Wednesday, October 9

Review: The Annotated Northanger Abbey

The Annotated Northanger Abbey
by Jane Austen, Edited and Annotated by David M. Shapard
Anchor Books

Northanger Abbey (NA) falls outside of what I consider to be Jane Austen's Big Four novels (for the mixture of their quality and the enjoyment I get from them): Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Emma and Sense and Sensibility. However, having taken on writing this review, I am grateful for the opportunity to re-read NA after more than 20 years. Though much of it is very silly (intentionally so on the author's part), Austen's clever humor shines through, making re-reading worthwhile.

However, there is really no call for me to review NA as a novel. That is well-covered territory. What could be valuable is a review of David Shapard's annotations in this new edition. Perhaps the first thing to say is that there are many annotations. As the publisher's description describes it, the complete text of the novel is bound with 'more than 1,200 annotations on facing pages'. In fact, I concluded early on that if I had read all of the annotations, I would never have had time to complete the book, much less this review.

Among the annotations are:
-Explanations of historical context
-Citations from Austen’s life, letters, and other writings
-Definitions and clarifications
-Literary comments and analysis
-Maps of places in the novel
-An introduction, bibliography, and detailed chronology of events
-225 informative illustrations
I found many of the annotations helpful or interesting. Many of them I flew right by. Some of the 'definitions and clarifications', especially, are very minute, bordering on the obvious. That's okay; they could be useful for some readers. Next in order of usefulness were the 'explanations of historical context' and 'literary comments and analysis'. Again, some were fairly obvious, while others provided new information. Confession: I found myself reading some of the 'literary analysis' just for the fun of thinking more about the characters.

Mostly I enjoyed the maps and many of the illustrations. I particularly liked the floor plans and architectural pictures that helped to give a better sense of the setting, especially Bath which, unfortunately, I have not visited. There were more illustrations of style of dress than I cared for, but, again, they would certainly be enjoyed by some people, to say nothing of the comparative importance of clothing in Austen's novels. The editor included many caricatures from the period that didn't do much for me.

The chronology of events could be helpful to some people. The pages-long bibliography certainly looked exhaustive from my standpoint. The introduction was okay, but uncritical of Austen in any way, further strengthening my sense of the target audience of The Annotated NA.

I think the people who would most enjoy this book and want to own it are Austen fans who are true period devotees. For those of us who are simply Austen fans, borrowing or owning the novel by itself would probably suffice. That said, this series of editions of Austen's books by Shapard would be very valuable additions to the collection of any public or academic library. They would be especially useful for people who want to read Austen with understanding but feel a little in over their heads. It is certainly easy to imagine many high school book reports being improved if the student had access to the appropriate one of these books.

One more personal note: It was funny to read and enjoy this book again, even entering somewhat into the problems of the present and future happiness of the 17 year-old 'heroine' and the 26 year-old young man she admires, considering that I am now almost 20 years older that all of the young people in the book, my twin 14 year-olds, in fact, being much closer to them in age.

Saturday, October 5

I have decided to follow Jesus

This post is an attempt to detail the next step I am taking in being a disciple/apprentice of Jesus.

I have immersed myself in the teaching of Dallas Willard for about the last nine months. One of the important things that he teaches is that we have to decide to be followers of Jesus. So here are some notes I took from The Divine Conspiracy (p.295ff):
1. Ask
Emphatically and repeatedly express to Jesus our desire to see him more fully as he really is. 
We should make our expression of desire a solemn occasion, giving at least a number of quiet hours or day to it. It will also be good to write down our prayer for his help in seeing him. 
2. Dwell
Use every means at our disposal to come to see him more fully. 
'If you dwell in my word, you really are my apprentices. And you will know the truth, the truth will make you free.' John 8. 31-32 
We will fill our souls with the written Gospels.
We will refuse to devote our mental space and energy to the fruitless, even stupefying and degrading, stuff that constantly clamors for our attention.
Read through the four Gospels repeatedly, jotting down notes and thoughts on a pad as we go.
Put them into practice.
If over the course of several days or weeks we were to read the Gospels through as many times as we can, consistent with sensible rest and relaxation, that alone would enable us to see Jesus with the clarity that can make the transition into full discipleship possible. We can count on him to meet us in the transition and not leave us to struggle with it on our own, for he is far more interested in it then we can ever be.
Seriously look at the lives of others who truly have apprenticed themselves to him. For example, Francis of Assisi, John Wesley, David Brainerd, Albert Schweitzer or one of many well-known Theresas. 
3. Decide
We should apprentice ourselves to Jesus in a solemn moment and we should let those around us know that we have done so.
I tried to do this for about five weeks. Recently I completed my third read-through of the Gospels in that time. Before that, I asked some friends to pray with me to see God's Kingdom more as it is. My guiding text there was the treasure hidden in the field (Mt 13.44-46): If I found out $100 million was buried in a vacant lot, but it would take my entire net worth (and maybe some debt) to buy it, I would totally do that. But I don't give up everything to seek the Kingdom. So I need to close that gap.

This is Dallas' direction that I did the least well with: 'We will refuse to devote our mental space and energy to the fruitless, even stupefying and degrading, stuff that constantly clamors for our attention.' I didn't read the Gospels as much as I could have in the past five or six weeks.

Still, I think it's time to take the next step, #3 above. I am apprenticing myself to Jesus in a way I have not before. I'm making official my desire to learn from Him to be like Him, to do the things that He did and said to do.

Denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and following Jesus (Mt 16.24) means, among other things, giving up the need to have our own way. Taking His yoke upon us (Mt 11.28-30) means learning to live life with Him and letting Him do most of the work. He said this is the easy way, and it is in comparison to trying to do things our way.

Saturday, May 11

Dallas Willard: More Material

These are the people we're praying for:

Dallas Albert Willard was born in Buffalo, Missouri, USA, September 4, 1935. He married Jane Lakes of Macon, Georgia, in 1955. They live in Southern California, where Jane is a Marriage and Family Therapist. They have two children, John and Becky (married to Bill Heatley), and a granddaughter, Larissa.

Picture and bio courtesy of Dallas Willard's website and Dieter Zander

Acclaimed Writer and Respected Teacher Dallas Willard Dies, IVP

A Life Renovated for the Kingdom, IVP

Dallas Willard, Jesus Freak: Todd Hunter remembers his friend, mentor
Dallas knew that much of the evangelical world had reduced Jesus to one thing he did: shed his blood. As unspeakably important as the cross is, valuing it and forgetting the rest of Jesus’ ministry has led untold numbers of people to become, in Dallas’ memorable phrase, “vampire Christians.” Vampire Christians are people who want a bit of Jesus’ blood so they dodge hell but really don’t want anything to do with him. They had no vision for, or intention of, following him.
Dallas taught and embodied something better. We heard Dallas as a teacher discuss it, but we also witnessed him carry on his life as an apprentice of Jesus. ... It was this quality of being, more than the towering intellect, skillful teaching and masterful writing that drew those of us close to him, to admire, love, and cherish him so much.
Life in the Kingdom of God, By Richella Parham

Getting the Elephant Out of the Sanctuary, Interview between Dallas and Gary Moon
When we see the altar in the church, we should think of ourselves upon it. This is our way of identifying with Christ on His Cross and in that way, entering into His life.
Dr. Willard's Diagnosis, by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

Friday, May 10

Wednesday, May 8

Dallas Willard: Onward to Glory

Dallas Willard died today. I have been listening to his teaching pretty much every day for the last five months or so. Though I read The Divine Conspiracy and Renovation of the Heart and really liked them, it wasn't until I started listening to Dallas that his teaching started to help me to grow. It was like I needed to hear and see (in the case of videos) his example to take his teaching all the way to heart.

As it turns out, I listened to this message this morning, which completely pertains to Dallas' transition:

Start at 19:17 and listen for at least 2 minutes.

Here I copy today's note from the Dallas Willard Center:
Early on the morning of May 8, 2013, Dallas Albert Willard awakened to a full experience of the reality of the Kingdom of the Heavens he described so beautifully. Fittingly, his last two words were, “Thank you.” 
“Thank you” is the feeling I am sure so many have for the contributions he has made to their lives. I believe Dallas Willard has been one of the great reformers of Christian thought of the past century and that his most powerful lessons were taught by how he lived an unhurried life, in love with God. 
We wanted to provide an opportunity for you to share how Dallas’ life and teachings have impacted you. We invite you to share your reflections and tributes in our forum: Please visit our forum here. 
We were delighted and honored to have Dallas share his last public teaching at our inaugural Conversation on Christian Spiritual Formation, the Knowing Christ Conference, in February 2013. We have been releasing the videos from the conference over a period of several weeks. However, in celebration of Dallas’ life, we’re releasing the final videos early as the final session on Blessing seemed particularly appropriate. These videos will remain on our site for a few weeks where you can watch them free of charge. After that they will be removed as we are working on a DVD release in the future. Click here to access the videos. 
A primary desire for the Martin Institute and Dallas Willard Center is to help fan the flames of authentic transformation into Christlikeness that is at the heart of Dallas Willard’s writing and teaching.
A Facebook note from Renovare:
"What is most valuable for any human being, without regard to an afterlife, is to be a part of this marvelous reality, God's kingdom now. Eternity is now ongoing. I am now leading a life that will last forever..." -- Dallas Willard, "The Divine Conspiracy"
And another one:

We are grateful for the life and ministry of our Ministry Team member, Dallas Willard, who we lost today. Pray for his family and friends who grieve this loss, and yet rejoice in knowing that our brother is experiencing the full reality of the Kingdom of the Heavens he so faithfully taught us about:
"..To one group of his day, who believed that 'physical death' was the cessation of the individual's existence, Jesus said, 'God is not the God of the dead but of the living.' His meaning was that those who love and are loved by God are not allowed to cease to exist, because they are God's treasures. He delights in them and intends to hold onto them. He has even prepared for them an individualized eternal work in his vast universe." -- Dallas Willard, "The Divine Conspiracy"
And here's a Christianity Today profile on him from 2006.

I look forward to knowing Dallas in eternity.

Wednesday, March 20

Jesus, Exclusivity and Tolerance

The 'problem' of tolerance has come up a few times in the Sunday School class I'm currently teaching, 'Intro to Revelation'. I didn't want to deal with it from the hip, so here's the outline I came up with for last Sunday's lesson, which was well received. And if you're really interested, here's the mp3 of the class.

  1. Jesus is the only way to the Father
  2. But, we Christians have really misrepresented Him
    1. We claim things in His name that just aren't true and do things that are wrong
      1. e.g.: Pat Robertson, slavery, colonialism, religious wars, Westboro Baptist Church, etc.
    2. Those things don't invalidate our beliefs, but some humility is called for
  3. And, too often, our approach has been Pharisaical
    1. We have spoken the truth in self-righteousness, not in love
    2. We are more interested in who is 'right' than love
    3. The Gospel is not that the good are in and the bad are out
      1. The Gospel is that everyone is lost (Luke 15) and can be found by Him
      2. The Gospel is that the sick need a physician, not the healthy (but no one is healthy -- Luke 5.27-32)
  4. So, I tend to be noncombative
    1. I advocate a strategy that begins with love and prayer and listening
    2. But, I'm a conflict-avoider. Some of you might be more effective in a more confrontational mode. But there for sure has to be love.