Wednesday, April 25, 2018

“Absolute Surrender” by Andrew Murray

It is sometimes startling to read a book about the Christian faith aimed at a general audience that is free of late twentieth and early twenty-first century angst or psychological dilemmas or a popular theology book that doesn’t veer into the Christian self-help genre. What did Christians read, or used to read, when they were seeking to understand difficult Scripture passages, learn about Christian living, or answer basic questions about their faith.

One author they read was Andrew Murray (1828-1917).

Murray, the son of a Dutch Reformed minister and missionary, was born in South Africa, educated in Scotland, became a missionary and pastor himself in South Africa, and authored more than 240 books on faith, theology, and Christian living. He lived during the century of Darwin, Marx, and Freud, the triumvirate of thinkers who many believe permanently closed the book on the Christian faith. And yet he remained steadfast in his belief and wrote book after book to encourage others in the faith.

Absolute Surrender: The Blessing of Forsaking All and Following Christ is one of those more than 240 books. It is aimed at Christians who are seeking to deepen their faith and are asking the question, what does it mean to forsake all, or what he calls “absolute surrender.”

What he describes is a process. He starts by explaining what it means to be filled with Holy Spirit and how it changes the believer. He describes the roles of conviction and confession. He discusses the example of Peter in the New Testament. He explains the blessings which result from absolute surrender, and how it is to be lived out. He shows the results of surrender. He notes that Christians can continue in the process only through the active involvement of God. And he asks the question, what does it mean to be a branch to the vine?
Andrew Murray

The account is simple. It’s straightforward. It’s free of a lot of the stuff we add to Christian faith today. It is written from a perspective of assurance – doubt and questions are normal and it is through both that one’s faith deepens – in the context of reliance on God to provide the answers.

To read a work like this, written in the 19th century, is something of a relief. Some very fundamental things have not changed, as much as we like to believe we’re smarter, wiser, and more intelligent than people used to be. Look at our technology! And we have the internet!

The basic questions remain the same. The human heart remains the same. And the God we worship remains the same.


Top photograph by Daniel Burka via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I Know My Platform Holds at Least 2 or 3 People

The year 2013 was not the easiest for me or my family. 

My mother had to be moved from her home of 58 years to a retirement home, which meant the “breaking up” of her house and the breaking up of where her three sons had spent most of their formative years. 

Work, normally a state a barely controlled chaos, dropped the “barely controlled” and went through severe regime change and was rather suddenly “under new management.” Work demands on my time escalated, and sharply.

I was trying to get a book manuscript completed (what was eventually published as Poetry at Work) and I know I was driving the editor frantic (on a good day) and off the cliff (on a bad day) as we struggled, or I struggled, to get it done. I was also trying to promote my second novel, A Light Shining, published right at the end of 2012. That was three books published in two years. 

I wasn’t thinking a lot about marketing and promotion.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Christian Poets & Writers. 

“The Old Curiosity Shop:” Charles Dickens and a Road Trip!

Perhaps the first thing you notice when you read The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens is how little of it has to do with an old curiosity shop. The opening scenes are set in the shop, a place full of old antiques, curiosities, and junk, or “junque.” References will appear later in the sprawling tale, but they are fleeting.

Slowly you begin to understand that what Dickens wrote here was a road trip.

The Old Curiosity Shop was Dickens’ fourth work of fiction. He began to be known with his stories published in newspapers and periodicals, later collected as Sketches by Boz. Almost all of his fictional works were first serialized before being published as books. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, or simply, The Pickwick Papers, were published over 18 months from 1836 to 1837, and the work catapulted the author to national fame.

That was followed by Oliver Twist (1837 to 1839) and Nicholas Nickleby (1838 to 1839). Dickens’ fame was growing in Britain and the United States. The overlap in his published serials demonstrates the demand for his work – people were reading Oliver Twist as Nicholas Nickleby began to be published. He was riding the rising tide of literacy in both Britain and the U.S. His characters captured recognizable types, and he was equally at home with humor, tragedy, violence, and even farce.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Top photograph: Little Nell and her grandfather begin their journey in The Old Curiosity Shop.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Dancing King Stories: The Victoria Memorial

Queen Victoria died in 1901, after the longest reign by any British monarch (a record broken only by Queen Elizabeth II). To honor her memory, a memorial was designed that same year. The central monument – what most tourists think of as the Victoria Memorial– was constructed between 1906 and 1911. The memorial was not completed until 1924.

The entire semi-circular design as constructed in front of Buckingham Palace includes the Dominion Gates (the Canada Gate, the Australia Gate, and the South and West Africa Gates); the Memorial Gardens; and the central monument, built of 2,300 tons of Carrara marble and comprised of the monument atop a staired terrace.

Many a time have I walked around those gardens and not realized they’re part of the overall Victoria Memorial.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Dancing Priest.

Top photograph: a panoramic view of the gardens, monument, and Buckingham Palace.

“Apologia” by Alexi Kaye Campbell

Last fall, while visiting London, it was a rare day when we weren’t traveling by double-decker bus from Victoria Street, around Parliament Square, and up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square. We’d pass the old Scotland Yard, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, the government buildings on Whitehall, the Horse Guards Palace, and a rather small building named Trafalgar Studios Theatre. Playing at the time was Apologia. We considered trying to get tickets, but they were few and far between. Certainly, a draw (for us American tourists, at least) were two of the stars – American actress Stockard Channing and Laura Carmichael, aka Lady Edith of Downtown Abbey fame.

So, I bought a copy of the play script.

Apologia by playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell is actually written in two versions, an English one and an American one. It was the American version playing at the Trafalgar, likely to accommodate Ms. Channing. The plays are essentially the same; the difference is the lead character, Kristin Miller, who can be played as an American or a Brit. I read the American version.

Miller is something of a famous art historian, who started out her professional life as a protester. The cause didn’t particularly matter; if she thought it could enough, she was there. She’s now living not far from London, in a charming cottage-like home. It is her birthday, and her two sons are coming to visit for the party, along with their girlfriends. Neither son is particularly happy with their mother’s newly published memoir, which doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. She tries to explain this by saying it was a professional memoir, but that excuse doesn’t survive for long.

As the characters interact, the sons Peter and Simon, the girlfriends Trudi and Claire, and Kristin’s old friend and fellow protester Hugh, it becomes clear that this family is about both what it says and what it doesn’t say. Kristin discovers that Peter met Trudi (an American) at a prayer meeting, and she nearly freaks out at the idea that her son may have found faith. Simon, largely unsuccessful at about anything he tries, is breaking up with the successful soap-opera-star Claire. It’s clear that Kristin likes neither of the women and almost seems to deliberately provoke them. Claire gets incensed and responds; Trudi rather blissfully ignores the sarcasm.

Alexi Kaye Campbell
This is a family seething with anger and resentment, and it takes some time to see why.

Campbell was an actor for 20 years, working for such companies as the Royal Shakespeare Company and Hampstead Theatre, before turning to playwriting. His plays include Death in Whitbridge (2008), The Pride (2010), The Faith Machine (2012), Bracken Moor (2013), and Sunset at the Villa Thalia (2016). Five of his plays have been collected and published as Plays One (2017). The Pride won several theater awards when It was written and produced. Campbell was also the scriptwriter for the movies Possession (2002) starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Woman in Gold (2015), starring Helen Mirren.

Apologia slowly builds tension; one begins to suspect that Kristin Miller is almost on the verge of cracking and will do (and say) anything to avoid that. She has to believe she’s in control; she doesn’t seem to understand that her family has become the protestors and she the central authority being protested.

Top photograph: an advertisement for the play at Trafalgar Studios.