Wednesday, June 28, 2017

“At Home in This Life” by Jerusalem Jackson Greer

Do you think you might find God in your laundry soap? How about a worm farm? Or a broken foot? And then there’s that family-workday-in-the-backyard plan that has everyone but Dad inside after 10 minutes.

Guess where Jerusalem Jackson Greer found God?

All of the above.

In At Home in This Life: Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams & Beautiful Surprises, Greer tells the story of her life – and ours – in the 21st century. You know what life it is – that frantic, crazy, multitasking, carpool-school-carpool-home-work frenzy that all of us, in one form or another, engage in. And while we’re waiting for the red light to change, we’re checking Facebook notifications and email.

For Greer, her husband Nathan, and their children, it took a house not selling (“But it was featured in Southern Living!”), the dream of owning a farm falling through, and Greer breaking her foot (doing too many things at once) to start a process of change.

The idea of the change was simple: life isn’t what you’re waiting for while things happen. Life is what happens, so why not live in those extended moments of life happening.

The idea is simple; the execution of the idea is not, as Greer found out. And thus At Home in This Life.

While aimed at women, this is a book for all of us. It’s not about slowing down, throwing out the TV, walking away from social media (although Greer tries that for a month). This is book about the reality of day-to-day living, and the reality of finding God in that daily-ness.

Jerusalem Jackson Greer
So the house doesn’t sell and the dream of the farm has to be postponed. Greer paints her walls, gets friends to help with sanding and repainting of window frames, and finds the beauty in both of those. She and her family rediscover what it means to keep the Sabbath, not in a rigid, legalistic way but in a loving and appreciative way. They discover what hospitality means, and what it means to work in a soup kitchen. Her confession about cooking (she’s not that good at it and she doesn’t follow recipes) opens up a new level of communication with her husband (who is good at it). And her chapter on laundry soap (inspired by having a mother who’s the world’s expert on homemade laundry soap) is both funny and rather profound.

Greer is a speaker, writer, workshop leader, and lay minister living in central Arkansas (and, yes, she does finally make it to the farm; I suspect that’s another book). She’s previously published A Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting, and Coming Together (2013) and A Faith-Made Year (2015).

If you want to be moved, entertained, stimulated, and impressed with what is possible to find in the daily-ness of life, At Home in This Life is a good place to start.

Photograph by Linnaea Mallette via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tales of the First Age: “Beren and Luthien” by J.R.R. Tolkien

Christopher Tolkien, the youngest of J.R.R. Tolkien’s three sons, will be 93 this year. He is his father’s literary executor, and he has spent the years since his father’s death in 1973 poring over papers and files, considering an array of various texts, different versions of stories and poems, staying true to his father’s vision and helping publish a considerable number of books that represent both wonderful stories and insights into The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It is because of Christopher that we have The Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin, many of the lost tales, the elder Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf, and many other works.

Christopher Tolkien
The latest, and possibly the last, is Beren and Luthien, a love story between Beren, a mortal man in exile after his father and clanare killed, and Luthien, an Elf princess (the idea of which was carried over into The Lord of the Rings). Luthien is also called Tinuviel by Beren, and it is by that name we see her part in the story. Beren sees Luthien dancing in the woods and falls in love with her. Her father isn’t exactly pleased, and he agrees to the marriage only if Beren can steal a Silmaril, a jewel in the crown of Melkor, the Black Enemy, also known as Morgoth – and a forerunner of Sauron in the trilogy. He’s captured and enslaved in the kitchen, and Luthien travels to his rescue. With the help of a giant dog (who tricks an evil cat), she succeeds in Beren, and then more adventures happen.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, June 26, 2017

“The American Spirit” by David McCullough

David McCullough has spent his professional lifetime exploring the people and events that form a goodly part of what we call American history. He’s fascinated by the history of the United States, but it’s a fascination that doesn’t preclude understanding of or excuse things that need to be criticized. His reach and interest are as broad as they is deep.

McCullough – editor, teacher, lecturer, television host – is the author of numerous works of history and biography, including The Path Between the Seas (1978); Mornings on Horseback (1982); The Johnstown Flood (1987); Brave Companions: Portraits in History (1992); Truman (1993); John Adams (2002); 1776 (2005); and The Wright Brothers (2015); among several others. He’s won two National Book Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, and two Francis Parkman Awards.

In other words, he’s an eminence in American historical letters.

He gives speeches, and when he does, it’s worthwhile to listen and ponder. He’s assembled 15 of those speeches, stretching from 1989 to 2016, in The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For.  The volume is a gem of understanding, and of American history, the words and insights spoken by one of our pre-eminent American historians.

He’s a master of the telling detail, such as that of Simon Willard’s clock, which sits within a statue in Congress and has been there since 1837. “Its inner workings ticked off the minutes and hours through debate on the Gag Rule, the annexation of Texas, the Mexican War, tariffs, postal service, the establishment of the Naval Academy, statehood for Arkansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, matters related to immigration, the Gold Rush, Statehood for California, the fateful Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the final hours of John Quincy Adams,” he writes. These were events and actions not only important for the United States but indeed the world.

And we read the story of John Quincy Adams, who returned as a congressman from Massachusetts after he served as our 6th President. Adams, the educated and experienced son of John Adams, would die in Congress, stricken while in the House of Representatives and carried to the speaker’s office, where he died two days later. Henry Clay held his hand as he died.

David McCullough
In these speeches, McCullough talks of buildings and commemorations, historical figures known and not-so-known, and events that we’ve heard so often they seem trite but in his hands become living things.

One of the common themes is education – why it’s important and why it needs to be a lifelong pursuit; it’s not a monopoly of the institutional classroom. Here his speeches show a shift, however. From 2005 on, McCullough begins to note what he sees happening in the classroom – that we are not teaching American history as it has been taught or even at all. And citizens, and the country, are both poorer for it.

During a time like now, when divisiveness, rage, and outrage are the political order (or disorder) of the day, The American Spirit is a potent reminder of what we have had, what we’re risking, and what we might need to do to recover.

Top photograph by Frank McKenna via Unsplash. Used with permission.