Sunday, October 11, 2015

7 Women and the Secret to Their Greatness: Buy It Because You Will Be Floored

2015 Reading List here. 

Buy it Because: You will be floored by the stories you didn't a beer swilling, cigarette smoking Saint and nun.

...or Buy It Because: You don't have the time to read seven separate biographies but want the chance to learn all the details you didn't know about the incredible lives of Rosa Parks, Hannah Moore, Joan of Arc, Saint Maria of Paris, Mother Theresa, Corrie ten Boom, and Susanna Wesley.

My only critique of the book is that the author was stretching a bit with Susanna Wesley.  Aside from enduring a very harsh and brutal life, her inclusion in this book is due to her influence as mother of John and Charles Wesley (the founders of Methodism and Evangelicalism).  By that rationale we could likely include the mothers of Rosa Parks, William Wilberforce and John Paul II.  My argument here is not that Mrs. Wesley wasn't a great woman but instead that Metaxas weakened the potential power of his book by not choosing a greater woman...a Sojourner Truth or Fannie Crosby or Evie Brand.  Yes, Metaxas will likely publish future 7 Women volumes that may capture these other important figures...and I hope that he stays consistent in his criteria for inclusion.

That critique sounds more harsh than it should, because overall the author pens compelling stories of women who are incredible in their own accomplishments (apart from and not related to their gender). For example, Mother Theresa is part of our cultural lexicon but you likely don't know the amazing gall and bravery she exhibited throughout her life in serving the poor and marginalized of India.

Ultimately, Metaxas' is in his element when it comes to biographies--particularly these briefer volumes (versus his voluminous and comprehensive accounts of Bonhoeffer and Wilberforce).   He really nails that je ne sais quoi concerning what a good biography does in its transcendence of our narrow view of events and ideas.

Perhaps the best thing about biographies is that they enable us to slip the strictures of time and provide a bracing corrective to our tendency to see everything in the dark glass of our own era, with all its blind spots, motes, beams, and distortions. We must be honest enough to recognize that each era cannot help having a pinched, parochial view of things, and of course the largest part of that parochialism is that each era thinks it is not parochial at all.

A comment about the author:

It's no secret that I am a huge fan of Eric Metaxas.  He possesses the unusual combination of intelligence, wit, humor and silliness.  He's a Yale graduate who doesn't take himself too seriously which is saying a lot.  He also turned me on to Q Ideas, which is basically TED Talks for Christians (with both religious and secular thinkers, writers and leaders) that focuses on expanding the idea of personal Christian faith toward culture and communities.   So here are links to other Metaxas posts that I've written:

Seven Men: The Secrets to Their Greatness: My Kindle Highlights and Notes
Amazing Grace (by Eric Metaxas): My Note and Kindle Highlights

Kindle Highlights:

The great men in Seven Men were not measured against women, so why should the women in Seven Women be measured against men?Read more at location 121
In other words, their accomplishments are not gender-neutral but are rooted in their singularity as women.Read more at location 128
Perhaps the best thing about biographies is that they enable us to slip the strictures of time and provide a bracing corrective to our tendency to see everything in the dark glass of our own era, with all its blind spots, motes, beams, and distortions. We must be honest enough to recognize that each era cannot help having a pinched, parochial view of things, and of course the largest part of that parochialism is that each era thinks it is not parochial at all.
Joan of Arc 
Most of the Hundred Years War had been fought on French soil, and the French had not won any significant victories in decades. By 1429, when Joan was seventeen, the English had managed to conquer a good deal of France’s northern territory, and sections of southwestern France were under the control of the Anglo-allied Burgundians.Read more at location 262   
Joan was twelve, something began happening that would catapult her into the center of these events and make her the principal player in leading France to victory and making the Dauphin her rightful king: she began hearing voices and seeing visions.Read more at location 270
They informed her that she had a great mission to perform. She was to rescue France from the English and take the Dauphin to the city of Reims to be crowned.Read more at location 275
On a cold February night, Joan—who now simply called herself “La Pucelle,” which translates to “the Maid,” or “the Maiden,” meaning a young woman or a virgin—swung herself atop her horse and began the long journey to Chinon, accompanied by six male escorts.Read more at location 327
Joan already had a sword. Nonetheless she sent a letter to the priests of the shrine of Saint Catherine de Fierbois, the place where she had prayed while waiting to travel to Chinon. She told them to dig behind the altar, where they would discover a rusted sword that was engraved with five crosses. Her voices had told her the sword was there, and mirabile dictu—indeed it was. The priests dug and found it, removed the rust, and then sent it to Joan. The Maid did not intend to ever harm anyone with the sword. It was, she said, intended merely to be a symbol of command.Read more at location 374
 So “childish follies” could be overlooked, but not willful disobedience.Read more at location 851
Few human beings have influenced the world as Susanna Wesley did. The manner in which she taught her children greatly influenced the work of her son, John, and the Methodist movement he founded led to world-changing revival and to such an array of social reforms as can never be calculated.Read more at location 1132
More than 375 years after her death, we sing the hymns Susanna’s son Charles wrote—including “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” the Easter hymn “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” and the Christmas song “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Despite tremendous trials, each of Susanna’s children passionately embraced faith in God and lived out that faith to the end of their days. Anyone believing that the life of a woman dedicated to her family must be less than optimal cannot know the story of Susanna Wesley. Despite poverty, illness, a difficult marriage, and heartbreak in endless forms, she used her intellect, creativity, time, energies, and will in such a way that can hardly be reckoned. The world in which we live owes much of the goodness in it to her life.Read more at location 1137
Hannah More
More was nothing less than the most influential woman of her time. She was already a well-known figure when Wilberforce met her in 1787: a best-selling playwright and author, whose works at the time outsold Jane Austen’s ten to one,Read more at location 1151   
Johnson’s opinion of her was perhaps the highest of all. He called her “the most powerful versificatrix” in the English language.Read more at location 1246   
“Hush, hush. It is dangerous to say a word of poetry before her. It is talking of the art of war before Hannibal.Read more at location 1248
In the Nine Living Muses, Richard Samuel’s painting that today hangs in London’s National Gallery, Hannah is pictured as Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy. But Garrick and his wife sometimes called their friend by the pet nicknameRead more at location 1250
That an unmarried woman via her own talents and efforts could rise from humble circumstances to eventual fame and great wealth was an idea far ahead of its time.Read more at location 1287
Hannah would indeed leave London, but it was her ability to be friends with these people with whom she disagreed that set her apart from many Methodists and pietists and that would make her singularly effective as an agent of cultural change.Read more at location 1317
In 1782 she publicly signaled her growing faith when she published Sacred Dramas, dramatizations of various Bible stories in verse.Read more at location 1327
So when in 1788 Wilberforce decided it was time to bring to Parliament his bill abolishing the slave trade, Hannah began work on “Slavery,” a poem designed to help sway public opinion on the slave trade, and specifically to influence the voting on Wilberforce’s bill.Read more at location 1378   
The genius of the abolitionists—and the likely reason for their ultimate success—is that they understood that their battle was not merely political and went to great lengths to make the cultural case against slavery and the trade as well.Read more at location 1385
Hannah More and Wilberforce both knew that it was the elites who set the fashion not just in clothing, but in people’s behavior too.Read more at location 1410   
This launched one of the greatest successes of Hannah More’s life, the so-called Sunday schools of that region, which were not church schools for religious instruction, as Sunday schools are today, but actual schools that were open on Sunday, when workers had the day off.Read more at location 1437
 The poverty, ignorance, and immorality of many in these villages was truly shocking, but Hannah and Patty More waded in fearlessly, even though they were often warned not to venture into these wretched areas for the sake of their own safety. The Church of England had abandoned most of these villages, leaving their inhabitants to live under the despotism of the chief landowners and farmers and in complete ignorance of the Christian faith.Read more at location 1456 
Still, the effort was a glorious success. Before long there were three hundred children attending the school in Cheddar, and within a decade, Hannah and Patty had set up twelve schools in the neighboring villages. They built on these successes by adding evening classes for adults and weekday classes for girls. By the 1850s, 75 percent of all laboring-class children between five and fifteen were enrolled in Sunday schools.Read more at location 1463
 two million copies sold.Read more at location 1486
These Cheap Repository Tracts, as they were known, were published from March 1795 through September 1798.Read more at location 1486
Trying to explain what “the Clapham Sect” was is not easy, especially inasmuch as it was not a sect.Read more at location 1493
 Seven years after her death, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous essay, “In Defense of Poetry” was published. In it, as Prior points out in Fierce Convictions, he credited “the effects of the poetry” of Christians with ending slavery and emancipating women. The last line of his essay can serve as her fitting epitaph: “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.Read more at location 1570
 Maria Skobtsova—a.k.a. Mother Maria, a.k.a. Saint Maria of Paris—is one of those great treasures.Read more at location 1602
 she now declared herself an atheist, saying: “If there is no justice, there is no just God. Yet if there is no just God, that means there is no God at all.Read more at location 1614
 So in that passionate, impetuous way of hers, Elizabeth now enrolled in the Ecclesiastical Academy to study theology—the first woman ever to do so.Read more at location 1641
 when she prayed in front of the famous 1688 icon “Mother of God, Joy of All Who Sorrow (with Coins)” in its St. Petersburg shrine.3 That was the real turning point. There would be many more turning points ahead, but on the issue of devotion to God, she would never again waver.Read more at location 1643
 She began traveling throughout France for the Russian Student Christian Movement. The organization was founded in 1923 to help struggling éRead more at location 1718
“I could never be a good nun,” said Elizabeth. “I know,” answered Evolgy. “But I would like you to be a revolutionary nun.Read more at location 1758
 was simply staggered when I saw her for the first time in monastic clothes. I was walking along the Boulevard Montparnasse and I saw, in front of a cafe, on the pavement, there was a table, on the table was a glass of beer and behind the glass was sitting a Russian nun in full monastic robes.Read more at location 1794
  “At the Last Judgment,” she told her friend, Konstantin Mochulsky, “I shall not be asked whether I satisfactorily practiced asceticism, nor how many bows I have made before the divine altar. I will be asked whether I fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick, and the prisoner in his jail. That is all that will be asked.Read more at location 1798
 her radical nonreligious way of serving Christ and her fellow man, she was a picture of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would a few years hence call “Religionless Christianity.Read more at location 1812
 She ministered amid this chaos for three days. Seizing an opportunity with some sympathetic garbage collectors, she helped smuggle four children out of the Vélodrome over two days in a pair of trash cans. At least these four were saved. At the end of the five days, every child in the stadium was taken from its parents and sent to Auschwitz, where—in one of the most evil acts of an evil regime—all four thousand were murdered.Read more at location 1894
 Mother Maria remains an indictment of any form of Christianity that seeks Christ chiefly inside the walls of our churches.Read more at location 1971
 Father Michael Plekon wrote that Mother Maria’s life points us to a fundamental reality . . . namely that the Christian’s commitment is not primarily to a heritage, to structures of the past nor even to visions of the what the future should be. Rather, each Christian, monastic or cleric or layperson, is called to real life, life in the Church and the world as we find it, an encounter with God, oneself, and the neighbor in need.Read more at location 1974
 Just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer prophetically challenged the Lutheran Church of Germany in his time, so Mother Maria challenged the Orthodox Church of hers. Both understood that to serve Jesus Christ with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and body—that is to be the church of Jesus Christ, to be the Bride for which he will one day return. Even so, come Lord Jesus.Read more at location 1984

Corrie Ten Boom
She would become the first woman in the Netherlands to be licensed as a watchmaker.Read more at location 2051
 Holland suddenly became an occupied country. But the work for which God had spent fifty years preparing Corrie was about to begin.Read more at location 2086
 she considered what continuing in this work would involve—lying, stealing, perhaps even killing—she had to ask herself if this was how God wanted her to behave in such circumstances. How should Christians act in the face of evil? One evening, her mind made up, Corrie prayed, “Lord Jesus, I offer myself for Your people. In any way. Any place, Any time.”8 Since increasing numbers of Jews were being arrested on the streets, Corrie started traveling to the homes of the family’s Jewish customers.Read more at location 2108
 With the help of others a beautiful Holland home was opened for those who had been damaged by the war: those who had survived concentration camps or spent years hiding in barns and attics. Healing was linked to forgiveness, Corrie wrote. Each had something to forgive, whether it was a neighbor who had turned him in to the Nazi authorities or a vicious camp guard or a brutal soldier.Read more at location 2392
   Standing there before the former S.S. man, Corrie remembered that forgiveness is an act of the will—not an emotion.Read more at location 2417
  Reading through the many books Corrie wrote, one is struck by her great modesty—her belief that she was not as spiritual as Betsie, nor as patient as her father, nor as smart as her brother, Willem. But her own story is amazing: while in her fifties, this brave maiden lady unhesitatingly became the head of a ring of Dutch underground volunteers entrusted with the lives of her Jewish neighbors. She fulfilled the family commitment to help God’s ancient people—work that led to her imprisonment at a concentration camp and to the deaths of her father, sister, brother, and nephew. That work was gratefully recognized by Israel in 1968, when it named Corrie ten Boom a Righteous Gentile and planted a tree in her honor on the Avenue of the Righteous.Read more at location 2442
   Rosa Parks is rightly remembered as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.
   But the Bible had a social mandate in its message too, one that taught Rosa that “people should stand up for rights, just as the children of Israel stood up to the Pharaoh.”2 It was not enough to pray and say that one trusted God. Sometimes trusting God meant taking action too.Read more at location 2465
   Traveling to and from the base was a daily exercise in humiliation. On the trolley at the base, Rosa could sit anywhere she chose, because President Franklin Roosevelt had prohibited segregation on military bases. If “negroes,” as they were then called, could put on the uniform of the United States and risk their lives for their country, surely they were equal to the whites who were doing the same thing and shouldn’t have to sit in a segregated area. But when Rosa stepped off the base trolley and climbed onto a city bus, the rules were different: she had to sit in the back.Read more at location 2524
  Even before Rosa’s birth, boycotts of segregated streetcars took place throughout the South as a result of the infamous 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision, which upheld state “separate but equal” laws affecting public facilities. These boycotts have largely been forgotten, but between 1900 and 1910, boycotts of segregated streetcars took place in no fewer than twenty-seven cities in the Deep South.Read more at location 2547
  Very few people are aware of the fact that, twelve years before Rosa Parks made her historic 1955 stand against the segregated bus rule, she had another run-in with bus driver James F. Blake over an issue of segregation.Read more at location 2556
   On the cold evening of December 1, 1955, the woman who had been taught from childhood to love her enemies, but not take any guff from them, put away her work and walked out of Montgomery Fair department store at five oRead more at location 2614
  With her mind preoccupied Rosa did not notice whose bus she was stepping onto, but when the bus driver swiveled around to stare at Rosa, she realized to her shock and dismay that it was James F. Blake, the very driver who had put her off the bus twelve years before.Read more at location 2622
   “They did not intend to try to defend me against the charges,” Rosa recalled. “The point of making mine a test case was to allow me to be found guilty and then to appeal the conviction to a higher court. Only in higher courts could the segregation laws actually be changed.Read more at location 2708
   Quite incredibly the black community was able to continue the boycott for 381 days.Read more at location 2730
  Amusingly, many white women began driving their black maids to and from their homes because they couldn’t get along without them.Read more at location 2740
   The city appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, so the boycott continued, despite baroque new efforts by whites to interfere with it—such as preventing the church-owned station wagons from getting insurance. It took the creative intervention of King to get Lloyd’s of London to issue a policy that white Alabamans couldn’t get canceled.Read more at location 2757
   Singing gave us the feeling that—with God’s help—we could overcome whatever we were facing.Read more at location 2830
   In 1990 Rosa was invited to be part of the welcoming committee for Nelson Mandela’s arrival in Detroit. Recognizing her, Mandela delightedly began chanting Rosa’s name and huggedRead more at location 2841
Mother Teresa 
  She certainly inspired me. When I was invited to be the speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, in 2012,2 I immediately thought of Mother Teresa, whose speech there in 1994 was the only one many people seemed to remember. It wasn’t until I had to write my own speech that I watched hers online.3Read more at location 2875
  When she spoke about abortion, telling President Bill Clinton to “stop killing” these children, to “give them to her,” it inspired me to speak of the taking of unborn life in my own speech.Read more at location 2880
   The girl who would become Mother Teresa of Calcutta was born Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910, in Skopje, at that time part of the Ottoman Empire.Read more at location 2922
   This date is now celebrated by the Missionaries of Charity as “Inspiration Day.” “The call of God to be a Missionary of Charity is the hidden treasure for me, for which I have sold all to purchase it,” she later recalled. God was telling her, she said, “to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail it would have been to break the faith.”9Read more at location 2991
   Mother Teresa began making frequent visits to local pharmacies—not to beg, but to ask, with her lovely smile, “Would you like to do something beautiful for God?” (The question would later become well known after British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge made a documentary about her titled Something Beautiful for God.Read more at location 3038
  In the first and in every subsequent Missionaries of Charity chapel hangs a crucifix and the words “I thirst.” As the journalist and historian David Aikman explained in his book Great Souls, “These are, of course, the real words of Christ on the cross. But to Mother Teresa they have always expressed Christ’s desire, indeed His yearning, for us to love Him.Read more at location 3072
  One thing that distinguished Mother Teresa as someone who truly believed in the everyday reality of God was her determination to live in complete reliance on him—meaning that she expected miracles. And there were many of them. One day the community ran out of food. Answering a knock on the door, they found a woman holding bags of rice. The woman informed them that some “inexplicable impulse” had brought her to them with the rice. It was just enough for their evening meal.16Read more at location 3084
On another occasion the sisters had no food with which to feed the seven thousand people dependent upon them over the next two days. In a “coincidence” that is simply inexplicable, the government shut down the local schools for those days and donated all the bread that would have been fed to the schoolchildren to the Missionaries of Charity.Read more at location 3093
  interest in babies whose health was so precarious that they were likely to die soon. Wrapping the child in a blanket, she would hand him to a helper and simply instruct her to love the child until he died. She felt it absolutely central to her mission that no child should die without having experienced love. Even if tiny babies brought to them died within the hour, Mother Teresa insisted that they must die “beautifully.” One of the helpers, who had been asked to love a dying baby, held the child and hummed a Brahms lullaby to him until he died that evening. Three decades later the woman still recalled how the tiny infant had pressed his little body against hers.Read more at location 3104
  It was in the affluent West that Mother Teresa began to realize the extent of what she called “spiritual poverty.” During a visit to London, she observed, “Here you have the Welfare State. Nobody need starve. But there is a different poverty. The poverty of the spirit, of loneliness and being unwanted.”17Read more at location 3139
  Her effect on him is clear in a passage in Something Beautiful for God. Muggeridge wrote that he dropped her off one morning at a Calcutta train station, and “when the train began to move, and I walked away, I felt as though I were leaving behind me all the beauty and all the joy in the universe.”20Read more at location 3165
   To all these critics Mother Teresa responded that God required her to do small things with great love; that while government welfare programs exist for quite admirable purposes, “Christian love is for a person.”21Read more at location 3172
 The greatest destroyer of peace today. Because if a mother can kill her own child—what is leftRead more at location 3204
  for me to kill you and you kill me—there is nothing between. . . . Today, millions of unborn children are being killed—and we say nothing . . . nobody speaks of the millions of little ones who have been conceived with the same life as you and I. . . . We allow it. To me, the nations who have legalized abortion, they are the poorest nations. They are afraid of the little one! They are afraid of the unborn child, and the child must die because they don’t want to feed one more child, to educate one more child.Read more at location 3204
  was that unborn child that recognized the presence of Jesus when Mary came to visit Elizabeth, her cousin. As we read in the gospel, the moment Mary came into the house, the little one in the womb of his mother leaped with joy, recognizing the Prince of Peace. And so today, let us here make a strong resolution: We are going to save every little child, every unborn child, give them a chance to be born. We are fighting abortion with adoption. And the good God has blessed the work so beautifully. . . . We have saved thousands of children, and thousands of children have found a home where they are loved and wanted . . . and so today, I ask you: Let us all pray that we have the courage to stand by the unborn child.Read more at location 3210
   She opened New York’s first hospice for AIDS victims in Greenwich Village.Read more at location 3236
  “It is clear that Mother Teresa’s inner (and outer) world was a place in which the brilliance of God’s light and the bleakness of man’s darkness met and mingled—from which her victorious light only shone the brighter,” wrote biographer Father Joseph Langford. “What emerged from that inner struggle was a light in no way lessened by her bearing the cloak of humanity’s pain, but a light all the more resplendent, and all the more approachable . . . a light entirely accessible to the poorest, beckoning to God’s brightness all who share in the common human struggle.Read more at location 3279
  It was constant prayer that gave Mother Teresa the strength to keep going and caused her to produce such tremendous fruit. And it is prayer that must undergird all efforts to obey God,

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