Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Stripes on the beach

November was a red-letter month in that I saw the publication of two books.  Two!  And one of them is a real book.

The real book is called La iglesia latinoamericana: su vida y su mission (The Latin American Church: Her Life and Mission). I coordinated the three person editorial team (with Alberto Roldán and Chuck Van Engen) of this book of essays from 11 Latin American scholars. It’s published by Certeza, a Protestant publishing house in Buenos Aires.  It’s been a long and arduous process, but I’m pleased with the result.  The book is academic and in Spanish; if these are not barriers, please look it over!  (I may blog later on some of the essays, including my own.)

The other book, which is even more “real” (in the velveteen rabbit sense) is published through Bapa Creations Unlimited.  You’ve probably not heard of it. It’s my very own (and very unofficial) publishing house.  “Bapa” was Alandra’s word for Grandma a few years back. I publish these books around Christmas time, usually in runs of three (one goes to Rwanda, one to Springfield, and one stays home with me).

This latest creation couldn’t be farther from the volume published by Certeza. Rather than academic in level, its destined readership is a three-year-old autistic boy named Peter. The English is pretty straight forward.

One of Peter’s fixations is stripes. He sees them everywhere. A few weeks back when Hal and I were at the coast, I took a walk one day and, like Peter, I saw stripes everywhere. So I took out my camera, and a new book was born.  Following are various scenes from Stripes on the Beach.
 I went to the beach
and what did I find?
Stripes, stripes, stripes
of every kind.
Wavy stripes in the sand
Ocean stripes
(otherwise known as waves)
swimming to the shore
Sea grass stripes
Shadow stripes
Drift wood stripes
Sky stripes
(otherwise known as clouds)
moving in the wind
Sea shell stripes
Long legged shadow stripes
Bird legs stripes
Wooden bridge stripes
Fuzzy hat stripes
Crooked tree trunk stripes
Stripes in the grass
Stripes in a fence
Venetian blind stripes
And last of all, here am I!
I've pudding on my face
and stripes on my clothes
and it's just about time to close
this book.
Bye bye, stripes! Bye bye, beach!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Prayer of the selfish child

by Shel Silverstein

Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
And if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my toys to break
So none of the other kids can use 'em....

(From A Light in the Attic)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Three women, three stories

I recently read four non-fiction books chronicling the stories of three women.  The life circumstances of these women couldn’t have been more different, but their reflections point to the universals of human experience.  I’m fascinated by the shared aspects of their lives, the ways they differ, and the power of story to reveal truth.

Two of the books are the memoirs of Iranian writer Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (2003) and Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter (2008). The third book is Hilary Spurling’s biography, Pearl Buck in China: Journey to the Good Earth (2010). And the fourth book is by theologian Roberta C. Bondi, Memories of God: Theological Reflections on a Life (1995).

All three stories reveal the power of place (cultural and historical context) to form lives. Pearl Buck grew up as a missionary kid in China and spent a good deal of her adult life there as well. And while she herself felt more Chinese than American, being a “foreign devil” during the Boxer Rebellion and the violent conflict between Chiang Kaishek’s nationalism and Mao Zedong’s communist revolution marked her life. Azar Nafisi was raised in the Muslim context of the Shah’s Iran and lived through the radical changes, especially for women, brought by the Islamic Revolution under the Ayatollah Khomeini. Roberta Bondi spent much of her childhood in the shadow of the Christian fundamentalism of rural Kentucky and later, as a young scholar, under the contrasting influence of a rational male-oriented seminary education. All these contexts, in different ways, devalued women, setting up similar struggles for all three.

All three women found solace and hope through the power of literature and language. As a girl, Pearl Buck learned Chinese and soaked up the legends and mythology of her people. As an adult her stories of the Chinese people earned her both a Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel award. Azar Nafisi’s book, Reading Lolita in Tehran, chronicles her clandestine reading group and how reflecting on the works of Nabokov, Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Jane Austen (all forbidden Western authors) helped her and her students find their way through the difficult days of the revolution. Roberta Bondi also writes of the books that helped bring balance and hope to her early years, but it was language itself, in particular the Hebrew language, that gave her a sudden epiphany, “a sense of cosmic goodness and joy in all created things I had never encountered before.”

All three women experienced the power of family to harm, as well as to heal, and a good deal of their personal development had to do with coming to terms with the damage. Buck and Bondi faced the trauma of harsh fathers, while Nafisi wrestled all her life in a difficult relationship with her tyrannical, emotionally unbalanced mother. In some senses, all these relationships with parents were abusive and all the women suffered the trauma of abandonment. In addition, all three entered into unfortunate first marriages and resulting divorces.

And all three women eventually find healing through understanding and forgiving their offending parent, all forming new relationships before the death of the parent.

Azar Nafisi does not write about any kind of relationship to God or the Muslim faith. Both Buck and Bondi were raised in Christian homes. Pearl Buck eventually rejected the Christianity of her parents and did not find a replacement. In contrast, Bondi outgrew the rigid fundamentalism that formed the backdrop of her childhood and slowly moved into a rich and deep Christian spirituality with a God of grace.

Pearl Buck died in 1972. Azar Nafisi lives in the United States, teaches college literature and directs the Dialogue Project at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University. Roberta Bondi is Professor of Church History at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Of the three, the story that impacted me the most was Roberta Bondi’s, but that’s a topic for another blog.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Thing on the Beach

A sunny autumn day on an Oregon beach always amazes and delights me.

The other day as Hal and I ambled along on the sands, we saw something else that began to amaze us as we approached it. From a distance it appeared to be some kind of  huge driftwood configuration, but it only grew stranger in appearance as we drew near. We named it The Thing on the Beach. 
 We decided it must be a log with three people sitting on it, having a chat.  Yes.  “I’m sure they’re moving,” Hal said. The knobs on the log did seem to be slightly swaying in the breeze.  But the closer we came, the less they moved.
Finally we closed in.  No people, but rather an upside-down complex root system that further stimulated our imaginations. The Thing on the Beach became the Congress of Beasts.
The snooty llama was obviously trying to assert her leadership.
The giant bull frog grumpily complied.
The long-necked fox let his point of view be known.
The earless camel joined the debate….
…as did the sleepy walrus….
…and the pig.
No consensus was reached on any of the items discussed, but at least they were all facing the same direction. I suppose that in itself is amazing in any kind of congress.