Monday, February 11, 2019

Tortured for Christ by Rev. Richard Wurmbrand

Tortured for Christ
Rev. Richard Wurmbrand
Published 1967 (updated 2013)
Christian Greats Challenge (Missionary Bio)

Richard Wurmbrand was born in Romania, in 1909. In 1938, he and his wife Sabina converted from Judaism to Christianity. During WWII, under Nazi control, Romanian Christians, as well as Jews, were persecuted. As church leaders, both Richard and Sabina were arrested several times, beaten, and sent before Nazi judges. From this they learned that the body can endure much physical pain, and that "the human spirit with God's help can survive horrible tortures."

After WWII, in 1945, Russian Communists occupied Romania. Under Communist control, religion was immediately compromised, and all religious leaders pledged allegiance to the Communist dictator, Stalin. During a meeting of the Ministry of Cults (this was actually a ministry), most spoke up in agreement with Communism. Agitated, Sabina told her husband to "wash this shame from the face of Christ." Richard said, "If I do, you'll lose your husband." And Sabina replied, "I don't need a coward for a husband. Go and do it."

Richard did speak up and told his fellow Christians that it was their duty to glorify Christ, not earthly powers; that Christianity and Communism could not operate together. He suffered for this, but to him, it was worth it.

For the next three years, Richard and Sabina worked diligently to maintain the Underground Church. They were determined to reach the Russian people with the gospel; after all, the Russians had been brainwashed for decades under Communism. Richard said the Russian people had thirsty souls and drank up the gospel. They had been so deprived of truth. 

When comparing Communism to Jesus, Richard said, 
Jesus is polite...the Communists are impolite. They enter by violence into our hearts and minds. They force us to listen to them from morning to late in the night. They do it through their schools, radio, newspapers, posters, movies, atheistic meetings, and everywhere we turn. We have to listen continuously to their godless propaganda whether we like it or not. Jesus respects our freedom. He gently knocks at the door of our heart. 
The Underground Church learned to work under the Communist regime, employing tricks to work in secret, out in the open, and even to infiltrate all levels of government activities. The Communists hated the Christians because they "recognized, as only the devil can...that if a man believed in Christ, he would never be a mindless, willing subject."

Then, in 1948, the Secret Police kidnapped Richard. He spent eight-and-a-half years in prison, was released under Khrushchev, in 1956, rearrested two years later, and then officially released in 1964.

Wurmbrand did not speak much about the tortures he endured, but he shared enough that the reader understands it was harrowing. He called them unspeakable. Instead he described Communism as an evil spiritual force "that only can be countered by a greater spiritual force, the Spirit of God." He called Communists materialists. When man is not accountable to God -- when he "has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil, there is no reason to be human." They believed they could act on all the evil in their hearts. Richard learned that since they permitted no place for Jesus in their hearts, he would leave no place for Satan in his. 



After fourteen total years in prison, Wurmbrand was released, thanks to the influence of American public opinion. (See, public pressure does work.) He was reunited with his wife and son.  Because they returned to work within the Underground Church, their lives were in danger. Two Christian organizations paid the Communist government a ransom, enabling the Wurmbrands to leave Romania. Richard recognized he could bring the voice of persecuted Christians to the rest of the world if he lived out in the world. Today Richard is recognized as the founder of Voice of the Martyrs, once known as the Underground Church.

Richard did not harbor bitterness or resentment toward his Communist torturers. He acknowledged their need for Christ, too. He loved them, but he hated Communism. Much of Tortured for Christ is about how to defeat Communism. Wurmbrand expressed a need to win over political, economic, and scientific leaders, including those in the arts, because they are the ones who influence the souls of men and essentially shape whole countries. 

Living in England, and later America, Wurmbrand faced a disappointing challenge. Many in the West were ignorant of how to defeat the Communist system. The West was asleep. But Wurmbrand continued to warn against evil Communism, which he demonstrated is not compatible with religion, especially Christianity. Christ encourages individuality, whereas Communism only thinks in the collective. There are no personalities under Communism. (See how this won't work with the "Be who you are/Be true to yourself" movements?)

But Wurmbrand was also encouraged because he saw evidence of Christianity defeating Communism through the Underground Church. He witnessed the love of Christ in the persecuted winning over their persecutors. 

Finally, the author named three ways for the West to help persecuted Christians:
1. Pray for the enemy. Pray they may be saved.
2. Send Bibles and Christian literature.
3. Donate funds. Funds help VOM (Voice of the Martyrs) purchase supplies and resources for Christians in dangerous regions.

Sabina Wurmbrand passed away in 2000, and Richard passed in 2001. Now I am interested in reading The Pastor's Wife, by Sabina. 

Sabina and Richard Wurmbrand

IS THIS BOOK FOR YOU?

If you want to know more about Christianity, Christian biographies, Christian martyrdom, the truth about Communism, or Communist history, then this is a perfect short book to read. 

For more from VOM, go here: Voice of the Martyrs.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

February Reading Stack


What's new for February...

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Abridged Edition (thank God), by Edward Gibbson. Reading this for The Well-Educated Mind Histories, and it should take two or three months.

Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand. This is for the Christian Greats Challenge Missionary Bio.

A Room With a View by E. M. Forster. Back-to-the-Classics 20th Century.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. Rumor has it that Brona is doing a read-along. Even still, I'm reading this again. Back-to-the-Classics Americas.

Finishing up:

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

Change Me by Rick Thomas.

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton. Reading with my 11-year old. Six more chapters.

Twelfth Night by Shakespeare. Reading with the kids for school.

Any of these look familiar to you? Have you read them? What did you think?

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Common Sense by Thomas Paine (reread)


Common Sense
Thomas Paine
Published 1776
The Well-Educated Mind Histories

WHO WAS THOMAS PAINE?

Paine was born in England, 1737, to Christian parents (his father was a Quaker). He ran away from home, failed in business, and was in the process of making a mess of his life until he met Benjamin Franklin, in London. Franklin suggested he give America a try.

In 1774, Paine moved to Philadelphia, and worked as an editor. He wrote about the injustices of slavery, borrowing from his Quaker influences that all men are equal in God's eyes.

WHAT DID HE WANT? 

Paine was deeply invested in the political and social issues of America and personally against a government of kings. On the eve of the American Revolution, which began in 1775, many colonists were still undecided between loyalty to the Crown or independence. Paine wanted to convince them to seek independence from Britain.
Of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived. 
WHAT DID HE DO? 

He wrote a pamphlet called Common Sense, published in 1776, and was successful in convincing colonists to make that decision, many of which became Patriots of the Revolution and joined the movement for independence. Often Paine is referred to as the Father of the Revolution.




PAINE'S PERSPECTIVE:

According to Paine, in 1775-1776, he discerned America's fight in the battle for liberty: 
The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.
Paine described society as a result of man's wants and government the result of our wickedness, "a necessary evil." (I feel like Rousseau said something like this.) He believed in simple, lesser government (I totally agree); "the less liable it is to be disordered and the easier repaired when disordered." He established England's absolute government to be too large, complex, and unmanageable. 

The author explained how the Heathens introduced the world to government by kings, which was adopted by Israel; he said that even God disapproved of kings. Obviously, Paine was against the hereditary succession of kings because this explicitly kept men from being equals when one man may "set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others for ever..." He blamed kings for the all the world's bloodshed and war:
'Tis a form of government which the word of God bears testimony against, and blood will attend it. 
When one asked who the king of America was, he believed one should reply, "divine law, the word of God."

Paine was confident that so much damage was done between the two continents already that there  never would be a time or way for Britain and America to reconcile.  He added it would be dangerous. "Reconciliation and ruin are nearly related." 

A section includes Paine's ideas about the prospective American economy, as well as his suggestion to do away with paper money and replace it with gold and silver (too late for that) and a prediction that shipbuilding would be America's successful industry.

Paine encouraged the colonists to rise up! There has never been a better time in her history, he declared. America is young and courageous. 
Youth is the seed time of good habits, as well in nations as in individuals.
Then Paine suggested that a "charter of government be formed first and men delegated to execute them afterward." He added that religion, personal freedom, and property be the obligation of government to protect and defend. 
A firm bargain and a right reckoning make long friends.
And finally...
When we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember, that virtue is not hereditary.
Patriots taking up arms against their tyrannical government

ON THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS

Paine addressed the Quakers and other Christians who were against taking up arms against men. He wrote: "We fight neither for revenge nor conquest; neither from pride nor passion; we are not insulting the world with our fleets and armies, nor ravaging the globe for plunder." 
...love and desire of peace is not confined to Quakerism, it is the natural, as well the religious wish of all denominations of men. 
Wherefore, if ye really preach from conscience, and mean not to make a political hobbyhorse of your religion, convince the world thereof, by proclaiming your doctrine to our enemies, for they likewise bear ARMS.
And more: 
Alas! it seems by the particular tendency of some part of your testimony...as if, all sin was reduced to, and comprehended in, the act of bearing arms.
Revolutionary War Reenactment, Huntington Beach, CA


 AMERICA'S CHEERLEADER

I know this is not a title given to Thomas Paine, but I cannot help thinking of him so. Look what he says:
The birthday of a new world is at hand, and a race of men, perhaps as numerous as all Europe contains, are to receive their portion of freedom from the event of a few months. The Reflexion is awful - and in this point of view, How trifling, how ridiculous, do the little, paltry cavillings, of a few weak or interested men appear, when weighed against the business of a world.
Let the names of Whig and Tory be extinct; and let none other be heard among us, than those of a good citizen, an open and resolute friend, and a virtuous supporter of the Rights of Mankind and of the FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES OF AMERICA. 

Thomas Paine 1737-1809
O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her -- Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.
IS THIS BOOK FOR YOU?

Add this short essay to your reading list if you are a political science/government junky or an American history/political history buff. I have read a few pre-American Revolutionary documents, and none come close to the enthusiasm of Thomas Paine, except maybe Patrick Henry. Lovers of America will appreciate the affections of Paine for our nation's birth and triumph in independence and liberty and freedom.

Sadly, I think much of Paine's words fall on deaf ears today, and maybe his words seem irrelevant. We inherited what he envisioned, but (as Franklin sort of put it...) we don't seem to really want it. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (reread)

The Age of Innocence
Edith Wharton
Published 1920

This book counts towards Back-to-the-Classics (Place) because I was born and raised in New York City, the setting of The Age of Innocence. 

When I first read The Age of Innocencein 2014, Wharton's writing style captured all of my focus. The language is still magnificent, but this time my reading experience was much deeper and broader. I truly am excited to review this book.

ON THE PLOT AND CHARACTERS

On the surface, the plot involves a simple love story triangle set in the Golden Age of Old New York. Newland Archer is torn between conventionally marrying his beautiful, traditional fiancée, May Welland, and pursuing an emotional relationship with May's enigmatic cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, who just arrived from Europe after fleeing her abusive husband. Inside the plot are the social taboos one must avoid, or face rejection by society.

Of the characters, Newland Archer is a popular young lawyer. He is well rounded in theater, art, literature, and politics and more so because he personally appreciates them rather than enduring them just for the sake of society. 

His fiancĂ©e, May, is not as knowledgeable of the arts and politics, but she is sweet and virtuous and safely follows traditions, for the good of society; however, she is also described as Diana-like, which will come in handy later in her marriage. 

Meanwhile, the elusive Countess Olenska is completely opposite May because she breaks with tradition and does not follow the rules of high society, at least in Old New York. This is very attractive to Newland and captures his attention.

via Amazon.com

WHO WAS THE INNOCENT ONE?

The title has become a curiosity of mine because it is not very obvious to me what or who it refers, and I started to wonder. Innocence could represent many ideas: one may be guiltless, righteous, pure, or naive. In a way, each character demonstrated a form of innocence.

Countess Olenska was not innocent by Old New York's standards. She was confidently aware of her decisions and performed them deliberately. She was not ignorant. She even proved New York society to be recessive and outdated.  But other than desiring to divorce her unjust husband, she was definitely guiltless of any horrible wrongdoing.  

Upon my original reading, I believed that May was the symbol of innocence because of her pure and simple impression; but this time I am almost certain that May was not that innocent. I found her to be more cunning, clever, and quicker than Newland. Wharton built up the character of May, subtly and stealthily, often in the terms of Greek mythology.
If May had spoken out her grievances (he suspected her of many) he might have laughed them away; but she was trained to conceal imaginary wounds under a Spartan smile.
Though she was not exactly blind and unaware, May was innocent because she represented purity and discretion.

Newland, being a romantic, was blinded by his emotions, causing him to follow his heart, which led him to think foolishly. At the start, he was wrapped up in the ways of society, following protocol religiously; that is, until Countess Olenska captured his attention. Then he became enlightened and lost all common sense. At one point, he contemplated telling his dear wife about his private adulterous desires, in hopes that she would let him go to pursue his own happiness. He became agitated when May paid attention to his business details and called him on it. He was also ignorant of the Countess and confidently predicted she would have to accept him if he followed her. Yes, Newland may have been innocent, in the sense that he was naive

Thankfully, Wharton described Newland as a dilettante, one who enjoys "thinking over pleasures" rather than actually making them happen. In part, this may have saved his marriage.  Newland was content to fantasize about what could be with the Countess; but he never jeopardized his marriage to that extent or caused shame to the family name or the Countess. 

Newland and May, film version, 1983
SPOILERS AHEAD

My favorite part is May: everything she did was subtle, as she played Newland's game and won the victory in the end. Everyone knew about Newland's desire to pursue the Countess, and he was perfectly oblivious of society's hand in causing the Countess to return to Europe, saving May's marriage. In addition, May was also instrumental is easing the Countess' decision to obey society's desire to quietly disappear when May predicted without much confidence (to the Countess) that Newland was going to be a father. When she became more certain, May had this exchange with her husband, and Wharton made clear who the naive one truly was:
[Newland] looked up at her with a sick stare, and she sank down, all dew and roses, and hid her face against his knee.
"Oh, my dear," he said, holding her to him while his cold hand stroked her hair.  
There was a long pause, which the inner devils filled with strident laughter; then May freed herself from his arms and stood up. 
"You didn't guess --?"
"Yes -- I; no. That is, of course I hoped --"
"Have you told anyone else?"
"Only Mamma and your mother. That is -- and Ellen."
"Ah --" said Archer, his heart stopping.
He felt that his wife was watching him intently. "Did you mind my telling her first, Newland?"
"Mind? Why should I?" He made a last effort to collect himself. "But that was a fortnight ago, wasn't it? I thought you said you weren't sure till today?"
Her color burned deeper, but she held his gaze. "No; I wasn't sure then -- but I told her I was. And you see I was right!" she exclaimed, her blue eyes wet with VICTORY. 
That was my favorite because Newland was turning into a spoiled brat, demanding to have his selfish way. In the first reading, I was made to feel sorry for him because he and everyone were burdened by the restrictions set by society, feeding discontentedness. Even Newland had high esteem for marriage - that is until he desired something else; then suddenly marriage was subjective. He was ready to give up his marriage.  I did not like his attitude, and I am glad he was burned by May. Wharton prepares you ever so slowly for that final "victory." I just love it!

Edith Wharton, 1881

IS THIS BOOK FOR YOU?

This is a slower-paced, theme-packed novel about society and the undue burdens man places on himself in order to belong and feel important. The love triangle is interesting and complex. The language is exquisite and full of clues about personalities and human nature. When you read this book, read it slowly, drink it in, every word. Then watch the 1983 film version, and be happy you don't live like these people.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

The Hiding Place
Corrie Ten Boom
Published 1971

The Hiding Place is about the ten Boom family, of Holland, who, with the aid of an underground organization, smuggled nearly 800 Dutch Jewish men, women, and children to safety, preserving their lives during WWII. They - the ten Boom family - paid the ultimate price with their own lives.

Corrie ten Boom was in her 40s when Hitler invaded Holland, and life changed drastically for her family and their watch repair business. Food and supplies became scarce and were rationed, curfews were set, young Dutch men were kidnapped and forced into the German army, and all forms of communication were confiscated. 

The ten Booms witnessed Jewish businesses close, Jews forced to wear the yellow Star of David, and finally, the disappearance of people. It was then that Corrie and her family wanted to do something to help God's people, as they referred to them. 

The ten Booms worked with the Dutch underground resistance smuggling Jews to the country, to homes where people willingly hid them. She managed to receive stolen ration cards, though she hated lying and stealing; nonetheless, it helped feed the extra people passing through her home. 

Eventually, the ten Booms had a secret space built inside Corrie's bedroom wall so they could hide the Jews staying with them. It was to be the hiding place.


The hiding place in Corrie's bedroom

They knew it was only time before a raid, and they were prepared. In February, 1944, Corrie and her family, as well as 30 members of the underground, were arrested, but not before the six Jews in the ten Boom home fled into the hiding space. There they safely remained for three days until someone from the underground was able to rescue and secure them in another location. 

As for Corrie and her sister, Betsie, it was a different ending, an ordeal I struggle to put it into words. The specifics are horrifying, but I do suggest you read this for yourself.

Betsie and Corrie ten Boom

What I rather write about is Corrie's character, and Betsie's, too. The ten Booms were a Christian family...the kind that followed Christ's example. Lying and stealing were frowned upon, but when  [man's government]* violated God's law, it was right to disobey government. And they did everything they needed to do to save the Jewish people who were targeted by the German occupation. 
*Sidebar: This was not a legitimate government because Holland was invaded, and a usurper was making his own perverse law the law of the land.
When I first read The Hiding Place several years ago, it made sense that the book was named after the hiding place in Corrie's bedroom; however, after this second read, I realize there is a second meaning. Corrie noted Scripture her father quoted: 
Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word . . . Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe . . . 
 For I too had a hiding place when things were bad. Jesus was this place, the Rock cleft for me. 
Jesus was their hiding place; He is our hiding place.

Corrie and Betsie remembered this throughout the year they were in prison, and it sustained them in the most amazing ways. Considering her situation, she reflected how the Gospels were a "pattern of God's activity," and, she wondered, "if defeat was only the beginning..."
. . . what conceivable victory could come from a place like this."
Soon, Corrie learned that Betsie was safe in a separate cell, and that all of their other family members and friends had been released. Through a letter, she read that "all the watches in the closet [were] safe," which was code for "All six Jews left hiding in the closet were safe and placed in other locations. They escaped and were free!" She also found out that her father had died ten days after his arrest; though difficult to absorb, she found it a comfort to know he was now seeing Jesus face to face.

After four months at the Dutch holding prison, Corrie and Betsie were reunited and sent to Scheveningen prison, in Holland, for political dissidents. For the first time, Corrie marveled what kind of person her sister was because she prayed for the prison guards. "Betsie saw a wounded human being."
Corrie, if people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love! We must find the way, you and I, no matter how long it takes...
Some how the sisters found out who had exposed their underground operations to the Gestapo.  Corrie said she could kill him, but Betsie had been praying for him. When Corrie was alone with her thoughts, she felt convicted that she had been guilty of the same sin, murder, because she murdered him with her heart and mouth. That night she forgave him.

When the world was closing in on Germany, in 1944, the prisoners were moved again, into Germany. Ravensbruck was the notorious women's extermination camp. It was here that one thing became evident to Corrie and Betsie "...from morning until lights-out, whenever we were not in ranks for roll call, our Bible was the center of an ever-widening circle of help and hope."
The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loves us."
The bunks in their barrack were infested with fleas, something Betsie said they should be thankful for..."Give thanks in all circumstances." Corrie was sure that there was no way she could be thankful for fleas, but Betsie clarified that it did not say to be thankful only in pleasant circumstances. Fleas were part of the world God had placed the sisters.



Since Corrie and Betsie had smuggled a Bible into Ravensbruck, they held nightly Bible meetings in their barrack with the other women. Initially, they were extremely careful not to alert the guards; but soon after, it was apparent that no guard would ever enter their barracks. Why? Fleas! (Be thankful in all things.)

The Ten Boom Museum in Haarlem, Netherlands

Meanwhile, Betsie was physically perishing. He health had been weak since they were arrested. Corrie did all she could to care for her sister's health, while her sister was always more concerned with the health and well being of others. It also seemed the weaker she became, the bolder her witness.

When Corrie was thinking about how to help the prisoners after their release, providing a place for people to go, to care for and love them...Betsie was thinking about a place to help the German guards, "to show them that love is greater." Betsie loved their enemies and prayed for those who persecuted them.

Corrie wrote about how she struggled with the sin of selfishness and self-centeredness. She called it "the ploy of Satan." During a brief time when Betsie was in the "hospital" - which was not really a hospital, and I doubt there was actual medical help anywhere on the grounds - Corrie had to lead Bible meetings without her sister. She came to the story of Paul and his affliction. Three times he requested God to remove it from him, and three times God told Paul to rely on Him. It was then that Corrie understood that her sin had been a false belief in her own strength and power to transform, when it was all Christ.

I am sad to say that Betsie died shortly after this, and only twelve days before Corrie was released. Later it was learned that her release was probably a mistake, and furthermore, two weeks later, the women in her age group from her barracks were sent to the gas chamber.

Getting home was not easy. It seemed the whole world was void of love and care; but Corrie did make it back to her family home, to learn the fate of loved ones and more sad news.

In 1945, she opened a rehabilitation home in Holland for hurting people. Some had spent time in concentration camps and others spent years in hiding. Some were prisoners of the Japanese in Indonesia. Everyone had to learn forgiveness and to work out the sorrow within him.

One day, after a speaking engagement, a former S. S. guard of Ravensbruck came up to shake Corrie's hand, and Corrie froze.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man: was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. 
Suddenly, when she raised her hand out to meet his, she felt "a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed [her]." Corrie learned that it is not our forgiveness or goodness that "the world's healing hinges, but on His."
When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
Isn't that beautiful? And it is true, too.


There are no 'ifs' in God's kingdom. I could hear [Betsie's] soft voice saying it. His timing is perfect. His will is our hiding place. Lord Jesus, keep me in Your will! Don't let me go mad by poking about outside it.

Is this book for you?

I am very tempted to say that everyone should read this book. It is written in a way that anyone who reads it, junior high age and up, can understand it. It speaks to the heart. It is about hatred and forgiveness, suffering and caring and true love. It is about the human condition. It is about changing hearts. It is about perseverance and doing hard things. It is a testament of God using others to do His work in this sin-filled world, so that it is not so ugly. And it is historical -- one gets a first hand account of the results of Nazi-Germany's evil and destruction beyond the Jewish people. It affected everyone. Yes, actually, everyone needs to read this book. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart

Letters of a Woman Homesteader
Elinore Pruitt Stewart
Published 1914

In the early 1900s, Elinore Pruitt lost her husband in a railroad accident and found work as a housecleaner and laundress to support herself and her two-year old daughter, Jerrine. Dissatisfied with her circumstances, and that others were raising her daughter, she decided to try something more challenging and adventurous...homesteading. She took up housekeeping for a cattleman, Mr. Clyde Stewart, on his ranch in Wyoming, and she wrote about her amazing experiences in letters to her former employer; her letters were later published in this book. 

Elinore and Jerrine - N.C. Wyeth
You may wonder what could possibly be  intriguing about letters from a woman homesteader, but this story and how it was told is so satisfying; I shall remember it as one of my favorite reads this year.

Elinore had a love of nature, a strong disposition, and an honest and candid character, providing excellent storytelling, amusing and full of life. She intended to prove that a woman could live an independent, self-sufficient, resourceful and fulfilling life via ranching. She desired to be an example and encouragement to all women willing to try it.

One of the reasons I wanted to read this was to get perspective from another woman who lived far from civilization -- and Elinore did -- to compare it to my last read, Caroline, by Sarah Miller, in which the author imagined Caroline Ingalls battling burdensome feelings of loneliness. In this true account, Elinore proclaimed that she had so much work to do that she did not have time to dwell on her inner thoughts, including those of self-pity or loneliness. She also said,
To me, homesteading is the solution of all poverty's problems, but I realize that temperament has much to do with success in any undertaking, and persons afraid of coyotes and work and loneliness had better let ranching alone. At the same time, any woman who can stand her own company, can see beauty of the sunset, loves growing things, and is willing to put in as much time at careful labor as she does over the washtub, will certainly succeed; will have independence, plenty to eat all the time, and a home of her own in the end. 

Green River, Wyoming ~ Thomas Moran

Elinore was a good neighbor, especially considering that her neighbors were miles and miles away, often compounded by bad weather, dangerous terrain, and occasional threats of wild animals and bands of thieves; but this never hindered her. She recalled interesting, joyous, and sometimes terrifying stories about tending to people living in the wild, providing company for them, and caring for their needs.

She explained:
I can think of nothing that would give me more happiness than to bring the West and its people to others who could not otherwise enjoy them. If I could only take them from whatever is worrying them and give them this bracing mountain air, glimpses of the scenery, a smell of the pines and the sage, - if I could only make them feel the free, ready sympathy and hospitality of these frontier people, I am sure their worries would diminish and my happiness would be complete.

Elinore Pruitt Stewart making hay

She also suffered personal heartbreak and disappointment, though always maintained courage and perseverance. She was grateful for her many blessings.
When you think of me, you must think of me as one who is truly happy. It is true, I want a great many things I haven't got, but I don't want them enough to be discontented and not enjoy the many blessing that are mine. 
It has always been a theory of mine that when we become sorry for ourselves we make our misfortunes harder to bear, because we lose courage and can't think without bias; so I cast about me for something to be glad about...
Do you wonder I am so happy? When I think of it all, I wonder how I can crowd all my joy into one short life.  
It must be noted that years later she admitted to her employer that she "hastily" married Mr. Stewart, fearing that it would appear to diminish her independence and self-sufficiency. However, if I included the results of the work that she proudly was responsible, you would agree that she had proved herself quite capable.
I just love to experiment, to work, and to prove out things, so that ranch life and "roughing it" just suit me.
Is this book for you?

If you enjoy adventurous stories of pioneers, the American West, and independent women, and you do not mind reading in epistolary format, then this book is for you. Heads up: the language reflects Elinore's time period and may be considered offensive to some readers. There is also a letter describing a meeting with Mormons, which may also be provocative. I think Elinore was intent on witnessing to them, but it did not turn out very well. Other than that, you should experience the full range of life's emotions, shared by a God-honoring, good neighborly woman. And it won't disappoint for one page, I promise.

Elinore Pruitt Stewart 
1876-1933
But when you get among such grandeur you get to feel how little you are and how foolish is human endeavor, except that which reunites us with the mighty force called God.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller

Caroline Little House, Revisited
Sarah Miller
Published 2017

Caroline, by Sarah Miller, is Little House on the Prairie, as if told by Laura Ingalls Wilder's mother, Caroline Ingalls. It seemed like a great idea to rewrite the story from Caroline's position, but I felt like I was reading about what I would have thought, or another 21st century woman, on the road with the typically preoccupied husband. Also, Miller shared a little too much info, otherwise known as TMI.

For example, the author did not shy away from every day realities, like the latrine, something Laura Ingalls Wilder excluded from her stories. Miller described the feminine products Caroline had to make for herself and the messy details as to why, after Caroline delivered baby Carrie.

In this perspective, Caroline was deeply introspective -- much more than I imagined the self-denying, exceptionally decent, and morally upstanding Caroline of the Little House series. But in this version, we hear only Caroline's voice, and it is rather contemporary. Often times she had the attitude of a helpless young girl -- inadequate, lamentable, and forlorn.

This Caroline pitied herself because she could not build something as long lasting as Charles did, like a house. She felt sorry for herself; she felt lonely.
That was what she had been missing while Charles was away. Not her husband's company, but the chance to share her own. The girls had their games and giggles, the men their brash hijinks (speaking of their bachelor neighbor, Mr. Edwards). Caroline had only herself. 
 She complained that she did not have choices, but Charles did.
It was only that he had these chances to unhitch himself from everything, and she did not. There was never the extravagance of an afternoon all to herself...
Envy, pure and simple, and nothing she said to herself would snuff the resentful flicker in her throat. 
When Charles rushed back to the house after fifty wolves were at his heels, and after he caught his breath, he said to Caroline,
I was glad you had the gun, Caroline, and glad the house is built. I knew you could keep the wolves out of the house, with the gun. But Pet and the foal were outside.
Caroline bridled so suddenly the fear fell right out of her. Why had he gone off at all if he had reason to worry about the stock? Did it never occur to Charles that it might behoove them all to worry about himself now and again?  Perhaps he would remember that the next time he took it into his head to trot off toward the horizon.
Smartly, Caroline suggested they would eat dinner in the house, but Charles contradicted her and said it was not necessary because Jack (their dog) would give them enough warning. And to herself Caroline remarked,
If they ate inside there would be no need of warning, but she did not bother saying so. That sort of logic held no sway with Charles. 
Charles maintained a cavalier attitude about the Indians taking the cornmeal, which Caroline had to stretch and feed to her family; he did not consider the long trip to Independence to replace the things the Indians took a burden (at least for himself). Naturally, Caroline was indignant.

And this too: Caroline stewed over Charles's chastisement of Mary and Laura because they considered releasing their dog while the Indians were in the house (though they kept the dog chained, after all). Caroline thought: "What did he expect moving his family into Indian Territory? They were smarter than he gave them credit."
In a place like this, there could be no room for blind obedience. It was all the more dangerous to render them more wary of upsetting their pa than of the Indians. Their fear would guard them -- if only Charles would leave them free to obey it. 
Caroline considered in her mind how Charles could and would do nothing about the Indians in the house, although his silence on the matter was frustrating. He held no malice toward any man or beast, until they proved otherwise; therefore, he justified leaving Caroline and the girls home alone.

Immediately after that conflict, she felt selfish and spiteful toward Charles, and she wallowed in how he was not included in the tight bond between baby Carrie and herself. She childishly hoped she hurt Charles's feelings and even shrugged him off when he tried to coax her.

These are a few examples of the unexpected voice and behavior of Caroline toward her husband. Only once I  remember from the Little House series how Caroline raised her voice at Charles, and she immediately apologized. The apology was not warranted, but she maintained such honor and esteem for her husband that she does not strike me as the kind of woman who would have harbored self-centered, bitter, or spiteful thoughts toward him. If she did, she would have extinguished those feelings or opinions immediately. She was mature, self-controlled, well-grounded, wise, and extremely focused on her own work. 

Now, I must give warning or a heads up about the intimacy between husband and wife, and the graphic breastmilk descriptions, especially involving Charles. [Awkward.] There was more information than I needed to know about Charles that I cannot talk about. You will have to take my word for it. The real Caroline Ingalls would blush to know someone wrote about her husband (and herself) this way. 

Regretfully, Caroline was not written in the fashion that Little House fans are accustomed. What has been lost is the art of being discreet, not just in this story, but also in society. Having grown up in a time when men and women practiced being tactful, mindful, and prudent, Caroline taught these sensible standards to her girls. When writing the Little House series, Laura was deliberate to leave out private and personal matters, such as you-know-what. There is no purpose or reason to include these events or ideas. 

Caroline and Charles Ingalls, married 1860

THE LOST ART OF BEING DISCREET

Speaking of nursing...let me apply a modern example of being discreet. Today it is all the rage to breastfeed (uncovered) in public. Because we are so self-absorbed, women think covering up while nursing in public means we are being shamed; and being more protective of our pride than our bodies, we want to  remove our cover and declare our right to feed our babies in public, ruthlessly, in need be. We think we are being noble and wise, but in essence, we have lost the art of being discreet. 

In our society, women do not bare their breasts in public for a reason - though that is fast changing; why think it is any different just because we are nursing? That cover is to guard what is ours. It is more than a prevention of offense or being mindful of someone else's feelings; it is to defend what is ours; it is a powerful protection of our business, property, and privacy. But we have sadly lost that. 

Instead, we want to do the opposite and carelessly and provocatively display ourselves openly, like Miller does in Caroline, which I think the real Caroline (or at least the one Laura portrayed) would be greatly ashamed. Maybe that is harsh to charge Miller with being provocative, but that is how I tie it into my culture today; people think it is more powerful to be shocking than it is to be discreet; but Caroline, through Laura, showed us otherwise.

Charles and Caroline

IS THIS BOOK FOR YOU?

Little House fans will be tempted to read this, but you must be forewarned: it is not the Caroline Ingalls you know or are familiar. She is more like...me and you...a contemporary woman, more sensitive to and vocal about the discrepancies and grievances and discomforts of being a woman, a wife, and a mother. Yes, I am guilty of these things, too.

Heads up: there are a lot of breast and breastfeeding and breast milk scenes. And the intimacy between Charles and Caroline was not subtle and quite uncomfortable. I only read as much as I did because I was in shock that I was reading it at all. Eventually, I skipped ahead. I think I blushed more while reading Caroline than I did during Madam Bovary.

It is kind of a bummer because I wanted to enjoy it, but I am a disappointed. I have an ideal of Caroline Ingalls, and I want to keep it that way. Even if it is not the true Caroline, I like the one I already know more.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

January Reading Stack


Happy New Year! 

In 2019, I plan to reread a lot. That is, I plan to revisit books that remained with me (in my heart, on my mind) long after reading them. Rereads are marked with an asterisk. This is what I am beginning in January:

Common Sense* ~Thomas Paine [Well-Educated Mind Histories, The Classics Club II]
In my quest to get educated, I bought this copy of Thomas Paine's writings, and I read all of it. That was back in 2005, I think. TWEM requires readers to read only Common Sense, and that is where I am now in the list of histories.

The Hiding Place* ~ Corrie Ten Boom [Christian Greats Challenge]
This was suggested to me by a friend, and I read this in 2008. This is an amazing story about a great Christian woman, which is why I am reading it for the CGC.

Twelfth Night ~ Shakespeare [The Classics Club II]
A new endeavor...I am reading Shakespeare with my kids in the original language. Each play takes us about three months to complete. I might as well add them to my Classics Club TBR.

The Age of Innocence* ~ Edith Wharton [Back to the Classics: place I have lived]
I read this in 2014, and I enjoyed it very much. The film was worthy, too. Adding this to my B2CC under places I have lived because it is set in New York City, where I am originally from.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Back to the Classics 2019

Books and Chocolate is hosting another year of Back to the Classics event. This is going to be my year of re-reads, and that makes me so happy because I have been wanting to return and visit some of my favorites from four, five, and six years ago. I added an asterisk to indicate a re-read.


The Categories (and my proposed reads):

1. 19th Century Classic
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ Lew Wallace
2. 20th Century Classic
A Room with a View E. M. Forster
3. Classic by a Woman Author
Uncle Tom's Cabin* Harriet Beecher Stowe
4. Classic in Translation
Don Quixote* ~ Cervantes
5. Classic Comic Novel
Around the World in Eighty Days* ~ Jules Verne
6. Classic Tragic Novel
Ethan Frome ~ Edith Wharton
7. Very Long Classic
Anna Karenina* Leo Tolstoy
8. Classic Novella
Red Badge of Courage* ~ Stephen Crane
9. Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean)
Moby-Dick* ~ Herman Melville
10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia)
Out of Africa Isak Dinesen
11. Classic From a Place You've Lived
The Age of Innocence* ~ Edith Wharton
12. Classic Play
Othello ~ Shakespeare

For all the rules and link-ups, please visit: Books and Chocolate: Back to the Classics Challenge 2019.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

2019 Christian Greats Challenge: Past & Present

I am preparing for my 2019 reading year. Here is a challenge I am looking forward to joining, hosted by Carol @ Journey & Destination. I've included some of my decisions, and I may add others later. I almost failed to mention that most are rereads (indicated by an asterisk), many of which I have read years and years ago. 


Categories (w/ my personal selections):

1. Early Church History (up to 500 AD) 
The History of the Church ~ Eusebius
2. A Prominent Christian who was born between 500AD and 1900 
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther* ~ Roland H. Bainton
3. Christian Allegory
The Pilgrim's Progress* ~ John Bunyan
4. Apologetics
Seeking Allah...Finding Jesus ~ Nabeel Qureshi
5. Philosophical Book by Christian Author
A Philosophy of Education* ~ Charlotte Mason
6. Missionary Biography or Biography of Prominent Christian who lived between 1500-1950
Tortured for Christ~ Richard Wurmbrand
7. Seasonal
8. Christian Themed Novel
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ ~ Lew Wallace
9. Detective or Mystery Novel (see explanation on J&D post*)
10. Substitute with listed author or second book from listed categories (see post*)
The Hiding Place~ Corrie Ten Boom (second book from #6)

**Please see Journey & Destination for more detailed information, guidelines, and link-ups.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis

The Problem of Pain
C. S. Lewis
Published 1940
The Classics Club II

Unbelievers and believers alike wonder why a good and loving God would permit evil and sorrow and pain to exist. It is a great question! But C. S. Lewis admitted he could entirely answer it here in this little book, The Problem of Pain. Instead, he focused on the purpose for pain and how pain points us to someone or something higher than ourselves. 

He explained that God is holy and we are not. The problem of trying to connect human suffering with the existence of a holy God occurs when we minimize love and make man the center of everything. God made us for Himself, especially. 
To ask that God's love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us loveable. 
What we would here and now call our 'happiness' is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.  
Lewis covered a chapter on human wickedness, otherwise known to God as sin. With humility, man will come to admit this capacity in himself, and it is necessary in order to begin working toward holiness. Lewis then discussed HOW man became depraved, or how sin entered man. He explained pride and self-idolatry. He said man rather obey the laws of nature than the laws of God. 

In the chapter on human pain, Lewis pointed out that it is more often men who have invented ways to inflict pain on fellow man, as well as human avarice and stupidity, than nature or God have.  But on pain of the suffering kind, this is where we have a problem. 
We are rebels who must lay down our arms. The...answer...to the question why our cure should be painful, is that to render back the will which we have so long claimed for our own, is in itself, wherever and however it is done, a grievous pain. 
It is a kind of death.
That is why Christians are told to "die daily." Lewis described pain as man's only way to God. 
Pain as God's megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul. 
Lewis explained that man must surrender himself to God; and because we are so pride-filled and self-sufficient, self-surrender demands pain from suffering. 

C. S. Lewis  1898-1963

IS THIS BOOK FOR YOU?

Theologians and philosophers may enjoy C. S. Lewis's arguments as to why Christians obey and follow a holy God who permits suffering and pain, in order to get our attention that we may become right with Him in our daily walk. Christians may appreciate the many beautiful expressions that Lewis makes about faith. Here are some of my favorites...
Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.  
But God wills our good, and our good is to love Him and to love Him we must know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces. 
But God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it -- made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand. 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Social Contract
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Published 1762

Well, I can see that America's Founding Fathers read Rousseau's The Social Contract. Not really sure if that was a good thing or not.

This short essay is a political idea that Rousseau worked out, based on previous political thought, concerning man's natural rights and how government should work in order to protect man's rights. At least, that is what I got out of it.

Rousseau recognized that man had a natural state and that man was equally free and happy in his natural state. Unfortunately, as society increased, the issue with private property and possessions spoiled his nature. He became greedy and envious of his neighbor and his neighbor's possessions. This caused competition and other complications. Something needed to be done to protect man's property and possessions; hence man willingly entered into a social contract with everyone else.

This social contract should represent the common and collective general will of the people. It would be enforced by the State -- other citizens who have been given authority to make rules and laws -- agreed upon by the people, though the people would have the power to remove this contract, if they found that it was not working for them. Essentially, the people give up their rights in order to submit to the general will of the community, which, in essence, provides new freedoms and protections to all of the people. And then all will be happy and equal again because they will have all mutually agreed with one another. (I suppose.)

Well, it may look good on paper, I ponder, but Rousseau did not understand that man has always been greedy and discontent. That is his nature, too. And no matter what Rousseau thinks causes man's corruptible nature, no political social contract or construct or form of government is going to create a happy natural state of man unless he individually gets right with God first.

All of this political science and theory is the same. Man thinks he can create a utopia through his own ideas, while not having a right understanding of man's sinful nature while leaving God out of the equation. I am not suggesting that Rousseau was completely wrong -- he found human government problematic, and he was and is RIGHT -- he just did not understand the WHY for man's inability to ever be happy or equal or free under man's form of government.

The United States may have come pretty close to a good form of government; yet, because of man's corruptible nature, look still how unequal and unhappy and in chains we are!

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712-1778
IS THIS BOOK FOR YOU?

This is essential political science and theory. If you are into that, you need to get into this. It's super short, but full of political ideas and thoughts and opinions. If you are interested in the French Revolution, this is also a good reason to read Rousseau because he contributed to the fire of the Enlightenment, which led to the political climate and changes of that time period, a time when man no longer wanted to trust God [the Church] or government [the Monarchy] with their lives, and they believed man and nature had better solutions.