Thursday, November 10, 2011

My recent readings...

I'm so behind on trying to keep up with my recent reading material. However, I decided to pick the three that stood out to me and summarize their main points, as well as my own opinion. I have found it healthy, both for my memory and spiritual/mental cultivation, to review books that I have read. It allows for the wisdom to penetrate deeper, I think.

The Beauty of Modesty {Cultivating Virtue in the Face of a Vulgar Culture} by David and Diane Vaughan
It seems that there are a million books touching upon the subject of modesty. I wasn't particularly in the mood to pick up another one; however, since this title has been on my to-read list since I saw it in the Vision Forum catalogue, I thought I should pick it up. I have never been disappointed by the selections from VF, so it shouldn't have surprised me that I would love the depth of research put into this book! Books on modesty, especially when targeted towards young women, are usually a bit cliche, cheesy, and predictable. While the message is Biblical and encouraging, I tend to find them somewhat repetitive. Though I have a couple of favorites outside of this one, I would definitely place this first in the hands of anyone seeking for a more Biblical view of modesty and the body. I would even recommend it to young men because this book is more of a cultural and Biblical argument for the cultivation of modesty {first in heart and attitude, secondly through dress and demeanor} in a very sensuous culture. Due to the mainstreaming of sexual deviancy today, the authors began to build, chapter by chapter, how the way "we dress reflects our worldview, our spirituality, and our virtue." They began to peel off the layers of certain secular worldviews and thought processes that have overtaken the Church, leniency followed closely by sheer deviancy. In truth, we truly are experiencing the cultural captivity of the church. As John Whitehead noted more than a decade ago: "As a thinking being, the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization. He accepts religion -its morality, its worship, its spiritual culture." And, yet, the modern Christian rejects "the total view of life which sees all earthly issues within the context of the eternal; that relates all human problems - social, political, cultural - to the doctrinal foundations of the Christian faith. As a consequence, the faith ineffectively fails even to minimally raise the ethical standards of the American population." While extreme intellectualism is often a hindrance, it is still to be emphasized that we, Christians, are "thinking beings" and should, through intensive study of the worldviews, be able to recognize and target false mindsets and practices through a logical and Biblically renewed standing. In quoting Gertrude Himmelfarb, the authors aren't afraid to label the succession of intellectual downfall within western culture, and thus been allowed to take root within the Church: "The beasts of modernism have mutated into the beasts of postmodernism -relativism into nihilism, amorality into immorality, irrationality into insanity, sexual deviancy into polymorphous perversity." This "polymorphous perversity" is nice phrase for the utter sexualization of our culture." And this "sexualization of our culture" is forcibly finding its way into the Church, homes, and families, whether it's invited there or not. Through the beginning chapters, they address not only the influence of porn in our society, but also the high crime of adultery seen within the Church. At the same time, they are also sure to address objections and errors to mindsets found within the Body, such as legalism, pietism or subjectivism, Christian relativism, parochialism (all very intriguing - I highly recommend a study on each subject).
After discussing the need for modesty, they begin to provide basis on the nature of modesty. They delve quite deeply into the Word in this section of their book, as well as research from some old Church Fathers. One of my favorite chapters of their book provided a great study into acquiring a Biblical view of the Body, knitting together passages from the Old and New Testaments. Most of this material was a bit repetitive to me, since most of it addressed the reason for the Law, the Gospel, as well as our basic beliefs on man's nature, sin, the flesh, and the Spirit. Nevertheless, it was beautifully laid out and, without a true spiritual awakening and mind renewal of our Creator, ourselves, and the the purpose for which we were created, one cannot move on in the subject of modesty.
Modesty was once defined as "that lowly temper which accompanies a moderate estimate of one's own worth and importance. In females, modesty has the like character as in males; but the word is used also as synonymous with chastity, or purity of manners. In this sense, modesty results from purity of mind, or from the fear of disgrace and ignominy fortified by education and principle. Unaffected modesty is the sweetest charm of female excellence, the richest gem in the diadem of their honor." This definition is truly authentic! However, modesty is really a virtue of our Father's heart, expressed through us in His Son, Jesus Christ. Modesty is that divine loveliness and reserve of a God-fearing, God-honoring, God-dependent heart, which willingly rests in the happy lordship of the One who rules and governs that life to reflect its Maker. I must emphasize "happy lordship" in relation to the governing of our lives by Christ our Lord. It's easy to be super-spiritually pumped about Christ's supreme lordship over our lives, that we're rigid about everything. And, it's also easy to super lenient because His lavish grace. Thus, causing us to be lax in our representation of Him here on earth. I have erred in both, but have, more recently, found much freedom in the "happy lordship" of my Father over my life. His lordship is not a prison, but it's also not like He's letting us loose in a candy shop to pick as we please. In searching out the love of the Father through Christ Jesus, I think we can truly begin to relish His sweet lordship. This is something that the Vaughans carefully devote time to in their writings: growing in a genuine, Spirit-filled relationship with Christ and seeking for Him to be first in our hearts. Out of this flows the delicate virtue of modesty in our hearts and lives. After all, it is only in knowing this Love that "the soul eagerly cleaves to, affectionately admires, and constantly rests in God, supremely pleased and satisfied with him as its portion; that it acts from him, as its author; for him, as its master; and to him, as its end. That, by it, all the powers and faculties of the mind are concentrated in the Lord of the universe. That, by it, the whole man is willingly surrendered to the Most High: and that, through it, an identity, or sameness of spirit with the Lord is acquired -the man being made a partaker of the divine nature, having the mind in him which was in Christ, and thus dwelling God, and God in him." {Adam Clarke}
Lastly, the Vaughans devote the final three chapters in their book to nurturing modesty in homes {not only through dress, but through media, i.e. internet, movies, etc} and the corporate body. As always, application is a great challenge. And yet, the Vaughans aren't afraid to lay down the Biblical overview and guidelines, as well as giving specifics for women. Specifics are important for us as women. We simply should not be allowed to make up excuses or justify this or that. Also, there are many subtleties in dress that many young woman cannot easily discern, but through proper training and discipleship will be able to distinguish. This also pertains to young men as well, but a special emphasis is placed upon the young women in these chapters. I see this also as great material for fathers who need assistance and training in how to properly raise their daughters. The Vaughans are definitely not supporting the super-Puritan and plain-Jane mindset. They make a good argument for a balanced approach to dressing. But, as many young women know today, it does take some extra effort to find modern, comfortable clothing that is pretty and appealing, without it being ostentatious, androgynistic, sensual, or even associated with certain, questionable name brands.
In conclusion, modesty matters. We suffer too greatly without it being cultivated from generation to generation.
It matters to men. It matters to women. It matters to children. And last but not least, it matters to God. Though tossed aside as an ugly old rag of distant culture, modesty is really a beautiful virtue of the finest fabric that never does go out of style. We have only forgotten how beautiful modesty really is. Or perhaps, we have never had the opportunity to look at modest for what it is really worth {pg 11}.

Christians come to church to worship a glorious God, to humble themselves before his holy presence, and to hear his Word, not for display, not to attract notice, not for vain-glory or worldly vanity. It is, therefore, quite out of place for either men or women to make a parade of finery in church. The ornaments best suited for persons professing godliness at all times, but especially when they approach the throne of God, are those of a pure heart and a meek spirit, and an abundance of good works. It is the hidden man of the heart which needs adorning for its access to the court of heaven. ~ A.C. Hervey

Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver

I'll admit that I was quite hesitant about picking this one up. I am often wary of popular Christian titles, particularly ones addressed to women. To be frank, I find a lot of them are written in a rather babyish, irritating tone. Maybe I have snobbish tendencies in this regard, but I have an aversion to goofy, Christian self-help books with silly stories to illustrate spiritual principles. Yuck. Okay, I got that out. haha! Thankfully, with my cousin's prodding, I decided to give it a chance. And, I am quite thankful for this book!
The title really says it all. This book is a must-have for ladies who are struggling within their relationship with Christ. Also, it's for that stubborn perfectionist who is constantly on the go, with ten million goals to reach before the end of the week. Joanna gets very practical and, I feel, she covered all bases in seeking to disciple young ladies. She helps her readers to see how unrealistic our expectations are that lead to "servant burnout," as she calls it. In addition, she addresses those fleshly disturbances that come about due to "servant burnout" and lack of abiding in the Vine. Upon defining "kitchen service" and "living room intimacy," she opens up the lessons found in all the passages containing Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, drawing out a deep, steadfast, theological basis for young women struggling through trials, lack of discipline, lack of direction, continual spiritual exhaustion, etc. She captures the spirits of Mary and Martha so well in relating them to the issues that arise for the 21st century woman. For those longing to experience true communion with the Lord in their lives, I would most definitely suggest this book!
Oh, and yes, Joanna had some silly stories....haha! Nevertheless, she balanced them with lots of simple, but profound wisdom. Although the lessons in her book weren't anything new to me, I still found it immensely helpful and encouraging. Sometimes, it's good to have a different voice share the same basic, Gospel truths. There were so many chapters that stood out to me, addressing specific fruits of the flesh that I often find myself wrestling with time and again. Her words are comforting for those who find themselves in seasons or spiritual drought, when the darkness will not lift.
Lastly, I read a review on amazon that stated: "This book takes you from churchianity to Christianity..." I couldn't have summarized it better!

Japanese Version of Psalm 23:
The Lord is my pace setter...I shall not rush.
He makes me stop at quiet intervals.
He provides me with images of stillness which restore my serenity.
He leads me in the way of efficiency through calmness of mind and his guidance is peace.
Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day, I will not fret, for his presence is here.
His timelessness, his all importance, will keep me in balance.
He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity by anointing my mind with his oils of tranquility.
My cup of joyous energy overflows.
Truly harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruits of my hours for I shall walk the pace of my Lord and dwell in his house forever.
~Toki Miyashina

Memories Before & After the Sound of Music: An Autobiography

I have a lot of seemingly random selections on my to-read list. This was one of them. However, it's really not so random as I contemplate my renewed love for biographies.
In her book, Agathe Von Trapp chronicles her life from beginning to end, giving the reader a detailed look into the daily lives of the Von Trapp household and adventures throughout the years. All I could think upon completing this book was, "Wow, what a full life!" The Von Trapp family were visionary pioneers. They lived through some rough periods of the 20th century, but their faith in the Lord and character are astounding! And, to top it off, they had some incredible skill sets to to share, which took them all across the world. From sewing, to painting and various art mediums, to singing, weaving, calligraphy, photography, etc, the Von Trapps were artistically-inclined in almost every sphere. Their family is truly inspirational and their story is even far more epic than the story shown in film. You can seek the mark of the hand of God upon their lives in every little detail! And, Agathe's wonderful narrative provides such an intimate look in their lives at home in Austria, as well as during many years of traveling and the challenges that arose from living on the road.
I grew up on The Sound Of Music, thus it's only natural that I should read the true story. Little did I expect it to be so vastly different from the film! I found it interesting to read Agathe's reaction to the film and Broadway musical. It appears that the Von Trapp family were quite appalled by both of them. But while it is disappointing to find out that great liberties were taken in the adaption of their story, it still doesn't change the fact that the film is a classic! Near the end of her life, Agathe describes how she overcame her bitterness and began to accept the film and show due to the genuine fans, whom she greatly adored.
In conclusion, I discovered an intriguing article listing details of the movie and reality that differed: Movie vs Reality: The Real Story of the Von Trapp Family by Joan Gearin
Also, one website that is worth checking out is the Trapp Family Lodge (a mountain resort in the European tradition) that they established decades ago in Vermont. I never even knew such a place existed until reading how they founded it in Agathe's autobiography! Their webpage is filled with information about their resort lodge, as well as details on their family. It seems quite pricey, but the lodge and the surrounding view takes your breath away! I'm sure it's a refreshing resort in which one can learn lots of history.