Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This Week at Old South Haven Presbyterian Church

At its meeting on Monday night the Session voted to sign the Agreement with the Town of Brookhaven which authorizes the disbursement of $35,000.00 from the Caithness Community Benefit Fund to meet particular needs spelled out in our proposal.    It has been a long and complicated procedure, and I want to thank John Deitz and Richard Thomas in particular for their hard work in bringing this about in this year and a half process, and to thank Farrell Decker for checking out contractors for bids on the work proposed.    We now await the Town awarding the particular jobs involved with the various contractors.    I would trust we will see some work being done in the very near future.
Pastor Tom
Sunday, August 22           10:00 am           Morning Worship
                                                                      Sermon:   "How Wonderful You Are!"
                                                                      Lessons:  Psalm 8  and Luke 12: 13-34
Tuesday, August 24            7:30pm           South Country Peace Group in the Gallery
Thursday, August 26            9:30am           Clergy Book Study Group: the Presbytery
Sunday, August 29            10:00am            Morning Worship
                                                                       Alan Stevens, Preacher
                                                                       Sermon:    "Arranged Marriage"
                                                                       Lessons:  Deut. 24:5;  Romans 6: 15-23
                                          7:30pm          Discussion on the novel "Forgiving Ararat"
                                                                           in the Gallery * 
Monday, August 30              7:30pm           Presbytery's Middle East Task Force
                                                                       Ralph Wright's Office, Patchogue
                                                                       Discussion of Kairos Document: a
                                                                       Statement from Palestinian Christians 

* The following is a commentary of the book Forgiving Ararat.  Discussion questions on Forgiving Ararat were previously published and may be found at 
A Conversation With The Publisher of Forgiving Ararat by Gita Nazareth

1. Is Gita Nazareth a pen name? If so, why did the author choose to remain anonymous?

Yes, Gita Nazareth is a pen name. Although Forgiving Ararat is a work of literary fiction with a suspenseful murder-mystery plot, the novel is primarily a parable and allegory about the human condition with a deep underlying transcendent message. In this day of celebrity worship, the author of Forgiving Ararat wished for the public’s focus to be and remain entirely on the story and its message rather than the author’s personality. In addition, since the book is set in the afterlife and narrated by a dead woman, it would not do to have a known living author. In this sense, the use of a pseudonym becomes part of the novel itself, supporting the story. According to Gita Nazareth, the real person behind the name is irrelevant; that person was merely the laborer who hauled the treasure from the mine. The treasure (the story) is what matters.

2. What is the key message or lesson of the novel?

The lesson of Forgiving Ararat is that the relentless pursuit of justice against those who wrong us has been the cause of human suffering from the moment Cain murdered Abel until the present. The story of the Great Flood, which ends at the top of Mount Ararat with virtually all living creatures on the planet destroyed, is a warning of the dangers of seeking justice—even, and especially, when God (or someone with Godlike powers) is seeking it. We ignore that warning to our own peril in our personal and communal lives.

3. What does “Ararat” mean, and how is it important in the novel?

“Ararat” refers to Mount Ararat in present-day Turkey, where Noah’s ark is believed to have come to rest after the Great Flood. It is important in the novel because the main character, Brek Cuttler, the young lawyer assigned to prosecute and defend souls at the Final Judgment, is taken back in time to witness the extraordinary exchange between Noah and God in the aftermath of the Flood, and to discover its deepest meaning.

4. What is the significance of the name “Shemaya?”

“Shemaya” is the Aramaic term for heaven.

5. Why include the posthumous praise?

The posthumous praise on the cover from long-dead great authors (along with the claim that the book is the “#1 Bestseller in Heaven”) is part of the novel itself, which actually begins on the cover. These great authors foreshadow what is gifted the reader inside the book.

6. What lead to the choice of the particular authors included in the posthumous praise? Does the protagonist meet any of them in her afterlife?

These particular authors were selected because their writings, which are widely known, inspired aspects of Forgiving Araratand provide a frame of reference for the reader about what is to come. For example, in The Trial, Franz Kafka wrote a parable about the dangers of the blind justice system. John Steinbeck and Charles Dickens chronicled the abuses of justice-seeking in many books; and, in East of Eden, Steinbeck gave us his masterpiece retelling of the story Cain and Abel, which was one of the inspirations and influences for Gita Nazareth in writing this book. Herman Melville wrote the great allegory, Moby-Dick, and, of course, Leo Tolstoy, particularly in his later years, went on to write of the dangers of seeking justice, influencing Mahatma Gandhi to develop his ideas of non-violence (ahimsa) in leading a peaceful revolution in India. Emily Dickinson, of course, wrote many poems about the meaning of death. The connections between these authors and Forgiving Araratare deep and profound. The role the authors themselves play in the story is as readers, like us, recommending Forgiving Ararat to us from the afterlife.

7. Does the cover image hold a specific significance to the story, and if so what is that significance?

Yes, the floating tea set with three cups, two on one side and one alone on the opposite side, has deep symbolic meaning to the story. The reader discovers this meaning at the end of the book.

8. Forgiving Ararat has been compared to Alice Sebold’s bestseller The Lovely Bones. What qualities make Ararat similar to The Lovely Bones, and what makes the novel stand apart?

The obvious similarity between Forgiving Ararat and The Lovely Bones is that both novels have first person female narrators telling the story from the afterlife. Both novels also have suspenseful murder-mystery plots; but in The Lovely Bones, the narrator (a 14 year old girl) knows who her killer is while the people on earth race around to solve the crime, whereas in Forgiving Araratthe narrator (a 31 year old lawyer and mother) doesn’t know who murdered her or why and tries to solve the crime in heaven while the people on earth already know what happened. What makes the two novels stand farthest apart, however, is that Forgiving Ararat is an allegory and parable, while The Lovely Bones is primarily a murder-mystery and coming of age story.

9. Would you consider this a crime/mystery novel?

As mentioned, Forgiving Ararat has a crime/mystery plot, but it is not a crime/mystery novel in the traditional sense of the genre. Some have also categorized the book as a supernatural thriller or even as a legal thriller. It is better understood as an allegorical novel or parable, or simply as a work of literary fiction akin to the novels mentioned earlier.

10. Do you foresee future comparisons to Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven?

Forgiving Ararat is a book of such wide scope and breadth, and evokes such strong emotions, that it has elicited comparisons with many works. Some readers have also compared it to recent books such as Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, William Young’s The Shack, Richard Matheson’s What Dreams may Come and, more classically, to Dante’s Divine Comedy. Comparisons to Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven are understandable as well. All of these works deal in one way or another with the greatest of all human questions—what happens to us when we die and what are the lasting implications of our actions in this life?

11. Does this novel present the struggle between choice and fate? What side does it take in the battle, if any?

Yes, in a very deep way it does. Forgiving Ararat illuminates the sometimes startling and miraculous way in which choice and fate are intertwined, one dictating the other such that, in hindsight, the end seemed perfectly ordained but, at the beginning of life’s journey, was full of decisions that could lead to many possible outcomes. As the wise character Gautama relates in the story: “A traveler who sets out in one direction eventually returns to the place of his beginning, seeing it again for the first time.”

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