"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Gaining Insight

Yesterday we attended the incredible 'Search for Meaning' festival, Seattle University’s annual community festival dedicated to topics surrounding the human quest for meaning, and the characteristics of an ethical and well-lived life. Hosted on the university’s campus, Search for Meaning draws over 50 nationally and internationally acclaimed authors and artists for an interactive, introspective experience.This is the second time Don and I participated in this event and we were both blown away by what we learned. The day included author presentations on topics including social justice, cross-cultural, racial and inter-religious dialogue, history, poetry, and spirituality.

Keynote presentations by---
-Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor | Redeeming Darkness: A Spirituality for the Night Times
-Ruth Ozeki | A Tale for the Time Being
-Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II and Taylor Branch | Dismantling American Racism: Past & Present

Throughout the day I gained insight, pondered new ideas, discovered information that connected the dots in my understanding, and came away with a renewed determination to be a force for positive change in my world.

Interestingly I sat in on three presentations by authors whose books I have read: Dave Boling, Ruth Ozeki, and Laurie Frankel. In all three of these sessions I gained new insights about their books.

Dave Boling, author of The Lost History of Stars
Dave Boling's second historical novel, The Lost History of Stars, was a recent book club selection that reviewed in an earlier post on historical fiction. Boling's book tells of the atrocities of the Boer War during which the British Army jailed the spouses and children of combatants in concentration camps for 18 months. During that time over 27,000 detainees died of starvation, disease, and other conditions. More civilians died than soldiers killed on both sides combined. Dave Boling decided to write this novel because his grandfather was a guard in the British Army during the Boer War and was likely guarding a camp full of women and children. Boling searched for clues in historical documents in the UK and South Africa, mainly journals and diaries, for a place to start. He discovered the writings of Emily Hobhouse, an activist and reporter who visited the concentration camps and reported back to Britain about the deplorable conditions she found. One of her reports described a mother whose young child just died. The mother's vacant, uncrying eyes were "looking into the depth of grief beyond tears." Boling also found inspiration in Vicktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning. (Apropos for the day, Boling noted!) Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, wrote to help himself and others struggling to make sense of their experiences. At one point during his imprisonment, Frankl was so distraught that all he could do was focus on the memory of his wife's face. Focusing on something good and beautiful led to his understanding that LOVE is our only salvation. Lettie, the protagonist in The Lost History of Stars, still had the stars and night sky her grandfather taught her to love. Even in the most deplorable moments in the camp she was able to marvel and delight in the stars' beauty and the memory of time spent with her 'Oupa'. Similar to Frankl, Letti's survival depended on holding on to love and beauty. Surprisingly my book club hadn't figured out this connection between the stars in the book's title and their vital contribution to Lettie enduring the concentration camp. I gained new insights and appreciation for Boling's book yesterday.

Guernica, by Picasso
In 2009, around the time I began this book blog, I read Boling's first novel, Guernica, about the Basque community bombed in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War by Franco's allies Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. As part of the nationalist lead up to WWII, the bombing of Guernica - infamous as a crime against humanity for targeting civilians not military targets - was a tap root of evil later unleashed on mankind, especially Jewish people, by the Nazis. Boling, whose wife was descended from Basques, decided to write a novel about the community and bombings when he learned that many of the survivors had severe injuries to their hands, not from the bomb blasts but from their attempts to uncover their loved ones from the rubble. "Good writers", Boling said using the words of John Steinbeck, "remind humanity why we are here." Then it is up to the reader to take the message and do something good with it.

Ruth Ozeki, reading from her memoir
Ruth Ozeki, the morning keynote speaker, wrote one of my favorite books, A Tale for the Time Being. Among her many accomplishments, Ozeki is a Zen Buddhist priest. She incorporated teachings of the Buddha into her presentation. One of the three tenets of Buddhism is impermanence. We were reminded of this often during her presentation. Ozeki told us a book has no fixed identity and it will convey different meanings to each reader. She believes that the 'writer' no longer exists after the book is published. She resumes her role an author and the book no longer belongs to her, but to the world. Ozeki described an exercise that consisted of looking at her reflection in a mirror for three hours, and read from the recording of her thoughts and observations, taking the form of a memoir (The Face: A Time Code). She said Zen Buddhism encourages us to abide with the thing that bothers us. As we abide in this way we will gain new insights into ourselves. I was surprised to look back and see that I didn't blog about A Tale for the Time Being, since I liked it so much. Perhaps that means I need to reread the book, since it will be a new and different experience the second time through, so I can write a review from a fresh perspective.

Laurie Frankel, author of This is How It Always Is
Laurie Frankel, the author of another book club selection, This is How It Always Is, presented on the topic of "replacing either/or with in-between." Her adopted daughter started out life biologically as a boy. Her book deals with the same topic. A family with five boys find that Claude, the youngest, though born male is really a girl. The secret the family struggles to keep nearly tears them all apart until 'Claude' and her mother travel to Thailand. There they discover a culture that doesn't define people solely by gender and actually considers three genders exist: male. female, and in-between. This experience of being in Thailand was very healing for the family. Frankel said she has received tons of hate mail since she wrote the book, but all she is asking the reader to do is think of those in-between spaces in our lives - to think of people on a spectrum rather than on one side or another. The wider the spectrum of 'normal', the better the world will be for everyone.

Frances FitzGerald, author of The Evangelicals
The third session we attended featured Frances FitzGerald, author of The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America. A thorough historian, FitzGerald won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for her landmark history of Vietnam and the Vietnam War, Fire in the Lake. I haven't read her 700-page examination of evangelical Christianity, but I am very interested in this topic. In my opinion, some evangelicals are the biggest hypocrites in America today, purporting to be moral people yet they voted overwhelmingly for the most amoral of men, Donald Trump, to be president. FitzGerald said that fundamentalism has been around for over 150 years with origins as an anti-modern, anti-intellectual response to progressive and liberal theology. When asked, FitzGerald said the majority of evangelicals voted for Trump because they are, at their core, Republicans. Simple as that. They like his statements against abortion and think he will appoint judges to overturn Roe v. Wade, so they voted for him despite his moral failings. I didn't feel very enlightened at the end of this presentation, though I found it interesting to learn the anti-modern/anti-intellectual fundamentalists have been around much longer than I thought.

Rev. Dr. William Barber on Skype

The day concluded with an amazing keynote discussion and presentation by two remarkable men: Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Taylor Branch. Dr. Barber addressed us via Skype but had so much to say about continuing the fight for civil rights building on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Rev. Barber reminded us of King's words, that the worst thing we can do is give up the struggle: "We've come too far to turn back now." 50 years after King proposed it, Barber is picking up the Poor People's Campaign. He strives every day to reach racial equality through a moral revival, which he called the third reconstruction. Barber spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, if you would like to hear him speak. He is very inspiring and a great orator.

Taylor Branch signs his book.
Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of a trilogy about the Civil Rights movement that
took him 24 years to write, warns that deconstructing racism is not sufficient, and perhaps is not even possible, without building and expanding freedom. Our peril is racism, our freedom provides hope. If we build on freedom, it is a self-renewing and creative process and will redeem the soul of the nation. Talk about inspiring. Don and I bought his 2013 book The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement. We thought the 190 pages made this book more accessible than the 2000 pages of his trilogy of the movement.

As we discussed and debriefed the day, Don and I were both quite inspired and thought several of the topics discussed helped connect some dots in our understanding. For example, the 2nd Amendment to our Constitution, which many people cite as a guarantee of their right to own guns, was written as a concession to the Virginia delegation so that they could keep their slave patrol militias. Simply put the 2nd Amendment wasn't about guns, it was about keeping slavery. Ugh. (Check out this site for details on this topic.)


5 comments:

  1. I so wish I could have heard Ozeki, and the other presenters sound fascinating too. It appears that you had many ah hah moments. Maybe next year!

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    1. I'll let you know with more notice next time.

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  2. You inspired me to write a supportive email to Laurie Frankel - I loved that book, and I hope she writes more like it!

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  3. Sounds like an amazing event! I also LOVED A Tale for the Time Being and would love to hear the author speak.

    Glad you enjoyed it!

    Sue

    Book By Book

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  4. What an interesting event! It sounds like you came away with lots to think about and I love that you got to see authors whose books you've read.

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