Archives for posts with tag: Religion and Spirituality

The All Good Books discussion group will meet on Thursday, February 18, 2016 at 7 PM to discuss “The Children Act” by Ian McEwan. We will meet at the Community of Christ congregation in Prairie Village at the corner of 79th Street and Mission Road, in the church library.

To generate some pre-thinking for our discussion, please consider the following questions.

  1. Would you consider Fiona Maye a fair and impartial judge? Do you agree with her ruling in the case of Mark and Matthew? What about her decision regarding  Adam Henry? What, if anything, would you have done differently?
  2. Describe your impressions of Jack Maye. Do you understand his motivation throughout the novel? Would you have forgiven him?
  3. At one point, Fiona reflects on the case of Adam Henry, “It was not her business or mission to save him, but to decide what was reasonable and lawful.” Do you agree that is the role of a judge?
  4. What is your reaction to Fiona’s reminiscence regarding Matthew and Mark when she thinks: “Blind luck, to arrive in the world with your properly formed parts in the right place, to be born to parents who were loving, not cruel, or to escape, by geographical or social accident, war or poverty. And therefore to find it so much easier to be virtuous.” Thoughts?
  5. “Welfare, happiness, well-being must embrace the philosophical concept of the good life,” writes the author. What defines the good life for you?
  6. In Fiona’s thoughts she comments, “the archbishop preferred Mark to die along with Matthew in order not to interfere with God’s purpose. That churchmen should want to obliterate the potential of a meaningful life in order to hold a theological line did not surprise or concern her. The law itself had similar problems when it allowed doctors to suffocate, dehydrate or starve certain hopeless patients to death, but would not permit the instant relief of a fatal injection.” Do you see parallels in Fiona’s two examples? Is the issue black and white on preserving life? If not, what are the conditions or extenuating circumstances that should be considered?
  7. In some passages, like the following, the author is very descriptive. Is it too much? Did you enjoy the use of detail in language? Comment on the novel as an art form. “They entered a glassed-in atrium the height of the entire building. Mature native trees, rather starved, pushed hopefully upward from the concourse, from among the cheerful chairs and tables of competing coffee and sandwich concessions. Higher up, then even higher, other trees rose from concrete platforms cantilevered into the curving walls. The remotest plants were shrubs silhouetted against the glass roof three hundred feet up. The two women went across the pale parquet, past an information center and an exhibition of unwell children’s art. The long straight run of an escalator brought them to a mezzanine, where a bookshop, florist, newsagent, gift shop and business center were ranged around a fountain. New Age music, airy and unmodulating, merged with the sound of tinkling water. The model was, of course, the modern airport. With altered destinations. At this level there was little sign of illness, none of medical equipment. The patients were finely spread between visitors and staff. Here and there were people in dressing gowns, looking rakish.”
  8. Did you feel the pain of Fiona in her personal crisis with Jack? How did it affect her role as judge? Or did it? If you had been Fiona, would you have acted differently as a wife or spouse? As a judge?
  9. If you were Adam Henry’s parents, what would you have done? How would you feel about Fiona’s judgment?
  10. What was the meaning of the kiss?
  11. How would you describe this book? A walk in the park? A doctoral thesis? A love story? Enlightening? Boring? A roller coaster ride? A legal thriller? An artwork in words?
  12. Would you recommend the book to other readers? To other book clubs?
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As I read Breakfast with Buddha byRoland Merullo, I kept running into questions I hope to remember to bring up at the book club meeting. To reinforce my forgetful brain, here are the questions I have asked myself. Maybe you have an answer?

By the way, Rinpoche is “(in Tibetan Buddhism) an incarnate lama or highly respected religious teacher (often used as an honorific title).”

  1. How did your parents show affection for you? Do you show it differently to your children? Why?
  2. Why is Otto so angry?
  3. When observing Amish and Mennonite farmers and their neat farms, Otto ponders the thought, “Would it (their sacrifice) earn them minds as clear as drinking water completely free of sidewalk grit? After they died would there be a special place reserved for them above the clouds, God smiling on them with a  special affection…? And if so, what would be reserved for ordinary good folks…who’d given up nothing, but who’d done little harm and a fair amount of good in our years on earth? Was it all just a game, the winners being those who give up the most?” How do you respond to Otto’s reflection?
  4. Otto talks about “the way you love a wife of many years” and ends with “”there is a part of her you do not know.” Say it isn’t true!
  5. Why so much anger in America?
  6. Who made better use of the hour before dinner, Rinpoche meditating or Otto flipping thru channels? Which would you normally do if left alone?
  7. If you defined religion very broadly (e.g. football for Notre Dame as Otto suggested), what would your religion be?
  8. Even as Otto mocks spirituality or Rinpoche’s way of thinking because it threatens him, what ideas do you mock? Any?
  9. Is there an invisible barrier, such as Rinpoche describes in “his book” (The Greatest Pleasure) within the novel, that prevents you (and me) from the next spiritual level (refers to the story of the young man learning to play the piano)?
  10. Any thoughts on the episode when Otto and Rinpoche go bowling? Does that really ever happen or is it just in novels and movies?
  11. What did Buddha’s deathbed statement to his followers mean when he said “Work our your own salvation with diligence?”
  12. How comfortable are you with Rinpoche’s view of Jesus Christ vs. the angry nun’s?
  13. Any comments on the contrast between the Yanquis (Yankees) and the Mexicans that Otto encountered on his honeymoon? That is, “superiority” vs. “the world is enormous and mysterious?”
  14. Why would a bar have a sign saying “Notre Dame Stop Importing Crime, Drugs, and Homelessness for Money?”
  15. At the end of their Mexican honeymoon, what did Jeanne mean when she said, “No one runs away from anything here?”
  16. Anyone want to talk about sex? Paraphrasing Otto’s mental journey, he asks, “Why was it always the middle-aged and old people, their sexual urges barely a shadow of what they had once been, their own guilt and regrets ballooning as they aged, who insisted on telling the young to abstain?”
  17. Do you agree that as we eliminate “dirt from within the glass” (sex, food, anger, violence, greed) we simply add more “dirt” to the glass (pride)?
  18. Any comments on the Buddhist prayer that begins, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought?”
  19. Have you ever engaged in “people watching?” What have you observed contrasted to Otto and Rinpoche in their visit to downtown Chicago?
  20. What does the engineering feat of changing the direction of flow of the Chicago River say about our approach to solving problems in this country? Anything?
  21. What did you learn from Otto’s first yoga experience?
  22. Have you ever tried abstinence to enhance an experience or pleasure? Would you consider fasting an abstinence to enhance worship or spirituality? Do you practice fasting?
  23. What is the “blue space?” Have you ever been in the “blue space?” What’s it’s purpose? Does it need one?
  24. Rinpoche says “Do not force information into your mind….you think too much it pushes you from God.” What do you make of that statement?
  25. What’s your contract with God? Anything similar to “Don’t do anything evil during the week, go to church on Sunday, God will take care of the rest. Yoga classes optional?”
  26. Why do you think the Duluth professor was so antagonistic and combative to Rinpoche?
  27. If our armor is made of smartness or fear or anger or quiet or being nice or talking as Rinpoche suggests; what is your armor?
  28. Do you agree or disagree (or both) with Rinpoche’s views about terrorism and this world?
  29. Consider the “quiet space” that Rinpoche says some people have available in order to chose. Do you believe that some people do not have access to such a “quiet space?”
  30. Do you agree that “inside the big world that you cannot control, you have the small world of you that you can control?”  Is that the only answer to hunger, poverty, violence, terror and fear?
  31. Rinpoche talks about God’s music as the love that moves everything, water, stone and air. Is that poetic license? Do you believe it?
  32. How do you react now when you hear or read the words “bohling,” “meditation wife,” and “furniture golf?” What images and thoughts do they conjure up for you?
  33. What were your thoughts and how were you effected when Otto and Cecelia with Rinpoche pass the spot where Ronald and Matilda Ringling died?  Any reaction?
  34. Have you ever felt the “subversion of time…the delusion of youth…that you believe you’d never reach middle age…the delusion of middle age…(that) you could go on more or less indefinitely the way things were?” What stage are you in now? How do you think you’ll face death? Like Otto’s Grandma May…or?
  35. Ultimately, what is the message of the book? Has it changed you?
  36. Finally, were you uncomfortable with the novel’s conclusion? What was your intellectual, emotional and spiritual reaction?