Posted in Book Review

The Road is Confusing

“and they hummed of mystery.”

The last words of The Road by Cormac McCarthy ring true for the entire book. It’s a book of mystery, but it’s one I want to solve.

The story is simple: a man and his son travel south through a world where most people are dead and food is scarce. It’s been this way since as long as the boy can remember. Occasionally they meet another traveler, but they rarely want to meet someone else.

The meaning is complicated. The book is definitely about place, specifically a very lonely place. The world is covered in ash. Humans seem to have died right where they were. It feels like a desert when they’re traveling. They never seem to reach their destination.

His writing style is also very curious. The book is full of simple sentences. The dialogue is concise. The narration describes the world precisely. He lacks quotation marks, almost as if to flow speech with thought. Contractions which contain “not” lack an apostrophe, which might indicate an emphasis on the negative or that the negative simply is part of the word.

Having finished this book within the past hour, I am still pondering its meaning and purpose. If someone has read it, I’d love to discuss it with you. If you’re not connected to me personally, shoot me an email at multicatableblog@gmail.com.

Happy Reading!

Posted in Book Review

Southernmost: Controversial

There are some books that become more than just leisure reads because they open internal dialogue as well as create space for external dialogue. Silas House’s newest novel Southernmost does just that. The novel centers around a country preacher whose estranged brother is openly gay. After a huge flood covers his community, religious people in the community begin to think there is a connection between the legalization of gay marriage and the flood. There is great turmoil within the main character’s church when he speaks out openly in favor of loving the gay couple who have begun attending their church.

As always, House’s writing style is incredible. He creates scenes that are crystal clear by vividly describing the scenario. The plot is developed in such a way that the reader can feel the turmoil within and around the characters, much the way the opening paragraphs describe the flood waters rising. Hints to the culture arise through references to songs, poems, and news create a multi-sensory reading experience. For its literary quality alone, it’s a good book.

The parts that created the most turmoil in me were the beliefs expressed within the book. Now I am a reader who is okay with reading viewpoints that contradict my own, but when a writer expresses clearly controversial topics, it is good to create a space for dialogue. This book obviously expresses the belief that the gay lifestyle is acceptable and a couple of methods that churches tend to use to respond. While I do not think the gay lifestyle is pleasing to God, I can see some valid points in the book about how the church should respond to people living this lifestyle. In the book, the preacher remembers the experience his brother had coming out to his family, which eventually led to the estrangement of his brother from the family. When a gay couple comes to their house during the flood seeking shelter, he feels a conviction to help them while his wife feels strongly that sheltering them would equate with condoning their lifestyle. In this instance, I would lean more toward the preacher’s perspective. There are ways to show love to people who are living with sin, whether it be homosexuality or lying, that don’t require us to condone the sin. The church in this novel wants to throw the men out and shun them, but to me that doesn’t show the love of Christ. Jesus mingled with sinners in order to show them the forgiveness and redemption of God. As a church, we don’t have to condone their sin nor do we have to judge them; our job is to love all people in order to point them to God, the ultimate judge of souls. If we love sinners (because we must admit that we still sin even after being redeemed by Christ), we can point them toward God who can work in their hearts to bring them to righteousness better than our condemning words could ever do. For more on this topic see the book Messy Grace and my accompanying post about the book.

Another more troubling aspect of this book are the spiritual aspects presented through the character of the preacher’s son. There are several chapters entitled The Everything that show the turmoil about the son’s beliefs concerning God. At one point the boy says “Dad I believe in God, but I don’t believe in church.” At another point the book narrates, “The ocean is a mystery and so is God. They are both so big we cannot see all of them at the same time but we can catch pieces of them her and there. Justin believes God is big like the ocean. Even bigger. But lots of people don’t. They think he’s small enough to fit in a church house or an offering plate or an ancient book. He’s not, and his mind is even bigger than him.” At this point it just seems like the boy is trying to figure out who God is in relation to the religious fanatics in his church who turn away his dad for preaching a message they don’t like. At this point, I was standing okay with his turmoil, but then about halfway through the book, the boy begins to think along the lines of what I understand to be pantheism. The most telling quote that demonstrates this belief is “This is the kind of talk that would horrify his mother, but he believes God is in everything and everybody. Pieces of him. He doesn’t just mean the spirit, he means the actual chunks of God… The ocean is God but so are we all.” While God’s nature is expressed in nature and God is omnipresent, the equation does not go the other way. Nature and humans are not God. That leads to worship of things other than God, which is idolatry. For more on this, check out this very short and to the point article.

Finally, there is a part of me that wonders if there is a small commentary on the effect of broken homes. The boy only begins questioning his faith when his parents have such trouble that causes them to split. The young child watches his father question his faith and his mother cling harder to hers and tries to make sense of what he should believe. No one thinks to talk with him about what is really happening in his world, so naturally he starts to try to figure it out on his own. I’m not saying that divorce always leads to losing faith in God, but divorce definitely affects children in all different ways. In this instance, it seems to have led this small child down a path of spiritual ambiguity. If there had been someone to guide him through this process, he might have known the truth about God’s nature rather than the conclusions he came to on his own.

While I respect the writing and opinions of this book, it is not a book I would openly suggest to anyone. If you choose to read it, appreciate the literary value but be cautious of the theological impacts. Be sure to keep your eyes fixed on God while reading. It’s a good book for creating dialogue, but, if you are a believer of God, take caution in your dialogue so as to demonstrate love to those who disagree and maintain your own beliefs.

Posted in Book Review, Devotion

Fleeing from Anxiety

What if he doesn’t show up? What if I don’t like it? What if I forget that? What if I can’t get them under control? And the list goes on.

I often find myself thinking through every detail and possibility of the future in order to attempt to avoid embarrassment or failure. That’s worry. It’s not so much that my fleeing thoughts of worry or anxiety are a sin but that they potentially keep me from trusting God if I don’t push them away. Reading Max Lucado’s Anxious for Nothing helped me think through my reaction to worrisome thoughts that pop into my mind.

My anxiety stems from a lack of control. I worry when I don’t know exactly how a future situation will pan out. As Lucado points out, those initial thoughts aren’t the problem. It’s what I do after those thoughts that counts. I can either continue to dwell in that dark place and panic, or I can praise God.

I’ll admit, the idea of praising God when I’m anxious seems crazy and a bit impossible, but it’s Biblical.

Rejoice in the Lord always, again I’ll say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to all. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything, but instead in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-6

The solution is clear: rejoice, be thankful, pray, and allow God’s peace to take over.

Here’s an example. The first day of school always makes me nervous, even though this will be my third year of teaching and my fourth first day of school as a teacher. As the day grows closer, worries about classroom management, likeability, and content knowledge will seep into my thoughts. I can be completely prepared physically, but mentally I will still have anxieties. Knowing what I do about Philippians 4 and remembering Lucado’s admonitions, I should replace those worrisome thoughts with gratitude and prayer to God. Every time they pop up, I need to say a little prayer and breathe a breath of gratitude because my God is in control.

God is in control.

Then comes the second part that helps the peace stick in my mind. Paul goes on to say,

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things. Philippians 4:7-8

Once I’ve given the worries to God through prayer, I have to let them go. The easiest way to let go of something and not grab it back is to fill your hand, or brain in this scenario, with something else. In almost any situation, there is something true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise. On that first day of school, I can focus on the opportunity I have to minister to my students, the training I have received, or the successes of my peers. Even if I’m in a situation where it’s really hard to find something else to think on, I can always think on God because he fills all of those requirements.

If worry and anxiety plague you, even just on occasion, I’d encourage you to get your hands on a copy of Max Lucado’s Anxious for Nothing, or at the very least, start memorizing Philippians 4:4-8. Christians, let’s show the world that, because of God, we don’t have to live constantly in worry.

N.B. I do want to clarify that I recognize the difference between anxious thoughts and and clinical diagnosis of anxiety. While I believe God can overcome a mental illness, I don’t want to simplify anyone’s pain or anxiety.

Posted in A Letter, Book Review, Class, Literature

Dear me,

One beauty of summer break is having time to read an entire book in one sitting. I know it’s only June, but I’m already looking forward to next school year. One of my favorite writing projects of the year is the letter to your future self. At the start of the year I ask the students to write a minimum of five paragraphs in letter form. I give them a topic for each paragraph and review letter form. It’s a simple assignment with the purpose of reflection and to give me an idea of their writing abilities and style. It also serves as a great back up writing assignment for when students inevitably enter the school at the tail end of a larger writing project later in the year. I grade this assignment for completion, checking that they’ve addressed each part of the letter and followed letter format. Then we put the letters in an envelope and hide them away in the cabinet.

Watching the students read their letters, along with a letter I wrote to each of them, at the end of last year was sweet and funny. Some were pleasantly surprised to see they’d accomplished goals such as making honor roll or passing all of their classes. Some chuckled as they read their adorations of some guy or girl who wasn’t so important to their lives at the close of the year.

Even though I’d planned to do this writing assignment again, reading Dear Me sparked an idea to make this project more reflective. Dear Me by Warren Hanson is a 77-page series of letters between a young person and the older version of that person. The young person wonders about her future, while the older person gives general advice about how to live. It was quick read that left me thinking about reflection. After the students receive their letters back at the end of the year, an end of the year assignment should be to reflect upon this letter and respond with a Dear Younger Me letter. This could also be worked into a class wide letter to the upcoming sophomores.

I just love when my casual reading connects to my teaching life. Now I’m off to write my Letter to My Future Self and my Dear Younger Me letter for this point in my life. And of course I need to listen to Matthew West’s song of that title.

Posted in Book Challenge, Book Review

The Great American Read

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me. -C.S. Lewis

With that statement being true for me, you can only imagine my excitement when I first heard about The Great American Read, hosted by PBS. Firstly, book lists make me excited because I want to see how many I’ve read, but then secondly, I get to vote and prove to other people that my favorite books are awesome as well!? It’s an English major/teacher’s favorite fantasy.

Speaking of teaching, I can totally see this being an interactive bulletin board in my classroom. I can put up copies of the book covers and let the students cast their votes within the classroom, while also encouraging them to vote online in their free time. Who knows, maybe it’ll inspire them to read some of the books they haven’t read? It might also be interesting to see if any students have read more of these books than I have.

So now are you curious about which book I’ll vote for and how many I’ve read? Well, it made me feel better to know that I can vote for a different book each day because choosing just one book on this list would be extremely hard. I mean, The Chronicles of Narnia, To Kill A Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, and Little Women are listed. I’ve used all of those books as answers to the inevitable “what’s your favorite book?” question.

Let’s start first with the number of books I have read. Out of 100, I’ve only read a dismal 44. This brought me spiraling back to my lifelong conundrum of never having enough time to read all of the books out there. Then I started looking at some of the books I haven’t gotten around to reading that I really need to. For example, why did I never finish Catch-22 or Heart of Darkness? Why did I spend time reading Moby-Dick when I still haven’t read The Lord of the Rings? Oh I can answer that question: Melville was required reading for a class. Then there are some like Jurassic Park that I didn’t even know were books. Overall, I’m impressed with the list that Americans chose and hope to get my hands on these and understand the American mind even more.

So, the book I will choose to vote for? I think I will have to begin my voting with Narnia because technically I’m voting for seven books that way. I also think more people need to read the books and not focus on the movies as much. After that it’ll be a toss-up between Mockingbird and Jane Eyre. Some others that might catch votes include Little Women, A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Giver, Gone with the Wind (that thing is monstrous!), and The Handmaid’s Tale.

Go to pbs.org/greatamericanread to get your own list and cast your vote(s).

Happy reading!

IMG_20180613_131917

Posted in Book Review

Everything, Everything

Occasionally a young adult novel surprises me with its depth. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon is the latest to do that. She fills the novel with a likable, intelligent young lady who narrates her curious life alongside memorable side characters. The cast of characters is kept small, so it’s easy to feel close to each of the four main characters. The intermittent drawings, completed by Yoon’s husband, provide even further insight into Madeline’s character.

The novel is told from the perspective of 18 year old Madeline, who was diagnosed with SCID at a young age. This rare disease means that being in the outside world would make her extremely sick. She lives in a air controlled house with her mother and nurse. No one comes in without a thorough decontamination process. All of her books come cleaned and in shrink wrap. She completes classes via online tutors. Then a family moves in next door, and the interesting teenage boy catches her attention. Everything changes, and she starts to ponder a different future for herself in which she could love someone outside of her house.

My only question or complaint about the book is the fact that Madeline is 18 and still continuing high school classes, even at the end of the novel, which is about 6 months after the start. Yes, there are some seniors in public school who are 18, but Madeline has done all of her school work independently. She’s obviously bright and spends many hours a day studying. I feel like it would have been more plausible to either put her a year younger (although that would have messed up the idea of her applying for a secret credit card) or have her studying college material.

All in all I look forward to watching the film version and hopefully seeing a sequel in the future. I’d enjoy seeing her future life. No spoilers here, though, about what that future might hold.

Unfortunately (fortunately) finishing this book means I now have to re-read a few other books to decipher the reasons she referred to them so often. The first is The Little Prince, which I only vaguely remember. She says its meaning changes everytime she reads it, so re-reading shouldn’t be a bore for me. The second is Flowers for Algernon which I imagine has a relation to how she feels trapped in her own body. I’ve got it on hold from the Overdrive app, so if you’re that person who has it checked it out and not actively reading it, please return it.

Posted in Book Review, Devotion

Identity

“The truth is you have been made perfect and are wholly loved. Chosen simply because you breathe, because you exist, because of who created you. I know this world has led you to believe that your worth is measurable. Life has always told you that lie–that you have to work for love or change to be accepted. But the truth is different.” The Choosing by Rachelle Dekker

This novel contains a life-giving message about our identity in Christ. Told through the perspective of a rejected young girl in a society where women’s sole purpose is to be chosen by a man and then to be his wife, The Choosing teaches that while God did lay out certain gender roles he did not mean for those to be our identity as humans. Let me explain by getting a bit more personal.

I’m almost 26, and I’ve only dated a handful of times. I’m not married, and it’s not as if I have guys knocking at my door wanting to get to know me. Sometimes I look at myself and wonder, “what’s wrong with me that guys don’t want to get to know me?” I can imagine I’m not the only girl or woman to ask that question. In fact, Stasi Eldredge describes it as the “am I enough?” question asked by every girl or woman (see Captivating if you’re interested in this question more). Her idea is that women are designed with that question inside; hopefully their father answers the question at a young age by loving and valuing the girl. She admits though that often the question is not fully answered, leaving many woman wondering why they’re not enough. Ultimately, it’s God who must answer that question for women. God says to me and all women, “yes, you are enough. There is nothing wrong with you because I created you just the way you are. My Son’s blood covered all of your sins and guilt. You are beautiful, chosen, and loved, my dear child.” Hmm…take a moment to drink that in.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you. Song of Songs 4:7

Even though this novel has a futuristic dystopian setting, the world in which Carrington finds herself mirrors our world in many ways. In this future world after a disease wipes away much of the population, the Authority has set up rules for living according the Veritas, which is essentially the Old Testament.  At a certain age, girls participate in a Choosing ceremony in which they are either chosen by a young man to be his wife or sent to the Stacks to work manual labor. Families are assigned social status based upon where they live. Basically a person’s worth is determined by his or her social status, or a woman’s worth is determined by her ability to attract a male of higher social status than the one in which she was born.

The “truths” in this world match our world in that we are told our identity and worth are dependent upon what we do for a living, our social status, or sometimes even our marital status. Culture preaches that my life isn’t really started as an adult until I marry and start a family. As Carrington discovers in the novel, that’s not the truth. Our identity is not based upon any of these worldly aspects. Simply because I live and breathe, God sees value in me. He chose me as someone worthy of his love. He thinks I am beautiful and worth pursuing. Once we each accept his unearned love, we are free from the bonds of the world.

What if you could abandon all of the labels the world has placed on you? Who would you be then?

Sometimes we forget God’s truths though. We start to chase after a higher paying job, a more esteemed social status, or a relationship. We forget that God has already established our identity, and we do do not need any of these other factors. That’s when we must remember again. As the character called Aaron, who functions as the speaker of God’s truths, says,

Life is a journey of remembering and forgetting one’s true self.

Thankfully God is always there to welcome me back into his arms just like the prodigal son’s father welcomed him.

I am loved, chosen, pursued, and cherished by God.