Sunday, March 10, 2019

Prairie Fires Book Review

Written by Caroline Fraser,  Prairie Fires is a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, her parents, grandparents and daughter couched in a history and discourse of the American frontier.
The biography finds purchase in the final third of the book, describing how the Little House books came about.
In most of the reviews I've read, Little House fans adored Prairie Fires. They cut their 'reading teeth' on Wilder's books, many learning how to read from the Little House books along with how to accomplish many other frontier tasks. I don't disagree that Wilder helped form the frontier conscience of our nation, but I think this was unwitting on her part.
Wilder was not my first read. In fact, my mother tried to get me to read the Little House books but I found the work tedious and too shiny. (Funnily enough, I found Prairie Fires tedious also.) I knew even at five and six years of age, that I was being forced to swallow the Pollyanna without much story. I just couldn't find a footing in the books and if the books were bad the television series was deplorable. My tastes ran more to fantasy, which I knew wasn't real and enjoyed it all the more for it. I mention all of this 'me' stuff because I am an unreliable reviewer for this book.
I admired Fraser's research but became bored with her preaching about the sins of early American governments. This nation is an easy target and often exploited. But as a writer she is surely entitled to her own soap box. I just thought the book would have been a much better read without the discourse.
The other thing I took issue with was the pressure of the 'truth.' Wilder wrote rosy children's books. I think it would be clear that she had help writing them and that she kept to the sunny-side of major tragedies. I see no reason to dive into Wilder's past in order to state the obvious and be so exercised about it that countless references fill the book. Maybe this is unfair to Fraser who is a talented writer and remarkable scholar. Like I said, I am an unreliable reviewer.
So why read the book? If you are interested in the American frontier, read this book. Farser's research is superb.
If you treasured Wilder's series, read the last third of the book. It is a well detailed story, if a bit skewed against Rose. Perhaps Rose was a quarter bubble short of plumb. I am not so convinced in this telling, which seems to rely on Rose's political views as much as other facts. But I did enjoy how Wilder developed her stories and her skills.
The final reason to read this book is to join the discussion which is full and rich and very American. Thanks for reading. Bev

Monday, February 25, 2019

Hagerman Bible Study from February 18

Our Scriptures for last Monday were:
Matthew 5:43-6:15 and Ecclesiastes 5 
We read chapter 4 in Lessons from a Sheep Dog

Our lesson from the book covered the topic; delight in obedience. We discussed how Lass loved to work with the author. We drew the parallels between our life of obedience to God's commands and how, in obedience, we delight in our relationship with God. We spoke about our excuses for not following God's will. One of those excuses is we don't know what God's will is or can't understand it, but we see that God's will is clearly stated in His Word.
We discussed the fear of God, noting that it is reverence, loving esteem and admiration, not unlike Lass and her master. We spoke of how Lass kept her master in constant view and how she learned his will even by hand gestures. Similarly we may turn every thought to God and thus respond to His will in any situation as we deepen our relationship. Keller says, "We begin to look for God's hand in all the details and events of our days. We become acutely sensitive to His presence. We find our minds, spirits, and emotions concentrated on Christ, eager to do His biding."
Our passage in Matthew gave us commands that we may grow deeper in relationship with God. In this passage Jesus tells us to love our enemies and give to the needy. He also tells us how to pray.
In Ecclesiastes 5 we covered fearing God and the vanity of wealth and honor.
Thank yo for reading. I will see you tonight. Bev 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Hagerman Bible Study 02/04/19

Matthew 5:31-4:2, Isaiah 66, John 17
Lesson Three from the book

The section from the book was titled, Learning to Trust. Keller speaks of Lass finally allowing the author to pull the angry wild rose thorns from between Lasses toes. The image of a dog lamed by thorns unable to do his master's work, gave us pause. The fact of the thorns being angry called to mind our own hurts and fears and how God could pull those thorns from our feet. Without His help, we are lamed by them.
Keller noticed that he was as much a servant as his dog, then stated, "God's gentle Spirit showed me in vivid reality the enormous condescension of Christ, who in love and self-humiliation tends human needs."
Keller speaks of a lifetime lesson, that faith was his "personal, positive response to the Word of God, to the point where" he acted in quiet trust.
As Keller noticed Lass's fidelity grow, he admitted his devotion to God fell short of his dog's devotion to the author. He realized that "God can only trust those who truly trust Him. He gives Himself in wondrous plentitude to the person whose single-minded devotion, love, and loyalty is given to the Lord."
In Isaiah 66:2, we found parallels to our lesson. God will bless those who have a humble and contrite heart. In Isaiah 66:3 we discussed those things that don't please God. and that Lass was at first wary and didn't answer and chose that in which his master didn't delight. In 66:10-14 God will nurture and heal and develop a loving relationship for those that honor Him.
We spent some time on John 17 letting it sink in, a prayer for the people of God, for us. We are not of the world like Lass discovering who she really was, not meant to chase cars and pull at leashes. We are not of this world, but we must trust God to discern our calling.
We talked of how Jesus in John 17 is feeding the world shelf-stable food, food we can draw on for a life-time. We noted that Lass would only eat what her master fed her. We spoke of how confused we are when we try to feed off the world and then want God's manna.
We turned finally to Matthew and found slim parallels. The dog is loyal unlike in Matthew, those who seek divorce.
Bible study begins at 6:30 tonight. I hope to see you there. Thanks for reading. Bev

Joy Writers 2019 Reading II

Joy Writers Reading II
Sunday February 17, 2019
The Roswell Museum and Art Center

The reading is open to the public. It is the second of two Joy Writer winter readings. Come listen to new work from The Joy Writers then and stay to talk over coffee and treats. If you are a writer, come learn more about who we are and if we are a fit for you. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Disappointments and Faulty Alignments

Lighted, Light Up, Christmas Indoor/Outdoor Yard or Lawn Decorations (34" Santa Claus)If you click on this you should be directed to Amazon's site to purchase the item in the photo. Why purchase a large plastic Santa, you may wonder? I wondered the same when Lonny in one of our first forays into decorating a large, new-to-us, home presented one for my approval. This particular Santa isn't the one he found, but it is similar enough.
We were at Walmart and while I stupidly searched for elegance and distinction amid the clutter of real life, Christmas and all, he searched for things to delight and amuse a new bride who was hopelessly out of her element, lost really in conflicts so silly I am embarrassed to remember them. I wanted to impress my neighbors. I wanted them to like me.
Lonny knew we were already welcomed, largely because we didn't try to impress. Lonny knew I secretly wanted the hard plastic Santa, and so did he because it would please me. He held up the decoration and moved to the center of the aisle. "Bev, what do you think? Great huh?" He shouted over the din of holiday shoppers.
I turned, embarrassment flushing my cheeks. What did I think? Not that. Never that. I was thinking delicate gold branches in planters strewn with tiny white lights. I was thinking beautiful but understated.
He was thinking, beloved Bride understated elegance will never work for us, and you probably won't find it here in this store. Perhaps I can distract you with color and lights. Perhaps then you won't be so disappointed with your efforts.
Why wouldn't elegant gold branches with tiny white lights work for us? Because I was never that girl or woman, or decorator even. I liked colors, big fat round Christmas C-9s in enough shades to never repeat over a ten foot length. My closet bore the same strain of trying to professionalize. Somber women's suits with a few beige or white silk blouses, hung neatly in the back encapsulated in their dry-cleaning bags, some still held their price tags. Outrageous prints tumbled to the front, well-worn and softened by numerous machine washes. I knew better than most, that the price of adulting your wardrobe, and by extension your way of life, was impossibly dear and not, in the end, worthwhile. I kept trying. I was married after all and should to comply with perceived standards.
But Lonny knew me. He knew I liked colors. He knew I was trying desperately to fit some image, he couldn't quite grasp. He knew he loved me and that I loved him, and that he wanted to please me.
One of my biggest small regrets happened that night, but it taught me a lesson. I told him no, no Santa. I grimaced. I saw his face fall. I tried not to care, not to 'get it.' I turned my nose up, and shopped for tiny white lights and gold branches. 
For several years now, I have searched for that Santa. This one on Amazon was way too expensive. This one would have been his present this last Christmas. It would have said to him, how did you know? It would have asked, how could you know me so well and I not know myself? I would have said, husband of mine, I love you and I am so sorry I didn't see. I am so sorry for all of my distractions, new pretentious Christmas decorations when we were first married, wanting homes and yards and meaningful stuff, the best, the most perfect, or not at all. But you were the best, surely the best for me. I cherished our time together, and then ... and then I couldn't stand to see you failing, couldn't stand seeing your clear blue eyes vacant of understanding, you who knew I wanted a brightly colored Santa with all my heart. Oh you sweet man, how I miss you. How I miss the way that you loved even me.
Painfully slowly, I learned to ask Lonny before attempting a new scheme. I learned to seek the church's needs before I plowed forward with what I thought was my calling. I learned so slowly that there is One and more than One who loves even me. With Lonny's help, I learned that those things I would dismiss as inappropriate to me were often where I should turn to grow.
Well that's enough of me. More of Lonny later. Thank you for reading. Bev

Monday, February 4, 2019

Bible Study Notes from 28 January

(These notes are short. I have been travelling and am out of time,. Should people like to peruse them before Bible study tonight, I must post them now. In any event, I hope the reader can find something of value in them.)

Keying off Matthew 5:21-26, we discussed anger, determining it a bad master-the wrong mater. In relation to our sheep dog from the book, she has had the wrong master-an angry master. She became fearful and feral.
In a personal note, as my husband's health failed, I struggled with anger. I was angry at the situation, but often vented my frustration on Lonny. My outbursts compounded my guilt and worry. Matthew 5:25 speaks of the Accuser. The Accuser finds me guilty in the court of my own conscience.I cannot argue with Satan. He is correct. I am guilty. Happily, I can throw myself on God's mercy. God sees me through the redemption of Christ.
In Ecclesiastes we read a warning against religious conceit. The wicked man finds security in his ways, like the dog insisting on her freedom which almost killed her through starvation. She was almost destroyed. (The logic here worked better on Monday. I apologize, but for those who couldn't be present, I included it anyway.)
Verse 7:7 of Ecclesiastes speaks of oppression driving a man to madness, so too, the wrong mater's oppression of the dog led to the dog becoming feral. Contrast this to the choices that God gives us. We may follow, learn, obey the Good Master or not. He doesn't oppress.
We will meet tonight at 6:30. We will discuss Lesson Three from the book and continue our study of the Sermon on the Mount.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Bible Study Notes, Lessons from a Sheep Dog, One

Hello all.
We began a new study last Monday using Lessons from a Sheep Dog by Phillip Keller.
Our scriptures were Matthew 5:1-20 and Isaiah 55.
We read the story in the beginning of the book and then Lesson One. The story told of the author saving a Border Collie from being put down by an owner that could not understand the dog. Keller adopted the dog and had to set the dog free in order for the dog to finally trust him. Under Keller's guidance the dog, Lass, became a great hand at managing livestock. The story at the beginning of the book concludes  with several points: how Lass was eager to obey a kind and good master, and how Keller learned from Lass what it was that Christ, Our Great Shepherd wants to do with us.
Lesson One speaks to how we often place ourselves in the wrong hands, the hands of predators, or abusers, or those who are uncaring or mean. It speaks to how we may fall in the Accusers hands or under his spell. Keller likens this to Lass's predicament before Keller adopted the dog.
In discussing the Scripture reading for the day, we looked at how the poor in spirit Jesus refers to in the Sermon on the Mount, are those that are humble and teachable and how Lass was teachable just scared and scarred. We examined how people that know their place in a Christian sense clear the path for God to work with them and how being so vulnerable flies in the face of being our own boss. 
In the passage on Salt and Light from Matthew 5, we saw that the dog's "salt" was almost gone, but that Keller was able to 'revive' Lass. We noted that often we are low on salt and have hidden our light, and how we can turn to God in these instance, and every instance for that matter. We discussed how we are the light as Christians because God's light shines through us.
In discussing our final section of Matthew we noted how Jesus came to fulfill the law, how Jesus is the 'flesh and bones' on the commands and demands of the law, so that we in our own flesh and bones may live for Jesus and He has already fulfilled the law. We noted that Lass was able to follow the good master's commands.
In Isaiah 55 we looked at God's open invitation. the parallel to our book was in Keller freeing Lass so that Lass could finally come of her own accord back to Keller. Keller had chosen Lass, fed and watered her, and set her free.We noted also what pleasure Keller received when Lass came to him. We imagined that God also is so pleased when we seek Him and learn to obey Him.
Tonight's study will be Lesson Two of the book and Matthew 5:21-30, and Ecclesiastes 7.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Joy Writers Reading I, 2019
Roswell Museum and Art Center
Sunday 20, 2019
2:00 pm
Free of charge
Public welcome

Monday, January 14, 2019

Review Whistling Past the Graveyard

Whistling Past the GraveyardIn Whistling Past the Graveyard, author Susan Crandall examines the struggle of growing up as a white girl in the deep south in the early sixties. Crandall fuels her story with the expected issues of bigotry, gender conflict and double standards, fanning the predictable flames throughout the book. I have read and re-read the same themes often, and though the themes carried the book, the story itself was compelling enough without these issues. The story might have even been more believable set in today's south or north or anywhere, really.
Nine-year-old Starla Claudelle narrates the story with a sassy southern voice that drew me into the book early and kept me in it throughout. Deciding to hitchhike to Tennessee to find her mother in Nashville, Starla runs away from an overbearing grandmother, and her Mississippi home. The story breaks down for me when a black woman, Eula, kidnaps Starla, just after having taken a baby from the church steps in Starla's hometown. I couldn't believe Eula's naivete and boldness. Eula's actions made her character cartoon-ish, which is unfortunate because Eula's journey would have been more interesting to me than the story of young Starla.
Starla and Baby James are held captive by Eula's abusive husband. He tries to kill Starla and the baby when he finds them after their failed escape attempt.
The author develops a a rationale for Eula's actions that stretched the limits of the story. So too, Eula's husband is a stock character and a familiar villain. Starla's unreliable narration proves to be part of the problem. The reader has to guess Eula's motivation and Elua's husband's motivation seemed only to be pure meanness. Eula reads as a predictably wise and insanely foolish woman, and, while she is ultimately beloved in the story, she never beaks out of a caricature role.
Eula kills her husband by whacking him over the head with a frying pan while he is trying to choke the life out of Starla.
The scene work and tension in Eula's home reads well with high tension and drama, even though I couldn't figure out Eula's quixotic nature.
Freed from a tyrant and captivity, Eula, Starla and Baby James set out for Tennessee. Here the book compounds its use of familiar theme. An evil white man runs the trio off the road leaving them wrecked and destitute on a baking hot day in Mississippi. While the story still interested me, this is where I began to tire of familiar axes and grinds.
The remainder of the book plays out in expected ways, but Starla's journey, her emotional and spiritual development and her method of dealing with heartache made the book a decent read.
Read this book for a an entertaining fast-paced romp and enjoy Starla's snappy voice.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

"Will-o’-the-Wisp or Will of God"

Taken from Sunday's Service 6 January 2019

Scripture readings

I would make the case that people are drawn to the light. On of my greatest pleasures in my home is the fireplace where a merry blaze can be seen any time the temperatures dip below 60 degrees. My mother and father would come to sit before this fire. I wasn’t ever sure they wanted to see me as much as enjoy the dancing flames. So too, Lonny’s mother, Ruby, and Lonny himself. When Lonny still had the pleasure of reading, he would rise most mornings and sit in a rocker before the fire well into the warm Spring. He kept his Bible there and would read it until he fell asleep again.
In recent days I have fashioned myself a place in one of those rockers, surrounded by books and a computer and a place for a cup of coffee or tea or wine, depending upon the time of day.
At Christmas we put out lights that twinkle and burn brightly. We even put out firelitos and luminarias. When I was a child Mom and Dad would pick a December evening after school let out for Christmas holiday. We would tour the neighborhoods in Roswell and Dexter looking at the lights. In El Paso, I lived near a neighborhood that put on such a celebrated Christmas display that the street department finally had to close their street to traffic after midnight in order that the residents could get some sleep and to let the air clear of exhaust fumes.
So, yes, the more I think on it the more I know that humans are drawn to light. It is comforting warm and merry. It promises safe harbor and renewed spirit.
But there are more than one kind of lights.
Lucifer for instance, means light bringer. In Isaiah 14 it referring to the king of Babylon and his fall, Lucifer is described as the morning star that fell from the heavens. This passage led to future translations and made common the use as a name for Satan. In his works, Dante Alighieri used Lucifer as a name for the devil.
In folklore a Will-O’-the Wisp is a ghost light seen at night by travelers, especially hovering over stagnant water. It is known also as Jack -O’-the-Lantern hinkypunk and hobby lantern. These far off mytic lights lure people off paths and into danger. In literature they are a metaphor for an impossible goal or vain hope, or even something sinister and confounding.
As I look back on Christmas again this year, I see the two lights, the light of the joy and breathtaking hope and the light of infatuation and lies.
Our passage from Isaiah says opens with
“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.”
We can see in this passage a prophecy, and our own hope.
For prophecy we know that the glory of the Lord shown round about those associated with the Holy birth. We know also that Jesus is the light of the world and had come into this world and walked among us.
For our own hope we learn that God’s glory rises upon us. His glory appears over us. The notion of mere man being so delivered stuns us into silence and wonder. The majesty and humility of Christmas is impossible to hold. It is for us. God came in splendor and humility for us, not only shining, but shining on us.
On the other hand, I see countless people struggling with insurmountable debt after Christmas. I hear beautiful carols turned to a mush of dirty snow in veneration of commerce, and light displays that ascribe glory more to the decorator than to the humble Holy infant.
Paul tells us in our passage from Philippians 214 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life.
He tells us how to shine, how to glorify God. Paul tells us how to accomplish the joyful instruction of Isaiah to rise and shine for our light has come.
Paul also says Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
For it is God who works in us to will and to act.
So, there is a double meaning in my use of Will O’ the Wisp. I may be stretching things thin but bear with me. In legend, Will means the name Will or short for William, but I mean it also as will, man’s will, man’s willy-nilly will. It’s sort of wispy. It is not focused on the light. It is focused on swamp gas. We can see it in our choices at Christmas.
Listening to KLOVE on the radio last month I heard a segment where folks were asked to call in about their Christmas shopping habits. The DJ made the case that every year she bought a few “presents” for herself along with the gifts for Christmas day. She admitted that she had been a bit unruly this year and was asking for callers to spill the beans on themselves. I thought about calling in, trying to remember what the silliest thing I’d done for myself at Christmas time: new shoes, new dresses, pedicures (because people are so going see my feet in sandals in the middle of winter,) a ridiculously expensive bottle of champagne, and countless trinkets from the potter’s guild that I would give to my husband and tell him to wrap. He would snort and hand them back.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong in a renewed sense of celebration, but I wonder at our focus.
Several years ago, I was taking my son to a Christmas party and we had some extra minutes to spare. It was the first week of December and like so many other first weeks of December it was crazy and hectic, and I was behind schedule and behind in prayer and behind in work and struggling to come up with perfect gifts for an increasing number of family members. We turned off second street and headed into a residential neighborhood with a nice display of lights. Suddenly a house came into view with huge red letters spelling the name Jesus. That was all the house had, Jesus, almost sacrilegious it was so bold. We laughed, and I still laugh today when I think of it. It was as if the homeowner was saying, enough already. This is God’s holiday. You all are making a mess of things and I’m going to point you in the proper direction and I’m going to do it with read lights. Maybe it was swamp gas, but it got my attention. I lightened up smiled and enjoyed beautiful music for the remainder of the season.
Our passage from Matthew reads: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
It reminds us that we are the light. We have been given the light from our Father in Heaven. We see again that impossible marriage of humility and majesty that is the birth of Jesus. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling, yes, and awe and breathlessness. From Isaiah, God shines upon us. We remember He shines upon us. We will see and be radiant and our hearts will tremble and rejoice. And people will come from afar, multitudes of people will glorify God. All we have to do is let our God-given light shine before others according to God’s will, not our will o’ the wisp.