Saturday, July 29, 2017

July Reading List

I have three books this month I really enjoyed and two for which I have very mixed feelings, but mostly I didn't like.  Both of those were by the same author.

The first book I really enjoyed was Mountain Top by Robert Whitlow.  So I had apparently read this book before, back in 2007. Usually once I get a ways into a book I start to remember it if I've read it before, but I didn't remember this one at all. I really enjoyed it, though. Robert Whitlow writes about the law scene, but he also has a lot of the supernatural in his books. In this particular book, a pastor who had formerly been a lawyer and who still has his license, takes on the case of an older man who dreams dreams that have meaning. Taking on this case pro bono results in trouble at his church, but becomes a life-changing experience for both him and his wife. It is really a story of renewal and revival.

The second book (and third, but I didn't finish the third one) was The Color Purple and The Temple of My Familiar both by Alice Walker.  is one of those books I've heard a lot about, so when I saw it free on Kindle I decided now was my chance to read it. So, I'm going to go against the flow here and say that I don't understand all the accolades this book gets. On the one hand, Alice Walker is a good writer and she definitely tells a story that needs to be told, a story of abuse and of anger. However, there was so much about the book I was uncomfortable with: too many sex scenes, approval of homosexuality (though you could see how Celie would be uncomfortable in relationships with men), and sleeping around. Those things I could actually understand as a real picture and a story that needs to be told. But the whole pantheistic view of God .... enjoying the color purple in nature is god, etc. I think many reviews I've read point out how Celie found God; but I think you'd have to say she found a god. So, if you read this, be touched by the story, but please don't let it inform your theology! I also tried to read The Temple of My Familiar, but I COULD NOT get into it at all. I almost never don't finish a book, but three chapters in and I was done. I just gave up on it.

The third book was Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace by Jan Johnson.  The Songhai people have a proverb that says, "One foot can't follow two paths". This is the theme in Jan Johnson's book, Abundant Simplicity. She encourages us as believers to have a "single eye". What is my focus in life, my goal, my aim? If that aim is to live a life that is glorifying to God and treasuring a relationship with Him, then we need to live simply so we don't focus on all the stuff we have, on all the junk we need to take care of, on all the ways we are trying to impress or to please others. Though Mrs. Johnson gives suggestions of ways to live simply at the end of each chapter, she also says that how you choose to live simply will differ from how others live simply and will differ at different times of your life. For example, simplicity may involve having only one car. But if only one car means hours of inconvenience for somebody in your family, then maybe having two cars will actually contribute to simplicity. Mrs. Johnson gives a lot to think about and my big take-away from the book was learning to ask myself three questions: What do I want? What do I REALLY want? What am I longing for?  I highly recommend this book, but I'll be the first to say that you need to already be at a certain point emotionally where you are ready to give up clutter, confusion, and chaos. If you thrive on those things, maybe this book isn't for you. 

The other book by Alice Walker I read was Possessing the Secret of JoyPossessing the Secret of Joy came bundled with The Color Purple and The Temple of My Familiar, but I am treating this as a separate review. Again, Alice Walker tells a story that needs to be told: that of female genital mutilation. However, the way the story was told was not appealing to me, mainly because the author was all over the place. Each chapter was told by a different character, which was fine, but I could not figure out where they were or what was happening. The story didn't seem to follow a logical progression. In the end it finally made sense, but it was hard getting there! Ms Walker's pantheistic theology is again seen in this book: "Was woman herself not the tree of life? And was she not crucified? Not in some age no one even remembers, but right now, daily, in many lands on earth?" "Religion is an elaborate excuse for what man has done to women and to the earth." If you want to learn more about FGM, go ahead and read this. Otherwise, I don't really recommend it. (By the way, FGM is practised among some groups in Niger, but not among the Songhai.) Ironically, this book left me depressed, not possessing joy!  In fact, I'm not sure who in this book ever possessed joy.

The final book was Saving Grace. I enjoyed this book. I think it was a bit long and wordy in places and could have been tightened up, but for a first novel published when the author was only 22, I think overall it's outstanding. I'm looking forward to reading more books written by Ms Phillips and I am hopeful that her writing style will get better and better. The story itself was good, but it did take until past the middle of the book for the plot to get to the point where you couldn't put the book down. I do recommend this book! 

Happy reading!


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Making Us Feel Right at Home

It has been two weeks since we left Niger, but it sure seems like it's only been a few days.  On the other hand, it seems ages ago.  I think it's partly because it always seems like we have completely left one world for another.  It's hard to take in all that that switch involves.

Well, Pennsylvania wanted to make sure we felt right at home so that we could make an easier adjustment.  Late Thursday afternoon a massive thunderstorm rolled through.  We could barely see all the way across our yard because it was raining so hard.  We didn't notice that it was that windy but it did knock over our patio table and umbrella.  Then the lights flashed off, but came right back on.  A few minutes they went off again, but didn't come back on. 

A tree had broken and fallen on the power lines.  The power company was called right away.  We were assured they would come as soon as they could.  I should also mention that we are on a well, so when the power goes off, we don't have water, either.











Meanwhile, it was supper time, but we have an electric stove, so we couldn't cook on that.  It was just sprinkling a bit by then, so I fired up the grill and cooked brats and pierrogies.  Our grill also has one burner on it, so I cooked some carrots on that (I had some water in the fridge to use for boiling the carrots).  We ate in the semi darkness in side.


 



When we were done eating, we took a walk down the drive to see the fallen tree.  We called my sister for her birthday.  We talked to the neighbors.  We burnt some trash.  We waited some more for the power to come on.  By then it was around 8:30 and still no power, so we ran to the store and got some bottled water and a battery-powered lantern. 

Even though we went to bed stinky (John had been out running just before the storm), we slept ok because there was a nice breeze and, well, you know, we don't really call this weather hot.  The worst part was that we couldn't flush the toilet.  Ewww.  Oh, we also bought hand-sanitzer on our run to the store.




Well morning came and still no power.  Don, the manager here, brought us pond water with which to flush the toilet (whew!).  He also went around with a small generator and gave everybody's fridge about an hour on the generator.  Things stayed really cold and the freezer stuff didn't really thaw at all.

Finally, mid-afternoon, the power company came.  It was actually two trucks that came up from Harrisburg.  They said that there were so many trees down on lines in this area, that they had to come in as reinforcements.  So, all in all, we were about 20 hours without power or water.  Yep, we felt right at home!

You can read more about the storm here.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Why We Don't Take Your Prayers for Granted

As missionaries, we realize the importance of surrounding ourselves and our work with people who will pray regularly for us.  I think we must be unaware of how often God answers prayer.  But sometimes it's really obvious!

Last week we went up to the village where we used to live to visit our friends there.  On the way home, I was driving.  I had a thought, which I am positive God put into my mind, that if you ever have a tire blow out, don't stomp on the brakes.  Maybe it was something my dad once told me when he was teaching me to drive....I'm at least sure he told me to not over-react in situations where you could lose control of the car.  Anyway, I believe that God brought this to mind.

Not 20 minutes later, there was a horrific BOOM!!!! and pieces of things were banging up against the car and went flying by.  I said something like, "The car is falling apart" and John replied, "You've had a blow-out."  Thankfully I knew not to slam on the brakes.  It seemed like forever, though, before the car finally stopped.




Thankfully it stopped in a place with a wide shoulder so we could get mostly off the road (in some places there isn't much of a shoulder).  Also, there were no people walking along the road.  And we had a young man with us in the car who could help change the tire.  And we are thankful that our spare was good.




When we got out, a bit shakily, mind you, we saw that the tire had completely blown and then shredded.  Nothing was left attached to the rim.  The plastic cover of the wheel well, the mud flap, and the side turn signal had all been ripped off.    It took a lot of effort to get the rim off as it had somehow tightened the lugs as well.


 





While John and our friend changed the tire, I walked back along the road and picked up the plastic pieces.  I left the chunks of tire beside the road.

 

We always pray before starting a trip.  It's not a magic charm or a way of controlling God for the outcome.  But that prayer before starting a trip does show our humbleness and reliance on God, it makes us aware that our lives are in His hands, and when we are saved from disaster, we know right away who to thank.






 


 

So, thank you, Father, for keeping us safe.  Thank you to all of you who pray for us!