Friday, February 24, 2012

Sister

Sister, Rosamund Lipton

Sister is another debut novel from another talented writer.   It is two types of book mixed into one - a lovely story about sisters and how close they are, and also a tense crime thriller. Written from the perspective of Beatrice; her ordered and predictable life in New York is thrown into chaos when she is told her sister Tess has gone missing. She races to London to search for Tess, and when she is discovered dead, the police, her mother and her fiance all believe the simple explanation given. However, Beatrice suspects foul play and searches for a reason.

I read this one in under 24 hours. Admittedly, I was a little sick and in bed a lot, but it definitely held my attention for the whole time. I often shy away from crime novels these days, because they have unnecessary darkness in their descriptions. But this one, while implying a number of levels of darkness, did not describe them in detail, which I appreciated. 

Worth it for some light reading, especially with the rather surprising ending.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The power of an ad

Over the summer, I was reading a couple of the various ‘light-fluff’ magazines that exist today. This ad appeared in both of them.  It caught my attention.


“Why?” I hear you ask.

I am one of the Class of ’93.

Can you see what it says?  “Get ready, because revenge is a smoothie best served cold.” Which makes no sense until you read the fine print – this is an ad for weight loss.   The smoothies are a meal replacement.

It sent shivers down my spine.

Not, because it is my 20-year school reunion next year – no, I am quite fine about that.   I am possibly even looking forward to it.

No, it's because of all the messages it sends:
  • you can only be happy if you are thin
  • if you were ‘not thin’ at school, you can get revenge now by turning up slim to the reunion
  • presumably if you weren’t slim at school, people were mean and therefore you will need to get revenge
  • the only thing people will be interested in at the reunion you is how you look
  • what really astonished me, is how far ahead their advertisers are thinking. I'm not likely to actually be at my 20-year reunion until the end of next year. So almost 2 years out they are starting to plant in your mind – time to lose weight, time to shape up, you want to look good for that reunion, that one night will be the mark of your success.
I bet if you spoke to the people who designed this ad, they would say they were trying to empower women, to give them tools to get their life more under control.  I say no, I say they are trying to make women feel bad about themselves now, to remember a youth in which they felt bad about themselves, and spend money as a result.

In some ways I am in awe of the marketers – it’s very clever.  They know the minds of women.   They know what we worry about, that we care about how we look and what people think of us.

But more than that, I am offended. There is nothing I can do about either emotion – except to continue to be aware of the power of advertising, even when it’s much more subtle than this ad.

And I can make sure that I don’t judge anyone on the night by how they look.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy - A Righteous Gentile vs The Third Reich, Eric Metaxas

I spent a few weeks engrossed in this new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

If you are anything like me, your knowledge of the rise of Nazi Germany and WWII is solely from high school history, and your knowledge of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is close to nil.  Hence I feel somewhat ill-equipped to write an informed review of this book.

Yet Metaxas has created a book that combines history, theology and a life story together into a wonderful mix. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born and raised in Germany in the early years of the 20th century, into a family that appears to have excelled in many areas - education, music, theology, philosophy and science.  The combination of his mother (a devout and intelligent Christian woman) and his father (a highly respected psychiatrist and thinker) created a man who was intelligent, analytical, academically rigorous and musically talented.  Combined with a deep and convicting faith in God and the authority of his word, Bonhoeffer was theologically astute, devout and wise beyond his years. 

Using letters, journal entries, sermons and books by Bonhoeffer, Metaxas has created a full and vibrant picture of his life.  As you read about his life, ministry, extended family and romance in those years, woven through it you also learn of the rise of Nazi socialism in Germany in the 1930s and of the inexorable climb of Hitler to power.

As he saw the Germany he had grown up in fall into madness, racism and war, Bonhoeffer was led to ask himself what true obedience to God looked like: 
Silence in the face of evil is evil itself: God will not hold us guiltless.  Not to speak is to speak.  Not to act is to act.
Feeling that true obedience to God's calling meant fighting the evil that had overtaken Germany, Bonhoeffer became involved with the plots to assassinate Hitler and as a result was executed in a concentration camp three weeks before the war ended.

Obviously, from a human perspective it does not have a happy ending.  However it rings out with the knowledge that Bonhoeffer followed his faith and convictions to the very end, convinced that it was the beginning of life for him:
Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it  Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God's Word...  Death is grace, the greatest  gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him.  Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace.  (p531)
A very powerful book about one man's faith and how it defined him when faced with evil. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver

This is a literary masterpiece, both the writing and the story itself.

Written from 5 different perspectives: Orleanna Price, the wife of a Baptist missionary, and their 4 daughters, it weaves the story of their mission to the Congo in the 1950s and how it affects every aspect of their lives from that moment on.

I read it over 10 years ago and have recently read it again. Yet again I found it incredibly moving and somewhat exhausting to read. For the last third I could only manage a chapter or two a sitting.

Kingsolver’s writing is wonderful: her turn of phrase, her insight and her intelligence shine throughout the pages. Almost every chapter had something I could have written down as a quote to keep.  Her insights into religion, politics, race, Africa and America are wide-ranging and well informed.

Yet it’s devastating. Nathan Price, the husband and father is a fierce, fiery man, preaching hell-fire and damnation to all, never showing love to his wife, daughters or the people of Africa, and thinking himself absolutely correct in all matters of faith and the bible. In many ways he is a parody, yet a disturbingly realistic one.

With the setting in the Congo, we are given a picture of Africa which many of us are uncomfortable with: rife with corruption and greed, a puppet of the west, overwhelmed with poverty and desperation.

Just as I found The Rector’s Wife hard going from a personal perspective, I found this very hard reading as I thought more broadly about mission and how it interacts with other cultures.   We know many missionaries and they are nothing like Nathan Price; they are loving, caring people, devoted to the country they live in and its people, desiring to share Jesus with them in appropriate ways.  A book like this actually undoes much of that and there are many people who I hope never read it, for it would confirm in their minds already ill-conceived ideas about mission.

But as a fiction and a work of literature, it is wonderful.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

For the longest time...

I moved a lot as a child. Dad had a job which required a lot of international moves, so we moved every 1-3 years. When I finished school I had attended 7 schools and lived in 9* houses. By the time we got married, went to college and moved to our current house, the number of houses had risen to 14. That averaged one house for every two years of my life.

Since the end of last year we have been in our house for 7 years. This house in Adelaide, which we love and which is lovingly provided by the church Husband works for - is the winner: “The house that Wendy has lived in the longest”.

Having moved so much has made me realise a few things:

1. Kids are resilient. More resilient than we often given them credit for. I was a painfully shy creature, yet I coped with move after move (I know, not all children will). For me, moving lots during primary school was no real problem, it was when we got to upper high school that it got really hard.

2. I plot the events of my childhood and remember things according to where I was living (either house or city), or which school I was at. For my husband, who attended 2 schools and lived in one house, this doesn’t work for him.

3. Family are very important. The reason I coped as well as I did was because we had a very close family. The four of us were all we needed to be happy, and we were. I had an extremely close relationship with my sister, we had to be each other’s friends until we met new friends in the new school.

4. I am always planning the next move. Until very recently we kept all boxes for appliances and everything that might need to be repacked. I often think about what I will throw out when we move.  Only in the last month have I thrown out a whole lot of this stuff.

5. Just this last year I have realised that when you are in a house for 7 years, it and the furniture & things in it really need a full clean every few years. You can’t just plan to do it properly when you move. Now I clean it because I want to live in it with it that clean.

I wonder how long it will take to get “the next move” out of my mind, or if it will always be part of who I am? 


* to be precise, there were more than 9 houses - but these include rentals during renovations, etc. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Who is your king?

A well-needed reminder came to me via yesterday's sermon:
What message is your life and your lips sending to others?

Do they know by watching your life and your speech that Jesus is your King?

Or, does it appear that your kids, your house, your job, your appearance or your personal happiness is your King?

Who is your King?

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Novel in the Viola

The Novel in the Viola, Natasha Solomons

A trip to my mum’s over the holidays provided much of the fiction I am reviewing at the moment, and I’m glad it did, because otherwise I would probably not have bothered to pick up another novel by Natasha Solomons. Mr Rosenblum’s List was a nice book, but I didn’t love it. Her second novel, The Novel in the Viola, I really enjoyed.

Returning to a similar theme of Mr Rosenblum, that of European Jews fleeing to England in the 1930s, this time it is the story of Elise Landau. From a wealthy Viennese family, she is forced to become a parlour maid in an English country house, Tyneford, in order to secure a visa and escape Austria. However, war is looming, times & traditions are changing, and the ordered life of Tyneford is starting to buckle. While normally any interaction between the family and staff is forbidden, Elise and Kit, the heir to the manor, realise that love does not care for class distinctions. This is the novel I read after The Help, which left me pondering the many people who have ‘served’ the wealthy: the black Americans, the poorer English, etc. Our society contains many class distinctions.

This is a gentle novel. It is sad in many ways, and talks about times of real grief and suffering, yet it eases us into them. I enjoyed the insight into English life in the 1930s and wartime, and Solomons’ writing style is lovely - evocative and gentle.   Perfect for the time in which the novel is set.

If you enjoyed Mr Solomon’s List, you will really like this one.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Just a piece of paper?

Sometimes you are struck by 2 opposing opinions – one that summarises the culture that you live in and one that shows you its faults.

As you know I have been reading The Meaning of Marriage. At the same time, Husband and I have been re-watching the ABC show SeaChange.
 
What struck me was a scene between Harold and Meredith talking about marriage:
“We still have what we’ve got Hal, we don’t need a silly bit of paper.”
She goes on to say:
“There are advantages to this arrangement you know Hal. I’ve got my independence and you’ve got yours. Whatever’s between us is freely given, there are no obligations, no conditions, we’re absolutely free to be ourselves.”

Contrast it with this quote from Keller on exactly the same idea that “we don’t need a piece of paper” (ie a marriage certificate).
When the Bible speaks of love, it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive but by how much you are willing to give of yourself to someone. How much are you willing to lose for the sake of this person? How much of your freedom are you willing to forsake? How much of your precious time, emotion, and resources are you willing to invest in this person? And for that, the marriage vow is not just helpful but it is even a test. In so many cases, when one person says to another,”I love you, but let’s not ruin it by getting married,” that person really means, “I don’t love you enough to close off all my options. I don’t love you enough to give myself to you that thoroughly.” To say, “I don’t need a piece of paper to love you” is basically to say, “My love for you has not reached the marriage level.”. (p78)


I'll side with Keller on this one.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Meaning of Marriage (Part 3 of 3)

Today, we continue with the second half of The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller.  (first half review here)

In Chapter 4: The Mission of Marriage, Keller seeks to answer the question: what is marriage for? He decides: it is a way for two friends to help each other continue to become the people God wants them to be. This chapter started with some excellent insights into Christian friendship, which have a much wider application than marriage. True friendship provides transparency and constancy: we are open with real friends and we stand by one another. When this friendship becomes the heart of our marriage, we stand by one another as we continue to grow in Christ.
In this view of marriage, each person says to the other, “I see all your flaws, imperfections, weaknesses, dependencies. But underneath them all I see growing the person God wants you to be.”… You want to help your spouse become the person God wants them to be. (p122-3)
On a personal note, this has put into words what my husband and I have been trying to figure out for years. What was it that made us decide that marriage was the right decision for us? We didn’t really know what each of us would be like as a spouse or parent and in many ways we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. But we could see a clue of how God was working in each other and we decided we wanted to be a part of that.

This also provides insight for those who are seeking a marriage partner.   A Christian friend is the first place to look, if friendship is there, you could then consider marriage.  This is a much better way than seeking someone you are attracted to first, then checking to see whether a true friendship will follow.

Marriage is incredibly powerful and therefore it must have the priority in your life:
Marriage has the power to set the course of your life as a whole. If your marriage is strong, even if all the circumstances in your life around you are filled with trouble and weakness, it won’t matter. You will be able to move out into the world in strength. However, if our marriage is weak, even if all the circumstances in your life around you are marked by success and strength, it won’t matter. You will move out into the world in weakness. Marriage has that kind of power – the power to set the course of your whole life. (p 131, my emphasis)

In Chapter 5: Loving the Stranger, Keller follows on with this idea and presents 3 ways to help a couple on the journey of becoming the people God wants them to be: the power of truth, the power of love and the power of grace. 

Marriage brings you truth – the truth about who you really are.
Marriage shows you are realistic, unflattering picture of who you are and then takes you by the scruff of the neck and forces you to pay attention to it. (p140)
At the same time, marriage also has the power of love “an unmatched power to affirm you and heal you of the deepest wounds and hurts of your life. (p146) For example, even if you have never felt you are beautiful, the affirmation of a spouse who insists you are beautiful will finally help you to believe it. Of course, there is a warning here for us all – our power as a spouse to hurt is far greater than the power of any other person:
The one person in the whole world who holds your heart in her hand, whose approval and affirmation you most long for and need, is the one who is hurt more deeply by your sins than anyone else on the planet. (p162)

We need to figure out how to balance both truth and love in a marriage, so that we address issues truthfully, but also in love and carefully. For this we need grace. Two of the most important skills in marriage are forgiveness and repentance. “Only if we are very good at forgiving and very good at repenting can truth and love be kept together” (p163). We only have this power because we follow the example of Christ and his saving death for us:
A deep experience of the grace of God knowledge that you are sinner saved by grace – will enable the power of truth and love to work together in your marriage. (p168)
This is a helpful chapter which highlights the power you hold as a spouse, and how we must use it very carefully, and for good.


In Chapter 6: Embracing the Other, Kathy Keller becomes the primary voice. Here she discusses the differences of men and women in marriage and the problem such differences can create. She goes on to explain the bible passages that point towards a complementarian view of marriage and then fleshes out some practical ways that may look in a marriage. To be honest, I tend to skim over these chapters in marriage books now, I agree with it so I don’t interact with it too closely. However, they do include a helpful appendix on Decision Making and Gender Roles. We find that most engaged and newly married couples think decision making is the main way that a marriage based on the Ephesians 5 model of headship and submission is defined. We are quick to point out that headship and submission is so much more than decision making, and in fact it is rarely about decision making. However in including the appendix, the Kellers have provided a helpful framework for couples working through this issue.

In Chapter 7: Singleness and Marriage, Keller covers singleness, bringing 1 Corinthians 7 into focus. What he says here is helpful – that Christian society should not elevate marriage to a special status when your life truly begins, but neither should we shun marriage for our careers or until we find a perfect mate – which we never will. He talks about some principles for dating and also some practical guidance for those who are single and potentially seeking marriage. Some of these I thought were helpful, they included:
  • there are seasons not to seek marriage – upheaval, transitions, etc
  • understand the gift of singleness - that is that there are some increased opportunities for ministry that singleness brings
  • seek marriage more seriously as you get older, and understand that others do the same. How you behave in a dating relationship is different at 18 than it is at 35.
  • do not allow involvement with an unbeliever (Kathy Keller summarises her main points in this recent blog post)

In the final chapter, Chapter 8: Sex and Marriage, Keller looks at the role of sex in a marriage, and finds it is a crucial part, which binds two people together:
Sex is perhaps the most powerful God-created way to help you give your entire self to another human being. Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, “I belong completely, permanently and exclusively to you”. You must not use sex for anything less. (p223-4)
They present a very healthy and positive view of sex within the framework of marriage. They exhort people to wait until they are married, and then to enjoy sex and all its benefits, and to continue to make sex a priority in a marriage.


I highly recommend this book. As I said on Monday, it is useful for anyone who wants to think about marriage from God’s perspective. Read it and be encouraged by the vision of how good marriage can be. Then, for those who are married, think about how this can change your marriage for the better.