Thursday, February 22, 2018

#ALLTHEBOOKS!



I literally say this to my mom every time she visits for the weekend. I'm 35. I'm not sure if that makes it more funny, or less funny and more sad. Either way, they're MINE, ALL MINE.

#ALLTHEBOOKS!

Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction


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Rating: I don't know

I am not quite sure what I was expecting out of this one. I do know it is the first book I have ever seen in a Christian bookstore that has a pride flag on it, and that alone piqued my interest. The subtitle still made me wary, and the title downright annoyed me. The former because I thought it might end up being yet another Christian telling gay people how "wrong" they are, and the latter because grace is not messy. Grace is perfect each and every time, WE are the messy part.

The author is a pastor now, though growing up he was not a Christian and instead was on the other side of the fence, watching how so-called Christian treated his family. Kaltenbach's biological parents, who divorced when he was two, are both gay. His mother began a relationship with a woman named Vera that lasted until Vera's death many years later. His father did not come out until after Kaltenbach finished college. In high school he joined a Bible study group in order to disprove the Bible, he says, only to find himself drawn to Christ, eventually becoming a Christian.

I had to take a long pause between finishing the book (which I did in a couple hours) and writing the review. This subject is deeply personal to me because for one, I believe that love is love and God does not make mistakes. Because God does not make mistakes, He intentionally created both heterosexuals and homosexuals. So, my issue is first and foremost a from the human perspective of, "Don't be a shitty person to someone who is different from you." My second reason is because there have been several fabulous men throughout my life who have been my very best friends. Some of us have drifted apart as we grew up and moved on from college, some of us are still going strong, and some of us have come to know one another later in life. Any way you slice it, God created these men in my life, and the countless others who identify as LGBTQIA. I spent a significant amount of time texting my pastor as I was reading, bombarding him with all kinds of questions. As an aside, he and I discussed church outreach and the fact that our church needs to be better at this aspect. I actually gave him the book the next day at church, and I am really excited to be part of the future ministry involving our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters. I know my position is at odds with the official church position on gay marriage, etc, but I know this kind of ministry is also part of my purpose and God will use me in some way. I am very much looking forward to that opportunity. There is a list of questions near the end of the book that deal with a variety of scenarios and how your church might respond to any of them. Questions such as, "If a transgender woman wants to join the women's Bible study, would that be allowed?" and vice versa if the situation involved a transgender male. Of course to all of these questions I am personally saying, of course! But I know that may not be the reaction of others, and time and again I was reminded that I am not part of the author's target audience. Or, I should say that I am but in an opposite way of his main audience; I have the part where he calls all Christians to love ALL neighbors, not just some. I do not, however, necessarily agree with the theological aspects and in that way, I would be what he considers someone for his target audience because in his eyes I am not "loving with truth". 

Naturally given my stance on this issue, I did have an issue with some of the statements the author made. The first was this one:

"We can accept others as friends and family without approving of their life choices" (47%).

That's great, except being gay is no more a choice than being straight is. I never sat around thinking about it, and then chose being straight. That is just how I have always been. I am attracted to males, as a female, and that is how God made me. The same holds true for so many of my gay friends. I can not even count the number of times we've had deep conversations about a myriad of issues involving gay rights, and so many express to me that they knew very early on that they were attracted to other boys. we're talking elementary school here - and this should be surprising, seeing as how we have all had those playground crushes, chasing the object of our affection around. The other telling piece for me is that in these same conversations, many have also expressed the sentiment that their lives would be easier if they were straight (but keep in mind, all of these conversations took place prior to the monumental Supreme Court ruling that finally said same-sex marriage was legal in all 50 States). Please genuinely think about that - so many individuals I loved and cared about, wishing they could change this huge part of who they were.

I also took issue with this one:

"Nevertheless, the account of this event back in Genesis does say that the men of Sodom were aggressively seeking to have sex with Lot's visitors (angels who had taken the appearance of human males)" (38%).

What an interesting way to describe...RAPE. Can we please stop equating sex and rape? Not the same thing.

Perhaps my biggest issue of all is the choices that the author presents as viable alternatives to people of the LGBTQIA community. In order to stay true and faithful to God, he says that there are one of two choices:

1. Be celibate

2. Marry someone of the opposite sex

"Since God designed sexual intimacy for a man and a woman, I believe celibacy is the right choice for people with same-sex attraction. In fact, it's not only the right choice, but it's a good choice for them, one they can embrace with gratitude" (60%).

I just can't believe that this is the best option, and one they should be grateful for. I struggle to reconcile the fact that God did create us as sexual beings, and He created ALL of us, yet one of those groups He created is to either remain celibate or enter into a heterosexual marriage. Why would God create such a scenario? 

One thing I truly did appreciate about this book is the author's attempt to tear down this barrier and do away with the mentality of an "us vs them" kind of situation. You have "Christians" like those fools from Westboro who spew venom about God hating gay people, and then everyone wonders why an LGBTQIA person might be wary of church in general. Plus you have all the additional crap spewed  but those who are not remotely connected to Westboro also being really awful, so basically no one should really wonder why He also uses his own situation as an example, stating how when he decided to become a Christian, and told his parents, they both reacted very negatively. In fact, his "coming out" Christian to them, reads very much like an LGBTQIA person coming out to their family and receiving a negative response. I feel that due to the author's own experience of being rejected in a way, that he understands how those on the other side feel and that is why he repeatedly says Christians must be gracious and compassionate.

Still, this book is tough for me in many ways, but it all ultimately comes back to the two choices presented as the only viable options: celibacy or heterosexual marriage. Even while the author states time and again that Christians must look at how they treat others who are different, and must be compassionate, loving, and kind, it doesn't seem real. Or, maybe real is not the right word, and I do not for a moment doubt the author's sincerity, but I am not even quite sure what word I am looking for. I also appreciate the author's honesty is stating that the reader may disagree with some parts of the book while whole-heartedly agreeing with others, and that is okay because he is not a theologian and does not ever claim to be. He too is still learning and figuring things out for himself. But time and again he calls for Christians to be gracious. Not in a patronizing kind of way, but a true and gracious way of loving others as Jesus commanded and loved us.

One important point to make is that this text does not discuss why people are gay. He does not even attempt to argue for or against anything related to that aspect. He also does not even really go into detail about how the Bible discusses homosexuality. There is a chapter that does relate the Bible's teachings, but that is not the focus or the purpose of the text. His aim is to get Christians to understand why they must do as Christ said and really truly be that loving and kind person. It is really not that hard and personally I have always found the "Don't be a douche" approach to be fantastic - and it really works for any situation. Then again, my views on homosexuality differ greatly from official position of many denominations at this point, so I can not really be of much help in that area.

I have now spent the last three nights trying to write this review and I am pretty sure it is one of the worst reviews I have ever written. I have been half-tempted to delete it at least six times now. I think because this topic is so deeply personal to me it really is hard for me to be objective. But I know this about myself, so perhaps I will just end here with whatever haphazard arguments I may have made and leave you to make up your own mind. While I feel the book made some good points - especially in the whole 'be kind' department (which should be common sense for Christians, but isn't, because we are humans, and pretty awful), it still felt like the undercurrent was a little darker. There is no real answer for what the future will hold for someone who both commits to being a follower of Jesus, yet identifies with the LGBTQIA community. The whole celibacy/hetero marriage thing seems overly simple and also more than a bit hypocritical. After all, there are plenty of things we were not supposed to do, according to the Bible, and a lot of those things are set aside. However, the bottom line is what I have been stating time and again as it relates to the author's point of view - there is no reason to treat someone poorly because they are different from you. This is not confined to only interactions with LGBTQIA, so keep that in mind also.

First Line Friday: Bible Lands Edition!



First Line Friday is brought to you by Hoarding Books.

It's been a minute since I've been able to do one of these. Life in general has been hectic, I am trying to get caught up on reviews, get galleys finished, work on my own research and get the first draft done, etc. Lots going on around here, to say the least. 

Naturally, I help things along by stopping everything and doing something completely different and not on the priority list at the moment. what can I say, that's how I roll.

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I am super excited about this one because I LOVE LOVE LOVE anything to do with the Holy Land and places discussed in the Bible. Side note, I am also a huge fan of anything related to Biblical archaeology and a few years ago when archaeologists discovered a gate to the city of Gath - you know, Goliath's hometown - it was pretty cool. Who knows what else is out there waiting to be discovered. Not just in terms of the Bible, but in general history. There's still so much to know and find!

"Before the writing of recorded history on clay tablets, pharaohs, kings, warriors, and commoners trudged across the Bible lands."

This is one of my fave kinds of history and I can't wait to get further into the book.

Let me know what you think and happy reading!
Sarah

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

No Justice: One White Police Officer, One Black Family, and How One Bullet Ripped Us Apart

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I received a digital copy of this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5 Stars

This was a tough one for me to read, for many reasons - similar to those I discussed in a previous review of the book The Day Sonny Died. In fact, I finished both of these books within a day or so of one another and was not eager to review them because they were truly draining. They were exhausting because it was so easy for me to see one of my students in the place of either young man, fictional or flesh and blood. While the young men in each story had a very different journey in how they came to be where they were, both are still situations any of my babies might find themselves in later in life. As a special education teacher in a behavior skills classroom, the majority of my students are young black males (grades 3-5). This over-identification of young black males in special education is a whole other issue that is as exhausting to deal with as the topics for either of these books. But I know I can not give up and can not let that exhaustion get to me because when put simply, their lives depend on it.

The gross miscarriage of justice in Tolan's story should infuriate everyone. Unfortunately, it won't and until something changes, incidents like this will keep happening. The shooting of unarmed black men by police officers has to end. I am not here for or interested in any "But what about..." arguments. This is an issue in our country. It is by no means the only issue we face today, but it is of great significance and the subject of the book.

Robbie Tolan nearly died in his own driveway, accused of stealing his own car. Just let that sink in for a moment.

In the early morning hours on New Year's, Robbie and his cousin had returned to Robbie's home where an officer approached the two young men, accusing Tolan of stealing the car he had driven. This ended up being a mistake on the officer's end, having mistyped the license plate number. Yet there was no double confirmation of the plate. The second officer to come on the scene did not help, and in the confusion and chaos of Tolan's parents coming out of the house to see what was going on, being told to get back, one officer roughly pushing Tolan's mother, Tolan reacted with angry words and apparently the officer feared for his life because Tolan received a bullet in his chest for trying to defend his mother.

Grim reminders that this is not the first time a scene like this has played out in America are scattered throughout the book. Before each chapter, Tolan recounts previous cases where both boys and men were not as lucky as he - though it sounds weird describing someone being shot as lucky. Yet I think Tolan recognizes that he was. He could have died just as countless others have before him. Even so, living was just as hard. Not only did the family fight for ten years to get any kind of justice, but the physical, mental, and emotional damage was at times overwhelming for everyone.

"I was able to make sure to keep any impulse responses, you know, like being the stereotype of the angry black man, out of the public eye, and my frustrations were only meted out in privacy" (34%).

This quote stuck out for me especially; he shouldn't have to not be angry. He was unjustly shot by a police officer, FFS. Yet, he's not allowed to be angry in public because he is black, and that would in turn impact the public image of him and potentially harm his case. How is that even fair? Tolan is allowed to be angry, without it framing his story in a negative way.

I do not recall hearing about this case, but I am glad that I was able to read about Tolan's journey and how he has slowly but surely put his life back together. What he and his family had to go through during the entire ordeal is beyond words. This should not be the experience of any citizen in our country, period.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Firebird

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Rating: 5 Stars

I must start out by saying that Misty Copeland is amazing. Watching her dance, to see her perform Firebird live, is one of the greatest things I have ever witnessed in my life time and I was so lucky to be able to experience that with my four and a half year old daughter, who also loves to spin and twirl and be a ballerina. This past week Misty and ABT, along with the St Louis Symphony, were at the University of Nebraska. On Tuesday Misty spoke at the EN Thompson Forum on World Issues, discussing her career and the lack of diversity within classical ballet. It was there that I picked up this copy of Firebird for my little ballerina and we have read it so many times since that night - and we have not even owned it for a whole week!

While Misty's own story is incredible - she did not start ballet until she was 13. She is the first African-American woman in history to become a principal dancer in the 75 year history with ABT. This is a HUGE accomplishment in an art form that is by and large very, very white. Even keeping in mind Copeland's own experiences, this book is for ALL who have a goal or a dream, regardless of race.

The story is of a young girl who is discouraged, unsure of herself but almost certain she can not follow in Copeland's footsteps. But Copeland herself tells snippets of her own journey in text that is both lyrical and meandering, leaping off the page. Yes, I went there. And she shows how, by working hard, the girl can become Firebird as well.

Besides the fact that Copeland is one of my favorite ballet dancers ever, I loved the fact that while the direct message in the book is geared toward those who love dance, the overall theme is the fact that no matter what your goal is, what your dream is, you will have to work hard and dedicate yourself to reaching whatever it is that you want. It is written in such a way that will appeal to younger and older readers alike. Though it is getting a bit easier to find diverse picture books than it was even ten or twenty years ago, this is a wonderful addition to that growing collection of books that tell stories from the perspective of someone who is not white. As a white teacher in a school predominantly attended by African-American children, you can see why this book is so important on so many levels. My students need to have hope, just like the girl in this book, just like all children do. This is a great start to showing them they can achieve great things if they are committed to it.

The only issue I really had with the book was the illustrations. It's not even that they were poorly done (and obviously they were not, seeing as how the book won the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustrator in 2015), but this medium is just not my favorite. It does give the illustrations a wonderful, textured look, but some were just too unbalanced for me. I don't think I would have minded so much had the body proportions not been so strange sometimes.

In the end, I can unequivocally recommend this book to a variety of people - parents of aspiring dancers, parents/teachers/librarians looking for books with African-American characters, and pretty much anyone who enjoys beautiful, brilliant, yet simple work. Very well-done.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Unmaking of the President 2016: How FBI Director James Comey Cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency

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I received this ARC free via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3 Stars

When I saw this pop up on NetGalley, my first thought was "Uuuggghhh, here we go." I have no interest in reading Clinton's memoir of it, but I wanted to see what exactly this book would entail and how it would conclusively prove its premise. Not that it really had to, because it is no secret that Comey's letter had a huge impact on the election. My biggest gripe is with the sub title because Comey is not the only reason Clinton lost. Yes, his timing was absolute garbage - both the timing of his initial letter stating there were more emails, and the follow-up, which went largely unnoticed due to said timing, stating there was nothing new.

Davis cites Clinton's decisive lead heading into the week of October 24th, then the release of Comey's letter to Congress four days later, as the absolute proof that it is Comey alone who cost Clinton the election. Let's just ignore the fact that the 2016 election saw two of the most unlikable candidates in history squaring off. (Don't worry, this will not turn into a diatribe about how Bernie would have defeated Trumplethinskin. I mean, of course he would have. But I digress.)

In the weeks leading up to the election, I avoided coverage as much as I could. I even went so far as to avoid NPR, because it was all so sickening that our democracy could have such a mockery made of it by allowing someone so clearly in love with spray tanning and so clearly unqualified to be president making it to the general election. I did know of Comey's letter and follow-up, the former of which I recalled thinking of at the time as huge help to Trumplethinskin's precarious position.

I found the portions of the text not directly related to Comey and his letters far more interesting. The discussion in general of this whole hullabaloo about private email servers was of interest, as was the sections that focused on the 25th amendment and impeachment.

In the end though, there is nothing really new to add to the discussion from this book. It's not a boring book, and I did appreciate the details, especially in regards to protocol, since it is at least clear that Comey did not follow it at all. But these are also things I likely would have already known had I paid closer attention to the news in that final week and a half.

Trumplethinskin's election was a truly awful thing for our country and I wish it was not our reality. But books like these in the end do a kind of disservice to their cause. Looking back at the election does us very little good at this point, especially one year in. Instead we have to focus on the midterm elections coming up in the fall and flipping as many seats as possible blue. I am cautiously optimistic about the wins in special elections in the last few months and we have to keep working to ensure more seats go the same way.