30 May 2012

Just Can't Handle the Wait Until My Next Post?

   I know. I apologize for the pompous title. BUT...just in case that is actually true for you. You can pop over to my new blog here. I know, it's a Wordpress account. Boo! Hiss! But the other contributor is doing more of the technical stuff and all I have to do is write. How can I argue with that?

   The concept was given to me by my friend Libby, who I went to college with. We were both History majors (although, she was a double major, music being the other one), and had many classes and good discussions together. Some of you may be vaguely aware that we nerd it up by having a year long reading contest in which we push our literary appetites to their limits. Last year I won. This year I'm going to win again....despite the fact that she's significantly ahead of me.

   Anyway, we decided to put our reading to some amount of good use. We both run book blogs. You are reading mine and this is hers, but like any good book fanatic, we both wanted more. We decided to set up a blog for discussing a book we were reading together. We would go through one chapter at a time and post our thoughts in two separate blog posts, leaving the comments sections for discussion. We'd LOVE you to contribute YOUR questions and thoughts as well.

   We've started with The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis. We want to read more theological books, and I'm trying to read through Lewis....still. No, I haven't given up. So, get on over there and check it out! One word about the comments. I think my friend wouldn't mind my saying I am considerably less delicate of feeling than she is. Don't hear me wrong, she's no weakling, but she does prefer a general gentle approach to discussion. So, be prepared if your comments are in anyway rude or pugilistic, they may be removed. I don't have an actual guideline of "allowed comments," but know now that all comments submitted are completely subject to the censorship of our benevolent dictatorship. This is not to discourage your commenting; however, feel free to read along with us or just to ask questions. Hope to see you over there.

22 May 2012

What's on Your Nightstand

   Because I like to do everything and because Carrie is my blogging hero. I decided to participate in the What's on Your Nightstand meme hosted at 5minutesforbooks. I'd like to try (note choice of word) to post every 4th Tuesday like the cool people who participate do, but we'll see how this goes. The following list is what I plan on starting/finishing in the month of June.

What's On Your Nightstand

  • A Woman’s Wisdom: How the Book of Proverbs Speaks to Everything by Lydia Brownbeck: Carrie asked me to participate in an online discussion of this book and it gets top priority. Plus, it seems like it’s going to be awesome!
  • The Great Hunt (#2 Wheel of Time) by Robert Jordan: I will have already completed the first book in this series The Eye of the World by the time June rolls around. The series was suggested to me by a friend from one of my book clubs. I don’t read a lot of fantasy so this is stretching my comfort zone, but so far I really have enjoyed the series. Am I allowed to say that after only one book?
  • My Invented Country: A Memoir by Isabel Allende: I have to read this one for the Silver Falls Library book club. I have heard a lot about Isabel Allende, negative and positive. So, I’m interested in reading this book. I’ve heard a lot of her fiction tends to get a little raunchy, so I’m glad this one is a non fiction piece.
  • Death at Wentwater Court (#1 Daisy Dalryimple) by Carola Dunn: And this is for my other book club. The discussion will be led by my friend Joy. If you’d like a sample of her writing you can find a review she did for Carrie here.
  • Empire of Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynn: I’ve been at this book for far too long. It’s actually fascinating but library books keep getting in the way of me finishing it. Joy gave me this title for Christmas.
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus: The Gospel Coalition and Leland Ryken are leading a book club of sorts, and this is the first book under discussion. I believe they are already on part four or five, so I need to get going on this one.
  • The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis: Well, I had this grand idea that I would read through everything C.S. Lewis wrote ever. I won’t say I’ve given that up….yet. But if I do this, I need to pick it up. I haven’t read a Lewis title since The Great Divorce.

Well, there you have it. My official reads for June. Knowing the rate I read, I’m sure there are going to be some others, but those are the ones I want/need to finish in that month.

17 May 2012

"The Life of Pi" by Yann Martel

    Review may contain spoilers: The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, is a story of an Indian boy named Piscene, who emigrates with his family and the animals from his father's Zoo, to Canada. On the way their boat capsizes and Piscene is forced to endure 227 days on a life raft with a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and a Bengalese Tiger named Richard Parker. Well, technically he only has to survive with the tiger for 227 days. The other animals are consumed by the tiger before the second half of the book. Piscene ends up taming Richard Parker (sort of) and survives all the way to North America. And that is the story of The Life of Pi...or is it?

    I'm treading carefully here because I don't want to give away the ending, which was done very well. The story we read through all but the last 10-20 pages of the book, is the story Piscene gives the men who come to interview him as he recovers after his grueling journey. But the book continually questions the stories we tell to others and to ourselves. Ultimately this is linked back to religion. Piscene is a Muslim-Christian-Hindu boy with an unbelieving brother and unbelieving parents. The Life of Pi continually talks about the power of stories and how we can shape our reality and ultimately our religion based on the stories we tell and which stories we prefer.

    That's awfully pleasant except that it isn't true. Mr. Martel I guess imagines we can put aside the fact that Islam and Christianity both hold to monotheism while Hinduism does not. Christianity has a personal God, whereas Hinduism has an impersonal one. Christianity is centered around the figure of Jesus Christ, who is respected as a prophet by Muslims, but is not considered equal to God. I mean, there are so many conflicting messages in all of these religions, that it is very hard to imagine a boy being taught by three leading religious figures in these wildly different religions, and NOT coming across these issues. It was a mildly comic scene when all three of his religious leaders meet Piscene on an outing with his family and argue over what type of believer he is. It sort of sounds like one of those jokes anyway: An imam, a Pandit, and a Priest meet one day...

    I'm going to give you a warning. I wouldn't say this is a cute story at all, but it has it's comedic moments. A LONG portion of this book is Piscene surviving on a raft with Richard Parker. Up until the last couple of pages the story is, in a way, sort of nice. Piscene is a sympathetic character. You live with his agony and cheer for him when he catches a fish or comes across a means of making fresh water. He is in mourning for his family, but he doesn't despair and turns to "God" (in quotes because I don't really know what that means) through it all. However, the last couple pages takes the book a gigantic step down a rather dark path and it is very very disturbing. I say this for the gentle reader.

    The book certainly makes you think. It makes you think about stories and what we tell ourselves and others. I believe this to a point. Sometimes we re-write our own histories, whether consciously or unconsciously, if we find something we don't like. As far as our own experiences, we tend to be revisionists. I love that the book forces you to think about Truth, and what it is. I hate that the book leaves you thinking that maybe maybe maybe there isn't actually Truth...maybe just truths...wrapped up in the stories they tell. I'm hesitantly saying I like the book. I don't agree with the worldview, but I am glad I read it.

11 May 2012

Suicide of a Superpower by Patrick J. Buchanan

 I've discontinued "What I Read This Week." This might be temporary, but I think it's keeping me from doing regular reviews, which is what I wanted to do in the first place. If I can get better with those, then I'll cycle the WIRTW posts back in. To be honest, this was a WIRTW post, but then I talked too long and realized this should just be a review.

Have I mentioned that I hate politics? Because I hate politics. I hate them because they are so either/or and I just hate to be labeled, man. Peace out.
No, seriously. I do hate it. I can't be a Republican and I can't be a Democrat. I'm just a Christ follower, and sometimes that means I hop the political line. If I MUST label myself, I'd just say I'm a conservative, and that goes no further. That being said...

I read Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025 by Patrick J. Buchanan at the recommendation of my friend Trent: I'm terribly conflicted about how I feel about this book. For the record, I'm probably with him on the economic stuff. I'm definitely with him on the way the church has been treated. And I'm most likely with him on his theory that America will fall apart if we continue the way we are continuing (specifically more and more reliance on the government resulting in what he would call a "nanny state"...at least, I think he would call it that. I'm positive I didn't make that up). Now, ask me how I feel about that information. Go ahead. The answer is "so what?"

Now, don't hear me wrong, my conservative friends. I would consider myself a conservative and I love America. I mean, really love America. I consider myself a patriot and am more than a little annoyed at the people who think it makes them cool or elite to sneer at patriots. I am SO thankful that God placed me here! Do I think it's the best nation in the world? Yes, I do! Do I think that we are God's chosen land? No, I do not. So, when I hear of America falling apart (which let's face it...we've been a superpower MUCH longer than most nations who have risen and fallen in the past...God has been particularly gracious to allow us to thrive this long), it makes me very sad as an American citizen. As a believer it makes me say, "Well, God, you have a plan, and if this is what it includes, I want to thank you for giving us such a long time." Now, how this will result on election days is a little different. I will continue voting what I believe is right and what my conscience dictates. And yes, if it comes to voting for someone I don't particularly like/agree with, JUST to keep someone ELSE from getting the position, I will do this. But at the end of the day if the GOP withers away; if we're all on welfare; if all of our jobs are overseas; if we're ridiculously in debt we can never repay; if we change the definition of marriage; if Christianity is outlawed across the nation, I will say, "Thy will be done" and "I must obey God rather than man."

Mr. Buchanan's style was rather bothersome to me. I told friends I discussed the book with, it was like walking by an empty room where a conservative guy is stating his opinions loud and clear. If you agree with most of what he's saying (and I did) then you'll stop and listen and enjoy it. If you don't agree with what he's saying, you'll think he's ridiculous and move on. He used quite bombastic language that if you agreed with his conclusions (and I did), you'd either roll your eyes or maybe chuckle a little, but if you disagreed with (wouldn't help you be persuaded). All of this I could have put up with. The book was clearly a rallying cry for staunch conservatives to take up (intellectual) arms and fight the encroaching spread of liberalism. This is nothing new and it happens on both sides of the political spectrum. But what I couldn't let go of was the way he spoke about immigration and other races.

I've learned my lesson from reading Sarah Palin's memoir, so I tried to look up interviews with Mr. Buchanan where he explained his heart a little more. I've found a few and if I'm reading him correctly and giving him the benefit of the doubt, he doesn't dislike people of other races. Unfortunately that is not at all how he comes across in the book. A few things in particular stood out to me.

1. He pointed out how absurd people calling Joe Wilson (remember him? Of course you do) a racist for yelling, "You lie" to the President during an address the President was making to Congress. I agree. That is absurd. Yet on the very next page he assumes Kanye West's infamous interruption of Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech was racially motivated. Something felt a little off there.

2. This quote left me a little...well, uneasy is a mild word for it: "Perhaps some of us misremember the past. But the racial, religious, cultural, social, political, and economic divides today seem greater than they seemed even in the segregation cities some of us grew up in. Back then, black and white lived apart, went to different schools and churches, played on different playgrounds, and went to different restaurants, bars, theaters, and soda fountains. But we shared a country and a culture. We were one nation. We were Americans." Giving him the benefit of the doubt, what he might mean by this is he knows there was a time of segregation, but things seem worse between the races today. What it sounds like is, "Why can't we go back to the golden days when we didn't have to have black neighbors." Plus, I think the past is indeed being misremembered here. I doubt many black people at the time thought of themselves as "one" with the whites.

3. He defined "diversity" as an agenda and objected to the push toward this agenda. The way he saw this acted out was in things like Affirmative Action, those excited for "the death of white America," and people saying things like "Our diversity is our strength"like it's a mantra. He's right...that mantra doesn't actually make sense, but I don't think that necessarily means "our diversity is our weakness" is true either. It's just a thing. America is diverse. It just is.
As for people who are happy that white America is dying out, I too think they are absurd. Why would anyone who enjoyed diversity hate a certain group of people?
I also don't care for Affirmative Action. *ducks* Now, wait, my liberal bloggy friends. I'm a woman. I'm someone who potentially could "benefit" from this stupid thing. So, though I DO think it's ridiculous that we won't allow a white male to voice his opinion on this surely you will allow a woman to do so? Can I also drop in here that I am 1/4 Hispanic? Will that help? All I am saying is that if I was hired for a job or accepted into a school merely because I was a partially Hispanic woman and they needed to fill a quota, I would be irate! I want to actually be chosen because I'm good at what I'm applying for, or because I fulfilled the requirements. BUT I also don't agree with those who assume that ALL who benefit from Affirmative Action are unqualified or good at what they do. I want to give Mr. Buchanan credit here though for pointing out the words of Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." On some levels, Affirmative Action IS judging people by "the color of their skin."
So, if you define diversity in this manner, yes, I think I'm on board, but I really wish Mr. Buchanan had found a different word. Because the reader was really left with the impression of: Diversity is bad. I can't sign onto this.

4. This last point is more my problem than Mr. Buchanan's. No, it's exclusively my problem, but both my grandfather and the man my grandmother recently married (after my grandfather died) are Hispanic-Americans. I have an emotional obstacle with being very objective on the immigration question. I can't, without being a hypocrite, sign on to Mr. Buchanan's immigration ideas. And I don't think I'll ever understand, as long as I live, how American citizens who are believers, only see these people as numbers or as a problem. I'm not trying to be a saint here, or even trying to rationalize my emotions. I'm just saying, I will never understand this. And I cannot get behind it.

There are a few others, but this post is already pretty long and this does make for two "dangerously close to political" posts in a row, and that's about all I can take. I think Mr. Buchanan has some good points. I'm fairly certain I agree with him overall.  I wish he chose to make his point in a more winsome manner, but I have a feeling I am just not the intended audience for such a book. I don't normally read that sort of book anyway. I feel like, just as our President on marriage, my thoughts have evolved over the course of writing this post (Ok ok...that was out of line). I think I didn't like it, but I don't regret reading it. I tend to be a gentle (read: often overly sensitive) person, and the style did not jive with me. I did learn from it though, and can now point to some scholarship that backs up what I have been thinking in the first place.

I would recommend this if you read this genre of book in the first place. There are some VERY interesting statistics and quotes from people that may surprise you. If you are a conservative anyway, it won't tell you anything you probably didn't believe or suspect before. But I bet you could use a healthy dose of psychological justification, right? If you are a liberal, you'll just find it annoying and it won't tell you anything about conservatives you didn't believe or suspect before. But I bet you could use a good laugh, right? 

10 May 2012

This Is NOT a Political Post

Ok....it is, but I'm not making any conclusions or telling anyone how to vote. I'm just pointing out something that I'm uncomfortable with in politics...in a word and a punctuation mark: Lying!

"“I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages,”~Obama circa 1996

"I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage. But when you start playing around with constitutions, just to prohibit somebody who cares about another person, it just seems to me that's not what America's about." ~Obama circa 2004

“I am a fierce supporter of domestic-partnership and civil-union laws. I am not a supporter of gay marriage as it has been thrown about, primarily just as a strategic issue. I think that marriage, in the minds of a lot of voters, has a religious connotation. I know that’s true in the African-American community, for example." ~Obama circa 2004

“You know, we [his wife Michele and he] are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and, hopefully, the better I’ll be as president.” ~Obama circa 2012

I don't pretend he's the only politician to do this, but he's the most recent one I've seen. I mean, are we really supposed to believe that his views went out the window for a mere couple years while he ran for President? Well, I was born in the evening but it wasn't yesterday evening.