She devoured the words, consumed their soothing elixir.
She caressed each page with her fingertips as they stirred her longings and met her deepest, darkest fears. She delighted in each small triumph and mourned over losses that seemed only a lifetime away. She invited them into herself and bared her very soul. And even though the story ended, she carried them with her so that they became a part of her.
In times of chaos and violence, may we “pursue the things which make for peace” (Romans 14:19). May we make sacrifices, choose compassion, and love wholeheartedly.
In times when everyone seems to be an “extremist” of one sort or another, may we remember the wise words of Martin Luther King Jr. in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”…
“So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”
In times of hatred and disagreement, may we be agents of peace in our own world – in our friendships, in our homes, in our words, in our thoughts, and in our hearts. May we become the peacemakers.
As a teacher of English as a second language, I consistently meet students from all over the world. The question “Where are you from?” is very common in my classroom. I myself am frequently asked this question after people learn that I speak Spanish. In both of these cases, a one word answer of a country or a city never seems to fully capture the essence and complexity of a person’s identity. For this reason, I was so excited about a project that my students worked on that quickly became a source of some of my favorite moments from this school year.
The project consisted of reading a poem entitled “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon, and using it as an inspiration for a personal poem. Instead of answering “Where are you from?” with an answer about a physical location, it involves sharing memories about different aspects of your childhood, heritage, and upbringing to represent where you are from on a deeper level.
Although my students were hesitant about writing poetry, and some were even resistant to sharing about their personal lives, I could not have been more moved by their final poems. Some of them brought tears to my eyes, as I learned so much about each student and all the things that make them unique. I also personally enjoyed writing my own poem, and reflecting on the different aspects of my heritage and family that have impacted and shaped me…
I am from picnic tablecloths on the living room floor, from homemade play dough and wooden toys. I am from the kitchen table (solid, smooth, covered with eraser shavings and crayon marks). I am from the honeysuckles blooming along the backyard fence, The pecan trees dropping the pecans, like treasures waiting to be found, just like my future dreams and desires.
I am from astigmatism and big noses, from Carley and Reiner. I am from the bookworms and the storytellers. From you can do it, and don’t give up. I’m from “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest,” and prayers before bedtime.
I am from Driespitz and Valencia, from arroz con leche and cream cheese dip. From the books my mother read to me as a child, the hours my father spent helping me with my homework.
On the walls, in the photo albums filed away on the shelf beneath the stairs, sit all these memories of past smiles and joys, a picture of things to come for future generations.
In his book, Dr. Qureshi describes his upbringing in a devout Muslim family in America. He was raised to value integrity and peace, and he grew up learning how to defend his Muslim faith, particularly against Christianity. He was a high-achieving student in school, was a respectful and loving son, and passionately sought to serve Allah in all that he did. Throughout his adolescence, he was constantly seeking to share his faith with his peers and repeatedly engaged in discussions with Christians who had no answers to his criticisms of the Bible’s reliability, Jesus’ deity, and other issues of contention.
This pattern continued until Nabeel reached college and encountered the first Christian who was not rattled by questions and criticisms, but instead encouraged these questions and enjoyed discussing them. Over the next few years, Nabeel and David developed a strong relationship that motivated Nabeel to investigate his own faith in order to prove that Allah is the one true God and that Muhammad was his prophet. The more he researched, the more he discovered that many of his beliefs were formed on misconceptions or traditions that lacked historical evidence. And as he studied, he began to find much more evidence pointing toward the deity of Jesus and the authenticity of the Bible.
The beauty of Dr. Qureshi’s story is that he depicts the intricate relationship between logic and faith. He refused to base his faith merely on emotion and tradition, but pursued evidence and facts to support his decision. However, even once he determined logically that Jesus is the son of God and that he was crucified to bring salvation to humanity, he resisted Christianity. He states, “I knew that accepting Jesus would be like dying and I would have to give up everything, because for Muslims, following the gospel is more than a call to prayer. It is a call to die.” Ultimately, he beseeched God to show him the truth and finally accepted Jesus after God proved himself in an undeniable way.
I loved reading this book to learn more about the Muslim faith, to become informed about controversial issues between Islam and Christianity, and to study historical evidence that confirms the truths of the Bible. Most importantly, I was inspired by a story of a passionate pursuit of God that led to a life of sacrifice and devotion that has impacted the lives of many, including my own.
As with many of the good books I read, this one was recommended to me by my dad. Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate is written by Justin Lee, a committed Christian and executive director of the Gay Christian Network. In this book, Lee recounts the story of his life with humor, wisdom, and humility in order to address one of the most controversial topics in the contemporary Christian church: homosexuality.
Lee grew up in a close and loving family who raised him in a Bible-centered church. By the time he was a teenager, Lee had begun to actively pursue a personal relationship with God and had committed himself to serving God; so much so that his peers at school gave him the nickname “God Boy.” Lee felt like he had all the right answers to questions about morality and Christian living…until he discovered that he was attracted to men instead of women. This discovery led to a 15-year long pursuit of truth as he struggled to figure out God’s plan for his life and for other people in the LGBT community.
What I loved about this book is that it takes complete advantage of the power of literature to place readers in contexts and situations that they would have otherwise been unable to experience. Rather than present chapters full of theology and debate, Lee simply shares his own story, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions. In the process he touches on some of the following topics: why people are gay, how to respectfully communicate with gay people, the role of the church in responding to the “gay debate”, God’s view of same-sex relationships, and more. As is common when reading good books, I ended the book with more questions than answers and more unsure of my beliefs than I was when I began. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with all of Lee’s conclusions, Torn is a powerful message that can’t help but change you in some way.
“…that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith…”
//Samuel Taylor Coleridge
I recently finished reading the Divergent trilogy. I’d like to say that I read these books to better connect with my students, but I really just enjoy reading adolescent literature for myself!
If you have read this series, you can probably relate to the heartbreak I felt after finishing. I shed many tears, and for days, I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters in the story and what they went through. After talking with family and friends about it, I really started to analyze the effect that fiction has on people…and specifically on me.
As a child in elementary school I loved to read a book series called Abby, which follows a girl named Abby and all of her adventures. While in the middle of reading one of the books, I distinctly remember praying before going to bed one night and starting to pray that the characters in the story would be safe, until I remembered all of a sudden that they, and the situations they faced, were completely fictional.
I guess I have always struggled with separating fiction and reality when reading, because stories completely capture my mind and my heart. As I was thinking about this, I was reminded of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous idea about poetry asking readers to willingly suspend their disbelief momentarily. I’ve decided that I have no problem suspending my disbelief, but that my problem is being able to “un-suspend” it after finishing a story.
In some ways, I think this is the beauty of literature – to learn from stories, even fictional ones, and to carry the characters and the messages with you even long after the story is over.
Dick Van Dyke was probably the first actor I knew by name. As a kid, I watched him in Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, then in Diagnosis Murder and Bye Bye Birdie, and later I discovered The Dick Van Dyke Show and obsessively watched the entire series. When his memoir came out a few years ago, I was almost hesitant to read it. Many times, actors’ and actresses’ lives are much less enchanting than their fictional lives, and their personalities are bland in comparison to their on-stage characters. I was so happily surprised when I discovered that this was not the case with Dick Van Dyke after reading My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business. In fact, my respect and love for him grew even more after reading about his life. He does not gloss over his mistakes in order to seem perfect, but rather shares the wisdom he gained from each of his mistakes. Already from the Introduction, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed, because he explains that any readers reading the book to find “dirt” on the people he worked with should put the book away. His goal was not to provide drama and controversy, but to highlight all of the people who played a role in his success, which he humbly claims was almost entirely the result of luck.
He says, “I have tried to write an honest story, with lightness, insight, hope, and some laughs. I have also woven in bits of wisdom, opinion, and lessons learned…”
After reading the book, I practically retold the entire story to multiple friends and family members, who later read the book for themselves and absolutely loved it as well. Some of my favorite stories include crazy anecdotes about his childhood, his small beginnings, how he learned to dance, his experiences on the set of Mary Poppins, and behind-the-scenes of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Dick Van Dyke’s sense of humor, insight, humility, and adventurous life are so fun to read about and such an inspiration. Ironically, anyone who reads the book will become convinced that Dick Van Dyke’s life and success is in no way the result of luck, as the title claims, but a result of his hard work, talent, relationships, and passion.
I recently had the opportunity to teach “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot in my English III classes. One of my college professors really loved this poem, so I remember spending a lot of time analyzing it. At the time, I wasn’t overly impressed, but as I read it over and over in each of my classes, the more I was really touched by it. Many of my students were also challenged and moved.
If you have never read it, you can find it here. I don’t particularly want to compare myself to Prufrock, because he is a man who struggles so much to make any decisions in life that he lives his whole life without taking any action or making any decisions. He ends up measuring his life, not by the amount of people he’s influenced or even by his accomplishments, but by the amount of coffee he has drunk.
Nevertheless, I can’t help but ask myself the same question Prufrock poses to himself…