What I’m Reading: On Religion and Sorrow and Babies and Writing

So I feel as though I am standing next to a conveyer belt and lovely, interesting items are flying past me all day long. And I’m supposed to grab one and hang on to them, but I can’t. Sometimes I’m indecisive–is this one really more interesting than that one? I can only grab one, and what if the next one is better? Sometimes I get distracted; I reach out my hand, and then there’s a tug on my pant leg and there’s Marilee with her double ear infection or William wanting to tell me the difference between a rain forest and a jungle or Penny asking if we can play Uno again. And sometimes I get overwhelmed and just turn my head away from all these images and stories and ideas, and I go back to the pile of bills or the email that has overflowed my inbox again.

So today I’d like to offer a glimpse of the different articles and books and blogposts that have captured my attention this past week or so, with hopes that I will write more on some of them in weeks to come.

I took a strange sense of encouragement by reading this sentence from Live First, Write Later on the Atlantic:

If you had a story in you—as the student did—the quality of the writing wasn’t important, even for the esteemed New Yorker, reflecting this period when writers are tasked to compete with piano-playing cats rather than with F. Scott Fitzgerald.

No wonder the conveyer belt is overwhelming. How can I ever compete with piano-playing cats?

And I was encouraged by the thinking behind How Skeptics and Believers Can Connect from the New York Times:

Yet believers and nonbelievers are not so different from one another, news that is sometimes a surprise to both. When I arrived at one church I had come to study, I thought that I would stick out like a sore thumb. I did not. Instead, I saw my own doubts, anxieties and yearnings reflected in those around me. People were willing to utter sentences — like “I believe in God” — that I was not, but many of those I met spoke openly and comfortably about times of uncertainty, even doubt. Many of my skeptical friends think of themselves as secular, sometimes profoundly so. Yet these secular friends often hover on the edge of faith. They meditate. They keep journals. They go on retreats. They just don’t know what to do with their spiritual yearnings.

Perhaps there is hope. Good marriages work because couples learn to repair, rather than escalate, their conflicts. Same-sex marriage and abortion should not be approached by drawing a line in the sand and demonizing everyone on the other side. We need to recognize something of what we share, and to carry on a conversation — and if we can keep the conversation going, we will, however slowly, move forward.

And then I read  When God Is Your Therapist, by the same author, and it bugged me:

This [therapeutic] approach to the age-old problem of theodicy is not really available to mainstream Protestants and Catholics, who do not imagine a God so intimate, so loving, so much like a person. That may help to explain why it is evangelical Christianity that has grown so much in the last 40 years.

It can seem puzzling that evangelical Christians sidestep the apparent contradiction of why bad things happen to good people. But for them, God is a relationship, not an explanation.

I am horrified by the details about the rampant abuses and murders perpetrated by an abortion doctor in Pennsylvania, Kermit Gosnell, and I’m thinking about our collective responsibility to protect pregnant women and their unplanned babies.

And I am also horrified by the death of Ethan Saylor, a 26-year old man with Down syndrome who died of asphyxiation because he wouldn’t buy a ticket to see Zero Dark Thirty for a second time.

I was fascinated by The Power of Talking to Your Baby:

Hart and Risley were studying how parents of different socioeconomic backgrounds talked to their babies. Every month, the researchers visited the 42 families in the study and recorded an hour of parent-child interaction. They were looking for things like how much parents praised their children, what they talked about, whether the conversational tone was positive or negative. Then they waited till the children were 9, and examined how they were doing in school. In the meantime, they transcribed and analyzed every word on the tapes — a process that took six years. “It wasn’t until we’d collected our data that we realized that the important variable was how much talking the parents were doing,” Risley told an interviewer later.

All parents gave their children directives like “Put away your toy!” or “Don’t eat that!” But interaction was more likely to stop there for parents on welfare, while as a family’s income and educational levels rose, those interactions were more likely to be just the beginning.

The disparity was staggering. Children whose families were on welfare heard about 600 words per hour. Working-class children heard 1,200 words per hour, and children from professional families heard 2,100 words. By age 3, a poor child would have heard 30 million fewer words in his home environment than a child from a professional family. And the disparity mattered: the greater the number of words children heard from their parents or caregivers before they were 3, the higher their IQ and the better they did in school. TV talk not only didn’t help, it was detrimental.

At night, I’m loving Someone Knows My Name, by Lawrence Hill, and I’m looking forward to Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss and Rebekah Lyons’ Freefall to Fly.

Happy reading…


About Amy Julia Becker

Amy Julia Becker writes and speaks about family, faith, disability, and culture. A graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary, she is the author of Penelope Ayers: A Memoir, A Good and Perfect Gift (Bethany House), and Why I Am Both Spiritual and Religious (Patheos Press).


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