Tuesday, September 30, 2008

(In) expressible

The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief
by Peter Rollins

Many of us have searched for a long time for a theology that affirms the uniqueness and salvific role of Jesus Christ while at the same recognizing the truth to be found in other faith traditions. I have never been able to reconcile a God who would create each of us and who loves each of us with the exclusive nature of so much "Christian" theology. I think Christians are way too focused on eternal life - we cannot deal with the fact that we do not get to be the ones who decide who is in and who is out. Peter Rollins is finding a way to let God be God and free us to experience God without having to deny the experience of God that others have.

About a year ago I read Rollins's first book How (Not) to Speak of God, and highly recommend starting with that one if you have not been exposed to his ideas before. I really see The Fidelity of Betrayal as a continuation of the ideas he began to articulate in his first book. It is hard to write about this book, because Rollins does amazing things with language, starting with acknowledging how limited language is as a tool to imagine or express an idea of God. In recognizing this limitation, he manages to take a step around (over? through?) it, and in doing so helps the reader see the possibilities of faith as a transformative lifelong event rather than a checklist of doctrines to which we must subscribe.

This is a book that I will read over and over again. It fed my spirit like nothing else I have read in awhile. However, I do not claim to have Rollins's facility with logic or language, so I hesitate to expound on the book too much for fear of unintentionally misrepresenting him. Instead, I will share just a few quotes from the book in hopes of whetting your appetite.

"We are led to embrace the idea of Christianity as a religion without religion, that is, as a tradition that is always prepared to wrestle with itself, disagree with itself, and even betray itself. Second, this requires a way of structuring religious collectives that operate at a deeper level than the mere affirmation of shared doctrines, creeds, and convictions. It involves the formation of dynamic, life-affirming collectives that operate, quite literally, beyond belief (p. 7)."

"By confusing doctrines with the truth of faith we can begin to hold them in such an absolute and unreasonable way that they effectively become crutches that stop us from facing up to the uncertainties of existence. Uncertainties, doubts, and suffering are a part of life, and thus they are a part of faith (which is not an escape from life but a means of entering more fully into it). The truth of faith does not protect us from the unknowing and suffering of mere mortals; rather it provides a means of living with the unknowing and suffering (p. 97)."

"A miracle worthy of the name is so radical that while in the physical world nothing may change, in the one who has been touched by it nothing remains the same...a miracle is signaled by the fact that the entire landscape of our being is transformed and transfigured. For when a miracle takes place, everything changes in the life of the individual-not only the present and the future, but also the past. Let us consider one such miracle, the act of forgiveness. When one forgives nothing changes in the world; everything continues as normal as if nothing had happened. Yet in another sense something of fundamental significance has taken place (p.p. 149-50)."

So, if you have read Rollins, what do you think? Is he the theological wave of the future? Or is he just trying to weasel out of the doctrines that we Christians have held dear for so long? It must be obvious by now what I think, but I would like to know what you think.

You. Must. Read. This.

Reverent Reader

Monday, September 29, 2008

Write and Wrong

The Writing Class
by Jincy Willett

Every now and then, it's fun to get into a good whodunit. The Writing Class has the added bonus of being a murder mystery set within the context of a fiction writing workshop. If you like writers who play with words and make a lot of interesting literary references, this is a book that will help you pleasurably pass a rainy weekend. The strength of Willett's book is the writing class itself and the genuine writing tips that she passes on very naturally as part of the dialogue. Some of the characters are also really entertaining. The class teacher, Amy, is a more complicated character than we would usually find in as light a book as this one is. I like how Willett unfolds Amy's background throughout the course of the book, rather than telling us everything up front.

The murder mystery itself actually gets kind of tiresome. It seems like Willett got a little stalled in the end and just had to find a way to bring the story to a close. And the reader is ready for it to be over. It moves along great until about the last quarter, and then drags a bit.

One thing I really liked about the book was how this disparate (and in some cases desperate) group of people became a community. So many people out there are searching for a place to belong, and Willett makes it happen for these people in a way that does not seem at all contrived. That was what made it kind of sad, that the murder mystery part for a time ruined the camaraderie that had developed among the characters. Nevertheless, Willett is funny and engaging and I would like to read more of her stuff sometime.

Amy's writing class reminded me a lot of a Tuesday night writing class that I had my senior year of college - one of the best courses ever, anywhere. The instructor was fabulous - she gave us honest and straightforward criticism, but at the same time made us feel that our writing was valued and has potential. I loved it, it made me want to write all the time. And...here I am!

Reverent Reader

Friday, September 26, 2008


Double Whammy
by Carl Hiaasen

Crude? Check. Crass? Check. Raunchy? You bet. Clever? Undoubtedly. Funny? Oh yeah. It takes a certain talent to do raunchy without offending everyone who picks up your book. Not that some people wouldn't be put off by the crude humor of Double Whammy, but taken in context it adds up to a good laugh, which everyone needs once in awhile.

Hiaasen spins a good yarn - things happen that are too absurd to be fully believable, but for whatever reason the reader is willing to go with it. Likewise, his characters are over the top, but there is just enough truth in them (and their names are so dead on) to make them funny. For example, the shyster televangelist in this story is named Charles Weeb. It just fits. Likewise, a hermit who likes to cook and eat roadkill goes by the moniker "Skink."

Hiaasen is more than just a good storyteller, though. He is a columnist for a Miami newspaper and a passionate environmentalist. His novels, although entertaining, are also cautionary tales against the sweeping, unregulated development that leads to the destruction of the Florida Everglades. Double Whammy is indeed hilarious, but there is an undercurrent of sadness in it, too. One senses that the sadness is genuine on the author's part, and that he is doing what he can to wake us up to the tragedy of the destruction of creation that is going on all around us.

Reverent Reader

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Self Sacrifice

A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports
by Brad Snyder

First off, apologies for the gap between posts. It's been a hectic several days, and I had some other writing I had to complete before I could get back to the blog. Y'all know how it is. I got to go to a Baltimore Orioles game on Monday night - the first one I had made all season. As I sat with my friend L. and enjoyed the baseball game, I thought about Curt Flood and how much his determination changed not only baseball but all professional sports.

It is hard to place A Well-Paid Slave into any one genre - and I mean that as a good thing. It is part civil rights history, part sports writing, and part legal history (specifically Supreme Court history). However we classify the book, it is ALL interesting, compelling reading. I'm grateful to my friend J. who loaned it to me - it's not something I ordinarily would have picked up, but I'm glad I read it.

For about the first century of professional baseball, players were like pieces of property that the team owners could literally buy and sell among themselves. Players had no say in where they would play, even if they had lived in one community for many years and had close ties in that place. If they were traded, they had to either show up for spring practice at their new team or retire from baseball. This was enforced with an archaic rule known as the "reserve clause." In 1969, the St. Louis Cardinals traded Curt Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies after he had played for the Cardinals for 12 seasons and won numerous "Golden Glove" awards for center fielding. Flood did not want to move to Philadelphia, and believed that if the Cardinals did not want him anymore, then he should be able to negotiate with whatever teams he wished to and work out the best deal he could.

For Curt Flood, it was not a question of money. His final season with the Cardinals, he made $90,000, an enormous amount at the time. The Phillies offered him $100,000. But Flood was sensitive to the slight of being treated like an object rather than a human being. Originally from California, he had endured a couple of horrible seasons in the deep South, playing on minor league teams until he finally made the majors. The racial slights and humiliations that he endured affected the rest of his life. The reserve clause affected all players, regardless of race, but due to his own history Flood probably felt the injustice more keenly than some other players.

Rather than play for the Phillies or retire from the game, Curt Flood chose to sue major league baseball. He sued for monetary damages, but knew that he would in all likelihood never see a penny. His primary goal was to challenge the reserve clause and see to it that, after a certain number of years with one club, players were allowed to be free agents. Flood was backed by the Player's Association (the "labor union" for baseball players at the time), who paid his legal fees. Flood's lawyers warned him that the legal battle could take several years, after which he would probably be too old to play anymore. Flood asked if future players could benefit from his efforts. When told that they undoubtedly would, Curt Flood replied "That's good enough for me."

Flood's case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where he ultimately lost 5-3, with one justice recusing himself due to a potential conflict of interest. Although several former players testified on Flood's behalf about the injustice of the reserve clause (including Flood's hero, Jackie Robinson), no current players testified or even attended his trial. They were too afraid of losing their own positions within the game. Sadly, the Supreme Court justices seemed to be seduced by their own love for baseball and by the game's moniker of "our national pastime." These brilliant men ignored blatant contradictions in labor law and legal precedent with other sports to maintain baseball's status quo. It was a sad day.

Curt Flood's sacrifice was not in vain, however. Knowing that the issue of the reserve clause was not going to go away, the team owners finally agreed to negotiate with the players' union after years of stonewalling. Within a couple of years of Flood's case, the reserve clause had been modified to include free agency.

The ordeal took a toll on Curt Flood personally. His marriage collapsed, partially due to the stress of the lawsuit. When Flood made an attempt at a professional comeback, with the Washington Senators, it was a dismal failure. He had always had a tendency to party, but during his legal battle a fondness for alcohol turned into full blown alcoholism that he battled until the last few years of his life. Later, when he wanted to get a job managing or coaching a pro baseball team, he was frozen out. For a time he was a lonely, embittered, lost soul. Flood was a flawed person, as we all are. However, he was willing to make a great sacrifice for a principle, even though he would not personally benefit from it. We do not see that too often anymore. He is an under appreciated baseball hero - I had never even heard of him until I read this book. I'm grateful that Brad Snyder told his story so well.

Reverent Reader

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What If?

The Plot Against America
by Philip Roth

Sometimes it is really terrifying to meander down the "what if" trail when we consider scenarios that were historically possible but did not happen. Of course, sometimes it is is equally hideous to contemplate the things that actually did happen, or that are happening right now. But we won't go there. The Plot Against America takes us on a journey of what could have happened if Charles Lindbergh (of aviation, isolationist, and anti-Semitic fame) had run against Roosevelt for POTUS in 1940 and won.

The narrator of the story is a young Jewish boy named after the author himself. It is just wrenching to experience those fearful times through the eyes and ears of a child - we probably all remember overhearing conversations between adults when we were kids, only understanding portions of what we were hearing, and feeling scared. We all try to shield our children from scary things that might be too much for them, but sometimes it's even worse when they are piecing together snatches of information based on what they can glean by eavesdropping. Sadly, little Philip's fears are well-founded and real. Within a few weeks of his inauguration, Lindbergh reaches an "understanding" with Adolph Hitler and promises to keep the United States out of the war. Suddenly, voicing concern for Europe's Jewish population is viewed as disloyal and possibly even treasonous.

Philip takes us through the first couple of years of Lindbergh's presidency, and he does an incredible job of depicting the climate of fear and suspicion that permeates the Jewish community in Newark, New Jersey. Lindbergh's policies and programs starts out seemingly innocuous, such as service opportunities for Jewish boys on rural farms, ostensibly to "assimilate" them into American culture. The anti-Semitism is couched in rhetoric about "national unity" and "America first," and for a time is even praised and sanctioned by prominent rabbis and other people in the upper echelons of Jewish society. It does not take long, however, before corporate America is colluding with the federal government's relocation programs for the Jewish people, and Jews begin to be scapegoated for numerous national problems. A terrifying outbreak of pogroms about two year's into Lindbergh's term erases any doubt about his intentions or those of the advisers who surround him.

The end of the book gets a little far fetched, with a conspiracy theory that Lindbergh was cooperating with the Nazis because they were behind the kidnapping of his infant son in the early 1930s, and were still holding the boy hostage. But who is to say anymore what is far fetched? There's a lot of crazy and sinister stuff that goes on. Some of it you can't make up because no one would believe it.

Roth's book is a cautionary tale against "going along to get along," and a reminder of the necessity for critical thinking. What is really frightening about it is that the scenario sounds so plausible. We are wrong if we think prejudice against our Jewish neighbors is over. Just a couple of weeks ago, swastikas were painted on the property of a synagogue right here in Rockville. Shudder. Makes you realize that anything can happen. We have to pay attention.

Reverent Reader

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Too Much Religious Freedom?

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
by Jon Krakauer

Eeeeewwwww. I try not to say that about another faith tradition, even one that I disagree with. But I have to say that the members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) are over the top. These are the people who are still hanging on to the doctrine of polygamy (also called "plural marriage" or "celestial marriage") developed by the original founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith. The majority of Mormons repudiated polygamy in the early 1900s, under pressure from the federal government to do so. Those who continued to embrace it went underground, holing up in remote outposts of Canada and the American West where no one would bother them.

I've known Mormons who are wonderful, hardworking people, and they are serious and sincere about their faith. Krakauer's book is a fascinating history of the Mormon church and the numerous groups that splintered off from Mormonism, in many cases over disputes about plural marriage. I must be candid and say that I think some of the doctrines of even the original (pre-plural marriage) Mormonism are quite strange, very much antithetical to rational thought. However, I would not be one to hunt them down and persecute those who believe in those doctrines. There are aspects of Christian faith (even for the boring mainliners) that defy rational thinking as well. A major part of faith often is the willingness to suspend rationality and just go with it. People are free to believe whatever they want. Aren't they?

But...this polygamy thing is pretty creepalicious. As Krakauer traces the history of Joseph Smith developing the doctrine in the first place, I can find no theological basis for it whatsoever. It's ridiculous - you wonder how anyone fell for it in the first place. Some did not - Joseph Smith's own original wife was horrified by what her husband had come up with, and never reconciled herself to his having subsequent wives. The doctrine of polygamy seems like a blatant attempt to give horny men licence to do whatever they want while at the same time keeping women in secondary, subservient positions. Convenient, huh?

What is even more troubling about plural marriage, though, is the effect that it has on young girls. Religious freedom is one thing, and it is important, but when parents exercise their religious freedom by forcing an adolescent girl to marry a man (often two or three times her own age) and become a plural wife, an important line has been crossed. Some of these girls get pregnant when they are still children themselves. Most of them are so brainwashed by the FLDS culture that they have grown up in that they do not know to challenge the system. It is even more disgusting when we consider the fact that due to the insular nature of the FLDS community, girls often get married to close relatives - uncles, cousins, occasionally even their own fathers. When one person's religious freedom wrecks the life and psyche of children, something has to change.

I had intended to read Krakauer's book when it first came out several years ago, and just never had gotten around to it. The raiding of the FLDS compound in Texas by the federal government last spring brought the book back onto my radar screen; and I thought it was important to educate myself a little more about the FLDS sect and Mormonism in general. This book is a great place to start for that, but its extensive bibliography shows us that there is a rich supply of history and literature out there about Mormonism and its most famous (and infamous) personalities.

Under the Banner of Heaven is organized around the trial of two FLDS men who commit a heinous crime (the murder of their sister-in-law and infant niece) because they believe God has commanded them to do it. Krakauer artfully narrates this contemporary story while at the same time walking us through the history of Mormonism from its founding to contemporary times. He is able to connect the dots between some of the tenets of Mormon doctrine and the tragedy that can happen when any doctrine is taken to extremes. Krakauer makes the point that the distinction between fervency and insanity can be terribly blurry.

These are tough times that we live in. I think people should be allowed to believe whatever they want, but I also think we have to protect women and children from those who would use their faith as an excuse (or even justification) for violence. Krakauer's book at least opens the way for conversation about how we might do that yet be fair to all parties involved.

Reverent Reader

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Quick Thought


My boys watch a kids' show on PBS called "Super Why," which combines the themes of Superheroes and the importance of reading. The SuperReaders (the leader is named Wyatt, another is some type of fairy who helps with spelling, I can't remember the other names) enter into familiar stories, such as Pinocchio. They work together to change words and help solve whatever the presenting problem is. It's actually pretty clever and cute - much more so than the "Doodlebops," who for some reason kind of creep me out.

This morning S. and G. were watching "Super Why" and I was reading Date Lab in the Washington Post Magazine ( I confess that I rarely miss Date Lab, I find it utterly fascinating). I was halfway listening to the show when I heard Wyatt say "When we have the power to read we have the power to change the story."

OK, I know it's a kids' show. But I thought that line was really provocative. It sums up for me why I think reading is so important to the spiritual and intellectual life. When we enter into another world, when we vicariously experience what someone different from us endures, we are changed. Such change often compels us to engage in the wider world and "change the story." It's an idea that has real possibility. When we mentor children in reading, we are giving them the power to change the story of their lives.

I am feeling some possible further exploration of this thought coming on - maybe even some more extensive writing about it myself at some point. Stay tuned.

Remember, when we have the power to read, we have the power to change the story.

Reverent Reader
P.S. The Adventures of Momotaro the Peach Boy is the book that the SuperReaders were exploring in the episode the kids were watching this morning. I was not familiar with the story. May have to investigate, as G. is now obsessed with this particular episode. Thank goodness for TiVo.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Never Too Late

The Painted Veil
by W. Somerset Maugham

I had never read any Maugham before, but this one was recommended by a congregation member who had liked the book and also really enjoyed the movie of it that was made about a year ago. I may have to rent the movie now, because the online reviews that I read of this on facebook were divided. Some said "The movie killed the ending." Others said "The movie ends so much better than the book." Personally, I HATE it when a movie totally changes the ending of a book, especially when they gloss over a sad ending. I mean, I want happily ever after as much as the next person, but I think that the movies should stick to what the author intended.

This is a compelling story and a quick read, but I never felt fully engaged with the characters, mostly because Kitty and Walter (the two main characters, an estranged husband and wife) could never seem to intersect emotionally or spiritually. The reader feels for Walter in his pain over Kitty's betrayal, but gets exasperated when he refuses to relate to her once she resolves to make an effort to have some kind of connection with him.

I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone who might choose to read this, but I saw the penultimate major event coming a mile away. There was nothing else the author could do with poor old Walter, who by that time had dug his heels in so far there was no going back. What I found intriguing about the book was Kitty's transformation from vapid social climber into someone searching for meaning in existence. By the end of the book, she has developed a sincere desire to be useful. Kitty's experience of the nuns at the convent, her sense that there is something going on in their interior lives that she would like to be part of, is a major catalyst for the change within her. (Aside: it is disturbing and sad to me that so often major characters in novels, whom I presume in some way reflect the perspective of the author, may be desperately searching for meaning and for some way to make sense of this crazy world but so often are utterly dismissive of religious faith. So often faith is portrayed as the quaint practice of the kooky and uneducated) Kitty has no background in religion or any kind of spiritual tradition, but there is a yearning for something more than the boring and shallow existence that has characterized her life up to her sojourn in China.

Given that the original copyright of The Painted Veil was in the early 1920s, one has to give Maugham credit for being ahead of his time. Early in the book, it is easy to loathe Kitty because she is so spoiled and feels so entitled. We learn, however, that she learned to be that way from her own mother and from the culture in which she was raised. When we come to understand how much she has to overcome, it is much easier to root for her. I love how at the end she hopes her unborn child will be a girl so she can give her own daughter a better start than her battle-axe of a mother gave her.

Kitty is still a young woman as the story unfolds. We have a sense that she is starting a whole new life, one that holds the possibility of real relationship with her father. It's never too late - for transformation, for reconciliation, for redemption. Maugham may not speak the language of faith or the church, but the promises of faith are all over this novel.

Reverent Reader

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


The Prayer Tree
by Michael Leunig

Many of you know that I am still working through grief over the death on July 21 of my friend KB. The following two prayers are from "The Prayer Tree," which was a book that KB gave me for my ordination on September 12, 1993. These poetic words have spoken to me in new ways as I have sifted through old memories and tried to focus on being thankful for what was rather than being sad for what can never be again. I suppose I will always carry this sadness, but lately its weight is more bearable. It's like a normal part of my backpack rather than a whole extra suitcase.

Here are Leunig's words:

We give thanks for our friends.
Our dear friends.
We anger each other.
We fail each other.
We share this sad earth, this tender life, this precious time.
Such richness. Such wildness.
Together we are blown about.
Together we are dragged along.
All this delight.
All this suffering.
All this forgiving life.
We hold it together.

And the next one...

When the heart
Is cut or cracked or broken
Do not clutch it
Let the wound lie open

Let the wind
From the good old sea blow in
To bathe the wound with salt
And let it sting.

Let a stray dog lick it
Let a bird lean in the hole and sing
A simple song like a tiny bell
And let it ring

Let it go. Let it out.
Let it all unravel.
Let it free and it can be
A path on which to travel.

Still traveling,

Reverent Reader

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Day in the Life

by Ian McEwan

I suspect that we all have days that stand out sharply in our memory, days of which we can recall every last detail - conversations that we had, what we were wearing, the weather - everything takes on significance when the day turns out to be one that changes life forever. McEwan writes evocatively about one such day in the life of his protagonist, Henry Perowne. The book is so well done, with threads of the day appearing, disappearing, and reappearing again - not just events themselves, but Perowne's own moods, thoughts, and feelings. McEwan traces these subtle evolutions so skillfully that we practically live them with Perowne.

At first I was not sure if I could deal with the pacing of a book that is confined to a single 24-hour period. In much the same way, I have never been interested in watching the television show 24, although many people really like it. In any case, I did have to sort of get in the mode of McEwan's rhythm, and I did feel a sense of urgency to read it speedily. There was a sense that the immediacy with which the book is written would be lacking if I took a week to read a one day book. I hope that makes sense.

Saturday is set in London in 2003, just before the beginning of the Iraq war. One of the devices that McEwan uses to weave the oncoming war into the story (and the accompanying fear and malaise of its characters) is to have a huge anti-war protest march taking place in the neighborhood where the Perowne family lives. Although they are not marching themselves, their day is punctuated and even disrupted along the way by closed streets, noise, and television reports. Even though the family is trying to have a "normal" Saturday, the background march seeps into their consciousness and they are forced to confront their own opinions about the war.

The day's significance is magnified towards the end of the book, when a previously minor character in the story takes an ugly turn that leads to terror and nearly to tragedy. The buildup to this event is present in the preceding pages, but McEwan still manages to take the reader by surprise. The surprise continues in a lovely way after the danger has passed - Henry Perowne discovers within himself a way to love his enemy, and find his own outlook transformed in the process. The ending reminds us in a non-preachy way about the difficulty - and also the tremendous power - of compassion and forgiveness.

McEwan is just a magnificent writer. This book made me think about days that are etched in my mind in such sharp detail - 9/11 comes immediately to my mind, as well as my first date with the man who is now my husband, and the births of my two sons. What are these days for you? What was important about them and what details do you still remember? Feel free to discuss.

Reverent Reader

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink
David Remnick, editor

This is a totally fun read, not to mention fascinating. New Yorker editor David Remnick compiled a collection of what he sees as the best food writing that the magazine has published over the years. The earliest essays go back to the late 1920s, and some of the later ones are as recent as 2005 and 2006. There is stuff about everything from the classic art of French cooking to trends in home cooking to intensive looks at a particular food. Some of the essays are funny, some are poignant, some are simply interesting. There are two lengthy biographical articles - one on Julia Child and another on Euell Gibbons (who until reading this essay I only knew as "The Grapenuts Guy") that are real standouts.

I've tried to figure out why I find food writing so interesting. There is the obvious fact that I love to cook and try interesting foods and new recipes. It goes deeper than that, though. Without ramming it in your face, the collection in Secret Ingredients serves to remind us that food writing is only about food up to a point. At a deeper level, food writing is about culture, family, friendship, and community. For example, Calvin Trillin's efforts to locate the pumpernickel bagel that his daughter liked so much, in a joking but sincere effort to persuade her to move back to New York, are not so much about the bagel itself but the ties between a father and a daughter, and the lengths to which a parent will go for a child's pleasure and happiness - even a grown child.

Some of the best essays in Secret Ingredients tell us the story of how certain foods get from the field (or the sea or wherever) to the stores where we purchase them. I love oysters, either raw or cooked in any way. The article about oyster farming and harvesting helped me to understand how much work goes into growing these tasty treats and making them accessible to us. When we understand how hard people work to make good foods available to us, we have a greater appreciation for how connected we all are. Likewise, when we realize that some of our favorites may not be around for us to enjoy because of factors like overfishing and climate change, we become more motivated to work together to preserve the treasures of our planet.

If you like food writing, don't miss this. If you have never been into food writing but have considered dipping into it, this is a good place to start because of the variety of topics discussed. Bon appetit!

Reverent Reader