A North Texas Easter

Rachelle at First UMC Plano (Good Friday)
Rachelle at First UMC Plano (Good Friday)

Terry and I left Lansing mid-morning on Thursday, April 5th, heading south via the Kansas Turnpike to spend the next four days with our 20-something kids in North Texas.  Since I’m the early riser, I took Apollo to the kennel before the sun broke the horizon.  Once back home, I finished packing the car, including a set of old metal (and heavy) car ramps and most of Rachelle’s 2-D art from her high school days (now a half-decade in the past).  I took out the protective cover we place on the backseat to protect the leather from Apollo and wiped the seats down with leather cleaner and moisturizer.

Once Terry woke up and got dressed, we hit the road, entering the Turnpike at ten before ten o’clock.  Since the speed limit rose to 75 mph, I prefer to pay the extra $10.75 to cross quickly across Kansas, instead of zig-zagging and slowing down for every little town on other routes (like US-69 or US-75).  We reached the southern terminus of the Turnpike before one o’clock and stopped in Guthrie to top off the tank.

New GT40
GT40 in OKC

As we were passing through Oklahoma City, we followed a very low profile sports car (see photo at right) which we finally determined was a Ford, a GT 40.  Very, very nice vehicle. Just wish I could have gotten a better photograph of it.  Hard to accomplish while also driving.

Before leaving work on Wednesday, I had popped down to the lobby and checked out a couple of audiobooks from the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library.  The selection available for science fiction and fantasy amounted to less than a dozen titles, some of which were duplicates.  I sighed.  I selected a couple of Terry Brooks novels set in the Shannara world, knowing that Terry had read Brooks and liked him.  I have read (not listened to) nearly all of Brooks’ Shannara novels, so I am very familiar with the setting.  I inserted the first disc of Armageddon’s Children into the Bonneville’s seldom used CD player.  The novel, which reveals the post-apocalyptic origins to the famous Sword of Shannara, made for grim, but gripping, listening and made the miles fly by as we continued south across Oklahoma.

Rachelle's Apartment Complex
Rachelle's Apartment Complex

We crossed into Texas just shy of five o’clock and stopped at our favorite Texas tourist information spot for a brief biobreak.  I sent Rachelle a text to let her know we were close (within forty miles).  As we passed Sangar, traffic slowed to a crawl (usual for Denton at this time of day thanks to the splitting of I-35, which also narrows and becomes increasingly congested until you get past Lewisville).  Worried that an accident was disrupting traffic, I called Rachelle and asked if I should take the first Denton exit.  She and Nic conferred and confirmed we should exit at 380 and then asked for directions from that exit to their apartment.  I found Hickory Street easily enough, but drove right by their apartment and had to turn around when I reached North North Texas (yes, that’s a street name plus a direction).  Even with the traffic delays, we made it to their apartment in record time, arriving just past 5:30 p.m.  We unpacked and then graced a local sandwich shop with our presence for a quick supper.

We returned to Rachelle’s apartment and I setup our portable airbed, while Nic and Terry  found something to stream via Netflix.  I didn’t stay up too late, being exhausted from the long drive.  I crashed while the rest of the gang watched the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie, which lampooned the 1955 movie This Island Earth.  I don’t think I missed much.  Sometimes I’m glad I was born in the 60s.

I woke up early on Friday, thanks to my cell phone’s alarm.  I quietly left Terry to his dreams and took my Nook with me to the living room, where I read for a bit while waiting for Rachelle to wake up.  I wanted to spend the morning addressing her graduation announcements.  Once she woke up, I retrieved my laptop and got connected to her wifi so I could look up addresses.  She and I sat at the kitchen table for the next couple of hours.  I didn’t quite have enough stamps for all the envelopes though.  Once Terry woke up, we went to the grocery store to pick up a few items and to buy stamps.  We mailed the announcements after leaving the store.

The rest of the day, Rachelle worked on her thesis paper.  Terry napped or watched Netflix and I read.  I also attempted a new bread recipe I received in a promotional e-mail from King Arthur Flour.  The Italian Easter Cheese bread stuck fast in the pan, despite generous oiling of the pan.  We eventually got the bread out of the pan and wrapped it up to keep it fresh for Easter Sunday dinner.

Eighth stationRachelle and I left for Good Friday worship in the early evening.  We had a long drive to cross over from Denton to the east side of Plano.  I opted to sit in the very back of the sanctuary, something I rarely do at worship, but because I decided to wear street clothes (jeans and walking shoes), I felt less conspicuous in the back.  I listened as the orchestra ran through several of their musical offerings, including a beautiful and poignant arrangement of ‘Were You There?’  The Good Friday service included only two hymns sung by the congregation and many of the Lenten selections by the choir from the past few weeks of Lent.  The worship service focused on the first nine stations of the cross, extinguishing a candle on the altar after each station, leaving all of the candles dark as the Good Friday service ended.

Good Friday Sunset
Good Friday Sunset

While waiting for Rachelle to derobe, I wandered the parking lot and snapped a photo of the quickly fading sunset (see photo to the left).  Rachelle and I returned to Denton.  For some reason I can’t recall what we did for dinner Friday night.  I will have to ask Terry or call Rachelle and ask them to remind me.  Once I know, I’ll update this paragraph with the appropriate culinary information.

Rachelle actually woke up before seven o’clock on Saturday and walked with me around her Denton neighborhood.  The only photo I took while we were walking was of a yard filled with the Texas state flower, which I forgot to send to Flickr from my phone and subsequently deleted.  Grrr.

Upon returning to the apartment, we whipped up a batch of real buttermilk pancakes.  Then we took the car to a local farmer’s market so Rachelle could choose her weekly produce from a community-sponsored agriculture (CSA) she recently joined.

Visiting at D&R'sOnce Terry woke up, we decided drive to Derek and Royna’s apartment for a visit.  We learned during the visit that Derek’s truck had developed some alarming drive-train issues.  Terry rode with Derek around the Colony and suggested that the truck be taken to a transmission shop for diagnosis.  Nearly a week later, the shop still has the truck, but more on that in a separate post.  We also decided that Easter dinner after worship would be simple fare of a Tex-Mex flavor.  On the way back to Denton, we stopped and bought the fixings to make enchiladas and deviled eggs.  After Nic got home from work, he and Rachelle worked like a well-oiled team to create the enchilada filling.  Rachelle had less success with boiling eggs, rapidly going through nearly two dozen before Nic stepped in, with a new dozen he retrieved from a second trip to the grocery store.

Since Rachelle had to sing in all three Easter worship services, we had to leave Denton at exactly seven o’clock Sunday morning to drop her off at the First UMC in Plano by 7:45 a.m.  As soon as we dropped off Rachelle, we back-tracked to Derek and Royna’s apartment to relax until the last worship service scheduled for eleven o’clock.  We stowed the enchilada ingredients in the fridge and settled down to visit with everyone.

I twisted Derek’s arm, insisting that everyone, including him, must attend Easter worship.  He grunched and groaned but eventually got ready.  As we were about to leave to return to church I realized I had a problem.  Since Derek’s truck was undriveable, my vehicle, the Bonneville, was our only transportation to and from church.  It only seats five adults.  Not a problem getting to church, but returning with one more (Rachelle) meant we had six total adults.  I suggested drawing straws, but of course Derek just grinned impishly.  Nic actually volunteered but I reluctantly left Derek behind.

Where's Waldo er I mean Rachelle?
Where's Waldo er I mean Rachelle? (click photo for larger view)

We returned to the church just before 10:30 a.m. and find a scarce parking spot.  The second service had not ended so we took advantage of coffee and donuts while we waited.  Once the sanctuary emptied, I led everyone to the middle section, about five rows back from the altar.  By eleven o’clock, there wasn’t an empty seat to be found in the spacious (almost cavernous) sanctuary.

When Rachelle joined the Chancel Choir at First UMC Plano, I immediately went to their website to learn a bit about their ministry and their pastor.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that their senior pastor, Gary Mueller, grew up in Kansas and graduated from KU.  What are the odds?  He even managed to insert KU basketball into his sermon, spending at least ten minutes reminiscing about past national championship games (including the most recent one less than a week old).  At one point he even started chanting ‘Rock Chalk …’ and waited for the audience to respond with ‘Jayhawk’ … but a thousand plus Texans just fidgeted in their seats.  I almost shouted ‘Jayhawk’ in support of a fellow Kansan, but couldn’t get over my Wildcat leanings.  Eventually, he delivered an Easter message somehow managing to connect all the dots in the end.

Worship wrapped up with an ambitious and joyous rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus, including an orchestra, the choir and audience participation from the congregation.  By far, the loudest experience I’ve ever participated in at a church.

We gathered up Rachelle and returned to the Colony.  Before everyone could change clothes, I insisted we gather in the hallway for some posed group family photos.  I had neglected to do a similar session at Thanksgiving, and didn’t want to miss the opportunity again.

Slightly Silly Family Group Photo
Slightly Silly Family Group Photo (click photo to see rest of album) Left to right: Jon, Terry, Rachelle, Nic, Derek & Royna

After the photo shoot, we returned to the apartment to relax and bake enchiladas.  Rachelle set out the deviled eggs, which lasted about five minutes.  We ate lunch and visited for a few minutes while our stomachs digested the delicious repast.

Seventy Eggs and One Ham
Seventy Eggs and One Ham (click photo to view all the egg hunting candids).

As a thunderstorm rolled through the area, Rachelle grabbed the bag of plastic Easter eggs we’d bought and stuffed with goodies.  Since the rain prevented us from hiding eggs in a more traditional setting, the kids split the eggs up between the guys and the gals.  Rachelle and Royna languished in the bedroom while Nic and Derek started hiding thirty-five eggs around the rest of the apartment.  The eggs could go anywhere except in something (like the trash or the tank of a toilet).  Once the eggs were hidden, the gals were released to search for them.  Rachelle found a few more than Royna, but not many.  Next, the guys were sent to the bedroom while Rachelle and Royna hid the rest of the eggs.  Once the guys were released to hunt, it quickly became clear who was driven to win the egg hunting championship.  Derek took the lead and never let up.

After the egg hunt, we sat around the table, watching the kids tally up their candy and coins.  Eventually, several of us took naps.  By five o’clock, we decided it was time to return to Denton.  We hugged and said goodbye to Derek and Royna.  While we will see Derek again in mid-May when Rachelle graduates from UNT, Royna is returning to Nepal to visit her parents until early July.

Monday morning Terry and I woke up early, packing the Bonneville by seven o’clock and saying goodbye to Rachelle.  We headed north on I-35 at 7:30 a.m.  We made very few stops, opting to get breakfast via drive-through in Ardmore, Oklahoma and catching a quick ten minute lunch at a McDonalds on the Kansas Turnpike.  We pulled into our driveway at 4:30 p.m. Monday afternoon.  The first thing I noticed was how tall the grass in the side yard had grown.

Apollo is homeWe unpacked the Bonneville and I pulled out the mower.  I spent thirty or forty minutes taming the yard and then relaxed until shortly after five, when Terry and I left the house to retrieve Apollo from the kennel.  We had to wait a few minutes while they finished blow drying him after his bath and trimming his nails.  He was still a bit damp, but still very excited to see us.  I noticed immediately he’d put on weight.  Having other dogs near him must have spurred on his competitive juices and inspired him to actually eat his food.  Terry and I returned home and ordered a carryout dinner from our local Pizza Hut.  Neither of us felt like making yet another trip to the grocery store.  Pasta, wings and cinnamon sticks hit the spot perfectly.

Terry and I had a great time with our kids over Easter weekend.  Lucky for us, we get to repeat this entire process in just three weeks, when we return to Denton to attend Rachelle’s graduation from the University of North Texas.

Happy Easter!

Mary’s Maiden Bliss

I felt a bit overwhelmed this week so I sought solace from an old friend (or rather friends).  Being the third week of Advent, I knew the focus at most local churches would be on Mary (represented by the pink candle in the Advent Wreath).  Talk about a woman who overcame overwhelmingness!

I ventured to a church just down the hill from me (Crossroads UMC).  It was good to see so many familiar faces.  An island of calm and comfort amid my recent stormy seas.  Halfway through the service, after the reading of the Magnificat (also known as the Song of Mary or the Canticle of Mary), I realized the absence of the regular pastor.  Instead of what I’m sure would have been a sermon based on Luke 1:46-55, the Worship Leader gave a testimonial and short lesson (and an announcement to the congregation about his stepping back), followed by a video tour and teaching by Adam Hamilton of present day Bethlehem.  After the video, another church member read the poem “The Soldier’s Night Before Christmas” (which he named ‘Standing Guard’ – Follow the link for the text of the poem and more information about it’s non-anonymous authorship).

The final hymn listed in the bulletin, sung just before the Benediction, happened to be one of my favorite carols.  As usual, I could only sing the first three and a half verses.  By the time I reached the line “But His mother only, in her maiden bliss, Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.” I could no longer sing for the tears.  I whispered the final verse, blurred beyond readability, but indelibly etched upon my heart.

In the Bleak Midwinter

Words by Christina Rosetti (1872)

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

God’s Gift

Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish!

Ephesians 2:8 (The Message)

"Forgiven" by Thomas Blackshear

I am eternally grateful for God’s gift of grace, today and every day.  So I will pause and reflect on my thirteenth day of ‘Thirty Days of Thankfulness‘ upon faith and grace.

As I imparted a week ago in my post on John and Charles Wesley, I am a Methodist, born baptized and raised one.  Yet until I studied to be a local Lay Speaker for my local church that I fully understood what it meant to be a Methodist and showed me the path of discipleship.

Grace can be defined as the love and mercy given to us by God because God wants us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it.

Our Wesleyan Theological Heritage, UMC.org

Grace centers nearly all Christian sects and denominations.  To me, it boils down to love and compassion.  Keep it simple, please.  Less chance for me to mess up.

But Wesley, ever the scholar, took it one or two steps farther, defining grace in triplicate:

  • Previent Grace: God’s active presence in our lives; a gift always available, but that can be refused.
  • Justifying Grace: Reconciliation, pardon and restoration through the death of Jesus Christ.
  • Sanctifying Grace: The ongoing experience of God’s gracious presence transforming us into whom God intends us to be; we grow and mature in our ability to live as Jesus lived.

Excerpts from Our Wesleyan Theological Heritage via UMC.org

The journey, not the destination, and Wesley provided the map, charting a course that even I can follow, called the Means of Grace.  He broke his method down into two broad categories:  Works of Piety and Works of Mercy.  The former flows naturally out of my upbringing, Sunday school classes and worship service attendance.  The personal practices of prayer, Bible study, healthy living and fasting together with the communal ones of Holy Communion, Baptism and participation in the Christian community, flow and grow naturally with regular usage.  The latter stresses the outpouring of service to the sick, the poor, the imprisoned and seeking justice for the oppressed.

Yes, there was and is a method to Wesley’s ‘madness’ or rather his enthusiasm to follow God’s will and His vision for all of us, as His disciples, to bring His kingdom of mercy, peace and love to fruition here on Earth.

John Wesley: “I look on all the world as my parish”

For the first Sunday of my ‘Thirty Days of Thankfulness‘ I wish to lift up the names of John Wesley, and his brother, Charles, and thank God for inspiring both of these great men.  Yes, I’m biased.  I was raised a Methodist and my great-grandfather, the Rev. John Hodge, was my first pastor.  He baptized me and I learned discipleship at his knee.  I sang Charles Wesley’s hymns Sunday mornings.  Later in life, as a Lay Speaker, I studied grace (previent, justifying and sanctifying) for the journey of Christian perfection.

I won’t even attempt to summarize the lives of the Wesley brothers.  Primary sources for both men are freely available via the Internet with a simple Google search.  I will share my John Wesley favorite quotes and my favorite Charles Wesley poem/hymn.

John Wesley Quotes

“Having, First, gained all you can, and, Secondly saved all you can, Then give all you can.” —from a sermon in the Works of John Wesley

“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.” —from a sermon in the Works of John Wesley

I look on all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty, to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation. — Journal (11 June 1739)

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as you ever can.

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put met to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by you or laid aside by you,
enabled for you or brought low by you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
you are mine, and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
(Wesley Covenant Prayer)

Charles Wesley Poet

Charles wrote the lyrics to my favorite Christmas carol, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” and the familiar standards “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” and “Love Divine All Love Excelling.”  But nestled near the center of the United Methodist Hymnal rests “Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown.” Two weeks after his brother’s death, John Wesley tried to teach this hymn at Bolton, but broke down when he came to the lines “my company before is gone, and I am left alone with thee.”

Come, O thou Traveller unknown,
Whom still I hold, but cannot see!
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with Thee;
With Thee all night I mean to stay,
And wrestle till the break of day.

I need not tell Thee who I am,
My misery and sin declare;
Thyself hast called me by my name,
Look on Thy hands, and read it there;
But who, I ask Thee, who art Thou?
Tell me Thy name, and tell me now.

In vain Thou strugglest to get free,
I never will unloose my hold!
Art Thou the Man that died for me?
The secret of Thy love unfold;
Wrestling, I will not let Thee go,
Till I Thy name, Thy nature know.

Wilt Thou not yet to me reveal
Thy new, unutterable Name?
Tell me, I still beseech Thee, tell;
To know it now resolved I am;
Wrestling, I will not let Thee go,
Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know.

’Tis all in vain to hold Thy tongue
Or touch the hollow of my thigh;
Though every sinew be unstrung,
Out of my arms Thou shalt not fly;
Wrestling I will not let Thee go
Till I Thy name, Thy nature know.

What though my shrinking flesh complain,
And murmur to contend so long?
I rise superior to my pain,
When I am weak, then I am strong
And when my all of strength shall fail,
I shall with the God-man prevail.

Contented now upon my thigh
I halt, till life’s short journey end;
All helplessness, all weakness I
On Thee alone for strength depend;
Nor have I power from Thee to move:
Thy nature, and Thy name is Love.

My strength is gone, my nature dies,
I sink beneath Thy weighty hand,
Faint to revive, and fall to rise;
I fall, and yet by faith I stand;
I stand and will not let Thee go
Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know.

Yield to me now, for I am weak,
But confident in self-despair;
Speak to my heart, in blessings speak,
Be conquered by my instant prayer;
Speak, or Thou never hence shalt move,
And tell me if Thy Name is Love.

’Tis Love! ’tis Love! Thou diedst for me!
I hear Thy whisper in my heart;
The morning breaks, the shadows flee,
Pure, universal love Thou art;
To me, to all, Thy bowels move;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

My prayer hath power with God; the grace
Unspeakable I now receive;
Through faith I see Thee face to face,
I see Thee face to face, and live!
In vain I have not wept and strove;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

I know Thee, Saviour, who Thou art.
Jesus, the feeble sinner’s friend;
Nor wilt Thou with the night depart.
But stay and love me to the end,
Thy mercies never shall remove;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

The Sun of righteousness on me
Hath rose with healing in His wings,
Withered my nature’s strength; from Thee
My soul its life and succour brings;
My help is all laid up above;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

Lame as I am, I take the prey,
Hell, earth, and sin, with ease o’ercome;
I leap for joy, pursue my way,
And as a bounding hart fly home,
Through all eternity to prove
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

Methodist Character

In closing, I wish to share the seventeenth paragraph from John Wesley’s “The Character of a Methodist,” the reading of which often brings tears to my eyes:

These are the principles and practices of our sect; these are the marks of a true Methodist. By these alone do those who are in derision so called, desire to be distinguished from other men. If any man say, “Why, these are only the common fundamental principles of Christianity!” thou hast said; so I mean; this is the very truth; I know they are no other; and I would to God both thou and all men knew, that I, and all who follow my judgment, do vehemently refuse to be distinguished from other men, by any but the common principles of Christianity, — the plain, old Christianity that I teach, renouncing and detesting all other marks of distinction. And whosoever is what I preach, (let him be called what he will, for names change not the nature of things,) he is a Christian, not in name only, but in heart and in life. He is inwardly and outwardly conformed to the will of God, as revealed in the written word. He thinks, speaks, and lives, according to the method laid down in the revelation of Jesus Christ. His soul is renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and in all true holiness. And having the mind that was in Christ, he so walks as Christ also walked.

— From the Thomas Jackson edition of The Works of John Wesley, 1872.

United Methodists respond to Japan quake – UMC.org

United Methodists respond to Japan quake – UMC.org.

United Methodists expressed concern and offered prayers for the people of Japan. The United Methodist Committee on Relief and Church World Service were consulting with partners in the region on emergency-relief needs.

Donations can be made to Pacific Emergency, UMCOR Advance #3021317.


Toasting (or Roasting) Fanny Price

A Taste of Victorian Literature
A Taste of Victorian Literature

Last year, the Kansas City Public Library, through the Waldo Branch, embarked on a journey through 19th century literature with an adult reading program entitled ‘A Taste of Victorian Literature.’  I could only attend one of the group sessions last fall, the first one, on D.H. Lawrence’s novel The Rainbow.  To my relief, the Library provided an encore this spring, hosted by the Plaza Branch (conveniently located on the first floor of the building my employer resides in) and I happily attended last night’s lecture and discussion led by Andrea Broomfield, Associate Professor of English at Johnson County Community College.

I received my reading guide for Mansfield Park by Jane Austen via electronic mail on Monday, Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2011.  The guide included a few brief paragraphs about the book and Ms. Austen (about half a page for each).  Never having read an Austen novel, and being at least half finished with it by the time I received the guide, imagine my chagrin when I learned Mansfield Park is sometimes referred to as Austen’s ‘problem novel.’

However, I had no qualms while reading the novel, expecting a slower pacing when compared to 20th or 21st century literature.  I appreciated the circumstances surrounding of Fanny’s life, family and friends, as presented by the author.  Austen’s third novel falls under a broader definition of Victorian Literature; to me it’s a precursor to that era, a transition from the Regency era, and more pleasantly readable prose than later Victorian didactic sledgehammer-esque efforts.   The guide also included a brief biography of Jane Austen (1775- 1817), stating she wrote as she lived, with nuance and realism.

I arrived fifteen minutes early to the Plaza Branch, seeking directions to the appropriate gathering place, in the ‘large’ meeting room between the non-fiction section and the children’s area.  By 6:30 p.m., I was one of a packed room of thirty people, all of them female with the exception of one besieged stalwart male who participated graciously and gallantly.  I should have spoken up in his support; first, because, while female myself, I suffer under the auspices of a gender-confusing name (yes, it’s pronounced just like “John” not some strangely misspelled “Joan”) and, second, because I rarely ever read anything of a romantic nature, unless it happens to slip in as a subplot to an epic fantasy, space opera or science fiction novel.

Andrea Broomfield, Associate Professor of English, JCCC
Andrea Broomfield, Associate Professor of English, JCCC

Andrea Broomfield began her lecture (complete with dimmed lights and a PowerPoint), of which I will briefly recap from my illegibly scribbled notes.  First question up for discussion involved why Mansfield Park would be considered a Victorian novel.  Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in June of 1837, twenty years after the death of Jane Austen.   Yet transformations to society began prior to the 1830s, burgeoning in the late 18th century, during the life of Jane Austen and as expressed in Mansfield Park‘s internal chronology (roughly thirty years spanning 1783 to 1813).  Professor Broomfield related that Punch magazine actually coined the phrase “Victorian” sometime in the 1840s.

Queen Victoria of England, by Alexander Melville, 1845
Queen Victoria of England, by Alexander Melville, 1845

The time span encompassing the reign of Queen Victoria, from 1837 to her death in 1901, provides a frame of reference to discuss the impact of industrialization on society.  Industrialization transformed the existing land and power structures and encouraged the rise of the middle class as society transitioned from an agrarian based (i.e. cottage industries) economy to an industrialized one.  The Evangelical movement within the Church of England helped to abolish slavery and became the foundation for promoting what we now refer to as Middle Class Values (more on that later).

But who are the Middle Class?  They are well educated (engineers, accountants, lawyers, professors, bankers, merchants, etc.) and well paid, but non-aristocratic in origin.  This fostered unrest, as only the aristocracy (those who owned land) were allowed to vote, and essentially a small group of people (approximately 5,000 families) controlled the government and the church.  With such examples as the American and French Revolutions to fuel the fire, the established gentry felt threatened by the burgeoning wealthy middle class, who, in turn, began to demand a voice in their destinies.

Queen Victoria not only accepted middle class values, she championed them, including piety, sobriety, morality, monogamy, hard work.  At this point, I should have spoken up, because I saw a parallel hear between middle class values and Wesley‘s Methodist Means of Grace.  Mary Crawford scathingly referenced Methodism when she showed her true colors to Edmund’s unveiled eyes late in the novel.  Austen, a village parson’s daughter, should have been aware of her contemporary, John Wesley (1703 – 1791), even though he died while she was but a teen.

Professor Broomfield continued with a bit of history around the time Mansfield Park was written and published (1813-4), often referred to as the Regency era, or the period when King George III went mad and his young son ruled as Prince Regent.   A dominance of aristocratic values are portrayed in Austen’s characters of Mr. Yates (idleness), Mr. Rushworth (waste of money/resources), Maria Bertram (laziness) and Henry Crawford (flirtation).  The only obligation the aristocracy had was to maintain the status quo, which meant siring a male heir to secure the land for the next generation.  Thus, they did as they pleased and set their own standards of conduct.   The rest of society, the working class and rising middle class, viewed the aristocracy with contempt, as corrupted and completely depraved.

Engraving of Steventon rectory, home of the Austen family during much of Jane Austen's lifetime.
Engraving of Steventon rectory, home of the Austen family during much of Jane Austen's lifetime.

One of the slides from Professor Broomfield’s presentation displayed Austen’s home at the Steventon rectory, exemplifying the typical middle class modest home with divided rooms (in contrast, the working class often lived, dined and slept in a single or at most two room homes). The Reform Act of 1832 let off the steam of the bubbling boiling uneasy middle class, averting bloody revolution by changing the electoral system of England and Wales.

The crucible of Austen’s life and times included the rise of evangelicism, the abolition of slavery (see William Wilberforce for more information), the ascendancy of the British Navy and the accentuating of class differences.  Professor Bloomfield gave an apt illustration of those differences using poetry as her example.  Poetry (and poets) comprised an ‘elite’ art form, reserved for the aristocracy.  Yet an educated middle class yearned for entertainment of a more accessible flavor, creating a void for literature that authors like Austen eagerly filled.   Victorians are idealistic, always in earnest, convinced they can solve all the world’s problems and most assuredly not cynical.

With less than thirty minutes left for our five discussion questions, Professor Broomfield opened up the floor with the following:

  1. If you have read other Austen novels, then you likely see some differences between Mansfield Park and Austen’s other works.  What are those differences?  Why might critics consider this novel to be the most ‘Victorian’ of Austen’s novels, even though the novel was published before Victoria became Queen of England?
  2. Mansfield Park is considered a ‘Condition of England’ novel.  In these types of novels, the author uses fiction as a means to critique the culture around her/him.  What aspects of English culture come under Austen’s scrutiny?  How does Austen use her main characters — the Crawfords, the Bertrams, Fanny and William, Mr. Rushworth and Mrs. Norris — to comment on what people should and should not value?
  3. Do you find Fanny to be a likable heroine? Do you find Edmund to be a likable hero?  Why or why not?
  4. What is the purpose of the attempted play at Mansfield Park, both before and after it is aborted?
  5. Consider any dramatized versions you have seen of Mansfield Park and how they differ from the actual Austen novel.  Are the plot, narrative voice, and characters of Mansfield Park simply too old-fashioned or outmoded for a contemporary audience’s sensibilities?

We only managed to tackle three of these questions.  In response to the first question, comments included a feeling that Austen was just coming into her voice, a more mature voice as compared to her other more popular titles.  Fanny’s reticence and control upheld and exemplified.

With respect to the second ‘Condition of England’ novel question, the disparity between rich and poor as seen through Austen’s characters in Mansfield Park began with Mr. Rushworth, described as a ‘rich boob’ or a ‘buffoon,’ a terrifying thought since his like were ruling England, the figure of a man with little or no substance.  Many readers enjoyed Mary Crawford, despite her faults: wanting to marry for money, position, privilege, power; self-absorption.

This led to a discussion of the philosophical debate contemporaneous to Austen’s times on why people marry.  Fanny (as well as Austen) believed marriage should be made for love while Mary Crawford stood for opportunistic marrying for position.  Edmund wants to blame her upbringing as a rational explanation for Mary’s lack of a moral compass.  Mary epitomized the ‘Old England’ while Fanny portrayed the ‘New England’ as it ‘should be.’

Mansfield Park published by Penguin Classics
Mansfield Park published by Penguin Classics

Austen uses her characters to force her readers to think and her novels always have an economic component to them; jockeying for position, especially among the women.  Professor Broomfield took a few minutes to read Edmund’s dialogue on pp. 424-6 of the Penguin Classics edition, where Austen attempts to teach us why we should like Mary.  Mary is telling Edmund that if Fanny had married Henry, none of the scandal would have happened.  Edmund realizes he fell in love with an imaginary Mary.  Mary’s sarcasm and cynicism clashes with Victorian ideals, and appears to us (in the 21st century) as a very modern attitude.  Edmund, blinded to Mary’s un-virtues for much of the novel, is now disgusted by her, yet he is always sincere.  Fanny, poor neglected and ignored Fanny, might as well have been an orphan, curtailed by her ambiguous class position throughout most of the novel.  In contrast to the pale, wispy Fanny, Marilyn Flugum-James, seated next to Julienne Gehrer (a representative of the local Jane Austen Society), likened Mrs. Norris and Mary Crawford to ‘bright colors on the canvas of this novel.’

With only five minutes left, Professor Broomfield quickly skipped to the final question about any dramatizations we may have seen of Mansfield Park.  I vaguely remember watching the much maligned 1999 film version, but only remember it as a period murder mystery (so perhaps I need to re-visit that film now).  Many readers touted the 1980s era Masterpiece Theatre mini-series.  The A&E version was also mentioned, but not as highly regarded.

And thus ended my second evening foray into the 19th century literature I managed to avoid both in high school and college (engineering and mathematics not lending studying time to the finer arts).  I had a very enjoyable evening and look forward to next month’s discussion of Jane Eyre, published in 1847 by Charlotte Brontë under a masculine pen name.  Professor Broomfield posed these questions in closing to ponder as we read (or re-read) Jane Eyre:

  • What makes this novel radical (when published, it created a huge scandal)?
  • What makes it Victorian?

I read Jane Eyre last year, not for this group, but rather as a prerequisite to reading Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair.  Ironically, Mr. Fforde headlines the signature event for the other winter adult reading program sponsored by the Kansas City Public Library on Thursday, March 17th. Look for a future blog post on my progress through some of the Altered States suggested readings.

Altered States: Adult Winter Reading Program
Altered States: Adult Winter Reading Program

Sunrises and Scarves

I got a call from my dad this morning, cluing me in to the fact that this morning’s sunrise broke among light clouds and appeared quite photogenic.  I arrived a bit late to the party, but got a couple of nice shots from my daughter’s east facing bedroom:

Sunrise Sat 5 Feb 2011
Sunrise Sat 5 Feb 2011

I ventured out a couple of hours later to attend a pancake feed at a Crossroads UMC just down the hill from my house.  Enjoyed the fresh pancakes the company.  Since I remembered to bring my camera with me, I took a couple of shots of Lansing’s favorite sledding hill (unoccupied so early on a Saturday morning):

Lansing's Favorite Sledding Spot
Lansing's Favorite Sledding Spot

Perhaps the next time I’m out I’ll get a couple of shots of kids sledding.

I continue working on my new moebius scarf, which I’ll probably finish today or tomorrow.  Here’s a picture of it after five or six times around:

Moebius Scarf Using Moss Stitch After 5-6 Rounds
Moebius Scarf Using Moss Stitch After 5-6 Rounds

And a close-up of the moss stitching, which I think is cool (and easy to crochet):

Moss Stitch Closeup
Moss Stitch Closeup