Much to my chagrin now, I remember once in high school doing a book report on Shadows of the Empire, a novel expanding (fairly well, I might add) on the stories laid out in George Lucas’ Star Wars trilogy. Heavy stuff, all those lightsabers and Bothan spies. Sometime later in my high school career – my junior year, in fact – I started dramatically pairing down the number of Star Wars novels I read and began branching out in my choice of reading material. This shift in my reading habits occurred in large part to Carol Kellogg’s English Lit class, in which we read lots of (what I imagine are) standards of most high school curricula. We read Beowulf, Macbeth, Lord of the Flies, Gulliver’s Travels, Jane Eyre. But I remember most vividly reading Alan Paton’s stirring account of South Africa on the brink of apartheid Cry, the Beloved Country. This novel is not an easy read; like many other things that are not easy, once you’re finished, you’ll find yourself better for it. Cry, the Beloved Country is the story of a simple Anglican country priest who journeys to Johannesburg to find his son, who has been arrested for murder.
Cry, the Beloved Country remains one of the most influential books I’ve read in part because of its powerful message about race, sin, family, forgiveness, reconciliation, in part because of Paton’s simple and beautiful prose, but also in part, because reading it under Mrs. Kellogg’s tutelage taught me how to read books as literature, for which I’m very grateful.
Orthodox icon of St Photina, the Samaritan woman at the well.
A few weeks ago, the popular YA author John Green preached at Christ Church Cathedral, Indianapolis. The gospel text for the third Sunday of Lent is John’s account of the Jesus’ meeting the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well. You can listen to Green’s sermon here (and I highly recommend that you do!) Among the themes Mr Green raised were the generous and radical engagement with the Other (like a Jewish man’s engaging dialogue with a woman of Samaria), our connection with old things (like the Samaritan use of Jacob’s Well) and the importance of listening for the voices of those not right in front of our faces (a la Chesterton’s famous quip that Tradition is the democracy of the dead). But the main point, and one that bears reemphasizing here on this modest platform, lies in the woman’s statement to Jesus – you have no bucket and well is deep. Despite mind-boggling advances in our understanding of the world, allowing us to live longer and more securely and comfortably than ever before, despite advances in communication technology connecting us instantly with people everywhere and amplifying voices often ignored in the past, despite all this and more, we still find ourselves at a deep well without a bucket. To whom do you turn or where do you go when facing the deep well bucketless?
I guess I’m on a something of a Cold War kick. Alison and I have recently started watching (and thoroughly enjoying) the FX show The Americans. Then, I came across a collection of short stories while browsing the new books at the Plainfield Public Library – Ice Cold: tales of intrigue from the Cold War edited by Jeffery Deaver and Raymond Benson. This collection has a good variety of stories – more than just spies – and fits in nicely into my current Cold War binge. A short story a night before bed is good for your health. Check it out.