Today we're talking to Christine Sunderland, author of Offerings.
FQ: In this book, you try to make sense of the role of suffering in our world. What lessons about how physical suffering allies with spiritual belief do you hope readers will take away from Offerings?
I believe there are many connections between physical suffering and spiritual belief. Some would include 1) a belief that suffering is not meaningless, that good can come out of it; 2) a belief that suffering is caused by man and not God; 3) a willingness to offer one's suffering to God. These hopeful spiritual states, or beliefs, hinder depression and encourage joy, something science has corroborated.
FQ: Can you tell us more about the concept of “New Israel”?
The phrase "New Israel" has been used to describe the Christian faith as an extension of the Jewish faith, as opposed to Christianity being a new faith "invented" or "founded" by Christ. As the New Israel, Christianity is the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies that a messiah would come to save mankind. Christ, of course, was Jewish and honored the prophets, the law, and the commandments, making frequent references to this heritage.
FQ: At one point in Offerings, two characters have an interesting debate about Catholic-run nations (like Italy) and Protestant-run nations (as you define the United States.) The debate is never resolved however. Can you talk more about this debate? Do you plan on re-visiting this topic?
For the most part, I was having a little fun in that scene, playing around with mere speculation. The argument has been made over time that the Protestant work ethic supported development and achievement, as opposed to a Catholic acceptance of the status quo, but like all such generalizations, there are many exceptions. I do return to this idea a bit in Inheritance for it deals with the Protestant influences in England and by extension, in the United States. The Calvinist doctrines of Predestination and the Elect had a great influence on Western culture, as well as the Puritan taboos on recreation and pleasure.
FQ: Do you feel ready to let go of Madeleine and Jack after you finish the trilogy? Or might readers get to catch up again with them?
Who knows? It will be difficult – they may reappear at some point! But for now a fourth novel is waiting in line, set in Hawaii, in which Madeleine and Jack have no part to play. Hana-lani is a faster paced novel about a young woman's search for meaning in today's culture of instant gratification. It's about family, history, and tradition, but not an "inspirational" novel per se.
FQ: Can you give us a preview of the last in this trilogy?
Inheritance is about Vietnamese-American Victoria Nguyen, seventeen, who flees to England with a secret. Madeleine and Jack, in London to found a children's home, meet Victoria in nearby Aylesbury on Ash Wednesday and befriend her. Brother Cristoforo (whom readers met in Pilgrimage), a black Franciscan, joins them, and as the four travel through England in the mists of Lent to Easter Day, they face their own challenges and choices. Inheritance is about the history of Christianity in England, the nature of belief, and the action of God in history. It's also about love, freedom, and the mystery of time.