Tracy Troxel

Life in a Jar by Jack Mayer

What makes Life in a Jar truly an amazing story is how the lives of the Kansas students who researched Holocaust heroine Irena Sendler’s becomes part of the larger story of love and redemption that’s told here. The book was produced as a play and won National History Day in 2000, a competition among middle- and high-school students based on original research.

The first “strand” is the story of Sendler, a Polish Catholic health worker who uses her access to the infamous Warsaw Ghetto to develop a network of rescuers that smuggled out 2,500 Jewish children. Her story reminds us that the image of God is still part of the human experience and that selflessness and heroism are not simply characteristics of good books, but take place in real life.

The second “strand” are the personal stories of the students who realize they can face their own adverse circumstances with bravery and endurance, like Sendler. Liz, one of the student researchers, struggles with the fact that her mother had abandoned her.

The third “strand” is perhaps the most gut-wrenching and awe-inspiring story, as you read about the courage of the Jewish mothers and fathers who handed their children over to Sendler to save them. Sendler wrote down the details of where she sent the children in jars and hid them, hoping that, one day, the children would be reunited with their families.

The fourth “strand” is where the story becomes a stunning, and life-altering, narrative. The teenagers travel to Poland, find Sendler, and perform their play for her and her team of rescuers and survivors. “You have rescued the rescuers, girls,” she tells them.

Sendler, and particularly Liz, faced bigger struggles than I ever have, but somehow they faced the tragedies in their lives and gained great depth. I read, I wept, and I thought deeply about life, sacrifice, love, and the power of forgiveness. I also spent a lot of time thinking about the amazing sacrifice God the Father made for me in sending His only Son on my behalf. If you want to be captivated by stunning self-sacrifice–and swept away by the human spirit that endures under incomprehensible pressure–this is the summer read for you.

Published by Long Trail Press, 2011

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How To Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs

How to thing cover image

Our culture seems more divided than ever, many of us hardened against any idea that contradicts our particularly held narratives of how the world works. Alan Jacobs, a professor at Baylor University, experiences this division first-hand in navigating two very different groups that often view one another as an RCO – the Repugnant Cultural Other (a term borrowed from anthropologist Susan Friend Harding). Jacobs has spent his life working in academia and is also a committed follower of Jesus Christ. He has experienced a hardened animosity between these groups, which seem unable to have constructive and civil dialogue together. This is the reason for his book How To Think, on the art of learning to think in our cultural moment.

In chapter one of his book, Jacobs recounts the story of Megan Phelps-Roper, who was part of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. This church was founded by her grandfather and is probably best known for its public statement: “God Hates Fags.” After Phelps-Roper is befriended by someone holding very different views from herself, she begins to think outside the narrative with which she grew up. Her thinking begins to change. This journey illustrates some of the ways that the author calls us to engage, in order to navigate the hardened silos of narrow thinking in which we are all prone to operate.

Jacobs carefully crafts a vision for thinking that, I believe, we all hope to live out in our own lives but are often ill-equipped to do in our divided cultural moment. At the end of the book, he summarizes a 12-point Thinking Person’s Checklist. Two of those points are:

  • Seek out the best and fairest-minded of people whose views you disagree with. Listen to them for a time without responding. Whatever they say, think it over.
  • Try to describe others’ positions in the language that they use, without indulging in in-other-wordsing.

As believers, we of all people should be people who engage with others with this kind of mindset. As Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your Mind.”

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