Book Review: “A Small Porch”

I ran into this collection of Sabbath Poems by Wendell Berry through a new Instagram acquaintance that I encountered through my skoolie and tiny house posts.  She regularly posts sabbath poems on the weekends that I enjoy reading.  Wendell Berry brings the wonders of nature into words on pages, and it is a beautiful thing.  Also included in this book is a longer writing about man’s relationship with the land and farmers’ relationships with society.  This book is full of wonderful thoughts and ideas that facilitate personal reflection.  It also references many other historic works on nature that could provide useful for further reading and thought.

Book Review: “On Marriage and Family Life”

I picked up this book by St. John Chrysostom because I love a quote of his about prayer that I found in another book, and I thought a book focused more inwardly after reading autobiographies about revolutionaries would be a good shift for my mind and spirit.  While there were some bits and pieces that provided me with helpful reflections and thoughts, I would not recommend this book to very many people.  This collection of homilies and sermons is wrought with problematic views of gender that are likely telling of the time and/or the reality that a single man is writing about marriage.  I wish I could find a work from St. John Chrysostom focused directly on prayer, but I have been unable to find such a thing.

Book Review: “Cesar Chavez Autobiography of La Causa”

Can we speak truth to power when power butters our bread?   This is the burning question that I left with at the end of this book.  Reading about revolutionaries always pushes me to take inventory of how I am investing my time and energy.

As someone who grew up on the east coast of the United States, and then living my adult years in Indiana, I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of west coast issues.  I only know what I learn from reading and listening to those who live much further west and south than Indiana.  Unfortunately, the portrayal of American history in our textbooks has always been the perspective of the conquerors, never the conquered.  Reading Chavez brought me along in my understanding of Latino issues the way reading Dr. John Perkins in my twenties brought to life African-American issues.  Both helped me to realize the contemporary nature of what felt like stale history growing up as a white kid.

The format of the book is a compilation of excerpts from conversations with Chavez and those close to him throughout his life.  It makes for an enjoyable, real-life reading of his experiences and work.  It also highlights that he either didn’t have the time or writing skills to write the book himself…or both.  For me, this is a reminder and an affirmation that, while formal education is helpful and important, the fact that our society is writing off future difference-makers based on test scores is an inaccurate way to predict the contributions people will make in society.

I recommend this book to anyone who is willing to hear and learn from the perspective of our Latino brothers and sisters.

Favorite Quotes:

“Our family farm was started three years before Arizona became a state.  Yet, sometimes I get crank letters these days telling me to “go back” to Mexico!'” – Chavez  (Levy, p. 8)

“But the teacher thought nothing of changing our names the moment we were in class.  She wouldn’t pronounce his real name – which is Cesario – she cut it to Cesar right away.” – Chavez’s sister, Rita Chavez Medina (Levy, p. 21)

“While most people drawn toward liberalism or radicalism leave the church, I went the other way.  I drew closer to the church the more I learned and understood.” – Chavez (Levy, p. 27)

“…you must have people who are of a certain temperament, who just cannot live with themselves and see injustice in front of them.  They must go after it whenever they see it, no matter ho much time it takes and no matter how many sleepless nights of worry.” – Chavez’s fellow organizer, Fred Ross (Levy, p. 97)

“We never heard anything from whites unless it was the police, or some sociologist … They’d ask us all kinds of silly questions like how did we eat our beans and tortillas.  We felt it wasn’t any of their business how we lived.”  – Chavez (Levy, p. 97)

“The agents started asking me a lot of questions about Communism.  I said, ‘You know damn well I’m not a Communist!’ … Then the Republicans started to red-bait me, which made the papers again.  That red-baiting was the first time for me, but this was the peak of the Senator Joseph McCarthy era when many people were being accused falsely.  When the charges against me hit the press, there were repercussions.” – Chavez (Levy, p. 106)




Book Review: Long Walk to Freedom

Title: Long Walk To Freedom

Author: Nelson Mandela

Published by: Back Bay Books, New York, 1995

I did not expect this book to have the impact it did on me. As Americans, we often think of our country as ahead of South Africa in race relations due to apartheid regulations remaining in place into the 1990s. However, too much of the socio-political backdrop explained in this book felt very familiar. Many of the attitudes and prevailing thought contributing to the success and power of nationalist government structures are ideologies we hear amongst white Americans today.

One of the key demands Mandela continued to champion, in spite of imprisonment, mistreatment, and risk of death, was a one-person, one-vote system, a system that the Unites States still manages to circumvent through the electoral college system.  By the end of the period of history about which the book is written, South Africa had suspended capital punishment and implemented a one-person, one-vote system.

While it is easy to compare and contrast the Black South Africans’ struggle for equality to the African-Americans’ struggle for freedom and equality because of the Black/White conflict, another important lens for the reader is reminding oneself of the First Nations People of North America. How are the people who lived here before the arrival of Europeans experiencing life in the United States?

This book is an autobiography, a genre I would have never picked up in my younger years, but I decided to dig in and am glad I did! The first few chapters were a little hard to track with at times for a reader who is not familiar with South African landscape, languages, or peoples. The author regularly references places and people by name, and it takes some time to feel comfortable reading all the unfamiliar words. However, the  author’s ability to draw the reader into the experiences and issues at hand are unmatched, and I soon found myself drawn into the story, turning page after page without wanting to stop in the middle!

A few of my favorite quotes from the book:

“I had moved from the role of a gadfly within the organization to one of the powers that I had been rebelling against. It was a heady feeling, and not without mixed emotions. In some ways, it is easier to be a dissident, for then one is without responsibility. As a member of the executive, I had to weigh arguments and decisions, and expect to be criticized by rebels like myself.”  (Mandela, 1994)

“I was to have a working holiday, the only kind of holiday I knew how to take.”  (Mandela, 1994)

“I noticed a white woman in the gutter…there were poor whites…but one rarely saw them. I was used to seeing black beggars on the street, and it startled me to see a white one. While I normally did not give to African beggars, I felt the urge to give this woman money. In that moment, I realized the tricks that apartheid plays on one…” (Mandela, 1994)

“I had a not-so-pleasant visit from two Americans, editors of the conservative newspaper the Washington Times.  They seemed less intent on finding out my views than on proving that I was a Communist or a terrorist.  …when I reiterated that I was neither a Communist nor a terrorist, they attempted to show that I was not a Christian…” (Mandela, 1994)

“Anything that departs from this pattern upsets the authorities, for routine is the sign of a well-run prison.” (Mandela, 1994) {Blogger’s note: I couldn’t help but notice that, in American society, the word “school” could easily replace the word “prison” in this sentence.)

“But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”  (Mandela, 1994)

Book Review: “I’m Still Here – Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.”

Title: I’m Still Here – Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

Author: Austin Channing Brown

Published by: Convergent Books, New York, 2018

I knew this book was going to be powerful when I read the Table of Contents. The first chapter is entitled, “White People Are Exhausting.” I had to smile when I read that and then kept scanning until my eyes caught other chapter titles such as, “Whiteness and Work” and “White Fragility.”

Those of you who already feel uncomfortable, stick with me here! Lest you think this is a negative book, the author very much affirms that people genuinely love her, even those who commit common offenses based on deeply engraved patterns of thought and perception. She has spent much of her professional career working within Christian organizations to educate people and fight against the marginalization of our Black brothers and sisters.

The book is a memoir. It is very much a story of her indubitably normal experience as a Black girl, growing into a Black, professional woman in America. It’s an easy, enjoyable read that I recommend to everyone. If you are White and have very few African-American friends, this is a good entry-level book. If you are White and live, work, and worship in a multi-racial environment, there are many powerful reminders and new insights to help you continue in your journey of respecting and valuing Black voices. If you are Black, I imagine this will be a refreshing read that makes you want to commend the author for sharing her voice and bringing attention to the daily experiences of being Black in America.

A few of my favorite quotes from the book:

“There was more than what I knew or could learn from a textbook; more than what whiteness said was right.” (Brown, 2018)

“I fell in love with a Jesus who saw the poor and sick and hurting, a Jesus who had bigger plans for me than keeping me a virgin, a Jesus who loved and reveled in our Blackness.” (Brown, 2018)

“It’s not enough to dabble at diversity and inclusion while leaving the existing authority structure in place. Reconciliation demands more.” (Brown, 2018)

“And so hope for me has died one thousand deaths. I hoped that friend would get it, but hope died. I hoped that person would be an ally for life, but hope died. I hoped that my organization really desired change, but hope died.” (Brown, 2018)

Conclusion: This book is a must read!