Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Kashmir Shawl ~ May 2015

The Kashmir Shawl ~ by Rosie Thomas, 2011, fiction (India)
It is the eve of 1941 and World War II is engulfing the globe. Newlywed Nerys Watkins leaves rural Britain to accompany her husband on a missionary posting to India, but when he leaves her in the exotic lakeside of Srinagar to take on a complicated mission elsewhere, she discovers a new world.  Here, in the heart of Kashmir, the British dance, flirt, and gossip against the backdrop of war and Nerys soon becomes caught up in a dangerous liaison.  By the time she is reunited with her husband, she is a very different woman.

Years later, Nerys's granddaughter Mair Ellis clears out her dead father's house and finds an exquisite shawl — a kaleidoscope of silvery blues and greens.  Wrapped in the folds of this delicate object is a lock of a child's curly hair.  With nothing else to go on, Mair decides to trace her roots back to Kashmir, embarking on a quest that will change her own life forever.
Kashmir is in the news today!  Accusing al-Jazeera of "cartographic aggression," India has taken that news channel off the air.  "India says maps used by the channel are incorrect, as they show the region of Kashmir as divided between Pakistan, India, and China.  Kashmir is claimed by both India and Pakistan in its entirety but has effectively been divided since 1948."

Click on map to enlarge it
Although I thought I was reading about India in this novel, I was confused enough that I looked up "Kashmir" to find out whether it's part of Pakistan or India or what.  That's when I discovered today's article showing that both countries claim that area, even now.  (And apparently, so does China.)  This book, then, is giving us background for the still-volatile place that is Kashmir.  I also found this helpful map, showing Srinagar near the top of India.

Author's web site
Novel's opening lines
Party with the characters (at Essencia Island)
Answer a question or two (or make up your own) in the comments:
1.  Which character could you relate to best?
2.  Were there any other especially interesting characters?
3.  Was the book different from what you expected?
4.  Was location important to the story?
5.  Was the time period important to the story?
6.  Would you recommend this book?
7.  What did you like most about the book?
8.  What did you like least?
9.  Did you like the way the book ended?

If the video quits working, view it on YouTube:

Monday, April 13, 2015

Chapter 5 ~ Why ask why? ~ Socrates Café

The quote at the beginning of this chapter is simply "?" — and it's signed Anonymous.  Questions, lots of questions, so let me share a few we can discuss.
  • "Is it possible to be too curious?" I ask out loud.  (I don't know, but he asked the same question three times in this chapter, pages 195, 198, and 199).
  • "Is it possible to be too curious?" I again ask the Philosophers Club members.
  • "Is it possible to be too curious?"
What do you think?  Is it?  One youngster said:  "But I can't help it. ... I feel like I have to try to answer it.  I'm too curious!"
  1. "We need to start asking:  Is this really the best way to ask this question?  Or are there other ways, ways that might lead to more fruitful answers?" (p. 194).
  2. "Does anyone have the right to be ignorant?" (p. 200).
  3. "Is all education a process of making someone less ignorant?" (p. 202).
  4. "Is it possible to envision a society in which the gap between rich and poor is much less dramatic than it is now?  Are you responsible for the well-being of your fellow humans?" (p. 209).
"Implicit within the 'Socratic virtues' is this injunction:  You can only attain human excellence if you also strive to make it possible for your fellow humans to do so too" (p. 210).

What will you remember about this book?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Chapter 4 ~ What's it all about? ~ Socrates Café

The author starts this chapter at a senior center, so here's a photo of two feisty seniors who eat at my table at our senior living facility.  I asked them before sharing, but you can see they were having fun on St. Patrick's Day.  So what's a self?
"I don't think a self is something that can be defined, but can only be revealed.  Our self is who we are, what we say, what we do.  Our self is a perspective, an approach, a disposition, not a thing.  It is a work in progress," said one of the Socrates Café participants (p. 154).
It's also "something he [Socrates] couldn't escape from, even if he's wanted to" (p. 155).  Sometimes, a person "discovered who he was by first discovering who he most definitely was not" (p. 157).  At the end of that session, a student said, "If we'd had discussions like this at my university, I'd soon have a Ph.D. in philosophy" (p. 155).
Does it seem to you that philosophy professors tend "to treat philosophy like a museum piece that only they, the experts, could discuss with authority" (p. 158)?
A few more questions this chapter raises:
  • Can "good" be a what?
  • Can "handsome" be a what?
  • What about "words"?  Someone said words are "our articulated thoughts" (p. 184).
  • Another said, "Becoming is just as much a what as being is" (p. 185).  Do you agree?
  • "Is a unicorn a what?" (p. 187).
As one person said, "I'm starting to wonder if I have any idea what's what" (p. 187).

"I am and always have been one of those natures who must be guided by reflective questioning."
— Socrates (quoted on page 143)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Chapter 3 ~ Whom do you need? ~ Socrates Café

Friendship is the subject of this chapter, and I'm thinking of best friends I've had over the years.  Here are some quotes and questions that came up in this chapter:
  1. "In what way does one person become a friend of another?" — Socrates (p. 90)
  2. "What are friends for?" (p. 102).
  3. "Their friends fill some need ... they are in some sense useful." (p. 102).
  4. "What is a good friendship?" (p. 103).
  5. "What constitutes a failed friendship?" (p. 103).
  6. "Is there such a thing as a destructive friendship?" (p. 103).
  7. "How are friendships formed?" (p. 103).
  8. "How are friendships different from other types of relationships?" (p. 103).
  9. "How are friendships formed and how are they broken?" (p. 103).
  10. "Can a book be your friend?" (p. 103).
  11. "Goethe said that friends 'enhance each other' ... To me, a friend is someone who accepts you when you're at your very worst, but inspires you to be a better person.." (p. 103).
And then there's the question of having a conversation with yourself:
"You can't be silent to yourself, even if you are silent to everyone else.  I may not talk out loud, but I still talk to myself.  I still have conversations with myself inside my head, even if no one else can hear me.  I can't turn off the voices in my head" (p. 115).
What do you answer when someone asks whether you see a glass as half empty or half full?  (p. 116)  I kind of liked the idea of a fourth "R" to go along with the first three:  Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmatic, and Reasoning.  The author mentioned noticing "an extreme and pervasive self-absorption and intolerance among people," saying:  "We hadn't just become the 'what's in it for me' society; we'd become the 'to hell with you' society" (p. 130).  Do you agree?  Then he talked about "pessimistic fatalism and helplessness" and the people who transcend all that (p. 130).  On the next page, he asks himself:
"What precisely can I do to realize my dreams?  What steps do I have to take?  What sacrifices will I have to make?  Am I willing to make them?" (p. 131).
Let's end this list with love, okay?  The young woman there with him, apparently just the two of them that day, shared her definition of love.
"Love is a response.  Love is something to be expressed, to be demonstrated, and it leads to this sublime place that is within us but also transcends us.  But this place is very, very hard to reach" (p. 139).
And then a grin spread across my face as I read the last sentence of this chapter, after the author considered asking her, "How do you know when you're in love?" (p. 141).  But he didn't ask.  Not then.  He wrote:
"I wait until nearly two years later, after we're already married" (p. 141).

"Understanding human needs is half the job of meeting them."
— Adlai Stevenson (quoted on page 89)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Second Quarter Queries (We Make the Road by Walking)

If you feel comfortable doing it, compose honest and heartfelt replies to one or more of these queries and share your thoughts with us.

1.  Here is the meaning I find in the stories of John the Baptist, the virgin birth, Herod's slaughter of innocent children, the ancestor lists, the coming of the Magi, and Jesus in the Temple at age twelve.
2.  Here is why Jesus' parables, miracles, and teaching about hell are important to me.
3.  Here is how I respond to Jesus' care for the multitudes and Jesus' attitudes toward Caesar.
4.  Here is my understanding of "the kingdom of God."
5.  Here is what it means to me to say, "I believe in Jesus.  I have confidence in Jesus."
6.  If you have been baptized, what does that baptism mean to you?  If you have not been baptized, what would it mean for you to choose to be baptized now?
7.  What do you appreciate most about this learning circle?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Chapter 2 ~ Where am I? ~ Socrates Café

Looking for an image to represent "home," I turned up only pictures of houses.
Let's continue our conversation with some quotes:
  • The author:  "What happened to my childlike love affair with questions?" (p. 41).
  • Quoting Roger Scruton:  "Science can't address the 'why' of its subjects.  This is the domain of philosophy. ... There cannot be a scientific examination of personhood or the beautiful or the good life" (p. 42).
  • Woman who works at the café:  "I think that only by examining your life in every way possible can you be said to be examining your life philosophically" (p. 43).
  • Quoting René Descartes:  "I think, therefore I am" (p. 44).
  • The author:  "But everyone, whether he or she realizes it or not, or has articulated it or not, has a philosophy of life, and of place. ... every action we take, every move we make ... reflects in some way our worldview and our worldplace" (p. 45).
What do you think of those thoughts?  And what do you think of the church that no longer calls itself a church (pp. 45-48) because they are "open to just about anything" and "open to anyone"?  The author says his ideas for Socrates Café are very much like that (p. 49).
I've often characterized Socrates Café as a "church service for heretics," a place where we all feel comfortable challenging our respective dogmas.
That seems like a great idea to me.  And just below that, the author gives us a clue to his understanding of the Socratic dialogue (p. 49).
I think the Socratic way of inquiring is a paradigm of communication that calls on all participants in a dialogue to participate fully, and in an egalitarian way.  And it requires that participants help one another articulate and then examine their perspectives, as well as the implications for society of these perspectives, and the assumptions within these perspectives.
A big discussion in this chapter centered on what "home" means.  What does "home" mean to you?  The author wondered (p. 63):  "Is my home one I carry with me, my way of being in the world?"  Yet when I googled to find an illustration of "home," I got back pictures of houses, houses, and more houses.  (See the illustration above, which I chose because it is a "dream" house, at least.)  Would you want to live in that rural-looking location?  Why, or why not?  Quotes about "home" provided a sort of philosophy, I guess, like the illustration with this paragraph.  So what's your philosophy about what a home is?  And more questions from this chapter:
  • What is wisdom?
  • What makes a person wise?
  • Do our emotions ever hold us in mental prisons?
  • What else did you get from this chapter?

"I sought myself." 
— Heraclitus, 
6th-century Greek philosopher
(quoted on page 37) 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

26. Making It Real (We Make the Road by Walking)


1.  What one thought or idea from today's lesson especially intrigued, provoked, disturbed, challenged, encouraged, warmed, warned, helped, or surprised you?

2.  Share a story about one of your biggest decisions — how you reached it, how it felt before and after making the choice.

3.  How do you respond to the idea that faith makes it real?

4.  Who is someone you want to be like?


5.  Consider beginning each day with the words "I believe."  If you would like, add the words, "Help my unbelief."  Echo them throughout the day when they arise in your heart.


6.  Sit in silence with Jesus' words:  "Your faith has made you well."  What in you feels like it is being made well?  End the silence with a simple prayer.

We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation ~ by Brian D. McLaren, 2014