Monday, October 25, 2010

Review: The Faith and Values of Sarah Palin by Stephen Mansfield and David A. Holland

This should be interesting. In fact, I almost didn't accept this book for review because I could imagine people's reactions to seeing something about Sarah Palin on my blog. But I have loved every book by Stephen Mansfield I've read. I find his books about the faith of politicians to be compassionately written with deep respect for the faith journeys of his subjects. He does write from the viewpoint of a person with faith and conservative values but never ever writes about his subjects as less than fully human. I am always moved by the insight I gain. It's a good reminder for me, I tend to want to write politicians off, but this book more than any other explores the cruel landscape of politics and the kind of courage it takes to even enter. There's a co writer for this book so I'm not sure exactly what each writer contributed, but this one does seem to want serve as a tool for understanding the potential Sarah Palin could have in the future.

Now, some background on me. When John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate, I cried a little. I had no idea who she was, but I was raised Republican and I could recognize the significance of the moment. Sadly, I don't think Sarah Palin was ready for politics on such a huge scale. Even so, I have never been comfortable with the way the country treated her. The book opens up with several examples of how was treated in the media. I confess, I have never understood the sheer hatred from her political opponents. (apart from the anger that defines American politics today which the book also talks about a little.) Comments appearing in the New York Times along the lines of she's better suited as a calendar model, should make everyone feel ashamed. It's certainly not a sign of progression.

Anyway off my soap box, the book opens talking about her parents and their decision to move to Alaska and how deeply the land of Alaska itself is a part of who Sarah Palin is. I found this part really interesting, about her deep love of the land and the way it's a part of all Alaskans. It's certainly true from the transplanted Alaskans I've known. The authors suggest that this connection with the land and the sort of pioneer lifestyle she grew up in was a huge disconnect with the lower 48. It informs her politics even now, a support of federalism--states determining what's best for the state. This, I admit, is a shared value. She also became a long distance runner, she was a bookish introvert growing up and nourished a healthy inner life. Every task set before her she did to the best of her ability even if she wasn't the exact right fit for the job, as evidenced in her basketball accomplishments. And as a teen she was deeply devoted to her faith, she attended a church with a rich community life, a strong belief in engaging culture to transform it, and a purpose for everyone's life. Her youth pastor planted the early seeds of politics in her mind.

Apparently, Palin was mocked for her Pentecostal belief during the election and has distanced herself publicly from it. This made me the saddest of all. I know there's a lot of injustice in the world, but respect for religious freedom and expression is one of my pets. Take this passage,

nd unreported went the ennobling impact of Wasilla Assembly on Sarah Palin and the reality that much of what she had achieved had been due to the faith, character, vision, and discipline that had been pressed into her life by that same Pentecostal church.

But there is a larger issue than one campaign. The presence of Sarah Palin on our national stage presses the question of Pentecostalism's acceptance in American society, and this is a question whose answer is long overdue. Pentecostalism is, after all, the preferred religious expression of a quarter of the world's two billion Christians, and it is also the most successful social movement of the past century.

The book cites the many things said about her faith in the media, and trust me, they are troubling.

Another point I found really interesting is that the authors claim women's rights would never be Sarah Palin's top priority because of the acceptance of women as wise leaders in Alaskan indigenous culture. Her husband never had a problem with his wife rising in political power and her church fully affirmed the unique value and purpose of each woman's life. In short, she hadn't experienced the same kinds of difficulties other women may have faced.

The book then details Palin's political journey. It seems her political career is marked by hard work, eagerness to learn, and acting on principle. She did not remain loyal to people who helped her rise in political prominence if she felt that their goals were at odds with what she felt was best for the Alaskan people. I know everyone got tired of hearing maverick and the like during the election, but she truly did some admirable gutsy things in Alaska.

Finally, (can you tell the politics part bored me a little?) the book debunks some of the lies spread around about her and makes suggestions for what she'll need to do if she wishes to run for president in 2012.

I was shocked to read so many lawsuits were brought against her when she got back to Alaska after the campaign that her legal fees were $500,000. This is a large part of why she resigned as governor. Apparently, this is not uncommon.

Once again I really enjoyed this insight. I'm ashamed to say I think I paid too much attention to the media hype and I'm sorry that our media is so cruel to politicians, especially to someone like Sarah Palin who I actually believe is a good person. Her biggest crime was accepting a role she hadn't grown into yet. I'm sorry that the American media chose to attack small town life, a confident attractive woman, and a faith system as a result. This book really raised some interesting questions for me regarding intellectualism and politics. I think it's valuable to have all kinds of people in office.

I'm not going to lie...the authors are sympathetic to a conservative viewpoint, but I'm not sure they are fans of Sarah or not. Their feelings about the liberal media certainly shine through, though! In case you think I'm some kind of crazy Republican (I'm not--I voted 3rd party last election) you can also read my review of The Faith of Barack Obama which I also loved. This was a part of the FIRST blog tour. You can read the FIRST chapter below.

Rating: 4.25/5
Source of Book: Review Copy from Publisher
Publisher: Strang

Roots of Faith and Daring

Do not handicap your children by making their lives easy.1

—Robert A. Heinlein

It is a warm summer day in June of 1964, and at Christ the King Roman Catholic Church in Richland, Washington, a tender moment is unfolding. A small group of the faithful has gathered before a candled altar and a patiently waiting priest. Though the church is spare, it is transformed into regal splendor by the color of deep green evidenced in the vestments of the priest and in the cloth that adorns the altar. This is the color that the Christian church has used for centuries to signify the liturgical season of Pentecost, in which the coming of God’s Spirit is celebrated, in which refreshing and new birth are the themes. It is a fitting symbolism for today’s event, for a child is soon to be baptized. When all are settled, the priest steps to the fore and nods his head to a young family. They move, solemnly, to the baptismal font—a father, a mother, a two-year-old boy, a one-year-old girl, and the infant who is the object of today’s attention. “Peace be with you,” the good priest begins.“And also with you,” those gathered respond.“And what is the child’s name?” the priest asks. “Sarah Louise Heath,” comes the answer.

“And what is your name?” the priest asks the parents.

The answer comes, but it is obvious to all that the energetic part of that answer, the one filled with eagerness and faith, has come from the child’s mother. She is a striking figure. Slightly taller than her husband, she is lean and feminine, possessing a sinewy strength that is unusual for a mother of three. Her eyes are intelligent, slightly wearied but quick to flash into joy. Her mouth is wise, reflecting a sense of the irony in the world and yet disarmingly sweet.

It is her voice, though, that her children and her friends will comment upon most throughout her life. It has a musical lilt that rises and falls with meaning and emotion. It makes the most mundane statement a song, transforming a book read to children before bed or a prayer said before a family meal into a work of art.

This young mother was born Sally Ann Sheeran in 1940 and so took her place in a large, proud, well-educated Irish Catholic family in Utah. As would become the pattern of her life, she would not be there long. When she was three, her family moved to Richland, Washington. Her father, known to friends as Clem, had taken a job as a labor relations manager at the Washington branch of the Manhattan Project, whose task it was to perfect the atomic bomb sure to be needed before the Second World War, then well underway, was over. From her father, Sally acquired a passion for doing things well, a love of sports, and unswerving devotion to Notre Dame, a loyalty questioned in the Sheeran home only at great peril.

It was Sally’s mother, Helen, who taught her the domestic skills and devotion to community that would become her mainstays in the years ahead. Helen was widely known as a genius with a sewing machine and made clothes not only for her own family but also for dozens of others in her town. She also had an uncanny ability to upholster furniture. Neighbors remember the astonishing quality of her work and how she refused payment, though her fingers were often swollen and bleeding from the hours she spent stretching leather over wooden frames or forcing brass tacks into hardened surfaces. Helen taught her children the joy of the simple task done well, that the workbench and the desk are also altars of God not too unlike the altar at the Catholic church they attended every week.

Sally came of age, then, in a raucous, busy family of overachievers. There were piano lessons and sports and pep squads and sock hops. Achievement was emphasized. All the Sheeran children did well. Sally’s brother even earned a doctorate degree and became a judge. Sally herself finished high school and then began training as a dental assistant at Columbia Basin College.

“What are you asking of God’s church?” the priest intones from the ancient Latin text.
“Faith,” respond the child’s parents.
“What does faith hold out to you?” he asks.
“Everlasting life,” they answer.
“If, then, you wish to inherit everlasting life, keep the commandments, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’”

At this moment the priest leans over young Sarah, still in her mother’s arms, and breathes upon her three times. “Depart from her, unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.” It is then that he traces the sign of the cross upon the child’s forehead and prays, “Lord, if it please you, hear our prayer, and by your inexhaustible power protect your chosen one, Sarah, now marked with the sign of our Savior’s holy cross. Let her treasure this first sharing of your sovereign glory, and by keeping your commandments deserve to attain the glory of heaven to which those born anew are destined; through Christ our Lord.”

At these words, some who have gathered shift their eyes to the young father of the child being baptized. His name is Chuck. He is a good man, all agree, and he loves his family, but he is only tolerant of his wife’s faith. He does not share it. He keeps a distance from formal religion, and those who know his story understand why.

He was born in the Los Angeles of 1938 to a photographer father and a schoolteacher mother. His father, it seems, had gained some notoriety for his work, and there are photographs of young Chuck with luminaries of the Hollywood smart set and even with sports stars like boxer Joe Louis. Something went wrong, though—this is the first of several unexplained secrets in the Heath story—and when Chuck was ten, his father moved the family to Hope, Idaho. His mother taught school again, and his father drove a bus and freelanced.

As often happens after a move to a new place, the Heath family was thrown in upon itself. And here is where the tensions likely arose. Chuck’s mother was a devoted Christian Scientist. She believed that sin and sickness and even death were manifestations of the mind. If one simply learned to perceive the world through the Divine Mind, one would live free from such mortal forces. It likely seemed foolishness to a teenaged Chuck, who was not only discovering the great outdoors and finding it the only church he would ever need but also discovering his own gift for science, for decoding the wonders of nature. There was tension in the home, then, between this budding naturalist and his mystic mother. Arguments were frequent, and from this point on, young Chuck seemed intent upon escaping his parent’s presence as much as possible.

He soon discovered his athletic gifts too, and, though his parents thought such pursuits were a waste of time, he chose to ride the bus fifteen miles every day to Sandpoint High School and then hitchhike home again just so he could play nearly every sport his school offered. He found gridiron glory as a fullback behind later Green Bay Packers legend Jerry Kramer.

These were agonizing years, though. He routinely slept on friends’ couches when he just couldn’t face hitchhiking home. He was nearly adopted by several families of his fellow players. Everyone knew his home life was torturous and tried to help, but for a boy in high school to have no meaningful place to belong, no parents who loved him for who he was without demanding a faith he could not accept—it was, as Sarah Palin herself later wrote, “painful and lonely.”

After graduation from high school and a brief season in the Army, Chuck enrolled in Columbia Basin College. Now he could give himself fully to learning the ways of nature, long his passion and his hope. He collected rocks and bones, found the insides of animals and plants a fascinating other world, and thrilled to his newly acquired knowledge of geology and the life of a cell. He was a geek, but a handsome, athletic geek whom girls liked. It was during this time that he enrolled in a college biology lab and found himself paired with that lanky beauty Sally Sheeran.

“Almighty, everlasting God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the minister implores, “look with favor on your servant, Sarah, whom it has pleased you to call to this first step in the faith. Rid her of all inward blindness. Sever all snares of Satan, which heretofore bound her. Open wide for her, Lord, the door to your fatherly love. May the seal of your wisdom so penetrate her as to cast out all tainted and foul inclinations, and let in the fragrance of your lofty teachings. Thus shall she serve you gladly in your church and grow daily more perfect through Christ our Lord.”

It says a great deal about Chuck and Sally Heath that after they had married—after they had brought three children into the world and begun working in their professions and coached sports and enjoyed their outdoor, adventurous lives—there was still something missing. Sandpoint simply wasn’t enough. Chuck, ever the romantic, had begun reading the works of Jack London—The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and The Sea Wolf—and through these the great land in the north—Alaska—began calling to him. As a neighbor later reported, “The call of the wild got to him.” This neighbor did not mean the London novel, but rather that mysterious draw to the raw and untamed that has lured men to Alaska for centuries. It did not hurt that Alaska was in desperate need of science teachers like Chuck, and that the school systems there were offering $6,000 a year, twice what Chuck was making in Sandpoint. With a growing family and dreams that Idaho could not contain, Chuck Heath turned to his wife and said, “Let’s try it for one year and see what happens.” Sally should have known better. They would never come back to Idaho again. Alaska was the land of Chuck’s dreams and always would be.

It also says a great deal about Chuck and Sally Heath that they ventured north to Alaska just days after the state had been rocked by one of the worst earthquakes in history. On March 27, 1964, what became known as the Good Friday Earthquake shook Alaska at a 9.2 Richter scale magnitude for nearly five minutes. The quake was felt as far away as eight hundred miles from the epicenter.2 Experts compared it to the 1812 New Madrid earthquake that was so powerful it caused the Mississippi River to run backward, stampeded buffalo on the prairie, and awakened President James Madison from a sound sleep in the White House. The Good Friday Earthquake did hundreds of millions dollars in damage, cost dozens of lives, and vanquished entire communities in Alaska, but even this devastation could not keep the Heath family away.

They would live first in Skagway, then in Anchorage, and finally they would be able to afford their own home in the little valley town of Wasilla. Chuck would teach sciences and coach, and Sally would do whatever paid—work in the cafeteria, serve as the school secretary, even coach some of the athletic teams.

This is what they did. Who they were is the more interesting tale.

The Heaths were determined to create an outpost of love, learning, and adventure in their snowy valley in the north. Their lives were very nearly a frontier existence, as we shall see, but their learning and their hunger to explore lifted them from mere survival. Chuck found Alaska an Elysium for scientific inquiry, and as he hunted and served as a trail guide, he collected. The Heath children would grow up in a home that might elsewhere have passed for a small natural history museum. Years after first arriving in Alaska, when their famous daughter had forced their lives into the international spotlight, the Heaths would welcome reporters who sat at their kitchen counter and marveled at the skins and pelts and mounts—dozens of them—that adorned the house. There were fossils and stuffed alligators and hoofs from some long-ago-killed game and samples of rock formations and Eskimo artifacts. The reporters had been warned. In the front yard of the Heath house stood a fifteen-foot-tall mountain of antlers, most all from game shot by Chuck Heath.

Yet what distinguished the Heath home was its elevated vision, its expectations for character and knowledge. There would come a day when Sally’s spiritual search would lead her in a different direction than her husband had chosen—his conflicts with his Christian Science mother distancing him from traditional faith—and this would have to be managed. But there was complete agreement about the other essentials. Work was sacred. Everyone was expected to labor for the good of the family. Knowledge was paramount. Theirs was a home filled with books, and nearly each one was read aloud more than once. Since both Chuck and Sally were teachers, dinner-times were often occasions of debate or discussion, which Chuck frequently began by reading from a Paul Harvey newspaper column or by quoting from a radio broadcast he had heard during the day. So intent upon the primacy of learning were Chuck and Sally that when a television finally did make its way into their home, it lived in a room over the unheated garage where a potential viewer had to have a death wish to brave the cold. Rather than what Chuck and Sally called the boob tube, in the warmth of the house were the poetry of Ogden Nash and Robert Service, the works of C. S. Lewis, and most of the great books of the American experience.

There was also love. It was deep, transforming, and infectious in the Heath home. When friends of the Heath children missed their school bus home, they routinely made their way to the Heaths’ house. Their parents knew and understood. It was the place where strangers were always welcome, where a story was always being told, and where you merged seamlessly into the family mayhem the moment you stepped through the door. Some of those friends of the Heath children, now adults, recall that the closest thing they ever experienced to a healthy family was in Chuck and Sally’s home.

And so the Heaths did it. They carved out the life they had dreamed in the frozen wilds of Alaska. They took the best of their family lines and, refusing the worst, built a family culture of courage and learning and industry and joy. And this was the family soil from which Sarah Palin grew.

Thus, the reverend father comes to an end:

Holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, source of light and truth, I appeal to your sacred and boundless compassion on behalf of this servant of yours, Sarah. Be pleased to enlighten her by the light of your eternal wisdom. Cleanse, sanctify, and endow her with truth and knowledge. For thus will she be made ready for your grace and ever remain steadfast, never losing hope, never faltering in duty, never straying from sacred truth, through Christ our Lord.3

The service concluded, the Heath family and their near relatives walk out into the northwestern sun. It is June 7. Already there are tears, and they are not tears of joy. The Heaths’ presence in Richland is not just for the sake of the baptism. They have come to say good-bye. Alaska calls to them, and they will leave in a few short days to make the nineteen-hundred-mile drive to their new home in the land of the north. Their relatives grieve, but the Heaths, particularly Chuck, cannot hide their joy at the looming adventure. Nor can they hide the sense that they will be changed by their new land, that somehow they will become one with it, and that it will become mystically intertwined with their destiny in ways they could never imagine.

In a matter of few days then, attended by the tears of their loved ones, the Heath family step toward the great land of their dreams.


Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to comment! I appreciate hearing your thoughts.