lundi, décembre 31, 2007

The Mating Season?

I thought January was the season in which one vowed to lose weight-apparently, at least on dating sites, it is the month in which one vows to "gain mate."

I have spent the past few days fielding many more than my usual docket of emails from men of varying ages, occupations and marital status.

One gentleman wanted me to "break the rules" with him-I wonder which ones? Do I get to make them up? Another asked me how I was doing and when we were going to meet for tea...I wonder why tea, and not coffee.

After writing in my profile that I don't respond to winks (favorably) last week, I was "winked" at by about 12 men. A customer service representative (I called to find out why I keep ending up with sultry brunette women in my searches-are they telling me something?) told me that lots of guys are "so shallow" they just look at the pictures.

On the other hand, I've had a couple of guys comment on my profile in ways that show that they actually have read it. Several men seem quite genuine and thoughtful. I don't think I'm the easiest potential date. As an eclectic minister with a keen ear for depravity, I probably appear as strange to your average porn addict, swinger or ardent agnostic as some of them do to me.

It's lovely to be thought of as desirable-what would be even lovelier would be to wholeheartedly, for once (or twice) desire back. But perhaps wholeheartedness is the privilege of the young. Or maybe the young at heart?

vendredi, décembre 28, 2007

Growing up in New York, a child of middle-class (well, perhaps upper-middle)parents, I took ballet at the Brooklyn Academy, went to the theater in Manhattan, and dragged poor mom to The Doors and Jim Hendrix concerts (or maybe they both played at the same concert- my recollection is a bit blurry). Fascinated by the famous Russian dancer Nijinsky, I researched early 20th century dance at Lincoln Center and dreamed of acting on Broadway.

I think, although I'm not certain, that it was my grandmother Sarah who took me to see the Nutracker Suite. I can't recall whether it was the American or New York City Ballet. I know she used to take me to Gilbert and Sullivan shows. Grandma had been a librarian as well as a charming and beautiful rabblerouser for humanity.

I thought about this when Sian and her "Aunt" Heidi and I went to see the "Nutcracker" at the Academy tonight. For a few years I've wanted to take her, and felt a little guilty that she hadn't been enveloped in Balanchine's, Tchaikovsky's and Petipa's fabulous and eerie world before. But then, I thought...there are hundreds of thousands of American girls who will become wonderful women-not ever having seen the Nutcracker.

I'm a staunch advocate for the classics-our kids take in so much trash already that parents need to try to broaden their perspective. But force-feeding doesn't work-you need to hope that they are enchanted.

The window opened, just a crack, tonight. Even for her jaded mom-so thank you Grandma.

mercredi, décembre 26, 2007

Coming home from the gym, the rain slapped heavily against the car windows. It glittered on the two-lane road heading towards the Creek, making it hard to see where the pavement ended and the grassy hummocks of the developments begin.

Safe at home, I hear it hitting the roof and glancing off the side of the house. On dating sites, people often, often write that they like to hide out in bed with their loved one or partner (or casual date) when it is raining. I marvel at this commonality-it must say something about human nature, as well as about our tendency to adopt cultural cliches. As children, we hid under the covers when we were frightened or needed to fell safe. As adults, we have decided we aren't safe on our own-we need someone else in there with us!

Guys also often write they want women who can look as good in jeans and a baseball hat as in a little black dress. In that respect, I fail miserably-too much hair for a baseball cap, and no little black dresses in my closet. Long black dresses? Yes. Short purple dresses? Sure. How come I never seem to give the right answers on the societal standards exam? I think it must be in part because I'm not even sure what the questions are!

lundi, décembre 24, 2007

At a party in a very nice, rather well-to-do part of Bryn Mawr on Saturday evening, waitstaff offered h'ors d'ouevres, and an pianist played Christmas songs in the living room. It seemed odd, against all of the 1920's faux-Tudor splendors, to be chatting with one of Heidi's friends about how one has to read the foreign press to stay in touch with the world.

So which ones does she read, I asked her, munching on salmon and eyeing my friend's refurbished kitchen. A teacher who had done international work with kids, she told me she reads The Times (London) and the Guardian. I like to steal a glance at The Independent when I have time.

Last night I found they have a whole set of pages on the environment-including an article on how most Britons intend to move towards a greener Christmas this year. That includes not using as much wrapping, recycling, and less waste. Wouldn't it be wonderful if our media was as proactive? I don't think we are as willing to admit that our decisions as individuals can change our environment.

Since I hate wrapping presents, that would be an easy one to give up. In fact, as I put Sian's presents in plain white boxes, I decided not to put wrapping on most of 'em. Just remember, dad and mom, where that paper ends up within about ten minutes-in a bag destined for the trash

samedi, décembre 22, 2007

The Christmas IJ column-Jesus and Santa

With no Santa, there's more room for Jesus

Published: Dec 22, 2007 12:01 AM EST
Santa has left the building.
But hopefully there will be a little more room for Jesus in our household this year.
The jelly-bellied old man with his reindeer fleet has gone, never to return to our rancher.
I'll miss him.
But I know that part of the challenge of raising children is helping them discover that sometimes truth is stranger, richer, more evocative and less tangible than fiction.
Colin, my 10-year-old son, lost his faith on a Brooklyn, N.Y., street last month, days after my dad died. Distracted and upset, I responded to a question by admitting that, yes, his dad and I bought the presents that appeared under the Christmas tree.
In the taxi taking us to the train station on our way back to Pennsylvania, his freckled face looked sad.
"I'm glad I found out now," Colin said, with all the gravity of a man of 50. "When I have my own kids, I won't forget to buy them presents because I think Santa is coming."
We haven't strung the lights on the windows or gone down the road to choose our tree at Farmer Messner's place.
A defect in the solar Christmas lights I strung on the pine tree we recycled last winter makes them flash madly — as though Christmas was coming on steroids this year.
A Christmas cookie exchange? You've got to be kidding. It's already Wednesday night. I'll be lucky if I get gifts to my daughter Sian's teachers before school ends (gulp) for Christmas break tomorrow.
Like you, I could let my losses and disorganization and frustrations define the season for me.
Or, like you, I could listen for the voice of truth in the cacophony, look for the glimmer of light in the winter darkness, praise the small moments of grace in the chaos — all signs of the incarnate Christ, the child born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago.
We don't know the season in which Jesus was born.
If Mary and Joseph had to spend the night in a manger with a baby wrapped only in swaddling clothes, it probably wasn't in the Judean December, where they would have been competing for room with field animals brought in from the cold, not to mention the shepherds.
Whatever the season, we do know that he came into a world and a culture rent with war, oppression, venality and hypocrisy — a world and a culture much like our own.
Naked and helpless like every other baby, he came as a vulnerable icon of contradiction to those who dreamed of influence, ambition and autonomy.
Jesus must have cut an odd, even intimidating, figure among the Pharisees and the Zealots and the Romans, men so bound to working the system to the first-century realpolitik.
No more domesticated today than he was 21 centuries ago, Mary's son brings disorder as well as healing, doubts yoked to certainties, anxiety and tranquillity.
Like a character in a short story by the great American writer Flannery O'Connor, he provokes, challenges and baffles us.
If we are open to letting our lives be transformed by his message of humility, love and nonviolence, he can enter into our daily lives and release us from captivity to all that hurts us and makes us hurt each other.
As my kids prepare for the Feast of the Incarnation, I hope they meet this idiosyncratic God of ours amid the cookies and the wrapping paper.
It would be wonderful if they stumble across him when they most need his grace.
I want them to see his glory in unexpected places, those not usually patronized by the complacent and the prosperous and the respectable.
Judging by history, those are the kinds of settings in which he is likely to show up.
But I'm not in charge of that. He is.
I hope that you and your families will be open to celebrate the coming of this wild Christ among us this season. Swing open the doors that confine your bruised and broken hearts, your dusty dreams, your passionate love for this world he has made and let him enter in.
One thing is for sure: He's going to surprise you.

mardi, décembre 18, 2007


I used to worry that my two kids weren't going to be close. When Colin was born, Sian seemed to see him mostly as competition rather than as a younger hatchling she had to care for. The two of them have developed a joint story, a folktale, to cover this period in their lives, the years when they weren't tightly knit to each other-it is the time "when Colin threw his rattle at me", accounting for years of distance, if not hostility on Sian's part.

Colin was perpetually disappointed. He would constantly be kind and generous to her-and couldn't figure out why she responded with anger. He gave her presents. He defended her when her dad and I accused her of childish felonies. He forgave her. Although she spurned his offerings, he seemed to think if he only found the right combo, it would be OK.

Now they get into the car and rag on each other continously-but the general dynamic is so different I sometimes can't believe they are the same kids. Oh yes, they do annoy one another-and occasionally the adults who are rearing them. Sian teases him-but like she thinks that's her duty as a big sister.

Last night, as I drove them home, Sian insulted Colin and he hit her on the shoulder. Naturally, she shrieked-then explained that she just happened to be a little bruised because he had smacked the shoulder that a school friend had hit her on. "Ok" he said seriously. "I'll hit you somewhere else next time."

Talk about brotherly love.

dimanche, décembre 16, 2007

In the 19th century, a tribe in Fiji ate a missionary-cooked him in a brick oven. A few or so ago, the boyfriend of the mother of a 14 year old named Ebony, a young artist who wanted to attend Villanova, where her dad worked, allegedly strangled her by tying her pajama bottoms around her neck. A mother and her daughter's friends gang up on a 13 year old who has a history of low self esteem in a series of emails and drive her to suicide .

As the cat sleeps on my bed and my 12 year old makes a gingerbread tree in the kitchen sink (so as not to get the icing all over, of course) these events seem very far away. But they are not-the lion that lurks at the door, the drumbeat of plotting in the adjoining village, violence is only as far away as our next door neighbor's argument or the latest Coen brother's gorefeast at the multiplex.

To say we are flawed is a gross understatement. We are savages, sinners so broken we can't fix ourselves. When the evolutionary biologists and psychologists argue we are evolving in a beneficial way, we have to ask-into what?

Without divine intervention, we are lost-cannibals all.

Sola gratia. Sola gratia. Sola gratia.

vendredi, décembre 14, 2007

Just back from the mall and a fairly expensive run through Aeropostale, I brewed a cup of tea and sat in the wing chair by the computer. For some reason, my kids seem to like sitting in a wing chair instead of a wooden one when they are playing Virtual Villagers or Toontown. Often I will walk through the living room and observe, with some amusement, Sian and Colin and their friend Tyler shoved up against each other. Tyler and Sian are about a year apart-I wonder how long they will remain unself-conscious about that?

Then the phone rang. Around here, this past fall, the ring of a telephone past ten could only signal really bad news. When I picked it up, it was Sian. Sobbing, she said to me that she hadn't been able to sleep last night because of the fight we'd had.

For Sian and for her parents, coping with her ADD is often mentally exhausting. Several days ago she sat in an ADD doc's office and agreed (so I thought) to get her homework book signed by her teachers in exchange for computer and TV time. I speculate now that it was just her mother who agreed. At any rate, she didn't get her books signed, didn't do the math homework-and told the teacher her group would present first on a project. A project she really hadn't done a whole heck of a lot of work on-due in two days.

How strange, I thought when I heard her shaky voice as her dad sped back to his home in the darkness. My Sian is such a strong-willed girl that I hadn't realized our disagreement had affected her at all.

Boy, was I clueless.

I told her that although she needs to get her book signed, I'd overreacted. I told her how much I was looking forward to having time with her on Saturday. I told her I loved her-and then got off the phone, wondering what I could have done differently.

jeudi, décembre 13, 2007

The tipping point

When I get together with friends and we talk in generalities about guys we have met online, they are often surprised by the "unconventional" tastes and personas of the guys with whom I strike up conversations.

Recovering alcoholics. Swingers. Actors and TV pitchmen with father issues.

I don't know if I tend to attract guys who are a bit idiosyncratic or are drawn to them. Probably a mix.It may be that men over 40 just tend to have issues (as do women, of course).

I don't know if I appear slightly eccentric myself, and so they feel safe opening themselves up to me. To be perfectly candid, I don't know if my friends aren't also meeting peculiar (different, not bad) guys, and are so odd themselves that they wouldn't know "normal" if he came up to them with flowers and a box of dark chocolate.

I like complexity in men. But even I have a limit to my bent for Baroque-shame on me that it took me a year or so to discover what it was.

mercredi, décembre 12, 2007

Who has the bigger stick?

So now Dick Cheney (aptly named) is questioning the masculinity of some Democratic pals in the Congress because they decided to go along with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on energy bill. Read the opinion column by the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus linked above and shake your head in disbelief. Or maybe you won't.

The Veep doesn't seem to know any other emotion but anger. He appears like a guy who has contempt for anyone who doesn't agree with his view of the world.

But Cheney accurately reflects the tenor of the White House. They plot out every legislative fight as though it was a battle out of "Left Behind."

Total compliance from conservatives or unconditional surrender (from liberals) are the only options-only sissies compromise.

Yes, his comments were deeply sexist. But more than being offensive to women (who cares what Cheney thinks of women?) they were painful symbols of the way he and his DC mafia let nothing get in their way in pursuit of their paranoid ideas-and miss no opportunity to lash out and hurt anyone, including their former colleagues.

One can only speculate on the events that shaped Cheney and made him the kind of fellow who frightens little children. Let's leave it to the historians.

lundi, décembre 10, 2007

The illusions of grief

When I called my dad's home (I still cannot speak of the house as his "former home") today, I got the answering machine. I've been able to leave messages for my sister before when dad was ill-this time, however, I lost it. How cruel it is to hear that distinctive voice, and yet know that in this life we will never hear it again.

The kid's dad told me that when he lost his father, he kept looking for him on the street in the eyes of strangers.

I can't stand the idea of deleting the tape-although I know that time will come.

Those of you who haven't lost a parent or a sibling-make sure you have recordings or other ways in which you can remember a mother's silvery laugh, a father's flat Michigan "a's"...or his horrible puns. Those twists of personality that used to irritate you so much? You would give practically anything to have them, and the person who made was so much richer and strange, back.

Choking back the sobs, I called my sister again-on her cell phone.

Full fathom five, thy father lies...

samedi, décembre 08, 2007

Beyond helplessness

When she calls for leadership on the climate change issue that asks us all to take commonsensical steps towards healing our world, Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton (see link above) has it right. When I talk to my neighbors about climate change (why we SUV-driving suburban denizens ought to care) I get one of two reactions. Some of them focus on the idea that we may be dealing with natural forces beyond our control.

That is comparable to the reactions of people who can't support gun control because the forces behind violence and poverty are so enormous. Let's do a cost-benefit analysis, folks. Don't we want cleaner air, healthier kids, and less reliance on oil from other nations? C'mon.

The other reaction I get is: what can I do? Anything I do won't make much of a difference. As Slaughter points us, we need guidance. We need simple steps. We may not need moralizing, but we need to be impelled to make the moral choice. I didn't think it was possible, but George Bush and his buddies have given the idea of morality a bad name. It's time for another President, and Administration to take it back.

vendredi, décembre 07, 2007

My friend Kris told me today that she and her sorority sisters, "a smart bunch of women" had concluded that next January a Republican would be in the White House. The reason? US voters are still not ready to elect either a black man or a white woman to the nation's highest office.

I really hope she's wrong. Not because I'm hugely enthusiastic about Hillary. Nor because I think Barack has the neccesary experience.

But this current Congress can't get anything done, because each time the Democrats offer a bill, the Republican's threaten a filibuster. Which, naturally, is the very height of hypocrisy, considering that just a few years ago the same cast of characters said they wished to get rid of the filibuster.

So-no energy bill, when our country reels from the forces of climate change. Not enough help for those facing foreclosure-just enough to help banks regain some of the dollars they lost. No effective curb on the imperial President and his very personal war.

We don't need barbarians at the gates, when we have the US Congress.

mercredi, décembre 05, 2007

When did he know?

Were you also wondering when he knew? It isn't the most important one-it actually probably isn't one of the most important questions that bubble up in the wake of the new intelligence report on Iran.

That was the one of the big questions of Watergate: what did he (President Nixon) know and when did he know it?

When did George Bush and Dick Cheney become aware that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program four, almost five years ago? Did he have that intelligence in hand earlier this autumn when he talked about a possible nuclear war, "World War III," with Iran?

It's hard to forget how morally outraged Republicans got over Bill Clinton's sins-which, admittedly, were unpalatable. Bill Clinton had an apparently infantile need for female approval and seduction, thus, Monica Lewinsky. George Bush has an apparently pathological need to invade other countries and topple their rulers-thus, Iraq.

I saw Pat Buchanan on CNN last night. It seems he's got a new book out, one in which he expresses the sense on the part of many conservatives that Bush has betrayed the values of a lot of the right-wing faithful.

Pat, I feel your pain. But not as much as I feel pained for those who face foreclosures, hunger, job loss and the loss of a child in a country ripped apart by war. In the years to come, historians and psychologists will examine the pathology of a President who could never admit he was wrong. Right now, we can just be prayerfully thankful that there are government officials who are courageous, and candid enough to break ranks and tell the truth.

lundi, décembre 03, 2007


On Halloween our family adopted a rescued kitten. For reasons that make almost no sense to me, this tuxedo cat, about nine months old, is called "Inky." As with most young cats, and many teenagers, it's all about Inky. So what if a glass dish gets pushed off the dining room table? Why'd you have it up on the table to begin with, Mom? Should I be petting our senior cat, all of about four years, Inky nudges her away-then adds insult to injury by chasing Precious all over the house.

If I'm at the computer, Inky jumps up and nips my fingers.

I put him down.

He jumps back up.

Possibly it's a game to him-although each time the nips become less gentle. To me, it's income.

I have to admit I get a certain charge out of seeing those tables turned when the kids come home.

They chase Inky up and down the house. They pick him up and kiss his nose. They built a fort
and don't let him escape until he is good and tired. Sian even has fun giving him a bath-there are few more pathetic sights than a wet kitten. If he happens to wander into the bathroom while she is taking a shower, she picks him up and deposits him right under the water with her.

At least the kids don't bite my fingers.

samedi, décembre 01, 2007


One journey, two paths, love, always
By Elizabeth
Intelligencer Journal
Published: Dec 01, 2007 12:26 AM EST
I heard he was quite a classroom showman.
His field of expertise: American intellectual history. He was passionate about making it come to life for his students, whether teaching an introductory class or an advanced round table.
Comfortable in at least four languages — more than willing to fake his way through another two — he would tease waiters and clerks with a series of one-liners and truly awful puns.
Whether they got the joke or got confused, he was very open-handed with the tip.
Even when he became very ill, he would josh with his companions, who teased him, exhorted him, tended to his wounds and grew to love him.
He died last week, and now I'm looking for him in our old e-mails, his office, in my dreams. Wondering where he is, what he's doing, whom he's with.
The son of an immigrant Orthodox rabbi of some note, Dad was the youngest of four children.
Free of the financial pressures his older brothers and sister had to support their family, he attended Brooklyn College.
After serving in World War II, he earned a doctorate at Columbia University. Somewhere in the course of his studies he developed a deep understanding and even empathy with men of spirituality as different as the evangelical 19th-century British Prime Minister William Gladstone and American transcendentalists Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
When I became a Christian in college, Dad, who was a professional doubter and questioner, put me through my paces. Our conversations were suffused with his knowledge of British and American religious history.
How strange that my father, the son of a reclusive Jewish scholar, should so thoroughly understand the fundamentals of my adopted faith.
Or maybe not so strange.
In the catholicity of his interests, and his astoundingly broad frame of reference, he seemed to span many worlds, not to mention many centuries.
If faith and disbelief occupy separate territories, Dad seemed to have a foot in both camps.
They would not be so unkind as to say it to a grieving daughter, but I'm fairly sure some Christians would assert that because Dad wasn't a Christian, let alone a paid-up theist, his fate was sealed.
To them, or to anyone who thinks they can make such a determination this side of eternal life, I would issue a gentle challenge.
Get to know someone who walks a different spiritual path.
Listen empathetically and talk candidly with them. Then ask yourself if you are still as hard-core about salvation through faith in Christ alone as you once were.
If you have lost a parent, one who walked a different spiritual path from your own, perhaps you will understand viscerally when I say that I leave a lot in the hands of a loving God whose power and purposes are beyond anything I can imagine.
Knowing my own inadequacies and difficulties in being faithful to His call to discipleship, I find it more fruitful to focus on listening for God's still small voice in my own life.
In the meantime, I take comfort in the words of singer-songwriter Roseanne Cash, who lost her mother, dad and stepmother within the course of two years.
Asked by a writer for the Web site Beliefnet what she thought happened after we die, Cash said she tends now to believe that the dead exist in a place where "they don't need the body or the senses anymore, and there's love and there's still learning and growth of some kind."
It may be, said Cash, that it is we who are in the dream world, and they who are awake.
Dreaming or awake, I cling to his last words to me, spoken almost inaudibly in an evening phone call to the Brooklyn brownstone where he spent his last months.
"I love you."
Me too, Dad.

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jeudi, novembre 29, 2007


At least it's entertaining watching the Republicans go at one another. Each riposte-get rid of progressive income tax, ban abortions completely, accuse each other of having a "sanctuary city" or "sanctuary mansion" seems a bit more inflammatory, and frankly, a bit more frivolous, than the one before.

Truly, in America, anyone can grow up and be deluded enough to think he would make a wonderful President-as opposed to the barker at your town carnival.

Gail Collins does a nice job of satirizing last night's debate in the article linked to this post.

One group of candidates is trying to scare you to death, the other seem like a bunch of school teachers lecturing us on avoiding the evils of excess.

It's occasionally intriguing to watch Hillary play dominatrix or John play (?) mad. But after a while, you begin to wonder what happened to all of the grown ups.

If it's true we get the candidates we deserve, what does this group say about us? Perhaps we should just let Oprah choose the next President.

Come to think of it...

mercredi, novembre 28, 2007

What we need

I wonder why, again and again, we prostitute our integrity to get what we think we want. Fame. More money than we need. Sex.

It's OK to want others to admire our work.

It's sensible to want enough cash to pay our bills-and maybe a trip now and then to France. (ok, so maybe that's not sensible, but it feeds our spirits).

We're sexual human beings and we crave physical release and emotional intimacy.

But why do we so often go after what we want by lying or cheating? Why do we abuse other people to gain what we think we need?

While online communication can facilitate intimacy, it can also abort and murder it.

Perhaps it is as simple as this Roseanne Cash song (quoted from memory)

We are ships in the night,
water deep in between,
air is freezing and we can't find the light,
so we sail off into a dream
when what we really want is love-
what we really need is love.

lundi, novembre 26, 2007

The perfect guy

Want to know the recipe for my perfect guy?

He's smart, with one graduate degree at least. Preferably from a prestigious school.
He's fit-there's something very hot about toned biceps and a flat stomach on a guy who is a bit more than twenty.
His hair droops fashionably over his forehead. Brown is nice but silver will do in a pinch.
He's got an amicable relationship with his ex wife-but they aren't confidantes. And he adores his kids, spending lots of time with them because he can, not because the court told him to.
He radiates sex appeal, and can whisper Baudelaire and John Donne and Cole Porter into my ear at a restaurant in such a seductive voice that it makes me drop my menu.
He will not mind knocking down a few idols, but is faithful where it counts.
He's vulnerable without being needy, successful without being cocky, and he finds a good debate almost as hot as a trip to Victoria's Secret.
And he'll be working in Sweden or the Seychelles half the time-reunions will be much more fun that way, and I'll still have time to myself.

Am I going to find this paragon anywhere? Not too damned likely.

What I fear is that, if I pay too much attention to the template that resides somewhere in my unconscious, I will miss the real item when he comes along.

Perhaps he won't have those great degrees-or much hair. Possibly his six-pack might be closer to an eight-pack. Maybe he won't even have heard of Baudelaire. And his sex appeal might be something that grows on me rather than blowing me away at the first meeting. Maybe he'll (scary thought) want to spend a lot of time getting to know me.

Another possibility-if I'm not careful, I might be taken in by a pale facsimile-and not take the risk of hanging in there with the real one when he makes an ass of himself. After all, it will be my turn next.

Internet dating makes this kind of error oh so easy. Guessing at people's motives. Misreading their words. Hanging on when it's hopeless. Pushing guys away when there might be a chance.

The only thing I'm sure of (well, almost) is that I can't see a long term relationship with a guy who has "golf" in his moniker. Is this just a failure of imagination on my part? Why do they keep contacting me?

This apple can stray a little-but she's not going to fall very close to a tee.

Not exactly 42nd street

Doctor's appointments, haircuts, broken plumbing-I've neglected a whole lot over the course of this fall.

It is misty outside, the only noise that of the trucks working on the new school down Fairview. I've finally had a little time to reflect on a few other things today.

I think of myself as someone who is pretty open to accepting people the way they are. I'd rather deal with eccentricity than hypocrisy anyday.

But I wonder if occasionally my vaunted tolerance is actually sloppiness-and a lack of bravery.

Is it kind not to confront people when they provoke you? Is it helpful for them?

What's the payoff for me?

I like people who are willing to live boldly-if they do it in the sunlight. I have to keep reminding myself that part of my professional identity is, put bluntly, that of a demure burlesque artist. Peel off a layer here and there-your public sees what you chose to reveal. In my case, I hope they eventually see something that evokes their own scrapes, scars and beauty.

However, even in high class joints like newspapers of note, there's a definite limit in how far I am willing to go. We showgirls have our standards.

I know that some would think my fetish for putting myself on public view more than a bit odd. They lead more discreet lives.

It may be both unfair of me, and slightly puritannical, to expect everyone else to flaunt their secrets in public. After all, they don't get paid to do it-and they don't get the byline.

And it's questionable that every time I indulge in self-revelation others will find something evocative.

But I have to admit that I gravitate to people who have the chutzpah or courage to be open about their woundedness-and hopeful about the possibility of healing. That combination is my drug of choice.

My challenge for the day is to learn to tolerate discretion-and perhaps even to be a bit more discreet myself. Wish me luck, gentle reader!

dimanche, novembre 25, 2007


Marguerite called last night to tell me how sad she was about my dad's death. She is from "the islands," a strong Christian woman who was a companion for my dad. She knew him before the tracheotomy, and their bond became very strong. He would joke with her, greet her with happiness, and would do pretty much anything she asked. He had a special relationship with all three of them-Marguerite, Gerta and Tshera. They were lions for him when he was helpless and needed protection. Sadly, it was often from the hospital staff.

From what Marguerite said, she grew to love him.

On the phone last night, she praised our family, saying how nice and unprejudiced we were-welcoming people as they are. I told her about my grandma and how she took us young 'uns on civil rights marches. But my first reaction was: what the heck do we have to be prejudiced about? It makes me sad that she and the other women who were so remarkably faithful have had to deal with racial bias from people who employ them.

And you think we are evolving, Professor Dawkins and Mr. Hitchens? I think we are often the same bigoted tribesmen and women we were when we were arguing over who got the steer carcass 10,000 years ago.

Thank you, dear Lord Jesus, for bringing these wonderful women into my dad's life-to surround him with wonderful care and with their prayers. Thank you for sending them to my sister when she needed lions. Thank you for letting me know them-and learn from them.

Marguerite said she's not ready to go back to work yet.

jeudi, novembre 22, 2007

The resistance path

I will not write too much about my dad yet. I tend to be fairly careful about what I say on this 'blog-candid yes, but also protective. Some deep feelings should not be shared with strangers, even in this age of exhibitionism. All I will do tonight, before talking tomorrow about some of the stories from "Mommy Wars" is to say that in spite of my many imperfections, much regretted now, I do believe my dad always loved me. And forgave me. Even when I'm not sure I deserved it. Kinda like our heavenly Father. Not that Dad was a saint. Not at all. But a parent's love for a child, while sometimes critical, is profound. A mystery. Thank you for loving me, Dad-sometimes in spite of what I was. Hopefully more often because of it.

lundi, novembre 19, 2007

Goodbye, Dad

My father died today. He was ill a long time. Now he is at peace. I can't believe he is gone. I told him last week, that in that room, there was nothing but love-no unresolved arguments, no bitterness, nothing unsaid. Just love.

I believe he is with my mom and my brother and my awesome grandmother and great aunt and a host of others who now know as they are known.

I don't dare imagine what that must be like because it can't be like anything I can envision.

I'll always love you, Dad. May you rest in God's loving arms.

The price of non conformity

This year Mr. C has found himself at school-and he's really invested in it. It shows not only in his grades, but in the way he talks about his interactions in the classroom. When we see the teacher next week I want to ask her if he gets overly exuberant. He told me that a few kids called him "teacher's pet" in math class. I advised him that it's smart, not to mention right, to let other kids answer. I have memories of boys who, simply by dint of the fact that they were bolder and more obnoxious, got the teacher's eye first. Very annoying.

Meanwhile, our 12 year old is having a tougher year. She's not at all a conformist, and most of what goes on in school seems to bore her. At the same time, she grapples with attention issues, which means that even when she does want to take notes or write down those assignments, it's hard to focus. She's also a very self-directed young woman. There are things she cares about-and things that don't seem to matter. When she is older, she'll be able to focus on doing the things she really cares about. For the moment, our challenges as her parents, teachers and counselors is to help her realize that, for right now, school is her job. It's her ticket to get to where she wants to be-movie star or waitress. I really don't care much as long as she bring zest and passion to what she does. It bothers her that so many people don't have the material wealth she has. I told her we can not change the whole world-but we can help take on a piece of that change.

Yesterday I saw that some folks in our congregation were going to Philly to feed the poor on Thanksgiving. Shrieks of protest from the kids, but I found some folks who would take them. We're having a very quiet Thanksgiving this year-appropriate in the circumstances. Nonetheless, it may help them understand how blessed they truly are.

dimanche, novembre 18, 2007

He's Melting...he's melting

A cyclone in Bangladesh killed at least 1,700 people-and destroyed the homes of many more. You didn't see the corpses-after all, CNN is not out to shock you. But we did view the empty eyes of children as they sat on trees in the road or in the pieces of their homes.

Although at this point it's not evident that global warming had anything to do with the cyclone, Bangladesh is one of the countries that often has to cope with damage from flooding and cyclones. They are much less able to contend with these floods than we are-and look at New Orleans to see how well we do.

If you look at the link above, you will see a piece on growing mandate from the courts for the government to pay attention to the economic and humanitarian cost of climate change.

Their excuses have been unbelievable. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has no authority to regulate carbon dioxide.

Shall we allow the American automobile industry to regulate carbon dioxide instead?
We see how well they are doing keeping up with Japan.

The Transportation Department argued that there is no economic benefit to controlling emissions.

Except for the human cost in health and productivity-but what are a few thousands more black kids with asthma or older workers with lung problems?

When we look back in ten years (perhaps in a year) at our Administration's obduracy on the plain facts about global warming, will we be astonished at how the Congress lay down and played dead?

Or will we be ashamed at how the automobilemakers and their buddies in the Administration sacrificed our health to their profits?

vendredi, novembre 16, 2007

My commentary from today's Inky on Bishop Bennison's suspension

Impact of bishop's suspension
The investigation of an Episcopalian leader has wide effects.

> Episcopalians in the Diocese of Pennsylvania and elsewhere have spent the past couple of years engaged in overt and behind-the-scenes conflict focused on the contentious figure of our diocesan bishop, Charles E. Bennison Jr.
> But for any healing to happen in this divided and disenchanted judicatory, we are going to have to turn the analytical lens on ourselves.
> Bennison currently is under ecclesiastical inhibition, or suspension. In articles, he has been dubbed as "disconnected," a "weak Christian," and a man "void of substance" - and that's just a sample from a flood of condemnatory adjectives.
> Why is Bennison forbidden from exercising the office to which he was duly elected by clergy and lay delegates at a special convention back in 1997?
> The bishop was investigated by church authorities at the highest levels of the United States Episcopal hierarchy for allegedly covering up his brother's sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old girl in the early 1970s. Apparently, there is plenty of evidence to initiate an ecclesiastical trial.
> Prepared by a national church committee, the 12-page presentment (church language for indictment) describes the bishop as "deliberately and systematically concealing" information about his brother's misconduct. Although the bishop may fight the charges, his ecclesiastical future (he could ultimately be stripped of all clergy rank) looks extremely cloudy.
> There also is the possibility of a second presentment on a complaint by the Standing Committee (an elected group of clergy and lay leaders) sent to Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori charging the bishop with using diocesan funds without its consent.
> But for the moment at least, the bishop is gone. And without the distraction of a common foe that brought some very disparate diocesan elements together, we are brought face to face with ourselves.
> As a priest who earns her keep primarily as a writer rather than in a parish setting, I find myself in the odd position of being more an onlooker than a combatant.
> The dangers of our current stalemate are obvious: paralysis, resentment and continued trauma.
> I have talked to a number of clergy around the diocese recently, and they expressed a sense of both betrayal and mistrust.
> While the feeling of mistrust is constant, the target differs, depending to whom one is speaking.
> The upper echelons of the former Episcopal Church leadership have come under fire for apparently not sharing what at least a few of them knew about the Bennison brothers and sexual misconduct allegations 15 years ago.
> The very Standing Committee long publicly at odds with the bishop is under attack for what seemed to some to be its dogged and unyielding pursuit of the bishop.
> Certain conservative and liberal factions in the diocese, temporarily united in their distaste for a common foe, may find that their alliance doesn't last long. A coalition built on the principle that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" cannot stand the test of doctrinal disagreements.
> Where can we find healing?
> Asked the best way to repair trust between individuals in the diocesan family, one Standing Committee member spoke of the need to be consistent in telling the truth - whoever the audience might be.
> Another said that moving beyond polarization to genuine dialogue involved prayerful "deep listening," a commitment that he hopes will begin Sunday in an open "Diocesan Conversation" to be held at 3 p.m. at St. Mary's Church, 104 Louella Ave., Wayne.
> Our diocesan dilemma mirrors the crisis currently afflicting both the national church and the Anglican Communion. Bound more by common interests than by shared theology or understanding of authority, it is easy for us to fracture under stress. At that point, we are prone to let our lawyers do the talking for us.
> In this moment of testing, we are called to embrace truth spoken in charity and a deep sense of humility for our own shortcomings, not just those of others.
> Wherever we stand on these tragic issues, we are united both in sin and in a common need for God's redemption.
> I suspect that if we spend time on our knees, we may be surprised to find out who chooses to kneel beside us - fellow sinners, Christ-followers, children of God.
> Surely that is a good place, the best place, to start.

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jeudi, novembre 15, 2007

Who's got it in for Barack?

If I were Barack Obama, the Presidential candidate from Illinois, I might be a little paranoid. First there are the folks who call me "Osama"-in public. A mistake? Well, possibly, but an ignorant one. Then there are supposed Obama's liberal friends and co-Senators, like Delaware's Joe Biden, who talked about how clean and articulate I am. Naturally, there is no quarter given from the right. Earlier this year Rush Limbaugh (but what can you expect from an unprincipled hound like Limbaugh?) posted a parody, "The Magic Negro" on his site-the line between overt and covert bigotry is fluid.

Mitt Romney is our blow-dried candidate, careful in almost every arena-just a lovely glossified package. So it was intriguing that in an October talk Romney went on and on about Osam- Barack Obama and his gang of terrorists.

From the AP:

"In a slip of the tongue, Republican Mitt Romney accused Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama of urging terrorists to congregate in Iraq. In the midst of criticizing Obama and other Democrats on foreign and economic policy Tuesday, the GOP presidential hopeful said: 'Actually, just look at what Osam -- Barack Obama -- said just yesterday. Barack Obama, calling on radicals, jihadists of all different types, to come together in Iraq. That is the battlefield... It's almost as if the Democratic contenders for president are living in fantasyland. Their idea for jihad is to retreat, and their idea for the economy is to also retreat. And in my view, both efforts are wrongheaded.'"

"Romney was addressing a Chamber of Commerce meeting. Spokesman Kevin Madden said: 'He misspoke and corrected himself and was referring to Osama bin Laden.'"

I have to admit that when I heard this on the radio, my first response was to giggle. I mean, it is so stupid in a way that it's funny. Then I started to think-this Mormon is a presidential candidate, not your average fellow on the street.

That doesn't mean Mitt Romney or Joe Biden are bigots-but it does mean we've set the standards pretty low for emotional intelligence in the US Senate and the Governors Mansion. I'm glad Obama is no Clarence Thomas, constantly playing the race card. He has been nothing but professional in responding to this volley of seemingly innocuous mistakes. But

I do wish he could find a way to take on the Swiftboaters, the shock jocks and operatives, who apparently are truly out to get him.

However, I'm not running for President. If I were, I'd probably be way too gracious, too. Which would make me a lousy candidate for a cutthroat job. It is possible, however, that we need an Obama to restore some civility to the political dialogue-if it was ever civil.

See the link above for Roger Cohen's analysis (in the NYT) of why Obama represents the connections we need to forge with the rest of the world to fix our horrible reputation-and move ahead.

mardi, novembre 13, 2007

What kind of love does it take to allow watch your husband fall in love with another woman and be happy for him?

Apparently that's what's happened with Sandra and John O'Connor. A few years ago, she retired from the Supreme Court so that she could tend to him, as he slipped into the dementia that comes with Alzheimers disease. In Jeffrey Toobin's recent tome about the Supreme Court, The Nine, the first female on the Court seems very aware of her duties, both towards history and her family.

But beyond the sense of responsibility that apparently is just part of O'Connors character is her love for her husband-a love so profound that she can take it in stride when John, now a patient in a nursing home, acquires a girlfriend.

I imagine that you go through so many stages of grief as you gradually lose someone to that awful illness that eventually you surrender almost everything but your memories. But when your husband or wife is still alive-and shows romantic feelings for someone else-what does it bring out in you?

I don't know. I haven't been in those shoes. But I deeply admire the woman who can be this open in what has been such a difficult time for her and for her kids. Thank you for your grace, and for your humility.

samedi, novembre 10, 2007

Intelligencer Journal from today

Amish know we are citizens of God’s kingdomBy Elizabeth
Published: Nov 10, 2007 12:34 AM EST
The Amish get something many American Christians seem to have a hard time grasping: We are citizens of God's kingdom first. As such, we have loyalties that may very well put us at odds with the state.
Recently, the boundaries between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God have been blurred by American believers — whether the issue is creationism or euthanasia — who sought to remake the state in their image.
Their chances of succeeding are minimal.
The Amish, on the other hand, look to the Gospel mandates for guidance on how to forgive, love their enemies and trust in God's providential care for them.
For Christians who struggle with the way their faith can be diluted and warped in cultural practice, the purity of the way in which the Amish responded to last October's West Nickel Mines school shootings offered a lesson in cultural and religious integrity.
In his recent book, "Amish Grace" (co-authored with Steven Nolt of Goshen College and David Weaver-Zercher of Messiah College), Elizabethtown College sociologist Donald Kraybill examines the ways in which Amish culture, history and "two-kingdom" theology prepared our Amish neighbors to swiftly forgive the man who killed five of their own children and injured five others.
Gentle and unpretentious, Kraybill, a national expert on Anabaptist culture, has become, in an informal way, the public voice of a profoundly private people.
With a Bible-based commitment to forgiveness, the Amish reached out to the dead gunman's family quietly, privately, practically and quickly, extending grace that built bridges.
For the Amish, there are two kingdoms: that of the world and that of the Kingdom of God.
"The state is responsible for justice and punishment," said Kraybill, who noted that while they may occasionally ask for leniency, Amish believe offenders should be held accountable for their behavior.
But as people with a blood-drenched history of martyrdom for their beliefs, the Amish, who rely heavily on Jesus' command to forgive others "seventy times seven" [Matthew 18:22], embrace an ethic of nonretaliation, nonviolence and love for enemies, Kraybill noted.
"The moral gravity of forgiveness is a very heavy mandate in terms of the way the Amish understand their faith" said Kraybill, who himself was raised in the Anabaptist tradition.
Just days before the Nickel Mines tragedy, an Amish family invited the woman who killed their young son in a hit-and-run accident to come to their home to be forgiven. Reading about the offer in a local paper, the woman visited and was forgiven by the child's parents.
As Kraybill and his co-authors remind readers, the Amish drive to forgive doesn't liberate them from experiencing grief.
What it does mean is that they try to take the words of Jesus and apply them to their own lives with a simplicity and practicality that seems, to us on the outside, to be both admirable and perhaps a little naïve.
After all, as Kraybill reminds us, the vast majority of us are not Amish. We who choose to live in the turmoil of a state in which religion, morality and politics are constantly colliding often find ourselves tightrope walking through questions that have many or no easy solutions.
But even in our individualistic culture, we can learn a few lessons from seeing how the Amish practice forgiveness, Kraybill believes.
We all experience injustice. We can prepare for forgiveness before an incident happens. Try to find points of empathy with those who wrong you instead of quickly seeking revenge.
Seeking forgiveness is not only good for the person who harmed you, but it is a good and wholesome practice for your mental health, Kraybill said, noting that modern psychology has confirmed this insight in numerous studies.
No, we can't become Amish. But we can choose to challenge our cultural idols — efficiency, complexity, revenge, easy answers. In the process, God willing, we may find we have more in common with our Amish neighbors than we ever thought we did.

jeudi, novembre 08, 2007

Wanna see something really scary?

Check out this link above on what's going on with the US dollar. Part of the issue is the crisis in the subprime mortgage market-no one knows how bad that will get. Another issue is China, which is threatening to move its investments out of US markets. A third factor is our huge deficit spending-GB makes a very odd deficit hawk when up until now he's been party-hearty with our tax dollars. While the economy may still have signs of strength, we are in for rough seas, kiddos.

mercredi, novembre 07, 2007

It's incredible to think that one powerful nation, guided by a megalomaniac Administration, could cause so much damage in the world.

And no, I'm not talking about France.

Watching the crackdown in Pakistan on CNN yesterday evening at the Y, I was struck by the crisis in foreign policy that arose out of the US reaction to 9/11.

We went to war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, killing many civilians in the process. The Taliban is back and growing more mighty.

We were particularly cozy with General Musharraf , our Pakistani ally, so that we could go after Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden is in hiding, and some commentators argue that his group is also getting stronger.

Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds. No one is sure what will happen if the Kurds kill more guards in Turkey. It may be the relative affluence of the Kurds and the Turks that averts all out war.

And, of course, there is the endless fighting in Iraq.

To say that he couldn't have known what he was doing doesn't excuse him-or us. It will be a long time before other nations come to us for advice on democracy.

dimanche, novembre 04, 2007

For all of us who wish we had a chance to heal the past

Oh, I guess you might call it sentimental. Even shamelessly so. But I still love "Field of Dreams" the Kevin Costner movie about being able to redeem the wounds of the gone and long gone.

There's something nutty about a guy who builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield-isn't there? America does have a long-lasting love affair with the sport that even the scandals can't take away. I wish we didn't have to deal with asterisked superstars. I wish they'd put Shoeless Joe Jackson in the Hall of Fame. I wish there were no scandals and everyone played simply for the joy of watching the batter finally connect with the ball.

There is still joy at Little League Games. The kids in their uniforms, the grass and dirt on their pants from where they made contact with the bases, the coaches who cheer everyone, whether they hit or struck out or walked the batter.

Take away some scary parents, and it would be perfect.

Thinking of my dad, so ill, and my brother, long gone, and the kid's dad, also ill, I wept for wounds that might not heal-in this life, anyhow. Colin, who liked the movie, didn't know why I was sobbing. Nonetheless he crept over and put his arms around me. For him, it was a nice fairy tale. For me, the film provoked the notion that healing is still possible-when we simply don't expect it to happen.

vendredi, novembre 02, 2007

Vast Left Wing Conspiracy

Sorry all you Colbert fans- it might be my fault. I know that when I jump on a bandwagon the trombones may stop, the float can fall apart and a herd of cows will stop the parade.

Not that I'm calling the South Carolina Democratic Committee cattle for not allowing Stephen Colbert to run on the ticket. Perhaps they were upset that he is running as a Republican. Possibly they are concerned about the amount of money they'd have to contribute. There's also the real possibility that he would steal the thunder of some front-running candidates-might make them look a little pompous and predictable by comparison.

At the gym this morning the attendant told me he would change the channel from Fox to CNN only "under protest." I commented that he probably thought CNN was a "vast left-wing conspiracy." He responded that he was sure it was.

Nonsense, I thought. Lefties are way too fractured to be conspiratorial about anything. Now I think they are conspiring not to allow us to see anything funny about our national dilemmas.

But I'm still going to keep my Colbert for President shirt-after all, there's always 2012!

lundi, octobre 29, 2007

Colbert and Christ in South Carolina

I don't know if our fervent response to Stephen's Colbert's Presidential bid is a sign of our dislike for the candidates who are really running or of our alienation from DC politics as usual. According to a report in the New York Times, a Facebook site set up by a 16 year old signed up a million supporters in slightly over a week.

Another media report says that when the Comedy Channel satirist kicked off his campaign in South Carolina (Columbia, SC) some at the rally held up signs saying "Colbert. Christ. Favorite sons '08."

I'm not sure I understand the link between Stephen and Jesus, but Colbert does seem to be a grassroots, prophetic type fella.

I've ordered my T-shirt and my bumper sticker. So what if his hands are stained with Doritos? I've always had a weakness for someone who talks truthiness to power.

samedi, octobre 27, 2007

The last herd in Wallace

This is a story about "lasts"-and it's about township politics.

When we first moved out here, I noticed a large animal veterinarian who has an office about a mile or so up the road from us. He may be, aside from the New Bolton Center, one of the last large animal doctors in Chester County. Jim travels around from farm to farm, but most of his work is done with large farms-farms that breed calves or are home to dairy cattle.

Knowing that I wanted to do a story on the anachronism of a Chester County large animal vet, and knowing he would be in the neighborhood, Jim gave me a call.

The rain was coming down much of the morning, alternating between a drizzle and downpour. I got lost on the road to the Heim farmstead.

When I finally found the barn, Heim and his son were helping the cows go through a cattle shute so that Jim could do a rectal exam to see how many months pregnant they were. Separated from their young calves, the cows bawled sadly. Little did they know it would be forever. When the calves are six months ago, they are sent off to a feed lot. Then they are either bred as dairy cattle or slaughtered. Even the mothers have a maximum life span of 15 years. They all end up as your dinner.

As I looked into the liquid black eyes of the momma cows, I was glad I don't eat meat.

Moving out of the shute after they are palpated, the cows go into another pasture. Buster, the cattle dog, makes sure they go fast. Jay Heim, who has farmed here for 20 years, is selling the cattle on November 17 of this year. He's working on a deal to sell his acreage to the developer who owns hundreds of acres just south of him. The Heim farm and the Greenfield land are Wallace's last big tracts of undeveloped pasture and woods.

The developer, Albert Greenfield Jr, has plans to build lots of houses for wealthy folks, and a golf course and resort.

Meanwhile, Heim says he and his wife will probably move out further into the country-away from increasingly congested Wallace. With all of the new zoning laws, he says, it's almost impossible for farmers to hang on to their land.

And so soon, Wallace Township shall only have one working farm left-Bethany Farm down the road from me in the other direction. When I saw Mr. Messner, who farms organically, I suggested he might want to start coming to township planning committee meetings. Maybe he can get himself listed as an endangered species.

jeudi, octobre 25, 2007

Who is in charge?

A friend wrote me today to say she wasn't a believing Christian anymore because of all the terrible stuff that happens in the world.

I need to ponder a bit before I write her back. She deserves that.

But I did wonder why the evil is so much more prevalent than the good-or is it that we give the evil more weight than the good? Or could it be that we don't see ourselves as lightbearing?

Possibly we don't take our own responsibilities seriously enough. AND perhaps we are so hurt by the horrible things that happen, because our souls know that we were designed to flourish in the light of God's goodness.

I grapple, as perhaps we all do, with such doubts. But I still believe there's a place for us Thomases in the Kingdom- and that God is in charge.

mercredi, octobre 24, 2007

Virtual wrestling

Yesterday I was the guest 'blogger on the Washington Post "On Balance" blog. My post is entitled "Clergy Moms."
The post got more than 200 comments. But, at least at the end, the posters, who seem to enjoy fighting with each other, were talking about issues that had little to do with my original post. Somehow Leslie has created a home for them at her blogsite. Lamentably but predictably, people feel much more comfortable insulting each other online than they do in person. Is the meanspirited, overly sensitive persona they strut online the person they really are? If that is the case, I assume they keep it under control the rest of the time, or we'd be in the same pickle as the ancient Romans-or Pompeiians. But there were also wonderful moments of grace-and I got the sympathy vote. It's amazing how many people have had bad experiences in churches-and might not have had other arenas in which to express their hurt.

lundi, octobre 22, 2007

You call yourself a what?

What does it mean to be a Christian? Or, put another way, what does it mean to follow Jesus? I've been feeling very uncomfortable, as though I have a splinter under my toe, since
I heard Frank Newport (of Gallup) interviewed recently.

Newport wasn't talking about Christians. His topic was politics.
Gallup pollsters report that, (although more people are found to be innocent by virtue of DNA testing) support for the death penalty is consistent-this latest poll found it to be around 69 percent. People also felt that the death penalty was morally acceptable. A lot of the folks interviewed also probably feel, as other polls show, that abortion is morally unacceptable.

I believe the sanctity of life arguement is a lot more credible if it includes all life. But my major problem is that nowhere, as far as I can fathom, in the New Testament, does Jesus, or St Paul call for shedding blood.

Jesus calls us to forgive, 70 x7, to turn the other cheek and to pray for our enemies. The Jesus of the Gospels doesn't mention homosexuality once, but he spends a lot of time suggesting his followers be nonviolent.

But most Christians apparently feel capital punishment is all right. Is this the church/state arguement-that its OK for the state to maintain the law?

But those polled apparently feel it's not only all right, but "morally acceptable." Is morality the province of the state?

So have we had a new revelation that allows us not to take him (Jesus) seriously? And if we don't, on this score, can we call ourselves Christian? If so, why?

Inquiring minds want to know. Maybe I've been missing something here.

samedi, octobre 20, 2007

Interview with Walt Mueller

What does God want for our kids?
By Elizabeth
Published: Oct 20, 2007 12:01 AM EST
Driving home in the dark, I'm blindly surfing my radio presets (the ones that aren't public radio and classical) at my 12-year-old daughter's request.
Soulja Boy's "Crank That" is on the air in Lancaster — neither of us understand the words, but the song is on her iPOD, she tells me. Wilmington is playing a song by Rihanna, the teen that dresses like a refugee from Wisteria Lane. "Under My Umbrella" is on my daughter's iPOD, too.
Back to the Lancaster station and, oh what a relief, a song by Lifehouse — weren't they some kind of a Christian band before they got famous?
In the space of about five minutes, I've gone from suspicious to skeptical to probably misinformed — do I sound like you?
Which is why, moms and dads, teachers and pastors, we need Dr. Walt Mueller and his Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.
Born almost 20 years ago when Mueller was a youth minister in a Philadelphia-area congregation, CPYU's motto is "Understanding Culture to Impact Culture."
His message to sometimes perplexed and often ignorant Christian parents like me is both simple and challenging: Wise up to the cultural messages your kids are taking in a media marketplace that is only growing more sophisticated and diverse.
Criticize culture, don't demonize it.
And keep asking prayerfully and persistently: What does God want for our kids?
Mueller's persistent call to cross-cultural understanding has made him a rarity in the faction-riven denominational Christian world — a man who builds bridges rather than silos. In fact, he has served as a government consultant, and his work on character-building and critical cultural consumption has been "translated" into secular language and is being used in public school curriculums.
In the last year and a half alone, CPYU has produced five books. "Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture," the product of Mueller's doctoral dissertation work at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, lays the theological and biblical foundations for Mueller's practical cram course for youth pastor and parents "Youth Culture 101."
The result of a full-court press to reach high school seniors and college students, "The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness" was written by CYPU staff member Derek Melleby.
On a relatively small budget of $450,000 a year, Mueller's staff sets a high standard for productivity. The CPYU Web site (, which gets approximately 6,000 hits a day, is constantly updated with movie, resource and music reviews, as well as Mueller's blog postings.
A quarterly e-zine, Engage, offers parents perspectives on such popular television shows as "American Idol" and the musical group Good Charlotte.
Even students who attend supportive youth groups and are raised in faithful families aren't making the transition well to college, says Mueller. Many abandon Christian activities once they move away from home. Even those who remain involved tell CYPU staff that they find it hard to keep up with changing media and culture, says Mueller.
Although he travels the country speaking to crowds both huge and small, and has a one-minute daily radio spot that airs on around 850 stations (catch him on WJTL in Lancaster), Mueller is not a charismatic made-for-prime time megachurch wannabe.
Soft-spoken, calm, and reflective, the Elizabethtown-based father of four simmers with a determined passion driven by his sense of urgency and his belief that he is fulfilling a call from God.
He has nothing but respect for today's youth, whom he describes as smart and engaging. But he does have a word of warning for their parents. The complaints he hears most often from teens are: "they don't listen" and "they don't understand."
If you want your kids to be more critical, and more prayerful about buying what the global culture is selling, if you want them to be consciously faithful to God rather than becoming avatars for the latest secular trends, you need to make time to do both things, asserts Mueller.
Recently a driver who had probably fallen asleep at the wheel crashed into Mueller's office, leading him to reflect not only on his narrow escape from the jaws of death but on how to build a CYPU legacy of cross-cultural mission and reconciliation that would last after he had moved on.
In partnership with God and His grace, we have a similar job description: building character and faithfulness in our own kids.
But, as Mueller has made it his life's work to teach us, on-the-job training has to start right here with me and with you — for the sake of our children, and our world, and the Kingdom.

A few things that bug me

I don't think I am feeling particularly ticked off today, but a few things got under my skin, and I wondered if they bothered you as well.

A. Middle Class, affluent Christians who have never known significant tragedy who believe everything that God will only allow hard things to occur when they are ready to confront them. How do they explain children who die of AIDS in Africa or getting shot on the streets of Philadelphia-that their mothers and dads were ready to let them die? Or perhaps that the poor are better able to cope with loss than those of us who have a lot of material things?

I have always found this simple minded, to be frank. However, I know many good people believe this-and it makes the scary times less frightening. I can bite my tongue when people who have suffered hardship or who don't have a lot of money or an SUV or a country home say that God will not give us more than we can stand. But tonight, when I read a devotion in which a British mom wrote that, I wanted to write her and say-what makes you sure? I'd love to hear someone assert this from a non-white, non-privileged POV.

B. Surveys that prove things I don't wish to believe. Recently one came out that said it was healthy for families to eat dinner together-whether or not they ate dinner in front of the TV! Hopefully someone, somewhere is even now proving that it is much healthier to argue with your son over how many pieces of sweet potato and squash he eats and to tell your daughter she can't have a half gallon of ice cream without having the TV on while you eat.

C. The automated attendant named "Julie" on Amtrak. No matter how many times we chat, she can't get my phone number right. Fire that woman!

jeudi, octobre 18, 2007

Amish Grace

I'm reading this wonderful book in preparation for interviewing one of the authors, Dr. Kraybill, who has made it his lifelong calling to study the Amish and other Anabaptists. He's written a lot of books on the Amish and Anabaptists but this one was occcasioned by the tragedy of last year, when five girls were killed by a man who then killed himself.

The three men who wrote the book are rightly reticent about the actual tragedy. They spend most of the book analyzing how the Amish understand forgiveness from a New Testament perspective-and how their communal culture creates a basis for practicing forgiveness. Kraybill and his two colleagues did many interviews with Amish people around Nickel Mines-I doubt that would have been possible without a trust relationship between them and the Elizabetown prof. I'm very eager to meet him.

mercredi, octobre 17, 2007

The public life

Thanks to her gracious willingness to let me troll for possible contributors, I'm going to have a "guest spot on Leslie Morgan Steiner's "On Balance" blog sometime soon. I told my daughter that tonight and she asked if I would mention her. I confessed that I am ambivalent about mentioning my kids and their identities on my 'blog. After all, I am strewing words on a public document which can be seen by readers as far away as China and as close as my friend down the block.

Not to mention that writing about one's family, particularly as a journalist who is published fairly regularly, might even been seen by some members as exploitative. And, judging by the lawsuits brought occasionally by family members against each other, they are.

I hope that my kids will forgive me, as they grow mature enough to ponder the compromises of a writer's life, if I have opened up any cupboards and revealed things that they didn't wish to be mentioned. I don't think I have, thus far.

Does this reluctance to explore the less lovely elements in our family life hamper me as a writer? I dunno-I doubt it, though. On the whole, you know, I'd much rather write about your family, than about mine.

lundi, octobre 15, 2007

Compromising Our Humanity

Check the link above for the whole article by Frank Rich, who asks a question we all need to answer.

"Our moral trajectory over the Bush years could not be better dramatized than it was by a reunion of an elite group of two dozen World War II veterans in Washington this month. They were participants in a top-secret operation to interrogate some 4,000 Nazi prisoners of war. Until now, they have kept silent, but America’s recent record prompted them to talk to The Washington Post.
“We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,” said Henry Kolm, 90, an M.I.T. physicist whose interrogation of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, took place over a chessboard. George Frenkel, 87, recalled that he “never laid hands on anyone” in his many interrogations, adding, “I’m proud to say I never compromised my humanity.”

The Righteous Sisters

Glancing back briefly at my recent 'blog posts, I am struck by their rather pious tone. It might sound to the reader like I couldn't figure out why those ignoramuses running Washington or moms driving their Explorers to pick up their kids from Little League just didn't get it-when "it" is so incredibly clear.

Blame it on my expensive prep school education, which taught us intelligence would rule the world. Blame it on my idealism, still buried under the skepticism of a writer who seeks to describe the eccentric and the unconventional so that the "normal" ones will somewhere find themselves. Blame it on the full moon.

But, dear readers, if I told you that that I don't have a slight streak of elitism and arrogance running through my personality, I would be lying like a rug. And it is little excuse that the Savanarolas in the Bush adminstration have evoked my not so latent hostility with such blundering skill.

I remember my beloved grandmother and her sister, signing petitions to stop the Vietnam War, feeding us cucumber sandwiches on peace marches, earnestly going to anti-nuke meetings-and somehow staying free of the acid of self-rightousness.

I wonder how Grandma Sarah and Aunt Jennie managed to convey certainty without pride, humanitarian passion with humor, vision without surrender. I wish I had more of what they had-or is that the fate of the descendants of extraordinary men and women-to parse what is lacking more than to praise what is there?

vendredi, octobre 12, 2007

Congrats, Al

A long time ago, when I was a stringer for a national news service covering an environmental conference, one focused on faith and the enviroment, I walked up to ask then Senator Gore a few questions. Hearing his voice on NPR (an interview Terry Gross did last year when 'An Inconvenient Truth won the Oscar) brought back Gore's almost fatal earnestness, the sense he conveys that he's an A student talking to the gentlemen C's.

But over time, Gore's nerdiness has been leavened with humility and a wry sense of humor. Or perhaps they were there all along.

OK, so his house in Tennessee may not have been a showcase for green-he's trying to fix that. Yes, he's a multimillionare-how do you feel about Bono?

Gore has been in these vineyards a long time-and he deserves every accolade. It's not fun being the prophet standing at the gate when the gate was slammed in your face-but so it has been since the time of Hebrew prophets. I only hope Al Gore doesn't start taking himself too seriously. Occasionally, the class nerd can become Homecoming King-if only for an evening.

jeudi, octobre 11, 2007

Charade of Justices-

When I heard about the decision not to hear Khaled el-Masri's lawsuit, I was appalled. Have the guardians of our laws no moral GPS to tell them that locking up and beating an innocent man is worth some thought on the part of our nation's high court-and by our nation's top courtiers?

Courtiers? Yes. This set of justices, with a few exceptions (where were they in the el-Masri case?), have eagerly become lapdogs at the court of our monarchical leader, George W. Bush.

How thoroughly disgusting of State Secretary Condoleeza Rice not to admit publicly that this poor man, released after months of captivity, was victimized by US government decisions.

I heard that all he wanted, for his months of suffering was $75,000-but he would have settled for an apology.

Would we want American citizens to be treated this way in foreign countries? Why not? We have little moral standing left.

I hope that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has the spine to stand up to her American colleagues and make a huge public hue and cry.

Shame on the Justices. Shame on us.

From Today's New York Times

October 11, 2007
Supreme Disgrace
The Supreme Court exerts leadership over the nation’s justice system, not just through its rulings, but also by its choice of cases — the ones it agrees to hear and the ones it declines. On Tuesday, it led in exactly the wrong direction.
Somehow, the court could not muster the four votes needed to grant review in the case of an innocent German citizen of Lebanese descent who was kidnapped, detained and tortured in a secret overseas prison as part of the Bush administration’s morally, physically and legally abusive anti-terrorism program. The victim, Khaled el-Masri, was denied justice by lower federal courts, which dismissed his civil suit in a reflexive bow to a flimsy government claim that allowing the case to go forward would put national security secrets at risk.
Those rulings, Mr. Masri’s lawyers correctly argued, represented a major distortion of the state secrets doctrine, a rule created by the federal courts that was originally intended to shield specific evidence in a lawsuit filed against the government. It was never designed to dictate dismissal of an entire case before any evidence is produced.
It may well be that one or more justices sensitive to the breathtaking violation of Mr. Masri’s rights, and the evident breaking of American law, refrained from voting to accept his case as a matter of strategy. They may have feared a majority ruling by the Roberts court approving the dangerously expansive view of executive authority inherent in the Bush team’s habitual invocation of the state secrets privilege. In that case, the justices at least could have commented, or offered a dissent, as has happened when the court abdicated its responsibility to hear at least two other recent cases involving national security issues of this kind.
Mr. Masri says he was picked up while vacationing in Macedonia in late 2003 and flown to a squalid prison in Afghanistan. He says he was questioned there about ties to terrorist groups and was beaten by his captors, some of whom were Americans. At the end of May 2004, Mr. Masri was released in a remote part of Albania without having been charged with a crime. Investigations in Europe and news reports in this country have supported his version of events, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged privately to her that Mr. Masri’s abduction was a mistake, an admission that aides to Ms. Rice have denied. The Masri case, in other words, is being actively discussed all over the world. The only place it cannot be discussed, it seems, is in a United States courtroom.
In effect, the Supreme Court has granted the government immunity for subjecting Mr. Masri to “extraordinary rendition,” the morally and legally unsupportable United States practice of transporting foreign nationals to be interrogated in other countries known to use torture and lacking basic legal protections. It’s hard to imagine what, at this point, needs to be kept secret, other than the ways in which the administration behaved irresponsibly, and quite possibly illegally, in the Masri case. And Mr. Masri is not the only innocent man kidnapped by American agents and subjected to abuse and torture in a foreign country. He’s just the only one whose lawsuit got this far.
This unsatisfactory outcome gives rise to new worries about the current Supreme Court’s resolve to perform its crucial oversight role — particularly with other cases related to terrorism in the pipeline and last week’s disclosure of secret 2005 Justice Department memos authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods that just about everyone except the Bush White House thinks of as torture. Instead of a rejection, the Masri case should have occasioned a frank revisiting of the Supreme Court’s 1953 ruling in United States v. Reynolds. That case enshrined the state secrets doctrine that this administration has repeatedly relied upon to avoid judicial scrutiny of its lawless actions.
Indeed, the Reynolds case itself is an object lesson in why courts need to apply a healthy degree of skepticism to state secrets claims. The court denied the widows of three civilians, who had died in the crash of a military aircraft, access to the official accident report, blindly accepting the government’s assertion that sharing the report would hurt national security. When the documents finally became public just a few years ago, it became clear that the government had lied. The papers contained information embarrassing to the government but nothing to warrant top secret treatment or denying American citizens honest adjudication of their lawsuit.
In refusing to consider Mr. Masri’s appeal, the Supreme Court has left an innocent person without any remedy for his wrongful imprisonment and torture. It has damaged America’s standing in the world and established the nation as Supreme Enabler of the Bush administration’s efforts to avoid accountability for its actions. These are not accomplishments to be proud of.

mercredi, octobre 10, 2007

Remember the Ladies?

When I was visiting my daughter at her college, she asked me about a terrifying story that ran in this newspaper on Oct. 2, reporting that the Arctic ice cap was melting “to an extent unparalleled in a century or more” — and that the entire Arctic system appears to be “heading toward a new, more watery state” likely triggered by “human-caused global warming.”
“What happened to that Arctic story, Dad?” my daughter asked me. How could the news media just report one day that the Arctic ice was melting far faster than any models predicted “and then the story just disappeared?” Why weren’t any of the candidates talking about it? Didn’t they understand: this has become the big issue on campuses?
No, they don’t seem to understand. They seem to be too busy raising money or buying votes with subsidies for ethanol farmers in Iowa. The candidates could actually use a good kick in the pants on this point. But where is it going to come from
? From today's NYT column by Thomas Friedman

It sounded so quaint when Abigail Adams reputedly wrote to her husband John as our nation was born-remember the ladies.

When women are outraged, they attract a lot of attention. Particularly mothers. Women can often simmer for a long time, but when they have finally had enough of war and corruption and venality in politics, their indignation can help bring down governments and change policies.

Our energy policies are changing the world's climate in a way that is already affecting us, and will incrementally make life more challenging for our children and grandkids.

In his article today (see link above), Tom Friedman wonders why college students aren't more involved in raising their voices and taking it to the streets on issues like global warming which ought to be of great concern.

But what about us? Global warming is an issue every mother-every woman-should be concerned about for the sake of her kids, if not herself.

I can't understand why we aren't womaning the barricades to challenge industry and government on the sickening way they have dealt with the unreeling terrors of global warming. How many of you really believe this is a Democratic plot? How many still argue that the evidence isn't strong enough? How many would argue that promoting clean energy and building and buying green isn't the right thing to do?

And yet I have seen no feminist move to organize around global warming, nor have I gotten the sense that mother's are particularly worried. I don't see it as a peculiarly feminist issue-dads should worry about their children's future, too. But I have to wonder what it will take to awaken our consciences-and our voices.

mardi, octobre 09, 2007

He's got a point

I love it when a serious journalist like Hendrik Hertzberg (of The New Yorker) makes an obvious point that I've never thought about before. It is so humbling.

These comments are from a conversation (see link above if you want to read the entire interview) he is talking about political journalism with Radar Online interviewer Charles Kaiser.
I consider myself (kudos from all, please) a literate (well, occasionally), moderate, open-minded member of the commentariat. But I certainly tend to view politicians as being a breed apart-as somehow having sold out before the first school board campaign. Actually, a few of them probably don't get corrupted until they meet their first lobbyist.

I'm being forced to see here that my thoughts on this matter are rather primitive...

So the possibility that they are human beings that sometimes buckle under constant pressure-to compromise, to promote antagonisms, to hide their human brokeness--gives me pause. It' something I need to think about. I don't see myself letting them off the hook when they make terrible choices, as with this war. But Herzberg's comment does make me wonder why I hadn't seen this before-thank you!

"Of course there's an inside-the-Beltway problem. There's also an outside-the-Beltway problem.

Which one is worse?The one that one happens to be discussing at the moment. The inside-the-Beltway problem is a type of tunnel vision and a sense of narrow possibilities. It's also a fear of not being Serious with a capital S.

I would say Serious/Masculine.Yes, right. In other words, it's much harder to damage your career by consistently supporting war and cruelty than by consistently supporting peace and love. The default position is "bombs away." The problem with the outside-the-Beltway mentality is an ignorance of what the actual human pressures and incentives are inside the Beltway, why politicians and pundits behave the way they do, and why that is not necessarily entirely attributable to their moral depravity."

lundi, octobre 08, 2007

Jay Leno's monologue

Check out the NYTimes 'blog on funny essays, monologues, et al, from across the US. That way you don't have to watch the original, but they are still worth a smile.

samedi, octobre 06, 2007

Call for submissions (not submission)

I'm going to be pulling together a proposal for a book anthologizing clergywomen who are mothers-something like, "Reverend Mama." I'm looking for women interested in writing essays for that book. Ordination is useful, but not totally a prerequisite-but having been published in a magazine, newspaper, ezine or journal is a prerequisite...unless you have been told by everyone who hears you preach that you are so hot you should have been a writer! I'm looking for intimate, revelatory, confessional prose on a parenting topic of your choice. It can be as diverse as relating to moms in your congregation or how you and your spouse divide childcare when you are on call all the time.

Use your a comment with an email where you can be reached. I'll respond privately to you if you don't want your comment published.