How to Get Dressed

For the ladies

This article is a letter to my self of 25 years ago, with the hope that it might also prove helpful to my little sisters in Christ who might be struggling with some of the same issues that I was then. It’s for young Christian women who want to dress modestly, but know that being told “dress modestly” gives you close to zero guidance as to how to proceed. It builds on this article by venerable pastor and father Douglas Wilson, which gives a man’s perspective. His article lays out some excellent general principles, but I felt there was quite a bit more to be said.

So, guys, you can probably stop reading now. Read on if you wish to find out all the sartorial complexity that women have to deal with. But be warned: the passage below contains the word “bra.”

I will now address my fellow ladies directly.

Ahem

Surprise! You’re a woman. You have a brand-new, woman’s body. If you are in your late teens or early twenties, the body you have now is not the same as the one you had just a few years ago. It comes with new aches and pains. It moves differently. It attracts more attention. It’s harder to dress.

Unfortunately, there is no Standard Modest Outfit out there that all women can just pluck off the rack and don. Some societies in the past have had “traditional garb” or even actual laws about what people of different social classes could wear. Modern America is the opposite. Clothing, especially for women, is viewed as a matter of personal expression. On the plus side, this means we have almost infinite choices. On the down side, this means we have almost infinite choices. So, like it or not, if we want to wear anything at all, we have just been thrown into the wild and crazy world of women’s fashion.

But first, mindset.

You Are Probably Beautiful

You may feel unattractive in your new body. You may even feel grotesque. You may, then, be tempted to reason that it doesn’t matter whether you dress modestly or put any thought into your ensemble. No one is looking; or you can’t “get away with” a classy look; or no matter what you wear, the effect will still be one of the orcs from Lord of the Rings, but with lipstick.

This is probably not true.

The odds are overwhelming, if you are a young woman, that men find you attractive. Even if not every man does, there are probably many, many out there who do, on a daily basis.

It’s not good to motivate yourself to modesty with shame over some aspect (or all aspects) of your appearance. This can backfire in so many ways. So, regardless of how you may feel about yourself, for the purposes of getting dressed, think of yourself as a beautiful woman who wants to be modest and dignified and classy, and who can get away with any look she desires to attempt, no matter how formal, rather than as an ugly woman who has to use her clothing to either conceal or compensate for her ugliness.

You Are Going to Have to Spend Some Money

You may also be hampered in your quest to dress classy by a reluctance to spend more than $20 on any one item at any one time.

The eleventh commandment in some Christian families is, “Thou shalt be frugal.” Perhaps you were raised wearing hand-me-downs, and that worked fine when you were a kid, but now you have this new body that you have to clothe.

You may also have received the impression that spending – not just money, but time, effort, and worry – on your appearance is vain and shallow. You don’t want to be a Barbie doll. You don’t want to be “high maintenance.”

Let me tell you, putting together a modest, classy wardrobe is worth the effort. I’m not saying you have to be dressed like an executive every day and apply makeup with a trowel. Depending upon your current calling in life, your wardrobe might be different. But whatever job or role you are dressing for, you’re allowed to put some thought into it. Lumberjacks are allowed to buy steel-toed boots and suspenders and hard hats or whatever it is that lumberjacks wear, and grown women are allowed to invest in some good bras, slacks, dresses, dress boots. You are going to be donning some kind of clothes every day. They might as well be nice-looking clothes that fit you right now, not stuff left over from your middle school days, or stuff you bought on clearance but it didn’t fit but you continue to wear it because you don’t want to throw it away.

In short, by spending some time, effort, and money on this, you are not being wasteful or shallow or vain. You are being responsible.

Building up a good wardrobe might cost more or less depending upon how difficult it is to shop for your particular build.

Special Problems

If you happen to be very curvy, it’s worth pointing out that this is a special problem. When it comes to getting dressed, being very curvy is a handicap. As you have probably already noticed, most clothes are not designed for you. It’s going to be harder to find clothes that fit, and of those that do fit, clothes that look modest when they go on. You may need to go through a grieving process until you can accept that this is what you look like now, and proceed with the interesting challenge of dressing the body that has been given to you.

Get yourself fitted for a bra. It’s possible that you have been wearing ones that don’t really fit, just because that’s all that was available in stores. Because of your special problem, you are going to have to spend more money and effort than most women, but luckily, there are companies out there that specialize in making bras and clothes for the very curvy woman.

When possible, use dressing rooms. I hate dressing rooms as much as the next gal: they are gross, the lighting is always ugly, and just being in there drains the energy out of you. But it is better to spend a few minutes crying with frustration in the dressing room, than to buy a top that almost fits.

Don’t worry about sizes. Sizes are not consistent from one clothing brand to another. Many many women wear XL or XXL and do not appear fat. Buy whatever fits you.

Ponchos are your friend.

Get Your Colors Done

You could find the perfect garment, one that is modest but attractive, fits you perfectly, etc., and drop a lot of money on it … but if you hate it, you just won’t wear it.

A big part of whether you hate the garment, and whether it actually looks good on you, is color. No matter what your favorite color is, there is probably a version of it that flatters you and a version that doesn’t. Getting your colors done is a cheat code to help you find the shades that will look best on you.

The basic idea behind getting your colors done is that someone helps you determine whether you are a “Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter” based upon your natural coloring. These aren’t personality types or anything like that … they purely describe different types of skin tone, and to a lesser degree eye and hair color. There are also YouTube videos that can help walk you through this process at home.

On the related issue of figuring out what looks good on you, I recommend finding an older fashion book from the library (not a magazine, which will just try to sell you the latest looks). I stumbled upon one in the local library which had a bunch of ordinary-looking women for models, with pictures, and it was incredibly helpful. It was a revelation, for instance, to discover that if you have a lot of color contrast between your skin and hair, you will look good in patterns with a lot of contrast such as black and white, whereas if you don’t have a lot of contrast, you will look good in softer tones. Seeing this illustrated with a variety of models was invaluable.

Pick A Few Looks You Like

Why “pick a few looks”? Why not just individual pieces? Having a look in mind will help you determine what pieces you need, how they best go together, and which ones you can and can’t combine when you get dressed in the morning. (Also, of course, every look comes with its attendant hairstyles, makeup, and accessories, but that is beyond the scope of this post.)

Why looks “you like”? Do this mean that it is all down to individual taste, and you are a modern liberated woman who can wear whatever you want? No, I am not saying that. Coming from a Christian world view, we know that no one can do whatever they want, with no limits, in any area. You have to consider modesty, being appropriate to the occasion, and what kind of image you are projecting when you go outside.

But this does not mean that individual taste is entirely irrelevant. As discussed, we live in a society where clothing is not prescribed. There are a great variety of ways to get dressed, and the choices among these are thrown back onto the individual. This is especially true for women, for whom in most situations there is no “neutral” outfit. (I owe this point to Deborah Tannen.) In this kind of social environment, you have no choice but to make choices. And that means that one factor you need to consider – you must consider – is your own taste. If you like the look you have put together, you will wear it. If you don’t, you will just keep reaching for the old t-shirt you loved when you were 15.

What look(s) you select will depend upon what region of the country you live in; whether you live urban or rural; and what kinds of social circles you move in. Perhaps you live in a city environment where you have to dress rather formally just to be taken seriously. Perhaps you are in a Christian community where the consensus is that women should always wear skirts and dresses. Perhaps you’re a farm girl who looks perfectly fine in jeans, flannel or fleece tops, work boots, and a baseball cap or maybe even a cowboy hat.

You also have to consider whether your typical day involves frequently climbing in and out of a vehicle, and if so, what vehicle. I love skirts and dresses, but if I am going to be running errands, I opt for pants instead because they are more convenient and modest when getting in and out of my car. Also, pockets.

Now we are getting into opinion territory. I’ll give you my opinions about some looks and whether they can be adapted by a Christian woman to look dignified and wholesome. This will not be comprehensive. New looks, and new variations on old looks, keep popping up all the time. I am not an expert, and have made my share of sartorial mistakes. (Oh, so many mistakes!) I am an artistic person who always secretly kind of wants to wear a costume. So take this for what it’s worth.

Some looks, in my opinion, cannot be adapted by a Christian woman because it’s integral to the look to appear very sexy, very edgy or very rebellious. Here are a few:

  • 80s rocker
  • 70s dance party
  • Punk
  • Goth/Vampire
  • Steampunk
  • Rockabilly (but see 50s housewife below)
  • Lady rapper
  • Anything pirate (Sorry, fellow costume afficionados!)
  • Motorcycle gang
  • Viking-inspired

Other looks can be made modest, classy, or at least sweet without doing violence to the look. Here are a few:

  • Hippie (there are variations on this – beachy hippie, hippie chic)
  • Preppy (also formal preppie/Audrey Hepburn/Jackie O)
  • Academic (corduroy, sweaters, blazers, sensible shoes, neutral tones)
  • Sporty
  • 90s Grunge (baggy jeans, flannel shirts, beanies)
  • 50s housewife, like Lucille Ball. Believe it or not, this is a look that is coming back. The thing that distinguishes it from Rockabilly is that the Rockabilly look combines 1950s clothes and hairstyles with an intentionally rebellious attitude, shows more skin, and features lots of tattoos.

All of these looks also have immodest versions featuring very short skirts, crop tops, and the like. They also have rebellious versions. For example, the hippie look can go in the direction of a ton of beads, peace signs, and not taking a shower. But it doesn’t need to. For preppy, you could wear a tennis skirt. For 90s grunge, some people would do their makeup to make themselves look like a heroin addict. But none of these things are integral to the look and you don’t need them. You can get the look by picking its distinctive fabrics, patterns, and colors.

Of course, you can also, if you so desire, go in the direction of Amish/Little House on the Prairie/Anne of Green Gables/Cottagecore. I love that look on other people, but it makes me look like a grandmother and I’m not ready for that yet. Also, though modest, this look is actually more conspicuous in the modern world than the looks listed above.

Good Luck, Sisters

Finally, realize that you are not locked in. You won’t be buying new clothes as often as when you were a growing child, but you will switch out your wardrobe every few years as your stage of life changes and as you get older and (probably) gain some weight. The good news is that clothing marketed to older women tends to be more modest and dignified than clothing marketed to younger women. Also, you will know yourself better when you are older, and will probably have a husband whose tastes have influenced your own, and probably more income to spend on clothes. So, feel free to take the time and money required to look classy in a way that fits your body and personality right now, realizing that this will probably change and that’s fine.

And when you have done all this, you will be a dazzling Proverbs 31 woman, “Clothed with strength and dignity.”

Happy Easter!

Here is my compilation of “all the verses about death,” which I posted last year at this time.

***

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

***

Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a commandment, as did Adam. The mind of sinful man is death. The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live… But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions … the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms. For this very reason Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like those who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.

But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

The Unseen Realm by Michael S. Heiser

Photo by sk on Pexels.com

This review will bring a number of threads together, but it won’t give you a comprehensive sense of everything discussed in this book, because it is a long, complex book with lots of things to chew on.

The Unseen Realm is a theological book written at a popular level, but with lots of footnotes. I would say it is for serious lay students of the Bible. It frequently refers to the Septuagint (the Greek Translation of the Old Testament that was in popular use in New Testament Times), and to other different ancient manuscripts of various Bible passages, some of which have slightly different wording that can be key for Heiser’s arguments. The scholarship on the many topics that this book encompasses is voluminous, so much so that there is a companion web site with additional articles for all the things that this book can’t get into in detail.

All of that said, it is not boring, at least not if you are interested in its main idea, which is that of a divine council of “gods” being present not only in other ancient mythologies but throughout the pages of the Bible. I came to this book for my research into future fiction projects that I may or may not be working on (ooo so mysterious!). I found out less detail than I had hoped to about the divine council, but even when we don’t learn something, we learn something. In this case, I learned that the Bible does not give us a lot of detail about this divine council, its members, or how it supposedly operates. We can assume this is on purpose.

The Main Idea: the Divine Council

It was very common in the Ancient Near East to believe that there was a council of gods or divine beings which would meet, typically on a mountain far away, and decide the affairs of men. That’s why you will often hear the title “Most High God.” Heiser’s contention is that the ancient Israelites shared this view, and that in fact the Bible endorses it. It starts very early, with God saying, “Let us make man in our image.” Though some people see this as evidence for the Trinity, Heiser contends that what is being evoked here is that God is addressing a group of beings which have already been made in His image, but are not humans. God then, all by Himself, makes man in His image, with the other beings presumably just watching.

The flagship Bible passages for Heiser’s thesis are Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32:8 – 9. In the latter, it asserts that God “divided up mankind [and] fixed the borders of the peoples according the number of the sons of God. But the LORD’s portion is His people, Jacob his inheritance.” The idea is that God assigned each “son of God” (divine being) a nation to rule over, but He took the Israelites as His own nation. Psalm 82 shows God reaming out the gods for not having done a good job ruling over the nations, promising them that “they will die like mere men” and that “all the nations” will become God’s inheritance.

These are the two most obvious passages that indicate this idea, and even they are often translated to so as to hide the fact that the original authors assumed that divine beings existed and ruled over the nations. My NIV, for example, translates Deut. 32:8 as “… according to the number of the sons of Israel.” It also puts scare quotes around the word “gods” in Ps. 82.

Ugarit

Ugaritic is the ancient Semitic language most closely related to Hebrew. In Ugaritic cosmology, the chief deity was El. He had a divine council that met in a lush garden or on a mountain. He had seventy “sons of El” who made up his council, and he had a coruler, Baal (which means “lord”). Much of the imagery, vocabulary, and cosmology of Ugarit is echoed or riffed off of in the Old Testament, always making the point that Yahweh is the true Most High God, the one who sits on a throne over what looks like a sea of glass, that His garden is the true garden and His mountain is the true mountain. The Israelites, though, did not quarrel with the idea that there were seventy lesser divine beings who served God. This seems to have been accepted cosmology, sort of like we accept heliocentrism. The Bible does not come out and say this directly, because it was common background knowledge in the Ancient Near East.

The Table of Nations, in Genesis 10, shows 70 nations branching off from Noah’s three sons. The idea was that subsequent to Babel, each of these nations was assigned to a son of El – a lesser god. The Most High was done with them. He would no longer be their God directly. Of course, some day the lesser gods, who did not do a good job with their people, would be demoted. Yahweh had plans to bring all the nations of the earth back and make them His own people once again.

The Divine Council in the Redemption Story

Heiser spends the rest of the book tracing this idea of the divine council, of Yahweh as the true God, and of the disinheritance and re-gathering of the nations, throughout the Bible, seeing how it plays in to the big redemption story. He gets into discussions about whether idols are nothing at all or whether they represent something more, and whether the word demon (shadim) means just a supernatural being or something evil. He gets to the giants. He gets to Jesus putting the local gods on notice when He starts crashing around Galilee. He visits the miracle of the tongues of fire at Pentecost. It’s all really interesting, really intricate, with a lot of scholarship.

Some of the ideas in this book were truly mind-blowing. For example, I had never before heard the term Monotheistic Binitarianism. (Wild!!!) “The startling reality is that long before Jesus and the New Testament, careful readers of the Old Testament would not have been troubled by the notion of, essentially, two Yahwehs — one invisible and in heaven, the other manifest on earth in a variety of visible forms, including that of a man. In some instances the two Yahweh figures are found together in the same scene. In this and the chapter that follows, we’ll see that the ‘Word’ was just one expression of a visible Yahweh in human form” (page 134). This is a consequence of mysterious Old Testament passages where Yahweh will appear to, say, Abraham in human form … but sometimes there are two or even three human figures, and the passages seem to be intentionally ambiguous about their identity or how many are there at any given time. There are not just a few of these instances either. Heiser says that this idea of “two powers in heaven” was “endorsed within Judaism until the second century A.D.” (135, footnote). It was the background to the famous passage in John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning …”

Other ideas, if I may venture, were less mind-blowing than Heiser seemed to expect them to be. Perhaps this is because I have been studying what you might call the weirder aspects of the Old Testament for some time, but even for someone who had never heard this idea, I sometimes got the feeling that Heiser was writing to a straw man. For example, he has a whole chapter about how God’s plan for a Messiah was hidden in the Old Testament, in hints that couldn’t be pieced together beforehand, but only made sense in retrospect, types and shadows. This is pretty standard Christian teaching, at least in the Reformed circles I move in, but Heiser seems to think that his readers have been given the impression that God’s whole plan of salvation was spelled out super clearly in the Old Testament. “Chances are good that you’ve heard the New Testament mistakenly read back into the Old hundreds of times. Therefore you might be surprised to hear me say that the Old Testament profile of the Messiah was deliberately veiled” (241). In the rest of the chapter, he proceeds to read the New Testament back into the Old. “It couldn’t be emblazoned across the Old Testament in transparent statements.” Yes, we know. After Jesus rose, He said, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything that is written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. (Luke 24:44 – 45, quoted by Heiser on page 242) Yes, we know. The New Testament Christians could not see the significance of the Old Testament passages until Jesus (and, later the Holy Spirit) opened their eyes to see it. In fact, they spent the rest of their lives making “So that’s what that was about!” discoveries. Perhaps some modern Christians don’t realize this, but I think most people do who have spent years doing Bible study. In fact, many of the doctrines that we take for granted had to be worked out by the church through history.

Similarly, Heiser has a whole chapter about why God’s plan included making beings with free will and how this necessitated evil and how He couldn’t just erase everything and start over as soon as we messed up. Heiser is not a fan of Calvinism. Like most Arminian arguments, he seems to have a shallow understanding of what “free will” means and a shallow understanding of Calvinism as a sort of dystopian vision wherein people (and gods) are mere sock puppets directly controlled by God. I am willing to accept that God is sovereign, and that beings other than Him exist in the universe (human and supernatural), which make real choices that are in some sense free. I get that these two things should not go together, but that we have good evidence for both. So it is a paradox. I don’t need to choose between sovereignty or free will to understand the idea of a divine council.

What We’re Not Told

After reading Heiser, I am convinced that it is a biblical idea that there are spiritual “divine” beings that exist in an unseen realm. (Heiser points out that the word for these beings, elohim, is a place-of-residence word. They live in the unseen realm, therefore they are elohim. The word itself says nothing about their moral status.) Their existence plays a role, though I would still say not the major role, in God’s plan of salvation for humankind. In some ways, they are relevant, especially in their role as rogue gods of the nations. In other ways, a lot of what goes on in the unseen realm is none of humankind’s business.

Perhaps this is why the Bible does not tell us — and thus, Heiser does not tell us — the sort of details about the elohim that a researching novelist would naturally want to know. Here are a few unanswered questions:

  • Are there really only seventy of them? What happened when the seventy nations multiplied into many more?
  • There appears to be a hierarchy in the unseen realm, but what is it like? How many levels?
  • Are the beings on the different levels different species/different in appearance (if that question even means anything)? Does the unseen realm have the equivalent of animals?
  • We know some elohim rebelled against God, but how many? When? Was there more than one rebellion? Are all the rebel spirits organized under Satan, or are there rogues and factions?
  • How does or did this divine council even work? In almost all of the glimpses we are given of it, it’s basically just God announcing His intentions and the council members just watching.
  • There is a well-established association between the gods and the stars or constellations, but how does this work? Are they the same or symbolic? Is it a one-to-one correspondence?

This is the kind of thing that a really good novelist would get all nailed down before writing a book like, say, This Present Darkness … but it’s impossible to nail down because we are not told this stuff. Again, this is probably because it is none of our business. So if you are going to write a novel that includes gods, I would recommend you just delve into the mythology of one particular nation (Ugarit, say, or Greece as many authors have done to great success), accepting that you are riffing off of one particular nation’s interpretation of all of this, an interpretation that is based on something real, but is definitely not going to be accurate in all its details.

Quotes from a Book I Binged

The book is Before the Ruins, 2020, by Victoria Gosling.

It’s been a while since I binged a book, but I finished this one in just a few days. It is so well-written that it’s almost like unrhymed poetry. Almost every page has something quotable, even when the quotes are ones I disagree with, like the following …

I remember Peter’s father in the church telling the story of Jesus and Pilate, and jesting Pilate asking Jesus what the truth was but then not staying for an answer, and so we never got to find out, not any of us, not ever. I was so disappointed and on our way back to the vicarage, hell-bent on my share of the roast dinner — chicken, chicken, let it be chicken! — I pestered the vicar, “But why didn’t the disciples ask him instead? There he was on the cross, it’s not like he was going anywhere. Why didn’t they ask him?” With his hand on the gate, he turned. A watery smile. “Sometimes, Andy, I think you are the only one who is listening.” Which, of course, was no answer at all.

Nor was there anything in the Gospels that shed light on what Jesus would have said about [my abuser]. I don’t remember anywhere in the Bible Jesus meeting a truly wicked man.

Before the Ruins, p. 114

*pinches brow*

No, Jesus never met a truly wicked man … except the ones who hunted, slandered, gaslit, and betrayed Him. And then tortured Him to death. Except the majority of people he met. Except those.

He never said anything about child abusers … though there were certain passages about the sea and millstones and whitewashed graves and the fires of hell.

His disciples never asked Him “What is truth?” … except all those times they did, and He said “I am the truth,” and the time Philip said to Him, “Show us the Father,” and Jesus said, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen me, has seen the Father.”

It’s interesting, because a big theme of Before the Ruins is how difficult it is to really know people, even people you love very much. And how difficult it is to let people know you, even if you really want to.

When not on the subject of the Gospels, the book has a lot of insight and achingly evocative passages about childhood and growing up. Passages like that will break your heart. Passages like this one:

It made me aware of how dormant I was most of the time. How my life — my job, my screens — made it easy to be occupied every waking moment, hurrying, distracted, and equally, on some level almost entirely asleep, comforted by dreams of effortless transformation.

But I was not Cinderella. Instead, there was another story Peter and I had often found in the books of our childhood. It came in different disguises. It was the one about the traveler who arrives at an island, or a castle, or a secret door into the side of a mountain. There, welcomed, the traveler stays, perhaps against their instincts. Often they eat or drink — strange fruit, or wine from a goblet. There is always something they should be doing, an important task for them to fulfill, but they forget it, they are waylaid, and if they ever remember, their companions, if there are any, distract them with promises, or songs, or riddles to ponder.

Often the traveler sleeps, sometimes they dream, always they are nagged by the sense that there is something they are forgetting, something they must do. Their true love is waiting, or their aged parents. There is a sick child they must bring herbs to, a kingdom for them to inherit. But they do nothing; they are paralyzed. And when they wake, if they ever get away, once back in the world they find that centuries have passed, that they are too late, too late for everything, and that all that they loved, everything that truly mattered, is lost forever.

To sleep on? Or to wake? This was the question facing me. To sleep, or to wake and face the reckoning, to find out what had been lost.

Before the Ruins, p. 181

Definitely Not Political Post of the Week

Any resemblance to reality is entirely due to C.S. Lewis’s wisdom.

A little way off at the foot of a tree sat a merry party, a squirrel and his wife with their children and two satyrs and a dwarf and an old dog-fox, all on stools round a table. Edmund couldn’t quite see what they were eating, but it smelled lovely and there seemed to be decorations of holly and he wasn’t at all sure that he didn’t see something like a plum pudding. At the moment when the sledge stopped, the Fox, who was obviously the oldest person present, had just risen to its feet, holding a glass in its right paw as if it was going to say something. But when the whole party saw the sledge stopping and who was in it, all the gaiety went out of their faces.

“What is the meaning of this?” asked the Witch Queen. Nobody answered.

“Speak, vermin!” she said again. “Or do you want my dwarf to find you a tongue with his whip? What is the meaning of all this gluttony, this waste, this self-indulgence? Where did you get all these things?”

“Please, your Majesty,” said the Fox, “we were given them. And if I might make so bold as to drink your Majesty’s very good health –“

“Who gave them to you?” said the Witch.

“F-F-F-Father Christmas,” stammered the Fox.

“What?” roared the Witch, springing from the sledge and taking a few strides nearer to the terrified animals. “He has not been here! He cannot have been here! How dare you — but no. Say you have been lying and you shall even now be forgiven.”

At that moment one of the young squirrels lost its head completely.

“He has – he has – he has!” it squeaked, beating its little spoon on the table.

Edmund saw the Witch bite her lips so that a drop of blood appeared on her white cheek. Then she raised her wand.

“Oh, don’t, don’t, please don’t,” shouted Edmund, but even while he was shouting she had waved her wand and instantly where the merry party had been there were only statues of creatures (one with its stone fork fixed for ever halfway to its stone mouth) seated around a stone table on which there were stone plates and a stone plum pudding.

“As for you,” said the Witch, giving Edmund a stunning blow on the face as she re-mounted the sledge, “let that teach you to ask favour for spies and traitors. Drive on!”

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Ch. 11

We Are the-Book-as-Read

This threefoldness in the reader’s mind corresponds to the threefoldness of the work (Book-as-Thought, Book-as-Written, Book-as-Read), and that again to the original threefoldness in the mind of the writer (Idea, Energy, Power). It is bound to be so, because that is the structure of the creative mind. When, therefore, we consider Trinitarian doctrine about the universal Creator, this is what we are driving at. We are arguing on the analogy of something perfectly familiar to our experience. The implication is that we find three-fold structure in ourselves (who are the Book-as-Read), because that is the actual structure of the universe (which is the Book-as-Written), and that it is in the universe because it is in God’s Idea about the universe (the Book-as-Thought). Further, that this structure is in God’s Idea because it is the structure of God’s mind.

There is nothing mythological about Christian Trinitarian doctrine: it is analogical.

Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, pp. 122 – 123

I’m Reading a Horror Story …

… I sure hope it ends well.

But I don’t think it will.

Because I wrote it.

I recently got the third book in my trilogy, The Great Snake, back from my editor. The next step for me is to go through it, noting all her comments, making all the changes that are called for.

I am having a grand old time. I was really unsure about this book during, and even after, writing it, perhaps because, to paraphrase Jordan Peterson, “The artist should not know exactly what it is that he is doing.” Now, reading through it with fresh eyes after an absence of several months, things are clicking in to place. I feel that what this book has done is right.

I think you all are going to like it.

Meanwhile, we have a brand-new war raging somewhere in the world. Women my age, with children the age of my children, are being forced to flee their homes or hunker down in their basements. Grandmothers are preparing to do first aid. War-fever is sweeping my own country. People are going bananas with demonizing the bad guys, and talking about WWIII.

That doesn’t count the crises we have long been praying about, which still have not abated, notably the Uyghurs being imprisoned in concentration camps, but there are a lot of others too.

Real life is a horror story.

Which raises the question: Do I have any right to enjoy myself reading over my little story of fictional horrors? Do I have any right to post about it, and about paintings and sunsets, or about anything at all except the current crisis?

It is time for me to pull out again C.S. Lewis’s wonderful speech “Learning In War-Time,” which addresses these very questions. I posted a quote from it, and a link to it, almost exactly two years ago. Here they are again:

[We] must ask [ourselves] how it is right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to heaven or to hell, to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology. If human culture can stand up to that, it can stand up to anything. To admit that we can retain our interest in learning under the shadow of these eternal issues, but not under the shadow of a European war, would be to admit that our ears are closed to the voice of reason and very wide open to the voice of our nerves and our mass emotions.

I think it important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective. The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.” Life has never been normal.

The insects have chosen a different line: they have sought first the material welfare and security of the hive, and presumably they have their reward. Men are different. They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on the scaffold, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature.

C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-time,” a speech given in Oxford in autumn of 1939

Read the whole thing here.

Long story short? You bet I have a right to post about art and literature and knitting and all the rest of it. Because when you get right down to it, all my posts are in some sense posts about Jesus. And He is exactly what we need, in this current crisis and in every crisis. He is wonderful. He really is.

Quote: When Good Poets Go Bad

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In the following quote, Fiver, a sensitive rabbit, has just heard an evocative poem recited by another rabbit, in an underground hall.

They followed Fiver up the run and overtook him at the entrance. Before either of them could say a word, he turned and began to speak as though they had asked him a question.

“You felt it, then? And you want to know whether I did? Of course I did. That’s the worst part of it. There isn’t any trick. He speaks the truth. So as long as he speaks the truth it can’t be folly — that’s what you’re going to say, isn’t it? I’m not blaming you, Hazel. I felt myself moving toward him like one cloud drifting into another. But then at the last moment I drifted wide. Did I say the roof of the hall was made of bones? No! It’s like a great mist of folly that covers the whole sky: and we shall never see to go by Frith’s light any more. Oh, what will become of us? A thing can be true and still be desperate folly, Hazel.”

Watership Down, pp. 111 – 112

A Month (Give or Take) of Nonfiction

Unrelieved grey, above & below? … Look closer, there’s a treat in the middle!

So, just as a personal update here, it’s been an odd six weeks since Christmas. First of all, there was … you know … Christmas, with all that implies when you are the mom and in charge of the festivities. Right before Christmas, I injured my shoulder doing a pushup (don’t laugh … I’ve injured myself by sleeping wrong), and that resulted in several weeks of nerve pain. Then around the time the shoulder/arm injury was becoming less intrusive, I got some sort of bug that wiped me out for about two weeks. Added to all this, it’s been really dark and cold, as it tends to be in the dead of winter. Even with our modern conveniences … heated car, warm house, plenty of groceries, etc., that deep chill can really make it seem like life is against you. (Honestly, how did our ancestors ever survive the Dark Ages? Imagine being sick, and having sick kids, in a hut where it’s not warm if you don’t keep building up the fire.)

With all of this, I haven’t exactly been tearing through the reading material. I do have a sizeable TBR of nonfiction … but even some of that, I wasn’t ready to face. I have a couple of nonfiction books about American Indians that promise to be eye-opening but depressing.

So I punted.

My nonfiction this past six weeks has been a reread, a book about the writing process (which is like candy!), and a journalistic book that goes down easy. Here they are.

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers

A fantastic book about how the structure of the Trinity is reflected in the creative process. See my review here.

Rigged by Mollie Hemingway

A journalistic book that documents the various things that were done to ensure that T—- was not re-elected in 2020, including things like burying very incriminating evidence of B—–‘s corruption, changing (or ignoring) election laws in Pennsylvania, etc. I actually remember a lot of this stuff happening, because I get my news from the Daily Wire, although of course this book has more details, inside information, sources, etc. If you don’t get your news from the Daily Wire or a similar off-narrative outlet, it’s possible that the contents of this book might shock you. For me, it’s more of an entertaining ride, plus explanations of local election laws that a layperson can understand, plus just seeing that all this stuff is documented for posterity before it gets memory-holed.

I will probably give this book to someone as a gift later, but as per tradition, I must pre-read it first. (I haven’t decided who I will give it to, so if you clamor loudly, there’s chance that person could be you!)

Darwin on Trial by Philip Johnson

Here is the review I posted on Goodreads this week:

This is a reread. The first edition was published in 1991. I’ve read it a number of times over the years. This time, I got it out because my students are getting to the age when we are going to have to start wading in to these debates.

Johnson is a lawyer, so he has a sharp eye for spotting equivocations, ad hominems, and the unexamined philosophical assumptions behind even honestly made arguments. His writing is a pleasure to read. It’s a course in logic as well as a survey of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, or as he calls it, the Blind Watchmaker thesis. Now, on my third or fourth reading, I realize that I missed a lot on previous readings because there is just so much going on in this book. Also, perhaps, because when we are accustomed to hearing a debate framed in one way, it can be difficult to follow, on first reading, when someone frames it differently.

Scientific discoveries have changed a lot since Johnson wrote this book. The changes have not provided more evidence for the Blind Watchmaker thesis; quite the opposite. Soft tissue has been discovered in dinosaur fossils, for example. More and more “hominem” species that were thought to be sub-human have been discovered to have been, in fact, simply human. Stephen Meyer has published his books about the Cambrian explosion and the challenges it poses to the Blind Watchmaker thesis. Genetics gets more, not less, intricate the more closely it is studied. More “living fossils” have been found. However, the amazing thing is that none of this matters much to the thesis of Darwin on Trial. Johnson’s argument is that the Blind Watchmaker thesis is not an empirical claim that its adherents set out to test, but rather a philosophical position: a logical deduction from naturalism, or from strict materialism. To true believers in the Blind Watchmaker thesis, none of the discoveries I have mentioned will look like disconfirming evidence.