Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Banned Books Week and My High Horse

I wouldn't exactly call it a trend, though it's certainly been getting some press lately.  No, I've seen it for years.  To be honest, I've probably participated in it, though it was many years ago when I was a very different person.  In the circles I ran in, it was the way things were done.  There were angry whispers, shaken heads, hands thrown up in despair.  It was the end of the world.

Except it wasn't.  And people are still declaring the end of all things decent twenty, thirty years later. (And let's be real, this is a practice that has a much, much older history than my childhood.) What is this epidemic am I referring to?  The idea that we mere humans cannot withstand exposure to (and heaven forbid exploration of) beliefs, opinions, or lifestyles that differ from our own and that we need to weed out the problematic content.

Everywhere I look, there are people in a frenzied scramble to control/erase/hide all ideas that do not align with their personal worldview.  Parents are challenging library books, students are denouncing college courses or book assignments, citizens are protesting against whole ethnic/religious groups.  Somehow, in a country supposedly founded on ideals of free thought/speech and separation of church of state, we as a nation have decided that those rights only belong to the select few who think a certain way.

It's not a new problem.  It's not a problem that's going anywhere.  What disturbs me most, though, is the number of people who are basing these protests and challenges on their personal Christian beliefs.  

That show/movie/book shouldn't be allowed because there are gay people in it.  

That book doesn't belong in the school library because it's about Muslims.  

You know what news stories I'm talking about.  You've seen them too.

Now I know what the people who make these statements would say to me.  They would aim all their righteous indignation in my direction and insist that in addition to eternal damnation, I am risking tramping all over their right to freedom of religion.  That it's their right to believe those things are wrong/evil/whatever.

To which I would say, Exactly.

You have a right to believe anything you want.  You can believe it's wrong for a woman to leave the house or have a job or a blog where she rants incoherently while a large dog breathes down her neck and a kitten claws at her legs. (Too specific?)

What you don't have the right to do is to decide what others believe, or for that matter to decide what other are exposed to.  You don't want your kid to read/watch/see anything related to homosexuality?  Well, good luck with that.  But hey, it's your right to attempt it anyway.

But stop blaming it on Christianity.

Somehow, in the Bible Belt at least (where I live), it has become accepted that if you call yourself a Christian, you are automatically aligned with the ultra-conservative, ban-it-if-we-don't-believe-it crowd.  People I encounter and who know I call myself a Christian, feel I'd be psyched to hear about how some book should be eliminated from their kids' school for scatological humor.  (Yeah, they REALLY don't know me very well.)  It is assumed that I share their outrage over television/movie/book content.

So, here's the thing.  My God is bigger and more powerful and more full of love than anything I can imagine.  My God does not need my defense.  If he is too weak for questions and doubts and people with differing opinions, different religions, then he wouldn't be much of a God, would he?  I have read nothing in Scripture that suggests we were put on this earth to police anyone's behavior but our own.

If you feel morally conflicted about a television program?  Don't watch it.  Don't let your kids watch it.  If you cannot in good conscience read that book assigned for that new course?  Then let the professor know.  He or she will either make other arrangements for you, or they won't.  Suck it up and take the consequences.

But here's where you must draw the line: Don't insist that everyone else should adhere to your personal convictions.

That's it.  It's that simple.  You should absolutely follow the way you feel God is leading/convicting you.  What you should not do, is demand that everyone else is being led the same way and they just missed it.


And yet, I'm not finished.  Because I haven't alienated enough people, I'm going to take it one step further and encourage you to read that book about someone different from you.  Did I mention that my God is not threatened by the infinite variety of human beliefs?  He won't be contaminated by you reading about and trying to understand more about people of other faiths.  Regardless of your feelings/beliefs on homosexuality, reading/learning about people who are gay is only going to help you understand other people.

Because that's what we're talking about here.  Beneath all the labels -- Muslims, gays, minorities, Democrats (GASP!) -- we're still just talking about people.  And here's the thing:  Most people are trying to do the best they can with what they were given.  Yes, even that jerk who drives all the way to the end of the entrance ramp and then wants you to let him into standstill traffic like his time is more valuable than everyone else's.  (Grrr.)  Even that guy is probably not setting out to ruin your day, destroy your belief system, or bring down the American family.  (Well, maybe that guy is, but NOT Syrian refugees looking for asylum, or that professor teaching the class on different perspectives of 9/11, or that writer who published a picture book about gay penguins -- how have I not read that book yet?)

So, here's the challenge.  Read outside of your comfort zone (you'll notice I didn't say, "outside your conscience.")  Learn about people and beliefs and ideas that are different than your own.  And most importantly, don't be afraid.  God isn't frightened by a memoir about being a lesbian raised in a funeral home.  And Christians are not (or at least shouldn't be) a people of fear.

And that's my Banned Books Week Shout-out/Rant.  You may now go about your normal lives and not post annoying things in the comments.

(Note/Freebie: Seriously, if I hear one more news story about some ridiculous book or class challenge from the state of South Carolina, I'm going to start claiming one of the many other places I've lived as my "home state.")

Monday, September 28, 2015

Writing Less, Grading More

Remember back at the beginning of the semester when I couldn't wait for all the writing time I would have on my day's off from teaching, you know, while Kiddo was in school?  Wasn't that ADORABLE?  I am nearly thirty-eight years old, and yet I somehow didn't see the schedule onslaught coming.  Tuesdays and Thursday are my "off days," my days with no scheduled classes.  So what am I doing besides writing on those two, long, glorious days?  Let's see...

Every single doctor's appointment that I ever have has to be on Tuesday or Thursday because my school schedule interferes on the other days.  Thursday morning/afternoons I spend helping out in Kiddo's classroom at school.  Every Thursday.  I thought the whole idea was for me to get a break from kids.  (Wasn't that an adorable assumption, as well?)  One Thursday a month, I get to go to a literary lunch at school, which is nice, but it's also me not writing.  Either way, both events end with me hauling ass to Kiddo's school to be first in car line (a separate post in itself) so that we can go to gymnastics (my own baptism by fire in the uncharted waters --for me-- of forced conversation with mom strangers.)

So that leaves the occasional Tuesday when I don't have anything scheduled.  (Every other Tuesday, I am interrupted by the cleaners, but that's a bit of a first world problem, isn't it?  Well, let's be honest, this whole rant is.)  Tomorrow should be an unscheduled Tuesday (mostly), but I kind of want to cry when I think about the rest of the week, about all the writing I'm not doing.  Oh well, I'll figure it out, you know, about the time the semester ends.

Anyway, the above is why I've disappeared from blogging much lately.  It's difficult for me to even collect my thoughts enough to put words down for a quick update.  I'm afraid my rare profound thought/comment is reserved for my students (they're probably still waiting for me to come up with something.)  School is going relatively well.  Freshmen are still freshmen, and I still could really use a scheduled nap.

On the good, good news front.  I got a cold a couple of weeks ago!  How is that good news, you ask? Well, the good news is that I got a regular old run-of-the-mill cold that remained exactly that, ran it's course, and then went about it's merry way infecting all I came into contact with.  It did not turn into bronchitis or pneumonia.  There were no ambulances or steroids or stern lectures about staying hydrated.  Just a cold that my immune system (and lungs) dealt with in a very routine way.  It was just so incredibly normal and mundane and like everybody else.  As far as colds go, it was nice.

On the best news ever front, fall break is coming, and I'm off while Kiddo has to slog away at kindergarten.  I am determined to get something done besides reading/grading papers during the break (and I don't mean housework/organization projects!).

Must. Write.

This picture has nothing to do with my post.  Just including it because it's Kiddo's, and it's awesome.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Out of Sorts Launch Team - Sarah Bessey

Last Wednesday was a bad day.  Actually, last week was a bad week.  I'm not going to break down every gory detail, but let's just say it was one of those weeks that we all have and would like to pretend don't happen.  But it did, and Wednesday was exceptionally bad.  Like lemon juice on a paper cut bad.  

Before I slip into some serious hyperbole, however, let me tell you something GOOD that happened on Wednesday.  I got an email saying that I was on the launch team for Sarah Bessey's upcoming book, Out of Sorts!!!!  What does this mean, you ask?  Well, let me tell you.  I get to read Out of Sorts NOW instead of having to wait until the release date, November 3.  As I read (and after), I will be posting and tweeting and talking about and promoting this amazing book every chance I get, and I am honored by this opportunity.  In addition, all of the launch team folks (from all over the world) have a secret group page on Facebook (secret probably isn't the right word, but it just sounded so important and mysterious) where we can chat and share and just generally soak up all the good vibes of fellow Bessey readers.  So all in all, a great deal and a much-needed positive in an otherwise horrible week.

So your next question: Who is Sarah Bessey, and why should I care?  If you know me even distantly, or have read my blog, you have probably heard me talk about Sarah Bessey's first book Jesus Feminist, a book so amazing I read it twice, and I can already tell that Out of Sorts will definitely require re-reading.  Sarah Bessey is a Canadian author who grew up in church, took a step or two away from organized religion, then came back with a changed perspective.  She writes about all the questions and doubts that make so many evangelical fundamentalists uncomfortable.  She doesn't shy away from uncomfortable; in fact, she rejoices in it.  Her first book was full of joy and insight and humor, and at just past the halfway mark in the new title, I would have to say that #2 is following the same pattern.  

I will be writing more (and in more depth) about this book both here and in my various social media accounts.  But for now, more time writing means less time reading this amazing book.  So I'm going to back to it!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

What I'm Reading and What You Should Read NOW (plus TBR)

So it's been a busy reading season lately.  I don't know if it's all the books I picked up at Wonder Book in Frederick or all the BookTube I've been watching or what, but I've been plowing through the titles in August/early September.  I've already talked about some of my favorites here.  But I've managed to squeeze in several more since that post, with one standout in particular, but first:

The Reader, Bernhard Schlink

I'll admit that this was not on my must-read list, but I found it at Wonder Book (a bargain) and decided to pick it up. It was not at all what I expected.  Actually, I don't really know what I expected, but this was a fascinating look at an entire nation's ability/struggle to deal with national sins and personal culpability.  So many more thoughts were swirling in my brain after I finished this, so many more questions -- in my accounting a sign of an excellent book. 

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

This was a local used book store find.  I was excited to read it as I'd heard so many good things, and everything about this book seemed to line up with my taste.  I wanted to love this book.  But I didn't. I didn't hate it.  But it felt like a bit of a slog to get through it.  Something about the shuffled narrative (which I usually love) just didn't work for me in this book.  The way details are doled out in seemingly random doses aggravated more than intrigued me. Much of the book is written from the limited perspective of very small children, but rather than trusting the reader the to see beyond their childish understanding, we are given sections that explain; we're told how everyone feels.  I was awash in so many human emotions that it nearly drowned out the narrative.  Maybe if I had read this one in another time and place, I would have loved it.  But alas, I read it this year, this season, and I just didn't.

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

Cue the music.  Cue the gushing.  Just finished this book last night, and I cannot say enough good things about it.  Toni Morrison's blurb on the front, "This is required reading," is not hyperbole.  I have never read or encountered in other media a more honest and powerful discussion of what it means to be black in America.  I cannot imagine how anyone could read this book and remain unchanged or unaffected.  This is one of those books that after the last sentence I felt like I needed to immediately read it again with highlighter and notebook to catch all the things I missed the first time.  Read this and you will be moved and convicted and changed.  I guarantee it.  Just read this book.

My current read is Jonathan Franzen's Purity, the fiction new release with all the buzz right now.  It is a monster doorstop kind of book, so I'll be reading it for a while, but here is a glimpse at my TBR books-in-waiting:

Note the assemblage masterpiece courtesy of Kiddo and an entire roll of scotch tape.

So lots of good stuff taunting me from my dresser.  Of course, there are also piles of lessons to plan, papers to grade, and writing to be done, so it may be a while before I get to some of these.  Maybe I can even make my Wonder Book haul last me though the end of the year? Or not.