Saturday, April 29, 2017

April Reading List

I definitely read more books in April than I did in March!  That is partly because by the end of April I was almost, but not quite finished with a couple of books.

My first book was The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper, which I downloaded on my kindle for free.  The opening scene is the tranquil Glimmerglass Lake. A week, many adventures, and 576 pages later the book ends with Glimmerglass Lake once again as tranquil as it was before the adventures of Deerslayer took place. In the space of one week, there is mystery, romance, adventure, battle scenes, and Deerslayer becoming a warrior in his own right.

In reading this book, one must remember several things. First, it was the writing style in 1841 to write long, wordy, descriptive sentences. Today's modern reader may struggle with that, but I found the story itself worth all the extra verbiage.

Secondly, it's easy to see Deerslayer as racist or prejudiced. Deerslayer keeps referring to "white gifts" and "Indian gifts" and if one did not understand the time in which the book is written, it would be easy to assume that he was racist. However, Hurry Harry's view of Indians as being almost less than human was probably more the common view of the day, and it definitely is a racist view. Deerslayer sees Indians and whites as equal, though different. I'm sure that was quite a liberal view for 1841 and especially for the days of the French and Indian War which was the setting for the novel. I believe that if there had been more Deerslayers and fewer Hurry Harry's in America, there would have been fewer atrocities committed against the American Nations.

Thirdly, I love how Deerslayer is a Christian and he allows that to speak into all areas of his life. Even where I may disagree with his conclusions, Cooper paints Deerslayer as a man of convictions, of honesty, and of integrity. I did have a few problems with some of Deerslayer's conclusions, such as believing that all men will make it to "heaven" or to the "happy hunting grounds" or whatever they call it if they have followed their "god/God" and have lived a good life.

All in all, I enjoyed the book.

The second book was The Finding of Jasper Holt by Grace Livingston Hill, because every now and then you just need some super light reading.  Grace Livingston Hill books border on being corny, and yet I enjoy them! This book seems somewhat implausible ... the heroine and the hero survive a tragedy together; her purity and beauty inspire him to change; but even though he's a rogue, he turns out to not be so bad after all.

My third book for April was Emotionally Mature Spirituality by Peter Scazzero.  I had mixed feelings about this book. There were several things I didn't agree with and I won't list them all. But some of my objections were:
1. The title. It sounds like we have to be emotionally healthy before we can grow spiritually. I think on the converse, that when we give our lives to Jesus and allow the Spirit to work, that He can change our emotions and heal our baggage. I would have liked it better if it had been called Spiritually Healthy Emotions.
2. He was quite insistent that we have to know ourselves to know God. I agree and I don't agree. We do need to be aware of our utter despicable sinfulness to cry out to God to save us. But as we get to know God better and better, He points out the things in our lives that need to change, including emotional things.
3. I've not visited his church, so I don't want to be too critical. But I am always a little suspicious when church leadership promotes one way of doing extra-biblical things as the way it has to be done. I realize every church has its culture and perhaps a practice of mysticism to become healthy spiritually and emotionally is just part of their church culture. I don't know, but I am suspicious.
4. The idea of praying the "Jesus prayer" (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.) in time to your breathing just seems weird and new-agey to me.

Now, some good things to be said about the book.
1. There are many, many, many emotionally unhealthy people in our world. I don't think it's wrong to seek professional help to deal with poor emotional practices. If you go to a health professional for physical help and healing, why not go to a professional for emotional help and healing. It may be that this book helps you realize some areas where you need help. But again, I think it is God who helps you be aware of your need for help as you follow Him, and not that you need to be completely whole emotionally before you can know God.
2. One needs balance in following contemplative and mystical practices. But I found it helpful to be reminded that it's a good idea to set aside time throughout the day for prayer and Bible reading.
3. What a great reminder to keep the Sabbath!
4. The author does a great job of pointing out how often we as believers lie ("I'm fine", etc.) and how often we try to meet unrealistic expectations from others instead of just taking time to be with Jesus and do what He wants.

In conclusion, I would really only recommend this book to mature discerning Christians. I think there's too much poor theology that would confuse new believers. 

And the fourth book was Fall on Your Knees by Anne-Marie MacDonald.  This is a book about family relationships ... or maybe I should say dysfunctional family relationships. It deals with incest, abuse, homosexuality, racial prejudice, and trauma and its out-workings all in one book. Those are a lot of heavy subjects to put into one volume. I started out really liking the book and thankful that the author was able to write about dark, heavy subjects without crossing the line into lewdness and more information than we need to know. But the book got worse as it went on. Not only did Ms. MacDonald make the book much longer than it needed to be, but the family got weirder and weirder. I will say that Ms. MacDonald is an excellent writer and she kept me turning the pages until near the end when I started skimming because I really wanted to finish the book and it just seemed to go on and on. I never lost the plot by skipping pages! So, I didn't hate the book, but it's not one I would tell others they just really need to read.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Our Easter Celebration

When you think about it, Easter should be the most important celebration on the Christian calendar.  We remember Jesus' death and resurrection.  And it was both of those events that changed everything.  Unfortunately, for most of us, Easter is less of a celebration than Christmas, which is also important, of course.  Because if Jesus hadn't come to earth, he couldn't have died and rose again, either!

Every now and then I get nostalgic.  My Great Aunt Jeanette, who was one of my favorite people to ever live, loved holidays and always made them special.  In 2006 we were with her at her house for Easter.  By then she was about 89 years old, but she made sure we all dyed eggs together.  We also made a cake together for Easter dinner.  Her brother, my Great Uncle Carl, was visiting her from California.  The two of them really knew how to have fun.  I am so glad we spent Easter with them that year as it was the last time I ever saw either of them.

This picture is pretty typical of our years up in the village.  We'd have church on mats under the trees.  Afterwards the men would sit around and play cards or listen to music or sleep and the women would cook a big dinner.  Those are good memories, too, though sometimes those days were VERY hot (it's usually well over 100 degrees during the Easter season!) and so those days were exhausting.

Any way, on to this year's Easter, which will probably also be a year I'll never forget, though for entirely different reasons.  The Saturday before Easter, April 8, we went to an all-church concert at the biggest gathering place in Niger.  I took my camera, pulled it out to take pictures, and discovered that the battery was dead.  So I had to take photos with my cell phone, so they're not the greatest quality.

They had groups from different churches singing in different languages using traditional and modern instruments and styles.  There was a Zarma women's choir and they sang two songs two different ladies in the group had written.  That was really exciting for us as there has been a dearth of original songs in this language!  A lot of women in the audience got up and danced when they sang.  

The favorite group was definitely the Fulani.  They did a Wodaabe (a specific group of Fulani) style song.  The audience loved it! 

One group sang with a sort of desert blues style.  Others did more western-style singing.  All of them were enjoyed by the audience.  The cool thing about the concert was that all churches were invited.  The hall seats 1500 and it seemed that most of the seats were taken.

The Easter weekend started with Good Friday.  John found out Thursday night that he was to preach Friday night.  He managed to pull together a good message on Jesus' last words on the cross, with a special focus on "It is finished".  The French says it so much better than the English:  "Tout est accompli", which means "Everything is accomplished."  Everything that Jesus came to do was done.  Everything that we need for salvation and for living a holy life was done.  The final sacrifice was made.  There is nothing more to do but believe. 

The Saturday before Easter was crazy busy.  We went to our friend's son's wedding.  Some other friends went with us.  Our friend, "Moses", found us ladies a nice place to sit and food was brought to us.  It was pretty yummy, even if we did make a mess as only white people eating without spoons can do. Believe me, there is an art to eating with your hands and I don't have it!


Here is a picture of John with "Moses" and his family.  He has four wives and a bunch of kids.  In this picture are his wives, his mom, and just a few of his kids. I love how Nigeriens are so hospitable; wherever we go, we are treated like royalty, as are all the other guests.  The bridegroom, his son, had been in a bad motorcycle accident in January.  He had internal injuries and had to have surgery.  Thankfully he lived.


When we got home from that, John had his moolo lesson and I went grocery shopping.  After a quick lunch, John went to the doctoral defense of his friend, Nephtali.  He has been studying medicine with a specialty in ophthalmology.  After being grilled by the "jury", he was given "highest honors with congratulations by the jury".  Apparently when they say that, it's a pretty big deal and not something everybody gets, even if they pass.

That day was a big baking day for me.  I often spend much of Saturday trying to do cooking prep for the rest of the week, but that day I had an extra lot I was trying to do.  You know what they say about, if you can't stand the heat in the kitchen, get out?


Yeah, if I did that we'd never eat.  Yep, it was 95 degrees in there.

I put soup in the crock pot and then made corn bread to go with it.  I made two cakes for meetings coming up at the office this week, cookies for John, and hot cross buns for Easter breakfast. 


After eating our supper of soup (why soup when it's 95 in the kitchen?!) and corn bread, we went to a reception for Nephtali.  He is very musical so he and his friends did some singing, there was food, and, of course, speeches.  His mom, dad, siblings, and other relatives were able to come from Benin for the celebration.  John had met his mom and dad (pictured here talking to John) when he traveled to Benin with Nephtali.

Nephtali was singing and his mom danced up to the front and hugged him then she and I presume an aunt danced.  It was a very special and joyous occasion, but we did leave early because we were so tired.  We sure are going to miss this young man!  I know he will go far with God.

Easter morning we got up bright and early, ate our hot cross buns, and got to church in time for the 6:30 sunrise service.  

Immediately following the sunrise service, there was a baptism and two of the young people who attend our Bible study were baptized!  It was really a privilege to see them taking this step of obedience.

After the baptism, there was a breakfast.  Aren't they beautiful?  The joy of the resurrection is on their faces!

The breakfast was followed by a three-hour church service.  Our church has been through some hard times recently and as a result we "fasted" from having a lot of extra music.  We have had only the piano since December and no choir.  It was fitting that all the instruments were back and the choir sang to celebrate the most joyous day of the year!  The Sunday School children also did a presentation.  Amazing Grace was sung in English, French, and Hausa.  We had a message, the presentation of those who had been baptized, and communion. 

It was a full morning.  And did I mention that it's hot?  LOL.  We went home and had dinner and took long naps that afternoon!

What did you do for Easter?  I hope it was as memorable as ours.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Cooking Ex Nihilo: Making English Muffins

Living in a former French colony has its advantages when it comes to bread.  There's really nothing better than fresh baguette!  And then there are croissants and pain au chocolat, awesome in their buttery deliciousness.  As delicious and wonderful as these things are, every now and then one longs for a good old English muffin (which is probably more American than English!).

Now, I'm not gonna lie.  As with making any sort of bread-anything, there is a fair bit of time involved.  But a lot of the time is waiting for things to rise at which point you can do other things.  

I use a recipe in the More with Less Cookbook.  Since it's there, I won't write it out here, and I do encourage you to get a copy of that cookbook if you don't own it yet.  

I  cheat and make the dough in my bread machine, but it's easy enough to do by hand.  The main thing with dough, both in a machine and by hand, is to add the flour gradually.  If you add it all at once, it can get really tough and difficult to manage and will cook with the consistency of a rock.  You'll know you have the right amount of flour when the dough is no longer sticky and it is pliable and easy to manage. For some reason, the amount of dough the recipe calls for is not enough when made in my machine.

With English muffins, you let the dough rise and then punch it down and then cover it and let it sit for about 10 minutes.  You then roll it out and cut it into rounds.  

I used a large juice glass to cut my muffins, but you can also use a biscuit cutter.  Once you have them cut out, dip them into corn meal and place them on a pan to rise the second time.

English muffins are cooked on top of the stove, not in the oven.  We have a big griddle that fits over two burners and I can cook 8-10 muffins at a time.  The trick is to not have the heat too high or the muffins cook quickly on the surface but then they are gooey on the inside.

Once they are done, they are great with butter and jam.  We also like to make Egg McMuff*ns for a yummy breakfast sandwich.  They also freeze well.

These are not exactly like store-bought English muffins, but they are delicious, especially if you don't expect them to be exactly the same.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

March Book List

Well, y'all, this is going to be a very short blog!  I finished only one book during the month of March.  I also read most of a very long book, but that will be in the April list.

So my one and only book was called The Case for the Psalms:  Why They Are Essential written by N.T. Wright.  

N.T. Wright is passionate about using the Psalms in both private and corporate worship. His passion is contagious and I was reminded how seldom I am in the Psalms and was challenged again to be reading the Psalms each day; five Psalms a day.  On the day that you come to Psalm 119, just read that Psalm.

He shows how the Psalms relate to time, space, and matter: Time because they invoke the past and anticipate the future, Space because heaven and earth meet in the temple, and matter because God delights in all he has made.

I had a hard time staying engaged while reading, but that has more to do with my state of exhaustion than N. T. Wright's writing style, I'm sure. My favorite chapter was the last in which he relates real-life incidents from his life and how a particular Psalm spoke to him in a meaningful way during those times.

As a result of reading this book, I am researching sung recordings of the Psalms to listen to.  Is anybody familiar with the Psalms Project?  That looks interesting to me.  A google search for "psalms in song" or something to that effect, also revealed a Psalm Project Africa.  This is an Ugandan group setting the Psalms to music and they all have an African flavor.  How cool is that?  Is anybody else familiar with either of these?  I was just thinking how neat it would be to fill your home with Scriptures set to music on a daily basis.  Kids would learn not only about God, but they would be memorizing the very Word of God as they listen.  I will definitely be downloading all of these CDs when I return to the land of good internet!  I would also like to look for oral readings of the Psalms.  Any suggestions for other music compilations of the Psalms or of oral readings?