Our Secret Country

November 16, 2019 at 4:47 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“Most of us, I suppose, have a secret country but for most of us it is only an imaginary country. Edmund and Lucy were luckier than other people in that respect,” C. S. Lewis wrote in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The thing is, the thing that C. S. Lewis as narrator doesn’t address, is that everyone who has ever read the Chronicles of Narnia series *does* have that country. We all visit some version of Narnia in our minds once we’ve been there once. And as it says in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.” 

So here I am, thirty-five, living in the magical world of Narnia as my daughter reads through the series for about the third or fourth time, but this time we’re reading it alongside our homeschool co-op. It is such a treat watching children enjoy the magic of Narnia, and furthermore bask in its magical glory with them.

Mr. Tumnus

The Chronicles of Narnia is a well known allegory of the Christian faith set in a fantasy world. Good and evil are clearly define, deadly sins and how they creep into our psyche, how unchecked they fester and change who we are. The stories enthrall children and adults alike, who have a thirst for the eternal, who long for the otherworldly aspect of our universe, the spiritual war that goes on every day unseen to the naked eye, but experienced in living color when you step through the Professor’s “Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe.”

Turkish Delights

We’ve been reading the books together and discussing them book club style with children ranging from 7 to 13 and moms from 27 to 50. At the close of book two, we took a Narnia party break, complete with homemade snowflakes (the kids got to learn about hexagonal snowflake patterns and how to recreate them with computer paper and a pair of scissors), try Turkish delights for the first time (and marvel at why Edmund would basically sell his soul for such an awful dessert), and pose in costume under a welcoming Narnia sign and the iconic lamppost (artistic cardboard craftsmanship compliments of my impressive fiancé, kiddo spray painted it black herself).

Queen Susan

Of course, in my typical fashion, I had to read “grown up” books in addition to re-reading the original stories. Because C. S. Lewis made such an imprint on society, there are more literary criticism books about Narnia than there are Narnia books. Most of them written by Christians. However, I found one written by a non-Christian which greatly intrigued me.

The Magician’s Book is an in-depth critical analysis of the Chronicles of Narnia. As much memoir in content as literary analysis, Miller chronicles her own relationship with Narnia and includes insightful conversational commentary by other big name writers of many faiths (Neil Gaiman being one of my favorites). I enjoyed her perspective a great deal and though I was saddened that Aslan the lion did not aid in her understanding the nature of Christ, that she did not come to understand God’s love through Lewis’s fantastical depiction of it.

Still, reading Miller’s work led me down a rabbit trail I’m happy to tumble through, and I’ve already lined up all sorts of other books regarding C. S. Lewis and Narnia to read during the rest of our Narnia journey. Join us. We start Horse and His Boy next and are reading The World According to Narnia by Jonathan Rogers as we go. We plan to finish all seven Narnia books by the end of the school year.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Not So Surprised by the Joy of Lewis

September 18, 2013 at 12:34 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

joyTitle: Surprised by Joy

Author: C.S. Lewis

I don’t remember when C.S. Lewis was not a part of my life.  Really, I don’t.  I am sure at one point in time, possibly even recently, I may have remembered that first moment that I discovered the world beyond the wardrobe – but I can no longer recall it’s newness.  I only have the strong sense of having always been to Narnia before.  I can only remember various occasions that I visited, like a beloved vacation spot that has become home.

But now I am a grown up, and often when I have a longing for Lewis and his darling brain, I dive into his grown up things.  It started with The Screwtape Letters, which I read for the first time in high school or so.  Then I moved onto Til We Have Faces, kudos to a fellow named Brian Franklin, who somehow got that into my hands although I don’t recall by what means.  Then, finally, most recently, I really started to grow up… and I started reading his nonfiction.

In my mid-twenties I picked up Mere Christianity.  Something I wanted to read together as a family.  I think I was newly pregnant.  I recall being pregnant, maybe, but I don’t recall the big-as-a-house-belly.  (After all, when you are pregnant, you are a house – literally – for the tiny human you are growing.)  Either way, we read most of it aloud together, I think I ended up finishing the last half on my own, impatient for a conclusion.  Now that I’m thinking of it, perhaps I wasn’t pregnant yet at all.  Perhaps I just have a hard time imagining life without our little person, even in the memories she wasn’t present for…

Image from Jesse Furey

Image from Jesse Furey

So now, during a month of what Holly Golightly would refer to as The Mean Reds… during the stress of true adulthood… during moments when my brain (as the brain of the ‘creative’ is wont to do) attempts to dive into a deep melancholy… I have picked up Surprised By Joy: The Shape of My Early Life.

Am I suddenly ecstatic? Does Lewis propel me into a sanguine excitement, heart all a flutter with happiness? No.  Not even close.  But Lewis has reminded me what a lack of joy can really look like.  He has reminded me that my joy is never truly gone – even when I don’t feel it.

Sitting here in the wee hours of dawn, because I couldn’t sleep, debating how soon I should brew my coffee while the sun just barely peeks up into the tree branches and a haze of Houston smog, I am with Lewis.  I am with him at Wyvern and Chartres.  I am with his father.  I am with his atheistic sadness and in turn his Christian philosophies.  I am with his love for fantasy, satyrs, heroes, and mythologies.  I am with him in his distaste for other children and his desire to be alone, except for one good friend.

What I am not with? My own bad mood, which I like to call The Funk.  Apparently, Holly, we all have silly names for it and I stopped borrowing yours long ago.  Am I surprised that Lewis can scoop me from my mood, at least temporarily, with such ease? No.  (Although I admit he had the aid of my daily endorphin dose… the morning kick of pushups and crunches…)  Would I do almost anything for the most gorgeous set of leather bound C.S. Lewis books for sale at Good Books in the Woods? Probably, but if I had the money there would probably be a throw down for it in the parking lot between me and my Emily, but at least I know she’d share if she managed to win.


Permalink Leave a Comment

Coffee… Starbucks… God… Gospel… What?

August 21, 2013 at 5:54 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

starbucks gospelTitle:The Gospel According to Starbucks

Author: Leonard Sweet

Publisher: WaterBrook Press

Genre: Christian Living

Length: 210 pages

So reading this I realize why I rarely read Christian Living books.  I pretty much disagree with most of them.  Sometimes they are blatantly wrong, sometimes their nuances are misleading.  Sure, I think it’s good to pick one up every now and then, but mostly I’d rather read The Bible, theology, or philosophy, rather than suffer through a water downed less than truthful version of God.

The story of the copy I have of this book is an interesting one, to me.  My college room mate’s little sister had it first and her tiny little handwriting (that looks freakishly like my old roomie’s) is peppered throughout.  That’s my favorite part about used books – the notes.

Mostly she’s witty… funny little quips from having actually worked at Starbucks creep onto the pages.  Cutely reprimanding customers for their silly choice in drink, which I cutely got indignant over because some of those drinks are things I order, seep onto the pages and make my lip curl up.  But sometimes she writes something spot on that is exactly what I’m thinking and embodies my entire personal view of this book:

“You can be grateful and enjoy the ‘experience’ but don’t place your walk’s ‘value’ on whether or not you had some ultimate experience.” – Hannah’s note on pg. 51

Indeed.  At one point I scribbled a response that said, “Church becomes an entertainment fiasco… the Baptist equivalent of a Vegas Headliner.” Because the Gospel of Starbucks is experience, and Sweet implies over and over that we should be focused on our experience with God.  Human beings are kind of crazy and moody… I don’t want my walk with God to be based on my personal experience and how I’m feeling that day.  Instead, I’m sorry, but I think we should be focused on GOD… not how we feel so much.  Feelings are fleeting.  God is steady.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some good stuff in here.  I’d give it a 3 stars “I like it,” but I like it with a shrug.  I think I mostly like it for the fun little notes in the margins that Sweet inspired out of previous readers.  I like the coffee talk and the Picasso quotes. I like that Sweet encourages people to “live with a Grande passion,” I think living with passion is important.  It’s the nuances that get me every time with a book I sort of don’t care for… all those tiny little nuances that leave an after taste.  Kind of like Starbucks.  I like Starbucks, I do.  But everything just kind of tastes like Starbucks after awhile and I’m always eager to find that hole in the wall mom and pop coffee shop that stayed true to the basics.  That goes for church too… teach me the word of God, end of story.

The best thing about Sweet’s gospel? It compliments my morning coffee. As it was a hand-me-down title, however, I plan to hand it down to someone else.  It’s worth reading, but not a keeper.

A link to Hannah’s blog can be found in my right hand margin: Musings From the Tardis.

My old Roomie writes Coffee Cups in Trees.

But something to take a look at that is a much better view of the world and is quick and to the point is here: http://www.thinkingthroughchristianity.com/2013/08/let-there-be-coffee.html


Permalink Leave a Comment

Coming of Age…

April 22, 2013 at 11:56 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

Coming of Age always references that adolescent stage.  But, the real coming of age, I have found, is when you’re creeping toward 30.  It’s when things really start happening.  It’s, apparently, the new 20.

I’m getting published.

And so are all my writerly friends my age.

Here’s one of them:

Babes Chicken

I look forward to reading Missing Dad by Miranda Campbell.

So, maybe we’ve been grown up for awhile now, but now it finally feels that way.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Homeschooling Agendas

April 18, 2013 at 10:11 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Lessons LearnedTitle: Lessons Learned

Author: Andrea Schwartz

Genre: Homeschooling, Education, Christianity

I have mixed feelings about this book.  On one hand everything she said I agree with.  On the other hand, the way she said it often made me cringe and think of severely right-winged “Jesus-freaks.”  The DC Talk fan in me thinks Andrea Schwartz shouldn’t and wouldn’t mind being called that.  The fellow Christian in me tells me it’s a little unfair to call her that when I agree with her points and conclusions.  The public-school educated child wants to scratch my eyes out and scream, “Really!? Did you have to use the phrase God-hater that way?”

Homeschooling for many is merely an educational choice… the public school system is broken and parents no longer feel comfortable counting on the state to properly equip their child with the realities of the world.  Children are being herded from class to class like cattle.  Fine teachers are being stretched too thin and don’t have the time, energy, or resources to give each student the educational nurturing they deserve.  Everything has become about teaching a test, obeying dress codes, and keeping everyone happy and supposedly safe, rather than about creating an environment of true scholarship.

For others, and possibly what it is misguidedly known for… it’s for freaks who don’t get along with the rest of society.  Potential crazies, kids that don’t groom properly, weirdos… I hope that stigma can be put to rest as I found just as many people who fit this description in public school as I did outside of it.  If your parents are socially awkward you will probably have a lot of socially awkward tendencies whether you spend 8 hours a day with them or without them.  I went to public school my whole life and I will totally admit to being a little bit strange.  I live inside my head a lot, and there are plenty of social cues that I completely miss.  Some kids I’ve seen were far more socially awkward under the pressures of a school environment where they are forced to try to fit in with a thousand people their own age, when in the real world they get along better in a more diverse setting where they are not expected to be like everyone else.

Then, there’s the other group, the Religious group… For many parents, choosing to homeschool your child is a calling from God.  We have been given this precious child to train up in the ways they should go and we want to ensure that we do that the best we can every step of the way.  Submitting them to 8 hours of frustration, government indoctrination, and poor education is not high on the list of things we believe God wants for our children.

In our household, we’re one and three.  Yes, I believe passionately about being good stewards of our minds.  I desire to eagerly pursue all the most riveting aspects of educating my daughter that I can.  I am completely caught up in the idea of combining a classical styled education with a tiny twinge of unschooling so that my kid gets the most thorough and engaging education available… custom tailored to her little brain and the way it works.  I want to give her the education I didn’t get.  I want her start out ahead in life, prepared for anything!  But I also believe this passion for education was given to me by God.  I believe that it is God who calls us to be good stewards of our minds.  I believe that having the freedom to not be politically correct in our studies and studying from the Bible throughout our day will only prepare her more, provide her with a firmer foundation.

Andrea Schwartz comes off as believing God first and education second.  I believe that to be an honorable and good philosophy.  But I believe that by putting God first, your education will be enhanced, not placed on the back burner as some would suppose.  How fascinating will it be to read the Bible, Augustine’s Confessions, and Homer during our Ancient History studies… I can’t wait.

Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer explain this all best in The Well Trained Mind:

“People of faith have influenced history at every turn. Until the student is willing to examine honestly and soberly the claims of relivion in the history of mankind, this study will be incomplete.

In the effort to offend none, the public schools have managed to offend practically everyone – either by leaving religion and ethics out of curricula altogether or by teaching them in a way that satisfies neither believers nor skeptics.  In sympathy, we’ll say that the public schools are in an impossible situation.  They are legally bound to avoid the appearance of promoting one religion over another.  And in a mixed classroom, how can you take one religion seriously without antagonizing those who don’t share it? […]

When you’re instructing your own child, you have two tasks with regard to religion: to teach your own convictions with honesty and diligence, and to study the ways in which other faiths have changed the human landscape.”

Susan Wise Bauer and her mother then spell out very elegantly how to do this: including religious works in the study of primary sources, researching the beliefs of all the major faiths, seek out biographies of those who have changed others’ belief systems, and keep a watchful eye for any logical fallacies, chronological snobbery, and so on.

I am a huge Susan Wise Bauer fan, her books are what I am using to map my own child’s education.  I recommend Susan Wise Bauer for any homeschooling parent of any religion.

As for Andrea Schwartz… her stuff is really great if you are a Christian parent who homeschools or is thinking of homeschooling.  I have a huge problem with her description of her son’s experiences in community college, they seem unusually extreme.  But then again, I live in Texas and they are in California, a lot changes culturally from state to state.  Regardless of the fact that her complaints about public school differ from my own, Schwartz reminds you to stay the course and remember the number one goal of making a disciple of your child, a well-educated disciple, but a disciple none-the-less.  We are not just teaching our children their math, science, and history.  We are not just teaching our children the pleasure of research and reading.  We are not just teaching our children how to learn.  We are teaching our children how to live, how to walk wisely, and how to make logical choices while still keeping the faith.

Permalink 2 Comments

A Life With Poetry

March 10, 2013 at 7:33 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

calvertTitle: God’s Love Spiritual Liberation through the Emancipation of Virtue

Author: Calvert Tynes

Genre: Poetry/ Religion

Let me premise by saying I don’t review a lot of poetry.  I actually didn’t read a lot of poetry outside of what was required of me for school and pieces my friends wrote until my daughter was born.  It was then, rocking a sleepy baby back and forth in a glider, that I really started to enjoy the genre in its full capacity.  Kiddo and I spent a whole year reading Edna St. Vincent Millay and it was very comforting.

Calvert Tynes is not comforting.  He’s raw, but not in a crass way or anything.  Tynes’ poetry has very few soft rhythms, instead I imagine his work being best presented in person in a performance setting. There are a few kids at the Poetry Nights in Humble that could read some of these pieces and rock an audience’s socks off with them… I’m not so talented and my kid asked me to hush when I tried to read this to her.  So though my kiddo didn’t much care for the book, she’s two and there are some things she just doesn’t have a say in right now, whether or not Calvert Tynes is a good poet is one of them.

God’s Love is indeed a testament to the love Tynes has found in Christ, but from where I’m sitting it reads more like a memoir than a spiritual guide.  I’m probably biased in saying this, as I’ve never been a fan of things with pictures of Jesus on them…  probably a narcissistic issue after the emotional damage of drawing the worst stick figure of Jesus ever on my leather bible when I was seven and getting in a lot of trouble over it; I wasn’t upset I was in trouble so much as I was upset that my mother couldn’t tell that my stick figure was my portrayal of Christ.  But still, knowing what I know about the crucifixion it seems a little grotesque to immortalize the moment in graven images.  For that reason, I was a little turned off by the front cover, although a lot of people I know would find it beautiful – it’s just me and I get that.  Tynes may have turned me off with the cover, but he won me over with his poems.

I particularly liked I See You, Love and Theodora.  Nope, I’m not going to print them here, you have to buy the book for that!  But I will share my favorite quote from I See You, Love:

“If your love was land, then I am its sea,/because your love exemplifies/ the completion of me.”

Of course I adore the sappiest line in the whole book… of course.

I also adore how God is clearly a part of every aspect of Tynes life, but I think this book of poetry (if true) is as much about Tynes as it is about God.   In my perfect book world,  the front cover should reflect that in some way.  The thing I’m finding I love about poetry, that you don’t always get with fiction, is how autobiographical a writer’s book of poems can be.  Poetry is so personal.  Especially touching are Tynes pieces on fatherhood and the stories he shares about his children, something I’m not sure I could have appreciated as much three years ago.

In God’s Love Tynes shares a full life with God, a full life with poetry, and well, a really full life.  He has a lot to offer the world and I’m glad I have a little piece of that offering in my library.

Permalink Leave a Comment

How I Waste My Time

November 14, 2012 at 8:13 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I am supposed to be reading The Old Curiosity Shop for HPB Humble’s December Book Club meeting.  I love and adore Dickens so I’m actually very excited about this.  Plus, the weather is perfect for it.  But every time I sit down I find something else has made it into my hands and reading time.  Yesterday I breezed through Unrecounted by W.G. Sebald and Jan Peter Tripp before starting and completing Sarah N. Harvey’s The Lit Report.  Both were short, breezy books, but neither were on my immediate TBR pile.

Unrecounted is a coffee table book shrunk down to the size of a trade paper back, in my opinion.  Housed in poetry, yet I find myself more captivated by the art.  The book is a series of Tripp’s art and Sebald’s verse married together very simply in a manner you might see at an art gallery rather than in a poetry book.  I enjoyed it immensely, but I would have preferred to walk through a perfectly lit hall with the images taking up half the wall, the verse on a plaque nearby, rather than flip through the pages of a book.  Although it would be far less accessible that way, the emotional impact would be far greater.

The Lit Report is a fabulous young adult piece for older teens.  In the style of So Many Books, So Little Time, the story follows a year in the life of Julia questioning the beliefs of those around her and defining her own world view while reading and walking her best friend through a secret teen pregnancy.  Christians are not shown in the greatest light.  In fact I doubt that the ‘Christians’ presented in this book actually are Christians as they tend to be people more focused on beating religion into others or attempting to save themselves from the wrath of God by burying themselves into activities of a highly questionable church, instead of simply believing in the Truth and love of Jesus Christ.  The book is also pretty consistent with how most modern teens live and has its fair share of swearing , misbehavior, and (obviously) sexual activity (after all, one girl is pregnant).  But the novel rings true as a supposed memoir of a girl’s life… while reading it you feel as though this could be someone’s experience somewhere – this could happen.

The Lit Report is something I wouldn’t mind re-reading with the kiddo when she is older and we can discuss the thoughts and opinions of the girls, their actions, and the actions of their parents.  It has valid and necessary topics to discuss: the cruel dogmatic ways of some people who call themselves ‘Christians’ and how they influence the public’s view on what being a Christian means, sexual activity as a teenager, and of course how literature can be a part of your daily life.  It is important to see what someone who ‘walks the walk’ looks like in comparison to somewhat who has hardened their heart and spouts biblical references at people out of context.  It is important to know where you stand as a sexual being and what your expectations and standards are, and finally, how your decisions affect those around you.  The novel really makes you stop to think what the author’s own life experiences with so-called Christians have been.

As for The Old Curiosity Shop, I am a few chapters in and it waits patiently for me on my night stand.  Maybe tonight will be the night… or, maybe I’ll find myself wasting more time.

Permalink Leave a Comment

I am a Child of Neptune

July 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

One of my goals for this year was to branch out in my reading.  For a long time I have told people “I’ll read pretty much anything,” but in reality I remained a skeptical reader.  A thought would pop in my head along the lines, “I wonder how much truth there is to…?” but did not bother to do the necessary research because my prior education was telling me “Don’t waste time, after all it is all crap.”  Case and point: Astrology.

I believe 100% in Jesus Christ and that He, is my Lord and Savior.  If one song could most consistently speak the words of my heart over and over again throughout my life it would be Rich Mullins’ Creed.  But in addition to that, I believe that there are elements of truth in many things, after all God created this world, so naturally there would be signs of Him in things, right?  Astrology as use for divination and as a religion is not what I’m interested in as I know where my faith lies.  However, God created the Heavens and the Earth and the people in it, so I am naturally curious to research and see if there is any truth in the thing I raised to believe was crap.  Could the stars and the planets and the birth of a person all line up together to have influence over our existence? Could God use this as a beautiful master piece of art and design to create a balanced puzzle?  Who knows, but I aim to look into it.  In doing so, I’m reading books I would have never read before.

Ruling Planets by Christopher Renstrom is fascinating.  Throw everything you think you know about Astrology aside – I’m a Pisces, represented by Fish because I was born February 22nd, Husband is a Gemini… and so on.  Cast that away and forget about it.  Renstrom very carefully lays out an ancient system, that as far as I can tell is far more detailed, highly accurate, and disturbingly spot on.

I always felt like the description of a Pisces kind of matched me, and kind of didn’t.  I speculated on whether it would make a difference if I had been born closer to my due date (a month later), and some of those attributes matched, and didn’t.  I wanted to put together a research plan – how much of the things you see of yourself in those descriptions are the stars and how much of those things are rooted in how you were nurtured due to the time of the year you were born.  Maybe a Pisces loves being in the water because a February baby is just the perfect age to introduce to the swimming pool come summer.  Do these similarities change for babies born in Australia vs. the United States?  I thought it could be an interesting project, even if it were never fruitful or came to any kind of conclusion.  I wanted to approach these concepts with the calculating mind of a marketing researcher pinpointing the best demographic for a product.  Is there anything more than coincidence to Astrology and why have people been fascinated with it for thousands of years?

In Ruling Planets, I got a taste for the parts of Astrology that made the ancients fall in love with the stars and the planets and their relationships at large.  Instead of a Pisces, I discovered that I am a Child of Neptune and Jupiter, under Capricorn.  I’ve never read anything, not even psychology survey results or personality test conclusions that sounded so like myself as the pages about the Children of Neptune/Jupiter and then the more specific pages regarding Capricorn under Neptune and Jupiter.  Myers Briggs has nothing on Renstrom’s Ruling Planets.

So where does that put me now?  I don’t want to be a mystical nut-job.  And it doesn’t shake my faith in Jesus Christ in the slightest.  I just find all this pretty interesting and the desire to read more and pin point my thoughts on all of this is more intense than ever.  Get yourself a copy of the book, read it, and share your thoughts with me.  I’d love to discuss.

Permalink 3 Comments