“Art is a wound turned into light.” —Georges Braque
In times of fear and panic throughout history, society turns to the artists for comfort, for distraction, for help processing our uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. With the world being encouraged, and in many places required, to practice social distancing, we need books, movies, and art to remind us of our shared humanity now more than ever.
We asked members of the Spectrum community to share with us what they’ve been reading, watching, and doing these last few weeks. Below is a round-up of their responses.
We encourage you to join in with your recommendations in the comments section below. What book are you getting lost in? What movie recently made you laugh? What virtual tour or other online activity have you found inspiring? And thanks, as always, for being part of our community here at Spectrum.
Every Moment Holy by Douglas Kaine McKelvey
McKelvey has written a collection of liturgies to be savored in small pieces. Some of these can be used in groups, but many seem better suited to individual reflection. Daily, I select one from the dozens listed in the index as part of a morning routine. Sometimes mundane: Liturgy for Laundering or Liturgy for First Responders. Sometimes more adapted for this strange moment: Liturgy for Death of a Dream or Liturgy for Moments in Emergency. The words serve as prayers for me when my own words fail.
—Carmen Lau serves as board chair of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum.
The Galápagos Islands: A Spiritual Journey by Brian D. McLaren
(also marketed under the title God Unbound: Theology in the Wild)
With the current U.S. ban on international travel, explorers, tourists, and people with exotic bucket list destinations are stifled, sitting at home, googling the places they want to visit. Reading a book with very few pictures might not seem like a promising way to satisfy your wanderlust, but going on a journey with an articulate author/guide can be an exhilarating way to explore the world. Reading provides a narrative, and gives meaning to a place.
Of course, there is an implied narrative to the Galápagos Islands, of Darwinian fame, but Brian McLaren is going on his own journey, not Darwin’s. He describes his week-long trip to the Islands in diary fashion, giving you a day by day description of his experiences and the animals he encounters. The creatures are the key to the spiritual journey in the subtitle, to his theology in the wild. McLaren is more taken by conservation and preservation than in debating creation vs. evolution. He is fascinated by the turtles, tortoises, finches, iguanas, and crabs. He is taken by the rhythms of life at sea, of temporarily stepping out of life’s normal daily routines “to discover a new vantage point through vacation, of recreating ourselves through recreation, of discovering what is sacred and of true worth through Sabbath” (p. 35).
He is also interested in a discussion of orthodoxy and evolution of religion. “What would it mean to be faithful not to the old orthodoxies of the recent past (recent in deep time, that is), but rather to the primeval patterns written forever into creation itself, the profound logic of adaptation, evolution, diversification, and symbiotic coexistence? Isn’t that a deeper kind of orthodoxy? (p. 144).
Beyond the week-long boat trip, McLaren takes his readers with him in the weeks following the trip as he reflects on what he has seen and learned. He shares his aha moments, and insights in friendly conversational fashion. His trip changed him and that is what he wants to share. Travel can do that. Even armchair travel.
—Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
This classic novel that catapulted Chilean writer Isabel Allende to international renown is a great piece of escapism, coupled with deep questions of political ideals, social mobility, and class struggle. Strong women spar with blustery men, hospitals overflow with suffering souls, and a political struggle turns nasty and violent. In addition to all this, tables fly through the air, grandmother can predict the future unerringly, and dramatic love affairs tip lives upside down.
Though the country of Chile is never explicitly named in the book, the story charts Chilean social and political history, particularly the dramatic election of socialist candidate Salvador Allende (Isabel's uncle) to the presidency in 1970, and the military coup that removed him three years later and resulted in his death.
Many of the descriptions in Allende's book also foreshadow the Chile of last October and November, when political protests rocked Santiago and cities the length of the country, graffiti appeared on every wall, and young people demanded change. We had what turned out to be a trial run for the current pandemic, with a run on supermarkets, people forced to stay at home, and great uncertainty about what the coming hours and days might bring. Our schools were closed and then operated on shortened schedules before the kids were able to complete the school year at the beginning of December. We enjoyed the summer, sent the kids back to school for just over a week in March, and now the schools are closed again indefinitely. Where we live, a complete quarantine has been imposed, and no one is allowed to leave their residence without a permit — not even to walk the dog.
So while most of my time is spent attempting to shepherd four children of varying ages and attention levels through their math, reading and Spanish (in which they are far ahead of me), I escape in any spare moments to The House of the Spirits and the trials of the Trueba family and try to forget the quarantine for a little while.
—Alita Byrd is Interviews Editor for Spectrum and moved to Chile with her family one year ago.
The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
Lisa See's meticulously researched historical fiction brings true events to life through the depth of her created characters. Her latest book, The Island of Sea Women, follows the friendship of two haenyeo (female divers) on the Korean island of Jeju, a matrifocal society where the women work dangerous and sometimes deadly jobs to financially support their families while the men manage the household and children. See takes us through the turbulent times of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 40s, through World War II and the Korean War, all the way to the early 2000s. This little-known island with its unique society is brought to life by See's captivating prose and heart wrenching story.
—Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
This moment of national crisis seems like an appropriate time to revisit the classic children's book series by one of America's most well-known authors. Wilder's stories of her family's pioneering moves westward during the late nineteenth century are great for family reading; they were written for young children, especially the first four books, but follow the growth and development of the main characters, particularly through the eyes of Laura, and are engaging to even teens and adult readers.
The Ingalls family faces drought, famine, fire, storms, disease, isolation, loneliness, and loss as they seek to make a home on the western prairies. Their hardiness, ingenuity, courage, and indomitable spirit continue to inspire new generations and will make for great conversation starters with children about pinching pennies, making do with what you have, and living in isolation. Wilder has been lambasted in recent years for racism against Native Americans, and parents will want to be careful with this subject and a few other racial epithets. But overall, there is a lot to learn from this regular family who became legendary through Wilder's timeless books.
—Jennifer Payne is an English teacher and mother of two avid readers. She and her husband and children live in Niles, Michigan.
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, The Overstory is an epic ode to our fellow creatures, the trees. Powers brings together nine characters, initially strangers, who are drawn to protect the forests during the Timber Wars of the last century, in the Pacific Northwest. The roots into the past, the tiny branches reaching into the future — all come together in a powerfully magical tale that weaves both recent science, age-old nature lore/love, and compelling narrative to remind us how much we owe our ancient friends. When I walk in the forest on these lonely days, I touch the trunks of redwood, fir, pine, and madrone with new respect, thanks to this beautiful book.
—Nancy Lecourt is a retired English teacher and administrator living near the PUC Demonstration and Experimental Forest in Angwin, California.
UnClobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality by Colby Martin
When a new local pastor friend handed me this book, he looked me in the eyes and commented, “I think you might like this.” He was right. UnClobber pours out the compelling story of an evangelical pastor’s working through dealing with LGBT+ people from both a biblical and compassionate framework. Along the way the author, who is not gay, loses his job and retains his integrity.
What makes this book noteworthy is the interweaving of personal narrative with scriptural exegeses of the six “clobber texts.” Plus, he’s pretty funny. Brian McLaren reflects, “Colby Martin’s highly readable and deeply engaging new book offers a third option: a different way of aligning head and heart through a fresh look at Scripture. Written with a theologian’s intelligence and a pastor’s sensitivity, this book is the resource thousands have been waiting for.” He’s right too.
—Chris Blake is lead pastor of the San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay Seventh-day Adventist Churches and a Spectrum contributor.
A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink
(previously titled A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age)
I started this book three weeks ago before the full impact of the pandemic hit. Though written in 2005, Pink speaks to the issues that drive society now. Since automation and information overload are left brain, Pink shows how right brain aptitudes are more important than ever. He describes six “senses” necessary to optimal function: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, meaning. Looking backwards at how our lives have changed, I see Pink was prophetic, and this book summarizes some key ideas that help me understand our new era.
Photos courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press, Graywolf Press, and Flatiron Books
Multiple Selections from Various Authors
Right now, I am following standard practice, which is to read multiple books. For Lent, I am reading Walter Brueggemann’s daily devotional, A Way Other Than Our Own, and John V. Taylor’s A Matter of Life and Death. For poetry, I am reading Denise Levertov’s selected poems on religious themes, entitled The Stream & the Sapphire, and T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. In nonfiction, Leslie Jemison’s The Empathy Exams, and Owen Barfield’s History, Guilt, and Habit. And finally, in fiction, Faulkner’s Collected Short Stories, and Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt.
—Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy, ethics, and communications for 37 years at universities in Maryland and Washington, DC. He is now retired and writing in Burtonsville, Maryland. He writes a biweekly essay for Spectrum and is author of Wandering, Not Lost: Essays on Faith, Doubt, and Mystery.
Actress Betty White reads Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, photo courtesy of Storyline Online
Many public libraries have virtual activities for patrons, like The Indianapolis Public Library which partners with Storyline Online to provide over 100 free video “read alouds” of children’s books. Pick from favorite classics and brand new titles read by authors, actors, and professional story tellers.
Film, TV, and Movies:
The Banker (2020), feature-length film on Apple TV+
It's a fun, mostly true story about three men from different worlds of class and race who team-up to outwit the banking powers that be in mid-century America. It stars Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Mackie and, on a side note, in last week’s episode of the Adventist Voices podcast, I talk with the director, George Nolfi about making this film and his own background studying political science and philosophy.
—Alexander Carpenter is a board member of Adventist Forum
Little Fires Everywhere (2020), limited series on Hulu
Based on the riveting novel by Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere stars Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon who play mothers Mia and Elena. Ng’s novel explores the tensions that exist between race and class in a 1990s Midwestern town that erupts in scandal over the custody battle of a Chinese-American baby. Elena’s close friends are the adopted parents, while Mia is coworkers with the birth mother who was forced to give the baby up and is now fighting to get her back. Battle lines are drawn with Mia and Elena on opposite sides, and tensions escalate to the breaking point. Washington and Witherspoon give mesmerizing performances, bringing to the screen all of the nuance and depth of the original novel.
Museums, Podcasts, and More:
Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Zoo
Though the Cincinnati Zoo is closed to in-person visitors during the pandemic, it’s “open” online. Each day at 3:00 p.m. (EDT), the staff takes to Facebook Live to share an up-close look at animals, as well as at-home activities for the audience. From world-famous hippo Fiona, to the meerkat mob, to the flamingo flock, and more, this is a fun learning opportunity for kids of all ages.
Screenshot of Google Arts & Culture’s Museums page
Google Arts & Culture has teamed up with thousands of museums all over the world to create virtual tours and exhibits. Ever wanted to visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam or the Tokyo National Museum? What about The Israel Museum in Jerusalem or the National Museums of Kenya? Now you can, all from the comfort of your own home.
Logos courtesy of the respective podcasts
I've enjoyed content from young Adventists — mostly on podcasts. My recommendation is to lean in to the 20-somethings who are producing inspiring content. Thanks to the "Adventist Voices on Spectrum" podcast, I learned about "A Medical History in Color" — encouragement, education, and inspiration. I also listen to "The Young Project" podcast and "Phil's Philosophies" and "Disruptive Adventism." All three of these feature or are put out by my former students so I have a special affinity for them. These are smart, wise, and hard-working twenty-somethings. They are taking our church in great directions. I like remembering that I don't have to save world. Others are coming along to do their part.
—Lisa Clark Diller is a history professor at Southern Adventist University.
Screenshot of PDR’s homepage
The Public Domain Review (PDR) is a non-profit online journal “dedicated to the exploration of curious and compelling works from the history of art, literature, and ideas.” It’s easy to get lost in the abundance of curiosities the PDR offers — all for free — on its website, from fascinating essays on eclectic topics to vivid artwork. The PDR’s focus is on “works which have now fallen into the public domain,” with a “focus on the surprising, the strange, and the beautiful.” (Quoted selections from PDR’s “About” page.)
Photo by Avrielle Suleiman on Unsplash
I recommend the Down Dog App because they have allowed it to be used for free during this time (through May 1). It's very adaptable for all abilities and time constraints. I can do it for 10 minutes only if I want. I try to start and stop the day just being reminded to "breathe."
—Lisa Clark Diller
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