Book Joy

One of my favourite things about the blog world at this time of year is the lists of recommended books. I’m curious to see what people recommend and it’s fun to find a book that really captures my fancy.

I’ve blogged about quite a few books over the last number of months, but I’ve also read others which, for one reason or another, haven’t got a mention here. So here are two further books that I particularly enjoyed this year but which haven’t got a mention to date.

Numero uno is The Good God: Enjoying Father, Son and Spirit by Michael Reeves. (Confusingly enough, it’s published in the United States as Delighting in the Trinity.)

Yes, it’s about the trinity, but don’t let that make you think it’s dry or heavy-going or irrelevant to your day-to-day life. Rather, this brief and easy-to-read book is the most beautiful extended description of God that I’ve ever read. We say “God is love”, but this book shows you what that really means. What difference does the trinity make? All the difference in the world, Reeves says. Read The Good God to find out why.

Here is an extract to give you a flavour of what you’re in for.

The very nature of the triune God is to be effusive, ebullient and bountiful; the Father rejoices to have another beside him, and he finds his very self in pouring out his love. Creation is about the spreading, the diffusion, the outward explosion of that love. This God is the very opposite of greedy, hungry, selfish emptiness; in his self-giving he naturally pours forth life and goodness. He is, then, the source of all that is good, and that means he is not the sort of God who would call people to himself away from happiness in good things. Goodness and ultimate happiness are to be found with him, not apart from him.

The second one is C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.

This is captivatingly written (it is Lewis, after all!) and thought-provoking, truth-filled theological fiction. Much of it is a series of conversations between people and Spirits from heaven, and each of those people has to make a decision whether to go towards heaven or turn away from it. I don’t have the book to hand as I borrowed it from a friend, but I believe that what comes out so clearly is the things people hold on to—cling to—refuse to give up—even in the face of the possibility of eternal joy that is presented to them.  Lewis paints things so vividly. Our horrible, fateful self-centeredness. The glory of God and of heaven. The fact that there is no trifling and no middle ground.

This quote (thanks, goodreads!) expresses that so well.

“If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”

So… if you were in need of book suggestions…

Why, you’re welcome!




Why, Martin Luther, of course!

The other day SJ and I watched a film  based on the life of Martin Luther.  It’s been a while since I’ve read much about Luther’s life, so I can’t say how accurate it was down to the details. (Actually, I take that back: Wikipedia kindly provides a list of inaccuracies. So long as we can assume the writer or writers know what they’re talking about, all is well.) I did think Luther on screen was considerably better-looking than Luther would have been in real life, but that’s hardly surprising. More surprising was that that most famous of all phrases in Luther’s life, “the just shall live by faith” was not mentioned once. While the film shows clearly that Luther trusted in Christ alone for salvation, it’s a bit strange that what we, looking back, consider to be his life’s battle cry, was not included.

That being said, I appreciated the film very much. It was well produced and acted and it made me think. Rather than giving you a plot outline, let me share some thoughts that it prompted and that SJ and I chatted about.

One striking thing for me (and this may sound a bit silly) is seeing historical characters looking so, well, real, and in such real settings. To remember that they’re just like any other person today (if rather more strikingly dressed). It’s not that I suffer from any doubt, theoretically speaking, that people such as Luther were not real people, but I guess somehow I forget it on a more practical level. Even a book cannot give the vividness that a film can here. I’m more of a book person that a film person, but even with a book, these people can still feel far away and impersonal. With a film, the flesh-and-blood-ness is harder to forget. They’re people, just like us, who coughed and sneezed and laughed and hugged and hoped and dreamed and feared and had bad hair days and all the rest of it. All the humanity of it. Of them.

And when you really realise they’re really real (not to repeat my words or anything) then you can better see how brave they are, and wonder whether you could be that brave too. Of course, Luther at the Diet of Worms (such an unfortunate name) is brave, but what struck me was the German electors, who told the Emperor that sooner than give up their faith, they would kneel before him for him to cut off their heads—and kneel before him they did, man by man. The emperor didn’t take them up on their invitation, but that doesn’t negate their bravery. (Apparently all the electors kneeling is one of the inaccurate parts. Ah well—it makes a good film scene and makes me think all the same.)

Such bravery in the face of great opposition. How small my own problems are in comparison! Sure, I have hard things to deal with, but no one has threatened my life yet because of my faith. Not even close. I have it so easy.

I have to mention the sweetest part in the film, almost at the very end, when Luther thinks that his enemies are about to pounce on him. He turns to his wife and says, “I am so happy to have been loved by you, Katherine von Bora.” Isn’t that precious? He does not tell her he loves her, although undoubtedly he did. It’s not about what he’s done at all. He is simply glad that this woman has loved him. There seems a humility in that which touches me. The undeservedness of love.

(Two cautions if you’re considering watching this particular film: there are some unpleasant scenes of dead bodies after the peasants’ revolt and a brief scene of a martyr being burned. Also, one of the men looking at Luther’s 95 theses on the church door takes God’s name in vain.)

I am glad that I do not have to face Luther’s challenges. I am glad to be reminded of what he and other brave men and women faced and overcame.

We are in their debt.

Of Lovely Things (2)

Lovely things, they keep coming. Even when I don’t notice them. Even when there are also far-from-lovely things. Things that make me angry and tearful and unsure what to do. But lovely things are still there. Sometimes they even come because of the hard things.

Loveliness is taking a walk in a country lane with the sky bright from a winter’s sunset. With bare branches dark and delicate against the sky, and a sliver of a moon.

Loveliness is curling up near a fire reading Pride and Prejudice during study time because I’m taking a Jane Austen course. (No matter that it’s my third time to read that book in just over a year. I’m still enjoying it.)

Loveliness is my little friend who is having a birthday soon. (She now has a blog name: Bets. As with SJ, there are reasons behind this name choice….) I remember holding Bets on my shoulder the day she was born, and now she’s almost eight years old, with long curly hair and a smile that would make a flower unfold, thinking it had seen the sun. She’s a caring big sister, she’s thoughtful and perceptive, and she knows how to tell a good story. (Nor is it unknown for her to indulge in some good-natured mimicry. I remember once, a long time ago now, her sitting on my lap and showing me just how her older brother had thrown up when he was sick….) She’s also a wonderful conversationalist. I could have a more enjoyable conversation with Bets than I could have with many a grown up. She’s a joy to know and she’s a special friend. So, happy birthday, Bets! May you continue to brighten the lives of many people.

Loveliness is also the kindness that has been shown to me and my family during this last week in particular. The large bouquet that arrived unexpectedly for my mother and for me. It has brightened the kitchen windowsill for days, beautiful in pink and green and white and purple, and today the first lily opened, white and pointed like a star. (I think it’s a lily, but I confess I don’t know much about flowers. Mine is a rather ignorant love.) The friends who have dropped by: one with flowers, one with homemade goodies, all three with hugs and kind words. The grace of it all has touched me. Such goodness is humbling.

Lovely things… to think on…. to treasure.