Sunday, March 30, 2014

Winter Reading

Winter weather is good reading weather, so the season's extra long hold on Michigan has been actually a boon for me.  I don't usually do this, but I'm going to give a kind of list of what I've been reading these long dark days.

The Gift of Prophecy The Gift of Prophecy by Wayne Grudem I've been wondering about the meaning of this spiritual gift, whether it is a miraculous gift no longer "in action" in the church today or one of the gifts that is is still around, like serving and mercy.  The distinction that New Testament prophecy and Old Testament prophecy are different is a new one for me.  Grudem clearly explains why we shouldn't be afraid of prophecy, and how it is actually happening without us even knowing it.  If it wasn't Dr. Grudem explaining it, I would shy away from the subject.  But his reputation as a theologian is pretty sound, so I felt safe exploring a subject that most people avoid or aren't very knowledgeable about.


A Life That Says Welcome by Karen Ehman.  This book is pretty basic and focused on those who are just considering opening their home and figuring out how.  I was reading it in hopes that I have found a book that would encourage a younger woman I am meeting with to develop in this endeavor.  I like how Ehman is clear about what Christian hospitality is and isn't.  She takes the pressure off by sharing that we don't have to have perfect homes, families and lives, but it is about a focus on warmly serving and loving people by making our home theirs. It isn't about impressing others. I was also challenged to consider options I never thought about before--like it doesn't have to be dinner all the time.  A simple snack of popcorn will do.  Or having things available to make children feel at home. The suggestions are creative and simple, and it was fun thinking of ways to apply the possibilities.  Another thing, this is a newer book taking into consideration the use of smart phones and social media.  It feels and reads like a contemporary book, not stuck in the 1980's.  A nice book for a wedding shower gift.

I read two biographies about A.W. Tozer.  When I was a college student, an older woman mentoring me had me read The Knowledge of the Holy.  It was both easy to read and a challenge.  I also read a few of his other books and they also helped think deeply about God and the Christian life than I was used to.  Both The Life of A.W. Tozer by James L. Snyder and A Passion for God by Lyle Dorsett show how complicated a man Tozer was.

He died relatively young, at least in my estimation, and admitted to a fellow pastor that he led a lonely life.  Few came close to him, even this wife, Ada and seven children. I found in these books a warning to me to not shut people out of my life. Tozer had a marriage that was convenient for him, but empty for his wife.  He traveled a lot for his speaking engagements, especially as he became popular through the 1950's.  But those trips made him a stranger to his six sons, who hungered for more time with him.  His family suffered silently, but didn't rebel or complain.  So, no one in the church that Tozer pastored knew their pain. And despite Tozer's negligence, his kids grew up firmly grounded in their faith, mostly due to Ada's parenting and love.  Tozer died relatively young, in his mid-60's, which left Ada free to remarry and have a more loving relationship.

I am now conflicted about most of his books and writings now.  How is it that someone as deep as Tozer miss the mark so badly in his personal life? What does it mean that the biggest lesson I learned from him is not from his books but how not to be with people?   Relationships are a challenge, and it is safer to retreat to superficiality rather than trust God with the scary parts of conflict and forgiveness.  Right now, I am hard on Aiden and rather disappointed that he wasn't the man I had expected him to be.  But then again, it is reassuring that God uses us imperfect, short sighted and wimpy people to serve and lead His kingdom.  But that thought rests uneasily on my heart and makes me restless.  Which means, there's something God wants me to know about myself.

A devotional that has a hold on me is Comforts From Romans by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick.  Thirty-two days with 32 meditations from passages from the Book of Romans.  As Fitzpatrick hoped, the devotional created a hunger for more of Romans in me and for deeper biblical conviction about my need for the Gospel.  One example is her thought that "He (Christ) frees us from the incessant nagging of our inner slave driver and frees us to love others without being slavishly driven by them either.  He ruins our pride in our accomplishments, thereby freeing us from the demand that others live up to our expectations."

 Fitzpatrick's books are a sweet consoling but jolting experience at the same time.  Consider this paragraph:  "Does your servant identity rest primarily on the work you hope to accomplish today?  Or does it rest on the service and righteousness of Another? Are you free to love others who do not live up to your standards? Can you say, 'Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling?". can I not think about that all day?

I am in a book club at work and we are currently reading Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.  It was suggested by Hannah, a college student who works mostly weekends.  The book is lyrical, suspenseful, funny and insightful mostly from the point of view of Douglas, a twelve year old boy who lives in a small town in Illinois during the mid-1920's.  He's an imaginative kid sensitive to the natural world around him.

The first chapter is about his reactions to his dad and younger brother while his dad mentors them about picking wild strawberries and fox grapes, Most of the scenes take place outdoors, while he is exploring and discovering with an independent mobility that would shock most parents these days.  He and his buddies are more connected to what really is happening in his hometown than all the adults. As Douglas encounters situations that are frightening, it is his mother who comes to the rescue--and he is acutely aware what a big and intimidating lonely world we live in. He is in awe.

It reminds me of how important it was that I grew up the way that I did--it was risky sometimes, sure.  But it was the way that I learned how things work, without adult supervision and in the company of a pack of kids, some older and some younger. I'm profoundly amazed at how much freedom my parents gave me.  The burdens I shared with them as I learned in cause and effect lessons are miniscule to the secrets I kept from them.  In a world that is rapidly changing, this kind of childhood is extinct.  Our existence lacks the imagination, the wonder and the pleasure that Doug experiences because we are always firmly planted in front of a screen from our phones to our televisions. So, Dandelion Wine is making me look forward to summer and all its attributes, as well as curious as if that beverage really does contain "all these in a glass."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What I Can Remember

It's been about 14 years since I've been to eastern Washington, where the town I regard as home exists.  No one from my family remains there, we've all taken off from the rocky and dusty nest we once inhabited.  It's as though none of us expected to live past high school in Ephrata, Washington.  It didn't feel temporary.  It felt eternal.  And I never think of it or miss it.  The six years I actually lived there, apart from summers while in college, were long enough.

I just remembered it while describing to a friend from China how we passed cars on the two lane  backroads where I grew up.  Memories of checking for oncoming cars, then going to the left and gunning the engine until safely past the slower car and then moving back to the right lane.  I wasn't the most confident driver, but doing a safe lane pass was something I had to do often and learned to do well.  I also learned to look out for oncoming cars in my lane and move onto the shoulder of the road if they miscalculated the time, distance and speed needed to safely pass.  When I think about it, it's amazing I lived long enough to leave Washington.

Along with that memory, more of wide open skies, dry heat and cool evenings came to me.  The smell of sagebrush, grit in my eyes and the sound of the howling wind.  A particular mauve sunset.  A brilliant glorious sunrise. Wet grass from the dew, and long runs on the canal. Irrigation circles. Alfalfa and cow manure. Smells from the onion fields. The view of the patchwork farmland vista from the top of Mount Beezley.  Burrs on my socks while crossing a grassy field.  Trains shaking the house.  Because of the barren landscape, I never took a tree for granted.   We had a lot of unique features of our region I never understood or appreciated while I lived there.  The coulees, the canyons and the scab lands.  The Potholes--not in the road but around Moses Lake.  The alkaline waters. 

It is interesting what I used to find boring and ugly, I started to appreciate as I got older.  When I was sixteen, I was startled on the way to school by beauty of the land and the snow.  It was as though I was blind, and then I was able to see.  The familiarity of desolate places started to be interesting and I saw a majesty in them.  I realized the unspoiled purity of places that were hidden from most people's eyes. I recognized even that the rugged "scab lands" had a depth and power, which would amaze when I thought about how they must have been created by forces unimaginable to me.  It wasn't long after seeing creation had a Creator, that I began to believe in a Savior.