Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

May 23, 2013

It has been foretold by Agnes Nutter, witch extraordinaire and general loon, that the world is going to end and Agnes Nutter’s book of prophecies has never been wrong. The antichrist and the end of days are upon us.

Good and evil are about to go to war and no one in heaven or hell can be bothered to stop it. That is, no one except a demon that likes to drive too fast and an angel that is enjoying life on earth just a little too much. Crowley, the demon, and Aziraphale, the angel, like doing their respective jobs and they would never completely disobey orders, but they might fudge things just a little to hopefully avoid the apocalypse. Crowley actually likes humans and Azipraphale definitely would miss the music too much. They decide that when the antichrist is born they’ll make sure he is given a bit of heavenly tutoring along with his evil lessons. But when when the time comes, Crowley and Aziraphale realize they’ve made an enormous mistake. They’ve misplaced the antichrist.

Pratchett and Gaiman have written a hilarious story about what would happen if the antichrist were lost and raised by the most normal loving family in the world. Would he still grow up to be harbinger of evil, or could he, along with his misfit pals and his hellhound named “Dog,” actually avoid their fate? It is an endearing tale of what it means to be human, while also questioning the nature of good and evil. It’ll make you laugh out loud, but more than anything, it’ll make you appreciate the band Queen.

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Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley

March 29, 2013

“She didn’t know that preparing for the end of the world would make it that much more likely to come.”

Amaranth is the first of the fifty wives of the prophet, and mother of two daughters, Amity and Sorrow.  Sorrow is the eldest and holds a special place at their temple.  She is the oracle, the one who transmits the word of God to the congregation.  Amity is the younger sister, less zealous and sweeter tempered, with a gift for healing.

The children don’t go to school, don’t know their address, don’t know how to read, don’t know anything not decreed by the prophet.  This ignorance is encouraged as a way of keeping the group off the radar of outside society, who might object and attempt to intervene, especially when it comes to the children.

But the prophet’s behavior is increasingly erratic, and a police officer does come knocking at the door.  The ensuing confrontation spins out of control and Amaranth, fearing for their lives, takes a car and flees with her children.

It takes all Amaranth’s courage to leave, and she is haunted by the feeling that the prophet is in pursuit.  She is unused to the outside world, not to mention driving, and soon crashes in the area of Oklahoma known as no man’s land.  There they are offered refuge by Bradley, a struggling farmer, and Dust, his ward.

Amaranth struggles to rebuild a life for her family.  This is a hard task, complicated even more by Sorrow’s fury at being forced to leave the only home she’s ever known.  She is determined to return to what she knows is her rightful place as a religious leader and is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve this, no matter the consequences.

The resulting struggle between Amaranth and Sorrow is primal and riveting.  Amity is caught in the middle, which turns out to be a dangerous place.

This is not an easy story, but I found its depiction of life within a cult gripping and memorable.  Peggy Riley’s writing is lean and evocative.  The narrative switches back and forth between the present day and flashbacks of how Amaranth came to join the prophet and what finally made her leave.  The wonder of Amity at the outside world is beautifully conveyed.  The portrait of the world of Amaranth and the prophet gives the reader a taste of a world with few familiar moorings.  A memorable story of faith and redemption.

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A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

March 28, 2013

A beautiful first novel by a writer born in North Carolina, Wiley Cash. It is a story of three generations of the Hall family, who live in western North Carolina, and the people who intersect their lives: Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife, Sheriff Clem Barefield, and the one person who plays a defining role in all their lives, Carson Chambliss, the preacher.  A preacher who speaks in tongues, who tests God will to rid people of evil by having them confront poisonous snakes and who papers over the windows of his church so no one not attending his service can be aware of what transpires inside.

The book is mostly the story of Jess Hall, the son of Bill and Julie Hall and grandson of Jim Hall, but it is the Reverend who sets the story in motion. Jess is very protective of his older brother, Christopher who is a mute and nicknamed ‘Stump ‘. And it is what happens to Stump that will either bring the community of Marshall closer together or forever divide it.

The book is divided into sections, each highlighting one of the main players while still bringing the story forward. It is a fascinating look at a part of our culture that is often ignored in today’s fast paced electronic existence. It is wonderfully written book that makes it easy to predict the author’s continued success.

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Read a previous post about this book.

Holy Bible, King James Version

March 8, 2013

In honor of the Grand Opening of our King James exhibit at Cameron Village tomorrow, we are re-posting this blog entry from last year.

In 1517, the German monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Saxony, and the Protestant Reformation was born. According to Luther, it was faith alone that would bring salvation and he believed that people of faith could commune directly with the Most High through prayer and by reading the Bible. The Roman church’s version of the Bible (Vulgate) was in Latin, which most churchgoers did not understand, and the reformers made it a priority to make the Bible accessible to everybody.

In the 1380s, Englishman John Wycliffe had argued that the Good Book should be made accessible to people in their own tongue, an undertaking that landed him in court, and led to laws making translating or even reading the Bible in the vernacular a capital transgression (laws under which Wycliffe’s own body was dug up and burnt), and even though Henry VIII had broken away from Rome, he was outraged by the ideas of Luther. It was in other words still dangerous to  engage in Bible translations when William Tyndale began his project in the early 1520s. Tyndale knew eight languages, notably Greek and Hebrew, which were virtually unknown in England at the time. He also had a strong sense for wonderful phrases and knew the Bible inside out. And, as he saw it, Henry VIII’s divorce of Katherine was not sanctioned by the Bible – a notion that he made public. And that was his death sentence.

But the work outlived the man. In 1604, King James decided that one uniform translation should be produced, and well over 80 percent of the King James Version’s New Testament was in fact the work of Tyndale.

The Bible translation was built on a spare and simple vocabulary, and it was a Bible to be read out and listened to. The King James Version’s impact on the English language and literature is simply awe-inspiring – it has, e.g., contributed 257 idioms to English, more than any other single source – but as in any translation, there are aspects of the sources that are not captured (a fact the translators of 1611 recognized).

The challenges that come with a Bible translation are enormous. For one thing, Jesus spoke Aramaic, but his words were saved in Greek. Furthermore, the Tyndale translation was based on a rendering by Dutchman Erasmus, who in his turn partly used a single twelfth century manuscript that is one of the worst manuscripts available. Erasmus also turned to the Latin Bible of the Roman church, and thus translated that text back into Greek, thereby creating some textual readings that cannot be found in any surviving Greek manuscripts.

But none of this devalues the poetic power of the King James Version. And as Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Anglican Communion, has pointed out, “a good translation will be an invitation to read again, and to probe, and reflect, and imagine with the text. Rather than letting me say: ‘Now I understand,’ it prompts the response: ‘Now the work begins.’ ”

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Find out more about the King James exhibit.

Best New Books of 2012: Emil S.’s Picks

December 7, 2012

Sometimes readers seek books out. Sometimes it’s the other way around. These books ended up in my hands thanks to my position at the library. They are also some of my favorite books of 2012. — Emil S.

Evolution of the Word: Reading the New testament in the Order it Was Written by Marcus J. Borg
Jesus grew up poor in an era that was politically oppressive and economically exploitative, as the ruling classes used violence against their own populations to maintain control, and engaged in war to expand their wealth and power. Jesus’ teachings are exceptionally radical, and he was not on earth to start a new religion – his calling was to restore faith, tear down religion and its ceremonies, and to make way for the kingdom of God: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:52). Jesus challenged the system to show its true face, and its response was to force a crown of thorns on his head and to hammer nails through his flesh and bones. Here Borg arranges the texts of the New Testament in chronological order (as opposed to traditional canonical order), and by doing so, he shows how the radical teachings of Jesus – the Way – eventually became a movement concerned with “maintaining power and control.”

An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies by Tyler Cowen
When Tyler Cowen’s An Economist Gets Lunch was published, it received some well-founded negative criticism in the New York Times, and the reviewer, Dwight Garner, wrote, “Bitterness and gloom bespeak seriousness of purpose.” True enough. But Cowen’s book is nevertheless worthwhile reading, and being a professor of economics he’s bringing an intriguing perspective to the food debate. Cowen shows how economic circumstances affect both the quality and the price of a restaurant, and how all kinds of quirky culture – including food culture – nowadays, due to financial circumstances, tend to be found on the peripheries of major cities. The book is filled with analysis and well-meant advice, and perhaps Cowen’s eating-out philosophy can be summed up like this: If you want good, cheap food, try the streets before the avenues.

Did Jesus Exist? the Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth Bart D. Ehrman
There are those who say that Jesus is a myth, created by the early church, but the vast majority of scholars of antiquity and Bible studies agree that, yes, Jesus did exist. Bart D. Ehrman is a historian and a professor of religious studies at UNC, Chapel Hill, and to him evidence matters. People may be opposed to Ehrman’s claims, but no one should doubt his integrity. The professor’s book – Did Jesus Exist? – reads like a detective story and the tools used to unearth a probable truth are mainly contextual credibility, multiple attestation, and the criterion of dissimilarity The close readings of available sources are simply breathtaking and as Ehrman discusses the different texts, he brings the reader almost within arm’s length of Jesus from Nazareth.

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco
Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is a furious and fearless attack on what they refer to as “unfettered capitalism” in America. In a way, it is prophecy in the traditional sense, as the creators of the book show the reader what is going on in the country today. But it is also a warning of things to come, as the pair claim that the development of a permanent and large American underclass may be under way. Not all readers will agree with the duo’s gloomy warnings and their call to arms, but the portrayal of poverty in America is powerful, important, and upsetting.

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
Colby and Beverly have been best friends since forever, and after high school they are supposed to share a year in Europe. Then Beverly reveals that she’s won’t join Colby – instead, she will attend college in autumn. Colby is stunned and a seed of doubt has been planted: how well does he know his friend, himself, and the world? And now they’re supposed to travel together as Colby is the roadie for Bev’s band – The Disenchantments – that will tour small towns of the American Pacific. Colby has to adjust to the new situation in this novel about an ever-changing world that can be a dead end and an open road, and Colby says: “Just when I thought we had figured everything out, here it is: something else.”

Best New Books in 2012: Amy W.’s Picks

December 6, 2012

This year was a great year for books! I am pretty sure I say that every year. I read anything and sometimes everything. I don’t really have a favorite genre or type of book; however, there are a couple of qualities that make me a happy reader. I love a sassy character that can role with the punches. Many times these characters become my friends (ok, that is probably just a little sad) and I find myself reflecting on the fun times we had together. I also love books that are sparsely written in which every exacting word creates layers of meaning. These sentences are like tiny, savory poems read again and again until I am sated. My favorite books this year share at least one if not both of these qualities.
Drum roll please! Here are my favorite new books published in 2012:  — Amy W.

We Sinners by Hanna Pylväinen  
We Sinners follows each member of the twelve member Rovaniemi family in the day to day struggles with a life as part of the Laestadian sect of Lutheran Church. When two siblings fall prey to the temptations of popular culture, everyone reacts, and the author gives us each family member’s perspective. Delicately written, We Sinners explores the need to be at peace with the world, with our community, with our family and with ourselves.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of letters written to the online advice column Dear Sugar. Look, these letters aren’t pretty; they are depressing and this book is tough to read cover to cover. What is beautiful is the advice Sugar (Cheryl Strayed) gives them. It is not enough to say her advice is from the heart, rather from the often dark depths of her also difficult life, artfully crafted into a gift.

Tell the Wolves I Am Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
It is 1987 and fourteen year old June grieves for her Uncle Finn, the only member of her family with whom she truly connected,  who passed away after a mysterious illness. Everyone is privately grieving for Finn. Left to her own devices, June sets out to discover the real Finn. What she discovers changes everything and changes nothing in this wonderful debut novel.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
Myfanwy Thomas (pronounced Miffany, according to the author) wakes up in the rain surrounded by dead bodies and she has amnesia. No longer tethered to her former personality, Myfanwy cracks wise and tries to solve the mystery of her existence while defending Britannia from supernatural threats. The Rook is a fun genre-bending page turner! Don’t just take my word for it, though, see what my colleague Dan wrote about this debut novel earlier this year.

Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Bernadette Fox , the mysterious wife of a Microsoft elite engineer and mother to insightful 15 year old Bee, is missing. Bernadette is no longer able to meet demands of that life, in fact, unless you want a mud slide crashing through your house or to live in decrepitude while your living space is consumed by the earth, you should probably stay out of her way. This book is hilarious as Bernadette expounds on the absurdity of happy homemaker. Told through emails, letters and faxes, this is book is fun to read or to listen to as an audio book.

By the way, my absolute favorite book of 2012 is The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. It seems my co-workers agree with me – Pam W. and added it to her top 5 of 2012, and Janet L. reviewed it earlier this year. Great minds think, and read, alike!

The Devil in Pew Number Seven by Rebecca N. Alonzo and Bob DeMoss

November 20, 2012

I had no idea what a fascinating and appalling story I was in for when I began this book. Unbelievably, it’s true.

Becky Nichols’ early childhood was filled with warmth and love. Her father, a traveling preacher, came to religion late in life and was determined to share the good news with everyone he possibly could. Her mother, who joyfully followed her husband in his travels, thought she might never have children and was extraordinarily grateful when God brought Becky to them, and astoundingly, a boy a few years later. The little family found themselves called to Sellerstown, N.C., a small community in southern North Carolina in need of Pastor Nichols’ fellowship. The people of Sellerstown welcomed the Nichols family with open arms, with one exception.

It wasn’t long before they found themselves being terrorized by a neighbor who wasn’t happy about the changes at the church. Arrogant and confident, he seemed pleased at the chaos he observed from his spot in the seventh pew of the church. The level of wrath is truly unbelievable. The family was bombed, threatened, and harassed, with windows exploding into the sleeping baby’s bedroom, yet Pastor and Mrs. Nichols refused to give in and leave. This choice would come to haunt them when their house was invaded by another disgruntled neighbor whose abused wife was seeking refuge with the Nichols’.

The power of tolerance and forgiveness are constant themes throughout the book, and I’m amazed at the ability of this family to withstand such tests with only their faith in God and their ability to believe in the good in people to hold them up. Even while their family was being pummeled with bombs and firearms, Pastor and Mrs. Nichols comforted their children by telling them that when God wanted them to leave, he would not be sending that message through the Devil. They were not afraid to die for the Lord. While I find this extremely frustrating, I’m still incredibly impressed by the strength of their ability to see the good in other people, no matter how they behave. If that isn’t enough, Becky explains that the perpetrator of all the terror came to her to ask for forgiveness, yet she had to tell him that she had ALREADY forgiven him. It would be an astounding act in itself to forgive someone who had caused such pain for her family, but to do so without even being asked boggles the mind. Becky spends the last chapter of the book talking about forgiveness and how, at least for her, it’s not about letting someone else out of prison but about letting HERSELF out of the prison that hatred can create.

I would be remiss not to add that the writing is lovely. Becky has offered a beautiful tribute to her parents and the influence they had on her and many other lives.

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The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

September 20, 2012

https://i1.wp.com/www.syndetics.com/index.aspxImagine if your whole family disappeared, and you were the only one left. Or maybe it was your best friend who was suddenly gone, or that kid you went to elementary school with, or your mailman. It might have been The Rapture that took them, but there’s no real way to know. They’re gone, and you’re still here. You’re one of the leftovers.

On October 14th, thousands of people suddenly disappeared from earth, leaving their friends, families, and worldly goods behind.  The Sudden Departure, as it came to be known, changed the shape of things across the world – religious groups were sparked, new philosophies and movements ran rampant, and the “survivors” had to learn to cope with losing their loved ones, and also with not being chosen themselves.

Tom Perrotta’s most recent book (named one of the best books of 2011 by NPR, the New York Times, and Kirkus, among others) takes you inside the lives and minds of the Garvey family and portrays the aftermath of the Sudden Departure on each family member. Although the events of October 14th didn’t directly affect the Garveys (parents Laurie and Kevin and their two teenage children, Jill and Tom, are all survivors,) they will never be the same. Laurie joins a cult of silent “watchers,” who are tasked with (silently) reminding those around them of what has happened. Kevin, now effectively a single parent, does his best to care for Jill and her friend Aimee (whose mother is among the missing.) While searching for love and companionship to help ease his pain, Kevin finds Nora, who has lost a husband and two young children – her entire family.

And then there are the kids.  Jill is an “Eyewitness” — she was there when her friend Jen disappeared — and has filled in her sadness with drugs and alcohol and sex. Tim is absent from the rest of the family after dropping out of college and not returning home, but has joined another sort of cult and traveled the country spreading their word. Now unsure about the choices he has made, Tim begins to question what he should do next.

I’ve read some criticism about The Leftovers lacking a real ending, but the way Perrotta closed the book left me feeling hopeful and excited for each character. He doesn’t complete the individual story lines, but shows the direction their new lives are heading.

The only other Perrotta book I’ve read is Little Children , which I also really enjoyed. Next I’ll pick up either Election  or The Abstinence Teacher – any recommendations on which is the better?

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The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

July 27, 2012

If the inhabitants of hell were to take a field trip to heaven, and had the option to stay there or go back to hell, what would they do? That question is the subject of C.S. Lewis’ fantastical tale The Great Divorce.

With his trademark mixture of humor and seriousness, Lewis describes his characters taking a bus ride from the dark, dreary “mean streets” of hell to the open sunlit fields of heaven, where they are met by glorious beings of light who try to convince them to stay. The action is seen from the point of view of a narrator who is never named, but who seems to have been some sort of teacher in his lifetime (Lewis himself was an Oxford don). Our narrator spends a large part of his time talking with and observing the others as they make their choices.

This new place isn’t exactly comfortable for any of the visitors from hell; everything in heaven is real and solid, whereas they are “ghostly” and insubstantial. They cannot even bend the grass blades and must hobble around painfully. The heavenly beings assure them that in time they will grow stronger and more solid, but most of them are afraid of being “taken in” or simply prefer the dark. It’s beautiful in heaven (at least it doesn’t drizzle all the time, like in hell), but most of the ghosts prefer a known misery to an unknown promised good, especially one that requires them to change their old established patterns. They want to bring part of hell with them or want heaven to bow to their terms before they will accept the offer.

Lewis clearly shows us that such characters are not really choosing heaven, but hell. They would like to make heaven into a place where they can continue doing whatever it was that got them into hell in the first place. In short, they don’t trust God and His idea of goodness, so they troop back onto the bus.

One of the glorious beings talks with our narrator, and the latter part of the book consists of their conversation. The heavenly messenger sums up the choice this way: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.” There is a great divorce between the two, and you cannot have it both ways.

C.S. Lewis superbly illustrates the tremendous difference between these choices. However, at the same time, he shows us how subtle the difference can seem, how one tweak in our thinking leads to another to another to another, taking us step by step closer to heaven—or hell. It helps to have some signposts, like this thought-provoking book, to point us in the right direction.

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The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn

July 25, 2012

I vividly remember reading this book. I was home sick and read it from cover to cover in about 3 days, even though the book is over 600 pages. I absolutely could not put it down, despite not feeling well at all. The book begins with Mendelsohn describing how his elderly relatives would cry when he entered a room. They would tell him how much he looked like his Great Uncle, Schmiel. No one would ever say anything more about Schmiel, his wife, or his four daughters, other than they were “killed by the Nazis”. Later, as an adult, he found a set of letters from Schmiel, asking for help to leave Poland. Mendelsohn decided to search for more information, and to see if it would be possible to find out exactly what had happened to them.

Mendelsohn’s research uncovers as much information about the small town of Bolechow as it does about his family. He travels to meet the survivors of the town who are now living in Israel, Australia, and many other places. His goal is to get as many descriptions as possible of the life they lived and what happened during the war. The stories he hears are like many stories from other towns of Eastern Europe: how the local population were often worse in their persecution of the Jewish population, but also how brave people helped or hid some of the Jewish people. In addition, he learns the complicated history of this town which had belonged to several different countries over time, including Poland and Ukraine.

The book is a combination of a personal journal, a mystery story, and a historical quest. Mendelsohn succeeds because he learns not just about his family’s deaths, but also about their lives. They become real people to him with personalities, likes and dislikes, and complicated lives before they died. They are no longer just six names listed among the six million who died.

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