"Lamb," an Unusual Gospel

I am currently on my second copy of Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. My first copy of Christopher Moore's novel was read, re-read, and loaned out so often by myself and others that it eventually fell apart.

Jesus' pal Biff is brought back from the dead to fill in the missing thirty-year "gap" in the Gospels by writing his account of growing up with the Messiah. Moore writes with a sense of humor and sarcasm that some may find crude or offensive, but others may find themselves laughing out loud every few pages. This "gospel" is nothing like what you would expect; it's full of all the taboo topics: religion, politics, sex, drugs, and rock (just rock, you know...stonemason stuff?). Since Moore pokes fun not only at Christianity, but also at Buddhism, Hinduism, and just about every other major religion, this is a book for those who don't take religion or life too seriously. I find myself picking up Lamb any time I need a good dose of wit and sarcasm or a good reminder to step back and laugh.

Untouchable

Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand is the story of a young man named Bakha, an “Untouchable”. As an Untouchable, Bakha is of the lowest caste in Indian society and works as a sweeper and latrine cleaner. But Bakha longs for a life free from the daily abuses inflicted by the higher classes. He must walk down the street announcing his presence because he cannot touch – by accident or no – a member of the higher classes, for they shall be “polluted.” He may not enter a temple or a school, for the building shall then be polluted as well. Bakha endures insults such as “pig” and “filth” day to day, and he and his family live in utter poverty. There seems to be no end in sight, but there is a glimmer of hope in one man might inspire change in India. A beautiful book.

Untouchable, a work of historical fiction, was first published in 1935, during the British Raj (reign) before the Indian Independence Act of 1947. Today, many Untouchables are now self-described as “Dalits”, and integrate less noticeably into urban areas, having more employment and education opportunities. Although the Indian Constitution outlaws caste discrimination, in rural areas, some discrimination still survives. The following are some non-fiction titles relating to India and the caste system in history:

Untouchables: One Family's Triumphant Journey Out Of The Caste System In Modern India

Caste: At Home In Hindu India

The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives In The Victorian Raj

The Hindus : : An Alternative History

Author Birthdays: Bunin, Narayan, Barthelme

October 10th marks the birthday of authors Ivan Alekseevich Bunin, R. K. Narayan, and Frederick Barthelme, among others.

Ivan Alekseevich Bunin was a Russian author, and the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He wrote novels, poetry, and short stories, as well as a commentary on Leo Tolstoy, which is somewhat autobiographical. We have a few books of his collected short stories in our collection. One of the more well-known stories is Sukhodol, which was supposedly a biography of his family.

Bunin's real star work is the first full-length novel, which made him famous in Russia. Entitled The Village, it is a realistic portrayal of village life in Russia during the Revolution.

R. K. Narayan was an Indian writer, nominated multiple times for the Nobel Prize, though he never won. Of his works, The Guide is perhaps the most praised. It is a novel that shows the change of an Indian man into a sort of spiritual mentor. Spirituality seems to be a common theme for Narayan, as he also wrote a few Hindu religious retellings, like Gods, Demons, and Others and a modern prose version of The Mahabharata.

Narayan's novels are often based in the fictional town called Malgudi, including his first, Swami and Friends, which got him noticed by fellow author Graham Greene.

Frederick Barthelme is an American author and editor of The Mississippi Review literary magazine. He is the brother of fellow author Donald Barthelme.

Barthelme's latest book is called Waveland. Set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Booklist called it a "...powerfully atmospheric story of loneliness and risk". You can read an interview from last year about it at Fictionaut Blog.

Good Listening: Speaking of Faith

One of my favorite podcasts is Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett from American Public Media. Next month the show's name becomes "Krista Tippett on Being" -- and it sounds like Krista has more good shows planned. This summer, my favorite was her interview with Shane Claiborne, a 30-something social activist you can read about in Esquire magazine accessible in General Reference Center Gold.

Happy Birthday to His Holiness the Dalai Lama!

Today, July 6, Tibetans around the world are celebrating the 75th birthday of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet. Born in 1935, he was recognized at the age of two as the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 13th Dalai Lama. As the world's foremost Buddhist leader, he is the author of numerous books including The Art of Happiness : A Handbook for Living, Toward a True Kinship of Faiths : How the World's Religions Can Come Together, and An Open Heart : Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life. Those not familiar with this amazing man should check out Freedom In Exile : The Autobiography Of The Dalai Lama or watch Dalai Lama: The Soul Of Tibet. For a look at the culture behind the man, check out Dalai Lama, My Son : A Mother's Story which provides an honest, and often unsettling, look into the life of his late mother, Diki Tsering, and the harsh reality of Tibetan life.

dalai lamadalai lama

Myths and Myths Retold

Legends and myths have always fascinated me. I've been looking into them since I was little, and I am no less interested in them now. So, I figure, why not spread the joy?

Greek and Roman mythology are quite similar. In fact, some might say that the Romans essentially copied their earlier counterparts. Both cultures' stories are extremely telling; they include tales ranging from the long-loved IIiad, Odyssey, and Aeneid, to the more modern tellings of Rick Riordan's demi-god Percy Jackson, or the Odyssey parallels of James Joyce's Ulysses and the Cohen Brother's cinematic O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Egyptian mythology is quite different from the former two, though, oddly enough, Riordan also came out with a book based off of it.

Celtic mythology gives us stories like The Táin (Táin Bó Cúailnge), which has been interpreted in many ways, including in the music of The Decemberists.

Nordic mythology gives us the days of the week. Today, as we all know, is Frigga's Day. One of the Scaldic poets, Snorri Sturluson, might be of particular interest here. Though, if you're looking for something more contemporary, The Sea of Trolls series includes some really cool Vikings.

Perhaps the single book that most closely relates to this blog and its forms of mythology is Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Library Journal describes it as "the vast and bloody landscape of myths and legends where the gods of yore and the neoteric gods of now conflict in modern-day America."

American Daughters: Being Muslim in America

Muslims In AmericaMuslims In America

I've been listening to an interesting series on WUOM about Muslims in Michigan and thought, "How timely!", since we are hosting a similar talk on April 22nd at 7:00 pm in the downtown library's Multi-Purpose Room. This is in partnership with Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice and the U of M Muslim Students Association. I look forward to hearing from panelists with a local perspective & hope you will join us.

AA Lecture: Political author and journalist

Author and journalist Melinda Henneberger will speak about women and the church at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 18, at St. Mary Student Parish, 331 Thompson St. Henneberger edits PoliticsDaily.com, wrote If They Only Listened to Us: What Women Voters Want Politicians to Hear, and writes a column for Commonweal. She lives outside Washington, D.C., with her husband, Washington Post reporter Bill Turque, and their 13-year-old twins.

Made in God's Image

Rainbow DoveRainbow Dove For Christians today there are few issues more divisive than that of LGBT people in the church. There are hundreds of books dealing with the intersection of homosexuality and Christianity. They all ask the same question: Is same-sex intimacy a defiance of God's will as given through the scriptures, or has a misreading of the scriptures led to a proscription of an aspect of our God-given sexuality? Many, many Christians have turned to reparative (conversion) therapy programs to change the homosexual impulses which they feel are unnatural into heterosexual impulses. These ex-gay ministries have been widely decried by almost all psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors, even the Christian ones, but for those who believe that they have no choice but to change, they offer a glimmer of hope. Do you know anyone who is struggling to reconcile their faith and their sexuality? Here are some items that will give you food for thought.

Stranger at the Gate - Written by Mel White, this book is a must-read. It was recommended to me by a counselor at my alma-mater, a nearby well-known Christian college.
For the Bible Tells Me So - A thoughtful documentary of several Christian families with gay family members. I liked how they showed parents of gay children at several different levels of acceptance.
Save Me - A beautiful movie about a man forced to attend a conversion therapy home, the woman who runs it, and each of their searches for hope and love.
Desires In Conflict - This book by Joe Dallas, the founder of Genesis Counseling, has been used and cited by conversion therapy proponents since its publication in the early '90s.
Our Tribe: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Bible - Lesbian pastor Nancy Wilson uses humorous anecdotes and biblical exegesis to deconstruct the "texts of terror" used as the basis of anti-homosexual Christian beliefs.

Youth Nonfiction Finds -- Story and Prayer

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Over thousands of years of human history, the different cultures of the world have produced some diverse and beautiful expressions of spirituality. Fortunately, the Youth Department has plenty of books to help you explore the wide world of spiritual traditions.

For stories of the sacred, try Burleigh Muten's books, Goddesses: A World of Myth and Magic and The Lady of Ten Thousand Names. These books provide an impressive collection of goddess myths from around the world. Kris Waldherr's book Sacred Animals, presents stories of spiritually significant animals and what they represent in different cultures.

For a comprehensive collection of prayers, try the beautiful little book In the House of Happiness, or the The Barefoot Book of Blessings, which contain prayers, old and new, for every occasion and circumstance. Here's the Navajo prayer which inspired the title of "In the House of Happiness":

In the house of happiness, there I wander.
Beauty before me, there I wander.
Beauty behind me, there I wander.
Beauty below me, there I wander.
Beauty above me, there I wander.
Beauty all around me, with it I wander.
In old age traveling, with it I wander.
On the beautiful trail I am, with it I wander.

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