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As I read this book some 40,000 feet above the North Atlantic as I worked my way back to the United States from Britain, I found myself thinking of Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in which he explores the nature and meaning and concepts involved in knowing and valuing what is really important. Pirsig, at the very beginning of his book stresses the importance of observation; not simply observing the world around us, but observing details that are important to the whole that we too often fail to see.
How does one trust anything today? Modernity taught us to trust science and reason, and to discount the value of trusting religion, authority, tradition, and the teaching of the church, for example. Postmodernity teaches us that there is no truth except the truth of the proposition that there is no truth, that everything is in flux, that experience is all that counts, and that whatever counts for religious belief is to be held privately with no relevance to debates in the public square.
Some reviewers regard Some Kind of Normal by Heidi Willis as a page turner, a book that reaches deep into the reader's emotional nature, and maybe tugs at the strings of one's heart. At one level, it is that, a page turner and emotional tear jerker. But, it is so much more than that. For it addresses some of the most controversial and important issues of our day. We read statistics about the prevalence of diabetes, both Type 1 and Type 2, in society. Too often, bioethics is ignored, because what is technologically and scientifically feasible must be pursued with vigor without regard to its morality, which is thought to be nothing more than opinion and subjective, or law, which has no business interfering with progress. Stem cell research, which fits within this model, is neither clearly understood nor supported because it has been misrepresented generally in the press and has become a political debating point without clear undertanding of the moral dimensions of stem cell research, either embryonic stem cell research or adult stem cell research. At the center of all of this is the debate between science and religion, as if there is a conflict between the two, rather than a recognition that each, within its respective domain, speaks with authority as to those matters over which it has competence. Heidi Willis digs deep in all of these questions, but with the style of a real storyteller.
More than that, she is an observer of life and the stuff of living, with careful attention to detail. She knows her Christian faith and has the ability to explore the dimensions of that faith theologically and apologetically in a setting that that accurately reflects the experiences of family in a small Texas community, and of life in a small town church with its own identity as a part of a Christian denomination that is so identified with the South and with Texas. She knows and understands diabetes, the scientific advancements in the management and treatment of that disease, and her observations of medical care and life in a hospital ring authentic and true.
For me, as someone who has lived in a small town in Texas, as a father of two daughters with Type 1 diabetes, and as one who has studied bioethics and particularly, the bioethics issues involved in stem cell research, this book was not a page turner. It was one that prompted me as I read to contemplation and thought as I found myself resting the book on my lap and reflecting on what I read and its implications. The author has it just right, and it is a book with the power to educate and inform, as well as to incite the imagination.