Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Favorite Books of 2015

Right now the suitcases are out, and piles of this-and-that cover the floor. Early tomorrow morning we board the plane for our flight to Bolivia and two months of field work on the history project. An important part of our preparation is making sure our Kindle is loaded up with enough good books to sustain us while we’re away.
Which reminds me, of course, of some of the great books I’ve read this year. I’ve had to pick and choose for this list. Again, it’s not a list of good books published in 2015, but a list of what I especially appreciated of the books I read during the year, whenever they were published.

Fiction:
--Sue Monk Kidd, The Invention of Wings (2014): Based on the history of the Grimk√© sisters, abolitionists and fighters for women’s rights in the early 1800s. Also part of Quaker history. The heart of the story is the relationship between Sarah Grimk√©, a slave-owner’s daughter, and Handful, her personal slave.
--Marilynn Robinson, Home (2013) and Lila (2014): These follow Gilead and each focuses on one of the characters who live in the small town of Gilead. Beautifully written. Themes are home and family, grace, sin, repentance, forgiveness, and the possibility of transformation.
--Jenna Blume, Those Who Save Us (2004): A holocaust novel about baring the burden of a hidden story and how the revelation brings forgiveness and grace between generations.
--Dorothy Sayers, Clouds of Witnesses and Whose Body?: I love Lord Peter Wimsey! Once again intelligence and intuition combine to solve the crime. A favorite quote from Clouds has Lord Peter reflecting on his mother: “Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force.”
--William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace (2014): From the point of view of a 13 year-old boy reflecting on the tragedies in his family. Themes include war and violence, marginalization, and friendship, but once again grace and forgiveness have the final word.
--Ruchama King Feuerman, In the Countyard of the Kabbalist (2013): Fascinating story of the unlikely friendships between an intellectual New Yok Jew, a firey Jewish woman in Jerusalem, a Kabbalist, and a poor Muslim worker, all involved in the discovery of an ancient relics site near the Dome of the Rock and the question of who owns it. “If I tell you my story, you will listen for awhile and then you will fall asleep. But if, as I tell you my story, you begin to hear your story, you will wake up.”  “Nobody knows who he is until he tells his story to God….”
--Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (2011): Good romance about two older people who refuse to be limited by other peoples’ (including their own children) concepts about what’s good and proper at their age.
--Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick RestaurantI (1996), Back When We Were Grown-ups (2001), and Digging to America (2007): I keep coming back to Anne Tyler’s novels.
--Darragh McKeon, All that Is Solid Melts into Air (2014): Fascinating story about different people affected by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Brings in the tragic and heart-breaking human factor.
--Jacqueline Winspear, Maisie Dobbs (2003), Birds of a Feather (2004), and Pardonable Lies (2005): Another woman detective with wit and humor, a British version of Botswana’s Mma Ramotswe (who is actually herself a British version of an African detective). This has been the year of British detective novels!

Non-Fiction:
--Lamin Sanneh, Called from the Margin: Homecoming of an African (2012): More of an accounting of the development of his thought than of his life experiences. I loved the section on his Muslim childhood and conversion to Christianity without being “evangelized,” his rejection by Christians, his encounters with the West and his eventual conversion to Catholicism. He brings together the pieces of his life, staying African, yet finding his true home in Christianity.
--Dominika Drey, The Twelve Little Cakes (2006): Memoir of growing up in communist Prague, the child of dissidents. Chronicles the joys of childhood in spite of the oppressions surrounding the family. “The system was unfair but the human spirit triumphed on a daily basis….”
--Joahua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness (2005): Excellent and well documented study of Lincoln’s depressions, set in the context of contemporary perceptions of mental health and its treatment. I was interested that two ways Lincoln coped with his predisposition to depression were humor and poetry.
--Leanne Payne, Heaven’s Calling: A Memoir of One Soul’s Steep Ascent (2008): Her awakening to a healing ministry, through experiences, relationships, experimentation.
--Katherine Patterson, Stories of My Life (2014): I love reading the memoirs of writers I love, and Patterson’s book did not disappoint. Her early experiences in China and Japan, daughter and then wife of missionaries, and the struggles with adaption to life in the West certainly enriched her spirit and, consequently, her writing.
--Phillip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? (2006): This was a re-read of a book I need to re-read every year. Very insightful and motivating and I try to learn to pray in ways that might make a difference.
--Joy of Zentangle: Drawing Your Way to Increased Creativity, Focus, and Well-Being: Putting aside the hype of the title, zentangle is so much fun! The “Joy” part of the title is correct.

Poetry:
--William Jolliff, Twisted Shapes of Light (2015): Possibly my favorite book of the year, a collection written by a friend and Friend, bringing together memories of life on a farm, family, and growing up in a fundamentalist church. Bill should be more famous than he is.
--Billy Collins, Aimless Love—New and Selected Poems (2013): I love how Collins uses humor to do social criticism and explore reality and relationships.
--T.S. Elliot, Four Quartets (1943): I love this book, even though I can’t say I totally understand it. I love the language, and how Elliot plays with time and eternity. I’ve been reading it over and over, sort of rolling around in the words.


I would love to hear about the books that touched or challenged you in 2015.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Cat in the manger

by U.A. Fanthorpe

In the story, I'm not there.
Ox and ass, arranged at prayer:
But me? Nowhere.

Anti-cat evangelists
How on earth could you have missed
Such an obvious and able
Occupant of any stable?

Who excluded mouse and rat?
The harmless necessary cat.
Who snuggled in with the holy pair?
Me. And my purr.

Matthew, Mark and Luke and John
(Who got it wrong,
Who left out the cat)
Remember that,
Wherever He went in this great affair,
I was there.



My version of the cat in the manger



Chiri at worship

Friday, December 11, 2015

In belated gratitude to my right thumb

I am a frustrated writer. Two of my preferred tools are giving me fits. The first is my computer. The second is the thumb on my right hand.
We’re working through the computer problems, with help from some technicians. Today we’ll install the programs that might solve everything. Or not. Being without this tool for almost three weeks has slowed me down. At least I have a reason other than myself to blame for missed deadlines.
But I must confess that I’m even fonder of my right thumb than I am of my computer. And more miffed at its disloyalty.
Right now, swollen and sore, it reminds me of how much it usually does for me and how dependent I am on it to get through the day. I have to ask Hal to open cans and chop the onion for our evening meal. The car door is too demanding for me to manage, so we’re back to the days of courtship when he did the honors. In a way, that’s nice, but I actually prefer the independence of doing it for myself. All these little ordinary services my thumb has faithfully preformed for me all my life.
To say that having a fat throbbing thumb cramps my writing style is understatement.
So—sorry, thumb, for taking you for granted. Thank you for serving me so well in the past. Please, if you would, come back from this weird vacation and become, once again, my faithful servant.

Sincerely, the rest of your body

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A lesson from Joseph

One character in the Christmas story is speaking to me today. It’s Joseph, one of the supporting cast members in this drama. He’s usually in the background, which is one reason I like him. Being a background person myself, I am comfortable around Joseph.
What strikes me today is the inner wrestling match he surely went through after finding out that his Mary was pregnant. The Scriptures say that Joseph, Mary’s soon-to-be husband, was faithful to the law, “and yet….” It’s the “and yet” part that tells me compassion was also part of his character. And now faithfulness to the law and compassion for others go head to head. The law tells him that Mary must be publically exposed and cast off, perhaps even stoned. Compassion reminds him that Mary is still a person worthy of love and respect. So Joseph compromises and chooses to move with gentleness. Out of faithfulness to the law he will end their relationship (and I sense undercurrents of sorrow), but out of compassion he will not expose her but do what he feels he must do quietly. It’s not the perfect solution. But it’s the best he can come up with.
Joseph acts with integrity, and perhaps that’s why he and God are still on speaking terms. God communicates with him by way of an angel in his dreams, tells him that he doesn’t have all the facts. Gives him a way forward that was completely off his radar.
And the story goes on from there.
As I ponder the dilemma facing Northwest Yearly Meeting, I sense the tension within us between faithfulness to the law on the one hand, and compassion for people on the other. Perhaps this is a simplistic view, as my husband would tell me, but I see us as holding these two ideals and wondering how to find our way through without giving up either one. Is it even possible?
And then the Joseph story reminds me that we don’t have all the facts yet (and perhaps never will), but that the same God who told Joseph to marry Mary can also tell us, “This is the way. Walk in it.” It may be a way we have not yet even imagined.

Yes. Come, Lord Jesus. Show us the way.