Monday, April 12, 2010

I Could Never Write Like This...

Marilynne Robinson is a new find for me (where has she been all my life?). But maybe this was meant to be: there are some things that one simply cannot grasp at age 20 or maybe even at 30...

I wanted to write a book review of two of my favorite books of all time, Gilead and Home, both by Robinson. And then I stumbled across this book review, and my mouth was shut for good. I'm almost in as much awe over his ability to capture the purest essence of these books as I am over the essence itself.

So I'm linking the article here (it's also printed and tucked safely into my own personal copies of the books themselves, sitting pleasantly on my bookshelf) for those of you who wish to explore some true literary genius. Amazingly, here we have a 20th century author who writes of wisdom and beauty, with goodness. Rare doesn't begin to describe that treasure.

NYTimes book review, here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Havah, The Story of Eve
by Tosca Lee

(note: this is a fictionalized version of the life of Eve. Obviously, there is very little information on her roughly 1,000 years of life on this planet. I'm writing this review in "story form," only because that's the mood I'm in at the moment. I do recommend the book, but I'm not going to pick apart something I think is so beautiful. If you don't like biblical fiction - which I usually don't - you might want to steer clear. But I was surprised at how much it made me think - and how beautifully it was written, definitely a cut above your average "Christian lit" genre. The book is not overtly "Christian." It doesn't knock you over the head with obvious "lessons" to learn. Go gently and read, and you'll find what you're intended to find, should you be interested... you may even find yourself in its pages. And I have to admit, I think that's the mark of a good book. One more thing of note: there are a couple of major themes woven through the book, and while I thought about choosing one or the other or pegging out both, I only ended up touching upon a few high points of each and not really fleshing it out like I could have. To do so would have interrupted the feel and made the writing more dogmatic. I chose to go another route, so feel free to go write a professional paper if you wish. I don't know if I've got it in my anymore, more's the pity... I'm going all fluff, apparently. Ah, well. It's a woman's perogative. :) )

"That day when he kissed me, I had two loves: one given to hold me, and One to woo my soul.
Surely I was the most beautiful creature on earth."

Havah is the story of the first woman -- but it is also the unfolding of the heart of Woman. We feel Havah's joy, we long for it - we recognize in her Paradise something we yearn for every day, every hour. We feel homesick again. In her fall we feel her desperation, her confusion, her determination. We pity her as she learns to live... like us. We see her stumbling attempts to love, and we recognize that, too. We are all of us shattered now, even our best attempts at goodness marred and warped; but unlike Havah, we have grown jaded with it, used to our fallenness... we rarely look for hope. We fail to breathe it in like our mother once did, as food and water, light and air. We fail to SEE, and if this book does nothing else, it removes some of those scales from Havah's daughter's eyes so that we can see more clearly the grace of God in which we live, move, and have our being.

"I used to fear death, but now I consider it a grace not to be trapped in this life or this body forever, with its wrinkles and ravages and this searing pain, with its aging and heartbreak. That is what it is: heartbreak. It is the last sadness, the last failure - no. The last joy - that bursts the vessel in the end."

The joy comes in the glimpses of hope given by the very world that frightens and breaks Adam and Havah's backs - our backs. The joy comes in the ability to see "The One That Is" even in the wind, to know finally that even if we have to learn to live with heartbreak, He is present and gracious. The fact that there is beauty and grace in a truly fallen world is nothing short of miraculous. The fact that God IS, and we ARE, and that He is nearer than our breath, this is miraculous. The fact that we can see one another's souls and see ourselves reflected in them to any degree is miraculous. The fact that our first parents heard the voice of God promising grace to them and to us, their children - this is life and breath and the essence of all hope. The world may be fallen, and we may be broken, but there is goodness, beauty, and truth still to be found in it... and with new eyes we can see it yet.

Onto a lush, perfect landscape, Havah hears a voice saying, "Wake." And she sees the blue sky above, and then the blue of Adam's eyes. He calls her "Isha," Woman, and their language is unspoken, their spirits in tune with all around them, and all the time they are learning together. Adam says to Havah's boundless curiosity, "To learn is joy, Isha." There is no hurry, no craving beyond her boundaries - Isha patiently learns, watching everything, absorbing knowledge, finding her place in Creation. She is content and well-loved - her Adam preaching the gospel of grace to her every day, their passion for each other, both physically and emotionally, teaching them both about The One That Is, finally feeling His good pleasure like sunshine on their faces. They were given gifts, then, to share in the Creativity of the One. There was an unquestioned, unmarred, secure sense of their identity and singularity in all the wide world: "... we knew we were special in all the earth, so that even the trees and mountains and heavens must watch with wistful sighs."

After the Fall comes the aftermath, still recognizable today, resulting not only in a broken world, but broken communion with God and each other:
"It was not the first time I had been angry with [Adam] for not knowing my mind," Isha confesses to her posterity. 'It is my wrong,' I said. 'It will wait.'
I wished I had not seen the relief so plain upon his face as he said, 'Come then, lie down.' I did, and he fell asleep at once...
I lay in his arms, feeling very much alone."

Adam's weariness and inability weigh him down and age him. His powerlessness to bring happiness to his wife, to instantly recognize her needs like he did in the Garden, effortlessly - these things cause him to turn inward, to be silent. Havah begins to assign motives, to wonder, to question his choices and his ability to reason wisely:
"Here at last was the source of my frustration that I, who constantly contemplated the past and the meaning of it and of our plight and all that had happened, and who mulled over the words of the One... did it all alone. Why should I burden myself always in looking for meaning as though I were the only thinking human on earth? When he went off by himself to find land or sheep or goat, what did he do with all that time? I saw no evidence of newfound wisdom or tortured seeking - how could he walk blindly into the life before us? Why did he avoid my gaze and my questions, taking to the field when it seemed I might want to lay all bare between us, though we must slave to do it with words unnatural and inadequate?"

Isolation. Loneliness. Need. Suspicion. All these creep in, even as their family grows and the years go by. Havah tells herself what she must to get through another day, another harvest, another 9 months of pregnancy, another year. She bounces between shooting words like arrows in attempts to pierce the armor of her husband - and then settling for peace when she cannot seem to achieve intimacy. Seasons come and go, and the children grow up alongside fear. In their silences, Havah and Adam allow their children to mature bearing nameless burdens, facing questions with no answers, struggling with multiple insecurities, grappling with shapeless fears. They love profoundly, but they have to learn how to do even that with great effort: "That night as we lay in our home, I wound my arm around the form of my husbnad. A part of me hated myself; I felt I paid dearly from the store of my dignity. But a part of me longed to be near him at any price."

It is a long lesson in this new, aging, decaying world that takes a lifetime to learn: love circles back on itself again and again - the effort is breathtakingingly painful, halting and limping, an experience of death-in-life. Not every pain is accounted for, not all wrongs righted, not every question answerable. But life goes on, with all its bitterness and sweetness, all its ugliness and beauty. It is a discovery to find that they are not dying forever, but moving towards something they only remember vaguely after 1,000 years on earth. And this is God-with-us, showing Himself through the beauty of the world, and the passions of our lives, and the brokenness of other souls that touch ours, as Havah discovers at the end of their long-lived lives: "...where I had once heard indifference, I now hear the breath of the One, that never stops, and never stills, but continues forever. I understand...
The One had not needed me to return Adam to that place. Having made His promise, He had carried it out in His own way, and He had not needed me to do it."

Havah witnessed the first deaths, she delivered the first babies, she wore authority like a mantle and even abused it in her new state of sinfulness. She wondered and wandered and she survived and she believed while she waited. She learned to grow comfortable with old age and all its blessings and its challenges:
"We had no need to work any longer, only to go to the council sometimes, but even that we had given over to Shet. What a man he had become, with 18 children of his own.

Well, that was his problem, and his blessing. As for me, I thought the world was noisy."

She gained wisdom, surely. Not easily, as it came in the Garden, but with effort, purpose, and sacrifice. She, of all people on earth, understood what sacrifice meant and she must have shook her head to look upon the generations that came after her in her old, old age:

"I believed by then [Adam and I] had come, separately, to the conclusion that we could only be with one another because, no matter what happened between us, we were the only ones who knew where we had come from and all that had happened before.

But these children knew nothing of that...
What did these ninnies know of anything, sitting here with their wide eyes, beaming at me as though the sun shone through the tops of their heads and out their rear ends?...

But I blessed them, thinking all the while of my own children - they were all my own children - hoping that they might seek more happiness in this life than a full belly and children underfoot. What a great surprise it would be to them when the day of redemption came."

What a great surprise it will be to us all. And when it comes, we will see what a woman's heart was truly meant to be, and how blessed we have been from the beginning of time by the tenacious faith of our first mother in her blessed Seed. Until then, may the One give us eyes to see and ears to hear the Gospel preaching "peace, peace to those who are far and those who are near," and "grace to you through Jesus Christ." May we hear it in the voices of our children and feel it in the tender hands of our husbands and know it when we bow our heads to receive the benediction of our Almighty, Most Merciful Father who created everything for His good pleasure. And - may we feel that good pleasure as we humbly, gratefully receive all His good gifts on this broken, fallen, beautiful planet.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shopping for Time

Shopping for Time, How to Do it All and Not Be Overwhelmed
by Carolyn Mahaney, Nicole Whitacre, Kristin Chesemore, and Janelle Bradshaw

I just finished a little book called Shopping For Time, How to Do it All and Not Be Overwhelmed. Catchy title (and the book jacket is pretty cute, too).

The authors of the book also have a blog called Girltalk (you'll find it in the links on the sidebar), which is where I discovered the book. It's a short book, running just under 100 pages; obviously, the themes are not deep and complicated. Instead, it was motivating and encouraging without leaving me feeling bruised. It was cute and fun and inspirational at the same time. I typically shy away from the "cute" books with cute covers that line the Christian bookstores these days: I'm not a "self-help" aisle kind of reader. I'm not looking for a life coach, really. But having read Girltalk for awhile, and knowing the background behind this family and what they do, I thought it would be worth $10.

And it was.

This was just what I needed: something simple, a do-able, practical guide to wise time management from a biblical perspective. It was flexible, realistic, but encouraging. Chapter One begins with an apologetic:
"Why is it so important to become wise shoppers of time? Ephesians 5:16 gives us an answer: 'Because the days are evil.' We know this truth all too well."

Yes, "Life is Good." And yes, "the days are evil." There are days that I feel I am fighting time all day long; fighting to maintain my composure while calmly quoting one of my favorite lines of all time, "oh, the cursed animosity of inanimate objects." Hangers get stuck, the water won't boil fast enough, I forgot to buy the buns, the blasted gas tank is empty... again... just when I'm in a hurry.

And so we are advised to be prepared. OK.

But how? Next comes the "Five Tips." Love the five tips:
1. Rise early
2. Sit still
3. Sit and plan
4. Consider people
5. Plan to depend

They are simple but as they are worked out throughout the rest of the book, their beauty is uncovered in that simplicity. They work.

I also love the more recent list found on GirlTalk:

1. Prayer
2. Preaching the gospel to our souls
3. Reading
4. Rising early

The second chapter expounded upon the first tip: rising early (joining the 5 am club)! I am NOT a morning person, but these women have me convinced. I ought to be a more disciplined, early riser. I took their advice to heart:
1. Set your alarm - on the other side of the room. Same time each day.
2. Do not hit snooze.
3. Get up, brush your teeth, and make the coffee.
4. Prepare yourself to be miserable for about 15 minutes.
5. Know that it does get easier.

And so while I cannot say that I do all of this every single day, I can say that I have been more consistent with it than not, and it's truly not as hard as I thought it would be. My own tip would be: keep moving.

The authors spend a little time discussing Mary and Martha when they cover tip three, "sitting still." This was actually a very interesting chapter to me, even though their story is familiar. I wrote a blog post not too long ago on Mary and how she was always found sitting at the feet of Jesus, and how this seems to me a good place to be found. The authors warn: "Our daily temptation is to bypass the 'good portion' that Mary chose in favor of our own resources... Our Lord did rebuke [Martha], but not for her efforts to serve. Rather, He rebuked her for not choosing what was most important - sitting at Jesus' feet.
Charles Spurgeon explained: 'We ought to be Martha and Mary in one: we should do much service, and have much communion at the same time. For this we need great grace. It is easier to serve than to commune.' "

That is SO true in my own life. Sitting is a discipline for me, and I know for a fact that I can use more on a daily basis. I know I need great grace in order to sit and commune, but I find that the more I do, the more satisfying it becomes, and the more it becomes a desire, not just a discipline. There is always something in me that is resistant and defensive, unwilling to share my time and energy with God, if I'm honest with myself. It's easy to talk about spiritual disciplines, or write about them, but it's very difficult to settle into them, to accept their intrusion into the illusion of control that I work so hard to develop, ha ha!
It is only the posture of humility and the remembrance of Christ that breaks that down, and I find it really needs to be done on a daily basis.

I have to laugh at myself here a little bit because for me, "sitting at the feet of Jesus" looks a lot like sitting in front of a computer most days! Sitting on a hard chair in front of brightly lit screen helps me to stay focused, and I can copy and paste directly to a Word document rather than handwrite everything or fall asleep reading quietly on the soft, warm sofa over there. :)
These were actually suggestions listed in the book. The book is short, it's true, but it's chock full of very practical advice.

Tips three and four pertain to planning, which is right up my alley. I can plan my life away, I just have trouble stickin' to the plan. ;) The book is really geared towards women, so there is a heavy dose of flexibility thrown in ("plan to depend" is tip 5!), and consideration of the changing seasons of life are key themes.

In busy seasons, the reader is encouraged to do 3 things:
1. Separate the "really-do-matter" items from the "really-don't-matter" items
2. Simplify those "really-do-matter" items whenever possible. Examine your essential to-do lists and ask yourself how you can make those tasks easier.
3. Size up your limitations.
"Only God gets his to-do list done each day. We are not God. We are finite creatures with serious limitations. Only God accomplishs everything He needs to do, in exactly the way He intends, in precisely the right amount of time. Only God!"

The book concludes with this timely reminder:

"...Phil. 1:27 is truly amazing. Here we are told to 'let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ...'
Consider, then, the staggering implications of our shopping-for-time tips. We don't evaluate our priorities, consider relationships, and simplify tasks merely to avoid being overwhelmed. We do it so that our manner of life would be worthy of the Gospel."

God has a plan for our days, and we can do everything that He wants us to do, without being overwhelmed. By doing things like rising early, asking for God's blessings upon our days, accepting our limitations, and evaluating priorities, we can all live more peace-filled lives. This must be true, because we are told throughout Scripture to "be found in peace," that we have a "Prince of Peace," and that "in Him we live, move, and have our being." We are told that He has plans for us, to give us a future and a hope. We are told that as we bring it all to Him in prayer, the "peace that passes our understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

Reading a book like Shopping for Time is not a magic formula. But it is good for us to encourage one another to good works and to hear someone else say, "if I can do this, so can you." Sometimes what we need is to hear someone say honestly what we know to be true in our hearts. In other words, sometimes we just need a swift kick in the rear. :)

That's what this book was for me: a swift kick that got me going. I need a lot of grace to KEEP going, but I'm so thankful for resources like this book, that provide help for me along the way.

pictures from Minnie Mouse's house, Disneyworld. Even Minnie has a to-do list. :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette, The Journey
by Antonia Fraser

I'm reading Antonia Fraser's Marie Antoinette, and strangely enough, I can't help but think of the Coldplay song, Viva la Vida, which has become my mental soundtrack to the words on the page:

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemy's eyes

Listen as the crowd would sing
"Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!"

One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand

I hear Jerusalem bells a ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

For some reason I can't explain
Once you go there was never
Never an honest word
And that was when I ruled the world

It was the wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn't believe what I'd become

Revolutionaries wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?

I hear Jerusalem bells a ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

For some reason I can't explain
I know Saint Peter won't call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

I hear Jerusalem bells a ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

For some reason I can't explain
I know Saint Peter won't call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

The movie was very good (and I now know it was also pretty true to the book that it's based upon). Kirsten Dunst was a great Marie Antoinette, only rather... American. But Sofia Coppola's take on the familiar story was pure pastel eye candy. It made me want to go BAKE something, preferably something with pastel buttercream oozing from it, plated on tiered trays with chocolate drizzled tropical fruits.

It also made me want to see Versailles - and speak proficient French. I also developed a lust for some baby blue dresses - or maybe pink - with sweet satin shoes and wide silky ribbons. (And why doesn't anyone wear hats and gloves anymore, anyway???) But I'd settle for some pastel bon-bons on a silver platter if you've got 'em.

The rock music soundtrack was a purposeful accompaniment: the story, after all, is about Marie Antoinette, rock star queen. To attempt to communicate that with classical music to a 21st century audience might be... impossible. True, Marie Antoinette's contemporary was Mozart, not Bow Wow Wow, but believe it or not, Mozart was the musical "rock star" of their day. It was an interesting way for Sofia Coppola to communicate history, I thought. And it worked! For me, anyway.

Now, in all honesty, it is also true that the "rock star queen" status may have been a Coppola tweak on the book (and on reality), but I guess that depends on how you look at it. Marie Antoinette wanted to please everyone, but as the saying goes, she ended up pleasing not much of anyone. Much of the nobility hated her for the changes she DID manage to bring to court ~ and then they hated her for NOT bringing changes to court ~ but mostly they hated her for being an Austrian outsider.

To the common people she was an available, easy scapegoat, and they swallowed any amount of lies about her willingly until to them she was not much more than an object, a caricature, something that might not even bleed if she were cut.

And so it must have been a lonely life for this young woman, and for that reason I do feel pity for her. She suffered enough losses, rejection, fear, pain and humiliation in her short life to make even Versailles with all its gold and buttercream pleasures seem pale in comparison.

During the opening days of the Revolution in France, our own Governeur Morris was there and recorded many of his personal insights and experiences. The few quotes from him in the book had a very "American" ring to them, even though America had only just found her own identity within the decade. His description of both King and Queen, though briefly stated here, were deeply insightful:

Fraser says, "As Governeur Morris wrote, Louis was 'an honest man and wishes to do good...' without having either "genius or education" to discover what that good might be." Wow, what an indictment. I personally cannot imagine a more pitiful thing to be said about me upon my death, unless perhaps if it were said of my children upon their deaths. Yikes.

Lack of education was definitely a large part of Marie Antoinette's problem, as well: she was raised in a household where by turns she was either neglected or spoiled "injudiciously."
Interestingly, I have read reviews that completely panned the film (and it was booed at Cannes) evidently because the character of Marie Antoinette herself is "uninteresting" - on a par with Paris Hilton, poor little rich girl who knows nothing and does nothing but parties, eats, and shops.

Well, she parties and shops, anyway.

The argument runs that it would be ridiculous to make a big-budget movie of the life of Paris Hilton, even if she did run up the deficit while eating buttercream bon-bons in gorgeous dresses and satin shoes - because she is of no consequence in her profound ignorance.

My response to that is:
1. The movie was FUN. It was eye-candy. I don't think deep conclusions were meant to be drawn, nor history taught, even.
2. It's true. Ignorance and silliness are generally not very interesting entertainment. "They just STARED at each other all day. Got very boring." (anyone recognize that line?) BUT... no one can say that the French Revolution itself was boring: and Marie Antoinette was a large part of it. I think the very fact that she was Paris Hilton-ish in such a climate and culture is extremely interesting to ponder:
and also a HUGE warning flag. EDUCATE YOUR CHILDREN. Get them to read some books, or something. Give them an ATTENTION SPAN, at least.

But I digress. Back to Governeur Morris:

What Morris, "a foreigner from a republican country," saw when he looked at the Queen was still a woman ~ humanity ~ and it seemed to him that most of the French seemed not to notice anymore. He said, "I see only the woman and it seems unmanly to break a woman with unkindness!" Yes, maybe even simple, ignorant women who eat bon-bons deserve some kindness, even in retrospect.

Marie Antoinette had felt the weight of unkindness for years of her life. Court life with its formality and pretense reminds me quite a bit of high school, and what a punishment that would be, to live your high school days forever!

"Unkindness" is a gentle word to use for some of the things that Marie Antoinette suffered, and these are documented facts, not fiction: there were pornographic caricatures of her in impossible situations published daily, sometimes hourly, until no one doubted their veracity anymore; she was hissed and yelled at to her face(one time at such a close proximity that she stumbled in surprise); she was called names; suffered rejection even from her close friends, and often found herself more manipulated than loved; she lived in a fishbowl, with very little to no privacy, in a beautiful home where people from the streets felt it their right to enter at any time, expressing to her whatever entered their minds; even in the midst of rebellion, she was expected to hostess her enemies in her own home to maintain court etiquette (and she did so, with dignity); even her own mother and brother blamed her often for governmental problems that she had no say in; and she received the sole blame for the deficit, much of which was the remains of a war long fought on foreign soil.
For years she handled it all with dignity, chin up, hopeful that lies would fade, and her matriarchal place in France would find its way into the hearts of the people.

Finally, however, with the death of her oldest son, the weight became too great. She retreated from the public, and from governmental affairs. Although her composure never left her entirely, her body became bowed and weakened, and illness set in along with the sadness.

All this is not to say that Marie Antoinette is a martyr, nor a saint: far from it. But no matter what you think of her, no matter what sins she committed or how foolish she was, you have to admit she is one of the more fascinating historical figures and we have a love/hate relationship with her. Beautiful from a distance, but we wonder about her heart... her face on canvas and her lavish lifestyle draw us in and we marvel and imagine... and yet we are frustrated because she is not what we want her to be, nor is her end a happy one, although it began like a fairy tale.

Was she beautiful, or pitiful? Was she maternal or manipulative? Kind or cold? Was that a mask she wore, or was there a human being in there somewhere?

Her reign was the last of its kind, the end of which screams for a Shakespeare to write her play. I'm sure he would have, had he been living.
She never had much of a chance, even though the beginning glittered temptingly...
and everyone loves an underdog.

I can't help but pull for her with the turn of each page, wishing maybe this time things might come out differently... wondering "what if...?" The mind rushes ahead, only to stumble back, reeling from gruesome images stored away from previous history lessons ~ the names Marat, Danton, and Robespierre looming like spectral monsters on the page. They will have their hour. I think of her children and their bleak futures ahead (and yet behind me...) and mourn for this mother whose greatest pain was surely not the loss of her country nor her life but the forced separation from her children - having to listen to the sounds of her 5 year old son sobbing nearby - and yet far away...
and then later, when hope was gone, having to leave her blossoming daughter, too, knowing she will soon be an orphan, alone in a cruel world.

Yes, I've gained some pity for Marie Antoinette...

and I've learned from her, too. And that makes a book worth reading.

photos: allposters, and Columbia pictures, copyrighted 2006

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Modern Era, The Social Gospel, Liberalism, and WWI

Defending the Faith, by D.G. Hart
Christianity and Liberalism, by J. Gresham Machen
The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman

"One of these things just doesn't belong here, one of these things just isn't the same..." At first glance, The Guns of August doesn't appear to have anything to do with Christianity and Liberalism. (or... maybe one could make an argument for that, after all?...)

This is a good example of how my mind works and how my reading lists evolve. I have wanted to read about J.Gresham Machen for quite some time, and I finally had that opportunity this fall. Defending The Faith is a biography of Machen's life, the sub-title being: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America. As I read and learned more about this hero of our faith, I found myself for the first time ever wondering about World War I and its era. I've never studied that period of history, never particularly cared to, and now looking back I find it odd that there is still to this day a shroud of silence that hangs over it, due to what? Shame, embarassment, disinterest, confusion? As I read, my curiosity grew.

Next I picked up Machen's most famous book, Christianity and Liberalism. It may not strike us today, but at the time of its publication, the title was shocking and people bristled: "But liberalism IS Christianity! How dare he imply otherwise! Is he saying I am NOT a Christian?" I'm impressed by his courage, this professor and confessed lover of comfort and the higher learning environment.

I began reading, and was constantly, on every page, surprised to find how very similar that era was to our own; how Machen's concerns are still ours; how long-sighted he was, and how "prophetic" his words ring. I have still not finished the book because I put it down and headed to the library to find a good book on WWI. I wanted to know more about why he wrote this book - what was it that surrounded him and made him who he was, made him desire so urgently to say what he said?

I found that very good book: The Guns of August. Evidently it is not just A book about WWI, it is THE book. And what I read there filled in a lot of gaps for me.

So that is how I make my reading lists - one thing leading to another, layering knowledge a little bit at a time.

Back to where I started, Defending the Faith:

J.Gresham Machen lived from 1881 - 1937, "the scion of a prominent and genteel Baltimore family" with Southern roots that never dried up. Hart begins at the beginning, looking at Machen's family life: what it was like to grow up with a father whose tastes and interests were "rooted in the classical tradition of the Old South...he read the works of Horace, Thucydides, and Caesar with pleasure and found personal inspiration in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament and in the Greek New Testament." He was a lawyer who benefitted from the rhetorical training of a classical education, and determined to give the same benefits to his sons. It certainly benefitted Machen the man.

Mary Gresham Machen was also intelligent, well-bred, and well-read. She was a lover of Victorian poetry, a writer herself, and served in many capacities in her community. Hart describes the household thus: it "appears to have maintained an uneasy alliance between Victorianism and Southern classicism... Mrs. Machen inculcated Victorian norms of domesticity, spirituality, and restraint... [but] the male culture of the Virginia gentleman still survived in her home." And so Machen grew up knowing how to play the man, and yet remained comfortable in the classical, literary world of education.

Eventually Machen found himself teaching under men like B.B. Warfield and others who together found themselves a minority of conservative biblical thinkers in this historical bastion of the faith, Princeton University. They witnessed the decline of that bastion, and had the scars to prove it.
We live today in a Post-Modern society, some are calling it - and some even say we are post-post modern: but what came before Post-Modern was the "Modern" society that Machen saw the beginnings of. Science ruled supreme, Victorian sentiments were being ridiculed, new doubts were raised as new scientific facts emerged almost daily, and even the Bible itself was being looked at in a new light. "Where was the proof? How do we know? Maybe it's just a nice story to make a good point..." These are the times in which J.Gresham Machen lived and taught.

It would have been an easy life for him if he had only been quiet, happy enough to get into heaven himself, unconcerned if all the universities went to hell in a handbasket. But instead he took his stand and defended the historical, orthodox faith that he loved and clung to himself. He loved Princeton and he loved his life there. It wasn't fun having his name besmirched and his reputation tarnished, and the stress of it all finally did take its toll on his body, but he kept going to the very end in faith and confidence. Finally he had to leave his own denomination and resign from Princeton Seminary, which was also a comfortable home that he loved where many friends lived, as well.

He then used much of his own inheritance to found Westminster Seminary as well as a denomination to oversee it, and this is his legacy to us today:
"The preservation of Old School Presbyterianism through a Calvinist seminary and a confessional church free from the constraints of establishmentarian Protestantism - this was Machen's legacy and Westminster Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church clearly embodied those ideals. Although the size and influence of his church and seminary was small, Machen had managed to sustain a religious tradition that otherwise may have become extinct."
In reading this passage, I was reminded of Gideon, that "mighty man of valor" that God found hiding one day from the enemy: he didn't need hordes of thousands to do the job God called him to do, only 300.

Machen's main concern with the Modernists of his day was this: they were using Christian language to deny the Gospel. "The only legitimate solution as he saw it was a division between the parties." His book, Christianity and Liberalism, is a brilliant exploration of the difference between the two ways of thinking and how they cannot be logically or practically brought together. The Moderns accused him of being schismatic and divisive - they spoke "peace, peace" when there was no peace. Machen was a prophet in his own time, and not much has changed for prophets since the beginning of time: they still find themselves persecuted, lied about, laughed at, and usually rather lonely. But God seems to give them "fire in their bellies," and silence is not something to consider for these people, and neither is stagnation.

It is amazing how we are still fighting some of these same battles today, and in other ways, we are experiencing the consequences of those decisions made 75 years ago. If you want to understand the present, the best place to start is in the past.

Machen saw the arrival of the Social Gospel and watched it infiltrate churches, weakening them until they were merely "clubs" designed to "do good" in the world. The Gospel was shortchanged: "by becoming a 'political lobby' the church turned aside from its proper tasks. The responsibility of the church in the new age, therefore, was the same as it had always been: to testify that the world was lost in sin and that salvation from such misery, whether for individuals or for nations, could only come through Christ...

The gospel rarely carried the weight of important institutions or the 'pomp of numbers' and was often hidden away in 'individual congregations resisting the central ecclesiastical mechanisms.' Nevertheless, the message of sin and grace was precisely what the mechanical an dmetallic civilization of the modern age needed. The craze for efficiency and standardization as well as the desire to alleviate physical distress had led to the neglect of 'unseen things.' But the gospel restored a proper perspective on what was permanently valuable. For this reason, Machen thought the paradox of Christianity especially pertinent to modern life. 'This world's problems can never be solved... if you think that this world is all. To move the world you must have a place to stand.' "

That last reference is a reference to Archimedes, the one who discovered the power of the lever. He said, "Give me a place to stand, and I can move the world." I recently read a biography of Martin Luther that took this little sentence and applied it to his life: Machen and Luther were generations apart, but they both found their "place to stand" firmly on the Word of God, in the Gospel of Christ, and God did use them to indeed, move the world.

Regarding the Modern Era, it was helpful to me to read The Guns of August. Mrs. Tuchman writes beautifully, wittily, engagingly about something that could potentially become a very boring, detailed list of battles, weapons, and generals. The first paragraph of The Guns of August is a famous one: it took her 8 hours to write but has earned her praise for years. It pulls you right into the book, and shoves you off.

" 'Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans,' Bismarck had predicted, would ignite the next war." Thus begins chapter 6. An apt description of a war that seemed unnecessary, begotten from the foolishness and pride of men who longed to show their greatness and listened to ill counsel, refusing to see the truth: but a war that nonetheless changed history. It is a boundary line between "then" and "now" that most of us never acknowledge but experience every day of our lives. Everything changed between 1914 and 1918.
Tuchman tells us in her Afterward the story of the Battle of the Marne and within that "the story of the taxis: the last gallantry of 1914, the last crusade of the old world..." Things definitely changed.

In a world that seemed to be shifting on its axis, a world suddenly full of scientific discoveries and encroaching doubt, fear, and uncertainty; a world where suddenly nobility and the "everyman" were meeting and mingling; a world of walls falling and trust fading; a world where the old maxims offered no comfort anymore...
into this world God sent men like J. Gresham Machen to remind us that there IS solid ground, and somewhere to stand; men used as His instruments to protect the Truth and preserve it for us, their descendents. It is shame to forget, because if we forget, we cannot be grateful. Remembering gives us courage and confidence because we then recognize that "our trust is not in princes," and there is "nothing new under the sun."

Only the Gospel shows us the worst parts of ourselves, revealing our neediness so that we will look for a Redeemer and Saviour outside of our own petty imaginations. Only the Gospel offers us a Real Hero. If our only hope was in a liberal view of mankind, a false social gospel centered around a group of people sitting in a church building chanting "we can make a difference - we can make a better world," our hope would be small, indeed.

Men like J.Gresham Machen may not be popular, but they have their reward in heaven. Their words are worth listening to, in any era.

Friday, December 26, 2008

State of Fear

State of Fear
by Michael Crichton

"Global warming is the heating up of the earth from burning fossil fuels.

"Actually, that is not correct."

"It's not?"

"Not even close. Perhaps you'd like to try again..."

"I don't understand," Evans said. "My statement - that's what global warming is."

"In fact, it is not." Balder's tone was crisp, authoritative. "Global warming is the theory - "

" - hardly a theory anymore - "

"No, it is a theory," Balder said. "Believe me, I wish it were otherwise. But in fact, global warming is the theory that increased levels of carbon dioxide and certain other gases are causing an increase in the average temperature of the earth's atmosphere because of the so-called 'greenhouse effect.' "

"Evans was starting to sweat... 'well, sir, I guess.. when you refer to global warming, everybody knows what you're talking about.'

'Do they?... when you have a strongly held belief, don't you think it's important to express that belief accurately?' "

And so Michael Crichton begins his book, State of Fear. The main character is a well-educated man, an attorney, who works for one of the champions of the Environmental Movement, a man whose wealth pays for many of their campaigns, helping them wield power and hold sway over others who likewise have money and hold more power.

Basically the story is a thriller, in which Evans the attorney finds his core beliefs challenged and his knowledge base shaken again and again. He also finds his life in danger on more than one occassion, and somewhere along the way he manages to fall in love and discover the hero inside that he didn't know existed.

But the book is more than a good yarn, it's also a venue for Crichton the Scientist to vent a little about the very unscientific methods that the Environmentalists often employ; it's an unveiling of the dangers inherent in half-truths, no matter the good intentions; and the tendency of otherwise intelligent minds to close when confronted with the repetition of crisis statements by the mass media and the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. The spin doctors in State of Fear sum it up well when they say: "What's logic got to do with it?... All we need is for the media to report it...
Back in the 1970's, all the climate scientists believed an ice age was coming. They thought the world was getting colder. But once the notion of global warming was raised, they immediately recognized the advantages. Global warming creates a crisis...' "

This example of a fictional local weather forecast sounds familiar, too:
"Hi, everybody. If you're a longtime resident of the Grand Canyon State, you've probably noticed that our weather is changing, and scientists have confirmed that what's behind it is our old culprit, global warming...'

'That's how they do it, these days,' Kenner said. 'They just read the copy outright... and of course, what he's saying is not true.'

'Then what's causing the increase in extreme weather around the world?' Evans said.

'There is no extreme weather.'

'That's been studied?'

'Repeatedly. The studies show no increase in extreme weather events over the past century. Or in the last fifteen years... If anything, global warming theory predicts less extreme weather.'

'So, he's just full of s---?'

'Right. And so is the press release.' "

Even though the book is a fictional account, the tricks of the fund-raising trade are also familiar:
"Kenner said, 'NERF spends nearly sixty percent of its money on fund-raising. It can't admit that, of course. It'd look bad. It gets around the numbers by contracting nearly all of its work to outside direct-mail advertisers and telephone solicitation groups. These groups have misleading names, like the International Wildlife Preservation Fund - that's an Omaha-based direct-mail organization, that in turn outsources the work to Costa-Rica.'

'You're kidding,' Evans said.

'No, I am not. And last year the IWPF spent six hundred fifty thousand dollars to gather information on environmental issues, including three hundred thousand dollars to something called the Rainforest Action and Support Coalition, RASC. Which turns out to be a drop box in Elmira, NY. And an equal sum to Seismic Services in Calgary, another drop box.'

'You mean...'

'A drop box. A dead end.' "

Throughout the book are woven interesting scientific facts through character dialog, making it rather easy to learn and by the end of the book feel like you have picked up a little more ammunition for yourself on the way to a satisfactory ending to a good story:

" 'Hey,' he said, controlling his anger, 'Antarctica IS melting.'

'You think repetition makes something true? The data shows that one relatively small area called the Antarctic Peninsula is melting and calving huge icebergs. That's what gets reported year after year. But the continent as a whole is getting colder, and ice is getting thicker.'

'Antarctica is getting colder?'

'...What we decided,' Kenner said, 'is that we're going to give you references from now on. Because it's too boring to try and explain everything to you.' "

And this is what Crichton does in the appendix. Want to find out for yourself? There is plenty of material listed in the back, footnotes, charts and all.

For example, did you know that...

~Carbon dioxide appears to be stimulating plant growth?

~The rate of emergence of new diseases has not changed since 1960?

~Global warming trends are closely associated with properous cultures and longer lifespans, whereas global cooling is associated with shorter life spans and more poverty?

~There is no known rate of species extinction? fifteen thousand new species are described every year... which makes it impossible to estimate how many species are becoming extinct, since we don't know how many species exist in the first place.

~There are 160,000 glaciers in the world and only about 67,000 of them have been inventoried with only a small fraction of those being studied with any care... which makes it quite difficult to say that they are all melting.

~Kilimanjaro has been melting since the 1800's - long before "global warming?" It has always been something of a mystery, anyway, because it is an equatorial volcano, existing in a warm region. Satellite measurements indicate no warming trend at the altitude of the glacier... and so deforestation appears to be the reason for its melting, not global warming, according to journal references.

~Sea levels are rising... only 4-9 inches per hundred years, and have been since the start of the Holocene era. Satellites do NOT prove that they are rising any faster now than they ever have.

~Computer models do not prove anything. They only predict, and so far they have failed to predict accurately.

~The banning of DDT is "arguably the greatest tragedy of the 20th century." Since the ban, 2 million people a year have died unnecessarily from malaria, mostly children. All together, the ban has caused more than FIFTY MILLION needless deaths. Banning DDT killed more people than Hitler, and the environmentalists have pushed hard for it. (the banning is done not by law, but rather by withholding foreign aid...)

~And it's not a carcinogen; it is safe enough to eat, with one study proving its safety by having people do just that for 2 years.

But as Kenner says in the book, "if you want to believe in them anyway, there is no arguing with faith." :)

The title of this book is compelling: it makes me question - "Do I want to live in the state of fear that other people are creating for me? Must I? And is it wise? "

" 'There was a major shift in the fall of 1989. Before that time, the media did not make excessive use of terms such as crisis, catastrophe, cataclysm, plague, or disaster. For example, during the 1980's, the word crisis appeared in news reports as often as the word budget. In addition, prior to 1989, adjectives such as dire, unprecedented, dreaded were not common in television reports or newspaper headlines. But then it all changed...

These terms started to become more and more common. The word catastrophe was used five times more often in 1995 than it was in 1985. Its use doubled again by the year 2000. And the stories changed, too. There was a heightened emphasis on fear, worry, danger, uncertainty, panic...

It seemed suspicious that it should coincide so closely with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Which happened on November 9 of that year...

At first we thought the association was spurious. But it wasn't. The Berlin Wall marks the collapse of the Soviet Empire. And the end of the Cold War that had lasted for half a century in the West...

I am leading to the notion of social control... To the requirement of every sovereign state to exert control over the behavior of its citizens, to keep them orderly and reasonably docile. To keep them driving on the right side of the road - or the left, as the case may be. To keep them paying taxes. And of course we know that social control is best managed through fear.' "

As a Christian, I am reminded of Isaiah's words:
"For the Lord spoke thus to me with a strong hand,
and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying:
'Do not say, 'A conspiracy,'
Concerning all that this people call a conspiracy.
Nor be afraid of their threats,
nor be troubled.
The Lord of hosts, Him you shall hallow.
Let Him be your fear.
And let Him be your dread.

He shall be as a sanctuary...' "

Another scientist in Crichton's book says it this way:
"At the very least, we are talking about a moral outrage. Thus we can expect our religious leaders and our great humanitarian figures to cry out against this waste [of billions of dollars in marketing in spite of more pressing and urgent issues of poverty and contagious disease in Third World nations...] and the needless deaths around the world that result. But do any religious leaders speak out? No; quite the contrary, they join the chorus. They promote, 'What Would Jesus Drive?' as if they have forgotten that what Jesus would drive is the false prophets and fearmongers out of the temple."

"Industrialized nations provide their citizens with unprecedented safety, health, and comfort. Average life spans increased fifty percent in the last century. Yet modern people live in abject fear. They are afraid of strangers, of disease, of crime, of the environment. They are afraid of the homes they live in, the food they eat, the technology that surrounds them. They are in a particular panic over things they can't even see... germs, chemicals, additives, and pollutants. They are timid, nervous, fretful, and depressed. And even more amazingly, they are convinced that they environment of the entire planet is being destroyed around them. Remarkable! Like the belief in witchcraft, it's an extraordinary delusion - a global fantasy worthy of the Middle Ages. Everything is going to hell, and we must all live in fear.

And convicting. Ouch. I feel the need to stand up and raise my fist and say, "NOT ME!
'Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You... In God I have put my trust, I will not fear.' "

The Bible also tells us that we are to take dominion of what we have been made stewards of. Obedience to that command is an act of humility, not arrogance. Some scientists recognize the need for this, as well:
"Passive protection - leaving things alone - doesn't preserve the status quo of a wilderness, any more than it does in your backyard. The world is alive... things are constantly in flux. Species are winning, losing, rising, falling, taking over, being pushed back. Merely setting aside a wilderness doesn't feeze it in its present state, any more than locking your children in a room will prevent them from growing up. Ours is a changing world, and if you want to preserve a piece of land in a particular state, you have to decide what that state is, and then actively, even aggressively, manage it."

If we're going to talk about arrogance, Crichton's scientist, Kenner, expresses my opinion on that well, too, as he argues with an actor turned environmentalist:
" 'I have a problem with other people deciding what is in my best interest when they don't live where I do, when they don't know the local conditions or the local problems I face, when they don't even live in the same country I do, but they still feel - in some far-off Western city, at a desk in some glass skyscraper in Brussels or Berlin or New York - they still feel that they know the solution to all of my problems and how I should live my life. I have a problem with that...'

Ted said, 'The point is, if all these other people industrialize, it will add a terrible, terrible burden of global pollution to the planet. That should not happen.'

'I got mine, but you can't have yours?'

'It's a question of facing realities.'

'Your realities. Not theirs.' "

I saw a very interesting show recently on the Discovery Science channel. It was a bit over my head, but fascinating nonetheless, and it held my attention, especially this quote from a scientist that they interviewed at the end who said: "The greatest hindrance to the progress of science is the illusion of knowledge..."
And it was Galileo himself who said, "Doubt is the father of invention, opening the way to the discovery of a truth." And this seems to be what we have walked away from: doubt and wonder...
Crichton's scientist in State of Fear puts it this way:

" Yes, Peter, climate is complicated. It is so complicated that no one has been able to predict future climate with accuracy. Even though billions of dollars are being spent, and hundreds of people are trying all around the world. Why do you resist that uncomfortable truth?... Yes, weather prediction has improved, but nobody tries to predict the weather more than 10 days in advance. Whereas computer modelers are predicting what the temperature will be one hundred years in advance. Sometimes a thousand years, three thousand years...

Climate science simply isn't there yet... One day it will be. But not now."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Suite Francais

Book Review: Suite Francais, by Irene Nemirovsky

Mrs. Nemirovsky was a Jewish woman living in Paris when WWII broke out. She was a writer, and had written many successful novels already. She was married and had 2 daughters. Suite Francais was her last novel, left unfinished - it was intended to be written as 3 books, a literary equivalent to a musical composition. She only finished two of the three books, and they were not edited and polished. Still, they are beautiful and powerful because these are the words of a woman who knew her time was short.

She was recording the France that she knew and saw: the Nazis, the French men and women, the landscape, the fear, the quiet resistance. Before her books were all finished, she herself was taken to a death camp and killed. Suite Francais seems sacred, and the reader finds herself scavenging for clues that might explain the holocaust; or maybe some piece of knowledge about human nature that might help him feel more confident about how he might react in the same situation... asking himself many times, "what if...?"

"They hadn't yet been shelled. When it happened, they didn't know what was going on at first. They heard the sound of an explosion, then another, then shouting: 'Run for it! Get down! Get down on the ground!' The immediately threw themselves face down.

'How grotesque we must look!' Jeanne mused. She wasn't afraid... Later, she would remember that while they were stretched out on the ground, a small white butterfly was lazily flitting from one flower to another.

Finally she heard a voice whisper, 'It's over, they're gone.' She stood up and automatically brushed the dust from her skirt. No one, she thought, had been hurt. But after walking a few minutes, they saw the first fatalities: two men and a woman. Their bodies had been torn to shreds, but by chance their faces were untouched.

Such gloomy, ordinary faces, with a dim, fixed, stunned expression as if they were trying in vain to understand what was happening to them; they were made... to die in battle, they weren't made for death. In all her life that woman had probably never said anything but ordinary things like, 'The leeks are getting bigger,' or 'Who's the dirty pig who got my floor all muddy?'

'But what do I know?' Jeanne asked herself... 'What a horrible waste,' she thought again. She leaned against Maurice's shoulder, trembling, her cheeks wet with tears...

She and Maurice hobbled along, continuing on their way. All the could do was to keep walking and place themselves in the hands of God."

The story begins in Paris at the beginning of the Nazi occupation in 1940. The story follows several men and women and families thrown together, or pulled apart, by the war. And so the reader gets a glimpse into how occupation felt for the individuals that make up a war-torn country. We've learned the "big picture" in history class; now we zoom in for a closer look. Human nature is human nature, we find...
life goes on...
there is no reprieve from the demands of hungry children, farming, the cycles of birth and death.
The realities of life are not softened into a hazy picture:

"He wore the expression found on people who have died in an accident, in a matter of seconds, without having had time to be afraid or to suffer. They would be reading a book or looking out a car window, thinking about things, or making their way along a train to the restaurant car when, all of a sudden, there they were in hell."

Heroism is not always stoic; sometimes it is confused and riddled with angst:

" 'If only I could look after them for longer, ;' he thought to himself. But in his heart he knew he didn't really want to. He only wanted one thing: to be rid of them as soon as possible, to be relieved of his responsibility and this feeling of unease he felt weighing down on him. The duty of love, which, until now, he had felt was almost simple, so great was the Grace of God within him, now seemed almost impossible to feel.
'Even though,' he thought humbly, 'it would mean that, for the first time, perhaps, I would really have to try, it would be a true sacrifice. How weak I am!...'
Never had he felt anguish as he did today, on this journey, beneath this sky where lethal planes sparkled, among these children whose physical bodies were the only thing he could hope to save..."

Mothers still love fiercely:

"Oh, just to see him, to hold him close, to feel his cool rough cheek beneath her lips, to see his beautiful eyes shining close to hers, his deep expression, so alive. He had hazel eyes with long eyelashes like a woman, eyes that saw so many things! She had always taught him to see the funny and moving side of people. She liked to laugh and felt sympathy for others. 'It's your Dickensian spirit, Mother!' he would say. How well they knew each other!... She loved and respected Maurice, but Jean-Marie was... Oh, my God, he was everything she wanted to be and everything she dreamed of and everything that was the best of her: her joy, her hope... 'My son, my little love, my Jeannot," she thought, calling him by the nickname he'd had when he was five, when she would take his head gently in her hands and kiss his ears, tilt his head back and tickle him with her lips while he laughed and laughed."

Love breaks in when we least expect it and from surprising places. Noble intentions mingle with the lower ones; words do not always match the deeds, for good or ill:

" ' It's nothing to do with us, it's not our fault. In the heart of every man and woman a kind of Garden of Eden endures, where there is no war, no death, where wild animals and deer live together in peace. All we have to do is reclaim that Paradise... We are a man and a woman. We love each other.'

Reason and emotion, they both believed, could make them enemies, but between them was a harmony of the senses that nothing could destroy...

'No, Never!' she cried out. 'Never!' Never would she be his. She was afraid of him... He was whispering to her in German. Foreigner! Foreigner! Enemy, in spite of everything. Forever he would be the enemy, with his green uniform, with his heavenly beautiful hair and his confident mouth."

The plot is not a driving one in this book; rather, it is the characters themselves and the descriptions of their environments that keep the reader turning the pages right to the end. The author catches the very essence of a moment in words until you feel like you really can imagine where you would be in that moment, if you were there, too...

"All along the Boulevard Delessert, groups of people appeared outside their houses - women, old people and children, gesticulating to one another, trying, at first calmly and then with increasing agitation and a mad, dizzy excitement, to get the family and all the baggage into a Renault, a saloon, a sports car...

Not a single light shone through the windows. The stars were coming out, springtime stars with a silvery glow. Paris had its sweetest smell, the smell of chestnut trees in bloom and of petrol with a few grains of dust that crack under your teeth like pepper.

In the darkness the danger seemed to grow. You could smell the suffering in the air, in the silence. Even people who were normally calm and controlled were overwhelmed by anxiety and fear.

Everyone looked at their houses and thought, 'Tomorrow it will be in ruins, tomorrow I'll have nothing left. We haven't hurt anyone. Why?' Then a wave of indifference washed over their souls, 'What's the difference? It's only stone, wood - nothing living! What matters is survival!'
Who cared about the tragedy of their country? Not these people, not the people who were leaving that night. Panic obliterated everything that wasn't animal instinct...

And, on that night, only people - the living and the breathing, the crying and the loving - were precious. Rare was the person who cared about their possessions; everyone wrapped their arms tightly around their wife or child and nothing else mattered; the rest could go up in flames."

The author's voice compels us to listen. She had something to say to us at the end of her life. What was it? Maybe it's something like this:

"Evil is unspectacular,
and always human,
and shares our bed
and eats at our own table."
W.H. Auden

"Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real god is always new, marvelous, intoxicating."
Simone Weil

more on occuppied France: a moving read with pictures taken by Buffy at Buffy's Salon.