Saturday, January 16, 2021

MEA CULPA*

*(For those of you who know Latin, you know that means—“through my fault” (sometimes translated “sin”). 

 

As I am growing older (and this past year has reminded me FORCEFULLY that I am), I find myself reflecting. I am staying away from the rocking chair…you know, the image of the old granny sitting in her rocking chair tsk tsk tsking away at the ills of the world. With a few new creaks and groans in my body, I suddenly recall my own youthful impatience when I was younger witnessing such in old people.

 

Herewith three exemplary stories.

 

MEA CULPA: We were on a tour that included a stop in St. Petersburg. As with any group tour, we were transported from one site to another by bus. Our tour guide had planned a repertoire on steroids—packed full and quite vigorous. And many in the group were somewhat…ahem…older than my husband and me.  At one point, we needed to hurry back to the bus, get on board and drive to the next stop. As one older woman climbed the few steps on to the bus, she slipped and fell squarely on both knees. She was obviously in pain, and several people rushed to help her. She was angrily annoyed and shooed them away while she painfully and slowly got up.  

 

For whatever reasons, that incident really annoyed me, and while I said nothing aloud (I may have mumbled under my breath “oh, come on”), I was dismayed how that incident set the whole tour group at a disadvantage. Delayed departure, delayed arrival, problems with the timed entry to the next stop…

 

Flash forward some 15 years. Now, I am not on a tour, but karma (she of kindly disposition) showed me what a stumble and then fall can be.  I was walking our dog around the block when I caught my shoe on a 1 inch difference in two sidewalk sections, and tumbled face forward on to the sidewalk. A neighbor who was doing yard work saw me—and he rushed over. Should he call an ambulance? NO. Should he call my husband? NO. Should he drive me the half-block to my house? NO. Well, he asked what could he do. I said—give me a cloth to stop the bleeding. He kindly did…and I walked the rest of the way home. I had a lovely scraped forehead, several facial cuts but no broken bones.

 

Mea culpa—where was my fault? Certainly not in falling. The fault was my earlier reaction of impatience and lack of caring on that tour. 

 

MEA CULPA—my father and mother first moved to a retirement village when they were in their 60s. With my mother’s death my father was alone. He remarried and eventually he and my step-mother moved into assisted living. When my step-mother needed nursing care, my father then moved into a single room. I tried to visit him once a week, and frequently found that my time was consumed by his demands:  get this, sew that, fix this, OH and check my computer. One day, when I visited him he indicated he couldn’t get into his computer because someone had called and said there was a particular problem and he needed to click on….I need go no further. He fell for it.  I am NO computer whiz, but for some reason, I wondered if I went back to an earlier restore point if that wouldn’t “fix” things. Tried it…and it worked. And each time I saw my dad after that, I warned him—no more clicking on things or following the direction of charlatans on the phone.

 

Flash forward 5 years. Because of those experiences with my dad, I religiously avoid scams—either telephone based or computer messages. Until…I received an email purportedly from my pastor. His note said, “you might be interested in this” and there was a hyper-link. AND I fell for it. The pastor and I had been working on a church issue, and I had received an earlier email from him on the problem subject, and without thinking assumed this link related to that. Of course, it didn’t. PANIC. And remorse.

 

Mea Culpa—where was my fault? Well, partly on being duped. But more for my impatience with my father and not recognizing how easy it is to be duped by something seemingly so innocent.

 

MEA CULPA—when my father and step-mother first moved into their assisted living area, they had a double bed but had no sheets. I had gotten them some news sheets, but one day my father called and said I needed to take them back…they were too slippery. Slippery?  Yes, he said—your step mother keeps falling out of bed. 

 

Oh, come on, I thought—how can she fall out of bed! Anyway, I took the sheets. The bed issue was part its own saga—first, they had moved their queen bed from their cottage, then got rid of it. They got a double bed, but with the sheets and the falling got rid of it. Finally, they ended up with two single beds not long before my step-mother moved into nursing care.

 

Fast forward … again.  I have lately begun experiencing dizziness—sort of a “the deck is rocking and rolling on this ship” feeling. I haven’t fallen out of bed. But I do now understand the disorientation and near-vertigo that can accompany aging.

 

No need to ask mea culpa—where was my fault? You can identify it—my impatience and lack of understanding that the experiences I have relayed can be part of the aging process. And I am being more intentional in watching my step where I go.

 

I heard a doctor who was giving a talk on aging say, “ when people get older they don’t change (their personality)—the patina just wears thin.”  I have thought of that wisdom a great deal. We are what we are—and growing older doesn’t turn us into something else suddenly.  

 

The instances I have relayed are not the only way I am. So, while I can, I burnish the patina a little bit—cultivate an attitude of gratitude; say thank you to every kindly gesture; thank people who are doing small tasks JUST for doing that task; be kind…be kind…be kind—I trust mea culpa will be forgiven.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A Christmas Picnic Adventure

            





            Christmas in the southern hemisphere occurs in the middle of summer. For many years, the Southern Rhodesia[i]missionaries all met for an annual Christmas picnic, rotating between the several larger mission stations[ii].  In 1958, my father was acting general superintendent of the missionary work. All the missionaries had planned to meet in the Matopo Mission in an School/Outstation, some eight miles from the mission.  The school was small with two buildings, both made of brick and grass thatch roofs. Altogether, we numbered about 50. We had each brought food and planned to spend the day in fellowship and an afternoon program had been planned. 

 

The day started out beautifully—blue skies, cloud-free. A number of missionaries and older children started a baseball game. After we were well into the baseball game, the sky started to cloud over. Then it began to rain lightly, then more heavily, then it poured. We dashed for one of the two school buildings. We decided to have our picnic lunch inside the large relatively open building, and then to return to Matopo Mission for the rest of the day. We had our lunch, piled into our several mission vehicles, and started to return to the mission station. About a quarter of a mile from the school there was a small dry river bed we had crossed in the morning. Most of the rain had fallen upstream and the dry river bed was now a raging torrent. We were trapped—all 50 of us. We couldn’t cross the river until the water receded. We returned to the school house, where the children put on the program they had prepared. Two missionary men assigned to Matopo decided to hike back up through the Matopo Hills to the mission station to get the mission tractor to help us through the swollen river. We did not know how long that river would be uncrossable. 

 

By this time, the air was cold, with the continuing rain. We built a fire on the earth floor of that school house, gathering wood wherever we could find it. Much of the wood was wet and it was difficult to start a fire, but we succeeded. One of the missionary men kept feeding wood to the fire, and the flames were growing higher. My mother alerted my father that the flames were burning high and sparks were beginning to fly. My dad had visions of the sparks setting the thatch roof on fire, and thought, Oh boy! That's all we need—to burn down the school house the people here built. So my dad said, "Better not put any more wood on. I am afraid the roof might catch on fire."

 

Finally, the two men arrived with the mission tractor, a big English Fordson diesel tractor, which was able to drive through the river, even though the water was still very high. They also brought a trek wagon along with them with some lengths of heavy trek chains to pull cars across. We decided that the tractor could pull the cars, with all their passengers inside, through the water.

 

By the time we crossed the river, it was dark. It took some time to pull all the cars and passengers across. We were the second to last car, and as we were being pulled through, our car floated in midstream. My dad kept a firm grip on the steering wheel and the front wheels pointed straight, and the strong tug of the tractor got us through to solid ground. The missionary who had built the fire was driving the last vehicle; midstream, he lost control and the vehicle began to float downstream. In his efforts to correct his angle, he kept twisting the steering wheel right and left, and finally, the wheels hit solid ground again and worked against the pull of the tractor. He thought something was drastically wrong with his car.

 

Only one missionary was not along on the picnic—one of the missionary women named Ethel who was fairly far along in a somewhat difficult pregnancy, and she chose to stay home. Her husband had come along on the picnic, however. My mother was concerned that we were not able to let Ethel know our plight. Before the first car was pulled across, Mother told the occupants to call Ethel as soon as they got back to the mission, but they forgot. When we all finally arrived back and found out they hadn’t called Ethel, we called her right away. 

 

Here’s what Ethel was doing. When the missionary party did not return by sundown, she began to get concerned. Ethel was at another mission station, called Mtshabezi. First she tried telephoning the doctor's home at mission station hospital.. When she got no answer she tried calling the main house. Finally she called church headquarters in Bulawayo. No answer anywhere! It had not rained all day at Mtshabezi, and she began to think that something dire had befallen us—perhaps food poisoning—and she was the only missionary left in Southern Rhodesia. She finally decided to call the local police station, some 20 miles from Matopo Mission. They had decided that if she or they heard nothing more within the next half hour they would send out a search party. As soon as she received our call about 11:00 p.m., she immediately contacted the police and canceled the search party. 

 

Needless to say, while I have experienced some wonderful memorable Christmases, none can rival the memory of this Christmas. As it turned out, it was the last Christmas I spent in southern Africa—my whole family returned home, and when my parents and siblings returned to Southern Rhodesia, I stayed in the U.S. 



[i] Southern Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, as it is now called.

[ii] At that time, there were three main mission stations in the Brethren In Christ Church in Southern Rhodesia: Matopo, Mtshabezi, and Wanezi.

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Photo of the Matobo Hills (as they are now called) from is one my brother took. Thanks for the permission, Daryl.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

TWO MORE FOR THE 2020 LIST


 THE SPLENDID AND THE VILE

By Erik Larson

 

It was early May, 1940. Neville Chamberlain, a member of the Conservative Party, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, but was quickly losing power. Chamberlain knew he had to step down but who would succeed him as leader of the Conversative Party. Two possible choices—Lord Halifax and Winston Churchill. Chamberlain recommended to the king, who would name the next prime minister, that Winston Churchill be the one.  He was not immediately a popular choice. The opposition Labour Party despised him. But Chamberlain, who had lost the confidence of the Convervative Party, sensed that Churchill was exactly the man for the times.

 

On May 10, King George VI summoned Churchill to Buckingham Palace, and asked him to form a government. Churchill was elated—this is the moment for which he had been preparing all his life. But, on that same day, Adolph Hitler’s troops invaded Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands as they advanced toward Paris, France.

 

Thus begins the saga of Winston Churchill as prime minister in England’s darkest hour. The Splendid  and the Vile begins its account with the naming of Churchill and the beginnings of the Battle of Britain. The account covers the one year time span from Churchill’s ascension to leadership in May 1940 to May 1941. Drawing on official documents and personal accounts from those who lived through the battle Larson weaves a thoroughly mesmerizing recounting of what was England’s darkest hour and Churchill’s display of precisely the kind of leadership needed for the times.

 

I learned a great deal from this book, which surprised me a bit. I was an English Lit major in college, so British history was a prerequisite. And I am also an Anglophile, for many reasons. Further, I have read various biographies of Churchill. Much as I thought I knew about him and the first year of World War II for England, I still learned much. And am the richer for it.

 

 

 

EUPHORIA


By Lily King


I had seen the book Euphoria when it first came out several years ago, and had in fact marked it as a book I wanted to read. But I didn't have it or do anything about getting it. Then a couple of weeks ago, the Kindle version was offered as one of the "deals of the day" books, and I got it.

 

Having slogged through THE MOSQUITO: A Human History, I was ready for something engaging that wouldn't take forever to read. And also something that would be more focused and satisfying.

 

Enter EUPHORIA.

 

When I was in college, I read Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa. My own feminism was developing at that time, and I loved the observations Mead recorded.


That was enough of a recollection for me to dive into Euphoria. It didn't disappoint. It was a quick read for me. No laborious over-explained passages. The characters of Nell, Fen and Bankson are inspired by the real lives of Margaret Mead, her first husband Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson, who was Mead's second husband.


The trio are conducting research into tribal customs: Nell and Fen studying one tribe while Bankson studies another, several hours travel away from Nell and Fen. 


It doesn't take long for the electricity of relationships to heat up. Nell and Fen are married, collaborators and rivals. Bankson is lonely, isolated but dedicated to his research. His somewhat chance meeting with Nell and Fen sets him on a path, both of research but also interpersonal complications. Perhaps, not surprisingly, a love triangle forms which increasingly occupies to focus of the narrative.


It turns out that, for me, Euphoria was a quick read. But unlike some quick reads, which are soon forgotten because of their lack of substance, Euphoria will stay with me for a long time. Much to contemplate and mull. Putting the love triangle aside, there are stunning observations on cultural norms and how they are form, on uses to which research is sometimes put--not always good uses. These are the things I will think about, even as I say farewell to Nell, Fen and Bankson.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Trying Hard to Catch Up and Make My Reading Goal

I set myself an annual reading goal, as I have the last several years. I have succeeded in meeting those goals, but this year I have gotten behind. See previous blog for the reason (clue: the third book in the Thomas Cromwell trilogy).

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The Return

By Hisham Matar

 

This excellent book is an aching combination of a family displaced, a father’s disappearance and a son’s quest to find his father.  The events detailed include the existence of the kingdom of Libya (1951-1969), which was ended with Qaddafi’s overthrow of King Idris I (in 1969). Libya suffered under various powers’ domination through history—including under the Ottoman Empire and under Italy’s colonization of the country. These details are necessary to help understand the deep sense of loss that Libyan patriots experienced when Qaddafi rose to power. The revolution quickly devolved into autocracy and tyranny. 

 

His family had been living in Cairo, Egypt. His father was an outspoken critic of Qaddafi. Eventually, his father was abducted in Cairo and presumably handed over to Qaddafi’s henchmen.  It is at that point that the father disappears. Matar, who had been studying in London, begins a search that lasts several decades to find his father.

 

The book not only examines the wrenching loss the family feels, and that Mater feels as a son, but also looks unsparingly at the evils of overwhelming dominating power that places little to no value on the life of someone as accomplished as Matar’s father.

 

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The Mosquito: a Human History of Our Deadliest Predator

By Timothy Winegard

 

I had a very personal reason for wanting to read this book. When I was three years old, living with my parents, my younger sister who was just eight months old was bitten by a mosquito, and developed malaria fever and died within a few weeks. That is my earliest memory. In part, because of that, I have always followed news about mosquitos and malaria and humanity’s effort to control or even eradicate this plague.

 

I confess that I was disappointed in the book. Rather than being a scholarly work, detailing the mosquito’s impact on humans, the book moves from antiquity to the current time, rehashing previously available information about how mosquitos have plagued human, as the cause of various disease, notably yellow fever and malaria.

 

The author spends a great deal of time chronicling various events where battles were decided in favor of one army or another—and then he interweaves somewhat speculatively that mosquitos decided the outcome of these battles. This tendency is particularly true in the more ancient history sections. There were chapters that were genuinely interesting, and seemed more grounded in the author’s general thesis. 

 

So, long analysis shortened—there are passages that are interesting and informative. And there are passages that are tedious, speculative and seemingly aimless.

 

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Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

By David Grann

 

I had seen the title of this book multiple times on various emails recommending books. The title intrigued me so finally I bought it (in e-read format).

 

Such a promising title. Such a promising premise. Such a failure to live up to either.

 

To be fair--the writer did a great deal of research into a horrific time in American history, focusing on a string of murders in Oklahoma where Osage native Americans, who happen to have been relocated to tribal lands that were later found to have oil repositories. The resulting boom made many of these Osage hugely wealthy. In a systematic and highly calloused way, white Americans married Osage tribal members, had themselves declared the manager of financial affairs and heirs in the potential death of the Osage spouse.  AND then proceeded to systematically murder the Osage--whether by outright violence, such as shooting someone dead, blowing up a house, or by slower more subtle means of poisoning.

 

These events occurring in the 1920s mark a very dark time in U.S. history. In a convergence of historical events, the murders were occurring about the time that the Federal Bureau of Investigation  was being established. Solving the murders became largely the work of one FBI special agent, Tom White. Through long and arduous work, he eventually tracks down the primary culprits, brings them to justice and an eventual successful trial.

 

But the story does not end there.

 

The author gathered so much information, so many records, so many contacts that he continued with reading through the volumes of notes he acquired, interviews he had conducted and such. What he found was that the 1920 murders that were detailed in the Killers of the Flower Moon account were only a handful among possibly hundreds of Osage swindled out of their possessions, and by various means dispatched. What the author discovered is that rather than being a self-contained story tracking "who killed Anna Brown" the story was of multiple murders.

 

My main criticism is that as a result of pursuing two separate theses, the book begins to drag. I applaud the author's exhaustive research, but times "less is more."  The reader becomes numbed to the impact of so many murders. That does not make them acceptable, but it does make them seem routine and thereby less important.

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OK--back to reading. Working on catching up.

 

Sunday, July 12, 2020

More Book Reviews

The Mirror and the Light
By Hilary Mantel

Whew! I am exhausted…bereft…fulfilled. It's been long slog. I had set my reading goal for the year as 25 books. Then I started reading The Mirror and the Light. Having read the first two books in Hilary Mantel's trilogy on Thomas Cromwell, I could not forego that last.

But I knew it would  slow my reading to a crawl. You simply cannot skim through this book and enjoy it. So I slowed down, and relished every word.

Mantel's accomplishment, in part, is taking an historical figure who has not always been seen in a favorable light and making him thoroughly likable, though very complicated.

If you don't know Tudor history, this book might elude you. I know English history passingly, including Tudor history (an absolute requirement for English majors reading Shakespeare's history plays). This book, and the two predecessors in the trilogy, added to my understanding.  And sent me many times to doing a bit of historical brushing up--who was this character? what was this event? Etc.

This trilogy is a masterpiece of English literature. Not only is the sweep and scope far reaching (covering major parts of the reign of Henry VIII), but the depth and nuance of the narrative technique is singular. Mantel tells Thomas Cromwell’s story in present tense, even as she switches back and forth in time. Memory is a strong component of the work, as we learn many circumstances of Cromwell’s rise to power via his own ruminations considering his personal history.

With this book the third in the trilogy, we move from the execution of Anne Boleyn to the eventual death of Thomas Cromwell.  The novel slowly builds to the inevitable conclusion, that we know historically. Knowing the dénouement in no way robs this book of its tension. 

At the outset of the novel, Cromwell witnessed the execution of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife—it was Cromwell who accomplished the setting aside of Katherine, Henry’s first wife making the marriage to Anne Boleyn possible.  That alone is a harbinger of the inevitable turn of the wheel of fortune. Yet, at the outsight of The Mirror and the Light, Cromwell is at his zenith. 

The novel slowly builds, with Cromwell’s influence unchanged…except. The slow unraveling bit by bit becomes apparent. Near the end of the novel, the reader can discern the palpable tension—and I had the urge to yell “THOMAS, PAY ATTENTION!  They’re out to get you.”

Part of the mastery of Mantel’s writing is that there is an almost imperceptible change in tone. As reader, you can see coming what Thomas does not. And when he finally does see that his enemies are building towards his being cast down, he still tries to work his magic.

The title—The Mirror and the Light—refers to a comment Cromwell makes to Henry VIII: “ the mirror and the light of all other kings and princes in Christendom.” Yet, the interplay between mirror and light shifts—sometimes it seems Henry is the reflection. Of course, Cromwell has made his comment as an obsequious complement to Henry, meant to assuage Henry’s jealousy that Cromwell might presume himself to be more important than Henry. It was precisely that fear in Henry that gave Cromwell’s enemies the means whereby to drive the wedge between monarch and minister leading to Cromwell’s own beheading.

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Born a Crime
By Trevor Noah

This engaging account by Trevor Noah of his childhood, and coming of age, is charming, sobering, enlightening and at times frightening.

The title refers to the fact that his mother was a black South African, and his father a white Swiss national--during apartheid when it was a crime for a black person and a white person to have sexual intercourse, much less bear a child out of that union.

Trevor Noah writes informatively of what it was like to grow up among several worlds--the black world epitomized in the various townships; the white world by virtue of his mother's working as a domestic for white families, and also the few contacts with his father. And also the colored world. The absurd division of humanity into various classes was a hallmark of apartheid South Africa. He explains that you could be classified (with official documents) as colored one day and then white another. (The reader should understand that colored was not nomenclature for a child produced from a black/white union, but rather a separate "class" of humans with varying backgrounds.)

The wonder is that Trevor Noah grew up, survived, functioned, learned, and emerged as the bright young man he is.


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Woodsburner
By John Pipkin

First, I did learn several things of historical interest and value.  E.g. David Henry?  Who knew? 

Second, I have a favorite character--as well as reactions to other characters. My favorite--Oddmund. Aka Odd. The abbreviation is very telling. 
Reactions to other characters-- 
Eliot--what a pain. Although, he redeems himself at the end. 
Henry David--hmmm. Not sure what to say. I found him to be dithery. I really expected "an unexamined life" to be worked in at one point. However, the biographical background about this incident in his life. I love that he called Odd "New America." And his querying Odd foreshadows his own living in the woods. 
Emma and her husband--the husband is, of course, a lout. Emma has her own survival story, as did Odd. Their pairing makes perfect sense 
Caleb--wow! Gives real insight into some of the religious issues of the day. 
Anezka and Zalenka (can't help but notice their names are A to Z).  

Third, memorable interactions or themes. 
The infancy of the country but with the view to the future where too much change occurs without thinking about it. 
The story of immigrants--the hardships they endure and the reasons they left the Old World. 
The undercurrent of same sex attraction being persecuted, and in the case of Oddmund's uncle--leading to death. 
Involvement in civilization vs. seeking solitude. 
FIRE--this is a huge theme. Of course, the woods being on fire. But Odd's father brings the trunk from the old country--proceeds to take items signifying attachment to the old, and setting them on fire. Until the explosion. Thus Odd loses his family. Of course, his reaction to the Concord fire is vivid--thinking he caused it, helping to fight it, warning the town about it, and "rescuing" Emma. 
Caleb's lethal fascination with fire (and hell). His walking into the burning woods. And most appropriately Anezka and Zalenka rescuing him. 
AND Eliot--his constant play writing, and the thought to end the play with a house on fire. The actual fire and his experience with it seem to be a purging for him that gives him some focus. 

Not one of my "top ten books ever written" but certainly unique.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Look of Impassivity

I am haunted by the image of Derek Chauvin's impassive face as he kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.  That’s a long time—try this. Stay silent for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. It’s a long time.

And yet through the whole time, the face of the policeman was impassive, unmoved, almost bored in appearance. Keep in mind, under his knee a fellow human being is struggling, attempting to breathe and PLEADING for his life –“I can’t breathe.”

As the video was played, replayed and replayed, I could not keep watching it. Floyd was dying, and Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck the whole time. So many things haunted me, but what struck me the most was the look on Chauvin’s face. Looking around. Not registering any feeling as to common humanity. Bored. 

It struck me because I had seen that look before. And then I remembered where.  When I was in my last job, teaching composition at the local community college, I had a classroom full of (mostly bored) students. Composition is the last course most students want to take but the one they ALL must take. It was not uncommon to lose the students’ attention. Usually, with my “teaching skills,” I was able to reconnect them (most of them) with the topic at hand.

But, one day I realized that bit by bit all of the students were not paying attention. It started with the row of students closest to the window. They began looking intently out the window at something that had them captivated. Then the next row, and the next until practically the whole class were out of their seats looking down from our 2nd story classroom to the green quad outside. So, I gave up and joined them.

There under a magnificent huge tree was a hawk. It was sitting on the ground, and held in its talons a squirrel. The squirrel was struggling mightily, trying every which way to escape. But the hawk held fast. And while it did, it leisurely looked around. Head swiveling slowly one way, then another. All the while the squirrel struggled and the hawk seemed utterly indifferent. This battle continued for minutes—no idea how long, but it was clear the class was done. Finally, I suggested that we regather and continue whatever the lesson was. Reluctantly, many students turned back to their desks. I, however, could still see out the window. And I knew the struggle continued.

After minutes—maybe 8 minutes and 46 seconds—the squirrel ceased struggling. It lay on the ground motionless, still held in the talons of the hawk. After a brief respite, the hawk leisurely spread its wings, clasped its prey and flew off. The now dead squirrel dangled pathetically, its tail waving in the breeze.

The image of that hawk—predatory, seemingly disengaged from the struggle under it—that’s where I had seen a look like Chauvin’s before.  

Thursday, February 20, 2020

I really do have other hobbies, but I LOVE to read.

St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate
By Karen Armstrong

This is a serious scholarly work, as one would expect from Karen Armstrong. It is not for the faint-hearted or the biblical illiterate or even literalist.

It was the title that intrigued me. I intensely disliked Paul, as do many women who have suffered because of some of the pronouncements in the Pauline letters ("Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior.  Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands."). There is also the admonition that women should remain silent in the church.

So I joined other feminist women in disliking Paul intensely. 

Armstrong does an admirable job explaining Paul's life and his mission. In many ways, he created the church. 

What I found most interesting was that there is scholarly support that not all the Pauline letters were written by Paul, but some were written by disciples of Paul. For those of us who read neither Greek nor Hebrew, we benefit from scholars such as Armstrong who does. And the evidence that she lays out suggests that many of the most misogynistic passages were in letters these followers of Paul wrote.

I repeat my initial caution--this is not a book for the faint-hearted or for someone looking for a quick way to dismiss Paul.  But if you want to learn more about Paul, this book helps fill in some of the blanks.




Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others
By Barbara Brown Taylor

I previously read (and reviewed) Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church. I was far less enamored with that book, so with reluctance I approached this book. Why, you might wonder, did I read a book by an author’s whose previous work I had not enjoyed?

Well, I belong to a book discussion group (called Reformed Readers!) which does a fair bit of reading books which lend themselves to discussion of matters of faith. AND Holy Envy is the next book up in our discussion calendar.

The book started out with a tone that seemed to be replicating the shallow tone that had previously frustrated me…but, then. THEN! Almost immediately after the introduction Taylor begins to deliver insight after insight on how religions are alike and different. Given her position as a college professor teaching an Introduction to Religions course, she has ample examples of the religious illiteracy that plagues the United States (and maybe other parts of the world). Her students are mostly drawn from various Christian backgrounds, with a few students from other religious traditions.

Having been a college instructor during my professional career, I was struck with the wonderful creativity she brought to her course teaching. Her desire to help expose students to other traditions, as well as her intention to help them becomes more literate not only about other religions but also their own, shines through the narrative of the book.  She gives examples of her technique—giving them a quiz at the beginning of a semester asking them basic questions about the five religions they study. These quizzes are then returned to them on the last day of the semester. What a wonderful teaching technique!

The title—Holy Envy—requires some explaining. By this Taylor means that there are things in other religious practices that she envies for various reasons. Throughout the book, as you read about the various faith places she takes students, and the experience of other religious worship that affords, she does say what “holy envy” she might have for a particular religious practice.

If you read this work, you will be enriched. Perhaps, like Barbara Brown Taylor, you will come to cherish even more your religious traditions at the same time to learn to understand and accept other religious traditions.


  

The Great Quake : How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet 
By Henry Fountain

First, I need to confess that I am a science geek. No, I am not a trained scientist. It’s just that most books which deal with, explain, describe--you name it—natural phenomena always grab me. The title of this  book was all I needed to want to read it. I do not live in Alaska, and have only visited it (and did see where many of the landmarks mentioned in the book can be found). But, I did have an aunt who was living in Anchorage on that fateful date, March 27, 1964. It was for her one of the most terrifying experiences of her life.

True to the title, the book details how the post-event analysis of the earthquake helped geologists and geoscientists to recognize and define what we now plate tectonics (another one of the subjects I love).  To take you on the journey, the author introduces to a variety of people who were all players in the event. The primary focus is on George Plafker, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, who was one of the first scientists on the scene. It was his careful data gathering and then analysis that led him to posit a cause of the earthquake—what kind of fault—and in so doing lay out a description of plate tectonics.

You also meet a myriad of people living in different areas in southern coastal Alaska where the quake struck. These people help the reader appreciate the human dimension and scope of loss. 

The book requires a reader who does not easily tire at detail. In doing so, the reader is treated to an ably told thoroughly enjoyable account of one of the greatest earthquakes in history.



Where the Crawdads Sing
By Delia Owens

Fate led me to reading this book. I had seen the title of the book advertised, and offered again and again on Amazon. But since it was touted as a best seller, and since I am skeptical of the value of other people's choices of best book...i.e. big sellers...I eschewed buying and reading it.

Enter fate. On a rainy morning in October, I was on my way to an appointment. I was certain the time was 10:30 a.m. It was a rainy miserable morning, and my appointment was for a massage--perfect antidote to a rainy day. I arrived, went to the door, knocked--and NOTHING. No answer. So I quickly texted about the timing, and learned my appointment was later in the afternoon.  So, I trudged back to where my car was parked, turned over the key--and NOTHING.  Engine...aka battery totally dead. Did I mention it was raining?  I called AAA, was informed they could get there in 2 or 3 hours (really!). So what to do? I walked to a nearby local bookstore--and there it was—WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING—prominently displayed on the front table.

In my moment of weakness, I bought it. And started reading it. With a cup of chai latte tea in hand, and a rainy outside, and a delayed appointment, I read. And read--and fell in love with the novel.

The novel is all of these things: a coming of age story. You can find elsewhere the basics of the plot of this novel. It is also a murder mystery, a story of survival under the most difficult of circumstances--parental abandonment. It is a story revealing love of nature, and the power of community.