Fool’s Talk and my DIY Seminary

“As the early church boasted rightly, the message of Jesus is both simple enough for a child to paddle in and deep enough for an elephant to swim in.”  — Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk

So I am a few months in to my DIY seminary project, and delighted to report that I have found several books on my list available for download from the library.  I’ve listened to The Great Divorce while driving, Fool’s Talk while doing dishes, A Reason For God while folding clothes, and Hillbilly Elegy while chopping vegetables.  Having a collection of brilliant men to listen to while scrubbing pots can turn Cinderella into a sorta-scholar faster than you can say “can somebody please send me a maid for Christmas.”

Now, it’s a little bit impossible for a visual learner like myself to fully absorb a complex book like Os Guinness’s while multi-tasking, and I’ll freely admit it’s not the same as sitting in on a philosophy class, but I gotta think it’s better than binge-watching reruns on Netflix.  It has stoked in me a greater desire to really delve in — to take the class, argue with the professor, write the essays.  But if, like me, you are a) strapped for cash, b) short on time, and c) already overcommitted, I offer this encouragement: all the great thoughts that have ever been thunk have probably been written down somewhere in a book that you can find, free, at a library.  In fact, such notably brilliant people as Abraham Lincoln, Jack London, and Ray Bradbury were mostly self-educated folks who wore out their library cards.  I’m with Paul:  “Bring the books!” II Timothy 4:13, KMV (Kate Morgan Version)

I couldn’t do justice to a full book review of Fool’s Talk without getting an actual paper copy and skimming it over again, but I’ll say enough to whet your appetite if you’re into apologetics.  First, this is not a book about winning arguments, improving your evangelistic technique, or how Charles Darwin ruined American schools.  This is, instead, a brilliant challenge to think well, to think comprehensively, and to consider the myriad ways a Christian worldview shapes how we interact with the world.  It is much more important to love than to win.

I find Guinness to be warm, winsome, and deep, his logic masterful, and his unpacking of competing worldviews incisive.  Guinness is 76 years old, and avoided writing a book about apologetics until 2015 because he promised God he’d do apologetics before he ever dared write about it.  He’s written a long list of other books, which I can’t wait to dive into.  But buyer beware; he’s wicked smart.  I listened to Fool’s Talk at a slightly reduced speed to give my little brain time to process his train of thought.  That helped, but there were times I had to rewind and pay better attention.

My big takeaway from Fool’s Talk is similar to the point of my whole DIY seminary project:  if Christianity is true, it is absolutely comprehensive.  It must impact every decision I make, every habit I acquire, and every action I perform.  It must be big enough to contain every smaller truth and to answer every possible objection.  Therefore, it is grand enough to encompass every great thought of every philosopher, historian, poet, scientist, and theologian of all time, and it would take countless lifetimes to begin to scratch the surface.  I simply don’t have “world enough and time” to fritter if it’s a goal to love the Lord with all my mind.

Thank God for the library.

A couple interesting resources you might like to listen to if you enjoy apologetics:

Book Nook: High School Edition

So my oldest two kids are enrolled in a dual-credit high school/ community college English class.  Imagine my surprise when they weren’t assigned any books the first quarter!  Well, turns out it’s more of a rhetoric and analysis class, ergo, no books.  Wanting them to please, for the love of Pete, PUT DOWN THE DEVICE AND READ, I made them a list for the sole ugly purpose of bribery.

Read one of mine, and I’ll buy you one of your choice.  Read ten of mine, and I’ll give you Big Bucks.

It occurs to me that many of you might face the same dilemma and wonder where to start.  What are the great classics worth reading?  Which books are the right combination of challenging and “hooking,” as my kids like to say — which ones are entertaining enough to overcome reluctant readers?  Which ones are a pretty safe bet for a PG read?  And some of you might just want a new audio book from the library to pass the time while driving.  Here ya go.

I offer the following list with a disclaimer:  I have not read every single title on this list.  Out of 99, I have read 56 of these, many others by the same authors, and chunks of several listed.  Those I haven’t read made the cut either because I’ve heard glowing reviews or because they are on my own lifetime I-really-oughta-read-this list.  Use your own discretion.

Most of these are novels, ranging from old school classics to science fiction.  There are short stories, plays, nonfiction, and poems as well.  Some of them are more enlightening than entertaining, and a sprinkling are more entertaining than informative.  (I think it’s a crime to make reading something your kids will dread.)  I didn’t bother to list the books my kids gravitate toward on their own; the point of this list is to stretch them.  Some come from a very different world view than my own, and are important for digesting/ discussing/ interacting with.  The last part of the list are explicitly Christian books (you can see where the alphabetizing starts over).  These are just a sampling from my pastor husband’s shelf — a few of the most accessible ones.  There would be another whole list for a slightly older or younger group — these were my best guesses for kids 14-18.

I didn’t bother to alphabetize the titles, just the authors, so don’t hate.  If you catch a mistake, let me know.  And please, from one reader to another, leave more must-reads for high schoolers in the comment box below!

99 Books for A Rainy Day

  1. Alcott, Louisa May:  Little Women
  2. Austen, Jane:  Pride and Prejudice
  3. Austen, Jane:  Sense and Sensibility
  4. Austen, Jane:  Emma
  5. Babbitt, Natalie:  Tuck Everlasting
  6. Barrie, JM:  Peter Pan
  7. Berry, Wendell:  Fidelity
  8. Brontë, Charlotte:  Jane Eyre
  9. Brontë, Emily:  Wuthering Heights
  10. Card, Orson Scott:  Ender’s Game
  11. Cather, Willa:  My Antonia
  12. Chesterton, GK:  The Best of Father Brown
  13. Christie, Agatha:  Murder on the Orient Express
  14. Conrad, Joseph:  Heart of Darkness
  15. Crane, Stephen:  The Red Badge of Courage
  16. Defoe, Daniel:  Robinson Crusoe
  17. Dickens, Charles:  Oliver Twist
  18. Dickens, Charles:  A Christmas Carol
  19. Dickinson, Emily:   Poetry
  20. Dillard, Annie:  Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
  21. Dillard, Annie:  An American Childhood
  22. Doig, Ivan:  Sweet Thunder
  23. Du Bois, WEB:  The Souls of Black Folk
  24. Enger, Leif:  Peace Like a River
  25. Equiano, Olaudah:  The Life of Olaudah Equiano
  26. Frank, Anne:  Diary of Anne Frank
  27. Frost, Robert:  Poetry
  28. Gladwell, Malcolm:  Outliers
  29. Golding, William:  Lord of the Flies
  30. Griffin, John Howard:  Black Like Me
  31. Grisham, John:  A Time to Kill
  32. Hawthorne, Nathaniel:  The Scarlet Letter
  33. Hemingway, Ernest:  A Farewell to Arms
  34. Hemingway, Ernest:  The Old Man and the Sea
  35. Henry, O:  Short Stories of O. Henry
  36. Herriot, James:  All Creatures Great and Small
  37. Homer:  The Iliad
  38. Homer:  The Odyssey
  39. Hurston, Zora Neale:  Their Eyes Were Watching God
  40. Huxley, Aldous:  Brave New World
  41. Keyes, Daniel:  Flowers for Algernon
  42. King, Jr., Martin Luther:  Letter from a Birmingham Jail
  43. Lee, Harper:  To Kill a Mockingbird
  44. L’Engle, Madeleine:  A Ring of Endless Light
  45. Lowry, Lois:  The Giver
  46. McCullough, David:  1776
  47. McCullough, David:  The Wright Brothers
  48. Miller, Arthur:  Death of a Salesman
  49. Mortenson, Greg:  Three Cups of Tea
  50. Orwell, George:  Animal Farm
  51. Paterson, Katherine:  Jacob Have I Loved
  52. Paton, Alan:  Cry, The Beloved Country
  53. Potok, Chaim:  The Chosen
  54. Ransome, Arthur:  Swallows and Amazons
  55. Rawls, Wilson:  Where the Red Fern Grows
  56. Remarque, Erich Maria:  All Quiet On The Western Front
  57. Sayers, Dorothy:  Lord Peter
  58. Shaara, Michael:  The Killer Angels
  59. Shelley, Mary:  Frankenstein
  60. Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr:  One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  61. Steinbeck, John:  Of Mice and Men
  62. Stevenson, Robert Lewis:  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  63. Stevenson, Robert Lewis:  Treasure Island
  64. Stowe, Harriet Beecher:  Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  65. Swift, Jonathan:  Gulliver’s Travels
  66. Twain, Mark:  Huckleberry Finn
  67. Washington, Booker T:  Up From Slavery
  68. Weisel, Elie:  Night
  69. Wilde, Oscar:  The Importance of Being Earnest
  70. Wilder, Thornton:  Our Town
  1. Bonhoeffer, Dietrich:  Cost of Discipleship
  2. Bonhoeffer, Dietrich:  Life Together
  3. Bunyan, John:  Pilgrim’s Progress
  4. Chan, Francis:  Crazy Love
  5. Cymbala, Jim:  Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire
  6. Elliott, Elisabeth:  Shadow of the Almighty
  7. Graham, Billy:  Just As I Am
  8. Hayes, Dan:  Fireseeds of Spiritual Awakening
  9. Keller, Timothy:  Generous Justice
  10. Keller, Timothy:  A Reason for God
  11. Lewis, CS:  The Screwtape Letters
  12. Lewis, CS:  The Space Trilogy
  13. Lewis, CS:  Till We Have Faces
  14. Little, Paul:  Know What You Believe
  15. Little, Paul:  Know Why You Believe
  16. McDowell, Josh:  More Than a Carpenter
  17. Mextaxas, Eric:  Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
  18. Packer, JI:  Knowing God
  19. Piper, John:  Don’t Waste Your Life
  20. Perkins, John:  With Justice for All
  21. Platt, David:  Radical
  22. Reeves, Michael:  Rejoicing in Christ
  23. Reeves, Michael:  Delighting in the Trinity
  24. Richardson, Don:  Eternity in their Hearts
  25. Tolkien, JRR:  Lord of the Rings
  26. Tozer, AW:  The Pursuit of God
  27. Tozer, AW:  Knowledge of the Holy
  28. Ten Boom, Corrie:  The Hiding Place
  29. Yancey, Philip:  The Jesus I Never Knew

Last Nights in England

“I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.”  — Bill Bryson

Here’s a snapshot (or 20) of a few final stops in England.  Winding up our weekend in the Cotswolds, we headed to Leicester, where Michael had 4 days of induction meetings (for his PhD in Early Modern History).  His professor, Dr. John Coffey, was exceedingly generous with time and attention, introducing us around and even bringing us home for supper.  We also spent a full day in Kettering and Olney with Marylynn Rouse, who has spent years volunteering to transcribe John Newton’s correspondence and personal documents.  She gave us the whole tour (and fed us twice!)

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Conclusion:  The world is chock-a-block with wonders.  Getting out of our routine once in a while gives us fresh eyes to see them.  Note to self — if given the opportunity, go back!

Sketches of England

Well, this isn’t all.   Not by a long shot!  But it’s week one, for what it’s worth.  Doesn’t show Michael’s HOURS in the library photographing 250-year-old letters, doesn’t show lots of the beauty.  But for those who wonder what we’ve been doing all week, or those who want to plan a trip to Oxford or to Wales… here are some highlights!

itinerary

The GlobeRenting a carOxford

The Kilns

more narnia paparazzi

Ashmolean

Gloucester

Hay On Wye

Somebody at Oxford

This morning I had a nice stroll through C.S. Lewis’ garden and this afternoon I oggled Jane Austen’s handwritten stories.  Really.  I am sitting in a café next to . . . who knows?  Professors, students, travelers like me, here from the four corners of the world, perched above a street that a hundred heroes have walked — Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkein, the martyrs Latimer and Ridley, the bonnie king of England.  Oxford seems a lucky place, but I suppose it’s much like anywhere else.  It is the birthplace (or the death place) of people great and grimy, whose ghosts, the tour guides promise, moan about the narrow streets at night.

I felt a little sheepish admitting on my tour of The Kilns this morning that not only was I happily paying out pounds to see Lewis’ home (we stood in the room where he died; a new tour guide perched on his bed to take notes as we listened) — but I had in fact visited another Lewis shrine at Wheaton College earlier this year.  At what point am I truly a Narnia groupie?

Why are our favorite famous people so fascinating?

What makes some people extraordinary?

They say at every breath you inhale a little oxygen once breathed out by Julius Caesar, that everyone with European roots is related to Charlemagne.  That tattered and rat-eaten Magna Carta I saw in the building next door was reportedly signed by one of my husband’s ancestors, and probably, I imagine, by one of mine.  (Might even be the same person.  You know, if you go back a ways, every human being on the planet is related — 50th cousins, so they say.)  And yet some of those cousins beguile and bewitch us.  If you happen to bump into a famous Somebody at the airport, you’ll no doubt come home chirping about it to anyone who’ll listen (I’ve seen a few myself if you are dying to hear the stories).

In The Great Divorce (one of my favorites), Lewis writes about Napoleon pacing back and forth in hell, muttering about whose fault it was.  But while this man of importance and glory frets his eternity away, the narrator spots a woman in Heaven, radiant in splendor.

‘Is it?… is it?’ I whispered to my guide.

‘Not at all,’ said he.  ‘It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of.  Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.’

‘She seems to be… well, a person of particular importance?’

‘Aye.  She is one of the great ones.  Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things…. already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.’

Hmm.  A life illuminated by joy.  That changes the equation, doesn’t it?  Who’s really special after all?

They say if everyone is special then no one really is.  Give trophies to all the Little Leaguers and none of them really shine.  All those helicopter moms doting on mediocrity… I agree, it’s gross.  But at least the pandering doesn’t last forever.  All that excess of praise peters out at some point as the little rascals grow out of their cuteness.  Unfortunately we don’t outgrow lavishing undeserved worship on lackluster performances, we just focus it on a few shiny people.  There’s no fairness in it — celebrities without a shred of talent, best-sellers without a speck of charm, truly wonderful people who are beloved one year and forgotten the next.  Maybe that quiet fellow behind me in line at the grocery store is the next C.S. Lewis, but I can’t peel my eyes away from People Magazine.

And what of C.S. Lewis?  The words that poured out of that man’s pen are some of the best things ever put to paper (he never typed, did you know that?  Always a fountain pen.  Said it helped him think.)  And yet the man had some serious quirks, some character flaws that would drive you crazy in a brother, or a friend.  I wonder as he wrote about Sarah Smith from Golders Green if he chuckled to think of the people lining up outside his driveway, shoving to get a glimpse.  In Heaven, he might have speculated, he’d be somewhere at the bottom of the heap.lewis-profound

Still, Lewis was a person who did what he did best with unbelievable skill, a person whose words inspire us all to do a little better.  That’s something.

The best and brightest students come here to Oxford, brilliant, dazzling in their accomplishments.  How proud their parents must be!  How proud would I?

How many out of all of them will outshine Sarah Smith of Golders Green?

In an upside-down Kingdom, the top-heavy world will topple (not may, or might, but will).  All that’s up top will tumble down, and all that’s on bottom will tumble up.  Maybe we should all teach our children not to strive for the top but to dive low.

In the words of our good friend Clive Staples Lewis, “Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.  Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.  If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”

My favorite Somebody at Oxford has long since been overshadowed (and overjoyed) by a better Somebody.  Someday we’ll get to meet them both.

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The pond behind C.S. Lewis’ home — the pond between worlds?

Ordinary Work

It’s Labor Day.  Break out the cooler, splash some mud, kick back.  Summer slid by in a sticky blur — are you ready for fall?  Today we celebrate the end of vacation, gear up for another year of vocation.  We are back to work — ordinary, beautiful, work.

Today we play, tomorrow we ply our trades.  Remember when you dreamed of what you would be when you grew up?  And now you’re there — astronaut, detective, author, lawyer, president, ditch digger, teacher, missionary to the gypsies.  (That was my childhood list.  I’m two for seven.  You?)  Chances are you’ve never been to the moon or slept in the White House.  But do you still dream?

What will I be when I wake up?

A baker, frosting cupcakes for a friend; a singer, blasting the radio in my car; a nurse, patching up skinned knees with Band-aids and love; a counselor, asking good questions over coffee; a taxi driver, shuttling someone to the airport.

Ordinary work for a lifetime of ordinary, extraordinary days.

In our work, we create, we design, and we reflect our designer, creator God.  Every day stretches before us with untold opportunities to try new things or do old things in new ways.  Every day we can choose imagination over stagnation.  So often we don’t; we settle for stuck when we could soar.  We are like waddling geese when we could flap those wings a little and take flight.

In our work, we serve, reflecting the humble, sacrificial service of Christ.  Ordinary work becomes an avenue for extraordinary love.  We don’t give because we like parting with stuff, or serve because we have excessive time and energy.  We give because someone once gave to us — heaped up, pressed down, running over.  We are the re-gifters.

In our work, we shine, bringing light into forgotten corners of culture.  Into tense boardrooms, we bring peace, into stressed offices, we bring unexpected laughter.  With excellence we may make one perfect product, then another, then another, each a chip of mirror reflecting in its tiny way something far more valuable.

What will you be when you wake up?

I hope that we will be ordinary.  Each of us an ordinary, beautiful piece of the mosaic that would be missing something essential without our little part.

Happy Labor Day!

“And on the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work.”  –Numbers 28:25

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