Archive for the ‘Book Notes’ Category

My brother, the pumpkin runner?

November 18th, 2017

It didn’t take long, when reading Marsha Diane Arnold’s The Pumpkin Runner, to find parallels between her main character and my brother Josh.

First, there’s the name. “Nearly all the sheep ranchers in Blue Gum Valley rode horses or drove jeeps to check on their sheep. But Joshua Summerhayes…”

Then there’s the running. “But Joshua Summerhayes liked to run…” Yep, that’d be Josh.

Finally, there’s Joshua’s penchant for eating raw pumpkin.

Not that my brother Josh is crazy about raw pumpkin (at least, I don’t think he is). But when I read:

“That was the year his family planted a pumpkin patch behind their clapboard ranch house, where the sun sparkled through the eucalyptus trees near Blue Gum Creek.

When the pumpkins had grown as round as a wombat’s belly, young Joshua stopped by to enjoy a golden slice.”

When I read that passage (from the second and third paragraphs of the story), I remembered my brother Joshua’s love for raw green beans. Now, don’t get me wrong. We all loved to munch on the raw green beans while we spent countless hours stemming for mom to can. But Josh took it to a whole ‘nother level. We teased that Josh ate more than went into his bowl to be canned.

The Pumpkin Runner goes on from there, of course. It tells the story of young Joshua Summerhayes, young no longer. At 60 years old, he’s still running powered by the pumpkins in the patch out back. But when a newspaper announces a run from Melbourne to Sydney (just 900 km or ~560 miles), Joshua tells his dog: “It’s been a while since we’ve visited the city, Yellow Dog…. We could see two cities and get in a little run as well.” And so they did – Joshua in his orange gumboots, Yellow Dog beside him, and Aunt Millie driving from stop to stop with pumpkin treats as fuel.

I’m not sure Tirzah Mae was as impressed with the story as I was – it was a bit long and she had her eye on a Barbie easy reader she’d picked up the last time we were at the library (groan!) But I sure enjoyed envisioning my brother, 30 years down the line, running a long distance race fueled by raw green beans.

I’ll be Aunt Millie, driving the Jeep.

:-P

Church History: The Age of Jesus and the Apostles

January 27th, 2017

This year’s main spiritual goal is to “grow theologically through a study of church history”. To that end, I’m using Bruce L. Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language as a spine and reading original sources and biographies to supplement my study. This month’s section was “The Age of Jesus and the Apostles, 6 BC – AD 70.” In other words, the New Testament Age. Because I am already relatively familiar with this stage of church history, this was an easy month. I read Matthew, Acts, and Ephesians as my original sources and selected two books on Paul from my local library (only one of which I finished, as seen below.) I also found one of Shelley’s recommended readings at my library and read that.

Core Reading: Church History in Plain Language
The two chapters on “The Age of Jesus and the Apostles” are easy reading. They summarize the narrative portions of the New Testament, giving some historical details drawn heavily from the below-mentioned Great People of the Bible and How They Lived.

Supplemental Reading:

Great People of the Bible and How They Lived by Reader’s Digest
Bruce included this work in his recommended readings for this section – and I’m glad he did. I’ve only read the New Testament section (so far), but I’ve found this to be a highly readable retelling of the narrative of the New Testament with appropriate historical details added in text and with photographs and illustrations. Given that this is a secular work, I would have expected significant skepticism about the words and works of Christ, as well as how the apostles interpreted said words and works – but this is not a skeptical work. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I especially enjoyed the discussion of temple politics and the divisions between the Pharisees and Sadducees and the discussion of the divisions between the Jerusalem Jews and the Hellenists. Another thing I’d never thought of was how the locus of ministry in the New Testament shifts from Galilee (during Jesus’ early ministry) to Jerusalem (during Jesus’ late ministry and the apostles’ early ministry) to Antioch (from which Paul and Barnabas’s missionary journeys were launched.)

Paul: In Fresh Perspective by N.T. Wright

This is a small but dense work edited from some lectures Wright gave at Cambridge University. I found it difficult to find time to read it because it required my full attention (something in short supply!) to get Wright’s points. Nevertheless, I am glad I read this. Some points I found useful:

  • Wright points out Paul’s consistent use of the word “Christ”, which we tend to think of as little more than Jesus’ surname, but which conveyed quite a bit more in Paul’s Jewish context. Specifically, Paul was consistently pointing to Jesus’ messianic role – what Wright calls an “apocalyptic” context. Wright discusses some of the expectations the Jews of Paul’s time would have had surrounding the term “Christ” and what that would have meant to them. To remind myself of this context, I’ve been mentally substituting “The Promised Messiah and Savior” whenever I read “Christ” in the New Testament.
  • Occasionally, I hear the cross in the Roman world compared to an electric chair – “You’d never hang an electric chair around your neck.” But Wright points out that the cross was not simply a means by which Rome carried out executions. It was a symbol of Rome’s might, particularly its power over conquered peoples. The cross represented the power of Rome to kill those who oppose. Yet the subversive nature of the gospel stated that the cross represents the power, not of Rome but of God, not to kill but to save.

Paul: The Mind of the Apostle by A.N. Wilson

I gave this book up after 50 pages, having grown tired of passages like this:

“If readers of the New Testament choose to believe that Paul never set eyes on Jesus and that he had no psychological interest or compulsion to inspire him throughout the thirty years in which he preached Jesus Christ Crucified other than the testimony of the friends of Jesus, whom he had barely met, then that reader is entitled to his or her point of view.”

I understand that not all biographers of Biblical persons consider the Bible to be the authoritative word of God – but I’d prefer not to represented by a straw man. Only a reader of the New Testament who is determined to disbelieve it will assume Paul’s reason for believing was “the testimony of the friends of Jesus whom he had barely met.” Scripture plainly states in Acts 9 and 22 that Paul’s reason for his “obsession” with Jesus was a personal encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Call the Damascus road experience a hallucination if you like, but don’t pretend that the Bible gives no explanation for Paul’s zeal.

The Brothers Grimm: Wrap Up

December 2nd, 2015

I had grandiose plans of reading ALL of the Grimm’s fairy tales, but I’m awfully glad that I gave myself the out from the beginning. As it was, I read 22 of the tales and 14 picture book versions, listened to 1 audio retelling, and watched 2 video retellings. I posted reviews of the retellings – and have a half dozen half-written posts about the other tales I read.

I’ll post those someday – but for now, I’ll just list what I read:

Hansel and Gretel

I read and reviewed eight different picture book versions of this very famous tale.

Rumpelstiltskin

I read and reviewed four different picture book versions and a video retelling of this familiar tale.

King Thrushbeard

I found only one picture book version of this fun Taming-of-the-Shrew-esque story. I’d like to see more.

The Frog Prince

No kissing! Yay! I read one picture book version, listened to an audio version, and watched a video retelling (that I didn’t like at all.)

Stories published elsewhere

So, those Disney stories I watched/read as a child? I think most of them are probably drawn more from Perrault’s French version of the stories. But I did read the Grimm’s versions of “Puss in Boots” and “Cinderella”.

Less-Familiar Princesses

“Maid Maleen”: a Sleeping-Beauty-like tale, except with more twists. “The Skillful Huntsman”: a modest man slays figurative dragons (actually giants and maybe a pig?) and wins the princess’s hand. “The Princess in Disguise”: a Cinderella-like tale, except with more twists (including a really yucky incestuous promise.)

Tailor Tales

I read two different tales about tailors (generally clever but rather self-important men). “The Gallant Tailor” aka “The Brave Little Tailor” aka “The Valiant Tailor” aka “Seven at One Blow” is the one I remember from childhood. But there is also “The Giant and the Tailor”.

Stories with Adult Themes

Infidelity and wife-beating. Not exactly great material for children’s stories. Preview these before you share them with your kids: “The Little Farmer”, “Sharing Joy and Sorrow”, and “Old Hildebrand”.

Gruesome Tales

You’ve been warned that the Grimm’s are GRIM and are eager to mine the depths of their gruesomeness? Try “Fitcher’s Bird” and “The Robber Bridegroom”.

Create-your-own Fairy Tales

A few of the tales seemed incomplete, like they’re just waiting to be made into an episode in a Shrek-like fairy tale amalgam. Wanna try your hand at it? Read “The Golden Key”, “Sweet Porridge”, and “The Old Beggar Woman”.

Thumbling Tales

Actually three different tales: “Tom Thumb”, “Tom Thumb’s Travels”, and “The Young Giant”.

Miscellaneous Tales

“The Nail”, a moral tale. “Jew among Thorns”, an anti-Semitic tale (uncomfortable). “Clever Gretel”, with a not-so-nice protagonist. “The Singing Bone”, a Cain and Abel type tale. “Fair Katrinelje and Pif-Paf-Poltrie”, an incomprehensible courting story. “The Elves”, a Christmas story. “The Goose-Girl”, a rather goosey all-too-compliant gal who gets the guy in the end anyway.

Thanks to everyone for reading along – don’t forget to go to Reading to Know to link up what you read and to read others’ thoughts on The Brothers Grimm.

The Brothers Grimm: The Frog Prince

November 12th, 2015

I much prefer the Grimms version of “The Frog Prince” to whatever detestable variation resulted in the saying “You have to kiss a few toads before you find your prince.”

This story is (thankfully) not about playing the field, but about keeping promises.

No kissing involved.

The Frog Prince retold by Edith H. Tarcov, illustrated by James Marshall
A relatively faithful retelling of the story, written as a “level three” first reader (for 1st and 2nd grades). The large print and relatively simple sentence structures make it easier for children to read – but this still includes an abundance of words and parts of speech. I enjoyed the little rhymes the frog says. I did NOT enjoy James Marshall’s illustrations, which were cartoonish (all the people reminded me of Alice from Dilbert.)

The Frog Prince by Jan Callner (Audio)
An audio retelling of the classic tale, with a full cast of characters and accompanying songs. There are some embellishments to the story, but most of them are positive developments (showing the princess’s evolution from self-centered brat to friend, for example). Also, there were a few amusing bits – after the fairy godmother exclaims her displeasure at not being invited to the Prince’s party, the narrator asks “Do you know what she did?” and answers “She destabilized the entire geopolitical balance of the region – that is, she turned the prince into a frog”. On the other hand, the songs drove me absolutely NUTS – or at least they would if I had to listen to them more than once. Overall, I won’t be listening again.

The Tale of the Frog Prince from Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre (DVD)
Having been rather disappointed in Shelley Duvall’s version of “Rumplestiltskin”, I was prepared for her “The Tale of the Frog Prince” to be less than stellar. Except that I couldn’t help notice that these were different actors – Robin Williams is the frog, and the back of the DVD case has accolades from the New York Times. I let my hopes rise.

The opening scene, where a narrator introduces the plight of a poor king and queen who couldn’t have a child, raised my hopes further – only to let them be immediately dashed when said king and queen begin harranguing one another.

From there? Well, lots of angry yelling, lots of name-calling, lots of innuendo. Yep, that’s right – all sorts of innuendo.

And a kiss. Of course, a kiss.

I wasn’t a fan. Obviously.

The Brothers Grimm: King Thrushbeard

November 10th, 2015

An unfamiliar tale, “King Thrushbeard” tells the story of a beautiful princess who is less than beautiful inside. She has many suitors, all of whom she turns away with mocking. One such is a king with an pointy jaw, whom the princess mocks as “King Thrushbeard”. In his anger at his daughter’s refusing all her suitors, the princess’s father vows to give her in marriage to the next beggar that comes knocking at the castle door.

And so he does.

This particular story reminds me a lot of “The Taming of the Shrew” – in which a proud and sarcastic woman is tamed by an uncouth husband (although with a bit less spousal abuse!). I would love to see this story retold more frequently.

King Thrushbeard illustrated by Felix Hoffman

This is the only retelling my library had of this tale – and it’s a quite faithful retelling. The illustrations are nice but not amazing – the people are quite angular and their garments are an odd mix of Renaissance-style tunics and jerkins and 1920’s cut flapper dresses. It’s really quite odd. However, since I like this tale so much, I think it’s worth tracking down a copy (even if the illustrations are odd).

The Brothers Grimm: Hansel and Gretel

November 5th, 2015

The tale of Hansel and Gretel is one of the more familiar of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Prior to actually reading the tale, I knew that the children were left in the woods, couldn’t follow their trail of breadcrumbs home, discovered a gingerbread house occupied by a witch who intended to eat them, and ended up locking the witch in her own oven.

What I didn’t know was the level of detail found in the original story (or stories). The children were left in the woods at the urging of their mother (stepmother?) who feared there wasn’t enough for the whole family to eat. The children found their way home by way of dropped moonstones. The first time they were left in the woods, Hansel tricked the witch into thinking he wasn’t gaining weight by giving her the same old animal bone to feel when she came to check his finger for fatness. After they were free of the witch, the children were carried across a pond by a kind duck (what?) They arrived home at last to find their mother (stepmother?) dead.

It was fun to see how different translators and retellers tell this story, and how different illustrators illustrate it. It is certainly a dark tale – but each version has its bright moments.

Hansel and Gretel illustrated by Sybille Schenker, text edited by Martin West

Visually, this book is gorgeous. You can recognize it by its black cover sewn together with orange thread. The illustrations are typically black and white with stark contrasts – but with great depth thanks to a multitude of vellum overlays layering page upon page upon page. The illustrations are beautiful, but creepy. The text is fairly detailed, but translational choices emphasized the relationship between brother and sister – and decreased the forboding nature of their abandonment by having the stepmother (as opposed to the mother) doing the convincing and then the actual abandoning (the father is apparently there, but it is stepmom who marches the children into the woods and tells them that their father and she will return for them – which, of course, doesn’t happen.)

Hansel and Gretel illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, retold by Rika Lesser
This book received the Caldecott Honor in 1985 (it’s as old as me!) for Zelinsky’s beautiful illustrations. I wish I knew enough about art history to be able to place them in some artistic school – but I’ve seen paintings in this style in museums. They are perfectly suited to the tale and to the historical setting of the tale. The story is told well, with lots of dialogue between characters. Interestingly, about half of the book addresses the period before the children found the gingerbread house.

Hansel and Gretel retold by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti
A relatively wordy version for slightly older children, this retelling increases the spook factor rather than playing it down. Trees claw at the children in a forboding manner; the old woman (never named as a witch) tells the children that she hopes their arrival heralds the coming of meat to her kitchen again. The additions to the story fleshed it out but didn’t feel contrived or moralistic like some of the other versions (that I didn’t like so much.) Mattotti’s illustrations are stark, black and white with lots of tangled branches and the occasional eye poking out. The people are the clearest of all the forms, but even they are merely black outlines against a white splash of light. The illustrations and story alternate with each double page spread, making this a better choice for reading to oneself than for reading aloud (since you can’t look at the pictures while someone else is reading.)

The Cookie House by Margaret Hillert, illustrated by Kinuko Craft
This is unique among the retellings because it is a first reader, with just 59 words. The text primarily consists of Hansel and Gretel’s thoughts as the events of the tale occur: “Mother is not here. Father is not here. I do not like this.” This leaves the illustrations to tell the story – which they do quite well. As with all first readers, this is a book best read by a child (since it doesn’t have the rich text that makes parental read-alouds so beneficial) – but it really is a nice version of the Grimms’ story. I can certainly see a child reading it to her parent and then having dialogue about what was happening in the pictures (to flesh out the story).

Hansel and Gretel illustrated by Susan Jeffers, retold by Amy Ehrlich
A straightforward retelling of the story – with one new-to-me detail: a white bird led the children to the witch’s gingerbread cottage. The stepmother is often referred to as “the woman”, helping to make the betrayal a little less personal. Illustrator Susan Jeffers has two different illustration styles (it seems to me). The woodland pictures are in great detail, with individual leaves on the trees and lots of lovely wildlife. The indoor pictures and those prominently featuring people seem to be almost in the style of American Country Crafts (you know, the kind from the ’80s and ’90s, round faced dolls with peat moss hair and painted on cheek circles?) This wasn’t a bad picture book, but it’s not my favorite either.

Nibble, Nibble Mousekin retold and illustrated by John Walsh Anglund
A quite wordy version with lots of text on each page and a fair bit of extraneous description. This one has Hansel fill his pockets with stones on the mere suspicion of his stepmother’s wickedness, without having overheard her plan (in fact, she never shares the plan with the father – thereby freeing him from the guilt of weakness.) Furthermore, the stepmother runs away rather than dies, leaving the children and their father to enjoy each other in the end. The illustrations alternated between color and black and white on every other two-page spread. The children remind me of Precious Moments dolls – but the rest of the illustration is different enough that it’s only a passing reminder. I generally prefer the more faithful retellings found above.

Hansel and Gretel retold and illustrated by James Marshall

The retelling was neither bad nor spectacular – but the cartoon-like illustrations didn’t really suit my fancy. My library also had a video version of this, in which the illustrations are lightly animated (the stepmother is always munching something). While the generally very story-book like manner was appealing (that is, a narrator read the story while each page was shown on screen versus the flash-from-one-scene-to-another-very-quickly nature of typical cartoons), I still wasn’t impressed with the storytelling or the illustrations.

Hansel and Gretel retold by Cynthia Rylant, pictures by Jen Corace
Generally speaking, the retellings of “Hansel and Gretel” have been faithful to the extent that my commentary has focused on omissions or on illustrations. This retelling is an exception, for while the illustrations are interesting, what stands out is what Rylant has chosen to ADD to the story – explanations. She explains the stepmother’s selfishness, explains the father’s weakness, and explains the moral she wants children to derive from the story.

“It has been said that guardian spirits watch over and protect small children, and that may be so. But there are also stories of children who find the courage to protect themselves.”

“Perhaps this is when guardian spirits finally intervene, when small children have already been so brave.”

I would much prefer that retellers keep to the story and let parents and children talk about what the story means. In this case, I am all for children being brave – but I want my children to know the bravery that comes from complete reliance on the Holy Spirit, who intervenes when we can do nothing, granting us supernaturally a spirit of “power and of love and of a sound mind”.

So this is one retelling I don’t recommend.

C.S. Lewis to Bloggers

October 16th, 2015

In his masterful turn-the-world-upside-down book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has his diabolical character Screwtape write the following:

“It remains to consider how we can retrieve this disaster. The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert [his conviction and subsequent remorse] into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilising the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act.”

I felt the sting as I read.

But will I convert the conviction of the Lord into obedience?

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

~James 1:22-25 (ESV)

The Abridged Screwtape, part 1

October 1st, 2015

Foreword from the editors

In the short years since its publication, Screwtape’s correspondence with his nephew has become something of a classic. Part training manual, part cautionary tale, it regularly tops the novice demon’s recommended reading list.

Unfortunately, with the human population growth explosion being such as it is, young demons are being pressed into service earlier and earlier with less and less opportunity to read even such short works as this. A great need exists for concise training materials that can be quickly read by novice demons overtaxed by the strain of managing multiple patients.

To this end, we, the editors, have put together this all new abridge collection of Screwtape. We hope it serves Our Father Below well.

Letter 1: Avoid reasoning and science

“The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propoganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below.”

“…the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is ‘the results of modern investigation.'”

Letter 2: Keep him disillusioned with the church

“All you then have to do is to keep out of his mind the question ‘If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?”

Letter 3: Promote little annoyances and disharmonies within the home

“Let him assume that she knows how annoying it is and does it to annoy – if you know your job he will not notice the immense improbability of the assumption. And, of course, never let him suspect that he has tones and looks which similarly annoy her.”

Letter 4: Keep him from praying

“Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves.

Letter 5: Do not rejoice overmuch in times of war, for the Enemy uses war to his own purpose

“Consider too what undesirable deaths occur in wartime. Men are killed in places where they knew they might be killed and to which they go, if they are at all of the Enemy’s party, prepared.”

Letter 6: Teach him to be anxious and to focus on his feelings

“[The Enemy] wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”

Letter 7: Encourage extremes or keep people complacent, depending on the age

“All extremes except extreme devotion to the Enemy are to be encouraged. Not always, of course, but at this period. Some ages our lukewarm and complacent, and then it is our business to soothe them yet faster asleep. Other ages, of which the present is one, are unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame them.”


I’ve been reading (and haven’t yet finished) C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters with the Reading to Know Classics bookclub. Thanks Barbara for choosing this month’s read. Follow the links to find out what other readers are saying about the Letters.

Why do I study God?

August 21st, 2015

J.I. Packer begins his modern-day classic Knowing God with an apologetic of sorts for the practice of theology.

He quotes a Spurgeon sermon to say that the study of theology humbles us, expands us, and consoles us. He attempts to convince us that the study of God is essentially practical and relevant. He tells us what he intends to cover in our study of God: the Godness of God, the powers of God, the actions of God, and the character of God. And, he begs us stop and consider our motivations.

“We need to ask ourselves: what is my ultimate aim and object in occupying my mind with these things? What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have got it? For the fact that we have to face is this: that if we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us.”

The truth of Packer’s caution was driven home when I began to inspect 1 Timothy, the book I have taken up for study after finishing Titus last week. In 1 Timothy 1:3-7, Paul writes of the reason for which he has left Timothy in Ephesus.

“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”

Paul contrasts his motivation in giving the charge to avoid teaching false doctrine and spurious matters with the motivation of those who are teaching false doctrine and devoting themselves to spurious matters. Paul is motivated by love, by a pure heart, by a good conscience, and by a sincere heart. The “certain persons” have swerved from these, wandering into vain discussions, making confident assertions about things they don’t understand.

It makes sense. When am I most bound to misunderstand or misrepresent the gospel? When am I most bound to spend my time fighting about nonessentials? Is it not when I am seeking self-glorification (the opposite of selfless love)? Is it not when I am seeking to gratify impure desires? Is it not when I am seeking to assuage a guilty conscience? Is it not when I am trusting self rather than God?

So what is my motivation in studying? Is it love for God and my fellow man? Is it a pure heart, a good conscience, a sincere faith?

Maybe. But not always. Often, my motivation is to feel good about myself. To have something to blog about. To show how much knowledge I have or how deep a thinker I am. I swerve all too often from love, a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

Does that mean that I ought not study the Scripture, since I am bound to go wrong?

Certainly not.

Instead, it is a call to start my study where I’d rather not. It is a call to start my study on my knees, acknowledging my sinful desires, my sinful motives, my sinful actions. It is a call to start my study at the cross, begging God to yet again replace my heart of stone with his own heart. It is a call to approach my study as one who desperately needs for the Scripture to change me.

And, having studied, I must purpose to confess my sin as revealed in light of God’s truth. I must purpose to be obedient to God’s instruction as revealed in God’s word. I must purpose to glorify the One who is the object of my study.

Packer writes of it thus:

“Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God Himself the better. Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are. As He is the subject of our study, and our helper in it, so He must Himself be the end of it. We must seek, in studying God, to be led to God. It was for this purpose that revelation was given, and it is to this use that we must put it.

How are we to do this? How can we turn our knowledge about God into knowledge of God? The rule for doing this is demanding but simple. It is that we turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.”

May we ever have a heart to do so.


I’m reading J.I. Packer’s Knowing God along with Tim Challies’ “Reading Classics Together” bookclub. You can find Challies’ post on the first two chapters here. A couple bloggie friends are also participating and have posted this first week (I can link to them because I’m a day late in posting!) – Check out what Barbara and Lisa have to say about chapters one and two. And…it’s not too late to read along – we’re reading just two chapters per week and this is just the first week :-)

There is no land called Narnia

August 4th, 2015

I was shocked, in rereading The Silver Chair for this year’s Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge, to realize how much I’d forgotten from this book. It’s never been one of my favorite of the series, but I’ve still read it at least a dozen times. So why had I forgotten so much?

One scene, though, that I could not at all forget, is the scene where the Lady of the Green Kirtle aka the Queen of the Underworld returns to her throne room to find Prince Rillian free from his chair and in his right mind.

She throws some powder on the fire, filling the room with a sickeningly sweet aroma. She begins thrumming a mandolin with a repetitive, mind-numbing thrum. And at last she speaks:

“Narnia?” she said. “Narnia? I have often heard your Lordship utter that name in your ravings. Dear Prince, you are very sick. There is no land called Narnia.”

The Prince, Puddleglum, Eustace, and Jill all try to counter the sweet smell, the repetitive thrumming, the queen’s patronizing derision. There is a Narnia, they say. They’ve been there. But the queen’s questioning makes clear she thinks it all a childish game, a dream. Since they describe Narnia in terms of what she knows, in terms of the Underworld, she presumes that they are only looking at her world and dreaming of something bigger and better.

Eventually, between the mind-fogging effects of the music and the odor and the scorn of the woman, all the travelers begin to relent.

“No, there never was a sun,” said the Prince, and the Marshwiggle, and the children.

In this scene, Lewis has the witch play the role of the Enlightenment scholar, who declares no need for god now that reason is king. Once upon a time, people needed to create myths of gods to explain their world – but now that we have science to explain, we need no God.

And here Lewis makes one of his most compelling arguments for the existence of God: joy. And the seemingly joyless Marshwiggle is the one to make it.

“One word, Ma’am,” he said… “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder….So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones….And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.”

You see, science might be able to explain a lot about how this world works – but it doesn’t explain the unfulfilled longing for joy that rests in each human heart. It doesn’t explain the hunger that every experience in this world serves only to deepen. A purely naturalistic world would ultimately have us all as nihilists – since we are mere pawns of impersonal natural forces.

One must say that, if religion is a story, it is a much better story than the one naturalism tells. And if there is no heaven, at least the tale of heaven goes further to quench our forever longing than does the naturalistic story of death.

If this be a game, it’s a play-world which licks your real world hollow.

As C.S. Lewis said in prose:

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

So even if there is no Narnia, I shall live like a Narnian.

I choose joy.

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