Posts Tagged ‘harper lee’

I suspect that some have purchased a copy of Go Set a Watchman on account of the controversies. Did Harper Lee really want to release this book to the public? Is Atticus really a racist? Undoubtedly it would have sold a number of copies without added hype. Most of us simply have a soft spot for the Finch family and Maycomb, Alabama or at least the way that Harper Lee is able to talk about these things.

For those of us who are treasure hunters, those who think it would be cool to unearth a time capsule – this is our lucky summer. History has fallen into our lap. A sixty year old treasure has been uncovered. Like archaeologists, we read this discovery and talk about its implications.

The reader should not forget that this book was written at about the time Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on a Montgomery bus. And was written prior the Civil Rights Act signed by Lyndon B. Johnson, prior to the Selma to Montgomery march where unarmed citizens were attacked on the day that has become known as “Bloody Sunday”, prior to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. This does not give permission for characters to behave any way they want but it does add some perspective to the story.

I find it interesting that Watchman was released during this summer where race and religion had already made their way to the forefront. Where the way things are in the south and the appropriateness of the confederate flag have been news items. Perhaps it is a testimony to Lee’s writing skill that prompts us to be asking the same questions sixty years later. Watchman reminds us that though we think we are evolving and developing in conscience, we are still much the same in the ways we talk about things and rationalize our opinions.

Many of us were not around when this book was written, yet Harper Lee was. I suspect she created the character Atticus as a realistic man of his time, as a southern gentleman. Nevertheless, while Mockingbird showed he can be noble, Watchman reminds us he is not perfect. I believe that puts him in a group with the rest of us.

Mockingbird and Watchman are both honest about the human condition. Both reveal the complexity that comes with being a part of this race. The point is carried home by narrative in the first book and through dialogue in the latter. Both intend to make the reader think. That some could refer to someone as a hero on one occasion and others refer to the same person as a racist on another occasion is evidence of human complexity.

With all the questions I have heard about the book, the one I have not heard is “What happened to Scout?” While I agree with the position of grown Jean Louise, I find myself wishing for young Scout. What happened to the girl we got to know in Mockingbird? The spunky girl who showed herself in the flashback scenes of Watchman? In fact, these are my favorite scenes. They are almost Mark Twain like and are reminiscent of Mockingbird and a reminder of Lee’s ability to make characters come to life. My favorite is when the children reenact a revival meeting just for the fun of it. Jem plays the evangelist, Scout is a baptismal candidate, and Dill the Holy Ghost. The scene ends with the evangelist showing up for dinner that evening, choosing to reprimand the children during the pre-meal prayer, and Atticus “on the back porch laughin!”

I have daughters and have always considered them to have a little bit of Scout in them. It would be disappointing if they one day returned to Maycomb acting like Jean Louise. We get a glimpse of the old Scout while the rumor was spreading that she and Hank had gone skinny dipping. But these instances are few in Watchman. Instead, the grown Jean Louise comes across to me as a complainer. I want her to stand up for what she believes the way she once stood up for herself with Jem and Dill.

We would not want to see Huck Finn return home and begin complaining about things he failed to notice as a child. We want Huck to remain clever and confident about what he thinks and not allow the opinions of others to cause him to act differently. Likewise, I want a Scout who is playful and feisty as she responds to what others do, no matter how wrong they may be. Of course, Scout may think that I am not taking her situation seriously enough.

For all the Jean Louise’s out there who are complaining about the book, we do well to remind ourselves that Mockingbird would not have occurred without Watchman. I rather enjoyed the book. It is easy to read, moves at a good pace, and will cause me to reread Mockingbird differently.

We will reread Mockingbird differently because Watchman does to us what it does to Scout. (The emotional intensity makes me wonder how biographical this may be). It makes us think about Atticus and Maycomb in one way before taking us into secret meetings where we learn its dirty prejudices. Is Mockingbird more palatable because it views issues of race from a safer distance? Does Watchman leave a bad taste with us because we find out how the residents really feel about one another?

I love the title. “Go set a watchman” comes from the King James Version of Isaiah 21.6. Part of me wishes there were more obvious references to this text given one summer Sunday morning by a Methodist preacher. Jean Louise gives the reference that matters. “I never thought to look into people’s hearts, I looked only in their faces… I need a watchman to lead me around and declare what he seeth every hour on the hour. I need a watchman to tell me this is what a man says but this is what he means… I need a watchman to go forth and proclaim to them all that twenty-six years is too long to play a joke on anybody.”  In recognizing the need for a lookout, i wonder if she is assigning herself the role as watchman for you and I?


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Just wanted to make you aware that my new book Participant: Field Notes From Here and Now is now available online.  It is a good time to also celebrate the news that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, is releasing her first book in 55 years.  Go Set a Watchman will be available on July 14.  I am confident that between the two of us, we will sell several books this year.

While we are waiting for Lee’s book, here is the link where Participant: Field Notes From Here and Now can be purchased.


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I have recently finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  Keightley put me onto Mockingbird, claiming it is one of the best books ever.  Lee tells a great story about a southern family in a fictional town.  It is evidence that she spent her early years paying attention to people.

More recently, I have been reading An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor.  It was the sub-title that pulled me into An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.  Whatever the reasons for my recent reading, it sounds like I am spending mid-winter with southern women.  Perhaps Paula Dean should come over and whip up something for me to eat while I read.

There is much to enjoy about the ocean.  Chasing sand crabs and sea gulls.  Running barefoot on the beach.  Digging in sand.  Riding a wave.  The smell of the water.  The simple thrill of staring out over something so big.  There are a thousand reasons to enjoy the ocean.  On one occasion, the sun was bright and I wore sunglasses into the water.  (I might add that my friend Mark and my daughter Karissa mentioned that I might want to remove them).  I floated to the top of the first wave, the second wave stole my glasses.  (I might add that after that wave had passed, I reached into the water and pulled out a pair of sunglasses – not mine.  Apparently, someone else shares my lack of judgement).

The ocean is not God.  It makes no such claims.  But, it is huge.  It is awesome.  It is a force to be reckoned with.  We can challenge the ocean.  We can charge into its waves.  But we are not its master.  We cannot chase the waves back into the depths.  The ocean can lift us.  It can knock us down.  It can push us to shore.  It can pull us into deeper water.  It can put sand in your mouth, salt in your eyes.  It can steal your glasses.  It can remind you to be reverent.

Barbara Brown Taylor talks of reverence.  She refers to it as “The Practice of Paying Attention.”  Reverence recognizes that there are things greater than self.  Among them – nature.  She points out that nature is loaded with things more powerful than human beings.  Perhaps we could say that about the ocean.  Perhaps we could say that about grizzly bears.

During the Lewis and Clark expedition, the party received warnings from the natives about a ferocious animal, a bear bigger than they have ever seen.  Later they start seeing some big bear tracks and become more curious than frightened.  Upon seeing one, a big grizzly, they shot it and killed it.  That night Lewis writes in his journal, “Well, you know, I can understand how the Indians with, armed as they are with just some bows and arrows might be frightened of this monster. But in the hands of an experienced woodsman with a good rifle, they’re nothing to be afraid of.”

About two days later, they come across another grizzly, fire 8 or 9 shots into it but it does not die.  Instead it chases them off the Plain and into the river.  They meet another one who chases some men up a tree.  Everywhere they’re going, they’re meeting these big grizzly bears that refuse to die.  Finally, Lewis sits down one night and writes in his journal, “I find the curiosity of our men with respect to this animal is pretty much satisfied.”  Meriwether Lewis learned reverence.

Knowledge of original biblical languages has great value.  For one, translation helps us remember that biblical ideas are not always easily translated in ways that we tend to think.  For another, learning to listen to different languages may be similar to learning to listen to different people.  David Hansen says that “if we can learn to listen to a text in Hebrew, we can learn to listen to a confused parishioner pour out his soul.  The process is similar: both demand laying our syntax aside and listening for the image of God.”  We might add that both require the practice of paying attention.

The practice of paying attention is as simple as looking twice at people and other things you might just as easily ignore.  Paying attention requires no special equipment.  But who has time for such things?  To read a fifty year old book written about life in a fictional southern town?  To be wandering around on a mountain watching your breath against the night sky?  To be working through the Greek New Testament?

The things we do pay attention to (cell phone, e-mail, clock, GPS, to do lists) tend to convince us that we are in control of our lives.  That life is manageable.  Brown Taylor would suggest that such things encourage the thought that we might be gods.  She adds “small wonder we are short on reverence.”

Some things are able to prompt reverence.  Barbara Brown Taylor suggests that reverence comes about by paying attention.  Harper Lee spent years paying attention to people and surroundings.  David Hansen pays attention to the Hebrew text and confused parishioners.  Meriwether Lewis learned to pay attention to grizzly bears.  And I should have known better than to wear sunglasses into the ocean.

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