Saturday, June 15, 2019

June 2019 Quick Lit: What I've been reading

Today I'm joining Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit, where we share short reviews of what we've been reading.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. 
I have read some of Berry's poetry and the occasional essay, but this was my first foray into his fiction. This is a magnificent book that reads more like a memoir than a novel. As she nears the end of her life, elderly Hannah Coulter reminisces about her life in the Kentucky farming community of Port William: her formative relationship with her grandmother; her youthful, short-lived first marriage; her years married to Nathan and raising three children on the farm; her observations about agriculture, changing times, and community. The whole time I was reading this book I was wishing I'd read it while my mom was still alive so that I could have told her about it. She'd have read it; then she'd have passed it on to Dad; and they'd likely have spent many hours talking about it and connecting with its themes. It's really beautiful. If you're looking for fast pacing and a strong narrative arc, this book won't fit those requirements -- but if you want an uplifting story about ordinary people living ordinary but meaningful lives, this book is for you.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb.  
While Berry's book is a novel that reads like a memoir, this one is a memoir that often feels like a novel. Gottlieb, a therapist, is devastated when her longtime boyfriend ends their relationship because he doesn't want to marry someone with a child. She realizes she herself needs a therapist to work through this crisis and the deeper issues it has brought to the surface. Gottlieb's story of her work with her therapist, Wendell, is interwoven with stories of her own clients as they work their way toward healthier relationships and greater life satisfaction. This book is entertaining, funny, and thought-provoking and will probably provide a few aha moments for any reader.

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang. 
Wang was diagnosed with schizoaffective/bipolar disorder as a teenager; in this collection of beautifully written essays, she discusses not only her own personal experiences -- such as how Yale University responded to her illness when she was a student there, or how she uses her knowledge of fashion to help her pass as more put-together and therefore more stable -- but broader themes such as media depictions of mental illness, crimes involving mental illness, and the debates surrounding diagnosis of schizophrenia and related disorders. Wang's blending of memoir and rigorous research makes for a fascinating book.

 Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life by Henri J.M. Nouwen.  
This is the book I'm currently reading. Nouwen was a prolific letter-writer, and this volume is a collection of letters he wrote to friends and strangers about spirituality, faith, and vocation. This book is more than just a window into an interesting life; reading it is a truly spiritual experience in itself. Nouwen's kind, probing words, his vulnerability and sharing of his own struggles, make you feel like you're in the presence of a trusted friend or spiritual director who, with a few well-chosen questions, will give you new perspective and grounding. Brene Brown's foreword to the book shows that this was her experience too. I'm reading this book slowly and really savouring it.

What have you been reading lately? I'd love to know!

Friday, May 31, 2019

Five Minute Friday: NAME (for Rachel Held Evans)

I haven't written anything on this blog since April 19, Good Friday. Life has gotten in the way: my mother-in-law broke her ankle a few weeks ago, had surgery and was in hospital for over a week, and is now in a convalescent unit getting back on her feet, literally and figuratively. Sometimes creative pursuits have to take a back seat when these sorts of things happen.

As I looked at the Blog Archive section of my blog, I realized that it's been years since I had a month with no posts -- and May ends today! So I'm barely getting in under the wire with today's short post, but it's one I'm glad to write. I'm linking up with the Five Minute Friday community to write about the word NAME -- and about Rachel Held Evans.

If the name Rachel Held Evans isn't familiar to you, she's a writer who explored issues of faith and doubt in her four bestselling books, all of which I've read and reviewed here on this blog: Faith Unraveled (a.k.a. Evolving in Monkey Town), A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Searching for Sunday, and Inspired.

I never met Rachel or even attended a talk she gave. But her books were a window into an intelligent, passionate, questing soul. The Christian faith of her upbringing disappointed her in many ways, but this disappointment challenged her to go deeper: to learn what it really meant to be a woman of faith, a doubter, a lover of Scripture, and a member of the body of Christ. She had many detractors who believed that her support for LGBTQ people and her refusal to accept easy answers about Scripture made her a bad influence. But she inspired many people to keep following Jesus, to keep asking questions and grappling with doubts, to come to Jesus' table in confidence that there was room for everyone.

Rachel died a month ago after being hospitalized for treatment of an infection; a reaction to medication had caused brain seizures and required an induced coma. She was 38 years old and left behind a husband and two small children. Tomorrow her funeral will be streamed live on her website.

Rachel Held Evans' death is a tremendous loss, but her name and voice live on in her writings and in the countless people who were encouraged by her words and her life. She was, to use the Hebrew phrase she championed, a woman of valor: eshet chayil.

Rachel Held Evans, 1981-2019

Friday, April 19, 2019

Five Minute Good Friday: NEXT

Today I'm linking up with the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. 

This week's word is NEXT.

I look out my window. The sky is whitish-gray, with darker gray clouds moving across it. Gusts of wind scatter leaves and debris across the street.

We are expecting rain today. It is supposed to start sometime this morning and rain all day and into tomorrow: 30-60 millimetres total before it's all done.

The forecast for Sunday is much better, though.

I wish we could skip the next two rainy, gloomy days and just go straight to Sunday.

Sometimes I feel the same way about Good Friday. It would be so much easier to just skip these next two days -- the increasing darkness and suffering of Good Friday, the silence and emptiness of Easter Saturday -- and go straight to the joy and celebration of Easter Sunday.

But the way of Jesus is through: not around, not over, not under, but through. He walks the road of suffering. He doesn't take a shortcut past the hard parts, the pain and desolation, to get straight to the triumph.

So we wait with him now and over the next hours and days. 

We wait in sorrow and hope. 

We go through.

Monday, April 15, 2019

April 2019 Quick Lit: what I've been reading

Today I'm joining Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit, where we share short reviews of what we've been reading.

For last month's Quick Lit post I did only a single longer review, of Karen Swallow Prior's On Reading Well. So I have some catching up to do here. I'll try to keep my reviews brief, but you know me: writing in a concise fashion is not a quality I have successfully mastered as of this point in time.

I read four nonfiction books and four novels in the past couple of months. I'll start with the nonfiction:

 Becoming by Michelle Obama. 
I really enjoyed this memoir. Obama describes in fascinating detail her upbringing in a working class Chicago family, her work as a lawyer (where she met future President Barack Obama), and her eight years in the White House as First Lady -- where she advocated for girls' education and improved nutritional health, all while supporting her husband through difficult national events and raising her daughters in the White House fishbowl. Here is a key passage from the final pages of the book:

"So many of us go through life with our stories  hidden, feeling ashamed or afraid when our whole truth doesn't live up to some established ideal. We grow up with messages that tell us that there's only one way to be American -- that if our skin is dark or our hips are wide, if we don’t experience love in a particular way, if we speak another language or come from another country, then we don't belong. That is, until someone dares to start telling that story differently.
        I grew up with a disabled dad in a too-small house with not much money in a starting-to-fail neighborhood, and I also grew up surrounded by love and music in a diverse city in a country where education can take you far. I had nothing or I had everything. It depends on which way you want to tell it."

 Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson. 
Last year we watched the four-season British TV series based on this book (actually a collection of three books) about a small hamlet and neighbouring town in rural England in the late 1800's. The book gives an abundance of historical detail about life in this time period: childhood, farming, education, hobbies, family life, religion, and more. I enjoyed reading about some of the quirky hamlet-dwellers who made their way into the fictionalized TV series. 

Once We Were Strangers by Shawn Smucker. 
This beautiful, moving book is an account of Smucker's friendship with Mohammad, who fled Syria as a refugee with his wife and family and ended up in Smucker's town of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Smucker's story of his deepening relationship with Mohammad may cause us to rethink our definition of hospitality, as well as our willingness to have the grace not only to give but to receive. A wonderful story about the beauty and simplicity of friendship and the universally human desire to create a safe, secure life for ourselves and those we love.

 The Bible Tells Me So: How Defending the Bible Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns. 
This is the first book by Enns that I've read, and I loved it. Enns explains why reading the Bible as a "spiritual owner's manual complete with handy index" doesn't work -- nor do the desperate efforts Christians sometimes make to protect the Bible from criticism or critique. Addressing many controversial aspects of Scripture, Enns urges us to read the Bible as it is meant to be read rather than expecting it to do things it was never intended to do -- and to realize that trusting God and trusting the Bible aren't the same thing. Thought-provoking, challenging, and really funny too.

And now for my fiction reads:

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. 
This novel follows naive social climber Undine Spragg as she tries to make her way in New York City and Paris. Her efforts to determine who's "in," to infiltrate the "right" crowd, and to find a husband who will keep her in the manner to which she feels she deserves to become accustomed, are as pathetic as they are laughable. Reading this book is like watching a train wreck: you can't tear yourself away. I really enjoyed it, though -- and it gives the lie to the notion that a protagonist has to be "likable" for a novel to be worthwhile. Undine is not likable; but like other heroines of her stripe (Scarlett O'Hara and Emma Bovary come to mind), she certainly is interesting.

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. 
This highly acclaimed novel won the Giller Prize and was a Booker Prize finalist. It's the story of Washington Black, a young boy enslaved on a sugar plantation in Barbados; he becomes personal servant to the master's brother, who turns out to be an eccentric inventor. When a horrific event forces the two of them to flee the plantation, Washington is caught up in a whole new life, traveling to the Arctic, London, Morocco, and elsewhere. This book was instantly captivating, but it did not deliver quite to the level I was expecting. Too many peripheral characters and episodes seemed to dilute the intensity after a while.

All He Ever Wanted and Stella Bain, both by Anita Shreve.
These two novels need to be discussed together because they are about the same people and events.  

All He Ever Wanted is told from the point-of-view of Nicholas Van Tassel, a somewhat stuffy college professor in New Hampshire around 1900; his world is turned upside down when he encounters a young woman, Etna Bliss, outside a hotel after a fire and becomes instantly obsessed with her. Her cool, enigmatic demeanour only fuels his determination to marry her. Looking back years later, Van Tassel reflects on the nature of his relationship with Etna and whether having felt a great love (whether or not it is returned, and for that matter whether or not it is really love) is enough to make one's life worthwhile. This novel reminded me in many ways of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, with its somewhat unlikable, probably unreliable narrator. It's a frustrating but masterfully written book.

Stella Bain, which Shreve wrote twelve years later, tells Etna Bliss's story: how she is found in a French field hospital in 1916, unable to remember anything other than that she is an ambulance driver, and a few consonants that lead her to think her name is Stella Bain. Her fight to recover her memory and rebuild her family is compelling, but overall I found this novel less satisfying than All He Ever Wanted, despite its having a much more sympathetic main character. The writing is not nearly as good here: it's told in the third person, so we never really get inside Etna's head the way we did with Van Tassel. Phrases like "Etna was concerned that..." make me feel like I'm watching the character think, which is not exactly gripping. What is great about this book, though, is that it fills in the gaps of the plot, giving Etna's perspective on events which we only saw from Van Tassel's viewpoint in the other book. So if you're going to read All He Ever Wanted, be sure to read Stella Bain too.


Well, that's what I've been reading lately. Have you read any of these, and if so, what did you think? What have you been reading?

Friday, March 29, 2019

Five Minute Friday - MEASURE

Today I'm linking up with the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. 

This week's word is MEASURE.


For the past few years I've been struggling with double vision. It's something I've always had a bit of trouble with: whenever I was having my eyes tested and the eye doctor would show me two separate images and ask me to tell him when they merged into one, I found it very difficult -- and the problem has only gotten worse.

Several months ago I was referred to an opthalmologist who specializes in strabismus (misaligned eyes); she told me I  have a "moderate misalignment." The options, from least to most invasive, are (1) to put prisms in my glasses, which I already have; (2) Botox injections, which numb/plump the eye muscle and need to be done every 3-4 months; or (3) surgery to adjust the eye muscles and straighten out the eyes. I've decided to go for the surgery, so last week I got started on the process for that.

The first step was to be fitted with a Fresnel prism. I had an appointment with an orthoptist at the opthalmology clinic and she did all kinds of tests and measurements on my eyes.

Fresnel prism on right lens of my glasses. I already have 
very thick lenses because of nearsightedness, but the prism 
is very, very thin. You can see the ridges at top.

Here is what the Fresnel prism looks like when it's on. It is a thin flexible plastic film, smooth on one side and ridged on the other. The orthoptist cut it to fit my glasses; the smooth side sticks to the inside of one lens, with water -- sort of like a removable window decal.

This is what I am looking through with my right eye.

When I have this prism on my glasses and look into the distance, it fuses the two images into one -- so I no longer see two clocks, or two stop signs, or two of the same person coming toward me. That part is awesome.

 It feels pretty strange, though: I'm constantly looking through these tiny ridges, and they create quite a glare. The lens also gives a slightly curved effect, so there's a bit of a fishbowl sensation. But after a week I'm getting used to it, and I'm very much appreciating the improvement in distance vision. The idea is that I use this prism for several weeks/months to see if it will keep my eyes from turning in, so that surgery can then be performed.

The big downside is that the prism interferes with my close-up vision. It's a lot harder to work on the computer (it's like I'm staring through glasses that have had Vaseline smeared on one lens), and I pretty much have to remove my glasses altogether to read. Considering how much of my day is spent reading and working on the computer, this is a major bummer.

But I'm determined to see this through -- no pun intended. And hopefully, the eventual outcome will be measurably improved vision.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Five Minute Friday: PLACE*

Today I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is PLACE.

 (*We wrote on this word before, in August 2017. This is the link to the post I wrote back then, on a totally different subject.)



My Thursday women's group at church has been studying the book of Hebrews. Last week we were talking about Hebrews 11, the "faith" chapter, which lists many heroes of faith like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph Moses, and Rahab.

Then the writer alludes to all the others whose names are unknown, those who underwent torture and deprivation: 

"...They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith..."

As we talked about these verses, I was reminded of another passage I had recently been reading, from Mark 10. James and John come to Jesus and ask, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory."Jesus responds by saying that it's not up to him to decide who will sit in these places of honour -- "These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared" -- and he reminds the disciples that whoever wants to be great must first be servant of all.

Thinking of these two passages together, I wondered aloud if maybe one of those obscure, unnamed faith heroes from Hebrews 11 might be given one of those places of honour at Jesus' side.

I even wonder ... and hear me out here ... if maybe someone from another religious tradition might get one of those places -- one of those "sheep from a different pen" that Jesus refers to in John 10.

If that's even possible, then I think it might be someone like this Muslim man in Christchurch, who greeted a gunman with the words "Hello, brother" before being killed along with 48 other worshippers.

One Twitter user wrote, "As he faced a rifle, his last words were peaceful words of unconditional love. DO NOT tell me that nonviolence is weak or pacifism is cowardice. I have seen the face of God."

I don't know exactly how God decides who will be granted those places of honour in his new kingdom. But if faithful endurance and peace in the face of unspeakable adversity count for anything, then maybe this man will be recognized. The world is not worthy of him.


Friday, March 15, 2019

March 2019 Quick Lit: On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior

Today I'm joining blogger Modern Mrs. Darcy for "Quick Lit," where we share short reviews of what we've been reading. Although the book I'm reviewing here is not the only book I've read recently, I wanted to give it a slightly longer treatment, so I'll cover my other recent reads in a future post.

On Reading Well: 
Finding the Good Life Through Great Books 
by Karen Swallow Prior

I asked my library to buy this book several months ago; it did, and eventually I got the book into my hands -- but I did NOT want to give it back! Clearly I am going to have to buy my own copy, because it's excellent.

This book is about virtue and literature. In the first chapter, Prior introduces the theme of classical virtues, addresses the need in our day for a return to virtuous living, and reminds us that not only does good literature show us the virtues, but the very reading of that literature is a way of practicing them. 

In each of the subsequent chapters she discusses one virtue -- altogether four cardinal virtues, three theological virtues, and five heavenly virtues -- and expounds upon each one in relation to a work of literature. The literary work may present a character who epitomizes that virtue (as in the patience of Anne Elliot in Jane Austen's Persuasion or the courage of Huck in Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn) or a character who demonstrates the lack of that virtue (as in Jay Gatsby's lack of temperance in The Great Gatsby or Ivan Ilyich's lack of love in Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych). In each case, Prior shows how the proper expression of each virtue is a moderation between extremes: for example, courage is a mean between cowardice and rashness.

Particular parts of the book stood out for me. One was her discussion of how young Huck Finn has to work through the effects of a malformed conscience: he's been taught slavery is right, so he thinks helping Jim must be wrong -- but when he realizes in his heart that he must help Jim, he's determined to do so even if it means going to Hell. Another was her claim that the virtue of faith in Shusako Endo's Silence can only be truly understood by interpreting the book as a tragedy. And another was her chapter on kindness in George Saunders' short story "Tenth of December" -- a story I was not familiar with -- where she compares a character's suicide plan to her own father-in-law's suicide. In these and other cases, she shows how the virtues are not static stereotypes, but living, flexible concepts that (ideally) grow within us as we work them out in both the mundane and the traumatic moments of our lives.

As with the previous books by this author that I have read (Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me and Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More), Prior's love for her subject matter comes through on every page. As I read each chapter, I felt like I was listening to an engaging lecture. On Reading Well is a book any reader -- or even any person who thinks they "should" become more well-read -- will appreciate. And it's a book I'll definitely want to re-read. 

Time to order myself a copy....

Friday, February 22, 2019

Just juice

A few months ago, I started thinking about juice. Orange juice, in particular.

Our family drinks a lot of orange juice, and we had always bought the small plastic or cardboard cans of orange juice concentrate which need to be mixed up in a jug with three cans of water.

This is not a difficult job, really: dump the concentrate into a jug, stir in the water. But it got to the point where I was making juice almost every day, and I was getting really, REALLY tired of it. (Note: "Just delegate this job to one of your kids," while a valid idea, is not the point here.)

I thought about how when we go on holidays we usually just buy large bottles or cartons of pre-made juice, because where we're staying doesn't always have the right jugs to mix the concentrate in. Pre-made juice is so much easier!

But somehow I felt it was wrong to buy pre-made juice on a regular basis.

If "wrong" seems like a strange word to use in this context, well ... when I look at it now, I see that it is a strange choice of word. But at the time, this was my reasoning:

Concentrated juice is the cheapest kind of juice, and buying the cheapest thing is good. 

Concentrated juice also has less packaging, and using less packaging is good.

Virtuous, even.

Buying pre-made juice simply for convenience's sake was all very well for special occasions like vacation. But to buy it all the time? That was -- like I said -- wrong.

But on the other hand, I also wanted to quit the tedious task of juice-making and just buy the stupid juice!

So I broached this subject to Richard, and, as I might have expected, his take was different from mine. Amazingly enough, he seemed to give the whole issue very little moral weight.

"Is pre-made really that much more expensive?" he said. "And anyway, there are always sales."

So the next time I went to the store, I did it. I bypassed the orange juice concentrate and bought a couple of large cartons of pre-made orange juice. Yeah, don't mind me, just throwing off the yoke, being a rebel, etc.

When I got home, I got out of the car and went up to the front door to prop it open so I could bring in the groceries. And there, in between the doors, was a large, unopened carton of orange juice. 

Turned out our neighbour had bought a couple of cartons of juice and it wasn't exactly the kind they'd meant to get (too much pulp, or not enough pulp, I forget which), so they  brought it over for us.

After my deep moral wrestling, seeing this carton of juice sitting there made me laugh out loud. It was like a sign -- HEY, FREE JUICE! -- telling me how ridiculous it was to attach so much moral significance to what kind of juice I bought ... and that I was actually totally free to buy orange juice in whatever form I wanted.

It's not that we don't need to address ethical considerations in our shopping and spending and consuming; these aren't totally neutral activities. But at times this can translate into tying ourselves in knots in an effort do what we think is the "virtuous" thing. "If it's inconvenient and tedious and cheap, it must be right." "If it's easy and convenient, it must be wrong."

But sometimes it's not a weighty moral conundrum. 

Sometimes it's just juice.


Linking up with the Five Minute Friday community today, writing about the word JUST.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Two different perspectives

The other day I took Jonathan to the library after school. It's only a 10-minute walk away, and he likes to go there once or twice a week to take out some of his favourite DVDs like the Wiggles, Super Why, Barney, Blue's Clues, etc.

  To be honest, right now he is really more interested in collecting the DVDs than in watching them. So he spots his favourites on the shelf; we take them out; we return them (sometimes unwatched) when they're due; he takes them out again; and the cycle repeats.

Full disclosure: sometimes at the library he is loud. If he finds a DVD he wants, he raises his voice and excitedly looks around to find someone to share his enthusiasm with. If he can't find what he wants, he will sometimes complain with a loud "OH NO" or "GONE." But either way, whether they're excited sounds or frustrated sounds, we're only there for about ten minutes. If he's ever being extremely disruptive, I try to get him out more quickly, but most of the time it's not a problem. Occasionally someone looks our way, but no one's ever shushed us; the staff sometimes even greet Jonathan by name.

The other day we had found the DVDs we wanted and were sitting on a ledge getting ready to leave. Jonathan likes to name the DVDs one by one as we put them in my bag. As we were doing this, an older lady walked past. Jonathan said, "Hi! Hi!", wanting to share his excitement; she smiled, and I thought, now isn't she a nice person. 

And then she said, "So this is who's been making all the noise!" and left the library.

Nice person, all right.

A couple of days later I was talking to Jonathan's teacher on the phone. She'd called to tell me she would be moving to a different position for the second semester. And then she raved about Jonathan.

She said how funny, comfortable, and talkative he is in the classroom.

She said how much he likes hanging out with David, a boy in another program whom he used to know in elementary school -- just two teenage guys enjoying each other's company.

 She mentioned how he greets and engages people in the school so happily when he and his classmates are doing their coffee-cart duties.

She commented on what an enthusiastic, fast walker he is when their class goes on outings.

"He's just so great," she said. 

To the woman in the library, Jonathan was one thing only: "the one making all the noise."

To his teacher, he was funny, friendly, enthusiastic, happy, and "so great."

They were looking at the same person but saw totally different things -- kind of like this well-known optical illusion which, if looked at one way, shows a young girl, but if looked at another way, shows an old woman with a wart on her nose.

This was such a good reminder for me, because I get frustrated with Jonathan myself at times -- maybe I focus too much on what he can't do or won't do or hasn't yet learned to do -- and lose perspective on all the amazing things that make him who he is. 

I guess we all do that sometimes. We all need to be reminded that people are not one-dimensional, and that if our perspective is too narrow we may end up missing something important. The woman in the library missed out because she just saw someone making noise; she didn't take time to see the whole picture and share, even for an instant, in Jonathan's enjoyment. I feel sorry for her. 

And as for his teacher: even if she isn't going to be his teacher anymore, it's good to know that while she was, she really saw him -- the whole person -- and appreciated him.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Five Minute Friday: INFLUENCE

Today I'm linking up with the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given prompt.

This week's word is INFLUENCE.

Not long ago I saw a short video on Facebook, presented by a behavioural consultant, about three ways to spot the most (or least) influential person in the room. They were:

1. Who does the boss look at most? The person the leader looks at most frequently probably has a lot of influence over that leader, and therefore over the group as a whole.

2. Who do most people in the group look at when everyone is laughing? The group may be checking out the influential person's reaction (is that person laughing too? or are they stone-faced, arms crossed?) so they can adjust their own to fit.

3. Who seems to be seeking approval the most? This one is the opposite of the other two because it indicates the least influential person in the room: that person may be nodding and smiling too much out of insecurity or an attempt to please.

I find it interesting that this video doesn't say why we would want to determine who the most influential people are. I guess there could be lots of reasons: maybe we want to find the person most likely to help us further our agenda or make our dream a reality. Maybe we want to show an influential person how special or indispensable we can be to them, so that our own influence will increase (sort of like #1 above). Maybe we just like the safety -- or the reflected glory -- of being close to someone special and important. But the video doesn't say. The presenter just seems to assume that we want to know who the influencers are.

It made me smile when I tried to imagine what Jesus would do with a topic like this. When he walked the earth as a human being, he seemed so uninterested in who the movers and shakers were.

He drew attention to the generosity of a poor woman who put a small amount of money in the treasury.

He said that the poor in spirit, the mourners, and the meek were blessed.

He declared that humble prayers in a closet and good deeds behind the scenes were better than pompous prayers on the street corner and showy acts of charity.

He chose a motley crew of fishermen, tax collectors, and freedom fighters to be in his inner circle.

Philippians 2 says that "Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant, and being found in human likeness, he humbled himself..." 

That's a far cry from "Jesus realized that in order to get things done he should seek out the most influential people and get them on-board with his mission in order to maximize his effectiveness."

When it comes to Jesus' upside-down kingdom, we probably shouldn't spend too much time focusing on the influencers. The things that really matter are probably happening well out of the spotlight.

Monday, January 14, 2019

January 2019 Quick Lit: what I've been reading

Today I'm joining Modern Mrs. Darcy for her monthly Quick Lit linkup, where we share short reviews of what we've been reading. Since my last book post (which listed everything I read in 2018), I've read three nonfiction books.

Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts by Brene Brown. 
This is the latest by the bestselling author of Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and other books -- all of which address issues of shame, vulnerability, wholeheartedness, and courage. In this book Brown's focus is leadership, and while many of her examples and anecdotes are from the corporate setting, the principles are applicable to any situation where we work with others to accomplish tasks and strive to foster and maintain a culture of empathy, trust, and openness. 

Brown's work can at times seem a little repetitive because she deliberately reviews and builds on principles from previous books. I also get impatient sometimes with the terminology she creates like "rumbling" and "key learnings" -- but when she gives real-life examples that flesh these concepts out (often based on her own mistakes and misunderstandings), I always find them relevant and memorable. I particularly appreciated her chapter on values, where she encourages readers to zero in on their two primary values and examine whether their actions reflect those values. Overall I really enjoyed this and always take away something valuable from her writing.


Educated by Tara Westover.  
In this gripping memoir, Westover recounts her life growing up on an Idaho mountainside as the daughter of survivalist Mormon parents. Distrustful of government and full of end-times paranoia, her parents forbade their children to attend school and lived in isolation, stockpiling food, fuel, and ammunition in preparation for doomsday. Westover spent years working in her father's scrapyard, enduring emotional and physical abuse from her father and one of her brothers, until she was able to leave home and attend Brigham Young University and eventually Cambridge and Harvard. She details her complex and painful relationships with various family members, her struggle to affirm her womanhood, and the challenge of telling one's own story in the face of others' conflicting versions. Excellent book.


White Picket Fences: Turning Toward Love in a World Divided By Privilege by Amy Julia Becker. 
In this thoughtful book, Becker explores the concept of privilege by discussing many different aspects of her own life: her wealthy, secure upbringing in North Carolina (with black household staff); her experiences as a mother of a child with Down Syndrome; her discovery that what we call "answered prayers" may have more to do with privilege and connection than with "God's blessing"; her exploration of how people of colour are (or are not) depicted in children's books; her attempts to pray and fast for healing across political divides; and more.

Toward the end Becker says, "I now understand two things about privilege that I didn't understand before. One, that privilege in and of itself is not a sign of God's blessing but rather a fact of my life that can be used for good or ill. Two, that what our culture calls privilege is a mirage, a false understanding of what it means to live a good life, and that the true privilege of my existence comes in the undeserved favor I have in being one who is loved by God, loved by others, and able to love in return." Thought-provoking and beautifully written.


What have you been reading lately? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Epiphany 2019 - three haiku

Three haiku for Epiphany: 

entering the house
we looked round, wondering where
the King of kings was

we gazed at the Child
whose eyes danced with light, just like
the star we'd followed

we worshipped, gave gifts --
then we went back home by an
unfamiliar road