Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Commemorating Confederate History Month

This one's going out to it's margaret.

You may remember eons ago at the beginning of April, Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia declared April 2010 Confederate History Month. He might have forgotten slavery as part of Confederate History at first, then snapped his fingers and said, “That’s right!” when it was pointed out to him that, you know, that might have been part of it.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been doing a wonderful series on his blog exploring Confederate History Month. Kind of a “You want Confederate History? I’ll give you Confederate History.”

It’s thoughtfully and thoroughly done with some wonderful original documents, including excerpts from Grant’s diary, a letter from a freed slave to a former master, and the original proclamations of secession that make it very clear that slavery is no afterthought.

One of the things I love is his very thoughtful understanding of how painful it can be to go through the process of respectfully understanding a history that is not flattering to oneself. He can do this because he went through it himself. He writes a very moving post of moving from a defensive black nationalism to a “more humanist understanding of history,”—all the facts, but none of the chivalric sheen to it, is the way he puts it.

And then this brilliant line I want to inscribe on a wall somewhere:

“Subbing in myth for history is a false armor to guard against the hurt.”

Is that not a glorious summation? I see that in the church as well as in the nation. I’m reminded of someone else saying, “And you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Hard work, grappling with the truth, though. I’m grateful for the people who will help me to do that. That means you, Ms. M. I never see you putting on false armor. I suspect that's why it hurts so much.

Blessings to you and all.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

For your zombie fighting needs: a product review

From the Bloggess, I learned of this Anti-Zombie Night Table:

She points out however that the remaining nail in the base is a problem.

I mean, I applaud the concept but as soon as you pull out the bat you’re left with a giant exposed nail sticking out of the floor which you will immediately step on because it’s night-time and you can’t even walk across the room without stubbing your toe on something even when there aren’t zombies all over your house and then you’re going to bleed all over the floor...
And even if you do manage to kill the zombies and run out of your house you’ll still have blood pouring from your shoe and then I’m totally going to shoot you with my riot gun because I can’t see that well from my roof and I’m going to assume that you got bit in the foot and I just want to put you out of your misery before you turn into a zombie because I’m thoughtful that way.
With a product review like that, I guess I'll have to keep looking for good household zombie gear.  Nice table, though.

Teaser Tuesday, April 27

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Fool: A NovelThis week I'm reading Fool by Christopher Moore, a retelling of the story of King Lear from the jester's very bawdy perspective. And my two sentences, chosen completely at random without any planning or preparation on my part whatsoever are found on page 66:

So I told the anchoress of the stoning of St. Stephen, of the persecution of St. Sebastian, and the beheading of St. Valentine, and she, in turn, told me stories of the saints I had never heard in catechism.

"And so," said Thalia, "that is the story of how St. Rufus of Pipewrench was licked to death by marmots."


Previously on Teaser Tuesday:I finished Once Was Lost which I review here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

World Malaria Day (transferred)

Roll Back Malaria
World Malaria Day 2009
I'm sorry I didn't post anything in advance of World Malaria Day, which was yesterday.

Here are some key facts about malaria from the WHO Africa Regional Director:

The burden of malaria is extremely heavy in the African Region which accounts for 85% of malaria cases and 90% of malaria deaths worldwide. Malaria victims are mostly children under five years of age...As a result of increased use of ITNs [insecticide-treated nets], indoor residual spraying, preventive treatment of malaria in pregnancy and artemisinin-based combination therapy, ten countries in our Region were able to reduce malaria cases by at least 50% between 2000 and 2008.

Which is good news, but there's lots more to be done.

Here's what Hillary Clinton had to say about the U.S.'s role:

The United States is committed to reducing the threat of malaria worldwide through the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI)...By 2014, our goal is to cut malaria illnesses and deaths by 50 percent in most affected countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

I think this is a pretty cool video about the Malaria Vaccine Initiative. Thank you, Bill and Melinda Gates!

But you don't need to be a president or Bill Gates to combat malaria. This page gives you some suggestions on things you can do. The button at the top of this post is going to be on the blog from now on, just so's you know what that is.

We're actually making a lot of great progress. Let's see that we keep up the good work!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

Quote of the Day

"It boils down to cooties...but on a cosmic, salvation-affecting level."

from The Lead's article about the Global South Primates meeting's pronouncement. For hard-core Anglican Communion news junkies only. Really, just go about your lives, people. This is nothing. The quote's pretty funny, though.

World in Prayer: Earth Day edition

This was my week to write the prayers for World in Prayer. As you'll see, my mind was full of earthly things.

Here they are:

This Earth Day weekend, let us offer our prayers to the Lord for the earth and all that is in it, the world and all that dwells therein.

For the waters: seas and oceans, rivers and lakes. For all creatures who live in them. For those who travel upon them. For those who study and care for them.

Let us pray to the Lord,
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the lands: its valleys and mountains, deserts and fields. For all animals who live upon the earth. For plants and growing things. For cities, towns and all human habitations.

Let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the air: for clouds and wind and weather. For birds and all winged creatures. For all who travel through the skies.

Let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For those whose livelihoods were lost due to volcanic activity on the other side of the earth. For those whose lives have turned upside down due to earthquake, hurricane or flood.

Let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For forgiveness for our carelessness with the Lord’s creation. For those living things hurt by pollution, defoliation or waste.

Let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For wisdom in policy and foresight in planning. For eyes to see with compassion the world the Lord has made.

Let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For you, O Lord, are the God of all creation. You saw everything you made and called it good. May we be faithful stewards of your creation, rejoicing in its bounty and caring for it with love, this day and always.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Among the many people proposed for commemoration last summer at General Convention were John Muir and the very interesting Hudson Stuck. And what do you know: here they are on Earth Day!

Here's a short quote pulled from a longer quote that I used a year ago, but I like it enough to want to use it again. If I had the time, I'd spend the day reading John Muir; he's terrific.

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. One fancies a heart like our own must be beating in every crystal and cell, and we feel like stopping to speak to the plants and animals as friendly fellow-mountaineers.

From My First Summer in the Sierra.

Happy Earth Day! Stay linked.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Review: Once Was Lost

I learned about Once Was Lost through a tweet that simply said "Faith and Doubt for Teens: A Review of Sara Zarr's 'Once Was Lost'."  The reviewer had heard the author speaking at a promotion for the book and reports

Zarr said that in her own experience as a teenager, and among teens she had observed, adolescence was a time of questioning everything. And we’re surrounded by stories of how those questions play out in various arenas for adolescents—at school, in family relationships, in dating. But why, when lots of actual teens experience a crisis of faith in adolescence, were there no YA novels about religious doubt?  
So I was forced to read this great YA novel for work.  Darn!

Fifteen-year-old Samara Taylor is a pastor's kid in a small town trying to survive one hot dry summer.  Her  family is broke in more ways than one.  Her mother is in court-ordered rehab after a DUI, and everyone knows, but no one has said anything.  Her father is working 70 hours a week caring for everyone else, but not his own daughter.  And then, just to ratchet the pressure up some more, another member of her youth group is abducted.

There are so many things I liked about this book.  I liked that Zarr raises the stakes with the abduction plot, rather than simply let Sam wallow and stew.  I thought Zarr captured perfectly the mental process of an unhappy teen combined with her monosyllabic and confusing messages to the adults and friends around her.  I appreciated her understanding of church culture and how someone raised in a Biblical milieu will find its messages everywhere.  And I thought the bitterness Sam felt packed a huge punch that leaps right off the page.

I loved, for example, this passage about youth group:

There's a poster in the youth group room that probably came from some youth group-supplies warehouse in Texas or Colorado that I imagine is filled with T-shirts and coffee cups and rubber bracelets with what are supposed to be inspiring messages for The Youth, as everyone who is not The Youth calls us at our church.

The poster--now kind of curling and dusty--shows a bunch of multicultural-looking teens in fashions from five years ago, falling all over each other on comfy couches, big smiles on their fresh faces, surrounded by pillows.  One of them holds a Bible and a notebook in his lap.  On the bottom of the poster are big yellow capital letters:


Don't forget the exclamation point.  Everything for The Youth has exclamation points.

The only criticism I have is that things wrap up a bit too swiftly and tidily in the end.  Even with that, Zarr manages to carry through an image of Lazarus that I found extremely powerful.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A hymn for loud things

Lionel Deimel has written some alternate verses to the hymn Earth and All Stars which he calls a "frankly stupid hymn."  I hadn't thought about it before, having loved the tune enough to (mostly) ignore the text but it's true.  There's a lot that's laughable about the hymn.  In it, everything is loud:  loud boiling test tubes, loud humming cellos...I mean, please.  I think Lionel's verses are better than the original.  What do you think?  And what would you add?

iPods and Droids, loud clicking keypads,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Blackberry phones, loud sounding ringtones,
Sing to the Lord a new song!

He has done marvelous things.
I, too, will praise him with a new song.

Chevys and Fords, loud honking car horns,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Corvette and Jeep, loud roaring mufflers,
Sing to the Lord a new song!

He has done marvelous things.
I, too, will praise him with a new song.

Teaser Tuesday, April 20

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is from Once was Lost by Sara Zarr which I actually finished reading last night, but since I haven't started anything else, I'm sticking with this. I'll probably post a review tomorrow. And it has to be three sentences.

I said okay, just to end this. And also because Dad didn't keep his word about calling Mom, or about talking about our plan, or about half a dozen other things I can think of off the top of my head, including how he was going to teach me to drive this summer. I'm figuring out, finally, that it's easier to do what he does: give your word and then make up an excuse later.



Previously on Teaser Tuesday
: I finished Teatime for the Traditionally Built which didn't live up to the fun of the title. I remembered why I stopped reading the Ladies' #1 Detective Agency mysteries. The people don't seem real to me--and even less real since I've been to Uganda. And as a mystery it was...let's just say weak. I think I'm done with these. Remind me if I'm ever tempted again.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Meinhardt Raabe

In all of the posting last week, I neglected to mention Meinhardt Raabe who died at the age of 94.  Meinhardt Raabe played the Coroner in the Wizard of Oz.

The thing I find fascinating about Raabe's story--even aside from the fact that he trained Air Force pilots during WWII--is that, "Growing up, he later said, he assumed there was no one else in the world like him."

That changed in 1933, when the young Mr. Raabe visited the Midget Village at the Chicago World’s Fair. There before his eyes was a world of men and women just like him. Thrilled, he took a job as a barker there the next summer.
For all that we talk about how important it is to be unique and special, I wonder if it's even more important for us to feel that we're not the only one.  That there is a Munchkinland out there where we fit in.  That there are others like us.

Another great article about Meinhardt Raabe here.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday funnies

In honor of my vegetable garden: The Dance of the Cucumber.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Garden update, April 16

I think a garden update is going to be a regular feature of this blog in the coming months; I hope you don't mind.  But I'm very excited to see what's developing this year and I can't stop myself.  Well, I suppose I could, but I'm not going to.

AT ANY RATE, I'm late posting today because at long last I planted the tomato seedlings!  I've posted my one and only gardening tip about tomatoes down below, so if that's something you have on your agenda, you might want to check it out.

But here's what's happening in the garden as of April 16, 2010.

The lettuces I planted back in early March have gone completely crazy!  I've had my first very fresh salads this week and they are amazing.  Yes, Mom, you can have some.

Meanwhile, the cold frame has served its purpose and a lot of the seedlings were hitting the roof.  It was more than time to get them into the ground.  The pink pots contain zinnias.  Yes, Mom, you can have some.

Meanwhile, in the front yard, new peas and beans that I planted on Holy Saturday have sprouted in the quadrant diagonal from the seedlings you see already growing.  Behind them are some jalapeno peppers seedlings that I planted today.

Here are the tomato seedlings that need to go in.  I have three heirloom plants, three Romas, and three cherry tomatoes, all started from seed.  There are also some volunteer Romas in the beds from last year, though I cleared most of them out.

(As I mentioned earlier, more on planting tomatoes in the next post.)

And here you go: the beds in the front yard.  Nine tomato plants, five peppers, four shelling peas, four snap peas, eight string beans, eight corn...and three spots still open.

I also planted some potatoes today which aren't terribly scenic.  Before: dirt.  After: still dirt.

And lots more to come.  I'll keep you posted.

Tomatoes: horizontal planting

I learned this thanks to Mel Bartholomew's All New Square Foot Gardening and thought I would share.

Bartholomew points out that tomatoes can sprout new roots along their main stem so if you lay the plant down when you plant it, "They will develop an enormous number of roots, all along that hairy stem, which will sustain a larger, more productive plant."  I never knew that before, but I tried it last year for the first time and it was amazing!  Here's what you do:

In the dirt, you dig a little trench, which you can see back there, with one end deep enough for the root ball.

Then you take your little seedling, like so.

And you take off the leaves from the bottom of the seedling, so all you have left are a couple of leaves on the very top.  This gives you more stem to sprout roots.

So you take your seedling and you lay it down in the trench with the roots at the deep end and the leaves coming out of the ground.  This seedling isn't being helpful because you can't tell how the whole stem goes in the trench, but it does.

Then you very carefully bend the stem right below the leaves so that the plant is sticking up.  You don't need to worry if it comes up at an angle; it will eventually straighten itself out.

I'm afraid it looks like I'm pinching the plant, here, but I'm not.  Do be careful when you bend it.

Then scoop the dirt in place in the trench and voila!  A much smaller tomato plant than you were expecting, but a much stronger one in the long run.  (Sounds like there should be a sermon illustration in there somewhere.  Sorry...sorry...habit.)

Happy gardening!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Did God create science?

I've been thinking about science. 

This all started last weekend when I read an article in the Huffington Post called The Nonscience of the Scientific Arguments Against Evolution.  What got me was one of the comments which said,
Attention evolutionists....Let me spell it out for you....

God created science! So you cant say religion is anti science, makes no sense, so squash dat man!
Oh, the logic!  The logic!  It hurts!

But since then, I've been pondering: did God create science?  Because when I think of science, I don't think of a thing, but a process.  I think of science as a way of approaching creation, using observation and testing hypotheses.  I think science is accountable to a creator God because it must be faithful to the creation observed. 

But I am falling into my own pet peeve of making science a being rather than a process.  I commented about this on Icearc's blog yesterday, saying, It annoys me to hear, "Science says," when it's really, "Based on evidence we have discovered through the scientific method, we currently believe..." One of the things I appreciate about the application of science is that, given replicable results, people will change what they used to believe in the face of new evidence. 

Sadly, I do find that religion is anti-science more often than not.  Why, though?  Why is religion so against data and evidence?  Over on the InternetMonk site, there's an Update on the Creation Wars talking about an Evangelical OT scholar who was pressured to resign from the seminary where he taught after posting a video in which he said,
“if the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult…some odd group that is not really interacting with the world. And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God’s Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness.”
I did it again, assigning "religion" agency as if it was a person.   Why is a certain kind of religious worldview so threatened by data?  For me, as a lover of books of all stripes, stories have meaning beyond the literal "this is how it happened."  What happened to us that we have to limit ourselves to making the Bible a news report rather than an epic tale?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

News flash: Microfinance doesn't solve everything


Read this article in the Times yesterday that talks about how some microfinance organizations are no better than the predatory lenders they were first developed to replace.  It gives some particularly egregious examples of microfinance institutions (MFIs) that charge outrageous rates of interest, and then says, "Unwitting individuals, who can make loans of $20 or more through Web sites like Kiva or Microplace, may also end up participating in practices some consider exploitative."

Then it goes on to talk about the "fierce debate over whether microloans actually lift people out of poverty, as their promoters so often claim."  This "fierce debate" is summed up in the rather mild quote, “'It is not the single transformative tool that proponents have been selling it as, but there are positive benefits.'”

Quite the expose.

Here's the thing: microfinance is a tool.  That's all it is.  Some people use it well and rightly, and some use it poorly, and some use it greedily.  I hate seeing ALL microfinance tarnished as evil and a failure when --aha!--it is discovered that some people have evil motives.  It's like arguing, dare I say, that journalism is a failure when some people use it for propaganda.

I am tremendously sorry that the implication is that people should stop participating in microlending unless they want to be an unwitting accessory to loan sharking.  One of the comments on the article said

Thank you for enlightening me about Kiva. I saw some American asking for a loan for her clothing design business on there, lol. Does anyone have suggestions as to what they consider a good micro-lending org to donate or lend to? Ideally, one that helps poor entrepreneurs start a business, but doesn't make them functionally existant on greater and greater loans?

Which shows me that this article did not enlighten this reader at all.  Kiva is not in itself a microlending organization; it partners with other MFIs, some better than others. 

So how do you know?  Personally, I would loan to any BRAC, knowing their mission statement and how they operate.  Also, if you are loaning through Kiva and have this concern, go to the Field Partner page and check out the different organizations.  You can  take a closer look at their practices through their MIX (Microfinance Information Exchange) profile--and I probably wouldn't loan to any MFI that didn't have one.

And sometimes you just do the best you can with the information you have.  The organizations we depend upon to do good don't always do so.  You do your research; you hold organizations accountable as best you can; if you find they aren't able to accomplish what you want them to do, you find someone else who can.  And don't be surprised when you discover that even the best and most noble enterprise is not the savior of the world.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, April 13

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Today's teaser is from Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, a title I simply couldn't resist, by Alexander McCall Smith. It's the latest, I think, in the Ladies #1 Detective Agency series. I am, however, including three (3) "teaser" sentences.

Mma Ramotswe noticed that Mma Makutsi was listening intently to this, and she knew why. Her assistant had worked her way out of poverty, and had achieved ninety-seven per cent in the final examinations of the Botswana Secretarial College by dint of sheer, unremitting hard work. If Mma Makutsi identified with Mr. Molofololo's story, it was because it was her story too, except for the herding, and the football, the chartered accountancy, and the shops--except for all the details, in fact.
Happy reading!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Review: Troublesome Young Men

Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save EnglandAt the very end of Troublesome Young Men, Lynne Olson writes, “It was…not impersonal historical forces, not ‘parliamentary spontaneous combustion,’ not some intangible dues ex machina—that resulted in Neville Chamberlain’s resignation and Winston Churchill’s accession to power in May 1940.”  This book is about what it was: an ongoing struggle over the course of years by a handful of people who paid for their work in one way or another often with most unexpected outcomes.

Reading TYM was a strange experience because it was like seeing a mirror image of our own time. Instead of a president eager to go to war with a country that was no immediate threat, there was Chamberlain reluctant to go to war with a country that telegraphed broadly its intentions—and refusing even when war was declared to make any move in order not to antagonize Germany. Instead of a government that used the press to whip people into fearful support, there was a government that used the press to soothe the populace into believing everything was fine.

What I most appreciated was seeing how major changes in direction are preceded by almost infinitesimally small changes, that it isn’t a dues ex machina at work, but lots of people behind the scenes, holding meetings, making phone calls, standing up and speaking, even at great cost to themselves.

But also that you never knew what the cost would be. When Churchill finally became PM, most of the people who had helped him to get there didn’t get major positions in his government—bad news! But the positions they did get often turned out to be the ones that made their careers. Harold McMillan, one of the early supporters of Churchill, became PM later in part because of his supposedly awful posting to Algeria in which he became a political force and power to be reckoned with.

I was struck by how imperfect it all was, how you never knew exactly how it would play out, how people played roles you didn’t foresee for them, how flawed the heroes were, and how miraculous it seems that things turned out as they did. All of which also reminds me of the struggles of our own day, and of Churchill's quote: “Never, never, never, never give up.” It gives me hope that my own small contribution can be part of the whole that changes things.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Funnies

It's been a week and I haven't mentioned baseball ONCE!  It's about time for a little Major League Baseball, don't you think?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Anti-homosexuality bill update

This just in from GayUganda:
Kampala - A Ugandan parliamentary panel said on Friday there is little backing for the country's widely-condemned anti-gay bill and no timetable had been set for its debate.
"I think it is useless and will not achieve what it intends to achieve," said Alex Ndeezi, a member of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee tasked with reviewing the bill before it can be presented to the house.
Keep your fingers crossed.

Happy Winston Churchill day

Today is Winston Churchill Day, and no, I am not making this up. I do, however, suspect it is only Winston Churchill Day in the U.S. because today is the day Churchill was made an honorary citizen.  [Quiz: who else has been made an honorary citizen?  Also: did you know we made people honorary citizens?  I'll put the answer to the first question in the comments tomorrow; my answer to the first question is, "I had no idea."]

Winston Churchill himself is more real and immediate to me as I am finishing up Troublesome Young Men. In my reading life, as far as I'm concerned Chamberlain is still Prime Minister and I am worried SICK about England. Why they didn't make Churchill P.M. long since I do not know. Plus Chamberlain's folks are trying to pin the Norway debacle on Churchill who is First Lord of the Admiralty. I am quite certain that Britain is going to get creamed.

No, don't tell me what happens. I'm just glad to know that Churchill made it safely to the U.S. after Hitler invaded and that we allowed him to stay, probably in some very kindly rehab unit.

I'll report when I finish the book. As you can guess, I'm enjoying it a lot; it's quite engrossing.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Where is Kyrgyzstan?

So I don't know about you, but I had no idea where Kyrgyzstan is before today. OK, well, I knew it was in the middle of all those other -stans, but that was about it.

In this map, it's the small green country in the middle of the circle.

I got this from somebody's blog entry called, helpfully, Where the hell is Kyrgzyzstan? about somebody else who was in the Peace Corps. It provided some very basic info, which is what I need right now.

Update: This brief blog entry from The Atlantic also gives a good on-the-ground overview picture of what's going on in Kyrgyzstan.

This has been a public service announcement.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Quotes of the Day: on Constance McMillan and controversy

The first quote is a comment from this article about Constance McMillan.
My Name is Austin. I'm 15. I myself have dealt with hate for some time. Its sad to me that the majority of you all are only increasing the amount of hate in our world. Most of you are no better than teenagers. Callings names, pointing blame, fighting. It's childish. Fact of the matter is, Constance was not treated fairly. Point blank. No arguments. You can't debate that one. But the problem won't be fixed by a bunch of adults fighting online. Fighting fire with fire only creates a bigger fire. Someone stand up and be the bigger person, the bigger community. If you're going to call someone crude, vicious names, you can't expect them to do any different. Please, for the future, lets not act like children. My love goes out to Constance and the countless others facing hate.
For those who don't know the story, Constance McMillan is a young woman who asked permission of her school's administration in Itawamba, Mississippi to bring a female date to prom and to wear a tux.  The administration decided instead of allowing that to cancel prom altogether.

After much struggle, a judge found that the school couldn't bar McMillan and her date.

Here's where it gets weird: the parents and school set up a fake prom to which Constance and her date and five other people (two with learning disabilities) were directed.  The rest went to the "real" prom.    It's all just beyond cruel, as far as I'm concerned.

The Bloggess wrote a beautiful post in response to this...outrage (I just don't have the words; everything seems too tame).  She wrote,

Fighting intolerance about mental illness, or race, or lifestyle or whatever labeled “flaw” we are saddled with makes us strong.  And today instead of using my strength to say how much I hate every single person that thought that this horrible act of cruelty was in any way acceptable to do to a human being I’m using it to do something so much harder.  I’m using it to say that I still love you.  And that I hope for change.  And that I know that I am imperfect and I am changing and that I hope you can too.
 So do I.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, 1956-2010

I mentioned less than a month ago that one of the bloggers I read, Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, reported that he had less than six months to live. I learned yesterday that he died. If there's anyone who lived and died in the hope of the resurrection, it's Michael. I will miss his challenging voice. Rest in peace.

For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord's possession.
Happy from now on
are those who die in the Lord!
So it is, says the Spirit,
for they rest from their labors.

Monday, April 5, 2010

First response to House of Bishop's report on Same-Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church

OK, it's a geek moment. And this is long and insider baseball, so if this is not your cup of tea, feel free to skip right along, there.

I am trying to read the House of Bishop’s document on Same Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church, and it is making me dizzy. So far, I have only gotten partway through "A View from the Traditionalists.” The logic…I am having trouble with the logic. Here’s a paragraph that makes me go “huh?”.

Taking the [Biblical] passages individually, there is some plausibility in the critical reinterpretation (except, we would say, in the case of Romans 1 where the liberal case is specious). A coherent understanding emerges from setting these passages in interrelationship, not least because sometimes they are alluding to one another. Further, setting these various passages in the context of a broader theological framework has the effect of reinforcing the traditional interpretation of the texts. Specifically, Scripture sets proper sexual expression within the context of God’s designing a lifelong exclusive heterosexual relationship as the context for bringing up children. (p. 12

Let me see if I understand what they are saying:

Taking the [Biblical] passages individually, there is some plausibility in the critical reinterpretation

In other words, yes, there are some arguments against reading the usual passages as definitive statements against what we have as same-sex relationships in contemporary culture.

(except, we would say, in the case of Romans 1 where the liberal case is specious)

The passage in question is Romans 1:26-27 which says, “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.” The Traditionalists who wrote this paper say this is “cleverly dealt with by limiting its reference only to those individuals, whether heterosexual or homosexual, who act against their natural instincts and (perversely) engage in erotic activity with those to whom they are not naturally attracted to. In other words, homosexuals who have an inherent same-sex orientation, it is argued, are not in view in this passage, because they act in accordance with nature.” (p. 12) Seems pretty straightforward to me, and a quite literal reading of the text. How is this specious? I don’t understand that. Truly.

A coherent understanding emerges from setting these passages in interrelationship, not least because sometimes they are alluding to one another. Further, setting these various passages in the context of a broader theological framework has the effect of reinforcing the traditional interpretation of the texts.

So…even though each one individually can be shown to have little to no bearing on contemporary consensual same-sex relationships, together they prove the case? I’m stymied. Especially when this is followed by

Specifically, Scripture sets proper sexual expression within the context of God’s designing a lifelong exclusive heterosexual relationship as the context for bringing up children.

Ummm…I’m completely at a loss to see how Scripture gives this as a clear message, given, you know, Abraham, David, etc. Aren’t sexual and familial relationships culturally based throughout the Scriptures?

I'm not trying to be snarky, here. These are genuine questions. Truly, I’m just pole-axed by this document. It’s not that it’s simply recycling old arguments; it’s that it does it so feebly. I’m trying to read it with an open mind but…this is all you’ve got?

Another claim in this document is that “At the heart of our position is the conviction that the issue of same-sex marriage simply cannot be put in the same category as other social issues on which Anglicans and Christians in general have changed their mind.” [p. 7] Why? “[E]ach issue has its own rationale, pattern of biblical material and its interpretation, and its own distinctive relationship to science and philosophy. When this is done, the case for same-sex marriage does not have the same kind of biblical support and philosophical rationale as women’s ordination and a moderate divorce policy have, for example.”

The problem for me is that the arguments DO sound exactly the same. Take the argument over slavery, for example—one that is so clear-cut today. It took me two minutes to Google an article called Battle for the Bible  by Mark A. Noll, a history professor at Wheaton College, not known for its liberal tendencies.  I heartily recommend it.  One paragraph that leapt out at me:

As early as 1846, the Connecticut Congregationalist Leonard Bacon, who very much wanted to oppose slavery as a sin, nonetheless hung back. His analysis of the spirit-over-the-letter argument caught the dilemma exactly: "The evidence that there were both slaves and masters of slaves in the churches founded and directed by the apostles, cannot be got rid of without resorting to methods of interpretation which will get rid of everything." In Bacon’s view, the well-intentioned souls who "torture the Scriptures into saying that which the anti-slavery theory requires them to say" did great damage to the scriptures themselves.

Sounds like those abolitionists were captive to the culture to me.

And the argument that somehow same-sex marriage has less biblical support and philosophical rationale than women’s ordination and a moderate divorce policy have seems (dare I say) specious. At any rate, I don’t know that there’s much historical support for that statement. I guess, however, this means that the fight about women’s ordination is over, eh? Better tell all the traditionalists who still think it’s wrong due to “a misplaced notion that they [the church] needed to be relevant, current, and adhere to secular society's thoughts about women's roles.”

I dunno. I think this fight is the same fight and the same fear that this time the Scriptures will be torn beyond repair, that we’ll “get rid of everything.” But I’m firmly convinced we’re not. This is the same Scripture Jesus was talking about when he said “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for Sabbath.” God knows maybe next time with the next issue and the next group of people it will be me looking on anxiously while I fear the Bible is being trashed.  I hope I’ll remember that the Bible is resilient and that we’ve been through this before.

Kasubi tombs update

I missed this last week, but a man turned himself in claiming to be the person who set fire to the Kasubi tombs.  "The man claimed he was sent by the Holy Spirit to burn what he described as Satanic shrines, which the Devil uses to kill people in the country."  Ugandan investigators are taking this claim with a pinch of salt.  The latest report is that the suspect has been referred for a mental exam. 

Lent redux

I sent this ecard yesterday to a friend of mine (who shall remain anonymous). She sent back a message saying, "too late, I already found new spiritual insights!" And I guess it's too late for me too.

I accidentally backed into my Lenten observance. I gave up working on the weekends. Working at home, the days seem to blend into one another and it's hard to tell the difference between a workday and any other day.

I did pretty well. There was one weekend where I did some emailing and such, but by the end, there, it was a glorious feeling to reach the end of Friday afternoon and say to myself I'm shutting it down until Monday.

Spiritual insight? Here's one: News Flash! The world did not fall apart if I didn't work every day. Also: other things besides work need tending. Also: I work better during the week if there are specific times when I am not working. (See: Sabbath.)

One of the great things I was able to do on my days off was work in the garden. Three weeks ago, I planted some beans and peas. And look what we have here!

I love how the beans, in particular, burst out of the ground and out of their seed which sticks to them for a while. Where did I hear something like this recently? Oh, yes. "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." I hope you all have a fruitful Easter.  And if you wish, I'd love to hear about your spiritual insights.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday Funnies

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Sepulchre

In honor of Golden Halo winner George Herbert (and because it's lovely), a poem for you this Good Friday:


O Blessed bodie!  Whither art thou thrown?
No lodging for thee, but a cold hard stone?
So many hearts on earth, and yet not one
                                                Receive thee?

Sure there is room within our hearts good store;
For they can lodge transgressions by the score:
Thousands of toyes dwell there, yet out of doore
                                                They leave thee.

But that which shews them large, shews them unfit.
What ever sinne did this pure rock commit,
Which holds thee now?  Who hath indited it
                                                Of murder?

Where our hard hearts have took up stones to braine thee,
And missing this, most falsly did arraigne thee;
Onely these stones in quiet entertain thee,
                                                And order.

And as of old the Law by heav’nly art
Was writ in stone; so thou, which also art
The letter of the word, find’st no fit heart 
                                                To hold thee.

Yet do we still persist as we began,
And so should perish, but that nothing can, 
Though it be cold, hard, foul, from loving man
                                                Withhold thee.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


I knew the NUMMI auto plant in Fremont was closing, but I honestly didn't know anything about its significance until listening to this program on This American Life.

Here's the report from the San Jose Mercury News:

FREMONT — NUMMI produced its last car at 9:40 a.m. today.
The red Toyota Corolla rolled off the line, as hundreds of employees, dignitaries and company officials watched, according to workers and union leaders. The car is believed to be destined for a museum in Japan.
"It's over," said Javier Contreras, an official with the United Auto Workers.
Employees honked their horns as they left the plant following their final shifts this morning. Some went to nearby restaurants, others went bowling or to a sports bar near the Fremont factory.
"People are cheerful," Contreras said. "They are hugging each other and shaking hands."
Other employees said they tried to avoid crying but began to break into tears as the left the plant.
Please remember in your prayers the 4,700 workers laid off today.

Jaime Escalante

There's a Maundy Thursday sort of story in this.

Jaime Escalante, Inspiration for a Movie is the headline, which is rather disappointing, though true.  This is the teacher whose calculus classes were the inspiration for Stand and Deliver.  I do love a good Inspiring Teacher movie, and this was a good one.

But wouldn't it have been lovely if the headline had been Inspiration for Hundreds of Students?  Maybe I wouldn't have read it then, I don't know.  But surely that's the more important thing.

Here's the Maundy Thursday part for me:

Beginning with five calculus students in 1978, Mr. Escalante developed a program that eventually attracted hundreds of students keen to go on to college. In 1988, 443 students took the College Board’s advanced placement test; 266 passed.
Success, acclaim and the celebrity status that came with “Stand and Deliver” brought strife. Mr. Escalante butted heads with the school’s administration and fellow teachers, some jealous of his fame, others worried that he was creating his own fief. The teacher’s union demanded that his oversubscribed calculus classes be brought down in size. 
To me this is so sad.  Obviously I don't know what exactly went on and maybe Escalante was difficult to work with, but it sounds like a case where "Your success is making us look bad."  And who suffers for that?  The "hundreds of students keen to go on to college."  How wonderful it would have been if instead they could have found a way to make more students more successful, rather than place limits on students and teachers.

Of course, some people thought Jesus was difficult to work with too.  Some were jealous of his fame, others worried that he was creating his own kingdom.  And then there's Jesus, washing people's feet.  Silly him, focusing on the institution of loving and serving one another rather than loving and serving the institution itself.

Does the Maundy Thursday-ness of this stand out to you?  Or is it just me?  Or is it just because it's Holy Week and everything takes on that patina?