Friday, January 31, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 51


We finally finished the last of the Little House books, The First Four Years. It was by far the shortest and, I think, the most depressing of the series.  Laura and "Manly" had setback after setback, entire years' worth of crops lost to early frost or drought, the death of their newborn baby boy, a house fire in which they lost almost everything, it was such a heart-breaking note to end on.  Laura left us with a hopeful reminder of their love of the land and her smiling as Manly sang a cheery song, but it definitely emphasized the harshness of life on the frontier.

I'm kind of sad to be leaving this series behind, but ready to start reading something new with my boys.  I'm thinking of trying the Lloyd Alexander Prydain series that begins with The Book of Three.  I loved that as a kid.  Any other suggestions?


This last book didn't have nearly as many songs as the earlier ones, and I couldn't find a single recording of that final song Manly sang, "Don't Leave the Farm, Boys".  But I did find several of "Angel Band", the hymn that came to Laura's mind while she was in labor with Rose.  I like this version by Dolly Parton:


While Emma Approved has been on hiatus until February (next week!), I've been keeping an eye out for other web series to fill the void.  Pretty Darn Funny is cute and clean and short - only two six-episode seasons with a few fun "extras" thrown in. And as an added bonus for me, I know several of the actors from my time at BYU - one was my film teacher and the others were advanced students - and it's always fun to see a familiar face like that. (I doubt any of them would remember me.  They were a few years ahead of me in the program and the ones we "newbies" looked at with wide-eyed admiration - for good reason.)

Here's hoping season three is in the works...Enjoy!


Back in October I mentioned the art project "Delicatessen with Love" in a Friday Four.  And now I just recently discovered this project where national flags are created out of traditional foods from that country.  They're really quite clever (and scrumptious)!  I literally laughed out loud at the United States flag and I had to google the foods in the Vietnamese flag.  Seriously, go check it out.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Book Review: Stitches by Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott speaks to my soul.

In her phenomenal book, Help Thanks Wow: Three Essential Prayers, Lamott focused on how we communicate with the Almighty. In Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, she muses on healing and wholeness.

Drawing on some truly horrific recent events, including the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, she asks universal questions that billions of others have wrestled with.  "Where do we even begin in the presence of evil or catastrophe -- dead or deeply lost children, a young wife's melanoma, polar bears floating out to sea on scraps of ice? What is the point of it all when we experience the vortex of interminable depression or, conversely, when we recognize that time is tearing past us like giddy greyhounds?"

The answers Lamott offers boil down to truth, authenticity, and love. Naturally, this requires us to allow other people into our lives and involve ourselves in the lives of others, or as she puts it, "sticking together as we try to make sense of the chaos." For an introvert like me, even one who likes people, this is scary. It's uncomfortable. It's hard.  It feels less safe than keeping to ourselves.  Lamott recognizes this and acknowledges it, but points out the value of leaving our comfort zone.
It is most comfortable to be invisible, to observe life from a distance, at one with our own intoxicating superior thoughts, But comfort and isolation are not where the surprises are. They are not where hope is. Hope tends to appear when we see that all sorts of disparate personalities can come together, no matter how different and jarring they may seem at first.
And that's the way God designed it.  Above all else, He's a Father, a Teacher, so He wants us to learn and grow, to heal and progress, and the best way to do that is by helping each other. "God could do anything God wanted, heal and create through weather or visions or the ever popular tongues of fire, but instead chooses us to be the way, to help, to share, to draw close."  We can be a strength to others during difficult times, even as we feel they are providing strength to us.  "In the cold wind, if you can lean against others, none of you will blow away. You keep each other from falling or help each other get back up."

Anne Lamott chooses her words carefully, and her books - while short - are packed with both profundity and gentle humor.  Her intimate, comfortable, relationship with Deity is apparent when she declares, tongue in cheek, "I know God enjoys hearing my take on how best we should all proceed, as I'm always full of useful advice."  She reminds us to be true to ourselves and not to worry too much about what others think, with a recognition of the challenges of blazing our own trails: "It is not now and never was in anybody's best interest for you to be a seeker.  It's actually in everybody's worst interest."

I love her description of why reading appeals so much to some:
We found in books the divine plop, the joy of settling down deeply into something, worlds and realities greater than our own troubled minds. All of life, for me, begins with books and art...When you love something like reading--or drawing or music or nature--it surrounds you with a sense of connection to something great. If you are lucky enough to know this, then your search for meaning involves whatever that Something is.
Lamott shares her struggles with alcoholism, how she has dealt with and overcome her addiction, and the lessons she learned in the process. Those who helped her get sober, her true friends, taught her that "maturity was the ability to live with unresolved problems...They taught me that being of service, an ally to the lonely and suffering, a big-girl help to underdogs, was my best shot at happiness."

In this process of healing and becoming whole, relationships are vital. They prompt personal growth by helping us reach outside of ourselves, but also providing loving support for us with all of our flaws.
One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was that I was going to need a lot of help, and for a long time. (Even this morning.) What saved me was that I found gentle, loyal and hilarious companions, which is at the heart of meaning: maybe we don't find a lot of answers to life's tougher questions, but if we find a few true friends, that's even better.  They help you see who you truly are, which is not always the loveliest possible version of yourself, but then comes the greatest miracle of all--they still love you. They keep you company as perhaps you become less of a whiny baby, if you accept their help.
As a result, she decided, "this is who I want to be in the world.  This is who I think we are supposed to be, people who help call forth human beings from deep inside hopelessness."  Paraphrasing her initial questions, she closes the book with this simple summation: "Love is the question: How can it possibly be enough this time, in the face of such tragedy, loss or evil? And it is the answer: It will be."

Stitches: A Handbook of Meaning, Hope and Repair
by Anne Lamott
ISBN: 9781594632587
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, ebook, audiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 50


The kids had Monday off from school for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, so I dragged them all along on my regular Meals on Wheels route and then hauled them over to Holy Family Hospital, conveniently not too far from the MOW launching station.

For 14 years now - or was it 15? - Holy Family Hospital has invited the Rev. Percy "Happy" Watkins to speak on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, including a part of Dr. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech in his remarks. It was absolutely soul-stirring to hear those words live and delivered with such passion.  Rev. Watkins' son, Paul, opened the program with a moving rendition of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and closed with "There's a Sweet, Sweet Spirit," which brought tears to my eyes not for the first time that hour.

The boys and their friends with Rev. Watkins.
It was a good way to spend the day.  I think we'll do it again next year, too.  Anyone else want to join us?


Go check out this nifty infographic titled "The Most Loved Children's Books".  While there are some interesting tidbits about the history of children's books and specific classics, I found the statistics regarding children's literacy very sobering.

In middle income neighborhoods, the ratio is 
13 books per child

In low income neighborhoods, the ratio is 
one book for every 300 children

That blows my mind, folks.  How on earth can we expect children to learn to read, much less to read to learn, to read for enjoyment and expanding their world and imaginations, to pull themselves out of poverty and create better lives for themselves and their families, if they don't have books available? In our house, the ratio is probably close to 300 books per child, and I'm not even exaggerating.  Books are so much a part of my natural environment it never occurred to me how privileged I've been in this regard. Now I'm off to do some research about specific organizations that work to get books into the hands of underprivileged kids.  Any suggestions?


Oh, and check out this op-ed piece from the New York Times earlier this week on a similar topic.


There's been an abundance of fabulous BBC shows lately: Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife, Sherlock...  And I just discovered another!

Luther is a psychological crime drama series that, like many BBC shows, only has a handful of episodes per season.  It centers around Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, a detective who seems almost preternaturally gifted at getting inside the minds of the most disturbed criminals.  He's estranged from his wife, forms a very odd acquaintance/friendship with a sociopath, and dodges the British equivalent of Internal Affairs as they look into his past cases and current behaviors.  It is a crime show, so if you're squeamish about gore there are definitely times you'll want to cover your eyes or look away for a bit - I sure do - but there are fascinating characters in believable relationships, compelling mysteries and humor, too.  It's truly riveting television.

(And at only 14 episodes, it's not an insane time commitment, so there's that, too.)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Review: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Allie Brosh has a gift for depicting hard truths in an easily digestible - and often hilarious - format.  Her recognizable illustrative style is deliberately rough and simple and invites everyone to enter her wack-a-doodle world and find reflections of themselves and others there. She finds the humor in the darkest of situations, and the darkness in humorous situations, never quite letting us forget the yin and yang, the contrast that heightens each.

Mental illness is a tough subject and Brosh approaches it with startling honesty and transparency.  I've never seen or read a better description of depression than her two-part blog post recreated as part of her book. Of course, depression can be different for each person, but based on my experience with post-partum depression after my oldest was born, she hits the nail on the head when she described the, "detached, meaningless fog," the shame and self-loathing that accompany the sadness and lack of ability to come up with any appropriate emotional response to situations. What's most remarkable to me is how she captures the reactions of other people to her depression and how often, because of ignorance and with the best of intentions, they suggest a "solution...for a different problem than the one I have." She highlights the absurdity and humor in the "existential confusion" of depression without losing the humanity of it.

Animals are an endless source of amusement in the book.  I laughed out loud at how their "simple dog" becomes "situationally quadriplegic" when it's time to leave the dog park.  And the story of when they were attacked by a goose in their own home (complete with actual photos of the event) had me literally crying I was laughing so hard.  And the toy parrot.  Oh my word, the parrot!
"The toy parrot was given to us by a family friend who either didn't understand children or hated my parents.
"Imagine a grizzly bear. Now imagine that by some accident of nature, the bear sprouts wings and learns how to use a flamethrower. That would be a really unfair thing to have happen. Bears are already powerful enough without those things.
"Similarly, children are already annoying enough without access to a toy that will record and repeat any sound in the entire world.
"We began abusing the parrot's capabilities almost immediately..."
Brosh's "confident battle toward adequacy" may not speak to everyone. Her brash, deceptively flippant style may come across as too much for some, her brightly colored illustrations too jarring against the darkness of the truths she shares, but for those it reaches, it's such a relief to have found someone who sees the same darkness and absurdities in life.

** Major, major, major language warning.  Do not pick up this book (or go to her blog) if you are not willing to see many, many f-words, as well as various other profanities and obscenities.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
by Allie Brosh
Hyperbole and a Half: The Blog
ISBN: 9781451666175
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Book Review: Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey

In Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey speaks with courage and conviction on a topic near and dear to my heart.  Many Christians, and many conservatives, have a knee-jerk revulsion when they hear the dreaded "f-word" feminist, but early on in her book, Bessey declares, "Most of what has passed for a description of feminism is fearmongering misinformation" (something which can also be said, ironically, of Mormonism).  She continues to clarify: "It's not necessary to subscribe to all the diverse--and contrary--opinions within feminism to call oneself a feminist."  Like, Bessey, I identify as a feminist "precisely because of my life-long commitment to Jesus and his Way."

As Rachel Held Evans does in her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Ms. Bessey points out that the cultural and societal environment the various writers of the Bible were surrounded by inevitably influenced their writings.  For example, there is not a single verse in the Bible that explicitly denounces slavery. Slavery was simply a given during biblical times.  However, many of those who wrote about slavery, including Paul, introduced a radically different approach to the institution, encouraging slave-owners to treat slaves fairly and kindly and welcome runaway slaves back without punishment.  Of course, that doesn't mean that God approves of slavery, a thought which the vast majority of Christians (and people of all faiths) today would find abhorrent, but that the prophets and apostles worked within the imperfect social structures that were present at their time.  A similar process is at work today whenever we read and interpret Scripture, as we are all to some extent products of our time and culture: "Whether we admit it or not, as people of faith, we sift our theology through Scripture, Church history and tradition, our reason, and our own experience."

Bessey describes her growing frustration with what she perceived as a distance between what she believed the gospel demanded of her and what "the churches of my context and tradition" were preaching and focusing. Much of what she writes describes my own struggles over the past several years.
"I struggled with the cultural rhetoric against immigrants, homosexuals, artists, welfare recipients, the poor, non-Americans, and anyone who looked different or lived differently than the expectation. Cultural mores were passing as biblical mandates. The give-me-more-more-more prosperity gospel didn't match up with my growing commitment to contentment and simple living...For the first time in my life, I was reading and learning about the church's mandate to care for the poor.  I was reading voraciously about global issues such as clean water, community development, war, human trafficking, economics, disaster relief, and AIDS crisis, unjust systemic evils."
To make matters worse for Bessey, she says, "When I turned to the Church for answers, I did not feel my questions were welcome.  This may have been my own pride and willful blindness, but there didn't seem to be room for me as a questioning woman within the system." Stuffing all of her questions and cognitive dissonance in the closet simply didn't work and eventually, the "crammed closet of doubts and questions and hurts" burst open and everything fell apart.

So Bessey stepped back "into the wilderness" for a while.  She distanced herself from the "easy consumer spirituality", and spent time with God, reconciling what she believed and why.  "I loosened my grip on my opinions. I entered recovery for being such a know-it-all. I stopped expecting everyone to experience God or church or life like I thought it should be done...I learned the difference between critical thinking and being just plain critical." She developed a personal relationship and "intimacy with God" that freed her from "crippling approval addition, from my Evangelical Hero Complex, from the fear of man." And she learned to "Stay there in the questions, in the doubts, in the wonderings and loneliness, the tension of living in the Now and the Not Yet of the Kingdom of God, your wounds and hurts and aches, until you are satisfied that Abba is there too.  You will not find your answers by ignoring the cry of your heart or by living a life of intellectual and spiritual dishonesty."

Bessey also provides a new perspective on the biblical word ezer, one that stirs my soul. "God called the first woman ezer --a name he embraces for himself throughout the Old Testament...he named his daughter after himself."
"In the Old Testament, the word ezer appears twenty-one times in three different contexts: the creation of woman, when Israel applied for military aid, and in reference to God as Israel's helper for military purposes. God isn't a helpmeet in the watered-down milquetoast way we've taught or understood that word within our churches, is he? No, our God is more than that: he's a strong helper, a warrior.
"By naming his daughters after this aspect of his character, God did not name women as secondary helpmeet assistants. No, friend--women were created and called out as warriors."
Again and again Bessey comes back to centering one's life on Christ.  Without a relationship with him, without him directing our efforts, we will not be successful.
"As feminists, we've sometimes found that our self-efforts are misguided and often frustrating. We see injustice and want to overturn it--now. I get this, and I feel it, too. We absolutely need to engage in the daily, impossible, frustrating, swimming-upstream work of overturning injustice.
"But we must remember that all of those efforts are ultimately frustrating, sometimes even misguided, without Christ. If Christ is not at the center of the work, if he is not the author of the work, the glory of the work, then it is often unfruitful and incomplete."
Bessey closes with a beautiful prayer or "commission" for her readers, sending them out into the world to do good, be lights, and serve God. Here are just a few of the phrases that touched me.
"I pray that you would be given the gift of realizing that you were wrong about some important things."
"Choose freedom. Choose the freedom of living loved, far from their debates and fence lines and name callings, and the belittling, divisive stereotypes. Extend the gift of freedom and grace, second chances, and more grace, just as you have received them."
"The Kingdom of God will be better with your voice, your hands, your experiences, your stories, your truth. You can go where I cannot go, and someone needs to hear you sing your song. You are someone's invitation."
"May you make room in your life to be inconvenienced and put out, and may you be Jesus with skin on for a few people."
"I pray that no matter your tool or method (mothering, preaching, cooking, writing, organizing, washing, teaching, building, money making--all of your whole life encompassing it all) you will walk in the knowledge of the sacredness and purpose of your calling."
"I pray that when you are bored and tired and discouraged and frustrated, when you feel futile and small and ridiculous, you will never, never give up."
"Keep your eyes open for the signs of God's presence; he's already at work in your world, revealing his ways to us all."
"We're in this together; let's do it together."
Finally, this reminder soothes my soul and provides comfort and encouragement: "There is not one way to be a woman; there is not one way to do women's ministry. There is only loving and serving God, doing life together in the full expression of our unique selves. Make room for them all and give glory to God."


Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women
by Sarah Bessey
ISBN: 9781476717258
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 49


Photo credit: wikipedia
On Monday, I attended the funeral of a young man I never met. I do, however, know one set of his grandparents, both of whom are good people, from church.  His grandmother, in particular, is one of the most sincerely warm and loving people I have the privilege of calling a friend. 

During the service, his friends, family, and comrades-in-arms movingly described a dedicated, giving, compassionate, talented, and determined individual. Not only did he serve with distinction in the Marine Corps, advancing ranks far more quickly than average, he also served as a bone marrow donor, saving the life of a young mother a couple of years ago. The Patriot Guard Riders turned out in force to honor this soldier, as did the community as a whole.  Military honors were given and, as always, tears streamed down my face during the three-volley salute, the playing of Taps, and the folding and presentation of the flag to his wife.

My deepest sympathies to his family and loved ones. Semper fidelis, and rest in peace, Sgt. Hess.  


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a writer from Nigeria, recently came to my attention through her 2009 TED talk. (I've been introduced to so many fascinating people that way!) She gives her talk, "The Danger of a Single Story", from the perspective of the storyteller she is. Stories have immense power over how we perceive ourselves and others, she says. "Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity."

Because of this, it is important to ensure that we recognize that every person has many, many stories that make them who they are, rather than being a one-dimensional creature. "The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story...The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar."

Seriously, go watch this talk.  It's less than 20 minutes and well worth your time.


And then go watch her TEDxEuston talk from last year, "We Should All Be Feminists". Adichie speaks to her experience as a Nigerian woman and the sexism she sees in her culture, but she expresses many truths that are applicable across cultural lines.

While a thousand years ago physical strength was important for survival, making men (who are often--general speaking--physically stronger than women) the natural leaders, "today we live in a vastly different world.  The person more likely to lead is not the physically stronger person. It is the more creative person, the more intelligent person, the more innovative person. And there are no hormones for those attributes. A man is as likely as a woman to be intelligent, to be creative, to be innovative. We have evolved, but it seems to me that our ideas of gender have not evolved."

She points out that the way we raise our children, both boys and girls, needs to change because it affects the kind of adults they become. "We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity becomes this hard, small cage and we put boys inside the cage. We teach boys to be afraid of fear, to be afraid of weakness, vulnerability. We teach them to mask their true selves." 

On the other hand, "we teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls you can have ambition but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful otherwise you will threaten the man...So [girls] grow up to be women who silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot say what they truly think. They grow up, and this is the worst thing we do to girls, they grow up to be women who have turned pretense into an art form."

And then I love this: "I am angry. Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change. But in addition to being angry I am also hopeful because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to make and remake themselves for the better."

I'm on the waiting list to get her novels from the library.  I can't wait to see what else she has to say.


And speaking of feminism, read here about what one of my favorite "rabid, man-eating feminists" in the entertainment industry, Meryl Streep, said about another of my favorite "rabid, man-eating feminists" in the field, Emma Thompson.  Delightful women, both of them!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Book Review: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Graphic novels aren't my forte, but my two oldest boys love them. Most of the graphic novels they read are geared toward younger audiences, most notably Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z Kai. But they've started wanting to look at some of the graphic novels for older teens and I've been concerned at some of the language, violence, and the portrayals of female characters.  So when this showed up in my goodreads feed because a friend was reading it, I thought I'd check it out.

Definitely geared toward the younger set, Zita the Spacegirl and its sequel Legends of Zita the Spacegirl are an entertaining read.  In the first installment, the titular character and her friend Joseph discover a meteoroid in a crater. Joseph wants to report it to the authorities, and definitely not to push the big red button on the device they found.  Zita teases Joseph and then defiantly pushes the button. A dimensional portal opens, and coiled tentacles reach through and grab Joseph just as the portal disappears. A horrified Zita runs away and hides in the woods, only to bravely return to the site, push the button again, and step into the unknown to rescue her friend.  Along the way, she meets aliens, robots, and other odd creatures and creates her signature look.  Oh, and saves the world from certain destruction.

In Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, Zita has become a celebrity.  She's still trying to find her way back to earth while on her grand autograph-signing tour, when she runs into a shape-shifting robot that impersonates her and takes her place, leaving her stranded on a planet.  Again, she manages to restore herself to her rightful place and save (another) world from destruction.

Zita is brave, resourceful, creative, and friendly, and is defined by her own actions rather than her appearance or her relationship to others.  I thought the first book had a better story crafted than the second, but perhaps when I've had a chance to read the third, it will flow together better for me.  All in all, a fun diversion for an afternoon, and my boys liked them, too.

Zita the Spacegirl
by Ben Hatke
ISBN: 9781596436954
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl
by Ben Hatke
ISBN: 9781596438064
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Monday, January 13, 2014

Book Review: Sunday by Craig Harline

Craig Harline, a professor of history at Brigham Young University, first came to my attention through this video of his lecture "What Happened to My Bellbottoms?" given at BYU as the 20th Annual Martin B. Hickman Lecture last year.  (It's about 50 minutes long, though if you want to skip all the introductory stuff you can start at 9:00 and just hear the lecture itself.)

The lecture is fascinating.  Professor Harline addresses change, how successive generations adapt or expand the previous generations' values into new areas, and the conflict or consternation that causes in the older generations. He uses very effective examples, from society at large and from religion specifically, on how attitudes and beliefs have changed.  For example, he points out that first century Christians would be either dumbfounded or horrified at many modern Christian stances including on slavery, the place and abilities of women, borrowing money, even what we call the first day of the week and when we worship. In one brilliant paradigm-busting bit, Professor Harline defines a hero as one who is willing to reconsider his or her own stance when changes occur, rather than retrenching and "doubling down" on the old way of doing things. Seriously fascinating stuff.  I need to go listen to it again.

Anyway, in Sunday: A History of the First Day from Babylonia to the Super Bowl he narrows his topic to the changes that have occurred regarding this day of the week and the social and other influences that have affected those changes.  In each of the seven chapters he focuses on a particularly pivotal time period for Sunday that illustrates how attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors were adapting. Starting with the ancient Middle East, where the seven-day week was first established, he brings us on a tour of the Jewish Sabbath (starting at sundown on Friday and continuing until sundown on Saturday) and the Hellenistic naming of days of the week by planets and celestial objects, including the sun, and then on to the Christian "Lord's Day" commemorating Christ's Resurrection on the first day of the week.

Early on there were various ideas about what was appropriate activity for the Lord's Day, with some viewing it as a "transplanted Sabbath" demanding a very narrow definition of rest and others believing that as long as one worshiped on that day, anything else was fair game.  The Council of Rouen in 650 was "the first church council explicitly to require a twenty-four-hour Sabbath-like Lord's Day, to make rest and worship obligatory, and to fix a list of penalties for violating rest." This strict interpretation gained popularity across the Christian world and became the expectation throughout the Middle Ages.  The "prescribed mood was no longer one of outward joy, as in the ancient Sunday, but of inward joy. The outward mood, however, was one of somberness."

The common people, particularly the peasants, resisted these limitations on their single day off during the week.  Long, hard, back-breaking hours of physical labor for six days needed to be balanced with some fun and enjoyment on the seventh, they felt, despite religious leaders' threats of eternal damnation and more immediate punishment.

Zooming forward several centuries to continental Europe in the throes of the mid-nineteenth century Industrial Revolution, Harline notes that "if the greatest threat to the old religious Sunday had long been excessive play, the greatest threat to Sunday after industrialization was excessive work."  Perspectives shifted further during World War I, "The War to End all Wars", in the early twentieth century.  Horrific battles were fought on Sundays, the same as every other day of the week.  Sundays brought no rest from the fear and slaughter.  "With thoughts so riveted on war, hardly anything else, including Sunday, mattered."

But contrary to popular belief, the trend hasn't been all for the secularization of Sunday.  During the early twentieth century there was an increase in opportunities for both work and recreation on Sundays and more Americans availed themselves of those opportunities, but at the same time, "Americans were also going to church in steadily increasing numbers.  And while at the founding of the republic not even two in ten Americans belonged to churches, by 1950 six in ten did."  Religous affiliation increased to seven in ten by 1960. Rather than a stark dichotomy of spiritual or secular, many people saw both aims as compatible.
As Americans experienced changes in transportation, industry, urbanization, and leisure, they were bound to experience changes in their Sunday activities as well, and to see those activities in new way.  Along the way morals were reconfigured, not lost...[A 1945 study showed] that between 1800 and 1940, each succeeding generation regularly saw once-condemned Sunday activities become accepted as 'normal' and 'traditional.' And this occurred in a context of increasing association with formal religion, not less.
Harline's vignettes paint a detailed portrait of Sunday life during each time period, and he grounds them well within the context of larger societal, political, economic, and religious movements. The "Sunday question" has caused conflict for literally millennia now, but as Harline notes, "Sunday changed when the world around it changed" and it will continue to do so, adapting to each new challenge as it appears.

Sunday: A History of the First Day from Babylonia to the Super Bowl
by Craig Harline
ISBN: 9780385510394
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 48


I sure don't want to be "one of Jesus' jackasses,"
but this guy's kind of cute!
(Photo credit: plong via flickr)

I found this article "Why does Jesus Turn Decent People into Jackasses?" a little while back and it's stuck with me, so I thought I'd share it with you.  Makes me more determined to ensure that my communication, particularly in interfaith situations, is as clear, loving, and un-jackass-ish as possible.
"How a relationship with Jesus affects people seems to vary a good bit. Because as much as Jesus brings some people hope, healing, and resurrection, that same Jesus also makes some people turn into intolerant name-calling Christians who seem downright entitled to utilize the Bible as a device to be mean and hateful. If engaging scripture and prayer and going to church makes us act like nasty, self-righteous jackasses, we’ve completely missed the point."

A few months ago the story about Davion Only caught my eye and touched my heart.  A foster child since his birth to a woman incarcerated for petty theft, he had bounced around to dozens of different homes in his 15 years. One Sunday last fall, he bravely stood before a congregation at a church in Florida to ask for a family, for people to love him.

I was thrilled to read this story on Christmas Eve. Davion spent Christmas with a potential adoptive family. I hope and pray all goes well and he's found his permanent home.  Thinking of the thousands of other children like Davion, I stand in awe of those who open their homes to be foster parents.


Just about everybody has already done that dialect map that was making the rounds on facebook, but in case you didn't have a chance, go here, answer a few questions and see what areas of the United States most closely match your speech patterns.

I took the quiz probably a dozen times trying to get a result that made sense (the quiz only gives you 25 questions, but there's a bank of more than that, so your results will change a little each time).  I figured I'd show up as a mish-mash of different areas because I've lived in Florida, Hawaii, Northern Virginia, southern Virginia, Utah, and Washington. My result maps were always almost completely red, with a light blue area in New England, which indicated that my speech patterns are pretty non-identifiable across most of the U.S..  The weird part was that it kept coming up with "most similar cities" in northern California, Louisiana, or Texas, and once in Lincoln, Nebraska, which makes absolutely no sense at all.  I've never lived in any of those places, never even visited most of them, don't have family there.  Weird.  Everyone else seemed to get results that made sense, though, so have fun with it!


Here's another map for your viewing pleasure.  This one uses certain statistics as markers for the seven deadly sins: wrath, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, sloth, and pride.  Not sure how much I agree with some of the markers they chose, particularly sloth, but it's certainly interesting.  My current home region seems to be pretty average across the board, with higher-than-average problems with envy and lower-than-average problems with lust.  How's yours?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

New Fanciful Books for Kids from Neil Gaiman

I love the way Neil Gaiman's mind works.  It is so deliciously quirky and clever with an openness to wherever his imagination roams that it's impossible not to be delighted by the surprising twists and turns of his stories. At the same time, I appreciate that he refuses to condescend to his younger readers.  His stories for the younger set often have a bit of darkness around the edges, even twinges of the horror genre (have you read Coraline? ), which I normally find off-putting, but from him they take on an oddly optimistic tone. Like he's saying, "I'm telling you this scary story because you can handle it. I know you can, because growing up is scary and you're already doing that, just like so many others.  You're not alone!"  The Graveyard Book is one of my all-time favorites, as is this quote that I post on facebook every New Years:

I recently discovered that Mr. Gaiman published two children's books in 2013, both delightful additions to his oeuvre, though each a bit of a departure from his standard fare.

In Fortunately, the Milk, Mom has gone off to a conference, leaving the two children in Dad's care. Everything is going along swimmingly until they realize that there's no milk left for breakfast.  No worries!  Dad will just pop on over to the corner store to get milk and all will be well.  But the children wait, and wait, and wait. And Dad doesn't return.  Finally he walks through the door with an elaborate tale of the odd adventures that delayed him.  Unfriendly pirates, aliens with an intense interest in home design and decorating, a hot air balloon, vampires, a stegosaurus, erupting volcanos, and time travel all feature heavily in the entertaining story, skillfully illustrated by Skottie Young.  Seriously, as fantastic as Gaiman's words are, the illustrations are worth far more than a thousand words each.

Fortunately, the Milk, is aimed at readers between 8 and 12, though I think younger children would find it humorous and engaging as well as older folk, too. The first time I read the book, I inhaled it in about 15 minutes and giggled the whole way through.  The second time I deliberately took it at a slower pace, paying closer attention to the details in the illustrations, and again giggled the whole way through.

Chu is a sweet little panda with an incredible sneeze. He didn't sneeze in the library where there was lots of dust.  He didn't sneeze in the diner where there was lots of pepper.  But when they went to the circus, boy, did that sneeze come out of nowhere!

Again, the illustrations really make Chu's Day.  The deep, rich colors are warm and inviting, and Adam Rex gives each animal a personality and a task. I love the little snail that turns up in almost every picture and the nod to the Bremen Town Musicians at the circus.  My personal favorite is the orangutan, koala, and rhino team of trapeze artists. Of course, it's the rhino being tossed through the air.

Fortunately, the Milk
by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young
ISBN: 9780062224071
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Chu's Day
by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex
ISBN: 9780062017819
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, audiobookboard book)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Monday, January 6, 2014

Book Review: The Prison Angel by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan

I first heard about Mother Antonia in a New York Times article written about her shortly after her death in October 2013 and mentioned her in a Friday Four. Her story seemed completely unreal. A twice-divorced Catholic mother of seven from Beverly Hills, California, feels called to become a nun and serve the poor.  When none of the religious communities will accept her because of her marital history and her age, she sews her own habit, moves to Mexico, plants herself in a cell in one of the most notorious prisons, and begins loving and serving those around her. Her presence and example prompt changes in prison administrators and guards as well as the prisoners and their families. Guards treat inmates with more dignity.  Prison riots simply stop when she walks in to harm's way. People find hope again when a single person shows them kindness.  Incredibly far-fetched, isn't it?

Mother Antonia might be one of the most real people who's ever lived.

Despite a fairly privileged upbringing, the woman born as Mary Clarke was aware of the poor and disadvantaged from a young age and often felt "a gnawing feeling inside her, a sense that there were important things she needed to do." In addition to raising her seven children, she threw herself into charity work, organizing contributions to be sent to war-torn Korea, running Christmas parties at children's hospitals, and opening her home to orphans on holidays. But after her second divorce, it just wasn't enough.

She had been visiting the La Mesa prison in Tijuana, Mexico, regularly for several years and "every time she left, she had the nagging feeling she was letting someone down, leaving behind someone who needed her."  The prison warden had offered to let her stay overnight and so, after much prayer and thought and "wrestl[ing] with the idea" she decided to make the leap.  Despite the fact that no religious order would accept her, she put on a homemade habit and moved to La Mesa.  Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan report, "She blazed her own trail...She believed down to her toes that God had chosen this life for her and that He had been shouting His plan to her for years."

At La Mesa she was a force of nature. She slept on the women's cell block, right next to all the prisoners, so she would be there for anyone who needed her at any time. She was irresistible and a "hustler" who "attracted an increasingly diverse group of people who wanted to help her" including volunteers who would gather supplies, clothes, food, and medicine for her to distribute, judges and lawyers who would assist prisoners with legal matters at Mother Antonia's request, and doctors and dentists who performed thousands of surgeries on prisoners for little or no charge. She befriended the worst, most violent criminals; she humanized the inmates in the eyes of the guards and the guards in the eyes of the prisoners. "She always finds the humanity in every person."

She told a hardened prisoner, "You are somebody because you are God's child. And none of the rest of it means anything." Later she explained why she was able to show love to those who had been responsible for causing so much pain to others, "I knew that once I choose who I love and who I don't, I am no longer God's servant."  One of her admirers described her aptly as "a miracle that repeats itself every day."

Mother Antonia's confidence not only in God but also in her own ability to know what He wanted her to do was unwavering.  "She had never put rules ahead of faith" and when "she thought her church's rule ran counter to its true purposes" she followed the path that she knew God wanted her on, regardless of the obstacles. "This woman is just joy and happiness, period."

What a remarkable woman! The amount of good Mother Antonia did for "the least of these," in a place few others would voluntarily go, is incalculable. I'm adding her to my list of heroes.

The Prison Angel: Mother Antonia's Journey from Beverly Hills to a Life of Service in a Mexican Jail
by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan
ISBN: 9781594200564
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 47


Tomorrow morning at 10:00, I'm participating as a panelist in Spokane Faith & Values' Coffee Talk on "the challenges and importance of interfaith work in Spokane". My post on the topic is here.  If you're in town, I'd love to see you at Indaba Coffee tomorrow!


For Christmas, Santa brought each of the boys a book of origami.  The Star Wars Origami is pretty advanced, so we haven't done much of that yet, but all three of the boys have gone through the Easy Origami book and made pigs, carp, dogs, boats, and frogs to their hearts' content. They occasionally need help, particularly the five-year-old, but they're getting better with practice and it's fun to see them so intent on creating something.

A sampling of the origami completed
since Christmas.  Lots of fish & carp!


I totally geeked out when I saw this article and video.  Oh, how I wish I were in New York to see Sir Ian McKellan and Sir Patrick Stewart on stage together and possibly bump into them in character on the street! Absolute heaven!


As we say goodbye to 2013 and look forward to 2014, here's a short video by bing of "Heroic Women of 2013". Malala Yousafzai, Gabrielle Giffords, Diana Nyad, Janet Yellen, Antoinette Tuff, and more, all provided courage and inspiration to others this year.  Can't wait to see what heroes 2014 brings us!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 Reading Round-up

Happy New Year!

Over the course of 2013 (according to goodreads), I read:

an even 100 books,
30 of which were fiction,
53 of which were non-fiction,
6 of which I read aloud to my boys,
12 of which were picture books
(I actually read a lot more picture books than that, but I only reviewed 12 on goodreads and didn't keep track of the others...New Years' Resolution for 2014!)

which all together amounts to 28143 pages,
an average of about 77 pages a day,
or almost two books a week

Actually a little low for me, but not bad.
It's been a good year.
Thanks for following along!