Monday, November 23, 2015

Haman & Esther, Judas & John

"Esther Denouncing Haman", by Ernest Normand, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

My Bible reading this past week had me in the Old Testament book of Esther and this time through it, a new part of the story caught my attention. In Esther 4, Mordecai tells Esther that if she doesn't act bravely, help will surely arise for the Israelites from another place.

There is faith, if you want it. Mordecai allows that Esther might fail to do her part . . . but God won't.

Mordecai trusts in God, but he declares to Esther that it makes a difference to HER whether or not she is willing to serve, whether or not she is willing to adventure her life on behalf of God's people.

Here is the verse in question:
For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
It's the second half of that verse that's more famous - the "for such a time as this" bit.

But it's the first that struck me this time through: "if you keep silent . . ." deliverance will still arise.

It reminds me very strongly of C. C. Lewis' observation in The Problem of Pain:

For you will certainly carry out God's purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.

Or, we might say, after reading this story, whether you serve like Esther or like Haman.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

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

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Weekly Links: Here Comes Advent Edition

My kids and I - and my mother, sister, and nephew - had the pleasure of participating in the video introduction to this year's Advent Project, hosted by Biola University's Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts (CCCA). The link will take you over to the video (which features my beautiful children), and you can also click through to the Advent Project itself.

Every day from now through Epiphany, you can find posted there a devotional, scripture, artwork, and piece of music that all go together. It's a wonderful tool for focusing on Jesus during this season of the Incarnation. I encourage you to use it!

More on Advent . . .

-I love reading aloud to my kids, and so I greatly enjoyed this post from Elizabeth Foss, which is full of ideas of what to read to your kids during Advent: "It's The Most Read-Aloud Time of the Year".

-I was honored to see that Tsh Oxenreider of Simple Mom included "Let Us Keep the Feast" in her Advent round-up again this year. I encourage you to go over and take a look at her list of resources for celebrating the season - there's some great stuff over there: "6 Ways to Keep Advent Simple and Special".

-One final Advent link: I love advice columns, and it was so fun to see a book I edited end up in the answer section of one!  Over at The Well, they have a wonderful advice column focused on women in academics, and they recently featured this question:
I am feeling overwhelmed by my academic life and the tasks of the upcoming holiday season. I have a full amount of academic responsibilities and these are only increasing as the semester progresses. On top of that, I’m astounded at the length of my to-do list outside of work, between purchasing gifts, attending holiday events, participating in church activities, and connecting with family members. And I'm hoping to at least make a stab at some Advent preparations and Christmas cheer in my home. How do you pick and choose between all the good things of this season?

Even if you're not in academics, I bet you can relate to the pressure the letter-writer is feeling!  Pop on over to "The Well" to read the thoughtful answers.  (Yes, "answers" in the plural! This advice column brilliantly features more than one advice-giver. I love it!)   (hat tip to the wonderful Anna M. Gissing for the link!)

Turning to other subjects . . .

-Here's a serious but important reminder: "When You Indulge in Pornography, You Participate in Sex Slavery".

-"'Askers' vs. 'Guessers'": This is an old article, but what a useful way to frame this difference!  (I think this isn't just "cross-cultural" in terms of ethnic groups or nationalities; it seems to me to be "cross-cultural" in terms of different family cultures, too - at least, my in-law experience would lead me to believe so!)

That's it for this weekend. I wish you a glorious celebration of Christ the King Sunday tomorrow!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Book Notes: In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton

"In Defense of Sanity: the Best Essays of G. K. Chesterton" is by - who else? - the immortal Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

I read this slowly, but not because I didn't like it. Rather the reverse.

And, much like my book notes on Boethius, I have trouble knowing how to review this other than to just quote from it. As Boethius' words are better than mine, so are Chesterton's.

So, here are a few (a very few) quotations from this almost 400-page long tome. May it do nothing more than convince you to read the great man's work for yourself:

On believing your beliefs:
“Don’t say, ‘There is no true creed; for each creed believes itself right and the others wrong.’ Probably one of the creeds is right and the others wrong. Diversity does show that most of the views must be wrong. It does not by the faintest logic show that they all must be wrong . . .”

On belief and the book of Job:
“The modern habit of saying, ‘This is my opinion, but I may be wrong,’ is entirely irrational. If I say that it may be wrong I say that it is not my opinion . . . A cosmic philosophy is not constructed to fit a man; a cosmic philosophy is constructed to fit a cosmos. A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon.
“The first of the intellectual beauties of the book of Job is that it is all concerned with this desire to know the actuality, the desire to know what is, and not merely what seems . . . If wishing to be happy and being quite ready to be happy constitute an optimist, Job is an optimist; he is an outraged and insulted optimist. He wishes the universe to justify itself, not because he wishes it to be caught out, but because he really wishes it to be justified . . . He remonstrates with his Maker because he is proud of his Maker. He even speaks of the Almighty as his enemy, but he never doubts, at the back of his mind, that his enemy has some kind of case which he does not understand. In a fine and famous blasphemy he says, ‘Oh, that my adversary had written a book!’ It never really occurs to him that it could possibly be a bad book. He is anxious to be convinced, that is, he thinks that God could convince him. In short, we may say again that if the world optimist means anything (which I doubt) Job is an optimist. He shakes the pillars of the world and strikes insanely at the heavens; he lashes at the stars, but it is not to silence them, it is to make them speak.”

On the bravery of aiming true:
“But the splendor of the furrowed fields is this: that like all brave things they are made straight, and therefore they bend. In everything that bows gracefully there must be an effort of stiffness. Bows are beautiful when they bend only because they try to remain rigid; and sword-blades can curl like silver ribbons only because they are certain to spring straight again. But the same is true of every tough curve of the tree-trunk, of every strong-backed bend of the bough; there is hardly any such thing in Nature as a mere droop of weakness. Rigidity yielding a little, like justice swayed with mercy, is the whole beauty of the earth. The cosmos is a diagram just bent beautifully out of shape. Everything tries to be straight; and everything just fortunately fails.
“The foil may curve in the lunge; but there is nothing beautiful about beginning the battle with a crooked foil. So the strict aim, the strong doctrine, may give a little in the actual fight with facts; but that is no reason for beginning with a  weak doctrine or a twisted aim. Do not be an opportunist; try to be theoretic at all the opportunities; fate can be trusted to do the opportunistic part of it. Do not try to bend, any more than the trees try to bend. Try to grow straight, and life will bend you.”

On great minds taking on a project not their own:
“The book originated in the suggestion of a publisher; as many more good books have done than the arrogance of the man of letters is commonly included to admit. Very much is said in our time about Apollo adn Admetus, and the impossibility of asking genius to work within prescribed limits or assist and alien design. But after all, as a matter of fact, some of the greatest geniuses have done it, from Shakespeare botching up bad comedies and dramatizing bad novels down to Dickens writing a masterpiece as the mere framework for a Mr. Seymour’s sketches. Nor is the true explanation irrelevant to the spirit and power of Dickens. Very delicate, slender, and bizarre talents indeed incapable of being used for an outside purpose, whether of public good or of private gain. But about very great and rich talent there goes a certain disdainful generosity which can turn its hand to anything. Minor poets cannot write to order; but very great poets can write to order. The larger the man’s mind, the wider his scope of vision, the more likely it will be that anything suggested to him will seem very significant and promising.”

On modern fantasy:
“There is no reason within reason, why literature should not describe the demonic as well as the divine aspect of mystery or myth. What is really remarkable is that in modern fiction, in an age accused of frivolity, in an age perhaps only too headlong in its pursuit of happiness, or at least of hedonism, the only popular sort of fantasy is the unhappy fantasy. There is a certain amount of fantasy that is avowedly fantastic, in the sense of unreal; mostly in the form of fairy-tales ostensibly written for children. But, on the whole, when the serious modern novel has dealt with preternatural agency, it has not only been serious but sad . . .”

On magical tales:
“But in any case I am convinced that every deep and delicate treatment of the magical theme . . . will always be found to imply an indirect relation to the ancient blessing and cursing; and it is almost as vital that it should be moral as that it should not be moralizing. Magic for magic’s sake, like art for art’s sake, is found in fact to be too shallow, and to be unable to live without drawing upon things deeper than itself. To say that all real art is in black and white is but another way of saying that it is in light and darkness; and there is no fantasy so irresponsible as really to escape from the alternative.”

On the unity of the sexes in marriage:
“To put the matter in one metaphor, the sexes are two stubborn pieces of iron; if they are to be welded together, it must be while they are red-hot. Every woman has to find out her husband is a selfish beast, because every man is a selfish beast by the standard of a woman. But let her find out the beast while they are both still in the story of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Every man has to find out that his wife is cross—that is to say, sensitive to the point of madness: for every woman is mad by the masculine standard. But let him find out that she is mad while her madness is more worth considering than anyone else’s sanity.” 

On true sportsmanship:
“…healthy people will agree that you never enjoy a game till you enjoy being beaten at a game.” 

Yes, there are parts of this book that show their age (not in a good way), but most parts of this book that feel aged give that impression just because they hit on eternal truth. Occasionally I felt, "Hmm, he's trying to hit his word count here."  Or page count, or however daily allotment of effort from a journalist was calculated in those days. 

But those slow bits are a definite minority. On the whole, this collection is a delight. I can't imagine you'd regret diving into it.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Weekly Links: the "My Writer Friends are Awesome" edition

My first link this week is really exciting! (to me, anyway, but to you, too, if you like good fiction!)
My friend, Ann Dominguez, has just released her first novel!

You might know Ann from the Ordinary Time chapter of "Let Us Keep the Feast". And if you do, you know she writes clear, beautiful prose that makes you happy to be alive in the world.

Well, the same is true of her fiction. I had the honor of reading one of the first drafts of this novel, and it kept my attention throughout the whole story. I love how she marries the tense, commercial form of a thriller with acute observation of the rhythm and flow of ordinary, everyday work and relationships.

Also? She's a practicing physician herself, so you can count on the medical details of the thriller being accurate. :)

Anyway, here is a link for "The Match", a medical thriller by Ann Dominguez.  Enjoy!

Okay, now on to shorter reads . . .

-And now that I've mentioned Ordinary Time and the church year, here's an interesting little post on Advent: "The War on Advent". An excerpt:
For many centuries, Advent was a season of spiritual preparation before the Feast of Christmas. It began four Sundays before Christmas. Contrary to the practice of so-called Advent in many churches, it wasn’t focused on the story of the birth of Christ and the singing of carols. That’s for the Christmas season. Instead, Advent is a time of reflection, penitence, and preparation, not of celebration.

-A piece on freelance writers and ethics: "Wil Wheaton and Why I Won't Write for the Huffington Post Anymore".

-"How to Stage Your Home for Living" - this article has such a very, very good point:
So then, in the weeks prior to our house hitting the market, we spent numerous hours "stageing our home for the sale . . . I can't help but be struck by the irony of the situation. We spend countless hours getting our home into its best possible condition, only to leave it? Most of the time while staging our home for sale, I wondered why we had never put in the effort to stage our home for living. You know, so we could have actually enjoyed it more while we called it home.

"50 Things a Man Should Be Able to Do" - I thought this was much better than most lists of its sort.

Oh, this is wonderful! It's a reprint of an old interview with J. R. R. Tolkien, and reams could be written in response to every paragraph. Lovely.  "JRR Tolkien: I never expected a money success".  The bit I keep particularly chewing over and over again in my mind is this:

Some people have criticised the Ring as lacking religion. Tolkien denies this: “Of course God is in The Lord of the Rings. The period was pre-Christian, but it was a monotheistic world.” 
Monotheistic? Then who was the One God of Middle-earth? 
Tolkien was taken aback: “The one, of course! The book is about the world that God created – the actual world of this planet.”

"Evangelicals Need to Read Richard Hooker": this article hooked me as soon as I read the phrase: Think of him as Anglicanism's John Calvin. Of course I had to read it all! And so should you. :)

Finally, this isn't a proper link, really, but this last week's collect (from the Book of Common Prayer) was amazing. I was so glad to have it as part of my daily prayers and thought you all might appreciate it, too. Here it is:

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might
destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God
and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may
purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again
with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his
eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Have a great weekend, folks!

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, November 6, 2015

Our Library Haul, Episode II

As will surprise absolutely no one who knows me, I'm a bit behind on getting these up. :)

But here's our library haul!

It includes, for me:
-"Shadows of Self", by Brandon Sanderson. Read it, loved it, review coming soon.
-"Last Song Before Night", by Ilana C. Myer. Just started it - good so far.
-"Eleanor & Park", by Rainbow Rowell. Unfortunately for me, in requesting "Eleanor & Park", I didn't stop to see what language the book was in. And so, what I received was "Eleanor y Park", not "Eleanor and Park".  I can read Spanish, slowly and painfully and badly, but that wasn't what I had in mind for this novel . . . time to return and re-request!

And, for the children, we got:
-a plethora of Mo Willems, best-beloved author of my early readers, including "A Big Guy Took My Ball", "Let's Go for a Drive", and "The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?"
-"The Search for Delicious", by Natalie Babbitt.
-A quartet of books for my budding scientist: "Key Discoveries in Engineering and Design", "Chemical Engineering and Chain Reactions", "Working in Engineering", and "Air travel: science, technology, and engineering".  (Yes, he actually reads these. If anyone out there is writing science lit for kids, my thanks to you! There really is an appreciative audience it, and that audience lives at my house.)
-"Home" - because we like seeing our mind-candy movies for free, thank you very much.

Have you found anything fun at the library lately? Tell me about it in the comments!

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, November 4, 2015

I made a pair of earrings!

So I have been slowly (oh, so slowly) decluttering our home.

And one of the first places I decluttered was a bookshelf in our living room which held, strangely:

-children's novels
-video game discs
-crafting supplies

As I worked my way through the crafting stuff, I discovered that I own quite a few supplies for beading.

I organized all the beading stuff, throwing away things I thought I'd never use, and trying to get the rest of it into a condition where it would be easy to use, if I ever got the urge to make myself some jewelry.

The thing is, I got the urge to make jewelry while I was organizing.

Here is the result:

These earrings are the product of:
1) A pair of terribly glitzy old costume earrings. I pulled the pearl-drop beads off of a matrix of faux diamonds and some sort of silvery metal. (I wish I'd gotten a picture before I pulled them apart! They were a very 90s concoction)
2) Basic craft supplies. In this case: gold earring wires and a couple of headpins.

The result is something simple and lovely. It didn't take much skill - I'm a knitter, not a jewelry-maker. But all I had to do was thread the headpins through the beads, and twist them so that they hung properly on the ear-wires (which I did not make, but bought).

And now you can all enjoy my non-existant selfie skills, and see what they look like on:

Sorry for the blur!  Along with being a knitter, not a jeweler, I am a knitter and not a photographer!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Long thoughts on short stories

The fun of writing short stories is that you can write the “what if?”, but you don't have to write the whole arc. You can write a disaster, but you don’t have to solve it.  If in a novel (at least, in my novels), you have to have the triumph of the hero who struggles against a tragedy, in a short story you can just depict the tragedy itself.

The short story form is freer. You don’t – ha! – you don’t have to tell the whole story. Yes, it has to have movement. You have to have a change, or a decision, or a revelation. It’s not a static scene. That’s not interesting. It has to have movement.

But for someone like me, who believes that the story of, well, everything has, at its heart, a redemptive arc, and that that arc is at the heart of every good story – or that it at least has to be possible (there are tragedies where redemption is refused) – the short story allows for more experimentation. Because it's not the whole thing. It’s a small sliver. It’s a piece. It’s five minutes of the two-hour movie. It’s a scene.

And it better be a compelling scene. It better matter, it better mean something . . . but it doesn’t carry the weight that a longer piece of art – like a novel – has to carry. It can’t.

It can let you feel something – let you feel something exquisitely – without explaining all the rest of it. You get a little piece. It’s a sketch, a snippet, a sample.

And it’s fun to get to do that, especially when you’re used to writing things that take you months and months to complete. It’s fun to do something quick – something whose composition takes you a day, an hour – maybe only a few minutes.

I imagine the feeling is similar to what artists who work on 6’ canvases in oils feel when they get to do a 5-min. watercolor sketch.

Sometimes, short stories come out of “this feels like a little idea. I want a little canvas for it.”
Sometimes, short stories come out of the “this feels like a big idea, but I just want to highlight this tiny piece of it.”

They’re their own art form. And I’m not arguing that the short story is either inferior or superior to the novel.

It’s just that, as a novelist who’s now experimenting with shorter forms, I’m enjoying figuring out what works here, and why it works.

It’s fun!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell