Disney Readalong Wrap Up

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about taking part in the Disney Readalong from 6th-12thMay. There were five challenges:

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I allowed myself to extend the challenge into Sunday 13thMay, as most of the Saturday evening was taken up with the Eurovision Song Contest. Work was really busy that week as well, meaning I didn’t get as much time for reading as I would have liked due to being super tired when I got home each evening. But I did complete three of the prompts!

 

1) Frozen – a book set in winter: I read Brother in Ice by Alicia Kopf. This book was brilliant if a little hard to follow when reading in a tired state of mind. It felt like it was semi-autobiographical, I’m not sure if it was or not. The book follows Alicia as she navigates adulthood with divorced parents and an autistic sibling – the eponymous brother, whom she feels is trapped as if in an ice block – and tries to make her way both in work and relationships. This narrative is interspersed with research into polar exploration, anecdotes about successful and unsuccessful attempts to reach the North and South poles and related scientific discoveries. These are woven into the storyline so Alicia’s story as she applies her research to her own life. I really enjoyed this book, I’ve never read anything else like it. I will definitely be rereading it when I am more awake so I can take more in and appreciate the writing more.

 

3) Aurora’s Dress – a book with pink and blue on the cover: I read The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley. I am a big fan of the webseries The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and read The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, the accompanying novel, last year. I loved this spin-off/sequel which follows Lydia as she tries to recover from the fallout of the scandal that occurred during Lizzie’s vlog series (it is a bit different from the Pride and Prejudice storyline as it is modernised so I won’t give away any spoilers). One of my favourite things about the series is the exploration of the relationship between the sisters. As much as I love Pride and Prejudice, Lydia in the book feels like a plot device used to bring Lizzy and Darcy together, and is quite caricatured. In the webseries and accompanying novels, Lydia is very much her own character, with agency and real, deep emotions. It was great to catch up with these characters again and get a glimpse of what comes next in their stories.

 

5) Cinderella – read the Grimm fairytale and watch the Disney movie. I used to watch this film in French all the time so it felt weird that I opted to watch it in English this time. I had forgotten how sappy and instalove-y the film is, but it has good music and I love the little animal creatures (especially Lucifer the cat who is one of the better Disney villains). I was surprised how different the fairytale is, there are three balls for one thing. I’m looking forward to reading more of the Grimm fairytales as I only recognise a few of the titles.

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So that was my first prompted readathon! I enjoyed the experience but will maybe check out my work schedule before taking part in another one.

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Readathons and other bookish things

Sorry it’s been a while again. April turned into a surprisingly busy month, which came and went in a flurry of activity and weather. And then May snuck in out of nowhere and took me by surprise – but I think things should settle down into more of a routine now.

So I thought I’d bring you an update on my reading/book buying/writing New Years Resolutions and how they are going. Short answer: things never go to plan, do they?!

Writing is the quickest one to cover – I’ve not been doing much (can you tell?) but I still intend to do more. I’m trying to figure a few things out about the future at the moment, including how writing will fit into it, but I do miss writing fiction and I want to make more time for that in my life. I will get there!

In terms of buying books, I have fallen off the wagon a few times… Of the fifteen books I have bought so far this year, five were for Ninjabookclub and one was in a Ninjabookbox. Two my Vicar recommended to help with the whole figuring out the future thing (he would have lent them to me but someone else was borrowing them). That leaves seven which I have no excuse for, other than that they were cheap or signed copies and I wanted them. Still I certainly have had worse starts to the year in terms of book buying. I’m aiming to read all the books I buy this year this year in an attempt to justify their purchase (one of them is no. 4 in a series, of which I have only read one so far, so that will be fun…)

I have had some success in unhauling this year, though. In January my parents and I sorted through a number of boxes they are keeping in their attic for me, which included many books I had kept from my childhood. I gave two boxes to friends for their kids and one box to a charity shop. Since then I have also weeded out a few more from my shelves which I was not excited about reading any more. I am also stricter with myself about not keeping books I have read unless I gave them 4 or more stars.

Each year I set my Goodreads target as one higher than the number of books I read the previous year, meaning my target for this year is 78 books. Currently I have read 29, which is three books ahead of schedule. You would think that this would mean my TBR is decreasing, but, surprisingly, it is not. The main problem is how easily I can request books from the library. Southampton City Libraries allow you to request any books from any of their libraries for free, and they have a great range. I have borrowed fifteen books from the library this year so far, eight of which I have read and seven I am currently borrowing.

So my TBR shelf on Goodreads has only gone down by four since the start of the year. And I’m not even sure I’ve added all the books I bought to it…

So in an attempt to address this I have started coming up with a monthly TBR, which includes a mixture of books I have bought and borrowed. I am usually a bit ambitious to allow for mood reading. I am going to try not to borrow any more library books until I have read everything I have borrowed from family and friends as well. And I’m going to try EVEN HARDER not to buy books other than for NinjaBookClub… (let’s see how that goes!)

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Last weekend was Dewey’s 24 hour Readathon, which I took part in for the first time. I joined over 1900 other readers and together we read half a million pages in 24 hours. I wasn’t able to join in the whole 24 hours, but I did enjoy focusing on reading time instead of watching tv, etc. I will take part in the next one in October for sure. I am also on the lookout for other readathons/readalongs I can take part in, to help tackle my TBR with focused reading. This one was easy because there were no stipulations as to genres or categories. I have come across several intriguing sounding readathons on BookTube (the bookish area of YouTube) that I have thought about taking part in but I would have had to resort to buying books for some of the prompts and we already know I am trying to avoid that!

But the other day I came across a readathon with fewer categories and I already had books to meet all of them! So today I have started the Disney Readalong, hosted on BookTube by Cherrie Walker, Tiny Book Dragon and Cristina’s Journey. The readathon is from 6-12thMay and there are five prompts as follows:

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Here is my TBR for the week:

  1. Frozen: Brother in Ice by Alicia Kopf– I’m not sure if this is actually set in Winter but it is about Polar Exploration so I think it counts.
  2. Dory: Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne– this was the hardest category as I am generally pretty aware of what books I own (despite there being so many) but I was surprised to see this on my bookshelf so it got picked
  3. Aurora’s Dress: The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley– actually this was pretty hard too as I had loads of books with one or the other colour but I like that I found one where the colours are actually clothing. I am a big fan of the YouTube series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and I read The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet last year so I am happy to be finally reading this one.
  4. Huey, Dewey & Louie: The Counterfeit Guest by Rose Melikan– this is the second book in the Mary Finch trilogy. I read the first, The Blackstone Key, last autumn and loved it so I have been keen to get around to this one.
  5. Cinderella:Although I slightly disagree that Grimm was the original version (I think Charles Perrault’s version predates theirs, and I’m not even sure his was the original) it does give me a good excuse to finally read my gorgeous edition of Grimm’s fairytales. Although I only have to read Cinderella for the prompt, I will also be reading the rest as my next short story collection to read. And it’s never a problem to have to watch a Disney movie. This one has probably my least favourite prince, but it’s worth watching just for Lucifer the cat.

 

They are all fairly short – The Counterfeit Guest is the longest but based on the first in the series it won’t be too challenging a read and I am saving it for last anyway! I started Brother in Ice this morning and it is really good so far. I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything like it before.

I will be tweeting my reading for the week, probably from my personal twitter rather than the blog twitter (@cerilouisew rather than @mayibethemoon) but please feel free to follow both accounts…!!

 

 

Gentleness

 

A week ago, I had the opportunity to preach in Church for the first time. Below is the neatened-up version of what I said. If you would rather listen to the talk, it can be found on the church Facebook page here.

Continuing with our study of the fruits of the Spirit, today we are looking at gentleness. We are going to read 1 Peter 3v8-18.

The dictionary definition of gentle reads as follows: kindly, amiable; not severe, rough or violent; mild; moderate; arch. noble, chivalrous. I like that last one, it makes me think of knights of yore.

Today is Palm Sunday and we have been thinking about Jesus entering Jerusalem, gentle and riding on a donkey. This is maybe not how we would picture a knight, but that’s the point: the Jews were expecting a Valiant Messiah who would overthrow the Romans and restore Israel, but Jesus’ mission was one of gentle revolution – a quiet ushering in of the kingdom of God, turning lives around.

In this passage from Peter, gentleness is linked to living and preaching the good news. We must be ready to give an answer for our faith in Jesus, which we hope would have been evidenced in our lives. If we are ‘eager to do good’, despite insult or mistreatment, people will want to know why.

My NIV study Bible note explains that ‘our apologetic (“answer”) is always to be given with love, never in degrading terms’. This reminded me of another verse about gentleness: ‘a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger’ (Proverbs 15:1)

All this got me thinking, what are we known for? As Christians, are we known for being ‘eager to do good’ and answering questions ‘with gentleness and respect’? or is the way we are seen in the world less positive?

Recently I have been reading Philip Yancey’s Vanishing Grace – a follow up to What’s So Amazing About Grace? In the opening chapter he says:

We are called to proclaim good news of forgiveness and hope, yet I keep coming across evidence that many people do not hear our message as good news

I feel like in the media Christians are presented as/assumed to be angry about things? When I was a teenager it was Harry Potter, some of my friends tore up their copies. At uni I remember hearing about Christians due to the Jerry Springer opera. We often are presented as being angry about things we disagree with. To the wider culture we are thought to be on the wrong side of many debates – gay rights, abortion, etc

In some ways we are meant to speak out, be a prophetic voice for the voiceless and stand against injustice when we see it. We see this in the Bible, in the books of the prophets. This is sometimes described as righteous anger. And sometimes this is okay – Jesus got angry, we see that in the gospels. But we need to think about what Jesus got angry about. He got angry with the temple traders who disrupted the worship of the Gentiles by setting up a market in the only area they were allowed to worship God in the temple. He got angry at the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, (Matthew 23) who ‘tie[d] up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders’ – who were so focused on the law that they missed God’s grace. These were people who were meant to be showing the way to God, but instead were so caught up in legalistic obsession with rules to live by, without changing their hearts, that they became a stumbling block.

I believe the Church today maybe in danger of this – it is too easy to get on our moral high horse and miss out on showing people the grace of God. I’m thinking about – for example – the abortion debate. I’m ‘pro-life’ but not just the life of the unborn. Some others who label themselves as pro-life aren’t necessarily so in all areas – I’m going to paint a picture of a stereotypical American politician, a Republican, who would say they base their politics on Christian/family values. They are anti-abortion, yes, but they are also anti-immigration (refugees), anti-gun control, anti-universal healthcare – meaning sick people struggle to get the medical help they need, – they are anti-welfare, and they support the death penalty. Is that really pro-life? – This type of person is often seen as hypocrite by wider society. If you are ‘pro-life’ you need to be pro-all life.

Another debate where we perhaps don’t cover ourselves in glory is the area of gay rights. When I was an undergraduate at uni in Cardiff the gay marriage debate was working it’s way through parliament. One of my housemates asked what I thought. I explained that I believe that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman for life, but that while I try to live by what I believe the Bible teaches, I don’t think I should be inflicting my values on those who don’t hold to the same beliefs as me. I choose to try to live by a certain moral code, because my of faith and the values associated, but I can barely stick to it myself, so why should I enforce it on others who don’t hold to the same values?

The passage from Peter talks about suffering for doing good – but is that taking the moral high ground, or showing people love even when it’s hard and we disagree with their lifestyle?

Taking for example, Christian bakers. There have been several famous cases both in Northern Ireland and USA, where Christian bakers have been taken to court and lost their businesses over refusing to bake cakes for gay weddings/gay rights etc. I understand why and support them and applaud their courage, but at the same time – it’s just a cake! And what sends a better message to the world – refusing to serve someone because you disagree with them, or choosing to serve them despite disagreeing with them?

I heard another story on twitter which made my soul hurt. A gay guy was on his way to adopt a cat, when he got a message from the lady who owned the cat saying she had found out he was gay and didn’t feel right giving the cat to him because she was a Christian. She then proceeded to lecture him about his lifestyle. That is not a good demonstration of love or gentleness.

Billy Graham quoted as saying ‘It is the Holy Spirit’s Job to convict, God’s job to judge, my job to love’. Gentleness in action means living a life that shows love and respect to everyone, serving those in need, regardless of how you feel about their life choices. This means: seek peace, do good. Show God in the way you live

Verse 15 of our passage says ‘always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect’. The key words for me are: ‘who asks you’. Meaning, wait until you are asked. Show grace, don’t force your opinion on those who aren’t ready to hear it. Wait to be invited. Earn the right to speak into someone’s life by showing them love. And think about what you say – is this going to draw this person closer to God or push them further away?

At school I had a friend called Richard. When we met in year 7, he was an atheist. We stayed friends all through secondary school. When he came out as gay in year 10 or 11, I was the first person he told and I was honoured that he chose to tell me. When we were leaving to go to different sixth forms, he told me that couldn’t be an atheist any more, he had to believe God existed because he saw Him in my life. I was not a perfect teenager, I messed up quite a lot of things, but I tried to live my faith, show kindness to those around me. That opened the door for opportunities to share God with people.

Before you think I’m awesome, I’m not great at this. I often fall into workplace gossip and get frustrated with co-workers who don’t have same work ethic as me. I am resolved to do better! So let’s look a good example of this, when Jesus met a Samaritan woman of dubious morality in John 4.

[I read Ruth Tucker’s re-telling of this story from Dynamic Women of the Bible]

What Ruth Tucker highlights so beautifully is the isolation of the woman before she met Jesus. She was an outcast. The moral people of the town wanted nothing to do with her. She was hungry for conversation, and Jesus was there to meet her.

Jesus may have initiated the conversation, but he let her direct it. He was crossing boundaries even to talk to her (man to woman, Jew to Samaritan) but he didn’t let societal norms stop him from reaching out to someone in need.

He didn’t push her on her life choices. He brought up her marital situation, yes, but didn’t linger on it when she changed the subject. Regardless of her problematic lifestyle, he talked theology with her. Instead of a lecture, she was treated with grace, kindness and respect – with gentleness.

And it worked – where a sermon on sexual morality would have sent her running, an open discussion when Jesus clearly knew about her life but accepted her anyway was what changed her. And the result of this change impacted the whole town.

In this way, gentleness is linked with the other fruits: living a life showing love and kindness to others, bearing with their faults patiently and with gentleness. These create opportunities to show God’s grace to them.

We should be trying to live out our faith, to base our lives and actions on biblical values. But we should not be trying to force our moral code onto others and then expect them to listen when we tell them God loves them. Instead, if we show them God loves them by the way we interact with them, they will be more open to hearing what we have to say. We need to earn the right to tell people about our faith – and maybe that means we never challenge them on parts of their life we disagree with, or maybe that means one day they’ll ask for our advice. Either way, treat them with gentleness and respect, seeking peace. Keep the door open for them to see God.

art = rest for the soul

I recently joined a Christian art group. I am by no means an artist, I dabble with a bit of painting and quite like colouring, but I would not consider myself at all skilled in visual arts.

At the first meeting I confessed to being an interloper. I explained I am more of a wordsmith than a visual artist, but that I enjoy dabbling. I also read them one of my poems – ‘Hibernation‘ – that I written quite recently. One lady commented that she could really picture the tree as I had described it. I remembered then that a long time ago I had had an idea of publishing my poems in a book with a corresponding picture to go with each, as a kind of meditation/reflection aid.

For this month’s meeting we were given a Bible passage to reflect on and try to create a piece of art inspired by it. I actually suggested the passage, but couldn’t come up with anything so gave up on that idea and read through some of my old poems instead. I realised that quite a lot of them use visual imagery to create parallels and give meaning. I chose one of my favourites – ‘My Life in Your Service‘ – and tried to find pictures that I could use as inspiration for a piece of artwork to go with it.

Now, remember, I am not very good at art, and I am hoping to get better. However, I am quite pleased with my first effort…

 

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What was more pleasing, though, was how peaceful I felt. Even when I messed up and had to rub bits out and try again, I didn’t get frustrated, I just enjoyed the process.

The first thing we learn about God in the Bible is that He is creative. The first thing we learn about humans is that we are made in His image. When we create, we are reflecting the image of God and to me it feels like I am bringing my soul in tune with his.

A Lost Masterpiece

I have always been a bit of a geek, so it may not surprise you that some of my very favourite things to watch on tv is are documentaries. I especially love those about history or the arts, so my ideal viewing choice is a documentary on art history.

I recently discovered a new favourite, which adds whole new levels of excitement to the genre. In Britain’s Lost Masterpieces, two historians browse the hidden collections of small city museums to see what they can find in the storage rooms. Between them they pick out a painting of unclear origins, which they suspect is worth more than it seems. While the painting is cleaned and restored by an expert team – which involves removing layers of dirt and grime, and often extra paint that some overkeen previous restorer has added in an attempt to improve the picture – the historians research both the history of the painting and the collection to try to trace the origins of the work.

What I love about this programme is the idea that sometimes things of great value can lie hidden, perhaps covered in the dirt and grime of life, perhaps suffering from failed attempts to fix their issues, their true worth undiscovered. Then someone has the idea to take them out, clean them off, patch them up and put their beauty on display for all to see.

Sound familiar?

To me, this is the essence of the gospel. So many times, the Bible talks of seeking out the lost, the broken, the unclean and making us new, restoring our value. A fair amount of Jesus’ parables are on this theme, for starters (the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, the pearl of great price…) But my favourite Bible text on this theme is a little more obscure…

Zechariah 3:1-5:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?’ Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.’ Then I said, ‘Put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.

 

Sometimes it can be hard to see ourselves as valuable. When society and the media present an image of what success/beauty/worth looks like we can feel like we have no value because we don’t match up. Sometimes we can be blinded to the value of others, if we feel like we tick all the right boxes. This passage reminds us that we all fall short of a standard, but that the one who set the standard elevates us, saves us from the fire, dusts us off, cleans us up and makes us as good as new. We are diamonds in the rough, buried treasure, a lost masterpiece…

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)

Not a Fan

Last week I said that ‘Hibernation’ was the first new poem I had written in a long time – but I made a mistake. I forgot about this one, but it is a different kind of poem…

In the autumn of last year I joined a short-lived writing group, and one week we had to bring a random item and write a poem inspired by it. One of my colleagues had just returned from a holiday to Barcelona, and brought back souvenirs for everyone in the office. I was given the fan pictured below, and that was the item I took. I was thinking what if, instead of a colleague giving it to a co-worker, a boyfriend had bought a similar item for a girlfriend. Anyway, enough explaining, I hope you enjoy…

 

Not a Fan

To him

It was a romantic gesture

“I thought of you while I was there”

To her

It was a thoughtless jibe

A simple reminder

That he went without her

Chose his friends over her

Had experiences she could not share

 

A souvenir of places she could not remember

Plastic and cloth that became a wedge

A grudge

A hint

A nudge

A suggestion that he did not care

 

Jewellery might have won her over

(Not that she cared about the price)

But a tacky fan she could not use

(Because the weather here is never nice)

Made her question his commitment

Made her think she could do better

Became the thing that broke the pair

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Hibernation

I sometimes feel like

My heart has been in hibernation

Like a tree in winter

Barren and dry

Apparently lifeless

But beneath the surface

The roots go deep

And draw up life

And like the warm spring sun

A moment in your presence

Wakes my tired soul

And brings forth new colour

Blossoming, blooming, bearing fruit

After the darkest night

Comes the morning

After the coldest winter

Comes the spring

 

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