Friday, February 27, 2015

Art for God's Sake by Philip Ryken

I am very concerned with our present culture's definitions of beauty since "repulsive" is fast becoming the new normal. When I see people disfiguring their bodies in the name of youth and beauty, it hurts my heart and makes me think this must be part of a diabolical plan to thumb our noses at true loveliness, which points to the presence and goodness of God.

Philip Ryken addresses some of these issues in his booklet, Art for God's Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts. It's a manifesto for artists of all types to do what they do for the glory of God, basically debunking the addage that art needs no reason for being, i.e, It's just "Art for art's sake." Not only is the book meant to encourage artists in their calling, it is also meant to give nonartists a short introduction to thinking Christianly about the arts.

Some reviewers at Goodreads said it was too simplistic, but for someone like me (with no art background), the simplicity was a huge plus. I underlined something on almost every page, but will try to include just a few of the most salient quotes:

As Christians we should aspire to high aesthetic standards. All too often we settle for something that is functional, but not beautiful. . . . . Sometimes we produce what can be described only as kitsch-tacky artwork of poor quality that appeals to low tastes. The average Christian bookstore is full of the stuff...

When we settle for trivial expressions of the truth in worship and art, we ourselves are diminished, as we suffer a loss of transcendence...

The problem with some modern and postmodern art is that it seeks to offer truth at the expense of beauty. It tells the truth only about ugliness and alienation, leaving out the beauty of creation and redemption. A good deal of so-called Christian art tends to have the opposite problem. It tries to show beauty without admitting the truth about sin, and to that extent it is false - dishonest about the tragic implications of our depravity. Think of all the bright, sentimental landscapes that portray an ideal world unaffected by the Fall, or the light, cheery melodies that characterize the Christian life as one of undiminished happiness. Such a world may be nice to imagine, but it is not the world God sent his Son to save.

That last quote that was worth the price of the book!

(Footnote: When I bought this book I thought the author was Leland Ryken, an English professor who has written many books about literature from a Christian perspective. It turns out Philip is his son and is an author, pastor and president of Wheaton College.)

Friday, February 20, 2015

My Stats at

I didn’t think I needed an account at Goodreads because my TBR list is huge and I never wonder what to read next. Still, I’m glad a friend invited me to join because I love the stats. It appeals to the OCD in me to know how many books I’ve read (955 since 1986), in which genres, and by whom they were written.

It took me several months to enter my reading log, but now it’s finally done. I had no idea that I had read so much non-fiction (largely due to my early parenting days when I read voraciously on raising kids and on homeschooling.) In the last decade I’ve switched to literary classics and in the last five years I’ve added WWII memoirs.

I was surprised to see that my most read author was George MacDonald (20). I binged on his books in the ‘80s. Other authors, like C.S. Lewis (13 titles) and G.K. Chesterton (11) have been read sporadically about every other year or so during the last 3 decades. Elizabeth Goudge came in at 11 novels. Jan Karon at 10. Rumer Godden and Charles Dickens at 7.

By the end of this year I’ll have read 1,000 books! Just for fun I’m putting my reading cloud below. Anyone else enjoying Goodreads?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Quote of the Week by Ben Franklin

Reading makes a full man,
meditation a profound man,
discourse a clear man.   

-     Ben Franklin

Friday, February 13, 2015

Worthwhile Movie #11 - Unbroken

We all know the movie is never as good as the book, but the movie Unbroken is still worth your time.

Quite a few Christian movie critics said it fell short of the book, especially with regards to Zamperini's conversion to Christianity. But looking at it from a secular angle, it was surprisingly faith-filled. Several people in the film are shown praying. Evil is shown as evil and it is conquered. The movie ends with a clear indication of Zamp's change of heart toward his enemies. And, best of all, the Christians in the movie are not made to look like complete imbeciles.

Did I have to shut my eyes through some of the more violent scenes? Yes. Was there swearing? Yes, but it was unusually restrained for a war movie. Was it a story full of hope and courage in spite of incredible circumstances. Absolutely!

Lastly, it was visually stunning. Some of the images were dazzling in their symmetry and perfection. Kudos to director Angelina Jolie for not over-cluttering the film with dialogue in places where the screen shots could speak for themselves. Though definitely not a "chick flick," this would be a good date movie.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Henry V by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare is meant to be watched, not read. So I would suggest watching the 1989 Kenneth Branagh adaption of this play before tackling the print version. I've seen the movie at least ten times and I still struggled through some parts of the written story. After reading it, I was much more appreciative of the editing Branagh did for the film. He left out some of the more confusing dialogues while preserving all the best scenes and lines. The movie is a work of art that my husband and I return to over and over again.

Back to the play itself. . . .Young King Henry (1886-1422) is convinced by his religious advisors that France rightly belongs to England. He takes his rag-tag bunch of soldiers and defeats the better-armed french army, wins the hand of the lovely princess Catherine and lives happily ever after. (Well, not exactly, but the play ends at their marriage.)

There are too many memorable quotes to mention them all. The most famous is the St. Crispin's Day speech. Another that I love involves Henry's proposal to Catherine. He considers himself very ugly so he tells her: The elder I wax, the better I shall appear. My comfort is, that old age, that ill layer up of beauty, can do no more spoil upon my face. Thou hast me, if thou hast me, at the worst; and thou shalt wear me, if thou wear me, better and better. (Act 5, scene II)

Several others: 

As many fresh streams meet in one salt sea; as many lines close in the dial's centre; so many a thousand actions, once afoot, end in one purpose. (Act 1, scene II)

Though patience be a tired mare, yet she will plod. (Act 2, scene I)

We are in God's hands, brother, not theirs. (Act 3, scene VI)

I and my bosom must debate awhile. (Act 4, scene I)

If you haven't guessed already, this is my favorite Shakespeare play. I'm glad I finally read it!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

WARNING: Listening to Mil Nicholson narrating Our Mutual Friend can be extremely habit forming. Do not begin unless you are prepared to pay the price to see it through. (It's 36 hours long.)

Not since I read Wives and Daughters in 2008 have I been so hooked on an audiobook!

Early in the novel a young heir to a fortune is found drowned. Dickens shows what happens to those who get his money and to those who don't get it (but want it.) Two of the people affected by the results of the will are John and Bella. I enjoyed seeing how they grew through their hardships and formed an enduring relationship.

How can I begin to explain how magnificent this book is? Is it because of Dicken's amazing writing - with his gift for description, his insights into human nature and his wry British humor? Or is it just that the story has so many substories that it takes your breath away to see how they all come together. (I knew NOTHING about the story before going in, which was a big plus.) Or is it because Mil Nicholson has the ability to make all 500 hundred characters' (slight exaggeration) voices sound different and recognizable? Or is it because the characters are so complex and varied?

Our Mutual Friend has it all: drunkards, swindlers, murderers. star-crossed lovers, cripples, and death bed scenes. Yet because of Dicken's skill with the English language and his little humorous asides, it manages to be charming.

It's only January and I feel like I've already found my favorite book of the year. Highly recommended. (The Librivox links above are free. It's free for Kindle too.)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Some Survived by Manny Lawton

What is true heroism? On the battlefield it is when men put their lives on the line for the good of others. But what about off the battlefield? In Return From the River Kwai surviving the horrors of a Japanese internment camp during WWII constituted heroism. I don't want to undermine the courage and resilience of those men, but, as I said in my review, I am uneasy with heroism being equated with survival. (I wrote another book review on heroism off the battlefield here.)

Manny Lawton's Some Survived recounts many of the same events as Return From the River Kwai: the fall of the Philippines (spring of 1942), the Bataan Death March, the POW camps and the perilous journey to Japan on the "hell ships" (Dec 1944).

Lawton joined the army fresh out of college in 1940 and was stationed in the Philippines when the U.S. declared war on Japan. (The Philippines was attacked immediately after Pearl Harbor.) He and thousands of others marched the 91 miles to Camp O'Donnell. Of the 12,000 men who fought at Bataan, half would die "lonely, cruel, inglorious deaths"over the next six months (p. 37) Four thousand more would die on the death ships. The numbers are staggering. The conditions under which they lived and died are staggering. The fact that anyone could rise above the cruelty and show kindness is even more staggering.

Lawton tells of how it was "every man for himself" in the camps because they were all sick, starving, and dehydrated. Who had time or energy to think of anyone else? He remembers when he was so sick he could barely move. Tom was a barber who cut hair in trade for money or cigarettes, but this same man came over every evening and gave him a shave for nothing. That small act of decency helped restore Lawton's dignity. Another time when he and many others were severely ill with beriberi and couldn't sleep because of the pain, another POW, Warren Garwick, came in after a day of slave labor in the rice fields to massage the mens' legs and feet until they could fall asleep for a few hours.

Another time two men surrendered themselves to be tortured (confessing to a crime they didn't commit) so that the rest of the men would not have to suffer.

As John Toland wrote in the introduction: Captivity brought out the best and the worst. Some men remained indifferent to the fate of others; some gave their lives for their friends; some stole; some gave up food and fought for the rights of others. Many of those who survived did so because of their selfishness. Others, like Manny Lawton, survived because of faith in God, country and their fellow men...It's time we honored these unsung heroes who got no promotions or medals and who endured without losing their humanity.

That is the key. Remaining human enough to show compassion (rather than capitulating to mere animal instincts) made these men heroes to their fellow prisoners.

This is not a book for the faint of heart. It's a story of human depravity, barbarous cruelty, and desperate measures to stay alive. But because of its excellent writing, riveting stories and astonishing acts of kindness, Some Survived is one of my favorite WWII books.