Sarah Bessey and Me

Several years ago, a pastor told me that the Bible’s teaching on women implied that women should never supervise men at work. At the time, I supervised two, so I told him it was too late. So he said that I should give them preference over the women I supervised, just because of their gender. I kid you not. Fast forward a few years, and a woman in our small group opined that a woman’s main role in the workplace is to make the men there feel better about themselves. Try as I might, I cannot find this chapter or verse in my Bible. Furthermore, I think my employer would be much more pleased if I followed the Bible’s real admonition to employees, which is to work for your employer with a great attitude, as if you were working for the Lord, instead of other people.* Apparently, though, no one in the room found her opinion sort of creepy except for me. There was more, but you can imagine my state of mind.

Jesus FeministIn my line of work, book titles run past my eyes all day long every day, and one day that title was Jesus Feminist. I tend to turn away from the word “feminist,” since it is so often allied with the hard-left, pro-choice crowd, but this was just too provocative, so I took a look, read the description, logged into my Amazon account, and made my first acquaintance with this Canadian pastor’s wife, blogger, and mommy.

We all have visions of our future lives when we are young, and having a full-time career was not part of my vision. Mother, wife, and maybe writer, yes. But I believe in a sovereign God, and a decade and a half ago, we went through a life-changing chain of events, and here I am, doing what I sincerely believe is the right thing to do—the honorable, loving, and responsible thing to do—and I have found happiness there. All day, every day, I am surrounded by brilliant, hardworking women who find great meaning in their work. I believe in a God who gifts people with the ability to make other lives better, and who puts each person in place for the good of all. The universe is not random. So how can someone else who believes in a sovereign God say that the way I lay down my life is a sin?

I opened Jesus Feminist and wept in the introduction. I sobbed through the first two chapters. I found someone who had been here before me, and she dealt with her wounds by reading the gospels over and over. She reminded me that Jesus treated women like people. He talked to them directly, against the custom of the day, and never treated them as “other.” She reprinted a Dorothy L. Sayer essay that I read decades ago that is still one of the best things I’ve ever read on the topic of Jesus and women. Sarah Bessey reminded me, in her poetic, storyteller fashion, that Jesus truly loved me, and that’s all I really needed to hear. Some of the later chapters didn’t speak to me as much, but those first chapters were so powerful that this bright yellow paperback has sat on my desk, beside my laptop, ever since then. Not that I told anyone, though, because I knew how controversial she was, and I didn’t want to be met with either gasps or outrage.

Last summer was another life-changing time. Everyone knows that it was a summer of grief over my mother’s death, as well as months filled with unrelenting physical pain from the compressed discs in my neck causing nerve pain all the way down my arm, but I’ve never told the story of the deep wound gouged into my soul during this rough time.

David and I have moved around a lot in our lives. For the first twenty years of our marriage, we moved about every five years for David’s work. Sometimes the transitions were heartbreaking, but we met all kinds of people and learned a lot from them. We studied loads of theology, visited dozens of churches, and had long, intense discussions late into the night with some folks who are deeply lodged in my heart forever. By my best count, we have been members or long-term visitors of ten separate denominations, and more than one church for a couple of those. I feel old just saying that. We’ve hosted church in our house and helped to start a couple of churches from scratch. We’ve driven long distances to church for years a couple of times, just to be sure that the teaching and fellowship we were receiving were truly biblical. We knew of a small denomination that agreed with us that two seemingly opposing ideas were both Biblical, but we never lived near one of their churches until we lived here. We were passionately devoted members of this church for seven years—until last year. When my mother died last summer, my church did—nothing. I received sympathy cards from individuals, and I treasured each one, but as a church: nothing. No meals, no visits, not even a phone call from my most beloved church of my whole life.

In the year since my mother’s death, I have had time to reflect on what God may be teaching me through long nights of grief, pain, and loneliness. I have worked and prayed to forgive, and I have come miles down that road by his grace. I have learned that love, in God’s eyes, is the most important thing, and I’ve repented for the times I didn’t love others as I should have. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” I’ve realized that those first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13 cover all the kinds of churches in the world, from charismatic to reformed to legalistic to liberal, whereas I had only seen individuals in those verses before. The last verse of that chapter, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love,” has become my heart’s cry. I am doing my best to love now, having people in my home, supporting everyone I can, and praying for the most unlikely people. I will never be good at this—it is not my gift—but it is everyone’s calling.

At the same time, other things have become less important. I have started taking stock of the ways that I have fit myself into someone else’s mold, rather than reading the Bible without filters and living what it says. We live in a world full of noise, with someone telling us what to think about everything, and when we agree with one side about an issue, we’re thrown into a box with dozens of other opinions that we’re expected to believe as well. But I don’t, and it’s becoming bewildering to think that I’m the only one who holds nuanced opinions that don’t fit neatly onto a bumper sticker.

Out of SortsAnd along came Sarah Bessey again. When I saw her new book title, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith, I thought, “Yes, that’s where I am.” Truly, if your faith is not evolving, you are just not paying attention, and considering the political events of the past year, I think most Christians are not thinking deeply enough about their faith. The idea that our religion can be co-opted into a political cause is tremendously disturbing in its own right. Combining the events of my personal life with the national, even global, turmoil has caused me to be discouraged and almost despairing for particular churches, but also for the universal Church. Heaven knows the answer doesn’t lie in creating yet another denomination.

Ms. Bessey is one of a growing group of believers who think that the church is ripe for a new reformation, and my heart resonates with that idea. She points out that a major upheaval happens about every five hundred years in the church. In other words, we’re due. We just can’t continue in the splintered, contentious fashion that we now tolerate. Who is for Paul, who is for Apollos, and who is for Jesus?** The world has changed since Martin Luther nailed a paper to a cathedral door to ask for a discussion. Thousands of discussions are taking place every minute on social media with no moderator whatsoever, and in the church, we have no leader. Pope Francis? Jerry Falwell, Jr.?

Sarah Bessey writes by telling stories, and every one is soaked with her passionate love for Jesus. I read this book like drinking a life-giving elixir. I consumed it. To paraphrase Roberta Flack, I felt she’d found my letters and read each one out loud. If I had time, I would go right back to the beginning and read it again. She pulls out one topic after another and encourages the reader to examine it honestly, leading us to be courageous by telling her own life’s stories. She has also been a part of different kinds of churches in different parts of the continent, and she has drawn truth and beauty from each experience, but she now realizes that she cannot fully assent to the beliefs of any one church. No one is right about everything, after all, but neither is everyone else wrong about everything. You may as well tell the truth about how you feel and what you think, rather than making yourself believe something in order to please someone else, because when it comes right down to it, if they don’t love you because you disagree, what do you gain by hiding the truth? The only one who matters already knows what you think, and he can take it. You may not agree with Sarah Bessey on every issue—or, like me, you may not know what you think about some of them—but she will take you gently through all of the things that need sorting out in your heart and mind.

I do believe that the future is hopeful for me and for the church, but I believe just as firmly that there is suffering ahead. The Lord has used my pain to force me to change, to let go of things I held dear, to work harder for the kingdom, to forgive and to love. As Switchfoot’s new album*** says, the wound is where the light shines through, where the grace pours in, where he reaches in to heal. Be courageous! Lean into the pain and love well.

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It was not my intent to hurt anyone with this post, but rather to tell my story so that others who have been deeply wounded can find comfort here. Scripture quotes are from the ESV Bible.

*There is a reference for this! Ephesians 6: 6 & 7.

**Riffing on 1 Corinthians 1:12.

***It always come down to Switchfoot, doesn’t it? I am here freely making inferences from the song “Where the Light Shines Through” and the album of the same name.

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This post was originally published on www.EatReadSleep.com on 7-11-16.

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Book Expo 2016

BEA vendor hall
Just a Tiny Corner of the Vendor Hall

Vast spaces with advertising banners flapping overhead, thousands of vendors tastefully hawking books and book-related technology, and many more thousands of women and men setting up appointments with their chiropractors on their cellphones as they juggle canvas bags of heavy books that they couldn’t resist adding to the piles of unread galleys they already have at home: it’s another Book Expo America.

BEA venueMcCormick Place in Chicago—the West Building, specifically—hosted us this year as we attended excellent sessions with esoteric names such as “Innovation in Children’s Publishing” and “The Story Starts Here: Humor Edition” while navigating escalators and paying outrageous amounts of money for water. BEA started as a conference for publishers and booksellers, particularly for the adult market. However, over the years they seem to be catching on to the fact that libraries spend a lot of money on books, and that the children’s market—especially the exploding YA segment—can be lucrative, too. Two years ago, in New York, there were just a few valuable events for me, but this year, I had a hard time getting to the vendor floor between sessions, although two exceptional events were added the very week before the conference.

Kwame Alexander hug
Kwame and me: we’re best buds.

By the late afternoon on Thursday, the day after the Day of Dialog and Children’s Author Dinner, I was beginning to flag. I had been rained on during the river architecture tour in the morning, had attended several good sessions at McCormick Place and had even done a conquering tour of the vendor floor. Somewhere along the way, I got wrapped up in a bear hug by the amazing Kwame Alexander, Newbery-winning author of Crossover. He’s expanded to picture books now! At the end of the day, the thought of walking across the indoor bridge to the Hyatt Regency for Scholastic’s Picture Book Event was daunting, but I figured I could nurse my blisters later. I’m so glad I made the effort! Three outstanding authors and illustrators greeted us there: David Shannon, Tom Lichtenheld, and Kate Beaton. All of these are much-loved authors, and you can imagine how much fun picture book folks would be.

Picture Book Panel
Kate Beaton, David Shannon, and Tom Lichtenheld

There were musical numbers with audience participation, reader’s theater, and hilarious slide shows. We received galleys of Shannon’s new Duck on a Tractor, Lichtenheld’s Groovy Joe: Ice Cream & Dinosaurs, and Beaton’s King Baby. I had to laugh when Kate Beaton talked about the stages of life on Facebook: you go for years in college when you have nothing but pictures of young adults partying, etc. Then suddenly, your friends get married and their posts are nothing but baby pictures, and you roll your eyes in disgust. Then your sister has a baby, and your Facebook page is nothing but baby pictures, too—but nobody else’s baby is as cute or smart as yours. They left us with terrific gifts, including a signed and illustrated print of all three book covers in a wooden frame, which is now hanging near my desk.

Thursday evening was all about the Sourcebooks cocktail party in the Hancock Tower that I wrote about in my first Chicago blog, so it was serious work, of course.

Torch Against the NightFriday started early, back at McCormick Place for the Children’s Author Breakfast. Let me just state here that the fees for the meals at BEA must go to the speakers, because the menus are a low-carber’s nightmare. Mini-bagels, sweet breads, and fruit. I had had some yogurt back at the hotel, just in case, so I started off this breakfast by popping the top off the coffee carafe and pouring it all over the tablecloth, my purse, and my slacks. I did manage to miss my colleague, thank goodness. The day did improve. Jamie Lee Curtis, who is one of the few celebrities to write children’s books that are truly literary, hosted a panel that included Dav Pilkey, Sabaa Tahir, and Gene Luen Yang, all of whom are brilliant and gave fascinating speeches. Ms. Curtis shared with the audience that her severely challenged son, who is now twenty, could not read until he met Captain Underpants, and so now she has a soft place in her heart for Dav Pilkey. She choked up, they embraced, and the audience wept and had more coffee. Ms. Tahir spun stories of her childhood as a bullied Muslim girl growing up in the American western desert, where her father owned a hotel. I achieved my objective of acquiring an additional copy of the much-anticipated A Torch Against the Night for a certain teen girl that I know who passionately adored Tahir’s debut, An Ember in the Ashes. Gene Luen Yang gave a rousing speech as this year’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, encouraging us to read outside of our comfort zones. I agree with him that our entire world would be a more peaceful place if we lived inside one another’s stories for a while and broadened our worldviews. In all, this author’s breakfast encapsulated the heart of children’s literature: innocence, suffering, laughter, and compassion.

After meeting a favorite author by chance on the vendor floor, sharing stories at a session with the Unshelved guys and other librarians, and setting up a shipping box to send all of my loot home ahead of me, I went to the ABA-CBC Children’s Author Speed Dating Lunch, and this, as mentioned in my last post, is where I geeked out. Here is how author speed dating works: all the participants are assigned to a numbered table, and the authors move from table to table, pitching their latest works for five minutes until the bell rings and they move to the next table and start again. Often, the authors are fairly new or even debut authors. It’s fun, and the tables are piled high with gift copies of their books, just in case you haven’t set up that appointment with your chiropractor yet.

David Arnold.jpg
David Arnold

I had never eaten a meal during speed dating before, and it was tricky. You can’t put food in your mouth while the author is talking, since that seems rude, so you’re stuffing forkfuls of salad in while they walk to the next table. Our second author had just sat down and was plunging into his spiel in a panicked manner, since he had just realized at his first table that the bell rings far too soon. Something he said made me think, “Oh, my gosh, is this…?” as I craned my neck to see his nametag while frantically trying to swallow my lettuce. Then I blurted out, “Oh, my gosh, are you David Arnold?” He stopped talking and nodded, wide-eyed, as if caught in the act of being himself. “Oh, I just loved Mosquitoland so much and forced so many people to read it!” KidsLogoORIGINALFILEI gestured to his new book, Kids of Appetite, and he started talking again. At the end, I asked him if he was signing galleys and got all the info about where he would be. In the meantime, the very dignified woman to my right took over all author comments, since I’m sure she was convinced that I could not behave in a professional manner. This turned out to be a good thing, since I could not say a word later when Arthur A. Levine, a publisher himself, sat down to talk about his new book, What a Beautiful Morning. I could not help crying the whole time, which made him tear up, so the woman on my right was probably in despair that our entire table would be disgraced. This luncheon turned out to be much more wonderful than I expected, so Friday was becoming an excellent day.

Kids of AppetiteAfter this event, I hauled my armloads of books up two flights and immediately got in line at the Penguin booth to get David Arnold to sign Kids of Appetite. There was another line for Sabaa Tahir, but when asked if I wanted to join it, I said, “Oh, I’ve already seen her” in a lofty manner and went to Arnold’s line. I was probably the oldest person in either line, but I probably spend more money on books than any of them, so I felt justified. When I got to the front, he remembered me from the luncheon, since I was so memorable to all the witnesses, and he asked me if I wanted the book to be personalized. I said, “Hey, I did not walk all this way and stand in a line for just a signature!” So he very nicely wrote a bit in it. (I have already finished this book and will post a review later. Hint: thumbs up.)

Maggie Stiefvater
Maggie Stiefvater

The very last session I attended at BEA was the APA Audio Authors’ Tea. Do you know what they served at this tea? Tea. Lipton’s. Regular or decaf. There were also some cookies that I ignored, but seriously, Lipton’s? When I went to Orlando for the Baker & Taylor Vendor Summit, they had a glorious selection of teas set out all the time between sessions. Here, I actually paid for the session and got Lipton’s. Oh, well, I really paid for the event because it featured (drumroll…) Maggie Stiefvater! There were others, too, of course: Terry McMillan, John Scalzi, and Michael Koryta, so no small potatoes. All were great, and discussed the special considerations that go into making recordings of books, which I have found fascinating since touring the Recorded Books studio a couple of years ago in New York. Maggie looks like a character in one of her books, and I hung on her every word. I am so glad that I was able to finish The Raven King—the last of the “Raven Cycle”— before seeing her, and I can’t wait to see what this amazingly creative author serves up next.

And that was it! I shipped off my box of goodies and joined my group of colleagues and my husband for that boisterous final meal of octopus that I wrote about in my first Chicago post. I was able to meet so many of my favorite authors, confer with other professionals, and continue to increase my respect for hardworking publisher reps, and throughout the week, several themes seemed to come to the forefront over and over again. I hope to write about those in a later post.

Thanks to all who made Book Expo America possible!

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The very sophisticated photos of David Arnold and Maggie Stiefvater are from Google searches, probably by very expensive professional photographers. The photo of Kwame Alexander and me is from Baker & Taylor’s Facebook page, courtesy of Jill Faherty of Baker & Taylor’s Children and Teen Services.

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This post was originally published on www.EatReadSleep.com on 5-23-16.

Day of Dialog 2016: Up Close and Intense

Day of Dialog logo

My colleagues and I flew to Chicago to attend Book Expo America, a huge annual gathering of publishers, authors, booksellers, and, increasingly, librarians. BEA lasted three days, the first of which we spent at the Day of Dialog, presented by School Library Journal (for professionals serving youth) and Library Journal (for professionals serving adults). BEA has been in New York for a number of years, but this year was hosted in Chicago, just to give us a change of scene.

Day of Dialog is a wondrously concentrated dose of information tailored specifically toward librarians and teachers whose work it is to push books on kids. SLJ knows just what we need, and presents individual speakers, panels of authors who address trends and issues in current literature, and panels of publisher representatives who fill us in on the hottest upcoming titles by their respective authors. Except for lunch, the participants stay in one room and just soak it all up.

Richard PeckRichard Peck was our opening speaker. At 82, he is still as sharp and witty as ever, and his remarks applied his seasoned wisdom to the edgiest current topics. Nothing is off the table with Mr. Peck! Years ago, while I was in graduate school, I carpooled with a school librarian who was having a tough time with a class of rowdy fifth-grade boys. She asked me for a title that she could read to them, hoping to get them interested in books. I suggested Peck’s The Teacher’s Funeral. Although the humor was down-home, I thought boys would really appreciate it. A couple of weeks later, she thanked me profusely. She bubbled over with good news about her boys, marveling that you could hear a pin drop in her class now, unless the boys were roaring with laughter in all the right places, and that they couldn’t wait to get to her class to hear the next chapter. We felt much the same way on Wednesday, hanging on his every word. You can get a taste of his speech on YouTube here  and here. His latest book, The Best Man, comes out in September.

There were great discussions on the making of children’s nonfiction, particularly illustrated nonfiction guaranteed to entice young ones into learning. If I may recommend a few, don’t miss Will’s Words, by Jane Sutcliffe, who invites us to explore the words and phrases introduced into our language by the bard’s works, Some Writer!, by Melissa Sweet, a biography of E.B. White of Charlotte’s Web fame, and Around America to Win the Vote, by Mara Rockliff, one of many excellent books on women’s suffrage coming out in this 100th anniversary year.

MG topicThe middle grade author panel was worth the price of admission for me. Middle grade books are the ones that we remember fondly from childhood, and almost all of the great classics fall here, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to The Secret Garden. These new authors discussed the truth that we find in children’s literature and the sometimes overwhelming issues that children deal with, whether the adults in their lives try to shield them or not. Middle Grade PanelAdam Gidwitz described his new medieval novel, The Inquisitor’s Tale, which he researched while in Europe with his historian wife. Quite a leap from his Tale Dark and Grimm and Star Wars retellings! I am looking forward to this one. Jason Reynolds, author of As Brave as You (among others), held us spellbound as he mused on the themes that were common to all of us as we read stories of other cultures. As he said, stories are true when they explore the fundamental touchstones of life, such as family and the universal need to be loved. I had the privilege of hearing Jason again at the AAP Children’s Author Dinner that evening (see photo below) when he went into greater depth about his new book that explores a boy’s discovery that his grandfather, who has always been his hero, is totally blind. It is our response to life’s surprises that makes us grow bitter or grow into heroes ourselves. I have a feeling Jason will be a new favorite author for me.

Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird

During lunch, I was able to speak to Betsy Bird, purveyor of SLJ’s celebrated blog Fuse#8, about the fabulous Children’s Literary Salon that she had hosted a couple of weeks before. Presented with the topic “Death and Theology in Children’s Literature,” Nathan (N.D.) Wilson, of 100 Cupboards fame, and Jeanne Birdsall, author of the beloved “Penderwicks” series, discussed the Christian and post-Christian humanist points of view, respectively. SLJ has made this and other webcasts available here. I highly recommend this webcast, particularly for Christian teachers and parents, and for fans of C.S. Lewis who want to see the author lauded for his children’s and adult works. I confess that I watched it live in my family room, weeping and saying, “Yes! This is why we sacrifice for the children!”

YA PanelAfter lunch, Laini Taylor gave a wry and thoughtful speech about genre fiction, which I love, but which is often not valued as highly as realistic fiction. Her hot pink hair was also on display in the following panel of women writers of young adult fiction. Here’s a new statistic by Bowker: more than half of all YA fiction is read by adults!  I do know a lot of adults who read YA, but I thought my perspective might be skewed by my environment.

The day rounded out with a full panel of picture book authors and illustrators. I must admit that I was flagging by the middle of the afternoon, but certainly not because of the program. Another smashing success! Kudos to School Library Journal.

Jason Reynolds
Jason Reynolds

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) Children’s Author Dinner was held at the opulent Palmer House Hotel that evening, and in addition to another brilliant panel of authors, I was surrounded by terrific children’s librarians from around the country. All kinds of shop talk went on while consuming a scrumptious meal accompanied by generous amounts of wine. After dinner, the authors spoke about their books, which included picture books, graphic novels, middle grade fiction, and young adult fiction.

One of the great advantages of attending events like Day of Dialog and the authors’ dinner is that I learn which books the publishers are featuring this season and next season, and I will be sure to order all of these titles, if I haven’t already! That is their point, of course, but it is also the point for me. As a selector, I have learned over the years that if a publisher is pushing a title, they think it deserves to do well, and, conversely, if they choose to market a title strongly, it will do well as a result! This helps me to spend the taxpayers’ money wisely and get the books that kids will love. All of this is in addition, of course, to being starstruck by meeting the authors of my favorite books—my rock stars! Truth be told, I only geeked out once, and that was on Friday, which will be another post!

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The image of the SLJ Day of Dialog logo was obtained from Google Images, as was the image of Betsy Bird. The other grainy, dreadful photos are my own. Apologies to the photogenic originals!

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This post was originally published on www.EatReadSleep.com on 5-21-16.

Where Are the Gangsters?

Chicago DuskBefore last week, when I thought of Chicago, it was dirty, dark, and violent. Have I seen too many movies? My trip to Chicago for Book Expo America showed me a completely different side of the town! Granted, our hotel was in the “North River” area, and I never ventured into the South Side to see Leroy Brown, but our visit was spectacular.

Devil in the White CityAs a librarian should, I read some books before getting on the plane. Besides Fodor’s and Lonely Planet’s guides to Chicago, I read The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson. This nonfiction account of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 introduces the reader to the leading names in architecture of the time, the men (and one woman) who built what they considered the first truly American city. If you can stomach the chapters on the serial killer who was quietly causing young women to disappear at the time of the fair, this book reads like an exciting novel. Larson laces in the names of many historical figures who wove in and out of Chicago’s narrative at the turn of the last century.

Chicago Art Institute
The Art Institute of Chicago

David was able to accompany me on the trip, and we caught a morning flight so that we could take in the Art Institute in the afternoon. It was glorious! So many treasures that I had always wanted to see. We did not have time to go to the special Van Gogh exhibit—the museum closes at 5:00!— but they had other works of his in their permanent collection, anyway. Here are some of my favorites.

First Impressionist room
First sight upon walking into the Impressionist Wing
Paris Street on a Rainy Day
They are staring at Paris Street; Rainy Day, by Caillebotte. I could only get close enough to take this crooked picture!
Nighthawks
Nighthawks, by Edward Hopper. As stark and captivating in real life as I’d imagined.
American Gothic
American Gothic, by Grant Wood. The artist’s niece and his dentist.
Mary Cassatt
The Child’s Bath, by Mary Cassatt

Lou Malnati 2That first evening, we crossed another “must” off of our list by sampling Chicago-style deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s, recommended by a friend who is a former Chicagoan. It tasted fresh and delicious, but I have to say that New York pizza is the real thing for this east-coast girl.

Cubs gameI had professional sessions all day and night the next day, which I’ll get to in a later article, but David took advantage of the time by taking in a Cubs game. Since he’s a South Carolina guy, he’s never met a stranger, so he made friends with a Michigan couple in the hotel elevator who were also headed to the game. They taught him all about the train system, and they rode together to Wrigley Field. David took pictures of the houses all around the field that have benches on the roof! The owners rent the space. Clever! David got a ticket for a cheap seat online, but as the game wore on, the ushers wore out, and he was able to wander down to snap a photo this close.

Architecture Foundation boat

The Chicago Architecture Foundation’s river tour of the city was a highlight of our trip. Even though it was a chilly, cloudy morning, this 90-minute cruise featured all three branches of the Chicago River, narrated by a brilliant architect/ docent who knew all of the technical information as well as fascinating anecdotes of Chicago history. I discovered, to my own surprise, that my favorite styles of architecture were Art Deco and Post-Modern. Although it started to rain and the temperature dropped to what would be winter temps in North Carolina by the time we got to the edge of Lake Michigan, this tour was worth every penny. If you go to Chicago, do not miss it. Here are some of my favorite buildings:

Trump
Right in front as we start off, the modernist masterpiece by a man we can’t escape even when we turn off the TV.
Wrigley Building
The Wrigley Building, built for the man who accidentally made a fortune from chewing gum.
Curved green building far
The long view of 333 Wacker Drive, a postmodern building that curves with the riverfront.
Curved green building close up
A close-up of 333 Wacker Drive that shows the rippling, blue-green glass that reflects the river water. This is possibly my favorite building.

Wedge Bottom building

As you can imagine, real estate is at a premium in downtown Chicago, so architects get creative. If you look closely, you will see that the glass building in the center is being built on a wedge-shaped base, as if it were an arrow thrust into the ground. Amazing engineering.

Willis Tower fog
The top of the Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, peeking from the clouds.
Triangle condos
Some postmodern architects love triangles, and…
Curved condos
some like curves.
Bridge Going Up
The many bridges really work!

David Tilt Chicago

After professional workshops that afternoon, our entire group of librarians was invited to the Sourcebooks Publishers cocktail party at the top of the Hancock building, Chicago 360. What a view! The entire room on the 94th floor is surrounded by ceiling to floor windows. David took photos for hours, catching the changing light over the city and the shores of Lake Michigan. The picture at the top of this post was from this vantage point, and my husband was brave enough to do the Tilt! They put you in a little glass box and tilt it out 30 degrees so that you look down on the city. Although the light was behind him, I can attest that he is the person all the way to the right. At the maximum tilt, he let go of the handles and spread out his arms like Superman. A couple of my colleagues also took the dare. I stood a safe distance away and had an extra cocktail in their honor.

IMG_3328We ended the week at Quartino’s Italian Restaurant, where I had a bowl of tentacles. Not what I expected, but the Frutti di Mare featured more octopus than I had anticipated. We shared lots of other goodies, so it was alright. Great food and a lively place filled with locals. An excellent finish to our trip!

But wait! There’s more! The real reason for our journey to the north was the Book Expo America. In the next posts, I’ll let you in on all the book news and views that I learned from authors and publishers in one info-packed week.

 

 

 

 

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This post was originally published on www.EatReadSleep.com on 5-17-16.

 

Abba’s Child, by Brennan Manning

Abba's ChildA few weeks ago, Switchfoot posted a picture of Jon Foreman’s piano on Facebook. There was some saying or other, but what caught my eye was the pile of books on top, all obviously well-read, with worn covers and creased spines. As a librarian and devoted Switchfoot fan, I had to enlarge the photo and read the titles. I put almost all of those I had not already read into an Amazon cart immediately. Abba’s Child is the first one I opened.

The subtitle of this slender book is The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging, and I think we all feel that longing at times. Manning writes here about the search for the True Self, the person created in God’s image, the one we are supposed to be. When I was a teenager, the slogan was, “Who am I?” As the years go by, we add titles to ourselves that describe our circumstances—father, mother, wife, teacher, doctor, Democrat, Republican—but none of these get to the heart of the matter. Who are we supposed to be, and are we even close?

The most famous chapter of this classic work is called, “The Imposter.” At some point in everyone’s life, often when we enter school or even earlier, we find out that other people react negatively to some of our attitudes or actions. Almost without thinking, we change. We hide the parts of ourselves that no one likes, and we pretend to be someone more presentable, more likeable, more popular. If you’re a parent, you may have seen this in your own children. To an extent, it’s peer pressure, but it goes deeper than just changing our behavior. After a while, we forget who we were before The Imposter started taking shape, and depression can set in when we feel an unexplainable self-hatred. In my experience, a new or altered Imposter can come into being at any point in life where we go through major changes: marriage, new job, relocation to another region, and so on. One reason I read this book first is that I’ve recently become aware of a new Imposter in my life, and I’ve been praying about it and trying to kill her off for the past few months. Manning tells us that we have an Imposter because we don’t believe that God loves us for who we really are, but he does. The True Self is who God created; the Imposter is who we think is more acceptable. Manning helps us to believe that God loves our True Selves, but to have sympathy for the pitiful, frightened Imposter as we work to peel her off.

The rest of the book works from this foundation as we desire to move closer to God. In the Gospels, we can see that Jesus responded to everyone with love and compassion, so when we respond to people harshly, it’s because we are not secure in God’s love for us. Manning also teaches us to live in the present risenness of Christ. If we believe in the past earthly life and resurrection of Christ and look forward to the end of our lives (or end of the world) for our reward, but live our daily lives in between these two events as a dry, duty-filled bleakness, we are not experiencing the power of the present risenness of Jesus Christ. I have known so many good Christians who are missing out on this intimate relationship with God, concentrating on following rules and doing good works. The world is a better place because of them, but they are missing out on so much joy.

There is so much more to this rich volume, and I think I could read it once a year with great profit. Some of the theology is probably too liberal to pass an orthodoxy test, but the vast majority is thought-provoking, comforting, and inspiring. There is a discussion guide at the end, but I can’t imagine discussing these topics with any but my closest believing friends. It is very personal. If you want help rekindling a passion for the One Who knows you best and loves you unconditionally, immerse yourself in this contemplative work.

Highly recommended.

Note: Jon Foreman, besides writing the foreword to the latest edition of this book, recorded a song about fighting against The Imposter. You can listen to it here.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.
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This post was originally published on www.EatReadSleep.com on 4-18-16.

Gardenias

GardeniasMy mother loved gardenias. We have a picture of her as a seventeen-year-old bride, standing beside her World War II soldier, holding a cascading bouquet of white mums and gardenias. To the end of her life, they remained her favorite flower.

Last week, I went out on my back porch to water all of the potted plants, and when I ended up with leftover water in the can, I walked to the end of the porch and poured it into the wildly overgrown gardenia in the yard. Leaning forward, I examined the early spring state of the plant: healthy and covered with leaf buds. No flower buds yet. Then suddenly, I found that I was watering the shrub with my tears.

When my father died in 2004, two mourners who knew her well gave my mother potted gardenias at his funeral. She planted one in her yard, and she gave the other to me. This is the plant at the end of my porch. It sits in front of the dryer vent, soaking up the heat, never invaded by pruning shears, thanks to the ignorance of its owners. By now, it is well over my head, and it blesses us with abundant blooms twice a year. The fragrance seeps through the walls and windows into the house. Intoxicating.

Last year, at the very end of May, we went to South Carolina to see my mother in the hospital. She was about to have surgery to remove her pacemaker, since it may have been causing a serious infection. Just before we got in the car, I cut off a double handful of the last spring blooms and buds from my father’s gardenia plant to cheer her. When we arrived, the nurse was entering the room as I asked whether Mom could have flowers, and her official answer was, “No.” But when she saw the homely nature of the bouquet, she relented. “Oh. Alright.” So we stuck our offering into a plastic hospital pitcher, and the room filled with their aroma. I asked Mom if it was too much in the small space, and she said, “Oh, no. I love gardenias.”

We had no idea that night that a few days later, Mom would leave us to go back to her beloved groom, the fragrance of his gardenias in her hair.

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This post was originally published on www.EatReadSleep.com on 4-2-16.

Meanwhile, Back on the Right

Miss Manners might say that it is impolite to talk about politics or religion in public, but since most of what I talk about in private is politics and religion, and since these are such extraordinary times, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I let you know what I will be putting in the mail tomorrow morning.

The Republican party establishment and the anarchist group Anonymous seem to be strange bedfellows, but it’s even stranger to watch a slate of seventeen of the best candidates the Republican party has had in years being boiled down to Donald Trump. When I marveled to my son that I had never actually met a Trump supporter, he replied, “Yes, Mother, that’s because you work in a library.” It’s true that probably most of the people I work with are Clinton supporters, and most of the people I go to church with are probably Cruz supporters. Until last week, I continued to be an ardent, though lonely, Rubio supporter, because he was super-smart, honest, and reflected my values better than anyone else.

Now that he is gone, it would seem natural for me to gravitate to Cruz, and while I would hold my nose and vote for him, he is just not my guy, for reasons that I cannot list without offending a lot of my favorite people. Not that it matters, because Trump is almost impossible to beat at this point. The rioters can riot, and the establishment can contest, but without a full-on revolution, he will win the nomination. And here is the story that the media have missed completely: The strongest group of voters opposed to Trump are traditional conservatives. Not liberals, not the Republican Party establishment. Conservatives.

At the very beginning of the primary season, when everyone thought he didn’t even have a chance, those of us who are people of faith listened to his hateful rhetoric and turned away in disgust. I have no problem voting for someone who does not share my faith if I believe that person is the best qualified, has good values, and will protect my right to religious freedom. I will not vote for someone who spreads hatred toward entire ethnic groups, or spews ignorant, misogynist remarks, or would force American soldiers to murder babies because of their fathers’ sins. Furthermore, it is so obvious that he has no particular position on– or even knowledge of– the many issues facing our nation. He was fine with partial-birth abortion not long ago; I can watch him saying so over and over. Now I’m supposed to believe that he’s pro-life? He has fallen flat on his face so often in the debates when trying to explain his positions, but his supporters don’t seem to notice! When asked about Cuba during the last debate, he danced around it, and then listened to Rubio explain the situation and his solution, after which Trump more or less added, “Yeah. What he said.” I texted my sister, “Look! He just evolved in 30 seconds!” None of this moves his supporters. I don’t understand.

Once his nomination began to look inevitable, the Republican Party and its operatives, such as Sean Hannity, began to announce that all good Republicans should rally ’round the nominee and support Donald Trump. Excuse me? I don’t know about you, but I chose a political party by seeing which one reflected my opinions the best, so that they could put people in office who would enact and enforce laws that I believe are just and right. In other words, I expect them to work for me. And what did I get? Weak, establishment candidates like McCain and Romney. Now I am supposed to support a ridiculous bigot for the good of the party. What has the Republican Party ever done for me? My votes are moral choices for me, and voting for this hateful man would be immoral. I will not do it. And as for the line, “But if you don’t vote for Trump, Hillary will win!” I say, “And?” I do not see Trump as the lesser of two evils, either.

The Republican Party and the media believe that the Evangelical vote went to Trump. I think that the church has a lot of soul-searching to do, particularly the parents who are sending their children to a certain large university, but in my mind, Trump got the “God and country” crowd, those who think that being a Christian and being an American are the same thing. Those who think that sending little children “back” to a place they’ve never seen is somehow consistent with Biblical teaching on compassion toward foreigners and sojourners. However, I go to church and know hundreds of other Christians who do not attend my church, and as I said, I’ve never heard any of them say that they support Trump. Most are openly supporting Ted Cruz.

How surprised the Republican establishment and the media will be when Trump secures the nomination and they hear that giant sucking sound as traditional conservatives pull themselves out of the Republican Party, finally acknowledging that it hasn’t been our home for quite a while. We’ve been used.

I had just been ranting about this to my longsuffering husband when I saw Franklin Graham on television talking about his Decision America movement. I listened cautiously, fully aware of other prominent clergymen’s recent sycophantic falls from grace, but when he started out with, “I am here to announce that I have left the Republican Party…,” I knew he was on to something. He is traveling the country, encouraging the church to repent of the sins of the nation, and he did not feel that he could be considered honest if he had a party affiliation. There’s a movement I can get behind.

So, I did it. I called the Board of Elections with my questions, and then downloaded and filled out the form on their website, and I am leaving the Republican Party. I am now an unaffiliated voter. No rallying ’round required. In North Carolina, I can still vote in primary elections, and I will vote in November for the other important races. I may write in a presidential candidate, as well, but I will never vote for Donald Trump.

I feel so free! Still doomed, yes, but free.

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Sorry about the lack of pictures. I considered a picture of Trump, but I just couldn’t bear it.

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This post was originally published on www.EatReadSleep.com on 3-19-16.