Thursday, January 29, 2015

Review of "Just Babies" by Paul Bloom

Several years ago, developmental psychologist Paul Bloom found babies preferred puppets they saw as helpful or kind over those who acted mean or unhelpful. In his book Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil, Bloom expands on these findings to try to uncover the source of human morality. I remember seeing a 60 Minutes segment on Bloom's study, so I was curious to read what other insights the Yale professor had to share. While I enjoyed Bloom's wit and breadth of knowledge, this book eventually disappointed me. The scientific analysis in Just Babies is not the kind that inspired me to my truest, best self. Instead, Bloom seems to employ dozens of studies involving babies, children and adults to reduce everything that makes us human to products of natural selection-- from our sense of right and wrong, to gut reactions, to compassion and altruism. In the end, reading Bloom's version of the natural history of morality left me feeling demoralized.

What I initially liked about the book was Bloom's candid, approachable style. Here's an accomplished scholar who humanizes the cold clinical data by inserting himself into hypothetical scenarios involving run-away trolley cars and drowning children. At first, I was happily carried along by the author's survey of various experiments and his quirky sense of humor. I found myself hypothesizing what other reasons babies might prefer right-doers and try to punish wrong-doers at a few months old. Are babies hardwired with a sense of justice? If they are, is this a virtue written on our hearts by God or teased out of the genetic pool by evolution over the eons? Could this behavior be explained away as learned behavior-- which, having raised three babies myself, I would bet that infants are absorbing information from their families long before they are explicitly taught right and wrong. So then, are we born as moral blank slates? Or are we born originally sinful and depraved?

I had fun exploring these possibilities within my own Christ-centered worldview. But eventually Bloom's relentless reliance on evolution as the force, source and, basically, the answer to all the questions of the universe, made reading the last third of the book a chore for me. When he finally acknowledges the possible role religion has on shaping morals, he argues that our morals came first and religion followed, using examples of the harm done in the name of God. I think many people who are serious about their faith will make a big distinction between those who zealously emphasize right beliefs and those who feel led by a Higher Power to lives of love, compassion and service. Bloom seems to lump all versions of religion together, and in so doing, can easily claim that morals couldn't possibly spring from what he quotes C.S. Lewis calling "the voice of God within our souls" (189). To this and other philosophers and scientists who propose evolution couldn't possibly produce our level of morality, Bloom compares them to "men marveling at eyeglasses and arguing that since natural selection couldn't have created such intricate wonders they must be the handiwork of God" (190).

Just as the eyeglasses were wrought by human hands, Bloom argues that human morality is a product of our prodigious brains' "magnificent capacity for reason" (218). I took this epiphany in the final paragraph of the final chapter of the book to be the author's attempt at saying there's something special and inspiring and noteworthy and mysterious about our human preoccupation with good and evil after all. But if pressed, I believe Bloom would concede that even this inspiring added ingredient to evolution's moral recipe is a product of ... natural selection. Therefore, as a Christian (and even as one who is open to the idea of theistic evolution) I don't recommend this book, which I feel would give false comfort to atheists and a trolley car full of cognitive dissonance to even the most open-minded Christians, not to mention abrasive annoyance to staunch Creationists.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for my honest review.*

Friday, January 23, 2015

Review of "Bible Favorites: One Sentence Storybooks"

It's not easy finding bible stories balancing simplicity and meaning for very young readers. These days, I typically focus on materials for my 6-year-old because I assume I'll be able to use them later when my 3-year-old and 1-year-old get older. This new set from Tyndale Kids and Focus on the Family targets preschoolers aged 3-5. Combining early literacy and familiar Bible stories, the Bible Favorites: One Sentence Storybooks collection by Nancy I. Sanders and illustrated by Hannah Wood features 10 booklets in a box with a Velcro closure. I was surprised by the diminutive size of the books-- at 5.75 inches by 4.75 inches, the set is just a little fatter than some people's smartphones. Each of the books are just 12 pages long, and really do consist of a single sentence, revealed a few words at a time to present one simple concept from each story. The first five books cover Old Testament stories, including the creation narrative in Genesis, Noah's Ark, Moses and the burning bush, David and Goliath, and Nehemiah rebuilding the wall. The last five cover New Testament passages, including the Wise Men, Jesus walking on water, the Good Shepherd, the Prodigal Son and Jesus' resurrection. 

I love the soft, almost luminous paintings and find that my boys are drawn to this style of illustration too. The simplicity is also attractive, and I read all 10 books to 3-year-old Rockam in one sitting this morning. He enjoyed the suspense of the steadily building narrative and the growing detail in each picture. For example, my favorite of the set, "The Sad Son," builds this way:

1. The sad son
2. The sad son came back home
3. The sad son came back home to his dad
4. The sad son came back home to his dad for a hug.

I thought this rendition of the Prodigal Son was so sweet and included just the right amount of detail for my wiggly, fun-loving preschooler.

An older or more mature child would probably enjoy the last pages of each book, which recap the key vocabulary, give some spiritual significance to the story and provide a memory verse and a prayer. Rocky wasn't too interested in these elements, so I skipped some of them. I also noticed that while the stories are ultra simple, some of the devotional content was more than a couple logical leaps removed from the narrative. For example, in "Two Mice and the Ark," the story begins and ends with three pairs of animals boarding the ark. The devotional segment "One Truth to Learn" reads: "Sin is anything bad someone thinks, says, or does. God sent a flood to get rid of sin on the earth. But He used an ark to save Noah, his family, and the animals." I would need to recount much more of the story to help my son understand the connection between mice on an ark and God getting rid of sin with a flood. The memory verse and prayer take another turn, focusing on God's forgiveness and salvation.  I felt that the devotional's more advanced concepts seemed imbalanced with the playful simplicity of the story. But I also think the format allows parents to use or skip as much of the content as they deem helpful. As I mentioned in my previous post, it never hurts to read children's devotional books beforehand so you can make the most of the moment when you read them with your kiddos.

Overall, I think this is a good addition to my small collection of bible materials for the littlest readers. My son's spirituality is still in its nascent stage, and I count the One Sentence Stories to be a fun and adaptable way to plant some seeds in the soft soil of his heart.

*Thanks to Tyndale Kids for sending me a copy of these books in exchange for my honest review!*

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Review of "I Can Learn the Bible" by Holly Hawkins Shivers

As a mom of three little boys, I'm always on the lookout for devotional materials for the preschool and kindergarten set. With my oldest, I've read several children's bibles, such as The Big Picture Bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible, I Can Read New Testament, and Jesus Calling Bible Storybook to name some. Holly Hawkins Shiver's I Can Learn the Bible: 52 Scriptures Every Kid Should Know, is a children's adaptation of her father's popular devotional, The Joshua Code. It is listed as being for ages 4-8, so I was keen to get my hands on it. The book is designed to be used over the course of a year, but I decided to test out a few of the devotions on my 6-year-old and 3-year-old over the course of a week. As with all devotionals and children's story Bibles, I feel that the key is to adapt the material to my children's level of comprehension and interests. In Shiver's new resource, I found plenty of material to help my boys ponder their Maker, but most of that required me to be a very active reader, tweaking some of the wordings and being open to their honest questions. Here's some of the highlights and hiccups we encountered:

I've not read The Joshua Code, so I can't comment on how much of Shivers' exposition is her original insight or thoughts adapted from her father's book. However, I liked the way she explained Romans 8:28 by comparing God's working all things for good to cooking up a batch of homemade biscuits. While individual ingredients, such as baking powder or flour would taste awful by themselves, Shivers explains, "Like those yucky ingredients, some things in life 'taste' bad to us or make us very sad" (31). I thought this was clever, and my 6-year-old was held by the metaphor. Other deep yet kid-friendly moments included Shiver's use of "Opposite Day" to describe God's Kingdom, in which the King is a servant, the greatest shall be the least and the first last. In week 17, Shivers presents the Bible's famous shortest verse, "Jesus cried." She explains that Christ's tears were not because he was sad that Lazarus died, after all, he could easily resurrect him. Instead, Jesus was feeling empathy for his friend's bitterly grieving sisters. This opened up a moment for me to ask Stephen whether he'd ever cried when someone else was very sad. My son couldn't relate to this, but quickly came up with his own example of how he laughs when his friend laughs or feels happy when those he cares about are happy.

As much as I liked Shiver's treatment of the Lazarus story, I couldn't completely rely on the text to enlighten my children. The book's illustrations are in a quirky, whimsical style and employ a mix of animal and human characters. Because "Jesus Wept" is accompanied by a cat crying a puddle of tears, my 3-year-old innocently asked, "Is that Jesus?" We all got a good belly laugh out of that. Additionally, the second part of the devotion shifts to talking about Psalm 56:8, in which God keeps our tears in his bottle. At this, my oldest shouts, "His bottle?! Does God drink our tears?" In my own reading of the psalms, I've always found this wording a little bit weird and figured something must be lost in the translation. So I told Stephen that the psalm also says God writes our cares in his book, an idea that is a little easier for him to grasp and conveys the spirit of the verse without conjuring up Alice in Wonderland scenes.

I didn't read the entire book to my boys, but read through it myself--something I recommend doing for all devotionals parents plan to read to their kids! There are a few other weeks I might skip or verbally rewrite when I do get a chance to share them with my boys. For example, week 26 features God looking at our hearts rather than external appearance in 1 Samuel 16:7. I think this an entirely appropriate topic for children, however Shivers writes that, "You might think things like, I am too short, I am too skinny, or My hair is ugly" (116). This gave me pause. Many children between the ages 4-8 are still blissfully unaware of their physical appearance. My 6-year-old has always been at least a head shorter than his classmates, but only recently realized it and doesn't see it as a flaw. For some children, hearing that they might think these negative thoughts would actually be their first introduction to these thoughts. As a side note, this is why it's so important that we as parents don't practice negative self-talk in earshot of our kids. Other parents may have kids who have already expressed discontentment with their physical appearance, and this would be a perfect devotion to read with them.

My final critique is Shivers' exposition of "God's phone number," Jeremiah 33:3. The verse reads, "Pray to me, and I will answer you. I will tell you important secrets. You have never heard these things before" (54). Despite the obvious emphasis on God speaking and, presumably, the praying person listening, the entire devotion emphasizes that we can talk to God and tell him everything and get things off our chest, and thank him when we're done. She writes, "When you are talking to a friend, one of you is talking and the other is listening. That is the way communications works. Well, prayer is the talking part of our relationship with God" (55). She also implies that God's answer is simply that He picks up the "phone" and will always be ready to listen to us whenever we pray. I don't dispute any of this, of course. But Shivers implies that we do all the talking. And, if I'm honest, many of my prayers are one-sided conversations. This is why I've been intentional about encouraging my son to listen for God's still small voice. To hear God's answers to his questions, and to even, like Samuel, hear God's speaking when he hasn't asked for an answer.

So, in conclusion, I plan to continue using I Can Learn the Bible with my sons because it is a book that opens up space to talk about God's word with simple metaphors and playful images. However, this book, like all children's bibles, requires that I tune into God's moment-by-moment rhema word to be able to flesh out some of the devotions and trim others to best meet my children's needs.

*Thanks to BookLook Bloggers for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.*

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Review of "Mothering From Scratch" by Melinda Means & Kathy Helgemo

Instead of clarifying my goals as mother, reading multiple parenting guides can often muddy the waters, as many books give contradicting methods and philosophies. Usually, I end up taking a little bit away from every book, some more than others. Bloggers Melinda Means' and Kathy Helgemo's new book Mothering From Scratch: Finding the Best Parenting Style for You and Your Family got my hopes up. Here was a book that validated my pick and choose approach to mothering, and promised to help me determine when a certain style or practice was a good fit for me and my family. I think what this book ended up being was Means and Helgemo's recipe for how they've parented from scratch, with little bites of wisdom from all over the body of Christian parenting literature as well as what they've gleaned over time from each other and from their blog community. The book's strengths are in its overall affirming message, the honesty and friendliness of the authors and some very helpful points. However, because of the book's scattered, eclectic format, I didn't feel like it helped me hone in on my best parenting style. I'm giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

What I liked:
The authors do provide wisdom culled from their many years mothering and thoughtfully assessing different parenting styles learned from books, other moms and their own mothers. In particular, I was forced to reevaluate myself in the chapter "Mom Mentors: Turning Rivals to Resources," and I plan to pray over the authors' gentle urging to forge one good peer-to-peer mentoring relationship this year. This honest, insightful look into the fallen way we women often mistakenly view our peers as rivals in this quest for perfection was the most helpful part of the book for me.

Secondly, the authors' own vulnerability comes through with honesty and humor from the very first pages. I loved the example these two women set for their readers: They come from different social and even denominational backgrounds, yet they've opened their hearts to each other to produce something to help other moms. For readers who don't want to be talked down to and received with open arms, Means and Helgemo offer refreshing voices.

Thirdly, I feel the overall emphasis on grace and ditching the goal of being a perfect mom is helpful and healthy for any Christian parent. The final section of the book, "Mothering with Wisdom and Grace," encourage women to make space for "satisfying self-care," including time alone with their Father. Many Christian parenting books assume that readers already know to do this, and focus instead on methods or philosophies or desired outcomes of their brand of parenting. The authors make time in prayer, reflection and Bible study a key component of their mothering recipe.

What I didn't like:
I docked the first star for stylistic reasons; other readers might really like the magazine quality of the book's format with its constant switching between the two authors, testimonies from others, sidebars and pull quotes. I felt distracted and a little annoyed that this, like too many books geared toward moms, assume we all have ADD and can only handle focusing on a particular topic for 20 seconds.

The second star I took away is what I feel the root detractor of the book (for me). The book's cover, which features a lovely photograph of flour dusted hands cradling an imperfect, tender heart of dough, has a poetic beauty that drew me in. Perhaps because of the message of many books I've read in the last year-- Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Pollan's Cooked, Sweet's From Tablet to Table and Noll's Slow Family Living to name just a few-- I fancied this book might also encourage moms toward slowing down, treasuring little moments with their children and cutting out the chaos of a highly-processed life. But in many places the book actually cuts the other way. For example, they advise moms to stock up on pre-made meals to give them more time for other responsibilities. This wasn't really a big deal; I just misread the cover design.

My second unfulfilled expectation was the one I couldn't ignore. The subtitle, "Finding the Best Parenting Style for You and Your Family," caused me to assume the authors might discuss in more depth the main parenting philosophies out there and give pros and cons of each. Perhaps devoting a chapter to each, and including personal testimonies and profiles from real moms who thrived or struggled under those philosophies/strategies to help illustrate why a particular parenting style was or wasn't the best for someone. Obviously, as the book does clearly stress, no one is going to really find that a particular book or philosophy exactly fits their personality and family's needs (unless they themselves author the book!) Therefore, I also imagined a concluding section that gave tips on how to choose the best from various parenting outlooks, how to create that personal style from scratch, using ingredients from all the parenting wisdom out there. Those that liked the book more than I did might argued the authors do provide advice for someone to determine their style, (Take the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator Test! --I'm an INFP, btw), to determine their family's needs (Ask them!), and drop what doesn't work (If you don't like being crafty, don't do it!) I just felt like what were meant as sage advice were kind of no-brainers.

I don't want to end on such a snarky note. Truth is, I'm so far from figuring out this weighty, wonderful adventure of raising three boys. I could and did gain valuable insight from this book, despite having to sift through a bit of clutter in my search to find it.

*Thanks to Bethany House Publishers for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.*

Monday, January 5, 2015

Review of "Make it Happen" by Lara Casey

A little bit about me... I've wanted to write children's books for a few years now, and apart from The Way to Obey, I haven't been able to make the dozens of other ideas in my brain and in my journals happen. So when I saw "Make it Happen: Surrender Your Fear, Take the Leap, Live on Purpose," by Lara Casey, I thought it might be just the thing to help my failure to launch.

Casey writes this book, which is equal parts motivational coach, reflective workbook and memoir, in warm, colloquial language. The most addictive part of the book for me was reading Casey's account of how she battled an eating disorder in college, threw herself into a variety of careers post graduation, launched multiple businesses, struggled through two marriages and rediscovered her Christian faith, which she wrote about with honesty and vulnerability. The story also has a happy ending/new beginning: She now uses her businesses and consulting movement to help others employ their God-given talents in meaningful ways.

I think many readers might gravitate toward this book because they, like me, feel too timid to pursue their dreams, but Casey's story seems to have an opposite trajectory. "Make it Happen" seems to have been Casey's modus operandi. The sheer number of things she "made happen" was mind-boggling to me. She majored in acting, but jumped ship and became a top physical trainer before jumping ship again to get married and help her parents rebuild their Hurricane-Ivan ravaged home. On her honeymoon, she bought a domain name and her wedding consulting company was born. The story continues at this break-neck pace, which made reading it a bit of an edge-of-my-seat experience. (I'm not a big risk taker, if you couldn't tell.) Yet, Casey's low points, many of which were a result of her hasty choices and dogged pursuit of perfection, have tempered her Type A personality and redefined her concept of success. She now advocates setting boundaries on social media and work hours. She pulled back from her skyrocketing success and got off what she calls the "bumpy-scary-extreme-carriage ride" of work life to focus on her crumbling second marriage as well as her faith.

So, Casey's story is what really turned pages for me. But I believe the fourth section of the book, "Your Guide to Make it Happen" is what will be most useful to me this year, as I plan to make concrete steps toward publishing. In a nutshell, the final portion of the book guides readers with practical exercises for evaluating their lives, clearing the clutter, setting purposeful goals and taking action. Many of the questions and writing prompts sprinkled throughout the first three parts of the book reappear here at the end, probably because Casey knew many readers wouldn't stop to do them while they were busy reading her life story.

In conclusion, Casey's story and personality couldn't be more different than my own, but her concluding message rings true. I recommend this book to Christian women who often find themselves far from God in their many pursuits, but who long to trade life as a chronic overachiever and perfection-seeker for a grounded life with priorities in place and a focus on meaningful use of their gifts.

*Thanks to BookLook Bloggers for generously providing a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.*

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Review of "From Tablet to Table" by Leonard Sweet

I'm a foodie and a storyteller, so I was delighted to read Leonard Sweet's From Tablet to Table, in which he argues that God incarnate invites us to find our identity (how we fit into His story) and true community around the dinner table in our homes, churches and in the world.

This is a little book with ample white space and font size. For that reason, it was easy on the eyes and easy to gobble up the 162 pages in three sittings.  Sweet's poetic writing style and constant word play around the metaphor of the table also drew me in and played in my mind like a charismatic preacher's sermon-- not surprisingly, since Sweet is the lead writer of

In the first half of the book, Sweet establishes the superiority of the table over the tablets of law for nourishing and imparting God's story into our hearts. Jesus, he argues, was very interested in what was for dinner. He taught not from a pulpit, but while reclining at table with friends, inviting himself to dinner with sinners, providing a mountainside meal to thousands. The predominant "narraphor" of the entire Bible, Sweet argues, is God preparing a table before us.

Besides being inspirational, there's also a good bit of practicality in these pages. Sweet provides rapid fire statistics from modern secular studies that have shown that frequent family dinners around a table are the biggest factor in boosting children's intelligence, compassion, vocabulary and future academic success and in preventing drug-use, obesity, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts. The mom in me was convinced, and the journalist in me was especially pleased at Sweet's extensive source list at the back of the book.

The second part of the book explores how we can continue to do table in remembrance of Jesus in our homes, in churches and while loving our neighbors outside the church. At this point, I was hoping for rich stories of real people with vibrant table time in each of these settings. Instead, I felt Sweet focused too heavily on the perils of modern life, in which children eat Big Macs while playing games on the iPad and where "two bodies eating together at the same table but on different planets in mind and spirit" (90) is a frequent restaurant scene.

To combat our struggles with the tide of the age, Sweet employs his table metaphor as a panacea. To any problem, he urges, "Table it. Table everything" (124). Yet, as much as I agree that the table promises a sacred time and space for family bonding, I don't quite know what that looks like (for me) practically. If I'm having trouble herding my three little children and busy husband to the table, if no one likes eating the same foods and if everyone is hungry at different times, how does "tableing it" solve my problem? How do I even get everyone to the table?

But, to be fair, this isn't that book. This is the anthem, the love song to true communion, growth, and transformation around the table. And Sweet eventually permits that could be a metaphoric table. As long as people are in the habit of eating together and truly connecting with those with whom they're eating, Jesus will be the food and the drink. While this book does not lay out a tablet of rules or the "7 steps to better family dinners," I find my heart is both fed and hungry for life at my Lord's table.

*Many thanks to Tyndale for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.*

Friday, January 2, 2015

Channeling my inner indignant Martha

This blog has always been about the books I read, but I've long felt that I'd like to include musings on The Book I read the most. With New Year's resolutions fresh on my mind, one of my goals this year is using my time and energies wisely. Probably the poster child for misappropriating her efforts, Martha is often cast as the villain and Mary the protagonist in Luke 10:38-42. Given the choice, I prefer time listening to and gazing at Jesus to scrambling and hustling for Jesus, but I had to ask myself what I really choose most moments of every mundane day. I also tried to put myself into the story and ask what would the Mary and Martha story be like if everyone did the "right" thing?

Otto van Veen

Is there a way the story could have happened where neither sister missed out and nobody goes hungry?  Perhaps Martha cooks simply or announces that tonight's meal is a potluck? Where ever Jesus was, there were big crowds following. Perhaps they limit the number of house guests? But even if it was only Jesus and his twelve disciples, that's still a hefty dinner party. Perhaps, if Martha feels so bold as to confront Jesus, she could have requested he come and sit in the kitchen with she and Mary while they both prepared food and listened? Not exactly at his feet, but still intimate.

Maybe Martha could cook (again, a simple meal) and Mary could do all the dishes and clean up so Martha could recline at table afterward?

Perhaps Mary and Martha should have more open lines of communication between each other. That fact that Martha resorts to shaming her in front of Jesus and everyone else shows that they didn't discuss the big event before it was upon them. Though, maybe Jesus's arrival was a bit of a surprise.

Of course, everyone wants to be the Mary of the story. But she's not exactly blameless. Still, Jesus doesn't blame her. He diagnoses Martha as "worried and distracted by many things." Yet, it's hard not to be concerned when your guest list is out the door and there's too few cooks in the kitchen. Would it have been righteous to serve dinner late or not at all?

Or is it OK to ask Jesus to perform miracles that don't need to be performed like "Please feed this full house without me having to slave alone in the hot kitchen even though I could do it and have always done it?" Feeding the 5,000 + women and children with a fish sandwich is a worthy request, but what about "God, can you please make my life simpler so I can have the energy to obey you? So I have time to pursue my dream of writing children's books for 30 minutes a day? So I can spend time in trying out new prayer exercises each morning?

Even as I write, I'm very near to all my own worries and distractions. I don't want to lash out at others who don't exhibit the same vulnerability to these pressures as I do. But I also don't know how to manage my practical responsibilities (real or perceived) without forfeiting "the one thing," the "better part."

How do I choose that better part. Is it my turn to choose it? I want to be a Mary- shedding gender roles and other's expectations to just bask in the creative glow of communion with my Jesus. If Martha was indignant, "Lord, do you not care?" --what must the disciples thought about little Mary auditing their class with the Master? But then how will we eat? How will I obey in all the little things, some of which happen to be feeding three little mouths and two big ones?

Semiradsky Christ Martha Maria

Is the answer merely in better communication between myself as a Martha-type and whoever happens to be my Mary-counterpart? Cuz, honestly, as this little drama unfolds in my head, it's not Martha, Mary and Jesus. It's me, my better half and "free" time. No. Let's call it quality "me" time.

Yikes. Does that mean I long for "me" more than Jesus? I'm gonna give myself the benefit of the doubt here, seeing as at the moment, "me" time is actually time interacting, trying to interact with Jesus. And that refocuses me. I pray He'd teach me to choose the better part when its mine for the choosing. There must be a choice, right? There must be points at which I can choose one part or the other. But if it's a part of the whole, does that automatically mean someone's gotta take the worse part? Is it really a closed system, a limited economy? Does one get Jesus and the other suffers? One's rich and the other's poor. I don't think that's the God in whom I believe.

It circles be back to the idea of sharing responsibilities and benefits.

And Jesus, what did you mean when you said that "better part" would "not be taken away from her"? Is it simply that you refused to shame Mary as her big sister was? Or, ever the double entendre wielding prophet, where You saying that the "part" or choice and path Mary took was life-imparting, so that some element of the divine was being inwrought in a way that couldn't be taken from her, just as we can never be separated from God's love?

Now back to Martha. The story makes me think Martha is the oldest. I see Lazarus and Mary as the younger siblings because when Jesus arrives on the doorstep of his favorite place in Bethany, "Martha welcomed into her home." She might not have been the breadwinner, but she certainly seems to be the matriarch of the house. She wasn't even really concerned that she was missing out on Jesus. She was upset because she wanted to lavish this huge feast on Him and everyone watching. She was probably a gifted hostess. But she needed to really outdo herself, and that involved more than herself. I'm sure I've felt this so many times. She's so at home with her self pity. She was upset because Mary was, in her mind, supposed to be more interested in food prep than gobbling up God's word.

Jesus gave Martha a personalized "word of wisdom" when she confronted both Jesus (for lack of concern over her plight) and Mary (for lazing around with the the men). As an aside, despite all her apparent social bumbling in this story, I have to admire the level of intimacy Martha has with Jesus. You have to be close to chide the Messiah. "Martha, Martha!" He calls her by name, as if to shake her out of an obsession, "You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing."

So. What is the "one thing"? Is it the same as Mary's "better part"? Is one thing simply to still oneself and sit and listen to what Jesus is saying? I don't have certain answers. Just more questions. What would have happened if nobody cooked? What would Jesus have said or done? Would both sisters have a part of the better part? Would Jesus have whipped up a miracle meal or have directed his disciples to procure one from a mysterious source? What are your thoughts on this story, and how do you apply Jesus's words to Martha?

Christus bei Maria und Martha (flämisch)