On the Nightstand.

After Go Set a Watchman was published, I searched my memory and could not recall reading Harper Lee’s one hit wonder To Kill a Mockingbird.  When I searched for the Pulitzer Prize winning e-book at our library, I was taken aback to learn that there were 14 people ahead of me waiting to read the classic.  Now, I know why.

While I have only read the first few chapters, the narrative is free flowing, easy to read, and intriguing.  I’m looking forward to understanding the reason(s) the piece won the coveted prize for literature and the kerfuffle over Ms. Lee’s second published work.

As for Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, it is everything critics claim it to be.  I found myself in tears reading certain passages, attributed to a unique combination of anger, fear, and sadness.  Mr. Coates’ portrays a world unknown to most Americans, but all too familiar to Black Americans.  It is a timely book.  It is an important book.  It should be required reading in public education.  There can be no solution without first understanding the problem.  And, as Mr. Coates’ poignantly explains, there is a massive problem in America.

Between the World and Me is one of the most thought provoking non-fiction works I’ve read.  Full stop.  It’s not an easy read, but it’s a worthwhile one.

#Ta-NehisiCoates

I’m Back!

We are back.  Our four-day mini-holiday proved to be much needed.  It gave us a break from our routine.  For Russell, that meant a break from work and a respite from mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage and other household tasks.  For me, that meant four glorious days of no meal preparation, no washing dishes, no cleaning, and no grocery shopping.  More importantly, it meant four glorious days filled with new adventures.  We rode the Bullet Train (the Shinkansen), hiked up to a monkey park, walked through a bamboo grove, navigated the local train system, visited Kobe’s Chinatown, toured the old Imperial Palace, learned about Shogun, explored Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, snacked on green tea ice cream, and walked through hundreds of Torii gates.

Study after study reveals that new experiences, not new things, improve human happiness.  And plenty of studies show that couples who engage in new experiences together are happier and more fulfilled.  While we had plenty of stressful moments–rushing to the train, asking for directions, diaper malfunctions, practicing local customs, finding [S] appropriate snacks–the overall experience strengthened our relationship.  We had to depend upon one another, trust one another, and be guided by one another.

Over the next several weeks, I will be writing about various aspects of our trip in detail and posting photos.  In the meantime, enjoy some of the scenes from our travels.

#ReadyForTheAmazingRace

Feeling Thanksgiving Day-Less

Thanksgiving day is one of my favorite holidays.  In fact, were I to rank holidays, Thanksgiving would make it in my top three.  While the smell of roasting turkey wafting from a kitchen alone puts the holiday in serious contention for the coveted number one spot, it is more than the savory aromas–and abundance–of lovingly prepared food that calls to me.

Growing up, Thanksgiving proved to be a time to be thankful that school was out for a long weekend and that Christmas–and winter vacation–were just around the corner.  But Thanksgiving, the holiday, was more than days off from school.  Family would visit, oftentimes arriving to our home when the kids were awaiting the final bell to ring.  The presence of company meant that adults participated in cocktail hour and that children were permitted to drink soda with dinner.  Hors d’oeuvres would be served.  Meals would be served in the formal dining room.  The table would be set with recently polished silver, fine china and crystal glasses.  It was a heady feeling for a young child.

After the turkey went into the oven, the kids and adults played touch football in the backyard.  The game gave my mother a break from entertaining and ensured the children expended energy.  The games I recall most vividly were played under a grey sky with the smell of impending snow in the air.  We bundled up in in mismatched hats, gloves, and scarfs, only to begin stripping off each item the longer we played. The ground was hard.  But the harshness of the falls and tackles were buffered by our playful dogs, the friendly cheating allowing the youngest to score, and the watchful eyes of grandparents.

When the family sat down to dinner, there were six, eight, ten or twelve people present, depending upon the year, the weather, and the travel plans.  It was not a meal, it was a gathering; it was an event.

As I write this post, Thanksgiving day is less than two days away.  This year I won’t spend the holiday baking buttermilk biscuits, scouring various grocery stores to find the ingredients for my sourdough bread stuffing, or preparing a labor intensive pumpkin cheesecake for dessert.  This year, I won’t be washing a mountain of pots and pans after the meal.  This year, I likely won’t even eat a bite of turkey on Thanksgiving day.  And for all of these things, I am thankful.

But despite feeling thankful for so much–my family, my friends, and our life in Okinawa, I’m left feeling a bit empty.  I feel as if the holiday has been erased from our calendar this year.  I feel as though Christmas is still months away.  And I feel at a loss of a treasured holiday.  But there is a beauty in such feelings as well. I don’t feel pressure to cook, clean or entertain.  I don’t feel the need to put up Christmas decor the day after Thanksgiving.  And I don’t have the urge to shop.  Maybe a year–or two–of Thanksgiving day-less is just what I need.

Japan’s Harvest Festival (Niinamesai)

Japan

Today is Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan, kinro kasha-no-hi.  The holiday is celebrated annually on the 23rd of November.

Despite its proximity to Thanksgiving Day celebrated in the United States the holidays wholly are unrelated (obviously).  This celebration was derived from the ancient tradition of Shinto harvest festival (Niinamesai) which was celebrated by kings to give thanks for a bountiful harvest.  Then, the emperor offered fresh harvested rice to kami (spirits) and then consumed the rice himself.   The origin of Niinamesai can be traced back to 678 A.D.

The holiday was established in 1948, post-World War II, to mark some of the changes of the postwar constitution of Japan, including fundamental human rights and the expansion of workers rights.  Today, the holiday commemorates labor and production and is used to give one another thanks.  Events are held throughout Japan, one such being the Nagano Labor Festival. The event encourages thinking about the environment, peace and human rights.

Countdown to Kyoto

Seventeen UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located in Kyoto Prefecture, each embodying a respective era in which it was constructed.

Kamigamo - jinja Shrine (Kamowakeikazuchi - jinja Shrine) Kinkaku - ji Temple(Rokuon - ji) Tenryu - ji Temple Ninna - ji Temple Shimogamo - jinja Shrine (Kamomioya - jinja Shrine) Nijo - jo Castle Hongwan - ji Temple Kozan - ji Temple Koke - dera Temple(Saiho - ji Temple) Kiyomizu - dera Temple Ujigami - jinja Shrine Byodo - in Temple Ginkaku - ji Temple(Jisho - ji) To - ji Temple(Kyo-o-gokoku - ji Temple) Ryoan - ji Temple Daigo-ji

World Heritage List

Oh, To Be a Good Christian

Recently, I listened to a pastor disclose to his congregation that, at times, he wonders what it would have been like had he been one of Jesus’ 12 disciples.  He then quickly quipped, “During those moments, I enjoy thinking that I would be the best disciple of the bunch–much smarter than the other guys.”  The joke failed, but what his comment said about the human condition brought a smile to my lips.

As humans, we are imperfect.  We are proud.  We have addictions.  We are selfish.  And, most of us, like the pastor, like to think we are better–smarter, more talented, funnier, wealthier–than the next person.  Those who identify themselves as members of the Christian faith are taught the importance of love–being loved and loving others–through the teachings of the Bible.  And they are taught the value and importance of having mercy on others and being compassionate towards all.

During the Christmas season I’ve heard people suggest that they would have gladly welcomed a very pregnant Mary and Joseph into their home, had they been given the opportunity.  And perhaps they would have.  Similarly, when the parable of the Good Samaritan is read, most Christians like to think they would have stopped to assist the bloodied, beaten man laying on the side of the road, rather than crossing to the other side of the road and passing him by.

Today we, as a nation, have the opportunity to show our humanity.  We can choose to have mercy on, and compassion for, people who have been persecuted, terrorized, and displaced from their war-torn homeland.  They have few–if any– possessions.  Wherever they end up, they will have a long road ahead to recover, both mentally and physically, from their time as refugees.  And they will be required to rebuild their lives, starting from scratch, brick-by-brick.

It saddens my heart and angers my intellect that the most vocal Americans calling for our nation to turn its back on the hundreds of thousands of refugees call themselves Christians.  That is not merciful.  That is not compassionate.  That is not loving.  That is crossing to the other side of the road.

Yes, it is possible that members of ISIS will be welcomed to our shores under the guise of seeking asylum.  But so what?  Those involved in the September 11th attacks did not enter our country pretending to be refugees.  If they want to come, they will find a way.  In the meantime, let’s revert to the America I know, land of the free and the home of the brave.

2 Timothy 1:7.

* * *

Luke 10:25-37New International Version (NIV)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

* * *

On the Nightstand.

Cover of Between the World and MeHailed by Toni Morrison as “required reading,” a bold and personal literary exploration of America’s racial history by “the single best writer on the subject of race in the United States” (The New York Observer)

Coates is frequently lauded as one of America’s most important writers on the subject of race today, but this in fact undersells him: Coates is one of America’s most important writers on the subject of America today. This distinction might sound glib but is worth making, not least of all because Coates repeatedly informs us that he isn’t much interested in “race” as a subject of reflection in itself. “Race is the child of racism, not the father,” he writes—while race is a fiction of power, racism is power itself, and very real.  (The Slate Book Review)

I’ve been longing to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me since before I placed the title on hold.  The work as been hailed as a love letter to Coates’ son, the narrative framed like James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.  The subject?  Being black in American, today.  An important subject given that race and race relations continue to dominate our news, our politics, and our dinner table conversations.  If we fail to examine the very real effects of race on Americans–and their lives–be it relating to the legal system, justice, education, abuse of power, employment, families, or poverty–we will never be able to transcend race as a nation.

* * *

It took me four days to complete Lisa Scottoline’s Corrupted.  This is one instance where completing a book quickly is not indicative of a satisfying read.  I was under the weather and spent a lot of time resting in bed.  The book was there.  While there were a few mild twists and turns, the book followed the formulaic legal thriller format–murder, flashback, damning evidence, impossible trial, love interest, and victory (for what side, I’m not telling).