Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
‘Hopeful and life-changing’ book from Barbara Taylor Brown; ‘Julie and Julia’ enjoyable, not great
by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register
(From the October 1, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
In a summer of lots of adventure and violent films, one film that tells a story of achievement and romance
stands out. That film is Nora Ephron’s Julie and Julia. The story of Julia Child’s (Meryl Streep) long journey
in writing her famous cook book of French recipes for Americans stands out more than the story of Julie Powell’s
(Amy Adams) year-long achievement of preparing all the recipes in Julia’s famous book.
Meryl Streep is outstanding as she brings the famed Julia Child to life. You can’t help with wanting the film
to keep coming back to Paris as Julia begins her journey in learning how to become a cook at the famed Cordon Bleu
school, where all of the other students are male. The relationship between Julia and her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci)
is told with humor, tenderness and respect.
In 1948 he and Julia arrive in Paris, where he is a cultural minister at the U. S. embassy, with a beautiful
apartment provided. Julia searches for an area where she can find meaning and enjoyment in her life. The eventual
result is the desire to learn to cook all the wonderful French meals she is experiencing, and then pass that
knowledge on in a cook book that would speak to Americans.
The other half of the film is not quite as interesting, but is done well as Julie is frustrated by her
“customer service” job in the South Manhattan Project right after the horror of 9/11. She has a supportive husband,
Eric (Chris Messina) who urges her to begin the year-long project of cooking all of Julia’s recipes. But there is
much humor and frustration as Julie struggles with her almost impossible task as she continues with her day job and
blogs her cooking adventures at night. She receives a book contract toward the end of her year-long endeavor. I
understand that Julie and Eric in real life got a divorce two years after she completed the project. The film at the
end says they are together today.
Julie and Julia is not a great film, but it is a very enjoyable film. Meryl Streep is certainly at the
top of the list of America’s greatest living actresses. She and Stanley Tucci beautifully portray married love with
lots of chemistry. Julie and Julia is a delight.
The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) because of
strong language and some sensuality. The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Julie and Julia A-III – for
Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest who teaches religious subjects at a small college in Georgia, has
an impressive new book out, titled An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith. It is published by Harper One
of San Francisco. In hardcover, the listed price is $24.99.
Taylor has written an interesting and
practical book of spiritual exercises for the average Christian. She writes using examples from her own life of a
spirituality built on the Incarnation that seeks reverence, roundedness, community, Sabbath rest, prayer, and
Two chapters that struck me as striking new ground and challenging the reader are “Breakthrough: Feeling
Pain,” and “Benediction.”
Louis L’Amour, famous for his novels of the Old West, is quoted: “There will come a time when you believe
everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” She says that the stories of journeys, whether of Moses,
Muhammad, or Jesus, all have significant realities of suffering and pain. Taylor writes, “Pain burned up the
cushions you used to keep from hitting bottom. Pain popped your clutch and shot you into the next gear. Pain landed
you flat in bed, giving you time to notice things you never slowed down enough to notice before.”
A fairly long section of the chapter on pain revolves around the Biblical story of Job. Near the end of the
chapter Taylor writes, “No one who is not in pain is allowed to give advice to someone who is. The only reliable
wisdom about pain comes from the mouths of those who suffer it, which is why it is so important to listen to them.
That way, when our turn comes, the rest of us will not be clueless. We will recognize at least some of the territory
and remember what those who went before us told us about what comes next.”
In her chapter on blessings, Taylor states her conviction that it is important that all of us give blessings
to others and to bless the things of our lives. She says, “To pronounce a blessing on something is to see it from the
divine perspective. To pronounce a blessing is to participate in God’s own initiative. To pronounce a blessing is
to share God’s own audacity.”
When her own father was dying, her husband was by his bedside. The two had gone on a camping trip which
ended when the son-in-law accidently tipped their canoe as he was getting out of it. Taylor’s father was dumped
into the river. At the father’s deathbed, her husband held the father’s hand on the son’s own head. The father moved
his lips. The daughter asked her husband what had just happened. Her husband said,” I asked him to give me his
Barbara Brown Taylor has given us all a great gift in her hopeful and life-changing book.
Some years ago I thoroughly enjoyed the expansive story of a small town Protestant pastor in Iowa. The book
was Marilynne Robinson’s compelling Gilead. The sweeping story of the John Ames family back to the Civil War,
with a grandfather who recruited for the Northern side and then a father who was a pacifist, was memorable. Beyond
the main plot there was the reflective life of John Ames himself as he realized he would be the last pastor of his
church because of a dwindling population.
Robinson’s new novel is Home, the
story of the family of John Ames’s best friend, Rev. Robert Boughton. The narrative is contemporary to the timeframe
of the first novel.
But this time I must admit to being disappointed. Robinson still writes with a jewel-like lyricism. The
story, however, is very narrow and small. We do learn from the Boughton family that John Ames is much more flawed
than we would have picked up in Gilead.
One example: Jack has been gone from Gilead for roughly 20 years and away from the practice of his religion.
He attends John Ames’s church for a Sunday Service. For some reason, Ames gives a “fire and brimstone” sermon that
Jack Boughton sees as a direct attack on himself.
If you have not read Gilead, all I can say is, I think it is life-changing book. Sadly, Home
is no Gilead.
Home is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux of New York with a 2008 copyright. In hardcover it has a
list price of $25.
(Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Officer and archivist for the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)
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