The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell. Two out of five bananas. This was the latest month’s book club selection. And while it was not my favorite read, there was plenty to learn from this book. It is a historical look at the puritans of early America and how our nation — particularly early colonies — were formed during lengthy debates on faith and morality and escaping the monarchy. Told in a current day, sarcastic voice, I imagine this is as interesting as the puritans get. Sarah Vowell is well known for her time on NPR and the Daily Show. For me, she’ll always be beloved for reintroducing me to John Winthrop and specifically his essay, The Model for Christian Charity.
She spends a great portion of this book explaining how this essay went on to influence politics hundreds of years later. Winthrop was such an intense pacificst, all-loving man who came to the US as a pilgrim and has this religious vision of a city on a hill. This city comes to be Boston and his writing was critical to the time. His essay went on to influence Martin Luther King, Jr. This excerpt gave me chills. (I actually walked around reading this page to friends, prefacing it with, “Holy Moses. You have to hear this:”)
“It made sense that Winthrop, a man accustomed to setting lofty goals for himself, would then set lofty goals for the colony he is about to lead. “A Model for Christian Charity” is the blueprint of his communal aspirations. Standing before his shipmates, Wintrhop stares down the Sermon on the Mount, as every Christian must.
Here, for example, is Martin Luther King, Jr., doing just that on November 17, 1957, in Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. He concluded the learned discourse that came to be known as the “loving your enemies” sermon this way: “So this morning, as I look into your eyes and into the eyes of all my brothers in Alabama and all over America and over the world, I say to you, ‘I love you. I would rather die than hate you.'”
And so, this book is worthy of reading for that page alone. Page 45. Because if I could live my life by one sentence ever written, it would be that very one.
Bravo, Sarah Vowell. Thank you for making me love John Winthrop, a stodgy puritan. And thank you for reminding me of the greatness of MLK, Jr.
Next up, Hunger Games, thanks to a gift from Mini.