Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Time To Weep

This week, I was all set to recommend and write about Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward, and then the election happened. Life seemed to turn on a hinge. So, instead, I am recommending that you listen to a series of podcast sermons by Rob Bell entitled Learning to Lament.

Like many of you, my first reaction last week was horror. How can this be? How can it be that people voted for someone so immoral, so self-serving, so obviously opposed to everything I stand for as a Christian?

What really broke my heart was something that started early on in the electoral campaign, the endorsement of Trump by so many “leaders” in the Evangelical Christian church. One so-called “minister” (minister in quotes) said that if you don’t vote for Trump “you will have to answer to God.” There were churches this past Sunday who “praised God” for the “miracle” of the election.

Through the past few years all of this has led me away from the evangelical Christianity I grew up with and on a search towards a very different kind of faith, as yet un-defined.

I want to share here what I wrote the day after the election:

Today is a day of grief for me, a day of lamentation. It is already afternoon and I cannot stop crying - for our Muslim brothers and sisters, for our Hispanic brothers and sisters, for women who've been sexually assaulted, for married women whose adulterous husbands have left them for younger, prettier versions of themselves, for our black sons and daughters. 

I also weep for the unborn babies- because during the past administration, the abortion rates have appreciably fallen. (Google it. It's true). I am pro-life. And I'm scared. I am so afraid for this fragile environment that God has entrusted us with. I cannot stop crying because our LGTB friends can now go back inside to live in fear. I weep because now there can be even more suicides among young gay people.

If I had sackcloth I would cover myself in it, hide beneath it. God help us.

Today, exactly one week later I am endorsing Rob Bell’s five-part podcast sermon series entitled Learning to Lament

I first listened to the series last spring. Today they make even more sense. 

Here is the computer link for the sermons, but it might be easier simply to go to your podcast app and do a search for Robcast. There are five talks in the series and they released last May. If you have listened at all to Bell, you know how he can break down the most profound of biblical passages and doctrines into simple to understandable  thoughts.

He begins by explaining that the Book of Lamentations (in the Bible,) is a series of poems about a grief for a nation.

It was written at around 500 BC when Israel was being taken captive by Babylon. Their land was no longer theirs. You know those pictures you see on the news of families fleeing from Syria? That’s what it was like. Families, babies, all of their stuff in carts and on their backs and on their animals, heading away from their land, their farms, the soil they tilled. The poems were written while they trampled through the rubble. It was a time for lament, a time for weeping. They had lost their land. They saw no hope.

Bell points out that from the very beginning, the nation of Israel was to be a different kind of people. While all the rest of the tribes were intent on crushing their neighbors and capturing their land, Israel had a higher calling. They were to bless their neighbors. It was right there in the beginning with the promise to Abraham, that through the nation of Israel, "all the nations on the earth shall be blessed."

They were to be a new kind of people, Bell explains, who moved through the world and blessed other people, a people who care for others rather than trying to exploit them. They were to be, as Bell says, “a light to all humanity.”

Over and over there was the command to take care of widows, orphans, and immigrants, over and over it says to show hospitality to strangers. I can't stress that enough. 

As the years passed, something happened. The prophets were the first to notice it. Bell calls them “the first voices of social justice in the world.” The people, the nation, their kings and leaders were corrupted by power, money and control. What started at the top made its way finally down to the ordinary person on the street.

Remember the famous story of Sodom and Gomorrah? Their sin? The reason the city was totally destroyed?

Here it is: "'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy."

Arrogant? Overfed? Unconcerned? Withholding help from the poor? The needy? Does this sound all too familiar? 
The prophets connected the military downfall of Israel with how they cared for the 'least of these.' Familiar?

America has just elected a president who by his own admission (and Google all you want folks, it’s all there), does not care for "the least of these". 

It is a time to lament.

Maybe reason will come later. Maybe compromise and working together will come later. But for now, it's a time to weep. 

In two weeks: Falling Upward by Richard Rohr

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Of Mothers and Daughters

Today I am taking a look at that most fundamental and personal of relationships, the bond between mother and daughter. Blue Mercy by Irish novelist Orna Ross is the book I am recommending this week.

At the heart of this story is Mercy, the stunning and beautiful mother who has written her own memoir entitled Blue Mercy. It becomes the task of daughter Star, to unravel it, read it, and maybe get it published after Mercy’s death. Problem is, Star has a much different recollection of growing up. Star spent much of her childhood overweight and in the shadow of her enchanting mother’s urges to make her something she was not.

There are more than two generations in this story, however. It begins with the mystery and tragedy of Mercy’s father’s death. Accident? Murder? The result of his lingering illness? Will we ever know the truth? That becomes the backbone of the story.

This family saga moves effortlessly from Ireland to California and back again and from the past to the present without ever confusing the reader.

Once I had opened the first page of this novel, I was drawn in. It has been more than twenty-five years since I was in Ireland, but suddenly I was back there. I could see it. I could hear it. I could feel the fog, smell it. Ross is a master at setting.

What sets this mother/daughter saga apart is a betrayal at its core. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say any more than this, but it is a betrayal on the most personal of levels.

I can’t end this review without mentioning the writing itself. Here are just a few example of Ross’s wonderful prose.

Where I should have had a core, I only had a space.

We walked up the lane in gathering darkness, two feet by two crunching on the gravel.

In describing an Irish fog bank:

Throughout the summer it stayed there, off shore on the water, about 1,000 feet thick, As night fell, it would move in, filling the spaces between our homes and in the morning, as the sun climbed, it would obligingly roll back out to sea.

…a body that wanted to claim space, but also to disappear.

The liquid of the lake is in the air, and so is the clay of the mountains.

Are you in a bookclub? This is an excellent ‘bookclub’ selection.

Many of my own novels deal with mother, daughter relationships - even my new mystery series has this at its core. Ross and I aren’t the only ones.

Here is a Mother’s Day online list of mother/daughter books.

The first on this list is White Oleander by Janet Fitch, a book I absolutely found myself submerged into, and really is much like Blue Mercy in theme and writing. Again this one about a beautiful mother and plain daughter. Highly recommended.

The next on the list is Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, again a book I read an loved.

Years ago I read The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and remember totally enjoying this piece of life.

And Beloved by Toni Morrison

Here is another list - this one on my favorite place: Goodreads. In two weeks: A look at spirituality for the two halves of life in Falling Upward by Richard Rohr