“And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes but after a certain point I don’t care what it’s founded on. When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart.” from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The more the world is crazy, divided, and shouting hatred at the top of their lungs… The more those who are supposed to be leaders are caught up in partisanship to the point of losing sight of their oaths to work for the ideals of our country… The more we see government agencies battling each other and the American people… Well, the more I see of all of this, the more I want to be an ostrich and stick my head in the sand!
I’ve already admitted in an earlier blog post that I like fluff in my entertainment sometimes. It’s gotten worse. It isn’t just that at times I like to simply enjoy something light and fun, it is that I am now avoiding topics that make me think too much about what is happening in the world right now. Mass shootings. Terrorism. Political divisiveness. Rapes. Racism. Sexism. White supremacy. Murders. Corruption. I feel like the old Calgon commercial,
I was completely in love with NCIS – couldn’t live without my weekly Gibbs fix, had to see Abby, Ducky, Ziva, Tony, and Tim. Then came NCIS LA and NCIS New Orleans. I loved them too. I quit on LA and New Orleans. And even the original may not need to be on my DVR anymore. I’m tired of watching the good guys battling against people who are supposed to also be the good guys. I’m tired of conspiracies against our NCIS good guys, back-stabbing, and hate.
I keep telling everyone that I love HGTV because the worst that can go wrong is that they go over budget or have to modify a plan. If I want to see two people going all out to beat each other, I watch Beat Bobby Flay. Nobody gets hurt. Nobody dies. And regardless of who wins, our lives and country aren’t diminished. I have read some books that I enjoyed but also felt more enraged by. I loved reading We Fed an Island by José Andrés. The work he did in the aftermath of Maria in Puerto Rico is inspiring! But I kept having to put it down because it raised my blood pressure as I got angrier and angrier at FEMA and the charitable organizations who were not not only failing in doing what they should have been doing, but were fighting his efforts that were succeeding. I absolutely loved Laurie Halse Anderson’s Shout, but how can you read a book about what being raped does to a woman and not be angry, especially with all that is in the news lately? I was taken in by Educated by Tara Westover. It surely involved a whole lot of crazy, but her story is a story of triumph.
I’m reading biographies. I’m reading inspirational books. And I’m reading fiction that makes me have some hope in human nature (not much to find unless you read children’s books). But as I went to make a recommended list for you, I discovered that the truth is I’m not reading much! A quick look at my goodreads.com account reflects what is happening in my ostrich days. I’m marking books I want to read. A ton of them! Another glance at my nightstand, coffee table, and book shelves show I’ve still been bringing books home. And the various pieces of paper sticking out of them bear testament to the fact that I’m just not able to concentrate on much if it hits the kind of conflicts we see in the news! The truth is that I’m reading more magazines and online articles than books, and I’m streaming a bit more video than normal. If you’re with me and looking for a little escapism, here is a sampling of what I’ve been reading lately.
Art Matters by Neil Gaiman
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown (anything by her!)
Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff by Chip Gaines (and The Magnolia Story that I read when it was first published.)
The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede
Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People by Bob Goff
For Every One by Jason Reynolds
Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis
The Heart Mender: A Story of Second Chances by Andy Andrews
Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out by Brennan Manning
Instead of writing today, I’m choosing to share an interview from 2013 that Rachel Held Evans did with Red Letter Christians. If you have not read her work before, do so now. At least in print her voice goes on.
I heard a good sermon last Sunday. Let me explain to you what I mean by that because “good” is one of those words like “nice” or “really” that has so many different meanings that it ends up meaning nothing. Ruth McRoberts Ward, author of Self-Esteem: Gift of God and the blog How to Get Along With Everyone (ruthmcrobertsward.com), was once discussing various personality types and said that the pastor of the church I was attending at the time probably didn’t like it when people left the service saying, “Good sermon.” He laughed and acknowledged that she was right when she said he would rather have them saying that it challenged them, convicted them, taught them, or gave them lots of food for thought. I realized then that when I say “good sermon,” that is actually what I mean – it did one of those things. If I had merely enjoyed it, I would have said it was entertaining or perhaps uplifting.
As I was saying, Pastor Trent Thompson’s sermon this week was a good one. When it comes to food for thought, this one gave me no snack but a full meal! Using 2 Samuel 2 & 3 as the basis for his message, he spoke about the consequences of a group of people — a society, a country — rejecting the authority of God. He gave several consequences of not putting God in the position of authority over our lives that I think are very timely and, as he said in the sermon, relevant both inside and outside of the Christian church.
In the passage from 2 Samuel we see the results of Israel asking to have a king placed over them. God tried to tell them through the prophet that it was a lousy idea, but they insisted that they wanted God to put a king over them. And they got their wish.
In essence, by putting a king in that position, they were also putting him as the authority over them instead of acknowledging and submitting to the authority of God. As we follow the historical events, we see that there are consequences of giving authority over to human rule. Trent started with:
PEOPLE LOSING A SENSE OF A MORAL AUTHORITY OVER THEIR LIVES: We lose our moral bearings, our compass, thus making everything a political battle of wills – where perhaps the loudest, the meanest, or the ones with the most money and power decide what is right and wrong.
PEOPLE BECOMING PAWNS FOR THE POWER BROKERS OF THE DAY: Individuals are worth something only in so far as they can help the powerful achieve their purpose, otherwise they have no value or purpose and need not be looked after and seen as the image bearers of God.
REVENGE REPLACING FORGIVENESS: We come to see no need to forgive others but rather seek revenge in some way on those who have harmed, slighted, or even just disagreed with us.
I’m fairly certain that no one would need to argue about whether Americans today accept the authority of God. We have become a society afraid of offending people by stating absolute beliefs. We are given to believe that there are no absolute truths — that there is no right and wrong, just differing points of view. In minor matters like the best way to cook a chicken, which route to travel somewhere, which singer should win The Voice, it just doesn’t matter if we differ. But in terms of moral decisions over our lives, it does matter. If we suggest that there is no right or wrong, that isn’t giving God authority. It’s giving everyone, and therefore no one, authority.
We are expected to be okay with any decision that people make. It isn’t PC to question what others think even on some elements of morality. Not long ago I made a comment on a social media post regarding human trafficking. I was talking about not further victimizing these girls and women by judging them since they didn’t choose to go out and sell their bodies. I had someone who replied to me, “What would be wrong if they had?” I was stunned by the question. It never occurred to me that people would have thought of prostitution as a career option unless they were desperate. I just couldn’t imagine some kid sitting in the guidance counselor’s office saying, “I want to be a hooker. Where do I get training for that? What classes do I need to take?” But here we are.
There are many in society who wouldn’t agree that moral ambiguity and everyone doing their own thing are problematic. They see that as allowing people to be themselves and make their own truths. I see evidence that moral ambiguity are harmful to our country and the world. Watching the daily news quickly gives a glimpse of the results of people losing their sense of right and wrong, of being used as pawns, doing anything to achieve what they desire regardless of who gets hurt, stealing from the poor, cheating each other in business and politics, even going into road rage and killing because they don’t like the way someone else drives! Brian Rice, pastor of Living Word Community Church sums it up well, “We still believe in right and wrong, in good and evil, in morality and immorality, in virtue and vice. Yes, the culture is doing its best to eliminate these distinctions. Yes, the world is doing its best to tell you that you are out of date, out of touch, out of step, and generally old fashioned for believing that if God says something is bad, wrong, and immoral then it is. Yes, the world says you are intolerant if you believe this way.” If we are called intolerant for our beliefs, so be it. But we don’t need to be called hate-filled, angry, judging, and uncaring.
But for me it wasn’t the consequences on society at large that really got the wheels turning. The truths of what he was saying seem so obvious within our society today as to almost elicit a “duh” response in my mind. Yeah, I know. I already said there are those who would argue, but they aren’t the ones I’m talking to at the moment — I’m preaching to the choir so to speak on that part. But…and it’s a large but…what really made me stop to think was his assertion that these are consequences we are seeing within the church.
He is right. I also believe that some reading this are with me. They’re yelling, “Preach it, girl!” And they will continue to do so until I step on their toes too. (I am, after all, an equal opportunity toe-stepper-oner) You see, he didn’t say this was just going on in those “liberal denominations,” or in “mainstream churches.” He contended that it is happening in our evangelical churches as well. And he is right.
In America today the church has gotten a bad name. Some of it unmerited and some of it is rightly earned. People don’t know us “by our love” any more. Often that love isn’t extended beyond the church doors – and sometimes limited within them. Almost everyone has seen the memes, t-shirts, signs, and other things where people list who our neighbors are or who “the least of these” are. But sometimes we just can’t bring ourselves to give that more than lip service. At times we can’t align our actions, our politics, and our works to that. We can’t put our money or our actions where our mouths are so they become lovely ideas for an hour on Sunday morning. We don’t even put our mouths where they should be. Some Christians curse people of other races, ethnicities, cultures, and life styles, they tell racist, sexist, and ethnic jokes, or they dismiss the folks who are not quite like them. Their God looks just like them and likes what they like. And so, many people see Christ’s people as rigid, accusatory, hate-filled, judgmental, and unforgiving. And unfortunately we run into those Christians in our own churches. Maybe you thought of a name. Maybe I just stepped on some toes.
There is a disturbing trend in America today. The church in America and politics in America have become enmeshed, far too intertwined to untangle. When this happens, it is difficult to determine what is a political stance and what comes from the authority of our God. Some believe that “all” Christians register and vote a certain way or they aren’t Christians. I have been told that by fellow Christians and have had Christian women in my Bible study who quit speaking to me because I questioned the words and actions, and therefore the morals, of an individual politician. If we are doing this, then we have ceded God’s authority over us to that group of politicians. As Pastor Trent once said to me in an email (and I’m paraphrasing here), no political party has a stance that would warrant being the chosen one, the one anointed as the voice of Jesus. When we go out of our way to support and excuse the behavior of politicians because they are in the “right” party or to automatically condemn them because they are in the “wrong” one, we have put politicians and a party’s beliefs above any other — including God.
When criticized for being rigid and judgmental we don’t want to see it. “Ah, but,” the response goes, “we are following the word of God and we won’t soften or water down His word.” But are we really? Or are we just being exactly what they have seen? Could it be that we are putting something or someone else in the position of authority over us?
America has come to a point where, in the eyes of many people, the terms “Christian” and “religious right” mean the same thing. On NPR this week I was listening to a news story about a Christian organization that usually only interviews Republican candidates to see who they will endorse. However, as some of the Democrats vying for the Oval Office in 2020 have brought faith into their campaigns, this group is now going to extend an invitation to those candidates as well. That sounded good until the leader of the group added in an angry and challenging tone, “Let’s see if they are REAL Christians, if they can answer OUR questions satisfactorily.” (The emphasis here is not mine, these were words he stressed as he spoke.)
I’m writing as a Christian woman who is not registered with any political party because I won’t align myself fully to any party’s beliefs. I haven’t found one party or even one candidate who fully embodies what I would like ideally in a leader. None of them can pass the test of perfection, of course. I would hope, against evidence, that no one expects that. Most of the time, I’m choosing the lesser of two evils. Every so often I vote for no one in a particular contest or write in someone as my little protest over the fact that, out of all the people in the world, these were the only choices we had. Even when I select a candidate to vote for, I won’t put myself in a position of having to defend every action or statement he or she makes. Instead, I will call out patterns of or repeated incidents of hurtful words, sinful actions, and ungodly behaviors whenever I see them in our leaders. Too many people are so tied to one party that they rail against one politician’s actions but accept the very same actions from the other side of the aisle to justify their adherence to party.
I think the church today needs to read the red letters in the Bible. We need to make our stances based upon them first and foremost. Jesus outlined what our moral beliefs should be, what the roadmap for our behavior should look like. In both Matthew 22 and Mark 12, Jesus said that the two most important things we must do are to love him with all we have and to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. As you contemplate who he means as neighbors, remember that the famous parable of the Good Samaritan was given as a response to this very question. In his book Everybody Always, Bob Goff said that Jesus didn’t tell us who our neighbors are so that we wouldn’t start making lists of who we didn’t have to love.
We as Christians also need to examine our thinking on sin. The Bible tells us at various points that it is breaking God’s law, it is any kind of wrong-doing, and that it is also attitudes and motives for our actions such as being unfair, dishonest, harmful or wrongful. We justify, rightly, that there are many laws within the Old Testament that we don’t need to follow anymore and they aren’t sin. We don’t follow the dietary guidelines. We don’t offer living sacrifices and burnt offerings. We abandoned those because we are told in Romans 10:4, in Romans 8, Ephesians 2 and many other places in the New Testament that Jesus fulfilled the law thereby releasing us from being bound by all of the rules and regulations that we were too weak to keep in the first place. Jesus came because mankind couldn’t follow the rules. But we still want to hang on to a couple of those rules and claim them, because those are the rules we keep and can use to judge others!
There are two areas where I think we get it wrong when it comes to sin. The first has to do with that attitude part. We all know that attitude can be a huge problem. Think back to when you were a child. You gave your mother, father, or teacher a perfectly reasonable response but got in trouble anyway. “Don’t you talk to me in that tone!” Our attitudes come out! And often attitudes are much louder than our words or actions. We can be doing very good things for very bad reasons. And that is sin. Jesus gives us the example of the religious leader who prays openly and with great showmanship hoping to get attention. When we take a stance simply to prove how we are so good and others are so wrong instead of listening to them and loving them, that is sin. When we are judgmental, that is sin.
The second area has to do with levels of sin. Our Catholic brothers and sisters have long been taught that there are levels to sin: venial and mortal. Mortal sins, according to this teaching, keep you out of heaven. While Protestant and evangelical churches don’t adhere to that doctrine, many of us still see sins as coming in a hierarchy. We see little lies, stealing a pen from the office, speeding, and such as way down at the bottom of sin mountain. Everyone does them. They barely count! From there we move all the way up to the peak of sin mountain where we find genocide that the Nazis and other groups perpetrated. Where other things fall along the road are seen differently by different people — usually depending mostly on how they sin.
From what I can see sins don’t come in levels as we see them. Referring to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), it is the ones dishonoring God that come with added warnings that probably elevate their importance. Jesus reinforced this when he boiled it all down to two commandments. Otherwise, as you look at the list “thou shalt not kill” is given the same weight and importance as not lying, not stealing, or not being envious because your neighbor has things that you don’t. Ouch.
Yet in our churches today it would be easy to come to believe that abortion and homosexuality are the ONLY sins. If not the only ones, at least that they are the worst sins. These are the ones preached about from pulpits. They are railed against, protested in the streets, and used as a judgment tool. These are portrayed as the unforgivable ones.
I stunned people one day who said that they wouldn’t associate with homosexuals. I asked them if they would go out to dinner with me. They were puzzled knowing that I am not homosexual. What could I mean? Well, I am fat. Obviously, therefore, gluttony is a sin I struggle with. That one is in the Bible (listed with things I personally put much higher up the scale), but they wouldn’t have any trouble abetting me in it. I’m guessing they over indulge at the all-you-can-eat buffet too.
There are governmental leaders in charge of the country. But we have gone beyond that and made them our authority when we follow them and their ideas without question or by offering excuses. There are Christians who will go out of their way to justify a politician who falls on the right side of the debates on abortion or homosexuality while ignoring where they fall on a host of other sins.
I’d love to find a leader who follows what the Bible spells out for me on those issues AND also believes in giving children after they are born the importance Jesus did (Matthew 19:14, Luke 18:16, Mark 10:14). Someone who believes in feeding the hungry and helping the needy among us (Matthew 25). Someone who wouldn’t treat refugees and immigrants as criminals, who wouldn’t demean them or rip their families apart, but who would follow the biblical teaching about how we are to treat foreigners in our midst (Leviticus 19:33-34, Ephesians 2: 17-20, Jeremiah 22:3, Hebrews 13:2, Matthew 25). Someone who would tend God’s creation (Genesis 2:15, Jeremiah 2:7, Revelation 11:18). Someone who would follow the two commandments Jesus gave us and had way more than a passing knowledge of the ten from the Old Testament. Imagine finding a politician we could believe never bears false witness!
I’m sure not saying that I could be that perfect candidate. I’m always falling too short. But then again, that’s why I’m not running for office and trying to be put in charge. I just offer up some ideas but don’t tell you what to do with them because I’m working that out in my life too.
It is time that we take a close examination of our stances, our hot-button issues, and our methodology to see if we are truly falling under God’s authority. We need to look to him as our authority and our model. We should not be seeking to justify other authorities. We should also not be standing in the light shouting the praises of those authorities. First, they often can’t or don’t live up to the standards we should be expecting. Secondly, we shouldn’t be doing it because our shrill, angry, and judgmental words often sound hypocritical and will turn people away from him.
Pastor Brian Rice from Living Word Community Church in York, PA once centered a sermon around the idea that: There is a God. You aren’t it. Jesus Christ is. I would add to this. There is a God. You aren’t it. No governmental leader is it. No political party is it. No wealthy man or woman is it. No one who has sought out fame is it. Jesus is.
The other night my friend René asked about my opinion of the whole Jussie Smollett thing – his claims of having been assaulted by a racist and homophobic man and of the shade that had been cast on the claims by then. At the time, my response was that I didn’t know quite what to think of the whole thing. There were certainly facts coming out that cast doubt on his account of what happened, but nothing as decisive as there seems to be now. But I have been thinking of this whole story since she asked, and I do have some thoughts on it as a specific incident and as a situation that casts a larger net.
First of all, I feel very sorry for Mr. Smollett. I don’t know what has been going on inside this man that would cause him to do make up a crime and go to the lengths he did. He has to be starved for attention and validation. There has to be a part of him that feels “less-than” that would make him work so hard to garner attention. I don’t know if he’s suffered racist and homophobic insults in private so often that it became too much. I don’t know if there was something going on in his private life or his career that pushed him to a seemingly irrational act. I don’t know anything about his life or history before this moment in time. So I don’t know what caused him to create such an elaborate and yet easily debunked scheme. But I know that it isn’t the action of someone with an unbroken heart and a strong sense of self-confidence. So I have sympathy and compassion for a man who is obviously hurt and desperate.
This doesn’t mean that I excuse the act.
On the contrary, I am angry with him too. The act of making up this claim has done a great deal of harm. It cost the city of Chicago a great deal of manpower and funding to chase down imaginary criminals. But it came at an even greater cost to real victims of heinous attacks. As a society, we already struggle with people discounting or repudiating the claims of racial bias, hurled insults, dehumanizing acts, and violence. We already have people who deny and disregard the vile words, actions, harassment and violence that the LGBTQ community lives with on a daily basis. We already brush off women’s reports of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. We have leaders and a populace who scorn and ostracize women who have reported sexual attacks and the very need for the existence of the #MeToo movement while excusing the actions of the attacker. Any time that a false claim or charge is made and discovered for what it is, the real victims have a harder time coming forward, having people listen, being believed, and getting justice.
Earlier this week I heard a woman on television say something interesting that really made me think. (I wish I knew her name so that I could give credit to her, but all I know is that she was in the middle of speaking with Carla Hall when I turned on the tv). She said that, even if Jussie Smollette’s story is proven to be a lie, she is glad that she supported him at the time he made the accusations and would still do it any time someone comes forward. She said that we need to listen to them. We owe it to people to give them the benefit of any doubt and stand with them when they step into the harsh glare of public scrutiny with something traumatic, when they risk what will come from their disclosures.
Too many victims are re-victimized when they try to tell their story, when they seek legal action to stop their attackers, and when they reveal their pain and vulnerability. We’ve all seen it far too many times in the past. We’ve seen the women shamed for just being somewhere, for what they were wearing, or for having a drink. We’ve seen countless people told they are making something out of nothing. We’ve seen the pain caused by trusted people who have betrayed trust by being dismissive and covering up the acts of others. And yes, we’ve seen the fake claims too. But that brings me back to my first point. Sometimes we need to be there and stand with those people too, to find out what kind of pain caused them to do what they did.
The final thing that I think is horrific in this whole incident is something that has been true far, far too often in recent years. It is something that I’ve seen called “selectively informed moral outrage.” People get all riled up over a slight, an attack, the beliefs or intents of the “others” and become morally outraged. They go on their social media of preference – or a bunch of social media outlets – and spew vitriol, accusations, and loathsome conclusions. “Those people” should be run out of the country, thrown in jail, tortured, not allowed to live! And then after a few days the truth or (insert Paul Harvey’s voice here) “the rest of the story” comes out. By then people have moved on to being outraged and offended by something else. They don’t want to go back on those social media pages and say “oops” or take down their comments made in error. And some will be so dug in with their anger that they refuse to see the truth.
We need to take the time to think, reason, research, and make informed decisions. We need to realize that not everything is a world crisis, the end of humanity as we know it, or proof positive that we’re all going to hell in a hand basket! We especially need to know not to make rash, sweeping generalizations about one incident or one comment making it a global experience.
When I hear of a mass shooting whether it is at a school, black church, or a gay bar, I am livid. I’m filled with rage. When I hear of anyone being assaulted verbally or physically for their race, ethnicity, gender, beliefs, or handicaps, I have sympathy, hopefully empathy, and compassion for the victim, but I am always angered by the event too. I am usually ready to go on the attack against the perpetrator. What we all need to be careful of is making the perpetrator more than the person committing the act. If I say ALL men/women, All blacks/whites/POC, ALL Jews/Muslims/Christians, ALL Republicans/Democrats, ALL immigrants… I am being unreasonable and causing more harm than one perpetrator did against one victim. I’m condemning an entire people who are not involved let alone guilty. We need to remember the words of Maya Angelou that we are “more alike than we are unalike.” We need to place the blame and source of evil on the ones actually committing the acts not the populace they resemble.
So, René, as always, I have a very long and involved answer to a short question. That’s what happens when I try to get as much information as I can and when I stop to really think about something rather than giving my knee-jerk reaction. My first gut response was outrage and sympathy. As I garnered some facts, I had questions. In my mind I couldn’t grasp how he walked around with a noose around his neck long enough for it to be seen by as many people as relayed seeing it. I believe that in my repulsion, fear, and panic, the first thing I would have wanted to do was take that thing off and hurl it as far away from me as possible. But I didn’t discredit his story based on that because people react differently in stressful situations. Most importantly I didn’t immediately blame everyone who is not black and gay for the attack nor did I turn around later and skewer a man and try to ruin his life for what he did. We still don’t know all that we need to know to pass judgement. Passing judgement is a higher position than my pay-grade.
I just saw a story on Facebook from Good Morning America. As a single mother, it really struck a chord with me (as the title said it would) especially after a recent conversation where I was expected to excuse bad behavior from my ex even after all these years. Luckily, I didn’t have an ex like the woman from the article. Mine showed up when he was expected to. He was there every other weekend and for regular weekday visits as well. He showed up for holidays, sporting events, and whenever called upon. He paid the child support he had agreed to.
I often praised my ex for the things he did right. We behaved like adults by attending baseball games, football games, and wrestling matches together – just my ex, the woman I had thought of as a friend who was now his wife, and me. Now and then we had dinner after games. Once when there was a real problem with a teacher, my ex and I went to the school together. When Travis broke his foot, his step-mother and I took him to the emergency room and later to the osteopath. Whenever discipline was necessary beyond a time out (which luckily wasn’t often), we presented a united front.
But that still left me to do everything else. Sometimes I was really good at it and sometimes I fell way short. Whether going through the parental version of the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, I was always there and never resented having to be there and do whatever was needed. I took my son for regular check-ups and doctor’s visits when he was sick. I made the dentist appointments. I went to the back-to-school nights and parent conferences. I drove and often stayed for the sports practices for years and years. I took him to parties, to church, and anywhere else he needed or wanted to go. I dealt with the tantrums from the anger and hurts of life. I dealt with the tantrums and the anger and hurts brought on by time spent with his dad at times. But I also shared the little joys. I made a home for him where I tried to be sure he felt secure and loved.
Often I was overwhelmed. Yet I never complained about being a single parent (other things, yes, but not that) because I knew that the most important thing to me in the world was my son. I was given the great gift of watching him grow. I loved that I was the one who was there to see the daily life and the growth, that I was there before school, and that every evening I was the one to say good-night. I loved being the one who taught him things and helped him navigate school and friendships and hassles. I was the one he called to come and get him late at night. I was the one he called to say good-bye to when he was sure he was dying after he drank way too much one night in college – trusting that anger and condemnation wouldn’t be what he’d get. I loved being the one to take care of him when he was ill and celebrate the little, everyday victories. It was difficult financially. It was a lot of work. And it was completely, absolutely, 100% worth anything I gave up to always be there.
Early on I had made a promise that I wouldn’t say things that would make my son view his father in a bad light. I would never try to turn him against his father. For a long time I think I carried it too far. For example, after many years I finally said, “With your father, silence is golden. He doesn’t really praise people or offer compliments. That’s just not how he works. Just because he didn’t say anything doesn’t mean he was upset with you.” This statement didn’t carry judgement. It’s just a fact of his father’s personality that my son needed to understand and that I should have helped him to understand before he was a teenager!
Some people noticed the effort. I often got questions, especially from others struggling as single parents, on how we maintained a cordial relationship and did the things I did. It was simple. I loved my son more than anything – more than I hated anything – and wouldn’t do anything intentionally that would hurt him. I grinned and kept going through many things. And I liked the life I was living. It wasn’t what I had dreamed of as I was growing up, but it was good and it included everything that was important to me. I have to admit that I had hoped there was some dividend, some benefit that came with the things I did, the life I lived, and the desire to put my son first. That somehow karma would prevail. Who knows, maybe someday…
I have a confession to make. When it comes to my entertainment choices, I like fluff. I like escapism. I like the books, movies, and television shows that are just pure entertainment and not dark, evil, or frightening. I like the ones that cause serious students of the arts scoff. I don’t want monsters, torture, and cruelty. I don’t want to see government agencies undermining each other, duplicitous bad cops or government officials, or conniving friends and family. We already have a world filled with violence, hatred, double-crossing, lies, and disasters. Daily we hear of shootings, murders, robberies, explosions. Barely a week goes by without news of mass shootings, natural disasters, out-of-control fires, or genocide somewhere in our world. We are inundated with horrors that are real. It is all just too much!
So I don’t want to spend my money in my local bookstore or a theater to feed my heart, mind and soul with even more of that even if it is fiction. I don’t want to turn on my television and invite into my home gory images of murdered and dismembered bodies or to see the good guys losing or fighting supposed allies all in the guise of entertainment. Thus my love of HGTV and the Food Network!
As a recovering literature teacher and theatre student, I know that I’m supposed to love War and Peace,A Hundred Years of Solitude, and the works of Hemingway, Melville, Hawthorne, Dickens and others. I should eagerly anticipate the serious movies and series that delve into the European royal courts of history with their intrigue and plotting. And obviously I should be enthralled by movies nominated for the Oscars that are meaningful and avant garde. I don’t love them. I am not enthralled. Mostly I am just disturbed. You see, I have found that I love books and stories but not always “Literature” (said with a snobby, looking-down-your-nose-at-someone voice.)
To me much of what is presented as serious, artistic works are troublesome. They are just disconcerting and strange. I’ve read some classic works and even enjoyed some. I assigned them to be read by students as was expected at least until I was able to create the course of study. When I first started teaching and was given a curriculum for a class in American novels, I dutifully assigned the books. The kids hated most of the books we read. One day my students asked if we were ever going to read a book that wasn’t depressing or one where the main character doesn’t die. Luckily I had The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn coming up and (spoiler alert) Huck lives.
Many of the books I shared were serious and obviously contained some sort of trial or problem to be overcome, but they end up “happily ever after.” I also found my book suggestions coming from books that students brought to me. I still smile remembering Krista running into my room on the first day of school waving a copy of Where the Heart Isand excitedly exhorting me, “Ma! You gotta read this book! Some lady has a baby in a Walmart!”
I know that, unlike me, teenagers love what I call “disease of the week” topics. They love horror. So I told them about the books other teens had loved along those lines. I told them about The Lovely Bones which I had to stop reading because it was too disturbing to read after having attended the funeral of yet another student the week before. I even told them about A Child Called “It” which I couldn’t bear to read and had recoiled over the details as students just had to tell me all of them! I never gave wholehearted, enthusiastic endorsements of those. They were always couched in “others have loved” or “I can’t keep this on the shelf” instead of excitement.
I got to thinking about this in the last couple weeks because I read a book that I was telling EVERYONE to read. I touted it online and in person. I talked about it to everyone who could listen. The book is The Day The World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede. Set against the horrors of that day is the heartwarming, life-affirming story of what happened to the airline passengers prevented from continuing their travels to destinations in the United States. As US airspace was closed, planes were forced to land in a wide array of places. One of those places was the small town in Newfoundland where the population more than doubled that day. On a day that showed the degree of hatred and willingness to cause devastation, death, and pain to other humans, this book shows the lengths to which people will go to help their fellow man. It is an uplifting story in a time when we hear so much about hatred on our nightly news and in our social media feeds. It was what I needed to read right now.
Don’t get me wrong. I can enjoy a book that is serious and sometimes tragic. But those books are the exception for me. At this point in my life I read for three reasons. I read to learn. I love biographies, nonfiction and history. But I don’t want to read any more about the horrors of the Holocaust. I’ve been there and read too much about that. I’ve read what I consider the two most heartrending books I’ve ever read: William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice and Elie Wiesel’s Night.I also read to improve myself. I read Brené Brown and Max Lucado. I read inspiring life stories. Many of the books I learn from do double duty and fall into this area as well. But biggest reason I read is for entertainment. I mostly want enjoyment and escapism when I’m being entertained. I want to read of everyday heroes, kindness, love (not romance but it’s okay if there is a little of that), and other things that leave me feeling better about the world. I don’t need to have my depression fed when the news of the day gives me plenty of fuel for that.
I’ve already mentioned some good books, and as always could go on and on. I won’t. However, if you are looking for some lightness and warmth in your entertainment…If you want to be uplifted…If you just want some pure enjoyment, here are ten: ten novels, ten nonfiction works, and ten movies (along with a few names of authors) I would recommend.
BOOKS — FICTION
The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
Christy by Catherine Marshall
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Dorothea Benton Frank
BOOKS — NONFICTION
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
The Color of Water by James McBride
The Day The World Came To Town by Jim DeFede
Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them by John Ortberg
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
Joni: An Unforgettable Story by Joni Eareckson Tada
The Magnolia Story by Joanna and Chip Gaines
Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
Liz Curtis Higgs
MOVIES – Just a few oldies but goodies with a couple new ones thrown in because they made me smile and sing!
The Blind Side
The American President
The Greatest Showman
I Can Only Imagine
The King’s Speech
Mary Poppins and Mary Poppins Returns
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Red (yeah, they blow things up but the humor is what I love)
It’s coming on to the new year. A time of reflection for many and of making resolutions. I don’t do resolutions much but I like reflecting. That’s part of the reason I love recording what I have read in Goodreads and then looking back on them. According to Goodreads, I read 46 books this year. The shortest was the picture book Duck & Goose Find a Pumpkin by Tad Hills and the longest was Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This not only shows the wide variety in lengths but also the wide range of my reading. I read 8,993 pages – sounds impressive that way, doesn’t it! However, it’s an incomplete picture of my reading. It doesn’t include short stories, poems, essays, articles and other reading that didn’t include reading the whole book. It doesn’t include Bible and devotional readings. And it doesn’t include the things that I put down or those I finished but disliked.
I made a decision when I started recording, rating, and reviewing books on the site that I would not record the ones I didn’t like. To someone looking at my reviews without reading my profile, it might seem like I love everything I read. I made this decision for two reasons. The first is that I am all about encouraging reading and supporting writers so I hated to speak badly about them and perhaps discouraging others from at least checking them out (there was one exception that my entire book club hated and I reviewed a while back…but I digress).
The second reason that I don’t record the books disliked or even hated and quit on is a question of being fair. Some of the books that I have read and didn’t like may have more to do with me than with the book or author. An example: I couldn’t finish Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. The reason actually has something to do with how well it was written. As a teacher who was dealing with the death of a student, I just couldn’t bear the pain of the book. As with anyone’s list of hits and misses, it may be that the ones I can’t read are the ones that others love.
I only list books that I can give three to five star ratings (and sometimes I leave off the three star ones for various reasons). This, of course, means that I get an incomplete look at my year in reading when I look back on it. I am not reminded of the books that fell under the “Life’s Too Short to Read Lousy Books” column. Some were just meh. That’s okay.
Those that make the cut are the books I want to remember and feel that I can encourage others to read. As I looked back on my list from this year I was surprised by a couple things. I felt like I read Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give so long ago and it was such a part of my reading life that I wasn’t sure I read it this year. I don’t usually reread books, but on the list this year are several that I read more than once including The Hate You Give, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, and For Everyone by Jason Reynolds. I thought about giving my copy of For Everyone away as Jason Reynolds encourages, but I just have to buy another copy to do that with! I love it enough to read it again and again, and since it is so short, I can do that easily without significantly diminishing the time I have to read something new. Finally I learned that ruminating on a book often changes my initial reaction. I found that I went back and changed a few ratings – adding or taking away a star.
MY LIST OFFIVE-STAR BOOKS OF 2018 (As always it is in alphabetical order rather than by how much I like them – that would be too hard!):
ADULT AND YOUNG ADULT BOOKS
Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
The Poet X – Elizabeth Acevedo
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane – Lisa See
Braving the Wilderness – Brené Brown
Educated – Tara Westover
For Everyone – Jason Reynolds
Hillbilly Elegy – J. D. Vance
Team of Rivals – Doris Kearns Goodwin
As Brave as You – Jason Reynolds
Hello, Universe – Erin Entrada Kelly
She Persisted – Chelsea Clinton
She Persisted Around the World – Chelsea Clinton
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street – Karina Yan Glaser
I Am Enough – Grace Byers (PB)
Islandborn – Junot Diaz
Love – Matt De La Peña
Show Way – Jacqueline Woodson
A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (Read by Tim Curry)
The Night Before Christmas – Clement C. Moore (Read by Jeff Bridges)
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane – Lisa See (Read by Ruthie Ann Miles, Kimiko Glenn, Alexandra Allwine, Gabra Zackman, Jeremy Bobb, Joy Osmanski, Emily Walton, Erin Wilhelmi)
Team of Rivals – Doris Kearns Goodwin (Read by Richard Thomas. Doris Kearns Goodwin reads the introduction.)
CURRENTLY LOVING AND PROBABLE TO BE ON NEXT YEAR’S LIST
Leadership: In Turbulent Times – Doris Kearns Goodwin (Read by Beau Bridges, Richard Thomas, David Morse, Jay O. Sanders. Doris Kearns Goodwin reads the introduction and epilogue.)