Monday, May 23, 2005

The Rev. Recommends….

(The following is an expanded version of my column for my church newsletter in June)

One thing that I do to “escape” is read. I’m not going to lie to you; there have been times this spring when I have wanted to run away. I didn’t run, but I did escape and thus I read, a lot. I recommend the following books that I have enjoyed over the past few months as well as some that I plan on reading this summer.

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Ann Lamott. I recommend any book by her: Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, and Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Plan B is her newest book. I find myself going back to her often. Thanks to my friend P who sent me the new book for my un-birthday in March.

Tatterhood and Other Tales edited by Ethel Johnston Phelps. This book is filled with old stories about magic and adventure – folk tales from around the world – that the whole family can enjoy. It’s published by Feminist Press and has good stories for girls and boys without all that damsel-in-distress-fairy-tale-princess-has-to-wait-for-someone-else-to-save-her stuff.

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer. says, “In 1984, Ron and Dan Lafferty murdered the wife and infant daughter of their younger brother Allen. The crimes were noteworthy not merely for their brutality but for the brothers' claim that they were acting on direct orders from God.” The author, “tells the story of the killers and their crime but also explores the shadowy world of Mormon fundamentalism from which the two emerged.” I found the book helpful to understand Mormonism in general and the way fundamentalism in any strain of religious belief can be dangerous. I read this one of the weeks Frank sat in the Chemo chair all week long.

Blink : The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. One word: Fascinating. He talks about how we make snap judgments—about people's intentions, the authenticity of a work of art, and even military strategy in the blink of an eye. Thanks to Dr. TW for loaning it to me from his "Barnes and Noble" inspired library. It was a privilege to crack the spine of the book! Dr. TW is the brain warm up guy that Frank talked about a few days ago.

Gladwell’s also written The Tipping Point, about that magic moment with an idea, trend of social behavior crosses a threshold, tips and spreads like wildfire. I’m taking Tipping Point with me to Indy to read while Frank is in the hospital.

Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. (Again from Dr. TW’s library) This one I had to wait for Frank to finish before I could get past the introducation. I set it down for a moment and then he’s all into it and I didn’t have the heart to rip it out of his hands declaring, “But Dr. TW leant it to ME!” Frank after all has cancer (said with a pathetic whine tone) and plays that card whenever he can…

That being said, I am the last person who would willingly pick up a book about economics and read it cover to cover (end notes included) within a week. But the authors argue that many apparent mysteries of everyday life don't need to be so mysterious: they could be illuminated and made even more fascinating by asking the right questions and drawing connections. My favorite quote: “Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work—whereas economics represents how it actually does work.” (p.13) Hmmmm. Seems I’ve preached about this before…show me your check book and I’ll show you where your treasure lies….

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is a fictional story told from the point of view of a 15 year old boy with Autism who witnesses a murder, that of his neighbor’s poodle. I read this one back in January, but find myself referring to it often. How many yellow cars does it take to make your day a bad one? One thing that stuck me as I was reading this was how much sense the boy’s thought processes made to me…..

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work : A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert by John M. Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver. Even if your marriage is working, it is never a bad idea to check in and see if you could be doing better. Frank and I enjoyed the chapter on “Two Kinds of Conflict.” Seems there are Perpetual problems and Solvable problems; marriage can survive both kinds, if you recognize them for what they are and work together. I recommend this book for everyone who is married or thinking about it.

This is one that I’ve picked up because I read about Gottman in Blink and found his work fascinating. I’m always looking for things to help folks in my congregation who say that they are struggling. I, alas, can only find tools to help people; I don’t have a magic wand to make them do the hard work that relationships require. Nor am I able to hold their nose to the grind stone, a technique that I sometime wish I could employ….

If you are searching a book that you can read for a few moments each day one of the following three might do. These aren’t new, but are some of my favorites. Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris. I heard her speak at the preaching conference I attended in Chicago last week. She reported that she is currently working on a book about acedia (from the Greek "akedia," or "not to care"), one of the seven deadly sins. She confessed that she’s having trouble getting motivated to write. Go figure. A friend of hers who is a Benedictine nun gave her condolences when she told her the topic she was exploring.

Kathleen Norris also spoke at the conference about her husband’s loosing battle with cancer. She described the experience in the following way: “it was like I was at sea, not knowing when we’d get back to dry land.” Others who have been care takers for those with cancer can relate. And while I know that Frank’s journey has been very successful given the nasty nature of CANCER, I, we, have still gone through many ups and downs, begin tossed upon the waters of the hopes and fears that accompany cancer.

The other two books in this category are by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen: Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal and My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging. In both volumes she weaves stories of healing and wholeness that are short and moving.

Dr. Remen is part of a group called Commonweal. It is a nonprofit health and environmental research institute in Bolinas, California. I read these books about 2 years ago, but was reminded of them when one of the chemo nurses was telling me about a continuing education event she attended where she learned about Commonweal’s Cancer Help Program, a week-long retreat for people with cancer. What I like best about Remen’s books is similar to what the CHP’s goals are: to address the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions of healing with cancer. Healing is multidimensional the sooner Dr.s and patients recognize this the better the journey will be for all.

And now, some of the other books on my shelf to read:

· The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith by Marcus J. Borg—scandalous I know. I really like Borg.

· A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (I read In a Sunburned Country earlier this year when I wanted to run away to Australia, just for a few days mind you.)

· Two by William Sloane Coffin: Credo and The Heart is a Little to the Left: Essays on Public Morality

· Walking the Bible by Bruce Feiler, his book Abraham is such a good read; this one looks very similar. There’s also an Illustrated one that is for kids that might be easier and even easier read….

· The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

· The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

· Life of Pi by Yann Martel

· The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation by Barbara R. Rossing

If you’d like to recommend any to me, drop me a note!

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Sarah

P.S. Frank is having surgery on May 31 in Indianapolis, IN at the Indiana University Hospital. He will be in the hospital for 4 or 5 days. We will take our time coming home and may stay at my parents’ home in St. Louis as we journey back to Midway. If you’d like to know how things are going I will be posting while in Indy.

You can send notes to us through the blog or you can go to the hospital’s web site (after May 31st) to send a get well card. The hospital’s web address is:, look under “visiting information”. Thank you for all your prayers and words of encouragement.


a fellow CCer (alto) said...

You might like COMPLICATIONS, a collection of essays by a Harvard resident doctor (sorry I don't remember the subtitle)