Broadway Books is my friendly, neighborhood, independent bookstore. That means a lot to a work-at-home writer who relies on reading and walking to exercise both brain and body. On Sunday, I weathered the cold to buy Anne Lamott’s Stitches for a friend recovering after surgery and a copy of Jesmyn Ward’s Sing Unburied Sing for myself. When I opened the door to the light and warmth of the store, my glasses fogged up. As I waited for them to defrost, I remembered the best book I ever bought here -- J.R. Moehringer’s memoir, The Tender Bar. It’s a good book, but I remember it so fondly because my husband, who only read non-fiction (“Why would anyone want to read something that isn’t true?” the newspaper man in him often asked) loved that particular book. It was probably the best Father’s Day gift I ever gave him. Many of my memories of Broadway Books, which settled in Northeast Portland about the time I did 25 years ago, stack up with memories of the friends and relatives I’ve given books that I bought there.
And now this carefully curated store with wooden shelves and tables heaped with good, if not excellent, books is giving me a gift. They have invited Portland poet Joe Soldati and me to share a reading there, and I am inviting you to join us. Joe has published several collections of poetry; his latest is Sacrifices: Retold and Untold Stories from the Bible [Poems]. These are not the Sunday School characters you may remember. Joe imagines a letter from Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, who has no idea his wife has been carrying on with King David. Joe reads the minds of soldiers gambling for Jesus’ cloak at the crucifixion. These poems make me shudder, smile, reflect. I think you’d like them.
My book, Sacred Strangers: What the Bible’s Outsiders Can Teach Christians, has filled my time since I left the paper. I was inspired by my time as a reporter, when I’d reach out to total strangers and talk to them about their most closely held religious beliefs -- which often were very different from my own. This experience reminded me of Bible stories, in which the foreigners or outsiders behave better than the believers they’ve encountered. So I researched and wrote about six of these stories and raise some questions about them, all in an effort to spark the conversations we need to have now, when our fear of strangers threatens so many of our religious and civic values. I believe Scripture can help with these conversations because, whether or not you know or revere the Bible, it has probably influenced your life. As a culture, we invoke the story of the Good Samaritan and we think we know what it means. But do we know the story of Hagar and the light it sheds on racism, refugees and hope? Or the story of Naaman, an enemy general who overcame his own ego, his most dangerous foe?
Though I tried to write with humor, my share of this reading may not be as entertaining as Joe’s. I get it. But I’m not asking you to come and buy my book. Feel free to buy Joe’s, or find something else on the shelves that may be calling to you. Or don’t buy anything, just come and join the conversation. It will be thought-provoking and fun. And I guarantee you’ll leave feeling better, as I always do when I leave Broadway Books.
If you can come, the reading is Tuesday, March 6, at 7 p.m. at Broadway Books, 1714 NE Broadway, Portland, OR 97232.
What a week this has been: another mass shooting, more aggravations and inaction in Washington, D.C., a dear friend requires, receives and is recovering from serious surgery, another Valentine’s Day without a card from Fred. I did what I always do: I ate too much chocolate, I spent time with my beautiful baby granddaughters, I edited a book chapter for a friend, I knitted, I tried to pray and I read a lot.
This morning I picked up Anne Lamott’s Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, a book she wrote after the shooting in Newton. Here’s what I will take with me today as I head out on errands:
“Every time we choose the good action or response, the decent, the valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection, hope. The horror is real, and so you make casseroles for your neighbor, organize an overseas clothing drive, and do your laundry. You can also offer to do other people's laundry, if they have recently had any random babies or surgeries.
“We live stitch by stitch, when we’re lucky. If you fixate on the big picture, the whole shebang, the overview, you miss the stitching. And maybe the stitching is crude, or it is unraveling, but if it were precise, we’d pretend that life was just fine and running like a Swiss watch. . . .
“In the aftermath of loss, we do what we’ve always done, although we are changed, maybe more afraid. We do what we can, as well as we can.”
This morning I plugged the last remaining pieces into the 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle that I’ve been working on since Christmas. They were not the last ones. As it turns out, six pieces are missing, gathered up and thrown away as I cleared the living room on Boxing Day or devoured by the vacuum cleaner in the weeks since. Six gaps: Two of the skaters in Rockefeller Center are missing partners. Two high-rise walls have holes in them. A chunk of the night-time sky is gone, and one outline resembles a body falling from a nearby rooftop. I crawled around the living and dining rooms on my hands and knees, checking under furniture and rugs. I ran my fingers around and under cushions. No luck. Now what?
Can I give away a puzzle, knowing it’s not complete? Would I ever want to tackle it again without the sublime experience of seeing it whole and finished? Why does it bother me so much that I can’t finish it? It’s not like the pieces are lying in front of me and I can’t see how they fit together. For six or seven weeks, this puzzle has challenged me and entertained me, given me something else to think about when I need a break from the news of the world or my own to-do list. And I did find the right spot for every piece I had to work with. That’s something. But still they eat at me, these missing pieces.
Oh, come on! I am annoying myself now. This is a cardboard puzzle, not my life stretched out on the dining room table. That, I guess, I’ll finish some day. Some pieces of it will surely be missing, too.
and I will probably make myself look at it, but here are five things I decided to read first this morning:
A PBS NewsHour piece truth-checking the notion that immigrants bring crime with them when they come to our country: “The most striking finding from our research is that for murder, robbery, burglary and larceny, as immigration increased, crime decreased, on average, in American metropolitan areas. The only crime that immigration had no impact on was aggravated assault. These associations are strong and stable evidence that immigration does not cause crime to increase in U.S. metropolitan areas, and may even help reduce it.”
Betty Crocker’s recipe for peanut brittle: “Cook, stirring constantly, to 300 degrees (or until a small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water separates into threads.”
A Religion News Service piece by Peter Gyves, a Jesuit priest and physician, under the headline "January was tough on the poor. And so was tax reform:" “It is time for people of faith to reclaim their compelling voice by bringing awareness to the poverty suffered by those less fortunate, and by creating opportunities for those more fortunate to walk in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in need. Sadly, over the past several decades, some prominent voices have aligned themselves with the powerful rather than the marginalized. Their support allowed this recent tax legislation to gain tax cuts for the wealthy by eliminating health care insurance for as many as 13 million individuals.”
A Sojourners piece titled, “The State of Religion and Politics in 2018 -- and Why It Gives Me Hope,” by Cassandra Lawrence : “We’ve seen religion at work in all the people who are reaching out to one another in quieter ways, gathering in living rooms and in houses of worship across the country to make efforts to get to know one another better.” Lawrence mentions specific programs and events worth noting.
And, finally, the last chapter of Christopher Fowler’s Ten Second Staircase, in which aging academics dig into the past to solve modern crimes in London: “‘England has the most contemporary spiritual landscape in Europe. The meaningful aesthetics of family and religion have fallen by the wayside. We have tribalism, but no belief system against which we can measure ourselves on this wonderful blank canvas, to finally prove responsible for our own destinies, international corporations are busy trying to fill the void. What could be more grotesque than companies behaving like vengeful deities by copyrighting the genetic code, or stopping seeds from producing? So someone must remain behind to remember the past, and I’ve appointed myself for the task. Do you want tea?’”
I know, I know, there’s a GOP memo in my inbox. But right now, I’m heading out for a run.