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Groups are often said to believe things. For instance, we talk about PETA believing that factory farms should be abolished, the Catholic Church believing that the Pope is infallible, and the U.S. government believing that people have the right to free speech. But how can we make sense of a group believing something?
This is an important question, from both a theoretical and a practical point of view. If we don’t understand what group belief is, then we won’t be able to grasp what it means to say that a group knows or should have known something. This matters a great deal, given that belief, knowledge, and culpable ignorance are intimately connected to moral and legal responsibility.
For instance, if the Bush Administration believed that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, then not only did the Administration lie to the public in saying that it did, but it is also fully culpable for the hundreds of thousands of lives needlessly lost in the Iraq war. And if BP should have known that its Deepwater Horizon oil rig was in need of repairs, then it is responsible for the vast quantity of oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.
Despite the importance of this question, the topic of group belief has received surprisingly little attention in the philosophical literature. So far, the majority of those who have addressed it favor an inflationary approach where groups are treated as entities with “minds of their own.” That is to say, groups are something more than the mere collection of their members, and group belief is something more than their individual beliefs. This rather bold view is typically motivated by arguments that claim a group can be properly said to believe something even when not a single one of its members believes it. A classic example of this sort of case is where a group decides to let a view “stand” as what the group thinks, despite the fact that none of its members actually holds the view in question.
For instance, suppose that the Philosophy Department at a university is deliberating about the final candidate to whom it will extend admission to its graduate program. After hours of discussion, all of the members jointly agree that Jane Smith is the most qualified candidate from the remaining pool of applicants. However, not a single member of the department actually believes this; instead, they all think that Jane Smith is the candidate who is most likely to be approved by the administration. Here, it is argued that the Philosophy Department itself believes that Jane Smith is the most qualified candidate for admission, even though none of the members holds this belief. This attribution of belief to the group is supported by looking at its actions: the group asserts that Jane Smith is the most qualified candidate, it defends this position in conversation with administrators, it heavily recruits her to join the department, and so on. Why does the group do all of this? The most natural explanation of how the group behaves is that it really does think Jane is the best candidate—and this can be true even if each group member would deny it individually.
This argument has led some philosophers to say that a group’s believing something should be understood in terms of the members of the group intentionally and openly jointly accepting it, where it is possible to accept something without believing it. The Philosophy Department above, then, believes that Jane Smith is the most qualified candidate for admission, even though none of the members holds this belief, precisely because they jointly agree to let this position stand as the group’s.
There is, however, what I take to be a decisive objection to this way of thinking about group belief. Groups lie, and they do so with some frequency: a cursory review of recent news pulls up stories about the lies of Halliburton, Enron, the Bush Administration, and various pharmaceutical companies. And no matter how we understand group lies, a minimum condition is that a group must state what it believes to be false.
Here is a paradigmatic group lie, slightly fictionalized from a real case: Phillip Morris, one of the largest tobacco companies in the world, is aware of the massive amounts of scientific evidence revealing not only the addictiveness of smoking, but also the links it has with lung cancer. While all of the members of the board of directors of the company believe this conclusion, they all openly decide and then jointly accept that, because of what is at stake financially, the official position of Phillip Morris is that smoking is neither highly addictive nor detrimental to one’s health. This claim is then published in all of their advertising materials and defended against objections.
Herein lies the problem with the joint acceptance account: an adequate view of group belief should be able to tell the difference between a group’s stating its belief and a group’s lying. On the joint acceptance account, however, the actions of Phillip Morris in the case above make it the case that the group believes that smoking is neither highly addictive nor detrimental to one’s health. The relevant members of the company—namely, the board of directors—not only jointly accept this proposition, but also support it through their public statements, actions, planning, and so on. But surely the most natural way to think of what the company is doing is that they are lying about the health risks of smoking. Phillip Morris says what it does, not because the company genuinely believes that smoking isn’t dangerous, but because it wants to deceive others to believe this.
Because the joint acceptance account confuses group belief with group lying, we should look for a new way to think about group belief.
As a small boy in the 1920s, my father sang in the choir of the parish church, St Matthews, in Walsall in the British Midlands. Twenty years later, he was married with a couple of children and our small, tight family belonged to the Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers. Friends do not have church services. There is no hymn singing. But every Christmas Eve, religiously as one might say, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the family gathered around the radio to listen to the broadcast of carols and lessons from King’s College, Cambridge.
That was long ago and for me, since I now live in Florida, far away. I have long since lost my faith in the Christian religion. Even if this were not so, I doubt that I would much enjoy Christmas overall. When the kids were little, it was a lot of fun. But now, it strikes me as appallingly commercialized and an occasion when you spend way too much on presents no one really wants, eat and drink to excess, and end by quarreling with people that you have not seen for a year and by which time you both realize why it is that you have not seen each other for a year.
But every Christmas Eve I track down the broadcast of the King’s service and listen to it, even though because of time-zone differences it is now for me in the morning. Music spurs emotions as does no other art form, and I find listening an almost-melancholic experience as memories of my childhood come flooding in and I recall with huge gratitude the loving family into which I was born. I remember also my dedicated teachers recreating civilized life after the horrendous conflicts of the first part of the century. How can one speak except with respect of a man who spent the first half of the decade driving a tank over North Africa and Western Europe, and the second half explaining to nine-year olds why Pilgrim’s Progress is such a tremendous story and something of vital relevance to us today?
So Christmas remains very important for me, as does the other great highlight of the Christian calendar. As a teenager, having failed O level German miserably, I was packed off one Easter vacation to stay with a family in Germany, so I could (as I did) succeed on the second attempt. Music again. On Good Friday, German radio stations played Bach’s Matthew Passion, and listening to that – even though in respects I prefer the dramatic intensity of the St John Passion – has remained a life-long practice.
Perhaps because it is all so German, I find myself focusing on the dreadful events of the Third Reich, but also – and obviously the theme of Christ’s sacrifice is all-important here – on those who showed super-human qualities in the face of absolute evil and terror. Above all, Sophie Scholl, at twenty-one years old a member of the White Rose group in Munich who started handing out anti-Nazi pamphlets in the middle of the war. Inevitably discovered and condemned to death, as she was led to the guillotine, she said: “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”
I would not for anything relinquish the experience of Easter and the moments when I contemplate the truly good people – I think of those combating Ebola in West Africa – who stand so far above me and who inspire me, even though I am not worthy to clean their shoes. You don’t have to have religious faith to have these all-important emotions. You do have to be a human being.
“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause.”
And so finally to the third festival, that of Thanksgiving. Growing up in England, it was something unknown to me until, to go to graduate school, I crossed the Atlantic in 1962. In the early years, in both Canada and America, people invited me into their homes to share the occasion with their family and friends. This is something that has stayed with me for over fifty years, and now at Thanksgiving – by far my favorite festival overall — my wife and I hugely enjoy filling the table with folk who are away from home or for one reason or another would not otherwise have a place to be. No special music this time – although I usually manage to drive everyone crazy by playing opera at full blast – but for me an equally poignant occasion when I reflect on the most important thing I did in my life – to move from the Old Word to the New – and on the significance of family and friends and above all of giving. In the Republic, Plato says that only the good man is the happy man. Well, that’s a bit prissy applied to me, but I know what he means. People were kind to me and my wife and I try to be kind to people. That is a wonderful feeling.
Three festivals – memories and gratitude; sacrifice and honor; giving and friendship. That is why, although I have not a scrap of religious belief and awful though the music in the mall may be, I look forward to Christmas, and then to Easter, and then to Thanksgiving, and to the cycle all over again, many times!
There is a quarrel inside me about fairies, and the form of literature their presence helps to define. I have never tried to see a fairy, or at least not since I was five years old. The interest of Casimiro Piccolo reveals how attitudes to folklore belong to their time: he was affected by the scientific inquiry into the paranormal which flourished – in highly intellectual circles – from the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth. But he also presents a test case, I feel, for the questions that hang around fairies and fairy tales in the twenty-first century. What is the point of them? What are the uses of such enchantments today? The absurdity of this form of magical belief (religious miracles are felt to be different, and not only by believers) creates a quarrel inside me, about the worth of this form of literature and entertainment I enjoy so much. In what way am I ‘away with the fairies’, too?
Suspicion now hangs around fairy tales because the kind of supernatural creatures and events they include belong to a belief system nobody subscribes to anymore. Even children, unless very small, are in on the secret that fairyland is a fantasy. In the past, however, allusions to fairies could be dangerous not because belief in them was scorned, but because they were feared: Kirk collected the beliefs of his flock in order to defend them against charges of heterodoxy or witchcraft, and, the same time as Kirk’s ethnographical activities, Charles Perrault published his crucially influential collection (l697), in which he pokes fun, with suave courtly wit, at the dangerousness of witches and witchcraft, ogres and talking animals. Perrault is slippery and ambiguous. His Cinderella is a tale of marvellously efficacious magic, but he ends with a moral: recommending his readers to find themselves well-placed godmothers. Not long before he was writing his fairy tales, France and other places in Europe had seen many people condemned to death on suspicion of using magic. The fairy tale emerges as entertainment in a proto-enlightenment move to show that there is nothing to fear.
The current state of fairy tale – whether metastasized in huge blockbuster films or refreshed and re-invigorated in the fiction of Robert Coover, Donald Barthelme, Margaret Atwood or, most recently, Helen Oyeyemi (Mr Fox, and, this year, Boy Snow Bird) does not invite, let alone compel, belief in its magic elements as from an audience of adepts or faithful. Contemporary readers and audiences, including children over the age of 6, are too savvy about special effects and plot lines and the science/magic overlap to accept supernatural causes behind Angelina Jolie’s soaring in Maleficent or the transmogrifications of the characters. Nor do they, nor do we need to suspend disbelief in the willed way Coleridge described.
Rather the ways of approaching the old material – Blue Beard, The Robber Bridegroom, Hansel & Gretel, Snow White and so on – opens up the stories to new meanings. The familiar narrative becomes the arena for raising questions; the story’s well known features provide a common language for thinking about families and love, childhood and marriage. Fairies and their realm allow thought experiments about alternative arrangements in this world. We are no longer looking for fairies at the bottom of the garden, but seeing through them to glimpse other things. As the little girl realises in The Servant’s Tale by Paula Fox, her grandmother through her stories ‘saw what others couldn’t see, that for her the meaning of one thing could also be the meaning of a greater thing.’ In the past, these other, greater things were most often promises – escape, revenge, recognition, glory – but the trend of fairy tales is turning darker, and many retellings no longer hold out such bright eyed hope.
Featured image credit: Sleeping Beauty, by Viktor M. Vasnetsov. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
The Plot: Joshua Wynn is a perfect seventeen year old, just like his parents want. He's the role model, the evidence of his parents goodness. He's the son of Rev. Isaiah P. Wynn, with all that demands. Then Maddie comes to town; his friend from childhood, another preacher's kid, but instead of being a good kid (like Joshua) she is the wild child people whisper about. Joshua begins to question what it means to be good; what it means to be a role model; and what goodness really means.
The Good: Maddie is a year older than Joshua. Where Joshua complied, was compliant, has gone along with his parents dreams, wishes, expectations, Maddie has questioned and rebelled. Joshua is a the teenaged boy not invited to parties because his friends cannot relax and be themselves around him, hesitant to drink or smoke or flirt around him. Maddie drinks and smokes and has had sex; she's not a good girl. But does that mean she's a bad girl? Does that mean she's beyond saving? Does she need to be saved?
Johnson explores issues spiritual issues -- of belief, spirituality, religion. Of how hard it is to practice what one preaches, and what exactly does that mean. And he does so in a way that respects both sides of the coin: Joshua's path and Maddie's path. Joshua realizes his parents aren't perfect, aren't always right; and this frees him, to start to be his own man.
Joshua as the perfect teenage son of the preacher is a virgin. There there are books out there about teenagers and sex and sexuality and purity and "staying pure" they are usually told from the girls point of view. Saving Maddie has the same questions and struggles and examination of choices from the point of view of a teenaged boy, who has hormones and feelings and emotions but also has the value system of his parents.
I don't want to go to much into what Joshua ends up doing, or not doing. Can he save Maddie? Is it fair to him, to Maddie, to ask that? Does Maddie need to be saved? And are the only two choices open to Joshua to be either the dutiful son or the rebel?
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Tariq Ramadan is a very public figure, named one of Time magazine’s most important innovators of the twenty-first century, he is among the leading Islamic thinkers in the West. But he has also been a lightening rod for controversy. In his new book, What I Believe, he attempts to set the record straight, laying out the basic ideas he stands for in clear and accessible prose. In the excerpt below we learn a bit about Ramadan’s stance as a thinker straddling two worlds.
My discourse faces many-sided opposition, and this obviously prevents it from being fully heard in its substance, its subtleties, and its vision for the future. Some of the criticisms expressed are of course sincere and raise legitimate questions – which I will try to answer in the present work – but others are clearly biased and attempt to pass off their selective, prejudiced hearing as “doublespeak” one should be wary of. I have long been criticizing their deliberate deafness and their ideological “double hearing”: I am determined to go ahead, without wasting my time over such strategic diversions, and remain faithful to my vision, my principles, and my project.
I mean to build bridges between two universes of reference, between two (highly debatable) constructions termed Western and Islamic “civilizations” (as if those were closed, monolithic entities), and between citizens within Western societies themselves. My aim is to show, in theory and in practice, that one can be both fully Muslim and Western and that beyond our different affiliations we share many common principles and values through which it is possible to “live together” within contemporary pluralistic, multicultural societies where various religions coexist.
The essence of that approach and of the accompanying theses originated much earlier than 9/11. Neither did it come as a response to Samuel Huntington’s mid-1990s positions about the “clash of civilizations” (which anyway have been largely misinterpreted). As early as the late 1980s, then in my 1992 book Muslims in the Secular State, I sated the first fundamentals of my beliefs about the compatibility of values and the possibility for individuals and citizens of different cultures and religions to coexist positively (and not just pacifically). Unlike what I have observed among some intellectuals and leaders, including some Muslim thinkers and religious representatives, those views were by no means a response to current events nor a change of mind produced by the post 9/11 trauma. They represent a very old stance which was confirmed, developed, and clarified in the course of time. Its substance can be found in my first books and articles in 1987-1989; those views were then built on and expanded in every book I wrote up to the present synthesis. A Muslim’s religious discourse, and the mediator’s role itself, bring about negative reactions in both universes of reference. What makes things more difficult is that I do not merely shed light on overlapping areas and common points between the two universes of reference but that I also call intellectuals, politicians
OMG, does anyone actually read these posts? I hope so. It actually takes some time to share the "Best of the Internet" or whatever I put on here. I write what pulls at my heartstrings. That's the poet coming out. Please take the time to comment.
I collected four sayings about God. I like to share them with you before I discard my little notebook page:
1. God grades on the cross, not the curve.
2. God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage.
3. God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.
4. What we are is God's gift to use. What we become is our gift to God.
There’s a lost tribe of religious believers who have suffered a lasting identity crisis. I am referring to the category-defying species of believers who accept the existence of the creator God and yet refuse to worship him. In fact they may go so far as to say that they hate God.
No, I’m not talking about atheists. Non-believers may say contemptuous things about God, but when they do so, they are simply giving the thumbs-down to a fictional character. They may as well express dislike about Shakespeare’s devious Iago, Dickens’ scheming Uriah Heep or Dr. Seuss’ Grinch who stole Christmas.
For atheists, God is in the same category as these fictional villains. Except that since God is the most popular of all fictional villains, New Atheists – those evangelizing ones such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins – spend a considerable amount of energy enumerating his flaws.
But someone who truly believes in God’s existence and yet hates or scorns him is in a state of religious rebellion so perplexing as to strain our common understanding of faith to the breaking point.
Although these radical dissenters could steal the thunder from the New Atheists, they have remained almost unknown to date.
When it comes to God-hatred, a collective blindness seems to settle on us. First, we lack a generally agreed-upon name to refer to this religious rebellion. And anything that doesn’t have a word associated with it doesn’t exist, right?
Well, in the case of God-hatred, this principle doesn’t hold because the phenomenon does exist whether or not there’s a name for it. And in any case, I’ve ended the semantic impasse by naming these rebels and their stance once for all. My chosen term is misotheism, a word composed of the Greek root “misos” (hatred) and “theos” (deity).
Why do I care so much about them? They strike me as brave, visionary, intelligent people who reject God from a sense of moral outrage and despair because of the amount of injustice and suffering that they witness in this world.
At the same time, they are exercising self-censorship because they dare not voice their opinion openly. After all, publicly insulting God can have consequences ranging from ostracism to imprisonment, fines and even death, depending on where the blasphemy takes place (Ireland, for instance, imposes a fine of up to 25,000 Euros for blasphemy) and what God is the target of attacks (under sharia law, being found an enemy of God, or “mohareb” is a capital offense).
But I also care about these rebels because they chose literature as their principal medium for dealing with their God-hatred. I am a professor of literature, and the misotheists’ choice of literature as their first line of defense and preferred medium endears them to me.
Literature offered them the only outlet to vent their rage against God. And it was a pretty safe haven for doing so. Indeed, hardly anybody seems to notice when God-hatred is expressed in literature. Such writers cleverly “package” their blasphemous thoughts in works of literature without seeming to give offense in any overt way.
At the same time, these writers count on the reader’s cooperation to keep their “secret” safe. It’s like a pact between writer and reader.
Zora Neale Hurston could write that “all gods who receive homage are cruel” without anybody objecting that “all gods” must necessarily include the persons of the Christian Trinity.
Or Rebecca West could write that “something has happened which can only be explained by supposing that God hates you with merciless hatred, and nobody will admit it,” counting on the fact that, since nobody will admit it, nobody will rat her out for blasphemy.
One of the, if not The, deepest questions of the universe.
You have to start with what you believe is the force that is the creator of this life I believe.
Some think of GOD as a human type creature in who’s image we are created, with long flowing hair, robes to make him modest though he needs to hide nothing from his creations as I see it, and a celestial kingdom where he, or she in some cases, sits reining judgement down upon the works he designed and gave free will to.
I can not see that which created me in such limited form. I can not even envelope the concept of never ending or forever just because I am temporary in this form at least. I do however believe I was created from and by the “GOD” that has no limits and this is exactly why I think I am made in it’s likeness, BUT not in it’s totality, there are things missing if I am separate FROM God, God did not make me GOD, God, or even god, GOD made me human, GOD made everything else what it is too I believe but I think, like one atom in my body or even smaller than that, to infinity small, that part is still a part of GOD though never “GOD”, only a part, that the smallest part of me is still me, I am made in the likeness of and from GOD, I am alive, that smallest part of me is alive, GOD must also be alive if we are all part of everlasting life.
Conclusion; Life never begins, it is never ended, It IS!
Consciousness in itself does not prove to me that I am not alive.
The fact that when sperm and egg combine and the DNA messages combine to spark cell multiplication (The spark of life if you will) and a plan is put into affect to form a body which will make a human or any other living thing would seem to be life to me.
BUT it was life even before that! The EGG and the SPERM were also alive, donated by the life forms of at least two separate beings, who were made in the image of GOD, who is also alive.
GOD talks to all of us in GOD’s own way. Some hear “Him” like “He” was talking in their language and sitting having tea I suppose. Others see the “Great Spirit” manifest as all that surrounds us and all that can not be seen or even heard but that still is. I am more from that camp I suppose but still believe all is possible.
The right to life for me is hard to conceive when I believe that life is never ending. The right to life is not for me to tell you, you may or may not have though if you threaten my life I will not hesitate to use what ever is at my disposal to protect mine and stop yours!
The question to me is more the quality of the life you give rather than just letting all life happen. If all in creation is from GOD then even the worst of it is sacred and the Jaines may be correct and may have more in line with current Christian values than most think. But if we do not take into account what we offer, if a human is brought into this world through violent action that threatens the life that brings it who is the killer here? The mother who was raped or is too young and will surely die from the birth or the entity being born who would kill it’s mother, most assuredly it would be the rapist but can we take his life either? I would say it is not my place to judge any of these unless they are me. I WILL FIGHT FOR MY LIFE! But a Mother must make the call of giving herself for another in my view. It may seem selfish or unjust but it must be hers with as much help and support from all sides as she can get. Advise and support but not Judgement and in the end her decision as final carrier of that which will always be alive to enter into this world.
If you believe in eternal life you will not be sad for the soul who returns to it’s maker but wish it return another time
4.5 Stars From Inside Jacket: Ellie believes she will live in her little village on the coast of Scotia for always. But when her father gets a job on Sable Island, she must say farewell to her beloved home and her mother’s final resting place. Not even the idea of seeing wild horses that roam [...]
My paradise has to be an antique store. There is so mush old junk to find for my junk a doodles. I also love to scour yard sales for goodies. I'm sure when I leave people are like "Well, I never thought that would never sale!"
My process for this piece really started with a small thumbnail sketch of an idea and as I collected my junk I figured out what I would make. Can you identify all the found bits and pieces?
crab - nut flower - chain dog - fuse word bubble - the letter "O" heart - paperclip ice cream - spring (it's hard to tell) butterfly - ball chain balloon - fancy paperclip pig - button
I work in 3 different mediums. Digital, clay and "junk." It's hard to pick my favorite tool, but for non-traditional work, my favorite tool would have to be Adobe Illustrator (and yes, it is a tool - that's directed towards those non-art people who think the computer just does it all for you - grr!). I like how I can move things around easily and enlarge as needed since it's vector.
My favorite traditional tool has to be color pencils. I use them in my clay and junk work. I use my huge set of prismacolor pencils from college. I remember saving up for them and was so thrilled when I finally brought them home. What are your's?
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This is a piece we did for Woogie Wednesday this week on the blog. We're also posting Hickory-Dickory-Dock pieces here this week so I thought I'd kill 3 bird with one stone and submit it for Illustration Friday.
This is my piece for our group postcard. It's the first junk a doodles piece I had to do away from the studio so that was a challenge. I had to sit with my grandmother one day so I loaded up my tote bag with paint and junk and took it with me. I wish I had kept my sketch but I ended up using the paper to paint and glue on so it went in the trash :(
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I've been so blessed today, the first day of the year. I've been touch by sweet friend Debby's words of encouragement and support. I liked what she said about Ali Edwards choosing a word for the year and I've decided to do the same because I felt I really need to in the most sincere way. The word I've chosen is conviction. The definition for the word is:
noun 1. a fixed or firm belief.
Synonyms 1. See belief. Antonyms 5. doubt, uncertainty.
Moving through the end of 2007, I've been filled with the antonyms of doubt and uncertainty. Even though I've believed in God all my life I feel the need for a stronger conviction in Him and His direction for my life. When life threatens to overwhelm you one is so quickly and brutally reminded of how weak you can become. Coincidentally both Debby and I shared in our own way how Beth Moore has touched our lives.
On that note expect to see more postings of illustrations, something I have been short on these past few months. I'm thankful if you'll just hang in there and be patient with me, my plate has been full and overflowing.
I'm a little late for posting this today but wanted to squeeze it in since Wednesday is my committed day to post and it's too early in the year to start slacking on it! This week's theme is animals and this morning I had some animal sketches due and the above it one of them. An "opossum". I prefer "possum" my self because it just is weird the other way even though it might be correct. Possums are really pretty ugly animals and since I am in Nashville, I started thinking about the old country music singer George Jones and how his nickname is "The Possum." I don't think it's a compliment, but he does look a little possum-ish!
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The Plot: Samara "Sam" Taylor is not having a good summer.
Everything seems broken or run down, as the heat builds. Her mother's secret drinking is not so secret anymore, thanks to a DUI and court-mandated residential rehab. Her father is more dedicated to his work as a pastor than to being a father. Money problems may mean that Sam doesn't go back to private school. The backyard garden is a pile of dirt; even the air conditioner and fans aren't working properly.
And then thirteen year old Jody Shaw, from her father's congregation, who Sam kinda knows from her Church youth group, disappears.
Sam is having doubts; a crisis of faith. Thinking things, wondering things, that she cannot say aloud because she's a pastor's kid. Everyone thinks they know who she really is; who her family really is; and thinks they have a right to say what she should think, do, believe.
The Good: Zarr delivers both an intensely personal, internal story of faith and belief; and a suspenseful mystery involving a missing teen.
Sam has good reason to question her faith. Her family is falling apart; faith, belief, love have not helped her mother. They don't help her father be a better father. They don't help Jody Shaw's family. Once Was Lost is about more than questioning, though; it's an exploration, with Sam remembering her earlier child-like faith and now looking at others, wondering, how to believe again. What does she want? Is it the faith of her childhood? Zarr handles Sam's spiritual dilemma with respect -- respect for Sam, of course; but also respect for religion, and faith.
The disintegration of Sam's family has brought her to her spiritual crisis. Her mother, Laura Taylor, is an alcoholic. I want to cry from happiness as I read the kind, nuanced portrayal of Sam's mother. It's easy to make an alcoholic parent the bad guy; we've all read tons of books where drinking = abuse = evil. But the reality is more complex than that. For this reason alone, it's on my list of favorite books read in 2009.
As Sam's father responds to some need of his congregation, Sam thinks, "sober, tipsy, drunk, whatever, [my mother is] the one who's been here, and she's the one who really knows me." The perfect illustration of how little Sam's father sees what is going on in his own household? He has no idea just how lost Sam is feeling. Just like Sam's mother isn't "teh evil" because she drinks, neither is Sam's father "teh evil." Neither of these parents are portrayed as bad, terrible, no-good people; rather they are real people, not perfect, with flaws, people who try and do the best they can.
As Sam looks back at the last three years, at what her family is now as compared to then, she wishes "there was a way to put your finger on the map of life and trace backwards, to figure out exactly when things had changed so much: when we started getting the dregs of Dad, if that was before or after the drinking getting bad. ... Still, it doesn't explain how on