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The Masterline Series of studies on George MacDonald, edited by Michael Phillips (Sunrise Books, 1989)

Volume 1: From a Northern Window: A Personal Reminiscence of George MacDonald by His Son by Ronald MacDonald

 Volume 2: The Harmony Within: The Spiritual Vision of George MacDonald by Rolland Hein

Volume 3: George MacDonald's Fiction: A Twentieth-Century View by Richard Reis

The first book is an interesting look at George MacDonald through the eyes of one of his sons. It was definitely worth reading, though not sufficiently well-written to encourage me to anticipate reading it again.

The other two are another story; I found them dust-and-ashes. Not dry, as in pedantic or overly academic, but of almost no value to me. And not for obvious reasons.

Both these authors have a good deal of respect for MacDonald and are fulsome in their praise of some of his works, so my active dislike of their books is not because they abuse one of my all-time favorite authors. C. S. Lewis, whose praise of MacDonald is as high as one person can give to another, acknowledges that while some of his works are unsurpassed, many others are clearly mediocre. As far as I can tell his points are valid, so the fact that these authors say the same thing can't be the sole reason I find their works unprofitable. I have to say, though, that some of what the literary world finds of no value I think is great. MacDonald was a preacher, and the fact that his philosophical ideas come through in his books is a plus for me. Not to mention that, unlike the literary world, I like happy endings and characters who are "too good to be true."

Partly, I'm sure, my dislike of these books is because they are in the genre of literary criticism, and the process of pulling apart a book to see what it is made of is distasteful to me. (Michael Ward's Planet Narnia is the only exception that comes to mind.) I've always been a voracious reader and it's obvious how much I now enjoy writing, but I hated English class at every level of school, and the process of taking apart a good (or bad) story, and guessing at what the author "really" meant, was largely responsible for that. I especially resent the apparent need to find "obvious" sexual meanings embedded in otherwise lovely and as far as I can tell innocent stories—which both Hein and Reis do. Possibly MacDonald meant the sexual references—he was a man, and as a gender men do have some extraordinary ideas about sex, plus he had eleven children—but I'm skeptical.

That aside, I did pull out a few quotes I wanted to remember:

These are from Ronald MacDonald's From a Northern Window.

After his abandonment of the predicant profession, he never took remuneration for a spoken sermon; and never, I am sure, refused his preaching, from whatever Christian denomination the invitation might come. I remember very well his saying that the Unitarians were among the most instant to get him to preach; and that he always stipulated for liberty to maintain the doctrine of the Trinity; by which orthodoxy I do not think he ever gained a Sunday's rest. (p. 35)

His own family of eleven children, whatever the narrowness of accommodation or banking-account, seemed never enough to keep the house comfortably full. During his lecturing tour in the United States, in 1872-3, it was widely reported that he was father of thirteen children—a mistake proved to be due to his frequent statement that he had "the wrong side of a dozen." (p. 50)

These from The Harmony Within by Rolland Hein.

MacDonald felt deeply that the great possibility for mankind is to grow into complete godlikeness, so that men shall be one with God. This does not mean that men shall be absorbed into God, as more pantheistic systems hold; rather, as men mature into moral and spiritual perfection, they develop at the same time a more distinct individuality. ... MacDonald's vision is one of an innumerable multitude of redeemed individuals with a final unity of will and spirit. (p. 30)

God made each man unique, MacDonald insists, and God intends that each maintain his uniqueness, that he might serve and worship the Lord in a way no one else can. The result is that each man both learns and teaches something of God in his relations with his neighbors. (p. 68)

And these are from George MacDonald's Fiction by Richard Reis.

More interesting ... are MacDonald's views on God's self-expression in nature. "This world is not merely a thing which God hath made, subjecting it to laws; but it is an expression of the thought, the feeling, the heart of God himself." "Nature is brimful of symbolic and analogical parallels to the goings and comings, the growth and changes of the highest nature in man." "The faces of some flowers lead me back to the heart of God; and, as his child, I hope I feel, in my lowly degree, what he felt when, brooding over them, he said 'They are good'; that is, 'They are what I mean.'" "There is not a form that lives in the world, but is a window cloven through the blank darkness of nothingness, to let us look into the heart, and feeling, and nature of God." (p. 38)

I shall not discus at much length MacDonald's theories about the interpretation of Christ's words in the New Testament, because his views are essentially those of every other interpreter—that Jesus taught precisely what the interpreter believed all along. (p. 37)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 26, 2018 at 6:35 am | Edit
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Having recently read C. S. Lewis' The Pilgrim's Regress, I found a couple of quotations about extremism that I'm saving here.

I do not admire the excess of one virtue unless I am shown at the same time the excess of the opposite virtue.  A man does not prove his greatness by standing at an extremity, but by touching both extremities at once and filling all that lies between them. — Blaise Pascal

Opposite evils, far from balancing, aggravate each other...widespread drunkenness is the father of Prohibition and Prohibition of widespread drunkenness. — C. S. Lewis

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 23, 2018 at 7:59 am | Edit
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We found this at an exhibit on medieval music at the Veste Oberhaus museum in Passau, Germany: 

A worship service without music was unthinkable. Almost every instrument was available as accompaniment for the singers: from the glockenspiel to the organ, from the harp to the guitar and from the flute to the horn.

Just sayin'.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 20, 2018 at 12:32 pm | Edit
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Words of wisdom for our time from George MacDonald (from The Hope of the Gospel: "God's Family").

One thing is plain—that we must love the strife-maker; another is nearly as plain—that, if we do not love him, we must leave him alone; for without love there can be no peace-making, and words will but occasion more strife. To be kind neither hurts nor compromises.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 14, 2018 at 11:34 am | Edit
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I recently had the opportunity to read The Excellence Habit: How Small Changes in Our Mindset Can Make a Big Difference in Our Lives by Vlad Zachary. As a whole, I did not find the book helpful, because despite the promising title, it is primarily directed at the business world. However, the following passage clearly applies to us all.

The one stress factor that always reduces our choices and affects how we react is the availability of time. ... At any moment we are hurried, or feel hurried, we will exhibit a diminished ability to respond in line with our circumstances. Even when we encounter new, unfamiliar, and potentially dangerous circumstances, if we had plenty of time, we would have a better chance of self-control and adequate response. When time starts running out, so does our capacity for reaction, problem solving, and creativity. This is almost universal as a response to time pressure.

Having read that, my reaction was to be confirmed in my belief that we need to build more time-space into our lives by reducing our commitments, beginning preparations well in advance of an event, building deliberate open spaces into our schedule, and not getting into the car with just enough time that if all the lights are green and there are no slower drivers in front of us, we will just make it to our destination as the event begins.

The author, however, heads in a different direction.

Awareness and preparation, therefore, are critical to how well we perform when short on time. ... Practice and how well we do under pressure are positively correlated. ... The more we prepare, the better we will perform when it matters.

I can see that, too. The correlation is obvious among athletes, musicians, artists, the military, and my friends who carry guns: practice is the only way to build up the good habits and automatic responses that will enable us to react correctly and effectively under pressure.

I would go further. For any positive trait we wish to acquire, or instill in our children—compassion, timeliness, responsibility, courtesy, self-control ... good handwriting, mathematical facility, driving skills ... the ability to handle pain, to resist temptation, to follow the right course in the face of opposition—without correct, consistent, and constant practice under more favorable circumstances, a crisis situation will leave us wide open to panic, paralysis, poor decision-making, and the betrayal of our own values.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 13, 2018 at 6:32 am | Edit
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From J. R. R. Tolkien, in The Return of the King, Appendix F.

In those days all the enemies of the Enemy revered what was ancient, in language no less than in other matters, and they took pleasure in it according to their knowledge. The Eldar, being above all skilled in words, had the command of many styles, though they spoke most naturally in a manner nearest to their own speech, one even more antique than that of Gondor. The Dwarves, too, spoke with skill, readily adapting themselves to their company, though their utterance seemed to some rather harsh and guttural. But Orcs and Trolls spoke as they would, without love of words or things; and their language was actually more degraded and filthy than I have shown it. I do not suppose that any will wish for a closer rendering, thought models are easy to find. Much the same sort of talk can still be heard among the orc-minded; dreary and repetitive with hatred and contempt, too long removed from good to retain even verbal vigour, save in the ears of those to whom only the squalid sounds strong.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, August 23, 2018 at 5:38 am | Edit
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It's time to bring back this quote from Joel Salatin.

On every side, our paternalistic culture is tightening the noose around those of us who just want to opt out of the system. And it is the freedom to opt out that differentiates tyrannical and free societies. How a culture deals with its misfits reveals its strength. The stronger a culture, the less it fears the radical fringe. The more paranoid and precarious a culture, the less tolerance it offers. When faith in our freedom gives way to fear of our freedom, silencing the minority view becomes the operative protocol.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, December 1, 2017 at 1:38 pm | Edit
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This observation needs reviving again, from John Caldwell Holt.

One of the saddest things I've learned in my life, one of the things I least wanted to believe and resisted believing for as long as I could, was that people in chains don't want to get them off, but want to get them on everyone else. Where are your chains? they want to know. How come you're not wearing chains? Do you think you are too good to wear them? What makes you think you're so special?

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 28, 2017 at 10:10 pm | Edit
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Contempt is the sulfuric acid of love.

This observation by John Gottman—from "The Calculus of Love", Science News, Vol 165, No. 9, 28 Feb 2004, p. 142—is what leapt to my mind when I read Michael Hyatt's essay, Why Speaking Well of Your Spouse Is So Important. It's a short article, in which he briefly fleshes out the following points:

  • You Get More of What You Affirm
  • Affirmation Shifts Your Attitude
  • Affirmation Strengthens Your Spouse’s Best Qualities
  • Affirmation Wards off Temptation
  • Affirmation Provides a Model to Those You Lead

Simple, powerful, difficult, and important in much more than the marital relationship. With our children, on the job, with our neighbors, in politics, on social media. Contempt is the sulfuric acid of love.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 3, 2017 at 11:25 am | Edit
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From The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien:

Do not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, August 30, 2017 at 7:50 am | Edit
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From The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien:

Works fair and wonderful, while still they endure for eyes to see, are their own record, and only when they are in peril or broken for ever do they pass into song.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, August 20, 2017 at 6:14 am | Edit
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More from The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien:

He that sows lies in the end shall not lack of a harvest, and soon he may rest from toil indeed while others reap and sow in his stead.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 21, 2017 at 5:50 am | Edit
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From The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien:

Those who will defend authority against rebellion must not themselves rebel.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 at 8:43 am | Edit
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Words of wisdom for parents—and children—from S. D. Smith, author of the beautiful Green Ember series. (My reviews are here: The Green Ember and The Black Star of Kingston; and here: Ember Falls.)

Your family is the most potent art you'll ever be a part of creating.

(With humble gratitude to our children and their families for art that makes my heart sing.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 14, 2017 at 7:14 am | Edit
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A long, long time ago, in a world even my siblings don't remember,  my Girl Scout leader taught us this little song, always sung as a round: 

Make new friends, but keep the old;
One is silver, and the other gold.

Since my time, additional words have been added, definitely not an improvement. I do hope today's Girl Scouts aren't learning it this way; the skin of my mind crawls just reading it. The original two lines are profound and pithy; the addition, simply ... well, here's a verse for you to judge:

Silver is precious, 
Gold is too.
I am precious,
And so are you.

Take that, Gollum.

Which brings me around to the point of this post.

Books are my friends. New books can be silver, but there's true gold in wonderful old books read again and again.

I haven't read The Hobbit since 2014, and I was shocked to discover that the last time I read The Lord of the Rings books was at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011. Incredible. My other Tolkien reading goes back to before I started keeping track! As part of my next edition (not yet established) of the 95 by 65 project, I'm including a Tolkien spree, beginning with The Hobbit.

That's where I found these words of wisdom from Gandalf, perfect for those of us who waste valuable sleeping hours fretting about the future.

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Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 10, 2017 at 10:06 am | Edit
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