Thursday, April 18, 2019

Book Review: Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, AbolitionistFierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I've long wanted to read this - I've had it for Kindle for a number of years, but just never could get moving on it. This winter I went ahead and bought all of Prior's books when On Reading Well came out.

I'm glad I started here.

I very much enjoyed reading about More, her life and her work. She was a fascinating character. Her work with Wilberforce and on her own was tireless on behalf of the neglected and poor. Her Christian witness and insistence upon it was lifechanging for many. Her attacks at the culture by using their means in a Christian way were ingenious. By turning cultural norms on their heads for Christ, she was able to reach many with the gospel of truth. More's life was beset with ups and downs and she was certainly imperfect, but she worked for the Kingdom insisting upon excellence and I suppose that is the lesson to take away. Her leaflets were Christian and were of better quality than the mainstream ones. Her poetry, plays, prose - fiction and non - were all of the highest caliber. If we want to reach a world through culture, the quality has to be there above all.

My main dissatisfactions with this book were more technical in nature. Overall, it was well written and kept my attention, but there were some notable occasions when I had to re-read paragraphs a couple of times because I lost the antecedents to the pronoun. This was one of my "Bedtime Biography" reads, so I was tired, true. I thought there were places where the writing could have been tightened up a little.

The other has to do with the way biographies are written these days - the thematic approach. Instead of mixing up all of the themes in chronological fashion, they pull different areas of interest or ideas into different chapters. I understand why people do it, but as a reader, I find it confusing to remember the threads and pull them back together in a whole picture of the person. This is a matter of taste and preference, but an important one.

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Monday, April 08, 2019

AmblesideOnline Camp Meeting 2019 Big Impressions

I had the great joy of attending the AO Camp Meeting this past weekend. I roomed with dear friends - Virginia Lee Rogers and Heather Tully - while my amazing mother-in-law finished up Year 7 with my kids. I traveled with friends, Darcie and Anna, to Tennessee.

We arrived at Camp Garner Creek right on time and immediately ran into the Other Dawn (or am I the other dawn?).  We registered and prepared for a very busy weekend.

I found my Charlotte Mason IRL co-curators, which was a joy

The whole weekend was wonderful.

This will be a short post, I plan - Lord willing - to write more as I contemplate and reconsider the things I heard and read. But for now, I thought I'd share some of the big ideas I was left with.

The big words I came home with: Magnanimity, Joy, Enthusiasm, Generosity, Companionship.

I know it's not a very good picture.
The generosity of the Advisory from first to last - they thanked us for using their lifetime of work - was a wonder to behold. Whether it was generosity of things - art prints, bookmarks, chocolate - the generosity of ideas - poetry, songs, clouds - or their wisdom of experience - in talks, songs, and plans. The entire way of the event, which could have been heavy and burdensome was all Jesus - and his yoke is easy and his burden light.

These are not perfect women. They will tell you, but they are generous women. They have cleared and made paths plain to follow and I am thankful they've left it well marked. Theirs is an example to follow as they follow Christ.

I was also struck by the ideas of joy and enthusiasm. It was a joy to be with so many moms walking the same path I am. Singing, praying, laughing, and crying together. I have a tendency toward melancholy and cynicism and this weekend only emphasized how I need to bring more joy into my homeschool. One way to do it is by being enthusiastic ... singing folk songs with gusto, being genuinely excited about the work, and generally trying to remember that the joy of the Lord is my strength.

Toward the end of the weekend, the word Companionship was brought forth. As my word for the year is "commune." it seemed so fit. So many of the women I met "for real" this weekend were already friends, but as we continue to pursue an education for ourselves and our children, we are more truly companions - walking, talking, leading, leaning, picking up, pulling along, pushing forward, going hand-in-hand (or mind to mind) along the pathways of life. We commune. together as we commune. with the Lord.

The final idea - and one I've been contemplating for a couple of years now - is Magnanimity. I leave it for last, not as the least important, but as the most. It encompasses all of the others and expands on them with sympathy, empathy, and a dealing with others that is beyond our humanity. It's a bigness, a sense of being above pettiness, a large soul, a full soul that overflows it's banks. I was overjoyed to see it at work.

I had a hard time explaining how the weekend went, but finally found the right way: after other conferences my brain is full; after the AO Camp Meeting, my being is full.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Book Review: Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl by N.D. Wilson

Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken WorldNotes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken World by N.D. Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is one of those books that's hard to rate because I read it over more than a year setting it down and picking it up. I think it was best read in small batches, actually, as the essays - and I use that term somewhat loosely - are based on the seasons as the earth - ahem "tilt-a-whirl" - revolves around the sun.

I like much -most- of what Wilson has to say about God (Father, Son, and Spirit), Creation, and the interplay with man. I like the way he holds things up in the culture, church, science, philosophy, natural world, and history and twists and turns them around and upside down. He is not only on a tilt-a-whirl, but acting as a tilt-a-whirl looking for the facets on the gemstone. I sometimes tire of the this-close-to-pretentious "know it all" tone. There are places, too, where it felt like trying too hard to make the observations fit the observed.

I can understand why some readers love this book and why some readers don't. I'm in the mostly really, really enjoyed and profited from it, thus 4 stars.

I've recently decided to have a "Sunday" book - this was the first that I just dedicated to being read on Sundays as time allowed. It was a good one to challenge me to think about both the immensity of God and the immediacy of God.

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Saturday, March 16, 2019


by Dawn Garrett

A crystalline sky,
definer of blue,
February's glimpse
of deep breathed hue.

the wispy-white clouds
saunter August-like
portending no gloom.

Down the forest path -
a curious mix
of mud here, ice there -
the step slurps, snaps, cricks.

A recent hard storm
littered limbs and leaves,
strewing evidence
of calamities.

Barren trees reveal
nests on limbs tied tight,
clinging firm to fledge
birdies unto flight.

Withstanding the storm
Relishing the peace
Recalling the trial
Resting in reprieve

New storms will bluster
Providence provides.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Book Review: A Light so Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L'Engle by Sarah Arthur

A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L'Engle, Author of A Wrinkle in TimeA Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L'Engle, Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Sarah Arthur
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I really wanted to love this book. I'm a big fan of Madeleine L'Engle's for ... well, since I became a reader, so nearly 40 years. I love her Austin family (Chronos books) more than the Kairos books. although I wouldn't turn either down. I am a big fan of her non-fiction and memoir. I have long been a proponent of reading her non-fiction to see her faith more clearly; although it is included in her fiction as well.

This book delves into her faith in lovely ways, although I was dissatisfied with her discussion of the attacks on L'Engle's supposed universalism. I felt the book more confirmed than denied it and didn't really deal with the heart of the matter. More dust under the rug.

In many ways I appreciated the way she drew in L'Engles influence on writers, yet sometimes I was annoyed that Arthur talked too personally and constantly about herself with a side-note of L'Engle's interaction. As a biography I didn't expect that. The chapter where she spends pages comparing L'Engle and C.S. Lewis was a little jarring to me. While there are similarities, it seemed somewhat out of place as a spiritual biography, especially as it seems they never met.

Arthur really emphasized the Time Quintet without delving into other series nearly as much and I thought she did an injustice to A Ring of Endless Light in many ways - especially in the chapter about Bearing Light, because that's the culmination of that whole book.

I also found the writing redundant from time to time. It seemed that the title of the book was repeated every chapter, and I started to feel the repetition as an annoyance rather than reassurance. Repeated assertion is not proof, and I thought several instances were more repeated assertion than true evidence of the author's proposition.

All those complaints said, there are some truly lovely passages in the book; glimpses of a talented writer shining forth. Also, L'Engle's friendship with Luci Shaw and their influence on one another is beautifully drawn. It is fascinating to see the wide range that L'Engle worked in, the effects of her writing on her family, and the effects on the Christian writing and artistry worlds beyond.

I recommend this with reservations. If you are looking for answers about L'Engle's more controversial positions, I don't think you'll find them here and might come out more convinced of her error. If you're looking for a glimpse of a very real, flawed Christian life you'll find it to some extent, but it may take some digging. If you're looking for the influence of one writer on many, that is here. As Arthur insists, we often find what we seek out. I was seeking a spiritual biography and it's influence and perhaps was seeking the wrong thing.

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Friday, January 18, 2019

If the Stars

If the Stars by Dawn Garrett

If the stars could talk
what would they say?

I like to think they'd be friendly,
passing on their way.

Glory in light shining,
effervescent and bubbly in community.

with enthusiasm for acquiring
the acquaintance of the other.

They'd ask after one's mother
and how the family does.

They'd listen intently
to all the tos and froes.

Continuing the conversation,
the second replies in kind.

Seeking consolation
as uniting mind to mind.

If the stars could speak
they'd sing out the Lord's praises
After the example of the rocks and ages.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Book Review: How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs

How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at OddsHow to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kindle read.

Alan Jacobs is one of my favorite internet people - his various blogs and mini blogs and the sole reason I used to go to twitter have long provided interesting ideas, visuals, and social commentary that was worth reading. A number of years ago I LOVED his book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. This book is written in that vein. It's a personal exploration of the whys and hows of - instead of reading - thinking.

I had little investment in the last Presidential campaign and election, but found myself on election night watching the returns and not able to turn away. The absolute shock of the cable commentators to understand what was happening and how people could vote in the way they did was worth watching. It was demonstrative of much of what Jacobs talks about here in How to Think: the Repugnant Cultural Other, the failure to listen, to empathize, to see past the filters, myths, and metaphors that hold thinking together. Jacobs' instructive defining would go a long way to help us all not only listen to each other, but hear and understand - to not speak past one another but to know.

The worst part of this review is that while I'm sure I didn't understand everything in the book, I didn't really disagree with anything ... which means I wasn't thinking about it as I should. I do think that seeking community is different from desiring membership in an Inner Ring, that being able to switch interaction as appropriate to the social setting is important, and that I care way too much about what others think. I do think that ideas held loosely yet firmly is wise, but that employing empathy toward the situation of others is wise. I do see how the myths and metaphors I surround myself with are helpful and harmful.

I suppose I do disagree that both/and instead of either/or isn't necessarily the lazy way out. I don't really have good explanations for that, but I see so many false dichotomies espoused that could be resolved by seeing 'both' as viable options that his argument there fell on deaf ears.

Overall, this is my favorite kind of Jacobs books. It's well written with many references and -be still my soul- footnotes, yet it's very personal with many stories and narratives to keep it going. It's conversational, yet formal at the same time like Pleasures of Reading ...

Definitely recommended.

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