Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for "Quick Lit," where we share short reviews of what we've been reading.
Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fujimura (nonfiction).
This fascinating and complex book has as its focus the novel Silence, written in 1966 by Shusaku Endo, about Portuguese missionaries to Japan in the 17th century. In Silence and Beauty, Fujimura explores many different themes and topics such s Endo's life, faith, and writing; Japanese art and culture; and how trauma, ambiguity, hiddenness, and other concepts central to the Japanese mindset are expressed in art and in Christianity. And all the while he interweaves his own journey as a Christian and artist.
This short description can't possibly do justice to the book; it has to be digested slowly and carefully to take it all in. I'll just share one passage that jumped off the page at me and that I've been turning over in my mind ever since, regarding the tension between Christianity's exclusive claims and the pluralistic world we live in:
Culture is a complex system of often-conflicting and competing elements. God, in wisdom, provided complexity and diversity in Eden and then preserved it in the fallen world. Christianity claims that in order for the entire diversity of confluences to bring all to thrive, we need a center that holds all things together. St. Paul, in the letter to the Colossians, states of Christ, "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:17). Christ is that center.
In the hidden nature of the postlapsarian (fallen) world, that center may remain invisible. It requires faith to trust in the invisible rather than the visible. The true church may remain invisible to the eye, or exist beyond any institutional structures. Therefore, no matter how perfect our churches may be, no institution can claim to have all the answers. This is the paradoxical nature of Christ's exclusivity; Christ is "the way and the truth and the life," but he, as a Good Shepherd, may lead his sheep to the wider pastures of his own design to push us out into a world that may be hostile to our faith. These wider pastures demand a nonexclusive relativism. Christ indeed may lead us to mystery and humility that give away power; thus this exclusivity comes with quite a price. Christ holds the center still, and yet guides us into the storms of life.
I found this passage thrilling. It assures us that we can be faithful followers of Jesus even if the sphere in which he's placed us (or pushed us, as Fujimura puts it) requires a more relativistic, inclusive approach. God is not afraid of diversity or complexity; he designed the world that way, and diverse elements can come together to bring about the flourishing of all creation because Jesus is the (sometimes-invisible) center that holds everything together.
(By the way, I would strongly recommend reading Endo's Silence before you read Silence and Beauty -- and not just to understand this one better. It is an amazing, life- and faith-changing novel.)
Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (fiction).
This book of interconnected short stories is a follow-up to Strout's novel My Name is Lucy Barton. That book was about a writer who is visited in hospital by her mother after a long separation and who tries to get to the bottom of family and community secrets. I loved Lucy Barton; its spare style was different from Strout's other novels and made it seem very much like a memoir. As it turns out, it is intended to serve as the (fictional) memoir of the (fictional) writer, Lucy Barton. The stories in Anything is Possible focus on people in the small Illinois town where Lucy's family lived (some of whom are mentioned in the previous book), such as the retired school janitor who took an interest in Lucy when she was a young, traumatized girl. Lucy herself appears in only one story, coming from her home in New York to visit her brother and sister.
I've read all of Strout's books, and she is such a brilliant writer, able to convey so much about her characters in a few phrases or scenes. I'd highly recommend Anything is Possible -- but be sure to read My Name is Lucy Barton first.
Disaster Falls by Stephane Gerson (nonfiction).
When the author, his wife, and their two sons took a river-rafting excursion in Utah, the younger son Owen, age eight, fell out of their kayak and was drowned. Gerson, a professor of history in New York, explores all of the facets of this tragedy, analyzing his own reactions, and even his reactions to his reactions, in a way that sometimes comes across as scholarly and overly intellectual. But it's a beautifully written portrait of how different people handle grief, loss, and guilt, how relationships (such as Gerson's with his stoic Belgian father) are altered by tragedy, and how people can learn to accept the limitations of others in the midst of it.
Never Unfriended: The Secret to Finding and Keeping Lasting Friendships by Lisa-Jo Baker (nonfiction).
I was on the book launch team for this book a few months ago and wrote a full-length review HERE. I loved the book and consider it an excellent resource for any woman who's struggled with friendship and/or who wants to know how to be a better friend. This quote is key to the book's purpose: "While we might have defined friendship our whole lives by what others do to us, in the end it’s what we do for others that will define us as friends or not."
I reviewed this book at greater length HERE. John Blase's poems (some of which I originally read on his website, the beautiful due) are wonderful. Blase finds so much beauty and truth in the ordinary stuff of life, and conveys it in such a moving and vivid way. Even if you don't think you're "the kind of person who reads poetry," I'd urge you to check this book out. You just might become that kind of person.
What have you been reading this month? Please share in the comments!