Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Kruse's Keys: Read "The Gendarme" to Learn About a Forgotten Genocide (Turkey/Armenia)

Mark Mustian’s The Gendarme is a difficult book to stomach.  Its protagonist is an Ottoman gendarme who slaughtered Armenian men and women during the 1915 genocide.  Along the way, he also falls in love with one of the Armenian deportees–a love that remains unconsummated and seemingly unrequited over the course of more than 70 years.  

In a surprising feat, the author turns an outright villain into an almost-sympathetic old man by giving him a battlefield head injury during the war which wipes out most of his memories. It’s only in his 90’s as he discovers that he has a brain tumor that his memory starts to return in graphic dream-seizures.  He’s spent the last 70 years knowing in his guts that he committed some manner of horrific crimes but unable to recall what he actually did. Equally haunting him is the memory of Araxie, the Armenian woman that he saved and loved and lost.  The novel unfolds as the old man descends into near madness grappling with a past that lies just at the edges of his memory.  


Stories of history’s genocides are vitally important to read and remember.  While the Turkish government doesn’t acknowledge the deaths of more than a million Armenians as genocide, the US government finally did in President Biden’s April 2021 statement on Armenian Remembrance Day.  While he couched his statement by referring to the genocide perpetrators as Ottomans instead of Turks (to be clear–this was factually accurate since Turkey did not become ‘Turkey” until 1923), he was the first President to officially name it (Presidents Reagan and Obama referred to it but never issued an official statement).  


Naming evil is important–whether it’s in own’s one country–or elsewhere around the globe. We must not shy away from it because of our own imperfect (often atrocious) history. If anything, our own history makes it even more important to study history broadly, to give a voice to the voiceless, to stand up for the downtrodden, to remember the forgotten.  Novels play an important role in this pursuit–they place us firmly in the smells, sights, and sounds of history–they immerse us in past lives and allow us to tread in their footsteps.  Novels like “The Gendarme” bring numbers and dates to life, and to paraphrase Tim O’brien, indelibly imprint in us the ghosts and memories and burdens of all the things they carried.


Related reading:
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native American from 1890 to Present

References:

Statement by President Joe Biden on Armenian Remembrance Day | The White House

NPR Article on Biden's Statement

How Genocide is Defined and Why It's Difficult to Prove

Literature review of Armenian Genocide fiction

The kernel that let to "Sandcastle Girls"


Key Quotes:


Page 20

All things must come. Death has always been waiting.

Page 39

They are all so superior, these Armenians, so prone to condescension, boastful of their education, miserly and clannish, worshipping their God in their little round churches. Better than us—I heard one now-dead deportee proclaim the empire’s demise without Armenian bankers, lawyers, merchants, and traders. Yet if the Armenians are so smart and the Turks so stupid, how have we arrived at the current situation? Power will dictate, just as in nature, just as in battle. Just as it will tonight.

Page 47

The Armenians are our enemies, allies of the Russians, who have attacked

Page 47

Though I have played with Armenian children, worn shoes stitched by an Armenian cobbler, even been treated once by an Armenian doctor, I do not trust their race or kind. They are devious, all of them, sneaky and cunning, as prone to knife or swindle or trick you as not. Painful as it might be, separation

Page 94

all one’s life looking forward, until at some point a clock shifts and there is more past than future.

Page 120

citadel, stacked layer upon layer over ancient buildings and cultures, was supposedly large enough to house a garrison of ten thousand, supposedly stormed only once, in 1400, by Tamerlane.

Page 121

Aleppo means “milk” in Arabic, testament to the fabled stopover by Abraham on his way to Canaan, the milking of his cow on the citadel hill—Abraham, father of Isaac, father of Ishmael, grandfather to us all.

Page 204

I look back on life now, in America. Where all things are possible, but not guaranteed.

Page 208

My mother always says that indifference is the greatest cruelty. I try not to be indifferent.”

Page 236

am alone here. Are they not also alone? Alone in our hells with no floor.

Page 261

What if Araxie had been in another caravan? What if Carol had been assigned to a different ward? What if the British had left me, had not mistaken me for one of their own? The things that changed the course of my life—the war, the deportations, the injury—all carrying me with them like a seed in the wind. The deaths. America, working.

Page 281

The point of the story seemed to be that to think is to forget, to filter from the mind the unnecessary. I have told myself this, repeated it to myself. I have called it our gift from God. This headlong, heedless survival.”

Page 281

each time we remember, we change the thing remembered in the smallest of ways.

Page 282

Although their purpose is for seeing, they allowed me only to be seen. In the end, I was not ungrateful for blindness.

Page 282

And for that I ask your forgiveness.” Another silence intrudes. I clear my throat again, shuffle my feet. She asks for forgiveness, when I am the monster.

Page 283

“I’ve always found it interesting that there is no blood test—nothing that I know of—to distinguish Armenians from Turks, Christians from Muslims, saints from sinners, the good from the bad. In the end, who really knows—maybe God? I find it funny that the people at my job called me ‘Turk.’

Page 283

But we were right, Ahmet, about America, about its beauty, its opportunity. Here you can change your name, alter your identity, construct the someone you wanted to be.

Page 287

There is the thrill—the old thrill—of being with her, of freedom.

Page 294

Remembering is living. Forgetting, as Ahmet Khan learns, has its costs.

Page 294

Decades on, even centuries on, our shared history remains vital, the connection, however tenuous, to some tribal sense of before. Time stretches and calms, but still we reach, for we belonged then. We want to know. Sometimes that knowledge is painful, or inconvenient, or even damning. But it is essential. It exposes us for what we have been, and can be.


Monday, July 11, 2022

Kruse's Keys: Read "In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership" to Discover God's First Love

Father Henri Nouwen taught for 20 years at Harvard, Notre Dame, and Yale but began to feel his own spiritual death developing (what many Christian leaders may identify as burnout). So he prayed a simple–but very brave–prayer: “Lord, show me where you want me to go and I will follow you, but please be clear and unambiguous about it!” And God called him away from a prestigious teaching career to l’Arche Daybreak-–a community in Ontario where people with and without intellectual communities live together in homes and do life together. Henri suddenly found himself in a place where only his “vulnerable self” was valued (not his degrees, books, and accomplishments). Henri derived In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership from a series of speeches that he gave on what he saw as the future of Christian leadership. Warning: this is not an easy feel-good devotional style book–it is gut-wrenching in its challenge to Christians.


In the book he uses Christ’s temptation to address three temptations that the Christian leader must reject:

1. The temptation to be relevant
2. The temptation to be spectacular
3. The temptation to be powerful

Practically, this means leaders must choose love over power, the cross over control, and being led over being a leader. Leaders must seek a path toward downward mobility–becoming less and less and more and more in love with God. Henri asserts that the primary way leaders can do this is through contemplative prayer which shifts a Christian’s from the moral to the mystic. He doesn’t get into what contemplative prayers means beyond that it is union with God in prayer (a phrase that is also the original meaning of the word theology). Ultimately this pursuit will lead the believer to a cherishing of God’s first love (i.e., Jesus–”because he first loved us).   This pursuit will also better enable Christian to answer the call to "love one another"--something that Henri shares is primary done through confession and forgiveness--this isn't a notion that would likely occurs to most leaders. That Jesus-focused relationship–a deep and intimate one must be the primary pursuit of the future Christian leader.

Looking for book ideas? Check out our 20222021202020192018201720162015 and 2014 reading lists!

Kruse's Notes:

10 Ask yourself: “has becoming older brought me closer to Jesus?”

11 “Burnout” = convenient psychological translation for a spiritual death

11 “Lord, show me where you want me to go and I will follow you, but please be clear and unambiguous about it!”

17 the future christian leader is called to be completely irrelevant with only his vulnerable self to offer.

Idea of God’s first love

23-24 After rising from the dead, Jesus asks Peter quite simply–do you love me?

25 Knowing the heart of God means knowing his “first love”--”Let us love, because he first
loved us.” 1 John 4:19. All other love is conditional and broken–he calls this “second Love”.

28 contemplative prayer = dwelling in the God’s presence. It reinforces our place and our worth and our value in a world that seeks to distract. It’s answering God’s continual question: Do you love me?

30 Theology–original meaning was “union with God in prayer”

31 Discipline of contemplative prayer leads to a permanent, intimate relationship with Jesus which yields words, advice, and guidance needed by leaders.

31 Dealing with the ‘burning issues’ of the day without being rooted in a relationship with Jesus can lead to divisiveness.

32 Fruitful Christan leader leadership requires a movement from the moral to the mystical.

17-18 Temptation to be “relevant” (i.e., turn stones into bread)

38 Temptation to be spectacular (i.e., throw yourself down and let the angels catch you)

55 Temptation to be powerful (i.e., Satan will give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world)

56 letting go of power and allowing yourself to be led

40 We are sent out two by two–called to share the gospel together

45 biblical leadership is squarely servant-leadership

46 Confession (our own brokenness) and forgiveness are the primary concrete ways that we, as Christians, love each other

59 “power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love…easier to be God than to love God.

60 Choose love over power, the cross over control, and being led over being a leader

60 Leaders often choose power instead of intimacy in relationships

62 Christian leaders are called to downward mobility

62 Jesus’ definition of maturity as willingness to be led where you don’t want to go.

73 Praying leader, vulnerable leader, trusting leader

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Kruse's Keys: Read "The Long Walk Home" to Be Reminder of a Father's Compassion

In The Long Walk Home: Discovering the Fullness of Life in the Love of the Father, pastor Matt Carter uses the biblical story of the prodigal son to grapple with the idea of faith in a broader church community where youth are struggling with depression in record numbers and leaving the church in droves once they reach adulthood.  Carter’s central thesis is that as believers we need to taste Jesus’ love in a personal way within an authentic community.  The biggest barrier to that?  Sin–which separates and divides.  The author is quick to point out however, that we often fall prey to thinking more highly of our sin than God’s love and forgiveness–in other words we dwell on sin that’s already been forgiven and let that weigh us down.  He offers a model prayer for confessing sin that reframes a Christian’s approach from asking for forgiveness to agreeing with God that you did sin and acknowledging that we’ve already been forgiven.  Here’s the prayer in its entirety:


God I confess and agree that what I did was wrong and is contrary to your nature, and 

because you are a faithful and just God, I know you have forgiven me. Please help me live my life in light of your amazing love for me.


This mode of confession seeks to bolster our faith as it puts us in the position to take God at his word.  “God loves it when His people believe him” Carter asserts and this is truly the simplest definition of faith.  The one time in the Bible that Jesus “marvels,” came when a Roman soldier took Jesus at his word and told him that he didn’t need to physically visit his ailing servant but could just speak the words and he’d be healed. 


The book closes by highlighting perhaps Jesus’ most amazing attribute: compassion.  As the prodigal son returns home, we see a father looking for his son “from a long way off” with “compassion.”  Previous to reading this, I most often thought of God being disappointed in my failures–but never feeling compassion.  Jesus comes along side of us and feels our failures acutely–indeed he’s already felt their weight on the cross weighing him down. And those failures have been finished (tetelestai) and left behind on the cross.  There’s a comfort in knowing that our God isn’t waiting for us on his throne to come groveling back to him, but he’s out in the field waiting and looking for us.


For more on the parable of the Prodigal Son, read my review of Tim Keller's Prodigal God here.


Looking for book ideas? Check out our 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014 reading lists!

Notes:

16 One reason kids walk away from the church–not having tasted Jesus’ love in a personal 

way.

20 Kids walk away because of the lack of an authentic community

24 That we’re missing out on life is a lie from hell

28 “We’re literally dying from despair.”  From Sen Sasse Them book on declining average 

lifespan in U.S.  https://www.amazon.com/Them-Hate-Each-Other-Heal/dp/1250193680 

31 the world needs ordinary people who will go “all-in”

52 The one time in the Bible that Jesus “marveled”--when the Roman soldier came to Jesus 

for healing of his servant.  And he told Jesus he didn’t need him to come see the servant–he just needed to say the word!  “God loves it when His people believe him.”  This is the simplest definition of faith.  

63 Lingering after noticing someone’s attractiveness can lead to temptation to lust and then 

sin.  Sin then is a matter of your focus.

86 We all–that is mankind–has a Jesus-shaped void in our hearts–that’s what it means in 

Ecc 3:11 when it says God has put eternity in our hearts.

132 Sin creates a separation and divides

149 Model prayer for confessing our sin: 

God I confess and agree that what I did was wrong and is contrary to your nature, and 

because you are a faithful and just God, I know you have forgiven me. Please help me live my life in light of your amazing love for me.”

154-55 John Piper was asked on a panel if there was anything that made him doubt God.  His 

answer was “slowness of his sanctification.” Even this great pillar of the Christian faith 

has self doubt!

159 “God is home to me.” 

160 When we allow our past confessed sin to keep us from coming home to God–we are 

thinking more highly of that sin than God’s love.

165 we should mourn our sin looking at the cross which paid for that sin.  

174 God is looking for us “from a long way off” and feels compassion.  I’ve always thought of 

God feeling disappointment in my failures but never compassion. 

187 Grace= receiving what we don’t deserve

Mercy= not receiving what we deserve


Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Kruse's Key: Read "SuperNova Era" to See a World Ruled by Children

I first encountered Chinese mega author Liu Cixin on then President Obama's reading list published in the New York Times here.  He recommended Cixin's Three Body Problem--a fantastic book that I reviewed here: Kruse's Keys: Read The Three-Body Problem" To Discover China's Top Sci-Fi Writer.  

Cixin published the Three-Body Problem several years after Supernova Era and it's reflective of his growth as a writer.  Put simply, Supernova Era is not as polished and developed as his later work. That said, I tore through this quick-paced narrative in a two days.  The premise is intriguing--a supernova event (I think that's what it is at least--the technical science in the book was way over this English major's head) occurs that kills off the entire adult population in a matter of months. A cycle of hope, order, chaos, war begins as the children harness technology to govern in ways both frightening and eye-opening.  

Looking for book ideas? Check out our 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014 reading lists!


Monday, May 30, 2022

Kruse's Keys: Read "An Italian Education" for Insight on Raising Children in Italy

Published a quarter of a century ago, many of Tim Parks’ observations from An Italian Education still ring true in 2022 Italy.  Chocked full of short vignettes that capture a Brit’s experience raising his bi-national children (his wife is Italian) in fair Verona, the book manages to walk the fine line of humor and self-deprecation without veering into snarkiness and offense.  As someone who has now lived in Italy for a year, I read Parks’ stories with the satisfaction of a clubby insider as I’ve witnessed first hand the over indulgent attitudes of parents with their children (usually only one or at the absolute max two) here and daily meet their gaping incomprehension of our five children!  

When we first moved here, shop owners, waiters, restauranteurs, and random strangers would often see our clan and comment “you know there’s these things called TVs?”  They thought it was hilarious and it got old quick so now we beat them to the punch, whenever, I catch an Italian counting our children with wide eyes who then inevitably blurts out “cinque bambini!”  I quickly respond “ehh, non abbiamo une televizione”  I’m telling you this joke KILLS–the Italian men especially LOVE it, there’s usually a 1-2 second pause as they register an American speaking Italian and then the punchline hits and you get the guffaw.  


An Italian Education describes the life of a family in northern Italy and some of Parks’ most poignant observations are those which show the delineation between the stifling order of the North with the bewildering chaos and joy of the South.  As an American family living deep in that southern culture here in Naples, I can attest to his experience first hand. Naples, in particular, carries its own distinct identity–from an American perspective it’s very Jersey shore, but I’ve heard Italians who’ve spent time in the U.S. describe it as redneck. Either way, it describes a particular unapologetic pride for its excesses (of tattoos, of jewelry, of makeup, of cigarettes, of chinstrap beards etc.) but also a sincerity and self-confidence in one's identity that can be equal parts endearing and frustrating. 


Looking for book ideas?  Check out our 20222021202020192018201720162015 and 2014 reading lists!

Key Quotes and Takeaways

68  Ponders the word cancello (“gate”)--and the way Italians use their gates to cancel out/erase/anual (“cancellare) the outside world from their home.


70 sogni d’oro (“dreams of gold”)


73 in bianco (“wide awake” literally in white) term used for sleepless nights with young infants


75  The brutal honesty of Italian lullabies: “you already make things so hard for your mother, she might end of thinking you don’t really love her”


93  che capitombolo (“what a tumble) term used for young children


94 In Italy, weeping is not something shameful but rather something savored.  Instead they draw it out and embellish it


147  In Italy it is dangerous to go against the grain of what is accepted and what falls inside the group mentality


170  mammismo (the idea of the power of the mamma over her son) in Italian culture is its abnormally and excessive attachment between mothers and their sons


175  fiscale (severely exacting in nature) is used often when complaining about parents being too strict


271-2  “This would never happen up north” is an idea on the backwardness of the southern half (below Rome) of Italy by the northerners.  Whereas southerners probably can’t handle to the germanic straight lines, order and heat of the north


274  stessa spiaggia, stesso mare  (same beach, same sea) describes the ideal summers for Italians where they go to the same exact place every year throughout their life.


312  In Pescara along the coast, he describes the “growing inertia” of immigration from Africa and the influx of men willing to do the exhausting, menial labor that Italians have retreated from.


323  caporetto is a term used to describe someone’s waterloo, or greatest public defeat. It’s used to describe a politician’s scandal for example.  Caporetto being the battle at which Luigi Cadorna suffered a great defeat as the Commander of the Italian Army in WWII.


Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Kruse's Keys: Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman

Today everyone knows the name Patagonia and on a cold winter day you can't go too far without seeing the familiar logo on someone's sweater or jacket.  But nearly 50 years ago, the global company was just we'd today call a side hustle--it's founder, Yvon Chouinard, focused on making better rock climbing gear that he started selling to enable his hobby and passion.  The memoir cum business blueprint 's prophetic title speaks to Yvon's quest for freedom as he sought (and continues to seek) to marry a love of the outdoor life with a way (i.e., a business) to fund and preserve that same environment.  

Looking for book ideas?  Check out our 20222021202020192018201720162015 and 2014 reading lists!

Key Quotes and Takeaways:

21  “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.” French aviator Antoine de Sainte-Exupery


42  “I’ve always thought of myself as an 80 percenter.  I like to throw myself passionately into a sport or activity until I reach about an 80 percent proficiency level. To go beyond that requires an obsession and degree of specialization that doesn’t appeal to me.  Once I reach that 80 percent level I like to go off and do something totally different; that probably explains the diversity of the Patagonia product line–and why our versatile, multifaceted clothes are the most successful. “


47 “Sometimes good ideas spring from having a sense of where you want to go, of having a vision of the next level of products.”


112 “Maintaining a sense of urgency throughout a company is one of the most difficult challenges in business.”  This particularly applies when your company/unit is depending on others who may not have that same sense of urgency or dedication.  Impossible is the lamest of excuses. 


114 Concurrent approach to design means bringing all the participants at the beginning of the design phase–it’s at this 10% of the costs are spent but coming out of it 90% of the total costs are permanently committed–it’s essential that you get it right at the onset. 


118  The idea of full partnership in business means all partners and suppliers are committed to the same standards.  


158  Culture of Patagonia rewards the ensemble player and doesn’t look for “stars”


172-3  “The most important mandate for a manager in a dynamic company is to instigate change…but change doesn’t happen without stress, and it can happen quickly.”


202  “You are what do, not what you say you are.”


208 It was activist John Muir who convinced Teddy Roosevelt.  


210-11 Patagonia supports Planned Parenthood


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

2022 Reading List

Looking for book ideas?  Check out our 2021202020192018201720162015 and 2014 reading lists!

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci.  This is Stanley Tucci's life told against the backdrop of food.  It brought to mind another truly great food memoir: Life is Meals by James and Kay Salter (it's my favorite book--by my favorite author--to give as a house warming gift or a thank you after someone hosts a particularly spectacular event).  Tucci's writing is rife with self-deprecating humor and gossipy details: who knew he and Ryan Reynolds were buddies?!  An added bonus for the reader are the numerous family recipes that he shares throughout.  

Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman.  Today everyone knows the name Patagonia and on a cold winter day you can't go too far without seeing the familiar logo on someone's sweater or jacket.  But nearly 50 years ago, the global company was just we'd today call a side hustle--it's founder, Yvon Chouinard, focused on making better rock climbing gear that he started selling to enable his hobby and passion.  The memoir cum business blueprint 's prophetic title speaks to Yvon's quest for freedom as he sought (and continues to seek) to marry a love of the outdoor life with a way (i.e., a business) to fund and preserve that same environment.  

The House of Sand and Fog. My daughter bought this National Book Award finalist novel for me at a thrift store and it sat next to my bed for several months.  When I finally started it, though, I finished it in days. Author Dubus can flat out write--he describes a aging husband's soaring heart as his wife leads him to the bedroom: "my heart was a flat stone moving over water and my breath was held like the boy counting the skips of his good fortune."  Author Dubus unwraps a tension-filled narrative that spans the spectrum of the American dream from the hope and promise of a new immigrant family to the crumbling discord of a marriage and family where the slighted children never emerge from the background...until it is too late.  It's a heart-breaking read that I'm reticent to recommend unless you are prepared to carry the story's sadness with you in the days after you finish.   

An Italian Education. Published a quarter of a century ago, many of Tim Parks’ observations from An Italian Education still ring true in 2022 Italy.  Chocked full of short vignettes that capture a Brit’s experience raising his bi-national children (his wife is Italian) in fair Verona, the book manages to walk the fine line of humor and self-deprecation without veering into snarkiness and offense.  As someone who has now lived in Italy for a year, I read Parks’ stories with the satisfaction of a clubby insider as I’ve witnessed first hand the over indulgent attitudes of parents with their children (usually only one or at the absolute max two) here and daily meet the gaping incomprehension of our five children!  My full review is here.

The Long Way Home: Discovering the Fullness of Life in the Father.  Pastor Matt Carter uses the biblical story of the prodigal son to grapple with the idea of faith in a broader church community where youth are struggling with depression in record numbers and leaving the church in droves once they reach adulthood. Carter’s central thesis is that as believers we need to taste Jesus’ love in a personal way within an authentic community. The book concludes by highlighting the supreme comfort in knowing that our God isn’t waiting for us on his throne to come groveling back to him when we fall short, but instead he’s out in the field waiting and looking for us from a long way off.  My full review is here.

In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian LeadershipFather Henri Nouwen taught for 20 years at Harvard, Notre Dame, and Yale but began to feel his own spiritual death developing (what many Christian leaders may identify as burnout). So he prayed a simple–but very brave–prayer: “Lord, show me where you want me to go and I will follow you, but please be clear and unambiguous about it!” And God called him away from a prestigious teaching career to l’Arche Daybreak-–a community in Ontario where people with and without intellectual communities live together in homes and do life together. Henri suddenly found himself in a place where only his “vulnerable self” was valued (not his degrees, books, and accomplishments). Henri derived the book from a series of speeches that he gave on what he saw as the future of Christian leadership. Warning: this is not an easy feel-good devotional style book–it is gut-wrenching in its challenge to Christians.  My full review is here

Transcendent Kingdom. In a depature from her grandiose deubt novel Homegoing, here the author chooses to focus on the life of one brilliant young scientist and her life as a daughter of Ghanaian immigrants who struggles with her identity as a black woman and as the daughter of a mother struggling with depression and sister of a brother battling addiction. Her identity quest is all filtered through her charismatic religious upbringing–which she left behind following her brother’s tragic overdose. To her credit, Gyasi refrains from both Christian and anti-religious stereotypes and treats both sides with a compassionate eye for detail and nuance.  My full review is here.

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native American from 1890 to Present. Review pending.

The Italians. Currently reading.

Tribe of Mentors.  My full review will be here.