Thursday, June 16, 2016

From Love to Acceptance

I began this blog six months ago with the idea that I would recommend a book (or other form of media) every other Thursday. I have done so without fail. I keep a very organized “calendar” of future reviews and know far in advance what will be reviewed and when. I hadn’t expected to review Risking Grace: Loving Our Gay Family and Friends Like Jesus by Dave Jackson for several months. I wanted to give the book a good and well thought out re-read before I tackled it here.

This week I was all set to look at family dysfunction, mystery, horror and mental illness in Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, but as I began putting the finishing touches on why we’re drawn to it in our fiction and movies, it simply didn’t feel right. I knew I had to change my cast-in-stone schedule. I would not be able to write about fictional horror when I couldn’t see the computer screen for my tears at the real horror
 we had just experienced in Orlando.

So, I rearranged my schedule. Today I am endorsing Risking Grace. Author, Dave Jackson also happens to be a friend of mine. This past Monday morning I bought the book. A number of months ago Dave had kindly sent me an early free copy to read, but for my blog here I have made it a habit to legitimately purchase every piece of media that I review. As an author it’s something I feel strongly about. Read the sidebar to the right for my full “review policy.”

So, I began going through the book again. And again, it gripped me to the core. Again, I could not put it down. Risking Grace is a Christian father’s journey as he and his wife moved from shock to confusion to love and finally to full acceptance of their gay daughter. Part memoir and part biblical study, Risking Grace is an important book and should be on the shelves of every church library.

If you are a reader of this blog, you know the importance I put on the first sentences in a book. The first page in this book begins with Dave and his wife 
getting a phone call from their 25 year old daughter where she read to them over the phone a carefully worded letter explaining that she was gay. 

He writes:

Time froze. At that moment, we would have given anything to turn back the clock, to un-hear what she’d just said. But the word rang in our ears like a gunshot.

It was like a gunshot, especially to someone like Dave and his wife Neta who in the 1980s co-authored a book about “overcoming homosexuality” for a major Christian publisher. At that time gayness was thought to be something you could change with enough prayer and something called “reparative therapy.” (Hint: it’s not.) But Jackson believed in then, and wrote about in hearty full sentences.

Risking Grace is their personal journey, but it also takes a careful look at the six scriptures in the Bible that are sometimes used to “prove” that homosexuality is a “sin.” Jackson efficiently walks through every one of these references, beginning with the extremely offensive, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” meme.  If you learn one thing from that book, it would be to vow to never say that out loud again. Once you quit saying it out loud, you might quit thinking it.

I won’t go into every scriptural argument here. My advice? Buy the book. Read it. In fact, go read it now. I'll wait.

He effectively interweaves apologetic passages with personal stories of gay Christians. Some are happy and triumphant and some are so awfully tragic. Saddest are the stories of children who are “disowned” by those parents who are in "Christian ministry.” Some are big names you would know. And yes, it happens. It’s not something that happened fifty years ago but now that we’ve learned better, we don’t do it any more. It happens today.

If you follow my blog, you also know that this is not simply a review blog. This is also my own personal journey with the books and media I write about. Scroll down through this blog to Breaking Pieces off Westboro Baptist Church where I recommend that you read Unfollow, the New Yorker article about how the sign-carrying, homo-phobic granddaughter of the late Fred Phelps completely changed her way of thinking.

My church had always taught that homosexuality was a “sin.” Unlike some of the more radical groups (I won’t call them churches), who say to shun and “cast out” the homosexual—some, believe it or not, say to kill them—my church was way more loving than that. We would love them, but not quite accept them. They could come and we would smile at them and serve them coffee after the service to make them feel welcome as we asked about their families and talked about the weather, but they would not be allowed to be a part of any church ministry until they changed. No singing in the choir, nope, not even helping in the nursery. They couldn't be members. It was our view that if they accepted Jesus, they could change. Either that or leave. Most left. That was my church.

But, what if we’re wrong about this? 

That’s what I wanted to ask the church elders. What if we have interpreted the Scripture all wrong? We’re certainly not immune to it. We’ve done so before, most notably with slavery. Prior to that there was the whole - earth being the center of the universe thing. For surely, that was proved in the Bible, right? The sun comes up and goes around the earth - that's a verse, right?

Could we be wrong about this, too?

This was the basic question Dave had when he decided to critically look at each passage. After ardent study, he came away fully accepting his gay daughter and her partner. In fact, the book is lovingly dedicated to his daughter and daughter-in-law.

I recommend Risking Grace to every parent of a gay child. I recommend Risking Grace to everyone with gay friends or acquaintances. Anyone, really  who desires to learn with an open heart about this issue, needs to read Dave's story. If you are in a church, go out and buy it for your church library.

As I think of the horror of last weekend, my thoughts, prayers and sympathies are with the victims and the families of the Orlando massacre.

In two weeks: It’s back to my schedule where I will be reviewing Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. We'll take a look at horror and family dysfunction and mental illness in fiction. If that name sounds familiar, she was the one who wrote Gone Girl.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Permeable Life

I have loved the music of Carrie Newcomer for a long time. The song of hers that first drew me in, made me stop, made me go right into iTunes and immediately purchase it was The Gathering of Spirits.

How could such a joyous song bring tears to my eyes? I grew up singing This World is Not My Home. There was nothing good about this life. No, we were waiting for something better in Heaven. That is not the message of this song, however. What if this life is a “fine thing” as this song says? What if instead of "waiting" to go to Heaven, we work to make this "fine thing" of a life even better? What if this world is my home? Those are the questions I am increasingly asking as I journey in this life, and even at my age, coming to new understandings.

That song always puts me in mind of kitchen parties. They could be called something else in other locales, but here in the maritime provinces, a kitchen party is when people bring all manner of guitars and other instruments and everyone sits around - usually in a kitchen - (always the homiest room in the old farm house) to play and sing and share songs. I love parties like that, and I’m first in line to bring my old Martin when invited to one! Maybe, maybe, maybe The Gathering of Sprits is talking about one big, long and happy kitchen party, If so, I’m there. Count me in!

I began looking up, listening and purchasing more of her music. I could recommend some of her other songs, Holy as the Day is Spent, Betty’s Diner, The Fisher King. There are so many others I could link to here.

But I’m not going to. Today for this I Like It blog, I will be endorsing her latest album, A Permeable Life, which I’m thinking might be one of her best collections to date. 

The first  thing which 
immediately draws the listener in is the soothing sound of her music. She has the kind of voice you can listen to forever. Her songs tell stories, and the stories are about me and you and all the ordinary people just living life the best they can. Yes, the songs are real. Real people with real struggles, real loves, real hurts, real lives.

A Permeable Life comes with a companion volume of Newcomer’s poetry and essays. I was fascinated to read these writings and learn many of the stories behind the songs that have become my favorites.

If you are a faithful reader of this blog, you know I like first lines, it’s the first sentences of a novel that draw the reader in. The first lines of the first song, Every Little Bit of It, of this album seem to set the stage for the whole thing:

Just beyond my sight,
Something that I cannot see,
I've been circling around a thought,
That’s been circling round me

The rest of the album is about that - what she is thinking about, what we cannot see, but what is there. A light. Home. Hope. Hope as fragile as a feather, but solid as a wall. 

Whether it’s the drum beat's driving rhythm of Writing You a Letter or the sweet story behind  The Work of Our Hands, there is the thought of “home”.

The Work of Our Hands is a summery song of family and kitchens. You can almost hear the screen door slam behind you and the sound of mosquitos beyond.

I think one of the most beautiful instruments is the cello, and it is in abundance in the beautiful 
song Abide, which she wrote with Parker Palmer (who I have mentioned in a previous blog posting).

Here are some of the lyrics - 

There is a living water, a spirit cutting through. 
Always changing, always making, 
All things new.

If you've followed me this far today, and if you haven't clicked on any of the music links, don’t miss the dancing feet in this one - Room at the Table. If you only have time in your day to listen to one of her songs, make this be the one.

In this era where there is talk of building walls, of making them higher and ever more secure, when there is the talk of keeping people out, Room at the Table is a joyous and positive response.

I’m leaving two of my favorite songs until the end, Forever Ray and Light in the Window.

The actual story of Ella and Ray in Forever Ray is written in the companion volume of poems and essays. It's about Ella's husband Ray who begins filling their garden with statuary. I know. Simple, and maybe even a little weird, but yet you will not come away from the song without falling in love with the two of them.

I used to think hope was a solid thing, something we could absolutely count on. But what I'm coming to believe that hope is as fragile as the gossamer in your hand, something not to be held too tightly for fear of crushing it. And that is what I love about her lyrics, She presumes nothing.

Here are some lyrics from The Light in the Window.

We pass from mystery to mystery
So I won't lie
I don't know what happens
When people die.
But I hope I see you walking slow,
Smiling wide as sunrise grows,
I drop my map with a
thousand folds,
In the distance I see it glow
I can see a light.
There’s a light in the window.

If you wish to know more about her, there is a great interview with Krista Tippet’s wonderful On Being program, where she is called a “prairie mystic.”

I have given you the Youtube links for many of her songs. But, if you enjoy her music, I encourage you to purchase it for yourself.

NEXT TIME - back to books with an examination of horror in Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. If that name sounds familiar, it's because she’s the one who wrote Gone Girl.