Archives

Understanding Women: Audiobook Review

A few months ago, from a comment on a message board, I discovered Alison Armstrong and her study of relationships, but especially of men. Since reading her book Keys to the Kingdom, I have been reading or listening to everything she has published out there, as the information is fascinating and helpful. The most helpful part about what she does is explaining to men and women that we really do not understand the opposite sex and how different we actually are. Our society today, and even men themselves, often think men are simple and maybe even shallow. Armstrong herself used to think this until she starting actually researching and asking men about themselves. What she found surprised both herself and them: Men are complicated and very deep creatures, with a staggering amount of thoughtfulness put into everything they do.

In learning more about men and why they act the way they do, Armstrong has also unearthed a lot of information about women as well. I decided to give her Understanding Women workshop a listen, especially because her In Sync with the Opposite Sex workshop was hilarious. The first thing I have to say about the workshop audiobook is please, please don’t make this your first listen or read of her stuff. Armstrong’s information about women is difficult for both men and women to hear, and I realized immediately that it would have been worse if I didn’t already know some of it from her other works. I say this, because although Understanding Women is about women, it’s actually about Armstrong’s continuing studies on men. Men are often reacting to women in ways that both sexes scarcely comprehend. Much of the time, the workshop does not put women in a flattering light, and Armstrong’s goal, which she states at the end, is to get women to realize they have a responsibility to check themselves. The information is a far cry from the feminism and women power of today, while at the same time being empowering in its own right. The good thing is, Armstrong offers solutions and explains just how beneficial men are for women. Men, you can actually help save us from ourselves, which is a pretty awesome feat if what all she says is true!

As I had so many thoughts about the workshop, this article will be pretty long. I will give each topic a heading to make things easier.

Criticism

Women and men handle criticism differently. Men may not know this, but women actually deal with constant criticism, sometimes coming from others, but mostly coming from themselves. Armstrong calls this criticizer the “Perfect or Ideal Woman.” This Perfect Woman is one of the main problems between men and women, because women not only feel they have to be this Perfect Woman, but feel and think men should be this Perfect Woman also. The Perfect Woman has little to do with realistic expectations and can be a complex that keeps women in constant guilt that they are never good enough. Well, who is good enough, anyway? Only Jesus Christ, that I know of. Men have told Armstrong one of the most attractive qualities in a woman is self-confidence. She can only have this by overcoming the Perfect Woman in her head and telling her to shut up. This is much easier if the woman is secure, safe, and loved, and men are rather good at doing those three things for women.

Criticism is not often handled well by women. I know for myself, being one. Even a comment that is not actually a criticism is easily taken as one. We will never wear that skirt or those shoes again. We change or adapt to actual or perceived criticism. According to Armstrong, men take criticism as a suggestion or interesting thing to note. It doesn’t affect their whole sense of self as if often does with women. They will consider it more if it comes from someone they respect, but their behavior doesn’t necessarily change because of it.

I think this is why it can be very easy to take all of this workshop as criticism of women, especially by women. The information is really much the same as her information on men: Many of these behaviors are hard for both sexes to control unless we know they are happening, why, and how to curtail them. Some can’t be controlled, and most aren’t “wrong,” just ways in which the sexes differ. Armstrong shares how women react to criticism to men because she says, “You may not have meant to change her by what you said, but you did.” Sounds like a heavy burden to shoulder.

Focus

The most well known difference between men and women is that men are single focused and that women multitask. Armstrong takes this a step further, saying that women actually don’t focus at all! We can, but it takes a lot of energy for us to do so. This is because women have what she calls “diffuse awareness.” Women are aware of everything in their surroundings, often paying attention to a plethora of things at once all needing to be fixed or beautified in some way. It’s the reason why women often wander from one task to the next, often working on a number of projects at one time. Too ignore a messy environment screaming at her to clean it, a women has to zone out, often by getting involved in a story or something like that. That, I can relate to. I often hole up with a book or K-drama when my house is a mess and I’m too tired to do anything about it.

Is it true that women don’t focus? For myself, yes, it is often difficult and truly focusing on a project or task tires me out quickly. Focusing at work all day is super draining and many jobs are geared towards single focus. Armstrong describes diffuse awareness as women going to the meadow to gather different things for their family/tribe. It’s sort of like shopping. We go out to look and see all the possibilities out there and bring back what’s best. I imagine a job involving diffuse awareness would be something creative–decorating or party planning, etc. Secretary or personal assistant jobs can require a similar kind of creativeness and also multitasking. Women do multitask, but often we are not focused on one single goal at a time, so a lot gets done, but it can appear chaotic to men. Armstrong says this ability in women is what makes it possible for them to have all the dishes ready for dinner on time, plus have the house picked up, all while keeping an eye on the kids and making lunch for the next day. She also says that some men and women are the reverse. Often creative men will have more diffuse awareness and career women often have single focus. Their partners, then will usually have the opposite trait.

The times I am most aware of having diffuse awareness is when I’m at an event or gathering with a lot of people, especially people that I know. Somehow I monitor everything around me, how I think others might be feeling, even. Is that a spill on the floor? Do we need more coffee? Why does Betty look so distraught? Why’s Luke standing in the corner? Why is no one taking that child off the table? It’s super hard to focus on whatever conversation I’m in. Armstrong says men are often hurt by our not focusing on them while they are talking to us. It can come across as not caring about what they are saying. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s that the environment around us is screaming for our attention. This is similar to how men in their single focus mode can often seem uncaring, too. He hears us say to take out the garbage, but he doesn’t HEAR it. Just like women have to choose when we make requests of men–not while they’re in the middle of something–so men have a way of getting women to focus. Actually, to me it sounds like a super power.

Touch

Armstrong says that for most women, touch is a big deal. It brings us back into our bodies. She explains it like that because women so easily lose our sense of self, while men have strong sense of self and physicality. It’s that awareness of everything going on around us and our monitoring feelings, etc. that does it. Armstrong says if a man wants his woman to focus on him (as much as she can) he has to be the “loudest” thing in the room. In touching her hand or arm, etc, he will immediately become the loudest thing in the room and her focus will be on him.

I can imagine this works, but I don’t know for sure, and will have to note if and when it happens. But it makes sense to me in a way, because the way women reassure and comfort other women is with hugs or a touch on the arm, etc. We are a rather touch averse society these days, so I definitely notice more if someone does touch me, but it will take some time to determine if that affects how I focus. Always ready to get the laugh, Armstrong instructs men that even while love making, “don’t let go of her.” Men anchor us with their touch, and much of that may have to do with them often being bigger, stronger, and the provider.

Safety

This one was easy. I know it’s true without having to watch and see. Women are constantly monitoring their own physical safety. Although we may lose our physicality in some ways, when it comes to danger to our person, we are acutely aware all of the time. Most men, Armstrong says, don’t have a continual fear of their physical safety. They just don’t. Being smaller and weaker than men, women do. The workshop offers a lot on this topic, and much of it is hard to hear. Logically women often know we are safe, but the “cavewoman” as Armstrong calls her, takes over. We cannot think straight around an angry man, for example, even if he’s not angry at us. At that moment he is the tiger in the room that might eat us. Even a man excited about something can seem threatening–all that testosterone has to be neutralized. Fear and concern over safety is one of the main reasons women emasculate men. Sadly, this is all too often because women’s threat radar is, as Armstrong says, “set way too high.” It’s not fair to men, but it is the reality. Again, touch can help. It can say “you are safe, you are loved, etc.” It’s why, bizarrely, a women might ask a man if he’s mad at her, when clearly he isn’t. She needs the reassurance because she’s worried if he’s mad at her he might not protect her when the real tiger comes around.

Honor

This is where things start to get really dicey. Armstrong says that the reason women fear an angry man, thinking that if he’s mad at her he won’t save her when the tiger or danger comes, is because a woman would be angry and let the tiger eat that person. She wouldn’t save that person. She says that women have no honor. She says this because honor is about doing the right thing even if you don’t feel like it and that women don’t act against their feelings.

I can say that when I usually think of honor it’s in regard to soldiers or battle, usually involving men. I don’t personally think much of honor connected to women, but I’m not sure we have zero of it. Armstrong states that if a women is angry at another women she’d let the tiger have her. Never could I imagine the women I know doing such a thing, but I’ve never really contemplated honor, so maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m mixing it up with integrity and courage, traits that Armstrong says women have a lot of. She says that things like honor, loyalty, team spirit, etc. all belong to the province of men, that they are essentially manly things and qualities and why it’s so important for male children to have dads or male figures around to teach them these things, because women can’t.

Do women have no honor? I have seen many women leave their men for the next best thing, but men leave their women for that, too. I have seen cruelty come from women that is not at all honorable and very different from a man’s cruelty. It can be true, as Armstrong says, that women at work can be even more vicious than men. They take on single focus and other male traits without being tempered by honor, loyalty, etc. I can say that this is sometimes true, that women are this way, but am reluctant to say that’s built into our sex. Armstrong doesn’t mean it as a criticism so much as to explain to men why we are compelled to please them. We must make sure they always are please with us so they protect us from the tiger. We are compelled. We need men’s protection and providing for us even if we have a gun and a million dollar job. Armstrong says in our modern life, a woman “needs to have a man to prove she doesn’t need a man.” It doesn’t make sense, but yet it makes perfect sense in our upside down world where both sexes are told they must act like the opposite sex much of the time.

Feelings

The honor thing, however, was not the most shocking thing said at the workshop. One of the last things Armstrong goes through is how much women are controlled and compelled by feelings. She compares our feelings to a chakra thing different from our emotions, and I kind of understood what she was saying, but it sounded rather hokey. I don’t think of “women’s intuition” as we often call it, as a direct connecting line to God and universe. Maybe it is, but I’ve never thought of it that way.

Because women so often misinterpret what men are doing, really putting the worst construction on a given situation, women often get their feelings hurt for no reason. For more on how this works, I suggest reading Keys to the Kingdom and The Queen’s Code because those books are written in story format and illustrate the concepts very well and show how relationships can be so much better without the misinterpretation. Getting our feelings hurt is a big deal for women, or so Armstrong says. She then goes on to describe something she calls the “rage monster.”

I know I’ve been there, so angry and hurt that every bad thought you’ve had about someone rises to the surface and you just want to spit it all out in an argument, but know you would instantly regret it. I never considered it a uniquely female thing, though. Armstrong says that when our feelings get hurt it is devastating to a woman. She describes what it’s like and, well, the portrayal of it is rather repulsive. She makes it sound like in that moment women are worse off than children in a meltdown. The solution to this, the only solution, she says, that works, is for the man to say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” This is also a time when touch is not wanted. The woman is hurt, needs the “I’m sorry,” and the time to recover, and then you can wrap your arms around her and dry her tears.

Maybe the rage monster is something that’s more unique to a romantic partnership or relationship. I’ve been in arguments, I’ve been angry, but not to the degree that she’s describing; or at least, it’s something I may have experienced a very long time ago, so long ago as to have forgotten it entirely. Never do I recall having to hear a man or anyone say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings,” and then things being all better. The worst part is, that in the situation she’s describing, the woman’s feelings are hurt not because the man actually did anything wrong, but because she is interpreting his actions and behavior wrongly. Yet the only thing that works to snap the woman out of this “rage monster” is him saying, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.”

The men in the workshop were not having this. They struggled with the instruction to say they are sorry for something they didn’t do. Feelings were hurt, but it wasn’t their fault. They objected also to treating their women like children. I objected also and have trouble believing that this is the only thing that works. It also creates a situation in which some women will then use that as a way to treat the men as if they did do something wrong. Armstrong warns women not to do this, but it seems to me that if we indeed have no honor, the temptation here is just too strong. In the situation she describes, the man didn’t hurt the women’s feelings, the woman hurt her own feelings. If, as she says, a woman’s feelings are so, so hurt that she covers it up with rage all the while desperately wanting her man to save her from herself, and touch won’t work in this instance, wow. I mean the “sorry for the feelings” thing must make it stop, at least for some women, but there’s gotta to be a better way to resolve that. Certainly women being aware of when this is happening may help, but it sounds like a state of being so totally out of control that only God can lift you up. I guess it’s a warning to women to really watch how we interpret things.

In Sync

All in all, I always find Armstrong’s research and information really fascinating and helpful, however, one has to remember that her focus is understanding men, and because that’s her focus, I think her works on men are far more positive and life affirming than this particular audiobook, workshop. Understanding Women many times makes women seem really crazy. The information was alarming at times, and more disturbing than any of her stuff on men. However, I like her goal, which is to get women to pay attention to what they are doing, how and why they are reacting, and so on. If as a women you can’t stop talking, consider, “what am I afraid of right now?” If you are with a women who can’t stop talking, touch her arm or hand. Anchor her. Focus her. Let her know she’s safe even though there’s no reason to fear. It doesn’t make sense, but as a woman, I can say that we often don’t make sense. What I mean is, perhaps understanding men is all about making sense–they have a good reason for everything they do–and understanding women is about connecting them to reality instead of whatever thing they may be imagining in their heads. From what Armstrong says, that’s the real dragon to slay. Throughout the workshop, she affirms again and again that women need saving from themselves, and that men are the best equipped to do just that.

It’s all about men and women being in sync with each other. We have certain needs that can only be met or best met by the opposite sex. Fortunately, the desire to meet those needs is built right into us. Men naturally want to protect and provide for women and women naturally want to please men and give them attention. The biggest problem, Armstrong often says, is that in our modern society we simply do not know this about each other. And that is why her work is so revolutionary, especially for women, who every day are taught by society that men are hairy misbehaving women instead of the honorable, loyal men they actually are, and are even more bizarrely, taught to be like those misbehaving men rather than their own feminine selves. Upside down world does not even begin to describe it.

The Terror: Book Review

I can remember vividly the coldest I’ve ever been. No, it wasn’t a trip to either the north or south pole, nor a selfie at Mt. Everest. It was the end of winter in a drafty old house in Shorewood, WI, where I lived for a few months with a bunch of friends from college. To save money, the heat was kept on low, and each night I bundled up in many layers of clothes and blankets to try and stay warm. Never will I forget being so cold.

Dan Simmons is a gifted writer and researcher, especially when it comes to description. From the first chapter, The Terror grabs the reader with its snowballing descriptions of just…how…cold…these sailors are. Stuck in the arctic ice in a futile attempt to find the “Northwest Passage” north of Canada and through to China, the crews of two British navy ships, one call the Terror, battle the cold and the elements for survival. Oh. And an abominable snow monster.

Despite liking this novel, I have to say the true stories of these arctic explorations, doomed or not, are far more interesting. In the Kingdom of Ice, detailing the true story of the USS Jeannette stuck in the pack ice, I found riveting. Simmons’s rendition isn’t bad, though, but it is really long, probably a bit too long. And there wasn’t enough of the snow monster for my liking, and I’m not sure what I think of all the Eskimo stuff. It was just kind of strange, and I wasn’t sure how much if it was true to that culture.

The best thing about the novel is that it is a story about men. Women and women’s issues are not much to be seen here, which is a bit refreshing for a reader like me, who sometimes almost drowns in romance. The women in the story are viewed mostly from Frances Crozier, an officer who can’t seem to find a balance with them. He either sees them as whores or exotic beings on pedestals, and that he gets the girl at the end and keeps her seems a little unrealistic if you think of her as a real person. Nevertheless, there’s a sweet innocence about his perspective. Aside from all that, the story largely deals with men giving command and under command and how being stuck so far from civilization affects that dynamic. It is amazing that order does not come apart at the seams a lot earlier, considering what these sailors are up against. In fact, the mutiny seemed to come out of nowhere and Hickey, the villain, was too cartoonish for my taste.

Back to the snow monster. So I did try to read Simmons’ other cold tale, Abominable, but gave up as it took him what felt like hundreds of pages just to get them on the mountain. The description of climbing gear from the 1920s, although interesting in its own right, fast became a textbook on it, instead of details pushing the story along. Thankfully, in The Terror, Simmons gets to the action we want pretty quickly and is great at showing the men’s mounting fear of the creature attacking them. Then, towards the end, when they finally abandon their ships as they are all dying of scurvy, the snow monster is scarcely, inexplicably, to be seen until popping up to devour the villain (did I mention there are spoilers?) and spiritually circumcise Crozier (so weird).

A roaring good tale, despite its flaws, The Terror is good historical fiction. The perspectives of the men seemed to be from the characters’ time and modern views weren’t shoehorned in too much. The details of the ships and the environment really made me feel at times like I was there with them, and the descriptions of their various ailments as they succumbed to malnutrition and cold were heartbreaking. My next book to read from Simmons will probably be Drood. I saw the PBS movie of the Mystery of Edwin Drood and want to read the story that Charles Dickens never finished, and then see how Simmons ended it. Of course I also plan to give The Terror miniseries a try, but I have a much easier time reading about blood and gore than I do watching it. Some people are the reverse. Wonder why that is? Hmm. Must be a study on it somewhere…

Book Candy: Flavia de Luce

Perhaps it’s a lack of imagination or I need to learn more dictionary adjectives, but I find myself describing anything pleasant as “candy.” Bacon-wrapped water chestnuts are “meat candy,” Kerrygold butter is “butter candy,” kimchi fried rice is “spicy mac ‘n’ cheese candy,” which really doesn’t make any sense, but you get the idea. This can apply to reading, especially as we often talk about “devouring” books. I think that the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley is “book candy!”

The Flavia de Luce series is my current mystery favorite, and since I bought the most recent, and possibly final, book, I just had to take a break from the lengthy horror show of The Terror by Dan Simmons and enjoy some, well, candy. The Golden Tresses of the Dead doesn’t disappoint. It’s classic Flavia, with her dear friend Dogger, and we get cameos from her sisters, Feely and Daphne, as well as their cook, Mrs. Mullet, the vicar’s wife, and even Flavia’s woman crush: Antigone, the wife of the long-suffering Inspector Hewitt. Reading this last installment, I realize what good, old friends all of these character have become, even Undine, Flavia’s younger, even more precocious and annoying cousin.

Oh. Did I mention that Flavia de Luce is a rather annoying, know-it-all twelve-year-old? She’s also awesome, but if I met her in real life, she would likely drive me crazy. In this book, however, Flavia is clearly growing up: She’s more affected emotionally, especially with her growing association with Dogger, who is the father figure in her life now that her real father has passed away. She also has begun to see that Undine is much like a younger Flavia, and that the child may one day be able to really help her solve mysteries. Flavia also meets a boy that she admires, and Bradley shows this in their friendly feelings towards each other and also that she seems calmer somehow in his presence. No big romance or anything, but it’s clear that Flavia, as smart as she is, is in as much danger as the rest of us of falling in love…someday.

Bradley’s books include so many interesting facts, tidbits, and chemistry knowledge, that it’s not quite right to call them candy, but despite them being murder mysteries, the books always leave me with this sugary, fizzy feeling that all is right in the world. Flavia has solved the mystery once again and each bit of evidence is sorted in its place, chemically or otherwise. And talk about author goals! I found out that Bradley is in his 80s! Wow, that’s so awesome to be writing a hit series at that age. A writer can only hope. It is my fervent hope that we will get more Flavia books, that we’ll see more of Feely, her hubby Dieter, and Daphne, Dogger, and all the rest, and that the series will continue on and on. Rumor has it that a TV show of the book series is in the works, and we the fans will wait and see if it remains true to the source.

In other news: I am watching the Korean drama Her Private Life. The leads, Park Min Young (City Hunter), and Kim Jae Wook (Coffee Prince) have great chemistry, and the whole idea of her having this secret life of K-pop fandom is pretty cool. Review to be out in a few weeks once the show is over. Aside from that, May is the start of wedding season, which is why Golden Tresses that begins with Feely and Dieter’s wedding was too irresistible to put down. I’m feeling all girly buying bedazzled shoes and swingy dresses, and imagining what my bridesmaid bouquet is going to look like. And though it did threaten to snow today, spring, and romance are definitely in the air. Hmm. Air candy? Yes, I definitely need to learn more adjectives.

Silence: No Answer?

Silence by Shusaku Endo takes on a weighty topic: God’s apparent silence while his followers are tortured to deny their faith, sometimes even facing death as martyrs.

Set in Japan in the seventeenth century, Silence is about a time in history where a number of European countries were all trying to gain a foothold in trade and political power over Japan. It was also the same time that many Catholic missionaries were also trying to convert the Japanese to Christianity. Although fictional, the story is rooted in real events. Jesuits priests from Portugal and other countries did come to Japan, were tortured for their faith, along with Japanese Christians, and were asked to and sometimes did apostasize, or renounce their faith.

Silence follows two Portuguese Jesuit priests who come to convert the Japanese, but also to find their former priest and teacher Christovao Ferreira, who it is rumored has given into torture and apotasized. The first half is narrated first person in letter written by Sebastian Rodriguez. Rodriguez appears to be serious about his faith and looking forward to going to Japan, even though it is against the wishes of his superiors for being too dangerous. He and his companions wait on the island of Macao until they can find a ship to take them to Japan. While waiting they meet a Japanese expat named Kichijiro. Kichijiro becomes the bane of Rodriguez’s existence, a Christian who denies his faith at the first sign of trouble and even betrays the Jesuits on several occasions.

Expectations are tricky things. I am a Christian, and I expected Silence to hit me hard. In some ways it did, certainly the climactic scene (spoilers) in which Rodriguez finally steps on the icon of Christ, and in which he hears Christ telling him that’s what he came for, for men and human beings to trample him. That scene made me cry, for of course is it correct that Jesus Christ came in the world to suffer and die for sinners, which is all of humanity. He was tortured and experienced a terrible death and temporary separation from God on the cross. It’s a horrible thing to contemplate and leaves one feeling like the wallowing, helpless creature one actually is inside. This, however, is not what distinguishes Christianity from other religions. Most religions acknowledge the sin of man.

All the time reading Silence it was impossible for me to forget that these priest were Catholic missionaries. To an outsider it is easy to think that Catholicism is Christianity. And certainly for a long time Catholicism was or appeared to be the only official Christianity practiced. But it went through a huge Reformation begun by Martin Luther in Germany for a very good reason: Catholicism was at that time, and often even today, not following Christ. They were selling indulgences, ways for people to buy their way into heaven and spitting in the face of Jesus by doing so. If we can buy our way or earn our way into heaven in any way, Christ died for nothing!

Silence is a book that will certainly impact all Christians, but especially Catholics, as the focus is often on sin, death, and the law. The focus is not on God’s Grace where it should be. It is a difficult thing for humans to truly understand how sinful we really are. We are so sinful that we can’t save ourselves. We can’t even grant ourselves faith, which was the conclusion Martin Luther came to. Sometimes Christians lose our focus, we enjoy thinking about how awful we are and how much Christ had to suffer for us, all the while continuing to live in ways contrary to Jesus’s teaching and his word. It seems to me that this wallowing is where Catholicism stays, because all too often it teaches that Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough, that there are still works we ourselves must do to get into heaven.

Other branches of Christianity also promote this fall doctrine. In human terms, this philosophy of doing good works isn’t so bad: it has certainly led to many christians helping out their fellow man in any way they can–orphans, the homeless, soup kitchen, disasters, etc. But while we should be doing these things in thankfulness for what Christ has done for us, all too often it is about earning points with God. Can we really earn any points with God? If so, what does Jesus’ death on the cross mean? What does His resurrection mean? Can we really atone or make up for our own sins as if they’d never happened? Do humans have that power? Can humans by their own power forgive sin?

My goal here is not to belittle Catholics, but to point out that wallowing in the truth of our sin–that we are like Kichijiro was to Rodriguez, a waffling traitorous person not even worthy of being spit on–is no virtue by itself. Many people succumb to torture and denying one’s faith is certainly awful. It’s interesting in the setup of the book that Rodriguez himself isn’t really tortured. No, he gets to watch other people tortured and other people die for their faith. And all the while he’s thinking and questioning what kind of faith they actually have. He apostatized presumably to save his fellow believers from torture, but it seems pretty clear the torture of others is going to continue no matter what he does. Why this all is not virtuous is because the focus is not where is should be, on God’s wonderful and bottomless love and grace, but on human frailty, deceit, and weakness. For me, as Christian, this story isn’t edifying as it’s mostly asking me to look at my own inadequacies and faults (of which there are many), but not pointing me to the cure for it all: God’s great love for us and how Jesus came to live perfectly in our place, yes, awfully dying on the cross, but ultimately rising to life again, symbolizing the new eternal lives we all possess in Christ. Silence largely brushes over Grace instead of wallowing there, if we are to wallow in anything.

Rodriguez often thinks of Judas betraying Jesus just like Kichijiro keeps betraying him. I’m no theologian, but I always had thought that Judas was not “saved” because he didn’t believe God could or would forgive his sin. Add suicide on top of that, and there’s no time for one repent of that unbelief, which is why suicide is something to be avoided at all costs. That disbelief that Christ’s sacrifice covers “even me,” that’s the crime against the Holy Spirit that damns one, because if you’re only looking at what you’ve done, the judgement will always be for hell. For believers, though, the judgement is always heaven, for we are trusting in Jesus, his holy, perfect life, and the fact that he paid for all sins, no matter how small, and no matter how great. And as long as one is still living, there’s time to repent, there’s time to believe in Jesus.

As to the “silence” the book refers to: God often does appear to be silent, often when we are having a hard time. But we were never promised a problem free life on this earth. Thats what heaven is for. Sometimes it’s clear that God steps in and rights some wrongs and make things better for awhile, but just as often He lets us go through the suffering. It often seems as if He doesn’t care, but that’ not true. He cares very much, and His desire is that through the suffering we would turn to Him and become closer to Him, trusting in His Grace ever more firmly. He is not silent. Everything in His creation shouts out to us every day how much He loves us, His Word in the Bible tells us that, the life and death of His Son Jesus tells us that, the love of our family tells us that, the love of our fellow man tells us that, it’s just that when we are focused on ourselves and our own troubles, we aren’t getting the message.

Think of your disagreements or problems with the people in your life. Sometimes, they too, are silent. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t saying anything, especially in their actions. An answer is always there, it’s just that we often, purposefully or not, don’t see it. Our imaginations take hold of us and we think the answer must be the worst thing we can think of: They don’t care, they don’t love us, they don’t want to do whatever it is we need them to do. Later, we are surprised to find just how much they do care for us, love us, and want to do what we need, it’s just that we refused to take their gift, or their help, and were even actively pushing them away, with no understanding that that’s what we were doing. How even more this happens with God! We assume the worst: He hates us, He loves watching us suffer, He enjoys not giving us easy answers or solutions, etc.

While it is true that God’s justice and holiness does hate sin and sinners, His Love of Jesus overcomes that wrath. Jesus led a perfect life in our place!!! This is not talked about enough. We talk of his suffering, death, and resurrection, but now about the reason Jesus was able to pay for our sins: He was perfect as God would have all of us be! Because of Jesus, God sees his perfection and loves us, He wants us to turn to the comfort of our salvation and promises of new life in Christ in the face of all suffering. In the book of Romans it says:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” and: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” and “If God is for us, who can be against us?”, and finally: “For am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” –Romans 8, selected verses (NIV)

Does God often appear to be silent in the face of His followers’ sufferings? Sure. But that doesn’t mean He isn’t communicating with us with every part of his being. He communicates His love to us each and every day. Faith allows us to take the blinders off and see it, but we in our weakness keep trying to put the blinders back up. Did Jesus come to be “trampled” on by mankind? Yes. He came to make the payment for all sin so that we wouldn’t have to. Separation from the love of God is the ultimate torture and Christ experienced that on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to. We think Japanese torture sounds awful, but we have no clue what the abandonment of God would be like and we can’t even imagine it. As bad as this world is, it and we haven’t been abandoned by God. God calls his abandonment Hell, and we often just throw it around as a cuss word as if it’s no big deal. But it is a big deal, and Jesus experienced hell on the cross.

The world silence, isn’t really accurate, is it? If we give someone the “silent treatment,” we may not be speaking, but we’re definitely communicating. Sadly, for humans, it’s often anger, that we’re communicating, but it’s other things, too: hurt that we’ve been misunderstood or that the other person can’t see how much we do care for them and are trying to do the best thing for them. Fear of burdening others with our own troubles and feelings, and the list goes on and on. But we really aren’t “silent” in the sense of no communication. This is why we often say: “Actions speak louder than words.” Because they do. A human can say anything and not mean it. This is not the same with God. God’s words have powers beyond ours, and not only has He created us with His Word, in the Bible, He’s already told us everything we need to know. His silence is not the same as our silence. The world goes on and on in suffering in the hope that over time there will be more and more believers in Christ, and more people in heaven. That is the ultimate goal of God, to get us to stop looking inward for salvation, but to Him. It’s a paradox: We are accountable for our sins, but we can’t save ourselves. Jesus was innocent and led a perfect life, but took on the punishment of hell for all the sins of all people of all time for all time, simultaneously granting us eternal life and bliss. That is not silence, that is an overwhelming display of LOVE.

I might read this book again, but for literature purposes only. It just did not connect with me faith-wise in the sense that it truly pointed me to Christ. That is not to say that Endo is not a fine writer and very brave to take on this topic. There is much food for thought in the story, whether one is a Christian or not, and it is complex portrayal of Japan and that time in history.

The Tales from Ivy Hill Series

Tales from Ivy Hill – Book 3

The Tales from Ivy Hill series isn’t for everyone. It’s for those who are fans of or enjoy the regency era novels of Jane Austen, Fanny Burney, and Elizabeth Gaskell (ok, she’s probably post-Regency, but, anyway). Most fans of Regency romances are likely women, and it is curious to me that although both sexes are part of romances, it is women who seem, well, obsessed with them. Just in our nature, I guess. I’m not as insane at the main character in Austenland, but I’ve done some Regency memorabilia shopping and have even been to the Jane Austen museum in Bath, England. Tea there was lovely.

This series may also not be for everyone because it is slow almost to a fault. This is also true for Regency novels written at the time, but Ivy Hill has the benefit of multiple romances to keep one’s interest and doesn’t go on for chapters describing scenery–yes, I’m looking at you, Ann Radcliffe of Udolpho. The series is also nominally Christian lit, but not heavily so; still, it might turn some readers off. That being said, I love, love, love! this series and Julie Klassen, why are there only three books?!? Where is my fainting couch? A little to the right? Ah, there we go. One of the endpapers in the last book does advertise an Ivy Hill Christmas novella coming in the future, so that’s at least something.

So, what on earth is so great about this series? For me, the characters are all very realized and very well-rounded, and even though in real life not everyone gets a happy ending, in this book world the characters work out everything by faith, trust, honesty, and love, and the happy endings fit. It’s a cheery, fantasy world where nothing super bad really happens. Also, for some of the romances it’s a question of who the women will choose, so there’s a little suspense in that. The men are pretty much all dreamy, which is just as they should be. The one thing I’d say the series lacks is more humor, but not every author can make me laugh out loud like Fanny Burney, not even “dear Jane.” Tales from Ivy Hill would be a perfect book series for, say, the BBC to adapt into a TV series with several seasons–I mean series, because in Britain a show season is called a series–which is series-ly confusing.

Anyway, this is Julie Klassen at the peak of her skill, and I do hope she will keep on writing.

Book review: Jackaroo

The Kingdom series of books by Cynthia Voigt was a favorite of mine in my teen years and I’ve decided to revisit them to see if they are still as great as I remember. The four stories, Jackaroo, On Fortune’s Wheel, The Wings of a Falcon, and Elske (sadly, many of the names have now been changed when they were reissued with new covers, but stories are the same, I hope) are loosely connected, being set in and around a kingdom somewhat like a medieval English or European kingdom. Jackaroo stood out to me at the time I read it, because there’s not any magic in it, yet there’s something magically remote about the Kingdom.

Jackaroo is actually my least favorite in the series. My favorite was always On Fortune’s Wheel as it’s an adventure/romance, but The Wings of a Falcon is a very close second, and I always think of that book being the masterpiece of her series. Elske I’ve only read a couple of times and don’t remember much about it. It never seemed to fit as well with the original trilogy of stories, but as I read through them again, that view may change.

With this recent rereading of Jackaroo, I understand now why although I liked the world, I didn’t like the story as much as the second book: Teenage girls tend to crave romances, and although there is a love story in the book, it’s far from the focal point. But I realize now that the love story, quiet as it is, is actually fantastic, but something my teen self was just not into at the time. Burl seemed so unsuited for the heroine, Gwyn, being a servant and often described from her point of view as someone who is just always there and pining away for her sister who won’t have him. Plus, he didn’t talk much. Now, firmly an adult, I can see the quiet strength he gives her, helping Gwyn to be Gwyn. And, isn’t that often what people want in a romantic partner? Just someone who will have their back and be invested in them? Gwyn eventually realizes this and is happy to be with him in the end.

What really caught my attention the first time around, though, was the possibility of adventure, because Jackaroo is a hero of the people, much like Robin Hood or Zorro. Like Zorro. Although Jackaroo’s past and rumored deeds are mentioned in the book, it’s not a rousing tale of adventure like I had wanted: The book offers more than that. Gwyn is an innkeeper’s daughter, a spirited girl and a hard worker, capable in a way the rest of her family are not, and determined never to marry. Because her family is better off than some, they have to endure constant mutterings against them, something that I’m sure any successful person will recognize. And no matter how much the successful people give back to those poorer than them, it’s never enough. Ruling over everyone is the king, the earls, and the lords. Gwyn has a heart for the people and how especially the lords’ boots press heavily upon them. The laws the lords have put in place aren’t really to serve justice, but merely to serve the desires of the lords. It’s a situation common as mud, which is why tales like Robin Hood and Zorro resonate so much. Won’t someone give the people a break, already?

When a lord and his son require a party to join them for a mapmaking excursion north in the dead of winter, Gwen and Burl end up being their guides. In a blizzard, they get separated and Gwen and the “lordling” as she calls him, end up snowbound for weeks in a hut not very far from the inn. Gwen is at first resolved to keep up appearances and treat the boy as if he were her master and she his servant, but as time passes and boredom ensues, the pair become friends and both are able to see the opposite class as human. The lordling even teaches her to read, something that is forbidden to regular people.

After the winter, the injustice in the Kingdom eats away at Gwen, and when she finds a set of clothes that seem exactly like something Jackaroo would wear, she takes up his mask and pretends to be him, doing good deeds as she can, not fully realizing how much danger she is in by her actions. Burl sorts it out and she falls for him largely because he, too, sees the injustice and wants to change it, but it’s enough for her that he merely sees it, really sees it. In fact, Gwen discovers quite a lot of people admire and even want to be Jackaroo, because Jackaroo is outside society and can be a catalyst for positive change.

Although Jackaroo doesn’t feel dated in a bad way, there’s a distinct 1980s feel about the story and the writing. It was published mid-decade and the world is sometimes akin to The Princess Bride or Willow (minus the magic), and a little connected to Pretty in Pink or The Breakfast Club (class differences, rich and poor). It’s a classic in a similar way that those movies are classic. There’s nostalgia for those who lived in the 80s, but also something new to learn upon subsequent readings. I’m so glad that I reread Jackaroo and gained a new appreciation for the many layers of the story, Gwen’s concerns, the love story, the politics, the history, the keen insight into human nature, and so on, and I can’t wait to get started reading On Fortune’s Wheel. The world of the Kingdom would be fairly easy to adapt to screen if anyone every got the notion. Cynthia Voigt is a gem of a writer.

The Keys to the Kingdom: book review

Happy 2019, everyone! I think it’s going to be a great year! Ok, I think that about every year, but every year does turn out to be great in its own ways. Even the hard years–and 2018 was a very hard year for me–have their own greatness. Difficult times challenge us and help us learn so much about ourselves–and, boy, did I learn a lot!

One of the biggest things I have learned in 2019 so far is that if I’m not ready to hear something or learn something or really see something, I won’t. It’s quite literally, impossible. 2018 was a struggle because I finally admitted to myself just how bad I was at relationships, especially romantic ones. This is hard to admit because–and maybe it’s a woman thing–but I also thought “there’s no way I can change. It would be too difficult and I just am who I am.”

It’s funny, though, how God works. We say these things to ourselves and then He puts a person or people in our way as if to say, “You can’t change for the better? You can’t do it? Not even for this person?” It’s a friendly test, if you will. So that’s what happened to me and why I was in such distress. You meet a person that is so special that you want to change for them. You would do anything for them, but you just don’t know how to begin, and then your brain becomes open to new information, like: “Am I actually seeing things or people as they are? If not, that means I may be the problem.” But now that thought isn’t so scary because perspective is something we can change, totally change.

This past weekend I read two books. (Don’t be too shocked, they’re not very long and I read quickly when I’m interested). I often enjoy reading comments on blog and articles on the internet. People often share video links, music, and books that inspired them. Well, someone mentioned this amazing book about women understanding men called Keys to the Kingdom by Alison Armstrong. Something about the enthusiasm of the commenter nudged me to give it a chance.

Keys to the Kingdom is primarily written for women, but I think men can get a lot out of it, too. With most self-help or relationship advice books, the information is written in a nonfiction, rather bland way. Although we may agree with what the writer is saying, we often struggle in how to apply that in real life. This book (and its sequel, The Queen’s Code) are different. While they are still instruction manuals, they are told completely in story format, with somewhat cringey dialogue at times and goofy people to boot. At first, I was irritated–“just give me the information, already!”–but then I started reading, and I couldn’t put it down for two reasons:

  • 1) Much of the information resonated as being true about both men and women. It seemed so true that I was surprised I didn’t know it already–but the reason I didn’t know or haven’t known was because I wasn’t ready to see it, to register it, and to act on it.
  • 2) I love stories. They are both the joy of my life and the bane of my existence. If I get obsessed with a story I often lose track of everything and everyone else. Want to win my heart? Tell me awesome stories! (Yikes, that’s scary to learn about oneself, right?) By the second chapter I realized that I was understanding the information and thinking how it applied to real life because it was given to me in a story. A list of bullet points, or notes like were listed at the end of each lesson really did nothing for me, as I was still focused on the story and eager to read what happens next.

The biggest takeaway of the story for me was that as women we are continually not giving men the “benefit of the doubt,” that is, we automatically assume the worst about them and their intentions instead of the best. In fact, we probably do this a lot with women, too, and people in general. Our modern society has a great disdain for the two sexes, but especially for men. The fight for more equality of opportunities for women is and has often been accomplished by denigrating and pushing men down. We all know this, but it’s quite different to finally see it in action, especially if you’re suddenly given new information about men, what they think, how they act, and what their intentions towards women truly are. Oh, also women really suck at communication. We are so wordy yet don’t say the important things, like what we need, or what we need even looks like.

Well, I don’t want to give too many details of either book as it’s much more fun to discover the information for yourself, but I recommend reading Keys to the Kingdom first and then The Queen’s Code. Although they can be read separately or out of order, you won’t get the full “story.” I can tell you these books made me laugh and cry, and the crying came mostly because: They give women hope. Men, too, but mostly women. Men don’t have to be women and women don’t have to be men and we can still be partners in life. It’s a great, breathtaking, life-altering thing. After reading Keys, the next day at church I was glowing and grinning from ear to ear. I felt different and I wanted to tell all the women I know to read this book. And I can tell you people noticed and some even asked what was up. It’s amazing what hope does to the soul.

As a Christian, one of the most exciting things I took away from the books were that God said He created man in his “own image.” After reading all the positive, amazing things about men, it struck me that God is this way, too. And in the same way that women often misunderstand men or think the worst of them, this is how we, too, often misunderstand and think the worst of God. “Life-changing” doesn’t even begin to adequately describe the difference. It a time when we are now quite literally trying to turn men into women and women into men, these books and ideas are truly revolutionary. What a great gift it can be to see people as they truly are. How exciting life can be when we really see and get people. What an impact we can have on another’s life and also appreciate and be thankful for their impact on our lives.

In her work, Alison Armstrong has tapped into something wonderful. You can tell by how enthusiastic the reviews for her books are that they resonate with women in a way other books of this topic do not and have not. The jaw dropping thing is that Armstrong herself was once the harshest of man haters and transformed into one of their biggest advocates, truly loving and understanding men in a way few other women bother to do. Armstrong has a few of her talks on Youtube, and I highly recommend watching them if you can, especially about asking for what you need. She says she feels she would cry out this information from the street corners if that was the only way to tell people. When people feel like that, I think they have truly tapped into the truth. Good news is something you automatically want to share with everyone around you.

Happy reading!