January 5, 2015

Newsflash: You Can Honor God in a Non-Christian Setting

This blog doesn't deal a whole lot with the specifics of my college experience, despite the fact that college now takes up most of my time and mental energy.  Apart from general updates on required literature and the beginnings and ends of semesters, I think the most I've said is that a) I'm going to college (!) and b) I'm pursuing a degree in History.  A few of you - mostly those of you who happen to be friends with me on Facebook - may also be aware that, when I decided more or less at the eleventh hour to attend college, I chose a liberal arts school.  "Liberal" in a double sense: politically and ideologically.  It's local, negating the need to live on campus, and it has a great academic reputation. 

I'll be the first to admit that I was not exactly peachy-keen about the whole notion: for this sheltered pygmy person who never traveled from her fire, the university had an outsized reputation for being A Place Where People Go to Apostatize.  Like many universities, this one was originally founded by a Christian denomination but has since made haste to distance itself from that heritage.  I'm not saying I actually thought they burned crosses on the manicured lawns or anything (way too much extra work for the gardeners); I'm just saying I was leery of spending four years listening to relativism, the liberal agenda, and whatever else these unknown professors might take it into their heads to teach.

Let's admit it: I was scared.

I think many people are when it comes to making decisions like these (I'm focusing on choices of colleges, since that's the only one I've really had to wrestle with).  Especially for those of us who were or have been homeschooled, it is undeniably daunting to consider going out into the world for further education; even if we've been taught about different worldviews, it isn't the same as hearing arguments straight from the horse's mouth.  It isn't the same as having to read or watch unpleasantness firsthand (and not experience it through someone else's tidy little review).  I think we're afraid we might be convinced by the arguments, or corrupted by the wickedness.  The world is a scary place!  The Devil roves about like a roaring lion and might devour us at any moment!  And springing from and reinforcing this fear is the belief that to properly honor God and protect ourselves, we're better off either not going to college or going to one with a Christian creed. 

I don't believe this is biblical in the least.  While I think it is always good to be conscious that we and the world are fundamentally at odds, I don't think my fear was biblical.  After all, as Paul admonished Timothy, we've been given a spirit not of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.  We are encouraged, not to withdraw from the world in terror at the thought of being beaten by it, but to go out into it with boldness as a witness to the power and grace and presence of God.  One of the needful things of which the Reformers reminded us is that the divide between the "sacred" and the "secular" is completely artificial and uncalled for; and yet we continually return to it, cloistering ourselves because, I believe, we fear the world.  This is a tacit rejection of our mandate as believers to be salt and light and to powerfully permeate the world, bearing witness to our God ("who is a God like unto our God?") in the midst of the nations.

My use of "non-Christian" in the title is a little disingenuous, for I do not believe there is, or should be, a divide between the Christian and secular spheres.  What I mean to say is that we can honor God in all settings - not necessarily by sharing the Gospel, per se, but by our faithful presence.  Take college again as the case in point.  I believe we have this notion that if we do attend a mainstream college - for example, my liberal arts university - then to be really honoring to God we need to engage in a rousing debate with our godless professors and convince them that We Are Right.  You know, like those super long Pinterest quote-pins where by the time you get to the end, the student has effectively convinced everyone, including the formerly-atheist professor, of the existence of God. 

...I'll tell you straight up, I feel wholly unprepared to do any such thing.  But I do know that I can bear witness to the glory of my God every day without (necessarily) having to engage specifically in debate.

1. With a solid work ethic.

Just by taking our education seriously and applying ourselves to it, we can stand out.  We of all people should never be halfhearted in our endeavors.

2. With a polite, respectful demeanor.

We don't need to be obsequious in order to show professors, even the ones who don't thrill us, that we appreciate their efforts and respect their learning.  (And for the ones who we simply can't bring ourselves to appreciate or respect, we maintain our dignity, do what is required of us, and avoid as much as possible.)

3. With a cheerful, can-do attitude.

This is the subject of my June post, The Most Beautiful Curve.  Of course we all have off days, but we should strive to not make those our regular days.

4. With the ability to choose our fights wisely.

We do not have to raise a storm about everything.  Sometimes we are required to listen to or watch things that we disagree with or even that make us uncomfortable (Katie wrote a great comment about this, but it was on Facebook months ago and I can't find it anymore, so you will simply have to imagine it.).  But sometimes, when push comes to shove, we can say no.  Not loudly; not with a grand monologue; just politely informing the person that we have boundaries.  This is not about being a Good Christian; it may just be about having some personal dignity.

5. With a willingness to listen and learn.

Too often we are so wrapped up in mentally preparing a snappy response that we don't actually listen to what the other party is saying: possibly we're afraid to.  Yes, much of what we hear will be badly mistaken.  But there is also much that we can glean, much that can convict us, much that can challenge us, much that can encourage us.  We must be willing to grow, and even to alter our opinions.

6. With a growing knowledge of what we believe.

We never just fling open our minds and accept everything: we must have a well-reasoned foundation to build upon.

7. With the ability to give an answer for the hope that is within us, when an appropriate moment comes.

...with meekness and fear and a good conscience.

I'm not saying we can't go to a college that seeks to structure itself around Christian values or doctrine.  I am saying only that we should never do so out of fear of the alternative.  We honor God through our conduct in all settings - not by shunning contact with the world or following any prescribed path.

December 31, 2014

A [Literary] Year in Review

It's been so long since I last posted here at Scribbles, it seems strange to come back.  In fact I've pulled up Blogger several times since finishing my last exam a couple weeks ago, trying to write some kind of update.  The updates, however, can really be boiled down to a few highlights.

five months of schoolwork

four courses finished

three final exams

two new nieces

and a partridge in a pear tree

On this the last day of 2014 it would be appropriate to say something about the year gone by and the year to come, but the year gone by has been insane and the year to come is anyone's guess, so instead I will follow Elizabeth Rose's lead with a 2014 book-list.  It hasn't been a very "big" year, comparatively speaking; Goodreads says I only read about 20 books, and although that isn't counting a few I read for classes but didn't add to my account, it still leaves me far behind 2013 (37 books) and out of sight of 2012 (56 books).  Nor did I have many "discoveries," at least not in terms of books-likely-to-become-favorites.  Still, the year had its literary moments.

I read a number of large books, so my pages read was not much so very low compared to last year.  I began by finishing The Man in the Iron Mask, though I read most of it in December 2013.  It was my second Dumas, and I didn't find it as well-crafted a story as The Count of Monte Cristo: the characters were not as compelling to me, and the plot was somewhat iffy.  Mostly the plot was D'Artagnan, I think.  "How to Be Awesome and Talk Sass to the King [Without Getting One's Head Chopped Off] - A Guide in 800 Pages." 

The more I look back, the more I think it must have somehow been a French year. I followed up The Man in the Iron Mask with Mary Stewart's Nine Coaches Waiting, a mystery whose charm for me lay more in its masterful, beautiful prose than in its characters or plot; Daphne du Maurier's The Glass-Blowers, a depressing and honest, though fictional, tale of the author's French ancestors; and The Black Count, a biography of the novelist Alexandre Dumas' father.  That's a surprising amount of French-ness for me.  I didn't really mean to: it just happened.  It might explain a lot about 2014, actually...

After having it sit on my shelf for quite a while and be recommended to me by a friend, I finally took up Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (I persist in saying "Nor-ELL" as opposed to "NOR-ul," even though I suspect the English, who don't like to pronounce any syllables if they can help it, would go with the latter).  I was right in my suspicion: it is dark.  I was troubled, less by the magic or any particular scene of violence than by the overall atmosphere: everything felt grey, as though covered in fog.  Without in any way meaning to imply that Susanna Clarke was trying to write like Dickens (Dickensian as the plot structure and huge cast are, it would be demeaning to Clarke's marked skill, and just plain wrong, to accuse her of imitation) - without implying that, the novel felt to me like many of the darker scenes in a Dickens adaptation.  Little Dorrit springs to mind.  It weighed me down and disturbed me viscerally and I don't think I will be rereading it any time soon.  On the other hand, it is the only novel of 2014 I could give five stars to.  It's unique, masterful, clever, subtle, funny, even brilliant.  In fact I think it would be unfair to not give it five stars. 

perhaps you should just try it yourself

To keep myself sane, I read more fluffy books than I probably should have: Georgette Heyer's Regency Buck made a nice companion to Jonathan Strange, and a couple Wodehouse collections lightened the atmosphere while I was reading other, longer, more serious books for school.  I also read Miss Buncle's Book, which was cute, but not quite as winsome as I had hoped: I was turned off by a few of the characters...and I admit, I do get tired of the writer-stereotypes.  Even when they're being perpetuated by another writer.  I'm sorry, Elisabeth!

I got in a few other classics or semi-classics, including Rabble in Arms by Kenneth Roberts (does that recommendation make up for my ambiguous opinion of Miss Buncle's Book, Elisabeth?); The Moonstone by that Victorian melodramatic, Carolyn Keene Wilkie Collins; and the sentimental horror story Frankenstein.  It's really a wonder that the Romantics ever got anything accomplished in the midst of all their traveling and finding themselves and ill-timed swooning.  ...Possibly I'm not taking this seriously enough.

History was my single largest genre in 2014, though that isn't really saying much.  Most were for classes, but I did not sell them back to the bookstore at the end of their respective semesters!  Of those, I think I most enjoyed Divided By Faith (an examination of conflict, toleration, and the religious dynamics of post-Reformation Europe) and The Grand Strategy of Philip II (even if Philip is judging you overtly from the cover.  Seriously.  Take a look.  It's freaky.).  Just last week I finally finished plugging through Robert Massie's Dreadnought: hurray!  Even taking its size into consideration, five months is an absurd amount of time - and those are five months of actually reading it, not merely having it sit on my bedside table pretending to be read.  Don't judge it by that, though.  Massie is a first-class writer.  He reminds me - if I needed the reminder - that history is fascinating and funny, too.

I read my first Virginia Woolf this year (To the Lighthouse, which hasn't yet made it onto Goodreads).  I also had to start a new shelf just for "Other" books so that I would have somewhere to put the graphic novel Watchmen and the crazy literary/experimental/contemporary/post-post-modern Cloud Atlas.  This is what happens when you take a literature course, apparently. 

you have to read strange things
and learn to get something out of them.

books of 2014

4% : 5 stars  //  22% : 2 stars or less  //  22% : history  //  55% : new authors

 what have you folks been reading?

meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings

The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing

Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 51,000 words

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