Saturday, September 15, 2012

Book Notes: James Matthew Green's Northern Lights

And since I'm writing today about themes of remembrance, about our search for meaning in the lives of those who have gone before us, when those lives often seem superseded by what post-Enlightenment thinkers have taught us to see as progress, I'd like to recommend to readers a book recently published by a friend of mine.  This is a novel that deals with themes of remembrance and, quite specifically, with the challenge of bringing to light lives that haven't been remembered by history because they have not been honored by those who write history.

The novel's title is Northern Lights.  Its author is Jim Green.  As his website, which appears in my list of recommended sites here, notes, Jim is a psychotherapist and former Catholic seminarian with a strong interest and grounding in spirituality, including native American spirituality.  Much of Jim's therapeutic work has focused on helping LGBT people deal with coming-out issues.  Since his practice is in the heavily churched Southeast, where the coming out process is almost always freighted with strong religious questions, Jim has long recognized the value of spirituality in the psychotherapeutic healing process.

As he has worked with people seeking to understand themselves as human beings cherished by God in a dominant culture imbued with religiosity often resistant to recognizing gay persons as beloved by God, Jim has worked to create spaces of spiritual refuge for LGBT people in his community.  He's been active in groups that try to find common ground between the Catholic church and the gay community.  In particular, he’s interested in trying to alert the Catholic church, with its current conspicuously unwelcoming posture towards gay people, to the rich spiritual resources he finds in the lives of members of the gay community.  

All of this informs the story Jim tells in Northern Lights.  The story is informed, too, by years of research he's done into his own fascinating and complex family history, which includes Norwegian, German, Slovakian Slovene, French Canadian, and Ojibwe strands.  Jim’s ancestors include a number of Métis families that played a noted role in the early history of the U.S.-Canadian border region in which his historical novel is set.  

The novel tells the story of a loving relationship of a young Métis man and a Scottish soldier in colonial North America.  It's the story of the attempt of two men from very different cultural backgrounds linked together by their shared Catholicism to understand a love for which the berdache tradition of native Americans and the theme of spiritual friendship in Catholic monasticism has only partly prepared them, so that their falling in love takes both by surprise.  And a spiritual quest ensues for each man . . . .

I won't say more about the details of the plot, since I don't want to spoil it for any readers who may wish to read Jim's novel.  Details about how to order the book (which Jim has published online) are available at his website, to which the link above points.  I'm happy to recommend this novel both because Jim’s a longstanding friend of mine and because I’m confident that, for many readers who have a strong interest in the dominant themes of this blog (spirituality and its connection to social activism, challenging the religious right's claim to own God, calling the churches to accountability for injustice to LGBT persons, creating dialogue with anyone who wants to build a more humane world, and stopping bullying of LGBT youth), it will be a valuable resource and a great read.

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