Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Joy Ride

The Great DivorceThe Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Initial thoughts on completion:
I didn't like this one quite as well as The Screwtape Letters. Perhaps it was because I read them so closely back to back or perhaps it is because I have come to expect short, quotable bits of wisdom from Lewis and this isn't exactly that. Anyhow, there were some ideas in it that I really liked. Firstly, the entire premise encompassing the idea that Heaven and Hell must be completely separated. In our world, we sometimes get caught up in the idea of tolerance to the point of trying to find the "good" in everything when sometimes there really isn't anything of value in it (homosexuality comes to mind, but let's not open that can of worms). There is a choice to make with everything we encounter in life - whether we are going to accept it and make it a part of us or leave it on the wayside. Many mistakenly believe that their traits and quirks are "just who they are," like there is nothing you can do about it. But we can always reinvent and redefine ourselves. I think that's what I like about the word "Divorce." It implies that we are taking something by which we formerly defined ourselves and are completely separating ourselves from it. It may seem obvious, but opposites cannot exist simultaneously in the same proximity. So of course if our ultimate destination is Heaven, we must leave the pieces of Hell we have picked up behind. Similarly, we cannot simply convert evil into good. We must go back to the point of the original mistake and relinquish everything from that point.

I love the idea that in essence it is our choices which determine whether we end up in "Heaven" or "Hell." I am of the opinion that we have freedom and power to choose and this extends even after death. If we will not be happy in Heaven, our choices will not lead us there. Those who thought they "wanted" to come to Heaven but were uncomfortable there were not forced to return to the Grey Town. They chose to return, and essentially judged themselves. Christ is constantly inviting; it is we who turn away. A line from a Ghost that illustrates this, found on page 31 reads as follows: "I'd rather be damned than go along with you." This to me is incredibly sad, but I know that people feel this way.

Another beautiful section on page 61: "The Ghost made a sound something between a sob and a snarl. 'I wish I'd never been born,' it said. 'What are we born for?' 'For infinite happiness,' said the Spirit. 'You can step out into it at any moment...'" We are never denied an opportunity to accept happiness. It is only when we refuse to make the choice that the opportunity closes. We get what we ask for because we are Loved. If we convert our will to the Lord's, we will get infinite happiness, because that is also what He wants for us; if we maintain our own will, he will give us the fruits of that will also.

Finally, the episode of the Lady and the Tragedian was fascinating to contemplate. Essentially, it is the confrontation of pity and joy. Joy says, "Did you think joy was created to live always under that threat? Always defenseless against those who would rather be miserable than have their self-will crossed?" The fact that she could be so unaffected by Frank's failure (or what I believe to have been a failure) was incredible to me at first and I had a hard time imagining being able to be happy in Heaven knowing that someone I love is not happy and has chosen eternal misery. But I guess that's what God experiences all the time. His children are constantly choosing their own misery, preferring to be "rulers in Hell than servants in Heaven." Then I came across this passage that explains why misery and the passion of pity cannot prevail: "The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy; that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven."

I did not like reading each of the Ghost's conversations with the Spirits. Their stubbornness was outrageously frustrating for me. I realize that it is necessary to illustrate the vices that keep us from a "Great Divorce," but it irked me. The idea that irked me most was the intellectual stating that Jesus would have altered His teachings had He lived longer. God does not change! That is the true definition of deity. The fact that he was in a way trying to excuse himself for his disbelief, feeling superior for imagining to know what the teachings would have evolved into, is incredibly prideful and blasphemous. Those are traits that I cannot abide in people.

Favorite part:
The episode of the lizard was incredibly poignant for me. The Angel could not kill the lizard without the consent of the Ghost, just as our vices cannot be extracted without our consent. The struggle is incredibly familiar. Phrases like "it's so damned embarrassing," "It's gone to sleep of its own accord. I'm sure it will be all right now," "I'm sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I thing the gradual process would be far better than killing it," and "How can I tell you to kill it? You'd kill me if you did" describe very well many experiences I've had with my own vices. In the end, through innumerable prayers and goals and struggles, the answer is always "I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?" Then comes the agonizing extraction. It is really painful to cut out a part of you that you have held so tightly for so long. In the end, the Angel says, "I never said it wouldn't hurt you. I said it wouldn't kill you." That to me is somehow very comforting. Additionally, the transformation of the vice into a virtue sounds a lot like Ether 12:27 - And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness... for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

Overall, it is a great examination of agency, human nature, and eternity.

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Check out my new toys!

Summer term starts tomorrow. Good thing I bought this pretty little box.

Yes, that is bug-covered packing tape on top of green apple duct tape.

Just a little excited
 Don't know how that picture occurred...

Let's check out what's inside!

This is my dissection kit. For cadaver dissection. Three hours twice a week working in the lab. Super stoked!

 The goodies include:
20 scalpel blades and a scalpel handle,

Three sets of tweezer-looking tools,

And three sets of scissor-looking tools.

I'm sure I will be able to tell you all about each one by Wednesday, but until then... Rawr! Give me all your money!!

Ok, so maybe that's not how you use them...

Well, let's try this. To take a lesson from Harry Potter's book,


Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Intrigue of Artistic Scandal

The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth CenturyThe Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century by Edward Dolnick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Initial thoughts on completion:
This was a really fascinating book. It combined several of my favorite subjects, and in some cases informed new interests - history in general, World War II, Nazis, art in general, Vermeer, Dutch painting, forensic analysis, psychological motivation, crime, and detective work. I feel like a much more rounded person having read this. It was fascinating to watch the story unfold and Dolnick did a great job of providing other examples and similar scenarios to explain and inform. One of my favorite quotes, that I feel really embodies the essence of the book (and my interest in it) comes from the 5th chapter: "We turn to science to free ourselves from the fallible judgments of human experts, and we find that the scientific tests themselves require human interpretation." I have a much better appreciation for the science that is the job of an art critic, and a better realization of the intricacy that is history. I like to think that I know the truth, or have the skills to discover it, but now realize that reality is subjective and largely up to our own perceptions and the lens through which we view it. Eventually the entire mess will be untangled, but until that happens, we must take the information we have and formulate our opinions and understandings. It is important to retain an open mind while doing this, however, because as new information surfaces, our opinions may need to be altered.

Reasons to read:
If you have any interest in art, art crime, or World War II, this is a great one. It's definitely different than most books out there (at least, that I've read to this point). The chapters are really short, which (let's face it) are a plus, especially if you are a busy person with limited time for recreational reading. It is very clear and the story is easy to follow. Even though you know how it ends - Hitler dies, they catch the forger (not a spoiler - the book would not exist if we still thought they were authentic Vermeers) - the twists and periodic change in focus keep it interesting. I found my sympathies shifting, first against and then for Van Meegeren and back again, hoping the Nazis find treasures, then hoping they fall for the fakes, then feeling bad for their gullibility. Overall, I'm glad I bought it.

It makes you want to know so much more about all the smaller side scandals and historical points brought up, so it's going to be a huge time sucker if you follow all the new leads and questions it opens up.

Favorite part:
Probably when the actual process of forgery was explained. Who knew it took so much work to make something new appear so old? The tricks he used were ingenious, and it was described very well, which is commendable, as technical explanations and jargon can become laborious at times.

In summary, a great book for many interests and worth the time it took to read it.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Duckling Distress

I'm riding home and I hear ducks. This always makes me happy, but in spring it is particularly pleasant because I know that where there are ducks, there are usually ducklings. This time I was not disappointed. There they were - all thirteen of them! They were making quite a racket, which is understandable for such a large brood, but it seemed that the cacophony was excessive in this case. Upon closer inspection, I discovered the reason: one of their brothers had jumped off the curb and was now stranded in the gutter.

Photo Credit:
Being so little, the curb was just high enough that the little guy couldn't see over the top, so had no idea where his family was. He would run up and down the gutter, peeping desperately. Mom would answer, and then he would try to hop up. While he was quiet, mom started to walk away like she had forgotten about him (which is understandable with so many little peepers). I stopped and watched what followed, hoping I wasn't going to watch the tragic unfolding of abandonment. 

Photo Credit:
He couldn't quite jump high enough, so after a few attempts, he would go back to frantic pacing/peeping, becoming more and more agitated as mom started to walk away. She would answer him, and he's again try to jump up. They went through a few more cycles of peep, quack, jump. Just as I was pulling out a book from my backpack to make a ramp, the adrenaline combined with the knowledge from failed attempts and he was finally able to hop the curb. Needless to say, he darted to mom and stayed pretty close after that.

Photo Credit:
Hooray for ducklings!!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Best Story I've Read in a Long While

War and PeaceWar and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an awesome book! Definitely my new favorite. I really liked Tolstoy's consideration of the themes of life and death and their concurrence. This book has everything - love, revenge, forgiveness, disillusionment and the need for self-criticism, sacrifice, finding joy in everyday life, and some really great lines that resonated with my beliefs of eternal families. There is so much depth, I feel like I will need to read it a few more times to truly master it, but this first time around was a great eye-opener into the greatness that is Tolstoy. Natasha and Anatole's encounter almost drove me insane! I was not a big fan of Andrei, but I can appreciate his thematic significance. I will admit, I didn't care for the second epilogue, as Tolstoy had already presented his thoughts on how history should be written and there wasn't anything new presented or any grand unifying conclusion. However, I understand that it was his intention not to create a conclusion, which strengthens his point. This is a fantastic read! Absolutely worth the daunting 1400 pages.

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