Review: Aloof by Tony Kriz + Giveaway

Silence is an interesting part of relationships. It can be incredible awkward; it can be soothing; it can be a sign of intimacy. I’ve definitely experienced my share of halting conversations, filled with horrible gaps because the person I’m trying to talk with and I just haven’t clicked or haven’t mined through enough experiences to hit a connection. I have close friends with whom I can chat for hours but I can also share companionable silence. We don’t need to always fill the space. When I was teaching, I would get home a couple hours before Frank. I used that time to walk Daisy quietly around the park, and then sit in silence – no music, no TV – after a day filled with chatty 8-year-olds. Even now, nap time is sacred quiet time.

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In his book Aloof: Figuring Out Life With a God Who Hides, Tony Kriz equates silence with hiddenness. His experience with God is that if God is not a booming voice from the Heavens or communicating through a fiery bush, he is simply not present. He longs for a tangible experience with God and, in Kriz’s mind, tangible means God is audibly speaking to him.

Based on a series of memories that build a case for God’s silence, Kriz takes us through his experiences of looking for a hidden God. As a young man, he feels that the more he does to prove to God that he is faithful, the louder God will communicate. As he grows older and has more life experience, Kriz realizes that perhaps God doesn’t communicate loudly. Perhaps it is up to us to stop and listen to how God is showing up already in our lives.

This book was filled with quippy stories about growing up evangelical and solving a crisis of faith through missions trips and seminary. While I can think of quite a few of my friends and acquaintances who would enjoy this book, I just never connected. Perhaps it was the constant references to our faith in terms of superheroes; or perhaps it was Kriz’s romanticization of God showing up through buccaneer maps and mercenary images. (I believe more in a God of restoration rather than a God who conquers.) I struggled too much to connect with these images.

I also wished for more reconciliation. More than three-fourths of the book was dedicated to stories of how God and the church failed Kriz’s expectations. He would end each chapter with a one-sentence epiphany and the last few chapters were devoted to how he has now realized that God’s silence does not equal abandonment. However, I wished the book focused more on that hopeful side of his relationship with God and less on the ways in which he had been hurt. I left me feeling a bit depressed and hoping that Kriz continues to have these epiphanies of how God is actually showing up in his life.

Again, while I didn’t personally connect with this book, I can think of many people who would read it with a completely different lens. For those who have struggled with God’s silence, or who have felt that the church has “sold” them something other than love and hope, I can see them resonating with Kriz’s journey.

How do you interact with God? Do you look for a burning bush experience or do you enjoy the silence?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Aloof. To enter, leave a comment about how you relate – are you a talker or do you enjoy silence? I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, March 6, 2015. (United States addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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What I’m Into 2:15

I haven’t participated in Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into roundup in a long time and for some reason, this February felt like a good time for a recap. It’s been two months since the move and we’re settling in, painting, organizing, and making a new house feel like home.

The weather this month has been a bit crazy – we’ve had days with picnic lunches and days with enough snow to go sledding in the neighborhood. I really can’t complain about our cold snowy days, since we aren’t packed in with ice and the sun comes out in between snows to help melt the sidewalks.

Feb 12 & Feb 22

Feb 12 & Feb 22

Read and Reading
After a slow start in January (I only read one book!), I managed to get back into my groove this month. I finished A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan. I love his books on food, and this one about building his own writing house did not disappoint. I learned so much about the history and philosophy of architecture as I followed Pollan along his amateur building adventures. I love his writing style and ability to meld storytelling with information so seamlessly.

I also read Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison and The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan. I reflected about both here on the blog and highly recommend both for their amazing storytelling and thought-provoking subject matter. (My post on Song of Solomon is here and The Lemon Tree is here.)

Right now, I’m finally finishing Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. I had started it before Christmas and for a variety of reasons, didn’t start it in time before needing to return it to the library. I finally worked my way up the holds list and returned to it as soon as I got home. Her description is phenomenal and I can see why she won the Pulitzer.

You can connect with me on Goodreads for all of my reading updates.

Home Improvements
Even though we thought we’d “live with” our house for a while before doing anything, once we started painting, it was easy to just keep going! At first I liked having all the rooms white – it seemed like a blank canvas. But, after painting the basement, Bea’s room, and Frank’s office, the more color seeped in, the more I wanted it!

We just finished our bedroom, and aside from a few decorative items (a reading nook for us with an icon corner is on the way), and I couldn’t be happier. I had seen birch wallpaper in photos for the past year or so, but the price was a bit shocking. So, I enlisted my dad to help us paint a mural. We decided to go with Aspen trees instead of birch, since it’s a bit more “Colorado.” It is amazing!! If you live in the Front Range area and are looking for affordable murals, I’d highly recommend hiring him! (Not that I’m biased…)

Custom aspen mural

Custom aspen mural

It feels so wonderful to be working through the rooms. Up next is (unexpectedly) the powder room. Frank and I also bought our first piece of artwork together for Valentine’s Day. We’re waiting for delivery and can’t wait to hang it in our foyer.

Screen Time
I probably shouldn’t even include this as a category. We tried going to the movies the other day and ended up just walking around and talking. Oops! Especially when face-to-face time is at a premium during tax season, the idea of sitting next to each other in a dark theater seems unappealing. Maybe we’ll watch something again someday… In the meantime, I found out Frank has never seen Jules et Jim, so I checked it out of the library and we’re hoping to watch it this weekend.

Blogging
Two blogs really stuck with me from this month: A (Love) Note From Your Personal Trainer by Megan Gahan (for SheLoves Magazine) came at a perfect time for me, right when I was at that thick-but-not-yet-pregnant looking stage. And I loved this very honest, very practical advice from Austin Channing, Putting in the Work, supporting people who are figuring out this reconciliation thing. If you’re not following Austin, I’d highly recommend her straight-forward writing.

Over here, my most popular post was Five Things Saving My Life. It was fun to write and think about. What’s “saving your life” right now?

I thought I’d leave you with my favorite picture from this month. Bea has taken her forthcoming role as “big sister” very seriously and insists on singing and reading to the baby everyday. It’s a precious time and I hope the magic continues when the baby is actually part of her life!

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Introducing the baby to Patricia Polocco

What about you? What are you into these days?

Linked with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into. Head over there for fun books, activities, and goings-on from February.

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The Weight of Privilege

I’ve never thought too much about the Israeli-Palistinian conflict. I remember hearing about it in the news growing up – stories usually more on the side of Israel’s point of view, rather than balanced reporting. After moving to Paris, I began reading news stories told from a different point of view, as France seemed more sympathetic to the Palestinian side than America is. But, really, I viewed this conflict as never-ending and didn’t read too many other sources for information.

After reading The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan, the power of storytelling gave me insights into both sides of this story that I hadn’t thought of before. As someone reading from her cozy armchair in front of the fire, many pieces of the conflict seemed easily solved. And yet, here I am, sitting on land that didn’t belong to me or my ancestors, that was taken from someone else long ago. The complications of land, of story, of history are complex and the longer a conflict goes unresolved, the more knotted the outcome is to untangle.

Unknown

At the end of The Lemon Tree Dalia, an Israeli, realizes the privilege she has in listening to the Palestinian side of the conflict. She is able to find resolutions and compromise because she doesn’t have as much to lose – she isn’t a refugee nor has her land been reduced over the years with each “compromise.” She still doesn’t agree with her Palestinian friend, Bashir’s solutions, but she realizes the weight of privilege she brings to the conversation.

Her final realizations had me thinking about how we’re choosing to handle the conversations of privilege closer to home. It’s not just about me listening to people who are not being heard – though that is an important practice. It’s about me recognizing the weight of privilege I bring to conversations. Maybe I won’t agree with the proposed solutions or outcomes, but I need to remember my lens is that of someone whose privilege and assets are not being threatened.

How can I more effectively listen and join this conversation of reconciliation while recognizing my privilege? I can feel overwhelmed and feel that I have nothing to offer because I’m not being abused by any systems. And yet, listening and joining in the conversation is important – to speak up humbly to bring about my own point of view and to recognize that I have a unique perspective to offer, even if it is one of privilege.

How do you recognize your own privilege? Do you actively participate in conversations of reconciliation?

I read The Lemon Tree as part of SheLoves Magazine’s Red Couch Book Club. For thought-provoking books and discussion each month, I’d highly recommend checking it out!

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The Art of Inquiry

One of my favorite parts of teaching an inquiry-based program is the open-endedness of the questions we encourage kids to ask. Rather than explaining a piece of art, we ask things like, What do you see? and Great observation! Tell me more. Some things we have quick answers to: Clyfford Still died in 1980 but others we just don’t know, which is the point. It’s cool watching kids go from wanting to know the answers to embracing their own opinions of the art.

Teaching Bea the art of inquiry.

Teaching Bea the art of inquiry.

I’m almost finished reading The Lemon Tree and am feeling like none of my questions were answered. Even though the author made no promises to answer my questions, I wanted him to tie up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a neat solution. He’d spent hours and hours of interviews and research and I want an answer! Really, Sandy Tolan’s book tells a story. He doesn’t take sides, but lets the storytellers tell their own versions of events. It creates a well-balaned work, but I still walk away with the now what? question hanging over me.

It seems like motherhood has been the ultimate inquiry-based experience for me. There are absolutely no answers! I only read one or two parenting books before realizing that it’s an in-the-moment, common-sense, questioning sort of game. No quick answers are available, and if they seem to be they don’t always work.

I’m learning to embrace the inquiry. Perhaps I’ll arrive at a definitive answer but in the meantime, the questions bring about more questions which, more often than not, bring me to a new understanding of a situation.

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

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Diversifying My Reading List

One of my goals for this year is to read more books by people of color. I’m almost finished with my first Toni Morrison book and cannot believe how long it’s taken me to read her work! I was reflecting on books I read last year, and it seems this goal started before I cognitively made it official. I thought I’d share some books I read last year that had a powerful impact.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
What struck me most about this novel is Hurston’s poetic language. She creates a powerful story through incredible description and dialect. The story of black and white relations is still (sadly) relevant today and it brought the question of now what? to my mind again and again as I realized how far we still have to come as a society.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
This was probably the most difficult book I read last year. The premise includes kidnapping, rape, and betrayal. Yet, Gay presents the material in such a way that I couldn’t  stop reading. Partially, for the fact that I knew something similar was happening to a woman somewhere and I had to read it for her. Partially, because Gay brings such a cross-cultural awareness that even through reading a tense storyline, I felt that I was learning something new about the world.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adichie brings another unique cross-cultural view to her characters as we follow Ifemelu, a Nigerian living in America who decides to return to Nigeria. Adichie deals with racial prejudices in America as well as the obstacles of assimilating to one culture and then trying to return to one’s native culture. It’s an engaging story and, again, made me think about intellectual racism that can be prevalent in America, especially among people who view themselves as open and accepting.

Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland
I’ve written about this book before and it’s one that really challenged the way I view relationships and “the other” in my daily life. Cleveland breaks down how we view others – whether by socioeconomic class or race or social interests – and brings practical ways to help break down those lines. If you’re not following her blog, I’d highly recommend – she brings powerful insight to current topics.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
I’m almost finished with this novel and am struck by how important it is to read right now. Though it’s nearly 40 years old, so many of the discussions, viewpoints, and struggles on race are still being reported today. It’s been good for me to read these conversations and struggles from a black point of view, especially as the Civil Rights movement unfolds. Morrison weaves those historic themes into the background of her character’s daily lives.

Up next on my to-read list is Half of a Yellow Sun by Adichie, but I’d appreciate any recommendations for books by authors of color. (I’m noticing a trend in black women – perhaps some other cultures would be good, too!)

What about you? How do you diversify your reading list?

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Learning to Look

A few months ago, a friend and I were discussing icons and how to “read” them. I’m no expert in the world of iconography, but I did study them in my required Medieval Art History class and have read a couple books on how to use them in prayer. Coming from a background of art history, I tend to look at icons through the lens of the time period – How did the artists see the saints they were painting? What were the specific rules applied to painting an icon? Why were certain colors used? I am fairly analytical by nature, and looking at art in an historic, questioning way makes sense to me.

Holy Trinity by Andrey Rublev

Holy Trinity by Andrey Rublev

We were looking at the Holy Trinity by Andrey Rublev. In his book, Behold the Beauty of the Lord, Henri Nouwen describes this icon as an invitation into hospitality, into the house of love. In his analysis, Nouwen places God (the left figure) as the Father, blessing his Son. Jesus (in the center) looks to God in submission to his mission as sacrificial lamb. The Spirit (on the right) points to the altar as a confirmation of this divine sacrifice (pp 23-24).

My friend is much more intuitive and saw the three figures in less of a hierarchical position and more of a position of mutual submission, each looking to another. While I agree with her in the practice of mutual submission rather than hierarchy, the historian in me flinched, wanting to know the “true” story behind the icon before I agreed with her interpretation.

Since the purpose of icons is leading the viewer into prayer, not into an art historical criticism, I think my friend was on the right path to truly understanding the painting. It was created to bring about a personal experience of prayer with the figures, not for the viewer to nitpick an experience with facts.

In leading guided experiences at the Clyfford Still Museum, kids in my group often want to know the facts. What is this paining of? Why did Still choose these colors? What was he thinking? The facts are that we know what was happening in the world around Clyfford Still; we know some of his influences; we have letters he has written. But, we have very few pieces of text about the why behind his paintings. Still didn’t even title his works, believing that

“As before, the pictures are to be without titles of any kind. I want no allusions to interfere with or assist the spectator. Before them I want him to be on his own, and if he finds in them an imagery unkind or unpleasant or evil, let him look to the state of his own soul.”

He wanted looking to be the experience. What do you see in this moment? What do you feel? What is your own experience telling you about the art? It isn’t for him as the artist to tell the story but for us as the viewers to interpret an experience.

Clyfford Still, PH-960, 1960

Clyfford Still, PH-960, 1960

I’ve reflected on our conversation over the past months, not so much in light of reading icons, but in how I process art and stories in general. When someone shares their story or life experience, I tend to look at it through the lens of history. What are the facts that have made this person’s experience? What world events were happening at the time to influence outlooks and decisions? How does every puzzle piece fit together to makes sense of a story?

In reality, our stories are much more free-flowing and intuitive. There aren’t always facts to back up experiences and sometimes a life-changing event happens just because – not because of some outside event, but just because it was the time and place in our own lives for it to happen.

As someone who loves to read and know before making a decision or an opinion, being more intuitive and in-the-moment doesn’t come naturally to me. But, I’m learning to look rather than learn; to feel rather than to analyze. There will always be a place for history and critical thinking, but if I can listen to a story or experience a piece of art in the moment before making any critical links, I wonder how my worldview will shift?

How do you see the world? Are you a thinker or a feeler?

PS- If you’re interested in praying with icons, I’d recommend Behold the Beauty of the Lord by Henri Nouwen, Praying with Icons by Jim Forest, and Sister Wendy on Prayer by Sister Wendy Beckett.

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Poets Anonymous: The Water Is Wide

Welcome to our monthly Poets Anonymous!

On the 15th of each month, I’ll post part of a poem. If you have a blog, post a poem on yours and share your link in the comments. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to share part of a poem in the comments. Or, I encourage you to simply read a poem today.

The water is wide, 
I can’t cross over, 
And neither have I wings to fly.
Build me a boat 
That can carry two 
And both shall row, my love and I.

There is a ship 
And she sails the sea. 
She’s loaded deep, 
As deep can be.
But not so deep 
As the love I’m in, 
I know not how I sink or swim.

James Taylor*

*Edited: I have memories of hearing this song sung by James Taylor, however it has a richer history, according to Wikipedia.

Share a favorite poem (or segment of one) in the comments!

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