Monday, July 16, 2018

Her Story

Her Story, Diana Lynn Severance

This collection of 366 readings is a mostly chronological covering of women of faith from Mary, the mother of Jesus, to present day. Severance has sorted and collated a massive amount of historical material, and made each reading one page of basic information about the woman and how her faith played out in her life.

I did indeed read one day for a year and found it to be an encouragement and challenge to consider how other women have lived in various times and places and circumstances, yet remained faithful to the Lord.

If a collection is made of women of faith, you can tend to pick the women who will be there: Sarah Edwards, Hannah More, Monica (mother of Augustine), Susanna Wesley and Joni Eareckson Tada. Most collections cover the same women again and again. All are great to learn about, but the advantage of this is the breadth of women included. Even if you are reasonably well versed in biographies of Christian women, chances are there will be hundreds here you have never heard of.

The early readings about women of antiquity and the Middle Ages were so encouraging: women who were queens, or faithful mothers, or early authors. Of course, there is less information for these ages, so by February you are into the Reformation and that becomes harder reading, with numerous accounts of persecution and martyrdom. We are into the 1800s by July and well into the 1900s by October. Only a handful of women included are still alive.

It was an encouraging way to spend a year, learning more about faithful women from over two millenia. There is a joy to see people who have chosen to live for Christ in every age and this is a wonderful example for us to follow. At the same time, because each account was so brief, and much of it presented in a measured, factual way, it felt like a surface treatment. Many truly tragic circumstances were presented so baldly that it didn’t give you chance to fully appreciate the gravity of what was being described. I would have loved more details for many. For those who would like to delve further into historical writing covering more details of some women, you could try Severance’s other work Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History.

There wasn’t enough time to analyse real faults and failings, many were presented with an awkward sort of perfection, and so increasingly they set a standard that many women would struggle to emulate. Many of the women of the reformation onwards were highly educated, very pious, spoke numerous languages, translated the bible and still had families, which could well leave the modern women thinking: how is that even possible?

It is true that numerous women who struggled with ill health and hard circumstances were included, but the challenges of sin and maintaining godly living weren’t really present. I didn’t get the sense that these women struggled with the same sins I do.

I imagine collating any list of women of faith over that time would require limits. I was surprised some women warranted two entries, for example Queen Elizabeth I, Florence Nightingale and Sarah Edwards, yet some were obviously missed out such as Queen Elizabeth II or perhaps Nancy Guthrie. I wonder whether permission was needed to include women who are still alive, because I suspect more could be found for the current ages. It also felt like a very Europe and America centred list. Few women from Asia or Africa rated a mention, I think there was one Pacific Islander and one woman who was born in Australia.

The final month or so were mainly missionaries, which is a great encouragement. However, surely there are also many faithful women living in the 20-21st centuries who did not end up on the mission field? It felt a little unbalanced. Admittedly, these are the women that are known and able to be researched, rather than your average faithful Christian women known only in her local context.

One of the real blessings for me was the collections of hymns and poems that were included, written by various women over the ages. I now have a list of these written out for my own encouragement and for use in prayer. I feel very indebted to anyone who can express the truths of the gospel in poetic form, something that I feel very ill equipped to even try. That has been one of the benefits for me personally.

In summary, it’s an encouraging book that reminds us that women, and of course men, have carried their crosses for Christ in faith from his death and ascension for two thousand years to today. We can read and be encouraged, as well as educated and inspired by those who have come before us. But we should also read with a sense of reality, these are just snippets of information and only represent each woman in part. If you want to find women to truly emulate and model your life on, find a godly Christian woman in your context, talk to her, and get to know her story.

This was first published on The Gospel Coalition, Australia website.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Me and Rory Macbeath

Me and Rory Macbeath, Richard Beasley

This excellent story is set in Adelaide in 1977, where 12-year old Jake Taylor and his barrister mum, Harry, live on Rose Avenue, somewhere along the Torrens river. His summers are spent with the friends of the street playing cricket, swimming in the local pool, wandering around the suburb at night and occasionally going fishing with friends and their dad.

Rory moves into the house at the top of the street, and quickly joins the group of neighbourhood kids. While he can’t play cricket, he can certainly stand up for himself, and while he doesn’t seem to know much about the things they are taught in school, he can fish like a pro. A strong friendship develops between the boys.

But these marvellous days can’t last forever, especially as it seems that Rory’s family have secrets they are hiding. The story quickly changes about the halfway point from the account of a boyhood life and friendship to the legal drama of a courtroom battle. It seems fair to warn readers that there are some reasonably descriptive scenes regarding domestic violence.

How the story plays out is not very surprising, and it’s relentless as it does so. Beasley has managed to write both the idyll of boyhood life and the gritty reality of the more unpleasant parts of suburban life. He is a barrister himself, which becomes increasingly obvious as the legal drama unfolds.

I enjoyed it. It rings true to the childhood many of my generation had in Australia: that carefree life, where you played with the neighbourhood kids, knew their parents and some of each family’s quirks, but raises the question: did you really know what went on in their homes? Also, I really liked reading a book set in Adelaide and trying to nut out more details from the hints in the story. That doesn’t mean it’s exclusive at all, it just gave me an extra level of interest and attention to detail.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Alice-Miranda

After having enjoyed Clementine Rose, Miss 10 turned to Alice-Miranda, also by Jacqueline Harvey. She has been completely absorbed in them for a while now. I hadn’t managed to read them until recently (just the first 2) and I’m so glad I did. They are utterly charming.

Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones has decided at age 7 and a quarter that it’s time for her to start boarding school at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies. Her parents have reluctantly and weepingly agreed, acknowledging that Alice-Miranda often does know best. Alice-Miranda is delighted to be there, and quickly charms the staff and students, being unfailingly polite and disarmingly friendly. Within 24 hours she has sent the cook off on a well-earned holiday, convinced the gardener to plant flowers all over the grounds, and befriended the second-best tantrum thrower at the school. However, one person is not at all charmed: headmistress Miss Grimm, who has for 10 years managed to avoid any contact with students. She is determined to get rid of Alice-Miranda before she changes anything else.

There are echoes of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, but Alice-Miranda comes from an extremely wealthy family and has travelled all over the world meeting many famous people. Rather than being stuck-up, her parents have raised to both take care of herself and to care for others. She speaks her mind plainly but politely, and so will give many a young girl some hints as to how to deal with bullies and challenging situations.

There are so many books (and TV shows) where characters have traits that you would prefer your own children didn’t emulate. It’s a nice treat to have a heroine who is charming, friendly, polite and clever, all without any guile. I imagine it would be a challenge to write such a character without her becoming tiring, boring and trite, but Jacqueline Harvey has managed that balance point well.

I’m glad I dipped into them and am very happy for my Miss 10 to keep reading them. With 16 already written (each around the 300-page mark) and more underway, it’s a series that is very likely to appeal to (mainly) girls aged 7-10. They would also be quite fun to read aloud to less confident readers, or indeed to anyone who was willing to listen!

It seems Harvey has a new series starting this year too, Kensy and Max, we’ll be looking out for that one too.