This vacation/safari has been on my list for a very long time. My father planned to be a missionary to Africa, specifically Tanzania after he finished seminary. My mother became ill and they didn't go. I have wanted to go to Africa for as long as I can remember. Part of this fantasy is to see an “exotic” travel destination and the other is to imagine what my life would have been like if I had been born in Africa. Would I have grown up there or here? At the time, missionaries came home every 5 years. What would a 5-year absence from the U.S. have meant in my life? Who would have been my playmates? Would I have gone to school with Africans or with other missionary children? I never asked my dad why he made that decision to be a missionary. One time he did talk about his disappointment in not being able to go, but his commitment to his marriage and my mother came before that.
When in Africa, I want to see the Serengeti and experience the life there as much as I can. In my last job, I worked in a place where there would be people from Africa. When I asked them where they were from, they would say Africa and I would have to prompt and ask what specific country. I also noticed their British English. Would I have spoken English with a British accent? When I think about the places I would still like to travel, this fantasy of Africa always comes to mind.
Truthfully, I've been drawing more than reading!
It seemed to me like a great time - with more time on my hands - to revisit old friends.
I have never read the Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh. Not the Disney version, but back to A.A.Milne with decorations by Ernest H. Shepard. So I bought the big book and enjoyed it very much. Pooh's humility reminds me of my old friends on Sesame Street. Kindness and caution are good attributes for everyday life.
Then I thought about The Swiss Family Robinson. I loved that story when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. Living in a tree house is still a dream of mine, with a family that all worked together and cared for each other. The original book does not end like the children's version. What I remembered was that another ship arrived and the family had contact with the world again. Not so in the original.
Another old friend, Bill Bryson, took me on a very detailed journey through the complexities of my physical being in The Body, a Guide for Occupants. His style is dry, sly and funny. Even when telling me stuff I might not need to know. Like "if you are cremated, your ashes will weigh about five pounds."
I found The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy, at a local Barnes & Noble display. Macksey's drawings, more suggestions than detail, really appealed to me. It is a quiet book, more fable than fact, and leaves lots of room for interpretation. And the drawings of the Flying Horse are just lovely.
At this time, I'm reading a Pulitzer Prize Winner. The Overstory by Richard Powers is about people and trees. Not just any trees, but mostly giant trees that have affected lives in many ways. Because the stories are told in short story style, going from one set to another, and I don't read a lot at any one time, I'm a little confused. But I want to muddle through and possibly re-read for the clarity that comes from processing when the tale is finished.
I've got several books waiting for me to settle down and read. I know that if I read just 30minutes a day, I can accomplish a lot. Living in an apartment, with practically nowhere to go and rare appointments to take care of, I would seem to have lots of time on my hands. But it just isn't so!! Life is fun, fulfilling and quietly pleasant. Doesn't get much better than that! Of course, you all know I am easily amused.
I love historical fiction. It makes the past come alive to me. I remember the first time I decided that History was a great class when in college the professor assigned a fictional account of Lewis and Clarke for us to read. I was hooked. World Wars I and II came alive to me as I read novels by Furst.
My latest favorite historical novel is by one of my favorite authors, Sue Monk Kidd. It is called “The Book of Longings.” This book has just been published in 2020, and I picked it up not knowing its contents. Wow, what a surprise it is! She has done massive research on what it was like for women living in the time of Jesus, both Jew and gentile. She has woven the stories from the New Testament into the lives of her characters, some fictional, such as Ana, wife of Jesus, and some real, such as Ana’s brother Judas. We know so little about Jesus before his 3 year ministry. He was a devout Jew, who would have been expected to be married. I won’t spoil the story. But I will say that it is beautifully written, sensitively written, and exciting throughout.
If I'd quit reading other materials, my book list might go away, but I don't think that is happening. There's always something else that I am interested in learning about. I also started this journey to unlearn racism so there are new items, articles and books coming out that might shed new light on the subject and give me other things I can actually do. That has led to two different discussion groups on Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. by Lenny Duncan. Related to this topic, I would recommend the Overground Railroad about travel for African Americans during Jim Crow and after, A Sin by Any Other Name by Robert W. Lee, a descendant of Robert E. Lee, and How to Be Anti-racist by Ibram X. Kendi.
I tend to read a lot of non-fiction. Sometimes I start a novel and have trouble staying interested. My recent reading has been historical fiction like the The Alice Network about women spies in WWII and their struggles. I also read American Princess about Teddy Roosevelt's daughter, Alice and The Moor's Account about an African man who was on an early expedition to America and his experiences. These are all worth reading. I like these as usually some one has done extensive research into what might have happened. They remind me of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek and the Giver of Stars and The Nickel Boys about a reform school in Florida that illustrates systemic racism and mistreatment of children in state custody.
I intend to keep reading on racism and have a couple of books coming, like The Hate U Give. I am also tackling Bring the War Home about the white power movement. So far it has been hard to get into. I hope to find a good novel and take a break from the hard reading, but I do enjoy it on the other hand. Without reading, my life would be quite different and I don't really want to go there.
With more time on my hands during the pandemic, you'd think I've had a lot more time to read books. I suppose I have, but it doesn't feel like I've made a dent in the books on my list! I've been reading a lot more nonfiction than fiction these days. One reason is that it's easier for me to stop reading nonfiction and pick it up later, while fiction is often hard to put down. But I manage to squeeze a novel in now and then.
I've been trying to read more memoir in the past year, since I'm writing one. The advice is to read what you're writing, and I've gone full-tilt. I think I've read about a dozen in the last six months. Among my favorites are Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Other good ones: The Glass Castle by Mira Bartok, The Center Will Not Hold by Elyn R. Saks and No One Cares About Crazy People by Ron Powers. Joan Didion's two memoirs about the death of her husband one year (Year of Magical Thinking) and her daughter the next (Blue Nights) are not really ones I'd recommend, but I was fascinated with how she processed her grief--unemotionally.
I think I've only read a couple of notable novels in this same time: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. I thought the former was overrated but good, and enjoyed the second more. I need to create a longer list of novels, though. I like to slip one in from time to time, in between nonfiction.
I've also been reading books related to systemic racism lately and can recommend White Like Me by Tim Wise. I'm just beginning Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad, which I'll be reading with a small group from our church for weekly discussion. I'm also planning to read How to Be an Anti-racist by Ibram X. Kendi. This list is long, and I'm sure I'll add to it.
I've got stacks of titles on my nightstand or dresser about spiritual journaling, composting, Feminine wisdom, a women's Bible study book called Inspired by Rachel Held Evans, and several more, which I'm not sure how I'll ever finish. I have nightmares sometimes of being buried alive by a huge stack of books. I just can't read them fast enough!
I’m currently reading The Spiral Staircase, a memoir by Karen Armstrong. It starts with her decision to enter the convent at age 17 and details her difficulties there and her decision to leave. She had even more difficulty in the following years, however, always feeling like an outsider as she pursued her education. She was lonely, depressed, and seriously ill much of the time. That’s as far as I’ve gotten now, but I’m really enjoying it. She is so honest and transparent about times of difficulty, and I can relate to feeling like an outsider. Her spiritual journey is also part of the story, and again I can relate to feeling unhappy with childhood religion and wrestling with how to understand God and construct a genuine faith.
I read The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone, a famous black theologian. He became disillusioned with traditional religion and started the work of constructing a theology that was true to the black experience in America. His analogy of the lynching tree to the cross of Christ is brilliant and riveting. I highly recommend this book.
We’ve all talked about The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Richardson, but if you haven’t read it, it’s historical fiction that’s worth reading. It describes the women in a WPA program who rode on horses and mules high into Appalachia in Kentucky in order to deliver library books to the people. They were amazing women, willing to face all kinds of hardship and danger. I was also touched by the people’s abject poverty and delight about having even one book. The protagonist is also one of the “blue people,” and it was fascinating to learn about this group of people and the bigotry they experienced. Another book about the horseback librarians was Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. It was from a different perspective and I especially enjoyed it because a lot of it related to corrupt mine owners and how they mistreated the mine workers.
Another great historical novel is Shanghai Story by Alexa Kang. It takes place in China in 1936, when foreigners flooded into China from all over. The Europeans and Americans essentially take over and the Chinese are treated as inferior in their own country. They are also being threatened by the Nazis and Japanese. This is a part of the WWII story that was unfamiliar to me, and I enjoyed learning about it.
I’ve also made my way through the first four Percy Jackson series, a young adult fantasy series. This series is written by Rick Riordan, and the first book was made into a movie--Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. It’s well written for that genre and mildly amusing but I wouldn’t recommend it to an adult. I’m reading it because my 14-year-old granddaughter loves it and I’m trying to find things to talk about with her.
A strong term. My mother would have said that it was unkind to be anti-anything, but I am a child of the 60’s, and I have been an anti-war activist for decades. I am anti-hate, anti-greed, anti-discrimination, and on and on. That doesn’t mean that I just think it, it has to mean that I live it in my daily life.
I have changed laws that formerly disregarded the rights of silent children. I have changed laws to preserve our silent earth. I have stood in the way of individuals mistreating LGBTQ people, disabled persons, women, minorities, and I have actively worked with our national ELCA church to include the voices of those who have not been listened to, especially when the policy is about their lives.
I continue to advocate for the voiceless whenever and wherever I can. I’ve always said “love is a verb.” Without action, it is meaningless. Sometimes that means crawling into an uncomfortable space and absorbing that reality before declaring what is right. I pledge to listen, learn, love, speak and then act.
It's a funny question for an old white lady. Really, I can't march in protests or shout slogans with the kids. But I can do something. The Voice of Power in this country only listens to Court battles and Money. If laws are not changed there will be no peace.
I can VOTE. Pay attention to the issues in our country and try to place my vote where I believe it will count. I can make my voice heard by sending money to the organizations that fight injustice. The ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union, representing the least heard in our society.
The SPLC, Southern Poverty Law Center, providing legal assistance to get laws changed & voting rights assured. Supporting Women's causes in this country and abroad. Planned Parenthood and the League of Women Voters.
As my circle widens in my new city I can seek to find communities of color to worship with, and hopefully find friends. I can pray for our society as we move through this difficult re-birth toward finding new ways to relate and respect each other. 2020 needs to be the dawning of a new age, if not of Aquarius then of Justice for all and Peace in our streets.
This week’s question is challenging for me. I’ve never considered myself racist because I don’t engage in overtly racist speech or behaviors, although I freely admit to implicit biases. I now know I cannot call myself anti-racist, however. I only heard the term a couple of weeks ago and have had to research to understand the difference between being non-racist and anti-racist. I would rather become the latter, but I know I’m not there yet. The question of how to get to that place is difficult, and one that will require several deliberate steps.
I believe I’ve already begun, by asking questions and reading books and online material that helps explain how to overcome bias, which is present no matter how much we wish it wasn’t. I’ve downloaded several books on my Kindle that I think will help move me in the right direction. I’m almost finished with White Like Me, by Tim Wise who, by describing his life, describes well the points at which he benefitted from white privilege. It’s a concept I acknowledged I’d benefitted from, but having the details brought out help me to see very subtle examples that apply to my own life. It’s a start.
One action I can take is to contribute to causes that work toward removing barriers to equality for all people. I’ve looked at a few and have already donated to and joined “Faithful America,” but will investigate others. Because I can only donate to a few, I want to be sure my contributions will be impactful.
Another step I plan to take is to learn more about how my local government works so that I can become a more active participant in the way it treats its citizens. I get overwhelmed by the concept of reforming systemic problems, but I think I can have an impact if I stay close to home.
These are only a few steps I can take now, but I expect as I learn and understand more about the injustices faced by my Black sisters and brothers, the next steps will become clear.