Raising White Kids ~ Book Review

raising white kids cover

It’s a terrific book!

Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America (2017) by Jennifer Harvey address a challenging topic in a conversational, easy-to read manner that, despite its accessibility, delves deeply into issues that many of those of us who are white struggle to recognize, let alone explore and respond to in ways that are open, just, and productive.

Full disclosure: I’m white; everyone in my biological family of origin  is white; I grew up in a family that purported to be “color-blind”; I live in a racially and culturally diverse city in which, nevertheless, all of my good friends are white.  My children’s significant others and my future grandson are individuals of color, so the issues raised by this book are of more than passing or even committed-as-a-progressive interest to me.  Three of the four congregations I have served have been made up almost entirely of white people and located in white rural or suburban areas, so these issues are also important to me as someone charged with pastoring churches and proclaiming the gospel.

This book isn’t, of course, about me or my family or my churches, at least not entirely, but it addresses families and groups a lot like ours: not intentionally racist; well-meaning; hopeful; perturbed by racial injustice but not doing much, if anything, about it; and not even sure when we are offensive in casual conversation or actions we don’t think much about.

I’ll offer a couple of nuggets that I’ve found helpful:

After discussing the harm generated by “color-blind” parenting, the author presents a couple of scenarios in which a young white child comments, loudly and publicly, about the racial appearances of strangers.  How might parents react, other than with embarrassment and a quick move away from the scene?  The books offers practical suggestions along with clear explanations of the logic and sensibility behind them, ideas that can be put into practice immediately.

Another important section of the book discusses the development of white racial identity: how those of us who are white become aware of what that means in our culture, and how we resist the implications, struggle to come to terms with them, and finally, see ourselves and others more fully.  At a workshop a year ago in which participants were charged to identify which element of our identities and backgrounds has been most significant in our lives, I concluded that race has been the most significant in mine — moreso than gender, or age, or education, or income, or religion, because of all the things I haven’t had to think about because I’m white.  I plan to re-read this section of the book very carefully, several times over.

Each chapter of this highly readable book ends with a blocked-in list of Takeaways, helpful for personal or group reflection, and a section of Resources and the Endnotes provide additional material to aid in a  deeper exploration of this critical topic.

And I’m here to help!  Abingdon Press sent me two copies of this book for review purposes, with no commitment on my part to provide a positive review.  (And you all know, I don’t always do that!) Today I’m happy to do so, and to offer to send a free copy after a drawing of names from requests in the comments.

Glass Houses (Book Review Interlude)

[***Trigger Warnings: Suicide, Suicide by Jumping, Drug Addiction***]glass houses

I don’t recall when I started reading the Inspector Gamache mysteries ~ although Amazon says that I purchased the first one three years ago, and a month later had finished four.  Number 13 arrived last week-end, and a couple of days ago I re-read the last 100 pages, much more slowly and deliberately than I had a few nights earlier.  (Louise Penny is a master as describing intense encounters between criminals and their pursuers, and I had flown through the ending the first time around.)

At first, I didn’t care for this book. Louise Penny frequently makes use of sentence fragments in her writing, but in this novel she has reached a new extreme.  I was frequently distracted by the short, broken phrases, and wondered whether they reflected the sad and harsh reality of her own life.  Her beloved husband had died of Alzheimer’s during the writing, something she had discussed in her online newsletter and reflects upon at the end of the book.  But as I continued to read, the sentence structure seemed to become one with the broken world of the Surete’, the court system, and the drug trade whose stories coalesce into this one.

I don’t want to give anything away to either longtime Gamache fans or newbies, so I will make only two points.  First, the plot line does indeed center on the opiate trade, and thus address a contemporary crisis.  It does so in broad strokes, in the exploration of new characters, and in details of the lives of old favorites.  It is possible that, if you have had to deal with drug addiction in your own circles, this book might prove a difficult read.

Second, like nearly everyone else, I want to extol the character development at which Louise Penny is so brilliant.  I have started re-reading the first novel in anticipation of a book club discussion and, while I had forgotten many things, I knew that in Glass Houses I was reading about people who have grown and gained in strength and dignity over a period of several years.

As an aside, many of the books focus on the traumas and tragedies experienced by one or two characters other than Monsieur and Madame Gamache.  In this one, Ruth Zardo, perhaps my least favorite of the Three Pines residents, comes to the fore for a bit, and I fell in love with her.  As is so often the case, it’s the ones who most irritate us who turn out to be most like us in past trauma and lifetime response.  The woman prays for Satan ~ how wonderful is that?

Finally, it is an added pleasure to read these mysteries just after having spent time in Quebec.  (I re-read two others, out of any order, while we were traveling.)   Every time we came across a Surete’ du Quebec sign, I nearly jumper with joy, anticipating that I would encounter Chief Inspector Gamache at the next stop!

 

Barkskins: Book Review (La Gaspésie — 2)

barkskins

  • A generational saga ~ the four hundred years’ narrative of two families, one First Nations from what the area known today as Quebec and the Maritimes, and one European, specifically French, eventually reaching Chicago and western North America;
  • The story of the destruction of the North American forests, a devastating attack which takes entrepreneurs to China and spreads as far as New Zealand;
  • The harrowing details of the devastation which white settlers, trappers, missionaries, and purveyors of commerce visited upon those whose fished and hunted and understood as sacred the lands of North America, and the beginnings of the conservation movement, wholly inadequate to address the losses which will take a millennium from which to recover;
  • A female anti-heroine, oddly compelling in her single-minded pursuit of trees and money:

Barkskins is a riveting, albeit loooong novel.  At one point, unable to keep track of the multitude of characters and their relationships (unfortunately, the illuminating family trees are located in the back of the book, and I did not discover them until I was finished), I put it aside, but several days later found myself drawn back, and finished every page.

North America in the seventeenth and eighteenth century was a brutal place, one in which violence was common and in which people lived and worked in the midst of constant danger.  Annie Proulx does not mince details; pages and scenes in Barkskins require a strong stomach.

It was also a place of a seemingly endless supply of natural resources, and the greed carelessness with which the Europeans destroyed them ~ birds, mammals, waters, forests ~ is well known, but documented with  harrowing precision in this novel.  The term “barkskins” refers to the woodsmen who logged and transformed the forest into ships, houses, and furniture, swiftly and remorselessly.)

It’s a difficult read, made more so by the speed with which some of the characters are dismissed within a short space of having been introduced.  (And the ironic twist by which the families, unknown to themselves, become re-connected in the twentieth century, is rendered nearly invisible, and those back pages are required to clarify it.) But it’s also a fascinating read, in its attention to period detail and its sweep across human emotion and entanglement.

I did not choose this book with my upcoming trip to Gaspésie in mind; I chose it because I admire and enjoy Annie Proulx’s writing.  However, as I paused every few pages to google yet another reference ~ tribes, families, places, historical events ~ I discovered that much of it is set in eastern Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and Maine, and so it took on added meaning for me.  The friend with whom I am travelling and I had been focused on the Gaspésie coastline for our travels, but I am now trying to ensure that we at least dip into the interior of the peninsula, so that we can see something of the forests that once dominated this continent.

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“You do not understand the saying ‘tian ren he yi.’ It refers to a state of harmony between people and nature.  You do not feel this.  No European does.  I cannot explain it to you.  It is a kind of personal philosophy for each person, yet it is everything.” (Hong merchant Wiqua to French trader Charles Duquet in Barkskins.)

 

 

 

 

Bible Sisters ~ Book Review

bible sisters

It has been my privilege and delight to teach a number of Bible study classes over the years ~ as a member of Methodist and Presbyterian congregations, and as a pastor to Presbyterian and Lutheran congregations.  In addition, as a spiritual director to Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish individuals, I am often called upon to provide scriptural references to someone seeking to explore various dimensions of his or her spiritual life.

No matter the context, it’s often a challenge to conduct a discussion on women’s experiences in the Bible.  There are the Big Ten to Fifteen or so (I made those numbers up): Eve, Sarah, Esther, Ruth and Naomi, Bathsheba, Mary the Mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, the Woman at the Well, the Woman “Caught” in Adultery, the Syro-Phoenician Woman ~ many of whom, my experience tells me, are only dimly recognized by even our most faithful church participants.  And then there are the hundreds of women, often unnamed, referenced only in relation to a man or men or community or activity.

Bible Sisters, compiled by The Rev. Dr. Gennifer Benjamin Brooks and just published by Abingdon Press, makes a start on rectifying the lack of knowledge of women in the Bible which pervades many of our congregations.  It’s a devotional book, with 365 entries, numbered rather than dated (so that readers are not bound to a calendar).  Each entry suggests a short Bible passage, usually only a verse; a brief reflection; and a brief prayer.  I was not able to determine any rhyme or reason to the order in which the devotions are arranged, but there are indices in the back, alphabetically by name of character(s) and chronologically by book in the Bible,  which could be used to organize an individual or group prayer or study time.

This book is designed for ease and solace, rather than for deep study or challenge.  The most controversial events in the lives of women or teachings on the roles of women are either glossed over or avoided altogether.  Bathsheba’s rape is acknowledged, but the consequences are referred to as “the shame of her first pregnancy.” Yael (Jael) warrants two days, but the violence of her murderous action is not depicted.  Mary Magdalene’s discovery of the resurrected Jesus is depicted in a context of her sorrow and weeping rather than her joy and proclamation. Pauls’ admonishment to women not to exercise teaching authority over men makes no appearance at all.  And the brevity of the passages cited means that all context is omitted, so that answers to readers’ questions must be sought elsewhere.

Human lives are complex ~ and that includes the lives of Biblical women.  The layered depths of their lives are missing from this text, so that the reader or group seeking nuance or provocation must look elsewhere. However, with the names of so many Biblical women lost to time, and their frequent appearance as little more than faint shadows along the margins of history, it is a boon to prayer and study that obscure and overlooked women find a place in this book.  This devotional is a good beginning.


 

 

 

 

I received two copies of this book for review purposes, and was not compensated for this review.

Friday Five for Lent

friday-five-lent

The RevGals Friday Five is, not surprisingly, focused on Lent:

1.) Are you giving up, or taking on? Some combination thereof?

I’m taking on . . . accompanying a college student through an eight-week version of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and trying to do the daily prayer and reflection alongside her.  I also pulled out my journal from my own year-long experience of the Spiritual Exercises in 2005-06, because I wanted to see what I had to say then.  I am somewhat surprised, although it all rings true.

2.) Fasting? What does that look like for you?

Fasting has never been a meaningful practice for me.  I suppose the whys and wherefores of that might be worth considering.

3.) In what way is study helpful to you this season? Are you reading, studying, journaling…?

Since I find myself without a call, I have plenty of time for reading.  This week, I am finishing up Frederick Buechner’s Telling Secrets and David Lose’s Preaching at the Crossroads, and skimming Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.

4.) Purple. Do you find that your wardrobe is drawn to participate in the season?

Nope.  Now that I think of it, there is very littler purple in my wardrobe, although I have some great purple earrings.  And, as I look down, I see that I am wearing a fuzzy purple sweater, because I am staying inside today and it happened to be lying on a chair instead of in the laundry.  Maybe it’s an unconscious thing.

5.) How are you finding ways to take “time apart” in order to avoid getting worn thin?

I don’t have to worry much about wearing thin these days.  A year ago, I was brand new to my congregation, looking at an extra service and sermon every week, and in the process of getting really, really sick, which I ignored and thereby prolonged.  Today, I am declaring a snow day and working (or not) at whatever pace I choose on whatever projects appeal to me.

The CEB Women’s Bible ~ Review

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As a stay-at-home mom in my mid-30s, I was an eager participant in Disciple, a year-long United Methodist study which required a sojourn through most of the Bible.  Our daytime class was all women, and we spent nearly as much time getting to know one another as we did the Bible.

I had studied the Bible from a critical point of view during my high school years in a religious school but, truth to tell,  I knew very little of its narratives.  King David was a vague personage to me, and I responded to his story with appalled astonishment.  “Why is this rapist and murderer held up as a hero?” I asked.  The older women in the class gasped.  “I bet that if Bathsheba were the narrator, we’d have a completely different take on this story.”   (I had no idea that Bathsheba was often viewed as a licentious temptress.  As far as I could tell, she was minding her own business when she was dragged into history by a self-absorbed, lust-driven, power-hungry, arrogant king, a man who believed himself entitled to take whatever he wanted.)

The volume we needed arrived through my mail slot last week:  The CEB Women’s Bible.  It’s beautifully produced, with silk-smooth pages strong enough to bear markers and inked notes, and print large enough for me to read.  As the promotional material will tell you, it includes introductions to each of the books, reflections for nearly every chapter, strategically placed sidebar articles on women-focused issues, and portraits of over 100 Biblical women.  The indices list all the women of the Bible, named and unnamed, and the articles by topic and book.  They are followed by a series of discussion questions, organized by lectionary year and liturgical season, and several proposed reading plans.  The volume begins with some basic information, including a useful set of definitions, and concludes with a set of colorful maps.   The Common English Bible translation is both scholarly and accessible, and the team which put this version together includes scholars, pastors and writers from  variety of Christian traditions.  Women scholars, pastors, and writers.

So much for the basics, and back to Bathsheba.  What if this Bible has been available to my class thirty years ago? For starters, we would have found a sympathetic sidebar portrait of Bathsheba, one which encourages us to look to her as a model for courageous resistance.  The index leads to two sidebar articles on rape, which would have perhaps emboldened some of the women in our group to grapple more critically with the realities of the lives of both Biblical and contemporary women.

Next stop: The woman at the well, my personal role model for ministry, the woman whose story drew me to seminary in my mid-50s.  She, too, rates a sidebar profile and, since her story fills most of John 4, she is also the focus of the chapter’s introductory reflection.  These reflections and mini-biographies bring the women of the Bible to life.  I often teach an Introduction to Religion class at a nearby college, and it occurs to me that the presentations strewn throughout this Bible would be as useful to my students there as they will be to the women in the churches I serve.

Perhaps you would like to know something about the unnamed women of the Bible? You might be aware that the Bible is filled with women whose names have been left out of history and literature, but have no idea how to find them.  I tried a little exercise.  I went to the index of unnamed women, chose one from II Samuel referred to as the “Wise woman from Abel,” and then turned to her page to discover a profile, which tells us that she was not only wise; she was bold and decisive as well.  Not being all that familiar with the story in which she appears, I took a look at the previous page, where an introduction to II Samuel 20 provides (a violent and bloody) context.  I can see a terrific Bible series flowing from a series of similar mini-studies.

As it happens, I am investigating the CEB Women’s Bible at the same time that I am reading She: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Ministry by Karoline Lewis. She includes an insightful passage on discerning how we read and interpret the Bible as a key to our authority and effectiveness in ministry.    What a delight to be carrying on an inner conversation with both books simultaneously! As someone who has long been aware of the missing Biblical language and narratives (and names!) where women’s voices and lives are concerned, but without the tools to address many of those limitations, I am grateful for the comprehensive and thoughtful approach provided by the CEB Women’s Bible.

I’ve been invited to speak next month to the women’s circle of the church which I serve, and I’m planning to take that opportunity to introduce this Bible to the participants.    I highly recommend this volume for your library.

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I received a hardcover review copy of The CEB Women’s Bible from the publisher, and was not compensated for this review.

 

 

Ruined (Book Review)

ruined

[Trigger: Rape. ]

Ruth Everhart, a Presbyterian pastor for the past 25 years, has written a brave and important book, skillfully addressing a topic often spoken of only in hushed tones and behind closed doors.  On an ordinary Sunday evening transformed into a night of terror, she and her college housemates were brutally attacked and raped by two armed intruders, an event she describes in terrifying and compelling detail in the opening chapters of her memoir.

The consequences of the attack were no less brutal, in emotional and mental terms.  The police and prosecutors did their job, resulting in a lengthy sentence for at least one of the men, but the criminal justice process is a lengthy one, filled with postponements and compromises. The college and others charged with the care of the women responded with astonishing incompetence. Family and friends had no idea what to do or say.

It is in writing about the spiritual consequences of her rape, however, that Ruth’s writing particularly shines.  Ruth was a deeply religious young woman, raised and attending college in a Christian tradition in which concepts such as predestination, God’s will, God’s foreknowledge, God’s plan, God’s sovereignty, and God’s ordination of specific and limited roles for women were hammered relentlessly home.  She was bewildered, angered, and devastated, not only by the rape itself — by the invasion of her body and by the violence and the humiliation forced upon her —but by what those things might mean in the context of the religious tradition she held dear.  Could a rape at gunpoint have been God’s will for her life? Her questions, and her attempts to make sense of what happened and to forge a new spiritual path, will no doubt be meaningful to the many people of faith who have been taught not to question God’s ways.  She emerges as a powerful role model in the Biblical tradition of seeking answers from God when the events of life threaten to engulf us in confusion, sorrow, fear, and rage.

A disturbing element of the book which I hope that Ruth addresses someday has to do with its racial overtones.  Ruth and her housemates are all white; the perpetrators of the crimes against them are African Americans.  I can imagine – and I cannot at all claim knowledge here, but I can imagine – African American women heartbroken as they read the many physical descriptions of the men – both because it is black men who are responsible for such vile acts of depravity, and because of the reminder of how others look at their sons, men with the same physical attributes.  Ruth herself, dealing with after-effects which today might well be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress symptoms, is surprised and shocked by some of her own reactions. (I should add that, having once practiced law in the area of domestic violence, and as the mother of a son who is a criminal defense attorney, I have been party to many discussions about violent crime, and about race and the justice system – and that that topic is not the focus of this book.  But it lurks between the pages.)

I hope that Ruined is much read and discussed, in general and in particular in our churches. In a world and in an institution in which women are often marginalized; in which our concerns are often dismissed and our bodies are frequently the objects of commentary, derision, and unwanted attention; and in which the word “rape” is quickly silenced — this book needs to be a subject of conversation.  We all have much to learn from Ruth Everhart about how to care for those in our midst for whom rape has become a reality.

And I hope that Ruth writes a sequel. I am longing to read the story of her journey into a tradition in which she was welcomed into ordained ministry, and grew into the voice which makes this book possible.

Thank you, Ruth, for the care and courage with which you have begun the conversation.

 

My Name is Lucy Barton (Book Review)

lucy barton

“I will write and people will not feel so alone!” So proclaims elementary school-aged Lucy Barton, the protagonist of Elizabeth Strout’s new (2016) novel.  And isn’t that, in the end, why most of us write?

Shaped around a five -day visit from her mother when Lucy, herself a young mother, is hospitalized for nine weeks, the sparse prose and short timespan illuminate the entire and bewildering life of one girl, one family, one marriage, one woman.  Lurking in the shadows are horrors of innocence mistreated and love twisted by the ravages of life, but Lucy triumphs in a huge, albeit modestly trumpeted, way.

The themes of human existence are universal; the details of any one life are peculiar.  Lucy’s include a snake, a brother who sleeps with the pigs, a physician who responds gently and from behind a barricade of boundaries to her loneliness (do we sense Biblical themes here?), and a mother who can mother only in the same way that she sleeps, in brief snatches of time, her own life fenced by fear and reserve.

If you loved Olive Kitteridge, if you know anything about the sadness of children, if you wonder how writers become writers, then you will want to immerse yourself completely in this novel.

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