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Talk about offensive …

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Why censoring Mark Twain is an assault on art and education

Few things rile me up enough that I talk aloud to the radio while alone in my car, but last Wednesday, when I heard the news about an Alabama-based company’s plans to publish a “new,” censored edition of Mark Twain’s classic novels—Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn—I couldn’t refrain from speaking my mind to the broadcasters on the other end of the airways. “Seriously? One hundred years after his death, Mark Twain is rolling over in his grave,” was all I could think.

The edited books are the project of Professor Alan Gribbon, who is replacing the n-word with that of slave and removing all appearances of the term injun in an attempt to make the novels less offensive. While Gribbon’s motivation — to see more schools teaching and more children reading these classic books — is noble, his method is a slap in the face to literature and art and a cheapening of the education system.

Mark Twain was one of the first to employ the use of local vernacular and slang in his writings, and with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, he paved the way for similar works that would follow, all while portraying a culture, a way of life, and a slice of our country’s history. He chose his words carefully, and he had a reason for using them. Twain didn’t just throw in the n-word to be offense or see how quickly he could get his works on the banned books list, he used  it intentionally because it said something about the era his stories are set in and the attitudes of his characters—something that slave just can’t say.

Stripping Twain’s novels of the n-word in an attempt to make them less offensive is equivalent to painting clothes on replicas of art from the Sistine chapel in an attempt to avoid scenes of nudity — once you’ve messed with the art you really can’t call it a work of Michel Angelo anymore, can you? And I’m sorry, but if I find myself reading about Indian Joe, rather than Injun Joe, I’m no longer reading Tom Sawyer. Twain’s language is an integral part of his characters. And, it’s an integral part of the story he’s trying to tell — a story that I think kids would benefit from reading, in its holistic entirety.

It get that the n-word is offensive. And I agree with those who believe that it should not be liberally thrown into the hands of our youth. But I don’t think that scrubbing it out of classic novels is the answer. We can’t scrub it out of history, and we can’t scrub it out of existence. It may be a dark part of our past and an unpleasant — though thankfully less frequent — occurrence in our present, but it’s still there. Our kids are eventually going to encounter it (whether they read Mark Twain or not), and the way we deal with it today will determine their attitudes toward it in the future.

Again, I’m not suggesting that we hand our children Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn and allow them to interpret his use of language on their own — from their limited knowledge of culture and history. On the contrary, I’d like to see us using these novels and their use of the highly offensive n-word as an educational tool. As parents, educators, and individuals who have influence in children’s lives, let’s sit down with our kids and talk about what they’re reading. Let’s discuss the n-word and help them understand what it meant in the mid-1800s, what it means today, and why Mark Twain used it when portraying life along the Mississippi River. Who knows, it might just lead to open conversation about race, the history of African Americans in our country, and the tension and struggles that Huckleberry Finn feels as he befriends a man for whom others have so much hate. Twain makes an important point with his use of the n-word, and as I’ve already suggested, slave simply doesn’t mean the same thing. The two words have different connotations and evoke different feelings. If our children are going to learn from history, they need to understand that.

I know one could argue Gibbon and his publishers have a right to do whatever they please and if we don’t like it, we can go on reading our classic editions of Twain. And in some respects, that may be true. What I’m reacting to, however is the fact they’re tampering with art that was not theirs to begin with, and in doing so, they’re diluting the message and doing our children a gross disservice. And that’s what I find truly offensive.

Written by liferenewed

January 11, 2011 at 5:15 am

Posted in Books

2010 in review

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Do you ever have one of those days when you’re brushing your teeth at the end of it all, thinking about how fast it went, and you suddenly realize how much a person can do in a single day? Well, I’ve just had one of those years. On the one hand, it went remarkably fast and on the other hand, so much happened on both the interior and exterior of my life that it’s remarkable to think that only a year passed. One year — and a lifetime. Here are a few of the highlights.

Best movie of 2010

I recently read a movie critic’s list of 2010’s top ten movies and I must admit, several of his picks were films I haven’t even heard of. So, from my limited viewing experience, I bring you what I believe are two of the year’s best movies from two completely separate genres.

Inception

Undoubtedly the best—most original—film to come out of Hollywood in quite some time, Inception made the top of my 2010 movie list months before the year was over. I’m not typically a nail-bitter, but halfway through the film, I suddenly realized the tips of my fingers were in my mouth. I won’t say too much for fear of spoiling anything for those who may have not seen it yet. (Seriously, remedy that ASAP!) But I will say that it’s not an easy task to write a movie based entirely on a reality you will have to help your audience understand and believe. Inception does this seamlessly, all while weaving a multi-layered story and delivering a frustratingly brilliant ending.

Toy Story 3

I honestly didn’t expect much from this movie. Typically, when you get to the third of anything, you’ve basically compromised quality and storyline for a name that people feel some sort of allegiance to or affection for. But Toy Story was by far the exception to the rule. Based on the opening scene alone, I think this movie did a better job capturing a child’s imagination than the first two Toy Stories combined. It’s definitely my favorite of the trilogy.

Best books I read in 2010

I thought I knew what my favorite books of 2010 were, and then I started looking over my reading notes from the year and became more conflicted. So, at the risk of leaving some wonderful, well-deserving titles out, I’ve boiled it down to two books from vastly different categories.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee’s classic novel was one of those books that I’d always felt as if I should have read, but just hadn’t. When I finally picked it up along with my book club ladies, I literally didn’t want to put it down. It’s a well-written, fascinating story that quickly captures your attention and manages to deal with difficult themes and serious issues without compromising the free-spirited, lighthearted narration. And in the end, I think it poses several pertinent questions about human nature.

Forgotten God

This book completely challenged the way I think about the Holy Spirit and forced me to question the strength of my own faith. It’s a vivid—and apt—reminder of power we have in us a Christians, delivered by Francis Chan, a wonderful communicator.

Lessons from 2010

A year ago, when I reflected on 2009, I talked about uncertainty, my desire for control, and the need to trust God with the details of my life. Looking back on 2010, I’m so thankful to see that he didn’t leave me off the hook—he continued to prod me to give up control of my life and gently reminded me just how little I do have control over. I’m still a work in progress, but one thing God showed me this year is that allowing him to change our hearts is indeed a slow process.

This year, I started surrendering my battle for perfection. God is still teaching me how—and that it’s okay—to let go, but what I’m finding as I do is a great deal of freedom and joy. And it gives me hope and excitement for the future because it means that as I let go of my attempts at perfection I leave room for God to do more in and through me.

Over the past year, I also watched many of my friends go through unprecedented trials and learned first-hand how God uses suffering. Through it all, I’ve realized that God has a way of giving us exactly what we need for the moment. The year’s unexpected turns have shown me that, no matter what happens, God will make sure we have the patience, grace, and strength to deal with it. And that too, excites me for the future, because it means there’s potential for me to do things that are bigger than myself. I don’t have to stick with just dreams I know I can accomplish, because I have the power of the Holy Spirit—a power that can help me accomplish anything God calls me to. And, I don’t have to worry, because God knows what I’ll be facing, and even if it’s not easy, he’s going to prepare me to deal with it.

None of this is new to me intellectually. I could have told you this a year ago, but now I know it on a deeper level. My heart is more convinced of it, and I understand exactly what it means on a personal level. I’m grateful that God lets us learn, and I pray that my heart would continue to be receptive.

And just for fun, completely trivial things that changed my life in 2010

  • Pandora (I discovered this before 2010, but it continues to change my life, so it still counts)
  • Netflix
  • Frozen grapes (don’t comment until you’ve tried them)
  • Adidas Sequence running shoes
  • This American Life
  • Portland (this city will never stop changing my life)
  • Short hair

Written by liferenewed

December 31, 2010 at 6:07 am

Posted in Books, Life lessons, Movies

Where boldness and courage meet humility

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Reminders about speaking and listening from Watership Down

Being the English geek that I am, one of my favorite things is getting together with the girls in my book club to discuss literature. The five of us each take turns choosing a novel to read and then meet to talk about what stood out to us and, of course, drink coffee. This month, we’ll be discussing the conclusion of Richard Adam’s 1970’s novel, Watership Down. One of my favorite things about taking part in this group is that it’s causing me to read books I would probably never pick up on my own. Watership Down—a 500 page story about rabbits—is one of those books. When I heard this was selected as our next read, I immediately remembered the cartoon depiction I’d seen as a child and, for whatever reason, strongly disliked. I then proceeded to wonder what the heck rabbits were going to do to keep my attention for 500 pages.

But when I finally started reading, I was thrust into an adventure full of conflict and suspense as a small group of rabbits band together to escape the destruction of their warren, find safety, and create a new life on Watership Down. What’s more, I found myself surprised by how well developed these fictional characters are and how their rabbit-sized problems occasionally spoke to deeper issues. Though I’m under no illusion that Adams intended for his story to be some kind of allegory, I do believe that in places, it can speak to our walk as Christians.

I see this particularly in the character of Fiver, a small, somewhat disregarded rabbit, whose keen sense for impending danger feels almost prophetic. Within the first 20 pages of the novel, Fiver senses that the warren where they live is in danger. Though he has no specific idea what that danger may be and knows it may be difficult to get others to listen, he unashamedly shares his fears. Nevertheless, the head rabbit refuses to believe him, dismissing him as misguided and crazy. But Fiver does not back down. With the help of his brother, he is able to convince a small group of rabbits that for their own safety, they must flee the warren immediately.

Like Noah in the Old Testament, Fiver has to warn his people of a danger they cannot understand. And like us, he has an important message that could save others from destruction. I love that this gift of prophesy is bestowed upon Fiver — an unknown rabbit who is the runt of his litter — because it reminds me of how God often chooses to use those who are seemingly small and insignificant — those that the world may cast aside — to do his work. As Christians, we join a long line of “Fivers” — underdogs who God has entrusted with a life-saving message.

Like Fiver, we are asking others to join us on a harrowing journey that is full of unknowns. Thankfully, unlike Fiver — who did not know where they would go or how they would stay safe — we have a strong sense of hope to offer; vital to our message is the promise of salvation and the presence of Christ. But despite these assurances, we are still bound to meet with similar responses as our furry friend. Authority figures might refuse to believe us. Some may laugh at us and say the idea of salvation is unnecessary. Others will dismiss us as crazy. The question is: will we keep the message to ourselves for fear of their response? Will we cave in, backpedal, and deny the truth when others refuse to believe?

I was challenged by the way Fiver never lets fear of what others think compromise his mission. As Christians, we are called to do this both as we interact with the world and as we live in community with other believers. Though we may not all have the gift of prophesy, when we walk in step with the Spirit, he will give us words of advice and guidance to share with those around us. Once Fiver and the others embark on their journey, he continues to sense when things are not right and remains unafraid to speak his mind, even when he knows his opinion will not be popular — and when what he has to say does not seem to make sense.

Fiver’s advice also comes with a spirit of humility, something that is vital for any of us carrying a message in the name of Christ. When Fiver gives advice, he never argues, justifies, or tries to rationalize. He simply shares what is on his heart and leaves the decision in the hands of the person he is talking to. Likewise, he never plays the “I told you so,” card, though there are multiple occasions where he has the opportunity. I think this tells us a lot about Fiver’s motivation. He is not in this to prove a point or make himself look good. He is concerned only for the well-being of his friends, and it is this attitude that enables him avoid getting tripped up by worries about what others may think of him. It may sound silly, but I admire the boldness, courage, and quiet humility that meet in the character of this small rabbit. And it left me wondering, what would our communities look like if we listened to God’s spirit and loved each other in this fashion more often?

Similarly, what would happen if we listened to the wisdom of others more openly, recognizing that God’s Spirit may speak to us through them? In Watership Down, it takes the rabbits awhile to catch on to the idea that they should probably pay attention to what Fiver has to say. His brother helps him convince a few rabbits to leave the warren, but even after they realize how right he was about that danger, they still question and sometimes refuse his advice, often due to selfishness and pride. I think that God has placed “Fivers” — people who are in tune with the His Spirit and can bring messages of instruction and warning — in each of our lives as well. Like the rabbits in Watership Down, we are faced with the question of whether or not we will be able to put aside our own ideas and desires and be open to the possibility that the one who has a word for us may be God’s mouthpiece.

My prayer is that I would cultivate a listening heart and humble spirit — that I would be open to hearing God speak through those around me and ready to let him use me however he sees fit, no matter what others may think.

Written by liferenewed

June 3, 2010 at 3:40 am

Highlights of 2009

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It’s time to look back at what was great (and maybe not so great) about the past year. Hopefully soon I’ll write about what’s been rolling around in my head in regards to goals for 2010—I’m still processing some things—but for now I thought it would be fun to share some memorable moments from the last 12-months of being alive.

Best Book(s) I Read in 2009

Irresistible Revolution and Jesus for President

These books—both by a truly revolutionary guy named Shane Claiborne—literally changed the way I think about what it means to be a Christian. Claiborne discusses what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus in a country where people—many of whom call themselves Christians—place their hope and trust in material possessions and political power. He challenges the way we see the world and, through his words and actions, encourages us to embrace a different reality, one that is informed by the mission of Christ. I read both books early in the year and I am still digesting many of the things Shane has to say. These are definitely re-reads for 2010.

Best movie of 2009

Due to the broad variety of elements that can make a movie memorable, it’s difficult to set several great movies side by side and say that one was exclusively better than the others. For this reason, I’ve narrowed it down to my top three. In no particular order:

Slumdog Millionaire

There are few movies that make me feel like clapping as the credits roll in the theatre. This was one of those movies. Deals with some very difficult and important topics, but leaves you smiling at the end. Brilliant soundtrack.

Doubt

Fascinating, well-told, thought-provoking story. This movie doesn’t give you answers, but rather, leaves you with the same questions and doubts that the main characters will struggle with for the rest of their lives. It’s so well done that I felt completely differently about the priest’s guilt the second time I watched it than I had the first. This movie is also very well acted—another phenomenal performance from Meryl Streep.

500 Days of Summer

It’s about time that we have a story of boy meets girl that is not a love story and actually embraces the contrast between harsh reality and expectations when it comes to relationships.
500 Days of Summer rejects the traditional love-story formula and isn’t afriad to make the statement that sometimes, what looks alot like love, isn’t. While making the point that sometimes, love sucks, the film also suggests that we learn from relationships and completely rejecting them is not the answer. Beautiful, creative, and artistic, this was one of those movies I couldn’t wait to see again after leaving the theater.

Worst Movie of 2009

I’m completely ashamed to even admit that I saw this, but in the spirit of honesty:

Land of the Lost

I watched this by myself at the $3 theatre when I had a few hours to kill and nothing else was showing. Though it looked dumb in the previews I thought that Will Ferrell may be able to partially redeem a ridiculous story line by bringing in at least one or two moments of brief comedy. My faith in him was far too great. Not only did I not laugh at all, but I lost two hours of valuable life that would have, I’m sure, been better spent trying to walk across a bed of hot coals. At least then my pain would have given me some sort of bragging rights.

Things I fell in love with in 2009

Running

I can’t believe this is actually on the list. I started running almost on a whim and really didn’t think it would last. But running is addictive, and eight months later I’m still lacing up my tennis shoes and hitting the streets of Fircrest every morning that I have free. It just goes to show that sometimes the things we reject out of fear are those that we would most love.

Portland

One of the highlights of my year was a weekend trip to Portland, Oregon. I fell in love with this city almost instantly. Their public transportation system alone is enough to make me want to live there, and if that’s not enough, they also have a beautiful waterfront, the lively Saturday market, Stumptown coffee almost everywhere you go, and a huge variety of original and artistic restaurants and stores. Literally everyday I think about returning to Portland to eat omelets at Mother’s Bistro and read at Powell’s Books.

The most important thing I learned in 2009

Though for me, this past year was full of uncertainty, God blessed me in ways I never would have dreamed, and thanks to his constant presence, the feelings of instability that accompany change never completely overwhelmed me. Even when I failed to acknowledge God or neglected to seek his advice, he was faithful, and I honestly believe that he saved me from my own stupidity.

When 2009 began I was working 12-hour days, rushing from a temp job at World Vision to a part-time job at the Federal Way Curves. It was hectic and crazy and I lacked time for God or a Christian community. Come March, I was down to just the job at Curves, and without clear direction for the future, I felt apathetic and confused. Then, just as I began to wonder what God was doing, I was offered full-time temp work at World Vision. What was originally a two-month assignment continues to be extended. I may not know where I’ll be in a few months—or whether or not I’ll have work—but through his daily provision God continues to remind me that my direction for the future comes not from having control over my circumstances but from trusting that God knows what’s next. This means acknowledging that I don’t have control and I can’t do this thing called life on my own.

And that brings me to the most important thing I learned this year. I struggle with wanting control, and I like to think of myself as strong enough to not need help. But when I look back at this last year, I can see clearly that the areas in which I relied on myself are the ones I am most dissatisfied with. Like my work situation, I’d be better off trusting God with these things than trying to control them. And I’d be better off seeking help than trying to go it alone. This year, God blessed me with a strong Christian community that constantly serves to remind me of my need for others; contrary to my attempts, the Christian life cannot be lived in isolation. All that said, I think the primary thing that I learned in 2009—or more accurately, am continuing to learn from 2009—is the fact that I must start each day at the foot of the cross. This position forces me to admit that I cannot do it alone and allows me to accept the grace of God that covers the times that I have tried. Once I have given up control, I have freedom to live as God intended.

Written by liferenewed

January 3, 2010 at 8:39 pm