Monday, July 18, 2016

The Deep End of the Ocean

The Deep End of the Ocean, Jacquelyn Mitchard

Published in 1997, this book quickly made it to the top of the bestseller list and I think I first read it about that time. It was later made into a movie (which I must have seen years ago, as images kept coming back to me). Having just found it again at the library, I have just re-read it.

This is a great book, full of depth and detail. Having said that if you have young children, I don’t recommend reading it at your stage. Beth Cappadora, with her three young children, heads off to her 15-year high school reunion leaving husband Pat at home alone for the weekend. Caught up in the excitement of seeing old school friends, Beth leaves 3-year-old Ben with 7-year-old Vincent in the hotel lobby while she sorts out her room reservation. Not five minutes later she returns and Ben is gone. Totally and completely gone.

A shoe found about 12 hours later indicates it was an abduction and from then the family spiral into a parent’s worst nightmare. Over the years, you read how the family deals with it, mainly Beth, Pat and Vincent, along with friends, extended family and the police force. A close friendship is forged between Beth and Candy, the officer in charge.

Those events and the following 9 years cover the first half of the book. While I rarely give spoilers (alert!), this one is on the back of the book, so it seems OK.  The second half details what happens after a strangely familiar 12-year-old from the neighbourhood knocks on the door offering to the mow the lawn.  Astonishingly it is Ben.  What follows next is the aftermath for the families – the Cappadoras with an increasingly delinquent Vincent, Pat who is delighted and insists his family is back together, and Beth who begins to see the pain that Ben is in.  For Ben, now known as Sam, has known loving parents – his mentally ill ‘mother’ did abduct him, but his step-father George knew nothing of it and has raised him, and that family is all Sam knows and remembers.

Mitchard does an excellent job of cataloguing the varied ways that grief, guilt and pain can strike different people, including children.  It’s a book that tears at your heart, yet all the time wills you to keep reading it.  A good choice for some holiday reading.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Stop the shouting

There is a very interesting commentary in The Australian newspaper this morning, from The Times "Stop the Shouting: if we don't tame Twitter, we'll face mob rule". Some excerpts are below:
"...I think communications technologies can decide the political temperature. After decades in which they generally helped moderate discourse, outside autocracies, they are now inflaming it. When blogging was all the rage a decade ago, at least there was space for nuance. Now, opinions are boiled down to a single shout. 
I use Twitter mainly to find and pass on links to articles and reports on topics that interest me. To do so, though, I have to wade through bitter feuds, walk past vicious ad-homs, jump over blatant embellishments and bump into absurd hyperbole... 
We need to find a way to tame Twitter, to fence in Facebook, to insist on net neutrality and revive moderation. To do so while respecting free speech and without handing government the power to propagandise and censor, will not be easy. But it must be attempted before the mutual shouting gets worse."
It echoes some of my own thoughts, particularly observing commentary on world events in the last few months, including our own election.

Full article is here. Apologies if you can't read it, it may be subscriber only access - I can send you a copy though if you ask.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Rosario Champagne Butterfield

This book has been recommended to me by friends for a number of years, but I had never managed to read it. In the meantime, Husband bought it, read it, and handed it to me!

It is the story of a university professor’s almost unwilling conversion to Christ. Rosario was a tenured English professor specialising in gender studies and queer theory, living in a lesbian relationship and a key supporter and advocate for the LGBT community.

After publishing a critique of a religious group in the local paper, one pastor write to her a letter she couldn’t ignore. It was a letter that asked her gently how she arrived at her theories, what her presuppositions were, and whether she believed in God. Intrigued by its tone and content, she got in touch with the author. It started a deep friendship with him and his wife, in which they talked about what they both believed over meals and time together.

In time she came to believe in Christ: “Although grateful, I did not perceive conversion to be “a blessing.” It was a train wreck.” (p25)

“This word - conversion - is simply too tame and too refined to capture the train wreck that I experienced in coming to terms with the Living God. I know of only one word to describe this time-released encounter: impact.” (xi) It is an open and honest account of how coming to know God completely altered her life.

She details her life prior to conversion, but only in an informative and descriptive way. At once everything changes - partner, friends, teaching, writing, lifestyle, clothes, speech and thoughts. In time, she marries a pastor, they adopt and foster four children and currently home-school them.

You never know when you read a book like this quite what it is going to say. It could obviously go in many directions. It could be lewd. It could be judgemental. It could be shocking. It could be self-aggrandizing. It is none of these.

She is honest about her struggles, open about her questions, and clear that she had much to learn. She is never hostile to the gay community, and continues to love and serve friends who are part of it.

If there is any group who come under her critique - it is those of the Christian faith who are unthought in their responses and unloving in their words and actions, those who are unable to remove the speck in their own eyes before they remove the planks in others. She challenges those in the church to see our own blinkers and blindness and judgmentalism. She challenges church prejudices, the failure to love and to serve.

It’s a biography - one woman’s account of her own experience. At the same time, it is a clear challenge to think deeper on a number of issues. How well do we really love the outsider? How hospitable are we really? Do we know how casual comments and unwise words can cause deep hurt? Are we willing to cross the bridge of culture and belief and talk with anyone, kindly and gently, about what we both believe?

For Christians - this is a book worth reading, it might challenge you and make you uncomfortable - hopefully about yourself. And that is a good thing.

One quote (almost random considering the rest of the subject matter) stayed with me – her comments on being a pastor’s wife and they echo my own thoughts:
I believe… there is a little known secret about the inner spiritual lives of pastors’ wives. The experience of really knowing the man behind the pulpit, counting the costs of his week, palpably knowing how deeply Satan wants the gospel to simply die from lack of interest, and seeing the Holy Spirit triumph in his preaching even when just the hour before all looked grim, is a great shot in the arm to enduring faith. I wish that others knew this: Pastor’s wives get the cream of the ministry, even as we sacrifice certain aspects of our personal, private and family lives to have this. I have found my life as Kent’s wife to be full, rich, amusing, edifying, and exciting. I have tasted a small bit of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I would not trade this for anything. (p129-130)