Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review: The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation

I always am honored when I am asked to review a book for TLC book tours, they always seem to introduce me to really interesting books that I might not find on my own.  Whether I enjoy the book or loathe it (a rare experience for me), I always come away with some new information, ideas and knowledge.  Stephen Prothero's  The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation is no exception.

Prothero sets out to create a sort of American Canon, a collection of texts and commentaries that have deeply shaped the political landscape of the United States.  What I found so accessible in this book is that Prothero crafts and shapes the book in a parallel to the way that the Christian Bible is set up - a sense of beginning in Genesis, the foundation of the law, historical songs (Psalms), influential novels (Chronicles), and a host of other "primary" texts.  Take a look for yourself at the "The American Canon" as found in Prothero's book:
  • Genesis
    The Exodus Story
    John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity (1630)
    Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)
    The Declaration of Independence (1776)
    Noah Webster, The Blue-Back Speller (1783-)
  • Law
    The Constitution (1787)
    Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
    Roe v. Wade (1973)
  • Chronicles
    Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)
    Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
    Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (1957)
  • Psalms
    Francis Scott Key, “The Star-Spangled Banner” (1814)
    Irving Berlin, “God Bless America” (1938)
    Woody Guthrie, “This Land Is Your Land” (1940)
  • Proverbs
    Benjamin Franklin, “Remember that time is money” (1748)
    Benjamin Franklin, “God helps those who help themselves” (1758)
    Patrick Henry, “Give me liberty or give me death” (1775)
    Abigail Adams, “Remember the ladies” (1776)
    Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a woman?” (1851)
    Abraham Lincoln, “With malice toward none, with charity for all” (1865)
    Chief Joseph, “I will fight no more forever” (1877)
    Calvin Coolidge, ” The business of America is business” (1925)
    Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people” (1932)
    John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” (1961)
    Ronald Reagan, “Evil empire” (1983)
  • Prophets
    Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience” (1849)
    Dwight Eisenhower, Farewell Address (1961)
    Marin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream” (1963)
    Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)
  • Lamentations
    Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address (1863)
    Maya Lin, Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1982)
  • Gospels
    Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address (1801)
    Franklin Delano Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address (1933)
    Ronald Reagan, “The Speech” (1964)
  • Acts
    The Pledge of Allegiance (1892, 1954)
  • Epistles
    George Washington, Farewell Address (1796)
    Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to the Danbury Baptists” (1802)
    Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963)
What is so interesting is that Prothero himself admits that these are not necessarily the books that he would have chosen for himself to include, but are instead an attempt at compiling the texts, speeches, and writings that have truly shaped the American nation.

The other advantage to the way that Prothero has shaped this book is that each of the primary texts is surrounded by an introduction from Prothero and followed by several "commentaries" on it.  These are instances where the primary text influences other famous texts or speeches.  What I found so fascinating is that similar themes and texts were used by both political parties for their own means.   The Exodus Story for example influenced the rhetoric of both the Confederates wishing to leave the Union (making Lincoln into Pharaoh) and the slaves wishing for freedom (making the Confederates into Pharaoh).  This happened quite a bit, primarily in the earliest defining texts of America.

What this book gives is a lens from which to view things from a historical and intellectual perspective before leaping into the partisan politics that so dominates our political landscape today.  It is helpful to know that both JFK and Ronald Reagan quote from John Winthrop's, “A Model of Christian Charity (1630) for their own political gains.

Much like religious issues between the right and left are becoming increasingly polarized, so are political ones.  For me it is essential to go back to the primary texts (the Bible in religious instances) and the various texts that Porthero includes in his book, to seek out what the original historical context for something was, as well as the model of how that writing has later been shaped our religious or political history.

The goal of Prothero is not to get all American's to agree, the goal is to encourage dialogue.  One of the key elements that Prothero used to pick his texts was "the ability of a given text to generate controversy and conversation." (p. 7)  After all, it is the conversation and controversy that is foundational and essential to the American experience.

I think by reading the American Bible you won't always agree with Prothero, but that is the point.  However, I do think that your view of the American landscape will end up more nuanced and better able to recognize the themes and rhetoric that still dominate the American political scene today.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Say Cheese

I'm not sure how you've gotten so big, or so talkative.  Whenever I dream of saying "I don't know" to one of your many questions you respond, "Well, let's talk about it."  You ride a bike, you are swimming on your own (with floatation assistance).  Your new favorite show is Super Why and you ask what every letter and number is you see.

You can be so stubborn, especially at bedtime, but most of the time you are please to be interacting and learning new things.  You are solidly one of the "big" kids at daycare now and your art and stories from the day are becoming more advanced and elaborate.

You embody the concept of paradox for me, of being both/and.  You are both sensitive and destructive.  Both obstinate and obedient.  Both fearless and afraid.  You flip on a dime, but your joy can fill a room.

Say Cheese Little Goat, Say Cheese

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Short Stories

Apparently my son hates shorts and sandals for some reason.  The temperatures  have been increasing this week and he still wants to insist on long pants and tennis shoes.  Of course this morning he didn't want to get dressed at all.

In other news I am not no longer strong enough to pin my son down and dress him without his compliance.  It isn't so much strength as lack of limbs to contain his flailing ones.

At daycare on Tuesday Little Goat was playing with two combs (for some reason).  He put them together perpendicularly and went to his daycare provider and said:  "This is the number at church!"

In short, he made a cross and recognized it as belonging to church.

Just remember that kids do learn.


We've been going to Music Together regularly for about a  year now.  The songs change ever quarter and I'm always amazed how fast he seems to find favorites and can start singing them.  He naturally doesn't sing very often in class, but will frequently serenade me later, typically during bedtime.


Last night Little Goat started hitting me with both hands on my chest.  I asked him to stop hitting Mommy and he said very seriously, "I not hitting you, I playing drum!"

Little Goat is a categorizer.  He likes to know what color, size, and shape everything is.  It is important to point out that the light is green, or that his asthma medicine is an oval.  If you answer the wrong color or shape he'll point out (quickly and eagerly) that you are wrong!


Monday, June 11, 2012

The Mile Revisited

Remember this post about the Presidential Fitness Test and the Mile Run?

Here is today's update on that dreaded mile.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Happy Birthday Dad!

Shortly after I posted yesterday's blog post about my Mom's birthday I realized my dilemma.  You see today is my DAD's birthday.  My parents are only about 12 hours apart in age a fact they both use to their advantage depending on the occasion.  (My mother is the "older woman" or conversely she is "older and wiser").

Anyway,  I would be remiss to honor my mother and leave out my father on his birthday too. Afterall he has given me a great many gifts as well!  Not to mention 100% of any cool factor I may have comes from him (no offense mom).

So here are some things that I want to thank my Dad for.  This list is by no means comprehensive but it is from the heart!

Thank you for teaching me cribbage and backgammon.

Thank you for playing horsey rides with me and then with Little Goat.

Thank you for learning about things we love.

Thank you for being unbeatable in Trivial Pursuit.

Thank you for showing me how a woman ought to be treated.

Thank you for not being squeamish about girl things.

Thank you for fighting for a spot in the Ole Band, even if it took you 4 years.

Thank you for your musical influences and eclectic tastes.

Thank you for supporting our family growing up.

Thank you for teaching me about baseball, football and soccer.

Thank you loving and caring for your mom.

Thank you for pushing me past my anxieties.

Thank you for serving and volunteering and showing me the importance of giving back.

Thank you for the financial support even if I'm embarrassed about it.

Thank you for never giving up who you are, even when working for the "Man."

Thank you for accepting my husband and loving my son.

Thank you for being proud of me.

Thank you for hilarious stories and memories.
Thank  you for being a "dad" to so many of friends growing up.

Thank you for chaperoning the church trips and being fun enough to be seen with in public.

Thank you for showing me that weight loss is not only worthwhile but possible.

Thank you for showing me what a man of faith looks like.

Thank you for growing a pony tail after Mr. Goat chopped off his.

I hope this doesn't seem cliche doing this in the similar way to Moms.  The fact of the matter is that I am so grateful to have both of you as my parents and role models.  You gave me something to look for in my own future spouse - someone who loves, respects and treats women as equals.  You give me something to aspire for Edward to be.  And you are just a smart-ass enough that things are never boring.

I know you and Mom say that you are glad I'm your kid, but the reverse is also true.  I am glad I'm your kid as well.  I couldn't ask for better parents.  So Dad,  Happy Birthday too you!  Don't give mom too much grief for being the older parent today, just remember - you went gray first!  I'm thinking about you today and I love you!


Monday, June 04, 2012

Happy Birthday Mom!

Happy Birthday Mom!  Last night as I was falling asleep I was thinking about today being your birthday.  I wanted to make sure to do something special for it.  I have a present but it isn't wrapped, the card isn't purchased yet and honestly I'll probably have to give it to you the next time we see you.  But today is still important to me.

Since I've become a mother of my own I've been thinking a lot about motherhood.  I ponder the traits that we learn from our mothers.  The genetic history that is passed on we can't get away from.  The way our mother's can shape our view of the world.  I think of these things and it is a little scary to think of having so much responsibility for Little Goat's future.  But I think about myself and all of the pieces of me that are shaped by having you as a mother and I know that it is alright.  Because these things are unique treasures of who I am, and even when I don't always love all my quirks I am glad to have gotten them from you.

So Mom, on this birthday, I want to say thank you to you.

Thank you for sharing the love of cheesy sci-fi.

Thank you for teaching me that honesty is the best policy.

Thank you for Bridge, and for Scrabble and for the pursuit of the 7 letter word.

Thank sharing the birds and bees honestly, even if it was mortifying at the time.

Thank you for love of words, and for the willingness to spend several days in search of the perfect phrase.

Thank you for the proofreading of my endless papers and not letting me slack off on grammar.

Thank you for staying up late to watch eclipses and meteor showers.

Thank you for DLE support.

Thank you modeling to me that a loving and vibrant marriage does not mean always agreeing with your spouse.

Thank you for being strong enough to voice your opinion.

Thank you for being strict when I needed it.

Thank you for showing me how to use power tools.

Thank you for making me wear a helmet.

Thank you for helping me build my telescope.

Thank you for the belief that I can do anything with enough time and enough practice.

Thank you for creativity.

Thank you for teaching me to value the sleepy morning in bed, just so long as you have a notepad handy.

Thank you for loving St. Olaf.

Thank you for making me practice piano.

Thank you for teaching me to care for others.

Thank you for teaching me the value of eating dessert first.

Thank you for sitting through all those band concerts.

Thank you for encouraging me to play trumpet in church.

Thank you for being friends with my ILs (it isn't hard though! :)

Thank you for teaching me about giving back.

Thank you for being a friend and parent for my friends too.

Thank you for not needing to wear makeup daily.

Thank you for dragging me to art festivals.

Thank you for staying up late to watch old movies, and for falling asleep in chairs.

Thank you for always loving me even when I was being a brat.

The truth is there are thousands of more thank yous that you probably deserve, and probably several more I'm forgetting from when I was writing this post in bed last night.  Nevertheless, I hope that you get the idea.

Motherhood can seem daunting and hard, even when it is rewarding and life-giving.  I hope you know that I consider myself impossibly blessed to have you as my mom.  I only hope Little Goat will feel the same way some day.

In the meantime Mom, know that I am thinking of you today and wishing you the happiest of birthdays.  You had a hand it making all the very best parts of me, and I think you did a pretty good job at it too!

Love You!