On a Roll, Books #21-23

I'm celebrating Heap Week, a week when after completing my job at Y1P, I have collapsed into a little heap. This heap is surrounded by books, and I am reading madly. Here's what I've read so far:

#21 — Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, by Rhoda Janzen — This is a funny, beautifully written memoir that a lot of you have probably already read. I loved the journey home and the newfound appreciation for the basics of her life, especially how growing up Mennonite had prepared her to cook anything! I hope to get this on the book discussion list for RevGalBlogPals.

Whicharts  #22 — The Whicharts, by Noel Streatfeild — Streatfeild is the author of Ballet Shoes and the other Shoes books, favorites from my childhood. Earlier this year I read her adult novel, Saplings, and in doing further investigation about Streatfeild I learned that Ballet Shoes was based on another adult novel published early in her career and long out of print.

I had to special order it (from England!), and I hoped it would not disappoint.

At the beginning it sounds just like Ballet Shoes, almost word for word, but within a page you realize the story is not about three romantically adopted orphans and a vague archaeologist, but rather about the illegitimate children of a military man who dies in World War I, leaving the girls in the care of yet another mistress who never did have a child with him.

Streatfeild had an incredible gift for describing a child's inner world, and in this book the most important of the children is Tania (who corresponds to Petrova). She is the one with a fully-described interior life, and the one the reader really comes to care for the most. All three of the girls are difficult, especially the willful Maisie (Pauline's counterpart). None of them is particularly gifted, and the dancing school they attend is much less lofty than Madame Fidolia's. But Nanny is there, keeping it all together, familiarly.

The tone of the book is brisk and blunt and a bit profane as Maisie becomes nearly a kept woman while still in her teens. It's the dark side of the story, a picture of the world after WWI and the wild living of the 1920s followed by the tightening of 1929. I've read other reviews on the Internet that suggest it spoils Ballet Shoes for the reader, but I disagree. I love knowing this text was the source and imagining how Streatfeild mined her old material for something that became so important to so many little girls, including this one.

#23 — The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton, by George Eliot — Oh, it is a *very* sad little story, which surprised me because it started out to be so amusing. But if you strip away the early Victorian sentimentality, you have a great sketch of the kinds of people who become clergy and how the world perceives them. I read about the book somewhere (where?) and got it on my Kindle. Not Eliot's greatest hit, but there are some sublime passages of prose. 

Heap Week is the beginning of a month in which I will not be working, and I hope to keep reading at this pace!

Liturgical Drama

Who is My Neighbor?

Good-samaritan  (A worship drama based on Luke 25-37. For permission to use, please email me using the link in the sidebar. The Balladeer sings the hymn, “They Asked, ‘Who’s My Neighbor,'” which is #541 in the New Century Hymnal, written by Jan Wesson.)

Scene One

Balladeer: They asked,
“Who’s my neighbor and whom should I love; for whom should I do a good deed?”
Then Jesus related a story and said, “It’s anyone who has a need, yes, it’s
anyone who has a need.”

(Jesus sits on a stool, surrounded by his followers,
standing or sitting.  They converse

Storyteller:  It was a
beautiful summer morning.  Jesus was
sitting in the park with his friends.
They had just returned, seventy of them, from traveling around to the
nearby towns and settlements to share the good news.  Now they were back at their rendezvous point,
and all of them were celebrating the work they had done, the number of people
who were open to Jesus’ message and the healings they had been able to do in
Jesus’ name.  The atmosphere was lively,
and the teacher was exuberant, and people who were just walking by, doing their
daily errands, stopped to see why all the excitement!  One of those was a scholar, a person who knew
the religious laws very well.  And she
stood up with a question to test Jesus.

Questioner:  I had a
question, all right. This Jesus talked a
good game, but there are some things I knew the answers to, and I wanted to
hear what he would say.  I wondered if he
would get the words right.  Because there
are certain right ways to profess your faith, just as there are certain right
ways to act it out in life.  So I asked
him this question: Teacher?  What do I
need to do to get eternal life?

Storyteller: Jesus turned to his questioner with an open
look of love on his face, smiled gently and asked a question in return.

Teacher: What’s written in God’s law?  How do you interpret it?

Questioner: Now the pressure was on me.  How did he manage that?  I know the sh’ma like I know my own name: “You shall love the Lord your
God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength,
and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

Teacher:  Yes, that’s
right.  But how do you interpret it?

Questioner:  What was
he looking for?  And why was I the one
answering again?  I thought about it and
said: “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer
and muscle and intelligence–and that you love your neighbor as well as you do

Teacher: Good answer!

Storyteller: The scholar looked pleased with himself, and
the people around Jesus cheered and clapped.
But as the sound died away, Jesus said,

Teacher:  Do it and
you’ll live.

Storyteller: That silenced everyone.

Questioner: My mind was racing.  I needed a loophole; I could tell I needed a

Storyteller: Don’t we all, sister!

Questioner: It was all sounding too easy and yet too
hard.  And so I asked him, And just how
would you define “neighbor?”

Scene Two

Balladeer:  There once was a traveler set on by thieves
who beat him and left him to die; a priest and a Levite each saw him in pain,
but they turned away and walked by, yes, they turned away and walked by.

Storyteller: Jesus answered by telling a story.  And as he began to tell it, his followers
hopped up to act it out.  It made me
think this story had been told before, that it had been told many, many times.

Teacher: There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho.

(The Traveler starts up the center aisle.)

Storyteller: The Jericho
Road was notorious.  It stretched for twelve miles, and you never
knew who you might meet there.  You
wanted to watch your back there.  It was
sort of like going to a tough part of town, and not having a cell phone to call
the police if you got into trouble!

Teacher: On the way he was attacked by robbers.

(Robbers “beat” Traveler and leave him on the steps to the

Teacher: They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off
leaving him half-dead.

(Traveler groans, robbers all disappear down the side

Teacher: Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same
road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side.

(Priest comes down center aisle, sees Traveler and avoids

Storyteller: Now, that’s a person you would have expected to
give the poor guy some help!  Suppose
your minister or one of your deacons just walked right past someone lying in
the gutter—

Questioner: (interrupts) But you wouldn’t know why that
person was there, not necessarily.  That
person might just be drunk, or maybe trying to fool you!  You might end up being robbed yourself.

Teacher: Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also
avoided the injured man.

(Levite comes down the center aisle and also avoids Traveler.)

Storyteller: And the Levite—he was supposed to uphold the
law.  What if a State Trooper just drove
off instead of helping a person who was stranded and injured?

Questioner: But a Levite—now really, even you should know
this—a Levite wouldn’t want to touch a person who was ritually unclean.  Suppose the person was dead?  Touching a corpse would have been a big
problem.  The Levite knew how he was
supposed to serve God.

Storyteller: Did he?

Scene Three

Balladeer: A certain
Samaritan then came along to bind up his wounds and give aid; he took him to
stay at an inn until well, and for all the service he paid, yes, for all the
service he paid.

Teacher: A Samaritan traveling the road came on him.

Questioner: Oh, boy.
I could see where this was going.

Storyteller: Samaritans were the sort of regional
“neighbors” you just didn’t want to have anything to do with.  Sort of like those far-distant relatives you
don’t approve of anymore, because they don’t do things the way you do, or the
people in the next county over who farm their land differently, or don’t cut
their grass as often as the rest of the families in the neighborhood, or those
people who move here from another country and speak a different language and
dress in funny clothes and make you feel uncomfortable just by being
there.  They eat different food and use
odd spices and don’t smell right and don’t understand the traffic laws…you get
the picture.

(Samaritan comes down the center aisle. She goes straight to
the Traveler and helps him.  He sits up

Teacher: When she saw the man’s condition, her heart went
out to him. She gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then
she helped him up, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable.

(Innkeeper greets them.)

Teacher: In the morning she took out two silver coins and
gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take good care of him. If it costs any
more, put it on my bill–I’ll pay you on my way back.”

Storyteller: Two silver coins was a lot of money.   It was
two days wages for most laborers.  And
she was ready to pay more if needed!

Questioner:  To pay
more if needed.

(The Teacher looks straight at the Questioner.)

Teacher: What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man
attacked by robbers?

Questioner: Now he had me.

Storyteller: Now he has all of us.  It was the very person we would have least
expected.  It was the person who had to
cross all the social boundaries to give help.
It was the person we might not have stopped to help ourselves.  It was–

Questioner:  It was the one who treated
him kindly.

Storyteller: It was the one who treated him kindly.  The scholar looked pained.  Jesus was giving him a new rule to live by,
breaking open his understanding of neighbor.
We aren’t just meant to love those who live like us and speak like us
and dress like us and worship like us.

Teacher: Which of these three became a neighbor to the man
attacked by robbers?

Questioner:  It was
the one who treated him kindly.

Storyteller: It was the one who treated him kindly.

Teacher: Go and do the same.

Balladeer: I know
who’s my neighbor and whom I should love, for whom I should do a good deed; for
Jesus made clear in the story he told, it’s anyone who has a need, yes, anyone
who has a need.


I suspect it works without the hymn. When we did this six years ago, we were blessed with a young music director who sang it in a lovely way, and a group of actors including all three of my children who had a good time pretending to be both disciples and characters in the story.


The lone, wild bird

The lone, wild bird in lofty flight
is still with you, nor leaves your sight.
And I am yours! I rest in you,
Great Spirit, come, rest in me, too.

I'm typing this in the evening, knowing that in the morning, early, I go to the airport, flying away for an interview.

I never imagined myself doing that.

As I embark on another leg of this discernment journey, I put my trust in the Great Spirit, though I know his bird is neither lone nor wild.

The ends of earth are in your hand,
the sea's dark deep and far off land.
And I am yours! I rest in you,
Great Spirit, come, rest in me, too.

I'm not going to the end of the earth, but I am going to the outside edge of the geographic area I considered, and then considered not, and then accidentally ended up considering again.

Each secret thought is known to you,
the path I walk my whole life through;
my days, my deeds, my hopes, my fears,
my deepest joys, my silent tears.

I'm a bit in love with one church and fascinated by another and for some there are no words just yet other than "hope" or "maybe" or "I wonder how they really feel about me?."

I trust this will all become clearer with each conversation, for I know that tonight I said no to some in my mind and must act on it when I return from my trip.

Great Spirit, you know my heart and my mind. Guide me, please, as I rest in you.


"The Lone, Wild Bird" was written by Henry Richard McFayden (1877-1964).