Thursday, December 31, 2009
I looked up the main street of town and realized,happily, that it was a parade! A standard Christmas parade in a small southern town. It was quite a democratic, big-tent, tolerant affair. Apparently anyone who wanted to parade could. There were the typical participants. Pretty girls--Miss Teen Duncan-Wellford-Lyman sitting high in the back seat of a convertible, and Miss (not-Teen) Duncan-Wellford-Lyman following, in a Camaro convertible. Politicians. Girl and Boy Scout troops. Teams and cheerleaders. Small business owners looking for some free advertising. Kiwanis and Lion's Club types. And those who just had interesting vehicles and were asked or decided on their own to be in the parade. A John Deere tractor. A Corvette. A few overweight slackers in old cars with the rock music turned up, having a good time. A sort of sawed-off fuselage of an airplane with sawed-off wings that represented the airport (ironically, an International one in Greer, International because of the BMW plant).
And finally, high atop the fire engine at the end, Santa Claus.
I do not go to parades; I happen upon them. And they are wonderful, surprising, serendipitous affairs. When I was a little girl, I was in baton twirling; why, I have no idea, but my parents made the sacrifice for me to have the little outfits, and the neighbor girls and I would go to the parades and think we were really something. Those were my last parades, on purpose. In May 1986, I happened upon the Chattanooga Armed Services Day parade, which was led by two very old men, veterans of WWI. I had gone downtown and couldn't get out! I happened upon football parades in Ringgold, again, stuck in traffic. And this most recent one, in Duncan. What fun, to be unexpectedly forced, or able to watch, such an absolutely useless but human activity. What purpose does a parade serve? None but pride, I can tell, but they are a kick.
This is an exercise in self-evaluation more than anything anybody has to read, so you can skip this.
Writing and scholarship: Seven editions of the newsletter for Teaching and Learning Center; one solid researched article for it; blog postings; one presentation (very short) that was included in a textbook; three speakers brought in for TLC, and many faculty presentations. Promoted to associate professor (of communication, even); asked to participate in self-study (yuch); found out my next two novels will be published (eventually)
Travel: Gulf Coast; Atlanta many times; Jefferson City, once; SC, twice; Mexico on a cruise; northern VA for reunion.
Reading: About fifty books; ten or more of them for church and ministry; several on teaching, history, politics, philosophy, fiction, spiritual memoir. Participated in two Beth Moore studies (that will do for now).
Movies: too many, most stupid, but also some excellent ones, especially No Country for Old Men and In a Lonely Place
Ministry: Mentoring, Sunday School, nursery watcher; saw class grow; Christmas gatherings
Certified: Disaster Relief by SBC
Taught: Business Comm, Humn 1201 and 1100, English 1101, Comm 1110. Forty hours of classes (way overload)
Personal: finished a quilt, planted a garden, landscaped the front of my house; two neighbors were foreclosed on; brother and mom went through heart surgeries and other brother through prostate treatment, but pretty healthy on my own; got addicted to facebook, sort of. Renewed old friendships; made new friends; participated in Messiah Sing-a-Long; gave two Christmas parties, went to five (too many!). Painted walls in house. Attended funerals. Visited elderly friends.
Finally, decided that I need to slow down.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Yet I know that we are called to be in face-to-face interaction with people for Christ's sake, so it's a constant struggle about how much to write and how much to be with people. I like people, very much. But I'm not a talker, prefering to express my opinions in writing. Anyway, I teach college and get to talk a lot for a living, so at the end of the day my vocal words are spent and I'm tired.
Writing is quite an act of faith, since so little of it gets seen by anyone, and yet you're doing it to be seen by someone eventually. It took me eight years to write my first novel (sort of like the quilt I finished yesterday; I was determined to get it done and on my bed by New Year's Eve). I doubted the novel would ever be published, and most of them are not. (And many that are should not be). Publishing and writing are two different subjects, in my view.
The writer I am reading who is, in his memoir, moving toward Catholicism is Thomas Merton. He is a wonderful writer, and it does remind me of Augustine's Confessions. He will write movingly of his life, then break out into a wonderful prose hymn about providence, grace, and God's love. Which unfortunately, from my Reformed view of the world, he then follows with praise for Mary or the sacraments. Or he will quite harshly insult the English, which I find quite unfair, since his own background would have been English, number one, and since he benefited from English-ness so much himself, and well, because I'm a bit of an Anglophile myself. But if a memoir is not honest, it is no memoir, so I suppose his prejudices must show as well as his loves and passions. I'm not very far into the book yet, though.
Perhaps blogs are the modern equivalent of memoirs, but blogs are far easier to write; less sustained attention. I learned how to get people to come to your blog. Put the name (call letters) of a local radio or TV station into it, or reference a local event like a market. Apparently people have a software package that finds all the blogs that mention their institutions.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
But the phrase has got me thinking. I've been reading editorials about "the end of the decade" and "what should be call this decade" (the "ohs"? the "uh-ohs"?) and all the bad things that have happened in the first ten years of the new millennium (without anyone really noticing that the millennium is based on the medieval notion of when Christ was born and is really wrong and arbitrary anyway, and also no one noticing that the decade doesn't really end until Dec. 31, 2010.
We've had a disputed election, 9/11, two wars, the tsunami, Katrina, an economic "collapse" that really wasn't but that should have shown everyone our vulnerability, and then the normal tragedies (great name for a Rock band): all kinds of political crackdowns, diseases, squabbles, and of course some good--breakthroughs, triumphs, and even though I'm not an Obama fan, proof that America is not the horrid racist haven reactionaries would make it out to be.
I was listening to a tape of Bill Hybels talking about the economic collapse and how it had affected his church (the tape was being played on WMBW). He said what I've been thinking for quite a while now, "The old normal has left the building." This was his clever, Hybelian way of saying, "forget about returning to life the way it was, financially speaking." All the news I read about the economy says the same thing, that there won't be a return to the number of jobs pre-2007 until almost 2020, that housing prices will continue to be much lower than they were, etc.
Now, I am not an economist, nor have I lost my job, but I have lived long enough to remember how people used to live and I am wondering why this is so bad. People, even in America, have lived on much less, and we were no less blessed and no less American and no less free. We have for too long associated affluence with liberty, for one thing. There is an indirect connection, but not such a close one as we are led to believe, especially, I am afraid to say, by so-called conservatives. Our expectations of the American dream kept getting higher and higher until they are absolutely unsustainable. I saw this long ago, and don't know why others have not.
This meltdown was not as bad as the great Depression in terms of how it has affected the average person. There was 25% unemployment then, 10% now. And the economy was a different animal then: far fewer women in the workplace, more industrial than knowledge-based, almost no public sector jobs in comparison to today, etc. No unemployment insurance, worker's comp, all that. But that Depression made people realize that sacrifice and frugality were normal ways of living. It was not unusual to have a garden; it wasn't unusual to reuse things, to share children's clothes with others, to eat leftovers rather than throwing them out. We became wasteful beyond imagining in the years since the 50s, in terms of energy, food, entertainment dollars, just plain junk. All that cheap crap from China only helped fuel our delusions of ever expanding consumer goods and instant gratification.
My fear--no, my prediction--is that the American people just aren't going to get out of this economic recession, or struggle, or whatever we want to call it, what we should; we won't learn our lessons. Because the government programs have buffered so many of us from the real deprivation we could have experienced, we are just waiting for Obama or Congress or whoever to get us back to "normal" where we can have SUVs and cheap vacations and eat out three times a week and McMansions and far more in one year than a person needs in ten. We are in a stupor, like drunks being forced to dry out but knowing we will get a drink as soon as we get out of rehab; we are like children waiting for Santa Claus to bring us new toys when the house is already full of things we don't play with. We have lost the ability to enjoy anything because we think we have to enjoy everything.
If we don't put away the credit cards and stop using them every chance we get; if we don't start buying energy efficient cars; if we don't start recycling, reusing, and reducing; if we don't start making hard decisions about money; if don't stop thinking we should be in a four-bedroom, three-car garage house when we only have one or two children; if we don't start tithing (whether to charity or to the LORD, I will not assume all are believers here) and saving ten percent (I preach at myself here); if not, we will be back here in five years, if we ever get out. And above all, we should demand that the federal government stop this unconscionable pork-driven, drunken-sailor-like spending. Every single one of these irresponsible representatives should be thrown out, as they are jeopardizing our future.
We should accept that the "uh-ohs" are the end of the world as we have known it, and get over whether we feel fine about it or not.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
I should say that right now I am also reading Calvin's Institutes I and The Seven Storey Mountain by the Catholic monk, Thomas Merton. Those are pretty high standards of spiritual writing, so reading Donald Miller's book at the same time and in some ways in comparison is really not fair.
In short, some of it was good, some of it was fair, and some of it was just silly. I liked his ideas more than I think I liked him. I want to say to him, "don't you think it's time to grow up?" He strikes me as childish, and the book's target audience is not middle-aged women, even those who would go see Star Trek or Avatar. It's a good book for people in their twenties who have had bad experiences with legalism or religious institutions and haven't worked through it yesterday, or for nonbelievers, or for people who just feel like reading it.
Some of it is quite insightful and it does resonate and stay with you. We are all self-addicts, as if the world is a play about us, we are the main character and everyone else is a flat, subordinate character. Some of it seems whiny, especially the "I've grown past being a Republican isn't it cool I am a Democrat now and someone who really cares for the poor because we know that Republicans and conservatives don't care about poor people" (he needs to read the research on who actually gives to charities).
Life-changing, no? Good writing? Maybe. But my son is reading it, and I'm glad. Long live McKay's books!
Saturday, December 26, 2009
My comments on the movie:
1. Why do I have to pay $3.00 extra for a 3-D movie? I did this two weeks ago for Christmas Carol. I can keep the glasses and save the money. I won't be going to any more and probably not to any more movies for a while.
2. The movie is worth seeing (but not worth $12.00--sorry, I'm a real cheapskate about these things). I would recommend it as a matinee. It is spectacularly beautiful, and if one erases from his/her mind any political or religious convictions, the story is enjoyable and exciting. The CGI and "real people" are almost seamless, and if I had not been looking so hard for that, I wouldn't have seen any flaws at all. I was not bored for the first two hours, not at all. And I particularly found myself confused, in a good way, about which world I was in. I could experience the main character's unsettling conflation of the two worlds, as he tells his log, "I don't know who I am anymore." I had to remind myself this was not The Matrix, but two real world.
3. All that said, the political and religious message is so heavy-handed that I don't think anybody would be swayed by it. If it is meant to idolize the native American culture, show me one that really has that kind of spiritual connection to the universe without being just as ethnocentric and jingoistic as any other culture. I don't know what hacked me off more when I walked out of the theater--the implication that all military people, especially Americans, commit and want to commit genocide, or that pagan spirituality actually makes for a better world for all people. Yes, I get it, we exploit the earth. Yes, I get it, Americans shouldn't have taken all that land from the Indians. Yes, I get it, we shouldn't have gone into Iraq in the way we did. Ho, hum. But the messenger is tainted, as he enjoys the benefits of this exploitation he preaches against.
4. The movie is too long, as is often true these days. When I watch old movies, I am often surprised by how truncated they seem, but movies of the last 15 years just seem to go on and on, especially with battle scenes. Villains nowadays are just harder to kill, I suppose--their DNA has evolved to where one bullet just won't do it, there have to be twenty. There is a difference between length and pacing for character development (which Avatar does well) and length that just comes from showoffy battle scenes.
So, it's superb, if you take the story for what it is, and not as allegory.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
I will read pretty much anything that is recommended to me, but not necessarily what is given to me. I have found that people don’t always read the books you give them. Books have to be chosen, I think; that doesn’t always mean bought, of course, but chosen from a shelf, whether retail, used, or library. We are blessed by McKay’s in Chatanooga, and I can’t go in there without buying a used book. I bought John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life, Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, and Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain the other day, to join the pile of thirty I need to be reading or want to read. I plan to finish an Alexander McCall Smith tonight (quaint, the equivalent of TV-watching) and finished Big Stone Gap and The Road (what a combination) in the last few days. I am also reading academic materials.
Eclectic would describe my reading habits and choices, which I would expect from anyone but am disappointed to know is usually not the case. People get in ruts with their reading, even professional readers (English teachers, book reviewers, journalists, and others who make their living around the written word).
Ecclesiastes says that “of the making of books there is no end,” and that was before the printing press. I sometimes wonder why I want to write fiction when I go into McKays or a public library—there are more than enough books in the world. But we keep writing them, and some are even good and worth reading. It is more than just hoping to make some money from it. There is something inherently human about the permanency of words on paper for others to see and even more, understand and perhaps even appreciate.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
If others prefer that kind of a service, it’s not my business to argue against it.
Or is it?
This turn of events leads me to ask some other questions:
1. Why am I the critical person if I don’t like the contemporary service but those who don’t like the traditional service are open-minded?
2. Why can’t people sit still for one hour? Why can’t they do without their coffee for one hour?
3. Are we really helping anybody? Or are we pandering? Does that kind of worship service lead the congregants into a focus on real discipleship?
4. Who is being worshipped? Ourselves and our preferences, or Christ?
5. Am I just too old to get it? (By the way, my problem isn’t the music. I’m good with upbeat, even rock music. It’s the performance orientation of a contemporary service, and the ADHD of the audience, and the reason behind it that bothers me.)
In fact, I’d like to say that I am as greatly moved by new songs of the faith as by the old standards in the hymnal. Some of particular favorites:
Untitled by Chris Rice
Weak and wounded sinner
Lost and left to die
O, raise your head, for love is passing by
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus and live!
Now your burden's lifted
And carried far away
And precious blood has washed away the stain, so
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus and live!
And like a newborn baby
Don't be afraid to crawl
And remember when you walk
Sometimes we fall...so
Fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus and live!
Sometimes the way is lonely
And steep and filled with pain
So if your sky is dark and pours the rain, then
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus and live!
O, and when the love spills over
And music fills the night
And when you can't contain your joy inside, then
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus and live!
And with your final heartbeat
Kiss the world goodbye
Then go in peace, and laugh on Glory's side, and
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live!
“Before the Throne of God Above”
By Charitie L. Bancroft, 1863
Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.
Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace,
One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God!
God and God Alone
God and God alone created all these things we call our own
From the mighty to the small the Glory in them all is God's and God's alone
God and God alone is fit to take the universe's throne
Let everything that lives reserve it's truest praise for God and God alone
God and God alone reveals the truth of all we call unknown
and the best and worst of man wont change the Master's plan it's God's and God's alone
God and God alone will be the joy of our eternal home
He will be our one desire Our hearts will never tire of God's and God's alone
"Strange Way To Save The World"
Sure he must have been surprised
At where this road had taken him
'Cause never in a million lives
Would he had dreamed of Bethlehem
And standing at the manger
He saw with his own eyes
The message from the angel come to life
And Joseph said...
Why me, I'm just a simple man of trade
Why Him, with all the rulers in the world
Why here inside a stable filled with hay
Why her, she's just an ordinary girl
Now I'm not one to second guess what angels have to say
But this is such a strange way to save the world
To think of how it could have been
If Jesus had come as He deserved
There would have been no Bethlehem
No lowly shepherds at His birth
But Joseph knew the reason
The love had to reach so far
And as he held the Savior in his arms
He must have thought...
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I heard on the radio news that Oral Roberts passed away. I can imagine there are wags saying “Why didn’t he heal himself?” He was an odd character, one of those holdovers from the early years of Pentecostalism.
I was watching an old movie with Agnes Moorehead the other night and read up on her on Wikipedia. She was actually “religious,” having been raised by a Presbyterian minister. She gave some land and other assets to Bob Jones University when she died.
That is particularly interesting since BJU probably preached against Bewitched all those years. I don’t imagine they advertised their legacy very much. However, BJU had an excellent theatre department, and probably still does, although it was very traditional. I assume that was the connection.
I would like to write a book one day about obituaries. Funerary practices in the U.S. are fascinating.
Monday, December 14, 2009
It was remarkable. The first time I read McCarthy was All the Pretty Horses, and my response to a colleague is “I have no business writing fiction after reading that book.” My, he can write. He reaches a level of writing that is literary without being pretentious or inaccessible. There is plot and character and theme and setting and emotion and involvement for the reader, something I don’t always experience in literary fiction, along with an elegant yet sometimes jolting prose style.
The Road has been summarized and analyzed and reviewed plenty already; good grief, it won a Pulitzer, so I guess enough has been said about it. All I know is its effect on me. If I dream about parts of a book after I read it, I know it’s good. I dreamed about James Joyce’s The Dead, after I read it, another masterpiece. I never dream about Sue Grafton after I read one of her alphabet mysteries, as much as I like them (though they are trashy). My point is not that my dreaming about the book validates its quality, only that its quality seeps deep into my subconscious and lodges there, and it comes out in dreams.
Of course, as I read it my husband and I were driving through north Georgia and upstate South Carolina on a very dreary December day. Without snow and without blue sky, and in the aftermath of a recession that has caused so many factories and warehouses to be closed, I couldn’t help feel that I was on The Road as well. I’m pretty sure that McCarthy’s man and boy are walking through East Tennessee and north Georgia on the way to Charleston and Savannah, anyway. Why? The mountains, the resort town, the seacoast cities, the Rock City sign (the only humor in the book—anybody from around here would appreciate that a See Rock City billboard would survive nuclear winter, or whatever it is that has happened in the book).
Of course the book is chilling—cannibalism has to be the lowest depth to which people can go—but I found it oddly spiritual and hopeful in the end, if one overlooks the premise, that this is a post-apocalyptic landscape. But whoever causes a nuclear holocaust, it will surely be a small minority in the long run. The father’s love, the “fire” they are carrying, and the “good guys” at the end, and the last paragraph, heartened me.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
There appear to be certain genres of reality shows. The first version is a redo of the old "Ted Mack Amateur Hour." I know that the young audiences watching American Idol and America's Got Talent think it's new, but the only differences I can see is that instead of an "applause-o-meter" back in the '60s, we have people texting in their votes, and we have three judges of fairly predictable responses.
The second genre are competition shows where the contestants really do have to show prolonged talent. Project Runway and shows about cooking, cosmetology, and interior decorating (which obviously I do not watch because I can't name them) fit into this category, and these are probably the most educational and have some socially redeeming value.
The third genre would be Survivor and Big Daddy or whatever that show is called (I'm trying to be funny here, it's Big Brother) and The Real Life and the Surreal Life. I watched the first few years of Survivor and was a big Rupert fan. After that, not interested. I watched one episode of Surreal Life because Tammy Faye Baker, bless her heart, was on it, and they were mean to her. The others are just ignorant; Bad Girls Club comes to mind.
The fourth genre is the "let's have a camera on somebody 24/7 and people will watch it, even though the person is a creep and nobody in the viewing audience would want to spend five real minutes face to face with that person." In the case of the Kardashians, we get triple the creepy persons. There are many variations of this shows, and they are all egregious wastes of time and shameful displays of narcissism and voyeurism. There's one about Hugh Hefner and several about has-been celebrities.
The fifth genre happens when a family allows cameras in their homes. I find this the most immoral, because it is child abuse. Even if we do learn about the lives of those affected by dwarfism, it still can't be psychologically good for the children. SuperNanny and Wife-Swap fit into this category as well, and these are only slightly better because the cameras are only there for a week.
The sixth genre is made up of the "looking for love" shows, such as The Bachelor. Why any woman would subject herself to that degradation is beyond me. There are apparently quite a few of these on cable television.
There might be a seventh genre, but heaven knows we don't need another one of them. They aren't going away any time soon because they are cheap and popular. I can't help but invoke the Truman Show, a movie with the best existential ending I've ever seen. We should, like Truman, walk away from this make-believe world piped into our homes and get a "real life."
Thursday, December 10, 2009
I am listening to Bill O'Reilly's book on tape (free from the public library) and have decided it's time to start writing my own memoir. Surely I can write as well as he. I just can't bloviate about how good my writing is.
I bought more books today. Now the stack is up to thirty or more. Yikes.
Here is a good article/blog posting. http://marriagejunkie.com/2009/12/03/our-top-dozen-do%E2%80%99s-don%E2%80%99ts-for-facebooking-couples/
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