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Resolution Off the Charts at 23,749

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If 23,749 was a distance, it would get me back and forth from my home in Reno, Nevada to Pittsburgh five times.

If 23,749 was a height, it would be 10 feet from the summit of Makut Parbat in the Himalaya.

23749 is a Zip Code, or will be one someday, near Norfolk, Va.

Add up the calories in 53 fried Twinkies and you get approx. 23,749.

The 2012 road to reading led me to new adventure.

The 2012 road to reading led me to new adventure. (photo by Marjorie Williams)

If 23,749 were an a circumference measured in miles, it would be more than that of Venus.

If 23,749 were an age by days, it would be 65+ years.

In my case, 23,749 is the number of pages I have read in 2012. Whoa, really? Well, that’s what Goodreads tells me in my stats for the past year.

But more than that, 23,749 means I more than accomplished that goal of reading 75 books this year that I set January 1, 2012.

Me.

I accomplished a New Year’s Resolution. It’s traditionally something I’d be keen on for the first month or so of a new year. For example, running for exercise, giving up butter, sleeping eight hours a night, organizing all the closets — those have traditionally made my lists.

The key to this success? I love to read, I have access to a lot of books and I could measure results. The challenge was time — finding the time to make it happen. Even though my life is busy, busy, busy, choosing books that were sure to compel me to read kept the momentum going. For me, that meant good books — no trash, very few best sellers and portable — the books may or may not be classified as classics but necessarily not high-brow. Good books and never stopping. As in finishing a book and starting a new one the following day or even the same day. Not letting my brain, eyes or fingers for page-turning rest when I had made time.

A bonus to it all has been starting this blog. That in itself has been an adventure and one that will continue into 2013.

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Autumn reading warmed my heart. (photo by Marjorie Williams)

So want to know what I’ve been reading? I did blog back in August about the first 50, so here are the final 34 for the total of 84:

18 Fiction

16 Non-Fiction

I got into an Irish thing in August between Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw reading An Ideal Husband, Dubliners and Pygmalion by each and  add a biography – Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions by Frank Harris.

The looming elections led me to read Common Sense by Thomas Paine, The Theory of Social Revolutions by Brooks Adams, The Souls of White Folks by W.E.B. DuBois, and Griftopia by Matt Taibbi. The books helped me to make sense of our history, economic and social challenges.

The need to totally escape into thriller led me to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Cinema Murder by E. Phillips Oppenheim and the Fortieth Door by Mary Hastings Bradley.

My love of baseball and music drew me to Paul McCartney: A Life by Peter Ames Carlin and Moneyball by Michael Lewis.

Get your English on — with a maiden name like Melton, I must have some connection to John Milton. So I dove into Paradise Lost and continued on to The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, the little-read Anne Bronte with Agnes Grey after Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forester, for non-fiction, the autobiography of Charles Darwin and to round out the English sprint I read Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.

My friends, I do buy American and from modern authors too: The aforementioned Flynn, The Road by Cormac McCarthy (intense and good), The Heart is a Lonely Hunger by Carson McCullers, a juvenile read Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata and A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway.

I’ve got this ancestry research part in my soul that I love to enrich so to play with the theme: Hey America, Your Roots are Showing by Megan Smelenyak, Maria by Curtis Bok, Chapel Talks for School and Camp by Anne Barton Townsend (a great-aunt to my husband) and Western Carpetbaggers by Thomas Fitch.

Great Short Poems edited by Paul Negri was and is a heart-felt treasure.

Stranger than Fiction by the Voice of Reason radio personality and Don’t Know Much About Geography by Kenneth C. Davis came by way of a visit to the local used bookstore. While Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min came from my Mommy.

I thank the University of Nevada Journalism Department for bringing author Mark Kurlansky to town to lecture. I crammed in advance of the visit to read the epic 1968:The Year that Rocked the World. My 2013 list will include Salt and Birdseye by Kurlansky, for sure.

Ever on my spiritual path I welcomed (along with Milton and  Townsend above)  Jesus, A New Vision by Marcus Borg and Help Thanks Wow, the “new one,” by Anne Lamott.

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The snow flies as the year closes, but the reading continues into every season. (Photo by Vic Williams)

What’s on the bedstand now? I’m in the mid-point now for Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty and Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. Getting me up to that momentous 23,749.

Far more than a number, reading helped me associate my life with books and my books with my life. It has energized me, lifted me, educated me, entertained me, changed me.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost*

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I bound from book to book, leap frogging my bibliophile life to what strikes my mood or need. Sometimes this has a soothing effect on my psyche – other times more jarring to my mindset.

This week took me to what on the surface may seem dis-similar genres. I finished Jesus A New Vision by Marcus Borg and then immediately picked up The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

McCarthy, pretty sincerely, meant for his book to be a post-apocalyptic stark study of human beings that makes a case for desolate view of the indifference of the universe to the plight of man, a cosmic condition that he takes to be the “absolute truth of the world.”

Borg’s book is a portrayal of the historical man Jesus – a charismatic healer, sage, cultural leader, who lived in and within the divine Spirit bringing a new philosophy to the Jewish people. Borg states that Jesus did not come to create a new religion, but to re-shape faith.

Is it wise to make comparisons or connect the themes of these two books?

I’m not suggesting a debate between this historical Jesus with the fictional father and son in the Road – or between Borg and McCarthy, for that matter. It’s just that because I read them in such quick succession my mind wanted to build some parallels or bear down to the essential meanings.

For one – Jesus was straddling the old and new worlds, as are the main characters, father and son in The Road. When the father considers attempting to make the old world real to his son by telling stories about what used to be, he realized that the story is too difficult and sad to tell, the whole story is one that ends in loss. Yet he again and again is compassionate toward the boy modeling patient and loving behavior on The Road. While Jesus, in rebuilding the world of Judaism by deconstructing the cultural morays of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, also straddles an old and new world. Jesus seeks to show others that life should not be filled with rigid, authoritarian law, but instead pattern a new road that maintains the love of God while throwing off the man-made encumbrances that restrain the culture from treating one another with mercy.

For another – the business of being human characterizes each book. Father teaches the son not just to survive but what it means to be human. In The Road, the babe was born just after the apocalypse occurs and he has little notion of how to “be.” Throughout their travels, the father assures his son that “We are the Good Guys,” and “This is how the Good Guys do it.” Borg states that this is what Jesus is doing as well in countering the cultural leaps that the various Jewish leaders are taking the faithful down their roads. As the Roman Empire had conquered the land of Israel and Palestine and were intent on either changing the culture or crushing it, the Jewish leaders dictated a dogmatic adherence to Old Testament laws. Jesus showed disciples and followers how to be merciful, humane, compassionate. Each, in their way, have stepped out to tame the savageness of man and create a new world.

Yet there are contrasts: in The Road, the characters are making their journey through unchartered times and the Father must make some decisions that the boy questions, “Are we still the Good Guys?” the child asks after the father kills a gangster and later leaves another to starve.  By contract, Jesus challenges the Roman Empire with his non-violent resistance stance and thus martyrs himself to change the culture. Father and son face danger with a defensive stance in order to stay alive, while Jesus sacrifices his life. In the end the son and the Christian disciples are left – one to carry the fire and the others to follow it.

(Headline of Blog from JRR Tolkein)

The Gathering: Citizens with the Saints

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It’s actually here – The Gathering. That thing on the calendar that felt like it would never get here for Madeleine, our 15-year-old. Her dream of soaking up New Orleans in the cradle of jazz (at least to her mind) in the company of friends filled her with anticipation.

At the same time that corresponding trip for us has been a series of meetings, emails, fundraisers, a bit of anxiety – for me, it came up fast. Like life itself the young sense that time is dragging while the old(er) feel time accelerating.

Still, at the appointed time, the day came and now the adventure. Exactly what is this Gathering? The ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) Youth  Gathering  for 2012 is appropriately themed “Citizens with the Saints,” blending  the rich faith history, diverse cultures and arts of New Orleans with the convention’s mission to service the city’s public education system, shrinking wetlands and housing. Right now 35,000 Lutheran teens have converged on Louisiana’s Big Easy to collaborate with nearly 50 different organizations during its outreach efforts, including the New Orleans Recreation Department, New Orleans Community and Schools Organization, United Saints, St. Bernard Project, UNITY New Orleans, Beacon of Hope, Second Harvest Food Bank and Common Ground Relief to use their hands to embody the three core practices the youth will be exposed to: Discipleship, Peacemaking and Justice.

We saw off Madeleine, seven other church youth and two chaperones two days ago. Already we have word that they have been working on rehabilitating a home in one of the Katrina-affected parishes (still damaged and rotting after seven years) followed by a come-together gathering at the Superdome with all the attendees with community music and prayer.

The view from inside the Superdome.

What else will they encounter as individuals, a small group and as a sea of youth? Possibly life-changing, certainly memorable, Madeleine will have tales to tell and much to process. Will she experience the dream she had in her head, or not? We pray that it will it exceed her expectations or change her in positive ways.  Armed with still camera and video camera, she hoped to come home with a visual record of the five-day trip.

Improvising with skill, like the jazz city playing host, the adolescents will be sharing a multitude of viewpoints of faith, God, belief, spiritualism, and their own journeys and then blend that with their own internal faith. The hope is that the sharing of faith and working together in community will enable each participant to acquire those skills and use them to broaden their own stories as caring Christians for decades to come. And as Donald Miller says in his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I learned While Editing My Life:

“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”

In Ephesians Chapter 2 we read: “Jesus is our peace. In his life and death on the cross, Jesus broke down the dividing walls so that we are no longer strangers and outsiders, but we are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God. The foundation of God’s house was built of apostles and prophets, and Jesus, the cornerstone, holds it all together.”

My fervent hope is that we all get that – that Madeleine receive it now at The Gathering and/or through other experiences and many other times in her life. But more expansively, that we all use our life as a positive story that has meaning, glee, playfulness, justice, peace, connectedness and LOVE in Christ.