Tuesday, January 16, 2018

One Year In Coal Harbor by Polly Horvath


Source of book: Audiobook from the library

One Year In Coal Harbor is the sequel to Everything On A Waffle, which we listened to back in 2015.

Since first discovering Canadian author Polly Horvath a number of years ago (my daughters introduced me to the books featuring the ludicrously absurd Mr. and Mrs. Bunny books), we have listened to a few others. While Northward to the Moon was a disappointment, the others have been enjoyable. Anyway, here is the complete list of Horvath books I have reviewed on this blog:




This book continues the story of Primrose after the miraculous return of her parents from being lost at sea. Without that drama, Primrose ends up having to create her own, mostly by trying to play matchmaker between Miss Bowser (the owner of the restaurant featured in the previous book) and Uncle Jack. She is not, shall we say, particularly skilled at that task.

However, two additional outside events bring drama to Coal Harbor - and to Primrose’s life. Her former foster parents, the lovably eccentric Bert and Evie, take in another foster kid, Ked, who ends up being Primrose’s best friend. And a logging company attempts to clear-cut Mendolay Mountain, leading to protests and civil disobedience from locals and out-of-town environmentalists.

As in the previous book (and Horvath generally), the strength of the book is the complexity of the emotions and the situations. Horvath doesn’t sugar coat stuff, and she avoids easy answers. The characters are realistic, with both strengths and weaknesses - no villains or saints to be found here. Just mostly decent people with their own flaws. And that includes the adults.  Horvath examines the aftereffects of trauma, drug abuse, mental illness, and bullying in this book.

I particularly enjoyed the fact that Bert and Evie are front and center in much of the book. They came off as a bit clueless in the first book. Good hearted, but not great at listening. Which is mostly still true. But they are more lovable in this book, in part because Primrose (who is a horribly unreliable narrator) is able to see them more objectively when it comes to their care for Ked, rather than herself. Evie’s obsession with putting mini marshmallows in everything (clam chowder, anyone?) is hilarious - my kids and I joked about it all weekend.

Also enjoyable in this book are Miss Bowser (the one adult that listened to Primrose in the first book) and Uncle Jack, who is just a great character. He isn’t a stupid adult, as he could have been written. He is a bit bumbling at times, but he has his own insights which help Primrose grow over the course of the book. You really want Jack to succeed because he is a likeable, realistic, and decent guy.

I also appreciated that Horvath didn’t try to make Ked into a saint. He got to be a normal kid who had a hard life, and has been wounded by it.

Like Everything on a Waffle, this book ends each chapter with relevant recipes. Some are amusing - anything from Evie, certainly.

One thing to keep in mind throughout the book is that Primrose is flawed too. She isn’t always nice, she doesn’t tell the story in anything resembling an objective way, and she lets us watch her messy growth process up close. Some reviewers (see: Amazon user reviews), complain about the specifics of this issue, calling the characters “unlikeable,” the descriptions “harsh,” and so on. I disagree with both of those. Primrose isn’t particularly charitable in her assessments of other people - particularly on first acquaintance. So you get her uncensored thoughts, rather than clear truth about people. You have to look past Primrose’s voice to see people as they are.

I found this book to be a worthy sequel to the first one. The kids enjoyed it as well. Horvath’s books seem to be a mixed bag, but her good ones are quite good.

The audiobook, like that of Everything on a Waffle, was read by Kathleen McInerney, who is an audiobook veteran. I have no complaints about the job she does on these books - she’s a pro.

Friday, January 12, 2018

"Shithole" Immigrants

In case you missed it, this just happened

It is no surprise to me, however, because it is no different from what The Toupee Who Shall Not Be Named has been saying ever since the primary. His campaign was indistinguishable from the 1920s KKK platform, and he openly called for an end to immigration from brown people from impoverished countries. He promised to do that, and evict as many brown people as he could. He is merely keeping the promises he made. The only difference is he used a vulgarity this time.

So if you voted for him, then you voted for this. Period. You are morally responsible for this. Sorry. Not letting you off the hook.

However, your response right now says something about you. And I will remember your response. So will my children. Choose wisely…



***

Here is my response:

Sir Thomas More:
Look, what you do offend you cry upon,
That is, the peace. Not one of you here present,
Had there such fellows lived when you were babes,
That could have topped the peace, as now you would,
The peace wherein you have till now grown up
Had been ta’en from you, and the bloody times
Could not have brought you to the state of men.
Alas, poor things, what is it you have got,
Although we grant you get the thing you seek?

George Betts:
Marry, the removing of the strangers, which cannot choose but much advantage the poor handicrafts of the city.

Sir Thomas More:
Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you. You had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.
...
Let me set up before your thoughts, good friends,
On supposition; which if you will mark,
You shall perceive how horrible a shape
Your innovation bears. First, ’tis a sin
Which oft the apostle did forewarn us of,
Urging obedience to authority;
And ’twere no error, if I told you all,
You were in arms against your God himself.
...Say now the king
(As he is clement, if th’ offender mourn)
Should so much come to short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbor? Go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,—
Why, you must needs be strangers. Would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owned not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? This is the strangers’ case;
And this your mountanish inhumanity.

    ~ (Probably) William Shakespeare, from his contribution to Sir Thomas More

***

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    ~Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus,” inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty

 ***

 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

~Jesus Christ, Matthew 25:31-46

***

As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done.
“‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.  They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.  Samaria did not commit half the sins you did. You have done more detestable things than they, and have made your sisters seem righteous by all these things you have done.”

    Ezekiel 16:48-51

***

As I stated above, this is no surprise. Anyone who was paying even the slightest attention during the campaign would have noted that Le Toupee’s core values were first narcissism, but as a close second, vicious racism and xenophobia. Sadly, it was this second value that drove many voters to him.

I have cut a number of people out of my life over the last two years over this very issue. While I question your judgment if you voted for this shithole, I won’t terminate a friendship over that. However, if you say racist and xenophobic things, I will. This includes relatives.

This debate is over more than abstract policy, it is over a core human value.

In Le Toupee’s worldview, immigrants are only worthwhile if they are rich (and white, mostly). He has no interest in the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Poor people are “losers,” and their poverty is their own fault.

In contrast, those of us with basic human decency have a different viewpoint. In my case, I draw from my Christian tradition - specifically the values of my faith’s founder, who identified with the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed, and against wealth and power. I believe we are to see Christ himself in others - particularly the vulnerable.

So when I see a refugee from a “shithole country,” I realize that that person is in some way Christ himself, and I had better think hard about my response.

While I draw from my faith tradition, this is a universal truth, espoused by many religions in some form or another. And, I should add, my atheist friends seem to grasp the concept just fine.

In fact, it is primarily white, middle class, evangelicals who lack the basic decency and empathy to embrace others.

This saddens me to no end, but I have found it to be all too true. This is why we left Evangelicalism for good about a year ago, and don’t have any real desire to do the church game anymore. If it cannot take a humane position on an elementary ethical question, why bother? I can send my kids to hang with the Peckerwood street gang and get the same white nationalist crap.

I am tired. I am so tired of pretending.

I am so tired of pretending and coddling people and acting as if they were decent human beings when they refuse to act like it. Turning away the needy from our shores is inconsistent with basic human decency. It is inconsistent with the teachings of Christ. It is inconsistent with being a good person. Sorry. I’m tired of pretending otherwise.

And for God’s sake, if you want to be a xenophobe and racist, go ahead, but STOP CALLING YOURSELF A CHRISTIAN.

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Because to anyone outside your self-righteous bubble, it is damn clear you have no intention of following Christ.

And another thing, I have been browbeaten enough times about how I need to accept the “authority of the scriptures” on sexuality and gender roles.

This is baloney on a stick. The vast majority of the people who harp on about this have absolutely zero interesting in the “authority of the scriptures.” At least when it involves something other than genitals.

Because the founder of our religion, Jesus Christ himself, said that our eternal destiny turns on how we treat the most vulnerable, including (expressly!!) immigrants and refugees. But that all can be just explained away, right? He didn’t really mean it, it doesn’t mean that, and it can be ignored…

You know what? Eighty freaking percent of you voted for the KKK candidate. To quote Indiana Jones again,  

You stood up to be counted with the enemies of everything the Grail stands for! Who gives a *damn* what you believe?

At some point (and that point has passed for many of us), you have zero credibility. If you decided to throw in your lot with a worldview that is the polar opposite of the teachings of Christ, why should any of us listen to you. We left. We’re gone. Many more will follow.

This is your opportunity to repent. If you voted for xenophobia, you can change your mind. But repentance isn’t just thoughts - or words. Actions matter. It’s time to apologize to those who have been and will be hurt by the racist policies of Le Toupee (and the GOP in general). And it’s time to actively work to protect the vulnerable.


***

Just to be clear, I am the descendant of immigrants from a “shithole country.” No, not the ones Le Toupee listed now. But definitely a country that was considered a “shithole” in the 1880s. In fact, it was as a result of panic about immigrants like my ancestors that the first restrictive immigration laws were put in place, to keep poor riff raff like my ancestors out.

On both sides of my family, we are majority German Mennonite. Nowadays, Mennonites are (unless of the Amish variety), looked at as quaint but pretty mainstream. The most conservative wear the beards without mustaches (mustaches were associated with the military…), and women wear head coverings. But you could walk into a Mennonite Brethren church and not see much difference from any other in the Evangelical tradition.

But it was not always so.

My ancestors were forcibly evicted from German in the early 1800s because of their religion. Mennonites are pacifists, and refused to serve in the military. Therefore, they were suspected of treason, persecuted, and sent packing with only what they could carry.

For a time, they found a sanctuary in Russia. But, as ethnic and religious bigotry swept Russia (think Fiddler on the Roof), my ancestors were again given the boot. With nowhere else to go, they showed up at Ellis Island in the 1880s dirt poor, unable to speak English, and with babies in tow. Absolute shithole immigrants.

To America’s credit, she took them in. And not only that, but gave my ancestors free land under the homestead act (in Montana and Kansas), gave government loans for a grub stake, educated their children for free in the public schools, and subsidized their farming and ranching efforts from the 1930s on. When we have fallen on hard times (as my own family did when I was very young), we got unemployment benefits, I got medical care at government clinics, and we got by. Sure, my ancestors worked hard. The vast majority of immigrants do, both then and now.

But they were still the sort of “shithole” immigrants today’s racists seek to keep out of the country. They didn’t speak English. They were “unskilled,” lacking higher education or the ability to work in lucrative professions. Coming from a Slavic country, they were denigrated as dirty, unwilling to assimilate, and religiously suspect. And Russia in the 1880s was hardly a picture of idyllic wonder, to say the least.

The period from 1870 to 1900 (more or less) was the greatest influx of immigrants in the history of our nation. Never since have more of our residents been foreign born. Every single thing that is being said about brown skinned immigrants now was said about my ancestors back then. The more things change…

I am grateful for the chance that my “shithole” immigrant ancestors had a chance. And to today’s immigrants, fleeing ceaseless violence, the drug wars (we created, btw…), crushing poverty, and seeking a better life, I want to raise that lamp by our golden door. These people, from “shithole” countries are the very people we should be embracing. They are the ones who need an opportunity to be free from oppression and violence and poverty. Why is this so hard? Are we really that selfish that we cannot even fathom giving others the opportunities our ancestors had?

(Dear Evangelicals, you already answered that question with your votes. You chose...poorly.)



To quote a famous person:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

***

And that is my response.

***

One more note: Back in my youth, before I had kids, I did not exactly expect that I would be spending the time I have over the last couple years talking with them about the meaning of “Grab them by the pussy” and “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

I have not relished explaining that 80% of people from our religious tradition voted for this asshole. I have not relished their pain on behalf of their friends from Haiti and Puerto Rico or their friends of Mexican descent.

These have been hard conversations. But I am determined to raise decent human beings, who do not think of people outside their tribe as disposable. I’d like for them to follow Christ, not Ayn Rand and Steve Bannon.

I wish my Evangelical friends and relatives fully understood how thoroughly they have lit their credibility on fire and watched it burn to the ground the last couple of years. Particularly with my kids. If you cannot be bothered with basic human decency, then who really gives a damn what you believe? 

And let me add one more thing: I don't believe in the Evangelical version of hell. But I have sure been threatened with it. And you know what, many of you Evangelicals had better be hoping that you are wrong, because when you support this hatred and xenophobia, you are making a big down payment on a one way ticket there. 


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Christ and the Church: Misusing a Metaphor


NOTE: I wrote this post about two years ago, but decided to sit on it. The primary reason was that it was in large part a response to a sermon my former pastor gave on sexuality, and I decided not to stir the pot more at that time. Now that I was forced to leave not just that church, but Evangelicalism as a whole for reasons of conscience, I decided to re-read, revise, and post this one. This is some necessary foundation for future posts I hope to write.

***

I remember a certain day sitting in court (the division that handled divorce and custody matters), and this woman spoke on her own behalf. (Hint: get a lawyer.) After she proceeded to dig her hole as deep as possible given the time, the judge made his ruling. He started with words to this effect:

“I had been leaning toward granting your request, until you opened your mouth and convinced me to rule against you.”

Several times in the last week, I have either read or heard someone - a pastor and/or Evangelical blogger -  making a case for their particular view of sexuality, sexual morality, or marriage, based on Saint Paul’s metaphor of Christ and the Church as bride and groom. If it had been just one time, I probably would have left it alone, but it is clearly becoming the trendy “method de jour” for arguing against gay marriage. For some reason, many seem to believe that this is the ultimate “trump card,” so to speak, when I believe it is anything but. In fact, the use of this metaphor is more likely to confirm in many people’s minds that conservative Christianity is still clinging with bleeding fingers to a misogynist view of women and marriage.

Let me explain.

First, a couple of disclosures:

1. I am not a trained theologian. I am, however, at least a self-taught student of history, psychology, and sociology. I am also an attorney who practices family and probate law, so I probably have about as much or more experience with failed marriages and dysfunctional families as the average pastor or theologian my age.

2. Because of my experience hearing the poisonous teachings of the Christian Patriarchy movement during my teen years, I am WELL familiar with the use and misuse of the “Christ and the Church” metaphor as it relates to marriage. If anything, I probably have spiritual PTSD when it comes to this metaphor. So, I am a bit passionate about this.

3. I am not intending to make an argument for or against gay marriage. I am just pointing out that, as a wise lawyer once told me,

“Often the argument you cherish and hold in your bosom is the one that loses you your case.”

***

The gist of the argument is this: since marriage is like Christ and the Church, it is necessary that there be a male and a female in marriage. And, since sex must only occur in marriage, only male/female sex within marriage is permissible.

There are quite a number of troubling implications of this, particularly to anyone (like me) who believes that males and females are in essence equal in the most important ways. In fact, if you follow the metaphor, you find very quickly that you are making an argument for an extreme inequality between men and women - an inequality in some way equivalent to the gulf between man and God. And I need not tell you which gender becomes “God” in that scenario.

The problem isn’t with Saint Paul’s metaphor, which was truly revolutionary at the time, and is beautiful when confined to the original point. The problem is that when the metaphor is expanded beyond its original point, it loses both its truth and its beauty, becoming a weapon for abusers and an argument for a return to the misogyny of the past.

Let me start with this, because I believe it is an important point.

My marriage absolutely does NOT demonstrate the relationship between Christ and the Church. And, unless you are an extreme patriarchist, NEITHER DOES YOURS.

It’s actually pretty simple. My marriage does not demonstrate the relationship between Christ and the Church because my wife and I are equals. God and man are not equals, particularly in Evangelical theology. (Actually, I can’t really think of too many cases in which the gods and mortals were equivalent - that’s why they are gods, right? - although at least in the Greco-Roman pantheon, they were equally flawed.)

And, whatever most modern westerners claim to believe about submission within marriage, most of us are functionally egalitarian when it comes to the day-to-day function of our marriages. We make decisions together, we talk and love as equals, and we act as though each partner has equal dignity and wisdom. Now, I have come to a fully egalitarian philosophy during my marriage, but even before, I expected that my marriage would functionally be between equals.

Most of you are the same, whether you do lip service to “submission” or not. In fact, except for a few extreme outliers, nobody believes that a man who disregards his wife’s point of view as irrelevant is a good husband.

But that is certainly not how we view Christ and the Church.

Unless one is speaking about Christian Patriarchy. Because they take the metaphor deadly seriously.

I am not making this up, but there are those who actually try to put into practice “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” As in, men have to somehow cleanse their wives from sin by water and scripture reading. As I said, I wish I were making this up.

Let’s look at a few other implications, though, because I believe they are important.

The heart of the metaphor as a prescription for or description of marriage is that one party takes the place of God, while the other takes the place of humanity. In other words, one is divine, while the other is mortal.

No points for guessing which gender is the divine one.

2.     As high as Christ is above mankind, so men are high above women.

This is the problem, obviously. If it is vital to marriage that one party represent God, while the other represents man, one will by necessity be far superior in every imaginable way to the other.

3. If marriage must reflect Christ and the Church by having a male and a female, why is this so? I mean, I am a male AND part of the Bride of Christ. Does that mean I have to be a female in some sense? And since obviously not in biological sex or reproductive capacity, in what way am I supposed to be female? What is the essential difference between male and female? How is the difference between male and female like that between God and man if not in a hierarchical way?

In other words, if it is necessary that marriage (and sex) demonstrate the relationship of God and man, then the requirement of male and female (to the exclusion of same sex relationships) is so that someone can be the inferior party. Someone has to be the female. By the way, that is exactly the point made regarding male homosexuality during the time the Bible was written. It was shameful for a man to be penetrated, because he was lowering himself to the function of a woman within the sexual act. A man lowered himself to the status of the congenitally inferior woman.

I could talk at length about this, but let me just run through some basics of our relationship with Christ.

***

As a Christian, who believes that Christ is a co-equal member of the Trinity - God in all senses, I believe that Christ is always right in every situation. (Don’t confuse this with a belief that religious leaders are right in all situations. Quite the opposite.) Thus, I believe that God is indeed Truth, and that He will be right when I am wrong. As in always.

This would be a fully ludicrous approach to marriage, however. If I flatter myself, when my wife and I disagree, we are equally likely to be wrong or right. As a male, I am at minimum, no more likely to be right than my wife. (In practice, she is right more often than I am - I married a wise woman…)

Thus, when it comes to that issue, we are clearly not modeling Christ and the Church. My “divinity” leaves a lot to be desired. And the mere fact that I was born with a penis does NOT make me any more likely to right than my wife, who was not.

Now, Patriarchists disagree with this. They believe and teach that women are (by nature) more likely to be deceived than men, and thus, their opinions and wisdom can and should be disregarded or at least devalued. And this does in fact look more like Christ and the Church, doesn’t it? God probably does not sit around soliciting my opinion about major decisions. And why should He? The Christ/Church relationship is one of fundamental inequality. As high as the heavens are above the earth, as Isaiah put it.

So, if my marriage were to actually demonstrate Christ and the Church, my wife should NOT question anything I say. Or at least, she should trust in my opinions and decisions as being far above anything she could think or decide. (Although the bible is full of examples of humans questioning and arguing with God, Evangelicals consider this to be mortal sin.)  

Or how about this? A fundamental of Protestant (and thus Evangelical doctrine) is that there is only one mediator between God and man: namely Christ. He is the one who speaks to God (really Himself) on our behalf. As I have heard it taught, He is the prophet, priest, and king. He brings God’s words to us, brings our petitions to God, and rules the Church as its head. (Not all that controversial, I would hope.)

Would it be a shock to hear that the Patriarchists, in their zeal to demonstrate the Christ/Church relationship within marriage, have declared that MEN are to be the “prophet, priest, and king” of their own families?

It shouldn’t be.

But that is the natural result of taking the metaphor beyond its intention.

So of course, if marriage demonstrates Christ and the Church, then the MAN is the go-between for God and his wife and children. Of course he brings the very words of God to them. Of course his decisions should be treated as if they were from God Himself. Why?

Because he is the representation of freaking GOD in the marriage relationship.

Of course he shouldn’t be questioned. Of course he is always right. Of course disobeying his whims is the same as disobeying God Himself.

Hence, the “washing with the water of the word” thing. Because men are (essentially) GOD in the relationship, they are responsible for cleansing the sin in the women.

And then, what about this? Most of us (per Hebrews and other passages) expect that Christ lovingly disciplines us. How shall we demonstrate that in our marriages?

Do I need to be disciplining my wife? Shouldn’t I do that to demonstrate Christ and the Church? (I am being a bit facetious here, but there really are those who believe men need to discipline their wives.) Thus lies justification for abuse.

Bottom line: If I related to Christ the way my wife relates to me in our marriage, it would be fairly blasphemous. If I insisted on treating my wife the way that would be justified if I were God to her humanity, it would be at best seriously sexist, and at worst, abusive.

And any time one uses the Christ/Church metaphor to demonstrate WHY marriage has to be a certain way, one runs into this problem. Somehow, someway, one ends up arguing for one party to the marriage to be the inferior, human, party; to the other superior, divine party.

And when you argue that one party must fulfil the male (dominant, superior, divine) role and one must fulfil the (subservient, inferior, human) role, you have to end up somewhere seriously sexist, and probably misogynist.

So, whatever arguments you might otherwise be making - or think you are making - this is what many of those outside of the faith - and many of us within the faith too - end up hearing:

Gay marriage is wrong because a central doctrine of the faith is...wait for it… wait for it…

SEXISM.

Woo hoo. Isn’t that convincing? The currently trendy method of argument somehow assumes that this is actually a compelling argument, when it is is actually more of a confirmation of the idea that Christianity is inseparable from misogyny. If we base our entire concept of sexuality and gender on the idea of a hierarchy between men and women, we have lost the argument at the outset.

Better to just say that God is opposed to gay sex for an arbitrary and unexplainable reason than to tie the argument to the superiority of men over women.

This is so terribly misguided, in my opinion.

There is nothing wrong with what Saint Paul is saying, but the fault lies in the appropriation of his metaphor to prove ideas beyond the point he was making.

Saint Paul, Aristotle, and the legend of Cupid and Psyche

Probably the main reason why I hate to discuss marriage with Evangelicals is that they (generally) are appalling ignorant of history and literature. Indeed, I would argue that the luminaries of homeschool and Christian education are willfully ignorant of these things - or perhaps actively hostile to a real study of history, because such as study would reveal just how much American Evangelicalism owes to Aristotle and ancient pagan philosophies in general.

In this specific case, it is impossible to discuss Saint Paul and his teachings on marriage without a background knowledge of Aristotle’s Politics. This work was hugely influential in New Testament times; described the laws governing relationships between men, women, children, and slaves; and influenced popular thought, both in the relationships of the State, but also in the foundational relationships between individuals.

Aristotle notes three basic relationships that are the “foundation” of the State: Master/slave, parent/child, and husband/wife. In each case, the free, adult, male person rules over the subordinate person. The child, slave...or wife. If one ever wondered why Saint Paul - and Saint Peter - always mention these three relationships together, this is the answer. The three are mentioned together because they are linked by Aristotle as the foundation of the “polis.”

The foundation of society in 1st Century Rome is the superiority and rule of the free over slave, old over young, and male over female.

Furthermore, this hierarchy wasn’t accidental. Aristotle believed that humans were male by default, but became female in the womb because something went wrong with the developmental process. In other words, women are merely retarded men, subhuman in their physical and mental abilities. (Likewise, slaves were defective as well, which justified their slavery - you can see this exact same argument used in the United States both in defense of slavery and pretty much any time race relations or poverty come up.) Children, at least the males, were only temporarily subhuman. And a slave might win his or her freedom. But women were forever and always subhuman.

Thus, any analysis of the teachings in, say, Ephesians, I Corinthians, or I Peter, is ludicrously incomplete unless it includes the historical background, including the legal status of women, children, and slaves as the lawful property of freemen. If you are trying to convince anyone outside of the Evangelical bubble of your position, you will look like a fool if you ignore these historical and legal realities.

Saint Paul was making a specific point

If you actually look at the context (historical and grammatical) of what Saint Paul was saying, his point becomes both clear and limited.

Women and men were already legally and culturally related to each other in a way that the Christ/Church metaphor made sense. Women at that time did indeed legally owe their husbands the same unquestioning obedience as mortals owed God himself. They were, after all, the mere chattel of their husbands. And universally believed to be mentally defective too.

Saint Paul turned this on its head.

He made the bold, startling, and revolutionary statement that husbands owed their wives the highest possible duty. They too were bound to act with the same love and sacrifice as Christ himself!

Rather than treat women as chattel, godly men were to place their own lives on the line. They were to love their women as they did their own bodies.

This was a shockingly egalitarian statement at the time.

It is so very easy to forget that, and simply literally apply the “women submit” thing to modern marriages without actually looking at what Saint Paul changed.

In every passage where Saint Paul uses the metaphor, he is talking about how husbands are supposed to sacrifice themselves for their wives and love her with the highest love.

There is nothing shameful in this, even to the modern egalitarian. If one might borrow from another passage, we are ALL to esteem the other as better than ourselves.

The metaphor isn’t one of “this is how marriages are to look,” but “this is how a genuinely Christian man is to act toward a woman.” She isn’t chattel, or an inferior to be disregarded, but is to be treated as a man’s own body: a freaking equal!

That is the main point of Saint Paul’s metaphor, not that marriage must look this way or that way.

Let’s Not Forget Cupid and Psyche

C. S. Lewis wrote a brilliant and moving paraphrase of the legend of Cupid and Psyche. You can read my review of Till We Have Faces here, and I recommend that you also read the comments, because of the discussion between me and another blogger about the implications.

In the original legend, Psyche, the mortal, must complete several quests in order to become the bride of Cupid, a god. She is a mere mortal, and must attain divinity in order to make an equal marriage with an immortal. Cupid therefore “purifies” Psyche through these quests.

Surely Saint Paul was familiar with this myth, which predates the New Testament, and he seems to have borrowed it in his description of Christ and the Church. (As Lewis pointed out elsewhere, a Myth may very well be true in some sense - poetical and metaphorical.) It seems impossible that he would have been unaware of it (given his education) and unlikely that he would have purloined the concept and the language without some intent to utilize the myth for his own purposes.

And really, this is the other great bit about the metaphor. Divinity stooped to become human, in order that humanity, somehow, in a great “mystery” that we don’t understand, will become the “bride” of the divine.

Psyche (the butterfly, the “soul”) becomes divine in order to wed Cupid, the divine representation of love. In some way then, mortal humanity (the “Church”) will become immortal - “divine” even - to wed the ultimate being of love. This is a mystery indeed. And Saint Paul’s metaphor is thrilling in this sense. Someday, we will become the partner of God Himself, one with our creator. And somehow, we will transcend our human limitations to be a worthy partner. How this occurs is, indeed, a “mystery” to be revealed in eternity.

But then, this transcendent mystery gets pilfered to “prove” some point about gender hierarchy.

A revolutionary idea that men cannot treat women as property, but must act with the love of God toward them; and a mystery of oneness with our creator becomes twisted to “prove” that marriage must be a particular way.

A particular way that by definition includes a superior and an inferior party. One that paints men as god, and women as lesser. By freaking definition.

My marriage cannot bear that burden.

And chances are, neither can yours.

Because men and women coming together to become partners on the journey of life, following Christ as we we are called, and as we are gifted, do not really demonstrate “Christ and the Church” that way. I do indeed try to love Amanda as Christ loves the Church. But so does she! Her love for me isn’t really different from my love for her, as we both try to imitate Christ. Love and “godliness” aren’t really gendered. The Fruit of the Spirit apply equally to each of us.

We are all mortals partnering to keep each other company on the road to eternity, not godlike men cleansing our sinful women.

Metaphors are good as far as they go, but are dangerous when stretched or misused.

This is why one gets into dangerous territory when one tries to take a metaphor beyond the original intent to “prove” one’s view of gender and sexuality.

I am reminded of a few other issues. Many of the metaphors in Isaiah involve wine, which would have been useful and immediate to a culture based on grapes and wine, but would be less, um, “useful” or understandable to the average teetotaling Southern Baptist today. Likewise, many of Christ’s metaphors about sheep are either lost upon modern city dwellers, or are grossly misrepresented by preachers with little to no actual knowledge of sheep but great knowledge of stock sermon illustrations that would seem stupid to any person with actual knowledge of sheep. The metaphor is useful to a point, and to those to whom it was directed. Were Christ or Saint Paul here among us today, they probably would have used different metaphors to illustrate spiritual truths. Metaphors that fit our own culture and lives.

Even more to the point, Moses, Abraham, and Elijah were all looked to as “prefigurations,” or perhaps “metaphors” of Christ himself. They pointed the way.

However, the similarities become apparent only in retrospect. They were not quite as obvious at the time. In fact, most took the wrong lesson from Moses, Abraham, and Elijah. The popular Jewish conception of the “Messiah” was so screwed up that they didn’t recognize Christ when he came. Well, that and this important fact: Christ was a total surprise. His life and ministry didn’t fit the older beliefs, the older metaphors. He changed everything.

When you make the metaphor into the central truth, instead of a way to understand that truth, you end up with nonsense like this that ends up perpetuating the injustices of the past - exactly the opposite of Saint Paul’s intention. 

 Two equals, taking on the world together.

***


***

Just a few examples of what I described as the bizarre and misogynistic views of Patriarchist/Complementarian theologians:


That’s John Piper’s website, BTW, so this is pretty mainstream…


That link is from an interesting blogger. Some of us (myself included) suspect he(she?) may be a ninja-level troll, repackaging Patriarchist beliefs without all the nice doublespeak. Either way, each and every argument here is familiar to me from my past.

***

A few links which are interesting:

Frank Schaeffer, who, like me, grew up in Fundamentalism, and has rejected it, wrote an interesting little intellectual exercise on this metaphor. After all, since I as a male am part of the “bride of Christ,” does this make me part of a gay or bisexual marriage? Be careful how far you stretch your metaphors...

I really need to credit the loathsome Doug Wilson for helping me to see the poisonous root of Patriarchy. You want to see the misogyny that results from misusing this metaphor? Here you go.

J. R. Daniel Kirk is a New Testament theologian who has really helped me with the historical background. Here are three posts which clarify the sexist basis on which the Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman views of sexuality rested.


Friday, January 5, 2018

Rogue Knight by Brandon Mull


Source of book: Audiobook from the library

After a law school colleague mentioned her kids like Brandon Mull, we gave them a try on audiobook. In general, they are fast paced, full of imagination, and good for keeping a driver awake on a long drive. We started with Fablehaven, which is his first series. We never got beyond the first book on our trips, but my sons have really taken to them, particularly my younger one. They have read at least the first three books - and I suspect it may be all five. I lost track of what they borrow from the library long ago. Next was The Candy Shop War, which has a single sequel that my kids own, but I haven’t read. We ended up with that one because I ordered it before Fablehaven, but it took forever for our library to get it from another library in the system. Finally, last year, we listened to Sky Raiders, which is the first of the Five Kingdoms set. Since the next in the series was readily available on audiobook, I decided to continue that series this year.

Perhaps the most notable characteristic of Mull’s writing is his seemingly endless imagination. At last count, Mull has written six different series (or at least parts of them), each with its own unrelated world. And these worlds are hardly just there for the plots, they unfold into dazzling universes full of detail and wonders around every corner.

The plots and characters are interesting, but not on the same level as the worlds. The books are aimed at ages 9-13, which seems more or less right, although older and younger can enjoy them. (Particularly my kids, who aren’t exactly typical in their reading habits.) 



Rogue Knight picks up the story of Sky Raiders exactly where the latter left off. These books were clearly intended as a set of five from the outset. There are five kingdoms, and each is (apparently) explored in turn. Each contains its own kind of magic and “shaping” power, as well as its own dangers and mysteries. Sky Raiders took place in Sambria, while Rogue Knight is mostly set in Elloweer, the home kingdom of Twitch, who is kind of a human grasshopper hybrid.

As in the first book, Cole is one of a group of kids kidnapped and sold into slavery in The Outskirts. He has escaped captivity, and is on the run along with Jace, a fellow slave, and Mira, one of the daughters of the High King, who faked his daughters’ deaths and stole their magical powers years ago.

There are some plot similarities between the two books, which are driven by two factors. First is plot-based. The High King has lost control of his daughters’ powers, and they are - in some way or another - running amok in their respective kingdoms. Thus, the quest is largely the same: discover the missing daughter, and reunite her with her power. The second is, in my opinion, that Mull (who is roughly my age) is of the first video game generation. So many elements in this series in particular remind me of the old NES games. Explore, gain magical items and skills, rescue the princess, and defeat the big boss. I noted that in Sky Raiders, the floating castles are so much like video game dungeons - in a good way - that that part of the book felt like discovering a new game for the first time - over and over as new castles were explored. Alas, it was time to move on before I felt Mull had run out of fun ideas. Fortunately, there were other parts of the world to explore.

Rogue Knight retains some of the video-game plot elements, but with a different feel. Elloweer is a very different place. In Sambria, shapers fashion “semblances” and “renderings,” which are analogous to robots and tools respectively. They do their task, but without intelligence beyond their programming. (Although in some cases, the AI is better than others.) But all this shaping is physical. Things actually physically exist. They are cool magical technology, but they are no more mysterious than our own tech.

In contrast, Elloweer’s version of shaping is focused on “seemings.” These are things that appear to be, but are not in reality. Everything is an illusion - a really good illusion, and sometimes one that can kill you just fine - but they do not have physical existence apart from actual objects. Thus, a skilled shaper can make you look to others like someone else, but you will still be yourself underneath it. Only the most skilled shapers can make seemings independent of objects (or people) that stand alone. However, for many purposes, seemings are quite useful - as long as they aren’t destroyed by a “scrubber.”

Another interesting thing in Elloweer is the “confidence lounge.” These are kind of like a brothel or opium den - except for secrets. The clients go in, get a changing disguise, and swap gossip and intelligence. Yeah, a bit more g-rated - and yet spookier - than the analogues - these are kids books.

So anyway, Cole, Jace, Twitch, and Mira having defeated the boss in Sambria and reunited Mira with her powers, head to Elloweer, responding to a distress signal from Mira’s sister Honor. And hear about the twin terrors laying waste to Elloweer. The first is a mysterious terror who is creating an army of zombies (more or less) out of the inhabitants. The second is the Rogue Knight, who takes advantage of the challenge system of politics which governs the kingdom, and turns the taxation on its head (kind of like Robin Hood…) Both are unknown factors. The third factor is a mysterious figure imprisoned at the edge of the world, who appears to be a spiritual power from outside of the Five Kingdoms.

And then there are the minions of the High King, on the lookout for Cole and his companions. Things get intense, shall we say.

As in his other books, Mull is actually fairly thoughtful, introducing ethical dilemmas at age appropriate levels. The value of loyalty to one’s friends, compassion to one’s enemies if possible, and the limitation of collateral damage in a just war are all good lessons which are weaved throughout the books. In this particular book, I really noticed the theme (begun on the first one) that power itself causes destruction, unless it is kept under the control of those to whom it belongs. This goes beyond the “power corrupts” truism, and beyond the idea of choosing to use one’s power for good and not evil.

Rather, in this world, power which is stolen is catastrophically dangerous. The little kid, Brady, who accidentally creates a fantasy/nightmare world in the first book, has his power stolen, which then devours its new host and goes on a rampage (much as Mira’s did in the first book.) Honor’s power too becomes destructive - and is really only controlled and channelled because the evil characters in the series try to graft the power to an honorable person. (Hey, nice parallelism there, Mull…) If anything, the lesson here seems to be to be content with your own power, develop it, and use it for good. Stolen power just destroys the thief, leaving destruction it its wake. That seems true about our world as well.

I also credit Mull for creating believable and sympathetic characters. Even the sarcastic and egotistical Jace is likeable in his own way - even more so in the second book, as he cracks his shell a bit to reveal his true self. Mira still remains an enigma - but that is part of the plot. She isn’t some kid out on an adventure, but a centuries old princess stuck in a kid’s body.

I wouldn’t put Mull’s books in the pantheon of children’s literature exactly, but as highly imaginative fantasy, with age appropriate explorations of themes and dilemmas, and careful plotting, they are definitely in the category of “good.” Mull is no Terry Pratchett, but he doesn’t exactly write fluff either. These books seem like they will age reasonably well, as they are not tied to current culture particularly (video game aesthetics aside), but rely on the timeless appeal of adventures, quests, and magical worlds.  




The audiobook, like Sky Raiders, was narrated by Keith Nobbs. He is a youngish actor, and seems to fit the Five Kingdoms books well. His voices aren’t quite as varied as the very best readers, but they aren’t bad. You can definitely tell who is talking, as long as there are no more than 5 or 6 characters talking in a scene. My wife noted the strange use of Eastern European accents for many of the more “exotic” characters. It does seem weird a bit, I guess, and I am not sure of the book itself has those in there. (Unlike the way Twitch talks, with periods after every other word…)

I also should note that one of the disks was horribly scratched and unplayable. After a previous audiobook issue of this nature, I have always checked the disks for playability before we leave on a trip. In this case, I just grabbed the print book, and my wife read to us for the hour or so it took to get through that disk. She is a fantastic reader herself, so no drop-off in quality. She’s probably glad she didn’t have to read all 11 disks, though…
 



Thursday, January 4, 2018

Refuge by Dina Nayeri

Source of book: Borrowed from the library

I put this book on my list after hearing the author interviewed on NPR last year. With the exception of the ending, I enjoyed it. I’ll talk about the ending at the end of the review, with an appropriate spoiler alert, in case you want to read it first. 



Refuge is a story of two generations of Iranian refugees and their experience in the Western world. It is also a story of a girl (and later woman) and her relationship to her flawed yet beloved father.

The protagonist, Niloo, is the main focus of the book, and much of the story is told from her perspective. The rest is told from her father’s viewpoint, as his experiences are separate from hers for much of the book. The book also switches back and forth from the present to flashbacks of the several meetings between Niloo and her father after they are separated.

Niloo’s father, Bahman, is an Iranian dentist - a successful, reasonably wealthy man. He is not religious, but loves poetry. He also is a (mostly functional) opium addict. Niloo’s mother is a Christian, and as such, comes into great danger as Iran’s politics become increasingly fundamentalist. She decides to flee Iran, and takes Niloo and her younger brother, Kian with her, leaving Bahman behind. He is unwilling to leave his good life (and his opium) for the likely poverty he would experience as a refugee.

Niloo and her mother and brother settle in Oklahoma (of all places), and they do okay. At least after a highly traumatic stint in a homeless shelter which leaves Niloo scarred. Niloo gets into Yale, meets and marries a Frenchman, Guillaume (Gui), and moves to the Netherlands where he practices law and she teaches and researches Anthropology. Kian pursues the study of food, and becomes a chef. Their mother muddles on, and does essentially fine for a first generation immigrant.

Bahman, meanwhile, remarries twice. In his attempt to divorce his third wife after she has a mental breakdown, he is falsely accused of treason, placed under house arrest, and basically held hostage by his third wife’s relatives who want his wealth. He finally decides he needs to flee Iran and become a refugee himself.

That’s the basic setup for the story.

In addition to the plot itself, the book examines Niloo’s interior life - and her troubled marriage. Gui jokes that she has her “perimeter,” a space to herself everywhere she goes, which she allows no one and nothing to penetrate. This is kind of her “safe space” so to speak, where she projects her fears and her rigid need for order and control. And she will not let Gui (or anyone else) in to that mental and physical space.

While living in Amsterdam, she discovers a meeting group of refugees, which becomes her focus during her spare time. It is this subplot that leads to a real life event which is fictionalized for the book.   

There are some uncomfortable questions raised by this book, and I think they are important. Nayeri essentially rejects the narrative that many of us Westerners, even those welcoming to refugees, prefer to believe. We expect that those who come here seeking refuge change themselves to suit us, and express gratitude. Nayeri counters with the assertion that seeing refugees (and immigrants generally) as fully human means according them the right to be who they are, without demanding that they become like us, or that they reject their own selves and culture to prevent us discomfort. Likewise, refugees did not ask to have to flee their homelands. In an ideal world, they would be able to live their lives in peace and safety in the lands of their birth (or choice). The evil that is in the world prevents that, and the trauma they already experience in being ripped from their lives is enough without us compounding it.

Nayeri also gives a human face to another uncomfortable reality of immigration: the loss of status that comes with changing cultures. I should mention Willa Cather’s excellent book, My Antonia, for raising the same issue. (Antonia’s father, a skilled musician, is dragged to America by his wife, and never adapts to going from respected artist to desperately poor farmer.) Refuge notes the issue in several characters. One goes from a highly educated college professor to near homelessness - nobody will hire a 60ish man to do manual labor, and all his education is worthless with marginal skills in languages other than his own. Likewise, Bahman cannot work as a dentist outside of Iran - his license is worthless, and he has no way of going through dental school all over again at his age. So what is there for him? Even on a smaller scale, I personally know a man who married a friend. His European license in a medical field won’t transfer, so he cannot work at the level he did over there without re-doing his education. It is a tough problem to solve, alas, and one that isn’t given enough credit. Instead, we kind of tacitly assume that refugees are the desperately impoverished sort, who should be grateful for anything at all.

I also want to mention the liberal use of actual quotes from Geert Wilders, the neo-Nazi far right Dutch politician. Nayeri didn’t need to make up these poisonous quotes - they are all too real. (And all to similar to the bilge vomited out by The Toupee Who Shall Not Be Named, Roy Moore, and Steve Bannon and his ilk.)

“You will not make the Netherlands your home,” Wilders says to refugees and immigrants. And the nativists in our own land (and apparently an awful lot of white Evangelicals too) say the same thing. “Go home, dirty brown people.”

This is pretty heavy stuff, and the book has a serious tone overall. But it isn’t primarily darkness either. There are many humorous moments, and the relationship between Niloo and her father is compelling.

When Niloo leaves, she is a little girl in love with her father. Bahman is indeed a good father. He loves Niloo to pieces, and they do all kinds of fun things together. He instills in her a love of poetry and adventure, and a sense of justice.

The problem is, Niloo only remembers this side of her father, being unaware of his addiction, and his sexism, and his other human failings. Thus, when she visits with her father (in Oklahoma, where he nearly overdoses on unexpectedly pure heroin, in Spain, where he lands in the hospital after combining heroin and adderall, and in Istanbul, where Niloo is irritated that her father gets along so famously with Gui), she suffers from the dissonance of seeing her idol as he ages and she becomes all too aware of his flaws.

Nayeri has said that Refuge isn’t strictly autobiographical in its plot, but that the complex relationship between Niloo and her father does have autobiographical elements. There is no doubt that Nayeri makes this relationship come alive. I couldn’t help but love Bahman, just as Gui does. He is frustrating, infuriating at times, but he is so alive and real and absolutely like some force of nature we all have in our lives somewhere. (Nope, not disclosing who…)

It is Bahman who is the source of most of the humor, from his imperfect - and hilarious - translations of Farsi idioms into English (About a good meal: “"This is good. Is wedding in my ass.") to his all too accurate assessment of kale (“What this is? Is like lettuce fell in love with a piece of fabric.”) to his astute observations about life (“Clerics and politicians, as everyone knows, have no appreciation for the individual and no ear for stories; they are blind to everything that happens in the quiet hours when nothing is happening. That is what makes them dangerous.” I wouldn’t want to suffer Bahman when he is high or in withdrawal, but the rest of the time, he would be a gas.

In contrast, Niloo is a difficult protagonist to like. I sympathize with how tightly wound she is - I can be like that too - but she is so self absorbed that she seems incapable of seeing the good of others around her. In this sense, Nayeri is an outstanding writer. The character that is most a stand-in for herself is written with no illusions as to who she is - as unflattering as that is.

***

{***SPOILER WARNING***}

It is this that makes the ending so frustrating to me. Let me say that I do not like it, but not because it is a bad ending, or bad writing. On the contrary, it is good writing, it is entirely consistent with the rest of the book, and it fits the characters well.

My problem with it is that it means that Niloo never becomes likeable, and I felt that instead of growing or changing for the better, all she does is take a step backward towards infancy, damages innocent people, and sets herself up for problems later.

In the end (here’s the spoiler), she leaves Gui (who is also a loveable guy, trying his hardest, and succeeding better than most of us ever will at listening, learning, and doing the right thing.) Niloo’s own demons prevent her from ever embracing him. Instead she uses, then discards him, without truly feeling any remorse. I mean, she knows she hurt him, but she never becomes aware really of how she has wasted a decade of Gui’s life, while he endlessly gives of himself to try to make it work.

Hey, I deal with failed marriages all the time. For the most part, there is fault everywhere. But there are a few where one party truly has been wronged. And it isn’t typically the one with an affair or abuse, oddly. In most of those, both parties have serious issues. Not that that excuses abuse, ever. It doesn’t. But it explains why a person might choose to be with a horrible person. It is the ones where one party (and often it is a woman) appears to have picked someone they never truly loved, and then proceeded to mentally abuse the spouse for not being the person they could love. I feel this is Niloo in this book. Gui was convenient. He represented her fantasy of success in the Western world. He gave her everything she asked for, or at least tried to within the limits of human ability. And she never gives back. Not really. She just uses him.

To use Nayeri's own words, Gui isn't allowed by Niloo to just be an ordinary, mediocre husband. To have his own needs and traumas. 

And then, at the end, Niloo has essentially retreated into the womb. She is with her parents again, living with them, and trying to recreate her childhood in some way. This is not healthy, in my view, and will ultimately lead to problems. Her parents are oldish, and they will eventually be gone. And Niloo doesn’t really have any other close relationships. When her parents are gone, she will be alone in a world without roots. I can’t see that ending well, and I wonder exactly what Nayeri intends by leaving the story with that ending.

I will grant that Nayeri does make excellent points about the refugee experience, and I don’t wish to seem to lecture refugees and immigrants in that regard at all. I am not pushing for assimilation - that actually happens pretty universally by the third generation anyway.  Hey, I lived in a largely minority neighborhood growing up, and I knew plenty of immigrants. My ancestors followed the same basic pattern too, for that matter.

The issue here to me isn’t the overall experience of immigration. It is the more personal. Niloo has her trauma, but she also has plenty of opportunities to make connections, both within the refugee community, and outside, and she seems intent on burning all the bridges and just retreating into the womb.

***

Okay, that said, I’ll return a bit more to the book itself. Notwithstanding the fact that I want to argue with the protagonist, I really do think this is a good book. It addresses some crucial questions, introduces characters you really care about, and sucks you into the story. 



I also want to mention here the excellent article Nayeri wrote about the same issues in The Guardian. Take time to read it. I believe the point that accepting refugees isn’t some heroic act. It is basic, elementary human decency. And if you can’t muster that up, sorry, you are a horrible person. Rather, if you want to go beyond the kindergarten level minimum ethical behavior, you have to grant the same options to those who seek refuge. The option to just be mediocre, to be normal, to be themselves. To have problems. To not remember to always be grateful.