Right now I'm
reading In the Garden of Beasts, by
master storyteller Erik Larson. It is the captivating story of William E. Dodd,
U.S. ambassador to Germany during Hitler's rise to power. Dodd's young adult
daughter Martha, a socialite who had affairs with the head of the Gestapo and a
Russian spy, steals the show. Next I plan to read Stephen Ozment's sweeping
survey A Mighty Fortress: A New History
of the German People.
If you're like me, you have a list of books in your head or on scraps of paper that you think you should read sometime. Somewhere, sometime, a teacher or a writer urged these books on me, but I haven't gotten around to reading them.
In 1831-32 two
young Frenchmen, Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont, traveled
through the United States, ostensibly to study the prison system on behalf of
the French government. But the prisons bored and often appalled them--Quaker-inspired
prisons in Philadelphia being the exception--so they spent very little time in
Every few years a fringe Christian leader
or group predicts when Jesus Christ is coming back to earth. The latest date,
announced on billboards in some mid-sized American cities, is May 21 of this
I appreciate when other people recommend
favorite CDs. In that spirit, I share with you some of my favorite Christmas
CDs. (A warning: I tend to favor the less familiar over tried and true
Christmas carols. I also prefer vocal music to instrumental and a cappella to
When radio stations started playing Henryk Górecki's Symphony no. 3, known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, it was reported that drivers would pull off the road because the haunting, mournful music left them in tears. A 14-year-old Swedish burn victim wrote to Górecki to say that the Third Symphony was what kept her alive.
When I sit in church on Sunday mornings, I sometimes look
around at the other congregants and ask myself, "Why are these people here? Why
did they choose to come to church?" Some people prefer staying at home to
leisurely read the Sunday paper, or go out for a relaxed Sunday brunch. Why
have these people given up their precious spare time to be here?
I used to think my grandfather had a strange affliction. He not only
read the obituaries, but he kept a log of the deaths of relatives,
friends and people he knew. If there were ever any questions about who
died when, he’d retrieve his notebook and give us the facts.
Lee Kravitz loved his job as editor in chief of Parade magazine.
But like his ancestors before him, he was a workaholic. Most of the men
in his family worked until they died, usually from heart attacks in
their early 60s.
The challenge of telling other people’s stories is an occupational hazard for journalists, historians, memoirists, conflict mediators and even preachers. Getting the facts accurate is only part of the challenge. Storytellers have to grapple with the most effective way to tell the story and what perspective to take or interpretive remarks to include.
In 1892 Agnes and Margaret Smith, identical twin sisters from Scot land, took a nine-day camel ride to the Greek Orthodox monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai in search of ancient biblical manuscripts. They discovered the earliest known Syriac version of the four canonical Gospels.
In the fourth meeting between Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and religious leaders seeking to keep lines of communication open between Iran and the U.S.—the second such meeting I’ve attended—speakers from Jewish, Muslim, Lutheran and Mennonite communities made brief presentations that were followed by a long response from Ahmadinejad in which he affirmed that “all divine prophets have spoke
Greg Mortenson grew up in Tanganyika, now Tanzania, the son of Lutheran missionaries. He says his parents wore their faith lightly, but from them he learned to appreciate people different from himself, to live simply and to care deeply about people who are impoverished.
Early in my visit to Iran I was introduced to Nesa, 24, who was eager for contact with Americans. A recent university graduate who hopes to get a doctorate in English literature, she was also eager to explain her nation. “Iran is a complex country,” she said. “And so are the people.”
The theme of the World Council of Churches Ninth Assembly, held last month in Porto Alegre, Brazil, was the prayer, “God, in your grace, transform the world.” A recurrent question for many observers is whether the WCC can transform itself.