Tuesday, October 31, 2017

5 Ways to Celebrate the Reformation {+ mini-review of a Reformation biography}


1. Make a German meal. 
It doesn't have to be anything fancy. Pick up some good sausage, make mashed potatoes or German potato salad, or, if you're in the mood for fancy, how about a Chocolate Bavarian Torte? It's my sis's night to make supper, and I've begged her to make something semi-German inspired by the Reformation.

bless you, dearest sis beyond the worth of all jewels 

2. Watch a movie about Luther. 
You could check out the 2003 Luther which I reviewed Friday on the blog. Or you could check out the 1950s black and white Luther, which is also a really good look at his life. Either one is just under two hours.

3. Do a Bible Study 
You could take the five Solas and look up verses from Scripture that explain how our salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, based on Scripture alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. www.biblehub.com is my favorite place to dig into Bible study. Another good website is www.blueletterbible.com.

4. Read Luther's 95 Theses 
It's kind of funny, but after hearing about Luther's 95 Theses for years, I'd never actually read them. Our pastor asked us to read them for a Bible Study hour, so I printed them off. It's surprising how Catholic Luther still was as he wrote them.

5. Start Reading a Reformation Book 
I just finished Erwin Lutzer's Reformation book entitled Rescuing the Gospel.

i made it you guys, i made it.

It's a spectacular read. I expected an overview of things I knew, but I realized how much I didn't know. God used the Reformation to unify the German language, as Luther translated the Bible into words that common Germans would use and understand. I learned where the term Protestant came from, and also learned a lot about Luther's writings, how the Reformation spread through other countries, and an evaluation of the movement to unify Catholics and Protestants today. Erwin Lutzer's book is a smooth, easy read, and a great pick for either personal reading or a family read-aloud. If you only read one book about the Reformation this year, Lutzer's book would be a fantastic one to invest in.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Why Protestants Need to Understand Catholics + Luther {move review}

via Pixabay

The Reformation is just around the corner, you guys. The 500th. And I've got a book I want to finish up by the official anniversary.

*hyperventilating* read all the things

In our Bible Study Hour after church, our pastor is teaching on the Reformation to mark the 500th anniversary. It's thoughtful, and I connect with the historical focus, as well as one of his main thrusts: we cannot criticise Catholicism fairly until we seek to understand their viewpoint and then evaluate it from a Biblical perspective. Cold-hearted academic evaluation is not the way to disagree with someone. You must understand the why behind what they believe, and then you must line it up with Scripture. In Luther's time, part of the church was corrupt, and many Catholics saw that and longed for a pure church. Some of the things we would disagree with, while extra-biblical, stem from a deep desire on Catholics' part to pursue holiness. While sympathy with that desire doesn't cause us to embrace extra-Biblical doctrine, we should sympathize with the heart for holiness while applying God's standard of Scripture.

Our pastor went on to say that in Catholicism, there's a range of people. On the one hand, there can be some good Catholics and good Protestants. On the other hand, there can be some bad Catholics and bad Protestants. It all boils down to something he talked about recently: the difference between error and heresy. Heresy, he said, is something that teaches a false Gospel other than salvation through faith alone and Christ's righteousness alone. Error may be a non-salvific biblical issue (baptism, the end times) which has a correct answer, but which genuine believers differ on. Many people who are sincere Christians have things they believe that are error, whether Catholic or Protestant. It is the heretical beliefs, no matter your denomination, that will send you to hell.

Our pastor is clear-cut and biblical. He's not advocating tolerance of sin or error, even on points like baptism and end times. But I appreciate that as he approaches history, he acknowledges how complex it (and the people inside it) are.

He asked us to watch the 2003 Luther movie, and we're going to discuss it together. So last Sunday night, our family watched it together, and I thought I'd report the findings on the blog. Luther offers a great overview of the high points of the reformer's fight against the church, as well as giving modern cinematography and colorization to the portrayal of Luther's life. Here's what I loved most:

  • Luther's fights with the devil were moving struggles against darkness. Luther struggled with depression to a severe extent throughout his life, and while I wished the film had included it a little more after the later revolts, I appreciated the two instances they did show. His agony of resistance was convincingly portrayed. 
  • When I looked up the Parent Guide on IMDB and saw instances of hanging, I was a little concerned, and when a boy's parents first find him dead as a suicide victim, it is a sad and uncomfortable scene. But what happens after, as the boy is refused burial in the church grounds and Luther revolts in grief and anger against the refusal, showed a moving compassion that I thought was well worth including. Not only did it show how the rules of the church at the time didn't always minister to people's real needs, but it also showed an outcast woman watching Luther's compassionate burial of the boy, and you can see the wheels turning in her head as she takes in this act of mercy.
  • One of the most moving characters in the movie was the outcast mother with the little, crippled girl. The mother probably had the child out of wedlock, but her character shows such a sweet and simple love for her daughter as she buys the indulgence from Tetzel. Luther's anger over how she's taken advantage of and kindness towards her brings warmth to the film. She has an endearing, simple-hearted hunger for truth as she listens to Luther.

This movie is a great way to introduce people to this lionhearted spiritual soldier.

Parent Guide
Sex: Luther sees prostitutes soliciting in Rome (non-graphic).
Language: While there are a couple of instances of swearing I would mute, two of the scenes are actually moving struggles where Luther is cursing the devil in frantic spiritual warfare with fear, only calming down when he turns his attention instead to Christ.
Violence: A boy commits suicide by hanging (semi-graphic) and the church refuses to bury him. Tetzel holds his hand over a torch and shows his burned hand to the crowd. Close-up shot of a man in the fire being burned to death (brief). Far-away shot of men hanging from ropes. Shots of bloody bodies in the streets and the church.

Friday, October 20, 2017

In Which War of Loyalties Gets a Cover Design and a Release Date

It was late one Monday night. After a day of checking email, browsing through a bookstore, checking email, cooking with a friend, worshipping at Bible study, and you guessed it--checking email--

The email I had been waiting for came. The cover design for War of Loyalties.



The idea of seeing my cover for the first time still sends a ghost of breathlessness through me. I can finally have a concrete picture in my mind of opening a box and seeing a stack of books with that cover inside.

It's everything I wanted. Historical. Intriguing. Amazing. The folks at Damonza were simply incredible, professional, and fantastic at their craft. I'm definitely hoping to use their services again.

After a long time of "just one more edit" and working at this labor of love, and then plunging into the thrilling whirl of publishing, seeing the cover design a thrilling moment. I suppose it's like that first hug when you meet someone you've only corresponded with online.

It puts dreams into reality.



I know, I know. Show the cover already, Schuyler.

OK.

Here it is....


Book Description 
April, 1917. A ring of German spies threatens the coastal town of Folkestone, England. Newly-recruited agent Ben Dorroll must uncover which British citizens are traitors to their country. When his first attempt at espionage falls prey to a trap laid by German sympathizers, the security of the British Secret Service is threatened. Feeling lost in a strange country and aching for a steady place to call home, he wants to resign and go back to his American medical work. But when he learns that his family identity holds the key to capturing the spy ring, Ben has no choice but to unite with the mysterious Jaeryn Graham so that the truth can be discovered.

In the aftermath of the Irish Rebellion, Jaeryn Graham's British colleagues look warily on his Irish background. Always up for a challenge, he thinks his a new mission in the Secret Service should be an opportunity to prove his prowess. But after an encounter with death and alienating two agents, he finds the road to victory isn't as easy as he thought. Unless he can win the loyalties of his newest assistant, Ben Dorroll, his secret ambitions and his perfect success record will be destroyed.


You can have this beauty in print, Lord-willing, on the official release date of:  

November 30, 2017 

In the meantime? Join the fun by: 

Supporting my Twitter and Facebook pages! 

Adding War of Loyalties on Goodreads

Sharing the cover with all your friends! (Feel free to save+share!) 

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK, BIBLIOPHILES!!! 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

On Queen Victoria and Eligible Young Men


I'm on an alternating kick between the Reformation and Queen Victoria lately. It's been super fun, and there's so much information to mine out of both topics. We have a book and a movie review lined up next for the Reformation, but after taking a quick poll of people's interest on Twitter, I wanted to talk today about the different portrayals of Albert in a couple of Victoria adaptations, as well as offering a passing tribute to Lord Melbourne (whom Victoria and I call Lord M) in the new PBS Victoria series.

There are two reasons in particular. First, it's one of those warm, endearing endorphin things. Queen Victoria makes me supremely, incandescently happy, and I think it's because the characters and themes and story deeply resonate. So I keep talking about it because it's Schuyler to the nth degree.

But the other reason is that I love teasing out characterization, and why I resonate with some characters more than others.

The Contrast: Victoria's Albert and The Young Victoria's Albert

(Note: We're just going to call them PBSAlbert and TYVAlbert)

My favorite Albert is and probably always will be the Albert in The Young Victoria (played by Rupert Friend).

After watching The Young Victoria at least six or seven times, and Victoria almost four times, I think I know why. For one, their personalities are different, and it probably all boils down to what my personality likes. PBSAlbert starts off in the first couple of episodes as extremely serious. He never smiles, and I like a hero who can at least see the humor in something. He and Victoria have wildly different personalities, and they seem to fall in love over their arguments more than their agreements. It didn't make sense to me the first time I saw it. I think the screenwriters want it to be a sudden love, as Victoria realizes how much she can respect this man who wants to reform society. She realizes he has some maturity she doesn't, and she wants to pursue bettering the world with him.

The problem is, we haven't had enough screen time to be convinced. We're being "told" the dynamic of the relationship and asked to accept it, rather than having our hearts captured over the course of time. Victoria meets Albert expecting to hate him, and since we're so entwined with her character, we fully expect to hate him too. The problem is, Victoria switches so suddenly that our hearts don't switch immediately along with her. By the time she proposes, I'm still smarting over the fights.

Now, that might be me. I have certain likes and tastes, and lots of people have different ones, and I don't want to squish Albert if you like him. So please tell me just what you love about him in the comments, and I'd be very glad to hear it. *hugs*

Here's where I think TYVAlbert is smoother at accomplishing the same objective. In all of Victoria's mistakes, he keeps encouraging her that there is a way out, there is a way up, she can find it, and he's there to help her in any way he can. Emily Blunt's Victoria is still independent and doesn't want to be tied down to a marriage right away, but we see Albert leading her to maturity rather than frowning. The love plot spins out more slowly. The fights, when they come, are just as serious. TYVAlbert has concerns/complaints just like PBSAlbert. But we've had enough tenderness up to that point to be able to weather them.

I started resonating with PBS Albert a lot better in the Locomotives episode. I think it's because I started to see him smile more and be a little more animated. Plus, I like that his friendship with Sir Robert Peel and his comradely interactions with his private secretary bring warmer, friendlier tones to his character that he really needed. He's tender to Victoria when she's afraid about their future, and altogether just takes life a little easier while still being passionate about the future and still (yes) having quarrels. The quarrels don't go away. They just feel more balanced with happy things.

I think you really see the contrast in how the script was handled when you compare Albert's character journey and Lord Melbourne's.

Vicbourne and Vicbert
If you watch PBS Victoria, you'll find a fandom of people strongly divided. PBS Victoria makes Lord Melbourne a much younger, more personable, and probably more moral man than he was in real life. They dramatized his friendship with Victoria so much that by the time Albert showed up, people were almost sorry to see him come. Hashtags of #Vicbert and #Vicbourne filled Twitter, a trend in which you combine the two names of a couple you really want to see get together.

I'm still fully team #Vicbourne when it comes to PBS Victoria, not from a marriage standpoint, but from a friendship one. (I know Lord M is fictionalized, but I love him anyway.) I absolutely love the way their relationship was portrayed. It only takes an hour's worth of scenes to firmly fix Lord M in viewer's hearts. I think one aspect they did particularly well in contrast with PSBAlbert was Lord M's backstory.

When Albert shows up on the scene, he has backstory too, but in my opinion, his is handled more clumsily. After he and Victoria raise each other's hackles, they end up having a dance together. While dancing, Albert tells Victoria that he likes her flowers, because sometimes his mother was wearing those flowers when she kissed him goodnight. It's put in to garner sympathy, but it may have tried to accomplish a little too much a little too fast.

Flip over to Lord M in episode 1. He's got backstory and we know it, but (unless you're a history buff) we're not sure exactly what it is. All we know is that he's tired of being prime minister until he meets Victoria, when he seems to gain a fresh lease on life. Slowly, piece by piece, his life unfolds. He's been accused of scandal, and it was painful for him. His wife ran away with Lord Byron. Victoria says she would have a hard time forgiving something like that, and Lord Melbourne's replies are gentle and limited enough to warm hearts without waxing eloquent: "Perhaps you're too young to understand." On the night of a formal ball, Melbourne isn't there at the beginning. He's sitting at his desk with his head in his hand, looking at a painting and fingering a lock of hair. His servant comes into the room and says, "Lord Melbourne, Lady Portman knows what day it is, but the queen is asking for you." We don't know exactly what day it is, but we know that it really, really hurts him--and he shows up at the ball to support Victoria anyway.

The cream of his backstory shows up at the end of episode one, and it only comes out when he decides to share his deepest hurt so that Victoria, who has fallen into despair, can get back up again. It's revealed at just the right moment for the most resonance, not as an extra line to gain sympathy, but as part of the story itself, to give Victoria what she needs to pursue her goals. First, he tells his backstory (I won't spoil it) and then he offers her the hand up in one of my favorite lines: "You will go and you will smile. You will smile and never show them how hard it is to bear."

i just want a kleenex and a sword all at the same time 

When Albert is introduced, we are given an episode full of conflict and inklings of tragic backstory, Melbourne's backstory is woven into Victoria's success. He is willing to set aside his personal wounds so that she can grow. You don't see that kind of self-sacrifice from Albert right away. From him and Victoria, you see dislike that does a sudden 180 into love. Melbourne finds it easier to be kind and charming right from the beginning, and since, like Victoria, I love kind and wounded souls, I can, like her, be slower to connect to PBSAlbert and Sir Robert Peel's personality types.

I feel like, in due fairness, I ought to throw one more twist into this, to make it a well-rounded critique. It is easy for me, as someone Victoria's age, to look at Lord M and say, "He sacrifices. He loves, he supports, he encourages, and gives gentle warning, and lets her be herself all at the same time." Of course I like him. And then it's easy to look at Albert in the first episodes (I like him a lot more later on) and say, "he corrects, he frowns, he confronts her with her errors, he doesn't praise easily" and assume that one is love, and the other is a guy I couldn't say goodbye to fast enough.

But in the end, if I only took Lord M, it would stunt my character growth. There are points in Victoria's character that Lord M can't help her achieve, because he's kind and he's her subject after all, and he can't be too forceful when she's headstrong. Albert is a higher grit of sandpaper on her flaws. It's uncomfortable, and she does not always like him for it. But having people who are that high grit of sandpaper in our lives is something that God uses to conform us to his image. It shows us how living the Christian life applies to loving and welcoming people who confront us with our sin.

That being said, while PBSAlbert can confront and romance Victoria, I think PBS Lord M and TYVAlbert have another vital ability: they can cherish her. In the end, it's not the hot romance that makes a marriage last. It is a long-term, Christ-like cherishing on the man's part, respect and submission on the woman's, and mutual willingness to help each other pursue Christlikeness, that makes the long journey of marriage last.

This perspective is, of course, tinged by the romantic inexperience of a twenty-something single. I have a lot to learn from Titus 2 women who have a lot more experience than me. And I'm looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

How do you feel about all these character arcs? Do you agree? Do you see things totally differently? Please tell me! I'd love to know! 

P.S. I've reviewed The Young Victoria here, so I'll let you catch up if you want to know what the movie's about. I haven't reviewed Victoria PBS yet, but I'll just say that while it contains a lot of endearing characters, there are a couple of plotlines that you might want to fast-forward through. Feel free to email me for a parent guide, or I hope to have it up on the blog eventually as well.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Reformation 500: Ladies of the Reformation

via Pixabay

Ladies of the Reformation, by J.H. Alexander, is a bright pink paperback without even a barcode and dives into one part of the Reformation that you might not have on your list this year. When a friend lent it to me, I was absolutely thrilled. It gave me a huge amount of help in preparing a short series of lessons I'm writing about women of the Reformation and Scripture principles we can take from their lives.

In the midst of Calvin and Luther and an impressive list of theological points, it's easy to let the year go by while overlooking the women who contributed to the Reformation. Who thinks about it much? It's like the women who supported Jesus in his ministry: many nameless and faceless, but all valued by the Son of God in helping to spread the Gospel.

J.H. Alexander's book highlights women from all over the world who helped support Christian ministers and were used by God to advance the cause of Christianity. With lots of exciting details to interest girls (midnight escapes and forced marriages!), this book can give vision in so many areas: reading Scripture for themselves, supporting churches and ministers, and obeying God rather than men when people try to force them to abandon their faith. These are important lessons and show them the powerful biblical influence a woman can have on those around her. Some of the stories end happily; others are martyrdoms that end in faithfulness to Jesus. The women in this book come from all around the world and range in scope from nuns to princess to housewives.

Sometimes I think certain aspects of the book could be very slightly embellished, and I found a couple of facts differed from internet articles on Elizabeth of Brunswick's life, so I would want to fact check. But this book serves as a good introduction and jumping-off point into further research. I'm so glad I got a chance to read it.

I've enjoyed studying the theology and history of the Reformation this year. It's a watershed moment in Christendom, and regardless of a person's theological background, it's a vital time in history to be informed about. It's shaped our pulpits, our congregational singing, and our view of work and marriage. Reformed or not (I'm actually not 100% Reformed) it's well worth taking the time to study. In fact, if you're looking for a great theological overview, you might want to check out my brother's studies over at www.icbfblog.blogspot.com!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Currently....


We're seeing trees turning red and orange, yellow and green along the roads now.

It's autumn.

A couple of weeks ago I ran away to a local cafe and hung out for the morning to run through edits and make a game plan on the second half of War of Loyalties. This half is much better than the first half, and I was able to get a lot done. A mug holding a delectable concoction called Paris Tea Latte kept me company. I think it's something with Paris tea and raspberry, and it tastes like this song in drink form.

I found Flame-Colored Taffeta by Rosemary Sutcliff at a bookstore today. I love that book, and the copy I have isn't mine, so now I can return it. ;) I also found Tolkien's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It was a good book day.

Last week in Bible study I was challenged by a question our leader asked. How often am I inspired by God's Word? I am inspired quite often. But the next question was harder. How often am I transformed? So often I am inspired without being transformed. It's a good wake-up call to ponder.

I missed devotions several times last week. I don't miss devotions. They've been part of my life like clock-work. But last week was a week where life turned upside-down, and I missed more than I gained. Whenever I do, I think of an article I read a while ago on Desiring God that says we do not rely on devotions for God being pleased with us, or for the grace we need. He is still able to dispense it when we fall short. It's not dependant on our actions.

Some seasons of life have felt like famine times, but this season has felt like a feast, and God has been the good Giver of it. I'm so glad.

I've been having good conversations this week. I'm an INFJ, and I love deep conversations, though I tend to have them more on the phone or in person, or via email perhaps than posting on social media. I love iron sharpening iron. My soul is fed, and my heart encouraged. I'm so grateful for the gift of fellow believers.

I'm slowly starting to get a handle with record-keeping and self-employment. It feels good to be a little more organized. Doors I never expected are opening. Tutoring. Extra jobs that pop up now and then. I get to do interesting work that engages my mind and stretches and teaches me, and that's such a blessing. It feels like something I'm training and getting stronger in, and I love it.

Rediscovering the joys of harp songs has been part of my life the last couple of months. Some of you might not know that I played the harp. I have a heather harp (about the size of a lap harp with a beautiful stand that my grandfather made.) I pulled out some songs again recently on it. I love it and enjoyed practicing again so much. I might even pull out some Christmas songs on it again this year. While I don't have correct form, it's still fun, and I'm OK with being half-correct, I suppose. Nat Bowditch was OK with half-knowing French until somebody made him learn it properly, so maybe someone will force me to learn properly too.

A few days ago I got to do some Scottish Ceilidh dancing--the Gay Gordon and a couple of easy waltzes, which are good because I'm not accomplished at dancing. I love being twirled around and asked to dance. Joy is a precious thing.

Last night something exciting happened on the War of Loyalties front--but I can't say what it is yet. ;)

What have you been up to? Thinking about? Reading in the Bible? Pondering? Have a cup of tea, and we'll chat about life together.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Sometimes you hear of a book, and it automatically associates with a certain season in your mind. To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM) always associated with Autumn for me. I'd never read it, but when a friend loaned me her copy (which she had already taken care of the language in) I was really glad to explore it for the first time.

TKAM got onto my to-read list after I heard of Go Set a Watchman, the controversial sequel to Lee's first novel. Amidst a swirl of debate about the suitability of publishing the book, and whether or not Lee was coherent enough to give mindful consent, I really wanted to discover the original book that inspired so much passionate love and nostalgic remembrance on the part of its readers.

It took a while. Like two years later? But all things come in good time. :)

The Story [description below and book cover above from Goodreads]
The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.

Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior - to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into forty languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature.

My Thoughts 
TKAM is a detailed story of heart and childhood. If you loved books that managed to capture the eyes of a child, like Laura Ingalls, you'll like Scout. Scout is sharply perceptive, a classic little sister, and a very good protagonist. There are so many things that ring true to childhood experience--Jem and Scout and Dill's fascination with role-playing their hermit neighbor and bullying each other into playing things they wanted to do. The sibling tussles, the struggles with adults, and the golden adventures are classic. 

Atticus, Scout's father, is a fascinating character study. He's not emotionally demonstrative. The most affection he openly shows is allowing Scout to climb up on his lap every night and read the paper with him. He's not cold, but he's not a man of many words. He doesn't struggle to communicate, and he's not a wounded soul. He's a man of precision, a bookworm, and a man of integrity, and yet he still has warmth to him, and you catch glimpses of his love and care for his children. While I would be nervous talking to him, he seems like a man whom one could have a fascinating conversation with. The moment that shows his character the most keenly is when he walks out of the courthouse and people stand because of the kind of man he is.

It's kind of funny, because when I heard about TKAM, I had absolutely no clue what it was about, and it was totally different than I pictured without actually having a picture in my mind. The seclusive neighbor plot was a surprise, and the only thing I knew for sure was the court case plot.

That court case. I've read two gut-wrenching books on racism this year. I wasn't expecting the grief in TKAM, which Jem really epitomizes when he's processing the unfairness of what's going on. It's something so obvious to us--that all shades of skin are one, equal race, and deserve the same justice in the court systems. That all humankind is infected with sin, no shade of skin more so than another. While the subject matter was tough, as a black man is tried for supposedly raping a white woman, the way the court case is played out is legendary, and none of the information is R-rated. It can be a way to answer children's questions quietly and thoughtfully through the means of Scout's eyes. Even so, I'm glad I didn't read it sooner, and I'm really glad I didn't read it last year when I was in the middle of some emotional upheaval. There are some tough, sobering, adult things in Tom Harmon's trial that were even challenging to read this time around.  

While this book has language (many instances) and a mature central plot, it is a heart-warming, full-blooded story. The colorful personalities, the beauty in its writing, and the sense of memory and home pervading its pages combine to make a story that enriches the lives of those who read it. I wish I could be more eloquent in how I feel about it. Please tell me what you love most about To Kill a Mockingbird in the comments! 

P.S. I originally planned this review for last Friday. Life is getting the better of me, folks! I have books lined up in the queue to review, but some work and life projects are commandeering my time right now--I'll see you next Tuesday for a newsy life update, with more reviews to follow in days to come! 
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