Social Justice

Ron's #2: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

When I was in Mrs. Neidz’s 9th grade English class, I tried to bluff my way through discussions using only the Cliffsnotes version of reading Huck Finn. I hoped it was good enough to help me pass the quizzes. During the class, I found myself interested in the story and actually wished I had read the book. Never enough to actually read it, though. It took me over ten years to actually read it for myself. I earned a D in 9th grade English, by the way.

Huck Finn is a classic for a reason: it is really, really good. Part adventure down the Mississippi, part friendship between Huck and Jim, part social commentary on the treatment of blacks in the South. It is an important book, and no high school student should graduate without reading it. Sadly, many teachers today shy away from it because of the overabundance of the use of the N-word, a hyper-reaction to political correctness. Most educated readers will quickly see that this is as racist as Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is cannibalistic.

I’ve taught Huck Finn many times, and I still find new aspects to appreciate and enjoy about the book. And for those familiar to the story, the scene when Huck tears up the letter and decided to “go to Hell” is perhaps one of my favorite moments in literature.

Huckleberry Finn the boy is the prototype of all teenage angst characters. There’d be no Holden Caulfield with Huck. No young adult fiction without him, although I think that might be a good thing.

Do yourself a favorite and listen to what your high school English teachers probably told you: Read Huck Finn. You will enjoy it.

Cool kids who have already read the book understand what this means:

In case you are wondering what my teaching handouts for students look like, here they are:

Unit 6: To Read or Not To Read Huckleberry Finn part 1 Unit 6: Huck Finn part 2

Huck Finn App for iPod and iPad  Huck Finn audiobook for iPod

Ron's #1: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

** Insert witty opening line about being the best of times and the worst of times here **

As I prepared to teach this novel to my classes of Honors 10th graders, I approached reading this book as a chore, one likened to when my teacher assigned it to me in the 10th grade. Like so many others, I didn’t read it, and then I complained how much I hated the book for years after. I not only criticized this work, but the entire Charles Dickens canon, all based on my failure to read the book. Fortunately, things have changed.

I read A Christmas Carol in 2010, and I noticed that I enjoyed how Dickens wrote sentences. They were complex and descriptive and funny. After that, I had a better attitude about reading A Tale of Two Cities, and I was glad that I did.

It’s a great story of love, war, mistaken identity, and freedom. More than that, there is Madame Defarge, unquestionable the meanest, cruelest, ugliest woman in literature. Can you think of a woman in literature that is her equal? If so, please add it to the comments. I cannot think of any. There’s my favorite scene with her exchanging her dainty knitting needles for an ax to chop off the governor’s head. That oughta wake you up!

On a more serious note, I love the theme of resurrection and redemption in this book. We see it several times, most notably with Sydney Carlton. Throughout the novel, I kept seeing a metaphor of our life in Christ, redeemed and alive because of the work of another.

I’m on a roll with Charlie Boy, and I’ve added Great Expectations to my 2011 list. I may like this guy after all. I certainly recommend A Tale of Two Cities for you to read this year. If like me you had a bad taste of it from high school, I suggest that you give it another try as an adult. You may see it differently and enjoy it now.

Oprah recently selected this book as her 65th pick for her book club, but that had nothing to do with my choice to read it. Honest. If I could, I would introduce Madame Defarge to Oprah. It is a far, far better thing for this to happen.

Ron’s #52: The Bible, English Standard Version

It is fitting that this is the final addition to this list. Of all the books I have read or will ever hope to read in my lifetime, this book ought to be the ultimately source of joy, hope, wisdom, and instruction.

This is my second yearly read-through, and I hope to continue it throughout my life. It is a book that offers unlimited insight into God and man. Whether I read 52 books or 2 books a year, may this always be one of them.

Knowing this Book and the Author deeper will enable me to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).

Ron’s #49: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

I have never read A Christmas Carol even though I’ve seen several movies, many play versions, and even acted as Bob Cratchit in middle school. I felt that I knew the story well, so never bothered to read it. This changed, however, when I watched the Jim Carrey’s version of the story. It showed a much darker version of the story, and I was intrigued to read the book. This story really is darker than the usual presentations. This darkness made the redemption of Scrooge even more vivid and bright.

The writing struck me as especially unique and interesting. I’ve included some passages that I found worthly of marking:

“…turned to misanthropic ice.”

“Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.”

"It isn't that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count 'em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune."

"There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!" "You fear the world too much," she answered, gently.”

“Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.”

“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour.”

We often think of Tiny Tim from this story, but I think Dickens was far more concerned with the factory laborers, the miners, the homeless, the “working poor,” than he was merely about Tiny Tim. What are we doing to lightly the burden of those hungry, poor, disabled, lonely?

Mark's #8 - Too Small To Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most by Dr. Wess Stafford (285 pages)

In preparation for our upcoming mission trip to serve orphans in Thailand, I assigned the team this book to read.

Dr. Wess Stafford is the president of the world's largest to poor and oppressed children across the globe - Compassion Internationl.  In this book Dr. Stafford not only makes a compelling case for God's heart for children in general, but for the poorest of the poor.   In so doing, he recounts his life growing up in the middle of Liberia, Africa.

For the first seven chapters, Wess leads the reader to believe that though he lived an isolated life with a small African tribe while his parents served as missionaries there, he loved every minute of his childhood.   However, in chapters eight and nine, Wess recounts the very painful experiences he and his fellow classmates had at the missionary kids boarding school each year, hundreds of miles away from his family.   Here he recounts nearly every type of abuse imaginable (physical, emotional, sexual, and spiritual).

I found myself getting very angry as I read these chapters.  Actually, rage might better describe my thoughts - even my heartbeat.   For years these abuses went on... most of which absolutely wrecked the lives of the students that attended the school.

By God's grace and mercy, Wess has been able to grow and heal from these dark experiences.   In  fact, God has used those experiences, along with his other first hand experiences with he world's poor (four years in Haiti for example), to shape Wess into a courages leader, and visionary for children everywhere.

There was one negative aspect throughout this book.  Though Dr. Stafford has a compelling history and a passionate drive to reach children, the writing does lack some substance, clarity and style.   In terms of substance, he does not do a good job of grounding his points in the Biblical text.  In regards to style, the book lacks clarity and creativity.

The book is decent... more than this though, I would reccommend you check out  - Perhaps God will stir your heart to invest in eternity through the ministry of Compassion International.

3  stars

Joe's #1: Sold by Patricia McCormick

Twelve thousand Nepali girls are sold every year into the sex slave trade. Sometimes by families that think they are sending them to work as a maid for a wealthy family in the city. This fictional book about Lakshmi is meticulously researched and extremely well written. Short, poignant vignettes capture the reader and draw you into a world that is both disturbing and haunting. The thought that kept me up at night was the fact that this story was real for thousands of girls.

I hated reading it and I think that everyone should read it.Read it in light of Proverbs 24:11-12