Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I missed the World Series!

The Little League World Series rematch, that is, between Uganda and Canada.  I only learned today that they played their rematch in Kampala in January.  So glad they were able to do that.  And a big standing O to Alameda native Jimmy Rollins who made the trip as well. Hometown represent!

For those who did not see this story when it happened last summer, the Al Jazeera report below gives you the outline.  Plus you get to see some baseball. (More photos from the NY Times, if you have access.)

The first of Kenyon's goodly race...

...was that great man Philander Chase.

And today he's up against Thomas Merton in the first round of Lent Madness.

I'm not saying how you should vote.  I'm just saying Thomas Merton doesn't have a theme song, does he?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Not By Bread Alone

The mother of a friend of mine is on the board of a food pantry in upstate New York.  She was approached by a local organization that offers grants to organizations--but with a catch: the grant had to go to a program specifically to support women.  Now, how do you do that with a food pantry?

My friend's mother had a brilliant idea: why not provide food pantry participants with nylons, skin care products, and the basic things women need to go to job interviews and present professionally?  And why not call it Not By Bread Alone?

I think that's simply fantastic!  One of the things I love about it is that it conveys (I hope it conveys) to the patrons of the food pantry that they are not seen as people just looking for a handout.  It says (I hope it says), "We don't think you're lazy."  When the food pantry provides for some of the things people need for work or for a job interview, it acknowledges some of the issues they might face beyond food.

But there's more to it than the pragmatic job-related issues.  There's also something about aesthetics that I find worth noting.  I vaguely remember a story Dorothy Day relates that, thanks to the wonder of Google and the Dorothy Day Library on the Web, I can quote accurately.

Another family moving in with us, on one of our Catholic Worker farms, felt that the beautifying which had made the farmhouse and its surroundings a charming spot was not consistent with a profession of poverty. They broke up the rustic benches and fence, built by one of the men from the Bowery who had stayed with us, and used them for firewood. The garden surrounding the statue of the Blessed Virgin, where we used to say the rosary, was trampled down and made into a woodyard filled with chips and scraps left from the axe which chopped the family wood. It was the same with the house: the curtains were taken down, the floor remained bare, there were no pictures--the place became a scene of stark poverty, and a visiting bishop was appalled at the "poverty." It had looked quite comfortable before, and one did not think of the crowded bedrooms or the outhouse down the hill, or the outdoor cistern and well where water had to be pumped and put on the wood stove in the kitchen to heat. Not all these hardships were evident.
Dorothy Day goes on to say in that same passage, "But the poor, it seems, have no right to beauty, to order. Poverty must be squalor, filth, ugliness, to be esteemed as poverty."

One thing I like about this project is that it does not insist that the poor must look properly poor in order to be worthy of aid.  That it is all right for people to want to look good and feel good, to dress well and impress people by how they present themselves.  That you can wear nylons and have beauty products, they are not things only for those who have "gotten their life together".  My pleasure in Not By Bread Alone is that it says, "Yes, you do have a right to beauty--your own first of all."

This is not about vanity; this is not about fashion.  This is about giving people the message, "You are a person of substance and worth in this world. We believe in you.  Go out and show them who you are."

I hope this project goes like gangbusters.

Update: I wrote a follow-up on the program here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

I haven't seen The Artist yet.  I also haven't seen The Descendents, or Hugo, or The Tree of Life, or War Horse, or The Help, or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  So basically, I'm a loser when it comes to watching the nominees for best picture, though if you're paying attention you'll note that I saw Midnight in Paris and Moneyball (go A's!).

I did, however, see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and was blown away. I thought Gary Oldman's performance was incredible.  I kept thinking, "How is it he's able to convey what's going on inside when the camera is on the back of his head?"

It may have helped that not terribly long ago I heard the audiobook of TTSS (all umpteen hours of it) so I had an inkling going in what was happening--though I did not remember who the mole was.  It may have also helped that I'd never seen the TV version with Alec Guiness.

I thought they did a fabulous job adapting the book.  They shuffled things around in such a way that helped compress the plot without losing too much (though a couple characters, notably Ciaran Hinds' Roy Bland, got short shrift), and that still allowed the movie to seem leisurely, without too much information compressed in too short a time.  It also added one element to the personal life of one of the characters that I thought was revelatory both about that character and about that period in history. 

And can I just say: art direction!  Oh my goodness!  That whole 1970's Cold War Bureaucratic Bleak was amazing.  I don't know why that didn't get more love; I thought it was incredible.

A warning: there are some strong scenes of torture and violence.  It was not a bloodless and cerebral film by any means.

And now I'd better go and catch up on all the movies I've missed.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Funnies, Oscar edition

What it would look like if this year's Best Picture nominees had a hostile conversation on Facebook.

Full conversation here.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Martyr still means witness

Although there are lots of obits I found interesting this week, I keep thinking about Marie Colvin, a war correspondent killed in Syria.  First of all, doesn't she look ferocious?  She lost an eye covering hostilities in Sri Lanka in 2001.  That sounds like plenty to retire on, but she kept going and going. God knows there's been plenty of work for war correspondents in the past decade.

After reading more about her, the fact that she kept going despite the loss of an eye seems even more resonant.  She was resolute about the fact that she her calling as a journalist was to bear witness. How...terribly appropriate that her attacker almost blinded her.  And that as long as she had an eye to see, she kept going.

There's a beautiful reflection on her life and work in the New Yorker, which directed me to an address she gave in 2010 at service "to commemorate and honour those journalists, cameramen and support staff who have died while covering the conflicts of the 21st Century."  In it she said,
Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction, and death, and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash. And yes, it means taking risks, not just for yourself but often for the people who work closely with you...Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice. We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado?... 

In an age of 24/7 rolling news, blogs and twitters, we are on constant call wherever we are. But war reporting is still essentially the same - someone has to go there and see what is happening. You can't get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you. The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people be they government, military or the man on the street, will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TV screen. 

We do have that faith because we believe we do make a difference.
[Emphasis mine]

I have been thinking ever since of the value of having a witness, someone who has seen with her own eyes what is happening and who takes the time to tell others about it.

Too often, I think, in our religious lives or in politics, we spend our time creating or conforming to the right propositions or theories as opposed to reporting on our experiences.  Like I'm doing right now, for example!  But I'm reminded by this that we are called to be witnesses for the gospel, not propagandists.

Living faithfully is not about acquiescing to the theoretical; it's about what we do and who we meet and what happens then. And the first meaning of martyr is not someone who is killed for what they believe, but someone who witnesses to what they believe. What do we see? And what do we say about it?

Colvin was a witness until moments before she died.  The Guardian, reporting on Colvin's death, wrote
Colvin used a web forum to make what is believed to be her last post on Tuesday. "I think the reports of my survival may be exaggerated," she wrote. "In Baba Amr. Sickening, cannot understand how the world can stand by and I should be hardened by now. Watched a baby die today. Shrapnel, doctors could do nothing. His little tummy just heaved and heaved until he stopped. Feeling helpless. As well as cold! Will keep trying to get out the information."
She and photographer Remi Ochlik were killed shortly thereafter when the house where they were staying was shelled by Syrian forces.

I have no desire to be a war correspondent--absolutely none.  I'm glad others do this work.  I can't think why they do it.  But I'm still inspired by this to be a better witness of the world around me, to try to keep my mind as well as my eyes open, to not be hardened.  

Friday, February 24, 2012

Various & Sundry, February 24

It's been a couple of weeks, but I'll try to keep it succinct.  Let's start with getting ourselves settled with a nice cup of tea, preferably made with a Tea Monkey Infuser.

Although as I pointed out to the blogger, Lahikmajoe, there's something a little disturbing about the fact that you put a monkey in water and the water turns brown.  Still mighty cute, though.  Looks like he's soaking in a hot tub.  And turning it brown.

At any rate, once you've got your Golden Monkey tea, you're ready to check out the Tea and Biscuit Dunking Guide (also available as a high-resolution PDF) that tells you exactly how many seconds to leave each kind of cookie in your tea (when served between 150-160 degrees F) to prevent sogginess or the dreaded floppage!

Now that you're settled in, I've got a bunch of interesting stuff for you to read.

On the subject of writing, Ta-Nehisi Coates does it again with this meditation on U.S. Grant's memoirs, the skill of clarity, and how writing "has no real respect for credentialism," that "intelligence is so messy, that it would show itself in people we disdain or think we know."

On the subject of popular culture, Tom & Lorenzo had an inspired rant about the latest episode of Glee and the increasing victimization of its gay characters.
"Remember, my brothers? Remember that ten-year period when the mass media definition of “gay man” was “noble, diseased victim?” Is this new trope of gays as noble, weepy, child victims really a step in the right direction? Because just as in the eighties and nineties, when the majority of gay men were not dying of AIDS; the majority of young gay people today are doing relatively okay for themselves."
It's a very interesting perspective.

Also an interesting perspective on the political front from Dan Drezner on "Why I like power-hungry bureaucrats more than whistle-blowers." I don't see it as an either/or, but it's certainly thought-provoking. And a great headline, eh?

PeaceBang relates a powerful anecdote to relate from a WeightWatchers meeting. As a person (trying to) give up shame--not for Lent, but forever--this had a lot of resonance for me. At what point does our motivation devolve into shaming ourselves? And what can we do about it?

Finally, on the romance front, the Futility Closet shows us how it's done with this unique wedding proposal from Evelyn Waugh.  Excerpt:  "I am restless & moody and misanthropic & lazy & have no money except what I earn and if I got ill you would starve. In fact it’s a lousy proposition. On the other hand I think I could do a Grant and reform & become quite strict about not getting drunk and I am pretty sure I should be faithful." Who would even think of refusing?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lent Madness begins!

Today is the first day of voting in Lent Madness, an excellent match-up between Lancelot "The Scholar" Andrewes and Joan "The Brawler" of Arc.  So far, the Maid of Orelans is off to a commanding lead.  Go to the site and cast your vote to see who gets to the Round of 16!

Jeanne's used to commanding and leading
Lance needs to think about this.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Invisible rewards

Cross-posted at the Confirm not Conform website.

One of the things that I think all of us hope for when we prepare people for confirmation is that they have a rewarding experience. I was thinking of this today, hearing the familiar Ash Wednesday reading from the Sermon on the Mount: "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven." And then Jesus goes on to list all the ways that going through the motions--of almsgiving, of prayer, of fasting--are not the reward we are after. The reward that really counts is what "your Father who sees in secret" sees.

To me that suggests the mysterious process of what goes on inside is of far more value than the things we see people do--a process that may not even be perceived by the people going through them, much less those of us watching.

I found this a little depressing. I know I get so much out of it when I see someone get it, when I see the excitement or joy or insight. But I realized today that to try to force those things is to satisfy my needs and desires, that I may be looking for the reaction in order to receive my reward. When we watch youth or adults with an eye to making sure they exhibit the transformation we hope they experience, are we leading them into the temptation to give alms ostentatiously, or pray long and loud, or fast dismally? Do we need to let it go, understanding we may never see the reward?

The truth is, I may never know if someone finds a class or a sermon or a retreat rewarding in the long run. I may never know if Confirmation meant anything to them. Though I want people to be inspired, I may only see someone blase, bored, and disengaged. And when I think I've offered something awesome, that gets frustrating. But people don't owe me their life-changing experiences; no one needs to make me feel better about myself by saying how Confirm not Conform (for example) was the Best Thing Ever. I need to remember that I too depend upon God for my reward, and that the reward that lasts doesn't consist in the number of people who Like What I Do.

God, help me to seek my reward only from you, and not from the behavior or approval of others. May my reward be to love and serve you and those you love, now and always. Amen.

And a blessed Lent to one and all.

On the contra-contraception conniptions

I have been trying seems like forever, but it's probably only been days to wrap my brain around the Catholic bishop's argument against allowing people in their employ to get the contraception that would be provided by the insurer as part of the insurance policy.  I really am trying to understand, to try to find an equivalent situation where my beliefs would be so strong that I would say, "No, I cannot bear to have any possible part in other people making their own moral and ethical decisions that are against no law but are against my own morals." I just can't come up with an equivalent that allows me to comprehend their argument.

I find myself going to extremes, thinking, "Well, you probably shouldn't pay them either, since they may do something you find immoral with the money--like buying birth control."  I find myself asking, "Does the Christian Science Monitor offer health insurance benefits to its employees?" (Yes, they do.)

I have been floored by the comments I've been hearing: that women should "keep their legs together," that birth control is "a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be," and similar notions. In a way, I'm glad to get them out in the open where we can look at them, go "wha?! You mean people in this day and age actually think that?", and then do our best to counter-argue.

One of the things that ticks me off most about this argument is that I haven't heard much mention of the fact that birth control pills can be used for other medical reasons not related to birth control.  A very good friend of mine used them for endometriosis; another friend who had both ovaries removed  also used them.  Neither was able to conceive and in fact both of them had to go to great lengths to have children.  And yet, as I visited my friend in the hospital after emergency surgery to remove her ovary, I heard that she was unable to get the pill because the only pharmacy available to her that day was that of the Catholic hospital.

It is irrational that hospitals cannot provide treatments because a particular religious group doesn't like something else that the treatment does. It is unconscionable that one group should block any means for others to live according to the law and in keeping with their ethics.  Keeping your legs together will not control the pain of endometriosis.  And requiring women to buy birth control from the salaries you give them just means reducing their pay, not keeping you pure.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: Zone One

What better beach reading can there be than your basic literary zombie novel?  To tell you the truth, I had put off reading Zone One by Colson Whitehead for quite some time because I thought having zombies as the last thing in my head before turning out the light would be a bad idea.   Much better to read it in full daylight on an island thousands of miles away from the zombie-ridden apocalypse that is the mainland.  And if worse comes to worst and some zombies make it to Hawaii, you can always shanghai a boat.  That's what I would do.

Wise move on my part (the postponed reading, that is, not stealing a boat).  I still had a zombie nightmare.  But I'm also really glad I read this book.

I love Colson Whitehead's writing (he also is one of the more interesting people I follow on Twitter--always unique), and though I haven't read everything of his, I'm always very glad when another of his novels comes out. (Other favorites: The Intuitionist (which I want to see turned into a movie starring Viola Davis) and Apex Hides the Hurt.)

I remembered why, reading Zone One.  I find myself trusting that Whitehead will answer the questions he raises.  He doesn't do it right away, but I find as I go along that he doesn't forget about that thing he brought up and didn't resolve; he'll get to it. And so though I found myself tense simply due to the tension in the situation, I didn't worry that Whitehead as a writer or storyteller would let me down.

Oh, the book.  Well, you know the drill: zombie apocalypse. people on the run, trying to rebuild society, blood, eviscerations, and blasting zombie heads off, blah, blah, blah.  Our protagonist, given the nickname Mark Spitz for reasons to be revealed much later, is part of a volunteer crew asked to help clean the less-active zombies out of Manhattan.  Only a couple more days and his team can head back to Fort Wonton in Chinatown for R&R.  Maybe things will get better.  Maybe they won't.  Nothing in Mark Spitz's experience suggests hoping for the best is anything but a bad idea.  But he carries on, likes some of the people he works with on Omega team, doesn't connect too much, thinks about the past a lot.

What is compelling about Mark Spitz is his insistence in his mediocrity, and that it is his uncanny skill to get by with minimum effort that has allowed him to survive this long.  He puts a lot of stock into this skill, and soon I did too.  He's not particularly heroic, but I figure he'll get by, somehow.

I am still thinking about this book.  I'm not sure I can tell you "what it was about." I'm not sure that matters.  If you insist, I'd say it's a meditation on success and survival and civilization and loss. It's a zombie novel. It's really good. You read it.  You tell me.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lent Madness update: Lentsanity!

One of the things about being away: I didn't keep up with the pandemonium, the maelstrom, the--oh, what's the word I'm looking for? Let's just go with "hype", shall we? swirling around Lent Madness, for which I am one of the celebrity bloggers.  Or, as Scott Gunn and Tim Schenck explain in this video, a "celebrity" blogger.  And don't think I won't remember the scare quotes when awards season comes around again.  I will cut you.  Though I have to say I'm mighty grateful that you pronounced my last name correctly in your last Monday Madness video! Impressive! (If you're wondering how to say it yourself, it is mentioned at about 9:30 on the video. Although as a true celebrity, I am first referred to simply as Laura, no last name required.)

Monday Madness -- February 13, 2012 from Forward Movement on Vimeo.

I am also looking forward to drinking a great deal of tea from a fabulous Lent Madness mug.

So don't forget: Lent Madness begins this Thursday!  Check out the bracket and place your picks for the Final Four.  Who do you think will win the it-would-be-coveted-if-coveting-were-not-a-sin Golden Halo? There's a strong group of 19th century American frontier types in the bracket; I'll be interested to see how they do.  Frankly, knowing Kenyon College folks, I think Philander Chase has a good chance to go far.

You can keep up with the madness by signing up to receive notifications of new posts by email. You can also like Lent Madness on Facebook. Check it out!

What I did on vacation

'Dja miss me? Cuz I've been gone, you know.  I wasn't just slacking off here at Infusion Central.  I was in Hawaii...doing stuff.  Such as

I actually got the horse to trot...once. After which he said, "yeah, I'll drive."

Helicoptering over the volcano. Which was active. A. Ma. Zing.

Reading.  Book reports coming soon.

Lots of time on the water, snorkeling, whale watching, and general cruising.

OK, so I didn't actually go to any Weed Science Society meetings.

Then we took a teeny tiny plane to Maui with Captain "hey guys!" John...

Where we saw LOTS of rainbow activity...

and amazing whale activity! This isn't even close to representational. The place was lousy with Humpback whales.  On the Maui whale watch, they dropped a hydrophone in the water and it sounded like the most raucous cocktail party you've ever attended, minus canapes.

I also might have tried windsurfing.  There is, alas, no photographic evidence of this.  I assure you, I was a natural.  My innate skill was off the charts.  But you will never know.

It was, as I said, amazing.

I'm home now. Sigh.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The masculine world of the Church

The General Synod of the Church of England is debating this week about whether or not women should be allowed to become bishops. Sigh.  And much of the debate is about how to keep the people who don't want women bishops happy.  Deep sigh.  Don't they know by now that they're not going to be happy as long as there are any women bishops?

Meanwhile, here is the U.S. of A., someone named John Piper (I didn't know who that was) said something at some conference recently about how "God's intention for Christianity is for it to have a 'masculine feel.'" This would be more convincing if the goalposts for "masculinity" didn't seem to move whenever women stand on the field.

A couple of examples leap to mind.

Let's start with the color pink (also a newsmaker these days, is it not?). According to an article in the Smithsonian,
a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw's Infants' Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

Take, also, the flute, which until the last century was a man's instrument. The late Frances Blaisdell, who played with the New York Philharmonic, told the Flutist Quarterly, “I had lots of opportunities because I was sort of a freak, and people couldn’t imagine a girl flutist."

Yeah, so let's have Christianity with a more masculine feel: lots of flute music and pink banners everywhere.

Seems to me that the problem is not that Christianity is becoming feminine, but that men still think standing side by side with a woman makes them less than a man.  Maybe someday they'll get a grip. Or are they afeard someone's going to steal their purse.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Monday Morning Preacher: Oh no! Audio!

Putting my mouth where my money is, the sermon I preached yesterday is online as a podcast. Ack. So that's what I actually sound like? No fun.

What's odd about this one, listening to it, is that it's written out as a manuscript but lots of it is a riff on the manuscript.  I think those parts that stray from the manuscript are better.  Dunno.  I also don't like how many times I start a new sentence with "and." I sound very run-on-y a lot of the time. Decent point; ok delivery. Could use a bit more polish.

What do you think?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

Various and Sundry, February 3

Whew! It's been a busy week! I'm taking a quick break to say, hey, look at all this stuff that other people wrote on their blogs even though I never wrote anything on mine.

Alex Thurston, who blogs about Africa, writes about his recent experience as a researcher in Northern Nigeria during a period bracketed by two terrorist attacks.  He gives some perspective on the situation as well as a personal look on what this means for Nigerians. "On the day before I left, a Nigerian friend urged me to make an effort to point out the good aspects of Nigeria whenever possible... No matter how bad the news is coming out of that country, or how many articles we see titled “Nigeria on the Brink” or some such thing, it’s worth keeping in mind the tremendous vibrancy of Nigeria, which is one the most exciting places I’ve ever been." Good to remember.

Also putting things in perspective, PeaceBang reminds us to Slow Down When Things Speed Up.  It reminded me very much of both the Isaiah and gospel reading for this Sunday--which is helpful, since I need to prepare a sermon.  And this post is certainly going to help in preparation.

I loved (of course) this article about the Art of the Obituary. Very British. Very delightful. And says what I feel about reading the obits: "In the obituary world, all human life is there – every barmy, uplifting scrap of it."

In non-obituary news, were you following the story about the homeless teen who hoped to win the Intel Science Talent Search in part so that she could get her family out of a shelter? It was incredibly moving.  She was a semi-finalist, but did not get into the finals.  But she still got a home for her family--and  a $50,000 scholarship, courtesy of AT&T and Ellen DeGeneres.

Speaking of Ellen, this clip of actress Kristin Bell having a sloth meltdown is too endearing for words:
video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Finally, Stephy Drury brought this wonderful quotation from Annie LaMott to my attention.
"Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life - it has given me ME. It has provided time and experience and failures and triumphs and time-tested friends who have helped me step into the shape that was waiting for me. I fit into me now. I have an organic life, finally, not necessarily the one people imagined for me, or tried to get me to have. I have the life I longed for. I have become the woman I hardly dared imagine I could be. There are parts I don't love - until a few years ago, I had no idea that you could have cellulite on your stomach - but not only do I get along with me most of the time now, I am militantly and maternally on my own side... how kind to myself I have become, what a wonderful, tender wife I am to myself, what a loving companion."
On good days, I feel that way myself.

Have a great weekend.