Along with borderline hypergraffia, my other literary disorder is -- I'm a compulsive overreader. I'd like to say that I'm trying to get it under control, but I'm clearly not. Check out the archives here to find what I'm reading and what I think of it. If you came here directly through blogger --if your page has no yellow frames and no pretty pic of me in the top left corner -- you may want to visit my main site at www.hypergraffiti.com, where you can read this blog and much much more.
- Name: TrudyJ
I'm Trudy Morgan-Cole, a writer from St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. My books include "The Violent Friendship of Esther Johnson," "Esther: A Story of Courage," and "Deborah and Barak." I'm also a married mom of two, a teacher in an adult-ed program, and a Christian of the Seventh-day Adventist kind. I blog about writing, reading, parenting, teaching, spirituality, and shiny things that catch my eye.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Saturday, March 24, 2007
God Laughs and Plays, by David James Duncan (LentBook #10)
My brilliant and well-read friend Jamie recommended David James Duncan's books to me. Duncan has actually written a few novels, but since I wanted to read him during Lent, I had to go for his non-fiction book, a collection of essays, talks and interviews that give a fair overview of how David James Duncan thinks.
Duncan is an environmentalist who mostly writes about fly-fishing and saving rivers, but he also has an eclectic approach to spirituality that doesn't have much time for organized religion (the book is subtitled "Churchless Sermons in Response to the Preachments of the Fundamentalist Right").
What caught my eye right off was the fact that Duncan's own background was Seventh-day Adventist, as is mine. He was raised in an SDA home although he never felt much strong connection to the faith and left it as a teenager (as did most of his family, eventually). He seems to have emerged from this experience with a rather sketchy grasp of SDA doctrine -- for example, he appears to think SDAs believe in an eterntally burning hell. But perhaps this is not so much doctrinal inattention as a lack of interest in the specifics: David James Duncan emerged from an SDA upbringing with a strong dislike for conservative Christian sects that think they have a monopoly on truth, and in a sense he's willing to tar them all with the same brush.
He's not as bitter as you might expect, though, towards SDAs -- no more so than he is towards any of the Christian right, and certainly less so than he is towards the Bush government's policies in Iraq. He does discuss his relationship to the SDA church in a very thoughtful and balanced interview with Craig Van Rooyen, included in this volume. But mostly, his attention is elsewhere -- on a universalist and pluralist sense of God that can be found in many different religious traditions but (for him) most surely and honestly in the natural world.
Despite my best efforts, nature mysticism has little appeal for me, and I enjoyed the book more when Duncan was railing about politics than when he was rhapsodizing about rivers (although I do agree that rivers are great and should be kept clean and fishfull -- it just doesn't hit me on an emotional level like it does him). I was relieved that the book was free of the sort of hearty machismo I dread in the writing of male environmentalists. There's humour in this collection of writing, and anger, and passion for a vision of God that's not restricted by the kind of boundaries most Christian churches (including mine) place on the idea of God. Definitely a lot to ponder here.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert (LentBook #9)
Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir about a year spent travelling in Italy, India and Indonesia in search of inner piece, is the latest in my collection of "spiritual journey memoirs" and destined to be one of my all-time favourites. I read it in about twenty-four hours and it wouldn't even be accurate to say I devoured the book -- it was more like I inhaled it, racing through the pages as if I were being pulled along in Gilbert's wake on her trip around the world.
After a devastating divorce and the break-up of her post-divorce love affair, Elizabeth Gilbert was left depressed and shattered. She decided (with the help of an advance from a publisher, which always helps in these matters) to take a year off travelling the world and trying to put herself back together. She spent four months in Italy immersing herself in the pursuit of pleasure, mostly in the form of really good pasta and platonic relationships with gorgeous young Italian men. Next, she went to an Indian ashram for four months to study meditation (this wasn't on a whim -- she had already been practicing yoga seriously for several years). Finally, she wound up on the front porch of an ancient medicine man in Bali, living there for four months while she tried to figure out how to balance the life of pleasure and the life of devotion.
I also would like to know how to balance the life of pleasure and the life of devotion. I also would not mind having four months in Bali to work it out. But perhaps surprisingly, I did not feel resentful of Elizabeth Gilbert's options, or consider her a self-centred, pampered North American on a self-absorbed Quest for Meaning. This is probably because her writing is so honest, funny and engaging that I was completely drawn into the story and felt like I knew the author as a friend.
Gilbert comes across as completely sincere -- her story reminded me in some ways of Jennifer Cox's Around the World in 80 Dates, but there was no sense of frivolity or manipulation in Eat, Pray, Love because the spiritual aspect of her quest was undeniably real. I found this book absorbing, entertaining, and thought-provoking.
When Jesus Came to Harvard, by Harvey Cox (LentBook #8)
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller (LentBook #7)
He guessed, "It's by a man?"
Got it in one.
I tend to be kind of sexist in my reading in general (novels and memoirs should be written by women, though men can write other kinds of non-fiction, and certain fiction genres like fantasy) so it's not surprising that this was a new area for me to explore: a man talking about his spiritual life. (Yeah, I know men pretty much invented the genre, St. Augustine and all -- hey, as my co-worker Ann said of me once, "At least you own your prejudices!")
Back cover blurbery describes Donald Miller as sort of like Anne Lamott with testosterone, which is not a bad comparison. He has the same self-deprecating humour and postmodern approach to both Christianity and essay-writing, which is to say that we're wandering through his stream of consciousness picking up small gems of insight he's discovered along the way. He's not as funny as Anne Lamott, but then, who is? As for the testosterone, I think what stood out to me was not what a guy Donald Miller is, but what a young guy he is -- or at least, was when he wrote this book. Barely 30, I gather. Looking back from the vast heights of 40+ I realize I am turning into that crotchety old woman who mutters, "What has some young whippersnapper got to teach me about Christian spirituality?" Got to watch that tendency!!!
It was interesting reading this book in tandem with Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World (one of the things I love about my Lenten reading project is the strange bedfellows it produces). Everything Carl Sagan hates about "spirituality" -- that vague sense of "I believe it because I believe it," the willingness to brush off difficult questions rather than exploring them -- is here in this memoir. While there were times I wanted Don to be more sharply focused and follow his ideas through to their logical conclusions, I also enjoyed being a fellow traveller on his journey for a couple of hundred pages. There are places where he seems naive and a few where he comes across as self-righteous, but I kept turning pages and nodding at things I agreed with. I'd read another Donald Miller book if it came across my path (and there are others) so I guess I need to drop my biases and admit that yes, men can write well about their own spiritual journeys, too.
The Demon-Haunted World, by Carl Sagan (LentBook #6)
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
The Emerging Christian Way, by Marcus Borg, Matthew Fox, Tom Harpur et al (LentBook #5)
There's nothing wrong with this book speaking to that audience, but something in the packaging made me hope that the writers would address a broader spectrum of Christians, that there would be something here for someone like me who self-identifies as a conservative within Christianity, a liberal within my denomination, and who's very excited by the idea of "emergent" Christianity as described by Brian McLaren. I'm interested in visions of Christianity that transcend traditional boundaries and categories, and I thought The Emerging Christian Way might present such a vision.
But it doesn't. There's no real interest here in building bridges with more conservative Christians; indeed, as Marcus Borg says up front, this "emerging paradigm" of Christianity is so different from the traditional paradigm that they might as well be two different religions. Fair enough; most conservative Christian writers I read aren't that interested in building bridges to the liberal wing of the faith, either. But since there are elements of both liberal and conservative Christianity that appeal to me, those bridges are of interest to me.
Again, there's nothing wrong with this book (which is published in Canada and, despite the presence of essays by Borg and Fox, has a distinctly Canadian slant) if you're looking for a guide to what it means to be a Christian even though you don't accept all the traditional doctrines. The book turned out not to be quite what I was looking for, but what it does, it does quite well.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Living Buddha, Living Christ, by Thich Nhat Hanh (LentBook #4)
One of those Buddhist acquaintances suggested I should read something by Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the most famous Buddhist teachers of the 20th century. When I found this book, it seemed like a good fit, because it's basically about some of the parallels between Buddhist and Christian teaching, and what Christians can learn from Buddhism.
While I don't agree with everything Thich Nhat Hanh says in this short, easy-to-read book, I did feel like I gained some insight from it. I'm particularly interested in a better understanding of the concept of mindfulness, because I feel like I don't live enough in the present moment -- my mind is always flitting off to some other place, and I'm often multi-tasking. Multi-tasking, while a virtual necessity for a working mom, turns out to be a bad idea if you want to practice mindfulness. If the Buddhist monk is washing his bowl, he should be giving careful attention to the task of washing the bowl -- as opposed to talking on the phone and supervising the kids' homework, which is what I'm usually doing when washing my dishes. Of course, monks don't have kids' homework to supervise, which is why they are monks, but if they did I'm pretty sure they'd focus on the homework and the homework alone, mindfully present in the moment.
Clearly I have a long way to go in practicing mindfulness, but I am working on it. Any Christian interested in broadening his or her perspective to learn a little about (and from) Buddhism could probably pick up a thing or two from Living Buddha, Living Christ, even if you don't agree that Buddha and Christ are both "living" today in the exact same sense. (Thich Nhat Hanh would probably say that both Buddha and Christ are living through the followers who practice their teachings, but being a fairly traditional Christian I think Christ is living in that sense and also in the literal sense of being still alive). You might even find it inspiring in places. I did.