Monday, January 30, 2012

Tenets: #4

The Key to Personal Peace, Billy Graham

This is in reference to my New Years Resolutions to read one spiritual book each month.

While perusing my parent's bookshelf at home, the only work we possessed by Billy Graham caught my eye. It was a short pamphlet, fifty pages or so, and hardly qualifies as one of my twelve spiritual books, as I read its entirety while in the bathtub.

Unlike Bonhoeffer, Graham did not write to his title. This book is a basic recapitulation of the Christian tenements, with an entire section devoted to signing your life over Christ. Its a book for evangelism: one to give away to your non-Christian friends who perhaps are wondering about the faith you possess. It's not a hard book. It's a simple one. It may have been too simple.

While reading this, once I discovered that it was an evangelism tool, I grew disappointed, and was tempted to just peruse through it to say I'd read it. However! I tried to read it like I was reading the tenements of Christianity for the first time. It helped. But it just seemed too easy. One section asked if I felt wicked or disgusting or had sins I needed to repent of. My initial reaction was 'No! I'm good! I'm fine. Leave me be.' I then realized if someone had asked me if I felt particularly good, angelic, holy, I would have replied, 'No, far from it!' This put me in a complex position: I felt both unholy and unsinful at the same time. I think that's what the problem was with the book. It didn't account for this complex way I was feeling, the capacity for good and evil, or lackluster in both.

I recognize where this book would have it's uses: someone who wants a basic introduction to what Christianity is all about.
It simplified the precepts in plain language. While I wasn't in the category, I thought the book might still be useful in reminding me what the gospel is all about. Instead, I grew annoyed, as I sometimes do with evangelism, that is oversimplified the state of the human soul.

Friday, January 27, 2012

From Antiquity: Our Great Literary Descendents

Great literary works pile up on our shelves, often with guilt, because we have not read them, or, if we have, have not known how to plumb their depths, especially books from antiquity. I firmly believe in order to read old books, one must first read what shapes them and comes before them. So if I were to compile a list, or a syllabus, of how to read the books on your shelves, here's how I would begin.

[NB: This unfortunately only pertains to Western literature and thought, and cannot apply to the pleasant depths of Asian, or even necessarily, all of European literature.]

1. The Bible. Or if you don't have time, The Children's Bible or the Books of Isaiah and Matthew. This gives you enough of Biblical symbolism and nature of God to proceed to other texts.

2. The Republic, Book VII. Plato. The section on "The Cave." While all of ancient philosophy has far reaching effects, this is accessible and not too intangible.

3. The Iliad. Homer. Not only a story of gods and men, buts its effect is eternal and defines the eipc. The complex ladder of human (and god) motivation, its cause and effect, perhaps reaches its height in the wrath of Achilles, as Homer explores the complexities and intracacies of human emotion.

4. The Odyssey. Homer. If you really can't stomach Homer and have to choose between these two, read The Odyssey. It's a story about getting home and has one of the best matched couples in all of (literary) history.

5. The Aeniad. Virgil. Picking up from where the Illiad leaves off, this story is about the founding of Rome. It also includes one of the most popular love affairs of all time with the appearance of Queen Dido.

6. Layamon or Wace's The Brut. Ok so we have all these classical stories. So what? That's exactly what Layamon and Wace sought to correct. This is Brutus leaving Rome to found Britain. It's recasting the Classical into a British setting.

7. The History of the Kings of Britain. Geoffrey of Monmouth. So many fun stories about those early kings. What was Britain before or after the Romans? Where did King Lear come from? And best, the origin of King Arthur!

8. Morte D'Arthur. Malory. The tales of Arthur are recast in nearly every generation, but where did the "original" tale come from? Both poignant and funny, this gives an idea of accessible Middle English.

9. [To be very thorough, I would suggest a few Lives of Saints, especially if you're interested in art history, as many saints stories are used as subjects. I'd recommend The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine. In the same vein, read The Metamorphoses (Ovid) for Classical tales of gods and men, that wind themselves into art subjects the most. Not essential.]

10. The Divine Comedy. Dante. All three. Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. Most teachers only teach the Inferno and leave their students in Hell. How contemptible! If wanting to abridge, read the beginning and ending cantos of each book.

11. St. George and the Dragon. Spenser. Especially if you're English, re-interpretations of this are everywhere! It combines the duties of a Christian saint with those of a Medieval knight, and never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

12. Finally, end with Milton's Paradise Lost. This is an imitation of the Old Epic recast into Christian, particularly, spiritual terms. Whoever would have though Satan could be a sympathetic character?

Not only will these twelve books compound upon and reference each other, but also provides a short history of Western thought. This also lays a foundation for reading modern texts. T.S. Eliot's Wasteland suddenly makes (more) sense, as does Shaw's Pygmalion. One understands where Shakespeare gets his King Lear and Tennyson the subject for his Idylls. Best of all, you have filled nearly all the essential gaps, leaving literature from the entire Western world, entirely open at your disposal, to read with confidence in whatever order you please.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Spiritual Books: #7

One of my New Year's Resolutions was to read a set of Christian books: one for each month. This is the first in that series.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

For someone trying to ease their way back into reading Christian tenements, this was not the book to choose first. It happened by accident. I was in the airport and wanted to start on these Christian books on this 8-hour flight, so I dug into my overhead bag and pulled out Bonhoeffer. I was disappointed. I wanted something easy, like Francis Chan. But Bonhoeffer was interesting. He was a German in WWII. He had the opportunity to escape, he was even in Britain, safe, but voluntarily decided to return, because he felt he could in no way help reconstruct the church in Germany unless he suffered with it. Guards shot him two days before the Allies freed the camp.

Bonhoeffer knows what he's talking about. He writes about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, and it is no easy line. He doesn't smudge it to make it easier for us to swallow or digest. Holding nothing back, he describes the magnitude of sacrifice expected from Christians. And its exhausting. I had an extremely difficult time concentrating because I kept thinking, but I'm just not good enough to do all this.
Extenuating human inadequacy, the perfection of God, and the high standard expected of Christians, left me despairing. That's exactly what Bonhoeffer intended us to feel. But Bonhoeffer wanted us to despair, to shout in anger and frustration at our inability: he wanted us to leave all that behind and throw ourselves wholly on the mercy of God and through his good grace in us, accomplish anything.

The Cost of Discipleship is hard. I wouldn't read it again in a hurry. I can't say it nourished my soul and made me love God more. But it did have its moments. My favorite part was the ending chapter on being made in the image of God: that the more we strive, the more we worsen things, but God in his mercy "does not neglect his lost creatures," and "if we surrender ourselves utterly unto him, we cannot help bearing his image ourselves."

Chewing Cud

Some bovine lovin' in Sweden. I think this photo captures my anticipation of these 12 books exactly

Growing up in a Christian home has been one of the largest boons bestowed upon me. I am a more complete, contented person because of it. However, gathering religious ideas at young age, caused me to think some funny things, not by direct teaching necessarily, but rather by youthful inference. For example, I once thought that non-Christians were wicked people and there was no good in them at all. Or that sex was evil, and marriage was for the weak minded. (Up until I was 17, I was all for being a celibate saint.) Or that no one should ever take communion, because, who really is completely without sin and wants to drink damnation on himself? No, thank you.

Well, once I got to UNC, I realized some of these Christian ideas were whacked. Some of my favorite people were non-Christians, and even (dare I say it?) better people than some of the Christians I knew. This led to a lot of confusion and then to skepticism of the organized church. I continued to retain my beliefs, but for the past few years, I've avoided reading overtly 'Christian' books: every time I tried, I would just get angry. (Come on: who hasn't read a really awful 'Christian' book? Left Behind series, anyone? Which, I was told when I was 13 that this was excellent literature.) So after a six-year Christian-reading hiatus, I figured it was time to objectively read tenements of the faith.

My goals are to approach these texts humbly, to try and not get angry, and to be open to allow these works to shift and shape my notions of Christianity and its doctrine. I want to be critical, but not cynical. No longer spoon-fed; no longer anemic; but, shall we say, chewing the cud? A revisiting of the essentials, the mains, the hay, the grass, mindfully considering it once again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

When in Home

View from Waxhaw's Rail Bridge: December 2010

I've spent most of my formative years in Waxhaw. Here's a list of things I miss about my home and to an extent, my hometown.

1. The sound of the train whistle as I lie in bed at night
2. The view of the stars on a cold night
3. The open hearth
4. The proximity to a piano
5. My bookshelves
6. Taking the dog on walks
7. Our vegetable garden
8. Getting coffees in Waxhaw's only coffee house
9. The hummingbirds outside the feeder
10. The incessant ongoing projects

glimpse of my book shelf

a. Even though the train is at least 5 miles from my window, the sound carries shrilly through the still air.
b. My
siblings and I often sneak onto the roof or lie in the driveway and point out the constellations, often interrupted by the attention-seeking dog.
c. A real fire is one of the surest pleasures.
d. I can claim no real musical genius: it belongs to my sister.
e. Something I'm not a little proud of: years of collecting beautiful books store my mind's map.
f. On one particular morning, the dog and I found wild grapes.
g. Our head high cornstalks were the object of much laughter among our friends.
h. So many happy memories with many beloved faces.
i. One part sugar and four parts water for the feed: the birds are bright green.
j. In spare moments, I'll help with whatever it is. Most recently, finishing a spare '
oom to become Mitch's 'Man Cave'. Others are building a fence, shed, planting, weeding, reshovelling paths.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Miss America

Source: Me, Savannah, GA Summer 2010

Things I miss about America. Living abroad brings the idea of home in close pangs and brief snapshots. Here are the main things I miss:

1. College sports, especially football and basketball
2. Lemonade and sweet tea
3. Driving on country roads
4. Music, like Merlefest or Chapel Hill's Cats Cradle
5. Being able to wear dresses in warm weather
6. Barbeque, fried chicken, and real Mexican
7. Homegrown summer vegetables and canning summer fruits
8. Front porches and rocking chairs
9. Spanish moss on oak trees
10. Familiarity of the grocery stores

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What Indy and Felix Think of Marriage

What Indy and Felix think of marriage. After both being neutered, I don't really blame them. You should have seen what they thought of Death at Pemberley.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Things Britain Does Really Well

1. Free Prescriptions, especially birth control: its all freeeee!!! Hallelujah!

2. Their grass is ALWAYS green. Its lush and beautiful and invigorating.

3. Christmas: their mince pies, mulled wine, and Christmas puddings are just lovely.

4. Vacations and Holidays: everyone gets 4 weeks of holidays STANDARD. That's an entire month!

5. Architecture. Have some pretty sweet buildings that are beautiful. At Durham I can study in the Cathedral.

6. Polite. I've very rarely met with an rude or overly inquisitive British person.

7. Their University accomdation: you get your own room. Not always. But often.

8. Travel. Brits are so well-travelled. Around their own country and beyond. All of my flat have been to Thailand (seperately).

9. Sunday lunches. A large meal in the middle of the day, often post church.

10. Ability to critically think. This is a bit hard to explain, but their humor is more intellectual than not.

11. Countryside walks: one is never far away, and generally astoundingly beautiful.

12. History. Such wonderful history in such a little island. A monarchy and parliament. Knights and Businessmen.

13. Tea.

14. Soccer. The Premiere League. The Champions League.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Things I Wish I Had Heard in High School: #189

As a part of my New Years Resolutions to read through 12 Spiritual Books, I've begun to Read Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. In my last two years, I attended a conservative Christian, evangalism oriented, highschool. In our Chapels and Spiritual Emphasis Weeks, we were told to go out and preach the gospel to anyone and everyone, without limit, and though never directly stated, everywhere implied, that if they weren't converted, it was our fault, because the gospel never fails. Though I'm not sure I exactly agree with this segment, oh how I wish I had read this then:

"But the Christian is not only forbidden to judge other men: even the word of salvation has its limits. He has neither power nor right to force it on other men in season and out of season. Every attempt to impose the gospel by force, to run after people and proseltytize them, to use our own resources to arrange the salvation of other people, is both futile and dangerous. It is futile, because the swine do not recognize the pearls that are cast before them, and dangerous, because it profanes the word of forgiveness, by causing those we fain would serve to sin against that which is holy. Worse still, we shall only meet with the blind rage of hardened and darkened hearts, and that will be useless and harmful. Our easy trafficking with the word of cheap grace simply bores the world to disgust, so that in the end it turns against those who try to force on it what it does not want. Thus a strict limit is placed upon the activities of the disciples, just as in Matt 10 they are told to shake the dust off their feet where the word of peace is refused a healing. Their restless energy which refuses to recognize any limit to their activity, the zeal which refuses to take note of resistance, springs from a confusion of the gospel with a victorious ideaology. An idealogy requires fanatics, who neither know nor notice opposition, and it is certianly a potent force. But the Word of God in its weakness takes the risk of meeting the scorn of men and being rejected. There are hearts which are hardened and doors which are closed to the Word. The Word recognizes opposition when it meets it, and is prepared to suffer it. It is a hard lesson, but a true one, that the gospel, unlike an ideology, reckons weith impossibilities. The Word is weaker than any ideology, and this means that with only the gospel at their command the witnesses are weaker than the propagandists of an opinion. But although they are weak, they are ready to suffer with the word and so are free from the morbid restlessness which is so charateristic of fanaticism."

What do you think?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Born and Bred in the Briar Patch

Indy taking a lounge in her bunny tunnel

On the bunnies: Indy escaped.

Back up. Felix had come into his manhood and began getting busy with the neutered Indy, which did not make her too happy. Lots of grunting, chases around, upset bowls of food. So made an appointment with the vet and Felix is now [maybe no so] happily recovering from his surgery. Due to this, the Felix needs to be relocated to a different area with a towel for bedding so his wound doesn't get infected. A lot of good quality time with Felee. But this means Indy's stayed in her hutch all alone.

After coming back from work, I sauntered down to Indy's hutch to give her the good ol bowl of food and water and hug, to find that she wasn't there! Her hutch was cold, her food bowl was gone, AND the side hutch door was unlocked. At first I thought, the worst had happened: her food bowl was gone and so was the bunny! Robbed! Then, being the brilliant PhD student I am, realized I had taken it to the vet to make sure it was the correct size and the bunnies weren't overweight. Using Sherlock Holmes brilliant methods of deduction, figured someone had either a.) let the bunny out of the cage, b.) stolen the bunny, or c.) I had forgetten to lock it the night before. For a brief moment I thought of my mema, how everytime she went to count her chickens, was certain that someone had stolen one of them the previouis night. Taking genetic similiarities into consideration, thought the most likely option was that either I or some person or persons who remain unknown had let her out of her cage.

Well its dark at 4 these days, so at 6 it was pitch black. The light from the apartments were thin, but thanks to a fancy new app from my smartphone call "screen light" I had something nearly as good as a torch. I kept listening for the sounds of the rabbit scurrying in the garden, but there was nothing. Anytime she had escaped before, she had always loved to hide in the only briar patch in our yard. Making my way along the way, I wound my way to the briar patch and sure enough there she was.

Looking at her eyes peer up at me from the briar patch, I thought of Uncle Remus and Brar Rabbit, and how Brar Fox had tricked Brar Rabbit, and Brar Rabbit had hit the Tar Baby, and Brar Rabbit tricked Brar Fox into throwing him into the Briar Patch, and Brar Rabbit (or was it Indy?) yelling back, "Born and bred in the Briar Patch Brar Fox, born and bed in the briar patch!"

I laugh to myself in my unmeritted success in being able to raise a Southern rabbit in the midst of Scotland, and though that may reflect more on my abilities of deduction than the nature of a rabbit, I'll take it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Work of Thy Hands

One of my goals has been to make personal, hand made gifts for Christmas. Here's some of them!

These are glass balls I filled with names special to our family for mama.

One of my poor attempts to paint with oils: this is a durian, a foul smelling fruit found in Asia, and one only my dad shared my appetite for this prickly bear.

I've wanted to try my hand at knitting a Gryffindor scarf.

I wanted to put all the photos I'd taken to some use. Some big.

And some smaller

Saturday, January 7, 2012

2011: Year Review

Here's a month by month review of highlights of favorite trips an
d moments of 2011. Photos will be small to get all in!

- trip: skiing in the Alps
- moment: falling into a tree like Tarzan


-trip: visit to Nairn; moment: sitting on a tree bough outside Cawdor Castle
- visit to Linlithgow palace; moment: on the top turret

-visit from Abby; m
oments: Abby's reaction to Tom Riddles tomb; playing Sardines in Craigmillar Castle
- aquisition of new bunny, Indy; moment: Fran picking her out.
-trip to Cornwall; moment: herd of sheep outside Gate

-trip to the long awaited Tintagel: birthplace of King Arthur
- trip to Stratford upon Avon: seeing Shakespeare's house
- becoming a nanny; moment: dance fest in living room

- trip to Rosswell Cathedral; moment: walking through the fields in brilliant sunshine

-visit from Sanna; moments: painting and picnicing by a stream
-Lisa's 21st ceilidh
- walk through poppy field in Stourbridge
-trip home to see family; visit to Washington DC; Gabe and Kate's wedding; moment: playing catch on beach and Lord
of the Rings Game

-trip to see Hamlet in the Globe Theater
- aquisition of Felix, bunny #2. moment: Felix flopping
- visit from Sophie

- trip to Verona; moment: Aidia, the opera
- trip to Lake Garda; moment: boat ride and picnic
-trip to Bath, Bristol, and Glastonbury: Roman Baths and King Arthur's Tomb
- trip to Cornwall; moment: The Lost Gardens of Heligan

-trip: Stonehenge; moment: not using an audio guide
-the Bursledon Regatta; moment: sailing in a sinking ship

-trip: Alnwick Castle; moment: walking into old fashioned book shop
- beginning at Durham; moment: first stepping off the train

- trip: St Andrews with Gillian Watson; moment: sitting on sand dunes looking at waves and city
- visit: from Mom for my graduation; moment: singing to old country tunes together
- trip: to Durham with mom and Sophie; moment: looking at Cathedral lights during the Lumiere Festival

-event: Thing 1's concert in Usher Hall; moment: the finale song and Thing 1's expression as he sang
-trip: home to the States; moment: sitting by fire with mom, discussing Bible readings together
- trip: Bursledon for New Years; moment: dinner on a ferry boat