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.