A Christmas Book Trio

Winter has so many aspects that I love.  While I don’t care for the longer nights and sometimes dreary cold for their own sake, I do appreciate the juxtaposition they create with the indoors.  How cozy wintry weather makes home seem!  I love cuddling up with a book in a warm house with a cup of cocoa when it’s cold outside.  I love the colors of snow, ice, evergreens, holly bushes, migrating birds, and Christmas decorations.  One of my favorite parts of winter is singing and listening to Christmas carols, and I am always tempted to break family tradition and listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving, in spite of my sister’s objections.

What truly makes winter wonderful, though, is Christmas and the story of Christ’s birth which we celebrate during this season.  Christmas is a story that mankind has been commemorating since before it even had the name “Christmas” or the date December 25th.  This true story began with Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds and for over two millennia has continued with the young and old, men and women, around the world.  We continue to celebrate it in many ways, from decorations and traditions to music, movies, and books.  And as is my tradition, here are three Christmas books I have discovered over the past year.

A Child's Christmas in Wales

A Child’s Christmas in Wales / Dylan Thomas (illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman)

This children’s book is my most recent Christmas discovery.  A Child’s Christmas is essentially a collection of Christmas memories and scenes.  Dylan Thomas writes in a very poetic, stream of consciousness style that is sometimes confusing and at other times creates a vivid picture of what is happening.  The book captures the quirky, unfiltered reality of life at Christmastime in Wales.  However, although I appreciate the realism and the artistry Thomas displays, the content and tone don’t seem to suit a young audience.  While the book is packaged as a children’s story, contains “child” in its title, and follows a child’s perspective of Christmas, I think adults would appreciate the story more because of its complex writing style and nostalgic tone.  That said, I would definitely recommend the book for its art.  Trina Schart Hyman is one of my favorite children’s illustrators, and her artwork fills the story with character, expertly bringing to life the scenes Dylan Thomas paints with words.

The True Gift

The True Gift / Patricia MacLachlan

Liam and Lily are visiting their Gran and Grandpa for Christmas.  When Liam finds out that their grandparents’ pet cow no longer has her donkey friend, he worries that White Cow will be lonely and sets out to find her a new companion for Christmas.  This story resonates my Christmas memories and family visits in surprising ways.  From making snowmen cookies with red cinnamon buttons to debating how many books to pack for vacation, Liam and Lily’s experiences are funnily similar to my own.  I found this little book charming and hope you do as well!

The Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree / Julie Salamon

What’s your Christmas tree story?  Mine isn’t all that glamorous.  First, my father or brothers climb into the attic and haul down the artificial tree (version 3.0 since I’ve been around).  Then, my mother, siblings, and I shake the dust off the needles (and shake off some needles too) and spread the stiff branches.  After swathing the tree in strings of lights, topping it with an angel, bedecking it with ornaments, and swaddling it in a rug and a pile of presents, the journey is done.

Keeping this in mind, you can imagine my surprise and curiosity when I discovered in The Christmas Tree a story about the journey of perhaps the most famous Christmas tree in the world.  I had never thought much about where the famed Rockefeller Center Christmas tree comes from each year.  But in a beautiful story filled with fascinating characters, sweet illustrations, and Christmas themes, Julie Salamon crafts a delightful Christmas narrative that gives me a whole new perspective on Christmas trees.  I would say more, but it’s been a while since I read the book—and I want you to enjoy it for yourself!

Do you have a favorite Christmas book?  Or have you discovered any new ones this year?  I would love to hear from you in the comments.

I Have Expensive Taste

I have expensive taste – in some things,
but not in others. I’ve found
that most important to me
is the person who’ll be my company.

If it came to it, I’d choose to stand
in line with you. However long
the wait, it’d be a better home
than fireworks and music for me alone.

What I remember most about that eve
isn’t the performance itself. Though
it was lovely, it would mean much less
without you in that suit, and me in that dress.

I have expensive taste – in company,
in time shared. Remember
the museum? It was our laughter and light
that brought those paintings to life.

A Prayer of Thanks

Christians are called to rejoice and give thanks at all times, and in all situations -and how can we not if indeed the Gospel is true? As Paul says,

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” ~1 Thess. 5:16-18

This Thanksgiving, the holiday can merely be a break from routine, a time eating lots of good food with family (not a bad thing!) -but it can also be more. While Christians are called to give thanks always, this day provides an opportunity to intentionally praise God for the ways he has worked during the past year. There are any number of ways this can look -but the following from the Book of Common Prayer has helped me as I’ve contemplated God’s working in the past year, and maybe it will be beneficial to you as well:

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

~Book of Common Prayer -Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

The Contrapositive of Love

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” – John 21.15

The Inverse or the opposite? A discussion at an IEEE computer society meeting a few nights ago might seem like an unlikely place to be talking about love, but amid the discussion of a networking concept, the presenter distinguished between the opposite of a thing and the inverse of a thing. “What is the opposite of love? Most people would say it’s hate, but the opposite of both hate and love is apathy.” I didn’t fully follow this distinction, but the thought process started me thinking about synonyms, how we use them, and what they mean.

So, what is the opposite of love, and how is it different (if it is!) from inverse, converse, and contrapositive? Let’s take a look!

What do those words even mean? Time to dust off those logic definitions and find out! Let’s examine a statement and the 3 related statements we can draw from it, and evaluate whether these statements are true.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14.15-17

The Statement

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

Converse

If you keep my commandments, you will love me.

This is false – without a heart changed and set to love God, outward obedience is insufficient to form love.

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘LORD, LORD, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” – Matthew 7.22

Inverse

If you do not love me, you will not keep my commandments.

This is also false—there are lots of moral people who, even without loving Jesus, are capable of keeping Jesus’s commandments. It is possible to honor God with our lips and obey commandments taught by men, while also having a heart that does not love God

And the Lord said:

Because this people draw near with their mouth

and honor me with their lips,

while their hearts are far from me,

and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,

therefore, behold, I will again

do wonderful things with this people,

with wonder upon wonder;

and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,

and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” – Isaiah 29.13-14

Contrapositive

If you do not keep my commandments, you will not love me.

This is almost true—but more accurately stated as—if you do not bear fruit in keeping with repentance, then you do not love me. UPDATE: a more math-minded reader than I pointed out that the contrapositive of a statement is always true, so ignore the previous statement! The correct phrasing of the contrapositive should be: if you will not keep me commandments, then you do not love me. This is true!

Loving God expresses itself in the fruit of good works in believers. Though believers are imperfect, backslide, go through perhaps even seasons of life where they hold on to sin, the fruit of a heart truly in love with Christ is a walk that is increasingly obedient to his commands.
In Conclusion

What is the opposite of love? Is it hate, or is it apathy? Since opposite, unlike converse, inverse, and contrapositive, doesn’t have a strict definition in logic, I am left with a dictionary lookup to decide. The definition of opposite is as follows:

op·po·site (adj.)

1. Placed or located directly across from something else or from each other: opposite sides of a building.

2. Facing the other way; moving or tending away from each other: opposite directions.

3. Being the other of two complementary or mutually exclusive things: the opposite sex; an opposite role to the lead in the play.

As an an adjective, we would say that love and hate are opposite emotions, whereas apathy is the absence of emotion. As a result, to answer the original question in an extremely roundabout way, the opposite of love must be hate, but in the absence of love, there is indifference.

References:

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-do-i-know-if-i-really-love-jesus

https://www.varsitytutors.com/hotmath/hotmath_help/topics/converse-inverse-contrapositive

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7%3A22-23&version=ESV

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%2014

https://www.thefreedictionary.com/opposite

Rise and Fall of Rain

Rain is one of my favorite themes for poems.  Consequently, a small portion of my poetry collection is dedicated to rain and its different aspects that I’ve noticed and enjoy.  Perhaps inspired by my recent nighttime driving in the rain, I decided to dig these up and share one of them today.  This particular poem focuses on the onomatopoeic quality of rain.

“Rise and Fall of Rain”

Tap, tap, tap at the back door.

Slap, slap, slap it goes again.

Rap, rap, rap a growing din.

Crack, crack, crack—open the door.

Whoosh, crash, bang there is a roar.

Of rushing rainy torrents pounding,

Lightning cracks, and thunder sounding,

Then the rush recedes to dribble,

Pitter, patter, then to trickle.

Exploring “It”

Any grammar Nazi worth his or her salt knows the atrocity of the missing antecedent.  The worst of all errors is a sentence that begins with “it” (à la, “It was a dark and stormy night”).  What I have realized, though, is that few rules like these are so unarguable that someone hasn’t broken them with success.  After all, the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice have an unforgettable ring:  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” and “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

In fact, this scenario where the great authors break the rules reminds me of the final rule I learned in my photography class a couple years ago.  My teacher taught us photography composition rules, such as the rule of thirds and leading lines, but then the list that he referenced ended with the tip that rules are meant to broken.  And that is where true talent often shines through.  Where some people realize they are Austens, and others discover they aren’t.

Examples of “It” in Action

Fahrenheit 451 movie image
Fahrenheit 451 (2018)

  • “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” — George Orwell, 1984
  • “It was a pleasure to burn.” — Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
  • “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” — Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Why “It” Works

Clarity and precision are paramount when you write to explain, persuade, or inform.  However, in literature and poetry, authors can break these rules and intentionally confound readers with unclear subjects.  Sometimes a sense of mystery or confusion can be a tool instead of a hindrance.  I think this power to create mystery and suspense is part of why a sentence that begins with it can be powerful in artistic writing situations when, in other contexts, the construction would be weak.

In the opening lines quoted above, each author makes a startling claim.  If Bradbury had merely said “it was a pleasure to burn wood in the fireplace,” his readers would have responded “duh!” and slipped into boredom within seconds.  The same would have been true if Orwell had stopped at “April.”  His second clause packs the punch in the opening line from 1984 with its final word.  Because clocks don’t strike thirteen.  And if clocks are doing this, then something is wrong, and the audience already feels the wrongness with this simple, jarring statement.

Don’t state the obvious if you are going to start a sentence—and especially a book—with it.  Make it count.  Lure the audience in with a benign “it was…” and then catch them off guard.  This sentence construction is likely to fall apart without a startling claim.  In fact, I think this explains why “it was a dark and stormy night” is ridiculed, while the opening lines I referenced above are revered.  Dark and stormy nights are commonplace.  Describing a night in this way does little to set this particular evening apart from any other and fails to capitalize on the power and mystery of it.

Summarizing “It”

Based on the claims above, perhaps a simple formula is possible:  Successful sentence beginning with it = “It” + verb + startling claim (humorous, thought-provoking, intriguing, or surprising).

Now, the next time you’re about to pounce on a sentence with a missing antecedent, red pen in hand, remember that it serves a valuable role in writing and even has the power to form some of the most memorable quotes in the history of literature.  Further, if you’re feeling creative, try using it to begin a story and see if the formula works for you (please share your sentence in the comments).  Perhaps you will be the next Austen, Dickens, Bradbury, or Orwell.


References

Quotes from http://americanbookreview.org/100BestLines.asp

Image from Fahrenheit 451 (2018) from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0360556/mediaindex?ref_=tt_pv_mi_sm

Truth in the Forest

I don’t think I’ve ever told you of that Halloween night eighteen years back – a night that started off merely eerie, and ended in something like horror. I haven’t forgotten it, and by the time I’m done, neither will you. And, before you ask, yes, this story is actually true. Just because something is told like a story doesn’t mean it is only a story.

It began like this: it was October 31st, and night, and a well-intentioned neighbor knocked on our door to let us know that she thought she’d seen our horses escape. They were normally confined to the fields and sprawling forest behind our house on the edge of town, but now they were outside the fence. Or so our neighbor thought she’d seen, she couldn’t be sure.

Panicked, my mother and I frantically pulled on boots and jackets and wound scarves hastily about our necks, for there was a wind and a chill in the air. We dashed outside, but saw no horses around the perimeter of the house, and none near the road, which was the most important part. So we decided to divide and conquer. My mother grabbed a bucket of feed and stood by the barn calling, while I set off with a flashlight and my own bucket for the woods.

It could not have been a worse night for finding the quiet, shadowy beasts that horses can be. It was a full moon, to be sure, but that wind was truly raging, shaking the nearly leafless branches and bare vines into a distracting, obstructing dance. I didn’t believe in ghouls or whatever else was supposed to inhabit such environs on such a night, but that didn’t stop me from starting when, much like Little Red Riding Hood, I discovered I was not alone. Our cat, Asta, had followed me, his sooty fur blending in with the dark.

He hopped up on a fallen tree and began meowing insistently. I gave him a caress, but that did nothing. Oh, well, no pleasing cats. I set off through the woods again, calling for the horses, loudly crunching leaves underfoot. Yes, that was the sound I was hearing, just the crunching of leaves. Those leaves crunching wasn’t masking and blending with some other, scuttling noise.

I carried on for some time, finding no evidence of horses, but slowly becoming aware that I thought I heard a buzzing sound, growing louder and a bit louder by the footstep. I was sure it was just a phantom or my own imagination, maybe vibrating leaves in the wind. And, of course, Asta was there still, his meows becoming even more demanding as he began darting in front of my feet, tripping me up more than once – accidentally, I also thought.

Finally, at one spot between two cedar trees, Asta became such a nuisance that I concluded I had better pick him up and carry him the rest of my search. Had I been paying attention, I would have noticed the buzzing sound had swelled into something real and solid, and close.

I hoisted Asta to my waist, but before I could take a step forward, he yowled and scratched at my face, forcing me to drop him. He collected himself, and stood between the two trees, back arched, fur spiked. I hardly noticed. Something was moving behind him.

I lifted my flashlight, and saw – something, several giant patches of iridescence that fluttered, and many large branches, unusually hairy, which then moved and began crawling about, and numerous giant, inky pools of eyes framed by antennae the size of saplings. And the buzzing was a veritable din.

It was then that Asta opened his mouth: “See, you really shouldn’t go that way,” he said, quite calmly, for all that. “Stupid human, I’ve been trying to warn you all night…”

Oh, fine. The talking cat taking it a bit too far?

You see, when I said the story was true, what I meant was that there was truth in the story.

It wasn’t Halloween, though it might have been October. Or November. Or maybe even December. Or, let’s be real, seasons in my neck of the woods are sometimes hard to differentiate, so it might have been January or March. I don’t remember. I did check, though, and there was a full moon on Halloween night eighteen years back. But I was in grade school back then, and when this story really took place, I was in high school.

There was definitely a moon that night, though, and it was windy, and the forest made strange shapes, but we lived on only 10 acres so it was really more like a patch of trees. We found our horses, in case you were wondering. They hadn’t escaped, and I was nowhere near the hive of very normal-sized bees that at one time lived on our property. The whole thing was eerie, a bit, true, but nowhere near that fabled “horror.”

But I’ll tell you what is true, cross my heart: out cat Marble walked by my side all through that patch of woods. No, not our black cat, Asta, who we did have. It was Marble, not black like a bat, but white and gray, like the Irish cat Pangur Bán. Marble follows me nearly every time I walk through those trees, even today. I like to imagine he is some sort of guide, guarding me from something – from what, I don’t know. But I can tell a story.

Review: Bibliotheca

What started as a $1.4 million Kickstarter campaign back in 2014 finally came to fruition in 2016 with the publication and delivery of a four-volume edition of the Bible (or 5 if customers chose to have the Apocrypha included in the slipcase). What was unique about this edition, you may rightly ask? There are many editions of the Bible that cost well under $199. So why the steep price tag?

Well, these four volumes–divided into the The Five Books & The Former Prophets, The Latter Prophets, The Writings, and The New Testament–represent a reader’s Bible of sorts–no page or chapter divisions, and with a single-column layout. In addition, the materials are very high-quality, from the stone-based mineral paper that the text is printed on (supposedly longer-lasting than normal paper) to the cloth material covering the exterior. So a reader’s bible for hipsters? Well, basically.

bibliotheca_celery_standard_sq_1024x1024
from the website; the above is similar to my edition except mine includes the Apocrypha separately, not in the slipcase.

What I have discovered since receiving my editions is 3 things:

  1. I am less likely to read a book that I view as too valuable to handle regularly; the editions collected dust on my shelves for the first two years of ownership. They looked great, though.
  2. Now that I have begun reading from these books more regularly, I am beginning to appreciate the designer’s decision to use a revised version of the 1901 American Standard Version (ASV) translation, which, from my understanding, is largely the original ASV with “thee’s” and “thou’s” updated to use more modern expressions. The reason I appreciate this is that I can read familiar passages and encounter slightly different phrasing that makes me pause to figure out what the passage is saying; the translation seems very readable and clear, but also different from the NKJV and ESV I’m accustomed to. So I often find myself meditating on the meaning of a passage before pulling up another translation to verify the meanings are similar. The process has been fun!
  3. I also appreciate the lack of verse and chapter divisions–it makes it easier to see connections between thoughts, especially in New Testament epistles, where I often stop reading at the end of a chapter or topical division. In 1 Peter 3:1-12, for instance, it is easy to see the transition from Peter talking to wives, then husbands, then everybody together. There’s no “Suffering for Righteousness’ Sake” header splitting verses 1-7 and 8-12. It is a continuous thought as Peter addresses several audiences. Seeing this progression is possible with any Bible of course, but the simplicity of the page design makes it easier for me to recognize.

I pre-ordered back in 2014, waiting until 2016 for delivery, and only this year did I finally begin to take the books off the shelf and crack them open more regularly. Was it worth the wait? The books are very high-quality and have provided a helpful bit of variety (I know! The nerve of praising novelty with respect to the Bible!) to my Bible reading, so I say–yes.

Circumnavigating the Globe

At least in literature, adventure often surprises the least adventurous and the most unsuspecting people in their ordinary lives, dragging them off and away to save the world, to do daring deeds, or to travel the world in eighty days.  And that is exactly what happens to rich, gentlemanly Phileas Fogg, a man who does the same thing every day for years, until one day.  In Around the World in Eighty Days, author Jules Verne spins an extraordinary tale of how Phileas Fogg and his valet Passepartout cast Fogg’s life of routine out the window and embark on a trip to circle the globe in eighty days.

The adventure begins in an unsuspecting manner.  Phileas Fogg is dwelling in late nineteenth century England and, as usual, goes to his club.  However, when Fogg tells his friends at the club of a newspaper article which states that, thanks to the modern transportation system, the entire world can be crossed in eighty days, his friends deny the article’s accuracy.  Fogg says that the feat can be done and enters into a wager with them, promptly setting out from England with Passepartout to prove them wrong at the risk of £20,000 (for the curious, approximately $650,000 by today’s standards).  Without any forewarning, the unadventurous pair find themselves thrown into a journey through exotic countries full of dangerous people and treacherous paths.  And to top it all off, they are being secretly trailed by Detective Fix of Scotland Yard who suspects Fogg of being a bank robber.

Without Phileas Fogg as its main character, Around the World in Eighty Days would be an entirely different book, for Fogg is most unusual.  First of all, he is very honorable and sticks up for his views, no matter what the risk to himself or his fortune—hence the wager with his friends and the venture around the world.  In addition, Fogg is timely and very particular, but the best aspect of his character is that, beneath the indifferent and meticulous outside, hides a good, generous heart.  One of the few characters who delves deeply enough to discover this heart is Passepartout, Fogg’s French valet.  When he enters Fogg’s service, Passepartout thinks he has found the ideal master and is ready to settle down in a quiet, well-ordered life.  Consequently, the journey around the world, which begins the very day Passepartout starts working for Fogg, delivers quite a blow to Passepartout’s ideas of an easy life.  Passepartout is a likeable man who makes friends easily but is also careless and absentminded at times.  After resigning himself to the hectic journey his master is dragging him on, Passepartout eventually realizes that he is enjoying himself and that perhaps a quiet life can wait for the moment.  The story’s third character is Detective Fix, and he is determined to apprehend “guilty” Phileas Fogg.  However, this requires Fix to tag along with Fogg around the world, and Fix finds himself participating in many of Fogg’s and Passepartout’s adventures.

Van Gool's Around the WorldAround the World in Eighty Days is a delightful adventure story.  Tagging alongside the main characters as they traverse Europe, India, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, America, and the Atlantic is a fun pursuit, and Verne’s book is a well-woven tale that has certainly earned its position as a classic in the library of fiction.

P.S. A fun version for children that has forever shaped how I imagine Vernes’ characters is Van Gool’s adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days (see picture on right).  The illustrations are  engaging, and I would highly recommend it for kids!  I loved it as a little girl and still feel nostalgic just thinking about it.