samedi, décembre 30, 2006

Living in Sin

Parenting younger children at bedtime requires a great deal of vigilance-but its also the time when our energy is at its lowest. Did I mutter that exhortation about the teeth or did I say it clearly? Heck, did I even say it to anyone but myself...or did it fall into the chain of commands that usually includes "usesoaphangthetowelsputyourclothesinthehamper"...Well, you know what I mean. Sometimes I think I've said something to Colin or Sian-but I'm truly not sure I've said it to anyone. All of that being said (or not said) the most frustrating moments with your kids may be the ones where they hear what you say-and choose to do something different. I have a mantra I use with Colin before he gets into the bathtub: "Make sure you wash your hair..with soap!" But it wasn't until he came into the kitchen for his evening glass of milk that I noticed his hair was almost bone dry. He knew he should have washed it-I struggled to understand why he didn't wash it. "I don't know" he confessed, putting his arms around my recalcitrant waist. After getting over my annoyance, I went into his bedroom, turned off his light, and threw my arms around him. Then I told him about St. Paul-the man who told us about doing the things we didn't want to do and not doing the things we should do. That's called sin, I told him. He reflected a moment-then Colin Paul Evans said cheerfully-"That's why my middle name is Paul!" Maybe all of us should have the middle name honor the disciple who had the humility to name his condition, and the insight to seek the only doctor who could cure it.

vendredi, décembre 29, 2006

Justice upon injustice

Bob Murphy, the senior vice president of ABC News, said the network planned to interrupt whatever program was being broadcast to report the news of the execution in the form of a brief report. “I suspect there will be some form of video released that will confirm the death for the Iraqi people,” Mr. Murphy said. ABC will “fulfill our obligations as journalists in documenting the event,” he said. But he emphasized, “We will absolutely not go too far in showing graphic images. Taste and propriety are the two key guidelines." New York Times December 28, 2006 This comment by a network executive seems oddly, even touchingly naive, in the face of the total lack of taste or propriety around the impending execution of Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi dictator. While reading some articles on knowledge management and business tonight I said a couple of silent prayers for his soul...and, with more enthusiasm, for the souls of the tens of thousands of people he had killed. His death amidst the backdrop of this awful war, raises more issues than it answers. There is some question (well, many questions) about the way his trial was conducted. In allowing the trial to be conducted in ways that raised questions about the defendant's rights, the Iraqi courts lost a chance to show themselves significantly better than they were under the dictator. His death will most likely provoke more violence on the part of the Sunni minority-another marker of the lack of planning that has made this war a model for failed revolutions. I don't happen to believe that capital punishment provides true justice for the death victims or heals the suffering of the living. In this case, it will probably just spark the deaths of more innocents-is there some kind of moral or Biblical justification for that?Then there is the gruesome manner of Husseins' death-hanging someone in this day and age seems like a means of death that ought to be consigned to a century when people were also burned alive at the stake. "Why don't they draw and quarter him and put his head on a spike outside the city?"I asked my dad tonight. He responded, with a bit of gallows humor, that perhaps no one had thought about suggesting it. But the manner of Saddam Hussein's death may be the most realistic touch in this tragedy-providing the warlords their bloodbath and intermission, but no real finale.

mardi, décembre 26, 2006

Chocolate cake and a whole lot more

This is a little parable about chocolate cake-but, like all the best parables, it's actually about a whole lot more than flour, butter, sugar, eggs and...oh (the best part) icing. For some reason (Sian, a creative child with Attention Deficit, is easily bored) my daughter decided to bake a cake this morning at her dad's house. No matter that he had already made his fabulous Christmas cake, a confection rife with fruit, brandy and marzipan icing. Near that cake sat a bag of mom's pfferneuse cookies-so what? Fulfilling her own inner urge to create, Sian got out the ingredients for a decadent confection-with the odd exception of the icing, which she insisted her father buy at the grocery store! No wonder, then, that the first item her dad put in my car when I met him was half of the cake. Those of you who know me, and now those who don't, will know that there is no need for anyone to give me candy and cake-I am perfectly capable of going to the grocery store myself. But even I have my limits. Quickly I began to plot-what neighborhood children could be invited over tomorrow? How about palming some off on Aunt Heidi when we meet her for the musical in Philadelphia in the evening? When Colin began to ponder his dessert choices, I quickly suggested a slice of cake. But when he got Sian's permission to have a slice, it came with a significant condition: the he tell her whether whether it was good. Realizing we didn't have a large window of time, I asked him what he planned to tell her. "If not good, I won't tell her," Colin said. "If it is good, I'll tell her." As he stuck his fork in and prepared to taste, he prayed "Please make this cake good." And something graceful occured, for certain-for when Sian came in for the verdict, my uncannily wise little boy gave her a big hug and said "If the cake were a person, I'd marry her." Squirming out of his embrace, his older sister looked embarrassed...and pleased. Not that she would admit it-after all, who relishes compliments from a little brother? One slice down...only ten more to go.

lundi, décembre 25, 2006

Through a glass brightly

From today's NYT-the tale of a poor, radical, quixotic man of God who changed the world-and could change it more still if we were open to letting him do more than talk silently to birds and squirrels in gardens. The words of the saints both expand our worlds-and expose our limitations to the core.

December 25, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor
The Peaceful Crusader
AMID all the useless bloodshed of the Crusades, there is one story that suggests an extended clash of civilizations between Islam and the West was not preordained. It concerns the early 13th-century friar Francis of Assisi, who joined the Fifth Crusade not as a warrior but as a peacemaker.
Francis was no good at organization or strategy and he knew it. He accepted the men and women who presented themselves as followers, befriended them and shared the Gospel with them. But he gave them little else. He expected them to live like him: rejecting distinctions of class, forgoing honors of church or king or commune, taking the words of Jesus literally, owning nothing, suffering for God’s sake, befriending every outcast — leper, heretic, highwayman — thrust in their path.
Francis was not impressed by the Crusaders, whose sacrilegious brutality horrified him. They were entirely too fond of taunting and abusing their prisoners of war, who were often returned to their families minus nose, lips, ears or eyes.
In Francis’ view, judgment was the exclusive province of the all-merciful God; it was none of a Christian’s concern. True Christians were to befriend all yet condemn no one. Give to others, and it shall be given to you, forgive and you shall be forgiven, was Francis’ constant preaching. “May the Lord give you peace” was the best greeting one could give to all one met. It compromised no one’s dignity and embraced every good; it was a blessing to be bestowed indiscriminately. Francis bestowed it on people named George and Jacques and on people named Osama and Saddam. Such an approach, in an age when the most visible signs of the Christian religion were the wars and atrocities of the red-crossed crusaders, was shockingly otherworldly and slyly effective.
Symbolic gesture, Francis’ natural language, was a profound source he called on throughout his life. In one of its most poignant expressions, Francis sailed across the Mediterranean to the Egyptian court of al-Malik al-Kamil, nephew of the great Saladin who had defeated the forces of the hapless Third Crusade. Francis was admitted to the august presence of the sultan himself and spoke to him of Christ, who was, after all, Francis’ only subject.
Trying to proselytize a Muslim was cause for on-the-spot decapitation, but Kamil was a wise and moderate man, who was deeply impressed by Francis’ courage and sincerity and invited him to stay for a week of serious conversation. Francis, in turn, was deeply impressed by the religious devotion of the Muslims, especially by their five daily calls to prayer; it is quite possible that the thrice-daily recitation of the Angelus that became current in Europe after this visit was precipitated by the impression made on Francis by the call of the muezzin (just as the quintessential Catholic devotion of the rosary derives from Muslim prayer beads).
It is a tragedy of history that Kamil and Francis were unable to talk longer, to coordinate their strengths and form an alliance. Had they been able to do so, the phrase “clash of civilizations” might be unknown to our world.
Francis went back to the Crusader camp on the Egyptian shore and desperately tried to convince Cardinal Pelagius Galvani, whom Pope Honorius III had put in charge of the Crusade, that he should make peace with the sultan, who, despite far greater force on his side, was all too ready to do so. But the cardinal had dreams of military glory and would not listen. His eventual failure, amid terrible loss of life, brought the age of the crusades to its inglorious end.
Donald Spoto, one of Francis of Assisi’s most recent biographers, rightly calls Francis “the first person from the West to travel to another continent with the revolutionary idea of peacemaking.” As a result of his inability to convince Cardinal Pelagius, however, Francis saw himself as a failure. Like his model, Jesus of Nazareth, Francis was an extremist. But his failure is still capable of bearing new fruit.
Islamic society and Christian society have been generally bad neighbors now for nearly 14 centuries, eager to misunderstand each other, often borrowing culturally and intellectually from each other without ever bestowing proper credit. But as Sir Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, has written, almost as if he was thinking of Kamil and Francis, “Those who are confident of their faith are not threatened but enlarged by the different faiths of others. ... There are, surely, many ways of arriving at this generosity of spirit and each faith may need to find its own.” We stand in desperate need of contemporary figures like Kamil and Francis of Assisi to create an innovative dialogue. To build a future better than our past, we need, as Rabbi Sacks has put it, “the confidence to recognize the irreducible, glorious dignity of difference.”
May the Lord give you peace.
Thomas Cahill is the author of “Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science and Art From the Cults of Catholic Europe.”

Merry Christmas!

From our household to yours. We wish you many blessings from the sometimes tearful and more often cheerful chaos of this little household west of Philadelphia headed by a single mom and ruled by her two uppity and delightful kids. In this miniscule rancher, where gift wrapping seems to spill out of every corner, 1. Jesus reigns (when we are good) but Santa still climbs down the chimney once a year 2. the children wish for the moon but seem happy when they get a few stars. 3. the Pffeferneuse never taste the same as they did when my mother made them, but are still pretty darned good, blanketing the air with the smells of clove, cardamom and cinnamon-a feast for the senses 4. the kids have a great dad, allowing us to celebrate the holiday together in friendship and appreciation 5. Christmas isn't magic in the same way as it was when I was a kid, but has its own, contemporary marvels as I see it through my children's eyes and 6. love continues to surprise us May your day be full of graces small and large-and the moments in which to revel in them.

vendredi, décembre 22, 2006

Whom will you serve?

Back in college, when I was grappling with the implications of being newly baptized, I moved fluidly (more or less) in and out of different Christian communities, picking up valuable insights as I traveled. The Pentacostals taught me not to be wary of emotion in worship, while the St. Margaret Sisters helped me learn about the discipline of the divine office and the importance of waiting upon God. The village church of St. James and its unpretentious priest, Bill Wickham, welcomed me without fuss or fanfare and created a space where I could explore my calling. The liberal Protestant chaplain and professor, Joel Tibbetts and his first wife, Ginger, opened their home to me in good times and not so good ones. But the one tradition I didn't learn much about was Anabaptism-the pietistic sects of the radical reformation that were so often persecuted in their home countries and fled to American to find freedom to worship. Anabaptists, of course, believe in adult baptism-and also have a very wary view of secular authority. As I've observed this Administration's evident willingness to pitch American foreign policy as coming straight from the desk of the Almighty, I've wondered if perhaps I didn't have more in common with the pietists-who have often taken to civil disobedience to protest actions they believe to be immoral and unbiblical. Yesterday, at Colin's winter concert, I was ready to race to the first Mennonite congregation I could find and ask the pastor where I could sign up. Since Colin attends a public school, it was considered completely inappropriate to mention God, of course. But about three quarters of the way through the third grader's charming renditions of "Jingle Bells" and "Let there be peace on earth" a little guy came to the mike and piped up: "We are going to do this next set of songs to honor our Armed Forces defending our freedom in Iraq." There followed a selection of traditional flag-worshipping songs-another sign that in
America we can't tell the difference between the Lord of Heaven and Earth and a national symbol with 50 stars. The children did a wonderful job. They were applauded with great enthusiam by parents and grandparents who had brought their videocams to preserve the event for posterity. But as I stood, quietly boiling in the back of the gym, I wondered about the ongoing, pervasive, and troubling lesson of such an event-that for fear of offending someone's values, we must strip Christmas, and Chanukah and Ramadan of their spiritual roots. To do so, we seek the lowest common denominator, the hubristic idol worship of nationalism. So perhaps I'm not as Anabaptist as I thought. I believe there must be a safe place for dialogue about faith in the public schools-with the understanding that to talk about our traditions and diversity starts, but does not end, the conversation.

mardi, décembre 19, 2006

Lines in the sand

After the children are on their school buses and I have my early morning cup of strong British tea in hand, I get online and read the New York Times. You never know, when you open up the paper, what news will greet you. Often it is tragic, sometimes it is bizarre, occasionally touching. Now and then it is regrettable but entrancing-I must admit I've been avidly following the fall-out from the Knicks Madison Square Garden brawl with the Nuggets. Often the stories are distressing-but rarely are they personal. Over the past few days, though, I've been going around with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. When my denomination makes the front page of the newspaper, and the articles hit the top of the 'most blogged' list, it's not a good day for the Episcopal Church. Though it seems like a long time since the national church got good press, this week has been a particularly bad one. On Sunday, the congregations of two historic, large Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Virginia voted (along with some smaller Virginia churches) to leave the denomination and ally themselves with the Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola. The reason? Members of these suburban D.C. parishes, Truro and The Falls Church, thought that the Episcopal church had abandoned fidelity to Scripture and to church tradition by assenting to the consecration of an openly gay bishop and by winking and nodding at gay unions in various dioceses. Naturally, given the pragmatic and worldly politics practiced by all sides, the churches will fight tooth and claw to keep their extremely valuable real estate. It is particularly distressing that the Bishop of the diocese, the Rt. Rev. Peter Lee, is a moderate who had made many attempts to accomodate the conservative churches. Observing what occurred, liberals could wonder whether it is worth attempting to accomodate conservative congregations if the result is that they end up leaving, anyway. Evangelical and conservative congregations in other dioceses will probably be impelled to take another hard look at the cost of staying and to weigh them against the risks of leaving. One thing is for sure-the schism will proceed. And, in the end, this small denomination, whose governance modeled on the bicameral American legislature, may become a parable for what happens when men and women of good faith are deaf to the call of the Gospel for reconciliation, self-sacrifice and mutual forbearance. Katherine Jefferts Schori, the New Presiding Bishop, has her work cut out for her. Frankly, I would not want Archbishop Akinola for an enemy-the firebrand prelate is well acquainted with how to use power-and has no hesitation about deploying it. Time alone will tell if he is on the side of the angels-or just another power player who has convinced himself that he is God's chosen, the scourge of the West and preserver of the faith. Crusade, anyone?

samedi, décembre 16, 2006

Blessed are the dead

This was the first time I'd attended the lighting of the memorial tree. A few years ago one of our board members, an energetic ball of fire who is a genius at fundraising, thought of lighting a holiday tree as a way of raising money for our Romanian kids who live with, and die from, the effects of AIDS. Standing outside the home of a friend on an eeriely warm evening, we struggled to see the words of the liturgy. Knowing that I was to give the closing prayer, I attempted to follow along in the dim light of the tiny flashlights. When we got to the prayers for the dead, I saw a name I had not expected. "No one told me Bertha had died," I thought sadly. A parishioner at my former church, Bertha was a librarian for the choir. A tiny, bird-like woman, she had big glasses and a bright smile. Because Bertha's sister in law Eleanor was not able to attend church, I had many occasions to visit them. Sitting in their neat living room, we'd exchange conversation on church matters, health issues, my work and other topics-with my short skirts and unorthodox manners, I came into their quiet lives like a minor tempest. But we grew to appreciate each other. When Eleanor died, I missed those moments of grace in Bertha's living room. Now Bertha was gone-and I had not had the opportunity to mourn. So permit me to grieve a moment now. Bertha, you are missed-for all the work you did organizing the music, work that is not undertaken by those who prefer the glow of public acclaim, but by those who see a job that needs to be done and do it. For the uncomplaining way in which you dealt with your physical challenges in your latter years. For your faithful care for your sister in law. For the servant leadership you brought to each task before you. A childless widow, you may not be remembered often on this earth. But I am sure that you are celebrated in the celestial choir-blessed indeed are the dead who die in the Lord. Godspeed, dear Bertha.

jeudi, décembre 14, 2006

The paradoxical meets the nearly impossible

Tuesday and Wednesday of this past week I traveled to Lancaster County to attend classes for potential substitute teachers. I have to admit that the idea had not occured to me until a friend who earns a living as a painter told me she was thinking about this as an income source in between other assignments. The more I thought about it, the more appealing it was. I like children, both eager and ingenous young ones and the more complicated, drama-prone questioning older ones. As a parent, it would offer me an unparrelled opportunity to find out something about standards and practices in teaching-assuming they have improved since I was last in elementary school. It would also, I thought, be a good way of earning mortgage money (boy did I turn out to be off-base about that) whilst preserving some flexibility so that I could take writing assignments. I'd be home at about the same time as my children. As to the demands of the job? Hey, I'd led worship services for little kids in a day school, taught Sunday school classes, and worked in academic institutions where sometimes the faculty acted like big hard could it be to act like a den mom to two dozen eight year olds for seven hours? When I showed up for my training at the Lancaster County IU, with perhaps a hundred other professionals of all ages and stages of life, I realized that the art of being a substitute teacher had paradox, incongruity and frustration engrained in its very being. Teaching is a deeply relational discipline-but few of us are good at meeting 25 new people and remembering their names in the course of a day, let alone getting to know them. Each child has his or her own learning style-what can they possible learn in the company of someone who sees the lesson an half an hour before they do? I'm definitely a right-brain person-making lists, following a set schedule doesn't just mean I have to use my shadow side, but have to find where I mislaid it yesterday-underneath the mismatched socks, maybe? I wondered, and asked one speaker, how a person who is not compulsively organized would fare in this environment. Finally, there is the whole question of compensation. In many districts substitutes are paid less than I pay my babysitter. In another sign of how messed up we are about compensating people fairly for doing work that few of us have the backbone to do, aides in emotional support classrooms are paid 60.00 a day. My conclusion? Anyone going into this for the money, or because they thought it was going to be a cakewalk was going to be quickly dissilusioned and disappointed. But as I chatted with my desk set neighbors-a retired teacher, a former director of development, a communications generalist, a singer-I realized that most of us were there for a whole grab bag of reasons that had little to do with making a fast profit. Their motives were as mixed as mine. All in all, however, the school system would be very fortunate to have us show up on any given morning looking for the lesson plans, the cafeteria and the bathroom. As I observed my colleagues, what I saw was a group of highly trained professionals who still hoped-against hope-to have a positive impact, even for the space of a day, on the life of someone else's children.

lundi, décembre 11, 2006


This past Saturday morning the house was quiet-children with their dad, my neighbors sleeping in or already gone, the nocturnal animals returned to their lairs until nightfall. In the bedroom, our orange tabby slumbered off the effects of her morning exercise chasing game pieces and bottletops across the dining room floor. With all of these forces inviting me to procrastinate, I was proud that I made it to Bethany Farm before 9:00. Not too proud-the farm is only a couple of miles down the road from me. The air was frosty when I got out of my car, farmers nowhere in sight. Christmas trees, both cut and with root balls still attached, filled the field nearest the road. Shivering, eager to make my choice of tree and be done, I walked towards the sound of voices-they seemed to emanate from the milking barn. Introducing myself to Farmer Dan, I hastily balanced the advantages of white-barked pine, Norway Spruces, and Fraser Firs. This year, I decided to buy a live tree-impetous as usual, I figured that I would dig the hole for the tree myself-after all, how hard could this be? I have to admit that I'm really excited about returning a tree to the ground instead of putting it out for the recyclers. Farmer Dan told me that his main business is raw milk-free of the antibiotics that goes into the stuff sold in the grocery store chains. Take the cream off the top, and you have fat-free milk. Leave it in, and you have milk the way your anscestors drank it 3000 years ago (apparently lactose tolerance is relatively new on the evolutionary chain). As we talked, we stumbled into one of those amazing minutes of serendipity-turns out that he is related to one of my best friends. She and he come from the stock of two brothers who settled in this area more than 300 years ago-and never left. When he bought his farm and took a look at the ownership papers, he found out that the land (and the fields across from Bethany) had been farmed by his (great?) grandparents a hundred years ago. After arranging for delivery of the tree, I drove out towards the mall, very aware of the irony of this pilgrimage to the altar of materialism. Still, I was warmed in the chilly air by the conversation with Farmer Dan-by his affirmation of the value of faith, community and family. In an era of exburban developments and bland malls, Bethany, with its stock of milk and homemade bread and apples, does indeed seem anomalous. Named, said Farmer Dan, in honor of the hospitality Mary and Martha offered Jesus, it welcomes weary travelers not sure of what they want, or even of what they need.

samedi, décembre 09, 2006

Even don't love me anymore

I've had occasion recently to grapple with what it means to forgive a friend for behavior that, at least in my own rather warped perception, has been deeply hurtful to me over a period of years. "Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner"-or so goes the French aphorism. The quotation is attributed to Madame de Stael-who perhaps would be shocked to find her words twisted into a French caricature. What she apparently said is "Tout comprendre rend tres indulgent"... understanding everything makes one more indulgent. I have found that my characterological, quite human ability to draw reasonable conclusions about someone else's behavior-how it fits their character, their limitations, their virtues-only gets me so far. For years I have tried to rationalize my friend's actions as a prompted by a general aversion to conflict, desire for consensus, and hope to be able to please all sides. Yet when a recent encounter left me feeling bruised and battered once again, I found that my great wisdom and soi-disant objectivity was nothing more than a band-aid. Underneath, the wound still festered. I wanted nothing more than to be done with the relationship-as though the reckoning between us had been too long deferred and was now out of the realm of the possible. The "Don Henley" school of forgiveness, articulated in his song "The Heart of the Matter", still often works well for me. "There are people in your life who have come and gone-they've let you down, you know, they've hurt your pride...You better put it all behind you babe, 'cause life goes on...if you carry all that anger, it will eat you up inside..." I do find that carrying around resentment and bitterness is a huge waste of time. On purely practical grounds, the act of forgiveness, of setting aside, is a useful strategy. Yet even that doesn't always do the trick. Sometimes the pain of the broken intimacy hits too close to the center of my being. But as I wrestle with my own pain, I remember the words of Jesus and his command to forgive brothers and sisters seventy plus seven, or seven times 70. C'mon, Lord, you can't mean that I have to keep forgiving the same brother or sister? How about you look at my overall record-kind of a spiritual RBI? And if I'm supposed to forgive this dude (again), then does it mean I have to be his or her pal? Or can healing really occur without relationship to the other? As you can probably tell, in spite of all the reading I've done and Jesus' command in the Gospels, I'm now where near figuring this trying problem out. Most definitely a work in progress..wholly in need of grace.

jeudi, décembre 07, 2006

Today's post

I have no idea what happened to this morning's post, "Living Boldly." Hopefully it will reappear at some point-or I'll figure out how to transfer it to another post. There are some people who can wreak technological havoc just by walking into a room. (Ironically, the purpose of today's post was to pay tribute to a technologist and his heroically practical priorities.) I shall now disappear for the moment, lest your cell phones lose their power, computers crash, and satellite radio starts to fade. In the boldly!

Living Boldly

"Four years ago, Kim, Zemlicka and their group of friends discovered golf, and Kim fell in love. Not only did he enjoy the game, he also basked in the camaraderie, Zemlicka said. But when daughter Penelope was born, Kim gave up the sport and never looked back, Zemlicka said.
"He wouldn't even sneak away for a few hours once in a while to play nine holes," Zemlicka said. "The truth is that it wasn't that big of a sacrifice--hanging out with a bunch of guys. James had more important things to tend to. He taught me to be a dedicated husband. He's always putting his wife and kids first." Excerpt from James Kim Obituary on Of all the lovely things people said in this obituary about the editor who died while attempting to save his family, this was the one that struck a deep echo with me. That is because I have many friends, mostly guys, who accord golf a place in their pantheon very close to worship, friends and family.I have met a number of women who accept, with a little or a lot of resignation, that on weekends they become "golf widows." The 35-year-old Kim, who was found yesterday in the Oregon wilderness, not far from where his wife and two daughter were rescued a few days ago, was apparently a remarkable man in many ways. As well as being praised for his love of family, he was also eulogized as an entrepreneur, technology maven and friend. But I suspect that this man of so many gifts will be remembered more for his ability to get his priorities straight when under pressure, to embrace his family first, than for his work as an editor or as owner of funky clothing stores. In the middle of this tragedy, we might find a corrective for the idols we put above love-I know what mine are as well as you do yours. James Kim probably wasn't thinking of how he would be remembered when he left the shelter of the family car to see if he could get aid for his wife and two daughters. But he left a legacy, nonetheless. Then there is the man Christians call Redeemer. Jesus only lived to be thirty-three-but, whether you believe him prophet, Messiah, or simply a man, he made every moment count. What do you want them to say about you when your time comes? It never hurts to be thinking about it now-something you can do even out on the greens. " I Want to leave a legacy, how will they remember me? Did I chose to love, did I point to You above? Want to leave a mark on things, want to leave an offering-Child of mercy and Grace, who blessed your name unapalogetically-Leave that kind of legacy." Nichole Nordeman "Legacy."

mardi, décembre 05, 2006

No secrets?

This morning a scrap of music from childhood floated through my memory. The lyrics are vintage Carly Simon-the feeling very contemporary. "We have no secrets-we tell each other everything about the lovers in our past and why they didn't last...we know each other's fantasies. And while you often say that it's me whom you adore-sometimes I wish, I really wish...that I didn't know-some of these secrets of yours. " I realize that what I am about to say is going to seem rather odd for someone who blogs a lot about her personal and professional life-but I'm beginning to think there is a place for secrecy. In fact, there are some folks of whom it should be made mandatory! Recently a friend and I were talking about the advantages and disadvantages of meeting potential dates online. We agreed that while trolling for dates online cuts through a lot of the traditional first and second date preliminaries, it also facilitates an almost total lack of accountability. Hide your age. Photo-shop your figure. Make up a more appealing persona. Unburden yourself of your real persona to your potential swain-with the unwritten caveat that you are unwilling to risk actually meeting him or her in the flesh. These kinds of behaviors quite naturally breed intense suspicion on the part of potential dates-they wonder what their trial partners may be hiding and they develop certain self-protective behaviors in return. In our revolutionary moment on the communications spectrum, it is hard to find a way to build accountability into dialogue between lovers, employees and employeers or even bloggers and readers! (By the way, my rule, as I have said before, is not to write something in an email or in this blog that I would not be able to say to your face, should I meet you). I suspect that, given enough horrid experiences, we will start to be a little more appropriately cautious-less willing to share our secrets with those who are not mentally or spiritually well enough to hear them. If you aren't able, at least in theory, to be as good as your words, then perhaps you might want to consider keeping some of them to yourself.

lundi, décembre 04, 2006

Beyond diversity: the insignificance of the Episcopal Church

Over the weekend, at a diocesan convention, the Diocese of San Joaquin voted to pull out of the Episcopal Church-if they again affirm the decision at next year's Convention, it will be final. I can almost hear the rationales flying. They are so conservative, opposed to everything for which we stand as a church-the ordination of women, equality for gays, worship free from gender stereotypes. The diocesan Bishop, John David Schofield, has been a real pain, a stick-in-the-mud provocateur, some will probably argue. Beyond these opinions, admittedly a stereotype of liberal activism, is a more legitimate argument- that San Joaqin's decision to split from its parent body was one move in a chess game that the conservatives are playing in their bid to gain power in the Anglican Communion. All of that being said, what occured on Saturday is still tragic. Conservatives and liberals (I am neither, or perhaps both) have been remarkably cavalier in their concern for the souls of the men and women who make up the majority in the Episcopal Church. Or did, until it started to become an inhospitable place for those who vow fealty to neither side in this struggle for property and pensions. The Episcopal Church was once filled with clergy who were truly dedicated to having an impact-on conversations about public faith, on social justice issues, on how to pastor multi-cultural, mult-ethnic congregations, how to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Now, in its twilight it will become one of a geriatric group of mainline congregations-a voice in the crowd competing for a hearing. Maybe this is not such a bad thing-after all, the Episcopal Church was, historically, a little too cosy with the political establishment. It is sadly paradoxical, though, that, in crying out for more tolerance for themselves, liberals and conservatives in the church were willing to sacrifice it in their own denomination. When will the lefties notice that many of us have quietly voted with our feet and found another pew...or perhaps decided to give up on seeking one at all?

dimanche, décembre 03, 2006

Peace Granny Sarah

Yesterday the local news had an item about the dismissal of charges agains the "Peace Grannies." A group of 11 women aged 60-84 had entered one of the Army's offices in Philadelphia and asked to enlist. Some were quoted as saying that they had lived most of their lives already. At first, I read in one account, the recruiters were inclined to let them enlist. Then they decided to call the police. The women were arrested. The charge? Defiant trespass. In dismissing the charge from last spring, the judge said that they had not been trespassing-the enlistment center is a public area. As I listened to the interview, and heard the tape of the onlookers cheering "Go Grannies, go" I was touched, not only by their courage, but by the poignancy of their willingness to take the consequences of their actions. Americans have had more than their fill of bluster from people who never served in the military or had their own children go to war, but are all too willing to send others sons and daughters off to die in a battle that has produced nothing but tragedy and bloodshed. Probably these elderly women were relatively sure that they would be not be welcome-but they could not be sure. I thought of my own grandma, the late Sarah Smith. As I wrote in previous posts, grandma had a soul as big as the world. I don't know if anything scared her-founding a merchant seaman's union, sneaking anti-Nazi literature on German ships, braving tear gas at anti-war rallies. When I was child, I met the Berrigans at a retreat for activists at Pendle Hill, a Quaker center near Swarthmore, PA. My sister recalls being introduced to the Socialist peace activist Norman Thomas at a birthday party for him. Grandma knew the men ignorant to believe that wars result in final victories, men who plan only in white and black, might not be swayed by the acts of an individual woman. But, oh, if a million women and men took to the streets...then the politicians might hear their cries and think of the political, if not the moral consequences of their decisions. My own peace grannie never lost her faith in the goodness of the American people, in the power of one vote, in our ability to right the ship of state. When I act to help the powerless, when I stay hopeful, when I try not to hate in return, then I honor her memory. What can you do to honor the presence of a "peace granny" in your own life? Someday you might look in the mirror and find out that she is staring back out at you.

jeudi, novembre 30, 2006

Evil in the church, goodness on the cross

Recently it has been popular for intellectuals unfriendly to organized religion to attack it on the grounds that the institutions have been responsible for promoting mass murder, crusades, pogroms and encouraging engineers to fly planes into buildings. While flashy and certainly annoying to those of religious sensibility, this argument ultimately fails to convince. The reason? It doesn't account for the millions, perhaps billions of other believers throughout the centuries who have quietly done good in the name of their particular faith. What I personally find a more compelling argument against religious institutions is meeting people who trusted the institution and its representatives and were deeply, sometimes forever harmed by them. The diocese of Pennsylvania has recently been roiled by Bishop Charles Bennison's alleged involvement or lack of involvement in the sexual abuse perpetrated by his brother when he was a youth director at Bishop (then Father) Bennison's parish back in the 70's. In this diocese, the allegations have been the occasion for outrage. As more and more victims come forward to talk about their abuse by some Roman Catholic priests, victims and general public alike are plunged into the legacy of evil behavior by very, very sick men in the name of God. From cardinals to office clerks, church bureaucrats turned their heads while the lives of innocents were destroyed. Is it not understandable that some of these women and men cannot bear to walk back into the house of the family in which they were betrayed? God help us. The men and women who turned their heads and pretended not to see should be on their knees asking for forgiveness on behalf of the faith they represent. I myself have felt betrayed by church leaders I trusted. I was broken-hearted as lay leaders I cared about stood silently and let my reputation (or so I felt) be tarnished by gossip. The journey to forgiveness has been long and hard, and it's not over yet. Every now and again something occurs to push me back into the trauma of those months of public humiliation. But I don't get these men, like me so very broken, confused with my Savior. He's the guy who was hated by many of the religious authorities and secular authorities of his time. He's the man who was given into his enemies hands by one of his friends. He's the prophet, king and Messiah who let Himself be crucified so that he could experience our death and offer up our pain for our redemption. When old wounds are open, and my tears fall again, it is to His feet that I crawl-ultimate victim and final Victor.

mardi, novembre 28, 2006

Passages and rituals

Perhaps it's an evolutionary instinct that compels moms to worry about things that haven't yet occurred. I don't know how else to explain that for many years I've speculated about how I was going to share the "facts of life" with my daughter once her body started to change and mature. Remembering how my mom clued me in really wasn't a whole lot of help-first of all, I don't have very clear memories of it. Secondly, I was a shy and rather backwards child. The fact that the sexual revolution of the late 1960's was fermenting around me just drove me further into my shell-not to emerge until the hippies had gone back for their Wharton MBAs and had abandoned free love for PTA membership. My mother's attempt to enlighten met with little but hideous embarrassment on my part. I wish I'd asked her how she felt about talking to me. There are so many things I wish I'd asked my mom before she died. Without her here, I've had to muddle through on my own. Yet as my children have gotten older, I realized, with a measure of relief, that I am pretty good at straight talk. All the anatomical bits were given their Latin names, and the songs are the radio are examined for sexual content so that Sian will be aware (generally) of the kind of innuendo she is being exposed to. However, even a relatively relaxed mother like me cannot evade certain rituals. A week or so ago, I took Sian (and Colin, the poor kid) out to buy Sian her first bra. As we went through the mall, we developed a certain patter-we need to find the bra department, I would say as we walked through the china department towards the escalator. "Mom, you are embarrassing me," Sian would respond, playing her assigned role. "You mean body-plated armor" Colin groaned, wondered how on earth he'd been roped into this excursion. A child of great modesty, he turned a beauty magazine over in the bathroom because the cover had an artistically photographed, but definitely half-clothed woman on it. I could not imagine a 50's mom making the pilgrimage through Macy's in the same casually disorganized fashion that we did- we had a lot of fun. Now if I could only get Sian to stop sleeping in the bra so that I could wash it, I'd feel that we were truly launched in her great adventure towards womanhood-all in due time.

vendredi, novembre 24, 2006

Happy Penguins?

Colin got his copy of "Boys Life" in the mail today. The back was covered by an advertisement for the new movie "Happy Feet". The advertisement has a picture of a joyful penguin (I think it's supposed to be happy) on an ice floe. The caption reads" Step into Mumble's Happy feet as you belly sled, dance and swim through Antarctica on an amazing adventure." Ironically enough, this would be just the kind of movie I want my kids to see. A clean, educational, well-animated adventure? Who could ask for anything better? We could, that's who. It is both ironic and sad that as a movie company makes big profits off of a computer-generated ocean with fake ice floes, the real ones are melting, taking penguins and seals down with them. A recent article said that global warming has already caused the extinction of 70 species of frogs. Some species can adapt-many of those who live in the coldest climes will not be able to survive. For those of us who have children and those of us who care after the welfare of those who come after us, the choices are stark. Are we going to change our priorities, ditch our SUV's, turn down our thermostats and pressure our neolothic auto companies to make more fuel-efficient cars? Are we going to turn up the temperature under our Congress and the Administration until they start to feel a bit scared for their jobs? Is there still time to make a difference? What I find a little terrifying is the notio that the scientists themselves say that events are moving much faster than they had predicted. When I went running this afternoon, it was 64 degrees outside. Scaling the hills clad in shorts and a t-shirt, I reveled in the sunshine-and hoped that in twenty years my grandchildren would be able to sled, and ski and appreciate the loveliness of a hill clad in the icy beauty of winter.

mardi, novembre 21, 2006

Let's Ear it for Corny!

In the course of doing what one might call "market research" I have scanned many personal ads. After the first thirty or so, most of them, with the exception of the inspiring, outrageous and idiosyncratic, leave no trace of an actual human personality behind. As I have noted before, Americans seem to bring the same can-do optimism to their second or third search for a long-term relationship that they did to the first. How can they have learned so little, I often wonder after wading through a mucky stew of blowsy adjectives stuck together with corny sentiments. After reading Sarah Lyall's piece (in the New York Times) describing some of the more eccentric ads in the London Review personals column, I have reconsidered my revulsion to sentimentality. After some difficult self-analysis, I have found I have no desire to baste, or be basted in butter-or any to make the professional or personal acquaintance of a man who names his 'private bits' after a long dead Prime Minister from WWI, H. H. Asquith. How about Churchill? All I can say is that the man have to be completely normal in every other respect to even get a second look...

November 21, 2006
London Journal
Book Lovers Seek Lovers, Buttered or Plain
LONDON, Nov. 20 — Perhaps only someone from Britain could genuinely believe that a personal ad beginning, “Baste me in butter and call me Slappy,” might lead to romance with an actual, nonincarcerated person.
But in the strange alternate universe that is the personals column in the London Review of Books, a fetish for even the naughtiest dairy product is considered a perfectly reasonable basis for a relationship. Rejecting the earnest self-promotion of most personal ads, the correspondents in the London Review column tend instead to present themselves as idiosyncratic, even actively repellent.
In so many ways, too. The magazine’s lonely hearts have described themselves over the years as shallow, flatulent, obsessive, incontinent, hypertensive, hostile, older than 100, paranoid, pasty, plaid-festooned, sinister-looking, advantage-taking, amphetamine-fueled, and as residents of mental institutions.
They have announced that they are suffering from liver disease, from drug addiction, from asthma, from compulsive gambling, from unclassified skin complaints and from reduced sperm counts. They have insulted prospective partners. As one ad starts, “I’ve divorced better men than you.”
The subtlety (if that is what it is) of these courtship techniques may well be lost on people used to American-model personal ads, in which stunning, good-sense-of-humored characters seek soul mates for walks in the rain and cuddles by the fire. But while the ads in the London Review, a twice-monthly literary journal favored by the British intelligentsia, are weird in the extreme, they are also peculiarly English. This is a country where open bragging is considered rude and unironic sentiment makes people cringe with embarrassment.
Kate Fox, a cultural anthropologist and author of “Watching the English,” compared the London Review personals to an advertising campaign several years ago that showed people recoiling in revulsion from Marmite, the curiously popular gloppy-as-molasses yeast byproduct that functions as a sandwich spread, a snack or a base for soup (just add boiling water).
“An advertising campaign focusing exclusively on the disgust people feel for your product strikes a lot of people as perverse,” Ms. Fox said in an interview. But when Britons exaggerate their faults, she said, they are really telegraphing their attributes. “It does speak of a certain arrogance, that you have the confidence and the sense of humor to say these things,” she said.
David Rose, the London Review’s advertising director, has compiled some of his favorite ads into a book, “They Call Me Naughty Lola: Personal Ads from the London Review of Books,” which is being published in the United States by Scribner The title borrows from an actual ad, placed by a 46-year-old male physicist.
Mr. Rose knew that something unusual was going on, he said, when the very first ad he received, after starting the column in 1998, began: “67-year-old disaffiliated flâneur picking my toothless way through the urban sprawl, self-destructive, sliding towards pathos, jacked up on Viagra and on the lookout for a contortionist who plays the trumpet.”
The column has resulted in at least two children and four marriages. (One already ended in divorce.) But some ads are more effective than others.
One recent advertiser identified himself as a 61-year-old laryngologist and amateur taxidermist looking for a woman with whom to share, among other things, dancing and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The ad has not been a great success. When he writes the next one, the advertiser told a reporter via e-mail, “I will possibly drink less wine.”
More conventional ads are not notably successful, either. After placing an ad calling herself “gentle, curvy, tactile, educated and funny,” one regular advertiser, calling herself Susan W., heard from one man who bragged that he was free of infection — “I did not get the feeling he was trying to be funny,” she said — and another who announced that he lived without electricity in the woods, in a house made from trees he had chopped down himself.
She changed tactics and wrote another ad saying, “I’ve got a mouth on me that can peel paint off walls, but I can always apologize.”
“That got a lot of responses from alcoholics,” she said in an interview.
Many of the ads reflect the writers’ diverse intellectual interests.
A woman in the current issue, for instance, specifies that she is looking for a man “who doesn’t name his genitals after German chancellors” (not even, the ad says, “Prince Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingfürst, however admirable the independence he gave to secretaries of state may have been.”)
In an e-mail exchange also conducted on condition that her name not be used, the woman, a 38-year-old local government arts official with an interest in Bismarck, said she been inspired by a disastrous experience with a date who announced over the tiramisu that he called his private parts “Asquith,” after the World War I prime minister.
“I’m fairly easygoing, but I specifically didn’t want another dessert-spoiler,” she said, explaining that the only thing she could think of worse than a wartime prime minister was a pre-Weimar German chancellor.
For a spell, many ads inexplicably made reference to the writer and professor John Sutherland. Gerald Kaufman, a Labor member of Parliament, and Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, have also been mentioned frequently, for no apparent reason. Lots of people talk about their bad divorces. “My favorite Ben & Jerry’s is Acid-Boiled Bones of Divorce Lawyer,” says one ad.
Then there are the advertisers who ham up the single-loser clichés: women who live with cats, men who live with their mothers, crazed rejectees who seem to see “Fatal Attraction” as a source of handy breakup tips. “Tell me I’m pretty, then watch me cling,” one woman warns, cheerfully.
This being Britain, there is also a fair percentage of men seeking women who suggest that, actually, they may well be seeking other men.
One man in the current issue describes himself as “camp as custard.” Another ad reads, in its entirety: “I wrote this ad to prove I’m not gay. Man, 29. Not gay. Absolutely not.”

samedi, novembre 18, 2006

Meet the Flintstones

Perhaps Barney and Tom need medication to help them recall the prehistoric years when Democrats ruled the Congress. Maybe when the Democrats ran the House and Senate their style of corrupt politics was less complicated and linked to the lobbyist culture than that of the Republicans-but it just as real. Apparently calling for reform when you are in the powerless minority is a little easier than making it a fact when you are about to wield real power-the Dems may just be a bit more sophisticated about whose beds they end up sleeping in.
"Other Democratic lawmakers argued that the real ethical problem was the Republicans, not the current ethics rules, and that the election had alleviated the need for additional regulations. “There is an understanding on our side that the Republicans paid a price for a lot of the abuses that evolved,” said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, alluding to earmarks. Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat and a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, said the scandals of the current Congress were “about the K Street Project for the Republicans,” referring to the party’s initiative to put more Republicans in influential lobbying posts and build closer ties to them. “That was incestuous from the beginning. We never had anything like that,” Mr. Harkin said of Democrats. “That is what soured the whole thing-New York Times, Nov. 19, 2006 Democrats about to wield power in the incoming Congress have some great ideas about ethics reform. From an outsider's viewpoint, many sound pretty basic-don't take free meals or fly on corporate jets, allow candidates public financing so they don't owe everything to special interests, don't pass bills that have provisions that benefit firms that employ family or people who used to be on your staff. It is highly unlikely that the more restrictive reforms will actually be enacted. But before we solely blame the Democrats (or the Republicans) for this ethical mess, we should probably take a look at the way normal organizations are run. How many churches have secretaries who just happen to attend the parish for which they work? How many of you find a summer job for your niece or a friend's son? How many of you have been hired by an organization because you happen to know somebody with influence at the top? We may expect that our elected leaders, like our clergy, will operate with higher standards. But unless we are a little more conscientious about cleaning up our own behavior, they will probably assume, again and again, that we will turn a blind eye...after all, aren't they men and women like us?

vendredi, novembre 17, 2006

The French Joy of Sex

Dashing through the "new fiction" stacks of the Exton library in search of an interesting read one afternoon, I found a book by Stephen Clarke. "In the Merde For Love" read the cover with the subhead "By the author of 'A Year in the Merde.' " Most of you know that the French word "merde" means-most of you have probably used it. With a title like that, I realized that this probably was not going to be a romance novel. I didn't realize that it was going to be side-splittingly funny, lovingly satirical and totally absorbing. The basic plot of the two almost true "merde" books is this: young Englishman goes to the fabled city-Paris-in which he plans to open a British-style tea room. In his way or in his path: French bureaucrats, waiters, gendarmes...and a group of babelicious young women. The books are devoted to sending up the French way of life-they are also a hilarious retelling of his bedroom adventures. Clarke (remember, he is from England-a country known more for cricket than for hot sex) thoroughly enjoys his sexual exploits among the single, married, almost single and adulterous women of Paris, and he recounts them in a way that seduces us into enjoying them too. I recently had a chat with a friend in which he commented on the puritanical nature of our American attitudes towards sex. Helpless with mirth and frank envy of Clarke's ability to describe such a basic human activity in a way that is both disarming and enticing, I wondered if perhaps my pal was correct. What would happen if we stopped taking ourselves so seriously in the bedroom? It's a subversive notion, isn't it? Probably the worst that could happen is that we might start lingering over meals, engaging in long debates over politics, philosophy and love and taking month-long vacations. A weekend in Paris, anyone? Just write it off as continuing education.

jeudi, novembre 16, 2006

Let's hear it for Unity!

We live in an age in which political reportage is almost invariably tinged with the reflective veneer of irony. Many citizens my age and younger get the news, if they get it at all, from the comic trio of Maher, Stewart, and Colbert. In a world in which we are able to access information on events almost as they occur, it often seems as though the commentary precedes the event that is its subject. Is the teasing irony of the Comedy Channel a low form of humor? Are we infected with a desire for the wry zinger and the arch one-liner? Who cares? The comic approach to much of what passes for news is what helps us survive it. Take American politicians (and give us Italians, you say?) If we didn't laugh at the antics of our two large political parties we'd be out on the street in sackcloth and ashes, or fomenting another revolution. For example-the Democrats were swept back into positions of authority in part because they came down so hard on Republicans for a "culture of corruption." The ink wasn't dried on the ballots before Congressman John Murtha demonstrated an apparent contempt for ethical reform-remarks that are consistent with his previous behavior. Isn't it nice to see that, lacking a huge conversion experience, some things don't change? Speaker Pelosi's second in command, Steny Hoyer, also has a history of getting into bed with special interests. And let's not talk about Republicans like Trent Lott (he's already said way too much) and Mitch McConnell. But the question is not how predictable it was that Democrats, after brandishing the scimitar of reform, would put ethically challenged representatives in charge of "ethics reform." That was probably a given. Who were they going to ask? One of the freshmen with a relatively clean record and no pull? They aren't part of the "system" yet. Not that working for the government should excuse long time employees in Washington's culture of legislative decadence. Instead, we voters should be asking ourselves-what would it take to change an organization as huge and complex as the US Congress? What kind of systemic purging would have to happen to get our elected officials to care more about public interest and less about special ones? But then, we also have to ask ourselves-do we really care enough to lobby (grin) for that kind of revolution? Are we more disgusted than jaded, more active than ironic? Aux armes, citoyens?

lundi, novembre 13, 2006

Gentle reader

Gentle reader, I need your help. With all due respect to Dante, I have not strayed into a dark wood-but I have begun to have serious conversations with new friends who happen to be atheists. Talking about God-or His alleged non-being is a rather new thing for me. It's not that I grew up in a family of zealous theists-far from it. In general, we resided somewhere between Tennyson's honest doubt and the skeptical wistfulness of the American lefty who wants to believe in something stronger than democracy and doesn't particularly like Communism. However, immersion in a Christian culture has inevitably narrowed my perspective-while the spectrum of questions about suffering, goodness, evil and morality may be akin to those of nonbelievers, the spectrum of answers is, obviously, very different. Over the past year I have gotten to know some terrific guys (for some reason, they are all guys) who, for their own reasons, do not subscribe to a belief in a Creator, the unmoved mover, much less the God I believe was incarnate in Jesus. It is a relatively new experience to be judged peculiar on the basis of my faith in divinity. That is why I need some of you to come to my aid as I research some topics that have not, until recently, gotten much careful attention from me. Are there Christian philosophers teaching in some of our best colleges and universities-and if so, can you give me their names? Aside from Francis Collins, who are other prominent scientists who profess belief in a First Cause? Did anyone see the PBS series on Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis broadcast in 2004? Who did you find more convincing? If intelligent design doesn't cut it, then what is a believer to say to the militant Darwinism of a Dawkins? If you don't believe in God, then who or what do you believe in? Whether you believe in the One Way or No Way or somewhere in between these polarities, any responses would be most welcome!

samedi, novembre 11, 2006

Speaking in tongues

Driving home from Sian's drama class today, my two children, who have shown little interest in learning a foreign tongue, suddenly became bi-lingual. Although they aren't always best friends, it sounded like they were getting along just grand. "Sian, look at all the onyx's and stilyx's" said Colin (forgive me if I get the spelling wrong). Sian seemed enthusiastic about the appearance of these creatures. Then, as we rounded the curve before Creek Road and home"There's Digwit and my personal painter!" There's something about playing a game on Colin's Gameboy that brings my two sibling rivals together like almost nothing else. Most of the time, I leave them to it-but there are moments when I feel like I am very much an outsider, a layman at a Masonic rite, a Protestant in Rome. Then I start making inquiries-"What are Onyxs? Who is Digwit? Imagine having your own painter!" Sometimes, I have to admit, the answers leave me as lost as the questions. I still think its a good idea for the children to know that their mother hasn't totally abandoned interest in any part of their lives, that she isn't totally absorbed in NPR or Evanescence, that she asks questions and really wants to get answers. At the same time, I am aware that this is one more small reminder that eventually there will be parts of their lives that will indeed be foreign territory to me and that there will be little I can, or even sometimes wish to do about it. This responsibility, and this knowledge, is both the privilege and yoke of parenthood. On my way to the garden a couple of hours later, I had the relief of hearing my two and some neighbors kids, hotly debating whether the boys were going to be part of the same mission as the girls. Admonishing them not to step on my roses and moving on to turn over the dirt in the vegetable garden, I reflected, happily, that some things never change.

mercredi, novembre 08, 2006

Anybody's Guess

Geoffrey Garin, a Democratic pollster, said, “An important feature of this election, with implications for 2008, is that the center of the electorate clearly doesn’t like to be ignored in an era of base politics. The Republicans played to the base at their great peril among the middle.” New York Times, November 8 2006-----------------------------------------------------------In a post penned in the spring, back when I began this blog, I mentioned that because I am the daughter of a professional historian I tend to take the long view. However, it may be very unfair to blame my father for my desire to see an teachable moment in every event-that may be the journalist in me, drawing parallels and perspectives from even the smallest least significant moments. I'm happy to say that last night's election wasn't one of those moments! In fact, I think Garin is spot-on in asserting that the great American center finally spoke up...with a yell of revulsion for the carnage this Administration has wreaked in Iraq, and for the bankrupt extremism of the Republican-led House of Representatives. Other tea leaves are harder to read, with results in Virginia and Montana (of all places) still to be decided. Those races may turn out to have been rooted in the popularity of an incumbent-and an electorate which decided to be generous! We can all be happy, however, that Allen has lost his shot at a Presidential bid in 2008.As usual, it difficult to make sweeping claims on the basis of one election. That's one of the great things about American democracy-we are ornery, fickle and dislike being told what we should think. That's my tentative conclusion-no, affirmation-on this sodden Wednesday morning. We're still in a horrible mess, but at least we've put the brakes on the insane ambition of the man who put us there...and gotten rid of many of his partners in crime. After having been out of power for 12 years, we'll see if the Democrats are capable of making a positive contribution to the national debate-let's hope, and pray, that they can agree on something.

mardi, novembre 07, 2006

Virtual communities-do they work for you?

In a lovely change from the endless round of political coverage (an addiction for political junkies like this PA bloggette), the New York Times included an editorial on marriage in today's paper. Arguing that marriages can't provide all of the social and psychological support that partners need, writer Stephanie Coontz asserts that friendship (the idea of a couple meeting all of each other's needs is relatively new) outside of marriage can make marriages healthier and promote personal growth. She refers to the growth of virtual communities to bolster her point that we are hungry for this kind of connection with people other than our partners. It was a wonderful article, full of common sense and historical perspective. But it also provoked me into wondering about this blog and whether it is meeting any needs, other than my own need to voice my opinions. I had hoped, when I began, that it would evolve into a community forum-that what I had to say would be provoking enough to elicit comments, and that a real dialogue between East and West Coasts, liberals and conservatives, religious and non religious would be inspired by readin these posts. Do I need to be more provocative? Or am I writing for people who are happy to be discreet rather than finding an immediate connection between mind and monitor? I am honored to see that I have regular readers in California and New Jersey and Pennsylvania-and intrigued to see that readers from France, Great Britain, and other countries happen upon my blog. I often wonder who you are, and what you find here when you take time from your normal lives. If you are reading, I imagine that the blog fills some purpose for you- I'd be very curious as to what that purpose is. I just wish that I could write something that would get under your skin, or inspire you, enough to jump in there and post an opinion. Perhaps your fire would illumine, encourage or even tick off somebody else, and get them to think about an issue more profoundly...I'm still eager for this to happen and hope you will think about adding your words of wisdom-after you go and vote, that is! Your virtual friend, relative, and opinion writer-Elizabeth

dimanche, novembre 05, 2006

L'enfer? Ce n'est pas les autres

I got to church late this morning, and, as usual, sat near the back. We had a baptism at the early service, so the place was jammed. In front of me, a two year old lay on the floor, a copy of Clifford the Big Red Dog in her hands. Now and then she would jump up, brown eyes serious, to chat with her mom or show me the book and the picture of Dora the Explorer on the back. I wonder how children that age feel about how well they communicate with adults-hopefully they don't suffer from constant angst. A sweet nod or smile won't do it for a two year old. They really want to have some idea that you understand what the heck they are saying. All of that to say that for the first five minutes or so, Pastor Chadd's All Saints Sunday sermon got by me. I knew dimly that he had begun by describing the antipathy towards Halloween among various conservative Christian congregations-and how some churches used it as an opportunity to make their own "hell houses" to show visitors what eternity would look like for them if they didn't repent. By the time I was truly paying attention again, Chadd had gone back to the original illustration-but this time, with a paralyzing spin. What if we built a haunted house that looked like the hellish places of this earth? he asked. What if in the first room we had thousands of Tanzanian orphans without parents (like the ones St. Matthews supports)? As we went into that second room, we would see a family eating a Thanksgiving meal-with homeless Philadelphia residents in the shadows, shut out because of their poverty from participating in the plenty. Layering image upon illustration, Chadd concluded by describing a family which had everything...but drove by the church each Sunday on their way to breakfast because they weren't sure that they would be welcome. Instead of being so concerned with our fate in the afterlife, he pointed out, perhaps it was important that we remember that Christ called us to life-abundant life-right here on earth-and important to help others have that life, too. I don't know if Chadd intended it to be a pre-election homily-there is a public revulsion in the air right now against some of the outrageous hypocrisy of some religious right leaders (Ted Haggard foremost among them). Whatever his goal, it was timely reminder that in this country, with its Judeo-Christian ideals, it is time for us to repent, not just of our personal sins, but of our corporate selfishness. Thank goodness that as far as we stray from our own best ideals as a nation, there are individuals and institutions that remind us of who we are, and who we ought to be. PS- There was a wonderful, and appropriate comment on the Haggard situation from a member of the church he pastored in Colorado that seemed worth including on this Monday before Election Day-"God does things when he thinks they’re appropriate,” said Larry Stockstill, the pastor of the Bethany World Prayer Center in Louisiana, from which the New Life Church began in 1985 as an outreach mission.
“What’s going to happen in the nation?” Mr. Stockstill said. “You know what — I don’t think that’s your concern or mine. He chose this incredibly important time for this sin to be revealed and I actually think it’s a good thing — I believe America needs a shaking, spiritually." So, all of you Shakers, go out and do some shaking (prayerful) tomorrow!

jeudi, novembre 02, 2006

Sharing Faith in "The Common Good"

November 2, 2006
Democrats Find Religion, Churchgoing Voters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic politicians have found religion and that may help explain why they are suddenly more popular among churchgoing Americans.
As they push to win control of the U.S. Congress in Tuesday's elections from
Republicans, who have long enjoyed support among conservative religious voters, more and more Democrats have shed a reluctance to talk about their faith.
``What we're doing is paying real dividends in the faith community,'' said Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, who heads the House of Representatives Democratic Faith Working Group, an outreach effort by lawmakers to ministers from the left and right.
``We're framing issues in religious terms and getting our members to be comfortable with it,'' said Clyburn, the son of a fundamentalist minister.
His and other similar groups were formed after the 2004 elections when the religious right was a major force behind President
George W. Bush re-election and the Republicans keeping control of Congress.
Bush was perceived as a man of faith after he called Jesus Christ his favorite philosopher during the 2000 White House campaign. Republicans have been seen by some as representing ''family values,'' mainly because of their opposition to
abortion and gay marriage and support for school prayer.
Until recently, Democrats have been reluctant to mention religion, but that has begun to change with some now even quoting scripture.
In Georgetown, Ohio, recently, Democratic congressional challenger Victoria Wulsin slid easily into biblical talk at a National Catholic Rural Life Conference.
``Paul's letter to Timothy sets the stage for doing what's right,'' said Wulsin, the granddaughter of preachers.
A popular phrase for Democrats this year is ``the common good,'' essentially a shared sacrifice to help all.
``When we work together for the common good, we can overcome the great moral dilemmas of our time,'' Democratic senatorial nominee Bob Casey of Pennsylvania declares on his Web site where he is pictured standing in front of a church.
//////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// Thephrase "the common good" is not a new one in the American political world. Years ago, in what now seem to be the pre-lapsarian days of the Clinton presidency, academicians and philosophers articulated a "third way", a vision that cut across economic, gender racial, and religious lines. Terming themselves "communitarians," these women and men graphed out a fine line between the conservative dogma of individual responsibility, a liberal commitment to policies that helped the disadvantaged, and a quasi-theological call to shared sacrifice. Some of the proponents of this philosophy were clergy-but most were not. At any rate, it never really took hold of the collective imagination. After 9/11, the future of communitarianism seemed bleak indeed. We turned in on ourselves-if the world was against us (particularly the Frency) then we had to look out for ourselves didn't we? Americans, in my opinion, are capable both of generosity and a profound egotism-it may come from living in relative isolation from other nations. When was the last time, for instance, that we really gave a hoot about Canadian foreign policy or what is going on in Mexico, unless it affects the flow of illegal aliens on our borders? Yet it is possible that this time the "third way" of communitarianism may take hold of our national imagination. Several factors, coming together this election years make this more possible than it was in the dark days (hell, the dark years) after the bombing of the Twin Towers. One is that we are faced, every day with the slaughter of American military and Iraqi civilians, a witness to the idee fixe of an Administration that thought it would impose its own vision of "democracy" on a nation, Iraq, where the ethnic and religious groups have no common vision. Another is that while we have been "going it alone" various nations who subscribe to the same isolationist philosophy, notable Iran and North Korea, have come up with their own answer to our military power-nuclear weapons that will force the affluent nations, if they wish to avoid a global apocalpyse, to pursue the common good. Finally, and perhaps most importantly in this nation of faith, the idea of a "common good" sounds plausible when it is articulated on Biblical principles, rather than as a secular philosophy. It is an idea preached from synagogue and church pulpits, an issue debated in Bible Study classes and Men's Groups, a vision as old as the Hebrew Scriptures and fundamental to the New Testament. If the Gospels aren't about individual discipleship and social justice, then a lot of us have been mis-reading them. It remains to be seen if the Democrats who are now coming out of the closet (when was the last time you heard a politician use Timothy as a source?) and talking about faith-based "common ground" and "common good" are doing something more than riding the wave of the public craving for answers based on something more than fear. Let's hope they are sincere and are willing to be bi-partisan-because sometimes that old time religion is the medicine that our sin sick souls really need. Let's also hope that if the Democrats are indeed victorious, they remember why lots of white evangelical voters ended up as Republicans-because they didn't feel that their values and concerns were taken seriously. If we can truly harness the power of the Judeo-Christian vision of the "common good", we'll find ourselves sitting beside folks that look more like adversaries than friends-until we have the courage, and the faith, to really get to know them.

lundi, octobre 30, 2006

The space between

Being an Episcopalian attending a Lutheran church is a piece of cake, most of the time. In recent years, thanks to our statement of common mission, American Lutherans and Episcopalians have become pretty cozy. It's nice for those of us who are sick of the fights and posturing among conservatives and liberals in the Episcopal Church to step outside the fray now and then into denomination where, by and large, people still seem to be able to love one another despite their differences. Although one of my Episcopal clergy friends terms the St. Matthew's contemporary service "Episcopal lite" it includes most of the elements that are important to me-good praise music, clergy who preach anecdotal, vulnerable and scholarly sermons, and (only every other Sunday at the 9:00 service, alas for this Eucharistically-centered believer) the Eucharist. There's not enough time for silent prayer, but as Anglicans we aren't too good at leaving space for this in worship, so I can't be critical of my sister and brother Christians. Why are we so terrified by silence? St. Matthew's has a strong dedication to social service and social justice, as well as an ongoing commitment to partner in mission with burgeoning Lutheran judicatories in Africa. It's a happy place, and a great spot for me and the kids-except on Reformation Sunday. Reformation Sunday, if you have never experienced it, is one on which the Lutherans celebrate the theology and life of one Martin Luther and his effect on Western Christianity. I have to admit that when I sit in the pews and hear a sermon on the topic of Luther and his" sola gratia" theology, I get tied up on intellectual, emotional and even spiritual knots. A few weeks ago I was the lector, and stood up to read a passage from the book of James-the book that Luther famously termed "an epistle of straw." James has almost a fixation on doing good works-his scorching prose is wonderfully appropriate for the materialism of today's affluent classes. I couldn't help but grin at the pastor-James is such a stick in the eye to traditional Lutheran theology. Yesterday, however, I read from Paul's letter to the Romans, and tried to do it with soul! Admittedly a much bigger guy in theological circles, Paul is the theologian of grace. Asserting that we cannot adhere to the Mosaic laws in full, even if we tried, Paul says that rescue is God's choice, not ours. The confirmation class who attended the 10:30 service yesterday wore their "Sin Boldly" T-shirts---the natural end point of a theology that is based on the idea that salvation is all about God, and not about our ability to fulfill the law. Although Catholics have been parodied for having a "works theology" they do seem more oriented towards the concrete and incarnational-saying the rosary, praying to saints, liturgy and ritual are all ways of lifting up what God has given and offering it back. One of the great things about being an Anglican (and we can't boast about lots of great things in this season of revolution) is that we do find a middle ground in this controversy. So, as usual, I sat in the congregation yesterday wondering-why do denominations always have to have it one way or the other? Why do we desire ideological purity? Why can't we live in the tension between two opposing theologies (both of which I consider adiaphora, but obviously some do not) and let the God we claim as Lord sort them out? Upon reflection, my reaction to St. Martin Luther Day could say more about me, and my craving for balance, than it does about St. Matthews and its yearly trip to worship at the shrine of the German Reformation. After all, the pages of the bulletin are crammed with opportunities for service-proving that whatever is said from the pulpit on that last Sunday in October, the leaders of St. Matthews believe in the works of justice that affirm that we have indeed been called...and want to answer by offering up that which we have, and want, and are. ################################################################################# A couple of paragraphs from the Anglican Lambeth Commission on Communion explaining how they view the notion of something being "adiaphora":
As the Church has explored the question of limits to diversity, it has frequently made use of the notion of adiaphora: things which do not make a difference, matters regarded as non-essential, issues about which one can disagree without dividing the Church. This notion lies at the heart of many current disputes. The classic biblical statements of the principle are in Romans 14.1-15.13 and 1 Corinthians 8-10. There, in different though related contexts, Paul insists that such matters as food and drink (eating meat and drinking wine, or abstaining from doing so; eating meat that had been offered to idols, or refusing to do so), are matters of private conviction over which Christians who take different positions ought not to judge one another. They must strive for that united worship and witness which celebrate and display the fact that they are worshipping the same God and are servants of the same Lord.
This principle of 'adiaphora' was invoked and developed by the early English Reformers, particularly in their claim that, in matters of eucharistic theology, specific interpretations (transubstantiation was particularly in mind) were not to be insisted upon as 'necessary to be believed', and that a wider range of interpretations was to be allowed. Ever since then, the notion of 'adiaphora' has been a major feature of Anglican theology, over against those schools of thought, both Roman and Protestant, in which even the smallest details of belief and practice are sometimes regarded as essential parts of an indivisible whole.

vendredi, octobre 27, 2006

Are you a saint or a ghoul?

This guts of this post is stolen from the London Institute on Contemporary Christianity- if you haven't heard of them yet, they are a wonderful group of hip Christian writers and speakers. You can subscribe to their meditations, which appear to come out once or twice weekly. A prerequisite is liking the British, of course, because they do have a UK-immersed point of view. A couple of things one might want to consider when reading this meditation on atheism and Christianity-why does Richard Dawkins get his knickers in a twist about Christianity, when it is no longer even a particularly potent cultural force in Great Britain (although Tony Blair is apparently going to convert to Catholicism when he isn't PM anymore)? And what do we make of General Sir Richard Dannatt's ideas about Christianity over here, in a nation whose people would still overwhemingly say that they are Christians?Let alone our President (I hardly dare wonder about VP Cheney-that guy sometimes appears to bat for both sides). My feeling about President Bush is that he uses his faith as a cover for his prejudices-the result is that he has managed in so many ways to make Christians here in the United States appear fundamentalist morons (other countries that claim Christian histories have also done really bad things in the name of democracy or monarchy or conversion, would always like to think we'd do better as small "d" democrats than the colonialists of the 19th century). The point made in this essay remains accurate, though-judge Christian ideals by the words and life of the man Christians profess to follow as Savior, not by how well we actually follow them. Sometimes I wonder whether Christians are more comfortable with Halloween than with All Saints Day!

The Two Richards
Whatever we may think of the appropriateness of what General Sir Richard Dannatt said to the Daily Mail last week, his honesty is welcome. His remarks about the invasion and occupation of Iraq overshadowed some other comments on the ‘moral and spiritual vacuum’ in Britain today. ‘Our society’, he said, ‘has always been embedded in Christian values; once you have pulled the anchor up there is a danger that our society moves with the prevailing wind. … It is said we live in a post-Christian society. I think that is a great shame.’
Richard Dawkins would emphatically disagree. His recent bestselling book The God Delusion puts forward the extraordinary opinion that people in post-Christian secular society are far more moral than those who lived (or live) under the code of one of the world’s religions. Passing over the monstrous evils perpetrated in the 20th century by atheist regimes, the Oxford professor of the public understanding of science delights in describing the horrors carried out in the name of God.
The evidence does not support him, however. In a better-informed discussion of the issue, in his book Is Religion Dangerous?, Keith Ward, former professor of divinity at Oxford, argues that, although religion has been used to justify hatred, envy, greed and fear, no faith has such anti-human values at its heart. ‘Religious institutions’, he writes, ‘can be used by authorities to support their own cause, and the rhetoric of religion can then be used to enlist loyalty to very ambiguous policies, for which the use of violence can seem to be … justified.’
Of course, like all belief systems, different religions embody different worldviews, and these find expression in different values. The core values of the post-Christian West today have been defined, by David Selbourne (author of The Losing Battle with Islam) in the Times, as the ‘doctrines of market freedom, free choice and competition’. Is this threadbare, impersonal vision all that the mighty West has to offer? Small wonder, then, that people are looking elsewhere for a moral compass. What happened to the great Christian principle that we should love our neighbour – of whatever race or creed – as we love ourselves?
Thank you, Richard Dannatt, for the reminder. It’s over to us, now, to help our society to rediscover the transforming message of Christ.
Helen Parry

religion has been used to justify hatred, envy, greed and fear, but no faith has such values at its heart
what happened to the great Christian principle that we should love our neighbour as ourselves?

mardi, octobre 24, 2006

I know I should be writing about the political scene (two weeks until the barbarians bring down Rome!), pontificating on latest diatribe of the atheist Richard Dawkins (his brand of what one reviewer termed "nihilistic Darwinism" may be too erudite for me-I barely understood the reviewer's critique), or talking trash about football. I seem to be stuck in "family mode" these days, so you need to go elsewhere for your excitement. The kids had dinner with their dad, as they usually do on Mondays, and I picked them up in the parking lot of the diner where we often meet for this ritual. There's something really tawdry about a divorcing couple exchanging children in a public place. The only reason their dad and I do it this way is because it is often easier than trekking the extra 20 minutes to the other person's house-but it still reminds me of the dissolution of our family, and my responsibility in that. Possibly it's salutary to feel the lash of guilt now and then, because we are always being warned about the horrible effects of divorce on children, and ours seem to be navigating relatively well. The only obvious effect of this low rent rendezvous place on the children is that they almost always seem to want to play the "claw", the hook which, much more often than one would think, has picked up stuffed animals and dropped them into a chute for Sian or Colin to bring back to our home. One of them, a blue and white animal of uncertain gender, creed, race, or country of origin sits on my bed, a present from Colin. Last night, conscious of the time, I refused to allow them money or time to attempt to beat the claw, and we drove home. No sooner did we arrive but Sian declared she was very hungry, and sat down to a salad sandwich (I know her dad feeds her). Colin needed to do his reading. The problem was that by the time Sian had eaten and Colin done his 20 minutes of reading the time had crept by 9:00. When Colin came into Sian's room to have a chat with her as I was attempting to get her to turn off the lights, I lost my temper and walked out, threatening them with the worst punishment in our little family-that I would not stay with them when they went to sleep. No entreaty swayed me, cruel creature that I am. Skulking in my tent like Achilles, I looked across the hall. There was Sian, on Colin's bed, reading him a story before he went to sleep. Softened by this domestic scene, I went back in to give them bedtime hug-forgiveness all around. It was only this afternoon that I discovered that the whole scene had been staged for my benefit by Sian and Colin in hope that I would relent of my ill behavior and sit with them while they went to sleep. Laughing merrily as we wended our way back from her school, Sian said they had expected their scheme to work because: "You are such a sap, Mom!" Since we were our way to Dairy Queen, I have to admit she is probably correct. I can't figure out why I don't feel repentant myself.

dimanche, octobre 22, 2006

Undimmed by time

They've known one another for just a little over 50 years now. Time has left its mark on both of them, but it has not dimmed the affection they feel for each other. The younger one has a debilitating chronic illness that keeps him inside his house most of the time. The older man suffers from a few ailments, but still travels the globe, honored and feted as the foremost African-American historian of his age. They met as young professors at a New York City college-one near the beginning of a long and successful teaching career, the other already famous in his field and about to become even more eminent. Both outsiders in their own way-one Jewish, one black-they developed the habit of walking together around the college where they both worked, and ending up at a deli where they continued to share ideas and confidences over corned beef and pastrami. Neither of them eats corned beef or pastrami now, of course. Over the past five decades, they have edited books together, visited each other's homes, attended conventions, and become friends with one another's spouses. Any relationship that goes on for more than half a lifetime, extending well beyond the deaths of their two beloved wives, is not uncomplicated-nonetheless, they are, the older scholar told me when I visited him recently, like brothers. In New York for a speaking engagement this past week, he took a cab from Manhattan and visited the younger man, who had recently suffered a fall and was confined to bed. What did they discuss? I can only imagine-what does one talk about when Thoreau and Lincoln and Du Bois and Douglass are like old friends, to be summoned to butress an argument or illumine an anecdote? When I heard of the morning spent together, I rejoiced, and I wept, for the durability of the friendship and the constraints, the cruel constraints, that time lays on the strongest of us. But my dad didn't seem in the least unhappy-he was pleased, I think, to be taken out of the bounds of illness into the wider world of history and politics and theory that has been his true home for so many decades-and to see his dear friend, who cared enough to reinforce, with grace and delicacy, the bond between them, only strengthened by the years.