Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Very Different "Dickens Weekend"

For 15 years or so, our esteemed book club, the Notting Hill Napoleons, has enjoyed a special retreat every November. First at a bed & breakfast in Denison, Iowa and then for the last 12 years at the Whispering Pines B&B in Nebraska City, we have taken over the whole facility for an entire weekend. We converse and pray together, cook our own meals, check out what's happening in the town, play games or put together puzzles, sit around bonfires, and conduct two very important orders of literary business; namely, we go through a rather elaborate process in order to select the books we will be reading in the coming year, and we discuss our November selection which is always a Charles Dickens novel.

This year, however, our November meeting was quite different. Because of the possible absence of one of the couples (a grand-baby was due at the same time) as well as the sure absence of another member, we decided we couldn't afford the expense this time around. So we had a Friday night dinner at our house where we composed 2017's booklist and then, the next day, we traveled to Big Grove Village B&B outside of Oakland, Iowa to have lunch together and to discuss Dicken's Martin Chuzzlewit before heading back to Omaha in the early evening.

The hosts were friendly; the meal was fine; and the room included a nice fire going which made for a pleasant setting for our discussion. We have read all of the Dickens novels through the years and so this was our second time around with Martin Chuzzlewit. Still, for several reasons, it hadn't been an easy read. For instance, we had cut it too close to last month's book and none of us had enough time to comfortably get through the 887 pages.
Also, for many of us, our schedules had become so packed that even Dickens had to stand in line behind other priorities. I had to get up at 4 on Saturday morning to complete the book and, alas, a couple of our members broke a cardinal Napoleon rule and never did get it done. Finally, the book itself proved a bit difficult for though everything that Charles Dickens wrote certainly qualifies as exceptional literature, the plain fact is that Martin Chuzzlewit does rank as our least favorite Dickens of all. So, in many ways, this weekend was quite different than our norm.

Summation? The weekend activities for the Napoleons proved both fun and spiritually fulfilling. That was certainly no surprise. Indeed, our book club continues to be a blessing to us on many levels. However, Claire and I did miss the full retreat experience this year and, in particular, we missed hanging out at Whispering Pines. So, next year, who knows? We are going to start looking into it right away.

 By the way, for those of you who like to keep track of what the Notting Hill Napoleons select for reading material, the 2017 list is below. Sadly, I must say that my fondest hope was again not realized this year, that hope being a return of the Notting Hill Napoleons to reading the A-level classics that we did in our first 15 years or so (Dumas, Dostoevsky, Hugo, Shakespeare, Scott, Solzhenitsyn, et al). Still, it looks like there's some good reading and discussions for 2017.

And, of course, it always beats watching television!

January — Ice Palace (Edna Ferber)
February — Trustee from the Toolroom (Nevil Shute)
March — The Fateful Lightning (Jeff Shaara)
April — The Meaning of Names (Karen Shoemaker)
May — All The Kings Men (Robert Penn Warren)
June —Riders of The Purple Sage (Zane Grey)
July — Mutiny on the Bounty (Charles Nordhoff )
August — The Gates of Doom (Rafael Sabatini)
September — The Frozen Hours (Jeff Shaara)
October — Good Bye Mr. Chips (James Hilton)
November — Dombey and Son (Charles Dickens)
December — The Golden Ring (John Snyder)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Francis Schaeffer on Cool vs Hot Communication.

“According to Marshal McLuhan (photo at left) in the theory of communication, hot communication is communication that has content, that speaks to men and moves men through the mind on the basis of that content. Cool communication is a kind of personal first-order-experience where in one is moved but without any content passing through his mind, his reason…

It is therefore necessary for the true Christians in the church to oppose Mcluhanesque ‘cool’ communication employed by the liberal theologians with the ‘hot’ communication of theological and biblical content…

We believe in the hot communication of content and as our age cools off more and more in its communication, as content is played down and reason is plowed under, I believe the historic Christian faith must more and more emphasize content, content, content, and then more content.”

(Francis Schaeffer, The Church Before the Watching World)

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Highly Recommended

Fresh from our vacation down in Branson, Missouri comes my recommendation for this well written, balanced, informative, and truly inspiring biography, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life by Colin Duriez.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

An Early Autumn "Catch Up" Column

In a few days, Claire and I will be heading south for what has become an autumn tradition, our annual vacation to Branson, Missouri.  We have a few ministry projects on the schedule but we will make sure to include plenty of time for drives in the country, hiking, visiting family, visiting favorite spots like the College of the Ozarks and Dogwood Canyon, having picnics on the shore of Table Rock Lake, and just relaxing our souls in the Word and in the soft and beautiful autumn changes of the Ozarks.

Oh yes, there’s one other thing on our Branson to-do list and that is reading. We’re not sure exactly what titles we will take down yet but, like I do from time to time, I thought it would be good to catch up here on The Book Den with the books that have occupied the last couple of months.

Like usual, it is an eclectic list which includes history and culture, specifically Christian works, books aspiring to quality literature, and several titles which might properly be called “escapist pleasures.” And among that last category are several mystery and adventure titles that had two especially attractive features.  First, they were old and, as both a historian and a moralist, I find older works in these genres more interesting, more fun, and less liable to require moral compromises then modern books of the same type.  The second appealing feature was that they were free!  That’s because they were (like a Georgette Heyer mystery, a 1943 Perry Mason case, and a couple of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series) already in my library and thus were re-reads OR because they were public domain titles which can be downloaded without cost on Kindle. Nifty huh?

In that public domain category were Alias, The Night Wind and Return of the Night Wind, both by Frederick van Rensselaer Dey, and a World War I thriller titled Submarine U93 by Charles Gilson. Also free via Kindle were The Battle of Gettysburg, a remarkable history written by a Union officer who played an important part in the battle and was killed later in the war, Frank Aretas Haskell. I recommend it highly. I recommend also a late 19th Century collection of sermons by the great evangelist, D. L. Moody, The Overcoming Life and Other Sermons. Finally, another couple of public domain Kindle reads were Fairy Tales Every Child Should Know, edited by Hamilton Wright Mabie and originally published in 1905, and The Wreck of the Titan and Other Stories by Morgan Robertson.

Also, since my last catch-up column, I finished the last two books in C. S. Lewis’ astounding Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair and The Last Battle. and there were a couple of selections from our book club, the Notting Hill Napoleons, Vandemark’s Folly by Herbert Quick and Ross Poldark by Winston Graham. The Lewis novels were, of course, exceptional but I also liked both the Quick and Graham titles.

To more serious and salutary ends, I finished Randy Alcorn’s examination of the Calvinist/Armenian controversy, hand in Hand.  And, along with Claire and a few friends, I’m currently reading Alcorn’s Happiness which is intriguing, challenging, and of tremendous spiritual value.

So with this quick compilation post out of the way, I can go ahead and pile up the books I’ll be reading in Branson.  I’ll get back to you on how those go.

Until then, keep reading!

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Brave Musicians of the Titanic Knew Just What to Play

Many students of the Titanic disaster believe that “Autumn,” an old Anglican hymn, was one of the songs played by the 8 musicians in the ship’s orchestra before the mighty craft broke and sank below the frigid north Atlantic waves.

The song was featured in the classic 1957 film about the tragedy, “A Night to Remember,” as well as a 1979 film version.

It is intriguing to speculate how that well-known song would have affected the hearers, some being rowed away to safety (though they would hardly have known that at the time) and some knowing full well that they had but minutes to live.

I print the lyrics below, compelling spiritual lyrics that would have been known and remembered by many of those hearing the heroic members of the orchestra play the song…lyrics which may well have caused the hearers, even at that last opportunity, to trust in the soul-saving truths they presented.

(Early 19th Century) 
(Lyrics written by Louis von Esch, music by François H. Barthélemon.)

“God of Mercy and Compassion, look with pity on my pain. Hear a mournful broken spirit, prostrate at thy feet complain. Many are my foes and mighty, strength to conquer I have none; nothing can uphold my goings, but thy blessed self alone.

Savior, look on thy beloved; triumph over all my foes. Turn to heavenly joy my mourning, turn to gladness all my woes. Live or die or work or suffer, let my weary soul abide, in all changes whatsoever, sure and steadfast by thy side.

When temptations fierce assault me, when my enemies I find, sin and guilt and death and Satan, all against my soul combined, hold me up in mighty waters, keep my eyes on things above, righteousness, divine atonement, peace and everlasting love.”

The Titanic band members all went down with the ship. 

These Brave Musicians Knew What to PlayThey were Englishmen Theodore Ronald Brailey (pianist, 24 years old), John Frederick Preston Clarke (bassist, 30), Wallace Hartley (Bandleader and violinist, 33), Percy Cornelius Taylor (cellist, 32),  and John Wesley Woodward (cellist, 32); Frenchman Roger Marie Bricoux (cellist, 20); Scotsman John Law Hume (violinist, 21); and Belgian Georges Alexandre Krins (violinist, 23).

A second class passenger who survived the tragedy gave a fitting epitaph for these men, “Many brave things were done that night, but none were more brave than those done by men playing minute after minute as the ship settled quietly lower and lower in the sea. The music they played served alike as their own immortal requiem and their right to be recalled on the scrolls of undying fame.”

Friday, August 26, 2016

Interested in Happiness?

“What I’m writing is not of a superficial ‘don’t worry, be happy’ philosophy that ignores human suffering. The day hasn’t come yet when God will ‘wipe away every tear from [His children’s] eyes. But it will come. And this reality has breathtaking implications for our present happiness…We can find lasting and settled happiness by saying yes to the God Who created and redeems us and by embracing a biblical worldview. When we look at the world and our daily lives through the lens of redemption, reasons for happiness abound. And while these reasons are at times obscured, they remain permanent.” (Randy Alcorn, Happiness)

Randy had sent us a copy of his book when it first came out last year, but it took a strong recommendation from John Malek and then Pat Osborne last week to finally get me into this provocative and biblically-centered study. In addition to a lot of other reading this year -- especially a series of Christian classics last spring, the monthly selections of the Notting Hill Napoleons, the five long d'Artagnan novels of Alexandre Dumas, and The Chronicles of Narnia that were a summer reading project with local friends -- I still need to finish a couple I've started. Nevertheless, I decided I would add Happiness into the mix right away.

I'm very glad I did. As is Claire who is reading it with me...along with John & Barb, Pat & Linda, Allen & Cindy.

And, who knows? Maybe you'll jump in too.

I'm almost sure you will find it a terrific book and you will certainly be invited to the dinner party we will have in a few weeks to discuss the book. Just drop us an email or a phone call if you're interested.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Church Culture: Music, Bible Translations, and a Prayer Inside a Historic Chapel

“The problem with my youthful logic only began to dawn on me about seven years ago. I had come to recognize that these ancient hymns accomplished something that the new songs weren't. While contemporary worship seemed to take the listener on an exciting and emotional rollercoaster, the old hymns engaged the mind with deep and glorious truths that when sincerely pondered caused a regenerated heart to humbly bow before its King.”

The above observation comes from an insightful and compelling article, "My Journey Away from Contemporary Worship Music" by Dan Cogan. Check it out.

“About 88% of Americans have a Bible in their home, and when they reach for their Bibles, more than half of them are still reaching for the King James Version (KJV)…Yet, it is interesting that the KJV translators themselves had particular ideas about translations other than their own, and they lay out their views clearly and forcefully in the published Preface of the original edition of their eloquent translation. Ironically, their views are very different from those who champion their translation today.”

Interesting? You’ve no idea yet! So please go on and read the short but revealing article from Dr. George H. Guthrie, “6 Surprising Ideas the KJV Translators Had about Other Bible Translations.”

“A Prayer in a Park, for Peace and for Preservation” by Tom Gilson is a brief, inspirational piece about he and his wife coming across a historic chapel in Michigan’s Hartwick Pines State Park. A very nice article with applications that go beyond the rustic beauty of the chapel itself.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Discussion Questions for “The Last Battle”

Here’s the final set of discussion questions in our rapidly concluding Summer Reading Project. Previous postings here on The Book Den explain the program and include discussion questions for the first books in C.S. Lewis’ classic adventure series, The Chronicles of Narnia. You can read through the other question lists here, here, here, here, here, and here. In addition, you can check out how the first Narnia dinner party/discussion worked out at this post.

As we have said previously, you may not need any conversation starters other than the general questions that work the best for any book discussion. Those questions, of course, include the following. Did you like the book? What did you learn from it? Were there any characters, incidents, passages, or even single lines that made an impact on you? Were there things in the book you had questions about or disagreements? What were some of the most memorable things about the book?

Questions for Kids (and adults)

1) Who was Shift?
2) What was the donkey’s name?
3) King Tirian’s best friend was an usual animal.  What kind of animal was it and what was his name?
4) What made the Ape even uglier?
5) Who said, “True freedom means doing what I tell you”?
6) What was the name of the evil cat?  What eventually happens to him?
7) Who first shows up from our world to help rescue Tirian after he was captured by the Calormenes?
8) Did the magic rings bring them to Narnia?
9) What is the North Star of Narnia called?
10) Why does Jill whisper, “Get down.  Thee better” instead of "Get down. See better" which is what she meant?
11) Who rescued Puzzle from inside the hut?
12) How was Poggin different from the other dwarfs?
13) Who was Poonwit?
15) What was the Eagle’s name? Did you like him?
16) Who was Emeth?
17) What Narnia creatures immediately came bounding to the King’s side just before the battle begins?
18) What happened to the Narnia heroes?
19) What happened to the Narnia horses?
20) By whose power did Tash and Rishda Tarkaan suddenly disappear?
21) Why hadn’t Susan returned to Narnia along with the others?
22) What was Queen Lucy referring to when she said, “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world”?

Questions for Adults (and kids)

1) Describe the relationship between the ape and the donkey.
2) The Ape’s disbelief in Aslan is the foundation for his other sins. What do you think?
3) Who says, “I knew there were liars on earth; there are none among the stars”?
4) Aslan’s reputation was tarnished by evil creatures using his name as a front for their own greedy purposes.  Sound familiar?
5) Why do Tirian and Jewel surrender themselves to the Calormenes?
6) The Ape began by denying Aslan’s existence.  The next step was denying his own; that is, by denying what he was and claiming instead that he was a man. It's an illustration of a classic Francis Schaeffer observation, don't you think?
7) The Ape’s idea of freedom and good wages turns out to be the same as Lenin, Stalin, and the rest of the Communist dictators our our age.
8) Is the confusion about Aslan being Tash and vice versa not an example of the ancient (yet still prevalent) sin of syncretism?
9) “If [Tirian] had been allowed to speak, the rule of the Ape might have ended that day.”  Ah, yes. Evil and tyranny hate the truth and constantly seek to bury it.
10) When Tirian begins to cry out to Aslan, the most immediate change is what?
11) “The light is dawning, the lie broken.”  What a powerful watchword this is.
12) Talk about the Dwarves.
13) One result of the false Aslan was that many then became so confused, disillusioned, and embittered that they refused to believe in the real one.
14) The character of Tash is one of the ways Lewis emphasizes the reality of spiritual warfare…with real demon powers.
15) “By mixing a little of truth with it, they had made their lie far stronger.” Think about this as it regards false religion, modern media, and so on.
16) “Unstiffened.” What a cool way to describe a glorified body!
17) The Door is a powerful symbol in Christianity and Lewis uses it in a profound way in the book. Any comments?
18) The entrance into Aslan's country involved a simple look at Aslan...and a look from Aslan. Those who were his friends, those who trusted in him knew they could enter. But, on the other hand, those who were not friends also knew by his look that they were forbidden to enter. It's a striking metaphor for heaven, don't you think?
19) “There were queer specimens among them.” Indeed. Do you think we may well see some folks in heaven that will surprise us?
20) “Further in and higher up.”
21) Talk a bit about the character and the fate of Emeth.
22) Discuss the title of the chapter "Farewell to Shadowlands."
23 Narnia reborn gives the reader an idea of what the New Earth may look like to us -- the same, yet gloriously redeemed, reconciled, and remade by Christ's Hand.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Discussion Questions for “The Silver Chair”

Here’s the latest set of discussion questions in our rapidly concluding Summer Reading Project. Previous postings here on The Book Den explain the program and include discussion questions for the first books in C.S. Lewis’ classic adventure series, The Chronicles of Narnia. Please check them out here, here, here, here, and here. In addition, you can check out how the first Narnia dinner party/discussion worked out at this post.

As we have said previously, you may not need any conversation starters other than the general questions that work the best for any book discussion. Those questions, of course, include the following. Did you like the book? What did you learn from it? Were there any characters, incidents, passages, or even single lines that made an impact on you? Were there things in the book you had questions about or disagreements? What were some of the most memorable things about the book?

Questions for Kids (and adults)

1) What was the name of the school that Eustace and Jill attended?
2) How did the kids get away from the bullies that were chasing them?
3) Jill was showing off a little when she stood so near the cliff edge and that had a bad result.  What happened?
4) How do Eustace and Jill actually get to Narnia?
5) What were the four signs that the Lion told Jill to remember?
6) Who is getting ready to sail away when the kids first get to Narnia?
7) What was the Owl’s name?
8) What device did Trumpkin the Dwarf use to hear better?
9) What was the gathering of owls called?
10) Why didn’t Trumpkin want anyone else to go look for the missing Prince Rilian?
11) Describe Puddleglum.
12) Who were the first creatures the kids discovered after crossing the Shribble?
13) Why did the children want so badly to go to Harfang?
14) The giants at Harfang were awfully nice to Puddleglum and the children but they had an evil purpose.  What was it?
15) We find out eventually that She of the Green Kirtle had another name.  What was it?
16) What did all the Underland creatures have in common?
17) Who was the Black Knight?
18) Why did Prince Rilian not see the Queen of the Deep Realm for the evil person she really was?
19) What is the first thing Prince Rilian does when he is freed?
20) What brave thing does Puddleglum do to break the enchantment that is overcoming him and his friends?
21) What were the names of the two horses used in the escape?
22) Where does Golg invite Rilian to come to? Would you have accepted his invitation?
23) Describe the Great Snow Dance.

Questions for Adults (and kids)

1) Lewis makes fun of “progressive” education in his description of Experiment House.  What were some of the things he satirized?
2) True humility involves an honest evaluation of oneself and the courage to do what’s right.  Eustace Scrubb is a great example and that’s very evident in the first pages of this novel. What do you think?
3) “Crying is all right…but you have to stop sooner or later and then you still have to decide what to do.”  This is excellent advice for several grown-ups as well as kids, right?
4) Do you see Aslan’s comment to Jill that “There is no other stream” an illustration of Christ’s exclusivity?
5) Aslan gives Jill a task but he also gives her directions, assistance, a drink…and he intervenes along the way with further help.  This seems such an apt illustration of our life with the Lord. It begins with grace; it involves our will and action; yet grace continues to surround the whole enterprise. Do you agree?
6) Do you see a parallel in the Christian life to Jill’s task of memorizing the signs given her by Aslan?
7) Why is Puddleglum’s name so appropriate?
8) Before knowing what the owls have in mind, Eustace bravely declares his allegiance to King Caspian. He is indeed, quite a different kid than the self-centered, spoiled, and cowardly boy we met at the beginning of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
9) What did you think about She of the Green Kirtle and her mystery companion? Did you smell a rat?
10) The anticipation of all the comforts awaiting them in Harfang changed the children’s attitudes towards many things.  Do you remember some of them?  And does this illustrate anything in our lives?
11) “Bother the signs.”  What was happening to Jill?
12) The delights of Harfang, as promised by the woman, had made them nearly forget their quest.  “I shouldn’t wonder,” said Puddleglum, “if that wasn’t exactly what she intended.”
13) “Aslan’s instructions always work: there are no exceptions.”
14) “Many come down, and few return to the sunlit lands.”  That was the repeated bywords in the Underland. But miracles occur when Aslan intervenes. Any thoughts on this?
15) Puddleglum’s response to the forced march in Underland was not despair but recognition that they were at least following Aslan’s signs again. There’s something quite moving about his steadfastness, courage, and trust in Aslan’s goodness.
16) The Black Knight has been entranced by the Queen’s evil and believes lies…about his history, his future, even his very identity. Kinda’ like the Bible’s teaching about moral blindness of sin, huh?
17) “Of course, the more enchanted you get, the more you feel that you are not enchanted at all.” This too is one of those lines that can spark a whole conversation.
18) Why do Puddleglum and the children dare to release the Black Knight from the silver chair?
19) When the wicked queen dies, freedom spreads all over the Underworld. There’s a similar day of liberation coming in our future too!
20) Golg explains that the mines that the Narnians and Earthlings know produce precious metals and gems that are only cold and dead. But the gold, silver, and jewels of Bism “alive and growing.” We too are right to expect treasures in the redeemed and reconciled New Earth that are far more precious than anything we
know here.
21) “Those Northern witches always mean the same thing, but in every age they have a different plan for getting it.” Vigilance is required of every generation.
22) Not surprisingly, Caspian’s resurrection comes via Aslan’s blood.

Discussion questions for the last book in the series (The Last Battle) will be posted tomorrow.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Of the Achingly Self-Interested

Have you ever had to deal with self-centered VDPs? You know, Very Draining Persons? Of course, we all have and it’s never pretty. I was struck last night by Georgette Heyer’s description of one of those types in her 1951 mystery novel, Duplicate Death.

“He was neurotic, passionate, and easily influenced, spoilt by parents and circumstance, and morbidly self-conscious.  He would respond like a shy girl to flattery, but he was quick to imagine slights, and could fly in an instant from the extreme of affection to the opposite pole of wounded hatred.  As a child he had reveled in being the focal point of his mother’s life; and had never outgrown his desire of being petted and admired…He mistook his hostess’s indifference for dislike, and was at once hurt and ill-at-ease.  That he had no liking for her, and no particular desire to be invited to her house, weighed with him not at all: he could not be happy if he was not approved of.”

Let’s face it; with some people, you can never pet them, placate them, or puff them up enough…no matter what you do or how much time you invest. Therefore, in such cases, it’s best to bid them a courteous but quick farewell.

Here's a similar case. Remember?