Saturday, January 03, 2009

December 2008 Reading: Part 2 - Three Biographies about Crossing Cultures

See previous reading lists and commentaries here. Three more books for 2008 bring our total to 100. This last bunch are all biographies, all dealing one way or the other with cross-cultural ministry.

Same Kind of Different As Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, with Lynn Vincent (Thomas Nelson: 2006).

Picked this one up for our book club; we meet to discuss it next Saturday. The first hundred pages or so tell the story of two men growing up in the 50s and 60s, intersecting some years later at the Fort Worth Rescue Mission where Ron starts volunteering and Denver lives. By that time Denver is very "street" while Ron is slowly overcoming his prejudice to become Jesus-y. Denver is poor and homeless while Ron is a millionaire.

The chapters are written in first person, alternating between Ron's point of view and Denver's ("as told to" others, I assume: he's illiterate, though quite wise). It was actually Ron's wife Deborah who got him involved at the Mission, and pushed the two of them together (she had a dream about a poor man who would change the city, and when she saw Denver, knew it was him).

The second half of the book revolves around Deborah's slow, painful death from cancer and the (not terribly convincing) takeaway from the book, the reason the two men apparently decided to write it, was to persuade people to be more like Miss Debbie. This is their tribute. I'm not so sure I buy it. In their grief they turn her into a saint, the heart and soul of work among Fort Worth's homeless. If this were a novel I'd fault its characterization and plotting on those grounds; it feels like two separate books melded somewhat sloppily. But this is a true story, and if it isn't as graceful as a novel, why should I be surprised?

The book does a pretty good job dealing with race and economic prejudice and illustrating how people fall through the cracks and what it takes to pull them out. Oh, and the colorful writing makes for a fun read; this is definitely a book written by Southerners. (I wouldn't say, as the cover copy advertises, that this is "a story so incredible no novelist would dare to dream it.")

Denver's closing words:
"I used to spend a lotta time worrying that I was different from other people... but I found out everybody's different - the same kind of different as me. We're all just regular folks walkin down the road God done set in front of us. The truth about it is, whether we is rich or poor or somethin in between, this earth ain't no final restin place. So in a way, we is all homeless. Just working our way toward home."
Mary Slessor - Everybody's Mother: The Era and Impact of a Victorian Missionary, by Jeanette Hardage (WIPF and Stock Publishers, 2008).

This is probably, as an Edinburgh professor quoted on the back cover says, "The best biography of Slessor so far produced" at least in terms of its thoroughness. I love that Hardage was so careful, and that she footnoted everything! So, if I were teaching formally this is the one I'd turn to. It is the best reference. But it seems a bit lacking in readability and the ability to inspire, and it also sells for $40, which is steep for a paperback. (I preordered it at half price).

The previous one I read (Mary Slessor: The Barefoot Missionary) was much easier to digest, but not so academically solid perhaps. And it's still not up to popular American standards, not likely to be a "hit," like, say, Bruchko, or Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret.

There are at least two or three biographies of this famous Scot which =are= written for a popular audience, none of which I've read. I recently downloaded the very first biography written about her, published back in 1916 or so and now (conveniently) in the public domain. But it may not be an easy read either, and may feel quite dated, lacking the benefit of being able to reflect on her legacy over time.

I may do a blog series of the M. women of Africa, like the series I've done on China. We'll see.

Here's a fun tidbit: Mary was quite the rough-and-tumble sort, and much more comfortable with African tribesmen than the refined Presbyterians who supported her back home. She was ashamed of her broad accent, and didn't like being famous.
"As Slessor's popularity grew church groups asked her to address meetings. At first, she balked. She was too shy to consider such audacity. Finally convinced that it was her duty, she began to fulfill requests. She insisted that she speak seated in the center of such groups, would not go up on the platform, and sometimes asked men in the audience to hide themselves behind a pillar or leave the meeting." (p. 9)
Growing Up Yanamomo: Missionary Adventures in the Amazon Rainforest, by Michael Dawson (Grace Acres Press, 2009).

I picked this up for a couple of reasons.

(1) I've met Mike a couple of times; he came through town to consult on the film some of my friends made about the Yanamamo. It's called The Enemy God, and has been showing in film festivals the last year or so. Supposed to be released on DVD within the next few weeks. So, it would be handy to write a review of the two items together, and publish it in the ezine.

(2) There are lots of missionary biographies out there, including many written for children. But what about biographies ABOUT missionary children? This is almost the first (nonfiction) MK story I've seen. Do you know any? Something more positive than say, The Poisonwood Bible (fascinating as that was)? I did like Margaret Meyers' Swimming in the Congo.

Growing Up Yanamamo does include some stuff about Mike's adult life, including what it was like losing his wife to malaria, but much of it is about being a kid and teen in a remote part of the Amazon. Some good culture stuff about what Yanamomo culture is like, written by someone whose family was mostly only white on the outside. (Mike's parents, now quite old, still live in the jungle, only coming out for medical tests in the city or Miami when they absolutely have to.)

This book is more hijinks and hunting and fishing stories than stuff about M-work, though. (If Patrick McManus was an MK, this is the book he would have written.) I believe there is at least one giant anaconda snake in each chapter! "I could almost hear the girls ooohhing and aaahhing over me as I told the story of how I single-handedly killed a thirty-foot snake," reports Mike in one typical story, before things fail to go as planned. Of course, they do get the snake in the end!

I'll write proper reviews of both the Mary Slessor book and the Yanamamo book for our ezine later this month.

1 comment:

SC Grandma said...

I enjoyed your blog, learning of your connection with Perspectives, etc. Also appreciate your reading lists. I am also a Buechner fan. One of my favorites is Telling the Truth: The Godpel as Tragedy, Comety & Fairy Tale. I read Bruchko not long ago. Have you read The Tears of My Soul by Sokreaksa Himm? I hope you will write about m. women in Africa. I'm thinking of Lilias Trotter at the moment.
Jeanette Hardage
author of Mary Slessor - Everybody's Mother