Featured

Our Bookstore

As the back cover proclaims, “There’s a Story Inside Every Bookstore!”

Conventional wisdom says that when a browser picks up a book, the path to purchase is as follows: 1. Look at front. 2. Read back cover. 3. Read some or all of flap. 4. Check out table of contents. 5. Open at random and sample. At any point in this process, the book may be abandoned or may find a home.

With some 700,000 books published each year,  many deserving titles don’t even get this much contact with readers. So, how are we to determine which books we want to add to our shelves? Enter bookstores. Brick-and-mortar bookstores, to be precise.

Any book lover knows that browsing the shelves of a carefully curated bookstore provides peace and pleasure. The great bookstores of the world hold a well-deserved place on any bucket list, and even the smallest nook selling good books offers untold hours of enjoyment and enlightenment.

And who better to tell us about wonderful bookstores than authors? In My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop, renowned writers such as Isabel Allende, Douglas Brinkley, Terry Tempest Williams and dozens of others share their experiences with their most beloved bookstores. As the back cover proclaims, “There’s a Story Inside Every Bookstore!”

There is a story inside the doors of The Cathedral Bookstore. We invite you to get to know us better and make our little shop part of your story.

Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading!—Rainer Maria Rilke

 

Love is the Way: A Conversation with Bishop Curry

Join readers from across the country to hear two thoughtful, articulate Episcopalian leaders discuss the real possibility of living a life of faith and love in these times.

On October 8, 2020, at 6:00 p.m. Central, The Episcopal Booksellers Association is hosting a conversation with The Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Curry will be discussing his newest book, Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times, which will be published on September 22. The virtual meeting will consist of remarks about the book from Bishop Curry and a question and answer discussion with The Very Reverend Barkley S. Thompson, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral. 

That’s a whole lot of holy wisdom going on in one Zoom meeting, and it promises to be uplifting, thought-provoking, and clarifying about just what the word love really means. And, more importantly, just how we can put it into practice in our lives. In his book Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus, Bishop Curry said “Being a Christian is not essentially about joining a church or being a nice person, but about following in the footsteps of Jesus, taking his teachings seriously, letting his Spirit take the lead in our lives, and in so doing helping to change the world from our nightmare into God’s dream.” 

If there ever was a time when we felt like we needed to make that transformation from nightmare into dream reality, it’s right now. In this new book, the Bishop explains how the way of love is “essential for addressing the seemingly insurmountable challenges facing the world today: poverty, racism, selfishness, deep ideological divisions, competing claims to speak for God.” He also shares how we can develop the “deep reservoirs of hope and resilience, simple wisdom, the discipline of nonviolence, and unshakable regard for human dignity” that we need in order to meet these challenges. 

Bishop Curry believes that “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” Join the Cathedral Bookstore and readers from other Episcopal bookstores across the country to hear what promises to be a powerful and practical discussion between two wise, articulate Episcopalian leaders about the real possibility of living a life of faith and love in these times. 

To purchase your copy of Bishop Curry’s Love is the Way click here.

To purchase Dean Thompson’s In the Midst of the City: The Gospel and God’s Politics, click here.

To receive a link for the conversation on October 8, email the Cathedral Bookstore at bookstore@christchurchcathedral.org.

 

We are created to follow the Way of love of the Lord Jesus.  When we sacrifice our pride; when we uplift and live into our true nature; when we follow the Way of Jesus, then bonds of grace and community form and strengthen, and our world, that may at first seems like a deserted island cut off from hope, becomes, in the light of love, paradise.
~Barkley S. Thompson

 

Owen, We Hardly Knew Ye

I’m already missing Owen Meany and my Cathedral Reads group, but the Dean’s Book Club has a line up that promises to provide the next great read.

If Owen Meany is the reason that John Wheelright believes in God, I have to say that Owen is also the reason I got through the pandemic summer. My Cathedral Reads small group was a delightful collection of women, great readers all, who generously shared their insights and wisdom about A Prayer for Owen Meany, and life in general, each week. Some had read the book several times, and others were experiencing its richness chapter by chapter. We talked over an hour about each chapter, and I always came away thinking that many hours more would be necessary to really grasp all the details Irving packed into this dark, funny, moving and layered novel. 

No matter what was happening in the news or at my house, I could count on this group and their perspective. I discovered many more layers of the book and of myself because of their conversation. Religion, sex, politics—we covered the waterfront in our discussions as Owen led us there with his full-frontal capitals. It was refreshing, sustaining, and enlightening conversation, providing just what a book club should. 

Now it’s over, and I’m sad. I will miss my group and our routine. I will miss talking about Owen, and John, and Harriet and Hester. All summer I’ve been looking for armadillos, and I wonder if I’ll see them as frequently now. And there is the question of what to read next.

Yes, I have groaning stacks of books at home, and many more at the Bookstore should I ever run out. I’ve already started some of them, and they are commendable. But reading with others—others with different experiences and ideas and perspectives—seems so much more important now than just reading alone. Zooming for pleasure with the loose agenda of a great book is so different than a Zoom meeting. Anticipating a stimulating hour of good fellowship and conversation held back the dread of the sameness of the days all summer long.

Thank goodness the Dean’s Book Club is starting up again for Fall. If you, too, are looking for your next great read and a group to share it, look no further. September will provide a last deep dive into Owen Meany. October’s choice is S.C. Gwynne’s Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War; November, the Cathedral’s own Kate Murphy’s You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters; and December the venerable Catherine Meeks’ Living Into God’s Dream: Dismantling Racism in America.  All this non-fiction will be particularly interesting after having been steeped in Irving’s perspective on America all summer. I’m looking forward not only to gleaning new insights from these books, but also to sharing them with good readers.

To encourage you to support the Cathedral with your book-buying habits, The Cathedral Bookstore is offering a 10% discount on all the Dean’s Book Club titles from now until the meeting when the book is featured. However you choose to procure these titles, I hope we’ll get the chance to discuss them at some point this fall. As Owen so wisely told John “READING IS A GIFT,” and reading with friends is an even sweeter pleasure.

Love of books is the best of all.
~Jacqueline Kennedy

A Pocketful of God

God is always with us, but a set of Anglican prayer beads in our pocket can provide tactile reassurance.

In the dueling storms of pandemic and pervasive political unrest, you may be seeking to hold, or find, your center by expanding your prayer practice. Like so many of us, you may feel that these trying times prevent you from focusing the way you once could. While our Episcopalian tradition offers a variety of prayer practices, praying with Anglican prayer beads provides a tactile way to keep focused and may prove particularly helpful. Cool in your hands and pleasing to the eye, the beads can also slip into your pocket and provide comfort even when you are not actively praying. We know that God is always with us but touching this reminder of our prayer life can provide reassurance, wherever we find ourselves.

Praying with beads is a time-honored practice in many faith traditions. In Christianity, The Desert Fathers and Mothers counted out their unceasing prayers with a pocket full of pebbles, which evolved into knotted prayer ropes they used for reciting the Jesus Prayer. By the middle ages, the ropes morphed into the traditional beads on which Catholics pray the Rosary. Then, in the Episcopal Church the 1980s, the practice of using beads as a focus for contemplative prayer and meditation experienced a revival, and Anglican prayer beads emerged. Unlike the prescribed ways the rosary is used, the Anglican prayer-bead practice provides a framework for both traditional and personal prayers.

The form of Anglican prayer beads is laden with symbolism, beginning with the 33 beads which represent the years of Jesus’ earthly life. The four larger beads, called cruciform beads, represent the four points of the compass. Between each of the cruciform beads lie the seven beads of the weeks, representing the seven days of creation, the seventh day on which God rested, and the symbolic number for perfection. The single bead that leads from the cross into the circle of weeks is called the invitatory bead. Like a collect at the beginning of a service, it invites us to worship.

Whether you use the beads to pray alone or in a group, the suggested practice is to pray the full circle three times. That number, representing the Trinity, also provides time for distractions to fall away, allowing you to go deeper into prayer. Many traditional prayers have been adapted to the form of the Anglican prayer beads: The Jesus Prayer, the Agnus Dei, the St. Patrick Prayer, and others may be found online. One that seems particularly apt in these times when we need to ask God to give us strength in our isolation and save us from fear is the Julian of Norwich Prayer, which was created by Sister Brigit-Carol, S.D. an Episcopalian hermit in Abilene.  Here’s how to use the beads to guide you as you pray it:

The Cross
In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Invitatory
O God make speed to save me (us),
O Lord make haste to help me (us),
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

The Cruciforms
God of your goodness, give me yourself,
For you are enough to me.
And I can ask for nothing less that is to your glory.
And if I ask for anything less, I shall still be in want, for only in you have I all.

The Weeks
All shall be well, and all shall be well,
And all manner of things shall be well.

As you move around the beads three times praying these words, the storms of the world will not cease. But perhaps you will know that you are not alone, and your heart will be lighter. You may find some comfort knowing that you are praying as so many generations before you have. Most importantly, you will be focused on praying rather than worrying. An ancient monk said to the Desert Father St. Anthony “Pray for me.” The old man replied, “I will have no mercy upon you, nor will God have any, if you yourself do not make an effort and if you do not pray to God.” These strange times seem like very good times for us to pray without ceasing. If a string of Anglican prayer beads can provide the focus you need to deepen your prayer practice, then it is a good thing, indeed.

You can order a set of Anglican prayer beads which have been blessed by a Cathedral priest here.

Mystic Wisdom for Modern Times

As demands piled up, a battered copy of Revelations of Divine Love led my introverted friend and me to contemplate Julian of Norwich.  “I want to be an anchoress,” said my friend. “No way,” I replied. “Even you can’t stay home all the time.” Not long after that, we found ourselves at home all the time. What better time to read a new novella about Dame Julian?

Before the virus, daily life was busy. Phones were ringing, emails flying. There were coffee dates, yoga classes, meetings, and dinners; between them all, texting, Instagramming, and sometimes — when I could stand the acrimony — Facebooking. There were also many lovely hours at the Cathedral Bookstore engaging with volunteers and customers, discovering and selling books, searching for delightful gifts, and decorating for the seasons of the church year. When everything rolled along smoothly, it was wonderful, but the smallest stick in the wheel could quickly turn busy to overwhelming.

A friend who volunteers at the Bookstore calls herself a recluse, but she’s actually very social—on her own terms. The term “friendly introvert” comes up frequently in our conversations. One day as demands piled up, we were therapeutically sorting used books. A battered copy of Revelations of Divine Love led us to contemplate Julian of Norwich, and the lives of anchorites in general.  “I want to be an anchoress,” said my friend.

The cloistered existence sounded peaceful. Not ready to deal with the world? Draw the curtain. Hungry? Eat the food that appears at regular intervals. Inspired? Pray, write, sing, knit.  Have visitors when you open the curtain, and a front row seat for every service in the cathedral. Mainly, exist at a safe remove from the messy demands of daily life. But in modern times? “No way,” I told her. “Even you can’t stay home all the time.”

Not long after that conversation, we found ourselves at home all the time. We still have virtual ways of connecting; but we are not busy the way we were. Aside from work, we can draw the curtain and log off when we want. Rather than peaceful, though, it feels more stressful than the busyness did. I thought of Dame Julian again, this time wondering how she had the strength to live all those years sealed in a small room.

When I found a recently published novella about Julian, I was quick to buy it. Lady at the Window: The Lost Journal of Julian of Norwich by Robert Waldron tells the story of a Holy Week late in Julian’s life. With God’s “shewings” many years in the past, she must draw on the deepest well of her faith to remind herself that God is still with her.

Each section presents a day in Holy Week and incorporates Julian’s own words from Revelations. She shares her wisdom about God’s omnipresent love with a homeless wounded soldier, a frightened unwed mother, and several others who fear not only their situation, but also the church’s condemnation. Each visitor leaves Julian’s window feeling uplifted and beloved, even as she herself struggles to re-enter the divine light that she once experienced. The book details her daily routine, a grueling regimen of prayer, fasting, secret writing, and opening herself in complete vulnerability to the pain of her community—not at all the stress-free existence my friend and I had romanticized. Julian expresses her gratitude and deep love for the God she refers to as “My courteous Lord” and “Mother Jesus,” as she beseeches this loving entity to end her spiritual darkness.

The novella is spare but richly referential.  It weaves medieval spellings into the text in a way that feels compelling rather than gimmicky. By the end, I had to remind myself that it was not based on a real journal of Julian’s. Waldron’s text combines the interior life of the notable mystic with her larger historical context, presenting her in a way that made me want to delve more deeply into her actual writings.

Waldron presents the mystic experience thoughtfully. His twenty books include six on Thomas Merton and two on Henri Nouwen. He has received four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and multiple awards for his writing on modern spirituality. In the afterword, he says Julian of Norwich’s writings serve as “a window, though which we can at any time gaze, and see the great beauty, wisdom, and counsel she has to offer for the twenty-first century.” His novella provides an accessible entry to her world.

Reading it reminded me that while the virus cloisters me away from the daily joys — and pains — of busily interacting with the world, there are still many ways to engage with my own life, with my community, and with God. In Julian’s darkest week, she remains fully present to all three. Reading about the profound mix of light and darkness in her Holy Week provided the centering thought that if we focus on the presence and love of God in everything — even in our modern plague — all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

image

Lady at the Window
The Lost Journal of Julian of Norwich
a novella
978-1-64060-534-3
$16.99
Paraclete Press
To purchase, click here.

 

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language 
And next year’s words await another voice.

~T.S. Eliot

Our Beloved Becky Has Written a Book!

Cathedral Canon Becky Zartman’s new book is a testament not only to the love of God, but also to the strengthening love that individuals in community can provide for one another—even, and especially, in college.

images

Before the pandemic, college students lived in dorms and struggled to make sense of classes, friendships, themselves and God. Chaplains were there to walk with them on their journeys and serve as experienced, loving companions. Though the current college experience may be in flux, Belovedness: finding God (and Self) on Campus reveals the vital role chaplains can play in helping students understand their relationship with God, their communities and themselves, virtually or in person.

This collection of essays by the Rev. Becky Zartman, the Cathedral’s Canon for Welcome and Evangelism; the Rev. James Franklin, her dear friend who serves as Campus and Young Adult Missioner in Winston Salem, North Carolina, primarily at Wake Forest University; and eight other college chaplains from a variety of denominational backgrounds, begins by explaining the concept of belovedness, something those we honor as saints have understood. What made them saints, the introduction explains, was “their fidelity to who they are and whose they are. The love of God set them free and enabled them to change the world.” College, with all its “questions of vocation, relationships, and navigating young adulthood” is fundamentally about the question, ‘Who am I?’” The editors and authors in this collection want college students “to believe wholeheartedly that belovedness is the innermost ‘I am’” of their identity in God.

Each chapter asks “How would you [fill in the blank] if you knew you were loved beyond all measure? How are you going to choose to live into your belovedness?” and fills in the blank with a full range of collegiate experiences: making choices, success and failure, relationships, worship, sex, sexuality, partying, and mental health. For each topic, a particular chaplain shares anecdotes, scripture, and empathic understanding to help students understand how they might handle this aspect of college if they lived into their belovedness. Each chapter also includes further resources regarding that topic.

The book is a testament not only to the love of God, but also to the strengthening love that individuals in community can provide for one another—even, and especially, in college. Each chaplain seems carefully chosen for the subject of the chapter, and each shares their understanding in clear and specific detail, with an open and warm heart.

The last chapter, “Holy Sh*t,” written by Becky with all the energy and intellect that have made her so beloved by Cathedral members, begins by extolling the virtues of compost. She goes on to reassure students that even when they face such traumatic experiences as grief, eating disorders, sexual assault, controlled substance abuse, burnout, failure, or academic probation, “our God takes garbage and makes compost. God is working, even right now, to redeem all things. Even though you can’t see it or even imagine it. Redemption is happening; death is being turned into life.”

Finally the conclusion, “What Now?” sends students out to face their college years with the understanding that, like Jacob, their role is to wrestle with God. Only they can do the struggling necessary to grow into themselves.

Belovedness includes an appendix which explains how to find a campus ministry that will truly allow students to live into their belovedness, instructions on the prayer practice the Observatio,and step-by-step instructions for creating a small group to discuss the book.

Whether on campus or in a virtual setting, beginning or returning to college, any student who wants to find balance and peace while experiencing all that the college years have to offer will feel that they have found trusted friends and mentors in this group of chaplains and will benefit from their collaborative wisdom.  Belovedness would make a meaningful gift for graduation or back-to-school and will remind readers even long past the college years “who they are and whose they are” and how important it is to live with this understanding.

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”
~Nelson Mandela

 

In Praise of Summer Reading

The shared experience of reading books in the cool of the air-conditioning will help us to understand ourselves—individually and as a group—a little better.

On the first day of summer when I was a little girl, my next-door neighbor would gather all the kids from our block and take us to the library. She’d sign us up for the summer reading program—charts and suggestions and prizes, and mostly all the wonder of books. For the rest of the summer, she would take us back once a week to get new books and check in with the librarian about our progress. The dusty cool shelves provided respite from the hot Houston humidity, and the new friends we met between the book covers became permanent additions to the language of our neighborhood group—Max from Where the Wild Things Are, Harold with his purple crayon, Alexander with his terrible horrible no good very bad day, and so many other memorable characters.

Last summer, many decades later, when the Cathedral began Cathedral Reads, it brought back all that summer reading joy. Our dean, Barkley Thompson, chose Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird as the book for kids and adults. We set dates at the end of the summer for a congregation-wide conversation, a movie night, and a deeper dive into the book with the dean.

On a hot August morning, well-over two-hundred people gathered between services to discuss the book. The dean gave an overview, and then at tables of ten with a facilitator and five questions, over coffee and cake, we brought our widely different perspectives on the book to the table. The following week, we ate popcorn and pizza as we watched Gregory Peck’s 1962 Academy Award-winning version of the movie. Afterward, the dean lead popcorn theology, and we compared the messages of the book and the film. The program wrapped up at a special version of the Dean’s Book Club.

The shared experience of the book created new friends, engaged old friends, and gave everyone an entry to conversation. Differing viewpoints were presented and heard respectfully, and we all came away understanding ourselves—individually and as a group—a little better.

Throughout this past year, people kept coming into the bookstore asking what the next Cathedral Reads book would be. The dean took suggestions, considered many titles, and finally chose two books: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving for adults, and Wonder, by R.J. Palacio for kids, youth and adults who may not have read it yet. The books are linked by the concept “What Does Brave Look Like” and the discussions will focus on identity, courage, and faith. Both books will have Zoom reading groups throughout the summer to discuss questions regarding the reading to date, and the Dean will facilitate two larger Zoom conversations on Owen Meany. Then, circumstances permitting, we’ll meet up for a larger discussion and to watch the movie Wonder together, before the program wraps up again with the Dean’s Book Club.

We’re none of us sure when we’ll be able to gather, but we are finding creative ways to connect. And having the shared experience of books to read in the cool of the air-conditioning will introduce us to people different than ourselves, and show us their hearts. It will help us to understand ourselves—individually and as a group—a little better. It will give us new friends and make us more thoughtful people.  Just like the library’s summer reading program used to do way back when.

Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity. 
~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

If This Cathedral Could Talk

Houston historian Mike Vance shares the wild times Christ Church Cathedral has witnessed

Christ Church Cathedral was founded March 16, 1839. Recalling seventh grade Texas history–or any of the many fine books you may have read on the history of our great state–you’ll remember that at this point Texas had only been independent from Mexico since March 2, 1836. Houston became incorporated on June 5, 1837. It would still be a good eight years until we became annexed to the United States on December 29,1845. These were wild and uncertain times to be a Houstonian.

In 1836 the enterprising Allen Brothers hired Gail Borden to map the town. He laid out the streets on a grid. Texas Avenue, the new town’s principal east-west thoroughfare, measured a grand 100 feet across, wide enough to turn a full team of horses around. From the corner of Texas Avenue and Fannin Street, Christ Church Cathedral watched this town grow from a motely group of yellow-fever infested men trying to make something happen on the muddy bayou banks into a major international metropolis.

And thank goodness the Cathedral persevered through its own challenging history to bear witness to it all. This uncivilized mess of a town was in dire need of churching. Bars, brothels and brawls marked Houston’s early days, and even as things settled down somewhat, the city continued to draw and create colorful characters—powerful men and women whose influence is still present and whose names linger on streets and buildings all around us.

Who were they? What were their stories? How do they relate to the Cathedral on Texas Avenue?

Sunday evening, September 22 at 6:30 p.m., Houston historian and author Mike Vance brings all this history to life as he shares stories and images from his new book Mud & Money: a timeline of Houston History. He’ll focus on what was going on in town in the early twentieth century: What was it like in the days when Houston had established itself as a dynamic city with Jesse Jones at the helm? When air-conditioning was finally making the city liveable? When skyscrapers were sprouting all around the Cathedral?  How had the dream represented in Gail Borden’s muddy map become a reality?

These walls can’t talk, but Mike Vance sure can. And he has many fascinating tales to tell. Join us Sunday evening to learn more about the history of our very unique city and the beautiful Cathedral that still thrives in its heart.

Mike Vance presents Mud & Money: a timeline of Houston History
Mellinger Room in Latham Hall
Christ Church Cathedral
Sunday, September 22
6:30 – 7:30 p.m.

And please join us before the presentation for The Well, a contemplative Celtic Eucharist in the Cathedral at 5 p.m., and for tea and toast in Latham Hall at 5:45 p.m!

 

The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are.
~Maya Angelou

 

 

 

Unbound Delight

Houston Book Artist Lee Steiner presents at Christ Church Cathedral September 8 and 15

If you’re a hard-core, content-only Kindle reader, you may want to skip this. But if you’ve ever peeked under the jacket of a book to see how it was bound, admired a foil-stamped embossed title, or wondered what a frontispiece is, we’ve got something for you. If a stack of dusty old books doesn’t send you into Marie Kondo fits but, rather, whets your desire to read and sends you running for a cup of tea, please join us for some hands-on book lovers’ delight.

We’re excited to welcome Lee Steiner of Domestic Papers to the Cathedral for two consecutive Sunday evening workshops. Lee teaches bookbinding at local museums and at her East End studio. She grew up in a creative family of handmakers and antique collectors who were always on the hunt for inspiration. The name of her studio reflects her love of everything paper and of traveling to faraway places in search of unique materials for her art. Her travel always holds the promise of returning home to domestic bliss, where she turns her treasures into custom map-covered travel journals, sketchbooks from vintage books, and one-of-a kind writing journals.

On September 8, she will teach us how to understand a book’s true value. We know not to judge a book by its cover, but what factors do go into determining its worth? Do we value a book the same way others do? Lee will explain the elements that give books value in our lives—monetary, cultural, and personal—and show examples of books that may be worth a fortune to one person but are considered trash by another. She will provide a fresh appreciation of the treasures that lie on our own bookshelves, and she will share how she finds books for her antiquarian bookstore and creates beautiful journals and art from books that may initially seem worthless.

Then on September 15, she will lead us in a hands-on workshop to make a longstitch travel journal, a process that can be used to create journals of many sizes and functions. The longstitch binding allows the wide spine to lay flat for easy sketching and writing and creates plenty of room to add photos, maps, and mementos. She will provide all the materials—from paper to awls to a wide variety of map covers—and guide the group through each step. At the end of the evening you’ll have a beautiful, handmade journal to document your next adventure or to give to a friend as a bon voyage gift.

Yes, we know books are magical. But when did you last take time to really consider the vessels that hold the stories? A well-designed book furthers the impact of the words that lie between the covers. Exploring the book arts with Lee will allow you to look at your library with inspired new eyes, unleash your inner book-binder, and provide you some unbound bookish fun.

Valuing Vintage Volumes
Sunday, September 8
Jeffers Room, Latham Hall. 6:15 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Creating Longstitch Journals
Sunday, September 15
Jeffers Room, Latham Hall. 6:15 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

(Materials are included for the journal workshop so registration is limited. Please email lchambers@christchurchcathedral.org to register or get more information about either workshop.)

And please join us before the workshops for The Well, a contemplative Celtic Eucharist in the Cathedral at 5 p.m., and for tea and toast in Latham Hall at 5:45 p.m!

The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.
~Carl Jung

 

 

There Will Not Be a Test on To Kill a Mockingbird [But Let’s Pretend There Is]

There is a reason that we are still discussing To Kill a Mockingbird 59 years after its publication.

The most I ever learned in college was not from a professor. I’m not referring to life lessons, or extra-curricular information, but specifically to one US Intellectual History class. The professor, well-respected and well-published, provided the spark, the facts, and the direction, but the actual learning came from a motley study group made up of a very-Republican lacrosse player, a brilliant Southern belle, an angsty body-building Yankee libertarian, and me. How we came together I don’t remember, but I am forever grateful for their diverse perspectives and thoughtful intelligence.

Lectures happened MWF at 9 a.m., an early hour at a university noted for its nightlife. We set multiple alarms to ensure that we didn’t miss a bit of our crazy-haired professor’s insight. When exam time came, we picked up pizza and hunkered down in one of our crusty apartments, ready to cram. We didn’t review facts; we just tried to figure out what questions he would ask us.

We didn’t obsess about the details, because our professor didn’t. He wanted us to understand the big picture. We didn’t have study guides or practice tests: we just were supposed to make sense of the thought movements that had influenced the United States, and there were endless ways to consider the topic.  As we tried to determine what mattered, we bickered, disagreeing about what we might face on the test. We couldn’t discount anyone’s opinion, because we just didn’t know. We stayed up late, covering the waterfront. In the early hours we parted, to meet again after we had closed our bluebooks and signed the honor pledge, rushing out of the creaky lecture hall to high-five each other if we had guessed the questions correctly or, even better, if we thought we had known the answers.  We were excited about the material.  We wanted each other to succeed.  And, as we attempted to understand our complicated country in one short undergraduate semester, we didn’t realize what a gift our different perspectives gave us.

On August 4th, the Christ Church Cathedral congregation will gather to discuss Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Dean Thompson will provide us with questions to explore in groups. It will be a conversation, most certainly not a test. But what if we prepared as if it were? What if we thought about this book from the perspective of those most different from us: what questions would they ask?  When we meet to discuss this novel, we will gather across generations. We will gather across political affiliations. Across gender lines, economic lines, and most pertinent to this book, racial lines. But we will gather with the intent of each of us coming away with the deepest understanding possible.

There is a world of intellectual, social, and political history packed in this novel. There is a reason that we are still discussing it 59 years after its publication, a reason that it won the Pulitzer Prize, that the movie won multiple Academy Awards, that Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation for the theater is the top-grossing Broadway play to-date,* and that over a dozen books have been published about Harper Lee and her one story. There is a reason that it is as controversial as it is beloved.

We don’t know what questions the Dean will ask us. But more important than those questions is the preparation we bring to the discussion. Consider the story from your experience. Consider it from the point of view of a Republican lacrosse player, a brilliant Southern belle or a New England libertarian. As Atticus says, climb into someone else’s skin and consider things from that point of view. Because even though there isn’t a test, helping each other to understand the material makes all the difference.

*[https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/kill-a-mockingbird-becomes-top-grossing-us-play-broadway-history-1208931]

Ideal conversation must be an exchange of thought, and not, as many of those who worry most about their shortcomings believe, an eloquent exhibition of wit or oratory.
~Emily Post

 

The Cathedral Reads: To Kill A Mockingbird

Experience a world much different than our modern, urban home, but in many ways the same—roiled by racial tension, peppered with a few good people trying to make a difference, and inhabited by kids watching and trying to make sense of the grownups’ words and actions.

Our lives are fragmented. We all watch different TV shows, and discussing Johnny Carson or Saturday Night live around the water cooler or the church coffee table are no longer widely-shared experiences. Some of us play bridge together, or attend regular bible study with a group, but others are bowling alone. But this summer, whether we venture to distant lands, enjoy a relaxing stay-cation, or just continue our routine with the AC cranked down, we have the opportunity to take a journey together.

Join the entire Cathedral community on a trip back in time to the Deep South of the 1930s. We’ll experience a world much different than our modern, urban home, but in many ways the same—roiled by racial tension, peppered with a few good people trying to make a difference, and inhabited by kids watching and trying to make sense of the grownups’ words and actions.

We’ll get there by reading Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Many of you have read it, of course, but like the gospel, a good story can be revisited many times and never fail to provide new insights. Read it for the first time and discover why the name Atticus Finch became synonymous with morality and reason, re-read it to discover aspects of Boo Radley’s heart you never considered. Take it further and research Truman Capote’s relationship to the novel or the legal history of the South. We’ll all read it, but how deep you go with it is up to you. There will not be a quiz.

Rather, we’ll have a celebration of story. As summer winds down, we’ll gather to talk about what we discovered in this classic novel. Kids and grownups will have the opportunity to share their insights and learn more. Then, in one of the rare cases where the movie is as good as the book, we’ll enjoy the 1962 Oscar-winning Gregory Peck film together with a little Popcorn Theology. Readers who want to go further will delve into the story with Dean Thompson in book club.

If you can’t make one of the events, don’t worry: just relax knowing you’ll be able to walk up to anyone at the Cathedral this summer, grownup or kid, and say, “How’s that summer reading?” or “What do you think about Scout?” “Do you think Harper Lee wanted to release the earlier version, Go Set a Watchman, or was she pressured into it?” There is much for us to consider in both versions of this story.

Sharing our experiences will be better than retelling Johnny’s jokes or reenacting Roseanne Roseannadanna, and it will leave us with deeper perspective and a little more enlightenment.  For those still in school, it’s a good opportunity to get some actual summer reading done with lots of support.

Whatever your motivation, join the Cathedral community this summer on a journey into a Southern literary classic that has as much to offer us today as it did when it hit the scene in 1933. Harper Lee’s messages, now more than ever, are important for us to consider as a group. In to Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus says. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” While that depth of empathy is not physically possible, exploring an important novel and a writer’s evolving perspective on the world together is a good way to start understanding each other and our own world a little better.

Sunday, August 4, 10 a.m., Intergenerational small group book discussions of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird in Reynolds Hall

Friday, August 16, 6:30 p.m., Popcorn theology (dinner, movie, discussion) of the film To Kill a Mockingbird

Wednesday, Sept. 4, 6:30 p.m., Dean’s Book Club deeper dive into the novel To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.
—Harper Lee