Storytellers

amazon

Storytellers have a gift. A gifted storyteller weaves her tale of life and issues and conundrums through characters with whom we can relate. At the end of the story we’ve not only learned something about an issue, but we’ve gained some insight about ourselves.

Jodi Picoult is a master storyteller and I think she achieves her goal to get her reader to think about big issues and the conundrums that go along with them in her latest bestseller, The Storyteller. She tackles the big issue of good and evil against the backdrop of the Holocaust. Can you participate in something really horrific and still wipe away the stain? If you consider yourself a good person, what would tip you over to doing something bad? What does it mean to be a non-practicing religious person in making moral decisions? To what lengths will we go for self-preservation? And forgiveness; is it our responsibility or moral obligation to forgive? Can we forgive?

Storytelling is the compelling mechanism of the many storytellers in this book. Minka’s fictional story is woven among her real story and serves as a touchstone of hope as she and her family suffer through the Nazi invasion of Poland and subsequent imprisonment at Auschwitz. She is the lone survivor of her family and friends.

Sage’s, Minka’s granddaughter, story becomes intertwined with Josef, a former-German officer at Auschwitz. Josef’s story gradually unfolds and we discover the shared threads of lives across generations and cultures. The lurking question always remains: What would I do when asked?

The Storyteller is a work of fiction, but that only intensifies the real story upon which this story is based. We think of the Holocaust as a Jewish issue and part of Jewish history, but it’s really a human rights issue. Six million Jews were exterminated, but five million non-Jews also perished. It’s part of our shared human history. We have to ask ourselves if we’ve really learned anything since the Holocaust since genocide is still happening and we still continue to turn a blind eye as millions of people are displaced and murdered.

Interestingly, I am writing this blog post on January 27, 2014. It is the 69th anniversary since the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp by the Red Army.

Fiction comes in all shapes and sizes. Secrets, lies, stories. We all tell them. Sometimes, because we hope to entertain. Sometimes, because we need to distract.

And sometimes, because we have to. ~ Jodi Picoult, The Storyteller

Why Memoirs Are So Important

Twelve Years a SlaveEvery time I read a memoir I am reminded of their power to connect us to something beyond ourselves. A memoir invites us to step into a life and an experience that are not ours. Even if we have experienced something similar, we are able to relate, but that particular experience is not ours to claim. And because we cannot claim that experience as our own, it exposes us to a different and possibly broader perspective. It’s that broader perspective and different experience that is so important for us.

I recently read three very compelling memoirs that were a far cry from anything in my little, limited life. Each story had pieces that resonated with me; threads that I understood because of something in my own experience. But more powerful were those things that opened my eyes and exposed me to reality for someone else. When we are open to someone else’s reality, even if we don’t understand it and may never experience it for ourselves, we become connected. And when we become connected, we care.

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup has recently been made into a feature film, but the Northup’s memoir of being born free in New York and then captured and sold into slavery, was published in 1853. Out of the 101 slave narratives written between 176o and 1865, Solomon Northup’s was the only one that told by someone who was free, captured and sold into slavery, before escaping back to the North.

Slavery is a scourge in U.S. history that is really hard for any of us to fathom. Not only have we not dealt with the horrific atrocities of slavery, we haven’t confronted the despicable remnants from the institution of slavery. Northup’s book poignantly tells the dehumanizing effects of slavery on everyone. We may say slavery was wrong and deny holding attitudes of superiority over any group of people, but our true attitudes will be exposed in how we treat others, especially strangers, immigrants and people from other religions and cultures.

Amanda Lindhout was a twenty-something avid world-traveller trying her hand at freelance journalism when she and her partner were kidnapped and held for 460 days in Somalia. Her account of finding her passion for travel and her brutal experience in captivity is masterfully portrayed in her recent memoir, A House in the Sky co-authored by Sara Corbett.

What is impressive about this memoir is the ability of Ms. Lindhout to transcend her horrific experiences of being repeatedly gang raped, starved, beaten, and kept isolated from her companion to seeing how lack of education and constant war and poverty have led her captors to who they are. She is then able to understand them, and while not excusing their behavior, at least forgive them. She has gone on to found Global Enrichment Foundation addressing women’s empowerment, education, and famine relief in Somalia.

Next time you are looking for something thoughtful to read, why not pick up a memoir. Of course, you’ll learn something about the person whose story you’re reading. But more importantly, if you’re open to the possibility, you just may learn something new about yourself!

One of these days, we’ll have to tackle the Bible as memoir.

I’ll See You Again: A Memoir of Unspeakable Grief

amazon

I’ll See You Again by Jackie Hance and Janice Kaplan is not the kind of book I pick up to read. I’m very selective about the type of memoirs I read and I usually steer away from tragedy-to-triumph stories. I know that seems weird for someone who sees God’s redemptive work in the strangest of people and places. Consider it another one of my qwerks.

I was especially hesitant to read this particular memoir. The unthinkable tragedy was in the headlines when it occurred in July 2009. Often headline tragedies become sensationalized memoirs of shock and awe. I really dislike that kind of drama.

I’ll See You Again wasn’t like that at all. It is a raw, intimate account of how a mother encounters the unimaginable loss of all three of her daughters in a traffic accident caused by her sister-in-law. It is grief in all of its despair and disruption for Jackie, her husband, and their family. It is bears witness to the lifeline of support their friends commit to over a period of years. It exposes the flaws and vulnerabilities of people and acknowledges the tensions in the unknowable and unanswerable. It is heartfelt and heart-wrenching at the same time … just like grief.

What makes this book so powerful is its reminder of the depth and extent of the grief process. Grief is not the same for everyone. While there may be stages of grief, it is really more a process, and a messy process at that. Relationships are difficult under the best of circumstances and become extremely threatened or challenged during grief. This book reminds us that even the bonds of love fracture, and can still withstand, devastating grief.

I’ll See You Again is intense. But then so is grief. Sometimes by experiencing it through someone else’s story we can tuck away some insight that will be useful in our future.

In the Body of the World

9780805095180

amazon

Every once in awhile a book comes along whose message is so powerful, so raw, and so profound you can only be amazed that someone found the words to write it. Eve Ensler’s memoir, In the Body of the World, is one of those books.

Eve Ensler of The Vagina Monologue fame has devoted her life to to the female body – how to talk about it, how to protect it, and how to value it’s sacredness. When she finally addresses her cancer, which began in her uterus and affects her all her organs in her pelvic area, she is forced to confront her own unfinished story and her own dissociation from her own body.

She weaves her experience undergoing debilitating surgeries and treatment to call attention to the resilience of the hundreds of thousands of women of Congo and the unspeakable atrocities inflicted upon them and our own violation of the Earth.

After being literally gutted and all the infections have finally subsided, Eve Ensler prepares for the agonizing onslaught of chemotherapy by meeting with a former therapist, Sue. Here is the consciousness shift Sue shared tying Eve’s own past to her activist work:

The chemo is not for you. it is for the cancer, for all the past crimes, it’s for your father, it’s for the rapists, it’s for the perpetrators. You’re going to poison them now and they are never coming back. Chemo will purge the badness that was projected onto you but was never yours. I have total faith in your resilience and the magical capabilities of your body and soul for healing. Your job is to welcome the chemo as an empathetic warrior, who is coming in rescue to your innocence by killing the perpetrator who got inside you. You have many bodies; new one will be born out of this transformational time of love and care. When you feel nauseous or terrible, just imagine how hard the chemo is fighting on your behalf and on behalf of all women’s bodies, restoring wholeness, innocence, peace. Welcome chemo as empathetic warrior (p. 113).

Eve Ensler bears witness to the things we don’t want to see or acknowledge or experience. But in doing so, she invites us to our own journey to our connection to the world and our responsibility for the world.

Half the Sky

half-the-skyamazon

I read the book Half the Sky a couple of years ago. Surprisingly, our rural library has the book, although I think I’m the only one who has ever checked it out. It’s written by New York Times op-ed writer Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, a former New York Times journalist. PBS, of Big Bird fame, recently aired a documentary based on the book. The movie and book are powerful, eye opening glimpses of the need and hope for empowerment of girls and women worldwide.

Human trafficking and forced prostitution, gender-based violence, lack of access to education and health care, and maternal mortality are moral issues confronting us in the 21st century. Cultural, religious, and societal traditions oppressing women and girls are still prevalent worldwide, including in the United States. However, when women and girls are empowered economically and educationally, women seize the opportunity to change the outcomes for themselves and their families.

My long-suffering husband and I streamed Half the Sky this weekend. My husband is like most people. He’ll watch and then not give it much more thought because “it’s happening in other parts of the world and not here.” However, when he considers his three young granddaughters, he knows that education and opportunities are just as important for them as they are for girls and women everywhere else.

We must guard against becoming complacent, deceiving ourselves into thinking we don’t need to consider these moral imperatives facing women and girls worldwide. Instead of dismissing the issues of sex trafficking, gender-based violence, lack of access to education and health care as developing world problems, we need to examine where those issues are in our own culture … because they are here too. We just have more sophisticated ways of hiding it.

Banned Books

The Hunger Games

Mr. Vosovic was my literature teacher my freshman year in high school. I loved that class.  We read books that still regularly make it to the banned books list. There wasn’t a Banned Books Week when I was in school, but there was talk about the books we read as not being appropriate for high school-aged kids. Personally, I think if students knew the books they were required to read were on the banned list, those covers would be cracked open!

For the past 30 years, the last week of September has been set aside as Banned Books Week. The goal is to highlight the benefits of intellectual freedom, drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting books that are or have been banned, as well those books where banning has been attempted. I guess the fight for intellectual freedom and access to literature will continue as long as there are people who want to control.

Radcliffe’s Rival 100 Best Novels is a list of what’s considered the top 100 novels of the 20th century by the Modern Library board. The list is below. Those titles and authors that are bolded, are known to either have been banned or attempted to be banned at one time. To find out the reason for these books being banned or challenged, check out Banned and/Or Challenged Books.

  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  6. Ulysses by James Joyce
  7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  9. 1984 by George Orwell
  10. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  11. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
  12. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  13. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  14. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  15. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  16. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  17. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  18. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  19. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  20. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  21. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  22. Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
  23. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  24. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  25. Song of  Solomon by Toni Morrison
  26. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  27. Native Son by Richard Wright
  28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  29. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  30. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  31. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  32. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  33. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  34. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  35. Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  36. Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  37. The World According to Garp by John Irving
  38. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
  39. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
  40. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  41. Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally
  42. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  43. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  44. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
  45. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
  46. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  47. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  48. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
  49. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  50. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  51. My Antonia by Willa Cather
  52. Howards End by E.M. Forster
  53. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  54. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
  55. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
  56. Jazz by Toni Morrison
  57. Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
  58. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
  59. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  60. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
  61. A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
  62. Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  63. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  64. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
  65. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
  66. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  67. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  68. Light in August by William Faulkner
  69. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
  70. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  71. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  72. A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  73. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
  74. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  75. Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence
  76. Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
  77. In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
  78. The Autobiography of Alice B. Tokias by Gertrude Stein
  79. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
  80. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
  81. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  82. White Noise by Don DeLillo
  83. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
  84. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
  85. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  86. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
  87. The Bostonians by Henry James
  88. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
  89. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  90. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  91. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  92. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  93. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
  94. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
  95. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
  96. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  97. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
  98. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
  99. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
  100. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

I was surprised that I’ve read all 46 of the challenged titles and 96 of the 100 books on the list! How many have you read?

If you’re interested in what books have made the banned and challenged lists for the 21st century, check out the American Library Association’s site. You might be surprised by some of the books on the 2011 list. To tempt you to go look, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and To Kill a Mockingbird are two books on that list!

 

The Glass Castle

The Glass Castleamazon

I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.

That’s how Jeannette Walls memoir, The Glass Castle, begins. Having read her first book, Half Broke Horses about the life of her maternal grandmother, I knew Jeannette Walls was a masterful storyteller. What a story she has to tell!

You know by the opening sentence of the book, this will be no ordinary story. You have no idea, however, how extraordinary Jeannette and her siblings childhood will be. She masterfully weaves her astonishing experience with grace and humor. The many laugh-out-loud moments in the story provide a counter-balance to the otherwise unbelievable intensity.

I’m very selective about reading memoirs. I hate shock-and-awe techniques used by so many to grab an audience. There are many who overcome incredible odds on the way to a productive life, but so few are able to share their story without sensationalizing the truth of their lives. The Glass Castle isn’t devoid of emotion, but there is a certain no-nonsense approach the Walls children grasped to survive.

I don’t want to say too much so as not to give away any of the story, but think this is a must-read book for anyone. We’re confronted with the age-old question of nature versus nurture and why some succeed against amazing odds. It also reminds us that we never really know someone’s true story and what, if anything, would be different if we did.

 

Joker One: A Marine Platoon’s Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood

Joker Oneamazon

I was reflecting the other day on war, trying to recall if there has ever been a time in my lifetime where we, as a nation, have not been at war or participating in a war somewhere on the planet. Some of the wars were referred to as conflicts, but they really were wars. I think of Korea and Vietnam.

What got me to thinking about all of this was a leadership seminar sponsored by The National Museum of the Pacific War here in Fredericksburg, Texas. Our company, Cloudtippers, is a business partner and one of the perks is this yearly seminar. The speaker was a U.S. Marine officer, Donovan Campbell, who served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. His book, Joker One: A Marine Platoon’s Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood, put him on the radar of the museum foundation’s CEO, General, USMC (Retired) Michael Hagee, former Commandant of the Marines.

The chatter as we were making the rounds before the start of the program was Have you read the book? Of course, I had not. I had recently finished Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption chronicling Louis Zamperini’s amazing experience. (Zamperini is another Foundation sponsored event here in May. Not bad for a rural town!)  I sort of needed a break from that kind of intensity. But the few people who had read the book, all mentioned that, while they don’t usually read that type of book, found they were captivated and were so glad they had read it. Hmm. Maybe I would reconsider IF our library had the book.

The program started and we were all captivated by Donovan Campbell. It wasn’t the intensity of war stories as much as it was the revelations of leadership and lessons learned alongside a group of young men in the worst of battle situations in Ramadi, 2003 and 2004. He wrote the book, part of his Harvard MBA program, as a way for his platoon to relate their experiences once they returned home. The book served as a spring board for a broader talk on leadership.

Most of us have no idea of the impossible situation these 18, 19, 20 year-olds are faced with as they perform their daily duties in an urban war, under harsh environmental conditions (130-degree temperatures, no running water and no electricity), without adequate equipment (like working radios or enough armored vehicles). Campbell’s ability to frame the context for the rest of us and articulate principles that can be incorporated into real life a part from war, was inspiring.

Surprisingly, our library does have the book. It is definitely worth the read! Campbell is a captivating storyteller, but that’s not the main reason to read the book. The main reason to read the book to is better understand why we need to make sure we, as a nation, provide whatever services are needed for those returning from war. They volunteer to do the work and make sacrifices none of the rest of us can or will do. Whether we agree with the decision or not to get involved in this, or any, war, is beside the point. As citizens of this nations, we all share in the responsibility.

Home Front

Home Frontamazon

I finished reading Home Front by Kristin Hannah last week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Yes, it’s fiction and yes, it’s written for a female audience, but the topic is something all of us need to be thinking about. This is a story that impacts all of us. It’s a gripping and emotional read.

The story is about an Blackhawk pilot Army Reservist who is also a wife and mother. Real life is happening in her marriage and with her preteen daughter when she, and her best friend, are deployed to Iraq. That’s all I’m going to say about the story because I want you to experience it for yourself in all of it’s raw reality.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been raging for more than ten years. Many of us know individuals and families whose lives have been impacted forever by these wars. More soldiers are surviving horrific injuries than in previous wars. More women have been sent to war than ever before. More Reservists have been sent to active war zones for repeated tours than ever before. There is incredible support for returning vets, however no one’s really prepared for what’s really needed for them and their families when they return home.

The messy and brutal effects of war linger long after the battles are fought and everyone has returned home. War is costly, but the real cost has yet to be determined. How do you quantify the sacrifice and adjustments for experiences and wounds that only a handful will know?

That’s the value and power of Home Front. We’re drawn into a story that we can relate to with people we may know. We’re there as the intimate and agonizing decisions are made We’re witnesses to the struggle and courage that are summoned from deep within. We’re given the glimpse of a recovery process yet to be fulfilled. Most of all, we’re given a parting gift as we finish the final pages of the book: we’re changed.

Unbroken

Unbrokenamazon

History, like truth, is stranger than fiction. Maybe that’s why so many don’t pay any attention to either. Maybe that’s why I enjoy history so much.

My latest historical read was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. She got us to read a book about a horse and has done another phenomenal job telling us a World War II story of survival, resilience, and redemption. Although she tells the story primarily through Louis Zamperini’s experience, we know that an entire generation worldwide was also part of that story.

Louis Zamperini was already an Olympian, having competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, when he was drafted for the Army Air Corps. Even that training could never prepare him, nor anyone else for that matter, for what he would experience surviving the war. In some respects, physically surviving was easier than putting his life together when the war ended and he returned home.

I think one reason this story so powerful today is where we are [again!] as a nation with troops coming home after a long siege of wars in countries whose cultures we don’t fully understand. Their lives have been irrevocable altered and most of us won’t have any point of reference to help us understand. The truth of war forces us to look at its horrific impact on individuals, their families and friends.

The writer of Ecclesiastics declared there was nothing new under the sun. If we look at history, I think he’s absolutely correct. If we learn nothing else, we learn that humanity is very creative in repackaging how it repeats history. I think it’s also the reason history gives me hope. We’ve seen it before, we survive (sometimes barely) and thankfully, some of the lessons are passed down to subsequent generations.

History may not be your thing, but Unbroken is very engaging and readable. You won’t be disappointed!

 

Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World

Beyond Religionamazon

I remember when John Lennon’s song Imagine came out in 1972. It was an instant hit on the charts and instantly controversial in Christian circles. Leave it to Christians to be dismissive about truths that aren’t their own.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s latest book, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World reminds me of Lennon’s song. He makes the case that the time has come to move beyond religion toward a secular ethic. He argues that we can find common ground  in our shared humanity and similar values that go beyond religious traditions and spiritual practices. He meticulously outlines how this secular ethic transcends religion, recognizing our common humanity and our interdependence on one another in the global human community.

The strength of his proposal is in removing those things that divide us (religious rhetoric) and embracing those things that draw us together (common values found in faith traditions and secular thought). He makes the case that we are so interconnected and interdependent we must make changes in how we think and act, beginning with ourselves.

Unlike most ethics books, this one is easy to understand and very practical. In fact, there are some exercises that anyone can implement as a practice. Those without any practice will find these exercises beneficial. Those who practice meditation and prayer will find these exercises easily adaptable to what is already being done.

We don’t need to look far to see that the need to address and change how things in this world are currently begin done if we want to survive. We must figure out how to work together, how to respect one another, and how to alleviate the suffering that is all around us. We must start with ourselves. Beyond Religion is a great tool.

American Jezebel

American Jezebelamazon

American Jezebel. Now that was an intriguing title. I was looking for another book to download to my iPad for our road trip. The title certainly caught my attention. What American woman could ever have earned that title?

Maybe some background information will help put this into perspective. Jezebel was a really, really bad girl in the Old Testament. Where Eve gets blamed for all sorts of ills this side of eternity, Jezebel did all sorts of bad things, besides provoking the heck out of God’s man on the ground, Elijah.

Jezebel was a Phoenician princess who married Israel’s Northern Kingdom King Ahab, most likely to form a political alliance between Israel and the Phoenicians. The old Testament books of I and II Kings tell the intense religious-political story of the Northern Kingdom, which is quite detailed. Jezebel was sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and the real power behind the throne…which she used to her advantage. She was not at all interested in the Hebrew’s God and was a constant thorn in the prophet Elijah’s side. In fact, he was pretty terrified of her even though he won out in the long run. She also met a really grizzly death, especially noted for the fact that not much of her was left after the dogs finished with her!

Who could this American Jezebel be? This woman was called an enemy of the state, this impudent Puritan, not fit for our society, a dangerous instrument of the devil, and this American Jezebel, among other things. She’s also the reason Harvard College was started, and thankfully because of her trial, it is the only written record of any woman from that era in American history!

American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans is written by the eleventh-generation granddaughter of Anne Hutchinson, Eve LaPlante. I’m a confessed theology geek and there are theological nuances that form some of the debate between Anne Hutchinson and her male accusers. LaPlante clearly navigates the theological debate, salvation by works or salvation by inward grace, that was the basis for the heresy trial, making them understandable for today’s reader.

The irony of her trial was that the very leaders who fled England because of religious persecution, were now persecuting one of their own! There were other clergy who were censured and banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but Anne Hutchinson posed a severe threat because as a woman she was challenging the civil and religious elite. At the close of her civil trial (another church trial ensued!), the Massachusetts court determined to build the first college, taught by orthodox ministers to indoctrinate young men before they began to think for themselves.

Anne Hutchinson’s heresy trial took place in 1637.  The First and Fourteenth Amendments, protecting our religious liberties and freedoms, are a direct correlation of the struggles in the colonies more than one hundred years before the Revolutionary War. Sadly, “heresy” accusations still exist within the church. Christian religious lines are still being drawn and subtle and not-so-subtle forms of persecution still occur. Today, some are purposely blurring the lines between civil and religious issues.

American Jezebel is a more-than-worthwhile read for those who want to understand the historical struggles and sacrifices paid by our forebears because religious freedom is a precious right we would do well to guard.

 

Emily and Einstein

Emily and Einsteinamazon

When I decided to add recommended reading to this blog, I naturally assumed the books I’d recommend would be serious reads. Who knows why I thought that. Certainly no one really cares. This book, however, is definitely Eternal Scheme genre.

I was scouring the library for enough books to hold me over for the Labor Day weekend. I was excited to find a couple of new books that might fit the just-entertain-me bill. Friday night I settled in with Emily and Einstein. What a delightful surprise! Not only was this book enjoyable, there was an underlying message of hope and redemption…definitely eternal scheme material!

The story catches you right from the beginning. You’re drawn into a tragedy that could happen to any of us. Then, as if the tragedy itself isn’t enough, Emily is forced to face an ugly reality about her husband. Of course, those kinds of realities are also about ourselves, so Emily has to dig deep herself.

Linda Francis Lee mixes the perfect amount of intensity and humor to keep us completely engaged into story. Her dead-husband-embodied-in-a-dog’s-body, also has a chance to redeem himself. Lee does a superb job of taking the histories of each of the characters, keeping them real, letting us peek into their choices, revealing that there is hope and redemption for all of us who are willing.

Ritual, Routine, and Religion

Fragile Moon
Creative Commons License photo credit: xyzpdqfoo

Well, as you can tell by the title, the alliteration bug bit. I was going to add Ramadan in there too, but thought that might be a bit much for some. But thinking about Ramadan is what got me started on this post in the first place. (Sometimes I wish my thinking mind would just turn off!)

Like many Americans, I have an extremely limited understanding of Islam. I had some exposure to Muslims when I was at UCLA in the late 1970s. There was a lot of anti-Shah demonstrating on campus and I didn’t have a clue what it was all about. Muslim male students were trolling the campus trying to arrange a “financial” marriage to an American woman so they could stay in the country. There were even Visa issues back then. I think the going rate in 1976 was $10,000 for a “financial” marriage.

Then there was Malcom X vs. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s. Almost like the message was violence vs. pacifism. Islam was about violent resolution, Christianity was about peaceful resolution. Somehow the “Christian” roots of the Ku Klux Klan wasn’t talked much about during their violent reign. Malcom X would never have been quoted by the general public back then and just yesterday a quote of his circulated among my friends on Facebook.

When I feel uninformed, I read. Last year, I finally made myself read two books that had circulated on The New York Times bestseller’s list: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. I had been resisting reading either of these books, probably because I unconsciously I knew they would be disturbing.

And they were. But not because of what I thought. What was so disturbing, for me, was how girls and women were denied access to education and the complete control exerted over them in every conceivable part of their lives. It was the worst imaginable form of dehumanization I could think of…not that I react well to much authority in the first place.

Since September 11, 2001, much has been politicized about Islamic beliefs,  jihad, and terrorism. It’s all very confusing, very complex, and been going on for a very long time. An iTunesU podcast I listened to led me to a small, very informative book by John Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam. It was an excellent overview of the complicated history of Islam and an insightful look at the precipitation of and key leaders in militant Islam.

Last week I finished reading Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks. She wrote this book in the 1990s when she was a Middle East journalist for the Wall Street Journal. I finished reading it as Ramadan was beginning. Oh, and I saw a lot of parallels between fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Christianity. Not surprising and very disturbing.

Ramadan has also hit the radar screen for some blogs I follow. In fact, a couple of Christian blogs I saw in passing were lamenting the lack of sincere ritual in Christian churches and how Christianity can learn from the piety of its Islamic kin. Hmm. I know plenty of churches who are guided by liturgical ritual. Maybe they were reacting to the routine that occurs when ritual becomes too familiar? They didn’t say enough to know much.

It’s normal to be disturbed by stuff we don’t have experience with or understand. It’s also easier to look askance at people, cultures, and beliefs we’re not familiar with. It’s also dangerous to not acknowledge the similarities there are between people, cultures, and beliefs. And, as with everything under the sun, there are always extremists among people, cultures, and beliefs. It’s usually the extremists who get most of the attention and who, by default, become the examples lifted up as the norm.

This isn’t quite where I thought I was headed when I started writing this post, but it’s where I ended up. Thankfully, there is never a famine of food for thought!

The Faith Club

The Faith Clubamazon

Last week, Friday July 22, 2011 to be exact, the world was again horrified by violence from a religious fundamentalist. Because it happened in a country known for tolerance and included horrific violence to kids, we paid attention. Violence fueled by fundamentalism and ideology is happening in way too many places on our planet. And I’m not even talking about the violence wrought from economic disparities, domestic disputes, and other run-of-the-mill crimes against humanity.

Our elected leaders cannot even have civil, productive dialogues about issues that directly impact our lives like the economy, health care, and education. How do we even hope for them to have any ideological discussion that impacts our very democratic foundation like voters’ rights and the First Amendment?

We can’t blame it all on our elected officials. How many of us can have these conversations? Are we willing to discuss difficult subjects with others purely for the opportunity to be enlightened and deepen our understanding of something of which we might not know very much? Are we open to exploring a belief system or an idea of someone else just to see what their perspective might be? Even if we aren’t interested in changing our own beliefs, can we at least not be judgmental about someone having their own beliefs and allowing then to maintain their own convictions?

Three women, from three faiths – Islam, Christianity, and Judaism – got together in the aftermath of 9/11 to write a children’s picture book t0 highlight the connections between their faiths. As they started talking about what they believed, misunderstandings and stereotypes surfaced. The project was almost doomed before it ever got off the ground!

They decided that in order to talk about the things that united them, they needed to address the things that divided them in their beliefs about faith, God, and religion. They made a commitment to meet regularly, in each other’s living rooms over tea and dark chocolate, to talk and explore this complicated, often volatile, subject matter.

The Faith Club is a compilation of their taped conversations and private journals. It’s an invitation to eavesdrop on their private conversations as they wrestled with and articulated their thoughts on jihad to Jesus, holy texts and heaven.

I read this a few years ago, but in light of the upcoming 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the ongoing religious tensions (among other things) in our own country, I thought I’d share it with you. Of course, I’d love to hear what you think!!

Caleb’s Crossing

Caleb's Crossingamazon

I love historical fiction. In the hands of a skillful author, a little shard of history can be woven into story that breathes life into what life was about in that time and place. When we think of history has being nothing more than the everyday events of someone’s life woven together with other everyday events of someone else’s life, we have a plausible reality upon which our lives today emerge.

Did you know that the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College was in the class of 1665? And that he was from the Wampanoag tribe on what we now know of as Martha’s Vineyard?

Pulitzer Prize winning author Geraldine Brooks takes this fascinating historical tidbit and fills in the blanks from the writings from the island’s Puritan preacher and Wampanoag lore to tell the story of Caleb. The story is told in the voice of the preacher’s daughter, Bethia, who strains against the restrictions and roles for her gender.

This wonderful historical story resonates with the history of our own lives. It’s timeless. And if we’re willing to open our hearts and minds, we can see our own 21st century narrative in its pages.

Thursday bonus: Author Geraldine Brooks shares how she came upon Caleb and her inspiration for this book.

Email subscribers may need to go to the Eternal Scheme website to view the video.

 

All That Is Bitter and Sweet

All_That_Is_Bitter_and_Sweet_A_Memoir-69755amazon

I read just about anything new that comes into our local, rural library. I knew nothing about any of the Judds when I reserved the book. My ever-worldly husband was amazed that I didn’t know about the mother-daughter country singing duo or the actor sister who did a slew of movies. Well, I must revise that. Having watched the Indy 500 in 2010, I knew that Ashley Judd was married to race car winner Dario Franchetti.

I didn’t have any expectations about All That Is Bitter and Sweet. Was I ever wonderfully surprised!

Ashley Judd is an articulate, thoughtful writer. Her personal story unfolds alongside her work on behalf of women and girls in the global south. As she witnesses the abuse and invisibility of girls and women trapped in sexual slavery, ravaged by HIV/AIDS, and the other injustices wrought from no access to education, healthcare, or economic hope, her own experiences of abuse and being invisible are crying out to be voiced too, if only to herself.

This is not your typical tell-all-I’m-a-victum-celebrity story. There is none of that in the book. Her insight is hopeful and affirming and speaks to the inner longings of most of our hearts. Her message is inspiring, but her unconditional love is contagious.

I get asked what books I’m reading and what I recommend for various topics. You’ll find some suggestions in the Recommended Books category. There will be sub-categories by topic to make it easier for you to find books under topics interesting to you. I’ll be adding books regularly. I’m ALWAYS looking for good recommendations myself. Feel free to email me your favorites reads!