Thursday, March 15, 2018

Die Like an Old Warrior Never like a Melted Flake of Snow

          "Once we have taken our last breaths, our stories in history have been written" (McManus 20).  In Erwin Raphael McManus' The Last Arrow: Save Nothing for the Next Life, more than theological or even spiritual advice is given.  McManus uses this book to teach us how to live and, yes, how to die.  I was especially tickled that he referenced the ancient Samurai (and a quote that was used to illustrate the people of Star Trek's Klingon Culture-- yes, I'm a trekker) "Today is a good day to die".  For the Klingon's the phrase is shortened to "Today is a good day" but the "to die" is implied in their culture.  Growing up as a Trekker, I often thought that the Klingon's were just brutal and violent so, in their minds, the day one dies would have to be a good day.  However, with McManus' explanation and the added depth of the Samurai culture, I have decided that this phrase, both phrases really, says something so much greater than an acknowledgement of death or any tip of the hand to brutal violence.  It says more than even the honor I might guess at with the Samurai connection.  A person fully believing that it is a good day for him/her to die means that they believe their life is complete.  They have left nothing undone, they have saved nothing for later; in short, everything they had and possibly even more, has been used up for the purpose of their life and there is nothing left that they could do.
          Perhaps reading this in the wake of my G-pa's death is a bad idea, perhaps it's brilliant. But one thing I do know, reading it through my grief has allowed it to touch me in raw spaces I would have normally had the strength to keep walls up around.  My G-pa was the type of man I believe McManus is talking about.  He loved his Savior, his wife, and his family (including the dogs) with such a passion that I am only familiar with its strength and feel because I was lucky enough to be one of those he loved.  He was disciplined his whole life, having a time for exercise (even the day of his heart attack), for politics, definitely time for spending quiet time for God, and then he had the rest of his day.  The rest of his day he fixed things that needed fixing, he cultivated his orchard, wrote his pirate books, watched the classic movies of the golden age (teaching me a true love of them as well--serious, check out Quo Vadis), was a child at heart playing with us younger ones, and, I truly believe, enjoyed being ornery.  He was far from perfect as that ornery streak shows, but G-pa lived his all every day and when the final day came, while none of us were ready to see this strong man go, he had no regrets.  Oh his brother had regrets he apologized for that day, he stole blue suede shoes from his older brother, but G-pa he was ready to go to his Savior, Jesus Christ.  And as he died, he spoke with each of us, comforting and holding me, pinning my cousin-in-law on his faith and where he was at with it, and having so many other interactions that I wish we'd had constantly with him but we were too busy trying not to use up everything, trying to save part of ourselves for the next day or the next interaction and this time, this time there was nothing left to save it for with my G-pa because this was the end of our earthly time with him.  But I have to say, to use McManus' words and draw my example of McManus' text being seen in real life to a close:
                             "May you die with your quivers empty.
                              May you die with your hearts full.
I watched my G-Pa do this, and from reading this book The Last Arrow, I feel I have even more tools to live and die the same way.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

It's Dark Here, How Can We Light it Up?

     What is the one thing sure to dissipate and dissolve darkness?  Light.  What is God? What are we supposed to be as the body of Christ in this world? What does the enemy not want in the world? Light can be an answer for all of these questions.  In Samuel Rodriguez' 30 day devotional called Be Light, this subject is discussed in depth.  
     "Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong.  No matter how fast light travels it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it" (Pratchett qtd. in Rodriguez 15).  This is true.  Rodriguez goes in to detail on darkness and how prevalent it is in the world.  He even takes the reader through what it would have been like in ancient times after the sun went down.  Modern readers, it seems, take light for granted, but that wasn't always the case.
     Without giving much away, this devotional takes the reader on a month of travel within the Word, the book itself, and within his or her own soul.  There is soul searching that will be brought up.  There are places where the reader will reach realizations they never considered and there are places where the reader will think of things he or she is shocked not to have considered before.  Another reader, Kate Boudoin, responded to one of the later entries in the blog Other Than Expected on Word press and the point Boudoin made was one that hits readers hard and lingers for days after.  It is Rodriguez' section on two things being unable to reside in the same place at the same time.  Fear cannot co-exist with faith, one's past cannot co-exist with one's future, and the dark cannot co-exist with the light, so let Christ's light shine through you and Be Light.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Loosened Threads Distort the Pattern

          "Answers don't come easily" Though this was mentioned in the protagonist's thoughts during this last book to The Amish of Summer Grove series, "Gathering the Threads" it is still perhaps the most viable lesson, thought, and truth from this series and in life.   I am a person who takes her time reading.  I don't devour books, I savor them, often reading up to the big climax that makes the reader wonder what will happen and if the protagonist will live or die (they'll live or I'll be done with the book) and then putting it away to sleep on the anticipation and thus draw it out just that much longer.  I could not do that with this book.  I tried.  I simply could not do it.  There was something so compelling about this book, nay the entire series.  I am quite sure that if I were suddenly given a chance to live a day, weekend, week, or even a month in the Amish way of life I would welcome the opportunity.  Cindy Woodsmall has a rare gift for bringing to life a culture I know nothing about and creating a desire to see and experience it. 
          In this book, I have to admit that there was much pain.  Where the other books in the series brought on questions (questions I'm still mulling over even while I can't put them into words) this book gave pain.  What's truly interesting is that I knew from the beginning where at least some of this pain would come from.  I called it because of my experience with reading Amish Vines and Vineyards by Woodsmall.  In that series I was (at the time) disappointed in the direction the characters' relationships took, but in this one I approved so I did not expect the pain.  Somehow Woodsmall reached into my life, through the characters and their actions, drew out what has been killing me this season (as though she'd stalked me personally) and put it on to the page.  I remembered little details I hadn't thought of before and wept for all that was lost right there beside Ari and still I read on.  There is pain but she works the reader through the pain and for the first time in my life I can say it was cathartic.  My only concern with this series is that it ended a way I didn't see coming and I'm not sure I believe was the characters choices more than they were writer imposed.  Woodsmall ended two of the characters I really enjoyed together and I know they needed that but the way that it happened just didn't quite ring true to them.  Not entirely, there's something that nags at me and I can't quite get it.  I believe it may go with the sacrifice and which sacrifices were made.
         Still, I loved this series.  It is my favorite of her series thus far, though I admit I haven't read them all.  I'm hoping to rectify that so I can say without a doubt that this is my favorite series.  The growth the characters all underwent was amazingly well written and beautifully crafted.  It is my fervent wish that everyone I know would read this series and then come sit down with me so we could discuss it.  There is that much fodder for discussion.  Thank you Woodsmall for sharing your gift and the world of your characters.  Now, if you could only figure out how to not leave the reader out as the world of the characters matches on you would solve perhaps the world's oldest "small" problem.  Please keep writing!
          The painful part of life is knowing when the threads that form our pattern are loosened what we should do with them.  Must they be clipped, or is there a way to tighten and gather the threads?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Get what you want... that's where the questions crop up

         "Periodically all inhabitants of Earth groaned under some type of lack, and people who were worth their salt learned to cope without taking it out on others or using drugs"(Woodsmall).   In book two of The Amish of Summer Grove, Fraying at the Edge, there are so many themes covered, but the biggest one of those is the idea of dealing with frustrating and sometimes horrifying events in life with grace so that those around us do not have to pay in pain along side us. 
        There are parts of Fraying at the Edge that are difficult and some that are painful.  Life is not always what we expect.  And people often make it so much worse by presenting arguments supposedly for our best interests but actually just to make us think and once we begin thinking we can't stop.
         Arianna and Skyler are wonderfully crafted characters.  They draw us in--just as the side characters do--but more than that, it feels like we're interacting with friends and not characters.  All of them change and soften and grow more complex with this book.  In particular, Nicholas (who I thought I didn't like) became complex, human, and actually likable.  The first book was a fast read but this one was even faster.  Cindy Woodsmall is quite a brilliant writer and I look forward to the third and final book of this series.   This book has gone places that I've never seen another book go, Amish or otherwise, and it has caused so much deep thought about my own life and the lives of those I love that it almost hurts to think of the razor's edge Ariana left us on.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Bound or UnBound by the Ties That Bind

         Is it blood or love that actually makes us family?  This is a question that is really at the core of this first book in the series The Amish of Summer Grove by Cindy Woodsmall.  In Ties That Bind, the reader is introduced to a loving mother in a disastrous position for giving birth.  Then the story skips twenty years and the protagonist is revealed to be a baby born during that day as a fire ravaged an Amish birthing center.  On the surface this book, and likely the series, deals with the differences, both expected and unexpected, between the Amish culture and American culture, but on a deeper level it tackles questions of identity, love, what makes a family, and how actions by one family member have far rippling affects on all of the other family members.  It is a well crafted book but a difficult read for its emotional pain.  And yet, it is something that compels the reader to jump from the end of this book directly into book two.  It also raises one huge question: how can I be Amish for a week?
         Aside from expected characteristics of books set in the Amish genre, this book contrasts so many pieces of the ordnung with American life, of differences between people, and even the idea of taking loved ones for granted while setting up the characters to not only see life on the other side of this cultural gap but to experience it and see how they can grow from and through the experience.  It shakes ideas of black and white answers and challenges the reader to consider what can be answered so simply and what should be answered more softly in shades of gray or even the brilliant colors of the rainbow.  After all, the rainbow was a promise from God.  Would He use such a colorful representation of His promise if He didn't want use to consider many possibilities and complexities in any decision being made? Maybe.  And then again, maybe not.  But do take a read and share your thoughts below.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Spending Time with The Women of Easter

     While many people are familiar with certain aspects of the Crucifixion and even that the word excruciating was created in an attempt to explain the pain of the execution, many may not be aware that the family and friends of the one crucified may be targeted to be tortured or executed as well just for being there.  This is something Liz Curtis Higgs claims in the book The Women of Easter and this light makes it all the more impressive for those who gathered near the cross and stayed with Jesus in those last hours and even minutes.  John is known to be there and Mary the mother of Christ, but Higgs' book delves deeply into the women that were there as well as the time leading up to Good Friday.  Higgs starts with Mary of Bethany and Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life and continues all the way through the resurrection with all the doubts, questions, blindness, and resultant joy.

     On the whole this book was vastly deep, entertaining, and it drew the reader in in unexpected ways.  Looking at Easter and everything leading up to it through the eyes of these women revealed new angles to consider and helps the reader to connect emotionally in a new way.  However, toward the end, while discussing the importance of God using women (considered so unimportant at that time) to announce the resurrection, Higgs gains a tone that hadn't been apparent until that point. "Can a woman spread the good news? Oh yes she can!" (187). While this is important to know the point that Higgs makes of it throughout this last chapter is almost to the point of insulting.  In Biblical times this may not have been an accepted fact, but to think that this needs to be said (and more than once) with such fervency as if she is saying something new and unthought of seems to put women back a hundred years or more.

     With the one questionable point where Higgs seems to almost put the negative idea back into women's head, the book is otherwise stellar.  And perhaps, the benefit of the doubt should be given on that one point.  Maybe Higgs is simply speaking to those who take Paul's words about women teaching and speaking out of the context of the time and place.  Anyone looking to study women in the Bible or go deeper into the emotional context of Easter should consider reading this book.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Whovians and Golfers Unite

Interested in enjoying The Doctor off the screen? Well, here's a book for you. Doctor Who: The Drosten's Curse by A.L. Kennedy.  My friends will tell you that my Doctor is Chris and whovians who aren't my friends will point out that I'm not a true fan as I haven't seen much of  Dr. Who, but I've been in a play about the Doctor, I've dressed up at Disneyland as Amy (I left Rory at home), and I have plans to secretly frighten my friends with Weeping Angel statues on RC cars dropped in their gardens.  That aside, I may not know all of the ins and outs like a whovian would but I enjoyed this book greatly.  It had the quirky feel of the Doctor and it had many twists.  Some twists I saw coming and some surprised me, but in all it was just a very good story.  I highly recommend it.