A Matter of Perspective

My sister Joan brought some of my mother’s things to my house to be dispersed among siblings. My grandmother Elizabeth’s favorite coffee cup was among those things. I thought it might be appropriate to give to my daughter Elizabeth, who was named after both her father and her mother’s grandmothers. While I was washing it, I set it next to MY favorite coffee cup in comparison.

coffee cup 001I can’t imagine imbibing in my morning jolt of caffeine via the tiny receptacle my grandmother favored. I imagine she might have been equally appalled by the mammoth size of my cup.

It’s all a manner of perspective, isn’t it?

This past week the topic of the Bible study I facilitate was “Faithfulness.” I really struggled with this topic, for some reason, and wasn’t sure why. When I contemplated “faithfulness” it was within the confines of a marriage relationship, which I no longer have. Of course, as a facilitator, I feel responsible to serve as an example at each study, and God had certainly been faithful each of the previous weeks in providing one. However, by the last morning of this particular study, I found myself just looking to the heavens and saying, “I got nothing, God. What am I supposed to do?” With my husband’s wise words (just tell the truth) echoing in my head, I admitted as much to the group before we began. Afterwards, someone approached me and thanked me for my honesty, commenting that it had been very refreshing. By the end of the evening I ‘d learned so much from the group’s comments that I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what faithfulness meant outside of a spousal relationship. Faithfulness to God meant I should not stray from the very clear path set for me by his WORD.

I was too tired to write and not bored enough to turn on the television when I got home at 8:30 pm, so I picked up a book a friend had recommended as an example of fine literature. It had arrived in the mail earlier in the day from PaperbackSwap.com and I’d set it on my end table on top of the devotionals I read from each morning. The writing had been compared to Anne Tyler’s, an author I have enjoyed on occasion. Within the first half hour of reading, I was recoiling with revulsion at the character’s choices in their marriage, but I continued reading. Why? Because the book had been recommended to me, and I was certain there had to be some redeeming value to it. Yes, the author’s descriptive qualities and odd characterizations could be compared to Tyler’s, but the resemblance ended there. I greatly disliked all four of the main characters almost immediately, and Tyler’s characters, while eccentric, were at least likable.

Against my better judgment, I continued reading, until I couldn’t stand any more. I began flipping through the end pages, looking for some sort of explanation for their depravity. Increasingly frustrated, I finally concluded that despite this author’s obvious success (several of his books had been made into movies) I’d just wasted several precious reading hours. At midnight,  I trashed the book. Literally.

If good writing is that which stays with you, then by that account this particular book was well-written, because by morning I was still thinking about it. That made me angry. Since my husband’s death, I like to start my day with God. I was angry at myself for reading a book I wouldn’t have chosen myself, angry at my friend for suggesting it, and most definitely angry at an author who chooses to write something that is obviously a thinly-veiled portrayal of his own perverted fantasies.

Then it hit me: I knew, without a doubt, that by continuing to read that book, I had not been faithful to God. The message was clear and unmistakable. The example from our Bible study’s DVD came to mind; If our spouse came to us, elated that they had been 98% faithful, would we be satisfied?  Of course not. If we live a Godly life 98% of the time and stray off the righteous path only occasionally, does it really matter?From my perspective in trying to live as an example of Christ, yes, it does.

Yes, it did occur to me as I pulled the book out of the garbage, tore it in half and took a match to it over my sink, that perhaps I was over-reacting with my righteous anger of Biblical proportions. And maybe it was not a good idea to start a fire, however small, inside my own house.

john irving 002

Or maybe it was perfectly understandable, considering I have over fifty specimens of quality literature already on my “to-read” shelves. Maybe my attitude was completely justified, considering the Bible study I’d attended the night before, the marriage relationship I’d taken seriously for nearly 33 years, and my commitment to remain faithful to the fire of faith inside my heart. Maybe all of that warranted my reaction and a blog posting.

It was just a book, I imagine some of my readers might be thinking about now. It’s not like you were living the life depicted within its pages.

I guess it just depends upon your perspective.

From mine, reading about it is nearly the same thing. And I am appalled.

2 thoughts on “A Matter of Perspective

  1. Sharon M says:

    Just out of curiousity I went on Amazon and checked out the reviews. There were 32 total. 10 people gave it 5 stars, 8 gave it 4 stars, 6 gave it 3 stars, 6 gave it 2 stars and 2 gave it 1 star. Most people were John Irving fans. Most also disagreed with you which means nothing. After reading the reviews, I can say for sure that this is a book I would never read.

  2. jkramer48 says:

    If it’s any consolation, I do not like this author. I have only read a short portion of one of his previous books, and didn’t enjoy it. As I get older, I have become much more choosy, both with reading, what I watch on TV, and also with my choice of activities and pursuits. I don’t waste time very often; it is too precious to me.
    I like what you said about faithfulness; had never thought about it outside the realm of relationships with other people. You have given me a new perspective-which often happens after I read something you have written-and want to thank you for sharing this.

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