Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Beatriz was born in Lisbon, Portugal yesterday, Wednesday, November 28. She is well and so is her mama, my elder nephew's wife. She is their second child and first girl -- my brother's first granddaughter and my parents' first great-granddaughter. It's a momentous event for her big brother, who is no longer the only child (he's almost five years old), but apparently he is delighted in these first days.
Great-Aunt Jane here is happy for everyone, and tickled that we have a new girl in the family: the last time was over half a century ago when Great-Aunt Jane was born. We were due! Welcome to the world, little Beatriz. We'll try to take care of it so that you have a safe place to grow.
In honor of yesterday's feast of St. John Chrysostom, here is a thoughtful piece from the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, "St. John Chrysostom and the Problem of Wealth".
To enlarge the icon to the right and see more of the color and detail, click on the picture.
The home page of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship website is here.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Sunday, November 25, 2007
In honor of the feast of Christ the King, and in happy response to Grandmère Mimi's post on Andrae Crouch's "Soon and Very Soon We Are Going To See the King," here is a version of the song. Thanks to Mimi for posting this link to Andrae Crouch in her Comments section.
At St. Columba Catholic Church in Oakland, we ROCKED it with that song, the whole congregation, on our feet singing and clapping with the wonderful choir under the director of Rawn Harbor, one of the great African American liturgical musicians. St. Columba was the last RC parish of which I was a member before emigrating to the Episcopal Church, and it continues to have a special place in my heart. I still have friends there and return to visit when I can.
And now I am going to be obnoxious and quote myself.
In my book When in Doubt, Sing: Prayer in Daily Life (several years out of print thanks to the neglect of HarperCollins, but soon and very soon I will have good news about new life for this book, and we won't have to wait till the Parousia for that one) I have a chapter called "Pronouns, Poets, and the Desire for God: Language and Prayer." As you can imagine, much of the chapter is about gender and the language of prayer, but the chapter is about the broader issue of God-language in prayer and also addresses questions of the images of light and dark we use as well as all the "king" business that causes so many preachers headaches on this feast. (Kevin, our Chaplain at St. Mary's House, Greensboro, alluded to this problem with the king-word today at in his sermon.)
Here is some of what I wrote on the latter topic, and it's related to this song and to my friends of the St. Columba community.
Sometimes context makes a difference: language does not sing or grate in a vacuum but in a social setting. For three years now, I have heard and sung the Andrae Crouch gospel hymn "Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King" at St. Columba. I used to be uncomfortable with it: royal images of Jesus and God have never sat well with me as a woman or as an American, though I understand the irony in the Gospels, where Jesus tries to explain to the befuddled disciples that his kingdom is not the one they expect, but a realm of a different order. But "king" takes on a different meaning in a community of oppressed people -- oppressed in their ancestral uprooting and enslavement, oppressed by economic barriers and racist attitudes and institutions today. This king of whom we sing at St. Columba in Oakland relativizes the rulers of the world --which of course is one of the purposes of the Catholic feast of Christ the King (one of the days, in addition to the Sundays in Advent, on which we sing this hymn). No king, emperor, president, kaiser, duce, führer, prime minister, or secretary general has ultimate power over our lives - only God. Now "power-over" claims our allegiance, but rather the revolutionary love-power of Jesus.
**************Jane Redmont, When in Doubt, Sing: Prayer in Daily Life, 172. (Published in 1999, but I wrote this sometime around 1998.)
The movie has eight stories in it. One can view them separately, but it's heartwarming to see them all together since they are about varied communities and parts of the country. I can imagine that the segments would work well as part of a series for congregations, classes, and community groups. Not sure when the movie is coming out, but you can keep in touch with the project and its various roots and offshoots here. The producers have teamed up with Active Voice, an organization that uses documentaries as community organizing tools, so there's the film "Renewal" but there's also the related Renewal Project. Have a look.
I won't be surprised if this makes it onto public television, but it's meant for distribution and community conversation and action. Let me (and each other) know what you think.
Friday, November 23, 2007
On "Bill Moyers' Journal" this weekend on PBS.
But I've also put up a link online on the other blog, and you can watch the whole show there if you miss it on television.
Bill Moyers interviews Dr. James Cone on this powerful television show.
**** ****-- George Bernard Shaw, as quoted on today's Tavis Smiley Show (the one-hour radio version) by Morgan Spurlock, on the show with Bill Talen, a.k.a. Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping to talk about the Church on Buy Nothing Day and about the new movie What Would Jesus Buy?
As Rev. Billy would say, Change-a-lujah!
Buy Nothing Day (today!) brought to you by Adbusters.
Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping.
If you must (but not today):
The Heifer Project (addressing hunger and poverty through long-term solutions - donate bees and buffalos!), online or via their beautiful catalog.
MADRE (human rights for women and families). Make sure you have a look at this one.
Ten Thousand Villages (shops --all over the U.S., we have one here in Greensboro-- practicing fair trade, selling objects from local artisan groups).
Or give the produce or products of your local artisans or growers. I have (mostly) stopped importing my coffee from California, where I loved my local bean freaks (Blue Bottle Coffee) and have been purchasing from the excellent Larry's Beans. North Carolina people, that makes a nice present.
So does goat cheese from Goat Lady Dairy. If you're in California, of course, there's Redwood Hill Farm. They export to other states, and I still buy their yogurt at my local food co-op (they export it out of state; the fresh goat cheese, however, doesn't travel) but it's nice to go for sustainable (i.e. mostly local) eating and giving.
Speaking of the food co-op, I have taken to buying gifts there in late December when scrambling for a few little things. They have adorable finger puppets, mostly animals, made by a women's collective in the Andes. Not exactly next door (the Andes, I mean) but it's a fair trade set-up and you would be amazed how many adults just love having an animal finger puppet on their desk, sitting on one of their pens in the pen and pencil holder, ready for a conversation. I give them to children, too, but don't forget the grown-ups. (The photo is not my hand, I trawled the web and found the very puppets of which I speak. I gave one of those rabbits to someone not long ago.)
My favorite olive oil, which has been in the foodie column to the right since I began blogging, is Bariani in California. They make their own balsamic vinegar too.
Another discovery from my California years (the coffee and olive oil people sell at the Berkeley Farmers' Market and other Bay Area farmers' markets, and so do these folks) is Juniper Ridge. Incense, soaps, sachets, and a few edible goodies, all sustainably picked, a.k.a wildcrafted. I am particularly fond of the desert piñon incense (which Padre Pablito does not need since he is right in that territory) but the cedar is wonderful too, if a little intense. The soaps and jellies make nice house gifts. (Pictured here: the soaps.)
If you buy from any of those folks, tell 'em I sent you.
Then of course, there's your favorite cause or organization...
Don't forget your local children, your battered women's shelter, the food bank, your local Catholic Worker house of hospitality, and the still rebuilding Gulf Coast after Katrina.
For you Episco-folk and anyone else interested, there's Episcopal Relief and Development.
Not into churchy organizations? Try the Seva Foundation. [Note: I added this item a few hours after the rest of the post.]
A postscript: Kristin reminds us in the Comments section about Global Exchange. How could I forget? Thanks, Kristin. (They have a vast Fair Trade online store at the website, but for those of you in the Bay Area, there's a Global Exchange store at 2840 College Ave. in Berkeley.)
Even Newsweek has a "Do-Gooder" selection in its holiday gift guide. (Here online but also in the paper version of the magazine.)
I could go on and on but it's Buy Nothing Day! (And I have not a dime left --seriously; I'm down to $2.50, so that's a few dimes, but that's it for the rest of the month!-- after my trip to Europe where the dollar dropped against the Euro and my college only paid the transportation, not the food and lodging. Akh!)
Note: None of the above-mentioned merchants or organizations have asked me or paid me to write about their good work.
Note also: This is meant as a resource to offer some ideas, not as a guilt trip.
I'll post another reminder or resource sometime in December. Ideas and suggestions welcome. We can start a thread in the comments section if people are interested.
Janinsanfran knows of some good projects related to water in Central America.
Bear in mind that systemic change is less glamorous and sexy but more long-lasting than direct service, though both are necessary
Above all, be mindful, be grateful, remember we are all bound together in one web of life.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
The Inclusive Church blog also has the audio of addresses by Lucy Winkett (whose talk the blog describes as "a rhetorical tour de force") and the wonderful Louis Weil.
For those of you who don't know, Dr. Jenny Plane Te Paa is Ahorangi or Principal of Te Rau Kahikatea, The College of St. John the Evangelist in Auckland, New Zealand. Since her appointment in 1995, she has been the first and only lay, indigenous woman (she is a Maori -- a daughter of the land of Te Rarawa ki Ahipara) ever to be appointed as head of an Anglican theological college.
In 2001 Jenny was appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to serve on the Inter-Anglican Theological Doctrinal Commission for a 7-year term and in 2003 she was also appointed to serve on both the Commission on Theological Education for the Anglican Communion and the Lambeth Commission. She belongs to the International Anglican Indigenous Network and the International Anglican Women’s Network. She is Convenor of the Steering Committee for the International Anglican Peace and Justice Network and a member of the World Council of Churches Commission on Ecumenical Theological Education and Ministry Formation. She also serves the Church in Aotearoa New Zealand on both national and local commissions and is a Lay Canon of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland.
(For a Maori version of the Lord's Prayer on the Holy Trinity Cathedral website, with translation and commentary, see here.)
I am going to re-read a passage or two from that book and from another book that my friend recommended and I used for the course, The Jesuit Relations: Natives and Missionaries in Seventeenth-Century North America, ed. Allan Greer.
I'm also going to have a look at a book I own but have not yet read, Native American Religious Identity: Unforgotten Gods, edited by Jace Weaver (Cherokee).
Yes, I am also going to enjoy a fine meal with close friends. L'un n'empêche pas l'autre.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Remember, though, not to let Martha and Mary play competitors in your head. For a reminder, see here.
I didn't see our local deer (we have a whole family living in the woods behind this little group of houses and they often come out mid-evening and hang out on the lawn) but I did check in on the fine folks at Greensboro Birds, and they had a deer sighting on their side of town, along with a few birds for the day, all in one post. Check it out and enjoy feeling local. Greensboro, North Carolina local, that is.
Miss Maya Pavlova, the dancing cat, did well under the care of two of my favorite and trusted students and was only moderately peeved at me. She sits curled against the fax machine right now having a noonday snooze.
Now for a quiet Thanksgiving with time for contemplation and yes, some catch-up posts on Belgium and France. All in due time.
Safe travels, all, and safe home.
Monday, November 19, 2007
What I can say is that after a long day of meetings and interviews, I had supper with a good friend and had Goa fish curry. That's Goa, India, and the curry was light, fragrant, and lemony, which didn't come from lemon but from tamarind.
As for the interviews: interviewing candidates for teaching posts here is a kind of academic speed-dating. You see people for 30 minutes, which is more like 25 because you walk them to and from the little booth where you sit with members of your department, and you try to be warm and hospitable while lobbing strategic questions in their direction in a curtained cubicle similar to those in the emergency room of a U.S. hospital, except that the curtains here are purple. My colleague refers to the warren of interview cubicles as "the purple labyrinth." Both of us are relatively new in our jobs so we remember being the interviewees just a few years ago.
It is amazing what you can find out in 25 minutes, though, and how people's demeanor does not always match their dossier.
Eventually we bring three finalists to campus, and then the interview lasts for two days.
Among the meetings and seminars today: a very good one on Latina theologies.
Yesterday: found out interesting and encouraging information about the Bible study at the upcoming Lambeth conference.
Many old friends. Not enough time. Horribly expensive coffee and food. (The land of the nine dollar tuna sandwich. No, I didn't have one.) Clement weather. Much walking back and forth between large concrete buildings and big hotels to get from one meeting to another. Lost a beautiful chiffon scarf on the way to brunch because it was so light it blew right off my shoulders.
I still think downtown San Diego looks like a cardboard movie set.
I may be turning into the online Samuel Pepys. Heaven forfend.
Friday, November 16, 2007
The human body is not made for living in this kind of environment.
Blessings, all, from travelin' Jane.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
No, this is not turning into a news blog, but I do periodically post news and social analysis, as regular readers know. I just received this interesting link to an article about the Italy/Turkey dynamics which happens to be (not coincidentally) by my brother.
Have a look.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Merry but serious, once in a while. And they are (mostly) Southerners. Check 'em out.
Bad photo because I didn't take my own camera along, just a cheap, light, disposable camera (mea culpa, Mother Nature) and took this photo with it, with a flash, in the dark of the early morning on my way through the cloister walk from my room to breakfast. The day I arrived one of the monks had shown me all the frescoes in detail, with commentary.
Click on the photo to enlarge. Fuzzy, but still interesting.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
The sign says that this is where they lived in 1118 and that the house was rebuilt in 1849. So it's not the original, but it is the very place.
It is on the Ile de la Cité on the Quai aux Fleurs. Notre-Dame is nearby. Héloïse's uncle Fulbert was a canon there.
Click on the photo to enlarge.
Monday, November 12, 2007
What I really want to do is blog.
What I have to do is run an errand and then have dinner and spend the rest of the evening at a little meeting at which we will go through a stack of applications for the open position in our department because we have to contact people tomorrow to tell them whether we are interviewing them at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting this coming weekend in San Diego. Yes, more airplanes.
So, till I have time to write the promised foodie updates (I actually took notes for them on the plane!), here is the website of the restaurant where a couple of friends took me on Saturday night. It's a rather more trendy place than they or I tend to frequent, though not the trendiest in the neighborhood (that one was, they noted, the place across the street) but it was great fun and delicious. As you will see, it is called Les Editeurs (which means "publishers," not "editors") or rather, since they spell it in trendy lower-case, les éditeurs, and there are books around (probably good p.r. for the Parisian publishing houses, whom the menu thanks for their books) and a general literary theme. Mostly people were eating, not reading, since it was suppertime, meaning 9 p.m. Have a look, even if you don't read French you will get a feel for the place via the pictures; click your way around. There is already a cookbook by the chef. Someone is into marketing here.
That said, the food was delicious.
I am writing on a loaner laptop. Godde bless the IT office; they are taking good care of me.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
The conference at Leuven was intense --not even a daytime moment to buy chocolate for my students-- but it was excellent and we had some free time in the evenings. I am back in Paris and about to change for dinner with friends here. I fly back to the States tomorrow Sunday.
Belgian weather was cold; it hailed one morning! There is, however, very good soup in Leuven. Also, of course, the famous beer.
It was fun hobnobbing with the international theological crowd. There were people from 25 countries!
Blessings to all. More posting when I have the technology situation worked out.
Grotemarkt, Leuven, Belgium.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
The length of the foodie report I plan to write is growing in my head, but I must get some sleep. I leave for Brussels in the a.m. and my subway ride to the station is nearly as long as the Paris-to-Brussels Thalys ride. Thalys is one of the rapid trains, specifically the France-Belgium-Netherlands-Cologne (Germany) one. Would that we had these in the U.S. I will not go on a rant about U.S. [lack of] rail transportation planning and technology and the attendant [lack of] political will, because I had a very nice black-currant sorbet (again, but this time with whole currants in it) on top of an Italian meal with an excellent Montepulciano d'Abruzzo with three very dear old friends and I do not want to ruin either my digestion or my sleep.
Yes, I have had chocolate mousse. Homemade and not fattening at all. I got the recipe, too.
A good thing people are feeding me because the dollar is dropping against the Euro, more each day; another big dip today. I am not sure how much we are on our own for the meals at the conference (beyond the bed and breakfast and a final banquet for which we must pay in Euros) but it could be a lean rest of the week.
More from Belgium if I can. Not sure what the technology will be like where I am staying. Are Flemish Benedictine monks wired for internet? Stay tuned.
Jane, Girl Reporter
Monday, November 5, 2007
After lunch I found myself heading to the Cluny museum, which was just minutes away and where I'd been thinking of going since yesterday. Or longer. I don't think I had been during any of my adult visits. It's Paris's medieval museum and also is adjacent to the ruins of the Roman baths --you visit the one on the same ticket as the other-- and since I now teach history of Christianity with a serious segment on 12th century Europe, this was a must.
The most amusing part of a visit full of items related to religious devotion plus a few devoted to war was a set of tiny pendants or pins --jewelry of some kind-- which alas I cannot describe because it would draw all manner of undesirables to the blog, but let me say that our medieval forebears may have fasted during Lent and sculpted the Last Judgment on the portals of their cathedrals and feared for the lives of their immortal souls, but they were a randy bunch, and you have no idea of some of the explicit depictions they made. They didn't teach us about that in school.
Yes, I also saw amazing tapestries and statues and tiles and fabric from medieval Spain that showed a lot of Moorish influence and ivory and and stained glass and wood and metal portable altars and reredoses (reredoi? reredoodles?), oh my.
The museum happens to be located in a not too shabby 15th century building which was the Cluniac monks' little Parisian pied-à-terre.
It was after that bit of overstimulation that I headed for the quiet of the Ile Saint-Louis and the Berthillon sorbets. (See below.)
After which it was time for a little something more modern, which I would have saved for tomorrow except that most museums in Paris are closed on Tuesdays. Off I went, still on foot --it was a long walking day-- to the Pompidou Center, a.k.a. Beaubourg (see discussion on nomenclature below), which has an exhibit on the sculptor Alberto Giacometti.
Beaubourg is a monstrosity. I mean, it really does look like a heating plant. But it's a fabulous museum, even if the signage inside is lousy and I got lost twice on the way to the exhibit. And what no one had told me and I had never read anywhere is that the view from the 6th floor (where the exhibit was), at least from the balcony and walkways, is one of the most spectacular in all of Paris on a clear night. And this was a clear night. (The museum has evening hours.) You can see every major building illuminated, clear across the night sky, including both the ugly ones (or the ones Parisians think are mostly ugly tourist traps, like the Sacré-Coeur and the Eiffel Tower) and the beautiful old ones like the Invalides (where Napoleon's tomb is) and the nearby Tour Saint-Jacques and Notre-Dame and the ugliest building in the city, the Tour Montparnasse, which was an accident of urban planning and sticks out like a square sore thumb on the urban landscape. Directly across from Beaubourg are traditional old --or restored-- five- or six-story buildings with the mansard windows so characteristic of the city. Some architect knew what s/he was doing with that sixth-floor glass-enclosed walkway.
It's still ugly from outside, though. But it works.
As for Giacometti, I have always liked him, and I continue to be amazed at how much emotion and detail his thin, compressed sculptures convey. I also love his face. There was a whole room in the exhibit devoted to photographs of him. All the major photographers of the 20th century seem to have taken portraits of him: Man Ray, Brassaï, Gordon Parks, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Inge Morath. He had a beautiful, mobile, sculptured face.
He also made sketches and a tiny bust of Simone de Beauvoir. Who knew? Sketches of Sartre also, but no bust, at least none in the exhibit.
I like his cat:
Then I went off to my second museum of the day, about which more later. * You can see why I needed the stop at the café. * One museum can wear you out.
People here just go to cafés and sit. * Outdoors, at the terrace. * They sit, they sip, they talk. Sometimes they don't talk. * Aaaah. * (Contented sigh.)
I found myself on the Left Bank after a Right Bank sort of day because we drove the Adorable Goddaughter over to The Boyfriend's parents' place to meet up with him and two other vet students so they could drive back to Belgium last night, and my friend had to go to a Theosophy lecture in another neighborhood after that, so she dropped me off on the way so I could take the subway home. Before taking the Métro I walked for a while, running into the new city bikes, and then, right near the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, on this cool November evening, happened upon a chestnut-roasting stand. You get roast chestnuts on the street, straight from the grill (there are several kinds, but it's generally some sort of metal plate over a wood fire) into a paper cone which you then carry around, peeling and eating and warming your hands.
Chestnuts used to be the staple carbohydrate of peasants in the low mountains of central France. In other words, a food of the poor. They were among the most inexpensive street snack when I was growing up. Now a small paper cone of them costs three Euros a pop. I bought one anyway, of course, for nostalgia's sake but also because I really love chestnuts.
They also smell wonderful, and as a bite to eat on a chilly late afternoon, equally far from supper and lunch, they were deeply satisfying.
Chestnuts are, of course, still an ingredient in many dishes, from chestnut stuffing for fowl to the expensive and delicious candied chestnuts of the Christmas season.
The man selling them appeared to be an immigrant from South Asia. Sign of the times.
Veterinary school in both the French and Belgian systems is a combo of college and medical school and six or seven years long and they don't let you touch a live animal at first, it's all hard science and then embryology and dissections of dead critters. Then you start doing internships and working with the real live creatures. The kids (by which I mean the vet students) are all very fond of animals (one of my more cynical pediatrician friends would say that vets love animals more than physicians love people; this is based on her observations in the medical world; but I digress) so this rabbit is very popular, which doesn't mean she is not the butt of jokes about rabbit stew.
At the end of the weekend I finally met The Boyfriend, who is almost as adorable as The Adorable Goddaughter and is also in vet school. He is half French and half Cambodian. Stay tuned for a post I have been mulling called "Living a Hybrid Life." It is good to be back among my international crew. These are my people, the ones who are not fully of one or another culture but who are somehow both.
I have taken photos of the aforementioned rabbit, non-digital ones, and may post them eventually, though I'm thinking not since the photos are all of her with the Adorable Goddaughter. I generally shy away from posting photos of family members, especially the younger ones, out of concern for privacy and safety.
And speaking of animals: several blogosphere friends (one of whom, the Byzigenous Buddhapalian, is also a friend from my West Coast days) have reminded us of Laika, the space dog who perished up there for the sake of human experiments. Consider this a post under her saintly patronage. Paul's post is here and there are two by MadPriest, here and here. Oops, now there are three; MP just posted one more, which is worth a look too.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
* Free for the first 30 minutes. After that, you pay. Read details in English here.
A U.S. blogger in Paris wrote about the first day of the free bikes here in July of this year.
The Christian Science Monitor wrote a nice clear article here.
Photo below: a bike exhibit and demonstration in June, a month before the launch of the Vélib' program. (The word is a play on the two French words for "bike" and "freedom.")
Shortly before the launch, L'Express had this to say. (Alert: that article is in French.)
The city of Lyon started this bike trend.
Yes, Lyon beat Paris to it. TV piece here.
Lyon is, after all, the capital of the Gauls. (Yes, Gauls in the plural, the three Gallic provinces conquered by Caesar. One Gaul, two Gauls, three Gauls.)
I am probably the only person on the street with no cell phone and I had buy a phone card to make a call. They do still have public phones here, but far fewer than they did a decade ago, and the ones they do have no longer use cash. You have to find a place to buy one or you can't make a call. This was already true on my last visit five and a half years ago. Fortunately, there were plenty of news kiosks and cafés where I was (in one of the dreaded tourist neighborhoods, the Champs-Elysées, where I try not to go).
And the quotation of the day in today's New York Times:
"If anything characterizes the 21st century, it’s our inability to restrain ourselves for the benefit of other people. The cellphone talker thinks his rights go above that of people around him, and the jammer thinks his are the more important rights."
*********-- James Katz, director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers University
It's been true for a while, at least in the U.S., that the noisy have rights over the silent. Perhaps not on the books, but in daily practice: in three different apartments in two different cities, people whom I politely asked to quiet down in the apartment above have either laughed in my face or lectured me about my lack of tolerance. I kid you not.
I love the street musicians here. They are musically the best I have heard in any place. In the halls of the Métro this morning: 1) Erroll Garner's "Misty" on the saxophone, accompanied by one of those fake-orchestra boom boxes; 2) Schubert's Ave Maria on the accordion.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
I see they now just call it Centre Pompidou on the official website, so the formal usage has shortened too. For English-language website, go directly here. Online catalogue and works of art here. Please note the copyright rules.
So yes, I am in Paris. There is now WiFi in this formerly not too tech-y household and we are having a slow day. I may or may not have time to write during the rest of the trip; we shall see.
The layover in Atlanta:
- The middle of the international terminal has turned into a piano bar. Right there in central hub there is a pianist (a woman) and nearby a tall bar. People were already sitting there drinking before 4 p.m. Adjacent is a noisy food court, which has the usual unhealthy fast food, plus one attempt at something healthy and a fast-but not-too-awful Mexican place. I went for the cheese quesadilla.
- Everywhere there are young men in Army fatigues; not hordes of them, but one here and one there, coming or going. One man was older, by which I mean fortyish. The others were boys. (Didn't see any military women this time.) They are so young. I think about their youth and about their parents, every time I fly. They are thin, muscular, with short haircuts and the new, lighter fabric and pattern of fatigues and lighter boots than the military had before this particular season of war. They are far from home and soft of cheek and I keep thinking "Some mother's son." One was with his wife and child at one of the gates. Another, a young white man, stopped to read a historical exhibit panel about Martin Luther King, Jr. in one of the airport walkways.
- Cell phones, computers, plugged-in people. Me too. After several insane days this week including the last two when there as so much school work and trip prep that I got a grand total of three hours of sleep a night for two days running and could not finish a long overdue piece of writing (a scholarly essay due at my kind and patient editor's in England for weeks now) I am checking my mail and writing my editor in the food court after the quesadilla, apologizing again, trying to figure out how to finish this piece when my job eats my time (while requiring that I somehow do scholarly work as well) -- and feeling terrible about the whole thing and about this land of overwork and double-rush in which we live. Even those of us who are also in religious leadership. Sometimes especially we who are in these positions. Not good. Very unhealthy. And the trade-offs, the trade-offs. That part is not new. My mother ruefully quips "You never get somethin' for nothing," and that one precedes the digital age. But the age of cyberspace has made the action/contemplation balancing act difficult in sixty new ways.
In one of the many extra student appointments I had this week (advisees needing their pre-registration appointments, students in to see me because of having gotten behind on assignments, in many cases due to genuine suffering, or illness or circumstances having little to do with school or their capacity to do the work -- only one goof-off in the lot) we talked about this explicitly because the student, who was in getting some clarification about one of the class projects and a little research check-in, has been falling asleep in class. In the front row. I know it's not me -- I tend to walk arond and gesticulate when I teach so it's not likely to encourage sleepiness among the students, especially since we are participatory at Guilford and rarely have straight lectures. And it's not the student, in the sense that he is paying plenty of attention to the material and is an intelligent and conscientious young man. He's just falling asleep. And he's not alone -- I had another one earlier in the semester doing the same thing. I decided to wait till after fall break to take this up with him, not being sure whether it was exhaustion from midterms or part of some kind of of chronic medical condition. When I brought up the fact that he had been falling asleep in class, I asked whether he had been getting enough leep. The answer was no.
This is no way to live. It's not a good way to teach and it's not a good way to learn. I suppose we are all at fault in assigning a lot of work for classes, but apparently I am not (to my surprise, since I am personally a softie but academically a hard-ass) the main culprit. The student said he thought our collective rush and press and overload was partly the digital age. (You know that students e-mail and phone faculty these days, expecting quick responses. This has drastically affected faculty life; there are days when I spend two hours answering student e-mail, and I am a fast reader and letter-writer.) What good is this educational experience when both faculty and students are walking around in a state of exhaustion?
- We board the plane. Two seats to my left is a middle-aged man, an American, who asks me how to say "thank you very much" in French. I tell him and we start to chat as people continue to board and put away their bags and get settled in this enormous Boeing. Are you going to Paris, I ask. Just through, he says, I'm going to Baghdad. Are you in the service, I reply, using the common language for the military. I just retired, he answers. I'm a contractor, he adds, not looking entirely comfortable. I tell him I have friends now working at the Embassy in Baghdad. He says he'll be working security one neighborhood over. When he hears that my friends are career senior Foreign Service officers and chose to go just a few months ago, leaving choice diplomatic posts in Europe, he marvels and says"They must really have gotten the call." I am about to ask him about this contractor business, as tactfully and politely as I can (surely he knows how contractors are portrayed even in news reports these days), when the man in the seat next to mine comes and settles in and thus steps in between us. He is a geek from Germany or Austria who will spend the flight in a combination of playing video games, watching movies, and sleeping with his cap pulled over his eyes and his earphones on; early in the flight he reads a journal, but moves on fast to the action on the small screen.
A few minutes later the contractor, who had been in the next seat over, has disappeared. I look around. I can't see him anywhere. I will not see him again for the rest of the flight.
On the flight I cannot sleep a wink despite my exhaustion. On the contrary, on the flight from Greensboro to Atlanta a few hours before, I sleep almost immediately, smoothly, in the small cramped seat.
There is a selection of movies at the small screens in front of our seats. I watch three chick flicks and skip Harry Potter, "A Mighty Heart," and something else.
More if I can tomorrow or the next day about the three movies and their protagonists and a little more about the plane, about Paris, and perhaps about the most important part, a kind of return to the self that happens when one travels, especially abroad. At least it happens to me.
I started weeping right before we landed, while watching the electronic map some airlines now have on the little screen in front of each seat and which show the flight approaching its destination on a map. Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, France, names of French cities and towns, land and water on this side of the Atlantic, not the other. I had changed sides for the first time in five and a half years. (With one exception, a three day trip to a family wedding three years or so ago.) Familiar names and maps, in French, and we in the plane moving toward Paris. I know you can't go home again, I know France has its political and cultural crises as the U.S. has its own, I know this is no paradise. I know people don't leave either their troubles or their demons behind when they travel. Still, I could not stop crying (silently) as we made our descent. Relief. Home.
Friday, November 2, 2007
All Saints' sermon below.
Go forth now into the world in peace.
Be of good courage.
Hold fast to that which is good;
Render to no one evil for evil.
Strengthen the fainthearted;
support the weak.
Help the afflicted;
Love and serve the Lord.
I'm off to Europe in a bit, so this is a belated All Saints' Day post and an early All Saints' Sunday post.
ALL SAINTS’ SUNDAY
St. Mary’s House (Episcopal), Greensboro
November 6, 2005
Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10, 13-14
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17
In the name of the Triune God --
the One who gives us life,
Christ Jesus, who calls us friends
and their Spirit, who makes all things new.
These also were godly [ones],
whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten;
Their offspring will continue forever,
and their glory will never be blotted out.
Their bodies are buried in peace,
but their name lives on
generation after generation.
I cannot hear today’s first lesson
without seeing in my mind’s eye a book called
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
by Walker Evans and James Agee.
I have my own copy of it now,
but my parents must have had it in our home
or I must have somehow seen it very early in my life.
In 1936, the year that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected
to his second term as president,
Walker Evans, a photographer, and James Agee, a writer,
took on an assignment for Fortune magazine
and drove into rural Alabama
to learn about and report on
the lives of three families of white tenant farmers,
the Gudger, Woods, and Ricketts families.
"Tenant farmers" means that they farmed, but not on their own land,
and the fruits of their labor,
for the most part, did not benefit them.
The following year, 1937,
Roosevelt’s Committee on Farm Tenancy would find out
that tenant farmers constituted half of the farmers in the South.
(They were also almost a third of the farmers in the North,
and one quarter of Western farmers.)
Most of these farmers and their families were desperately poor.
Roosevelt’s committee proposed economic solutions.
Agee and Evans reported on the farmers as artists.
Their goal was to describe the farmers’ lives as accurately as possible
on their own terms.
Evans and Agee lived with the Gudger, Woods, and Ricketts families
for six weeks,
shared their food, slept in their cabins.
The result of their reporting
was rejected by Fortune
but later published in expanded form by Houghton Mifflin,
though it originally sold fewer than 600 copies.
After a quarter of a century it was reissued
and is now an American classic.
an unconventional set of photos and writings.
Neither the images nor the words were sensationalist.
Evans and Agee honored their subjects’ dignity,
even as they presented them in a complex picture:
no snapshots, no slogans;
no sentimentality either.
The exact opposite of celebrity journalism.
There is irony in the title of Evans and Agee’s work
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
since it depicts
the least famous,
the most hidden,
the poorest of the poor,
who lived far, far
from the centers of power in this country,
slept, loved, ate,
and struggled for survival
every day of their lives.
The book of Ecclesiasticus,
from which today’s first lesson is taken
is also known as Sirach.
It is known also by some longer titles,
The Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach
and The Book of Ben Sira.
The book was probably completed
about two centuries before the time of that other Jesus,
Jesus of Nazareth, whom we call Christ.
I’m going to refer to it as Sirach, both because it’s the most common title
and because "Ecclesiasticus" has six syllables.
It is quite possible that Agee,
the writer in the Evans-Agee team,
who attended an Episcopal boarding school
St. Andrew’s, in the Appalachian Mountains
had heard this passage from Sirach in chapel.
This piece of scripture starts with a lot of fanfare:
and the text does say "men" as in males
and not as generic human beings,
wise, accomplished, creative men,
public people, leadership types.
If we read on beyond today’s passage,
we would see that it is just the start
of a really, really long
celebrating Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob
and Moses and Aaron and Joshua and Caleb
and all the judges of Israel
and David and Solomon
and Isaiah and Ezekiel
and on and on and on –
five chapters’ worth!
There is something of second-century B.C.E. celebrity journalism
in this long litany of praise.
These are the big guys. The ones who get named.
The ones who make the news, both when they are alive
and after their death.
As usual, the Sunday lectionary is a tricky thing:
precisely because we have this reading out of context,
we get to hear and pay closer attention to
one of its few mentions of the
the ordinary people,
who "have become as if they had never been born,"
–although even this mention
leaves out all the women who have lived and labored and wept and sung
throughout the centuries.
Out of context and in today’s lectionary snippet,
the reading from Sirach is a little more
–though with its male bias, not quite–
in keeping with the spirit of today’s feast,
The feast of All Saints
is not about the cult of celebrities,
even celebrity saints.
It is, much more, a celebration
of how the Gudger, Woods, and Ricketts families
are part of the same company
as the teachers, kings, and prophets of Israel.
It is a celebration of how
Sarah and Hagar
and Rebecca and Leah and Rachel
and Miriam and Deborah
and the nameless concubines and slaves
and wives and mistresses
and daughters and sisters
of these teachers, kings, and prophets,
are in their company
It is the day to remember the fullness,
the breadth and depth,
of the communion of saints,
our companions in God,
whose presence extends to the ends of the earth
and even beyond death.
Think of it as a day to take the immeasurable measure
of the history and the geography of our faith.
All of it, or as much as we mortals can comprehend.
Think of it as the day to name this history and geography
and all its folk.
Not just the celebrity folk.
Not just the heroes and sheroes.
Not just the exemplars.
It’s not that we don’t need exemplars
or that we don’t need to name and honor them
and to rediscover them anew –
Moses and Miriam,
Zerubbabel of Judah and Cyrus of Persia
Mary of Nazareth and Mary of Magdala,
Hilda and Hildegard,
Augustine of Hippo and Augustine of Canterbury,
Benedict and Scholastica,
Francis and Clare,
Catherine of Siena and Martin Luther,
Rosa Parks and Oscar Romero,
and your grandmothers and mine.
But what we remember on All Saints’ Day
is that we and they belong to the same crowd.
And it’s the crowd we look at.
A crowd, like that in the vision we heard from the Book of Revelation,
a great multitude that no one [can] count,
from every nation,
from all tribes and people and languages.
Elizabeth Johnson, a theologian who teaches at Fordham University,
has written a wonderful book about the communion of saints
called Friends of God and Prophets.
In this book, she calls All Saints’ Day
"that feast of splendid nobodies."
That feast of splendid nobodies.
Not just the feast of holy celebrities.
And as we remember and praise the nobodies,
the whole crowd of them,
we remember them
in their somebodiness.
"Somebodiness" is not a word I invented.
It comes to us from the thought of Martin Luther King, Jr.
and speaks of humanity and dignity:
the humanity and dignity for which Dr. King and Mrs. Rosa Parks struggled,
the same humanity that Agee and Evans wanted to preserve and honor
as they wrote about tenant farmers in Alabama,
the same dignity we promise uphold when we make our baptismal vows.
Today we baptize Cyrus.
Today we are lifting up Cyrus’s somebodiness.
He is already somebody.
He was somebody from the day he was born.
He gets his somebodiness from being human.
It’s not just baptism that makes him somebody.
He is already a child of God.
Today as we lift up Cyrus’s somebodiness,
and give thanks for his precious self,
we welcome him into the church –
–not just the Episcopal Church,
but the church universal.
We celebrate and affirm
that God’s friendship with humanity in Jesus
is for Cyrus, too.
We pray that Cyrus will be a friend of God,
a friend of Jesus,
a human being freed by the Holy Spirit
to praise God, to honor God’s creation,
to do God’s work in the world,
to know the joy of God’s company
and of the company of the friends of God.
And we are sharing with Cyrus what God has given us:
the company of all those splendid nobodies.
Cyrus will belong, as we do,
to the great crowd of saints,
of many nations and races,
holy and sinful,
motley generations of them,
dead and alive,
the famous and the hidden.
We belong to them.
They belong to us.
We cannot be who we are
The vision we lift up today
of all the saints, hidden and renowned
famous or infamous, elegant or clumsy,
can spark our imagination in lonely and fearful times.
We are not alone.
What good company we have!
– there’s a catch.
You knew there was going to be a catch:
this is the Gospel we’re talking about.
are not just
good company on cold nights
or on post-election mornings.
the friends of God.
the ones who take to heart
And what a Gospel.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven...
Blessed are the meek. Happy the ones who mourn.
Meek? Mourn? We like winning the World Series. And the elections.
And who wants to focus on lament?
Blessed are the merciful... Blessed are the peacemakers.
Mercy and peacemaking... Okay.
Wait. You mean every day. In every way. !?
In our private life and in our public life?!
All the time?
– Can I go part-time or job-share or something?
Blessed are the pure in heart... those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Oh, Cyrus. It’s not about success. It’s not about fame.
It’s about living with heart and loving justice.
Blessed are those who are persecuted.
The Beatitudes bless and promise wholeness
to oppressed people,
those who live with misery on which you can’t take a detour:
the poor; the hungry; the sorrowful.
The Beatitudes showers blessing upon those who care so deeply
about the somebodiness of the poor and the marginalized
that they hunger for justice for them, they thirst for mercy for them,
their bodies ache and their hearts pine
when humans treat one another
as less than human.
The Beatitudes promise us blessing
but remind us that being a friend of Jesus has a cost.
People will exclude us
and slander us
and get their facts wrong about us;
we may become the victims of spin and lies and worse,
because we have lived as friends of Jesus.
Do you still want to stand in celebration
for this Gospel?
Was Jesus out of his mind?
Is this what we signed up for?
Pledge allegiance to this one
and you have given over your life
to the very opposite of status,
of conquest and empire-building,
of easy comfort,
of winning at all costs.
You may even lose that last mantle of protection,
That’s the good news.
But we never, ever have to hear it
or live it
We will always have,
and Cyrus will always have,
the company, and wisdom, and witness
of those people who have managed to say yes
to those Beatitudes, the ones I would love to avoid
and can’t. The Beatitudes of today
that whisper and shout to me and to us
that Jesus was not out of his mind,
that he knew exactly what he was talking about
and that there is joy
in embracing his way and his truth and his life
even in the fog.
Cyrus will have his days of fog
and we will have our days of fog with him:
when he is cranky and not sweet;
when he is an awkward teenager and no longer an adorable toddler;
when he tells us truths we would rather not hear;
when Cyrus and we, his elders, struggle to understand each other.
In those days, we will have the company of saints,
and so will he.
In those days, he will still be marked with the sign of faith
which he receives today. And we had better remember it.
In those days,
even when he feels alone,
Cyrus will not be alone.
As he grows, it will be our sacred responsibility
to remember the baptismal vows we renew today,
to be for him the saints, the friends of God,
and to teach him that the communion of saints extends far beyond
our own small community.
There is no such thing as being a Christian away in a corner.
The "we" comes first.
Several of us here went to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak the other night.
With a twinkle in his eye and the fervor of an evangelist,
Archbishop Tutu exclaimed,
"God is smart! God has created us so we could never be self-sufficient."
God is smart. God has created us so we could never be self-sufficient.
Remember that one, friends of God.
Remember that one, friends of Cyrus.
Praise God for the community that has no borders.
Praise God for the gift of this communion
in which each one of us is somebody.
Praise God for the splendid nobodies,
whose memory gives us hope.
Praise God for this hope
which we share with Cyrus today.
It is Ethiopian, from the 17th century. Full reference info at Race, Justice, and Love.
To enlarge and see even more of the gorgeous detail, go to the other blog and click on the photo. (This one won't enlarge, for some reason.)
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Come and visit. We are launching it today, on the feast of All Saints.
It's called Race, Justice, and Love.