Thursday, February 22, 2018

"Going Out In Style: The Architecture Of Eternity"

With books such as "Stories In Stone: A Field Guide To Cemetery Symbolism And Iconography" and "Forever L.A.: A Field Guide To Los Angeles Area Cemeteries And Their Residents," Chico writer-photographer Douglas Keister has unearthed extraordinary tales of the dearly departed. His interest in funerary art began with a ground-breaking collaboration with Xavier Cronin, an editor at American Cemetery magazine, in a book first published in 1997.

A new edition is now available. "Going Out In Style: The Architecture Of Eternity" ($24.95 in hardcover from Echo Point Books & Media, features an introduction by Cronin and hundreds of Keister's full-color photographs and captivating captions. As a blurb notes, "mausoleums, statues, and memorials are a connection between the modern world and the generations that went before us."

"The word mausoleum," Cronin writes, "is derived from the name Mausolus, king of Halicarnassus, a great harbor city in the kingdom of Caria in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), whose tomb was a huge fortress build in 353 B.C. by Mausolus's wife Artemisia (who happened also to be his sister)." Some years later, in 1831, "the rise of the American mausoleum begins with our first 'rural' cemetery--Mount Auburn, just down the street from Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts."

Keister's chapters focus on architectural styles, what's inside the tombs, the depiction of humans in the cemetery, public buildings in the cemetery, and creative funerary arts (such as the Cogswell Monument in Oakland, a "70-foot granite obelisk crowned with a 10-inch rose crystal star and surrounded by curious carved stone sculptures" depicting Faith, Hope, Charity, and Temperance; dentist Henry Daniel Cogswell, who died in 1900, "was an ardent foe of demon rum").

Inside the Blocher Monument at Forest Lawn Cemetery in New York one can find a statue of Nelson Blocher, who passed away in 1884, "resting peacefully on his back," carved from "gleaming white Carrara marble." It's said Blocher died of a broken heart when his philanthropist father fired Blocher's true love, a maid who worked for ol' dad, who, "perhaps motivated by guilt," honored Blocher "with this eccentric memorial."

Who better to bring these stories to light than Keister, Chico's premier "crypt-ographer"?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

"Diverse Minds: North State Journal 2017"

According to its website, the Iverson Wellness and Recovery Center in Chico "is a group of men and women challenged by a variety of mental health, alcohol and drug issues." Iverson is a program of Northern Valley Catholic Social Service, supported by the Mental Health Services Act and Butte County Department of Behavioral Health.

Outreach Coordinator and Peer Assistant Andrea Wagner, with a degree in journalism from Chico State University, facilitates a writing group and a yearly compilation of work.

That project has expanded to encompass sixteen Northern California counties. "Diverse Minds: North State Journal 2017" ($7.10 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle), edited by Wagner, presents readers with the work of over fifty writers and artists who are living lives "of wellness and recovery."

"Life can be challenging for people on the autistic spectrum," writes Paloma Blanca. "I often have to script my conversations. So don't treat me worse because I can come off as awkward." Jonathan Roy Martin cultivates gratitude: "I'm grateful for good people/ In my community/ I'm also grateful for/ Those who heard my plea."

The book includes "frank discussions of suicide, domestic violence, and substance use." Donna C. writes that "my writing is a step to my recovery. … Slowly I'm learning that life can be lived without violence and abuse. It's hard for me to live this way. For me, I've come to expect being hit."

Drawings and photographs, fanciful, serene, or stark, add resonance. Autobiographies at the end open up the meaning of the contributions. A section presents work by Shelby Wright, submitted by her mother after "Shelby completed suicide in 2011." "And although I am fighting with all my heart and soul," Shelby wrote, "my road is still long and hard." Her legacy of hope mixes with the sadness.

The road can be hopeful, but it is not safe. Kadjain Troi: "When you come to a fork in the road, remember, the paved road is an easy way home, but the other path will get you there with a story to tell."

Submissions are being accepted for the 2018 Journal at Publication and an art show are scheduled for November.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

"Recapturing The Wonder: Transcendent Faith In A Disenchanted World"

The rhythms that shape our lives, Mike Cosper writes, are often profoundly secular--and commercial. From Super Bowl Sunday to Valentine's Day and beyond, our lives are full of commodified sentiment. They have become "disenchanted."

Cosper, founder of Harbor Media and a former pastor in Louisville, Kentucky, says that for many there is "a subtle-but-strong resistance to faith and a skepticism toward anything that veers toward the supernatural. … A disenchanted world is a material world, where what you see is what you get." Religion becomes a personal take-it-or-leave-it affair.

His new book invites readers into a different set of rhythms, into a Cosmos ("an orderly creation full of meaning, … full of mystery, a place where … an unseen spiritual realm is constantly at work….").

As Christians prepare for Ash Wednesday and Lent, a time of contrition, the book's message, about rethinking the stories we tell ourselves, seems fitting. Those from different faith traditions will find much to savor as well.

"Recapturing The Wonder: Transcendent Faith In A Disenchanted World" ($17 in paperback from InterVarsity Press; also for Amazon Kindle) focuses on seven "pathways" or spiritual disciplines to aid readers in "embracing a different story and, with it, a different set of habits and practices."

Cosper notes the importance of the rhythms of the Church year and introduces "breath prayers" to mark the shorter moments of our lives. This is not a life of "spectacle and hype" (he contrasts the "glory cloud manifestations" at Bethel Church in Redding with the idea that God's presence "is often much simpler, quieter, and more subtle").

There are big moments, of course. Easter is coming. "Who needs a greater drama than death, resurrection, and scandalous grace?"

At times we need to enter into solitude with God, but then into solidarity with others. Gifts we give should reaffirm "bonds between people." There is a time of feasting and fasting (and Cosper provides practical help).

Such a life "oriented around the spiritual disciplines is not a pathway to pleasing God but a pathway to experience the joy of God that is already ours in Jesus." It is to live in an enchanted world.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

"Life Talks Wisdoms"

Peggy Jennings-Severe, a retired Butte College administrator, has created a series of books and workshops designed around what she calls "Life Talks" ( People want to share their "view of the world" with us if we would but ask the right questions. One can ask elders about their most cherished memories or a graduate about what's scary up ahead.

The first Life Talks books were about questions; the new one is about answers. "Life Talks Wisdoms" ($15 in paperback from CreateSpace; also planned for Amazon Kindle) is by Jennings-Severe and her son, Ben Severe, "with contributions from our grandfather and great-grandfather Earl Dickinson." It's a collaboration in answering the question "what have you learned so far in life?"

"Wisdoms" is plural in the book's title because, as Ben writes, "Wisdom is relative…. Different life experiences can filter the meaning of what it is to be wise. Please do not take this as us telling you what wisdom is but as what wisdom means to us. We challenge you to think independently, to apply your own biases, and--most importantly--to talk with your family, friends, and peers about them!"

There are three lists of life lessons, with reactions from Peggy and Ben throughout, and the reader is taken inside the hearts of three generations. Just before "Grandpa Earl" died, in 1965, he gave thirteen suggestions "to his very fine grandchildren" especially for their teenage years. Peggy wrote her list of twenty-five lessons for a keynote presentation on campus, when she was 57. Ben, 28, wrote his list for his parents' retirement party.

Speaking of parents, Grandpa Earl said: "Your parents are not old 'fuddy duddies' or 'squares,' and don't let anybody tell you they are." From Peggy's list: "You are more important than you think. You are less important than you think." For Ben: "Live with integrity."

The extended comments in the book from mother and son are poignant and thoughtful, a testament to the purpose--and wisdom--they have found in their lives.

Peggy Jennings-Severe is the scheduled guest on Nancy's Bookshelf, with host Nancy Wiegman, on Wednesday, February 7, at 10:00 a.m. on Northstate Public Radio, (KCHO 91.7 FM on air).