Five Lessons For Us In This Line Of Work {Book Club}

Watching the Price family in The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is more like watching six individuals, not a family. In the section we read for today, my feelings are all over the board.

We learn more about why Nathan is so tortured: “God despises a coward who runs while others stand and suffer.” The guilt and shame he carries from the war runs so deep. I know we’re each influenced by our past too. I believe God has called us. But you and I know it’s not that simple. God called, I answered. The end. How might your past in either good or bad ways influenced your call?

Orleanna’s breakdown continued until Rachel had that cooking disaster and Orleanna resumed her domestic role. I felt for her and the girls and how trapped they were; they truly could not leave. For me, no matter how bad it’s gotten, I knew if I really, really wanted to, I could get on a plane and leave. I’ve also felt a bit conflicted about this privilege I have. But when I think about the Price females, I don’t want to trade places. Have you ever felt trapped? How does it change the call that you can, for the most part, choose to stay or go? What would it mean to you if you couldn’t leave or at least get your children out of conditions you have no control over?

In the chapter by Adah that starts “Tata Jesus is bangala!” Adah elaborates how they each had changed during their time in the Congo. Saying that only “Nahtan” has remained essentially himself. What did you think of her assessment? I picture myself a Price girl and wonder how it would impact my faith to be brought to the field in such a way (basically on probation without denominational/organization blessing), with parents that do not seem to be on the same page–or anywhere near each other in the book of life!, a political coup, and a sibling that is very ill.

What a turn of events that the Chief feels so badly for the Prices financial situation he’s willing to “buy” a bride. The family misread his visits with Rachel even strutting around in front of him! Oh my. What did you think of their solution? I just keep thinking, “so much of this was avoidable with some training!”

In terms of thoughts for our line of work:

1. I was stuck by how often the girls referenced what they learned about God and the Work by watching their parents. I know we’ve come to share our lives; this book has been a healthy reminder that first and foremost who we are sharing with is our children (and if you’re childless, the other expat kids around you.) “Watching my father, I’ve seen how you can’t learn anything when you’re trying to look like the smartest person in the room.”

2. The Rock Of Certainty — while it is important to be certain, it’s also important to create space for uncertainty. “If his [Nathan’s] decision to keep us here in the Congo wasn’t right, then what else might he be wrong about? It has opened up in my heart a sickening world of doubts and possibilities, where before I had only faith in my father and love of the Lord. Without that rock of certainty underfoot, the Congo is a fearsome place to have to sink or swim.”

3. God is still sovereign — “Then you mean no. We shouldn’t have come.” “No, you shouldn’t. But you are here, so yes, you should be here. There are more words in the world than no and yes.” I’ve known people on the field I wondered how they got through the screening process, and leaned into God’s sovereignty since, yes, they were there.

4. How good it is to be visited — Didn’t you wish the Fowlers could have stayed a little longer? How much Orleanna and the girls soaked up their time with them!

5. The importance of being aware of local gods and beliefs — There is much to say here as pertains to the book! but I’ll leave it as “Jesus Christ lost, eleven to fifty-six.”

Your turn! What have you been noticing and enjoying (or being super frustrated over). What do you think of the girls? Do you like the Prices? Can’t wait to chat in the comments :)!

Amy

P.S. Here’s the reading plan for The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver:

July 7 — Roughly 40% (or 220 pages) — includes the chapter titled Adah and which with the line “God works …”
July 14 — Roughly 60% (or 330 pages) — includes the chapter titled Leah which begins with the line “You can’t …”
July 21 — Roughly 80% (or 440 pages) — includes the chapter titled Adah Price, Emory Hospital, Atlanta, Christmas 1968
July 28 — Roughly 100% (or 543 blessed pages!)

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26 Comments

  1. Felicity Congdon July 14, 2015

    There was so much in this section!!

    i just finished reading and have been anticipating reading Amy’s thoughts and discussing!

    I will think more on the questions above, but one part that jumped out at me was Leah’s life flashing before her eyes type evaluations of herself and her family and her God (or should I say god?…does she know the True God?) Amy also included part of this conversation in point 3 above. But just before Anatole’s reply, Leah says:

    “I want to be righteous, Anatole. To know right from wrong, that’s all. I want to live the right way and be redeemed.” I was trembling so hard I feared my bones might break. No word. I shouted to make him hear. “Don’t you believe me? When I walk through the valley of the shadow the Lord is supposed to be with me, and he’s not! Do you see him here in this boat?”

     

    As I read the last line I thought “yes, Leah, he is there–he provided Anatole and Anatole is sitting right next to you in that boat! He just saved you and your twin sister and ensured the rest of your family was with the crowds and not being trampled.” Anatole is SUCH and interesting character in the story and his relationship with Leah is what drove me to keep turning the pages this week!

    What do you all think? He a Christ-like figure–maybe more than anyone else we’ve encountered in the book. Sacrificing, humble, full of truth and grace, he does not fear man, valuing freedom of thought for all –and even enableing (through translating for Nathan) the voices of those who differ from his own views to be heard by all who want to listen, drawing Leah out to be more of the woman she was made to be but at the same time (or it is through?) letting her struggle and doubt herself and become frustrated with who she was and what she believed/believes.

    So much more I could say but I need to sleep! Maybe I can write more later!

     

     

      1. Michele Womble July 14, 2015

        the truest truth, or truly true, or something like that.  It was beautiful.

        1. Amy Young July 15, 2015

          Been thinking more about her new name and Anatole being a “Christ-figure” and how God renames people as a form of blessing or to match who they really are in him. Maybe Leah’s dad was tapping into the “false Leah” in the sense of having her be loyal to him for not the best reason, but Anatole named one of her true God-given attributes: her ability to see beyond the surface and to see a form of the Truth.

          If only her faith had changed in that direction too. Like others have said, I can see why she might need to lose her faith, since it’s not the truth. And hope for more redemption by the end.

    1. Jenny July 14, 2015

      I like your observation of Anatole being the most Christ like figure we’ve met yet!  And as I reflect on different seasons I recall a time or two that a local not-follower-of-Jesus was that in our context, and how confusing I found it when it was not literature but real life, when we were the selfish sinning ones and the not-found were (at least outwardly) exemplifying God’s extravagant love, as we see Anatole do.

       

      1. Amy Young July 14, 2015

        Jenny, this is still one of the more complexing part of this whole life of faith for me. I sometimes will give myself these scenarios that aren’t real and wonder what I’d do. If say, I was sexually assaulted and became pregnant and didn’t feel I was in a position to raise a child … would I give the child to my sister who’s not a Christian but an unbelievably decent and kind and loving and responsible person? Or this couple at my church, who other than being Christians, in many ways are hot messes — financially, ability to hold a job, a bit petty with each other (if YOU get a new shirt, I get one too!). Thankfully this has never happened, but I am perplexed by the “goodness” of some non-believers and the “badness” of some believers.

        And sorry if my inner workings disturb people. I probably over think situations 🙂

        1. Jenny July 14, 2015

          These are exactly the type of things I also ponder, yay for over thinkers 🙂 if that’s what you want to call us!  I want belonging to Jesus to change me and it doesn’t always in the way I expect.

          1. Amy Young July 15, 2015

            If we were in person, I’d smile and nod at this comment.

    2. Amy Young July 14, 2015

      What an interesting thought on Anatole — I heard somewhere (not sure, but think it was a lit teacher) who said to that most works of fiction will have a “Christ-figure” and I think, like you, Anatole makes one of the better choices in this story! He’s not only all of the attributes you mention, he’s also from another tribe (so there’s an outsider/incarnational aspect) and has been scarred (his face).

  2. Christy J July 14, 2015

    I enjoyed reading this book many years ago, but this time it has been so much more poignant and gut-wrenching, as it resonates with many of the experiences I have recently had in Africa. It is difficult to read about the difficulties that so many people in the book went through due to the lack of understanding and the stubbornness of those who think they come in with all the answers. I have seen this first-hand with another m family, and it is heartbreaking to see how people can hurt others in their stubborn determination to be right, and also thinking that they are following God’s will. I am still figuring out how God’s sovereignty figures into all of this, but I know that somehow He is still in control and can make beautiful things even out of giant mistakes. I only wish that the people like Nathan Price in the world could just see how their actions affect and hurt other people in more ways than they even imagine.

    I am really struck in reading this book by the impact the actions of adults have on children. We don’t often get such an insider view into children’s thoughts on what is going on around them. I was particularly moved by Leah, as she was so ready to follow her father’s footsteps in the beginning, and how that gradually changed throughout the time they spent in the village. How difficult it must be for children like this, who want to believe that their parents are heroes, but see them becoming something different. It made me think of my interactions with the son of the family that was causing all the trouble in our community. How could I have helped him more?

    Such a thought-provoking and heart-wrenching book. I am glad to be reading it again. It is giving me a lot of food for thought.

    1. Amy Young July 14, 2015

      Me too, Christy. I read this book years ago and obviously enjoyed it enough to want to read in community, but it is gut-wrenching now in ways it wasn’t then. Since then, I’ve seen enough kids grow up on the field and (thankfully) most are in strong relationships with the Lord, but a few have walked (and in a very few RUN) from Him. I can imagine it is unbelievably hard to watch that family … and feel so helpless.

  3. Michele Womble July 14, 2015

    It’s so beautifully written and yet so heartbreaking to read, watching them all lose their faith.  I think in a way they had to lose it (because it had been misplaced to begin with) in order to find it – but I don’t suppose there’s much hope that the author brings them to a true faith?

    I do think that Felicity is right, Anatole does seem like a Christ-like-figure … and yet I don’t quite fully trust him yet, either.

    Nathan is harming not only his children’s faith, but the faith of the whole village.  They were so glad he came to begin with, throwing a village party for the whole family, and now they’ve gotten to the point where they voted against Jesus.  Sobering.  And Orleanna and Leah didn’t even cast a vote (how could we, with Father right there?) – obviously they weren’t voting for Jesus either.

     

    I feel guilty sometimes that i could leave whenever I want, like Amy said above.  In a way it’s easier to stay when you know you could leave, but at the same time… there’s something to being able to leave, but choosing to stay (when appropriate to stay, of course).  So I guess there’s sort of two sides of that coin.

    Tough book.

     

    1. Amy Young July 14, 2015

      Ah, good point Michele! It does speak volumes when someone could leave, but chooses to throw their lot in, so to speak, with a group or culture or natural disaster.

      1. Phyllis July 15, 2015

        I underlined a lot about staying and going. Things have settled down here, but over the past year and a half, that’s been the constant discussion, among the expat community and even among our other friends and neighbors. Who’s going? Who’s staying? When would YOU go? How would you know?

         

        Like others have said, I’m finding this book heartrending. I’m a bit ahead of the schedule, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to comment later (travel), so I’ll just say that much now: deep emotions!

        1. Jenny July 15, 2015

          Isn’t all that uncertainty so hard!?!?  Sure was for me, and when it was our time to go, it was very unexpected timing to us and others but pretty clearly the right path at the same time!

  4. Jenny July 14, 2015

    Amy, great question about what does it look and feel like to be trapped in an unbearable situation.  While living in a very remote place, there were different times that I felt trapped (and a few times when the road was out that we really were).  Leaving entailed exhausting and dangerous travel for 2 days with my carsick prone children so I did not get out much.  When I believed I was actually trapped there, my mental health declined, and my emotional state was terrible.

    Fortunately, at key low points, outsiders helped me see the truth that I did have options, that I was not stuck.  A tm from the US visited and one of them recognized this in me and genuinely offered for me to travel back to the US with them.  I chose not to, but it broke something in me to really realize that I was choosing to stay, that I wasn’t cornered into it, that God was ready to open a way out when I needed.  Friends in a city 2 days away gave me the gift of an open invitation to show up at their home anytime day or night if I ever needed it, another proof that I was not waking up at the ends of the earth because that was my only option.

    The other hard things going on in life didn’t change but my outlook was so different for each evening I went to bed in that spot by choice, and woke again there.  I believe God in His sovereignty kept me there, that it wasn’t some choice I could conjure up on my own, which is a bit confusing with how freeing the seeming power of choice was to me.  And now, as that whole season has come to an end, I’m so so thankful for each day He let me be there.

    1. Amy Young July 14, 2015

      Jenny, this is how I feel after reading your comment. You brought a beautifully wrapped present to us and after we cajoled one person to open it up (because we’re all so polite) — we sit here in awe at the gift you’ve given. It’s beauty is unexpected and we recognize its hidden value.

      Thank you for sharing part of your story–this is a great reminder to (if appropriate) offer people choices. As you said, nothing may change at all on the surface, but there is something so powerful in not feeling trapped. I even think of Jesus, “if possible, please remove this cup.” It wasn’t removed, but that prayer seemed necessary and helpful to him at that moment.

      1. Jenny July 14, 2015

        Thank you.  I’m grateful for this space to share.

    2. Felicity Congdon July 14, 2015

      Jenny, Thanks for sharing. I relate to what you said here :

      When I believed I was actually trapped there, my mental health declined, and my emotional state was terrible.

      I experienced this a few months after moving to the field feeling trapped here because we sold our home and everything we once had in the States. And we had just spent all of our allotted money and saved up garage sale money and other savings setting up our new home here in the most expensive and smallest home I’ve ever lived in (Tokyo) and now the furniture we own is here and our kids beds are here and their toys are here and our clothes are here. Instead of the feelings I was hoping and anxiously awaiting (7 years of knowing we would be going overseas and waiting and saving to buy a nice mattered and nice furniture once we were on the field) instead of those feelings of settled was and rootedness and comfort, feelings of entrapment set in instead. I went to bed thinking we have no choice…this is my home now and I cannot go back. I woke up with flu like symptoms physically unable to get out of bed for a couple days.

      1. Amy Young July 15, 2015

        I’m thinking this theme of feeling trapped and mental/spiritual health would be good for a theme some week. This is really important to visit again. Thank you both for sharing!

  5. Felicity Congdon July 15, 2015

    Can I also add how heart-wrenching it was to read Adah’s chapter when her mother leaves her behind in the ants?!?

    1. Jenny July 15, 2015

      wasn’t it?!?!  The pain of being un-chosen, OH MY!!

    2. Amy Young July 15, 2015

      Agonizing!!

      On many levels … as a reader and as I pictured myself there :)!!! Awful.

  6. Emily July 18, 2015

    This is a tough, emotional book to read. So much goes wrong, and there are so many avoidable mistakes made. It’s a bit like watching a really long, badly done movie, where you keep looking at your watch, thinking, “how much longer can this movie go on?” But instead, we are watching the Price family in their slow-motion disaster. I keep thinking, “how much longer can this family go on?” And then I glance at the bottom of my Kindle and see that I’m nowhere near the ending. Much more disaster awaits, and we’re far from the tragedy that Orleanna keeps alluding to.
    It’s making me think a lot about the families that decide it is time to go – there have been a lot of them recently in our lives. I appreciate that they are willing to leave the field when it becomes clear it’s no longer a healthy place for their family, even if it’s only one family member who is really hurting. They are not trying to win a prize for bravery, for “sticking it out.” That contrasts with sentiments I’ve heard from other families along the lines of, “well, we must suffer for the Lord,” or, “you just need to trust that God will redeem all this hardship for your kids,” etc. I do think the Lord can use our difficult experiences, but I have also seen that mentality lead to some unhealthy situations, much like the Price family’s unnecessary suffering under Nathan’s fixation to not give up.
    I really like Felicity’s comment about Anatole as Christ figure. He genuinely cares for them, helps them in so many ways, including literally rescuing them.

    1. Jenny July 19, 2015

      Emily, I really agree with your observation of how our trust in God working all things for our good can lead to unhealthy situations at times.  And there is no easy answer!  Have you any insights into this?  It’s an ongoing puzzle for me.

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