Friday, December 3, 2010

‘The Mockingbird Parables: Transforming Lives Through the Power of Story’ by Matt Litton – Book Review

Buzz this
In ‘The Mockingbird Parables: Transforming Lives Through the Power of Story,’ Matt Litton points out the parallels to this literary masterpiece with the Christian faith.

Here is the synopsis of this book:

For many of us, To Kill a Mockingbird was the first book to evoke a moral and spiritual stirring. Perhaps we read it for a high school English class or at the urging of a friend, never imaging how powerful a story could be. By the end, we were left wondering whether we had even a shred of Atticus Finch’s courage, Scout’s faith in goodness, or Dill’s innocence.
In The Mockingbird Parables, Matt Litton’s journey through Harper Lee’s beloved 1960 literary masterpiece, introducing each character through the lens of faith. The enigmatic Boo Radley as an allegorical representation of God, “the divine mysterious neighbor” who watches over, protects, and longs to know his children personally. The hero, Atticus Finch, as a model of faith, integrity, and even parenting. The main character, Scout Finch, and what she might teach us about the role of women in church and society.
The Mockingbird Parables compels us to ask these often-ignored questions. Do we truly love our neighbors? Are we building community? Are we influencing society for the better? By illuminating the parallels between Christian faith and Lee’s masterpiece, Litton reaffirms the magnitude of a novel perhaps more relevant today than ever before.

Here is the biography of the author:

Matt Litton is a writer, educator, and speaker. He completed his undergraduate work in English and Religion and holds a Master of Arts in Education from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee. Matt and his wife, Kristy, have four children: Noah, Elijah, Jakob, and Raegan.

Here is Mr. Litton talking about ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and his book:

In the interest of full disclosure – before I even get started – I have to admit that I have never read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’…. I realize that is an oversight that needs to be corrected soon – and even more so after having read this book. I have seen the classic movie, which stars Gregory Peck, several times, so I am familiar with the characters. However, watching the movie does not substitute for reading this classic book. I was relieved to hear Mr. Litton mention in the book trailer that he hopes his book prompts people who have never read the book to do so. I am relieved I am not the only one who has not read it!

This book is rich! It definitely is pushing me to read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ Before that happens, I will be renting the DVD version of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ and watching that again – it has been too long!

Mr. Litton describes the importance of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ upon its release and just as much so today:

It is a unique novel because of its continued relevance to readers. At the time of the book’s publication in 1960 (and the subsequent release of the Academy Award-winning movie), it rattled the establishment with its forthright and severe criticism of racism, and doubtless opened the eyes of average Americans, pushing the nation toward true civil rights for all its citizens. In fact, I believe it stands today, revered and often quoted, as a beacon pointing the way toward our continued pursuit for equality in the world. The novel has been described simply as the story of one man’s stand for racial justice, but we cannot ignore the many and valuable themes and lessons found in its pages. (p. 4)

To Kill a Mockingbird’ is full of biblically based themes:

Over the past few years I have come to ascertain something very spiritual about the themes veiled in the pages of this deeply familiar American novel. There are messages scribed here so bent with common sense, compassion, and grace, truths so deeply founded in our conscience as Americans, that they simply cry out to be unfolded. In many ways, the book was born of Atticus Finch’s celebrated pronouncement that people can never truly understand others unless they somehow climb into their skin and walk around in it. This decree for true compassion is the foundational message of the novel, and similarly an attribute that is a principal charge of faith. (p. 9)

Mr. Litton describes what he would like to accomplish with this book:

You and I – neighbors, Christians – we are the only vehicle for God’s reconciliation of the world. There is no backup plan. I hope these parables will help you rediscover what it means to be a good neighbor – and to experience the gospel message retold in modern language, unobscured by religious dogma. It is my hope that these parables may, in some small measure, play the role of a grandfather clock in the foyer of your faith. I am inviting you to take part in the story, in anticipation that it might aid you, as it has me, in imagining the possibilities and the hope of the gospel, questioning what it really means to be a person of faith in this world. (p. 14)

Mr. Litton breaks his book down into parables about the different aspects of the story: the character Boo Radley, Scout Finch, Atticus Finch, Tom Robinson, Miss Maudie and her azaleas, the Missionary Tea, as well as the topics of parenting, the Great Depression, and care for our neighborhood and the planet on which we reside. I will focus here on a few subjects of most interest to me.  

I was intrigued to read how Mr. Litton equated the character of Boo Radley with God. He equates how Boo leaves gifts for the children in the knot of a tree to how God pursues us:

I am finding that God works in the same way. When we take the time to observe the day a little more like children do, with a little more inquisitiveness, we begin to see the gifts that God leaves for us in the midst of our routines. God has positioned gifts in the knotholes along the way of my journey in so many distinctive ways: a deer running in front of me on an afternoon walk, a dove flying alongside me on a bike ride, the silence of the Andes mountains in Peru, or a simple but beautiful moment with my family. The knotholes are present at eye level in each of our daily lives; it is up to us to take the time to catch the glint from the tinfoil. “Long before we first heard of Christ…he had his eye on us, had designs on us” (Eph. 1:11 MSG). (pp. 25-26)

I also gleaned a lot from the chapter entitled ‘The Parable of Scout Finch: The Role of Women in Faith.’ Being a female, I have always been interested in the role of women in Christianity, and the role that women are expected to play in our society as a whole. Mr. Litton made the point that women played a significant role in the early Christian church:

The early church saw no issue with women holding positions of power – and “slave women,” at that! I am saddened to see women pastors, phenomenal speakers and leaders, who dedicate themselves to a denomination only to be relegated to less significant roles. I often wonder what the history of the church would look like if women had played a more prominent role in leadership. How many wars fought in the name of our peaceful faith could have been averted by the nurturing strength, the divine vision, and the holy compassion of women? What about the women who were leaders in the spread of the New Testament church – women like Lydia, who heard the gospel and became a key component of the church, or Junias, whom Paul called “outstanding among the apostles” (Rom 16:7 NIV)? How can we pretend as people of faith that it is biblical to hand authority only to men as “head of the household”? How can we exclude the voices of women from our pulpits? As Eugene Peterson comments in his introduction to Galatians, “When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they often do is turn it into an instrument for controlling others, either putting them or keeping them ‘in their place.’” (pp. 73-74)

Strong words, indeed! And I have to argue with every one of them.

He also points out that we still live in a very patriarchal society:

The neighborhood scold, Mrs. Dubose, who takes pleasure in screaming insults at the children from her front porch, also constantly questions Scout about why she wears overalls instead of a dress and camisole. The requirements of entrance into the world of women might sound a bit outdated, but they are, at their heart, the same as today’s message to women. It is a call to conform, to submit, to be tempered, and to be defined by the dogma of culture and religion. Although different words are used now, our patriarchal society’s discomfort with women’s divine strength is still very evident. Take a moment to consider the superlatives used to praise women, and what feminine qualities are exalted and valued in our modern culture. Most involve denying strength and holding fast to appearance, and as you go down the list, you will notice they are all very superficial. This is nothing new. I read recently that Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the strongest women in the history of American politics, was asked in an interview near the end of her life whether she had any regrets. Her response was heartbreaking. This woman who had dedicated herself to helping others responded that her only regret was that she had never been pretty. She had been harassed by others (including her own family) and all of her life she had been called “granny” and “the ugly duckling.” The media shamed her for her appearance. Rather than celebrating her strengths, journalists and even her family accosted her for the way she looked. (pp. 67-68)

Anyone that knows me also knows that I love being outdoors, no matter the weather. Mr. Litton opines on how God’s Creation features prominently in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird:’

I often wonder if we can maintain a healthy soul without finding quiet time outdoors. I love that the secretive Boo Radley uses a tree to communicate with the Finch children. Scout and Jem notice the gifts left for them by Boo Radley in the knothole of an oak tree they must pass by every day on their way to and from school. For me, creation is a direct reflection of God, and it is hard to imagine experiencing God without the beauty all around me. For a jog one Indian summer afternoon to a bike ride on a remote trail, nature is often the vocabulary God uses to speak to me. But I believe that Scripture points to the power of creation as a reflection of God too: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom 1:20 NIV). To experience nature is to witness the fullness of the presence of God; nature teaches us the glory of the Creator so that we may believe, and observing nature is a form of true worship. (p. 87)

In the closing pages of his book, Mr. Litton hopes that we would exemplify the actions of both Jesus and Atticus Finch when it comes to our words:

It is my hope that we would all be profoundly aware of the capacity of our language to help or to heal those around us. In a culture enthralled with the power of the final say, enamored with the thrill of having the last word, captivated by the clout of being right, this ordinary lawyer from a small town in Alabama models for us something completely different. He presents an ethic of communicating that is more divine than we imagine at first glance. We speak of a God who put on human skin and walked around in it, a God of understanding and compassion who leaves the door open to relationship with us. We should always be vigilant to avoid using language that closes the doors of redemption to others. Atticus Finch affirms to us, and To Kill a Mockingbird reminds us, that it is the mission and deepest responsibility of the words we use to communicate hope, to spread truth, to be agents of grace and change to the hearts of our fellow men and women, and to speak God’s reality of compassion into the souls of our neighbors. (pp. 219-220)

I really enjoyed this book! It sent me in the direction of a classic novel, and it also points out some valuable truths about life. I love to read the interpretations of others, and appreciate Mr. Litton for sharing these with his readers.
You can order this book here.

This book was published by Tyndale House and provided by them for review purposes.

No comments:

Clicky Web Analytics