Monday, March 2, 2015

Book Notes: "Not God's Type", by Holly Ordway

I found out about Holly Ordway's "Not God's Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms", as I said earlier, by listening to one of my favorite podcasts, "The City".

There's a lot to love about this book - from Ordway's descriptions of fencing, to her love of literature, to her honesty about her good motives and her bad -  but what I loved the best was her description of her Lord.

I've been a Christian since I was a toddler. I remember loving the Lord, as "the lamb of God", from when I was about three years old. That picture of him captured me, and I have been his ever since.

But reading Holly Ordway's description of coming to know the Lord as an adult was so good. I loved reading about him as she came to know him, if that makes sense. I've come to know God as an adult, but I didn't know him first as an adult, you see?  And the thing about being a part of the kingdom, about being a part of the family of God, is that you can know God better by hearing about him from others.

He is infinite, and infinitely good.  And so there is always more to get to know. I read Holly's depiction and thought both "yes, that is the Lord I know" and "oh! there is more to know about him!"

This is a beautiful book. It's one I can recommend whole-heartedly, not just because of the subject, but because of the beauty of the prose.

The end of the book didn't resonate as much with me as the beginning for the very simple reason that it's about Ordway's further conversion to Catholicism, and I disagree with her arguments and theology in this section. But it'd be a pity not to pick up this book because of that; I trust our Lord will heal our divisions when he returns, and in the meantime, I loved reading Ordway's story of coming to know him.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains an Amazon affiliate link; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Weekly Links!

"What ISIS Really Wants": this article from the Atlantic is making the rounds on social media, and for once, that makes sense. This is incredibly information-dense and so helpful to understanding what's going on behind the headlines.

"Lenten Calendar & Plans": Some great resources for Lent from Shirley, including recipes & crafts.

"Keep the Feast, Keep the Fast":
Jesus is the Last Adam because He keeps the fast. He enters a world that is no longer a garden, but a howling waste, and in that wilderness Satan tempts Him to break the fast, to be an Adam: “You’re hungry; eat thisnow. You deserve the accolades of the crowds; you can have it now if you jump off the temple. You want all authority in heaven and on earth, but your Father won’t give that to you unless you suffer an excruciating, shameful death; you can have it all now . . . 
Jesus refused, and refused, and then refused again, and in so doing broke the power of Adamic sin. Jesus kept the fast; He waited, labored, suffered, died, and then opened His hand to receive all life, all glory and honor, all authority and dominion, that His Father had to give Him . . .

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Notes: "The Living", by Matt de la Peña

I picked up "The Living" by Matt de la Peña because I'd enjoyed a short story of his that I read in "My True Love Gave to Me".

"The Living" starts off as an ordinary contemporary YA, about a young man named "Shy" who's working on a ritzy cruise ship in order to earn enough money to help out his family back home (in Otay Mesa, near San Diego, by the US/Mexico border).

But soon Shy's ordinary routine becomes something else, after he's the closest witness to a passenger who commits suicide and then he finds he's being stalked by a mysterious man in a suit. Weird becomes worse when "the Big One" finally hits Los Angeles, generating a series of gigantic tsunamis that overtake the cruise ship and kill almost everyone on board.

Shy manages to survive the initial disaster, but it's clear he's not out of danger yet, and worse becomes worser and worsest . . . annnnnnnnnnnnnnd, no spoilers from me. The journey's too good to spoil it. I will say: this is an adventure book, a post-apocalyptic book, and if being lost at sea is your personal nightmare, well, you'll find plenty of terrifying fodder here.

This is clearly a YA book, with a bit of romance and a ton of action, but nothing too graphic. However, I've come to genuinely enjoy YA: without the easy out of simply bludgeoning the reader over the head with either sex or violence, what you're often left with is just a good story, full of compelling characters.

Shy's outlook is pretty bleak, when you get down to it. His musings as he's pretty sure he's dying aren't exactly full of hope or any kind of surety of eternal meaning. But in action, he's a decent sort who looks out for his friends and often puts their well-being above his own.

In other words, he's a guy you can root for.

In one of his Goodreads blog entries, author de la Peña says:
The Living is a different book for me. It's an action-driven disaster novel. I wanted to take my usual mixed-race, working class characters and put them in a bigger context. Why? I want to reveal to a wider audience the heart and dignity (as well as the flaws) of kids growing up on the "wrong side of the tracks." My dream is for The Living to reach suburban folks, too, this time. And kids in private schools. And middle class adult readers who dig YA. So instead of bringing story conflict to my characters and letting them fight it out on their own turf (rough southern California neighborhoods), I brought my characters to the conflict, in this case a luxury cruise ship bound for Hawaii.
And I have to say: boy, he succeeded. I love de la Peña's voice, and now I want to go and find his earlier books, set in those rough southern California neighborhoods he mentions. Voice is the thing that carries you through a book; it's the thing that makes the book easy to read, no matter how much hard territory the author wants to carry you over.

De la Peña has a voice I'm willing to listen to, even if it's in genres that aren't usually my favorites. That's a rare thing, and I'm so happy to find a new author I like that much.

Some content warnings for violence, mayhem, a tiny bit of sexual content, and a mildly hopeless worldview. Probably appropriate for older teenagers, but parents give it a look first.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains an Amazon affiliate link; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday

We were at church early this morning, before the sun was up, to get ashes put on our foreheads and to be reminded we were going to die.  All of us, yes, even these beautiful children, with their bright eyes and their round cheeks.

But we were also at church, early this morning, as the sun was coming up, to drink and to be fed the very blood and body of our Lord, and to be reminded that we were going to live. All of us, yes, even those whose bones were aching and whose skin was wrinkled.

The Lord made us of dust, and to dust we shall return.

The Lord became one of us, and like Him we will be, rising again, by His grace.

I wish you a good and holy Lent.  May it be a season of traveling back to your first love, growing ever lighter with every step, as we drop our burdens by the wayside, along with our pleasures. As we ask forgiveness for our sins and mercies for our shortcomings.

As we learn to repent.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

P.S. If you want some more resources for the Lenten season, I have links to Lenten content around the web here, on my church year resources page.  You can view all Lenten content from this blog here (which includes both links and original content).  Finally,  Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home, has an entire chapter on Lent, and includes everything I wish I'd known when I first started observing the season.

This post contains an Amazon affiliate link; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Fitness DVD Review: Jillian Michaels' One Week Shred

So, I like this one!  No huge shock, given that I'm a long-time fan of her old 30 Day Shred video.

Like that DVD, Jillian Michaels' "One Week Shred" consists of workouts that last about 30 minutes, and it gives you a great calorie burn for those 30 minutes.

The big difference between this DVD and its predecessor is that this one is divided into two workouts instead of three, and of those two workouts, one consists of strictly cardio and the other of strictly weights.

Now, Jillian suggests that you use this video for a straight 7 days, using one workout in the morning and one in the evening. I disagree. For me, the virtue of this DVD is that you can alternate cardio and weights on alternate days.

The weights workout is a bit over 30 minutes and the cardio a bit under 30. I'm a bit out of shape right now, and so I really appreciated the fact that Jillian provided good modifications to the various exercises. Even with the modifications, I felt like I got a great workout.

In sum, this one is a win for me, with the caveat that I wouldn't use it as suggested. Work out the amount of time that works for you - a crazy 7-day attempt to lose a bunch of weight doesn't sound healthy to me. But the workouts themselves? They're pretty good stuff.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains an Amazon affiliate link; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Weekly Links!

Some good reading for your weekend:

"Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write":
The benefits of writing go far beyond building up your vocabulary . . .
"Ask the Agent: What's hot and cold in publishing these days?": a nice assessment of the latest numbers.

"Gospel of Confession":
The Father eternal speaks forth the Son – an act that we might re-characterize as the Father eternal confessing the Son, telling forth the truth about himself in the eternal Word. If that is the case, then our confession as telling forth the truth of God finds its basis in the far greater, the complete act of the Father from eternity telling forth the truth about himself in the person of his Son. 
"Strange is Good with the Trinity":
In any given church, you'll have people at different stages of their understanding of trinitarian prayer, which leads to some awkwardness. We've all heard prayers that start out, “Heavenly Father,” and then within a couple of sentences are saying, “Thank you for dying on the cross for us.” Or prayers that start, “Dear Jesus” and move on to “thank you for sending your Son to save us.” What's going on here? Probably not outright heresies (patripassianism in the first case, some sort of Jesus-modalism in the second). Probably the person praying has been mentally focused on one person of the Trinity initially, and has shifted his or her attention to another person a few seconds later, without bothering to adjust all the other parts of the prayer or to vocalize a transition. Anybody in the congregation who is more fluent with trinitarian theology will hear something that sounds alarming. But I doubt that the person praying would fail a simple theology test if you stopped them and administered one (which, by the way, please don't).
"Fifty Shades Against Gender Neutrality":
Having repressed healthy masculinity, what bubbles up through the cracks is a crude distortion of the real thing, and our enjoyment of it is confined to the level of fantasy. We’re eating dog food because we’re hungry for steak.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Book Notes: Dinner, the Playbook

I am a huge fan of cookbooks.

And cooking magazines.

And cooking blogs.

But this book is something else.  I love "Dinner: the Playbook", by Jenny Rosenstrach.

I didn't buy this book at first. I heard about it and - like most books I hear about and am interested in - I borrowed it from the library.

But after a few weeks of using the library's copy, I knew that I wanted my own. (If only to keep from staining the library's copy.  It's just . . . paying library fines is not an unlikely scenario for me, iykwim.)

So, I bought a copy, and I've been using it ever since.

I love this book.  I'm good at menu planning and I actually like cooking, but this book makes both of those jobs easier not only provides interesting main dishes, but by suggesting veggie-heavy side dishes to go with.

Eventually, I realized that this book was the work of a blogger that I've subscribed to for a long time, but that (sorry!) I hadn't really paid much attention to (it's easy to do that in an RSS reader).

But after I checked this book out of the library, I used it in my weekly menu planning. And I loved two things about it:

1) The little chef-ly details. Each recipe has those nice little details - you know, the ones that don't take much time or fuss, but make all the difference between the final dish tasting good, and tasting great.  (E.g., letting a clove of garlic sizzle in the olive oil for a few minutes and then fishing it out before frying your omelet - mmm, easy garlic-infused oil.)

2) The side dish suggestions. My go-to side dish is seasonal fruit. Healthy? yes. Yummy? yes. Boring? . . . sometimes.

But "Dinner: the Playbook" has a list of easy, (mostly) veggie side dishes.  And each main dish recipe suggests which one (or ones) you should serve with it.  This makes things so much easier.  I can menu-plan based on the main dishes I want to make, and I don't have to go searching for something healthy and produce-based that will go with them.  It's right there.

Here's one of the meals I made out of this cookbook recently:
It's a baked potato bar (the potatoes are covered in cheddar cheese), and her topping suggestions were great: caramelized onions, steamed broccoli, ham, yogurt, and salsa. It was delicious, and each of us could customize our own potato. Everyone liked it, and we all got plenty of veg.

There are more creative meals in here, for sure, this is just one I managed to get a picture of.   :)  Anyway, I'd recommend this cookbook to anyone looking for something a bit out of the ordinary way, but not so far out of the way that the kids won't eat up!  :)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains an Amazon affiliate link; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)