I Finally Read ‘Small Great Things.’ You Should, Too.

Small Great Things

I haven’t reviewed a book in a long time. Additionally, as Jodi Picoult published small great things in 2016, my review is neither first nor earth-shattering.

I only chose to read this book after many of my respected friends with knowledge of books, societal issues, and other characteristics I love about said friends repeatedly recommended the book to me. I resisted for a long, long time. I quit reading Picoult years and years ago. Many reasons caused the cease-read, all of which other book-lovers have espoused on their own blogs and in conversation with other book lovers: formulaic writing, that inevitable last-few-pages plot-twist that you’re not supposed to see coming, but revisit formulaic writing, and now you can pick out what the shocker will be around page 200. Or earlier.

I did like that Picoult often tackled controversial issues from a fictional standpoint. I liked that she caused readers to think about subjects beyond their normal scope of reference. But I simply got bored with the same thing, over and over and over.

But on my Startbucks-and-Target date with my daughter, I found the book on sale. It landed in my cart, along with another book. That’s right. I didn’t even request the book from the library; I bought it. This is why I should avoid the book department in all stores. They just slip right into my cart. Along with shiny rose-gold sequined pillows for my daughter.

I started reading the book on the way home from Philly last weekend. I like to read on the way home from a visit (if I’m not driving, obviously) as it keeps me out of my head. I read over half of the book before the end of our six hour drive. I had to put the book down a few times due to that woozy feeling I get when I read in a car. It’s not quite car-sickness, but I’m aware when it’s time to take a break and look at the landscape of central Pennsylvania for while before picking it back up. I also had to set it down a number of times for GIANT EYE ROLLS and general frustration.

I didn’t really have time to finish the book until this Thursday.

Of note: I found myself on the last page. And my mom called. After I got off the phone with her, I picked the book back up and realized I talked too long and it was time to run our VIP Group sale. So it took me three hours to finish the last page.

Then I threw the book on the floor. My husband just looked at me the way he does when I toss books on the floor as I finish reading.

The giant plot twist did not surprise me one bit. I called it early on when the missing newborn report surfaced. I did not like the easy, tidy-this-up, throw in a suicide, everyone moved on to have better lives in three pages ending. I loathe quick, tidy endings. Be a little messy. Leave a question or two. Just don’t fix everything. Not everything needs fixed. Trust your readers to use their brains.

But.

Sigh.

This is where I had to go back and tell Denise she was right. She owns me, so this is of no real surprise to me. But yes, she was right.

I mentioned earlier that this book was published in 2016. In fact, it came out in October 2016. If you’ve read any articles about Picoult’s writing of this book or even the Author’s Note at the end of the book, you know that this particular story has been years and even decades in writing. The original story, from which Picoult wove this fictional one, took place in 2013 when a nurse in Flint, MI sued the hospital for discrimination. And won.

I tell you this because this is a book to read now. In 2017. Now, with the back-and-forth travel ban and revoked-regiven Visas. With Executive Actions that don’t feel right. Coming off of an election season during which we saw confederate flags en masse, high school students feeling empowered to wear white pride shirts to pep rallies at school, and that whole hail Trump complete with Nazi salute. That’s not even mentioning Steve Bannon who is in a class of hatred all his own.

Many of my urban friends feel shocked when I tell them of the hatred I witness in our small, rural town in Ohio. The six confederate flags I pass on one of my runs. The Facebook posts justifying everything from keeping out refugees to scary racist epithets from people who should really, really know better. When Walmart stopped selling confederate flag merchandise in their stores, some locals went and bought out their inventory and sold it alongside the road here. And I’m not even willing or able to jump into the whole Church + Trump love affair that makes absolutely no sense. Maybe someday.

The hate runs deep here. I’ve surrounded myself with loving, smart, tolerant individuals who keep me sane. But make no mistake, white supremacy, hatred of all races, and an undercurrent of violence against that or those which are different pulse through much of rural America. It’s scary. It’s real. And it’s why I knew Trump would be elected despite my urban friends voicing their shock when we watched state after state go red.

All that said, reading small great things wasn’t overly eye-opening for me, but I can see why it is an important book for others, especially those who feel shocked about the rise of the Alt-Right and safety those who vie for white supremacy now feel. I lamented the fact that the book was written by Picoult for purely literary purposes, all mentioned earlier, but also because here’s another white lady white-splaining racism. Right? Whereas I have Black friends writing their truths day in and day out. Why aren’t they best-sellers yet?

Then I got to this quote in the book, which made me finally sigh and realize this was the right book from the right person. This quote comes from the Black nurse to her white attorney who, in closing arguments, really drives home the racism that took place in this case.

“But I could have screamed it from the rooftops, and it wouldn’t have done any good. For the jurors to hear it, really hear it, it had to be said by one of their own.”

So yes. I would recommend reading small great things. Even if you’ve avoided Picoult for years. Even if you’re tired of reading about racism from white chicks. Even if you’re scared to death about what’s going on in our country right now—maybe especially so. Get ready to roll your eyes once or twice and to yell, “HA! Called it!” But read it.

Small Great Things

PS: I know it’s being made into a movie and I expect that to rank on my Most Hated Book-to-Movie adaptations, much like My Sister’s Keeper. At least Cameron Diaz won’t be in this movie. Small victories.

 

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Maybe There’s Hope

Maybe There's Hope

Maybe There's Hope

I just finished reading Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. I immediately Facebook messaged my Pastor, whom I haven’t seen since Easter Sunday, and told her she needs to read the book. Somewhere in the middle of it, I tweeted the author and told her I wanted to hand one out to every pastor in our rural Ohio community. Of note: The author “liked” my tweet.

I dog-eared pages. And it’s a library book. Sorry, other library patrons and librarians. I’ll un-dog-ear them when I return it. And after I purchase it, I’ll re-dog-ear them in my own copy.

It was a book I needed to read.

I’ve been wrestling with and writing about the church. I’ve not shied away from the fact that the big-C Church leaves me somewhat uncomfortable these days, and by these days, I mean for years, and by uncomfortable, I don’t mean that I feel convicted of sins. No. I mean uncomfortable in the way that I sometimes hide or downplay my faith, though it remains strong; I don’t want to be associated with the hatred that seems to come part and parcel with evangelical Christendom. I don’t want hate in my life at all. It’s really a thing I try to avoid.

I can handle anger. And sadness. And deep depression. I can manage anxiety. I respect fellow Christians who dare to question and ask the hard questions. But I can’t handle hate in the Church. I cannot. I will not. I won’t. And I won’t expose my children to it. End of discussion.

Except it’s not the end of the discussion, is it? Or I wouldn’t be reading books about faith, listening to praise and worship on Sunday mornings, discussing God and Jesus-like love with my sons, and continually battling this out in my head, heart, and soul.

Many chapters spoke to me, but the one that left me sitting in my bed on a cold, rainy May afternoon with my heart in my hands was “Evangelical Acedia.” I don’t pick this chapter because she started it with a quote from a Taylor Swift, though that didn’t hurt. “And I know all the steps up to your door. But I don’t wanna go there anymore.” So then I tweeted, in heartfelt response:

It was the chapter about the World Vision debacle in which they accepted LGBT employees, lost 10,000 child sponsors, and then said, “Oops, sorry, no more gays for us. Too bad, so sad.” I remember feeling, like Evans, so elated at first, and then so bone-crushingly hurt. And pissed off. And then really, really jaded. I’m good at jaded. Cynicism is my dark friend; I wield sarcasm like a sharp sword of protection. I remember pushing the Church away at that point. You don’t want me? I don’t want you either.

And then something happened. Someone said something or did something or tweeted something, or I listened to “Oceans” just one more time, and there I was, as Evans puts it:

“And suddenly I’m caring again. I’m invested again. I realize I can no more break up with my religious heritage than I can with my parents. […] As long as I have an investment in the church universal, I have an investment in the community that first introduced me to Jesus. Like it or not, I’ve got skin in the game.

And that’s why I wrestle with this so much. I grew up evangelical, or as evangelical as you can get in Presbyterian church (Frozen Chosen, represent) going to a non-denominational holiness campmeeting in the summer and on youth group short term mission trips with Episcopalian teens and leaders. Writing that, maybe I was forming my own type of faith statement even in my teen years; maybe this path I find myself on right now isn’t so surprising. Maybe I surrounded myself with different thoughts and practices because I knew, in some form or fashion, what was coming. Not in the ESP way but in the “this is inevitable” way. That aside, I’m invested. I care. I’ve tried not to care. I’ve tried, as Evans writes, to use my cynicism to block myself from caring. But I care.

“When I write off all evangelicals as hateful and ignorant, I am numbing myself with cynicism. When I jeer at their foibles, I am numbing myself with cynicism. When I roll my eyes and fold my arms and say, “Well, I know God can’t be present over there,” I am numbing myself with cynicism.

I am missing out.

It’s easier to push it all away. To even refrain from discussion or constructive debate because what’s the point? To shrug and figure we’ll never come to a consensus on who’s human enough to deserve God’s love. (Answer: Everyone.) To just keep doing my thing, our thing we do as a family, because it feels safe. Safe is easier.

“We have to allow ourselves to feel the pain and joy and heartache of being in relationship with other human beings. In the end, it’s the only way to really live, even if it means staying invested, even if it means taking a risk and losing it all.

Okay, well, now I feel convicted.

I don’t know what the right thing is for my family right now, what the right thing is for Christianity and the Big-C Church. I don’t know the answers, but I know that walking away, wiping my hands of this hurtful, painful, messy mess we’ve created doesn’t do any good for those we have left hurting, alone, and craving for understanding, compassion, and the love our Savior spoke of so often, so perfectly. Leaving them to fight alone, from the outside, serves no one. Someone has to fight from the inside. But sometimes I’m just busy fighting for my own life, really freaking literally. Can’t we find a little balance? Isn’t there someone else in South Eastern Ohio—or anywhere in Ohio—who cares enough to say enough is enough?

Maybe we, my four person family unit, need to ditch evangelicalism as a whole. Maybe, like Evans, our family should try out the only Episcopal church in town; it has a lovely red door and maybe we’d be great at Catholic Light. Maybe we need to stay where we are and fight the racism, sexism, bigotry, hatred, and fear of LGBT within the United Methodist Church as a whole, and in our own community. Maybe we need to sit down with other like-minded Christians and discuss where we see our small, rural Ohio city in ten years when it comes to the love and acceptance of all, of all. Maybe we need to focus more on the love, less on the cynicism, and maybe, God-willing, we’ll all come out of this feeling something closer to God’s love than what’s happening right now—politically, Christian, humanitarian—all ways.

I almost feel something akin to hope after finishing Evans’ book. I just hope I can hold on to it long enough to see some seeds take root. Maybe there’s hope.*

Maybe There's Hope

 

* = Mulder may have had a point.