Doom

Some very interesting designs for a Holocaust Museum in London.  This one is my favorite — the sense of something vastly dangerous and beyond individual control*:

akzh-holocaust

Rory Stott, “10 Shortlisted Designs for London Holocaust Memorial Revealed,” Arch Daily (Jan. 17, 2017) [link].

Though not, of course beyond individual action: “…and yet, in the end, did Klara Hitler’s sickly son ever fire a gun? One hollow, hateful little man. One last awful thought: all the harm he ever did was done for him by others.” Mary Doria Russell, A Thread of Grace (2005).

J.R.R.T.

jrrt “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

     J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

J.R.R. Tolkien (January 3, 1892 – September 2, 1973) was born 125 years ago today.  He has been singing at the throne of God for 40 years.

The Nightingale

nightingaleKristen Hannah, The Nightingale (2016).

This month’s book club offering is a lively story of two sisters who live in France during the Nazi occupation.  Although it is longer on emotional than historical detail, it is definitely one of those novels that make you wonder how well you would hold up under the pressures of that situation.  The book was similar in tone and gravity to something like The Winds of War, thus not as serious as All the Light We Cannot See, or as literary as Brideshead Revisited, or as witty as Everyone Brave is Forgiven.

I like the cover design very much.

Recommended.

Brave & Forgiven

ebif A delightful book, full of clever dialogue (“Sorry I’m late.  There were Germans.”) and heartaches, about the beginning of World War II in London and Malta.  Cleave does a marvelous job of conveying a sense of oppression which must have been felt by the British before 1942:

“[Mary] loathed the way the newspapers printed maps with the stark Nazi symbol on a field of plain white, as if Hitler had sent armies of erasers.  Better to crowd the swastikas in, to have them jostle for space.  [For her class, she] drew them deliberately crooked.  Her swastikas were degenerates that leaned at sickly angles and resembled one another vaguely, the offspring of first cousins who had married against the family’s advice.

Finally, she drew Britain, being generous with the width of the English Channel and giving the British Isles three times the area on the blackboard that they merited.  She thought it unfair to expect children to understand that it was possible to resist, from an island the size of her hand, a tyranny that stretched the whole width of the blackboard from Brest to Bialystok.”

It is not really a book about the war, but about friendships, family relations and love affairs in the shadow of great uncertainty and disruption.

Highly recommended.

Unpredictable technology

I was reading an old interview with William Gibson, one of my favorites:

220px-William_Ford_Gibson[Gibson:] The strongest impacts of an emergent technology are always unanticipated. You can’t know what people are going to do until they get their hands on it and start using it on a daily basis, using it to make a buck and u­sing it for criminal purposes and all the different things that people do. The people who invented pagers, for instance, never imagined that they would change the shape of urban drug dealing all over the world. But pagers so completely changed drug dealing that they ultimately resulted in pay phones being removed from cities as part of a strategy to prevent them from becoming illicit drug markets. We’re increasingly aware that our society is driven by these unpredictable uses we find for the products of our imagination.

David Wallace-Wells, “The Art of Fiction: No. 211,” The Paris Review (Summer 2011) [link]

 

The Man in the High Castle

This is not entirely true, of course, but a provocative thought, nonetheless:

“We do not have the ideal world, such as we would like, where morality is easy because cognition is easy. Where one can do right with no effort because he can detect the obvious.”

61BMpmDw23LPhilip K.Dick, The Man in the High Castle 260.

Indeed the truth is that too often, knowing perfectly well what is moral, we find that we do not choose to do it. See Romans 7:18b-19 ESV (“For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.“)*

PKD’s quotation does remind us, however, that our choices are obscured by our inability to perfectly perceive reality — we have very imperfect knowledge about many of the choices we have to make — and yet we still must make them.

Paul goes on to explain the only escape from this dilemma:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 7:21b-25a ESV.  Only Jesus delivers.

And so we should pray for guidance from the one whose perfect knowledge and perfect love are necessary for correct decisions in life and in less momentous choices like elections.

Silence & Beauty

9780830844593-194x300I am very much looking forward to reading  Makoto Fujimura‘s Silence and Beauty, which is described as using Shusako Endo’s Silence as a starting place for consideration of issues of suffering and faith.  Fujimura is a painter of great power and a believer.  I taught Endo’s book several times in my World Lit class.

I will let you know.

Between Mr. Coates and me

50c0c9d1dLast week I read Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (2015). Actually, I listened to it, and found it a powerfully unsettling book.

I had no knowledge of Mr. Coates and no preconception about the book except that in some sense it was about race. The book is (sort of) a long letter to his son about what it is like to be a black man in America. (“Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.”)

I say “sort of” because you have to put aside even that vague description very quickly. Mr. Coates would remind us that in any society there are those whose aspirations to achieve “the dream” will necessarily involve putting some people — identified by color, ethnicity, gender, language or some other characteristic — at the bottom of the well. I think he would say that in 2016 in America that characteristic is still often race.

Mr. Coates tells his son stories about his experiences and about those of his friends and acquaintances.  Some are touching and some are extraordinarily upsetting. No one could listen to his account of the death of Prince Jones without horror, shame and outrage.

One of the recurring themes is that the fragility of “the black body”:

We could not get out. The ground we walked was trip-wired. The air we breathed was toxic. The water stunted our growth. We could not get out. A year after I watched the boy with the small eyes pull out a gun, my father beat me for letting another boy steal from me. Two years later, he beat me for threatening my ninth-grade teacher. Not being violent enough could cost me my body. Being too violent could cost me my body. We could not get out.

It is not necessary that you believe that the officer who choked Eric Garner set out that day to destroy a body. All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.

But you are a black boy, and you must be responsible for your body in a way that other boys cannot know.

I am convinced that Mr. Coates is telling me truths I need to hear.  I am not sure that Mr. Coates tells me what any white American can do to ameliorate the evils he describes. It is better to hear truth than to block it out, of course, but that is not enough.

What is enough?

Mr. Coates declines to believe in any otherworldly justice, though he seems to concede that there have been times when the church has been one of the few refuges for the black body. As I listened to him in the midst of Passion Week, though, I thought that Jesus, certainly, voluntarily offered his body to be destroyed by the system of the world as a sacrifice for all of us.

This is not a “good read,” or an “interesting study.”  It seems to me to be an important book that has challenged my assumptions and beliefs.  I hope and pray that I will allow it to change the way I act and live, and that God will help me to understand what is enough.