Thursday, April 6, 2017

Words

I've noticed something strange since returning to the U.S. My habit of sounding out Spanish words while living in Argentina became so deeply ingrained, I find myself doing it now with English words. How weird is that? I'm a fluent English speaker and reader, so there's no need, yet I catch myself sounding out words on billboards, street signs, even once at a railroad crossing. I wonder how long it will take for that habit to fade? Hmmm...

Another thing I've noticed is how much of the English language I've lost/missed while living overseas. That brought about another realization: language has so much to do with the culture; the two cannot be separated.

It's culture that determines if a word is "bad". The bad words we know didn't start out that way, but over time our culture changed (or maybe I should say "warped") their meaning. That "bad" word referring to excrement was originally a technical term used for an intestinal condition in cattle.

How many of us from the Boomer generation have scratched our heads as words we thought we knew changed meaning? Like "That is so dope!" Isn't dope a bad thing? Now it's a good thing? Oh, it doesn't refer to drugs at all? Hmmm...

Or "Word!" Huh? I remember in a movie when the son said it and the dad, trying to be cool, used it too, but obviously had no clue what it meant. (By the way, it can have several meanings: 1) you agree with what's being said; 2) as a greeting; or 3) to convey that something was well said.)

Granted, both of these are older examples (remember what I said about missing a lot while living overseas?) but I'm sure you can think of at least a dozen words that have changed meaning in your lifetime.

And have you noticed that even if words retain their meaning, they can become...well, hollow is the best way I know to describe what I'm talking about. We've thrown words around so much they've lost their significance; so much so that we'd be hard pressed to provide an accurate definition. This is especially true in Christian circles.

For those who have grown up without even a base line of biblical knowledge, we can't use a spiffy little spiel we learned in evangelism class twenty years ago. We need to think intentionally about our words: What they mean and how we use them. We need to break down concepts we take for granted (sanctification, for example) into words clearly understood by younger generations.

And the best way to do that is start at the beginning of the Story.

Story, or narrative, is actually the best way to communicate, period. Give me a list of facts and I'll have forgotten 80% within half an hour. But tell me a story and it will stick. But others aren't going to "get it" if we don't tell the whole Story. Picking verses here and there to prove a point isn't helpful. The whole of it, the narrative, is necessary for true understanding.

It's also why sharing our lives -- our stories -- with others is so critical. God's story is still being worked out in us, at the most basic levels: where we live, where we work, where we play, where we worship... And how we do each of these impacts those around us. Do we just parrot trite sayings without any thought of how others understand them, or are we really, truly, honestly living out the Word?

Monday, February 6, 2017

My 2016 Reading List

Major fail on finishing Project 365 last year. Just didn't have it in me to take many photos, much less post them here. I'm sure I'll look back on this time and wonder what in the world we did but as I am still so fond of saying, "Es lo qué hay." And I'm not even going to try this year. Fully expecting 2017 to be about as crazy as last year, so I'm showing myself some grace in this area. Even my personal journaling has taken a hit.

Back to the topic of this post: books. One of the things I was really looking forward to about returning to the U.S. was the public library system. And it hasn't disappointed! In fact, I'm even more enamored because in addition to the actual, physical books I can check out, I can also borrow books on my Kindle. That's been a huge help with all the traveling we've had to do. What I find interesting is that I really haven't read any more books than I was reading before we returned, with 20 read while we were still in Argentina and 29 since we got back. And factor in that we were state-side for 7 of the 12 months of 2016, and it looks to me like my reading remained pretty steady throughout the year.

So far this year I've finished only one book (and can't begin to tell you how many I started and discarded). I'm not sure why but I'm finding it really hard to get into books these days. My attention span has been more suited to online posts and articles. Anyone else go through seasons when they have a hard time concentrating on a book?

So... 49 books read in 2016. A few standouts, but a lot more of "meh, that was okay but I probably won't read anything else by that author". I know everyone has different tastes in books, but I thought I'd share what I really liked, and why.

First up is "Looming Transitions: Starting & Finishing Well in Cross Cultural Service" by Amy Young. No shock there, heh? The book came out just when we most needed it, and I read it out loud to Ivan. We highly recommend this book to anyone going, coming, or switching to a different ministry. What was great is that it was immediately available as an e-book -- score! Amy is one of the lead women at a favorite blog for women who work in cross-cultural situations, Velvet Ashes. For those who like to read, one of the regular features is Book Club every Tuesday. ***And let me put a plug in for the VA Connection Groups to any lady serving overseas: They were a lifeline the past few years! I have been in four (they're offered each Spring and Fall) and the ladies in each group were so gracious, welcoming and generous with their thoughts and experiences. A breath of fresh air!***

Another favorite of ours (meaning I also read this one out loud to Ivan) was "The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction" by Adam McHugh, which rightly won a number of awards last year. This is a book I need to read at least once a year! Can't say enough good things about it. Just read it!

"The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper" by Phaedra Patrick is a novel I picked up simply because of the title, and I'm sooooo glad I did! This quirky little book takes you on an adventure with a widower who's not coping very well with his wife's death, and when he finally gets up the gumption to clean out her side of the closet, he finds a charm bracelet he never even knew she had. Each charm leads him to another person in his wife's life that he knew nothing about. Although I felt the ending was a little clichéd, it's still a favorite of the year.

Probably the best book I read last year is "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr. I actually bought the Kindle version months before reading it, while it was on sale. (I subscribe to the daily email by blogger Modern Mrs. Darcy featuring Great Kindle Deals.) I kept hearing good things about it, and actually bought the hardback for my niece for Christmas, so I figured I should go ahead and read it myself. I learned later that it won the Pulitzer Prize, and for good reason! Here's what I posted on Facebook after finishing it: "How can a book turn us inside out and leave us feeling exhilerated, bereft and grateful all at the same time?"

"Wonder" by R. J. Palacio is another book I read because of recommendations by various bloggers. It's what some might call "kiddy lit" because it's for and about kids, but this best selling book has also captured the hearts of many adults, mine included. I'm pretty excited that this has been made into a movie (being released in theaters on April 7th). I'm often disappointed when books are made into movies but I think this one should translate really well to the big screen.

So those were the standouts for me this past year.

I also enjoyed books by some of my favorite authors:
Seeds of Deception and Among the Wicked (Kate Burkholder novels) by Linda Castille
Theory of Death (a Decker/Lazarus novel) by Faye Kellerman
The Nature of the Beast and A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Gamache mysteries) by Louise Penny
Downfall (a Joanna Brady mystery) by J. A. Jance

And I discovered the kid lawyer books by John Grisham featuring Theodore Boone.

So what have you been reading?