Riding the Rails of The Boston 395 (Book Review)

“My spine is a track with cold black steel racing on it, a trail of steam and dust following behind, ghost-like. It feels like my whole life is holding its breath.”The Boston 395 (loc. 23)

As I rode the rails of The Boston 395 by Jason Derr, I felt the angst, the pain, and the confusion of its central character, James. The train in this short novel is simultaneously setting and metaphor for James’ emotional and spiritual journey. Derr’s theological training is evident but subtle.

Derr’s style offers depth and complexity that makes this a challenging read without giving it full focus. Far from the lightweight read of a mass market movie or TV-inspired science fiction, this novel deserves multiple reads.

His life is in a shambles, James has returned home to his mother’s living room. A heavy sense of failure is exacerbated by his empathy for the change his presence forces on her lifestyle. In an American economy with a lack of jobs that adequately support the payments on student loan payments, many will identify with James. He has followed all the rules for success. He’s gone to college and was engaged to marry, only to now find himself sleeping on his mother’s couch.

James’ journey on a train that inexplicably shows up in his mother’s living room takes him to various moments in his life. These moments are stops on his trip. Derr’s transition between James’ internal angst (and processing) represented by the train and the real life events is extremely subtle. The temporary reader confusion created by the author with this technique, powerfully ushers the reader into James’ own confusion about his life.

One of the most poignant stops on James’ train trip is the death of his father. Though he has shown up at the hospital of his dying father, James leaves to shower. He misses the family circle around his father as he dies. He learns of the death in a cold house by himself.

I can feel death, like walking through a spider web, crossing through a house’s cold spot. I can feel myself drip away, die. My mind wanders, life crosses before my eyes and I just desire to Not Be Here, to be elsewhere, to not cry and not be sad.

I can only cry a little bit longer, a little louder, a sobbing death rattle, enveloped in the ancient ruins of my life. Days pass by, shifting slowly over the week like water. Wakes become funerals become going home to feel like a shell, empty and brittle like a teacup. (loc. 858-860)

Derr uses the father’s death stop, and the others, combined with James’ time within The Boston 395 to reveal a simple truth. The subtle train to life-moment transitions and the depth and complexity of descriptions create a context within which the simple truth, when it is revealed, is a surprise.


Read The Boston 395 on Kindle.

Read The Boston 395 in other digital formats.

Unladylike is Half-Right: It’s About Theology, Too (Book Review)

“The issue of women and leadership in the church is not an issue of theology, but an issue of justice.” Pam Hogeweide in Unladylike

She’s half-right. Sexism is injustice wherever it occurs including the church. But Pam Hogeweide challenges more than just injustice in Unladylike: Resisting the Injustice of Inequality in the Church. Eradicating the injustice she identifies requires rewriting the theology of churches that claim they interpret the Bible literally.

The premise that the Bible is the “literal, inerrant word-of-God” results in a reading of the text that undervalues women in leadership roles. Despite their protestations to the contrary, so-called literalists’ approach to reading the canon is not consistently literal. Some passages are read literally – such as those that dismiss the full humanity of women – while others are dismissed or rationalized away. (See also, Let Metaphor Be Metaphor and You Don’t Have to Check Your Brain at the Door)

With a background in more fundamentalist churches, Hogeweide takes a contextual and holistic trek to determine what the Bible says about women. Reading the Bible this way, requires a redefinition (or dismissal) of complementarian theology. Complementarian theology states that women and men are equal but have different, complementary roles.

Historically promoted by men, this interpretive lens conveniently gives the powerful roles within the church and marriage to men. This is the theological core that creates injustice for women in Hogeweide’s more conservative church.

Hogeweide challenges anti-women practices using an informal, readable style woven within the framework of her personal journey. Her writing is engaging and will undoubtedly resonate with other women (and hopefully men) within theologically conservative churches.  Her failure to directly address the theological core that undergirds the injustice she has experienced means she is unlikely to change the minds of the powerful.

Unladylike is but the beginning of overcoming an injustice. Perhaps, Hogeweide’s role is simply to shine a light of awareness. She offers herself as a kindred spirit for women who are uncomfortable with  practices that dismiss their full humanity. Unladylike begins a conversation that may later lead to reforming the theology that makes an injustice possible.

Are you a reader or a techie?

I confess I love shiny new things, especially Mac-things. I admit it. I am a techie. The only thing that ever really keeps me from a new toy is the (lack of) money. Well, that and my wife who is a voice of reason when I’m blinded by covet-aneity for Steve Job’s latest way to separate me from my money.

I am also a reader, however. I like reading. I also have 50-something eyes that spend many hours on the back-lit treadmill. So, the last thing I want in an eReader, the last thing I want in my Kindle is a backlit screen, the distraction of anything but reading of the words on the screen. What I love about my Kindle is that it is a dedicated reading device.
The following blog about the Kindle DX 2 gets at this very issue. It is worth a read, especially if you’re a reader or techie who has been waiting to buy a Kindle until it is backlit, has a touchscreen color screen, or accesses the internet as well as an iPad.