Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wedding Dance

Who hasn't seen JK Wedding Dance on the Internet? Viral all the way. I first saw it on Facebook (which is becoming an addiction). An old friend (I was in her wedding in 1976!) had posted it.

At first I thought, "Oh, typical let's see what we can do that's weird at our wedding" stuff. But after a minute I changed my mind. Although I hope this doesn't become a trend (not all those people really have rhythm), it was joyous and celebrative. Good for them, I thought.

I showed it to my husband tonight. He said, "it sure isn't a Baptist church!" I said, "Well, it's Methodist or something, because there's a woman minister anyway." So it goes (to quote Kurt Vonnegut). But he enjoyed it too. It's wonderful because it isn't professional, and the bride looks like she'd rather be happy--and have her guests happy--than perfect. Maybe that's a good motto for all of us.

Older women in the church

I teach a Sunday Bible Class at my church for, well, middle-aged women. I was asked recently to teach a class of ladies in their eighties and nineties, probably because the attendance in my class is often pathetic but I’m known to be faithful. I declined to change classes, because I have put a lot of effort for over four years into my “ladies” and even though many have rejected me, these have stayed with me faithfully and we are close.

But teaching middle-aged women is difficult. They are the red-headed stepchildren of the church, I think. They are too old for senior “stuff,” but they have pretty much raised their children and “been there, done that.” If they don’t want to get out of bed for SBS, they don’t have to. And they don’t. Although a huge number of women in the church are in this age group, a lot of them just come to the worship and eschew the fellowship of a SBS, which can be intense.

Of course, over 50% of these women are divorced, widowed, or never married, so they don’t fit in anyway in the church. Women who have husbands go to couples’ classes, although not totally. Three of my ladies are married; the rest are single or single again. My husband does not attend church with me (although he used to; like many men he has lost interest in it or the church lost interest in him, the latter being more likely). So I feel like a single person most of the time, sit by myself in the back, or with a female friend, trying to be inconspicuous. A woman with a husband doesn’t have to worry about conspicuity.

My point is that the church ignores single women, as if they want to be single. “Every pot has a lid” I was told once; it’s not true. Like my kitchen cabinets after twenty-eight years of marriage (on August 8!), there are sometimes more pots than lids, or vice versa. If the church does not welcome the extra pots, who will? No one; they will languish, their energy lost and their needs unmet.

Friday, July 24, 2009


President Obama could save himself a lot of trouble if he:
1. Didn't have so many news conferences
2. Didn't think he had to voice an opinion or influence everything in the country (like the College Bowl Series?)
3. Got rid of Robert Gibbs

Good article on Gay Marriage

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Root of It All

I just finished Alistair McGrath's A Life of John Calvin. It is appropriately named--it is hardly a full-fledged biography of the man, but to be honest, he wasn't someone who wrote a great deal about himself, definitely not the celebrity Luther was. I still say if I could sit down with any historical figure in the last millennium it would be Luther (with an interpreter). But McGrath makes a good case for Calvin's influence being more long-term than Luther's at least in terms of politics and the economy.

If there is one thing I like to study it is "where do ideas come from?" and Calvin is the person to study if one wants to understand the root of it all type questions. This means that if I'm serious I would have to tackle the Institutes. McGrath makes several arguments:
1. Calvin was who we was because of Geneva. This is as much a book about Geneva, Swiss urban life, Renaissance humanism, and French society as about Calvin.
2. Calvin and Calvinism are related but not the same; Calvinism is an interpretation of the Institutes a generation or two or three after Calvin's death.
3. The time for the Reformation, both from Calvin's and Luther's ends of it, was ripe--they were both in the right place at the right time.
4. Calvin was a lot more open-minded (even about biblical inerrancy and predestination) than we are led to believe. Personally, I had a little trouble with this one. McGrath interprets Calvin's accommodationist view of revelation to mean that the Genesis accounts were essentially simplifications for the "backward" people of that time--implying that Calvin wouldn't have had a problem with Darwin. This is a big stretch. Holding that the six-day creation is a way to explain the complexity of creation to human minds is a long way from accepting evolution. It's hard to see McGrath's position as saying anything other than that Calvin held the book of Genesis as untruthful. I also got the impression that Calvin,like Luther, was anti-Semitic, although it doesn't come up in this book. McGrath quotes his passages that seem to denigrate the Jews and the Old Testament. So, I have to come to the conclusion that McGrath is trying to defend Calvin to a post-Enlightenment audience and does so by ignoring some things or recasting some others. But I still liked the book and learned a great deal of it. He himself says that historians have axes to grind!
5. Weber didn't quite get it right in terms of Protestant work ethic. Calvin didn't lead to capitalism--it was already around. He led to modern capitalism, well, pre-Industrial Revolution capitalism, sans the laissez faire part.
6. Luther's intellectual influence was not as long-lasting as Calvin's.
7. France was far more Protestant than I thought in the 16th century. When the aristocracy ran off the Huguenots, they ... did a bad, bad thing. I would have to conclude that was a seminal act in French history.
8. Predestination was not all that important or central to Calvin; it came from his interpreters who were trying to cast a theological system, a la Aristotelianism, in the next century.

I have to wonder if Calvinism is the exact opposite of Romanticism. Thought to explore. One thing for sure. What I thought I knew about Calvin, which wasn't much, was pretty much wrong.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I Hate to Say This, But ....

I watched on television in 1969 the first moon walk. Someone--I assume my brother Gary--even took a photograph of my brothers David and Donald, my mother, our dog, and me--at the moment Neal Armstrong walked on the moon. We were sitting in the living room of our little Levittown house in Landover Hills, Maryland, on a humid July night--we look hot even in the grainy black and white photo, since we didn't have central air back then. I remember the night as clearly as any other from my childhood. I was thirteen.

So why do I get these nagging, niggling suspicions that the videos are fakes? Am I the only one?

More than Thoughtfulness

As a person who is getting older, I am experiencing my share of aches and pains. They are the worst in the morning, upon rising from what is usually plenty of sleep. I'm just stiff and slow; a hot shower helps, and walking around, and getting my coffee. I also have trouble if I sit for long periods or carry too-heavy loads when gardening.

The solutions are 1. live with it 2. take pills (I resist) 3. see the chiropractor (I'm cheap) 4. correct my posture when sitting and walking.

There is a fifth one--yoga. I have to resist that as much as the pills although both work. I do not deny the benefits of either but cannot bring myself, will not do so, to use yoga.

I have researched it and found it to be too highly entwined with Hinduism. There may be some Christians who can make that leap; I'm not one of them. If an authoritative Hindu yogi says Christians shouldn't practice it because they would be mixing their religions, I'll take his word for it. He obviously understands syncretism better than a lot of believers.

My version of Christianity is exclusivistic, and that applies not just to other people. The Christians of the first century were burned alive as torches for Nero's pleasure because they took the exclusivistic claims of the Old and New Testament deity seriously; I figure I can sacrifice a yoga class because of those claims.

But this brings me to another subject, that of meditation. Here is a word with syncretistic tendencies as well, but it shouldn't have them. It's a perfectly good and necessary Judeo-Christian word, used frequently in both Testaments and practiced infrequently today, at least not in the correct Biblical way.

I hope to study this concept more and make sense of it; I'm supposed to teach the Psalms in the Fall, and the word occurs there regularly. I know this: meditation is a heart matter, and the biblical meaning of heart has less to do with emotion and romance and more to do with holism of one's being--mind and will and feeling and resulting lifestyle. One thing is sure--we can't meditate and text and drive and check email and fuss at the kids and cook dinner. We can meditate and forget the multi-tasking.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

What am I Reading?

Just finished Slaughterhouse Five. What a hoot. Although I didn't get the end; this is a re-read. Will post more intelligent thoughts on it later.

Am starting Alistair McGrath's A Life of John Calvin, in honor of his 500th birthday.

Recently finished Strangers in High Places by Michael Frome.

There will never be enough time to read all the books one wants to.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Just Wondering

Why can’t someone say they like Sarah Palin without being told she would make a terrible president? I love her—her spunk, her views, her earthiness—but she’s not ready to be president, and I wouldn’t vote for her to be so in a primary unless the only other candidate was Ron Paul.

And if anyone feels safer with Joe Biden as VP rather than with her then I can only shake my head in disbelief. But President Palin right now? No thanks.

At the same time, I think the discussion of her resignation is reaching the Michael Jackson death saturation point.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Shack Revisited

The other night an old friend asked me to tell her about The Shack. She and I sort of run in different circles, and the women in a Bible study group she attends keep telling her to read The Shack. Since she knows I read voraciously, she knew I had an insight about it. I have read it, back last Fall.

So what did I tell her? First, don’t bother—life is too short. Second, it bugs me that with all the great classics of the faith (let’s start with the all-time best missionary bio, To the Golden Shore, followed by all the C.S. Lewis, and then there’s Calvin’s Institutes—well, I’m getting a little crazy here, but you get my drift), anyway, it bugs me that the big bestseller in the Christian market is a second-rate allegory that borders on heresy, if it doesn’t venture boldly into it. Third, if someone wants to read a good novel, ha, ha, they can read mine!

Seriously, I told her the book appeals to people who are largely led by feeings, who tend to define Christianity in terms of their own emotional and subjective needs, and dare I say, many of whom are not very discerning. I don’t need The Shack to know how much God loves me. Romans 5:8 is enough. And yes, that verse says “us” not “me.” There’s a big theological argument there, one I’m not willing to get into now, but let me give the short version. Jesus died for the world, for the church, for His bride, not “for me.” I happen to be part of the world, the church, and the bride. I’m no less or more important than anyone else in that group. Some evangelical theology, if it can be called that—and definitely evangelical hymnody—is almost narcissistic. Another friend was complaining about the chorus, “I am a friend of God” because of its nauseatingly simple lyrics and music, but worse than that is that the name of God is used less than the first-person pronouns.

Yes, I did find the first part of the book, before he goes to the magical shack that turns from a beaten down cabin to a Thomas Kinkade painting (did he get royalties?) pretty good. The story of his daughter’s death is gripping. But the long section with the supposed Trinity was bad writing, bad theology, and bad practice.

“God is a spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24. That’s enough. As much as the human mind and creativity may feel the need to anthropomorphize God, we can’t. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” said Jesus. So we don’t need a novel depicting God the Father as Mammy from Gone With the Wind or the Holy Spirit as a character from The King and I. And we certainly don’t need Sophia, which I found as shockingly blasphemous, in light of what I know about feminist theology, as the physical portrayal of the Godhead, which is pretty bad.

(By the way, was I the only one who noticed that “Magical Negro” fallacy? Why do white writers feel the need for the all-wise black character? And one who cooks and is overweight? And then the wonderful, Godspell, laid-back Jesus? Jesus has to be portrayed as such a nice guy . . . )

It is frightening to me that the evangelical mind is so untutored, so incurious, and so lazy, that it finds a book like The Shack to be a source of spiritual succor. There are better novels—I could suggest thousands, like The Brothers Karamazov, to start with, or Things Fall Apart. There are better books about theology—the Bible is a good place to start if you want to know about the crucifixion and what it means. I have a feeling that many who read it were vaguely uncomfortable with it but succumbed to peer pressure. Even worse, I fear that we know the traditional doctrines without knowing where in the Bible those doctrines are addressed.

I feel much the same way about The Shack that I did about The Passion. Mel Gibson convinced evangelicals to support that movie and he made a fortune off of us, which he now uses to pay for his divorce because of his adultery. We were had, and I for one don’t like being had (I did not go to the movie for that reason, and also because I was told that I “just had to see it” by too many people.)

In both cases, the writers had the right to produce the works, and we all have the freedom to see or read them. It is the mass hysteria, the zealous insistence that the work will change one’s life, the fear appeal that one might truly miss God’s best unless one views or reads the work, that is the problem. There is a big difference between faith and gullibility, but I’m not sure that evangelicals in the 21st century know what it is.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

More Visuals

Just thought I'd post a picture of my sweet son, although he would roll his eyes to know I have. He has been on a camping trip with friends for the weekend and we are expecting him back. This is the irony--they go away to college, you get used to them being gone, and they come home for the summer. First it's a matter of getting used to them again, then a reversion to high school ("it's after midnight, where is he?") then it seems normal they are home and you miss them when they are gone again.

Maybe this is part of longing--finding that balance between fulfillment with others and being comfortable with aloneness

Tennessee Williams

Recently I watched A Streetcar Named Desire on TCM. It was the original one, from 1951, with Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando. It’s a moving experience as well as disturbing.

Enough has been said about the play and performances that I don’t need to go on about them—this is not imdb and someone can go there if so inspired. My husband had a good insight into it that I wouldn’t have gotten. He suffers from, well, depression and similar maladies, whereas I don’t. Consequently, I sympathize with people who suffer from mental and emotional illnesses but can’t really empathize. I’m not quite of the “just buck up” crowd, but sometimes ….. Anyway, he mentioned how the Stanley Kowalskis of this world are very cruel but usually are looked at as the normal ones, whereas the Blanches are the weak and abnormal. The normal people are allowed to be cruel to the weak. Stanley gets away with rape toward the end because Blanche by then has almost lost touch with reality, and truly does after the assault.
As for me, I never quite got the name of the play—yes, we do see the Streetcar with the nameplate Desire in the beginning of the movie (and let me say it was at least refreshing to see a movie about the deep South where people actually looked miserably hot, not like movies today where no one sweats). It is the juxtaposition of a streetcar—such a mundane, modern, normal item—with Desire, the driving element of human existence. Stanley is the streetcar, Blanche is desire. Because Desire is not lust, and this is what Tennessee Williams, an odd little man, I will admit, with sexual problems, but someone who understood women, this is what TW gets. Blanche desires not sex, not really, but connection, people who aren’t strangers, love, inclusion, acceptance, you can call it a number of things.

Desire. Longing. Yearning. If politicians can be defined by who they pander to, as I wrote a few days back, perhaps humans can be defined by what they long for. And maybe what we long for is what we are most conscious of what we don’t have.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Musical experience

Yesterday I got in my car to go to my office. I went at a random time, but I think it ended up being exactly at 10:30. A preacher I don’t like was on the Christian station; NPR was playing the offbeat music that they play in the morning. So I turned it to another public radio station in the Chattanooga area that doesn’t carry a lot of the typical NPR programming because the station is affiliated with a religious institution.

What a serendipitous choice—I caught the exact beginning of Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring. Through the opening, I teared up; then I wanted to dance, then I wanted to sing praise to God that it is a gift to be simple and a gift to be free. I had to get out of my car at the very end, but since I have a recording somewhere I can find it and play it to my heart’s content.

I resolved to 1. Thank God for the human creative spirit that can make that kind of music and 2. To play it to my humanities students and 3. Learn more about the piece.

Did the media go crazy when Aaron Copeland died in 1990? Did Michael Jackson ever create anything as moving and important as Copeland’s work?

I still think we are living in the Twilight Zone in the aftermath of Jackson’s death. How anyone can bring in a racial component and present him as a civil rights icon is beyond me.

I have one other memory of Copeland. In the 80s I was watching a program on PBS about the rehearsals and performance of a Copeland work, the one on Lincoln, by Bernstein. Copeland himself was going to read the narration. Bernstein was telling Copeland how he wanted Copeland to read the lines—Copeland’s own work! And Copeland, though an old man and clearly a little perturbed, acquiesced to the conductor and did it his way. There is a spiritual lesson in there somewhere. We might think we are writing the scripts of our own lives, but there is another conductor ultimately responsible for the outcome of the performance.

By the way, the last sentence on the previous post means that people in the military of necessity become very close, so I don't see how two people working that closely side-by-side would not eventually reveal information about sexual preference. It wasn't meant to say that homosexuals are always obvious from some outer behavior or look, a la Bruno or Rosie O'Donnell. I've always wondered why gay people tolerate those type of images and portrayals.

Friday, July 10, 2009


It might be that what separates politicians is who they pander to, not what they really believe.

Bush pandered to military supporters (he had to in order to wage an increasingly unpopular war), religious people who were disgusted with the moral state of the country, small and large business owners, “oil people,” and nonthinking, reactionary types.

Obama panders to homosexuals (as seen in a special meeting he had with them last week in the White House), non-religious people, those who think they have been victimized (as he probably thinks of himself), abortion proponents (Planned Parenthood), and to some extent the clueless.

This is not to say that everyone who voted for either of these men for office were in one of these categories; I think Obama won because of white and Latino voters who supported Bush in 2004 but changed parties, for whatever reason (not principle, obviously). Obama couldn’t have won just on the Black vote, which was probably pretty much the same, or the youth vote; youth don’t vote as much as they are purported to. (see )

What do I mean by pander? Make promises, and then once in office throw a token concession or piece of legislation to them. Keep them on a string. Have them to the White House for a photo op, seem pleasant.

Clinton pandered to the homosexuals and they got “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military which they don’t like. At the time they accepted it because he seemed to convince them he was on their side, but now it’s not good enough, if it ever was. (It seems to me that in most cases their fellow service personnel would not have to ask.)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Let's Add Some Visuals Here

Coliseum, 2001. How I wishI could take pictures without lampposts and telephone poles.

Amphitheatre in Pompeii; interior of home with spectacular red paint

Street in Pompeii; I don't think the telephone poles survived the volcano!

Laocoon and His Sons in a courtyard at Vatican--not the original, of course.
Interior of Church of San Vitale in Ravenna; incredible mosaics. How these have survived is a major question for me.

The Arch of Titus. Titus flattened Jerusalem in 70AD; this relief inside the Arch shows the spoiling of the Temple articles. A family of Hassidic Jews were there the day I took this picture, and I tried to take a photo of the parents taking a photo of a ten-year-old boy in black with curled locks outside the Arch. Remarkable.

The Coliseum.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Y B Normal?

I spent a good bit of my life thinking there was such a thing as normal and "right." The definition of normal, although shifting, involved something about the number of children one has, the amount of money one (or a couple) makes, the neighborhood one lives in, the amount of one's education, how the children were educated, the state of one's finances, one's physical habits (not smoking, etc.), blah, blah, blah. And it always came out that I was just not in the normal category, no matter how hard I tried, and I wondered why I was excluded from it.

Unfortunately, I held onto these misconceptions well into my forties, to some extent, but I finally realized and am now fully convinced that there is no such thing as normal, and if there is, not one person on the planet qualifies.

Thank goodness! Everyone I know is odd, some very, some just a little. Some do their best to hide it, some are pretty successful, but no one is normal. How wonderful for oddities and eccentricities. It is the stuff of poetry and storytelling and great art.

How am I not normal? I have one child, I have an unemployed husband, I have a rare, congenital disease very few have ever heard of, I have a mentally handicapped brother, I published a novel but no one reads it, I ...... These are all things that could bring me shame, but I choose not to let them, because I know every one else has a similar list of non-normalities that bring them shame but shouldn't.

Of course, for practical purposes, we have a range of normal that constitutes what is tolerated. For my part, Michael Jackson was outside that range. One does not have to call him a pedophile to be appalled at the media's response, which is so over the top that I am in a stupefied by it.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Interview with Obama

I thought this was a good example of how Obama thinks. He did make some valid points (that the fall of Communism was not just because of the U.S.), but he is quite good at circumlocution and leading people to think he said something he didn't say.

Pres. Obama would like us to think he is non-ideological, but that just doesn't hold up.

Monday, July 06, 2009


I am disappointed that Sarah Palin has resigned as governor of Alaska, but mostly because it sets her up for more unfair criticism. We have a president who started running for president after less than two years as a Senator, on the road all the time not doing his job for Illinois, yet she is honest enough to quit when she knows the government of Alaska is having to pay for frivolous lawsuits and ethics complaints by enemies. Why is she so maligned? See

Maybe she just doesn't want to put her children through anymore of this vitriol. Maybe they are starting to show signs of stress from it. Why can't that be accepted by her critics, that she's doing this for her children?

On the other hand, I can see why some people find her behavior attention-getting. All politicians are narcissistic, I think, a little. The media wants to paint her that way and she does give them some material to work with.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Public Speaking Online, Part IV

During the Web Speech             One of the helpful suggestions from the business writers used for this appendix ...