Second Sunday of odd-numbered months. All are welcome!

A lively book discussion group, sometimes led by special guests. Books are selected by members of the the group themselves. The group meets in person in Cathedral House Room 210 (the large conference room), and online via Zoom.

Contact Pearl McElheran with questions.

Contact Deborah Brown to get the Zoom link


NEXT MEETING

SUNDAY, JULY 14, 12:30–2 P.M., in Cathedral House Room 210

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

Second Sunday Book Group is reading My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, a novel published in 1972 that explores the competing demands of one's religious heritage and love of family versus one's own personal vision. In Asher Lev's case, it's the demands of Hassidic Judaism versus an avant-garde artistic vision. Potok is both a novelist and a rabbi. Does he suggest which side he's on? Should Asher Lev be freed from his obligations to God and family if those obligations require him to compromise his personal vision? Or is Asher Lev just a self-centered genius, for whom art is more important than any other relationship?

Contact Pearl McElheran with questions.


PAST MEETINGS

SUNDAY, JUNE 12, 12:30–2 P.M., in Cathedral House Room 210

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

For its June gathering, the Second Sunday Book Group is reading the award-winning book The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl (2006) by New York Times journalist and a Seattleite Timothy Egan. It chronicles the hopes of people who moved to the high plains and the Texas panhandle in search of a living or a fortune and the terrible retribution nature exacts when abused. The worst dust storm carried twice as much dirt as was dug out of the Panama Canal. The canal took seven years to dig; the storm lasted a single afternoon. From 1930–1935, nearly a million people left their farms, their dead animals, their stunted crops, and their destroyed towns. Thousands died from inescapably swallowing and inhaling the swirling topsoil. Some stayed; some survived; some were heroes. This is a cautionary tale about trifling with nature.

Contact Pearl McElheran with questions.

SUNDAY, MARCH 10, 12:30–2 P.M., in Cathedral House Room 210

Yet in the Dark Streets Shining: A Palestinian Story of Hope and Resilience in Bethlehem by Bishara Awad and Mercy Aiken

For a different view of Palestinians in the West Bank, the Book Group has chosen Yet in the Dark Streets Shining: A Palestinian Story of Hope and Resilience in Bethlehem by Bishara Awad and Mercy Aiken for the March discussion. Sometimes, as Brian McLaren writes, "the best way to learn the story of a people or an era of history is to learn the story of one person or family." Awad was nine years old in 1948, when Israel became a state and about 750,000 Palestinians were dispossessed. Awad relates family struggles but also the deep faith of his evangelical Christian mother who taught her children to opt for peace, not revenge. Through help from Christian missionaries, Bishara received a university education in the US, eventually returning to the West Bank to found Bethlehem Bible College, which is still operating today. This book is an excellent look at the lived experience of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, especially of its Christian community.

Contact Pearl McElheran with questions.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 14, 12:30–2 P.M., in Cathedral House Room 210

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Next up for discussion in the Second Sunday book group is Barbara Kingsolver’s 2022 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Demon Copperhead. Set in the Appalachian hills of Kentucky, it’s Kingsolver’s version of Dickens’ David Copperfield. Institutional poverty is still with us, Kingsolver says, and she shares the outrage Dickens felt as she tells her story of a trailer park kid, born to an unwed mother, who ends up in a foster care system that repeatedly fails to serve the children it was supposed to protect. Her book is dedicated to “the kids who wake up hungry in those dark places every day, who’ve lost their family to poverty and pain pills, whose caseworkers keep losing their files, who feel invisible, or wish they were.” Kingsolver always has a message, but she also knows how to tell a good story.

Contact Pearl McElheran with questions.

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 12:30–2 P.M., in Cathedral House Room 210 or online via Zoom.

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

Elif Shafak’s 2021 novel The Island of Missing Trees, set in late 20th century Cyprus through to present-day London, explores the physical, psychological, and moral cost of the long conflict between Turkish and Greek Cypriots on its citizens and on the environment. Shafak exhibits a passion for an endangered natural world that possesses wisdom the human world lacks. The novel is framed around London high school student Ada’s attempts to learn about her parents’ past on Cyprus and what drove them to emigrate. She is angry about their silence until she discovers the hardships, violence, betrayals, and impossible choices faced not only by her parents but by generations of Cypriots. Much of the novel is narrated by a fig tree that is central to the story and has seen everything. Shafak is an award-winning British-Turkish novelist whose works have been translated into 55 languages.

Contact Pearl McElheran with questions.

Contact Deborah Brown to get the Zoom link.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 12:30–2 P.M., in Cathedral House Room 210 or online via Zoom. (Note that the September meeting will be on the third Sunday, due to the Ministry Fair on September 10.)

Preparing for War: The Extremist History of White Christian Nationalism—and What Comes Next

For their September gathering, participants of the Saint Mark's Second Sunday Book Group have selected Preparing for War: The Extremist History of White Christian Nationalism—and What Comes Next (2023) by Bradley Onishi. Onishi, who once served as a youth minister in a mega-white evangelical church, writes about White Christian Nationalism (WCN) as someone once on the inside. He focuses on the latter half of the twentieth century up to the present and draws a direct line from Barry Goldwater's "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," to the January 6 insurrectionists. WCN, he writes, prioritizes white supremacy over a multi-racial democracy, the male as the natural head of the household over equality of the sexes, and the belief that America was founded as a Christian nation over religious tolerance. A common slogan within QAnon conspiracy groups is "it's our nation, not theirs." The January 6 insurrection was not their last stand. If WCN is not dismantled, Onishi warns, our democracy will not be preserved.

Contact Pearl McElheran with questions.

Contact Deborah Brown to get the Zoom link.

SUNDAY, JULY 9, 12:30–2 P.M., in Cathedral House Room 210 or online via Zoom.

Out of the Ashes: A Story of Recovery and Hope

“For God’s sake Mrs. Crotty, you went to Harvard, it’s in your chart from your last stay, you should be able to answer these questions.” But she couldn't. Neither she nor her family could understand what was happening to her; nor could her doctors until she was finally admitted to the Menninger Clinic (Houston) where she was properly diagnosed and given treatment for her bipolar disease. She writes that no recovery is ever final but she now knows what to watch for and what medications to take. A few years ago she moved from Texas to Seattle and is now a Saint Mark’s parishioner. She led a Cathedral Commons forum in March about the issues in the book—you can watch a video of the forum here—but this is an opportunity to engage with the book itself. She will be present at to the July 9 book discussion to share her experience. She wants to help remove the stigma that often surrounds mental illness and give others, who may have friends or family or may themselves be suffering from mental illness, hope.

Note: In May there was a mix-up regarding the Zoom link, and the Zoom option was unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience, and Zoom will again be an option on July 9.

Contact Pearl McElheran with questions.

Contact Deborah Brown to get the Zoom link.

SUNDAY, MAY 21, 12:30–2 P.M., in Cathedral House Room 210 or online via Zoom.

(Note that the May meeting has been moved to the third Sunday of the month, due to Mother's Day.)

The Faith Club

Three women, a Muslim, a Jew, and a Christian begin a conversation. The genesis wasn’t a worn out joke but the earnest desire to write a children’s book to teach their own children tolerance in the wake of 9/11. They discovered they had a lot to learn themselves about differences and similarities of the Abrahamic faiths and about their own prejudices and, yes, even about their own faith. They began a series of conversations, each one keeping their own journal; The Faith Club (2006) by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner is the result of those meetings. The conversations were not always easy but they were always honest. It is likely that these conversations will make you discover more honestly what you believe.

Contact Pearl McElheran with questions.

Contact Deborah Brown to get the Zoom link.

SUNDAY, MARCH 12, 2023, 12:30–2 P.M., in person in Room 210, and online via Zoom

A Thousand Splendid Suns

The Seattle Opera is staging the world premiere of an opera based on Khaled Hosseini’s 2007 novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, so Saint Mark’s Book Group is reading or re-reading it, with many planning to see the opera. “There has never been a more important time for this story to be taking the stage,” opera's Afghani director remarked. Undoubtedly, he is referencing the subjection of women under Taliban rule which is the focus of Hosseini’s book... and again a reality in Afghanistan today. The presence of the Popal family, currently living as our guests on the cathedral property, brings this reality even closer. The novel is a horrific story of family violence but also of sacrifice and hope. It’s moving and melodramatic and operatic. You do not need to see the opera in order to participate in the discussion of the novel.

Contact Pearl McElheran with questions.

Contact Deborah Brown to get the Zoom link.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 8, 2023, 12:30–2 P.M., in person in Room 210, and online via Zoom

Indigenous Theology and the Western Worldview: A Decolonized Approach to Christian Doctrine

Indigenous Theology and the Western Worldview: A Decolonized Approach to Christian Doctrine (2022) by Randy Woodley, is the book Saint Mark’s Book Group has chosen for its January discussion. Its title may sound formidable but Woodley's writing is accessible and conversational style. As a citizen of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma and a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary, Dr. Woodley is grounded both in Indigenous and in Western worldviews. He explains key differences in these two theological views, how colonialization has shaped Christianity, and argues that Indigenous worldviews are closer to Jesus' teachings than the Western/European version. This book was recommended by Dr. Mary Crist during her recent visit, and it’s very complementary to the workshop that Dr. Hillary Raining, our theologian-in residence, led in November.

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2022, 12:30–2 P.M., in person in Room 210, and online via Zoom

Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia

The Second Sunday Book Group is reading Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia by Anne Garrels. Although written in 2016, Garrels' insights still help us understand today's Russia and why its people cling to Putin. She writes not about St. Petersburg or Moscow but about Putin Country, the heartland, where people are less educated, less sophisticated, and less wealthy than urban dwellers. They are also older and religious fundamentalists. Unchanged is the tight bond Putin has shrewdly formed with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church and the scapegoating of the West, especially America, for Russia's ills. Garrels also helps us understand how the Russian gloomy sense of fatalism and its high rate of governmental corruption and general alcoholism has poisoned Russian society. Garrels was fluent in Russian, lived in Russia as a foreign correspondent for many years, and knew the people well. A very insightful book.

Contact Pearl McElheran with questions.

Contact Deborah Brown to get the Zoom link.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2022, 12:30–2 P.M., in person in Room 210, and online via Zoom

My Old Kentucky Home: The Astonishing Life and Reckoning of an Iconic American Song

Saint Mark's Book Group is reading My Old Kentucky Home: The Astonishing Life and Reckoning of an Iconic American Song (2022) Emily Bingham. From its enormous success in 1853, Bingham traces this song about a slave being sold downriver to a cruel future to its transformation into a celebration of happy plantation life. The reception and interpretation reveals a nation's disconnect between history and warped illusion. "Stephen Foster," writes Bingham, "gave its victim a voice that sings pain into nostalgia. Millions and millions of people have sung along." Bingham describes herself as a "privileged white Kentuckian" descended from people who owned people." Her family name in Kentucky was a synonym for "liberal," yet she had her own awakening about her state's home song. She says this book is her attempt to scrub the song of decades of nostalgia and confront what is underneath. Because the annual homecoming event at Saint Mark's is held on the second Sunday in September, the group has moved its event to one week later for this month only. .

Contact Pearl McElheran with questions.

Contact Deborah Brown to get the Zoom link.

SUNDAY, JULY 10, 2022, 12:30–2 P.M., in person in Room 210, and online via Zoom

Migrations

For its July meeting, Saint Mark's Book Group is reading Migrations, (2020) by Australian writer Charlotte McConaghy. It's an adventure story, a personal quest for belonging, and perhaps climate fiction... or maybe not.

Set in the perhaps not too distant future, Migrations imagines a world when almost all birds, fish, and wildlife are extinct, destroyed by climate change, human indifference and human greed. An unsettling protagonist, with a natural affinity for the sea and for birds, sets out to follow the world's last flock of Arctic terns from Greenland to Antarctica. It's an elegiac story of personal and global disaster, a kind of modern version of Moby Dick—obsessed characters and powerful prose but also a story that offers a little bit of hope.

SUNDAY, MAY 8, 2022, 1 P.M. to 2:30 P.M., in person in Room 210, and online via Zoom

Souls in the Hands of a Tender God: Stories of the Search for Home and Healing on the Streets

Perhaps as an antidote to our last book on the history of homelessness in Seattle, St. Mark's book group chose Craig Rennebohm's Souls in the Hands of a Tender God: Stories of the Search for Home and Healing on the Streets (2008). Rennebohm, a United Church of Christ minister and director (at the time) of The Mental Health Chaplaincy, tells stories of the homeless, mentally ill, and the marginalized to whom companionship and grace, when extended, made belonging and healing possible. Of Rennebohm, one training expert wrote, "You are unlikely to find a better portrayal of what it means to truly love your neighbor as yourself." Jonathan Edwards is nowhere to be found in these pages. Kae Eaton, Saint Mark's community member and current director of the Mental Health Chaplaincy program, will join the conversation.

SUNDAY, MARCH 13, 2022, 1 P.M. to 2:30 P.M., in person in Room 210, and online via Zoom

Skid Road: On the Frontier of Health and Homelessness in an American City

We've chosen Josephine Ensign's Skid Road: On the Frontier of Health and Homelessness in an American City (2021) for our March 13 discussion. Ensign, a professor in the School of Nursing of the University of Washington, informs us that Seattle has the third highest homeless population in the United States and, per capita, probably the highest.

How can we reconcile Seattle as a progressive city with a city where homelessness is such a large, growing, and deeply entrenched problem? Ensign traces the history of how Seattle has dealt with the homeless by focusing on mostly unknown, forgotten people in different eras in its history, starting with Angeline, Chief Seattle's daughter, made homeless by colonialism and white supremacy. It's a fact-filled, no nonsense book that explores the intersection between homelessness and ill-health and public policy. Finding solutions, Ensign shows, is not easy. Neither, she hopes, is it impossible.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 9, 2022, 1 P.M. to 2:30 P.M., in person in Room 210, and online via Zoom

See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love

Sikh, activist, attorney, feminist, film maker, and author: that’s Valarie Kaur. She became an activist in the wake of 9-11. She's a Stanford graduate, has a degree from Harvard Divinity School, a law degree from Yale, and is film maker. A close friend of her family was killed in the first hate crime after 9-11. His crime: he was wearing his customary turban. See No Stranger is a practical guide for healing ourselves and changing the world—a synthesis of the wisdom of sages and faith traditions, as well as a personal and communal story. It’s more than high-minded pie in the sky. It’s practical and a worthy companion to Presiding Bishop Currie’s Love Is the Way and our parish’s discussions on Lament. Her book has been praised by liberal evangelicals, rabbis, scholars, and activists alike. “Forgiveness is not forgetting,” she writes. “Neither is it a substitute for justice.”

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2021, 1:30 P.M., in person in Room 210, and online via Zoom

The River that Made Seattle: A Human and Natural History of the Duwamish

In this short, meticulously researched book, B.J. Cummings recounts the story of the Duwamish River: beginning with the diverse 1000s-year-old Indigenous populations who lived along the river that sustained them to the arrival of the first White settlers and then to the diverse newly arrived immigrants that today have settled near or along this river in South Park.

It’s a story about social and environmental justice (or the lack thereof), business interests, and politics. As Cummings writes, “The choices we have made about how we use our rivers reflect the values of the governing bodies of our cities . . . at the moments when those choices were made.”

 

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 19 26. 2021, 1 P.M., via Zoom

NOTE: moved to the THIRD Sunday of the month, due to the Ministry Fair on September 12.

Now moved again, to the FOURTH Sunday, due to the funeral of Matt Briggs.

We'll discuss Louise Erdrich's The Night Watchman (2020), the story of one man's determination to defeat a Congressional attempt to abrogate treaties between Native American nations and the U.S. government. The event is real, although the characters Erdrich creates in her story are fictional. However, the "night watchman" of the story is based on Erdrich's grandfather, who did enlist members of his Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe to help oppose House Concurrent Resolution 108 in 1953.

Through the many characters Erdrich introduces, she shows us the values and characteristics of tribal life: the symbiotic relationship between the Indigenous people and the natural world, their poverty but their love for their culture and traditions. She has fun with the uptight Mormon missionaries whose religious beliefs make little sense to their native spirituality. Each of her many characters widens our sense of the Indigenous life of the Chippewa (Ojibwe).

 

SUNDAY, JULY 11, 2021, 1 P.M., via Zoom

The Language of God (2006) by Francis Collins.

Director of the National Institute of Health. Collins' book, published the same year as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, is indicative of the ongoing attacks religious beliefs were facing from some popular scientists and other religious skeptics. As a former religious skeptic, Collins takes on skeptics, those who are hostile to religious beliefs, and what he believes to be unscientific religious beliefs to argue that faith in God and faith in science need not be at odds with each other. Although not a recent book, it may still be relevant when the loudest voices in the rooms now seem to be deriding science, not religion. Collins is most famous for directing the project that mapped the entire 3.1 billion letter code of the human DNA, and for being Dr. Fauci's boss.

SUNDAY, MAY 16, 2021, 1 P.M., via Zoom 

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson

In her Pulitzer Prize-winning first book, The Warmth of Other Suns, Wilkerson tells the story of the migration of Black Americans from the south to the north, the midwest, and the west in search of a more promising future. In this her second book, she explains why that better future was/is so difficult to obtain. She attributes to caste rather than to race the hierarchy that defines the inequality in American society, making comparisons to the caste system in India and in Nazi Germany. It’s a pretty unrelenting look at “American exceptionalism.” It should force a reckoning of the deeply embedded, and mostly unacknowledged, ordering of American society.

SUNDAY, MARCH 14, 2021, 1 P.M., via Zoom

Two Books by Phyllis Tickle: The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why and Emergence Christianity

In a sweeping overview of church history, Tickle shows that about every 500 years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale of ideas once held inviolable. The birth of Christianity from Judaism and the 16th-century Reformation are just two examples. But what emerges from these upheavals, although alarming then, has been a new, vital and more widespread form of Christianity, this book argues. We're at such a point now, Tickle writes, then goes on to discuss the multiple social and cultural changes that have led us to this point. What might the new emergent Church look like, and where might it be headed?

SUNDAY, JANUARY 10, 2021, 1 P.M., via Zoom

For All Who Hunger: Searching for Communion in a Shattered World by Emily M.D. Scott

As a recent graduate of Yale Divinity School and liturgist for a large church in NYC, Emily Scott heard church leaders grapple with how to get people to church. What, she wondered, if we took the church to the people. Can we make a place for those who never felt at home in church? "For All Who Hunger: Searching for Communion in a Shattered World" is her attempt to find an answer. She began a church where dinner, literally not symbolically, was at the heart of the worship experience in various makeshift venues in NYC, finally settling in the midst of public housing. In came a few homeless, a few misfits, a few divinity students, and a few of the lonely. She counts herself among the latter. Scott gives us a very personal, moving and, perhaps, unconventional story of church and faith.