Monday, September 29, 2008

Words of George Fox, 1

Sunday, several Friends from Ohio Yearly Meeting came to Olney and gave some students and faculty a book of daily devotional readings from the writings of George Fox, Quakerism's main founder.

Here's the Fox quote for today, September 29 (or in Quaker parlance, ninth month, 29):

"Keep in the cross of Christ, the power of God, that keeps you crucified to the world, that is dead to the world, and the world dead and crucified to you: for if you do not keep in this power of God, which was before the world and its god was, to keep you crucified to the world, but let in the spirit of the world, you let in its god, which will crucify the good in you."

From Mind the Heavenly Treasure, compiled by Gary Boswell

Any thoughts?

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Sacred Compass

I am reading Quaker J. Brent Bill's The Sacred Compass, the book we are using this year in our spiritual formation group at Stillwater Meeting.

Bill's compass image is a variation on the oft-repeated claim that "God has a plan for your life." Bill softens the idea of a rigid "plan" or map that tells you to go .8 miles, then take a left turn, etc. by likening God's influence in one's life to that of a compass, which is a more imprecise tool. If we follow our sacred compass, which is the Holy Spirit, we will be led by God in the right direction, but not necessarily along a predetermined path to a precise point. Instead, we will have to keep using the compass and recalibrating as we go. The implication is that we will be more engaged in a journey that is more open-ended than if we had a detailed map, though the goal is to end up where God leads.

In chapter 1, Bill explains the Quaker concept of the "way opening," which is the idea that God is revealing his will to us, and that if we trust it and follow it, obstacles will fade away. Key to the concept of way opening is waiting for God's guidance, often constructed as not getting "ahead" of where you are being led. The idea is to take a step in trust, then to stop and wait to hear what the next step will be, rather than assuming that if step A is here, then step B "must" be there. "Part of following way opening is learning to be less hasty," Bill writes.

The central conceit or metaphor in this chapter is that those of us following the sacred compass --trying to discern God's will ---are pilgrims, (which I imagine means 'not tourists'). To me, a tourist would be traveling through a place superficially, looking for pleasure and novelty whereas a pilgrm would be journeying to a destination where he or she hopes to find healing, redemption or revelation.

Brent lists characteristics of a pilgrim: Pilgrims learn from other pilgrims (often spiritual leaders from history); pilgrims can take many paths (Bill quotes Proverbs: "In all ways acknowledge him and He shall direct thy paths" (not path); pilgrims live with imagination, trust in God, pray, keep moving, see God in the details and travel in community with other pilgrims. The key idea is that God is present and active in our daily lives and that we can directly access and be guided by him.

Much of this chapter will be very familiar to Quakers.

I'm interested to see what else Bill has to say and to compare his understanding of following the Holy Spirit (or sacred compass) with the idea that rather than being focused solely on God's plan (or plans) for us, we should be looking around the world to see where God is at work and to join God in that work.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Convergence: Is "inclusiveness" the model?

C. Wess Daniel wrote a blog comment responding to my assertion that the central issue facing Quakerism is how to reconcile inclusivity with maintaining a strong core faith. He said: "So, we don't have to adhere to the terms of the debate if they are going to be locked into a question of inclusiveness. It's my contention that this question is one stemming from those still clinging to modern-liberalism, trying to rescue some kind of hegemony based in sameness rather than celebrating difference the way the postmodern does. "

I agree that modernism does try to impose a hegemony based on sameness. Modernism, in texts written primarily by white English and American males from a handful of elite universities in the early and mid parts of the last century, tried to boil the "major religions" down to a common denominator of universal assumptions. This was done for good reason: if religions could find a common ground, perhaps they would stop fighting. Of course, what happened by those embracing universalism was the creation of superficial, bland and homogenized spiritualism. Most of us, once we get past the aha moment of "all religions have a lot of common ethics" or "all religions practice the golden rule," or "Wow, Buddha sounds a lot like Christ," long for something deeper and more emotionally and intellectually satisfying. That means delving deeply into one faith tradition and struggling with its story -- and its otherness.

If we could just throw aside the question of inclusiveness and truly honor diversity by accepting that Quakerism has a particular history within the Christian tradition, then struggling with inclusivity versus faith would not be THE issue. However, Quakerism (at least liberal Quakerism) is mired in modernism. It's stuck there like an old-fashioned broken record, repeating the following worn ideas over and over: "All religions are different ways of expressing the same truth. All religions are different paths up the same mountain. We can incorporate all religions into one melting pot."

As long as a modernist notion of inclusivism is foundational to how Quakers think, we are going to have to struggle with how inclusivity dilutes the faith. One of the problems I see is that many Quakers don't perceive their worldview as modernist. It simply seems normative and true, a corrective to all the false notions of the past. They don't see themselves as caught in a particular and subjective historical moment. They don't see their concept that "all religions are the same" as the end result of a limited system of Enlightenment thinking that believes that scientific rationalism alone leads to truth and thus excludes as "irrational" diversities that don't support its presuppositions. Modernists can't stand outside the box of rationalism and critique rationalism itself. "All religions are different paths up the same mountain" is such a self-evident truth to some Quakers (despite being an immensely shaky metaphor) that they become frustrated with any challenge to it and sometimes believe that people who hold to other beliefs are ignorant or have an agenda. They believe they are straining out the impurities and superstitions within their faith tradition to produce what is clear, true and beautiful.

Religion in the world today struggles against a modernism that wants to control it and emphasize religions' universality at the expense of the different faith traditions' diversities. Many people of faith want what has made their particular faith distinct to be upheld and not softened, even if these marks of distinction are difficult for the modern mind to accept.

I have seen several house churches deal with the problem of Enlightenment thought by not accepting any doctrine that might be tainted by it. Usually this means basing the church's theology only on texts produced prior to 1700. That's a method to ensure a certain type of purity, just as accepting only those parts of a religion that are "universal" is, but it's also a wilfull distortion of the past 300 years of history just as much as Quaker universalism is a distortion of the pre-Enlightenment thought patterns of Quakerism's founders. Thus, I don't believe it's fruitful merely to ignore the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinking has helped us differentiate between superstition and faith, tall tales and miracle, bigotry and fair assessment of differences. We need instead to critique where the Enlightenment has fallen short. Many would say in an inability to appreciate miracle, mystery and passion.

Liberal Quakerism has repeatedly made the decision to include the hyphenated Quaker: the Quaker-pagan, Quaker-Wiccan, Quaker-nontheist, Quaker-Jew, Quaker-Buddhist and in the process of helping all these people to feel comfortable has repeatedly chosen to deny the particular miracles and mysteries at the heart of the faith and has justified doing so on the basis of Quakerism's non-creedal history. The problem is that this emptying of the particulars of the faith narrative--of tranforming a (tranformative) story that we can participate in and argue with to a series of dispassionate testimonies describing abstract ideas--equality, peace, integrity, etc.--has left people hungry and empty, longing for something more.

None of this is new stuff but it leads me back to a question that is not abstract at all to me, but something I anguish over: how do I love and cherish and respect the non-Christian Quaker I share a pew with while loving, cherishing and respecting the Christian story and particularities that are of the heart of Quakerism? Therefore, I end up agreeing with Daniel that Convergence needs to define itself in ways other than through inclusivity. But how is that going to happen?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

If Emergent is dead, what about Convergent?

Have the terms emerging church and emergent become so sullied and distorted they're no longer useful, Scot McKnight asks in a Sept. 24 blog at Jesus Creed?

Here's what Scot says:

"Full circle: like “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism,” the words “emerging” and “emergent” have become a liability; it has become a term that needs ten minutes of explanation before it can be used. Many are just confused about the meaning of the term. Then two fellas wrote a book that dramatized it all, contending that they were not emerging when by all accounts they should be. Well, I said to myself, this just proves that the term no longer makes sense.

So, for the last year and a half I have spent far too much time explaining the terms “emerging” and “emergent” and I’m tired of it. I don’t need either one to describe what is going on anyway."

Scot continues by describing a new movement he's starting with Dan Kimball as missional-evangelical-evangelism for a postmodern generation.

October, coming up fast, is "Convergent month." Convergent is a term that combines Conservative Friends (Christ-centered Friends doing silent worship) with emergent Christianity. The emergent or emerging church (Emergent is actually a subset of emerging, just to make things more confusing) is a big umbrella, but it includes people yearning for a deeper, more authentic and more lived faith, for relationship and community to be near the core of the faith and for a questioning of the pat answers often supplied to faith questions. Often, but not always, emerging means not having your faith defined by your politics and, as an extension of that, reaching out across denominational lines to embrace ecumenicalism.

Martin Kelly, certainly a prominent Convergent figure, thinks I'm Convergent because of the way I've woven together my Christ-centeredness with Quakerism and the emerging church. I don't know if I'm Convergent. I do know I am a Christ-centered Quaker.

In my brushes with Convergent, I've seen in Convergents a strong yearning for a deeper and more authentic faith experience and a yearning for deeper relationship with like-minded people. I've seen an attraction to a more robust Christianity than many liberal meetings provide and an impatience with the boxes that some Quakers try to keep Quakerism in. I've seen a desire to reach out and cross denominational chasms, and to cross ecumenical chasms as well. I haven't seen the same desire to cross political chasms, but I do sense an impatience with defining Quakerism in terms of political liberalism.

Emerging, because of the questions it asks, because it is seeker sensitive and because it challenges mainline evangelicalism, has been tainted with the "New Age" label. This, I believe, is unfair, in that all of the prominent emerging pastors I know of are devout Christians.

Convergent, however, does seem to attract people who are uncertain or even universalist. It doesn't, as far as I can tell, represent a wholly Christ-centered movement within Quakerism. A truly emergent (or emerging) Convergent would hunger to bring an authentic, early church Christianity back to the core of Quakerism. It would put Jesus at the center of Quakerism and show how the testimonies radiate out of his life, teachings and divinity. It wouldn't be afraid to embrace the crazy, improbable miracle of his resurrection.

A problem--perhaps THE problem--confronting both the emerging church and Christ-centered Quakerism--is how to be inclusive towards people who don't share the core beliefs without either alienating them or watering down the faith. I've certainly struggled with this because of the people I've met who are who are wonderfully caring, compassionate, humble and spiritual people but who are offended by the persecutions, misrepresentations, heavy-handedness, narrow-mindedness and judgmentalism of some Christians.

However, I fear that Quakerism is going to go away, as I fear many mainline Protestant denominations will and most non-demoninational churches, because they've elevated being conformed to the society over the faith. I believe that, unless all of these bodies start more firmly embracing their Christian core, they will die. What will be left standing are the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. I think these churches have much to offer, but I also think the world would be poorer without Quakerism and the many varieties of Protestantism.

When the early Quakers did away with the creeds, I don't think they were doing away with BELIEF in the creeds. I believe Fox, Pennington and others completely believed in a virgin-born, resurrected Jesus who sits at the right hand of God the father in heaven and will come again to judge the living and the dead. What they didn't believe in was what they saw: people asserting they were Christians because they went to church each week and recited a creed. They wanted to take away the creed as a crutch and then confront people with their need to LIVE the faith.

This won't make me popular, but I believe the starting place for Convergent would be in an embrace of the Richmond Declaration. That is a beautiful document that weaves together the cores beliefs of ancient church Christianity with core beliefs of Quakerism--the testimonies.

But if Convergent becomes just another flavor du jour of a shallow liberal Quakerism, it will fade like any fad.

Ghandi said there's no religion without sacrifice. Religion tells us we need to go beyond our own egos. Perhaps the chief sacrifice we need to make is to wildly embrace the core teachings of Christianity, even when they press the boundaries of our intellectual understanding. My experience is that by embracing the myseries at the core of Christianity and acting as if they were true, we open ourselves to miracle.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Is blogging a taste of heaven? Or of hell?

Sometimes I think we get so addicted to blogging because it can be a taste of the kingdom of heaven. It can be a place where the best of our spirits meet with the best of kindred spirits across space and time. We learn from each other and support each other.

Sometimes blogs can be a taste of hell. I have been on blogs where horrible things are written and people are ganged up on and ridiculed in a vile way. I remember going on an emergent blog after pastor Mark Driscoll wrote his inflammatory blog about pastors' wives causing their husbands to stray by "letting themselves go" physically (with no mention that women are more than their looks) and about the need for male pastors "to stay away" from forward women who might "throw themselves" at the pastors. I was stunned that a 35 year old pastor (young!!) connected with what was once called an emergent church (I didn't realize that Driscoll had actually already disavowed emergent) would hold such a one-dimensional and fear-filled view of women. However, on the emergent church blog I went to for comfort, the males were jeering at the women who were upset by calling them "hairy armpit feminists." ... It was not a happy occasion for me. But then, stumbling around for support, I ended up at Scot McKnight's blog, which is a taste of heaven because it is a place of civility, compassion and intelligent discourse.

I struggle with the balance between cyber life and real life. Since the Driscoll affair, which took place at the end of 2006, I have entered blogdom, something I had deliberately avoided until then. I felt I needed to speak out about Driscoll, and then I became so taken with Scot's blog that I became a regular. It's been a way to "meet" wonderful people, enter a rich community and learn. I wouldn't trade it. Starting my own blog last spring has also been much more rewarding than I expected, because of entering into community and making new cyber-friends. I treasure the opportunity to be in conversation with people from all over the world and I treasure the kindness people have shown me.

However, my cyber-friend Regina is leaving blogdom and while that makes me sad, I can also understand why people do. I don't know exactly why Regina has made this decision, but I do see the dark side of blogging--and the Internet in general. I can get so absorbed in cyberspace that I am not present to my family or friends or to my physical environment. My son Will tells me that I can get "hypnotized" by the computer. And he's right. At times it can be as bad as any addictive drug. I can be as "out of it "in terms of my physical environment as any stoned heroin addict. The house can be covered in dust and clutter, my kids can be trying to talk to me, the cat can be meowing for dinner and I can be ... blogging. Fortunately, I don't do this all the time! And fortunately I am aware enough of my tendencies that I am intentional about carving out blocks on non-computer time. On the other hand, I will find myself going on the computer because I'm tired and the rest of the family ... is on the computer! They are playing computer games, surfing the web, checking out YouTube ... you name it. Or they're watching a DVD in the basement on the projector.

I found it liberating not to have Internet access at the house the first few weeks we were in Barnesville. It gave me time and space to focus on doing other things. It inspired our teenagers to suggest playing board games together. It was good. Sometimes I think I would like not to use the computer at home at all or even have a computer or any technology more advanced than a radio. However, I also realize that would be throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water.

I realize that cyberspace connections are important, and I cherish them. The struggle is to maintain a balance. So I'm curious about how other people cope with the "heaven and hell" aspects of this medium.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Edmondson Village

I found the two Jaques Kelly columns I link to below in the Baltimore Sun. I love Jaques Kelly, and in these two columns, he's writing about a place beloved to my heart, Edmondson Village! I was born and spent the early part of my life in this neighborhood on the western edge of Baltimore City. I adored it. I have such vivid memories of life there, although I was so young. (I wish I had the same clarity of memory today.)

I love to hear people's stories, which is probably why I ended up in a graduate program in English literature and not in something more lucrative, like corporate law (big sigh). Other people jive on following a day by day account of the assault on Iwo Jima or a book on how to make their computer do amazing things, but for me, I love to hear about people. Anyway, if you are interested in a window into my early history (or have your own memories of Edmondson Village), these links paint a picure, and bring back lots of memories:,0,1757154.column.,0,5039697.column.

Of course, I'm all ears to hear other people's memories.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Praying with the Jesuits

"Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits," edited by Michael Harter, includes a guided meditation for examination of one's conscience and I thought over the next few weeks, I'd put some of the questions out there.


What have you loved in your life?

Things tasted:
Looked at:

These experiences I have cherished:

Feeling Blue

I crashed into feeling sad yesterday. Partially, it was a series of small things. I took Will to the doctor for a checkup and while there, in a lovely old bank converted to a medical facility, I saw two terribly obese young woman. For some reason, this overwhelmed me with a sense of how broken this world is, because I know young women aren't supposed to go around so dangerously overweight. They're essentially missing their lives, I thought.

Then the new doctor, whom I like very much, told me about the abused children he sees at a hospital, most of them damaged by their parents. I don't believe any parent starts out wanting to hurt their child, but it happens and of course it's sad.

And then, on the larger scale, there were the news reports of the financial system collapsing, and I couldn't help but wonder how that will affect already overburdened ordinary people.

I know if we're going to experience our positive emotions, we're going to experience our negative emotions. And I know feeling sad --sentiment--will do nothing to solve problems. So I keep on trying. And praying. And trying to do my part, knowing the world isn't going to change overnight and that broken lives can create compassion and do good things.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Time and Money

I read an interesting article in the May/June edition of Orion magazine. It echoed and updated the themes of Juliet Schor's The Overworked American, which was written in the late 1980s.

The Orion article told how Kellogg's went to a six-hour work day in 1930, the beginning of the Depression, because that way it could employ more people. The company gave people a small wage increase, not enough to cover the loss of hours, but a help. The company ran 4 six-hour shifts. In the 1930s too, there was a Congressional push for a 30-hour work week. It was quashed and the 40-hour week as we know it became the norm.

The 30-hour work week was touted as a way to allow people to spend more time with their families and as participating citizens in a democracy. According to the article, the people who went on the 30-hour work week liked it because of the life balance it afforded them. But after World War II, Kellogg's used attrtition and incentives to lure people to the 40-hour work week. One department (I don't know which one) held out until 1985, when the 30-hour work week was finally abolished by the company.

Since the 1920s, at least, there's been a tension between work, the eco-system and leisure. In the 1920s, industrialists noticed that they could, for instance, manufacture all the cloth people in the U.S. needed in six months. Ditto with many other goods. Thus began the campaign to convince people to overconsume. If you wanted to keep your textile mills operating all year long, you had to convince people they should buy many more clothes than they actually needed. And so it went.

The other alternative would have been for people to work less and have what they needed but not much excess. That did not suit the industrialists, as more units of a product they could make and sell, the more money they made. Although they too could have lived comfortably on less, that was not the mindset that prevailed.

The relentless overconsumption of the last 80-some years, as we know, has created an ecological mess. It's also caused people to lead stressed-out lives with little time for families and friends but with a choking cascade of consumer goods to care for. As we know, there is a whole industry just to deal with "clutter."

My question is: why do we choose this? What could be more family friendly than a 30-hour work week, unless it were a 20-hour work week? We could elect politicians who would make these things law. But we don't.

One interesting fact: the Orion article stated that we have increased our wealth (I forget by what measure) by 30 percent since 1991. In other words, at least in theory, we could work 5.2 hours a day and maintain the standard of living we had in 1991. That was not a deprived time, as I remember. Or, if my own calculations are correct, we could work 4 hours a day and maintain the standard of living we had in 1957, the peak year of "happiness" for Americans, according to some polls. That would mean down scaling our houses from 2000 square feet to 1,200 and going from two cars to one and possibly giving up the dishwasher, but would that be such a terrible trade-off for a sane life?

In the end, this becomes a spiritual question: do we find our joy in things or do we find it in building community and the kingdom of God? We are said to be a Christian nation, but if so, why do we not follow Christianity's leader, Jesus, who said "put first the Kingdom [of God] and the rest [explicitly, he meant the material goods] will be provided." Why don't we believe this? Why have we chosen the material?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hillary and Sarah

I've been thinking a lot about Hillary and Sarah and the emergence of women at the top tier of politics and how it's happened.

My first thought was, shouldn't Hillary Clinton be running for v.p. and not Sarah Palin?

Whatever your feelings about Hillary, hasn't she done the work? Put in the time? Handshake by handshake and french fry by french fry earned her 18 million votes--which is about 17.9 million votes more than Sarah's ever gotten?

Lately, when I think of Clinton, a Ray Bradbury story pops into my mind. In this story, a group of schoolchildren have grown up on the planet Venus, where it rains and rains. The sun comes out for one hour every seven years. The kids, who've never seen the sun, are excited. Especially one little girl. But she's a target for bullies. They lock her in a closet right before the sun comes out and leave her there until the rain comes out.

Is that how we treat Hilary Clinton? And if so, I wonder why. What did she do that was so wrong? Why does she have to be punished?

Was it that she dared to throw her glove into the presidential ring on her own gumption? Is Palin OK because she waited for an older white male to anoint her as second on the ticket? That she didn't make people uneasy? Is she still safely subordinate? Or has Palin lived in a way that has confounded the opposition?

I think it's about how Hillary and Sarah represent two different generations of feminism (and yes, I will call Palin a feminist). Palin's is the more successful model. And to be honest, perhaps because I'm closer in age to Palin, I'm more aligned to her paradigm.

So what are the paradigms?

The Hillary paradigm is one I've seen over and over again and it seems to be common among women of a certain age. These are women who grew up, roughly, between 1946 and 1956. I used to call it the "brown-haired girl" syndrome but it could probably better be called the "good girl" syndrome. These are the women who play by the rules, do all the right things and are careful, conscientious and goal-oriented. I remember encountering one such woman on my honeymoon, as we took a wagon ride across an elk preserve in freezing weather. When the wagon stopped for questions, this woman, her straight brown hair neatly center parted, earnestly asked question after question about the elk. The rest of us, turning to ice cubes, were shifting and glaring, but for her this was an educational mission, the rules said this was the time to ask questions, and she wanted all the facts.

My dear sister-in-law, a wonderful person, is like this. She was born in the late 1940s--I believe 1948-- and before she went out to do missionary work in Hong Kong, she planned everything with the utmost care. A retired schoolteacher, not only did she get her finances in order, she earned a master's degree in ESL and then a second master's degree in religion (she already had a master's in education) so she would be thoroughly prepared for her second career. Some of us may have rolled our eyes and said to ourselves, you really don't have to do all this, but it's the way she is. It's how I believe a mini-generation of dutiful, well-educated girls was raised. To follow the rules above else, even when you're breaking the rules. I think it's typified in Hillary having only one child. If you are going to play by the rules of the male world, you minimize your liabilities. You minimize your distractions so you can stay scrupulously focused on the straight and narrow path. You don't expect the world to bend around you. Even when you're not conforming, you conform.

Then along comes Sarah, exemplary new generation woman, busting down the walls with glee. She's not breaking the ceilings, she's reconfiguring the floorplan. While I have many differences from her, she comes out of a worldview I better understand, a world in which, as a woman, you make it up as you go along. Of course you have a bunch of kids--it's what you want and you figure it out. The world isn't about a straight trajectory into a male-paradigm career. You don't worry you'll be "derailed," because you know that as a woman you already are derailed. So you drop out to have children (why not?), then look for an opportunity to jump back in when you can. It's about finding the opportunities that wrap around your family life and not vice versa. It's about shooting through the crevices in the rules in order to construct a life on your own terms. It's about exploiting the possibilities that turn up around you rather rigidly adhering to a plan and a protocol that cover all the bases. It's postmodernism versus modernism.

So I wasn't surprised when I read that legislators in the Alaska statehouse wear "Where's Sarah?" buttons because Palin is so often absent from work to be home in Wasilla. I'm not surprised that she's seized opportunities that catapulted her forward rather than plodding along a predictable path. Sadly, as we've seen so graphically in the case of Hillary, the step-by-step method often seems to leave women bereft and betrayed.

Perhaps it's generational, the benefits of seeing the Hillary group's successes and failures, but my life has been much more like Sarah's. I had three children because that's how it happened and I worked work around it. I fell into a second career that wrapped (usually) around my family. I've been fluid about dropping in and out of the work force. I haven't played by the rules. Like Sarah, an intentional faith life, including a radical change in denomination, has been a major part of my life story.

What about you? How have you navigated career, children, life?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Blogs and McDonalds

I should have mentioned that I found L.L. Barkat's post on blogging by way of Ted Gossard's blog. The roads we travel! At some point soon, I hope, I'll link to wonderful Ted's blog.

In the meantime, have you read Shawna's post on working at McDonalds on her "Mystics, poets and fools" blog (which you can link to from here)? It's a terrific post. I will be commenting on it when I gather my thoughts, whenever that may be.

A writing group and Edward Scissorhands

The new Quaker Writing Group met Sunday afternoon for the first time, convening in Jaya and Molly's apartment.

It made me happy to meet, because of how much I liked the Quaker writing group I left behind in Columbia.

Jaya and Molly's apartment was a pleasant "writing center," with big dormers and old hardwood floors. Jaya made us feta and watermelon salad with lime, lemonade and crackers with cream cheese and pepper jelly. Roger came, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well things went for a first meeting.

Roger and I watched Edward Scissorhands the other night, and I found myself writing about that. It's a movie I think we'd always meant to see, but never had. I loved it. It was good to watch when just settling into a new place.

In the movie, Edward is the creation of a mad scientist who dies before completing his project. Hence, Edward never gets human hands. Instead, he has garden clippers. He's befriended by a warm-hearted suburban woman who comes to his lonely castle selling Avon. She takes him into her home, where he confronts and tries to fit in with suburban culture. The housewives fall in love with him when they see him use his clipper hands to create beautiful topiaries and lovely haircuts. He, in turn, falls in love with his hostess's daughter.

I fell in love with (and simultaneously was repelled by) the fantasy 1960s brilliant pastel suburban homes with their console TVs and expanses of perfectly vacuumed wall-to-wall carpet. They evoked all sorts of memories in me of early childhood.

To move on, the theme of the movie is that the source of our creativity and uniqueness, in Edward's case his scissorhands, is also what wounds others and alienates us from others. When Edward tries to embrace people he cares about, he cuts them, which is what we all do when we try to enter into relationship with other people. So I wondered as I wrote, who do I hurt without wanting to and who hurts me? How do I fit into a new community?

Another question that came up in my writing was "why are we here?" Why have the winds blown us to Barnesville? I'm sure it's not for any reason I anticipated, but I thought about what some of my expectations were and how they align with the reality of being here. Certainly, already, we've experienced events like Nick fracturing his ankle, which never entered into my wildest pre-moving dreams, showing that the reality of lived experience breaks into our plans in all sorts of crazy ways. To other people that might make the world seem random and chaotic, but to me it's proof of the existence of God.

For me, a theme running through this adventure is a Thoreauvian desire to suck the marrow out of life (in Barnesville?), and not to die without having braved life's essentials. OK. That is just a bit grandiose! And I don't know that you need to move to do those things. Or do you? How much does place matter?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Blogging: how has it changed you?

I like this post by L.L. Barkat on how blogging has changed her life:

What has blogging done for you? How has it changed you?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What you "can't not do."

I wanted to follow up on the dancers from the exhibit in Wheeling who said they couldn't not dance. And Regina, who can't not write.

I've known people who can't not garden and can't not cook and can't not be nurses. The sister-in-law of a friend of mine adopted two children from Africa because her after a lifetime of caring for her own children, then her aging parents, she couldn't imagine life without people to take care of. I've known people who can't not paint and can't not work with their hands. I think the apostle Paul couldn't not preach the gospel.

What is it you "can't not do?"

Nick's ankle

Monday, Nick and I made the two-hour trek to Akron to see the orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Fleisscher, who was very good. He made an appointment at the Akron Children's hospital for Nick to have surgery on Tuesday. It was 4 p.m. by this time, so I decided we should spend the night in Akron rather than drive two hours home and then have to drive two hours back up the next morning. We settled in a hotel and Roger drove up the next morning. The surgery went well, we were out of the hospital by 3, and now we're home again in Barnesville.

Thanks to everyone for the book and other suggestions. I'm trying to track down local supplies of arnica montana.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Sabbath

On Saturday, the last day of the week and the traditional day for Sabbath, horses and buggies clipclopped by all day long, indicating that the Amish were marketing in town. It wasn't their Sabbath.

But for me, it was a Sabbath. I was limp with exhaustion, not physical exhaustion but a sense of having, after five intense weeks of packing, moving, unpacking, settling, dealing with one mini-crisis after another and then Nick's broken ankle, having been entirely wrung out. I couldn't not rest. Clutter was around me: the tray that held Nick's dinner needing to be put away, apple juice on the counter needing to be put in the refrigerator, Tylenol on the kitchen table, a bathroom that cried out for a cleaning ... and I could do none of it. Until later, when I did.

Do you have these moments?

Can you suggest a good book?

I've found that the world divides between those who love works of fiction and those who gravitate towards works of fact. I'm in the group that especially enjoys a good novel, either literary or mystery.

Currently, however, I don't have any work of fiction to read, though I have a pile of nonfiction. I've been drawn to contemporary fiction recently (anything written in the last 20-30 years) yet am surrounded by bookshelves filled with classics. I love those books: Portrait of Lady, Tom Jones, Middlemarch, etc., but I don't feel a desire to reread them right now.

I'm looking for suggestions. What works of contemporary fiction would you recommend?

Problems in Paradise

Nick was running down a hill this morning, coming home after a camp-out, when he fell and broke his ankle in two places. He's in a splint right now and wrapped to above his knee in bandages to keep the leg from moving. He's in some pain. He's goes to an orthopedic surgeon on Tuesday. He won't get a cast put on until his swelling subsides. He's learning to deal with crutches, and I'm learning to deal with helping to care for a person with broken bones. Right now, he's in his room with his leg propped up.

He is the first person in our family to break a bone, at least a bone that needs to be set (I broke a toe many years ago). Of course, this happened days after our primo, high-quality insurance ran out and our new, more modest insurance began. And of course, this happened as soon as we moved from a major metropolitan area to an isolated rural area. So this will cost us more and mean more travel than if it had happened in Columbia, but that's OK as long as Nick gets good care.

On the bright side, the staff nurse and our school business manager, who used to be a nurse, have lots of good advice and are able to give us information on local doctors, as are other people from the school.

We're also dealing with trying to solve a flea infestation problem for our renter. We had the house bombed with lethal chemicals, but the flea eggs won't all die right away. Our tenant wants the problem to be solved (as I can understand) more quickly than nature allows, and we wish we could make the fleas all disappear instantly, but we were blindsided by this problem, which we had no idea existed, and are doing our best. I can thoroughly understand how she's not thrilled, but also understand that things happen. So if you would please pray for us or hold in the light ...

And if you have any advice, either on broken ankles or fleas, I am all ears. Thanks.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Dancing to the spirit

Last night, I went with the Olney dance class to see photographer Rose Eichenbaum's exhibit "The Dancer Within" at the Stifel Fine Arts Center in Wheeling. Eichenbaum spoke to us and took us to look at some of her photographs.

I didn't expect this to be a spiritual experience, but it was. (There was also a lovely buffet and wine bar, so we were well taken care of in both body and soul.)

The Stifel Fine Arts Center is in a beautiful, turn-of-the-last-century mansion set amid lovely grounds with a reflecting pool. Eichenbaum was a riveting and inspiring speaker, who clearly loves her work. She talked about how she was encouraged by Dance Magazine to photograph choreographers, a project that eventually turned into a book. As she began the project, she decided that she couldn't take good portraits of these artists until she got to know them a little, so she would spend an hour or more interviewing them before she started photographing them.

In her exhibit, she captioned her photos with quotes from the interviews about what inspired these men and women to dance and to choreograph. Several spoke of the desire to express spirituality through movement, and of the desire to touch audiences on a deep level with their art. Many spoke of how sensitive they are to audiences and how important the reaction of the audience is to what they do. Most said dance was something they had to do, no matter what the cost. They simply couldn't not dance. Regina, when I read your comment about having to blog, I thought of them and about how artistic expression, in whatever form, is such a deep part of who we are. For some people--and perhaps for many people-- the practice of religion is part of their artistic (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) expression of their spirituality and humanity. I think that's why religious rituals, be they Orthodox Catholic or the Quaker practice of silent worship, are so beautiful. Through them, people express the deepest parts of the their souls. And with my suspicion of everything the dominant culture states as fact, I believe the more the culture tells us that dance or poetry are a waste of time, the more we need to embrace these activities as supremely important in helping us become fully human and thus fully reflecting the image of God.

I have that learned that community is essential to religion, and so felt that, in their desire to connect deeply with audiences, these great dancers and choreographers were, in their own way, creating religious communities that they hoped would change people's lives. This was so interesting to me, because I've tended to think of dancers as possibly narcissists or at least as dancing in a private world and for themselves. But, in fact, the greatest of them don't feel fulfilled until they have touched another person's life.

Because dance has been so much a part of Sophie's life, and more recently, the life of Elena, the daughter of our friends Bill and Johanna, I have felt a growing closeness to the dance world, and that made this exhibit more meaningful to me.

I drove to Wheeling with a young student whom I was delighted to get to know better. At 15, she could be a model to many adults on generosity of spirit. Although she has come to Olney because of a bad experience at a right-wing Christian school, where she felt judged and condemned, she open-heartedly refuses to judge and condemn evangelical Christians.

I also drove with Jaya, the new admissions assistant at Olney. She's a Quaker from Canada. I really, really like her. After our experience at the exhibit, she and I decided to start a writing group at Olney (we had talked of this before, but not with serious intention), which I hope will be like the Quaker writing group I left behind in the Columbia. We meet for the first time on Sunday.

Take care everybody.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


I'm still having trouble blogging on a regular schedule. Establishing a routine has been a process, and one I'm still working on. Today I'm in the Barnesville public libary, which is air-conditioned and delightfully quiet. Since the students have come back, it's been crowded and high-energy in the Olney library. That's wonderful for the school, but not necessarily for moi!

I was able to do some walking over the weekend. I visited the school's apple and peach orchard (or one of them), which was a treat. It was like a Miss America pageant of beautiful fruit. I also explored some of the woodsy areas near my house, where I saw deer, monarch butterflies and lots of wildflowers.

I met a history professor from Ohio University, which has a campus nearby in St. Clairsville. He found out I was a writing teacher in a former life and immediately began to recruit me to teach as an adjunct at OU. The pay is higher than at the community college and the university seems to have winter classes available, so I may teach there come January. It made me feel better about my decision to turn down the community college job. We shall see.

Otherwise, I'm scarcely seeing Sophie as she's absorbed into dorm life, though she still comes to me when she needs something. I like that. Her roomate seems to be just like her--they're even taking an identical schedule--so I hope and pray that works out. The boys are adjusting to school. Will is quite happy about field hockey and art class, which is focusing on working with clay. Both the boys are taking Spanish class and reading O. Henry in their humanities class.

I'm auditing a gardening class and slowly working on an article for Rise Up magazine. I do need to find more freelance work, but the trivia of life has been overwhelming me lately. Any time management hints would be appreciated! How do you keep all the trivia from eating your time up? Tonight I may be going with the dance class that Sophie is co-teaching to see an exhibit of dance photography in Wheeling.

So -- I know I'm late on this -- what does everyone think Palin?