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

A Wrinkle in Time: Was the Book Better?

Will the new light this movie sheds on L’Engle’s tale of good and evil amplify the message for you, or will your ink-on-paper experience–or your devotion to the specifics of the original story–prevail?

As director Ava DuVernay brings Madeleine L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time to life, moviegoers have begun the eternal debate: Was the book better? L’Engle herself maintained great skepticism towards a film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, but the story’s richness lends itself to further exploration of religion, creativity, and inclusivity.

A quick recap (sans spoiler) for those of you who have not read the book since middle school: Meg Murry, an awkward teenager, must travel through time and space to rescue her little brother from the clutches of evil. The method she uses is called “tessering,” a phenomenon her scientist father studied until he disappeared several years earlier. Meg learns of her mission from other-worldly beings; and the journey demanded of her takes her to the most dangerous landscape imaginable, that of her own heart.

Despite the difficulties of categorizing the quirky story published in 1962, it quickly became an international bestseller. Because of L’Engle’s treatment of religious themes, it soon became as controversial as it was beloved. The American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom lists it in the top 100 frequently banned books.

L’Engle, who served as librarian and writer in residence at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City for over thirty years, included many biblical references in the novel, and the ecumenical world view she put for went so far as to suggest a “happy religious pluralism” described by The New Yorker as one in which “Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and even scientists can live together in peace.” Her intimation that love was more powerful than doctrine upset some conservative Christians, who claimed it offered an inaccurate portrayal of God and nurtured an unholy belief in myth and fantasy.

L’Engle suggests that the powerful messages of Christianity are not just for Christians. As Meg’s father tells her, “We were sent here for something. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”  The author appreciated the tension created by opposites and understood that tolerance and love could bridge seemingly irreconcilable differences. In community, she explains, we draw closer to God not through sameness but through our shared life. Love, L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time says, conquers all, and we do not have to be privileged, pretty or perfect to experience the power of this world-bending connection.

Several dozen Cathedral members recently ventured to the theater together to watch DuVernay’s new movie, discuss a little Popcorn Theology, and decide book or movie? A little background, ICYMI: Nominated for the Academy Award and winner of four EMMYs, DuVernay has received critical acclaim for her work across film genres. In 2017, she was named one of Fortune magazine’s 50 Greatest World Leaders and TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. She is the founder of ARRAY, a grassroots distribution and advocacy collective dedicated to the amplification of films by people of color and women which was named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies. She gathered an all-star cast including Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Mindy Kaling, and Zach Galifianakis, and A Wrinkle in Time is the first film directed by a woman of color to have a budget of over $100 million.

And our reaction? With its presentation of the full breadth and accessibility of God’s kingdom, Ava DuVernay’s film version matches L’Engle’s creative fire, although some viewers in our group criticized it for combining and deleting characters and for deleting Christian references. The question was also raised: Would children understand the meaning of the story, or would they just be mesmerized by the special effects? But whether or not an individual approved or disapproved of DuVernay’s interpretation of the story, watching the movie together led to thoughtful discussion.

And that division might please L’Engle, who believed that our seemingly insurmountable differences can, in fact, be bridged—through that amazing tesseract we know as love. It’s not surprising that our group would have differing opinions about a movie based on this story. Three generations of readers have loved, questioned, or banned A Wrinkle in Time, and its longevity proves its power to withstand disapproval. More than half a century after the book’s original publication, DuVernay’s newest film opens the story’s arms even more widely and brings its mid-century perspective into the future.

Will the new light this movie sheds on L’Engle’s tale of good and evil amplify the message for you, or will your ink-on-paper experience–or your devotion to the specifics of the original story–prevail?

Book or movie? Strict adherence to the original or a more liberal interpretation? You’ll have to decide for yourself. But whichever medium you prefer, you’ll be reminded that one of the great strengths of the underlying message of A Wrinkle in Time is its ability to carry us beyond the perceived boundaries of our understanding.

Read or reread the book. Watch the movie. Or come by the Bookstore and pick up one of the many books we have by and about Madeleine L’Engle. Whether your path to understanding takes you through fiction, non-fiction, books, movies, or all of the above, we’d love to examine her fascinating world with you.

 

 

A book, too, can be a star, “explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,” a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe. 
― Madeleine L’EngleA Wrinkle in Time

 

The Peace Builders’ Poems

Taking more time for stories won’t solve our problems, but it provides an understanding that is the first step. 

The Jerusalem Peace Builders, Israeli young adults from the each of the Abrahamic faiths–Christianity, Islam, and Judaism–spent the week at the Cathedral. On Sunday, before reading the lessons in the service in Hebrew and Arabic, they explained themselves to us by reading poems they had written.

Each poem began, “I am from…” And each list-format poem included sweet, mundane ingredients that made up these young men and women: my mother’s hummus, my sister’s tabbouleh, roses and olive trees. But going beyond the sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice aspects of their character, they also shared darker ingredients: trouble, chaos and death, and the ways love had softened hearts of stone.

As they had opened up to each other through the course of the week, they opened themselves for the coffee-hour crowd. They shared their inside jokes and their respect and love for one another. They will never be able to look at a person from another religion as other, because by sharing their stories, their “I am,” they created connection and empathy.

At the Cathedral, the Dean has a book club. The titles are varied, selected by the group, and we carry them here in the bookstore. The title for September’s meeting is My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, by Ari Shavit. Called a “must-read book” by Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times, Shavit doesn’t try to tell us what to think about Israel, instead, he shares its story, intimately intertwined with his own.

“The Israel question cannot be answered with polemics,” he writes. “As complex as it is, it will not submit itself to arguments and counter arguments. The only way to wrestle with it is to tell the Israel story. That is what I have tried to do in this book.”

Taking more time for stories–for sharing our own openly and listening to and reading those of others intently–won’t solve our problems, but it provides an understanding that is the first step.

The heartfelt group hug after the Jerusalem Peace Builders’ reading testified to what an important start knowing and understanding one another is on the path to peace.

 

The shortest distance between truth and a human being is a story.
–Anthony de Mello

These little lights of mine

There is no denying the pleasure of a thoughtful gift.

In this day of online shopping, flash sales, and instant gratification, finding a gift for a dear one can be a daunting task. Nothing seems special, or worthy of conveying the fondness we have for the recipient. Or we feel guilty about the material blessings–or collections, piles, or hordes– that threaten to encroach on our serenity, and we don’t want to burden anyone else with more stuff.

But there is no denying the pleasure of a thoughtful gift. Knowing that a friend or family member took the time to select something to delight us, wrap it carefully and brave traffic or the lines of the post office to get it to us warms the cockles of our hearts.

At our bookstore, we carry beautiful beeswax candles that have burned under twelve inches on our altar. Made by the same family since 1869, they smell divine, and they last longer than paraffin candles. Most importantly, they have been part of the beautiful services here, and perhaps some of the peaceful energy that is present in those services might have somehow rubbed off on them. At least, it’s lovely to think so.

Next time you’re wondering what to share with that friend who has everything, or you need special candles to adorn your family dinner table or cast a soft glow on a gathering of friends, remember that we have beeswax candles that can add a touch of the Cathedral to daily life. Proceeds from the sale of the candles go to the Altar Guild, so when your candlesticks shine, you’re helping the Cathedral shine, too!

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
–Edith Wharton

 

Tree-Part Harmony

Have you listened to the songs of trees?

Have you been forest bathing recently? Did you know that spending two or more leisure hours under a canopy of trees provides a variety of health benefits so potent that the Japanese government has designated forest therapy paths? Have you listened to the songs of trees?

After publishing Pulitzer Prize finalist The Forest Unseen, Sewanee professor David George Haskell repeatedly visited a dozen trees around the world. His keen–and infinitely patient–powers of observation and fluent prose convey a deep and specific understanding of the connectedness of all species and describe the audible evidence of health or disease that really listening to trees provides.

The Songs of Trees: Stories From Nature’s Great Connectors will leave you with a new appreciation of the relationship of the arboreal world to the future of our planet, as well as fascinating insight on the many ways the biology of trees affects our daily lives.

Next time you’re forest bathing, take along Haskell’s contemplative study of the natural world. We have much to learn from trees, and there’s no better place to read than a leafy room lit with dappled sunshine.

 

For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. –Anne Lamott

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