What’s Your Empty Water Jar?

Row after row of clay waterjugsAre you familiar with the story in the Gospel of John chapter 4 about Jesus’ meeting with the woman at the well? I’ve been taught it since I was in Sunday School. You wouldn’t think there’d be anything new for me to glean from it, would you? But there is.

We studied the passage this week in the wonderful Bible study I attend. There was a discussion question about an issue that I’d never considered before. Perhaps I’d better set the stage a bit, just in case you’re not familiar with the narrative:

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A Much-Needed Call for Civility and Culture

Book cover for:  A return to Christian culture:  Or, Why avoid the cult of the slobA Return to Christian Culture: or, Why Avoid “the Cult of the Slobby Richard S. Taylor, originally published in 1973, now available in several formats through Amazon and other outlets.  Most books I review are available at the public library , and that is always my first choice.  I’ve just done some looking, though, and this one is not available through my library system or through its second-tier search capabilities.  So I’d recommend your purchasing it, and, if you’d be so kind, to do so by clicking on the Amazon link above.  You will then be taken to my “store” page and given the opportunity to purchase the book through my site.  Those Amazon links are so-called “affiliate links,” and I get a small commission at no cost to you if you use them. You can get the Kindle edition for only $2.99 and a paperback for as little as around $2. The subtitle is different in some of the editions; I don’t know why they thought “a sagging society” was a better word picture than “cult of the slob.” I believe that this little book should be on every Christian’s bookshelf and be re-read periodically. What would Dr. Taylor think of American society now, ten years after his death? If he weren’t such a gentleman, his words would probably be, “I told you so!”

If I didn’t know the date of publication I’d think this book was written yesterday. In fact, the excesses in every area of life that he addresses are writ large today. I want to delve into three of them in some detail, hoping that you’ll want to read the whole book. And I will point out that, unlike some of the books I write about, this one is very short, less than 100 pages.

I’ll start with an idea sadly lacking in our increasingly divisive and divided society: tolerance and respect, indeed enjoyment, of people who are different from us.  I’m going to quote at some length here and will then have to restrain myself from using very many of Taylor’s words in the other sections, as I don’t want to exceed my “fair use” limit:

It should not be supposed, however, that one’s enjoyment of this world must be confined to the beauties of nature and invention. The true Christian shares with God His love for men also. And in this love there is some degree of simple, unembarrassed liking for people as people. This wonder and excitement in people transcends their moral worthiness or spiritual condition. We should know how to enjoy people simply because all of us share in a common humanity. This does not imply indifference to the evil of men, or a complacency with people as they are. We will love them as God loves them, first as the created image of Himself, and second as the subject of His redemptive sufferings. This will make our love costly, and blend enjoyment with tears and delight with grief–sometimes anger. But too often we have had the anger for the sinner and reserved the enjoyment for the saint. In a sense this is natural and inevitable, for the saint is our spiritual kin while between us and the sinner is a gulf of spiritual alienation. We hesitate to bridge the gulf because the same gulf exists between him and God and we choose to be on God’s side. But in taking God’s side it is easy to call down fire from heaven on wicked men, and thus fail to be like God, who makes the sun shine and the rain fall on them all. (p. 65 of the 1975 paperback edition)

Isn’t that a great passage? Would that it were drilled into every heart. I am so weary of hearing one group bash another, especially during this election year, with seemingly no recognition that we are all human beings created by God, that we all have worth in His eyes, that only by showing love for each other can we ever, as Christians, win others to Christ.

Okay, second idea: that enjoyment of legitimate earthly pleasures can be a way to showcase our faith, that we aren’t glorifying God by going around in rags. The Bible does not teach austerity for its own sake. This idea resonates with me quite a bit, as I always feel a little torn about spending money on items that are just for show. After all, we don’t have to have curtains on the windows; we could just tape up garbage bags. We don’t have to have pictures on the walls or matching plates on the table. Taylor tells a story about Brother Andrew, the man who spent many years of his life smuggling Bibles into closed countries. He and his wife felt that they couldn’t spend any money on themselves and for years dressed themselves out of the so-called “missionary barrels.” Finally their eyes were opened by the words of a donor, who said, “God will send you what your family needs and what your work needs too. You are a mature Christian, Brother Andrew. Act like one.” Brother Andrew was indeed a mature Christian, so much so that he could accept this criticism: “Suddenly I saw that this was part of a whole pattern of poverty into which we had fallen, a dark, brooding, pinched attitude that hardly went with the Christ of the open heart that we were preaching to others.” (Taylor is quoting from the book God’s Smuggler here, another book I would highly recommend. This book and the Anne Ortlund one mentioned below are also linked to my affiliate page but are available at the library.) Obviously there is a balance; we aren’t called to be extravagant. But we don’t have to look like, as my mother used to say, “the ragpicker’s children.” (What is a ragpicker? I’m not sure.) There is a balance to be found, and we are called to more or less deprivation in our lives. Taylor mentions Charles Wesley, who felt drawn to a life of poverty but who was able to do so because he could be housed by prosperous Methodists.

Third idea: that good taste obeys certain principles and that we shouldn’t “settle for junk.” Taylor tells the story of how he and his wife bought an old house and carefully furnished and decorated it. They were not spending money unnecessarily and not trying to impress others but were instead, and I hope this isn’t too grandiose of a term, honoring the house’s “homeyness and dignity.”  Taylor tells a funny story about having his devotions one morning and realizing during his prayer time that a chair needed to be moved to another area of the room. So he did a little rearranging, and when his wife came down and saw the change she said, “Of course! Why didn’t we see that before!” They were discovering what worked in their lovely old house. And I would say here that one of the nicest homes I’ve ever visited was furnished pretty much entirely from garage sales. It’s not a matter of money per se but of taste.

I will close with a quotation from another wonderful and short book, Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman by Anne Ortlund: “Look quality, think quality, talk quality.”

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A Conservative Two-Fer.

Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Change by Jonah Goldberg, available on Amazon and other outlets in several formats, originally published in 2008.

Witness: A True Story of Soviet Spies in America and the Trial that Captivated the Nation by Whittaker Chambers, available on Amazon and other outlets in several formats, originally published in 1952.

​First of all, let me say that I think the words “secret history” should be banned from all written communications whatsoever, if for no other reason than they are a reminder of the terrible Dinesh D’Souza movie. And in the case of Goldberg’s book (written well before the DDM came out) the words don’t really apply to his subject anyway. I’m a little surprised that a writer of as much wit and precision as Goldberg would use such a sloppy term. He should have called it “The Little-Known History” or perhaps “The History That People Too Lazy to Read History Missed Out On.” But maybe that’s a little clunky?

Anyway, I have to be honest here: I didn’t finish listening to the audiobook; I bogged down about one-fourth of the way through, when Goldberg said something along the lines that “Although FDR had fascistic ideas, he himself was not a fascist.” I just tried to find that line in the online version of the book and gave up, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Although I’ve fallen in love with audiobooks (my current one is the George Tenet memoir; look for that one soon), they work best when the book has a narrative spine. While Goldberg does start with Woodrow Wilson and World War I and moves on to the present day, his organizing principle is philosophical rather than historical. The book is very dense, and many of his ideas are so complicated that you have to go back and re-read them. Trying to re-listen to a section on audio can be very frustrating. But I’m not promoting a book that I haven’t finished, because I realized quite early on that I had indeed read it back when if first came out, but I remembered the title as The Happy Fascist. You can see from the cover art why that would be. I found it to be fascinating then and remember discussing it with my husband. So if you like challenging ideas that force you to re-think preconceived notions, I would say to get the print or digital version and go with that.

But perhaps you’d like something with a little more of a personal touch. Then I’d recommend the Chambers book. I was very much reminded of this one while struggling through Goldberg’s. Why? Because both men present the idea that it’s a mistake to talk about the “right” and the “left” in political philosophy. (Did you know, by the way, that those terms are completely accidental? They stem from the seating arrangement of the National Assembly in France at the time of the French Revolution; those in support of the king sat on the speaker’s right and those in favor of revolution sat on his left. These divisions continued and became entrenched in the language of politics.) It’s more correct to think of political and philosophical positions as a circle. As you move away from classic liberalism and true democratic ideals you’re going down either side of a circle that meets at the bottom; whether it’s socialism shading into communism into Bolshevism or authoritarianism shading into totalitarianism, the end result is the same: the elimination of personal freedom and the total control of the government in every area of life. I remember trying to explain this concept to my American history class at the time I read Witness, but I wasn’t very successful. My students were looking at each other and muttering, “What’s she talking about?”

Whittaker Chambers joined the American Communist Party as a young man and participated in some espionage activities during the 1930’s. He became a Christian, broke with the party, and ended up accusing a number of US government officials, including Alger Hiss in the State Department, of feeding him information. The Hiss case has been hotly debated ever since, although documents that surfaced during the early 2000’s showed Hiss was almost certainly guilty. Chambers could have kept his mouth shut and avoided all the controversy, but as he saw world events in 1939 he felt that he had to speak up. My most vivid recollections of the book (I read it 30 years ago) is of Chambers leading FBI agents to a stash of papers hidden in a field inside, of all things, a pumpkin. How the papers weren’t all mildewed is beyond me; maybe they were. And then, either in that stash or another, there were some microfilmed items showing Hiss’s involvement. But no, officials said, Chambers’ story couldn’t be true, because that type of film wasn’t being manufactured at the time of the documents. Chambers had to have faked them. Chambers said when confronted with this evidence, “God has deserted me.” But then it turned out that Kodak had indeed made that film for a short time that fit in with the dates of the documents.

As I’m sitting here writing about this book I read so long ago and being reminded of how powerfully it affected me, I’ve decided that I’ll give it another shot, this time on audio. It’s available through Hoopla, I’ve just discovered. So I’ve added it to my account. After I finish the Tenet book I’ll go on to this one and report back. It’s not quite as long as the Trollope book I reviewed last week; that one is 34 hours, this one is only 30. And I’m reading in physical form the book on the Benghazi attacks, 13 Hours, in my efforts to pull together a coherent narrative of what actually happened to bring about that tragedy and its aftermath. So I have plenty to keep me occupied, even without all of my podcasts and my reading about the election. (Be sure to migrate over to Intentional Conservative if you’re interested in my ideas about this totally bonkers election season.)

What’s occupying your mind these days?

Take a Journey through this Book!

book cover of Faith through fire, Rwanda and Me

Faith through Fire:  Rwanda and Me by Randall Bennett, CreateSpace 2012, paperback and Kindle editions available.

I was half-listening to an NPR segment a couple of days ago and heard a woman talking about her international work in prisons, including quite a bit about Rwanda and the aftermath of the genocide.  The story reminded of me of the book my cousin wrote about his own experiences as a Christian missionary there during that horrible, tragic time.  I was sure that I had written a review of it for this blog, but a search under every possible term has yielded nothing.  So here it is, a thoughtful, well-written book by a godly, sincere man who is still working faithfully in that country; I just got the most recent edition of his newsletter a few days ago.  He has indeed had his faith tried in the fire, and it has come forth as gold.

If you think that such a book must be kind of depressing, I would encourage you to read it and have your preconceived ideas overturned.  Gary is quite a character and his personality comes through even though his brother Randy was the actual

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Calm Down, Martha!

Worried woman pressing her templesAre you familiar with the story of Mary and Martha in the Christian New Testament?  I have always been fascinated by it.  In a nutshell, here’s what happens:

Jesus is visiting the home of three siblings, Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  (You can read the story in two excellent translations by going here.)  The wording is very clear that it is actually Martha’s house.  Perhaps she had inherited it from a deceased husband; that’s never spelled out.  Anyway, the disciples have probably come along too, although, again, that’s not spelled out, nor is the question of whether or not the visit is on the spur of the moment.  So we are told that Martha is busy getting a meal ready (she almost certainly had servants to help her) and gets rather irritated because her sister Mary isn’t helping her but is instead sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to His teaching: “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!'” (Luke 10:40 NIV).  And what does Jesus reply?  Well, it’s not what you’d expect.  He basically tells Martha to calm down:

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Please, Please, Pul-leeze . . .

Read this book!  Although focused primarily on political matters, I’m including it here as well as on the “personal and political” page because 1) it’s the main work I read last week, and 2) whip-smart writing is always a happy thing to read, no matter your political persuasion.

Book cover for Too Dumb to Fail, with an elephant wearing a dunce

hardback and audiobook cover

Kindle cover for Too Dumb to Fail, with shame faced elephant wearing Trump hair sitting on a stool in the corner

Kindle edition cover

Read morePlease, Please, Pul-leeze . . .

I Saw This Movie So You Don’t Have To.

Movie poster for HIllaryNormally, of course, I post a weekly entry about a book, movie or podcast that I think my audience would enjoy and/or profit from, but this week I’m sharing my experience of seeing something that in the end is pretty terrible.  So you can read what I have to say and then decide for yourself whether or not it’s worth your time.  I’ve been posting over on my “personal and political” page about Dinesh D’Souza for the past two days, so if you want a little background on him you can go here and here.

I attended a showing of the latest D’Souza film this past weekend after waiting in vain for it to end its run and come out on YouTube. (I was perfectly willing to pay to see it online, just to be clear.)  But my husband was out of town, and I was tired of working around the house, and I really wanted to write about the movie, so I went.  I couldn’t even use the King Soopers coupons we usually buy, as there were no more showings at AMC theaters, so I had to pay full price. No one can say that I saw the movie in any sort of backhanded way!

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How Did We Get Here?

Book cover of Subverted, which shows a woman in sunglasses

Subverted:  How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement by Sue Ellen Browder, Ignatius Press, 2015.

Has it ever occurred to you that there are two distinct and contradictory streams of thought about women in our modern culture?  That thought has been nagging at me for awhile now, but lately it’s come into sharp focus, and this book helped with that process.

Imagine this scene:  A conference room at some high-powered law office.  The announcement is being made of who has made partner.  It’s been a long and somewhat bitter process, but now it has been decided:  out of two women and three men the choice has come down to one of the women.  She is poised, articulate, and superbly dressed in her power suit.  She is known for her abilities in the courtroom.  From now on she will be paid, in money and respect, for the position she has earned.  Meanwhile, just outside the window of this conference room is a billboard advertising

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But the Greatest of These Is Love.

Book cover of A Loving Life in a world of broken relationships

A Loving Life In a World of Broken Relationships by Paul E. Miller, available in several formats (including audio, my new fave) from Amazon.  Also available through Crossway Books.  He is on the staff of seeJesus.net, a Bible study ministry, and you can view his video teaching blog at Paul’s Weekly Teaching.

I have been privileged to go through Miller’s previous book, A Praying Life, with study groups on at least two occasions but had never read this one.  I vaguely remember starting it at some point and thinking it was just too negative; it seemed to emphasize that love always involves suffering.  Not what I wanted to hear!  So I put it back on the shelf.  But then this summer I was looking over our stock of Christian books for something to read in my morning quiet time and decided to give it another try.

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A Lesson from a Life Well Lived.

Cake with happy birthday candlesphoto credit: Pixabay.com

What a weekend!  On Friday night I got to be a part of a jaw-droppingly beautiful wedding and make my famous cheesecake cupcakes.  Then, Sunday afternoon, our church hosted a 90th-birthday party for one of our members, and I was reminded of something that I’d heard at that funeral I attended earlier this summer and which  gave me so much to ponder:

“He was all about learning new things.”

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