Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"No Complaints"

Have you heard about this campaign to encourage people to learn how to cultivate optimism and gratitude? The idea is to make or buy a bracelet that reminds you. Every time you catch yourself complaining you are supposed to switch the bracelet to the other wrist. If you can reduce your level of complaints, or even go without complaining all together, for a couple of weeks - well, you'll probably have changed your attitude. Interesting.

Here's the story the way the Denver Post tells it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Blog Topic Stew

I so want to write to you! But I have too many other computer-oriented issues, and writing-oriented projects, to do much blogging at present. Actually, I haven't blogged in more than a week since the last ones were done in advance.

Laptop: My laptop's ability to access the Internet has been hijacked, and whatever is doing it is wreaking havoc in other ways as well. A clever 18-year-old of my acquaintance - classic programming nerd - got it cleaned off a week ago. Or so we thought. But the machine has managed to get itself reinfected so I guess we didn't get it all. Working on that. And using a desktop machine at the office.

Editing: Got to keep our ezine rolling along. There's a new edition every week after all. Last week was the one I was responsible to actually compose, and it took quite a few hours to actually come together and feel like a graceful composition. Now I need to work on this week's, which came to me this morning for editing. It's supposed to go out April 1. (Do you suppose people will believe all our stories are serious?)

Website: We're building a new website for our team at the office, including of course the ezine. The plan was to launch it at the beginning of April. We're close. Oh, my 300+ pages of Miss Cat archives will not make the first rollout. But today I got all the 2009 pages into the new system. The upgraded site will allow some blog-like functions such as RSS feed. I have been feeling bad about being the only news source on the block not to have that! I'm working on the additional pages and architecture. It's coming along. Stay tuned.

Weather: And yeah, we did get quite a snowfall at the end of last week. About a foot, and it came down about an inch an hour for a bit there. We were only snowbound about 24 hours though. The roommate and I marked the ocassion with a Don Knots Film Marathon. Yes. She got four of his movies for Christmas. Bad movies (2.5 stars all around) but good times. We started with "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken." (That one is part of her family lore; seeing it as a third-grader gave her nightmares. But that was 40-some years ago. I'm pleased to announce, no nightmares this time!)

With the weather and the computer problems, I've been stuck between being unable to work and trying to find ways to catch up on work. I didn't have any evening commitments last week, either. So it turned out to be a pretty antisocial week. I worked out a few times, I read a lot, and had some good times of prayer and stuff, but I didn't have a lot of interaction with people.

Milkshake and Movie Night, and Musings: Saturday I really had to get out. So I went with a couple coworkers to a "milkshake and movie night" at the home of a woman who has started an orphan ministry in Zimbabwe. We watched War Dance. Good stuff; intense, though. It's about a group of kids from Northern Uganda, all victims of war, who find solace and purpose in music and dance. Tells their stories as well as the story of their efforts to get to a big music competition in the capital.

What touched me as much as the movie was the time, beforehand, when some of the people involved with the Zimbabwe ministry shared about their recent trips to Africa. The folks they work with haven't been through all the same things as Rose, Nancy, and Dominic (the main characters in War Dance) but some other pretty big challenges. Many are starving, and the economy has been devastated, and AIDS is extremely widespread.

I've heard it all before. But this time I struck anew by what they, these Westerners who were trying to make a difference in Zimbabwe, said about being willing to put yourself out there, relationally, to take risks and reach out to people, even when you feel like an idiot and don't know how they will respond. In some ways it's easier cross-culturally, at least it is for me. But I've been realizing lately how prone I am to back off when I'm scared or don't know what to do.

I guess we're all scared of at least a few things. I'm not scared to talk to people who are different than I am. I'm not afraid to travel around the world. I'm not afraid to get up and talk in front of a group of people. Instead, I'm afraid of things that even to me seem rather silly. I'm kind of afraid of small children - not that I don't like them, I just don't know how to endear myself to them, and it hurts to be rejected. I'm afraid to pick up the phone and make calls. And something in me pulls back from being close to people, generally, I think. After all these years, I'm still shy! I want to see that change. Or at least, to recognize and work around it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Prayer as Hide and Seek

“I have always found prayer difficult. So often it seems like a fruitless game of hide and seek in which we seek and God hides. I know God is very patient with me. Without that patience I should be lost. But frankly I have to be very patient with him. With no other friend would I go on seeking with such scant, conscious response. Yet I cannot leave prayer alone for long. My need drives me to him. And I have a feeling that he has his own reasons for hiding himself, and that finally my seeking will prove infinitely worthwhile. … I long for more satisfaction, but I cannot cease from questing. Jesus sometimes found prayer difficult. Some of his most agonized prayers were not answered. But he did not give up his praying. I frankly have little to show for all my prayers, but I cannot give up, for ‘my soul longeth for God,’ and I know that outside God there is nothing at all but death.”

Leslie Weatherhead, A Private House of Prayer, p. 28, quoted in Prayer: Does It Make a Difference? By Philip Yancey, pp. 161-2

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Yancey on Prayer: Why Is It So Difficult?

More from Prayer: Does It Make a Difference? By Philip Yancey:

“Some manuals on prayer imply that time spent with God will rank as the high point of the day and that prayer following spontaneously from anointed lips will usher in miraculous answers. Instead the prayer-er finds himself battling boredom, fatigue, and a nagging feeling that she’s wasting time. What went wrong? she wonders.”

And, as Yancey points out, modern life has provided more and more distractions that ever:

“Of course, all the electronic devices have an on/off switch, but somehow their offerings seem more productive or enticing than sitting quietly in conversation with God. Let’s be honest: by most standards they are more productive and enticing than prayer.” (p. 164)

Some of it has to do with expectations. Yancey cites the research of Daniel Yankovich, who identifies the cultural shift that occurred in America in the 1970s. It was right around the time that we traded in our values or self-denial and deferred gratification, and looked instead for self-fulfillment and emotional satisfaction, preferably without sacrifice or delay. But prayer doesn’t seem to work that way. It takes discipline and rarely yields measurable results or satisfies our emotional cravings right away.

Few people find prayer fulfilling, easy, or rewarding. One of Yancey’s friends wrote to him when he was doing research for this book and shared her theory that prayer is analogous to sex. “Sex and prayer and intimate are over-glamorized relationships. [This] sets up false expectations. And breaks down intimacy.”

Yancey agrees with her unlikely analogy. “Like sex, prayer centers in relationship, more than technique.” (p. 159)

And, as he suggests, reading a book about prayer, like reading a sex manual, is hardly as useful as knowing and building an intimate relationship with one’s partner.

See also: this article on "prayer and temperament"

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Yancey on Prayer: Action and Contemplation

1. Desmond Tutu

After the change of power in South Africa, Bishop Desmond Tutu found that his work had just begun. … "Day after day he listened to stories of deeds from hell acted out in his own country," says Philip Yancey. "In the midst of that time a reporter asked him, ‘Why do you pray?’ [Tutu replied:]

“‘If your day starts off wrong, it stays skewed. What I’ve found is that getting up a little earlier and trying to have an hour of quiet in the presence of God, mulling over some Scripture, supports me. I try to have two, three hours of quiet per day and even when I exercise, when I go on the treadmill for thirty minutes, I use that time for intercession. I try to have a map in my mind of the world and I go around the world, continent by continent – only Africa I do in a little more detail – and offer all of that to God.’” (p. 123)

2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“…Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s secret, said one German theologian, was the creative way in which he combined prayer and earthiness, forging a spirituality that made room for piety as well as activism. While sequestered in a monastery and awaiting orders from the German resistance movement, Bonhoeffer wrote, ‘A day without morning and evening prayer and personal intercessions is actually a day without meaning or importance.’” (p. 124)

3. Prayer and Action

“…In my travels overseas I have seen the clear results of prayerful action. Christians have a strong belief in a powerful and good God and an equally strong calling to live out the qualities of that God on a damaged and rebellious planet. For this reason, wherever Christian missionaries have traveled they have left behind a trail of hospitals, clinics, orphanages, and schools. To preach God without the kingdom is no better than to preach the kingdom without God.

“We will not all find ourselves in the kind of dramatic circumstances that faced Bonhoeffer in Germany or Tutu in South Africa. But each of us in our own way will feel the tension between prayer and activism, between action and contemplation. I receive a newsletter from ‘The Center for Action and Contemplation’ and together those two words encompass most of what we are called to do in following Jesus. The founder of the center says, ‘I have often told folks that the most important word in our title is not ‘action’ nor even ‘contemplation,’ but ‘and.’” (p. 125)

Prayer: Does It Make a Difference? By Philip Yancey, p. 123-5.

Yancey's sources for this bit:

Bishop Desmond Tutu, quoted in Antjie Krog, Country of my Skull, 2000, p. 202.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, quoted in Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson, The Cost of Moral Leadership: The Spirituality of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 2004, p. 228.

Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs, the Gift of Contemplative Prayer, 1999, p. 92.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Yancey on Prayer: Does Prayer Change Things?

“C.S. Lewis seemed fascinated by the questions posed by prayer, especially how a sovereign God might listen and respond to our prayers. As a young Christian in England, he had felt embarrassed about prayer for his brother Warren overseas when he heard of a Japanese attack on Shanghai. What difference might one puny prayer make against the inevitability of fate or providence?”

After all, doesn’t God know best? Does he need advice from us on how to run the world? Lewis says you could make the same argument against any activity, not just prayer:

“Why wash your hands? If God intends them to be clean, they’ll come clean without your washing them… Why ask for the salt? Why put on your boots? Why do anything?”

Yet God has chosen a style of governing that allows people to take part. We can cut down trees and dam rivers, cultivate the land, hurt or help each other, rebel against our creator, and kill the prophets.

“Prayer as a means of advancing God’s kingdom is no stranger than any other means. Go into all the nations and preach the gospel, Jesus told his disciples, thus launching the missionary movement with all its harrowing history. …Heal the sick, visit prisoners, feed the hungry, house strangers… Consistently, God chooses the course of actions in which human partners can contribute most.”

Prayer: Does It Make a Difference? By Philip Yancey, pp. 136-7. The Lewis quote is from God in the Dock, 1980, p. 104-5.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Yancey on Prayer: Just as I Am

I’ve been wanting to post some of my favorite bits from the Yancey book I’ve been enjoying over the last month or so. This is the week. Here’s part one, of five, all from Prayer: Does It Make a Difference? By Philip Yancey. I’ll queue them all up now so one will be published each morning.
“Norwegian theologian Ole Hallesby settled on the single word helplessness as the best summary of the heart attitude that God accepts as prayer. ‘Whether it take the form of words or not, does not mean anything to God, only to ourselves,’ he adds. ‘Only he who is helpless can truly pray.’
“What a stumbling block!” says Yancey. Isn’t it though?
“Almost from birth we aspire to self reliance… all the while we are systematically sealing off the heart attitude most desirable to God and most descriptive of our true state in the universe." (p. 33)

“Prayer makes room for the unspeakable, those secret compartments of shame and regret that we seal away from the outside world.” (p. 41)
And, in one of the many short testimonies scattered throughout the book, a woman simply identified as “Dee” describes her own experience with prayer:
“So many times when I pray I feel like I’m either shaking my fists in God’s face (defiance) or pounding them on his chest (grief). Would that I could just place them on his knees, and have him hold my hands in his.” (p. 77)
Notes: The Hallesby quote is from a 1975 book simply titled Prayer, pp. 16-17.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Signs of Spring, Fears about Summer

Spring. In the Denver suburbs, I recognize it by:

1. The first dandelion blooming in my weed-punctuated lawn - yesterday.
2. The first garage sale in the neighborhood - last weekend.
3. Weather that even by Denver standards is fluctuating wildly.

Friday I got caught in a sudden squall, emotionally. I was thinking about summer. Far too often summers are for me a time of desolation. Especially in the spring I tend to spend so much of my energy investing in projects (as if I'm too busy for relationships) that if or when a summer lull hits - church activities canceled, the people I know best off on vacation with their families or out having fun with their friends - I find myself suddenly, desperately lonely, and deeply frustrated with the patterns of a lifetime that put me in such a position, that cause me to choose it.

I had a good cry about it. A rare, but helpful response to my fears, failures, and frustrations.

If I'm honest: yeah, I am great at forming new friendships, lazy or cowardly about cultivating deep, life-giving relationships. But it's not that I can't, or that I don't know how. And having a close, deep, life-giving relationship with the Lord is not only a huge consolation, but a huge help. I am not so brittle or deformed as I might be; I do have, by his mercy, a warm, pliable heart. I'm not incapable of reaching out for help, or offering true and meaningful friendship to those around me. I'm just lazy, busy, distracted. More in the habit of neglect (of both self, and others) than of intentional, effective loving-kindness.

Well, repentance is an option. Forgiveness, healing, restoration, and power are available for the asking.

I laughed, looking through my email inbox(es) some hours later, to realize that while I was freaking out over the prospect of a lonely summer, more than a half dozen people are waiting to hear back from me, people who said, "Hey, let's get together!" And there are others who would be delighted to spend more time with me. Perhaps I'll make a list, set a goal, make a plan. That pit of loneliness? It's not inevitable.

Miracles in the Land of St. Patrick

This just in from Joel News, one of my favorite subscriptions. Sadly, too late for us to republish in our ezine this week. Fair to republish excerpts here?
---------

As the Irish celebrated St. Patrick's Day on March 17, remembering the Irish apostle who helped turn a pagan nation into a hotbed of Christianity, a Vineyard church in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, is helping spread a new wave of spiritual renewal across the nation. "God is moving in our communities in Ireland," says Alan Scott, who with his wife Kathryn leads the 350-member Causeway Coast Vineyard.

Instead of following the traditional model of commissioning couples to plant churches, Vineyard has been sending teams into communities across Ireland, where they set up a banner in the street that says 'Healing', and place a few chairs where people can sit while receiving prayer.

"We go to an area, heal the sick, and see if ultimately a community forms around kingdom activity in that area," Scott says. It's messier, but the results have been dramatic. South of the border in the Republic of Ireland, the team encountered a Gypsy woman who was diabetic and blind in one eye. "The Lord sovereignly healed her," Scott recalls. "Her son was lame in his right leg and was also healed. They all just came from everywhere. It was book of Acts stuff."

The intercessors were invited to pray for others. A boy with scoliosis - a severe curvature of the spine - received prayer and "instantly straightened up." Similar experiences followed as the team visited other parts of the republic. "Every time we go, we see the sick healed," Scott says.

[The] Vineyard leader says the rich heritage of early Irish church leaders such as St. Patrick continues to influence him and his church.

"Part of our reason for existing is that we want to recapture some of that original mandate. There was a group of crazy monks who were so captured by the Spirit of God, they understood that community and mission are inseparable. They had something in their heart that wanted to care for the poor and change the community in which they functioned."
JOEL NEWS 678, 20 March 2009
(c) JOEL NEWS, 2009 | republication only with full creditline | www.joelnews.org

Friday, March 20, 2009

Champagne for the Soul: Gleaming Everywhere

[Photo caption - took this one myself, on the beach in SE Asia last summer.]

Here's more Champagne for the Soul (last quoted here.)
“During my experiment I had to look closely at what joy actually feels like in practice. God kept changing my view of it, showing me more and more angles, with the result that joy became more readily accessible to me in all manner of situations. If I’m looking for a perfectly clear crystal stone on a beach, I may not find one, but if I look for the crystalline in stones, I’ll see it gleaming everywhere.

“It takes wiliness to be happy. When cornered, we have to look at all the options and find the way out. We have to know how to outwit the heebie-jeebies, how to think faster than our blackest thought. We must be able to slip the nooses of condemnation, lethargy, self-pity, confusion.

“Have I been happy today? Yes, richly so. Yet I’ve also been processing deep undercurrents of disturbed feelings. Can these two states coexist – joy and profound disturbance? Strange to say, they can. An unsettled joy isn’t the same as clear, singing joy, but it’s joy nonetheless. Though there be clouds in the sky, the sun can still shine brilliantly.”

(Mike Mason, Champagne for the Soul, p. 26)

See also: Personal Development - On Pulling Away (11/5/08)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Morning Person, or Night Person?

Is it so strange that I am both, at least when it comes to work?

I do my best work before 10 am or after 4 pm. Sadly, office hours are 8:30 to 5:00.

Most meetings are held first thing in the morning, and while I enjoy meetings (provided they have some degree of purpose, structure, and leadership) one result is that I may not get to my desk until I'm starting to fade. (Would it be better to schedule all meetings in the afternoon?)

I compensate for giving my worst hours to the work that I love by also reaching for the laptop when I get up in the mornings. When I don't have evening plans, I'll work at least an extra hour or two after I get my second wind.

This whole situation frustrates me, because, you see, I work for Jesus. I want to give him the first fruit of my labors: The best, not the worst, that I have to give.

But wait. Even if I am a misssssionary, does that mean that the sum of my service is what I do for and in the name of the ministry I work for?

Probably not.

Well, today is work-at-home Wednesday. And today, I operate according to more natural (to me) patterns. I've spent the last hour and half on email, writing, and so on. Now - when usually I'd be on my way to the office - it's time to actually get out of bed! After breakfast and coffee, there's a project I've been "working" on for weeks which I think I can finish before 10:30. Then I'll do some reading, and - I think - finish another such project as well before the sun goes down, as well as some busywork in-between.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Refrigerator Meditations

A sweet dog who got too shaky on her feet in the last months, a soft-hearted roommate who is a bit of a slovenly housekeeper, and a 25-year-old carpet - well, combine them and you get what might be expected.

The dog is no longer with us but the badly stained carpet is. Mark & Amy, who own our place, plan to come replace it this summer.

When the stains get to the point I cannot stand them I rent or borrow a steam cleaner and see if I can reduce them to more muted levels.

This weekend was one of those times.

While I was waiting for the carpet to dry I sat, resting, in my favorite chair, which was temporarily relocated to the kitchen and sat facing the fridge. It's a very comfortable chair.

This arrangement gave me with a chair-level view of the 45 pictures of friends that hang in that place of honor. There's not enough room for everyone there; some of my pictures are at the office.

Thinking of these folks, remembering good times, and praying for them, I thought, why don't I do this more often? Do you think Deb would mind if I left my chair there? (Significantly easier than moving the fridge into the living room!)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Checking in

Off to my last Perspectives class. Lil' road trip to the North, up to the college town, Fort Collins.

I have a "let me tell you about myself" section that seems perfect for such settings, and it includes a few jokes I tell about myself that get a laugh 75% of the time. I suspect has a significant effect on how the rest of the lesson goes, so I almost always use that same intro. But I squirm a bit to do so. Sometimes I feel like a sham (those particular stories, are they really who I am? Are those really my only stories?) or a bore (telling these stories over and over again).

Maybe next year I'll rework my intro. Assuming people keep asking me to do this same sort of thing. Assuming I keep saying yes.

No progress on making a sabbatical plan, e.g., going to grad school. But I need something to seriously recharge me, and something more along the lines of personal development than just taking a vacation.

I said no, this week, to two trips to Asia. One would have taken me to Mongolia, the other to the Middle East. But both were very soon, and my plate is too full.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Refreshingly Wholesome...

I've been invited to a bridal shower next week.

Haven't been to one in a while, most of my contemporaries having wed a decade or so ago.

Honestly, these can be somewhat painful events. Sometimes I'm caught off guard by jealousy or exclusion, particularly if there's a focus on things I try not to dwell on. (I don't appreciate dirty jokes.)

But this time the invitation came with this request:
[Bride] and [groom] have sought to maintain a high level of physical, emotional, and mental purity when it comes to romance and affection, so let's honor their wishes in gift choices and conversation at the shower.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Abide - Love - Bear Fruit

I have not been spending much time in the Bible lately. ("[Marti, Marti], you are worried and upset about many things" comes to mind) but the "verse of the day" service to which I subscribe keeps reminding me that it is still there. Today's verse was John 15:16, which is an easy and comforting thing, by itself:
"You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you."
Enduring fruitfulness.... I like that! I want that! But how? I had to look and see more. The chapter leading up to it tells us how to actually get there, and it has a cost, and requires a commitment - to God and to people:
John 15 (TNIV - highlighting mine)
1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

9 "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because servants do not know their master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Still Life with Trumpet / The Question of a Thousand Tongues

Coming home to an empty house at a reasonable hour of the day, I decided to get out the horn and make some music (or something like it. It's been a while.)

I was looking for some good Easter music. I found a lot of it. I had fun with the al - - le - lu - ias! So by the time I got to this one I was having trouble with the high notes. Like I said, it's been a while since I played.

But I realize I also have some trouble with the lyrics. You know, I think I've been getting it wrong all these years. I always thought Wesley was saying, he wished he had a thousand tongues (in his mouth - or, a thousand mouths, each with their own tongue?) with which to sing praises to God, because God is worthy. And he would love to give God that much more praise. But devout as that may sound, it's a bit silly, isn't it? Is that how you read the song? (Could be correct. This guy thinks so.)

Slightly less ridiculous is the idea that maybe Wesley wishes he could praise God in a thousand languages. Still a bit beside the point, but not as strange.

Finally, I realized the meaning could be something different all together. Maybe Wesley does not want to do all the praising on his own. Maybe he wants to join in with a thousand singers, or the singers of a thousand languages. Maybe he longs for the day when people from thousands of language groups will join to the chorus. There. That's better. Wycliffe says there are 6,912 separate languages spoken in the world today. So, maybe we could even sing, "Oh, for six thousand tongues to sing / to spread through all the earth abroad the honors of thy name."

You knew all along that's what he meant, didn't you? Why did I get it wrong in 25 years of being part of this Christianity thing, and a Presbyterian no less?

It's such a modern/western thing to close our eyes, block out everyone else, and think of worship as "me and my God" instead of "the Creator and the whole community."

But wait, he does say "assist me to proclaim," which suggests my first interpretation - that it's all about wanting to give God a bigger, better gift. Wesley is part of that same pietistic tradition that has shaped us and our attitudes toward worship, so maybe he was wishing (in vain) for extra body parts with which to glorify God. He did not get them. Sorry, Charlie.

Of course, his ministry touched thousands of people, and perhaps in time members of a thousand language groups. So in that sense his wish has come true.

And the six thousand tongues to sing our great Redeemer's praise, in the sense of people from six thousand languages? It's going to happen, too. Easter... and Pentecost... were just the beginning.

When Fonts Call a Meeting

Monday, March 09, 2009

Campy Books for Girls, mid-1950s

Image: Cascade Books
While I was in Baton Rouge I popped in at a local library hoping to find a wireless internet connection. No luck with that, but I did stumble on a used book sale.

There’s something to be said for reading books older than oneself, isn’t there? Works that have stood the test of time and reflect the wisdom of the ages may have so much more to offer us than whatever trendy fluff is selling well at the moment.

But I am not writing to promote the classics, at least not today. The two I picked up for $.25 apiece were, rather, the trendy stuff of their own day. Want to go there with me? Let us assume you will not later read these books and will not mind me spoiling the plot a bit.

The Pink Rose:

The Pink Rose, by Elspeth Woodward and Edward Roberts (1955) begins in the summer of 1902. Margaret Lloyd, recently graduated from an exclusive finishing academy, is struggling with the knowledge that her education is over. She must now pursue the most important job of her life: finding a husband. In a moment of pique – she exclaims to her young friends that she has decided to go to college, like some of the boys.

Shocking! Her mother, a scene or two later, scolds her: “A girl of your station and prospects – an ordinary college drudge? Have you seen the girls who go to college?” Horrors!

Peg is expected, in fact, required, to “come out” in the fall. To be a credit to her upbringing she should make a good match within the first year after her debut – to be safely married before she is 20. And Peg does, indeed, back down on the college question. To fight her parents on this or even raise her voice to them is not to be thought of.

I did think the description of her “debut” was interesting. All the best families were invited and sent the most gorgeous bouquets in advance; she had to memorize who sent what, and the next day finds her frantically writing her thank-you notes. Every unmarried man who attended her debut is required to “call” on the young lady within the next year. Isn’t that handy?

Of course, Peg has to do her part, too. She may never be seen with her clothes or hair in disarray, she must flirt as much as propriety allows. And she is now old enough to attend the dinner parties her mother throws three times a week. Until this point she has been dining on a tray in her old nursery. Mrs. Lloyd has made a list of 200 homes at which her daughter should make a 20-minute call in the months to come. So, all of a sudden, she who was a child is now a woman seeking a match.

Was it really like that, for wealthy upper-class American girls at the turn of the century? Maybe; maybe not. I suspect the book holds as many clues to the mores of the fifties as to those of the time in which it is set. Our socialite does find secret ways to rebel, with the full sympathy of her readers. One of the servants in Peg’s house is married to a man who has just started a business selling seafood. Peg sees how he is doing business and decides to put her hand in as well; she tells him how to open an account at her father’s bank, and, sending away for a correspondence course in business sets up and manages a bookkeeping system for him as well as suggesting new recipes and suggesting orders from her wealthy friends – all as a silent partner. She even manages to master the operation of a typewriting machine! In some ways Peg is much like her mother – having learned management and organization skills from her – but also is well on her way to becoming a modern woman, it seems.

On the social front, Peg manages to get herself engaged to her long-time favorite boy, otherwise a young man with few really exemplary characteristics. The match is much opposed by her parents. Dick is, after all, as young as she is and has in fact chosen to go to law school. So he is in no position to support Peg in the fashion to which she is accustomed – as would only be fair, according to her parents and all others. You can’t live on love, can you? Peg thinks you can – love, and a little initiative. She seems to think marriage ought to be a partnership.

The end of the book finds her gliding down the staircase in her parents’ stately mansion to wed Dick. The phone rings, as she is descending, and instinctively she stops mid-wedding-march and answers, solving a business problem for the seafood business. Then she traipses into the parlor and gets married. Shortly after she has thrown her bouquet to her best friend, Peg announced to her parents and new husband that they will not, in fact, be returning to the town after their honeymoon will be heading to Boston so Dick can finish school. Dick had agreed to her father’s insistence that he drop out and get a job, but Peg won’t have that. She in fact has accepted a position with a catering business in Boston and intends to pay for her own handkerchiefs and elbow gloves so Dick can pursue his dreams and become a lawyer. After all, if he’s going to support her for the rest of their lives, why can’t she contribute financially at the beginning, just for a year or two?

In the back of the car on the way to their honeymoon, Peg wonders what life will be like for her own daughter – will she have evolved into the kind of creature who will feel free to do things that shock Peg and Dick just as much as her own behavior has shocked her parents?

I think our author knows the answer; Peg Lloyd may be about the right age to have been the author’s grandmother. In our day, the author (if she is still around) likely has grandchildren of her own.

The More the Merrier:

The second book I read was less of a melodrama, but still pretty campy. I may try to learn a bit more about the author; she lived in Denver and wrote for women’s magazines as well as producing a great many stories for girls, the most popular of which featured our heroine today, the teenaged “Beany” Malone.

The More the Merrier, by Lenora Mattingly Weber (1958), begins with Beany’s father (a journalist) and stepmother (an artist whom we quickly learn came into their lives respectably, six years after the death of Beany’s mother) departing on a long business trip to Mexico. An older sister had taken a job working on a dude ranch. This leaves Beany and her 19-year-old brother to hold down the fort on their own for the summer. Beany decides to take in boarders. (This, I thought, is just the sort of behavior in which our other heroine, Peg Lloyd, might have anticipated her children or grandchildren would indulge.)

I may still have some readers sticking with me through this very long post; I will not make it longer by spelling out the whole plot on this one. But of course all does not go well. Our relatively modern and somewhat harum-scarum young woman is concerned about getting dates and being a model hostess, and as a matter of course she’s a great cook and reasonably successful seamstress. At first she is unhappy about the chaperon a protective neighbor insists move in to keep the four young people in line (Beany, her brother, and the two boarders also under 21) but she submits with reasonable grace. She’s quite happy to have the priest Father Hugh drop in frequently, as well. All comes more or less right in the end, and Beany’s young man (who had joined the Marines) wrangles some leave and shows up at the house on the night of a big party, where he is bold enough to kiss her soundly on the cheek.

I wouldn’t want to go back to the turn of the century, but the fifties don’t sound so bad. What do you think? Sometimes life in our day can seem so confusing. What is expected? What is acceptable? We have so much freedom; our society seems to have no norms at all. Feels dangerous. I don’t want to over-romanticize the past, though. I know enough about my own family to know better than that. But would you want to go back to a simpler (?) time, or not?

The World of the 1950s:

Well, some of my readers remember for themselves what the fifties were like. Wikipedia reports, “The 1950s in the developed western world are generally considered socially conservative and highly materialistic in nature. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States played out through the entire decade.”

Being conservative and materialistic has a cost. The article adds this discouraging line: “The Library of Congress has dubbed the 1950s as the decade with the least musical innovation.” Apparently the fifties were not so good for creativity.

See also:
Wikipedia on 1950s literature (presumably someone’s estimate of the “best” stuff)
Bestselling books of the 1950s (what people actually read. Any you’d recommend?)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

February Reading

NONFICTION

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey – This is a great book. I read part of it and went to hear the author speak when it first came out, but only came into possession of a copy of my own this Christmas. I really like this book. Wrote about it here. May write more later.

Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh – I wrote about this slim collection of essays about the rhythms of life here, here, and here. Suggested it to my women's book club for April and they thought it sounded a good choice; I'll be interested to see what they think of it. Want to join us?

Exploring the Land, by Shane Bennett and Kim Felder, with Steve Hawthorne – This is one published by our ministry. And actually, it's pretty exciting to sit down and read it and think: yeah! This stuff is great! But I had a more practical assignment that caused me to go through it again. We're almost out of copies. It falls more or less on me to lead the process of preparing it for a reprint, probably a revision. So I was reading with a red pen in hand this time.

How much should or must we change to keep this 1995 book current and as helpful as possible, without making extra work for ourselves? Shane and I will work on it somewhat together (which is cool; I love working with Shane). But we have also invited input from Kim, Steve, and a few others.

FICTION

The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis – Read this again with my book club, which met this last Saturday to discuss it. It’s the story of a group of citizens from hell who get on a bus and go on a field trip to heaven, where others from their lives have lingered to meet them and encourage them to go on up into the high heavens. In order to do so, however, each must make difficult choices. This well illustrates how hard it is for us to say, “Yeah, I guess I was wrong all along,” even when forgiveness and joy are just around the corner.

Lavinia, by Ursula Le Guin – The story of the pre-Roman princess destined to be the wife of Virgil’s hero Aeneas. Of course, her mother has other plans – and has gone mad following the death of her two sons, Lavinia’s brothers. This is a well-written and imaginative filling-in of the many gaps in this part of Virgil’s story.

NOTE: If you like Ursula Le Guin, check out Changing Planes. The premise of this collection of linked short-stories is the accidental discovery that when circumstances align, a traveler enduring a layover between connecting flights may instead find themselves changing planes - e.g., dimensions. "Ursula Le Guin's deadpan premise frames a series of travel accounts by the tourist-narrator who describes bizarre societies and cultures that sometimes mirror our own, and sometimes open puzzling doors into the alien."

Eye of Jade, by Diane Wei Liang – The story of a young woman who has left her prestigious government job to set up a private detective agency in modern Beijing, and tries to turn her back on guanxi (power/influence/connections). The mystery takes backseat to the cultural and relational issues - e.g., dealing with her mother's manipulations and coming in time to understand them. Very interesting novel; recommended.

Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay – The story of a ten-year-old girl who was among the several thousand Jewish children and their parents whom the overzealous French police rounded up one night to hand over to the Nazis; she locks her young brother in their secret hiding place, sure she can come back for him in a day or two. Her life is intertwined with the life of a journalist 60 years later who is investigating the roundup and struggling with her own place as an American in Paris. Disturbing, but compelling. Recommended with reservations.

The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey – (from "truth is the daughter of time") Detective Grant broke his leg badly and is stuck in the hospital, on his back, extremely bored, until a friend brings him a collection of portraits to study. The one of Richard III grabs his imagination. Was Richard really the cruel and ambitious uncle who ordered the murder of "the princes in the tower"? Grant sets out to find out. Great characterization, great writing, and an interesting look at a period of British history about which I knew little (as did the inspector. So, while it takes concentration to put the pieces together, it wasn't entirely over my head even if I am an American). Many say this novel is her best. But they're all good!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Back to the Cubicle...

Got in from Louisiana about midnight Thursday (last night). Have now fulfilled ten of my eleven speaking engagements for the spring.

Almost all the groups have been in the 20-30 people range. You don't know, when you agree to these things, which ones will turn out to be large, which ones will turn out to be small, and it's wise to hold off on buying plane tickets until you know they are all going to make it. This year all but one class "made it," but most have been small. So even though I've taught a dozen 1-2 hour classes and workshops (including teaching history at eight Perspectives classes) I think I've still spoken to fewer than 400 people; just shy of that figure. After all the travel and preparation it does seem a bit disappointing.

On the other hand, the dynamics at the smaller groups are often better. Unless the class is canceled they still cover my expenses, and when circumstances align I'm able to spend a good chunk of the next day meeting with people who were in my class the night before, which means I get to hear many of their stories, too. It can be a lot of fun.

Along the way I've also been able to sell about 50 copies of Through Her Eyes and picked up 123 new subscribers for our ezine.

If you're interested, take a look at some pictures from Louisiana here. If you didn't catch those from my trip to the Southwest, the week before, you can find them here. (Didn't take any snaps in Indiana or Atlanta, my previous trips)

Frequent flier days are over for a while now. The last engagement of this sort is closer to home - I'm speaking in Fort Collins, CO, on the Ides of March (beware). First Presbyterian Church, 6 pm.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Southern Interlude

I’m in Louisiana this week, doing some teaching, and staying with a 91-year-old widow lady named Miss Connie. She and her husband built this house more than 50 years ago and it’s as charming as white-haired Miss Connie herself. Warm wood paneling and floors, braided rugs and handmade quilts, lace curtains and doilies and knick-knacks from around the world.

Over hot chocolate Sunday night Miss Connie entertained me stories about moving to Iran with their four young children back in the 1940s? Fifties? Her husband worked for Exxon, and his job took them there as well as to Indonesia. The move to Iran marked the first time she’d seen a desert, and not an easy adjustment; she cried for three weeks. But her husband said, “I signed a contract and I intend to keep it. If you can’t live here, you and the children can go back to Baton Rouge. But I am going to fulfill my contract.”

Well! Since he had gone a month ahead of her to start the job, she had already had a taste of life as single mother. She wasn’t about to try that, again!

Because of her husband’s position and the highly developed “caste” system the British had developed there, the family was given a modern bungalow with central air conditioning. However, the place was tiny – it only had two bedrooms, a combined living area and a kitchen that she took one look at and hoped she’d never have to enter again.

As soon as a place in the older part of town, with bigger (if less modern) homes open up, she put in her request. She got it, too. “But your husband’s job rates something nicer!” she was told. No thank you, she said; the other will suit us better. The new place had no central air conditioning, but was better built for the climate and had walls that were several feet thick and screened porches off every room.

Anne Lindbergh, Part 3 of 3: on the Pressures of Connectedness

“Modern communication loads us with more problems central than the human frame can carry,” wrote Anne Morrow Lindbergh, even of her life in the 1950s. I struggle with this tension, sometimes, both wishing to get away from the bombardment of news, and reveling in it, feeling lost without it.

Moreover, as a mobilizer, my job is to try to wake up the sleeping beauty that is the American church to the world outside her borders. So, I feel deflated when I meet Christians who boast (almost) about not having a television, or not watching the news, or not sending their kids to public school. These can be very appropriate defense mechanisms but at times they also seem to reflect a harmful tendency to think good Christians should not engage with the world. What a loss, on both sides!

And yet, I recognize the problem it creates to know and care about things far away.

“It is good, I think, for our hearts, our minds, our imaginations to be stretched; but body, nerve, endurance, and life-span are not as elastic. … Our grandmothers, and even – with some scrambling – our mothers, lived in a circle small enough to let them implement in action most of the impulses of their hearts and minds. We were brought up in a tradition that has now become impossible, for we have extended our circle throughout space and time.” Gifts from the Sea, p. 124.

We do seem to need those experiences that re-center us, that allow us to disengage with the world and renew ourselves. What Lindbergh does not mention in the book, you may know: Anne’s husband was the famous pilot and explorer Charles Lindbergh. Following the tragic, high-profile kidnapping and murder of one of their children, they moved to Europe for protection and privacy, only to be driven back by the onset of World War II. At the time she wrote this book Anne was raising her five remaining children and trying to live a quiet life. With such a household I imagine it was seldom quiet.

America, which has the most glorious present still existing in the world today, hardly stops to enjoy it, in her insatiable appetite for the future. Perhaps… we are still propelled by our frontier energy… Europe, on the other hand, which we think of as being enamored of the past, has since the last war, strangely enough, been forced into a new appreciation of the present. The good past is so far away and the near past is so horrible and the future is so perilous, that the present has a chance to expand into a golden eternity of here and now. Europeans today are enjoying the moment even if it means merely a walk in the country on Sunday or sipping a cup of black coffee at a sidewalk cafĂ©.” pp. 126-127

Are these dynamics still true of America, of Europe? More true, or less?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Anne Lindbergh, Part 2 of 3: on Solitude

“How one hates to think of oneself as alone. How one avoids it. It seems to imply rejection or unpopularity… We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen,” says Lindbergh. What do you think? Is this a struggle for you? Do you find yourself filling the space, the silence, unable to bear the risk of boredom or isolation?

“Even if family, friends, and movies should fail, there is still the radio or television to fill up the void. Women, who used to complain of loneliness, need never be alone any more. We can do our housework with soap-opera heroes at our side. Even daydreaming was more creative than this; it demanded something of oneself and it fed the inner life. Now, instead of planting our solitude with our own dream blossoms, we choke out the space with continuous music, chatter, and companionship to which we do not even listen. It is simply there to fill the vacuum. When the noise stops there is no inner music to take its place. We must re-learn to be alone.

“It is a difficult lesson to learn today – to leave one’s friends and family and deliberately practice the art of solitude for an hour or a day or a week. ” Gifts from the Sea, pp. 41-42

Now, even more than when she wrote those words 50 years ago, we have that same chatter. I find myself seldom eating, if I’m alone, without a book or catalog or magazine in hand; I constantly check for messages in all the multitude of ways one can receive them these days, and I almost always choose being with people over being alone. Yet even with such a strong preference against it, I need that time alone, I need the quiet.

“Every paid worker, no matter where in the economic scale, expects a day off a week and a vacation a year. By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacationless class. They rarely even complain of their lack, apparently not considering occasional time to themselves as a justifiable need.” pp. 48-49

Again, you who are wives and mothers may find yourselves in these words more than others, but the tensions are not limited to one population, are they?