Tuesday, February 20, 2018

"Turn and Be Saved": post at Biola University's LENT PROJECT

Today I have a post up at Biola University's LENT PROJECT. Here's a snippet:

This is not abstract: Repent. No, really: repent. Examine yourself. Examine yourself even against the exacting and strict rule found in the scripture, not against the weak virtues of your neighbor. Confess your actual sins to the actual God, and ask for His mercy. Intend to forsake evil and do good. Forsake not just the individual acts, but forsake your habits of sin—that comforting sin you turn to time and again. The one you wrap yourself ‘round in like a blanket, seeking comfort from the cold. Forsake it, and turn to the Lord.

To read the rest, head over to the LENT PROJECT site!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Book Notes: "Moments and Days" by Michelle Van Loon

I read this book in the fall, as the year was curving up towards Advent, but it's also a good read for this time of year, with the long season of Lent lying before us.

"Moments and Days: How Our Holy Celebrations Shape Our Faith," is about the Christian liturgical year (that's my jam!), but it's also about the Jewish liturgical year--and it's about how those two calendars do (and don't) fit together.

I really enjoyed it. As Van Loon comments towards the beginning of the book, "By getting to know the Jewish feasts, we know our Jewish Savior better."

That's probably all the reason you need in order to want to read this book, but I'd add a few others: Van Loon is good at making connections (like the one between the Transfiguration and the Feast of Booths) and she's also just a good writer. I love passages like these:

Much of contemporary evangelicalism has been quick to "put the cookies on the bottom shelf," eschewing the church's history and traditions so that spiritual seekers would feel welcome in our midst. In the process, I wonder if we have gotten used to dining on crumbs. Crumbs may fill us for a moment, but we have been made for eternity; our calendar tells us so.

Or this:

...I learned (as we all do at some point in our lives) that mourning is a core reality of our earthly existence. We live in a world shaped by the effects of humanity's disconnection from God. That disconnection manifests itself in loss, sickness, and death. Whether it is a generalized awareness of our brokenness or a specific grief after the death of a loved one, Lent interrupts our regularly scheduled lives to reconnect us with the deepest need behind our pain: communion with God.

Thoughtful passages like that are interspersed throughout the book, but I don't want to obscure the fact that most of the book is dedicated to information: about the Jewish and Christian liturgical years, how they developed, what they are, and what they mean. It's an information-dense book, in a good way.


Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Saturday, January 13, 2018


Happy Epiphany!

It's been such a stupid long time since I've posted a links post--mostly because my December was taken up with a (good and welcome, but time-intensive) freelance editing project.

But--it's Epiphany! and so here's a links post. I hope you enjoy clicking through it, while enjoying a nice cup of tea or cider or coffee or whatever your favorite winter-time drink is.

-It's the first anniversary of Nailed It!

-It's fun to see how other people celebrate the church year. Sarah's post, "Reflecting on Our Advent," is a particularly lovely account of one family's celebration.

-A thoughtful article: "Harvey Weinstein and Sexualized Pop Culture Call for Prophetic Engagement." Here's a snippet:
Non-Christians may be rightfully outraged at the exposure of anyone’s non-consensual harassment or assault of women. Christians can righteously join them. But we must recall that our Lord, the Creator of sex, has revealed a much higher standard.

-This retrospective on Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, on the occasion of their 70th anniversary, is quite fun. Here's to long marriages!

-Also just for fun: "True Kilts: Debunking the Myths about Highlanders and Clan Tartans."

-And I'm a bit late linking to this guide for Advent and Christmas, but it also includes a bit of good stuff for Epiphany.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend!
Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Book Notes: "No Moon To Pray To" by Jerry Guern

(Note: I first posted this review to my Goodreads account.)

TL;DR: This is Dracula in the world of Brother Cadfael. Dark and violent and not for everyone, but I liked it.

Okay, here's the longer review:

Have you ever read a book that made you feel:

1) I need to give lots of caveats before I recommend this book because, boy! it is NOT for everyone, BUT---

2) I really want to recommend this book, because there are some people who will LOVE it, and I don't want those people to miss it?

"No Moon To Pray To" is that kind of book. It's not going to be right for everyone, but I sure hope it finds the audience it's right for, because that audience is going to love it.

So, what are my caveats?
1) The theology isn't perfect. If I hadn't read a review by a reader I trusted, I would have put it down after the prologue.
2) It's violent. Like, very violent. And some of that violence involves children.

But, to counter those caveats, here are two corresponding notes:
1) I don't think the theology is perfect, but I do appreciate that it takes theology seriously. The theology MATTERS in this book, and I love that. (Also, much of the imperfect theology is seen through the eyes of clearly biased and compromised characters. So, it doesn't actually say much, if anything, about the theology of the author.)
2) The violence matters to the story, and it never feels like the author loves it or is wallowing in it. It's not voyeuristic. (I almost said it's not creepy, but...vampires are kinda necessarily creepy. "It's not TOLD creepily," might be a better and truer statement.)

So, with those caveats out of the way, who should read this? Who is that audience who shouldn't miss this book?

People who love the fantasy genre. People who want to read something that could be described as "Dracula as told in the world of Brother Cadfael." People who like something a little meatier in their speculative fiction. People who like it when novelists take Christianity (or any religion, really) seriously--that is, who think that what people believe actually makes a difference in the real world. Or, better yet, that you can tell what someone believes by what that person does. (At least sometimes. At least a little.)

People who want to read a page-turner. Because, if nothing else, "No Moon To Pray To" is definitely that.

I really liked it. I had trouble falling asleep the night I finished it because all the shadows seemed darker and scarier, true, but...I really liked it. Looking forward to seeing what Jerry Guern writes next.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Keeping Track of What You're Already Doing

This is the third in a series about my experience of writing a Rule of Life. You can read the first two posts in the series here

Before actually sitting down and writing my Rule of Life, I had to do one thing: I had to figure out what I was already doing with my time. What was the structure of my days currently? How did I spend my hours and weeks now? In other words, I had to know where I was starting before I could figure out where I was going.

Because the truth is: we all already have a Rule of Life.

We just don’t call it that.

But we are all living our lives, which means that we are already making decisions about how we use our time and our other resources. Just because you haven’t consciously decided how you’re going to make your decisions doesn’t mean you’re not making decisions. Of course you are—you have to.

You’re just not necessarily making the decisions you want to be making.

So I started tracking my hours.

And here’s where I admit that I cheated. See, I had an advantage when it came to figuring out how to do all this: I know someone who actually teaches about this stuff at a seminary. So I told her what I was doing, and she cheerfully loaded me down with things to read.

Here’s where I have to admit something else. I don’t know if you always read the forwards or dedications or afterwords in the books you pick up, but I do. And there I’ll invariably find a few lines like this:

Thank you to George Eightarms of the Cephalopod Institute for his insights on the mating habits of the octopus. If my undersea zombie apocalypse romance gets anything right, it’s because of his help. However, all mistakes are my own. 

My friend was kind enough to point me towards the starting line. However, she is an expert and I am not. As I pointed out at the beginning of this blog series: This is just an accounting of my own experience. I’m just a layperson here. I’m writing this series both for the selfish reason that I find it interesting and also for the more charitable reason that I hope my experience might help or encourage someone else. But…all the mistakes herein are my own.

Anyway. One of the things my friend has her students do is to track their hours for a while. I used a chart she gave me, but I also went online and found this version, which I used to chart out some theoretical weeks, as I was thinking through the changes I wanted to make. (It’s from Laura Vanderkam’s site. I read a couple of her books this last year. She’s done a ton of original research on how successful women spend their time; it was really quite interesting.) 

I took a couple of copies of the charts, and set to work. I assigned a color to each kind of activity I did throughout my week: things like housework/childcare, writing, editing, devotional stuff, etc.  I also had categories for rest, differentiated between (for lack of better terms) good rest and bad rest—mostly because I wanted to see how much time I was throwing away on TV and social media (versus actually restorative stuff like reading for pleasure).

Here's one of my theoretical weeks. The real thing ended up being much messier.

The point here wasn’t to change anything right away—although I’m sure the mere act of observation did change things—but simply to gather information.

After two weeks, I had a lot of good data about how I was spending my days. The various colored sections really do jump out at you.

Now I had what I needed in order to go on my short, one-day retreat, and to pray through how I was spending my time. I had a record of what I was already doing, and I had a bunch of notes in my journal, and I had the questions that had prompted me to start this process of self-examination. I also reread sections of Holly Pierlot’s book, in order to fill in any gaps I might be forgetting to notice—to remind myself of other areas of my life that I ought to prayerfully examine.

And I also had a place to retreat to: I had been told of a small convent of Roman Catholic sisters in a neighboring city. (And, given that I live in the Los Angeles area, the “neighboring city” was only about a ten minute drive away. We pack ‘em close here.) For a small fee (just enough to cover their costs, I think), they’d provide you with a room and a meal for the day, and access to their chapel and garden, so that those who wished for a day of silence and prayer could have it.

My husband was happy to be parent-in-charge for the day while I went and prayed.

So I made my appointment, and I went.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Advent Project Devotion up today!

I'm happy to have a devotion up at Biola's Advent Project today: Our Trudging is a Triumph.

The Advent Project is a wonderful devotional Advent calendar (actually, more than Advent--it goes all the way through the 12 days of Christmas!) that includes a scripture reading, a poem, a piece of visual art, a piece of music, and a devotion that ties them all together, every day.  I got to write today's devotion. Here's a snippet:

There was no way through death until He burst death open from the inside. Death swallowed Him, but it was like swallowing the sun: He was a burning light that could not stay obscured. Not even by the darkest thing we know.

Head on over to The Advent Project to read the rest!

And, if you are looking for simple ways to bring the seasons of Advent and Christmas into your home, pick up a copy of Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home: 

There's even a slim little volume that includes just Advent and Christmas:

I hope you all are enjoying a peaceful and good start to the Advent season!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Links Post! (and a small update)

Hi folks! 

Below, you can find a regular links post (I usually call them weekly links, but let's be honest: they're more like biweekly links).  But quickly, before getting to that, I just wanted to apologize about not having another entry in my blog series on writing a rule of life, The Rhythm of Our Days

The truth about having a rule of life is that it gives me guidance about what to say "yes" to each day, but it also gives me boundaries for my work. It tells me, "Do this first and then, if you have time, do that."

Everyone knows that there isn't enough time in a day to do everything. My rule just helps me to be honest about that. It tells me when to work, and when to stop working.

And this last week, there was time to do a lot, but there wasn't time to work on this series. I hope there will be time this week (there might be), but if not this week, there will almost certainly be time next week, during Thanksgiving break.

Thanks for hanging in there with me while I work on this! Now, onto the links!

-This looks like an excellent writing contest. (Free entry, and a great prize!)

-I don't know about you, but there are a lot of people in my life right now going through loss. Here's something helpful: Grieving Like God.

-If you are a Hamilton fan, you'll probably enjoy this collection of excellent fan-art--one drawing for each song of the musical.

-Ah, a properly admiring article about a book series I love. More people should read Lee and Miller. (Their books are kinda like Georgette Heyer in space.)

-Tim Keller on the book of Proverbs. I loved this quotation in particular:
Just as the Book of Psalms is the Lord’s Prayer applied practically to every possible situation and condition of our hearts, so the Book of Proverbs is the Ten Commandments applied to every possible situation in our daily lives.

-Sex in Movies. Was John Piper Right All Along?

-And, finally, an appreciation of an excellent actor, who played a vital role in one of my favorite TV series ever: When Robert Guillaume Played Aaron Sorkin's First Great Leader.

I hope you have a great week, folks!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)