The Membership: Jayber Crow Discussion Group(4)

  • He shows up every Sunday morning with a big smile and a small canvas bag full of candy. Swarms of children greet his arrival with joy, but it’s his warm handshake and sincere delight in their lives that keeps those relationships alive as the kids become teens and then move on to adulthood.
  • She is a widow, rattling around in a big, white New England farmhouse with a rescue dog and any number of semi-feral cats. Only a few people know that she is a member of the Cycling Hall of Fame. Even fewer know that she hires eager young boys to work hard, pays them well, and then gives them solid counsel for wise future choices.
  • Her husband lived well into his nineties, a World War II veteran who sat around our marshmallow fire one evening sharing stories of lunch with Ernie on the streets of Paris. (We later found that Ernie’s last name was Hemingway.)

And behind every door, seated in every pew in my world — and in yours —  lives another story. Whether dazzlingly unique or quietly mundane, each story is one part of the membership that enriches our own stories.

The Port William Membership

The matter-of-fact unfolding of Jayber Crow’s story is set against the backdrop of a small town along the banks of the Kentucky River, and it is acted out in manifold stories of the citizens of Port William, referred to by Jayber as The Membership. They range from the sublime — such as Mr. Mat Feltner who “looked right through your eyes, right into you, as a man looks at you who is willing for you to look right into him”  — to the ridiculous, personified by Cecelia Overhold who landed in Chapter 10 in a blaze of fury, insults, and rock-throwing rage.

Burley Coulter is such a well-developed character that I found myself wondering about his Enneagram type. Anyone have a theory? I’m thinking that his caring acts on Jayber’s behalf reveal him as a 2, but I’m open-minded.  I liked Burley the minute he picked Jayber up and deposited him safely on the banks of his future home town, but the way he stood with his hands inside the bib of his overalls on the Feltner’s door stoop, then his “conscientious sense of humor” and the way he filled Jayber’s plate at the “Worter Dranking Party” completely won my heart.

Loafers and Customers

Both Jayber and Burley seemed to consider that “loafers” were standard equipment for a small town barbershop.  And it’s clear that Jayber spent some time thinking about barbering as a profession — or a vocation? I’d stop short of saying that he had a “theology of barbering,” but he certainly had the rudiments of an epistemology:

“I don’t mean for you to believe that even barbers ever know the whole story. But it’s a fact that knowledge comes to barbers, just as stray cats come to milking barns. If you are a barber and you stay in one place long enough, eventually you will know the outlines of a lot of stories and you will see how the bits and pieces of knowledge fit in. Anything you know about, there is a fair chance you will sooner or later know more about. . . I am amazed at what I have come to know, and how much.” (94)

Some of Jayber’s loafers eventually became customers, and it seemed to be their responsibility to keep him humble. The barber, apparently is just another inevitable part of nature:

“The growth of hair called forth the barbershop. The barbershop called forth the barber. I was there as expectably as the furniture and the stove, as the town itself and the river down at the foot of the hill.”

With conversations flying around Jayber, and customers paying him without even looking at him, it’s no wonder that Jayber was privy to so many of other peoples’ stories.

What always takes me by surprise with Jayber is his compassionate heart, and this next observation will only resonate for those who have also read Marilynne Robinson’s trilogy about the Reverend John Ames, another of my favorite fictional theologians. Rev. Ames spoke of baptizing his membership with a special tenderness, touching their heads with a kind of knowing and intimacy that endeared them to his pastor’s heart. I see this same tenderness in Jayber.

Doing some unauthorized looking ahead to page 231, Jayber refers to the barbershop of Port William as “a privileged position,” and he admitted that people confided in him “deliberately; sometimes, almost forgetfully.” While Jayber stopped short of his ministerial aspirations when he fled Pigeonville, he certainly fulfilled a crucial role for his congregation of loafers and customers who filled the seats in his shop.

Belonging

I was happy to read that Jayber felt as if he had found a home and place of belonging. In typical small-town manner, it took two years for the old guard to invite Jayber to his first “worter dranking” party, but he took the invitation in the spirit with which it was delivered, realizing that his inclusion in that group would work alongside his bachelorhood to give him a role he described as “bystander.” He was not a stranger, but not a “good catch” for their daughters, either. Having settled into the niche of Port William barber as both home and identity, Jayber stopped wondering what he”was going to make of ” himself and, instead, decided to settle into the “perquisites of that office.”

Some Questions to Ponder

Sam Hanks is a man of studied perversity, apparently clenching his pipe (“as if he expected to be picked up and swung by it”) and his opinions with the same tenacity. We see this trait in Jayber’s shop in the way Sam argues a point for the sheer joy of it. But what could be his motive for the way he responded to Jayber’s attempt to thank him for and to repay the $5 gift from years before? Is it humility? Does he really not remember Jayber from their previous meeting? Is it possible that he’s playing with Jayber’s brain the way he antagonized John T.?

Did anyone else notice that when Jayber introduced himself by name for the first time in Port William (page 98 with Mrs. Coulter), he called himself Jonah? It seems as if the Port William Membership is also in the business of re-naming, but do you sense a difference between their methods and motives and those of Brother Whitespade?

Can you identify with Jayber’s need for geographical proximity in order to live his way into his losses? As I write today, I’m preparing for a visit from my sister who has not been back home since our mum passed away. She’s got that process ahead of her as she experiences a visit to the State of Maine that does not include a visit with Mum.

As we all grow older and as the people we love age alongside us, it is inescapable that we will begin to see our world “populated with presences and absences, presences of absences, the living and the dead.” (132) I’m thankful that Jayber (and Wendell Berry) concluded the time of mourning and remembering with this thought: “The world as it is [will] always be a reminder of the world that was, and of the world that is to come.” (132)

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I look forward to reading your thoughts so be sure to share insights, blog posts, and your psychoanalyses of the Port William Membership in the comment space below!

There is much in these three chapters that I have not mentioned, but which is worthy of a good many paragraphs:  Jayber’s observations on the Overhold marriage, the role of remember-ers in a community, and the fact that Mrs. Coulter reminds me of my dear mother-in-law. However, I’ll keep this under 1500 words and will be here again next Thursday (October 5) having read Chapters 12-14.

Here’s the schedule for upcoming discussion posts:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion

OCTOBER 5……………………CHAPTERS 12-14
OCTOBER 12………………….CHAPTERS 15-17
OCTOBER 19………………….CHAPTERS 18-20
OCTOBER 26………………….CHAPTERS 21-23
NOVEMBER 2…………………CHAPTERS 24-26
NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32

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Musings — September 2017

The geese have already begun their practice maneuvers over our heads on this country hill. They’re getting ready to go, so at least one goofy son will have asked the annual joke question:

“Why is one side of the longer than the other?”
Pause and grin.
The answer?
“One side of the is longer than the other because it has more geese.”
And I laugh every year because that joke parallels my own habit of peering into a simple matter and making it more complicated than it needs to be.

I’m still reading Jeremiah these days, and it occurs to me that he must have looked overhead and observed the patterns of migratory birds as well:

“Even the stork in the heavens
Knows her appointed times;
And the turtledove, the swift, and the swallow
Observe the time of their coming.
But My people do not know the judgment of the Lord.”   Jeremiah 8:7

For birds of the air, obedience to the call of God is a matter of instinct. They know the time has come to move, and so they do it. I’m envious at times of their place in what Mary Oliver has called “the family of things.” But then, when I hear their wild call as they begin their flight to a southern home, I’m reminded to be thankful for the gift of choice.

On My Mind

This fall I’m working on a concept I read about on Philip Yancey’s blog. He’s quoting Charles Chu in urging readers to construct “a fortress of habits.” In his case it’s a matter of being disciplined in his reading, but my fortress of habits is needed around the practice of healthy eating and exercise. I want to be like those geese flying overhead: to just keep doing the right thing over and over and over . . . without thinking about it too much (remember the joke?) or making excuses to give myself an out. After all, if I think about obedience too long, I might be tempted to fall into the habits of disobedience Jeremiah lamented in the nation of Israel as he watched the birds fly overhead.

On the Blog

Readers at Living Our Days are three weeks into a book discussion group around Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. It’s not too late to join us, and I know you’ll find the participants’ comments to be insightful. They’ve certainly been enhancing my own reading of the story! If you enjoy asking questions about the faith and diving into a cast of quirky but lovable characters, you’ll enjoy our low-pressure meandering journey through Jayber’s story.

 

In keeping with my resolve to keep my reading life down to a dull roar, I’ve reviewed only three books in September:

*** 1 ***

Table Mentoring  is a challenge to share this following life alongside another, and author Sue Moore Donaldson has Scriptural backing:

“God comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, He brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”  ~I Corinthians 1:3,4

Fair warning: This book has changed the way I pray about mentoring, and with its helpful collection of printables for use in a mentoring relationship, I’m finding myself eager to use them and believing what Sue has said:

“If you know one promise in God’s Word, you are ready to mentor that one promise.  Ask God for someone to share it with today.”

*** 2 ***

Shauna Shanks had every reason to give up on her marriage. Her husband had been unfaithful, he had zero interest in reconciling with her, and her hope was wearing thin. A Fierce Love is a record of her resolve to fight for her marriage and to live by the principles of I Corinthians 13 in a posture of grace and restraint. Shauna clung to the truth that God had already set a high value upon her, and this guarded her heart from dwelling on negative thoughts and helped to pull her out of depression and despair.

“The Bible instructs us to take our thoughts captive.  We act as though we have no control over our thoughts . . . as if once they pop into our heads, we have to let them live there.
Take them captive.  They will kill you.”

*** 3 ***

In Peace in the ProcessKristin Hill Taylor shares her astonishment at the great gift of insight adoption brought to her understanding of the Christian life. Understanding the depth of God’s choosing love and leaning into this faith gave Kristin peace in the process of becoming a mum and leaving a much-loved career to stay home with her first child. The Taylors went on to adopt two more babies, each story unique and each child a gift from God.

By sharing the details of each adoption and including the diverse stories of a number of friends who also adopted, Kristin prepares readers who are considering adoption for the twists and turns of the process that sent her to Daniel’s Old Testament anthem to God’s sovereignty:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
For wisdom and might are His.
And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.
 He reveals deep and secret things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And light dwells with Him.  (Daniel 2:20-23)

On the Hill

The garden is still producing green beans, tomatoes, and enough other things that I’m almost afraid to go look. Best of all are the sunflowers which I always plant with abandon. The last time I checked, the pumpkins were turning orange, and I haven’t even begun to harvest the beets and squash.  Joy!

All the pink-lettering in this post cannot possibly have escaped your attention.  Or maybe it did, but this mum of four sons and one grandson has had precious little use for the color pink in the past 23 years, but things are about to change around these parts.

Rosanna newborn

 

Welcome to the family, little Rosanna Marie Morin, born on September 12 and weighing in at 8 lbs. and 3 oz. Her gorgeous dark hair is covered by the hat, but I promise to share more pictures soon.

(I’d be happy to share more pictures.
It’s no trouble at all . . . honest!)

 

This one with her dad (my oldest son) and her big brother is my favorite.

 

Thanks to all for reading and for your encouraging comments throughout the month. You’ve made this a safe and welcoming place for me and for others, and I am grateful for your positive input and your interest in the stories of how God meets us in the process of Living Our Days.

 

Photo in featured image by Ethan Weil on Unsplash

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I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Like the Sound of Many Waters — Jayber Crow Discussion (3)

As I write today, Houston is well into the long rebuilding that follows a hurricane and flooding, and Irma has raged through the Caribbean islands and through Florida, leaving a wake of destruction and death. In an odd sort of coincidence, those of us who are reading Jayber Crow according to the schedule have been following our protagonist’s progress through the flooded region that borders the Kentucky River on his journey toward home. Then, to add a third strand to these braided images, the patient husband and I have been reading in the book of Ezekiel these days, and we encountered this word picture in one of the wild-eyed prophet’s visions:

 “Afterward he brought me to the gate, the gate that faces toward the east.  And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east. His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory. (Ezekiel 43:1,2)

Calling and the Voice of God

Scripture portrays the voice of God as still and small; as fearsome and emanating from the midst of fire; as a commandment-carrying instrument which must be obeyed at all cost.  And God’s usual means of communicating to His people is through Scripture; however, God (being God) can speak to us in any way that pleases Him.

Whether it was the voice of God or the voice of his own longing for home rising up in his heart and finally being heard, one thing was certain:  the river flooded and it brought Jayber back to Port William. The River was rising on that January day in 1937 when Jayber packed up his belongings and left behind his first barbering job, the first room he’d “ever had in his own right,” along with his pursuit of making “a theoretical something of himself” through education. For him, at least at this point in life, his calling is all about leaving. It’s not until he reaches the bridge in Frankfort, Kentucky and is stopped from crossing by the policeman (and the raging flood waters) that his journey seems to turn toward something.

” . . . If that barn breaks loose and hits this bridge, she’s a goner, and you too if you’re on it.”

And then I said something that I had never thought of saying, that I didn’t even know was the truth until I remembered myself saying it. Right then I only felt all of a sudden so lonely and homesick I could barely talk. I said, “I’ve got to get to my people down the river.”

Of course, it does complicate things that none of Jayber’s “people” know he exists yet . . . but enter Burley Coulter, and suddenly Jayber is known. The un-naming that happened back at The Good Shepherd has been reversed and the calling and the blessing of life as a barber begins to unfold.

The Calling and the Being

” . . . I know I’ve been lucky. Beyond that, the question is if I have not been also blessed, as I believe I have — and, beyond that, even called. Surely I was called to be, for one thing, a barber. All my real opportunities have been to be a barber, as you’ll see, and being a barber has made other opportunities. I have had the life I have had because I kept on being a barber, you might say, in spite of my intentions to the contrary.”

I can’t resist asking this question:

What do you “keep on being” that has resulted in blessing — maybe in spite of yourself?

Another question that bubbled to the surface as I read was, “Who is this guy?”

On the one hand, he’s lived a solitary life since Aunt Cordie died. On the other hand, he risks life and limb to cross a bridge to get to his people (“as surely as if [he] had a home to be on the way to”) and then stands in the capitol building on his way out after having spent the night there, looking at all his fellow refugees and longing to “tiptoe around and just lay my hand on each one.” He seems capable of feeling more tenderness toward people he doesn’t know than people he knows. Wendell Berry has certainly crafted a character full of contradictions.

Looking Ahead

The rising of the waters, the guilty feeling that he wants to repay the $5 bill Sam Hanks gave him on the basis of a lie, and Burley Coulter’s rowboat all worked together to bring Jayber back home.  As chapter eight comes to a close we see the beginnings of Jayber’s future, and so does he, but his narrator’s voice on page 82 draws our attention to an unknown quantity that would, eventually, have a powerful influence in his life — an influence as powerful as a calling:

“But my future, as it turned out, proved to be elsewhere. I hadn’t even glimpsed it yet. I had imagined no future. Who she was who would have my heart to own I had not imagined.”

So after three stories completely ended, Jayber begins a new story in an old setting.

How has the voice of God come to you in the past?  And how are you hearing Him today?

Have you experienced any hair pin turns in your sense of calling? Does Jayber’s experience help you in thinking about vocation?

I look forward to reading your thoughts so be sure to share insights, blog posts, and stories from your own experience in the comment space below!

I’ll be here next Thursday (September 28) having read Chapters 9-11.

And just in case you missed the schedule I posted last week, here it is again:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion

SEPTEMBER 28………………CHAPTERS 9-11
OCTOBER 5……………………CHAPTERS 12-14
OCTOBER 12………………….CHAPTERS 15-17
OCTOBER 19………………….CHAPTERS 18-20
OCTOBER 26………………….CHAPTERS 21-23
NOVEMBER 2…………………CHAPTERS 24-26
NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Faith, Family, and the Adoption Journey

Last summer, we canoed down the Saco River.  With kayaks, canoes, and colorful life jackets, we were a festive family flotilla bobbing along in the gentle current. On the way to our destination, we swam, sunned ourselves on sandbars, and the kids played a rousing game of gunwale wars. It was the kind of day that becomes a better memory every year, except . . .

We received some misinformation along the way and our end point was actually further down the river than we had thought — by several hours. Wild with a quiet panic, I paddled and fretted. As the sun began to set and I pictured us navigating around fallen trees and exposed granite in the dark, I announced to my husband, “I’m not a process person!  I’m a destination person, and I want this journey to be over!”

Kristin Hill Taylor found herself navigating a similar course in her journey of infertility and the decision to adopt.  Steering around the discomfort and inconvenience of fertility treatments, enduring the open-ended waiting process, and keeping one eye on the sunset that comes with aging ovaries, she found herself returning to Daniel’s Old Testament anthem to God’s sovereignty:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
For wisdom and might are His.
And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.
 He reveals deep and secret things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And light dwells with Him.  (Daniel 2:20-23)

God graciously allowed Kristin to stay close to the truth that waiting is an opportunity for growth — but that does not mean it was easy! Once Kristin and her husband Greg entered the adoption process, they faced an entirely new set of circumstances that were beyond their control. Even so, they could see the hand of God at work when a young mum made the brave choice to continue her pregnancy and selected the Taylors as an adoptive family for her baby.

Kristin shares her astonishment at the great gift of insight adoption brought to her understanding of the Christian life. Understanding the depth of God’s choosing love and leaning into this faith gave Kristin peace in the process of becoming a mum and leaving a much-loved career to stay home with her first child. The Taylors went on to adopt two more babies, each story unique and each child a gift from God.

By sharing the details of each adoption and including the diverse stories of a number of friends who also adopted, Kristin prepares readers who are considering adoption for the twists and turns of the process.  Throughout the years of her story arc, it seemed that Kristin was perpetually updating a home study or weathering another round of disappointed hopes.  She learned that “few things define us more than how we struggle.” (49) And she realized that she was NOT a good struggler.  However, she was also in a process of transformation — as is every believer.

The sandpaper that God chose to use in Kristin’s situation was the adoption process and the emotionally draining job of mothering multiple children. As Kristin openly shares her moments of weakness and the ways in which God used His Word to instruct her, I was also challenged to dig into the truth of the book of James that “God wants me to live out my faith with my hands and my feet and my words and my actions and my attitudes and my relationships and my decision and my whole entire life.”

A closer examination of the adoption process pushed my understanding of being pro-life beyond a political position and into a realization that children are worth the level of effort, investment, and inconvenience that adoption can sometimes create. The formation of a family is worth the risk and the vulnerability.

The Taylor family has come together through adoption, and although the journey was not predictable or planned, the result is all that Kristin could have hoped for. The uniqueness of their family’s growth served as the occasion for witnessing God’s glory on display as He brought order to brokenness and wove together a network of love and connections in the making of a family.

Raymond Kayak
And, yes, the journey down the river was worth it, too!

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This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

3 Stories Completely Ended: Jayber Crow Discussion Group (2)

My faith unraveled at a Christian college. I know that’s not the way it’s supposed to happen, and I can remember wishing that a hostile, atheistic professor had bludgeoned me into my doubts with brilliantly irrefutable arguments.

It would make for a much better story.

Instead, the truth is I just got numb. The constant barrage of meaningless requirements that were, somehow, mysteriously related to Christianity: plowing through a three-inch thick commentary on Romans with no specific assignment in mind (other than to reach the back cover), fending off the desperate and over-bearing overtures of my “dorm mother” who wanted to befriend all “her girls,” and trying to stay awake while the combed-over, suited-up preacher-of-the-day got carried away and stole time from the class that followed our mandatory chapel.

One day it all got to be just too ridiculous.

Eventually, of course, I realized the problem was localized and what I had been objecting to was not “Christianity” itself, but a mindset that existed on a particular campus in a specific zip code.

Perhaps if Jayber Crow could have reached that conclusion a bit sooner, he would have been able to finish his education and then take his questions and his refreshing insights into ministry instead of just out the door and down the road with no clear destination in sight. Later in the book, we’ll see that he does eventually patch things up with organized religion, but even then, his musings about faith often sound as if they are coming from an outsider.

Living the Questions:  Calling

Since Jayber ended chapter three with the observation that Aunt Cordie’s death made him “the survivor already of two stories completely ended,” I’ll add that his departure from Pigeonville College made for number three.

This week’s discussion of Chapters 4-6 covers the bulk of the twelve year period in which Jayber lived away from Port William.  During those important growing-up years, the foundation was laid for Jayber’s understanding of what it means to be “called.” He starts out hedging his bets with a decision that it would be wiser to “accept  the call that had not come, just in case it had come and [he] had missed it.” I’ve heard it said no one should go into professional ministry if they can be happy doing anything else. Maybe that advice would have helped young Jayber with his sorting process, but Dr. Ardmire helps Jayber turn a corner with this wise and wonderful conversation:

“I had this feeling maybe I had been called.”

“And you may have been right. But not to what you thought. Not to what you think. You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out — perhaps a little at a time.”

“And how long is that going to take?”

“I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.”

“That could be a long time.”

“I will tell you a further mystery,” he said. “It may take longer.”

Maybe, like me, this conversation brought to mind Rainer Maria Rilke’s words about living the questions.  Just in case it did not, I’ll share it here:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. . . Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I think we will see that Jayber Crow gave the questions his best effort throughout the seventy-two years of his recorded ponderings.

Living the Questions:  Dualism

Unfortunately, The Good Shepherd with Brother Whitespade at the helm practiced a kind of dualism which gave the Apostle Paul plenty to write about 2,000 before, and which the church is still battling today. Jayber remembered it as a “divided world” with an “ideal world of order” there within the safe and secluded boundaries of the school and the “real world of disorder” which was forbidden . . . and therefore, very attractive to the students. His description of localized naughtiness brought an understanding smile to my face:  “They would not have been easy in their minds if there was something they could have got away with if they had not got away with it.”

(I think there’s a warning here for those of us who are parents and want to shelter our children from all the evils of this world.)

The same rift between body and soul showed up at Pigeonville College, but this time, Jayber recognized it for what it was.  Do you ever see this same contradiction in your own Christian circles?

“Everything bad was laid on the body, and everything good was credited to the soul. It scared me a little when I realized that I saw it the other way around. If the soul and body really were divided, then it seemed to me that all the worst sins –hatred and anger and self-righteousness and even greed and lust — came from the soul. But these preachers I’m talking about all thought that the soul could do no wrong, but always had its face washed and its pants on and was in agony over having to associate with the flesh and the world.  And yet these same people believed in the resurrection of the body.

Living the Questions:  Power

I was disappointed with the way Brother Whitespade handled names at The Good Shepherd, effectively un-naming every student who walked through the door. Although his affection for Jayber was increased with Jayber’s “call,” even this is a form of un-naming him, for although Jayber had not changed a whit in his inclination to become a better student (or a deeper Christian), the notion of his calling was perfect camouflage for his lackluster performance and somehow made him more valuable or worthwhile in the headmaster’s estimation.

Living the Questions:  Home

Home is more than a place. It’s the people who live alongside us, and all this was lost for Jayber when Aunt Cordie passed away. He was made to feel the weight of his “homelessness” with continual reminders that he was counting on someone’s good graces to feed, clothe, and educate him at The Good Shepherd.

Isn’t it wonderful that Jayber felt at home in The Good Shepherd’s library?

Jayber held himself separate and “solitary” during his time at the school, and I wonder if his loyalty to “home” — even though it was a place that no longer existed for him — was what allowed him to retain his personhood in the midst of pressure to become a cookie cutter boy in the image of Brother Whitespade.

We’ll see as we continue reading that “place” is a huge influence in Jayber’s story.  But, then, it’s true for all of us, even though we are sojourners on this planet.  God’s story began in a garden, and one day it will end in a city, so just as our bodies are not incidental to our salvation (sorry, Brother Whitespade), place is not unimportant either.

And as God’s children, we are never homeless.

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I look forward to reading your thoughts so be sure to share insights, blog posts, and criticisms of my conclusions in the comment space below!

I’ll be here next Thursday (September 21) having read Chapters 7-8.

And just in case you missed the schedule I posted last week, here it is again:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion
SEPTEMBER 14………………CHAPTERS 4-6
SEPTEMBER 21………………CHAPTERS 7-8
SEPTEMBER 28………………CHAPTERS 9-11
OCTOBER 5……………………CHAPTERS 12-14
OCTOBER 12………………….CHAPTERS 15-17
OCTOBER 19………………….CHAPTERS 18-20
OCTOBER 26………………….CHAPTERS 21-23
NOVEMBER 2…………………CHAPTERS 24-26
NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32

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Activate the Love Filter: 5 Principles to Safeguard Your Marriage

Somewhere within the first decade of our marriage, my husband and I began to notice a disturbing trend:  marriages dissolving all around us.  In the church we attended at that time, three couples went their separate ways in a single year.  They were active, visible members — regular attenders.  We looked at each other, both deer in the headlights and knew, deep in our bones:  This could happen to us, too.

Shauna Shanks writes about marriage from the trenches, and A Fierce Love is a manual for marriage preservation in the wake of unfaithfulness, betrayal, and emotional abandonment, for Shauna has invited readers to witness the anguish of the days, weeks, and months that followed her husband Micah’s announcement that he wanted a divorce.  The book is a record of her resolve to fight for her marriage, even though Micah gave her absolutely no hope for reconciliation.

The Love Filter

” . . . this man with whom I had built a life, made promises to, and shared our children, opened his mouth and declared, “I do not love you. . . I am not attracted to you . . . I shouldn’t have married you. . . I have wasted ten years of my life with you, and I don’t want to waste any more of my time.  I feel nothing for you.”

And yet:
God directed Shauna’s thoughts to I Corinthians 13, the love chapter, and she made a decision that her love would not be based on mere feelings.  Rather than reading Paul’s words as lovely sentiment or tired poetry, for Shauna, they became a call to a fierce love — a battle cry based on the truth and a posture of grace and restraint.

Instead of remorse over his sin, Micah communicated only rejection. If the marriage was to be saved, the ball was entirely in Shauna’s court, so she employed the truths of I Corinthians 13 as her Love Filter.  Responding in kindness, patience, and hope while rejecting rudeness, pride, and jealousy, she was free to persevere because I Corinthians 13 love never fails.

A Specific Calling

Shauna is very quick to say that not everyone will be called to fight as she did, and not every marriage on a broken planet is salvageable.  However, her specific calling was to hang in there, to speak only to a few very close friends about her plight, and to expend all her energy in the direction of preserving that relationship.

“Second Marriage”

So completely was the Shanks’s marriage transformed, Shauna speaks of their first ten years pre-crisis as their “first marriage” (even though there was no legal breach) and the time since the reconciliation as the “second marriage.” The challenge facing you and me today, then, is to reject a “first marriage” mindset and to fight each day for that “second-marriage”-level of commitment to self-giving as a rescue for a failing marriage — or as a safe guard to an already stable and healthy marriage.

In reading Shauna’s courageous account of warrior-level faith, I gleaned five principles that seemed to be sign posts on her journey of fierce love:

1.  Beware “blatant indifference.”

The roots of Micah’s cold detachment from a ten-year marriage can be traced to his troubled childhood coupled with the distraction of a competing love, but even so, Shauna admits she, too, had been practicing some behaviors that could also be considered “blatant indifference.” Binge-watching Netflix series, failing to prioritize time with Micah, and viewing the marriage as a utilitarian childcare arrangement also set the stage for weakened ties.  Of course this does not excuse Micah’s infidelity but Shauna laments, “My sin may have looked different than Micah’s, but it was still sin.”

2.  Find “Aaron and Hur” caliber support.

God provided two friends for Shauna who upheld her through the darkest days.  So strong was her resolve to fight and so clear was her understanding that God was directing her toward reconciliation that she did not want to risk telling her family about their rift in order to keep them from turning against Micah.  (She and Micah continued to live in the same house so to the outside observer, nothing had changed in the Shanks household.)

Shauna was not being abused or endangered, so she does not intend for her practice to be prescriptive for those who are in an abusive relationships. This is an important distinction given the tendency of abuse victims to hide unhealthy relationships out of shame or fear. With that firmly established, in a culture in which husband-bashing has become acceptable even in Christian circles, there’s a place for respectful silence about our spouse’s shortcomings as well as an honoring curtain of privacy sheltering a marriage relationship.

3.  Refuse to receive the damaging effects of a wayward spouse’s rejection.

Shauna clung to the truth that God had already set a high value upon her, and this guarded her heart from dwelling on negative thoughts and helped to pull her out of depression and despair.

“The Bible instructs us to take our thoughts captive.  We act as though we have no control over our thoughts . . . as if once they pop into our heads, we have to let them live there.
Take them captive.  They will kill you.”

4.  Chase after God.

If two people are determined to seek God faithfully, their marriage relationship will be impacted as well.  Before working on her marriage, Shauna focused on her relationship with God and, mercifully, Micah’s heart for Shauna changed after his heart warmed once again to his Lord.

5.  Take grace.

There’s a prideful rising up of the spirit that is death to relationships because it rejects the gracious offering of forgiveness.  Shauna found that one of the obstacles to reconciliation was that, although she was willing to extend grace to Micah in a supernatural way — he had to become willing to receive it.

From a dark and oppressive place, Shauna trusted for grace, and God met her there.  No matter what the state of your marriage (or even if you are single) there is merit in being reminded that when God becomes involved in the process of restoration, He does not merely patch us up or send us backward into a former thing.  God’s work of redemption restores forward into a brand new and beautiful thing that only He can accomplish.

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This book was provided by Zondervan through BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Additional Resources

  • Jamie Ivey interviewed Shauna on Episode #153 of The Happy Hour Podcast.  Together, they talk about life and Shauna’s book — and the house the Shanks family is building together out of shipping containers.  Click here to listen.
  • My friend Crystal Storms blogs about marriage and recently shared A Prayer for the Wife Feeling Abandoned.  She has experienced the heartbreak of a husband pulling away, and describes the distance between them in that season as “a wall of insurmountable heights.”  Click here for encouragement from Crystal’s heart.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Jayber Crow: Welcome to the Discussion!

The house where I grew up is gone, and I haven’t returned to pay homage to the empty space.  For me, home — the place of belonging and permanence — is this country hill which has created in me a deep appreciation and understanding of the importance of place.  Expecting to live solitary and transient, I have been amazed to find that I’m content in a long-term zip code, but, as usual, I’m just catching up with what God has been doing all along.  He has always worked within a context of place, choosing a backwater Palestinian setting as ground zero for His arrival and as the backdrop for His earthly ministry. The incarnation brought dignity to the mortal body and to the notion of occupying a particular time and a beloved space.

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry is a book about a man, but it is also a book about a place. Chapter 1 introduces Jayber as the barber in Port William, and then goes on to introduce the reader to the town he called home, employing six vignettes which feature various members of the Port William Membership.

Somehow, throughout the book, Jayber manages to sidestep the spotlight and to relate his tale through the observations of others.  However, he describes Port William as a place that “repaid watching,” (5) and clearly, Jayber saw plenty through his barbershop window.  It’s interesting that Berry makes his introductions in this order:  (1) Port William culminating in the first mention of Mattie Keith; (2) Jayber’s early years; (3) the Kentucky River which, we will see later, is so active in the plot that it nearly becomes a character in the story.

This is as good a place as any to address Wendell Berry’s curmudgeonly preface to Jayber Crow:

“NOTICE

Persons attempting to find a “text” in this book will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a “subtext” in it will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise “understand” it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.

BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR”

This makes me smile, but you will recall (if you participated in the book discussion group around Till We Have Faces) how we acknowledged that Orual and her associates provided a wealth of material to deepen our understanding of God and His ways.  However, C.S. Lewis was primarily a story teller, and the story superseded all the themes and character analysis we discussed.  So . . . . lest we all find ourselves banished together to a desert island, let’s acknowledge once again that Jayber Crow is first and foremost a story about the barber of the Port William Membership.

If there is really such a thing as a “fictional memoir,” William Berry has mastered the craft.  Through Jayber’s musings, we will explore themes such as vocation and calling; the blessings and bane of change; the idea of belonging; and the unfolding of time in a particular place.  Writing from the perspective of 72 years of life, Jayber ponders the lay of the land:

“Back there at the beginning, as I see now, my life was all time and almost no memory.  Though I knew early of death, it still seemed to be something that happened only to other people, and I stood in an unending river of time that would go on making the same changes and the same returns forever.  And now, nearing the end, I see that my life is almost entirely memory and very little time.”

What Are Your Thoughts?

I hope that you are already beginning to fall in love with the people of Port William.  Have you noticed how Jayber describes in elaborate detail the characters’ background, temperament, and manner of living?  Some of these individuals will appear later in the story (or in other books that Berry has written about the Port William Membership), but some of them never appear again.  Even so, Berry has given gratuitous attention to them, like that of a painter to one tree in a landscape of forest.

I’d also love to hear your thoughts on Jayber himself.  I’ve never had a brother, but I think I love Jayber the way one would love an odd, errant brother who never quite lived up to his potential, BUT could explain every turn in the road to his own satisfaction, so was just fine in his own skin, thank you very much.

I hesitate to mention this at the outset, but I want to discuss it when it comes up, so I’ll front-load an observation from this read-through of Jayber.  Wendell Berry, in addition to being a poet and stunning author of fiction, is a farmer, an environmental activist, and a cultural critic.  I noticed several incidents in which Jayber’s monologues sounded as if maybe Wendell had jumped in front of the microphone for few paragraphs.  Not yet.  But bear this in mind as you read on.  I’m wondering . . . is it just my imagination, or do you notice it as well?

One of the reasons I have called Jayber my favorite fictional theologian is his ability to make observations about the faith which sound like an outsider and yet to be profoundly orthodox on so many points.  I’m hoping for some lively discussion on the state of Jayber’s eternal soul, but listen to this insight on God as Father from later on in the book:

“I imagined that the right name might be Father, and I imagined all that that name would imply:  the love, the compassion, the taking of offense, the disappointment, the anger, the bearing of wounds, the weeping of tears, the forgiveness, the suffering unto death . . . Divine omnipotence might by the force of its love be swayed down into the world.  Could I not see how it might, because it could know its creatures only by compassion, put on mortal flesh, become a man, and walk among us, assume our nature and our fate, suffer our faults and our death.”

And so . . . back to incarnation once again.

What are your thoughts on barber chair theology?
Is there a place in your history and memory that anchors you in the way Port William anchored Jayber?

Let’s Get Started

I would love to hear your thoughts as we read. If you do not blog, just share your insights directly to the comments, but if you have a blog, I hope that you will write a piece or two (or a post about each section!) and then share them here by copying the URL of the post into the comments section below.  It will be fun — and enlightening — to learn from each other’s insights.

Don’t feel as if you need to share earth-shattering observations.  Just write about what impressed you in the section we are reading. If something puzzled you, pose your questions to the group.  Let’s commit to reading the book and learning from it in community!

I’ll be here next Thursday (September 14) having read Chapters 4-6.  I’ll share a summary to get us started, mention some of my insights, and then throw the door wide open for your input.
How do you participate?
Simply get a copy of the book and read along.  You don’t need to register or commit to anything other than just reading the book!

In the meantime, are you planning to read with us?
Will this be your first time through one of Wendell Berry’s books or are you a repeat reader?
What else have you read by Berry?  Do you have a favorite?
Where are you, who are you, and what do you love?
Do you plan to blog about your impressions?
Let’s begin to get acquainted in the comments below!
And just in case you missed the schedule I posted last week, here it is again:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion
SEPTEMBER 7………………..CHAPTERS 1-3
SEPTEMBER 14………………CHAPTERS 4-6
SEPTEMBER 21………………CHAPTERS 7-8
SEPTEMBER 28………………CHAPTERS 9-11
OCTOBER 5……………………CHAPTERS 12-14
OCTOBER 12………………….CHAPTERS 15-17
OCTOBER 19………………….CHAPTERS 18-20
OCTOBER 26………………….CHAPTERS 21-23
NOVEMBER 2…………………CHAPTERS 24-26
NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.