The Monk Downstairs and The Monk Upstairs: I loved these novels. I'd not heard of them until I saw that someone had purchased them from Amazon through the RevGals store (you can shop Amazon through the search box in my sidebar and the RevGals get a small percentage to help with our various nonprofit things!), and I became intrigued! They were so fun to read, really quick, and also surprisingly deep. I loved the descriptions of the active-contemplative life paradox, of an integrated spirituality...and of the developing relationships between an ex-monk and decidedly secular postmodern busy people. I loved the development of the characters' understanding of themselves, their relationships with each other and with God, and I loved watching them figure out what God might mean for them in these new phases they were entering. One of my favorite, and most god-sighting moments, came from this quote at the end of one of Mike's letters to Brother Jerome, the monk who insists on corresponding, possibly in order to save Mike's soul.
"Nailed to the rude cross of our inevitable failings, helpless and abandoned, we see the world slip away, in spite of our best efforts to cling to it...Tell that to your seminars, proclaim it from the mountaintop: God is the nail that splits our palm to break our grip on the world."
I also read The Faith Club, which is the RevGalBookPals book for July. I'll be in Scotland, on an internet fast as I travel the most beautiful place ever, so I'll miss the discussion. But I wanted to read the book anyway and I have tons of thoughts about it. Here are a few:
* I was frustrated by the way the Christian woman, in my opinion, either misrepresented or didn't understand her own faith tradition, or at least not the broader parts of Christianity. I don't know if it's because she grew up Roman Catholic and so all her description comes from that, or if it's because churches are doing a miserable job of Christian education, or something else, or all those things. But even in the appendix that describes Christianity, for instance, it talks about priests and the mass and doesn't use any other language or understanding of those things.
* That makes me wonder if the other two traditions are faithfully represented or if they have similar problems of lay education?
* I love the way the women were able to talk about big issues, to work together, to become friends, to be honest. I think that's very inspiring and a serious challenge to all of us who would prefer to isolate ourselves in homogenous communities rather than seek out intentional community with those who are different from us.
* I can't believe these women "didn't have any stereotypes of Muslims"--I just don't see how that's possible. I'm as incredulous as Ranya about that.
* Did they actually end up with a children's book? I sort of want to check it out if they did.
* I think the most important thing to learn from this book is that we can learn all we want "about" another religion/faith tradition/culture but until we make friends and share our lives, we don't understand and it's hard to fit caring and compassion and even love into our busy schedules. It's in building relationships that true diversity, true acceptance, true Christ-like love comes into play. (that's my opinion, anyway!)
Last but not least, I finally got around to reading Mission Trips That Matter. I bought this in January when I was at the Blaze at Montreat, and I kept meaning to read it but only now, in the days before we leave on the trip, have I gotten to it in the stack. It was shockingly good and helpful (and quick to read), not just for youth mission trips but for mission trips in general. I think I'll also be able to incorporate some of the stuff in here into our overall program year, since this year we are trying to be more intentional about mission being something we can participate in anytime, anywhere, it's not just a trip we take once a year to "help others" and "go outside our comfort zone" and "get closer to God." Those are all worthy things, but incorporating an overall sense of being part of God's mission all the time would be better. Anyway--this book is helpful in thinking about different aspects of mission trips and how they can work or not work. Plus great devotional/journaling ideas! I took a bunch of the prayers and the journal questions and used them in the devotional booklet I give to each participant for the week. Recommended!