The Week In Books 2008, No. 9

Not all fiction is created equal. Bad fiction is just a story, perhaps with a clumsy attempt to hurl some themes at you, and probably with a heavy-handed “and the moral of the story IS….!!!!” type of ending. Good fiction, on the other hand, exists in layers and has a delicate complexity to it – there is depth, nuance, and themes are an organic part of the story, challenging the reader to deal with questions and topics in a personal way.

For example, you could read a non-fiction account of what it was like to be imprisoned in Iran in the early 1980s after the Revolution, and what it was like to be Jewish in that time and place, and what it was like for the families who didn’t know what had happened to their loved ones who were in the prisons. That would give you facts, and an overall sense of the mood of the country, and some insight into how other events played in to treatment of Jews, how the prisons were run, and so on. Taking it a step further, you could read a biography of someone who was in one of the prisons. That would give you a greater connection to the events, and you might understand the concepts better by virtue of putting a “face” on the facts. However, only well-crafted fiction, based on the facts and personal stories and broader history, can offer the depth of connection that comes from actually knowing and caring for the characters involved.

The Septembers of Shiraz follows a family of non-practicing Jews who are caught in Iran after the Revolution. The father is taken to prison without being charged with anything, and is tortured for months. The son is sent off to school in America where he feels lost and doesn’t seem to know who he is anymore. The mother watches her way of life crumble around her, and the nine year old little girl is shunned by her former friends and doesn’t know how to make sense of it all. The novel takes you inside the heads and hearts of each character as it deals with concepts like, what does it mean to be in exile? Where do you find your identity? How do people deal with the senselessness and depravity and violence of wrongful imprisonment under dictatorships?

Although I thought the book was well-written overall, I did find that the pace of the ending kind of got away from the author at the end – I think the book would have been stronger if the last part could have been a little more fleshed out and not quite as break-neck, but then again, since the author was writing somewhat based on her own experiences having left Iran when she was 10, perhaps she wrote it as she remembered it.

Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership by Sarah Sumner is another recommendation by Amy L., which she suggested as being a work from the more egalitarian end of the spectrum of the whole gender roles in the church debate. As such, I came to the book knowing I wouldn’t agree with a lot of it, but I thought it would be worthwhile to try to understand how different people think. Sumner does not count herself as either a complementarian or an egalitarian, but certainly she leans more towards egalitarianism so I appreciated her willingness to address weaknesses in egalitarian arguments and exegesis.

I found two sections to be particularly illuminating. In one, Sumner points out that egalitarians and complementarians have different guiding hermaneutics. Prior to reading this book I wasn’t sure what “guiding hermaneutic” meant, but essentially it means your concept of which verse or verses takes priority over others. According to Sumner, egalitarians see versus like Galatians 3:28 as a guiding hermaneutic, but verses like I Timothy 2:12 as auxiliary, whereas complementarians see I Timothy 2:12 as a guiding hermaneutic with Galatians 3:28 speaking more about eligibility for salvation than gender roles in church business. Reading that gave me a lot of insight into the debate, and why it seems the two sides often talk past each other rather than TO each other.

Also along those lines, Sumner’s discussion of having a Scotist or Thomist point of view (it would take too long to go into it in this post, basically they are two different ways of looking at Scripture and it’s bearing on the natural world) helped me see how each side makes arguments that seem ridiculous to the other side.

Josh and I had some good discussions about some issues and topics raised in this book, although as I told him, I wish I could have read this book with some sort of pop-up video of dissenting views challenging her exegesis!

I would recommend this book to you IF you are really interested in the whole gender roles in the church, complementarian/egalitarian/hyper-patriarchy controversy, and IF you are also reading other books by people with different viewpoints. I think on this issue you do need to be careful to make sure you’re seeing all sides and that you’re bouncing the ideas off of people you trust theologically, especially if you’re not trained in theology and Biblical word studies (as I am not).

I saw The Riddle of Amish Culture mentioned in a post on Amy’s Humble Musings recently, and since I’m moderately interested in the Amish I decided to read it. Honestly, I found it to be a little dry, but I did learn a lot. I think it’s interesting to read a sociological study of a religion, because I always wonder if it would sound so far-fetched if you heard an explanation from someone who actually believes it. Ideas like salvation and religious belief are particularly prey to misinterpretation by outside interpreters. Anyway, I thought the author did well to provide some insight on how the Amish would respond to outside questions like what right do they have to take their kids out of school after 8th grade and never let them watch television or travel internationally and so on.

Also Completed:
Exodus, Mark, Romans
“The Fat Free Junk Food” cookbook, out of which I do not plan to try even one recipe, and even the pictures are completely un-appetizing, and it was written in a hokey fashion. I’m done with the fat free/low fat genre of cookbooks now!

The Kids’ Week In Books can be found here.

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