Within the last week I've had the opportunity to hear two famous and powerful women speak. The first was Wangari Maathai, a Nobel Peace prize winner, at a packed auditorium at the Benaroya Hall. She has done tremendous environmental work, striving for human rights and against government corruption. She spoke with a bold voice, and came from a place of deep conviction in the power of God to act in people's lives.
Last night I listened to Alice Walker as she discussed her new book, Why War is Never a Good Idea. Alice is the famed author of the Color Purple, for which she won the Pulitzer. She has done great work for civil rights and against FGM. She spoke with a very quiet voice, to a smaller audience in Town Hall, and would seem to be a convinced Animist and astrologist with tendencies towards Pantheism, occasionally making not-so-veiled snide remarks about Christianity and other organized religion. And of the two great women I heard this week, she was by far the better speaker.
Which put me in something of a quandary. For I would probably more agree with the views of Wangari, and she has accomplished something amazing in Africa, caring for the disenfranchised and those left behind. But I found myself utterly bored. She is just not a good speaker. She read passages from her book that didn't coalesce with her work, and didn't draw us in. She rambled around her subject, without telling her incredible story.
Whereas Alice Walker knew how to write, and therefore how to speak. She wrote her audience before her, as if we were a blank page waiting for the quill of her mouth. And so I ended up feeling a bit like Antonia Salieri, crying out to God about his justice in giving such extraordinary gifts to a fool like Mozart. Alice mockingly shared about how she wanted to have a bake sale for everyone who would one day go to Heaven, because she was staying around. This got a good laugh from the audience- all three times she told the joke. She even encouraged us to accept her belief in such pseudoscience quackery as water responding to our emotions (sadly something I've heard in my own church at times). The lack of respect for others' beliefs, or for basic scientific truths, was enough to turn the stomach. Almost. For it was shared in such a sweet, kindly manner, so engagingly, I couldn't refuse to embrace her.
Now, I think I write too strongly to prove my point. For there was a lot of Alice Walker I really enjoyed as well. She shared how she came to her inspiration, and of her beliefs in the horror of war. She showed great compassion to the hurting in the audience, as some asked questions with emotion and vulnerability. I really enjoyed her book, with incredibly vivid illustrations and moving poetry. Even more so, I enjoyed her reading of her children's poetry books. Why War is Never a Good Idea is a great way to teach children the way of peace, and begin their training early on so that they don't grow up pursuing war and all the gifts it brings. In a culture that so regularly worships at the Martian altar; where we are constantly reminded to be strong, to be one, to be all we can be; that the only practical and realistic results are those from military action- this is the kind of gentle corrective we need to remember that, in truth, war is hell. It is an evil and a blight on our people and our planet. And if we are to have any hope as a species, we need more books like this one by Alice Walker.