Sunday, July 26, 2009

Babies, babies, everywhere!

Babies are a terrific way to encourage me to knit.  So, to all my friends out there, keep having them!  I am in the midst of a multi-hat project for all the babies coming into my life these days.  Here's where I am so far:

 The pattern is quite simple - it's free (and here), and it only takes me about two hours from start to finish (including weaving in ends, adding the ear flaps and braiding the ties).  I'm rather a slow knitter so a focused person could probably complete it in a little more than an hour.

This one

is for Baby Girl D.M., who is expected to arrive in mid-August to parents K and A.  K was my matron of honor and A played at my wedding.  The purple one is for my college roommate M and her husband T's baby girl, and I'm yet to figure out which other babies get which hats.  If you have ideas .... let me know.  

In a week or so I'm planning to try to adapt it for a) knitting in the round, and b) adults.  Surprisingly, my knitting confidence has dramatically increased since Synod - that's due to Pope Laura the Beneficent and Holy Knitter.  Thanks, gals!  If I manage to create a workable pattern, I'll post it here with credit to the good people at Lion's Brand.

In other knitting news, I also finished another project last night - the infamous purse.  It turned out fairly well, considering I forgot the last piece of instructions, which was to take it out of the dryer while it was still a bit damp in order to shape it.  (Any thoughts on how to correct that?)  I was just so happy to be finished that when I was felting it, I just put it in the dryer last night and went to sleep.  Still, I'm pretty glad with how it turned out:

It's not perfect, obviously, and if I were doing this again, I would be a lot more careful with the pattern part (which was a little tighter than the plain brown sections).  But, I learned I can take on a sort-of challenging pattern and it can turn out well!  And I also learned that felting covers a multitude of sins.

Thank God for these great little projects!  And, of course, for babies. We can't wait to meet you!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Oh! One More Gem From Yesterday

I forgot to mention that I spoke to one of our local magistrates about the change in Iowa's marriage laws. Turns out, this magistrate has already presided at a same-sex marriage. The magistrate's exact words to me: "I thought the court made the right decision."

Who knew the allies we have in our midst? We won't know unless we ask. And I think I've already noted the kindness and utter professionalism of our county recorder's office. I have no idea about their personal views, but really, it doesn't matter. They are doing their job graciously and effectively, as they always have.

I am really proud of this little community, and so happy to call it home.

"Pastor, What Do You Do About ..."

A few times now, gay or lesbian couples have come to my office to ask me what I do about those troublesome verses in the Bible that appear to condemn homosexuality. Not surprisingly, they often come from a variety of evangelical and/or fundamentalist traditions, and they are seeking assurances that what I am telling them is Biblical. Or maybe not. Maybe they just want to know that I've actually thought about it some.

In general, I'm not a big fan of "giving answers" to people. We here in the congregation I serve really are about the journey together and about wrestling with this stuff, not being spoon-fed answers. But, as it happens, I do have some thoughts about those troublesome verses. And here is what I've told the folks who come to my office:

1. All of us Christians are selective literalists. We are literalists in that we all have passages that we believe to be "literally and for-all-time true," and we are selective in that we prioritize certain passages over others. I am yet to meet a Christian who takes the whole of the Bible fully literally and lives faithfully by the commandments contained therein. Slavery? Stoning of children for disobedience? Levirate marriage? Didn't think so. Even the most fundamentalist Christians I have known talk about "cultural" laws that may have been for certain times (but not now), and "moral" laws that stand for all time. It's funny, however, that the commandments they consider "moral" are usually the ones that don't affect their lives in significant ways, while the "cultural" commandments might require some real sacrifice on their part. But I'm sure that's just a coincidence. Right?

The point is, all of us Christians pick and choose which portions of the Bible we read literally. Some Christians pick out the nine or so verses that "deal" with "homosexuality" and make them the center of the Gospel message. (Curious, that, as Jesus never spoke of homosexuality, but I digress.) Some Christians pick out the hundreds-to-thousands of verses that speak to caring for the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the otherwise marginalized, and make them the center of the Gospel message. Some Christians pick out the hundreds or so verses that speak to creation care, and make them the center of the Gospel message. And so on.

I myself believe that when Jesus said, "Feed the hungry, visit the sick and those in prison, give clothing to the naked" and the like, that he literally meant for us to do those things. But hey, that's just me.

Maybe you noticed: this methodology I'm proposing does assume that we prioritize the message that we think is "literally" true. Is this a nod to the fundamentalists? Is it an acceptance of literal truth as having the highest priority for our faith? Hardly. It's an acknowledgment that for many of the people who come through the doors of the church I serve, literal truth is still very important to them. My job is about meeting people where they are, opening the door to some understandings and experiences of God that may be new for them, and helping them grow in faith. So if people start with the literalist interpretation of the Bible, that's where I start, too. But I don't stay there. There's a whole world of allegory, metaphor, parable/story, and loads of other ways to interpret the Bible that faithful people may utilize.

2. Now, that doesn't really answer the question. Those verses are still there. There may be only a few of them, but they are there. So what to do about them? I can exegete many of them away - the sin of Sodom, according to Ezekiel, was not the man-on-man action desired by the men of Sodom, but rather that "she and her sisters has pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy." (That's Ezekiel 16: 49 for all you sword-drill types.) By the Bible's own wording, it was Sodom's lack of care and hospitality that led to their downfall, not the fact that the men of the town wanted to rape the visitors to Lot's house (though I don't imagine God was overly pleased about rape, either....) That 2 Kings passage is about temple prostitution. And so forth. I sometimes also mention that in Biblical times, there weren't a lot of faithful examples of lifelong, committed same-sex couples (though you may want to read about Jonathan and David's relationship - even if it was not "sexual," it was surely far more intimate than any relationship David had with a woman), so the writers of the Bible had little to go on.

I myself have known many committed same-sex couples in whom the Holy Spirit was clearly at work. The fruits of the Spirit were alive in their relationship, their love radiated outward to others, and clearly they knew they were children of God. How can we deny that kind of evidence? We can't.

3. At our church, we take the Bible seriously but not always literally. I don't actually spend a lot of time on Biblical self-defense, mostly because it's simply not in my makeup. I grew up in the UCC, and while I hold the Bible in very high regard, I have always felt free to wrestle and argue with it. If the Bible can't withstand my questions.....well, it's not much of a holy text, then, is it? Furthermore, I don't feel the need to come up with "the right answer" to respond to a troublesome text, because there isn't a single right answer to counter troublesome texts. Sometimes they are just plain troublesome. It's a mark of faith to admit that.

I don't mean that I just throw out the stuff I disagree with. We must wrestle with challenging texts - that is how we grow and mature in our faith. And if, after a night of hard wrestling, we are unable to continue because of a hip joint that's come out of place.....well, there is blessing in that, too. We can be troubled by the texts of the Bible. It is good that they trouble us.

What I worry about is that we let the wrong passages trouble us. We should be more troubled by our casual acceptance of war and poverty in this nation than we are same-sex marriage. We should be more troubled that we are facing the judgment in Matthew 25 for not clothing the naking, feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, and caring for the sick and those in prison. Why don't such passages trouble us more?

4. The Bible should be thought of as a library of books, whose authors do NOT speak univocally regarding God's nature or activity in the world.  For a good example of this, just go read Job, then read Proverbs.  Do they sound like they agree with one another?  

5.  I usually conclude by mentioning that, oh by the way, I'm a Christian Universalist.  Meaning I believe that Jesus lived, died and rose for the salvation of all of humanity, and that in the fullness of time, all of humanity will be fully reconciled to God.  Look, either what Jesus did worked or it didn't.  If it worked, it worked for all of us.  And if it didn't work for all of us ... well, maybe we should reconsider calling Jesus the "Savior of the World."  And, fair warning: if you try to convince me that humanity's stubbornness can overcome or ultimately thwart the will of God, well, I will just point out that your God seems pretty weak, small and puny compared to the One who will persistently seek us - in all the ways God can imagine to reach us - and, in the end, redeem even the worst that we can do to each other.

And all God's people said "Amen!"

Calling all Feminists!

Go and read this. Then tell me what you think.

I think it did a great job of defining feminism, calling out feminists for not defending Sarah Palin's right to non-sexist coverage in the media. I think it did a less-fine job of calling out conservatives on their insistence on Palin getting a non-sexist media treatment while at the same time giving Hillary Clinton that same sexist media treatment (though it does acknowledge this point).

I would definitely consider myself a third-wave feminist, concerned with the intersections of race and class and feminism. I also support the many ways that women express their feminism, even if I don't always agree with their conclusions (much as the author affirmed in her column about Sarah Palin). That's the gift of post-modernity - there's more than one way to be a feminist, chicas.

Go forth and be fabulous today.

h/t MotherTalkers

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Day of A Thousand Little Gems

Some days, it is a challenge and a struggle to stay faithful to the work to which God has called us.  Other days, I am deeply affirmed in our work and see clearly why we do what we do.  Today was that day for me.  

First off, I got to sleep in....sort of.  The alarm still went off at 7:00 this morning, I still took the dogs for a walk before 8am, but after their breakfast, I went back to bed until 10:30.  I was that tired.  RAGBRAI, Monday's church-and-neighborhood clean-up, and reorganizing my part-time office after the mayhem that was county fair just plain wore me out.  (It was rather decadent, I'll admit, and some of you may be surprised at my ability to go back to sleep after waking up and walking two rather rowdy dogs.  But I take my sleep very seriously, let me tell you.  Nothing keeps me from it.)

Once I finally made it into the office, there were lots of little gems to get me through the day.  There was a message on the machine asking me to call an individual.  It turns out that this woman had read a letter to the editor I had written some time ago about spiritual abuse and had been very impressed.  So impressed, in fact, that she retyped the article.  She recently had occasion to use it in her human services job in a very healing way for a group she led, and wanted to share the experience with me.  How delightful is that?  (And, since I've lost all my files due to the Blue Screen of Death last month, she said she would email or bring me another copy of what I had written.)  I am hopeful to see her at church in the next couple of weeks.

Then, I got to make a reference for a church considering The Intern.  I love talking about The Intern - she's terrific!  It was a joy to share my impressions of The Intern with a church that seems ready for her and able to love her into the ministry.  Not that she doesn't already love the ministry - but as most of you know, the first call is a defining part of one's ministry, and I want The Intern to have a great experience.  This may be a good match for both.  I am praying and keeping my fingers crossed.

Then, I went to the Y and discovered that Tasha would be teaching our Jazzercise class.  She is a fellow student who recently went to the workshop for new instructors.  She was GREAT!  Very enthusiastic, utterly unfazed when she was not 100% perfect on the routines (no instructor is perfect), and totally in command of the class.  She is already a terrific instructor - I can't wait for her "official" classes to start!!!  Plus, I was nice and rested so I was ready for a good class.

The penultimate event was the community theatre board - my first meeting!  There were only three of us, but we got quite a bit accomplished.  And, our board chair M, of whom I've always been extremely fond, and I had a long and lovely visit following the meeting.  He is a fantastic teacher in our district, a fine play director, and very, very cool.  We are members of a mutual admiration society (he thinks I'm cool!  I know he's cool!), and now we have an excuse to hang out some more.

And, I went to the store to buy some crazy chocolate desserts for Backbencher and myself.  Have I mentioned lately what a perfectly charming (and very manly) husband Backbencher is?  He makes me so, so happy.  Finally, I finished another hat, and am ready for the rest of the week.  

Stop by and tell me how your day is going.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

RAGBRAI and Tamales: Cultural Intersections in SW Iowa

RAGBRAI is a terrific week-long party across the state of Iowa.  The acronym is the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, and it's been going on for nearly 40 years (The Des Moines Register is a paper based in our state's capital).  Riders began at the western coast of the state, touch their wheels in the Missouri River, and ride for a week across the state, ending at the Mississippi River.  Every year the route is different, though some locations have been multiple hosts.  There are serious bicyclists, average Joe/Jane riders, and of course, people who are more interested in beer gardens at night than in the daily rides.

This year, our fair city is the host site for the first night.  Our church and the Southwest Iowa Latino Resource Center partnered to make a unique meal for riders - tamales, rice and beans, with horchata, lemonade, iced tea and water to drink.  Have you ever made homemade tamales?  We started our prep work at 6pm last night, finally going home at about 11....and when I got up at 6:45 to walk the dogs this morning, there was already a crew at the church, hard at work.  By the time I got to the church and got myself ready for worship, they had already made a few hundred tamales.  I got in on the act for a bit before church, but mostly helped after the service.  Several women from our congregation (Anglo) and several women from the Latino Center (Latino - mostly from Mexico) worked all morning making amazing tamales (they missed church but it was worth it).  The Mexican women were patient in explaining the process, and we had a great deal of cross-cultural conversation.  I practiced my pretty poor Spanish, but my accent must continue to fool folk, because they kept asking me questions in Spanish.  I wish I knew more Spanish!

I truly never had any idea how hard it was to make tamales.  (Let's just say I'll be happy to pay double what I currently do for the tamales I get from these ladies in the future.)  And we were ready for the state inspector, who gave us the green light (which was good, because she arrived literally 5 minutes before we were going to open our doors).  It was never an insane crowd, but we did steady business for most of the time we were scheduled to be open.  After an initial count of money and bills, between the two organizations we made a nice profit.  More importantly, we strengthened the relationship between our organizations and built more friendships.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by, and for giving us such great compliments on our food!!!  Please have a safe ride, and come back anytime!

Friday, July 17, 2009

On Sotomayor and Her Critics

First of all, these whole confirmation hearings have been utterly silly.  I am deeply suspicious that anyone who gets this far in this day and age would not be confirmed, so it seems a bit of a farce.  And then the questions Sotomayor has been asked are just silly.  Seriously, how many times does she have to explain that whole "wise Latina" statement?

And while we're on the subject of the "wise Latina" .... I wish that Sotomayor had stood behind the statement and the reality that EVERYONE prioritizes what facts are important based on their life experiences, background, etc.  It's called "having a social location," and we all have one.  First-semester seminary students learn that if they can't identify their own social location and how that affects how they read the Bible, interact with other people, and minister to people from different social locations, they are not going to be successful in ministry.  Judges need to know their social location, too, because without some self-awareness, they will never be able to approach the law with passion AND humility.  They will be arrogant jurists who will never be able to accept being "wrong."  Sotomayor gets it.  Why don't these guys?

To the Republican white men on the Senate Judiciary committee, apparently, social location only counts if you are not white or male.  White men, in other words, do not have a social location.  The assumption seems to be, of course, that they have objective truth.  Oh, honestly!

Well, this attitude isn't really a surprise, but it is a little shocking to see it expressed so blatantly.  Jeff Sessions (R-AL) kept going on about "the classical American judicial philosophy," which again is a fallacy.  We've never had just one classical philosophy - if we did, then we would not need a Supreme Court because the law could only be interpreted one way....

Then, as if the premise that Sotomayor cannot set aside her own personal experiences to make a "neutral" ruling regarding the facts of the case isn't bizarre enough, this morning on NPR I heard John Cornyn (R-TX) say something like, "I have no problem with the decisions and rulings you've made - those are well within the mainstream.  What bothers me is that your speeches are so different than your official rulings."  In other words, you are TROUBLED by the clear EVIDENCE that Sotomayor is perfectly capable of SETTING ASIDE her "wise Latina"-ness in favor of RULING ON THE FACTS OF A PARTICULAR CASE.  So, she clearly separates her personal views from her judicial rulings - Cornyn has just admitted that, and now he's troubled by that.  These men are just grasping at any silly reason to dislike her.  There's basically no way she could win.

And can I just say the full name of the senator from Alabama?  Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.  Most. Southern. Name. Ever.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Movie Review (WITH SPOILERS) and Preview Rave

Wednesday night, Backbencher and I went to see "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." It's my favorite so far, despite several reviews calling it a "placeholder." I really liked the changes they made to the story in the film, and even things that I wouldn't have thought would work did. For example (SPOILER ALERT), in the scene where Dumbledore is killed, Draco, the Carrow siblings, Bellatrix and Greyback are all on the tower with Dumbledore, with Harry watching silently below. As Bellatrix and the others goad Draco into doing the deed, Snape suddenly appears below, where Harry is. He presses his fingers to his lips - and for some reason Harry obeys him! Then, of course, he swoops up and kills Dumbledore.

Now, if you had read the books and heard about this scene from the movie, you would think there is no way this could possibly work. Harry HATES Snape with a passion; there is just next to no chance that Harry would collude with Snape for any purpose. Except.... except that in the movie version, the changes made to this scene make it very obvious that Harry fully expects Snape to shut down the Death Eaters, and that this is the reason he goes along with Snape's plan. The one time Harry trusts Snape makes Snape's betrayal more acutely painful than anything the book ever describes. I predict that this will come back to haunt Harry in the final installments of the movie .... and this little scene helps me anticipate the ways I will appreciate Harry's ultimate understanding/forgiveness/redemption of Snape.  Until now, I always thought Harry's forgiveness of Snape, demonstrated by the fact he names one of his kids after him, to be pretty weak.  It appeared to be based on Snape's memories and his love for Lily.  Mind you, it didn't stop me from crying uncontrollably when I read the words, "Albus Severus" in the book!

But, as much as I loved this most recent movie, quite possibly I was more captivated by one of the previews. Yes, it is the return of "Stuff White People Like" and in particular, this gem about Where the Wild Things Are. When the preview for this film began, I gasped and grabbed Backbencher. "Max!" I whispered gleefully.  This movie looks so perfectly delightful! The costumes are lifted almost directly from the pages of the book, I suspect there's a lot more "back story" or (real life) we will see, and oh! I just can't wait! (It would also make a great play, I noted....I'll check on whether or not one currently exists.)

The only odd thing about the whole experience was that, just before the previews began, where you get the reminders to turn off your cell phones, keep quiet, and keep your feet off seats, an ominous voice continued, "Remember, we are always watching and will remove loud or unruly patrons." I swear, it was almost as if we had heard, "Big Brother is always watching you, we are nearby, and we will make you 'disappear' if you don't conform." Dude, WTH?

In summary: go see Harry Potter, clear some time on your calendar for when WTWTA opens, and beware the movie-theater staff-stalkers.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Morning Coffee Break

I don't actually drink coffee, but I do sometimes take a little break from work to check out what's going on in the world of news. Today, the topic seems to be reproductive choice. I found some links to some interesting sites you may want to check out.

CPC Watch keeps an eye out on crisis pregnancy centers. The most recent post centers around pro-woman adoption agency materials. In the first response to this post, there is a nice shout-out to The Avalon Center, with whom I've worked (and by whom I've been trained) in my sideline gig. They provide a holistic approach and work both with adoptive families and birthmothers (and often her family as well).

This was an interesting proposition for how pro-life people live out those convictions. I think it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but it does make me wonder, if so many faith traditions are so opposed to abortion, clergy in those traditions do not urge their parishioners to adopt at least as often as they rail against abortion.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Yes, Apparently He Can Do That

So, evidently, "dissolving Parliament," as dire as it sounds, is not that big of a deal.  I knew about that whole "calling early elections," but I guess that technically means a prime minister is dissolving the government.  I'd say, "Who knew?"  But evidently, many of you did.

This will teach me to post a political message before running it by Backbencher, who can save me from all kinds of embarrassment.  

Ha!  Like I get embarrassed.

Now go read Nicole Havelka's blog.

Welcome to the World of Blogging, 'Velk

I am privileged to call the Rev. Nicole Havelka a colleague and friend. She is the Associate Conference Minister for Youth and Young Adult Ministries in the United Church of Christ. She is also incredibly fierce and fabulous, and owns a stupendous red couch that someday I will sleep on. She has also initiated the tradition among my UCC friends and colleagues by calling me by my last name, which hasn't really happened since college. Perversely, it gives me this strange sense of power and authority, as well as a major boost to my ego, and I really love it.

This is all to say that I'm proud to include her blog on my blogroll. Read it, be challenged by her, link to it on your own blogs, and start causing commotions wherever you may be doing ministry! Whether you do "youth ministry" or not, you will want to read this blog.

Monday, July 13, 2009

It's Funny Because It's True

Many moons ago, I was introduced to the site "Stuff White People Like." This satire site is ostensibly aimed at people of color who may want to integrate into white culture, though I suspect that a number of white people read it to laugh at themselves. They are almost always spot-on in their assessments, and more than once I've winced as I realize that some of the stuff I do is just oh-so-typical-white-people behavior. (I don't mind that people realize I'm white, I just hate being typical.)

Friend-of-the-Blogger Shar reminded me of this great site some time back, and last year, Backbencher gave me the book for my birthday. We've had great fun with it over the past 12 months. But today's entry may well take the cake in self-parodying humor. I used to be proud that I would read the book before I saw the movie; in fact, I got into the Harry Potter series because the movie looked so fascinating, and I decided I should read the book before I saw the movie. Now, it is just another sign of my typical white-ness. *sigh*

However, I will say that I'm not really a Dave Eggers fan (another, more literary heresy), I don't really follow Spike Jonze but I'm sure I've liked many movies in his oeuvre, and I was actually excited when I learned a movie of "Where the Wild Things Are" was in production. So, maybe I'm not a Typical White Person?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Seriously, Can He Do That?

What with all the coups and shake-ups in national governments these days, I shouldn't be surprised to read when the prime minister of a nation decides to dissolve Parliament.  But for some reason, when that nation is Japan, it just seems weird to me.  Is that wrong?

I guess I don't follow Japanese politics enough, because if I had, I would know that things have been a little tense there for a while.  The article is pretty clear that there's been some struggles in the government for some time, and that the events of the last few days have brought things to a breaking point.  And with the global economic meltdown still melting a bit (pretty much all I know about the global economic meltdown is that there is one....and that it started right AFTER our honeymoon in England began, and AFTER we had changed our money at the airport), I guess it's no surprise that any political party in power in any nation would be facing opposition.

But seriously, can a prime minister dissolve Parliament?  The very concept boggles the mind.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Influential Books

Some Facebook application is encouraging folks to write notes that list the books that have most influenced their lives.  It got me thinking about the idea today as Backbencher and I drove home from a wedding.  I have read probably thousands of books in my lifetime, and it's hard to cull what's been deeply meaningful from what I just like a lot.  But, in no particular order, here's my list for now, in no particular order:

1. Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson, and 2. Home, its companion novel.  Gilead literally changed my life, my understanding of what it means to be a minister, and what it means to be a child of God.  If I had a thousand years to do nothing but write, my best sentence could never approach the weakest sentence in Gilead, yet I am not jealous at all of Robinson's gift.  Every word seems like a gift to the reader.  Home gives a different sense of depth and dimension to the characters who became so beloved to me when I read Gilead, yet it is a very different sort of book.  Its ending preserves the ambiguity of Gilead's ending perfectly, yet is complete on its own.  I continue to return to so many passages in these books, scenes or phrases that move me to tears or invite me into the mystery of Christian faith.  My dear friend JBB in Washington State wondered how a writer could understand what it means to be a minister, how she could really get it .... and after meeting Marilynne Robinson, I saw why.  She is attentive, reflective, deeply faithful to her craft and to Christianity, and she is just radically open to the creative Spirit in an almost mystical way (though she would certainly cringe at such a comparison).

3. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison.  I read this in high school, and I think it was just a matter of "right book at the right time."  It helped me to think about a life very different from my own (of African-Americans, of people of a higher class than my own, of the diverse ways racism affects people, of how friendships change and evolve, etc.).  I suppose it may be classified as "magical realism" but it was really just deep and powerful for me.

4. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore.  Look, all I can say about this book is that if you've read it, you probably get it.  If you haven't read it, and you can poke a little fun at your faith without utter irreverence, you probably should get it.

5. The Crucible, by Arthur Miller.  A terrific allegory that is true in its own story (17th century witch hunts in Puritan New England) as well as in what it allegorizes (1950s McCarthy witch-hunts).  Though Backbencher disagrees, I find it pitch-perfect.  And it is about my people - the Puritans.  I confess that though the window may be rapidly closing (if not having already closed), I have never yearned to play a character onstage more than I wanted to play Abigail Williams.

6. The Bible.  Need I explain this one?

7.  Waiting for Godot by Samuel Becket.  Well, I was a theatre major in college, so it shouldn't surprise you that a couple of plays made it on here.  This play, and Sartre's No Exit were my introduction to existentialism.  While I kind of reject it as my own personal philosophy, I was challenged and intrigued by the ideas expressed in these works.  Overall I think I'm just too optimistic for existentialism, but I wouldn't have known that if I hadn't read (and thoroughly enjoyed) these plays.

8.  The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  God, if ever there was a morality book for children, this would be it!  The sheep (lamb?), the flower, the fox .... oh, I get all weepy just thinking about it.

9.  Oh, the Places You'll Go, by Dr. Seuss.  Not because read it at high school graduation (we did not), but because it was read to me as a camper in my final years at camp, and because we read it to our campers as they were leaving camp.  He's artful, that Dr. Seuss.

10.  Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freiere (I've also seen it Freire).  Talk about conscientization!  This whole book was about opening my eyes to see the world differently.  I'm not sure how I can explain the ways this book has challenged so much of what I was taught (and taught to teach), but perhaps two examples may suffice (apologies to any church folk who've heard this story before).  One: students' brains are not banks into which teachers make deposits and can ask for withdrawals, and treating them that way, whether they are kindergartners, graduate students, or ESL students, demeans their humanity.
Two: when I was a kid growing up in wine country, California, I often saw Mexican men (and they were from Mexico, and they were always men) gathered on street corners in the morning, usually in work clothes.  Like many other people, I made some assumptions that perhaps these men were kind of lazy or shiftless.  Why weren't they at work?  Why were they just standing around while all these other people were on their way to work? Not until I read Pedagogy of the Oppressed and took New Testament with Louise Schottroff did I realize that these men were waiting to be hired for the day by employers in trucks.  In retrospect, it is so obvious as to be painful to admit my own racism and ignorance.  

I also believe that the Harry Potter series reflects a rather orthodox and faithful Christian witness, with lots of good morals besides.  But you already knew I was a fan, right?

I'm sure I'll be adding to this list, but why don't you post a couple of your favorite books in the comments section?  I LOVE talking about books!

Brother Bob Finally Gets Some Props

I admit I've been neglecting Backbencher's family here on the blog.  They are such a kind group, for the most part, and they are relatively drama-free, so that probably explains it.  But Bob (Brother of Backbencher) texted me yesterday with some wedding etiquette ponderings.  First he wrote (and I'm editing slightly as he's an atrocious speller/texter and it just about kills me): "After attending the wedding last night I came up with some business ideas."  

First of all, what wedding?  This is the first I am hearing of any wedding he attended, but he makes it sound like I was officiating.  He's just funny that way.....and I do love him....the way you love the annoying little brother of your HS boyfriend, except that Bob is 28 and could crush me with his pinky.  I digress....

His text did pique my interest.  "What wedding and what ideas?"

Turns out it was the wedding of a friend he's known since middle school.  "First idea is wedding cards for single guys to give, and souvenirs like the foam finger or t-shirts."  

Seriously, the single guy cards idea is totally worth it.  I mean, I loved all the beautiful wedding cards so many of y'all gave to me, and there was a lovely sentiment to it all.  But sentiment is NOT what I expect from people like Bob, even if he is my BIL.  Truthfully, I expected a card from him that was filled with rancid easy-cheese.  That's how he shows his love (that and throwing mini-footballs at my head from the kitchen).

The foam fingers, not so much.  The t-shirt thing could totally fly, as long as it was kitschy and clever, and not sappy.  Bob does not do sappy.  A friend from HS who is in the theatre scene in LA had director's chairs made up with her and her spouse's name on it.  I don't know who-all got them, but it was a genius idea!

Also, Bob wanted to know if cameras can be limited at weddings.  He noted that in a ceremony with 25 people, probably 23 of them took pictures during the ceremony.  This is a major etiquette issue that I admit I have pretty much given up on.  I did two weddings today, one at the church and one in a park, and people were taking picture after picture during the ceremony.  And not even the professional - at the one wedding with a professional photographer, he came up beforehand and ASKED if I had any issues with flash photography.  "As long as I look good and the picture-taking isn't obtrusive, that's fine."  But at the wedding this morning, the couple "had" to kiss over and over again while their friend finally got the right shot.  (It was funny the first time she asked for a do-over, but not the fourth.)

If 95% of your wedding guests are family, you don't need everyone taking pictures of the same thing.  Get 2 of the best cameras and photographers to take shots and SHARE with everyone else.  We are in a digital age, brothers and sisters!

So, Bob, I am putting your ideas out in the universe.  If no one acts on them in the next 30 days, you should get going on that "wedding cards from single guys" idea.  I am pretty sure you could start a whole new division at Hallmark.

And, to Nicolle and Michelle of New Braunfels, TX, and to Mickie and Michelle of Nevada, IA, congratulations!  I was honored to share in your special day, and I wish you every blessing as you begin your married lives.  Mavel Tov!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Seriously, Liveblogging a Funeral on Facebook?

I know that those of you who read my blog regularly are not the same people who commit the kind of wretched behavior I noted in this blog's title, but what amazes me is that I apparently have "friends" in the Facebook realm who do so. Look, if I had wanted to watch the funeral, I would be watching it right now. Please do not give me a blow-by-blow complete with your commentary. I don't care that much. And the only people who do are also watching the funeral, not reading Facebook.

To conclude, I will quote my beloved Backbencher, who has many, many times said, "If my funeral lasts more than an hour, I am getting up and walking out."

That is all.

Monday, July 06, 2009

It Won't Be the First Time I've Been Called A Heretic

This afternoon, driving back from some programming in a nearby community, I listened to "Talk of the Nation" on NPR.  The discussion centered around J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" and a "sequel" by another author, the publication of which has been blocked by a court order initiated by Salinger.  The judge apparently agreed with the author that Salinger not only has rights to the book, but also to the insanely popular narrator Holden Caulfield.

It's an interesting case.  I suspect that the author of this "sequel" is some super-fan who thinks he understands Holden, and Salinger, enough to fancy this an homage.  I am doubtful that this is the case, frankly, because even as a superfan of several series of books, I've never actually tried to publish any tripe I may or may not have written in response to various books.  

But here's the thing, and I confess this aware that I'm about to commit literary heresy (and may imperil my future ability to get anything else published): I loathed Holden Caulfield.  I found him snobby and entitled, and found his so-called "idealism" a thin mask for his elitism.  He reminds me of what a seminary professor once said, that "despair is the privilege of the wealthy."  It's a broad brush, I'll admit, but in this case I think it applies to Mr. Caulfield.  I simply never had patience for him when I read the book as a teen, and I certainly did not understand why others would have been so connected to him.  With the self-righteousness of the poor, I felt like he was an ungrateful little brat who did not appreciate all the advantages his parents gave him.  There, I finally said it!

Reading the book in my early twenties, I thought I identified some clear signs of depression in Holden's character, which made me marginally more sympathetic to him.  I pitied him, rather than loathed him.  But when I hear the kind of hero-worship I heard expressed on NPR, it makes me angry at Holden all over again.  

I admit that what I remember of the book is itself well-written, and for that I certainly admire Mr. Salinger.  But the over-identification that so many have with Holden Caulfield just baffles and, I must admit, also angers me a little.  Now, I obviously wanted to understand the love of this young man, because I reread the book when I didn't have to.  And now I'm wondering if I should give it another shot.  

So I ask you, dear readers: should I read it again?  Will I appreciate Holden Caulfield more?  Will my appreciation for Salinger's deft use of language override my annoyance at Holden's thoughts and actions?  Or will my superior loathing continue unabated, confirming my prejudice?  Share your advice - and your thoughts about Holden Caulfield, "The Catcher in the Rye," and J.D. Salinger - in the comments.  I promise I won't hold any of your beliefs against you.  :)

Random Knitting Post

Knitting is something I usually do in the winter months.  I don't know why, but it just seems more appropriate then.  However, due to the insanity of recent church meetings, I've been carting along some knitting projects with me, and it would appear that I'm catching the bug in the summer now, too.

I began knitting in seminary.  A mentor suggested I take up a hobby that has a beginning, middle and end, because in ministry, you never have any idea of when you have finished anything.  The longer I do this, the greater the wisdom I see.  Knitting is perfect, because you can do neat projects and give your friends nice hats and scarves.  That's about as far as I've gotten in my knitting extravaganza.  Apparently, to knit a hat in the round is something that even the most beginner of beginning knitters could master in a few hours.  I've actually memorized the pattern.  It goes like this: cast on 48 or 60 or 72 or so stitches (depending on the yarn used and the size of the head intended, but make sure it's divisible by 6), knit in round until project is 6 inches long, then start to decrease six stitches every other row until you're knitting one, then 2 together (that would be K1, K2tog for you knitting divas ... but then again, if you know knitspeak you probably have long mastered this kind of project).  Cut thread about 6 inches, pull through remaining stitches and weave ends in.  Ta-da! 

It's not pretty or patterned, but they are pretty cute.  And I can do them in any color.  Some time ago I knitted hats for all of the educators in the department where I work in my sideline gig, as well as hats for the kids of our local clinic staff.  It was GREAT!  Knitting a scarf is just as easy - just cast on however many stitches you want for the width of the scarf you want, and knit until the scarf is long enough.  Then cast off.  Again, there's no real pattern but it's awfully functional.

This current mania started with a project I purchased in January and have only just now gotten to start.  It's a cute little purse from Lion's Brand...and it was labeled "easy +" so I thought I might be able to handle the challenge.  Once I *finally* printed out the pattern and looked at it, I realized I was in way over my head.  The first step that got me was when it said to "pivot work and pick up stitches."  Huh?  

My "Knitter's Companion" was no help - the first time it's ever let me down!  I asked Pope Laura the Beneficent if she knew what that meant, and when we got together I showed her the work.  She explained what she thought it meant, and I was deeply suspicious.  Not of her, just of why this would be done.  But I tried it, and after working a few rows I started to see what it was - the base of a purse.  Then it started to make sense.

Did I mentioned I've never worked a pattern before?  Much less a pattern with more than one ball of yarn?  I had no idea how to do it was off to Holy Knitter for some advice.  She also gave good wisdom that I didn't fully understand, but when I started to follow her directions, it again made good sense.  And she told me I was doing it correctly after I asked her to check my work, so that helped.  But "easy +" - not so much.  Either that or I should go back to "beginner."  

I've since learned that Lion's Brand patterns go in this order: beginner, easy, easy +, intermediate....and God only knows what's after intermediate, because I doubt I'll ever graduate from easy+.  I did download another patterns for a baby hat and one for a "baby playdate sweater" - not for me, but for my THREE FRIENDS who are all having (or have recently had) babies in 2009.  The patterns both said "easy" but I'm a little suspicious.  Any time you have to knit and purl in the same row ... well....hrmph.

I'll post pictures as I finish projects, in case you're interested.  The purse needs to be "felted" after it's finished, which I presume will make it look a lot better than it currently looks....The hats, however, should be pretty easy, and I'll figure out if I want to do the playdate hoodie for any kid I know.  My godson needs something cute, now that I think of it.....

Sunday, July 05, 2009

And another fun site for you...

This one comes to me from Holy Knitter's site, but I've seen it before.  As they say on the Simpsons, "It's funny because it's true."  Beauty Tips for Ministers - the name says it all!

Glad to Be Back

Wow.  That's all I can say.  I was at General Synod for one little week, and all hell breaks loose.  Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, coup in Honduras (probably should have led with that one), and probably a bunch of other stuff I've already forgotten.  Then, before I've gotten my feet back under me, Sarah Palin offers the gift that appears to keep on giving (on my birthday, no less), a football player is apparently murdered, and this Honduran coup keeps getting weirder and weirder.

Synod itself provided plenty of fodder for plenty of blog posts, but they are going to have to wait for a day or two.  I've got lots of notes and pithy quotes, but I'm still processing the whole experience.  It is definitely a different experience attending Synod as a delegate rather than as a visitor, and both have benefits...and costs.  The largest cost, without a doubt, was the insistence on 6:45am delegate caucuses.  At least we had breakfast!  And it was a bit later than many other conference's caucus, so I am trying to keep the whining to a minimum.  But still!  Even if I'd gone straight to bed after all the work of Synod, I'd still be behind my normal 8 hours.  

But of course I did not go right to bed right after the work of Synod, because there was much visiting and catching up with friends, and lots and lots of 2030 after-hours gatherings.  Which meant many, many late nights.  And early mornings.  Hence my exhaustion.  And my longer-than-usual processing of events.  I will say that there is much to think about, much to reflect on, and much to celebrate.  

On a final note, I just learned that one of my dear friends and colleagues in ministry has a blogsite for knitters.  Since she doesn't yet have a name on this blog, I can call her by the name of her site: Holy Knitter.  Holy Knitter is a terrific friend and we spent a lot of time deepening our friendship at Synod.  Per her request, I won't reveal her real-life identity, but I will say that for the past few years I've been rather surprised by her father's fondness of me and my ministry here...until I realized that Holy Knitter and I have a lot in common.  A LOT.  I think maybe Holy Knitter's dad sees his child in me....and I take it as a major compliment.  

I suspect that over the next year, Holy Knitter and I will be spending a great deal of time together, despite our diverse locales.  Until then, satisfy yourself with perusing the holy awesomeness of her blogsite.