commonality

In a world of disconnection, it has felt even more comforting to gather with people all over the world as we circle the same scripture on the same day. That is the beauty of the liturgy, for me. Similar thoughts are being mulled over. Time of year is being considered. The great joining together happens at different times throughout the day and probably over different types of coffee or chai or a whiskey sour. We enter God’s presence with our burlap bags of angsty needs, we read through our ancient common prayer, and then leave that space, emboldened to help those less fortunate than ourselves. I find a great sense of connection with the world in those moments. Even in the solitude of my home.

Meet Me at the Front Door

The anticipation had been building for six hours. We’d sung The Little Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and my personal favorite, Sweet Violets. We’d found things out our car windows that started with an A, anthill. Then a B, bird! Always cheating our way through those pesky letters like Q or X. Our sandwiches had warmed to that perfect car temperature and the cheese slices with apple were beginning to form that delicious oily condensation cheese gets when warmed in the highway-bound backseat. Tolls had been paid and we finally got to open the car package Mom always made for us weeks before a car trip: the newest Seventeen magazine, some word searches, a new deck of Old Maid and a few sweet treats (Bit-O-Honey paper stuck in the corners) promised just to ourselves, no sharing required.

But by Wichita our spirits were starting to wane. Have you traveled across Kansas and Oklahoma with two daughters who believe STRONGLY in the infamous imaginary middle line that forms down the backseat? There are only so many white horses to ‘Snitch!’ before antsyness starts to settle in.

And yet, as we spotted the identifying red dirt of Oklahoma, our eagerness was stirred up anew. We were getting close! We drove through Bethany, listening impatiently as Dad exasperated, “I always miss that turn. We need to turn around and go back.” AAACK!, we sigh. We were so close we could taste it. The car would make the u-turn on one of those perfectly-curbed streets lined with brick-built houses, the wholly unique look of an Oklahoma neighborhood.

The excitement was overwhelming! Edged up on our seats, nervously looking through the front window, ready to see that beautiful white-washed brick home that held all our favorite people. They were all there, waiting for us.

Before cell phones could announce our estimated arrival time, Dad would stop somewhere once we got into town, and Mom used a pay phone to call her older sister, Mary, to say we were just a few minutes away. “Yes, yes”, Aunt Mary assured Mom, “Evelyn got in this morning and Peggy and the boys just got in about an hour ago.” “We’re all here, just waiting for you!”

Pulling up in front of that car-filled driveway held so much excitement I didn’t think I could stand another second of it. I couldn’t wait to see all those cousins. Older cousins who could do no wrong. Aunts and uncles and above all, grandparents.

No chance to knock on the front door before it was slung open to crowds of people standing in the entryway. One by one we fell into hugs and faces that lit up the whole house. The front of the pack would fade back while a new crew would take their place. Soon Pop Pop would appear, arms outstretched, asking for some sugar. It was a few minutes of whole and unadulterated acceptance. No words were fully understood as everyone talked over each other but warmth and love permeated each embrace.

The crowd would instinctively part ways as Mom Mom came into the living room from the kitchen wearing a full smile and wisps of flour dusting her long, manicured fingers. Aunt Mary was behind her as she was assisting the cooking process by taking their completed masterpieces out to the cold garage and placing them in large trash cans dedicated specifically for the purpose of holding our feast until the anticipatory air was filled with ‘Pass me the green beans, please’, quickly followed by an update on disparate lives spread out all over the mid, southern and eastern states.

Thanksgiving weekend was alive and energetic and filled with an unparalleled feeling of completeness as lives who shared a genetic code and who lived so separately all over the country began to slowly fit our edges back together into the puzzle that was Family.

And so I say to you this challenging year, let’s hang on tightly to each other, even if virtually. Let’s celebrate as an act of rebellion in our individual homes. A slower holiday season is precisely what we need, in spite of its surface disappointments. And then, once we’ve separated and bumped elbows and Zoom called our way through the next year, let’s rise up next year, full of grins and flour-tinged aprons. Slaps on the back and long-overdue hugs of love.

I will look forward to your beautiful faces and laughing spirits all year. 2020: quiet and separate. 2021: doors thrown open, crowded cousins, familiar faces and strong handshakes.

This year, cautious safety and health. But next year, with warmth and wide smiles, let’s make up for lost time. We’ve got stories to tell and hugs to share. Not this year, right? But next year – meet me at the front door.

Finding Calm

These are a few books that have meant a lot to me personally during this pandemic season. I find reliance on the liturgy comforting when you don’t feel like praying. Leaning into ancient traditions (even rote memorization) gets you through at times when your heart just isn’t in it.

I especially recommend the book, Flee. Be Silent. Pray. by Ed Cyzewski. I’ve found a great deal of comfort (and shame release, to be honest) reading this book. It’s no accident I bought it right before the pandemic.

“Find a space for walking with God”, Cyzewski writes. Thomas Merton wrote about the moment he walked into his monastery to stay for the first time: ‘Brother Matthew locked the gate behind me and I was enclosed in the four walls of my new freedom.’”

Has Quarantine 2020 been our own monastery? Has it forced us to slow down, to engage more authentically with each other, to pay closer attention to the blatant injustices that have been hiding in plain sight? I keep using the phrase ‘Quarantine as monastery.’ That’s what it’s felt like to me. I’ve been stir crazy at times, yes. But I also have come face to face with Greta in a way I haven’t taken the time to do before my regular routines were broken apart. I’ve learned some ugly traits and I’ve seen talents I have stepped around too often before. I am processing my own prejudices and I’ve embraced a forced contentment with less. I’ve found, through this pandemic of all things, the newly available space to walk intentionally each day with God. I want to go to movie theaters and hug people and travel, but I don’t want my ‘quarantine monastery’ to disappear too quickly. Or to be forgotten too easily. My mind and my heart still has so much work to do. In time. No hurry. Let’s have just one more chai together as I continue to try to memorize this nightly prayer:

‘Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Attend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest for the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love sake. Amen.’

for this moment.

2020. Dude. We are tired.

Just like you, I have felt overwhelmed and confused and demotivated and quite frankly, just SAD this year.

I lost a college friend today to sudden heart failure. He was 58 years old. To some of you, that may sound logical. To someone nearer that age, you know how young that truly is. He left behind a wife, two girls in college and a 7th grade son.

He has served as mayor of a thriving city for 20 some odd years. He was beloved and effective and will be deeply missed.

My physical world, currently, is immersed in fog and smoke and terrible air quality from the California fires. So not only was I feeling heavy at the loss of Mike today, but I was surrounded by the physical reminder that all around me was the loss of property and animals and memories and ancient trees and breath-taking beauty.

It’s too much, God. It’s too much. I felt listless and directionless.

Then this verse came to mind and a small shift happened in my brain. While I am raising my fists and confusion to the sky thinking WHY do we have to live through this tumultuous time of pandemic and political division and racial injustice and illness and death? WHY do the punches keep piling up? Lord – come ON. Enough!

Esther says that perhaps…THIS is the time that was meant for you. YOU are needed right now. In the midst of all the grief, it is not that you have to live through such difficulty but that the difficulty and injustice and sickness and division needs you.

If you are here right now in 2020, is it because you are needed for a task uniquely suited for your talents? Your intelligence? Your capacity for compassion and empathy? Is that why you’re here today? Is this the moment that is waiting for you?

We were each fearfully and wonderfully and wildly uniquely made. What is the moment you were created to own? To lead? To listen to? To advise or protest or hug or cry or text or smile into?

Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created.

I don’t know what to do, so I just keep doing what I know…even when it’s not quite right

Every day there’s a new alert that takes hostage of my phone screen. Our county, our state – hitting a new COVID-19 high. And now today, worldwide records being broken, the U.S. topping the list.

I don’t know what to do to help solve this problem. I wear my mask and keep my distance but I am not (nor probably are the majority of you) equipped to help in any medically-significant way in this pandemic. I have no medical training and can barely understand my own weird ailments. I have no political clout (except my vote!) and my caregiving skills are woefully lacking.

I don’t know what to do.

My husband is genuinely gifted at baking bread for our neighbors. He has done things like that everywhere we’ve lived. When someone is sick or going through a difficult time, I am not the person to call for a food circle. Cooking and baking are things I enjoy occasionally but Scott can go into cooking mode on the spot and produce things ten times faster than me.

So what do I offer?

I doubt my prolific cross-stitching skills are going to help much in a pinch. Most of my enate talents are creative-related and who the heck needs a new mixed media piece when death is knocking on our doors?!

I read books about women faithfully ‘tending the wounded’. I’m not even really sure what that means for the non-medically inclined but the women in the books rush to the cause. Whatever it means, I know it’s not my giftedness in the least. I faint easily and have a highly sensitive stomach.

Do you need community organizing for activism and protests? Yeah…I don’t really have that skill set either.

So what does a mildly creative person do in the middle of a worldwide pandemic filled with fear and angst?

I like sending notes. It sounds like the dumbest thing in the world to do while Dr. Fauci is warning us to cover our mouths and stay indoors. I’ve dismissed the thought of note-sending a million times since March. But last month, I dug out my old stationery and I started paying attention. That house at 6825 has the cutest birdbath. 7205 always keeps their lawn so green and trim. How in the world does that house over on Quenton grow their rose bushes so huge??! I sent them each a note. I talked trash with the house on the end of the street with the Yankees flag on their front lawn. I asked advice from a number of hydrangea-growing neighbors. I told them they were doing a good job. I’ve never met one of them.

That’s all I have to offer. No wrapping bandages or bullhorn cheers. No buttery french bread or arm cuff blood pressure monitors. (well actually, I DO have one of those.) All I have is what little dusting God sprinkled on me in the beginning. I cannot change the world. Man oh man do I want to. I want to cure this stupid disease. I want to rally the troops. But I wasn’t created to do that – some of you guys are. Some of you are to sit quietly and listen. Some of you are to speak loudly and change your community.

We are all meant for contribution it just might not look like what your friends are doing or those you follow online. Don’t let that trip you up like it has me. Some people change the world. Others change minds. Still others change a moment with a surprise card or a bouquet of flowers. It all matters. It all helps.

I don’t know what to do. So I turn to the things I’ve done consistently over the years and lean in. Lean in hard. My postal carrier probably thinks I’m on a letter-writing campaign to free hostages or make significant school changes.

Nah. I’m just saying ‘hey’ and ‘I like the way you arranged your landscaping in front of your house.’

Sitting in our living room this afternoon, I was listening to Scott tell me a story about something that had happened the previous day at work. There was a knock on the door. Probably Amazon. With no more than a quick hesitation in his sentence, Scott continued on with his story after the front door rap.

A second knock. Everything froze. We don’t get drop-by guests. What was happening?!

Do you want me to get it”, Scott asked. “No!”, I whispered emphatically from just the other side of the door.

A third – who tries three times?! – attempt but this time it was the doorbell! I snuck to the window and peeked around to look for a car. I saw none. Must be a door to door salesman, I thought with a quick feeling of impertinence.

The knocking (dare I say, incessant knocking) subsided and we went about our conversation with a dog who needs a bath and laundry hanging on a rolling rack in the middle of our dining room, quickly drying in the California heat. Later that day Scott was getting ready for work and I was giving in to the urge for a McFlurry as the temperatures rose and surpassed 100 degrees outside. I yelled over my shoulder for Scott to keep an eye on our puppy and that I’d be back soon. Sunglasses? Check. Wallet? Did I have my wallet? Oh yes – here it is. Check. I was pushing open the door and pulling the straps of my bag over my shoulder as I nearly stumbled into a beautiful hydrangea arrangement just outside the door. The sweet arrangement in these pictures. That neighbor that I’d asked advice from about her enormous hydrangea bush? She brought me some. She probably had advice to offer me. She most likely just wanted to say hi and introduce herself and acknowledge the note I’d sent.

I was hiding behind the curtains as she was trying to fulfill her part. Her talent. Her thing. I was the one that stopped the cycle of friendliness. I was worried about a dog-smelling house with clean but hanging laundry and piles of paperwork and books on the table.

I was poignantly reminded that my job was not just to give but to also allow others to give in their way as well. To receive kindness.

What is that thing you do? How could it help change the trajectory of someone else’s day? Maybe that’s all they need in the midst of the same ol’ scary news alerts and statistics that we’re all hearing. That thing – it might be more significant than you think. In the end, it’s not for you to decide. If you’ve been given the talent or urging, then take the step and act. I hope you’ll be rewarded with a surprise hydrangea arrangement on your front porch, but more likely, you’ll never know the look on their face or the way that they reacted to your step of faith. That’s okay. Offer hope in the midst of fear. Can’t change the world? Then rally the hope in one person’s heart that there are still soft allies in a hard world that seems to be going completely mad.

I don’t know what your thing is to do. My thing was to send a friendly note to a neighbor. Check. My job was also to open the door and receive the gift they were offering me. I’ll check that box in the next few days when I return the glass bottle and thank them profusely for their sweet act of kindness. And then I’ll listen to the hydrangea advice and at a socially distanced space, we’ll close the circle between two people trying to combat the global fear with a small gesture of simple humankindness.

Beautifully Mundane

It is early morning and I start another day. Tilly has an amazing internal alarm clock that insists on no more sleeping past 5:30am. Sometimes, it’s 5:33am.

I would love to be one of those people that wakes up pleasantly, stretches and thanks the Lord for a new day. I am not. I would like to blame the fact that I am not a morning person on the idea that I am, instead, a nighttime person. But the truth is I am neither. It takes me a little bit to gear up each morning and it takes me a bit to wind down each evening. I have come to except this as a part of who I am.

My concern about the world, the nation, my family, and my own personal place in life, doesn’t need to wind up or wind down. Those concerns exist at a pretty high level all the time. And so I find myself asking a lot lately, what is my thing to do?

It was in that mindframe that I ran across this quotation. It is not a quote that will change the world. It is not as quote that will eradicate racism. It is not a quote that will cure diseases. But it is a quote for just the next hour.

Wash the plate not because it is dirty nor because you were told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next. – St. Teresa of Calcutta

I met a new neighbor yesterday. Everyone walks early to beat the heat that is sure to set in mid-morning. From a safe distance we chatted for a minute, and I found out she lives about four doors down from me. Her parting words to were, “I need more neighbors like you.”

Unlike me, she was obviously athletic, tall, a bit younger, and our most obvious difference was that she was Black. I’ve never seen her before, but enjoyed our quick interaction.

There are big personalities doing huge and wonderous things in our nation right now. It is easy to feel overwhelmed, underutilized, and unable to compete with that level of energy and strength.

And so I will take St. Teresa’s words and simply wash the dish, read the book, text a friend, fill Haddie and Tilly’s water dishes with fresh water, deadhead the petunias, and stop for a minute on a walk to talk with a neighbor.

Small. Simple. Mundane.

Chipping away at the problem, one dish at a time…

The Call of the Bells

The sound of a bell is said to disengage our mind from the onslaught of thoughts and ideas and stimuli that is constantly grabbing our attention and time. The bell is a symbol of peace and freedom. Freedom from all that is twisting our minds, the bell sound ushers us into a place where we can imagine a more peaceful existence for us as well as for others. Bell ringing during prayer is to help snap us back into the present moment, controlling the ever-wandering mind and to focus us on God’s love and presence.

As we march into June, my mind is a riotous place, as I am sure you are also experiencing much dissonance and noise. Just like the riots in the streets, my thoughts frantically race. Burning down old, useless habits while also lifting up values and beliefs that are true and proven. How can I make a change? What do I need to say publicly? Who am I and what can I do in the midst of all this upheaval and needed (although painful) cultural growth?

I don’t have the answer to any of those internal questions yet but my thoughts have started to stumble over themselves in a rush to get out and get active. Seeing various sides of an issue can be an asset and it can be dangerously debilitating. My gut is telling me to slow down. To stop a minute. To gather my incoherent thoughts into a pile to sort through when I am in a clearer state of mind. That first and foremost I need to look at the basics. Go back to the basics.

The Church and all of its varying denominations have gotten things wrong many times. They have committed atrocities (forthrightly and passively) that are horrific in the name of God and their falsely inerrant rules and manuals. And so it is with hesitation that I say to myself, much less publicly, that there is truth and love and forgiveness and grace and humility when living and following God’s message of love and divinity. The one-on-one relationship is what I’m speaking about. Not the relationship through the hallowed halls of denominations or spiritual leaders, but the true experience of knowing and serving the Heavenly Father alone. Back to the basics. I fully believe He is in charge. He is capable of bringing about social and racial unification through the hands and feet of those He has placed on the earth. He is also capable of creating minds so scientifically brilliant that a cure for COVID-19 and other deadly diseases can be amended and eventually eradicated. I believe this. What is my place in your plan, Lord? 

Meanwhile, I hear the bell calling me to stop. To take deep breaths. Breathe in through my nose, expanding my lungs to their fullest. Hold the breath for a few seconds. Then blow out through my mouth with force and purpose, emptying my lungs and detoxifying my body and mind. Did you know that after five deep breaths like this your body will switch out of it’s fight or flight mode? That the oxygen signals to your body that you are no longer in danger? 

There is work to be done, personally and societally. But for myself, I must first quiet down. I must stop aimlessly running and completely stop. In those quiet moments I will find direction and purpose. I will find answers and creative ideas. The rioting in my mind must stop. I must first connect my feeble and stumbling thoughts to a mighty and limitless God. 

I am listening to the bells. Hearing their reminder to stop and listen and breathe. In the Catholic and other liturgical churches, they ring the church bells three times a day to summon the faithful to recite the Lord’s Prayer. 

…Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day…

He hears our cries. He sees our handmade signs and our protests and our anguish and our loss. He is equipping an army to serve in innumerable ways. Scientists and activists and peacemakers and writers and historians and neighbors and friends. The pot has been vigorously stirred and we are here, living in these days, for a reason and a purpose. We will do it wrong; say the wrong things. We will trip and perhaps even fall hard at times. But the bells are ringing. We must stop and listen. Get our minds in the right place and our hearts recalibrated before our feet start out in movement again. 

You are loved, my dear reader. Find a moment today…slight as it may be…to experience the quiet. To see unexpected beauty. To breathe deeply. To hear the bells. 

My May Book of the Month selections

I look forward to my Book of the Month selections every month – the excitement never fails. I’m glad they have added a non-fiction section to the selections. I have found a few favorites from that section including one this month, THE SPLENDID AND THE VILE by Erik Larson, about Winston Churchill’s time as Prime Minister during The Blitz as Churchill teaches the British people how to be fearless in the face of danger. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents and once-secret intelligence reports, Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year as told through Churchill as well as his close family and advisors.

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I also selected (what I’m sure will be) a controversial book by Sue Monk Kidd called THE BOOK OF LONGINGS. It’s a novel supposing Christ married a rebellious and ambitious girl named Ana. The book summary left me with so many questions I had to get it to see what Kidd’s approach might be.

And lastly, (to offset the other two heftier books), I picked BEACH READ by Emily Henry. I certainly didn’t pick the book because of it’s cute cover. I mean…who would ever do that?! *raises hand* It’s a story about two writers living in neighboring beach houses. One writer is a rom com writer, the other is known for killing half his cast in dark, death cult ways. So they make a bet to force them out of their creative ruts: they’ll switch places. The dark writer will write a happy rom com and the happily-ever-after will go on interviews with cult survivors and write a book accordingly.

Three totally different books which will fit perfectly with my varying reading moods! 

The Sierra Mountains are getting snow today which means we are getting the outlying rain. And it’s chilly! That’s okay though. I have new books to delve into and a new kimono robe arriving in the mail.

 Now where did I put those bon bons???

 

A WOMAN IS NO MAN by Etaf Rum

I will admit, it makes me a little nervous to review a book that a) has been popular and critically acclaimed, b) promotes gender equality and c) (most importantly) is about a culture with which I have very little to no connection. So I step into my thoughts very cautiously.

A WOMAN IS NO MAN grabbed my attention very quickly and did not let go. Some reviewers have commented they thought it was repetitive, but I think the repetitivity was a significant part of the overall story. Two common phrases came to mind while reading this book: ‘The sins of the father shall be visited upon his children’ which is the biblical version of ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’.

Short review: I enjoyed the book and felt invested in each of the characters.

The longer version of my review involves a fair bit of cynicism (or is that discernment?) In general, any time I read a book that seems to rail against religious belief, I tend to wonder if the author is simply angry with the people involved in her particular religious story. Could the abuse in this book have happened in any familial situation? I think the answer to that is a resounding yes. We see this generational abuse evident in other cultures as well. But certainly, the Arab community has the reputation of patriarchal dominance and female submission – at any cost. This cyclical abuse is not something that is just portrayed in movies, but we have heard the testimony of it from many who have emerged from its conservative stronghold.

I am certain that many Arab women can identify with the stories of the women we are introduced to in this book. Isra, Fareeda, Deya and Sara lived in the same way their mothers did – in Palestine and even after immigrating to Brooklyn. Many of their customs are based in the pursuit of family cohesiveness. But many are also driven by pride and the protection of community reputation. In A WOMAN IS NO MAN, physical abuse of women is widely sanctioned for generation upon generation. It seems to be an accepted aspect of life for females – another responsibility like ironing, cooking, caring for their children and the occasional beating from their spouse. The yearnings of the female characters to want more for their life and the lives of their children, eventually led to freedom for some. Others, to a deeper understanding.

I would hate for readers to come away from this book with a distaste for the Quran or any form of organized religion and cultural traditions. Mostly, I would regret that any reader walk away with the idea that the traditional family structure is not enough to satisfy some women. And yet I also want to honor the inherent struggles of ancient customs and cyclical abuse. Overall, I hope a curiosity is raised in readers that would encourage us all to research further into what it means to be a Palestinian Muslim woman and or an immigrant from the old country, asking ourselves, Is this one woman’s story or does it mirror many Arab-American stories?

This felt like a quick read and one in which I was engaged to the point of thinking about the characters throughout the day. I applaud all authors that can foster that kind of relationship between reader and character. The book’s ending seemed abrupt. I was left with many questions about what happened after and did they survive. But that’s the point of a good story, right? Do we need to know all the answers? Is our imagination given the freedom to finish the story as we would hope to see it end? I commend Etaf Rum for championing women and allowing the reader to peek inside an unfamiliar world.

I’m glad these stories are a part of my understanding now. They have widened my worldview. I would recommend this book to others with the caveat that you read it as one author’s tale and not a collective assumption that all Arab-American families are the same. Rum will take you gently into a world you may know very little about. Let your curiosity guide you throughout the book and even more so after closing the back cover.

THE MOMENT OF LIFT by Melinda Gates

It was nice to hang out with Melinda Gates for a few afternoons recently. That’s what it felt like. As if sitting across the table from her, asking her questions about her life – which is my favorite kind of memoir.

I listened to this book on audio. I have found that memoirs and autobiographies are a genre I really enjoy listening to vs reading from a physical book. When they are narrated by the author, I truly feel like I know them on a deeper level than mere news coverage or entertainment news. The Moment of Lift was no exception.

It takes a unique spouse to be married to someone as universally known and as powerful as Bill Gates. Melinda talks about this openly and how they have had to navigate their relationship throughout their marriage. Known for their extravagant philanthropy for global poverty, it was comforting to read about the universal challenges all relationships face.

Their work with the marginalized in society is creating major shift changes in cultures and in particular, opportunities for women worldwide. Melinda talks candidly in this book about her birth control campaign for third-world women and how it aligns with her personal faith but not quite aligns with her relationship with the Catholic church (while not condemning the Catholic church.) In a group interview she had with a mother in Africa who had gotten an IUD a few years ago, she asked if there were any words of advice this women would give to the younger mothers in attendance. The mother replied, “When I had two children, we could all eat. With more children, we could not. When you can’t take care of your children, you’re just training them to steal.” In many poor nations, women were continually telling Melinda that if they had the opportunity to plan their pregnancies, then they could take better care of the children they had, could work harder for the family’s income and would make happier wives for their husbands.

Over and over again I found myself wanting to bookmark her words and insight…

Overcoming the need to create outsiders is our greatest challenge as human beings. It is the key to overcoming deep inequality. We stigmatize and send to the margins people who trigger in us the feelings we want to avoid. If we’re on the inside and see someone on the outside we often say to ourselves, “I’m not in that situation because I’m different.” But that’s just pride talking, we could easily be that person. It scares us because it suggests that maybe success and failure aren’t entirely fair.

I went into this book with a great respect for Bill and Melinda Gates. Reading the last page of the book found me with an even greater admiration. They are deeply cognizant of differing world cultures and traditions while also promoting basic human decency for men, women and children. I am profoundly grateful for the work they do.

To whom much is given, much is expected. – Luke 12:48

REFORESTING FAITH by Matthew Sleeth, MD

A friend on Instagram mentioned this book recently and it seemed to speak to many of my core beliefs. We were created to live within our natural surroundings but as a result of societal advancements, we have walled ourselves away from our native home.

REFORESTING FAITH speaks about the importance of trees within the Christian faith. On the first page of Genesis a tree is mentioned. Also in the first Psalm, on the first page of the New Testament as well as the last page of Revelation – and many places along the way. Every major biblical or theological event has a tree marking the spot.

We were given an important responsibility: to care for God’s creation. And we haven’t been doing a very good job at it. This book walks the reader through the Bible, highlighting the significant places where God mentions or includes trees in His teachings and miracles.

Because we were created to be in communion with nature, we are more able to clear our minds and feel more connected with ourselves and others when we’ve spent time breathing in the oxygen the trees so generously supply for us.

Too often we have a short-term mindset. Our 70 years of existence is nothing compared to the 5,000 years of an ancient tree.

Proverbs tells us that a good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.

Christians are instructed to make this earth look more like heaven.
Plant trees, care for trees, and preserve old forests.

REVIEW:

I enjoyed the way Sleeth highlights the areas where God used trees to tell stories and to mark significant occasions. It will always stand out to me now when I read about a tree in the Bible. My initial response to the book, however, was that Sleeth seemed to ‘dummy down’ his explanations about the bible as well as the environment. Then again, I don’t know who he intended his target audience to be. Perhaps he was being sensitive to people who don’t believe in the Bible but want to live a better life in connection with the environment and its preservation.

Many years ago I read the theory that Christians are so concentrated on the next life that they don’t see the need to care for this ‘temporary home’ – Earth. This shames me as a Christian. We were given a beautiful, magnificent gift from our Creator and we’re trashing it like teenagers throwing a raucous party while their parents are out of town. REFORESTING FAITH reminded me of that theory. Have Christians resisted being actively involved in environmental issues for fear of appearing too pagan? This is at such odds with what God weaved together for our enjoyment.

I was encouraged to recommit to being aware and vigilant of the way that I live and how it elevates or depletes the gift of Creation. It also reinforced my desire to stand barefoot in the grass and walk leisurely through a canopy of trees. Not only do these two activities help calm and center my emotional well-being, but there is a positive and physical reaction as well as I, the created, am connected with my Creator.

TREE PICTURES photographed on trips to:
Big Trees State Park, California
University of California Berkeley
Lake Tahoe, California
Yosemite National Park, California

WHISKEY WHEN WE’RE DRY by John Larison

UH-OH!! I think I’ve made a terrible mistake. I just finished reading Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison and it might be the best book I read in 2020 – and it’s only January 13!

This book was storytelling at its lyrical best. WHISKEY was a gripping read – Midwestern true grit with a southern lit style prose. Each description, painted magnificently on the big, open skies of the 1800’s Plains.⠀

Orphaned in 1885, Jessilyn finds herself alone. Having learned sharpshooting from her father on their cattle farm, she sets out to find the only other family member she knows, her older brother, Noah, who left home years before and was now an outlaw on the run. Knowing the limitations and boundaries she would encounter as a female, Jess cut her hair, bound her body and rode into the outside world under the guise of a young man.⠀

The adventures and circumstances that ensue develop Jess’s strong character and resolve but do very little to answer the questions about her past. Her mother died during Jessilyn’s birth and her stoic father died suddenly, just as she was becoming a young woman.

“What started the war, pa?”⠀
“Stories, Jess. Stories. We tell ourselves the wrong stories.”

It was not difficult to make the parallel to much of what we listen to on the nightly news. Or experience in our own relationships. What wrong stories are we repeating? What wrong stories are being passed down, generation to generation? Culture to culture?

Her father taught her many things during her young life, not the least of which was to shoot a gun with precision. There was no way of knowing how well that would serve her in the years to come.

For many years Jess maintained her male identity. She developed friendships with other guys but never revealed her true story. Confiding only one time to an old lady her true past: “It was such a relief to hear this in the air outside, rather than echoing endlessly within.”

This is a coming of age story as well as a story of familial reflection and connection common to us all. Thank you, Anne Bogel, for your recommendation. This expansively beautiful story will ride with me for a while.