitive” parts of the story. I assume this one did since it’s “revised for modern readers.” Generally, I’d rather leave stories as they were and explain why certain things are no longer done or said. I don’t know what things were removed from these books. Perhaps, especially in the versions designed for children to read themselves, it is better to adapt them without those offensive elements.

I hadn’t intended to read Doctor Dolittle until this set came up in a “2 books for one credit” sale on Audible. I’m glad to be more familiar with it now, but I don’t think I liked it well enough to read the other two books in this set.

I have not seen any of the film versions.

I’m counting this book for 20th century classic for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

To Sir, With Love

To Sir, With Love is an autobiographical novel by E. R. Braithwaite. Braithwaite was born in Guyana, well-educated, and a pilot in the Royal Air Force during WWII. He says in the book that his color was not a factor during his military service, not even in dating, and he had almost forgotten that his color could be a factor. But after his military service, he spent almost eighteen months unsuccessfully looking for a job. He’d have promising leads until he went for an in-person interview. He began to grow bitter. A chance meeting with a stranger on a park bench put the possibility of teaching in his mind.

He found an opening at a school in the East End of London called Greenslade in the book. The headmaster said they didn’t practice punishment at the school. The students came from disadvantaged backgrounds and needed encouragement and building up. But Braithwaite wasn’t given any advice or tools to help him manage his students. When he asked fellow teachers, advice ranged from “Show them who’s boss” to “Don’t be too hard on them.”

Braithwaite found his students, for the most part, not very literate, crude, vulgar, unwashed, and uncaring about gaining knowledge or much of anything. Their reactions to him varied from ignoring him to disdain to hostility.

Finally, he hit on an approach that seemed to work. I won’t spoil the story by saying what, as for me, that was the part I was most anticipating.

Even then, the relationships between student and teacher and the students’ growth was up and down through various circumstances.

Alongside the story of Braithwaite’s journey with his students is his observations and experiences as a Black man in the later 1940s and 50s. From a white woman who refused to sit next to him on a bus, to those who refused to hire him once they saw him, to refusal of his renting a room, to a colleague making little digs by calling him “the black sheep” and “our sunburned friend,” to a waiter ignoring him, then spilling his soup and not offering to clean it up, Braithwaite experienced various degrees of racism. When asked by someone why he didn’t “stand up for himself,” he seemed to feel it just wasn’t worth it and would cause more problems than it solved. He had lived in the US for a few years and felt racism was more overt there at that time, whereas in Britain it was more subtle.

As the headmaster began to tell Braithwaite of the kinds of homes and situations the children came from, the latter thought, “I was becoming increasingly irritated by his recital of the children’s difficulties. My own experiences the last two years invaded my thoughts, reminding me that these children were white. Hungry or filled, naked or clothed, they were white. And as far as I was concerned, that fact alone made the only difference between the haves and have nots. I wanted this job badly, and would do it to the best of my ability. But it would be a job, not a labor of love.”

But, as you can surmise from the title, he does come to love the students. He felt his colleagues, except one, “accepted him unconditionally” and wanted him to do well.

A few other quotes that stood out to me from the book:

A man who is strong and tough never needs to show it in his dress or the way he cuts his hair. Toughness is a quality of the mind, like bravery or honesty or ambition; it has nothing whatever to do with muscles.

I sought to relate each lesson to themselves, showing them that the whole purpose of their education was the development of their own thinking and reasoning.

Mind? Oh yes, I do mind. But I am learning how to mind and still live. At first it was terrible, but gradually I am learning what it means to live with dignity inside my black skin.

It is not necessary for them to do anything special for a Negro or Indian or any other person, but simply to behave to them as to a stranger Briton, without favor or malevolence,but with courtesy and gentleness which every human being should give to and expect from every otherr.

I listened to the audiobook, nicely read by Ben Onwukwe. As usual, there was no back matter in the audiobook; I don’t know if there was in the print book. These days, stories based on true events often have a back section where they tell to some extent what situations were true and what were made up. According to Wikipedia, Braithwaite’s upbringing, education, military service, and teaching career were as portrayed in the book. But I would guess the students in the story were an amalgam of his real-life students. It seems like many events, as well as the progression of the story, might have been condensed somewhat from real life.

There are a number of instances of “damn,” “hell,” and the “b word” by Braithwaite as well as other adults and students. He notices and mentions students’ and women’s breasts several times. I almost didn’t get past the first chapter because of these elements.

But I enjoyed the story and felt I learned from Braithwaite’s experiences.

I don’t think I ever saw the film by the same name starring Sidney Poitier, though I want to some time. For some reason, the setting of the film was changed to the 1960s. The song from the film was popular as I was growing up.

I’m counting this book for the Classic by a Person of Color category for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

The Last Chronicle of Barset

The Last Chronicle of Barset is the sixth and final novel in Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire series.

There are several plot threads in this winding up of everyone’s stories. But the overarching plot involves Mr. Crawley, a curate who has been accused of stealing. Mr. Crawley was a minor character in Framley Parsonage, the fourth book in the series. He’s a curate in a small town who is very stern, proud of his poverty, critical of those who have wealth, especially other clergymen.

A twenty-pound check came into his possession, which he used to pay a bill. But then the check was found to have belonged to the lord of the manor house. The problem is, Mr. Crawley can’t remember how he got the check. First he thought Lord Lufton’s agent must have dropped it when he visited, then he thought his friend the dean must have given it to him. Unfortunately, the dean and his wife are out of the country, and Lufton’s agent insists he did not drop it.

Most people don’t think Crawly actually stole the check or confiscated it for his own use. They think it was a mix-up. But the case goes to court (not due to Lord Lufton. He would rather the whole thing had not come to light). Unfortunately, the bishop, or rather, the bishop’s wife, Mrs. Proudie, who wields actual control, thinks Crawley did steal the check and should be removed. Crawley himself almost wonders if he is going mad since he can’t remember for sure how he got the check.

Mr. Crawley was not one of my favorite characters, so at first I wasn’t terribly excited that much of the book focused on him. But after reflecting, I felt this plot line could not have worked with anyone else. And it is used to affect and bring out the personalities and motives of many other people.

The other major plot line is that Archdeacon Grantley’s son has fallen in love with Crawley’s daughter, Grace. The Grantleys are some of the wealthiest people in the area, and the thought of their son joining with a possible criminal’s daughter causes conflict between everyone involved.

Lily Dale from the fifth book, The Small House at Allington, shows up in this story as Grace’s friend. Lily had loved someone who jilted her for someone else richer and higher in society. But she still loves him. John Eames had loved her since childhood, but Lily only thinks of him as a brother. Then when Lily visits friends in London, she runs into the man who jilted her.

There is a totally unnecessary plot thread about a young artist’s flirtatious interactions with a married lady. Neither of them really care for each other romantically and consider their flirtations a game. But the relationship still causes problems when he falls in love with someone else and her husband begins to suspect something. The only connection between any of these people and the other characters is that the artist was a friend of John Eame’s. I don’t think flirting is a harmless game, especially among people married to others, so I could have done without this whole thread.

The Proudies, in all the books til now, have been almost humorous with him as a henpecked husband. They’re on the opposite sides of the fence politically and concerning church matters as many of the other people, and Mrs. Proudie is manipulative, so they’re ofttimes the “villains.” But things come to a very sad head for them.

Mrs. Crawley’s cousin, Mr. Toogood, a lawyer, has suspicions about where the check might have come from, and his pursuit reminded me a lot of Charles Dickens (who was a contemporary of Trollope).

Mr. Harding was the main character of the first book, The Warden. I think he may be the only clergyman in this series that doesn’t have a major flaw. He does tend not to stand up for himself even when he should, but whether that’s a flaw or not depends, I guess, on your point of view. It was said of him by his son-in-law, the Archdeacon: “He lacked guile, and he feared God,—and a man who does both will never go far astray. I don’t think he ever coveted aught in his life.” He has appeared throughout the series as a kindly older man. Now he is nearing his last days, and that all is handled in such a touching way.

Two of my favorite characters were the wives of difficult men in opposite circumstances: Mrs. Grantly and Mrs. Crawley. I would almost say they knew how to “handle” their husbands, but they were not manipulative like Mrs. Proudie. They each knew their husbands’ quirks and foibles and knew how to help them see reason and bring out their best. Mrs. Crawley knew her husband was very proud and unwilling to accept help, but she could find ways of accepting help without violating his desires. She didn’t complain of their poverty, though she had come from a more prosperous home. “She had been very strong through all her husband’s troubles,—very strong in bearing for him what he could not bear for himself, and in fighting on his behalf battles in which he was altogether unable to couch a lance; but the endurance of so many troubles, and the great overwhelming sorrow at last, had so nearly overpowered her.” Archdeacon Grantly is a blustery person, as well as a man of wealth and authority. Mrs. Grantly is about the only one who can speak plainly to him and point out where his thinking might be wrong, yet in a way that doesn’t disrespect him or undercut his authority. It was said after one of their encounters, “He knew very well that he could not get the better of her, and was apt at such moments to think that she took an unfair advantage of him by keeping her temper.”

I had wondered about the fact that Trollope doesn’t show his clergymen (who are the main characters in all most of the books) doing religious things. Mr. Crawley is shown in his religious duties more than anyone else, preaching, teaching in the school, visiting those in his parish. Evidently others wondered the same thing, “accusing” Trollope, “always without bitterness, and generally with tenderness—of having forgotten, in writing of clergymen,” to show “their professional duties, their high calling, their daily workings for the good of those around them.” Trollope answers that he had wanted to “paint the social and not the professional lives of clergymen,” just as he would write of lawyers’ and doctors’ lives without going deeply into their professions. Some also said all the clergymen in the books were flawed to some degree. Trollope answers, “Had I written an epic about clergymen, I would have taken St. Paul for my model; but describing, as I have endeavoured to do, such clergymen as I see around me, I could not venture to be transcendental.” But, he says, for his part, he would be happy to spend time with any of them.

Just a couple more samples of Trollope’s writing: He says of one Mr. Thumble, an ambitious lackey of Mrs. Proudie’s who hopes to take Mr. Crawley’s place, “who, having heard his own voice once, and having liked the sound, thought that he might creep into a little importance by using it on any occasion that opened itself for him.” One man’s wife dies in the book, and at the end of his story line, Trollope says, “We will now say farewell to him, with a hope that the lopped tree may yet become green again, and to some extent fruitful, although all its beautiful head and richness of waving foliage have been taken from it.”

The last couple of books had a similar feel to Mitford, Jan Karon’s books, except set in Victorian England. But it took the previous four books to get to this place.

I am very glad I read (or listened to) the last three books in succession. When I read the fourth, it had been a while since I read the previous books, and I had to remind myself who everyone was and how they were related. So I wanted to read the last three one after the other so I didn’t have to go through that process with each one.

My favorite of the series is Doctor Thorne, the third book. Wikipedia says it was that book that caused the series to take off. The site also says that Trollope didn’t originally intend to write a series. But he set later books in or near the same place as the first couple, and later on, publishers asked him for another book in the same area or with related characters. The last three novels were first released serially in magazines.

I listened to all the books via audiobook, all but the third wonderfully narrated by Simon Vance. Most, if not all of them, were included in my Audible subscription, so I didn’t have to use my credits on them. Most of the Kindle versions were free or 99 cents, so in some cases I would go back and forth between e-book and audio.

I’m sorry in many ways to see the series come to an end, and I’ll miss these characters. But I’m happy to become acquainted with Trollope and look forward to reading more of his books.

I’m counting this book for the “wild card classic” category of the Back to the Classics Challenge.

Be Encouraged: Wiersbe on 2 Corinthians

The church in Corinthians had lots of problems. 2 Corinthians is actually the fourth letter Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. His second letter to them is our 1 Corinthians. Some of Paul’s opponents had invaded the church and stirred up rebellion. A previous visit by Paul to deal with the issues had not gone well. Paul left and then sent by Titus a “severe” letter. He rejoiced that many in Corinth repented. So in this letter, Paul wanted to encourage those who had repented but warn those who had not.

He also had to defend his apostleship from various charges.

Plus, the Corinthians had promised some time before to send an offering for the poor in Jerusalem, but had not done so yet. Paul planned to pick up their donations to take along with what he had collected from other churches, so he encouraged them to give and give cheerfully. The offering would not only help meet material needs, but would help unite the Jewish and Gentile congregations.

Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe’s short commentary on 1 Corinthians is Be Encouraged (2 Corinthians): God Can Turn Your Trials Into Triumphs.

In the first chapter, Wiersbe writes:

One of the key words in this letter is comfort or encouragement. The Greek word means “called to one’s side to help.” The verb is used eighteen times in this letter, and the noun eleven times. In spite of all the trials he experienced, Paul was able (by the grace of God) to write a letter saturated with encouragement.

What was Paul’s secret of victory when he was experiencing pressures and trials? His secret was God. When you find yourself discouraged and ready to quit, get your attention off of yourself and focus it on God. Out of his own difficult experience, Paul tells us how we can find encouragement in God (p. 18).

Wiersbe also points out:

The words comfort or consolation (same root word in the Greek) are repeated ten times in 2 Corinthians 1: 1–11. We must not think of comfort in terms of “sympathy,” because sympathy can weaken us instead of strengthen us. God does not pat us on the head and give us a piece of candy or a toy to distract our attention from our troubles. No, He puts strength into our hearts so we can face our trials and triumph over them. Our English word comfort comes from two Latin words meaning “with strength.” The Greek word means “to come alongside and help.” It is the same word used for the Holy Spirit (“ the Comforter”) in John 14—16.

God can encourage us by His Word and through His Spirit, but sometimes He uses other believers to give us the encouragement we need (2 Cor. 2: 7–8; 7: 6–7) (p. 20).

Dr. Wiersbe also shares that “There are ten basic words for suffering in the Greek language, and Paul uses five of them in this letter” (p. 20).

I won’t go point by point through Corinthians–Wiersbe includes an outline as well as discussion. But some of the most well-known passages in this book of the Bible are these: God comforts us in all our affliction and we comfort others (1:2-7); when we behold God, we become more like Him (3:18), “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (4:7-12), though outwardly we’re wasting away, inwardly we’re renewed day by day, and our “light momentary affliction” prepares for us “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (4:16-18), the ministry of reconciliation (5), Now is the day of salvation (6:2), we’re God’s temple and shouldn’t be yoked up with darkness (6:14-18), godly grief vs. worldly grief (7:5-12), grace giving (8:1-15), the cheerful giver, sowing and reaping (9:1-15), “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (9:8), Paul’s thorn in the flesh, God’s strength in our weakness, (12:7-10), “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (13:5).

Some other quotes from Wiersbe that stood out to me:

The word sufficiency means “adequate resources within” (see Phil. 4: 11). Through Jesus Christ, we can have the adequacy to meet the demands of life. As Christians, we do need to help and encourage one another; but we must not depend on one another. Our dependence must be on the Lord. He alone can give us that “well of water” in the heart that makes us sufficient for life (John 4: 14) (p. 117).

God did not give Paul any explanations; instead, He gave him a promise: “My grace is sufficient for thee.” We do not live on explanations; we live on promises. Our feelings change, but God’s promises never change. Promises generate faith, and faith strengthens hope (p. 160).

How do people measure the ministry today? By powerful oratory or by biblical content? By what the media says or by Christian character? (p. 169).

Paul prayed for their perfection, which does not mean absolute sinless perfection, but “spiritual maturity.” The word is part of a word family in the Greek that means “to be fitted out, to be equipped.” As a medical term, it means “to set a broken bone, to adjust a twisted limb.” It also means “to outfit a ship for a voyage” and “to equip an army for battle.” In Matthew 4: 21, it is translated “mending nets.”

One of the ministries of our risen Lord is that of perfecting His people (Heb. 13: 20–21). He uses the Word of God (2 Tim. 3: 16–17) in the fellowship of the local church (Eph. 4: 11–16) to equip His people for life and service. He also uses suffering as a tool to equip us (1 Peter 5: 10). As Christians pray for one another (1 Thess. 3: 10) and personally assist one another (Gal. 6: 1, where “restore” is this same word perfect), the exalted Lord ministers to His church an makes them fit for ministry (pp. 170-171).

Sometimes the minister of the Word must tear down before he can build up (see Jer. 1: 7–10). The farmer must pull up the weeds before he can plant the seeds and get a good crop. Paul had to tear down the wrong thinking in the minds of the Corinthians (2 Cor. 10: 4–6) before he could build up the truth in their hearts and minds. The negative attitude of the Corinthians made it necessary for Paul to destroy, but his great desire was to build (pp. 171-172).

2 Corinthians closes with a well-known benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (13:14).

Wiersbe says of this verse:

If each believer is depending on the grace of God, walking in the love of God, and participating in the fellowship of the Spirit, not walking in the flesh, then he will be a part of the answer and not a part of the problem. He will be living this benediction—and being a benediction to others! (p. 174).

Amen.

Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity

Alisa Childers’ faith wasn’t shaken by an atheist professor or a New Age neighbor.

Her beliefs were dismantled by her pastor.

She knew and trusted him. He had invited a select group of “out of the box thinkers” to a special class, a “safe zone to process our doubts and questions.” Alisa was surprised when he began to question and then to take apart the doctrines she had always believed.

“I wouldn’t hear the term progressive Christianity until years later. But it was clear that this group of people wanted to ‘progress’ beyond the Christianity they had known. They were going through what would practically become a rite of passage in this new and flourishing movement: deconstruction. In the context of faith, deconstruction is the process of systematically dissecting and often rejecting the beliefs you grew up with” (p. 24).

There were things that bothered Alisa about Christianity as it had always been presented, things like massive altar calls where people streamed forward. Did those people know what they were doing? Did their decision “stick?”

But those things didn’t cause her to question her foundational beliefs. Her pastor’s class did. She realized she knew what she believed, but not why. She had grown up in a Christian family who actively ministered to others. But her faith was “intellectually weak and untested” (p. 5).

“When progressive Christianity first entered the scene, its proponents raised some valid critiques of evangelical culture that the church needed to examine and reevaluate. But those progressives who reject essential teachings—like the physical resurrection of Jesus—can confuse unsuspecting Christians and kick the foundation out from under them” (p. 8).

This class led her into a dark pit, “a spiritual blackout—a foray into darkness like I’d never known” (p. 8). What if everything she had ever believed was false? Another girl in the class stood next to her in choir practice one day and said, “It’s funny that we’re all singing these songs and none of us have any idea what we believe!” (p. 28).

That wasn’t good enough for Alisa. “When I have doubts about my faith, or deep nagging questions that keep me up at night, I don’t have the luxury of finding ‘my truth’ because I am committed to the truth. I want to know what is real. I want my worldview (the lens through which I see the world) to line up with reality. God either exists, or he doesn’t. The Bible is his Word, or it’s not. Jesus was raised from the dead, or he wasn’t. Christianity is true, or it isn’t. There is no ‘my truth’ when it comes to God” (p. 10).

“I wanted to progress in my faith . . . in my understanding of God’s Word, my ability to live it out, and m relationship with Jesus. But I didn’t want to progress beyond truth” (p. 25).

Alisa prayed for God to send her a lifeboat. And He did, sending more than one. Alisa took time to study in detail the claims of the foundational doctrines of Christianity. It was a long process. Sometimes her study brought up more questions.

“Slowly and steadily, God began to rebuild my faith. The questions that had knocked the foundation out from under my beliefs—the ones I had never thought to ask, the ones I didn’t know existed—were not simply being answered. They were being dwarfed by substantial evidence and impenetrable logic so robust that I felt like a kid in a candy store—who had just found out that candy exists” (p. 227).

Her faith didn’t look exactly as it had before. She corrected some beliefs and determined some, while important, weren’t essential. But her beliefs in the fundamental truths of historic Christianity were now on a firm foundation.

Another Gospel: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity is Alisa’s testimony and the result of her study. She takes a great deal of information and distills it to its essentials in an understandable way.

She quotes from progressive Christianity’s authors to show what they believe and how it differs from historic Christianity. Then she draws from her extensive research to share why she believes the evidence supports historic Christianity.

There’s so much I wish I could tell you and quote from this book. But I’ll touch on just a few issues.

One big difference between historic and progressive Christianity is their views of Scripture. Alisa spends three chapters on the different threads of thought in regard to the Bible and the abundant proof that it is accurate and reliable and authoritative.

Other major differences involve who Jesus is and why He came. Some call the idea of Jesus dying for our sins “cosmic child abuse.” But Jesus said He willingly gave His life. Atonement wasn’t an idea borrowed from primitive religions. It was worked into the fabric of the OT sacrifices and symbols and came into fruition in Jesus’ death for our sins. Many NT books expound on it.

If more churches would welcome the honest questions of doubters and engage with the intellectual side of their faith, they would become safe places for those who experience doubt. If people don’t feel understood, they are likely to find sympathy from those in the progressive camp who thrive on reveling in doubt. In progressive Christianity, doubt has become a badge of honor to bask in, rather than an obstacle to face and overcome (pp. 51-52).

As I navigated through my faith crisis, I realized that it’s not enough to simply know the facts anymore . . . we have to learn how to think them through—to assess information and come to reasonable conclusions after engaging religious ideas logically and intellectually. We can’t allow truth to be sacrificed on the altar of our feelings. We can’t allow our fear of offending others to prevent us from warning them that they’re about to step in front of a bus (p. 11).

The progressive wave that slammed me against the Rock of Ages had broken apart my deeply ingrained assumptions about Jesus, God, and the Bible. But that same Rock of Ages slowly but surely began to rearrange the pieces, discarding a few and putting the right ones back where they belonged (p. 9).

Those of you who have read here for a while know that I am not given to gushy superlative statements. But this is one of the most important books I have ever read. I had seen some of the things Alisa described mentioned here and there, and her book helped those pieces click into the bigger picture.

These doctrines matter. There are many areas where we can differ from other Christians and give each other grace. But it’s not enough to have a nebulous belief in a generic Jesus. It’s vital that we know Who and what we believe in and why.

I strongly encourage you to read this book. It will help you discern the threads of progressive Christianity. It will strengthen your own faith and its foundations. It will help you minister to others.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Be Restored

The second book of Samuel covers King David’s reign in Israel. Warren Wiersbe offers insights and helps for our reading 2 Samuel in his commentary Be Restored (2 Samuel & 1 Chronicles): Trusting God to See Us Through.

David first shows up in 1 Samuel, where Samuel finds him as a young shepherd and anoints him king after Saul fails. Then David has his encounter with Goliath, becomes a seasoned warrior, and flees from Saul’s murderous jealousy for many years.

David appears in the beginning of 1 Kings, where he sets up Solomon to take over after he dies.

1 Chronicles documents David’s reign as well, including his preparations for the temple that he was not allowed to build, but that Solomon would.

But 2 Samuel begins with David’s finally coming into his full kingship and ends with his final battles, a list of his “mighty men,” and his “last words.”

Within the overarching progression of God’s Word and purposes, most notable in this book is the covenant God made with David that He would establish David’s line as an everlasting kingdom and that David’s son would build a house for His name: the temple which would be the centerpiece of Israel’s worship system for years to come. Ultimately David’s descendants would culminate in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the everlasting King. Jesus is sometimes called “the Son of David.”

David is a favorite character of many, with his rags-to-riches story of the shepherd boy who became a king, his unabashed faith that God would use him to take care of Goliath, his earnestness in following the Lord, his outpouring of his heart in so many psalms that we can identify with.

David was never perfect, but he was teachable and usually readily admitted when he was mistaken.

Then came his fall with Bathsheba. Instead of turning away, as Joseph did when tempted, David continued to entertain the thought of the beautiful woman he had seen, until he called for her and lay with her. Then when she became pregnant, David tried to manipulate her husband, Uriah, one of his mighty men, to go home so the baby would be thought to be his. But Uriah was honorable and would not partake of the pleasures of home while his brothers were on the battlefield. So David arranged to have Uriah put in the hottest part of the battle, where he was killed.

When David laid aside his armor, he took the first step toward moral defeat, and the same principle applies to believers today (Eph. 6: 10–18). Without the helmet of salvation, we don’t think like saved people, and without the breastplate of righteousness, we have nothing to protect the heart. Lacking the girdle of truth, we easily believe lies (“We can get away with this!”), and without the sword of the Word and the shield of faith, we are helpless before the enemy. Without prayer we have no power. As for the shoes of peace, David walked in the midst of battles for the rest of his life. He was safer on the battlefield than on the battlement of his house (p. 83).

David’s house was in turmoil for many years after that. God forgave him when he repented (Psalm 51), but there are consequences even for forgiven sin.

All during David’s months of silence, he had suffered intensely, as you can detect when you read his two prayers of confession (Ps. 32 and 51). Psalm 32 pictures a sick old man instead of a virile warrior, and Psalm 51 describes a believer who had lost almost everything—his purity, joy, witness, wisdom, and peace—a man who was afraid God would take the Holy Spirit from him as He had done to Saul. David went through intense emotional and physical pain, but he left behind two prayers that are precious to all believers who have sinned (p. 91).

Chastening is not punishment meted out by an angry judge who wants to uphold the law; rather, it’s difficulty permitted by a loving Father who wants His children to submit to His will and develop godly character. Chastening is an expression of God’s love (Prov. 3: 11–12), and the Greek word used in Hebrews 12: 5–13 means “child training, instruction, discipline” (p. 92).

The next-to-last chapter of 2 Samuel contains David’s “last words”—not the last words of his that we see in Scripture, but probably a psalm written near the end of his life. Wiersbe suggests that since the psalm’s subject is godly leadership, it may have been written for Solomon, who would succeed David as king. In verses 3-4, David writes: “The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.” Wiersbe comments that godly leadership “is an awesome responsibility. It demands character and integrity (‘just’ = righteous) and a submissive attitude toward the Lord (‘the fear of God’). Without righteousness and the fear of God, a leader becomes a dictator and abuses God’s people, driving them like cattle instead of leading them like sheep” (p. 183). Wiersbe expands:

David used a beautiful metaphor to picture the work of the leader: rain and sunshine that together produce useful fruit instead of painful thorns (23: 4–7) (p. 183).

With God’s help, leaders must create such a creative atmosphere that their colaborers will be able to grow and produce fruit. Ministry involves both sunshine and rain, bright days and cloudy days; but a godly leader’s ministry will produce gentle rain that brings life and not storms that destroy. What a delight it is to follow a spiritual leader who brings out the best in us and helps us produce fruit for the glory of God! Unspiritual leaders produce thorns that irritate people and make progress very difficult (2 Sam. 23: 6–7) (pp 183-184).

With all his faults and failures, David was, for the most part, such a leader. How we need such leaders today.