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book coverSacred Myths: Stories of World Religions by Marilyn MacFarlane When I was in the sixth grade at a religious school, my teacher skipped the brief pages on other religions at the beginning of our religion text. She was trying to teach us Christianity, not those other false religions.

For those who want their children to have a somewhat broader exposure to the world’s many religious traditions, I recommend this book. Each of seven major world religions is given a one-page summary, including its version of the Golden Rule in large and decorative type. While Mr. FP had no patience for these sections, he was mesmerized by the five myths told for each religion. All are illustrated with images from appropriate religious art enmeshed in bright graphic design – hard to describe, but interesting to look at. Religions included are Buddhism, Hindusim, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Native American and Sacred Earth. Stories include the births of Buddha, Ganesh, Mohammed and Jesus, as well as many less well-known stories; a pre-Hellenic retelling of Demeter and Persephone, where Persephone goes willingly to the Underworld to help the spirits there; and Mr. FP’s favorite, “How Grandmother Spider Stole the Sun.” The stories are engagingly told and brief enough to work for older preschoolers (OK, my preschooler - Publisher’s Weekly says age 10… judge your own child) up through adult. It also includes a helpful pronunciation guide, glossary, and books for further reading. For educators, her website says that she also has a classroom guide available, with questions for discussion as well as explanations of all the symbols in the pictures. I’ve not seen the guide, but the stories are well worth reading.
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So here’s me, a Christian uncomfortable with Christianity, other Christians and most especially books published for Christians. When my mother gave me this book to read, I started it dutifully but didn’t necessarily expect to enjoy or finish it. Happily, I was very wrong. But then, it wasn’t written especially for Christians, either.

book coverSpeaking of Faith by Krista Tippett For the uninitiated, Tippett is the host of the NPR show with the same name, which I am not up early enough of a Sunday to listen to. In the show, I hear, she interviews people whom she feels have spiritual wisdom to share, of all religions and none. In the book, Tippett explores the meaning of faith, finding middle ground between the poles of various religions, non-believers and believers. It includes her personal faith journey, plus conversations with many people. She talks the power of faith in everyday life and talks about “thick faith”, complex and woven into life, as opposed to “thin” faith, which is superficial and fanatic. Tippett discusses religion as a container for spirituality where both have value, the power of mysteries and the importance of trying to discuss them, and the forgotten value of virtue. She looks at what we can do to stop poverty and suffering and the role that faith and hope play in this struggle. It was a very difficult book to do justice to in a short review, but I found it profoundly meaningful. It definitely looks most closely at the three monotheistic religions and Buddhism, so those who fall outside of those camps may find it more difficult to relate to. This is a powerful yet gentle book, small drops of arguments adding up to a river of persuasion in support of faith.
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My Very First Bible by Lois Rock. Pictures by Alex Ayliffe. The desire may not be universal, but Mr. FP was starting to want to learn about the stories at church. I had a definite agenda looking for a children's Bible. The stories should be short enough to be engaging, but long enough to get the gist of the story across. The pictures should be attractive, and the characters should not look like Palestine was located somewhere in Northern Europe. Finally, it should follow the Bible narratives as closely as possible, not adding dialog, motives or morals where they don't exist in the original. I would like to see stories of the strong Bible women included, and Mr. FP has no patience for prayers, so those aren't a plus. This Bible met all but one of my (dare I say it) exacting criteria. The stories convey a lot with very simple words. The bright pictures look like they are cut from paper, with appealing round-nosed and smiling characters with tan skin. There's only one very short prayer at the beginning. The stories tend towards the upbeat, with Goliath and Jesus the only named people killed. My only quibble was that the women were given pretty short shrift. Miriam, Sarah and some unnamed female disciples make appearances, but Esther, Ruth, Mary and Martha don’t appear at all. On the other hand, this is really a greatest hits Bible stories collection. With only 20 stories out of the whole Bible, there’s not a lot of room for minor characters of either gender. It was a great hit with Mr. FP, who would happily have read the whole thing in one sitting. If you’re looking for a children’s Bible either for religious text or basic cultural literacy, this is a good choice.
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<book coverGrace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott I really like Anne Lamott. She talks, as usual, about the messiness of life and the difficulty of acting the way you want to. About how when she's in the depths of despair she wants God to fix it right now, with big gestures and miracles. And instead the grace comes slowly, through friends and her own hard work, but is there nonetheless. Her stories are about teaching Sunday School, walking the dog, death, raising a teenager. Somehow, she manages to tell stories of herself at her worst and make herself sympathetic and so funny I could hardly keep myself from reading the whole thing alound to whomever happened to be around.
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I’m just writing down my list of things to review. There are six, which is a lot. I’m sure not all of them will make it up at once. Hadn’t realized I was so far behind, but I guess that’s what happens when I both listen in the car and read fast books.

The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau. Read by Wendy Dillon “The City of Ember is the only point of light in a dark world” say the ancient texts, and this is literally true, since the only light in Ember’s sky comes from huge floodlights, and no one has been able to navigate the darkness of the Unknown Regions to see if there are other cities. On Assignment Day, all 12-year-olds in the City of Ember are randomly assigned jobs. On this day in the year 241, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow trade jobs. She will become a Messenger, carrying messages between the citizens of Ember, and he, a Pipeworker, repairing the ancient plumbing that takes water from the underground river and sends it to the people of Ember. Once there was plenty of everything – food, supplies, and light. Now supplies are running short, the greenhouses are beginning to fail and blackouts are becoming longer and more frequent. As Doon tries to repair the crumbling underside of the city, Lina finds cryptic, half-destroyed Instructions for Egress. Together they work to find the hidden way out before the generator stops for good. Wendy Dillon, as the narrator, made all the characters sound somewhat uncertain and cartoon-like, but did an excellent job of distinguishing all the characters and building suspense through the story.

I always feel that some spiritual reflection is in order during Lent, and with Anne Lamott, I know for sure I’m not going to find the “God and the Republicans will keep America a Christian nation and save it from the gays if we pray hard enough” kind of thinking or even the “God wants your life to be perfect – all you have to do is pray just right” kind of thinking, both of which I find really abhorrent.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott This is a journal of Lamott’s son’s first year, not really religious book. Lamott decides to keep an unplanned pregnancy, even though the father wants nothing to do with a baby, and even though she has been clean for only three years and couldn’t take care of a cat in her previous life. Despite differences in parenting and life styles, baby Sam’s story was instantly recognizable. If you’re a parent, you’ll remember being there yourself, and if you’re not, you’ll have a much better idea by the time you’re done (though I’d advise you not to expect a baby to sleep through the night at three months). Lamott’s wrestling with her faith and the difficulties of being a single parent and the sorrow as Lamott’s best friend and partner in parenting is diagnosed with terminal cancer are all described with merciless and irreverent humor. This is one to be careful about reading in public, as you are likely to need tissues and help to keep from falling out of your seat with laughter.

Another entry in my occasional series Kids Music That Won’t Require an Insulin Shot.

Mother Goose Rocks from Boffomedia This is just what it sounds like, classic Mother Goose rhymes set to rock music. This CD (first in a series of four or so) features “Rub-a-Dub-Dub” done to a tune that sounds suspiciously like the Spice Girls’ “Wanna” and “Pat-a-Cake” ala Alanis Morissette. It might be a little too close to the originals for the liner notes not to credit them, but that means more fun for you figuring out which artist they’re mimicking. I was rolling with laughter at the spoofs, and Mr. Froggie Pants was just rocking along with the music.

I sent a patron to get something at another library with just half an hour to go before that library's closing time, before they actually knew the item was on the shelf for them. Now the Mission Impossible theme is stuck in my head.
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Several months ago now, my pastor called a meeting for all parents to discuss spiritual development in children and how to support it. A topic fraught with pitfalls, and probably three quarters of our little gang came away disturbed or offended in some way or another. Everyone was bothered by something different, but what most disturbed me was that all of the things she wanted us to do to incorporate spirituality into our home lives were explicitly Christian. Well, I’m Christian, and Mr. Froggie Pants has been baptized and comes to church with me. But my beloved [ profile] amnachaidh is not Christian. He’s not going to make the sign of the cross on Mr. FP’s forehead before he leaves every day, as the pastor suggested and as we in fact did in my family growing up. And while I wanted Mr. FP raised Christian, I don’t want him raised thinking that other religions are evil or that his daddy is going to hell for not coming to church with us. So I mentioned this to my pastor (who is really a good woman, if not a parent herself) and asked for some recommended reading. She said that most books are geared towards two specific faiths, and naturally there is no book for our particular combination of faiths. (I’d be happy to be corrected on this if anyone out there knows of anything.) And she gave me this book, which I dutifully read, even though it was designed more for [ profile] charles_midair and [ profile] elaine_alina

If I’m Jewish and You’re Christian, What Are the Kids?: A Parenting Guide for Interfaith Families by Andrea King
Read more... )
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Here are two seasonal reading items. The first is for Lent, a time for reflection and thinking about faith. The second is for National Poetry Month, which is April, but I have to read ahead to have time to get the reviews up. I have to say that both of these topics are tricky for me. I consider myself a Christian, but find a lot of thinking on the topic grating and narrow-minded and sometimes downright creepy. Poetry, too, I like in theory, but often have trouble getting into. In fact, I gave up on the first poetry book I tried for this review. However, both of these books are excellent, highly enjoyable and easy to get into, even if they aren’t your usual genre.

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott In this collection of highly personal essays, Lamott explores what it means to be a Christian who believes in peace, love, and caring for the poor in an America involved in an unjust war in Iraq and on the poor. There’s also a number of thoughts on parenting a teenage boy. Although the attitude on politics and religion is much the same at my own church, seeing a published author who differs so from the vocal right-wing Christians is highly reassuring. Lamott’s writing is simply masterful. Like [ profile] tupelo, she is able to write about a depressing topic in a way that is still laugh-out-loud funny. Her honesty in talking about the difficulty of living up to her own ideals – as in the essay “Loving the President: Day Two” – is both laudable and deeply touching. She’s reached that magical place where feelings are so personal as to be profoundly universal. This isn’t hair-splitting theology, and it’s not just for Christians. Read it.

The Trouble with Poetry and other poems by Billy Collins Do you know who the current Poet Laureate of the United States is? I don’t, so perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised that I didn’t know that Billy Collins used to be, a couple of years ago. Anyway, after reading this book, I think he deserved it. The poems are lovely to listen to (at least inside my head), small reflections on the oddities of life that are beautiful without requiring a lot of effort to understand. Which I think might be considered good poetry, but is not the kind of thing that I have energy for. My favorite poem, I think, was “The Lanyard”, where he reflects on a lanyard he made for his mother in summer camp, naively considering that the small gift would repay the work she had done for him. “Here are thousands of meals, she said/ and here is clothing and a good education. /And here is your lanyard, I replied,/which I made with a little help from a counselor.”
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I didn’t make it to the library to check out books even once while I was off – imagine the deprivation! Fortunately, my mother brought me nice books to read. Thank you, Mommy!

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi Though I’ve been a reader all my life, I’ve never really gotten into too much Classic Literature – mostly, it just seems so depressing. This book might just convince me to go back to those classics, as Nafisi describes her experiences leading a small group of women in reading English classics. (And we though those books were hard going, as native English speakers!) Throughout the lives of the women, their lives in the restrictive society of post-revolutionary Iran are seen through the prism of Lolita, Pride and Prejudice and The Great Gatsby. This book has been hanging out on paperback bestseller list for a while now, and it deserves its success. It really is phenomenal.

Brave New Family by G.K. Chesterton, ed. Alvaro de Silva I must confess, as a Protestant, and raving liberal Protestant at that, I was at first hesitant to read this book of essays by the acclaimed Catholic author G.K. Chesterton. It turns out that Chesterton and I have more in common than I’d thought. I really enjoyed reading his thoughts on the value of family and small town life – namely, that one must learn to get along with people different from one’s self. In the city, he argues, one naturally gravitates towards similar people. I also agree with his emphasis on the value and importance of motherhood, though not that any other employment a woman could have must be less fulfilling. But then again, if the choice at the time was factory worker or staying at home, he’d probably be closer to right. I had to stop reading when he started talking about the evils of birth control, though. And yes, I am willing to see myself as part of the surplus world population. The introduction by de Silva, about how nobody has values anymore, I also skipped. If you’re less liberal than me, or are willing to read selectively as I did, you too might find some nice food for thought in this book.
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Jesus and King Arthur – maybe not the most natural of combinations, but here you are:

American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon by Stephen Prothero This fascinating books looks at the changes in American culture over the years, through the lens of how Americans have viewed Jesus. At the founding of our country, nobody paid much attention to Jesus – Christians or non-Christians. Sometime in the 18th century, Jesus rose to prominence. Since then, Jesus has been described as reflecting the ideal characteristics of the day, from feminine and merciful to powerful and masculine. But wait! It’s not just Christians doing this – the book also looks at images of Jesus from outside Christianity, from Rabbi to Yogi.

In Camelot’s Shadow by Sarah Zettel Sarah Zettel* is best known for writing hard-core science fiction (and as a side note, if you have disliked sf in the past for having either cardboard characters set up in science concepts, or operatic characters in a flimsy universe, I would seriously recommend her sci-fi books, which have both excellent real characters and real ideas. But I digress.) This latest book, however, is an Arthurian. Rejoice, ye fans of King Arthur! For here is a book which does not attempt to set a new spin on a mythos so overloaded that most recent attempts seem to crash under the weight of explaining exactly how their Arthurian universe differs from all the other ones out there. Rejoice also, fans of historical fiction, for while there is magic in the book, the setting is solidly detailed and historically correct – no 15th century velvet or 18th century potatoes here. But most of all, rejoice, fans of a good story, for this is a cracking good one, with strong characters and plot in addition to the magic and romance.

*In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that Sarah Zettel is a local author and, moreover, though I have met her only briefly, responsible for my husband joining the organization where I met him. In spite of this deep debt, I would not recommend this book to you if it weren’t really truly good.


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