Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lilias Trotter turns up

This evening I was reading along on the Semicolon blog, which is doing a 100 Hymns project. Usually I skim these, especially if I'm not particularly fond of the hymn, but in #52, "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus", a name caught my eye:
The composer and author of the hymn, Helen Lemmel, was the daughter of a Methodist pastor. From a gospel tract called Focused by Lilias Trotter, a missionary to the Muslims of Algeria, Ms. Lemmel heard the words, “So then, turn your eyes upon Him, look full into His face and you will find that the things of earth will acquire a strange new dimness.”
Lilias Trotter!? I love anything to do with her; I contemplated once writing a dual-biography thing on her and Amelia Edwards, the Egyptologist. They're a fascinating contrast. Both were intrepid Victorian women explorers who spent most of their lives in north Africa, founding organizations and writing and doing various exciting things. Lilias was a gifted artist in England, and everyone assured her she'd be throwing her life away by going for missions in Algeria.

She learned Arabic from French textbooks because there weren't any available in English, and she developed close relationships with the people there. She wrote and illustrated Arabic pamphlets which were apparently so well done, they were still in print at least through the 1960's, and maybe still are.

I particularly enjoyed her book Between the Desert and the Sea, which I ILL'ed several years ago. She just loved North Africa. It was a sort of illustrated journal, as I recall. I would have bought it, because it's well worth having, but it was last printed in about 1925 and Amazon is currently listing it for between $181 and $312. Sigh.

The saddest thing about Amelia Edwards was how she ended. When she got old (and ornery), her own Egyptian Exploration Society kicked her out, and her life sort of fizzled. But Lilias' people took good care of her, and even when she couldn't leave her bed, she had a very solid ministry encouraging and praying. God takes care of His people.

I had no idea that Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus was inspired by Lilias' little booklet linked above. Her text is well worth reading, and reminds me strongly of C.S. Lewis; and I like the song much more now.

Quote of the day

Inspired by a bug's license plate: "Woad? Wouter would." Jonathan
"That reminds me! I spent a good chunk of the afternoon thinking up rhymes for 'alligator.'" Me
"It's times like this I wish I had a blog, just so I could record these moments." Jonathan

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Hurray! China is starting to lift its one-child policy! It was such a bad idea, for so many reasons.

Portraits and rings

I just finished Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray for the first time. I've been meaning to read it for years; we actually had a Sunday school lesson on it once, of all things. It's a hard book, because it's not much fun to watch a soul sink into final depravity. Also, the author seems to have a creepy affinity for the sins he discusses in such luscious and vivid phrases.

So after I finish, I turn to the Afterward. It (no author listed) opined,
[I]t is clearly not a conventional morality tale. Just as the sins of his life have no consequence on his body, any potential punishment for Dorian's crimes seems simply to bounce off him. ...Even his eventual death is not a conventional 'comeuppance.' When he stabs the picture, he does so because he is sick of being reminded of his hideous crimes, not because he feels any remorse for them. However, despite all this, the book does have a 'moral,' deeply buried in its beautiful prose. It concerns the interplay of art and morality, and deals with how life loses its meaning when lived in a moral vacuum.
Eh? It's not conventionally moral because he doesn't have external consequences and he never repents? I beg to differ. The entire point is how sin and guilt weigh down and eventually destroy the soul. Wilde's portrait-mechanism was brilliant because it did what the Ring of Gyges did, and lets us watch the character run amok and destroy his soul without the usual earthly consequences interfering. It's quite a remarkably moral story.

And yes, Picture does talk about "the interplay of art and morality" in beautiful prose, though the discussion is not particularly buried. Harry, Dorian's sort of devil-on-the-shoulder, tries to argue that art is nonproductive of any action; but the whole book proves that utter nonsense.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Some names really don't smell as sweet

Front Porch Republic had a post on the silliness of a certain baby-naming trend.

Here's quite the list of celebrity baby names, illustrating something of said trend, just to prove the FPR author isn't completely making it up. (To do them justice, the website's Tips on baby-naming are rather more sensible.)

The more names I come across, the more grateful I am to my parents for picking me a really good one. Our goal is for the offspring to not be humiliated by whatever we pick. Incidentally, I'm making lists. I take suggestions, especially for my Awful Names collection.

Today I learned

Any sentence beginning, "The Brench and the Fritish" is probably not going to succeed, and should be started over.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The most restful Harry Potter yet

It's never easy, I daresay, to adapt 652 tightly-written pages (part six of seven) into a movie that humans can sit through without an intermission. I think, charitably speaking, the scriptwriters probably even read the 652 pages. Once, at least.

So yes, Jonathan and I went to see the new Harry Potter movie. I actually kind of liked it. It's much less tense than the book, almost restful, actually (except for the zombie scene). The adaptors naturally had to cut and condense and invent elements left, right, and center, and then relied on "scary" almost-colorless cinematography like in the third Pirates movie to try and add the creepiness back in.

I think the adaptors' worst problem was that they didn't have anyone to read the script over their shoulders and say, "Huh?" It has details like, the entire sequence of events hinges on getting the Death Eaters into Hogwarts, but once they're there, they stand around and watch Draco and Snape kill Dumbledore; Bellatrix smashes up the Great Hall*; they go outside and burn Hagrid's cottage; and that's it. I was sort of puzzled. Why did they waste screen time on totally apocryphal (and pointless) fight scenes at the Weasleys' house and then cut out the climactic awesome final battle at Hogwarts?

Entire subplots were either cut or handled poorly. We saw a fair amount of Lavender kissing Ron, but they never actually referred to her by name. (!) Jonathan points out she was wearing a lavender shirt, though. I suppose that would be a clue. Ginny doesn't break up with Dean before she switches to Harry, but that somehow never really got going either. We never see Bill or Fleur at all, or how Mrs. Weasley comes to like Fleur at the end, and naturally not why Bill now likes really rare steaks. We also don't see how Tonks and Lupin get together. It's assumed. They also left out the bit where Harry inherits Kreacher and the house.

I find it interesting that nearly all the angst from the prior films got cut. There are several love triangles, but overall it's so clean. The adults are mostly helpful and kind; Harry doesn't have it in for anyone particularly except Draco, who's very obviously up to something; nobody gets after him for using Sectumsempra; Harry even does what Dumbledore tells him in the last scene without having to be petrified. Bizarre. As I recall, the book is stressful to read because Harry insists on doing things that are an Incredibly Bad Idea, but in the movie he just... doesn't.

Subplots can be expended, I suppose. But it's a problem when a script bungles the main plot. I would argue, I think, that would be Dumbledore helping Harry learn what he needs in order to find the Horcruxes and destroy Voldemort in the final installment. We only see two of the memories from the book, three if you count the two versions of Slughorn's conversation with Tom. Absolutely huge plot elements are ignored. Why does Voldemort pick certain objects to hold his soul? He does have a rationale, of sorts. How did Dumbledore know to look for the locket in that seaside cavern? It was in a part of the orphanage memory that got cut from the movie. What is the significance of Tom's ring, that he made it one of the horcruxes? And most of all, why is it Dark magic to make a horcrux, anyway? What does murder have to do with splitting your soul, and is that really a problem? Horcruxes were reduced to a McGuffin, not a nature-of-the-universe thing. And it's hard to win genuine emotion for a plot full of McGuffins. Hence, I daresay, the reliance on color and camera technique.

Ah, well. For all its incoherence, I'm really not sorry we went.

*Laughing maniacally. I have a particular fondness for Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix. She's so crazy. She flaps around in her black dress, destroying things and laughing maniacally. Batty, quite batty.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Lewis on language

"The Lewis/Tolkien collaboration that might have been (but never was)" - A fascinating post from Lingwe. I quite liked Lewis' Studies in Words, not to mention Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories" and "English and Welsh," and will definitely have to find a copy of this new manuscript when they get it published. :-)

Hat tip: Unlocked Wordhoard.

A new low

I generally try not to think about Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Anglican church, but her speech from July 7 came to my attention. I do believe she's hit a new low.

The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy – that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. ...That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention.

Ubuntu doesn’t have any “I”s in it. The I only emerges as we connect – and that is really what the word means: I am because we are, and I can only become a whole person in relationship with others. There is no “I” without “you,” and in our context, you and I are known only as we reflect the image of the one who created us.

As I read this, the great heresy is that individuals can be saved. She's right that we can only properly be known in relationship to God. She's even right that people properly come in relational clumps. But God pleases Himself to save people from every people-group. We've never been promised that communities will be redeemed in quite the renewed-earth-here-and-now sense she seems to envision.
Some of the ecumenists in here will twitch at this word, but we should be in the business of subsidiarity – the church as a whole should not be doing mission work that can be done better at a more local level. The budget and the resolutions we will debate here should be about those things that affect the whole of this Church, and the vision of a renewed creation for all of God’s handiwork. We should leave smaller things and more local issues to more local parts of this Church.
Apparently, missions work is a smaller issue, not something that affects the entire Anglican church or is worthy of its attention.
We Christians often think the only important part of the Jerusalem story is Calvary, and, yes, suffering and killing in that place still seem to be the loudest news. But Calvary was a waypoint in the larger arc of God’s dream – it’s on the way to Jerusalem, it is not in Jerusalem. Jesus’ passion was and is for God’s dream of a reconciled creation. We’re meant to be partners in building that reality, throughout all of creation.
Hmm... the cross is only a detail on the road to an earthly paradise, that we help make. No wonder missions is irrelevant.

Why is she even claiming to be a Christian, if she despises 1) the cross, 2) salvation of particular people, and 3) missions?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hear ye, hear ye

The entire world needs to know that we have a rolling pin that lives under the cabinet, and, as of about five minutes ago, it answers to the name of Cuthbert.

(I'm not sure what it answers, actually... maybe it squeaks and chitters like a mouse? Jonathan thinks it goes "Swish!" That would be like its namesake the Wimseys' snake, anyway.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Another for the files

We found another crazy bicyclist yesterday - two, actually. We were driving up that same patch of Main Street when the pair of them turned side-by-side the wrong way onto a one-way street, into our lane, toward us. They did eventually maunder off into the parking lane and thus avoided getting squashed.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

New book

We were delighted this evening to learn that Megan Whalen Turner has another Attolia book coming out -- A Conspiracy of Kings, due to be published in March. (You can pre-order it at Amazon if so inclined.) There's even a Wikipedia page on it already.

My poor overloaded bookshelves think they can find room for it. They're pretty sure, actually. :-)

Friday, July 10, 2009

They did not choose life

Bicyclists in Richmond have no fear. They're quite a remarkable breed, especially downtown. They also have apparently even less concern for mundane traffic regulations than ordinary Richmonders. I can give you two instances from this week.

The other day, Jonathan and I were stopped in traffic in the heart of downtown. It's a one-way street, very busy at rush hour, and everyone's waiting for a bus or a red light or something. A bicyclist comes whizzing downhill in the most nonchalant manner, right down the center line between the cars. It's only after he's past that we quite realize he'd been riding the wrong way down Main Street.

And then today, we were stopped again on that same patch of Main Street, when another bicyclist comes riding up the center line. He's going the right way, but he runs the red light! With steady traffic coming through the intersection! It was an amazing game of Frogger, but he not only survived, he rode up the hill and right through the next red light too, like the devil was on his tail.

Meanwhile, my bike is currently chained to the back railing with two flat tires. I'm inclined to leave it there.


We spent this evening with books and online personality quizzes. (I love Fridays, in case I haven't mentioned it lately.) I liked this quiz -- it pegged me very accurately as an INTP and Jonathan as an ISTJ.

INTPs, I learn, are inclined to like sci-fi and grammar, and easy-going as long as you don't step on our principles. We pick up interests very intensely just long enough to get decent at them, and then -- oh look! A bird! We're also not very good at regularly posting on our blogs. :-)

I was also particularly amused by this list of probable careers for ISTJs, which included "Lawyer," "Military Leader," and "Computer Programmer."

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


If I were a fashion designer, I would make a line of dresses suitable for church. These dresses would be washable for nursery-duty and potluck days, and they'd even include sleeves in the winter. They would be incredibly cute. And I'd get a really great advertising campaign for them, so that people would want to go to church just for the fun of wearing them there.

Moral philosophy vs. Twitter

I don't even do Twitter, and I found these hilarious. (Or maybe, and therefore I found them hilarious?) Augustine and Rorty... bliss.

Hat tip: The Point.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The kitchen is not on fire

After church, Lisa disappeared upstairs to tend to young David and I lay down on the couch. Our excellent husbands repaired to the kitchen and fixed lunch. I believe risotto was implicated. This was the conversation as overheard by me.

"We don't have enough chicken broth." Jonathan
"Add more white wine or vinegar or something." Ben
"I think the water will do." Jonathan
"Yeah, it will." Ben
"It's just the water that will boil off... wow." Jonathan
"It's fine." Ben
::loudly:: "It's fine, dear. Don't worry." Jonathan
"The pan is not ruined." Ben
"The wings are not on fire." Jonathan
"BUT CAN YOU FIX IT?" Me, highly amused.

"By the way, dear, and unrelated to anything that just happened, did you know that olive oil will burn when it hits one of our stove elements?" Jonathan
"As in, actually burn? With flamey things?" Me
"Oh yes, actual flamey things." Jonathan
"I think they actually used to burn olive oil for fuel." Ben
"That's right! In the Temple, and they ran out, but the oil burned for eight days! Granted, that was a miracle." Jonathan

Friday, July 03, 2009

I don't think he knows about second breakfast, Pip

We have a bunch of Indian programmers at work to keep our computers happy. They're quite nice, and the other day, one of them struck up a conversation with me as I made and jellied my mid-morning toast.

"Having your breakfast, eh?" he said.
"Yes," I agreed. "My second breakfast, actually. I'm like a hobbit: I eat six meals a day when I can get them."

He politely developed that frozen smile that means, "We just stopped communicating." I'm not sure if it was horror at six meals a day* or unfamiliarity with Tolkien. Westerners have some very odd hobbits indeed.

*The other three are for the new baby. Well, mostly. :-)

I adore three-day weekends

I really, really like days off. It's not that I hate my job, because it's a perfectly fine one, but there are such a lot of things at home I'd rather do. I now appreciate the Good Doctor's schedule even more than when I actually got all those Fridays off.

I'm further excited because we get to have company this weekend. Also, I like fireworks. I talked to one coworker to find out the best place to see them, and to another and learned about an out-of-the-way place that would probably have parking within walking distance (a thing not terribly common in that part of Richmond). There are definite advantages to talking to real, live, local people.

Buy provisions
Clean house
Download pictures and recharge my camera

It's a beautiful, sunny, cool morning, and I'm highly grateful for Fourth of July weekend.