Saturday, January 27, 2007

Book Review: How to Master the English Bible by James M. Gray

Semicolon referred to an article in her blog which really captured my interest. Entitled "How to Change Your Mind", the article outlines an approach to Bible study known as the synthetic method. The inverse of studying verse-by-verse, the synthetic method calls for reading a book of the Bible in its entirety at one sitting. Over the course of a month, this is repeated at least twenty times. The goal is to master the content; to understand the big picture, purpose and theme of a particular book.

One of the reasons I was so interested was because this was the method of scriptural study advocated by the most godly woman I ever knew. An elderly woman, Mrs. Hannah mentored my husband and me when we were but newlyweds in our mid 20's. She positively radiated love and was a vibrant, intelligent conversationalist. Often, she encouraged us to choose a book of the Bible and to read it over and over again until it became a permanent possession of the heart. The pages of her own Bible were tear-stained; the proof of the suffering she had endured as a young woman when it had been her lot to become a bride, a mother, and a widow all within the space of one short year.

I have used Mrs. Hannah's secret of Bible study on occasion; especially when preparing a series of lessons for speaking. I have found it to be fruitful and fulfilling. So why haven't I made it my long term goal to study each and every book of the Bible in this way? I am ashamed that I have held this simple secret so long and done so little with it.

The women's Bible study that I lead will be using the synthetic approach this year instead of studying verse-by-verse, as has been our practice. I think both methods have merit; but it seems for me the time has come to complement the one with the other. Short books of the Bible are the obvious choice for beginning. We have completed the book of Ephesians this month and will go on to study Colossians next time.

My Bible study journey has led me to a resource which nicely describes the blessings, benefits, and means of studying synthetically. Entitled How to Master the English Bible by James M. Gray, it is a quick read (69 pages). Written in 1904, used copies are easy to find. A new paperback edition is also available from Amazon.

James M. Gray, the author of How to Master the English Bible, was a contemporary of D.L. Moody and was invited by Moody to teach this method of Bible study to his congregation. Classes became so popular that they engaged up to 4,000 participants. Apparently, there was much fruit in those days. I long to see that kind of hunger for God's Word in our times, don't you?

Lord, make me hungrier still for Your Living Word.

Another excellent review of the book may be found here.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

In Retrospect: the Best of 2006

The temperature has been hovering in the single digits this past week. My oldest daughter pulled out some of her pictures from our Arizona vacation, taken last March. Warm memories!
The children each brought home a cactus as a souvenir. There were so many to choose from! For me, it was almost as much fun making a list of cactus names: Monkey Tail, Hedgehog, Brain plant, Mother-in-law's tongue, Pincushion, Barrel, Dead Man's Fingers, Turk's Cap, Pregnant Onion, Pencil Plant, Dutchman's Pipe. The names are all so appropriately descriptive!

Of course, the large saguaros are also endlessly fascinating. We had to pull over to the roadside several time so that the children could snap photos. Edwin Way Teale writes about these "water towers of the desert" in his book Wandering Through Winter:

"It is these giant cacti (saguaros) that come first to mind when we remember southern Arizona.
Each column that towered above us was, in effect, an expandable storage tank. The accordianlike pleats that run vertically up the side of a saguaro enable it to expand or contract, to increase or decrease its circumference. The cactus becomes more slender in times of drought, more plump when rain has fallen. Its spongelike tissues have enormous capacity for holding liquids. A large saguaro may collect as much as a ton of water from a single rain."

A Christian could easily find a sermon in this natural wonder, but Teale rarely moralizes. He allows nature to make its own indelible mark on the human soul. A wise teacher lets the student come to his or her own conclusions, don't you think? That is why I enjoy Teale's writing so much.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

In Retrospect: the Best of 2006

Photo credit: Ferguson Studio

Because I did not start my blogging journey until November, I have chosen a few highlights from the months previous to remember. New Year's Day (2007) I had the luxury of staying in my robe until 11:00 a.m. by the fire, perusing my journal. It is fun to look back on the best moments, the worst moments, and the faithfulness of God through all moments. This first "In Retrospect" article is about an art exhibit our family viewed in January 2006.

You have to admire the adventurous spirit of a photographer who is willing to brave 17 days of bitter cold, often 80 degrees below zero, in order to bring home 2,000 prints of the "White Continent." Larry Ferguson's Antarctic exhibit was a breathtaking combination of black and white and color photos documenting his expedition. I was particularly taken by the black and whites, which captured the stark contrast between ice and sky. The other element that fascinated me was the array of textures that had been impressed upon the snow by relentless wind.

The cold was extreme enough to freeze batteries; analog cameras were the instruments of choice for this reason. Larry Ferguson proved masterful in using them to capture the pristine landscapes of this mysterious land of winter.

"From the breath of God ice is made,
And the expanse of the waters is frozen." Job 37:10

Friday, January 05, 2007

Book Review: Sesame and Lilies by John Ruskin

John Ruskin (1819-1900) was a prolific English art critic and historian, poet, and writer. His theories were taken up by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and his acquaintances included Dante Rossetti, William Hunt, Lewis Carroll, and Thomas Carlyle. Many homeschool Moms would simply recognize him as the author of the children's fantasy, King of the Golden River.

The small book, Sesame and Lilies is only one of his 250 works and is a written transcript of 3 lectures that Mr. Ruskin delivered to the Royal College of Science, Dublin 1868.

Book lovers will appreciate the first lecture, in which Ruskin urges his audience to read the best books. He makes a distinction between "books of the hour" and books for all time. In his own words:

"life is short....have you measured and mapped out this short life and its possibilities? Do you know, if you read this, that you cannot read that; that what you lose today you cannot gain tomorrow? Will you go and gossip with your housemaid or your stable-boy, when you may talk with queens and kings?"

There are lots of bloggers mapping out their reading lists this week! Take a look at Carol's list here, the winter reading challenge at Seasonal Soundings, and Semicolons huge array of tempting reads.

Ruskin speaks also of developing the habit of "looking intensely at words" and advocates learning the "true descent and ancient blood" of the words we handle. Keep a good dictionary handy and patiently track the evolution and meanings of words you are not absolutely clear on. Illustrating with an excerpt from Milton's Lycidas, which he classifies a "true book", Ruskin is at his best. He does a masterful job dissecting the reading.

At the close of the lecture, the well-to-do audience is challenged to use their influence to promote the buying of books and the building of libraries rather than investing in weapons of war. Ruskin's passion is unmistakable; he seems to be pleading for the soul of the nation.

The "Lilies" portion of the book deals with the education of young ladies. His approach is aimed at nailing the pride of those born into luxury and privilege. He urges practical domestic skills to be taught and used so that the poor are fed, clothed, and sheltered.

It is an interesting paradox that, while taking aim at the pride of the elite, Mr. Ruskin himself comes across as bombastic. I was fascinated by his genius and spice, but felt as though he was seeking to right the wrongs of society by bearing down hard with fire and brimstone.

His words are used elegantly and intelligently, yet I felt no warmth or lingering glow upon closing the book. I share the desire to feed, clothe, and shelter the poor. I share in his observation that young "lilies"should be taught domestic arts so that they may be of service to others. But my motivation is different. For me, service is internally motivated by love. Ruskin uses his great gift with words to motivate people to action externally; more as an act of duty. At times I sensed he was seeking even to shame people into action.

I am not sorry I read the book. Many wonderful quotes I have gleaned from its pages. The verbal fireworks were enjoyable. But I find myself unchanged inwardly by Ruskin's passion.

I have referred to Ruskin a couple of times in my previous posts, here and here.

Not Your Mother's Ironing

TITLE: Pressed Iron Bud
ARTIST: Willie Cole
MATERIALS: lithograph
SIZE: h: 29.6 x w: 22.1 in / h: 75.2 x w: 56.1 cm
GALLERY: Senior & Shopmaker Gallery

Willie Cole (American, born 1955) is a contemporary artist, sculptor, and printmaker. His mother and grandmother were domestic workers, and the iron became the symbol of their labors. He later collected discarded and broken irons, using them to create sculptures and prints which are made by scorching patterns on canvas or paper. Take the time to read a short bio; view some of his fascinating works here.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Cookbook Review: Cheap.Fast.Good! by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross

The Desperation Dinner Duo, Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross, earned my respect with their earlier books, Desperation Dinners! and Desperation Entertaining! In fact, I checked them out from the library so many times that I finally purchased them for my very own. Their newest book, Cheap. Fast. Good! is another winner.

A large book of over 475 pages, the title is a pretty accurate representation of its contents.
  • Cheap: The authors contend that "saving money in the kitchen is as simple as one four-letter word: Cook." The amount of money slashed from the food bill directly correlates with the willingness to increase time in the kitchen. There is room for personal discretion and variation here, depending on how much time you want to invest and how much convenience you are willing to sacrifice. What is it that keeps you out of the kitchen? Is it fatigue, poor planning, disorganization, or fear of failure? All of these issues are addressed.
  • Fast: Obviously, if I am going to skin and bone a chicken, that meal does not qualify as fast food. But every available hint for streamlining the process has been provided.
  • Good: No one wants to invest precious time on a meal that is not satisfying. The recipes here are everyday "good" rather than gourmet. Chapters include soups, everyday entrees, skillet meals, pastas, sandwiches, salads, sides, batch cooking, sauces, breakfasts, and desserts.
More than a cookbook, this is a great little home economics course. Is it worthwhile to use coupons? How do you carve a whole roasted chicken? What kitchen gadgets should I invest in? Should I buy a freezer? These questions and many more are addressed with wisdom. These ladies have done their homework (literally!)

I am pretty comfortable in the kitchen, having spent much time there in college (dietetics), in managing a nursing home kitchen, and in serving my own family. But I like to sharpen my skills and learn new things. And I have learned a couple of very useful, new things from this book.

First, baked potatoes. What new thing could be learned about something this basic? Just wash, prick, and bake for an hour at 350 degrees, right? Right, if you want an average potato.

But if you would like a higher quality baked potato, one that has a crispy skin and a moist, fluffy interior, use the high-heat method. Bake the potatoes directly on the oven rack at 475 degrees for an hour. Bake extras to use later for twice baked or chili in spud bowls. Great tip, painlessly executed!

The other new thing I have learned is to roast whole chickens. By standing them upright (I use a bundt pan instead of the beer can the authors suggest), the poultry receives even heat from all sides. I have always used chicken pieces because I disliked the chore of carving the finished product. But I've overcome that little obstacle, too, by following the step-by-step instructions in the book and by using kitchen shears.

The cold winter months are especially suited to the art of cooking. I have enjoyed the spark of inspiration that Cheap. Fast. Good! has provided and recommend it if you are also endeavoring to make your time in the kitchen both economical and satisfying.