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Category Archives: Christianity

Good Stories: What Christian Writers Can Offer

Yep, Barabara Nicolosi, founder of Act One and professional screenwriter, is right. I agree that we need to work and think really hard to offer the world the sort of stories Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Françoise Mauriac, Dostoevsky and Victor Hugo offered. But it would be worth it.

This weekend I finish my library class and start writing in earnest. Promise.

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Posted by on March 29, 2013 in book lovers, Christianity, classic, Nobel Prize, Spirituality, Theology, writers

 

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The Hobbit in Under Two Minutes

This month’s book club selection is The Hobbit, which I’m enjoying but having technical difficulties with as I got it as an ebook.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2012 in British Lit, Children's Lit, Christianity, classic

 

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Beyond Ricci, a Terrific Digital Library

Boston College has put together an outstanding digital library for scholars and curious Sinophiles consisting of information on Jesuits in China from the 15th century to the 18th. Beyond Ricci contains slide shows and background information to acquaint readers with the knowledge, key people and their perceptions of the places they experienced in China and Thibet (sic).

To dig deeper you can view, scans of the actual rare book collection. They have atlases, narratives, history books and technical books, which you can view in a variety of options. The text can be searched but as the site points out the searches aren’t perfect since the project lacked the fortune it would cost to code every word so that the old S’s read as S’s rather than F’s and such.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2012 in book lovers, Christianity, history, memoir, Religion

 

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Grace (Eventually)

In Grace (Eventually) Anne Lamott shares her thoughts and experiences on faith, motherhood, politics, and activism. I felt I got another glimpse into her life in Northern California and I got to know more about her son Sam, her friends like Fr. Tom and Anne herself. It’s like sitting at a kitchen table listening to a witty friend, with whom I sometimes disagree, relate her ups and downs and review her hard times with bad boyfriends, drugs and alcohol that didn’t harden her. (An example of grace, huh?)
I love how honest and perceptive she is. She doesn’t buy the cheap generalities we can be spoonfed. For example, on parenthood she writes

Why did I, like many other single women, many gay men and women, many older women, and many other no-so-obvious parents, people who used to think they could never have kids, choose to do so?

Let me say that not one part of me thinks you need to have children to be complete, to know parts of yourself that cannot be know any other way. People with children like to think this, although if you are not a parent, they hide it–their belief that having a child legitimizes them somehow, validates their psychic parking tickets. they tell pregnant women and couples and one another that those who have chosen not to breed can never know what real love is, what selfishness really means. They like to say taht having a child taught them about authenticity.

This is total crock. Many of the most shut-down, narcissistic, selfish people on earth have children. Many of the most evolved–the richest in spirit, the most giving–choose not to. The exact same chances for awakening, for personal restoration and connection, exist for breeders and nonbreeders alike.

One essay that was especially interesting for me to read was about Anne speaking at a conference in Washington DC. I was at that conference and I was there during this scene. She describes a Q&A session with Richard Rohr, Jim Wallis and Anne. It was going along and then a man asked about Christian progressives and abortion, which he opposed. That was a dramatic moment. Quite tense in fact. Both Rohr and Wallis were fair. They acknowledged how contentious this issue was and that there were too many abortions. Neither stated an opinion on whether it should be legal or not. They were quite diplomatic.

Anne was to as she states and I recall. Then later after taking another question, she returned to the abortion issue and elaborated on how she had had abortions and how she felt they were necessary at this point of her life. It got real tense. She was clearly going out on a limb. She seemed surprised that progressive citizens might not share her beliefs on this. In this book she goes into detail about the experience and how she felt during and after. It is worth reading.

I do recommend Grace (Eventually) as a smart, humorous gift of Anne’s views on life and God. I don’t think one has to be a Northern Californian vegan who has smoked lots of dope to enjoy it. She’s a welcoming writer.

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2011 in Christianity, humor

 

The Heart of the Matter

Book two for my summer book study is Graham Greene‘s The Heart of the Matter. We’re supposed to read the novel two or three times. I just finished my first reading and while I doubted this could compare with Brideshead Revisited, this blew me away. From the start, Greene’s style impressed me.

Set in a sweltering unnamed British colony in West Africa, readers meet Henry Scobie, an average police officer who’s passed over for a promotion, which affects his wife’s social standing in this expat enclave. He is a loyal and sensitive husband who’s unable to help his wife, Louise, who suffers from the snobbish clique that is her only possible choice for friendship. The story seems like a simple slice of a humid, exotic life amongst expats, but it’s more.

I loved Scobie’s insights and thoughts about all the people around him, his own choices, Catholicism and God. And I respected how Scobie could always see more than one side of an issue, how he could put up with schemers, whiners, and losers. The only person he’s unable to forgive is himself, which leads to tragedy. The story of these rather ordinary people in a nothing town takes unexpected turns sparked by small changes and bad decisions.

An article in Sojourners magazine Deryle Davis illuminates Greene’s views:

Graham Greene always liked the idea of damnation. His contemporary George Orwell joked that, in Greene’s view, hell was little more than a “high-class nightclub” for distinguished sinners. Throughout the late English writer’s long career (Greene’s centennial was celebrated last year), he depicted many characters who viewed, and perhaps justified, their own sin as a vehicle for connecting to others. It was corruption that seemed to give the world a kind of identity, even a uniting principle. His characters lived and understood themselves in a fallen world where martyrdom was often the cost of salvation. No wonder Greene took French writer (and fellow Catholic) Charles Peguy‘s famous observation to heart that it is sinners and saints who best understand Christianity. In the existential landscape known as “Greeneland,” the two are inverses of each other, both attesting to the stricken state of creation itself.

The sinners far outnumber the saints in Greene’s work, however, and even those sometimes perceived to be saints, such as the policeman Scobie in The Heart of the Matter, are in reality very fallible creatures. (Greene himself said that Scobie had been “corrupted by pity,” a kind of misplaced compassion, that eventually led to his suicide.) Sin, for the novelist, was compelling because it was insidious and universal and had a kind of artistic appeal. If the lower depths of Dante’s hell were frozen, Greene’s were often damp, subtropical, and inflamed with the heat of human desire. His characters live out their purgatory in places like West Africa, Indochina, or Central America, exotic locales that offer both distraction from the pursuits of the soul and also enforced isolation with it.*

The ending is surprising and so masterfully done. Greene’s talent is that he can get you to care so much about people who don’t seem to be all that interesting. If you’d met these people in real life, you’d forget them after a week.

*Davis, Deryl. “Instruments of Grace.” Sojourners Magazine. 01 Jul. 2005: 38. eLibrary. Web. 30 Jun. 2011.

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2011 in British Lit, Christianity, classic, contemporary

 

Voice in the Wind

I received Voice in the Wind and the other two books of this Francine Rivers triliogy as a gift. That’s the main reason I read the whole book–not because I liked the story or writing style. It’s an okay book I suppose, but not my kind of book. I never connected with any of the characters.

Set in ancient Jerusalem, Rome and Ephesus in about 70ad Voice in the Wind tells the story of an early Christian slave, the family that owns her, and a Germanic gladiator. It was like reading a C.B. DeMille film, not his best one either. The emotions seemed stilted and dialogs contrived.

At times I felt the book was researched well in that it described various household items of the day, but that it got the zeitgeist wrong. In fact sometimes I got so doubtful of the accuracy that I sometimes stopped reading and went online to check out a fact. Not something one wants readers to do when reading historical fiction.

Rivers is a well known, successful Christian writer so she wants to tell a story and to illuminate some aspect of this faith. She wanted to show that Christianity is the Way. Yet I’ve studied Roman culture, philosophy and literature in college and do think this aim came into conflict with an accurate portrayal of life at the time. For example, one character gets an abortion and the Christian slave woman disapproves. I don’t think that was a formal belief that Christians held in the early church. According to Wikipedia the earliest Christian writing against abortion appeared in 100 AD. From my studies, imperfect as they are, of Church history, the early church was not as highly formal and organized as it became after 1000 AD. As I understand it, the church was figuring out how to develop. There wasn’t a clear blueprint.

Also, when I learned about the history of birth control in Western culture in a college course, I know we learned that Jews accepted infanticide up to age three. The slave woman is a Jewish Christian. Now I don’t have my notes and I don’t know when that belief was held, but this sort of thing and the way Rivers describes Epicureans (she seems to see them only as pleasure seekers, but that wasn’t the case; they believed in taking a middle way between extremes) kept me from getting into this book. Yes, Rivers did a lot of research, but she didn’t talk to a Classics expert and she did not read Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things which is a wise book that Christians can certainly learn from.

A lot of the book seems to want to preach to modern readers about modern problems and attitudes. One character has an argument with her mother and she doesn’t want to be “judged” and throughout she seemed completely of our era not 70 AD. Yes, there were similarities, but it wasn’t a distant mirror.

What really irked me was that the book doesn’t resolve any of the ongoing conflict. Rather it ends with a cliff hanger so you buy the next volume. Novels in a trilogy should stand alone somewhat, while carrying some themes forward.

I couldn’t lose myself in this book. I did want to give it a try and made myself read 20 pages of this each day before I let myself read something else. That pretty much indicates my lack of pleasure.

I’m more of an Evelyn Waugh, François Mauriac or Graham Greene writer. I like their complexity and how the characters never come to easy solutions.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2011 in Christianity, historical fiction

 

Cool Evangelism

Well, maybe Donald Miller isn’t an evangelical Christian. He might not fit any mold. My friend Jennifer gave me a copy of Blue Like Jazz, Miller’s first book and I loved it so I bought In Search of God Knows What.

Again Miller muses over what it means to live a Christian life and wrestles with scripture applying it to American society. Here he focuses on our prediliction for comparison and status. He offers an interesting interpretation of Romeo and Juliet in light of Catholicism and Protestantism during Shakespeare’s day.

Miller is down-to-earth, perceptive and humorous.

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2011 in Christianity