Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

ImageEven though Theo’s father was an alcoholic who had left them, his mother made up for everything. His beautiful, sweet, charming mother was all thirteen-year-old Theo needed to keep his world spinning smoothly. When they stopped in at the Metropolitan Museum of Art one day just to take a quick look at his mom’s favorite paintings, Theo’s world came to an end when his mother was killed in a tragic bombing. Although Theo lived, he was knocked unconscious for a time, and when he woke up, he recognized the older man whom he had assumed was the grandfather of a very cute red-haired girl that Theo had been following. The man spoke his dying words to Theo and gave him two items that Theo was able to take out of the museum with him: a family ring and a painting—the painting called The Goldfinch, by Carel Fabritius, that the man was stealing from the Met.

Not knowing that she was dead, Theo stumbled home and waited for his mother to arrive. Eventually, Social Services found him and thus began his tumultuous teen years involving wealthy friends, his derelict father, his father’s strange new girlfriend, a crazy Russian, and Hobie, the business partner of the man who died and guardian of the little red-haired girl. Theo surrendered the ring to Hobie, but never told him about the painting, which became both his talisman and his albatross. He loved the little bird but knew he should not have it, and when he watched the news reports of other stolen paintings being recovered, he could not figure out how to return it without going to jail. The twists of his life as a result of his mother’s death and the choices Theo makes in order to guard this painting lead him into situations and relationships that never would have existed if his mother had survived.

Since I will be going to New York soon and I love the Met, a friend of mine lent me her advance reader copy of The Goldfinch in preparation. I did not know that there would be a lengthy description of the bombing right in the beginning, of course, and now I’m afraid to go—but I will, anyway. The first 400 pages of this book read just like a YA novel, so that was familiar territory. Theo and Hobie are both wonderful, sympathetic characters, but Theo’s friend, Boris, is just as easy to hate as to love. He is certainly entertaining to read about, and whenever he appears on the page, the reader gets ready for chaos, but I don’t think I would like him in real life. He is great fun on paper, though.

While I was in the middle of The Goldfinch, the Pulitzer committee found out I was reading it and therefore gave it the Pulitzer Prize. At least, that’s how I see it. Donna Tartt is a gifted writer, and the ending was not as… well, I can’t tell you, can I? It ended properly, and that’s all I will say. I was a bit put off by the last ten or so pages, which seemed to be Tartt writing, “In case you didn’t understand what I was trying to say, let me spell it out.” Overall, though, The Goldfinch was a literary and engrossing story about fate, luck, significance, and art.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. Opinions expressed are entirely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Needtobreathe

ImageLast week, I did something shocking. I popped the Switchfoot Fading West CD out of my car’s CD player.  Even though I have occasionally listened to something else since this album came out in January, it is true that the inside of my car is affectionately known as Switchfoot Nation. However, on April 15th, Needtobreathe came out with a new album called Rivers in the Wasteland.

For five years, we went to church in Seneca, South Carolina, near the home town of this group of guys with their sweet sound that is sorta country, sorta rock, but completely American and soulful. Bear Rinehart, the lead singer, played football with the son of a friend of mine. Now they tour all over the world, and you can see them on Rachael Ray, Ellen, or David Letterman. Bear has a distinctive voice that reminds me so much of Randy Newman, but others compare him to Joe Cocker. Bear, his brother, Bo, and Seth Bolt are the three permanent members of the band, but they travel with some amazing support musicians, too. My favorite performance of theirs was “Devil’s Been Talkin’” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last year. Unfortunately, since Jimmy Fallon is now on The Tonight Show, you can’t access that video anymore, and although you can see people talking about how incredible it was on the internet, all the links are dead. The good news is that you can stream several of the songs on this new album on their website.

ImageSo far, some of my favorite tunes start with the ‘50s sound of The State I’m In. I’m sure this is a double-entendre for a band that wakes up in a different state each morning for a large part of the year, and for this group of guys who are constantly aware of the difficulty of maintaining their Christian faith while touring, away from home and family. The very next song, Feet Don’t Fail Me Now is so fun, with a fast, stompin’ beat.

The first single the band is featuring is called “The Heart.” They performed this song really well on Ellen, and you can view it here. The video of this same song on their website shows a backyard party that would make anyone long for the South Carolina upstate, and the words affirm family, faith, and hope. For more Southern goodness, the boys sing about their homesickness on “Oh, Carolina.”

The song “Brother” is raw and heartfelt, and probably best projects the feelings of the band over the past couple of years since The Reckoning. The Rinehart brothers have spoken openly about the tensions and arguments that the band had over their vision for the future, and at one point it got so unbearable that their drummer, Joe Stillwell, walked away. The rest of the guys seriously considered breaking up for good. This song is a reconciliation.

ImageAt first, I did not care for the title track and first song, “Wasteland.” It starts “I’m the first one in line to die /when the cavalry comes.” Combine that with the way the guys are dressed on the album photo, and I thought, “Oh, no! Civil War reminders?” Instead, the song talks about life slipping by and how confusing it is when everybody else seems just fine, while you’re just struggling to figure out whether what you’re doing is right. Another one that hit me wrong at first was the sarcastic-seeming song “Difference Maker.” It talks about a man who had become rich and famous, who chalked it all up to his own talent and brilliance. He thought he was the only person who had a direct connection to God, as they say, “…the friendliest of friends of God.” I had to go to the internet to find out what the band meant by this, and in the News Release Tuesday article here, Bear says that the song is somewhat autobiographical in that their tremendous fame was a turning point for them, threatening to make them lose perspective, and in retrospect, the soul-searching they went through was probably a good thing for the band and for them as individuals. Both of these songs are very overtly Christian, and makes me recall the fantastic song “Maybe They’re on to Us,” from the Reckoning album. I think they’re definitely on to them, now.

ImageMy two favorite musical groups are Christian musicians who do not call their groups “Christian bands” and will not sign contracts with Christian record labels because of the constricting rules that keep them from realizing their artistic vision. (They both have two brothers in the band, too, but that’s beside the point.) They tend to write songs about life lived through faith, rather than worship music. Lots of rock, no altar calls. The latest albums by both Switchfoot and Needtobreathe, though, are much more obviously Christian than any of their earlier work. Both bands had gone through traumatic times while the songs were being written, and both had had to take time off to reflect on the purpose of their art and the mission of the band. Switchfoot decided to go around the world surfing—their other passion and the source of their name—meditating and discussing the future. The tour was interrupted when Jon Foreman’s little daughter became seriously ill, and the influence of that episode comes through in the lyrics and sound of Fading West. Needtobreathe agreed, among other things, that their music was becoming too overproduced, and Rivers in the Wasteland has a more “rootsy,” acoustic sound than The Reckoning.

At least once or twice a week, my morning prayer time includes petitions for famous Christians, especially musicians. They are exposed to so many temptations as they travel all over the world, meeting adoring fans and raking in tons of money. For these guys from a very small town in rural South Carolina, it could well be overwhelming and cause them to lose the faith that set them on this road in the first place. Although they have gone through so much suffering and adversity, I am so glad that they’ve decided to stay together and keep making great music for all of us. After all, we all need to hear what they’ve learned on the last song: “Be More Heart and Less Attack.”

Be sure to catch Needtobreathe on the David Letterman show on April 23rd! [Update: Here is the link to the David Letterman performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EY0mgqK154U .]

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The New Southern Table, by Brys Stephens

ImageWhen Garden & Gun magazine’s Facebook page announced the publication of The New Southern Table: Classic Ingredients Revisited, I immediately turned to our adult nonfiction selector and said, “Please!” She happily agreed. This lovely, large paperback cookbook has one chapter devoted to each of thirteen Southern ingredients such as okra, collard greens, and figs. You know, if you’ve read my cookbook reviews before, that lots of pictures are really important to me. You have to know what it’s supposed to look like! Fortunately, this cookbook has a full-page photo for almost every dish. Some recipes combine traditional Southern ingredients in new ways, such as the Sweet Potato, Sorghum, and Rum Flan or the Peaches with Pecan Mint Pesto. Others bring Southern foods to the international table in ways that seem intuitive, like Butterbean Hummus or Chicken, Collard, and Country Ham Saltimbocca. Still others are wildly adventurous, such as Japanese-Style Okra with Horseradish Soy Dressing or the Pizza with Figs, Country Ham, and Mustard Greens. If you saw the picture for that one, you would never use figs for anything ordinary again.

As a diabetic, I had to skip the rice, corn, lima bean, and field pea chapters, but you should certainly dive into those luscious risotto and Hoppin’ John recipes. I still had plenty to choose from. I tried two very different recipes, both of them, amazingly, from the pecan chapter!

ImageFirst of all, I had to make my husband happy by trying out the pimento cheese recipe. It’s really different, with Monterey Jack cheese and chopped pecans. You might think that Monterey Jack cheese is too mild for pimento cheese, but this recipe gets its kick from habanero peppers. As always, you should shred your own cheese, not buy bagged shredded cheese, in order to avoid fillers. Since Monterey Jack is difficult to find already shredded, this is not a problem. What is a problem is getting that soft cheese through a shredder! I recommend making sure that your cheese is very cold. If it gets to room temperature, you will have a hard time with it. Fresh lemon juice is also important to the flavor, and the book advises adjusting the lemon juice and mayonnaise in order to achieve the desired spreading consistency. The author did not say this, but of course you must use Duke’s mayo to be truly Southern. Just a tip. We really enjoyed this pimento cheese as a change from the tried-and-true cheddar variety.Image

ImageThen I made this scrumptious roasted Brussels sprouts dish with pecan halves and country ham. I wondered how in the world I could buy only the 6 ounces of country ham that the recipe calls for, but lo and behold, you can readily find packages of sliced country ham that are exactly 6 ounces. Although it may be meant as a side dish, with the ham and pecans for protein, I served it as the main course. First you toast the pecans at 350 degrees, and then turn the oven up to 400 so that the Brussels Sprouts caramelize a bit. Here is the awesome part: You then remove them from the oven and toss them with chopped, ripe avocado! Y’all, it is fabulous. We like it with or without the recommended balsamic vinegar.Image

Just writing about these recipes makes me want to run out and buy the ingredients for more. Tomorrow is Easter, though, so it’s lamb and asparagus at the Teal house. Maybe Monday….

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this cookbook. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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A Call to Action, by Jimmy Carter

ImageI never thought I’d read a book by Jimmy Carter, since I still have vivid memories of those gas lines and hard times while I was in college. We had to get gas for our cars according to the last digit on our license plates, which makes me think that there were no vanity plates in those days. Besides that, David and I married while he was still president, and I bought my first car at a 16% interest rate. It was not the best of times; it was the worst of times. Then again, this man is ninety years old this year, and he’s still traveling around the world on mission trips and swinging a hammer for Habitat for Humanity. He’s sharp as a tack, and he and Rosalynn have racked up 145 countries on their passports. Pretty impressive. So, I think he’s earned the right to be heard.

The subtitle of the book is Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, and although most of the topics relate back to the oppression of women, they may not always do so all at the same time. However, the former president has been a witness to a lot of violence and suffering around the world, and he brings many of those cases to us in this short book. Mr. Carter opines that women are the most oppressed people group across all the nations of the earth, even though they make up a majority of the global population. Without regard to his own culture or beliefs, he sets out to delineate the many ways that women are subjugated or even persecuted in different places. Right now, in our country, we are seeing news stories about the lower pay scale for women, right up to the fact that the women White House staffers are paid only 88% as much as male staffers. In my own profession, even though all librarians have Master’s degrees and about 83% of all librarians are women, they account for only 65% of public library directors and make about 4% less than men overall, according to the American Library Association.

Yet this small frustration in the west pales in comparison to the genital mutilation and honor killings that we see in other parts of the world. For some reason, older women are often the ones encouraging cutting girls’ genitals in many parts of Africa, because of the belief that they are “purifying” them. The statistics are shocking: 98% percent of the women in Somalia and 96% of the women of Guinea have been mutilated, with similar numbers all over the continent. (p. 156) Furthermore, often the same countries encourage the idea that girls should be killed when they do anything to shame their families, particularly if the girl does not wish to marry the man her family has chosen. In Egypt, it is reported that 16% of all the homicides in 2000 were “family killings to ‘wipe out shame.’” (p. 153)

ImageJust this week in the U.S., Brandeis University refused to award a planned honorary doctorate to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a well-known advocate for women’s rights in Islamic countries. Ms. Ali experienced genital mutilation as a child in Somalia, but escaped to the Netherlands as an adult and has worked against persecution and honor killings ever since. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has convinced Brandeis to withhold the degree because they feel that she is spreading hatred against Muslims. Lest we believe that honor killings are solely a Muslim practice, however, Mr. Carter states that “[s]uch killings have also been committed in Hindu and Sikh communities in India, and by Christians within highly patriarchal cultures.” (p. 153)

Mr. Carter does not spare the Christian churches of which he is an adherent, either. He draws a distinction between the Biblical teachings of Jesus and Paul in regards to women. He considers Jesus to be the most feminist person in the Bible, treating women on a par with men in a manner that was highly unusual in that time. However, he feels that Paul is speaking to the surrounding culture, and that his instructions to one group conflict with his words to another church. The former president believes that Christian churches have wrongly emphasized Paul’s teachings, even interpreting them inappropriately. Whether one agrees with him or not, it is remarkable that Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter left their lifelong affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention over this issue, although they are still active in their local church.

ImagePresident Carter covers many other pertinent topics in this short book, including rape, female genocide, child marriage, human trafficking, and other shameful reminders that women’s oppression is both worldwide and ongoing.  It is hard to imagine that one person could have such a depth of knowledge on all of these subjects, but Mr. and Mrs. Carter travel for the Carter Center and have leadership roles on many global councils devoted to the cause of peace and justice. One reviewer opined that Carter detoured off into “folksy” stories too much, but I did not find that to be the case. He did ramble on occasion, it is true, but here is an example of one of his stories. In countries such as Ghana, ponds fill up during the rainy season, but then shrink the rest of the year. Whatever the water level, they are still the source of the village’s water, and Guinea worm larvae live in the water. When the people drink the water, the larvae hatch in their digestive tracts and grow into two-to-three-foot worms before leaving the body through their skin anywhere, but particularly through the legs and feet. When the women wade into the ponds to draw water, the worms on their legs lay eggs into the pond. It takes 30 days for the worms to painfully make their way completely out of the body, and if you try to pull them out and part of them breaks off, they will rot and you will have to have an amputation. There is no cure, but the Carter Center is working to dig wells for each village, so that there is no need to go into the infested pond. They are seeing tremendous success. Here in the U.S., I would be in an insane asylum long before the 30 days were up. I have already wondered if was legal to request a drug-induced coma for mental health reasons. If that is the reviewer’s idea of a folksy story, he is one hardened dude. In our family now, this has become the touchstone of suffering: Lost your job? Car won’t start? Best friend won’t speak to you anymore? Look on the bright side! You could have Guinea worms!

This is a thoughtful and revealing look at many forms of oppression against women, although for a deeper treatment of any particular topic, one would have to look elsewhere. There is an index in the back, but no notes, which I found disappointing. However, I would recommend this title to anyone interested in the subject, or to anyone wanting to take a look at the longest presidential retirement on record. You’ll be impressed.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer, my church, or anyone else.

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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin

ImageAs this novel opens, Amelia is fending off a man who is asking her for a second date. They’d met online, and he’s hounding her on the cell phone. He cannot understand why she won’t go out with him again, so she reminds him that she works in publishing, that books are important to her, and that he had declared that the book that made the biggest impact on his life was Principles of Accounting, Part 2. So she can never see him again, and in that moment I knew that I would love this book.

Amelia is going to see A.J. Fikry, the grumpy man who owns a bookstore on Alice Island, a Martha’s Vineyard type of place with a large summer population and a smaller year-round community. A.J. only wants literary fiction: no genre, no children’s, and certainly not YA. Amelia is hard-pressed to sell him anything. Since his wife’s death a few years ago, A.J. has withdrawn into himself and is drinking more and more. One night, he passes out and wakes to find his rare copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tamerlane stolen from its climate-controlled case. Since it is worth about $400,000, he has now lost his entire retirement plan, and his life will not turn out the way he thought it would. Little does he know that so much about his life will soon change that he wouldn’t even recognize it if he could see into the future.

A.J. is surrounded by a lovable cast of characters. There’s the police chief, a non-reader who begins buying books out of pity for A.J. and ends up running a spectacularly successful book group filled with other crime novel enthusiasts. A.J.’s best friend is a writer (even though A.J. hates writers as a class) who is married to A.J.’s former sister-in-law, and then there is the most precocious and trusting little girl, who comes equipped with a highly objectionable Elmo doll. In the end, you could call this the “Feel-Good Book of the Year.” (In case you’re wondering, last year’s was The Rosie Project.)

Gabrielle Zevin has written many young adult novels , which is why it is slyly funny that A.J. finds no merit in them. Be sure to read Elsewhere, a unique look at the afterlife. I’ve read most of her other work, and when this book was announced, our adult fiction selector was kind enough to request an advance reader copy for me. Zevin writes this adult novel with the same brightness that she uses with younger characters, and it is interesting that she chose a man for her main character. Book nerds will go nuts for the little games she plays with us throughout the story, mentioning characters or plot devices of famous books, and then revealing the titles a little further on. I found myself shouting out titles: “Ooh! I know! I know!” This is a story about books and the people who love them for the people who love them.

Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader 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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God’s Not Dead Movie: First Amendment, Part 2

God's Not Dead movie posterAnd now to the movie.

If you’re not familiar with the plot line, God’s Not Dead is about a college freshman whose philosophy professor forces everyone to write “God is dead” on a paper and sign it the first day of class. He says that since that’s already settled by all intelligent people, they can then move on to the more interesting parts of the class. Our hero, Josh Wheaton, just can’t bring himself to do it, so he is forced to give a series of lectures to the class over the next few weeks, trying to prove the existence of God. (I think I was more shocked that the rest of the class said, “Oh, OK,” and just scribbled on the papers and handed them in. You have to assume that most of them grew up with enough religion to at least feel jittery about it.) I was worried that the writers would portray Josh as incredibly arrogant with all the right answers, but they didn’t. He was a wreck about it and had to study really hard. I was pleased that he fought science with science, rather than with Bible passages. However, I think that the movie will strengthen believers rather than convince unbelievers, but I could be wrong.

There were all sorts of subplots, of course, concerning relationships, suffering, death, and difficult choices. The professor was really easy to hate, and acted as if his greatest mission in life were to destroy everything these kids had learned from their families. All of the adult and student characters intertwined in many ways, and the story was absorbing and well-written with some humorous moments. One story line concerned a young Muslim woman, and another a boy from China. Great lines at the registration table:

Paul Kwo

Girl working for the university: “What’s PRC?”

Boy: “People’s Republic of China.”

Girl: “Are you serious?”

Boy: “I am always serious.”

 

And he is, too. His character is adorable.

As expected, there were some hokey parts, but not as many as I had dreaded. First of all, the Newsboys? I used to love this Aussie/Kiwi band, but few of the original members are still there—perhaps the drummer—and they have a completely different sound. They used to be edgy and fun, but now they are more middle-of-the-road, and the years are taking their toll. As my brother-in-law said, “At this point, I think we can honestly begin to call them The Newsmen.” They are still friendly and kind, though, and play an important part in the movie.

Newsboys 1990s

The Newsboys 1996

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newsboys 2012

The Newsboys 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robertsons movieSecondly, why must Christians be represented by Duck Dynasty? Perhaps they made a tidy contribution to the production. In any case, Willie and Korie Robertson, who seem like perfectly nice people, are in a scene in which they talk to a reporter about their faith. I think they’re going into a church, in which case I do not understand why Mrs. Robertson is dressed like a sl—that is, a woman of loose morals. And what’s with this beard and sunglasses thing? Is this a ZZ Top devotion run amuck? This whole phenomenon is baffling to me.

I was fascinated when, at the end of the film, the credits rolled and revealed that this movie was based on over 40 cases that had been filed by Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of students who had been harassed or persecuted for their religion by an institution of higher learning. The name and a short description of each case rolled by in two very long columns. Not surprisingly, one was at UNC Chapel-Hill, and another UNC Wilmington.

UNC Chapel HillAcademia is only one arena in the startling rise in the persecution of Christians in the United States. Usually, it is subtle, although my son tells me that he had at least two professors who were virulently anti-Christian. It is generally assumed by the faculty that all well-educated people hold Christians in contempt as either ignorant or hateful. Most of us get through because we want to learn the course material, and it was a very enlightening and broadening experience for me, as I was able to see some very good hearts in action, even though their worldviews were completely different from mine. Then again, I was not asked to sign my faith away.

In the wider world, however, all people of faith have enjoyed freedom in the United States because of our First Amendment rights and our belief that certain rights have been given by our creator, not by the government, and are therefore immutable. This is no longer the case. Christians are supposed to be very quiet about their faith now. Just recently, Governor Scott Walker tweeted Philippians 4:13 [“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”]. He didn’t even tweet the verse, just the reference. Social media went nuts. People opined that government officials should not be able to use religious references, and others went even further to shriek that he was trying to take over the country in God’s name! A bit reactionary, I think. When I heard it, I thought he was probably thinking, “I can stay awake in this next boring meeting through Christ who strengthens me.” That’s about my speed, anyway.

Zoar UMCSince the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, we have been hearing about the government making decisions about which churches really believe certain dogma or whether individuals belong to the right churches or groups to hold certain beliefs. All the while, we are reassured that we will be able to retain freedom of worship. Any student of history should jump at that phrase. In 1930s Germany, the government decided which were true churches, registered those churches with the state, forbade anyone from attending any other church, and assured the population that they still had freedom of worship. “Freedom of worship” means that the government will allow you to go into a specified building on your specified day of worship for a specified amount of time to worship whatever it is you worship. For the other six and a half days, though, you’re expected to act like a person with some sense: a secular citizen. That is not freedom of religion or freedom of thought.

I have a Parsi friend who told me about herself and her religion when we were first getting to know each other years ago. She told me that she had moved to the United States from India, but that her Zoroastrian family was originally from Iran, and that they had had to flee to India to escape Muslim persecution. I pictured her as a little girl, desperately making this trip in the middle of the night with her parents and siblings, arriving in a foreign land to start life anew. Oh, no. She was talking about the Islamic invasion of Persia in 651 A.D. I was stunned. This woman’s religion was such an integral part of her identity that her ancient ancestors were as real to her as her family today. It was not just her heritage, either; she is a devout Zoroastrian.*

Secularists do not understand this worldview. They act as if religion is your Sunday-go-to-meetin’ purse, which you put away after church and then use your everyday handbag the rest of the time. People of faith, though, don’t think of religion as something they pick up and put down, but rather as a defining part of themselves, like the DNA in every cell that makes you who you are and from which you act and think. It permeates you and influences your entire life. Oppression and persecution may winnow away the casual church-goers, bShhh lipsut believers will be forced to suffer in the land of liberty as they try to exercise their freedom of speech. Fortunately for the rest of humankind, their message is good tidings of great joy for all people.

“God is not a secret to be kept.”—The Newsboys (1996)

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*Her story so inspired me that I did a major paper on the Parsi for my graduate Social Sciences Reference class. If you ever want to chat about the Parsi or Zoroastrianism, I can talk your ear off.

Disclaimer: This article is designed to express thoughts from the inside of a group of people I love to those who may not be aware of their suffering. It is not my intention to hurt or offend, merely to raise awareness and perhaps to offer a new perspective.

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The First Amendment: So Not PC

ImageWhen I was a teenager in New Jersey, we lived in an ethnically rich area. We were Roman Catholic—Irish, Italian, Polish, and other second-generation immigrant families— and Jewish families with just a few Protestant families mixed in. The Protestants seemed bland compared to the distinctive customs of the Catholics and Jews. I didn’t even know then that there were different kinds of Protestants.

Fasting on seafoodOn Friday nights, we had fish for dinner, because we had somehow convinced ourselves that eating the most expensive item on the menu was the same as fasting. Afterwards, I would go to the Steinbergs’ house, where they would have a Sabbath candle burning while Mrs. Steinberg went out and partied. So maybe we weren’t always perfect, but Roz cleared every dish and utensil out of her kitchen (into the garage) and kept strict kosher during Passover. I always babysat for Jewish families, it seemed, and they were generous and had great candy. My friend, Eithne, opined that the Catholic families had too many kids to be able to afford to go out, so we should thank God for the Jewish families.

In the wider community, Finklestein’s and the other Jewish businesses were always closed on Saturdays, and pretty much all of the others were closed on Sundays. All the grocery stores were closed on Sundays. You could usually find a drug store open for emergencies. No one questioned this; no one was annoyed. It was life. A year or so ago, I saw someone online furiously complaining that Chick-Fil-A was closed on Sundays, ranting that it was inconvenient for them on their biggest shopping day. As if it should be illegal for companies to choose their own hours.

Was there bigotry? Sure, occasionally. As long as we are human, we will want everyone to be just like us, but for the most part, everyone got along really well. No one was shy about asking questions about other people’s beliefs, because no one was embarrassed to hold to a particular faith. People were interesting then. We expected our neighbors to be different, and we would not have respected them as much if they had disavowed their religion.

Shocked old ladySomehow, in the past decade or so, it has become shocking to hear people speak of their own religious beliefs, as if they were taking off their clothes in public. We are all supposed to be secular now. Perhaps if you ascribe to some cool religion, like Wicca or Buddhism, you can get away with it, but Christians are of all people the most despised. The last few years have seen an alarming increase in persecution and oppression, and that’s not just my perception. The Liberty Institute, which litigates religious freedom cases, saw an increase in requests for their services from 600 in 2012 to 1,200 in 2013. Children in public school are forbidden from wearing clothing or jewelry with faith symbols, and from writing about their family’s religious practices or beliefs in assignments. In other words, our children are being taught to be ashamed of their families and their churches. The oppression in universities is much more direct and forceful. Despite my advanced age, it was not very long ago that I was a student in grad school, and my son has also related some incidents in his classes.

God's Not Dead Prof and StudentSo when my sister called Saturday morning to say that she and her husband had been to see the movie God’s Not Dead the night before, I was interested. There is so little marketing, yet they had had to travel to two theaters to get in! They loved it, and she urged me to see it. I have to say that this movie had been on the periphery of my brain, as I had seen snippets of interviews with the stars, so I knew what it was all about. Just in case, I called our local theater, and they confirmed that all of the showings were selling out and advised that I buy tickets online, since they could not guarantee a seat even if we showed up 30 minutes early. So that is how we ended up driving through veritable rivers during a tornado warning to go see a movie at ten o’clock at night. I am super-cheap, and there is no way I was going to waste those two tickets I had bought on Fandango.

Next time: Is God’s Not Dead worth seeing? And how old are the Newsboys, anyway?

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