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Monday, March 20, 2006

cover of The Giver

I read this book long ago in elementary or junior high, but wanted to reread it. Some books just need to be revisisted. This is the story of a young boy named Jonas who lives in a community where everything is organized and set in place with no room for questions or standing out. At age 12, everyone is assigned a role in the community. Jonas is given the special honor/privilege/burden of becoming the Receiver of Memories. To keep the community 'safe', the reader discovers that years ago the community decided to create sameness. This means taking away some tangible pieces of the lives that we now know, with many interesting questions to be asked.

Receiving memories becomes the new job of Jonas, so he must receive them from someone, who calls himself the Giver. Sometimes Jonas comes after school to receive, and the Giver is in so much pain that he can do nothing. How much are we willing to sacrifice as a community for happiness? The society in this book has created many rules and decided long ago that being safe was more important than having decisions, than seeing color, than being individual. As Jonas begins to feel emotions, see colors, understand what snow and sunshine and war are, he wishes that he had been allowed to choose. Simple choices like chosing between a red tunic or a blue tunic in the morning.

There are some interesting ways the ideas from this book relate to following Christ. When Jonas first comes to the Giver, he has no idea what to expect and no vocabulary for what he is going to experience. It is against the rules for him to share with anyone what he is learning and how he is beginning to see and to have wisdom. His best friend becomes the Giver. That is what we are called to as Christ-followers -- to step into a new relationship our definitions can't really describe, and to learn to trust God above all else, to believe what He says and what He does and follow Him.

Jonas and the Giver also question the wisdom of having taken memories from the people. Their ancestors decided to take away choices so that there would be safety and sameness. Lives are closely regulated and minor infractions are always noticed and punished. There is no room for free choice. And yet God, knowing how dangerous free will would be, gave it to all humans anyway. It makes life less safe, less predictable, less reliable to have freedom, but when you have tasted a life of freedom, slavery has no flavor. Freedom does not mean being able to do anything that I want, but instead means being able to choose what is best for me -- to choose God's will with God's strength. To do that I need memories of how God has been faithful in the past and belief that no matter what I choose I will be loved and protected.

The Giver looks much older than he is, and most of this is that he has to bear all the pain of the past. He can feel joy and love and happiness much more deeply than anyone else, but he also knows pain more deeply. All different varieties of pain -- sunburn, breaking a leg, starving, watching an elephant die, war, loneliness -- as humans we get to experience pain in many circumstances. The idea of one person bearing the weight of all that pain from centuries before seems impossible to me. Personally, I am highly aware of the pain of others, and I don't even know that many people. The only way I can bear to hear stories of sin and brokenness and pain is because I have a God who suffers, and who hears the pain right along with me. I need a Being who cannot be defined because the suffering of the world is overwhelming to me but not to Him. Through Him I can know a small piece of the pain in the world, but would never desire to be the 'rememory' for a whole community and thus the wisdom. I'm so grateful that we have an 'elsewhere' that is waiting ahead of us -- a place of family, love, celebration, and coming home.

Title:The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
Date published:1993
Genre: Young Adult
Number of pages: 179
Notes: repeat reading


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