Interfaith Solidarity Readathon—Round 2

As it’s a truly beautiful fall day here in Minnesota (eerily similar to 9/11/2001), I sat outside for a while reading the first half of What Do Muslims Believe? : The roots and realities of modern Islam by Ziauddin Sardar. A brief (140 small pages) but helpful introduction to Muslims and Islam. Sardar starts with a fairly concise, straightforward answer to “What makes a Muslim?” and then explores the historical and modern complexities. I’ll be returning to this book after a bit of a break & nap. Should be helpful preparation for the early evening “Prayerful Action: Reading the Qur’an on September 11, 2010” I’ll be attending.

Interfaith Solidarity ReadaThon begins!

I began today the way I begin almost every day: made a cup of tea, gathered the cat on my lap, and celebrated Morning Prayer.  Currently, the Old Testament readings are from Job and the Gospel readings have been about Jesus healing and performing “miracles” like raising Lazarus from the Dead.  What I noticed this morning was how often the issue of “different interpretations” comes up.  Job and his friends argue about the meaning of his suffering (God will soon arrive to point out they may not know what they are talking about 🙂  The witnesses to Jesus’s behavior are equally divided about what to make of it.

Hmmm, perhaps I’m onto the theme of the day . . .

After Morning Prayer I re-read the first chapter of Bruce Feiler’s excellent book Abraham. The first chapter paints a stark picture of the dysfunctional family of the Children of Abraham as evidenced by a day in Jerusalem.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that three faiths all tracing their heritage (if not their literal biological selves) back to one man can end up spending so much time fighting.  After all, I come from a family of three sisters!

Next I read the Introduction and the chapter on Rosh Hashanah in Rabbi David Aaron’s Inviting God In: Celebrating the Soul Meaning of the Jewish Holy Days.  What a lovely introduction to these Holidays/Holy Days!  I really appreciated the discussion of the complexities and contradictions and mixed feelings involved in “celebrating” a “Day of Judgment”.  I was particularly struck by the teaching about moving from a state of back-to-back with God to a face-to-face connection with God (which is reestablished through forgiveness).  The discussion of justice and compassion was also extremely thought-provoking.  I’ll be returning often to the distinction between justice (giving you what you deserve) and kindness/compassion (giving to you even if you do not deserve it).

Finally, I read the section on Rosh Hashanah in Robert Schoen’s What I Wish my Christian Friends Knew about Judaism.  I thought it would deal more with the nuts and bolts of the rituals than the deeper meaning discussed in Rabbi Aaron’s book.  Unfortunately, Schoen’s book seems too oversimplified even for someone as non-Jewish as I am.  The tone is more humorous and less theoretical than Inviting God In, but I didn’t feel I learned very much.


Now that I’ve had a bit of breakfast and a break, I’ll be trying to learn a bit about Ramadan . . .

International Read a Book Day—September 11, 2010

In response to recent events, this year September 11th has been declared:

International Read a Book Day

For an explanation, take a look at this excellent video:

For my part, I’m suggesting that everyone spend at least some time tomorrow “reading about a religion you do not practice”. A group of us over at will be reporting in on when/where/what we read. I’ll also be adding new posts here describing what I read and my thoughts and reactions.

I’ll be reading from one or more of the following books (gathered from my own bookshelf and the religion section of the local branch of my library):

Interfaith Solidarity ReadaThing

Judaism: An anthology of the key spiritual writings of the Jewish tradition edited and interpreted by Arthur Hertzberg
Inviting God In by Rabbi David Aaron
What I Wish My Christian Friends Knew about Judaism by Robert Schoen
What Do Muslims Believe? by Ziauddin Sardar
Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong
No god but God by Reza Aslan
The Wisdom of the Prophet: Sayings of Muhammad translated by Thomas Cleary
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

I’ll also be attending a “Prayerful Action” gathering at a local Episcopal Church where a Professor of World Religion will teach us about the Qur’an and guide us in reading selections from it “as an expression of honor and respect.”

So please join International Read a Book Day and if you don’t have your own blog, add your reflections here at Lucidia!

A Song to Sing, A Life to Live

A Song to Sing, A Life to Live (cover image)

A Song to Sing, A Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice by Don Saliers and Emily Saliers (2005) San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Book review by Lucinda DeWitt

An inspiring book about music and its ability to stir our souls. Beginning with their own stories as musicians (Emily as half of the folk-duo the Indigo Girls, Don as a well known church musician and theologian), the father-daughter Saliers explore music as a spiritual practice. Their discussion/conversation includes: the bodily and sensory experience of music, music across the lifespan, how music can bring us together as well as divide us, how music shapes our identity, music’s role in grieving, and music’s role in work for social justice. The spiritual aspect of music is woven throughout these topics; different perspectives on spirituality are included.

I truly enjoyed this book. It reminded me why I still consider myself a musician (though I rarely play anymore). I’m inspired to rediscover my own “songline,” the story of who I am as revealed through the music I love.

My only criticism is that sometimes the flow of the writing is uneven, but that is to be expected when two rather different perspectives and voices try to join together. Each individual voice is strong, but together their differences sometimes impinge on the harmony. Still, all in all, the underlying message of the song comes through.

My favorite quotation from the book: “whenever music touches us deeply, the potential for transformation exists. What we think and what we perceive about the world and about ourselves can change. What music calls to your restless heart? Where in music does your soul encounter an aspect of reality that shatters your complacency or your fear?” (p. 174-175)

Strongly recommended.

Copyright © 2010 Lucinda DeWitt

The Undervalued Self, a book review

Aron, Elaine N. (2010) The Undervalued Self: Restore your love/power balance, transform the inner voice that holds you back, and find your true self-worth. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

I requested this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program because Aron’s earlier book, The Highly Sensitive Person, had proved invaluable to me in understanding myself and several members of my family.  I hoped The Undervalued Self would be similarly useful; in that, I was disappointed.

The book begins by presenting the concepts of Ranking (aka power) and Linking (aka love/relationships) and how they might contribute to the Undervalued Self (aka low self-esteem).  Next Aron outlines Six Self-Protections we use for dealing with low rank followed by a discussion of how Traumas from Childhood and Adulthood  (as well as prejudice, sensitivity, and insecure attachment) can lead to our low self-ranking.  The next three chapters deal with techniques for healing (Linking with others, Linking with the Innocent (aka the “inner child”), and Dealing with our Inner Critic (aka Superego).  Finally, two chapters deal with Relationships.

Following Aron’s suggestion for “dealing with your inner critic”, I will accompany my criticisms with “four comments on what was good” (see p. 163).  The book provides a helpful new way of looking at “low self-esteem” through the concept of “the undervalued self.”  The analysis of the possible causes of the undervalued self, including trauma, prejudice, and sensitivity clearly shows why “positivity” and “affirmations” actually make many people feel worse instead of better.  The techniques for creating balance between power (aka “ranking”) and relationships/love (aka “linking”) seem useful.  The language of the book is generally accessible.

Unfortunately, the book contains many of the pitfalls of most “self-help” books: long catch-all subtitles, vague (sometimes all-encompassing) definitions, pseudo-scientific analyses invoking evolution and genetics without any clear scientific backing, oversimplification of concepts, attempts to make it seem as if anyone and everyone can and should benefit from this book, the use of buzzwords and popular concepts many of which are merely “new” terms for old familiar concepts (old wine, new bottle), and, my personal favorite, implying that any resistance to the ideas in the book is a sure indicator that you need to use it.

Unlike most self-help books, The Undervalued Self recognizes that not every wound can be self-healed.  Unfortunately, the caveats about what situations require a therapist are a bit buried under all the seemingly simple techniques for do-it-yourself fixing.  This attempt to appeal to the current anti-expertise/”everyone’s an expert” zeitgeist combines with quite a few everyday analogies which don’t seem very accurate (e.g., using the book is like baking a cake, the internet as linking not ranking) to make the book seem overly aimed at a “popular” audience.  Anyone expecting a bit more substance is likely to be disappointed.

Of all these areas of concern/complaint, the misuse of evolution/genetics was most annoying to me.  Even if I grant something like “ranking” or “linking” or “empathy” might have some evolutionary and/or genetic basis, that does not imply that the trait or inclination would be universal across the species or that the need for it would not show variability across individuals.  I don’t believe Aron’s argument actually hinges on this presumed evolutionary basis, so it is even more annoying that it is dropped into the discussion willy-nilly as if it is convincing proof.

I should probably say something about the checklists and exercises in the book.  The checklists seemed designed to indicate that nearly everyone needs to read and use this book; in one case checking even a few items was an indicator, in another the instructions virtually guarantee a “True” answer to almost every question.  The exercises, including active imagination, journaling, inner dialogues, working with dreams, seem straightforward enough; most readers of this book should be able to follow the instructions.  I might even go back to some of them myself.  I’m just not convinced that the purposes and steps are described in enough detail to really get people to explore the difficult issues underlying them (e.g., letting down protections related to trauma, recognizing the experience of trauma in the body).

Finally, some structural issues, in case the editors of the book are reading this review:

  • the first three heading levels within each chapter are all centered (Level 1: centered bold caps, Level 2: centered bold, Level 3 centered italic) which made it difficult to sort out the structure within each chapter
  • the personal examples (e.g., “Jake Wakes Up . . .” “Myra’s Inner Critic” etc.) should have their own unique style heading (or be set off in some other way), to distinguish them from the more analytical sections around them
  • many of the exercises (which one might want to come back to after reading the whole book) are buried within the text; putting them in a box or highlighting them in some other way would be helpful
  • some of the chapters (especially Chapter Six) need major restructuring to make their structure easier to follow;  (e.g., Chapter Six has two very short sections sandwiching a very long section with many subparts, this center section could easily have been divided into two or three major sections that would have made the whole chapter more clear)

In summary, if you are someone who suffers from low self-esteem and other techniques have not helped, or someone who has experienced trauma but is resistant to psychotherapy or for whom psychotherapy hasn’t worked, you might find this book helpful.  My review on LibraryThing will have 3 out of 5 stars.