Read Anything Great Lately?

My favorite kind of reading is that which lingers with me a day later and won’t let me go. It keeps nudging and prodding me, bobbing to the surface of my thinking, insisting that it needs to be thought through and applied and maybe passed along.

I shall now pass along several.

First, two from the op-ed page of Saturday’s Times-Picayune. Then, a moving story from the Madeleine L’Engle novel I’m reading, and a fascinating little story from the latest New Yorker magazine about how we elect our leaders. All are worth a few minutes of your time, I’m thinking.

“Creative Expression is a Lifesaver” is the title of Cecile Tebo’s colum. She’s listed as the NOPD’s Crisis Unit administrator.

Cecile tells about her post-Katrina depression. Her house had been flooded and ruined, her children placed with relatives around the country, she was living with a friend in New Orleans, and trying to hold down her job at her crisis unit. When a close friend ended his life, she about lost hers.

“For days I tossed and turned in bed unable to lift the veil that had descended upon my soul. ON the fifth night the unimaginable happened: I wrote.”

For some, that would have been no big deal. But for Cecile, she was facing her greatest fear. Writing had been a huge chore going back to childhood. But now, the thought occurred to her, she needed to write down what she was feeling.

“As I lay in bed watching sun rises and sun sets, I knew that I had something to say. I could feel it burning inside. My head was filled with thoughts–anger, sadness, disbelief, grief, confusion, fear. I felt that thes were thoughts that other people needed to hear, but I had no means to share except one way: to write.”

She turned on the computer and wrote for two hours. She sent it out to her friends, and a miracle happened. Next day the Times-Picayune and CNN both called, asking if they could use her letter.

And that started it. Since then, she has written more than 30 articles, with 15 being published.

Some of our readers will remember Rudy and Rose French, who came to New Orleans from Canada after Katrina and made such a difference here. When they left, a couple of years back, I suggested Rudy write a journal on their experiences. That writing turned into a book, “You Can Learn A Lot from a Hurricane.”

Many times when a pastor is terminated or goes through some other kind of trauma in the ministry, I will suggest he get a blank book and take 30 minutes each night and write his thoughts. To me, hand-writing is better than using a computer, but whatever works for you.

It could be a lifesaver.

Second article on the op-ed page is from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Cynthia Tucker about Shirley Sherrod, the woman unjustly fired from the USDA last week due to a misrepresentation of a speech she had made.

You know the story. Well, you know some of it. You know that Mrs. Sherrod is an African-American woman who was giving a talk to a Georgia NAACP chapter back in March. She told a bit about her transformation regarding racism, and told an experience she had a quarter of a century ago.

She had hesitated to help a white farmer who was threatened with bankruptcy. Eventually, she did help him and found it to be so gratifying. The now elderly farmer, Roger Spooner, gives her credit for saving his land.

Sherrod told the group, “God helped me to see that it’s not just about black people, it’s about poor people. I’ve come a long way.”

Anyway, some idiot took a video of that and pared it down to bits of her story, leaving it as though she was still carrying those racial stereotypes and needed to be fired. Which is what USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack did. But he did it too hastily and once he found the facts, he called Mrs. Sherrod and apologized, the president called and apologized, and I suppose everyone else remotely concerned has done the same thing.

Cynthia Tucker thinks it might be helpful if we knew this lady. “Her father, a farmer and community activist, was murdered in 1965–shot in the back–reportedly by a white farmer who was never brought to justice. Later, white men burned a cross on her family’s lawn.”

Sherrod joined the civil rights movement and helped others start an agricultural collective. When the drought threatened their 600 acres in the 1970s, the USDA turned them down for a loan. “The USDA’s discrimination against black farmers continued through the 1990s, when a black farmer’s challenge sparked a class-action lawsuit, which the plaintiffs (the Sherrods were among them) eventually won. In a press conference apologizing to Sherrod, Vilsakc referred to his agency’s ‘sordid’ history of racial discrimination.”

We all owe Mrs. Sherrod an apology. I offer her one right here.

And I want to tell you a story from Madeleine L’Engle which fits here. The novel is “A Severed Wasp,” published in 1982. I’m only halfway through, but last night I came across something that blew me away.

The heroine is Katherine Vigneras, a concert pianist. She and her husband Justin were incarcerated in Hitler’s concentration camps during the Second World War. Since the Nazi captors would bring Katherine out to play concerts, she fared better than her musician husband–who had the bones in his hands broken, ending his playing forever. He carried great bitterness of soul toward the Germans.

Sometime following the war, Katherine and Justin were invited to return to Germany for a series of concerts. After struggling with the invitation, they finally accepted. In one city, they are befriended by Cardinal Von Stromberg. I’m going to quote the entire paragraph:

Justin accepted the cardinal’s invitation to supper, murmuring to Katherine, ‘We can hardly blame him for the entire war.’ The stone house by the cathedral was half destroyed, but the great library had been untouched and they sat there, with wine and cheese and bread and pickles and whatever the cardinal could find in the larder, talking, talking as though they had known each other forever, as they talked first about music, and then about the war and its horrors, its scars which would never disappear. And then the cardinal turned to Justin, knelt on the marble floor and confessed, for confession was what it was, all the sins of omission of the Church during the years just past, during twenty centuries of sins of omission and commission. He wept over Justin’s hands, and there wa a strange power of healing in the tears. The broken hands would never be able to express the intricacies of a fugue, but they would be hands which, in their turn, held healing.

Justin, too, had wept, all politeness gone, tears of rage, of hatred, hatred for the Nazis, hatred for the cardinal whose food he had just eaten.

I wept too.

And finally, the New Yorker article. Writer Anthony Gottlieb is reviewing “Numbers Rule: The Vexing Mathematics of Democracy, from Plato to the Present.” And he tells something I found fascinating.

In old Italy, when the time came for the city of Venice to elect a new doge (a mayor, I think), the process by which the city officials conducted this election was something to behold. Here’s what happened….

–An official went to pray in St. Mark’s Basilica. Along the way, he grabbed the first kid off the streets he could find and took back to the palace to pull out ballots from a box. Inside were the names of all the grand families of Venice. The child was selecting people for an electoral college.

–Thirty electors were chosen that way. Then, a second drawing reduced the number to nine.

–Those nine nominated forty candidates, each of whom had to be approved by at least seven electors to make it to the next stage. The forty were then whittled down to 12.

–Those twelve then nominated a total of 25, who needed at least 9 nominations each to make the list. The 25 were culled to 9.

–The 9 picked an electoral college of 45, each having at least 7 nominations. The 45 were whittled down to 11.

–The 11 chose a final college of 41 electors.

–The 41 electors proposed one candidate for doge of Venice, all of whom were discussed and some were examined in person. Then, each elector cast a vote for every candidate of whom he approved. The candidate with the most approvals won, but he had to have gathered in at least 25 of the 41 votes.

Got that? And you Baptists thought the SBC nominating process was complicated!

Gottlieb says they did it this way to safeguard the election from fraud. They wanted no backroom deals to corrupt their election.

That would do it, I suppose.

I just hope the legislators up in Baton Rouge don’t read this, or it’ll be proposed as a new law next fall.

1 thought on “Read Anything Great Lately?

  1. Considering the outcome of LA elections, it couldn’t hurt. Just finished the latest novel by James Lee Burke, The Glass Rainbow. LA people should read all Burke’s novels about Dave Robicheaux. He’s one of the most poetic novelists/mystery writers today. He deeply understands southern LA culture and in his earlier books captures cajun dialect perfectly. He also runs some deep themes about good and evil and meditations about death. If one has never read him, I recomment starting with the earlist Robicheaux and reading sequentially, although it’s not required to understand.

Comments are closed.