Posted in Book Review, Life, Literature

Books That Promote Thought

Small Great Things by Jodi Piccoult is more than just another well-written court story. It’s a book carefully woven to leave questions in the reader’s mind. The basic plotline involves an African-American woman on trial after a white baby dies. The baby’s parents were leaders of the Pro-White Movement, which I didn’t even know still existed until this book. Reading this book sent me on an emotional roller coaster of disgust, anger, sadness, and elation mixed healthily with a lot of questions. Rather than spoiling the plot of the book, I’d like to take you through some of the questions in my mind.

Firstly I learned in this book that there is a Pro-White movement. The character claimed that Whites could become the majority. I’ll admit that at times I have questioned why there aren’t White History months or White Student Unions but never to the point that I would actually want those things established. I recognize that in this country and in most of the world, being born with Caucasion skin color puts you a little ahead in the game. I also recognize the injustice others may experience because of their skin color. I would rather appreciate my gifts rather than harbor resentment over a lack of White recognition.

But did you ever think our misfortune is directly related to your good fortune? Maybe the house your parents bought was on the market because the sellers didn’t want my mama in the neighborhood. Maybe the good grades that eventually led you to law school were possible because your mama didn’t have to work eighteen hours a day, and was there to read to you at night, or make sure you did your homework. How often do you remind yourself how lucky you are that you own your house, because you were able to build up equity through generations in a way families of color can’t? How often do you open your mouth at work and think how awesome it is that no one’s thinking you’re speaking for everyone with the same skin color you have? How hard is it for you to find a greeting card for your baby’s birthday with a picture of a child that has the same color skin as her? How many times have you seen a painting of Jesus that looks like you?” She stops, breathing heavily, her cheeks flushed. “Prejudice goes both ways, you know. There are people who suffer from it, and there are people who profit from it. Who died and made you Robin Hood? Who said I ever needed saving? Here you are on your high horse, telling me I screwed up this case that you worked so hard on; patting yourself on the back for being an advocate for a poor, struggling black woman like me…but you’re part of the reason I was down on the ground to begin with.” from Small Great Things

While knowing that my skin color gives me certain advantages is good, it still doesn’t answer what I do about those advantages. I wouldn’t ask for those to be taken away, and simply being thankful for the advantages doesn’t seem to solve the racial injustices. I don’t want to move to the point of feeling guilty for my position of birth, but I also don’t want to lord it over others. I also know that I can’t fix all of the problems by myself.

When it comes to social justice, the role of the white ally is not to be a savior or a fixer. Instead, the role of the ally is to find other white people and talk to make them see that many of the benefits they’ve enjoyed in life are direct results of the fact that someone else did not have the same benefits. From the author’s note.

Then I am moved to ask what I do about the direct racism in the world around me. While I don’t think I consciously treat anyone differently, blatant racism does occur. It would be easy to say that minorities are just making a big deal out of things that aren’t big deals, but I’ve never been followed in a store or told that I couldn’t achieve great things simply because of my race. I don’t know what that feels like, so maybe those seemingly little incidents are important because they add up in the life of a minority person. I also recognize that I can’t stop all of the racism in the world because I don’t cause it all. All I can do is watch my actions and thoughts very carefully to ensure that I don’t perpetuate the problem. In addition, I can teach my students and those around me to see people the way that God sees people. What God sees is a person’s heart, not their skin color. What matters to God is if they are following Him.

“Out of all the people who interacted with Davis Bauer at Mercy–West Haven Hospital during his short life, only one of them is sitting in this courtroom at the defense table: Ruth Jefferson. Only one person is being charged with a crime: Ruth Jefferson. I spent an entire trial skirting a very important question: Why? “Ruth is black,” I say flatly. From Small Great Things

Finally the court case in the book brought up the point of indirect racism. This happens when the question of race is ignored in a situation. I don’t think I intentionally treat anyone any differently simply because of the color of their skin, but I may unintentionally perpetuate the problem by ignoring that racism happens. I teach at a school with a very diverse racial population and a mostly homogeneous racial teaching staff. One of the questions on my application was “what do you think about race?” I think, as a 24-year-old, I answered something along the lines of saying that race didn’t matter to me because God loves everyone. While that is all good and well, ignoring racism in the world doesn’t help my students learn how to handle it whether they or someone else is being discriminated against.

I mean equity. Equality is treating everyone the same. But equity is taking differences into account, so everyone has a chance to succeed.” I look at her. “The first one sounds fair. The second one is fair. It’s equal to give a printed test to two kids. But if one’s blind and one’s sighted, that’s not true. You ought to give one a Braille test and one a printed test, which both cover the same material. From Small Great ThingsThis means I carefully choose the literature we read in order to bring up these questions of race and the general treatment of people. It means I don’t allow discriminatory talk of any kind to happen in my classroom. It also means that if a student accuses me of acting in a racist way, whether he is right or wrong about my intentions, I examine my actions to ensure that it wasn’t unintentional racism. It means that I teach my students to look for the similarities between us all as humans rather than seeing the differences while also celebrating the variety of cultures. Finally it means that I teach my students and those around me to love as God loves by demonstrating that love and humility in my actions.

While it may be a moot point now, I encourage others to read Piccoult’s Small Great Things. There is a little bit of language to represent the cultures in which the characters live, but overall wholesome thinking is applauded. The book provokes thought, creates complex plot, and develops characters at just the right pace. She really looks at the question of racism from every angle, and I haven’t really even begun to do this conversation justice. That’s what this book is: a conversation about race. So go read, then come back and converse with me.

Posted in Book Review

The Truest Pleasure

Sometimes books are about a plot line full of conflict and suspense, but other books quietly tell the story of a character. The Truest Pleasure by Robert Morgan falls into the latter category. Telling the story of a young Appalachian girl’s marriage and family, this book is full of wisdom and great characterization. The ultimate message, in an Ecclesiastical way, is to appreciate the important things in life. At first the narrator strives for spiritual connection and euphoria while her husband seeks pleasure in making money and expanding the land. Neither are happy; even though their pursuits are individually noble, their dreams don’t draw them closer. Only at the end of the novel does the narrator realize that the truest pleasure is to love those around her.

Posted in Life, Movies

Free Porn…and the consequences

The episode of Friends when Joey and Chandler find free porn on their TV bothers me, but it also reveals some truths about pornography. The two are afraid to turn off the TV because they are afraid the porn will disappear. Firstly this shows how addictive porn can be. This is not the only time the characters demonstrate their addiction to pornography. Just episodes before, Monica entices her friends to come hang out at her apartment by offering cookies and, you guessed it, porn. It’s sad how easily people are drawn to this distortion of God’s creation, but it’s scary how prevalent and addicting the habit is. The episode closes with Joey and Chandler turning off their television set. They are relieved to hear silence, but immediately they must turn the TV back on to see if they still the have free porn. It is addictive.

Secondly, the show reveals the effect porn has on the viewer. Towards the end of the episode, Chandler reveals to Joey that he was disappointed that the woman at the bank didn’t immediately want to have sex with him. Joey had a similar experience. Porn, and the habit of watching it, distorts reality. God created sex, so sex in and of itself is not bad, but God created sex for marriage. Pornography makes that sacred moment seem like a cheap side show. It could be likened to serving filet mignon at McDonalds .

Lastly, I want to point out that none of the characters have healthy, lasting relationships (aside from Chandler in very late the series). I don’t think that is a coincidence. Their view of relationships and intimacy is distorted by the culture around them, namely in this instance, pornography. While I enjoy the best show’s witty banter and Comic moments, I simply cannot approve of the lifestyles the characters lead. I shake my head and remind myself that they do not know Jesus. Their lives would be so much fuller if they did.

Posted in Devotion, Holidays

Forgive like a cat

My cat was angry at me tonight. First I took away his food this morning, so we could travel. Then I made him ride in his crate in the car. Finally once we got home I wouldn’t let him eat the TV cords or scratch the couch. To top it all off I clipped his toenails.

He wouldn’t even look at me. If I tried to touch him, he’d nip at me. He was angry.

Two hours later and a little catnip, he was back to snuggling. I think when Jesus talked about forgiving others, he could have used a cat as an example.

Posted in Devotion

The White Witch

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the witch. Of course everyone present knew that she meant Edmund. But Edmund had got past thinking about himself after all he’d been through and after the talk he’d had that morning. He just went on looking at Aslan. It didn’t seem to matter what the witch said.”

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund leaves his brothers and sisters to chase after the White Witch because what she offers to him seems more enticing. He soon learns that everything she told him was lies, and he is treated very poorly in her presence. After being rescued by Aslan’s army and talked to by Aslan, he seems completely changed. This quote describing the White Witch’s accusations against Edmund and his reaction remind me perfectly of Satan’s accusations against us.

Jesus has made me completely clean in God’s eyes and rescued me from my own White Witch, Satan. Even still Satan tries to come back and tell me that I’m a traitor and that I don’t deserve to be part of God’s family. He does this by attacking my service to God, convincing me that I’m not doing enough or that my heart is impure. My reaction sometimes is to give in to the lies and try to work harder when in reality God loves me no matter what I do. When accused by the White Witch Edmund looked at Aslan. Even when Satan tries to accuse me, I can simply look at Jesus and know that nothing Satan says matters.

Posted in Devotion

Weak

A few days ago I was helping move a staff member into her house. There was quite a bit of heavy furniture. While we had several adult and teenage males to help, I wanted to pull my weight because I hate feeling weak. Pride began to swell as I watched them carry the heavy stuff, and I was told I couldn’t carry that. I’d just get started carrying something when one of the boys would say, “Ms. Hughes let me get that.” At one point, I and one of the dorm boys were carrying the headboard. It wasn’t so much heavy as it was top-heavy. I knew a co-worker was right behind me, but by-golly I was going to carry this one thing all the way into the house. I was struggling with the height and weight combined, and eventually I had to admit I couldn’t carry it and hand it over to him. I had to admit I was weak.

Similarly, I often try to be strong with emotional and spiritual matters. Pride kicks in and I don’t want to let others see me cry or struggle. Sometimes I forget to even let God know I’m struggling. I put on my smile and persevere. It’ll go away eventually right?

If there’s one thing that stresses me out and makes me feel weak more than anything else, it’s car troubles. This is a problem that I can’t just smile through because it will only exacerbate if I don’t address the issue. For example, I came out one Sunday to an almost flat tire. Tears flowed, and the stress hit immediately because I live a mile from the maintenance building on campus and it was Sunday when no one would just be down there to help air my tire. Plus, I knew that there was probably something more wrong because tires shouldn’t just go flat. I felt weak. Thankfully I was thinking about God that morning, and he reminded me that I had a bike pump. It gave me quite a workout, and it caused me to be late for church, but I got it pumped up to a decent level and made it to church before the sermon. God provided because I didn’t pretend I was stronger than I was. (No worries, I got it plugged at the auto shop in town.)

The day after the moving incident, the song leader in chapel decided to read verses about love in between singing Jesus Loves Me. He was focused on the love of God, but my heart panged at the phrase, “when I am weak, you are strong”. How true is that? God is strong for me when I feel the most weak. Whether it’s physical weakness, emotional weakness, knowledge or situational weakness, or spiritual weakness, God is there to prop me up. He’s there to be strong for me.

 

Posted in Devotion

Falling In Love Part Two

It is so easy for me to spend time with my boyfriend and look forward to that time. I want to talk with him each day. Sometimes life is busy and our conversations are limited to text messages, but that’s not enough. I desire that focused conversation time whether in-person or over the phone. I want our friends and family to know us and to like us together, so we’ve spent time hanging out with other people. We do fun things like play games, mini-golf, or shoot pool, but I also relish the time we get to talk and do nothing else. Just like I started discussing in a previous post, our relationships with humans should reflect our relationship with God.

A married woman in my Bible study group compared her relationship with her husband to how she should treat her time with God. She talked about how sometimes her husband wants to be lovey-dovey, but she just wants to watch the TV show or do the dishes. She spoke of how sometimes it’s okay to talk with him while doing other things, but she recognizes that they need time in their marriage where it’s just the two of them being together. Likewise, it’s so easy to multitask while we pray and claim we are “praying without ceasing”. That’s fine, and God wants that constant communication, but He also wants the intentional time as well. Just as a spouse, or boyfriend in my case, wants and needs the focused alone time, God wants us to set aside everything and spend time with him.

These thoughts leave me with a few reflection questions for myself that maybe we should all be asking. Do I crave the time with God like I desire the time with my boyfriend? Do I long for opportunities to introduce God to my loved ones? Can I just sit and talk with God for hours? Do I set aside everything to have that daily time with God?

I’m thankful that God is loving and merciful because I can’t honestly answer yes to all of those questions every single day. I thank God for this metaphor, and pray that God would stir my passion for him every day. I pray that each of us would clear our minds and hearts for focused God time each day. I hope we all start falling in love with God just a little bit more.